Discovery Institute: You’re joking, right?

Here we have another example of the link between Christian religion, Creationism, and Dishonesty. This time, it is in the post-game analysis of John West’s talk at the University of Minnesota, posted on the Discovery Institutes’s Web Site.

The post by Bruce Chapman, who was not at the talk, is based on “two calls” Bruce got about the talk. It is full of lies and misinformation, which are pretty much obliterated in this post by PZ Myers, which appeared on the Internet only moments ago.

What I find most amazing is this: West was asked explicitly if he was making a link between the early 20th century Eugenics and modern biologists, and he actually said “No, of course not.” He then went on for five minutes trying to make the link. In the Chapman missive, we see this:

apologists for Darwinism want people to think that the link to eugenics is slight and had no great consequences, but West’s facts are authoritative and conclusive in showing that the connection is conspicuous and the consequences were major.

You see, we evolutionary biologists, we are all apologists for Darwin by this criterion, and we are all anti-eugenics.

Chapman notes:

The Darwinists hate hearing about the history of eugenics

Well, actually, that is not true. Many of us find it fascinating.

I am particularly interested in the following connections:

  • Most eugenics supporters of the early 20th century were Christians.
  • Most eugenics opposers of the early 20th century were either atheists or Jews (or both).

Had it not been for the atheists and Jews, Christian-style eugenics would have had a much more solid base. It is possible that the anti-Nazi and anti-German sentiments (the former because people were annoyed by Hitler, the latter because people had been annoyed by the Kaiser) may have paled in comparison to the “Promise of Eugenics” and it is quite likely that it would have been very difficult to get the US in to World War II.

The Germans would have been defeated anyway, by the Soviets, and all of Europe (possibly except England) would have become Soviet Bloc. Interesting prospect. Interesting ironies.

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0 thoughts on “Discovery Institute: You’re joking, right?

  1. Greg, I’m curious about what they were saying from the pulpits on the subject. Are there any examples of preachers sermonizing about eugenics, in support of it? I think that being able to bring up a few specific references would stop the argument most effectively.

  2. Brian, here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure the politicians and scientists who were pro-eugenics tended to be chrisitan, and the anti-racism and anti-eugenics guys like Boas and Lowie to name two were not. I mentioned this to both PZ and Mark Friday night and they both said “Yea, that sounds right…. we need that list” and of course we do. But I don’t have the list. It is merely a hypothesis at this point with a certain amount of very suggestive evidence.

  3. Greg Laden: “I’m pretty sure the politicians and scientists who were pro-eugenics tended to be chrisitan … But I don’t have the list. ”

    This is a very incomplete list. I came up with names of “vanguard” eugenicist experts, and then used Google to find out their religious beliefs if I didn’t know them already.


    Alexis Carrel (nonbelieving?)
    Charles Davenport
    RA Fisher
    Henry Goddard
    Henry Fairfield Osborn


    Havelock Ellis
    Eugen Fischer (lapsed Catholic)
    Francis Galton
    Ernst Haeckel (Monist; material = spirit)
    Julian Huxley
    Hermann Muller
    Karl Pearson
    Margaret Sanger
    Herbert Spencer
    Lothrop Stoddard
    HG Wells
    Ludwig Woltmann
    Robert Yerkes


    Karl Binding
    Wickliffe Draper
    Madison Grant
    Harry Haiselden (‘Black Stork’ doctor)
    Alfred Hoche
    Harry Laughlin (Christian?)
    Wilhelm Schallmayer

    Such a study should focus on vanguard, elite, influential eugenicists, not run-of-the-mill parroters and the masses. Obviously, most believers in eugenics and eugenicist politicians were Christians. But the intellectual leaders of eugenic movements are the most important. Conclusion: any conclusions would be premature. And there should be a more objective method of determining vanguard eugenicists.

    Of course, there were different kinds of eugenicists. And this brings up more questions: What kind of evolutionists were eugenicists? Osborn was no Darwinist materialist but a Christian orthogenecist. But many others were professed Darwinists, with varying emphases on natural selection and mutation. And what kind of Christians were Christian eugencists? Again, that varied.

    Edward B. Davis, Science and Religious Fundamentalism in the 1920s, American Scientist May/June 2005:

    “In his pamphlet, Through Science to God, Schmucker outlined a post-Darwinian natural theology by drawing on ornithology to argue for a type of theism. …

    Clearly, Schmucker?s concept of God was not traditional. His evolutionary theism made the world co-eternal with a wholly immanent God, and he discarded the notion of a transcendent
    creator. He viewed God as indistinguishable from the laws of nature and put his faith in the evolutionary process that had created humankind. …

    Liberal Protestant scientists and clergy of the 1920s took to eugenics as bees take to pollen. They understood their faith in terms of actions, not beliefs, and saw eugenic reforms as a way to spread the kingdom of God on Earth. Advocacy of eugenics united scientists with liberal clergy, who were keen to find allies against their more conservative brethren.”

  4. This sort of information is not easy to find. (I studiously avoided any anti-evolutionist websites, which tend to label all eugenicists as anti-God Darwinists. I wish I had an anti-creationist search engine filter.)

    Of course, this is preliminary. As I mentioned, what kind of Christians were these? ‘God as nature’ types? Evangelicals? Probably a mix of different strands. Galton, an agnostic, himself cited the Levirate as eugenic. (He also called eugenics “practical Darwinism.”)

    And then there are those who changed their minds on eugenics, like Haldane and Goddard.

    There are also big differences between socialist feminist eugenicists and volkish Theosophical eugenicists, even though both might agree on the involuntary sterilization of the “unfit.”

    Others have suggested that laissez-faire social Darwinism was a Gilded Age phenomenon while eugenics was a product of the Progressive Era, as seen in the collusion of socialists and freethinkers with reactionaries in eugenics advocacy.

    Let me be candid: I think the reaction to the DI’s distorted, dishonest narrative (“Darwin->Nazi eugenics”) has – for understandable reasons – gone too far in the other direction. (See my comments on Pharyngula threads on the West talk and on Respectful Insolence’s response to this post.) I am particularly troubled by the suggestion (not saying that you are making it) that eugenics was a movement external to science that some scientists happened to get swept up in. Eugenics was not an inevitable implication of evolutionary biology, but it was informed and influenced by it. Yes, it is important to counter and correct the Discovery Institute’s distortions. But I will criticize what I see as inaccuracies in the other direction.

    Biologists – and anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists – ought to view eugenics not just as a political movement, but as a grim cautionary story of about some of our own intellectual ancestors. It is healthy to ponder the sins of our predecessors, and even be ashamed of some of them. Of course, creationists – not known for self reflection about their own predecessors – want to capitalize on that history.

    The book Preaching Eugenics appears to have interesting information about the alliance between eugenicist scientists and the clergy. I also hope to get around to reading Killing The Black Body, about attempts to control over black women’s reproduction, and War Against the Weak at some point. Wish I had the time to get to others.

  5. Correction on Davenport:

    Better For All The World by Harry Bruinius, on Charles Davenport:

    “Yet, while rejecting the faith of his fathers, he in many ways simply retranslated it into a secular and scientific form.”

    Sorry about that. More corrections may be necessary.

    On the other hand, confirmation on Henry Fairfield Osborn

    William K Gregory on Osborn:

    “…he, as the disciple of Dr. McCosh, consistently regarded evolution as an expression of the “firm and undeviating order” conceived by the divine creative mind.

    That he was a deist, at least according to his own understanding of the term, there is no doubt. On the other hand, there is abundant evidence that he was not a Fundamentalist. He professed to be a Christian and although he was silent on doctrinal points, he lived in reverence to his God and in service to man.”

  6. Colugo: Do you have a master’s thesis? This is a master’s thesis project if I ever saw one.

    The search engine you seek exists. More on that later (check the blog)

    I’m a Harvard trained Biological Anthropologist and Archaeologists (double PhD). I am very aware of the fact that anthropology is both the handmaiden and the enemy of eugenics! Hey, I was in the UMN Anthro department as well. West actually could have played on the Minnesota-Whiteness-Eugenics-Nazi connection much more than he did! He either didn’t know about it (doubtful) or was trying not to offend the audience who may hold htings like Charles Lindberg and our great Christian colleges (Hamline, etc.) in high regard, and may not want to know about all of the connections!

  7. PhD, anthropology (biological concentration). I’m sure we have some acquaintances in common.

    Anthropologists take pride in Boas, but as you allude to, we also try to remember the whole history.

    The intertwined cultural and scientific strands of that era confound a lot of today’s political flash points. There are plenty of sullied ancestors to go around.

  8. I’m curious about what they were saying from the pulpits on the subject.

    As far as the catholic church is concerned (protestants are a lot more fuzzy on the issue) eugenics were explicitly condemned by their highest authority – in 1930 Pope Pius XI had condemned eugenics in the encyclical “Casti Conuubii”, not because he showed any signs of progressive thinking but largely because of the churches opposition to abortion and contraception, and also because it was against catholic moral to inflict corporal punishment – he was refering to forced sterilization – on somebody who was free of guilt (his words, not mine). So even if a catholic supported eugenics he would have done it in spite of him being a christian, not because of it (for a catholic the word of a pope is not just a good idea, it’s the law).

    But Greg Laden is already talking about “Christan-style eugenics” to imply a causal connection between christian religion and eugenics, despite the fact that he has not even offered evidence for his much weaker claim that most eugenics supporters of the time were christians (which would hardly be suprising – for example in the Germany of the 1930s 96% of the population where christian, which means that you would have found mostly christians on every side of any issue, with the possible exception of discussions about matzo recipes).

    It’s not that the goal of spreading atheism is not commendable, but the post as it stands now is, until evidence is delivered, a lie, and it doesn’t help to defend a lie by refering to ones “hunches” or by appealing to PZs authority. I suggest what I would suggest to any religious believer in the same situation, which is to either cough up or shut up.

    (Still this is meant to be not an attack but a contribution, and I hope it will be treated as such.)

  9. By point has been very badly misunderstood by everyone, clearly indicating that I did not make myself clear.

    I don’t actually know that much about eugenics pro and con camps, but I do know something about racism pro and con. Yes, everybody was a Christian, so more christians were doing whatever the majority was doing. But very few were Jews and Atheists, and among those most outspoken against racism and also against the Nazis I have the impression that there were more Jews and Atheists.

    I’m not really saying much more than that.

    I am not creating a new entity with the phrase “Christian style eugencis”… of course it was christian style .. everything was christian style

    Buy I am majorly annoyed that John West could stand there for an hour and literally blame eugenics on Darwin and Biologists, hardly mentioning any actual biologists, totally ignoring that this happened during the period know as the Eclipse of Darwin, almost entirely done by Christians in what was essentially a Christian society. And I’m sitting there thinking … “hey, wasn’t Lowie an atheist? Wasn’t Boas a Jew? Etc?

    Don’t make more of what I’m saying that what I’m saying. This is meant to be very conjectural.

    (But of course, it is likley that the christians were mainly evil and the atheist were mainly good, right?)

  10. This is interesting: Charles Davenport’s 1903 letter to Karl Pearson (both eugenicists) about the rejection of a submission by the former to Biometrika. A glimpse of mutationist vs biometrician arguments in the pre-Modern Synthesis era. It may have been the Eclipse of Darwin era, but Darwin was very much being invoked.

    From Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Eugenics Archive

    “You say that I practically throw Darwin out & adopt a Mutation Theory. I do not lay great stress on Natural Selection because this has, evidently, [obs type] as originally conceived by Darwin, little or nothing to do with variation. In the summary of Chapter IV Orig. of Species, 6th Ed he says: “Considering the infinite complexity of the relations of all organic beings to each other & to their conditions of life, causing (N.B. conditions cause; not nat. select.) an infinite diversity in structure, constitution, & habits, & be advantageous to them, it would be a most extraordinary fact, if no variations ever occurred useful to each being’s own welfare …. But if variations useful to any organic being do occur, assuredly individuals thus characterized struggle for life”. True Darwinism is a theory of adaptation. Darwin taught that variations were due to direct influence of environment; is it not you rather than I who would throw Darwinism over? Finally, you think to accept the possibility of Mutation (as Darwin did) and to insist on the great importance of the direct modifying effects of Environment (as Darwin most emphatically did) stultifies my paper & biometric work in general.”

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