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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Eggs, acorns and silkworms: Refuting pro-choice propaganda

Leadership board member Michelle Z. shared this image, noting that it's been circulating on Tumblr.
These analogies only work if you avoid those pesky "difficult concepts" from science: concepts like fertilization, species classification, and biological development.

Let's start with the egg. They're right: it isn't a chicken, because it hasn't been fertilized. Hens lay eggs whether or not they've conceived; this means that farmers can avoid chicken reproduction by simply keeping the roosters separate from the hens, without hurting egg production. The eggs sold in supermarkets are almost always unfertilized. What you're eating is the stuff that would have nourished the chick before hatching, had a chick been conceived. (As our dear friend Phil puts it, "Eggs are chicken period. Have fun erasing that mental image.")

If you were to break open an egg that was fertilized, you'd reveal something rather unfamiliar to your breakfast table:See the beak and the tiny little bird foot? Chicken. Very young chicken, but still chicken.

Let's move on to the acorn. "An acorn is not a tree" is one of the oldest, easiest-to-refute, unoriginal, nonsense pro-choice statements in the book. It relies on a simple linguistic confusion. The word "tree" can be used in two subtly different ways. One use is to designate species: oak trees, pine trees, etc. Another meaning designates the adult stage of the plant, as in "I planted a sapling last August, and now it's a tree." An acorn is not an adult tree. It IS a member of its species: oak, pine, or whatever the case may be. Likewise, unborn children are human, but they are not adults (and obviously, pro-lifers have never claimed that they are).

The silkworm example is just ridiculous. Of course a part of the raw materials used to make a dress is not a dress. But embryos and fetuses are not "raw materials" for making people. The raw materials are the nutrients that we ingest-- prenatally through the umbilical cord, in infancy through breast milk or formula, and so on. We don't "come from" unborn children; we once were unborn children.

This brings us to the final image. It appears that this image depicts a moment just before fertilization; the sperm hasn't yet gone in to mingle its DNA with the egg's DNA. So, ironically enough, the pro-choicers are actually right about this-- just not for the reasons they think.

But let's pretend that it were really an image of the moment of fertilization. Human fertilization (also known as conception) creates new members of the human species. Newly conceived human beings are of course not adults yet, but neither are they mere raw materials. They are simply young, and look exactly how they are supposed to at this stage of their lives. At conception, they possess all the genetic information that will guide them through the prenatal period, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. Every person, including you, can trace back his or her existence as an individual to this event.

Pro-lifers are at a disadvantage here. In general, people tend to prefer simplistic ideas to ones that take more time to explain, even if the latter has science on its side. The abortion movement has made very good use of misleading images and language. It's up to us to improve public understanding, one person at a time. Please share this post with your friends.

16 comments:

ockraz said...

Chinkle is right about chickens. The unfertilized egg of a chicken is like an ovum released during menstruation except that it includes the nourishment that isn't needed by mammals which get theirs from their mother. The fertilized chicken egg in your picture happened not because the rooster wasn't kept away from the eggs, but because the rooster wasn't kept away from the hens.

Phil sounds interesting. I wonder what his basis for ascribing moral rights/status to animals is. Many animal rights advocates subscribe to a moral theory which (counterintuively) permits prenatal homicide but prohibits killing nonhuman animals.

FYI: There's an interesting ethical argument to be made which analogizes the acorn to FROZEN embryos, and therefore makes acorns a serious issue for prolifers opposing embryonic stem cell use. Acorns, however, are totally irrelevant to abortion, just as you say.

Also - typo on "simplistic".

ockraz said...

Looks like you fixed the rooster bit before I refreshed the page :)

Kelsey said...

Thanks, ockraz and chinkle. I was kind of in a rush with this post. Blogger has been glitchy, so when I saw that it was working, I thought "Quick! I've got to get this published before it stops working again!" I should have just been patient and gotten everything right the first time. Fortunately, I have a wonderful community of proofreaders :)

Nulono said...

You missed the period on that last sentence. ;)

ericthehalfabee said...

I agree that the arguments you're demolishing are overly simplistic. But your own explanations aren't much better. Sure, you can say an acorn is a young tree, but defining it as such doesn't change the fact that most people would feel very differently about plucking an acorn out of the ground and chopping down an ancient oak. Similarly it's true that the fertilised egg contains all the genetic information required to make a person, but then so too do any human ovum-and-sperm pair - in fact they contain enough information to make many different people - so what? Does this mean we should conserve all ova and sperm?

The fact is that it is the interaction of those genes with the environment (including their own mutual interactions and most particularly including several months in a womb or womb-like environment) that eventually creates a person. Choosing to define the creation of a person as being at the point of fusing of ovum and sperm is simple and clear, but is still essentially arbitrary. You're going to have to come up with something more compelling than your dictionary definitions of words.

Josh said...

Perhaps people's feelings are irrelevant. In the end you still have a tree whose life was stunted. It's easier to engage in a harmful activity when one cannot grasp the actual effects of their actions, especially when gaps in time and space are involved. I am not so willing to look at the consensus of human feeling. But I am concerned with the fact that anything identifiable as a distinct human life should be treated much differently than a distinct tree life. I am also under the impression that viability is harder to reach for trees than for humans meaning "adult" life would be more sure for the child. This yet unborn person is fundamentally different from any sperm/egg pair. It is a single unit storing all the information for a human. If half of you was in one place and half in another of course it would be impossible to say that the two halves somehow constituted a person. But when one body contains all the information, it's a different ball of wax. It's a new human life, a person.

JohnPierre said...

Ha Ha -- if you don't plant a seed, you cut the tree down. If a bird devoured a caterpillar it killed the butterfly. If the zygote did not implanted in the uterus the mother murdered a child. so Fooliish, this is the way a hubris argues!

Dan Dorfman said...

"In General, people tend to prefer simplistic ideas to ones that take more time to explain, even if the latter has science on its side"
Wow, hypocrisy much? You who claim "It has (heartbeat or neural activity or distinct DNA or whatever), that means it's a human being just like that!" are criticizing people of simplifying things?


You don't have science, you have jargon. You're putting on a lab coat and marching around playing at a scientist.


The scientific definition of life is NOT on your side. The scientific community is NOT on your side.

M said...

Can you link me to a scientific source that says biologically human beings begin as something other than zygotes?

Angela M Bradley said...

imilarly it's true that the fertilised egg contains all the genetic information required to make a person, but then so too do any human ovum-and-sperm pair - in fact they contain enough information to make many different people - so what? Does this mean we should conserve all ova and sperm?

A human ovum is a cell. A human sperm is a cell. Neither one of these cells are organisms. When these two cells meet through the process of fertilization, an organism is created. Just as the expulsion of either the sperm or the ovum separately does not constitute expulsion of human organisms, i.e. human beings. Killing a skin cell does not constitute killing your existence as a human being. Look at it this way: your actual existence does not necessarily extend to the sperm that created you because you did not exist before your father's sperm cell fertilized your mother's egg cell. After fertilization, both the sperm and the egg cease to exist from a biological standpoint. At this point, there constitutes a distinct beginning to every individual human being's existence, and that point, which is 100% supported by biological fact, is at fertilization. If you're still confused, please read your local school district's issued biology book. They will all tell you roughly the same thing about any sexually reproducing animal or species.

Angela M Bradley said...

You: "Similarly it's true that the fertilised egg contains all the genetic information required to make a person, but then so too do any human ovum-and-sperm pair - in fact they contain enough information to make many different people - so what? Does this mean we should conserve all ova and sperm?"

Me: A human ovum is a cell. A human sperm is a cell. Neither one of these cells are organisms. When these two cells meet through the process of fertilization, an organism is created. Just as the expulsion of either the sperm or the ovum separately does not constitute expulsion of human organisms, i.e. human beings. Killing a skin cell does not constitute killing your existence as a human being. Look at it this way: your actual existence does not necessarily extend to the sperm that created you because you did not exist before your father's sperm cell fertilized your mother's egg cell. After fertilization, both the sperm and the egg cease to exist from a biological standpoint. At this point, there constitutes a distinct beginning to every individual human being's existence, and that point, which is 100% supported by biological fact, is at fertilization. If you're still confused, please read your local school district's issued biology book. They will all tell you roughly the same thing about any sexually reproducing animal or species.

jlgreenlee said...

I know this is old, but I stumbled across it, and just had to say something. This meme is currently making the rounds again, and I still think it's a good one. Your deconstruction overshoots the point of the whole thing.

An acorn ISN'T an oak tree. Countless acorns never become trees, are eaten by squirrels, rot away, or fail to take root. You'd never say a squirrel ate an oak tree. Chicken eggs--even when fertilized--are not yet chickens. If the egg you pictured were broken at that point, earlier, or shortly after, it is unlikely that most people would think you killed a chicken. A POTENTIAL chicken sure, but not a chicken.
The silk one is a little sillier, but still to the point: this is an early stage of silk. If you destroy this fluff, you haven't destroyed a $1300 Versace. And the last one is even better. A newly fertilized egg (and we don't know that one is HUMAN, do we?) is NOT YET a person. It is a potential person. Countless fertilized eggs fail to implant, miscarry spontaneously, or are sitting in petri dishes in freezers in fertility labs. In any of those cases, you'd have to be a bit nutty to think that if the zygote were destroyed, that a murder had been committed.
Abortion is totally NOT my issue, and I'd be the first to say that WHERE to draw the line is a difficult thing. But a newly fertilized egg is NOT a person. Not yet. Argue about WHEN that happens all you like (the Bible, interestingly, implies that BREATH is life), but don't tell me that last picture is a person. And don't pretend you don't "get" what this analogy is about.

Hemlock said...

Your explanations are just........dumb. seriously. They make no more sense than the "pro-choice" people you're trying to oppose.

Cookiecutter87 . said...

Here is an image to illustrate the above points

midori said...

Except you are wrong because biological evidence supports the fact that fertilized eggs are NOT organisms. If you look at the definition of what you need to be considered as an organism (a fertilized egg lives, like any cell but it is not alive) you will see that you need to be independent enough to function and develop on your own rather than using some other organism to fulfill certain functions. It is why viruses are not considered as organisms and neither are foetuses (at least not until several months).
And there is a huge difference between feeding a baby and digesting food for a foetus. You can read Dr Kaplan's book on that subject.

CatholicChristian said...

Even President Biden agreed that life begins at conception. These three arguments are silly because an egg, an acorn and silk are not human babies! A fertilized egg is! Life begins at conception, thus abortion is murder. For murder is the intentional taking of a human being. By the way, thank you so much Secular Pro-life for helping us walk through this treachery of Roe vs. Wade.