Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Response to Richard Dawkins [Clinton Wilcox]

This article will be a continuation of my previous article, which you can read here. Richard Dawkins recently sent a barbaric tweet regarding his belief that it would be immoral not to abort an unborn child with Down's syndrome. He recently wrote an article to clarify his position, which you can read here. His article is entitled Abortion and Down Syndrome: An Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar."

In this article, Dawkins is able to go into more detail about his position. Twitter, with its 140 character limit, is not conducive to good, in-depth dialogue. It's really not beneficial to try to engage in any meaningful conversations via that particular social medium. This is just the latest in a long list of examples that prove as much. However, in the article Dawkins repeats the fact that most mothers who are pregnant with children with Down's syndrome abort and most doctors recommend it. This may be true, but it proves nothing. If abortion is immoral, then it makes no difference whether most people do it or most experts recommend it.

Dawkins expanded his thoughts on the matter, which you can find in the linked article. His thoughts on the matter are misguided, however. He asserts that given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. But why is this? How can you possibly make this argument and not draw out the logical implications that we should kill children with Down's syndrome who are already in the world because it would be better to be dead than to have Down's syndrome? Dawkins' position is ultimately nonsensical because there is already a Down's child "in the world." She is in her mother's womb, and her mother's womb is in the world. Dawkins is arguing that this child, who obviously exists, doesn't exist until the magical moment of birth, and then for some reason it should be considered too late to do anything about the child with Down's syndrome.

Dawkins says that his morality is based on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, but this doesn't seem to reflect reality. Should we go to hospitals and kill all the suffering people in the hospitals? I would guess that Dawkins would say no. But why? If we have a moral obligation to reduce suffering, then we should kill all suffering people (assuming we can't end their suffering through medication and surgery). If Dawkins would say that these people should be given the choice, then his position fails because these children with Down's syndrome are not given a chance at life. And while Dawkins may be concerned about what the parents want, children with Down's rarely, if ever, want to die because of it. In fact, children with Down's syndrome are some of the happiest children you'll ever meet. Why should we let the parents play God and kill them just because the child would be an inconvenience to them?

Dawkins ends that portion with the slogan of moral relativism, "I would never dream of trying to impose my views on you or anyone else." Yet this is the same person who says that atheists should ridicule religious people "out of their faith." His claim is hollow. Plus, I think we are entirely justified in trying to force our views on others if we're trying to save lives. Should we prevent parents from abusing their born children, or should we allow them to, saying that we should not impose our views on them?

Responding briefly to Dawkins' five points:

1. The "prevailing medical opinion" is meaningless when it comes to ethical issues. The prevailing medical opinion in Nazi, Germany was that the Jews were subhuman and should be exterminated. If prevailing medical opinion calls for something immoral, it behooves us to oppose it.

2. I already responded to his misguided assertion that we should increase happiness and reduce suffering. In the tweet, he was not saying what he "personally would do." He said "it would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice." In other words, people of virtuous character would not allow their unborn child with Down's syndrome to live. This is heartless and cruel, not worthy of consideration in the life of virtue.

3. We do, indeed, have to be careful with the Holocaust analogy. The analogy being drawn is that "majority rule" does not excuse unethical behavior. You must prove that abortion is not immoral before saying that we should listen to the majority opinion.

4. Dawkins seemed to misunderstand this point. His argument actually is that we should not bring someone with Down's syndrome into the world. I agree that if you're going to make a "designer baby" (which is unethical in itself), then it would be wrong to give them Down's syndrome. But what Dawkins is talking about is killing a child already in existence with Down's syndrome. If he disagrees and tries to argue that there is no child "in existence" yet, then he is advocating eugenics, on par with someone saying that "we should not give anyone Down's syndrome," so we should kill this fetus and try again for a healthy one.

5. He asserts there is a fallacy. "The Great Beethoven Fallacy," he calls it (and yes, I have read The God Delusion -- his points on abortion really are not worth responding to). There is no fundamental difference between "we should abort this fetus now" and "you should have been aborted long ago." If you're saying that Down's syndrome fetuses should be aborted, you are actually saying "you should have been aborted." There is, however, a difference between "we should kill you now" and "we should abort this child before they are born." Some philosophers, like David Benatar, make a distinction between bringing someone into being and taking someone out of existence. Nevertheless, through all stages of pregnancy, there is a human being there. Dawkins has not made a case that one exists only when "personhood" is established. Dawkins hasn't even told us when personhood should be established. So his thoughts on the matter should be rejected as nonsensical, since you can't justify an action by treating someone who exists as if they don't.

Richard Dawkins tried for some damage control with this article, and I don't believe he has succeeded. He didn't come off quite as abrasive, but he is still espousing a barbaric position, one he doesn't seem to understand is barbaric. I have heard that scientists are closer to curing Down's syndrome, and that is great. But Down's syndrome is not a death sentence, and it does not mean a life of misery.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Richard Dawkins Has Done it Again [Clinton Wilcox]

Richard Dawkins is no stranger to controversy. From going on a tirade regarding a woman who felt uncomfortable in a situation on an elevator at an atheist conference, to stating that mild pedophilia is not morally blameworth, Richard Dawkins has consistently espoused problematic ideas. His latest is a statement regarding people with Down's syndrome, in which he stated that most women with a Down's syndrome baby do abort (which is true), but that it would be immoral to bring a child with Down's syndrome into the world if you have a choice. He later defended himself saying that he will not apologize for approaching moral philospohic [sic] questions in a logical way.

Right away this is problematic. Richard Dawkins is no friend of logic. His philosophically inept book The God Delusion makes atheist philosopher Michael Ruse ashamed to be an atheist. He's a good biologist but he is clearly out of his element when trying to do philosophy. However, Dawkins did not present a logical case for his position; quite the opposite. It's an obvious fallacy to claim that just because the majority of women abort their children with Down's syndrome means that it is right to do so. However, he is correct that the pro-choice positional logically leads to giving women the freedom to abort a child with Down's syndrome, and while you may find it detestable, it's their right (under a pro-choice paradigm). However, it does not follow from that that a woman is immoral for bringing a child with Down's syndrome into the world. So that makes his second logical error.

Additionally, Dawkins has admitted that he believes there is no such thing as right or wrong. In his book River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (Basic Books, 1995, p.133), he says "The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference." So considering Dawkins' belief about morality, he has no grounds on which to say that a woman who brings a child into the world is doing something immoral. C.S. Lewis was right when he said that no one can really live as a moral relativist (or a moral nihilist).

His statements regarding people with Down's syndrome were simply barbaric. Having Down's syndrome will present certain challenges for a child in their life, but certainly not enough to justify killing them before they are born. It's not even among the worst maladies that can inflict a person. And children with Down's syndrome are some of the sweetest children you'll ever meet, with a wonderful outlook on life. It's arrogant presumption on Dawkins' part to assume that someone would rather die than to live as "perfect" a life as he apparently does. I doubt he knows anyone with Down's syndrome.

The reality is if you argue that we should abort someone before they are born to prevent them from being in a bad situation, this is functionally no different from saying that we should kill people who are in that bad situation since they would be better off dead (but our own standards). Dawkins seems to believe that while we should abort an unborn child with Down's syndrome, but that we should not tell people with Down's syndrome that they should have been aborted before they live. But if having Down's syndrome is so bad that it would justify us killing them before they are born, it seems inconsistent to me to claim that we should leave them alive now.

Dawkins has written an article to defend his comments on Twitter. I will take a look at those in my next article as I believe it is worth responding to.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Throwing Cold Water On The "Ice Bucket Challenge" [Bob]

I really don't mean to be a killjoy. I love the fact that millions of people are engaging in the latest "Ice Bucket Challenge" to elicit donations for finding a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS - Lou Gehrig's Disease). I've seen the moving story on ESPN about the gutsy baseball star (Pete Frates) from Boston College who initiated the whole movement. I pray that the almost 1000% increase in donations to the ALS Association as a result of this "Ice Bucket Challenge" phenomenon will accelerate the finding of a cure that cannot come too soon.

ALS is a heartbreaking, debilitating, evil disease. I know this because I've been watching my father-in-law suffer with it for almost 8 years now. I hate ALS.

But I hate the willful and selfish destruction of innocent human beings more.

The "Ice Bucket Challenge" has become a cultural phenomenon that only the modern social media monster could create. But those who engage in it need to know that the ALS Association's search for a cure includes their own unapologetic support for Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). Stem cells offer an exciting area of research that may prove to lead to the most powerful cures for some of the most horrendous diseases mankind faces. But we all need to distinguish betweens Stem Cell Research and Embryonic Stem Cell Research. When it comes to ethics and how we all value human life, the differences between them couldn't be more stark.

I and others at the Life Training Institute have written about the failures and ethical issues surrounding ESCR before (here, here, here, here, and here among other places). The moral issue centers on only one thing: From what source do you derive the stem cells? ESCR destroys frozen or cloned embryos of a small, defenseless human beings for the benefit of others. The simple fact is that the clinical promise and moral superiority of adult stem cell and induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC) over ESCR is undeniable and avoids the destruction of innocent human beings. We don't have to resort to barbarism to seek a cure for diseases.

So, what to do?

You can begin by reading a short news story on "What's Wrong With The Ice Bucket Challenge?" It gives a short overview of the issue and a couple of solutions:

1) There is an alternative research group that does not engage in ESCR, the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. Feel free to dump a bucket of ice water on your head if you are so-inclined, but then send your money to an institute that respects the value of human life at all stages.

2) Alternatively, if you want to donate to the ALS Association anyway, include with your donation a stipulation that your funds are not permitted to be used in any ESCR program. The Association's Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Carrie Munk, has made a public commitment that they will not use your funds to support ESCR if you do so.

To be fair, the ALS Association does support a wide array of alternative research programs. I don't want to disparage an organization that is doing so much to try to find a cure for ALS. But please, if you choose option 2), do so with great trepidation because Ms. Munk also claims that "under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future." Seeing that there are no "very strict guidelines" that are strict enough to allow for the destruction of innocent human beings, this doesn't seem like an acceptable risk to take.

Let's end ALS, but let's end it the right way.

Responding to Difficult Situations Regarding Human Conception [Clinton Wilcox]

I am currently reading through a book called Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom by Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath. In the book they make the following observation: "We in the university have invented the very tenets of specialization. We have developed the strange notion that if we can find a single exception to a sound generalization then the entire thesis itself must therefore be rejected. Deeply suspicious of grand theories, we are schooled to be quibblers and clerks, to live in fear of having our work tainted with the humiliating label of 'popularization, of one scholar finding one exception to a sensible principle of history or literature" (Encounter Books, New York, NY, p. 24). The entire book examines Greek thought and the detriments to our culture that rejecting Greek wisdom has wrought. This passage struck me as particularly poignant. In no other discussion do I see the rejection of Greek thought (such as the reality of human nature) more than in my discussions on abortion.

The question of when human life begins has already been settled. Embryologists consistently agree that human life begins at fertilization. This is even accepted by pro-choice academic philosophers. But desperate to try and prove that there is nothing immoral about abortion, the average pro-choice person will try and argue that the unborn are not actual human beings by pointing to exceptions. Because teratomas and hydatidiform moles sometimes result from the sperm and egg fusion, this means that a human being never results from the sperm and egg fusion and begins sometime later. Embryologists (who are the experts) surely know about teratomas, hydatidiform moles, that human embryos can twin and fuse, etc., yet they still consistently agree that human life begins at fertilization. If pro-choice and pro-life embryologists agree on this point, we really should not be arguing it.

It is a true fact that sometimes non-human entities result from the sperm and egg fusion, but it doesn't follow from this that a human being never results from it, nor does it follow (as I have sometimes heard) that it begins as a human organism then "becomes" a teratoma. The reality is whatever it is it was ontologically from the beginning. No teratoma or hydatidiform mole begins as a human being then changes into a teratoma or hydatidiform mole. See this linked article for a more in-depth treatment of these issues.

Then sometimes they'll appeal to the fetus-in-fetu, which is a bizarre and horrifying situation in which one twin absorbs another, and essentially becomes "pregnant" with what remains of the original twin. As pro-life advocates, we don't claim that there is no mystery when it comes to the process of human development. But appealing to bizarre cases such as the fetus-in-fetu, like appealing to non-human entities that result from the sperm and the egg, does not disprove the sound theory that human life begins at fertilization. The fetus that was absorbed may still be a human person, but it is no longer alive and so there is nothing immoral in having it removed.

You can't respond to a sound theory by appealing to exceptions or hard cases. The science is quite secure in that human life begins at fertilization. These cases might be tragic but in no sense do they present a challenge to the reality of human development.