Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dawkins & Down's

In a way I am sorry to write about Professor Richard Dawkins again. I understand from those who are qualified to comment that some of his early work in biology was very remarkable. Unfortunately, Professor Dawkins now seems to speak out on subjects such as Scripture and theology with which he has only a passing acquaintance, and not a friendly one. I fully accept that he may not represent atheism at its best. In fact, I know he is something of an embarrassment to some unbelievers.

Nevertheless, Professor Dawkins’ recent comments on abortion seem to me so lamentable, dangerous and revealing that they necessitate a response. Via that nuanced tool of debate, Twitter, Professor Dawkins said that it would be immoral not to abort a foetus with Down’s Syndrome. He claimed it would be cruel and wrong to let such a person live.

Now, of course, that is a dreadful insult to those with Down’s and their loved ones. It seems to me that the obvious joy on the faces of many of those with Down’s syndrome and of their families is sufficient to refute Professor Dawkins’ nasty argument.

And this is the thin end of the wedge. If abortion is thought to be morally necessary it is a short step to make it legally compulsory and state mandated eugenics will be imposed. After all, the government can’t allow people to go round inflicting innocent suffering on others, can it? Those with Down’s and their families need to be saved from themselves, the argument would seem to go.

But, though his ideas are wrong and poisonous, Professor Dawkins is worth listening to because he has the merit of (sometimes) elements of clear thinking and consistency. A case could be made for Professor Dawkins’ views if we lived in a universe with no God, if expediency or utilitarianism were all that mattered. In our hearts none of us want to live in such a world, it seems to me. In fact, we know such a world would not be possible. If God did not exist, we would have to invent him.

Which brings me to the fundamental inconsistency in Professor Dawkins’ argument. And he himself admits this. In Professor Dawkins’ world there can be no such thing, strictly speaking, as an immoral act. There is no God. There is no right or wrong. There are only preferences and what might seem to work for most of us most of the time. We might just try to make the best of this blind, random and uncaring world of accident. But who is to say what the best is? Why should I want, say, my own happiness or the happiness of the greatest number? In an atheistic cosmos, there is no way of saying that I should like your preferences for “goodness” over my preferences for the torture of innocent babies, for example, because there is no “should”. There is no objective standard. It is open season for whatever I can get away with if there is no divine law-giver and judge.

Thankfully, one rarely meets a consistent atheist. I theory this is impossible because without God there is no basis for logic or reason – there are just chemical reactions in my brain, and I know they are not very trustworthy. But in practice it is a mercy that atheists are inconsistent. I dare say in many ways Professor Dawkins lives a good life, but this is parasitic on the Christian faith. Thank God that he and his fellow atheists live out something of our creed rather than everything of their own. Professor Dawkins’ Tweet shows us an atheistic future and none of us wants to go there. We rejoice that such a world is a fantasy land of make-believe and that the future belongs to God. May his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. In such a world every person would be loved selflessly and self-sacrificially. And yes, one day all sickness and disability will be irradiated by God’s divine power. But in the meantime, those with Down’s syndrome are to be treasured as a wonderful and special gift from God. They especially show us God’s grace and his power made perfect in weakness.      

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