Thursday, May 01, 2008

Why Eugenics is Good for Jews

Proponents of "intelligent design" at the Discovery Institute and elsewhere have charged that Darwinian biology is immoral because of its association with eugenics. This is part of the rhetoric of Ben Stein's movie Expelled.

But as I have indicated in some previous posts, this crude attack on eugenics as evil fails to consider the sort of good eugenics that Darwin favored. Darwin was worried, for example, about the deleterious effects of inbreeding, and so he wanted the British Parliament to sponsor some studies of the effects of first cousin marriages. (Darwin had a personal interest in this, because his wife Emma was his first cousin.)

The crude propaganda of the "intelligent design" proponents (like John West and those in Ben Stein's movie) assumes that eugenics is purely evil because of its abuse by the Nazis in their attack on the Jews. But this ignores the benefits of eugenics for Jews.

Most American Jews are Askenazim. The Askenazi Jews come from Eastern Europe, and because they were a small breeding population in the Middle Ages, many deleterious genes were propagated in the population. For example, about one in 25 Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier of Tay-Sachs disease, which causes the progressive degeneration of the central nervous system in infants, who usually die by the age of 4. It is a horrible disease, and parents would surely want to minimize their chances of producing children with such a disease. To deal with this problem, there are now many Jewish organizations in the United States that provide genetic screening programs so that Jews can determine the likelihood of their being carriers of such diseases, and then they can try to avoid mating with other carriers. As a result of this, the rate of Tay-Sachs and other diseases among Jews has declined dramatically.

This is what I call "good eugenics." Participation in these counseling and screening programs is voluntary. It is not forced on anyone. But it's available for people who want to make good decisions about reproduction and the prospects for their children. It's eugenics, because it is designed to improve the genetic health of offspring.

What's wrong with this? Isn't it good for Jews to be able to participate in such eugenic programs? Doesn't this show how genetics and Darwinian science can improve human life? Rather than denouncing eugenics as evil, wouldn't it be better to distinguish good eugenics from bad eugenics? Why don't the proponents of "intelligent design" do this? Is it because they are advancing a rhetorical strategy that does not favor intelligent thought about the issues?

For more information about genetic testing and family-planning decisions among American Jews, you can go to the website for the Victor Center for Jewish Genetic Diseases at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.


Anonymous said...


I blog to you on behalf of Fr. Frank Pavone and Priests for Life. Fr. Pavone recently posted two videos on You Tube in which he describes and demonstrates the two most common abortion techniques, using the actual instruments of abortion and the words found in medical textbooks and court testimony.

You can view these videos at (Dismemberment abortion) and (Suction abortion).

These videos are part of a new project called, "Is This What You Mean?" It aims to educate the public about the nature of abortion and to challenge public officials and candidates who support the legality of abortion to admit what it is. A full description of the project is at .

We are asking blog moderators to post a link or set-up an area on their blog for easy access to view our two You Tube videos.

As Fr. Pavone has quoted in endless homilies and talks about public servants who are pro-choice, there is a difference between serving the public and killing the public. Abortion has lost its meaning and is just a word to some politicians. In fact, as long as it has been since Jan.22 1973, the public is still not aware of what an abortion is and what it looks like. Again, we urge you to view Fr. Pavone’s demonstrations and forward this to anybody unaware such as parents, pastors, teachers, government officials etc….

In Christ,


Anton Sherwood said...

A few years ago Greg Cochran raised the interesting hypothesis that the frequency of nervous system disorders among Ashkenazim (Tay-Sachs is one of many) is a by-product of selection for intelligence, much as certain blood diseases are by-products of selection for resistance to malaria. Hm, haven't heard from him lately.

The Seedy Gardener said...

There is a reason that the gene pool for Jews is small.....when you keep killing us off it does tend to limit the choices!

Anonymous said...

That hypothesis is dumb. Aside from the fact that balancing selection of that sort is easily detectable by genetic methods, and were it true we would know already, the founder effect is a MUCH better explanation than positing a whole host of selective effects in a small population in a period of less than two thousand years.