Eugenics to Transhumanism: The Secular Religion of Progressive Perfectibility

The so-called ‘change agent’—capable of transforming the genetic sequence of living people—could radically alter the world as we know it. … This technology could well undermine the concept of identity itself. Who is who, personal accountability—these were until now the foundation of all law. And yet new live genetic editing technology may render such presumptions obsolete.

—Daniel Suarez, Change Agent

Eugenics to Transhumanism: The Secular Religion of Progressive Perfectibility

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

—Karl Marx, Theses On Feuerbach

Marx’s statement above is the central dictum of progressive thought in politics, the sciences, and the humanities for the past two hundred years. Instead of limits and constraints as Kant imposed, the progressive spirit sought to abolish necessity and constraints in a revolutionary agon against the human condition. Someone who would take this progressive tendency in another direction was Francis Galton.

Francis Galton, Father of Progressive Transhumanism, sometimes known as Eugenics (i.e., our long history of the Genome and Genetics stems from this first flowering) – or, the Victorian Secular Religion of Improvement believed that eugenics would accelerate the process, would breed out the vestigial barbarism of the human race and manipulate evolution to bring the biological reality of man into consonance with his advanced moral ideals. According to Galton, “what Nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly, and kindly.” He found in eugenics a scientific substitute for church orthodoxies, a secular faith, a defensible religious obligation.

He’d read his cousin, Darwin’s Origin of the Species and become converted by evolutionary theory to the point that over a period of years he’d construct out of a hodge-podge of pseudo-scientific notions the new religion and social progressive movement of secular eugenics. Intent on making a true science of eugenics possible, Galton began trying to ferret out the laws of inheritance. He approached the problem through the infant science of statistics. At the time, no biologist dealt with any part of his subject mathematically; Galton’s remarkable methodological departure was of considerable long-term significance for the discipline. It originated, however, not in a conviction on his part that biology needed mathematics but, rather, in something that came naturally to him— counting, and pondering the resultant numbers. The word “statistics” denoted, in Galton’s time, “state” numbers— indices of population, trade, manufacture, and the like— the gathering of which aided the state in the shaping of sound public policy.1

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