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.