In an article by Jonathan Dudley that was posted on CNN, an argument was presented concerning abortion that pointed to the fact that some of the Christian Church Fathers such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas had views that differ from mainstream Christianity today. There, Dudley writes:
[Unknown] to most lay Christians, the vast majority of Christian theologians and saints throughout history have not believed life begins at conception.
Although he admitted some uncertainty on the matter, the hugely influential 4th and 5th century Christian thinker Saint Augustine wrote, “it could not be said that there was a living soul in [a] body” if it is “not yet endowed with senses.”
Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic saint and a giant of mediaeval theology, argued: “before the body has organs in any way whatever, it cannot be receptive of the soul.”
Having done some writing on abortion as an act that I am passionate about stopping, I found several things wrong with this statement and ones like it that I would like to examine in order to bring closure to an argument that is flawed and quite simply does not follow.
The Vast Majority
The first thing that stood out to me in this statement was Dudley’s assertion that “the vast majority of Christian theologians and saints throughout history have not believed life begins at conception.” It is one thing to assert something that you know as a fact and quite another to assume it without sufficient evidence.
Dudley references two well known theologians from the ancient Christian Church and from that assumes that pretty much everyone else agreed with them in ages past. However, unless a statement on abortion can be recovered from the vast majority of historical Christian theologians then the idea may be spoken as an assumption or perhaps a theory, but certainly not a fact.
The Church Fathers
Constructing arguments against the contemporary Christian Church by singling out lines written by influential and historical Christian theologians (One who lived over fifteen-hundred years ago) on a topic that crosses multiple fields including philosophy, theology and science is simply a job poorly done. The two mentioned names (Augustine and Aquinas) were limited by the science of their time. While both men were adamantly against abortion, they were unsure of exactly when life entered into the developing child.
I am confident that if these men had access to the information we have today on biology and child development, they would quickly retract their statements as incorrect.
From these references as well as others mentioned in his article, Dudley implies that because morality within the Christian Church has seemed to evolve over the centuries, why shouldn’t it occur with hot issues like homosexuality and same-sex-marriage?
The primary problem that stuck out to me in my reading of this portion of the article was that if we, as Christians, are the bad guys because we hold to modified or different beliefs than some of our Church fathers, then aren’t those who lean solely on the crutch of science guilty of being the bad guys as well, since they do not hold to the same mystical pagan beliefs of the historically ancient intellects?
Surely the answer is no.
While the Bible does make statements that can be validated within the field of science here and there, it is by no means a scientific textbook. As science and reason reveal additional information that relates to issues written about within the pages of scripture, the responsibility of the church is to appropriately adapt it to our lives. To reject it outright is foolish, but not questioning the claims presented is more foolish still. In short, it’s not that the Bible is wrong, but when read alongside science, reason and other fields of study, the contents of its pages are occasionally illuminated more than they have been in ages past.
This post was inspired by an article by Jonathan Dudley titled: My Take: Bible condemns a lot, so why focus on homosexuality? Following is a list of responses to claims made within the article:
- The Bible Condemns a lot, why focus on homosexuality?
- Our Church Fathers and Abortion
- Our Church Fathers and Marriage
- Contemporary Christianity and Divorce
- Homosexuality vs Hair Length
- Dudley, Jonathan. "My Take: Bible Condemns a Lot, so Why Focus on Homosexuality? - CNN Belief Blog - CNN.com Blogs." CNN Belief Blog. 21 June 2011. Web. 04 July 2011. <http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/21/my-take-bible-condemns-a-lot-so-why-focus-on-homosexuality/>.