Monday, 21 April 2008

Davescot on Darwin and eugenics

In a post at the Uncommon Descent blog, Davescot has an excellent summary of the connection between Darwin and eugenics. The article is A complete Darwin quote with a brief translation (20 April, 2008). Davescot's article is simple, accurate, and straight to the point.

For those who follow these debates, this may come as a surprise. Normally I find little of value at Uncommon Descent, and I'm very surprised to see this one. But credit where it is due; Davescot's post is excellent, and needs no modication or qualification to get my full recommendation.

The article has a full quote from Descent of Man, including the second paragraph traditionally omitted by those who want to link Darwin to the holocaust. He follows this with a couple of very simple and straightforward observations.

Paraphrasing briefly, Darwin notes that we humans are animals in the body, and that the same selective breeding applied to farm animals for generations would work in the same way if it was applied to humans. Immediately after this, Darwin also notes that the attempt would degrade the noblest part of our nature, the very part which distinguishes humans from other animal species.

Quoting Davescot's concluding paragraph.

If there’s any real case to be made for Darwin and the holocaust it’s the opposite of what’s messaged in Expelled. The holocaust resulted from a failure to heed Darwin’s warning that eugenics could only be practiced by sacrificing the noblest part of our nature, the very part and only part that separates us from other animals. Those responsible for the holocaust, beginning with the eugenics movement in America, were the true animals. Those opposed were nobler than the animals.

Hat tip to Wes Elsberry at the Austringer for alerting me to Davescot's post. Flunked, Not Expelled: Not Even David Springer Buys the Darwin-Leads-to-Hitler Rhetoric.


  1. You should let me know what you think about
    Darwin and Hitler: In Their Own Words.

  2. Mostly rubbish; makes some fairly fundamental errors about what Darwinism actually entails.

    Evolution, and selection in particular, arises from competition between related individuals in the same species. Selection is between individuals; not between races. Darwin emphasizes this repeatedly, in both Descent of Man and Origin.

    A fixation for racial purity is a bad thing for a species, or for a "race". It reduces the variation within the breeding pool, and makes it more likely for deleterious variations to become fixed within the race that attempts to keep itself pure from other races. You can see this in pedigree dogs.

    Breeders aim for purity of some artificially chosen attributes which don't actually have anything whatever to do with natural fitness. In doing so, they demonstrate that evolution works, because they can very effectively manipulate the population to which this artificial selection is applied. And Darwin used this, correctly, as evidence for the power of selection to modify forms over several generations.

    But such breeders are not selecting for fitness, with the result that pedigree breeds are especially prone to all kinds of defects that would normally be eliminated from the gene pool. If you want a "superior" dog, in the sense of being most evolutionary fit, then you are best to go with mongrels.

    A ruthless breeder of humans could do the same thing. You could select for blond fair skinned blue eyed classic facial features; and if you did ruthlessly, you could get yourself a human race dominated with such traits. Your pure race would also, almost inevitably, be significantly less fit in evolutionary terms.

    The kind of eugenics that Darwin considered, and rejected, bears no relation to the unscientific notions of racial purity used by Hitler.