Pro-life atheists? A question for you.

If you are a pro-life atheist, I’d like you to help me out for my upcoming series on abortion. I am having a very hard time contacting pro-life atheists, and I’d like your answers to one question:

How do you justify in a secular manner the pro-life proposition that “life/beingness/personhood/etc begins at conception”?

I welcome any answers from you in the comments. I am not interested in debating who’s right or the details of what you believe: just an answer to this question would be fine. Thank you.

21 thoughts on “Pro-life atheists? A question for you.

  1. maphisto86 October 26, 2011 at 23:36

    Well I cannot say I am “pro-life” in a political sense but I am an atheist who has often had difficulty understanding the whole “life begins at conception” argument and whether it is true or not. While I lack the biological education to take a definite stance on the issue, I can say that I personally would like to become a parent one day and cannot say I am sympathetic “antinatalism” as the propounded by Schopenhauer or organizations such as the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Indeed I am more of a Humanist who would like to see are species live on than die out. However, I cannot say I am completely anti-antinatalism either. Obviously the world is becoming overpopulated and I would rather see birth control and abortion legal then not.

    • Francois Tremblay October 26, 2011 at 23:41

      Incidentally, I do want to mention that this question has nothing to do about antinatalism. It is for a series on abortion for this coming January that I am putting the final touches on.

      • maphisto86 October 26, 2011 at 23:45

        Oops! Sorry about that but I am new to your blog although I recall reading your articles on both antinatalism and anarchism. Anyway please disregard my post then as I am probably not representative of the “pro-life atheist” demographic since I approve of both birth control and voluntary abortion clinics.

        • Francois Tremblay October 26, 2011 at 23:47

          Well, we both agree on those points. :)

  2. Gomi October 27, 2011 at 07:57

    Well, I’m not pro-life either, but I do think it’s reasonable to say that life begins around the first cell replications, in a strict sense. Not personhood, which carries all kinds of implications of sentience and such, but life, as much as any basic multi-cellular life. And, as much as that life will become a person, given the typical biological progression (though with the fairly high rate of natural miscarriage, its definitely not a certainty), I can see reasonable arguments to give it preference similar to a person.

    ‘Course, then you run into all kinds of fairly subjective debates about whether that life is parasitic, etc. But following many of the basic definitions of “life,” I think it’s reasonable to say it begins near conception (not strictly at conception, but temporally proximate).

    That said, I’m not pro-life, in the political sense. But I think a rational pro-life position can be taken by an atheist, though I may not agree with it.

    • Francois Tremblay October 27, 2011 at 11:23

      I don’t see how it can be justified, though.

      • Gomi October 27, 2011 at 12:01

        Because, if you take the fetus as a living near-person, then abortion can be seen as murder, or at the very least, difficult-to-justify manslaughter. So, as an atheist can be opposed to murder, they can be opposed to abortion to the point of being pro-life.

        • Francois Tremblay October 27, 2011 at 21:34

          Murder is defined as the killing of a human being. So now you’re pushing the problem back to the statement “beingness starts at conception.” It’s not going anywhere.

          • Gomi October 28, 2011 at 06:31

            But that’s just my point, Francois. It’s certainly verifiable that life begins at conception. That’s scientifically true. The leap they make is that, since that life will become a person through the normal biological process, it should be granted the rights of people. Basically, that a fetus’ to-be-personhood makes it equivalent, legally, to full-fledged-personhood.

            This sets the life of a fetus apart from other animals, for example. And therefore, by their argument, makes abortion a kind of murder.

            A fetus is life. A fetus is also human life. That’s just fact. The difference between the secular pro-life argument and you and I is that they equate “human life” with “person.”

            • Francois Tremblay October 28, 2011 at 12:43

              Uh sure. Cancer is human life too. So why are we not seeing anti-abortion fanatics picket oncology wards and shooting surgeons?

              • Gomi October 28, 2011 at 13:31

                Gee, Francois, maybe because cancer, through the normal biological progression, doesn’t become a person, like I’ve been saying.

                Look, by the usual definitions scientific of “life,” the various stages of embryonic human development (zygote, fetus, etc) are alive. And, since they’re h. sapiens, they’re human life. That’s all very established.

                However, unlike cancer cells, they will become a person.

                How is this so hard to understand? I’m pro-choice, and been involved in pro-choice causes, but on this level, in this particular argument, the pro-life argument is fairly rational and reasonable. I disagree with their extending personhood to a pre-person mass of human cells, but otherwise their logic is sound.

                (Also, by and large, I don’t think it’s the atheist pro-lifers who are shooting abortion doctors.)

                • Francois Tremblay October 28, 2011 at 13:32

                  If you say so. I don’t see the reasonableness of the logic, myself.

                • Gomi October 28, 2011 at 13:35

                  Yea, well.

                • Randall Breneman October 29, 2011 at 08:52

                  Didn’t you say you weren’t interested in debating it?

                  Anyway, Gomi is absolutely correct that human life begins at conception. The question is whether that is sufficient to warrant protection from abortion. At what point does a human life get rights? Personally, I don’t think anyone has made an overwhelmingly convincing argument in favor of any position. I also find that the issue of children is often the weak spot in most ideologies.

                  Some will argue that potential personhood is required for protection. This faces a continuum problem… At what point does that potential exist? After fertilization? Before it? At a certain point in fetal development?

                  Some have argued that acquiring personhood, or that the ability to emancipate oneself from one’s caretakers is the point at which the line will be drawn, and until that point, the child is the property of the parents. These also face a continuum problem of determining when that point occurs. It would also mean a parent has a right to kill their newborn or toddler without being anymore guilty of murder than they would be if they slaughtered a chicken. Even if we can accept the logic of this position, most of us would struggle to accept it on an emotional level.

                  Some have argued that the beginning of life or personhood is irrelevant, and that what matters is that no one has an obligation to do anything for anyone else. They argue that the child is not property, but that the child is a guest in the mother’s body, and may be evicted at any time. Or that the child is a guest in the parents’ home and may be evicted at any time. These same people usually argue that it’s wrong to initiate aggression against anyone else. But then it must be considered whether an IDX procedure is an act of aggression against the fetus, or if pushing a toddler out of the house alone on a winter night is aggression against the toddler.

                • Francois Tremblay October 29, 2011 at 12:21

                  I did argue with Gomi because he’s not anti-abortion, and besides it doesn’t seem I’ll be getting any help anyhow.

                  “Anyway, Gomi is absolutely correct that human life begins at conception.”

                  Care to justify that statement?

                  “Even if we can accept the logic of this position, most of us would struggle to accept it on an emotional level. ”

                  Your emotions are not really anyone’s problem.

                • Gomi October 29, 2011 at 13:10

                  A fetus is human life, by all standard scientific definitions. But is a human life a person? That’s the question on which the issue hinges, I think you’re right.

                  Personally, I think there’s little question that an infant (and beyond) is a person. And, similarly, I believe a zygote isn’t a person. So, I think the threshold is somewhere in between, at some stage of fetal development.

                  For me, sentience and mental capacity is a significant distinction of being a person (as different from a dog, insect or plant). So, I tend to accept a limit on abortion around the third trimester or so, barring medical necessity.

                  And, as for why abortion should be allowed before then, there’s the obligation argument, as you put it. Pregnancy is a taxing 9 month process for the woman, physically, emotionally and mentally. It plays merry havoc with her systems. So, forcing her to continue that process, potentially against her will, makes abortion a necessary option, in my opinion.

  3. Francois Tremblay October 29, 2011 at 13:16

    I think maybe I should have been clearer insofar as I mean “a human life,” not just any kind of human life. Cancer is a form of human life, but it’s clearly not protected. I agree that a fetus is a form of human life, but it’s not a human life.

    I think you’re wrong about personhood, but I’m not going to argue about it, as that’s a different issue. We’ll have more than plenty of time during my abortion series to argue about it, believe me.

  4. Randall Breneman October 29, 2011 at 13:26

    “and besides it doesn’t seem I’ll be getting any help anyhow.”

    Most pro-life libertarians I’ve spoken to have non-religious justifications for their viewpoints. You may want to seek out some of them if you want to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, but i think Gomi pretty much covered it.

    “Care to justify that statement?”

    The point at which an organism is either alive or dead can be determined objectively, and for sexually reproducing animals that point is syngamy (if biologists are to be believed).

    “Your emotions are not really anyone’s problem.”

    It was just an observation, not an argument.

    • Francois Tremblay October 29, 2011 at 21:09

      “Most pro-life libertarians I’ve spoken to have non-religious justifications for their viewpoints. You may want to seek out some of them if you want to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth,”

      Yea… thanks, but I ALREADY TRIED THAT. That’s why I made this entry… as a last resort.

      I tried to “hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.” The horse spat in my face.

      “The point at which an organism is either alive or dead can be determined objectively, and for sexually reproducing animals that point is syngamy (if biologists are to be believed).”

      Stop posting on this thread unless you’re pro-life. This is honestly pure bullshit.

  5. H.C.I.M. November 1, 2011 at 06:00

    I am an atheist. And I am also-pro life.

    It’s partly about drawing lines. If each person has the ‘right’ to life, every single person needs to have this right. You wouldn’t kill my neighbour just because you didn’t like him. It is socially accepted that this would be wrong. you wouldn’t kill your 5 day old baby because you realised that it was too much effort looking after him. Where do you draw the line between a baby that’s just been born and a baby that hasn’t been born yet? A three week old baby has no more awareness of the concept of life and death than a foetus. If I’d been killed at 3 weeks old I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but it is still universally accepted that you don’t kill babies, and if a baby can be born and live after 23 weeks, when it is still classed as a foetus, where do you draw the line? The only place you can really draw it is right after conception, as soon as it comes into existence, otherwise it raises all sorts of questions about morality, and if you can kill a foetus, why can’t you kill a baby, and then if you can kill a baby, why can’t you just go about killing anybody. That is the first reason why I am pro-life

    The second reason is simply because people should have to live with their actions. If you don’t want A baby, don’t have sex. Or at least unprotected sex. And if the condom breaks and you get pregnant… Well that’s a risk you took when you had sex. Abortions are starting to be used as a kind of contraception, and it just teaches people that anything can be undone, and that you don’t have to be responsible for what you do because there’s always a quick fix. If nothing else, this will create generations of people with poor values who make poor life choices, and can only be a bad thing for society In general.

    And yeah, yeah, I didn’t mention the whole rape scenario.. Carry the baby to term, and give it to one of the millions of lovely couples in the world who would do anything for that baby because they can’t have children of their own.

    HCIM xxx

    • Francois Tremblay November 1, 2011 at 13:57

      Thanks for the fallacies, subjective evaluations, and beliefs, but you didn’t answer my question. ALL I wanted you to do is answer my question, not tell me on and on about your disgusting, revolting beliefs about rape.

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