For obvious reasons, abortion continues to be a hot topic both politically and religiously. To be honest, it baffles me as to why there has ever been an issue. The very thought of taking the life of a baby in the womb is repugnant to the core. Yet so many think otherwise. And how in the world did it ever gain approval from our government? While on the one hand, I would say that it baffles me, on the other hand I’m not really surprised; it is important to understand how modern thinking has allowed such a practice. Then it is important to know how we can logically demonstrate the problem with abortion.
Various philosophers through the centuries have had a tremendous impact on the way modern society thinks, but I like to point to three in particular as representative of how we got where we are:*
First, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) influenced modern thinking with his “God is dead” philosophy. This meant that there was no longer any room for God in an enlightened and civilized society. He attacked the “virtues” of faith, hope, and love, arguing that these are weaknesses that impoverish lives. While many will not identify with him personally, they will recognize that the last century has been marked by efforts to remove God from public life (education, politics, etc.). The practical effect of this is to open the doors for all sorts of practices that God-fearers would find unconscionable (including the Nazism of Hitler).
Second, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) helped popularize the philosophy of utilitarianism. The basic idea is that morality is determined based upon what is the “greatest good for the greatest number of people.” Utility (what works) equates to the spread of happiness, considered to be the one intrinsic good. Actions are right in proportion to the promotion of happiness, and wrong in proportion to promoting the opposite (of course, they can never tell you who is supposed to determine what true happiness is). It is an attempt at establishing moral boundaries without God. Again, this is where our modern mind lies. Utilitarianism is prevalent in modern America.
Third, Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) influence is the most obvious. The Theory of Evolution has given intellectual and scientific “wings” to the nihilism of Nietzsche and the utilitarianism of Mill. It has given people an intellectual excuse not to believe in God or Scripture. Add to that a downgraded view of whom or what humankind is. We no longer think of ourselves as creatures made in God’s image (with all of the responsibilities that go with that); now we are evolutionary machines, just a higher form (?) of animal (perhaps just behind the dolphins). Are not the implications of this obvious for an issue like abortion?
We are where we are today because philosophies like this have overtaken the modern mind. So how do we compete with this on an issue like abortion? Certainly the power of God’s word is intact (Heb. 4:12). It will always do what God intends. We don’t have to search far in the Bible to find its high view of human life (Gen. 1), and that babies in the womb are, in fact, human life that is to be cherished and nurtured (cf. Exod. 21:22-25). The willful taking of innocent human life is murder, and this should be undisputed.
But can the issue be understood logically, also? Philosopher Peter Kreeft makes an argument on abortion (“The Apple Argument,” in Crisis magazine, Dec. 2000) wherein he goes through a several-step process to show the logical errors in the practice of abortion. There is one aspect of this in particular that I’d like to focus on here. It is a simple argument, easily made to the most dogmatic unbelievers. The basic argument, referred to by Kreeft as the “argument from skepticism,” is as follows:
There are only four possibilities in terms of our knowledge about the “fetus” when it comes to practicing abortion:
- The fetus is a person, and we know it.
- The fetus is a person, but we don’t know it.
- The fetus isn’t a person, but we don’t know it.
- The fetus isn’t a person, and we know it.
In the first case, the practice of abortion is first degree murder. If we know the fetus is a person, yet we deliberately kill it, then we have willfully taken innocent human life, and we know that. In the second case, if the fetus is a person but we don’t know it, then at best abortion would be some form of manslaughter (and that’s being nice about it). All would still have to logically recognize that it is wrong. In the third case, if the fetus is not a person, but we don’t know it, then abortion becomes extremely irresponsible. It would be like knocking a building down while hoping against knowledge that there might not be any persons in the building. Maybe you get lucky, but you don’t know. You just do it anyway. Who can reasonably say that the action is justified in this instance? Who can call this responsible behavior?
The fourth possibility, that the fetus isn’t a person and we know it, is the only possibility that would allow abortion as a responsible action. This would be based not only upon the fetus not being a person, but knowing that it is not a person. There could be no doubt about it. It would have to be indisputable knowledge that the fetus is in no way a person. So here’s the problem for the one who defends abortion. Who among abortionists can be absolutely certain that the fetus in the womb is not a person? When the fetus has its own heartbeat, its own body, brain, movements, etc., who can dogmatically know that there is no human person there? Thus even from a skeptical point of view, abortion cannot be logically or rationally justified. In this view, we don’t even need to prove that the fetus is a person. Rather, those who take the life have to prove that it is not a person. There is a burden of proof that none can bear.
Therein are the logical limits of the abortion issue. It cannot be justified logically. It cannot be justified morally. The reason it is practiced has more to do with the vacuous philosophies that have degraded society, allowing for the rise of immorality. These are philosophies we need to be challenging. If we really do believe that human life is at stake, then may God forbid that we shut our mouths and shrink in intimidation from those who push their immorality on the rest of us. May we, as Christians in the first century needed to do, shine as luminaries in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:12-16).
* I recommend reading Unshakable Foundations by Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2001) for a full discussion on how these and other philosophers have influenced modern thinking in several areas socially and politically.
Doy Moyer is a native of California. He is 41 years old and has been married to Laurie (Teel) Moyer since May 1986. They have three children: Caleb (17), Luke (14), and Audrey (12). He has been preaching the gospel for over 20 years, working with congregations in Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio, California, and Florida. He presently resides in Florida and works with the church in Cork, outside of Plant City. For five years he was an associate editor of Focus Magazine, and has written numerous articles for various publications. Since August, 2001, Doy has been teaching Biblical Studies, Evidences, and Philosophy at Florida College in Temple Terrace, FL. He has his own web site located at http://studywell.org. You can write him at email@example.com.