Darwinism and Eugenics Revisited - Evolution News & Views

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Darwinism and Eugenics Revisited

Was eugenics a misapplication of Darwin's theory to society? I must respectfully disagree with part of neurosurgeon Michael Egnor's recent post at ENV, which seemed to suggest that it was. Egnor correctly pointed out that eugenics is based on artificial selection, whereas Darwin's theory is premised on natural selection. But that fact doesn't get at why eugenics was in reality a reasonable deduction from Darwin's theory and is properly described as "Darwinian." As I point out in Darwin's Conservatives: The Misguided Quest, Darwin believed that human progress was ultimately based on the struggle for survival, and he further maintained that civilized societies were courting disaster by continually counteracting the law of natural selection through vaccinations, welfare programs, and the like. Eugenics was framed explicitly as an effort to remedy these violations of Darwinian natural selection.

It's true that an even more pristine application of Darwinism would have been to completely stop helping society's unfortunates so that more of them would die. But most eugenists thought such an approach would be too cruel, and so they promoted the artificial selection of eugenics as a more humane way to solve the problems identified by Darwinian biology. The fact remains that eugenics was thoroughly grounded in the principles of Darwin's theory. It explicitly sought to remedy a problem identified by Darwin himself in his book The Descent of Man.