Can one be an anti-abortion atheist?


This is an entry in the Pro-Abortion series.

UPDATE: In case this is not clear, the comments thread is there for answers to the challenge. It is not your personal soapbox. Please post a comment if, and only if, you are answering the challenge. Thank you.

UPDATE 2: See my response to the proposed arguments on the comments thread.

***

Throughout this series, I assume that the anti-abortion position is partially grounded in a belief in God. I anticipate that this will raise many objections from a contingent of people who profess to be atheists and call themselves pro-life as well. So I think this needs to be addressed before I continue.

Note that I am not arguing against the anti-abortion position generally in this entry; there’ll be plenty of time for that.

Now, the fundamental premise of the anti-abortion position is that “life/beingness/personhood/etc begins at conception.” In general, there is something that makes conception special and makes abortion wrong, while the wasting of sperm or ovum is not wrong.

The question then arises, how is such a proposition justified? I accept that an atheist may utter this proposition and believe that it is justified, but how is it justified without some implicit belief in ensoulment?

Here I have hit somewhat of a snag. I have done everything I could to find anti-abortion atheists and get their answers. I’ve posted on any forum where I thought I found anti-abortion atheists, sent emails to every single individual and organization professing to be secular and against abortion that I could find, and I posted an entry on this blog as a call for answers. But on the whole I’ve gotten only two answers (one of them from Robert Price on his podcast Bible Geek). In general, they have refused to answer me. I did, however, get a lot of personal attacks, some rather insulting, which I found rather hard to understand given that I merely wanted to get answers and deliberately did not criticize any anti-abortion atheist’s position.

In general, it seems that anti-abortion atheists were eager to tell me what their beliefs are, but when I asked them to tell me what the basis for those beliefs were, they either simply repeated those beliefs, called me confrontational or even a troll (when I asked him to tell me how his belief in “life begins at conception” is justified, one well-known anti-abortion atheist blogger called my question a “troll-tactic” and refused to talk to me any further). The Secular Pro-Life organization was happy to reiterate their beliefs to me but outright refused to answer my question. And I am not even talking about the discussions I had on atheist or abortion message boards. I am not telling you all this to complain but to describe the strange behavior I have observed.

I’ve only received two answers from anti-abortion atheists, but in general every proposed answer given by atheists were evidence-oriented. This is not too surprising, given that atheists tend to have a strong belief in science as the means to find answers. But how can any evidence make sense of such a proposition? The only difference, on the whole, between the states before and after conception is that two entities have been fused together.

There is no human life there, at least no more human life than that present in cancer cells. There’s no beingness or personhood there. I see no secular evidence that could make sense of any contrary belief.

Some people claim that such evidence exists. One claimed that there is an organism there at conception and that scientists have observed it, which is a straightforward lie. No such organism exists (at least, the zygote is not an organism: if there is some other life in the womb that qualifies, I am not aware of it). Similar claims that “conception is when human life begins” were made by other atheists. But this doesn’t make much more sense, as the sperm and ovum were already alive, so conception cannot be the “beginning”; and if we consider genetics as the indicator of what is “human,” there is not the DNA of the future organism there until 16 days after conception.

Granted, this does not give a big window for a zygote to be, to borrow a term, pre-human. But there is no particular reason why DNA should be our standard for what “human” means. Our most commonly used standard for defining a species hinges on reproduction, not DNA, and by that or any other non-DNA standard the zygote is no more and no less human than the sperm and ovum. There is no particular reason to adopt the DNA standard. And how can we call human something that grows a tail, a yolk sac, and gill structures? That’s just bizarre! For the sake of being understood, I will assume that the fetus is human throughout the rest of this series, since it is not really relevant to my arguments anyway and I don’t want to have to answer to this point again and again, but factually there is little reason to consider the fetus human at all.

Taking this into consideration, the claim that “conception is when human life begins” is bogus. But is it atheistic, or is it based on a religious premise? My question is not whether anyone can profess to be an anti-abortion atheist. I don’t deny that anyone can profess to be anything. What I am asking is whether the position is coherent at all, whether an atheist can consistently advocate that conception is a special event which happens to preclude abortion.

I just don’t see how that’s possible. The only way I can make sense of their aggressive reactions is to posit that asking the question makes them aware of this flaw in their own position, and thus they may believe that I am trying to expose them. Another explanation is that they believe that propositions about conception are self-evident and in no need of justification, and that thus my requests were seen as absurd or troll-ish.

Either way, I did not do it on purpose. But what it tells me is that they know at some level that their position is not coherent (whether they care about that fact is not really my concern). I believe ensoulment, and therefore a religious background, is the only way to make sense of such a position. There is no scientific evidence for the proposition that conception creates any entity which gains any attribute that makes it an ethical concern that was not already present with the sperm and ovum.

The simple fact is that anti-abortion atheists have an unnerving tendency to fall back into the insanity of religion again (such as The Raving Atheist, an outspoken anti-abortion atheist, who became the Raving Theist- I’ve seen others during my search). Why? Because, again, it’s impossible to be anti-abortion without religious dogma being in the background of your mind.

The upshot of this entry is that, for the reminder of this series, I will keep connecting the anti-abortion position with Christianity, and ignore anti-abortion atheists. This is not out of ill-will but rather because anti-abortion atheists are borrowing their justification from the Christian worldview, and as such have no unique justification of their own for me to analyze. If some anti-abortion atheist decides to pipe up now and give me a new justification (a specifically secular one, that is) that makes any scientific sense, then I will debate it separately in an added entry; otherwise, I have no reason to talk about this topic any further.

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49 thoughts on “Can one be an anti-abortion atheist?

  1. Decius February 2 2012 at 11:50 Reply

    By what principle is permitting murder (of an adult human) wrong? Does that principle apply to a newborn child? Does it apply to a just barely not-yet-born? One which would not survive independently? What is the line between murder (which is assumed in this discussion to be immoral) and condom use? In short, why is life sacred in an atheistic world to begin with?

    Personally, I think that line falls at “would survive independently of and without harming the mother”. Other people believe that sperm and ova are sacred human life; I have never heard a non religious reason for that position.

    • Francois Tremblay February 2 2012 at 11:53 Reply

      I notice you didn’t follow the comment rule. So you’re pro-abortion?

  2. decius February 3 2012 at 16:29 Reply

    No, just not anti-abortion, nor pro-choice, nor pro-abortion, nor undecided, nor any mixture of the above. Therefore, I didn’t respond in the manner required for someone with any of those positions.

    Or are you claiming that those positions are the only ones which with one can identify?

    • David Gendron February 3 2012 at 18:26 Reply

      So, you should answer to one of the questions.

    • Francois Tremblay February 4 2012 at 0:40 Reply

      The rules are the rules. Sorry.

      • decius February 4 2012 at 1:51 Reply

        The rules: “If you are anti-abortion,…” “If you are pro-choice,…” “If you are pro-abortion,…” “If you are undecided,…” “If you lean on one or the other but are not fully in any camp,…”

        I am not, by the definitions you set out, any of the three positions that you identify. I am not undecided. I do not hold a compromise position between any of the positions as you define them.

        Are you now, with the full weight of your position as censor, demanding that I explain and identify my position on the laws surrounding surgical and/or chemical medical procedures intended to cause a naturally fertilized human egg to not become a human infant?

  3. [...] [part 2] (01/17), [part 3] (01/19) Secret Confessions: How great is it to have a child? (01/25) Can one be an anti-abortion atheist? (02/01) The humbug of “reproductive rights”… (02/07) The humbug of the fetal right to life… [...]

  4. [...] on Christianity, and will state that the anti-abortion position is not a religious position. This is highly implausible, both historically and theoretically. There is no intuitive reason why anyone should come to [...]

  5. Sure June 3 2012 at 23:44 Reply

    Sooooo
    I’m against abortion for non-religious reasons, purely humanitarian. I don’t think wasting sperm or ovum or even fertilized eggs counts as abortion. If you use logic, life actually begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself inside the mother in such a way as to not be dislodged. From that point on, left unmolested and given nutrients, there is a high likelihood of being born. It’s how I started, how you started, how everyone started. If you take away that collection of cells, you are denying life to a being. Let’s even call it potential life, an argument pro choice folks like to throw around. If you abort that collection of cells, the potential for life becomes zero, instead of whatever universal dice roll it was before (probably not zero). I am all about individual human rights, emphasis on the individual. When a woman chooses to abort, she is making a choice for another being as well, becoming a tyrant over another individuals life (IMO, if you have a unique genetic fingerprint, you are an individual – I mean, DNA is what we use to identify criminals right?).

    We can even get all sciency and take a multiverse view. In one universe, a woman aborts. In another, she does not and Earth has one more human, who goes on to live and enjoy freedom.

    Or if you want some analogies – a chicken lays a clutch of fertilized eggs. You take one and fry it up and have a nice breakfast and leave the others. The others all become chickens. The egg you ate would have too, if not for your intervention.

    I am not some hard ass when it comes to abortion – I can see it being medically necessary in some cases where the mother and child are at extreme risk of death. In cases of rape, I can understand not wanting to relive the trauma but I would hope the mother recognizes the potential child as an individual who has nothing to do with the situation. For deformities such as downs, I strongly disagree, because even though that being will have a rough time of it, they should be allowed the happiness of living.

    If you want to discuss this, just post back here.

    • Francois Tremblay June 4 2012 at 0:03 Reply

      My point is that there’s no argument that doesn’t derive from religion. You haven’t disproven this point, insofar as you haven’t really presented any argument. All you’ve said is that abortion removes life. No one disputes that, and a lot of what we do removes life. So that’s not a valid argument.

      You also said:
      “When a woman chooses to abort, she is making a choice for another being as well, becoming a tyrant over another individuals life ”
      No… the tyranny is to start a new human life, and by doing so exposing it to innumerable risks. Not starting a life is not a tyrannical act because there will be no person whose rights will be infringed.

      • Sure June 4 2012 at 0:32 Reply

        My views don’t stem from religion. My views don’t even really stem from science and evidence, but just a series of logical connections. Is a larvae eventually a fly, despite vast physical differences? Given the right conditions, yes.

        Is an embryo eventually a fully featured human, despite vast physical differences? Same answer.

        No god(s) involved here, just rationale.

        In the most basic sense, all of our lives can be viewed as a timeline. That timeline starts at conception, but that doesn’t always work out (miscarriages, flushed fertilizations, etc.) That timeline definitely includes being in utero. It is indisputable rationally that we all at some point existed as some cells in our mother’s womb (or test tube or whatever). That’s my non religious basis.

        BTW embryonic testing is a-ok with me because those embryos are not in the condition to be eventually born.

        Your thoughts on the tyranny of starting a new life are interesting, but I look at it this way. If you don’t want the life you have, end it. That is your personal decision, probably the most personal decision a person can make. I’m not saying people should end it all due to bullying or depression, but if I came down with a serious disease with no future but pain and death, I would consider it and cut out the agony in the middle.

        Shouldn’t a person decide whether or not they want to live? They have to be cognitive to make the choice, so let them get to that point first.

        • Francois Tremblay June 4 2012 at 0:43 Reply

          “My views don’t stem from religion.”
          Well, you have presented no cogent argument so far, so I really have no idea if your views stem from religion or not. All you’ve presented is a circularity: life begins at conception because the “timeline” of life starts at conception. You’re just repeating yourself, and repeating yourself is not a justification. Otherwise any proposition could justify itself. This is a nonsensical conceptual mush.

          Here is my reply: you are wrong because you are not uttering truth-bearing statements. I’ve just repeated the same thing, so it must be justified.

          “Your thoughts on the tyranny of starting a new life are interesting, but I look at it this way. If you don’t want the life you have, end it. ”
          Now you’re just being insulting. But in case you’re actually serious, read this:
          http://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/why-dont-you-kill-yourself/

          • Sure June 4 2012 at 1:12

            What about my statements are not truth bearing? Is everything I’ve said not true, ie, in the lifecycle of a human being do we not all exist as a collection of cells in the womb, and if those cells are removed isn’t the potential future life also removed? Please refute that statement.

            As a counterpoint, I am not wrong because you say I am. I am merely presenting facts and logical conclusions that so far are unchallenged. So please, explain to me how abortion does not extinguish all possibility of future life for both believers and non-.

            As for the question of religion bearing on my determinations, it’s impossible for you to know. The only way to truly know would be to raise people in a social vacuum without knowledge of any religion, and ask them. What you are trying to do is pick an impartial jury for the trial everyone has heard about for the last twenty years. The taint of religious knowledge is everywhere and you can have no control group to observe.

            As for the bit about killing yourself, I am serious. It’s a decision that everyone has a right to. I’m not saying everyone should by any means, but they can, if they want. It’s their life, and their wholly personal choice. I applaud folks like Kevorkian who bring peace to those who suffer.

            I understand that antinatals catch a lot of flack in statements like “why don’t you kill yourself/other people”. I’m not anti anti natal, or pro natal, but I am an anarchist in the sense that I believe in pure personal choice. If someone wants to breed, let them, don’t impose your will upon them because you don’t agree. Make that choice for yourself. I can’t make that same statement for abortion, because as I’ve said, there is another individual who gets no choice.

          • Francois Tremblay June 4 2012 at 1:18

            I was mocking you, Sure. I was presenting a circular argument that mimicked yours. Apparently you didn’t get it.

            For the last time, can you present any justification for your position, or are you just gonna keep repeating yourself? Yes, I know you believe the
            “timeline” or “lifecycle” (what word are you gonna come up with next?) says that life begins at conception. So what?

            Answer this once and for all.

            Yes I accept the fact that removing these cells removes the potential human being, and therefore the potential of rights entering the picture. That’s the whole point of abortion. You haven’t refuted THAT, either, and yet you still believe that under abortion there is a person whose rights are being attacked. Whatever, Sure.

          • Sure June 4 2012 at 1:42

            I got your mocking, I was just hoping we could have a rational discussion that didn’t result to schoolyard tactics and insults. In a debate you are supposedto tear down your opponent’s logical fallacies, stooping to personal insults should be left to political campaigns.

            Here’s my justification once and for all, finally, and forever: I like my fellow humans and believe we can do great things together, so I’d like there to be as many of us as possible. That’s why I’m against abortion, those potential people each hold the potential to do great things (equally, they have the potential to do shitty things, but I’m an optimist).

            That’s my justification for my views, and as far down as I can distill it. I believe we all should have a right to life and make our own decisions,and to me cells in the womb are people too (they just don’t know it yet).

            In short: people good. Abortion bad because it makes less people.

          • Francois Tremblay June 4 2012 at 1:50

            Whatever this is, it’s not a “debate” because you have not presented any arguments! Your bizarre beliefs about natalism notwithstanding, I have asked anti-abortion atheists to present their justification for the belief that life begins at conception. You have not been able to do so. So this discussion, as far as I can tell, is over.

          • Sure June 4 2012 at 1:59

            IthoughtInmadeitclearwhylifebeginsatconception-itsprettyeasy really,it’sbecausetatiswhenitbegins!whenelsewouldit?atbirth?Well,there’salotofstuffgoingonbeforethenthatisalive.That’sthepoint.

          • Francois Tremblay June 4 2012 at 2:04

            Look, it’s obvious you’re making a circular argument, and it should be obvious to you too, so are you a troll or are you just as dumb as a bag of rocks?

  6. Sure June 4 2012 at 18:03 Reply

    Nice try with the “Are you a steer or are you a queer?” trap, but I’ll take option C: None of the Above.

    Also, your theme sucks at mobile, and reduces long threads to boxes of single characters.

    Life obviously begins at sometime before birth, which is a point of contention in the long lasting abortion debate. As far as I can tell, life begins when an embryo attaches itself to a mother in such a way as to not be dislodged. Other people have different views – such as fetushood, or even after birth. When do you think life begins?

    • Francois Tremblay June 4 2012 at 22:05 Reply

      Still more circularity. “Obviously” your only goal here is to waste my time, go away.

  7. Sure June 4 2012 at 22:37 Reply

    Answer the question, I’d like to hear your views on it. When does life begin?

    • Francois Tremblay June 4 2012 at 22:41 Reply

      All right, I’ve had enough of your merry-go-round. You’re banned.
      My position was reiterated many times during the abortion series and I’m not gonna repeat myself. It’s not relevant to this issue anyway. Goodbye now.

    • Francois Tremblay June 7 2012 at 0:51 Reply

      In retrospect, I realize you may have read only this entry and missed my answer, so I will repeat it again: human life begins at 28 to 30 weeks of gestation. You’re still banned for being a troll, though.

      • Gregorio August 22 2012 at 16:35 Reply

        One more thing Francois, where do you get this information from? Human life doesn’t begin at week 28 to 30. Neonatologists (pediatricians that specialize in preterm newborns) give CPR to babies as small as 24 weeks of gestation. Ante they live and grow like any other human being. So just one recommendation, before citing scientific facts, at least get you bibliography right and don’t make us atheists look as uninformed as most of the theists out there.

  8. Gregorio August 22 2012 at 15:51 Reply

    Hello Francois, I would like to know why you don’t take the DNA statement as a proof of a new human being and why you don’t consider a fetus a human being. I am a reproduction specialist and would like to tell you some facts about fertilization. Lest start with the ovum and sperm, they are the product of a series of divisions that come from a mother cell. What makes them different from normal cells is that they lack half of their genetic code. A normal cell has a complete genetic code with 46 chromosomes (23 pairs). The ovum and sperm only have one copy of the chromosomes so they only have 23 chromosomes. When the sperm enters the ovum, the chromosomes pair up forming a new cell that onces again has 46 chromosomes. The question is, why siblings don’t look exactly alike if it is the same DNA used from the father and the mother? The answer lies in epigenetics. Once both chromosomes fuse together there is a random re-arrangement of the genetic code that form the particular characteristics of each individual, thus siblings look alike since the main core of their DNA is the exact same as his brothers and sisters but this slight changes in its own genetic code make a huge difference as it evolves.
    Just to get your facts right this fusion of the DNA and the re-arrangements occur as soon as the fertilization takes place and not 16 days after (as you wrote above). Actually the cells starts to divide once there is a new DNA, there is no delay in the process of mitosis (celular division).

    On the other hand, lets talk about the fangs and tail. You said it is bizarre when it is actually pure logic. I take for granted that you being an atheist (as well as i am) understand the basic principles of evolution. What the evolution theory states is that all living organisms (at least the ones we know here from earth) have a common DNA structure. Actually our DNA differs from the rest of the animals and insects only in 2% (approximately). That means our DNA is 98% equal to a fly, to a fish, to a frog and to a lion. So there is no wonder why we (as the rest of the living organisms) may look alike as we evolve. The activation of this 2% pice of DNA is what makes us different from other animals and from each human being.

    A different living organism has two characteristics: it has its own DNA structure (unique) and it follows its own evolving cycle. This two characteristics apply for the new cell that has been formed since the moment of fertilization. A way to see it is that the new cell is considered a human being in the first stage of its own evolution. That is why even science consideres it a human being even though it is only a cell.

    A human being can’t be defined by its functions, characteristics (physical or emotional) nor by his attributes. It is defined because it has a human being DNA, and this DNA is what defines the functions, characteristics and attributions.

    How else could we be called a human being if we didn’t have a human DNA?

    So, if you ask me why am I an atheist and anti-abortion i would say this: the formation of a new human being starts as soon as there is a new DNA re-arrangement during the process of fertilization. And since it is a new living being with its own evolution history, no one has the right to interrupt its own evolution process.

    Hope this perspective helps you find a different look of an atheist that is against abortion.

    • Francois Tremblay August 22 2012 at 16:16 Reply

      Well, that’s what you say, but I have no particular reason to believe you on the DNA issue. But even if you’re right, what’s your argument to go from “it has human DNA” to “it’s a human being”? You might as well declare a cancer to be a human being.

  9. Gregorio August 22 2012 at 16:41 Reply

    Well lets define what a cancer cell is on the first place. A cancer cell is a cell that has mutations on its DNA, loosing its original form, its original functions and its original DNA. So a cancer cell is no longer a human cell since it has no longer the DNA structure of a human cell.

    And that is not what “I” say. There are plenty of genetics books that explain this process.

    On the other hand I would like to ask you, since when can it be considered a human being if the DNA is not sufficient proof of it?

  10. Gregorio August 22 2012 at 16:45 Reply

    There is no going from DNA to human being… it IS a human being only for the fact that it HAS a human DNA. It is now about believing it is about understanding. You don’t have to “believe” me. That is actually what theists do, they believe. Atheists understand things, so what I would recommend is to start searching and documenting yourself with facts, and true bibliography so you can go from “not believing” to “not understanding”.

    • Francois Tremblay August 22 2012 at 17:06 Reply

      I asked people to explain to me how an atheist can believe that a fetus is a human being or person. THAT WAS THE POINT OF MY ENTRY. Can you answer it or not? Stop spamming comments and focus on this issue.

      • Gregorio August 22 2012 at 18:04 Reply

        First of all, do you know what a fetus is? A fetus is a developing mammal until the moment of birth. That means that a fetus is a fetus until the last second before birth. So a full grown baby, in the 9th month of pregnancy is still a fetus because it is inside the mother. It is considered a human being legally and biologically. Actually if a murderer kills a pregnant woman he will be charged for double murder because he has killed two human beings. I am sorry, but I am leaving this blog because I don’t see how we can argue if you don’t understand the basic concepts of what an embryo, fetus, baby or human being is. Start looking for the definition of dignity and when does a human being starts having dignity. It may clarify you a little better when a human being is considered a human being.

        • Francois Tremblay August 22 2012 at 18:07 Reply

          Thanks for the condescending approach, but you’re not answering the question. And I’ll believe you think humans have dignity when you start treating them that way! Get out of here!

  11. Gregorio August 22 2012 at 16:51 Reply

    It is not hard to understand that the number of cells don’t define what a living thing is. So a human being can be as small as its first cell and as large as a 8 feet man. There is no reason to discriminate the one cell that evolves to a full grown man since it is the same DNA that has been carried all along. A cell is a living being, in this case since it has human DNA and the potential to evolve it is considered a living human being. It is the same organism just in a different stage of evolution. The same as a new born baby, it is the same organism just in a different stage of evolution that from the adult stage.

    • Francois Tremblay August 23 2012 at 2:30 Reply

      No, a cell is not a living being. You claim to be an expert but you an quite the ignoramus.

  12. haha October 20 2012 at 19:34 Reply

    You’re a collection of cells too

  13. haha October 20 2012 at 19:44 Reply

    So you’re not a living being? Person is a person no matter how small he/she is. Weather you’re only made up of one cell or multiple cells, you’re a living being. You don’t need to be an expert to know this. I learned this in Gr. 5 that all living things are made of cells. Plus, When can you set an exact time frame as to when the fetus becomes a human? Is it when the fetus starts to grow fingers? When it starts to grow toes? Or when the baby comes out of the womb? The fetus has potential that is almost unimaginable. It developes continously from the start of conception to death. It all starts from that one cell.

    • Francois Tremblay October 21 2012 at 0:20 Reply

      What does it matter whether it’s human or not? What if it had a different genetic code? Would you then advocate killing it? What percentage of DNA differences are allowed?

      To me this is all irrelevant… all I care about is whether it is a PERSON, and therefore possessor of rights, or not.

      Most importantly, why don’t you go ahead and prove to us that a single cell is a living being? It is living but it’s not a being in its own right.

  14. haha October 20 2012 at 19:52 Reply

    I don’t see how claiming that a fetus as a human is a religious issue. It’s totally logical. Abortion is not just a religious issue. It’s an ethical issue. I don’t get why you say that atheists can’t be pro-life; it’s totally irrelevant since this topic is not completely religious to begin with.

    • Francois Tremblay October 21 2012 at 0:23 Reply

      Then why do you persist in NOT answering my challenge of presenting a secular argument for the (religious) belief that a human being or a human person begins to exist at conception? If you have such an argument, then present it, otherwise we’re done.

    • Francois Tremblay October 21 2012 at 22:43 Reply

      Hello? Can I have an answer to the challenge to demonstrate in a secular manner that “life/beingness/personhood/etc begins at conception,” please? That is what this entry is asking you. Do you have any answer, or are you just wasting time?

  15. [...] may recall that, during my pro-abortion series, I issued a challenge to anti-abortion atheists to present a non-religious argument which supports the claim that [...]

  16. pro-life vegan October 28 2012 at 20:32 Reply

    I believe your question isn’t really when does life begin, but when does personhood begin. And you wish to know the atheist justification for personhood that would serve as the rationale for being pro-life. The problem is that I don’t believe most pro-lifers care whether or not personhood has been established. The reasoning for being anti-abortion is simply the destruction of human life, whether it can be agreed that life was a sentient person or not. If you are looking for an atheist argument for prenatal personhood I doubt you will find one. Then again, I doubt you could find a neonatal argument either. Personhood and sentience are grey areas that cannot be proven to an exact moment in a person’s development. One person may argue a viable fetus is a person, another may say you are not a person until born, and still another may argue that personhood involves levels of cognition that are not even present in the newborn infant. Therefore, the pro-life argument is not about whether or not abortion kills a person, but solely about whether or not abortion destroys human life. But it is unfair to say pro-life atheists believe in preserving life at conception, because no one in this category is anti-birth control or emergency contraceptive. The pro-life atheist instead argues that once implantation has occurred life has manifested in the womb and left unaltered will develop into a human being. This does not in and of itself justify being anti-abortion though. And I sometimes wonder if all abortions took place within the first 4 weeks of pregnancy if the arguments and attitudes would change. Unfortunately, abortions statistically are most common at about 9 weeks of pregnancy. At this point there is already well-defined body parts and a heart beat. So even if you could convince the pro-life atheist that a zygote is not alive, you could not convince her/him that a human embryo entering the fetal stage of development is not alive and is not human. And it is impossible for the pro-lifer to understand how the act of being born could make you more or less alive, given that a fetus of 24 weeks can be born and live and yet some pro-choicers seem angry concerning late-term abortion bans. Therefore again, I believe your argument goes back to determining whether or not a fetus or an embryo or a zygote is a person. But as I stated earlier, the criteria for personhood is likely to vary from each person you talk to and I do not think you will find a solid criteria for this among atheist pro-lifers either, as that is not a part of why they are anti-abortion. Pro-life atheists are pro-human life and against the destruction of that life regardless of whether the life has rights or has achieved personhood. The goal is to protect the human species – since you cannot determine who a fetus would grow up to be then you do not know what potential advances or good that person may have offered the human species. So I guess the point is that you potentially have prohibited the birth of a musical genius or great scientist or brilliant engineer or social philosopher, etc…. So there you have it, atheist pro-lifers desire not to destroy human life and desire to ensure the probabilities of outcomes that may be altered if certain humans are not permitted to exist. And I’m not looking to debate this with you. I am just trying to help you understand a position which seems troubling for you. I do love to debate, but from all that I’ve read it appears your mind is quite made up. So this is in no way an attempt to sway your position, but simply an imperfect attempt to answer the question you presented.

    • Francois Tremblay October 28 2012 at 20:35 Reply

      Read my challenge again: it is for anti-abortion (not “pro-choice” or “pro-life”- those are weasel terms) atheists to present a cogent argument for the proposition that “life/beingness/personhood/etc begins at conception.” I did not make the challenge to argue with you, I made it so you’d be forced to present an argument. Can you?

  17. pro-life vegan October 28 2012 at 21:32 Reply

    Perhaps you have misunderstood my point. I believe it does not matter if personhood (which I believe is your true argument) begins at conception or not, because abortions do not take place at conception. But life most certainly begins at conception as cells divide and differentiate into the creation of a separate human being. You reject the DNA argument, but the DNA in this new organism is not the same as the mother’s and so whose DNA do you posit it to belong to? Are you familiar with scientific research and discovery of Homeobox DNA sequences and Hox Genes? If Hox Genes can identify an embryo to be human, then I fail to see a valid argument to the contrary. You cannot say the hox genes present will form a different organism other than the one they are programmed to create. And you cannot say a zygote is not a living cluster of cells if you accept that the sperm and ova are living cells. Again, I don’t think your question is actually about if the cells are alive, or the embryo is human – you are asking for an atheistic argument that personhood begins at conception. And I do not believe such a thing can be proven, the same as I do not believe you can say a newborn has achieved personhood either. That is a sociological and psychological question separate from the biological basis for the atheist anti-abortion position. Modern genetics have proven a human sperm and human ova will, given the right conditions, create a human life. This does not magically occur somewhere along the way of prenatal development, but is present even before the two combine to form the blastocyte. But once that process is in motion, a new life has begun separate from either the ova or the sperm and a new DNA sequence within a rapidly growing human has formed. These are not misrepresentations of truth, but scientific fact. The cells were not dead and the embryo is not a growing dead entity. If this does not answer your question, then I truly do not understand what you are asking.

    (And the reasoning for my use of the term pro-life is because those are the terms commonly used. If it bothers you, simply substitute anti-abortion or pro-abortion without any complaint from me. Though I am told by those who call themselves pro-choice that they are not necessarily pro-abortion. But it is safe to say that those using the term pro-life are in reality anti-abortion.)

    • Francois Tremblay October 28 2012 at 21:37 Reply

      “I do not believe such a thing can be proven”
      Then you can’t address the challenge, and that’s the end of our discussion. There is no need for you to go on and on and on when you don’t intend to address the challenge. You’re just wasting time.

    • Francois Tremblay October 29 2012 at 14:18 Reply

      Either address the challenge or stop posting. This comments thread is not your soapbox. It is for answers to the challenge only.

  18. Sammy April 17 2013 at 20:08 Reply

    Hey screw that! What your are saying is just dismissive and presumptions. Who says atheists who are anti abortion argue entirely from religion-derived standpoints? I don’t. While the earliest stages of pregnancy is only a collection of cells, that collection of cells is well on its way to becoming a real person. it doesn’t matter if it is not an organism yet, but that’s not the point. As an atheist I know that we have the amazing gift of life only for a time. Once our time is up you are gone, completely and totally, never to exist again. This fact makes life more precious and sacred than any religon. To cut off a developing human from its chance to live is simply wrong.

    • Francois Tremblay April 18 2013 at 0:00 Reply

      “What your are saying is just dismissive and presumptions. Who says atheists who are anti abortion argue entirely from religion-derived standpoints?”
      … that was the point of my entry. Did you not read it?

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