Sep 23, 2010

Pro-Life Rappers and Atheists Against Abortion?

Pro-Life Rappers and Atheists Against Abortion?

Some of you may recall the discussion on personhood and abortion I had with local skeptic Jim Lippard a while back. Well, I found a brief but interesting comment about it at the Center for Inquiry forums recently by Jim himself. It was in relation to a podcast featured at the CFI site where the Bible Geek aka Robert M. Price interviewed an atheist who is also *wait for it* pro-life! Here's a description of it:
In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Robert Price interviews Jen Roth, co-founder of All Our Lives, a secular organization committed to advocating for women’s right to exercise freedom of conscience in making voluntary, nonviolent, sexual and reproductive decisions. Jen is an atheist who seeks no grounds for human rights in God or religion, but also one who happens to oppose abortion.

Jim listened to it and had this to say (here's where the pro-life rapper part -me- comes in):
Was Jen Roth ultimately arguing that personhood is something that a human organism has for its entire lifecycle? At what starting point? Conception, implantation, or something else?

I find it completely implausible that an organism at a life stage with no capacity for perception, let alone reason, counts as a person. Nor that a particular genetic code is either necessary or sufficient for personhood.

I think every point that she made was brought up in a debate I had with a Christian blogger on the topic of abortion, who similarly argued for an equation between personhood and human organism. I wonder if she has any better rejoinders. Does she think that IVF and therapeutic cloning are immoral? IUDs?

Another board member (named "asanta") responded with this:
What about forcing a 9 year old rape victim to bear her stepfather’s twins?

Anyway, I thought that was interesting. It shows one can logically and rather easily argue for the pro-life position without "simply using the Bible" (as many atheists accuse pro-lifers of doing). Also, notice Jim's immediate question: Does she think that IVF and therapeutic cloning are immoral? IUDs? It's sort of a Chewbacca defense,* if you ask me. At the very least, it definitely changes the precise subject at hand to sort of scare people back into the status quo position Jim is advocating.

Another board member had a very telling comment when posed with this classic scenario:
There is a fire and she only has time to save either one 4 year old child or two fertilized embryos ready for implantation. Which would she choose?

Here's what "hamax" had to say"
I’d go even further.
If I’d have to choose between fertilized embryo and a dog, I’d go for a dog.
They are certainly more intelligent and self aware then embryos.

Weird. No one even brought up dogs. Why do these folks feel the need to display their vitriol for the unborn at every chance they get? Another member named Logan agreed and said, "Ditto. I’m a pro-choice vegan."

And there you have it folks. Forget atheists for life, we need some more atheists who will stand up and say, "yes, all humans are more valuable than household pets"! I for one won't be holding my breath but I'm glad Jen Roth is at least trying - wish her luck!**


*Jim's question is really more of a smoke screen or slippery slope argument but I have been waiting for so long to talk about the Chewbacca defense.
**Even though I, as a theist, don't technically believe in the concept of "luck", Jen Roth, as an atheist, probably does.

UPDATE (11/10/20): Jim Lippard has posted a response here.


  1. Vocab:

    The argument I made is not a slippery slope argument, it's a reductio ad absurdum. Your position is that the human organism is a person and has a right to life from fertilization to death (and presumably beyond), so you've already gone down the "slippery slope" and must of necessity say that IVF, therapeutic cloning, and IUDs are immoral because they result in the destruction and death of fertilized ova. My position is that it is absurd to think that these things are immoral, and if you were to avoid the slippery slope by agreeing with me, you would have contradicted a logical consequence of your own position--thus, a reductio ad absurdum by being committed to a proposition and its negation.

    A slippery slope argument is an argument that says your position is committed to some consequence because there is no criterion that you can use to draw a line to avoid. For example, if I argued that your position committed you to giving a right to life to all animals, and required you to be a vegetarian, or that it required you to give a right to life to every organism with DNA, and required you to hold a position like the Jain religion that all killing is wrong.

    As it happens, you never did supply an account of just what it is about the human organism it is that gives it a right to life or personhood--you offered no constitutive account of what properties entail a right to life or personhood, other than a genetic one. I made the case near the end of our debate that you are probably implicitly assuming that personhood comes from a soul, and that souls are connected to human organisms at the point of fertilization, but there's clearly no evidence for that position, scientific, philosophical, or theological.

    BTW, my argument is also clearly not a Chewbacca argument or smoke screen, which is a simple non sequitur. To think that, you would have to fail to understand that the items I identified all result in the destruction of fertilized human ova.

  2. Let me be clear and concise: I do think that most forms of IVF (there's a way to do it that hypothetically would be ethical), therapeutic cloning, and IUDs are unethical.

    This is the only logically consistent position to take if one understands that the ontology of the human being is such that all humans are persons and all persons have inherent and inalienable rights, the foremost of which is the right to life.

    Lastly, I don't believe it is quite accurate to call a zygote merely a "fertilized human ova", for the egg has ceased to exist and a new entity has emerged - namely, a very small human being.



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