Genes, God and Determinism

Denis Alexander of the Faraday Institute in Cambridge has just written the latest Cambridge Paper on Genes, God and Determinism. How about this for good opening paragraph in which he says that the Third Reich borrowed its sterilization legislation from the USA.

Read and download the rest of the paper for free here 

For more than half a century (roughly 1880–1940) it was widely believed that heredity determined race, class, mental health, and intelligence. Eugenic legislation ensured the compulsory sterilization of hundreds of thousands of ‘physical and
mental defectives’ in the USA, Denmark, Sweden and Germany. As late as 1940, an academic review writer declared that feeble-minded people should be prevented from reproducing because feeble-minded families ‘are largely characterised by
promiscuity, desertion, illegitimacy, crime, unhappiness, ill health and other associated pathological conditions’.2 The writer was in no doubt that genes determined ‘feeble-mindedness’ and its associated pathologies. The Third Reich borrowed its sterilization legislation from the USA.3 The most extreme application of eugenics led to the gas ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Today such attitudes and practices are rightly viewed with horror. Surely the kind of genetic determinism that nurtured eugenics is a thing of the past? Yes and no. Today’s genetic determinism is more of a creeping, insidious, back-door kind of influence, absorbed by a process of cultural osmosis from the media, by the abuse of genetic language in daily speech, and unfortunately also from the inaccurate statements of some academics.

He argues that notwithstanding developments in contemporary genetics, “we should resist rhetorical narratives that portray humans as helpless pawns of their genes and their environments.”

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