Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ignorance and Arrogance: Not the best combo

The unflappable ignorance and overt arrogance of some pro-choicers never ceases to amaze me.

Matsu, a pro-choice blogger at mediagirl.com (remember the pro-choice blog where Serge and I were called among other things "fundie wackjobs" for providing quotes from embryology textbooks and arguing about when the life of an individual human being begins) attempts to prove that "life begins at conception" is a religious belief.

What's interesting is that Matsu asserts that "life begins at conception" is a religious view after explaining "the idea that "life begins at conception" cannot be found in the Bible." The ignorance of Christian beliefs would also be laughable if it weren't so sad.

Here's my favorite quote:
"The modern scientific understanding of impregnation came first, then a religious significance was attached to a scientific insight."

No. Modern scientific understanding about when life begins occurred and prolifers have accepted this modern scientific understanding. Many pro-choicers because of their advocacy for abortion have vainly attempted to deny scientific facts by claiming that accepting modern scientific understanding is somehow a religious belief.

UPDATE: It appears that I have been banned from Media Girl's web site. I posted a comment there yesterday and now it is gone. It's amazing how some of the supposedly open-minded pro-choicers who simply can't stand anyone imposing their view on anyone else are so willing to ban the speech of others.

Read the comments section for Matsu's post to see how Robert from The Argument Clinic points out a factual error that Media Girl made while commenting (she claimed South Dakota's abortion ban doesn't have an exception for the life of the mother - it does). The response from Media Girl and Bay Prairie is anything but civil and all Robert did was point out a factual error. It would have been so easy for Media Girl to say, "You're right. I blew it. I meant "health" of the mother" or something like that.


  1. What she said was:

    It wasn't until the early 1800's that people figured out how the sperm worked in co-ordination with the egg. Prior to that, the "moment of conception" was not discussed in terms of sperm-and-egg. . . .

    The modern scientific understanding of impregnation came first, then a religious significance was attached to a scientific insight.

    Nowhere in the Bible is the impregnation of an egg by a sperm mentioned, because this concept was not around until several thousand years after the Bible was first penned. Certainly, the idea that "life begins at conception" cannot be found in the Bible in the terms the anti-abortion forces mean it. In fact, during the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church believed that a baby did not have a soul until three months after the birth!

    The church is shifting ground in the details, but still maintaining the view that men are in charge of everything, including wombs.

    Historically, this is precisely accurate. And you seem to misread her post: it is not an "attempt to prove" anything, but merely a recounting of the male-dominated, and factually ungrounded, history of Christian pontificating (literally) about the fetus. Again, she is mostly correct on the facts, but that is different from making an argument.

    Your claim about when "life begins" is questionable (the egg and sperm are both alive before conception, so "life" cannot "begin" then) but not unreasonable (a zygote's life begins at conception, if only because the zygote itself "begins" then). But that by itself is only a biological fact. It means nothing for the moral status of the fetus, but it is often cited in debates on that topic. What is lacking is a moral principle tying biological status to moral status - and that principle, when the need for it is even acknowledged by anti-choicers, is almost always religious in character. Again, she is right about this.

    The biological facts about "life" are not in dispute, but the use of the term "life" as synonymous with "moral personhood" is an anti-choice invention that obscures the importance of the moral - not scientific - claim about when moral personhood comes into being. That claim cannot be a scientific one, and in fact is virtually always merely an attempt to impose an idiosyncratic religious view on everyone else.

    She was right. Your criticisms of her are wrong, and your implied equation of a scientific fact with a moral conclusion betrays a deep confusion. Arrogance and ignorance are indeed bad things. Please desist from both.

  2. Actually, it's Kevin who has some explaining to do. Let's start with his claim that there can be such a thing as a human being that is not a person. Why should anyone believe there can be such a thing?

    I think that's an invention of abortion-choice defenders.

  3. Hi Kevin,
    She recounts history but the recounting appears to be aimed at proving something, does it not? Namely that "life begins at conception" is a religious belief - which her post says later on.

    Sperm and egg are parts of living human beings not living human beings unto themselves. You're confusing parts and wholes. Which is something Matsu does herself later in the comments sections when she ignorantly proclaims that sperm and egg are unborn human beings.

    I'd disagree with the stated opinion that what something is biologically has no bearing on its moral status. I think what something is biologicallly has a lot of bearing on its moral status. The biological status of an organism might not be have complete say but it certainly has some. Does it not? How can we know if it is right to kill something if we don't know what it is biologically? I recognize that you might accepted the scientific fact that a human fetus is a living human organism but many in pro-choice camp do not. Instead, they deny the scientific reality by claiming it is a "religious belief."

    If the biological facts of life aren't in dispute then why is Matsu ignorantly claiming that life beginning at conception is a religious belief? I never claimed that "life" was synonymous with "moral personhood." I merely pointed out that Matsu was falsely claiming that a scientific belief (when the life of a human organism begins) was a religious belief.

    You're trying to put an argument into her mouth that she obviously didn't make and trying to put an argument into my mouth. Please cease and desist from the obvious strawman arguments.

    Also, it'd be nice if you actually provided some reasoning (as opposed to simply asserting it) behind the idea that some human organisms are worthy of legal protection while others have yet to reach "moral personhood" and why I should accept your criteria of "moral personhood" over anyone else's?

  4. Jivin J,
    You nailed it right on the money with Kevin. You know, every time I go through this little exercise with him asserting that I've not read carefully I quickly discover that it's Kevin, not me, that's read carelessly. I'm glad you pointed that out as well. His standard trick is to claim that abortion-choicers aren't really arguing something when, in fact, we all know they are--however cleverly they may try to disguise it.

    Meanwhile, several other items about his post are interesting, given he's out to correct our ignorance and arrogance.

    First, Kevin seems to assume, without argument, that religious truth claims don’t count as real knowledge. Seriously? Why should anyone believe that? He has yet to tell us. Furthermore, I could turn the tables on Kevin and say: “Show me an argument for abortion rights that doesn’t assume some transcendent grounding point.” Or, perhaps I might ask, “Tell my why anything has a right to life or a right to an abortion--Can you defend either of those claims without appealing to a transcendent authority?” In short, I doubt that Kevin can get his own claim for fundamental abortion rights off the ground without borrowing from the very theistic worldview he so despises.

    Third, notice that nowhere in his post does Kevin defend his assumption that there can be such a thing as a human being that is not a person. Why should anyone believe that? Nor does he defend his claim that personhood is an accidental property rather than something intrinsic to the human subject. I wonder: Other than the embryos and fetuses he’d like to arbitrarily exclude, has he ever met a human non-person? Have any of us? That’s the problem with so-called personhood arguments: They’re ad-hoc, arbitrary, and prove too much. For example, abortion-choicers Mary Ann Warren, Michael Tooley, and Peter Singer all concede that any argument used to disqualify the fetus as a person works equally well to disqualify the newborn. Is Kevin willing to bite the bullet and throw his lot in with Singer?

    Fourth, Kevin seems to think that pro-life advocates provide no defense for their position outside of religion. Sure they do. Problem is, Kevin takes no time to actually engage pro-life arguments; he simply dismisses them as religious ideology. However, his dismissal does not constitute an argument and it ignores the sophisticated case pro-life philosophers present in support of fetal humanity. Even at the popular level, Kevin can’t bring himself to engage a basic pro-life argument–one based on science and philosophy. Scientifically, pro-lifers contend that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. True, they have yet to grow and mature, but they are whole human beings nonetheless. Leading embryology textbooks affirm this. Philosophically, pro-lifers argue that there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today. Differences of size, development, and location are not relevant in the way that abortion advocates need them to be. For example, everyone agrees that embryos are small—perhaps smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence. But since when do rights depend on how large we are? Men are generally larger than women, but that hardly means they deserve more rights. Size does not equal value. Pro-lifers don’t need Scripture to tell them these things. They are truths even atheists and secular libertarians can, and sometimes do, recognize. Yet nowhere in his post, or on his website for the matter, does Kevin present a principled argument explaining why pro-life advocates are mistaken on these points.

    I suppose Kevin could reply that pro-lifers are simply begging the question by starting from our intuitions that human beings have intrinsic (or transcendent) value simply because they are human. But doesn’t this objection cut both ways? While pro-lifers assume that human value is intrinsic, Kevin assumes that it’s an acquired property–a moral claim for which he provides no compelling argument. He seems to just assume it. Yes, every philosophical argument needs a starting point and ours is the self-evident truth that humans by nature are subjects with rights. We’re in good company: Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the American Founders built our constitutional republic on the exact same premise. So my question for Kevin is simply this: Why is your starting point more persuasive than ours? Of course, he’s free to deny our starting point all he wants, but only at a terrible cost. Without it, he’ll have great difficulty explaining why natural human rights–including a basic right to kill human embryos and fetuses simply because we want to—exist for anyone.

    As for the pro-lifer’s alleged ties to religion, Kevin would be correct to say that pro-life views are endorsed by some of the world’s most popular religious traditions. Ah, but once again, the sword cuts both ways. According to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the vast majority of religious denominations–including The Presbyterian Church USA, United Methodists, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Episcopal, Unitarian Universalist, and most Jews–hold the exact same metaphysical view Kevin does concerning the status of the unborn–namely, that embryos and fetuses are not valuable human beings because they are not “persons.” Many of these groups specifically cite Scripture to make the case that abortion should remain legal through all nine months of pregnancy. (I’ve written elsewhere on why this appeal to Scripture is flawed.) Put simply, if the pro-life view is suspect because of it’s alleged connection to the metaphysics of religion, so is the abortion-choice one defended by Kevin. (Moreover, just because the pro-life view is consistent with a particular religious tradition does not mean it can only be defended with an appeal to that tradition. Commands against murder date back to the 10 Commandments, but few people consider them unreasonable.)

    In the end, Kevin gives us little reason to suppose that his own metaphysics can explain why anything should have a right to life. Jivin J, you are absolutely correct: When it comes to human beings, Kevin never tells us why certain value-giving properties are value-giving in the first place. He just assumes that they are.

    I'm sure this isn't the last time we'll go through this little exercise with Kevin, but pro-lifers shouldn't think they're mistaken simply because he spits out a whole bunch of unsupported claims he doesn’t want to defend.

  5. Scott,
    Thanks for pointing out the "religious beliefs" can't be real truths ideology. I thought that as well when reading his comment.

    The idea that if an idea of "moral personhood" isn't scientific then it can't be forced unto others (seemingly because it isn't true for everyone) is based on a two-tiered system of "truth" where science is objectively true while religious claims aren't objectively true or not (even if they claim to be) but merely true for the individual who believes them.

    What I've found interesting about Kevin is that every now and again he'll leave one comment on my blog (I'm guessing he gets here through prolifeblogs.com) and then usually never replies to my comment back to him. Kind of like drive-by commenting.

  6. Yes, your "drive by commenting" remark applies perfectly to Kevin. Even when I email him directly, he either ignores my response or I get a return message claiming that his mail box is full.

    Another one of his favorite tricks is to claim that right to lifers are intolerant. Last Fall he wrote (paraphrased slightly for clarity):

    "The problem is that anti-choicers are invariably intolerant of the pro-choice position. It’s not enough for them not to favor abortion in their own cases, or even to make themselves a nuisance by bugging other people who make other choices for themselves. Inevitably, they seek to force others to live by the values of the anti-choicers, through legal restrictions, harassment, and often violence or murder. That’s the difference between tolerance and intolerance, between holding a view and using force to make others comply with it. That’s the difference more anti-choicers need to understand."

    I replied as follows:

    "Actually, Kevin, I understand perfectly. We pro-lifers can believe anything we want as long as we don’t ACT as if our view is true. Privately, you’ll let us say that no human being regardless of size, level of development, or dependency should be killed without justification, but if we try to act on our convictions through the democratic process, you scream foul. In the real world of politics and law, the only view you’ll tolerate is your own. Seriously, do you really think abortion-choicers don’t force their views? Try running that by a medical school that opposes elective abortion and is now being told by “pro-choicers” that it MUST provide or refer for abortion training despite its strongly supported ontological claim that elective abortion is unjust killing. Try running that by the 29 states where the people–acting through their elected officials–passed laws against partial-birth abortion, only to be told by the federal courts–with the blessing of “pro-choice” groups–you MUST allow that procedure.”

    Common, Kevin, get off your perch of alleged moral neutrality and admit that you’d like to restrict the advance of the pro-life worldview as much as I’d like to restrict the advance of the abortion-choice one. Everyone takes a position here and you’d like yours to win and mine to lose.

    In the end, this is not a debate between anti-choice and pro-choice. You and I are both anti-choice on a whole lot of things like spousal abuse, racial discrimination, the dumping of toxic wastes in our rivers, etc. You are also anti-choice (I assume) on the question of killing toddlers for fun. At the same time, we’re both pro-choice on women choosing their own husbands, careers, pets, and cars that they drive, to name just a few things. Hence, the real issue that separates us is not choice versus anti-choice, but “What is the unborn?” Are they members of the human family–like toddlers, for instance–or not?

    Until that question is answered, all your talk of tolerance and choice is not persuasive."

    Like you, I never got a reply.