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:
- The Bible says we shouldn’t kill human beings (setting aside explicit biblical exceptions like executing murderers or defending oneself).
- Our knowledge of the world includes the knowledge that if we shoot somebody with an automatic weapon, we will kill him.
- 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:
- The Bible condemns killing human beings.
- Our knowledge of the world includes the knowledge that unborn children, in any relevant sense, are human beings.
- 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.