It could probably go without saying that I’m not the biggest fan of Richard Dawkins… but that’s not because he’s an atheist. In fact, I think it’s a shame that Dawkins seems to discredit many valid arguments and discussions concerning atheism the same way Westboro Baptist Church damages the credibility of genuine, loving, Christ-following Christians. His logic draws from scientific theories, rather than philosophy. Inasmuch it leaves itself open to numerous fallacies, loopholes and general denial in the same manner of someone from the opposite camp who might try and prove God’s existence by first attempting to provide scientific proof that earth is 6,000 years old. Furthermore, Dawkins likes to pick stupid fights. He recently got into a Twitter debate disputing what types of rape were “worse.” Following the resulting outburst, he concluded all he’d learned was that people on Twitter “think in absolutist terms” (irony intended?).
All this goes to say that I have good reason for usually ignoring anything and everything Richard Dawkins does.
But last week Dawkins said something that edged a little bit beyond offensive, something that betrays a deep concern behind his atheistic beliefs. It started when Dawkins was presented with the “dilemma” of what one should do if they were pregnant and discovered that the child had Downs Syndrome. Here’s what Dawkins replied:
Thankfully, Twitter exploded with people outraged over Dawkins comments. Non-Christians, Christians and atheists alike were outraged over Dawkins’ statement to the point that he eventually published an explanation with a poor excuse for an apology in which he stated:
“…what I was saying simply follows logically from the ordinary pro-choice stance that most of us, I presume, espouse. My phraseology may have been tactlessly vulnerable to misunderstanding, but I can’t help feeling that at least half the problem lies in a wanton eagerness to misunderstand.”
This sounds to me “sorry not sorry” littered with academic lingo. And I have the pronation to get just as angry about everyone else over this because I know numerous children and adults with various levels of Downs Syndrome whom lead happy, fulfilling lives, lives that contribute to society just as much as anyone else (Mr. Dawkins included). But the problem is: Dawkins’ logic actually holds (a little bit of) water.
Because atheism doesn’t value human life for anything other than its utilitarian use. Said Dawkins in his explanation:
“If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down’s baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.”
And there you have it. Dawkins view point operates under the notion that morality is based upon utility; the grand sum of happiness is what determines whether or not something is “moral” or “immoral”. Individuals do not matter, human beings are merely numbers on an excel spreadsheet: nothing more, nothing less. Therefore, if any individual will not contribute to or personally experience a sum of happiness equal to or greater than the unhappiness they experience or create, then the morality of their existence is in question.
Granted, here’s the part where Dawkins’ logic and statement are still reeking of ignorance. Some children who have Downs may not have happy lives. But it turns out that’s a very small number: a recent poll of people with Downs found 99% of them said they were happy. Compare that to another poll that showed only 1 in 3 of the general American population stated they are “happy” and Mr. Dawkins’ logic shows deep flaws.
That being said, the logic behind Dawkins’ statement exposes a daunting and vile aspect of his beliefs: the utilitarian perspective of morality, a view of human beings as nothing more than numbers and figures in an equation working towards some vague and inevitably subjective notion of “happiness”.
Then there’s my camp; Christianity. See, Christians, all too often, are labeled as being “hateful”.
Albeit, we often go out of our way to earn that label: we’ve used mutated Biblical texts to propel slavery, racial segregation, hate crimes, sexism and countless forms of injustices and violations of human rights across the ages. And that’s an undescribable shame.
But the Christian faith, the unadulterated version, teaches a very important thing regarding humanity: it teaches that we are all created with something called imago dei or “image of God”. Our faith teaches that in the beginning humankind was created by God:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)
Within each human being is the image of God, a stamp upon the heart, soul, hands, feet and face of every child, teenager, adult and elderly person alive. It doesn’t matter if someone is born with webbed hands, an irregular heart beat, a missing kidney or Downs Syndrome; that individual human being still has value because they bear the divine image.
“But what about sin? Doesn’t Christianity also teach that we are all sinful?” Yes, it does. We were created in God’s image and with God’s likeness. But, due to sin, it is only the image of God that remains. The likeness, the perfection of humanity, the “robe of sanctity” as the early church theologian Ireneaus penned it, has been lost to sin. This is the part of the Christian faith that acknowledges there are negative aspects to our humanity. We are not perfect: we can be hateful, murderous and vile. Even our own bodies, though all bearing God’s image, can be mutated. We have migraines, cancer, depression and broken bones. And any parent with Downs Syndrome will tell you that, despite having a happy child, that doesn’t mean every aspect of their life is perfect. But most of them also say they wouldn’t trade it for anything.
And that’s the real issue I have with Dawkins statement: a child with Downs Syndrome isn’t deformed: they’re beautiful. Sure, they have problems. Sure they have difficulties. But who doesn’t? Dawkins, I’d be quick to point out, wears glasses.
Which brings up a pertinent question: if we’re all around for the end purpose of happiness then what happens if I suffer from depression? Am I out of the equation? What if I get a terminal illness? Am I like a racehorse that should simply be put down? What if I’m a criminal? Hell, what if I’m just plain stupid? What if my IQ isn’t up to someone’s (conceivably, Mr. Dawkins’) standards? Am I then detracting from others’ happiness to the point that I should be done away with?
I’m being hyperbolic here of course and perhaps a bit ridiculous. But Dawkins logic is dangerous and cruel. But it’s also just what it claims to be: logical. It’s the logic of atheism and if you’re looking for a better alternative, I’ve got one for you:
People, no matter what our deformity, struggles, disease or imperfections, are still people: and the Christian worldview, an unadulterated Christian worldview, teaches us to see them not as things to be utilized, a genetic trait to be passed along into a lump sum of happiness, but as beautiful in and of themselves because we all reflect the beauty of One Who Is infinitely beautiful. They need redemption, we all yearn for it. A child with Down Syndromes inevitably faces numerous difficulties; they and their families deserve our full encouragement and support.
But for someone to to say these children ought to be aborted betrays the fact that their worldview regards people as nothing more than means to a subjective end. They view people as things, not as beautiful reflections of something greater than a vague notion of “happiness”. Its understandable since they don’t believe in God. It saddens me to think that they don’t see themselves as anything more than a number in an equation waiting to be erased by some cosmic mishap. They’re more than that. If they choose not to believe this then that’s they’re choice, but folks like Dawkins would be considerate to refrain from being a jerk to those of us who choose to believe in the implicit value of every human life.
I hope Richard Dawkins and those who follow him think about the logical ends to their beliefs. And I hope they search for a better alternative, an alternative that acknowledges the beauty within each of us. This is a beauty that points to something bigger than us, a beauty that is reflected in the smiling faces of all people, especially children such as these: