What’s Wrong with This Argument? March 18, 2012

What’s Wrong with This Argument?

Here’s an interesting question from a reader…

It begins with some assumptions and a conclusion. Yes, the assumptions are generalized (obviously, there are exceptions), but I hope you find it worth discussing. Feel free to poke holes in the argument.

Assumption 1) Christians are opposed to abortions.

Assumption 2) According to Christians, if a baby (or fetus) is aborted, then surely Jesus would allow it to go to heaven.

Assumption 3) If an atheist couple raises a child, there’s a good chance the child could grow up to be an atheist… and then go to hell when s/he dies.

Conclusion) Christians should be happy if atheists get abortions because they’re actually giving the child the best chance to go to heaven.

Where’s the problem in that logic?

I asked a couple of Christian friends and they said some things about Assumption 3, that we have free will and we can choose to accept Jesus and that’s somehow “better” than going there simply because you weren’t given an opportunity to know Jesus… but if you’re going to heaven either way, I don’t see why that matters.

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  • TCC

    Ah, an argument that I’ve long hated.

    There is a missing assumption: 4) Christians should always be happy when a person dies if they will consequently go to heaven. That’s actually the problem – there’s no reason to think that Christians should be happy for someone’s death if it ensures their eternal salvation. If that were the case, Christians would be okay with infanticide (presuming that they believe the whole “age of accountability” thing or, more broadly, that God wouldn’t send someone to Hell who didn’t have the chance to make an actual decision; that is going to be limited to non-Calvinistic Christians, IMO), which they clearly aren’t. Thinking back to what my personal answer would have been 2-3 months ago even, I would say that ensuring a child’s salvation is not an ethical justification for killing that child. For someone who believes that abortion is murder (which I don’t and didn’t as a Christian), the situation will be essentially the same.

  • Donna Druchunas

    Many of my friends are pro-life and feel that abortion is wrong. But that does not mean they necessarily should assume that the government should be in charge of women’s reproductive health or decisions about pregnancy, birth control, or even abortion.

    Look at it this way: If you vote to make abortion illegal, that gives the government power over women’s bodies and decisions about having children. So if you’re against abortion you are happy. BUT if the government has that power, then in the future, when a different party is in power, maybe they will decide that we need more population control and require you to have an abortion if you already have 1 child and get pregnant, in a China-like law.

    Do you see how it cuts both ways? The decision of what to do with our bodies and families is personal. If we let the government have power over this, we are giving up our rights as human beings, as individuals with freedom, and we don’t know what the government may do with that power in the future.Keeping government out of the bedroom is NOT about being a Democrat or a Republican. It is NOT about being pro-choice or pro-life. It is about freedom for all. And isn’t that what America is supposed to be about?

    Thank you for listening, and I hope this gives you a different way to think about an issue that is distorted in the news by people on both sides of the aisle.


  • Donna – thanks for your comment. 

  • Sarah T.

    If you are a conservative Christian woman, you are tasked (as many evangelical preachers claim) with raising Godly children and preventing them from going to hell. I have read that Andrea Yates was obsessed with the idea that her children would go to hell because she was an incompetent mother who could not raise them properly (due to a toxic
    combination of depression and Quiverfull teachings). I know that Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering admitted that she struggled with the same troubling logic (although her response was to leave the movement when she recognized the dissonance).

    Edited to add: Of course no Christian pastor thinks that infanticide is the moral choice – in my experience most of them just avoid the logical conclusion of their philosophical premises. My point is that some Christian women DO struggle with the fact that, according to their church’s teachings, infanticide may be moral.

    I would also recommend, although I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it, that people who are interested in this dissonance study the history of prohibitions against suicide in the early Christian church.

  • Hector Avalos examined this argument in an article posted to Talkreason.org back in 2007, and this link skips down to the section on “Abortion as a Soul-Saving Machine.”  http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Genocide.cfm#abort

    Yet, let’s suppose that creationists do not support abortion to save souls because they deem it murder to perform abortions. But even if abortion be regarded as murder, the fact remains that one abortion doctor could send a thousand souls to heaven in his lifetime. One still would gain 1000 souls for every doctor lost because of performing abortions. Abortion would still be a better method of saving souls than what anti-abortionists favor now (let the children grow up and hope they convert). The economics of soul-saving favor abortion no matter how we calculate it.

    What is interesting is that William Lane Craig claimed that God was merciful in ordering the slaughter of the Canaanite children, because they would have been raised in a society of wicked-doers and the slaughter spared them this misery. 

  • Thadaveman

    If the point is to go to heaven, why not just abort all babies and get it done with it?

  • Fargofan1

    This reminds me of a question I encountered as a Christian: why doesn’t God create only the people that He knows will accept Jesus? Then nobody at all goes to hell. Again, though, I think Christians would respond with something about free will. Even if I believed, this wouldn’t be a very satisfying answer.

  • The problem with the argument’s logic is that it IS logical.   Logic is the Christian’s “fnord.”  You can’t see it.  You can’t think about it.   You can’t agree with it.  But it makes you nervous and uneasy all the same.

    A true Christian would try to get pregnant as many times as possible, aborting each into heaven.  THAT Christian, by her logic, wouldn’t get into heaven–but she’d have lots of children who did.

    The problem with the logic itself is that it relies on the most shaky of god’s “big three”:  omnibenevolence.  And that’s never been seen to hold in a logical world.

  • Canadian Atheist, eh!

     Also the Assumption that there is a “heaven” to go to, and then some . . .

    1. Christians are opposed to abortion
    2. There is a heaven
    3. There is a hell
    4. Aborted fetuses go to heaven
    5. Atheists go to hell
    6. Children of atheists grow up to be atheists
    7. Christians are happy that fetuses go to heaven (or, it is better to die as a fetus and go to heaven than to live as an atheist and go to hell)

    Conclusion: It is better for a fetus to  be aborted than to be (brought to term and) raised by atheists

    Who wants to draw the Venn Diagram for this? :^)

  • Mike Gage

    It’s a false dilemma. There are other options that would not involve either abortions or atheist children. They aren’t good options from our atheist perspective but that is what technically is wrong with the argument.

  • Maevwen

        Assumption 1) Christians are opposed to abortions.

    Not all are, but let’s play the brain experiment…..

        Assumption 2) According to Christians, if a baby (or fetus) is aborted, then surely Jesus would allow it to go to heaven.

    You’d think so, since according to Christian belief, we are “born” with original sin.  If we are not born, then no original sin, then way to heaven is clear.

        Assumption 3) If an atheist couple raises a child, there’s a good chance the child could grow up to be an atheist… and then go to hell when s/he dies.

    It’s possible, but not necessarily true.  Possibility is open either way – that soul can choose.  So can the parents change their mind.  In addition, they could have the joy of life which, a Christian might assume, God desires that soul to have.

        Conclusion) Christians should be happy if atheists get abortions because they’re actually giving the child the best chance to go to heaven.

    Not so.  A soul is still committing murder and damning their own soul.  And, a life is destroyed and not given the chance to live, or to choose. 

    This from one who is atheist and pro-choice.   But I can see both sides to the argument. 

    How about this question:  What is your stance as an atheist on abortion, sans religious reference?  Considering a) women’s right to choose and have freedom over her body b) a man’s (father’s) inability to intervene if she chooses to abort c) taking away the unborn’s right to live and choose and d) knowing as an atheist that, since this is the only possibility for that spark to have life, since we come from dust and dust return with nothing before or after, that we squelch the possibility for that life to exist.

    Yup, still pro-choice, and I have my own experience, but I find those questions very pertinent. 

  • I actually posted a YouTube video a couple of months ago discussing this exact topic.

    The video shows British atheist Kate Smurthwaite making this point against some preacher, and clearly it was a zinger that he had no logical reply to.

    Her point is intellectually valid:

    IF the preacher’s mumbo jumbo is TRUE that “ALL aborted babies go to heaven”…
    for those of us who are actually born then most of us go to HELL (since
    most humans do NOT accept Jesus as their personal savior)….
    THEN yes, aborting babies guarantees them heaven, while letting them be born makes it LIKELY that they will go to hell.

    This just show what silly superstitious nonsense religion is.

    Here is the video:

  • Otto

    Bertrand Russel made the claim – I’m not entirely sure how well-supported a claim – that this was exactly the logic used by Spanish conquistadors in South America.  That they’d baptize infants and then immediately kill them in order to secure that they went to heaven.  Of course, it also served the more practical purpose of controlling the native population there, but it was defended with this logic.  

  • Daniel Krull

    One old Christian missionary I know tried to defend the Bible’s infanticide  by saying that those babies would be in heaven, so it was better for them to die rather than to be raised by their heathen parents, as the latter option would likely end with them burning in hell (nearly word for word). This not only made me wonder why she opposes abortion, but it also made me confused as to why she wouldn’t support utter infanticide, as that would “save” so many people.

  • Is assumption 2 even true at all? Because I know of Christians who believe that unbaptised children will not go to heaven – and that goes for stillborn children as well (even though they were dead before they were born) How long ago is it that stillborn children were not allowed to be buried on christian cemeteries?
    According to these people, abortion is condemning a child without it ever having a chance to ‘earn’ a ticket to heaven.
    (But I don’t know how common this belief is)

    (P.S. this being born with sin is one of the first things that made me doubt christian belief. It just seems so unfair that I start my life either doomed or eternally indebted to someone)

  • Tom

    I think many Christians would respond that they are not consequentialists; they might agree that the best outcome is that lots of souls go to heaven, but it’s still morally wrong to act in certain ways that bring about that best outcome.

    They can also hold that murders are axiologically bad, in addition to just morally wrong. So if they think abortion is murder, then they think abortion is bad, even though it leads to good outcomes.

  • GregFromCos

    Many Christians don’t accept assumption 2. If they did accept this, over 99.9% of souls in heaven would be babies and children.

  • Speaking as a Bible studying Christian, assumption 2 is interesting. It’s often a bit taboo, to talk about it in Christian circles, but there is NOTHING in the Bible that suggests a baby that has died is guaranteed to be in heaven. The Bible simply does not address this issue in that manner

    This false doctrine is a product of backward exegesis. This means that someone came up with a doctrinal statement that they believed to be true and  then searched for some scriptures that seemed to support their idea as opposed to reading the text for what it says and then creating doctrine from the texts. The reverse engineering route is so much more biased, but gives people the “warm fuzzies” when parents have undergone a difficult loss of a child. While perhaps comforting, it is not what the Bible says. 

  • Annie

    Using this logic, it would make more sense to support abortion… as then everyone gets to go to heaven!

  • TCC

    I have noticed that when people talk about “avoiding the logical conclusion” of some belief, that is a simple way of deflecting the fact that their hypothesis doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when you look at what people actually believe (as opposed to what you think they should believe). I’ve already noted that there is a missing assumption that is not adhered to, and to use a term mentioned above, most Christians aren’t consequentialists, and so it’s not true that all (or maybe even most) Christians will accept any method that results in more saved people.

  •  When I was a christian this was one of my big problems. Especially at funerals. You are supposed to pretend, in that circumstance, that there is only one post-death option: “they’re in a better place” but you are supposed to believe in one or more “bad places” that the majority of people end up in…

    My other big funeral problem was feeling guilty about my grief. If I was meant to think they were in a better place and we’d reunite there, why was I so sad?

    Honestly one of the gifts of atheism, for me, is the ability to honestly grieve without feeling guilty.

  • Wim

    It is estimated that about 50% of all pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) anyway, so together with induced abortions, most of heaven apparently consists of embryos. “Choice”/”free will” doesn’t seem to figure much in this set-up.

  •  Worse:  zygotes.

  •  I presume you mean options like adoption.  Which does nothing to spare the woman the dangers of childbirth, and STILL results in a child who has a better-than-not chance of going to eternal torment instead.

    At base, the original argument is Pascal’s Wager turned around:  given the infinite “good” of a direct ticket to heaven, nothing done on the other side to ensure that ticket means very much.  And if you take away that “direct ticket” by the only means possible (denying the all-goodness of the imaginary deity) you blow a hole in the Wager anyway–a god who damns aborted fetuses has a limitless capacity to do evil even to his followers.

  • Anonymous-Sam

     … “Satan fed them to Atheists”? Not the other way around? XD

  • Sarah T.

     This has nothing to do with what I “think” people believe, unless you are arguing that people do not faithfully self-report their own beliefs (which is orthogonal to this discussion). I grew up in the Mainstream Protestant tradition and was exposed to many conservative evangelical preachers. This is an issue of what I used to believe and what other people report that they believe or believed.

    I found the post where Garrison discusses how the dissonance between grace and hell finally led her to leave her church. She includes an email she wrote while she was still a believer which discusses this topic. Garrison’s issue was NOT that she wanted to increase the number of ‘saved people’ – it’s that she wanted to ensure that her beloved children were not damned to hell. When I read about Yate’s testimony, I encounter the same idea – that she was irrationally terrified that she would be damning her children to hell if she continued to raise them.

  • Anonymous-Sam

     “Jesus! This manna tastes funny!”
    “Oh dear Me.”

  • Anonymous-Sam

     Heh, one of George Carlin’s last performances dealt with this subject, leading to this phrase, said with a beatific smile, “I think he’s down there… screaming up at us. And I think he’s in severe pain.”

    Alas, George, you died before the real fun could start.

  • Michael

    The missing detail is the joy the child might bring into the world by being born. From the child’s perspective, sure, being aborted is better according to Christainity, but from the perspective of the child’s first love, less so.

  • Anonymous

     “free will” is their ultimate cop-out in a lot of these dilemmas

  • Conspirator

    I see two problems with this argument.  First, it just seems wrong to me to put a chain of assumptions together as an argument.  It’s just sloppy.  And second, doesn’t this violate the rule of logic that states ” ‘If A then B’,  and ‘If B then C’ does not imply ‘If A then C’ “?  

    On a slightly different note, and I’ve seen a few commenters that have approached this also, why is it that Christians whose lives are spared in a natural disaster or the like often say “God must have been looking out for me” but then will turn around and when someone dies say “they are in a better place now”.  Wouldn’t they be better off if God killed them?  It seems like they are being screwed over if God is not killing them off.  

  • Sue Blue

    Let’s just say that rigorous application of critical thinking and logic are not Christian strong points.  I’ve made this same “why aren’t Christians happy when babies die?” argument for years – especially when my own son died.  My evangelical, fundamentalist mom was devastated at the loss of her grandson, screaming and crying for days without stopping.  Months later, when I was able to to think about the reactions of anyone but myself, I asked her why Christians got so upset when somebody dies.  Why weren’t they happy?  The dead person would either go to heaven and be blissfully happy or be rightfully punished for their sins in hell – either way, they’re out of this miserable world and safe up in the sky or out of the Christian’s hair down in hell.  What’s not to make a Christian happy about death?  Her only answer was that “we cry because we’ll miss them until we go to heaven ourselves”.   Since she was absolutely positive that my adult son was a good Christian (I myself knew he wasn’t Christian), she was sure he’d be saved and would be in heaven – so what was there to cry about?  She still grieves intensely 7 years later.  I know he’s utterly gone, is never coming back, will never exist again, and that I will not see him upon my own death – yet I feel I have worked through my grief in a much more constructive way by facing this fact and dealing with it.   I’m comforted by the fact that the dead don’t suffer, and when I die – as Mark Twain said – it will be no different than before I was born.   Christians can’t get past their irrational fear of their “soul” continuing on after the death of their bodies.

  • In “Why I’m Not a Christian,” Bertrand Russell described how Spanish conquistadors baptized infant Indians before smashing their brains out, thereby guaranteeing their future in heaven. Russell said he could not refute the Spaniards’ argument.

  • Anonymous

    This is a fairly easy one. Just on the fly I can think of three reasons Christians could justify being unhappy with atheists getting abortions.

    On the one hand abortion, as per their beliefs, is a sin. In fact, it’s one of the worst sins there is; it’s murder. Christians should never be happy when a sin is committed, particularly one as bad as murder.

    Jesus expressed a particular concern for children. The mythology of Jesus, where Christians attribute to Jesus their own values, makes him even more concerned with children. It’s entirely natural to suppose that Jesus would be very unhappy with the murder of children, which is what they claim to believe fetuses are.

    Finally there’s nothing in their doctrine that prohibits Christians from having simple empathy. No one expects Christians to clap their hands in glee when they hear of the death of a child. Christians are allowed to think of death as sad, even if they believe that the ultimate destination is heaven.

    No, what I want to hear from the people who claim an embryo is an infant is why then they are not going out and shooting abortion doctors, and advocating life in prison or the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions and the women who get them. Hell, why regulate abortion as it’s own crime at all, instead of merely classifying it as murder? And what’s all this pansy talk about “exceptions for rape and incest”? Are the babies born of rape somehow not human?  Only a tiny minority of the pro-life Christians actually act as if the truly believe that mass murder of children is happening in America. Most pro-lifers claim to believe that an embryo is an infant, but don’t really act like they do.

  • The Vicar

    I am an atheist, and I am actually one of the few people who are genuinely pro-abortion (that is, I think there should be a LOT more of it), but I can see several flaws in this argument. For one thing, as I recall, theologically the concept of original sin does not actually begin with birth but with conception, meaning that in strict Christian theology any child which does not  survive to birth and get baptized actually automatically goes to hell, or to purgatory until the Catholics pulled a 180 on its existence. (Admittedly, this is a piece of doctrine which a lot of Christians don’t realize is actually held by their faiths.) This is, of course, counter to the idea that god is just, because it involves the whole notion of sin being a transferrable quantity (that is, Adam’s sin is carried by everyone, ever, no matter who they are), but since that doctrine is central to Christianity (otherwise Jesus could not redeem people by dying) most Christians just ignore the fact that, sooner or later, the whole concept is counter to any notion of justice you might construct.

    As formulated, though, this is actually a religious version of the Fat Man problem, and boils down to “if you could absolutely guarantee that some number  X of people could go to heaven by sending some other number Y of people to hell, would you do it?” (With the additional addendum that you, personally, would presumably be one of the Y people going to hell if you agree.)

    (Oh, and that idea of logic being the Christian “fnord” is perfect. It fits exactly. That is the best analogy I have ever seen for how religious people cope with holes in their faiths.)

  • Anonymous

    Assumption 3) If an atheist couple raises a child, there’s a good chance the child could grow up to be an atheist… and then go to hell when s/he dies.

    But the atheist would then know that his or her earthly life had meaning & purpose after all!

    BTW. I’ve met a few people who had the good fortune to grow up as atheists. To me they seem like characters from an advanced civilization out of science fiction.

  • Anonymous

     As a person who grew up as an atheist (fourth generation!) I’m going to take that last bit as a compliment. Beam me up!

  • Steve

    I hate to invoke cynicism here, but truly, the main problem with this argument is that it invokes rationality and deeper thoughts about what a stance really means.  While it is certainly not the case with all anti-choicers, logic or rational arguments are not what their stance is all about.  Their stance is based primarily on emotion and uses only the most rudimentary form of logic.  I.e.: Having sex before marriage is bad.  Fetuses are babies.  Killing babies is bad.  Abortion is bad.  End of thinking, such as it is.

    Now addressing the argument more logically, this same logic could apply to all children of atheists or children of other faiths, and could be used to justify infanticide if carried to it’s logical conclusion.  By not addressing the difference between the rights between a zygote/fetus and those of infant, we open a can of worms that I’m pretty sure we would not want opened.

    ~ Steve / religiousragings.tumblr.com

  • Actually, “if A, then B; if B, then C; therefore, if A, then C” is valid. That does not appear to be the form this takes though.

  • Conspirator

    Apparently I’m mixing up my logic rules then.  It’s been a long time since I studied logic.  It really seems like witches weighing as much as ducks would violate this rule though.  

  • That’s when you argue the premise itself is false. 🙂

  • Dan

    I’m afraid you aren’t very familiar with how most conservative Christians think. Every Christian I’ve ever known, except one, believed in the age of accountability due to some verses in the Old Testament, and the fact that King David strongly hints that he will see his dead infant son in the afterlife. The one Christian I do know who doesn’t accept the age of accountability argument wasn’t sure. I’m sure some Christians might disagree, but the literally thousands of fundamentalists, Biblical inerrancy-believing Baptists I grew up with were very, very familiar with original sin (we heard it every week), but did not see that as condemning infants to hell. In fact the most common argument that conservative apologists will use to justify the infanticide in the Bible is that those infants would be guaranteed to go straight to Heaven.

  • Dan

    Greg, you really think that ‘many’ Christians think dead babies go to hell? I’m not sure what kind of Christians you know, I was raised in an extremely literalistic and fundamentalist Baptist environment (we considered Southern Baptists to be skirting the boarders of real Christianity), and everyone I know, except one person,  thought dead babies went straight to Heaven. I’d be surprised if there were ‘many’ Christians, more liberal than the ones I grew up with, whose doctrine sends babies straight to hell.

  • Anonymous

    As a person who grew up as an atheist (fourth generation!) 

    A fourth generation atheist! How could you possibly exist? Everyone knows that atheists selfishly refuse to have children because they get in the way of our lives of debauchery.

  • Dan

    Except most conservative Christians excuse the god-commanded infanticide in the Bible as morally good because the babies go to heaven. If they use this argument that abortion is always wrong since it is murder, than it absolutely undermines their own justification for the stories of the genocide of women and pregnant women.

  • The argument against abortion could be said to be a product of backward exegensis itself.  To my knowledge, Leviticus specifically talks about causing a woman to miscarry, and that it is only a fine if the father feels like there is a loss.   That tells me, explicitly, that violence that leads to miscarriage is not murder.  If that isn’t, then neither is abortion.  That means that the fetus is not a person, according to the Old Testament.  

    People always like to use quotes like ” Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah 1:5

    Of course that is specifically about a prophet, and just because a supposedly omniscient deity knew something, that really doesn’t tell us squat about personhood.  

  • Depending on what Christian you ask, I’d say any of the assumptions could be false.  

  • Dan

     Except many conservative Christians do excuse infanticide, at least the god-commanded kind in the Bible, as morally justified since the babies go to heaven. When I was leaving Christianity I brought up just this issue with several seminary-trained pastors, and they all said the infanticide in the Bible was moral and that it would be immoral to NOT kill babies and pregnant women if you were sure god wanted you too (these pastors just couldn’t understand how this wasn’t an argument for abortion too, there minds just were incapable of going there).

    William Lane Craig also has no moral problem with the genocide and infanticide in the Bible, so I think you might be surprised about many Christians views on infanticide if you really question them on it. I also had several pastors, including my own dad, tell me that slavery must be moral, since God gives slavery his express permission in the Old Testament, and God isn’t into moral relativism, so slavery is still moral, just ‘probably no longer necessary.’

  • Dhjdhj

    The problem is the use of logical reasoning in the first place. There is little
    point in trying to poke holes in the “arguments” when someone can simply discount them based on their faith.

    If you believe that 2+2 = 5 (and you’re not an accountant) then no amount of proof will change your mind.

  • guest

    Assumption 1 – not necessarily
    Assumption 2-not necessarily
    Assumption 3-not necessarily 

  • Charon

     Ever read Dante? Hint: unbaptized infants, not in Heaven or Purgatory. (They were in Limbo, and yes, I realize 1. the Catholics did away with this recently, 2. you appear to be ignoring Catholics, 3. Dante lived a long time ago.)

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the problem is that the percentage of Christians that actually accept all 7 premises is so small, that this ridiculous argument can almost be considered a strawman.

    Hemant, it is really dissapointing that you even think this is a good argument. If this is the kind of ¨reason¨ that will take place in the Reason Rally, the event might as well be held at the Creationist Museum.

  • Maya Kulik

     HA, ha! We HAVE them, but then we EAT them!

  • Revyloution

    That was my thoughts exactly Steve.  Most religious folks I’ve argued with don’t tend to think too deeply about these subjects, and view the whole world in black/white and ignore all the gray areas.

  • Ndonnan

    Its beyond me why abortion is precived to be a christian issue at all,your killing a child,end of story.No man or woman should be allowed to do that.Give birth to the child and impliment any argument you like,un wanted,will ruin my career,all ready have enough,i was raped,now kill the baby.Puts it into perspective.

  • Revyloution

    My grandma was a deist,  my parents were agnostic, and I’m atheist.  I kinda feel like that classic evolution graphic

  • Anonymous

     You are only “killing a child” if you make the assumption that an embryo or fetus is the same as a child. This assumption is usually based on religious arguments. The vast majority of abortions happen before there is a developed nervous system of any kind, which means most abortions kill less of a sentient being than any given slaughter of a cow for its meat.

  • Annie

    ClayJames-  It’s OK to just be a little silly every now and then, wouldn’t you agree?

  • Dan

     So your argument against my point about how many modern conservative Christians think is to cite a 13th century poet? OK, but that’s a non sequitur, Dante wasn’t a theologian. I was adressing The Vicar’s claim that according to the idea of original sin unbaptised infants go to hell or purgatory (which is untrue for most of Protestants, and especially untrue for Catholic theology).

    As far as I understand limbo was never an official Catholic doctrine, but was a common view (and limbo was a state of eternal happiness, by the way). The official stance of the Catholic church is now that unbaptised infants do not go to hell, are eternally happy, do not suffer, and Catholics believe that there are “many reasons to hope that there is salvation for these babies’, and Pope John Paul said they are in the arms of Christ. There are a lot of different arguments that Catholics use to argue that dead babies are in heaven, so even modern catholic theology makes my point: most modern Christians do not believe that dead babies go to hell, but to an eternal reward.

  • Simple answer: Christian morality is non-consequentialist.  The fact that a particular course of action ultimately leads to everyone being better off is not a reason for doing it in any but the most liberal of Christian theologies.

    How coherent this is in light of Christ’s suggestion to love thy neighbor… I cannot say.

  • MistaSquiggle

    Actually– just to defend Hemant– it is not HIS argument. I sent him an e-mail with these points listed, but you’re wrong if you think that ANYONE actually holds these “logical” points to be true. The whole idea is absolutely ridiculous. I only asked him to present the questions to some believers to see what their response might be. The interpretations of the Bible are so diverse and varied I was curious to see what believers would make of the assumptions (and, as everyone has pointed out here, they ARE ridiculous assumptions.) Sometimes in order to find a logical outcome you have to ask ridiculous questions, like, “CAN someone actually walk on water?” Sounds like a ridiculous question, but believers and non-believers alike will all give you very different answers. It depends on interpretation, opinion, and overall understanding of scripture and sermon. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that this — what I thought was a very OBVIOUSLY ridiculous and not-to-be-taken-seriously-at-all argument– and ridicule Hemant for posting it. He posted it to start the discussion, not to make anyone take it as REASON.

  • But, being pro-choice is exactly that… being in favor of it being a matter of choice (and, therefore, freedom). That’s why I refer to so-called “pro-life” people as being anti-choice, because that’s what they actually are. One can also be pro-life and pro-choice at the same time.

    And please don’t play the “both sides of the aisle” card. One side does far more distorting than the other, and it most certainly isn’t equally so, as one might infer from your last sentence.

  • MistaSquiggle

    This is EXACTLY why I asked Hemant to post this discussion. I know quite a lot of Christians, but none of them are very hardcore Bible-thumpers. I doubt many of them know the scripture very well at all. Many people might call them “bad” Christians because they’re the kind of believers who say they believe and sort of leave it at that. But most of them are lovely people, and I can’t imagine any of them saying that an aborted fetus would spend eternity in hell. Just sounds cruel. But that’s why the question as a whole is interesting– people who say they subscribe to the same faith have such a varied opinion on the matter. Plus, it just sounds absolutely cruel to say that an aborted fetus HAS to go to hell– especially when Christians are trying to hard these days to say that Christianity is a religion of LOVE. Doesn’t look very good for their side to have millions of aborted fetuses floating around in eternal agony, now does it? The whole argument isn’t supposed to bring around any kind of answer on abortion– just show that Christians– from the docile to the die-hard– have such varied opinions on the matter.

  • TCC

    Anecdotes ≠ data. That’s what I’m saying here. I have no reason to doubt that some Christians do actually take this extreme position, but that doesn’t make it the “logical extension” of what Christians believe about heaven.

  • TCC

    Right, but that’s not infanticide for the sake of the babies’ eternal souls, which is what we’re talking about here, and I would argue that those cases are very much justifications for past actions (in order to preserve the inerrancy of the Bible), not 
    rationalizations for doing it today.

  • The Captain

    And it makes not sense what so ever! If they believe in a god that is Omniscience and has definite knowledge of the future then “free will” does not exist.

  • chris

    That’s because he wasn’t a Christian (or any number of other things, but rather a consequentialist). If he were, he should have understood that no evil is ever permissible even in the service of of a great good. Means count as well as ends.

  • Pseudonym


    I’ve met a few people who had the good fortune to grow up as atheists.
    To me they seem like characters from an advanced civilization out of
    science fiction.

    I know more than a few people who grew up in atheist households and more than a few who grew up in mainstream-to-liberal religious households. I can’t say I’ve noticed a significant difference.

    Admittedly, I don’t know many people who grew up as fundamentalists.

  • Pseudonym

     This is true. For example, Roman Catholics, who make up the majority of Christians worldwide, officially believe in purgatory.

  • Pseudonym

    On the other hand, it’s also pretty shocking how many people claim the notion of “critical thinking” but have clearly never studied it.

  • Khal

    Actually 2 and 3 have substantial issues with question begging and both are false, so even if the form was valid, the premises are false rendering the entire line of reasoning false.

    As to what is wrong with the argument placing it in a syllogism will make it easier to break down.

    Premise 1: Christians are opposed to abortions.

    Premise 2: If a baby (or fetus) is aborted, then surely Jesus would allow it to go to heaven.

    Premise 3: If an atheist couple raises a child, there’s a good chance the child could grow up to be an atheist… and then go to hell when s/he dies.

    Conclusion: Christians should be happy if atheists get abortions because they’re actually giving the child the best chance to go to heaven.

    Premise One: can remain unchanged
    Premise Two: needs to be separated to its own syllogism and begs the question.
    Premise Three: Also needs its own Syllogism and also begs the question.

    The Conclusion also begs the question, as it would since it derives falsely from 2 & 3

    So: New Syllogism from 2
    Major Premise: All Innocent people go to heaven when they die/ are killed
    Minor Premise: All Babies are Innocent
    Conclusion: Aborted babies go to heaven

    New Syllogism from 3
    Major Premise: Growth environment affects life choices
    Minor Premise: Worshiping God is a LIfe Choice
    Conclusion: Growth environment influences the choice to worship God

    Begged question: Non Innocent beings do not go to heaven.

    Now the Minor Premise of Syl 2 is false so even though the form is effectively valid the whole is false. Next the Minor premise of Syl 3 is false, so again the entire syllogism while valid is in fact false.

    Ultimately the begged question regards the unstated premise that a being chooses God. This is a falsifiable premise and is in fact false.

    So Begged question is false, Premise 2 and 3 are false, even if the original argument was valid, which it is not, the entire argument is rendered false.

    There is no ‘age of accountability’
    Christianity teaches that everyone is conceived as a sinful being.
    Sinful beings do not go to heaven.
    Therefore no one goes to heaven who remains sinful.

    Further, the Bible does not teach that man chooses God, rather than God chooses man, so environment has no effect on the decision to choose God or not.

    Finally, Christian morality is not objective, nor is it utilitarian. Rather it is Teleological or Rule set Deontological depending on which testament you are looking at, or more specifically whither you are looking at law or grace.

  • Pseudonym

    Most people don’t know that the idea that the Bible teaches that life begins at conception is younger than the Happy Meal. This probably explains why most Christians outside the US don’t really believe it.

  • The Vicar

    That’s what I mean by “a piece of doctrine which a lot of Christians don’t realize is actually held by their faiths”. Christians do not believe the things which they think they believe.
    Put it this way: suppose you were to ask the average Christian who the greatest living authority on their specific denomination was — the person who knows it all. (For Catholics, this would be the Pope, but for others it might vary a great deal.)Now, suppose you went to that person and asked them to write out a list of every single specific statement about morality or ethics which their religion holds true. (That is, they are allowed to write out the consequences of individual Bible verses or doctrines, but not merely to quote them.)If you were then to take that list back to the original Christian and say “put an X by every statement in this list which you believe is false”, my experience is that most Christians would end up putting an X next to at least a third of the list, maybe more. They would be utterly flabbergasted, upon finishing, to discover that this was an official list from their greatest authority.

    Confirmation classes are supposed to stop this — but of course confirmation classes are usually given to adolescents: children who are writhing with hormones, unable to understand the language of the materials (have you looked at Luther’s Small Catechism, which Lutherans use? As I recall, it needs a set of footnotes for an ADULT to read it, let alone a 14-year-old), and just at the age where they are beginning to realize that a lot of adults are liars.

  • The Vicar

    The only place in the Christian bible where anything like abortion is mentioned is where the Old Testament is laying down punishments and gives one for causing a miscarriage. It is considered a lesser crime, not at all on a par with murder (or even causing a fatal accident).

    Where the notion came from that a fetus — let alone an embryo — is a child is something of a mystery to me. Anyone know offhand?

  • Actually, the logical extension of using Jeremiah 1:5 to justify pro-life is to make menstruation/male masturbation equivalent to murder, since Jeremiah was known *before* he was conceived.

    Wait, I shouldn’t be giving them any ideas…

  • Dan

     Well, they say that God ordering the killing of babies shoes how loving he is because it guarantees they go to heaven, so if they are consistent they shouldn’t have any problem with abortion, and should in fact support it. That’s why I think the above argument is a good one to use on conservative Christians (at least Protestants). They either have to excuse abortion or condemn their own Holy Book, or pull out the moral relativism card. All the conservative Christians I’ve talked too have been really bothered by this argument.

  • Dan, you must not know or talk to many Christians. Most that I spend time with, myself included, have read the Bible over many times and have realized that there is no such thing as an age of accountability in the Bible. 

    It’s a nice thought, that is too often used to try and superficially comfort a grieving family. But it’s simply not taught in the Bible. There are sadly several other beliefs that are taught to be from the Bible, but actually are not there. They are called phantom passages. 

  • Dan

     I agree that many Christians might not know that some ‘Xs’ are taught by their church, but my point is that you are absolutely incorrect that this X (that unbaptised babies definitely go to hell or purgatory) is taught even by church leaders. That view  is held by an extremely small minority of protestant theologians, and actually contradicts the official teaching of the Catholic church. That doctrine is not held by any faith I am aware of, so your original claim is false.

  • Anonymous

    Assumption 2 is flawed as is the theology that human life begins at conception – a relatively recent doctrine. On any ‘reasonable’ reading of Catholic doctrine there is no salvation possible without baptism – extra ecclesia nulla salus est. 
    Robert Boot – a militant atheist since 1971 with some theological training…

  • Anonymous

    Assumption 2 is flawed as is the theology that human life begins at conception – a relatively recent doctrine. On any ‘reasonable’ reading of Catholic doctrine there is no salvation possible without baptism – extra ecclesia nulla salus est. 
    Robert Boot – a militant atheist since 1971 with some theological training…

  • Anonymous

    My grandma was a deist,  my parents were agnostic, and I’m atheist.  I kinda feel like that classic evolution graphic

    Ok, that NEEDS to be available in bumper sticker and/or t-shirt form! 🙂

  • Ulrike Dunlap

    When I was eight or nine years old, some terrible disaster happened in Italy, when a dam broke (or so I remember) and flooded a whole town, killing all inhabitants, including many children. Our churches went into “damage correction mode” to answer the question how god could have allowed this to happen: there must have been many bad people living in this town, so god destroyed it. When I asked my priest why so many innocent children had to die in order to punish the bad adults, he explained to me that god must have really loved those children and called them to heaven while they were innocent, as they might have turned into sinners if they had lived and then went to hell.
    I believe that this priest planted the seed of my atheism, since one of my reactions to his drivel was that obviously, god must not love me as well as he loved those children, or he would have also let me die before I could become a sinner!
    Of course, all these children had been baptized, so there was no question as to them going to heaven.

  • Ndonnan

    Heh,now theres sceince  at work,sceince as well [finally] catches up with the word of God and discovers life does begin at conception,and in people anyway,in a few months we can even recognise  who your killing

  • Ndonnan

    The sceintific fact that a fetus is the same as a child is like saying a baby isnt the same as a man,umm no its not, so what,no religious argument required. Its common sense and sceintific fact,size ,coulor,gender is irellivent

  •  The modern Catholic view on purgatory is different from what many people believe it to be. Instead of referring to purgatory as a place the church considers it to be a process of purification that certain souls must undergo in order to gain entrance into heaven. Of course neither idea is supported by scripture in the big book of bad ideas.

  • If fetuses and children too young to understand the concepts of heaven and hell get to go to heaven when they die anyway, then heaven must be filled with BILLIONS of souls that are basically automatons. After all, these souls would not have any meaningful life experiences (aborted fetuses would have none). Considering the billions of children throughout history that have died from abortion (spontaneous or induced by man), starvation, plague and sickness, accidents, natural disasters, wars, etc. and comparing it to the number of people that sufficiently followed the rules to gain entrance into heaven, the vast majority of the population of heaven would be mindless or infantile souls with no earthly experience to speak of. If this is not the case then god would have to have “filled in” their personalities making them god robots. Would he make them perfect and therefore inhuman?

    If they would not be able to go to heaven due to original sin then god is condemning billions of souls to hell that never even had a chance to make any choices in life. How twisted is that?

    Another point is that billions of children throughout history that were not yet old enough to understand religion died in painful ways or after long periods of suffering. If they were going to end up in heaven anyway (something an all-knowing god would be aware of) then why let them suffer here on earth first? Anyway you slice it god comes out as a monster.

  • Brian Scott

    Ah, I was wondering when the Calvinists would show up.

    “Ultimately the begged question regards the unstated premise that a being chooses God. This is a falsifiable premise and is in fact false.”

    “Falsifiable” and “God” in the same sentence… it’s like I’m in the Twilight Zone.

  • Brian Scott

    “The sceintific fact”

    That phrase, I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • Sarah T.

    I would never say that “Christians believe” anything specific about heaven or hell – they are a diverse group. I presented the reasoning of two Christians in a particularly conservative and dangerous sect of Christianity.

  • And what is the official stance on Limbo these days?  That idea was ginned up because the faithful couldn’t accept the notion that their unbaptised little innocents went to hell. 

  • amyc

     Once the child is born, it is no longer dependent on the mother’s body. That’s the crux of the issue. I don’t care whether or not you believe the embryo should be counted as a full person, because the mother is already a full person. Her right to decide what happens to her body trumps the rights of others to use that body.

  • amyc

    I’ve heard this argument before.
    It went something like this:
    In conversation with a pro-life Christian you ask if they believe aborted fetuses go to heaven. If they say the fetuses go to hell, then it would be support for their assertion that abortion is bad. But then you can condemn their god for being a monster that would eternally torment the souls of fetuses that had no opportunity to hear the gospels or know anything about god to begin with. If they say that aborted fetuses go to heaven, then you can point out that, for the fetus, being aborted was better for them.

  •  There’s another passage where if a husband thinks his wife is pregnant with another man’s child, having her drink dirt from the floor of the temple will make her horrendously sick , and the description of this sickness sounds like a painful miscarriage

    Where did the notion come from?  It’s probably pretty old.  Medieval literature indicates that women thought of the fetus as a child after the “quickening” (when they began to feel it move.)  Nobody knew about embryos until lenses were invented, so maybe around van Leeuwenhoek’s time?  The legal and religious definitions of “child” are all tangled up with property rights, and probably have never been exactly in sync with popular belief.

  • Brian Macker

    This is flawed because not all Christians agree with the assumptions, and further not all Christians bother with logic, so what they are “happy” with doesn’t have to logically follow in the first place.

  • What?!?!

  • Lyra

     “Not so.  A soul is still committing murder and damning their own soul.”

    If I am an atheist who has an abortion, then I am someone who is already damned to hell committing an action that would damn me to hell; in essence, my having an abortion doesn’t change my souls’ status at all. Furthermore, in the event that I stop being an atheist and convert to Christianity, the fact that I had an abortion will not prevent me from entering into heaven as my sins will be forgiven. Thus, any objection on the basis that it would cause ME (as an atheist) problems makes no sense. Yes, it would be a reason for a Christian to refrain from having an abortion, but we aren’t talking about that.

  • Anonymous

    That makes me very curious. Why the about-face? What did they hope to accomplish? Is it all about wedge issues and winning elections?

  • Maevwen

     Lyra, actually different faiths do delineate between types of sins, their gravity, how they affect the soul and one’s connection to grace or “God”, what it would take for them to be forgiven if they can be on earth, which get you excommunicated, and even levels of suffering in hell.   They do not say that thinking of murder and committing murder are the same thing nor do they treat them the same.  The fact that a person can be forgiven, does not mean that their gravity and seriousness are equal. 

    In either case, each “wrong” is sad to a believer, as each is a wrong.  It is much easier to come back from being a non-believer, than from being someone who has committed murder.   But like I said, neither is “ok” with a believer or makes them happy about an occurrence of wrongness, suffering, or “evil”.

  • There’s a verse somewhere (in Daniel, I think) that basically excuses all sins committed before an age of responsibility. Some Christians use this as a way to get around the whole “50,000,000,000 children have died and gone straight to hell throughout human history” problem.

  • Tom

    Assumption: abortion is bad because it is “murder”. 

    I think the missing piece here is that murder isn’t bad for the soul of the victim, it is bad for the soul of the murderer. They aren’t hoping to save the soul of the baby, they are hoping that someday the athiests will “come to jesus”. 

    If as an athiest I were to murder a christian, they wouldn’t be ok with it just because the christian went to heaven after. Same scenario. 

    Please don’t worry, I’m not going to murder any one, just a hypothetical. 

  • Canadian Atheist, eh!

     Haha, I just noticed the diagram! Hilarious!

  • The problem is it’s simply not true. You get to heaven by how you responded to God in your life WHICH IS EXTREMELY VAGUE. You can’t determine who has “the best chance” because you don’t know how God acted in someone’s life and what graces they were given.

  • according to Christian belief, we are “born” with original sin.  If we
    are not born, then no original sin, then way to heaven is clear

    This suggests that there’s a vaginal secretion or something that imparts original sin to any baby that passes through it. So presumably children born by C-section are free of original sin.

    Someone should conduct a study: measure the rates of original sin in children born by C-section, and children born vaginally, and see whether there’s a significant difference.

  • Lenoxuss

    she might argue that “it’s not our place”, and is only God’s place, to determine matters of life and death. But in that case, why offer any justifications for God’s actions? He could kill children and send them to Hell and be just as holy anyway. The use of a justification always implies some sort of generally-applicable rule; it doesn’t make sense if God is the only one who is “allowed” to follow that rule (and if in all likelihood he would be allowed to ignore it anyway).

  • Lenoxuss

    Note: When I first read Maevwen’s comment, I was very tired and somehow thought eir last sentences specified emself to be pro-life. So the “yous” in this post should be seen as not addressed to Maevwen but to a hypothetical pro-choice athiest who made your arguments. Here we go! 

    b) a man’s (father’s) inability to intervene if she chooses to abort

    The father’s rights are mostly irrelevant for a number of reasons, the strongest of which is that the father doesn’t physically experience pregancy, and thus have to make the same sacrifices (and choices about bodily autonomy) in order for the child to be born.

    (Tangent: I wonder if a science-fiction author has contemplated how the ethics would work for a species in which both parents “shared” a pregnancy, looking like cojoined joins for the duration? I suppose the ethical argument in that situation would be that abortion would require the consent of both, but another good argument could be made that either partner could “veto” the pregnancy…)

    c) taking away the unborn’s right to live and choose

    Embryos may technically be “alive” (like bacteria and daffodils), but they certainly aren’t capable of choices. If you mean its future choices, then this carries some odd implications, for example, that all decisions which have the possibility of creating new people should be made in that particular direction, because otherwise one is terminating all possibilities for those potential people.

    since this is the only possibility for that spark to have life, since we come from dust and dust return with nothing before or after, that we squelch the possibility for that life to exist.

    Using this as an argument against abortion assumes that there is something relevantly unique about the “spark” in question, despite its lack of a mind, emotions, sensory experience, or an identity. (When these things appear is debateable, but I don’t think we can apply them to the moment of conception.) After all, I presume you are not against male masturbation, during which millions of genetically unique “sparks” are terminated, and probability dictates that nothing like them will ever have the opportunity to again exist.

    Even if you did oppose that, then it remains the case that every successful human birth necessitated the termination of millions of sperm. Still, maybe you don’t care about sperm, and only about fused gametes. In that case, you should still consider that if you have a daughter, there is a very good chance that she will become pregnant, which means a decent chance that she will miscarry, probably without knowing it. If the number of times the average woman miscarries in life exceeds one, then a decision to not terminate now would mean more terminations later, in terms of expected value. It may be that the best option is for all humans to remain chaste — the opposite of what had been concluded earlier (when life was not strictly defined as starting from conception)!

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