In this discussion, Alastair, Derek and I take up the interaction between cultural presuppositions and particular actions which might embed them.  While it starts from in-vitro fertilization, the conversation moves outward from there.

This is the bit from O’Donovan that started us off:

“It may, of course, be wondered whether such subtleties are beyond the understanding of most couples who participate in the IVF programme, and whether such a practice can only have the effect of enforcing the widespread view of procreation as a project of the will.

It may even be thought that the cultural influence of the practice is likely to be so bad that IVF should be discouraged for that reason alone. To such a suggestion perhaps we are in no position to put up a strong resistance. After all, the experience with contraception makes it highly plausible.  It is possible that a wise society would understand IVF as a temptation; it is possible that a strong-willed society would resolve to put such a temptation aside.

But this takes us beyond the scope of our fairy-tale, in which no cultural consequences need be feared. These cultural questions are different from the question of whether there is something intrinsically disorded about IVF. And to that question we have not found reason (speaking simply, of course, of IVF as practised by fairy-godmothers in fairy-tales) to return a negative answer.”

Jake Meador’s post on podcasting sermons also got a mention.

Note:  Sorry for the audio on Derek’s mic.  We’re diagnosing this problem and hoping to have it fixed up for next time.

The iTunes feed for Mere Fidelity is here if you’d like to subscribe (thanks to everyone who has reviewed us so kindly), and an RSS feed for the show lives here.

Special thanks to MK Creative Arts for the audio editing.

Finally, as always, follow Derek and Alastair for more tweet-sized thoughts.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. […] latest episode of the Mere Fidelity podcast has just gone online. This week Matt, Derek, and I discuss the final chapter of Oliver […]


  2. Alastair J Roberts September 4, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    I discussed birth control in detail in the comments of one of the previous podcasts.


  3. This was a really great discussion, guys. Alastair’s “can you find edible food within a bin?” question is especially great because (especially in the globalized economy) you can always find a morally suspect ancestry in any cultural practice or a morally suspect beneficiary of your money. If it could be done without falling into paralyzing anxiety, I wish we could turn this sort of rigorous moral analysis to more practices, especially the practices that suppose the preeminence of economic security and material comfort among Western Christians. Because while living a comfortable life ensconced in a racially homogeneous suburb is morally acceptable in some circumstances, it’s probably not supposed to be normative and reinforcing structural racism and classism that harm others…


    1. Appreciate your emphasis on the point made about the genealogical angle—quite a good series of arguments to mull over.


    2. “you can always find a morally suspect ancestry in any cultural practice or a morally suspect beneficiary of your money.”

      I’m not sure the geneology of a specific practice and the question of economics and entanglement are quite the same. But I’m still thinking through the question anyway, clearly.


      1. oh, I certainly don’t think they’re the same, either– just that being conscious of and careful about both is a challenge that requires thoughtful reflection because the aggregate decisions about them will pull quite a few of the unreflective along.


  4. Thank you for another thoughtful discussion.
    ‘…the question about whether there is something intrinsically disordered about IVF’…
    I have been pondering about IVF for several years and had more or less concluded that, if there is anything intrinsically disordered in it, then this disorder is rooted in human covetousness and an absence of gratitude for our God-given attributes and capacities. It seems to be rooted in a desire to impose our own will on God’s ‘natural order’ – an attempt at ‘playing God’.
    However, my thoughts about covetousness leave me with a bit of a conundrum when I apply them to other contexts. For instance, at a very mundane level, when I take a couple of paracetamol for a headache, am I not coveting relief from pain? When I have a tooth crowned I am coveting eating with more ease (and yes, I’m also motivated by vanity!) In order to justify my covetousness argument against IVF, do I need to stop taking painkillers and stop receiving dental treatment?
    Or am I going on a wild goose chase when I compare IVF with painkillers and dental treatment? I have a feeling that I am and that thoughts about IVF bring in a radically different dimension. I have an aversion to thinking of human organs and cells as discrete, transferable entities rather than as belonging to an integrated God-given whole. I have an aversion to human organs and cells being treated as though they were, for instance, car parts. I have an aversion to the idea of ‘playing God’ in the creation of new human lives and to the imposition of human will on God’s natural order. This aversion then leads me to questions about blood transfusions and organ transplants. I often get tied up in mental knots and then find myself thinking, for instance:
    ‘Oh, I’d be better off doing the washing up!’

    I still have more questions than answers.

    Thank you again for your thoughts and the questions you raised. I listened for thirty-three minutes without making a dash for the Fairy Liquid so you have really achieved a lot with this listener!


  5. Really appreciated this discussion. Thoughtful, nuanced, and diverse.

    One thing that I came away with is somewhat in the same vein of or in the same spirit that Derek seemed to end the podcast with. Namely, that we need have a more robust and durable ready defense for the sort of moral challenges that things IVF seem to represent; they can’t be culturally-dependent arguments that can easily be pushed aside as so much flimsy paper. Failure to develop effective, nuanced, rigorous thinking will result in the normalization of that which may have no ‘exceptional permissibility cases’ whatsoever. And this seems especially necessary in light of what things like IVF seem to represent—that we are only seeing now the tip of the emerging mass of moral challenges brought about by humanity’s desire to conquer the natural world/science/all things (whilst, as Lewis might observe, we are really conquering and destroying ourselves in the process.)



    1. Thanks, Mark. You’re absolutely right about the need to develop a more sophisticated account of these things. There’s lots and lots of work to be done in this area.


      1. Do you know of anyone doing good work in this area? Or at least suggestions for more work like O’Donovan’s? I’d be really interested in seeing what others have to say., but can’t think of anyone addressing these issues with rigor off the top of my head


  6. I’d also be really interested in bringing some of what Lewis had to say about these things in The Abolition of Man into the discussion; he seemed to have seen beyond his time for some of the issues that were talked about. (Which made reading it almost eery for me–lots of shivers down the spine).


  7. Love the discourse! Going forward I am hoping for better quality audio, especially from Derek!


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