The Christian Century (October 4, 2014) reports that Richard Dawkins was asked by a woman what she should do if her unborn baby was already known to have Down syndrome. He said, “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”
His comment raises two fundamental questions. First, what does it mean to be human? Second, what constitutes the foundation for moral decisions?
The debate over abortion has often been reduced to a useless and irrelevant question. That has allowed both sides to argue ferociously for their answer while actually avoiding responsibility for anything at all. The question — the wrong question — is, When does life begin? It is a silly question, since conception is simply the joining of male life to female life to continue the endless cycle. The real question is, When does human dignity begin? For some reason which I admittedly cannot grasp, many would argue that human dignity begins at birth or whenever the mother decides it begins, whichever comes first.
For Dawkins, even that very liberal position is not radical enough. Who cares about the mother’s decision? Dawkins has already pronounced the unborn to be unworthy of being treated with life-honoring respect.
Abortion issues are deep, complex, and painful. Even so, the pro-choice positions are often built on the dehumanization of the unborn. That’s a hard position to defend.
Dawkins’ comment also forces us to ask how one determines moral choices. By what sort of standard does one decide that it is immoral to allow the birth of an imperfect child? Even as we ask the question, we realize the utter moral bankruptcy of secular “ethics.” There is no defensible moral standard, just some pleasant wishes. “I wish all humans were perfect and therefore imperfect persons should not be allowed to be born.” Is that the thinking of Dawkins? If not, how would he explain his view???