Today’s installment of Dawkins setting the world straight on everything.
(Have you noticed that he’s tweeting in this way more now that so many people have made it so clear to him that they think setting the world straight via Twitter is not part of his skill set? I’ve noticed that.)
Chastity deprives people of existence. It doesn’t kill people. Early abortion resembles abstinence not murder. Not everyone understands this
The reason is simple. An unconceived potential person is not a person. An undifferentiated embryo is not a person. Acorns are not oak trees.
“We get it”. Yes i know YOU get it, but you aren’t everybody. There are millions who don’t get it & think all abortion is absolutely wrong.
Yes, there are, but do you really think you’re going to convince many of them otherwise with these tweets? There may be a few who have never thought of it that way before and see those tweets and are jolted into thinking of it that way for the first time. But there will also be many who see those tweets and just think they demonstrate how simplistic atheists are, and that’s not a good outcome. That’s why Twitter is the wrong medium for the project of reaching the millions who don’t get it & think all abortion is absolutely wrong.
The Daily Beast has an article by Elizabeth Picciuto saying Dawkins would fail Philosophy 101. That’s harsh. I don’t think he would; but I do think these tweets would.
Lately, Richard Dawkins seems to scan the world for sore spots, take a good poke, and revel in the ensuing outcry. A few weeks ago, he proclaimed thatstranger rape is worse than date rape. Last Wednesday, he tweeted that if a fetus was diagnosed with Down syndrome, the mother should “abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” Predictably, he was deluged with angry responses; as of this writing, he is still responding to critics.
During this latest battle, his most vocal opponents have been pro-life, but you don’t have to be pro-life to take issue with what he’s been saying. If you believe, as Dawkins purports to, that your moral opinions should be informed by empirical evidence and logic, then that alone is excellent reason to object to the totality of what he’s been saying.
No wait; there’s more to it than that. Your moral opinions need to be informed by more than empirical evidence and logic; that’s what I’ve been saying all along. They need to be informed by empathy, too. You need a working Theory of Mind and a functioning sense of how other people with other minds may feel about things, in order to have moral opinions that are worth anything.
Each academic I interviewed for this story—all of whom were critical of Dawkins’ recent Twitter comments about abortion—emphasized their admiration for Dawkins’ scientific and popular writings. There’s no question Dawkins is intelligent, so it’s not clear why, despite lacking a background in bioethics, he thought himself qualified to dispense advice on a nuanced bioethical issue.
Well in a way we all have to think ourselves qualified to – at least – have opinions on such subjects, because we may have to act on them. But she didn’t say “to have opinions,” she said “to dispense advice” – and that is indeed another level. And when it’s “to dispense advice on Twitter”…yes you know what just don’t.
Ari Kohen, associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, maintains a highly entertaining blog devoted, in part, to terrible apologies—Dawkins’ non-apology apology among them. As Kohen points out to The Daily Beast, Dawkins never actually apologizes for what he said. He only apologizes for the Twitter-storm that followed.
Blaming the Twitter-storm is the new Blaming the victim.
“He shifts from an emphasis on maximizing happiness to focusing on the well-being of a single, non-existent individual,” Paul Raymont, an instructor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, writes in an email to The Daily Beast. “It’s as if he realized, as he was expressing this idea, that it didn’t sound very nice, so he hastily threw in the claim that the Down syndrome child is better off not existing.”
In more recent tweets, Dawkins has been suggesting that with every action, we change the future children who are born. Since anything we do changes our future children, why shouldn’t we maximize the happiness experienced by future children? seems to be what he’s asking. Raymont points out that random occurrences that change the future are entirely different from a decision to terminate a pregnancy due to a Down syndrome diagnosis. The latter involves deciding what kind of child to have. Raymont adds, “For Dawkins to publicly recommend doing this and to say that the alternative is immoral is for him to send a very clear message about existing people who have Down syndrome—he’s saying that they’re morally inferior to the rest of us and that future generations would be much better off without their kind. He may not have intended to send that message, but he has done so (whether he knows it or not). He has also, whether he knows it or not, expressed moral disapproval of parents who had prenatal tests but decided to go ahead and have the Down syndrome baby.”
As many people pointed out.
Julian Suvalescu, professor of practical ethics at Oxford, has advocated a position he calls “procreative beneficence.” He argues that given a choice, a parent should choose a child most likely to live the life with the greatest wellbeing—but knowing only that a fetus has Down syndrome is not enough to determine its wellbeing. “[Suvalescu’s] procreative beneficence does not in any simple way imply anything about fetuses with three copies of chromosome 21,” says Munthe. “It is perfectly consistent to argue that, had I some information that a future child of mine would grow up to be a splendid popularizer of evolutionary biology and effective critic of institutionalized religious bigotry, but also an inconsiderate and arrogant philosophical dilettante, and had the choice to have another child possessing the first two but lacking the latter traits, procreative beneficence may very well recommend that I chose this other child.”
“We all know that Dawkins is very smart and can write great, wonderfully clear books about science. So, when his statements become so sloppy and confused, I can only conclude that he hasn’t invested much effort in formulating his ideas. He hasn’t put in the effort because he thinks ethics is pretty easy,” says Raymont. “He’s well known for insisting on the importance of gathering the relevant empirical data before settling one’s mind about something. But on the question of abortion and Down syndrome children, he seems not to have seen any need to consult the evidence.”
Dawkins’ impressive academic background, and his implications that any who disagree with him are simply not smart or logical enough, may intimidate some who would dissent. They may lead some of his supporters to think that those who disagree are so emotionally overwrought that they are incapable of thought. However, in this case, it is Dawkins who needs to consider the logical implications of what he’s saying.
And those two potential (and, as we’ve seen, actual) consequences are what I most object to. I think the “go away and learn to think” trope is terrible coming from a big name academic, and I think the re-enforcement of emotion-blind opinions among his fans is a terrible effect of that trope. I think it’s all a big mess.