New born babies – vj torley’s challenge

On Uncommon Descent vj torley has issued a challenge to 25 influential living atheists to answer five questions:

(a) Do you believe that a newborn baby is fully human? Yes/No

(b) Do you believe that a newborn baby is a person? Yes/No

(c) Do you believe that a newborn baby has a right to life? Yes/No

(d) Do you believe that every human person has a duty towards newborn babies, to refrain from killing them? Yes/No

(e) Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult? Yes/No

This is absurd.  It is most unlikely that any of these atheists  will ever hear about the challenge, much less respond.  However, as an extremely unfamous atheist I thought I would answer.

(a) Yes.

(b) Gray. I don’t think the concept of being a person means much – unless you go for Peter Singer’s rather arbitrary definition.

(c) Yes. Of course.

(d) Yes. Of course.

(e) Depends utterly on the situation.  Is the baby about to die anyway in the next few days?  Is the adult a saint or a devil?  A better question might be: If you had to choose between the death of a healthy new born baby and a healthy 20 year old adult and knew nothing else about them – which one would you select to live? A really awful decision,  I think I would toss a coin.

vj thinks that atheism naturally leads to answers:

(a) Yes.

(b) No

(c) No

(d) No

(e) No

But he doesn’t explain why.

Many atheists who might answer these questions are banned from UD. This perhaps provides a place for them to answer should they wish to.

(Looking at various comments on it seems other atheists respond much the same way).


17 Responses to “New born babies – vj torley’s challenge”

  1. 1 gpuccio January 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm


    I must say that I agree with your answers, including the last one, at least in the general form “Depends utterly on the situation”. So, maybe an atheist and a religious person (a concept which is rather a problem for me too, that of “person” I mean 🙂 ) can sometimes agree on some points.

    • 2 Mark Frank January 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm

      It is nice to agree on something.

      Do you also agree that only one or two at the most of these atheists are even going to know there was a challenge (I guess it might crop up on P.Z. Myers blog) – much less respond.

  2. 3 Joe G January 17, 2011 at 9:49 pm


    PZ Myer answered “No” to question 1…

    • 4 Neil Rickert January 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      PZ Myer answered “No” to question 1…

      I would also answer “No” to question 1.

      When it asks if a newborn is “fully human”, I don’t take that to be the same as “fully homo sapiens”. Certainly, I would say “yes” to “fully homo sapiens.” But I take “fully human” to imply that one has become part of the cooperative social culture, and a newborn is not yet ready for that.

      The trouble with these kinds of questions, is that comparing answers only makes sense if people agree on the meanings of the terms. However, terms such as “fully human” and “person” are far from unambiguous.

  3. 5 Mark Frank January 18, 2011 at 7:03 am

    I see that vj e-mailed the 25 atheists and got replies from three of them. All power to him. That at least means they get to hear about the challenge. One reply declined to answer the questions. The other two were broadly in line:

    yes, yes, yes, yes, yes


    yes, yes, yes, yes, no

    Really the response to the last question is the only interesting one. The first two are more questions about the definition of “human” and “person” than questions about morality or anything deeper. However, I think the last question not phrased concretely enough to be effective.

  4. 6 m January 18, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    a) Do you believe that a newborn baby is fully human? Yes

    (b) Do you believe that a newborn baby is a person? I don’t know if they are sentient.

    (c) Do you believe that a newborn baby has a right to life? Nobody has intrinsic right to life. We are just lucky that we are of a specific species and in a specific place and time in history where human rights are the norm. Other sentient and intelligent species are not so lucky. We kill them with abandon.

    (d) Do you believe that every human person has a duty towards newborn babies, to refrain from killing them? No. I would personally, but that is not a duty. Many people vote for politicians that deny healthcare and welfare for children because their parents have not made the best choices. These babies are just as dead as if we had killed them ourselves.

    (e) Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult? In my situation, yes. I’m pretty spoiled though. I have access to formula, plenty of food to make breastmilk and to feed any additional children I have, vaccines, a house, medical care, money, and other perks that others may lack. I’m also not hiding in an attic with a noisy newborn and other people. I’m also not in a culture that would stone me if I didn’t kill and stash the newborn somewhere.

    I’m going to add that these are the most self indulgent questions I have ever heard. It is obvious that the asker has no concept of human history. It is very easy to see the world colored through our specific situation, disregarding that for much of human history it was kill the newborn or your others would starve.

    I have known good people who have had abortions during wartime because their older children were starving to death. I can see how that could extend to infanticide.

  5. 7 Toronto January 18, 2011 at 5:55 pm


    Good reply!

    Mark, could you try to get vjtorley’s comment on this one?

  6. 9 Staceyjw aka escaped to mexico January 18, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    I’m not sure what he was getting at with this questionnaire. I’m an atheist but would think Yes is obviously the answer to all of them,unless you are using a different definition of person, as in, an individual that has their own thoughts and opinions. Of course babies don’t qualify as having their own thoughts and opinions, but I don’t see how this disqualifies them from being people. If you use kill in the usual way- murder- of course you don’t kill babies! If a baby is born with severe malformations not compatible with life, is it killing them to take them off life support? I would say no, this is different.

    but yeah, babies are humans and should be protected from wonton killing. Where atheists and fundies disagree is pre birth. Once the baby is born, I don’t think we have many differences.

  7. 10 steve_h January 18, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    a) Yes

    b) Yes, but not in quote the same sense that an adult is.

    c) Yes.

    d) Yes, mostly. (*)

    Should you also be prepared to go to any lengths to save the life of any child you can? There are lots of children who could be saved if you forgo every possible non-essential expenditure, hold back every tithe, move into cheaper accomodation and empty your bank accounts in the interests of helping new born babies stay alive. VJ have you done that? I know I haven’t.

    e) Yes, mostly. (*)

    (*) Here in the west in the 21st century, I would say “Yes, certainly”. In other, less comfortable times, a newborn may have been, to some extent, a liability – that’s unthinkable now, because there’s always someone else prepared and capable of fostering any child.

    On the other hand, an adult bent on harming me is more of a threat than any child.

    BTW, my own father made plans to kill me around the time of my birth and I’m grateful to him for that.

  8. 12 Larry Tanner February 1, 2011 at 3:27 am


    I’ve followed this discussion with interest. I recently had a post about some of Torley’s claims about atheists, materialism and the usefully vague term, metaphysics.

    Torley was kind enough to post a response, although I didn’t find it said much:



  9. 13 July 2, 2013 at 9:58 am

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    site needs far more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the advice!

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