Eugenics and the Christian evangelicals

| 29 Comments

For a more in depth background see Evangelical Engagements With Eugenics, 1900-1940 by Dennis L. Durst

But on the whole the evangelical mainstream in the decades following the turn of the century appeared apathetic, acquiescent, or at times downright supportive of the eugenics movement. In this article, I argue that the evangelicals often accepted eugenics as a part of a progressive, reformist vision that uncritically fused the Kingdom of God with modern civilization.

In Christianity Today, Amy Laura Hall has written an interesting article titled “For Shame? Why Christians should welcome, rather than stigmatize, unwed mothers and their children.”

Amy points out the attitude of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood on charity toward the poor

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, had a way with words. In 1922, she wrote a book chapter titled “The Cruelty of Charity.” Charity toward the poor, especially toward poor immigrants, she opined, only “encourages the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others, which brings with it … a dead weight of human waste.”

However, she reminds us how Sanger’s position was in step with the prevailing attitudes of those times and how mainstream Protestant leaders were all in favor of ‘calibrating the number and type of babies and immigrants allowed’.

In an age when upstanding Congregationalists and Unitarians were urging Americans to produce Fewer and Better Babies (Eugenics Publishing House, 35th edition, 1929), Sanger was in step with the times. By mid-century, most mainstream Protestant leaders agreed that the nation needed to calibrate carefully the number and type of babies—and immigrants—allowed.

One central means for ensuring the careful calibration of procreation was shame. Indeed, the author of Fewer and Better Babies anticipated that working-class parents who produced more than two children would eventually be considered “anti-social, as criminal members of the community.” The anti-immigration and birth-control movements during the first half of the 20th century were linked by the sense that some people were beneath human dignity and would pollute “native stock American” bloodlines. The growing consensus during this era was summed up by the words of a Methodist clergyman from Missouri, writing for the Methodist Quarterly Review: “We should demand that each child born is worthy of a place in our midst.”

Amy reminds us how

During the last century in the United States, many mainline Protestant leaders, committed to the eugenics movement, deemed it their business to determine which births were with the grain of God’s plan for the evolving progress of human history and which births were a drag on the movement forward. Christians are called to more humility and more confidence than that—more humility about the grievous harm that has been done in the name of social progress, and more confidence in God’s ability to turn even regrettable human choices to good.

Showing once again that the concept of eugenics was not limited to Darwinists.

29 Comments

Anyone want to bet that the Discovery Institute is going to try and pin the blame of this on “Darwinism,” also?

PvM: Showing once again that the concept of eugenics was not limited to Darwinists.

You seem to put your words very carefully

In my humble opinion, eugenics is an example of human behaviour that has appeared during evolution. I conflate cultural evolution and biological evolution, since they seem to be strongly coupled in all gregarious animals. Another example could be religion, which is much more typical to humans than eugenics, at least in the sense that religion is more widespread than eugenics.

“Darwinists” or “evolutionists” did not invent eugenics. The best they can hope, is to be able to describe, or maybe even understand some of its features.

Regards

Eric

Too bad people or churches aren’t still behind the idea of producing fewer babies. I don’t mean abortion, or choosing which babies are produced and which aren’t- I mean realizing that our planet is already way too overloaded with one particular species that takes a share of resources per individual greater than it should, and there should be a concerted attempt across the board to reduce the number of children conceived and birthed, reducing ourselves to zero population growth, and even negative in the near future. I don’t see any other way we can survive as a species, or at least a quarter of the species on the planet can survive.

Indeed, the author of Fewer and Better Babies anticipated that working-class parents who produced more than two children would eventually be considered “anti-social, as criminal members of the community.”

Isn’t China doing this now? (Unless the drive to raise living standard by increasing the amount of energy consumption per capita is about to change that)

Overpopulation will probably be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, issues by the middle of this century. We are rapidly approaching 7 billion.

What happened on Easter Island should be a warning. Some form of birth control is going to be necessary on a global scale, otherwise Nature will do it for us and it won’t be pretty.

Yes, it seems eugenics were widely supported, even consolidated, in some nations at the time.

I haven’t heard anything on the overpopulation issue in quite a while, which I assumed were due to IIRC UN releasing statistics a few years back showing that we are nicely approaching the upper corner of a projected sigmoid and assuming that the population may not simply level off but equilibrate at a lower level sometime after the middle of this century. Presumably due to increased living standards, health, education, et cetera.

Has anything changed this dramatically? If not AGW seems to me like a more worrying concern, and fixing overpopulation would not fix the former completely. (Then again there is a moral issue with “increased living standards, health, education, et cetera”…)

Showing once again that the concept of eugenics was not limited to Darwinists.

How many “darwinists” were there among scientists of that era? The early 20th century was known as the “eclipse of darwinism”.

If by “darwinism”, one means the productivity of “natural selection”, then clearly eugenics has closer affinity to a rejection of that. The belief of eugenics, after all, was that goal-oriented intervention was needed to prevent “deterioration”.

Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are entirely about eugenics. Only the fittest will be allowed into Heaven (or in the case of Judaism, will be the chosen people), whereas the rest will rot for eternity in Hell.

Eugenics is ancient. It was not the invention of “Darwinists” nor was it the invention of anyone in the 19th century. The whole concept of Royal bloodlines is founded in eugenics. Leaving deformed or sick babies in the woods or on a mountainside to die was a practice for many ancient cultures. Etc. Etc.

Humans have practiced eugenics since the realization that traits are inherited, which was obviously noticed long before Darwin or any of his contemporaries.

I have to point out that using congregationalists and unitarians as representative of ‘evangelicals’ isn’t very fair. Most evangelical denominations, in particular charismatics, pentecostals, and even the southern baptists have very little in common with the former groups. The big difference is in their respective reactions to the Liberal Theology of the early 20th century. Unitarians and Congregationalists embraced it while most of what we today call evangelicals rejected it. I dare to say that most southern baptists today would not even consider most unitarians to be christians at all.

Also, just pointing out that some christians at some point supported eugenics doesn’t really buy you anything. It doesn’t dismiss the fact that it was largely a movement based on applying Darwinian principles to society (however wrongly). The best strategy here, I find, is really to affirm that in fact there is a certain danger in accepting evolution: but one that doesn’t follow from necessary conclusions and can easily be guarded against.

TLTB - I would think “accepting/applying Darwinian principles” would mean allowing for the greatest diversity possible, so that natural selection would have the largest gene pool to work on. Humans picking and choosing what traits they want to continue in the species is artificial, not natural, selection. The danger isn’t in accepting the reality of life on earth. The danger is in ignorance. “Mendelian principles” might have been more appropriate for your post.

Evangelical ATHEIST DARWINISTS support eugenics, and I have the evidence for it.

http://scientianatura.blogspot.com/[…]ugenics.html

She says: If there is indeed a way to breed humans for certain abilities, what’s stopping the next eugenics revolution (this time based on modern science) from happening? Should we or should we not attempt to stop it? What are the arguments that might lead us to conclude that it is or is not a good idea? Why are we so opposed to eugenics being applied to humans (if the means and the know-how are in place), when we have bred animals for preferred traits as long as anyone can remember?

ATHEIST DARWINIST SUPPORTING EUGENICS!!!!!

http://scientianatura.blogspot.com/[…]ugenics.html If there is indeed a way to breed humans for certain abilities, what’s stopping the next eugenics revolution (this time based on modern science) from happening? Should we or should we not attempt to stop it? What are the arguments that might lead us to conclude that it is or is not a good idea? Why are we so opposed to eugenics being applied to humans (if the means and the know-how are in place), when we have bred animals for preferred traits as long as anyone can remember?

Cross-posting from Pharyngula:

Of course if they really were opposing a eugenics that “comes from Darwinism,” they’d do some god-damned science for once, coming up with the evidence to show that there really are aspects of life which were designed (& not by us). I mean, supposing they were correct, that “natural evolution” leads to eugenics–so long as MET is the only theory with any evidence to show for it, all intelligent people would be stuck accepting that eugenics is at least a reasonable concept.

IOW, they’re doing their best to convince the people who accept science and its conclusions that eugenics is a reasonable belief from those conclusions. We’re just fortunate that it is precisely the people who understand science who are the least likely to fall for such unsubstantiated BS.

It’s precisely because they can’t find any unexpected problems in MET (that is, it has problems, but none that could be considered exceptional in science), let alone any evidence for their own concept, that they come up with this noxious rhetoric to cover up their lack of science.

Be sure to note that this present line of dishonest attack accords with the “documentary” coming out in February.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Mike Elzinga:

Indeed, the author of Fewer and Better Babies anticipated that working-class parents who produced more than two children would eventually be considered “anti-social, as criminal members of the community.”

Isn’t China doing this now? (Unless the drive to raise living standard by increasing the amount of energy consumption per capita is about to change that)

Overpopulation will probably be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, issues by the middle of this century. We are rapidly approaching 7 billion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demogr[…]c_transition

Following the link from Creationist takes me to

Despite my point that the old eugenics arguments, such as the expected effects of selective sterilization and the results of interracial mating are simply based on bad science, there was no stopping the invocations of the Hitler zombie.

In all the 36 comments for that thread, not a single one contained any good reason to oppose the modern idea of eugenics. Every anti-eugenics comment was solely based on the idea that since Hitler supposedly supported eugenics (again, his ideas were based on bad science), all of eugenics must be bad by default, and we should never be allowed to even consider the possibility.

It’s important to realize that eugenics can come in a variety of forms from positive to negative, from voluntary to forced. For instance, let’s assume that a couple finds out that both are recessive for a particularly devastating genetic illness, which means that there is a 1 in 4 chance that a child will be affected, what if said parents after genetic testing decide not to procreate?

As the writer clearly states

After more than half a century, and in light of modern science and genetic advancements, we should be able discuss this matter in a rational light without the cloud of the Hitler zombie.

Very true. And it seems that creationist missed the more subtle arguments and jumped to a conclusion.

PvM: As the writer clearly states

After more than half a century, and in light of modern science and genetic advancements, we should be able discuss this matter in a rational light without the cloud of the Hitler zombie.

Very true. And it seems that creationist missed the more subtle arguments and jumped to a conclusion.

Missed subtleties, or deliberately ignored?

Missed subtleties, or deliberately ignored?

Hard to tell. Unless Creationist is also the anonymous commenter at said thread.

I dare to say that most southern baptists today would not even consider most unitarians to be christians at all.

To most Souther Baptists today, Unitarians are hardly unique in this respect.

I’ve been quote-mined by the ‘Creationist’ troll. Big surprise.

PvM erote:

For instance, let’s assume that a couple finds out that both are recessive for a particularly devastating genetic illness, which means that there is a 1 in 4 chance that a child will be affected, what if said parents after genetic testing decide not to procreate?

I strongly suspect that most of the people who claim to be so outraged about the atrocity of “eugenics” are actually determined to use this as an excuse to deny EVERYONE (except perhaps themselves) the right to make such choices as you mention here – not just scientists or the state on a large scale, but individuals and couples as well.

Creationists are currently practicing a mild variety of eugenics by denying their children an education which includes valid science. But that’s okay - we still need a few ditchdiggers and used-car salesmen.

“reduce the number of children conceived and birthed, reducing ourselves to zero population growth, and even negative in the near future.”

I don’t know where you’re from, but in America the birth rate is already less than the death rate- immigration is the only thing keeping growth at a slight upward trend. Countries in Europe such as Italy and Spain have such a drastically negative trend going on that they are going to have some pretty serious problems in the near future as they try to provide income and medical care to retired people. It’s usually the poorer countries of the world that have explosive population growth that is truly problematic, but there’s only so much I can do about that. Where I’m from, though, zero population growth is already a reality. Negative growth would actually be a huge problem in a lot of ways, so we shouldn’t take it too much farther than we already have.

Hi,mike I do agree with you

When you come to China you can always feel that there are too many people there.whether you are in bus or you are shopping

Ok, let’s cut to the chase here.

The entire eugenics issue is an argument of first principles.

If someone views human beings as accidental products of natural processes, then no inherent value exists within them, therefore the human race would be justified to do with itself whatever it desires. This would include abortion, euthanasia, even ethnic cleansing. Ultimately, no inherent moral code can be defended from a purely naturalistic worldview. It even allows for anarchy. That is scary.

If someone views human beings as designed by a designer, then inherent value exists in the life of the person because it is a product of a higher cause with a purpose. This viewpoint requires accountability for one’s actions. It places the highest value on “life” itself, and not “rights” of people.

This is one of the largest problems with the world today, so many people want the right to do anything and everything they desire to do, but they desire no accountability for their actions. I am not claiming that eugenics stemmed from evolutionary theory (specifically naturalistic evolution), however any theorist that denies the existence of a designer should follow their views to their logical conclusion. And the logical conclusion is purposeless, meaningless, hopeless existence.

And who wants to be like China? The one’s “deemed” elite have all the power. Unfortunately, human history has shown over and over that the ones who take all the power and claim elitism end up corrupt (or their inherent corruption shows itself more clearly). The lower classes rise up and take back the power, and the cycle goes on…and on…and on. Why not go ahead and design a structure that allows people to move and shift and become what they are capable of becoming? Help the poor (because they have value too), out of the overflow of kindness.

Eugenics is about molding human populations in order to conform to the aesthetic tastes of the ruling elite, and eugenics is much older than evolutionary biology, Darwinian or otherwise. Or, do you want us to believe that Charles Darwin went back in time to teach the Spartans and Inuit to expose deformed and unwanted babies to the elements?

If you don’t want us to assume that you’re a babbling idiot, then it would best if you refrained from whining about the alleged dangers and other negative potentials of using a “purely naturalistic worldview” as a societal control. Among other things, Charles Darwin wrote, in Descent of Man, that if one were to use eugenics, or any other reason, as an excuse to deny the poor, infirm, ill or other disenfranchised, in other worse, if one tries to reason human compassion and charity out of society for whatever excuse, it would destroy civilization, if not the species.

Also, would you prefer living according to a “supernatural worldview”? Like the way various theocratic dictatorships, such as in Iran or Taliban Afghanistan, deny basic human rights to their citizens because it conflicts with piety? Or like how the government of Uganda was influenced by Christian groups from the US to pass laws making homosexuality punishable by death, or helping homosexuals a crime punishable by up to 7 years in prison?

If someone views human beings as designed by a designer, then inherent value exists in the life of the person because it is a product of a higher cause with a purpose.

There is exactly as much evidence that life on earth “is a product of a higher cause with a purpose” as there is that it is the result of a mundane science experiment by superintelligent extraterrestrials who viewed the project as a failure and forgot about it four billion years ago (i.e., none). Where do you get your assumptions from (other than, of course, some specific theology, which has nothing to do with science and therefore no place here)?

ben said:

Where do you get your assumptions from (other than, of course, some specific theology, which has nothing to do with science and therefore no place here)?

Christian anti-science propaganda, where else?

It all boils down to if you know how to manage your prospects then you will be successful. Just think about it like this, you’re panning for gold so you put all your leads into the pan then you systematically shake off all the junk until you find the gold.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on December 2, 2007 5:54 PM.

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