The Dark Side of Darwinism

One of the darker responses to Darwin’s theory was the eugenics movement. The term was coined by a cousin of Darwin’s, Francis Galton, and it means “born well.” Galton founded the Eugenics Education Society of London in 1907. Looking back now, it amazes us that such views gained the traction they did and especially in the more “progressive” segments of the Western world. But, after all, it was “science” so it had to be true, right?

During World War I, a fellow named Robert Yerkes was charged with the task of analyzing the intelligence of American soldiers. Cunningham notes: “After the war President Coolidge accepted his findings and passed the 1924 Immigration Act restricting immigration to people of favored races and nationalities. In terms of negative eugenics, Indiana was the first American state to pass a law permitting compulsory sterilization for the “unfit” in 1907.”

Cunningham continues:

“Just as eugenics lost its popularity after the Wall Street crash, it again lost its appeal after the Second World War and the discovery of the Holocaust—six million casualties of an effort to purge the biologically weak (Jews) so as to allow the naturally stronger (Aryans) to excel. According to National Socialism, the system had interfered with the natural order in the first place, thus letting Jews flourish, while at the same time letting the homosexual and the disabled live. The Nazis, upon taking power in 1933, promulgated a law allowing for forced sterilization, a law based on the work of the American eugenicist, Harry Laughlin, whose ‘Model Eugenical Sterilization Law’ has already appealed for the mass sterilization of the socially inadequate classes, including those of feeble mind. Eugenics was not the purview of the extremist but rather formed part of the cultural backbone of Western, enlightened society. It is maybe worth noting that no Roman Catholic country ever passed a law permitting any form of eugenics, positive or negative. It is fair to say, then, that social Darwinism died with Hitler. Yet it did bear offspring—sociobiology and evolutionary psychology—offspring that may have only half the genes of its parents but still, as children bear some similarity.”

Materialists often make an appeal to “reason” as if it were some ethereal “thing” or law that like gravity is universal and objective (which, as an aside, shows their platonic commitments and reliance). And yet, the scientists, the elite, the progressives, and the educated at that time felt that such a way of thinking (Eugenics) was “reasonable” or “rational.”

The materialist must wonder: Given this past, what other ideas or beliefs do I presently hold, ones in which we all agree are “rational” and “reasonable,” that could be just as dangerous and untrue as eugenics? He may need to look beyond his own narrative to those outside his strict materialism/rationalism to answer this question.

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2 Responses to The Dark Side of Darwinism

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Your problem has nothing to do with Darwinism, actually. Hitler and his minions were mostly Roman Catholic, after all. The eugenicists had a point that remains correct- that humans, as biological organisms, could be genetically selected in a conscious direction if we wished to do so. With enough slaughter, the world could be made uniformly blue-eyed if that were the direction chosen.

    Darwinists have a second point, on the matter of our psychology, which you seem to view as unrelated to evolution somehow. Darwinism observes that, among our many traits of good and ill, are a drive for power and status and survival that lead us, on occasion, and typically in the tribal setting, to kill members of other tribes. This is a matter of fact, not of opinion or theory, or something that can be wished away from our nature.

    So there we are, as human beings. Darwinism doesn't comment further on what we should do about it. It is neither dark nor light, but purely enlightening about our origin and nature. The normative question needs to be answered by our moral philosophy- hopefully one based on moral compassion and reason (in a far-seeing social sense), but there are many others to choose from!

    One could, for instance, adopt the philosophical ruminations of past generations, distilled into scripture and theology. But somehow we still end up having to make decisions for ourselves, so it isn't necessarily much use to hear how respectable slavery and genocide are, in the good book. Or one could attach oneself sheeplike to a supposedly infallible human being and his apostolic church, which has shown its lack of wisdom in countless ways as well, despite being dressed in the most impressive finery. There is no way out from thinking for one's self.


  2. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    “Your problem has nothing to do with Darwinism, actually. Hitler and his minions were mostly Roman Catholic, after all.”

    No, it has much to do with Darwinism, or the more extreme forms anyway. Nazism did not have one cause, but some streams of influence were greater than others, and the “scientific” validity, so-called, of Darwinism is what allowed reasonable and rational people to build ovens and gas chambers; it led to the “banality of evil.” That many Nazis were nominal Catholics or Protestants, was a fact they needed to displace, repress, and put aside to actually pursue their decidedly anti-Christian goals. The Nazis waged war upon the church jailing and executing many priests and pastors. Was an underlying prejudice against Jews inspired by misunderstood Christian teachings also a factor? Yes, of course. But it could hardly explain Auschwitz. If Hitler would have said, “We are going to exterminate the Jewish people because they are not Christian,” even his most loyal supporters would have thought him mad. But to say, we are going to exterminate them because of what we have learned scientifically and what is clear biologically and from empirical facts, well that makes it neither moral nor immoral—it simply makes it true empirically and factually. Such was all that was needed it seems.

    As noted regarding the book “From Darwin to Hitler:”

    “In this compelling and painstakingly researched work of intellectual history, Richard Weikart explains the revolutionary impact Darwinism had on ethics and morality. He demonstrates that many leading Darwinian biologists and social thinkers in Germany believed that Darwinism overturned traditional Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment ethics, especially those pertaining to the sacredness of human life. Many of these thinkers supported moral relativism, yet simultaneously exalted evolutionary “fitness” (especially in terms of intelligence and health) as the highest arbiter of morality. Weikart concludes that Darwinism played a key role not only in the rise of eugenics, but also in euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination, all ultimately embraced by the Nazis. He convincingly makes the disturbing argument that Hitler built his view of ethics on Darwinian principles rather than nihilistic ones. From Darwin to Hitler is a provocative yet balanced work that should encourage a rethinking of the historical impact that Darwinism had on the course of events in the twentieth century.”

    “The normative question needs to be answered by our moral philosophy- hopefully one based on moral compassion and reason…”

    “Darwinism observes that, among our many traits of good and ill…”

    But you have no way of knowing or positing what is “good” or “ill” nor what is morally compassionate. The Nazis thought they were doing “good” not “ill” and being “moral.” All you can speak of is different actions. Matter- in- motion is the extent of your analysis.


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