Recently in Eugenics Category

The folks at Uncommon Descent are accusing me of being a Nazi (“Nick Matzke - Book Burner?”, “Will Our Darwinist Friends Be Telling Us Next That ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’?”, It Gets Even Better) for using my free-speech rights to criticize the prestigious publisher Springer for publishing crypto-creationist/ID meeting held at Cornell (but not sponsored by Cornell) in 2011. They seem to think that I, single-handedly, with the mighty power of the Panda’s Thumb blog, crushed the otherwise inevitable publication by Springer.

Free online intro to genetics and evolution


Course page here. Course description:

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution gives interested people a very basic overview of the principles behind these very fundamental areas of biology. We often hear about new “genome sequences,” commercial kits that can tell you about your ancestry (including pre-human) from your DNA or disease predispositions, debates about the truth of evolution, and why animals behave the way they do. This course provides the basic biology you need to understand all of these issues better and tries to clarify some misconceptions. No prior coursework is assumed.

Topic outline:

*Evidence for evolution
*Introduction to basic genetics
*Recombination and genetic mapping simple traits
*Complications to genetic mapping
*Genes vs. environment
*Basic population genetics and Hardy-Weinberg
*Gene flow, differentiation, inbreeding
*Natural selection and genetic drift
*Molecular evolution
*Evolutionary applications and misapplications
*Adaptive behaviors and species formation

Taught by Mohamed Noor, Earl D. McLean Professor of Biology at Duke and (IIRC) Jerry Coyne Ph.D. Ten weeks, 5-6 hours per week workload. Free!

Note: This topic is outside of my specialty, so it may be that I have missed some important points. I think I’ve got the basics correct, but this is a very complex topic. I will be interested in critical but constructive posts in the comments.

Update: required reading, which basically confirms my points I think:

Weiss, K. M. and J. C. Long (2009). “Non-Darwinian estimation: My ancestors, my genes’ ancestors.” Genome Research 19(5), 703-710.

Nievergelt, C. M., O. Libiger and N. J. Schork (2007). “Generalized Analysis of Molecular Variance.” PLoS Genetics 3(4), e51.

On Monday, Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution is True posted on “Are there human races?” While acknowledging the very bad history of the race concept in human history, and noting some of the problems with applying the concept to humans, Coyne concluded, basically, that the answer was yes, there are human races. While reviewing Jan Sapp’s piece which concluded that human races did not objectively exist, Coyne wrote:

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.

Pop quiz: early eugenics critic


Pop quiz, folks. Who wrote the following in 1926? If you know the answer via, say, me, hold off a bit and let people guess. No fair googling, although it looks like a plain google search doesn’t help much. (The internets can thank me for ASCII-ifying this bit of wisdom later.)

If you figure it out, go back to google and have a look at what the IDists/creationists say about this guy and eugenics and post examples. Have they done their research?

The history of the race shows endless examples of the pain and suffering that men have inflicted upon each other by their cocksureness and their meddling.

We know something about biology. We know a little about eugenics. We have no knowledge of what kind of man would be better than the one that Nature is evolving to fit the environment which he cannot escape. We have neither facts nor theories to give us any evidence based on biology or any other branch of science as to how we could breed intelligence, happiness or anything else that would improve the race. We have no idea of the meaning of the world “improvement.” We can imagine no human organization that we could trust with the job, even if eugenicists knew what should be done, and the proper way to do it. Yet in the face of all this we have already started on the course, and the uplifters are urging us to go ahead, with no conception of where we are going, or what route we shall take!

In an age of meddling, presumption, and gross denial of all the individual feelings and emotions, the world is urged, not only to forcibly control all conduct, but to remake man himself! Amongst the schemes for remolding society this is the most senseless and impudent that has ever been put forward by irresponsible fanatics to plague a long-suffering race.

Eugenics and the Christian evangelicals


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.”

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