Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fun Times With Abortion

This little boy likes baseball and jellybeans, but God decided to abort him, just like the other thirty percent of pregnancies that end in miscarriage.

Huzzah! I count myself fortunate to receive the privilege of a rebuke from a man as wise and temperate as Paul Manata; a man who walks and talks with the bearing and authority of someone who speaks regularly with an omnipotent, omniscient, invisible friend.

In this instance (among many in which I've been graced with Paul's kind correction), we find that my flippant response to Craig Sowder's reposting of a post on Paul's own Triablogue (yes, it IS that convoluted) was sufficient to rouse Paul's desire to lend me some friendly advice. The response of mine in question:
I tend to think that in a perfect world, abortions would be rare, safe, and legal.
After writing this, I realized that the phrase "perfect world" would probably be taken all too literally. After all, in a "perfect world," birth control would never fail, right? I came back to clarify my use of that phrase to mean "the most optimal world that I can conceive." At this point, I was asked by Craig why rarity would be something I would hope for, if there was nothing immoral about abortion. Paul jumped on my answer to this question, which he neglected to quote in its entirety, but which I will do here:
The rarity I would like to see for these procedures isn't inspired by any intrinsic immorality, but because it's such a difficult choice for women, who have to choose between their procreative and self-preservative instincts. [emphasis added]
Paul claims that I have merely pointed out the existence of angst, and suggests that education is the solution:
...perhaps women should be educated. Why is there angst? They don't have the same angst when "departing" with unsightly moles. Indeed, one could argue that the angst is a holdover from theistic beliefs about the womb and conception. We need to educate the masses. And of course Moore's perfect world would have educated people, people with no holdovers from the ancient, dark times of man's history.
I don't think that any amount of education can alleviate the emotional strain of choosing between two contradictory instincts. This is not an intellectual matter we're dealing with- it's a subconscious, primordial battle between the basic neurological impulses nearly all animals share: SURVIVE. REPRODUCE. This conflict is only subject to philosophical gerrymandering by those who don't have to answer these calls. And these are truly effectual calls, mind you- not subject to reason, evidence, exegesis, or any such intellectual strategy. Thus, the "angst" Paul correctly identifies is not so easily assuaged, and thus I am not as confident as Paul that this could be ameliorated with simple education (would that it were so).

This little girl has been preordained to burn in Hell. Just look at her... what a slut! She totally deserves it.

My primary argument in favor of allowing abortion is that all human beings are sovereign over their own bodies. Thus, anything growing inside my body stays there only by my own approval (assuming that I have the available medical technology to remove it at my discretion). As Paul points out, with my argument the "personhood" of the fetus is immaterial. At first, he's comfortable dealing with my argument and offers a counterexample:
First, it's not true that all humans have sovereignty over their body and can do what they will with it making what they do ethically okay. They can't (well, shouldn't) strap bombs to it and run into occupied office buildings.
Perhaps Paul has not understood what I mean by "sovereignty" over one's body. He seems to think that I'm mounting a variation of Homer Simpson's "Pie Eating" argument: "All right pie, I'm just going to do this [opens and closes mouth] and if you get eaten it's your own fault!" I am not talking about things people do to each other with their bodies; I am talking specifically about the right to decide what things stay in one's body and what things stay out. That is, one has the right to decide what kind of food one wants to eat, what kind of aesthetic modifications can be made to one's body, and what kinds of medical procedures should be undertaken. Of the latter, these include the decision to undergo a cardiac bypass, the decision to undergo a gastric bypass, and the decision to bypass pain and suffering through euthanasia. Either Paul agrees that we have sovereignty over our bodies or he does not. If we do not, then we cannot decide for ourselves what kind of food to eat. It's possible that Paul's invisible friend tells him whether to choose Cheerios or Wheaties for breakfast. But if Paul does agree that we have sovereignty over our bodies, that only he has the right to decide if his malignant testicle should be removed, then he seems to be special pleading for women not to have the right to remove anything they want from their bodies as well.

This little boy enjoys molesting the neighbor girl and killing cats. He will murder his grandmother and since he is one of the Elect, he will go to Heaven.

Paul does me the favor of mounting a defensive argument for me:
Of course, Moore may say that their sovereignty stops just at that point where they are hindering another human's sovereignty over his or her body not to be blown to bits. But of course, as should be obvious, this response rather removes the teeth from his entire position. Indeed, Moore's (radical) libertarianism is undercut since he is now forced to add that some humans (the fetuses) do not have sovereignty over their bodies! It looks like special pleading to dismiss, out of hand, the fetus's sovereignty. Moore just can't think far enough to consider the logic of the case.
Although I appreciate the effort he has made on my behalf, he's running with the wrong assumption. I've already made it clear that I consider sovereignty to extend only to within one's own body for the sake of this argument. Paul's counterexample of a suicide bomber is simply the product of a categorical error. He's also assuming that I'm granting "human" or "person" status to a fetus, which I frankly have not; but again, it's immaterial to my argument. Even if I were to follow Paul down his rabbit hole and grant that a fetus has the same sovereignty enjoyed by its mother, that only extends to within the fetus' own body. Once removed from its uterine environ, the fetus is free to exercise that sovereignty in whichever direction it likes.

This little boy is loved and cared for by Christian parents, but will become an atheist and be damned to Hell.

It should be obvious by now why this next claim is erroneous:
Second, Moore basis[sic] rights on accidental features of the world, i.e., a person's location. Of course it's completely arbitrary to simply announce that one's location determines whether he has any right to life. Moore's placing the location in the womb is no more arbitrary than Hitler placing the location somewhere in the Middle East. In fact, as almost all ethicists will tell you, morally irrelevant facts shouldn't factor into moral principles. That's one reason why racism is ethically backwoods. It take a non-moral fact, skin color, and tries to make it a basis for moral facts. Skin color, location, size, level of development, etc., are morally irrelevant to questions of morality.
Nowhere in my argument have I talked about a "right to life." I've talked about the concept of sovereignty over one's own body. I suppose it wouldn't be a completely productive discussion about abortion without being compared to Hitler, but I'm not trying to remove privileges at all. In fact, the opposite is true- Paul, by special pleading against the complete sovereignty of women, would have us believe that one organ among all others is arbitrarily off-limits.

Paul wants to push the argument further, this time mounting an attack on behalf of Craig:
Third, another thing Craig might want to ask, it seems that not only do we have exceptions to murder, but sometimes parents don't have obligations toward their young children. Since we're dealing with a mother taking the life of her child, we have another moral consideration in play. Do we have exceptions here, too?
As has been shown previously, my argument is not one that advances a mother's right to take the life of her child. I've only argued that a woman's sovereignty is without exception, not that I am seeking exceptions as Paul does. Once born, of course, a baby is not necessarily dependent on its mother, and can be cared for by any number of people; this instance dramatically changes the moral situation. Further speculation along these lines is not germane to the question of a woman's sovereignty and abortion.

This little girl has every egg in her ovaries already fully-formed, and will exercise her sovereignty over them from her birth until their birth.

Fourth, as Moore should know, we can achieve conception in a Petri dish, soon we will be able to bring a child forth that spent all three trimesters in an artificial womb. Assume that Moore doesn't hold to "Petri dish sovereignty," would he then say (remembering that we assuming the humanity of the fetus since it supposedly "doesn't matter either way" for Moore's argument) that no one can kill these babies? What will happen to Moore's support for stem cell research, then?
At long last Paul has given us something to chew on. It's a great question, not least of which because there's no clear answer. However, I should make it clear that we're no longer dealing with my argument for sovereignty, since stem cells do not need to be cultured inside a woman's body. In engaging with the stem cell question, we finally have no choice but to grapple with the concept of "humanity" or "personhood." And my answer to this question is, though Paul may be disappointed by it, "I don't know." I don't hold to a neo-Platonic worldview, and therefore I don't feel epistemological pressure to categorize reality using Universal concepts. "Humanity," like "species" or "life" does not neatly intersect with the reality our senses and reason present to us. At what moment did I become a human being? When my father's sperm came in contact with my mother's egg? But when, precisely? When the sperm passed the corona radiata? When it entered, or after it had passed, the zona pellucida? Before or after the cell membranes fused? Before or after the second meiotic division of the egg? Before or after the first mitotic division? At what stage of mitosis: prophase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase? The interim points, like Zeno's paradox, are infinite; yet a human is the result.

Thus, the question of personhood is not so simple. Although I can't speak with certainty on the matter, my moral instincts would be to ascribe a kind of provisional sovereignty to those who provide the initial cells for a stem cell colony. This would extend up to the point of their destruction or full-term development, in parallel with a uterine incubation. In this, however, sovereignty would be shared by both man and woman, since the woman's body is not required for the process described here.

For God so loved these stem cells, He sent His only begotten Son that they would not cure human disease, but sit in a Petri dish in Heaven.

I'm always glad to know that I've merited the attention of God's chosen, especially when there are so many more enjoyable things to do in Michigan's own Tulip Country. Between keeping one's wife pregnant, instilling a fear of The Lord in one's children, and drinking deeply of the Boddington's, I consider myself lucky to register on the radar. Cheers, sir!

Post a Comment


At 11/16/2008 10:58 PM, Blogger Todd F declaimed...

Hey Dr. Z. This is the real Todd Flanders (I had the name first). We used to shoot emails back and forth several years ago.

I have a question on the non-theist position on free will. In a universe without God, the dualism of mind and brain are an illusion. As Richard Dawkins put it -- "DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to it's music".

Is free will and free thought possible without God? Or do we just dance to our DNA? If we had perfect knowledge of a person's nature and environment, would we be able to flawlessly predict there reponses? We can do this with insects, so I'd argue they have no free will. Is it the same with humans, but with more complexity?

Anyone else is free to respond, but I'll ignore personal attacks or attacks on Calvanism and middle knowledge, unless there is a genuine question.



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