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How do we respond to Richard Dawkins' views on Down’s syndrome?

Naomi Marsden

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Richard Dawkins has done it again. He’s gone and said something controversial.

Freshly cancelled by the Twitterati (and the American Humanist Association) following his recent tweets about biological sex, he has now incited a fresh wave of criticism.

This time it's his views about disability— namely, that the world would be a happier place if there were fewer people with Down’s syndrome in it.

Back in 2014, he tweeted that it would be “immoral” to bring a baby into the world with Down’s syndrome.

He was challenged on this view in a recent interview with radio host Brendan O’Connor, whose child, incidentally, has Down’s syndrome. Despite conceding that using the word 'immoral' was “probably putting it a bit too strongly”, he affirmed his belief that aborting a baby with Down's syndrome would ultimately be 'wise':

"It seems to me to be plausible that...if a child has any kind of disability then you probably would increase the amount of happiness in the world more by having another child instead...I think it would be wise and sensible to abort a child which had a serious disability.”
Richard Dawkins

The Dawkins Delusion

So, there we go, that’s Dawkins’ view on people with disabilities.

The first thing we ought to note is that Dawkins admits he hasn't got any evidence for his views.

O’Connor points this out to him: “You know, you’re such a scientific, logical person I thought that you could possibly have some logical back up to it.”

For all his emphasis on reason, it is disappointing Dawkins hasn’t done his homework. He hasn’t even got anecdotal evidence—he confesses he doesn't have any intimate acquaintances with Down’s syndrome.

If you are simply being a ‘logical athiest’, human life is no longer sacred and you can make decisions about the value of life based purely upon utilitarian values. Dawkins is, despite his lack of evidence, at least being intellectually honest.
Naomi Marsden

Are people with Down’s syn­drome suffering?

Presumably Dawkins adheres to the sadly common view that people with disabilities live a life of suffering and bring suffering to others.

So let's interrogate this view: how do people with Down's syndrome experience life?

Without wanting to homogenise people with Down's syndrome, who will of course experience their lives very differently, we can at least look at general experiences reported by the majority.

They are not, as is commonly believed, 'always happy'. They experience the full range of human emotion and can of course feel sad or angry, just like everyone else.

However, many people with Down’s syndrome, along with their family and friends, will testify that they are not suffering and are able to live very fulfilling lives. One only has to look at organisations such as Don't Screen Us Out or Wouldn't Change a Thing to see this. Even a qualitative study, asking people with Down’s syndrome how they experience life, found that 99 per cent of people with Down’s syndrome describe themselves as very happy with their lives.

How on earth Dawkins has missed this is beyond me. This message is constantly being shouted from the rooftops by people with Down's syndrome, who — thanks to the rise of pre-natal screening for Down’s syndrome — are having to fight for the right to exist.

Sadly, many people agree with Dawkins even if they don’t realise it. We just need to look at our abortion laws to see that.
Naomi Marsden

Dawkins isn’t the only one

Which highlights what is probably the saddest takeaway from Dawkins’ recent controversy: for many of those, including fellow atheists, who found his views so repugnant, there is a huge underlying hypocrisy.

Because, sadly, many people agree with Dawkins — even if they don’t realise it.

We just need to look at our abortion laws to see that. Our abortion laws have discriminated against people with disabilities for decades — unsurprising, given they were instigated by the eugenics movement. It is written into the law that if you have a disability, you can be legally aborted up to birth. That’s why campaigners such as Heidi Crowter are contesting that law—it makes them feel like it’d be better if they didn’t exist.

Under the mask of ‘the woman’s right to choose’ lies a worldview very similar to Dawkins: all life isn’t equal. If you’re a preborn baby, you’re nothing more than a clump of cells. And if you’ve got a disability, well then your life is even less valuable than a baby without one.

I’m not saying parents in these situations don’t face huge pressure and they absolutely need our support, but to suggest that they ought to abort their baby to increase happiness in the world is false in every way.

The fact that so many people support these discriminatory abortion laws betrays that many would agree with Dawkins.

Thankfully, people like Heidi can make a difference and turn the tide on these views. If the High Court in her case rules the current law is discriminatory, that could be a huge turning point. Let’s not forget that laws influence culture and a law that says disability discrimination is wrong from conception will ultimately shape views.

Our first response should not be outrage, but prayer that Dawkins' eyes would be opened to the beautiful truth of the gospel — a gospel that gives us a radically different perception of the value of human life.
Naomi Marsden

Shock­ing yet unsurprising

Whilst Dawkins’ views are immensely sad, they are unsurprising, as Esther O’Reilly points out in this piece. If you are simply being a ‘logical athiest’, human life is no longer sacred and you can make decisions about the value of life based purely upon utilitarian values. Dawkins is, despite his lack of evidence, at least being intellectually honest.

In responding to Dawkins, we can shake our heads, but we know that, ultimately, he ‘exchanges the truth about God for a lie’ just like many others in our culture. Our first response should not be outrage, but prayer that his eyes would be opened to the beautiful truth of the gospel — a gospel that gives us a radically different perception of the value of human life.

This is because we believe in a God who prescribes us our moral value — not just the arbitrary and unrooted values of humanism that can easily be debated away by people such as Dawkins.

No one could have foreseen that even Dawkins would end up cancelled by his own tribe. But we don’t have to do the same.

Whilst his views are repugnant and immensely sad, they should remind us that this is just a result of living in a depraved world. They should spur us on to pray, to give our voice, and to act—both for our disabled friends, but also for all the Dawkinses out there who don’t know what it means to be made in the image of God.

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