Last weekI blogged on some observations about how conservatives and liberals and nonChristians perceive the abortion debate. As if to prove my point, an atheist friend rose to the bait, and illustrated the problem nicely.
Essentially, I observed that the primary difference in outlooks hinged on exactly who was the final, or ultimate, or only authority on what a ‘person’ was, and why at all we would value a ‘person.’ Since atheists do not believe there is a ‘higher’ authority, like God, then obviously ‘personhood’ is decided by the individual or, at best, the collective declaration of a group of individuals. I contend that on that logic, it should follow that an individual could just as easily declassify any other individual, removing their ‘personhood’ status, and be operating legitimately. As can be expected, atheists have no desire to extend their logic that far. The gulags and the concentration camps stand as a check yet the logic should follow. On the other hand, conservatives and Christians in particular believe that the question of ‘personhood’ and the value we ascribe to ‘persons’ is determined by the maker of everything, namely, God. Since God is the ultimate frame of reference, if an embryo is a person, it is a person whether we humans think it the case or not. That’s the summary.
Based on these observations, one conclusion would be that the best way to get people to oppose abortion would be to get them to believe that there is a higher authority. In a word, convert them to Christianity.
One might think then that this is simply a question of shifting one’s presuppositions and evidence has nothing to do with it. Certainly assumptions have a lot to do with the matter. I think my point is that the question of abortion belongs in a different class than the question of atheism or theism. After one has decided where they stand regarding God, conclusions about abortion more or less follow. That doesn’t mean that one’s stand regarding God needs to rest only on assumptions!
Here is the dirty little secret. Though we often think of atheists and skeptics as being the ones relying on evidence, the truth is that they begin with a set of presuppositions. The primary one is that philosophical naturalism must be the default interpretation of reality. This is Antony Flew’s ‘presumption of atheism.’ But what if you were trying to determine if philosophical naturalism were true? Why should we believe that the ‘presumption of atheism’ must be the default? How are these things justified?
What would happen if this ‘default’ presupposition were taken off the table? Would skeptics be more balanced in their evaluation of different kinds of evidence? Would they realize with a start that putting their faith in science is ridiculous as a contrast to faith in God, since God, by definition, is not the sort of thing that science could directly detect?
I think the answer is probably “yes.” If I’m right, then millions of lives- millions of human lives- millions of persons– hang on just one question: do you believe in God, or not? If I am right in that assessment, then this has implications for how we approach the abortion debate in the Church. If I’m right about all this, it is time to get cracking.