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Richard Dawkins and Nazi Science

Is Richard Dawkins a Nazi Scientist?

Public Domain

John Zmirak - published on 05/01/13

Is raising a child Catholic really worse than sexually abusing them?

By now, those of you who follow the New Atheist beat will likely have heard about Richard Dawkins’ latest attempt to keep his name in the news. The English academic appeared on the Arab news site Al Jazeera and claimed that rearing kids to believe in a religion is a form of child abuse – and a worse form than sexual molestation. I was inclined at first to laugh this off (I’ve often quipped that it’s cruel to raise a child outside New York City) and wonder what Dawkins would do next: Challenge the pope and the Dalai Lama to a round of jello wrestling? Relieve himself on the Wailing Wall? Pose in a satin teddy for Victoria’s Secret?

But then I remembered  that we live in an incipient global nanny police state in which Germany can institutionalize a homeschooled Catholic teen for “school phobia” and the U.S. will try to deport her family, which fled here for refuge; where parents who try to switch hospitals for their infant can lose custody of their baby; where states like California ban parents from sending their sexually confused kids to Christian counseling. And so on. Real child abuse is such a sickening evil that false charges of it can be used as a potent tool by social engineers who hunger for power to reach into citizens’ homes and pluck out their kids for re-education.

The family – the basic unit of society – is fragile and irreplaceable. It is by far the safest place for a child to grow up, and kids who lack intact families are far more likely to live and remain in poverty. One of the strongest ties uniting a family is a common faith; when he attacks that bond, Dawkins is effectively (and knowingly) smashing the cohesive molecule of the nuclear family into tiny, isolated atoms, whose only protectors will be hirelings of secular social service agencies – Big Brother and Big Nurse.

Atheists aren’t the only people who have ever attacked the family in the name of a “higher good.” England’s Elizabeth I bribed Catholic children to abandon their parents’ faith; the Ottoman Empire periodically kidnapped Orthodox Christian boys to raise them as Muslim Janissaries; the French monarchy banned Huguenot families from rearing their children as Protestants. Most infamous was the case of Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish child in Pope Pius IX’s Papal States whose Catholic nanny illegally baptized him, leading that pope to abduct the child and ensure his “right” to a Catholic education.

But in most cases, even really bigoted Christians have recognized (along with St. Thomas Aquinas) that the right of parents to pass on their faith to their children trumps any claim of the State to promote religious orthodoxy.  It is modern, secular states that reject this tenet of natural law that have really made their name by reaching inside the family to disrupt and reengineer it, from Bolshevik bans on catechesis of children to Nazi attempts to corral all children out of churches and into the Hitler Youth. Now, public schools in states like Massachusetts are required to teach gay “marriage” as equally normative. Catholic schools and parents are free to say otherwise (for the time being). But stay tuned: Canadian courts have ruled that Christian sexual ethics amount to hate speech punishable by law.

So when a prominent figure like Richard Dawkins says that religious parents are child abusers, his statements aren’t merely provocations; they’re test balloons, sent up by zealous enemies of liberty and religion to see how far they will fly. If Dawkins gets away with this, more people will chime in and second him, and soon you’ll be hearing earnest, “balanced” discussions of his crackpot assertion in places like National Public Radio.  The
New York Times will follow suit. Pretty soon, your diocesan newspaper will be forced to publish detailed refutations that will try (and fail) to energize Catholics to oppose it.  This is how consensus is manufactured in America; it’s how the media and other elites sold so many Americans on same-sex marriage in just a few short years.

As I learned from reading John Cornwell’s fascinating study, Hitler’s Scientists, this is also how racist eugenics were sold to the most literate country in the history of the world – 1920s Germany. It’s instructive to trace in detail the feeding chain that carries a notion (a “meme,” which is Dawkins’ own word) from the status of “crank theory” to “provocative assertion” to “controversial opinion” to “widely-held position” to “consensus view.”

In the case of the tempting pseudo-science of eugenics, the digestive process began with Francis Galton, cousin and early disciple of Charles Darwin. Drawing false and careless inferences from the work of his more rigorous relative, Galton theorized that the process of natural selection could be speeded up and made less painful (fewer “unfit” would be born and need to die off) by “scientific management” of the human breeding stock. Here, science was pressed into service of upper-class prejudice, and soon academic conferences in Britain, Germany and the U.S. were being convened to explore how the human race could be better bred on the model of pedigree cattle. Academic chairs of eugenics were established at first-rate research sites like the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and (in the U.S.) the Cold Spring Harbour Carnegie Institution for Experimental Evolution, and lawmakers took note of the burgeoning “consensus” among scientists. By the 1920s, with the support of Margaret Sanger’s Planned Parenthood and funding from health crank and cereal magnate Harvey Kellogg, more than a dozen U.S. states had enacted laws requiring the sterilization of “idiots” and “imbeciles,” which in practice meant that American citizens were castrated (yes, castrated) for flunking an IQ test. (And you thought the SATs were stressful.) The exposure of Nazi crimes and the Civil Rights Movement helped discredit eugenic claims, and the last compulsory sterilization law was repealed in Virginia – in 1974.

In cold fact, the science underpinning the whole eugenic enterprise was careless, hopelessly biased to reproduce the prejudices of the researchers and wholly insufficient to support such a radical enterprise as remaking the human race. Often decisions to sterilize Americans were based on anecdotal accounts or the subjective judgment of some researcher, like Harry Laughlin of the Eugenics Records Office. As you can read on Wikipedia:

The first person ordered sterilized in Virginia under the new law was
Carrie Buck, on the grounds that she was the “
probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring.” A lawsuit ensued and Laughlin, who had never met Buck, gave a deposition endorsing her suitability for sterilization, calling the family members of
‘the shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of anti-social whites of the South’.

And here is where Richard Dawkins crawls back into the story.  Remember that interview he gave to Al Jazeera, where he asserted that teaching a child religion is crueler than molesting him? Here is the evidence this Oxford scientist offered for this hypothesis. As the Daily Mailreports:

Interviewer Mehdi Hasan asked: ‘You believe that being bought up as a Catholic is worse than being abused by a priest?’.

Professor Dawkins replied: ‘There are shades of being abused by a priest, and I quoted an example of a woman in America who wrote to me saying that when she was seven years old she was sexually abused by a priest in his car.

‘At the same time a friend of hers, also seven, who was of a Protestant family, died, and she was told that because her friend was Protestant she had gone to Hell and will be roasting in Hell forever.

‘She told me of those two abuses, she got over the physical abuse; it was yucky but she got over it.

‘But the mental abuse of being told about Hell, she took years to get over.’

That’s it. Dawkins reads an anecdote in a letter from a stranger, and from that incident alone concocts a universal theory, and proposes a social policy that would violate the rights of billions of parents across the globe, exactly as the racist scientists of Germany and America used their head calipers and biased IQ tests to justify strapping down helpless patients and mutilating them, for the greater good. So now you know: Richard Dawkins practices Nazi science without the accent.

John Zmirak is the author, most recently, of The Bad Catholics Guide to the Catechism. He blogs at The Bad Catholics Bingo Hall.

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