An atheist troll confidently poses the following scenario which supposedly devastates my argument that abortion is morally equivalent to murder.
Imagine the following hypothetical scenario – one which is intensely relevant to your argument. In one hand, I hold a foetus (or a zygote, or embryo). In my other hand, I hold a baby. One of them is going to be killed – you decide which.
Now, if the killing of one really is morally equivalent to the killing of the other, then deciding which one dies should be impossible. It should be reduced to pure 50/50 chance – a flip of the coin – that’s how impossible such a decision should be.
But let’s take a guess how you decided: You saved the baby. Because you are aware that there is actually a difference. You can argue forever over what that difference might be, but there is one, we all know it, you only need to admit it.
The real trouble I have with this is actually where to start. It is so embarrassingly terrible that I am a little spoiled for choice. Eeny-meeny-miny-mo…
1. Non sequitur
I guess if there is a beginning to start at, it’s in calling attention to the structure of the argument—or more pertinently, the lack of it. Careful reasoning has been replaced with a story that is designed to elicit a non-reflective intuitive response—short-circuiting our rational faculties and avoiding critical analysis. We’re supposed to feel that our instinctively saving a baby over a zygote is somehow damning to our belief that killing a zygote is morally equivalent to murder.
But why? Which premise in my argument does this scenario refute?
Obviously not a one of them. So what we have here is the atheist’s modus operandi for reasoning: a logical fallacy known as the non sequitur.
Not only does the story fail to refute any premise of my argument, but it misrepresents my entire thesis. I have claimed that:
(AM) Abortion is morally equivalent to murder
But notice how this is “modified” in the atheist’s story as follows:
(AB) Abortion is morally equivalent to killing a baby
But those aren’t equivalent statements by any stretch of the imagination. It is not my thesis that abortion is morally equivalent to killing a baby. Why do I need to refute an argument against a position I don’t hold? So add strawman to the list of logical fallacies.
To see how fundamentally this misses my argument, notice the implied reasoning between AM and AB above. To get from one to the other, you need something like this:
(MiM) Murder is murder—if killing a human being is wrong, it is equally wrong regardless of who is killed.
But no reason is given for believing this. And no argument is made in the scenario the atheist posted—he leaves me all the work of building an argument and reasoning through it, perhaps in the hopes that I am as lazy and incompetent at it as he is. Presumably we’re supposed to just accept MiM as obvious, and then the argument will run something like this:
- If killing a human being is wrong, it is equally wrong regardless of who is killed (MiM)
- But it is not equally wrong to kill a zygote as to kill a baby (it is less wrong)
- Therefore, killing a zygote is not wrong, or a zygote is not a human being
What is truly baffling is not that someone would make this kind of argument, but that they would make it to me when I took the falsehood of MiM as an obvious moral truth to bolster my original argument. I noted there that we would save a child over an adult; the principle of saving one person over another in extreme circumstances is a feature of my argument, and contributes to my conclusion that it is especially wrong to kill those who are more innocent, more defenseless, and have more to lose.
So the atheist’s argument is not only unsound, but its first premise assumes the falsehood of a key premise in my argument. Thus we can add begging the question to the growing pile of logical fallacies.
4. Reductio ad absurdum
With MiM articulated, we can start having a bit of fun with the atheist’s story, by showing how easily it reduces to absurdity. Let’s have him reprise his role as a psychotic killer forcing me to choose between two people (a curious role to assume, given the story could work equally well in a burning hospital where I can only save one person—but let’s leave that by the by). This time, instead of a zygote and a baby, we’ll swap in another baby who is guaranteed to die peacefully of a terminal disease within the next 12 hours.
Obviously I choose for the healthy baby to live. If you think this is not obvious, there is something wrong with your brain.
But, “if the killing of one really is morally equivalent to the killing of the other, then deciding which one dies should be impossible.” Conclusion: killing terminally ill babies is not morally equivalent to murder. Good luck getting that one past a judge.
Of course, we can rerun the same scenario with all manner of different people being coldly executed by the atheist, and probably end up concluding that it is not morally equivalent to murder to kill just about anyone, since there will always be someone we would prefer not to die. It’s not a coin toss for me to choose my own baby over someone else’s; therefore, killing other people’s babies is not murder. It’s not a coin toss to choose a baby over an octogenarian; therefore, killing people in old age homes is not murder. Etc. If you even devote a couple of moments’ thought to the atheist’s scenario, you realize how laughably absurd it is. To even come up with it in the first place suggests either a complete lack of reflection on basic moral questions, or a moral compass that is swinging so wildly that no amount of thoughtful consideration will have any effect at all.
Let’s have a bit more fun to finish. The atheist claims that I wouldn’t save a fetus over a baby. Let’s test that theory.
The atheist has kidnapped two people again, and is forcing me to choose who lives. One is a baby. The other is a pregnant mother.
All other things being equal, I choose for the pregnant mother to live. And I think many atheists would have the same instinct. Especially atheists with children. But why? If the woman were not pregnant I would choose for the baby to live instead—and so would many atheists. That seems comically inconsistent.
Could it be that we want to protect the pregnant mother because we know that killing two people is worse than killing one?