Skip to comments.Little Book of Horrors: Tracing a Deadly Legacy
Posted on 08/19/2006 2:04:41 PM PDT by wagglebee
Commentators at the Chicago Tribune and NPR have pointedly questioned why President Bush signed into law S. 3504, the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act of 2006, saying that the law deals only with a hypothetical situation because scientists say [it] is not happening. Unfortunately, fetal farming, a la artificial wombs, is already underway in Tokyo and in the U.S. Furthermore, the press has failed to expound upon the problem scientists are having experimenting on one- or two-week-old embryos. These embryos fail to develop properly and become useful for embryonic stem cell therapies.
Of course, this isnt the only instance where language and ideas have clashed. Last year, James Dobson stirred a hornets nest by using a Nazi analogy to compare Hitler and his minions horrific actions upon Jews and the disabled with todays advocates of bioethical trends such as embryonic experimentation, abortion, and euthanasia. To understand current events, it is imperative to study the past to see what values and manners were bequeathed to the present. Does the rhetoric used during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by European biologists, doctors, and other intellectual proponents of Darwinian-inspired eugenics echo in todays bioethical debates?
A good place to start is by reading historian Richard Weikarts book, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. Weikart became interested in the topic of Darwin and the German eugenics movement after discovering the extent to which German eugenicists wrote about applying Darwinism to ethics to rid themselves of undesirables. Weikart stresses that while Darwinism doesnt necessarily lead to Nazism, historically the connections are there and they cannot be wished away.
In the books preface, Weikart muses about the remarkably similar rhetoric between present-day Darwinian ethicist James Rachel to that which he found during his research of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century eugenicists. Another voice that readily springs to mind is that of Peter Singer, the popular banner-waving eugenicist who teaches at Princeton University. For years Singer has been lecturing students about the wonders of radical eugenics, such as infanticide and euthanasia.
So what did Darwins idea about the struggle for existence and survival impart to Germany and modern America? Weikart writes, Death had previously been viewed by most Europeans as an evil to overcome, not a beneficial force. But Darwin turned this notion on its head and viewed death as good, so long as it happened to those he deemed inferior. According to this rationale, death of the inferior made way for the production of the higher animal. In other words, death is good if it eradicates seemingly lower species of humans including blacks, criminals, feeble-minded, and feeble-bodied.
In a 1968 issue of Nature, Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick said, [W]e cannot continue to regard all human life as sacred. Cricks mentality is evident in another statement in the same article: It is obvious that not all men are born equal and it is by no means clear that all races are equally gifted.
Crick was, however, a little squeamish about the implications of his ideas and posed them theoretically. Despite such squeamishness, ideas have consequences. Medical doctor Daniel Eisenberg compared the philosophy of Crick, Nazi Germanys physicians, and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, noting, The responsible parties were all individuals dedicated to helping mankind. The common denominator was the belief that caring for society takes precedence over caring for the individual. Or to put it another way, What is useful is right.
By the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, says Weikart, Darwins natural selection trumped deeply cherished Christian values of life, and science became the supreme cultural authority. Darwins disciple Ernst Haeckel, a rabid eugenicist, thanked Darwin for show[ing] man his real place in the universewhich was not the center. In essence, Darwins idea reduced mans value to that of, say, a pig, toad, or cockroach. So Darwinism replaced God with, said one reformer, the conception of a holy law of evolution.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century and a recent Los Angeles Times article in which University of Virginia psychology professor David Barash embraced the possibility of the creation of human-animal chimeras. He sneeringly suggested that it would be a barrier-busting event that will finally destroy the Judeo-Christian fallacy of humanitys uniqueness. Barash wants strict Darwinian naturalism taught in our nations schools without challenge.
Ideas like these are not unique. Last year, masterminds at the London Zoo thought it their duty to teach Homo sapiens their place in the world. They rounded up a group of volunteers to be a holiday exhibit at the zoo. Polly Wills, spokesperson for the London Zoo, said the exhibit is important because it teaches members of the public that a human is just another primate. Exhibitionist Tom Mahoney viewed himself and his gang of caged cronies as doing a favor for the rest of humanity by reminding us that were not special.
Unlike the chimera dreams and the London Zoo exhibitionists, millions of humans have already been exterminated by people whose worldview embraced social Darwinism. The hospitals and gas chambers of Auschwitz and Dachau werent dreamed up in governmental offices or war rooms but through the lectures and writings of scientists, doctors, psychologist, philosophers, and economists.
Besides reducing mans stature in the universe, says Weikart, the Darwinian worldview subordinated the individual to the community. He gives a good but chilling example of this by quoting from the work of zoologist Robby Kossmann. We must see that the Darwinian world view must look upon the present sentimental conception of the value of the life of the human individual as an overestimate completely hindering the progress of humanity.
Kossmann adds, The state only has an interest in preserving the more excellent life at the expense of the less excellent. To further demolish human sacredness, jurist and eugenics proponents Hans von Hentig states, one could breed humans, like we have breed other animals for the sake of certain useful characteristics. Other eugenicists thought it prudent to kill the badly developed individuals to keep the human herd strong and reduce the economic drain.
That sentiment is echoed today as well. For example, at a 1999 European human reproductive conference, embryologist and IVF creator Bob Edwards made a moral and religious statement in favor of selective abortions. [S]oon it will be a sin of parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease. Edwards directs us to consider the quality of our children. Others must feel the same way because, as American Spectator executive editor George Neumayr points out, significantly fewer disabled infants are born today as a result of selective eugenics. The practices are well concealed because finding the hard data about selective abortions due to disabilities is almost impossible.
Yet mankind has a pesky tendency to measure one evil against another evil. Such measuring is done by consulting our own desires instead of truth. Take, for instance, embryonic stem-cell experimentation. In our laudable quest to ameliorate disease, we are measuring our own benefits (individuals we can see and touch now) instead of what is best for the human embryo. We are experimenting on life because we deem it useful for the benefit of other life.
Looking at history is helpful because, while under a different guise due to cultural changes, mistakes of the past are often repeated in the future. Weikart reminds us that Hitler was moralistic and applied his pernicious, ethical ideas consistently. Although Hitlers bookshelves didnt bulge with Darwins books and letters, growing up Hitler imbibed Social Darwinism from popular level sources like newspapers and booklets. Later, he moved to Munich, where Darwinian rhetoric was flourishing. Darwinian terminology and rhetoric permeated Hitlers writings and speeches such as Mein Kampf.
Like Hitlers Aryan pride, the hubris fault line runs through each of us. One thing is definitely true: We have a terrible propensity to think we have evolved to enlightenment, and are thus somehow immune from committing atrocities like the tyrants and dictators of the past. No doubt in a different form, the messy eugenics rhetoric from the nineteenth century echoes today. Instead of killing to achieve the perfect Aryan race, were doing it to create perfect humans. Thousands of medical ethicists and bioethicists, Richard John Neuhaus aptly writes, professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on its way to becoming the justifiable until it is finally established as the unexceptionable.
The unthinkable-to-unexceptionable took place in Hitlers Germany, and were on our own American-style trajectory to perfecting the human race. One lawyer at the Nazi war trials said that savagery like that committed by Nazi Germans becomes doable after you decide that one group of human beings have lost human rights.
As Christians, we are called to be light in darkness, so it is up to each of us to read accounts of history like Weikarts excellent book, and pursue ideas with reasoning skills instead of emotions. Then we can start talking about the horrors that occur when mankinds worth is reduced to nothing special.
Kim Moreland is a project manager and research associate for BreakPoint.
|For Further Reading and Information|
Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
Jill Zuckman, Bush Draws Battle Lines with 1st Veto, Chicago Tribune, 20 July 2006.
Neil Munro, Cloning as Economic Development, The National Journal, 6 March 2004
Why Not Artificial Wombs? by Christine Rosen, The New Atlantis, Fall 2003.
Research Cloning and 'Fetus Farming': The Slippery Slope in Action, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 31 August 2005.
Dr. 'Doom' Pianka Speaks, The Pearcey Report, 6 April 2006.
Leo Alexander, Medical Science Under Dictatorship, Massachusetts Medical Society, 14 July 1949.
Jordan Ballor, A Monster Created in Man's Image: Debating the Ethics of Chimeras, BreakPoint Online, 18 July 2006.
This is distubingly true.
This is an excellent commentary.
Did you ever notice how none of these characters who want everybody else to relish death try it themselves.
One man's lack of quality is another man's diversity.
Once we decide a person's right to life depends on his "quality," there will be no end to the requirements. People will become commodities, easily outdated like cars and computers.
And, who decides what level of quality is "good enough"?
Several decades ago, it was this man, I'm sure the Culture of Death will find someone with similar "ethics."
Dr. Josef Mengele
Yes. The most brutish float to the top positions in a brutal society.
Read some of the links on this page, it will scare the hell out of you.
What was it we said after WWII? "Never again." Unless of course it actually does happen again. In which case, we'll yell "Godwin's Law" at anyone who can prove it.
I tried. After reading the intro, I was too scared to click the links.
Yes. Life is of value not because of any particular qualities, but because it is from God. Every life has inherent spiritual value. Once this basic universal truth is jettisoned, the law of the jungle will look like gentlemanly behavior in comparison to the resultant butchery and savagery.
We said "Never Again," but Roe v. Wade started a new "holocaust" which has claimed nearly 50 lives since 1973.
Wagglebee has a Viet Nam era keyboard, which can't produce superscript.
As a matter of fact, Peter Singer's own mother developed Alzheimer's (SP) disease. He hired a live-in nurse to care for her and defended his rather hypocritical actions by saying that he was rethinking the difficulty of euthanasia - in some cases.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.