Debate on Abortion with an Atheist (with Reductio ad Absurdum)

Debate on Abortion with an Atheist (with Reductio ad Absurdum) May 2, 2012
Flickr; image by “kambodza” (7-7-06) [CC BY 2.0 license]


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From a discussion thread on Facebook, about President Obama’s support of partial-birth infanticide. My dialogue opponent, Tim Allen, is an atheist, according to his Facebook “About” page, and by his own statement in the exchange. His words will be in blue.

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It is important to understand precisely what the reductio ad absurdum technique in logic and dialogue is, in order to not misunderstand its nature and intention (as Tim did). If you’re not familiar with it, I urge you to follow the link to the words above and read a short description of it (here’s also a longer, technical explanation). Then you’ll know what I was trying to do in this dialogue. I am not actually in favor of killing atheists!!!


I use this ancient form of argumentation quite often in my apologetics; especially in disputing positions that I consider self-evidently absurd and or evil (as this position is, to extraordinary degrees in both respects). Unfortunately, it’s usually misunderstood (because logic and ability to constructively dialogue and debate are mostly lost arts today), but it is a perfectly legitimate, sensible, and highly effective way to argue against a position.
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Partial-birth abortion is performed on full-term babies. All that is necessary is for the baby to be delivered to the neck; then the scissors are used, and the child’s brains sucked out. We call this “enlightened civilization” and “pro-choice.” Lots of people think this is “okay.” The bill passed the US Senate. Many Democrats (as usual) voted for it [and the usual liberal Republican RINOs, too], though some drew the line.

I’m not looking for a heated debate or anything, but for me personally, I think ending the life of a nearly-born baby is better than ruining the lives of an actually-born baby and his real life mother (and potentially harming the lives of many others). For me, abortion is a cost-benefit analysis about harming one versus harming many.

That’s morally absurd. Murder can never be justified. Love demands that we strive for a better life for the born, and the right to life of the preborn. Only barbarian societies slaughter their own. Do we never learn? Was not the Holocaust sufficient to put an end to this mass slaughter and genocide? The fact that you are sitting here writing this is a self-evident argument against abortion. You were allowed to live. Life has a self-evident value and worth.

I disagree that it is morally absurd. Many, many lives have been ruined by unwanted pregnancies – including the lives of the children – and I think it is morally acceptable to sacrifice a non-person for the greater good of actual, living human beings.


Fair enough. I think atheism ruins the life of many. Therefore, I advocate killing all atheists, so these lives won’t be ruined: for the greater good of actual, living human beings who aren’t atheists. [reductio ad absurdum] <—- bracketed comment in original discussion.

Alright, my bad. I thought you wanted an actual conversation about this stuff. That’s my fault for assuming. Have a good one.

You’ve never heard of reductio ad absurdum? Look it up. Part of logic and philosophy . . . This is indeed a very serious discussion: dead serious (or was, since you now depart it). So the dead serious discussion is now seriously dead . . .

I’ve heard of reductio ad absurdum. I’ve also heard of the straw man argument…


Here is the reasoning (that you appear to have missed):

1. Many lives are ruined by unwanted pregnancies: of mothers and of the children born.

2. Therefore, in order to prevent these ruined lives, we ought to kill the children, in order to prevent what may, or likely (?) will occur.

By analogy:

1a. Many lives are ruined by atheism and its (from logical reduction) counsel of despair.

2a. (1+2) presupposes that events and persons who cause or have ruined lives should be eliminated for the good of all.

3a. Therefore, granting the truth of 1a, by analogy it is rational and for the good of society to kill atheists who promulgate the harmful philosophy / worldview.

I deny the truthfulness of proposition 1. People acting in an evil fashion cause misery (and have a free will choice to act otherwise): not the mere fact that a child is born.

You deny the truthfulness of proposition 1a. But the logic works the same in both instances. I am following your own logic and turning the tables on you. Your task is to show why 1a doesn’t follow from your adopted premise 1.

But all of this went over your head and you responded with: “I thought you wanted an actual conversation about this stuff” and “I’ve also heard of the straw man argument.”

Fine. You may not get it, but others will.

Just because a person doesn’t agree with your argument doesn’t mean they don’t understand it or that they’re too stupid to grasp your concepts. And, as an atheist myself, I can personally attest to the fact that I am not in “despair”. Your level of condescension is ridiculous.
Why do you disagree? I didn’t say you were personally in despair. I said that atheism was “(from logical reduction) [a] counsel of despair”). Just as atheists routinely claim that Christianity is by logical reduction, infantile, and blind, irrational faith . . .

I don’t know anything about you, except that you are an atheist, and that you haven’t yet grasped my current logic. Whether that is a general occurrence or not, of course I don’t know. But I know it is true in this instance. Your replies prove that.

So I am challenging you, logically. I’m playing Socrates, as I have done for 35 years, since my Intro. to Philosophy class in college [with the illustrious Dr. Lawrence Lombard].

It’s also routine (seen all the time) that a person who doesn’t grasp the logic of a reductio ad absurdum, will feel that it is mere ridicule and condescension and personal disdain. Well, in a way it is that towards bad logic and conclusions, but not necessarily towards persons at all.

Well, any atheist who claims that Christianity is infantile is just as wrong as a Christian who claims atheism is “(from logical reduction) counsel of despair”.


I haven’t grasped your logic? Or I haven’t agreed with it? That’s the distinction that I think you need to make.

Atheists are actual human beings. Aborted fetuses are not. That’s why the analogy you made falls apart. And when you start equating abortion with the Holocaust, you are intentionally using hyperbole to ridicule the other person’s point. You can use whatever Latin term you learned 35 years ago in Intro to Philosophy to justify it, but in reality, that’s just weak sauce.

I think the location is the more important piece than the ontological change. I should clarify: I think the location [i.e., birth] is the more important piece when determining personhood. Until the actual birth, they are still dependent on the mother to receive their oxygen and nutrients through the umbilical cord. Once the birth happens, they are able to breath and receive nutrients independently. I think that is a critical factor. If a mother is eight months pregnant and she dies, the baby will almost certainly die with her. If a baby is one month old and the mother dies, the baby will still live. . . . Feeding tubes and ventilators are artificial means of sustaining life, not a direct mother-to-fetus connection. Babies can’t feed themselves or protect themselves, that’s true. But their dependency at that point is not based on a direct, physiological attachment to the mother. I think its that direct, physiological connection that is a defining characteristic between a fetus and a human baby.

No problem. I don’t think atheists are human beings, then. If you can define away a preborn child based on nonexistent reasoning and no basis whatsoever other than that they are small and hidden (and sometimes “unwanted”), then I can apply the same “reasoning” to other categories of persons; in this case, atheists. The analogy still holds. I use your premises all down the line and refute them by reductio.

You don’t think small people are “human beings”; I come back and [in a similar manner, by reductio] arbitrarily claim that atheists aren’t, because they lack the religious sense that the vast majority of mankind has always possessed. The Nazis defined Jews as “vermin” and disposable because they didn’t like them. America in the 19th century did the same with Native Americans, and virtually towards African-Americans. too.

Today, little people just starting out their lives are the target of murder and disdain. Logically, if you apply this “reasoning” to them, it can easily be spread to other categories of people. So I used your own group, to (try to) bring the point home to you.

The viability argument is so medically and philosophically ridiculous that I hesitate to even rebut it. I’ll simply note that the criteria of the beginning and end of life are the same. We determine that a person dies by cessation of brain waves and heartbeat. Heartbeat is present in a preborn human being at about 18 days; brain waves by six weeks or so. This all usually occurs before a woman even is aware that she is pregnant. All the DNA that is ever present throughout a person’s life is in place at conception. By the latter criteria, humanity is present from the very beginning. But if we wish to go by either heartbeat or brain waves, then this child is a human being by 18 days or six weeks at the latest: early enough to preclude almost all abortions that take place.

Dave, I never once mentioned brain waves or a heartbeat, so I don’t know who you’re arguing with there.


I know you didn’t So what? That has nothing to do with my response. It’s another analogy that you missed (end-of-life criteria compared to beginning of life).

And I stopped reading your earlier response after the first paragraph when you claimed I had “nonexistent reasoning” and “no basis whatsoever”.


Great; stop reading then. This exchange is not primarily for your benefit, anyway. You are beyond this particular reasoning at this time. The sad thing is that your “reasoning” leads directly to the continuance of genocide against preborn human beings. Your philosophy (or anti-philosophy) has very dire consequences. Thus it must be opposed, and sometimes strong language [directed against bad arguments, not persons] is completely justified in doing so. This is a very serious business; not just throwing around concepts for fun. It’s lousy thinking that leads to evil consequences and yet more needless, preventable suffering for human beings.

But see, needless and preventable suffering is what I want to stop, too. Single mothers who want to go to school and have a career, but can’t because they have a child at 16. Babies who are born to drug addicts or to mothers with HIV who have a very little chance of living a normal and healthy life. Women who are impregnated after being raped and do not want a permanent reminder of that traumatic event. All of that is needless, preventable suffering and abortion is an effective means of prevention. And yes, there are things like adoption and foster families that can help in those situations. And some babies in bad situations grow to be great people. But those are the exceptions, not the norms.


I don’t think abortion is a “good thing”. I would never encourage someone to use it as a toy or to use it as a form of birth control. But it is a “necessary evil”, so to speak, because I would rather see a fetus aborted – a fetus who is still directly and physiologically connected to the mother, and cannot form complex thoughts about its own destruction – than to see actual human beings have their lives ruined, which in turn, will harm society at large. . . . I believe that a person becomes a person upon birth, when he or she is no longer directly and physiologically dependent upon the birth mother for oxygen and nutrients.

Obama is certainly is in favor of partial-birth abortion, or has historically been. He also voted for a bill that would allow the killing of children born as a result of botched abortions, as I already noted. Here is the record. Here’s another article (Washington Post). Obama gets 100% ratings from NARAL. It’s well-known that Obama is the most pro-abort President in history. He has voted for partial-birth abortion more than once. And that’s what the photo describes. It is 100% accurate. No distortion. 

By voting for a person who holds such evil positions, a person makes the acts that result possible, and helps promote them.  

My position is that a fetus becomes a person when he or she is no longer directly and physiologically dependent on his or her birth mother. Therefore, examples like feeding tubes, people after car accidents, and mothering after birth do not count, since those are all either artificial or indirect. I don’t really care what “pro-choice ethicists” say. This is my own opinion.

I think it was an excellent discussion: not in and of itself, but for the purpose of demonstrating through logic and criticism that the atheist pro-abortion argument is entirely groundless and irrational, as well as immoral to its core. Tim is just as much a victim of such outrageous thinking as he is a promulgator of it.

The only difference is that he himself is not tortured and murdered. He can sit in his armchair and wax eloquent about such monstrosities, while the babies continue to be legally killed every day (3500+). It’s not abstract for them . . . it has very real consequences.

The problem with people like Dave, and the reason that it is nearly impossible to have a civilized discussion on abortion (and other key issues), is that they think they have a monopoly on the truth and on morality. It is not enough for a person who disagrees with his opinion to merely be wrong in his eyes, but that person must be a fool who fails to grasp even the simplest concepts of the topic. Honest arguments that are given by the other side are dismissed as “illogical” and “entirely groundless”, merely because they do not agree with his opinion.

Jon, Dan and others in this conversation disagree with my opinion on abortion. That’s fine. I don’t expect or need everybody to agree with my opinion on when life begins, when abortion is acceptable, etc. That’s the beauty of this whole thing is that people can disagree on major topics and still be civil.

Unfortunately, Dave’s not interested in having civil discussions. He’s interested in trolling for hits from his friends (who already agree with him) and baiting those who oppose him into arguments, so he can demonstrate his academic superiority. To do this, he uses hyperbole and he uses pseudo-philosophical buzz words that sound impressive.

It’s not a new strategy, but it is still sad all the same.

Note, folks, that it’s all personal attack and smarmy psychoanalysis now. No effort to respond rationally at all . . . My criticisms, on the other hand, were directed solely towards bad arguments or unwillingness to interact with opposing arguments, not at persons. If they did spill over a little bit to persons, it was not my intention, and I apologize if so. My intention is always to attack bad reasoning and arguments. Unfortunately, people often take that personally. They can’t separate their positions from themselves as persons: hold them abstractly during exchanges back and forth, if you will.

But name-calling is a fitting ending, proving my point in spades. Oftentimes when rational defense is not forthcoming, a person will stoop to mere personal attack. I am particularly despised by Jon mostly because I dared to use the reductio ad absurdum. It makes lots of folks very angry. Nothing new at all. Socrates was killed because of that sort of argument and his generally provocative nature. I’m sure he was called just as many names as we see here. :-)

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