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RE: The Nasty, Brutish World of Richard Dawkins

I certainly agree that with Pete that Richard Dawkins’s advice on aborting a Down syndrome fetus was somewhere beyond morally obtuse, and he fully deserves the blowback he’s gotten for it.

I also find puzzling that someone who prides himself on his devotion to science should be an avowed, indeed noisy atheist. Atheism, after all, is as much a religion as any other in that it is a belief system that can’t be tested, which is the definition of religion. You can no more prove the nonexistence of God than you can prove His existence. Of course, Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, has sold more than 2 million copies and been translated into 31 languages, so perhaps it was a commercial decision to be an atheist.

I suspect Dawkins might be getting grumpy in his old age (he’s 73), an age when hugely gifted people sometimes begin to become more and more extreme in their views. About ten years ago, Dawkins wrote a fascinating book called The Ancestor’s Tale. It was a history of life on earth, but one that went backwards in time, not forward. It was sort of a paleontologist’s version of Merrily We Roll Along, a Kaufmann and Hart play (and Sondheim musical) where each succeeding scene is set earlier in time. It’s an idea that didn’t work for Kaufmann and Hart, or Sondheim, but it works splendidly for Dawkins. But there was one thing very odd about it. Every hundred pages or so, Dawkins would throw in a completely gratuitous insult

to George W. Bush. In 2004, such insults were a dime a dozen, but it was startling, to say the least, to find one in the middle of a discussion of the Cambrian explosion or the Permian extinction.

But that said, Dawkins is a great scientist and an even better science writer. His gift for making complex subjects and subtle arguments accessible to the intelligent layman is second to none. The book that brought him to fame, The Selfish Gene, has been in print of almost forty years. It is one of those rare books that has you saying, “Ah, now I understand,” on almost every page.

So Dawkins, I think, is just further proof that we are all human, both sublime and ridiculous.

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3 Responses to “RE: The Nasty, Brutish World of Richard Dawkins”


    It seems to me, Dawkins was saying, it is not immoral to abort a problematic fetus, and raise a healthy child instead. What is immoral is telling pregnant women faced with that decision that to be good they must bring that sickly fetus to term.

    In fact this is not an ethical matter but a common sense decision which favors health. It is perverse to pretend that there is nobility in sickness and wretchedness, that they have a moral edge over health and happiness.

    We are not just the children of God. We are adults with the God-given power to think sensibly.

    • MICKEY MONK says:

      Why not raise both children? It isn’t necessary to kill the sick child to raise a healthy one. Down syndrome isn’t contagious. Of course it’s an ethical matter.

  2. CHRIS SLATER says:

    Atheism is a godless perspective, and not a belief system since it carries no values. You CAN prove the existence of the Christian god by noting its creation in the mid 13th century BC Egypt by Akehenaten, watch its path, growth and grip on cultures supplanting other gods and spirits of the time (obviously a more successful model), and observing its effects on modern culture. God is, in other words, a cultural artefact, and nothing more. The atheist sees more clearly than the believer how human nature NEEDS TO BELIEVE in something transcendent to fixate upon, unable to see beyond or around it. You’re welcome to your cultural fantasies, but you mustn’t impose beliefs on others when they don’t exist. Belief and non-belief cannot mean the same thing.

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