Harold O. J. Brown, Ph.D., was a long-time Human Life Review contributor, and a co-founder of the Christian Action Council, now operating as CareNet, which ministers to women with troubled pregnancies. Dr. Brown died on July 8, 2007. We are honored this year to have a special Great Defender of Life Dinner giving level in his name.
AS RECENTLY as the mid-1960’s, the Planned Parenthood Foundation regularly conceded that abortion, unlike contraception, destroys a real baby in the process of development. Into the 1970’s, the official position of most representative medical organizations in America admitted abortion as a medical procedure only as a last resort, when there was a severe threat to the life of the pregnant woman. By the early 1970’s, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates have become million-fold advocates, advertisers, and providers of abortion-on-demand; the medical profession, with laudable but rare exceptions, has quietly added it to the “full range of medical services,” allowing a few unscrupulous abortionists to reap immense profits and even raising an occasional celebrated abortion practitioner to its highest professional and academic dignities. A revolution in moral sentiment as well as in medical practice has taken place. Lawrence Lader, one of the outstanding early pro-abortion activists, has not incorrectly entitled his celebration of the abortionists’ success. Abortion II: Making the Revolution.1
Where did this revolution originate? One of the earliest scientific papers on the subject, by Raffaelo Balestrini in 1888, calls abortion “the apparent manifestation of the state of decadence of a people, which has very deep roots. . .”2 This is only a description, but no answer: what brought about this “state of decadence”? It is my purpose to argue that our present “abortion revolution” is possible only on the basis of the widespread replacement of our perception of ourselves as rational creatures made in the image of God, with the perception of ourselves as mere accidental by-products of what Jacques Monod calls “chance and necessity,”—in other words, with the general triumph of social Darwinism. In an important study, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, Gertrude Himmelfarb concludes: “But if it is important for later generations not to deny the fact of revolution because they cannot concede its truth or justice, it is no less important not to concede truth or justice merely because they cannot deny the fact of revolution.”3 We cannot deny that there has been an abortion revolution, but we do not concede its truth or justice. In the same way, we cannot dispute that there has been a Darwinian revolution, but it is not necessary to concede, by reason of its facticity alone, that it represents the whole truth or is productive of justice. As Himmelfarb writes, “Even those who are entirely convinced of the validity of Darwin’s scientific doctrines may be wary of their extension to political or social theory”4: one such extension lies in the creation of what we may call the abortion mentality.
As will be evident from what follows, this writer is not “altogether convinced,” and will seek to show that it is not necessarily wise so to be. But even if one is convinced—as most of the modern world appears to be —it is well to be wary of the extensions. As the magisterial Scottish theologian John Baillie wrote:
I believe that the illicit extension of the categories of natural science to the inner life of the spirit presages the final betrayal of our human birthright. . . I can imagine nothing more convenient to my sloth, my selfishness, and my concupiscence than a philosophy which persuaded me, in the name of scientific outlook, to regard myself only as part of nature and as subject to none but nature’s laws; nor can I imagine anything that would be more destructive of the very foundations of my humanity—and therefore, in the end, of my very science itself.5
In the fact that the abortion revolution has led to a widespread destruction of human life, we can see the fulfillment of the first part of Baillie’s prediction; in the fact that medical and juridical science now so frequently denies or ignores evident scientific reality, namely, the humanity of the unborn human beings destroyed in million-fold abortions, we see fulfilled his second prediction: destruction of the foundations of science itself. All this, we might add, is—just as he wrote—very convenient to our sloth, our selfishness, and our concupiscence. If the Darwinian revolution is accepted in its full form, then each of us is only “part of nature,” with no higher destiny, and—as Oswald Spengler noted over half a century ago—there is perfect justification for the political and social ends of whoever happens to be in power.6 That this is virtually an inevitable consequence of Darwinism in its materialistic, non-theistic form has been attested and demonstrated again and again. George Bernard Shaw referred in Heartbreak House (1919) to Darwinism as the religion that caused World War I and caused England and Prussia to damage each other in a degree hardly likely to be repaired in his time.7 Shaw refers to the success of nineteenth-century naturalism as necessarily justifying “the ruthless destruction or subjection of … competitors for the supply. . . of subsistence available.”8 Is this so different from the economic, utilitarian argument of the more cynical pro-abortionists that abortion is cheaper than welfare?9 There is ample evidence that Darwinism, if it did not cause World War I, at least provided the rationale that enabled large numbers of intellectuals on both sides to view it as a necessary if rather bloody stage on the road to progress.10 It seems not unreasonable to think that the same type of Darwinian naturalism helps create the abortion mentality that looks with complacency, even satisfaction, on an annual abortion rate in the United States that far exceeds, each year, the total American casualty figures for World War I and World War II combined. It is often alleged that abortion is justifiable on the basis of the theory or conviction that the developing fetus is not yet human life, but it is becoming increasingly evident that the more fundamental justification for abortion lies in the conviction that the mere fact of the humanity of the fetus—now widely conceded—does not in itself confer the right to life. This is consistent with the naturalistic reductionism of non-theistic evolution, which sees human beings as nothing more than products of their environment. It may be argued that evolutionary naturalism need not inevitably produce the kind of utilitarian relativism that characterizes the abortion mentality, but the connection is so strong, and the sequence of events so marked, that those of us who reject abortion and other life-destroying policies can profit by taking a closer look at the scientific-metaphysical foundation on which they so comfortably rest.
Evolution and Theology
The idea that human beings have certain rights as humans not only results from biblical teaching but also is clearly expressed in the natural law views of deists such as Thomas Jefferson, for whom it was “self-evident” that all human beings are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. . .” The concept of inalienable rights does not necessarily depend on revealed religion—Jefferson himself was rather indifferent to revelation—but it does depend on the conviction that the world demonstrates a natural order, on the basis of which it is possible for reasonable minds to discern the appropriate telos, or goal, of each being. For human beings, extermination, either outside the womb or in it, does not appear as an appropiate telos. If we deny that human beings have an innate telos to which they should conform and which should be respected by others, then it is only reasonable to speak of the survival of the fittest and to encourage those who are fit to assert themselves at the expense of the weak, the infirm, and the helpless. It is very difficult to see how scientific naturalism, which rejects the idea of a Creator and of an order of creation, and hence of any teleology, can coexist with any structure of universally-binding ethical principles.11
If Darwinism is the dominant social theory, and if Darwinism necessarily excludes teleology, the idea of God, and divinely endowed human rights, and if the abortion struggle is precisely the attempt to assert that humans do have a telos that is violated in abortion, it will be impossible, other than by a pure coup de force, to restrict abortion without simultaneously attacking the naturalistic evolutionism that justifies it. Inasmuch as most anti-abortionists feel that they have a debilitating struggle on their hands in the legal-political arena already, it is not surprising that few are eager to reopen the scientific, metaphysical-religious quarrel relating to Darwinism and its ethical implications. Darwinism, one might argue, is too thoroughly entrenched to challenge: therefore we shall confine our efforts to the political and legal arena. However, if Darwinism is necessarily naturalistic and will inevitably reign, it is difficult to see how political and legal efforts to undermine one of its consequences can be successful in any other way than by a forcible coup. On the other hand, if Darwinism need not reign (an unpopular suggestion today), or even if it need not be naturalistic and teleological—in other words, if it does not dominate, or at least does not dominate in such a way that it destroys the idea that human beings have purpose and innate, endowed rights—then the struggle against abortion may eventually be won.
Darwin and Naturalistic Evolution
During the early stages of Darwin’s activity, most of his opponents assumed that his views were necessarily anti-theistic. They made the fundamental mistake of confusing an explanation of process, or Secondary Cause, with that of purpose, or First Cause. Darwin himself did not make this mistake; although he abandoned the mild Christian orthodoxy of his early years, he remained convinced to the end of his life that evolution had both a purpose and an architect, i.e. that all had been begun by God. About God, Darwin professed to know very little, but the mere fact that he acknowledged Him was enough to save Darwin himself from becoming a complete naturalist, as so many of his followers did. In other words, if we can accept the claim of Darwin to be a good evolutionist, we can easily concede that belief in evolution need not necessarily exclude faith in God, nor the ideas of human dignity and purpose. Indeed, quite a number of Christian theologians now welcome the evolutionary theory and hold it to be true—assuming, of course, that God the Creator set it all in motion. Thus Eric L. Mascall, an Anglican theologian with considerable attainments in mathematics and the natural sciences, can write: “That evolutionary theory as such is not inconsistent with the Christian Faith would be admitted today by all but the most obstinate fundamentalists.”12
There are problems with evolutionary theory, as non-religious scientists occasionally point out,13 but on the whole its general outline commands all but universal acceptance in the modern world, and energetic opposition to it is confined to a few of the “most obstinate,” in Mascall’s terms. Against this background, from a practical perspective it would be foolhardy for anti-abortionists to attempt first to demolish the evolutionary framework. There are simply not enough “obstinate fundamentalists” around to do the job, and they would be dooming themselves to frustration in a very unequal struggle. On the other hand, we shall maintain this: while it is not necessary to struggle against evolution per se, it is necessary to break the logically-necessary but practically all-but-absolute link between the general theory of evolution as a scientific explanation of biological reality and the metaphysical schema of evolutionary naturalism as a substitute for Creation and God. Evolution in a theistic framework is not without problems, and this writer for one would like to reserve the right to point some of them out, but at least it is compatible both with Christianity and with a teleological view of man as having an innate purpose and certain divinely-endowed rights. Evolution in an atheistic, naturalistic framework is logically and practically incompatible both with belief in God and with the idea of human purpose and innate rights. Fortunately, the atheistic, naturalistic framework is by no means a necessary conclusion from the evidence on which the theory of evolution is based, but involves the imposition of metaphysical, not scientific, presuppositions such as the axiom that there is no God and the supposition that by explaining the mechanism of a process, one can dispense with the question of First Cause.
Unfortunately, while naturalistic evolution remains a presupposition rather than a result, and while the accumulating scientific evidence increasingly points to an intelligent First Cause, i.e. to God,14 in the general public and especially among the educational establishment the reigning Darwinism is generally interpreted as making naturalism an assured result of science and thereby excluding all idea of God and of divine purpose, or at least banishing it to the realm of private religious opinion.
The anti-abortion argument is essentially an argument from what we may call creation order, or at least from natural order. It contends that the developing child, irrespective of Constitutional provisions and Supreme Court decisions, possesses rights in himself, that this is, in the words of Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, a law “that God imposes on all men, and which they are able to discover by the sole light of reason.”15 It looks away from arbitrary, relativistic, sociological law, so well illustrated by Roe v. Wade, to the higher principle that “all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. . .” To the extent that a Creator is radically denied, divine purpose and endowment are also denied, and with them, innate human rights. Then law need do no more than “correspond with the actual feelings and demands of the community, whether right or wrong,” as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it.16 As Grant Gilmore interprets Holmes’ view, it means that “If the dominant majority desires to persecute blacks or Jews or communists or atheists, the law, if it is to be ‘sound,’ must arrange for the persecution to be carried out with, as we might say, due process.”17 We need only supply the familiar catchwords, “safely and legally,” and we have a perfect rationalization of Roe v. Wade and the license it granted to abortion-on-demand.
In the legal and political sphere the anti-abortion cause can make headway only by appealing to a higher law, to a “law of eternal validity,” above the relativistic, man-made sociological “justice” currently established by the United States Supreme Court. I have already argued this point in an earlier essay in this review. 18 But the very possibility of such a law —although the Bible and Christian
theology teach it and most members of the general public take it for granted—is negated by the implications of a thoroughly naturalistic evolution. In order to defend the right to life against its abolition in man-made law, it is necessary to defend the proposition that there is an order to nature, that man has a purpose and a dignity that are his by nature, not conferred by constitutional conventions or federal courts. In order to defend the concept of such a natural, innate right, it is necessary to defend the concept of purposeful, divine Creation against the implications of naturalistic evolution.
This defense can be accomplished by a critique of the entire theory of evolution—whether or not, to some, such a critique may seem Quixotic and relatively unpromising in the present day. This necessary defense can also be accomplished equally effectively by attacking the traditional but weak link between evolution as a scientific theory explaining the mechanisms of life and evolutionary naturalism as an all-embracing world-and-life view explaining, or rather denying, the Ultimate Meaning of Everything. Perhaps this too seems Quixotic. Nevertheless, it is by no means hopeless. Accumulating scientific evidence favors, as we have stated, the theological conviction that the world is the purposeful Creation of God. At the very least it is adequate to disqualify any claim that naturalistic evolution is an assured fact on which to base principles of political, legal, and individual policy.
The abortion issue, as Malcolm Muggeridge pointed out some years ago, “raises the question of the very destiny and purpose of life itself.”19It will not be possible to resolve this issue without answering that fundamental question, and affirming that each individual human being has a purpose and a destiny of his own because, regardless of evolutionary mechanism or special creation, he is not “the product of his environment,” but someone whom God has made in His own image. In order to make this affirmation, and thus to smash the basis for the abortion mentality, we must be willing to part company with every atheistic, naturalistic, reductionistic view of man. This does not mean abandoning evolution as a mechanism, but it does mean repudiating it as a religion. Fortunately, the mechanism is scientifically compatible with a Christian view of God; indeed, we may properly contend that it is more compatible with a Christian view of God than with any concept of an impersonal, godless universe. Unfortunately, this distinction has been so obscured, carelessly by some, craftily by others, that evolution is often taken to prove naturalism and thereby to cast us inevitably into the morass of a relativistic world-view in which there are no such things as innate rights or absolute moral standards. It is not necessary to be a conservative Christian or Jewish believer to oppose abortion; as a practical matter, it is not even necessary to be a theist. Every antiabortion group knows individuals who support it without a theological basis for their militancy. Often—fortunately for the human race—an individual’s moral intuition is healthier than his explicit or implicit metaphysical theories might justify. Nevertheless, there is a significant logical link between the factual evil of abortion and the theoretical view that there is an order to nature, that human beings have a telos, and that it is very wrong to destroy them without grave and sufficient cause. It is this link that naturalistic evolution destroys. For this reason, it is practically wise, as well as intellectually responsible, to re-examine the unsound presuppositions of naturalistic evolution and to expose them for what they are: scientifically unfounded, logically uncompelling, and socially dangerous.
I. Boston: Beacon Press, 1973.
2. Raffaelo Balestrini, Aborto, infanticido. ed espositione d’infante (Torino: Bocca, 1888), p. 141.
3. Gertrude Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (New York: Norton, 1962), p. 452.
4. Ibid., p. 412.
5. John Baillie, Natural Science and the Spiritual Life (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), pp. 42f.
6. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Vol. I (New York: Knopf, 1926), p. 369. Miss Himmelfarb makes the same point in her Darwin, p. 421.
7. George Bernard Shaw, Heartbreak House, Great Catherine, and Playlets of the War (London: Constable, 1925), p. xiii.
8. Ibid., p. xiv.
9. For one example among many, see the transcript of remarks by A.C. L. U. attorney Harriet Pilpel, cited in The Human Life Review, Vol. VI, no. 3, Summer, 1980, p. 85.
10. Gertrude Himmelfarb, Darwin, pp. 416f.
11. This point has been ably argued by Stanley L. Jaki in his Gifford Lectures, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1978), pp. 279-313.
12. Eric L. Mascall, Christian Theology and Natural Science (London: Longmans, 1956), p. 254. On this reasoning Dr. Mascall might number this writer among “the most obstinate fundamentalists,” but he is cordial enough in personal contact. Although I agree that theistic evolution is not absolutely irreconcilable with orthodox Christian faith, I would like to be on record as asserting that there are serious problems of both a theological and a scientific nature with the so-called general theory of evolution (the view that all living organisms are derived, by a more or less regular development, from a single original life-form). “Special” theories, which hold that evolution does take place but that it is not enough to explain the present complexity of life forms, and .hence does not exclude all divine creative interventions during or alongside the evolutionary process, are compatible. The Bible would appear, on a simple reading of Genesis I, to permit “mediate” or evolutionary creation of the animals, although it is less flexible with respect to the special creation of a first human pair. Even that special creation of man and woman can be interpreted, within a more or less orthodox Christian framework, as a figurative expression of God’s directing activity, exercised through an evolutionary process. This is done today by most Roman Catholic and a number of relatively orthodox Protestant thinkers. Among the great figures of contemporary Protestant thought, Karl Heim was an evolutionist, but the neo-orthodox leader Karl Barth was not. The leading evangelical anti-abortion writer, Francis A. Schaeffer, opposes the evolutionary view, while Paul Ramsey does not. But all of the above, indeed all Christians acknowldege that man was made according to God’s deliberate will and counsel, and in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). Purely naturalistic evolution, in which everything takes place in Jacques Monrod’s terms, on the basis of nothing but “chance and neccessity,” is certainly incompatible with the Christian doctrine of creation.
|13. E.g.,G. A. Kerkut, in Implications of Evolution (Oxford: Pergamon, 1960).
|14. In addition to the works of Mascall and Jaki mentioned above, one may consult with profit Karl Heim, The Transformation of the Scientific World View (New York: Harper, 1953), and Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomer’s (New York: Norton, 1978).
|15. Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, The Principles of Natural and Political Law (Philadelphia, n.n., 1859), p. 87
|16. Grant Gilmore, The Ages of American Law (New Haven: Yale, 1974), p. 49.
|17. Gilmore, Ages, pp. 49f.
|18. “What Makes the Law the Law?” The Human Life Review, Vol. V, no. I, Winter, 1979, pp. 68-72.
|19. Malcolm Muggeridge, “What the Abortion Argument is About,” The Human Life Review Vol. I, no. 3, Summer, 1975, p. 4.