Christianity and Eugenics Diametrically Opposed

One of the common themes that surfaces in the writings of eugenicists is how Christianity is the antithesis of the eugenics mindset.  Catholics in particular are often singled out.  No person educated in evolution and Darwinism could possibly stand opposed to eugenics–or remain a Christian.  At the very least, tenets of religious faith that stress altruism not only must be dispensed with, but must be seen as harmful to the human race.  This page will collect quotations related to this theme.


From Ernst Haeckel in chapter 6 of his Freedom in Science and Teaching (1879), where he insists that our ‘social instincts’ are the result of evolutionary processes and that Darwin’s theory leaves no room for socialistic thought.  Socialism is better understood as a Christian political system.  In stark contrast, an evolutionary political system would embody the ‘survival of the fittest’ and would serve the ruling aristocrats:

Every great and comprehensive theory which affects the foundations of human science, and which, consequently, influences the systems of philosophy, will, in the first place, not only further our theoretical views of the universe, but will also react on practical philosophy, ethics, and the correlated provinces of religion and politics. In my paper read at Munich I only briefly pointed out the happy results which, in my opinion, the modern doctrine of evolution will entail when the true, natural religion, founded on reason, takes the place of the dogmatic religion of the Church, and its leading principle derives the human sense of duty from the social instincts of animals.

The references to the social instincts which I, in common with Darwin and many others, regard as the proper source and origin of all moral development, appear to have afforded Virchow an opportunity in his reply for designating the doctrine of inheritance as a “socialist theory,” and for attributing to it the most dangerous and objectionable character which, at the present time, any political theory can have; and these startling denunciations so soon as they were known called forth such just indignation and such comprehensive refutation that I might very properly pass them over here. Still we must at least shortly examine them, in so far as they supply a further proof that Virchow is unacquainted with the most important principles of the development-theory of the day, and therefore is incompetent to judge it. Moreover, Virchow, as a politician, manifestly attributed special importance to this political application of his paper, for he gave it the title, which otherwise would have been hardly suitable, of “The Freedom of Science in the Modern Polity.” Unfortunately he forgot to add to this title the two words in which the special tendency of his discourse culminates; the two pregnant words, “must cease!”

The surprising disclosures in which Virchow denounces the doctrine of evolution, and particularly the doctrine of descent, as socialist theories and dangerous to the community, run as follows:–“Now, picture to yourself the theory of descent as it already exists in the brain of a socialist. Ay, gentlemen, it may seem laughable to many, but it is in truth very serious, and I only hope that the theory of descent may not entail on us all the horrors which similar theories have actually brought upon neighbouring countries. At all times this theory, if it is logically carried out to the end, has an uncommonly suspicious aspect, and the fact that it has gained the sympathy of socialism has not, it is to be hoped, escaped your notice. We must make that quite clear to ourselves.”

On reading this statement, which seems extracted from the Berlin “Kreuz-Zeitung,” or the Vienna “Vaterland,” I ask myself in surprise, “What in the world has the doctrine of descent to do with socialism?” It has already been abundantly proved on many sides, and long since, that these two theories are about as compatible as fire and water. Oscar Schmidt might with justice retort, “If the socialists would think clearly they would feel that they must do all they can to choke the doctrine of descent, for it declares with express distinctness that socialist ideas are impracticable.” And he proceeds to add, “And why has not Virchow made the gentle doctrines of Christianity responsible for the excesses of socialism? That would have had some sense. His denunciation flung so mysteriously and so confidently before the great public, as though it concerned ‘a sure and attested scientific truth,’ is, at the same time, so hollow that it cannot be brought into harmony with the dignity of science.”

With all these empty accusations, as with all the empty reproaches and groundless objections which Virchow brings against the doctrine of evolution, he takes good care in no way to touch the kernel of the matter. How, indeed, would it have been possible without arriving at conclusions wholly opposed to those which he has declared? For the theory of descent proclaims more clearly than any other scientific theory, that that equality of individuals which socialism strives after is an impossibility, that it stands, in fact, in irreconcilable contradiction to the inevitable inequality of individuals which actually and everywhere subsists. Socialism demands equal rights, equal duties, equal possessions, equal enjoyments for every citizen alike; the theory of descent proves, in exact opposition to this, that the realisation of this demand is a pure impossibility, and that in the constitutionally organised communities of men, as of the lower animals, neither rights nor duties, neither possessions nor enjoyments have ever been equal for all the members alike nor ever can be. Throughout the evolutionist theory, as in its biological branch, the theory of descent–the great law of specialisation or differentiation–teaches us that a multiplicity of phenomena is developed from original unity, heterogeneity from original similarity, and the composite organism from original simplicity. The conditions of existence are dissimilar for each individual from the beginning of its existence; even the inherited qualities, the natural “disposition,” are more or less unlike; how, then, can the problems of life and their solution be alike for all? The more highly political life is organised, the more prominent is the great principle of the division of labour, and the more requisite it becomes for the lasting security of the whole state that its members should be variously distributed in the manifold tasks of life; and as the work to be performed by different individuals is of the most various kind, as well as the corresponding outlay of strength, skill, property, &c., the reward of the work must naturally be also extremely various. These are such simple and tangible facts that one would suppose that every reasonable and unprejudiced politician would recommend the theory of descent, and the evolution hypothesis in general, as the best antidote to the fathomless absurdity of extravagant socialist levelling.

Besides, Darwinism, the theory of natural selection–which Virchow aimed at in his denunciation, much more especially than at transformation, the theory of descent–which is often confounded with it–Darwinism, I say, is anything rather than socialist! If this English hypothesis is to be compared to any definite political tendency–as is, no doubt, possible–that tendency can only be aristocratic, certainly not democratic, and least of all socialist. The theory of selection teaches that in human life, as in animal and plant life everywhere, and at all times, only a small and chosen minority can exist and flourish, while the enormous majority starve and perish miserably and more or less prematurely. The germs of every species of animal and plant and the young individuals which spring from them are innumerable, while the number of those fortunate individuals which develop to maturity and actually reach their hardly-won life’s goal is out of all proportion trifling. The cruel and merciless struggle for existence which rages throughout all living nature, and in the course of nature _must_ rage, this unceasing and inexorable competition of all living creatures, is an incontestable fact; only the picked minority of the qualified “fittest” is in a position to resist it successfully, while the great majority of the competitors must necessarily perish miserably. We may profoundly lament this tragical state of things, but we can neither controvert it nor alter it. “Many are called but few are chosen.” The selection, the picking out of these “chosen ones,” is inevitably connected with the arrest and destruction of the remaining majority. Another English naturalist, therefore, designates the kernel of Darwinism very frankly as the “survival of the fittest,” as the “victory of the best.” At any rate, this principle of selection is nothing less than democratic, on the contrary, it is aristocratic in the strictest sense of the word. If, therefore, Darwinism, logically carried out, has, according to Virchow, “an uncommonly suspicious aspect,” this can only be found in the idea that it offers a helping hand to the efforts of the aristocrats. But how the socialism of the day can find any encouragement in these efforts, and how the horrors of the Paris Commune can be traced to them, is to me, I must frankly confess, absolutely incomprehensible.


Nothing, perhaps, shows so plainly as the history of Christianity how little theory and practice harmonise in human life; how little pains are taken, even by those whose calling it is to uphold established doctrines, to apply their natural consequences to practical life. The Christian religion, no doubt, as well as the Buddhist, when stripped of all dogmatic and fabulous nonsense, contains an admirable human kernel, and precisely that human portion of Christian teaching–in the best sense social-democratic–which preaches the equality of all men before God, the loving of your neighbour as yourself, love in general in the noblest sense, a fellow-feeling with the poor and wretched, and so forth–precisely, those truly human sides of the Christian doctrine are so natural, so noble, so pure, that we unhesitatingly adopt them into the moral doctrine of our monistic natural religion. Nay, the social instincts of the higher animals on which we found this religion (for instance the marvellous sense of duty of ants, &c.) are in this best sense strictly Christian.


Alexander Tille, as quoted in Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler:

“From the doctrine that all men are children of God and equal before him,” he said, “the ideal of humanitarianism and socialism has grown, that all humans have the same right to exist, the same value, and this ideal has greatly influenced behavior in the last two centuries. This ideal is irreconcilable with the theory of evolution … [, which] recognizes only fit and unfit, healthy and sick, genius and atavist.” [emphasis in original]


From Madison Grant in The Passing of the Great Race:

Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life tend to prevent both the elimination of defective infants and the sterilization of such adults as are themselves of no value to the community. The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race.

It is highly unjust that a minute minority should be called upon to supply brains for the unthinking mass of the community, but it is even worse to burden the responsible and larger but still overworked elements in the community with an ever increasing number of moral perverts, mental defectives and hereditary cripples. As the percentage of incompetents increases, the burden of their support will become ever more onerous until, at no distant date, society will in self-defense put a stop to the supply of feebleminded and criminal children of weaklings.

The church assumes a serious responsibility toward the future of the race whenever it steps in and preserves a defective strain. The marriage of deaf mutes was hailed a generation ago as a triumph of humanity. Now it is recognized as an absolute crime against the race. A great injury is done to the community by the perpetuation of worthless types. These strains are apt to be meek and lowly and as such make a strong appeal to the sympathies of the successful. Before eugenics were understood much could be said from a Christian and humane viewpoint in favor of indiscriminate charity for the benefit of the individual. The societies for charity, altruism or extension of rights, should have in these days, however, in their management some small modicum of brains, otherwise they may continue to do, as they have sometimes done in the past, more injury to the race than black death or smallpox.

As long as such charitable organizations confine themselves to the relief of suffering individuals, no matter how criminal or diseased they may be, no harm is done except to our own generation and if modern society recognizes a duty to the humblest malefactors or imbeciles that duty can be harmlessly performed in full, provided they be deprived of the capacity to procreate their defective strain.


    • C on December 20, 2017 at 11:57 pm
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    Everyone who agrees with eugenics is an affront to God and probably won’t see Heaven when they pass from this life.

    • nehemiah on May 3, 2023 at 12:24 am
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    Both then and now some confused individuals mingled the ideas of eugenics with those of social Darwinism. That was never logically consistent and citing them is like attacking the least consistent representatives of an idea, a bit like presenting Hitler, who confessed himself a Christian (and may have have been sincere as he understood it in his own mind), as an exemplar of Christianity. What social Darwinism and eugenics had in common was a recognition of the threat of dysgenic fertility. Where they differed was the solution. Social Darwinism argued for a return to natural selection insofar as that is possible, while eugenics argued for replacing natural selection with artificial selection on the grounds that the latter is both more humane and more efficient. Not surprisingly, social Darwinists tended to favor laissez faire economics while many eugenists were Fabian socialists or at least in favor of an expanded state role in the provision of social welfare. After Origin of Species was published, social Darwinism took the lead while eugenics languished in obscurity until Father Gregor Mendel’s discovery of the gene was rediscovered in 1900. Only then did eugenics become suddenly popular. Meanwhile, critics of eugenics (nobody seems much worried about social Darwinism any more), however valid some of their criticisms may be of specific eugenic policies, still offer no solution to, or disproof of, the quiet crisis of dysgenic fertility, other than inveighing against “experts,” as though denunciations were refutations.

    1. So as in your other comment, you bounce off of quotations of people presenting their views in their own words, as if some editorializing had occurred. Except for one brief paragraph, which made no mention of ‘social Darwinism’, its all just these folks telling us what they think. The term ‘social Darwinism’ nowhere occurs, except in your own comment.

      So… I don’t agree with your attempt to parse out ‘social darwinism’ from ‘eugenics.’ This is a post hoc distinction made by people looking backwards on the unfolding of these ideas, and not a distinction that these people made themselves. You would be hard pressed to find someone writing AT THE TIME who made a hard distinction between the two of them. And I have a sense of that, having read thousands of articles, books, etc, that they produced. I tend to find that people who try to create distinctions in the past do so because they wish to extract some part of it and give it another go. But, since this particular page you are commenting on is not interested in discussion of such things, I don’t really feel like its worth getting into.

      The test is simple: did a ‘social darwinist’ and/or ‘eugenicist’ of, say, 1915, draw such a distinction? Could have happened. I don’t recollect anything of the sort. Feel free to share it. But I’m not particularly interested in engaging with it.

      I would quibble with other elements of your survey, but its decent enough as a survey. It definitely was the case that all concerned were concerned about ‘dysgenic fertility.’ I get the impression you still are.

      Incidentally, I hear people talking about social Darwinism all the time. Usually, they are accusing Republicans of being social Darwinists.

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