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Richard Dawkins: Eugenics may not be bad

People who advance ‘eugenic’ ideas while trying to assert that what they are proposing is not ‘eugenics’ at all, but rather a straight-forward inference from evolutionary science, fail to understand that the eugenicists themselves believed they were simply making a straight-forward inference from Darwinism.  And, indeed, it is a straight-forward inference, which is why so long as Darwinism is the ‘only game in town’, eugenics arguments will be heard in society, including among scientists.  

Also, since the original Darwinian basis for eugenics has largely been forgotten, many of the people who make such arguments… derived, as they are, from straight-forward inferences from evolutionary science…  they are often not even aware that their argument was, in fact, a eugenics argument.  See, for example, this comment on a post discussing Dawkin’s essay, which offers a definition of eugenics as a ‘social philosophy.’  That is a far cry from the reality.

As a case in point, consider this essay by Richard Dawkins, which also turned up as a letter to the editor titled, “Eugenics may not be bad.”  Compare and contrast the essay with the links/quotes provided at the bottom.

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Richard Dawkins, “Eugenics May Not Be Bad.”  [Source, November 19, 2006]

IN the 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous – though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change.

Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from “ought” to “is” and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as “these are not one-dimensional abilities” apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.

I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn’t the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?

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Compare with:

“If the stock of domesticated animals  can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor  of the future generations of men and women on the earth might  not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This  improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which we as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.” [Excerpt from the American text book at the heart of the Scope’s ‘Monkey Trial.]

“We know enough about the laws of heredity, we have enough statistics from insane asylums and prisons, we have enough genealogies, to show that, although we may not be able directly to improve the human race as we improve the breed of guinea pigs, rabbits or cows, because of the rebellious spirit of mankind, yet the time has come when the lawmaker should join hands with the scientist, and at least check the propagation of the unfit.” [1911 editorial in Scientific American]

“I found Mengele a picture of what can only be described as a maniac.  He turned the truth on its head.  He believed you could create a new super-race as though you were breeding horses.  He thought it was possible to gain absolute control over a whole race.”  [Link]

Dawkins asks, “But hasn’t the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?”

Answer: We should never stop being frightened to even ask the question…

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