RUNNING HEAD: Social Darwinism and Eugenics in American Society 2
Social Darwinism and Eugenics in American Society 2
September 23, 2018
Darwinism was a world changing theory that affected many peoples lives and spawned many more theories and ideas such as Social Darwinism and eugenics. Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution also known as Darwinism (Lennox, 2004). From here, Social Darwinism and eugenics was formed. Social Darwinism is the application of natural selection as well as survival of the fittest to politics and sociology (Bowler 1989). What this means exactly is that if a person’s genes are strong, then they will be higher up in society and see greater wealth and power. Social Darwinism isn’t too much about the traditional evolution idea but rather an explanation as to who sees the most success within a given society. This is seen to be most often applied to America and its society. Eugenics on the other hand is the idea that society itself influences human evolution by picking and choosing the genes that will passed on to future generations. The creator of eugenics was Francis Galton who wanted to apply Darwin’s theory on the evolution of humans which then created Social Darwinism (Lennox, 2004).
There are two different ways to perceive the idea of eugenics and that is the idea of a positive societal influence and a negative one. For starters, the positive idea is that society suggests that people themselves pick and choose who is best suited with their genes. If there must be Social Darwinism in the society then this is the preferred one. The negative view consists of actively restricting reproduction with certain individuals who don’t have what society would consider favorable genes. An example of this negative eugenics movement was that prior to 1964, California had sterilized 20,108 people most of whom where considered mentally ill and mentally disturbed (Stern 2005). This occurred to do a sterilization law targeted at those in mental institutions and hospitals. The wording within the law was also troubling due to its large scope of who can be sterilized. This meant that anyone who seemed abnormal in any sense could be subjected to sterilization. In the 1930’s there was a case where a woman was sterilized at the request of her mother by a private practice because of sexual misconduct. The court dismissed the case therefor expanding who could become sterilized (Currell 2006).
Eugenics and Social Darwinism wasn’t just used for the mentally disturbed and those who are considered unfit to reproduce by a third party, many immigrants and minorities were discriminated against and forced to undergo sterilization. In the 20,108 people sterilized in California, Mexican men and women made up between 7%-8% of all those sterilized while African Americans made up for 4% of the sterilizations even though they only made up 1% of California’s population (Stern 2005). One of the biggest examples of the use of Social Darwinism and eugenics against immigrants into America was economist William Z. Ripley and his ideas of different races being in different stages of evolutionary development. What Ripley believed is that,
” The danger … lay in the highest ‘race’ of humans being overrun and amalgamated with the lower ‘races,’ in which he included persons from southern and eastern Europe, as well as Jews” (Woodworth).
Ripley’s blatant racism lay mainly in the fact that he did not want those groups of immigrants to enter America. He was not the only person to believe in this as scientists Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn also believed worked to implement their scientific racism into America.
Darwinism itself is a major opponent to the religion of Christianity. This is because the Christian fundamentals are based around God having created the universe and all the living beings that were made with his creation are the same as modern day creatures. Darwinism is the opposite in a sense that all life has evolved from a sort of primitive and original form of itself that has changed to adapt over billions of years. The effect of Darwinism on the Christian belief is enormous, and it rivals many teachings of the Church. According to professor John Haught of Georgetown University, “to a great extent theologians still think and write as though Darwin had never lived” (Haught, 2008). This is showing how many fundamental Christians disagree with Darwin’s theory as it challenges their beliefs so greatly that some choose to ignore that the theory even exists. For a person to believe in Darwinism they would almost certainly have to believe that it is a Godless universe and that there aren’t any applicable theologies. From the very beginning of Darwin’s theory, many opposed his ideas and it took some time for Darwinism to gain traction among society (Haught, 2008). Often the alternative answer for Darwin’s ideas rest in biochemist Michael Behe who coined the idea of intelligent design which states that a cell is so complex it couldn’t form over time like Darwin’ s theory would suggest (Haught, 2008). Fundamental Christians have always struggled with Darwinism and it most likely will never be accepted by those of the Christian faith.
Darwinism, Social Darwinism, and eugenics and long since been a part of history. Darwinism has always challenged the ideas of the church and Christianity. Social Darwinism has been used for many to try to explain how genetics and societal status are linked. Eugenics has been used by many people to try and better the human race. Both Social Darwinism and eugenics are linked to Darwinism as they have similar principles but applied to different subjects. Darwinism was focused on evolution of life while Social Darwinism focuses on sociology and eugenics focuses on selectively breeding humans to try and perfect the human genome. The means at which Social Darwinism and eugenics have been applied have not always been morally right and have often been seen by many as wrong. Such an example where the early 1900’s when many people who were deemed unfit by the government and in some cases, deemed only unfit by family members are private practicing doctors who then get sterilized.
Bowler, P. (1989). Evolution. The history of an idea. Retrieved from https://openlibrary.org/works/OL2484151W/Evolution
Currell, S & Cogdell, C. (2006). Popular Eugenics. Athens: Ohio University Press. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/907737/Susan_Currell_and_Christina_Cogdell_Eds._._Popular_Eugenics_National_Efficiency_and_American_Mass_Culture_in_the_1930s._Athens_OH_Ohio_University_Press_2006._
Haught, J. (2008). God after Darwin. A theology of evolution. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=v5G-kaQ9WoYC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=Fundamental+Christians+and+Darwinism&ots=pXYxdV2PA9&sig=ReVr7uy_zNYdBIb9SsyfPn7Sa3M#v=onepage&q=Fundamental%20Christians%20and%20Darwinism&f=false
Lennox, J. (2004). Darwinism. The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy Retrieved from: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/darwinism/
Stern, A. (2005). Eugenic Nation: Faults and frontiers of better breeding in modern America. Berkeley: University of California Press. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/article/198542/summary
Woodworth, S. Darwinism and the American Eugenics Movement. Retrieved from http://www.scienceandapologetics.org/engl/turner.html