The logic of Richard Dawkins

I’m beginning to suspect that Richard Dawkins might be an alien. Either that or the world’s first fully functioning android. After all he’s constantly telling the world that his way of thinking is guided purely by the principles of logic which gives him more in common with Mr Spock from Star Trek, or Data if you’re more into the Next Generation, than it does with the rest of us mortals. It must be very difficult for him living in a world where foolish imbeciles allow their emotions to have any influence whatsoever over their opinions or decisions. That’s why he’s forever upsetting people and causing an uproar on social media. The poor man. We just can’t keep up with his superior intellect. Just yesterday he’s created another storm by replying to a woman on Twitter who said that she’d find herself in an ethical dilemma if she found out a fetus she was carrying had Down’s Syndrome. Dawkins’ logical response – as he later described it in defending it – was : “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” In the face of the predictable torrent of abuse, such as Dawkins often has to endure for sharing his “logic” with the world, he has today, issued an “apology” or at least that’s what he chose to call it. For his “apology” Dawkins seems to have returned – no doubt the logical thing to do – to the ancient Greek route of the word “apologia” which was (and I apologize, in the modern sense, for using Wikipedia’s definition):” a form of practiced rhetoric used in self-defense and as the vindication of a person, course of action, etc.” One of the most famous ancient examples would be Plato’s Apology, which is his version of Socrates’ defense speech in the trial in which he was sentenced to death for corrupting the youth of Athens. Dawkin’s “apology” is, in the tradition of Plato, an unabashed defense of his original tweet. He writes:

“”If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down’s baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare…..Those who thought I was bossily telling a woman what to do rather than let her choose, of course this was absolutely not my intention and I apologise if brevity made it look that way. My true intention was, as stated at length above, simply to say what I personally would do, based upon my own assessment of the pragmatics of the case, and my own moral philosophy which in turn is based on a desire to increase happiness and reduce suffering…..Those who took offence because they know and love a person with Down’s syndrome, and who thought I was saying that their loved one had no right to exist, I have sympathy for this emotional point, but it is an emotional one not a logical one. It is one of a common family of errors, one that frequently arises in the abortion debate.”

So, he’s sorry people are upset but if they are that is because they’ve let their emotions get in the way (silly people) of their thinking. If only they could have thought rationally they would have come to the same logical conclusion as Dawkins.

There are, however, signs here that Dawkins’ analytical Vulcan mind/internal circuitry (depending on whether he is a being from another world or a robot) is beginning to fail him. There are, I believe, serious flaws in this supposed logic of his. Firstly, he seems to forget that in most cases pregnant women don’t get to know for sure that the baby they are carrying has Down’s Syndrome. They are forced to make a decision on the basis of a probability. That makes things just ever such a little bit more complicated than Dawkins suggests. An even bigger hole in his logic is that his utilitarian sum supposes that the total happiness in the world must be reduced by bringing a Down’s Syndrome baby into it. There is absolutely no reason to assume that is the case. Surely an individual with Down’s Syndrome could have an extremely happy life themselves and bring unmeasurable joy to their parents and other loved ones. If we’re talking purely about increasing happiness then maybe not having an abortion is the “logical” thing to do. However, there clearly are no hard and fast rules here. Such a difficult decision always has to be a personal one which is why different people come to different conclusions. Finally in a situation in which your emotions are unavoidably going to be effected by what you choose to do – grief, relief, love, anxiety are just some of the possible outcomes of the decision – surely it is completely ill-logical to leave your emotions out of the decision.

Of course, it is just possible that Richard Dawkins’ mental capacities, great though they certainly are, are not so phenomenal as to put him in a different league to the rest of us. Could it be that his falling back on “logic” is nothing more than a trick, a rhetorical subterfuge to deflate any and every possible argument against his point of view? Is his constant recourse to logic just his way of saying “You can’t possibly be right because I’ve thought this through properly and you haven’t”? Of course you might also wonder if there is anything particularly “logical” about repeatedly tweeting messages that are pretty much guaranteed to cause offence and make yourself look like a pompous ass into the bargain when past experience has shown you that that is exactly what will happen. Perhaps Dawkins isn’t from outer space after all.

 

 

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