Foetally Flawed: An Anti-Abortionist Tries to Take on the Violinist. 

I am prompted to return to Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “Defence of Abortion” by Elijah Thompson’s  ( no relation) posts on his Foetal Position Blog. Elijah links to a podcast which I haven’t listened to on the basis that I am assuming the blogs include everything which is relevant. But if I’ve missed something which can only be fully understood from the podcast, then I hope Elijah will direct my attention to it.

In her “Defence of Abortion” Thomson memorably claimed that being pregnant was just like being kidnapped and having an unconscious violinist plugged into your kidneys.

In the same way King Canute memorably claimed that he could turn back the tide.

Which as much as to say that neither of them made those claims.

Canute – Google it.

Thomson, read on.

Thomson never said that all pregnancies were comparable in every way to being attached without consent to a violinist who will die if you don’t agree to stay plugged in to him for the next nine months.

If you think she did, if you think she missed the fact that most pregnancies are not the result of a criminal act and that they do not require nine months confinement in bed, or if you think that she claimed that abortion can never be immoral, then you need to go here to read what she actually said (or re-read it if you’ve previously read it).

Responses to Thomson are bedevilled by these misunderstandings of the purpose of the violinist thought experiment. The violinist is a starting point for thinking about what principles are involved when we talk about one person’s right to life being in conflict with another person’s right to autonomy. Thomson does not say that the violinist is a paradigmatic analogy for every pregnancy that ever was or ever could be. She accepts that there are some circumstances in which unplugging yourself from the violinist (and by analogy having an abortion) would be morally wrong. But she also says that our instinct that we have a right to unplug ourselves without incurring criminal sanctions is a sound and defensible instinct.

Those who oppose Thomson’s defence of abortion tend to assume that if something is immoral then that is sufficient to justify making it illegal. But in fact this is not how the law works. There are many behaviours which are largely agreed to be immoral but which are not criminal in any democratic society that I am aware of. For instance:

– cheating on your partner

– watching somebody drown in 2 inches of water

– failing to give police information which would enable them to catch a rapist or murderer.

Elijah thinks (or appears to think) that Thomson is claiming that the violinist scenario is always fully analogous to pregnancy.

He thinks (or appears to think) that if he can persuade us that some abortions are morally reprehensible then it must follow that all abortions are morally reprehensible. And that if all abortions are morally reprehensible then it must follow that all abortion should be illegal.

I hope to show that he is wrong on all counts.

Elijah sees two categories of “bodily autonomy” argument by supporters of choice. The first he calls “the sovereign zone”. The second (in which he places Thomson) he calls “the right to refuse.” I can’t see myself that there is much in this distinction so I will briefly deal with the what Elijah says about “the sovereign zone” argument. You can find his blogpost here.

Elijah says that if a pregnant woman demands her doctor treat her with drugs (such as thalidomide) which would cause damage to her unborn child, we agree that the doctor may (in fact should) refuse the demand. He says that if we accept that, then we have thereby accepted that the it is not permissible for the woman to do whatever she wants with her own body.

But I think that we have not accepted this at all. What we accept is that medics have a duty of professional care and that in carrying out this duty they may sometimes decline to act as their patient wishes. If I go to a surgeon and tell her that I wish to have my right leg amputated above the knee because I am going to a fancy dress party and wish to go as Long John Silver I cannot imagine that she would do anything other than refuse. But accepting that is no basis for accepting that my lower right leg is not in general mine to do with as I like or that I owe it some moral obligation.

Now on to Elijah’s next post where he deals specifically with Thomson’s violinist. You can find that here.

Elijah begins by differentiating the violinist scenario from actual pregnancy. “What (Elijah asks) is the difference between the violinist analogy and actual pregnancy?

He answers:

“In the analogy, you are bedridden.”

He points out “Statistically speaking, a woman is very rarely bedridden during pregnancy, let alone bedridden for her the entire length of pregnancy.

But Thomson agrees. She is absolutely specific on this point: “[Anti-abortionists do not] make an exception for a case in which the mother has to spend the nine months of her pregnancy in bed. They would agree that would be a great pity, and hard on the mother; but all the same, all persons have a right to life, the fetus is a person, and so on. I suspect, in fact, that they would not make an exception for a case in which, miraculously enough, the pregnancy went on for nine years, or even the rest of the mother’s life.”

Her point is that if your opposition is founded on the foetal right to life then it should not make any difference to your opposition whether pregnancy entails nine months bed rest or not.

So Elijah is pushing at an open door because he seems to have overlooked the fact that the door is not going to lead him to anywhere he wants to go.

Elijah’s next point:

In the analogy, the person connected to the violinist is not responsible for being connected.  In the vast majority of cases, the pregnant woman has consented to sex. One of the possible consequences of engaging in sexual intercourse is the creation of a dependent human being……So, in order for the analogy to be parallel, the pregnant woman would have to be a rape victim who subsequently became pregnant, and she must immediately go on bed rest for the entirety of her pregnancy.”

Once again, Elijah makes a distinction which Thomson readily accepts in her article, because lack of consent is not key to her case.

Here is Thomson on that very point: “In this case, of course, you were kidnapped, you didn’t volunteer for the operation that plugged the violinist into your kidneys. Can those who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned make an exception for a pregnancy due to rape? Certainly. They can say that persons have a right to life only if they didn’t come into existence because of rape; or they can say that all persons have a right to life, but that some have less of a right to life than others, in particular, that those who came into existence because of rape have less. But these statements have a rather unpleasant sound. Surely the question of whether you have a right to life at all, or how much of it you have, shouldn’t turn on the question of whether or not you are a product of a rape. And in fact the people who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned do not make this distinction, and hence do not make an exception in case of rape.

Elijah makes it clear that he would not allow abortion in cases of rape so we are entitled to wonder why he thinks it important to draw this distinction with the violinist when at the same time he considers it irrelevant.

Next Elijah moves to what he calls “the responsibility objection”.

He says “I’d like to point out that we, as a society, recognize the responsibility objection as legitimate. If you are responsible for causing someone to be in a dependent state, you have an obligation to them that goes beyond the obligation you have to someone else. ”

Hmmmm. “If you are responsible for someone being in a dependant state”. That’s an interesting turn of phrase in this context. Let’s re-visit it later, because Elijah has more, much more, to say on that point.

His next point:

“In the analogy, the relationship between the violinist and the connected person is that of a stranger.  In the overwhelming majority of cases, the pregnant woman is carrying her own child.

Yet another objection which Thomson foresees and deals with:

It may be said that what is important is not merely the fact that the fetus is a person, but that it is a person for whom the woman has a special kind of responsibility issuing from the fact that she is its mother. ………Surely we do not have any such “special responsibility” for a person unless we have assumed it, explicitly or implicitly. If a set of parents do not try to prevent pregnancy, do not obtain an abortion, but rather take it home with them, then they have assumed responsibility for it, they have given it rights, and they cannot now withdraw support from it at the cost of its life because they now find it difficult to go on providing for it. But if they have taken all reasonable precautions against having a child, they do not simply by virtue of their biological relationship to the child who comes into existence have a special responsibility for it. ”

For myself, I would add that a baby in the womb can quite properly be regarded as a stranger – which is why you can buy all those cards for new parents which say “Welcome little stranger”. What Elijah appears to mean is that the violinist is not biologically related to you. But he does not explain why that should make any difference. Supposing it were to turn out that the violinist is your son. Would that make any difference? And if it would, why would it?

Now Elijah reverts to the Responsibility Objection. The Responsibility Objection is something to which Elijah attaches massive importance. But I believe that it is where he goes massively wrong; so wrong that nothing in his argument which is predicated on this objection can stand scrutiny. He is not alone in this error. Most who argue against Thomson, from Greg Koukl up, make the same fundamental mistake.

Let’s look at Elijah’s argument:

In the violinist analogy, the reason the violinist is dependent upon someone else is because of the devious actions of the society of music lovers. Unfortunately, the person chosen to connect to the violinist had nothing to do with the connection……this ‘responsibility objection’ is one of the stronger arguments against the analogy, and gives us a pretty good idea about why the analogy is not morally parallel.

Let’s imagine a slightly modified version of the violinist where I am directly responsible for the violinist to be dependent upon me. Due to the fact that I have a very strange sense of humor or have an insatiable desire to be desperately needed, I do some research and find a famous violinist who has the exact same weird blood type as me (in this analogy, we both share the bombay blood type). I poison him, and then find a hospital and connect myself to him.

I am now directly responsible for his dependent state. The same is true of nearly all pregnancies. So why, if you are responsible for another person’s dependency upon you, are you allowed to kill him/her?

Time to go back to that phrase: “If you are responsible for someone being in a dependant state….”

In Elijah’s analogy you have done something wrong which reduces a formerly healthy independent individual to a state of parasitic dependency. Without your feckless behaviour that other person would enjoy a good quality of life. The dependency arises from an injury done to the dependent person by you.

This is entirely different from the case of the foetus. A foetus is not in a state of dependency because its mother has robbed it of its health by her behaviour. A foetus is in a state of dependency because that’s how it is to be a foetus. Foetuses do not go striding around the world in a state of robust independence until they are captured by women and placed in their wombs. For a foetus there is no alternative option of out-of-womb independence which has been stolen from it. The possible alternatives for the foetus are to exist (in which case it will of necessity be dependent) or for it not to exist at all.

For Elijah’s analogy to work, conception has to be analogous to poisoning. The foetus is “poisoned” by existence. Abortion adds insult to the injury of existence by ending that existence! And Elijah thinks that the original version of the violinist leads to mental contortions!

Next point (in fact this is yet more on the Responsibility Objection)

Sex Makes Babies. Duh.  If you cause someone to need you, you have an obligation to take care of them…….let’s imagine there is a room. In the room, there is a button with a sign above it saying ‘press here for 25 – 40 minutes of pleasure. Warning: there is an 8% chance of this machine creating an infant.’

Now if someone walks in, reads the sign, presses the button for pleasure, and a baby is sent down a slide and ends up sitting right next to him. He may argue and say ‘no, I only consented to having 40 minutes of pleasure! I didn’t consent to this infant!’

This is an odd choice of analogy. Firstly, as we’ve just seen with the foetus, it’s not that the button pusher is responsible for the baby’s state of dependency. The baby’s state of dependency arises from the fact that it’s a baby. Secondly, the baby is not obviously dependent on the button-pusher. Anyone can take over its care and in a world where pleasure machines pumped out babies we might expect that a system would be in place to arrange that somebody did. Note that this is significantly different from pregnancy where (as things stand) nobody can take over the pregnancy. Finally, I don’t know about you, but I would see the person who made the machine available for use as having more responsibility for the resulting babies than the users.

So the analogy fails because it is not much like pregnancy and even if it were, it is not obvious that the legal or even moral obligation of care should fall on the button-pusher.

Elijah’s next point:

“A Child is Not an Intruder…..the unborn child is not an intruder, whereas the violinist is an intruder.

This part would have been better headed up as “The violinist’s situation is unnatural” because Elijah does not mean by “intruder” what most of the rest of us do.

Intruder: someone who is in a placeor situation where they are not wanted.

Here is how Elijah argues the point:

In the violinist example, we are using our kidneys to keep the violinist alive. This is an unnatural function of our kidneys; they are not designed to keep another person alive. The fact that we are using our bodies in an unnatural way shows that this analogy is not properly analogous to pregnancy.

Pregnancy is natural. The violinist’s situation is unnatural. So what? How and why does that affect the morality of the situation?

Elijah’s next Objection:

The fatal series of events began before you were connected to the violinist in the analogy. But in abortion, you start the fatal series of events. There may be a moral obligation to someone who is dying, but initiating the fatal series of events on an innocent human being is wrong.

Thomson seems to be ignoring the fact that in abortion, you have a healthy child who is being actively killed. “

Well, hold on. Sometimes the child is healthy. Sometimes it’s very ill. Does Elijah make an exception for abortions where the child is not healthy? If the health of the child would not affect his opposition to abortion then referring to it is just a red herring.

But anyway, he continues: “In the analogy, you have someone who is already dying.”

In the analogy you have somebody who was dying – until he was connected to you. He’s no longer dying when you start the fatal series of events which will lead to the disconnect. Then the violinist will go back to the situation he was in before you connected.

In abortion you have someone who used not to exist. Abortion begins a fatal series of events which will return the situation to what it was before your body enabled their existence.
So to the extent that Thomson needs to be analogous, in this respect she absolutely is, but Elijah fails to see it!

Elijah ends with two analogies taken from Anthony George’s “The Good Samaritan on Life Support.” The first is the reverse analogy (where you need the violinist to keep you alive but he refuses). The second is the conjoined twins analogy. I think that Anthony George’s article merits its own post so I shall deal with that in my next post.

My deconversion

Before I recorded the Unbelievable show with Richard Morgan, broadcast last Saturday, Richard asked me to tell him how I came to be an atheist.  Here is my story as emailed to him:

I think I’ve always been an atheist.

What happened was that over a period of time, in my teens, I came to accept that I was an atheist. It was kind of C. S. Lewis in reverse, I think.

When I was about 6 or 7 at primary school one of the other pupils died. I didn’t know him, but when the announcement was made in assembly the next day, I remember thinking: “So he’s in Heaven now….” and that thought produced a very peculiar feeling. Of course, I may be projecting onto my infant self, but I now think that I was experiencing the dissonance of trying to reconcile what I thought I believed (God, Heaven, Angels etc) with what I actually believed (yeah, nice story).

But everyone I knew just took it as given that God existed, that Jesus was his son, that when we died we would go to Heaven if we’d been good or Hell if we’d been bad (the doctrine of justification by faith was not something that I think anyone in my circle was familiar with).

I heard a vox pop radio broadcast (about a year or so after my “that’s so weird!” reaction to my fellow pupil going to Heaven) on what people thought about the after-life. One of the “pops” said he thought it was all rubbish. I asked my mother how he could think that when Jesus had talked about Heaven and Hell. She said that the man didn’t believe in God or Jesus. That was a shock. I had had literally no idea that the belief was up for discussion.

My grandmother was a devout Catholic and my mother had been brought up as a Catholic but left the church when she married my father. We were all brought up as C of E.

We lived in S. Africa for a year when I was 10 & I was sent to a convent school (day only – not boarding). I found this very exotic and exciting. The Hail Mary – a previously unknown prayer, the genuflecting, the rosaries etc.

Back in the UK (aged 11) my mother decided to give the Catholic Church another try & I enthusiastically went along with her, converted & was baptised (& eventually confirmed).

There were several advantages to this:

1. No more RE lessons. In fact I was abruptly removed mid-lesson from my last one, on the message getting through that I was now Catholic. This was gratifyingly dramatic.  

2. The sense that now I was intriguingly different (one of a group of about a dozen in the whole school who was Catholic)

3. Special assemblies in the staff dining room on Fridays (the rest of the week we attended the usual school assemblies, but still the Friday separate assemblies cultivated my sense of being in some way above the rest of the crowd.)

There were also some disadvantages.

1. Having never been much of a church-goer, my mother was now a regular and of course I had to go too. I hated going to Mass. It was so boring. And physically painful too, until one got used to the long periods of kneeling. I was sustained by a sense of moral superiority over others, who were not going off to Mass and were therefore my inferiors, but not much else to cheer me up.

2. Although there were no more school RE lessons, once a week we were supposed to go during the lunch hour to Catholic RE. A priest would take the lesson which was invariably dull. A recurrent theme was the evidence of God’s existence and the First Cause Argument was usually relied on. I didn’t see any fault with the FCA. In fact I thought it was unanswerable. But at the same time, for something which was so unanswerable it was strangely unpersuasive. So when Fr – would say that the ink stain on that desk could not just have happened, that somebody had to have caused it, I assented with my head but remained full of doubt in my heart. (Maybe he was actually using the argument from contingency, which to this day I do not understand, so it would certainly have gone over my head back then.)

I was troubled during this time (in grammar school) by doubts about God and the afterlife – especially the afterlife which I particularly wanted to be true. God was only important as a guarantor of the after-life.

When the Gideon’s Bible Society came to the school and gave us each a copy of the New Testament I noticed in one of the appendices there was like a “trouble-shooter” guide for useful texts in trying times. One of them was for “When you are doubting”. I looked up the recommended verses, but they were of no help at all. (I seem to recall that they had something to do with eggs, but I may be misrembering.)

So it went on until my mid-teens, when the edifice stopped creaking and started simply breaking apart.

The Pope came to Canterbury Cathedral and was allowed to celebrate an open air Mass in the grounds. Canterbury is where I lived. Well, you’d have thought the world was going to end from the reactions of some Protestants. Leafletting, protests – it was an eventful time to be a Catholic in Canterbury.

The extent of the alarm felt by the protesting Protestants made me think. Even if they were right, surely God wouldn’t punish anyone for making an honest mistake? Even if that mistake was not believing in him at all, that ought to to call down punishment? A person might very much want to believe, but just find that they couldn’t. (I believed I believed. I hoped I believed. I told myself I believed. But it was all very effortful and so I felt acutely the injustice of being punished for non-belief.)

But the notion that nothing was off-limits made me move away from Catholic claims of certainty, claims to be the “only true church.”

I became a sort of religious post-modernist, a pantheist: “God is everywhere, man. There are just infinite paths to find him. They’re all equally true….”

I’ve always enjoyed reading things I disagreed with so when I saw Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am Not a Christian” in the local library, I thought I’d give it a go. Even if I didn’t believe in the Christian God anymore, there was, of course, no answer to the First Cause Argument, so get out of that one, Russell. It was turtles all the way down. There was still a God and I still had a Heaven to go to.

Except the FCA turned out to be rubbish and a puff of sceptical wind blew it away.

My belief in my belief remained for a while balancing precariously on the cliff edge of my unwillingness to let it go, but eventually I had to get up from my knees (CS Lewis in reverse) and confess that there was no God, no afterlife, nothing.

And it wasn’t so bad! Because underneath it all, that’s what I’d always thought anyway. It was better to face it than to stick my fingers in my ears and sing “La la la God! La la la Heaven!” every time I thought about death.

I think I was about 16.

Objective Morality: What’s God got to do with it?

I was prompted by this post from S. J. Graham to return to the argument from morality.

The argument goes as follows:

P1. If God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist.

P2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

C. Therefore God exists.

I believe that P1 is erroneous in two respects.  Firstly, God’s non-existence would not exclude the possibility of objective moral values and duties.  Secondly, God’s existence could not of itself explain any objectivity that moral values and duties do possess.

Let’s take the question of whether it is possible that objective moral values and duties could exist without God.  William Lane Craig, who favours the argument and often uses it will usually define “objective” as “existing independent of what any human believes.”  Let me concede that most people will think that this is a good definition and will readily agree with it when it is put to them.  Its attraction is that it presents us with a very simple and easily understood example of objectivity.  But I think there’s a bait and switch going on here and that the definition should be challenged.

“Existing independently of any any human belief” is certainly a sufficient condition of objectivity.  But is it a necessary condition?  I think not and if I am right about that, then P1 is fatally undermined.  Examples which do not lie on a spectrum, where there is a clear binary between truth and falsehood, are the most obvious cases of objective truths. But it is a mistake to assume that they are the only examples of objective truths.  

Let me use a thought experiment which my friend Richard Morgan often refers to: the “pile” experiment.  You put an apple on an otherwise empty table.  Do you now have a pile of apples on the table?  No of course not.  One apple isn’t a pile.  You put a second apple on the table.  Now do you have a pile?  No, that’s just a pair of apples.  You put a third on.  Is it a pile now?  No, not really.  Add a fourth.  Still not exactly a pile, not even when you balance the fourth apple on top of the other three.  So you go on adding apples and at some point you’ve got a pile.  Hey!  How did that happen?  

It happened because we all share a language and the language includes a word which we use for our concept of a pile.  The moment when its use becomes justified is a matter of judgment but that isn’t to say that it’s purely a matter of personal  opinion.  When WLC invites us to accept that objectivity requires that something be entirely independent of any human opinion he goes too far.  The test which we apply in many areas is not so stringent and would be better expressed as “independent of an individual’s opinion.”  

If your friend Suzy were to call two or three apples on the table “a pile” you would most likely think that she  did not know the correct meaning of the word.   Ditto if there were a quantity of apples on the table lying on top of each other like a small mountain and she insisted that it did not constitute “a pile.” In neither case would you say to yourself “That is Suzy’s world-view and it is as valid as mine, so I have no basis for questioning it.”  Suzy is just objectively wrong because she has departed from the agreed criteria which govern the use of that particular word.

It doesn’t matter that the word was coined to meet human needs and reflect human priorities.  That alone doesn’t make “pilehood” subjective.  

Nor does it matter that you cannot identify the exact moment at which the apples became a pile.  Many concepts are like this because language is like this, with a built-in fuzziness providing it with flexibility which makes it useful where precision would render it inoperable.   For many concepts (“C”) you go from “definitely not C” at one extreme to “undeniably C” at the other, with some grey areas in between.  But that’s no bar to some statements about “C” being objectively true where the agreed criteria are clearly met.  

Now let me turn to the question of how  the existence of God might relate to the existence of objective moral values and duties.  The problem for the apologist is what is known as “The Euthyphro Dilemma.”  In brief, does God command us to do good actions because they are good?  Or are the actions good because God commands them?   If the former, then God is judging them against a standard which is external to him and so their goodness is independent of God. If the latter, then goodness is arbitrary, simply the result of God’s fiat and ultimately not recognisably objective.

Theists have responded to this by claiming that God does not assign “good” and “bad” arbitrarily. The good is a reflection of God’s holy nature, which is inherently good.

But there are problems with this.  Firstly, if “goodness” is defined by God’s nature then the statement “God is good” becomes a tautology, true but trivial.  Only if God is evaluated against some other referent does the statement amount to a claim with some substance.

Secondly, the morality of an act is still reduced to a sort of brute fact and seems as bafflingly arbitrary as it would be if it were merely God’s fiat.

To illustrate this, let’s imagine that our friend Suzy has died and, as a good Christian, is now in heaven.  She has spent her life trying to promote goodness and fight evil.  With this in mind she has done all that she could to persuade the rest of the world that (say) the death penalty should be abolished.  Suppose that that when she gets to heaven God looks at her quizzically.  “The death penalty campaign, Suzy,” he says.  “What was all that about?  There’s nothing wrong with the death penalty!  I’m all in favour!”  Suzy might reasonably expect the next statement from God to start “Because…..”  Isn’t it reasonable to expect an explanation of why she’s wrong?  And isn’t also reasonable to expect that explanation to consist in something more than “Because that’s the way my holy nature rolls.”   

But if there is any explanation in addition to what accords with God’s holy nature, then we are back to Euthyphro, because it’s the reasons by which God explains his position which are key to its moral rightness  or wrongness, not the fact that it accords with God’s nature.  

Whether you believe in God or not, moral statements are surely more like judgements about when a number of apples becomes a pile than they are like mathematical equations or scientific claims.  There are other types of facts than mathematical scientific ones and maths and science should not be held up as a template which all other facts must meet to achieve the accolade of objectivity.  Could God, if he existed, provide us with the definitive answer to the conundrums posed by trolleyology

Nuanced, complex, multi-faceted, moral issues are not easy to resolve.  But whatever the difficulties,  I cannot see that God is provides a better answer than our own human understanding of what morality essentially is and the criteria by which we decide what is right or wrong.

How we know that Francois Hollande is French

Consider the following proposition:

President Francois Hollande is French.

Is it true?

Is it objectively true?

What makes it objectively true?

Your answers to both the first questions should have been “Yes”.  Was the third a problem?  

If you had difficulty answering it then, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you: The Godess Marianne.  I can prove that She exists thuswise:

1. If The Godess Marianne does not exist then objective Frenchness does not exist.

2. Objective Frencheness does exist.

3. Therefore the Godess Marianne exists.

Ta da!  You see, if there is not a quality of transcendent Frenchness to which we are appealing when we describe someone (or something) as “French” then it would make Frenchness merely a matter of subjective opinion.  What is or is not French cannot be simply a matter of subjective opinion – you answered that second question “yes” remember?  

We must be appealing to something outside ourselves when we try to answer that question.  If not, then all you are saying when you describe Francois Holland as French is that it happens to suit your private preferences to call him French.  If  you say he is French and I disagree, how can you challenge my claim? It would be just your opinion against my opinion. 

But we all feel strongly and instinctively that it can’t be merely a matter of opinion.  That a person or a thing is French is a proposition that has a truth value and that truth must be grounded in something transcendental, not merely human opinions.  

It is no answer to say that Frenchness is simply the quality pertaining to those things which come from or belong to France.  This seems to some aMariannists to be a very clever move, but all they are doing is pushing their problem back a step.  What France is must itself be a matter of objective, transcendent truth if it is to provide the objective source of Frenchness which they are grasping for.  The answer to this gambit is to point out that France as an objective entity is simply an extension of the Godess’ own nature imprinted on the physical world.  

It is Marianne who provides the grounding for objective Frenchness.  She is the source of Frenchness.  She is not just French but she is France itself, the basis without which we would be left randomly ascribing Frenchness to whatever and whomever we pleased.  Without Her, we might call Dame Edna Evrage French.  Or Hitler French. 

Some aMariannists have suggested that Marianne does not solve the problem of objective Frenchness.  They claim that it simply leads to the questions:

  • Is someone French because Marianne declares them so?  In which case Frenchness is a mere fiat of Marianne’s and so no more objective than if we used human criteria for attributing it.
  • Or, does Marianne declare someone to be French because they are in fact French?  In which case She must be appealing to some standard outside Herself and so is not genuinely the source of Frenchness.

But this is a pseudo-dilemma because it fails to understand that Marianne is in her very nature French and we understand Frenchness only through her having hard-wired Frenchness into the world, indeed, the universe (or we might call ET French)

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not for a moment claiming that just because someone is an aMariannist they cannot themselves be French.  Some aMariannists are very French.  But they have no grounding for describing themselves as French or describing others as non-French.  

The aMariannist is faced with a stark choice.  Either they accept that any claim they make about Frenchness is nothing more than an expression of a personal whim, or they must accept that Godess Marianne does indeed exist and is underpinning everything they say about France and every claim they make about anyone or anything being French.  

The Incomprehensibility Argument Against Religious Knowledge

Apologists say that reason leads to belief in God.  Some will argue that any attempt by atheists to advance reasons for rejecting belief in God leads to an internal incoherence, because without God there cannot be any basis for relying on our powers of reason.  But how reliable would reason be if theism were true?

By “theism” I mean here the belief in a God who is infinite and omniscient.  Such a being would be as far above we humans (in terms of his knowledge, reasoning and understanding) as a human is above an ant.  In fact, this might be an understatement, since it does not fully express the difference between the infinite and the finite.

An ant could have no insight into human wishes or motives.  Any attempt by an ant to understand human behaviour or actions in terms of its own antly priorities would be doomed to failure.  

By the same token, any attempt by humans to understand God’s actions, wishes or motivations must be doomed to failure, for exactly the same reason as the ant’s attempt to understand humans.

Why would the theist claim to have any knowledge about God?  Whatever she says she knows about him comes from her finite, fallible, flawed understanding of the world and how God has chosen to reveal himself in it.  She believes herself to be made in God’s image and thinks that this guarantees her rationality.  But this begs the question, because her reasons for believing that she is made in God’s image depend on her abilty to reason correctly about God and his word. 

She works on the premise that God would not deceive her.  But why should God not deceive her?  Her human understanding is that deception is wrong and that God would not do wrong.  But God being so far above her in all things, might have reasons for deceiving her –  and the whole human race.   Her understanding that deception is “wrong” might be nothing more than a reflection of her own limitations. Perhaps from God’s sublime point of view, deception is a great good.  

The theist must accept that her “reasoning” about God, about truth, about knowledge, might all be nothing more than filthy rags of unreason in God’s eyes.  

The theist can say that God exists but thereafter must fall silent.  She cannot know his nature, how he wishes to be worshipped, what doctrines are true about him, how best she might please him.

She cannot even speak on secular subjects.  God, for his own reasons, might have deceived her on every single thought or belief she has.  She cannot know that she knows anything about anything.  

Ultimately, the theist must reject the very reasoning which led her to claim God’s existence in the first place.

Only in the Weird and Whacky World of Christian Apologetics Part 1: Paul and the 500 Witnesses

I’m going to run an occasional (i.e. it will appear at random, probably when I can’t think of much else to talk about) series on some of what I consider to be the odder arguments that apologists advance. These aren’t fringe arguments. These are all mainstream arguments that will crop up repeatedly in apologetics. 

Here is one that caused a sharp intake of breath when I first heard it. I mean, it’s so obviously wrong (isn’t it?) Still, for many Christians it is an absolute clincher. 

In defending the historical reliability of the resurrection Christians will often refer to this verse:

After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;

1 Corinthians 15:6

“‘Most of whom remain until now!’ Wow!” says the apologist, “I mean, that’s as good as an invitation to go and check it out for yourself!  So Paul knew his claims were rock-solid irrefutable. He had (most of) 500 witnesses all ready to back them up.”

This might be more persuasive if Paul had named at least two out of the 500.  Or if he’d specified the exact location of this appearance.  But even then, unless the appearance had been at some place near Corinth (let’s say, less than one day’s travel by donkey) that extra information was still not going be of any help to anyone wanting to conduct a bit of research in an age before the advent of the telephone and the Internet. 

I see this as an extremely vague claim made in circumstances where it was not realistically possible to refute it.  Christian apologists see it as a confident appeal to verify a story which Paul knew to be true. I wonder which of us is right?