The Cruelty of Eugenics and Euthanasia

"Since Darwin's death, all has not been rosy in the evolutionary garden. The theories of the Great Bearded One have been hijacked by cranks, politicians, social reformers - and scientists - to support racist and bigoted views. A direct line runs from Darwin, through the founder of the eugenics [race betterment] movement - Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton - to the extermination camps of Nazi Europe.”

This quote comes from Martin Brookes in “Ripe old age,” New Scientist, 161 (2171):41, 1999.

I have written about the truth of the events at the Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925 in another article. (Please see the web site article.) The play and movie, Inherit the Wind, are pure revisionist propaganda, unfit to be used for anything but kindling a campfire. However, I want to go back there to start this look at eugenics and euthanasia.

In his book, Bully for Brontosaurus, the late great evolutionist, Dr. Stephen J. Gould, wrote an interesting article on the Scopes Trial and about his observations on William Jennings Bryan. Gould noted that he was sympathetic to Bryan's socialism (after all Gould was a Marxist). In addition, Gould wrote about how the rise in Social Darwinism had impacted the leading German generals of World War I in their thinking and how it had influenced the growing eugenics movement of those years.

“Two years ago, I obtained a copy of the book that John Scopes used to teach evolution to the children of Dayton, Tennessee - ‘A Civic Biology,' by George William Hunter (1914). Many writers have looked into this book to read the section on evolution that Scopes taught and Bryan quoted. But I found something disturbing in another chapter that has eluded previous commentators - an egregious claim that science holds the moral answers to questions about mental retardation, or social poverty so misinterpreted . . . he writes:

‘Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals and plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poor house and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race.'

Bryan had the wrong solution, but he had correctly identified a problem!”
Bully for Brontosaurus - Reflections in Natural History by Stephen J. Gould, W. W. Norton & Co., NY/London, 1991.

At the Scopes Trial in 1925, the ACLU lawyer, Clarence Darrow, was portrayed in the liberal press as a hero who was defending free thinking, and was attempting to throw down blind dogmatism and ignorance. He even addressed the jury and spoke to them about how it was intellectual bigotry to teach only one side of an issue. I wonder what, if he were able to maintain intellectual honesty, he would have to say today? Would he have the intellectual fortitude to admit that teaching evolution only is intellectual bigotry?

It was the idea that man had evolved to a high enough point of human intelligence that caused the early eugenicists to believe that man could take charge of and guide his future evolution. If man could guide his future toward progressively “upward” evolution, then man could pull himself up by his own boot straps to become superman. This is the concept that would fill the concentration camps of Europe in World War II.

Today, scientific endeavor holds the promise of much good and a great deal of evil. The topics of human cloning, gene therapy, transplant surgery, nanotechnology and space exploration are touted as being the saviors of a healthy robust future human race. But, along with all the good that might come from such activities, there is also much evil imbedded within them. In order to illustrate this we have to go back to an embarrassing period of Social Darwinism gone wrong. We have to go back to a time when scientists, ingrained with Darwinian ideas, thought that the process of natural selection would be improved if only it were guided by human intelligence.

The man who, in 1883, coined the term eugenics, from the Greek meaning “good in birth,” was Francis Galton (1822-1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin. The Darwin family had lots of inherited money and position. With the freedom this gave him, Galton had a Victorian range of scientific curiosity. In particular he was interested in statistics.

In the late 1800's the modern industrial revolution was spurring on the modern management techniques of measuring results and analyzing the data. Galton was caught up in this huge increase in measuring and surveying. He had a motto: “Whenever you can, count.” Eventually, he became absorbed in studying the distribution of what he called “natural ability” in samples of British subjects.

As Galton studied British society he could not help but observe that the most intelligent achievers (like his own family) seemed to be related to each other. From this information he concluded that intelligence and talent were hereditary. Galton took this information and pushed it one step further. If intelligence and talent were hereditary; then you could also eliminate the undesirable; and multiply the desirable by human intervention.

It is truly unfortunate that the discoveries of the great creationist geneticist, the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel, would be used to foster the field of eugenics. His discovery of the genetic transmission of dominant and recessive traits gave the eugenicist what he thought was the key to unlock the mysteries of human heredity.

Based on this idea, Charles Davenport, an American biologist, was able to get a $10 million endowment from the Carnegie Institution, a center for research in human evolution at Cold Spring Harbor, NY. Davenport wanted to apply strict Mendelian genetics and he believed (erroneously) that alcoholism, drug abuse and mental retardation were caused by the inheritance of single genes.

His solution was simple enough. He argued that prevention of reproduction by “carriers” was the right approach to take in order to benefit society. He said that “human matings could be placed upon the same high plane as that of horse breeding.” On the lower side he advocated eugenic castrations.

The historian, Daniel J. Kelves, wrote a book in 1985 entitled In the Name of Eugenics. He noted, somewhat dryly, that “eugenicists identified human worth with the qualities they presumed themselves to possess - the sort that facilitated passage through schools, universities and professional training.”

It was this foundation that lead eugenicists to be highly evangelistic in their endeavors. They were people who thought that their lives and the future of their children were threatened. In Britain those of the upper middle class were fearful that they would be overrun and taxed into extinction by the rapid overbreeding of the lower classes. In the US the same fears dominated many as they saw the huge immigration movements from Southern and Eastern Europe flooding into the country.

These fears were fed in Britain and the US by exhibitions and fairs where taxidermy-mounted white and black guinea pigs were displayed to demonstrate the Mendelian genetics of heredity in fur color. Kelves quoted from a chart accompanying one such display: “Unfit human traits such as feeblemindedness, epilepsy, criminality, alcoholism, pauperism and many others run in families and are inherited in exactly the same way as color in guinea pigs.”

All this fervor may seem comical to us today, but it was serious business. A number of respected intellectuals, businessmen and politicians gave eugenics their blessing or strong support. The list includes Darwin, who in The Descent of Man praised his cousin and wrote that genius “tends to be inherited.” Others included the young Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Alexander Graham Bell, John Maynard Keynes, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge. As Vice President Coolidge declared that “Nordics deteriorate when mixed with other races.”

Yes, it was serious business indeed! While eugenics is pseudo-science, it had caused many U.S. states to pass laws in the early 1900's that required the sterilization of those who were held in custody and deemed to have hereditary defects.

In the 1920's over 8,000 forced sterilizations took place at a facility in Lynchburg, Virginia. While some victims had various levels of mental retardation, many were there simply because they had been abandoned as the result of broken homes. They were told that the procedures were “for their own good” or “for their health.” Older victims with normal mental faculties came to realize that if they did not undergo the sterilization procedure, they would never be set free from the facility, so they complied.

The local doctor was a dedicated evolutionist. He believed in the Darwin/Galton theories of “survival of the fittest.” If human society were to remain fit, then the humane thing to do was to sterilize the “unfit.”  When he conducted these sterilizations he was convinced that what he was doing was for the “scientific good” of the society.

He based his legal status on a law that had been written by the evolutionary biologist, Dr. Harry Laughlin. Laughlin's law called for the compulsory sterilizations of those who were feebleminded, blind, deaf, drug addicts, epileptics, paupers, homeless; or, who those who had TB or syphilis. This law was aimed at maintaining the “racial purity of the white race” by preventing the “breeding” of those who would “drag down” the white race.

In a test case of his law, staged and manipulated by the ACLU with greater finesse and panache than the earlier Scopes Trial (1925), the defending attorney was actually a eugenics advocate. This is the infamous 1927 U.S. Supreme Court case of Buck vs. Bell.

The State of Virginia had declared that an institutionalized 17-year-old girl, Carrie Buck, was a “moral imbecile.” She had given birth to a daughter who, at the age of seven months, had been declared subnormal in intelligence. In addition, Carrie's mother had been declared to be “feebleminded.” Carrie Buck's “attorney” had appealed the decision that she should be sterilized all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In an 8-to-1 vote, the Court rejected the appeal.


The noted poet, eugenics advocate and supposed great Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the majority opinion in which he stated: ”The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes,” and he then concluded, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Holmes declared that it was proper for the state to compel sterilizations for those who were deemed “socially inadequate.”

After the trial was over and the sterilization had taken place it was proven that the charge of three generations of feeblemindedness in the Buck family was a total fabrication!

Yes, eugenic theories were very serious business. They were enthusiastically accepted by the Nazi's in Germany. They became so accepted that in 1933 Adolf Hitler was able to get the Eugenic Sterilization Law adopted. This Law would codify eugenics as German state doctrine. The Law had originated within the walls of the Reich Ministry of the Interior, but it was patterned after Dr. Laughlin's law in Virginia. Dr. Laughlin was given an honorary doctorate by Hitler's government for his work in eugenics.

The German law required compulsory sterilization of all German citizens - not only those in custody or in institutions - but all German citizens - who displayed what the state deemed symptoms of any number of hereditary afflictions.

And, what were these various hereditary afflictions? The list included blindness, schizophrenia and “offensive physical deformities.” Many people thought that the Law was far too broad, however, government officials asserted that the personal sacrifices would serve the common good. One government official would use Biblical terminology to justify their position by saying: “We go beyond neighborly love.” Another official said: “We extend it to future generations. Therein lies the high ethical value and justification of the law.”

Once the German people thought that eugenics was a “moral” action to take in order to “purify the German race” it was only a short step in logic to get to the Holocaust.

The law would eventually cause the forced euthanasia-style murders of entire wards of mental patients. “Scientific” admiration from all over the world would follow as many people heralded the “racial hygiene” that was being carried out in Nazi Germany. One evolutionist in America even went so far as to say that in retrospect to what had occurred in Lynchburg: “The Germans are beating us at our own game.”

In its original form, the law did not include the anti-Semitism that would follow in short order, but the draconian eugenics program would ultimately be the basis for the rabid anti-Semitism that would forever characterize the Third Reich. Eventually, the acceptance of eugenics would widen its scope in Germany to include the Jews, those Christians who sympathized with the Jews and any others whom the state declared to be “undesirables.”

Nazi Germany became the ultimate laboratory experiment of Francis Galton's grand scheme. In Nazi Germany, Francis Galton's dream of a world that was biologically cleansed according to the standard of a ruling elite's ideal of the way to improve on the evolution of man would become a horrifying nightmare. His hypothesis, that man could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, was found to be a total disaster.

Human kind cannot make itself better, because we do not know how to do it. No one may make something greater than themselves.

The entire eugenics movement suffered a great blow when the atrocities that had been carried out in Nazi concentration camps were revealed to the world at the end of World War II. Even before that, however, various major journalists, such as G. K. Chesterton, H. L. Mencken and Walter Lippmann, had debunked and ridiculed eugenic theories. They had written that the assumption of some kind of immutable hereditary defects in character and the attributing of complex human traits to single genes in accordance with the basic laws of Mendelian genetics was too far fetched to be rational.

This did not stop the practice of forced sterilizations; it only caused name changes and for the movement to be forced underground. The sterilizations would go on into the 1970's. A total of about 70,000 people suffered involuntary sterilizations. In a twist of irony, it was an ACLU attorney, Jenny Crockett, that brought the whole sordid affair out into the light of the public eye. But, even the “mighty” ACLU was only able to win a judgment from the government that required a short apology and an offer of “mental health counseling” for any living survivors. Such is the result of an evolutionary worldview.

Our look at eugenics, euthanasia and their effect on America does not end here. Now we are going to look at eugenics and its effect on the vast immigrant movement to this country in the 1800's and early 1900's.

In my creation missionary work, traveling to five continents, I sometimes travel through JFK airport in New York. In the arrival hall at JFK there is a plaque with the poem, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus. It is the same poem that occupies the famed pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. Of course, this location is near Ellis Island, the entry point for so many millions of immigrants who arrived here by ship.

As a trained scientist and observer, I know the two most important questions in science: “What is there?” and “What is not there?”

At JFK airport part of the poem is quoted as saying:

“Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

But, what is not there?

If you go to see the Statue of Liberty and read that part of the poem on the pedestal, it says:

“Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

We must ask ourselves what would be the rationale for the omission of this one line in such a famous and important poem?

Perhaps the winds of political correctness that have swept through America for the past few decades would be sufficient to forcibly delete a line that speaks of people as “wretched refuse.” How unfortunate that those who made such a decision failed to see that Emma Lazarus was speaking metaphorically about the disdain of the foreign governments and peoples who looked down on the immigrants that we were all too willing to receive.

This story illustrates the great irony of the situation. Rather than reading the poem for it's true meaning, our governmental authorities in the early 1900's applied a strict and inappropriate meaning that became official doctrine. These men and women chose to think of the immigrants as literal wretched refuse. In turn, this way of thinking became the basis for looking at immigrants as having inferior genetic information. This was the all too typical use of the ideas of Social Darwinism that promoted survival of the fittest into all societal issues. Finally, this thought process would become a rallying cry to impose strong restrictions and quotas on immigration to the United States by the early 1920's.

These governmental policies, based on a totally flawed concept, would doom hundreds of thousands of innocent victims to suffer the Holocaust and the wrath of war in Europe. It was our quotas on immigration, without mercy for reasonable exceptions, that prevented people from fleeing Europe and escaping the death camps fueled by the Nazi's eugenic laws.

Less you think that I am being too strong about this point, I would quote from the evolutionist Dr. Charles Benedict Davenport (1866-1944), a highly respected geneticist and leading eugenicist. In 1925 he wrote a letter to Madison Grant, author of the book, The Passing of the Great Race; a book that lamented the dilution of America's gene pool by recent immigration. In his letter Davenport wrote: “Our ancestors drove Baptists from Massachusetts Bay into Rhode Island, but we have no place to drive the Jews to.”

Davenport could not accuse the Jews of having a lower mentality than the general population. Instead, he accused them of having a lower moral character. In his seminal book on genetics (not eugenics) Heredity in Relation to Eugenics (1911), he wrote:

“In learning capacity both male and female Hebrew immigrants rank high and the literacy is above the mean of all immigrants. . . . On the other hand, they show the greatest proportions of offenses against chastity and in connection with prostitution, the lowest of crimes. . . . The hordes of Jews that are now coming to us from Russia and the extreme southeast of Europe, with their intense individualism and ideals of gain at the cost of any interest, represent the opposite extreme from the early English and the more recent Scandinavian immigration, with their ideals of community life in the open country, advancement by the sweat of the brow, and the uprearing of families in the fear of God and love of country.”

In 1900, Mendel's Laws of Genetics were rediscovered and published. This event lead to the modern study of genetics. Mendel's laws proved that previous theories about inheritance were wrong. Unfortunately, the scientists of the early 1900's incorrectly thought Mendel's laws meant that all traits were inherited from single genes. They would stretch this idea to include not only specific parts of the anatomy but also complex human behaviors.

Such ideas were highly flawed for two obvious reasons. First, where does a sanguine personality end and a melancholia take over? How could there be a gene for optimism, pessimism or racism?

Second, it removes environmental influences on individual development. A person with an excellent mind may never develop it because of poor nutrition and poverty in their youth.

Yet this decidedly false view of genetic information being transmitted by single genes was used as the “scientific foundation” for the eugenics movement and its stated aim of “improving” the American gene pool. This was to be accomplished by preventing the breeding of inferior people, called “negative eugenics,” and the promotion of the breeding of those considered to be superior, called “positive eugenics.”

The primary money for the eugenics research of Dr. Davenport came from Mrs. E. H. Harriman, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. He took their money and founded the Eugenics Record Office while he was head of the Carnegie Institution's Station for Experimental Evolution at Cold Springs Harbor, NY. What came out of his work was not science but political advocacy.

By 1940 Davenport had already been rejected by his peers. Today no geneticist would support Davenport's worthless documentation nor his ideas. Modern geneticists understand much more about how the complexity of multiple genes working together arrives at a cumulative effect (although we have hardly scratched the surface) that is then modified by environment; and, from a Christian perspective, we must also add the effects of human sin to the final equation.

The mistaken ideas of Davenport have, however, resurfaced on a daily basis. This may be evidenced by the desire of various groups of people to promote the concepts that alcoholism, drug use and homosexuality are genetically determined. Such proclamations, though not scientifically supportable, are used in attempts to remove any guilt for immoral, illegal or unethical activities. In essence, the evolutionists' concept that there exists such a thing as “biological determinism” - that we cannot help ourselves, that we are just “made that way” by our genes - is absolutely unacceptable.

If we accept biological determinism to be a reality, then we will either make excuses for behaviors or we will take less effort to be a change agent in correcting those behaviors. People like simple explanations that take small discrete things and add them up to get one large complex thing. The technical term for this is “reductionism.” In this case, the error is in thinking that social behavior is determined by genes.

To illustrate this propensity, I will quote from an article entitled “Nature Genetics” in the News and Views section of Time magazine, 1996, about the theory of personality developed by C. R. Cloninger:

“Novelty seeking is one of the four aspects that Dr. Cloninger and many other psychologists propose as the basic bricks of normal temperament, the other three being avoidance of harm, reward dependence and persistence. All four humors are thought to be attributable in good part to one's genetic makeup.”

Why four “humors” and not ten? How can a continuum be separated into four distinct units? This reminds me of the earlier fallacy of there being four “humors” - blood, phlegm, choler and melancholy. If one were to have good health they had to be in balance.

There are three errors in this genetic explanation that lead to the fallacy of reductionist philosophy for human behavior.

First, while genetics and environment may help to mold the outcome, such things as the influences of sin, repentance, faith and grace are not being taken into account.

Second, each person is not a complex made up of the sum of independent parts considered separately. Each person is a unique creation of heredity, social setting and learned behaviors. If this were not so, then how could Christians believe that a person may change? It is only because God tells us that we can change that we may come to have any understanding of our need for salvation. If we believe that people are just a product of their environment and genetics, then they cannot change and they cannot be saved.

Third, the idea that there are genes for specific traits is meaningless and false. It is like believing that there is such a thing as being partially pregnant. How could there be genes for the nebulous categories of human personalities?

Eugenics and it associate, euthanasia, are the products of evolutionism. They demean and devalue human life. They are in direct contrast to the Christian Biblical worldview found in Psalm 139:14: “I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knows it very well.”

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