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Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: The Disturbing Legacy of America’s Eugenics Crusade

[Event announcement]

One hundred years ago on March 9, Indiana passed the world’s first forced sterilization law. Two years later, Washington State enacted a similar measure. Both laws were part of a crusade to breed better humans known as “eugenics.” Promoted by evolutionary biologists in the name of Darwinian natural selection, eugenics led to the sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans against their will, many of whom would not be considered mentally handicapped today. Why did America’s leading scientists and scientific organizations embrace eugenics for so long? Was eugenics a logical application of Darwin’s theory, or a terrible misuse of it? What are the lessons we can learn from eugenics for today’s controversies over science and public policy? In this free public lecture on Monday, April 16, Dr. John West will explore these questions and more. The lecture will take place at 8:00 pm in Demaray Hall 150 at Seattle Pacific University.

When: Monday, April 16, 2007, 8:00 pm

Where: Seattle Pacific University, Demaray Hall 150

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7 Responses to Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: The Disturbing Legacy of America’s Eugenics Crusade

  1. I hope they’re asking for ID at the door. And I don’t mean ID as in Intelligent Design I mean it as in IDentification. Specifically they should be over 18 years of age because knowing about the science of eugenics evidently isn’t something that’s appropriate for 16 year old high school sophomores. You can hand out free condoms to high school sophomores and you let them consent to abortion without parental notice, they are over the age of consent for sexual intercourse in many states, and you can even teach kindergarteners about families with same gender homosexual parents, but God forbid you tell a 10th grader that Darwin was a racist and his theory inspired the science of eugenics.

  2. “Was eugenics a logical application of Darwin’s theory, or a terrible misuse of it”

    I’m not sure it allows such a simple explanation. I don’t think it is either/or as you suggest.

    I would contend that you are going too far to say “it is a logical application of …” but at the same time it is being to lenient on the idea to describe it as a misuse.

    It seems a pretty natural application of the idea to “take evolution into our own hands”. You actually see this idea explictly in a movie like the 6th day with one of the characters saying exactly this.

    But I don’t think it rises to the level of the “logical implication of” the concept.

    It would be just as reasonable to conclude that we should not mess with the natural process but be at its whims. Although that is unlikely for typically arrogant human beings.

    It would be fairer I think to say that the theory is entirely compatible with eugenics and provides no reason within itself to declare eugenics a bad idea and it certianly would provide a suitable rationale for engaging in it.

    Just my 2c

  3. Jason:

    “It would be just as reasonable to conclude that we should not mess with the natural process but be at its whims.”

    But we are part of nature, hence if Darwinism is true, whatever we do to our fellow beings is part of the natural, evolutionary process.

    Quite frightening!

  4. For one thing ET says absolutely nothing about human cultural practices. Evolution was assumed to be a natural process. When you introduce intelligent decision making you have left the realm of natural processes and now have intelligent agents artificially manipulating nature. As intelligent agents we have far greater power to determine our fate then evolutionary processes which operate on timescales that dwarf the whole history of human civilization.

    As intelligent agents it is up to us to decide how to best use our abilities. To say that nature operates in a certain way so we should obviously emulate nature is a bit silly. Human society depends on all sorts of things that are uniquely human and cannot be found in nature. Justice for instance is a human construct. It has no parallel in nature. Using natural processes as a guide to action in human culture necessarily negates many elements of humanity without which human society cannot function.

    Anyone wishing to justify human cultural practices with the notion of how natural processes work is making a non sequitur. The fact that such a notion can be received popularly is a reflection of prevailing attitudes of the time. It was a deeply racist time. Ironically it is ET that shows of that we are all of the same stock and that there are virtually no differences among the races that are based in nature. The ideological and philosophical undercurrents that supported the eugenics movement go far beyond ET although ET was a critical factor. It was however the incorrect application of ET to human culture.

  5. Philosopher David Stove talked of eugenics and such as the result of the Hard Men–the ones who believed in Darwinism but hated the strange results: altruism, mercy, taking care of the infirm, etc. The Hard Men take steps to weed them out. Not all Darwinists are Hard Men.

  6. In case you don’t believe Darwinists who support eugenics and the “master race” idea are still out there, check this out …

    http://www.nationalvanguard.org/story.php?id=2550

  7. “But we are part of nature, hence if Darwinism is true, whatever we do to our fellow beings is part of the natural, evolutionary process.”

    I don’t disagree with you. I’m just noting that it isn’t the only possible way to look at it and that people would object to characterising it that way.

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