What Is Richard Dawkins' Final Solution for the Religious Problem?

In response to a recent blog entry about Richard Dawkins, blogger Frank Walton alerted me to an interesting story about the aforementioned Mr. Dawkins entitled Anti-Religion Extremist Dawkins Advocates Eugenics. Ordinarily, I ignore these type of over-the-top articles, but then a couple of thoughts occurred to me:

1. Dawkins doesn't have any trouble being very over-the-top in what he says about Christians or God, and so I feel less restrained by the bounds of common decency to speak about this type of thing in his case.

2. Reading through the article, it appears that Dawkins did, in fact, make the statements that led to the headline in the LifeSite article.

3. CT Direct just ran an article by Chuck Colson and Anne Morse entitled War on the Weak: Eugenics has made a lethal comeback warning about a return of eugenics as an acceptable practice in the eyes of many in the secular world.

4. In light of what I have just completed writing about Dawkins and his non-credible beliefs about Christianity being a "mind virus" coupled with his apparent elevation of knowledge obtained by scientirfic investigation as not only superior to other types of knowledge but as the only knowledge upon which rationality can legitimately be based, raised a very chilling thought that I wanted to bounce around.

Here is what Dawkins said, according to the LifeSite article:

In a letter to the editor of Scotland’s Sunday Herald, Dawkins argues that the time has come to lay this spectre to rest. Dawkins writes that though no one wants to be seen to be in agreement with Hitler on any particular, "if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability?"

* * *

"I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them," Dawkins wrote Sunday.

(See footnote.) Now, let's make no mistake about it -- the question of genetic engineering is one which apparently is making a comeback among some in the scientific community. According to the CT Direct article:

Seventy years later, eugenic ideas are surfacing again, masquerading as humanitarian progress—as in research labs where scientists destroy "leftover" human embryos to find cures for diseases, or in sperm banks where women select their baby's father from hundreds of donors on the basis of intelligence or gifts, or in doctors' offices where parents feel subtle pressure to abort imperfect fetuses, or in hospitals when futile-care policies allow doctors to decide who lives and who dies. Today, some ethicists, like Princeton's Peter Singer, brazenly argue that it's permissible to kill disabled children after they're born—children like my autistic grandson, Max—all in the seductive guise of maximizing human happiness.

This utilitarian logic is being applied not only to taking life but also to creating it in the image of man. English scientists are attempting to create "designer babies" by transplanting the nucleus from the cell of a woman with defective mitochondria into the healthy egg of another woman. The resulting child would have three genetic parents. It's the first step toward genetic engineering of human beings.

The argument in favor of eugenics is pretty much as simple as Dawkins puts it. Human beings are not special creations of God but are merely another type of animal. We have already genetically engineered many different creatures to make them better. Plants have been engineered through selective breeding to be more drought resistant and more productive. Horses have been genetically engineered through the process of selective breeding to be stronger and faster. Few argue that there's anything wrong with such efforts, and if they do, then they stand in the way of that most holy of grails, "scientific progress." Since human beings are no more than another type of animal, what's wrong with engineering them? Consider the following quote from James Watson, the Nobel Prize winning discoverer of DNA and the first director of the Human Genome Project, in the LifeSite article:

Watson, though not as outspokenly anti-religious as Dawkins, has ridiculed the notion of an overarching value to human beings. Speaking at a conference at UCLA in 1998, he said, "I think it's complete nonsense ... saying we're sacred and should not be changed…to say we've got a perfect genome and there's some sanctity? I'd like to know where that idea comes from because it's utter silliness"

"If we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn't we do it? What's wrong with it? Who is telling us not to [do] it?"

So, at least one geneticist and one scientism-ist believe that it is appropriate to selectively breed human beings. Never mind that such a practice was universally and rightfully decried a mere 60 years ago. Never mind that the Chinese have engaged in a similar program under a law named the "Maternal and Infant Health Law" which allows them to genetically screen human beings wanting to get married to determine whether they are genetically fit enough to have children; if not they are sterilized. This type of action by the government is rightfully seen as a violation of human rights -- the rights that have been inalienably endowed by us by our Creator. And who is it who will decide which traits will be secured to future generations and which will end? The article doesn't reveal Dawkins' and Watson's views on that question.

Yet, taking what Dawkins has written, I think I have a suspicion what he would breed out of humanity. To connect the dots, consider what history teaches about the eugenics movement as described in the CT Direct article:

The opening shot in this war was fired when the modern eugenics movement came into fashion some 80 years ago. The first targets were the "feebleminded" and people of the "wrong" race. Leading scientists in the early decades of the 20th century, enamored with Darwin's theories, became eugenics advocates. Historian Richard Weikart, in From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, writes that while Darwin wasn't the first to argue that the strong and healthy have higher value than the weak and sick, or that some races are inferior, he provided a scientific foundation for those beliefs.

Some scientists actually compared the mentally ill to apes. Textbooks reported allegedly scientific findings that Africans, Native Americans, and Australian aborigines were subhuman. The eugenics movement brought about the sterilization of thousands of supposedly "inferior" people.

Now, consider what Dawkins says about religious people (among whom Christians are the primary focus of his bile) in Memes, the New Replicators:

Faith cannot move mountains (though generations of children are solemnly told the contrary and believe it). But it is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.

You see, using his own words it's apparent that in Dawkins' eyes religious people are mentally ill. The history of the eugenics movement is to seek to eliminate those whom society has labeled as mentally ill. In Nazi Germany, it was the Jews and the Gypsies. Today, is it the Christians? Is that what Dawkins would like?

I don't know what Dawkins really thinks. I certainly don't think he is suggesting rounding up Christians for the gas chambers, but his arguments seem to lead to the idea that it would be better if we bred that annoying little thing called religious belief (which is a form of mental deficiency) out of the human genome. Yet, I can only read his words and draw inferences from them. I hope he doesn't think the way that I am suggesting. However, even if he didn't intend to suggest that religious people should be eliminated through the application of eugenics, there is no question that such a position falls within the possible interpretation of his words when his various positions are read together with only rationality divorced from all valuation of human beings as having some unique worth.

If you think I'm blowing smoke, I welcome you to tell me why. But if you do so, remember that you cannot appeal to any higher value for human beings as the result of their nature to argue that he wouldn't favor selecting religious belief out of the human genetic code (which he seems to argue is possible). You also can't argue that he doesn't think religious people are really mentally ill -- his position on that point is clear and has been repeated when he says he won't debate Christians ("I won't debate mentally ill people," he's reported to have said). If religious people really are mentally ill as he proposes and they are dragging down the advance of the non-special human species that can be genetically altered in the same way that we genetically alter corn or rice, what rational basis can you give me to not selectively remove religious belief by removing religious people from the gene pool?

Please, I'd be interested.

footnote -- I have attempted to track down a copy of the original letter by Mr. Dawkins from Scotland's Sunday Herald, but have not been able to do so. It is, of course, possible that the quotes are fabricated or taken out of context, but given what else Mr. Dawkins has written I tend to seriously doubt it.

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.


Robin Edgar said…
Here is the waggish letter to the editor that I submitted to The Sunday Herald a while back. . .

Evangelical fundamentalist atheist Richard Dawkins asks, "But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability?"

Why stop there? Why not breed humans for religious ability too? ;-)

Who knows? They might come up with some really profound new religious insights.

They might even propose that the distinct similarity of the totally eclipsed sun to an gigantic eye looking down from the sky is not just a random chance "coincidence" but is actually the product of Intelligent Design, and is intended to serve as a "Sign in the Heavens" that symbolically represents God's divine omniscience.

Frank Walton said…
Thanks for the plug. Dawkins, in my opinion, belongs to the Peter Singer crowd - wackos! I write about Dawkins and Eugenics here.
Edwardtbabinski said…
I'll get to Dawkins later but to start...

Did anyone see the film Gattica? About a future world where people's indvidual DNA disease prediction patterns are known and affect one's job opportunities (and probably affect ones ability to get insurance). Big companies with expensive jobs don't want anyone with genes that include congenital heart ailments because of the huge investment in maintaining workers (in this case, spacemen in the space industry of the future)? It's about a boy with a weak heart who wants to be a spaceman more than anything, and who fakes the DNA and stress test charts to get into the program and has to cover over his congential heart weakness, though in actuality he's got a pretty strong heart when it's determined to do something, otherwise the plot would of course have fallen through during the first stress test. *ha*

At any rate, knowing one's DNA is going to lead to some hard decisions in future, but it's already leading to some in the present like tests for Down's Syndrome babies while they are still in the womb, and which even Christian parents have been known to abort. Evangelical Christian women and Catholic women also make up something like 20-30 percent of abortions according to one study. So not just irreligious women but also devout women are having abortions today, for a variety of reasons. I read about one such abortion told first hand by an evangelical Christian woman and published in The Door magazine a while back (one of their serious pieces, not a funny piece). And the more people know about the DNA of their child, the more that will also affect such decision making.

China decided to enforce a single child rule until their population leveled out and risk of major famines had subsided, but now they are having trouble in keeping their population and economic growth in synch since there will be many more elderly in the near future in China and fewer young health workers to take care of them all.

There are difficult decisions to make all round of course, biologically, economically. One point I've read about was how much money Americans or Westerners spend to ensure the health of a single child of their own (say a premie baby or in utero surgery, etc., which can cost a million or more), and how many hundreds, sometimes thousands of children's lives that same amount of money or expertise could have saved round the world instead of just spent to save the life of one single child in one American or Western hospital. It's sad to think that sometimes all that's necessary to save the life of a child in some countries is to educate the parents and get them a single packet of minerals costing pennies, which could stop the child from dehydrating to death.

For that matter, decisions of state affect world health matters as well, like decisions to go to war and spend half a trillion dollars on those wars, instead of spending that money in a new "Manhattan-like project" to develop new technologies that don't simply blow things up, but provide heat and light and energy for the whole earth, and revive America's patent industry and other alternative energy industries, and help the world's economy and environment for centuries to come. Just a thought.

Now about Dawkins and eugenics, I don't see that his comments about productive breeding are going to change the world overnight. And people aren't going to suddenly not want the freedom to be with whom they want to be with, and breed more "productively" instead. Human beings do however tend to sometimes breed wantonly and destructively. So we're generally a pretty uncontrollable species unless coerced pretty heavily like in China. On the other hand something like what Dawkins is talking about is already taking place whenever say, a woman goes to a fertility clinic and asks to receive frozen sperm from some male whose gifts or talents in some area are recorded on a chart, so the female gets to choose, between say, the sperm of a talented violinist or the sperm of a MENSAN High I.Q. fellow. Mellisa Etheridge and her lesbian partner didn't go the route of the sperm bank but approached a famous pop singer, Crosby, and had his baby, because they wanted to try and create a musically gifted child. In fact, most women seem to prefer taller men, which seems to partly be linked to a wish to be taller themselves perhaps (I don't know).

Anyway, I don't fear the Dawkinses of the world. And I figure whatever new vistas biological science opens up in future (perhaps even wombs in men, who knows?), there will undoubtedly be people both for and against it. Funny thing is, there were times in the past when people rejected biological breakthroughs of their day, fearing the worst because of them, including many who rejected vaccines soon after they were first developed (a Pope apparently rejected vaccines, speaking out against them, and some Protestants too, claiming man was not meant to thwart God's wrath in nature), including some who rejected the early somewhat useful treatments for venereal disease (Protestants rejected them because Catholics were the ones to come up with them). There were some who rejected the lightning rod as well when it first came out, blaming it for drawing the lightning underground and causing earthquakes at least so they argued, and blaming as in the case of vaccines, that it was yet another vain attempt by man to diminish God's just wrath in nature. Or so some argued. Not everyone, but some. So there will always be controversies concerning such ideas.

By the way, since I began by mentioning Gattica has anyone here read any of the science fiction Lazarus Long stories of Heinlein, about a group of people who decided amongst themselves to mate the longest lived of them with others who were the longest lived, till one of their offspring, Lazarus Long, had acheived a lifespan of a thousand or more years, and all the experiences of that super long life of his? Interesting, along with the sayings of Lazarus Long strewn throughout the series of novels and short stories.

The future will bring some interesting decisions to be sure, including decisions that will probably involve augmenting the human brain with computing devices. There's already computer chips that can be connected with nerves that I read about in Science Weekly. And scientists are finding new ways to develop stem cells that don't involve getting them from human fetuses, which could thus revolutionize health and even lead perhaps to revivified and long lived human brains. All the research probably also means that the wealthy might grow increasingly unlike the poor who can't afford the latest upcoming longevity and brain development technologies. Already we have wealthy Hollywood stars who can afford the best health supplements and treatments, and surgeries to make them look better than most of us, for longer.

What will the future hold? I don't know. Neither does Dawkins. Let's just hope it doesn't include a sudden drop-in of Ole Uncle Asteroid when we least expect it.

Edward T. Babinski (not an atheist by the way; but with too many questions to be called a Christian either)

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