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Friday, April 4, 2014

Matt Dillahunty

So it seems that Matt Dillahunty is spreading some untruths about my recent debate with him. Here is a link to the Facebook thread he posted regarding his interactions with Secular Pro-Life, and my interaction with him. I don't think my Christian friends will be very surprised, as he does this kind of thing all the time. But I think non-religious pro-life people are starting to get a taste of what Dillahunty is really like. Also, this will probably be my only message on the issue, even if he or one of his supporters responds.

I want to make something clear. I never indicated that I am a representative of SPL. I am a supporter of theirs, but as I am an Evangelical Christian and they are a secular organization, I do not represent them. I never indicated to Matt that I represent them. In fact, in my very first e-mail correspondence with his agent, I was very clear that I am not a member, though I am a regular contributor to their blog. His agent responded and told me that Matt was interested in debating. Now, I was trying to get a debate going in person. I live in California but have some contacts in Houston, Texas, who seemed genuinely interested (in fact, excited) to get a debate on abortion at their college. It never panned out, unfortunately, as I stopped getting a response. My friend, Melissa Pellew, who co-hosts Theology Matters with the Pellews with her husband, Devin, got wind of this and asked if I'd like to debate Matt on their podcast, as Matt has appeared before to debate God's existence. I said I would love to, and she got the ball rolling.

Matt said that I did better than Kristine, but that we have no actual case. That's funny (in an ironic way, not a humorous one), because I presented a case which Matt refused to respond to. Apparently "I don't like your argument" translates into "you have no argument." I even presented them in the form of a syllogism for him. And he most definitely did duck and dodge my arguments. Not only did he refuse to engage them in his rebuttal, when I pressed him on both personhood and birth control during my cross-examination time, he flat-out refused to respond to both questions/arguments. He never presented a case for why it doesn't matter -- his assertion was essentially that no one has the right to use another person's body against their will, but this is a conclusion. Matt didn't have an argument to support this conclusion, especially since I adequately responded to his bodily rights argument, and his much weaker argument that the man and woman have no part at all in pregnancy. So yes, he refused to engage my arguments while asserting that his own are sacrosanct. But again, no rights are absolute -- why would the right to bodily integrity be, especially if the man and woman willingly engaged in an act that leads to pregnancy? And I gave clear reasons why personhood matters -- bodily rights arguments are irrelevant if the unborn is not a person, and if the unborn is a person then that means that we have another human person in the equation whose rights have to be respected.

Dillahunty sarcastically inferred that he must be the world's greatest debater. The reality is I was simply being gracious to Matt. I was also being honest about my own performance. My weakest part was during cross-examination. Also, I was being sincere when I thanked Matt for making the time to debate this with me.

So Matt's rant about me making "excuses" is just unfounded. It's certainly not unprecedented to give reflections of your debate on your blog/podcast. Many debaters do that. I was doing it not only so that my supporters can understand what was going through my head at the time, but also to show that I know there are areas in which I need to improve. I'm not making excuses, just being honest about my own performance. But honesty seems to be a trait that is lost on Matt. He demands it of others but doesn't see the need for it, himself.

Matt referred to a comment in which I mentioned that sophisticated pro-choice philosophers argue from personhood, not bodily rights. This is a true statement: Philosophers like Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, Mary Anne Warren, etc., argue from personhood. That's where the debate lies. Judith Jarvis Thomson has even expressed doubt with the violinist thought experiment. One wonders if Matt has ever even read the original essay it appeared in, because Thomson recognizes that the violinist thought experiment only justifies abortion in the case of rape. She just tries to argue for abortion-on-demand from rape because she seems to think that if we allow abortion in the case of rape, it would be unfair to deny it to any other women because whether or not something is psychologically easier or more difficult should not affect the ethics of a situation. And Matt is clearly mistaken when he asserts that the bodily rights argument addresses personhood -- the bodily rights argument assumes personhood, it doesn't address it. I mentioned this to Matt and he denied this. So again, one wonders if he's ever even read the original essay.

One current philosopher who does try to save the bodily rights argument from the responsibility objection is David Boonin (which should be required reading for any pro-choice person who wants to educate themselves on the best pro-choice arguments), but his counterexample fails because it still takes into account that sex is an act that leads to pregnancy.

Bodily rights is not the premiere argument -- personhood is. I have intensively studied the abortion debate for four years now, and I'd put my knowledge of the debate up against Matt's any day of the week (in fact, I did). Matt just doesn't understand the current state of abortion argumentation.

I don't think Matt is being sincere when he says that the bodily rights includes personhood, or that he believes it does. He's unwilling to grant the personhood of the human embryo/fetus. This shows that he doesn't really believe this. But if it is, then that grants the unborn full personhood, including full rights like the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the right to their future, to bodily integrity, and to the resources of their parents. This means that as a full human child with full personhood status, the parents who are responsible for the child's existence and placement in a condition of neediness upon the mother grounds the obligation of the mother not to kill the child. For this reason Matt has refused to grant the personhood of the fetus. He's right that bodily rights arguments assume personhood, but he is being insincere because he's really not granting it.

Matt doesn't seem to understand the very concept of responsibility. He asserts that it's a contradiction to talk about responsibility while not holding to a rape exception. There is nothing obviously contradicting about this. In fact, I explained why in the debate, but again, he didn't seem to understand. Responsibility is a sufficient condition, not a necessary one. The man and woman's responsibility ground the wrongness of abortion (and why it should be illegal). Even if this condition is not met, abortions in the case of rape could be immoral, and possibly should be illegal, for other reasons. Matt seems incapable of nuanced thinking.

Returning to my baseball analogy, abortion is only an act of taking responsibility in the same way that smashing my neighbor's wall would be taking responsibility. It's really not. I can't smash his wall and say, "now your window's not a problem." I can't kill a child I conceived and pretend that I'm taking responsibility for my actions. Murdering a human child is never an act of responsibility, and this only goes to underscore my previous point about Matt's insincerity. He's obviously not treating the unborn as a full human person. His assertion that he is including it is only lip service to the concept of personhood.

Matt also doesn't have a very keen grasp of what rights are. I am not arguing for special personhood rights for the fetus -- I am asking for equal rights. Every one of us, you, me, Matt, members of SPL, all human beings began life the same way -- as a human zygote that developed into an embryo, a fetus, a newborn, an infant, etc. If you deny this, you are denying a basic point of embryology that even in 1933, Alan Guttmacher said was a fact "so simple and evident...that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn't part of the common knowledge" (Life in the Making, Garden City Publishing, NY, p. 3).

Matt, ironically, says that you can't do math and come out looking like you hold the moral high ground, but that's exactly what he was doing in his talk about abortion being safer than carrying a child to term (and as I said, it's only marginally safer -- a statistically negligent number). There is a real human person's life in the balance, and Matt would snuff it out because even in perfectly healthy pregnancies, a woman's body is so sacred that she can evict someone even if she must have that someone killed to do it. Again, Matt is not including the personhood of the fetus because surely a human being's life is of greater moral weight than another human being's temporary inconvenience.

I think Matt has it backward. I am perfectly familiar with logical arguments and how to construct them, as well as spotting logical fallacies (if we're going to go that road, Matt clearly doesn't understand what the naturalistic fallacy is, since he misused it in our debate -- I didn't feel it necessary to point this out, because it wasn't relevant to either of our cases).

Matt never constructed the argument in the form of a syllogism. Matt wasn't including personhood because one, he refused to engage with the personhood issue, and two, and I've shown three times now, Matt tacitly assumed the unborn was not a person in making his arguments. A fourth example is when he tried to modify the baseball analogy to breaking his own window, and I had to remind him that there is a second person in the issue.

Matt is clearly just being arrogant for no reason. I gave him clear syllogisms for my arguments, and he didn't engage with them. Matt didn't give me syllogisms at all and expected me just to know which premises would be in his syllogism if he had wanted to give me some. By now I'm going to sound like a broken record, but he clearly was not assuming (or including) personhood in his bodily rights arguments, even though I was the one who told him that he must agree the unborn is a person if he's going to go the bodily rights route.

Matt also assumes that all members (of which, remember, I told him I am not) believe that abortion is not permissible in the case of rape, but not every member of SPL believes this. Some believe that, because of the bodily rights argument, abortion is permissible in the case of rape. But of course, why actually get to know your ideological opponents when you can just demonize them? It's easier, though intellectually dishonest.

Here's number five: Matt asserts that in this debate we are increasing the harm of "thinking, breathing, conscious, productive women" in favor or "potential persons and persons-in-name-only." Again, Matt is not including personhood in this debate -- he is obviously not considering the unborn to be persons. Bodily rights assumes personhood of the unborn, it does not "include" it in the way Matt thinks it does.

Matt just doesn't understand the arguments I have presented to him, which is evident in his summation of my arguments in his status. I told him that the violinist thought experiment could never happen, yet pregnancy is a common occurrence, very common, one in which we all begin life. Our obligations may (in fact, are probably) different in the violinist scenario than they would be in pregnancy. But again, this ignores the most damning refutation of the violinist, that it is the woman's and man's responsibility that grounds their obligation not to kill the unborn. This does not account for rape (and again, I stated this is merely a sufficient condition, not a necessary one), but trying to argue for abortion-on-demand from the case of rape doesn't work.


  1. I listened to the debate and I agree with everything Matt Dillahunty has to say on any subject except abortion, I am a prolife Atheist, one of not many, but I think Clinton Wilcox did a great job and defended his position well, I was not swayed by Matt's position, although I undersand were he comes from on it, It was great to here a secular argument against abortion, I am not slightly interested in a religious argument for it, well done Clinton.

    1. Thanks for listening, Peter, and for giving your thoughts.