February 28, 2004


EUGENICS: IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE (Jacinta Lodge/ExBerliner/March, 2004) (click “In This Issue”, then “Feature”)

The green leafy suburb of Dahlem is known to most of us primarily as the home of the Freie Universität and numerous embassies. What many dońt realise is that a number of these noble facades hide a darker and more gruesome past than the elegant mortar work suggests. In particular, the frontage of Ihnestr. 22 once presented to the world the face of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics and Eugenics, an institute which played a central role in much of the Third Reich's racial politics.

Established under the directorship of Eugen Fischer, this institute was opened in 1927 during the 5th International Congress on Hereditary Science in Berlin. A few years prior, Fischer co-wrote Human Heredity and Race Hygiene, a book welcomed by the National Socialist Party that was soon to become the basis of the Nazi racial hygiene program. Following Hitler's assumption of power in 1933, Fischer made it clear: "The institute is completely and wholly prepared to assume the tasks of the current government."[...]

So it was in this hey day of eugenics that the KWI for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics was established and to which, in 1942, Baron Otmar von Verschuer moved, replacing Fischer as director. One of Verschueŕs primary research interests was in determining the genetic factors of disease. To this end, he worked with a large number of families, especially those of twins. His originally reputable research became more and more corrupted as he fell into the investigation of racial genetic differences, especially in terms of the "Jewish question," and it wasńt long before he was using human material gathered by one of his former research assistants and sent to him.

This former assistant was none other than Josef Mengele, the "Death Angel of Auschwitz." [...]

The KWI for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics remained throughout the war until February 1945, when most were evacuated. In April the institute building was confiscated by Russian forces, and the remaining scientists who had continued in the director's residence lost this building as well to the American troops in July. Soon the Kaiser Wilhelm Society officially ceased to exist, but a new society was built out of the ashes of the old – the Max Planck Society. By the time that this was founded in 1948, the KWI for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics was considered so politically compromised that it was not included, and the Society passed the building onto the Freie Universität. In 1988, pressure from the political science students studying there led to the erection of a memorial tablet on the front of the building. The final lines read: "Scientists have to be responsible for the content and consequences of their scientific work."

Note how the Institute closed finally because it was politically, not morally compromised.

The Pope prayed at Yad Vashem and Auschwitz and most Christian faiths have tried very hard to confront complicity in the Holocaust directly. It has changed them all. Yet to this day scientists defiantly deny any culpability by dismissing it all as either "bad" science, and therefore nothing to do with them, or a hangover from the pre-enlightenment era. Morally, scientific materialism is a cowardly, teflon-like creed that boasts endlessly about all the wonderful things it has wrought while blaming all other faiths for its murderous catastrophes.

Posted by Peter Burnet at February 28, 2004 4:08 PM

Wow! If only they had realized it wasn't really science. Thank heavens the human race is so much smarter today!

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at February 28, 2004 5:08 PM

That's a pretty broad brush. You gonna let any scientists out of that bag? Einstein? Szilard?

Talk about moral bankruptcy. "Most Christian faiths" (except Southern Baptists, lots of independent evangelicals etc.) have NOW decided that the Holocaust was not moral. Where were they in 1945?

Somewhere else, that's where.

I think any scientists who took part in murder ought to 'fess up and be executed. But there ain't no science Pope and no science Vatican.

There was, however, a religious Pope and a religious vatican; and an Evangelical Church with a conference of bishops. Where were they?

Baptizing Eichmann's kid, with an SS murderer as godfather.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 28, 2004 10:10 PM

Well, on New Year's Day, they, along with a lot of other Americans, were fighting the Battle of the Bulge.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 29, 2004 12:26 AM


I don't know where the Pope was, but I do know many, many convents in Belgium and Italy were sheltering Jewish children and moving them frantically one step ahead of the SS, that the Vatican threw open its doors to Rome's Jews when the Gestapo moved and saved 80% of them, that churches and mosques and their pious members in Denmark, Finland, Albania and Bulgaria thwarted deportation orders and saved their entire Jewish populations, that the Papal Nuncio saved thousands in Budapest, that the church in Norway did the same with less, but still relative success, that thousands of Polish Catholics risked their lives for the same purpose out of religious conviction and that churchmen died in great numbers in the camps. Do you know of any scientists or scientific institutions with a similar history? There are many more stories. Not enough to vindicate any but the heroes, but what Christian faith boasts about its war record? But Harry, as your post indicates, your perception of scientists and science makes it clear that any collective responsibilities under any circumstances are impossible, even though you would clearly like to see the world driven by scientific thinking and malign, interfering religion crushed.

Seriously, the only resistance efforts of any prominent scientists or scientific institutions I have ever heard of consist of flight or a quiet conversion to marxism. That helped a lot.

Posted by: Peter B at February 29, 2004 6:14 AM

Peter, you can't have it both ways. If scientists form political interest groups, such as CSPI, or make statements on human morals, you accuse them of usurping the role of religion. If they stay silent on these matters, you accuse them of moral cowardice.

As for WWII, many scientists were working on the war effort, building the bomb among other things. Science isn't a religion, when scientists act like religionists they aren't being scientists.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 29, 2004 10:28 AM


I'm sorry, but when have I accused scientists or anyone else of usurping the role of religion by pronouncing on morality?

Posted by: Peter B at February 29, 2004 2:32 PM

"... when have I accused scientists are anyone else of usurping the role of religion by pronouncing on morality?"

Why don't you read this blog? If you did, you'd notice that 'scientism' gets flamed an awful lot.

There isn't a Science Pope. There are individual scientists. Most of them outside of the Axis despised racism and cruelty. A significant number of them worked long hours during WWII to help the Allies beat off the Wehrmacht with radar or break Japan's back with the atom bomb. (Our thanks for that latter favor is that people flame us for that, too, as if firebombing Dresden and Tokyo with good old chemical bombs were all crunchy-granola.)

If there is anybody writing this blog who really thinks that science has not, on balance, done more good than harm, I propose that you demonstrate your belief of this view by doing without modern medicine (including anesthesia and antibiotics), modern lighting (e.g., electric lights at night) and all the other technological doodads that our great-great-great grandfathers lived without. And if you should not wish to do this, then I will cheerfully label you as a hypocrite. Why not?

Posted by: Erich Schwarz at March 1, 2004 1:06 AM

The reaction of some -- virtually none in Germany -- Christians on behalf of Jews is undeniable.

But in every instance, it was the reaction of individuals -- as it had to be with scientists, since they were not organized the way religions are.

The institutions of Christianity were either silent or complicit or enthusiastic about German persecution of the Jews. And, contra Orrin, there would not have been any persecution of the Jews if the Germans had not been a Christian people, steeped in centuries of Jew-hatred.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 1, 2004 1:45 AM


You have a very strange notion of what 'science' is.

Posted by: Brit at March 1, 2004 5:00 AM


And science has a very strange notion of what man is.


The only reason that what you say appears to be generally true in North America is that the products and benefits of science have been put in the hands of poeple still informed to some degree by religious sentiments and ethics. If you and others on this site have your way, that may not last all that much longer. However, your certainty that "on balance" science has done more good than harm strikes me as more a statement of faith than fact. But I guess it helps when you neatly exculpate scientists from any responsibility for their work.

Tell me, can you think of anything they discovered ot invented that you wish they hadn't?


I've no problem with the balance sheet approach, but let's keep it in the realm of what happened, not conjectures about what might have. From now on, whenever you tout antibiotics, clean water, etc., I will expect you to link them to the Holocaust and the Gulag.

Posted by: Peter B at March 1, 2004 6:15 AM

I just find it odd that you're trying to force a simple science vs religion dichotomy onto everything.

Who is it that you think should apologise for Nazi war crimes? Richard Dawkins? Isaac Newton? Your old school chemistry department? How about the Didcot Railway Steam Enthusiasts Club?

There were Nazi scientists. But there are also pacifist scientists, hindu scientists, christian, jewish, liberal, racist, p.c., marxist, neocon, capitalist scientists.

The only people responsible for Nazi war crimes are Nazi war criminals.

Eugenics and Darwinism have quite separate entries in the encyclopedia. If some evil people twisted a non-teleological science for their own ideological ends, let's point out that they were evil, wrong and make sure it never happens again. It doesn't help when people like you argue that they read it right.

Posted by: Brit at March 1, 2004 6:38 AM


I've always had serious doubts about the Didcot Railway Steam Enthusiasts Club. Closet exterminationists to a man.

The distorting dichomety of which you justly complain originates with the members of your team who: A)can't even discuss religion without weighing in with wild anti-historical accusations; B)insist on a strict collective responsibility that makes "religion" a malign or obstructionist, comprehensive force that acts quite independently of the people who adhere to it but which stains them all with guilt anyway; C)Persist in this quaint notion that science is nothing more than an atomistic collection of modest, diffident individuals pursuing a teensy weensy aspect of objective truth for the good of us all and with no connection to or responsibility for what their work means for mankind.

One straw man deserves another.

Posted by: Peter B at March 1, 2004 6:54 AM

I agree that it is absurd to blame religion itself for crimes committed by evil people who have twisted religious doctine for their own ends.

I suggest that your best defence is to point out the absurdity of their argument, rather than slinging back the same absurd argument at them. Your approach merely gives credence to their attacks.

There's only one sensible answer to the question of 'who is responsible for this evil act?' That answer is: 'the evil men who committed it'.

Posted by: Brit at March 1, 2004 7:05 AM

Which scientists were responsible for the Holocaust?

And if you are ready to blame Darwin, then you should also be in league with people who blame Smith & Wesson for handgun violence.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 1, 2004 7:19 AM



I think you threw this comment into the wrong thread.

The "balance sheet" approach from the other (but related) thread wasn't mine. Rather, I was merely pointing out that the person who introduced it, in order to avoid mere polemics, needed to consider both sides of the coin.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 1, 2004 7:22 AM


But those people who do blame religion do have a point in the sense that it is fair to say that history shows that religious zeal and theocratic politics can be forces for evil. My advocacy of religion doesn't go so far as to say there were just a bunch of good and bad Christians and their acts had nothing to do with what they believed in. Of course historic anti-semitism is linked to it, just not in the straight line, all-encompassing way Jeff and Harry would like to believe. Would you say that modern Islam is just a bunch of good and bad people?

The issue with scientific materialism is the absolute refusal of its adherents to draw any connection between its tenets and the results of adhering to them. Compare the article I posted here with Jeff's "Which scientists were responsible..." question above. He obviously thinks that the fact that they believed in scientific materialism is incidental to their activities.


Right, wrong thread. So who would you like to blame handgun violence on? If you want to argue that society is healthier and ultimately safer with guns, fine, but don't pretend deaths don't result from them and that just as many people would be killed with bows and arrows. Jeff, if you give everybody their own personal little h-bomb, do you think that some will use them? Is that a certainty? Why?

Posted by: Peter B at March 1, 2004 8:25 AM


But you're still making category errors.

"The issue with scientific materialism is the absolute refusal of its adherents to draw any connection between its tenets and the results of adhering to them"

What are the 'tenets' of scientific materialism then? You can't decide to 'adhere' to the 'rules' of scientific materialism because the 'rules' are descriptive. An individual can neither obey nor break them.

Having read your article I can conclude that the founders, workers and defenders of the "KWI for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics" must take their share of blame for any act carried out by the Nazis in pursuit of eugenics.

I don't conclude anything about 'scientific materialism.' That's in a different category.

You cannot get from darwinism to eugenics without accidentally (woolly-thinking), or deliberately (evil thinking) committing a logical fallacy.

As a practical measure, I suggest that the best way to prevent people committing this logical fallacy, ie. to prevent people from going from darwinism to eugenics, is to explain why darwinism and materialism are descriptive and therefore not the kinds of things that justify behaviours.

Your argument can only hinder this.

Posted by: Brit at March 1, 2004 9:12 AM


No, the best way to prevent people from going from Darwinism to eugenics is to make them understand that there is code of behavioual commandments that exists independently of us and for which we are all accountable.

Your logical fallacy is failing to recognize that if evolution and scientific materialism explain everything and do not deal with, address, proscribe or encourage behaviours, man is free to do whatever his neurons impel him to do. The only thing stopping him will be an ever expanding state. (Robert D's admirable stoicism is an alternative, but I've yet to hear of any examples of mass stoicism.)

Posted by: Peter B at March 1, 2004 9:28 AM

Darwinism tells you nothing about how to behave because it can't. Wrong category. Moralists, be it judges, vicars, politicians or just the general public, tell you how to behave.

Mathematics tells you that a 40k a year is a larger amount than 20k a year. Mathematics can't tell you how to earn a larger salary. Wrong category.

Darwinism does not observe that man is 'free to do whatever his neurons do.' Rather, it observes that man does behave morally and lives by moral rules. But even if it didn't, it has nothing to say on whether that would be right or wrong. Wrong category.

I am an atheist, but I have a sense of morality and I believe in behaving morally.

I live in a largely secular country which has managed to resist descending into amorality and/or eugenics.

Your argument is that even if it is true, we should not teach the kids about Darwinism because the world will go to hell in a handbasket.

I reject that argument as scaremongering nonsense, and I refuse to tell my children lies.

Posted by: Brit at March 1, 2004 9:53 AM


"I reject that argument as scaremongering nonsense, and I refuse to tell my children lies."

So, they never believed in Santa Claus or were told it was wrong to tell lies or kick Granny in the shins? You scientific types can be sooooo...pompous at times.

Whether your secular society has managed to resist decending into immorality or not is a matter of the eye of the beholder, no? Lots of bright minds disagree with you. Generally it appears that the modern mind tends to look at the behaviour around it and say : "Wow, freedom and choice! That's progress!" If you can't see what is going on re: crime, the family, children etc., and the government expansion as a result, what can I say?

I am constantly amazed at how you guys will just slough off ethical issues as some vague irritant real men don't concern themselves with as they delve into neuro-chemical compositions or whatever. Here is Mayr at the end of a book where he kept repeating throughout that evolution (big E) is a proven fact and only the ill-informed would think otherwise:

"Moral education has been practiced very successfully by several of the world's great religions. And where these religions have failed, as in the prevention of two appalling world wars, we can hope the world has learned from its mistakes."

Great, eh Brit? Here is poor old religion, refuge of the ill-informed and obtuse, and disproven many times over by clever evolutionists, but somehow still charged with preventing world war. But the guardians of objective, observed, reliable truth have no such responsibilites because they don't deal in the whys of behaviour. Nice work.

OK, you admit the members and supporters of the Institute were guilty. Of what exactly? Didn't they just do what their judges, vicars, politicians and general public said was ok? What principle are you relying on to condemn and punish them and where did it come from? And please don't tell me man has evolved an innate antipathy to killing.

Posted by: Peter B at March 1, 2004 10:26 AM

"Whether your secular society has managed to resist decending into immorality or not is a matter of the eye of the beholder, no? "

True, but there's a marked lack of support for eugenics in this godless, Darwin-worshipping country, which is the opposite of what your, and especially OJ's, scaremongering would predict, no?

"What principle are you relying on to condemn and punish them and where did it come from? And please don't tell me man has evolved an innate antipathy to killing."

I'm relying on my moral belief that it is wrong to kill innocent people. This might have come from an evolved moral sense, from my religious or secular education, from my parents or all of the above. That's a different argument. The validity of Darwinism is unaffected.

Posted by: Brit at March 1, 2004 10:44 AM


So who would you like to blame handgun violence on?

Well, in following your line of reasoning, handgun violence is the fault of scientific materialism. Maybe it is just me, but that doesn't seem a useful conclusion.

In the book "Forbidden Knowledge" by Lawrence Shattuck (I think) of several years ago, the author tries to make the point that there are some things we just shouldn't know. Unanswered are two things: First, how do you know what you shouldn't know until you know you shouldn't know it. Second, how accurate is my memory. Clearly it is time to drag the book of the shelf and give it another pass--the book seems relevant to the debate, because the argument often seems to revolve around the advisability of discovering some contradiction of religious orthodoxy, not the validity of that discovery.

Brit makes a valuable point: Darwinism provides a material answer to a material question. It is descriptive, not prescriptive. In my view it provides a coherent explanation why we don't routinely do what we could conceivably do. The result is a sense of social co-existence that is just serviceable enough to get by.

To the religious, we are fallen.

But just as being fallen does not pre-ordain anarchy, neither does our continuous existence as social animals. Your appeal to commandments is not all that different from my concluding free-will is far less than it is cracked up to be.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 1, 2004 12:06 PM

You miss the point in your wrapup conclusion -- the standard Denunciation of Secular Humanism.

Better is a Chesterton observation (from memory): "Nine out of ten Fresh New Ideas are really Old Mistakes. But to a generation that wasn't born the last time these same mistakes were made, it seems like a Fresh New Idea".

To which I add the Fresh New Observation "What could possibly go wrong?"

The National Socialist German Worker's Party actually did the world a favor by taking fah-shionable Eugenics and actually acting on it. Their firewalling this fashion to the limit with the Holocaust did a great job discrediting it for 50-60 years.

But the Holocaust is passing out of living memory, and has been co-opted to replace God and the Torah as the basis for Judaism ("REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST! REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST! REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST!"). What this has done is sensitize us to the Trappings of Naziism, not its essentials; as long as you don't salute from the shoulder, hoist the Hakenkreuz, or revive an actual Herr Hitler Personality Cult, you can be as NSDAP as you want and nobody will notice or object.

And with the Holocaust out of living memory, Eugenics -- under the advance of genetic engineering/stem-cell advances/designer babies/you name it -- has once more become one of those Fresh New Ideas.

What could possibly go wrong?

Posted by: Ken at March 1, 2004 12:39 PM

Peter B:

Perhaps in Canada crime is growing, but in South Canada, serious crime (i.e. murder, robbery, and burglary) has been dropping for over a decade. We're now at 1960 levels.


Plenty can and will go wrong, but why taint designer babies with Nazi policies ?
After all, what we find objectionable was not that they were trying for a "super race", but that they killed and sterilized those that didn't fit.
The misguided folks trying for "super babies" won't harm anyone but their offspring.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at March 1, 2004 7:12 PM


And that is ok by you, that they are only harmimg their own offspring?

Posted by: Peter Burnet at March 1, 2004 7:22 PM

>And that is ok by you, that they are only
>harmimg their own offspring?

What happens when your designer baby turns out to be "defective" in some way? Turn it in for a replacement?

This is the same Ken as before.

I was a fast-tracked kid genius, first-born after at least six miscarriages. By any stretch of the imagination, I was as much a "wanted kid" as any future designer baby who's design pegs the limit on Mom & Dad's Platinum Card.

"Every child a wanted child?" There is also a problem with the "too-wanted" child.

With the "unwanted child", you've got a Baby Doe.

With a "too-wanted child", you can get a Dallas Egbert III.

Posted by: Ken at March 1, 2004 7:35 PM

"Your logical fallacy is failing to recognize that if evolution and scientific materialism explain everything and do not deal with, address, proscribe or encourage behaviours, man is free to do whatever his neurons impel him to do."

Peter, scientists and philosophical materialists, as members of a society, need to participate in the duty of addressing, proscribing and encourageing behaviours that preserve and better the society. The science of evolution or scientific materialism doesn't. You are trying to tie material science and moral philosophy into one overarching philosophy that both describes and proscribes. Religion tried to provide that one unified philosophy - it's failure to accurately describe gave birth to science.

I don't think that anyone here is arguing with you that all members of society, scientists included, are not responsible for supporting a moral framework for society, and proscribing right and wrong behaviors. We are not looking to science to provide this framework. It is because of the abuses of the past such as the eugenics movement that we don't look to science for proscriptive answers. Yet it seems that you are looking to us to defend science on that basis.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at March 1, 2004 9:25 PM

Have you guys ever actually spoken to a Darwinist, because what you are claiming is just such complete crap. (I figure if it can be on tv at 8:00 I can slip it past OJ.)

Darwinists, albeit insufficiently catechized Darwinists, are constantly arguing that what is is right because it, by definition, is fittest. Now, I understand that this is a perversion of the narrowly drawn positive description of a proposed mechanism for biological evolution that all of us here at BrothersJudd know and love; but it is the understanding of 99% of our fellow citizens and subjects.

And frankly, you all are less carefull than you might be. The arguments we get here in favor of homosexual marriage, for example, tend to take the position that homosexuality, a result of evolution that must serve some pro-survival purpose, is no less authentic human behavior than hetersexuality and we are powerless to choose between them, even as to which we wish to promote through legal incentives.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 1, 2004 11:17 PM


I would suggest that YOU haven't met, or read, any Darwinists, if you think that's what Darwinism is.

Maybe '99%' of your fellow citizens make the common misinterpretations of Darwinism. They are 'common' misinterpretations after all.

But you got lucky here: 100% of the Darwinists on this blog don't think it's prescriptive.

On the homosexual point: you're confusing Darwinism as the description of how evolution happens over the whole of natural history, with the new theories of 'social darwinism', which deal in the much smaller timescale of the evolution of human society, and seek to find social/biological explanations for human behaviours.

Let me just state a couple of things clearly about the Darwinist explanation of evolution:

1) Evolution is not progress. Populations just adapt to their current surroundings, like water adapts to the shape of the river bed.

2) The things that happen to be around now are not intrinsically better, or fitter, than the things that were around at any other point in the history of natural life. A trait or strategy that is successful at one time may be unsuccessful at another.

No extant species can be considered to be evolutionarily more advanced, or 'higher', than others. They are all just the things that happen be around at the moment.

Posted by: Brit at March 2, 2004 4:44 AM

I'm not at all confused, at least on this issue. I agree with you entirely, Brit, on your description of Darwinism. My point has been, after all, that after Watson and Crick, Darwin is trivial. That is, once you understand sexual reproduction and mitosis, you understand that errors will creep into a gamete's genetic code. Will the resulting zygote survive? It will if the changes are compatible with survival. That's trivial.

As you concede, though, 99% of those who have heard of evolution think it proves that we are the flower of creation. Those are the Darwinists I was talking about. This is, as you say, an error. But as religion gets tagged with all the bad catechism that has existed throughout the centuries, I don't see why Darwin shouldn't, too.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 2, 2004 5:59 AM

Quite, which is why I stated originally that it is as absurd to blame religion itself for crimes committed by evil people who have twisted religious doctine for their own ends, as it is to blame Darwin for Hitler.

The arguments I have a problem with are these:

1) darwinism actually does justify genocide, and 'scientists' are to blame for nazi actions.


2) darwinism doesn't actually justify genocide, but there is a danger that people will accidentally or deliberately twist the theory for their own ends, so darwinism ought to be suppressed.

The anti-darwinists here have frequently alternated between these two arguments. We've eliminated (1) by showing that darwinism is descriptive.

(2) is trickier, but not that tricky. Even if it is true that 99% of people who think they are 'darwinists' misguidedly think that genocide is tickety-boo (which I don't think is actually the case), let's show them that it isn't, not pretend that darwinism proper is false.

Posted by: Brit at March 2, 2004 6:15 AM


Fine, but the rub comes when the modest darwinist claims darwinism is non-teleological, in the sense of being outside of or unconcerned with teleology. In purporting to describe natural history in a way that insists it is random and purposeless, the darwinist becomes, ipso facto, anti-teleological or else just shuts his eyes to the whole question. That leads to Dawkins' rants and the general insistence that scientific progress must be unfettered by notions of objective morality. That's why Harry's test is always "what works." He runs away if asked what "works" means.

Of course darwinism doesn't justify genocide anymore than it justifies democracy. What it justifies is man's freedom to use science and technology as he wishes with no means of weighing or accounting for the consequences. It is a theory of existence scientists developed to justify the primacy of science. As a practical matter, this seems to involve advancing on a wing and a prayer, celebrating the results as good by definition and trusting those amusing, teleological, erroneous religions to somehow keep everything from flying out of control(and blaming them when they do).

Posted by: Peter B at March 2, 2004 6:44 AM


well the rub is in there somewhere. I think it's this statement:

"the darwinist becomes, ipso facto, anti-teleological or else just shuts his eyes to the whole question"

By which i assume you mean that because a darwinist thinks that you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is', that there is no such thing as an 'ought', and, morally speaking, anything goes.

But that is not the case. I'm living proof: I believe in natural selection, and I believe in morality. We just don't refer to the fact of natural selection as our basis for morality. We use other things according to our opinions. That's why you get left-wing darwinists, conservative darwinists, racist darwinists, p.c. darwinists, pro-life darwinists, pro-choice darwinists etc.

The fact of natural selection isn't concerned with how humans ought to behave, any more than maths is. Since humans are only one of many, many species, and have only been on the earth a comparative blink of the eye, it is barely concerned with humans at all. If you replace 'darwinist' with 'mathematician' or 'astronomer' in your argument, the absurdity becomes clear.

"What it justifies is man's freedom to use science and technology as he wishes with no means of weighing or accounting for the consequences."

Why does it? That statement makes no sense at all.


Finally, let's be clear on a separate argument that often gets mixed up here.

This is the one about whether religion or secularism is better for keeping human societies on the moral straight and narrow.

On the pro-secular side (Harry and Jeff) the evidence is the stacked history of religious persecution and atrocity.

On the pro-religion side (you and OJ) are the 20th century horrors of stalinism and nazism.

I've kept out of this argument because I think that it is ultimately fruitless: it seems to me that where human beings decide they want to do something evil, they can abuse pretty much any theory or ideology to justify it.

Wishy-washy as this is, the only answer is widespread eduction and hopefully, with that, tolerance.

Posted by: Brit at March 2, 2004 7:16 AM


"The arguments we get here in favor of homosexual marriage, for example, tend to take the position that homosexuality, a result of evolution that must serve some pro-survival purpose, is no less authentic human behavior than hetersexuality and we are powerless to choose between them, even as to which we wish to promote through legal incentives."

I think that is my argument you are talking about. Unfortunately, you gotit wrong (or I expressed it badly). In an evolutionary context, organisms are not absolutely fit, only sufficiently fit. In the case of fetal development, that process is not deterministic, and produces results that are clearly not "fit"--spina bifida, cleft palate, Downs, homosexuality. These occurrences are both natural, and consistent with evolution since none of them happen at a high enough rate to seriously impact overall reproductive fitness.

Therefore, homosexuality no more serves some pro-survival role than does spina bifida. But, there it is, nonetheless. The question is whether homosexuality has some moral component to it that heterosexuality does not.


If I may be so bold as to speak for Harry, he and I agree. The strongest, most peaceful societies are those with completely secular governments and completely freedom of private religious expression. I happen to think that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, produces powerful stabilizing effects on society (much as a flywheel does).

However, inject religious certainty into government, whether Communist or Islamic or Christian, and prepare for all heck to break loose.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 2, 2004 7:39 AM


Widespread education? What do you propose to teach? Let me guess...


"The strongest, most peaceful societies are those with completely secular governments and completely freedom of private religious expression."

You mean like France?

Posted by: Peter B at March 2, 2004 8:24 AM


Education is not the same as brainwashing.



I wouldn't disagree with any of that.

Posted by: Brit at March 2, 2004 8:34 AM


So you would like religion kept firmly behind closed curtains and completely out of public life?Here is one dear to your heart. This month's Atlantic has an article by Kaplan on the US Army's man in Mongolia. He is described as one of those brilliant philosopher-warriors who performs wonders and is a completely committed and successful professional. He seems to be keeping Russian and Chinese influence at bay sinle-handedly. Here are his reflections on the amazing success of the post 80's US Army:

"The full flowering of the middle ranks had its roots in the social transformation of the American military, which, according to Wilhelm (a liberal who voted for Al Gore in 2000), had taken place a decade earlier, when the rise of Christian evangelicalism had helped stop the indiscipline of the Vietnam-era Army. "This zeal reformed behavior, empowered junior leaders, and demanded better recruits," he said. "For one thing, drinking stopped, and that killed off the officers' clubs, which, in turn, broke down more barriers between officers and noncoms, giving the noncoms the confidence to do what majors and colonels in other armies do. The Christian fundamentalism was the hidden hand that changed the military for the better. Though you try to get someone to admit it! We never could have pulled off Macedonia or Bosnia with the old Vietnam Army."

Posted by: Peter B at March 2, 2004 8:44 AM


And I just knew you guys would feel terrible if I didn't draw your attention to the following from the same source:

"In 1985 Wilhelm was sent to study at the Canadian Land Force Command and Staff College, in Kingston, Ontarioa bastion of British colonial tradition, where one wore a tie after six and was given a personal napkin ring for use at mess. "There was a lot of esprit," he told me. "Everything was deliberate, meticulous, with a fierce sense of a warrior ethic, despite the lack of opportunities Canada had to prove it. I get angry whenever someone belittles the Canadian military."

Posted by: Peter B at March 2, 2004 8:48 AM

Peter Burnet:

Am I OK with these people harming their offspring ?

No, of course not, which is why I described them as "misguided". I just don't think that we can stop them from attempting it. If it's illegal in the US, (and I don't think that it will be), they'll just go to Mexico or Europe.
Or Asia.

David Cohen:

Homosexuality IS "authentic" human behavior.
It's also anti-survival.

The choice is whether or not America, as a society, wishes to play fair with all citizens.
For me, civil unions will do.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at March 2, 2004 12:25 PM

"Forbidden Knowledge" by Roger Shattuck. I see from my copy that I gave up around page 170. I don't think any question should be forbidden as a question.

There are, and, contra Orrin and Peter, all scientists agree that there are "forbidden experiments." That is, you can pose the question, but you refrain from doing what it would require to answer it.

The classic example is raising a child in isolation to prove that Hebrew is the "natural language."

Now, that forbidden experiment was tried in 18th century France by philosophes (score one for Orrin), but the reason that asked the question is that they were influenced by Christian superstition (score one for Harry).

They thought they knew more than they did. That, of course, is always possible for any question and if you worry about that you adopt the precautionary principle and live in a cave and hunt bears with rocks.

Harry does indeed ask "what works." And recommends not adopting courses of action that don't.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 2, 2004 3:14 PM


I didn't say behind closed doors, or out of public life. Just out of the government. There is plenty of space for religion in public life without relying on coercion.

"The full flowering of the middle ranks had its roots ... We never could have pulled off Macedonia or Bosnia with the old Vietnam Army."

I was in the AF, not the Army, so my comments deserve a grain of salt. That said, he is completely wrong.

The single greatest difference between the Vietnam and post-Vietnam era military is the all volunteer force. I don't have time to go into all the reasons why, but the astonishing turnaround in professionalism is due almost entirely to that. As for the remainder, chalk it up to the contemporaneous absolute imposition of a zero-tolerance policy on drugs.

Officer's clubs took a bit of a hit from the focus on DUIs. But, trust me, drinking stayed very much in style.

Trust me on one other thing: Christian fundamentalism had nothing to do with it. It was as true in the Navy as the AF--there are two things you don't talk about: politics and religion.

Oh, and one other thing. Not like France. Like the US.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 2, 2004 7:55 PM


I seem to remember wishing I had stopped at page 170, myself. Being a glutton for punishment, though, I am going to have to pick it up again to make sure.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 2, 2004 7:57 PM

Take it from me: Hebrew is not the natural language.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 2, 2004 10:41 PM


""Forbidden Knowledge" by Roger Shattuck. I see from my copy that I gave up around page 170."

Don't feel bad, you're not alone. Almost all materialists gave up on that one.

Posted by: Peter B at March 3, 2004 8:19 AM


Have you read it? If so, what did you think?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 3, 2004 12:31 PM