Monday, December 04, 2006


Professor Dawkins is in the public eye and under fire – again.

From here:

"IN the 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous--though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change."Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The specter of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from 'ought' to 'is' and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as 'these are not one-dimensional abilities' apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice."I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn't the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?"

As I understand it, this was originally published as an afterword to one of his books. Here is the article in question, and here is an examination worth noting. Here is the article in question at Dawkins’ own site

Here’s an article about eugenics by G.K Chesterton.

Of course, Hitler’s dark shadow has stained this venue. It brings to mind racial inequality, it shuts the doors of dialogue (slams them, really) in many minds: when mentioned, the swastika is the first image we conjure. Then comes the Frankenstein Syndrome – dare we take upon us the moral equivalence of some divine entity? Accusations then fly – the criticisms are of prejudice against the disabled (would anyone actually choose to be disabled?), declarations of racial superiority ensue (let’s be honest: genetic tailoring would be available to the haves as opposed to the have-nots – it takes no economics degree to see such a procedure would cost a bundle of money), and moral dilemmas are pursued much like a terrier worrying a rat. I’m sure there are those among the Sunday morning quarterbacks who would jump at fathering a future linebacker.

Of course, the theists’ first response is that we should not have the hubris to take upon ourselves the mantle of ‘creator’ – that to meddle in the clay we are made of is tantamount to blasphemy.

Whether any of us believe or disbelieve, there are options that need consideration.
Now I will use that old theistic ploy (and turnabout is fair play, after all): “Think of the children!”

Here is the definition of eugenics, from the Science and Technology Encyclopedia:

“The study of factors that influence the hereditary qualities of future generations. It may be thought of as both a science and a social movement. Eugenics proposes to improve humanity's future by increasing the number of children produced by persons who are, by some definition, superior and by reducing the number produced by persons who are physically or mentally deficient. Attempts to encourage larger families from superior parents are called positive eugenics, attempts to reduce the number of children from defective parents negative eugenics.”
Also:”While eugenics was indeed popular during the first half of the twentieth century, it was poor science and was eventually rejected. Discoveries from the Human Genome Project in the early twenty-first century will likely reveal much about human genetics and will surely lead to improvements in medical treatment. But just as people are not simply an expression of their biology, genes do not produce behavior. Genes produce enzymes, and enzymes control chemical processes. Many scientists believe that nature cannot be separated from nurture in the production of complex human behavior and that human traits are not to be improved solely through manipulating nature.
It might be said that there has been a return to eugenic ideas as represented in an increasing interest in in vitro fertilization, sperm banks of Nobel laureates (allegedly guaranteeing an intellectually superior fetus), and cloning. These twenty-first-century initiatives are different from earlier eugenic attempts. This is due, in part, to their medical purposes rather than their racial or nativist motivations. Yet, these initiatives should be subject to careful consideration from the public. The ethical issues raised by eugenics may be even more important in light of advances in human medical genetics. However, despite advances in science, it remains true that policies directed toward human improvement and social justice can best be achieved through political, educational, and ethical action.”

It’s obvious that, if put in the wrong hands (as per the Nazi regime), it has a number of tenets that are open to abuse.

However, let’s think positively about this:

Who among you, if you had some congenital disorder that was passed down via inheritance, would opt not to pass it to your children? Would you wish some inheritable heart disease upon your offspring? Perhaps circumvent some deleterious condition that endangered the child’s life and/or future? Or how about extending the lifespan of our species? Who among us wouldn’t desire better health, increased intelligence, or any plethora of virtues deemed ‘superior’ in our cultural settings? Much of our genetic makeup preordains us to be an ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph.

And yes, these items fall under the umbrella of the topic.

Best not to meddle, sayeth the naysayers. Crimes against nature, the invocation of that dark spectre of the Twentieth Century that sobered our collective minds, visions of science gone bad (Gattaca and Godsend, for instance), and of course, that old standby of the religious – best not to ‘play God’.

As in any system created by human hands, the abuses are always potentialities: strict guidelines (upon adoption) must be put into place.

So, in a nutshell: we should consider using genetics to improve our lot on this planet. I find myself leaning towards the Transhumanist camp – with serious reservations.

“Read not to contradict and confute,
nor to believe and take for granted,
nor to find talk and discourse, -
but to weigh and consider. “ - Sir Francis Bacon

So, weigh, and consider. Get back to me on that one.

Till the next post, then.

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beepbeepitsme said...

Bubble boy is back. Just thought I's let you know.

beepbeepitsme said...

Dawkins is mentioning that word, eugenics, which gets most people in a tiss.

The reality is that modern societies do practice types of eugneics. We do intervene concerning human genetic traits.

Prenatal testing and screening, genetic counseling, birth control, and in vitro fertilization, are all human interventions which have the potential to alter the genetic traits which are passed onto further generations.

One of the major differences, as far as I can see, is that modern humans have the choice to use information from these mediacl advances or to not use it. Hitler's version didn't consider the individual's right to make decisions and those decisions were made for them.

beepbeepitsme said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Krystalline Apostate said...

I bumped the double-post.
The reality is that modern societies do practice types of eugneics. We do intervene concerning human genetic traits.
Of course we do. It's just the 'forbidden' word.
One of the major differences, as far as I can see, is that modern humans have the choice to use information from these medical advances or to not use it.
It all boils down to choice vs. coercion. That will always be something I'm against. No choice? Flush it down the toilet.

beepbeepitsme said...

Agree. Choice is the major issue.