Richard Dawkins Was Wrong
Richard Dawkins has an inveterate propensity for making news that is decidedly not newsworthy. His Twitter feed just posted that his 2006 book, “The God Delusion,” has hit the top spot on Amazon UK’s Kindle bestseller list. Sad that an atheist, who says people should question what he calls the “strange, distorted mindset of religious faith,” should garner so much worthless attention. Recall the controversy that swirled around his 2014 comments to a woman who said she would face an ethical dilemma if she became pregnant with a Down Syndrome child? His retort: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”
This is not a view shared by Down Syndrome survivors. Dawkins first apologized to women who felt he was questioning their “right” to determine the fate of their child. Then second, to those who loved someone with Down’s, he merely responded: “I have sympathy for this emotional point, but it is an emotional one not a logical one.” As for the Catholic Church, that year Pope Francis dedicated October’s prayer intention to the mentally disabled. And now U.S. states like Ohio are thankfully finally beginning to ban such abortions.
Posed the question, was it civilized that “994 human beings with Down Syndrome [were] deliberately killed before birth in England and Wales in 2012,” he answered: “Yes, it is very civilized. These are fetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings.” Curiously, he omits the fact that when aborted, many of them do, indeed, feel pain. For someone who says his “religion” is to erase suffering, he has no compunction about inflicting it on aborted children. In his ignorance he oversimplifies grossly, for it is not mere feelings that define humanity, but one’s soul. Even animals have feelings.
Death of a Civilization
Richard Dawkins’ assertions lend themselves to devastating criticism on many levels. Let us take him to task on just one, his notion that aborting a Down Syndrome child is “civilized.” Ancient Sparta was exceptional it is commitment to allowing only the strong to survive. The military state prized strength above all. Spartan boys began training for war at age seven, but the process of eliminating the weak started shortly after birth. Babies deemed weak or unfit were left on a mountainside to die of exposure. Was this civilized? Spartans thought so. But in the end, a word of warning for global population controllers: Spartan eugenics were morally but also culturally deleterious in that Spartan blood had to be inherited. By the time of Aristotle, Spartan population had dwindled from 9,000 to under 1,000 and numbered far fewer than the citizens it governed. Critic and philosopher Aristotle wrote prophetically: “It is the standards of civilized men, not of beasts, that must be kept in mind, for it is good men and not beasts who are capable of real courage. Those like the Spartans who concentrate on the one and ignore the other in their education turn men into machines.” Society needs a multiplicity of virtues in order to survive, let alone to flourish, not the least of them are care and compassion.
Love Those with Down Syndrome
Those with Down Syndrome live happy lives. As the National Association for Down Syndrome states: “It is important to note that they are more like other children than they are different.” Great progress has been made over the years in treating associated ailments. Life expectancy has greatly improved, sometimes on par with the general population. The suicide rate is exceedingly low, far lower than that among so called “normal” people. Nor do they “suffer” from their situation. Syndicated columnist George Will, a most civilized individual, refutes the notion that his son “suffers” from Down Syndrome. In 2012, George said on the occasion of Jonathan Frederick Will’s 40th birthday: “This year Jon will spend his birthday where every year he spends 81 spring, summer and autumn days and evenings, at Nationals Park, in his seat behind the home team’s dugout. The Phillies will be in town, and Jon will be wishing them ruination, just another man, beer in hand, among equals in the republic of baseball.”
Jon navigates his way to Nationals ballpark in Washington where he enters the clubhouse a few hours before game time. There, he performs a chore or two. He mingles among players who have risen to a pinnacle of athletic excellence. These stars, as his dad points out, who “all understand what it is to be gifted, have been uniformly and extraordinarily welcoming to Jon, who is not.”
Richard Dawkins would have you believe Jon is an “emotional” and not a “logical” choice. Perhaps he would become a little more civilized himself if he added three books to his reading list about a father’s love for his Down Syndrome child: The Shape of the Eye by George Estreich, Life as We Know It by Michael Bérubé, and An Uncomplicated Life by Paul Daugherty. Other “uncivilized” parents of Down Syndrome children include Roy Rogers, Charles de Gaulle, Sarah Palin, baseball great Albert Pujols, actor John C. McGinley, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, country singer Joe Diffie, neurosurgeon Harley Smyth, English actress Sally Phillips, football coach Gene Stallings, and Congressman Pete Sessions.
Ursula Hennessy is the mother of four, including a daughter who has Down Syndrome. When she taught fourth graders, she asked them what they thought of the Spartan program. Said one bright young lad, almost paraphrasing Aristotle, “The biggest and the strongest don’t always have the best ideals. You’d also want smart people to help make battle plans.” Mrs. Hennessey observed, “Even fourth graders could see the mistake.” Dr. Richard Dawkins? You’re not so smart. And you’re far from civilized, either.
Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus of St. Jerome’s University. His latest book is Why I Am Pro-Life and Not Politically Correct (2018).