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Peter Singer intends to provoke. So the controversial Princeton University bioethicist probably does not mind the dismay he causes Christians. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler calls him "one of the most reprehensible intellectual forces alive today." Mohler cites a few of Singer's most notorious low-lights. "He has advocated the morality of human infanticide, for the greater value of animal life over some human life, and for a radical vision of animal rights that is based in his purely evolutionary view of life."

But with one recently published opinion piece, Singer may have outdone himself. Writing June 6 for The New York Times, Singer asks a characteristically provocative question: "How good does life have to be, to make it reasonable to bring a child into the world?" He wonders whether even the comparatively high Western standard of living is suitable for a fulfilling time on earth. Singer asks this question at the prompting of South African philosopher David Benatar, author of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, which Singer describes as "a fine book with an arresting title." Singer summarizes Benatar's argument from the 2006 book.

"Benatar also argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are," Singer writes. "We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar's view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we ...

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June 2010

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