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Friday, January 17, 2014

An Examination of "20 Arguments Against Abortion," Part I

So blogger Bob Seidensticker is at it again. This time, he has responded to 20 arguments against abortion and rebuts them. Many of the arguments he addresses are side issues and generally bad arguments, which I encourage pro-life people to avoid. A few of them are legitimately good arguments that Seidensticker misunderstands and misrepresents, then doesn't rebut appropriately. In other words, he attacks a strawman version of the arguments. And a few of the arguments he dismisses altogether by pointing to his Spectrum Argument, an argument that I have soundly refuted on this blog.

Seidensticker begins by giving a dubious statistic about the majority of Americans believing that Roe v. Wade should stay. This deserves further investigation, but I'm not interested in responding to that figure here. Regardless of whether or not the majority is on our side, that is irrelevant to the truth of pro-life arguments. So even assuming that figure is correct, it doesn't follow from that statistic that abortion should remain legal.

So let's look at Seidensticker's first five responses.

Argument #1: The Bible says that abortion is wrong.

This argument is simply misguided. First, our Constitution is not secular. It is based on Judeo-Christian values, and the majority of our Founding Fathers were mainly Christians. The First Amendment does not guarantee freedom from religion, only freedom of religion. And while we will make no laws promoting a particular religious faith, or requiring religious service or ritual, laws that line up with religious thought are not prohibited. After all, most of the world's main religious forbid theft and murder, and we still make those illegal. There is a strong, compelling secular case to be made for the pro-life position, so dismissing pro-life laws as religious is simply incorrect.

Seidensticker also picks and chooses what he wants to believe in order to argue his case. The reality is that the Bible, from cover to cover, is a pro-life book. God did not kill people without just cause. Aside from that, just because God has the authority to take life it does not follow from that fact that we are justified in taking life. I've responded to this misunderstanding of the passage in Numbers in the linked article.

Seidensticker assumes that certain passages indicate that the Bible doesn't consider children "persons" until they are a month old, based on the fact that Leviticus 27:6 says that children up to a month old "were not valued." But Seidensticker makes the common mistake of taking one verse out of context and misusing it to make a point. First, consider that different people were valued different ways, yet it doesn't follow that there were different degrees of personhood. Also, the firstborn could not be vowed because they belong to the Lord (Leviticus 27:26), so according to Seidensticker, the firstborn was never a person. Of course, if Seidensticker had read the entire passage in context he would have realized this. But what was being valued? It was the probable value of their future work, not their value as human beings. Finally, a reason why infants up to a month old were not valued in this way was because due to primitive technology and medicine, infants were not as likely to survive then as they are now. Once they survived the first month, then it would be likely that they could survive and contribute to the culture. You might as well argue that because the unborn are not counted in our census or that we start counting age from birth, that proves that the unborn are not valuable human beings. This is obviously bad reasoning, since these are simply cultural things, irrespective of their status as human beings. Plus, certain Asian cultures do, in fact, start counting age from approximate date of conception. This applies similarly to the second passage that Seidensticker mentions, Numbers 3:15-16.

Seidensticker finally quotes Pope Gregory XIII in the sixteenth century who apparently didn't believe the unborn are human before 40 days. Whether or not he believed this, Seidensticker has apparnetly ignored (or, more likely, is ignorant of) Catholic history opposing abortion at all stages. For example, this passage from The Didache (first or second century A.D.): "Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant." See this link for more quotes by early church fathers regarding abortion.

The fact that there were pro-choice Protestant denominations in 1978 is irrelevant. The Catholic church has been pro-life all along. Plus, even if they used to be pro-choice, that doesn't say anything about the truth value of pro-choice arguments. It's equally likely they had a change of heart because they realized what an atrocity abortion is.

Seidensticker "apologizes" for piling on, but he should really apologize for giving us a load of irrelevant arguments (and Biblical passages taken out of context) in order to make an argument. Not all Catholic priests are pedophiles. Even if they all were, that, again, is an ad hominem argument. Even if they are all pedophiles (which they're not, of course), that doesn't negate the truth value of their arguments against abortion.

Seidensticker's first rebuttal is less than satisfactory. Let's look at the next one.

Argument #2: Abortion tinkers with the natural order.

Seidensticker gives another misunderstanding of an argument. He is apparently responding to an argument from Natural Law. I'm not sure how a Natural Law argument against abortion would go (I know some pro-life advocates like Stephanie Gray argue that the unborn has a natural claim to his/her mother's womb, but I believe that's somewhat different). At any rate, Seidensticker's objections from medicine, vaccines, etc., are misguided objections to Natural Law. Natural Law theory considers what is required toward an entity's flourishing. If an entity is damaged in some way (say, they have reduced vision), then prescribing eyeglasses is not unnatural in the relevant sense since you are helping to restore vision that has been lost. You are restoring a lost function. For more on Natural Law and this objection, see this wonderful article by Ed Feser.

So if you are making an argument like Stephanie Gray, then the argument is very compelling and Seidensticker's response would be misguided. If you are arguing that pregnancy is natural, therefore women are obligated to be pregnant, then that would be an obviously fallacious argument.

Argument #3: Response to Seidensticker's Spectrum Argument.

This one isn't an argument so much as a response to Seidensticker's Spectrum Argument. Seidensticker's response here is based on a confusion of personhood. Personhood is not a property that comes in degrees, so one cannot be "more" or "less" of a person than anyone else. Even functionalists agree that you're either a person or you're not, they just believe you're not a person unless you can perform certain functions. So in his scenario of the head that is kept alive, no, the head would not be any less of a person than someone with arms and legs. Of course if their capacity for rationality has been irreversibly lost (such as in the case of a brain dead person), then they could rightly be considered no longer a person. But if their brain is kept intact so that they retain their rational nature, they would still be as much of a person as they were before.

Seidensticker's argument that the difference between newborns and adults is trivial compared to the difference between a newborn and a zygote is simply spurious, and denotes a lack of knowledge of human development and basic biology. There are worlds of differences between an adult and a newborn. An adult woman can get pregnant, newborn women can't. Adults can drive, vote, hold down jobs, exhibit higher levels of thinking, express themselves, and numerous other things that newborns can't. The Spectrum Argument is essentially just question-begging. There is no fundamental difference between a human zygote and a human newborn that would justify protecting one from death but not the other. See these links for an explanation as to why.

Argument #4: Imagine if you'd been aborted!

This is not a very good argument in the first place. I think Seidensticker is right, that he really wouldn't care if he had been aborted (of course, this response begs the question in favor of atheism, as if there is an afterlife you actually would know and probably care that you'd been aborted/killed). So I'll give Seidensticker this one, since the argument isn't worth defending.

Argument #5: Essentially, your life would be emptier if you don't have the child that you would have had.

This is, again, not an argument worth defending. However, I will say that Seidensticker, in this response as well as the last one, seems to misunderstand the concept of potentiality. Sperm and eggs are potential human beings (potential people) only in a passive sense, in the same sense that flour, sugar, and eggs are a potential cake. However, once the sperm and egg fuse, a new human being emerges (and embryologists, as well as even pro-choice philosophers, consistently agree that human life begins at fertilization). They are actual human beings, not potential ones. They do have potential in an active sense, because they have it in their programming to develop human parts and personal properties (like rationality, consciousness, etc.). One does not "cease to exist" once one develops abilities that is in one's programming to develop, so these active potentialities are identity-preserving properties. In other words, you were you when you were a zygote, and at all points in-between then and now (and on into the future).

That does it for Seidensticker's first five responses. In the next part, I'll look at his next five.

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