Sunday, August 19, 2012

What Would It Take for Charles Darwin To Beat the Eugenics Charge

Part 1:  Galton

As his defenders will point out,  Charles Darwin died before his cousin Francis Galton gave eugenics its name.   That is true,  Darwin died on April 19, 1882,  Galton named his "science" "eugenics" the next year.  That is the first life preserver that is thrown to the eugenics-free Charles Darwin.  However, Galton first used the word "eugenics" in his book Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development.   In his introduction to that book, he says:

Since the publication of my work on Hereditary Genius in 1869, I have written numerous memoirs, of which a list is given in an earlier page, and which are scattered in various publications. They may have appeared desultory when read in the order in which they appeared, but as they had an underlying connection it seems worth while to bring their substance together in logical sequence into a single volume. I have revised, condensed, largely re-written, transposed old matter, and interpolated much that is new; but traces of the fragmentary origin of the work still remain, and I do not regret them. 

Clearly, Galton dated the beginning of his "science" to his book, Hereditary Genius, though he worked the idea in the years before he published Inquiries into Human Faculty.  That is a vital point in determining what part Charles Darwin played as inspiring eugenics.   In chapter twenty of his Memories of My Life,  Francis Galton explicitly credits Charles Darwin as the inspiration of his research that produced Hereditary Genius.

THE publication in 1859 of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin made a marked epoch in my own mental development, as it did in that of human thought generally. Its effect was to demolish a multitude of dogmatic barriers by a single stroke, and to arouse a spirit of rebellion against all ancient authorities whose positive and unauthenticated statements were contradicted by modern science...
... I was encouraged by the new views to pursue many inquiries which had long interested me, and which clustered round the central topics of Heredity and the possible improvement of the Human Race.
Galton goes on to say:

After many months of hard work, I wrote, in I865, two preliminary papers in Macmillan's Magazine, entitled "Hereditary Talent and Character" .  These contain the germs of many of my subsequent memoirs, the contents of which went to the making of the following books: Hereditary Genius, 1869; English Men of Science, 1874; Human Faculty, 1883; Natural Inheritance, 1889; and to my quite recent writings on Eugenics.  On re-reading these articles, I must say that, considering the novel conditions under which they were composed, and notwithstanding some crudeness here and there, I am surprised at their justness and comprehensiveness.

This names The Origin of Species as the inspiration of  articles and the book, Hereditary Genius in the line that includes "Human Faculty.... "and to my quite recent writings on Eugenics".  There is no possible better authority than Francis Galton on the question of what inspired him to invent eugenics.   And since the book that inspired Galton was written by Charles Darwin, he is named by Galton as inspiring eugenics.   Unless, sometime in the three years remaining to Francis Galton, he retracted that attribution, there could not be more solid evidence tying Charles Darwin to eugenics, nothing else could loosen the knots doing that.

However, there are things that could tighten them.  Francis Galton was only too glad to provide that in the same chapter:

Hereditary Genius made its mark at the time, though subjected to much criticism, no small part of which was captious or shallow, and therefore unimportant. The verdict which I most eagerly waited for was that of Charles Darwin, whom I ranked far above all other authorities on such a matter. His letter, given below, made me most happy. 


3rd December

"MY DEAR GALTON,--I have only read about 50 pages of your book (to Judges), but I must exhale myself, else something will go wrong in my inside. I do not think I ever in all my life read anything more interesting and original--and how Well and clearly you put every point! George, who has finished the book, and who expressed himself in just the same terms, tells me that the earlier chapters are nothing in interest to the later ones! It will take me some time to get to these latter chapters, as it is read aloud to me by my wife, who is also much interested. You have made a convert of an opponent in one sense, for I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work; and I still think this is an eminently important difference. I congratulate you on producing what I am convinced will prove a memorable work. I look forward with intense interest to each reading, but it sets me thinking so much that I find it very hard work; but that is wholly the fault of my brain and not of your beautifully clear style.--Yours most sincerely,

(Signed) "CH. DARWIN"

So, Charles Darwin effusively endorsed Hereditary Genius as he was reading it. Did he change his mind after finishing it and reject its quite developed eugenics? No. We know that from the authority of Charles Darwin, himself. In his second major book setting out his account of evolution, The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin repeatedly and enthusiastically cited and endorsed both Hereditary Genius and other articles by Francis Galton, as well as other eugenicists.  Just a sample of Darwin's citations of Galton's eugenics.

- With man we see similar facts in almost every family; and we now know, through the admirable labours of Mr. Galton (10. 'Hereditary Genius: an Inquiry into its Laws and Consequences,' 1869.), that genius which implies a wonderfully complex combination of high faculties, tends to be inherited; and, on the other hand, it is too certain that insanity and deteriorated mental powers likewise run in families. -

- This, as Mr. Galton (49. See his remarkable work on 'Hereditary Genius,' 1869, p. 349.

 -  see 'Anthropological Review,' as before cited. Mr. Galton in 'Macmillan's Magazine,' Aug. 1865*, p. 318; also his great work, 'Hereditary Genius,' 1870.) Most of my remarks are taken from these three authors

 - See, also, Mr. Galton, 'Hereditary Genius,' pp. 352-357, for observations to the above effect.

The connections between Charles Darwin and eugenics begin at the start of it, with the attribution of the man who invented the "science" and who coined the word. In the very terms that Galton gives as the beginning of eugenics, Charles Darwin confirms that attribution by his letter to Galton and his laudatory citations in what was supposed to be a major science publication.   Short of subsequent retractions from both of them, the charge that Charles Darwin inspired eugenics has to stand as proven.  Not only suggested, not only inferred but proven.

Charles Darwin's son,  Leonard Darwin**, succeeded Francis Galton as the head of  the British Eugenics Society in 1911.  Three of Darwin's other sons,  George (I'd guess the one he mentions in his letter to Galton), Francis, and Horace Darwin were also active in eugenics as were numerous other members of Charles Darwin's family.   No one who never met Charles Darwin, no one in the post WWII period when the eugenics-free Charles Darwin seems to have been constructed, knew Charles Darwin better than his own children and those who did what none of us has done, talked with the man, unrecorded.   If any of them believed their eugenics activity was a violation of their father's ideas, I've never found evidence of that.   Other than Charles Darwin, there is no higher authority in this question of what Charles Darwin thought about this "science" than his own children.  Just as there is no higher authority in what inspired Galton to invent eugenics than Francis Galton,  himself.

In the six years I've been looking into this question, I have never found anyone who knew Charles Darwin who distanced him from eugenics,  I've never found anyone who knew him deny his role in inspiring the eugenics of Francis Galton or in their own eugenics.  I have never found anyone trying to do that until after the Nazis showed the world what eugenics could turn into, discrediting the "science" for a generation***.   The events of that time put anyone wanting to keep Charles Darwin as the face of evolutionary science in a difficult position.   Natural selection, in the form of On the Origin of Species, was cited as the inspiring idea of eugenics by the man who invented eugenics.   Natural selection and the allegation that human civilization impeded it and that with natural selection impeded, the human species would fall into ruin was the foundation of eugenics****, it was the only reason that it developed as a legal and political application of purported science.

The large majority of the evidence confirming that evolution is real has been discovered since Charles Darwin died.   Other explanations of change in organisms have been discovered, sometimes introduced to the opposition and eventually grudging acceptance of those who demand that natural selection is the supreme law of biology.   In the most extreme cases the advocates of natural selection attempt to extend it to areas outside of the origin of species in biology,  even quite irrationally and with absolutely no evidence.

I don't think evolutionary science needs Charles Darwin in 2012, certainly not the phony, eugenics-free Charles Darwin that is the common received POV required to be a respectable member of the "educated class".  Quite frankly,  I think the major use of that Charles Darwin is an entirely non-scientific one, it is an icon of ideology, class status, social acceptability and mutual admiration, permission to disdain anyone who dares to violate the myth.  In the arguments I've had on this issue, I've generally discovered that those who insist on their phony Charles Darwin have never read much if anything he wrote.

That creationists, both in their primitive form and in the ID industry, have done that, they've poured over the record left by Charles Darwin, his family and associates and his followers, and have discovered the same quotes, the same absolutely solid case that Charles Darwin is absolutely tied to eugenics and its legacy only means that that record has been there and always will be.   They are nothing if not dedicated to discovering any ammunition that is provided to them by Darwin and his friends. To the extent that evolutionary science keeps Charles Darwin as its figure head, it will find he's a political liability. The denial of his record in regard to eugenics is a lie, it is unworthy of people pretending to uphold science and the truth, the result of denying that record is a failed PR campaign, a trade mark that doesn't work with most people.  The best the Darwin Fan Club can hope for is a slight mitigation to what that record shows.   If they continue to deny that record, they certainly don't do anything for evolutionary science,  I'd guess the Darwin cult is more likely to impede progress than to help it.  To the extent they insist on keeping their artificial Darwin,  it is a good indication of how much more they value ideology instead of science.

Note:  I have not discussed Charles Darwin saying that Emma Darwin, his wife, read him Hereditary Genius, no doubt during one of Darwin's many bouts of illness, and that she seems, according to her husband, to be interested in Galton's earliest eugenics as well.  I haven't looked at her diaries to see if she said anything about that, herself.   I have never read anyone taking note of her in relation to eugenics in the last six years of looking into this question.

*  Perhaps the same article that Galton cites as early eugenics material in his Memoir.
**  I will be citing Leonard Darwin in the next part of this series.
***  I will contend that eugenics is gaining traction in a future post.  That is what makes this important.
****  This will also figure importantly later in this series.  It is important to note that Alfred Russell Wallace, the man who is considered the co-discoverer, I would say co-inventor, of the theory of natural selection, vehemently denounced eugenics as pseudo-scientific and the meddling of "an arrogant scientific priestcraft".   So, the idea that natural selection necessarily leads to eugenics is clearly false.  I might get around to giving my theory of why Wallace's thought on that question developed so differently than the Darwin side of it did.

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