Posts tagged with: eugenics

I’m really proud of this essay. The history is very interesting; the philosophical and religious links are provocative; and the contemporary applications are important and wide-ranging.

Enjoy! eric


We observed a dubious centennial this year. In 1907, Indiana became the first state in America to pass a eugenics law.

Eugenics is the study of the hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled, selective breeding. The word derives from its Latin components — eu meaning “well” or “good” and genics meaning “born” or “birth.” Eugenics, then, seeks the products of “good birth” or being “well born” (better human beings or a better human race) through selective breeding.

From there, two categories emerge: Positive eugenics is the study of “good” outcomes achieved through breeding; negative eugenics is the study of “bad” outcomes, when undesirable characteristics are lessened or eliminated through selective breeding.

Beyond mere study, eugenics typically leads to a set of recommended practices. Beyond mere science, eugenics has always been connected to various worldviews and related to other theories. And beyond what we knew about science a century ago, we now have a greater understanding of the extent to which genetics affect such outcomes. In sum, eugenics is a pseudo-science loaded with philosophical and ethical baggage.

For more on the history of eugenics and the current applications of eugenics, click here…

On April 3, I reported the story of Texas scientist Eric Pianka, who allegedly argued in a speech that the only hope for the planet was for a mutated Ebola virus to exterminate 90% of the human population. Forrest Mims, who attended the speech, broke the story. Over the next few weeks, there was a media firestorm over the incident, and Mims was accused of misrepresenting Pianka’s speech. As a result, I received several emails telling me that I should retract the story. I did not, and I have no plans on doing so. I remain convinced that Mims basically got the story right.

The problem was that Pianka had asked that video cameras be turned off during his speech, and partial transcripts released later failed to fully corraborate Mims’ account. But, as Mims’ pointed out, the transcript lacked precisely the part of the speech with the offensive comments. In any event, Mims’ claim had several other corroborating pieces of evidence, which James Redford discusses in a blog posted entitled, “Forrest Mims Did Not Misrepresent Eric Pianka.” Cathy Young’s piece in the Boston Globe focused the issue properly: the point was not that Pianka had called for the active extermination of 90% of the population. It’s that he thought such an extermination by natural causes (like the Ebola virus) would be a “good thing.”

This story became especially irritating because many bloggers were more interested in the views of Forrest Mims than of Eric Pianka. Perhaps more troubling is that many commentators insisted that a respected scientist would never say that he looked forward to the deaths of billions of human beings. As a result, these commentators assigned Mims’ account a prior probability of about 0. This meant that virtually no evidence would be enough to confirm that Pianka had said more or less what Mims reported.

But anyone who reads widely in the environmental literature knows that suggestions such as Pianka’s are not uncommon. In fact, the desire for mass human death follows logically from the anti-human beliefs of some radical environmentalists. Some are more consistent in their beliefs than others. But Pianka is by no means the only person to express such opinions. Back in November, 2005, I reported on some personal correspondence from a prominent scientist, who expressed some Piankish views. He complained about “the devastation humans are currently imposing upon our planet” and then added:

Still, adding over seventy million new humans to the planet each year, the future looks pretty bleak to me. Surely, the Black Death was one of the best things that ever happened to Europe: elevating the worth of human labor, reducing environmental degradation, and, rather promptly, producing the Renaissance. From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!

Since I didn’t post the letter, however, I received several skeptical inquiries. So, in light of the recent events surrounding Pianka, I have decided to post a PDF of the letter. Anyone who looks at this letter will notice that it did not come from some obscure researcher, but from a scientist who for many years held a significant position. I do not post this for the purpose of harming the individual who sent this letter. Rather, I am posting it in hopes that more people will recognize that profound misanthropy is afoot in the academic and scientific community, most of it officially motivated by a desire to save the planet. It is naive to continue acting as if this type of death wish is reserved for isolated crackpots. On the contrary, it is well on its way to being respectable opinion in some quarters–held by the well educated and the otherwise civilized–just as eugenics was respectable a century ago.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 23, 2006

An excellent post by Bryan Caplan at EconLog examines the intentions of eugenics against the actual effects of the implementation of such policies. His point? “Even if genetics explained ALL differences in success, many policies that raise average genetic quality would backfire.”

The reason is the Law of Comparative Advantage, or the reality that “trade between two people or groups increases total production even if one person or group is worse at everything.” Read the whole post for his proof, using a hypothetical case of Brains vs. Brawn. He concludes: “The Law of Comparative Advantage shows that even if some people really are more productive than others in every respect, they have something to offer each other.”

Christians could recognize this reality as just one small piece of a vibrant biblical doctrine of the imago Dei, that every person is created in the image of God, and is of inestimable worth and dignity.

In this regard, read the quote from C. S. Lewis’ sermon, “The Weight of Glory”:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.