What the “utilitarians” offer

Dawkins is a scientist who is also an atheist and as most people who fit that description, they have an amazingly “utilitarian” view of humanity. They ask questions like “Isn’t OK to abort a fetus as long as its nervous system is less developed than a cow, since we kill those for food?”

But Dawkins is not alone, in fact, in these areas he’s a follower, not a leader. The leaders of the utilitarian bioethics movement, a movement led almost entirely by atheist scientists, are people like Peter Singer. I’d like you to read a recent article of his in the New York Times:


Just so there’s no confusion, this is the logical extreme of where the atheist scientists want to take us. If you’re suffering at all, your life isn’t worth living. Down Syndrome? None of you please, you’ll just suffer. Old and suffering? Please kill yourself. You’ll stop suffering and we’re really sick of paying the bills so please hurry up and pull the trigger.

And let me be clear: this is no exaggeration. For years I thought it was an exaggeration, but I’ve read enough now to know. Singer, the author of this article is not some random nutjob. Instead he’s considered one of the leading minds in the bioethics field and a highly esteemed professor at Princeton. From Wikipedia:

Peter Albert David Singer (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian philosopher. He is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), University of Melbourne. He specialises in applied ethics, approaching ethical issues from a secular preference utilitarian perspective.

He has served, on two occasions, as chair of philosophy at Monash University, where he founded its Centre for Human Bioethics. In 1996, he ran unsuccessfully as a Green candidate for the Australian Senate. In 2004, he was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. He has been voted one of Australia’s ten most influential public intellectuals.[1] Singer serves on the Advisory Board of Incentives for Global Health, the NGO formed to develop the Health Impact Fund proposal.

If it weren’t so tragic, I’d find his cynical view of how people look at having children funny. People decide to have kids because what it’ll do for them. “What about ME!?!” And when they don’t, it’s only because the kid’s going to suffer, so we’d better not do it. So let’s just make ourselves extinct.

But his cynical view is just not accurate, or at least it’s not in my family. Just last night when I took my wife out to dinner we were talking about how hard on us it would be to have another kid. How we’re going to have to make sacrifices for the child. But we said, how wonderful it’ll be for that child to have life, to experience all that is beautiful and worth living for.

And even though it wasn’t said at the table, we both believe that a handicapped person is a person who can enjoy life and their life is still worth living, even if it includes pain and suffering. We believe that the human spirit can rise above suffering and pain and do wonderful things.

So this, fellow world citizen, is your choice. You can embrace life as a wonderful thing, even when it’s not “perfect”, like this guy did:

Or you can take the utilitarian atheist scientist view and ask yourself if we’d be better off going extinct as a species because we’re all here just suffering away and life really isn’t worth living. (Or at a minimum let’s get rid of those people, not even let them be conceived, that we’ve determined in advance that their lives won’t be worth living and when we make a “mistake” and they’re born anyway, let’s encourage them to kill themselves.)

Which do you chose?

(Hat Tip: Wesley J. Smith)

4 Responses to “What the “utilitarians” offer”

  1. Shane Says:

    “If you’re suffering at all, your life isn’t worth living.”

    “Please kill yourself. You’ll stop suffering and we’re really sick of paying the bills so please hurry up and pull the trigger.”

    “the utilitarian atheist scientist view … we’d be better off going extinct as a species”

    Congratulations. You’ve done a great job of ensuring your blog will remain free of crows, what with all these straw men you’ve erected.

    It’s one thing to caricature an individual’s opinions, then attack these caricatures. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re going much further than this, and you’re saying that *all* people who are non-religious hold these kinds of heartless, utilitarian views. If that’s the point you’re trying to make, then I need only invoke one of the many conversations I’ve had with other atheists to disprove your point. We’re people, too. We care and have compassion for others. We’re not cold, calculating sociopaths.

  2. Ken Crawford Says:

    Shane: You’re absolutely right that my post spoke WAY too broadly. It was a casualty of getting too worked up over Singer (he tends to do that to me). I completely concede that there are plenty of atheists who do not agree with utilitarian bioethics and I apologize for having made it sound that way.

    I’m writing a full post with more complete thoughts on the subject.

  3. Patrick Says:

    First of all, you’re right in pointing out that Peter Singer is a highly-esteemed ethicist. However, you go from that and then act as if his arguments have no merit. Utilitarianism has its problems, as does every ethical theory, but it also makes a whole lot of sense in a whole lot of cases. Just because your moral theory makes you feel all fuzzy doesn’t mean that it’s correct. An idea’s attractiveness doesn’t affect its truth value.

  4. Ken Crawford Says:

    Patrick, you’re right that an idea’s warm fuzziness does not prove it right. However, that’s the least of the problems of Singer’s ideals. I do posts like this to make it abundantly clear what he stands for )and that he’s not some side-show freak, but highly respected) and I’ll let the reader decide if it’s abhorrent as I think it is.

    A similar challenge to you: just because someone is highly esteemed does not mean they’re right or that their ideas have any merit. History is littered with highly respected idiots.