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16 Feb, 2020 17:13

Famed biologist Richard Dawkins sparks Twitter row with ‘eugenics would work for humans’ argument

Famed biologist Richard Dawkins sparks Twitter row with ‘eugenics would work for humans’ argument

Outspoken atheist Professor Richard Dawkins is no stranger to controversy. But a tweet arguing that eugenics – the kind of selective breeding advocated by the Nazis – would “work for humans” has landed the biologist in hot water.

“It’s one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It’s quite another to conclude that it wouldn’t work in practice,” the professor and author of ‘The God Delusion’ tweeted on Sunday. “Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology.”

The modern eugenics movement was popularized in the United States in the early 20th century and taken to terrifying extremes by Nazi Germany – which sterilized, institutionalized, and mass murdered the mentally ill, homosexuals, Jews, and all those it deemed ‘degenerates’.

Though Dawkins didn’t endorse eugenics, he was savaged by commenters for even suggesting that it might ‘work’. 

Dawkins, wrote Harvard Chaplain Greg Epstein, is giving “every manner of passive and active bigot an opening to ‘consider’ persecution on steroids.” New York Times columnist Charles Blow called Dawkins’s “eugenics crap” “dangerous,” and said that its practice in the US had led to the forced sterilizations of black women in the South.

Others pointed out that selective breeding, especially in animals, often leads to deformities and genetic defects. Dawkins’s “science on eugenics is bad,” tweeted doctor and anti-Trump pundit Eugene Gu. “We turned magnificent wolves into pure breed dogs with severe genetic defects causing joint and heart problems and cancer.”

Still, there were some who supported the professor. “Every single law that makes it easier for one group of people to have children while adding friction for another group of people is eugenics,” one commenter tweeted. “Increased taxation is eugenics. UBI is eugenics. Welfare is eugenics. It's as if nobody can think.”

With the controversy raging, Dawkins followed up his tweet with an explanation. 

“For those determined to miss the point, I deplore the idea of a eugenic policy,” he wrote. “I simply said deploring it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work. Just as we breed cows to yield more milk, we could breed humans to run faster or jump higher. But heaven forbid that we should do it.”

However, Dawkins has kicked the hornets’ nest with his comments on eugenics before. In 2014, the scientist started another Twitter row when he stated that it would be “immoral” not to abort a baby with Down’s syndrome. Four years later he slammed Pope Francis for comparing the abortion of babies with birth defects to “what the Nazis did to purify the race.”

Dawkins claimed that selective abortion “is not about eugenics, [but] the avoidance of human suffering.”

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Rising to prominence with his 1976 book ‘The Selfish Gene,’ Dawkins became one of the foremost researchers pushing the gene-centered view of evolution. This view maintains that evolution occurs through the survival of particular genes, rather than the organism as a whole. This work also introduced the concept of the ‘meme.’

In later years he became better known as an outspoken atheist, with his 2006 book ‘The God Delusion’ selling more than three million copies and provoking a flurry of debate in academia and media.

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