I have some pretty strong feelings about eugenics (it's a good and necessary practice), but I find it very, VERY difficult to talk about it with anyone since I'm instantly labeled a Nazi for supporting it. I'm hoping the folks on Think Atheist will be more inclined to intellectual discussion than name-calling and dismissal.
The start off, some disclaimers: genocide is wrong; taking human rights away from people of a race/religion/hairstyle you don't like is wrong; concentration camps are wrong; violence in wrong.
There. Now to the actual discussion.
When I talk about eugenics, I'm talking about the practice of systematically removing debilitating genetic traits and defects from a population by means of regulating the reproduction of its citizens. Do you have Schizophrenia? Did you know that this ailment is genetic and very easy to pass on to you children? Please, do not punish an innocent child with this problem. Are you genetically healthy, intelligent, and talented? Do you have special immunities that make you less likely to get sick? By all means, spread these traits to future generations, either by having children yourself or donating to a sperm or egg bank. Do you want children but should not carry your genetic problems onto them? Adopt. Adoption will always be available no matter what the society (just because someone has good genetic material does NOT mean they would make a good parent). Do you say that adoption is not the same? Then I suppose you care more about satisfying your selfish desires than the well being of a child.
Eugenics is, at its base, very simple - think about the future first.
I'm leaving this post now for what I'm hoping will be thoughtful and anti-inflammatory discussion.
As you said, voluntary eugenics is acceptable. Indeed, that's usually referred to as having a "standard" for sexual partners. :)
One (possible) argument against it though: Harmful mutations or drift which does not cause the specimens demise either through childhood death or infertility, can perhaps lay the foundaton of yet another, beneficial genetic change. Down's syndrome is something which can be regulated through eugenics (it also takes up a lot of resources), while hemophilia may not be as detrimental as immediately apparent if a beneficial attribute can arise from it.
And my observation regarding such debates: They tend to devolve into people saying that individual rights should reign supreme, and society cannot interfere, especially in matters of life and death. This is, of course, complete humbug.
I know a guy whose genetics left him strongly predisposed to pancreatic failure. His pancreas failed in early childhood, back before there were very good protocols for diabetic treatment, but he survived the odds. He has a very rewarding life, great kids, only set back was vision loss but he's adapted well on that issue. Anyway, statistically speaking, he's about 1 in 1,000 as a survivor - you'ld be very hard pressed to find anyone today who has lived 67 years without a pancreas - how many of his contemporaries just died, many of them dying awful deaths?
We do have the technology to screen people for genetic markers such as the one my friend has. We do have the technology to allow people to check if that marker has been passed to an embryo. People do use this process to ensure that certain markers do not get passed to their children - but only those who have enough money to pay for the screening & embryo selection. Why not allow the impoverished the same option? Why should their children be condemned to the lottery?
"It is to suggest that imperfection has no value. Total rubbish."
Imperfection has a value by being the antonym of perfection. I trust human forethought to be a better tool of correcting imperfection over the blind trial and error approach used by nature. After several billion years of trying, Nature still cannot build me a house or drastically extend my life expectancy. After a few thousand years, Humans can.
this is the crux of my belief as well. The whole philosophy/meme of transhumanism, is just that, using our humanity, what intelligence we do have, to do what nature cannot, and would never be expected to. The argument that imperfection is what makes us who we are, and that it's a good thing, for many reasons people will give, is basically saying, hey, even if one day we could save millions, even billions of lives through medical treatments, it's a bad idea, since it's interfering with the natural order of things. So inotherwords, Grahm's argument, is basically naturalism, or even anti-science. It's science that has allowed humanity to live as long as we presently do.
Regardless of our fears of totalitarian control, and corruption in governments, the answer, to me, is still the same. It is an imperative, an obligation, to prevent as much human suffering as possible, and I have met some atheists who seem to despise the human condition, so this argument will not sit well with that sub group. But for people, atheist's or theists who care about our fellow creatures, and themselves, using genetic biomarkers, and personalized medicine to cure, or prevent sickly from being born, may be the best if not only option.
Of course no one is comfortable with an idea that is eugenic. But reality is as harsh as Darwinian evolution really is, for it's one in the same of course. So preventing nasty diseases from being passed on to our chiidren, is an imperative. We can't really cry over the unborn, otherwise as Richard Dawkins has said, we would be crying over the billions, maybe trillions of unborn children who could be amazing humans, but the reality is, nature is unkind, to say the least, so when someone IS born, it makes the most humane sense that they should have the best chance possible of living a full, and HEALTHY life...not one of chronic suffering, which so many do live.
I'm not saying that we need a 'perfect' human species. Yes, eugenics offers an opportunity as a slippery slope into fascism, but I still feel it is necessary for future generations to live longer, healthier lives.
No one is saying that imperfection has no value - I and no one else on this thread have said this. Please refrain from putting words in our mouths. I also never mentioned making a 'perfect' human.
See, this is what I mean when I say that eugenics is hard to talk about. These assumptions come up almost immediately and are injected into the argument with little to back it up but political correctness.
Also- You say 'look what it (social engineering) has done to the environment' - what do you mean? You mean the stronger, heartier strains of wheat that have saved millions? Or the practice of crop rotation, which benefits soil in ways that would take thousands of years to achieve naturally?
No - I said "look what WE'VE done to the environment". There's a difference. The engineering of plant genes to produce crops that don't reproduce themselves, thus putting the farmers - many of whom are impoverished already - at the mercy of seed companies. This is the other side of the coin that you posit, but is the same principle as eugenics.
These are the dangers that I am concerned about. Some here have already brought up the question of commercial manipulation, and I'd add that of state manipulation.
Of course I'm not against alleviating or preventing suffering - far from it, and my heart gout out sincerely to those that have personal experience of the kind of problems that eugenics is being touted here as a solution to. My own son suffered from leukaemia at the age of 19, and we came within a couple of days of losing him. It goes without saying that I'd want to see cancer eliminated before it even requires a cure.
But I am against tinkering without due caution in the future of the human race. Which is what eugenics set out to do. It resulted in terrible war crimes in the 20th. century, and there's no reason to assume that it couldn't happen again.