Abortion and Dawkins' Fallacious Account of the So-called 'Great Beethoven Fallacy'

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     Abortion and Dawkins’ Fallacious
     Account of the So-called ‘Great
     Beethoven Fallacy’
     P R O F. H U G H V. M C L A C H L A N
     School of Law and Social Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4
     E-mail: H.McLachlan@gcal.ac.uk

     In his discussion of ethics and abortion, Prof. Richard Dawkins makes the provocative
     claim that: ‘The Great Beethoven Fallacy is a typical example of the kind of logical mess
     we get into when our minds are befuddled by religiously inspired absolutism.’ (Dawkins,
     p. 339) This supposed fallacy is presented as if it exemplified not only a particular view of
     abortion held, for instance, by certain fundamentalist Christians but as if it revealed some
     flaw that is characteristic of the thinking of theists. I shall examine his claim.

     Dawkins on Religion and Moral Philosophy
     The major division in moral philosophy, or so Dawkins claims, is between deontologists
     such as Kant and consequentialists such as Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian. Dawkins
     believes that, while religious adherents tend to accept a deontological view of ethics,
     atheists tend to be consequentialists. He also believes that while religiously minded
     deontologists tend to be what Dawkins calls ‘moral absolutists’, atheistic consequentialists
     tend to be moral non-absolutists.
        He writes, in The God Delusion:
            Deontology is a fancy name for the belief that morality consists in the obeying
            of rules. It is literally the science of duty, from the Greek for “that which
            is binding”. Deontology is not quite the same thing as moral absolutism,
            but for most purposes in a book about religion there is no need to dwell on
            the distinction. Absolutists believe there are absolutes of right and wrong,
            imperatives whose rightness makes no reference to their consequences.
            Consequentialists more pragmatically hold that the morality of an action
            should be judged by its consequences. One version of consequentialism is
            utilitarianism…. (Dawkins, p. 266)

     Dawkins on Abortion
     Dawkins sketches two polar views of abortion, his own and one that he wishes to attack.
     Although not all religious adherents are held to be against abortion, Dawkins thinks
            Strong opponents of abortion are almost all deeply religious. The sincere
            supporters of abortion, whether personally religious or not, are likely to follow

Vol. 15:2 (2009)                      MCLACHLAN • Abortion and Dawkins' Fallacious Account

       a non-religious, consequentialist moral philosophy, perhaps invoking Jeremy
       Bentham’s question, “Can they suffer?” (Dawkins, p.335)

   Dawkins considers that religious opponents of abortion
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