Long, long quote of the moment: Charles Darwin, opposing eugenics

April 25, 2007

What did Darwin say about natural selection and humans? Creationists frequently claim Darwin as an advocate of eugenics. Here, below is the section from Descent of Man that they usually quote; and below the fold is the entire quote in its greater context, in which Darwin is shown as an anti-eugenics advocate, at least for humans. Darwin, painted by Millais, from Victorian Web

Darwin died 125 years ago, on April 19, 1882.

I borrowed the text from one of the on-line full-text versions of the book. This excerpt is from Chapter 5, “On the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties During Primeval and Civilised Times,” one of the chapters most frequently cited and most often misquoted out of Darwin’s works. Note Darwin’s rather extensive citing to other works of research to support his arguments:

In regard to the moral qualities, some elimination of the worst dispositions is always in progress even in the most civilised nations. Malefactors are executed, or imprisoned for long periods, so that they cannot freely transmit their bad qualities. Melancholic and insane persons are confined, or commit suicide. Violent and quarrelsome men often come to a bloody end. The restless who will not follow any steady occupation–and this relic of barbarism is a great check to civilisation (17. ‘Hereditary Genius,’ 1870, p. 347.)–emigrate to newly-settled countries; where they prove useful pioneers. Intemperance is so highly destructive, that the expectation of life of the intemperate, at the age of thirty for instance, is only 13.8 years; whilst for the rural labourers of England at the same age it is 40.59 years. (18. E. Ray Lankester, ‘Comparative Longevity,’ 1870, p. 115. The table of the intemperate is from Neison’s ‘Vital Statistics.’ In regard to profligacy, see Dr. Farr, ‘Influence of Marriage on Mortality,’ ‘Nat. Assoc. for the Promotion of Social Science,’ 1858.) Profligate women bear few children, and profligate men rarely marry; both suffer from disease. In the breeding of domestic animals, the elimination of those individuals, though few in number, which are in any marked manner inferior, is by no means an unimportant element towards success. This especially holds good with injurious characters which tend to reappear through reversion, such as blackness in sheep; and with mankind some of the worst dispositions, which occasionally without any assignable cause make their appearance in families, may perhaps be reversions to a savage state, from which we are not removed by very many generations. This view seems indeed recognised in the common expression that such men are the black sheep of the family. Read the rest of this entry »


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