The Inheritance of Morality: The Theological Debate on Eugenics in Early Twentieth Century Britain

Student Author(s)

Samuel Fishman

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Marc Baer

Document Type


Event Date



Eugenics, the use of regulated breeding practices to improve a population, became widely accepted in the twentieth century as a scientific theory and potential method for improving society. Despite the implementation of eugenics in many western countries, it never gained a strong foothold in Britain. One of the most important aspects of the British eugenics debate revolved around religion. Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, and Caleb Saleeby, a prominent physician, were two secular empiricists who argued that the theory could serve as the basis for a scientific religion. Many Anglican clergy, such as Dean William Inge and Bishop E. W. Barnes, proposed that eugenics complemented Christianity. Nevertheless, some British Christians did speak out against the eugenic movement. Catholic priest Thomas J. Gerrard and journalist G. K. Chesterton critiqued eugenics theologically, asserting that it violated Christian ethics. The efforts of these two men likely played a significant role in restraining the British eugenic movement.

This document is currently not available here.