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Darwinism and Eugenics Revisited

John G. West

Was eugenics a misapplication of Darwin’s theory to society? I must respectfully disagree with part of neurosurgeon Michael Egnor’s recent post at ENV, which seemed to suggest that it was. Egnor correctly pointed out that eugenics is based on artificial selection, whereas Darwin’s theory is premised on natural selection. But that fact doesn’t get at why eugenics was in reality a reasonable deduction from Darwin’s theory and is properly described as “Darwinian.” As I point out in Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest, Darwin believed that human progress was ultimately based on the struggle for survival, and he further maintained that civilized societies were courting disaster by continually counteracting the law of natural selection through vaccinations, welfare programs, and the like. Eugenics was framed explicitly as an effort to remedy these violations of Darwinian natural selection

It’s true that an even more pristine application of Darwinism would have been to completely stop helping society’s unfortunates so that more of them would die. But most eugenists thought such an approach would be too cruel, and so they promoted the artificial selection of eugenics as a more humane way to solve the problems identified by Darwinian biology. The fact remains that eugenics was thoroughly grounded in the principles of Darwin’s theory. It explicitly sought to remedy a problem identified by Darwin himself in his book The Descent of Man.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

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