Richard Dawkins Reminds Us: Worldviews Have Consequences

February 18, 2020

Eugenics made international headlines over the weekend after comments previously made by Andrew Sabisky, a newly-appointed aide to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, resurfaced.

In a 2016 interview, Sabisky stated, "Eugenics are about selecting 'for' good things. Intelligence is largely inherited and it correlates with better outcomes: physical health, income, lower mental illness." Many in the United Kingdom were appalled by these comments, and on Monday, Sabisky resigned and the British government sought to do damage control.

However, not everyone in Britain was critical of Sabisky. Well-known biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins weighed in on the controversy on Sunday, tweeting: "It's one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It's quite another to conclude that it wouldn't work in practice. Of course it would." He added, "It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn't it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology."

Dawkins sought to clarify his initial comments in a follow-up tweet by claiming to "deplore the idea of a eugenic policy." However, he reiterated his suggestion that eugenics "would work" and implied that "obvious scientific facts" support his assertion.

Christians who wish to think critically about this controversy -- and particularly Dawkins's suggestion that eugenics might "work in practice" -- ought to consider the underlying worldview of eugenics.

First, we must define eugenics and understand the legacy of the eugenics movement. Eugenics argues that the gene pool of the population can be improved through selective breeding. Francis Galton, known as the father of eugenics, argued in 1883 that eugenics proposed a way to "give to the more suitable races...a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable."

Commenting on the ideological background of eugenics, Patrina Mosley, FRC's Director of Life, Culture and Women's Advocacy, explains:

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution provided the basis for the eugenics philosophy, in which "natural selection" was understood to favor certain races over "lesser races," which became the foundation for eliminating "undesirables" (non-whites, the poor, the mentally and physically handicapped) so that the population was eugenically controlled to produce only the "right" kinds of people (white, wealthy, high intellect). His cousin and follower, Sir Francis Galton, is known as the father of eugenics because of his dedicated research and advancement of "the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally." This philosophy attracted many "elites" of society, who were often wealthy, powerful, and racist, who desired to put thought into practice.

At the heart of eugenics is a racist ideology that seeks to justify segregating certain members of society from others along subjective and arbitrary lines such as race, educational background, IQ score, and class, to weed out the supposedly "undesirable" members of society.

Second, we must remember that worldview affects much more than theory. Worldview provides the intellectual framework for policy and politics, and eugenic ideology was behind some of the twentieth century's greatest moral tragedies. For example, during the 1930s and 40s, the National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party thought those they deemed genetically unfit should not be allowed to reproduce. This ideology led to the forced sterilization of anyone suffering from genetic blindness, hereditary deafness, manic depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and alcoholism. Tragically, this ideology was influential in the United States as well. By 1931, 29 states had sterilization laws, resulting in the forced sterilization of over 64,000 people.

Finally, we must recognize the ideological affinity between eugenics and abortion. This is most clearly seen in the work and writings of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. Throughout her career, Sanger believed that certain types of people were "unfit" to procreate based on disease, perceived mental deficiency, and race. In her magazine Birth Control Review (which for years carried the masthead "Birth Control: To create a race of thoroughbreds"), Sanger regularly endorsed eugenic ideology. In the December 1921 issue, Sanger stated, "[The] feeble minded and physically and mentally unfit should not be allowed to propagate their kind." A comment made in a personal letter in 1939 underscores the racial component of Sanger's work: "We do not want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population."

Sanger's eugenic legacy lives on today at Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider. Nearly 80 percent of Planned Parenthood's facilities are within walking distance of minority communities. According to the latest census data, just over 12 percent of the U.S. population is African American, and yet over 30 percent of abortions were committed on black babies. Thus, while Dawkins argues that eugenics "would work" in theory, it is no mere theory. We are seeing it play out right in front of us.

Thus, as we Christians reflect on the present conversation surrounding eugenics, we must always remember the history and legacy of this harmful ideology, one steeped in a worldview that fundamentally denies the dignity of entire groups of people based on the presence or absence of secondary or superficial characteristics. Such a worldview is fundamentally incompatible with a Christian worldview, which declares that all people -- born and unborn, abled and disabled, "desirable" or "undesirable," etc. -- are made in God's image, possess inherent value, and deserve respect.