Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dialogue on the Partial Analogy Between Contraception and Murder, and the Contralife Will (vs. Dr. Edwin Tait)

Dr. Edwin Tait (Wesleyan / Anglican) earned a Master of Arts in religion and a Ph.D. in the history of Christianity from Duke University. We have engaged in many friendly dialogues, that are posted on my blog. His words will be in blue. He made a counter-reply to my initial paper on his blog. I will cite it in its entirety (as is my usual custom in dialogue) and reply below.

* * * * *

1) One can murder a person after he or she is conceived.
 2) One can deliberately prevent any chance of a person being conceived, through contraceptive means and/or mentality.

Both things are contra-life or anti-life. Obviously, the second isn't technically murder, but it accomplishes the same goal: it is against the person that may be conceived if intercourse were not divorced from its deepest, procreative purpose:

A) Contraception is a deliberate act of preventing the conception of Person X who would have been conceived had the persons been open to new life.

B ) Therefore, the goal or intention is to obliterate the (earthly) existence of Person X.

C) That is also the goal of a murder: to obliterate the (earthly) existence of Person X.

D) Therefore, in the deepest sense, contraception and murder are alike, and evil.

E) Contraception, however, takes it a step further and disallows even the beginning of Person X who might have been / would have been conceived, but for contraception.

F) Thus, it not only obliterates the earthly existence of Person X, but any existence whatsoever of the Person, in terms of having an eternal soul.

G) In that sense, contraception is even more anti-life than murder is.

H) Therefore, in a qualified, specific sense, contraception can almost be said to be as heinous and wicked as (and philosophically equal to) murder.

This argument doesn't work, because you can't commit a crime against a nonexistent entity.

Technically, I didn't claim that it was a "crime," and denied that it was murder ("Obviously, the second isn't technically murder"). I write that contraception "disallows even the beginning of Person X" and  that it would "obliterate the (earthly) existence of Person X." In my conclusion I also said the analogy was "in a qualified, specific sense".

A hypothetical person who would have been conceived under some counterfactual circumstances or other is a nonsensical construct.

Not from God's perspective, as I will explain shortly.

I can prevent a particular sperm from making contact with a particular egg. But hypothetical people aren't people.

Never said they were. The argument doesn't depend on that. It's about people that might be, or would have been.

I have no moral duties toward them whatsoever. Murder is wrong because it involves malice toward an existing person.

My analogy was merely a partial one. I wasn't arguing that contraception is murder (I plainly stated the contrary). My argument is a critique of the "contralife" viewpoint. Again, I stated that contraception "
disallows even the beginning of Person X . . ." That's not murder, because that requires an existing person (I agree). But it is "contralife," and that was my analogy and central point.

Step F makes the logical problems in the argument even more evident. You can't "obliterate" the existence of that which does not exist.

Well, "obliteration" in terms of preventing the beginning of a person that might have been, but for our contralife will and actions that result from that. The first sentence of F was mainly looking back (analogically) to murder, which obliterates a person's earthly existence. So I was saying that contraception goes beyond that insofar as it denies a person who might have been, even a soul, or spiritual existence. It goes beyond the body to the soul.

It does make sense to talk of potential persons, based on God's omniscience, and middle knowledge, as part of that omniscience. God knows what might have been, in all possible situations: things that would have happened, given different variables, as results of actual events.

This is not mere speculation. For those who accept the inspiration of Scripture, it's demonstrated: 

Matthew 11:21 (RSV) "Woe to you, Chora'zin! woe to you, Beth-sa'ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."

Note that God has certain knowledge of what the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon would have done, had conditions been different (if they had seen the works of Jesus and heard His message). God knew that. Yet it was not an actual event; only a potential or conditional one.
Here's another:
1 Corinthians 2:7-8 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. [8] None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

And a third:

Jeremiah 23:21-22 "I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. [22] But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings."

Now, with this in  mind, let's look at what happens in contraception, and its relation to potential or possible persons who never do actually exist: 

1) A couple engages in lovemaking, using contraception (for the sake of argument and simplicity, let's assume it is 100% effective in preventing conception).

2) Had they not done so, there would have been some chance (depending on fertility and the right conditions) for a person to be conceived. We shall call such potential persons X, Y, and Z.

3) X, Y, and Z might have actually existed, had they not been prevented from coming into existence by a contralife will, that wishes to separate the deepest purpose of sexuality (procreation) from sexual acts.

4) God in His perfect will may very well have intended that a person be brought into existence by a particular sexual act. But the contracepting couple have made that perfect will of God impossible by contraception. They want to separate the act from its deepest and most beautiful meaning.

Another way of putting it, is:
1) X, Y, and Z are those persons who would have actually come  into existence had contraception been absent during lovemaking (so many times, by so many people). Because of contraception, they do not exist.

2) Therefore, X, Y, and Z have been prevented from having an existence at all -- even in terms of having a soul -- by contraception. And this is contralife.

3) God actually knows who these persons would have been; what their lives would have been like. And He would have had a plan and a vocation for each of them.  We know He knows this because of His middle knowledge (scientia media), as shown in Matthew 11:21 and two other passages.

4) Moreover, we know it from a passage like Jeremiah 1:5: 

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

5) God knew this about an actual person, Jeremiah. But He would also know it about potential persons, on the same basis that He knew what the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon would have done, under different conditions.

Furthermore, as someone pointed out when Dave originally posted this argument on his Facebook page, the argument proves too much, because a married couple who choose to go for a walk instead of having sex are also committing "murder" by this logic.

And I answered it effectively then, and will again now. That's irrelevant, because abstinence from sex is not contralife. No contralife will or act occurs by simply abstaining, nor by, e.g., sex during infertile periods or after menopause or in the case of a person being infertile through no deliberate intention of their own. None of that is contralife. Nor is mere spacing of children, provided that natural law is upheld, and the couple abstains during fertile periods.

The contralife will lies in not being open to a possible conception: to new life, as a result of the sexual act. It's contralife and evil to deliberately prevent any life from being conceived, while simultaneously enjoying the pleasure of sexuality. This is what is perverse and against natural law.  

And it is easily shown to be so by analogy. Suppose we have a person who eats only for pleasure and not for nutrition at all. He wants to eat Butterfinger bars and donuts all day long, and for dessert it's lemon meringue pie and cotton candy. You get the point. Now what do we instinctively think of such a person? We think he is a nut; that he is unbalanced; acting like a spoiled and very immature child. And why is that? Because we know that food is not just for pleasure; it is primarily for nutrition.

The same could be said (in a little different way) about the folks in the old Roman vomitoria. For them, food was for pleasure, only to be regurgitated up after devoured and enjoyed. Likewise, anorexia and bulimia are seen as abnormal and psychologically disordered.

God gave us taste buds, too, but the two things must be kept in balance. So we think a person is weird if they care only about the taste of food and not at all about its nutritional value.

And we think the same of the extreme "health food nut": who seems to separate all pleasure from food, and eats bark and grubs and other such goodies, because they have a high protein or fiber content. We think that person is as odd as the junk food junkie.

Yet in secular society and among Christians who have bought secularism and bought into the sexual revolution to some extent, sexuality that separates procreation from the pleasure of sexuality is not viewed as abnormal or disordered at all. That's just, well, personal freedom and the "right" to engage in unlimited pleasurable activity.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why sexuality is viewed that way, while eating food is not?

If preventing the existence of "Person X" is akin to murder, then whether one does so by abstaining from sex or by engaging in non-procreative sex is irrelevant to the nature of the crime against Person X. You can't import other (much more solid) objections against contraception into this argument, if the argument is to stand on its own two feet. Certainly if non-procreative sex is wrong on other grounds and preventing a person’s existence is wrong, then committing both sins together would be worse than committing only one of them. But if preventing a person’s existence is a crime against them, then it’s a crime no matter how innocent the thing-you’re-doing-instead-of-procreating would otherwise have been.

You continue not to grasp the crucial distinction here, that distinguishes abstinence , known infertile sexuality (apart from contraception), and NFP from contraception. The book, The Teaching of "Humanae Vitae": A Defense, by John C. Ford. S.J., Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle, John Finnis, William E. May (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), that played a central role in convincing me of the wrongness of contraception; thus initially leading me to the Catholic Church, explains these distinctions: 

'Contraception' signifies only the prevention of conception, but the contraceptive act seeks to impede the beginning of the life of a possible person. The distinction is only conceptual, but we think it is important, for the explicit reference to new life calls attention to the fact that contraception is a contralife act. (pp. 35-36)

While contraception is wrong for several reasons, it is wrong primarily and essentially because it is contralife. (p. 39)
Contraception aims to impede both the initiation of life and the being of the individual whose life would be initiated if not impeded . . . They imagine that a new person will come to be if that is not prevented, they want that possible person not to be, and they effectively will that he or she never be. That will is a contralife will. Therefore, each and every contraceptive act is necessarily contralife. (pp. 42-43)
An essential condition of the immorality of deliberate homicide is that it involves a contralife will . . . deliberate homicide is immoral primarily because the contralife will that it involves cannot be a loving heart . . . Our thesis is that the contralife will that contraception involves also is morally evil, although we do not claim that it usually is as evil as a homicidal will. (pp. 45-47)

Objection: Contraception does not attack a real person; it only prevents a merely possible person from coming to be . . . Answer: . . . All human acts affect only the future. Homicide does not destroy the victim's entire life; the past and present are beyond harm. Homicide only prevents the victim from having a future. The homicidal will, like the contraceptive will, is only against life that would be, not against life that is . . . homicide is wrong not only because it involves an injustice but also because it carries out a nonrationally grounded, contralife will - a will that the one killed not be. That is why deliberate suicide is wrong. (pp. 61-62)

There is a real and very important difference between not wanting to have a baby, which is common to both [1. contraception] and [2. the noncontraceptive use of NFP], and not wanting the baby one might have, which is true of (1) but not of (2). (p. 89)

I can see two ways in which the argument might have some merit, logically:

1. If one could “mess with time” either through time-travel or foreknowledge. So, for instance, if you go back in time to prevent someone who does exist from being conceived, then you are motivated by malice against a specific person whom you know in your present. Of course, we don’t know if this is even possible. Perhaps prophecy could be seen as another example of “messing with time.” So when Merlin in That Hideous Strength tells Jane that she has failed to conceive a child who would have delivered Logres, that makes a certain amount of sense (though it may involve Molinist “middle knowledge,” which is a philosophically controversial concept), because Merlin is capable of prophecy. Even then, though, it makes no sense to say that she did so deliberately, since she did it before she heard the prophecy. Once she heard the prophecy, she could have intentions toward “the child prophesied.” I’m still not sure that it would make sense to say that she committed a crime against said child, though. Her crime, on Merlin’s premises, was rather against Logres. 

C. S. Lewis opposed contraception. And he made an argument similar to my own above:
As regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.
(The Abolition of Man [1943], 68-69) 
Middle knowledge itself is not (or shouldn't be) controversial for anyone who accepts the inspiration of the Bible, for it asserts it outright at least three times. But of course, today process theology and open theism are quite the fashion, so folks start disbelieving the traditional orthodox doctrine of the omniscience of God, including His being outside of time and quite capable of middle knowledge. That would be the main theological objection, on one hand (theological liberalism); the other one being Calvinism in another way, having to do with how "free" man is to act. For more on Molinism (which is a larger category than middle knowledge), see the article on the topic at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2. More solidly, the “preformationist” theory to which Calvin and many other premoderns adhered allows you to talk about crimes against future people. If the "seed" is an incipient person or "potential person" then it makes sense to speak of preventing it from fulfilling its potential. Whether that's actually a crime against the future person is  a difficult philosophical issue, I think, but a case could be made that it is. And that's what I take Calvin to be arguing. 

My argument is not Calvin's own, but rather, a different one that used Calvin's statement a s a springboard for further reflection.

Dave responded to my initial objections to the use he was making of the Calvin passage by saying that I was "failing to see the forest for the trees." On the contrary, I'm pointing out that the trees in this particular forest won't make the kind of lumber Dave needs. 

I retain the same charge, and have now explained why in much greater depth.

Without preformationism (or time travel) the “quasi-murder” argument fails utterly, because there’s no one to commit a crime against.

It's not that simple. I look forward to your replies to my latest arguments. C. S. Lewis could see the validity of the contralife argument: opposition to potential future people, and he was no philosophical slouch, nor Catholic. Likewise, G. K. Chesterton wrote:
It has been left to the last Christians, or rather to the first Christians fully committed to blaspheming and denying Christianity, to invent a new kind of worship of Sex, which is not even a worship of Life. It has been left to the very latest Modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility. The new priests abolish the fatherhood and keep the feast-to themselves. (The Well and the Shallows [1935], “Sex and Property”)
And Malcolm Muggeridge chimed in on the topic, too, in his inimitable fashion:

It was the Catholic Church's firm stand against contraception and abortion which finally made me decide to become a Catholic . . . As the Romans treated eating as an end in itself, making themselves sick in a vomitorium so as to enable them to return to the table and stuff themselves with more delicacies, so people now end up in a sort of sexual vomitorium. The Church's stand is absolutely correct. It is to its eternal honour that it opposed contraception, even if the opposition failed. I think, historically, people will say it was a very gallant effort to prevent a moral disaster.(Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988, 140-141)