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Monday, August 20, 2012

Responding to an Article About Pro-Life Atheists

There's an article I was recently made aware of about pro-life atheists using unsound science, written by Marco Rosaire Rossi. You may want to read it first or this article won't make much sense.

It's actually quite ironic. He accuses pro-life atheist groups of using bad science and fallacious logical reasoning when in fact his own article is rife with both. There's already been a great response by Secular Pro-Life responding to some of their claims written by my friend Kelsey Hazzard, so I'm going to approach this article from a different perspective. I'll just be responding to the article's errors in logic and science.

Marco starts off by insinuating that pro-life atheists might be an oxymoron, kind of like agnostics who support Intelligent Design or secularists who may support Sharia Law. But here's the rub: if you dismiss someone's beliefs simply on the ground that they're Christian (or religious), then you're committing a logical fallacy called the genetic fallacy. It's a great way to side-step the issue and avoid having to think too deeply about it, but it does nothing to refute the actual arguments made.

His contention that the pro-life position is really a "religious" belief and that atheists are just "religious people in disguise" is ludicrous. There are Christians (and people of other faiths) who are pro-choice. So obviously being religious does not automatically make you pro-life, nor is the pro-life position a religious belief. To say nothing of the fact that pro-life philosophers make secular arguments to support their position. Marco's claim that the pro-life position has become more secular to be relevant is equally ridiculous. Don Marquis, an atheist, made an argument for the pro-life position in 1989. Admittedly it was relatively rare for a philosopher to support the pro-life cause (as far as I know), still one of the few philosophers that was supporting it was an atheist. Christians do not have a monopoly on being pro-life.

Science supports the pro-life position. Embryologists (who are the experts on human embryos) consistently agree that human life begins at fertilization. Even pro-choice philosophers agree that human life begins at fertilization (such as Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, David Boonin, and David Benatar). It's simply not a tenable position to argue that human life begins at any other point.

We know they are alive because they grow and exhibit the other signs of life (such as metabolism, cell division, and response to stimuli). We know they are human beings because they have human DNA separate from the mother, and they are the product of human parents. Dogs have dogs, cats have cats, and humans have humans. Plus, they have different fingerprints, and often a different bloodtype than the mother. On top of that, a white embryo can be conceived and implanted into a black woman and still be born white. The unborn are living, whole, separate human organisms.

On top of that, basic human rights are tied in to our common human nature. The unborn are human from fertilization, so basic human rights (e.g. the right to life) should be established then. Marco tries to argue it is established at birth, but his arguments simply don't work, as I'll show momentarily.

Now here's where Marco's biggest blunder comes in. He says, and I quote, "Syllogisms, of course, are an important tool of deduction, but they are not foolproof. No syllogism can detect the defects of its own assumptions." This is just bad reasoning. The fact that no syllogism can detect the defects of its own assumptions is simply a bad objection to syllogisms. Math is not foolproof in exactly the same way. It's simply a strange requirement.

If a syllogism is logically valid, and its premises are true, then it is impossible for the conclusion to be false. Plain and simple. Deductive arguments do not make assumptions. In fact, in order to support the syllogism, you use arguments outside the syllogism to support each premise. If someone is making an assumption that is not supported by evidence, then you can reject it. But if a syllogism is supported by evidence then it succeeds.

Marco claims that persons are born, but this is a baseless assertion. Nothing more. The problem with this is that "person" has been used to discriminate against groups of humans in the past (for example, blacks and Jews have been considered non-humans by the United States and Nazis, respectfully -- they were not people in any meaningful sense of the term). The unborn are just the latest group of humans to be discriminated against by labeling them non-persons (that is, in the United States -- I know that abortion has been around for a long time). In fact, in the United States, prior to Roe v. Wade the unborn were, considered persons legally protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. [1] There's no reason not to assign "personhood" (if we must use the term) to all humans, born and unborn.

In fact, the unborn are still considered persons in the United States. When Scott Petersen killed his pregnant wife he was charged with two counts of murder, one for Lacy and one for their unborn child. Additionally, in the Roe v. Wade decision Judge Blackmun did indicate that the government has an interest in protecting the unborn from viability, so states are allowed to pass laws restricting abortions past the viability stage. [2]

Marco does argue that birth is when we suddenly gain rights but his reasoning is bad. I'll quote him again for his argument: "Rights only exist within the context of a community where they have the potential to be realized and the possibility of being threatened. Birth is our universal entrance into any community. It is the point at which we are able to break away -- literally -- from the absolute dependency of our mothers. The fact of the matter is birth transforms us. It simultaneously makes us into individuals and members of a group and thus embeds in us rights-bearing protections."

I'll start by saying that birth does not transform us. There's nothing "mystical" or transformative about birth that changes our nature or value in any way. I flew to Italy a few years ago, but that journey did not change who I am. Neither does an eight-inch journey down the birth canal change who the unborn is -- she merely passes from the fetus stage of human development to the newborn stage. For this very reason (that there is no morally relevant difference between a fetus and newborn), some philosophers like Michael Tooley and Peter Singer support infanticide.

If rights only exist within the context of a community, then every time I return to my apartment I lose my basic human rights. It would be morally justifiable to kill me at home for any reason you want. It's not until I leave my apartment through my doorway that I re-enter the community and suddenly regain rights. This is obviously absurd reasoning.

On top of that, embryos and fetuses are not potential humans. They are potential toddlers, but actual humans. Toddlers are potential adults. Marco's reasoning would support infanticide because infants have not yet realized their potential to become teenagers or adults. Marco's argument about the possibility of being threatened is equally bizarre. While in utero, the unborn have the threat of abortion or miscarriage. All the unborn need to survive is adequate nutrition, the proper environment, and a lack of fatal threats. That's all any of us need to survive.

Marco also mentions individuality. It should be mentioned that the unborn is an individual entity in the womb (she is not part of the mother's body, though she is connected to it). But if individuality means separated, then what of the mother who gives birth to her child but leaves the umbilical cord connected for an hour afterward to ensure the child receives all the nutrients? Marco would have to support killing that born child just because she has still not individuated from the mother yet.

None of Marco's reasons support his contention, so we can reject it. And in case you think together they make a cumulative case, several bad arguments does not a good argument make. Suppose you come across a burning building and see a bucket with holes in it. Obviously using the leaky bucket to carry water to the burning house won’t work. What if you see five other buckets with holes in it? Will putting all six buckets with holes in them together work to carry water to the house? Obviously not.

Marco goes on to claim that our comparing fetuses to other marginalized groups (e.g. blacks, Jews, etc.) is wrong because of the difference between them and fetuses -- namely, they are autonomous beings whereas fetuses are not. I've already pointed out Marco's severe flaw in his reasoning, but this is still irrelevant. Blacks were marginalized because they weren't white -- is this really any worse than marginalizing a group of humans because they aren't independent entities? People like Marco are simply exchanging one form of discrimination for another and like white slaveowners before him, is using a particular quality that is different from his own to do it.

Next, Marco goes on about other matters, namely the link between abortion and breast cancer, post-abortion stress, ultrasounds, and fetal pain. Kelsey has already responded to these claims so I won't take the time to do so. I would urge you to read her comments on these. Marco's comments are simply red herrings. Abortion is not wrong because of a possible link with breast cancer, because women may develop psychological problems, because of ultrasound laws, or because the fetus may feel pain. Abortion is wrong because it unjustly takes the life of an intrinsically valuable human being. Of course I believe that women are valuable and they should be safe and protected just like anyone else. All surgeries come with some element of risk, but the riskiness of abortion is not what makes it wrong.

As you can see, the pro-life position is scientifically and philosophically stable. It's pro-choice advocates who must do the work in showing us why abortion is acceptable. No one has been able to do it yet and Marco is no exception.

[1] Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2007), p.22.
[2] Roe v. Wade, 410, U.S.164-165.

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