Back in 2006, Dawkins wrote the following letter to the editor of Scotland’s Sunday Herald:
IN THE 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous – though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change.
Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from “ought” to “is” and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as “these are not one-dimensional abilities” apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.
I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn’t the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?
Keep in mind that Dawkins is not a philosopher and neither was he writing for some obscure philosphy journal. Dawkins is an activist who was writing to the general public. When you keep that context in mind, one has to wonder WHY Dawkins felt it important to distance eugenics from Hitler. If Dawkins is a eugenicist, this would make sense. He can’t advocate for some eugenics approach because of its association with Hitler and thus begins the slow, gradual process of getting the general public to divorce eugenics from Nazism. If there is a better explanation, I am all ears.
In fact, Dawkins is less unsure of himself in a less public context when reviewing the book of Steve Jones, president of the Galton Institute, the lineal descendant of the Eugenics Education Society. Here is what Dawkins wrote (note my added emphasis):
“I’ve enjoyed Steve Jones’ recent book The Language of the Genes. He’s a little bit too eager to bend over backwards to be politically respectable, because of the unsavory history of genetics, and he rather goes out of his way to disown those aspects of genetics that are politically disrespectable. I feel that that’s over and done with now, and we can forget about it and get on, and I feel he’s still a little bit unnecessarily eager to distance himself from the bad aspects of the history of genetics. But I have a lot of time for him;I greatly respect him.”
Recently, Dawkins’ tweets have provided further evidence that Dawkins is a eugenicist:
"Eugenics": What's wrong with a nonrandom choice of a gene your child COULD have got from you at random, anyway, by normal genetic lottery?
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) March 17, 2013
Almost 100% say they'd opt for nonrandom choice of sperm donor. Shock, horror, you're all eugenicists!
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) April 18, 2013
Again, notice the context – these are not points made in an obscure philosophy journal; Dawkins is using social media to get people acclimated to the idea that eugenics already exists and is not that bad.
And now, as we all know, he let his guard down for a moment and showed us the dark side of eugenics:
@InYourFaceNYer Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) August 20, 2014
Here he once again uses social media, this time to make it clear that people have a moral obligation to prevent Downs Syndrome babies from being born – “It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” Such a moral imperative makes sense if one is coming from a eugenics perspective.
So is Dawkins a closet eugenicist? I can’t say for sure. But I have never known a person who is both opposed to eugenics and who
a. advocates that we need to dissociate eugenics from Hitler/Nazism
b. thinks that dark history of eugenics is something that is “over and done with now, and we can forget about it and get on.”
c. challenges the notion there is anything wrong with “designer babies”
d. declares it to be immoral to choose to give birth to a Down’s Syndrome baby.
These positions, taken together, are what I would expect a suppoter of eugenics to advocate.
One can only wonder what other eugenics-related opinions Dawkins has.