[4.3.] Abortion and the Bible.
In EMP ch.4.4, Rachels makes a number of points about the relationship between morality and religion, especially Christianity:
Rachels claims that the latter is the case with regard to abortion. Here is an argument that some conservative Christians give against abortion:
A fetus is a human being from the moment of conception.
Killing a human being is immoral.
Therefore, killing a fetus (i.e., abortion) is immoral.
According to Rachels, the scriptures give no straightforward support for the first premise.
[Going too much further into the details of these Biblical passages would take us too far afield. See the document “Abortion and the Bible”, on the class web site.]
[4.4.] How to Be a Genuine Inquirer About Abortion.
According to Rachels, there is no clear support in the Bible for either position in the abortion debate. Nevertheless, people sometimes think that the Bible or church tradition offers clear support for their own personal moral views, including their views on abortion. Rachels identifies a common pattern:
1. scripture or tradition contains elements favoring both positions on a moral issue [I would add: or, there is no consensus among Bible scholars as to what a given passage really means]
2. you already believe that one position is correct
3. you emphasize the elements in scripture or tradition that support your position and ignore the elements that do not [or: choose the interpretation that best supports your position and ignore the other interpretations]
When this happens, you are not engaging in a sincere effort to discover whether a given behavior really is right or wrong. Rather, you are making up your mind ahead of time and then paying attention only to the evidence that supports your position. Rather than letting the premises (evidence, reasons) determine the conclusion, you have decided on the conclusion in advance and then ignored all reasons and evidence that don’t support your conclusion. This is not genuine inquiry.
A contemporary philosopher named Susan Haack has articulated the difference between genuine and pseudo-inquiry, based on some observations first made by the classical American philosopher Charles Peirce (1839-1914):
genuine inquiry vs. pseudo-inquiry: distinguished by motive.
genuine inquiry (df.): inquiry that is motivated by the desire to find the truth, no matter what that truth happens to be. This desire is what Peirce called “the scientific attitude.”
pseudo-inquiry (“pseudo” = false) is motivated by the desire to defend claim that you have already settled on in advance; there are two kinds:
sham reasoning (df.): defending a claim your commitment to which is sincere (you care that the claim is true), but also immune to evidence or argument—no matter what the evidence shows, you will not change your mind about it.
· For example, a man really believes that his wife his faithful to him, and he will never change his mind about that no matter what evidence is presented to him (e.g., multiple phone calls from his wife’s cell phone to an unknown number, photos of her entering the Motel 6 with a strange man, etc.)
fake reasoning (df.): defending a claim, not because you have a sincere commitment to it (you don’t really care whether the claim is true or false), but because you think doing so will be to your advantage.
· For example, a scientist fakes the results of her research in order to get more grant money or to raise her profile within the research community.
Deciding in advance that abortion is immoral, and then reading the Bible (or anything else) selectively in order to find evidence to support your claim while ignoring evidence against your claim, is sham reasoning, not genuine inquiry.
Stopping point for Thursday September 19. Your first exam in this course is Tuesday September 24 (next class). Be in your seats and ready to take the test when class begins.
For one week from today (Thursday September 26), read RTD ch.11: “Why Abortion is Immoral” by Don Marquis.
This page last updated 9/19/2013.
Copyright © 2013 Robert Lane. All rights reserved.