Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Don't Like It, Don't Have One II [Megan]

Note: See the first installment of this thread from last week regarding an article in the Birmingham Atheism Examiner.

The author begins the fifth paragraph as follows: “With very few exceptions, the pro-life argument is a theological one…” There is more after that regarding legislation and morality, (I’ll address it in my next entry). By “theological,” the author means that pro-lifers make their arguments based on religious grounds. In other words, the pro-life argument does “metaphysics,” which deals, in essence, with the ultimate grounding of things (beyond the physical).

A few paragraphs later, the author gives a detailed description of the unborn’s earliest development, from the zygote’s division into blastomeres to the blastocyst’s production of hormones that become detectable. The author walks the reader through the next weeks of development, until around the two-month marker.
Meanwhile, he inserts some noteworthy claims:

He suggests to those who consider a “fertilized egg” to be “sacred” that God is “the most prolific abortionist in the history of the universe,” because “a vast majority” of zygotes do not make it to the two-week marker.

He suggests that at two weeks, the embryo is “still an extremely small cluster of undifferentiated tissue.” At three weeks, the embryo “is about the size of a pen point and looks like a worm;” and at four weeks, “it looks like a tadpole, complete with gill-like structures which is normal given our evolutionary beginnings.” Finally, “By seven weeks, the embryo has lost its tail, which is another point of reference to our evolutionary beginnings.”

To wrap up the section of the article subtitled “A little scientific background…,” the author tells us a lot about the “nots” of the unborn: the brain has not developed higher function; there are not pathways to transfer pain signals; “the embryo does not appear to be fully human;” “not yet developed the capacity for consciousness;” “not yet sentient;” “not defined as a fetus until the tenth week.”

At thirteen weeks, the author shares, the fetus is only around three inches long and weighing in at about an ounce.

My responses:

By eloquently describing the process that takes place in the early days and weeks of the unborn’s development, the author has done…just that — describe the early development of the unborn, “development” being the operative word. His mistake is confusing development with construction. As philosopher Richard Stith points out, the unborn is not constructed piece by piece like an automobile on an assembly line, it directs its own development from within. From the beginning, the unborn are whole, distinct and living human beings. For more information, read Stith’s article, “Does making babies make sense? Why so many people find it difficult to see humanity in a developing foetus.”

Secondly, the author uses the physical appearance of the unborn as grounds to assign the unborn value as human beings. Phrases like “cluster of cells,” “like a worm,” “like a tadpole,” “around an ounce,” and so forth tell us what the unborn looks like at certain stages of development. Aside from the fact that the author is doing some metaphysical acrobatics of his own to make his case, size and physical appearance are not sufficient grounds for killing anyone (the “S” in SLED).

When you throw in the author’s appeal to “evolutionary beginnings,” it becomes evident that the author misses the religious nature of his own claims. Even if he believes his appeal to be one to science, he cannot escape the metaphysical nature of Naturalism et al., as a worldview — the rules of science, as it were, are ultimately grounded somewhere. As Scott writes in Chapter Six of The Case for Life, “Everyone does metaphysics.”

When the author notes that many zygotes do not make it to the two-week mark for natural reasons, he misses a key difference between his example and abortion — intentionality. While nature may take its course, the sad occasion of the loss of life naturally is a different matter from intentionally taking that life, as abortion does.

Finally, in informing us on many things the unborn is “not,” or not able to do, the author begs the question of what the unborn is. Not only that, he makes the mistake of (once again) granting human beings value based on physical appearance and ability. Take that claim on a test drive and see where it leads — but you’d better hope the people calling the shots look a lot like you and can make use of your skills.
I’ll wrap up with a final entry shortly…


  1. I'm waiting to see your response to this blatant assertion:
    "A desire that there should exist legislation that accords rights and personhood to a zygote, blastocyst or a non-viable fetus reveals a gross ignorance of human embryology. It is a poor way to govern a civil society, is misogynist in principle and results in the oppression of women. The value of a fetus needs to remain subjective."
    (emphasis mine)

    The author never really supports this claim of subjective value. If anything, most of his article seems to argue that the fetus should have no rights whatsoever. That's not a subjective claim.

    I wonder ... could we have applied the same principle to black slaves during the nineteenth century? Let's rewrite those sentences for him:
    "A desire that there should exist legislation that accords rights and personhood to a lowly slave reveals a gross ignorance of human nature. It is a poor way to govern a civil society, is ignorant in principle and results in the oppression of slaveholders. The value of a slave needs to remain subjective."

    There! Those words make just as much sense as what the author actually wrote ... which is none. Human rights must not be subjective. Our history as a species has shown that subjective determination of human rights are always one-sided. We will extend human rights to the people we favor, and we will deny them to other people. In doing so, we invalidate the very concept of human rights. If human rights are at all meaningful, then they must apply to all human beings ... not merely the ones we like.


    It's ironic that one post could have so many errors and falsehoods that you need three posts to correct all of them....

    Thanks for the good work, Megan!

  2. Naaman, You did an excellent job clearing that one up yourself! You're absolutely right on with your response. Thank you for the kind words!

  3. The writer of this article, in the section "a little scientific background", told us many things about the unborn, but not why any of it matters as to its humanity and value . If size or environment or level of development matters, or defines our humanity, we better look out, as anyone of us, this author included, can arbitrarily have our humanity and right to life stripped away from us.

  4. Great post, Megan. His argument about deaths early in development has no merit. Some babies die during the birth process. Some die shortly after they're born. People die at all stages of life. You also have to wonder when he would make the distinction that someone is human enough to be worthy of being allowed to live. A baby right before being born is not breathing air. Does that disqualify him or her somehow? Babies after they are born can't yet speak, walk, or see anything more than vague shapes. Does that make them any less human. Come to think of it, babies have really big heads and short little legs. Why isn't that a problem? Finally, I'll bet if he could see back to the time he was a cluster of cells, he'd be thankful that his mom did not think so little of him.

  5. Many human beings die in the womb therefore it's ok to kill those in the womb who are surviving just fine.

    That's some really clear thinking!

  6. Megan:
    By my oversight, I neglected to tell you that you did an awesome job dissecting the article and the writer's arguments. A great post! Thanks!

  7. When my 18-month-old son can look at pictures of a 5-week-old embryo in-utero and cry out "baby! baby!" I marvel at the simplicity of defining life, and at how hard many adults must try to defend against it. Thank you, once again, for so carefully picking apart such an over-confident argument as this one. One can only wish that those who would disregard life so carelessly would be so thorough in examining their arguments before making such dramatic claims.

  8. Great article, great blog posts.
    To complement this theme, I wanted to share how we can put these ideas in action. I worked at the 'right to life' booth at our county fair last year. I donated large posters of fetal images. We didn't have room for all nine months, so I did months 2-4. I also brought my laptop and played an 'in the womb' type video from National Geographic, and also set out some fetal models. To get people involved, especially kids, we offered little beach balls as prizes for anyone who would answer a question about the developing baby. All questions were about development in the first trimester. Little kids and teens alike came in droves to get one of these cheap toys. All the questions emphasized the embryo's humanity (when does the baby suck its thumb, when does it get eyebrows, etc.) - the opposite of what this atheits' article did. The kids read the text on the posters, studied the models and images, asked their parents and friends for the answer. It was a really cool experience - and a great way to counter people like this atheist author.


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