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May 2011

Regarding Mark Vernon's attack on Peter Singer's philosophy in the article here:

If a Christian wants to attack the advocacy of runaway natalism, how strange to pick on Peter Singer when the principle advocates of unchecked population growth represent religions such as Christianity.

They attribute their values to their idea of a god, but even if that god existed, it would not provide moral certainty. No matter how powerful it might be, that would not make its views right. It would be one more being with an opinion.

What would that opinion be worth to us? If a being had the power to end the suffering of the world, and chose not to, we would have every reason to think that its idea of morality had nothing to do with what we mean by that term. We people of good will, in a world with such a god, would be on our own in figuring out what is right or wrong -- just as we in fact are.

If we base our conclusions on concern for others' well-being, whether that leads to the strange conclusion that we should push the population to the maximum depends on how we reckon that concern. Vernon presumes we would add up the happiness of all persons, including hypothetical future persons, and supposes that this happiness is generally positive for each person. This proves we should use some other model for reckoning concern for others.

One other model is this: persons that really exist really deserve consideration, but hypothetical future persons only deserve consideration in the case that they come to exist. If they exist, it matters whether our actions help or hurt them. But if they never exist, that is neither good nor bad in itself.

Thus, it is wrong to injure a fetus so that it is born as a damaged person, but not wrong to abort the fetus and avoid producing a person, or to prevent its conception through birth control or celibacy. Likewise, there is no moral preference for increasing the population -- and increasing it to the point where it causes a disaster that makes a large fraction of the population suffer is clearly wrong.