Inheriting the wind

Civic Biology by George Hunter was, I'm given to understand, the textbook to which William Jennings Bryan objected in the notorious "Scopes Monkey Trial". Here are some sample passages:

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. [pp. 195-96]

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....

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. [pp. 261-65]

Would you object to your child being taught from a textbook that included these passages? If so, why? If you were told that these notions were merely the rational implications of naturalistic evolution and speciation (as was certainly thought in Scopes's, Bryan's, and Darrow's day), how would you frame your objection?

Comments

Re:Context violation

You and I agree that taking human eugenics seriously is rabid bigotry, and I know how I arrive at that belief. I'm curious as to how you arrive at that belief:

First: Experientially. We've been there, we've done that, we blew the mission big time. Six million dead Jews prove that.

Secondly: Philosophically. We do not have: a) the capability to foresee the consequences of our actions, b) anything more than the most rudimentary understanding of evolutionary genetics in science, and c) the tolerance as a society to engage in and accept the findings of honest research.

So what scientific counterargument can be made against the idea of breeding humans for desirable physical and behavioral traits?

The biggest counter-argument is that too many scientists do not even understand the Nature v. Nurture relationship. Too many of them approach the question of the fake issue of "Tastes Great/Less Filling". I will state unequivocally that: Nature delineates potential, nurture develops it. The Nature proponents try to tell us that humans are mechanistic and reducable and programmed by their DNA. Nurture proponents swing the other way and say we act the we do solely because of how we are raised. Neither group should be trusted with a book of matches as far as I'm concerned, much less trying to settle vital questions such as whether Thallasemia or Sickle Cell Anemia should be "corrected". Both genetic conditions evolved as a method of increasing the survival odds of malaria victims. The full blown form of Thallasemia, for instance, is the result of a double recessive gene.

Aside from which, if you destroy genetic lines, you narrow genetic diversity, and that is a bigger threat to the entire species.

In what way should I take the cultural context into account? Should I not ask the question I asked?

By considering that North American society has largely moved beyond the racist assumptions upon which 19th century pseudo-science was based. We've had the civil rights movement, forty years of struggle to have human beings regarded as human regardless of their skin colour or sex, and that the ideas put forth in the extracted passages have been thoroughly debunked by scientific method. The question can be asked, by all means, but should be recast to take that into account.

You tell me: was Bryan merely concerned that Scopes was teaching things that went against his supernatural view of creation? Or did he have other concerns in mind? You tell me: what were these other concerns?

The short answer is that Bryan was frightened by an idea that challenged some of his most basic assumptions. Such a thing doesn't stop at one's personal religous beliefs; it shakes up a person's entire world. Most people never learn how to handle that sort of thing, and the usual response to being frightened is to reply with hatred.

Context violation

You're ignoring the cultural context in which that book was written and the eighty years of further accumulated knowledge since it was written. No reputable scientist would take seriously any of those passages. Any biology text which was written along the lines of eugenics today would be useful only to identify school boards rife with rabid bigotry, since only such a school board would select it for use in schools.

To answer your question: Yes, I would object to such a textbook, but only because it is now known that such ideas are completely bankrupt. We cannot say what ideas that are current conventional wisdom will prove to be equally bankrupt, but at least science is a self-correcting process and those bankrupt ideas can be identified and scrapped through due process. Whereas declaring ideas to be bankrupt by fiat interferes with that process and promulgates the presence of truly bankrupt ideas.

Re:Context violation

You're ignoring the cultural context in which that book was written and the eighty years of further accumulated knowledge since it was written.

How so? In what way should I take the cultural context into account? Should I not ask the question I asked? Why not? Do explain. "Context Violation" sounds like an obscure Java exception.

We both know that the dominant, privileged narrative of the Scopes trial is that it represented an early high-water mark of principled scientific enlightenment as it triumphed over the dim-bulb fundamentalism of Bryan, the Neanderthal who refused to believe in Neanderthals. My goal is to get my few readers to question the dominant narrative by exposing them to some facts. You tell me: was Bryan merely concerned that Scopes was teaching things that went against his supernatural view of creation? Or did he have other concerns in mind? You tell me: what were these other concerns?

No reputable scientist would take seriously any of those passages.

One can advance scientific arguments against human eugenics: it can't work for such and such a reason. One can advance extra-scientific
reasons against human eugenics: even if can be shown to work, it is morally or ethically undesirable for such and such a reason. Would a
reputable scientist advance scientific arguments against those passages? If so, what would the scientific arguments against them be?

Certainly, reputable scientists would agree that the use selective breeding to improve animal populations is eminently scientific, based as it is on repeatable, empirical observations. We all know about farmers breeding fatter cattle, and drug dealers breeding more violent pit bulls and mastiffs. It is a scientifically accepted fact, is it not, that behavior traits as well as physical ones can be bred for. Certainly scientists would make no counter-argument to the notion that some genetic plant or animal lines are (modulo our intentions and purposes) are superior to others.

Most reputable scientists also agree that humans are one sort of animal that happens to have arrived at a particular spot in the tree of life by dint of differential reproduction. So what scientific counterargument can be made against the idea of breeding humans for desirable physical and behavioral traits? Is there some scientific evidence that human animals are different from other animals, such that selective breeding won't produce the desired results as a practical, scientific matter? Or would the scientist advance some moral or ethical (i.e. extra-scientific) argument against doing so?

You and I agree that taking human eugenics seriously is rabid bigotry, and I know how I arrive at that belief. I'm curious as to how you arrive at that belief: through scientific or extra-scientific argument?

Re:Context violation

Thanks for responding. Before I respond in
turn, I want to stress that we are in agreement
that attempts to "perfect the race" through
human eugenics is not a desirable thing. I
continue to press these questions not because I
secretly advocate eugenics (in fact, I find it
repulsive), but to try to understand your
reasoning better. Note also that I agree with
you that both nature and nurture play a role in
human development. Note finally that I will
use the terms "human animals" and "non-human
animals" below, in an attempt to reflect the
scientific consensus that humans are but one
sort of animal whose nature and endowments
arise solely out of natural processes. It
is not the way I normally speak.

First: Experientially. We've been
there, we've done that, we blew the mission big
time. Six million dead Jews prove that.

I'm still not sure what you mean here: are
you making a scientific counterargument (e.g.
that eugenics couldn't accomplish what it
claimed) or an extra-scientific one (e.g.
concerning the horrific evil of the Holocaust)?

Further, I would point out that citing one
example of the consequences of eugenics (however
horrific) has little force unless we also
assume that other attempts will necessarily
turn out the same way. For instance, one could
imagine an entirely non-racial eugenics, in
which the bias was for or against particular
traits rather than for or against a race. How would the Holocaust be relevant to such a eugenic program, apart from further presuppositions?

Secondly: Philosophically. We do
not have: a) the capability to foresee the
consequences of our actions,

This objection could function as a
counter-argument to all kinds of things.
Surely you don't mean it as broadly as you have
stated it.

b) anything more than the most
rudimentary understanding of evolutionary
genetics in science,

This has in no way stopped breeders of
non-human animals from achieving great successes.
Why should it be a barrier to selective
breeding of human animals?

and c) the tolerance as a society
to engage in and accept the findings of honest
research.

I think you will have to argue for c) on
extra-scientific grounds. It seems to me that
on a strictly naturalistic and evolutionary
account of humanity we must regard toleration
and other supposed virtues simply as beliefs
that evolutionary pressures have conspired
to make us entertain in order to aid us
in surviving and propagating. It seems to me
that on a strictly evolutionary account of
humanity, there can be nothing worse about
the extinction of humans than there was
about the extinction of allosaurus or of
the saber-toothed tiger.

Your counter-argument against the idea of
breeding humans for desirable physical and
behavioral traits:

The biggest counter-argument is
that too many scientists do not even understand
the Nature v. Nurture relationship. [with
interesting example of sickle-cell and
thallasemia]

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks to me
as if you are making a scientific rather than a
moral or ethical argument here: scientists don't
know enough as a practical matter to figure out
whether there would be a net loss or gain by
breeding out sickle-cell or thallasemia.

Personally, I don't see how the nature/nurture
thing plays into the question. Any successful
animal breeder knows that, no matter who sired
and bore an animal (nature), it will matter
little if the animal isn't properly cared for
and trained (nurture). Animal breeders seem to
know pretty well how to balance traits that
confer both advantages and disadvantages.

Would you make the same argument nature/nurture
argument against animal breeding? If not, what
considerations (scientific or extra-scientific)
make the case of selectively breeding non-human
animals different from breeding human animals?
Is there some difference between human animals
and non-human animals that makes selective
breeding of human animals undesirable or
unethical? If so, is the difference one that
is discovered scientifically or extra-scientifically?

I would also note that animal breeders seem
to be able constrain genetic diversity with
breeding without it having had disastrous
consequences.

By considering that North American
society has largely moved beyond the racist
assumptions upon which 19th century pseudo-science
was based.

But what about a strictly non-racial, trait-based eugenics as I mentioned above? Would you find that unacceptable? If so, why?

We've had the civil rights movement,
forty years of struggle to have human beings
regarded as human regardless of their skin
colour or sex

I note that you say "regarded as human"
rather than "regarded as equal"--should I read
anything into that? Or could you also say
"regarded as equal"?

and that the ideas put forth in the
extracted passages have been thoroughly
debunked by scientific method.

Which ideas have been thoroughly debunked by
the scientific method? Has anything been
debunked scientifically which would defeat my
analogy between the selective breeding of non-human animals and the selective breeding of human animals? Is there some scientifically specifiable difference that causes selective breeding to work well with non-human animals but to fail with human animals?

The question can be asked, by all
means, but should be recast to take that into
account.

How would you recast the question to take
all this into account? What would be a way of asking the question that wouldn't raise an exception of type ContextViolation? Frankly, I still think my question was a perfectly valid way to encourage people to think a little harder about the meaning of the Scopes trial.

The short answer is that Bryan was
frightened by an idea that challenged some of
his most basic assumptions.

I suspect that the answer is a little more
complex. Jim Lindgren (law prof at Northwestern and himself a
believer in evolution) says:

The book that Scopes was
teaching was a popular biology book of the
day--George Hunter's Civic Biology (1914).
Bryan was not just disturbed by the
teaching of evolution but more broadly by the
whole social Darwinist agenda, including both
capitalism and genetic superiority.

Civic Biology was a vicious social
Darwinist tract.

Re:Context violation

Note finally that I will use the terms "human animals" and "non-human animals" below, in an attempt to reflect the scientific consensus that humans are but one sort of animal

Defining your terms is the first requirement for any debate or discussion.

First: Experientially. We've been there, we've done that, we blew the mission big time. Six million dead Jews prove that.

I'm still not sure what you mean here: are you making a scientific counterargument (e.g. that eugenics couldn't accomplish what it claimed) or an extra-scientific one (e.g. concerning the horrific evil of the Holocaust)?

Scientific, but not along the line you mention. Eugenics might have been able to accomplish what it claimed, but it was perverted by fairly simple and easily understood psychological and sociological forces from the get go. The field never stood a chance of being anything other than a pseudo-science because everybody used it as justification for their racist or quasi-supremacist attitudes. There's something
on that from Exploding The Gene Myth
in my quotes files. In the end, the Holocaust was a eugenics program taken to its most irrational extreme. Hitler's goal was to purify the Aryan race, and the Holocaust was only one part of that. He also had breeding farms for his "pure" Aryan stock.

Further, I would point out that citing one example of the consequences of eugenics (however horrific) has little force unless we also assume that other attempts will necessarily turn out the same way. For instance, one could imagine an entirely non-racial eugenics, in which the bias was for or against particular traits rather than for or against a race. How would the Holocaust be relevant to such a eugenic program, apart from further presuppositions?

The problem is that no one will ever take such a program on good faith. The Holocaust is relevant because it is the only example we have of any effort to "improve" the race. I developed the idea a few years ago that we could effectively wipe out all genetic disorders in the space of two generations by sterilizing children who have genetic defects and the parents that would pass them on to other offspring. I also realized at the same time that every racially oriented reactionary would scream
Holocaust, Jim Crow, or Supremacism. Jews would see such a program as another effort to exterminate Jewry, Blacks would say it was the white man trying to castrate the poor nigger to put him back on the plantation, and Whites would deny that they could be racially impure enough to warrant sterilization even for those few who had genetically transmissible disorders.

Then too there is the issue of humans being special because we have sapience where all other animals only have sentience. It is because we are self-aware that one crime against humanity by the Nazi regime was the use of human beings as unwilling subjects in medical experiments and even a non-ideology driven eugenics program would be seen as more of the same.

Finally, there is the issue of personal liberty. The rest of us would go ballistic over the idea of the state according to itself the right to decide who will have children or not.

Geneticists would probably scream blue murder over the idea because allowing the meiotic dance to continue randomly is the best way to ensure sufficient diversity that there will be those fit enough to survive the next period of upheaval (punctuated equilibrium).

Secondly: Philosophically. We do not have: a) the capability to foresee the consequences of our actions,

This objection could function as a counter-argument to all kinds of things. Surely you don't mean it as broadly as you have stated it.

Pretty much, but there's a touch of Zen philosophy in there. Think of it as the sociological equivalent of chaos theory. We can understand that what we do will have some kind of impact, we can predict that the flapping of the butterfly's wings in Beijing will add some impetus to a hurricane off the Florida coast, but we can't use any kind of measure of the wing beats in predicting whether it will be a category four or a category five storm, or even if there will be any hurricanes in any given
year. In sociology, for every social action there is an opposite and equal social reaction; a necessary and unavoidable side effect. Everybody who has a sure cure for something will not consider the idea that their cure will also have the opposite effect of the effect they desire. And that's just a simplistic point.

b) anything more than the most rudimentary understanding of evolutionary genetics in science,

This has in no way stopped breeders of non-human animals from achieving great successes. Why should it be a barrier to selective breeding of human animals?

The difference lies in purpose; non-human breeding being primarily to develop a desired trait, and human breeding to date has been to weed out "undesired" traits. Another difference is that the traits being bred for in non-human animals are measureable. Higher milk production, greater egg production, heavier hogs, etc. The human traits considered undesirable -- traditionally feeblemindedness -- cannot be measured.

However, your argument focuses on a non-racially based program. The biggest stumbling block to such a program might be what we might inadvertently breed into the species.

and c) the tolerance as a society to engage in and accept the findings of honest research.

I think you will have to argue for c) on extra-scientific grounds.

I suppose it could go either way. I count it as a psychological phenomenon. There's an example of why some homosexuals are opposed to research into a genetic link for homosexuality, and there are elements among the ultra-conservative who don't want a genetic link proven because they believe that homosexuality can be cured.

It seems to me that on a strictly naturalistic and evolutionary account of humanity we must regard toleration and other supposed virtues simply as beliefs that evolutionary pressures have conspired to make us entertain in order to aid us in surviving and propagating.

Not evolutionary, sociological. Principally: Anomie. Anomie kicks in when a local population becomes large enough that an individual cannot know every person who lives in his village. These unknown residents are regarded as outsiders for all intents and purposes. This, in my not so humble opinion, is the underpinning for intolerance.

It seems to me that on a strictly evolutionary account of humanity, there can be nothing worse about the extinction of humans than there was about the extinction of allosaurus or of the saber-toothed tiger.

I concur. To quote from Stephen Jay Gould:

Extinction, for most people, carries many of the connotations attributed to sex not so long ago -- a rather disreputable business, frequent in occurance, but not to anyone's credit, and certainly not to be discussed in proper circles. But, like sex, extinction is an ineluctable part of life. It is the ultimate fate of all species, not the lot of unfortunate and ill-designed creatures. It is no sign of failure. --Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda's Thumb, pg 266

It's the Circle of Life philosophy. You're born, you live, you die. It happens to empires and species, too. We tend to think of ourselves as deserving an exemption, however, because we are an intelligent species.

Your counter-argument against the idea of breeding humans for desirable physical and behavioral traits:

The biggest counter-argument is that too many scientists do not even understand the Nature v. Nurture relationship. [with interesting example of sickle-cell and thallasemia]

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks to me as if you are making a scientific rather than a moral or ethical argument here: scientists don't know enough as a practical matter to figure out whether there would be a net loss or gain by breeding out sickle-cell or thallasemia.

Well, yes and no. I was thinking more along the lines of: we don't need those "disorders" at the moment with the medical science we have, but we don't know when we are going to need those genetic traits in the future. The point you mention is equally valid in countering the proposal.

Animal breeders seem to know pretty well how to balance traits that confer both advantages and disadvantages.

Yes, but to continue my argument from above about breeding out traits, nobody wants to breed a superiour human being. A superiour human being would supplant us mere mortals in the way a better producing milch cow cannot. Heinlein examined the issue in Assignment in Eternty. Breed a better type and he will necessarily take over the way Homo Sap. supplanted Neanderthalis.

Would you make the same argument nature/nurture argument against animal breeding?

Nope, but there is no material disadvantage to breeding a better domesticated animal, and every disadvantage to breeding a better human. Even if we could purge any racism from a eugenics program we implemented, the progeny of that program would almost certainly become racist in its own light. And even white supremacists would get the short end of that stick.

By considering that North American society has largely moved beyond the racist assumptions upon which 19th century pseudo-science was based.

But what about a strictly non-racial, trait-based eugenics as I mentioned above? Would you find that unacceptable? If so, why?

Yes, and this is for purely philosophical reasons: because we cannot control destiny and should not try. Leave human development up to chance. It won't hurt us to do so -- we've come this far -- and any help that might derive from eugenics is unforeseeable. So as far as I'm concerned, there's no profit in such a program.

We've had the civil rights movement, forty years of struggle to have human beings regarded as human regardless of their skin colour or sex

I note that you say "regarded as human" rather than "regarded as equal"--should I read anything into that? Or could you also say "regarded as equal"?

A Freudian slip of the fingers. As I understand racist epithets, terms like wop, spic, fag, nigger, et al, all mean the same thing at bottom: subhuman. I also distinguish between equality de jure and equality de facto. Men and women are similar to a high degree, but are equal (the same) only in the eyes of the law. Or should be. We still tend to fall short on that score.

Has anything been debunked scientifically which would defeat my analogy between the selective breeding of non-human animals and the selective breeding of human animals?

Ah; beg your pardon. The biogenetic law was debunked. It was finally recognized that ontogeny does not recapitulate phylogeny after all. This hypothesis was the basis for a period for the idea that the negroid and mongoloid subgroups were examples of genetic defects in that some offspring produced had failed to fully develop to the highest evolutionary stage, causcasian, and that genetically inferiour races developed as a result. The law was founded on the idea that the fetus grows through
every previous evolutionary stage because up until 6 1/2 weeks or so a human fetus is indistinguishable from the embryos of birds, fish, reptiles, and domesticated animals.

But, of course, that applies only to the eugenics of old.

For the eugenics program you propose, the major counter-argument is that such a program would be an intrinsic refutation of personal freedom. The state no more has the right to ban undesirable traits than it has to ban undesirable speech. People who prefer personal liberty over temporary security simply wouldn't go along with such a program. Whether that is philosophy or psychology is pretty much a judgement call at this point.

I might put forward that your question isn't really fair, since we have never had a truly scientific eugenics program which could gather the evidence needed to debunk your analogy.

Is there some scientifically specifiable difference that causes selective breeding to work well with non-human animals but to fail with human animals?

People used to talk about slave owners in the Old South as being slave breeders, but in reality actual slave breeders were few and far between. Most farm owners who kept slaves did not practice husbandry with their human stock. Still, a large number of people were born into slavery and many of them grew up to risk their lives in running for freedom. The desire for freedom in slaves was labelled "drapetomania" and was said to be a hereditary mental disease which manifested itself in slaves as an
irresistible urge to run away from their masters. Given this example, and the current struggle for freedom prevalent in global society, I'd slot this phenomenon into the field of psychology, myself.

But while the behaviour of desiring or seeking freedom can be exhibited, the question of whether freedom itself can be quantifiable is open to debate, I suppose. I would maintain that it is, but psychological phenomena have to be exhibited; they can't be measured in a beaker or by an oscilloscope. What makes us different is that we are intelligenct, can think for ourselves, and tend to do so in large numbers. Just as with freedom, intelligence is non-quantifiable, and to borrow a quote:

If
it can't be expressed in figures it is not science. --Robert Anson Heinlein

Still, the phenomena can be experienced if not measured, so I would say, yes, there is some scientifically specifiable difference.

The question can be asked, by all means, but should be recast to take that into account.

How would you recast the question to take all this into account?

Rather than asking about eugenics, try asking about Intelligent Design and the movement to introduce Judeo-Christian dogma into schools under the rubrick science. The I.D. and Scientific Creationism movements are merely continuations of the social movement to repress.

Frankly, I still think my question was a perfectly valid way to encourage people to think a little harder about the meaning of the Scopes trial.

I beg your pardon, I didn't pick up on that aspect of it. One could as easily ask how the Scopes Trial ties into the continuing Church/State-education entanglement movement and cite a couple of examples of the fallacious arguments commonly put forth by that movement.

The short answer is that Bryan was frightened by an idea that challenged some of his most basic assumptions.

I suspect that the answer is a little more complex.

Well, I did say it was the short answer. Personally, I don't see much difference between the Scopes Trial and the Bruno or Galileo inquisitions. Attempts to control the flow of information are never about religion, they are about earthly politics; Machiavellian politics. I don't know that much about Bruno's situation, but Galileo's was covered in Sagan's Cosmos, if I remember correctly. Galileo was facing church opposition to his book De Revolutionibus when a close, personal friend of
his, Mafeo Barberini, was elected pope. He took the name Urban VIII. (Mnemonic key: Mafia the Barbarian; the eighth urbane pope.) Galileo's patron along about 1630 was a Spanish nobleman, though, and Barberini had been elected with the aid of the French cardinals. Galileo's problem was that he was so politically naive it was becoming his trademark. He wanted the church to openly acknowledge the heliocentric solar system, but Barberini wouldn't go for it, and when Galileo went to his patron for
support, Barberini saw a chance to consolidate his support among the French cardinals, and all it would cost him was his friendship with the increasingly troublesome old man. (Hence the mnemonic: Mafia the Barbarian.) The church basically saw heliocentrism as a challenge to its authority, since it was the church that established dogma.

I don't think Bryan was that much the politician, although the church officials who hired him probably were. Bryan, from the very little I've read about him, strikes me as a fairly simple man who put great store in his faith. And shaking the foundations of that faith probably frightened him silly.

Jim Lindgren (law prof at Northwestern and himself a believer in evolution) says:

The book that Scopes was teaching was a popular biology book of the day--George Hunter's Civic Biology (1914). Bryan was not just disturbed by the teaching of evolution but more broadly by the whole social Darwinist agenda, including both capitalism and genetic superiority. Civic Biology was a vicious social Darwinist tract.

I wonder how accurate and scientific it actually was. The 1911 edition of the Encyc. Britannica is famed for being the first edition of the Brit. in which an effort was made to be scientific, and it was rife with the prejudices of the day. It wrote that blacks were uneducable and oversexed.

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