Darwin and Militarism Term Paper

  • Length: 9 pages
  • Subject: Evolution
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #33462039

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Darwinism and militarism. Darwin' ideas will first be discussed, and the implications of Darwin's theories on society will then be discussed, particularly in terms of the development of eugenics, which was so influential on Hitler and his political and social aims. The paper will then look at how Hitler used his understanding of Darwinism, and how this in turn led to increasing militarism in the world.

Darwin set out on a worldwide voyage of discovery, with ideas about the development of life on earth in his head, and an inquisitive nature; the study of the specimens from the voyage of the Beagle convinced Darwin that modern species had evolved from a few earlier ones (Coyne, 2003). Years later, after much deliberation, he documented the evidence and first presented his theories on evolution to a meeting of scientists in 1858 (Coyne, 2003); the work presented in this meeting was jointly presented between Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, another biologist who had simultaneously developed the theory of evolution by natural selection, following many years studying species in the Malay Archipelago.

In most cases, according to Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, no two members of any species are exactly alike; each organism has an individual combination of traits, and many of these traits are inherited (Coyne, 2003). Darwin claimed that gardeners and farmers commonly developed special kinds of plants and animals by selecting and breeding organisms that had desired traits; he believed a similar selective process took place in nature, and Darwin called this process natural selection, whereas others have called it the survival of the fittest (Coyne, 2003).

In order to provide evidence for his theory, and following a reading of an essay on population by Malthus, Darwin showed that living things commonly produce many more offspring than are necessary to replace themselves (Coyne, 2003). Darwin argued that the earth cannot possibly support all these organisms, and so they must compete for such necessities as food and shelter; he also recognised that their lives also are threatened by animals that prey on them, by unfavorable weather, and by other environmental conditions (Coyne, 2003).

Darwin suggested that some members of a species have traits that aid them in this struggle for life; other members have less favorable traits and therefore are less likely to survive or reproduce (Coyne, 2003). On average, the members with favorable traits live longer and produce more offspring than do the others; they also pass on the favorable traits to their young, and the unfavorable traits are eventually eliminated (Coyne, 2003). Darwin argued that when this process occurs in two isolated populations of one species, members of one species may become so genetically different that they will be regarded as separate species (Coyne, 2003).

As can be imagined, Darwin's theories of evolution through natural selection set off a bitter controversy among biologists, religious leaders, and the general public: many people thought Darwin had implied that human beings were descended from monkeys, and they angrily criticized his revolutionary ideas, but such noted British scientists as Thomas Henry Huxley supported Darwin's work, and virtually all scientists eventually accepted his theories (Coyne, 2003). These theories, and the facts that supported them, gave biologists new insight into the origin of living things and the relationship among various species (Coyne, 2003).

Darwin's theories stimulated studies in biology, particularly in paleontology and comparative anatomy, and during the first half of the 1900's, discoveries in genetics and developmental biology were used as evidence for theories of evolution that regarded natural selection as unimportant (Coyne, 2003). After World War II ended in 1945, however, Darwin's theories again became the dominant influence in evolutionary biology in a form often called Neo-Darwinism (Coyne, 2003). Neo-Darwinism gave a fuller explanation for the genetic origin of variation within species and for how species are formed: few biologists reject the basic propositions of Neo-Darwinism, and Darwin's theories are still the basis for many biological studies (Coyne, 2003).

Darwin's work has also had a tremendous impact on religious thought; many people strongly oppose the idea of evolution - and the teaching of it - because it conflicts with their religious beliefs; for example, they claim that the theory of evolution disagrees with the Biblical account of the Creation, and so some people argue against the theory of natural selection because they believe it diminishes the role of divine guidance in the universe (Coyne, 2003).

Darwin avoided discussing the theological and sociological aspects of his work, but other writers used his ideas in their own theories about society: the German philosopher Karl Marx compared the struggle for survival among organisms to the struggle for power among social classes; certain other writers referred to natural selection to justify the concept of the development of superior races of human beings, and scholars called social Darwinists used Darwin's ideas to promote the belief that people in a society - and societies themselves - must compete for survival (Coyne, 2003).

One rather ominous development of Darwinian evolution is that of eugenics. Eugenics is a method that aims at improving the human race by selection of parents based on their inherited characteristics (Hart, 2003). Eugenists want to improve future generations by encouraging persons who are above average mentally and physically to have more children: this is called positive eugenics (Hart, 2003). Eugenists also propose that persons who are below average mentally or physically have fewer children, otherwise known as negative eugenics (Hart, 2003).

Scientists still cannot, however, predict with great accuracy the presence of desirable traits, such as intelligence and physical fitness, although they do understand the inheritance of certain physical and mental abnormalities (Hart, 2003). They can also identify persons who are healthy themselves, but carry a weakness for certain diseases in their genes; for example, a blood test will reveal the presence of a hidden defective gene that causes the blood disease sickle cell anemia (Hart, 2003). Eugenists warn against a marriage of two persons who are carriers of the defective gene, because some of the couple's children may have the disease, as in many inherited diseases, children show the defect that their parents only carried (Hart, 2003).

Eugenics began with the research of Sir Francis Galton in the 1880's, but it has not won widespread acceptance, as many people fear that a eugenics program would take away basic human rights, such as people's rights to marry whom they choose (Hart, 2003). They also fear that control of reproduction might be misused, and many people object to such controls because of religious beliefs (Hart, 2003). Some states in the United States, however, have laws that are aimed at preventing persons with known defects from having children (Hart, 2003).

Sinister manifestations of eugenics are the norm, as right from the inception of eugenics, controversy has resulted. Ever since its birth, eugenics has been presented as a science (without a rigorous scientific basis) that has been postulated to be able to predict certain characteristics and behaviours of people, and, by some, to control reproduction in humans to such an extent that perfect children would result, or at least, children without defects, i.e., children that could be seen to be 'improving the race' (PBS, 1996).

Even in its day, many people saw that eugenics was a dubious discipline, riddled with inconsistencies, but it was championed by a very prominent and respected biologist, Charles Davenport (in his book Heredity in Relation to Eugenics among others), and its conclusions told many people what they wanted to hear: that certain "racial stock" was superior to others in such traits as intelligence, hard work, cleanliness, and so on (PBS, 1996). Quotes such as "selection of immigrants as shall not tend to adulterate our national germ plasm with socially unfit traits should only be allowed to reproduce," and statements such as "I believe in doing it for the race. Not the entire human race, mind you, but only those "carefully selected" for procreation" show Davenport's depth of conviction for eugenics (Foard, 1996).

Following this high-level support and infiltration of eugenics into the mainstream. eugenics societies and groups sprang up around the United States after World War I, with names like the Race Betterment Foundation; the war had given many Americans a greater fear of foreigners, and immigration to the United States was still increasing (PBS, 1996).

In 1923, organizers founded the American Eugenics Society, and it quickly grew to 29 chapters around the country: at fairs and exhibitions, eugenicists spread the word and hosted "fitter family" and "better baby" competitions to award blue ribbons to the finest human stock; not only did eugenicists promote better breeding, they wanted to prevent poor breeding or the risk of it, which meant keeping people with undesirable traits in their heritage (including alcoholism, pauperism, or epilepsy) separate from others or, where the law allowed, preventing them from reproducing (PBS, 1996).

These vocal groups advocated laws to attain their aims, and in 1924, the Immigration Act was passed by majorities in the U.S. House and Senate…

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