The Briefing

Documentation and Additional Reading

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RTE Radio 1

Interview with Professor Richard Dawkins

by Brendan O’Connor

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The Briefing

Friday, May 14, 2021

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It's Friday, May 14, 2021.

I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

A Brave Battle for Human Dignity in Britain: The Issue is Abortion and Down Syndrome, and It’s a Huge Story

Which human lives are worthy of preservation? When does a human life become considered sacred and worthy respect? When does human dignity begin? When does a human being become a human person? All of those are urgent questions. They're questions that the centrality of the battle over human dignity and human life and is battles being fought on both sides of the Atlantic. It's being fought on several fronts. One of them has to do with the moral status of human beings with Down syndrome.

Now, the background to this is quite clear. In the United States, Down syndrome is increasingly a reason due to prenatal diagnosis that women are having abortions. We know this because in some places, the percentage of babies being born with Down syndrome can only be explained by a targeted effort to try to remove them before they are born. To terminate them. We're also looking at the fact that in several states in the United States, there has been good progress made in adopting laws that make illegal abortion for the sole reason of a diagnosis with Down syndrome, that fetal diagnosis.

Now, Christians understand that abortion in every case, elective abortion is always wrong, but nonetheless, this is a significant step forward. We have also seen, as I gave attention on The Briefing, the fact that you have a newspaper like The Los Angeles Times that comes out and says straightforwardly that a woman's right to abortion must be a woman's right to abortion with no conditions and with no stated reason. Any reason should be reason enough, which is to say that the culture of death in this country is now so ardently determined to terminate life. That it is rejecting any reason for abortion as a wrong reason. The logic by the way is very clear. The abortion rights extremists, and they're clearly in control, believe that acknowledging that any stated reason for abortion is wrong will weaken their entire case for what they declared to be a woman's right to an abortion.

But let's switch to the United Kingdom. In Britain, very, very interesting developments. In July, that nation's highest court is going to face a challenge to its existing abortion law. I'm promising you. This story gets very interesting and you'll understand it's very important. In the United Kingdom, the current abortion law allows a woman to have an abortion up until 24 weeks of pregnancy. After that point, abortion is only legitimate or legal for a stated cause. One of those causes has to do with any kind of diagnosis of fetal abnormality, and that explicitly includes Down syndrome.

Now the challenge is coming to that law. It's a challenge in order to deny that abortion for Down syndrome is a legitimate legal move that instead the British government should protect the life of the unborn. And in particular, this cause is being brought before the court by some who include adults with Down syndrome. They're now coming before Britain's highest court in order to say your current law denies my human dignity and my right to live. The current law implies that society would be better off if I or we had never been born. Some of the plaintiffs in this case include a married man and woman with Down's syndrome.

One of the individuals there in Britain challenging the government's law is Heidi Carter of Coventry, and the BBC tells us that she along with others are challenging the government over a clause in the current law which allows abortion for up to birth for a fetus with Down syndrome. Mrs. Carter, age 25, who has the condition said the current law is not fair. The case by the way is scheduled to be heard in Britain on the 6th and 7th of July. The article in the BBC, which after all is the official British Broadcasting Corporation, tells us that the current law in Britain sets a 24 week time limit unless "there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped."

Well, remember that one of the persons bringing this charge is Heidi Carter. She is married to James and both of them have Down's syndrome. Ms. Carter told the press, "A baby without Down syndrome can be aborted up to 24 weeks, but a baby like me and James can be aborted to birth." She went on to say, "People shouldn't be treated differently because of their disabilities." She continued, "The reason it's important to me and James is because we're someone who has Down's syndrome and we want to show the world we have a good quality of life."

Another of the citizens there in Britain bringing this case is a woman, Máire Lea-Wilson, from Brentford, that's in West London. She has a son who has Down syndrome. She says that she was put under pressure to have an abortion when at 34 weeks of gestation, a scan revealed that her son had Down syndrome. This mother said, "I have two sons that I love and value equally, but the law does not value them equally." It's also reported that in Great Britain in the year 2019, that's the last year for which there are comprehensive statistics, there were 3,183 abortions in which it was indicated that it was on the basis of some kind of prediction of disability. 656 had followed a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Heidi Carter said again, "People like me are considered to be seriously handicapped, but I think using that phrase for a clause in abortion law is so out of date." She went on to say, "So last year, me and other members of the Down syndrome community set up to get rid of the clause in the law and now our case will soon be heard in the high court. "I hope we win," she said. People shouldn't be treated differently because of their disabilities. It's downright discrimination." Well, she's absolutely right. It's not only downright discrimination, it is deadly discrimination.

And let's remember the fact that as we discussed on The Briefing even not long ago, there are some nations that have so targeted the unborn with a diagnosis of Down syndrome that there are virtually no more being born or if they are, they're those who somehow end up being in something of a moral resistance. I want to bring particular attention to this court challenge taking place in Britain because the issues are just so urgent. They are just so indicative of the battle for life.

What we're looking at here is the fact that in this case you have a mother of two sons. One has Down syndrome one does not. She's coming before the court to say the law in Britain right now says that one of my sons has greater human dignity and more right to life than another. Or to put it another way, the official law in Britain right now is discounting the human dignity of one of my two sons. In the other case you have a woman with Down syndrome, married to a man with Down syndrome, who is making the case the current law in great Britain for abortion actually discounts my life, the dignity of my life, the dignity of my husband's life, and that is fundamentally wrong.

Now, what should be apparent to Christians immediately is it is of course fundamentally wrong. Yes, all abortion, all elective abortion is fundamentally wrong. And when you're looking at the targeting of those with disabilities, you're looking at a mixture, an overlay of wrong upon wrong. And there is so much behind this, including the idea that somehow we are competent to decide which human beings have a right to live and which do not. Who should live and who should die. If that has the refrain of the horrors of the 20th century, it should because that very phrase in German, the declaration that there is life unworthy of life, Lebensunwerten Lebens, became one of the central moral arguments for the Holocaust of Nazi Germany, arguing that there are certain forms of life, either by deformity or disability, certain forms of life by ethnic identity or subculture, certain forms of life by religious identification as being amongst the Jewish people that that was sufficient to say your life was no longer worthy of life. It is not a life that we have a duty to respect and preserve. You may be terminated. You may be eliminated.

It's going to be extremely important to see how the case is presented there in Britain and how the court eventually decides. And it is going to be very interesting because in Great Britain, the secularization of the culture has proceeded to the point that you can't really have a biblical argument, a Christian worldview argument even presented straightforwardly in public. It's simply denied as being hopelessly out of date and out of place in a secular society. But an essential point is this, a secular society has no stable, adequate way of grounding human dignity for anyone at any time. If indeed we, as human beings are all that matters and we determine who has dignity and who does not, well, that's a recipe for the third Reich all over again.

Part

Immoral to Let a Disabled Baby Be Born? Richard Dawkins Doubles Down on a Dark and Deadly Argument

But then that point also becomes exceedingly clear in yet another controversy over abortion and abortion of those who are diagnosed with some kind of fetal disability. And in this case at the center of the controversy is none other than Richard Dawkins. Simultaneously, perhaps the world's most famous atheist and the world's most famous evolutionist. And it's not the first time Richard Dawkins has been in trouble on this issue. It arose first in 2014. Someone offered a question in public, in social media to Richard Dawkins saying that the moral quandary came down to whether or not it was immoral to bring into the world a child who had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Richard Dawkins said that he really wasn't sure what he would do if pregnant with a child with Down syndrome. He said, "Real ethical dilemma." But he didn't stop there. He went on and said, "Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice." Again, just hear those words.

It's absolutely chilling but necessary that we know that those words in just that form were spoken by a man who has enormous cultural influence, and for that matter, elite esteem on both sides of the Atlantic. And furthermore, Richard Dawkins then, and as we shall see, now seems to be absolutely shocked that there would be anyone who would find his comments shocking, not to mention absolutely repulsive. But he is, as many have noted, characterized by a certain bluntness and it has come up again. In this case, Dawkins was in a conversation with a journalist in Ireland over his new book entitled Books Do Furnish a Life.

This particular interviewer, Brendan O'Connor, is actually the father of a child with Down syndrome. The father asked straight forwardly, "How do you think it is immoral to bring someone with Down syndrome into the world?" Dawkins responded, "I think that once you have a child with Down syndrome, you love it." Notice the "it" here. "You love it. You cherish it. Everybody does. That's well known. I wouldn't deny that for a single moment. But before it's born, the vast majority of people who take an amniocentesis and it is diagnosed with Down syndrome, as a matter of fact do abort it. This is just a fact."

O'Connor pressed him and asked why he had said that it's immoral not to abort it. Dawkins said, "Well, that was probably putting it a bit too strongly. But given that the amount of suffering in the world probably does not go down, probably does go up. Compared to having another child who doesn't have Down syndrome, then that's what I meant. I want to stress over and over again, I was of course not suggesting that people who already have a Down syndrome child don't love it, shouldn't love it."

So here's something we just need to note and it's rather bracing to consider. This is a man who made the first absolutely atrocious statement back in 2014. He's had plenty of time to think about it. It was met with pushback then and he doubled down. Now something like seven years later, he comes back and says the same thing again and actually takes the argument even further. He goes on to elaborate saying that in his calculus, giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome doesn't reduce the total amount of suffering in the world and probably increases it. Now, from a worldview perspective, what are we looking at here? How do we explain this? Two huge issues behind it. I know it's Friday, but stick with me. This is really important.

The first of these issues has to do with utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy that says that when you are looking at making a moral decision, it basically just comes down to what by your calculation will increase human happiness rather than decrease it. What will increase the enjoyment of life rather than to increase human suffering. And that's exactly what Richard Dawkins is using here. It's a rejection of any kind of transcendent morality, any kind of God-given morality. It's based upon a purely secular worldview in this case, and it also puts human beings in the position of presuming we actually know what would lead to greater suffering and what would lead to lesser suffering. Sometimes you might know that, but when it comes to this case, notice how deadly that calculus actually becomes.

So the first issue here is utilitarianism and it is just a failed moral philosophy. And it certainly shows its failure in this case. The greatest good for the greatest number might be the argument, but understand that quickly is turned into a murderous argument because you can say that the rest of the world would be better off without the lesser number of those troublesome people. Yes, the 20th century reminds us of where that leads. Utilitarianism fails because it can't ground human dignity. It can't even ground human happiness in anything other than human experience human self-definition. Humans deciding just what being human actually means.

But there's another problem here, and that is materialism. What is that? It is the ideology, the worldview that says that the only reality that is is material reality. That is the stuff of the universe. That's the only thing that's real. There is no spirit, there is no consciousness, there is no mind, there is no soul, there is no Creator. You're looking at a material world that is explainable only in material terms and the only reality that is is material. And that means that human beings aren't created by a Creator. There isn't a creator in this game. It means that there is no design in the cosmos. Everything's an accident. It means there isn't even anything like a spirit or soul. What we experience is consciousness and actually elevate to calling a soul is nothing more than biochemical processes in a highly evolved human brain. That's all there is to it.

Well, here's what you need to know. If you are a materialist and the material stuff of the universe is all that is, then we are just biological entities that began as dust and will end up once again as dust. And Richard Dawkins is one of the primary prophets of this. In his famous understanding of evolution, it's just a matter of selfish genes. Or to put it another way, a chicken is just one egg's way of making another egg. And that means that a human being is just one fetus's effort to make another fetus. It's just all about reproduction right down to the level of the gene that according to Richard Dawkins exists in itself only for the purpose of replicating itself.

But here's the interesting thing. If you hold to that kind of materialist worldview, then you have to argue against any notion of human dignity other than might be based on having bigger brains than other entities. That's about all you can claim. And when it comes to working out the worldview, here's where Christians just have to notice and trace what's happening here. This is the inevitable conclusion of a materialist worldview. You come to the conclusion that if all that is is material, there isn't anything beyond that, then there is no judgment to come. There is no objective morality. There is no creator who determines what human dignity is because he made us in his image. Human beings are just accidents and an accidental universe and we can accidentally decide who shall live and who shall die because there will never be any moral reckoning for it anyway.

It's also an outright assertion that nothing is eternal. Nothing matters for eternity, and that includes every single dimension of humanity. None of our lives matter to anything of consequence beyond our biological process and whatever length of time some other biological creature may remember us. The universe won't remember us at all.

Dawkins' calculation is pressed again when O'Connor says, "How do you know that it increases the amount of suffering in the world to bring in a child with Down syndrome, to bring that child into the world?" Dawkins responded, "I don't know it for certain. It seems to me to be plausible that if a child has any kind of disability, then you probably would increase the amount of happiness in the world more by having another child instead." Just hear those words, understand how they're being spoken. They're being spoken by the now emeritus, Charles Simonyi, professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University. They're being spoken by a New York Times bestselling author and a man who has almost immediate cache just about everywhere on both sides of the Atlantic, except for one very recent development we need to remind ourselves of. Richard Dawkins is if anything, as just about everyone will concede, blunt and candid, he evidently does say what he thinks even of what he thinks is downright evil.

But Richard Dawkins also has as a consistent materialist, again, he believes the only reality that exists is a material reality. He's in trouble with the LGBTQ revolutionaries as well, and especially the "T," transgender. I discussed this on The Briefing the last day of April. Richard Dawkins was actually confronted by the American Humanist Association and his humanist of the year award from years back was retrospectively rescinded because Richard Dawkins had once again on social media indicated that he doesn't buy the idea of transgender identity. Why? Because he is a materialist. He really is a consistent materialist. And he says, Look, if all that exists, if all that's real is just the material stuff, then guess what the material stuff of the genes indicates? XX or XY. That's all there is to it. You can declare yourself to be this or that, but the genes don't change.

Well, he's right about that, but wrong about what it means. He's fundamentally wrong because he thinks the ultimate refutation of that transgender ideology is a gene. It isn't of course, and that argument will hold. And Richard Dawkins, frankly, has now been ostracized by at least some because he is after all on the wrong side of history, as the activists will say. Christians understand that the larger issue isn't the chromosome, XX or XY that won't change. We understand that the larger issue is the creator who made us in his image every single one of us, made us in his image, bearing full dignity, made human beings as male and female. It is the chromosome that is the reflection of God's glory, not the indication of a fortuitous accident.

Part

A New Trafalgar? The Tensions Are Running High in a Naval Battle in the English Channel — But the Battle Isn’t Between Gun Ships, It’s Between Fishing Boats

But finally, as the week comes to an end, amongst the issues we need to recognize is that tensions are now growing in the English Channel between the British and the French and opposing fleets are now lining up against one another with the very real danger of an outbreak of violence. But in this case, the fleets are not made up of gunships. They are not made up of warships. They are not old ships of sale as in the Napoleonic era. They are not dreadnoughts and battleships of the 20th century. They are fishing boats. This is a battle over fishing rights.

The New York Times reports, "It wasn't another Falklands War, let alone a modern day battle of Trafalgar, yet when naval ships from Britain and France converged in the waters off the Island of Jersey, it was a vivid reminder of loose ends left by Britain's bitter departure from the European Union." The report goes on to tell us, "The maritime standoff came after 60 French fishing boats massed to blockade a port in Jersey in an ugly spat over post-Brexit fishing rights. By day's end, tempers had cooled as both sides pledged to work out differences over new licensing requirements for the French fishermen who ply these coastal waters. The French protestors shot off flares and waved angry banners, then sailed away."

Make no mistake, this is a serious risk of war between England and France. The report tells us that earlier in the week, "A French government official warned that France could cut off the power supply to Jersey, most of which is delivered through undersea cables from France. That brought a derisive reaction from London where officials muttered that even the Germans in World War II hadn't turned off the lights when it occupied Jersey." Remember that all that separates the Northern coast of France from the Southern coast of England is indeed the English Channel. And fishing is a big part of the economic life and the cultural life of both France and England. And that's been true for centuries. This is not the first time of course the French and British fleets have faced off against one another. Some of them have been epic battles, some of the biggest and most historic battles in naval history. In this case it's fishing boats, but make no mistake, the tensions are running high.

The Daily Mail, a British daily tabloid in London ran a headline, "Our New Trafalgar." Well, what was the old Trafalgar? That goes back to one of the biggest and most decisive naval wars in history, the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars between Great Britain and its allies versus Napoleonic France under the rule of Emperor Napoleon. This famous naval battle, perhaps the most famous naval battle of all, took place off the coast of Spain off of Cape Trafalgar, and it was Britain that was victorious under the leadership of Admiral Lord Nelson. It is unlikely that the battle of the fishing fleets is going to amount to anything like that, but as the week comes to an end, we need to be reminded of the fact that yes, there are a lot of things going on in the world and some of them remind us that we have a long historical memory.

Britain has a long historical memory. France has a long historical memory. And so a conflict over fishing rights sometimes comes down to a series of conflicts that go back century by century by century. We are indeed the being who thinks. We're also the being who remembers, and sometimes where the being who can't forget. One observer simply said of this particular face-off, "This is not going to settle down. Fish will be a source of a toxic relationship for a long time, possibly for decades." Well possibly for decades. But the entire story is well, actually many centuries. The fish don't remember, but human beings do.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.

I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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