Dawkins’ Non-apology is an Apologetic for Atheism

August 27, 2014 § 8 Comments

Last week, atheist Richard Dawkins tweeted to a follower who had pondered the moral dilemma of being pregnant with a child diagnosed with Down Syndrome. She called it a “real ethical dilemma.” It wasn’t so much of a dilemma for Richard Dawkins, who responded: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” This of course ignited a firestorm of debate for and against his sentiments. Mostly against.

EHAJKwNKnowing full well the reality that much meaning can get lost in the limitations of a 140 character Tweet, Dawkins wrote what he calls an “apology” on his web site the next day. Although the post was more of a clarification of his Tweet than a rescinding of it. He says that if he were allowed more than 140 characters, his reply would be this:

“Obviously the choice would be yours. For what it’s worth, my own choice would be to abort the Down fetus and, assuming you want a baby at all, try again. Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. And, indeed, that is what the great majority of women, in America and especially in Europe, actually do.  I personally would go further and say that, 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 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. I agree that that personal opinion is contentious and needs to be argued further, possibly to be withdrawn. In any case, you would probably be condemning yourself as a mother (or yourselves as a couple) to a lifetime of caring for an adult with the needs of a child. Your child would probably have a short life expectancy but, if she did outlive you, you would have the worry of who would care for her after you are gone. No wonder most people choose abortion when offered the choice. Having said that, the choice would be entirely yours and I would never dream of trying to impose my views on you or anyone else.”

What he clarifies in his post is that he really meant what most people thought he said in the tweet. He exhibits really no fundamental change of heart.

The “apology” portion is on par with what many celebrities and political figures offer as an apology. His words: “Those who thought I was bossily telling a woman what to do rather than let her choose. Of course this was absolutely not my intention and I apologise if brevity made it look that way.” And then, “I regret using abbreviated phraseology which caused so much upset.”

Maybe a little Apology 101 is in order. A true apology expresses something like, “What I did was wrong”, or, “I regret what I said and I intend to change my direction.” What produced the greatest offense is what he said—that unborn children with Downs Syndrome are probably not worth saving—not necessarily how he said it. Dawkins’ apology centers on how he said it. It was more akin to “I’m sorry if you were upset or misunderstood.” An apology is one time where the offender should seek the spotlight, owning up to what he has said or done; the focus is on his actions and his appeal for forgiveness or an offer of restitution. Dawkins may regret the fact that controversy erupted, or feel sorry that others were incapable of seeing it his way.

The remaining two-thirds of his “apology” post was directed to “the haters” who were upset with him. Then he concludes: “what I was saying simply follows logically from the ordinary pro-choice stance that most 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.”

Far from an apology, his post is closer to an apologetic for the utilitarian brand of Atheism revealed in his pro-choice logic. Dawkins says, “My true intention was, as stated at length above, simply to say what I personally would do, based upon my own assessment of the pragmatics of the case, and my own moral philosophy which in turn is based on a desire to increase happiness and reduce suffering.”

Without God, the highest achievement can only be one’s own temporal happiness. Without God, personhood is endowed on a sliding scale according to a child’s growth toward (or an aging person’s growth away from) usefulness, a “a gradual, ‘fading in/fading’ out definition.” Without God, humanity has no value beyond what some men consider useful, so “the decision to abort can be a moral one.” Without God, there is no objective moral standard for good and evil, right and wrong, yet the moral law written on every fellow human heart created in God’s image compels even atheists to reason about “moral” choices, despite the reductio ad absurdum. That Law on our hearts can be suppressed for a lifetime, but ultimately convicts. Atheism is in every case a temporary state (Romans 14:11,12; Philippians 2:10,11).

Richard Dawkins’ pro-abortion statements make perfect sense on Atheism, which would make a genuine about-face apology quite unexpected anyway.

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