Intelligent Design

P.Z. Myers channels Judith Jarvis Thomson on abortion; Dawkins disagrees

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In my last post, I commended Professor P. Z. Myers for arguing that children with Down syndrome are fully human, and that their lives are worth living, even as I noted that Myers and I disagree on the morality of abortion. In a new post, Myers proposes a thought experiment in support of his pro-choice stance. Astonishingly, he maintains that a pregnant woman has the right to end the life of the embryo or fetus she is carrying, even if (hypothetically) it were as intelligent as you or I.

In a previous post, Myers had written:

Even if I thought embryos were conscious, aware beings writing poetry in the womb (I don’t, and they’re not), I’d have to bow out of any say in the decision the woman bearing responsibility has to make.

Dawkins vs. Myers on abortion

Fellow New Atheist Professor Richard Dawkins disagreed with Myers’ extreme pro-choice position, and tweeted a brief response:

Blogger said woman’s rights over own body extend to abortion even if fetus conscious & writing poetry in womb. I profoundly disagree.

Dawkins has also indicated that the fetus’s capacity for sentience is the crucial question in the abortion debate, as far as he is concerned. Here are some comments he has made in previous tweets:

The most important moral question in abortion debate is “Can it feel pain?”

Woman’s rights over her own body are extremely important. So is pain.

Unlike many pro-choice friends, I think fetal pain could outweigh woman’s right to control her own body.

P.Z. Myers’ thought experiment on abortion

P.Z. Myers has published a post in response to Dawkins, titled, A logical thought experiment about abortion. So without further ado, let’s have a look at Myers’ pro-choice thought experiment:

Imagine that an alien species envelops the earth in a cloud of infectious DNA, and little needles carrying embryos rain down on us. If you’re struck by one, you’ll start growing an alien cyst in your body; it will fester for a bit less than a year, draining you of energy and making movement awkward, before rupturing and releasing a semi-autonomous intelligent creature. This process kills roughly 20 in 100,000 infected individuals, so it only has a small but very real chance of being lethal. The released creature is also going to demand approximately 20 years of full time care from its host.

Just to add an ironic twist, by some peculiar quirk of physiology, human women are totally resistant to the infection, so only men experience it.

Another unique feature of the alien cyst is that it is capable of communication. Shortly after infection, it extends a small neuronal process directly into the host’s brain, and begins talking — reciting alien history, literature, and culture…

Of course, there is also a very simple surgical procedure to remove the cyst at any time, with very little risk; there are also drugs — you take one pill, and the cyst is expelled from your body, relatively painlessly.

…[U]ltimately, it ought to be my decision to make the sacrifices necessary to carry this creature. And if it is unwanted, it should be my right to end it.

P.Z. Myers’ thought experiment resembles one first proposed by Judith Jarvis Thomson back in 1971

Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840), the most famous violinist of all time. A violinist figures in philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous “Unplugging the Violinist” argument, which was designed to show why abortion should be legal. This portrait of Paganini is from a coal drawing by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, c. 1819. Source: Wikipedia.

The first thing that struck me, on reading this, was that it reminded me a lot of a thought experiment relating to “people-seeds” proposed by Professor Judith Jarvis Thomson 43 years ago, in a now-famous article titled, A Defense of Abortion (Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 47-66, Fall 1971). Everyone remembers the article’s main analogy, which related to unplugging a dying violinist to whom you had been hooked up without your consent while you were asleep, but Thomson also invoked a second analogy, relating to “people-seeds” floating around in the air, which are able to take root inside people’s carpets or upholstery unless they take extreme precautions to keep them out. The following excerpts from Thomson’s paper convey the tenor of her argument [headings in square brackets are mine – VJT]:

[Thomson’s “unplugging the violinist” analogy]

But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you–we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. “Tough luck. I agree. but now you’ve got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.” I imagine you would regard this as outrageous…

[Thomson’s “people-seeds” analogy]

Again, suppose it were like this: people-seeds drift about in the air like pollen, and if you open your windows, one may drift in and take root in your carpets or upholstery. You don’t want children, so you fix up your windows with fine mesh screens, the very best you can buy. As can happen, however, and on very, very rare occasions does happen, one of the screens is defective, and a seed drifts in and takes root. Does the person-plant who now develops have a right to the use of your house? Surely not–despite the fact that you voluntarily opened your windows, you knowingly kept carpets and upholstered furniture, and you knew that screens were sometimes defective. Someone may argue that you are responsible for its rooting, that it does have a right to your house, because after all you could have lived out your life with bare floors and furniture, or with sealed windows and doors. But this won’t do–for by the same token anyone can avoid a pregnancy due to rape by having a hysterectomy, or anyway by never leaving home without a (reliable!) army…

[Why an unborn child has no right to the use of a woman’s body, even for a short period]

Again, suppose pregnancy lasted only an hour, and constituted no threat to life or health. And suppose that a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Admittedly she did not voluntarily do anything to bring about the existence of a child. Admittedly she did nothing at all which would give the unborn person a right to the use of her body. All the same it might well be said, as in the newly amended violinist story, that she ought to allow it to remain for that hour–that it would be indecent of her to refuse…

[M]y own view is that even though you ought to let the violinist use your kidneys for the one hour he needs, we should not conclude that he has a right to do so–we should say that if you refuse, you are, like the boy who owns all the chocolates and will give none away, self-centered and callous, indecent in fact, but not unjust. And similarly, that even supposing a case in which a woman pregnant due to rape ought to allow the unborn person to use her body for the hour he needs, we should not conclude that he has a right to do so; we should say that she is self-centered, callous, indecent, but not unjust, if she refuses…

…I am arguing only that having a right to life does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person’s body–even if one needs it for life itself…

…[I]t is by no means enough to show that the fetus is a person, and to remind us that all persons have a right to life–we need to be shown also that killing the fetus violates its right to life, i.e., that abortion is unjust killing.

Thomson’s analogy regarding people-seeds appeals to the powerful moral intuition, shared by most people, that “My home is my castle” and that I may legitimately defend it against intruders.

What is novel about P.Z. Myers’ thought experiment is that the people-seeds take root, not inside people’s homes, but inside people’s bodies.

In the interests of accuracy, it should be pointed out that Thomson did not support a woman’s right to an abortion in all possible circumstances; as she writes, “It would be indecent in the woman to request an abortion, and indecent in a doctor to perform it, if she is in her seventh month, and wants the abortion just to avoid the nuisance of postponing a trip abroad.”

The flawed biological premise in Thomson’s (and Myers’) analogy: the fetus is not a parasite

Giardia lamblia, a protozoan parasite. Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.A. Source: Wikipedia.

One thing I would like to note before analyzing the defects in Thomson’s and Myers’ arguments is that the plausibility of their arguments hinges largely on the implicit assumption that the embryo/fetus is some sort of parasite. This notion is decisively refuted in the article, Why the Embryo or Fetus is Not a Parasite by Dr. Thomas L. Johnson, Professor of Biology, Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, Virginia. (My acknowledgements to Libertarians for Life and to Professor Thomas L. Johnson.) Professor Johnson has identified no less than eight significant differences between an embryo/fetus and a parasite. Readers can learn more about these differences here, in Part E of my online e-book, Embryo and Einstein: Why They’re Equal. For the sake of brevity, I shall simply list the first three differences, as these are (to my mind) the most pertinent:

1 a) A parasite is defined as an organism of one species living in or on an organism of another species (a heterospecific relationship) and deriving its nourishment from the host (is metabolically dependent on the host). (See Cheng, T.C., General Parasitology, p. 7, 1973.)
b) A human embryo or fetus is an organism of one species (Homo sapiens) living in the uterine cavity of an organism of the same species (Homo sapiens) and deriving its nourishment from the mother (is metabolically dependent on the mother). This homospecific relationship is an obligatory dependent relationship, but not a parasitic relationship.

2 a) A parasite is an invading organism – coming to parasitize the host from an outside source.
b) A human embryo or fetus is formed from a fertilized egg — the egg coming from an inside source, being formed in the ovary of the mother from where it moves into the oviduct where it may be fertilized to form the zygote – the first cell of the new human being.

3 a) A parasite is generally harmful to some degree to the host that is harboring the parasite.
b) A human embryo or fetus developing in the uterine cavity does not usually cause harm to the mother, although it may if proper nutrition and care is not maintained by the mother.

Is a woman’s body her castle, which she may defend from invaders at all costs?

Left: Bodiam Castle, Sussex, England. Author: Misterzee. Source: Wikipedia.
Right: Visitors’ entrance to the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah, United States. Author: DR04. Source: Wikipedia.

For pro-choice philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson, a woman’s body is her castle, where she is justified in protecting herself against illegal trespassers (i.e. the fetus). In her essay, Abortion and Thomson’s Violinist: Unplugging a Bad Analogy, libertarian atheist Doris Gordon argues that the castle metaphor is fundamentally mistaken: a woman who conceives as a result of consensual sex and who then argues that she has the right to abort her pregnancy on the grounds that “It’s my body” is turning her body into a prison for her unborn child. The unborn child is in the woman’s body involuntarily, and not by choice. Gordon writes: “To conceive and then abort one’s child is to turn conception into a deadly trap for the child: it is to set her up in a vulnerable position that is virtually certain to lead to her death.”

Gordon also makes some critical observations regarding Thomson’s argument:

To begin with, her analogy is irrelevant to reality. In most abortions, the children aren’t just “unplugged” and removed from the womb; they are killed — intentionally. They are dismembered or poisoned before eviction…

If Thomson’s analogy were relevant, it would be so only in the few cases of pregnancy due to rape. Yet she also means it to apply when sex is mutually consensual…

The child, of course, is not a consenting party either to being conceived or to being aborted…

To help make her argument, Thomson paints unwanted prenatal children as aggressors, as trespassers. She equates them with burglars climbing into open windows, and she compares getting pregnant to being invaded in one’s home by “people-seeds [that] drift about in the air like pollen.” This is rubbish.

Surely she knows the cause-and-effect relationship between heterosexual intercourse and pregnancy. A child’s creation and presence in the womb are caused by biological forces independent of and beyond the control of the child; they are brought into play by the acts of the parents. The child did not cause the situation. In real life, the parents are the causative agents of both the pregnancy and the child’s dependence…

Even if the trespass charge against the child were true, why capital punishment without due process for trespass?

Finally, Doris Gordon argues that by the act of conceiving a child, parents acquire an automatic obligation to take care of the child whom they have voluntarily created:

Conception followed by eviction from the womb could be compared to capturing someone, placing him on an airplane, and then shoving him out without a parachute in mid-flight. We have no right to endanger others without their consent and then intentionally or negligently fail to protect them from the harm…

Since we have no right to initiate force, we have no right to endanger others and then let harm befall them. The principle is: If you endanger them, you owe them protection from harm…

[B]y conceiving a child, parents give themselves a life-or-death power over her, and they do this without her consent. If parents intentionally or negligently use their power to put her in harm’s way (let her starve, say), they cause the danger. If the child gets harmed, they caused the harm. They initiated force and violated the child’s rights.

Atheist philosopher Philippa Foot dismantles Judith Jarvis Thomson’s pro-choice argument: abortion originates a fatal sequence of events while disconnecting a parasite does not

Atheist philosopher Philippa Foot (1920-2010) has argued trenchantly, in her influential essay, “Killing and Letting Die” (recently reprinted in James E. White (ed.), Contemporary Moral Problems, Thomson Wadsworth, Ninth Edition, 2009), that there is an important distinction between a mother having an abortion and a person choosing to disconnect themselves from a dying individual who has parasitically hijacked their body, in order to obtain sustenance. For Foot, “having a right to life” primarily entails having a right to noninterference, where “interference” is defined as originating a sequence of events which will lead to someone’s death. In the case of abortion, the mother is the originator of a fatal sequence of events: it is her action which puts the unborn child in danger of death. By contrast, a person unplugging himself from a violinist with a fatal disease is not an agent of harm, as he/she did not initiate the fatal sequence of events that will lead to the violinist’s death. The violinist was already in danger of dying before he was hooked up to his host. Likewise, in Myers’ “intelligent parasite” thought experiment, the aliens would be unable to develop outside the bodies of their hosts: Myers himself speaks of ending its life by refusing to continue carrying it: “And if it is unwanted, it should be my right to end it.” Thus in Myers’ thought experiment, too, a person removing an alien cyst from his body is not the originator of a fatal sequence of events.

Philippa Foot skillfully dissects Thomson’s argument in her meticulous fashion:

In an influential and widely read article, Judith Jarvis Thomson has suggested an argument for allowing abortion…

Thomson suggests that abortion can be justified, at least in certain cases, without the need to deny that the fetus has the moral rights of a human person. For, she says, no person has the absolute right to the use of another’s body, even to save his life, and so the fetus, whatever its status, has no right to the use of the mother’s body. Her rights override its rights, and justify her in removing it if it seriously encumbers her life. To persuade us to agree with her she invents an example, which is supposed to give a parallel, in which someone dangerously ill is kept alive by being hooked up to the body of another person, without that person’s consent. It is obvious, she says, that the person whose body was being used would have no obligation to continue in that situation, suffering immobility or other serious inconvenience, for any length of time. We should not think of him as a murderer if he detached himself, and we ought to think of a pregnant woman as having the same right to rid herself of an unwanted pregnancy…

Thomson’s whole case depends on this analogy. It is, however, faulty if what I have said earlier is correct. According to my thesis the two cases must be treated quite differently because one involves the initiation of a fatal sequence and the other the refusal to save a life. It is true that someone who extricated himself from a situation in which his body was being used in the way a respirator or kidney machine is used could, indeed, be said to kill the other person in detaching himself. But this only shows, once more, that the use of “kill” is not important: what matters is that the fatal sequence resulting in death is not initiated but is rather allowed to take its course. And although charity or duties of care could have dictated that help be given, it seems perfectly reasonable to treat this as a case in which such presumptions are overridden by other rights – those belonging to the person whose body would be used. The case of abortion is of course completely different. The fetus is not in jeopardy because it is in its mother’s womb; it is merely dependent on her in the way children are dependent on their parents for food. An abortion, therefore, originates the sequence which ends in the death of the fetus, and the destruction comes about “through the agency” of the mother who seeks the abortion.

Unlike P.Z. Myers, Thomson acknowledges that while we have the right to expel the people-seeds, we have no right to guarantee their deaths

In his thought experiment, P.Z. Myers imagined that removal of the intelligent parasites from the bodies of their hosts could be performed quickly and painlessly, by a process of extraction: “you take one pill, and the cyst is expelled from your body, relatively painlessly.” There is no mention here of the fact that in real life, abortion is a painful process for the unborn child, from the third trimester onwards and perhaps earlier – but we’ll leave that aside, for the moment. The point I’d like to make is that Myers apparently thinks we have the right not only to expel the parasite, but also to end its life:

…[U]ltimately, it ought to be my decision to make the sacrifices necessary to carry this creature. And if it is unwanted, it should be my right to end it. Who are you to tell me that the life of this parasite is more valuable than my own?

However, in her original essay, Judith Jarvis Thomson argued that a woman’s right to an abortion does not give her the right to end its life. All she has the right to do is expel the fetus from her body:

[W]hile I am arguing for the permissibility of abortion in some cases, I am not arguing for the right to secure the death of the unborn child. It is easy to confuse these two things in that up to a certain point in the life of the fetus it is not able to survive outside the mother’s body; hence removing it from her body guarantees its death. But they are importantly different. I have argued that you are not morally required to spend nine months in bed, sustaining the life of that violinist, but to say this is by no means to say that if, when you unplug yourself, there is a miracle and he survives, you then have a right to turn round and slit his throat. You may detach yourself even if this costs him his life; you have no right to be guaranteed his death, by some other means, if unplugging yourself does not kill him. There are some people who will feel dissatisfied by this feature of my argument. A woman may be utterly devastated by the thought of a child, a bit of herself, put out for adoption and never seen or heard of again. She may therefore want not merely that the child be detached from her, but more, that it die. Some opponents of abortion are inclined to regard this as beneath contempt–thereby showing insensitivity to what is surely a powerful source of despair. All the same, I agree that the desire for the child’s death is not one which anybody may gratify, should it turn out to be possible to detach the child alive.

Thomson is to be commended for her logical consistency here. P.Z. Myers’ thought experiment fails to establish that a woman in the third trimester of pregnancy, who is carrying a viable fetus, has the right to an abortion. (Regarding the cut-off point for viability, please see here. A baby born at 24 weeks of gestation has a 50% chance of survival, and the youngest age at which an unborn child has survived premature birth is 21 weeks 5 days.) More tellingly, should the construction of an artificial uterus become technologically feasible in the future, Myers’ “pro-choice” argument would be unable to justify a pregnant woman’s right to terminate the life of an unborn child whom she did not want to carry any more. That’s a rather embarrassing situation for a pro-choice advocate to be in, I would say.

P.Z. Myers’ “absolute bodily autonomy” argument proves too much: it would also justify infanticide

In his post, P.Z. Myers insisted that “ultimately, it ought to be my decision to make the sacrifices necessary to carry this creature.” But this argument proves too much; for it would imply that nobody ever has the right to force me to donate anything from my body in order to assist another individual. To see where this leads, I’d like to propose the following thought experiment, which I recently used in my post, Libby Anne (part 2): The ethics of a feminist atheist (I’ve replaced Libby Anne’s name with that of P.Z. Myers in the extract below):

Let’s imagine the case of a woman living in a backward, patriarchal society. Her (much older) husband impregnated her by raping her. For the next few months she was confined indoors, under the watchful eye of relatives, until she finally gave birth. She did not want the baby, and she still does not want it. She did not want to breast-feed the baby, either, but her husband threatened to thrash her if she didn’t.

A few days ago, a terrible plague swept through her village. Her abusive husband died of the plague. So did most of the people of the village. The few survivors, fearing infection from each other, rapidly scattered in all directions. The woman is now walking alone in the wilderness, with a baby who is a few days old. There is no-one around who is willing or able to feed her baby – a baby whom she never wanted.

I’d now like to ask Professor P.Z. Myers: is the woman morally obliged to feed the baby? If she is, then why? She did not at any stage consent to the obligation of parenthood. What care she has provided until now was provided entirely under duress.

Let’s remember that although the baby is not inside the woman’s body, the woman still has to provide the baby with milk from her body, in order to nourish it. On top of that, the woman has to carry the baby around with her, wherever she goes, which is bound to be extremely burdensome on her, physically. If P.Z. Myers really believes that a woman has absolute autonomy over her own body, then I find it hard to see how (on his account) the woman could be morally obligated to breastfeed a baby whom she never consented to feed in the first place.

Thus it appears that P.Z. Myers’ ethical principles are severely flawed: they justify not only abortion, but also infanticide, which all reasonable people would agree is wrong.

In my post, I then went on to explain why it would be wrong for the mother to refuse to breastfeed her child.

And yet all of us would say that the woman, on hearing the baby cry, is morally obligated to feed it. Why?

(1) The baby needs milk, and it is utterly unable to look after itself.
(2) The baby’s dependence on its mother was caused by external circumstances beyond its control.
(3) The baby’s needs are natural, for its stage in development.
(4) The mother is able to feed the baby and keep it alive.
(5) No-one else but the mother can feed the baby and keep it alive, at the present time. In other words, the mother is the most proximate individual who is able to care for the baby…

From these five facts, I would argue that if the word “should” has any objective meaning at all, then the mother should feed her baby, no matter how unwillingly it was conceived. But by the same token, I would argue that the mother had an obligation to continue to support her unborn baby, while she was pregnant. For at that time, the baby needed food and oxygen, which it was unable to obtain for itself. Its dependency on its mother was caused by circumstances beyond its control. Her unborn baby’s needs were natural. The pregnant mother was able to nourish the baby and keep it alive, and nobody else could have done that. So by parallel, even though the mother was forcibly impregnated, she was bound to care for her baby and carry it to term.

(For the benefit of readers who are curious, Part One of my reply to Libby Anne can be found here and Part Three can be found here.)

Why unborn children have rights, even when they are not viable or sentient

A 3-month-old fetus attached to its umbilical cord. Image courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine and Wikipedia.

I still haven’t addressed the question: what gives the unborn child a right to life, even when it is neither viable nor sentient?

The first thing I’d like to point out is that neither fathers nor mothers build their children; they do that themselves. Ask yourself this simple question: exactly what does a mother do for her unborn child, while that child is in her womb? Basically, she does three things.

She carries the child, usually for nine months, often at great inconvenience to herself.
She nourishes the child, supplying it with food and oxygen.
And (if she is willingly pregnant) she loves the child she is carrying.

Here’s my point. Carrying a child isn’t the same thing as building that child. Nourishing a child isn’t the same as building it, either: the passive supply of nutrients is not a constructive activity. Nor is loving a child, important though it is, the same as building it.

Let me repeat: mothers don’t build their children. And in case anyone thinks I’ve left out something even more fundamental – namely, the mother’s donation of an egg – let me ask my readers if they’d regard the father’s donation of a sperm as a child-building activity. No? I thought not. By the same token, neither is the mother’s donation of an egg. Supplying the raw materials out of which something is made is not the same as the activity of building that thing. If you doubt me, just ask any builder.

What I’m proposing, then, is this: anything that’s building itself into a rational human adult is just as intrinsically valuable as a rational human adult. We’ve already seen that an embryo is building itself into a rational human adult – something, by the way, that cannot be said of a cancer or of a skin flake that we shed. It therefore follows that a human embryo matters just as much as you or I do.

The principle that “anything that’s building itself into an X is just as intrinsically valuable as that X” sounds reasonable, as a general moral principle. To see why, it’s important to understand that nothing really gets added to a thing that’s building itself. Everything that the thing receives from outside (raw inputs, such as food) is transformed by the thing’s self-building program into part of the thing itself. The thing doesn’t just sit there and receive these inputs; it acts upon them. Without the program inside the thing that transforms the raw inputs, they would be utterly useless to the thing itself. (Food would be no good to you, if your body lacked the power to digest it.) So what’s really important here is the program itself, which uses the inputs. The inputs are merely useful; their value is merely conditional. The program within the thing, on the other hand, is intrinsically valuable; its value is unconditional.

The self-building developmental program that we have in our bodies is the same program that we had at conception. That’s why we possess the same intrinsic value that we had when we were conceived: not a jot more and not a jot less. Everything that we receive from the outside world in the course of our lives – from the food we eat to the language we are taught, to the education we get at school – has to be filtered and processed by that program before it gets incorporated into our bodies, our brains and (in the case of information) our memories. Our internal developmental program isn’t just some kind of genetic information; it’s one level higher than that. It’s meta-information, because it’s able to process information from the outside world. That’s what makes it intrinsically valuable.

It should be noted that the foregoing argument makes no mention of God, or of a spiritual soul being infused into the zygote at conception. All it assumes is that killing a rational human adult is objectively wrong. If you accept that premise, as P.Z. Myers does, then there is no good reason to deny that killing an embryo or fetus is wrong too, regardless of its developmental immaturity.

Concluding reflections: is God needed in order to secure natural rights?

The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo Buonarroti. Fresco painted on the walls of the Sistine Chapel in 1511. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Kairosfocus, a regular contributor to Uncommon Descent, made some highly pertinent constructive criticisms in response to my original post in reply to Libby Anne on abortion. He began by pointing out that some organisms are intrinsically more valuable than others:

First, it is not just the need of the children or the nursing baby that is an is that grounds an ought, but their underlying value. Mice and rats have needs too (and are self-assembled on genetic programs etc), but under a great many circumstances, they are destructive pests.

An excellent point. Let me add here that although a human embryo is far less sentient than a mouse or rat, it is building itself into a rational human adult, by virtue of its internal developmental program, which is fully switched on and running. That is what makes it more valuable than any mouse or rat will ever be.

Kairosfocus went on to argue that ultimately, all human rights need to be grounded in the fact that it was God our Creator Who endowed us with these rights:

That brings us to the second point.

It is indeed the case that we can recognise the value of a fellow human being and respond to it appropriately, through understanding that we have certain duties of care to one another based on our nature and its value. That is a built-in protective facility we have as human beings, though it can become benumbed or could in some cases be defective. Thus, a natural law framework for morality and justice. Thence the civil peace of justice and the duty of citizens and governments alike to protect it. Including of course recognition of rights — binding ultimately moral claims that we make on one another based on our equality and value as human beings.

The issue is, where does that value of being human come from such that there is not life unworthy of life. Let me put that in German, that being the context in which this most horrifically led to its consequences some seven decades ago, so that we can understand what is at stake: “Lebensunwertes Leben.

The only answer that has the capacity to carry the terrible weight of OUGHT, is that our value is an endowment from our Creator, the inherently good God and Creator, who — mechanism and possible timelines or narrative details are irrelevant here — has made us in his image and has endowed us “with certain unalienable rights.” The first of which is: LIFE.

There is a crucial insight underlying Kairosfocus’ perceptive remarks: natural law ultimately requires a supernatural foundation. In everyday life, people with well-formed moral habits may easily overlook this fact, as the principles governing their ethical behavior will seem obvious to any right-minded person. Thus secular humanists might argue that human rights are grounded in the human nature which we all share in common. That’s fine, as long as we take human nature as a given. But as the American moral philosopher J. Budziszewski has pointed out, a purely naturalistic account of ethics cannot answer the question: why shouldn’t we change human nature, if it suits us to do so? (When I say, “change human nature,” I mean “change everyone’s nature.”) For instance, what if we could make people much smarter, but at the cost of making them less empathetic? Or what if we could engineer people’s brains to make them less religious, or more compliant with society’s expectations of them? Would that be ethical? We can no longer appeal to human nature to answer these questions, as we are transforming human nature. So what can we appeal to? In the end, we can only appeal to the will of our Creator Who made us for a purpose: not only to understand and control the world around us, live life to the full, and love one another, but also to know and love our Creator. Any transformation of human nature which thwarts these purposes is therefore wrong. And abortion, which involves deliberating the life of a fellow human being, is the ultimate injustice.

8 Replies to “P.Z. Myers channels Judith Jarvis Thomson on abortion; Dawkins disagrees

  1. 1
    Vishnu says:

    Those who are in favor of killing the unborn are always the ones who have the upper hand in the situation.

    Bullies.

    Pee Zee need not come up with extravagant (and somewhat ridiculous) scenarios to make a point. I’ll make it easier for him: suppose someone walks up to Pee Zee and shoots him in the head and kills him.

    Yeah, suppose that happens?

    That’s one “abortion” I believe he would be flatly against.

    Gratuitious tagline: I’m pro-choice: give the baby a choice.

  2. 2
    velikovskys says:

    Vishnu,

    Pee Zee need not come up with extravagant (and somewhat ridiculous) scenarios to make a point. I’ll make it easier for him: suppose someone walks up to Pee Zee and shoots him in the head and kills him.

    Technically it would have to be his mother who shot him to makes sense of your analogy,after all the mother is the only person who can legally terminate the pregnancy. Oh right, he wasn’t in her uterus.

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    There’s almost nothign at all sensible in PZ Myer’s analogy.

    Imagine that an alien species envelops the earth in a cloud of infectious DNA, and little needles carrying embryos rain down on us. If you’re struck by one…

    Is this supposed to be analogous to consensual sex? How so?

    If you’re struck by one, you’ll start growing an alien cyst in your body; it will fester for a bit less than a year, draining you of energy and making movement awkward, before rupturing and releasing a semi-autonomous intelligent creature.

    That’s what a human embyro and fetus is? A festering cyst?

    Is thst your medical opinion Dr. Myers?

    This process kills roughly 20 in 100,000 infected individuals, so it only has a small but very real chance of being lethal.

    So? Are you offering the fact that it might be lethal as a justification for killing it?

    The released creature is also going to demand approximately 20 years of full time care from its host.

    So? Are you offering the fact that it might need to be taken care of as a justification for killing it? Can I kill it at any time in those 20 years? Can I put it up for adoptioon? What does this point have to do with anything?

    Having a child is making a committment. Don’t have sex if you don’t want children.

  4. 4
    DavidD says:

    In a nutshell, PZ Meyers analogy can be summed up and illustrated here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ftmr17M-a4

    What did evolutionists ever do before the invention of Sci-Fi Films to illuminate how their minds reason & function ?

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    Two moral relativists arguing for when it is OK to kill the unborn is about as productive as two people arguing that their favorite flavor of ice cream is the morally ‘correct’ flavor to eat.

    I think Peter S Williams’ version of the argument for objective morality, at the 6:40 minute mark of the following video, is very impressive as to being rigorously thought, and laid, out,,,

    Peter S. Williams vs Christopher Norris – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?f.....inY#t=398s

    In other words,, Who cares what either Dawkins or Myers think if objective meaning and morality is merely illusory as they, both Atheistic materialist, hold?

    Adam Sedgwick to Charles Darwin: – 24 Nov 1859
    Excerpt: There is a moral or metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. A man who denies this is deep in the mire of folly.,,
    http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2548

    Life for everyone, every unborn baby and adult, loses any objective meaning and value without God!

    The Absurdity of Life Without God by William Lane Craig
    Excerpt: First, there is no ultimate meaning without immortality and God. If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed or not? It might be said that his life was important because it influenced others or affected the course of history. But that shows only a relative significance to his life, not an ultimate significance. His life may be important relative to certain other events. But what is the ultimate significance to any of those events? If all of the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate significance of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference. http://www.freerepublic.com/fo.....9706/posts

    There are all sorts of subjective moral reasons why the 50,000,000 plus unborn babies have been aborted/slaughtered in America since Roe v. Wade went into effect in 1973.

    Abortion Statistics – 50,000,000 plus
    http://www.voiceofrevolution.c.....tatistics/

    IMHO, the main reason why the unborn are killed at such an alarming rate is because young mothers have a distorted/misguided view of their baby as being merely a inconvenient burden on them in this life, instead of seeing them as they truly are,, i.e. as being a blessing from God.

    Of related interest to being a ‘blessing form God’, Jennifer Fulwiler was converted from her atheism to Christianity when the ‘scales fell from her eyes’ in regards to how she viewed her baby:

    Jennifer Fulwiler: Scientific Atheism to Christ – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw8uUOPoi2M

    What caused Jennifer Fulwiler to question her atheism to begin with? It was the birth of her first child. She says that when she looked at her child, the only way her atheist mind could explain the love that she had for him was to assume it was the result of nothing more than chemical reactions in her brain. However, in the video I linked above, she says:

    “And I looked down at him, and I realized that’s not true.”

    But, in the atheistic worldview, ‘persons’, babies and adults, are merely neuronal illusions ,,,

    The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – Ross Douthat – January 6, 2014
    Excerpt: then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant:,,) Read more here:
    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.c.....oyne/?_r=0

    Exactly how to you grant ‘personhood’ to a neuronal illusion foisted off on us by our brain chemistry. The true value of a person can hardly be derived from chemistry,, i.e. Just how do you derive true value for a person from a philosophy that maintains transcendent values are illusory?:

    How much is my body worth?
    Excerpt: The U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils invested many a hard-earned tax dollar in calculating the chemical and mineral composition of the human body,,,,Together, all of the above (chemicals and minerals) amounts to less than one dollar!
    http://www.coolquiz.com/trivia...../worth.asp

    anybody who treated their family members as merely chemistry, i.e. merely as molecules in motion, would be considered a psychopath,,

    The Heretic – Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him? – March 25, 2013
    Excerpt:,,,Fortunately, materialism is never (completely) translated into life as it’s lived. As colleagues and friends, husbands and mothers, wives and fathers, sons and daughters, materialists never put their money where their mouth is. Nobody thinks his daughter is just molecules in motion and nothing but; nobody thinks the Holocaust was evil, but only in a relative, provisional sense. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.
    http://www.weeklystandard.com/.....tml?page=3

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    It is also interesting to note that abortion in America was legalized because the unborn were, much like the Jews before the holocaust, denied the status of ‘personhood’:

    The very text of the Roe v. Wade decision itself, then, contains the key to its own demise. It points the way to it own defeat. Statutorily vesting “personhood” at the moment of conception for every human being, without exception, state by state, would directly confront Roe and cause it to collapse upon itself.
    http://www.prolifewisconsin.or.....&id=7

    “The introduction of the Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935 saw Jews declared non-persons, stripped of their rights, robbed of their property and isolated.”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new.....-Jews.html

    thus, since ‘persons’ are merely neuronal illusions in the materialists worldview,,, in the atheistic worldview no person has a legal right to life since the status of personhood can hardly be granted to an neuronal illusion.

    Verse and Music:

    Matthew 16:26
    And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

    MercyMe – Beautiful – music
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vh7-RSPuAA

  7. 7
    EvilSnack says:

    “I didn’t murder my child, your honor. I merely terminated the fetus–in the eleventh trimester.”

  8. 8
    chris haynes says:

    The theme of this article is disgusting

    We are asked to admire Myers, a consistent PC bigoted shallow- minded and rude bore, just because, for once, he says something somewhat right, although for the wrong reason.

    Who cares if he actually knows the square root of 144, the capital of South Carolina, or that maybe Abortion shouldn’t be mandatory? Big deal. Lets instead show respect for the average Joe, who is polite, moral and consistently far far wiser.

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