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.
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.