In Defense of Dawkins

tiny flowerLast night we felt our baby kick.

Except that, of course, it’s not a baby. It’s a fetus. A potential  life – which is apparently very different.  For one thing, he (or she) must earn the right to exist.  If that child is flawed  or substandard; if the foot that nudged my husband’s hand is say, deformed  or misshapen, well obviously we have the right to withdraw all protection and care. In fact, it’s our moral duty to do so.

Yesterday, a woman tweeted Richard Dawkins with these words, ‘I don’t know what I’d do if I had a Down’s Syndrome baby.  It’s a real ethical dilemma.’

Dawkins responded: ‘Abort it and try again.  It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have a choice’.

There’s been an outcry in response – and rightly so.  But Dawkins is not just articulating his point of view.  He’s describing what is already happening.

At a certain point in your pregnancy, you’re offered a scan. The scan checks to see if your baby is developing normally. And if that child is not, then you can make the decision to terminate it. In fact, you will often be encouraged to do so.

So let’s say, your fetus has Down’s Syndrome. What do you do next? I’m not asking what you should do, or what you might  do. What actually happens?  In the UK.  Every year.

92% of those babies diagnosed with DS, are aborted.

Which puts the furore about Dawkins into a slightly different context. As he tweeted himself: “Apparently I’m a horrid monster for recommending WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS to the great majority of Down Syndrome fetuses. They are aborted.

Dawkins is merely putting an “ought” where, overwhelmingly, our culture has put an “is”. He is simply defending our current practice as moral. What’s fascinating is that people find his  views abhorrent but not the actual practice, ( nearly 1000 Downs babies aborted last year).

There have been different responses to Dawkins. One is to point out the wonderful quality of life which people with Down’s Syndrome achieve (99% describe themselves as “happy” – an incredible statistic) – and I can think of one wee girl who melts your heart just to look at her. But whilst this is a striking stat, she, and others like her don’t earn protection because of their cuteness. Nobody earns life – not natural life and not spiritual life. It’s all a gift from our Father in heaven. This is why Christians have always stood up for the unborn – because life is not a right to earn.  It’s a gift to receive.

If as Christians, we’re shocked at Dawkins’ comments, let’s be more outraged at his theology.  And let’s pray for him and a lost world that – whether it acknowledges it or not – basically follows his thinking. He is only articulating the lie we’ve believed since the garden: that life is to be grasped at through our strength. Instead as we love the unborn, let’s be people of grace – those who receive and those who also give.


21 thoughts on “In Defense of Dawkins

  1. Emma, I’ve been raging about this all day – thanks for putting words around the tangled mess of emotional response.

  2. I was just thinking on the way home from work today that somebody needed to write something like this, and you have! I agree!

  3. Thank you Emma for putting into eloquent and considered words what I was feeling, and a good deal more. Sentence after sentence – spot on.

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  5. As a mom to a 25 mo old who was diagnosed in utero, I appreciate this thoughtful article. Words matter, so may I politely say that it’s never Down’s syndrome.Or a Down’s baby. The correct term is Down Syndrome or a baby with Down Syndrome. I didn’t learn this till about 25 mo ago, but it matters to the community. Thanks!

  6. Thank you Emma so much for this post! Put into words a lot of frustrations I was feeling. You have an amazing way with words. Keep writing :)

  7. Great post.

    I remember being asked if we wanted the test – as I recall, it involves taking some fluid from the womb for scanning, or something like that – and we said no, primarily because the results of the test wouldn’t have made any difference to us. But for an increasing number of people it does make a difference, as you attest. I remember reading one article about a couple whose doctor went from happily talking about “baby” to talking about “foetus” once they’d read the test results. :(

  8. Flippin amazin! I can’t stand the stuff he comes out with most of the time, and actually, I can’t always be bothered to strain through his arguments (eg. The God Delusion) but to give him his due, he has highlighted a very important fact.
    I am stunned by the statistic concerning aborted DS children. I believe that you are SO right about the fact that a pregnancy is a gift, not an experiment in achieving perfection.

    Sending you love and hope

    Firefly xx


  9. Two observations:

    1. The people outraged by his suggestion are probably not the same people responsible for the statistics you quote;

    2. I would say he has not only suggested that aborting babies with DS is not immoral (thus granting absolution to those who ARE responsible for the statistic) but that NOT aborting such a baby IS immoral, thus passing condemnation on every woman who has carried a baby with DS to term, on every family which includes a person with DS.

    That is probably a major cause for the outcry.

  10. Hmmm. My son, who has Down Syndrome, is 21 years old, and that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that it’s offensive to use the term “Down’s”. In fact, I think I use both terms interchangeably and don’t find any offense in it at all.

  11. Emma, this is really well put. I independently came to a similar conclusion, which I write about here: In a way, Dawkins is prophesying the point that society starts verbalizing a moral burden on people to abort… something that is already there, but still an undercurrent. Thank you for your insightful thoughts.

  12. I don’t know where Amy is from, but in my experience Down syndrome is by far the preferred term in the US, whereas Down’s syndrome is still commonly used and accepted in the UK (that’s what it’s called on the NHS website and in the name of at least one major charity).

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