Saturday, April 13, 2013

Debate w/ Malcom Potts (UC Berkeley): Outline of My Rebuttal re: Science of Embryology [SK]

One reason Potts completely melted down in front of 600 of his students was that I hit him very hard in his own area of expertise—embryology—demonstrating that he either did not know his science or was deliberately misleading. I was not sarcastic or disrespectful. But I continually pounded away on this question: “Why are all the other embryologists in the world wrong? Don’t you need to explain why they are wrong? You could be right, and I’m open to hearing that. But simply pulling rank on me won’t work. Give me a good argument why you are correct, and I will concede this debate.”
Of course, he never did.

[Stop reading here if you don’t want a detailed review.]

Below is an outline of his claims, and my responses to them. I began my rebuttal by quickly reviewing my opening case:

I. Review My Thesis: The unborn are distinct, living, whole humans. They are not constructed externally like a car, but develop themselves from within. Various embryology textbooks, like those cited in my opening speech, confirm this.

II. Dr. Potts’s response to my scientific case is not persuasive. He simply tried to pull rank on me. Here's what he said:

A. "No absolutes in embryology, only judgment calls."

1. Including that one? Self-defeating (like saying, “my brother is an only child”)
2. If we don’t know if the unborn are human, we shouldn’t kill them
3. But Potts does know. In our previous debate (last November), he pointed to a picture of an early embryo and said, “This is what you and I looked like after conception.” Thus, he just conceded my case!

B. "Absence of consensus—people disagree on embryo’s humanity."

1. So? How does it follow that because people disagree, nobody is right?
2. If disagreement means that nobody is right, Dr. Potts’s own position is refuted. After all, many prominent embryologists disagree with him!
3. Most important, we have a consensus: Embryology textbooks uniformly state each of us began as an embryo. Even thinkers who share Dr. Potts’s support for abortion agree (Alan Guttmacher, Ronald Dworkin, David Boonin, Peter Singer).
4. It’s not enough for Dr. Potts to pull rank on me: he needs to explain why my scientific case is flawed.

C. "No embryo is a living human until primitive streak emerges at 18 days"

1. Odd claim: Dr. Potts just told us we can’t know anything about embryology (no absolutes, only judgment calls) but now he says that we can’t be individual human beings before 18 days.
2. For a guy who says we can’t know anything about embryology he sure claims to know a lot!

D. Miscarriages—“Nature is the biggest abortionist.”

1. Potts commits the Is/Ought Fallacy: How does it follow that because nature spontaneously aborts high numbers of embryos that a) they are not living human beings, or b) I may deliberately kill them through elective abortion?
2. Many 3rd World countries have high infant mortality rates; does it follow that those infants who die sooner have less of a right to life than those who die later? 3. Admittedly, these miscarriages are tragic. But as liberal journalist Andrew Sullivan points out, just because earthquakes happen doesn’t mean mass murder is justified.

E. Hydatidiform Moles—“All acts of fertilization do not result in human organism.”

1. Confuses necessary and sufficient conditions: I’m not arguing that everything that results from sperm/egg union is human, only that all humans conceived without the aid of reproductive technologies came about that way.
2. Hydatidiform Moles moles do not start of as embryos and morph into tumors. Rather, they result from flawed or deficient conceptions and are intrinsically tumors from the beginning.

F. Ignorance—“Biological life is continuous, and any divisions between life and non-life are arbitrary judgement calls.”

1. This is demonstrably false. Just because life is continuous between generations does not mean we can’t tell when an individual human begins to exist. Dr. Potts still hasn't refuted the huge numbers of embryologists who disagree with him.
2. Abortionists know what they are killing—Warren Hern: “We have reached a point in this particular technology (D&E) where there is no possibility of denials of an act of destruction by the operator. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the current like an electric current.”
3. Planned Parenthood Brochure (1961—“Plan Your Children for Health and Happiness”): “An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.”
4. California Medicine (1970): "Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected."

G. H. Soul confusion—“Embryologist can’t say when life begins anymore than an astronomer can say what happens to the soul after death.”

1. True, science can’t tell us if embryos (or anyone else) has souls—that’s a philosophical question—but the science of embryology can tell us when each of us began (conception).
2. As I said earlier, many of Pott’s colleagues disagree with him on the empirical question of when life begins.
3. We don’t need decide if embryos have souls before deciding to protect them. The law doesn’t take a position on whether 35-year olds have souls, but it still forbids intentionally killing them.

H. “Ectopic pregnancy proves unborn are not human, as every doctor in the world will kill that embryo to save the mother.”

1. From the fact a doctor saves a woman’s life by treating ectopic pregnancy, with the unintended result the embryo dies, we are to conclude what—that the embryo wasn’t human and intentionally killing him is okay?
2. Treating ectopic pregnancy and elective abortion are not parallel. In the first case, the death of the developing human is foreseen but not intended. In the second, the death of the developing human being is both foreseen and intended.

1 comment:

  1. Will there be a video of this debate on youtube?


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