The Illiberality of Abortion

Laws permitting abortion on demand are often deemed to be liberal. Political liberals are frequently ardent defenders of such laws. My contention is that support for abortion on the grounds of liberality is mistaken for the following reasons.

Most contemporary liberals advocate a form of the harm principle, famously articulated by Mill in On Liberty,

The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.[i]

Mill here draws a distinction between other-regarding actions, actions that harm other people, and self-regarding actions, those that harm oneself. He argues that society, either by law or by social pressure, cannot justly regulate any action a person performs unless it is other-regarding; that is, it harms people other than the agent him/herself. As Mill’s position is typically interpreted, harm is understood to be governed by the principle volenti non fit injuria (where there is consent, there is no injury) and hence refers to things done to other people without their consent. On this interpretation, self-regarding actions are those that people consent to and that harm no non-consenting, third party. As Mill himself notes, a self-regarding action is that “which affects only himself, or affects others with their free and voluntary, and undeceived consent”.[ii]The most common version of the harm principle is known as the non-initiation of force principle; Rothbard sums it up well,

The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the “nonaggression axiom.” “Aggression” is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.[iii]

I do not subscribe to the harm principle or the non-initiation of force interpretation of it (I give some reasons why here). However, in this series of posts I will adopt it for the sake of argument so as to examine what follows for abortion. Abortion involves killing a fetus, usually by dismembering it. Moreover, the fetus does not consent to it. Hence if a Liberal is to support abortion he/she must do so for only one of two reasons. Either,

(a) the fetus is a person but its existence inside the mother without her consent constitutes a form aggression, and hence, the mother’s action of killing it is defensive; or, (b) a fetus is not a person.

Only if one of these two options is adopted, can a liberal support the non-initiation of force principle and permissive abortion legislation and remain consistent.

Failed Avoidance Tactics
At this juncture it is worth noting that two very common tactics of avoiding this conclusion fail. The first is to defend abortion, on the basis of the perceived positive social consequences of ‘liberal’ abortion laws. In popular political discourse, and in some feminist writings, abortion is defended on consequentialist grounds; it is argued that abortion prevents unwanted children, children who are likely to be poor, abused, neglected or engage in crime. It is hailed as a solution to over-population and the existence of handicapped people. It prevents adult and teenage women from falling into economic hardship and stress and enables them to complete their education, pursue their careers and so on.

The problem with this line of argument is that this is only cogent for liberals if they assume that abortion does not violate the non-initiation of force principle. If abortion does violate this principle then allowing abortion on these grounds would be tantamount to saying that people can engage in aggression (as Rothbard defines it) they can initiate lethal force against others provided doing so brings about positive consequences, like lower crime rates, less child abuse, lower population rates, access to education and employment, etc. This conclusion contradicts the non-initiation of force principle which states that one cannot justly pursue social utility by violating an individual’s right to life, liberty or property; the very basis of their opposition to socialism.

The second avoidance tactic is to appeal to slogans such as “you can’t force your morality onto others, you can’t legislate morality”. The problem with these claims is that the non-initiation of force principle is itself a moral principle and liberals believe the state should enforce this principle and should defend people against others who would violate it. This forces a dilemma upon liberals who cite this slogan; either the claim “you can’t force your morality onto others” applies to the non-initiation of force principle or it does not. If it does, then abortion involves an unjust imposition of morality onto another only if you assume it is not the initiation of force. If it does not, then liberalism as a doctrine collapses as the state has no duty to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens from aggression. In fact, it entails the conclusion that acts of aggression such as rape and murder should be decriminalised alongside abortion.

It follows then that the liberal cannot rationally avoid the question. If one is to both support ‘liberal’ abortion laws and hold to the non-initiation of force principle, one must do so either on (a) or (b) above. I think neither is terribly defensible.

Is the Fetus an Aggressor?
Consider first (a), the contention that a fetus can be considered an aggressor because it is intruding upon a woman’s body without her consent; an intrusion grave enough to justify the use of lethal force. In this respect then, being subject to an unplanned pregnancy would be on par with being the recipient of a serious assault such as being raped or severely beaten. Frank Beckwith and Steve Thomas in Consent, Sex and the Pre-Natal Rapist, have demonstrated several problems with this claim. It leads to the conclusion that, in certain circumstances abortion is justified without the consent of the woman.

Consider the following scenario. A young woman is involved in a car accident and is rendered unconscious by her injuries. She is brought to a hospital where, still comatose, she is examined by a doctor. While performing some tests, the doctor determines that the woman has been pregnant for several weeks. Furthermore, suppose that evidence comes to light to suggest that the woman is unaware of her pregnancy, perhaps her close friends know nothing of the pregnancy, her diary shows no knowledge of being pregnant, and so on.

Adopting McDonagh’s understanding of pregnancy as morally equivalent to rape or assault, what is the doctor’s obligation to this unconscious patient? It would seem that, under these conditions, the doctor is morally required to perform an abortion to rid his patient of the ‘massive intrusion’ being imposed upon her by her unborn offspring. After regaining consciousness, the woman would have to be told that she’s undergone an abortion for a pregnancy of which she was not aware, for there was good evidence that no consent had been given and that she was under assault.[iv]

Beckwith’s point is that if the fetus is morally or legally on par with an aggressor who intrudes upon a woman’s body without her consent, such as a assailant or rapist then it would follow that in the case sketched above the doctor would be justified (and arguably would have an obligation) to abort despite the fact that no consent from the women had been obtained.Consider, that if one saw a person having sex with an unconscious woman and one knew the woman had not consented, it would be absurd to wait for the woman to wake up to see if she wanted to consent to sex. One would be obligated to intervene. “[T]he doctor in the midst of the situation, aware of the pregnancy in the absence of consent, must see it as the rape-in-progress of his unconscious patient. How could he do anything else but end the assault?”[v]

Now I assume that liberals would oppose the idea that any woman who both does not know she is pregnant and is unconscious should be subjected to an abortion without her consent. If this is the case then it is clear that they do not think that an unconsented to pregnancy constitutes an act of serious aggression. If the fetus is an unjust aggressor then liberals are committed to coercive abortions. If coercive abortions are not liberal then the fetus is not an unjust aggressor.

Is the Fetus a Person?
If the fetus is not an unjust aggressor then a liberal defense of abortion must be based upon (b), the idea that a fetus is not a person, a being that possesses the rights to life, liberty and property that liberals believe the state exists to protect. Now a fetus is clearly a human organism. After 14 days at least, it is an individual living being that is a member of the species homo sapiens. To justify abortion via (b), the liberal needs to tell us what property a human being possesses that grounds the right to not be subjected to the initiation of force, to not be killed. Further a liberal must also be able to plausibly maintain that a human organism does not acquire this property until after the fetal stage.

Prominent New Zealand Libertarian commentator, Peter Creswell, takes the view,

[T]he foetus is not yet a human being, but a part of a human being – the mother – who has rights over it. To be an actual, rather than merely potential, human being is, among other things, to be physically separate, which a foetus is not.[vi]

This claim is erroneous. First the “parts of” relationship is transitive; if a brick is part of a wall and the wall part of a house then the brick is part of the house. If a fetus is part of a woman’s body it follows then that any organ that is part of the fetus will be part of the mother. A woman pregnant at eight weeks then possesses four arms, four legs and two brains. If the fetus is male, she will have both a vagina and a penis and be both male and female. Conclusions that are even more bizarre follow if the woman is pregnant with twins. She could have three faces, three brains, six arms, two penises and a vagina, three hearts, six kidneys and so on.[vii]

Moreover, PC’s contention that “to be an actual human” one must be “physically separate” entails that conjoined twins are not human. Consider conjoined twins Bob and Scott. If Bob is a human being then since Scott cannot live independently of Bob, Scott must not be a human person (the converse is equally true). Yet it is difficult to see what property Bob has that Scott lacks which would justify considering one of them human and the other not simply because neither is dependant of the other. It appears then, that one would be forced to conclude that they both are and are not, human. Perhaps PC is simply giving a poorly worded defence of the viability criteria, which I have previously critiqued here.

However, the usual liberal response is to ground the right to not be subjected to the initiation of force, to not be killed, in certain psychological capacities that human beings typically display; such things as sentience, rationality, self-awareness, autonomy, etc.

Despite the pervasive appeal of this approach, it faces serious problems. Boonin notes that those who attempt to ground humanity in the amount of brain development an organism has face a dilemma. “Any appeal to what a brain can do at various stages of development would seem to have to appeal to what the brain can already do. Or to what the brain has the potential to do in the future.”[viii]

Either option leads to problems for a defender of the permissibility of abortion who does not also want to endorse infanticide. This is because “by any plausible measure dogs, and cats, cows and pigs, chickens and ducks or more intellectually developed than a new born infant.”[ix] Suppose, then, one takes the first horn and appeals to what the brain can already do. However, unless one wishes to affirm that cats, dogs and chickens are human beings, “appeals to what the brain can already do” will “be unable to account for the presumed wrongness of killing toddlers or infants.”[x] Suppose, then, one takes up the second horn of the dilemma and appeals to “what the brain has the potential to do in the future;”[xi] Boonin notes that this will entail that feticide is homicide. “If [such an account] allows appeals to what the brain has the potential to do in the future, then it will have to include fetuses as soon as their brains begin to emerge, during the first few weeks of gestation.”[xii]

A couple of examples will illustrate this. Suppose the liberal appeals to sentience, the capacity for consciousness and the ability to perceive pleasure and pain. This criterion will mean abortion is permissible up to 24 weeks.[xiii] The problem is that this criterion also catches cats, dogs, cows, and chickens as well all. All of which are as sentient if not more sentient than new born infants and post-24 week fetuses.

If the liberal draws the line at sentience, he/she will have to hold that farming, butchers shops, McDonald’s restaurants, Kentucky fried Chicken restaurants all engage in unjustified aggression against people because they kill sentient beings without their consent. Further, to remain consistent, the liberal will have to maintain a policy of outlawing all these industries and prosecuting those who engage in them for murder and cannibalism.

Suppose the liberal appeals to more advanced psychological states such as self-awareness, rationality or autonomy. Such accounts of the grounding of rights will exclude the animals mentioned above and will exclude human fetuses. The problem is, according to this account, newborn infants are not persons either.

In a definitive study of infanticide, Michael Tooley compiles an impressive array of neurological and physiological data that demonstrates that infants are not persons in this sense until some time after birth.[xiv] The price of this line of inference is the reduction of newborn infants to the ethical level of cows. A newborn cow, and certainly a mature cow, is more person-like than an infant is. It is difficult to understand by this view why killing and eating infants is any more problematic than consuming a Big Mac.

Of course the liberal can avoid this by claiming that it is the potential to acquire properties such as rationality, self-awareness, autonomy, not their actuality that matters. This will enable one to claim infants are protected by the non-initiation of force principle and will exclude animals. But the problem of course is that foetuses will also be protected by the non-initiation of force principle because fetuses also have the potential to possess these properties.

In summation, liberal proponents of the non-initiation of force principle can only support abortion if they are willing to be inconsistent and arbitrary in their application of the principle or if they are willing to endorse not just infanticide but the eating of newborn infants or state mandated vegetarianism or coercive abortions. These policies are an anathema to most liberals; as such, abortion is not liberal.

[i] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (London: Penguin Classics, 1985), 69.
[ii] Ibid. 71.
[iii] Murray N Rothbard, For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (New York: Collier Books, 2002) 23.
[iv] Francis J. Beckwith & Stephen Thomas, “Consent, Sex, and the Prenatal Rapist; A Brief Reply to McDonagh’s Suggested Revision of Roe v Wade,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 17: 3 (2003): 4.
[v] Ibid, 6.
[vi] Peter Creswell “Not PC: Cue Card Libertarianism – Abortion”
http://pc.blogspot.com/2005/05/cue-card-libertarianism-abortion.html.
[vii] Here I am influenced by Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 45-47 and Francis J Beckwith, Politically Correct Death, 124.
[viii] David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 125.
[ix] Ibid, 121.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] It is generally accepted that sentience occurs around 24 week’s gestation. There is some dispute over this and some scientists date sentience in the first 14 weeks of gestation.
[xiv] Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983) Ch. 11.5.

22 replies
  1. CT
    CT says:

    The Bible believer can accept that “(some) morality can be legislated,” deny that the fetus is an aggressor, accept that a fetus is a human person, and yet deny that abortion falls under the “harm principle.” This is because the Bible believer can rest assured that abortion does not harm the fetus in relevant sense, since abortion is in the fetus’s own interest. Referring to the fetus as an unborn baby, here is how the argument goes:

    (1) Unborn babies do not deserve far worse than bodily dismemberment.

    (2) God does not condemn people to worse than they deserve.

    (3) Hell is worse than bodily dismemberment.

    (4) Therefore, God does not condemn unborn babies to hell.

    (5) Hundreds of millions of unborn babies have been aborted.

    (6) Had they not been aborted, some of these would have survived to adulthood.

    (7) It is unreasonable to believe that all of these survivors would have come to faith in Christ.

    (8) Adults who do not come to faith in Christ are condemned to hell.

    (9) Therefore, if some had not been aborted, they’d have gone to hell.

    (10) Therefore, abortion has saved some from hell.

    (11) We can correspondingly conclude that abortion saves an unborn baby from the risk of hell.

    (12) Hell involves eternal suffering and separation from God.

    (13) There is nothing in the earthly life for which it is worth risking eternal separation from God.

    (14) Therefore, abortion is in the unborn baby’s interest.

    (15) Therefore, it is misguided to oppose abortion on behalf of the unborn baby; it is therefore misguided to legislate against abortion based upon the supposed harm done to the unborn baby.

  2. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    CT,

    Your argument could have skipped quite a number of premises and said the same thing.

    Your 15 step argument fails for a few reasons;

    Premise 9 is presumptuous. How can you know that if your are not God? As this premise relies on the truth of premise 7, I deny 7 and say it is not unreasonable, for it is entirely reasonable that God could have ordered the world in such a way that all unborn children were those who would have come to Christ, had they been allowed the chance to mature to adults.

    Premise 10, therefore does not follow.

    Correspondingly, neither does premise 11. On its own merits it is only through the perspective of human beings that a chance to mature to adulthood is risking condemnation in hell. But with a God perspective, who has perfect divine foreknowledge of creaturely freedom (or else are unconditionally elected if your are a Calvinist), there really is no risk at all!

    Matt has his own ways of avoiding premise 12 that I’m not yet convinced of, but his solution could also give substantial weight to a solid refutation of premise 13. For myself I’ll simply say Premise 13 is also presumptuous, and I think plausibly false, but since the argument is already fatally flawed, there is no need to kick a dead horse.

    Therefore, premise 14 doesn’t follow. And as an assertion all on its own, it is morally reprehensible to disenfranchise a person of their basic human rights, namely, (a) the right to live and (b) the right to choose even if it is in their best interest for their will to be subverted.

    Therefore your conclusions in 15 are refuted.

  3. CT
    CT says:

    Stuart, let’s begin at the earliest step at which you object: step 7. In rejecting step 7, you claim that it is not unreasonable to suppose that, of the hundreds of millions who have been aborted, one of the following would have been of each of each: either (a) the unborn baby would have failed to have reached adulthood anyways, or (b) the unborn baby would have come to faith in Christ.

    I take it that you would grant that a good proportion of aborted babies would have reached adulthood had they not been aborted. Of all these tens of millions, you suppose that it is not unreasonable to think that not a single one would have failed to come to faith in Christ. Such optimism!

    It seems that your optimism is founded upon the following possibility: God might order the world such that everyone who is aborted is someone who would have gone to heaven anyways. This is certainly possible. But is this really how you want to defend your rejection of step 7?

  4. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Yes, that is how I want to defend my rejection of your 7th premise. I think it wholly plausible if God is good and has middle knowledge. In order for you to maintain that premise 7 is plausible, the resources of knowledge you would need to render it more plausible that its contradictory is unreasonable for you to claim to have. Moreover, since you concede it is possible, then my argument against you using premise 7 in your argument is logically sound.

  5. CT
    CT says:

    Stuart, I wonder if you are confusing what is logically possible with what is reasonable to believe. Just because something is logically possible doesn’t mean that it is reasonable to believe that it is true. Just because God might have ordered the world in a certain way doesn’t mean that it is reasonable to suppose that he in fact did.

    So let me ask you this. Do you have any more reason to reject step 7 rather than step 6? After all, God might have ordered the world such that 6 is false. In other words, God might have ordered the world in such a way that every aborted baby would have died in infancy anyways. Is it unreasonable to believe that such is in fact how God has ordered the world? In other words, is it unreasonable to suppose that for every baby that gets aborted, the baby would have died in infancy anyways? I suppose it is unreasonable. How about you?

  6. Matthew Flannagan
    Matthew Flannagan says:

    CT

    Several points

    First, even if we grant your point it fails to refute my argument. This is because as Mill’s harm principle is interpreted by liberals it refers to temporal harms not harms in the after life. Liberal political theorists deny that governments should protect people from eternal harm of this sort, understood in this sense, abortion violates the harm principle.

    As to your argument, First, Stuart raises the middle knowledge view to contest 7). In fact one could argue further and use it to dispute 4), suppose a person dies before they are at an age where they commit any sin for which they are culpable, then it seems there is nothing commendable about their failure to sin in this instance. Augustine illustrates this point with the example of a person who plans and intends a rape but on the way dies, is this person commendable for not raping, its implausible to assume he is, after all the only reason he did not was because he died, had he lived he would have committed rape.

    A proponent of middle knowledge then could argue that God judges people who die in infancy on the basis of what they would have done had they not been killed. If this position were adopted then one could grant 7) but use it deny 4). Similarly a person can avoid 4) by simply stating they do not know how God will deal with those who die prior to the age of majority, a person could note the option you suggest, the middle knowledge option Stuart suggests and the middle knowledge option I have sketched here and state they do not know which is correct. This then would lead them not not assent to 4). To defeat this position you would need to show that the believer is compelled to accept your position over the others.

    As Stuart states I also deny 12) I believe hell involves eternal destruction, hence I am not committed to anything that follows from it.

    I also think your premise 15) is does not follow. Suppose it’s true that abortion saves the baby from hell, it does not follow that abortion does not harm the child. This is because you fail to distinguish what a person causes and what a person forsees others will do. Suppose for example that a person tells me that if I don’t commit rape they will kill themselves, I refuse and they commit suicide. It’s implausible, I think, to say that in this situation I killed them. They killed themselves, I merely foresaw that they would do this, the fact they died is there responsibility not mine I am responsible for what I do, not for what others do in response to what I do.

    Apply this distinction to the situation at hand, if a person aborts a fetus they kill them, hence the damage is caused by that person, hence they harmed the fetus. It might be true that God then grants eternal life on them, but that is what God does. I don’t do it, I killed them. Suppose on the other hand they don’t abort the foetus and God condemns the person latter in their life, in this situation they have not caused the foetus any harm at all, they have foreseen that someone else ( God) will. Hence failure their failure to abort does not cause harm to the fetus and there aborting does not cause them to be benefited.

    I also dispute (13), as you appear to interpret this claim, (13) affirms that anything we do to another person is justified if it prevents them from the risk of being condemned. I think this claim is clearly false. Infanticide for example would (given the other assumptions you make) prevent people having this risk, as would killing people after they convert to Christ etc yet none of these things are justified. More importantly I see no reason why a Christian ethicist must accept this interpretation of (13). This appears to be based on a kind of consquentialism for which I see no reason to accept

  7. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Matt, not to get too far off topic, but I’m curious. You say:

    As Stuart states I also deny 12) I believe hell involves eternal destruction, hence I am not committed to anything that follows from it.

    Did you mean to say that you don’t believe hell involves eternal destruction? If not, I’m not sure what the distinction is between your view and the orthodox one.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  8. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    CT

    Stuart, I wonder if you are confusing what is logically possible with what is reasonable to believe. Just because something is logically possible doesn’t mean that it is reasonable to believe that it is true. Just because God might have ordered the world in a certain way doesn’t mean that it is reasonable to suppose that he in fact did.

    Given that it is logically possible (which you admit) and that I think that God has middle knowledge, I don’t think it at all unreasonable. But what kind of a premise begins with “it is unreasonable to think that…” ? It seems to me this fails as a logical proof right there, for that which appears unreasonable may well have sufficient warrant – albeit currently unknown – to render it wholly reasonable. In the strict sense, for it to be even possible is enough to diffuse your argument altogether.

  9. CT
    CT says:

    Hi Matthew Flannagan,

    First, even if we grant your point it fails to refute my argument. This is because as Mill’s harm principle is interpreted by liberals it refers to temporal harms not harms in the after life.

    Two points here. Mill’s harm principle, as cited, provides a necessary but not sufficient condition for showing that conduct is “amenable to society.” This means that Mill’s principle is really not the best starting point for your pro-life argument, since the necessary condition can only show when the conduct is not amenable to society. Secondly, if a point of view is blind to the relevant facts—facts which show that the conduct in question does not in fact harm its “victim”—then it is tempting to say “so much the worse for that point of view.” Why pretend to be blind to revealed truth about the afterlife?

    suppose a person dies before they are at an age where they commit any sin for which they are culpable, then it seems there is nothing commendable about their failure to sin in this instance

    This observation is neither here nor there. The reason that an unborn baby does not deserve eternal suffering in hell is not due to any “commendable” act or omission on its part. Having done nothing because one has not had the opportunity to do anything is not commendable. But the point is that this is also not condemnable.

    A proponent of middle knowledge then could argue that God judges people who die in infancy on the basis of what they would have done had they not been killed.

    One of course could argue this. But what do you think? A person who takes this view can say that some unborn baby do deserve far worse than bodily dismemberment. Do you agree? You can of course reject the first premise. But then you would have to reject the first premise.

    As Stuart states I also deny 12) I believe hell involves eternal destruction, hence I am not committed to anything that follows from it.

    This argument will naturally be of less interest to you than to those who take the more traditional (and orthodox?) view of hell. As a thinker, however, I commend your habit of taking an interest in the beliefs of others (such as Mill’s “harm principle” and the “non-initiation of force principle”).

    Suppose it’s true that abortion saves the baby from hell, it does not follow that abortion does not harm the child. This is because you fail to distinguish what a person causes and what a person forsees others will do….

    Notice first that the argument states that abortion saves the unborn from the risk of hell. Moreover, don’t we act in the interests of small children when we keep dangerous drugs away from them—despite the fact that we merely foresee that the presence of such drugs will put them at risk? You go on to mention responsibility, but this is off topic. Whether or not we are ever responsible for anyone else’s going to hell is not directly relevant to the question of whether or not we can ever prevent another person from facing the risk of hell.

    if a person aborts a fetus they kill them, hence the damage is caused by that person, hence they harmed the fetus. It might be true that God then grants eternal life on them, but that is what God does. I don’t do it, I killed them.

    By this sort of reasoning, I don’t kill a person when I push him into an oncoming train. It might be true that I push him, but it’s the train that kills him.

    (13) affirms that anything we do to another person is justified if it prevents them from the risk of being condemned.

    Here you are simply not reading what (13) actually says. There nothing in (13) that says anything about justification. There isn’t even anything in my argument which claims that abortion is justified or morally permissible. The point is rather than abortion is in the interest of the unborn.

  10. CT
    CT says:

    Stuart,

    Given that it is logically possible (which you admit) and that I think that God has middle knowledge, I don’t think it at all unreasonable.

    Then let me repeat to you the challenge: Do you have any more reason to reject step 7 rather than step 6? After all, God might have ordered the world such that 6 is false. In other words, God might have ordered the world in such a way that every aborted baby would have died in infancy anyways. Is it unreasonable to believe that such is in fact how God has ordered the world? In other words, is it unreasonable to suppose that for every baby that gets aborted, the baby would have died in infancy anyways? I suppose it is unreasonable. How about you?

    But what kind of a premise begins with “it is unreasonable to think that…”

    Feel free to replace step 7 with step 7′: Not all of these survivors would have come to faith in Christ. The bit about how it is unreasonable to think otherwise is merely to help the reader appreciate how one arrives at such a premise.

  11. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    Friends,

    I have been enjoying the discussion, but did not post anything lest there be too many threads on one post. Just one observation on the original post of CT:

    An alogorithm-type discussion often looks very interesting and convincing, and it also appeals to the modern mind. However, such algorithms often ignore the additional “branches” that ought to be added to make the argument fairly complete. Once these essential “branches” are ignored, one can lead the algorithm to any direction that one wishes to lead it.

    This kind of selective-algorithmic-argument has been most successfully used by the proponents of moral relativism.

  12. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    CT,

    Do you have any more reason to reject step 7 rather than step 6? After all, God might have ordered the world such that 6 is false…

    I suppose he might of – but I don’t really see your point. If you want your argument to succeed then why do you press your own premise toward refutation? I challenge 7. That challenge to 7 doesn’t dissipate if 6 falls as well. All it means is the argument is doubly bust.

    In response to those questions I have no objection to premise 6. I think it trivially obvious. As it stand it has none of the theological colouring that premise 7 has. No I don’t think your suggestions are unreasonable given it is logically possible and that God has middle knowledge.

    Your rephrasing of premise 7 exposes the hidden assumptions being made. First, you are assuming libertarian freedom, that which any proper Calvinist denies. If Calvinism is correct then the doctrine of unconditional election follows and to claim to know 7 as an established fact is the same as the claim to know the mind of God. Second, by failing to appreciate the molinistic proposal, you assume that God has not providentially ordered the world such that all aborted babies would have trusted in Christ for salvation had they been given the chance to live to the age of accountability. Which again is tantamount to knowing the mind of God, or else refusing to ascribe to him enough power to do so. In order for you to prove your premise then, you would need to decide to argue against the Calvinistic rebuttal or the Molinistic rebuttal, and then give some sort of argument for the assumption made. A heavy task indeed!

  13. CT
    CT says:

    Johnson,

    Thank you for following the discussion. Step-by-step arguments are a good way to make explicit a chain of reasoning, so as to expose as much as possible to critical reflection. I have numbered the steps simply to facilitate reference. If you can see a “branch” that has been ignored, but ought not to be, I welcome your insight.

  14. CT
    CT says:

    Stuart,

    I suppose he might of – but I don’t really see your point. If you want your argument to succeed then why do you press your own premise toward refutation? I challenge 7. That challenge to 7 doesn’t dissipate if 6 falls as well.

    The point is simply to help you to see that your objection to step 7 leads to some absurdities. That is, if you were consistent, the argument you use would lead you to insist that it is not unreasonable to think that every aborted baby would have died in infancy anyways. After all, to say that such a hypothesis is unreasonable is to “claim to know the mind of God.” By parity of reason, you must think that it is also not unreasonable to assume that, of the hundreds of millions of aborted fetuses, every single one of them would have become molinists advocating young earth creationism. And this is absurd. (If you cannot see that this is absurd, let me know and I’ll add more.)

  15. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    CT

    I’m afraid you have missed the point of the Molinistic spear. Given that God has resources sufficient to create a possible world, namely, knowledge to concieve of it and power to actualise it, if it is logically possible then all your suggestions are “not unreasoanble.”

  16. Rob
    Rob says:

    Matt,

    Not sure I am following you here…

    “I believe hell involves eternal destruction. I don’t believe it involves eternal concious suffering.”

    What do you mean by “eternal destruction”? Do you mean something is destroyed once and then ceases to exist for eternity?

  17. CT
    CT says:

    Stuart,

    Since you believe it is reasonable to assume that each aborted baby would have died in infancy anyways, what would you say if people actually began assuming this? (After all, your arguments are so rigorous.) Suppose that people begin comforting themselves with the idea that every baby that gets aborted would have otherwise died immediately after birth anyways. What would you say?

    Alternatively, we could suppose that people began assuming that each baby that is aborted would have otherwise become a fierce advocate of abortion, wishing that he/she would have been aborted. If it is reasonable to assume that every single aborted baby would have otherwise developed such beliefs and wishes, why can’t someone take comfort in such an assumption?

  18. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    CT,

    I appreciate your questions and, during the discourse, will answer them.

    Question 1: Since you believe it is reasonable to assume that each aborted baby would have died in infancy anyways, what would you say if people actually began assuming this? . . . Suppose that people begin comforting themselves with the idea that every baby that gets aborted would have otherwise died immediately after birth anyways. What would you say?

    Question 2: If it is reasonable to assume that every single aborted baby would have otherwise [if it had not been aborted and reached adulthood] developed such beliefs and wishes [such as “I wish I had been aborted”], why can’t someone take comfort in such an assumption? (brackets mine)

    During the duration of this discussion and the back and forth, you have been assuming the existence of heaven and hell to show “abortion is in the unborn baby’s interest” (premise 14). To avoid this conclusion I have assumed that God exists and has middle knowledge. I get the inkling that you are trying to spring a trap by arriving at a morally unacceptable consequence that comes as a logical result of the Molinist’s framework employed here. While I show that this strategy is erroneous, lets not forget that it is your argument has already led to unacceptable moral consequences – at least on the assumptions that you make about the nature of the foetus – in premise 14.

    Firstly, your comment above ceases to make these vital assumptions about God. If God exists and has middle knowledge it is reasonable to think that “each aborted baby would have died in infancy anyway”, but if he does not exist it is not reasonable to think that. But if he does the same God, whose middle knowledge and power actualises the best possible way to achieve the best possible world, also judges it. If you assume Molinism, you must also assume there is a God who holds all free-agents accountable for their actions towards the unborn. So the trip mechanism on your trap cannot hold open the jaws of your argument.

    Second, just because it is reasonable to believe a possible world exists, does not make it reasonable to believe that that possible world is the actual world. The fact is you cannot know what possible world has been actualised by God. So when it comes to destroying the life of a child before it is born, it is always best to err on the side of caution by preserving life, and not delude oneself into thinking up possible scenarios are actually the case.

  19. CT
    CT says:

    Stuart,

    You mention “assumptions that [I] make…in premise 14”. You ought to understand step 14 as a conclusion resting upon premises that precede it numerically.

    You still affirm that “If God exists and has middle knowledge it is reasonable to think that each aborted baby would have died in infancy anyway.” Now I’m starting to see that in your attempts to explore the implications of molinism, you are reaching a bit beyond your own expertise. Consider the following two statements you make:

    If you assume Molinism, you must also assume there is a God who holds all free-agents accountable for their actions towards the unborn.

    This is neither here nor there. Nothing in my argument denies that God “holds all free-agents accountable for their actions towards the unborn.”

    Second, just because it is reasonable to believe a possible world exists, does not make it reasonable to believe that that possible world is the actual world. The fact is you cannot know what possible world has been actualised by God.

    I freely concede that there is a possible world in which every baby that is aborted in the actual world dies in infancy (in that possible world). This is precisely how you can understand my statement that it is logically possible that every aborted baby would have died in infancy anyways. However, what’s at stake is the issue of whether or not it is reasonable to believe that such a possible world is in fact also the actual world. Let me quote myself:

    Just because something is logically possible doesn’t mean that it is reasonable to believe that it is true. Just because God might have ordered the world in a certain way doesn’t mean that it is reasonable to suppose that he in fact did.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] as distinct, living and whole human organisms with inherent moral worth (see Matt Flannagan’s recent discussion of abortion and the inconsistency of political liberalism). It is, however, one thing to argue that […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *