‘Hooray for eugenics!’
How American Bible-rejecting churches supported Nazi-like policies
Many people have said or thought this since Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, invented the term ‘eugenics’ in 1883.1 Since then, the cheerleaders for this offspring of evolution have included racists of many different nationalities, such as Hitler’s Nazis, as well as enthusiasts for the ‘right’ to abortion, euthanasia, and now in the 21st century, human destruction for embryonic stem-cell research. This is of course consistent with the belief they all share, namely that people are all just evolved animals.
The many violations of human rights, and the killings and genocides which are the result of eugenicist beliefs are well documented and so are well known.2 What is not so well known is that, in the early 20th century, eugenics was promoted with almost evangelistic fervour in American élite circles, leading to the forced sterilization of over 60,000 US citizens3 and even euthanasia.4,5 Even worse, it was ardently promoted by many of the liberal ‘mainline’ churches in America.6,7
Eugenics to the rescue?
The end of the 19th and early years of the 20th centuries was a time of social problems in America, with the ‘arrival of staggering numbers of new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, increased industrialization, urbanization, economic depressions, and labor upheavals … . Declining birth rates, rising divorce rates and the widening scourge of syphilis prompted many observers to fear for the fate of the American family and, by implication, for the nation as a whole.’8
Eugenicists believed they had the answer to this situation. Poverty, disease, prostitution, alcoholism, and crime were not evidence of man’s moral failing, but problems to be solved scientifically. The scientific solution was to promote the breeding of large families by the allegedly superior humans, like white middle-class Anglo-Saxons, and simultaneously to restrict the size of families of the allegedly inferior humans, i.e. those regarded as racially and mentally deficient.
Religious leaders who embraced this supposed support for their social-gospel programs and who became involved in eugenics ‘included Protestants of nearly every denomination, Jews and Catholics, and they overwhelmingly represented the liberal wings of their respective faiths. … They were the ministers, priests, and rabbis who were inspired by the developments of modern science and accepted much of the new historical criticism of the Bible. … Supporters ranged from high-ranking clerics to small-town ministers in the Methodist, Unitarian, Congregational, Protestant Episcopal, Baptist and Presbyterian churches.’9
Thus, in the early decades of the 20th century, ‘clerics, rabbis and lay leaders wrote books and articles about eugenics, joined eugenics organizations … and adopted eugenic solutions to the social problems that beset their communities. They explored the eugenic implications of the biblical Ten Commandments and investigated the hereditary lessons embedded in the parables of Jesus.’11 Many churches ran eugenics education classes. In 1910, psychologist Stanley Hall, wrote in the journal Religious Education, ‘The entire Old Testament from the myth of Eden to the latest prophets needs a new eugenics exegesis.’12
Eugenics is the attempt to improve the physical and mental characteristics of the human race by encouraging the reproduction of the ‘fit’ and by decreasing or preventing that of the ‘unfit’. In evolutionist terms, this means superseding the blind slow process of evolution with the intelligent purposeful guidance of humans. It has rightly been called the most destructive medical movement in history. For example, eugenics was the justification and stimulus for the Holocaust, as well as for the many other ‘ethnic cleansings’ that have been perpetrated in the 20th and 21st centuries.
In the early 1900s, more than 30 States in America enacted laws enforcing sterilization of those considered to be mentally unfit. These laws were upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1927 (Buck vs Bell) and were not abolished until the mid-20th century.* Nazi administrators at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II defended their sterilization program by citing the United States laws as their inspiration.
In 1912, the Rev. Walter Sumner, Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Chicago, required that couples wanting to be married in the cathedral must produce a eugenics health certificate.13 A physician had to attest that they were ‘normal physically and mentally, and have neither an incurable nor communicable disease.’14 Some denominations approved and copied this procedure; others e.g. some Presbyterians, did not. Catholics mostly did not, as they regarded marriage as a sacrament to be regulated only by the church. In 1926, hundreds of preachers took part in a ‘eugenics sermon contest’ sponsored by the American Eugenics Society.11 Rosen comments, ‘In eugenics, these men found a faith stronger than their Christianity, fulfilling Francis Galton’s hopes of replacing religion with eugenics.’15
During this time, conservative Christian pastors were defending their faith on several fronts, such as refuting the philosophy of evolution, the existentialism of Paul Tillich, the documentary (JEDP) hypothesis of Julius Wellhausen,16 and the ‘demythologizing’ of the Bible (i.e. removing the miracles) by Rudolf Bultmann. Churches that rejected Darwinism and held to a biblical/creation worldview opposed eugenics. ‘Evangelical Protestants were skeptical of the methods of a science that challenged Biblical doctrine on matters like the Virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Christ.’17 ‘Those who clung stubbornly to tradition, to doctrine, and to biblical infallibility opposed eugenics and became, for a time, the objects of derision for their rejection of this most modern science.’18
Today—cosmological and biological evolution
In the 1940s, the world saw the horrible consequence of the eugenics philosophy—the Holocaust, in which over 11 million people considered by the Nazis to be inferior, were murdered to promote the evolutionary progress of the Aryan-German race.19 Today we are seeing two other inevitable consequences of evolutionary thinking:
Cosmological evolution is the theory that everything began with an uncaused big bang, and so God the Creator is unnecessary.
Biological evolution teaches that man is just an animal; and so, because nothing is morally wrong or right for animals, let’s all do what the animals do.20
Incredible as it may seem, many churches and theological colleges today follow these beliefs of atheistic scientists instead of the Word of God.21 They teach that God used both cosmological and biological evolution to create the heavens, the earth and all life, including mankind. Thus they have effectively abandoned the fundamental doctrines of creation and the authority of the Bible.
The inevitable consequence is that people today are leaving the church in droves, while others are never entering it at all.
Conclusions and comparisons
Rosen’s conclusions about Christians who put more faith in the words of scientists than they do in the authority of the Bible are worth pondering with regard to today’s situation. She makes the point that these leaders ‘acted overwhelmingly in good faith’ and ‘genuinely believed that eugenics would increase human happiness’, but then says:
‘Looking back one might expect to find a little more hesitation from religious leaders before they offered their support to a movement that … replaced God with science as the shaper of the human race.’22
‘[L]iberal religious leaders allowed their worldviews to be molded by the promise of the new science of eugenics’23, i.e. by the latest science of their day.
Today many Christian leaders have adopted the worldview that says scientists, not the Bible, are the authority for how the universe, Earth and life began. Thus, Eden has become a myth, and the account of Creation in six days by God is, in many churches, subject to a new eisegesis24 based on the beliefs of atheist scientists.
‘In the first few decades of the twentieth century, religious leaders still had to answer this human need for assurance, of course, but they felt much greater pressure to do so in the language of modern science.’23
In doing this, they failed to see that the ‘supposedly impeccable empirical evidence’ proffered by the scientists of the day was faulty. No less today, those church leaders who base their biblical teaching on evolutionary presuppositions (and thus on false premises) are making a shipwreck of their faith and that of their followers.
The remedy is obvious. God’s Word, far from needing updating by the latest humanist theories, is His revelation to us about Himself and how He created the heavens, the Earth, and life itself. It is the Manufacturer’s Instructions on how we should live in harmony with God and with our fellow humans. It is God’s Blueprint which when followed ultimately sets us free.
Re-posted on homepage: 16 May 2012
References and notes
- The concept was put forward by Galton in his Hereditary Genius in 1869, after he had read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, which Darwin subtitled Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Galton then coined the term ‘eugenics’ from Greek εύ (eu) meaning ‘well’ and γένος (genos) meaning ‘kind’ or ‘offspring’. Return to text.
- See Grigg, R., Eugenics … death of the defenceless, Creation 28(1):18–22, 2005. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., The lies of Lynchburg, Creation 19(4):22–23, 1997. Return to text.
- See Black, E., War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York/London, 2003; review by Sarfati, J., America’s evolutionists: Hitler’s inspiration? Creation 27(2):49, 2005. Return to text.
- Williams, G., A Civic Biology and eugenics, Journal of Creation 20(3):123–127, 2006. Return to text.
- This article on the church’s involvement in the eugenics movement is based on a recent book by Dr Christine Rosen, entitled Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement, Oxford University Press, New York, 2004. Return to text.
- See also Bergman, J., The church preaches eugenics: a history of church support for Darwinism and eugenics, Journal of Creation 20(3):54–60, 2006. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p. 10. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, pp. 14–15. Return to text.
- Well-known clerics who joined the American Eugenics Society Advisory Council included ultra-liberal Baptist minister Harry Emerson Fosdick and Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts William Lawrence (ref. 6, pp. 116–117). However, Fosdick later concluded that eugenics was dangerous. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p. 4. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p. 38. Return to text.
- ‘A number of US states proposed and passed legislation on marriage health certificates in the years immediately following Dean Sumner’s decree’ (ref. 6, p. 67). Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p. 53. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p. 22. Return to text.
- For refutation, see Grigg, R., Did Moses really write Genesis? Creation 20(4):43–46, 1998. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p. 18. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p. 5. Return to text.
- Bergman, J., Darwinism and the Nazi race Holocaust, Journal of Creation 13(2):101–111, 1999. Return to text.
- See for example Cardno, S., The creation basis for morality, Creation 24(3):44–47, 2002. Return to text.
- See for example Wieland, C., Crisis in the colleges: A call for reformation, 23 November 2004. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p. 184. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, 185. Return to text.
- Eisegesis means reading one’s own ideas into the text, the opposite of exegesis, or determing the meaning out of the text itself. Return to text.