Michael Burrill

Richard Dawkins’ offensive tweet: Abort it and try again

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After Richard Dawkins told a woman to “abort her baby and try again”, Michael Burrill found Dawkins’ logic to be a little, well, dogmatic…


A while back, Richard Dawkins addressed a woman’s hypothetical “ethical dilemma” about carrying a Down’s Syndrome baby by stating, “Abort it and try again”.

He claimed this to be the logical and ethical choice.

Unsurprisingly it instigated what he later described a “feeding frenzy” as advocates pointed out people with Down’s can and do live happy and fulfilling lives, with other outraged respondents comparing his stance to eugenics. Poor, put-upon Richard told everyone they had misunderstood him – he wasn’t telling anyone what to do, but rather was just expressing his own opinion that if one’s morality sought to “increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering” it was immoral not to abort a Down’s Syndrome foetus.

Dawkins was following logic; everyone else was reacting emotionally.

By the same logic, it could be said that we should abort any foetus that showed any sign of a genetic condition or potential development of a condition to “increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering.”

Sounded a lot like eugenics to me.

For someone so intent on fighting dogma, Richard Dawkins comes across as quite dogmatic himself and I think (as counter-intuitive as this feels to write) even logic that’s taken to a dogmatic extreme can be bad news.

I have no argument with calling out religious institutions and their leaders who use dogma or orthodoxy left over from a time long past in an attempt to maintain their tenuous grip on political power. Nor do I have an issue with condemning overly vocal zealots who use their monetary and political power or the force of arms to impose their opinions upon moderates and atheists alike.

While I may personally be an atheist, I differ from Dawkins and his minions in the desire to beat up on any spirituality at all – God and religion can mean different things to different people. For instance, God can be one of many things aside from the “fire and brimstone” Old Testament deity, such as a manifestation of the beauty in the world and the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. Similarly, religion more generally may provide cultural or community value to some who otherwise don’t consider themselves to be true believers. Such things may be “illogical” and based on emotion, but to automatically rule them out as bad or lacking in value illustrates the exact kind of inflexible dogma that should be condemned.

Though I may occasionally drop lines like, “I find enough spirituality in a transcendent piece of literature or music, maaaaaaan” when I’m loaded and trying to appear interesting…in reality, just like Dawkins, I possess very little capacity for spirituality. While all that business might make my skin crawl, I feel what the “Overlord of Reason” is missing as he careens along astride his steed of burning logic is that most humans possess illogical foibles, which may seem stupid, yet are fairly benign and help us deal with reality. Ever converse with your pet? Case in point. To lump those for whom religion or spirituality is an illogical yet benign foible with some of the truly horrible things done in the name of religion displays an unproductive lack of nuance, or worse – an arrogant attempt to lord one’s self-proclaimed super-logical intellectual superiority over others.

This brings me back to the initial point. That someone like Dawkins with such an attitude should find it so easily to come to a black-and-white answer to an issue where to me it seemed neither answer could be described as obviously immoral should have come as no surprise. The real question I guess I should have been asking was why were people asking Richard Dawkins for the answer to ethical dilemmas over some Twitter as though he were some “Techno-Pope” in the first place? I could understand him being asked about evolutionary biology but I wasn’t sure what qualified him as a moral role model.

Then I had some cringe-inducing flashbacks. I can’t be the only one who has experienced them?


Smirking as they pull out a copy of their holy book, The God Delusion, working themselves up into a near-hysterical apparently logical lather as they chuckle about others “imaginary friends” and talk admiringly of their saviour. The man who allowed them, an otherwise painfully ordinary person, to realise they were actually more enlightened, and therefore superior, to some people after all.

While not as obviously destructive as some religious dogma, it seems to me that the dogmatic world view espoused by Dawkins and some of his followers shares some similarities in that at its core, it is based on perceiving oneself as superior. As science becomes the frame through which we view the world, some of us seem to view scientists as miraculous beings beyond reproach. Despite my limited understanding, I’m down with the science as it allows me to say things like, “I fiiiiind enough spirituality in science, maaaaan. It’s like we’re all made of the same matter, maaaaan.”

Ultimately, we need to be careful not to install scientists as some kind of modern cleric, because in the end, technical knowledge and correct methodology don’t make a person any more qualified to talk on morality and the unavoidable oddness of human nature than someone with a “special” collar.


To celebrate being a year old, we want you, the readers, to help us decide the articles you loved best during our first year and to encourage you  to participate, we are giving away three prizes!

All you have to do is look through our archives of content and email us your favourite article and also if you want, the one you weren’t so up with. From the submissions, we will assess the most-loved content from our first year and republish it at the end of our birthday month.

Both writers and readers are encouraged to enter (No, Paris, you cannot nominate your own articles…#justsaying), so please email us at [email protected] by 30th November to enter! Please include your name, address and mobile number.

And the prizes are…(did we mention there are prizes…?)

First prize: A brilliant acting course based in Sydney and hosted by Darlo Drama worth $550!

Second prize:  A gift pack from our friends at Booktopia

Third prize: Four movie passes

(Watch out for a couple of other competitions during our birthday month!)

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  1. Rainer the cabbie said:

    “many conquests in additions to being home to shrines of three religions, the Holy Land has been home to a series of conquerors. It has been ruled by Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Persians, Muslims, Christians Crusaders, and finally, the Ottoman Empire, which lost the land in World War 1 to the Allied powers.

    Britain then ruled the area under a mandate from the League of Nations and it was under Britain’s watch that the modern struggle between Jews and Arabs for independent homelands began”

  2. Rainer the cabbie said:

    Again Troy, you do seem to disregard the beginning of conflicts that are fought in the name of religion.
    The Isreali-Palestinian conflict is all about a piece of “dirt”. If you go back to a time before the Jewish settlement in what is now Israel, I believe that land was settled by groups of different religious nominations, most even shared villages.
    Whatever made this fight “Holy” is politics and a grab for land.

    And yes, you don’t need religion for morality. But considering the ignorant and natural tendencies most people display I reckon it helps as long as you take extremists out of the equation.

  3. Troy Alexander said:

    “…Troy I’m pretty sure I openly said in the article people who use
    religion to justify violence or discrimination (*as per their religious texts) should be condemned.”

    * A careless omission, Michael 😉

    We’ve argued about this before, and there doesn’t seem much point in doing so again.

    I enjoyed your article.

  4. Troy Alexander said:

    “All religions have peace and compassion for your fellow man at their
    centrepiece, it’s interpretation of the written word that makes it so
    vulnerable to be hijacked.”

    Again, I have to disagree. If that were true, then why does a literal interpretation of the Quran inspire acts of terrorism.

    Obviously, geopolitics plays a part in the conflicts in the Middle East, but to say religion is used as an “excuse” is simply erroneous. Let’s not forget that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just about any piece of dirt, it’s about “Holy” land.

    One does not need religion for morality. It’s innate.

  5. Michael Burrill said:

    Essentially yes. And Troy I’m pretty sure I openly said in the article people who use religion to justify violence or discrimination should be condemned. The point more was tarring all religious people with the same brush due actions of a certain few only reinforces a “believer/unbeliever” binary(one which I think you’ve attempted to reinforce yourself there) which I think at least is simply false

  6. Sarah said:

    I don’t think the reaction of his ‘followers’ is the point, more the rigid and often overly simplified ‘sermons’ on morality that come out of both camps, and the dangers of placing your faith in the mouthpieces of a popular movement, be it religious or otherwise.

  7. Rainer the cabbie said:

    Fair point Troy. The thing you miss is that all the atrocities committed in the name of God had politics, power and land as a main motivation. Religion became the excuse to conduct the crusades we see and have seen.
    All religions have peace and compassion for your fellow man at their centrepiece, it’s interpretation of the written word that makes it so vulnerable to be hijacked.
    FYI, I do count myself as an atheist but recognise that good religion contributes to a moral code that benefits us all.

  8. Troy Alexander said:

    “Dawkins driven atheism follows the same rules as the self righteous religious dogma that gave faith a bad name.”

    Yeah, I don’t agree. Like at all. Sure, “Dawkins-ites” may be smug and insufferable, but their (lack of) belief doesn’t see them blowing up Churches, stoning believers, or becoming martyrs for Atheism.

  9. Rainer the cabbie said:

    I’m almost sick of dominating the comment section but this must be said: thank you Micheal for a brilliant article, I agree with everything you’ve written.
    Dawkins driven atheism follows the same rules as the self righteous religious dogma that gave faith a bad name. The true answer, as always, is to be found somewhere in the middle.

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