Freakonomist Wonders Who Buys the Atheist Books

Steven Levitt, the co-author of the (wonderfully entertaining and informative) book Freakonomics, writes on the Freakonomics Blog:

I’m not religious. I don’t think much about God, except when I am in a pinch and need some special favors. I have no particular reason to think he’ll deliver, but I sometimes take a shot anyway. Other than that, I’m just not that interested in God. I’m definitely not interested enough to go out and buy books explaining to me why I shouldn’t believe in God, even when they are written by people like Dennett and Dawkins, whom I greatly admire. If I were religious, I think it would be even more likely that I would go out of my way to avoid books telling me that my faith was misplaced.

So who is making these anti-God books best-sellers? Do the people who despise the notion of God have an insatiable demand for books that remind them of why? Are there that many people out there who haven’t made up their mind on the subject and are open to persuasion?

Let me put the argument another way: I understand why books attacking liberals sell. It is because many conservatives hate liberals. Books attacking conservatives sell for the same reason. But no one writes books saying that bird watching is a waste of time, because people who aren’t bird watchers probably agree, but don’t want to spend $20 in order to read about it. Since very few people (at least in my crowd) actively dislike God, I’m surprised that anti-God books are not received with the same yawn that anti-bird watcher books would be.

Personally, I read the books to see what arguments the authors are using and to get information to use for when I “debate” religious people. They also helps me think more clearly about ideas that I may have already had in my head, though in a slightly disorganized way.

Religious people may read the books to find out what the “atheists are saying” so they can try to rebut the arguments.

There is also more to the books than just: “Atheism is right. Religion is wrong.” You learn about several other issues (like Morality, histories of other religions, etc.) and find out many not-so-well-known statistics.

I presume there are also many people who are neither conservative Christians or dyed-in-the-wool atheists who just find the arguments in the books intellectually stimulating.

And Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have their own fan bases who read anything they write.

(One more thing to point out to Levitt: The atheist books are not automatically “anti-God” books. Hitchens’ book, maybe. But it’s hard to be “against” something you don’t believe in.)

Levitt also mentions one book I’m looking forward to reading: Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up by John Allen Paulos. It comes out the day after Christmas.


[tags]atheist, atheism, Steven Levitt, Freakonomics, God, religion, Christian, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up, John Allen Paulos[/tags]

  • TXatheist

    Dawkins and Harris are experts in their fields, science. That’s why I like it. I also like to support good causes and people that educate the public like Hitchens, Harris, Mehta, and Dawkins have earned my support.

  • Marc Loyer

    When the bird watchers start affecting elections, the non-bird watchers will get interested.

  • Vincent

    I find his comments offensive.
    He describes atheists in two ways:

    people who despise the notion of God

    and people who

    actively dislike God

    I suppose such people exist, but I haven’t actually met any.
    I think some atheists read the books because for many of us we feel alone and it’s a way of connecting with someone else out there.
    For others, it’s as you say, to get backing for the coming debates.

    His analogy to bird watching is terrible. Bird-watchers don’t go up to non-bird-watchers constantly and tell them they will suffer eternal torment because they don’t maintain a life-list. Nor do they constantly try to convince non-birders that bird-watching is necessary to being a decent human being. Nor is television, literature and theater constantly filled with messages about how bird-watching will bring you happiness. Nor do birders attempt to get tax money to fund the installation of spotting scopes in court houses or to require public school students to read Peterson’s Guide to the Birds.
    It’s not as though we can just ignore religion. It’s constantly being pushed on us and costing us money, and in some cases atheists are victims of violence because of it.

    p.s. I wouldn’t have a problem with students had to read Peterson’s Guide.

  • Karen

    My guess is that people are curious about these books because atheism is only just beginning to be regarded as a viable choice for many people who – prior to 9/11 and the ascendancy of the religious right – might have described themselves like Leavitt does: Non-religious.

    People like him who don’t think about god much might be starting to think, “Gee. What am I anyway? Am I an agnostic, an atheist – or what?” They buy the books to figure out what atheism really is, and whether they agree with it or not.

    I think this is a very good sign. Atheism is just barely gaining enough acceptance that the average Joe might be comfortable checking it out. In the past, atheism was seen solely as the territory of Communists and scientists and oddball, egghead intellectual-types. Now we’re going mainstream, baby! :-)

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    Other than that, I’m just not that interested in economics. I’m definitely not interested enough to go out and buy books explaining to me why economics is interesting and not dull at all, even when they are written by people like Levitt and Dubner, whom I greatly admire. If I were an economist, I think it would be even more unlikely that I would go out of my way to read books telling me that my vocation was interesting.

    Kidding on the square, here.

    But the point I’m making is that any idea one holds, if it is to be held to for any good reason at all, can benefit from careful examination and the possible illumination by interesting thinkers, such as Dawkins and Dennett.

    I would also, very simply like to point out to Levitt that he and I live in a world where religious believers are fervent enough in their beliefs to cause indiscriminate mass murder… and meanwhile the believers call him and I and other nonbelievers blind, willful, rebellious or insane?

    How long must we suffer a world where daring to question is called insane, and true insanity is revered as faith?

    And hey, maybe people SHOULD be writing books about it. It’s the gigantic elephant in the room… The less proof or evidence a religion has, the more likely they believe they’re right. And it’s not any kind of human sense of the word “right” they operate by. Instead, they act as if they are gods themselves, passing often deadly judgement on all who believe differently.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    Vincent,

    When the bird watchers start flying planes into buildings, Levitt’s analogy will be apt, and not a minute before.

    Interesting he picks such a dubious analogy… what could be less threatening than bird watching? Nothing.

    It’s as if he’s blind to current events… absolutely and completely blind to current events. Or puposefully choosing an innocuous pastime.

  • http://www.lifewithoutfaith.com/ Richard

    Well, I can tell you that I read the books and they changed me.

    I am a former fundamentalist minister and Dawkins book in particular, helped me finally admit that I was an atheist. It was a very scary experience, but each following book helped me solidify my beliefs and gave me the courage to come out of the closet.

    Richard
    http://www.lifewithoutfaith.com/

  • Matt

    I’m a Evangelical seminary student, and I think that reading these books should be a requirement for everyone here – mainly to find out what atheists are saying. That’s one of the reasons I liked “I Sold My Soul…” so much.

    I think that both sides can work towards a common understanding (granted, the Christian wing is probably going to be the harder side to move), and it’s only by reading the literature of the ‘other side’ that we can take those steps to understanding each other. That’s why I’ve taken the time to read these books very carefully, and I’ve certainly tried to engage the ideas present.

  • Polly

    By all rights, the question about the existence of god, ought to be confined to philosophy departments. It’s the religious zealots who force otherwise uninterested parties to engage in ideological battle. They are hardly comparable to bird-watchers.

    Must be nice wherever the hell Levitt is living. Too bad it ain’t on Earth.

    Vincent said:

    p.s. I wouldn’t have a problem with students had to read Peterson’s Guide.

    Gasp!, You’re one of Them! Infidel, astronomy is the only divinely sanctioned pass-time. If you’re not looking at the stars, then you’re just blind! Off with your head…where are my sharpened setting-circles.

  • Aj

    They’re not anti-god books, accept for “God is not Great”. Levitt’s blog post is anchored in ignorance. I was planning on reading his book, but now I don’t think I will… and since he’s in the business of giving opinion on books he knows nothing about, Freakonomics sucks ass. If only religion was like bird watching.

    He seems to work on the assumption that god exists, and that anyone questioning irrational beliefs is “rocking the boat”. I dislike these people much more than the brainwashed and fearful that go to church.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    I also like to support good causes and people that educate the public like Hitchens,

    Dance, Hitchens, Dance.

  • alfred

    I buy these books because religious fundamentalists have infiltrated all aspects of government and our lives.

    Thus, I should definitely understand proper techniques at countering faith based initiatives.

  • Vincent

    Gasp!, You’re one of Them! Infidel, astronomy is the only divinely sanctioned pass-time. If you’re not looking at the stars, then you’re just blind! Off with your head…where are my sharpened setting-circles.

    Puritan!
    Can’t you see both bird-watching and astronomy are not only not mutually exclusive, they are beneficial to each other.
    You can’t see birds at night and you can’t see stars (well, 1) in the day but you can use your telescope for both!
    Come brother, can’t you see that all of us use the same glass lenses?

  • Polly

    Ah, I see. You’re an Emergent, Ecumenical bird-watcher.
    I guess as long as we’re all looking at something that’s the important thing. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Just that we KEEP looking.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com/ ollie

    Yeah, the above posters got it right. If theists weren’t pushing their beliefs on the rest of us, if they weren’t trying to ruin science, outlaw abortion, and cut funding for stem cell research, then I doubt if those books would have made as much of a splash.

  • SteveC

    Would Steven Levitt be so disinterested in religion and God if everyone in his family believed, and further, believed he was destined for eternal torment in hell, and regularly reminded him of this? And if almost everyone he knew, save a couple friends, was pretty much the same way?

    That’s how it is down here in Texas.

    You want a wife or a girlfriend? Better be way above average in looks and personality to attract that one atheist girl the 50 atheist guys are after (supposing you are lucky enough to bump into and identify her as such) or else be prepared to put up with a lifetime of duplicity pretending your religious wife’s idiotic beliefs aren’t actually idiotic.

    Steven Levitt is the opposite of insightful here.

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  • Tim

    Yeah, the above posters got it right. If theists weren’t pushing their beliefs on the rest of us, if they weren’t trying to ruin science, outlaw abortion, and cut funding for stem cell research, then I doubt if those books would have made as much of a splash.

    …..why are they against stem cell research again? I seriously don’t know. I thought it was because stem cells supposedly came from aborted babies, but my mother’s a nurse and she tells me you can get stem cells from the umbilical cords, too….so that kinda rules that out.

  • Maria

    I presume there are also many people who are neither conservative Christians or dyed-in-the-wool atheists who just find the arguments in the books intellectually stimulating.

    Yup! That’s me! You just described why I read them in a nutshell. I like to hear what both sides are saying. And I do admit, after years of hearing all about why Christianity and religion is so great, it is interesting and refreshing to hear a different view. And what’s nice about that view is nobody’s telling me I HAVE to agree with all of it. It’s actually up to me for a change……

    I suppose such people exist, but I haven’t actually met any.

    I have. they definitely exist. go to any so called “teenage atheist” blog and you’ll see them. There are several on the Rational Response Squad’s website too (people who blog there). I will say most adult atheists I’ve met have NOT been like that at all. I think many of the teenagers see if as a way of rebelling, especially those from fundamentalist backgrounds.

    Yeah, the above posters got it right. If theists weren’t pushing their beliefs on the rest of us, if they weren’t trying to ruin science, outlaw abortion, and cut funding for stem cell research, then I doubt if those books would have made as much of a splash.

    I totally agree.

    …..why are they against stem cell research again? I seriously don’t know. I thought it was because stem cells supposedly came from aborted babies, but my mother’s a nurse and she tells me you can get stem cells from the umbilical cords, too….so that kinda rules that out.

    Yes you can, and from skin cells too. it’s why the whole debate is ridiculous. Sam Harris makes that argument real well in “Letter to a Christian Nation”.

  • http://www.lifewithoutfaith.com/ Richard

    …..why are they against stem cell research again?

    The main source of stem cells is the blastocyst, which is a three day old embryo. It only contains about 150 cells. This is much less than the skin cells you destroy every time you scratch an itch. It contains no circulatory system, no nervous systems, no respiratory system, no heart, and no brain.

    Those who oppose stem cell research, feel that life begins at conception. This would make the above described is alive. Needless to say, there is NO scientific evidence that backs this up. Therefore the argument is only a religious one.

    To make it just a little worse, most stem cells could be taken from one of the thousands of embryos that are destroyed every day at fertility clinics.

    Richard
    http://lifewithoutfaith.com

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Boy, what a dolt. Has he even read any of the books he’s talking about?

    There are so many reasons people read these books other than to just read the writing of people they agree with (or to find out about the controversy). Just speaking for myself: Reading “The God Delusion” wasn’t a conformist experience of reading about why God doesn’t exist. It was a politically radicalizing experience of reading about how powerful the arguments against God are… and how important the problem of religion is… and why it’s necessary to speak out about it.

    Plus everything everyone else here has said. The books do change minds; they convince people on the fence to come over, and convince people in the closet to come out. And they make a lot of people feel less alone. Besides, it’s not like atheist writers are all in lockstep. A lot of them — us — have differences and disagreements that we’re hashing out in print.

    And I say yet again: What a dolt.

  • Polly

    I don’t want to get bogged down into yet another debate about abortion.
    Let me just say this. I’m an atheist and I believe life starts at conception. Obviously, my reasons are not theologically based, ie the purported existence of a “soul.”
    I am not the only one. There are many (albeit still a minority) and there is a body of literature on the subject excl. religion (so I hear. my opinions are based on my own thinking and listening to both sides). I think IIDB has forum on it. It’s a valid focus of ethical debate and declaring your position to be the final word simply because theists can’t argue coherently against it is presumptuous.
    I humbly suggest to anyone, atheist or theist, who thinks all atheists are in agreement on this issue that you do some research into the differences in opinion among atheists; not just at conception but throughout gestation.

  • http://www.lifewithoutfaith.com/ Richard

    I humbly suggest to anyone, atheist or theist, who thinks all atheists are in agreement on this issue that you do some research into the differences in opinion among atheists; not just at conception but throughout gestation.

    I’m sorry, but I have done very extensive research. Your argument would make sense if it was about third or forth month of gestation, but not for a blastocyst. What scientific evidence do you have that this is anything but potential life?

    As I said earlier:

    …the blastocyst, which is a three day old embryo. It only contains about 150 cells. This is much less than the skin cells you destroy every time you scratch an itch. It contains no circulatory system, no nervous systems, no respiratory system, no heart, and no brain.

    Where is the life? How would you define life? Without a brain or heart, how could it feel anything? Much less a conscience?

    It is no more then potential life. No different than skin cells.

    Richard
    http://www.lifewithoutfaith.com/

  • Richard Wade

    Interesting he picks such a dubious analogy… what could be less threatening than bird watching? Nothing.

    Swainson’s Warbler: “Oh, hell, there’s a couple of those creepy two-leggers again.”

    Eastern Meadowlark: “What’s wrong with them?”

    Swainson’s Warbler: “They keep watching us. It’s creepy. They sneak up on us but they don’t do the usual like throwing rocks or using those noisy sticks, they just watch. For some reason I feel threatened.”

    Eastern Meadowlark: “That is weird, now that you mention it. Look, one is waving to the other and pointing at us.”

    Swainson’s Warbler: “Watch, when they put those big black round things up to their faces you can see their eyes really big!”

    Eastern Meadowlark: “Ewwww! This is freaking me out. I’m outa here.” (flies off)

    Swainson’s Warbler: “I’m sick of this. I’m gonna crap right down that big black thing on your face, weirdo!” (flies off)

  • Polly

    Richard:
    I don’t doubt that your view on abortion is based on research.

    You quoted me and yet you didn’t read very carefully. I’ll repeat: do some research into the differences in opinion among atheists;. In other words don’t assume all secular minds agree with abortion. Here’s a site reference indicating my point:
    http://www.godlessprolifers.org/home.html

    I, too, have done my reseach and reached a different conclusion. As I also said in my post above, I have no desire to start yet another abortion debate. In my experience it goes on forever and no one changes their mind.

  • http://grooveadam.blogspot.com Adam

    You should address Dawkins-haters and the negative book reviews.

    I get a lot of comments from chiding moderates, agnostics, and other people who don’t like outspoken atheism.

    http://grooveadam.blogspot.com/2007/08/weeds-in-garden-religious-apologists.html

  • Aj

    It’s not about the ethics of abortion, it’s about the godsquad banning it on faith and theology. Sure, some atheists are going to be against it, but it’s going to be extremely easy to dispatch of them in reasoned debate. The public gives authority to theology and faith on some matters, which creates an unfair battle ground. That’s the objection, that’s what we have to change.

    I’m not so sure these anti-abortion atheists have researched the issue, at least in regards to reading secular philosophers of ethics. The label they give themselves betrays this. I have yet to meet anyone who can rationally explain what they mean by “life” that doesn’t make their argument inconsistant and absurd. How many of them use “person” like we all understand the concept?

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  • Polly

    @Aj:
    Are you saying with a straight face that there really is no room for rational debate with your position? Are you serious? You just called a whole lot of people, including me, ignorant with absolutely no evidence whatsoever of their backgrounds or the research they’ve done. The only ones I know who are that confident of their position are religious fundamentalists.

  • http://www.lifewithoutfaith.com/ Richard

    Very well said AJ.

    Polly, I don’t assume that all non-believers feel the same way. And again, we are not talking about a fetus. We are talking about a blastocyst (which is not yet a fetus).

    Putting all this aside, again I ask, what is wrong with scientists using stem cells from embryos that are destroyed everyday?

    Richard
    http://lifewithoutfaith.com

  • Polly

    Can’t you predict my answer? You may as well ask me why we don’t perform experiments on prison inmates that are on death row.
    If life begins at conception, then any time after fertilization, it’s experimentation on human life. And I believe we must abhor that forever- think Dr. Mengele. Humans are not a means to an end, not even for the end of other humans.
    There is a difference between a human “person” and human life. I agree with you that a blastocyst in not a “person”… yet.
    But, it’s in process. Here’s another angle: At 6 months or even full-term, how much of a “person” is a fetus? We regularly euthenize, or just kill, animals with greater self-awareness than that. The reason we don’t kill baby humans after the 2nd trimester has to do with the life being perceived as a member of our species at that point rather than its sentience.
    I would argue that with 46 chromosomes and mitosis in full gear, a blastocyst is human. Can anyone tell me what species it is if not human? The only ontological boundary you are using is time. This is not nearly good enough a reason to stop a human lifeform from developing into personhood.

    What’s wrong with umbilical stem cells?

    How sure are we about the limits of adult stem cells which have already been used to treat a whole range of diseases?
    Have embryonic stem cells been effective in treating or curing any disease yet? The lines have been available for almost a decade. Is there anything on the horizon? All I hear is potential. But, it’s also potentially worthless. Meanwhile, adult stem cell therapy is relatively routine, and has been for decades.

    I’m glad you recognize not all unvelievers share the same view. Does this mean you’ve changed your mind about your previous post?

    Those who oppose stem cell research, feel that life begins at conception. This would make the above described is alive. Needless to say, there is NO scientific evidence that backs this up. Therefore the argument is only a religious one.

  • Aj

    Are you saying with a straight face that there really is no room for rational debate with your position?

    No. I’m pretty sure I said the opposite. There’s plenty of room for rational debate, I just have never seen anything rational coming from your position, religious or not in its content.

    The only ones I know who are that confident of their position are religious fundamentalists.

    You might want to start talking to people other than religious fundamentalists and relativists.

    If life begins at conception, then any time after fertilization, it’s experimentation on human life.

    You don’t even know what you mean when you say life. Are you willing to defend your speciesism, your apparant value put on “human life”? Then perhaps you can get around to explaining what you actually mean by human and life.

    I would argue that with 46 chromosomes and mitosis in full gear, a blastocyst is human.

    Some people have one extra or less chromosomes, are they human? Is a Hydatidiform mole a human? What of intelligent forms of life that are not human?

    All I hear is potential. But, it’s also potentially worthless.

    You don’t use that reasoning for research that you don’t have problems with, and that’s because it’s nonsense. How much research is done on a different basis than this research?

  • ash

    what i find fascinating here is that the abortion issue has once again been brought up by, and is being discussed by, men. whilst i’m not denying anyone’s right to an opinion, until men develop incubation-like facilities, (and possibly become the dominant care providers with breast milk capabilities) i won’t be convinced that any such opinion should be regarded as authoritative by any woman.

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  • Polly

    What of intelligent forms of life that are not human?

    If we are ever contacted by alien intelligence or, indeed, if sentient machines ever develop, I agree that the standard should expand to include them. And, naturally, the “46 chromosomes” phrase is shorthand for all human varieties.

    Since there is no chance that that mole will survive, it’s a moot point. I don’t advocate trying to prevent the 15-30% of miscarriages, either.

    Other research doesn’t involve the destruction of human life. I am not pretending to be unbiased. But, I think I have a very good reason to be biased.
    Medical technology would advance much faster if we experimented on humans instead of taking the necessary steps to avoid such a thing. I oppose it for the same reason you (probably) oppose experimenting on fully developed humans.

    Does any of this count as rational according to you?

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    I would argue that with 46 chromosomes and mitosis in full gear, a blastocyst is human. Can anyone tell me what species it is if not human?

    So a Hydatidiform molar pregnancy is a human?

    No, it’s not. Despite having 46 human chromosomes and mitosis in full gear.

    Your question of “what species is it” is a specious question, as the question of species isn’t sufficient to tell us if its a living human being or not.

    Some people do not have 46 chromosomes, for example. They are nonetheless human.

    A placenta has 46 human chromosomes, and mitosis in full gear. But IT is not a human being.

    I am not saying that a fertilized blastocyst IS a human being or ISN’T. That’s really far off topic and really probably should be argued elsewhere. I have no desire to engage in that argument.

    All I’m pointing out to you is that your question “Can anyone tell me what species it is if not human?” is specious.

    You’re playing fast and loose and conflating two different uses of the word “human”. One is the question “what species does this cell belong to?”. The other is “is this a living human being?” Those are two different propositions that you merge together as one, to fit your conclusion that all cells with human DNA are human beings.

    From my examples above, I have shown that is not the case.

  • Aj

    If we are ever contacted by alien intelligence or, indeed, if sentient machines ever develop, I agree that the standard should expand to include them. And, naturally, the “46 chromosomes” phrase is shorthand for all human varieties.

    You didn’t attempt to defend your stance on this, because you’re obviously using different criteria to accept the right to life of sentient beings. “Human varieties”, I sincerely doubt even you know what you mean.

    Since there is no chance that that mole will survive

    It’s not going to have kids, but not survive, what does that mean?

    Other research doesn’t involve the destruction of human life. I am not pretending to be unbiased. But, I think I have a very good reason to be biased.

    Well, when you’re ready to express the very good reason, I’m sure there will be people that want to hear it. Intentional logical fallacies are not welcome, biased or not.

    Medical technology would advance much faster if we experimented on humans instead of taking the necessary steps to avoid such a thing. I oppose it for the same reason you (probably) oppose experimenting on fully developed humans.

    So now you’re using human to mean person. You think that embryos are conscious, sentient, and have an ability to suffer the same as a fully developed human? And you said you researched this…

    Does any of this count as rational according to you?

    I’m seeing no difference between your arguments and theists on this subject. Replacing “soul” with “life” is something they do too.

  • Polly

    @Siamang:

    You’re playing fast and loose and conflating two different uses of the word “human”. One is the question “what species does this cell belong to?”. The other is “is this a living human being?”

    What I meant was that living cells which are multiplying into specialized cells so that eventually, there is a good chance that if left to proceed that they would become a fully developed human (that’s what I failed to say), are what I would consider a potential future person worthy of protection.

    I am not saying that a fertilized blastocyst IS a human being or ISN’T. That’s really far off topic and really probably should be argued elsewhere. I have no desire to engage in that argument

    I agree, but I got sucked in.
    @Aj:

    “Human varieties”, I sincerely doubt even you know what you mean.

    You mentioned chromosome sets that were more or less than 46. Other than XXY, XYY, or XXX I know of no other “syndromes” that affect the number of chromosomes. But my point remains, it’s a shorthand. As for defending the basis for aliens and robots…do we really need to discuss that in order for you to feel that I’ve addressed your question? Why don’t we keep this from becoming unnecessarily broad.

    It’s not going to have kids, but not survive, what does that mean?

    Not survive means it will never develop into a person.

    Well, when you’re ready to express the very good reason

    I oppose harvesting embryos for the purpose of destroying them because I believe we are stopping the development of a potential person.

    You think that embryos are conscious, sentient, and have an ability to suffer the same as a fully developed human?

    I would oppose experimentation on inmates even if it did not cause any suffering. The point is humanity.

  • Polly

    I haven’t seen anything to change my mind, yet. And naturally you haven’t either. Shall we keep going? What else do you have besides snarky remarks and nitpicking?
    I think we both know what we’re talking about, but you’re employing the 0.1% extreme and the exotic cases to make your point. We all know what a human is, and you know I’m not talking about placenta or tumors. Common sense would tell you that. It’s like those fundy debaters using the machine gun technique. Throw a bunch of semi related questions out quickly and let your opponent tackle them. Always keep them on the defensive. I’m a lousy debater, I admit that much.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    I think we both know what we’re talking about, but you’re employing the 0.1% extreme and the exotic cases to make your point. We all know what a human is, and you know I’m not talking about placenta or tumors.

    All by way of showing why your argument was specious. Asking the “species” of the dna in a cell is not the same as establishing that we are indeed dealing with a human person.

    You say that we are using fundy debating tricks. But I was merely calling you on the fallacy of equivocation– equivocating two concepts “human” cells meaning “human” beings. That’s a fundy debating trick as well.

    I used extreme and exotic cases to point out your logical fallacy. Also to point out that there are indeed grey areas in what you take to be black and white.

    You can call it nitpicking, but I rather think that you’re the one oversimplifying the issues. …which is also a fundy debating tactic.

  • Polly

    Asking the “species” of the dna in a cell is not the same as establishing that we are indeed dealing with a human person.

    Did I say a blastocyst was a person? No. I did say that it’s human life and I explained why even varying chromosome counts don’t change that.

    equivocating two concepts “human” cells meaning “human” beings. That’s a fundy debating trick as well.

    I assume you mean “equating” and are not accusing me of being purposely duplicitous?

    You have yet to demonstrate how science proves that a blastocyst is not a human life. Seeing as how in the majority of cases if left in the womb it will develop into a person, I think the burden of proof is to show why we should treat it as anything else. All you did was nitpick (and yes it is nitpicking) my argument, but put forth none of your own.

  • Aj

    You mentioned chromosome sets that were more or less than 46. Other than XXY, XYY, or XXX I know of no other “syndromes” that affect the number of chromosomes. But my point remains, it’s a shorthand.

    What point? You haven’t explained what you mean by human. I suspect that’s because you don’t know yourself.

    Not survive means it will never develop into a person.

    Many embryos do not develop into persons. Aborted embryos definitely won’t.

    I oppose harvesting embryos for the purpose of destroying them because I believe we are stopping the development of a potential person.

    Introducing a completely unrelated argument into the mix. If you have the potential to have sex with someone, should you do it? Is not doing “it” stopping the development of a potential person? Obviously yes. Using contraception also stops a potential person. Not only is a potential person not relevant, it breaks your form “life begins” argument.

    Not relevant because the potential to be something doesn’t follow that it should have the same rights as that something.

    The point is humanity.

    That’s absolutely meaningless. You might aswell say “the point is bananity”. The quality of being a banana.

    What else do you have besides snarky remarks and nitpicking?

    Snarky, yes. Nitpicking, no. They’re central to your argument, even if you’re not willing to explain them. If they were trivial then nothing you have written so far has had any worth whatsoever, because they’re the only things you’re using to justify your beliefs.

    We all know what a human is

    That’s conveniant, because I don’t think you know, and I sure as hell don’t know what you mean by human. You’re unwilling to explain the terms you use, or express the logic behind your arguments.

    It’s likely that your arguments are baseless, or at least you’re unwilling to express the base of them. I wait for a anti-abortion debater that will explain what the hell they mean by human, life, beginning of life, and any of it that is important.

    What response do you expect? When you intentionally use logical fallacies. When you’re unwilling to explain the terms you use. When from the outset you’re unwilling to debate because it’s “pointless” (although I suspect it’s because you realise you can’t summon a single argument). I suspect, that like fundamentalist’s arguments against abortion, your arguments (when expressed) will be absurd.

  • Polly

    They’re central to your argument, even if you’re not willing to explain them.

    Central? Other non-human lifeforms are central? Are Hydatidiform moles being used for ESC research?
    If there’s a grey area, that’s fine. Where do yo draw the line, then and on what basis?

    I repeat:
    You have yet to demonstrate how science proves that a blastocyst is not a human life.

    What is your definition of human? Do you even have one? Don’t you need one to make decision about whether it’s OK to experiment on something that is living?

  • Aj

    You have yet to demonstrate how science proves that a blastocyst is not a human life.

    I didn’t realise that was directed at me since I made no such claim, because I have no idea what you mean by human life, or why it’s important.

    What is your definition of human?

    Many definitions of species. They’re useful for different endeavors, but some are fundamentally flawed, because life is a continuum (continuumuumuum for any TP fans). Human as personhood? That’s sentience, consciousness, and ability to suffer the way fully developed humans experience them. Human as an interbreeding population? We’re only two steps away from breeding with something that breeds with something that breeds with chimpanzees. Being able to breed with something isn’t grounds for its right to life though, that would have to be argued on top of that.

    Don’t you need one to make decision about whether it’s OK to experiment on something that is living?

    No. I don’t include it in my reason for the ethics of abortion or stem cell research. Humanness isn’t part of my argument. a) I haven’t heard a good argument for what’s human, and b) because I haven’t heard a good argument for why this “humanness” would be important to the debate either.

    Other non-human lifeforms are central?

    When you’re basing right to life on “humanness”, you’ve got to explain why you’re unwilling to see sentient beings outside of the club of right to life.

    Are Hydatidiform moles being used for ESC research?

    They met your requirements for human, until you changed the goal posts.

  • http://lifewithoutfaith.com/ Richard

    Okay, at this point the conversation is over. It is not rational or scientific.

    With all the advances in cloning and our understanding of DNA, I guess every time we comb our hair, we should be arrested for genocide.

    I repeat:
    You have yet to demonstrate how science proves that a blastocyst is not a human life.

    Prove to me God doesn’t exist.

    Prove to me Unicorns don’t exist.

    Prove to me green beans don’t have a conscience.

    Get the point? This is just silly.

    Richard
    http://lifewithoutfaith.com

  • Polly

    Those who oppose stem cell research, feel that life begins at conception. This would make the above described is alive. Needless to say, there is NO scientific evidence that backs this up.

    You’re the one looking to science for an answer to a philosophical problem. I’m just following-up.

  • Aj

    But you were asking me to explain how science proves that blastocyst is not a human life when I didn’t claim such a thing. Also, science, isn’t in the business of proving anything.

  • Polly

    @Aj: Too many arguers. The last one was a response to Richard. That’s why I quoted his reply. I thought that would give it away.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    Did I say a blastocyst was a person? No.

    You did call it a potential person worthy of protection. You have not explained why these potential people are worthy of protection. 100 cells containing human DNA aren’t granted automatic human protection in our society… so you’ve got some convincing to do, as well as explaining why that should be the case.

    I did say that it’s human life and I explained why even varying chromosome counts don’t change that.

    You said it, but did not support it. You merely asserted it and then told us the burden of proof was on us to prove you wrong.

    You seem have a different definition of “human life” than perhaps a majority of people, who do not see a collection of 100 cells as a human life, but rather as a step toward human life. You might recognize that and incorporate that point of view better when attempting to convince other people who hold a different view from you.

    You have yet to demonstrate how science proves that a blastocyst is not a human life.

    I said I wasn’t interested in joining that argument. I’m merely pointing out flaws in yours.

    Seeing as how in the majority of cases if left in the womb it will develop into a person, I think the burden of proof is to show why we should treat it as anything else.

    When talking about using discarded blastocysts from fertility clinics, we are NOT talking about anything that was left in the womb. So you are assuming the existence of a willing healthy womb.

    That turns your argument on its head, now doesn’t it? I’ll use your argument back at you:

    Seeing as how in the majority of cases if left in the petri dish it will not develop into a person, I think the burden of proof is to show why we should treat it as anything else.

    Kind of a useless argument. You will not convince people until you learn that you need to be able to explain WHY your point of view is correct, not merely assert that it is so.

  • Polly

    @Siamang:

    I said I wasn’t interested in joining that argument. I’m merely pointing out flaws in yours.

    That seems to be the MO of everyone here.
    I suppose I should be glad for the feedback. (no sarcasm intended)

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    That seems to be the MO of everyone here.

    Well, it’s a safe way of interacting. I’m not here to have a discussion about stem-cell research or abortion, or for that matter I’m not here to convince people that God doesn’t exist.

    I think most folks here are beyond trying to convince people of stuff in the standard way. (Which in our society today seems to involve lots of shouting.) I think the MO that you noticed springs from a group of people who recongize that we’re not likely to convince people to change their beliefs, but we may be able to get people to come to view us as being worthy of respect.

  • Polly

    @Siamang:

    but we may be able to get people to come to view us as being worthy of respect.

    Except that my POV (and me personally in this instance) gets little to none in the atheosphere (with exceptions of course). My fellow atheists seem to regard my POV on this one issue with contempt that they are too ready to express in most posts.

    …think the MO that you noticed springs from a group of people who recongize that we’re not likely to convince people to change their beliefs,

    Yet, despite saying that I didn’t want to debate it, the first thing everyone wants to do is convince me that I’m wrong. I really don’t care what anyone believes, my original point was that there are atheist pro-lifers. That’s it. But, NO, nobody can let it go. There are always those who have to prove they’re right. The insinuation from the very first post is that if you’re in the least “anti-choice”…well, now I’m just ranting.

    I will not be able to post here for a few days…and I’m rather glad about that.
    Have a good weekend.

  • Richard Wade

    Yet, despite saying that I didn’t want to debate it, the first thing everyone wants to do is convince me that I’m wrong.

    Well, I don’t want to convince you that you’re wrong, Polly, so… uh, you’re wrong about that. Right?

    I want you to continue thinking that you’re right. Not that I think you are, but I don’t want to convince you otherwise. I mean how can anybody actually be right or wrong about that question, instead of just thinking what we think and doing what we do? Personally I think life starts at 60, so I’m still dead. When I start life if I don’t like it I might decide that life starts at 70 and give myself more time being dead.

    If we decide that life begins at conception and potential life is life, then we will start down a slippery slope toward much more serious and even terrible problems, like then when I order a chicken dinner, the chef could bring me a fertilized egg and say it’s a potential chicken dinner, and that’s just as good. Or if I order a truckload of two-by-fours the lumber guy could hand me a pine nut and say it’s a potential truckload of two-by-fours, and that’s just as good.

    It could get even worse. Eggs and sperms are potential zygotes, blastocysts and so on, so a ham sandwich could be put on my plate in the form of some wheat pollen and whatever the heck the wheat female part is, some pig sperm, (eewww) a test tube with a pig egg, same stuff to make a cow (for potential milk) so that with some yeast cells I can have potential cheese with it, and hold the potential mayo: Too complicated. I’m not gonna eat all that. I want my money back. We could all starve!

    It could get even worse. Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen and Phosphorus are potential DNA so I could get a plate full of five elements.

    It could get even worse. Let’s jump ahead of those potential elements made from protons, neutrons and electrons, and imagine my plate has nothing on it but quarks. I hate quarks. Mom made me eat them as a kid, and I’ll never eat ‘em again.

    This is a very slippery slope indeed.

  • Aj

    Yet, despite saying that I didn’t want to debate it, the first thing everyone wants to do is convince me that I’m wrong.

    I didn’t want to debate, I was just being polite when you responded to my post (twice). I believe you engaged with me because of your pride. I said that the issue of abortion is that faith and theology has authority in the publics eye when it deserves none. I also said that if anti-abortion atheists ever cared to have a debate they’d be ripped a new one so fast (intellectually) that they wouldn’t know where their elbow was. Then suddenly you wanted a debate.

    I predicted that you wouldn’t be willing to explain what you mean by the terms “life”, “life begins”, “human”, etc… Anyone not willing to have a debate either a) doesn’t have the time or they don’t care enough b) doesn’t think the opposition will be honest, or c) doesn’t think they can defend their position, or think their position is indefensible.

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  • Polly

    @Aj

    I didn’t want to debate, I was just being polite when you responded to my post (twice).

    Go and take a look at the record above. I responded ONCE to you and then you took it upon yourself to butt-into my exchange with Richard. I think it’s your pride that led you to convince yourself (TWICE) that I was talking to you when I clearly wasn’t.

    I’m done with you.


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