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10.11.04

Abortion Vs. God's Will

I normally don't touch abortion discussions with a 10-foot pole. I've even gone so far as it refuse to hold a position on the issue, so as not to get sucked into the arguments over it. But in the comments to a Hugo Schwyzer post, I encountered an argument that raises some interesting issues about agency that seem relevant beyond the specific example of abortion (notably in the case of "wilderness" and human interference with nature). Chip writes:

If every human being comes into existence only by the direct will of God, and if God is active in creating the body and soul of each human being, then abortion is contrary to God's desires for us.


Let's agree for the sake of argument that God has a specific plan for the world, and that actions are right or wrong as they help or harm the execution of that plan*. The idea here is that human action interferes with God's plan. God is directing the natural biological forces to create a life, but a person -- endowed with free will, and thus unable to be stopped by God -- can butt in and screw things up. That seems simple enough, and the presence or absence of human agency explains why an abortion is morally different from a miscarriage, since God is in control of the forces that cause the latter.

But is it really right to say that mere passivity in the face of natural forces directed by God is the way to ensure God's plan is carried out? It's quite clear that in many cases -- such as feeding the poor -- God's will is carried out through human agency. For whatever reason, God would rather inspire a soup kitchen volunteer to show love toward a homeless person than simply instigate a rain of manna. In the case of abortion, recall that the pregnancy in question occurred because of the agency of at least one of the parents. So abortion is no more an interference in the natural course of things than pregnancy is. An abortion doctor may be just as much an agent of God's will as a miscarriage-inducing genetic defect.

Indeed, one might go so far as to say that the existence of a pregnancy may be a human-caused snafu in God's plan, and an abortion is setting things right (which would at the least lend support to the rape and incest exceptions, since pregnancy aside those acts are both presumably violations of God's plan).

This is not to say, of course, that by this standard abortion is always acceptable -- there would remain times when having an abortion would be contrary to God's plan (since I assume God's plan involves there being some people in the next generation). But it does mean that the fact that human agency was used to abort the pregnancy is not prima facie evidence that God's plan has been thwarted. We'd have to have more evidence -- either direct communication with God, or a set of principles indicating in which circumstances God would want a child to be born.

*My personal view is that God's plan is statistical and open-ended (requiring some human input), rather than detailed and micro-managed. But since the plan is simply an extrapolation of the requirements of the principle of love, it is accurate (though not my preferred phrasing) to characterize good actions as those in conformance with the plan.

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