The Bible, abortion, and extra-biblical knowledge

Over at the blog, “the Christ Seminar,” a common but plainly fallacious argument about the Bible and abortion has reared its head. At the time of writing this post, wordpress.com is having technical problems and I can’t post a comment in reply just now, so I’ll make the point here instead.

The claim made in the blog entry “The (lack of) biblical arguments again abortion” is, you guessed it, that the Bible says nothing that amounts to a condemnation of abortion – killing the unborn. In the post and the comments, the author makes two specific claims: 1) That the Bible does not directly mention killing the unborn and in doing so condemn the practice, and in reply to a commenter, the author adds, 2) While the Bible condemns homicide in general, it is silent on whether or not the unborn count as human beings, so we cannot say that they are included in the biblical prohibition on homicide.

To think that the biblical condemnation of homicide applies to those who are not yet born, the author says, is to drag in extra-biblical claims.

Firstly, I think the Bible actually does have something directly to say about the status of the unborn and the morality of killing them, but I’m actually going to address what is a fallacious argument from silence in the author’s blog and comments.The fallacious argument is that since the Bible does not expressly state that the unborn are included in the prohibition on homicide, we should conclude that they are not included in the biblical prohibition on homicide.

Here is the comment I was unable to post (but will try later, when it will hopefully be up and running again). It illustrates just how misguided the argument is:

Good point, Max

While we’re at it, let’s apply your reasoning to a similar situation: The killing of those between the ages of 8 years old and 8 1/2 years old.

The fact (or lack thereof ) that they are fully human is an extra-biblical fact. The Bible is silent about it. We cannot just beg the question and assume that the biblical prohibition on homicide applies to them without begging the question.

I was shocked to realise this given the dogmatic views of some people that such killing is “unbiblical” or “condemned by the Bible,” but like I you I follow an argument to its conclusion, like it or not. In spite of what child protection reactionists might think, The Bible says absolutely nothing specifically about it being wrong to kill homo sapiens between the ages of 8 and 8 1/2. Damn any extra-biblical claims to the contrary.

This may seem like an absurd way to interpret biblical texts. It is, of course. That’s because nobody should read the Bible while intentionally suppressing their own knowledge of the world. We know that nobody ceases to be human at eight years old, only to resume their humanity at eight and a half. Does the Bible need to say this?

The Bible “says nothing” about shooting people with automatic weapons. It does condemn murder, and we, like sensible people, are supposed to combine biblical instructions with our knowledge of the world, like so:

  1. The Bible says we shouldn’t kill human beings (setting aside explicit biblical exceptions like executing murderers or defending oneself).
  2. Our knowledge of the world includes the knowledge that if we shoot somebody with an automatic weapon, we will kill him.
  3. Therefore, biblical instructions indicate that we should not shoot people with automatic weapons.

We would think a person to be just silly if he said that we were “begging the question” by just assuming that shooting people with automatic weapons is a species of what the Bible condemns.

Take another example: The Bible says in Luke 24:13 that some of Jesus’ friends, after Jesus had been crucified, were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus. But does the text say that they were traveling toward the West? No. So should we reject the claim that “the Bible says they were traveling West”? Is it begging the question to say that they were traveling West? Clearly not. The Bible says they were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and our knowledge of the world includes the knowledge that Emmaus is West of Jerusalem. It is quite proper, therefore, to say that the Bible indicates that these friends of Jesus were traveling toward the West.

Likewise, it is just silly to accuse people of begging the question when reasoning from the Bible when they say:

  1. The Bible condemns killing human beings.
  2. Our knowledge of the world includes the knowledge that unborn children, in any relevant sense, are human beings.
  3. Therefore biblical instructions indicate that we should not kill unborn children.

If a person wishes to take issue with 2) and rebut it, that is fine. Go ahead and do that. This would change the conclusion about what biblical instructions do or do not require. But as it stands, the objection to the pro-life reading of the Bible is frankly ridiculous.

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11 thoughts on “The Bible, abortion, and extra-biblical knowledge

  1. There is nothing I can or want to add to what you have said here!

    OUTSTANDING!

    You can replace Obama as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize recipient… This earns it, he did not!

  2. Well Max, maybe I am, but that doesn’t make me terribly worthy of it!

    And I think we disagree at least here: I say the Bible condemns abortion, whereas your words (taken at face value) deny this.

  3. The one thing I don’t say is, which you imply I do is, I quote:

    “Damn any extra-biblical claims to the contrary.”

    You are taking my argument further than I did, and thus, in effect, attacking a straw man.

  4. My point was that you regarded biblical condemnation of abortion as “extra-biblical.” If I’m right, the biblical condemnation of homicide counts as condemnation of abortion.

  5. Hey Glenn, let’s hope this abortion debate included that little matter of what is written in Numbers 5:12-28?

    To summerise….Gods punishment for foul-mouthed, pregnant wives who stray – death to her unborn child and any chance of conceiving outside the matrimonial bed, gone as well.

    God saw fit to create own abortion recipe called ‘Bitter Water’ the Biblical equivalent of the RU486 – only so much better!

    Here is clear evidence The Bible supports abortion down-to issuing the ingredients of the ordained recipe for murdering the unborn and who it will work –on.

    PS: By the way if you are giving it a try, an ephah is the modern-day equivalent of about two litres.

    Gotta shoot.

    Paul.

  6. Paul, previously when I’ve challenged you on questions of familiarity with the literature of the Bible, you’ve told me that because you have only one life and the Bible is obviously silly, you’re not going to invest time studying it. However, since you initiated this point, I will assume that you are prepared to invest the requisite time to address the issue.

    I have read the passage you cited, and while there is a clear reference to a woman, and a clear reference to her future ability to bear children, there is no reference at all to a woman who is pregnant, much less one whose unborn child is killed in the way you describe. perhaps there’s some feature of the hebrew text here that your studies have alerted you to but mine have not alerted me to it.

    Care to share?

    I’ve also asked Matt Flannagan, whose PhD was on the issue of Christian opposition to feticide, to have a look. Perhaps he has discovered this thing you have discovered, invisible to the reader of English Bibles, or perhaps he hasn’t. Maybe you will have to help us both out.

    “Gotta shoot.”
    Glenn

    PS: The ephah is not the “modern day equivalent” of anything. It’s an ancient dry measure. The man was to bring one tenth of an ephah of barley. One ephah is roughly 22 litres. Are you sure you’re familiar with this territory?

  7. That’s true Glenn, I don’t believe The Bible any more than I believe ‘the truth’ is some-how written between the lines of The Lord of the Rings or The Raelians hand-book.

    I hate people selectively quoting ‘cherry picking’ sections to justify their own life-style bigotry and right to interference without examining some of the appalling inhumanity in its pages.

    That’s why I often use scripture in debates of this kind, to turn the argument on its head.

    The good book?

    Hardly!

    Don’t forget God himself practiced infanticide.

    See ya.

    Paul.

  8. Paul: “I hate people selectively quoting ‘cherry picking’ sections to justify their own life-style bigotry and right to interference without examining some of the appalling inhumanity in its pages.”

    OK, so you’re against cherry picking from the Bible when it suits? Sweet. Have you cherry picked from this text in Numbers? Worse still, have you quoted it in haste, not even paying any careful attention to it, because you saw somebody else say that it says something, and you wanted to make a rhetorical point?

    I ask this because it doesn’t look like you’ve actually responded by explaining how you arrive at your interpretation of this text that you referred to (you brought it up, so presumably you know something about it). My question is in the post immediately prior to your last one.

    Thanks, looking forward to a well-informed reply when you get around to it. It shouldn’t take much time, because you’ve already checked the facts before appealing to this passage, right?

  9. “Pro-choice” my ass. Jesus is watching each of you who would advocate/encourage/allow the SATANIC RITE of MURDERING AN UNBORN BABY, here in the Last Days when supernatural evil is progressively turned (as pre-ordained by the Creator) loose on the earth, as per the prophecies. You satanic baby-killers (choice my ass) will stand DIRECTLY before Him (and do even now, as He watches you, every moment: bad Karma, baby)), just before you are thrown into hell.
    He’s invisible (for now). Talk DIRECTLY to Him (to hell with the “legal “system, which is supposed to originate with God anyway, and with satanic organized “religion” and its false priestcraft, which lets this satanic crap go on.). Or don’t talk to Him- THAT IS A “CHOICE” YOU CAN MAKE, ONCE MADE AWARE OF THAT CHOICE., as I have just done here.

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