Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Trying To Put The Blame Everywhere But Where It Belongs

The very temporary attempt to divorce natural selection from eugenics in the post war period pretty much ended with Sociobiology and its almost immediate successor of evolutionary psychology pushing aside the opposition, first the decaying hulk of behaviorism in psychology and the anti-eugenicists in science, exemplified by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin.  In some of his later and quite interesting lectures in the period after Gould's death, Richard Lewontin admitted that his side in that argument lost and that the ultra-Darwinism of E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins had won the upper hand, though not through scientific evidence and reason.   He went so far in one lecture as to - quite accurately and with great insight - note that most people believed in genetic preformationism due to that extreme faith in the potency of the neo-Darwinian synthesis and that such faith was, really, not much more sophisticated than those who drew little men in the head of sperm cells.

In the same period overt assertions of the most racist and primitive of eugenics started to reemerge - not admitting to its real name - in the declarations of Arthur Jensen, William Shockley, to be joined not that much later by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray and perhaps most notably, in the scientific racism of James Watson - and, it should not go unmentioned that Watson's Nobel partner, James Crick was campaigning in support of Jensen's racist neo-eugenics among his fellow scientists.   Many others made more mild statements supportive of eugenics.  One, the Nobel peace prize winning Linus Pauling advocated that people carrying the sickle-cell trait have a tattoo put on their foreheads identifying themselves as such*.  None of that is surprising, any number of pre-war eugenicists in science, notably such figures as one of the major creators of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, R. A. Fisher was and remained a scientific racist and a eugenicist even in the immediate post-war years, even as the depraved results of a belief in eugenics and natural selection could be measured in the millions of dead.

There is a paper I wish I could read but which, alas, I cannot afford to, which seems to assert that R. A. Fisher's eugenics were made more potent by his Anglicanism.  Fisher is one of the few-post war eugenicists I know of who was not an atheist. I would hazard a guess that most of the pre-war eugenicists were as well, though there were certainly those who tried to do what Fisher is said to have done in the abstract below.  I am curious to see how the author or Fisher explained how he squared The Gospel, The Law and the Prophets, what was summed up in "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," by both Jesus and Hillel with Darwinian eugenics.  Eugenics certainly does not hold that that which you do to the least among you, you do to God.

The abstract of the paper is available and reads:

In discussions of 'religion-and-science', faith is usually emphasized more than works, scientists' beliefs more than their deeds. By reversing the priority, a lingering puzzle in the life of Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890-1962), statistician, eugenicist and founder of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, can be solved. Scholars have struggled to find coherence in Fisher's simultaneous commitment to Darwinism, Anglican Christianity and eugenics. The problem is addressed by asking what practical mode of faith or faithful mode of practice lent unity to his life? Families, it is argued, with their myriad practical, emotional and intellectual challenges, rendered a mathematically-based eugenic Darwinian Christianity not just possible for Fisher, but vital.

Somehow, I think it was the Gospel, the Law and the Prophets who took a back seat to Darwinism in Fisher's thinking.  There is no way that eugenics can be made compatible with Christianity if that means believing and following the Gospel of Jesus, The Law of the Pentateuch and the Prophets.  If the spectacle of the Holocaust and other eugenic murders of the Nazis didn't shift that scientific faith, even in light of his professed Christianity, it's clear what dominated in his thinking.   I strongly suspect, based on the abstract, that this paper might count as an example of the extent to which allegedly educated people will go to put the blame for Darwinist eugenics anywhere but on Darwin and his theory of natural selection.

* Beginning in 1962, about four years after Pauling's initial statements on genetic counseling, he promoted his first eugenics agenda. It was straightforward and got attention. His ultimate goal was to decrease human suffering by eliminating the factors that caused it; to this end, Pauling stated that molecular diseases, like sickle cell anemia, warranted legal intervention. He suggested two criteria. First, a law should require testing for sickle cell hemoglobin in African-Americans. Secondly, in an effort to eliminate sickle cell hemoglobin from the human population, marriage and procreation restrictions should be invoked. Accordingly, if one heterozygote and one homozygous dominant (i.e. a person with normal hemoglobin) marry, then there should be a limit on how many children they can have. If two heterozygotes marry then they should not be allowed to have children because there is a twenty-five percent chance that they will have a baby with sickle cell anemia. Coupling chance with concern for human suffering, Pauling advocated intervention from authorities: "This percentage [25%] is much too high to let private enterprise in love combined with ignorance take care of the matter."

In addition to outlining the laws that he thought should be put into effect for carriers of sickle cell anemia, Pauling stated that similar rules should be invoked for carriers of hereditary molecular diseases, including phenylketonuria, and fibrocystic disease.

By 1968, Pauling got more radical and advocated two new tactics to reduce suffering from sickle cell hemoglobin: forehead tattoos and abortion. According to Pauling, carriers should have an obvious mark, (i.e. a tattoo on the forehead) denoting their disease, which would allow carriers to identify others with the same affliction and avoid marrying them. Additionally, Pauling suggested that two heterozygous parents should consider abortion as a preventative method because the amount of suffering caused by abortions is significantly less than that suffered by a child with a hereditary disease. It should be noted that Pauling never supported sterilization, castration, or killing of inferior human beings.

Although Pauling's ideas were radical for the time, others held similar views. Nobelist Sir Peter Medawar encouraged legal intervention and discouraged procreation among people with hereditary diseases by stating, "It is humbug to say that such a policy violates an elementary right of human beings. No one has conferred upon human beings the right knowingly to bring maimed or biochemically crippled children into the world."

You really have to wonder at both the stupendous ignorance of these Nobel Prize winning scientists of how such proposals made by elite, white scientists would be received among Black People and the incredible arrogance of them even thinking about such things being legally mandated on their say-so. And, at the height of the Civil Rights struggle!

And these are supposed to be of the best and the brightest, the cream of natural selection in the human species, which I'm sure they'd be ready to have said on their behalf, leaving it to others like Shockely and Jensen to say it for them.   Shockley, if you don't know, tried to start a sperm bank, a sort of Nobel laureate stud farm.  Lewontin pointed out to him on a Boston TV show that by the average age of the Nobel laureates, their sperm was very probably damaged by time and mutation to the extent that it was more likely to cause birth defects than that of younger men.  I guess that didn't occur to that Nobel Prize genius.

Update:  Richard Lewontin, did, actually say exactly that genetic preformationism is no different, in essence from the view of human heredity that those drawings of little men in the heads of sperm came from.  He said it in this lecture.  I've posted it at the beginning of his argument on that topic, though the entire lecture is well worth listening to.  I would ask why his criticism of metaphors and their inevitably carrying deceptions, distractions and falsehoods doesn't include the ultimate biological metaphor of natural selection.

Update 2:  How do you know that people who have sickle cell disease hate their lives so much that they wish they'd never been born?    How did Linus Pauling know that?  Did he ask people who had the disease?    I knew a young man, a lovely, good, sweet natured lawyer who worked for an environmental agency who decided to be tested for Huntington's Chorea and was given the death sentence.   He never, once, told me he wished he'd never been born though he chose to not have children, himself.

I can imagine what the reaction would have been if Pauling - who I liked in many ways - had suggested that all for example, all Jews be tested for whether or not they carried Tay-Sachs and that those who tested positive be tattooed on their foreheads.

All this shows is that lots of Nobel laureates are really, really stupid outside of their specialty.

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