Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Jason Newman: Dawkins doesn’t understand that humans are different


“When I pass one of those (cattle) lorries with little slats and see fearful eyes peering out, I think of the railway wagons to Auschwitz.”

This is the type of vacuous sentiment one would expected from one of those namby-pamby save-the-whales advocates. You know the type, knotted dreadlocks, stinking of hash, wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt and altogether looking badly in need of a good scrub. Not, one would think, a sentence uttered by a well-respected eminent Oxford professor and certainly not a professor famed for his clinical, no-nonsense rhetoric.

Alas, those were the words of Professor Richard Dawkins in an interview given in The Times on Saturday last concerning, among other things, his new found vegetarianism (well sort of, as the interview explains he still eats meat so he’s not very good at it).

There was, of course, as even the most dense history student will know, another famous vegetarian who viewed those poor souls huddled in the Auschwitz train cars as equivalent to animals.

Perhaps that is a tad unfair. Let me be clear I am not comparing Dawkins to a Nazi or Hitler or anything of the sort. Such an accusation would be gross, wrong and absurd. However his frightening rhetoric in recent years makes me, as an uneasy atheist, enraged. This quote is merely one in a line of gems that includes sentiments such as this tweet: “With respect to those meanings of “human” that are relevant to the morality of abortion, any foetus is less human than an adult pig.”

Now as somebody with only a rudimentary understanding of biology I’ll take Dawkins at his word. From a purely scientific conception of the universe he is probably correct (although I suspect he is referring to a foetus that is only a few days or weeks old).

However as anybody with an IQ higher than a pig knows, this statement is utter rubbish and neglects the potential for sentient life that an unborn baby has, a fact realised in an afterthought by Dawkins and sort of but not really corrected in a tweet three hours after the first: “Pig doesn’t have human DNA, human potential or human IQ. It probably does have human capacity to feel pain. Aborted foetus probably doesn’t.”

Notwithstanding the intellectual dubiousness of prefacing both his claims with the word “probably” (he well knows, I am sure, that there are peer reviewed articles that challenge his assumptions), the moral implications of his views are stark.

For years now the “New Atheists” have championed the idea that a framework for human rights and morality can be and should be conceived from a secular standpoint, that we can start anew, and with the benefit of science and reasoning be the architects of our own moral frameworks.

Well ta-da here is the result, unborn humans have fewer rights than pigs and persecuted Jews carry the same look of fear and foreboding in their eyes as cattle.

This is the problem when one views the world solely through the prism of scientism. We are merely slightly more developed apes. All of our actions are a result of the evolutionary progressions and hang-ups developed from when we roamed the African plains.

In an essay entitled, “Banishing the green eyed monster” Dawkins postulates that the human proclivity to monogamy is merely a biological evolutionary hang-up and that it would be better if we overcome the jealous feelings experienced when one is the victim of infidelity. He then goes on to ask why you cannot love more than one person at once? He cites as an example the fact that we can enjoy both red and white wine and it is not thought odd.

The special nature of humans and human interaction is either unknown or wilfully ignored by the professor. That having relations with multiple people should be compared to having a love of multiple wines is so inane it shouldn’t require rebutting to any intelligent audience. However just in case: the rebuttal can be summed up succinctly as, “people are not wines” in the same way a foetus isn’t a pig and cattle aren’t humans.

These false equivalencies are extremely dangerous but are the inevitable result of looking at the world through a purely scientific lens. I recall a contributor to a radio programme concerning the nature of morality remarking that “science can tell you that water boils at 100 C but it cannot inform you not to, or why not to, throw it over someone”. Perhaps this might explain why Professor Dawkins seems to have no qualms making the statements he does, and shows the folly of basing a moral framework on such incredulous thinking.

This scientism, this cold sterile way of viewing humans and our relationships to each other as mere neurological chemical reactions, should fill everyone with unease. If a society cannot see how grossly wrong and dangerous Dawkins quote in The Times is then all is lost; before long we’ll be shipping off beef farmers to The Hague.

(Image: Tom Page)

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Jason Newman
Jason Newman
Jason studies English and Politics at third level in Ireland.

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