This week’s edition of “Unbelievable” features a debate/dialogue on antinatalism between anti-natalist philosopher David Benatar and Christian philosopher Bruce Blackshaw. Benatar is the world’s leading philosophical defender of antinatalism, a philosophical position that attributes a negative value to the origin of new human life. Thus, on the antinatalist perspective, it would be better, all things being equal, if human beings would cease to exist individually and collectively.
All in all, the conversation was somewhat disappointing. While Benatar offered a solid defense of his views, Blackshaw frankly did not have much by way of rebuttal. He cited Ephesians 1 to support the general claim that it is good for human beings to exist generally, but this seems a misguided use of the text since Ephesians 1 is addressing, specifically, the election of the church.
What really puzzled me about Blackshaw is that he never mentioned the so-called Creation Mandate of Genesis 1:28:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
In my view, this text provides the cornerstone for a Judeo-Christian rebuttal of antinatalism.
Intuitions and Counterintuitive Arguments
Before I get there, however, let me begin by highlighting a point that was adumbrated a few times during the program: there is something deeply counterintuitive about antinatalism even if Benatar’s arguments are valid and appear to have plausible premises. This is a not-uncommon situation in philosophical argument. And if an argument violates deeply-seated intuitions, one can either bite the bullet and toss the intuitions, or reject the argument and save the intuitions. And depending on how deeply-seated those intuitions are, it may indeed be perfectly rational to reject a seemingly sound argument, even if one is not sure where the problem lies.
Creation Mandate as Blessing
Fortunately, the Jew or Christian who recognizes the significance of Genesis 1:28 can say more. Let’s begin by noting that this text should not be thought of as a command but rather as a blessing. And viewing a new life as a blessing rather than in terms of the antinatalist’s negative ascription is far more in keeping with normal human intuitions the world over. Every culture celebrates new human life as a good. Benatar may think that’s a mistaken view which is unmasked by his argument, but the person who accepts Genesis 1:28 can reason as follows:
(1) If a perfect being holds a particular belief about moral value and worth, then human beings ought to hold that belief about moral value and worth.
(2) God is a perfect being.
(3) Therefore, if God holds a particular belief about moral value and worth, then human beings ought to hold that belief about moral value and worth.
(4) The belief that new human life is a blessing is a belief about moral value and worth.
(5) God believes new human life is a blessing.
(6) Therefore, human beings ought to hold that new human life is a blessing.
To sum up, this argument has the benefit of comporting with nearly universal intuitions about the blessing that is new human life.
It should also be noted that the above argument applies to individual new human lives. I’ll now turn to another approach which switches from viewing individual lives as a blessing to the fecundity of the human species in general as a blessing.
Creation Mandate as Command
While the Creation Mandate is primarily a blessing or gift, that blessing also brings with it an obligation. The obligation could be rooted in a general observation that when you receive a great gift from a morally noble person who wishes to bless you with the gift, it would be ungracious to reject that gift and consequent blessing. In other words, you have an obligation to accept and be grateful for the gift.
In this case, the blessing is not the fecundity of any specific person or couple but rather the general observation of that the human species is blessed with the great gift to produce more of our kind, and the rejection of that gift would express an improper ingratitude. So the human species, on the whole, has an obligation to embrace and be grateful for the species gift of fecundity rather than an antinatalist position in which we reject and are ungrateful for that gift.
At one point in the show, Benetar touched on the concept of Christian antinatalism based on the threat of hell. Interestingly, almost one year ago exactly (March 13, 2019), I posted an argument for Christian antinatalism. However, if my argument is successful it could equally be viewed as an argument for Christian universalism rather than Christian antinatalism. Based on the Creation Mandate, it would be far more plausible to accept evangelical universalism rather than antinatalism.