Information icon.svg Results for the 2023 RationalWiki Moderator Election have now been posted. Thank you for participating in this election, and congratulations to the winners!

Responding to Sam Burke's Argument That Christianity Entails Anti-Natalism

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Christ died for
our articles about

Icon christianity.svg
Devil's in the details

"Responding to Sam Burke's Argument that Christianity Entails Anti-Natalism"[1] is an entry written by Evan Minton on his blog Cerebral Faith and reposted on Frank Turek's website,[2] attempting to argue that the doctrine of Hell does not make procreation immoral.

The following is a side-by-side rebuttal.

In the comment section of one of the posts on the Cerebral Faith facebook page, Sam Burke commented "If I found out Christianity was true, I would do everything in my power to stop people from having kids so that more people don’t go to Hell. According to Matthew 7:13 only a few people will find the way to Heaven. Almost everyone who is born will end up being burned in eternal conscious pain for eternity according to the Bible. A trillion years and the person will not be a second closer to being out of Hell. Any parent who truly believes and understands this, and knows their kids will statistically probably end up in Hell and has kids anyway hates them. Having children violates “love your neighbor as yourself” on that viewpoint. If Hell, then Anti-Natalism.

And not to mention if the Age of Accountability is true we should conceive kids just for the sake of aborting them and therefore “populating Heaven.” And I am Pro-Life!! Or infants are damned unless they accept Jesus as their savior from the time they are born. Christianity is utterly hopeless, depressing, etc. No compassionate person could want Christianity and all that it entails to be true.”

Is this the case? If Christianity is true, does it entail that you should either abort your children or refrain from even having them? I’ve already dealt with the Age-Of-Accountability-Entails-That-Abortion-is-ok argument in this blog post here and in chapter 4 of my book A Hellacious Doctrine: A Biblical Defense Of The Doctrine Of Hell. So I won’t rehash those answers here. Rather, I’ll address the more modest argument that if Christianity is true, and if more people statistically end up in Hell instead of Heaven, then it’s basically our moral obligation to refrain from even conceiving!
Sam Burke neatly summarises an argument that has been put forward previously, multiple times, by authors such as Kenneth Einar Himma in his 2009 paper Birth as a Grave Misfortune. It is therefore somewhat misleading to refer to it as Sam Burke's argument.

Francois Tremblay paraphrased the argument thus: "If one is a Christian, believes in the existence of Hell, and that one cannot be guaranteed of not going to Hell (for even if one believes in Jesus today and believes that this is all one needs to do to go to Heaven, one can never be guaranteed that he will [remain] steadfast in that belief for the rest of his life), then it seems that the probability of any given new human life going to Hell is more than trivial. And now, for the kicker: since Hell is an eternal, that is to say infinite, punishment, and any proportion of an infinite term must necessarily be infinite as well, we must conclude that the Christian breeder who creates a new life is guilty of bringing about infinite suffering into the world!"[3]

The crux of the issue is that to conceive a child is, according to the doctrine of Hell, to put a new soul at considerable risk of infinite and eternal suffering, a risk that would not have existed but for the decision to procreate. It follows from the doctrine that the potential for suffering caused by the decision to procreate completely and utterly dwarfs all of the huge but finite amount of suffering humans have ever undergone on this planet. Preventing any further creation of such infinite risk must therefore be the Hell-believer's number one moral imperative, and given the stakes at hand, it should be taken much more seriously than anything else.

First, God Has Made Salvation Available to All, Anyone Damned Has Only Themselves to Blame[edit]

Jesus said that “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Everyone who believes in Him will not perish but whoever does not believe in Him is already condemned because he has not believed in God’s one and only son.”John 3:16-18 (emphasis mine).

God The Father gave up God the Son (i.e., Jesus) to die for the sins of the world! The Greek word translated “world” here is kosmos, and it is most often used to either describe all of humanity, the entire planet, or the entire physical universe. If you are a part of the world, then God loves you and became a man to atone for your sins. I’m a part of the world. You’re a part of the world. Adolf Hitler was a part of the world. Osama Bin Laden was a part of the world. The random person who drove by my house yesterday is a part of the world. Every human being is included in this passage. Moreover, whosoever out of the group that God loved (i.e., the world) who places their faith in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life. Jesus said that God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save the world through him.

Because “God so loved the world”, he therefore “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), and is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). As a result of this love and desire, He “gave his only begotten son” and by that is meant that Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:6, cf. 1 John 2:2, Hebrews 2:9).
This oft-quoted verse, dubbed by Martin Luther as "the gospel in miniature",[4] is followed by a juxtaposition of an arguably contradictory message for the Hell-believer: although God loves you, the consequence of not thinking the right way is consignment to a torture chamber for eternity.

God offers this salvation to all. We’re not able to accept it on our own (see John 6:44, John 6:65), so God sends His Holy Spirit to enable us and persuade us to receive His offer of salvation at the preaching of the gospel (Acts 16:14, John 12:32). This grace can be resisted (Acts 7:51), resulting in the persons[sic] own damnation if they continue to resist God’s grace until they die (John 3:36). The choice is up to you. Will you resist The Holy Spirit or will you yield to Him? God became incarnate, died on the cross to take the punishment we deserved and then rose from the dead. God sends grace to all people to draw them to salvation. Some choose to resist God’s grace and others choose not to. The ones who resist cannot indict either God or their parents for the choice they made. They have no one to blame but themselves. This is why it is often said that God doesn’t send people to Hell, but rather, people send themselves. No one who ends up in Hell has to be there. Their damnation could have been avoided.There are other competing religions with their own messages and sacred texts (such as the Quran, Torah, Book of Mormon, Vedic scriptures, etc.), many of which similarly promote themselves as the true path while implicitly or explicitly declaring the other religions to be false. More than one religion delivering such an ultimatum ("Will you resist X or will you yield to Him/Her/It?") results in a double-bind if choosing one means rejecting the other. There is no reason to expect a perfectly rational person to find the word of the Bible and Christianity more credible than that of any other religion or philosophy,[note 1] or to accuse anyone of "resisting" who, with the best information and faculties at their command, comes to a different conclusion.

Also, Minton's implicit assumption that genuine belief is a choice is questionable. Many ex-Christian atheists report that they did not simply choose to stop believing: they found themselves gradually becoming less convinced of God's existence,[5][6] during which time some may have gone through a truly angst-filled crisis of faith and prayed to God for support or guidance which was not forthcoming.
No matter whether a person abandons Christianity (or any other religion), or simply does not adopt it in the first place, the evolution of their worldview in many cases is, as a Psychology Today writer put it, "primarily the result of brain function combined with access to knowledge, information, and a social setting allowing disbelief. Given the right conditions, the result will be an individual who does not accept supernatural explanations."[7][note 2]
Granted, there is a grain of truth in the idea that belief has an indirect voluntary element, in that one can choose to expose oneself to information and environments that may influence one's worldview.[note 3] But not subscribing to or not feeling convinced by one particular religion out of many, or not taking its written text at face value, can in no way be equated to actively and deliberately "resisting the Holy Spirit" or "sending (oneself) into Hell" — in the same way that Christians are not typically held to be actively "resisting" each and every one of the 2000+ gods they don't believe in (Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, etc.).

In any case, no amount of speculation about the psychology, free-will, and responsibility of the offspring changes the basic fact that but for the parents' decision to procreate, the risk of Hell would never have existed in the first place, which would seem to be more than enough to establish the parents' culpability.

Secondly, He Is Assuming That Parents Have No More Say in The Eternal Destiny of their Children Than Birthing Them.[edit]

Sam Burke is assuming that parents have no more say in the eternal destiny of their children than merely birthing them and letting them decide for themselves. However, Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”It is Minton, not Burke, who is making the unwarranted assumption about the power of parents to shape their children's destiny here, denying the fact that the children will have minds of their own, have experiences and make discoveries in the world that the parents did not, and, in all probability, live on for several more decades after the parents have died. All these factors will afford countless opportunities for the children to develop ways of thinking that might well be completely different from that of their parents. The number of ex-Christian atheists who grew up in strictly evangelical and/or fundamentalist homes is testament to this fact.[note 4]

It is generally true that if you raise your child right, he’ll grow up right. Theologically, one should expose their children to sound doctrine at a young age, and teach them apologetics from a young age. You can start with having them read books like “The Case For Christ For Kids” by Lee Strobel, “The Case For Faith For Kids” by Lee Strobel, “The Mystery Of The Picture: Where Did The Universe Come From? Did It Come From Nothing?” by Mary Katherine Mammen and Neil Mammen, and “The Awesome Book Of Bible Answers For Kids” by Josh McDowell and Kevin Johnson. When they enter high school, you can move them on to more advanced material like the regular “The Case For Christ” by Lee Strobel, “My Redeemer Lives: Evidence For The Resurrection Of Jesus” by Evan Minton, and others. See my blog post “Teach Your Children Apologetics” for a larger list.Keeping in mind that an eternity of suffering in Hell is infinitely bad, procreation would only be morally acceptable if the new child's risk of such a fate was zero. Therefore, the assurance that "It is generally true that if you raise your child right, he'll grow up right" is simply not good enough. Even if it were true 99.99% of the time, this would still be inadequate to justify procreation, because even one soul going to Hell would amount to an infinity of suffering. Hell-believers who procreate have a responsibility to their children not just to minimize, but to completely and utterly eliminate, the risk of Hell for them — and this level of certainty cannot be achieved through any amount of education, indoctrination, Christian literature, or apologetics. The only reliable safeguard is not to procreate in the first place. The Hell-believer who wishes to have a child might consider adopting a child who has already been brought into existence, meaning that the damage (i.e. the creation of infinite risk) has already been done.

While your kids should look at the evidence for Christianity’s truth, you should be a well-informed Christian and be able [to answer] their questions as well. As J. Warner Wallace once said, you are the first apologist your child will ever be exposed to. I think fewer young people would leave the church if we were prepared to make a reasonable case for Christianity instead of emphasizing feeling based experiences, and (this especially goes for youth pastors) entertainment. When I become a father, I will ensure that if my child grows up and apostatizes, it won’t be for intellectual reasons (John 3:19-20).Here Minton acknowledges that significant numbers of young people leave the church. But, once again, he sidesteps the issue: if the doctrine of eternal Hell were true, then even one young person leaving the church would be a sign that the person's parents acted immorally in bringing him/her into the world and into the risk of eternal torture. Also, what is the alternative to "intellectual reasons" here? The most plausible answer would be somehow growing to consider Christianity repugnant, which is most likely to happen through observing Christians behaving like assholes and/or taking their faith insanely seriously.

The answer to the problem of your offspring going to Hell isn't to refrain from having them, but to make sure that they know the Living God.Why? As stated before, the former is 100% guaranteed to safeguard them from Hell; the latter is not. Many who at one time "know" the Living God come to the realization later on that they "know" something different instead.

Thirdly, While Jesus Said More Would Be In Hell Than Heaven, He Never Gave Exact Numbers[edit]

You have no idea the ratio of damned to saved and neither do I. It's difficult to read Matthew 7:13-14 and not get the idea that Jesus said there would be more damned than saved. However, Jesus didn’t give an exact ratio. For example, Jesus never said that for every 1 person who is saved, 100 are lost. For all we know, for every 1 saved, only 2 or 3 are lost. You can’t calculate the probability that your offspring will, by the end of his life, have spurned The Holy Spirit. We’re not in a position to tally the exact number of saved to lost. All Jesus said is that many would enter the death gate and few would enter the life gate. That’s not exactly what I’d call mathematical precision.You do not have to know the exact ratio to know that >50% is a completely unacceptable risk. If you were on board a plane with more than a 50% chance of crashing, would you be calmed by the fact that you didn't have any "mathematical precision" regarding the exact probability? Even this analogy is very generous to the Hell-believer, because the cost of failure is simply death, not eternal suffering.

Revelation 7:9 observes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Millions and millions of people will be in Heaven from all over the world.The number of people in Heaven has no bearing on the question of subjecting a new soul to the risk of eternal torment in Hell.

Finally, Annihilationism Is an Option[edit]

Burke’s criticism presupposes a very specific view of Hell; the Eternal Conscious Torment view. However, what if Annihilationism is true? Annihilationism is the view that the damned do not, in fact, suffer eternal conscious torment. Rather, on some forms of annihilationism, they suffer for a little while [and] are eventually annihilated, or they [are] annihilated immediately upon being judged by God. Thus, annihilationism is absolutely no different than Atheism and Deism concerning the afterlife. The only difference is that Atheists and Deists believe that everyone is annihilated, whereas the Christian annihilationist only believes some are.
Since I do not adhere to annihilationism, I have tried to respond to Burke’s argument while presupposing ECT. However, in the case that Burke or others find my response unsatisfying, I would advise them to look into the case for annihilationism. I don’t want Burke or others to reject Christianity on the basis of a secondary doctrine that I could be wrong about. If I did that, I'd be no different than Christians who require people to give up assent to Darwinian Evolution. If I’m wrong and annihilationism is true, then it has even less force than it would on ECT.
Minton is correct on this point: the "if Hell then antinatalism" argument obviously does not apply to any religious people who do not subscribe to the doctrine of eternal Hell.

Final observations[edit]

In defending an extreme doctrine that involves the concept of infinity while denying and side-stepping the logical implications of that doctrine for the Hell-believer, Minton is trying to have his cake and eat it too. The combination of his first and second arguments here amounts to the Hell-believing parent saying to their child: "Yes, in bringing you into the world I created the infinite risk that you might suffer for ever and ever, but I think I've made it up to you adequately by doing my best to minimise that risk that I created. It doesn't matter that I was the one who set you up to fail in the first place; if you fail it's entirely your own fault." The position that belief or disbelief is entirely a choice flies in the face of the real-life situations and psychology of those who de-convert due to no longer feeling convinced by the tenets of or evidence for Christianity — often not through their own choice, but through a complex plethora of information, experiences, and other factors that lead them to have a change of heart.

All this aside, the arguments presented by Minton here do not change the fact that, based on a belief in Hell, to procreate is to create the risk of infinite suffering for a new soul. Because anything infinite necessarily dwarfs anything finite, the moral imperative on the shoulders of anyone who truly believes in eternal Hell is to practice and promote antinatalism — even, if possible, to the extent of attempting to bring about the end of all procreation on earth so that the human race dies out, if this will save even one future person (let alone thousands, millions or billions) from incurring the risk of eternal suffering.

See also[edit]


  1. Admittedly, this does assume that this hypothetical rational person (who is sufficiently mentally-developed to be rational, so children do not count) approaches each religion as a blank slate, which can only be the case if they are raised by open-minded agnostics; most people end up being predisposed to a certain religion by being raised among people who already subscribe to it, thus making that one religion the "default" choice that is assumed to be true or false. Thus, while (most) Americans and Europeans are likely to either treat some form of Christianity as the "true religion" or regard all religions as a lie questionable mental construct due to being raised as Christians, the same can be said of other religions for people who are born and raised in countries and communities where those religions are dominant — Islam in most of the Middle East, Judaism in Israel, Hinduism in India, Shinto or Buddhism in Japan, Juche in North Korea, and so on and so forth.[citation needed] Oh, and when we say "open-minded agnostics", we mean open-minded agnostics (or atheists). That means people whose agnostic/atheistic stance primarily stems from skepticism ("I have found no convincing evidence supporting any religion") rather than disdain ("every religious person I've met or heard of is an asshole"), with no strong opinions for or against any religion. Thus, antitheists don't count as open-minded for this thought exercise about producing a blank-slate rational person, as antitheists would likely predispose their offspring to reject all religions entirely without even considering any moral or explanatory merits that any religion might have. In this sense, antitheists are just as irrational as fundamentalists, as they believe that they can definitively answer questions about the value of religion without any regard to facts; they have simply arrived at the opposite answer. (Also, asking any religion to actually explain anything about the material universe in a way that science can't is an impossible task and a violation of NOMA, so "explanatory merits" in this sense simply means answering questions like "What is the meaning of life?", "What happens to me after I die?", or "Will I ever see my dead loved ones again?".)
  2. Furthermore, as previously stated, given a separate set of conditions and ingrained assumptions, the result will be an individual who does accept supernatural explanations, though which supernatural explanations are accepted is largely dependent on what the person has been taught to believe.[citation needed]
  3. Choosing not to be exposed is possible, but, to put it bluntly, rather difficult.
  4. In many cases, children of evangelists/fundamentalists will end up becoming atheists precisely because their parents were strict and controlling to the point of being (borderline) abusive (not to mention being excruciatingly bigoted and overall unpleasant), creating a powerful incentive for the children to virulently reject and oppose everything their parents stood for.[8] Children who are raised by more reasonable Christian parents who emphasize the loving, warm aspects of God's stated personality and Christianity's lessons on compassion,Wikipedia empathy,Wikipedia and charity, as well as encouraging them to form their own relationship with God, think for themselves, and not regard faith as some twisted zero-sum game where one either follows their religion's holy book and dogma perfectly or is a filthy infidelic hypocritical hell-bound sinner (and yes, we do have to be vague on that last one, as there are thousands of Christian sects, each of which has their own interpretation of the Bible and various extra-biblical codes), are more likely to stay Christian throughout their lives, at least in the cultural sense, or at the very least not regard God and Christians with hostility.[citation needed]