Friday, October 12, 2012

My only comment on the VP debate...and last political post for a while

In last night’s vice presidential debate, Mr. Biden repeated an oft-stated position on abortion. He said that he believed abortion was wrong, but that he did not feel it was right to enforce his Catholic faith on those who disagreed.

As I stated last post, I will not be endorsing or arguing against any candidate. Last post I gave advice about how to think about a variety of issues that you must balance in your mind to make a decision on this election, and it is entirely possible you and I will come to different conclusions—and that is fine.

But what Biden said last night has become a common refrain regarding abortion, and I think it is important enough that it needs to be discussed. I have heard this statement from both sides: in fact, in past years some form of this argument has been made by both Obama and Romney (when a governor). So this is not a partisan discussion today…it is a question of flawed logic.

I have two problems with this argument: first a flaw in logic, and second is what I call the “monster implication”.

Flawed Logic

We can all probably agree that one of the reasons America is so great is that the government does not endorse one religious viewpoint to the exclusion of others: this is the “separation of church and state”, and it is very much in line with Protestant and Orthodox theology. Among Christians only Catholics have, historically, been highly active in attempting to meld politics and religion (going as far back as classical Rome). Generally speaking, the Orthodox and Protestants have a focus much more like Luther’s “Two Kingdoms” theology, where God rules the earthly kingdom through the secular rule of law (compulsion), but rules the heavenly kingdom of the Church through the rule of grace (mercy). Luther argued that God requires voluntary religious beliefs, and strongly warned that the secular civil law should not be used in any way to compel belief or faith. James Madison explicitly stated that Luther was the inspiration for the American concept of a separated church and state.

So certainly all Christians should agree that we should avoid using the civil law to compel others to live according to Christian values: God is not glorified by us forcing someone by the sword or civil law to do the right thing. There is no glory in a force righteousness. Catholics may agree slightly less than Protestants, but in general I think most Christians would agree with those statements today.

On this I agree with Biden: and for that reason I would wholeheartedly fight against any requirement that schoolchildren must learn the Ten Commandments and Lord’s Prayer in public schools, or that church attendance be mandated, or that liquor cannot be sold on Sunday, or that non-Christian churches are not allowed, etc. Having a “Christian nation” is no virtue if it is obtained at gunpoint and threat of imprisonment.

Yet Biden (and Obama, and—in his past—Romney and many others) take this concept to an absurdist extreme by applying it to anything informed by religion. Their form of argument goes something like this:

1. The State can make no law which establishes a religion (per the Constitution’s First Amendment)
2. “Abortion is murder” is a belief of some religions but not all.
3. Therefore, the State should not make laws treating abortion as murder.

Many will read this and say that they agree. However, this is a logical fallacy called the fallacy of division—that is, it assumes that because something is true of a thing it must be true of all of its parts. In this case, just because it is true that we are forbidden from establishing a religion with civil law does not logically mean that everything which is a religious belief must be excluded from civil law.

If we take this approach, virtually all of our legal code would have to be eliminated. Based purely upon the Constitution of the United States, our legal code would be very narrow. Seriously, go read it. If we had used only as our basis the original Constitution, then it is true we would have freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly; the right to bear arms; the right to avoid illegal search and seizures; etc.

But the original Constitution never outlawed slavery. It did not guarantee the right to vote for those of other races. It did not give women the right to vote. It does not define things like murder, rape, pedophilia, or incest as illegal. It does not define how many wives (or husbands) a person can have, or when it is acceptable to have consent for such things.

In every instance given above, I can find someone whose religious beliefs are offended by doing or not doing the things listed. There are religious people who fought against slavery and fought for it—both quoting their Scriptures. There are religious people who fought for and against voting rights—both quoting their Scriptures. There are people who define murder differently than others based on religion (is abortion murder? euthanasia? are murders for hate worse than murders of passion?). There are people who define pedophilia and age of consent differently, often citing differently religious traditions. There are people who define rape differently for the same reasons.

And in any of those cases, if you apply Biden’s logic, you see clearly the flaw:

1. The State can make no law which establishes a religion.
2. “Jewish people have equal rights to Gentile people” is a belief of some religions but not all.
3. Therefore, the State should not make laws treating Jewish people as people.


1. The State can make no law which establishes a religion.
2. “You should only have one wife” is a belief of some religions but not all.
3. Therefore, the State should not make laws defining how many wives a man can have.


1. The State can make no law which establishes a religion.
2. “Giving money to charity” is a religious concept of some religions but not all.
3. Therefore, the State should not give tax breaks for religious charities.


1. The State can make no law which establishes a religion.
2. “Women are equal to men” is a belief of some religions but not all.
3. Therefore, the State should not make laws defining women as equivalent to men.

In all of these cases, the same flawed logical supposition to Biden is used. It is a very old logical fallacy—the ancient Greeks used to believe that atoms would have the same properties as the substance, so water atoms are wet, fire atoms are hot, etc. This same logical flaw is applied here: establishing some concept of a religion into law is not the same thing as establishing the entire religion into law.

As you can see above, a huge portion of our laws today are part of religious thinking, and indeed Christians were the primary movers behind the anti-slavery movement and the civil rights movement, for example. So it always requires wisdom to know which parts of religion should be incorporated into civil law and which parts should not; to simply say, “It’s a religious belief so it can not have anything to do with public policy” is demonstrably absurd. If you remove every law motivated by any religious or philosophical position, then you have little left except the tax code and the speed limits.

The Monster Implication

So let us all acknowledge then that the logic is flawed, and ignore that for now. An even bigger problem, to me, is the implication of the thought, which I call the “Monster Implication.”

Let’s think about what the Vice President is really saying: “I think that we are murdering millions of babies a year in this country. But some people think it’s not immoral to murder millions of babies, so I will do whatever is in my power to ensure that those who disagree with my personal views are still able to murder millions of babies. Because I certainly don’t want to force my views—that murdering babies is wrong—onto others.”

That, my friends, would make him a monster.

If he really, honestly believes that those aborted fetuses are innocent children and real people, then only a monster of the worst order could look the other way while this holocaust went on. It would be akin to someone in WWII era Germany saying that they privately opposed the Holocaust but since not everyone believed the Jews were “people like us”, then they will aid the Nazis in their efforts. It would be like someone saying, “Well personally I think blacks are real people not property. But I don’t want to force my religious beliefs on others, so I don’t oppose slavery.” How horrible, if someone actually said so! Certainly we can all agree this is a terrible argument!

I have far more respect for someone who is pro-choice because they do not believe a fetus is a person: at least they have some intellectual honesty. I disagree with them and find it objectively wrong: how can, for example, a 32-week old fetus be “just a bunch of cells”, yet a 30-week old premature birth be a child whose death is protected by law? That to me is horribly wrong. But at least it is a consistent approach: everything that they say is a baby is deserving of protection, and everything that they say is not a baby is not deserving of protection. So at least they are consistent in their strange interpretation of Personhood.

But what Biden is arguing for is a monstrous mindset: he is claiming to really believe that the fetus is a Person, an innocent child…and yet be completely okay with killing it via abortion. If this is an example of tolerance of opposing views, surely we can all agree it goes too far, right? Surely we do not wish our leaders to bend so far in the direction of tolerating other views that they would actually allow innocent people to be killed by the millions as a result, right?

Of course not.

So please, let us be more plain in our discussions of abortion. Let us all maintain intellectual consistency. If you are pro-choice, then you should be trying to prove why Personhood exists only among those who are outside of the womb. If you are pro-life, then you should be trying to prove why Personhood exists even in the womb. But in no possible world should we accept this bizarre argument that the fetus is an innocent child, but we will not protect it from what we view as murder because we wish to be tolerant of opposing viewpoints.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is applicable here as well.