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Science, Eugenics, and Bioethics

Original Article

In the late nineteenth century, a movement emerged among scientists and physicians that advocated the improvement of human heredity. Francis Galton, a respected British scientist who founded this movement, named this new field of endeavor eugenics. Galton claimed that this field was founded on scientific principles. He first formulated his ideas about eugenics while reading the Origin of Species, written by his cousin Charles Darwin. In that book, Darwin argued that hereditary change together with natural selection would produce new species. Because eugenics was based on Darwinian theory, many eugenicists feared that modern institutions, such as medicine and social welfare, were spawning biological degeneration among humans. By softening the struggle for existence, modern society allowed the “inferior” to reproduce. The purpose of eugenics was to reverse this degenerative trend, so humans could foster evolutionary progress instead.

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Richard Weikart

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Richard Weikart is Professor of History, California State University, Stanislaus, and author of From Darwin to Hitler, Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress, Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Ideas that Drove the Third Reich, and The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life.