Friday, June 29, 2012

I Award You No Points.

So apparently there's this podcast called Ask an Atheist (AaA) that asked their listeners to provide non-religious reasons to oppose abortion.  On June 17th, AaA discussed these responses and other abortion-related topics during their show entitled "The Other A-word."  

Listen to the full show (or download it) here.  Please note: the online audio clip displays the time remaining in the show.  All time stamps below are the time that has past in the show, based on the downloaded audio clip.

“Like, so, a dog barf slime mold is precious?”

During the first segment of the show, hosts Sam, Bob, and Eileen consider abortion from a "sort of medical point of view and a morality point of view" (0:57).  Emphasis on "sort of."  They quote from listener-submitted emails:
  • "Address the question of when a fetus goes from something that is not a person to something that is" (1:11),
  • "When two adults engage in consensual sex they are aware that a pregnancy could result from the encounter" (4:28),
  • "As a humanist I believe strongly that every life is inherently precious and equally deserving of the right to life" (5:34),
  • "From a biological standpoint, every egg and sperm combination is unique" (6:27),
  • "As a humanist I believe that the more fragile a life is, the more it needs protection" (9:06); and
  • "From a biological standpoint, every embryo is a growing entity with the potential to become a viable life" (10:45).
Perhaps because I am pro-life, it is clear to me that most of these queries are in reference to human organisms.  Apparently this was not clear to our hosts, who managed to joke about the skin cells scratched off their arms screaming "help me, help me!" as they die (1:55), discuss whether "dog barf slime mold" is precious (5:40), point out that the single-celled germs we kill with hand cleansers aren't people (6:11), and laugh about how asparagus is fragile (10:01).  They all heartily agree that "the twinkle in Dad's eye--I'm sorry, that's just not a baby" (4:19).  I guess now that I know mold, asparagus, and twinkles aren't people, I can be pro-choice.  I'm glad someone finally cleared that up.

To be fair, they don't spend the entire time attacking strawmen.  They do discuss the zygote too.  While there is an offhand acquiescence to the idea that the zygote is "a human" (2:57), the hosts repeatedly assert that it is not "a person":
  • "The point is that green is not blue" (1:24), 
  • "A group of cells--whether they be a single cell organism, two cells, three cells, four cells--is not a person" (2:23), 
  • "Most people who don't have a very specific dog in this fight wouldn't say that it begins on day zero, as you put it. They'd say it begins sometime after day zero" (3:48),
  • "Single cells, everyone agrees, just not a big deal. This idea that the potential is the same thing as person just collapses when you think about it" (6:03). 
Unfortunately, they never quite get to the part where they define the significant moral distinction between, to use their analogy, blue and green (a newborn and a zygote).  They offer their repeated assertion, but no rationale, no basis--no argument.  Apparently the medical, moral standpoint boils down to "nuh-uh!"

“We cannot have abortion because that ‘unique little soul’ would go away!”

Aside: I am a big supporter of Secular Pro-Life because I want people to have frank, useful conversations about abortion.  Quoting Bible verses to people who don’t believe in the Bible is not useful.  There’s a flip side to that coin, though: rejecting pro-life claims because you don’t believe in a soul does nothing for pro-lifers who also don’t believe in a soul.  Pro-choicers think religion should be irrelevant to the abortion debate?  We do too!  So why do some pro-choicers continue to discuss religion even when no one else has brought it up?

One listener emailed in saying, “from a biological standpoint, every embryo is a growing entity with the potential to become a viable life" (10:45).  Bob’s response? (11:04) 
Yeah, potential—what just drives me nuts about this Quiverfull the idea ‘We’re going to let God decide how many children we’re going to have.’  Which is, from my standpoint, the same thing as ‘I’m going to drink a big bottle of poison.  I’m going to let God decide if I die or not.’
Why is Bob talking about the Quiverfull movement and God?  Acknowledging the biological reality of the embryo does not somehow imply a religious value that everyone should get pregnant as often as possible, anymore than saying a 3-year-old is a human being implies that everyone should have lots of toddlers.  If AaA wants non-religious arguments against abortion, perhaps they shouldn’t assign religious meaning where none was provided.

This disconnect arises again with Mike, Deanna, and Libbie, the next set of hosts. Mike poses an amazingly loaded (they prefer the term "open") question (21:54): 
Can you find a rational, justified argument for making abortion illegal that doesn’t, when you dig down deep under all the equivocations, under all the bad science, under all the red herrings, that you won’t find religious ideology at the bottom of it? 
Shockingly, Mike's fellow pro-choicers can't think of a non-religious reason to oppose abortion.  Deanna claims pro-life arguments come down to claiming "the potential baby is a special, unique creature endowed with a soul at the moment of conception by their god" (22:35).  She goes on to assert "when you look at the science that opposes that you're still not looking at a unique, special, magical, souled creature" (22:52).  

Deanna is right.  Science does not support anything "magical" or "souled."  If you take those superfluous adjectives out, though, science actually does support the "unique creature" narrative.  Unique DNA from the moment of conception, guys.  The hosts earlier in the show already acknowledged this point (6:32).

“It’s not about abortion. It’s about making more little Christians.”

The biggest religious red herring—by far—comes from Libbie.  According to Libbie, pro-lifers don't oppose abortion due to an actual problem with abortion.  Instead (28:14): 
What they care about, what's really at stake here for them, is the gradual decline in numbers of members of their religion. 
This is what I think. I’m not a scientist okay? I’m not like a social scientist, whatever.  This is just my opinion about the situation.  But I think that the need to reproduce, to have as many babies as possible in any given family, is a feature that is built into religions that long-term exist, like I said a little bit earlier. And I think it’s kind of a three-pronged approach of how this happens, how this is actually built into the meme of religion. 
Number One: The best way to keep a woman uneducated is for her to have children young. If she’s too busy raising kids she’s not going to go to school, she’s not going to educate herself, she’s probably not even going to have time to think too much about politics or anything like that.  She’s going to be too busy running around taking care of kids forever because she’s going to be barefoot and pregnant for most of her life! 
Number Two: An uneducated person is far more likely to be religious than nonreligious.  I think a few different studies have shown, including, I believe, Darrel Ray's, that as a person’s level of education increases their tendency to become less religious also increases.  So the more uneducated a person is, the more likely they are to cling to a religion. 
And Number Three: The more religious a mother is, the more likely she is to raise her children religious. 
So therefore you keep a woman uneducated, pregnant and having babies, she’s going to raise up religious babies.  And that just keeps the religion going, and I think that’s what these people are really afraid of, whether it’s conscious or not, whether they realize this or not.  This is so much a part of religion, that I think these people are really fearful of a loss of their culture, a loss of their religion, and that’s what they’re really fighting against.  It’s not about abortion, it’s about making more little Christians.
I felt this amazing mischaracterization of the pro-life position deserved a very specific reply: 

Of course, later the hosts go on to talk about how pro-lifers just want to guilt and shame people into not having or enjoying sex (32:41, 33:52, 35:16) (which, by the way, is apparently another tactic to ensure people are trapped in religion (35:31)).  I'm not clear on how pro-lifers can simultaneously want everyone to procreate as much as possible and also want to stop people from having sex, but whatever.  It seems any theories of pro-life motivation, however internally inconsistent, are acceptable, as long as those theories have nothing to do with, you know, the fact that abortion kills fetuses.  The entire podcast tended to avoid that small detail.

We Are Here.

There’s no denying that the pro-life movement is strongly correlated with religiosity, particularly forms of Christianity.  In that light, it is somewhat understandable that AaA puts forth so much energy rebutting Christian-specific assertions.  It would be a lot more understandable, though, if they hadn’t asked for and quoted non-religious anti-abortion arguments throughout the show.  As it stands, they side-stepped the non-religious points, and opted to focus on religion anyway. 

Religion gives abortion advocates a cop-out.  They can allege religious misogyny and ignore the historical anti-abortion stances of prominent feminists.  They can claim puritanical views on sex and avoid the level of fetal development at the time of most abortions. They can talk all day about how there’s no proof of a soul and skip the part where there’s plenty of proof of a new human life.

This is exactly why I devote my pro-life activism to Secular Pro-Life.  Perhaps if more people recognized the religious-free arguments against abortion, we could stop having the same sideshow conversations.


PennieS said...

These people are really dumb! Have they ever really looked at abortion, at an actual abortion and what it does to a baby? I am not pro-life because I am religious. I am not pro-life because I had children too young. I am not pro-life because I am uneducated. I am not pro-life because I am trying to make more"little Christians". I am pro-life because I have a child and when I look at my child and think about him in my womb and the fact that I could have paid a"doctor" to rip his limbs off and tear him to shreds it makes me ill! Abortion murders a baby. Period. We don't punish the worst offenders in prison with the torture we inflict on innocent unborn, and the argument that they aren't babies, they aren't humans is such a bull crap cop out!

Jameson Graber said...

Nice post, M. It must get tiring having to constantly push back against this nonsense.

Dolce said...

Wow. I always wonder where some pro-choicers find their anti-abortion arguments.

"Can you find a rational, justified argument for making abortion illegal that doesn’t, when you dig down deep under all the equivocations, under all the bad science, under all the red herrings, that you won’t find religious ideology at the bottom of it?"

Well I suppose there must be some pro-lifers out there who aren't that good at science, and who love red herrings ... but by far, I find that all the people at the forefront of the movement are the ones who love debate, who study embryology and pregnancy, and who really work hard trying to understand the pro-choice side.

Aside: what exactly is SO terrible about having ideologies that overlap? The concept of rights, which I am sure atheists support, is ALSO something that religious people support. Many people at the forefront of anti-slavery and anti-racism movements were also religious (think Martin Luther King Jr.) - does being motivated from a religious background somehow invalidate their beliefs and their work to bring equality to people? I don't think so. Just because someone looks at something from a religious upbringing does NOT mean that their beliefs do not have common ground with secularists!

Dolce said...

Also, I am really really really tired of hearing that "having babies" = "uneducated women". Though yes, there is a correlation, but its not because there's something intrinsically oppressive about having a kid. Its because highschools and universities are systematically set up to assume that students have absolutely no other responsibilities. And I don't think the solution to this dilemma is simply to accept things the way they are and try to get rid of pregnant women - how about providing young mothers help and support in academic environments (i.e.: subsidized daycares on campus, flexible exam hours, specific safe-for-kids residences, etc), that way they can get an education?

LN said...

I agree, Dolce, having ideologies that overlap is not terrible as long as you have reasons that a person of any faith could/should understand. Like M says, when abortion advocates *only* address one basis for objection (religion) and avoid all others, it's a red herring argument.

Anonymous said...

somewhat related:

wat said...

Good point.

Anonymous said...

All I can say about these hosts It's just the same old blustering done to take the attention away from the brutal truth that abortion kills a human.

Anonymous said...

...I am in awe of their stupidity. I truly am.
The clip you posted is the perfect reply.

Save the Tiny Humans said...

People think, well, she chose to have a kid. Too bad for her... she must be this, this and this....

wat said...

Very interesting! Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Whoever said this just shouldn't be allowed to talk. "What they care about, what's really at stake here for them, is the gradual decline in numbers of members of their religion." 1.) If atheist continue to have abortions then there will be fewer atheist. I'm not a mathematician but since when did atheist having abortions mean there would be less God-believing people in the world. 2.)AN uneducated person is likely to be far less religious. Where do you get this garbage? 110% of all statistics are made up. See I can do that too. Considering a large portion of atheist/agnostic astronauts who go into space convert to a religion. 3.) Your third point is just sexiest and ignorant. Science is and always will be an atheist agenda and the irony about it all is that people who are pro-choice are alive today because of pro-life ideals

Anonymous said...

Ok I just had to comment on this so people don't get the wrong idea: "Science is and always will be an atheist agenda".

This is absolutely untrue. Science and religion may deal with different questions, but they are NOT in a battle against each other. Modern science has been around since the renaissance, but science as a discipline existed way before that (and before Christianity). Anyone who was a scientist, was also a philosopher, and (once Christianity gained a foothold) also a theologian. There is a reason why many prominent Christians have had huge impacts in a variety of scientific disciplines (and it doesn't have to do with atheistic agendas). Lemaitre (father of the big bang theory), and Mendel (founder of genetics) come to mind.

100% Truth Pro-Life said...


M said...

I was wondering when a troll would show up. Took a lot longer than usual this time.

M said...

Yes, I know plenty of religious people who are into science. In fact, one of the most religious men I know has bachelors' in mathematics/physics and is getting his doctorate in physics.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Science is and always will be an atheist agenda. For starters its not clear black and white like they would want you to believe like it is in mathematics. 1.) The big bang theory: this is nothing more then an atheist agenda to come up with some other way to say that the universe was created by any means not involving God. If it truly was science then it wouldn't go against the majority of basic principles in science. a.) this has never been obvserved in any capacity b.) it has in no way shape or form ever been tested or recreated. and finally c.) basic science 101, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. the big bang theory proposes something completely out of nothing and yet its preached as science?!? How anyone could take this and believe that this is science and not atheism is beyond me. I'm not preaching Jesus, what I am saying is that Christians, Hindu's, Jew's, Muslim's and every other religion has just an equal say in how the world was formed because its just not science.

M said...

So when you hear "science" do you just think "the big bang theory"?

By your rationale, science can't even theorize about how the universe began, because no one can observe or recreate it.

"Christians, Hindu's, Jew's, Muslim's and every other religion has just an equal say in how the world was formed"

To me that sounds like saying everyone should have an equal say in how physics works.

Just because no one was there to observe the beginning of the universe doesn't mean there's no information about it at all. There's actually lots of observational data:

But more to the point--it's embarrassing to suggest that only atheists would want to find empirical data to understand nature. And when people say "science is an atheist agenda," that's what it sounds like to me.

Mr. Myster said...

...and may God have mercy on your soul.

I reached this site from a google image query, and I truly regret it. You're an asshole who delights in shaming people whom you disagree with by shouting "baby murderer! baby murderer!" over and over again.
I'm wasting time. I can't afford to piss 10 minutes into properly shaming you. Just realize that abortion is a complex issue with economic repercussions in addition to social ones.

And it's rather presumptuous of you to assume that a soul is imparted in the womb when, historically, many children come out stillborn. I'm sure God gave them souls just so they could never live right? POAFO

Mr. Myster said...

And I may as well say it since it's all getting deleted anyways:

I know a kid like you on facebook. He lives in a traditionally liberal city and CONSTANTLY shares right wing hate screed. Every time someone challenges him about it, he asks for a fight. I know, deep down, that kid is trying to fill a void in his life with something meaningful but he just comes across as a petulant teenager.

One final bone: Conservatives, you appall me. When the issue of abortion is considered, "morality" trumps all fiscal, social, or occupational factors EVERY TIME. Yet when progressives propose raising minimum wage or NOT CUTTING programs like SNAP, fiscal factors win out, morality be damned. You disgust me sometimes

To summarize your article: what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have
ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent post were you
even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought.
Everyone on this site is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points...