Population control or reduction and bioethics

When we previously discussed Pope Francis and the RC committment to birth and conception, some protested that the RC was ignorant and even harmful in their position on this. Recently, some undercover videos on the participation of Planned Paren… have shown the complicity and economic aspect of selling intact aborted fetuses by this organization. Second Planned Parenthood Senior Executive Haggles Over Baby Parts Prices, Changes Abortion Methods - YouTube Compared to kicking a few cows or slapping a few pigs in a barn, this is much much worse. And it certainly demonstrates why it is not unreasonable to suspect population controllers. So my question is, what is the relationship of evolution and evolutionary theory to the attitudes of people towards “less human life”?

This question also derives somewhat from an earlier discussion in which various aspects of the continuum of humanity, the indeterminate nature of humanity as described by evolution were noted. To me the connection seems rather obvious, although obviously, people do not only abuse the unborn based on evolutionary ideology. Yet, the ideas that some humans are better, or more valuable, or more human than others is a common thread, is it not? What do you think?

I am also participating in a bioethics book study at the moment, on a book written by Gilbert Meilander, so the timing of this seems rather remarkable.

@johnZ hmmmmmm, challenging questions.

My initial impulse is that any valuation of human life is less a product of evolution than it is a social norm. Well after mankind began walking upright communities were small (10-50 people) and tended to stay within a 30ish square mile territory. Conflict with other groups was low intensity. Indicating some value of human life. Those early groups were generally matriarchal and worshiped goddesses of fertility. Also indicating a certain degree of value on each life. Given the size of a group, successfully reproducing is vital to the survival of the group. It is also worth noting here that these people were generally taller and lived longer than their urban counterparts indicated a better and more varied diet. It seems unlikely that such a group would abort a child due to food concerns.

Large scale warfare didn’t come about until much later when the survival of the group was much more dependent on the destruction of the ‘Others.’ Once mankind began to settle and farm, birthrates increased and survival became much more dependent on controlling arable flood plain. Basically, life became cheaper.

I think so. To expand what I already wrote. Less valuable humans were generally those neighboring Others who competed directly for wealth, food, and glory. The Mycenaeans slaughtered the Trojans, the Han slaughtered the previous dynasty, and the Mongols slaughtered everybody. Even a strong participant of the Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson, saw American-Indians and Africans as developmentally behind European stock and needing ‘help.’

In summary, I put forward that valuation of human life is more a social than an evolutionary phenomenon and that those humans considered less valuable were generally those the ‘next town over.’


I agree. I think who is valued and how much is a factor of culture and socialization, not biological determinism,

Highly stratified societies are more likely to devalue certain sectors of humanity than small, tribal ones. One sociology study I read comparing the status of women and the involvement of men in child rearing found that hunter/gatherer societies were on average much more egalitarian than advanced industrialized people groups. The elderly are often valued more in more “primitive” societies too.

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Jim, thanks for your reply. I think it made me realize that I was not as clear as I should have been. While there are many theories about the evolutionary impacts of one tribe vs another, and the survival impacts of fertility, what I was really getting at is that the idea that evolution is the driving factor for life, is what drives much of the sociological reduction in the value of human life. If we are mere animals who are graded as to being more human or less human, then it is a short step to saying that fetuses and old people are less valuable as human, because in some way they are actually less human anyway. If every human is specifically created by God in his image, then each is just as valuable as any other human, regardless of their apparent differences in ability, age, stage, and capabilities. Evolution defines humanity on qualitative differences; thus the level of humanity for individuals differs by that ideology.

So while social valuation has not always used evolutionary concepts as an excuse for differentiation, it does seem to add an excuse, as was found in the eugenics philosophy discussions in the 1920s, as well as comments made about why certain human “races” deserved to be slaves.

So are you are not saying evolution as a biological mechanism leads to the reduction of value in human life, but evolution as an ideology, right? I was confused at the beginning and thought you were talking about the biological mechanism. I can see how materialistic naturalism could be argued to devalue humanity.

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Yes but not just materialistic naturalism. Also the idea that evolution is a progression from less valuable to more valuable, from less human to more human. Thus the idea of a “super race”, or of eliminating defectives, or of eliminating the aged who can no longer breed or help, etc. Thus the idea of competition not just demonstrating what you are good at, but demonstrating your intrinsic value as a human.

I don’t think people in our society believe or use that kind of eugenics rhetoric anymore. If you try, you will be totally ostracized as a social pariah and a nut-job. Can you find any examples of people saying that kind of stuff, at least in the context of abortion? (I’ve heard some FOX news talking heads say similar things in the context of immigration and poverty, but I won’t go there :wink:) Planned Parenthood has done a lot of PR gymnastics to distance themselves from and denounce the eugenics ideals of their founder Margaret Sanger.

Ironically, the only time I ever hear the term “social Darwinism” thrown around, it is by Democrats accusing Republicans of it for promoting extreme laissez-faire capitalism. It’s never a compliment.

Doesn’t about half of the American population reject evolution anyway? And an even larger percentage reject materialistic naturalism? If it’s such a minority position, how could it have such an influence? I think most people, when you get down to it, are very uncomfortable with abortion because they do value human life. Things like Gosnell and this recent video bring the discomfort to light. Unfortunately, the idols of materialism, individualism, and sex in our society blind people to their better moral instincts. That is where I would lay the blame, not on some latent eugenics ideology.

Christy, I am not blaming latent eugenics ideology for abortion, although connections have been made to the prevalence of abortion for poor blacks. I was simply placing eugenics, abortion, assisted early death, and things like that into the same category of placing arbitrary values on human life, by implying that some humans are less human than others. Nor was I saying that evolutionary ideology was the only factor, only that it is one of them, and likely more influential than people realize, even for those who claim not to believe in it.

[quote=“Christy, post:7, topic:750”]
Unfortunately, the idols of materialism, individualism, and sex in our society blind people to their better moral instincts
[/quote] Yes, I also agree with this, and would add “selfishness”.


Perhaps, though the extent of evolution’s impact is likely impossible to measure. You would need a clear cultural record for the bulk of humanity going back at least 10,000 years. Any break in that record demonstrating a high cultural valuation of life (how does one even measure that?) would damage the notion that evolution has largely impacted the modern abortion climate.

It just occurred to me that perhaps I misunderstood. How you proposing that evolution itself or evolutionary science has impacted American acceptance of abortion, eugenics, and assisted suicide? Because it seems quite plausible that any broadly accepted scientific notion impacts the surrounding culture. Regardless of the validity of the science.

There is also an interesting Constitutional angle to this, but I have this vague memory that you might be Canadian and perhaps I shouldn’t hijack this discussion into one about Constitutional rights. :smile:


Yes Jim, that is my point. The knowledge and acceptance of evolutionary principles seem to lead naturally to an acceptance of the rating of humanity at different levels of value, thus leading naturally to an acceptance of eugenics, selective abortion, racism, euthanasia, human experimentation, slavery, etc. If we evolved, or are still evolving from animals, then maybe some people are not quite as far along, and thus less human.

Nobody uses the “less human” argument though. So you have to argue it’s subconscious, which makes it just conjecture. There is no evidence from the way people actually talk about and argue for any of those things that they have arrived at their positions because acceptance of evolutionary theory causes them to see some people as less human.

People actually argue for euthanasia based on preserving human dignity, not because they reject the humanity of the elderly. Or they argue for it as a means of alleviating pain, because humans shouldn’t have to suffer like animals because they are so valuable. (“We have compassion on our dogs and put them down when they are terminally ill, shouldn’t humans, who are more valuable than dogs deserve the same mercy?”)

Even elective and selective abortion is usually argued for in terms of preventing “suffering” of the woman in having to deal with an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, preventing the “suffering” of a child forced to grow up in poverty, or the “suffering” of a disabled or genetically defective child. That these arguments are based in values is clear, but I don’t think you can claim anyone is valuing one kind of person as “more human” than another. More happy, more comfortable, more independent, maybe, but not more human.

Racism is complex, but only a few wingnuts actually say some races are less human than others, and those people are condemned by society and not taken seriously. And ironically they usually base their arguments on terrible biblical exegesis, not evolutionary theory.

As a society we have moved away from slavery, human experimentation, racism and eugenics as evolutionary theory has gained wider acceptance, so I don’t see how you can claim that the opposite is occurring and as people embrace evolutionary theory, they are moving toward those things.

Well, perhaps no one uses the term “less human” directly… except for the unborn, where it is used often. But think also of Hitler’s attitude to the Jews, and many whites to the blacks even today, but especially 100 years ago. So “nobody” is incorrect.

In addition, it is subconscious when it comes to older people treatment. We will not spend as much health care on older people, because the benefit is less… give the new heart to a younger person first. In several countries, the practice of euthanasia is not just to preserve human dignity, or to alleviate pain, but to reduce the burden on the state and on society. Yes, there are excuses, but these excuses are not used for younger people.

Selective abortion chooses to abort females while preserving males… this has nothing to do with preventing suffering of any kind, other than prestige or tradition or gender bias. Females are thus considered less valuable and less desireable than males. (Perhaps this makes both the females and males less human, mere commodities and possessions.) Yes, in some ways, except for abortion, we have moved away from eugenics and slavery (although there is a lot of slavery still around in the east - particularly sexual slavery, but also forced servitude). But eugenics came about well after evolution had been promoted for many years. That it is now not promoted openly is due to the outrage, but that does not mean that evolutionary thought did not influence it.

I am not disputing the fact that certain groups are argued to be less valuable in different societies and treated as “less human.” I am disputing that you can make any kind of clear connection to the acceptance of evolutionary theory as the cause.

China and India had been valuing males above females long before Darwin and long before selective abortion was an option. (Augustine thought that women lacked the image of God and had an inferior soul. He somehow arrived at that conclusion from the Bible. Sexism is not Darwin’s fault.) Racism/tribalism and genocide have been parts of human history since time immemorial. Denying a heart to a seventy-year-old to give it to a twenty-year-old or spending less money on the medical care of the elderly is rooted in utilitarian ethics, not evolutionary theory, and utilitarianism pre-dates Darwin too.

Like I said, you can say that somehow the existence of evolutionary theory “influences” societal values subconsciously, but that is pure conjecture. Cultural values are pretty complex. You could also say alien hypnotists visit our dreams and cause us to crave sugar and fat, and that is the root of the obesity problem. Just because it makes sense in your mind, doesn’t make it a convincing assertion unless you can point to some actual observable connections.

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@johnz Now that I’m on the same page, I still have to agree with @Christy. While I can certainly agree that evolutionary theory could, in theory, have an impact on cultural values and norms, there are some historical problems. For example, Whig History is a school of thought emphasizing the natural development of a people from socially primitive to socially advanced. It supposedly explained why Britain was able to acquire within its sphere of influence approximately 1/4 of the world. The ‘other’ civilizations were less advanced, more barbaric, and thus needing Britain’s ‘benevolent’ rule to help advance them. Modern historiography can trace Whig tradition to approximately 100 years before Darwin’s voyage. Basically, society is pretty good at devaluing groups of people without any help from science.

Now, given that. I am not saying that evolutionary theory has had no impact on modern culture. The scientific underpinnings of National Socialism come to mind. Also, much of the modern white supremacist movement depends on an understanding that some races are naturally superior to others. However, I’m not entirely sure that a clear line exists between evolutionary theory and the value we place on human life.

Its also worth mentioning that, at least in the U.S., abortion rates have declined in the 40ish years since Roe v Wade while evolutionary theory has grown more complex and better understood.


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I’m glad you agree with Christy, because she has made some good points. On the other hand, it is also good to disagree with some other points, or at least be aware of the limitations of an either-or position on influence of evolutionary theory on human behaviour and human value. I appreciate your acknowledgement of the connection to the National Socialists, and modern white supremacism ( and of course some of the older racism as well).

Darwin provided two key theories that guide much of modern psychological research—natural selection and sexual selection. These theories have great heuristic value, guiding psychologists to classes of adaptive problems linked with survival (e.g., threats from other species such as snakes and spiders; threats from other humans) and reproduction (e.g., mate selection, sexual rivalry, adaptations to ovulation). Advances in modern evolutionary theory heralded by inclusive fitness theory and the “gene’s-eye” perspective guide researchers to phenomena Darwin could not have envisioned, such as inherent and predictable forms of within-family conflict and sexual conflict between males and females.Buss, D. M. (2009). The great struggles of life: Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary psychology. American Psychologist, 64, 140-148.

Discussions of evolutionary psychology sometimes seem to be premised on the first. Human beings do such and such because such and such was the optimal (“fittest”) thing for our stone-age ancestors to do. Men like women with smooth skin because (prior to the advent of plastic surgery), smooth skin was a reliable predictor of fertility, so it was in the interest of our ancestors’ “selfish genes” to create brains with a preference for smooth skin.Marcus, G. (2008). Kluge: The haphazard evolution of the human mind. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin.

Darwin’s theory of natural selection was seized upon as scientific proof that fierce competition was nature’s method for improving the world. Herbert Spencer, who popularised some of Darwin’s work, coined the phase ‘the survival of the fittest’, which soon became a slogan for unrestrained and ruthless economic competition. This became known as social Darwinism. The trouble with applying natural selection to human economic relations is that the eventual goal of a capitalist is to create a monopoly, at which point competition and evolution cease.Joe Walmswell

The social Darwinist economists believed that nature should be allowed to correct the problem with a higher death rate. Francis Galton, who was Darwin’s cousin, was the first to argue for a more active policy. He coined the term ‘eugenics’, to describe a programme of artificial selection aimed at eliminating bad genes and improving the race. The eugenics movement began to gather support in Britain and elsewhere, particularly when it was realised that the poor health of the workers made them indifferent soldiers, thus endangering the nation. Joe Walmswell



I think you have made some valid points - one may also contemplate the so called “scientific success” attributed to Darwin, to the background opinion during his days and afterwards - almost every aspect of human existence has, at some point in time, been subjected to modification to fit Darwinian thinking. From Stalin, to white super races, to master races, and so on. We need to remember however, that a fertile soil existed before Darwin (slaves, serfs, lower classes, etc.,) often supported by institutionalised religions.

It safe to say that Darwin’s evolutionary thinking did a lot to encourage those who valued one human over another, and devalued many humans and animals as part of the struggle to survive…

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