In Expelled, Ben Stein reads a quote from Charles Darwin's "The Descent of Man." Expelledexposed claims that the quote was read with the intent to portray Darwin as an advocate of Eugenics. The website also accuses Stein of reading the quote out of context.
In examining this claim, we begin with the passage from "The Descent of Man" that we read in Part V, for these are the beginning sentences of the entire disputed passage:
"I have hitherto only considered the advancement of man from a semi-human condition to that of the modern savage. But some remarks on the action of natural selection on civilized nations may be worth adding. The subject has been ably discussed by Mr. W.R. Greg, and previously by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Galton. Most of my remarks are from these three authors." (Charles Darwin, "The Descent of Man", Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 1998, p. 138)
Remember that Mr. (Sir Francis) Galton, Darwin's 1/2 cousin, was the father of Eugenics. Both men acknowledged that their research fed off of each other's work. We can see this on Darwin's part in the quote above; Galton testified of his debt to Darwin: "I was encouraged by the new views to pursue many inquiries that interested me, and which clustered around the central topic of Heredity."
Now we come to the next sentences from Darwin's book which Stein quotes in Expelled. The quote can be seen on expelledexposed. (I have only seen Expelled once, last May. Therefore, I must rely on the veracity of expelledexposed in reproducing the quote used in the film. In relying on this website, with its track record on presenting the truth, you might say to me, "Oh, Mr. Guthrie, you are so very brave!") Portions from the original quote left out by expelledexposed are included by me in brackets:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; [and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health.] We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; [we institute poor-laws; and our medical men excert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox.] Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. [It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself,] hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed." (Darwin, p.138-139)
Expelledexposed claims that the next paragraph exonerates Darwin from the charge of advocating Eugenics. Before we explore that assertion, lets examine what we just read. Darwin listed categories of persons whose reproduction is in his mind highly injurious to the human race. The physically and mentally weak. Those with diseases such as small-pox. The poor. THE POOR. (Repetition intentional) The maimed. (Injured in childhood? On the job? Defending one's country?) Those who formerly enjoyed good health, but became ill, whom physicians treat up to the last minute of life. As anyone is foolish enough to "allow his worst animals to breed", he brings about "the degeneration of a domestic race." Only man is so "ignorant" to allow his own race to degenerate by preserving the lives of the weak.
What is Darwin's explanation for why man tries to "check the process of elimination"? The answer is in the next sentence from the disputed passage:
"The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. (Darwin, p.139)
Immediately following this sentence is the evidence that expelledexposed asserts proves Darwin was not an advocate of Eugenics:
Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without the deterioration in the noblest part of our nature." (Darwin, p.139)
Does this passage exonerate Darwin from the charge of advocating Eugenics? You could say yes. But that is not the specific charge made by Expelled. The charge made by the film is that Darwin's theories led to a drastic change in how man views himself; no longer does man see himself as the pinnacle of God's creation, but as just another animal. No matter how much Darwin would have protested, he could not stop others from applying his views to the elimination of the weak and helpless. As I argued in Part V, no scientist or philosopher has a veto power over what implications others derive from his own work. Darwin was not a Nazi; he was a typical 19th century British racist. And these racist tendencies colored his assumptions and conclusions. Modern day evolutionists argue that racism has been purged from modern day Evolutionary theory. Yet Darwin's racism was present in his original work and played a role in those who applied his theories of natural selection to the human race. No, Darwin did not advocate Nazi ideology. But his theories were an integral element in its formation.
Lets read the rest of the paragraph from Darwin:
The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this more to be hoped for than expected." (Darwin, p.139)
So , the sound in mind and body must bear the effects of the weak reproducing themselves. But it bears these effects with the hope that "the weak in body or mind" refrain from marriage. How are they to refrain? Who is to teach them? The sound in mind and body. Yet this Darwin considered this just a hope.
People such as Galton found implications in such passages from Darwin's works. To preserve the weak and the helpless brings degeneration to the human race. The solution is to "assist" the weak in refraining from marriage, or in rendering the weak unable to bear children. (Sterilization) Eugenics was simply a plan of action to bring about the "hope" expressed by Darwin. A couple of generations later, the Nazi's formulated their own ideology, heavily influenced by Eugenics, and carried out their own plan of action, the Holocaust. (See Ian Kershaw's 2 volume biography of Hitler to understand the influence of Eugenics on the Nazi ideology of race.)
Ideas have consequences. From Darwin's theory that man is just an animal, he came to the conclusion that to preserve the weak led to the degeneration of the human race. But not to preserve the weak violated man's "evolved" consciousness; man can only hope that the weak would not reproduce. To others, this implied that a plan of action was needed to make this hope a reality. Enter the Eugenics movement. This movement influenced figures such as Margaret Sanger to form Planned Parenthood, an organization that still helps the weak refrain from reproducing. Just go to Google Video and enter in "Planned Parenthood Racism"; you might be surprised at how the organization encourages the termination of pregnancy for racial minorities. More on Margaret Sanger here and here.
Darwin may have expressed his doubts with Galton's application of Darwin's theories of natural selection to humans. But it appears to me that on this point Darwin wanted it both ways. By applying "the action of natural selection on civilized nations", as he did in "The Descent of Man", Darwin was in fact taking his theories of natural selection and applying them to Man. And others, such as Galton, saw the implications of Darwin's views, and tried to purge the human race of the weak and helpless.
Part VII will appear tomorrow.