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Abortion and the Contradiction of Nontheism

The recent leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade has much of the world in quite an uproar. To the conservative pro-life camp, this is a monumental achievement for human equality and rights; to the liberal pro-choice camp, this is a disasterous failure for human equality and rights. Since both parties claim contradictory truths, both parties cannot be right, so which one is in the wrong here?

Oh that’s simple: the side that endorses ripping children from the womb.

However, before the debate concerning abortion can happen, the debate concerning morality must happen. What this means is that it is foolish to try and debate the morality of abortion—or anything—before one can identify where morality is grounded. Not everyone on the conservative pro-life side will agree on the ultimate ground for morality, and neither will everyone on the liberal pro-choice side, but regardless of where one falls on this spectrum, there remains only one proper grounding for morality that permits either side from insisting that the other is obligated to conform, and I will explain that here.

Morality is a set of principles that determines right from wrong. Each person, even if unaware, adheres and believes in some set of principles that determines what is right and wrong. But the source which determines these values of right and wrong is where the conversation must start. Morality can be divided into two basic types: subjective morality & objective morality. For the theist, morality is grounded objectively in that which transcends this universe—God. For the nontheist, morality is grounded subjectively in human experience or emotion.

This becomes a problem when the nontheist posits that X is an absolute immoral act. Many nontheists posit that abortion is not an absoulte immoral act but that forcing women to carry children to term is an absolute immoral act. However, in order for the nontheist to make such a claim—that forcing women to carry children to term is absolutely immoral—he or she must suspend his or her worldview—that there is no objective, absolute moral standard by which we judge actions—and borrow from the Christian worldview—that objective, absolute moral standards do exist—in order to do so. The nontheist in one breath assumes the Christian worldview in order to argue against it and its moral code.

What would be consistent in the nontheistic worldview is that every person can and does determine right and wrong for themselves and that no one should force his or her worldview on others. However, the nontheist does exactly that when he or she posits that we should not outlaw abortion. This posting is the very thing the nontheist claims we should not do—namely, demanding that others conform to his or her standard of morality. The notheist, then, has an inconsistent worldview and does not provide a sound reason for demanding any sort of social justice or equality.

Probably the greatest example of this sort of worldview gymnastics can be found in the holocaust. The nontheist often times uses an atrocity like the holocaust to infer that God cannot exist because if he did, he would have prevented the holocaust. However, the nontheist makes a grave mistake in doing so. 

In order to label the holocaust an atrocity, the nontheist assumes an absolute standard of morality; without an absolute moral standard by which people can judge the actions of Nazi Germany, the holocaust then remains an action that was completely moral, since those who propagated it believed to it be so. If morality is grounded subjectively in human experience or emotion, then we have no right to look at the Nazis and say that anything they did was immoral. But in saying that what the Nazis did was absolutely wrong, the nontheist again assumes the Christian worldview of objective, absolute moral standards and concludes that what Hitler did was absolutely wrong. 

If the nontheist truly wants to be a champion of human freedom and autonomy, the consistent approach would then be to allow people like Hitler to do as they please without telling them what they should or should not do. If we are all just matter and molecules without any divine purpose for existing, we—just bags of matter—have no right to tell anyone else—just bags of matter—what they should or should not do. However, the nontheist refuses to accept this logical conclusion to his or her worldview and continually borrows from the Christian worldview—that we are not just matter floating in space and that there truly are absolute moral standards by which we can and should judge the actions of others—in order to argue it away. They have, as Obi-Wan Kenobi said to Anakin, become the very thing they wish to destroy. Oh the irony.

So what does this mean? Well, it means that if the nontheist wishes to truly operate within the worldview of nontheism, he or she must refrain from casting any judgment against the actions of other people as objectively immoral, including Supreme Court justices for interpreting the Constitution as not granting the right to abortions. That may seem contrary to the nontheistic worldview, but that is because the nontheistic worldview is self-defeating and thus cannot account for any objective standards of right and wrong. This tension is found in the fact that even nontheists are made in the image of God and know there to be absolute moral standards by which we should judge the actions of others; they simply choose to suppress that knowledge and continue to live a life of contradiction.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

—Romans 1:18-23 ESV

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