Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Postmortem on antinatalism

Antinatalist Jim Crawford has apparently given his concluding thoughts on his challenge to Triablogue.

Anonymous: My original post was never ‘an attempted internal critique of Christianity’. It was, as you wrote in your own sentence,...‘hypothetical ...trying to argue that, given Christianity, it's too great of a risk for a Christian to have a child because the child would likely end up in hell since "narrow is the way, and few there be that find it." As you’ve plainly seen, Christianity’s doctrine regarding hellish condemnation was accepted as a given. And my original hypothetical merely asked the question ‘...wouldn't it have been better FOR THE CHILD if she had never been born in the first place?’ Obviously this is meant to elicit a subjective response. Do YOU feel it would be better for the child? How do you think the CHILD would feel? Actually, given the original wording it’s even simpler than that, and could be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. So, no rules broken, just a rather tedious response that misses the point in some areas, repeats the logical mistakes in others, and rambles on rather incomprehensibly in still others, especially the prologue. I’ve usually found that this is the manner in which apologists ‘win’. (I'm speaking of the Triablogue response here, not yours).

This is a fallacy of question-framing. Jim acts as if a “yes” or “no” answer settles the question in favor of antinatalism. But that’s grossly simplistic.

You can’t turn my argument around, because I’ve never argued for ‘objective’ or even universal standards. Mine is simply a plea aimed at normative moral sensibilities based in empathy. If your personal standard is that a child is better off being tortured for eternity originating in your decision to procreate, then any of my arguments simply don’t apply to you.

i) Notice the blatant equivocation. On the one hand he denies that his argument was predicated on “objective” or “universal” moral standards. On the other hand he appeals to “normative” moral sensibilities based on empathy.

ii) But an appeal to “normative” standards is equivalent to “objective” standards. That’s not equivalent to empathy, which is descriptive rather than normative. A psychological observation about one’s mental state.

iii) Crawford has to justify the shift from empathy to “normative” sensibilities. To my knowledge, antinatalism takes the position that it’s wrong to procreate because human existence does harm to humans. But moral realism is a prerequisite for that argument to go through. (And even then it requires many subsidiary arguments.)

iv) Even on its own terms, the appeal to empathy is a double-edged sword. What about empathy for those denied the opportunity to enjoy eternal bliss–a la antinatalism?

v) Underlying this objection is Crawford’s systematic failure to distinguish between harming someone and wronging someone.

a) Take a grown child who commits a heinous crime. How do the parents feel about their child? Well, it varies. Some parents excuse everything their kids do, right or wrong.

Other parents feel deeply ambivalent about the grown child. On the one hand they have fond memories of what he was like as a child. Those fond memories make the contrast all the more jarring with what their child has become. So they now have profoundly conflicted feelings about their grown child. Affection and repulsion.

b) However they feel about him, the grown child merits punishment for his crime. To punish him isn’t to wrong him.

“Because in the context of possible damnation, any risk is too great considering the possible horrific downside one’s child might face, especially when we consider that the potential child- or perhaps I should say ‘imaginary’ child- faced no deprivation, and thereby didn’t require being place in harm’s way through risk in the first place.”

i) Crawford is attempting to generate a dilemma for Christians. But he’s also generating a dilemma for his own argument. To generate a dilemma for Christians, he must grant Christian theological assumptions for the sake of argument.

However, those theological assumptions include the assumption that God is trustworthy. Therefore, on Christian assumptions, it is not an unacceptable risk to procreate, even if (ex hypothesi) one of your kids will be damned. On Christian assumptions, it is never an unacceptable risk to trust God’s providential wisdom. 

ii) Crawford also assumes, without arguing the point, that children of Christians are at risk of hell. Since that’s a key assumption of his argument, he needs to argue for that assumption. As I noted in my previous reply to him, that’s not a given.

iii) Even if Christians have a child who will go to hell, it doesn’t follow that they must be forever inconsolable. Even in this life, our feelings about our “nearest and dearest” are subject to dramatic change.

iv) It is a deprivation to miss out on the prospect of eternal bliss. That’s an incomparable lost opportunity. 


  1. For previous posts on the topic, please see here.

  2. I tried to post my reply here, but I guess it was too long, so I put it up on my blog. Thanks for the dialog.

  3. Hi, metamorphhh. Steve has responded to your latest response here.

  4. Here's the last comment I left over on the antinatalist blog. Well, technically, I did leave two additional comments which excerpt a portion of the infamous Copleston vs. Russell debate. But I won't bother to repost them here since they're just excerpts rather than something I wrote.


    Jim Crawford said:

    "Normative simply describes a moral position that (I believe) most people subscribe too [sic]."

    1. If "normative" simply "describes" a moral position, rather than entails one, then there's no objective moral grounds on which Crawford can stand. For example, he can't argue it's objectively morally or ethically wrong to have a child.

    As such, his moral indignation here is unjustified and unjustifiable: "This is a SUPERB example of how people can disassociate themselves from feelings of guilt for doing terrible things..." That is, there's no such thing as "doing terrible things" since this would entail objective moral standards. With all due respect, Crawford is just emoting.

    2. In fact, Crawford can't even tell people it's wrong to want to have a child. Crawford's position entails morality by subjective personal sentiments or feelings. Perhaps he can argue that there are common or even universal personal sentiments or emotions from which most people can draw. But one problem is that this undercuts his own antinatalist position insomuch as it's arguable most men and women in history and in the present have felt they've wanted to have a spouse and children.

  5. Oops, sorry, technically, this is the last comment I left over there, but it's just a trivial comment that redirects to Steve's fine post:

    "Please see here for latest response."