In the comments of Ed Brayton’s blog, an argument was set forth regarding abortion and hell, which I will summarize as such:
- Most Christians believe that babies are not responsible for their salvation and so go to heaven if they die before a so-called ‘age of accountability.’ (Premise)
- Abortion kills unborn babies at a point where they are not morally culpable for their salvation. (Premise)
- Individuals going to heaven rather than hell is an intrinsic good. (Premise)
- Therefore, abortion results in an intrinsic good by ensuring the salvation of aborted babies. (from 1-3)
If it’s not completely apparent how tendentious and simplistic this is, let me spell it out.
Premise 1 has the obvious disadvantage of being a doctrine that’s not exceptionally well-grounded in Scripture, but I can grant for the purposes of the argument that it obtains. I don’t personally believe in any such ‘age of accountability,’ although I am compelled to think that God has the prerogative to offer special grace to those who are cognitively unable to freely choose Him (e.g. the severely mentally impaired).
If I grant premise 1, then premise 2 follows fairly easily; very few individuals would argue that unborn babies are responsible for their own salvation, even under paedobaptist doctrines where infant baptism is performed to ensure the child’s salvation (after all, how can one baptize a fetus? perhaps in amniotic fluid…).
The obviously objectionable premise then is (3), which asserts that the good of an unborn fetus going to heaven is intrinsic. One might also say that, if the good is not intrinsic, it is at least a greater good than allowing the child to be born with the great possibility of making a wrong decision and ending up in hell. Both are equally weak, in my view.
For one, this presumes a consequentialist view: An otherwise immoral action (killing a person, as the fetus is herein presumed to be on a usual Christian stance) becomes moral because of the consequence that ensues (the fetus’s salvation). I don’t think this jibes with the traditional Christian ethic in general, but let’s suppose it does. Does the action of aborting a fetus maximize the good?
I would say not. For surely there is some intrinsic value in having a choice, even if one can choose wrongly. Even if, as individuals argued there, the fetus itself is incapable of such a choice (as entailed by premise 1), the denial of a future choice is materially different than the current natural inability in that the former denies the choice permanently while the latter is merely a temporal occurrence that will resolve itself.
The opponent may say, “But the ability to choose is a minor thing compared to the vast horror of going to hell.” This just minimizes the importance of things we so often take for granted, especially the chance to live one’s own life. Moreover, I think there is an argument to be made from God’s own volition: If we take God to be volitional (and Scripture seems to indicate that He acts freely), then the probability of God intentionally granting this characteristic to humans is greater than the converse [or P(G) > P(~G)].* Certainly, I take it to be true that free choice is something that God esteems, and I think a general view of autonomy as an important feature of humanity is evident in many widely accepted moral norms.
Even were this not true, however, I wish to stress that doing the right thing is not, under the Christian view, about getting the right results (that is still something we can hope for, though) but rather about the right actions. Therefore, even if premise 3 holds (and I deny that), the conclusion is not what the arguer wants it to be for it to demonstrate a contradiction between opposition to abortion and the desire to see souls saved. Indeed, if it takes murder for souls to be saved, then that speaks very poorly of the situation at hand.†
*It is possible that some Calvinists might dispute this argument, but that doesn’t bother me at present. Suffice it to say that I think God’s own volition means that He must find merit in it to some degree, and so it is relatively unsurprising to think that He would extend volition – even if slightly more limited than His own – to creatures who have the cognitive capacity to understand it without a sufficiently good reason for denying it (e.g. that humans simply can’t use the gift properly). Then again, the Calvinist might agree that God offers diminished volition, inapplicable at least to matters of salvation.
†Another element – often overlooked among abortion supporters, I find – is the notion that fetuses are a species of human (if not a human person) that deserves protection, not elimination.