1. Welcome! Here you can discuss news, events and everything going on in Leeds. Looking to sign up or log in? Click here!

Richard Dawkins

Discussion in 'Non-Music Chat' started by Staypuff, Aug 21, 2014.

  1. MarcPollitt84

    MarcPollitt84 Well-Known Member

    Favourite Bands:
    Two Gallants
    Im not a pro-life nut or anything but you could argue these people would never choose to be aborted either.
  2. Forum Ad Advertisement

  3. Ayala

    Ayala Member

    Favourite Bands:
    The issue with this is that it puts the cart before the horse. It can't be a question of living people making the choice, because they aren't 'people' in the first place.

    I still think it's a line which people can understand, but it all depends where you are on it. Some people would say it is immoral to abort a baby full stop. Will be born in chronic pain? Doesn't matter. Will endanger the mother's life? Doesn't matter. Product of incest? Doesn't matter. There are clearly people out there who would say creating stem cells, even if they were going to be used to cure cancer, is utterly immoral and shouldn't happen.

    Clearly we'd say these people were crazy, (I hope), but I think the difference is that whilst they see 'a baby' most people see a cluster of cells, (as in the stem cells example) as something else. It could become a baby, but it's not one yet. And so the question becomes is it immoral to allow those cells to grow into what we know will be a disabled baby, or start again.
  4. JasonWakefield

    JasonWakefield New Member

    I can explain it to you with logic and facts, and that doesn't make me an apologist for anything.

    I have already explained in this thread why any comments about eugenics are irrelevant in this debate. Due to the way Down syndrome is caused on the genetic level it is not remotely feasible to breed it out of the population, or even control whether fetuses have it or not. This is because it is not a gene that is passed down from parent to child like the genes for eye, hair or colour. It is caused by a genetic abnormality which is very difficult to predict and could have potentially happened to any human fetus made from any two people. Therefore comments about eugenics are irrelevant. Dawkins has advocated no such thing.

    This is a debate about abortion and the morality behind specific parental choices, and that's it. It's not a judgement on the personal nature of people with Down syndrome, or the good things they might be able to bring into the world, and it's not even a condemnation of the nature of parents who made the choice not to abort. It's about the choice between bringing a disabled child into the world, or not bringing a disabled child into the world. If I said I would rather not bring a disabled child into the world I wouldn't be advocating eugenics. It is also reasonable to question why anyone would want to bring a disabled child into the world, if the choice was there. This is the same reason Dawkins has challenged that very particular choice as "immoral". I personally don't think it is always immoral because the potential Down syndrome person might be very happy despite their condition, but the parental decision itself is certainly something worth questioning.

    "Abortion" is a good word for "stop them existing". Dawkins hasn't said anything about killing people who have down syndrome. This is absolute nonsense. He hasn't passed any judgement on them other than to point out they are disabled, which they are. As I said earlier, in abortion debates we are talking about "potential" people, not actual living people. If anyone thinks all "potential" people have the automatic right to existence no matter what, and actually have real thoughts and feelings about it, then they are deluded.
  5. JoeBRG

    JoeBRG Member

    Favourite Bands:
    Jason, you've missed the point on both counts.

    Firstly, Dawkins said "People on that spectrum have a great deal deal to contribute, maybe even an enhanced ability in some respects. DS not enhanced". He's basing the decision in that hypothetical on how much the "potential" person could "contribute" and ranking them in some sort of horrific contribution-based system above DS. It's not eugenics, as you rightly pointed out, but it is massively fucked up. It goes up alongside his kinds-of-rape rankings.

    Secondly, I never suggested Dawkins wanted us to kill people with Down's Syndrome. I just found the "stop them existing" phrase stuck in my craw, nothing more, nothing less. What you seem to think is that there is only one HOLY AND LOGICAL way to think about this, which doesn't surprise me, given your devotion to Dawkins - so where does your logic tell you that the "potential" person becomes an "actual living" person?

    Hold on, logic doesn't have an answer for that. Medicine doesn't have an answer for that. So I guess it comes down to choice. When you CHOOSE to believe a "potential person" becomes a "real person". Only none of those choices are for us males to make, since we don't carry the baby.

    Dawkins suggested to the woman that it is, in his view, immoral to bring a down's syndrome baby into the world, based on the fact that said baby will not have same quality of life as a "normal" (for want of a better word) baby. People have suggested that this is a fallacy because many Down's Syndrome people have an excellent quality of life and, I'm pretty sure, don't resent being brought into the world. It also raises the issue of aborting any foetus who may go on to have major health problems, genetic or otherwise. Obviously if the conditions are genetic, then the issue of eugenics is raised. So, while this isn't an issue of genetics, it's intrinsically linked.

    But, really. If someone with Down's syndrome is happy, their parents are happy and capable of looking after them, would you be happy to tell the parents they made an immoral choice?
  6. ohgee

    ohgee New Member

    Apologist n. A person who defends something by argument. (Concise Oxford Dictionary)

    If that's not what you're doing, then please enlighten me!

    In his longer apology-that-wasn't-really-an-apology Dawkins used those words that I keep coming back to: that his morality was based upon a desire to "increase happiness" and "decrease suffering". But the tweet I referred to above has a wholly different modus operandi. As JoeBRG has stated in his post, it clearly ascribes value to different types and levels of disability, and not necessarily linked to the level of suffering/happiness the child is likely to experience. On his scale Stephen Hawking, a man who has suffered immeasurably more through his handicap than most Down's patients, would remain a candidate for going full-term, if science had been able to predict his motor neurone condition from birth. And Hawking would doubtless wish it so! But - and here is the crux of the matter - so would most Down's patients.

    You can counter this by saying that we are not talking about real people but only potential people, and this argument is a solid one which is at the heart of the pro-choice movement, which I am fully in support of. But where, then, do you get your empirical evidence to oppose, or support, parents making the choice to have a Down's syndrome baby? There's only one place you can get it from, and that is from those who have had direct experience of Down's Syndrome, either as a patient or carer. So the things we need to know are along the lines of: what are the rates of depression/suicide amongst Down's patients compared to society as a whole? What is the quality of life like for a Down's Syndrome person? How does coping for a Down's Syndrome child or adult affect the parents (what impact is there, for instance, on the divorce rate amongst parents?)? If Dawkins knows the answer to these questions, he hasn't been forthcoming with the evidence. He's focused on the reduced life expectancy and the emotive (Dawkins? Emotive? Surely not!) idea of disability as undesirable otherness. So another criticism I would add to the pile is that his tweets are undermining the valuable work done by countless disability charities to normalise conditions like Down's in our society.

    Finally, one last thing to point out which we've overlooked up until this point: the test for Down's does not give you a firm, categorical prediction that your child will suffer from the condition, but only an increased probability. Someone earlier referred to the twelve week scan. As a parent, your attachment to that cluster of cells is immense. It moves, it has some semblance of humanoid form in the most primeval of ways. Imagine being told that creature might be disabled. Maybe you've been trying to conceive for years. Isn't that a chance you'd be prepared to take? And even if you wouldn't, could you really condemn those that did as immoral?
  7. ohgee

    ohgee New Member

    I failed to address the 'eugenics' issue above, but as I was called on it, I'll explain myself further.

    Eugenics is not just a pseudo-science, but informs an ideology. The science element included genetic experiments as the name suggests: breeding a new race of 'perfect' humans being the idea that most latch onto because of its connection with the Nazis. But eugenics was a much older idea and quite common amongst the intellectual classes in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, from a range of disciplines. The ideological end of things included spirited arguments that there was a moral and scientific imperative to rid the world of inferior human beings, not through breeding out genetic imperfections, but by a simple act of murder. What was this choice to kill based upon? Well, naturally it was on the relative value to society (and drain on society) of the individual concerned.

    Of course, we can now to some extent predict certain deficiencies in foetuses before they become people. Does that mean we now have the right to attribute value to those individuals before they even become individuals?
  8. AgentW

    AgentW Member

    Two things while I'm passing.

    1) Is it me or is Dawkins treating abortion ("abort and try again" might not be the exact words, but close enough) as some sort of consequence-free act? It's not. "At least I did the logical thing" might not be much comfort to a lifetime of what-ifs. Possibly.

    2) Humans are not rational. They don't behave rationally a lot of the time. They react emotionally to things. A lot. Every single person reading this will have seen that happen. Why, therefore, does this logic and morality that Dawkins espouses seem to ignore that fact (and it is a fact: humans are capable of being rational, but that doesn't mean they are rational by default) completely? Sometimes I laugh at stuff that's really fucking childish and stupid. If I analysed it rationally, I wouldn't laugh because I wouldn't find it funny. I don't think I'd be any happier living that way, if I'm honest. This "logic and truth" thing has the potential to suck the fun out of everything, not add to the fun. There's something about it that reduces the human to the automaton. And also, personally, I don't want every single little thing explained to me. I like the fact that some things are just weird and a bit of a headfuck, or indeed a joy and a delight. Dawkins might be in danger of being the bloke behind you when you go to watch Dynamo, telling you how he does all his tricks.
  9. AgentW

    AgentW Member

    Jason, I wasn't trying to shut down debate - I was tired and was having difficulty processing this. I still am, a bit.

    I will try to ask a few questions. If you find them offensive and antagonistic, I apologise. It's way better than what I wrote and deleted at the time, and I've taken the swearing out.

    What I'm having difficulty with is that essentially, the situation described is none of your business. But you feel you have to say something anyway. Why? For their own good? For your conscience? I'm struggling to understand.

    How would that conversation go? "Hi, I hear you're pregnant with a Down's baby. I just wanted to make sure you've considered all the options, even though it's not really anything to do with me, but I don't want you to do anything illogical or potentially harmful. Anyway, I think you should have an abortion, and here's why ...".

    Apart from being a likely recipe for getting yourself punched, it looks colossally insensitive and, well, arrogant, I guess. I cannot get my head round how that conversation would really sound, and the above paragraph is not an attempt to put words into your mouth. I'm trying to put myself in your shoes and I'm finding them really uncomfortable, to the point that I'm really not sure how you walk in them.
  10. JasonWakefield

    JasonWakefield New Member

    It's not just about contribution to society but about the level of suffering too, for both parent and child. If we were to choose between having a disabled child and a non-disabled child, then when judging on this criteria alone it is pretty clear which scenario would cause the most difficulty. Making the choice to have a child with down syndrome before it is even born is, on one level, the same as saying "I want a child that will be automatically disadvantaged which needs more care from me - I don't have to but I will anyway". I don't think it is as immoral as Dawkins does, just illogical, but so long as the child is happy and well cared for then of course it shouldn't matter.

    Logic and medicine can answer that, but it depends on your criteria of what constitutes a person. My personal criteria would be "if it thinks and/or feels pain". It is not possible to think or feel pain without a nervous system, therefore by this criteria we could say the fetus becomes some form of a sentient being around the 28th week of pregnancy. Also, I generally agree that an abortion should be the mother's choice because it is ultimately their body, however the child would usually be the father's responsibility once it is born too. I don't think fathers should have no say at all. They at least have the right to express an opinion, plus it would be pretty selfish for a woman to keep a child when the father didn't want it. Fortunately I'm gay and I have no interest in having kids, so I would never have to make any of these difficult choices myself anyway. But I can still empathise with those who do, and try my best to make sure potential parents are making informed choices so they are sure to do what they think is best for they and their child.

    I really hope no one has ever thought "I don't want and don't have the means to support a disabled child, but abortion is morally wrong so I will have to keep them". I also hope no one has ever thought "society will judge me for aborting a disabled child I don't want and can't look after, so I will have to keep them". I hope people are aware they always have the right to abort any child they don't want and can't look after. I think this is a logical, empathetic position to take towards people who actually think and feel, as opposed to empathy for a fetus without a nervous system (down syndrome or not).
  11. ohgee

    ohgee New Member

    So where is the evidence of this suffering? And why did he raise the spectre of 'contribution to society' if it isn't a consideration? If it is a consideration for him, do you stand by that position?
  12. JoeBRG

    JoeBRG Member

    Favourite Bands:
    But that's not what Richard Dawkins said. He said that other thing. The thing about contribution. That's what YOU have said, and this thread is not discussing you, if it was I'm sure it would be much shorter and it would surely just be a few people saying yeah, he's a good guy and we generally agree on things! You might feel defensive of Dawkins, but he has clearly spoken about this topic in a way that differs, as you even go so far as to say, from your point of view. So why defend his views on this topic?

    Which is exactly what I said - a choice. Logic can't tell you when a potential person becomes a person. Neither can medicine. You CHOOSE to define a person as someone who can think or feel pain. What is a thought? At what stage does brain activity become thought?

    Does aborting a foetus at a minute to midnight, a day before it shows brain activity mean you made a moral choice whereas aborting it a minute later would have been an immoral choice?


    The issue here is that Dawkins did something Dawkinsy and here we are all talking about him which is precisely what he wanted in the first place. Meh.
  13. JasonWakefield

    JasonWakefield New Member

    Sorry, my definition of "apologist" was wrong. I thought it meant someone who tries to explain away and make excuses for someone who said or did something terrible, which I don't think Dawkins has done. I definitely meet the criteria of the proper definition.

    I agree with most of your post, except for one thing. By saying Dawkins undermines charity work by referencing the undesirability of Down syndrome, you are essentially saying everyone who ever openly made the choice to abort an undesired Down syndrome fetus has also undermined it. This is also a moral judgement against a lot of people, the same type of which could convince someone else into keeping an unwanted child. If there was a choice between Down syndrome and not-Down syndrome regarding a person who does not exist yet, there is clearly a less desirable option to take. Of course Down syndrome is not a desirable condition, but we are not talking about situations where there is limited choice, and (I will keep stressing this) we are not talking about actual living Down syndrome people that these charities are for. We are talking about when there is a choice to make about an unfeeling, unthinking collection of cells. Dawkins is being accused of all kinds of heinous, Nazi-esque positions by people who are not willing to make that distinction.
  14. ohgee

    ohgee New Member

    But there are a range of circumstances, some of which I have already outlined, in which having a Down's Syndrome child would be a desirable option to some parents - if, for instance, this is very likely your only, or last shot at becoming a parent. Those are amongst the people Dawkins called "immoral". Importantly, as there are a range of views in society, it is likely that there will continue to be Down's Syndrome people society, born of parents who opposed abortion for whatever reason, or simply couldn't bring themselves to do it. And these people are not being served fairly by the kind of callousness Dawkins has indulged in here (cf. the immorality of their parents in having them; their relative lack of value to society when compared with other disabled groups). There's a world of difference between the impact of Dawkins' statements and that of individual parents who have actually faced this toughest of choices, and decided to abort. It is in no way a moral judgment against these people if I say Dawkins has been crass and offensive in his choice of words. Their choices and his views have precious little to do with one another.
  15. JasonWakefield

    JasonWakefield New Member

    I appreciate that a direct approach to sensitive topics might seem a little alien to some people, but I also don't see how presumptions about my personal character affect the logic of what I'm saying. I will answer your question anyway:

    If anyone asked for my opinion, I would give it to them. If I knew someone who didn't necessarily ask for it but I was sure would value my opinion, I would give it to them. If anyone was openly using illogical or potentially harmful arguments, I would probably be equally vocal with my counter-arguments. If I felt like I was highly knowledgeable about something and could benefit the world by sharing expertise, I would be a teacher or maybe even a public speaker. But I don't think I am, so most of the time I'll just be posting stuff on forums or Twitter or Facebook to no one in particular, hoping my words have a positive effect in some way. I will always try to be polite, logical, and I will never impose or try to control anyone.

    But I also care a little bit more about "truth" than "what feels nice", and maybe more than "what is morally right" too. There are obvious benefits to dealing with ugly truths, more so than deluding people with positive, wishful thinking. Truth is very important in all discussions about pretty much everything, but I am in no way an imposing bully about it. I only expressed something you don't like about a taboo subject that has probably been made more taboo by an irresponsible media, to the point where simply stating a brief, direct opinion about abortion in less than 140 characters is taken as a hateful tirade against disabled people.

    I hope this answers your question, and thank you for challenging me in a more meaningful way.
  16. AgentW

    AgentW Member

    It's not that I don't like it, it's that I don't understand it. I'm trying not to make presumptions. Hence the questions.

    I'm trying to imagine a situation where I'd "stick my oar in" (a phrase you kind of agreed to, or so it seemed), and I just couldn't. Imagine it, or do it. But you said you would. Now you've changed that to "if asked". OK. I am more comfortable with that. If asked, I would give an opinion too. I still think you'd go a bit further than me on the volunteering front, but where the line is drawn is obviously going to be fluid.

    There was also the thing of "It would be callous not to" that I took exception to. It seemed like it was more important that you had your say in the name of logic and reason (TM) than the feelings of the person you were talking to. And I had problems with that.

    I'm still a bit uneasy. And I think that's mostly because you're talking about doing stuff that I either wouldn't or couldn't. I'll wear my shoes and you'll wear yours, I guess. Doesn't make us enemies, just different.

    "Truth" is another thing entirely. That may well be a discussion for when I have a week to spare ....
  17. JasonWakefield

    JasonWakefield New Member

    Nope, he definitely said his reasoning was about suffering too. His own words (key passage in bold):
    I'm defending his views because 1) I agree with them on the whole, 2) The media is wicked for taking a tweet out of context in order to paint a man as a monster, 3) The public actually keep buying into it, again and again and again, 4) There are a lot of presumptuous and ad hominem comments being made which I think are petty and unjustified, and 5) The debate is useful, challenging and fun.
  18. Eccles

    Eccles Member

    This is bang on! I'd been chewing over those 2 ideas trying to figure out how to add them to the debate, but you've done a much better job!

    The second one is exactly what I mean when I say Dawkins appears to have no empathy. I often agree with the majority of what Dawkins says, but he gives off the impression (to me) that he doesn't understand why everyone else doesn't think exactly as he does and it is simply a lack of education, or close mindedness, that prevents it.

    I'm sure there must be such a thing as 'logical irrationality."
  19. Eccles

    Eccles Member

    I think we've moved past the idea that Dawkins is insulting living people with Downs.

    What I, and I think others, take exception to is the assertion that simply making the choice not to abort is inherently immoral...the implication being that mitigating factors in the decision merely make the "sin" (for want of a better word!) more forgivable.

    Jason, would you willing to try something? I've actually sort of gone through this myself recently. My wife and I made the decision, in principle, not to abort if we found out our unborn baby had Downs. I'd be interested to hear why you think my decision was immoral and wrong on a human level.

    Perhaps we can take it further. As someone pointed out earlier, as a rule you don't find out for definite if your unborn child has downs. Initially it is just a risk factor. If the risk is high you can have an amniocentesis which does tell you for definite. However, an amnioscentesis has something like a 5% risk of causing a miscarriage. So, if you were told your baby had a high risk of Downs, would it be immoral NOT to have an amnio?

    Is it immoral not to have a screening test, which assessed risk? Is it immoral to have a child when you are 40 given that increased age increases the risk of Downs? Where does Dawkins draw the line with his cold hard logic?
  20. JoeBRG

    JoeBRG Member

    Favourite Bands:
    Well, fair enough. I certainly agree with point 5 and am probably the main exponent of point 4. I don't like Richard Dawkins really, based on things he has written, from book-length stuff to twitter. Some of it I agree with, some of it I find odious, a lot of it I think is needless regurgitation of centuries-old atheist thinking for fame's sake. But I suppose really my issue is with his tone. He just gets up my nose. We're not going to agree on whether he's a great guy or not.

    I really hope the debate stays on this level now that Eccles has pretty bravely made it real and I genuinely look forward to seeing how you reply.
  21. ohgee

    ohgee New Member

    What context was there for his tweet to be taken out of?

Share This Page