Way back when, one of life’s great certainties used to be that no matter how obnoxious, prejudiced, jaundiced or snooty Richard Dawkins, the Grand Poobah of Atheism, was, the accolades would continue to roll in.
Alas! Those were the Good Old Days for poor old Richard. Nowadays he is looking more and more like a bewildered T-Rex the day after the Cretaceous extinction event.
Earlier this year Richard was cancelled by the American Humanist Association. It revoked his 1996 humanist of the year award because he had expressed scepticism about trans people in one of his recent tweets.
It turns out that Richard needed his mouth washed out with soap for a very long time. The AHA board declared that he had “over the past several years accumulated a history of making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalised groups, an approach antithetical to humanist values”.
Amongst these are Down Syndrome children, although I doubt that the AHA had them in mind. Dominic Lawson, a columnist for the Daily Mail, reports that there have been calls for Random House to stop publishing books by Dawkins.
This follows an interview with Irish broadcaster RTE, in which he was challenged on his advice, expressed on Twitter in 2014, that if Down’s syndrome were detected in the womb, people should “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”
He has had seven years to delete the tweet, and hasn’t, so presumably he treasures it.
In response to interviewer Brendan O’Connor, whose daughter has Down’s syndrome, Dawkins dug his heels in. “Given the amount of suffering in the world probably does not go down – probably goes up – compared to having another child who does not have Down’s syndrome, that’s what I meant.”
Asked how he knew that Down’s syndrome caused suffering, he responded: “I have no direct evidence, no.”
Furthermore, he admitted to not knowing anyone with Down’s syndrome.
With any other category of human being, his forthright ableism would count as prejudice and possibly a hate crime. But as Dominic Lawson, whose own daughter has Down’s syndrome, notes, “the modern campaigning Left”, which is most concerned with pushing an equality agenda, is not interested in “discrimination against the unborn, or a certain category within that group”.
It is hardly surprising that the Eminent Professor has not come across anyone with Down’s syndrome — and he is hardly likely to, for the vast majority are now being aborted, thanks to a pre-natal testing system that is now ever more accurate and ever more deadly.
He should have made it his business to meet someone with Down’s before he exposed his ignorance. As Lawson points out, there is now “empirical knowledge” — on which Dawkins has staked his reputation as a steely-minded scientist — showing that the vast majority of those with Down’s are happy with their lives and that families with a Down’s member have overwhelmingly positive views of the experience.
Chillingly, Dawkins has also tweeted that those on the autistic spectrum “have a great deal to contribute, maybe even an enhanced ability in some respects. DS not enhanced.” It seems we are in danger of forgetting the role science, allied to utilitarianism, played in the Nazi eugenics programme and the Holocaust in getting rid of the unfit, the useless eaters and the unacceptable elements of society.
We are constantly urged to follow the science, especially during the Covid pandemic, but however brilliant the scientist, even those who do follow it do not have the right to play God when it comes to deciding who should live and who should die.
Credit where credit’s due: Lawson praises Dawson as “possibly the nation’s greatest science writer” who, though well past his prime, has penned “exhilaratingly brilliant works of substance” such as The Selfish Gene (1976) and The Blind Watchmaker (1986).
And to Lawson’s great credit, he is not in favour of censoring him. The best way to address “discreditable opinions (which, by the way, are commonplace, if not usually expressed so tactlessly)”, he says, is “to deal with them … exactly as Brendan O’Connor did on his radio show: to subject them to rational discussion and debate”.
Many, having heard Dawkins stumbling and floundering under O’Connor’s forensic questioning, will realise just how superficial and ill-considered his argument was. It might well have changed their minds, too. We must keep arguing and stop cancelling.
Dominic Lawson is right to believe that Dawkins should not be silenced but argued against. In fact, his trenchant opinions have sparked much debate, and a cursory glance at the Amazon website shows that his books have prompted the publication of a great many works refuting his sophomoric atheism.
Dawkins’s embarrassing frankness has advertised his callous morality, his prejudice, and his lack of scientific credibility on this issue. The T-Rex is toothless.