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Schalk van Zyl
 
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Eugenics and Evolution

23 February 2014, 19:38

I've heard it said a lot that the Theory of Evolution and atheism in general are in support of eugenics.

So first off what is eugenics and why would Evolution be linked to it? Well eugenics is simply the practice of selective breeding to ensure that we foster good genetic traits, while also cutting down on the prevelance of bad genetic traits. It's basically what we've been doing with everything form corn to horses over the last several thousand years.

The idea is pretty sound - if we forbid breeding in those people who for example have sickle cell anaemia, then with time the gene will totally vanish from the human population (barring de novo mutations). This would, in the long run, make us as a species much more capable and healthy.

Now since evolution is built around Herbert Spencer's 'survival of the fittest' it does seem to be rather in line with eugenics. "Nature kills off the weak, so why shouldn't man?" - this is what it comes down to.

But you actually see very few biologists advocating eugenics (in no small part due to the terrible practices associated with the Nazi-party), even though most of those same biological scientists support the Theory of Evolution.

The reason for this is a rather simple one when we look at it - why should we, as sentient animals, be compelled to enforce evolution's mandate? Just because nature works in a certain manner does not mean that humanity must follow suite.

Mercy is exceptionally rare among animals, yet we not only condone it, but actively encourage mercy as a good trait among humans.

Getting one's ethics from a mindless and blind natural process seems to me to be a bit illogical. If plate tectonics move continents around - should we start tugging at the earth too? Obviously not, that's just silly. So why would eugenics be any different?

The logic of eugenics is there (although there are many factors beyong ethics I'll focus on at a later time), but the ethical philosophy behind it is on very shaky ground. Long-term the suffering of the world may be less with eugenics than without it, but is that reason enough?

Here's a simple test of that kind of logic - You're a healthy young human with a very rare tissue type, and by some stroke of bad (good?) luck several people in need of different organs match your tissue type.

By killing you and harvesting those organs we can save many lives for the price of one. Would you go along with that? If yes, then you're a nobler person than I am. If no, welcome to the human condition.

Doing evil for good doesn't work out very well, because at the end of the day you're talking about stopping INDIVIDUALS from breeding.

Those individual persons don't care for this 'greater good' eugenics aspires to, they care about themselves and their lives.

So no, atheism and evolution do not support eugenics, because social policies depend on ethically acceptable practices, not cold scientific logic.

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