Anti-abortion atheists still can’t meet the challenge…

Above: pretty much a typical reaction to my challenge.

You 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 “life/beingness/personhood/etc begins at conception.”

I am still getting responses to this entry from people who think they can meet the challenge. The trouble is, no one actually has an argument; what I get is a litany of “but of course it’s possible!”, over and over again. No one can explain to me exactly how it’s possible to have such a secular argument. No one is willing to actually articulate an argument. But everyone is quite sure that it does exist.

So let me go through the comments that have been made. First, from Sure:

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… If you take away that collection of cells, you are denying life to a being.

In our very first example, we have an argument from affirmation: it is too a being! It is too the “begin[ning]” of “life”! (are the sperm and ovum not alive?) But what argument could one possibly use to justify this conclusion? When pressed, Sure replied:

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

That may be so (in many cases it is not: see “miscarriage”), but either way, it is not an answer to the challenge. I am not asking if conception may eventually lead to a full human, but rather what argument can be used to prove that conception is the moment when “life/beingness/personhood/etc” begins. So Sure fails the challenge. Ey then led me into a merry-go-round, trying to get to know my position so ey could debate it (my relevant position here is that “life/beingness/personhood/etc begins at conception” is a religious belief which can only be argued with religious dogma, and that all that matters anyway in terms of rights is whether it is a person or not, which is a too complex issue for the very simplistic anti-abortion and pro-choice positions). Sure tried pretty much everything except answer the challenge.

Our next contestant is Gregorio, who had a lot to say, so I am going to move step by step through his points.

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… 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).

For the sake of not making possibly inaccurate statements, I have removed the sentence I wrote about DNA fusion taking place 16 days after conception. But whether the DNA is fused or not is not relevant to whether there is a human being there that wasn’t there before conception. There is no particular reason to call it either human or a being.

But ey continues:

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…

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.

Again there are a number of assertions that we have a “human being” here, but what is the argument? It is a human being because it has “human being DNA,” but what is “human being DNA”? In answer to an analogy with cancer (a tumor, after all, has “human being DNA” too), ey replies:

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.

From what I understand of cancer, this is an extremely dubious claim. The DNA of cancer cells was mutated so that mitosis could no longer be inhibited, and this is why tumors keep growing. If the DNA was inoperative, the tumors would not grow at all. So the claim that a cancer cell does not have “human being DNA” but a zygote does is strange, to say the least.

So what is the secular argument for conception that Gregorio puts to us? Conception creates a “human being,” and we know this because it has “human being DNA,” which a cancer cell doesn’t have, so there’s basically no way to tell what this “human being DNA” can or cannot be. So essentially nothing was said, but it took us a long time to say it.

Next we have haha, who again jumps to the conclusion:

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.

It’s funny how they always brag about how obvious their conclusion is, but can never provide any actual argument for it. The reference to “experts” is especially ironic since Gregorio claimed to be an expert and still couldn’t back anything he said. Anyway, when I press haha for an argument, ey replies:

I don’t see how claiming that a fetus as a human is a religious issue. It’s totally logical.

If it’s not a religious issue but rather a “logical” issue, in the strict sense of the term, then it should have logical arguments to back it up, not doctrinal beliefs. So where are these logical arguments? I prodded haha again for an argument, and ey didn’t answer.

This may all seem like I am asking for something complicated, but I am not. I am not asking any anti-abortion atheist to present a valid argument, merely to present a cogent argument, any argument (not just saying you’re obviously right and reaffirming your conclusion five more times).

Since the belief that life begins at conception is the basic premise of their ideology, they should have such an argument ready at all times. This should be easy for them. So why don’t they? Furthermore, why have all the prominent anti-abortion atheist organizations and proponents I emailed either ignored or failed my elementary challenge? This is about as bizarre as an official representative of a political party being totally stumped when asked why one should vote for their party or asked to justify one of the party’s core principles. Why should this be a stumper at all? It should be an easy hit out of the park for anyone who advocates for any position, let alone in an issue as charged as abortion where positions are routinely challenged.

In my initial entry, I presented two possible reasons for this:

1. Perhaps they know that this question relates to a fatal flaw in their position, and thus they evade it consciously.
2. Perhaps they believe that the proposition that “life/beingness/personhood/etc begins at conception” is self-evident or so obvious that even asking why this is the case is seen as idiotic.

I am not sure which is the case, although I think it’s probably the latter. In my discussions, both on this blog and by email, my opponents mostly do not try to attack me or otherwise deflect the issue. Rather, they seem genuinely bemused, or even astonished, at my questions and think that repeating their belief is a sufficient answer. And I think they genuinely don’t understand what it would mean to argue for their belief, because to them it is simply self-evident and beyond analysis.

The trouble is that this belief is not self-evident at all (never mind that it’s actually, you know, nonsense). There is no intuitive reason why the moment of conception, amongst all moments in the creation of a person, should be considered of any greater importance then any other moment, at least as regards to humanity, life, beingness or personhood. All these things develop gradually through a period of years and years, only part of which takes place in the mother’s body.

So I wrote this entry to point out that my initial challenge remains, and that’s because its basic premise is correct: any anti-abortion position which hinges around conception is religious in nature and captures the imagination through the belief in ensoulement. There is no other possible origin for it.

And just so that’s clear, too, I am not saying there is no justification for an atheist to be partially anti-abortion (e.g. against abortions done after a certain time). It’s an idiotic position that’s easily refuted, and I’ve done so quite extensively on this blog (as I did for the pro-choice position as well), but at least there’s no blatant self-contradiction. My challenge only pertains to beliefs about the moment of conception.

20 thoughts on “Anti-abortion atheists still can’t meet the challenge…

  1. bj October 29, 2012 at 10:11

    One ‘argument’ that I notice pops up a lot, especially among self-professed ‘secular’ pro-lifers is the ‘but this being *must* be allowed to live, it has unique dna and *will never be seen on this earth again like ever* ”

    We must allow all embryos, no matter the method of conception, to be born, b/c not only are they unique, but the future child could also cure cancer! or invent the next source of fuel!

    Regarding the first, I think thats just primal ego, death denial in action. One commenter even went so far as to say ‘I am so happy that abortion was illegal back in 1955, or I would not have been born. I am unique, never to be seen again! (funny how often they use this argument, egotistical assholes).

    Regarding the second, how come noone *ever* seems to even consider the woman? What if the woman dies in childbirth? What if she is injured, or her life derailed in such a way that she cannot pursue her dreams? What *if* the pregnant woman is the person who could ‘cure cancer’ but that won’t happen b/c she was forced to give birth and died in the process?

    Of course, women are not considered *real* people. They are not considered persons who can actually contribute to society *other than through their use as walking incubators*. So the ‘uniqueness’ and potential contributions of this offspring are extolled – while the woman is repeatedly told she is selfish for not giving life – after all, pregnancy is a small, insignifcant sacrifice compared to the greater good, the good of saving a life!!!!!!!111!@@!!


    regarding cancer cells, how about teratomas? a teratoma is *very* human. I love when pro-lifers use ‘but it has brains and feet and organs’ as a reason not to abort. uh, a teratoma can have that too, jackass.

    and lastly, one of the most ridiculous secular pro-life arguments I have *ever* come across is this “once you see an abortion you realize how horrible and gross and disgusting it is, and how can this be allowed in a civilized society its just so like eww and stuff and like barbaric and like it should be banned’ (this was actually an argument that made it to yahoo news, from a Canadian pro-life crackpot who claimed to be secular – and he was gonna start a whole movement based on ‘abortion is gross’)

    • Peter Pan November 1, 2012 at 01:54

      She won’t cure cancer because we know she is not a scientist, but the baby still has all possibilities open, it could cure cancer. We also know from empirical evidence that most smart people don’t choose to abort: it is less likely that a scientist wants an abortion than a non-scientist.

      • Francois Tremblay November 1, 2012 at 01:57

        What, scientists can’t have babies? What the fuck kind of drugs are you on?

    • Francois Tremblay November 11, 2012 at 02:52

      BTW, on the relation between natalism and woman-hatred, have you read this entry?

      • bj November 16, 2012 at 12:01

        yes, I have

        it was the first post I saw on the day I discovered your blog!

        it’s what got me hooked!

  2. bj October 29, 2012 at 10:18

    oh, in conclusion, we never question the above assumption that if a woman aborts she is ‘denying the world of the person who cures cancer’ b/c, and this is what annoys me most, it is *expected* that women are incubators first, people second. it is often just assumed that a womans primary purpose is to gestate a fetus, and if she deviates from that purpose, she is selfish and horrid. noone else is expected to give up bodily autonomy to save another, not even their own offspring. so why is a pregnant woman so unique? this really is ‘women as livestock’ in action.

    • Francois Tremblay October 29, 2012 at 14:22

      Yes, there is so much objectification in anti-abortion and natalism that we don’t even see it. It’s just normal to objectify women as breeding machines. Even women complain when I point that out, because they think I am just being insulting to breeders… but it’s the truth!

  3. bj October 29, 2012 at 15:39

    and this narrative is only reinforced when we are constantly told how women are not as smart as men, women are shitty at science and math etc etc.

    one jackass (and i cannot remember the name, sorry) recently wrote a book about how men are really the oppressed class. the premise of the book is that men have to fight wars and compete for women, thus, men have ‘evolved’ to be intellectually superior to women. women, however, always stayed home, had babies and did the laundry, so the female intellect did not develop the way the male intellect did. you get smart men, b/c life as a dude is more challenging. women do not face challenges, so they stayed ‘mediocre’.

    so when you hear shit like the above, and you read about how girls suck at maths and science, it is only logical that you will not think ‘oh gee the girl sold off at 8 to be a bride could have been the genius who___’ or ‘the woman who just died in childbirth could have cured ______’ because we are told, over and over, that women are simply *incapable* of anything other than being moms and caretakers. so if a woman dies in childbirth, society really doesn’t lose anything but a breeder, right? and breeders can be replaced!

    • Francois Tremblay October 29, 2012 at 16:02

      re: your third paragraph, that is a great point. I like the way you think. I think you’ve nailed the extent of the objectification on the head.
      re: your second paragraph, the belief that men are an oppressed class is depressingly mainstream. I really believe that if the government goes belly-up, we’ll be back to a theocracy in no time.

  4. bj October 30, 2012 at 19:22


    one other thought, I have heard this argument before, but I want to expand on it a bit

    first, from your post:

    “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.”

    yeah, ok. whatever

    first off, the fertilized egg is the equivalent of blueprints for your house. its not a house. if your blueprints burn, that is *not* the same as burning your house down.

    now, how about blueprints + building materials

    surely that is more or less the same as an entire house right? just not completely put together. but its all there. I am sure this is how these idiots will choose to describe a fertlized egg.

    so I thought about this some more, and, hopefully I am on the right track here, but if the fertilized egg = blueprints, then the building materials = the mothers body, right? I mean, the calcium that forms the fetus’ bones = calcium from the pregnant womans body, and so on. the pregnant woman *IS* the building materials. the fertilized egg is nothing but the plan.

    • Francois Tremblay October 30, 2012 at 19:42

      Well yes, I agree. You pretty much summarized that aspect. The fertilized egg is also a living thing, but it’s not a being, and it’s not “me” in any way shape or form. It is only a causal antecedent of me. Much like a star is not me, but is also a causal antecedent of the elements that compose me.

  5. […] the complete failure of your anti-abortion brethren, I would like to address you a challenge as well. If you believe there is a moment (either the […]

  6. bj October 31, 2012 at 21:01

    thanks for listening to my musings here. I am working things out as I go along. I have only been studying feminism, in a more serious tone, for the past year. I still have a long long way to go. It is important to me that my ideas are sound.
    I have always considered myself to be a feminist, at least in the more visceral sense. Whenever I was told pregnancy was ‘my job’ or that abortion should not be allowed, I found myself getting really angry. I didn’t really think about it that much, other than ‘who the fuck are they to tell me what I can and can’t do with my body’
    I have however, been guilty of misogynist thought – and I blame that on culture as a whole. I grew up in the 80s, and as a pre-teen I remember thinking that if a woman got raped, it was because she simply asked for it. I believed this b/c I was extremely naive about sex, and the idea that a woman would only get raped b/c she was a slut just felt so natural. I suspect that many people do not grow out of this mentality – and that this is one of the many reasons that rape culture still persists today. Its just so easy, and comfortable, and natural, to blame the victim, rather than put some effort into empathizing with them.

    The above is basically my long-winded way of saying “I am working on giving these ideas more thought than I ever have before” :P

    Anyways, sorry for derailing. Or using this as a ‘soapbox’. I still have to read all of your posts on abortion, and from what I have seen, your arguments are some of the best!

    • Francois Tremblay October 31, 2012 at 21:42

      No, it’s fine. It’s obvious that you really thought about this. You made some very good points. Have you read some of the radfem blogs I have in the blogroll? Antiporn is especially good.

  7. bj November 1, 2012 at 11:16

    yes, I have been reading them

    Radfem 101 is great, as is cherrbyblossom life

    regarding porn, I saw a really interesting video on the subject:

    I really had *no* idea about how destructive the porn industry really is!

  8. […] 2: See my response to the proposed arguments on the comments […]

  9. […] birth or at birth when a non-person becomes a person and is entitled to protection by law (I have analyzed the arguments presented to me by anti-abortion readers). Now, I know most pro-choice advocates would argue that […]

  10. […] that a pregnant woman is using condign power on another human being, therefore they must redefine fetuses as human beings. So their view of abortion is that of a woman having power over, and murdering, another human […]

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