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)
This is the last of a two-part reply.
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.
(R) Sure there is - that quality is self-consciousness. This is what the "ethicist" Dr. Singer at Princeton uses to argue that parents should be allowed a certain amount of time after birth to kill their babies. I'm not making this up.
(MB) There have been many different and sundry versions of pre- and post-birth eugenics which have been advanced. Most arise from the considerable doubt about whether or not human life (at *any* point) is "special" in any way. If the argument in favor of such a quality had ever been successfully made, I can't imagine any form of eugenics which would deserve a moment's consideration.
(R) But then how "hard" is the evidence of self consciousness. Is it a function of communication?
Is the "quality" of that communication a factor? Obviously I would argue that "potential self-consciousness" is enough.
(MB) That's doubly meaningless. It also begs the question of whether or not Homo sapiens is the only species on this planet which possesses self-consciousness. I think a case can be made that many species possess this quality. Just because a species can't express their thoughts in a human-understandable language does not mean they don't or can't have thoughts or be self-aware. If other species besides Man have this quality, one can't appeal to such a quality to defend any claim that human life is "special".
(R) My point is not to argue this point but to say that human life is special regardless of whether there is a God or not. I don't think this is that radical a statement to make.
(MB) "Radical"? No, certainly not. However, without a definition of what constitutes "special", such a statement can be no more than a meaningless expression of emotion.
If you look at it theologically ,you beg the question of the existence and powers of the deity you worship.
(R) I have already stated that human life is special regardless of the existence of God.
(MB) Yes, that's what you have done. However, there are no facts to support such a claim. Without appealing to theology, the claim remains nothing more than mere words.
If you look at it scientifically, you're asking whether or not life in general is a rare thing.
(R) I fail to see why rarity has any bearing on this question.
(MB) Rarity is an implicit consequence of something being "special" in any factual way. For example, grains of sand are not "special" to most people, but diamonds are.
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?
(R) I define "special" to mean that it is something worth saving, not valueless and of no worth. Thus, my assertion is that human life is worth saving - it is not valueless and of no worth.
(MB) All you've done here is to explain one undefined emotional concept in terms of another undefined emotional concept. What is the factual basis for the claimed "value" or "worth" of human life? I can explain the value or worth of baseball cards or classic sports cars, but I doubt that you are using those terms in the same way in regard to human life.
(R) It is my further assertion that the statement "Human life is special" is fully understandable in and of itself - that it is true regardless of the existence of God or any philosophical argument. Again, if you can't accept that human life is special (in the non-soul aspect that I have defined) then I think we're wasting our time.
(MB) I can only accept such a statement if there is an unambiguous definition of "special". This has not yet been provided. Instead, it would seem that I am supposed to accept that concept merely because you wish to believe it. I'd like to believe it, too. But, to paraphrase Timothy Ferris' comment in his book "The Mind's Sky", the emotional appeal of an idea is no indication whatsoever that the idea is true.
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.
(R) Why can't a "God Argument" be used? If a man created "God argument" is arbitrary, then a man created "secular argument" is equally arbitrary. My inability to prove the existence of God does not
automatically make you correct, nor does it prove the falsity of my claim.
(MB) That is not correct. Secular arguments are based on facts and are not based on emotional ideas pulled out of thin air. Since the existence of God is not a fact, one can't appeal to that proposed existence in order to devise a defense of another argument that will have any force. Such an argument will be nothing more than a "What if..." hypothetical proposition. One can certainly reason clearly from such a proposition and reach a valid conclusion. However, one can't then uphold any such conclusion as being a proof of the original point being debated.
So, it would seem that the anti-abortion side needs first to demonstrate that its God actually exists before any argument derived from the consequences of such an existence can have any force.
(R) No. In fact, the reverse could be said of your argument. Why don't you conclusively prove that God doesn't exist before I accept any argument derived from the consequences of such non-existence. These God arguments are a straw man and you know it.
(MB) Untrue. I don't have to prove that God doesn't exist any more than I have to prove that unicorns, leprechauns, or little green men from Mars don't exist. Since none of those ideas have any bearing on my argument, they are irrelevant. On the other hand, since the anti-abortion argument always falls back upon some consequence of the belief that God exists, it is a requirement that such an existence be proven. Lacking that, the anti-abortion argument can't possibly have anything other than emotion on its side.
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.
(R) Have you come up with anything better than moral outrage in order to justify that I should be forced to live in a society where people are allowed to kill their unborn children?
(MB) This just rewords your argument and places its defense on my shoulders. Besides, my argument has always been that the woman should be allowed the right to choose for herself and that nobody else has the right to make her choice for her. There is no moral outrage in an understanding that the choice is the woman's business and her business alone. I will gladly accept any choice that any woman makes. You won't. Her free choice will not affect any other woman's free choice. Your wish to impose your morality upon those women *will* affect the choices they can make. You need to justify your views rather than turning them around and trying to pass their defense off on me. That is little more than an indication that there is truly no defense for them.
[RE: My point is that abortion is indiscriminate killing.]
That's fine. But, making that claim and supporting it are two different animals.
(R) I am supporting it through the various points in this discussion.
(MB) Well, you're really not doing much more than simply restating it and substituting one undefined concept for another.
[RE: No it doesn't. One can be an atheist and "prove" that abortion is wrong.]
No, I'm afraid that can't be done (as we shall see below)...
(R) I suppose I should have known better. Attempting to prove that something is right or wrong presupposes that there are things that are "right" and "wrong" in the first place. Do you accept that the concepts of "right" and "wrong" exist?
(MB) Not in and of themselves. Since they are tied to moral precepts and since there is no such thing as absolute morality, there can be nothing which is invariably "right" or "wrong". At best, "right" and "wrong" are standards of moral behavior to which a majority of a given population has agreed.
[RE: #1 - Life starts when an egg and a sperm join together, thus creating a single cell with a unique set of DNA, etc.]
(1) is not scientifically correct.
(R) Amend it to read "human life" (which is what I was talking about) and forget about the DNA business - it's irrelevant.
(MB) How can it be irrelevant when you made a special effort to include the uniqueness of a particular set of DNA in your premise? If you wish to make this irrelevant, the entire argument is rendered moot.
[RE: #2 - It is wrong to end life (according to nearly every secular system of ethics).]
(2) is a fallacious generality due to an inadequate definition of the word "life".
(R) Amend it to read "human life", which is what I was talking about.
(MB) (2) is still wrong since many systems of ethics (not all secular) incorporate support for what is euphemistically referred to as "the right to die".
[RE: #3 - Abortion ends life, therefore it is wrong.]
(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) Amend #3 to read "human life" and I stand by it.
(MB) No doubt. However, given the further discussion, the conclusion is rapidly weakening. To continue to stand by it is further indication that this is nothing more than something you just want to believe. If so, that's fine, but it will carry no force in the overall discussion.
(R) Furthermore, your comment on natural death is ridiculous. The key word there is "natural." It is not something that is imposed from without, as is the case in an abortion which is most decidedly unnatural. Yes, abortions do occur spontaneously, but that isn't what we're talking about.
(MB) If so, then you need to amend your propositions yet again. Notice that I merely followed them through to their logical conclusion. If that conclusion produces absurdities, then it's rather likely that there is at least one flaw in the initial propositions. Considering that (1) is irrelevant and (2) is demonstrably wrong, it should be little surprise that there are problems in the conclusions derived from them.
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".
(R) Well, if you will allow me to amend it to read "human life" (which is what we've been talking about all along), then I can't disagree.
(MB) So, we're back to needing a definition of just what the "special" quality is that is only possessed by human life. I can't say where it would be anything other than a "soul".
(R) I genuinely cannot see what is so incredible about saying that human life is special and that ending it is wrong.
(MB) There's nothing "incredible" about it. It's just that it's nothing more than an emotional statement that has no force when applied as a debate argument over an issue of fact.
(R) I can't imagine any belief system (whether it be religious or secular, and further specifying that I'm talking about the planet Earth) that wouldn't ascribe truth to that statement.
(MB) Such a statement is an Argument from Personal Incredulity and, once again, has no force in this particular debate.
There is "tissue" which is "lost" from your body every time you shower. Does this make taking a shower immoral?
(R) No, however if you don't take a shower, you don't end up having a baby instead.
(MB) If you don't take a shower, you risk nobody wanting to get close enough to you to help get you pregnant...*grin* Seriously, I think you're getting just a bit desperate.
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.
(R) No, one was the natural death of the unborn baby. Abortion is an unnatural process that kilIs it. So obviously the morality is not equal.
(MB) "Morality" was not the point of your argument. I asked you what is actually "lost" if the woman has an abortion and you offered "tissue" as an answer. I think we can agree that this was not the best possible answer. Would you like to try again?
(R) However, I will point out that women who miscarry suffer great feelings of loss. It's not "just tissue" that's lost in a miscarriage - the emotional involvement is huge.
(MB) But, miscarriage is not "abortion". Emotional suffering can come from many sources during both failed pregnancies and those carried to term. The answer to the "What is lost?" question will need to be something unique and meaningful in the special case of abortion.
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.
(R) A baby. I fail to see what Christian docrine is invoked by saying this.
(MB) A baby is also lost by miscarriage or stillbirth. You have still not answered my question with anything that is a good argument against abortion. I submit that you will not be able to do so without invoking the Christian doctrine of the "soul".
[RE: 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?]
How about: "Abortion is wrong" or "Life is special" or "Life begins at conception" or "Human life has value"?
(R) Sure - let's take a look at your statements. "Abortion should be a woman's choice", or "Life doesn't begin at conception" or "Human life is not special".
(MB) By this evasion, I assume that you have agreed that I have successfully demonstrated the emotional and arbitrary nature of your arguments.
(R) All of these are as equally "arbitrary" as mine, yet you claim that yours have some sort of special meaning over and above mine. What is so inherently right and non-arbitrary about your statements?
(MB) Your statements are as I have described them since none is fact-based and all rely on undefined concepts and theological underpinnings. As has been previously demonstrated, none of my statements have those failings.
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.
(R) Can you elucidate what might be arbitrary about my definition of life and non-arbitrary about yours?
(MB) Yours relies on the Xian theological concept of the "soul" and the undefined quality of being "special". Mine relies on the legal definition that life and the rights, privileges and protections associated with it begins at birth.
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
(R) Not now, but who knows what the future will bring? That is another important reason why we shouldn't be killing those future scientists and doctors, etc.
(MB) Would this mean that you would support human cloning in efforts to produce more of our best and brightest? That is a far more likely future event than is developing the technology to artificially bring a two-month old fetus to normal term. Also, "future scientists and doctors" result from education, training, and upbringing. Babies are not born into those professions and skills. This means that if a woman wanted to give birth to just one child and wanted that child to be a "future doctor", it makes absolutely no difference whether the child resulted from her first pregnancy or her tenth. Further, if you are going to advance the old "future scientists and doctors" argument, you must also accept the "future Hitlers and Vlad the Impalers" flip side.
And, if human cloning is perfected (a much higher probability than your hypothetical scenario), won't the definition of "conception" have to be reworked?
(R) Yes. And that opens a whole new ethical bag of worms, doesn't it? But we're not talking about cloning (straw man), we're talking about abortion.
(MB) Correct, but we're also talking about "life". That would also be a result of cloning, would it not? Therefore, the argument is not a straw man. It just shows that the arbitrary definitions and concepts that buttress your case have not been sufficiently thought through.
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) Define "precise." Define "definition." Define "qualities." Define "claim." Define "beginning" and "real."
(MB) Define "define".
(R) Before you do this for me, I really can't understand what you're trying to say in this last sentence.
(MB) I'm confident that we both know better than that.
(R) All sarcasm aside, I previously defined "human life" as the union of human sperm and human egg. I then follow with the assertion that it has an inherent quality in and of itself (without reference to any religious or secular belief system) that makes it "special," special in this case meaning that it should be preserved. It's pretty basic.
(MB) Basic, yes. But, of course, still undefined. If you say that life possesses a specific inherent quality, but can't define it, describe it, or support it, how is anybody supposed to accept it that it truly exists? And, if it doesn't exist or can't be accepted, how is one supposed to use it as an argument in support of a larger question?
Indeed. However, the question of whether or not the abortion decision belongs to the woman will still remain.
(R) If abortion is illegal, it would be an illegal choice, wouldn't it?
(MB) Correct. But, of course, such is not the case at present. The current law of the land is as it is because the moral case against abortion has failed. In order for that to change, the anti-abortion advocates will have to successfully answer the sort of questions that I have been putting to you.
Also, I'm sure that you don't decide on the moral "rightness" or "wrongness" of any given issue by its legal status. Certainly, you won't change your personal moral convictions just because a law might change. Therefore, your point has little meaning in regards to the questions we are discussing.
We cannot base today's laws on tomorrow's hypothetical situations.
(R) No, we can't. Society currently has little tolerance for late term abortions. While they are legal, few doctors will perform them. It is my assertion that this is because people can see that a 7 or 8 month old "preemie" is most definitely a baby.
(MB) Which, again, would be a moral judgment, correct? Individual doctors certainly have the right to not perform any given procedure. If they choose not to perform a late-term abortion, more power to them. I would not support any law that would force them to do so.
(R) If people can be made to see that a 5 or 6 month old is a baby, (about the current limit with modern technology) then there's no reason to assume that the envelope can't be pushed back even further when medical science advances. That's one reason that pro-life people wear the little feet.
(MB) "Wear the little feet"? Nice try, but this is nothing more than a slippery slope argument from an invalid extrapolation. It's akin to saying that since technology has allowed runners to continually lower the record time for running a mile, that there's no reason to assume that the record will not continue to drop until it reaches zero.
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 result will still belong to the woman.
(R) Right - it's a voluntary decision before the fact. Once the eggs are fertilized, it's my assertion that you're talking about human life. To go in and kill those fertilized eggs is to kill life.
(MB) More of the same. In this scenario, however, you could have the possibility of "technological rape". It would be possible for the woman's eggs to be fertilized outside the womb against her wishes. In such a case, your arguments lead to a conclusion that you would support the woman being forced to have such eggs implanted back into her uterus so that she could bear live babies from them. After all, those fertilized eggs would be "life" and it would be "killing life" to not do as I have described, right? All that has been done here is to substitute a petri dish for a human rapist. Since you dismiss the rape if it results in a pregnancy and demand that the woman bear the resulting child, you must also dismiss the actions of the technician if it results in a fertilized egg and demand that the woman bear the resulting child. I don't see how you can avoid this if you wish to keep your arguments intact.
Second, the distinction here is not the method of delivery, but a "line in the sand" drawn by our legal system.
(R) That seems rather arbitrary. Weren't you arguing against arbitrary distinctions several paragraphs ago?
(MB) I was arguing against arbitrary and undefined terms like "special" which are then used to buttress other arguments. While "life begins at birth" is certainly arbitrary, it is certainly not an undefined legal standard. The point of the law is not to define "life", per se, but to determine the moment at which certain rights, privileges, and protections are granted. Nobody will argue that the "moment of birth" can't be determined. As such, it is an acceptable legal standard for the purposes of granting the aforementioned rights.
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) Right - the act of taking it out of the womb is what grants it those rights, correct?
(MB) That's correct. It doesn't count as a citizen, a tax deduction, or as a "person" in any other legal sense until that moment.
(R) Then to be consistent, when a pregnant woman is injured, it really shouldn't matter that much since the "thing" in her belly doesn't have any rights or anything, correct?
(MB) This sounds like you have some specific scenario in mind. What is it?
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?
(R) Tens of millions of 18 year olds have argued against this for the past 50 years.
(MB) So what? If the legal drinking age was lowered to 15, then tens of millions of 14 year olds would argue. If it was raised to 35, then tens of millions of 34 year olds would argue. The point is that our legal system must draw many arbitrary lines. Whether or not the lines will produce gray areas or points of quibbles for those who are very near those lines is irrelevant.
(R) If human life boils down to some rather arbitrary line in the sand drawn by the legal system, then I say that the legal system should draw the line at conception, based on the biological distinctions inherent in the reproductive process.
(MB) If so, you will still have to answer all those legal questions that you earlier brushed aside as "ridiculous" along with defining what "biological distinctions" you are talking about.
(R) Arguments about "surviving on its own" and the inconvenience for the mother are too imprecise and arbitrary.
(MB) Those are not the arguments of the pro-choice case. You will still have to defend your rationale for denying the woman the right to choose for herself and for demanding that she accept the consequences of your personal morality.
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.
(R) Not entirely. If you shoot a pregnant woman and kill her baby, you are very likely to be charged with murder, even if she doesn't die. Thus, the law is not wholly consistent on this.
(MB) This is true. There have been judgments which are not consistent with established law. Such judgments do not invalidate those established laws nor do they support the anti-abortion case. They may, however, be justifiable as punishments for the acts of violence upon the woman. Consider here that abortion is a willing choice of the woman while being shot by an assailant is most certainly not. Add to this that stillbirth is a different event altogether. The legal distinctions should be obvious even though one of the end consequences of each event would be the same.
Any other argument is emotion or theology.
(R) Emotion and theology are not to be dismissed so easily.
(MB) Yes, they can if they are the only methods used to argue a question of fact.