Clarence Darrow’s (1926) essay “The Eugenics Cult” now online

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Thanks to John Pieret, the full text of Clarence Darrow’s (1926) essay “The Eugenics Cult” is now online in text format. Clever readers could find it in Darrow anthologies at Google Books, but it’s nice to have it in plain text for the purposes of searching and general Google-tasticness. Hopefully the IDists/creationists will never be able to mention Darrow and eugenics in the same sentence again, without being sent a link to this essay.

You should go and read the essay. It is one of the most spectacular examples of polemic used-appropriately-and-for-good that you will read. And I find it fascinating that Darrow was leading a charge against eugenics (in his 1925 and 1926 essays) at exactly the same time that the Scopes Trial and appeals were going on (1925-1927). It’s rather more than William Jennings Bryan ever said against eugenics, I believe. (Did Bryan ever bash eugenics like this? My sense of it was that it wasn’t a major point of his, despite later revisionist history from creationists.)

And, I think the essay still speaks to issues we face in the 21st century. Although eugenics is almost universally despised today, many of the naive assumptions that made it seem like a good idea are still common today, amongst both liberals and conservatives. E.g., both some liberals and some conservatives think that the relative breeding of human cultural groups (religious/nonreligious, rich/poor, liberal/conservative) has great significance for the future – whereas the observed historical reality, and probably the future, is that massive cultural change is a continuous, people change cultural and religious affiliations constantly, and no safe extrapolation can be made based on uniformitarian assumptions about breeding.

45 Comments

Clarence Darrow wrote (in 1926): No idiot knows that he is an idiot. As a rule, those of small intellectual equipment are so sure of themselves that they are eager to make the race over in their own image. This is a controlling reason why they should not be encouraged to exercise their power.

That’s the Dunning–Kruger effect! Or to use a metaphor for today, the “Tea Party effect.”

Here’s another good quote:

The bigoted and the ignorant are very sure of themselves. No business seems to be too important or too personal for them to undertake. One of their chief pastimes is the regulation of other people. They are willing to do anything to others that to them seems important. To compel all others to adopt their own views and ways of living is their aim. In fact, one of their chief sources of comfort and pleasure is making others unhappy.

In principle, eugenics ought to be a positive thing for the human race. Who wouldn’t want their children to be faster, smarter, stronger, healthier, etc? Who wouldn’t want their children to avoid heritable diseases or deficiencies? The problem with eugenics is not in the choices, but in who gets to make the choices and for whom. The problem is in who has the power. No one wants someone else to make those choices for them. One might counsel a couple that their children will have an X% chance of serious condition Y, but who is to tell them that they are not allowed to have children? Or that they must have children? Even worse is when some group tries to make such choices for some other group, based on nothing more than prejudice or cultural bias. (Does the term “fundamentalist” come to mind? ;-)

It’s like any position of power that people touch. In principle, the most efficient form of government ought to be a benign monarchy, or maybe even a communist one. But once an actual person is granted such power, no one else would want to live under such a system.

So, even though, in principle, eugenics ought to be a positive for the species, in actual practice it just isn’t worth the ways in which we could screw it up for the individuals involved. And unlike species of domesticated animals (where eugenics is otherwise known as “animal husbandry”), we tend to place a higher value on human individuals (especially the ones we know) than on the human species in the abstract.

Many people with serious genetic diseases in the family *want* to have selective reproduction because they have seen the effects of the disease in relatives. But as you say, Scott, the main problem comes when institutions try to implement rules about who can breed with whom. With very few exceptions, there should be no role for government in deciding these questions. The only exception I can think of right now is the unfortunate practice of sex selection for cultural reasons – and even then I’m not sure that any coercive government measures wouldn’t be worse than the problem itself. Perhaps a financial “girl bonus” would help, but a culture heavily biased against female children is unlikely to appoint politicians and bureaucrats interested in eradicating the bias.

In principle, eugenics ought to be a positive thing for the human race. Who wouldn’t want their children to be faster, smarter, stronger, healthier, etc? Who wouldn’t want their children to avoid heritable diseases or deficiencies? The problem with eugenics is not in the choices,

Really? it is not a given that we need “faster, smarter, stronger … “ children. Without heritable diseases maybe, but above all, happy children ought to be our main concern.

When I read how people with rather serious birth defects complain about deselection of Downs syndrome and other genetic disorders (or serious developmental defects), I always think “So what if my parents had decided to abort me? I couldn’t care less.” I wouldn’t complain. So why should anyone else?

I believe not a single individual with Down’s syndrome would complain if he’d been deselected. In fact, no unborn ever have had any reason or wish to complain. It is we, the living that are making so much fuss about it.

The main problem lies in the religious definition of life as beginning at conception. There are good reasons to stick with the traditional view. Before the first breath, life is but an option, a possibility.

Getting rid of unwanted or undesirables after birth is a very long tradition in human societies. It is interesting to note that it traditionally has been done by leaving infants to die in the wilderness instead of the more human approach, to kill them fast and painless.

Does that reveal something about ourselves?

Remember that eugenics is not natural selection. Also that, insofar as it is evolution, it is microevolution, operating within “mankind”. Eugenics is (supposedly) the opposite of “random chance”. It has nothing to do with the natural origins of “complexity” or “information”. So how does creationism/intelligent design/teach the controversy differ from eugenics?

Scott F -

In principle, eugenics ought to be a positive thing for the human race. Who wouldn’t want their children to be faster, smarter, stronger, healthier, etc?

Although Rolf is correct that these are all arbitrary goals, and often arbitrarily defined, your basic point is well taken.

The major problem with eugenics was the proposed (and sometimes enacted) inhumane, authoritarian methodology.

Enforced or deceptive sterilization was virtually always the eugenics approach.

However, as much as the inhumane and authoritarian nature of eugenics rightfully dominates the discussion, the fact that it wasn’t even an effective means of pursuing its own stated goals should be mentioned.

Eugenecists wanted to reduce the frequency of traits that were multi-allelic, recessive, or even environmental in nature, by sterilizing impacted phenotypes. While such an approach would “work” in some cases (purely in the sense of reducing the frequency of given alleles), it would “work” absurdly slowly, more or less inconspicuously. This was demonstrated by early population geneticists, who pointed out that, for example, it would take hundreds of thousands of generations to significantly reduce a low frequency recessive allele this way. And that’s even when a genuinely genetic, single allele disorder happened to be targeted. And new mutations still arise at the expected rate.

Furthermore, humans are already a species relatively lacking in genetic diversity. That’s because our population exploded so rapidly. We are a numerous species with the genetic diversity of a relatively rare species. And although we have sequenced the human genome, by no means do we understand it completely. ANY “strategy” for “improvement” of the human race that is based on reducing genetic variability, either by sterilizing or by slaughtering large numbers people, is, beyond being ethically despicable, highly suspect on the grounds that it would amount to an inbreeding strategy with potential strong unexpected negative effects.

Prediction - Either a creationist will already have posted a comment amounting to “Waaaahhhh, ‘Darwinists’ do too promote eugenics because I want it to be true, waaaahhhh” by the time I have posted this, or one will be along very soon.

Excellent!. It’s noteworthy that Darrow never mentioned Darwin. He also omitted mention of Plato, who famously argued for eugenics – well, he recommended state-supervised selective breeding of children. It’s in The Republic, Book 5.

If evolution says anything about what’s best for a species, it’s that variety is the best defense against a changing environment. So reduction of what variety we have is not in the best interests of survival of our species.

(From what I recall reading some time back, our species had a genetic bottleneck some 100,000 or so years ago, with this conclusion based on the amount of variety present in the species today. )

Henry J said: (From what I recall reading some time back, our species had a genetic bottleneck some 100,000 or so years ago…

Did that have anything to do with a certain Flood?

Paul Burnett said:

Henry J said: (From what I recall reading some time back, our species had a genetic bottleneck some 100,000 or so years ago…

Did that have anything to do with a certain Flood?

No, no–the Flood was only ~4K years ago. There weren’t even any people, or Earth, or universe 100,000 years ago. Geez, get your facts straight…or you’ll go to hell!

This carries us too far off-topic, but I just wanted to note that the situation is not that there is no eugenics and that we don’t want it to start. Rather, there is no centralized eugenics but lots of anarchic eugenics is about to happen. In many parts of the world sex ratios are being massively skewed (which may have little long-term effect on the gene pool but create lots of social side effects in the near term). And as genetic technologies are advancing rapidly, parental intervention to manipulate eye color, hair color, and height are going to occur fairly massively and fairly soon. So eugenics is about to happen, decentralized but on a large scale, and for reasons that involve no general social benefit, just to make lots of people look like Ken and Barbie.

Joe Felsenstein said: So eugenics is about to happen, decentralized but on a large scale, and for reasons that involve no general social benefit, just to make lots of people look like Ken and Barbie.

I had a friend from India who was fond of being contrary, and suggested as a “modest proposal” that in the future everyone would look like Ingrid Bergman and Bjorn Borg.

I’m not sure that human genetic modification is right around the corner – who wants their kids to be first? – but it’s gonna happen and when it does … hoo boy, there’s going to a riot going on.

Adam Warren’s Human Diaspora stories suggest that in galactic civilization GM humans may take on grotesque and whimsical forms. However, his galactic troubleshooter heroines, Kei and Yuri, are Lucien GM upgrades, normal in appearance if heavily biomech augmented. Unfortunately their inclination to mayhem draws fire from the Lucien community, the feeling being that the “Dirty Pair” reinforce the stereotype of Lucien upgrades as “sexy, healthy, and dumb as posts.”

Joe Felsenstein said:

So eugenics is about to happen, decentralized but on a large scale, and for reasons that involve no general social benefit, just to make lots of people look like Ken and Barbie.

Or Eloi (as in the the 1960 movie version).

mrg said: I’m not sure that human genetic modification is right around the corner – who wants their kids to be first? – but it’s gonna happen and when it does … hoo boy, there’s going to a riot going on.

There have been lots of novels along those lines. As with most other technologies, the first few revs are going to be very expensive. I think the riot is going to be when the “haves” can afford to have GM healthier, smarter kids, and the “have nots” won’t be able to afford it. It’s one thing to have a mismatch in income between the high and low ends. But when the “haves” can point to a genomic “report card” and know for a cast iron fact that they truly *are* superior to the “inferior” classes, then we’re going to have a serious problem. Just look at the relatively “simple” issue of abortions today. Imagine if Europe or China encourage GM children, and the US doesn’t.

GM children are science fiction now, but it’s not that far off.

You guys are talking about “intelligently (or at least purposefully) designed” humans.

Scott F said: I think the riot is going to be when the “haves” can afford to have GM healthier, smarter kids, and the “have nots” won’t be able to afford it.

That would be part of it, but there will also be a hefty emotional reaction against the idea of tinkering with the human genome. Not just Right-wing fundies but also Left-wing Nimbys. After all, there’s enough of a fuss over GM “frankenfoods”, and think of all the schlock horror stories about GM – in a sense, going back at least to THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (“Are we not men?”). Silly, yes, but they tap into a popular sense of revulsion at the idea.

I don’t think human GM in any serious way is a near-future option. How long it takes to get here I don’t care to bet. But it will happen sooner or later.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/art[…]ss-34220.pdf

This is a 1000 genome project paper where they give the initial estimate of how many mutations the average individual has that is already listed in the HGMD-DM (human genetic disease database). The estimate is an individual is heterozygous for 50 to 100 mutations already in the disease database. That is a lot of genetic manipulation just to fix the known ones everyone carries. If you wanted to super ovulate your mate and find the egg without any of her detrimental mutations the probability of finding that egg would be 0.5E50. That would be to find just one clean egg. Unless you could sort sperm you will need an equal number of clean eggs to find the one zygote that doesn’t have any detrimentals from the father.

With this number of defects we are going to have to be selective until some type of nanotech gets developed that will fix all the negative mutations.

What defects are going to be important enough to select against? Even the traits that some posters are claiming will be engineered into babies like blue eyes and red hair are detrimental mutations, so how many bad things can you do to your kids that will be OK with society?

On one band, certain traits that our society deems desirable do have genetic components.

We are quite a lot further from having single allele explanations for most such traits, though.

No other animals perform music, do mathematics, write poetry, etc, so experimental models to determine genetic contributions to those particular traits are problematic.

Even where there is an animal model and a clear-cut case of a single allelic change leading to what we see as “better” phenotype, the story isn’t straightforward.

These mice excel at endurance exercise -

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?[…]0mice%202004

Myostatin knockout mice have twice as much skeletal muscle as normal mice (the same mutation is found in a breed of cattle from Belgium) -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myostatin

http://www.cloningresources.com/res[…]Mightier.asp

So where are the mice with bulging muscles that can also win marathons?

One reason for their apparent absence could be that the respective genotypes have quite antagonistic effects.

The tireless treadmill mice have a phenotype that converts fast twitch muscle into slow twitch muscle.

Humans who win marathons (note - a highly different subset from humans who “run” marathons) are already very thin, with a preponderance of slow twitch muscle. These humans are somewhat limited in ability on the many tasks that require fast twitch muscle.

Humans who are genetically prone to have greater fast twitch muscle mass are also quite common. It’s unknown whether these humans could realistically eliminate enough muscle mass to be marathon champions (fast twitch muscle is useful but above a limited amount serves as extra mass to be carried in a marathon). Usually these people are drawn to activities in which their extra strength is an asset.

If you try to breed a Supermouse by crossing the marathon mouse with the muscle mouse, you may well end up with rather ordinary mice.

To put it another way, selection may have favored ordinary mice because they have a fairly optimal combination, with individual variability, of slow and fast twitch muscle, to begin with.

Humans are probably much less genetically diverse as a species than many or most mouse species, but we may have superficially greater phenotypic diversity (wild mice are typically under extremely high selective pressure).

Superficially, both phenotypes seem “better” than “average” for a mouse, to human eyes, but they may be to some degree exclusive and limiting.

Genetic engineering was simple enough for our neolithic ancestors when it involved choices like “cow who gives more milk is pretty much ‘better’ to any reasonable person”.

“Designing” human or mice to have this or that “superior” trait may be far trickier.

Eugenics ideas were the evidence of the decline of the foundations of the modern world. The world continued to achieve but it was no longer a world, they said at the top, of human beings made in God’s image and having and deserving all rights and love one can give but instead details of body or mind made you worthwhile or not so.

Evolutionism did push heredity and so it was seen every kid had the parents problems and the better parents made better kids. it was the same crowd in small circles that first and deeply embraced evolution who embraced eugenics.

It all comes down to whether or not kids inherit from parents their problems or abilities.! If so do these attributes trump the innate value of people!

The bible says, and the Anglo American civilization historically generally, that who we are ARE souls created by God and merely put into these bodies. We do not have any genetic moral or intellectual in us. We are completely separate from the natural world. Therefore no attributes are handed down good or bad.

Only physical problems, retardation etc, can unnaturally interfere in our thinking. Thats just malfunction.

It was crazy and weird for people to have any hope to influence mankind ints millions but trite attempts at breeding control.

Someone said human or natural selection can anything into a better thing. This reasoning was taken to heart by the wrong people.

Byers says:

Only physical problems, retardation etc, can unnaturally interfere in our thinking.

No, Byers. As you demonstrate with every post, learned intellectual disabilities, like prejudice, magical thinking, blindness to evidence, bigotry and false ideology are not natural, and they greatly interfere in our thinking. For that matter, wilful ignorance like yours has to be learned, too, springing as it does from an acquired attitude of fear, hatred or contempt for learning itself.

Robert Byers babbled:

Eugenics ideas were the evidence of the decline of the foundations of the modern world.

No, idiot. People have been practicing eugenics and “eugenic ideas” for thousands of years. Or, are you stupid enough to assume that the “modern world” was declining by the days of the Spartans, who exposed their children to eliminate the weak among them?

The world continued to achieve but it was no longer a world, they said at the top, of human beings made in God’s image and having and deserving all rights and love one can give but instead details of body or mind made you worthwhile or not so.

Being made in God’s image, and deserving of rights and love didn’t stop many Christians from engaging in eugenics, torture, slavery and oppression, and using God’s name as justification to do so.

Try this test on any creationist claim: See if it is at least as correct when applied to reproduction or development instead of evolution.

Mr. Byers, Just for my information, I would like to know exactly what you mean by “human beings made in God’s image.”

Do humans physically look like God? Or to put it another way, does God have a physically human-appearing body?

If that’s not what you mean by “in God’s image”, then what exactly do you mean?

To answer that question, God looks a lot like George Burns.

harold said:

Scott F -

In principle, eugenics ought to be a positive thing for the human race. Who wouldn’t want their children to be faster, smarter, stronger, healthier, etc?

Although Rolf is correct that these are all arbitrary goals, and often arbitrarily defined, your basic point is well taken.

I disagree, I don’t think Scott F is right. All of those traits require trade-offs. They have both a real biological cost (in terms of energy needed and impact on the organism) and an opportunity cost (if you have more x, you get less y). The simplistic ideas of eugenics that Nick refers to as sticking around today completely miss this point. Like a lot of bad decisions, they show a confirmaton bias: people ignore the costs of their preferred decision, and so don’t do a correct cost:benefit calculation. This is yet another reason (along with non-self-determination, etc…) eugenics can be so damaging to society.

To get the eyesight of a hawk, you’d better be willing to dedicate 90% of your brain to visual processing. If you want to be faster and stronger, you’re going to need to eat more, and you may end up paying for it with a shorter lifespan.

So being faster etc. is not necessarily positive, because to make that blanket statement you have to either ignore the costs associated with those changes or pretend they are zero. Its long past time we threw out Scott’s unrealistic rhetorical question and replaced it with more realistic ones. Who wouldn’t want their kids to be faster and stronger…if it cut 10 years off their lifespan?

Many people might still take that deal, but parsing it that way changes it from rhetorical to a bit of a thinker, doesn’t it? Suddenly, the ‘ought to be a good thing’ is not so clear cut, is it?

What does tasticness mean

eric said:

harold said:

Scott F -

In principle, eugenics ought to be a positive thing for the human race. Who wouldn’t want their children to be faster, smarter, stronger, healthier, etc?

Although Rolf is correct that these are all arbitrary goals, and often arbitrarily defined, your basic point is well taken.

I disagree, I don’t think Scott F is right. All of those traits require trade-offs. They have both a real biological cost (in terms of energy needed and impact on the organism) and an opportunity cost (if you have more x, you get less y). The simplistic ideas of eugenics that Nick refers to as sticking around today completely miss this point. Like a lot of bad decisions, they show a confirmaton bias: people ignore the costs of their preferred decision, and so don’t do a correct cost:benefit calculation. This is yet another reason (along with non-self-determination, etc…) eugenics can be so damaging to society.

To get the eyesight of a hawk, you’d better be willing to dedicate 90% of your brain to visual processing. If you want to be faster and stronger, you’re going to need to eat more, and you may end up paying for it with a shorter lifespan.

So being faster etc. is not necessarily positive, because to make that blanket statement you have to either ignore the costs associated with those changes or pretend they are zero. Its long past time we threw out Scott’s unrealistic rhetorical question and replaced it with more realistic ones. Who wouldn’t want their kids to be faster and stronger…if it cut 10 years off their lifespan?

Many people might still take that deal, but parsing it that way changes it from rhetorical to a bit of a thinker, doesn’t it? Suddenly, the ‘ought to be a good thing’ is not so clear cut, is it?

By now you probably realize that I made exactly the same point above, where I referred to mice with greater “endurance” versus mice with extra fast twitch muscle mass. If not, please see that comment. (In other words, I already agreed with you.)

The rest of the comment you replied to was about the obvious weakness of traditional late nineteenth/early twentieth century phenotype-based eugenics schemes.

latibulum said:

What does tasticness mean

I assumed it was a derivative of “fantastic”.

Henry J said:

To answer that question, God looks a lot like George Burns.

He can also manifest a Morgan Freedman.

Dave Luckett said:

Byers says:

Only physical problems, retardation etc, can unnaturally interfere in our thinking.

No, Byers. As you demonstrate with every post, learned intellectual disabilities, like prejudice, magical thinking, blindness to evidence, bigotry and false ideology are not natural, and they greatly interfere in our thinking. For that matter, wilful ignorance like yours has to be learned, too, springing as it does from an acquired attitude of fear, hatred or contempt for learning itself.

A few years ago the Methodists appologized for their roll in supporting the eugenics movement. I had never heard that they had supported the effort so I looked it up and it was the YEC fundy branch of the Methodists that supported the eugenics movement and pulled the organization into the fray. The eugenics movement obviously wasn’t about evolution to those people.

For the record the Methodists have a history of supporting the separation of church and state and have been involved in the major creationist court decisions with a stand against teaching creationism in the public schools.

Only physical problems, retardation etc, can unnaturally interfere in our thinking.

What about falling in love?

Dave Luckett said:

Byers says:

Only physical problems, retardation etc, can unnaturally interfere in our thinking.

No, Byers. As you demonstrate with every post, learned intellectual disabilities, like prejudice, magical thinking, blindness to evidence, bigotry and false ideology are not natural, and they greatly interfere in our thinking. For that matter, wilful ignorance like yours has to be learned, too, springing as it does from an acquired attitude of fear, hatred or contempt for learning itself.

If thats your studied conclusion on me why post it as i couldn’t possibly learn from it. Impossible say you!

Just Bob said:

Mr. Byers, Just for my information, I would like to know exactly what you mean by “human beings made in God’s image.”

Do humans physically look like God? Or to put it another way, does God have a physically human-appearing body?

If that’s not what you mean by “in God’s image”, then what exactly do you mean?

A little off thread but it means our soul and thinking is entirely divine or rather a piec of the great God of the universe. Thats why we have unique moral and intellectual existence. Unlike animals . Our bodies are simply a part of the creation. We were given the best type of body in creation for a being made in Gods image. However all animal like bodies are just degrees of differences from each other. As it would be from a commom model and model maker. Not as it would be from the randomness of happanchance as evolution teaches. Biology is beautiful order and certainly based on mechanisms.

Karen S. said:

Only physical problems, retardation etc, can unnaturally interfere in our thinking.

What about falling in love?

However dizzying and mind blowing nevertheless falling in love does not interfere with mechanical abilities of thinking.

for the record I have concluded even retardation is not a problem of the mind as in broken parts but only a issue of memory interference however profound.

Byers, I’m not here to teach you. You’re unteachable. It’s simply that on rare occasions it is possible to extract meaning from the shambolic incoherence of your prose. On those occasions I am here to point out to others the ignorance, prejudice, superstition, blindness to evidence and irrationality thus laid bare.

In this case, by sheer accident, you managed to enunciate an idea in a reasonably comprehensible English sentence. It was a stupid idea, a ridiculous idea, an idea patently false to fact, but it was an idea. I pointed out how obviously false to fact it is.

I didn’t do that for your benefit, for you will not benefit. You’re incapable of it. I did it to demonstrate to others, who may not have encountered you before, that you’re wrong. But Byers, you’re not merely wrong. Your wrongness is as an ice-floe to the vast ocean of your derangement.

You then gratified me by lapsing into garbled word-salad again. That latest effusion (“for the record I have concluded even retardation is not a problem of the mind as in broken parts but only a issue of memory interference however profound”) is as perfect a Byersism as we have seen in recent times. Anyone who tries to parse it will emerge from the experience convinced that they are dealing, not merely with a crank, but a raving lunatic.

How right they are.

Robert Byers said: However all animal like bodies are just degrees of differences from each other. As it would be from a commom model and model maker. Not as it would be from the randomness of happanchance as evolution teaches.

This is precisely the opposite of a logical statement.

Things that are designed do not have any reason to be seperated by simple “degrees of difference.” A hammer, a car, and a microwave have almost nothing in common as all were designed for a certain purpose.

Conversely, things that evolved and were modified (through “happanchance,” if you like) gradually are the ones that we would expect to see being seperated by mere degrees. A modern refrigerator, for example is obviously based on older models, just with improvements in function and efficiency.

Robert Byers said:

Just Bob said:

Do humans physically look like God? Or to put it another way, does God have a physically human-appearing body?

A little off thread but it means our soul and thinking is entirely divine or rather a piec of the great God of the universe.

So no, we don’t physically look like God. Am I reading you right (it’s hard, but I try)? If that’s what you mean, then, how do you explain (or explain away) the various passages of the Bible that depict God as having a human appearance, various human body parts, etc.?

Just Bob said: If that’s what you mean, then, how do you explain (or explain away) the various passages of the Bible that depict God as having a human appearance, various human body parts, etc.?

I always wondered that too…

After all, in the ‘before’ the beginning just what did God do to fill his lungs and stop his body from freezing and boiling at the same time.

And the bigger question why did he put up with such an inconvenient form in the first place?

A form rather wholly unsuited for his Godly job of interstellar time travel and seeing those sparrows fall at a great distance. And checking up on tube worms. That must be a tough one.

Now - if I were God, I’d probably design myself with built-in jetpacks and at least one internet port, but I suppose that’s why the Big Guy is so ineffable.

Dave Luckett said:

Byers, I’m not here to teach you. You’re unteachable. It’s simply that on rare occasions it is possible to extract meaning from the shambolic incoherence of your prose. On those occasions I am here to point out to others the ignorance, prejudice, superstition, blindness to evidence and irrationality thus laid bare.

In this case, by sheer accident, you managed to enunciate an idea in a reasonably comprehensible English sentence. It was a stupid idea, a ridiculous idea, an idea patently false to fact, but it was an idea. I pointed out how obviously false to fact it is.

I didn’t do that for your benefit, for you will not benefit. You’re incapable of it. I did it to demonstrate to others, who may not have encountered you before, that you’re wrong. But Byers, you’re not merely wrong. Your wrongness is as an ice-floe to the vast ocean of your derangement.

You then gratified me by lapsing into garbled word-salad again. That latest effusion (“for the record I have concluded even retardation is not a problem of the mind as in broken parts but only a issue of memory interference however profound”) is as perfect a Byersism as we have seen in recent times. Anyone who tries to parse it will emerge from the experience convinced that they are dealing, not merely with a crank, but a raving lunatic.

How right they are.

Again one can not be stung by posts like this as they truly are so eloquent and seemly deeply felt. Despite being the target its almost beautiful in its construction and studied completeness. Are you a writer?

SonOfHastur said:

Robert Byers said: However all animal like bodies are just degrees of differences from each other. As it would be from a commom model and model maker. Not as it would be from the randomness of happanchance as evolution teaches.

This is precisely the opposite of a logical statement.

Things that are designed do not have any reason to be seperated by simple “degrees of difference.” A hammer, a car, and a microwave have almost nothing in common as all were designed for a certain purpose.

Conversely, things that evolved and were modified (through “happanchance,” if you like) gradually are the ones that we would expect to see being seperated by mere degrees. A modern refrigerator, for example is obviously based on older models, just with improvements in function and efficiency.

SonOfHastur said:

Robert Byers said: However all animal like bodies are just degrees of differences from each other. As it would be from a commom model and model maker. Not as it would be from the randomness of happanchance as evolution teaches.

This is precisely the opposite of a logical statement.

Things that are designed do not have any reason to be seperated by simple “degrees of difference.” A hammer, a car, and a microwave have almost nothing in common as all were designed for a certain purpose.

Conversely, things that evolved and were modified (through “happanchance,” if you like) gradually are the ones that we would expect to see being seperated by mere degrees. A modern refrigerator, for example is obviously based on older models, just with improvements in function and efficiency.

Its not illogical. It would be a common model in nature if a creator did it surely. It wouldn’t be whim in every created thing with no idea of laws or themes. Biology would be a mirror of physics. Order. The degrees of difference exist to have difference as in KINDS. Yet it still is one great equation.

Your degrees of difference are not showing degrees but gaps. your side speculates there were gap fillers. Yet gaps defines where degrees should be around. our degrees are bigger but tell a tale of a creator. your degrees of difference are not observed.

Robert Byers said of Dave Luckett:

Again one can not be stung by posts like this as they truly are so eloquent and seemly deeply felt. Despite being the target its almost beautiful in its construction and studied completeness. Are you a writer?

Indeed he is Robert, as has previously been mentioned on PT. I see a glimmer of hope for you in that you are able to recognise the inadequacies of your own prose when presented with the work of a professional. If we can get you to extend this to recognise the inadequacies of your scientific knowledge when presented with the work of a professional scientist, we would really be getting somewhere.

harold said:

eric said:

I disagree, I don’t think Scott F is right. All of those traits require trade-offs. They have both a real biological cost (in terms of energy needed and impact on the organism) and an opportunity cost (if you have more x, you get less y). The simplistic ideas of eugenics that Nick refers to as sticking around today completely miss this point. Like a lot of bad decisions, they show a confirmaton bias: people ignore the costs of their preferred decision, and so don’t do a correct cost:benefit calculation. This is yet another reason (along with non-self-determination, etc…) eugenics can be so damaging to society.

To get the eyesight of a hawk, you’d better be willing to dedicate 90% of your brain to visual processing. If you want to be faster and stronger, you’re going to need to eat more, and you may end up paying for it with a shorter lifespan.

So being faster etc. is not necessarily positive, because to make that blanket statement you have to either ignore the costs associated with those changes or pretend they are zero. Its long past time we threw out Scott’s unrealistic rhetorical question and replaced it with more realistic ones. Who wouldn’t want their kids to be faster and stronger…if it cut 10 years off their lifespan?

Many people might still take that deal, but parsing it that way changes it from rhetorical to a bit of a thinker, doesn’t it? Suddenly, the ‘ought to be a good thing’ is not so clear cut, is it?

By now you probably realize that I made exactly the same point above, where I referred to mice with greater “endurance” versus mice with extra fast twitch muscle mass. If not, please see that comment. (In other words, I already agreed with you.)

The rest of the comment you replied to was about the obvious weakness of traditional late nineteenth/early twentieth century phenotype-based eugenics schemes.

Whilst broadly in agreement, I think you are both guilty of over-simplification, and perhaps Eric, you have a more optimistic view of human nature than I do.

Yes, all engineering design solutions require compromise, but it is not a zero sum game. The British MK1 tank of 1916 and the modern Abrams both required compromise in their design, but the latter would hugely outperform the former in everything except possibly crossing wide trenches. Three billion years of evolution have no doubt put life towards the Abrams end of the spectrum, but net overall improvements in performance must still be possible*. The ratio of twitch fibre to endurance fibre in muscle mass is key to optimising an organism to its environment, but selectively breeding from an individual with a gene to make a more efficient type of either fibre would would shift the ratio and improve net performance.

The balance between staying alive as long as possible and being as “alive” as possible is one we all have to strike as individuals. Some will choose to do virtually nothing from fear of disease, injury or death. Others in the words of Neil Young (or the Kurgan) feel it is “better to burn out than fade away”. Some athletes are prepared to risk crippling themselves in later life with performance enhancing drugs to achieve ultimate performance and glory. Many parents are prepared to ruthlessly drive their children to “succeed” without considering the flip side, maybe for the child’s benefit, maybe to surrogately fulfill their own ambitions or bask in the reflected glory. I am sure there will be no shortage of parents prepared to irreverssbly strike that balance on behalf of their potential children if the technology is available

*The most glaring one is a plant that could photo-synthesise green light

Thanks catshark!

Very helpful to a current project.

And, thanks Nick for the link.

I’m a liberal Christian and a passionate exponent of the reality of evolution, but I’d to be clear that support for eugenics was widespread among both liberal Christians and scientists during its heyday. Its foremost advocates and authorities, e.g., the founders of the Francis Galton Laboratory of National Eugenics in London (including Karl Pearson) were in fact scientists, not fundy Methodists. Progressive heroes Margaret Sanger, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Bertrand Russell all supported eugenics at one time or another. THE Ronald Fisher co-founded the Cambridge Eugenics society. One could go on.

Darrow’s opposition, as a secular/progressive intellectual, was brilliant but, alas, exceptional. Some of the most passionate and consistent opposition came from Catholics, notably G. K. Chesterton, who devoted an entire book to attacking eugenics: http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/Eugenics.html Ah, there goes religion, “poisoning everything” again …

I write more on Chesterton’s war against eugenics at

http://theotherjournal.com/s-word/2[…]til-it-doesn’t-gkc-and-evolution-part-i/

and

http://theotherjournal.com/s-word/2[…]til-it-doesn’t-gkc-and-evolution-part-ii/

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on September 3, 2011 6:38 PM.

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