The latest entry in the Darwinism = eugenics nonsense comes from the crank Michael Egnor.
Once again, as a Charlottesvillian I feel the cranks are invading my home turf. About a mile away from me is this sign:
In 1924, Virginia, like a majority of states then enacted eugenic sterilization laws. Virginia’s law allowed state institutions to operate on individuals to prevent the conception of what were believed to be “genetically inferior” children. Charlottesville native Carrie Buck (1906-1983) involuntarily committed to a state facility near Lynchburg, was chosen as the first person to be sterilized under the new law. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Buck v. Bell, on 2, May 1927, affirmed the Virginia law. After Buck more than 8,000 other Virginians were sterilized before the most relevant parts of the act were repealed in 1974. Later evidence eventually showed that Buck and many othesr had no hereditary defects. She is buried south of here.
When I read about eugenics, I can’t help but wonder why “Darwinism” gets the blame. Natural selection (note the word natural) has nothing to do with selective breeding! I think Egnor is confused. This is Mendelianism at work!
Actually, even blaming Mendel seems unfair. Man selectively bred plants and animals for millenia before they really got around to trying it with humans (at least systematically). Why does poor Chuck get all the blame?
Wait, I figured it out! It came to me as if inspired by a supreme being! I have an intelligently-designed answer! The evolutionists keep beating this dead horse because they know if we ever follow Oliver Wendell Holmes advice again (“Three generations of imbeciles are enough”) that places IDers most at risk! I knew there was an angle here.
I tire of this argument. Even if the theory of evolution were responsible for selective breeding, which it is not, what does that have to do with its validity as a scientific theory? This is what’s known as an appeal to consequences, and is totally irrelevant to the science.
6 thoughts on “Egnor vs. Bell”
I believe that there is a historical basis for some of the rant, and the history of science is important, even when we muct confront difficult facts. Indeed, the eugenics ideology ahd an even pre-Mendelian and Darwinist cast, of which we should be aware. Ernst Haeckel was certainly a Darwinist, but also a racist. Social Darwinism has very early roots in Spencer and Galton, and one only has to read some of the very racist comments of Henry Fairfield Osborn, then President of the American Museum of Natural History, or H.G. Wells, or any of the other Neo-Darwinists to relflect on that past. By the same token the nutsy pseudoscience of Kysenko with the helping hand of Stalin, cannot be ignored either. Of course this has nothing to do with the scientific study of evolution or Darwinian theory, but is has everything to do with the misappropriation of science.
I think this was best covered by Gould’s Mismeasure of Man. Basically, bigots will always find a way to bias the science to confirm their ideas about their racial superiority. He systematically goes through the “science” of eugenics and found again and again the justifications for superiority of the rich over the poor, or the whites over the blacks/foreigners/jews, was based on the bias of the observer, rather than any real scientific finding.
It persists today, not in the form of eugenics but in writings like the Bell Curve.
Or just look at the writings of the British during Victorian era or the Regency. They felt the superiority of the British people was a scientific fact, a religious fact, and kind of system of thought was brought to bear to justify their superiority over everybody else.
It has nothing to do with a specific theory so much as part of human nature.
Not to mention the whackjob views of the Nazis on the issue of the alleged inequality of the races.
There were two german scientists, whose names escape me, who conducted a study on blood-type distribution some time around the start of world war two. Their study was quite simple: Test the blood type of a large number of people, index by geographic location and ethnic group, and see what statistics crop up. They did this. They got a few interesting statistics out. It was perfectly good research – no bias, no dodgy statistics, no desire to see a particular conclusion.
Then the Nazis got hold of their research, and found… that there is a blood group which is slightly more common among ethnic jews than average, and less common among their ideal ‘ayran’ class. Well, the Nazis loved this!
Within a few years, a number of scientists had, under political pressure, produced studies showing that the ‘jewish’ blood group was the cause of everything from low inteligence to a longer average time spent on the toilet. These studies were all complete fabrications – tiny samples, poor methodology – but they gave the results the politicans wanted to hear: Aryan blood good, Jewish blood bad.
Conveniently for history though, this research contributed to a hefty military disadvantage for the Nazi army. While the allies were making extensive use of blood transfusion in emergency battlefield medicine (With a slight delay due to the American’s being distrustful of plasma, and insisting on whole blood for a time), the German army was dedicated to ensuring that its men recieved only the highest quality, certified Aryan blood. Thus they were in continuous shortage, and made minimal use of emergency transfusions.
I think we need to be careful not to confuse “science” with “the politics of science” or political agendas that intrude on science, or modern political correctness an its influence on science. We need to be aware that many Darwinists were guilty of submerging themselves in non-science. I think that despite his being frequently on the right side of issues (amazing how these are coincident with my views), Steve Gould did interject the politics of who he was–Richard Dawkins has looked at this at length. Steve’s “assembling the troops of denial” in his attack on “The Bell Curve” is an excellent case wher the science of the issue was submerged in the politics of the attackers. The book is really more than a racial manifesto. Similar attacks were made on the late Carleton Coon and his paleoanthropological text “Origin of Races,” still an excellent source of fossil data.
Haeckel, although a great comparative anatomist, was not challenged for being a racist (indeed, I do not think the term racism existed at the time). Henry Fairfield Osborn, one of the most eminent American scientists ever, and President of the American Museum of Natural History, wrote the following in his book, Man’s Rise to Parnassus,’ 1927: The study of racial origins becomes a matter not only of concern to the intellectual of the world but will become a matter of vital importance in all departments of human endeavor. It will even become a matter of political importance, a matter to be taken into consideration by the State. Indeed it is already being considered in this way in the United States as we begin to realize that different races respond very differently to our political institutions.
By profound change both in or knowledge of facts and in our theories and conceptions since the time of Linnaeus and even of Quatrefages, through anatomical researches among the Asiatics and Africans, we now subdivide Homo sapiens into three or more absolutely distinct stocks, which in zoology would be given the rank of species, if not genera; these stocks are popularly known as the Caucasian, the Mongolian, and the Negroid
H.G. Wells, still afavorite author even today, and really a well trained scientist wrote the following in 1902:
“And how will the New Republic treat the inferior races? How will it deal with the black?…the yellow man?…the Jew?..those swarms of black, and brown and dirty-white, and yellow people ? Well the world is the world, and not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go. ..The men of the New Republic will have an ideal that will make the killing worth the while.
Both were proponents of eugenics and bothe were not criticized in their time. They were extolling accepted “science.”
Almost ignored, and ironically in Germany (Weimar Germany to be sure), the following appeared, but was not considered accepted science for the day:
1. All humans belong to the same species: Homo sapiens
2. There are no savages, only different cultures
3. Different characteristics are the results of social and environmental factors.
4. There are no inferior races
5. In each race there are individuals who are more gifted than others
6. Human races are well adapted to the environment in which they live
7. Mixing of language and physical characteristics occurred secondarily
8. Differences in intelligence and morality between races is no greater than those between individuals of the same race
9. Inter-racial hybrids are not inferior
10. Exploitation and depreciation of races must stop
(Rassen, Volker und Sprachen (Races, Nations and Language) by Felix von Luschan, 1922, Berlin Anthropologist
The ironic character ot his is fascinating: Osborn and Wells, progressive characters in their time, are as racist as a Juliu Streicher of Alfred Rosenber, Hitler’s repositories for insidious evil. Felix von Luschan, the German, was out ofstep with the normative Osbornian and Wellsian Social darwinism (racism) of the time.
The difficulty for science then and now, I suggest, is to separate the political and non-science from what science is all about. Of course scientist’s are human and reflect their time and circumstance, but scientists should tread lightly in areas, non-scientific, for which they are ill-equipped.
Donald Wohlberg, I’m sure many scientists would be glad to follow your advice and tread lightly in non-scientific areas. The problem is that non-scientists keep trying to use science for their own purposes, or scientists in bad faith misrepresent science to further their own agenda. Often we have no choice but to try to clarify what’s actually going on just so at least the people paying attention will have the real story.
It’s well-meaning, but unrealistic, to expect scientists to keep out of non-scientific discussions that drag science into the mix.
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