The “Friendly Atheist” On Muddled Pro-Life Arguments By Conservatives UPDATED

 

Hemant Mehta has a post up entitled Why Are Religious Conservatives So Bad When It Comes to Discussing Abortion? He notes that,

When it comes to the 100% pro-life position regarding rape/incest exceptions, here’s an argument against allowing them that I can understand:

If the product of conception between two humans is a human, and if human life — including inchoate human life — is deserving of protection, then the manner of a baby’s conception is irrelevant to a determination of whether that inchoate life has the right to continued existence.

I don’t agree with that… but I understand that. If the pro-lifers left it at that, I think they’d be better off strategically.

I agree with him in understanding that argument, though I don’t agree with his not accepting it. C’est la vie.

Humanists should agree on the sanctity of human life whether they are Christian humanists, from other faith traditions,  or whether they’re secular humanists. If you believe, as I do, and as the Catholic Church does, that all human life from conception to natural death should be honored, then there really can be no exceptions that stand up under a humane, moral, scrutiny.

Politicians should stop muddying the waters when it comes to abortion.  If the dignity of the human being is something that we honor, then we can’t only honor it in the breach, but it must be honored in total. Truth demands it. Exceptions, and the goofy non-scientific, sentimental,  wishful thinking scenarios they are built around,  are not worth the candle.

It’s like I said a little while ago. You can’t be for percentages of  pro-life, as the only tenable position is that you are either 100% for life or 100% against it.  Arguments are easier to defend when they are ironclad. So even if the first part of the statement below, with its reference to God, is scrapped,

As a gift from God, every human life is sacred from conception to natural death. The life and dignity of every person must be respected and protected at every stage and in every condition. The right to life is the first and most fundamental principle of human rights that leads Catholics to actively work for a world of greater respect for human life and greater commitment to justice and peace.

the argument for the right to life still stands , no matter whether you’re an atheist, or a believer. Which explains why being an atheist and being pro-life is not mutually exclusive.

UPDATE: The Secular Pro-Life Facebook page.

  • rover serton

    Can one person force another to do things they don’t want to? Baby presumably wants mothers body and resources for 9 months. Is woman obligated to give? I see it as competing interests that the woman wins.

    The problem I see with Catholic teaching is that EVERYTHING is black and white. Condoms, the pill, things most Americans consider reasonable are the same to you as partial birth abortion with the baby crying. The same as the Westboro Baptist Church might have a reasonable idea but it’s so full of crazy, you’d never recognize the sane.

    Rover

    • Frank Weathers

      Many folks can’t get their heads around the complexities of human sexuality. The Church has gotten her mind around this topic, in all it’s nuances and complexities, unlike say the Westboro Baptist Church. But don’t take my word for it. Have a look for yourself.

      The argument is for human life having primacy, and dignity in all of its dimensions. But that isn’t how we have built society, because most do not hold that argument as being true.

      In your first sentence, for example, you ask a question that is based on pleasure, and strength, taking primacy, and not the inchoate life that results from the sexual act. Your argument seems to be “might makes right, and pleasure above all.” A morality based on might makes right is barbaric, is it not?

      • Faith

        It is funny that Rover thinks the Catholic Church is too simplistic when really it is very profound and nuanced and it is Rover who has the overly simplistic point of view.

    • tz

      Think of a techno thriller where someone puts a bracelet saying that if you go outside a boundary or remove it, an innocent person will die. Do you remove or ignore the bracelet? (The movie “The Box” has such, but from an existentialist perspective).

      Or if the woman is kidnapped, raped, and held for 9 months so it is a baby outside the womb you would kill.

      In this instance, it is not consentual, so the baby is a second, unwilling victim.

      But lets say you are kidnapped and placed aboard a ship, hidden that leaves port with you as an unwilling stowaway. Do the others on the ship have the right to throw you overboard lest you consume resources or divert their 9 month cruise schedule against their will?

      Does the right to life supersede liberty or are property and life equal or even property more important?

      Perhaps if you insist, the woman can assert a debt for her forced support so when the baby is able to work it can be paid back. Otherwise any restriction on liberty, even if a third party causes it, should be a capital crime without needing adjudication to kill the second party.

  • Dkeane

    The sticky wicket is defining “human life”. A 16 cell embryo created during IVF is not human life. Seems to me it would have to be concious to be human.

    • Frank Weathers

      In 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued, Donum Vitae (Instruction on Respect for Human Life), where the Church officially forbade the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF), stating: “The child has the right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up within marriage. The good of society requires that children come into the world within a family and that the family be based on marriage, the only setting worthy of truly responsible procreation.”

      Read more here.

      • Mr. Patton

        A fetus is not a child and to claim such is an outré antediluvian legerdemain…:D

        • Frank Weathers

          A fetus is a developing child, within the womb. Your existence proves this. Regardless of this fact being outré for folks who look for valid excuses to kill innocent human beings, a fetus is also a person, Q.E.D.

          I’ll let a philosopher explain…

          • Mr. Patton

            This “issue” will never be resolved in your favor until you understand the nuanced meanings of the words you use and frame the argument accordingly.

        • http://www.pilgrimwoman.com Sue Korlan

          A fetus is a human being. If you don’t think so, what species do you think it’s a member of?

          • Mr. Patton

            A fetus is an unborn or unhatched offspring of a mammal.

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

            pray tell, what kind of mammal?

    • Faith

      Consciousness is not a good determination of whether someone is human or not. How about someone in a coma? How about you when you are sleeping? Whether someone is conscious or not depends on timing and situations. We shouldn’t define human life in such a flimsy way. That 16 cell embryo is the very beginning of life, but it is still human life.

  • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

    Speaking “strategically”, I daresay the pro-life position would come closer to finding further acceptance if it sometimes replaced the abstract term “life” — as in, “a new human life has the right to continued existence” — with concrete terms. Because, strictly speaking, no LIFE has ANY rights: only PERSONS have rights. And though an embryo in the first couple of months is not, properly speaking, a baby, it IS already (at least by about the fourth day after fertilization, when cell differentiation proves the organizing action of a human soul) a child, a person: a newly living child who indeed “has the right to continued existence”.

    • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

      But suppose someone objects, “Well, if the embyonic child has a (spiritual) soul, it would continue to exist and live on after being killed.” True (I’d reply); but then it wouldn’t continue to live AS A HUMAN, which is how it’s naturally meant to live and develop, all the way into the “golden years”. Accordingly, by a “right to life”, pro-lifers mean (as did the American Declaration of Independence) a right to live humanly.

    • Balin

      “…no LIFE has ANY rights: only PERSONS have rights.” Very interesting. Viruses and bacteria are life. Corporations are legally persons. Fetuses aren’t. Maybe suggesting to pro abortion advocates that they seem to consider fetuses more akin to disease than persons and corporations more akin to humans might be a more effective approach in the battle. It would at least be fun to watch them explain themselves in a manner more definitive than the usually disingenuous nonsense about being pro-choice as if abortion is no different than choosing a brand of peanut butter. A change in strategy in this direction just might be the answer. Thanks for the post. Definitely something to consider.

  • Bender

    Well, of course, from the totally pro-life perspective, there is not just the life of the child to consider, there is also the woman to consider as well. We must respect and promote her dignity as well.

    And what is the more dignified response to a woman who has been victimized by the horror of rape? To encourage her to go become a killer of an innocent human being? To become, in addition to a victim, a perpetrator of violence against the other innocent victim of the rape? Or do we better respect her dignity by offering her genuine love and support and compassion, “suffering with her,” rather than heaping additional suffering upon her from the guilt of being a murderer?

    Women who have been victimized by rape deserve better than to be told that the answer to her rape is to stain her hands with blood, to kill the innocent human life within her.

    • Frank Weathers

      Indeed. A culture of life would be oriented differently than our current culture.

      “Love has its reasons which reason can never know.” So wrote Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher, in the 17th century. Love operates with an entirely different calculus than that of reason. And since we live in a highly rational world—a post-Enlightenment, modern, Cartesian, scientific, corporate, technological word—we tend to equate the words “reasonable” and “defensible.” We say, “It stands to reason!” to imply that reason and truth are the same thing. We say, “Give me a good reason why you’re doing that!” to demand an accounting for someone’s actions. Often, love appears to us to be the irrational, the sloppy, the immature grounding for life choices.”

  • MARY JOAN ROURKE

    Being pro- life is not only being against abortion. It is for all life and all people. This includes being against the death penalty and i never heard that mentioned.

    • Frank Weathers

      Because the argument presented was about inchoate life, you see. As for the death penalty, I stand with the Church’s reasoning across the entire spectrum on life issues.

    • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

      It was in the 1970′s, I think, that the Catholic Church in America became vocal against the death penalty. In 1973, Notre Dame’s Joe Evans Englished Jacques Maritain’s book On the Church of Christ, in which the prominent Thomist philosopher (admittedly in disagreement with Aquinas himself) stated flatly (in note 19 of Chap. XIII): “In my opinion … capital punishment is in itself such a sin [i.e, 'a sin of homicide'] commited by society.”
      Also in the 1970′s, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, by majority vote, said simply (I quote from memory): “This Conference goes on record against the death penalty.”

      • tz

        It is a technicality, but the death penalty can be licit in some circumstances, something like self-defense is killing, not murder. In earlier times like when Aquinas lived, where life in prison was either not possible or cruel to the point of being a worse sin, for grave reasons it was permitted but recognized it was near the edge even if justice was as perfect as humanly possible, not corrupt or confused. But in the 21st century western world, even or especially the pagan one, it cannot be licit because it cannot be necessary. Note however many innocent people would still be incarcerated for life as only the death penalty motivates strict review.

  • John Michael Akers

    Frank; Thank you very much for the pertinent information provided. I particularly found Peter Kreeft’s paper on “Human Personhood Begins at Conception” enlightening.

  • Scotty Ellis

    “the only tenable position is that you are either 100% for life or 100% against it.”

    False. There are coherent arguments for why abortion should be legal in some circumstances and not in others. For example, an argument against abortion based on moral caution.

    I will begin with the premise that an entity must have a basic level of conscious participation in reality to be considered a “person” or “agent” with the associated moral considerations those statuses impute. Now, you can disagree with this assumption, as I suppose you do, but I don’t think there’s any way to say it is an incoherent notion. If I believe that only persons deserve a certain level or moral protection (be they human or not), then I need to have a definition of persons.

    Now, it is unclear at what point an embryo or fetus gains a conscious, participatory experience of reality. But there are points at which it is clear that the embryo does not even possess the physical structures necessary for consciousness. A 16 cell zygote simply has no thoughts, consciousness, awareness, memories, or anything else of the sort; and what is more, we know that a certain set of structures is necessary for that consciousness. On the other hand, we do know that a fetus of sufficient development does have the requisite structures. We do not know whether they have consciousness, but moral caution suggests that we should treat them as if they do.

    Now, since the transition from a zygote without requisite structures to a fetus with the requisite structures is gradual, moral caution suggests that we place a limit on abortions at the latest point at which we are still sure that the embryo does not have the requisite structures needed for personhood. It is possible that naturally occurring chemicals anesthetize the fetal brain until birth, but inasmuch as measuring consciousness is not yet something possible through experimentation we should stick with only what is verifiable through science – for example, the fact that neurons with a particular level of organization are necessary for thought and memory. Such a determination should be a matter of scientific inquiry, and as far as I can tell the first trimester is a solid boundary on this matter. It is coherent, then, to legalize abortions before the end of the first trimester and outlaw those performed after this mark, except in cases of immediate threat to the mother’s life. This latter exception is coherent by means of self-defense; the mother has a right to protect her life against someone who threatens it, even if the threatening party is unaware or unintentionally causing the threat.

    • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

      Of the several issues on abortion that have been here presented — its legality, its morality, and its subject the pre-born child — I’ll now take on only the last one.
      Mr. Ellis’s views on the intra-uterine child’s non-personhood or doubtful personhood until late in gestation were indeed common in ancient and medieval times. But modern microscopic biology reveals that even before the time — about four days after fertilization — when an ORDERLY DIFFERENTIATION of embryonic cells proves that the cell cluster is no longer — if it ever was — just a colony of cells, but rather a single organism — even before this time, the genetic material was already present to guide the brain to eventually produce (in the final months of gestation) neocortical impulses. Of this the ancients and medievals were ignorant.
      But what about twinning, which is sometimes not observed till a couple of weeks after fertilization? Well, although it may be not *observed* till then, the two embryos, the two organisms, were probably already *formed* before then (since small beginnings often happen before they’re observed).

  • Scotty Ellis

    “Mr. Ellis’s views on the intra-uterine child’s non-personhood or doubtful personhood until late in gestation were indeed common in ancient and medieval times. But modern microscopic biology reveals that even before the time — about four days after fertilization — when an ORDERLY DIFFERENTIATION of embryonic cells proves that the cell cluster is no longer — if it ever was — just a colony of cells, but rather a single organism — even before this time, the genetic material was already present to guide the brain to eventually produce (in the final months of gestation) neocortical impulses. Of this the ancients and medievals were ignorant.”

    Irrelevant. My argument has nothing to do with whether the embryo is an organism. Cancers are also organisms. My argument is about whether the embryo is a person.

    • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

      Cancers are organisms in the sense that each single cancer cell is an organism. That’s why I corrected my first draft by adding the word *orderly* to cellular *differentiation*: aiming to proceed with maximal conciseness, I just implied instead of stating explicitly that, unlike a cluster of cancer cells, the embryo is scientifically observed to be a SINGLE unified organism of many cells ever more intricately differentiated in an orderly way toward forming a newborn animal with a brain apt for the approprate species (that of the parents).
      And a HUMAN embryo (with its characteristically human number of about 46 chromosomes, IIRC) has ALREADY (scientists say) the precise genetic “blueprint” for guiding the brain to eventually produce (in the final months of gestation) neocortical impulses characteristic of a human newborn infant — a human self identical with the self that it was as an embryo.
      If of course one does not admit that a newborn human is a person, my argument won’t have force.

      • Scotty Ellis

        The embryo does not actually possess the structures of consciousness until it actually possesses them. Potential is opposed to actuality. The zygote may potentially have the structures of personhood, may have the building blocks that will later become/produce the structures of personhood. It still does not actually possess those structures.

        An acorn is potentially a tree. It is not for that reason a tree.

      • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

        Speaking for myself, I admit that it’s not at all evident that either the human zygote (an evanescent single cell) or the two, then four etc. replica-cells into which it immediately proceeds to divide, have “the structures of consciousness”. But once those cells have begun multiplying not by replication but rather in ever more intricate and orderly DIFFERENTIATION of some cells from others, it seems evident to me, based on modern micro-embryology, that the human embryo does indeed have the structures of consciousness, and not just “building blocks”, but an actual “blueprint” — already — for a functioning human brain.
        Accordingly, although a human embryo is only potentially a messy baby, only potentially a toddler, potentially a teen-ager, etc., it’s already actually a human child — a (newly present) human person.

        • Frank Weathers

          Since we don’t really know for sure (about when consciousness is actualized), an argument a bit like Pascal’s Wager can applied to this. If we aren’t really sure when consciousness occurs, then isn’t it reasonable and prudent to argue against killing potential humans because we do know that they will achieve consciousness? Keep in mind that the argument stems from the prior argument that all human life is sacred.

          Scotty’s argument of potentiality above holds water for a sperm cell, perhaps, or an unfertilized female ovum, but once the two are combined (the ovum is fertilized), you haven’t got a human version of an acorn; you have a new person, soul and all.

        • Scotty Ellis

          Joseph Ortiz:

          “…the human embryo does indeed have the structures of consciousness, and not just “building blocks”, but an actual “blueprint” — already — for a functioning human brain.”

          Sure. Its cells possess the DNA that will guide its entire development. But this still does not mean that it actually has the structures necessary for consciousness any more than a construction worker’s having a blueprint means there is actually a skyscraper. What is not at dispute is the fact that there is an organism, nor that that organism has DNA that (typically) will guide it to become, after a series of biological processes, something with consciousness. What is at question (and what you nearly admitted) is whether the zygote has consciousness at all; without the structures, it cannot be conscious. Ergo, still not a person under a definition of personhood that accepts a basic conscious sentience as a fundamental requirement.

          Frank Weathers:

          “Since we don’t really know for sure (about when consciousness is actualized), an argument a bit like Pascal’s Wager can applied to this.”

          We do not know when the transition to consciousness occurs. We do know, however, that there is a point in which the zygote simply cannot have sentient consciousness, because it lacks the physiology of consciousness. Ergo, I agree with moral caution, but logically it need only extend after the latest point at which we are certain the zygote does not possess the structures of consciousness. Additionally, when weighing the certainty of the mother’s health and personhood against the doubtful status of the fetus’ personhood, certainty should be morally allowed to prevail; that is, abortions should be allowed to protect the mother’s life at all points of pregnancy.

          “but once the two are combined (the ovum is fertilized), you haven’t got a human version of an acorn; you have a new person, soul and all.”

          I’ll leave aside this “soul,” whatever it is (or whether it even exists), and merely ask what you mean by “person” here. What makes a person a person? What is your working definition of personhood?

  • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

    As far as Mr. Ellis’s reply to me goes, I can’t see why he keeps using the term “zygote”, since I’ve admitted that it’s not evident the human zygote is a person, nor any subsequent stage before cells go from simple replication to (orderly) differentiation (at about four days after fertilization).
    My “blueprint” analogy is admittedly weak. But the scientifically observed reality goes far beyond my weak analogy, for the skyscraper’s blueprint is not something within the skyscraper’s foundation that, as long as materials keep being supplied, develops the foundation into the skyscraper precisely as the blueprint specified.
    Once the human embryonic cells go to differentiating themselves from one another in a unified developing organism, the DNA not only “will guide” but already guides the development straight toward the neocortical impulses characteristic of human personhood — a personhood already evidently present actually (here I may go further than Mr. Weathers) by the fourth day after fertilization.

    • Frank Weathers

      Speaking of blueprints, there is so much we don’t know, and yet so many new discoveries.

    • Scotty Ellis

      Joseph Oritz:

      “Once the human embryonic cells go to differentiating themselves from one another in a unified developing organism, the DNA not only “will guide” but already guides the development straight toward the neocortical impulses characteristic of human personhood — a personhood already evidently present actually (here I may go further than Mr. Weathers) by the fourth day after fertilization.”

      First, you still have not put forward a definition of personhood. I will assume until you do so that you are fine with the definition I put forward: a person is a being with the capacity for conscious experience and sentient thought (however weak that may be). As such, moral caution demands that beings that possess the structures necessary for such experience and thought to be treated as though they were persons even apart from any (currently unavailable) conclusive test to determine consciousness.

      The DNA guides the development of tissues and structures, but at a certain point those structures are either entirely absent (in an extremely early stage of development) or are present in such a rudimentary condition that it is incapable of performing as a structure of consciousness. In either of these cases, it is clear that the zygote or embryo has no consciousness, and thus do not qualify as persons.

      I think the best thing for you to do is to present your view of personhood; I suspect it differs from my own and is the real source of our disagreement.

      • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

        Since my li’l presentations here have not aimed to be philosophic, but only to be a layman’s purportedly common-sense overview based on my readings from modern micro-embryology, I don’t propose any definition of personhood, I only go on the idea that IF one admits a newborn human is a person, one must logically admit that it has been such ever since its multiplying cells have been not just replicating but actually differentiating in an orderly way straight to its present stage of newborn.

  • JD

    Great article explaining pro-life position from non-religious point of view at
    http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/01/a_moral_choice.html


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