Peter Singer is a calm, lucid and able debater, and our debate at Biola University in Los Angeles on April 25 was lively and hard-fought. Not for nothing is Singer considered a world-class philosopher and advocate. To watch the debate go to dineshdsouza.com and click on my AOL blog.
Singer praised me for not simply making assertions of faith or hurling Bible passages at him but rather for using reason and argument to make my case . And I complimented Singer for stepping, so to speak, into the lion's den. (Biola actually stands for Bible Institute of Los Angeles.) Unlike the pusillanimous Richard Dawkins, who doesn't dare to debate me even at his home campus of Oxford, Singer was brave to come to a Christian campus to dispute the resolution "God: Yes or No." The audience of 3,000 was mostly though not exclusively Christian.
So perhaps atheism has found an able advocate. But unbelievers may want to think twice before lining up behind Singer, who argues in favor of infanticide, euthanasia and (this is not a joke) animal rights! One of Singer's interesting proposals concerns what may be called "fourth trimester" abortions, i.e. the right to kill one's offspring even after birth!
Here are some choice Singer quotations on the subject which I get from his books Rethinking Life and Death and Writings on an Ethical Life.
On how mothers should be permitted to kill their offspring until the age of 28 days: "My colleague Helga Kuhse and I suggest that a period of twenty-eight days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others."
On why abortion is less morally significant than killing a rat: "Rats are indisputably more aware of their surroundings, and more able to respond in purposeful and complex ways to things they like or dislike, than a fetus at ten or even thirty-two weeks gestation."
On why pigs, chickens and fish have more rights to life than unborn humans: "The calf, the pig, and the much-derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy, while if we make the comparison with a fetus of less than three months, a fish would show more signs of consciousness."
On why infants aren't normal human beings with rights to life and liberty: "Characteristics like rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness...make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings."
In my opening statement I showed the profound connection between Singer's Darwinian atheism and his advocacy of infanticide and euthanasia. Remarkably Singer responded by saying he didn't come to debate his bioethical views! Rather, he wanted the debate to focus exclusively on the question of whether God exists or not. I didn't want this to be a debate in which Singer and I ended up talking on completely different subjects, so I engaged him on his chosen ground.
Even so, I was disappointed that Singer wouldn't stand up for the opinions that have made him famous, or infamous. Our topic resolution was broad enough to permit a discussion both of the existence of God and also of the social implications of the theist and the atheist positions. I view Singer's work as exploring the consequences of living in a truly secular society, devoid not only of the Christian God but also of Christian morality.
So while Christianity introduced into Western civilization the concept of dignity of human life, Singer explicitly says we have to get rid of this outdated concept. He contends that God is dead and we should recognize ourselves as Darwinian primates who enjoy no special status compared to the other animals. In the animal kingdom, after all, parents sometimes kill and even devour their offpsring. Singer argues that the West can learn from the other cultures like the Kalahari where children are routinely killed when they are unwanted, even when they are several years old.
Some of Singer's critics call him a Nazi and compare his proposals to Hitler's schemes for eliminating the unwanted, the unfit and the disabled. But as I note in the debate, Singer is no Hitler. He doesn't want state-sponsored killings. Rather, he wants the decision to kill to be made by you and me. Instead of government-conducted genocide, Singer favors free-market homicide.
Given the connection that Singer draws between atheism and child murder, using the former as his premise to recommend the latter, I wonder if our atheist friends are going to rush to embrace this guy as one of their heroes. Is Singer showing us where the road to complete secularism actually leads?
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