The skunk at Darwin’s garden party

Happy Darwinians are celebrating (1) the 200th year since the birth of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and the 150th year since he penned his thoughts on human origins. But with apologies for pointing out the skunk at Mr Darwin’s garden party, I mention that the curse of eugenics (2) is inseparable from the field of human evolutionary biology. I make this claim because leading scientists who developed the study of human evolution were, simultaneously, leading eugenicists. This fact is confirmed by Darwin’s own pen quoting from Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), founder of the field of eugenics, by the fact that 20th century officers and directors of the American Eugenics Society simultaneously served as leaders in the most prestigious science organizations in the United States, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), (3) and by the intervening history of the field.

Some people defend Darwin by claiming he never used the words "survival of the fittest." Actually, the full title of Darwin’s celebrated 1859 book says the same thing in a few more words: The Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. (4) In any event, Galton himself gave credit to his cousin, Darwin, for the idea of breeding a better human race through not-so-natural selection. (5)

Galton defined eugenics very broadly: "Eugenics is the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, whether physically or mentally." (6) In 1967, one of the most eminent evolutionists, Theodosius Dobzhansky, penned the foreword to a book by the 20th century’s leading eugenicist in the United States, Frederick Osborn, titled, The Future of Human Heredity: An Introduction to Eugenics in Modern Society. (7) Dobzhansky reaffirmed Galton’s definition of eugenics with only one slight change. He said: "Today we would use the word ‘genetic’ in the place of Galton’s ‘racial’." (8)

Dobzhansky, Julian Huxley (1887-1975) and Ernst Mayr were the key architects (9) of the post-WW II evolutionary synthesis, discussed below in connection with the current science education standards. Their theory of "unification" or "synthesis" proposes that "all evolutionary phenomena [can] be ascribed to a single mechanism: the gradual change of genes and gene frequencies within lineages of organisms under the guiding hand of natural selection." (10)

In 1942, Julian Huxley authored Evolution: The Modern Synthesis. (11) He was also a vigorous leader in the eugenics movement, authoring various works on eugenics. Huxley led the British eugenics society, the British euthanasia society, the British Abortion Law Reform Association, and UNESCO and founded the World Wildlife Fund. (12)

From the time of Darwin, evolutionists regarded religion as irreconcilable with their science. Julian’s grandfather, Thomas Huxley expressed it this way in 1869:

In addition to the truth of the doctrine of evolution, one of its greatest merits in my eyes is the fact that it occupies a position of complete and irreconcilable antagonism to the vigorous and consistent enemy of the highest intellectual, moral and social life of mankind, the Catholic Church. (13)

With founders like Darwin, Galton and Thomas Huxley, the history and development of modern synthesis of evolutionary biology is painful reading. In 1871, Darwin embraced Galton’s work with favorable mention at least 11 times in The Descent of Man. (14) More disturbing in Descent, considering England’s long and violent political oppression of Ireland, Darwin scorned the Irish, calling them "careless, squalid, unaspiring" as compared to Scots whom he called "frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious," etc. (15) He contended that whites are more highly evolved than other races. He predicted that the "civilized races" would exterminate both "savage races" and "anthropomorphous apes" to make a future gap between man and "some ape as low as a baboon" wider than the supposed evolutionary gap between "the Negro or Australian and the gorilla." (16)

If overt racism under the authority of "science" does not cause second thoughts about having cake at this year’s 200th birthday party, consider that Darwin, in Descent, classified people similar to Nazi classifications for people deemed "unfit" and "feeble minded." Darwin’s categories were "weak," and "inferior" and "intellectually superior," in order to analyze his view that the "reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society" reproduce faster than the "provident and generally virtuous members." (17)

The most prominent German evolutionist in Darwin’s time was Ernst Haeckel, "a towering figure in German biology and an early Darwinian." (18) The problem again, is that Haeckel was "a racist, a believer in a mystical Volk, and a strong advocate of eugenics" who "can be claimed as a direct ancestor" of the Nazi "euthanasia project." (19) Haeckel believed "wooly-haired Negroes" were not only incapable of higher mental development, but that they were "psychologically nearer to the mammals (apes and dogs) than to civilized Europeans... [and therefore] we must... assign a totally different value to their lives." (20)

By 1904, Galton had endowed an academic chair for the study of eugenics at London University. (21)

Two years later the horrific saga of Ota Benga began. An African pygmy, Ota Benga was brought to the United State for display at the St. Louis World’s Fair, and then displayed in the monkey house at the New York Bronx Zoo. Why? To illustrate the supposed evolutionary continuum from apes to humans. (22)

By 1922, evolutionary scientists and blue-bloods had organized politely-named eugenic societies around the world, with leading centers in the United States, Germany and Great Britain. The secretary of England’s eugenic society, C.P. Blacker, explained: "To the laws which had governed plants and the lower animals, man was seen to constitute no exception. The human species was no more cast in an unchanging pattern than any other animal species. But unlike other species, man could consciously influence the course of his evolutionary development." (23)

Charles Darwin’s son, Major Leonard Darwin (1850-1943), and his grandson, Sir Charles Galton Darwin (1887-1962) were active leaders of the British eugenics society until 1960. Darwin’s son was "the embodiment and authoritative mouthpiece of eugenics in [England]." (24) He authored articles with such impressively "scientific" titles as "The Cost of Degeneracy" and "Quality Not Quantity." Darwin’s grandson wrote for the "viciously racist journal," Mankind Quarterly, when he was a council member for the eugenics society. (25)

Evolutionists still today, as they did in 1925, extol the famous Tennessee Scopes Trial. Blindness or denial suppresses the truth that the biology textbook at the center of the Scopes Trial, Hunter’s Civic Biology, promoted eugenics and white supremacy. (26)

The Scopes Trial and its eugenics textbook were contemporaneous with America’s involuntary sterilization campaigns which claimed over 60,000 victims. (27) In recent years, several states have issued statements of regret or apology. Organized by eugenicists, the sterilization campaigns were accomplished through legislation and legitimized by the United States Supreme Court in the 1927 case, Buck v. Bell. (28) But even worse is the fact that the American sterilization laws were used as models for Nazi sterilization laws. (29)

In 1939, the world’s leading evolutionists, Julian Huxley, Herman J. Muller, J.B.S. Haldane and others signed a document touting the "genetic improvement of mankind." They claimed that a prerequisite for improving the human gene pool was the universal dissemination of sterilization, contraception, abortion and artificial insemination. (30) They called for a "federation of the whole world" (31) for this endeavor. They also called for equal opportunity of all individuals in order to have a "valid basis for estimating and comparing the intrinsic worth of different individuals." (32) They said genetic improvement of any generation can only be achieved by "some kind of selection... either through conscious choice, or as an automatic result of the way in which [people] lived." (33)

Members of the American Eugenics Society received thankful correspondence from Adolf Hitler, accepted honors from Nazi universities, fostered anti-immigration laws that later prevented Jews from escaping the Holocaust to the United States, and even included an ex- Nazi eugenicist after the war. That man, Professor Otmar von Vershuer, had been a mentor of Dr Josef Mengele and had received for his research body parts from Mengele’s victims at Auschwitz. (34)

In 1946, the Society for the Study of Evolution was founded and led by members of the American and British eugenics societies, such as Huxley, Haldane, Dobzhansky and Mayr. (35)

According to investigative journalist Mary Meehan, eugenicists at the two American giants of the science establishment, the AAAS and the NAS, had deep and lasting influence. In the twentieth century, at least 14 AAAS presidents had links to eugenic organizations at some point in their careers, that is, they were members, advisers, board members, and/or officers of a eugenics group; or they attended a eugenics congress; or both. (36)

Meehan reports that finding eugenicists on high level committees and panels at the NAS "is like shooting fish in a barrel." (37) In fact the NAS president from 1969 to 1981 edited a 1970 book that challenged the idea of allowing the elderly and handicapped to keep living, and recommended prenatal testing and sex-selection abortion. (38) Even the Institute of Medicine was headed by a member of the re-named American Eugenics Society. (39) And in 1971, the AAAS’s retiring president and chairman of the board of directors, H. Bentley Glass, advocated a future where parents have no right to burden society with a malformed or mentally incompetent child. "[It] can no longer be affirmed that the right of the man and woman to reproduce as they see fit is inviolate." In addition to leading the AAAS, Glass was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Eugenics Society. (40)

In the 1990s, the AAAS and a subsidiary of the NAS led a consortium that included US government agencies and private foundations in promulgating the National Science Education Standards (NSES), a 13-year-long science curriculum centered on evolution as the "unifying concept" of all science, including physics and chemistry, not just biology. (41) A member of the Society for the Study of Evolution, John A. Moore, was the key scientist behind the creation of the NSES. He had also authored a book, Science as a Way of Knowing: the Foundations of Modern Biology, (42) in which he extolled Haeckel, Galton, Dobzahnsky and Muller, all leaders in the history of eugenics, but he did not identify them as such. Ernst Mayr was one of the book’s endorsers on the jacket. The phrase "science as a way of knowing" peppered the text of the NSES and Moore’s book was encouraged as "further reading" for students. (43)

In sum, from Darwin himself to the architects of the evolutionary synthesis, to the Society for the Study of Evolution, to the operative national science standards in the United States, the leaders of the field of evolutionary biology are the same men who led the field of eugenics. In turn, eugenics currently forms the basis of US jurisprudence (44) on "choice", meaning the "selection" advocated in 1939 for the genetic improvement of mankind through abortion, birth control, sterilization and artificial insemination. In this 200th anniversary year, the scientific community should be challenged to look back with sadness, not celebration, for its uncritical acceptance of the claims of evolutionary biology, to make sincere apology and to re-examine the scientific theory of the evolution of man.

Rebecca R. Messall is a lawyer in Denver, Colorado. She was president of the National Lawyers Association 2007-2008.


(1) For example, see column by M. Shermer, "Creationism in 3-D," Scientific American at 32 (May 2009).

(2) P. Gray, "Cursed by Eugenics," Time at 84 (January 11, 1999)

(3) M. Meehan, "What’s Wrong with the Science Establishment?" The Human Life Review, Vol. XXVI, no.4, 63-85 (Fall 2000).

(4) First published, 1859 (John Murray), republished by Penguin Books, 1968.

(5) C.P. Blacker, M.A., M.D., "Eugenics In Retrospect and Prospect," at 6-7, Occasional Papers on Eugenics, The Galton Lecture, 1945, (1950: The Eugenics Society and Cassell and Company Ltd., London, Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney, Wellington)

(6) J. Cavanaugh O’Keefe, "The Roots of Racism and Abortion: An Exploration of Eugenics," at 38 (Xlibris Corporation, 2000,

(7) F. Osborn, "The Future of Human Heredity: An Introduction to Eugenics in Modern Society," (Weybright and Talley, New York, 1968).

(8) Ibid., at v.

(9) I. Tattersall, "Rethinking Human Evolution," Archeology Today, 22 -25; V.B. Smocovitis, "Unifying Biology: The Evolutionary Synthesis and Evolutionary Biology" at 20-21 (Princeton University Press, Princeton N.J., 1996)

(10) Tattersall at 22;

(11) J. Huxley, "Evolution: The Modern Synthesis," (George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London 1942).

(12) Information on Julian Huxley was taken from

(13) S. Rini, "In the Beginning: Notes from the first offensive for and against evolution – Pius IX and the Stoneyhurst Jesuits contra H.G. Wells and Julian Huxley." Against the Grain, 1999-2000, citing Tom Zaniello, "Hopkins in the Age of Darwin," (University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, Iowa 1988).

(14) C. Darwin, "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex" at 658 (D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1898).

(15) Ibid., at 141.

(16) Ibid., at 159-160.

(17) Ibid., at 136-137, 141.

(18) R. J. Lifton, "Nazi Doctors," at 125 (Basic Books, 1986).

(19) Ibid.

(20) Ibid. at 441-442.

(21) N. Gillham, "Sir Francis Galton: From African Exploration to the Birth of Eugenics," at 330 (Oxford University Press, New York, 2001).

(22) Numerous newspaper accounts of Ota Benga are compiled in a pro-creationism book by K. Ham, C. Wieland and D. Batten, "One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism," (Master Books, AR, 2000).

(23) Blacker, supra, at 8.

(24) Ibid., at 22.

(25) Information about Darwin’s son and grandson is taken from the website, Eugenics Watch,

(26) G.W. Hunter, "A Civic Biology Presented in Problems," at 196 and 261-263 (American Book Company 1914)

(27) Cavanaugh-O’Keefe at 77.

(28) 274 U.S. 200 (1927).

(29) Stephan Kuhl, "The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism and German National Socialism" at 42 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1974)

(30) "Science News Letter," August 26, 1939.

(31) Ibid.

(32) Ibid.

(33) Ibid.

(34) Kuhl at 103.

(35) Smocovitis at 156.

(36) M. Meehan, "What’s Wrong With the Science Establishment," at 65, The Human Life Review, Fall 2000 (N.Y.)

(37) Ibid., at 75.

(38) Ibid., at p. 76.

(39) Ibid., at p. 78.

(40) Eugenics Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 1 (March 1968). The inside front cover of this issue lists Glass and Theodosius Dobzhansky among other members of the board of directors of the American Eugenics Society. Frederick Osborn is listed as the AES’s secretary-treasurer.

(41) "National Science Education Standards," (Washington D.C., National Academy Press, 1996); see R. Messall, "The Evolution of Genocide," The Human Life Review, Vol. XXVI, No. 1, 47-74 (Winter 2000)

(42) J.A. Moore, "Science As A Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology," (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1993).

(43) "National Science Education Standards," at 201, 206 and 207.

(44) See, R. Messall, "The Long Road of Eugenics: From Rockefeller to Roe v. Wade," 33-74, The Human Life Review, Vol. XXX, No. 4 (Fall 2004)


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