Thursday, 1 March 2012

Abortion in the Spotlight

The issue of abortion has been in the news recently for two reasons. First it appears that some people on the UK have been allowed abortions on the grounds of the gender of the unborn child. Secondly The Journal of Medical Ethics has published a paper where it is claimed that infanticide (killing a new born baby) is morally no different to abortion; so if abortion is allowed, why not infanticide?

On the first issue let's just clarify UK law on abortion. Basically an abortion is allowed if there is a significant risk of the baby being born disabled or if having the baby will adversley effect the women's, or existing children's, physical or mental well being. This last reason essentially means we have abortion on demend in our country. If a woman says that, at this stage in her life, she could not cope with a baby, then she can have an abortion.

Why, then, the moral outrage expressed by some who support the above, but find the idea of gender selective abortions unacceptable? Is there any significant difference? In both cases an unwanted foetus is aborted.

There are clearly some instances when the reasons for abortions are obvious and well supported, such as in the case of pregnancy through rape, and many, but not all, would agree that there is a significant difference between this and a gender selective abortion.

However is it really right that a women who knowingly didn't use contraception and then gets an abortion on grounds that she couldn't cope with a baby can have abortion, when another women, say with 2 sons who really wants a girl, cannot have one if she finds out she is expecting another boy. It is hard to see how the behaviour of the woman in the first example is more morally acceptable than the behaviour of the woman in the second.

On the other hand there are Pro-Life groups who argue that all abortion is wrong; it is killing a human being and should never be done. While this view can be condemned for lacking compassion, especially when the pregnancy may be as a result of rape, it does not suffer from the moral ambiguities that our current abortion laws seem to allow.

The second issue seems even more contentious. Can anyone really be arguing that killing babies is acceptable?! Well the answer is yes, and here is why; the reason abortions are allowed is because the foetus is not a human person in the sense that it cannot survive independantly, it cannot communicate with any level of sophistication, it has very little in the way of rational abilities or self awareness. The trouble is that these things could also be said of a newborn baby - it can't survive independantly for any length of time; left alone it will die, and at this stage in life, it does not possess the communicative or rational abilities associated with being human. Therefore, the argument goes, if it's okay to abort a foetus for certain reasons, which many people say it is, then it is okay to kill a new born baby for the same reasons. This is actually not a new arguement and the likes of Peter Singer have been advocating it for years.

Interestingly enough it is also the view held by many Pro-Life supporters but for the opposite reason. They would say that as there is no real difference between an unborn and a new born child so it is therefore wrong to have an abortion, just as it is wrong to kill a baby.

These issues are very complex and contentious but they do highlight the importance of ethics in the real world.

For more on gender abortions click here.
For more on the infanticide issue click here.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Rowan Williams and Richard Dawkins in Oxford argument

The importance of matters of Theology were reinforced again this week in a debate between prominent atheist Richard Dawkins and the Arch Bishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

This is in the light of claims from the likes of Dawkins that religion should be an entirely private matter and should have no place in public life. He would like to see the removal of unelected Bishops from the House of Lords and the eradication of faith schools that are partly funded by the state.

This particular debate however covered the issue of the soul, which Dawkins rejects and Williams accepts; evolution, which they both accept; and the problem of evil, that they both agree is a serious issue for those who believe in God.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Big Debate - Does God Exist?

I, and a number of other Loreto Theology staff and students, recently attended a debate between American philosopher William Lane Craig and Oxford Chemist Peter Atkins. Craig arguing that science, when applied to philosophical propositions, provides strong evidence for God; Atkins taking the opposite position.
Craig opened with the Cosmological argument. He argued that the consensus among scientists is that the universe has a beginning. As something cannot come from nothing, there must have been a transcendent reason as to why the universe came into existence - this transcendant reason is God - a supremely powerful, disembodied consciousness. Atkins had a variety of responses, one being the multi-verse theory. Craig countered that by multiplying the number of universes did not avoid the initial question of why something rather than nothing exists, and therefore God still remains as the best reason for the universe's existence. Atkins countered that just because we do not know how the universe started, we should not assume God did it. Craig's response was that science uses empirical investigation to gain knowledge, and as there was nothing before the universe (science agrees with this claim) therefore science has nothing to say about anything before it, as 'nothing' cannot be empirically investigated. Philosophy however, tells us that God is a good reason for the existence of the universe.
Craig's also used the argument that in our experience some actions are objectively wrong, eg rape or child abuse, and that without God there can be no objective morality. Atkins more or less agreed with this, explaining that morality has evolved to help us survive and is no more than that. The key issue here is that without objective morality, no action can really be said to be wrong - it can only be said to go against the survival of our species. This is different to saying that it is actually wrong however. I believe Craig argued successfully argued that if we want to consider morality to objective there must be an authority on which the morality is based - and this authority is God. Of course one could simply deny that morality is objective, but this can lead to some uncomfortable conclusions.
Craig's final point was based on the resurrection of Jesus. His argument was that given the evidence of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances and the actions of the early Christians, the best explanation is that Jesus really did rise from the dead. This is then, strong evidence for the Christian God. Atkins initially dismissed this rather flippantly as being a rather fanciful idea. Craig however was unperturbed and pointed that all other explanations of the events, eg the disciples stealing Jesus' body, had even less evidence and create more questions than they answered, such as why would they steal his body and then go on to be persecuted and killed to support what they knew to be a lie.

This was a fascinating and engaging debate. I think it must be said though that it probably did not change anybody's mind with regards God's existence. It seems that the real reason people believe is not because of logical argument, but rather because of their own personal experience of the world (and of God?) and their relationship with it.

The real importance of debates like this, I believe, is that they re-address the balance of the arguments put forward by the rather aggressive 'New Atheist' movement. These debates show that believing in God can still be a rational option for modern scientifically minded people.

As to whether God really does exist or not? Well I suppose God only knows...

Here is a link to Craig debating Atkin's in 1998 - unfortunately the new debate is not available.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Professor John Lennox on Christianity and Science

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Professor John Lennox is a top Oxford Mathematician. He is also a committed Christian. Here he talks about his debates with Richard Dawkins, his own journey of faith and why Christianity makes sense of science, life and the universe.

What do you think about his ideas?

Homosexuality, Church of England and the Bible

Discussions and interviews regarding the issue of homosexulity in the Anglican Church. Also has some interesting discussions about how Bible references regarding homosexuality can be understood.
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AS Theology Essay Competition

Enrich your subject knowledge and understanding
Improve your exam skills
Excellent way to enhance your UCAS personal statement

Essay of no more than 1000 words

‘Any action is good as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.’ Discuss

Must be handed in/emailed to your Theology teacher by Monday 5th December
1st Prize £30

A2 Theology Essay Competition

Enrich your subject knowledge and understanding
Improve your exam skills
Excellent way to enhance your UCAS personal statement

Essay of no more than 1000 words

‘There is nothing beyond the physical world.’ Discuss

Must be handed in/emailed to your Theology teacher by Monday 17th October

1st Prize £30