05 / 06
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The Rise of Antinatalism

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, I think we can probably ignore this as just a very depressing view of life from some people who just really need some help. Except that it really seems to be growing as a movement, what we are going to be talking about. The Guardian and others are reporting on the rise of antinatalism.[1] You can see from the title there what that is, and that is we need to quit having children because we are polluting the planet. Earth needs to return back to its pristine condition of not having people on it because we've messed it up (the antinatalist). According to the article,

Adherents view life not as a gift and a miracle, but a harm and an imposition. And their notion that having children may be a bad idea seems to be gaining mainstream popularity.

Then they talk about Raphael Samuel who has kind of coined the phrase “antinatalist.” He believes it's wrong to bring new people into the world without their consent. That's kind of hard, right there, to do!

DR. CRAIG: Which would mean that it is always wrong to procreate on this view. Parents have an ethical obligation not to have children. So this is a much more radical view than the view that the world is such a terrible place we shouldn't have kids and bring them into this world because they might suffer and things of that sort of practical concern. This is a weird ethical argument that to bring another person into being without his consent is immoral. It is an unethical act to make another person exist who didn't ask to be created. So parents who have children are behaving unethically.

KEVIN HARRIS: It does get stranger. He's got a following. He's kind of the guru of this. He's 27 years old, and he was going to sue his parents for begetting him.

“It was not our decision to be born,” he told the BBC. “Human existence is totally pointless.”

DR. CRAIG: Now there we see the atheistic underpinnings of antinatalism, don't we? I've argued extensively that if God does not exist then life is indeed absurd, without ultimate meaning, value, or purpose. These antinatalists, I think, presuppose the truth of atheism and therefore think that life is utterly pointless, and that it's therefore immoral to impose such a pointless existence upon another creature.

KEVIN HARRIS: Like you said (first of all, they've got YouTube videos everywhere), he says,

life, even under the best of circumstances, is not a gift or a miracle, but rather a harm and an imposition. According to this logic, the question of whether to have a child is not just a personal choice but an ethical one – and the correct answer is always no.

DR. CRAIG: Think what that would imply. That would imply that the human race ought to go extinct in one generation – that no one should procreate. No one should have children. Therefore the current generation of children is the last that will ever exist. The human race should go extinct in one generation.

KEVIN HARRIS: This isn't just in the UK and, as we'll see here in a minute, South Africa, but in Dallas. “The Friendly Antinatalist” has a YouTube video congratulating Samuel. She said, “We all owe you a round of applause . . . It feels like we’ve arrived. It feels like the big time!” In other words this view – this antinatalistic view. Obviously, one of the reasons this is probably going mainstream is it's in the context of what everybody's upset about these days: global warming, climate change, protesting.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and some of them do seem to have of an antinatalism that is born out of not ethical concerns but rather these practical concerns – that the planet is warming, the future is bleak, there are probably thousands of terrified children who think that their generation is the last because of climate change. So some of these antinatalists are arguing that it's wrong to bring kids into a world like that. I remember when Jan and I were a young married couple trying to decide whether to have children or not. One had to address that issue – is this a world in which we want to bring children? And we said, “Yes, it is. That would be fine.” Things are not so dire that you couldn't have children.

KEVIN HARRIS: I wonder if every generation has kind of asked that question.

DR. CRAIG: I'm sure that's true. You always ask yourself whether or not this is really a wise thing to do. Surely most reflective parents ask themselves that question.


What is similar about both anti-natalists and climate activists is they are seeing an increase in attention due to general pessimism about the state of the world, giving both more opportunities to gain support.

In 2006, the South African philosopher David Benatar published a book which is widely credited with introducing the term anti-natalism. In Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, Benatar quotes the Greek tragedian Sophocles (“Never to have been born is best / But if we must see the light, the next best / Is quickly returning whence we came”)

DR. CRAIG: It is such a dark view of life because it draws out the logical consequences of atheism, and in one sense what we ought to say to these people is, “Yes, given your worldview, given the denial of the existence of God, the world is a very bleak place.” And invite them to think again about whether or not maybe God really does exist and life does have meaning and purpose and value.

KEVIN HARRIS: This article mentions next another strain of this thought that I remember when I was a little kid. When I was a little kid everybody was talking about population growth.


KEVIN HARRIS: That was 1968, 1969.

DR. CRAIG: Right! “Population bomb.”

KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah. That was a strain of it. All the ecological crises that was going on there – quit having kids. This goes further. Benatar is discouraging reproduction and these guys are saying don't have children. The strain that I hear as well is because we need to turn the world back into its beautiful pristine place. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Now, what's incoherent about it is that who's going to be there to see how wonderful it is? You can't observe the wonder of it. You can't enjoy what you've accomplished.

DR. CRAIG: Right!

KEVIN HARRIS: All that is going to be left are some cockroaches and lizards, and you're sacrificing your humanity and the human race so that they can scurry around.

DR. CRAIG: They haven't weighed, I think, properly in their minds the great goods that would be given up in the human race going extinct such as aesthetic and cultural and moral achievements. The world has far more goods in it than it does evil, otherwise everyone would commit suicide. But they don't. People generally think life is worth living and when things are going rough they hope for the future that things will improve. So on balance there's much more good in life than bad, and they would rob us of all of that by saying that we should all go extinct, and there goes all of the art, all of the music, the dance, all of these cultural achievements. It all goes out the window.

KEVIN HARRIS: This really made me chuckle on page two, half way down. The author of this article interviewed Benatar who wrote this book and said,

Benatar told me recently that he has heard from many readers of his book who “have often felt that they were alone in the world. It was a great comfort to them to read a philosophical defense of a view they found intuitively correct.”

In other words, they're finding other people and a community. Well, there must be something to having a community and being all together!

DR. CRAIG: Exactly what you want to do away with.

KEVIN HARRIS: Now let's get rid of each other!

DR. CRAIG: I’m not sure you made it clear to our readers, but these antinatalists think not only humans but that all sentient beings should go extinct – that there shouldn't be any giraffes or elephants or rhinoceroses or monkeys. All sentient life should go extinct. These people are really wacko.

KEVIN HARRIS: That's beyond even some of the stuff I heard. I heard that we need to go and let the animals rule again, or whatever, the plants. But this is really any sentient being.

Dana Wells, the Dallas-based YouTuber, felt validated by Benatar’s work. About five years ago, she reunited with her biological brother (she was adopted), and he grilled her about why she didn’t have children. Feeling annoyed after their meeting, she searched online for books . . .

And she came up with this child-free theory, this antinatalism.

She began “to see that this life game is an imposition”. For her, it was simple: “Living things can be harmed. Non-living things cannot be harmed.”

She's really a sad individual, it would seem to me.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, it is tragic when you really think about. Non-living beings, since there are no such beings, cannot experience goods either – they cannot experience love or relations. So she's willing to give up all of that. The funny thing is, and I want to make this clear, I don't think anyone is obligated to have children. If a couple chooses not to have children, that's their personal choice. I don't see why she has to justify her personal choice by turning it into an ideology which would impose that choice on everyone else and all of humanity.

KEVIN HARRIS: Some people try to make some theology out of this, don't they? That it's a mandate to procreate and have children.

DR. CRAIG: In general, I think that's true.

KEVIN HARRIS: You might get that from the creation mandate in Genesis, but New Testament teaching you're not really going to get that.

DR. CRAIG: Right. It's in Genesis that the man has been put on the Earth and commanded to be fruitful and multiply. But that's a general mandate. I don't think that means that every person has to carry out that mandate. I mean, our Lord was celibate and never married. The apostle Paul apparently never married. So I think whether one chooses to marry and have children is a personal choice.

KEVIN HARRIS: There seems to be three main groups here.

. . . anti-natalists (those who believe that creating new life is always wrong); the childfree (who don’t want kids themselves but don’t necessarily consider procreation unethical); and “denatalists” (who disapprove of procreation only under certain conditions such as people with genetic disabilities they will pass on to offspring, though this disapproval doesn’t usually transfer to racial or ethnic groups).

DR. CRAIG: That does raise the question of whether these denatalists are thinking of this simply in terms of a personal decision, for example, parents who know that they both have, say, recessive genes that would result in serious genetic illness for their child and so choose not to have children. Or are they imposing this upon people who have a probability of having a deformed child? In that case, this is eugenics. It's trying to manufacture a pure race by weeding out those who have these genetic impurities. In which case, I myself would have been weeded out and would not exist.

KEVIN HARRIS: There you go. One more quick thing. It gets pretty complicated here. She says that there's a rift between the vegan antinatalists and the non-vegan antinatalists. The non-vegan antinatalists want animals around because they need to eat them.

DR. CRAIG: Put them out of existence – eat them! End their misery.

KEVIN HARRIS: The vegan antinatalists want to keep the plants around, but why if you're not going to be there to eat them? It’s just really convoluted. They're really big about suffering and causing harm. They must be suffering people, perhaps. Because it says,

The challenge for anti-natalists – especially those who believe that not only humans but other species would be better off nonexistent – is how to achieve their goals without imposing additional suffering.

So euthanasia is out, and executing everybody's out, or setting off nuclear weapons is out, or starvation is out. How are we going to do this?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, if it is to be done humanely their only recourse would be persuasion. They need to have these movements such as they’re founding in order to persuade everyone not to have children. Otherwise, they're going to be robbing people of their personal liberties.

KEVIN HARRIS: They're getting into even the pop culture on the last page here.

the British singer-songwriter Blythe Pepino began organizing a group called BirthStrike, made up of about 600 people globally who refuse to have children as a result of the climate breakdown.

She does a lot of music, the whole thing. Then there's another group called,

Extinction Rebellion, which is protesting against the threatened extinction of millions of species, potentially including our own. By contrast, for true anti-natalists, extinction is the dream.

DR. CRAIG: Exactly. That's very strange – isn't it? – the inner contradictions.

KEVIN HARRIS: In conclusion today, perhaps this is a good opportunity for the Gospel among a growing movement of antinatalists. That life is worth living. Perhaps we can offer them some hope from a Christian view on who humans are and what humanity is all about and what community is all about and do away with all this sadness.

DR. CRAIG: Yes.[2]


[2]           Total Running Time: 17:34 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)