Richard Dawkins: Breed humans like cows, horses and dogs?

Posted by Richard Hayes on November 24th, 2006

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins suggests that we entertain the possibility of breeding human beings as we do cows, horses and dogs. In a letter to Scotland’s Sunday Herald, he writes:

In the 1920’s 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?
The rhetorical structure and intent of Dawkins’ letter is transparent. It’s of a piece with Lee Silver’s claim that his celebration of consumer eugenics in Remaking Eden was merely intended to “raise some questions,” and with Gregory Pence’s line in What’s Wrong with Human Cloning?, where he asks, “Would it be so terrible to allow parents to at least aim for a certain type, in the same way that great breeders... try to match a breed of dog to the needs of a family?”

Dawkin’s generous statement that he could probably be persuaded that breeding human beings is a bad idea is an attempt to place the burden of persuasion on those who oppose the new eugenics. It’s neither necessary nor desirable that we rise to this bait. But it is indeed necessary that opinion leaders, politicians and the general public become fully aware of the risks posed by the new human genetic technologies, and of the pernicious vision of the human future being promoted—avowedly or disingenuously—by many of those advocating their development and use.

Posted in A "Post-Human" Future?, Eugenics, Richard Hayes's Blog Posts, Richard Hayes's Publications


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  1. Comment by Treg, Sep 12th, 2013 8:47am

    Sometimes timing is everything. Science is just now coming around the corner and starting to get a full grasp of just what Human Nature is and is not (see: Steven Pinker's BLANK SLATE, Howard Bloom's THE GLOBAL BRAIN, and Edward O Wilson's latest book THE SOCIAL CONQUEST OF EARTH). And science is doing this just at the time when we can start to tinker with it, volitionally. Had Marxists been able to tinker with Human Nature they would have breed millions for their collectivist selfless ideal. Lucky for us all that science wasn't there yet in 1930's. Oh the future is going to be very interesting indeed.

  2. Comment by Goran, Jun 14th, 2013 2:57am

    This is so wrong and my objection has nothing to do with hitler.

    My objection is choice of the bred individual:

    Naturally born humans have the choice to do whatever they want and discover their true tallents and abillities.

    Bred humans will be born and told you have been bread to be musical, which will pigeonhall them into that category all their lifes, what if tgey were god at music but wanted to be an astraughnaut, infortunately sir due to your musical breeding the part of your brain for austranaught dkills is smaller and you cannot complete this task.

    So this would be a very bad idea if it is even possible at all as music is not a physical trait but a mental one.

    Specific Breeding of humans is like casting them into another category and locking them away from other choices.

    alkthough breeding humans to be more disease resistant or taller and stronger, this does not limit choice as they can still be what they want to be.


  3. Comment by paul, Apr 5th, 2011 7:24pm


  4. Comment by Walt, Sep 4th, 2010 7:33am

    Eugenics is our future. We need it. it is just what nature does anyway. If we were all to benefit from it why would we have a problem with it? The biggest danger is that we might become power mad but arentwe all ready doing that with mass consumerism and domination of the planet. Humanities biggest hurdle now is religion. We need to suffocate it gradually so we get no great opposition to our betterment.

  5. Comment by Helmholtz, Oct 30th, 2009 4:23am

    If people who did not believe in god would at least study theosophy the occult and satanism then at least they would understand why they make religious people upset. Darwins theories came from the hidden sciences, the hidden sciences pre-existed them and he wasnt even smart enough to know inbreeding which is the opposite of natural selection which the book put forward would result in weak, sickly children if they managed not to be stillborn.

    Darwinism is a breeding program practiced by the ruling oligarchy for centuries and thats why they are psychopathic, its a trait passed down with property through the generations and Brave New World which is basically a ripoff of Plato's Republic provides the wet dream of a highly bred Shih Tzu to be able to breed slaves that arent intelligent enough to rebel, the bee hive, the fleur de lis, bee-have.

    I really used to think this guy was alright, i really wish he would keep digging until he found out where his beliefs are coming from. Hitler was a stooge, eugenics was funded from the states, search "cold springs harbor" IBM handled Germany's census, they just got a contract to handle one for us, the national socialists didnt lose the war, we are being bred why do you think the royals call themselves "the primate" they consider us sheep, look it up. A patient cured is a customer lost, competition is a sin...look it up, dont be taken for fools

    Think people, those who dont use their brains are beasts of burden

  6. Comment by Sean Henderson, Aug 23rd, 2007 11:59am

    A society of true equality and understanding - would have no problem integrating those designed in ways that make them more competitive.

    It's because society is currently so competitive that we must fear new powers. It is our human nature that we have to fear - and staying the same as we are now. The Darwinian status quo.

    Yes we must be cautious and implement technologies safely - but it's up to society to adapt to new technologies and understandings rather than inhibit them from fear.

    If we were better humans - we wouldn't have to worry about abuse, discrimination, genetic design that encourages submission/slavery, etc...

    Human nature is the root of what we fear - biotechnology itself is neutral. Human nature can only be faced through genetic engineering - it's an inconvenient truth.

    Currently, our design compels us to relearn the lessons of history indefinately.

  7. Comment by Sean Henderson, Aug 23rd, 2007 11:46am

    IMO, the point of Dawkins' work here is to examine current policies and biases and see how they would be amplified if biotechnology takes off. Consider how little control we have over our own genetic design.

    His point is that we treat humans like animals by refusing to work towards a more ethical design.

    Of course he's not saying that we should breed people to be submissive pets - but that we already try to coerce people within society for abstract objectives (based upon transient values). How is genetic engineering any different from how we currently raise human beings - from genetic roulette through societal programming - when do we BEGIN to think of the design of the subjective experience of those we create?

    We breed without regard for the design of our offspring - and parents are very biased about how they raise their children. The concern should be placed upon ensuring the best possible design for the people we are creating that are forced to live a lifetime with those genes.

    Yes genetic manipulation is very dangerous - but eliminating known genetic disorders and unreasonable pre-dispositions for disease (assuming we develope the technology safely) : how it is ethical to ignore these abilities?

    A healthy genetic design with optimal lifelong happiness can happen without the concurrent enforcement of abstract attributes that society currently uses to judge and stratify.

    The message : examine our ethics before they are put into play by biotechnology.



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