Dr. Richard Dawkins caused quite a controversy with the following Twitter exchange:
@InYourFaceNYer Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) August 20, 2014
He later offered an explanation, which was a pseudo-apology for how people understood him or felt about his words. As a father of two children with Down syndrome, the tweet and the powerful response fascinated me.
But of course Dawkins was just being honest. He sees himself and the rest of us as animals, nothing more; we are just more evolved. Pro-lifers have been in an uproar about his comments, but his opinions are consistent with his atheistic Darwinian worldview. Dawkins’ desire is to maximize happiness and minimize suffering. That is his highest moral good. Based on that view, he believes it was immoral for the birth mothers of two of my sons to bring them into the world. He said that in early development, fetuses do not have human emotions, which is why he believes killing them is acceptable, so they will not suffer.
But there are major problems with this thinking. This would also imply that it could be moral to kill someone who is severely autistic, as some individuals with autism do not experience emotions as most of us do. This line of reasoning would also justify the execution of people with certain kinds of brain injuries. But Dawkins would probably not affirm that, which begs the question: is the ability to feel emotion really the issue? What is Dawkins’ bottom line? It seems to be a moving target, which is a major problem when we’re talking about who has the right to live.
Furthermore, Dawkins assumes people with Down syndrome suffer. I do not know how many people with Down syndrome he has spent time with, but I can assure him that most of the world suffers far more than they do. People with Down syndrome are so free of many of the worries that plague many of the rest of us. We stress out over money, relationships, politics and so much more. My kids have taught me so much about forgiving quickly, loving unconditionally and living life filled with joy no matter what is going on around them. They suffer far less than I do.
In the end, however, there is a breakdown in the basis for Dawkins’ morality. It has no foundation. His explanation for human morality is that it evolved with the species and persists because it is genetically advantageous. But you don’t have to be an evolutionary biologist to understand that people who make selflessly moral choices—like firemen and soldiers—often don’t get to pass on their genes to the next generation. Yet the universal human yearning to discern and do what is right endures.
The truth is my children do not lose their value based on receiving an extra chromosome, just like people not lose their value after receiving a head injury that changes their consciousness. One does not gain value by growing larger, stronger or more intelligent. Humans have value because we are human, and we are human at conception, not when we develop feelings or a complete nervous system that allows us to feel pain. Dawkins’ tweet should have read, “It would be immoral not to bring it into the world, even if you have a choice.”