Here’s a primer on physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and voluntary active euthanasia (VAE). Nothing I say here is meant to endorse anything that follows (though I am against both practices); rather, what is said here is to help the uninitiated get a better sense of the issues and polarities concerning arguments for and against PAS and VAE.
Richard Dawkins apologized (sort of) for his tweets concerning his recommendation to abort a fetus with Trisomy 21, or Down Syndrome. In response to someone who would be unsure what to do if she were carrying a fetus with Down Syndrome, Dawkins said, “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” Needless to say a firestorm erupted. Some objected that such an action fundamentally disrespects the humanity of the people with Down Syndrome. Dawkins initially replied with another tweet referencing Jeremy Bentham’s famous contention, “The question is not ‘is it human?’ but ‘can it SUFFER?’” Then others claimed that fetus’ can feel pain (at 20 weeks) to which he replied that if that matters, we should all be vegans. People didn’t understand what he meant, so an apology was written for not expressing himself very clearly.
Greg Welty did me the favor of taking time to respond to my post in which I criticized his objection to Plantinga’s free will defense (FWD). He did a fine job too, and I learned a lot from him (maybe not enough), but some worries remain. First, a summary of his view, and then my response to it.
Assuming that wills go with natures (that is, dyotheletism is true), and that the Son of God took on a human nature in his incarnation, it follows that the human nature Christ took on in the actual world had a created will that was not corrupted by sin. As far creaturely essences go Christ’s nature satisfies Plantinga’s analysis: Jesus’s human essence is identical with the set of properties essential to anyone who takes on that particular created human nature. He writes, “There are world-indexed propositions about the human-willed choices made by any person who has that created human nature, and the set of these just is the essence.” Thus, it follows that there is a creaturely essence that is instantiated by the uncreated person of Christ that is not subject to transworld depravity; therefore, Plantinga’s FWD fails. The defense given by Omelianchuk [sans the c – yes my name is crazy, and yes I hate referring to myself in third person] works only if wills go with persons, which would be to affirm monotheletism. The upshot is that I, along with Plantinga, face a dilemma: either give up the FWD or conflict with orthodoxy.
By now you have heard the SCOTUS ruling regarding Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, that compelling employers to pay for certain forms of contraception is burdensome to their religious liberty. When outlining these burdens, Justice Alito said, “It [the HHS mandate] requires the Hahns and Greens to engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.” The problem I’ve had all along with this case is that I fail to see how life beginning at conception is a “religious belief.” What makes it religious? Nothing as far as I can tell. No biblical text, or major creed, or longstanding sacred practice claims as much (the Bible recognizes that we exist before birth, but it does not say we exist at conception). You don’t even find this sort of thing in “statements of faith” save the Catholic Catechism, and the plaintiffs were not Catholic. If anything, whether or not life begins at conception is empirically determined. Why, then, is it counted as a religious belief?
Of course, there is more to it than just the beginning of human existence. For the plaintiffs, the belief that human life begins at conception implies that human life has moral status and should not be killed unless there is a good reason for doing so. Thus, we have a conjunction of beliefs at issue in this case: (1) human life begins at conception, and (2) human life has moral status. But the second one is no more religious than the first: one can reasonably hold it without being religious. There is even a third implied belief: killing early-stage human beings by virtue of birth control that is possibly abortifacient isn’t justifiable. Religious teaching may be the most relevant here, but like the other three beliefs, it need not be.
The Hobbly Lobby case is seen as a victory for religious liberty, and it surely is. But I doubt that it is a victory for the pro-life movement, because its key premises are judged merely to be “sincerely held religious beliefs,” which in the eyes of law at least, are beliefs that cannot be rationally supported. If they could, then we wouldn’t need to appeal to religion to prop them up.
What exactly is the problem that Roger Olson has with Molinism? Answer: it collapses into determinism. But it isn’t clear what he means by “determinism.” His concept is ambiguous, and he seems to acknowledge this when he says, “if middle knowledge does not imply determinism, it does convey that [our] lives are predetermined.” So there seems to be two senses of what he means for something to be (pre)determined: one is with respect to being causally necessitated to act; the second is with respect to being fated to act according to some preordained plan. In Olson’s mind, the distinction makes no difference, because both senses are sufficient for what he finds problematic with middle knowledge: God is able to use it to render our actions certain. Once God does that, he says, “then determinism is at the door if not in the living room and that is inconsistent with Arminianism’s basic impulses.”
How should Molinists reply? First, they should deny that middle knowledge entails both causal determinism and theological fatalism. Second, they should argue that the property of being rendered certain is not problematic if the objects of God’s knowledge, that is, the propositions about what free creatures would do in various worlds, are grounded by what free creatures would do. Third, they should maintain that God’s use of middle knowledge is benevolent, because God is benevolent. Let us turn to the first matter.
Does neuroscientific findings eliminate free will? Some think so based on an experiment by Benjamin Libet that revealed evidence of neural activity linked to volitional acts before they were consciously felt by the subject. Here is a video explaining how the experiment works:
Timothy O’Connor (Indiana University) offers some criticisms of the inference that the experiment shows we have no free will:
For more on neuroscience and the soul check out Biola’s Center for Christian Thought.
SIR – Another argument against assisted suicide is that there are times when giving someone a choice actually harms them. This happens in a case where an unchosen default is preferable to having a choice. Some ethicists, such as David Velleman at New York University, argue that giving the very ill the choice to commit suicide easily and legally harms all ill people by taking from them the option of continuing to live by default.
We expect human beings to provide reasons for their choices. So by requiring ill people to choose to live rather than just living by default such policies require them to justify their continued existence in a way that healthy people are not required to do.
You can read Prof. Velleman’s paper here.