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Friday, July 12, 2013

Don't Impose Your Science on Me!

On Monday, Rabbi Aaron Alexander took to the Huffington Post to put the latest face on a tired argument. Happily, he kept it short, so I'm going to break it down piece by piece.
Though I've hesitated from doing so until this point, I'm going to reflect briefly on abortion. I am not going to engage in the conversation -- as a man -- of what women ought be permitted to, or prohibited from, doing with their bodies. The policy makers in Texas and North Carolina seem to have that well covered, tragically.
Really? You think it's "tragic" that abortion centers will be held to the standards of other surgical facilities and women will be unable to have abortions after five months? Because, beneath all the hype, that's what the legislation actually says.
Rather, I'm going to speak as a person of faith to my fellow brothers and sisters of faith. Please know this comes from a place of respect, love, and shared service to God.
Well, clearly I'm not the audience, so moving on...
You first need to know that I seriously admire your advocacy on behalf of life. To battle for deeply held convictions in this age is no small thing and deserves praise.
Why thank you.
You possess a (not THE) definition of what constitutes life

The Princess Bride was wrong; there is no such thing as mostly dead and slightly alive. You are one or the other. It is a scientific question with a right or wrong answer. The "many truths" approach does not work when the issue is one of objective fact.
and you won't back down from trying to defend it. There is much integrity to that consistency.
But, like all things religious, it is also potentially dangerous.
How is it "religious" when there are millions of pro-lifers in the United States with no religion? It can't just be because there are religious folks who agree with us; most religious people also agree that human trafficking is immoral, but we don't call human trafficking a religious issue.
So this is the part I don't understand. Your definition of when life begins is not based on scientific fact. It is your religiously held belief. But it isn't mine. 
The reason Rabbi Alexander doesn't get it is because our definition of when life begins IS based on scientific fact.

This misunderstanding goes way back to the beginning, when in Roe v. Wade, Justice Blackmun briefly mentioned the view of modern physicians that life begins at conception alongside the various views of ancient Stoics, Aristotle, Jews, Protestants, and the Catholic Church. Actual medicine was discarded as just another truth among many.
My religious tradition -- which prioritizes life above all else -- generally assumes that potential life doesn't become its own living entity until 40 days into the pregnancy. And, for the entire pregnancy, the mother's life is always given priority. Right up until birth. (See Mishnah Ohalot, 7:6.) That includes both physical health, and even in certain cases (like rape), emotional health as well.
I don't have much to say about this, except to mention that there are pro-life Jews who, shockingly, think that prioritizing life above all else is pretty freaking incompatible with support for abortion on demand.
You may disagree with my religion's definition. That I understand and respect. But here's the rub: when you attempt to legislate what my community (or any community) can and can't do based on your faith's definition, you don't just simply disagree with me. You are saying, to be blunt, that your religion is correct and mine is incorrect -- coercively.
Public policy should not be based upon anyone's religion, but upon objective reality alone. Sometimes religious adherents may not like the way that turns out. Modern science has been kind to Christians, and others, who want life to be protected from conception; it's been considerably less kind to those Christians who want Genesis to be taught in public schools. So it goes. This isn't about bashing anybody's religion; it's about protecting human lives from violence.
That takes a considerable amount of hubris that isn't worthy of either of our faiths, or our great country's principles, for that matter. And that doesn't mean your opinion isn't relevant and shouldn't be part of our country's dialogue. Of course it should.
So, what, we're allowed to talk about abortion, so long as we don't actually save any babies?
But when we both base our imperatives on religious values -- we need to recognize that that gives us no right to impose them on anyone else. I know you wouldn't want me to enforce my definition of life on you and your family. You'd fight that, even. If we truly value one another, as people of faith dedicated to the service of God, then we owe each other nothing less. Can we please agree to disagree and let faith communities dictate only to their own?
In a word: no. Rabbi, if the Aztec religion resurfaced and started performing human sacrifices to the gods, I am certain that you would not just sit back and let them dictate their own faith to their own people. I think that you would intervene, because I think that you are a well-meaning person. But it's not enough to mean well, if you don't acknowledge the facts. As a wise religious person once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

47 comments:

AuthLab said...

SCIENCE!!!!

Jameson Graber said...

I figured that had to be an easy one to respond to from a secular pro-life perspective. Quite simply the whole premise of the rabbi's post is just false: there *are* scientific and secular reasons to be against abortion.

Ella said...

Very nice job! Sound logic and reasoning can be used to advance the pro-life position -- what?!

[Although since the Jewish conception of hell differs from the Christian one, I'm not sure the last statement would have much impact on the good Rabbi ;) ]

Uomo Senzanome said...

Brainwave activity at 6 weeks (88% of abortions reportedly occur in the first 8 weeks, but I would think most women don't even know they're pregnant for the first 4 weeks, so a substantial number probably occur at or after 6 weeks). Yeah, right, it's just a clump of cells. Clumps of cells don't have brainwaves.

CarlosHelms said...

What? Are trying to get a Liberal to come to a logical conclusion? When pigs fly and hell freezes over, maybe. The god of convenience (Baal) reigns supreme in communist societies - and that is the direction we've been heading for 50 years.

ockraz said...

Is this the same Rabbi who wrote a similar essay for RHRC a while back? It's the same argument and it sounds like the same guy.

ockraz said...

PS: I'm thinking it was the period when there was the debate about the Stupak Amdt to Obamacare if that helps.

ockraz said...

We don't need to make this left v right. I know prolife liberals and prochoice conservatives. The faulty reasoning is prochoice thinking not liberal reasoning.

Marauder said...

Anyone smart enough to get through rabbinical school should be smart enough to understand basic human biology. Heck, anyone smart enough to graduate from high school should be smart enough to understand basic human biology.

Clinton said...

Justice Blackmun was nothing but an activist judge. Liberals scoff when I say that, but it's true. Think about this. He stated that since educated scientists, theologians, and philosophers can't agree on when life begins, the court wasn't going to make that determination (sneaky of them, since they *did* make that determination by legalizing abortion when before the unborn were protected in the womb). So why aren't we teaching Biblical Creation in the schools? Why won't they say that since educated scientists, philosophers, and theologians can't agree on the age of the earth, we won't make a determination either, and allow the teaching of Young-Earth Creationism in schools? Why only make that argument for human life, when actual lives are at stake?

Ellen Simpak said...

I think there actually is some scientific gray area about the definition of dead/alive at the end of life. But not at the beginning, so the point of this essay stands.

Deefr said...

I actually am "pretty religious" (Won't go into detail) but I like the secular arguments better, because everyone can understand them. Not everyone cares/has the same understanding of what a Psalm says, but scientific proofs/facts are what they are. If I tell someone The Bible says this is bad, it means nothing if they don't agree with or trust The Bible. If I say "It's been determined that a heart beat starts 8 weeks after conception (or is it 6 now? as science advances, those numbers get smaller and smaller.) What can they say? "I don't trust research?"

Laura said...

It's 6 weeks after conception (gestation), and 8 weeks of pregnancy, since they count the pregnancy back to the end of the last period.

Laura said...

Some count death at the end of heartbeats, some count death at the end of brainwaves.
A baby has a measurable heartbeat at 6 weeks gestation and measurable brainwaves at 7 weeks gestation.

Salma said...

"So, what, we're allowed to talk about abortion, so long as we don't actually save any babies?"


Most pro-choicers would say yes. gah, it aggravates me.

adaynasmile said...

He even disregards his own beliefs. If he believes that life begins at 40 days after conception then he should have no problem with them preventing abortions that happen 20 weeks after conception (which is long past those 40 days). And why they are having such a hard time with the idea of regulating abortion clinics so that they have to be held to a normal health codes. They talk about back alley abortions but there are tons going on legally in their clinics. I don't see how this law is going to stop them from having abortions as birth control, helping a woman who is in a dire straight due to the pregnancy (most women know by 20 weeks if there is an issue with the pregnancy), or being able to actually have them. They will just prevent some of the dishonest and disgusting practices of some abortion clinics. As a prolifer, I would like to see all abortions abolished, of course. But I really don't see why the pro-choice movement is in such an uproar. And I would like to see him defend his position through the sacred texts which I am sure would prove that he is wrong on his own religious stance. Oiy!

JoAnna Wahlund said...

They say, "There are different opinions and interpretations of that research" (for example, see the comments on this article for a pro-choicer who kept insisting that science did not support the assertion that an embryo is a human being): http://www.jillstanek.com/2013/07/parents-say-ivf-screening-to-weed-out-abnormal-saved-us-heartache/

JoAnna Wahlund said...

Actually, the heartbeat can start beating as early as 4 weeks after conception (6 weeks of pregnancy). I know women who have had ultrasounds late in the 5th week and have seen a heartbeat.

Jeremy said...

I feel that this blog post misses the mark pretty substantially here. It seems as though you are reacting to Rabbi Alexander's points as if he were actually directing his arguments to you. However, as you yourself point out right at the beginning, you are not the target audience. He is clearly writing to fellow religious people who oppose abortion based on their religious beliefs. I agree with you that there exist good secular reasons for opposing abortion, but the rabbi is not making an argument against those. When he claims that his audience (religious people who oppose abortion based on religious beliefs) has a definition of life not based on scientific fact, he is not claiming that YOUR definition of life is not based on scientific fact. And yet, you lump yourself in anyway when you counter that "our" definition IS based on scientific fact. On the one hand, you seem to want to distinguish yourself as separate from the religious pro-life viewpoint, yet throughout the post you include yourself over and over.

Just because you share the same end goal does not mean that every argument against a religious pro-life position is an argument against your position. If you want to assert that your position against abortion is valid because it is based on objective, secular premises, then reacting to an argument meant for people whose position is based on religious beliefs is hardly the way to do so. All it does is undermine your point by making it look like your position is simply a religious one in disguise.

You also seem to misinterpret the final point of the piece, and again counter with something that is not really being contested. The rabbi is asking for faith communities to dictate ONLY to their own - that is, NOT to those outside such communities. He is not saying that faith communities should have free reign to do whatever they please as long as it's with their own people. To use your Aztec analogy, his point would be that the Aztecs do not have the right to impose human sacrifice on people who do not share such beliefs - a view with which I think you would agree. This, however, does nothing to preclude an outsider intervening (based on objective, humanitarian reasons). In fact, I would guess that the rabbi would agree whole-heartedly that society ought to intervene in such a situation. However I think he would say, as you seem to agree, not on the grounds that religion says it is wrong, but rather because modern society has reached a consensus that such acts should not be tolerated.

Coyote said...

Source, please?

Coyote said...

Source, please?

Also, I'm not sure if this is accurate to compare a person near the end of their life to a person at the beginning of their life. A person near the end of their life would have a part of their body not working at all if he/she don't have a heart beat or brain activity (and he/she does not get revived), while an embryo is not supposed to have a heart beat or brain activity yet, and thus everything in his/her "body" is working properly.

Also, amoebas and plants are alive, and they don't have brain activity and/or brain waves.

Coyote said...

" I am not going to engage in the conversation -- as a man -- of what
women ought be permitted to, or prohibited from, doing with their
bodies."

This seems to be an example of the argumentum ad hominem fallacy, and interestingly enough, he is using this fallacy to devalue his own opinion.

Jenna said...

Bravo! Such a well reasoned response. I believe the only thing that can advance the prolife movement at this point is the mainstreaming of the secular perspective.

Amber L said...

The heart begins beating between 18-21 days after conception...before he has missed her period.

RuffieBear said...

As a Catholic, in response to Rabbi's comment "You are saying, to be blunt, that your religion is correct and mine is incorrect", I have to say, well, yes, that is what I'm saying. But not because of any religious difference, merely because the Catholic church embraces and teaches the truth, and yours doesn't. In fact, anyone that embraces the truth is right... and you, Rabbi, are still wrong.

Kelsey said...

With all due respect, I think you're splitting hairs here. The rabbi's article was clearly meant as an indictment against all pro-life legislation, and all pro-life people who support such legislation. He simply assumes, wrongly, that all pro-lifers are pro-life for religious reasons.

JDC said...

He?

Kristin said...

There are millions of us pro-life Liberals. Check out the organization Democrats for Life of America for example. The stereotype that you have to be conservative in order to be pro-life is just as bad as the stereotype that you have to be religious in order to be pro-life, and since you are commenting here, I'm sure you don't agree with that stereotype, so please realize how silly the other one is as well.

`E said...

Wow this guy is NOT very intelligent is he? If he was he would have researched the pro life stance IS based on science. Just because certain religions are more prone to being pro life doesn't mean it's a SOLY religious issue. How is saving innocent lives NOT a Human Rights issue?

"Public policy should not be based upon anyone's religion, but upon objective reality alone."

This hits it on the mark.

Sounder said...

Not Uomo, but if I may: http://www.ehd.org/movies.php?mov_id=33

The cerebral hemispheres are growing and the baby starts moving. http://www.ehd.org/movies.php?mov_id=28

Sounder said...

"I am not going to engage in the conversation-as a Northerner-of what Southerners ought to be permitted to, or prohibited from, doing with their own plantations."

It probably sounds harsh to a pro-choice person, but this argument makes about the same amount of sense.

I'm NOT saying it's necessarily a good idea to just bluntly tell people-especially post abortive women-that they're thinking like slave owners, since all that will accomplish is offending people, and we need to be compassionate and respectful. There were intelligent and generally good people who owned slaves or supported slavery, just as good, intelligent people support abortion "rights". But, as long as it's done tactfully and without personal judgement, I think this is a good analogy to point out to people. Slavery was justified by the premise that certain humans had no rights; the same is true of abortion.

davidrev17 said...

"Just how did nature go digital..." (world-renowned astrophysicist/astrobiologist, Dr. Paul Davies), or transform itself, from literal "hardware" - to "digital software?"

Now, the quotation directly below, represents the very core "scientific" principle - bearing in mind, that arriving at a definition of "science" itself, has proven for decades now, to be an exceedingly slippery, or almost chameleon-like task for eminent philosophers/historians of science - of what's called "Evolutionary Informatics," @ (evoinfo.org).

As such, I humbly implore all of the arrogant Catholics et al. who respond with such philosophical hubris on this blog, to meditate upon its manifestly "fundamentalist" implications (that would be Bible-based "revelation"), seeing as though the species Homo sapiens - not to mention the very presence of ALL "life" itself, flourishing upon this biosphere preeminently singled-out in Genesis 1:1; where ALL "life" has been "scientifically" described as actually being "balanced on a razor's edge" - has certainly NOT popped-into-existence, uncaused, from, or out of "scientific" nothingness!


INFORMATION & DESIGN....

"Intelligent design is the study of patterns in nature best explained as the product of intelligence. So defined, intelligent design seems unproblematic. Archeology, forensics, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) all fall under this definition. In each of these cases, however, the intelligences in question could be the result of an evolutionary process. But what if patterns best explained as the product of intelligence exist in biological systems? In that case, the intelligence in question would be an unevolved intelligence. For most persons, such an intelligence has religious connotations, suggesting that it as well as its activities cannot properly belong to science. Simply put, intelligent design, when applied to biology, seems to invoke ‘spooky’ forms of causation that have no place in science. Evolutionary informatics eliminates this difficulty associated with intelligent design. By looking to information theory, a well-established branch of the engineering and mathematical sciences, evolutionary informatics shows that patterns we ordinarily ascribe to intelligence, when arising from an evolutionary process, must be referred to sources of information external to that process. Such sources of information may then themselves be the result of other, deeper evolutionary processes. But what enables these evolutionary processes in turn to produce such sources of information? Evolutionary informatics demonstrates a regress of information sources. At no place along the way need there be a violation of ordinary physical causality. And yet, the regress implies a fundamental incompleteness in physical causality's ability to produce the required information. Evolutionary informatics, while falling squarely within the information sciences, thus points to the need for an ultimate information source qua intelligent designer."


"Then the word of G-d came to me, saying: 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; and I appointed you a prophet to the nations.'" (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

Come now, and let us REASON together..." (Isaiah 1:18)

Hmmmm... Just sayin'!

A J MacDonald Jr said...

When people deny basic, well understood, and proven scientific facts they become irrational and impossible to deal with. A sad commentary on the popular Jewish support of abortion. The Torah says: All they that hate God love death, and the rabbi proves he's no lover of God, his neighbor, or science :(

Jeremy said...

Really? I didn't get that impression - which I guess is somewhat obvious from my comment. I just don't think the point of his article was about the actual issue of abortion itself. I think it was about people imposing their religious beliefs on others who don't share those beliefs. To be sure, his views on abortion rights seem pretty clear, and you may very well be correct that he assumes the pro-life movement is almost entirely religiously based. However, whether or not he assumes the pro-life argument is entirely a religious one, that is what his article is addressing - the religious argument. The fact that there are people on the pro-life side who are pro-life for non-religious reasons just doesn't come into play. It's like if someone were making the case against vegetarianism because they thought the argument based on animal abuse was flawed - and then someone else who was a vegetarian for health reasons took offense to it. Just because the end goal is the same doesn't mean that all arguments apply to all parties.

M Lynn MacLean said...

Pretty sure that "he" was a typo ;)

Alden Smith said...

Its possible you guys could go up to Wellesley College in Boston. I think the young females might need some outside info isnt based on feelings and what PP has to say.

Alden Smith said...

America's Jewish populations is very liberal unless they are Orthodox then they Conservative.

ockraz said...

The trick is to be very careful about language. Human "being" is a jump ball, there's no accepted definition. With "person", they have the upper hand because it's a term defined in ethics or law and it's almost always defined in their favor. We need to remember to say "organism" because that's the term where science is on our side :)

ockraz said...

1)The heart begins beating 3 weeks and 1 day following fertilization.
http://www.ehd.org/movies.php?mov_id=10

2) Primitive brainwaves have been recorded as early as 6 weeks and 2 days.
http://www.ehd.org/movies.php?mov_id=33

3) "amoebas and plants are alive, and they don't have brain activity and/or brain waves"
That's true and it strengthens the case for the life of a human organism beginning at conception.

ockraz said...

I'm sorry Jeremy, but I think you're making almost the same mistake the Rabbi made, and I mostly agree with Kelsey. The reason I say mostly is that I agree with you when you say, "you may very well be correct that he assumes the pro-life movement is
almost entirely religiously based." She may be correct and I suspect she is correct, but it's an assumption nonetheless. I disagree with that to the extent that it's stated as fact and not qualified as 'likely to be true', but Kelsey could say that's a quibble and she'd be right... (cont.)

Vinícius said...

If my religion isn't against stealing, is the Rabi opressing my opinion for supporting laws against stealing?

DrEdu said...

I am pleased to have found Secular Pro-Lifers today!

Here I was, surfing the net when I started reading Warren’s critique....WOW!

You see, I am a Scientist (a Pediatrician with two Doctorates in Developmental Biology and Teratology: the scientific specialty dealing with Human Development from conception to birth, and with the causes of birth defects).

I stand AGAINST abortion not because of any religious belief, but because of Science and Ethics: Science taught me that the Human embryo is an individual of the Human Species; Ethics compels me to affirm that ALL individuals are equal, particularly when it comes to their Right to Life).

I commend all Pro-Lifers and the Secular Pro-Lifers in particular.
I remind everyone that the testimony of Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth (Harvard University Medical School), is still relevant.

In her testimony she expressed the following logical thoughts: “It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive…. It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception…. Our laws, one function of which is to help preserve the lives of our people, should be based on accurate scientific data.”

The Abortion Laws must be amended to reflect accurate Science.

Annette said...

Orthodox (traditional) Judaism teaches that abortion on demand is 100% wrong. These so-called "rabbis" who support abortion on demand are part of heretical spin-offs from traditional Judaism. They do not represent what legitimate Judaism teaches.

prolifemama said...

coyote, did you check out the real-time videos at ehd? The website originates in the UK, and is called the Endowment for Human Development (ehd). You've gotten your answer... now take a look at the source Laura, Sounder, and I have provided.

Choices rule said...

Judaism does not consider a fetus to be fully alive or a person until it is born. In addition, although Jewish law starts to consider it to be viable after forty days, it still does not consider it to be a "life" and makes it clear that the life of the mother comes first, since a fetus is considered to be a potential life until it is born. Judaism generally frowns on a casual termination, but all the sections agree with the life of the mother coming first and that a fetus is a potential life until birth. So, Judaism is not pro-life in the sense that it does not put the life of a fetus first when the life of the mother is threatened. Some sections permit a termination for non life threatening reasons but those sections are most often the ones that are not Orthodox, since the Orthodox section tends to be the most strict in its beliefs.
If you want to know more, I suggest asking a Rabbi but that is the best way I can explain it from what I have learned growing up and from what I have read.

Trutherator said...

Oh yes it does. DNA tells you whether the baby in the womb is "the mother's body" or belongs to a different human being. It's enough to send somebody to capital punishment, or get him set free from prison. The Innocence Project's best friend.

Trutherator said...

If I remember correctly the Torah does indeed condemn any act that is meant to kill the baby in the womb at any stage.