Blogger Brandon Christen has written an introductory article, the first in a five-part series, responding to pro-life arguments. He is looking at the issue from an atheistic perspective. It's refreshing to find a pro-choice blogger who argues from logic and philosophy instead of the usual fare you get from sites like Salon or RH Reality Check. I would like to offer a response to his arguments and when he posts the other parts in his series, I will respond to those.
Christen begins his article by talking about the seeming stark divide among religious lines regarding the abortion issue -- that the religious are pro-life and atheists are pro-choice. But if you look deeper into this, you'll realize this isn't really the case. While it may be true that the religious are more likely to be pro-life and atheists are more likely to be pro-choice, there are certainly pro-choice religious people and pro-life atheists. In fact, as Bernard Nathanson talked about in his book Aborting America, abortion was initially disguised as a religious issue by the pro-choice lobby to help get abortion legalized in the United States. Abortion, itself, is inherently not a religious/non-religious issue, just like the slavery issue wasn't.
He also talks about the soul, but this is another misguided discussion. While it's true that if you're pro-life and religious, you will believe in a soul and that the soul is created at fertilization (unless you believe in the pre-existence of the soul), you don't have to believe in a soul to be pro-life. Atheists believe that murder of a fully grown adult is wrong even without having to believe in the existence of a soul. It's simply not necessary to take a stance on the existence of the soul to take a stance on the abortion issue.
Christen goes on to make the following point: "Under the banner of philosophical and scientific skeptical inquiry, this paradigm eschews the notion -- due to the utter lack of evidence for things like non-corporeal 'souls' -- that something as pure and simple as a soul is imputed to an embryo upon conception. This being the case, the only recourse for finding "personhood" is in looking at the physical brain. Decades of experience with neurological development and brain functioning (or brain damage) affecting character points heavily toward "personhood" being located in the brain, or at the least emergent from the overall process of the brain's computations."
There are a lot of assumptions going on here. It's simply false that there is no evidence for the soul. The fact that we are the same entity through all points in our life is evidence for the soul. There are other evidences but that is beyond the scope of this article. What Christen means is that there is no scientific evidence for the soul, but this should not concern us. Science is not the only method of gaining information about the universe. Science can only gather information about the physical aspects of the universe, so we should expect that science could not give us evidence for the soul (science also can't prove the existence of numbers, morality, or other abstract concepts). But scientific evidence is not the only kind of evidence there is.
Christen also assumes that the only recourse for finding personhood is in the brain, but there is no reason to accept this, either. He may argue that the brain is the best recourse, but why should we accept it as the only recourse? Additionally, how much of the brain must be developed before you can say someone is legitimately a person? Why can't we establish that being a human being is necessary for personhood, since being a human being also means that you will develop a human brain? After all, the brain develops from within the zygote because the zygote has the information stored in her DNA. So why isn't having human DNA the necessary aspect of personhood?
There may be decades of development in fields of science dealing with the brain that has helped us to understand how the brain affects personality, but Christen doesn't even attempt to connect how these developments show that personhood is actually located in the brain.
He then argues that the destruction of "a sufficiently uncomplicated bundle of neurological tissue" does not warrant the same ethical considerations as killing a full-blown adult because there is no person there. This is ultimately question-begging. He dismisses the concept of a soul out of hand without even engaging with any of the evidence for the soul (assuming there is none), he assumes, again without argument, that a soul is not necessary for personhood, and he doesn't even attempt to connect the dots as to how brain function is supposed to tie in to personhood. He just says that adults have psychological brain function, the unborn have none, so the unborn are not persons. But how does this follow, exactly?
Christen ends his article by briefly examining the four pro-life arguments he'll be engaging with in the next four parts of his series.
Argument One: Rights
The argument he's going to make here doesn't seem like it will relate to rights, per se, but as to the actual ontological nature of the unborn entity.
Argument Two: Ageism
This one seems pretty close to an argument that many pro-life advocates make. But again, it's another discussion about the ontological nature of the unborn child. If the unborn child from fertilization is a full-fledged human person, then to deny the unborn their rights would be ageism.
Argument Three: Denial of Future
I will be interested to see where Christen is going with the rebuttal here. This is an argument made by atheistic philosopher Don Marquis, which places the wrongness of killing someone in the fact that you are robbing them of their future of valuable experiences. He believes it has certain advantages because it is not an argument the relies on personhood or "speciesism."
Argument Four: Numerical Identity
This argument states that you are you through all points of your life, and since you were you in the womb, you had the same right to life you have now.
I will be looking forward to seeing Christen's future articles in the series, and will respond to them after they go live.