Posted by: cochinblogger | February 9, 2010

The Beethoven Fallacy

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Versions of the Great Beethoven Fallacy are attributed to various Christian apologists, and the details vary. The following is the version favoured by Norman St John Stevas, a British Conservative Member of Parliament. One doctor to another:

“About the terminating of pregnancy, I want your opinion. The father was syphilitic. The mother tuberculous. Of the four children born, the first was blind, the second died, the third was deaf and dumb, the fourth was also tuberculous. What would you have done?”

“I would have terminated the pregnancy.”

“Then you would have murdered Beethoven.”

It is amazing how many people are bamboozled by this spectacularly stupid argument. Setting aside the simple falsehood that Ludwig van Beethoven was the fifth child in his family (he was actually the eldest), the falsehood that any of his siblings was born blind, deaf or dumb, and the falsehood that his father was syphilitic, we are left with the ‘logic’. As Peter Medawar, writing with his wife, Jean Medawar, said,

“The reasoning behind this odious little argument is breathtakingly fallacious . . . the world is no more likely to be deprived of a Beethoven by abortion than by chaste absence from intercourse.”

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I’ve received this Beethoven chain mail several times, and surprisingly, did not consider the anti-abortion angle at all. I think I was too stunned by the multiple serious afflictions of the family to think straight. Anyway, I’m glad to know that the afflictions are fictitious.

The next time someone sends me this story, I’m going shoot back with a link to Dawkin’s article.

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