Nietzsche, Eugenics and the Imago Dei

My title sounds like the punch line to a bad joke.

Trust me, this is no joking matter.

I first want to state that Nietzsche was right.

If God is dead as Nietzsche suggested, or if metaphysics is dead as Heidegger suggested, then we have no basis for an understanding of human significance, morality or purpose.

That’s only a big deal if these things are important to you.

It’s totally possible for someone to have purpose and adhere to a basic set of morality without believing in God.  I have friends who fit this category well.  It’s just impossible to explain the basis or origins for said values from a naturalistic worldview.  At some point you have to explain the “ought” behind moral imperatives.  Why “ought” we do one thing instead of another?  Says who?

If there is no God then O.W. Holmes was right:

The 2004 CBS article, America’s Deep, Dark Secret, summarizes the atrocities of the practice of eugenics in America.  In the early 1900’s hundreds of thousands of children were warehoused because they were categorized as “feeble-minded.”  Another awful practice was compulsory sterilization, used to keep less desirable humans from contributing to population growth.  A parody of this practice can be seen in the Darwin Awards.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, supported this practice.  The 1953 Time Magazine article The Nation: A Clear Voice?, credits Holmes for removing the “premise upon which all law had been built.”

“I see no reason”, says Holmes, “for attributing to man a significance different in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or a grain of sand.”

If there is no God it is impossible to find a basis for human significance.  Without God we have no standard for dignity or morality.

Holmes understood this.  “Men make their own laws,” he explains, “that these laws do not flow from some mysterious omnipresence in the sky, and that judges are not independent mouthpieces of the infinite.”

Holmes practiced what he preached.

He is often remembered for the 1927 court Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, in which he argued for the sterilization of an individual whom he described as, “a feeble-minded white woman who was committed to the State Colony above mentioned in due form. She is the daughter of a feeble- minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble-minded child.”

Here you can read a longer quote from that case if REALLY want to be offended:

“We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.”

This sounds like a quote that could be attributed to Adolph Hitler. But wait, Hitler was actually a fan of America’s dark secret.  This is summarized in the 2003 article published by George Mason University’s History Network with the title, The Horrifying American Roots of Nazi Eugenics.

While Hitler did closely follow America’s practice of compulsory sterilization, the term was not invented in America.

It was the English scientist Francis Galton, who coined the phrase in 1883.  Galton was the cousin of Charles Darwin.  He progressed the theory of evolution and natural selection by applying it as a theory for creating a more perfect human race.

And so it comes full circle.

You can have purpose without God, but you cannot have a coherent, logical and rational basis for it.  If you take naturalism to its natural conclusion you are left without a basis for human dignity, personality, or morality.

Galton progressed Darwin’s philosophy and Hitler took it to its natural conclusion.

I know this seems harsh and there are many who would think I’m going too far.  For example, Daniel J. Kevles, Professor of History at Yale University, argues in a PBS article that, “Some supporters of Darwin’s theory of evolution have misapplied the biological principles of natural selection – ‘survival of the fittest’ — to the social, political, and economic realms.”

Wait a minute. If Darwin’s theory of evolution is true, and survival of the fittest is the law of nature, then what is unnatural about applying his theories to social, political and economic realms?  If there is no God then by what standard do you deem such applications to be wrong?  Applying a theory that “describes the origin of the species” to all of life seems very natural.  At least O.W. Holmes and Adolph Hitler thought so.

This has been a long post and if you have read this far let me finish by simply saying that I’m profoundly thankful for the truth expressed in the United States Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Francis Schaeefer summarized this well, “If God exists and we are made in his image we can have real meaning, and we can have real knowledge through what he has communicated to us.”

God exists and we have purpose.  I believe it.