We don’t like to think about it much today, but eugenics was an accepted part of the American Progressive movement up until World War II, when Hitler gave it a bad name. It was supported by such Progressive icons as W.E.B. DuBois, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Margaret Sanger. In several states Black and Native women were forcibly sterilized as an acceptable element of social progress.
Here is an interesting historical fact: in the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, commemorated in print and film, which pitted Evangelical populist William Jennings Bryan against Clarence Darrow in a court case about the teaching of evolution, the text book from which John Scopes taught Darwin’s theory of evolution also promoted eugenics:
Scopes was charged for teaching from a textbook called A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems, published in 1914. The book taught Darwin’s doctrine as fact, but it didn’t leave his conclusions there. The author, George William Hunter, not only asserted the biological difference of races, he insisted on the vital importance of what he called “the science of being well born”—eugenics. Like most progressives of the time, Hunter believed in “the improvement of man” via scientific methods. That meant promoting personal hygiene, proper diet, and reproductive control. A Civic Biology also has suggestions for what to do with “bad-gened” people, in a section called “The Remedy.” “If such people were lower animals,” the books says, “we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity would not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race.”
So John Scopes, on top of Darwin, was also teaching master-race Nazi stuff. They left that part out of the movie, didn’t they. They also left out this line from Jennings’ closing argument:
Science is a magnificent material force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessels. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed, but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the slip of its compass and thus endanger its cargo.
As Dreher points out, only Evangelicals and Catholics opposed eugenics; secularists and Mainline Protestants were all for it. He fears that religion in contemporary America would not be strong enough today to oppose a new Eugenics movement, especially if it were couched in terms of freedom of choice.