Eugenics: It's Only Natural
Something's been troubling me since it first occurred to me many years back.
According to a purely naturalistic view of the cosmos (i.e., there is no God and we are merely children of nature) our moral urges can only find their origin in evolution. And evolution's only purpose — if it can be said to have a purpose at all — is the survival and reproduction of the individual and, by extension, the species. Now, even if it were argued that morality is purely a social construction, then surely the welfare of our species would figure as prominent criteria for what qualified as "good." So by whatever source, according to naturalism, one of the chief ethical concerns must be the survival, reproductive health, and, perhaps, pleasure of the human race. And since there is no outside agent to rescue and preserve us as a species, then it is in our own hands to insure our future.
What is so troubling about this so far? Well, nothing in general. Caring for humanity is certainly a Christian concern as well. The problem is that there is no reason to think that naturalism can have any higher concern than this (but this is not to say that in practice many naturalists are not, in fact, driven by more personal agendas). If there are two courses of action, one of which may seemingly lead to the demise of humanity and the other to its flourishing, what higher standard exists that would suggest that the course of survival is not the preferred route?
And here's where things get dark.
Look at the world around you; look at the condition of its people. How many people do you see suffering from illness or simple imperfections? Retardation, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, heart conditions, paraplegia, schizophrenia — these are just a few of the many conditions we find. And there are many less severe from which even more people suffer, like hypertension, obesity, poor eyesight, color blindness, and baldness. Can it not also be said that simply being unattractive is an imperfection as well?
What is the culprit of all this suffering? Is it not primarily the fault of our genes, since most of what I can list would be considered congenital, hereditary, or genetic disorders? Even where illnesses are triggered by lifestyle conditions, it is often the case that our genetic makeup predisposes us to be affected in one way or another.
Genetic disorders are sourced in mutations that affect the reproductive cells of an adult, or in genetic errors that occur in the developing embryo. Such mutations that are not lethal or sterilizing are carried on by the offspring of the affected person. Evolution is indeed occurring. Well, at least half of it. We are indeed seeing mutations, unfortunately none of which are doing us any favors. What is not happening much in the case of humans is the "natural selection" half of evolution.
The wonders of medical science is remediating the effects of more and more of these disorders, and where once a person with a serious genetic condition might have died before reproducing, today they can live a reasonably normal life. We like to think of this as a blessing, but what is it really doing to our genetic stock, our quality of life, and our economy? Couldn't it be said that if we could remove such anomalies that we could reduce the amount of human suffering and eliminate a huge financial burden from the medical, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries? Why spend all that time in research and treatment when we could just as well test fetuses (and infants) and dispose of the rejects? Why continue to allow the gene pool to be polluted?
Of course, I am not the first to point out such a concern. The genesis of Planned Parenthood and the Nazi eugenics programs where founded upon the issue, which began to germinate in the late 1800's. Hitler was not the instigator of the Nazi eugenic scourge; he was merely a product of his intellectual time and its most powerful enabler. What Hitler did, however, was to generate negative publicity for the idea of eugenics by means of his zealous application of it and his mistaken idea that the Jew was a genetically inferior race that must be cleansed.
In the nauseating wake of Hitler's pogrom, the idea of ridding ourselves of "human weeds" (to use Margaret Sanger's words) fell quickly out of vogue. While I would argue that it has remained in the ethical climate in some circles, it has dared not show itself publicly to garner an official place in medical and social policy. But as soon as the Nazi stain is erased from our collective hamster-length memories, and a kinder, gentler way to market eugenics is advanced, we will be disposing of our human refuse just the same. As one modern eugenics advocate said:
We are deteriorating genetically, and the only alternative to leaving future generations an increasingly chaotic, violent, degraded society is called "eugenics." What a dilemma! Have we no other choice than to bequeath to our children a poorer genetic legacy than the one we ourselves inherited? And what if they too live in terror of the ghost of Adolph Hitler? Where will it end?
What is to be done in a purely secular society? Isn't eugenics inevitable? Isn't it evolutionary, and aren't we supposedly creatures of evolution? Indeed, how can we rise above our natures in order to find a "higher" moral path? How could there be said to be anything higher than nature for a naturalist? But nature is a cruel matron, especially in that she taunts us with compassionate instincts that are at odds with her purposes. Mother Nature is a hustler and child abuser. She will have us kill our runts with tears in our eyes and think ourselves noble all the while.