How the West was ‘Won’: with spin and rewriting history

The Discovery Institute is spinning wildly to make excuses for West’s performance on Friday, and to declare him the “winner”.

I got two calls last night about Dr. John West’s presentation at the University of Minnesota on Darwinism’s fathership of eugenics. It appears that the scholarly and well-delivered lecture, derived from the new West book, Darwin Day in America, was successful in influencing the thinking of a largely skeptical audience. (The dyspeptic and ad hominem blogger/biologist Dr. P.Z. Myers was there and brought a Darwinist claque. West generously introduced him and acknowledged him as Minnesota’s Richard Dawkins, which is about right.)

It was not a very “scholarly” lecture. As Mark Borrello discussed in his too-brief rebuttal, there’s more to history than just listing the facts, which is the bare minimum expected of the historian. West got the facts right, and then twisted them all into a distorted and unconvincing argument for a Darwinian source for eugenics. It was poorly done; perhaps the Disco Institute thinks that interspersing animal sounds in a presentation is good cover for a bad argument?

It is simply not true that he succeeded in influencing his skeptical audience. I talked to quite a few people afterwards; I found none who thought he was at all persuasive, and we had a good time poking holes in his argument…which hole-poking we would have more gladly done in the Q&A, if the organizer hadn’t tried to run down the clock.

Now here’s something revealing. At a couple of points, West would quote some scientist who’d said something about humans as animals, and call that “dehumanizing”. It was peculiar; is it the DI’s position that humans aren’t animals? It seems that maybe it is.

The Darwinists also want you to think that eugenics was all a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But eugenics has been revived in our time and the New Eugenics Movement is also product of Darwinism and Darwinists. You only have to read Dawkins, Singer, Pinker and the rest to see the same disdain for human exceptionalism that fueled the original eugenics movement. Therefore, West’s history is not just “academic”, it’s urgent.

Ah, so humans are supposed to be exceptional, and any scientist who tries to claim that we’re also animals, evolved from animals is going to get slapped with the label “eugenicist”. Charming.

And let’s see what kind of dishonest nonsense Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute chooses to close his screed…

The Darwinists hate hearing about the history of eugenics because it is true and there really isn’t much they can do to spin it or control it. I like it for the same reasons.

We do? In my last post on this subject, I mentioned Stephen Jay Gould’s essay on Carrie Buck, and I could also suggest his book, The Mismeasure of Man(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) — in case the Discovery Institute is unfamiliar with Gould, I’ll explain that he was not a creationist. I’ll also refer you to John Wilkins (again, not a creationist), who has written a whole series on this topic, and has also berated the DI for their appalling distortions. As I said to West on Friday, the overwhelming majority of modern biologists, who are also in the DI’s parlance “Darwinists”, deplore and reject eugenics. We do not try to “spin it” at all — I think we’re reasonably unambiguous in damning it all as an ugly episode in our social history, and one we should not try to repeat.

Chapman likes it because it allows him to parrot a false syllogism: people who accept the scientific evidence for evolution and see Homo sapiens as a species of animal are all eugenicists who want to forcibly sterilize ‘undesirables’ and march the people they don’t like off to the death camps. This is their contemptible strategy: lie about their opponents and impute the vilest, most Nazi-like motives to them. It makes his opening insult, that I’m the “ad hominem blogger/biologist”, painfully ironic.


  1. David Marjanović, OM says

    Also, ad hominem is neither an adjective, nor does it mean “insulting”. It’s an argument “at the person” instead of against the person’s argument.

    “X is a True Christian, therefore I believe him” is an ad hominem argument, too…

  2. David Marjanović, OM says

    Also, ad hominem is neither an adjective, nor does it mean “insulting”. It’s an argument “at the person” instead of against the person’s argument.

    “X is a True Christian, therefore I believe him” is an ad hominem argument, too…

  3. says

    They’re also down-grading you: yesterday, you were “America’s Richard Dawkins” (my emphasis), but today you’re only the Dawkins of Minnesota. Oh, the calumny!

  4. Hank Fox says


    Damn. I’d hate for nice Christians to label ME dyspeptic.

    I already have to take antacids.

  5. says

    I have never seen you “dyspeptic,” either.

    hmmmm…. two links from Pharyngula in one month. My server is going to boot me for too much traffic. I had better go back to being irrelevant.

  6. says

    Oh, Truth is Truth, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
    Young Earthers Lie, and presently they’ll spin this new defeat;
    But there is neither place to spin, nor squirm, nor run, nor hide,
    When at the talk, they opened the doors,
    And they let PZ inside!

  7. Hank Fox says

    Claque: A group of persons hired to applaud an act or performer, as in a theatre or night club; a group of syncophants.

    PZ, can I be one of your syncophants? I really could use some extra income right now.

    If you like, you can even address me as “lowly toad” or “witless thrall,” and I’ll call you Master.

    Depends on the salary, of course.

  8. Quiddam says

    Is eugenics immoral? Christians who rely on the absolute moral authority of the Bible will find it difficult to find support there.

    Eugenics has had a long history in societies thousands of years before Darwin (or more importantly Galton.)

    It’s just about breeding, a concept well understood before evolution by natural selection was thought of. Genocide, prohibitions about marrying outsider’s, keeping the bloodline pure and ensuring the disabled are excluded are common themes throughout God’s inerrant word. Leviticus 21:17-21 for example.

    It’s certainly true that Darwin’s work was the inspiration for Galton’s ideas and that eugenics was supported by many influential philosophers, scientists, politicians and religious leaders at the time. It was not considered wrong or immoral at the time and is a perfect example of how moral vales change over time. (If Slavery were not already sufficient to persuade everyone)

    By using science and reason the systematic study of ethics allows us to reach complex moral decisions more readily than the crudely superficial “thou shalt not kill” can ever do. Eugenics was shown to be bad science and bad ethics hence is rightly condemned.

    If the religious consider eugenics to be immoral, they read that into the bible rather than deriving it from the bible.

  9. CalGeorge says

    Tiresome people.

    And they think it is fine to make a career out of being tiresome.

    Well it’s not.

    Do something useful with your fucking lives, you boring, foolish DI wastrels.

  10. raven says

    The DI has dropped their pretense of being a pseudoscience disguised creationist institute. They are now a propaganda arm of the Xian extremists.

    They take their place with Fox news, doublethink tanks of the neocons, the various magazines, newspapers, and websites of the extreme Xian right, and of course, the Death cult churches. Smart move really, their funding will probably go way up.

    Don’t make the simple complex. Goebbels said it years ago. Lie big and lie often.

    What a few have pointed out and the DI ignores. Evolution is a scientific theory about how and why life changes through time. It has proved critical and useful in medicine and agriculture. It has been misused from time to time. The misuse has zero bearing on whether the theory is correct or not.

  11. raven says

    If the DI theory that what happened long ago is important, they got a lot of explaining to do.

    1. The sectarian violence of the Reformation lasted 400 years, killed tens of millions, and fizzled out in N. Ireland a whole 7 years ago.

    2. Xians killed thousands or tens of thousands of witches in the middle ages. One of the shining moments of theocracy in America was the Puritan’s murder of 26 alleged witches.

    3. Sectatian violence has flaired from time to time in America. The Puritans also killed Unitarians and Quakers. Other Xians killed Mormons who returned the favor by massacring some Xians.

    4. More recently Xian terrorists have been assassinating MDs in the USA.

    There is more. I expect a press release from the DI explaining and acknowledging these activities when hell hits .001 degree of above absolute zero.

  12. octopussy says

    Just out of curiosity, how many here have actual degrees in the Life sciencies (Physics, Biology, Chemistry for instance)?

  13. says

    The Discovery Institute is making an ad hominem argument in the correct sense of the term: like Mathis on Friday, by calling me “America’s/Minnesota’s Richard Dawkins”, they’re just shouting “He’s an atheist!!!”.

    And yeah, I’m being steadily demoted. Tomorrow I expect they’ll announce that I’m “Morris, Minnesota’s Richard Dawkins”. And then my wife will tell me that I only get to be Richard Dawkins when I’m in the living room, and no more English accents allowed in the bedroom.

  14. carlsonjok says

    perhaps the Disco Institute thinks that interspersing animal sounds in a presentation is good cover for a bad argument?

    Well, you have to admit, it is at least a bit more decorous than using fart noises, like Dr. Dr. Dembski did with the original version of The Judge Jones School of Law

  15. BlueIndependent says

    This is just another example of the wider right-wing strategy to drive a wedge into everything and make an issue where none exists. They do this to keep reasonable people on constant defense so they never have an opportunity ti fight back. Call this what it is: cry-baby whining and stamp-my-feet finger-in-ears bratism taken to gallingly dishonest heights.

    They don’t care that they’re wrong. Their elitism is enough to show that. This is all the product of the right-wing worldview that people are inherently evil, and that nothing good can come from a human construct; it all has to be passed down from some place to be right or usable. It’s a glimpse at illogic at its most ugly.

  16. lone pilgrim says

    One doesn’t need a degree in life sciences to understand the disingenuous frauds the DI regularly commit. Meyer, DeWolf, Dembski, and a lot of their other leading clowns don’t have life sciences degrees either.

  17. rrt says

    But of course, Raven, the way many of these people think, the misuse of a theory has everything to do with its validity. I won’t do the DI the kindness of granting them that assumption, mainly because we know it isn’t true for at least some of them. But for a lot of their target audience, this really is how you establish “truth.” The scientific method is trumped by their pastor’s authority and their own desires.

  18. fardels bear says

    An ad hominem argument attacks the argument through the character of the person offering the argument. Therefore, if someone says, “Person X is a person of bad character” that is NOT an ad hominem argument, that is character assassination.

    An ad hominem argument argument would look something like this:

    Person X says argument Y
    Person X is a person of bad character
    Therefore argument Y should be rejected.

    That is form of the direct or abusive ad hominem argument. Contrary to what we often read on blogs, ad hominem arguments are not always fallacious. In particular the circumstantial ad hominem argument is often non-fallacious:

    –Person X says argument Y
    –But Person X has engaged in actions indicating they are committed to the opposite of Y.
    –Person X is thus a person of bad character
    –Therefore argument Y should be rejected.

    So, if I argue:

    –John West claims to be interested in objective historical inquiry.
    –But John West’s speech clearly shows him to be a partisan demagogue who distorts history.
    –Therefore John West is a person of bad character.
    –Therefore I will reject his argument that he is interested in historical inquiry.

    That is circumstantial ad hominem argument. And it is not fallacious.

  19. Bobby says

    More to the point… what’s the point? Even if Darwin inspired eugenics — of course he didn’t; our distant and perhaps not so distant ancestors used to abandon defective children to die — but if he had, what bearing does that have on the reality of evolution? Does the fact that bombs can be used for bad purposes mean that chemistry and physics have everything wrong? If religion motivates people to do ill, does that mean religion is wrong?

    And last but not least… what has any of this got to do with Intelligent Design? It is utterly devoid of evidence — nay, substance — regardless of how bad their spin can make science look. Did West have a point in there somewere? Was his talk supposed to be anything other than propaganda for consumption by people who are desperate to rationalize their rejection of reality?

  20. Joe Bob says

    @1: Also, ad hominem is neither an adjective…

    If you’re going to quibble, then get it right. It is an adjective. Sheesh…

  21. says

    (cheerfully) You can count on the Disingenuous Institute to pretty much misrepresent anything that serves their agenda. How doth they mangle the truth? Let us count the ways:

    1) (Biology) Evolution is routinely portrayed as entirely the product of chance, or else conflated either with natural selection/abiogenesis, or described as the product of a worldview (“Darwinism”), or based entirely on evidence open to interpretation, etc. etc.

    2) (Nature of Science) Scientific practice is routinely conflated with the monotheistic culture in which science emerged (“Christianity’s child”), while attempts at delimiting science as practiced from religion are denounced as naturalism/atheism.

    3) (Theology) Advocates routinely protest the application of any conclusions about the Designer, to the ludicrous point that they claim that they are not, in effect, proposing a ‘God of the gaps’ argument. “We’re not, we’re not! Don’t confuse us with facts.”

    4) (Religious Motivation) The DI routinely asserts that ID is not religious, nor motivated by religion, it’s a ‘big tent’.

    5) (Sociology of Science) There is an enormous CONSPIRACY, dontcha know, to keep critiques of “Darwinism” out of sight, out of mind. Never mind that some of the greatest lights in evolutionary biology (S.J. Gould is a sterling example) made their reputations precisely through such critiques.

    6) (Current Events) “We nevah, I repeat nevah encouraged the Dovah School Board to place design in theah curriculum, and the Dovah decision has nothing to do with the validity of ID. Oh, and that conservative Bush-appointed Republican John Jones III, he’s a judicial activist…”

    7) (Secondary Science Curriculum) Biology textbooks are “laced with Darwinism”, are filled with dishonest or misrepresentative ‘icons of evolution’, says the Rev. J. Wells, who only had to change his name once and schools thrice to acquire (at the expense of the DI and his church) the academic credentials needed to pose as a scientist.

    8) (Probability Theory) “For my next trick,” says Bill, “I will misappropriate a fellow mathematician’s work in this field (NFL theorems), resist all attempts to make the supposed math in my derivations explicit and characterize the source of this imaginary math as an aspect of God’s nature. [Didn’t get the memo about item #4]

    Due to time constraints, this post must end. Point being, why would any of us at this point be surprised that a DI shill who happens to be a historian would misrepresent history, given their track record in other fields?

  22. CthaWorld says


    BSc (Hons) Biology & Physics, with Math minor
    MSc Neuroscience
    DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine)
    Now working on DVSc (Doctor of Veterinary Science)

    Regular reader of this blog… just don’t comment that much because I’d be preaching to the converted ;)

  23. says


    Somewhere north of 1 but south of 10,000, I would assume. I have a degree in the life sciences… an actual one from a non-Bob Jones university, even.

  24. says

    Whether Chapman was “poisoning the well” or using an ad hominem is irrelevant to the article. It is ironic that he should follow the adjective “dsyspeptic” with the term “ad hominem blogger/biologist.”

    John West misdirects his audiences about the science standards in Minnesota, therefor anything he says about the connection between “darwinism” and “eugenics” should be rejected.

  25. Ray C. says

    –Person X says argument Y
    –But Person X has engaged in actions indicating they are committed to the opposite of Y.
    –Person X is thus a person of bad character
    –Therefore argument Y should be rejected.

    Careful with that one. Thomas Jefferson says that all men are created equal. Thomas Jefferson owns slaves. Therefore we should reject the claim that all men are created equal.

  26. Sastra, OM says

    Ah, but if you see humans as animals, that will lead first to eugenics and the death camps — and next thing you know, vegetarians advocating animal rights! And then they will try to take away our guns!

  27. Samphire says

    In about 10 minutes time I shall be strolling up the road to have supper with my sister, an intelligent woman but also an unapologetic young-earth creationist. Ironically, it was in what is now her bedroom that Francis Galton died nearly 97 years ago. The two of us do not discuss the Theory of Evolution together because, according to her, there are no intermediate forms. I am debating with myself whether or not to buy her for Christmas Prothero’s excellent “Evolution. What the fossils say and why it matters”. Should I?

  28. says

    BS Chemistry, though it’s from Baylor, so I think it only counts for like 3/4 of a degree. Not a big commenter here, but I check Pharyngula at least three times a day, so I think I count.

  29. raven says

    The scientific method is trumped by their pastor’s authority and their own desires.

    This is the “clap your hands and believe real hard”, model of reality.

    If we all bought into this, we would still be living in caves. And clapping a lot.

  30. richCares says

    Social Darwanism:
    The application of Darwin’s theory to the study of human society, specifically a theory in sociology that individuals or groups achieve advantage over others as the result of genetic or biological superiority. It has absolutely nothing to do with Darwin or the theory of evolution, those that claim it does are banking on the ignorance of their followers (and that ignorance is vast)

  31. says

    –John West claims to be interested in objective historical inquiry.

    –But John West’s speech clearly shows him to be a partisan demagogue who distorts history.

    –Therefore John West is a person of bad character.

    –Therefore I will reject his argument that he is interested in historical inquiry.

    I don’t see that the third step necessarily follows or is relevant to the general argument. John West could really believe that his particular distortion is as ‘true’ as any interpretation crafted by his fellow historians. What matters is that evidence can be presented that the presentation does not meet the standard of objective inquiry, and that the conclusions of said presentation can be freely rejected.

  32. says

    I think you misunderstood the argument when he refers to Singer, and I’m sure most people here don’t agree with Singer as I was arguing for his point recently in comments and was certainly not met with agreement. He’s not calling those people eugenicists, he’s saying that by spreading the idea that humans are animals you are elevating animals and denigrating humans, something I was accused of here as well.

    I don’t agree that that’s the case. I think that we can elevate animals and not denigrate humans, and we are doing a great job of denigrating humans as it is.

  33. says

    Eugenics is awesome!

    There. That should give the Disco-Institutionalized, quote-mining horde enough fodder to carry them through the holidays.

    Of course, the opinions stated above do not necessarily reflect those of Pharyngula or any employees of PZ Myers Global Media Empire.

  34. Sven DiMilo says

    re #11: Just out of curiosity, how many here consider chemistry and physics to be “Life Sciences”? (eyes a-rollin’)

    As for me, I have a couple of degrees in biological sciences. But who cares? You really don’t need much higher education of any kind to pick up on the fact that people like West are full of shit.

  35. says

    Those Discovery Institute goons are perfectly comfortable lying about Darwin. What creeps. Its unabashed lying. They are bold faced liars. To think they have to lie to such an extent, I find very disturbing. Whats the next step for people so willing to lie or be lied to? Scary!

  36. Philip T. says

    re #11.

    I’ve got no formal post-secondary ed in any of the life sciences. I got re-hooked on evolution by reading Gould and Dawkins twenty years ago. I know enough about it to understand that vigorous debates, such as the ones about the relative importance of selection on genotype, phenotype, or species, are the signs of a fruitful field of inquiry that’s producing testable ideas, not the death throes of “a theory in crisis” as the IDiots would have the public believe.

  37. ryana says

    “Just out of curiosity, how many here have actual degrees in the Life sciencies (Physics, Biology, Chemistry for instance)?”

    BA Physics, JD, working part-time (as in one course a semester) on an MS in Computer Engineering.

    Physics isn’t a life science, is it? We always thought of ourselves as the only real scientists, w/ maybe electrical engineering and chemistry worthy to even whimper in our shadow. ;)

  38. The Reverend says

    I have been visiting this blog frequently during the last few months and find it educational, inspiring, insightful and an excellent source of links to pertinent data and arguments concerning the ID/Evolution debate.
    Being, simply, a high school graduate (a Doctor of Divinity degree is honorary) I find myself reaching for a dictionary or an encyclopedia to clarify or verify statements made from either camp.
    Being in the Evolutionist camp, I have been provided with ample ammunition to frame informed arguments and have the resources to back these arguments.
    Thank you to PZ and all the posters for your input.

  39. ryana says

    BTW, I forgot to mention this part of my education. Once when my partner forgot to buy TP, I had to make a decision between last weeks Sunday newspaper & my JD diploma from a top tier law school. I figured that if I crinkled the newspaper up it would at least help start a fire in the fire place, so I used the JD diploma. All my friends from law school are actually amazed that someone finally was able to get something of value from a JD. I call it the $75,000 wipe.

  40. says

    Samphire (#29): You know your sister best, so you have to decide whether she would be intrigued or offended by a book on evolution. Her mind is already made up and she denies the existence of transitional fossils. Is she open to evidence to the contrary, or will she merely take offense?

    A few years ago I noticed my mother was reading trash by Coulter and Noonan (esp. the latter’s smarmy Case Against Hillary Clinton) and decided to give her Clinton’s autobiography as a gift. If she was going to suck up all the trash from the smear artists, perhaps a sense of fairness would prompt her to read the words of the smear target herself. Oh, no. Mom was deeply offended and upset. Her mind was made up and how dare I suggest she was getting only one side of the story!

    Will your sister’s reaction be more moderate? Answer that question, and you’ll know what to do.

    P.S.: The fact that a YEC can sleep soundly in Francis Galton’s death chamber suggests there is no lingering spiritual influence from the dear departed. Has she thought of that?

  41. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    The Discovery Institute is making an ad hominem argument in the correct sense of the term: like Mathis on Friday, by calling me “America’s/Minnesota’s Richard Dawkins”, they’re just shouting “He’s an atheist!!!”.

    Better then being known as John “Mae” West – “Is that a spandrel in your pocket or are you just happy to see me…?”

  42. J Myers says

    -adjective Also, dys·pep·ti·cal.
    1. pertaining to, subject to, or suffering from dyspepsia.
    2. gloomy, pessimistic, and irritable.
    3. a person subject to or suffering from dyspepsia.

    – from

  43. Moses says

    3. Sectatian violence has flaired from time to time in America. The Puritans also killed Unitarians and Quakers. Other Xians killed Mormons who returned the favor by massacring some Xians.

    Also, off the top of my head, I know for sure Mennonites, Catholics, Baptists and others were persecuted, and sometimes killed, by various other faiths specifically for their religious beliefs.

  44. Colugo says

    The main error of creationists regarding evolution and eugenics is that they think eugenics is an inevitable implication of evolutionary biology. The eugenicists thought so too, of course. For the former, this association condemns evolution; for the latter, it commends eugenics.

    There are two parts to this notion of inevitability: descriptive and prescriptive. The descriptive part is the belief that the human gene pool would actually be improved by such measures, rather than having no beneficial effect or even being harmful. The second part is whether it is desirable and acceptable to put such policies into practice. ‘In the Descent of Man’ Darwin himself seems to recognize the potential efficacy of such measures – a section opportunistically quote-mined by creationists – but then concludes that such practices would be unacceptable. The eugenicists differed from Darwin in that they failed to distinguish between description and prescription.

    Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871, beginning on p. 168:

    Quote mining heaven for creationists: “Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”

    The part, which soon follows, which they leave out: “Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil. Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind…”

    Darwin goes on to note that social mobility, both upward and downward, and other social phenomena should help counter the selection-thwarting effects of civilization. He is much less pessimistic than the later eugenicists and he firmly rejects the social Darwinist/eugenicist ethos.

    As for the pre-Darwinian, even pre-modern antecedents to eugenics: certainly, “eugenic” infanticide is very common in traditional societies. But modern eugenics was in practice much more than infanticide of the defective or, as some have suggested, a rationale for genocide (just like The Bible). It also involved mass sterilization of non-criminal citizens whose performance on tests were deemed too low, measurements of phenotypic traits against a “scientific” ideal, and many other distinct practices. But more importantly, eugenics was not just practice, it was theory.

    That theory had many streams and variants, not just Darwinism, but also orthogenesis, Lamarckism, and saltationism. And eugenics was informed not only by biological science but by folkloric notions about race, age-old agricultural practices of breeding plants and animals, and esoteric beliefs (like the weird racialist-theosophical hybrids of Germany). But the same features are true of legitimate sciences: ancient antecedents, beliefs and practices from outside science shaping scientific models, popularization and translation into public policy.

    (For an example of a blend of scientific and folkloric/mythic ideas, consider the pro-eugenicist movie The Black Stork (1917), in which a defective infant who was allowed to die at the urging of a eugenicist physician is taken into the arms of Jesus.)

    When considering the history of the eugenics movement, it is advisable to ignore creationist claims and consider the narratives made by other groups, especially ethnic minorities historically targeted for eugenic control and disability rights activists.

    An anthropology professor told me that anthropologists honor their ancestors by crucifying them over and over again. (For the sins of colonialism, paternalism, ethnocentrism and so on.) That seemed a little self-indulgent to me, but I see the wisdom in that now. There are some biological ancestors who are in need of crucifixion – not to expiate our sins, but theirs. Not Darwin so much (he was fairly progressive and humanitarian for his time) but others certainly come to mind.

  45. Denis Loubet says

    Every time some group says don’t marry outside the group, they’re practicing eugenics. Are Christians sure they don’t want to support eugenics?

  46. pholidote says

    JD, BA (Philosphy/Linguistics)(not concentrated on biological lingusitics)

    Re: #17: I disagree. Your example is fallacious, as one can see from the parallel example: There are people who say that God does not exist; yet they sometimes act as though they believe God does exist; therefore, God exists. Ad hominem arguments are fallacious because by conventional definition they are not directed to the subject of the argument. Nevertheless, there are some kinds of arguments which resemble ad hominem arguments but are legitimate: (1) If the topic of the argument is a person, then a direct argument about the person, if otherwise material, is legit; (2) If the person is a source of evidence for a proposition, then an argument that the person is an unreliable source is legitimate to counter that evidence. In legal settings, there are detailed rules regarding the use of “bad character” evidence because it tends to be over-effective. Cognitive bias against arguments shared by or benefitting those of bad charcater, and for the opposite, usually distorts the weight which a person will attach to those arguments.

    Re: #19: In English, it is used as a single word, usually as an adjective but also, less commonly, as an adverb, noun, or even a verb. In Latin, it was a prepositional phrase, essentially performing as an adjective.

  47. woozy says

    There was no eugenics movements before 1849?

    I’ve got to admit, I just don’t get this “darwinist”/eugenics connection. I understand, as an intellectual abstraction, most other Darwin-immorrality connection (“darwin says life is random, without purpose, and humans are unexceptional, and therefore is, take your pick a)immoral b) nihilistic c)anti-god, etc. etc”) but, sheesh…

  48. Pineyman says

    Re 11:

    BS Physics, also BS Electrical Engineering, and MBA Tech Management. Mainly a skulking evo, but I have commented once or twice.

  49. says

    Re #11: My bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in math. My Ph.D. is in math education. I’ve never even taken high school biology. This clearly demonstrates that I could be an expert on intelligent design for the Discovery Institute, as well as a trenchant commentator on all matters evolutionary and biochemical.

    Unfortunately, while the true statement “ID is creationism with an extra layer of crap” reflects my actual sentiments and demonstrates that I am, indeed, an expert on ID, it tends to disqualify me from being a visiting “scholar” at the DI. Pity!

  50. BlueIndependent says

    The other factor to keep in mind here is the psychological model conservative Xians use to read. They take things by the letter, not by the spirit. Thus that is why they take what Darwin says to mean that eugenics is good. This of course is flawed thinking, and in that they would actually be poor followers of their savior. After all, Jesus was (supposedly) about the spirit of the law, not the letter. They would in that sense be followers of the Old Testament.

  51. Rey Fox says

    #54: It’s like I’ve said before, the real meaning of eugenics and the real historical advocacy thereof, and the actual modern-day discussions thereof, and whether Christians have then or now practiced some form thereof, are utterly irrelevant to the cdesign proponentsists and the sheep they herd. “Eugenics” is merely a code word for what Sastra so elegantly summed up in comment #28, i.e., a vaguely defined horror of half-remembered, half-invented elements from Brave New World and the Nazis and the Commies and the Libruls.

    It doesn’t even have to make sense.

  52. Scott says

    So, let’s pretend that science comes up with an absolute cure for cancer (or diabetes, or heart disease, or old age, etc), but it requires a little bit of (gasp) genetic engineering to eliminate or “fix” a failed gene (or set of genes). Oh, and by the way it will also mean that all your descendants will be free of the scourge too. If the DI were honest and consistent they should be vehemently opposed to such a cure, because it is “Eugenics”, and everyone knows that “Eugenics” is the work of the Devil.

    Is that about right?

  53. Rey Fox says

    Oh, and since I dearly love polls, I have a BS in Wildlife Biology*, hopefully entering an MS program in the next year.

    * Well, actually the University of Idaho saddled it with the clumsy title of “Wildlife Resources”, presumably to assure all the rural folks that I’m merely here to make sure that there will be enough hoofed mammals to shoot and I won’t be peddling any devil science.

  54. JimC says

    This of course is flawed thinking, and in that they would actually be poor followers of their savior. After all, Jesus was (supposedly) about the spirit of the law, not the letter. They would in that sense be followers of the Old Testament.

    Oh I don’t know about this as he was pretty darn clear that not one jot or tittle of the law would change.

    They maybe correct and you may be very wrong.

  55. Sastra, OM says

    I suspect that a major factor in connecting eugenics with evolution is the popular tendency to view evolution through a vitalistic, spiritual, teleological framework: evolution is progress through a Great Chain of Being. If evolution happens, then changes are improvements. So working along with it towards the goal of improvement is the right thing to do.

    Even a lot of so-called progressives only “believe in” evolution because they think it actually reinforces their spiritual views. Maybe fundamentalists are reacting to religious liberals along with materialist atheists on this one.

    From the DI:

    The dyspeptic and ad hominem blogger/biologist Dr. P.Z. Myers was there and brought a Darwinist claque.

    At least they called you “dyspeptic” instead of “militant,” and referred to your “claque” and not your “army.”

  56. Colugo says

    Interesting point, Sastra, which Julian Huxley, eugenicist, transhumanist, and brilliant biologist (plug: Problems of Relative Growth) addresses.

    Julian Huxley, The New Divinity, 1964 (Essays of a Humanist):

    “Evolution is a process, of which we are products, and in which we are active agents. There is no finality about the process, and no automatic or unified progress; but much improvement has occurred in the past, and there could be much further improvement in the future (though there is also the possibility of future failure and regression).”

    Transhumanists (posthumanists, extropians) generally reject the coercive, classist, and racist aspects of eugenics but retain the goal of improving the human gene pool – not to counteract “dysgenic” forces, but to create a new and enhanced humanity that transcends the failings and limitations of natural evolution. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that transhumanism is the successor to eugenics. (As I mentioned earlier, Shalini Sehkar and Dawkins recently confused eugenics and transhumanism. And Leon Trotsky’s musings on eugenics are really transhumanist.) There are marked differences, to be sure, but the dream of a better human is the same. As for the coercive and involuntary aspects, no one can secure permission from future generations about conducting potentially lethal and debilitating experiments on their genomes for the sake of non-medically necessary enhancements.

    Eugenics lies in the past. The struggle is now over transhumanism. That is a struggle not only of interest to evolutionary biologists and creationists, but to everyone.

    Peter Singer, ‘My Better Nature,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 2002:

    “Within the present century, we are likely to learn how to change the genes of future generations to make human nature flow in the direction we want it to flow. That knowledge will bring an awesome responsibility, a responsibility that some think should never be exercised: the responsibility of deciding to improve human nature. …

    Should we try to enhance the capacities of humans to care about others? The prospect offers the greatest hopes of improvement in the human situation that we have ever known, but it will also pose the most daunting ethical challenge we have yet faced.”

  57. negentropyeater says

    Darwin`s legacy was basically to explain how the diversity of life on earth came about in natural ways. Now,Eugenics, or any future genetic engineering, has more to do with man trying to “intelligently” design life and impact its future evolution in non natural ways. So I really don’t understand how one can blame Darwin for this.
    I think the ones who are to blame are all those who think one will find quick fix solutions and won’t think twice about the future consequences. Whether they are scientists, engineers, politicians or business men.
    The No Discovery Institute is just trying to confuse things a little more, afterall, when one thinks God has a monopoly on Design, it’s natural to want man to keep out of it.

  58. fardels bear says

    pholidote @ #56: I suspect you and I agree more than we disagree. What Walton and others are doing is reformulating the notion of “fallacy” in terms of dialogic argument. Walton’s “pragmatic theory of fallacy” takes as its starting point the notion that arguments are not products (sets of statements) but processes (dialogic engagements between two or more arguers).

    In some social contexts, therefore, the character of the arguer is a relevant basis for evaluating the argument they are offering. In other social contexts it is not. So, to evaluate arguments, one simply cannot offer counterexamples and claim that those counterexamples “prove” that the original argument was or was not fallacious. Evaluation must occur with a recognition that the argument existed in a larger social context.

    Therefore, those legal contexts which you’ve pointed to are examples of places where evaluation of character are relevant to evaluation of the argument. They don’t exhaust the possible places where character is relevant to argument evluation. Walton’s entire theory is, of course, much more sophisticated than the thumbnail sketch I’ve presented here. If you want to read some of his papers on the pragmatic theory of fallacy and the circumstantial ad hominem argument you can go here:

  59. Mike from Ottawa says

    “I’ve got to admit, I just don’t get this “darwinist”/eugenics connection.”

    While there had always been people who were for breeding humans the way they breed animals (aristocrats and wealthy people who’d want their children married off to fertile children of other aristocrats or wealthy people, for example), with the advent of Darwinian evolution some folk concluded that with human society (at least in the West at the time) having reached the point where famine and plagues couldn’t be counted on to weed out the inferior sorts by natural selection, if we wanted to maintain the ‘vigor’ of the species we’d have to step in and do some artificial selection. A causal connection to Darwin is tenuous in the extreme, and, of course, even if it were true (and it ain’t) that the idea of selective breeding of humans had never occurred to anyone until Darwin opened that particular Pandora’s Box, it would say nothing whatever about the truth of the theory of evolution itself.

    As with scientific racism, from Morton to Hernnstein, Murray and Rushton, folk will seize on anything to twist to support their pre-existing biases. The wealthy and powerful always fear the poor and ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenics were ways of putting a scientific gloss on what suited the wealthy and powerful already.

    The Disinformation Institute are a pack of liars.

    My BSc(Math/Science) which included a number of uninspiring biology courses (which I only took to help out a friend who was trying to get into med school) together with my LLB would make me an expert on biology by Disinformation Institute standards. I really got into evolutionary biology (which is to say biology) when a friend loaned me ‘The Flamingo’s Smile’ and I’ve never looked back.

  60. says

    #11 – My “FCD” is honorary, granted because I have signed up at Friends of Charles Darwin.

    Membership of the Friends of Charles Darwin entitles you to append the letters FCD (Friend of Charles Darwin) to your name. Why waste three or four years of your life drinking beer at university, when you can have a valuable three-letter qualification right now?

    I have no other degree.

  61. says

    BA in Philosophy/Foreign Language with an emphasis in Logic and Epistemology. Dissuaded from further pursuit of Biology by shitty freshmen bio teachers. :(

    All the same, West and the DI are full of crap.

    Lastly, David’s comment at #1 is an interesting reversal of the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy.

  62. Olorin (Mike Anglin) says

    The Dishonesty Institute claims that a largely skeptical audience was won over by John West’s golden tongue.*

    This aspect has not yet been discussed. The audience was largely young and quiet. Coming in, rather few seemed to me to have strong opinions either way.** Going out, rather few seemed to have strong opinions either way.** One apparent grad student wanted to nail the DI on global warming, abortion, etc. in her question. One older man who identified himself as a lawyer defended the DI lukish warmishly. Claiming a “win” by the DI seems grossly overreaching. Do any other attendees have a different take as to the audience reaction?

    There is one question that should have been asked but was not. I myself was too chicken to say: “Dr West, who owns the copyrights for the photos in your slide show?”

    My undergrad and grad degees are in electrical engineering . (There was no such thing as computer science in those halcyon days, but my first computer program was written in 1956—in octal.) Then I got a JD and went into patent law to see the world of technology from a greater altitude. This landscape has included occasional swoops into biotech and medical devices.


    *—It was indeed golden, but also forked.

    **—Aside from the Darwin Claque, of course.

  63. Samphire says

    To Octopod: Thanks. I’ll try it and let you know how it went

    To Xeno: Hmmm. I don’t think she will be offended – she will just go “tut”. She isn’t a spiritualist so an “evil spirit” floating over her bed won’t be a problem. She makes a lovely apple crumble, by the way.

  64. says

    Were the “two calls” that Chapman received both from the Hat Lady?

    I know I’ve been saying this for two days now, but the video is uploading. It will be on Reverend Barking Nonsequitur’s website.

  65. woozy says

    As with scientific racism, from Morton to Hernnstein, Murray and Rushton, folk will seize on anything to twist to support their pre-existing biases.

    Right, and they’ve done that since the beginning of time.

    The only arguments I can possible see to connect Eugenics to Darwinism are

    1) Eugenic supporters cited “Survival of the Fittest”. By this logic I might as well blame Isaac Newton for the guillotine.
    2) Eugenics is derived from the word “gene” whis is how Darwinian advantages are passed down… mumble… altough Darwin didn’t know about genes…

    Anyway, perhaps the word “Eugenics” didn’t exist prior to 1849 but the idea that some people were superior to others due to having “better families” or coming from “better stock” has been around forever (otherwise how can one explain aristocracy or hereditary monarchy) as has controlling “undesirable” elements via breeding and sterilization. Just look at the policies of Ancient Rome. Just look at the xenophobia (“keep the Jewish people pure”) of the old testament.

    Sheesh. If anything Eugenics utterly ignores “Darwinism”. There’s nothing in “classical” Eugenics (pre-bio-engineering; the “good old days” of eugenics via selective breeding and sterilization– shouldn’t Watson and Crick be better targets as fathers of Eugenics — oh, right, the same wackos do target them…) to account for mutations and recognizing emergent adaptations. Breeding “the best” to “the best” isn’t natural or artificial selection. It’s simply dog breeding which had been possible and practiced (as had human breeding) for thousands of years before Darwin.

    I mean I really don’t get it.

  66. says

    Oh, okay — despite my four years working in the labs, my working as a TA in graduate biology courses, I never did finish in biology. My bachelors is in Mass Communication, my graduate degree is a JD, with emphasis in environmental law.

    So, I guess that means I can’t comment on the science? Okay, I’ll make myself useful by noting that the DI press releases are fact-deficient harangues unworthy of publication, and noting that their claims about the legality of teaching ID are equal to claims that the FAA should regulate pig farms to prevent flying pigs from posing hazards to aviation.

  67. says

    . . .he was pretty darn clear that not one jot or tittle of the law would change.

    Well, somebody tell John West that Jesus doesn’t approve of West’s effing with the blasted tittles, then.

  68. Colugo says

    The British biometrical school, eugenics, and the anti-eugenics approach of post-Modern Synthesis population genetics

    Marjorie Grene and David Depew
    The Philosophy of Biology: An Episodic History
    Cambridge University Press, 2004

    excerpts from Chapter 11:

    “Some prominent versions of Darwinism in the late nineteenth century, notably the biometric research program that in England was to mark out the path that eventually led toward the genetic Darwinism of the twentieth century, were deeply implicated in eugenic thinking – that is, in schemes for “improving the race” – which generally meant the white, European race – by preventing the “unfit” from having children (“negative eugenics”) and by encouraging, at the other end of the statistical curve, the presumably most fit to marry one another and to produce large, fecund families (“positive eugenics”). …

    R. A. Fisher … became Galton’s heir when he was appointed to the Chair of Eugenics at the University of London. The second half of Fisher’s the Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930) is replete with assertions that human beings were appointed by their own evolutionary success to take over the evolutionary process (presumably from God) in order to beat back the melancholy effects of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. …

    Whereas the resistance of Wright and Dobzhansky to Fisher … was grounded in purely scientific objections, neither was unaware of Fisher’s ideological baggage, of which they were critical. …

    …Dobzhansky’s theory of balancing selection seemed to provide good scientific reasons for thinking that eugenics is both impossible and unwise … For Dobzhansky, it is impossible because genetic variation is plentiful in natural populations, and is not bunched up at one end of the curve or the other. So the very possibility of identifying “hereditary geniuses” and the “feeble-minded” makes no sense. (The opposite, so-called “classical” view of population structure, according to which one can identify good and bad outliers in populations whose genes are generally presumed to be fairly homogeneous, was presupposed by eugenicists. Although not every one who held this view was a eugenicist, the last significant defender of the classical view was the left-eugenicist Hermann Muller, who for a time abandoned the United States for the Soviet Union, where he naively assumed that socialism would include an effort to select for the traits of Beethoven, Goethe and, alas, Lenin, rather than the likes of Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth…)”

    In sum, modern population genetics made eugenics not only ethically untenable but theoretically nonviable.

  69. Louis says

    re #11: Oooh is someone playing the qualifications game? I’ll bite!

    BSc (Hons) and PhD in chemistry, over 10 years professional experience as a research scientist, and I’m working on a BSc (Hons) in biology, in my spare time, as a hobby. Is that enough? Do I gets me a prize?

    No, I doubt it.

    Qualifications mean you have jumped through some important hoops at certain important times and in certain important ways. I’m not elevating the ignorant nor decrying the unqualified when I say “judge each person on their individual merits, everyone has something to teach you because everyone knows something you don’t.

    However, none of this changes the simple fact that the average output of the Dishonesty Institute is manifestly obvious blither that wouldn’t fool a reasonably intelligent house plant. Only blinkered religious idiots with a whiny psychological deficiency that entails them believing reality persecutes them by not fitting their mindless preconceptions think the DI has anything to offer other than more wasted ink on more dead trees. You don’t need a nice set of letters after (or before) your name to notice that. A passing familiarity with the unvarnished universe is all that’s required.

    In years gone by many of the foundational elements of science were laid down by people who didn’t jump through the hoops mentioned above. Please remember that and don’t think in boxes. The caveat that must always apply to this enobling comment is, however, the Saganesque “They laughed at Gallileo, they laughed at Columbus, but they also laughed at Bozo the clown”. Just because you are an unqualified person of intellect does not automatically mean you are a misunderstood genius who’s time is merely waiting to come. Sometimes people who are qualified are not infallible geniuses but actually morons. Sometimes people who aren’t qualified are not misunderstood wunderkinds but actually morons.

    I’m thinking I should try to be sober when I post. I think all of those words could be reduced to: Morons happen. Watch out.


  70. Sastra, OM says

    I don’t know, but there might be some small advantage to lacking rigorous academic qualifications and biological training when dealing with creationists. You could be more likely to understand how they’re going to think — what sorts of misunderstandings and distortions are actually going on. After all, you’re not that far away from that yourself.

    Nobody is better able to help my 74 year old mother on the computer than I am. I am really, really bad at computers — but not as bad. I can speak her language, anticipate the problems, and go real slow. I’m less likely to make assumptions about what she’ll know how to do than my son, who works at UWMadison computer lab, is.

    Perhaps that’s an optimistic analogy, but there’s often value in different approaches.

  71. Mena says

    The Darwinists also want you to think that eugenics was all a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
    No, that was the Clone War. I think that I see the problem. The people have a very difficult time distinguishing fact from fiction. ;^)
    Raven (#10):
    Jerusalem on July 15, 1099 was no picnic either.

  72. dustbubble says

    And yeah, I’m being steadily demoted. Tomorrow I expect they’ll announce that I’m “Morris, Minnesota’s Richard Dawkins”. And then my wife will tell me that I only get to be Richard Dawkins when I’m in the living room, and no more English accents allowed in the bedroom.

    Chin up, old thing.
    All this means is that for once in their wretched lives they’ve done some research. And discovered (no doubt to unconfined rejoicing) that, like Tigger, you’re not the only one. They just have to put extra effort into distinguishing you from the rest of the heathen horde now.

  73. Sastra, OM says

    And then my wife will tell me that I only get to be Richard Dawkins when I’m in the living room, and no more English accents allowed in the bedroom.

    Ahem. Richard Dawkins. Well. It would probably be the other way around. Just saying.

  74. says

    When the discussion turns to Darwin’s role in the Holocaust, I refer folks to

    In 1543 (i.e., somewhat before Darwin), Martin Luther produced an eight-point plan for how to resolve the “Jewish Problem,” which sounds a lot like what actually got implemented in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

    And as Colugo points out (#53), essentially all “breeds” of plants and animals of economic importance to humans are the result of various sorts of selective breeding “eugenics” programs, significantly pre-dating any records of human civilization. As a species, humans have been directing the evolution of other species for many thousands of years.

  75. SEF says

    The eugenicists differed from Darwin in that they failed to distinguish between description and prescription.

    That’s the same defect the creationists have (along with being unable to distinguish fantasy from reality). Which is why they ignorantly (and/or dishonestly) regard the so-called laws of nature not as a human description of reality but as a (god-given) prescription of it.

    It doesn’t help that many of the creationists appear to be lawyers with no significant knowledge of science. So they’re only familiar with the wrong sort of usage of “law”. Much as the typical creationist is only familiar with the wrong sort of usage of “theory”.

  76. says

    Of course if they really were opposing a eugenics that “comes from Darwinism,” they’d do some god-damned science for once, coming up with the evidence to show that there really are aspects of life which were designed (& not by us). I mean, supposing they were correct, that “natural evolution” leads to eugenics–so long as MET is the only theory with any evidence to show for it, all intelligent people would be stuck accepting that eugenics is at least a reasonable concept.

    IOW, they’re doing their best to convince the people who accept science and its conclusions that eugenics is a reasonable belief from those conclusions. We’re just fortunate that it is precisely the people who understand science who are the least likely to fall for such unsubstantiated BS.

    It’s precisely because they can’t find any unexpected problems in MET (that is, it has problems, but none that could be considered exceptional in science), let alone any evidence for their own concept, that they come up with this noxious rhetoric to cover up their lack of science.

    Be sure to note that this present line of dishonest attack accords with the “documentary” coming out in February.

    Glen D

  77. brightmoon says

    “Just out of curiosity, how many here have actual degrees in the Life sciencies (Physics, Biology, Chemistry for instance)?”

    BA biology, minor in chem (and i still can’t type ;)
    oldest child Sigma Xi & american chemical society member biochemist ….he uses my account every blue moon or so

  78. LM Wanderer says

    “Just out of curiosity, how many here have actual degrees in the Life sciencies (Physics, Biology, Chemistry for instance)?”

    BA Mathematics and Physics but started in Philosophy and Theology. Although I don’t consider physics a life science. Mostly a lurker.

    Thanks for letting me participate.

    LM Wanderer

  79. says

    “The dyspeptic and ad hominem blogger/biologist Dr. P.Z. Myers”

    ouch … an “ad hominem” piled on to an “ad hominem” claim :-(

    What a touching example of hypocrisy! ;-)

  80. jeh says

    Al Franken will have to write a new book: “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Religious Right.” Lyin’ for Jesus is all the rage these days.

  81. says

    2/3 of a biology degree from back when computers were steam-powered. A certain amount of reading since then (Gould, Dawkins, Lewis Thomas).

  82. BobbyEarle says

    I have an AAS in Computer Programming, learning C++ and Perl (no snickering, please). I am a cab driver here in Reno, NV., so I don’t think I am very qualified to speak in any kind of sensible way on biology.

    But as I am face to face with a new set of complete strangers every 10 minutes or so, I am qualified to speak on the subject of what people think about things, and whether what I am hearing is crap or not.

    The DI peddles crap. ID is crap. Willful ignorance is crap.

    Oh, and if you are every in the Biggest Little City in the World, PZ, you WILL get a break on your fare.

  83. says

    Samphire, I suspect that your sister wouldn’t read a book with “Evolution” in the title. If you want to convey something of the wonder of science, why not try Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or a book of Lewis Thomas essays? He was an American doctor who worked at Bethesda and could write the most amazing essays about all the weird and wonderful things in this world. I’d recommend Lives of a Cell or The Medusa and the Snail, or perhaps The Youngest Science (Medicine).

  84. inkadu says

    Only one person has brought this up — but why is it that the most infamous genocide of the 20th century was targetted toward Jews?

    I mean you have to be a frakking idiot not to notice something interesting about that fact.


    Darwin must have planted a hatred of Jews into the Western mind, even going so far as to invent a time machine and travel back in time to start pogroms. Yep. That evil Dr. Darwin…

    And I don’t even have a history degree.

  85. Ted Powell says

    according to her, there are no intermediate forms

    It would be interesting to hear her interpretation of “ring species”.

    BSc (Hon. Math & Physics) UBC 1962. Formal biology only in high school; subsequent undirected study prompted by such folks as SJ Gould.

    Rosalind Franklin was ripped off.

  86. Chris Noble says

    If you’re going to quibble, then get it right. It is an adjective. Sheesh…

    There is no small amount of irony in somebody applying the adjective ad hominem to a person rather than his arguments.

  87. JJR says

    “is it the DI’s position that humans aren’t animals?”

    That would be consistent with what my crazy Fundie Ex-In-Laws and crazy fundie Ex-wife* used to proclaim, at any rate.

    (*wasn’t that way when I first married her, fyi)

  88. Colugo says

    While no longer mainstream, eugenicist views have persisted in fairly mainstream circles, even up to the present day.

    Ernst Mayr, 4/14/71, private letter to Francis Crick (available online from NIH):

    “I have been favoring positive eugenics as far back as I can remember. As I get older, I find the objective as important as ever, but I appreciate also increasingly how difficult it is to achieve this goal, particularly in a democratic western society. … The time will come, and perhaps sooner than we think, when parents will have to take out a license to produce a child. No one seems to question that it requires a license for such a harmless activity as driving a car, and yet such an important activity as influencing the gene pool of the next generation can be carried out unlicensed.”

    (In the letter, Mayr cautioned that Shockley’s simplistic and racist ideas were giving eugenics a bad image. Mayr apparently changed his mind about eugenics by the 1980s.)

    Francis Crick, AMA Prism, 1973: “No newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment and that if it fails these tests it forfeits the right to live.”

    Crick was sympathetic to the racial views of Jensen and Shockley. He proposed a tax on parenthood to discourage the fertility of the poor.

    Carl L. Bajema, professor of Biology at Grand Valley State, 1983 interview in Eugenics Bulletin:

    “There doesn’t seem to have been a very strong interest in continually ascertaining what is going on in terms of differential fertility with respect to mental ability. …

    I probably would have kept the name of the society the American Eugenics Society, but changed the name of the journal to something that would be less offensive to some people who only thought in terms of Nazi-type eugenics. In fact, one of the reasons I resigned was over that. And some people didn’t want to be thinking along eugenics lines at all, which disturbed me.”

    William D. Hamilton, Annals of Human Genetics, 2000, review of Richard Lynn’s Dysgenics:

    “Neodarwinism is just too ruthless in its realism to please a majority of people: even a faint implication that an attained low station in life or education has been inevitable is too much for that hope that we all must have, the simple wish to be higher; so it is too for the feelings the average person has about their children in schools. …

    Richard Lynn, discussing the large bank of evidence that still steadily accumulates on heritability of aptitudes and differentials of fertility, shows in this book that almost all of the worries of the early eugenicists were wellfounded in spite of the relative paucity of their evidence at the time. Correct both in their intuitions and in their assessment of the tentative data available, for most of the past hundred years Lynn shows that they have been unfairly derided.”

    Interestingly, Annals of Human Genetics was once known as Annals of Eugenics, founded by Galton’s student Karl Pearson.

  89. Interrobang says

    I have no qualifications in science whatsoever — I have a Hons BA in English Language and Literature with an area of concentration in modern languages, and an MA in something that used to be called Language and Professional Writing, but is basically Applied Rhetoric. It comes in really handy for spotting bullshit arguments, even if I don’t have all the biological facts to hand; that’s what I have experts for.

    On the other hand, I’m not taking massive amounts of wingnut welfare to get up in front of crowds and give ninety-minute lectures full of lies, distortions, and more creative reframings than a museum full of outre modern paintings. I’m also not trying to — let alone getting paid to — pass myself off as an expert on all things Scientific™ and biological, either. I’m just some anonymous piker commenting on a blog somewhere. And there’s the real difference.

  90. jpf says

    Is eugenics immoral? Christians who rely on the absolute moral authority of the Bible will find it difficult to find support there.

    I’ve always thought that the story of Noah’s Flood was explicitly eugenic. God found the majority of humanity to be “wicked” and decided that he should eliminate all of them except Noah and his family, whom he considered “righteous.” It’s more than just justification for genocide, since God kept those humans whom he considered the best so that they could repopulate the earth, thus fixing humanity.

    And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

    And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

    And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

    But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.


    And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.


    And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.

  91. Tulse says

    Eugenics is still practiced by individuals — what else would you call genetic counseling for potential carriers of diseases like Huntington’s or Tay-Sachs? Trying to wipe out severe genetic disorders by convincing carriers not to give birth is, it seems to me, a completely reasonable endeavour.

    Of course, such practice is not enforced by the State, and that is the main moral difference — there is no coercion.

  92. Ichthyic says

    And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.

    what did he say to the women?

    ” HEY! You get your bitch ass back in the kitchen and make me some pie! ”


  93. Freddy the Pig says

    BSc in Mechanical Engineering – I can’t understand why any engineer could swallow the ID nonsense since it is obvious that our bodies are not intelligently designed, but are obviously evolutionary kluges. Like many others here my interest in evolution was re-kindled by Gould.

    In my home Province of Alberta the Eugenics Act was passed by the Fundy Social Credit government of Bible Bill Aberhart. Revoking it was the second bill passed by the Secular Progressive Conservatives under Peter Lougheed after they defeated the Socred’s.

  94. CortxVortx says

    Re: #11

    Just out of curiosity, how many here have actual degrees in the Life sciencies (Physics, Biology, Chemistry for instance)?

    Bachelor’s in Chemistry, here.

    — CV

  95. genotypical says

    Re #11–B.Sc. in Zoology, M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Biology, 25 years of work as a molecular geneticist. As one of the “professionals”, I’m thrilled to see how many intelligent, insightful, and biologically informed comments on this blog come from the “amateurs”, i.e. people who do NOT have formal training in biology. It goes to show how a basic understanding of the scientific method and some commitment to the existence of objective reality are enough to allow an open-minded person to distinguish between science and pseudoscience.

  96. DAC says

    Didn’t Charles Galton, Darwin’s cousin, coin the term eugenics? And didn’t he do it in an effort to apply Darwinian principles to the evolution of humanity? If this is true, the connection between Darwinism and eugenics cannot be denied. And doesn’t neo-Darwinism basically lead to a devaluing of human life? Because if Darwinism is true, all we are is one more step along the continuum of one variable or another. Nothing exceptional at all about us. Just a peculiar configuration of atoms. Those seem to be the unescapable implications of Darwinism. Of course, that has nothing to say about the rightness or the wrongness of the theory on evidential grounds, but such implication simply cannot be ignored or explained away.

  97. Kseniya says

    Those seem to be the unescapable implications of Darwinism.

    To those who lack imagination and have a distorted sense of the value of life in the first place – perhaps.

  98. says

    The funny thing about fundies denying that humans are animals is that all the great Church fathers (most notably Aquinas) agreed that humans are animals. And the Church father hero, Aristotle, even says somewhere that God is an animal.

  99. Pyre says

    Yes, Keith, that might have something to do with the very meaning of “animal”: a being which possesses an “anima” — a mind or soul which “animates” it — unlike the NON-animated (anima-lacking) things, living (vegetable) and unliving (mineral), which cannot move about of their own volition.

  100. Scott Beach says

    Preaching Eugenics tells how Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders confronted and, in many cases, enthusiastically embraced eugenics-a movement that embodied progressive attitudes about modern science at the time. Christine Rosen argues that religious leaders pursued eugenics precisely when they moved away from traditional religious tenets. The liberals and modernists-those who challenged their churches to embrace modernity-became the eugenics movement’s most enthusiastic supporters. Their participation played an important part in the success of the American eugenics movement.