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Recalling the First Eugenics Law, John West Reviews the Tragic History of a Pseudoscience


It is now one hundred and ten years since passage of the first eugenics law, in Indiana in 1907. The law would open a door to similar legislation across the United States, culminating ultimately in the horrors of Nazi Germany.

Indiana directed mandatory sterilization against “confirmed criminals,” “imbeciles,” “idiots,” and others, including those identified as suffering from mental illness. Many of the targeted individuals were not at all identifiable as “defective,” other than to the scientific experts of the time. On a fascinating and substantive episode of ID the Future, Center for Science & Culture associate director John West reviews the tragic history of eugenic pseudoscience, from Darwin to Hitler.

Download the episode here, or listen to it here.

Eugenics was the scientific “consensus,” the mainstream science, of its day. It was wreathed in academic prestige, with proponents at the best research universities. Its chief opponents were clergy and other religious activists, then as now dismissed by sophisticated opinion as naïve or worse. Only the chastening lesson of the Holocaust, itself an exercise in eugenics-inspired mass murder, finally discredited the idea in the eyes of most respectable people.

Dr. West draws several conclusions. One is that the scientific “consensus” can be dead wrong, and dangerously so. Another is that open debate, rather than passively accepting whatever is claimed in the name of science, is a crucial defense for truth and against injustice. A third is the necessity of resisting the lure of scientism, the mistaken belief that scientists at any given moment know best in all matters.

Photo credit: Gbauer8946 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



anniversaryCenter for Science & CultureeugenicshistoryHolocaustID the FutureIndianainjusticeJohn Westmental illnessNazi GermanyScientific consensusscientismscientists