Some Refelctions on Eugenics and Religion

Some Refelctions on Eugenics and Religion

Eugenics Review
Volume 18, Number 1 (April 1926)
pages 7-14

The Right Rev. E. W. Barnes, ScD., Hon. D.D., F.R.S. (1874-1953)
Bishop of Birmingham, England

The Galton Lecture delivered before the Eugenics Education Society at their Meeting in London on Tuesday, February 16th, 1926.

Eugenics is the science of human betterment. Its object is to discover how we may breed better human beings. The eugenist seeks to improve human racial stocks in the belief that he can thereby quicken the process of civilisation. He fixes attention primarily on the individual and not on his surroundings. He is concerned with nature rather than nurture, with the innate qualities which the individual inherits rather than with the environment in which those qualities have an opportunity of growth and expression. Eugenics and Sociology are thus complementary to one another. The extravagant eugenist says that the swine makes the stye. The extravagant sociologist says that the stye makes the swine. Neither statement expresses the full truth and even expert biologists differ widely as to the extent to which the balance of truth inclines one way or the other.

It cannot he disputed that the innate good qualities which a man inherits fail to develop in bad surroundings. Ignorance, dirt, vicious example and abject poverty degrade personality. They prevent the growth of that which is best in a child and stimulate its baser instincts. So strong in the life of a child are the influences of what the psychologists call association and suggestion that many think that environment is of more importance than heredity. It must be admitted that our knowledge as to what constitutes ‘heredity’ lacks precision. We are ignorant as to how far a child receives from its parents at conception a set of physical and psychical fundamentals which no environment will change. But statistical enquiries in general confirm the common saying that ‘like begets like.’ We have, moreover, to remember that civilisation is a racial product. The forces of association and suggestion which act on any individual within it, no less than most of his physical surroundings, are the creation of the race. If the racial stock be good such forces and physical conditions will gradually become more beneficial. If the stock be poor, both its physical environment and mental atmosphere will gradually degenerate. The ultimate creative power of a civilisation resides in the innate racial qualities of the people which make it, whatever be the process by which those qualities were initially produced.

No nation is homogeneous. Probably all races result from a blend of peoples of different types. A so-called pure race is one which has lived so long free from alien intrusion that a uniform type has been gradually evolved. In such a race the fundamentals due to heredity have been thoroughly mixed. Among its members there is therefore a naturally strong social cohesion. Individuals think, feel, and act in much the same way. In particular there will be uniformity of religious outlook. For a pure race what Disraeli called ‘the religion of all sensible men’ is a definite entity.

When a nation is mixed and, in particular, when one race imposes itself upon another there can be no such unity. At first the apparent civilisation will be that of the dominant race. Culture will be created by the ruling aristocracy: and the populace will accept organisation by which it benefits, though this be based on principles and ideas with which it has little sympathy or understanding. This situation probably existed when Greek civilisation reached its zenith. Ultimately the ruling stocks, died out, dissipated by war or luxury. Such of their descendants as survived were the offspring of mixed marriages, racially impure. Now when two races are thus mixed the individual seems to lack stability of organisation. The characteristics derived from his parents are associated rather than blended. Probably it is only after a fairly large number of generations that a new type of harmony is created. In the early generations the physical characters of one or other of the parental types may be dominant: but the recessive strain cannot be ignored; and I believe that in the fundamentals of the mind there is disharmony. The distrust of half-castes is not the outcome of mere prejudice. They are often unstable in character. In popular phrase ‘you never know what they will do next.’ It is impossible to foretell which side of their mental inheritance will be uppermost on any particular occasion.

After a sufficient number of generations a mixed race evolves a unity, a unity in diversity, of its own. Which of the two strands which go to make it is dominant? The answer seems to be that which is indigeneous to the soil. Black and white in England mate and white survives. Black and white in Jamaica mate and black survives. There seems little doubt that in ancient Greece the original population gradually asserted itself. Most certainly the great intellectual achievements of the Golden Age were gradually ignored; they were submerged by primitive folk-beliefs thrust up from the populace. Moreover where the physical characters of one of two mixed races prove the stronger, the mental qualities of that race are usually dominant; and vice versa. The half-caste in Jamaica not only becomes darker in successive generations but he also becomes more negroid in his habit of mind. Language, as we know, is no criterion of racial origin. But ideas and especially religious ideas are a very good criterion as to which strain in a mixed race has proved the stronger. The religious practices and beliefs of the black Republic of Hayti are not, according to good observers, vastly different from those of the African jungle…

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