Welcome JT Eberhard to Patheos!

JT Eberhard, formerly of FreeThought Blogs and the Secular Student Alliance is moving to Patheos today!

And given that he’s already lit into Timothy Dalrymple before he moved, I imagine it will be a high-spirited housewarming party.  So, before the punch bowl gets overturned, I would like to propose a toast (not that kind!).

JT did great work for the Secular Student Alliance.  (And, honestly, for Christians as well).  The kind of tradition that needs to graft itself onto the public schools to survive, that grows by coercion and chokes out other voices, that festers into threats and blatant disregard for the law deserves to lose.  If you’re fighting for souls, you have to fight fair, or it doesn’t count.  Through his work at the SSA, JT protected all students from inappropriate incursions into schools, and protected Christians (against their will, most of the time) from dishonoring their cause with their methods.

This meant that JT ended up spending a lot of his time (and much more time than I could stand) tangling with unsophisticated trolls.  It’s not the only kind of writing he does — he’s a fierce feminist, speaks openly about his struggles with anorexia, and has a posse of guest bloggers, including his dad — but it does represent a sizable chuck of his writing and I have a limited tolerance for that fight.

I don’t know if I have a tone problem with JT, since I give myself an easy out by only picking fights with people who seem intellectually honest, engaged, and personally challenging.  He does the kind of trench-fighting that I just can’t motivate myself to write on, pre or post-conversion.  For me, it means practicing being short-tempered and contemptuous; other people may be able to compartmentalize those feelings or avoid them entirely, but I don’t seem to be able to pull that off, so I don’t touch the stuff.

Yvain recently announced that he’s going to read and blog through Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition and his opening comments on Feser’s aggressive tone seem apropos:

I have only a short time tonight, so I want to concentrate on I, the mountains of abuse that Prof. Feser heaps upon atheism for several chapters before the book begins and at very regular intervals throughout. In particular, I want to say exactly what I think about this style of unabashedly and unnecessarily nasty polemic.

I like it.

…Looking back, I realize how much of what I have learned in life I learned for terrible reasons. When I was young, I read some books about the Lost Continent of Atlantis, and wanted to see if it really existed. After devouring a bunch of ancient history and mythology it turned out it probably didn’t, but this was a much quicker way to learn lots of ancient history and mythology than picking up The Oxford Compendium Of Extremely Dry Scholarly Papers About Near Eastern Pottery and hoping for the best. Reading Velikovsky didn’t hurt either. And how many people would know anything about evolution nowadays if you didn’t have to read TalkOrigins to debate creationists?

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s really hard for me to really learn unless something is pushing me. When you’re young and you have a lot of unanswered questions you have a lot of push. When you grow older and start accreting answers to those questions, it’s harder and that’s bad, even though some of your answers might be wrong or meaningless.

I don’t get jazzed in quite the same way.  I love getting aggressive, but, for me, that’s easiest when I feel a little bit scared (either I’m wrong and I might need to lose or that I’m right and people in the audience will succumb unless I run a good defense).  Feser’s jibes didn’t help me get there, but the content did.

But,  as fun as tactical debates are, I’ve got a slightly more personal reason for liking JT.  After my conversion announcement, JT has one of the nicest atheist responses: he said he was confused.   He thinks I’m wrong, natch, but he flagged it as weird that someone like me would make this kind of error, and tried to figure out what was going on.

I then proceeded to schedule myself into oblivion (still haven’t even rewritten the About Me tab), so I’ve only done one post so far responding to his good-faith questions to me.  But I guess that means another installment will make the perfect housewarming present this weekend.


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  • jberhard

    Thanks, Leah. :)

    I plan on getting to your first response post sometime next week. Rawr! Duking it out! Rawr! 😛

    • leahlibresco

      You’re welcome to mix it up on the Sondheim discussion that distracted me, too. Company is on Netflix instant play (says the girl who is still most frequently an evangelist for musicals and math).

    • Clarissa

      Yeah, JT presents himself as a nice guy, but he can turn on a dime into a vicious attack dog.
      I don’t trust guys like that, and it has nothing to do with atheism v theism or any other ism. I think people like that are just showing their true colors.

  • Ted Seeber

    Can you explain to me how the censorship practiced by the SSA and other “freedom from” groups is a method of protection?

    • leahlibresco

      Give a specific example so I don’t pick one that doesn’t match the category you’re thinking of and fall into a strawman problem. Otherwise, I’ll just defend their policy on school prayer.

      • Ted Seeber

        That is as good an example as any. Especially when, in reference to your post, I tried to google Secular Student Alliance and School Prayer and came up with this as the top post.

        I see the right to pray as a very basic usage of the free exercise clause that should not be restricted by the establishment clause. I realize that I am in violation of the Supreme Court on that interpretation, and that to the freedom from folks somebody else saying something is as oppressive as a Spanish Inquisitor with a whip, pit, and pendulum. But if you bubble yourself off from ideas that are wrong, how will you ever know if you have ideas that are right?

        • jberhard

          Hey, a subject for a blog post! I’m happy to answer your question, Ted. See the blog tomorrow.

        • John

          So I read that article, and my understanding of the SSA’s position is that people should not be restricted from praying, but that the government should not ask people to do it. Is that your understanding as well?
          If you’re saying that the government *should* ask people to pray, do you think government officials should be allowed to make altar calls, asking if people would like to come down to the stadium and give their hearts to Christ? They’re not forcing anybody, so it’s still a matter of free expression, right? Do you draw a distinction here, and how?

          • Ted Seeber

            I think it should be absolutely obvious that any government official praying in public is acting as an individual, not on the behalf of government. The sole restriction I read in the First Amendment is Congress passing a law choosing ONE religion that EVERYBODY needs to attend.

        • JohnH

          If there were Islamic students in your school and they wished to have the Adhan (Allahu Akbar) played everyday at school with everyone expected to pull out their prayer rugs and pray to Mecca then you would be cool with that?

          • Ted Seeber

            I have no problem with that at all. In fact, one of my son’s best friends and his soccer coach are Islamic.

        • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani J. Sharmin

          According to the article you linked to:

          The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, sent a letter in May to UTC officials challenging Christian prayers held at university events such as football games. University administrators are considering the letter, Associate Vice Chancellor of University Relations Chuck Cantrell has said.

          Coleman and Jones said they want to make clear that, while the Secular Student Alliance opposes university-sponsored prayers over the loudspeakers at university events, the group wholly supports individual and group rights to prayer.

          In other words, the complaint was that they were doing the prayers not at, say, a Christian club or something, but as part of school events. Also, what JohnH wrote about Islamic prayers.
          In my view, caring about equal rights and religious freedom requires stepping back for a moment and putting yourself in the place of the other person, imagining what it would be like if you were in the minority and someone else’s religion was doing what you want your own religion to do in a public school or with government support. And honestly, it seems like that is exactly what too many people fail to do when they advocate that their religious prayers should be at school events or their religion promoted by the school.

          • Ted Seeber

            And I see no reason that innocence requires ignorance. For anybody.

    • jberhard

      Yes, please do. :)

  • http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com Kevin

    The kind of tradition that needs to graft itself onto the public schools to survive, that grows by coercion and chokes out other voices, that festers into threats and blatant disregard for the law deserves to lose. If you’re fighting for souls, you have to fight fair, or it doesn’t count.

    I can’t agree with this completely. Of course I am not an advocate of using threats and lawlessness as evangelical methods; I think that both liberal and Christian principles rule this out. But Christianity has no obligation to “teach the controversy,” or maintain an even dialectical playing field for believers and infidels.

    If I’m trying to motivate someone to Christian faith, it is not as if I were trying to convince them of a fact. I am trying to convince them of a fact with consequences for them; I think that they will not only be in error, but will be worse-off if they are not convinced. For that matter, I am not only trying add a fact to their mental inventory of truths; I am trying to add them to a human community — the Church.

    There may be some circumstances where the discussion of Christian truth may be a dry, academic matter — there is nothing wrong with this. But it is also a matter of propaganda fidei.
    Given human weakness and error, and the ability of people to hang onto prejudices, I realize that even a clearly-demonstrable idea will not be accepted by many people to whom it is exposed, if something in their lives makes them ill-prepared for it.

    My desire to have children educated in a Christian environment is no different from what I assume is Eberhard’s (and also my) desire to have children raised in an environment where they can be exposed to natural science. If I’m trying to teach them, I want to rig the game in favor of truth.

    Now, like Leah, I enjoy a good debate, and I am happy to go toe-to-toe with atheists in a purely dialectical manner. But inasmuch as I have reasons for believing that are not dialectical, I don’t think I need to avoid emotional and (in the broadest sense) political tactics in talking about the faith.

    • http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com Kevin

      Put another way:
      I was never convinced to believe in Christianity. I was raised up in it — I was told to love Jesus before I could possibly have understood any Christian doctrine, and I attended a Catholic school where worship was part of our group identity. Later, of course, I had the opportunity to learn more about my religion, and think about it rationally. But that’s besides the point — I don’t think I was mistreated, and so I don’t think it’s mistreating others to inculcate in them the seeds of faith in a similar way.

      • leahlibresco

        If you have legitimate authority over them. But try universalizing this and think about whether Scientologists, Wiccans, etc should get a free shot at your four year old.

        • Ted Seeber

          Maybe not my 4 year old, but certainly my 6 year old. And my special needs son goes to public school for this reason.

        • JohnH

          It is easy to universalize that everyone should be able to teach there own children as they wish, up to the limits on religious freedom that already exist it society. Likewise it is easily to universalize and say that any religion that desires to form a school can create one and parents should be free to send their children to whatever school they desire to.

          There is a problem in that many people that actually believe in a philosophy, school of thought, culture, religion don’t also recognize that what they believe is a philosophy, school of thought, culture, or religion. To them it is just the way the world is, so having a school that teaches about recycling is just the right factual extra-plus good thing to do and anyone that says otherwise is an evil bigot that is out to destroy the planet. People debate whether the US has a culture not because it doesn’t have one but because our culture is seen as the way things are so we see it as being reality and not culture.

          Our children are nearly universally being exposed continuously and constantly to viewpoints that we may not agree with. I would rather have Scientologists, Wiccans, Athiests, whomever else come and spend half an hour or so each week with my children and let my children know that they represented those view points then have my children watch an equivalent amount of modern television where the views being presented are hidden as being the norm and reality and often involve annoying toys or highly processed food products (regardless of the sugar content).

    • leahlibresco

      If I’m trying to motivate someone to Christian faith, it is not as if I were trying to convince them of a fact. I am trying to convince them of a fact with consequences for them; I think that they will not only be in error, but will be worse-off if they are not convinced. For that matter, I am not only trying add a fact to their mental inventory of truths; I am trying to add them to a human community — the Church.

      And this is what distinguished the problem for me from, say, a public health question, where you know I’m a heckuva paternalist. In public health, I’m satisfied to just change their behavior. In proselytization, I want to change their idea of how they relate to the world. And the brute force tactics that the SSA spends a lot of time fighting have more in common with my nudge-y strategies than good engagement.

      Case study: public prayer or that infamous prayer banner makes atheist students (and non-Christians) uncomfortable with the clash between their identities as atheists and as members of their school community. That should be a false tension in public schools and I don’t think it’s that great strategically anyway.

      The tension you’re actually going for is between someone’s moral beliefs and the framework they think gives rise to them. Or between some of their moral beliefs and other parts of their ethics. Or between their professed beliefs and the way they want to be treated by others. Or some kind of interesting tension related to aesthetics and the sublime that I’ll leave to Tristyn and Eve.

      • http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com Kevin

        Yes, I was trying to play off your professed paternalism — and in the old language of the church, salus means both “health” and “salvation.”

        I don’t mean to make an argument based on a pun, though, since I think this is really an important place where we disagree. I would hold that “how one relates to the world” is really just a kind of “behavior.” I am not quite a monist but I am much farther from dualism than you are, and so I don’t think that the distinction between physical actions and spiritual/mental actions counts for all that much.

        I’m not sure that you’re right about the kind of tensions I’d want to bring to the fore in someone I wanted to convince of Christianity. For you, as the whole Internet knows, metaethical tension was what did it. But I think the use of other tensions can be just as valid, e.g.: “I admire these people; they seem to have a good way of life and I want to be a part of it. But their way of life is based in religion, so maybe I should try taking it seriously.” This is (in a less conscious, formal way) what happened with me. It was made very clear to me that Christ was the principle behind my family and my school, and since I thought well of both those environments, I was happy to be initiated into the beliefs and rites of the group. But this is just the same as saying I felt an implicit clash between the possibility of disbelief and membership of the community.

        Is the rational route that you describe better? I would agree that is often strategically best — especially if you’re dealing with someone smart enough to see through appeals to history or group cohesion or raw emotion — and it’s also the method I personally prefer. But what matters in the end is that someone see God as lovable — and different people are best led to this point in different ways. Some people need a syllogism, some people need Bach, some people need the support of their community, some people need the sublime opacity of the Eucharist — and maybe some people just need “the fool has said in his heart.”

        By the way, First Things recently ran a very interesting piece on the coercive power of the Church. As that power extends only to Christians it is not exactly à propos here — but I recommend it anyway.

        • RED

          Do you have the name/author of that article? I’d be interested in reading it.

          • http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com Kevin

            “Conscience and Coercion,” by one Thomas Pink, in the August / September issue.

            Unfortunately it is not available online without a subscription, since First Things decided to make some pretentious drivel from David Bentley Hart available instead.

        • Emily

          But I think the use of other tensions can be just as valid, e.g.: “I admire these people; they seem to have a good way of life and I want to be a part of it. But their way of life is based in religion, so maybe I should try taking it seriously.” This is (in a less conscious, formal way) what happened with me.

          That’s exactly what happened with me, too (in a very conscious way). But after hours, and in college – I don’t think the demonstration of explicitly Christian ideas and behavior would have been good at a public school. In fact, I think it would have made it a hostile environment for non-Christian students to the point that they might have been less likely to say, “they have a good way of life and I want to be a part of it.” (At least that’s how I and most of my non-Christian friends would have felt, and if it left a bad impression it would have made me less likely to convert in college.) My public school didn’t feel like a “community,” and having to take part in religious prayers or ceremonies would have seemed institutional, impersonal, and dogmatic, while also making those young members of “the public” who belonged to other faiths or none feel less like they had a right to be there. It’s much different when you are observing belief in people with whom you have relationships, people who care about you. I’m glad you had that experience but not even every Catholic school has that kind of community feeling (my husband’s didn’t when he was growing up, and neither he nor any of his siblings are religious adults). Of course, legally and culturally it’s the prerogative of private schools to teach religion as they wish, but more importantly, I don’t think that’s at all the proper role of a public school.

    • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

      I think there might be a category error here because you (and leah, I think) are both talking about convincing people to be Christians as if that’s at all possible. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. All we can do (and should do) is open up avenues for the Holy Spirit to work in someone’s heart and mind. In Leah’s case it was her friends continued push to get her to ground her metaethics (or something like that – I apologize for the over-simplification) but if I remember the quote correctly

      “I guess Morality just loves me or something.”
      “Ok, ok, yes, I heard what I just said. Give me a second and let me decide if I believe it.”

      In other words, Leah already believed before she knew she believed. What made it possible was that she actively sought after the Truth, her friends kept providing it and poking (well-sourced and argued) holes in her previous beliefs (or lack of belief) and the Holy Spirit was free to work.

      I think what my sleep-deprived brain is trying to communicate is that, yes you want to stack the deck for truth but relying on coercive means to stack the deck seems to be trusting too much in our own work/words and not enough in the power of the Holy Spirit.

      • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

        also, i think I’m finally getting the hang of using those html thingys. a blockquote and italics in the right places in the same comment is a new record for me. 😉

  • Skittle

    Goodness me, Leah. Every time I follow a link on your blog to a group of atheists discussing your conversion, I am amazed at how gracefully you ignore and rise above patronising and misogynistic comments about yourself. Are you “offering them up”, using some other strategy, or are you just naturally unbothered by that sort of thing? (It’s okay if you don’t want to answer for whatever reason: I’ll assume you have other stuff to do and type)

    • leahlibresco

      It just doesn’t bother me much. My confidence in other people’s criticism of me goes up with how well they know me. Drive by jibes aren’t relevant enough to make me care.

      • Skittle

        Ah, I wish I had your self-confidence! Shine on.

  • Adam G.

    Wait, he’s another pro-abort? Whatever one may say of his ability to reason or his commitment to the same, his moral sense is deeply broken. Ugh.

    I know its a failing in me, but when I find someone is actively defending the death of the unborn, I can’t bring myself to read anything they write with much interest. They fail the basic moral sense heuristic.

    • Ted Seeber

      I have a tendency to agree with you on that one. I have yet to see any reason at all from the pro-abort crowd. Lots of emotionalism, but no reason whatsoever.

    • jberhard

      “Wait, he’s another pro-abort? Whatever one may say of his ability to reason or his commitment to the same, his moral sense is deeply broken. Ugh.”

      My moral sense is fine, thank you. I’m not convinced a zygote is a life that should concern us and I defend that.

      I could’ve just said Dalrymple’s moral sense was deeply broken, but that would’ve just been an ad hominum. Instead, I explained why I felt his arguments were lacking and why I thought mine were better. This is what you could’ve done if you thought I was wrong, but you didn’t.

      • Ted Seeber

        “My moral sense is fine, thank you. I’m not convinced a zygote is a life that should concern us and I defend that.”

        Do you even realize that such a position is logically and scientifically inconsistent, and no God needs to be involved to show it to be so?

        • JohnH

          It is entirely possible to be consistent and hold that a zygote is not a life that one should be concerned about. However, it then gets tricky to defend why one should be concerned about the life of a baby after birth, or why eugenics (forced sterilization or extermination of life of undesirables) is wrong, or a host of other issues. It stems from what basic assumptions one holds to be self-evidentially true, or in other words what ones axioms are.

          Axioms that hold that it is permissible to terminate the life of untermensch fell out of favor after things like WW2, Tuskegee eugenics experiments, so forth but have come back in due to the abortion debate. JT appears to think that all religious people are deficient in some way (per a blog post I read of his) which leads me to wonder if he thinks it would be permissible to forcibly abort (kill) all religious people as being untermensch and if not then why not and how that is different then his arguments in favor of abortion?

          • Drakk

            I am male, and I assume from your screen name that so are you. Thus, this discussion is entirely theoretical, as abortion cannot affect either of us directly. With that out of the way…

            I don’t claim to speak for JT, these are the counterpoints as I see them.

            “However, it then gets tricky to defend why one should be concerned about the life of a baby after birth, or why eugenics (forced sterilization or extermination of life of undesirables) is wrong, or a host of other issues.”

            I see no issues here. I think I am perfectly able to support the right for a woman to choose abortion while simultaneously maintaining that infanticide and eugenics are wrong.

            Infanticide by its definition can only occur after birth. At this point the fetus is not using the host’s nutrients for its own benefit, it is no longer, medically speaking, a parasite. It is not harming the host (or rather, at this point, mother) in order to live.

            There is also no purpose served by killing the child that would not be served, at least from the mother’s point of view, by allowing the child to be adopted. Infanticide would be unnecessary, wasteful, and harmful to an entity that is doing no active harm to anyone.

            Eugenics: No, because this necessarily involves the killing of independently living humans who are not (necessarily) doing any active harm to anyone.

            “[I] wonder if he thinks it would be permissible to forcibly abort (kill) all religious people as being untermensch[…]”

            Invalid on multiple counts. “People” must be born, so there is no way to abort “people”. Fetuses cannot have religions, so that interpretation of your statement fails as well.

            Furthermore, it is not my opinion – here, I would dare to say that it is also not JT’s opinion – that there is anything inherently, that is to say based on unalterable physical traits, “inferior” about religious people. They don’t have god-shaped tumours in your brain or anything. If I consider anything about you “inferior” it is your application of the processes of rationality, which I conclude you must have not applied wholly or correctly (if you had, you would have rejected religious faith, because it is not rational). Even disregarding all of the above I would not see it as moral to kill you because you are an independently living human who is (let’s hope) not doing active harm to anyone.

          • deiseach

            But Drakk, your neonate is still parasitic upon the mother; it requires to be fed, and before artificial foods were produced, this meant breast-feeding. Many women find it painful or difficult to breastfeed, and (depending on their state of health) it may be harmful to the woman.

            The neonate (let’s not be sentimental about “babies”, instead use the correct medical term!) also requires constant care and attention. Even the most besotted of parents – hyped up on the drugs nature pumps into the system in order to trick the host into its role in continuning to perpetuate the species – will admit that lack of sleep and increased anxiety, not to mention the severe limitation upon social and work lives, follow on from accepting this entity into the home.

            Also, the neonate is still developing and is not at all a finished human being. Lacking the capacity to make rational choices, lacking full human consciousness, how can it be considered to have inalienable and full rights, vis a vis those of the parents (who are adult full humans and whose human rights to not be personally inconvenienced financially or psychically, health and quality of life trump those of the dependent organism)?

            What good reason separates the permissibility of late-stage abortion up to the very limits of ‘viability’ or indeed after during pregnancy, and the impermissability of termination days or even weeks after full-term delivery?

            Let me quote from a 2007 speech by the current President and Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, Dr. Katherine Ragsdale:

            “And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion – there is not a tragedy in sight – only blessing. The ability to enjoy God’s good gift of sexuality without compromising one’s education, life’s work, or ability to put to use God’s gifts and call is simply blessing.”

            New-born pre-humans impinge upon the enjoyment of one’s sexuality, compromise one’s education and life’s work, and interfere with the ability to use one’s gifts and call, so it should remain a personal decision between the parent(s) and the medical professional as to whether or not to terminate the prospective life after delivery. I mean, you almost sound as if you believe personhood is an innate property of being a human, and not a state that may be bestowed or removed at the will of the majority in a society as expressed through judicial action and legislation!

          • Doragoon

            Drakk, your statements that things are “by definition” is effectively, “as I define it”. These are making moral questions into axiomatic declarations. The question people have for you is what happens when someone else have a different definition? Or if everyone else has a different definition?

          • JohnH

            Drekk. I already responded to your main point two hours before you wrote this response, you should have answered the question as to at what point in the birthing process does it become morally wrong to kill the baby. Since you didn’t really do that I will take your answer as that of being when the baby stops being parasitic.

            This essentially means that a baby that is completely out of the womb but whose umbilical cord has not been cut is still abort-able according to what you have said. So we should morally according to you be able to take that baby and in the most torturous manner possible kill it as long as we never sever the umbilical cord, as it is not really human but is a breathing crying parasite.

            Of course, as deiseach points out the parastic nature of the baby does not stop even then so according to your logic as long as the child is still nursing then the mother should be able to terminate the life of the child at will. So this takes us up to the first or second year of life (or for some mothers until the fourth or fifth year of life) meaning that according to the reasoning of the parasitic nature of a the child then we should be able to abort children that can crawl, walk, and perhaps talk.

            Then as JT is so fond of pointing out we have that the parasitic nature of children doesn’t really end even after the child is no longer biologically dependent on the mother for food with his mentioning the cost of raising children as being an argument for abortion (which he doesn’t seem to realize undermines his whole argument as it admits that the fetus is a child). So this means that up until the child is providing for there own support the parents should be able to abort the life of the child. Given that many twenty year olds are living off their parents while going to college and perhaps move back in after college then building off of your justifications for abortion parents should be able to abort their children into their twenties. One wonders why you are not in favor of honor killings as there is no real difference in justification between them and what you have said about abortion.

            Of course then we should look at the fact that everyone is dependent on society as a whole and there are many people that are and will be parasites their entire lives. It would seem that we have already reached being able to justify eugenics based on your reasoning but let me continue with the whole parasitic nature just a little bit longer.

            Of course the interdependency of society means that even productive members of society (like many religious people) are parastic in nature (one notes that babies do provide some benefits to the mother, even while fetuses). You also bring in harming the host and according to you the religious are inferior in our application of rationality (I will get to this after I am done with this ad absurdum) which we then pass on to our children and attempt to convince you and your children as well meaning that we can be considered in a very real sense to be harming society. Given that we are parasitic in nature and can be considered as harming society I don’t see how you can object to aborting all religious people based on your argument for abortion.

            Even productive members of society (and according to some ethicist especially productive members of society) are parasitic in relation to nature and are harming the host even more then what a baby that is subject to a non-medical abortion is to the mother. Therefore all humans should be abort-able at any time and perhaps should be aborted based on your justification of abortion.

            From what you wrote children and babies really are theoretical beings to you. Go find an infant to hang out with for a while, volunteer to watch someones children for a night, get married and have some kids, do something to get acquainted with the reality of babies and children. If I could then I would recommend the same to all the bio-ethicists in the world.

            Now to address religious people not being as rational as the atheist ubermensch. Suppose for a minute that you are an Newtonian physicist, your position is highly rational and explains everything in everyday experience nearly completely. Suppose now you meet an Einsteinian physicist that makes all these wild claims that certainly don’t appear to be at all rational or follow what one would expect the world to work. Do you claim that the Einsteinian is an irrational untermensch and then refuse to listen to their explanations of experiments and proofs of their additional physics or do you assume that perhaps they might have such experiments and then conduct the experiments or examine the evidence presented before rejecting their claims?

            I don’t currently have much interest in the standard flow of such discussion in regards to atheism so I will instead ask you to consider Deuteronomy 28-30. In particular we should consider Deuteronomy 28:64-67 in regards to the Jewish people:

            “And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.

            65 And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind:

            66 And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life:

            67 In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.”

            Now consider Deuteronomy 30:1-5:

            “And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee,

            2 And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;

            3 That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee.

            4 If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:

            5 And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.”

            One wonders if you are familiar with what happened to the Jews from circa 150 AD – circa 1948 AD. One wonders if you are familiar with the current nation of Israel, or with the Six Day War. And you claim that religious people are not rational for believing in God?

          • Niemand

            Tuskegee eugenics experiments

            The Tuskegee experiments had nothing whatsoever to do with eugenics. Assuming, at least, that we’re talking about the infamous syphilis experiments performed at Tuskegee. The objective of the experiment was to map the natural history of syphilis in an untreated patient. When the experiment started, there was no effective treatment so it was even arguably ethical. (Very arguably since there were some semi-effective treatments and the experiment specifically banned participants from using them…but there was no reliable cure.) The really unethical part was not stopping the experiment when a reliable, safe, effective treatment became available and trying to prevent participants from getting that treatment. But evil as the act was, there was no eugenics involved.

            Sorry if that’s excessively pedantic, but this sort of error is rife throughout the debate.

          • JohnH

            The Tuskegee experiment was eugenical in nature; It, along with the companion study in Guatemala were conducted on what were seen as sub-human populations. You are right that it wasn’t forced sterilization but it did actually attempt to kill sub-human people for experimental purposes.

          • Niemand

            No, the Tuskegee researchers weren’t actually trying to kill black men, they just didn’t care if their patients died or not. They wanted to see what syphilis did, end of story. That’s bad enough, no need to embroider the claim.

          • JohnH

            I don’t want to get into a kill vs. let die debate either way it was eugenical in nature.

        • Alan

          Really – what is the scientific evidence for what “is a life that should concern us”?

          Hint – there is none. It is a moral category, not a scientific one (naturalistic fallacies not withstanding).

          Logically, it is easy to defend in a consistent manner and (despite JohnH’s assertions to the contrary) it poses no issues with also finding infanticide and eugenics morally wrong. We can start with a simple assumption – an inalienable right to life exists for humans upon birth.

          • JohnH

            So if a 9 month old fetus is being born but has not fully been born yet it should be legal for the mother to have the doctor kill the baby? At what point in the birthing process does it become morally wrong to kill the baby, when it take its first breath? What is the moral distinction that allows us to kill a fully formed baby that if removed from the womb would live without any complications whatsoever?

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            We can start with a simple assumption – an inalienable right to life exists for humans upon birth.

            So now think ahead to a society where this assumption is genuinely controversial. This is only a question of time, given that academic bio-“ethicists” are already denying it.

            When this controversy arrives in your circles, people will ask you if you have any grounds or indeed any secular reason to believe this assumption. How do you plan to answer them?

          • Clarissa

            An inalienable right? And where did that come from?

          • Niemand

            John, if you really believe that a zygote is a “human life” from conception, where is your concern about the problem that kills far more zygotes than abortion ever has or will. Namely, spontaneous abortion or miscarriage? The majority of conceived zygotes fail either before or just after implantation. If all concepti should be treated as babies, shouldn’t we be spending a lot of time, effort, and money trying to figure out why these “babies” are dying? If up to 85% of real babies were dying, I’d certainly be more interested in preventing that than stopping a few cases of infanticide, horrid though infanticide is. But the “pro-life” movement seems uninterested. Why? I’ve asked on other Catholic blogs and gotten no answer. Do you have one?

          • JohnH


            I am sorry, I am not Catholic but LDS and do not believe that a zygote is a person, though it is human in nature and is alive. According to the Catholics I am pro-abortion anti-life because I am in favor of contraceptives within marriage (complete abstinence outside of marriage makes the question of contraceptives outside of marriage mote) and am fine with the possibility of abortions for medical reasons or in cases of rape or incest though those are not mandatory reasons for getting abortions.

            In terms of miscarriages after the zygote has implanted and developed into an embryo or fetus I truly wish there were more time, effort, and money spent on figuring out why those babies are dying and finding ways of preventing it and that society allowed parents to grieve the death of such a baby as an actual death instead of forcing them to pretend that nothing had happened.

            I understand where the Catholic conception of things is coming from but I don’t know the answer to your question in their terms.

          • Niemand

            In terms of miscarriages after the zygote has implanted and developed into an embryo or fetus I truly wish there were more time, effort, and money spent on figuring out why those babies are dying and finding ways of preventing it

            But you’re not willing to, say, have your taxes doubled to pay for a new branch of the NIH that would investigate the cause of miscarriage intensively? And you’re not lobbying your representative to make that happen or demanding it as part of your party’s political platform or forming a nonprofit to raise awareness of early miscarriage/failed implantation?

            and that society allowed parents to grieve the death of such a baby as an actual death instead of forcing them to pretend that nothing had happened.

            Most miscarriages happen before the woman in question realizes she is pregnant-and she never learns. Her period is neither delayed nor heavier than expected. It might be picked up on a home pregnancy test if it occurred at just the right moment and it can be picked up by the more sensitive blood test, but a perceptible pregnancy never occurs. How do you grieve something that you never even noticed occurring?

          • JohnH

            Did you miss my qualifications in terms of miscarriage? I was not referring to the early miscarriages where the women may never even know she was pregnant. I seriously couldn’t care less about failed implantation especially since that is the way that many birth control measures operate. Nor do I care about zygotes that implant and then fail to develop into fetuses but instead spontaneously abort within a short time period. It is like you missed more then half of what I said.

            I don’t think government should be responsible for much of anything, certainly not medical research. I gladly donate money to non-profit organizations and am a fan of the profit motive leading research. I am confused about your assumption that people should be dependent on government to get things done/

          • Niemand

            You’re right, John. I totally missed your qualification. My apologies.
            So, why do you think an implanted zygote is a person but one that fails implantation is not?

            I don’t think government should be responsible for much of anything, certainly not medical research.

            Then you should refuse to use any medication developed since about the mid-20th century, because the NIH’s dollars have supported the basics behind essentially all of them. Chemotherapy is certainly right out, as are techniques like cardiac stenting, dialysis, and, heck, use of aspirin in heart disease. As a side issue, without the NIH and NSF, English wouldn’t be the standard world language for discussing science because drug companies don’t actually spend more money on research in the US versus Europe or Japan. Nonprofits are wonderful, but they don’t have the income to fund really big projects. So say goodbye to further advances in medical care if the government-US and others-doesn’t fund research.

          • JohnH

            Choosing implantation and continuing to develop is a nearly arbitrary measure of safety. According to my faith humans are both body and spirit, with the spirit being per-existing to the formation of the body (in fact the spirit is eternal in nature). Separation of spirit and body is death and forcible separation is murder at some point during the pregnancy which point we don’t know and has not been revealed yet. We are commanded not to commit murder or do anything like unto murder.

            Given that the embryonic stage is when the heart and brain start developing (and is when most women learn they are pregnant) then that time of pregnancy is the safest to start worrying about committing murder or something like murder in terminating the pregnancy. It is also the safest in terms of the same reasoning used to institute 20 week abortion bans.

            I am quite happy to use what the goverment has already funded, just like US drug companies are (their profits are higher if the government picks up the bill of basic research and development). This though is a completely different argument then everything else and is far off topic.

          • JohnH

            hmm. the first paragraph appears to have gotten chopped up. it should be preexisting. and there should have been “is murder. The spirit enters the body at some point” and continuing, sorry about that.

          • Niemand

            Given that the embryonic stage is when the heart and brain start developing (and is when most women learn they are pregnant) then that time of pregnancy is the safest to start worrying about committing murder or something like murder in terminating the pregnancy.

            If the heart is relevant then every cardiac transplant recipient in the world is a murderer or at least has benefited from murder. Why the heart? Why not the liver or kidneys? I suppose because you don’t feel your kidneys beat faster when you’re nervous.

            Anyway, brain development. Stationary neurons don’t even develop until the 8th week of gestation, so anything prior to that is pretty safe to call lacking in significant brain development. The majority of abortions occur before or at the 8th week. There’s a lot of disagreement about when the cortical mass is significant and, for example, when pain might first occur, but I’ve never seen an expert in the field put it before 25 weeks. The vast majority of abortions and essentially all elective abortions occur before 25 weeks.

            Finally, the cortex is exquisitely sensitive to hypoxia. The uterine environment is hypoxic. It is highly doubtful that a fetus of any developmental stage has any conscious perception simply because it doesn’t have the oxygen for its cortex to be active. (Think of what would happen if you were in a plane that lost pressurization at altitude.) So it’s likely that the infamous 39 weeks 6 days abortion that people are so sure every woman wants would be more like building a Turing capable AI and never turning it on than murder of a person who has experienced consciousness (whether they are currently conscious or not.)

            I am quite happy to use what the goverment has already funded, just like US drug companies are (their profits are higher if the government picks up the bill of basic research and development).

            Perfectly happy to use what has gone before, but willing to deny yourself and others the advances that could come with further research? I don’t understand the logic. It’s against your own self-interest. The drug companies won’t pick up the slack. You can forget that. No drug company will go plunging into high risk work or studies of whether existing, older (read generic) drugs have benefits in conditions they aren’t currently used for. Your plan would mean the end of medical and scientific research in the US. Might make the Chinese happy, but would condemn the US to a slow decline into third world status. You’re right about it being off topic, though.

          • Alan

            JohnH – moral and legal are two different questions. But let’s take the moral one first – the moral distinction I would make is that one actually has been removed from the womb and is living as opposed to merely having the potential to do so. If you are asking for a precise moment I would suggest when the head is outside the vaginal canal – but I could certainly see arguments for other points, that fuzzy area doesn’t bother me much because…

            Of course, just because there is a moral distinction between the two doesn’t mean that it is necessarily moral to do anything you please to the fetus – I make a moral distinction between humans and dogs but I don’t think it moral to arbitrarily kill or even torture dogs. So you can certainly see contexts in which aborting the fetus may not be moral even though the fetus is not the same category as a person.

            Gilbert – Much like any first principles, the answer is going to be that of course I have reasons but I can’t demonstrate them with certainty – if I could they wouldn’t be assumptions.

            Clarissa- it came from my assumption, I assumed it.

          • JohnH


            Sorry but you are at least partially wrong in that babies in the womb learn to recognize their mothers voice among other things. Your response also doesn’t begin to address why the severely mentally handicapped should not be killed.

            Heart due to shedding of blood being a scriptural term, whether that is to be taken literally or not I don’t know, I just wished to cover my bases.

            Alen, So cutting a hole into a babies head in the birthing canal and sucking out its brain is fine as long as long as the head does not leave the canal?

            If I were to say that I make a moral distinction between untermensch and ubermensch but that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily moral to k ill untermensch, they have to have annoyed the ubermensch or something then your argument would be?

          • Alan

            JohnH – You clearly did not read what I wrote, or chose to ignore it in your first paragraph. It may or may not be fine, all I’m suggesting here is that it isn’t the equivalent of killing a person.

            As for arguing against dead Germans – I would argue that their moral distinction is a false one. In fact, having lost their battle to those untermensch’s it should be obvious that their claims regarding that distinction have been shown to be false.

          • JohnH

            That you think what I was bringing up is dead Germans shows your ignorance. Let me rephrase then so that you can understand. Suppose I make a moral distinction between being a rational productive member of society and those that hold the irrational belief that there is a God but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily moral to kill those holding a belief in God, they have to have actively promoted that belief of God on the internet or in person.

            I suppose if that is too confusing for you then you could substitute racist, homophobics, mentally handicapped, small children, the elderly, or whatever other distinction makes you happiest and able to understand the parallel that I am drawing with your argument. Unless you understood that and are trying to make the argument that might makes right and you fully intend to seek the destruction of all untermensch religious people once you feel secure in having the power to do so.

          • Alan

            Yeah, yeah. You are so smart and wise that you are no match for me. The Untermench isn’t a term Nazis created (or co-opted) to justify their racism – got you, nothing about dead Germans there.

            The answer to all your suggestions is the same – I would challenge the distinction as a false one. Since the only distinctions I recognize separating those morally considered people from those not is that they are born and they are human beings – all those distinction you list I see as false.

            I understand the parallel you are trying to draw perfectly – it just isn’t a particularly powerful one. Slippery slopes are a fallacy for a reason.

          • JohnH

            “Since the only distinctions I recognize separating those morally considered people from those not is that they are not religious and they are human beings”

            You have just called it a slippery slope and false distinctions. Given that you are engaged in an argument with people that see your distinction as being false then calling it a slippery slope doesn’t address it. It especially doesn’t address it when I can go to JT’s blog or Less Wrong or Reddit and at all of them find statements and arguments to the effect that people with faith are not rational or are stupid or are a lesser”other” (or all three); In other words I can find arguments and statements to the effect that religious people are untermensch and atheists are the ubermensch. Further, I know I can find arguments and statements on JT’s blog and Reddit to the effect that religious people should not have the same rights as atheists.

            I also can pull up papers by bio-ethicist and ethicists that explicitly argue in favor of post birth infanticide, involuntary euthanasia,and involuntary sterilization of the mentally handicapped. In case you are wondering the papers are not from the 1930’s but from the last decade and are published.

            Slippery slope is not a fallacy by itself, it just can be.

          • Alan

            Yes, and the same point holds for you when you insist that the distinction between birth and non-birth is false – good for you, you are ably demonstrating why when people disagree on the axioms that underpin their moral thought they tend to disagree on their conclusions. I’m sure you could bring up papers to justify all sorts of things – so what? Someone, possibly a little kid from Colorado, could hold a wholly consistent philosophy built around the concept that people with freckles and red hair are the only superior race deserving of treatment as humans – that doesn’t imply that my distinction necessarily or even plausibly leads to there.

            I can’t speak to what is said by others, but it is a long stretch from arguing that ” people with faith are not rational or are stupid” to they being sub-human. I haven’t made such an argument and don’t intend to. What other anonymous people on the internet say is there problem.

      • http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com Kevin

        Since I’m defending subrational techniques of persuasion above in the thread, let me say only that arguments ad hominem are not necessarily invalid.

        In the christian moral universe, which is (as you might expect me to say) the actual moral universe, there is plenty of room for debate, but certain things are beyond the pale. Arguing, for example, that sins may be committed when it convenient to do so, or arguing that human dignity is not acquired until a certain level of cognizance is reached, are among those things. When someone makes these arguments without at least a twinge of reluctance, then, they’re proving themselves to believe things that lie outside of the parameters of moral discourse.

        This is a relevant fact that ought to be pointed out, since it reflects on one’s standing to comment on the matter of hand, in the same way that demonstrated ignorance of the distinction in christian ethics between a spermatozoon and a zygote or the misspelled name of a supposedly damning fallacy may also suggest that one brings to the table more zeal than intellectual firepower.

      • Clarissa

        We can now bow to JT’s moral sense.

        Watch him argue, he reminds me of some of the bullies I met in middle school.

      • Doragoon

        “I’m not convinced a zygote is a life that should concern us and I defend that.”

        How about an experiment to test if it is or not. We watch the zygote for a year (or 20) and see what happens. Even the definition of brain death requires the person to not to recover some time in the future.

        • Niemand

          Okay. Puts zygote down on the cabinet…Comes back in 20 years.

          It appears that the answer is “not much”. It looks like it simply decomposed.

          • Mengele Fan

            How about if you allow the “zygote” subhuman to develop?
            Then you end up with a human being.
            Of course, the best way to get rid of undesirable is kill them before they even get born. If murderous moms want to kill their offspring, what the hell…give em all Darwin Awards for removing more of themselves from the gene pool.

            The conservtives will have big families, the liberals will kill their children, and the problem with be solved naturally.

          • Skittle

            If I put a neonate down on the cabinet and waited 20 years, what would I find when I came back? It too would have simply decomposed, so was it not a living person?

          • Niemand

            How about if you allow the “zygote” subhuman to develop?

            Zygotes develop on their own, independently? You may want to recheck your biology. There are a few requirements for zygote development. Under the right circumstances, a zygote (no scare quotes needed, it’s the right term for the thing produced by fusion of an oocyte and sperm and you shouldn’t be afraid of that fact) will develop into a baby. Under slightly different circumstances, it will develop into two babies. Under other slightly different circumstances, it will develop into part of a baby. Under most circumstances, it will die before implantation. Where’s your compassion for those dead “babies”? (Scare quotes needed: a zygote is not a baby and it’s technically incorrect to call it one.)

            Similarly, under the right circumstances, an unfertilized oocyte will develop into a baby. The fertilization step is trivially easy (though biologically complex in its own right), something we’ve been able to do ex vivo for years. Is each unfertilized oocyte then a baby? And then there’s cloning…are all the colon cells you sloughed off, digested, and then flushed down the toilet babies?

            The conservtives will have big families, the liberals will kill their children, and the problem with be solved naturally.

            So cute that you think that political opinion is passed genetically.

      • Adam G.

        Moral facts are facts. Reasoning can correct the moral sense or supply conclusions where the moral sense is lacking, but it can’t supplant it.

        If you use the best mind in the world to argue that salt doesn’t taste salty, your tongue is broke,
        If you get angry when people don’t want to be laissez faire on the lives of the unborn, your moral sense is broken. How good your arguments are might be of some interest aesthetically, but that’s it.

        • Steve

          Are morals facts like ‘1+1=2’ or ‘The Cardinals won the MLB World Series in 2011’ are facts??

          Perhaps how the taste receptors and brain interpret ‘salty’ differs from person to person. It doesn’t imply a deficiency.

          “If you get angry when people don’t want to be laissez faire on the lives of the unborn, your moral sense is broken.” I wouldn’t ask a pro-choice person to be laissez faire on abortion, but I would ask them to have a reasonable discussion in certain instances and weight the circumstances appropriately. There’s nothing pro-life about using governmental policy to prevent a woman from terminating a pregnancy and then refuse to offer any government assistance in raising, feeding, clothing, educating and otherwise caring for the child. Conservative moralizing seems inconsistent here. When a woman is raped (like real raped, not fake raped) she should have the right not to carry that child. Similar when a father rapes his daughter.

          In addition, consider this… There are around 100 cells in the Blastocyst (or the point of development when scientists attempt to extract stem cells), which is 1/1000th the number of cells in the brain of a common house fly. Stem cell research has potential for tremendous advances in medical science which would alleviate immeasurable suffering in the world. For me, the weight of lessening the suffering of conscious beings who process and understand pain & suffering far outweighs a grouping of cells 1/1000th the number of the brain of a housefly.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani J. Sharmin

    Leah, I want to say thanks for your kind words about the SSA.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    Not all atheists are like this; enough are that places like Unequally Yoked — back when you were an atheist, mind — were wonderfully refreshing. (Now, I’m not so convinced that this is a mutual watering hole for Catholics and atheists, so it’s not quite so satisfying.) Online atheists as an archetype live in a more closed echo chamber than the most diehard political partisans.

    Yes, yes, everyone knows that Christian sin is worse, and of course there could probably be a Christian version of the meme, and maybe it’s fitting that irrationality comes from rationalists as when immorality comes from moralists. Accusations like these are all beside the point.

    Point: “Down in the trenches” is more fit for a tribal mentality than worrying about what is actually true or not. Get out of the trenches once in a while.