Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Who is Misrepresenting Whom? [Clinton Wilcox]

My friend Kristine Kruszelnicki of Pro-Life Humanists fairly recently posted an article to Hemant Mehta's blog ("The Friendly Atheist") making a secular case for abortion. Since then, irrational atheists (note: I'm not calling all atheists irrational, I'm speaking of only the atheists who have responded to this article, in articles of their own or in the comments) have been illustrating that atheism isn't so much about free thinking as it is dogmatism. Ironic, no? Apparently one cannot be pro-life and an atheist. Any atheist who is pro-life must, apparently by definition, be religious in disguise, an accusation I see hurled at Secular Pro-Life pretty often.

That article has also spawned many diatribes against the pro-life position. This article is just one of many. In this article, the author, Ophelia Benson, asserts that pro-life people are misusing a quote from Peter Singer. The irony here is that they misrepresent SPL by calling us liars and cheaters, while accusing us of misrepresenting Singer's view. But there is no misrepresentation here on our part. Here is the quote that we use:

"It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo Sapiens.’ Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” (Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp.85-86.)

Peter Singer is saying exactly what we say he is saying: the unborn are biological human beings, one of us, from fertilization. This is just a recent case in which pro-choice people conflate philosophy and science. There is a difference between a human being in the genetic sense and a human being in the moral sense. Singer is making a statement toward the former (the genetic sense), and that is why we use his quote, among others. Because despite the fact that many pro-choice people do accept that the unborn are living human beings, we still encounter people who argue against this simple and evident biological reality.

I personally own and have read Singer's book. I try to make it a policy to see the quotes I use in the context of the work it appears in and not rely on third-party quotations. So Benson's statement that we need to include the rest of the quote or we're cheating is simply ridiculous. The rest is not relevant and quoting the rest would not fundamentally alter Singer's meaning. In fact, including the rest of the quote only works in our favor: "...and the same is true of the most profoundly and irreparably intellectually disabled human being, even of an infant who is born anencephalic -- literally, without a brain."

So Benson tries to nitpick the punctuation used (Singer's sentence ends in a semicolon, not a period), so at most she could accuse pro-life advocates of not being careful enough. We should end with an elipsis ("...") instead of a period, since the sentence does continue. But nothing is changed by leaving that out.

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