Thursday, November 15, 2007

Eugenics: Intelligent Design or Evolution?

There is much noise on the anti-Darwin front concerning Eugenics, and the desire to lay the blame for such on poor Charles. [As an aside, have you ever wondered what Charles Darwin’s reaction would be to being told about all the caricatures and downright character assassinations aimed his way over 100 years after he died? As shy as he was, were he in tune to the fact that penning On the Origin of the Species would have cartoons made of him being half monkey on good days and half Satan on the other, he might never have done so. Then we’d all be sitting here listening to people argue about Wallacism, which I don’t think I could handle]. I maintain that eugenics has far more in common with Intelligent Design than it does with evolution, and the proponents of intelligent design provide the arguments themselves.

Evolutionary theory says that the combination of imperfect replication and nonrandom responses from the environment with a nonzero effect on future replication leads to the variety of life we have on earth. Some summarize this as “survival of the fittest”, but that has connotations that are misleading, such as the idea that one object can be more fit than another per se independent of other influences. That is why I expressed it like I did. Evolution has no goal, no purpose, no premeditated plan. It simply plods imperfectly along, producing wonders hard to believe, mundanities by the truckload, and an impressively high 99% of lines of descent that die out completely.

Contrast this with Intelligent Design, that swinging, modern, dressed up version of creationism in a cheap tux of sciency terminology. Intelligent Design says that some traits of living things, and in the most liberal of interpretations, the universe itself, cannot be explained by naturalistic causes, and must instead be attributed to an intelligence. This intelligence creates, among other things, irreducibly complex systems, purposeful arrangements of parts which cannot evolve via a step-by-step incremental process. Intelligent Design posits a universe where the genetic makeup of organisms is determined by the desires of an intelligence with goals.

Now let’s look at eugenics. Eugenics is the manipulation of genetic material for the purpose of achieving some goal. If the goal is stronger people, then the weak must be killed, or prevented from reproducing. If the goal is blonde haired protestants, then the Jews must go. It is selective breeding applied to human beings, with the desired outcome determined by those with the power to enforce their goals.

Need we even ask whether it is evolution or Intelligent Design that most resembles eugenics? ID has a goal, and eugenics has a goal. Evolution is “you get what you get”. Eugenics is driven by intelligence, and ID is driven by intelligence. Evolution has no intelligence (one might say ID has no intelligence, but lets keep focused here). To add history to logic, the idea of the forms of life being created by an intelligence, as well as the practices of selective breeding, go back thousands of years. Evolution is a mere 200 years old at best. Clearly, it is Intelligent Design that laid the intellectual foundation for eugenics, not evolution.

For the IDers to suggest that Darwin is responsible for eugenics, they have to ignore all facts, logic and history. Not only did Darwin never suggest that his theory should be the determinant of societal structure, but even if it were it would decidedly not manifest itself as a eugenics program. A Darwinian political world would be more like a libertarian world, not a fascist one. Revolutionary America, not Nazi Germany, most resembles evolutionary theory applied to politics. Let the IDers put that into their inevitably neo-con cigars and smoke it.

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