This is an armchair theology blog where I build each thesis on scripture as closely as I can. If you want an older post that does that on this topic please click HERE.
In this post though I’m going to tie my hands behind my back in order to appeal to non-christians for the sake of the unborn. Though alot of figurative ink has been spilled online most of the conversations only go about an inch deep and I want to do what I can to rectify this.
A common language most of us hopefully still agree with is reason so I will be leaning on that. The English language grew into itself in a Christian context so it’s not possible to eliminate Christian ideas altogether, but when I see myself drifting in that direction in my argumentation I’ll offer a secular perspective for the sake clear of communication.
Why do this?
Because I think it’s important. I believe we are committing genocide of the unborn and we need to stop. I also believe I can an average reader of sound mind willing to broach the topic openly that this is true. I don’t want to misrepresent the arguments for abortion in this post though. I am going to frame what’s been articulated to me as simply and as best I can and then focus my response against that. I’m limiting my scope to what I think is the most important part of the argument. If you want to discuss another aspect of the conversation please drop a comment and we can talk there.
Why do people support abortion?
I realize there are different views out there that wind up at supporting abortion. However, in my experience your average abortion supporter argues for a distinction between a fetus and a human being. They say that a fetus isn’t a human being until it’s born. Once he or she is born equal rights and due process apply, but before this happens they don’t and only the decision of the woman carrying the fetus is relevant. To challenge this is to challenge her bodily autonomy in the same manner as if she were to forbid you from getting a heart surgery or tattoo.
It is a waste of time to interact with this argument without defining terms. The word “being” is thrown around interchangeably as a philosophical term in and with biological ones, which is fine as long as it’s done with care and terms are defined. Let us at least agree that no meaningful conversation is going to be made at the idea level together until we start working out what is meant by these words and both sides affording an opportunity to poke holes. Let’s us head in that direction by interacting with another idea we probably agree with and see how it works out.
Do you believe in human equality?
Do you believe all humans are equal? I would assume yes. There is a powerful taboo in place right now against questioning human equality, particularly in the west. The consequences of the actions of communist and fascist rulers in the 20th century have left a strong distaste in everyone since, and for good cause. Taboo’s can be good things but they are never eternal. Taboos fade in time. This taboo against questioning human equality in particular will probably fade a good deal sooner than we would hope. People will need critically tested reasons for believing in human equality at some point in our future and it would be wise of us to leave the grid work in place so that those left defending it have an advantage over those who seek to topple it.
Most secular people I discuss this with don’t really articulate any good reasons for believing in human equality. They say they believe it but if you press them for why you get a lot of circular answers, which is why I submit that taboo as why I think they even hold to human equality in the first place. I don’t think this is critically examined by most secular people today. From a biology only perspective we are most decidedly not equal. Some humans are taller, skinnier, prettier, stronger, and some more intelligent. If you were to identify and quantify these variables everyone would have a different sum. Such variables aren’t trite either, many are good predictors for outcomes in terms of power, wealth, happiness, and much more. Add evolution into the mix and we are scientifically proven to not be equal, and that even if we were forced to be such somehow it would not be to our advantage to even approach. It would place us in a weaker state to even seek equality. Such is the state of equality when defined by what Aristotle would identify as mere “accidents and attributes”.
I never hear it worded this way of course. Most will say that human beings are equal, they just fail to define the term “being”. It’s a philosophical term not a biological one.
I do believe in human equality and here’s why…
I believe that human beings are dichotomous. If you want a theological argument for that click HERE. I don’t need that to argue for this though as a sufficient quantity of the data I need is self-evident. I believe we have a body and a soul, another way of wording that though if you don’t like the word soul is that we have a material and immaterial nature. Even the most naturalist reader of this post would likely concede that a state of mind is an immaterial aspect of the brain. You can project that concept out biologically if you like and arrive at an immaterial aspect of a human being without appealing to spirituality of any kind.
That dual nature of a human is what makes us all equal. We all have both parts of that whole and it doesn’t matter if one of those parts is lesser than that of another person. The presence of both equals a definitive whole. You remove my arm and I am less body but I am still a union of body and soul. You subject me to abject horror and my soul may be damaged but I am still a union of body and soul. My body and my soul may both weaken through the ravages of time as I age but never the less this dichotomous nature is still present until the day that I die.
As I touched on earlier, Aristotle developed terminology for this. He distinguished between the essential essence of a thing and its’ accidents and attributes. You remove my hand in a tragedy but you don’t alter my status as a human being in doing so, my essence still remains. This is what is meant in the word “being” when one says human being. It’s an ontological term speaking to the whole.
All human beings no matter their race, creed, age, developmental stage, skill, attractiveness, birth status, sex characteristics, or any other accident or attribute are equally a human being. As a Christian would say, Jesus bled and died for all of us.
That is a good reason to believe in human equality and it’s a fair demonstration of how fundamentally necessary philosophy still is. Even the best things science has produced still need a philosophical and moral structure to guide them or they produce abject horror.
How is this relevant to abortion though?
To most readers my next argument should be self-evident at this point. You have probably already connected the pieces. We would all agree that this dichotomous nature ends at death. Thus there is no objective reason to believe it begins anywhere else than life. Passage through the birth canal is a change in location not ontology. When a baby is born all of the changes that he or she goes through are accidents and attributes, nothing about the babies essential essence changes. Fetus isn’t an ontological term it’s a biological one that denotes a stage of growth and development.
Fetus is to baby, as baby is to child, as child is to teenager, as teenager is to adult, and so on…
There is no reason abstract mere presupposition to tie ontology to a specific point of development aside from conception itself. When a zygote forms both the material and the immaterial natures of the child are received from their parents and they become a new being. Just like in my analogy of how when a full grown man loses his arm and becomes less body but is still the dichotomy of body and soul so too a zygote is severely deficient in terms of both categories but nevertheless the seeds of both are united and there exists no reason philosophically or scientifically to not assume the seed of the soul is at the same stage of development as the seed of the body.
To tie existence of the immaterial nature of man to an arbitrarily defined degree of development of the body would in my mind force one to conclude that children who are so severely developmentally disabled that their immaterial nature is not self evident or elderly who are suffering the final stages of dementia are not human beings either and can be ethically disposed of at the choice of the primary caretaker. I doubt that’s a position you would advocate for, but if you tie personhood to cognition then that would be the only way you could maintain intellectual consistency.
Though in the earliest phase of development the zygote is a human body and soul and is subject to all the same risks and fortunes as the rest of us. They just happen to be in a helpless stage of life where they are wholly dependent and need others to advocate for them, in like manner to the elderly.
Even if you insist that it can’t be known when the immaterial aspect of a human comes into play, and that they can be killed before that occurs, all you’re doing is saying it’s okay to play a game of chance with murder. You wouldn’t approach any other category of human life in that regard would you? If you’re demolishing a building but you’re not sure if there is life inside of the building do you just pull the switch anyways? No, out of respect for the sanctify of life you would play it safe and I’m just asking you to be consistent.
I’m not using a new argument. This is the same rationale of the Christian’s who ended slavery in Great Britain without a war. Like it or not there are some Christian traditions that over time developed a consistent philosophical approach to arriving at human equality. This approach doesn’t need a cultural context or taboo to hold it up. You don’t have to be a Christian to appropriate it either.
We don’t mind if you plagiarize this one and roll with it. We don’t even care if you shamelessly take credit for it and blame us for not adopting it earlier in our history. We snagged the underlying terminology from B.C. Greek thinkers anyways so perhaps we can all just share this one. No matter where you take this argument we would all wind up in a better place. Go be the chaff and be separate but take this gem with you.
For reasons I made clear above I fear a world to come that loses the taboo and starts questioning human equality critically. Abortion in it’s current state is just a taste of that. There are already published ethicists advocating for after-birth abortion. Consistent with the arguments I’ve made they question drawing the line at passage through the birth canal. If the term “being” is merely granted by community consensus any line can be arbitrarily drawn wherever we like. Why not abort at 2 or 3 years of age for example? It’s not a slippery slope fallacy if I can objectively define and test the grade and grain of the slope. With no objectivity in defining “being” there is no reason to say the line can’t be subjectively moved when the taboo obstacles holding it back are removed.
You should be pro-life, it’s in your interest and it’s in the interest of generations to come. This doesn’t mean we have to be heartless to the plight of women. The sanctity of life and wellbeing of mothers in crisis are not mutually exclusive concerns. Wicked institutions have pitted the two against each other. Being pro-life doesn’t mean embracing the worst aspects of the american religious right or any of it.
A lot of Christians would honestly embrace a new coalition of pro-life advocates who prioritize a better social safety net for women in a crisis pregnancy. We could meet in the middle and work things out in the political sphere. I think that in such a future we would all be surprised how far the political conversation could move in favor of helping women and babies here and now when abortion is taken off the table and cast onto the ash heap of human holocausts it belongs with.