Was Richard Dawkins Right?

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Director of Donor Partnerships

“Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

Richard Dawkins recently tweeted the above in response to a woman who wondered what she should do about her unborn child with Down syndrome.

Of course that is an obscene statement and people all over the world responded. Here is how he summarized those arguments:

I am being bombarded with pictures of Down’s children, with descriptions of how adorable and affectionate they are, and how rewarding to look after in spite of the difficulties.

This seems to be our primary means of arguing with those who would kill our children with Down syndrome and other disabilities: point out how valuable they are because of the rewards we receive and how happy they are. We even have studies that demonstrate people with Down syndrome are happy with their lives.

But Dawkins, and most others who support the destruction of unborn people, are more than willing to grant what we feel:

I believe it with all my heart (that raising a child with Down syndrome is rewarding), but I need to explain why it is irrelevant to the argument at hand.

He is entirely correct: The argument from sentiment is irrelevant to this particular case. If we grant our feelings as primary, rather than as a by-product, we put all people at risk, not just unborn children. That logic says that people only have value as long as we find them useful or of some benefit.

Let me be clear that this by-product of love and enjoyment is very real and I do not intend to minimize it in any way. My son with multiple disabilities is a great gift to me, to my church, and to the world. And his disabilities have also caused a great deal of hardship in our lives.

Everyone Wins?

Another man could equally determine that he doesn’t want to experience all the suffering that goes with such a child like mine, regardless of the benefits. Since the primary argument hinges on how he feels, and he is willing to sacrifice such benefits to avoid the suffering, he can encourage, coerce, or threaten that child’s mother to abort their child, and then underwrite the legal destruction of that same child. In some states, because of “fetal anomaly,” right up to the point of natural birth.

So, the world would tell us, if you feel like experiencing the rewards, have the child! Nobody is stopping you (except that our culture forcefully and repeatedly says how foolish, even immoral, it is to bring disabled children into the world). And if you don’t want to experience the suffering, abort the child. Everyone gets what they want. That is what the argument from sentiment opens up.

Everyone gets what they want — everyone except for the child who is destroyed. And the families who would be blessed to welcome such a child into their lives.

No, this argument from sentiment about the child isn’t sufficient. And for Christians, it shouldn’t even be primary, ever. Rather, we must listen to God’s own words:

  • I made them (Psalm 139:13; John 1:3)
  • In my image (Genesis 1:27;
  • For my glory. (Isaiah 43:6-8)

The Weight of Glory

Michael Beates, an author on disability and the Bible and the father of an adult woman with severe disabilities, helpfully points out that our feelings should be shaped by our faith in God and his word and not the other way around:

I believe that one of the most frequently quoted but least-believed verses in Scripture is Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” If we really believed that verse, if we really believed it to be truth, we could rest in peace even in the midst of painful realities of life, such as children born with genetic anomalies. (emphasis added)

When I first read this more than sixteen years ago, I had to admit that I did not believe Romans 8:28 in light of my son’s disabilities . . . but I wanted to! All things really means all things, including disabilities and genetic anomalies that will lead to much pain and suffering.

So, we can freely acknowledge the spiritual, financial, emotional, relational, even physical hardship in caring for a child or adult with significant disabilities. But we must not forget that, in light of eternity, this life is short and this hardship is preparing for us an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Walking in Faith

Thus, we must stop letting the enemy of our children with disabilities continue to set the rules for their existence. At heart, Satan hates what God has created — especially the weaker member who makes God look glorious and merciful and powerful. Satan uses our own sinful desires for comfort over the infinite good God intends for us to think about our children in ways that end up with them being physically dead and us spiritually dead. Fight that sin!

Then, become familiar with good resources like those from The Life Training Institute to defend these unborn lives and their God-granted worth as image-bearers and gifts to Christ’s church.

And then go out and spend time with people with disabilities, especially those with cognitive disabilities, and their families. You will find your own passion to protect their lives fueled by the real experience of knowing and being known by them, and better understanding the reality of living “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).


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(@johnpknight) is Director of Donor Partnerships at Desiring God. He is married to Dianne, and together they parent their four children: Paul, Hannah, Daniel, and Johnny. Paul lives with multiple disabilities including blindness, autism, cognitive impairments, and a seizure disorder. John writes on disability, the Bible, and the church at The Works of God.