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Intersection of Life and Faith

Policy Expert Sees Darwinism-Eugenics Link

  • Monisha Bansal Staff Writer
  • 2007 1 May
Policy Expert Sees Darwinism-Eugenics Link
(CNSNews.com) - Charles Darwin's theories provided the basis for the eugenics movement, which 100 years ago saw the passage of the world's first forced sterilization law, a conservative policy expert said Monday.

"By 1960, more than 60,000 people had been sterilized against their will in the United States in the name of a scientific movement known as eugenics," John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, told an event at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.

He described eugenics as "a movement that sought to improve society by applying Darwinian biology to human breeding."

Apart from forced sterilization, marriage laws, immigration quotas, racism, and "dehumanizing the poor" were "core parts of the eugenics movement," West added.

"Eugenics is a corollary of organic evolution," he said. "Eugenicists argued that we were sinning against the law of natural selection.

"These people thought that the reason we needed eugenics was because we had so counteracted the law of natural selection that we were letting the defective breed, contrary to the biological law reached by Darwin," West argued.

"Instead of letting people just die in the gutter ... they thought that eugenics was a rational and kinder way back to Darwinian evolution."

The world's first eugenic sterilization law was introduced in Indiana in 1907. Fourteen years later, the state's Supreme Court found the legislation "to prevent procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists" unconstitutional.

In 1927, however, a revised bill was enacted applying to "inmates of state institutions, who are insane, idiotic, imbecile, feebleminded, and epileptic, and who by the laws of heredity are the probable potential parents of socially inadequate offspring likewise afflicted." Indiana's General Assembly only repealed it in 1974.

Historians record that some 2,500 Indiana citizens in state custody were involuntarily sterilized over that period. Similar laws were enacted in 29 other states, and an estimated 65,000 people were involuntarily sterilized.

Fred Edwords, director of communications for the American Humanists Association, disputed West's assertions, calling them "an attempt to tarnish the legitimate science of evolution with the pseudo-science of eugenics."

"This is the rhetoric creationists have been using since the late 1970s," Edwords told Cybercast News Service. "It doesn't mean that evolution supported that view. People just used it to give a sort of false credibility to whatever their agenda was - eugenics was one of those cases.

"Eugenics never was good science, and it was a misapplication of a little bit of genetics," he added. "We all know you can breed animals and do selective breeding with them ... but you can't do that with people. It doesn't work.

"All it does is lead to prejudice and bigotry and the crimes that were committed against people with sterilizations and things like that," Edwords said. "It's just somebody's excuse for racism. It was never good science.

"To take some mistaken political agenda of the past and try and compare it to legitimate evolutionary science today is just playing a straw man game. It's simply a logical fallacy to use that argument," he added.

Abortion too

But West countered that society today does "things that approach eugenics."

Abortions are an "evolved" form of eugenics, he said, noting that Planned Parenthood Federation of America's founder Margaret Sanger was an advocate of eugenics. "Abortions are performed on the poor in disproportionate numbers," West said.

On its website, Planned Parenthood says that it finds those views held by Sanger "objectionable and outmoded."

"Attempts to discredit the family planning movement because its early 20th-century founder was not a perfect model of early 21st-century values is like disavowing the Declaration of Independence because its author, Thomas Jefferson, bought and sold slaves," they said.

Another leading abortion-rights pioneer reported to have held eugenics views was Marie Stopes, the Scottish-born founder of the U.K.-based Marie Stopes International, which carries out about 35,000 abortions a year.

Stopes, who opened Britain's first "family planning clinic" in 1921, reportedly referred to the children of the poor as "puny and utterly unsatisfactory."

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