The Philosophy of Death

Horrifyingly, some fifty-seven million babies were aborted in their mothers’ wombs since the passage of Roe v. Wade forty-four years ago. There’s much that can be said of abortion—the thinking that justifies it, how it has become a stock response among many, and the hardening of society’s collective conscience because of this.



A voice for pro-abortion policy has been Peter Singer, ironically enough a moral philosopher and ethicist who teaches at Princeton. Singer recently gathered his essays in a book, Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter. What matters for Singer is what he calls the real world and getting along in it without reference to God. That’s why his view of abortion is pretty much that of the pagan Greeks before Christ, who held that the life in a mother’s womb holds only potential, not real, value, since its value is to be determined by what he or she would have done in the civitas, among others, were this person brought into the world.

So, if the life is snuffed out before the potential is given a chance to be realized, no problem. Singer takes the same view in regard to euthanasia, only on the other side of life, at its close rather than its beginning. In that case, the potential has been realized and there’s nothing left going forward, or so it’s thought—as if there were no life lessons to pass on—and so to snuff out oneself is the only good and right thing to do.

Singer is interested in this world, and this world only, especially quality of life, as though that were the highest good, and as though we definitively know what this quality is. God teaches us, however, and amazingly, to give thanks for trials since these strengthen our faith and make us better people, both for ourselves and our neighbors (James 1:2–4). But that would assume that God, not a humanistically determined quality of life, is the highest good, and that man is made in God’s image, with a soul that can never die. Talk about potential.

This is a thought that’s reprehensible for Singer. In fact, in one of his essays, he writes that the notion of Adam’s disobedience to God and thus of introducing sin into the world is triply repellent, since it implies knowledge is bad, that disobeying God’s will is the greatest sin of all— which, of course, it is—and that sin is carried forward intergenerationally— which, of course, it is.

This is a high-handed humanism that came into vogue in the twentieth century from which we’re still tasting the bad fruit, though it’s not been as openly expressed before as this. It presumes there is no limit to man’s knowledge except that which he imposes on himself. It flaunts disobedience to God as a chimera, instead, lowering the standard to something we in our efforts can strive to attain. And it denies original sin, a mistake that reverberates into future generations who are taught to love themselves but live in a way that shows they are doing just the opposite.

The denial of the truth in Genesis has led to repeated treks down blind alleys and dead ends, causing confusion, misery, violence, and death. Man, under such counsel, professes himself to be wise only to show himself to be a fool. Singer is an advocate of animal rights, which initially launched his career. Cruelty to animals tells us something of a person’s character (Prov. 12:10). But what about murder of a baby in a mother’s womb? What does that tell us? It’s only unrealized potential, Singer would have us believe.

Singer is concerned with this world, the real one, he tells us, and we, as men of this world, should know our portion is in this life. To paraphrase Alvin Plantinga, this is like saying that all of reality is circumscribed by what I can see under a street light when it’s pitch dark outside. Better to listen to Psalm 49: “Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, both low and high . . . Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish” (vv. 1–2, 20).

Mr. Gerry Wisz and his wife, Betty, live in New Jersey and with their children are members of Preakness Valley URC in Wayne, NJ. Gerry has been a long-time contributor to Christian publications, including Christian Renewal and World Magazine, and is featured on Redeemer Broadcasting’s weekend show “Holding All Things Together.” He has also served as an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at