There's an old pro-abortion argument that has received a lot of attention on twitter lately. It goes something like this:
Imagine that you are in a burning building along with a five year old child and an incubator of human embryos. You know that you can save either the single child or the entire incubator full of embryos, but you cannot save both. Which one will you choose to save? If you chose to save the child, then you have proven that a child is more valuable than a human embryo which means that unborn humans do not have as much moral value as born humans.
There have been several excellent responses to this argument, but I'd like to point out the two responses that I think are the best of the lot.
First, the question presents what is known as a false dichotomy which is just a fancy way of saying that there are more possible answers than the two that were provided. For the Christian, the answer to the question of whether to save the child or the embryos should always be "both."
I would do my best to save both the single child and the container of embryos, and I would leave the outcome in the hands of the Lord. If He chooses to reward my efforts by allowing me to save both, then He is worthy of being praised. If He prevents me from saving one or the other in order to turn hearts back toward Him, then He is still just as worthy to be praised. And if He sees fit to bring me home to Him during my attempts, then I'll praise Him more than I ever possible could on this earth. No matter what the outcome, my job is simply to do my best and leave the results up to Him.
Of course, the pro-abortionist is never going to accept this third option, but that's not because he has a logically valid reason for rejecting it. The only reason that the pro-abortionist does not accept this option is that he doesn't believe that God would intervene in such a situation. He wants us to answer his question as if God either did not exist or did not care about the outcome, but that is impossible. If God did not exist or did not care about the outcome, then that would mean that there is no such thing as moral values in the first place. All ethical assessments would be mere illusions, and it would be just as proper to throw the child and the embryos into the fire as to pull them out of it.
In order to draw a moral conclusion from this question, we must include the existence of a living and caring God, and the inclusion of such a God immediately opens up the third option of attempting to save both while leaving the results up to Him.
Second, In addition to the false dichotomy, the pro-abortionist is also guilty of committing the fallacy of affirming the consequent. His argument is:
1) If the child is more valuable, then you will save the child.
2) You saved the child.
3) Therefore, the child is more valuable.
You can see the fallacy by substituting different terms into the syllogism.
1) If I am robbed, then I will have no money.
2) I have no money.
3) Therefore I have been robbed.
1) If it is night, then I cannot see the sun.
2) I cannot see the sun.
3) Therefore it is night.
1) If a man is decapitated, he will die.
2) The man has died.
3) Therefore, he has been decapitated.
As you can see from these other examples, the problem with the fallacy of affirming the consequent is that there may be other explanations for the second premise. I may have spent all my money. It may be cloudy outside. The man may have had a heart attack. There may be other reasons for choosing the child which have nothing to do with the intrinsic moral value of prenatal life.
Demonstrating that the "then" part of an "if ... then" statement is true never proves that the "if" part is true.
These two responses seem to me to be the best responses available to this popular pro-abortion argument. I trust that you will find them useful as this argument continues to circulate throughout the internet.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)