Quotes on the Ethics of Dealing with Genes and Human Differences

This page lists quotes from various scholars concerning how we should deal with the fact that individuals and populations differ from one another genetically

“Modern advocates of a more far-reaching material equality usually deny that their demands are based on any assumption of the factual equality of all men. It is nevertheless still widely believed that this is the main justification for such demands. Noth­ing, however, is more damaging to the demand for equal treatment than to base it on so obviously untrue an assumption as that of the factual equality of all men. To rest the case for equal treat­ment of national or racial minorities on the assertion that they do not differ from other men is implicitly to admit that factual inequality would justify unequal treatment; and the proof that some differences do, in fact, exist would not be long in forthcom­ing.”

F. A. Hayek, 1960

“All men must have been created equal; most certainly they are not all alike. The idea of equality derives from ethics; similarity and dissimilarity are observable facts. Human equality is not predicated on biological identity, not even on identity of ability. People need not be identical twins to be equal before the law, or to be entitled to an equality of opportunity.”

Theodosius Dobzhansky, 1962

“Equality in spite of evident non-identity is a somewhat sophisticated concept and requires a moral stature of which many individuals seem to be incapable. They rather deny human variability and equate equality with identity. Or they claim that the human species is exceptional in the organic world in that only morphological characters are controlled by genes and all other traits of the mind or character are due to “conditioning” or other non-genetic factors… An ideology based on such obviously wrong premises can only lead to disaster. Its championship of human equality is based on a claim of identity. As soon as it is proved that the latter does not exist, the support of equality is likewise lost.”

Ernst Mayr, 1963

“We must clearly distinguish between research on racial differences and racism. Racism implies hate or aversion and aims at denying equal rights and opportunities to persons because of their racial origin… But to fear research on genetic racial differences, or the possible existence of a biological basis for differences in abilities is, in a sense, to grant the racist’s assumption: that if it should be established beyond reasonable doubt that there are biologically or genetically conditioned differences in mental abilities among individuals or groups, then we are justified in oppressing or exploiting those who are most limited in genetic endowment. This is, of course, a complete non sequitur.”

Arthur Jensen, 1972

“If someone defends racial discrimination on the grounds of genetic differences between races, it is more prudent to attack the logic of his argument than to accept the argument and deny any differences. The latter stance can leave one in an extremely awkward position if such a difference is subsequently shown to exist.”

Loehlin, Lindzey & Spuhler, 1975

“Given that humankind is a biological species, it should come as no shock to find that populations are to some extent genetically diverse in the physical and mental properties underlying social behaviour. A discovery of this nature does not vitiate the ideals of Western civilisation. We are not compelled to believe in biological uniformity in order to affirm human freedom and dignity.”

E.O. Wilson, 1978

“Nothing seems more fearsome to many commentators than the possibility that ethnic and race differences have any genetic component at all. This belief is a fundamental error. Even if the differences between races were entirely genetic (which they are surely not), it should make no practical differences in how individuals deal with each other. The real danger is that the elite wisdom on ethnic differences — that such differences cannot exist — will shift to opposite and equally unjustified extremes. Open and informed discussion is the one certain way to protect society from the dangers of one extreme view or the other.”

Herrnstein & Murray, 1994

“The fear of the terrible consequences that might arise from a discovery of innate differences has thus led many intellectuals to insist that such differences do not exist — or even that human nature does not exist, because if it did, innate differences would be possible… I hope that once this line of reasoning is laid out, it will immediately set off alarm bells. We should not concede that any foreseeable discovery about humans could have such horrible implications. The problem is not with the possibility that people might differ from one another, which is a factual question that could turn out one way or the other. The problem is with the line of reasoning that says that if people do turn out to be different, then discrimination, oppression, or genocide would be OK after all.”

Steven Pinker, 2002

I believe that knowledge, even unpleasant knowledge, is far preferable to ignorance. I hope that American society can be less fearful of learning the truth about biological inequalities and more courageous in using discoveries in ways that are humanitarian and promote human welfare… To achieve political and social equality it is not necessary to maintain a fiction that important human differences do not exist. The great evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky said it well: “People need not be identical twins to be equal before God, before the law, and in their rights to equality of opportunity.”

James F. Crow, 2002

“A proper analysis of human data reveals a substantial amount of information about genetic differences. What use, if any, one makes of it is quite another matter. But it is a dangerous mistake to premise the moral equality of human beings on biological similarity because dissimilarity, once revealed, then becomes an argument for moral inequality.”

A.W.F. Edwards, 2003

“The third reason why the genetic hypothesis gives no support for racism is the most fundamental of the three. It is simply that, as we saw earlier, the principle of equality is not based on a claim about people being equal in any nonmoral characteristic. I have argued that the only defensible basis for the principle of equality is equal consideration of interests, and I have also suggested that the most important human interests — like the interest in avoiding pain, in satisfying basic needs for food and shelter, in enjoying warm personal relationships, in being free to pursue one’s projects without interference, and many others — are not affected by differences in intelligence.”

Peter Singer, 2011

“I am worried that well-meaning people who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations are digging themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive the onslaught of science. I am also worried that whatever discoveries are made — and we truly have no idea yet what they will be — will be cited as “scientific proof” that racist prejudices and agendas have been correct all along, and that those well-meaning people will not understand the science well enough to push back against these claims.”

David Reich, 2017

Independent researcher