Larry Gilman | Indy Week

Larry Gilman 
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Re: “The American eugenics movement after World War II (part 1 of 3)

Retroman writes, "If you believe in evolution, then either you believe that humans can and should guide evolution, weeding out the unfit and weak, or you believe that blind chance is a better judge of who is fit to survive."

This logic fork is packed with flawed assumptions.

First. It yokes "can" and "should" as if they were a natural team, but they aren't. Even if I believed that human evolution could be meaningfully guided by eugenic methods (which I do not), I would not necessarily also believe that it should be. Lots of practicable courses of action are wrong. I happen to think that eugenics is both impracticable and wrong.

Second. Evolution is not "blind chance" or "random chance," as you characterize it. That is a straw man. Although blind chance contributes to evolution under the aspect of "genetic drift," natural selection, the only process that creates complex adaptive structures, is not "chance." That is, although variations arise randomly (blindly), whether these variations make any individual better adapted to its environment depends on the real-world specifics of that individual and that environment. That a finch with a bigger beak is more likely to leave offspring than a finch with a smaller beak in years when large, hard-to-crack seeds are more common than other foods is not "chance" but a highly predictable outcome. Natural selection is blind but not "chance": it is the filtering of random variations by nonrandom processes.

Third. Evolution, like all scientific theories, is an explanatory account of what happens in the observable world. It therefore offers zero guidance about how we, as moral creatures, should behave. Acceptance of modern biology therefore does not entail any view on any question of values, whether pro, con, or sideways. This includes any questions we may have about the worth of individual human beings: e.g., equality of persons is not a biological proposition. You write, "They have the right . . . Evolution says so." More straw. Evolutionary biology says nothing about anybody's rights.

Fourth. It is a fallacy to impugn a claim of fact (in this case, evolution, the organizing concept of modern biology) on the ground that the claim, if true, has bad moral consequences. Even if you were right about the consequences, which I deny, this would have no bearing on the question of fact.

In sum: As a Christian who is also devoted to science, I disagree radically with your whole post. Evolution does not entail eugenics or any other program or belief; it is merely a description of biological facts. Whether those facts should be celebrated, or bemoaned -- controlled, opposed, accelerated, or left alone -- are moral questions that the facts do not determine.

PS. Death panels have never existed and were never proposed. They are one of the more bizarre fantasies to bestride the landscape of American ignorance recently…

7 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Larry Gilman on 05/31/2011 at 11:34 AM

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