Friday, September 02, 2011

Kevin Drum is confused about science, life and what prolifers believe

In Mother Jones, blogger Kevin Drum attempts to explain his beliefs on what the unborn are and argues that whether or not the unborn are living human beings is not question for science.
I'm afraid there's some semantic hairsplitting going on here. Of course a fetus is life; so is a human egg, and so is a human sperm. That's never been at issue. But in the context of abortion, life is just shorthand for human life, and whether a blastocyst or a fetus qualifies as human is very much a religious and metaphysical question. It's certainly not a scientific one.
First, Drum confuses parts and wholes. Egg and sperm are life in the same way that skin cells are life. They're part of a human organism. The unborn aren't parts of another human organism. They are organisms unto themselves. We know this because of embryology, not Christianity.

Second, Drum's claim that whether an unborn organism is human or not is a question for religion or metaphysics is profoundly silly. If you came across the remains of a miscarried big cat, would you use religion to figure out which species of big cat is before you? Of course not. You'd use science. Imagine: "My Buddhism tells me that's a panthera leo." "No, no, no... my Christianity says it's a panthera tigris."
The list of criteria for being a person endowed with rights starts with being a human being. Those of us in the pro-choice camp don't believe that the mere presence of cellular machinery and a human genome makes one a human being. Those in the pro-life camp do — though I'd note that for many of them, their actions don't back up this professed belief.1 But whichever camp you're in, this isn't a question that science can answer. Pretending otherwise is little more than a tawdry rhetorical trick designed to give your arguments an authority they haven't earned.
Instead of providing the slightest bit of reasoning for why science can't tell pro-choicers what kind of organisms the unborn are (as opposed to any other organism when science works perfectly well), Drum merely asserts it while strawmanning prolifers. I'm aware of no prolifers who thinks cellular machinery (whatever Drum specifically means by that) and a human genome makes one a human being. If so, prolifers would be opposed to the death of skin cells. We're not. We're opposed to the killing of tiny human organisms.
If you really, truly believe that a fertilized egg is a human life, your opposition to abortion will be absolute with the sole exception of abortion that's necessary to save a mother's life.
That's me.
You won't support exceptions for rape and incest any more than you'd allow the killing of a child who was the product of rape or incest.
No support for rape and incest exceptions here.
You'll also oppose fertility treatments, which routinely create and destroy more fertilized eggs than they use.
I oppose fertility treatments which create more embryos than could be implanted.
Some pro-lifers do indeed feel this way. But many don't. At a visceral level, these semi-opposers obviously have an aversion to abortion that stems from some source other than a belief that human life begins at conception.
It's true. Some people who describe themselves as prolife have an aversion to abortion but have exceptions. Sometimes, in the case of politicians, it's because they think it's politically practical. Other times they have such a feeling of empathy towards rape victims they don't think about how their position (rape exceptions) collides with their beliefs (the unborn are valuable living human beings).

But how does the inconsistency of some prolifers prove that science can't tell us whether the unborn are human organisms or not? It clearly doesn't.

Drum offers not a single valid or even substantial reason for why he thinks religion and metaphysics can tell us what the unborn are biologically. Not one. He just asserts it and then calls prolifers inconsistent as if that can cover his unreasonable, unsubstantiated claim.

Religion and metaphysics can help us determine if the unborn have value and deserve protection but they can't tell us what something is biologically anymore than social studies could tell us what the chemical makeup of Vicodin is. When we can't agree about what something is biologically, it's somewhat difficult to even begin to determine it's value. That's what Drum is doing here. He's derailing the conversation before it even gets started.

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