A modern philosopher has stepped into the ring in order to defend abortion. His name is Patrick Tomlinson and his arena is Twitter. I had never heard of him until a friend messaged me with a question this morning. I decided to follow Tomlinson, but didn’t consider engaging him in discussion until I noticed that he had blocked Ben Shapiro because Ben apparently dismantled Patrick’s “question”. I couldn’t find Ben’s posts on the issue, so I thought I’d offer the response I proposed to my friend earlier this morning.
Patrick posted the following through a series of tweets:
Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I’ve been asking for ten years now of the “Life begins at Conception” crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly. It’s a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question.
You’re in a fertility clinic. Why isn’t important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. They’re in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled “1000 Viable Human Embryos.” The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no “C.” “C” means you all die.
In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will. They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is “A.” A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically. They are lying to you to try and evoke an emotional response, a paternal response, using false-equivalency. No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children. Those who cliam to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women.
You see, Patrick has committed an error of reason called a logical fallacy. Specifically he has proposed something called a false dilemma. He has come up with a scenario which has numerous plausible answers, but he artificially restricts you to choose between two answers he has already selected. That may sound unfair, because it is. It is also a sign of mental laziness and a very dishonest approach to dialogue.
First, fertility clinics are contrary to life because they kill an enormous number of lives in order to try and create a child for each customer. For more information on this, click here. Therefore, in his scenario, I would not be in the clinic because I’m too busy doing a lot of things including education that protects life from such destruction. I know that doesn’t fit in to Patrick’s two-option world, but it is a reasonable answer.
Let’s say I just happen to be in the clinic when the alarm sounds and I do find myself in the room with the crying 5yr old and the canister of embryos. I’m actually a pretty able-bodied man and I can grab the canister and help the 5yr old out of the building. The kid is 5yrs old. He can probably run faster than I can and he’s lower to the ground, so the smoke won’t impact him as much as it will me. See? Another plausible answer.
About that canister of embryos… Do I know it actually does contain life? I’m not a fertility doctor, nor do I have any real experience with fertility clinic practices and procedures. Additionally, Patrick has painted a really pressure-packed scenario. Under these circumstances, it is likely that my ability to comprehend and know with adequate certainty, that the container actually contains 1000 human lives just isn’t realistic. Also, do I know that the canister is going to be destroyed by a fire? I am certainly going to see that one scared child needs my help and I will know that with 100% certainty. Another plausible answer is that I do what I know to be a certain life-saving move, without directly and knowingly causing the death of 1000 other human lives. You might see this is similar to the doctrine of double effect.
Or what if I lead the child out of the clinic quickly and then return to grab the canister of embryos?
Maybe I grab the canister of embryos, run it out of the building and within a few seconds I’m back to usher the child out of the building?
I know. I’ll grab a fire extinguisher and put the fire out.
Better yet, the fire suppression system is activated and that puts the fire out. Certainly a fertility clinic is going to have a state of the art fire suppression system, right?
Better yet, the fire trucks arrive with oxygen masks, plenty of fire hoses and equipment and we are all led to safety.
These are some examples of plausible alternatives to Patrick’s false dilemma. Unfortunately, Patrick will resist anything other than one or the other of his two options because he is not interested in truth, he’s only interested in believing he is right. The fact that he says he’s been using this fallacy for 10 years and has never, EVER, received an honest answer, suggests he’s not really interested in an honest answer.
I could say that Patrick wants to manipulate you so he can continue to manipulate women. After all, we know that the abortion and contraception industry is tailor made to help men abuse women. We know that there are men who use women then pressure or force them to have abortions if the woman becomes pregnant. We know that there are abusers who require their victims to use contraception so they don’t become pregnant. We know that there are rapists who actually accompany their victims to the abortion clinics to make sure they go through with the abortion and in some cases (probably more than we think), the abortion clinic declines to report suspicious circumstances that could lead to the arrest of the rapist. One could wonder if abortion clinics see rapists as good for business, but since less than 1% of all abortions are due to rape, that wouldn’t seem to be the case. We are left to wonder why an abortion clinic worker would not call the police when a patient and her companion seem a little suspicious.
It seems that our latest abortion defending philosopher has not put up the argument he thought he could. He didn’t like Ben Shapiro’s help and I doubt he’d like mine. I’ll try to remember to update this blog if he responds to my comment.