Richard Dawkins in an article to the New Statesman—the same issue which somebody who obviously wasn’t in full possession of his faculties assigned to Dawkins as editor—the Christmas issue, mind—an issue filled with unreason, prejudices, error, unexamined biases, and bizarre beliefs—e.g. Sam Harris pops up to say he has no free will, causing us to wonder if he demanded payment for his article; Michael Moore declares “We are animals” (who knew?); Daniel Dennett strokes his beard and inveighs against debutante balls (guess who never got asked to the prom)—in this article, I say, Dawkins demonstrates his astonishingly ability to think unclearly, while also convincing those willing and eager to be convinced that what he had to say was worth hearing and probably even true.
And they say there are no miracles. (There may be another; we’re praying for you, Richard.)
Crossing the line
Dawkins thinks lines are “tyrannical.” Why? Because he very cleverly noticed that some demarcations are capricious, such as voting age limits and college grades. He also discovered some discontinuities are matters of fact, such as admitting a beaver isn’t a coffee cup. He further, and wisely, opined that we shouldn’t reify capricious disjunctions, but we’re stuck with what nature hands us.
The only problem, and the reason for this response (besides that he just last week referenced this article), is that after this intellectual burst, Dawkins couldn’t keep straight the very categories he discovered. His irrationality probably entered because of his ulterior motive, his only real impetus, which was to proclaim his happiness with abortion—proving once again that bloodlust in blinding.
There are those who cannot distinguish a 16-cell embryo from a baby. They call abortion murder, and feel righteously justified in committing real murder against a doctor — a thinking, feeling, sentient adult, with a loving family to mourn him. The discontinuous mind is blind to intermediates. An embryo is either human or it isn’t. Everything is this or that, yes or no, black or white. But reality isn’t like that.
Abortion is murder if the 16-cell embryo is a human being. How many cells does it take before the collection becomes human? Dawkins, a collection of cells, will shortly claim that being human is entirely arbitrary. For now, he jumps into the silly stream.
Not all who call abortion murder because it is the killing of an innocent human being “feel righteously justified” in murdering abortion providers (I almost said “doctors”). Just as all those who guest edit issues of New Statesman and who despise religion do not “feel righteously justified” in killing innocent religion providers. But some do. And which side has more blood on its hands?
Not for the first time, Dawkins merely assumes what he wants to prove, and says something demonstrably false in the course of doing so.
It also does not follow that because an embryo is a human being that “everything” is black or white. Of course it doesn’t. But it also doesn’t follow that everything exists on the continuum, that all lines are subjective. Eagles are not sturgeons: yes is not no: true is not false.
But personhood doesn’t spring into existence at any one moment: it matures gradually, and it goes on maturing through childhood and beyond.
More bloodlust. Or ignorace. Or both. This statement appears to say that we never quite reach personhood, or that we can be partial people (not in body, but in essence), or that we do reach personshood but only after accumulating sufficient “maturity points” (perhaps doled out by some beneficent government). Human worth, to Dawkins, can be graded on a continuum, a horrifying view, instead of the old-fashioned view that all people have intrinsic value and in that sense are equal in the eyes of God.
What is human?
To the discontinuous mind, an entity either is a person or is not. The discontinuous mind cannot grasp the idea of half a person, or three quarters of a person.
To Dawkins, it seems, an entity such as my swift and sleek Dell Inspiron laptop might be characterized as partly a person (it does “mental” calculations); or that he, Dawkins himself, might be considered a shade volcanic (the lava-filled ones, I mean; his temples throb with hot fluid). Or would he snort and go all discontinuous on us in these matters of judgment? Does Dawkins not recognize the difference between metaphor and reality?
On the other hand, classicalists really can’t imagine what a three-quarters person is. Somebody missing a leg? Still a person. Somebody with an artificial heart? Still a person. Somebody with a pipe through his skull or strapped to a machine and declared a “vegetable”? Human, and eligible for employment in any university. All of these whole and in-pieces people all retain the essence of being a human, and are therefore people.
You won’t be surprised to learn that, to Dawkins, essentialism is “one of the most pernicious ideas in all history.” Sure it is. Look how much it holds fellows like him back. He and his gloomy band of New Statesman, loyal party members all, would delight to roll out the guillotine, at least figuratively, and start eliminating undesirables—improves the race and quells dissent, you see. They’d get away with it, too, if it weren’t for the majority still holding to essentialism and therefore frowning on wanton slaughter for eugenical and political purposes.
The danger of quotations
Some absolutists go right back to conception as the moment when the person comes into existence—the instant the soul is injected—so all abortion is murder by definition…[quote from Donum Vitae follows...]
It is amusing to tease such absolutists by confronting them with a pair of identical twins (they split after fertilisation, of course) and asking which twin got the soul, which twin is the non-person: the zombie. A puerile taunt? Maybe. But it hits home because the belief that it destroys is puerile, and ignorant.
Let me leap to agree with Dawkins: his words are puerile. And his quote from Donum Vitae was incomplete. Somehow he left out the best stuff, which is this:
This teaching [of human life] remains valid and is further confirmed, if confirmation were needed, by recent findings of human biological science which recognize that in the zygote resulting from fertilization the biological identity of a new human individual is already constituted.
Certainly no experimental datum can be in itself sufficient to bring us to the recognition of a spiritual soul; nevertheless, the conclusions of science regarding the human embryo provide a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of this first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person? The Magisterium has not expressly committed itself to an affirmation of a philosophical nature, but it constantly reaffirms the moral condemnation of any kind of procured abortion. This teaching has not been changed and is unchangeable. [emphasis added]
Empirical observation has, of course, guided the Church in deciding the question of human life. St Thomas Aquinas, lacking modern medicine, taught that ensoulment began some period after conception. It was the best he could do; now we know better. Plus, abortion was always said to be a moral evil and since the soul is the form of a human, identical twins pose no difficulty.
Back to Dawkins:
“It would never be made human if it were not human already.” Really? Are you serious? Nothing can become something if it is not that something already? Is an acorn an oak tree? Is a hurricane the barely perceptible zephyr that seeds it? Would you apply your doctrine to evolution too? Do you suppose there was a moment in evolutionary history when a non-person gave birth to the first person?
Yes, an acorn is, in essence, an oak tree. It is also an acorn. It is not a 1971 Mustang with “three on the tree”, nor is it a cheesecake nor a leopard. It is both an acorn and an oak tree, albeit a small, packed-up version of one. Just as the oak tree is still an acorn, but now fully grown. The caterpillar is the butterfly, and vicey versey.
Notice that the man can’t keep straight what he’s criticizing. A hurricane is neither puff nor zephyr: a hurricane is an organized system with winds exceeding an arbitrary level set by meteorologists. But breezes and gales are both wind, just as essentialism says.
And, yes, there must have been a moment in evolutionary history when a non-person gave birth to the first person; accepting, arguendo, evolution was responsible for producing the first human. See Mike Flynn’s instructive Adam & Eve & Ted & Alice. Why couldn’t evolution have done this? Dawkins only retort is that it’s not possible, again assuming what he’s hoping to prove. When you drive in a circle, you get nowhere.
If a time machine could serve up to you your 200 million greats grandfather, you would eat him with sauce tartare and a slice of lemon. He was a fish. Yet you are connected to him by an unbroken line of intermediate ancestors, every one of whom belonged to the same species as its parents and its children.
A question: is similar logically equivalent to the same or identical? I’m just asking.
From this quote we conclude that one should not guest edit magazines before dinner. Frames your thinking in terms of food, which might prove embarrassing. How often have you heard anybody speaking with relish of the relish he’d serve with his relative?
He speaks of a “connection” as it were a stout rope which if pulled upon at the base (by suitably equipped proto-slime) would jerk us back a few notches. Or something. Surely he realizes there is more than meat separating “Devonian fish” and humans. They weren’t rational: we are. Rationality is the essence of being human, as Aristotle taught us.
Dawkins eats his great grandfather
So it makes no sense to harp about eating each other or breeding with Jurassic Park recreations of species that came before humans, as Dawkins recommends as a desirable thought experiment. Ability to interbreed might be what biologists call a “species”, but that is neither here nor there for what is a human. And isn’t the doctrine of species, Richard, an arbitrary line? Are mules horses or are they donkeys? Or are they mules?
Who knows how he would answer, because no sooner has he declared for species, he declares against them, citing variously shaded gulls and their ability to interbreed or not. “Are they distinct species or not? Only those tyrannised by the discontinuous mind feel obliged to answer that question.” I don’t feel obliged, so I gather I’m not tyrannized. He doesn’t recognize that the problem is with the definition of species: if it doesn’t include essences, it is incomplete. A mule is essentially different than either of its parents, even though, I guess, it isn’t a “species” of anything since it can’t reproduce. Yet a mule may still be known by its essence.
I didn’t follow the rest of his article too well. Seems he was still angry with George Bush about something.