According To Dawkins I Am Immoral
In December of 2002 my then six month pregnant wife, Brenda, had a 3-D ultrasound and an amniocentesis done which resulted in the diagnosis of trisomy 23 or downs syndrome for our unborn son. While we went through a mourning process there were no doubts in our minds about keeping the baby. We would love him no matter what. We saw him (and still do) as a gift from God, and not as a mistake of nature. But according to one of the “New Atheist” watchdogs, Richard Dawkins, that makes us immoral individuals. Dawkins, in response to a woman’s tweet regarding her indecision about what she would do in that situation, tweeted back the following reply: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” In light of his comments a friend of mine remarked that at least Dawkins is being consistent in his beliefs. But I don’t think that is really the case. If Dawkins is to be consistent in his belief that the universe came about by random, unguided processes then he cannot claim to believe in an objective or universal morality. He cannot make morality judgments, such as were made on his twitter feed, because these are, by definition, universal or objective statements.
As it has been said in the apologetics world atheists are playing with borrowed capital, or in other words they get their morality from somewhere else because it is lacking in their own belief system. Even Dawkins’ claim that my wife and I are immoral for bringing our son Noah into the world comes from somewhere, it cannot come from nowhere. Scientific naturalism, Dawkins’ own philosophical belief, is a “nowhere” belief because of its foundational emphatic doctrine that all of life is merely a cosmic accident. Morality comes out of an ordered universe—a place in which right and wrong do objectively exist. (At the very least Dawkins would be consistent in saying that someone should abort their unborn downs child because it would not help in the “survival of the fittest” race.)
So what is this borrowed moral standard by which Dawkins seeks to live by? Dawkins on his own website stated that his morality is “to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering”. Now again based upon his philosophical underpinnings I think he has a tough time being able to argue for any objective basis for happiness or for suffering. In the end one person’s happiness could be another’s suffering and vice-a-versa.
For example if an Auschwitz’s prison guard got a perverse sense of happiness from causing extreme suffering to his prisoners then how could you say, based off of Dawkins’ philosophical position, that the guard was wrong? Happiness also makes for a horrible ethic, because it is a temporary and fleeting thing. It is an emotion that ebbs and flows with the tide of our own feelings and experiences. Don’t get me wrong, happiness is not a bad emotion it just is inconsistent in our lives.
So why should we seek to take care of downs kids (as well as anyone who is in the “special needs” category)? In Lutheran thinking it is tied into our understanding of vocation. Vocation deals with all of our “callings” in the world. First and foremost as a parent it is my calling to take care of my downs son. Does that involve suffering? It does indeed involve suffering. The reason being is that the “love” aspect of that ethic is that “agape” love which is self-sacrificing, and suffering is always a part of sacrifice.
Any parent knows that sacrifice always goes with the job. It begins prenatally and continues on past the birthing process and into the years of life. Sure raising a downs kid means suffering in different ways. It means, for example, taking time out to take him to extra speech therapy classes. It means annually taking him to extra doctor’s appointments to monitor any of a number of potential health problems that can arise due to his disability. It means that he will be an ongoing dependent of ours. When our other kids grow-up and move out of the house, he will most likely still be living with us.
Yet why do we do it? We do it because we love him. We do it because as parents God has gifted him to us, and we consider it an honor that God would give him into our unworthy hands to take care of. Yet Christ in his atoning sacrifice on the cross enables us to be worthy in Christ and to love our child in that agape—that sacrificial way. While being the father of a downs son (or a father of any child) does not always produce “happiness” or even the “greatest amount of happiness”, to paraphrase Dawkins, it is from a true sense of Christian joy whereby I engage in my daily work as a parent, a joy that even exists through the sufferings of life, because it is a joy that is born out of Christ and his work.