If You Can Say God Might Not Exist, Then Why Can’t I Say This? March 27, 2009

If You Can Say God Might Not Exist, Then Why Can’t I Say This?

Calgary Bishop Fred Henry isn’t a fan of the atheist bus ads he sees in his city.

He’s in favor of the rebuttal advertising that’s now on Calgary buses (“God cares for everyone… even for those who say He doesn’t exist!”) but I think this is the money quotation:

“If you can say that God probably doesn’t exist, go ahead, relax and enjoy yourself, why can’t I say abortion kills a child? Give me an answer. So far I haven’t got one.”

That’s because, as the saying goes, you can’t engage in a battle of reason with an unarmed man.

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  • schism

    …why can’t I say abortion kills a child?

    Because no one is denying that (in a general sense, at least) and it’s technically besides the point?

    Because you actually did say it without being thrown into one of President Antichrist’s secret Christian gulags?

    Because the last time you tried to say it, Satan sicced some frothing sex demons on you, resulting in you humping your dog for a few hours?

    Because you’re still feeling guilty over being caught masturbating by Ceiling Cat and you’re attempting to divert your attention?

  • Eric Z

    Silly bishop. No one is saying you can’t say that. We’re just saying you need to defend your position–y’know, with something more than, “‘Cause my [unproven] god says so.”

  • Erp

    Have to point out that the bishop is in Calgary, Alberta not the US.

    I will note that the bishop is allowed to say abortion kills a child (he did). He isn’t allowed to force everyone else to agree.

  • No matter what you say, life never begins until an egg is fertilized. Never.

  • Polly

    This goes to bolster my suspicion that religion causes brain damage. They constantly conflate the right of others to disagree* with them with an infringement on their rights. It’s as clear as day to anyone with a passing familiarity with logic, but…

    *It’s also presumptuous to assume NO atheist holds that view.

  • schism

    Have to point out that the bishop is in Calgary, Alberta not the US.

    Antichrists know no boundaries. Especially after creating that One-World Government. Didn’t you hear?

  • Evidence.
    I can say that God probably does not exist because there is no evidence that he does. You cannot say that abortion kills a child because there is no evidence that it does.

    Obviously, it comes down to the definition of a “child”- I side with evidence-based science over faith-based religion.

    Why is faith a virtue? It is a totally illogical way of providing knowledge and determining truth/reality.

  • From wikipedia:

    A non sequitur is a conversational and literary device, often used for comical purposes (as opposed to its use in formal logic). It is a comment which, due to its lack of meaning relative to the comment it follows, is absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing. Its use can be deliberate or unintentional. Literally, it is Latin for “it does not follow.” In other literature, a non sequitur can denote an abrupt, illogical, unexpected or absurd turn of plot or dialogue not normally associated with or appropriate to that preceding it. It is a type of logical fallicy.

    Biship Henry needs to know about this.

  • *It’s also presumptuous to assume NO atheist holds that view.

    Technically, I agree with the words he said. I don’t really buy the pro-choice mantra that a fetus is not in any way human. I think abortion really does (in some cases) kill babies. I can understand why people are bothered by it. I’m pro-choice, of course! I think it should be available and completely legal in all cases. But I think we should focus on the rational reasons we have for supporting legal abortion, and not pretending it’s a cut-and-dry issue.

  • Nobody’s stopping him. The difference is that he’s seeking to suppress others’ rights to speak and nobody’s suppressing his.
    Believers in magic, like religion, fear open debate because it fosters critical thought.

  • Takma’rierah

    Oooh, I have a button that says that! Well, actually it says “I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person,” verbatim, but I was so pleased and surprised to find that button already in my possession.

    Anyways. I can never understand why anti-abortion people get so up in arms over a half-formed creature but seemingly have no problem with animals being killed (although in both cases I understand the sentiment; it would be nice if the need for both, or in the animal’s case at least the suffering, was much reduced). Surely even a feeder mouse is more self-aware than an embryo? Besides, what does relaxing and enjoying yourself have to do with abortion?

  • Miko


    I’d suggest it has to do with the fact that they don’t consider self-awareness as a factor in the morality of the decision. Five such arguments that an abortion opponent could make would be:

    1. The morality of an action is determined by whether it is in accordance with the will of God. God stated “Thou shalt not murder” and thus it is morally indefensible to kill a fetus. God gave Adam dominion over the ‘lower’ beasts and so there can be no moral argument against slaughtering animals.

    2. The morality of an action is determined by the extent to which it restricts the potential action of a rational agent. While a fetus is incapable of taking action, it will in most normal circumstances develop into a rational agent and have its ongoing projects severely restricted by its abortion. The ability to communicate using language is a necessary precursor to the development of rationality and so there can be no moral argument against slaughtering animals.

    3. The morality of an action is determined by whether it effectively encourages individual flourishing. A woman’s individual flourishing is encouraged through having children. Thus, abortion restricts a woman’s individual flourishing and so should is not moral. Sustenance is necessary to one’s individual flourishing and within certain health parameters the nature of this sustenance is irrelevant. Thus, there can be no moral argument against slaughtering animals so long as one intends to eat the animal or prepare it for others to eat.

    4. The morality of an action is determined by its conformity with community standards. Many communities oppose abortion and so it is immoral. Many communities permit animal slaughter and so it is moral.

    5. The morality of an action is determined by the good it provides to the greatest number. The harm suffered by the vast majority of people in knowing that an abortion has occurred is stronger than any benefit a woman may find in having the abortion and so it is immoral. There aren’t very many vegetarians and so their views on animal slaughter are not relevant, so it is moral to slaughter animals since many people derive pleasure from eating them.

    The problem one typically encounters in debates on issues such as these is that the participants fail to agree on the nature of morality yet argue as if they were in agreement. A more productive approach is to consider the other person’s morality and demonstrate that in fact the conclusion they are suggesting does not logically follow. On the abortion issue, for example, I see some pretty clear objections to arguments 2 through 5 (although argument 1 has an essentially unreasonable premise and so is of course immune from logical attack). (Another approach, of course, is arguing that their view of morality is incorrect. This approach is likely to be unfruitful.) Arguing that abortion is permissible on the grounds that a fetus is unable to feel pain or have self-awareness is a non-starter when you’re debating someone who doesn’t think that these concerns matter in determining the morality of the action.

  • lindsey

    You can say anything you want. You are also free to be wrong.

  • weaves

    But he can and does, so what’s his point?

  • Takma’rierah

    Thanks Miko; I actually already knew that and was mostly not being literal, but your explanation was interesting to read. You are of course right that it would be futile to argue from that perspective–it would probably work much better (as much as it ever does) to point out the comparative disinterest in the welfare of actual, born children. I still find it disquieting that these same people don’t object to animal suffering–not really the fact that they’re killed so much as that, to cut cost, they’re treated miserably–in favor of something that can’t appreciate what’s being done to it. The entire rationality of it is what’s baffling to me.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    “If you can say that God probably doesn’t exist, go ahead, relax and enjoy yourself, why can’t I say abortion kills a child? Give me an answer. So far I haven’t got one.”

    Here’s a couple of answers for the bishop:

    1) You can say anything you want to (short of screaming ‘fire’ in a crowded theater). That’s freedom of speech. But it’s not entirely about what you can say, it’s about whether what you say is reasonable and should be taken seriously.

    2) Now, about that, if you are claiming that a zygote or a blastocyst is equivalent to a post-birth “child”, I don’t think you can make a rational case for it. It will come down to your belief that God gives a soul to this zygote at the moment of fertilization. If you want to be taken seriously, you would have to make a good rational case 1) that souls exist and 2) that they enter the body at the moment of fertilization.

    Here’s a tip-off: expect identical twins and genetic chimeras to come up in the conversation. Also expect Yahweh’s treatment of the unborn in the Old Testament to come up.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Daniel: No matter what you say, life never begins until an egg is fertilized. Never.

    Life began on this planet over 3 billion years ago, and it’s been a continuous thing since. Most forms of life do not undergo this “fertilization” thing: bacteria, archaea, even yeasts. Many eukaryotic plants can reproduce asexually.

    Occassionally even animals can reproduce without fertilization; several species of lizards have provided prominent examples.

    If by “life” you egocentrically mean “human life,” see mention in my previous comment about identical twins and genetic chimeras. What happens when one zygote splits into two? Is that the beginning of a new life? What about when two fetuses combine into one to create a chimera? Is that the destruction of a life?

    Were the egg and the sperm not “alive” before fertilization?

    Now, about your use of the phrase “no matter what you say,” it sounds to me like you are not the sort of person who is open to actual evidence. This makes me less willing to spend the time to discuss the matter with you.

  • Wendy

    “If you can say that God probably doesn’t exist, go ahead, relax and enjoy yourself, why can’t I say abortion kills a child? Give me an answer. So far I haven’t got one.”

    You can, buddy! (Although your statement would be more factual if you said “abortion prevents a child from ever being born”), feel free to knock yourself out! That’s the beauty of free speech.

  • Spork

    These guys might not have a problem with his rebuttal idea…

  • I think he mentioned the abortion thing because a “pro”-life group at the university was asked not to demonstrate because their placards depicting chopped up fetuses were upsetting for some people. He took umbridge at that and has been inundating the newspaper (he has his own column) with diatribes about how unfair the liberals are in stopping the “pro”-life people from sharing their views.

    I must note that had they chosen to share their views without the gruesome pictures they would have been allowed to picket at the university.

  • Eliza

    Dennis said:

    No matter what you say, life never begins until an egg is fertilized. Never.

    Reginald Selkirk took the words out of my mouth (fingers?), except I’d start off with: “Define life.” (Expanding on Reginald’s comment, I think you’re using “life” to mean “life of a complete human organism”. Nope, sorry, that won’t fly.)

    Dennis, here’s what I’d suggest: Take a basic biology course. Ask the teacher to define life. And, pay special attention when the teacher explains mitosis, parthenogenesis, and cloning.

  • The proposed wording might be deemed too offensive or controversial to run on the side of a bus. It would make an interesting court case to determine whether it would be allowable on free speech grounds.

    However, in Ottawa I have seen bus shelter posters reading: “Abortion stops a beating heart”, as well as in-bus ads for Birthright (pro-life pregnancy counselling agency), so he can hardly complain that his side is banned from putting their view across, in some form, on the transit system.

    So he’s a whiner. But we knew that.

  • i am a dodt

    Well, sin is supposed to be fun. Maybe never having had an abortion (and probably never owning a uterus!) combined with the idea that abortion is sin, maybe he thinks it’s fun.

    Maybe he has dreams about drinking margaritas on sunny shores while the cabana boy gives him his abortion before the shuffleboard competition, a vacation where he can just “relax and enjoy himself.”

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