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 possibly 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.
10/27/2017 12:14:07 pm
There is no false dichotomy. You just want to avoid the question. The fact is embryos are not equal to born kids.
10/27/2017 12:24:57 pm
Hi, Chaz. Thanks for commenting. Would you mind explaining how you know that embryos are not equal to born kids?
10/28/2017 07:09:26 am
My answer is that failure to save one or the other is not the same as killing one or the other. If a situation were to occur in which this choice were actually to be made, you choose whichever you choose.
10/31/2017 04:06:33 pm
Your point is completely valid but this thought experiment is still valid because Patrick Tomlinson who came up with it wasn't intending it to be a pro-choice argument but rather an argument against pro-life people who argue specifically that the life of a single embryo is equal to that of a child. His entire question was would you save the 5 year old child or 1000 embryos from the fire if you could only save one or the other? You are right that it isn't the same thing because it was never intended to be an argument in favor of legal abortion just to point out that most people don't actually value the life of an embryo the same as the life of a child so it's hypocritical when people argue that they are of equal value.
11/1/2017 04:36:45 am
Marisa, are you seriously claiming that embryos are less valuable than infants because embryos die more often than infants?
11/1/2017 03:53:47 pm
I'm saying subconsciously most people don't value embryos as much as a toddler because they know that it isn't even certain that they will be born because of how common miscarriages are. I'm saying it's a subconscious view point that becomes noticeable in thought experiments like this one.
11/2/2017 04:51:37 am
To claim that the child is both alive and not alive simultaneously is a violation of the law of non-contradiction. This law is one of the (if not just "the") foundational concepts of logic. Nothing can be both true and not true at the same time. To claim that the child is both alive and not alive would be like claiming that one plus one equals both two and not two at the same time. You are certainly free to believe such a thing, but that belief is self-contradictory and foolish.
11/7/2017 04:48:10 am
The law of non-contradiction is a highly variable law that many philosophers had different opinions on but under Plato's definition it only works when considering something in a fixed state. Your next question then becomes whether or not a fixed state is actually possible or purely hypothetical, if you believe the world is in a state of constant flux like Heraclitus then a fixed state is impossible. Also non-contradiction only works with logic problems when you have a clear definition. Alive is not a word that is clearly defined since there are different definitions.
11/9/2017 05:34:15 am
It is interesting that you bring up both Plato and Heraclitus in conjunction with the law of non-contradiction. If I recall correctly, Plato disproved the Heracleitean epistemology in his Theaetetus, and in fact, Plato's argument against Protagoras and Heraclitus relies very heavily on the law of non-contradiction. Do you actually hold to the same view as Heraclitus? If so, I would be interested in learning how you would answer Plato's arguments in Theaetetus.
8/6/2019 01:41:18 pm
I completely agree with your post, though the first thing that came into my mind was Schrodinger's Embryo :P
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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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