A follow-up challenge to pro-choice atheists…

Dear pro-choice atheists…

After 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 moment of birth, or some other moment) where life/beingness/personhood/etc begins (as opposed to the gradual view, which I hold), then can you provide a secular (i.e. not based on the soul or any other spiritual claptrap) argument that demonstrates it?

Note that, as for the anti-abortion advocates, I am not asking you to debate me on the topic. I don’t ask for a valid argument. All I want is a cogent argument, i.e. a series of statements that use evidence to logically demonstrate the truth of the belief in question. I am curious to know if you can do it, since anti-abortion people have failed so miserably at doing so.

I am a gradualist (not to mention pro-abortion), so I don’t agree with you regardless, but can you at least present an argument to defend your view? Like I said as regards to the anti-abortion side, this is a fundamental premise of your position, so you should have no problem justifying it. If, on the other hand, you do not believe in a moment and are a gradualist like me, then the challenge does not apply to you and you don’t need to answer (although I would question why you are pro-choice, but I am not going to debate that here).

Comments are for answers to the challenge only. It is not your personal soapbox. All comments that do not pertain to the challenge will be deleted.

18 thoughts on “A follow-up challenge to pro-choice atheists…

  1. Maphisto86 October 31, 2012 at 20:20

    I guess I will step up despite my inevitable swallowing of words (and perhaps even crow).

    Well my personal views on person hood are ever changing and evolving but I would hazard the opinion a human being comes into existence prior to “birth” (leaving the womb). I would think that since the physical body and mind are one and the same as the person themselves there life begins when the brain of the fetus is fully functional. Of course I am admittedly no expert on neurology but that is what I would base “personhood” or the life of an individual to begin.

    • Francois Tremblay October 31, 2012 at 21:28

      What exactly does “the brain is fully functional” mean exactly? Development of brain connections and structures continues well into childhood. Not even all the neurons are there at birth. So you’ll need to be more specific.

      • Maphisto86 October 31, 2012 at 22:27

        Yes you are right and in that context I need to be more specific. I would mean by “fully functional” that the brain is working and a fully formed organ along with the central nervous system. Of course this raises problems with babies born without a healthy brain. Yet what I am trying to say is that since their is no such thing as a soul or spirit the closest thing we have in reality is our consciousnesses. Yet I cannot guess what or how a fetus before emerging from the womb perceives their existence. That is still a major question scientifically as far as I know.

        Call me ignorant but I am unfamiliar with the gradualist view of personhood. Granted infants are ever growing so I get that but I have not read enough of the position. Of course this all begs the question of when a life is considered a separate human being and therefore should be protected from harm?

        • Francois Tremblay October 31, 2012 at 22:30

          You’re just pushing back the issue. What is a “fully formed organ”? We need to nitpick here because you are positing this as a precise point that actually exists.

          • Maphisto86 October 31, 2012 at 23:02

            After reading up on the development of the fetal brain I now realize my notions are quite mistaken. The consciousness I speak of (and admittedly take for granted) is based on the central cortex which is the least developed part of the brain when gestation ends.

            The spinal cord, and lower brain are the most developed. I suppose if we ignore the higher brain functions of the cerebral cortex I would then think a fetus becomes a person when they can survive outside of the womb; they become capable of autonomous existence (however fragile). Based on this article ( http://main.zerotothree.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ter_key_brainFAQ#bybirth ) I suppose that would be the end of the second trimester. Of course the “higher” brain functions of the cereberal cortex are what make each human being a thinking individual as far as I can tell.

            Man I suck at playing Devil’s advocate in this case! : /

        • Francois Tremblay October 31, 2012 at 23:49

          ‘ts okay, at least you try to present an actual argument. If the previous rounds are any indication (as I wrote about on my previous entry), this is very rare indeed.

          My counter to what you said would be that a newborn is no more able to survive outside the womb than a fetus, that ey still relies on the mother to survive, etc. What it really reduces itself to is basically the ability to not die instantly if removed from the womb, which I don’t think is particularly relevant.

  2. BlackBloc (@XBlackBlocX) October 31, 2012 at 21:49

    I don’t think I understand your question. I think gradualism is self-evident for every philosophical materialist (not that all atheists are philosophical materialists, though those that aren’t really don’t have much of a leg to stand on). But I don’t see how it matters to pro-choice. My reason for being pro-choice is bodily autonomy. Abortion is not equivalent to murder, it’s more akin to refusing to donate a kidney. If the personal cost is trivial, human beings ought on general principle to help each other, but when it comes to great personal cost (to health and personal liberty) one does not have any such obligation.

    That the foetus is not even capable of feeling pain until roughly the end of the second trimester is just philosophical icing on the cake. I would not consider it the right of an adult, neurologically alive human being to be bodily linked to my body against my will because they are unable to live without living off my nutriments and circulatory system, so I have even less reason to extend such charity to what is morally equivalent to my appendix.

    • Francois Tremblay October 31, 2012 at 21:52

      “I think gradualism is self-evident for every philosophical materialist ”
      Then you are not here to answer the challenge, and should stop commenting on it. This comments thread is for answers to the challenge only. Thanks.

  3. BlackBloc (@XBlackBlocX) October 31, 2012 at 21:55

    All I’m saying is you should get ready for a lot of cricket chirps, because I have yet to see any atheist holding to the idea that ‘life’ or ‘intelligence’ or ‘sentience’ arises at a moment rather than gradually.

    • Francois Tremblay October 31, 2012 at 21:57

      That’s fine, I have no qualms with such a position. I would question its consistency with a pro-choice position, but that’s a completely different issue that I don’t intend to discuss here.

  4. Carla Clark November 16, 2012 at 23:07

    No, you are going to hear a lot of cricket chirps, because that is the position Pro-Choicers hold. If any of them do argue a position pertaining to life arising from a moment, they are not atheist, or, if they are, it’s tangential to their actual Pro-Choice position.

    Btw, I’m Pro-Choice AND Anti-Natalist. The two are NOT exclusive of each other.


    • Francois Tremblay November 16, 2012 at 23:21

      “Btw, I’m Pro-Choice AND Anti-Natalist. The two are NOT exclusive of each other. ”
      How do you figure?

  5. Carla Clark November 16, 2012 at 23:53

    Firstly, I am not an anti-natalist because I consider forced abortion less egregious than forced pregnancy:

    Um, you mean you want to force women to have abortions? You want to force/coerce them to have abortions instead of remaining pregnant?

    If so, that’s simply misogyny. Not an anti-natalist position. After all, anti-natalism is often simply predicated on the idea that the human population needs to be decreased (or eliminated), in order to relieve the suffering on the rest of the world’s organisms. We can do that with education, and addressing overpopulation with measures that do NOT target one specific population. And, how can a free world be predicated on a society that always treats one of its members as lesser? That’s how overpopulation occurred in the first place, after all. Women being viewed as lesser, used as broodmares to increase humanity’s population, women viewed as even ‘more’ lesser, and used as broodmares even more frequently. Your position would serve to do the same, simply because the men that benefit from these divisions (that have not been addressed as the actual root causes, only furthered by you) would feel threatened. Creating a backlash.

    If not, then you are not saying that the two can be mutually exclusive, EITHER.

    If you were simply asking me to clarify, I’ve done that, already.

    • Francois Tremblay November 17, 2012 at 00:05

      Antinatalism is the position that procreation is unethical. What you describe is a specific kind of antinatalism called ecological antinatalism, advocated most prominently by VHEMT and cartoonist NIna Paley.

      That being said, get the fuck off my blog.

  6. macdaddy December 23, 2012 at 18:52

    To me, it always went something like:
    A) All human beings were once gestated
    B) Gestation starts at conception
    B) Conception is the act of a sperm penetrating an egg
    Therefore, if you are a human being, you were conceived at some point. This implies that ending a conception could possibly be ending a human life.

    I’ve always found the argument that a fetus is just a collection of cells tenuous, because I’m not sure how one would demonstrate you and I are simply not collections of cells ourselves. Saying that you and I have consciousness or a soul (making us “human”), but a fetus doesn’t, seems to be a bizarre claim to me. How can one know that? To me it’s kind of like Zhuangzi’s whole bit with, “The fish like this spot in the river” – “How do you know what fish like?”

    Human life does not begin as a sperm or begin as an egg; it begins when the two meet. Saying that birth control is akin to abortion seems fallacious, because for every one sperm that may make it into the egg, there are millions of others that don’t. Abortion is terminating the gestation process after it has begun (i.e. the sperm is already within an egg), not a sperm or an egg individually.

    I also know that babies can be born prematurely and still survive. That is, they are a living human being at some point while they’re in the womb. There’s just a great deal of discussion at what point. I have trouble delineating that point (3 months or what have you), but I know if they hadn’t been conceived, there would be no question. So, in my mind, abortion is murder. However, I don’t feel that murder is necessarily wrong – that is, I don’t attach some infinite value to human life itself.

    This is a tricky area for me, because I was brought up in an extremely conservative Christian family, only to discover in my early twenties that my mom had had an abortion when she was a teenager. Yes, I consider my mother a murderer, in the sense that she had ended a human life. However, I don’t really have that much of a problem with this, in the same way that if I found out someone had once killed an intruder. Sure, they ended a human life, but there are far worse things one can do. Given the situation, it made sense. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there, but if it wasn’t for abortion, I wouldn’t be here today; if my mom would have had the baby, I doubt she would’ve ever met my dad. Between the 1) Christian brainwashing mixed with 2) abortion being at the root of my existence itself, I feel I have a somewhat different take on the whole abortion paradigm than a lot of people.

    So in conclusion, I think using conception as the boundary line for when a human life starts is more reasonable than using exit from the womb as that boundary line. And further, I think that arguing “every sperm is sacred” is ridiculous, because sperm are going to die in hugely disproportionate quantities, no matter what. And yes, I realize that a sperm and an egg meeting outside of the womb (i.e. sewer drains) is a potentially forming life, but that doesn’t particularly bother me. Stem cell research does kind of bother me, especially like the folks in the U.K. that were making animal-human hybrids, but I don’t expect everyone else to hold my views on the matter; there are far bigger fish to fry, as it were. I’m just trying to present why I think using conception is a reasonable boundary for the beginning of a human life, and why others may think so as well.

    p.s. I’m brand new to the blog, but find it interesting. I’m also not an “atheist” proper, but a Christian in the Gnostic/Schopenhauer/Kierkegaard/Buddhist sense. I’m still an anti-natalist though. How mainstream Christians want to be so badly saved from the world, and yet still bring people in to it, is baffling to me.

    • Francois Tremblay December 24, 2012 at 00:31

      Unless you want me to address your points, I won’t, because the challenge is for atheists only. Thanks for posting, though. Hope you keep reading the blog. :)

      • macdaddy December 24, 2012 at 12:24

        No need to address my points; I realize that I didn’t fit the profile. I just felt the compelling need to reply, given my somewhat different position than most. When you are brought up a Baptist your whole life, and then find out your own mother broke one of its greatest taboos, and you find this out the same week you find out your sister is pregnant, it can cause a great deal of confusion in one’s psyche. Fortunately I was no longer a Baptist at that point, or it probably would have destroyed me. Suffice it to say I find Shiva/Abraxas/Pan to be a very interesting god, in regards to how creation and destruction relate.

        The whole incident actually helped me respect my mother more. I know that she had made what was a very hard call, but that she did it to prevent the child from suffering in a broken home. My way of addressing the problem is just to not have sex at all, but I understand that it is unreasonable to expect that of everyone else.

        The scene from Hunger where Bobby Sands is talking to the priest about killing the foal sums it up better than I ever can. That movie may appeal to the anarchist in you as well, if you haven’t seen it.

        I’ll keep reading regardless.

  7. macdaddy December 23, 2012 at 20:32

    p.p.s. If it helps my atheist credo at all, I read Hitchens’ “god is not great” the other day, and he used the expression “Not even wrong” in regards to certain religious hypothesis. The reason I mention this is because of the concept that abortion is taking an “innocent human life”. I see most pro-choicers approaching the abortion argument by saying that it’s not human (a collection of cells) or it’s not a life (quick South Park reference: “How do you kill that which has no life?”). I think that the innocent part should be called into question as well; the fetus is not really guilty or innocent, it is not on trial for some crime. So to twist Hitchens’ phrase, the fetus is “not even innocent”. I don’t know, just another way to look at it.

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