Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When Apologists Go Boom

Your logic is impeccable, Captain. He is in grave danger.

I’m really starting to feel sorry for Paul Manata at this point; like the Rain Man, he has a single-minded fixation on revisiting the contrary paths his assertions have trodden. "Fetus is human. Definitely, definitely. Yeah. I'm an excellent apologist." Oh, but I should stop. Paul's not comfortable with humor, at least not at his expense. He'd like me to lighten up on the jokes, but he's all too quick to compare me with a stupid Star Trek robot. It's mildly clever, but I would have thought that a better comparison would be the robotic probe Nomad from "The Changeling," which was caught by Kirk in a logical contradiction and self-destructs; I can only guess that Paul in moments of perverse pleasure fantasizes about me experiencing a similar conclusion. Still, since the analogy was left unused, perhaps I can give it employ.

I must say I'm a bit surprised at Paul's lamentations about my light-heartedness, particularly because he has previously complained that "[he] just wish[ed] atheists had as good a sense of humor as Christians. Atheism is so boring and drab. Yawn." Hey, Paul, I'm just trying to "goose the antithesis" a bit here, but if you can't handle the sauce, I'll move on to the serious stuff.

First off, let's stop all this sillyness with Paul rewriting my arguments. I don't know whether he really thinks that he's doing me a favor by doing so, or whether he's actually devious enough to think that he can get away with tinkering with my arguments before he knocks them down. Where I come from, that's called a "strawman," but maybe they play by different rules in Grand Rapids. So if I may be indulged to take Paul's words out of my mouth: the conclusion "it is morally acceptable for women to have abortions at any time up to and until the unborn human fetus emerges from the woman's vagina" is not mine. I do so hate to be pedantic, but if Paul can't even get my argument’s conclusion right in the first 500 words of his post, what's the point in following along for the next 2500?

But I like Paul, and I have great hopes for him someday, so I'll try yet again to correct him. IF all human beings are sovereign over their bodies, and IF sovereignty entails the ability to remove anything one wants from one's body, THEN any human being may remove anything one wants from one's body. I do so hope that Paul can confine his further criticisms to these words alone.

Particularly astute readers (and hopefully Paul himself) may note that nowhere in the above argument do I make any mention of a fetus, or whether or not a fetus is equivalent to a human being. It's simply not relevant to my argument.

Now, what gets Paul chuckling hoarsely to himself and rubbing his hands back and forth is his certainty that I've caught myself in a logical contradiction, a la Kirk to Nomad. He thinks that all he needs to do is substitute "fetus" for "human being" in my argument, and suddenly my argument self-contradicts. But let's look at what happens to the conclusion of my actual argument if we play Paul's game: any fetus may remove anything it wants from its body.

I have no problem with the veracity of the statement, and it can stand as readily as my own conclusion above; however, we may wonder how the privilege of personal sovereignty claimed by a fetus overrides the personal sovereignty of the woman in whose uterus the fetus makes its residence. In fact, the very nature of human biology precludes the ability of a fetus (or anyone acting on its behalf) to act on any decision to exercise this ability until after parturation.

What's that, Paul? Oh, sorry. Sounded like steam whistling.

I want to work extra hard now to help Paul understand what I'm saying. Let's analogize from sovereignty over one's body to sovereignty over one's habitat. Paul and his wife just bought a lovely new house- they have sovereignty over it, and can decide who stays in the house, and who does not. Let's imagine that their friend Craig comes to stay with them, and they give him a room, over which he has sovereignty (ability to decide who comes in the room, and who does not). Although in real life, Paul and Craig are great friends, let's say that he and Craig have a falling-out, and Paul wants him to leave. Craig, although enjoying sovereignty over his room, does not have the right to force Paul to allow him to stay in the house against his will. Paul's sovereignty is complete throughout the house, including Craig's room, and therefore Craig must vacate. Whatever challenges and threats Craig may face outside of Paul's house may be something for Paul to consider, but they do not infringe Paul's sovereignty or remove his right to kick Craig out the door.

What's that I hear? - sounds like a tea kettle boiling. I guess that means it's time to take Paul's argument off the burner; it's done.

I should probably wrap this up before the poor guy's head bursts, but there are a few huckleberries that are too sweet to pass up before I go.

Desperate to shore up support for his sloppy reformulation of my arguments, he introduces the so-called "Preservation Principle." That is, "Generally, any living human that is not insane or suffering some other mental disorder would not want to end their life by means of saline solution and, if they could tell us, they would tell us that they do not want their life to end that way."

And yet in Paul’s own Good Book we find the character of Job, who, (presumably not insane) following a long string of torments commissioned by the omnibenevolent Yahweh, asks for just that:
Job 3: Why was I not still-born, or why did I not perish as I left the womb? ... or, put away like an abortive child, I should not have existed, like little ones that never see the light.
It would seem that even a "blameless" "God-fearer" like Job would rather have been snuffed out in the womb (by saline or otherwise) than have to experience profoundly adverse circumstances later in life.

And it should be pointed out that Yahweh is all too eager to put children to death after being born- for no other crime than being a member of the wrong ethnic group and religion. In Numbers 31, in fact, we find a particulary pernicious passage (on which I've commented previously) – Yahweh commands Moses to order the Israelites to kill all the baby boys belonging to the Midianite tribe… and leave their virgin sisters alive to be divided among the population and the priests as part of the “war booty.”
Numbers 31: ...kill all the male children and kill all the women who have ever slept with a man; but spare the lives of the young girls who have never slept with a man, and keep them for yourselves.
We also find blood-curdling exhortations to infanticide – where Yahweh through the Psalmist proclaims that killing tiny unbelieving babies is a blessed enterprise:
Psalm 137: Daughter of Babel, doomed to destruction, a blessing on anyone who treats you as you treated us, a blessing on anyone who seizes your babies and shatters them against a rock!
And while we’re perusing the Christian Scriptures for any information regarding abortion, it might be of interest to point out the passage where it is said that causing a woman to miscarry carries no more penalty than a few shekels:
Exodus 21: If people, while brawling, hurt a pregnant woman and she suffers a miscarriage but no further harm is done, the person responsible will pay compensation as fixed by the woman's master, paying as much as the judges decide.
While this is not abortion per se, nowhere else in the Bible gets closer to illustrating the true value of a fetus in Yahweh's law – a few coins, at most. Certainly not the death penalty, as advocated by good modern-day Christians like Craig Sowder. That horrific fate is quite explicitly spelled out elsewhere in Exodus, and clearly does not refer to anyone causing the termination of a pregnancy. So much for biblically-minded theology.

And I'll note that Triablogue commenter Marshall has pointed out what I've repeatedly argued is the gaping hole in Paul's argument - if we're to take his position seriously at all, he needs to deal with the science of reproduction and development. As Marshall observes:
[Paul is] stating that the personhood argument is irrelevant. I don't see how this is possible, since the claim is that the abortion destroys a human being. The question that is natural[sic] brought up is: is a baby fetus a human being?

Most people would argue that a human sperm is not a human being, nor is a human egg. If they did, they'd have to deal with the concept that ovulation, masturbation, nocturnal emissions, etc. are all murder. I think we can all agree that this is not the case.

Most people would also agree that a baby that comes out of the womb is a human being. It can breathe by itself, speak, think, and perform *most* of the functions that you and I can (enough that we call it human).

This 9 month point is rather arbitrary, as development is a nonstop process until death (the 9 month period happens to be where the fetus is no longer in the womb, but it develops along all the same). The question is, if the beginning--the sperm and the egg--are not a human, and the 9-month baby is, then at what point does this organism become a human being? This question, in the context of the apologist's argument, seems unavoidable.
Indeed. And yet I'll venture a guess that we'll be long in wait before we hear from Paul on this matter. I've asked nicely once already, and Paul turned tail and fled from the science. I suppose that if I had to deal with his level of cognitive dissonance, I might want to get as far away as possible too, just like the crew of the Enterprise when Nomad realizes that it made a logical error at the beginning of the episode. Because if he were to just sit there and take it for much longer, who knows what might happen...

Look out everyone! This huckleberry's about to blow!

Post a Comment


At 11/05/2008 10:01 AM, Blogger M declaimed...


Manata lives in Grand Rapids?

You mean, all these years, this sophist has potentially been down the street from me?


/locks doors

At 11/05/2008 5:40 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Manata's still alive?

At 11/13/2008 2:37 PM, Blogger openlyatheist declaimed...

I think its official: Manata is mentally deranged. :)



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