Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Scopes Eugenics Trial

Is it fair to call the Scopes Trial, the "Scopes Eugenics Trial"? Is it accurate? I am not quite sure of the right answer, but it is certainly more accurate than calling it the "Scopes Monkey Trial." One thing is clear: the debates over evolution in the 1920's were influenced by the issue of eugenics far more than most people today realize. States were enacting eugenics legislation in the 1920's and people were claiming support for it based on the alleged "science" of evolution.

I have more to say on this topic, but not today. For now I will simply give some extended quotes from Hunter's Civic Biology, which is the text Scopes used to teach evolution in his Tennessee school. This text was on trial as much as Scopes was, so it is important to understand the nature of the "science" it purported to teach the young people of Tennessee. (Bold emphasis mine throughout.)
Hunter's Civic Biology, p. 195-196

Evolution of Man. -- Undoubtedly there once lived upon the earth races of men who were much lower in their mental organization than the present inhabitants. If we follow the early history of man upon the earth, we find that at first he must have been little better than one of the lower animals. He was a nomad, wandering from place to place, feeding upon whatever living things he could kill with his hands. Gradually he must have learned to use weapons, and thus kill his prey, first using rough stone implements for this purpose. As man became more civilized, implements of bronze and of iron were used. About this time the subjugation and domestication of animals began to take place. Man then began to cultivate the fields, and to have a fixed place of abode other than a cave. The beginnings of civilization were long ago, but even to-day the earth is not entirely civilized.

The Races of Man. -- At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.

Hunter's Civic Biology, p. 261-265

Improvement of Man. -- If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which we as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.

Eugenics. -- When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.

The Jukes. -- Studies have been made on a number of different families in this country, in which mental and moral defects were present in one or both of the original parents. The "Jukes" family is a notorious example. The first mother is known as "Margaret, the mother of criminals." In seventy-five years the progeny of the original generation has cost the state of New York over a million and a quarter dollars, besides giving over to the care of prisons and asylums considerably over a hundred feeble-minded, alcoholic, immoral, or criminal persons. Another case recently studied is the "Kallikak" family. (Footnote: The name Kallikak is fictitious.) This family has been traced back to the War of the Revolution, when a young soldier named Martin Kallikak seduced a feeble-minded girl. She had a feeble-minded son from whom there have been to the present time 480 descendants. Of these 33 were sexually immoral, 24 confirmed drunkards, 3 epileptics, and 143 feeble-minded. The man who started this terrible line of immorality and feeble-mindedness later married a normal Quaker girl. From this couple a line of 496 descendants have come, with no cases of feeble-mindedness. The evidence and the moral speak for themselves!

Parasitism and its Cost to Society. -- Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

The Remedy. -- If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with some success in this country.

When people opposed the teaching of "evolution" in the 1920's, what exactly did they oppose? Was it "evolution" as we understand it? Was it a eugenics public policy agenda? Or was it some combination?

These quotations are taken from the Eugenics Watch web site, so I cannot vouch for their complete accuracy. I have seen some of them corroborated by reliable scholarship elsewhere.

Previous posts on eugenics in the form of forced sterilization enacted as public policy in the 1920's is here. Another post on why all this matters today is here.


At October 04, 2006 3:42 PM, Anonymous John said...

First, a personal story.

My parents, born in the mid-1940's, were staunch racists. When I was a child, my father taught me ideas about non-white races that sounded like they came straight from KKK propaganda.

A couple of decades later, I read Mein Kampf to see how a madman could deceive an entire nation of supposedly well-educated people into believing the same foolishness he himself believed.

It was in those pages I found the same tripe my father told me, nearly word for word.

I then confronted him with it. He said he had never read Mein Kampf, even though he agreed with what it said in that regard. It turns out the garbage he learned had been taught in high school at some point either in his life or in his father's (my grandfather's) life.

That's how I became interested in researching Darwinist dogma and debunking it. The kind of close-minded hatred it seems to stir up in otherwise educated and reasonable people shows me that it's too dangerous to leave alone.

Back to the George Hunter's Civic Biology.

Google has corroborating links for your Civic Biology quotes, including a Wikipedia page, an Amazon page, and (strangely enough) some apologetics from Talk.Origins.

I would have blamed Darwin himself for any of this had he not written The Descent of Man. He made it quite plain that he considered non-whites to be lower on the evolutionary scale than Caucasians, and used scientific research (however erroneous) to justify his view.

I've probably posted this before, but here's a great essay that ties eugenics to the overpopulation meme and highlights Malthusianism's (and hence Darwinism's) inherent racism. Here's another essay that focuses more on Darwinian evolution's impact on imperialism, but also touches on the racism aspect as well.

At October 04, 2006 3:44 PM, Anonymous John said...

Oops, messed up:

I would have not blamed Darwin himself for any of this had he not written The Descent of Man.

At October 04, 2006 9:15 PM, Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

It is believed that Scopes trial prosecutor William Jennings Bryan's anti-Darwinist activism was motivated by his opposition to eugenics and social Darwinism in general.

BTW, sorry for an off-topic item, but I really do need help in my email campaign to persuade the American Library Association to officially recognize "Of Pandas and People" -- the book that was central to the Kitzmiller v. Dover case -- as a "banned book." See

At October 05, 2006 10:04 PM, Blogger Neil said...

Great post and comments. Thanks for the information. I had never read any of those quotes.

At October 06, 2006 6:27 AM, Anonymous Lawrence said...

Larry wrote:

>>>It is believed that Scopes trial prosecutor William Jennings Bryan's anti-Darwinist activism was motivated by his opposition to eugenics and social Darwinism in general.<<<

Larry, That was part of Bryan's motivation. I hope to comment more on that in the future.

At June 02, 2012 2:50 PM, Anonymous Dan said...

Considering that Hitler specifically denies believing in evolution in Mein Kampf, and clearly identifies himself as a creationist, I find the charge that Hitler was motivated by evolution to be bizzare. Hitler even banned a lot of books supporting evolution, and railed against atheists taking God out of school and teaching evolution.

You might also be surprised to know that Clarence Darrow was much more outspoken against eugenics than was Bryan. See Darrow's article, from 1926, "The Cult of Eugenics." Bryan himself was incredibly racist, much more so than Darrow, so to imply he was against evolution on those groups is misguided at best.

At July 01, 2015 3:07 PM, Blogger Jacob said...

The stories of the "Jukes" and the "Kallikak" families are examples of inventing evidence and passing it off successfully as science. More recent research has pretty well debunked it, though it is still cited as if it were actual fact.
The idea that Darwin could be connected to eugenics is absurd:


Post a Comment

<< Home