Logical fallacies of the anti-ABC crtics.
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ABC = Artificial Birth Control (emphasizing non-abortion means, here)
NFP = Natural Family Planning
The Fallacious Statements:
Š Contraception means preventing conception, and NFP is just as surely a contraceptive practice as ABC.
Š Couples using NFP have the same contraceptive intent as ABC users and the method they are using is supposedly just as effective as ABC.
Š Hence, it is fallacy of false definition, the NFP users insisting on their own narrow definition of contraception that includes everything except NFP.
Š NFP is natural only in the sense that it makes use of the woman's fertility cycle to determine times for procreative and non-procreative sex.
Š NFP is not natural in the sense that couples are not naturally drawn to abstain during fertile times of the month and have relations during the fertile time.
Š ABC is natural in the sense that we are using reason to intervene on the reproductive process to prevent conception. It could also be argued that it is natural when it makes use of hormones that are natural to a woman's bodyÑas in the birth control pill.
Š ABC is not natural in the sense that it does not make use of the fertility cycle and that some forms introduce chemicals and barriers that are not parts of the human reproductive anatomy and physiology.
Š Hence, we have another fallacy of false definition, with the term natural being abrogated for NFP and deliberately excluded from any understandings of ABC. The fallacy of conflicting conditions is also at work in this slogan, along with a mild ad hominem, which judgmentally suggests that ABC users are doing something un-natural.
Š The human fertility cycle exists, but primarily in the service of preparing the ovum for release and the uterus for a possible conception.
Š Periods of fertility and infertility exist during the fertility cycle.
Š Human beings can use this knowledge to regulate their sexual activity either in the interests of conceiving or avoiding conception.
Š This cycle wasn't even well understood until the 20th century.
Š Therefore, the conclusion that the woman's fertility cycle was ordained by God to provide a basis for regulating procreative and non-procreative activity is an interpretation of the meaning of the fertility cycle which does not follow from fact of the existence of the fertility cycle. To present this interpretation as a divinely ordained fact could be a fallacy of the style over substance kind.
Š It could also, of course, be an interpretation that is a matter of opinion—one which, in this case, cannot be clearly and unambiguously construed from Catholic teaching. When Church teaching is pointed to in the interest of supporting this position, we have a fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam (appeal to authority).
Š When NFP is used to prevent conception, the sex acts which the couples actually make use of are statistically unlikely to result in conception.
Š Couples using NFP to avoid conception are motivated to do so by a non-procreative intent.
Š In light of the above, it makes no more sense for couples using NFP to say that they are open to now life than for couples using ABC to do so.
Š Furthermore, the choice of contraceptive method does not predict whether couples will be accepting of a conception that might take place—i.e., couples using ABC are not necessarily more inclined to reject a conception than are couples using NFP.
Š Therefore, the point that NFP users are open to new life but ABC users are not cannot be established. This is a form of the fallacy of petitio principii (begging the question) because it assumes conclusions to be true from the premises implied in the statement without supporting evidence. It is also another mild form of an ad hominem fallacy in that it imputes a moralistic judgment against ABC users that cannot be established from the facts of their practice, and so the imputation of immoral motives is gratuitously supplied.
Š NFP users are indeed doing something to insure that the sex acts that they do make use of will be infertile. That is why they keep track of days, examine vaginal mucous and so forth—to obtain an accurate read on fertility so that they can avoid having sexual relations during the fertile time (unless they are trying to conceive, of course).
Š It is true that NFP does nothing to actively negate the fertility that might be present in a sex act. Neither are those who use the birth control pill, however.
Š Hence, NFP is just as surely in violation of Catholic teaching that “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment . . . to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.” (CCC #2370) as ABC is. NFP users are very much doing something “in anticipation of the conjugal act” to insure that those acts they make use of will not be fruitful.
Š Therefore, we have a fallacy of misrepresentation, in that NFP is presented as being moral because of actions (or lack thereof) and circumstances that do not really exist. Again, too, there is a kind of mild ad hominem in the implied characterization of ABC users as people who are about destroying fertility.
Š This point is usually made in reference to ABC users making use of pills, spermicides, and sterilization. These practices suggest an “attack” against fertility using the kinds of interventions used by the medical community in attacking disease—hence, it is implied that ABC users view fertility as disease.
Š But one must ask why NFP users and their practices of counting days, checking vaginal mucous, temperature, and so forth, aren't equally guilty of viewing fertility as an adversary to be overcome?
Š One must also inquire whether the ABC practices per se really do imply the harsh motives ascribed to the practitioners. Does it really follow, for example, that a couple using a diaphragm with spermicides view their fertility as a disease? Why could they not be simply trying to prevent a conception—just as NFP users are doing in their practice?
Š Once again, then, we find a gratuitous judgmentalism at work (ad hominem), along with the fallacy of petitio principii (begging the question). It is assumed that the practices themselves prove the judgments implied, but this is not the case as the above points demonstrate. We also have a fallacy of false analogy, wherein just because ABC users are doing something similar to what people fighting illnesses are doing, it is assumed that they view fertility as illness.
Š Assuming the divorce rate statement is true (it probably is), then one must question how it relates to the conclusion drawn.
a. What would the divorce rate be for this same group if they used ABC? I.e., could it be that there is possibly some kind of a-priori disposition to commitment and fidelity that has nothing to do with NFP?
b. What is the divorce rate for ABC users who have patterns of Church attendance and spiritual practice similar to the NFP users in the group surveyed?
c. Might there not also be a negative association here—namely, that the NFP population uses NFP out of a scrupulous attitude, which would also negates them seeking divorce in an unhappy marriage?
Š This proposition, then, is a good example of a fallacy of false equivocation in that the two parts of the proposition are assumed to be causally related, but need not be so. It is also a hasty generalization, in that more statistical information regarding the morals and practices of NFP and ABC users is required to demonstrate that NFP use leads to a higher rate of marital commitment.
Š The assumption here is that one of the chief indications of moral behavior is that it calls for sacrifice and self-denial.
Š NFP is therefore considered a more morally commendable option because it calls for more sacrifice and self-denial than ABC.
Š One objection to be made from the standpoint of moral theology is that sacrifice and self-denial are not, in and of themselves, indicators of moral behavior. People exercise sacrifice and self-denial in pursuit of all kinds of goals that are not especially morally commendable—e.g., accumulating wealth. Behavior that is congruent with moral principles is a much better indicator of moral integrity.
Š Therefore, we see another example here of the fallacy of petitio principii (begging the question), wherein it is assumed that because NFP calls for more sacrifice and self-denial, it must be a more morally commendable practice because sacrifice and self-denial are presumed a priori to be proof of a higher moral standard.
Š It is true that Pope Paul VI mentioned developments concerning divorce, adultery and abortion that have come true. Many of these trends had been established before Humane vitae was published, however.
Š Although it may be true in some cases that there is a connection between the practice of ABC and some of these trends, it is often difficult to establish a causal connection between them. What seems likely is that they have all come from a more liberal moral perspective in society.
Š At any rate, it does not follow that the moral reasoning in Humane vitae must be correct because the predictions came to pass, only that the concerns expressed by the Pope came to pass. The moral reasoning which forbids non-abortive ABC while allowing NFP must stand on its own principles, and is not validated by pointing to predictions which have come true.
Š Therefore, the statement is an example of a post hoc fallacy: just because one thing comes after another, it doesn't that it what follows is caused by what comes before.
Š In some ways, the statement is also an example of the other causal fallacies mentioned on the web page linked to at top.
Š There are already teachings in the Catholic Church that address the issues of adultery, fornication, and homosexuality. Allowing ABC would not change or weaken those teachings in any way.
Š One can also use NFP to avoid pregnancy resulting from extra-marital sex.
Š This is a good example of a slippery slope fallacy, wherein unacceptable consequences attributed to accepting ABC when such need not be the case. It is a misuse of an if-then statement and is also an attempt to appeal to fear.
Š One must first ask the obvious question: namely, what are people using ABC doing needing abortions? If they are using ABC, they shouldn't be getting pregnant (or not very often, at least).
Š The assumption, here, is that abortion is a back up for ABC; statistical evidence to support this point is virtually impossible to find, however. One must also inquire why it isn't acknowledged that, for some, abortion could also be a back up for failed NFP.
Š Of course, one subtle assumption here seems to be that morally lax people use ABC and are therefore also inclined to have abortion while morally superior people use NFP and would never consider doing so. But most people who use ABC recognize the difference between preventing a conception and terminating a new human life. This subtle ad hominem fallacy needs to be noted.
Š We note the same post hoc fallacy from #9 along with other causal fallacies. In short, it does not follow that ABC use leads to abortion, but it may be that the increase in both comes from other causes.
Š It's possible that people are using ABC and avoiding NFP because they're unfamiliar with the Catholic teaching on birth control, or a wider context for understanding and appreciating it.
Š It's also possible that many have chose ABC because they have studied the teaching. Certainly, most theologians who are in dissent of the teaching have been properly catechized.
Š This might not be a fallacy so much as an opinion, but it is one that cannot easily be substantiated. At any rate, there is another subtle ad hominem at work in the implications that most ABC users are not properly catechized while NFP users are.
Š It simply doesn't follow that the condemnation of ABC and the endorsement of NFP by an authority lends any credence to the Church's teaching. For that to be the case, the authority would have to relate their endorsement to the Church's teaching and explain why they think it makes sense.
Š More than likely, this kind of point is usually an appeal to authority fallacy—i.e., that something must be true because an authority maintains that it is so.
Š But the teaching has changed during the past two thousand years. Where it was once held that procreation was the only legitimate basis for sex, now it is taught that both procreation and the bonding of the couple are important. It is also inconceivable that St. Augustine and other early teachers on sexual morality would have approved of NFP for it permits of non-procreative sex. They viewed sex as inherently sinful, only to be used with reluctance to bring children into the world.
Š It should also be noted again that we are in a new situation now. Effective contraceptives were not widely available until the 20th century. Also, some of the prohibitions against contraception from earlier times were addressed to practices that involved sorcery and occult incantations. Many of the prohibitions do not distinguish between abortion and contraception, as their biology did not conceive of the existence of gametes or the possibility that preventing a conception was not an abortive movement.
Š The statement that the Church has rejected ABC for 2,000 years is thus very poorly nuanced, at best, and totally incorrect in its conclusions. Even if the teaching hadn't changed at all during 2,000 years, it does not follow that it cannot be changed. Teachings on slavery and usury were changed after many hundreds of years and so could this one, especially since it is based on natural law, our understanding of which can change. This is thus an Appeal to Tradition fallacy, in that the argument from Tradition alone is incapable of supporting the statement.
Š This statement is so transparently judgmental that it constitutes a classic ad hominem fallacy. Enough said.
a. This point was made by Pope John Paul II in his 1980 encyclical, Familiaris Consortio. In this encyclical, the Pope is clearly saying that couples who use artificial contraception are incapable of giving themselves totally to one another, that they are guilty of a "falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love." A web page on the web site takes issue with the reasoning here, which we will recount below:
a. If the couple is using some sort of barrier form of contraception that prevents the semen from reaching the uterus, then this "blockage" of the semen could be construed as inhibiting total self-giving. Is that what the Pope means--that total self-giving is possible only if the semen is allow to reach the womb? This point is doubtful, for not only does it overly identify contraception with barrier methods, but also fails to consider that the semen does reach the womb in other, non-barrier methods.
b. If the Pope means that it is the non-procreative intent of the couple that constitutes the obstacle to total self-giving, then he must likewise condemn couples using rhythm and NFP to avoid conception, for they, too, are choosing to express their love in the context of a non-procreative intentionality that is "a positive refusal to be open to life," especially since NFP boasts of a 98% effectiveness rate in this regard.
c. One is also moved to ask whom the Pope consulted before making such a statement about contraception and the "falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love." How many married couples did he interview--especially couples using artificial contraception who give evidence to a healthy, growing relationship? Upon what basis can he say that contracepting couples are incapable of giving themselves totally to one another when their very experience belies his statement? As though to respond to the issue raised in b, the Pope approves of natural forms of contraception because "the couple respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality." Thus are they "acting as 'ministers' of God's plan and they 'benefit from' their sexuality according to the original dynamism of 'total' self-giving, without manipulation or alteration."
d. Bhat basis does the Pope have for saying that couples using artificial contraception disrespect the connection between the unitive and procreative aspects of sex? This is a judgment of couples' motives, and, as such, it is highly irresponsible and judgmental!
e. What is the basis for the Pope's view that couples using natural methods of contraception maintain a link between the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality? They suppress the unitive good of sex during the fertile period of the month when procreation is possible, and choose to have sex during the infertile period when it is not possible. Thus do they separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sex in their overall sexual relationship.
f. How can the Pope speak so confidently of natural methods of family planning reflecting "God's plan" when such methods have only come to light in the 20th Century?
Š It turns out that Pope John Paul II's approach to sex as a "language of love" contains the same inherently contradictory principles as Humanae Vitae. Indeed, it is naught but an attempt to present the traditional teaching using the highly personalist language of Gaudium et spes and some of the Pope's earlier writings. Despite the many good points in Familiaris Consortio, this part of the encyclical is unable to persuade reason in favor of the Pope's vision for married couples and their sexual relationship. It is based on a gratuitous assumption that is logically inconsistent and uninformed by the experiences of married couples.
What we see from the above are poorly reasoned positions which, taken as a whole, give evidence of a judgmentalism toward ABC users and an appeal to authority and emotion that fails to persuade reason. One is even moved to inquire if positions that are often so extreme and so transparently fallacious can make any claim to a connection with the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth. It's one thing to uphold the Church's teaching, and quite a commendable thing at that. But it's quite another to misrepresent the facts of the situation and to reason so poorly. Since many of the above positions seem to be promoted by teachers of NFP in diocesan programs, one must also inquire of the quality of catechesis that such teachers are receiving. Diocesan leaders take note!