February 24, 2019 | Jerry Bergman

PBS Unmasks Darwinian Eugenics

Dr Jerry Bergman reviews the new PBS documentary on one of the evils of Darwinism, The Eugenics Crusade.


Finally, One of the Evils of Darwinism Has Gone Mainstream

by Dr Jerry Bergman

A new PBS documentary, The Eugenics Crusade, begins with Charles Darwin and his cousin, Francis Galton, who spent his life developing Darwinian eugenics with the hope that it would be used to make both better people and a better society. To do this, Galton was inspired by the “work of his half cousin Charles Darwin [who] believed that evolution was this natural process that was inevitably leading towards what they called the ‘survival of the fittest.’”[1] Galton turned that idea on its head, and concluded, “natural selection isn’t working very well. We need to do a form of selection. We need to intervene” in nature to evolve better people.[2]

Core Eugenic Values

The eugenic belief was that most positive talents, as well as negative traits including crime, pauperism, promiscuity, alcoholism and most other societal problems, were all genetic and ran in families. By applying evolution the negative could be eradicated: “Eugenics was proposed as the scientific solution for social problems. It was a combination of hope and aspiration on one side and on the other side it was about fear and, in some cases, about hate.”[3] The solution was to identify the feebleminded, the imbeciles, and the idiots and to make sure they do not reproduce, because “it would have been better by far if they had never been born,” a racist idea heavily influenced by Darwin.[4]

America’s Eugenics Seedplot in Darwin Soil

Many people assume “eugenics was a doctrine that originated with the Nazis, that it was grounded in wild claims that were far outside the scientific mainstream. Both of those impressions are fundamentally not true.”[5] In America, eugenics support was close to a mania that “swept through the country. And there was that kind of naïve, optimistic vision of eugenics like, ‘Hey, let’s all get together and make better people.’”

Soon Harvard graduate Dr. Charles Davenport (1886-1944), decided he was going to use science to create “a station for experimental evolution, not Darwinian natural selection that you just go out and observe, but … figure out how inheritance works … do experiments and find the patterns of heredity.”[6] Absorbed by evolution, he journeyed to England to learn directly from Galton. Returning from England he “had a renewed courage for the … study of evolution.”[7] Davenport firmly believed that mankind “could take charge of evolution” for the betterment of humanity.[8]

Davenport and Galton believed that “improving human heredity was of almost religious significance, of profound moral importance. They also believed they themselves were qualified to breed a better race because they believed that they were the best and the brightest … [and] you could take charge of human evolution.”[9] Because we can’t do breeding experiments with human beings for several reasons, including the impossibility of one person not living long enough to study many generations, so “it was Davenport’s genius to realize if he could collect family pedigrees, he could trace family inheritances and try to prove that evolution works for human beings the way it works for animals.”[10]

The Progressive Utopian Dream, Scopes, and Racism

At this time there “was a great belief in science … in government, in bureaucracy as a tool for solving social problems, and also a belief in … the Progressive Movement [that] said, we can use state power and expert advice and knowledge to solve things like poverty .… Eugenics was part of that.”[11] The 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo was a “celebration of science, …[and] an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate the power of science and technology, and also a utopian vision looking towards the future. Nowhere did the future look brighter than from the Race Betterment Exhibit” at the Expo.[12]

Dr. Henry H. Goddard, Director of Research at the Vineland Training School for Feeble-Minded Girls and Boys, was also inspired by Davenport. The result was his now infamous 1912 book The Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness, often quoted in American textbooks for decades, including the one used by Scopes, the teacher at the center of the Scopes Monkey Trial.[13] It was even in the speeches of politicians, books, scholarly journals, popular magazines and even relied on in Nazi Germany to support their racial policies. The Kallikak study began with a putative “feebleminded tavern girl, and a fateful tryst that over several generations had spawned more than a hundred mental defectives.”[14] Long since debunked, it influenced millions of persons including Adolf Hitler.[15]

Hereditary Intelligence and IQ Testing for Morons

Goddard argued that the high-grade moron is functioning well-enough to act normal, but is stuck in a lower evolutionary level like some races were. Goddard concluded that the cause of 75 percent of all social problems in America was hereditary.[16] The Progressive solution was State control of human reproduction. The problem was,

it takes an expert to identify the true menace of feeblemindedness. So someone you’re sitting next to at a restaurant or in a theater could look perfectly normal to you and it only takes one feebleminded person marrying another one, even someone who’s not feebleminded, to create generations of feeblemindedness. What it did is up the stakes of feeblemindedness by claiming that it was a hidden menace that was more difficult to pinpoint than people might think. … Charles Davenport was convinced that certain human traits were passed down in a predictable way––and that American society could be dramatically improved if only reproduction were controlled.[17]

The solution was intelligence testing. Goddard was also the first to translate the French Binet Intelligence Test into English; later the revised version, the Stanford Binet, became a critical test for feeble mindedness that is still used today for school placement.

The testing fad resulted in the Army alpha test for literate, and Army beta for illiterate persons, to evaluate draft inductees and aid in assignment of the three million men drafted in WWI. Of the 1.7 million who took the test, fully half were classified as Morons, many of whom had never held a pencil in their life, and many of these were out producing children compared to the non-morons![18]  Goddard argued that morons should be removed from society through institutionalization, sterilization, or both. The conclusion is, we need to do something, and fast, about this problem.

Eugenics as Philanthropy

Davenport appealed to wealthy philanthropist Mrs. H. M. Harriman, for funding. He told her that she either could help the poor for decades, or support eugenics to stem the production of feebleminded people. Eugenics could permanently and drastically reduce the feebleminded population. Heredity, not environment, was the problem. Mrs. Harriman’s deceased husband’s success at horse breeding influenced her to accept Davenport’s arguments. Davenport persuaded Mrs. Harriman that the future of the country was at stake, and only eugenics could save it.[19] Instead of giving to the poor, in 1910 she funded the Eugenics Record Office to guide reproductive research programs of the nation.

The Record Office spent millions of hours and dollars producing an enormous amount of data. In the end, the thousands of records were declared useless because they were based on subjective evaluations of information collected both from personal interviews and unverified family histories, often hearsay.

Eugenics Supported with Religious Fervor

America was rapidly saturated with the eugenics idea, a movement then advocated with religious fervor. Soon, over 350 colleges taught eugenics classes, including Harvard, Northwestern, and the University of California at Berkeley. People were even judged at eugenics fairs to see how close they were to the ideal Nordic race. Fitter Families contests were established that rated family members and, like cattle, gave ribbons for those that bred the best children as determined by evaluations requiring as long as three hours. Eugenics also was preached from pulpits by leading ministers,[20] promoted on lecture circuits, and was even used to sell newfangled beauty treatments.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment for Undesirables

Also recommended was a new surgical procedure called “sterilization.” By cutting and sealing the reproductive organs, both men and women could be made infertile. The technique was first used primarily on criminals––particularly sex offenders––and was thought to have a curative effect. Laughlin “envisioned a broader application: as a eugenic tool that would eliminate defective germ-plasm once and for all.”[21]

According to the Eugenics Sterilization Act of 1913, 15 million Americans needed to be sterilized. Even President Theodore Roosevelt was on board, writing that  “society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce, … It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such … knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding.”[22]

America Inspires Hitler

In 1916 Madison Grant, a wealthy Wall Street lawyer and eugenicist, published The Passing of the Great Race: or, The Racial Basis of European History. In this book, Grant invented a race called the Nordics, a

tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed race. According to Grant, the Nordics are the most recently evolved of all the races. That means their genetic traits are still fragile. They’re not fully formed. And so if a blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordic mates with a more primitive race, a Mediterranean, a Jew, certainly a Negro or an Asiatic, the more primitive genes of the inferior race will actually overwhelm the superior but not yet stable genes of the Nordics.[23]

Hitler said almost the same thing in Mein Kampf. Madison Grant took Darwinian eugenics the next step which hitherto was concerned only with survival of the fittest individuals, and Grant turned it into “we need to be concerned with the survival of the fittest race. We need to preserve the Nordic race.”[24] Adolf Hitler and other world leaders openly embraced the Grant book and its message.[25] Hitler, personally wrote to Grant to thank him for writing his book, even referring to it as “my Bible.” It is ironic that an American was an important source in giving Hitler the ideas he ran with that resulted in the Holocaust.

Immigrant Phobia Among the Elitists

Madison Grant’s own experiences centered around his concerns over the growing numbers of immigrants from non-Nordic Europe (Poland, Russia, and other Eastern European countries) and especially Jews, who eugenicists believed are inferior, and “found the data to back it up.”[26] Grant believed the Nordic race was intellectually superior to all of these people groups and concluded that the Western Europeans were being out-bred by “inferior” immigrant racial stocks. The supporters thought of eugenics “as the beginning of a revolution … a religious movement .… that seemed exciting and full of possibility” to create a new world.”[27]

Grant later persuaded Congressman Albert Johnson and Senator David Reed to sponsor The Johnson–Reed Act, the final version which passed on May 26, 1924. The law blocked about 97 percent of immigrants from Eastern Europe compared to previously admitted numbers. It did not affect immigrants from Central or South America. The law was supported by many influential Americans, including Margaret Sanger, and Alexander Graham Bell.

See Dr Bergman’s 2019 Jan 9 article, “Holocaust Intensity Worse than Believed.”

Nazi Criminals Defend Themselves by Citing American Laws

It closed the door to most Jews, including the well-known diarist Anne Frank and her family, preventing them from escaping Nazi Germany: “We think about Anne Frank dying in a concentration camp because the Germans thought the Jews were genetically inferior, but to some extent Anne Frank died in a concentration camp because the U.S. Congress believed that as well.”[28] At the Nuremberg court that tried the worst Nazi war criminals, the lawyers defending the Nazis cited the Johnson–Reed Act as well as the U.S. Supreme court case of Bell v. Buck, discussed below, to justify their Nazi eugenics programs.

The Supreme Court Rules

It is hard to imagine a weaker person to come before the Supreme Court than Carrie Buck. She was destitute, alone, her mother was an inmate, and her lawyer, who did nothing for her, was chosen by her enemies. She asked the seat of justice in America to not forcibly operate, which was denied, thus she lost her right to birth children. And what the eugenic supporters wanted was a test case to legalize forced sterilization in all 48 states.[29] The Supreme Court gave it to them, writing:

In May 1927, the court’s majority opinion was rendered by the venerable Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, at 86, was widely regarded as America’s most brilliant legal mind. “It is better for all the world,” Holmes wrote, “if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind …. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”[30]

Blacks Misled toward the Eugenics Primrose Path

The eugenics movement was even taken up by blacks who concluded one solution to discrimination was to breed negroes for intelligence, talent and other desirable traits. In fact, so

pervasive was the impulse to human improvement, even prominent African-Americans took up the theme. W.E.B. DuBois, one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, maintained that the “best” of the black race––what he called “the Talented Tenth”––was the hope for the future. “The Negro,” DuBois declared, “… must begin to … breed for brains, for efficiency, for beauty.”[31]

Abortion Rooted in Eugenics

The eugenics movement even helped Margaret Sanger: “Once birth control is packaged as a way of improving the human race, it seems more manageable. There were a lot of people that were on the fence that she convinced to embrace birth control because of its eugenic potential. It was being labeled a birth control activist that was truly controversial. Being a eugenicist was far more acceptable.”[32] The main opposition was conservative churches, and for their opposition they were condemned by the scientific establishment.[33] In short, eugenics is an

all-encompassing creed. It’s a faith. It’s a religion. And Harry Laughlin and Madison Grant understood, we need the people to be converted of this religion so that everyone will understand, “If I am eugenically superior I cannot date and certainly cannot mate with a eugenically unfit person.”[34]

In other words, before you date, test and evaluate using eugenic tests, including a Stanford-Binet IQ test, to evaluate your potential mate.

The Movement Falters

A factor in eugenics decline was the progress in genetics and the realization that heredity was far more complex than Mendel’s simple ratios based on his dominant and recessive trait theory. Most traits are not the result of a feeble minded, or pauper gene, or sexuality-promiscuity gene, or alcoholic gene, but the result of many genes, some co-dominant, others semi-dominant, others with incomplete penetrance. It is a rare trait that results from one gene; even simple traits like eye color involve many genes.

Thomas Hunt Morgan at first believed in the transformative power of eugenics. He served on the board at the Eugenics Record Office since it first opened, but based

on the lessons he’d learned in the Fly Room, it seemed clear that eugenic science, such as it was, had no business informing American laws. …  I think it is just as well for some of us to set a better standard, and not appear as participators in the show. … I study fruit flies and I can’t figure out how their eyes work. I can’t figure out which one’s going to inherit certain kinds of wings and you seem to be saying you can understand who’s gonna inherit something as vague as criminality or pauperism.[35]

The PBS film documented the final blow to the eugenics movement was increasing awareness of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps after WWII.

Furthermore, as is obvious today, poverty is not primarily biological, but environmental, as documented by the great depression of 1929 when thousands of well-educated, successful professionals and business owners lost everything.[36]  It is also not primarily biological, as proven by the correlation of poverty and early social associations, and the commonality of crime by the non-poor, such as by professionals, including lawyers and doctors.  The “problem with utopias is that they set a set of aspirations that then blind you to a certain set of consequences and that … can be dangerous.”[37]

Even though the eugenics arguments originally used to justify sterilization ended due to the gruesome revelations of Nazi war crimes, thousands of people would continue to be sterilized well into the 1960s, many with no knowledge of what had been done to them. Eugenics science was based on extensive research and data and, therefore, appeared eminently reasonable, but as evidence accumulated, turned out to be horribly wrong. The eugenic sterilization mania only ended in the 1970s after more than 60,000 Americans were sterilized after being judged “mentally deficient.”

Along the way, the documentary covered abuses of  IQ tests and racism, showing how people who uncritically relied on science and scientists to justify acts that were made with the best of intentions, but had horrendous effects, including the Holocaust.[38] Could the same problem be true with Darwinism today?

[1] Darwin, Charles. 1859. The Origin of Species. London: John Murray.

[2] Transcript of The Eugenics Crusade. What’s Wrong with Perfect? DVD. 2018. American Experience Series. Written by Michael Ferrari and edited by George O’Donnell, p. 2.

[3] Transcript, p. 1.

[4] Zitzer, Leon. 2016. Darwin’s Racism. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.

[5] Transcript, p. 1.

[6] Transcript, p. 2

[7] Transcript, p. 2

[8] Comfort, Nathaniel 2012. The Science of Human Perfection: How Genes Became the Heart of American Medicine. New Haven: Yale University Press.

[9] Transcript, pp. 3, 4.

[10] Transcript, p. 4.

[11] Transcript, p. 5.

[12] Transcript, p. 12.

[13] Goddard, Henry. 1912. The Kallikak Family. New York: MacMillan.

[14] Transcript, p. 13.

[15] Smith, David and Michael L. Wehmeyer. 2012.  Good Blood, Bad Blood: Science, Nature, and the Myth of the Kallikaks. New York: American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

[16] Transcript, p. 6.

[17] Transcript, p, 6-7

[18] Transcript, p. 14.

[19] Transcript, p. 7.

[20] Rosen, Christine.  2004.  Preaching Eugenics.  New York: Oxford University Press.

[21] Transcript, p. 10.

[22] Transcript, p. 9.

[23] Transcript, p. 16.

[24] Transcript, p. 17.

[25] Bergman, Jerry Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview: How the Nazi Eugenic Crusade for a Superior Race Caused the Greatest Holocaust in World History. 2012. Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: Joshua Press.

[26]  Transcript, p. 18.

[27] Transcript, p. 10.

[28] Transcript, p. 19.

[29] Cohen, Adan. 2016. Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. New York: Penguin Press.

[30] Transcript. p. 23.

[31] Transcript, p. 21.

[32]  Transcript, p. 19.

[33] Shipley, Maynard.  1927.  The War on Modern Science.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[34] Transcript, p. 20.

[35] Transcript, p. 11.

[36] Transcript, p. 25

[37] Transcript, p. 8.

[38] How Darwinism Corrodes Morality: Darwinism, Immorality, Abortion and the Sexual Revolution. 2017. Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: Joshua Press.

Ed: See also the documentary Human Zoos by John West, now free on YouTube, showing the history of Darwinian racism.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology at several colleges and universities including for over 40 years at Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and books that include chapters that he authored, are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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