REPLY #23 TO
are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.
My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text
and are prefaced by my initials (MB)
RE: Why isn't your view "force feeding" but my view is?
Simple. If a woman has an abortion, her decision does not affect your life in any way. Your life would be exactly the same as if you had never known about the woman's abortion in the first place.
(R) If a total stranger is murdered, does that affect your life in any way? Won't your life be exactly the same as if you had never known about the stranger's murder? Obviously this doesn't make the stranger's murder OK, does it? The stranger's murder is wrong, regardless of who is affected. My point is that the death of the unborn child is also wrong, regardless of who is affected.
(MB) Whether or not you consider something to be "wrong" is not an answer to the question of whether or not you can force feed that opinion to somebody else. To answer your questions, it is certainly very possible that the murder of a total stranger will affect my life. Consider that this stranger most likely does something in his life that either directly or indirectly affects something that happens in mine. Maybe he is a farmer who grows food that would feed me. Maybe he runs a company from whom I buy products. Maybe he's a wargame designer who produces titles that I enjoy playing. Even if his death, for some reason, did not affect me in any way, it is a certainty that it would affect somebody else in ways similar to those I mentioned.
Now, you can't say that a woman who freely makes a decision to have an abortion has done something that will affect your life in any similar way. Notice that none of this has anything whatsoever to do with any moral determination of "right" or "wrong". It simply addresses the question of whose views on this matter constitute the force feeding of opinions to somebody else.
The "humanity of the child" was not the point being debated.
(R) No, it is absolutely central to the point being debated.
(MB) If so, in order to defend that view without begging any questions, you will need to provide a specific, supportable and generally accepted definition of "humanity" that is free from any theological implications. I submit that no such definition exists.
The point was the circumstances of the conception of the child and how they contribute towards the mother's decision of whether or not to have an abortion.
(R) Well, here you are admitting that we're talking about a child, correct? Thus my question about the relative value of a child depending on their method of conception seems totally appropriate.
(MB) The problem here is that I'm not talking about a "child" and I'm certainly not talking about a "child" in the connotation that you wish to apply to the word. I'm talking about the circumstances of the conception and how they can affect a decision concerning abortion.
The relevant question is whether or not the woman must be forced to bear a child that she unwillingly conceived through the actions of a man who is not, in any way, the woman's chosen lifepartner.
(R) Look, I'm not defending rape, I'm talking about the value of the child (note: your word, not mine) in the womb. Again, does the method of conception have an impact on that child's "worth?" Your assessment that the opinion is "totally incompetent" does not bear up under scrutiny.
(MB) The fact that you're concentrating on the word "child" instead of the actual point concerning the circumstances of conception would seem to belie that evaluation. I realize that you're not defending rape. However, it seems that the rape is certainly getting undercard billing in your argument. Are you saying that all conceptions must be treated as equals no matter what their circumstances? If so, that amounts to a virtual sanctioning of rape if that crime results in a pregnancy.
It is my stand that the woman is the only person who is competent to make the abortion decision for herself and that each situation will be unique and must be evaluated in and of itself by the woman.
This has nothing to do with whether or not any individual life is more or less "worthy" than any other life. That, in itself, is a separate issue of debate. The point is whether or not the woman must be forced to bear a child who was conceived unwillingly as a result of a violent act.
(R) Again, you use the word "child."
(MB) Oh, good grief! Once again, you're completely bypassing the point to misconstrue one word. Haven't all children been "conceived" at some point? When a woman gives birth, doesn't she "bear a child" rather than "bear a fetus/zygote/gamete"?
Now, can you address the actual point here and give me a straight answer as to whether or not you believe that a woman must be forced to bear a child who was conceived unwillingly as a result of a violent act?
Unfortunately for those who oppose abortion, their strongest argument is still so weak that their entire case suffers for it.
(R) I see nothing weak about defining life as beginning at conception. (see more on this later) Perhaps you could address this so-called weakness with specific arguments?
(MB) The argument is weak since it is not supported by any evidence and relies upon a vague definition of "life". It is nothing but a combination of emotional and religious beliefs that are being passed off as "fact".
Let's also not forget that the horrors of slavery were justified by appeals to the Bible and that numerous historical atrocities have been sanctioned in the name of "God" since Man first invented him.
(R) I'll stack the historical atrocities done in the name of God against the historical atrocities done in the name of Government any day.
(MB) You won't have to do much reading to discover that the stack of secular government atrocities is *much* shorter than the stack of God-sanctioned or God-inspired atrocities. Even a simple reading of the Old Testament (beyond the standard Sunday School tracts) will suffice to show that Yahweh is a rather bloodthirsty dude even when it comes to his "chosen people".
Your comment also neatly evades the point I introduced. If God is what is commonly claimed, there should be *no* atrocities connected with him.
I'm saying that the "life begin at conception" argument has not been sufficiently reasoned and to enact laws based upon this inadequate reasoning would inevitably lead to numerous serious problems.
(R) The only "serious problem" I can see is that abortion would be illegal, and I don't see that as a problem. Could you elaborate on what other "serious problems" would occur?
(MB) This is a common rationalization and question which serves to demonstrate that the "life begins at conception" bit has truly not been sufficiently thought out.
Let's assume that we make it a law that "life begins at conception" and that such a life, from the very first moment of its existence, has all the rights and protections that you and I enjoy. This would mean that the ending of that life would have to be addressed by the law in the same way that the ending of your life or my life is addressed. Now, it is known that upwards of 80% of a woman's fertilized eggs do not lead to live birth for any of a number of reasons. For example, many such eggs do not successfully implant in the woman's uterus due to the immediate onset of her period, a defect in the egg, illness in the mother, etc. Others are spontaneously aborted or even resorbed back into the woman's body. Of course, we are all familiar with common miscarriages or stillbirths.
Now, if the law says that "life begins at conception", all of these cases involve the end of a "life" at some point. If that "life" is to be considered equal to yours and mine, the end of that life will have to be handled in a similar manner. The obvious question concerns how we go about enforcing this. How will we know that a woman has ever had a "life" in her womb and properly account for all cases? It would seem that all sexually-active women would have to take daily pregnancy tests to see if she was pregnant so that any "life" she may conceive could be properly accounted for and protected in the eyes of the law. Not only that, if any such pregnant woman failed to produce a live birth, there would have to be an investigation into the cause of that failure, so that the "death" could be properly handled. If the woman is judged to have done something which resulted in or contributed to the "death", she could reasonably expect to face charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter all the way to 1st degree murder.
I don't see how the "life begins at conception" crowd can avoid this. If their arguments are consistent, this scenario is inevitable. If they blow it off, the "life begins at conception" argument becomes all but meaningless. You don't consider this a "serious problem"?
What's most important is justifying any claim that any given behavior is either "right" or "wrong". Your statement is a false dichotomy in that it suggests that something which is convenient can't also be "right".
(R) No - I am not offering a false dichotomy - there are many convenient things which are also "right."
(MB) Except, of course, that you won't apply this combination to the question of abortion, right? Therein lies the false dichotomy.
(R) My point is that your rationale seems to boil down to convenience, and that convenience isn't a very strong argument in my book.
(MB) My argument has nothing to do with convenience. It has everything to do with allowing the woman to exercise a free choice and not forcing that choice on her. I will have no quibbles at all with whatever the result of her free choice might be. Can you say the same thing?
The evidence that would support the Xian notion that life begins at conception with its implication that this "life" possesses a "soul"...
(R) Life beginning at conception is not a uniquely Christian "notion."
(MB) I didn't say that it was. However, the anti-abortion advocates in this country are overwhelmingly Christian and their arguments are grounded in Christian doctrine, correct? And, isn't part of that doctrine that human life is "special" because it possesses a "soul"?
(R) It also does not have anything to do with whether there is a soul or not. Christian theologians have addressed the issue, but for the purposes of this argument, the existence of the soul is not a necessary part of life beginning at conception.
(MB) Nonsense. If not for the concept of the "soul", what is there to give any force to any argument that human life is either "special" or somehow different from any other form of life on this planet?
...and/or derives from "God" and is, therefore, something "special".
(R) Well, I suppose before we go any further, I should ask regardless of whether there is a soul involved, if you feel life in general (mine, yours, everyone else's) is somehow "special." If not, then we have truly reached an impasse.
(MB) Whether or not one considers human life to be "special" depends on how you frame the question. If you are looking at it emotionally, then there is a "special" quality to human life. However, I think most people also emotionally ascribe something "special" to the lives of their pets. If you look at it logically, for one form of life to be "special" while another is not is to say that the "special" life form possesses at least one definitive quality which is non-existent in the "non-special" life forms. Needless to say, there is no hard evidence for any such quality. If you look at it theologically, you beg the question of the existence and powers of the deity you worship. If you look at it scientifically, you're asking whether or not life in general is a rare thing. Clearly, it is not rare on this planet and there is no reason to believe that it anything other than fantastically abundant throughout the universe.
If you are going to advance the argument that human life is "special", you will have to approach and defend it from one or more of those reference frames. So, how do you define "special" when referring to human life?
RE: ...pretty much every religion has some edict against indiscriminate killing.
Quite true, but from where do those edicts derive?
(R) Does it matter? If they came from God, then we'd better do as they say. If these edicts merely came from man, who are you to say that your man-made ethics are any better?
(MB) BINGO! First of all, the source of those religious edicts unquestionably matters. The reasons are exactly as you stated. If God (*any* version of "God") exists and is their source, then the matter is closed for discussion. If they came from Man, then they are inherently arbitrary in nature and the "God argument" can't be used to defend them. So, it would seem that the anti-abortion side needs first to demonstrate that its God actually exists in the manner in which they describe him before any argument derived from the consequences of such an existence can have any force. Failing that, they will have to come up with something better than moral outrage in order to justify forcing their views onto women who don't share them.
Heck, neither humanism nor atheism nor any other belief system approves of indiscriminate killing, either, so what's your point?
(R) My point is that abortion is indiscriminate killing.
(MB) That's fine. But, making that claim and supporting it are two different animals.
In fact, the moralistic argument against abortion *does* depend on the doctrine of the Xian religion.
(R) No it doesn't. One can be an atheist and "prove" that abortion is wrong.
(MB) No, I'm afraid that can't be done (as we shall see below)...
(R) #1 - Life starts when an egg and a sperm join together, thus creating a single cell with a unique set of DNA, etc.
(MB) (1) is not scientifically correct. There are a great many forms of life on this planet that do not reproduce sexually, yet still possess unique sets of DNA. Also, since every individual living thing on this planet has a unique set of DNA that makes it different from every other living thing on this planet, there is nothing upon which to base a claim of the special nature of "life" on DNA alone. If that is attempted, it will lead to a conclusion that there is now (and ever has been and ever will be) only one living thing on the planet that is "special" since that particular set of "special" and unique DNA can only have been produced once.
(R) #2 - It is wrong to end life (according to nearly every secular system of ethics).
(MB) (2) is a fallacious generality due to an inadequate definition of the word "life". Consider that ants, carrots, and bacteria all unquestionably have "life". I think it's safe to say that you have deliberately ended many of those lives on numerous occasions. According to your argument, you have done something wrong. Is this true?
To escape this problem, you will have to restrict the meaning of "life" to that possessed by humans. However, to do so means a return to the problem of defining exactly what it is that justifies the restriction.
(R) #3 - Abortion ends life, therefore it is wrong.
(MB) (3) is another fallacious generality. The proper conclusion of (1) and (2) is to claim that *anything* which ends life is wrong. However, that leads to absurdities such as saying that natural death is wrong. I think you're going to want to reconsider this argument.
(R) Where have I injected any Christian doctrine?
(MB) Your attempted arguments still suffer from the presupposition that only humans have "life" and that there is some quality about that life that is "special" such that ending it is "wrong".
Evidence that anything is actually "lost" by aborting a fetus would qualify.
(R) Well, there is surely tissue there, is there not? Does that count as "something which is lost?"
(MB) There is "tissue" which is "lost" from your body every time you shower. Does this make taking a shower immoral? Also, the same fetal tissue is "lost" if the fetus dies from a miscarriage rather than from an abortion, is it not? Surely, you will not claim that the two are equal in morality, so "tissue loss" can't possibly be a legitimate argument.
Let's try again. What is actually "lost" by aborting a fetus? Remember that you're trying to answer this without injecting any Christian doctrine.
Evidence that a fetus in any stage of development prior to viability is no different from one that has gained the ability to survive on its own would also be compelling.
(R) Children can't survive "on their own" until perhaps age six or seven, and in the short term, a one-month old will die in a day or two if you leave it alone. If we back that up even further, a "preemie" needs 24 hour care and incubation for upwards of several months in extreme cases - does that count as "surviving on its own?"
(MB) You are simply redefining "surviving on its own" here. I would wager a princely sum that if you or I or most other people found ourselves floating in the Pacific Ocean 1,000 miles from nowhere, that we would not be able to "survive on our own", either. But, does this mean that our lives and those of an early-term fetus are equal in viability? Of course not. Just because a one-month old baby can't prepare a microwave TV dinner for itself doesn't mean that it does not possess the set of appropriately-developed organs necessary for it to continue living on its own.
The goal should be an argument that is based upon reason and clear evidence instead of emotion and arbitrary doctrine.
(R) Where's the emotion in my posts? Can you point to anything that I have said that is arbitrary doctrine, or at a minimum any more arbitrary than your own doctrine?
(MB) How about: "Abortion is wrong" or "Life is special" or "Life begins at conception" or "Human life has value"? Of these statements, only "life begins at conception" would have any chance of empirical proof and even that would depend largely upon one's arbitrary definition of "life" and any qualities it might have.
What you are saying is hardly "news", but it is not what I was referring to. You can hardly claim "viability" for an undifferentiated mass of cells that can be artificially kept alive for a short period of time in a petri dish.
(R) Surely you think that a "preemie" should be allowed to live, right? Even despite the fact that it needs to be artificially kept alive?
(MB) You're going to have to precisely define "preemie" here. No amount of artificial life support is going to allow a two-month old fetus to survive, while it might take very little to assist the survival of a baby born a month early. Yet, both are "preemies", are they not? If that doesn't fit the parameters of your argument, you will need to define them for me.
(R) This brings the obvious hypothetical question - If medical science can progress to the point where it can keep a child alive outside the womb from the moment of conception, will life then start at conception?
(MB) And, if human cloning is perfected (a much higher probability than your hypothetical scenario), won't the definition of "conception" have to be reworked?
To answer your question, we will still have to have a precise definition of "life" and any qualities that make it "special" before any claim about it beginning at conception can have any real meaning.
(R) Currently we can do it from about five months, and this frontier continues to creep further and further back. Is this the frontier that determines the beginning of life? I'm serious. If it is, and abortion supporters are willing to agree, there would be no shortage of funds available for this type of research. Wouldn't it be ironic if we worked together toward a "Brave New World" level of technology because of the abortion debate?
(MB) Indeed. However, the question of whether or not the abortion decision belongs to the woman will still remain. We cannot base today's laws on tomorrow's hypothetical situations.
Now, let's consider what might happen if your scenario should come to pass. There would still be a point of conscious decision-making that would belong solely to the woman. She would have to agree to having the fetus removed from her body and developed artificially. If the conception itself took place outside her body, she would still have to agree to the use of her eggs. In all cases, the ultimate decision of whether or not a baby is to be the end result will still belong to the woman.
(R) Why is my position deemed ludicrous when abortion advocates posit that the birth canal is the thing that gives life?
(MB) That is not true. First of all, a baby can be born by Caesarian section and, in such a case, the birth canal will have no role. Second, the distinction here is not the method of delivery, but a "line in the sand" drawn by our legal system. On one side of the line, it's not a baby and does not have the rights and protections of that system. Once the line is crossed, it *is* a baby and gains those rights. The moment of birth is not an arbitrary and indefensible guideline. The baby either is or is not "born". Therefore, it either has or does not have the concurrent rights and there are no sticky problems to resolve.
(R) A five month old "preemie" who goes been through this area of a woman's body (or is removed in a c-section?!?!?!) is considered alive, despite the fact that this baby will need an absolute ton of medical care to "survive on its own." A five month old preemie who has not undergone this process is just so much extra tissue in the womb. Isn't this a rather ludicrous distinction?
(MB) Not at all. Admittedly, the line is arbitrary, but our legal system draws many such lines to determine when people gain or lose certain rights and protections. For example, is it not ludicrous for a bar owner to have to refuse to serve a drink to a person who is 20 years, 364 days, 23 hours, and 59 minutes old when that same bar owner can legally sell that same individual any and all drinks in his establishment after waiting one more minute? Yet, who would argue against the need to legislate such a dividing line?
Considering the two five-month old "preemies" in your example, if the one delivered by C-section dies, its death will be handled in the same way according to the law as would the death of either of us. If his counterpart in the womb is stillborn, there is no such "death" to handle in the eyes of the law. This is a clear indication that it is "birth" that determines "life" in the eyes of the law. Any other argument is emotion or theology.