Ep 31 – The Quadrilemma with Tyler Vela of the Freed Thinker Podcast

Posted on Updated on




In episode 31, Tyler Vela of the Freed Thinker Podcast joins me to talk about the Ethical Quadrilemma by Peter Kreeft. This approach to talking about abortion asks two questions; is the unborn child a person, and do we know it? How you answer these questions ought to determine your response to abortion.

Tyler and I discuss Kreeft’s Quadrilemma at length, but here it is in Kreeft’s own words (as found near the end of this excellent article titled “human personhood begins at conception“):


Suppose abortion is a difficult, obscure, uncertain issue. Even if you take this “softest pro-choice” position, which we can call “abortion agnosticism,” you stand refuted by the following quadrilemma.

Either the fetus is a person, or not; and either we know what it is, or not. Thus there are four and only four possibilities:

  1. that it is not a person and we know that,
  2. that it is a person and we know that,
  3. that it is a person but we do not know that, and
  4. that it is not a person and we do not know that.

Now what is abortion in each of these four cases?

In case (1), abortion is perfectly permissible. We do no wrong if we kill what is not a person and we know it is not a person—e.g., if we fry a fish. But no one has ever proved with certainty that a fetus is not a person. If there exists anywhere such a proof, please show it to me and I shall convert to pro-choice on the spot if I cannot refute it.

If we do not have case (1) we have either (2) or (3) or (4). What is abortion in each of these cases? It is either murder, or manslaughter, or criminal negligence.

In case (2), where the fetus is a person and we know that, abortion is murder. For killing an innocent person knowing it is an innocent person is murder.

In case (3), abortion is manslaughter, for it is killing an innocent person not knowing and intending the full, deliberate extent of murder. It is like driving over a man-shaped overcoat in the street, which may be a drunk or may only be an old coat. It is like shooting at a sudden movement in a bush which may be your hunting companion or may be only a pheasant. It is like fumigating an apartment building with a highly toxic chemical not knowing whether everyone is safely evacuated. If the victim is a person you have committed manslaughter. And if not?

Even in case (4), even if abortion kills what is not in fact a person, but the killer does not know for sure that it is not a person, we have criminal negligence, as in the above three cases if there happened to be no man in the coat, the bush, or the building but the driver, the hunter, or the fumigator did not know that, and nevertheless drove, shot or fumigated. Such negligence is instinctively and universally condemned by all reasonable individuals and societies as personally immoral and socially criminal; and cases (2) and (3), murder and manslaughter, are of course condemned even more strongly. We do not argue politely over whether such behavior is right or wrong. We wholeheartedly condemn it, even when we do not know whether there is a person there, because the killer did not know that a person was not there. Why do we not do the same with abortion?


Click here to listen to the episode in a new window.

Here’s the audio (and transcription) of where I first heard Kreeft defend the pro-life position.

If you enjoyed this or thought it was absolutely terrible, let me know in the comments below, on the facebook page, private facebook group, twitter, or by email ( Thanks so much for reading/listening!

Ep 30 – What Makes a Person a Person? with Josh Brahm

Posted on Updated on


Hello friends and Fetal Position listeners! Today, I have one of my pro-life mentors and president of the Equal Rights Institute, Josh Brahm, on the show with me to talk about personhood. We go pretty deep, philosophically, but it’s nothing that you can’t handle.
It might just mean you have to listen twice 😉

Click the media player at the top of the page, or click here to listen to it in a new window.

One of the reasons I wanted to have Josh on the podcast is because of his interesting approach to answering the difficult question of personhood. Is the unborn a person? And if so, how in the world can we communicate that to other people? We dive deep into it during the show and you should definitely listen to it, but the thrust of his approach is pretty straight-forward. Here’s my summary of his position on this.

The Equal Rights Argument

  1. Don’t we all deserve the right to life?
  2. Doesn’t that mean there is something the same about us? That we all have equally?
  3. What is that property that grounds us all having an equal right to life?

When we look out into the world, we see people with varying IQs, sizes, abilities, races, etc. But there is one thing that we all know about any group of people. And that is that they all have the right to life. Given how different they all are, what exactly is it that grounds that right to life? This can’t be a degreed property because that wouldn’t ground the equal right to life that we all have and recognize. This is trying to extract a principle based on the clear cases of personhood, and once we figure out that principle, we can use that to figure out personhood generally.

Josh (and the others who have worked on this argument) say that it is something like humanness. Something like being a human.

He says something like humanness deliberately, because he doesn’t want to say that you have to be a human in order to have the right to life or to be a person. After all… Kryptonians, Vulcans, and Heptapods are not biological humans, but they certainly seem to have the right to life.

At this point, the pro-choice advocate may try to attach personhood to something other than something like humanness. Perhaps they say sentience or awareness or something  like that. At this point, the pro-choicer is begging the question, and to illustrate this, Josh uses an analogy.

The Zoo Shooting Analogy

There’s a shooting at a zoo, and the shooter fires 6 bullets and kills 6 entities:

  • A cockroach
  • A squirrel
  • An elephant
  • A newborn
  • A toddler
  • An adult woman

Imagine a circle where everything within the circle has an equal right to life. The pro-choicer’s personhood criteria will either have too many things within the circle (like squirrels and cockroaches) or have not enough within the circle (like human newborns).

So what grounds equality? Perhaps it is sentience.
If sentience is the criteria, and sentience is defined as the ability to perceive the world and experience things, this would entail that cockroaches are within the circle. And this would mean that cockroaches and adult humans have an equal right to life.

So they might move to something like self-awareness.
But if self-awareness is the criteria, then the elephant would have an equal right to life as the toddler and the adult woman, but the newborn does not! Elephants pick stickers off of their heads while examining themselves in a mirror and newborns don’t have self-awareness until at least 3 months. And that’s clearly a problem. If they bite this bullet, they’re just guarding turf. Very rarely does someone actually believe it is morally neutral to kill a newborn.

At this point, they might go to something like human + sentience.
They might feel as though this might solve the problem. All humans are persons, but they know they want to exclude the unborn. This is incredibly ad hoc. They know where they want to end up, and they’re combining features in order to get there. They’re essentially just saying “my personhood definition can be boiled down to ‘all humans except unborn humans’

So, as demonstrated by this thought experiment, the pro-choice advocate’s criteria for personhood either allows too many or too few entities into the ‘right to life circle’, or it is simply ad hoc and they’d need to give a positive reason to believe it. They can’t just assert it.

But let’s jump back to what exactly it is that makes a person a person. Remember, we’re working off of the idea that the thing that grounds personhood is something like humanness, but it is not biological humanness because Spock and Superman are totally persons too.
… if they exist, of course.

So what is it? What is a better way to understand something like humanness? It is something that all humans have that isn’t just biological humanity.

It is having the intrinsic ability to think and act morally.

An immediate ability is an ability you can do right now. An intrinsic ability is an ability that you have in virtue of the kind of thing you are. This isn’t a potential ability, it is an ability that you have because of the kind of thing you are. If you pick an immediate ability, you’re going to get wrong answers. The key here is to ask about the intrinsic ability to do what? At the moment, thinking and acting morally makes the most sense at the moment. And members of the human family are entities that are naturally ordered to thinking and acting morally.

It’s also possible that personhood is grounded in the fact they are a member of a rational kind. It seems to me that if we assume a dualistic paradigm (in philosophy of mind), both criteria work. Dualism would be ok with both the intrinsic ability to think and act morally, as well as the member of a rational kind. However, physicalism wouldn’t likely give much credence to the intrinsic ability criteria (if that is grounded in a soul or a spirit of some kind), but would give credence to the member of a rational kind criteria.
[I really enjoyed this aspect of the conversation]

Resources mentioned:


Ep 28 – A More Realistic Violinist Analogy | The Fiddler in the Womb

Posted on

Hello everyone and welcome to the Fetal Position Podcast, episode 28. On today’s episode, I am fleshing out the details of an analogy that [I think] is unique to me. To listen to this in a new window, click here!
I haven’t heard anyone else make this analogy, so if you know someone that has… let me know and I’ll promote his/her work. But if not, allow me to explain my response to Thomson’s Violinist analogy, by using my own analogy.


And onto my analogy.
I am calling it… “The Fiddler in the Womb” because it’s catchy and kinda funny. But it is, more importantly, a more realistic violinist analogy than the analogy created by Judith Jarvis Thomson in her paper, “A Defense of Abortion“. For what it’s worth, I have already dissected this analogy and concluded that it does not justify abortion in almost any case. I did this during episode 9, and you can find that by going to

As I explained in that episode, the violinist analogy attempts to justify abortion by showing that even if the unborn is a human person, the mother still ought to have the right to an abortion. I point out that this analogy fails in 3 morally relevant ways, some of which Thomson concedes in her original essay. Yes, no analogy is perfect (cuz if it was perfect, it wouldn’t be an analogy). But in order to be a relevant analogy, it has to be morally parallel to the actual situation. The 3 points are as follows (and this is taken from the show notes of episode 9):

  1. In the analogy, you are bedridden.
    Statistically speaking, a woman is very rarely bedridden during pregnancy, let alone bedridden for her the entire length of pregnancy. There are certain situations in which a woman will find herself on bed rest (problems with her cervix, preeclampsia, etc), but this doesn’t happen until later in the pregnancy for most. If it does occur earlier in pregnancy, that is due to a preexisting medical condition that is very rare within our society.So, in order for this analogy to be applicable, the pregnant woman must be unable to remove herself from her bed during the entire 10 months of pregnancy.
  2. In the analogy, the person connected to the violinist is not responsible for being connected.
    In the vast majority of cases, the pregnant woman has consented to sex. One of the possible consequences of engaging in sexual intercourse is the creation of a dependent human being.
    We’ll talk more about the ‘responsibility objection’ later, but I’d like to point out that we, as a society, recognize the responsibility objection as legitimate. If you are responsible for causing someone to be in a dependent state, you have an obligation to them that goes beyond the obligation you have to someone else. Even if the other person is in a dependent state but placed into dependency by someone else. The person responsible has a unique obligation. We expect fathers to provide for their children, either by going to work and putting food on the table, or by paying child support. Avoiding that responsibility is socially unacceptable because we recognize the responsibility objection as legitimate.So, in order for the analogy to be parallel, the pregnant woman would have to be a rape victim who subsequently became pregnant, and she must immediately go on bed rest for the entirety of her pregnancy.
  3. In the analogy, the relationship between the violinist and the connected person is that of a stranger.
    In the overwhelming majority of cases, the pregnant woman is carrying her own child. This is even the case when it comes to rape victims. As awful as rape is (and I’m not denying that rape is a horrendous evil), the child being carried by the rape victim is her child, biologically. The only time where a woman bears no biological relationship to the child in her womb is when a woman volunteers her body to be a surrogate for another couple.This is getting a bit strange, don’t you think?
    In order to create a real-life, morally parallel situation to the violinist analogy, we need to have an immediately bedridden woman who was used as a surrogate for someone else’s baby, against her will.

Because of these 3 morally significant oversights, I fail to see how the original violinist analogy accurately represents pregnancy at all. After all, I don’t know of a single situation where a woman is immediately bedridden after being used as an involuntary surrogate for someone else’s baby. And because those are the morally relevant problems with her analogy, pointing these out is a legitimate critique.

So what is a more morally relevant analogy to pregnancy?

Junrey Balawing

Let’s imagine that you’re a stinking jerk and poisoned your violinist cousin, Junrey Balawing. Balawing is the smallest man in the world at under 24 inches tall. He was going to die of a kidney ailment, but your kidneys are able to keep him alive. All you have to do is stay connected to him for 10 months and then you can both go on your merry way. You can carry him around in a backpack. He doesn’t mind.

This analogy hits on all the right morally relevant parallels that Thomson’s Violinist does not. You are not bedridden, you are responsible for putting him into a state of dependency upon you, and Balawing is a member of your family.

… now that we’ve changed it, doesn’t it seem as though you have a moral obligation to stay connected to the little dude that you caused to be in his current situation? He is related to you, his existence doesn’t cause you to be bedridden, and you are the jerk who caused him to be dependent. You certainly have an obligation to stay connected so that he doesn’t die.

And that’s my contribution to this discussion. If you enjoyed this or thought it was absolutely terrible, let me know in the comments below, on the facebook page, private facebook group, twitter, or by email ( Thanks so much for reading/listening!

– Elijah


Ep 22 – Intro to Logic with Dr. Tyler McNabb

Posted on

Hi everyone! In this episode, I am joined by Dr. Tyler McNabb. Tyler is a philosophy professor at Houston Baptist University, and is here to give us an overview of basic logic. To listen to this episode in a new window, click here!

Tyler and I cover deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning, as well as logical fallacies like ad hominem, appeal to emotion, circular reasoning, appeal to authority, and others. This may be a little more basic to many of the listeners of this show, but a refresher course is never a bad thing when it comes to thinking clearly. And I remember when I was first introduced to logic, I would have loved a quick overview. Plus, all pro-lifers ought to be known by our ability to think critically and logically!

For an overview of a variety of fallacies, I suggest visiting

I hope you enjoyed this logic primer from Tyler. To contact him, visit or email him at

Are You Seriously Voting 3rd Party? Why!? – Elijah’s Blog

Posted on Updated on

I voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, but I didn’t disagree with Romney on most things. So I was voting FOR Romney, not just against Obama. I thought of myself as a conservative in 2012.

I voted for John McCain in 2008, but I wasn’t really all that informed back then. That’s when I was going through my atheism/apologetics phase, so I really wasn’t paying much attention to politics. But my parents were conservative and what they said made sense, so I went along with what they said.

I was 17 in 2004 so I didn’t vote.

My chosen candidate has lost 100% of the elections in which I’ve voted. Granted, it’s only 2 elections, but I don’t know what it’s like to have voted for a winner.
I know only loss.

This election is different for me for a number of reasons.
photo-1428976343495-f2c66e701b2bThe primary reason is that I consider myself a libertarian, not a conservative. And this is due to diligent study in the areas of economics and political philosophy. I remember, in 2013, thinking to myself, “this political game is so stupid. I don’t know what news sources to trust, I don’t know what I think the government should do, I don’t know any economics or political philosophy… I don’t know anything. And I need to know.”
I was near the end of my undergraduate studies in biology & philosophy, so I started studying. I didn’t know which direction to go, so I followed a clue given to me by 2 things:

1. A very convincing argument by professor James Stacey Taylor, who explained how a free market in human kidneys made the donor and the recipient more well off. From this, I had a direction to go in terms of economic study. I figured, if the data pointed in that direction for something as important as organ donation, it could probably work in other, less important areas.

2. The anger I felt when I was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt. Who was the government to tell me that I had to be protected from myself? From this, I had a foundational principle on which to guide my study on the government role in our social lives. If the government was not justified in legislating something that only effected me, what role did it have?
(if you’re interested, I go more into that here )

From there, I’ve read books, watched debates, read articles, listened to podcasts, engaged with people of different perspectives, and ultimately landed on what many would call “minarchism”.
Minarchism is the idea that the government should be here to serve very few, very limited purposes. It is here to protect our natural rights (the rights we have by simply being a member of the human community), and to insure that we have maximum liberty in the social and economic spheres.

I say all of this because it helps lay the backdrop for why I absolutely refuse to vote for either Trump or Clinton. They do not represent me, nor do they come close to representing what I see as a proper function of government. I don’t care that Trump has said nasty things or that Clinton has a shrill voice. I care because when you vote for someone, you are consenting to being governed by them. I do not consent to being governed by either one of them.
I see them as authoritarians.
I see them as restricting liberty.
I see them both as doing damage to the US, economically and socially.

You may disagree. That’s fine. You’re wrong but I’m done trying to change your mind. However, I find it incredibly strange that so many people believe that I ought to sacrifice everything I’ve studied and believe and vote for someone who I think is slightly less totalitarian than the other.
Why can’t I vote against totalitarianism?
Why is a vote against authoritarianism a bad thing?

I have to wonder… how absolutely awful do the two primary candidates have to be before we, as informed people, think “wow, these two really, really suck. I can’t reasonably vote for either”.

Many people have chosen to vote against different flavors of totalitarianism before now. The 2016 election is so obviously that time in my mind. Perhaps 2020 will be that time in your mind.
Maybe 2024.

I’m choosing to vote 3rd party while that option still exists, even if the 3rd party candidates don’t really have a chance at winning.
I am voting against Trump.
I am voting against Clinton.

I am doing this because I care about my country.
I am doing this because I care about my kids. I care about your kids.

We have a long road ahead, but REAL change starts today.
Please join me in voting against both flavors of totalitarianism.