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Eugenic Sundays

At my blog Egnorance, commenter Diogenes believes he’s found a flaw in the straight-forward historical observation that Darwin’s theory of evolution was the germ of eugenics. 


As I stated before, almost all major creationists from 1920 to 1970 were pro-eugenics. Let’s list a few, with references. 

I already mentioned John Harvey Kellogg, cornflakes millionaire and Seventh Day Adventist, who funded the Eugenics Record Office. 

Let’s next consider A. E. Wilder-Smith, who was both a Young Earth Creationist in the Henry Morris mold…

Diogenes goes off on quite a blitz, naming Christians who during the early and middle 20th century endorsed eugenics, which was applied human evolution, as James D. Watson recently explained:

“Eugenics is sort of self correcting your evolution…”

Diogenes, in his idiosyncratic way, raises an important point. Eugenics was enthusiastically endorsed not only by the biology community and the scientific community in general, but by religious leaders by the hundreds. 

Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, explained:

[Eugenics] must be introduced into the national conscience, like a new religion. It has, indeed, strong claims to become an orthodox religious tenet of the future, for eugenics co-operate with the workings of nature by securing that humanity shall be represented by the fittest races. What nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly, and kindly.

Historian Christine Rosen, author of Preaching Eugenics and generally acknowledged as the authority on religious involvement in the eugenic movement, observes that eugenics was endorsed by many religious leaders, but not across the entire spectrum of denominations.

Rosen observes:

No Protestant fundamentalist ever joined the eugenics movement, and by 1937, the two Catholics who had been members of the [American Eugenics Society] had long since departed…

Which denominations, then, did populate the eugenics movement?


The evidence yields a clear pattern about who elected to support eugenic-style reforms and who did not. Religious leaders pursued eugenics precisely when they moved away from traditional religious tenets. The liberals and modernists in their respective faiths — those who challenged their churches to conform to modern circumstances — became the eugenics movement’s most enthusiastic supporters. 

Why did liberal denominations, but not protestant fundamentalists or Catholics, embrace eugenics with such fervor?

[T]heir purpose was clear: they were dedicated to facing head-on the challenges posed by modernity. Doing so meant embracing scientific solutions… liberal religious leaders allowed their worldviews to be molded by the promise of the new science of eugenics. 

Rosen observes that the liberal religious participants in the eugenics movement were largely preachers of the Social Gospel, a cornerstone of early 20th century Progressivism. 

It’s worth noting that the clique of denominations that fervently embraced eugenics in the early 20th century are the same clique of denominations that preach Evolution Sunday from their pulpits in the early 21st century.

Accommodation with the Darwinian understanding of man is a lodestar for religious eugenicists and their modern descendants. 

Before there was Evolution Sunday, there were eugenic Sundays, preached, more or less, from the same pulpits.

Michael Egnor

Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics, State University of New York, Stony Brook
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and is an award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.