consequentialism

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Book Review: Viable@140 by George Gmitro

I’m going to lay it all out right here at the beginning, and yes this will be a big SPOILER for this novel: this book’s premise is that a man and woman get pregnant, she decides to have an abortion, and he kidnaps her and keeps her sedated for the duration of the pregnancy so that she will have the baby rather than an abortion. Your reaction to that description probably tells you what you need to know about this book. Frankly, if your reaction is anything than abject horror, I think there’s some serious issues going on. There will be more, serious SPOILERS in the rest of this review.

Viable@140 is Gmitro’s attempt to portray a story in which what it means to be pro-life is radically questioned and challenged. To my astonishment as I continued reading, it became clear that Gmitro is at the least, not definitively rejecting this as being completely unacceptable morally. Once again, the premise is that Lance kidnaps his fiancee, Sandi, who is pregnant because she’s going to have an abortion. Then, he uses sedatives to keep her knocked out for the duration of her pregnancy so that she won’t have the abortion. Meanwhile, the world is looking for Lance. Eventually, they find him but a huge group of pro-life people turns out to defend lance and his child. Eventually, millions of people, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush walk their laps around the residence Lance is keeping his fiancee comatose within. Would-be assassins attempt to kill him so that the news story doesn’t break and get the public talking about abortion. News stations gag the news, and only the brave Fox News station will take the story and report the truth. These are things that happen in the book.

What happens to Sandi after the baby has been safely delivered into Lance’s hands? After all, million(s) of people have now seen or heard how horrible she is and admire Lance for his bravery in kidnapping her and keeping her sedated for six months! Well, fear not, for, as a Doctor tells us in the book, “Since she was not awake through most of this ordeal, leading mental health experts believe that any immediate negative psychological effects will be minimal and by not having the abortion, may have prevented psychological injury in the long term…” (Kindle location 5139ff). I am genuinely flabbergasted by this statement. The woman will spend the rest of her life as the villain who wanted an abortion, who lay comatose as million(s) marched around the house in which she was interred, who had the baby and was whisked off the scene to privacy, etc. But fear not, because her fiance kept her knocked out for the event! Indeed, whatever psychological scarring Lance may have caused her, it would have been vastly outweighed by the psychological damage of having an abortion, according to these fictional leading mental health experts.

I in no way think that consequentialism is a valid moral theory, but that moral theory is actually what this comes down to. The idea is that it is less harmful to kidnap and sedate someone for 6 months than it is to kill the unborn. Whatever pro-and-con scale one chooses here, I believe that the idea itself is irrelevant. Why? Because I do not believe that the consequences brought about by action are what makes the action right or wrong to begin with. After all, it seems obvious that simply killing someone who is 100% certain they would get an abortion before they get pregnant would prevent the abortion. However, that is also obviously wrong, despite the consequence that it prevents an abortion. In a more true-to-life example, bombing an abortion clinic or killing its employees may prevent some abortion(s), but in no way is it justified morally. Indeed, if one were to take the example here in Viable@140 to its logical extreme and apply consequentialism as a moral theory, it is morally justifiable to simply incarcerate all pregnant women to prevent them from having abortions. But such a suggestion is clearly monstrous to begin with.

I’m a firm believer in always trying to say something positive about something, especially when it must be so negative overall. I could say that this book may at least get people talking about the debate over abortion. But I’m afraid it would cause people to create a straw man of the pro-life position rather than allowing us to give the full force of our position. So even that tentative remark must be qualified.

I am pro-life, and I have written multiple times on this topic, including on the reasons, both scientifically and philosophically, I think abortion is wrong. However, in no way can I endorse the conclusions or heavy implications of this book. From its implied morality to the use of questionable moral foundations, I find it wanting. Moreover, its use of the “Fox News is the only true news source” meme throughout is as tired as it is untrue. Pro-life advocates, we cannot justify wrongdoing in the name of this movement. If and when we do, whatever alleged moral high ground we may hold is gone. The very foundations for our position will erode. Consequentialism is not the answer, it is actually the exact problem.

I received this book from the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Abortions rates are lower in countries where it is legal- some thoughts on recent pro-choice comments

 Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. For example, the abortion rate is high, at 29 and 32 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and Latin America, respectively—regions where abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. In Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the abortion rate is 12 per 1,000. ( Sedgh G et al. cited below)

There it is in black and white. Countries in which abortion is illegal have higher rates of abortion in most cases. What does this mean for the pro-life argument? Some have argued that pro-life advocates should work to make abortion legal. For example, Margot Magawan writes, “It’s clear that top Republican candidates are being short-sighted and ineffective, rushing off in precisely the wrong direction if their goal truly is to reduce abortions.” The argument seems to be quite simple. After all, if the goal of the pro-life advocates is to reduce the number of abortions, then if making it legal reduces them, they should argue to legalize abortions.

There are a number of problems with this argument, however, and I’ll briefly list them before examining them in turn.

1. Those making this argument seek to compare countries unilaterally based on a situation with all kinds of factors which cannot possibly be weighed fairly.

2. The argument reduces the goal of the pro-life movement to reducing abortions only; but the movement has a broader range than that. The argument is susceptible to a reductio ad absurdum which shows that the premise on which it is based is absurd.

3. The argument begs the question against the pro-life position by assuming the position itself is false.

3. The argument assumes consequentialism as a metaethical theory without argument.

1. Comparing Countries Unilaterally

It seems strange to me to compare the situations of different countries unilaterally on an issue like this. For example, it seems to have been shown that many things cannot be compared in this way. Installing democracy into random countries does not have a stabilizing effect. Comparing the economic situation of Rwanda with that of the United States seems almost grotesque. I’m not disputing the results of the study cited above; rather, I’m disputing the application of those results to a moral sphere. Think of all the factors which must be weighed: economic status, education, career choices, etc. To then take the raw data and apply it to a moral sentiment is quite a stretch. After all, it doesn’t take into consideration all the factors that those countries in which abortion is legal may have.

I do not want to make this the focus of my rebuttal, however, because I think the next 3 points are much stronger. To those we shall now turn.

2. Is Pro-Life About Reducing Abortions?

Another problem with the argument is that it assumes the pro-life position is dedicated to reducing abortions. That sentence may seem strange on a first reading, but read it this way instead: “the pro-life position is dedicated to reducing abortions only.” That is where one of the major difficulties arises for those making this argument. The pro-life position is not only about reducing abortions. In fact, while reducing the number of abortions is a goal of the pro-life movement, that is not the only goal or even, perhaps, the highest goal.

Suppose that reducing abortions was the only goal of the pro-life candidate. In that case, one way to reduce abortions would be by eliminating all human beings. If, after all, not a single human being were alive, there would be no abortions! This is, of course, patently absurd. Why? Not just because it seems obviously wrong to murder everyone on earth (or to murder anyone) in order to reduce the number of abortions, but also because this is a gross reduction of the pro-life position.

The pro-life position isn’t just about reducing the number of abortions. It is about advocating for life. In other words, those in the movement are making a factual and a moral claim: the entities aborted are human persons and it is wrong to kill them. But those who want to make the argument that pro-life advocates should legalize abortions in order to reduce them are, on a pro-life view, essentially arguing something similar to this:

Suppose that making murder legal reduced the number of murders. If you are against murder, you should then legalize murder.

The absurdity of this argument becomes clear because no one but a psychopath wants to legalize murder. But then it becomes clear that those pro-choice people making this argument have begged the question against the pro-life person. Let’s turn to that.

3. The Argument Begs the Question

If the pro-life position is correct, then it makes a mockery of this argument. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the advocate of the pro-life position is right: the unborn are not merely embryos (and other stages of development) but are rather human persons who deserve the same rights as people outside of wombs. Now, granting these assumptions, suppose one finds that legalizing abortions reduces them. To then argue that “we should legalize abortions to reduce their number” is exactly equivalent to arguing that we should legalize murder to reduce the number of murders. Note here that I’m not saying legalizing murder does reduce the number of murders; I’m arguing that if the pro-life position is correct, these arguments are exactly analogous. One who argues we should legalize abortions would be the same as one who argues we should legalize murders, if the pro-life position is correct.

Thus, it becomes clear that those who make an argument like that of Margot Magawan have begged the question against the pro-life position. They simply assume that it is morally permissible to have an abortion, and combine that with the false position that the pro-life position is only about reducing abortions. Thus, the argument fails because it begs the question. Without argument, the pro-choice advocate has caricatured its opposition and argued against this false image.

4. It assumes consequentialism.

The last rebuttal is more technical, but I want to keep it brief. Consequentialism is, basically, the position that it is not the status of actions themselves which are judged as moral but rather the consequences. If one takes an action which has morally good consequences, that action is deemed good.

Now consider once more the argument, “If your goal is to reduce abortions, you should legalize them [because if abortion is legal, the number is reduced].”

This argument doesn’t take into consideration the moral status of an abortion [again, see above: they’ve already begged the question]. Rather, it assumes that because the consequences (fewer abortions) are considered by pro-life advocates as morally good, they should take the action (legalizing abortions) which open the door for these consequences.

Without too much strain, it becomes clear that most pro-life advocates do not hold to consequentialism as a metaethical theory. There are many alternative metaethical theories which are preferable for any number of reasons. If a pro-life advocate holds to a deontological theory of ethics, for example, he will argue that the wrongness of abortion is outweighed by the benefits of reducing the number. Such examples could be multiplied almost beyond comprehension. Thus, the pro-choice advocate has assumed, again without argument, a controversial position and then utilized that position to argue against pro-life advocates. Therefore, the argument fails.

Conclusion

The argument which has been considered here is that “if the goal of the pro-life advocates is to reduce the number of abortions, then if making it legal reduces them, they should argue to legalize abortions.” I have rebutted this argument in four ways. First, it seems to trivialize the enormous amount of factors which must go into consideration of comparing abortion rates across countries. Second, it reduces the pro-life position almost beyond recognition and is susceptible to a reductio ad absurdem. Third, it begs the question. Fourth, it utilizes a controversial metaethical theory to justify its premise. For these four reasons, I conclude that the argument is unsound.

Source

Sedgh G et al., “Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008,” Lancet, 2012. (accessible: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2811%2961786-8/fulltext); summary: http://www.guttmacher.org/media/presskits/abortion-WW/statsandfacts.html.

Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prolife-DC.jpg

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Why are Christians politically atheistic?

Of note: Atheist Austin Cline has recently linked to my post with his own. He caricatures my argument as saying “Christians should reject secular government.” In fact, I explicitly deny this in my post, as anyone who reads it could see.

I take issue with 3 parts of Cline’s critique. First, he attacks my view that the government can have authority to restrict unrepentant sin. Yet the authority for that restriction is based upon  my assumption granted for the sake of this post; that the government gets its authority from God (Romans 13:1). Cline, being an atheist, obviously will reject that basis for authority. He did not outline his own position on the authority of government, so I cannot comment upon it, but it begs the question to assume that government should be secular, and then use that to critique a theo-centric government I explicate below. Second, he caricatures my argument as being a theocracy, which I deny explicitly, see below. Finally, he frames his post in a way that is clearly meant to induce panic, by calling it “J.W. Wartick: Christians should reject secular government.” There is nowhere that I have advocated that extreme position. In fact, that is also something I deny explicitly, agreeing with the apostle Paul in Romans, who said “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:5-7).

Recently, I was discussing the death of Osama bin Laden and the topic came up about whether he deserved to die, what role it played, and the like. Interestingly, the conversation opened up a discussion I’ve been contemplating. Namely, Why are so many Christians politically atheists?

Consider the death penalty. It was agreed upon that people can deserve the death penalty. Bin Laden, for example, was said to deserve such a penalty, along with serial killers and many murderers. But then the discussion turned to whether the government should deal out such punishment.

The friend offered following principle as normative for Christians:

1) If (some position such as the death penalty) cannot be justified by purely secular means, then it should not be forced onto others.

My immediate and somewhat snarky rejoinder to this argument was/is “Why?”

Why should I be a Christian in every aspect of my life, but when it comes to politics, be secular? Several answers are possible. For example, it could be asserted that “We (Christians) should not force our views onto others.” I think this is a fairly good response. But whence the principle?  Perhaps it comes from the idea of living a Christlike life. But I don’t see anything in the example of Christ which said we had to conform to secularism or take religion out of politics. It would take an interesting argument to say that Christ advocated secularism in the realm of politics.

Or take Paul, for example, who states clearly that the government is God’s servant and doesn’t carry the sword “for nothing” (Romans 13:4). Not only that, but the reason the government carries the sword is in case “you do wrong.”

And what, exactly, is wrong? I think it would have to be obvious that, for a Christian, that which is wrong is defined by that which goes against God’s nature and/or commands. But then it seems as though Paul is charging the government to follow that same standard, not some supposedly neutral standard. I’ve argued elsewhere against the plausibility of atheism as a neutral ground. I think it should be clear that atheism is not neutral in regards to religion; rather, it is against religion.

Therefore, it seems strange to me that secularism is chosen as the grounds for determining politics. Why should I, a theist, choose to be atheistic in my politics? I suppose the accusation could then fly that I advocate a theocracy. But what exactly is a theocracy? It’s a political system in which God rules and the laws are divine commands. I never argued that’s what I would like the United States to turn into. My view is simply that Christians should cast their votes for those positions which are favored by Biblical teaching and against those which are condemned. I don’t see any reason to divorce that which I hold most dear (Christian theism) as something from which I must be divorced when it comes to the ballot box.

Consider the following argument, which is admittedly somewhat consequentialist:

A) A life of unrepentant sin often leads to unbelief. (w=>y)

B) Unbelief is the only sin which condemns people to hell. (If y, then z)

C) Advocating some policy, x, permits or encourages lives of unrepentant sin. (x=>w)

D) Therefore, advocating x by extension opens the way for more unbelief and condemnation to hell. (1-3)

E) Therefore, Christians should not advocate x.

So I’m advocating a theo-centric view of politics, not a theocracy. On this view, one’s theism takes center stage. Sincere belief in everlasting life and death leads Christians to take steps within the law to prohibit behaviors which would lead to lives of unrepentant sin.

How would this cash out? Would we have to be prohibitionists or go around making lying illegal? I think that the answer to this second question is pretty clear. Within Scripture there is no prohibition of drinking alcohol (quite the opposite, in some cases). Rather, drunkenness is prohibited and/or discouraged. With the damage alcoholism has done to our society, I doubt that laws which took measures to prevent drunkenness would be a bad thing. I think the laws which would go into effect based upon the argument above would look mostly like what we have now. Now take the case of lying. While lying is clearly discouraged in the Bible, I don’t see any precedent therein for making it illegal in a broad sense. To be perfectly clear, lying already is illegal in some senses: take perjury, for example, or slander. I think these are derivative of a Christian worldview anyway, and laws against libel, slander, and perjury seem to fulfill the requirements of the above argument.

Reflecting on the ideas about bin Laden, above, it would appear there is another principle as well: that of honoring the image of God in man. Osama bin Laden did not honor that image, and for the blood he spilled, his blood was forfeit. Therefore, in addition to E), I would suggest:

2) The intrinsic value of humans (which only makes sense on theism anyway) is such that we should vote for issues which place honor of this value first.

To nuance it for Christians,

2′) The image of God in humans should be respected, and Christians should vote for issues which respect this image.

Finally, a note on Biblical ethics. It is extremely important for Christians to realize the distinctions between Law and Gospel and practice correct exegesis when it comes to these issues. I favor a Lutheran view with some theonomic tilt, but it is important to note that almost no Biblical scholars believe the Levitical and most of the other laws within the Old Testament are applicable today in any literal sense. But the question for this post is not which laws apply and which do not; rather it is a challenge to my fellow Christians.

So my question remains: Christians, why are you politically atheists?

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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