Monday, November 27, 2006

Dawkins on Eugenics

When smart people say dumb things - Christians listen.

IN THE 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous - though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change.

Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from "ought" to "is" and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as "these are not one-dimensional abilities" apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.

I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn't the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?

Source: From The Afterword (from Sunday Herald)

The spectre of Hitler, the monster, the creator of the master race - No, somehow I don't think 60 years is enough distance to put between the evils of his inhumanity and the prospect of picking up his work.

What is the moral difference between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music. My guess it is the same as the moral difference between breeding soldiers and drafting volunteers - that is to say - it violates the free will of the individual to have these types of choices made for them by other men. If you are bred for soldiering - you will die a soldier. If drafted, at least you have the option of fixing airplanes.

I prefer the following philosophy:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Source: Specialization is for Insects - Robert Heinlein

Specialization is for Insects - who died and made you a god?

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beepbeepitsme said...

Well, we do already select our breeding partner according to attributes, characteristics which we individually find "favourable."

And of course it is rarely mentioned that eugenics isn't just about hitler, but refers to various forms of human intervention.

Some of those human interventions involve
1.prenatal testing and screening, 2.genetic counseling,
3.birth control,
4.and in vitro fertilization.

It should also be stated that information is not a mandate for action.

If a woman finds out through prenatal testing that she is carrying a down syndrome fetus, she is under no obligation to continue or to discontinue the pregnancy.

As I said, the availability of information is not a madate for any specific response.

Hard to convince the bible bashers though.

Lexcen said...

So, Doug Hagin believes only humans have souls, and God exists and scientists who are contrary to these beliefs are "mad". I couldn't stop laughing. Nothing like humour to start the day.

Greg said...

Hagin says:

"When people like Dawkins totally reject the existence of God, and become not merely indifferent towards religion, but openly hostile to it, then radical beliefs soon follow."

Unfounded assertions abound. Where has Hagin found this neccessary connection?

Hagin's whole article is a poorly done attempt at discrediting Atheism by rubbing Eugenics and Utilitarianism (both of which we are just supposed to find distasteful I guess) all over it and then yelling "evil" and "twisted values" at it. Good grief.

Mojoey said...

BeepBeep - I agree, we select based on traits we like - I sure did. Now if the local "improve the breed" committee paired me with woman x in order to develop a line of taller cold resistant lumberjacks, I might not like it.

Dawkins is suggesting selective breeding. It makes my skin crawl to think about it.

Mojoey said...

lex - I have trouble reading people like Doug - they make me laugh and cry. I think "homeschool" failure.

Anonymous said...

"Dawkins is suggesting selective breeding. It makes my skin crawl to think about it."

No he isn't. The extract quoted is from a book called "Dangerous Ideas" (

Dawkins is asking a rhetorical question - should the subject be taboo? He clearly thinks not. Nowhere in the article does he put forward any arguments in favour of eugenics. In fact the last paragraph says that he can think of several good arguments why it should not be practised.

William said...

Dawkins is a controversial scientist because he's aggresively attacking religions. He's willing to questions things that human has for centuries think as taboos.

Bear in mind that most US states practiced forced eugenics at the beginning of the century - and they're the "Christian Nation"; instead of evolutionists. Which is funny because you can not "love thy neighbours" and forcefully sterilizing those who are weak and powerless to remove their genes from the gene pool of mankind.

Eugenics from evolution point of view makes great logical sense though - and a big ethical dillema - which i'd love to see intelligent people around the world discuss about.