Yesterday, I posted a piece explaining the structure and possible counterarguments to a reductio ad absurdum. If you haven’t read that, you might want to go and read it. Now we deal with a claim where a reductio ad absurdum is an obvious argument against. The argument that we should skip vaccines if tested on a fetal call line due to that connection to abortion has absurd results if applied anywhere near consistently to the rest of life. It is also contrary to the magisterium, the tradition, and solid moral theology. Several, including myself, have pointed out issues with this claim using reductio ad absurdum.
A Summary of the Argument
The reductio ad absurdum argument against this claim is simple. If we should avoid immunization, an objectively good object of an act, over that remote of a connection, we would need to skip other good objects for similar or greater connections. This would result in absurdities that I doubt those proposing would agree to. Thus, those holding these principles should re-examine them. The fact that this argument results in absurd conclusions should lead those who have made or followed this argument to reconsider and likely drop this argument.
Reductio ad Absurdum: logical consequences of this action
Here is just a summary of the absurd conclusions you would have to accept to argue against vaccinating for this reason.
- In my first piece using this argument, after listing a dozen things far less remote than these vaccines, I stated, “This leaves us with two options: A. Realize that some very remote cooperation in evil is inevitable. Try to avoid it when I can but not worry much when I can’t. B. Go and become a subsistence farmer and hermit. Even contemplative religious communities, however, can’t check the sourcing of every product they use.”
- The same piece then asked if option B was even an option as it seems to match a condemned Jansenist position.
- This is obviously a reductio ad absurdum. I present the option being proposed as resulting in leaving modern society more than contemplatives and question how even that could be held given it seems to match a condemned proposition.
- Later I used similar arguments that are clearly follow the reductio ad absurdum argument structure in other pieces
- For example, I said: “378,000 people need to be vaccinated to provide the same cooperation as 1 cent spent on Chinese-made goods or 4931 people vaccinated to provide the same cooperation as 1 cent spent on Energizer.”
- The title of the most controversial piece is a reductio in itself: If Any Drug Tested on HEK-293 Is Immoral, Goodbye Modern Medicine
- I would add that, if this standard of a remote connection makes something immoral, every American who argues this principle on vaccines should renounce their US citizenship over slavery. The US was founded on the backs of millions of slaves: this is of a similar degree of remoteness and involves millions of people not 1 dead fetus as HEK293 does, so this has much more grounds than skipping the vaccine.
The Responses to this Reductio ad Absurdum
Yet, what have all the arguments against me been? Arguments around the edges. If you assume the plethora of articles were fully right claiming I overstated how many drugs were tested on HEK-293, what changes? Not much. Even if you are right that I might have gone too far in this one tiny area, you have not significantly affected the argument as it still has dozens of absurd conclusions.
Even if no other experiments on HEK-293 are morally relevant, the argument we should avoid these vaccines due to remote cooperation still ends in ridiculous conclusions. Where are you going to buy food? What country are you going to be a citizen of? What manufactured goods are you going to use? Etc. A consistent application of principles would still require those arguing against vaccines for this reason to leave modern society.
So, you want to tweet at me that I’m wrong. OK let’s see how many times that tweet contributes to abortion than my vaccine did. I have had the details of my math up for since March 2020 and it has not been challenged seriously by the orders of magnitude needed to show that vaccines are way worse than other remote connections. Let’s say your phone costs $300 dollars (this is a rather low-end phone for total cost to give you the benefit of the doubt) and let’s assume you use it 3 million times between social media, texts, video calls with grandma, games, etc. (again, I’m erring on the end that gives you the benefit of the doubt). So, each message is 1/100th of a cent of the use of the phone. If the whole phone is made in China, that tweet has the equivalent cooperation in abortion to about 3780 people getting vaccinated. But you didn’t just contribute to the Chinese forced abortion program. You also contributed to the Uighur genocide and to the political oppression in Hong Kong by using something made in China.
Now, not every phone is made in China, but I’ve not heard of any phone, tablet, or computer without at least 1% manufactured in China. But it is not just China, we need to look at the slave labor used in the rare earth metals. We need to look at how much pornography pushed forward many technologies your phone uses. We need to remember that Twitter does not ban pornography like some other social media. All of these connections are closer than the connection to abortion with most US COVID vaccines.
I can understand the simple people who see the evil of abortion and are told these vaccines are closely related to abortion so thus want to avoid it. But, I have trouble believing those trained in moral theology or Catholic philosophical ethics can honestly analyze the situation and come to the answer that these vaccines are immoral for this reason. I have to wonder if they reject vaccines for some other reason and use this as a front. This is all the more an issue for those with such training when don’t come even remotely close to being consistent, in making even half the effort to avoid things thousands of times more serious. This is at a level of background cooperation where we really can’t reasonably avoid.
As immunization is an objectively good act, it is moral even if it involves some super remote connection in evil. This remote connection is a minor part of the circumstances. The object, which in this case is immunization, is the primary determining factor in its ethics (cf. Veritatis Splendor 78).
One Poor Attempt at an Argument
The only argument that I have seen to attempt to address this is the claims by Fr. Chad Ripperger of continual theft. But he has five issues.
- First, he misidentifies the object of the act of vaccination. Identifying the object of the act is the most important step in the moral analysis of an act. Without it, other analysis often fails. In Veritatis Splendor 78, John Paul II said, “The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the ‘object’ rationally chosen by the deliberate will.”
- Second, he makes so many errors of fact about vaccination and fetal cell lines, so his further analysis is questionable. I can understand a minor error of fact here and there, but he repeatedly makes so many errors that he comes across as woefully uninformed.
- Third, his argument has multiple serious issues that I’ve pointed out before. Nobody has been able to defend his argument. I’ve spoken to multiple people with advanced degrees in Catholic theology and ethical philosphy who all find it quite deficient.
- Fourth, even if his argument of continual theft were true, that would not necessarily make vaccines tested on fetal cell lines immoral. The testing is still quite remote from the end user such that even if that test was more definitively immoral, it would require us to do a serious analysis of whether it is ethical, although would not definitively make it immoral.
- Finally, he fails to follow the guidance set out by Donum Veritatis (On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian) for theologians who come to conclusions at odds with the magisterium. Paragraph 29 asks him to “strive then to understand this teaching” through “an intense and patient reflection on his part” while being open to revise his position based on that study. In his discussion of the covid vaccines, Ripperger has multiple other errors (see 1 & 2) which tend to make it seem like he has not done this. The next paragraph says he should go to magisterial authorities to discuss his difficulties and not go to the mass media. But Ripperger has gone on podcasts. Further in this podcast, he went directly against paragraph 27: “The theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions.”
That is not a reliable guide.
Scruples from Misunderstanding
The other issue I’ve seen is people getting too scrupulous from this. The point here is to show how very remote connections to very evil things don’t ruin a moral act. The point is not to require you to leave society more than contemplatives or create scruples. I will again note that this is a condemned Jansenist position: “It is not licit to follow the [probable] opinion, even the most probable among the probable ones” (DH 2303) I struggle to see how that position of avoiding all remote connections to evil does not end up under that condemnation. Such scruples to be a faithful Catholic following super-rigorist moralism ends up not being faithful as the Church condemned super-rigorist moralism. (That is another reductio in the sense that following this position in attempted fidelity to the Church actually results in infidelity to the Church.)
Over the past year and a bit, I’ve made a whole series of articles pointing out how absurd the conclusions are for those claiming we should not vaccinate due to remote cooperation.
Even if you assume all those claiming I was wrong were correct, they have only eliminated a tiny fraction of the absurd conclusions. A reductio ad absurdum is not shown incorrect by attempting arguments around the edges: it needs a more central argument to disprove it. Arguing that tests on HEK-293 of this medicine aren’t as morally relevant as those on vaccines removes the tiniest portion of the absurd conclusions if true. But, it leaves so many other absurd conclusions. The absurd conclusions can be summarized: you need to leave society more than contemplatives. The ability or not to use X medication is such a small part of needing to leave society as to be almost irrelevant.
With over a year, I still have not heard any refutation of the main premise. The argument of accepting nothing with any astronomically remote connections to evil (like COVID vaccines) results in absurd conclusions. Hopefully, those who have followed this view in the past will reconsider a principle given the absurd conclusions it leads to.