Problems with “after-birth abortion” argument

A recent paper entitled After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? has caused quite a stir amongst the religious because it purportedly shows that abortion is morally equivalent to infanticide. Their argument is no more than an argument of the form “If you think abortion is morally acceptable for reason X, then you also think infanticide is acceptable.”

This begs the question “what is reason X?” In their paper, reason X is “because a fetus not a person.” It is very important to note that even if their logical argument is flawless, it only applies to people who support abortion rights for this one very specific reason: that a fetus is not a person (as defined below). They have not shown that anyone actually supports abortion rights for reason X or that any existing laws are based even in part on reason X. That is, they have not shown that the “if” statement actually applies to anyone.

This point is important enough to re-iterate: their conclusion does not hold in general. It only holds for those who support abortion rights specifically because of reason X.

Their argument

(1) A person is “an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

(2) Neither fetuses nor newborns are capable of attributing value to their existence.

(3) Therefore, neither fetuses nor newborns are persons.

(4) Therefore, fetuses and newborns have the same moral standing.

Can you see the flaw?

Even if we accept (1) (2) and (3), (4) does not immediately follow. To see why, I will use a glaringly obvious and simple-minded analogy, following their line of reasoning.

(1) A cat is a creature that says “meow.”

(2) Neither horses nor dogs say “meow.”

(3) Therefore, neither horses nor dogs are cats.

(4) Therefore, horses and dogs are equivalent.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Even if you grant me the first three, (4) still doesn’t follow. Just because horses and dogs are both not cats doesn’t mean they’re the same animal!

In order for (4) to be a logically valid conclusion in their case, they need a further claim — that personhood is the only relevant factor in determining moral equivalence classes. Otherwise, while fetuses and infants may both be non-persons, they have not been shown to be equivalent to each other. In order to show this, the authors must show that all other differences between fetuses and infants have no bearing on their moral standing. One particularly glaring omission is that the authors have conveniently ignored the fact that fetuses take residence inside the body of another human while infants do not. If this fact is irrelevant to the moral status of fetuses as compared to that of infants, an argument must be made to explain why. Since the authors have neither made nor proven this crucial claim, they cannot logically conclude (4).

Their claim that supporting abortion is the same as supporting infanticide has not been shown as a valid, even within their narrow framework and using their non-standard definition of personhood. I hope this analysis was of use to someone. Please feel free to share this with anyone attempting to equate abortion and infanticide, or with anyone experiencing doubt about their pro-choice stance due to Minerva and Giubilini’s paper.

Why I am a bad atheist

… and my justifications.

I always take religious pamphlets offered to me

I’ve been inoculated against religion, so it’s unlikely propaganda will affect me.  This may not be true of the person who would’ve gotten the flyer instead of me. Maybe that person is susceptible because of a recent personal tragedy. In this case, I may save someone from falling for the comforting fraud of religion.

I click on religious ads*

When I’m reading articles about atheism, I frequently see ads about Christian colleges or other religious things. I click on these and browse around mindlessly so that the religious organization will have to pay $5** for the click. A portion of that goes to the atheist whose article I was enjoying, and the advertising budget of that religious organization is depleted just that much quicker. It’s a win-win.

I talk to proselytizers

I engage them with all the common questions. I ask about their beliefs and the way they were raised. I bring up topics like abortion and gay rights. I keep them busy so that they don’t have a chance to get to the next person, who, once again, may be more susceptible.

I celebrate religious holidays

Think of it as cultural appropriation. I fully embrace everything I enjoy about a given holiday, and I completely ignore everything I don’t like. This is an atheist’s privilege. I celebrate Christmas with tree decorating, sugar cookie baking, gingerbread house making, days of gluttony, peppermint schnapps in my hot chocolate, presents and more presents. Occasionally, I’ll even go to a church at midnight and hold a candle. Especially if there’s a boy’s choir singing. What does it mean to me? Not much. It’s a spectacle, much in the same way that the lion/dragon dances at Chinese New Years are. I also celebrate Easter because I like the idea of a bunny that brings candy. Decorating eggs is fun too.

I’m afraid haven’t found many traditions of other religions I enjoy. The Jews seem to celebrate by fasting or eating unappetizing ceremonial foods. I am not familiar with Muslim traditions besides the fasting month of Ramadan, which also does not appeal to me. If I’ve missed something fun or pleasant, do let me know so I can appropriate more.

Some of my favorite music is religious

Mozart’s Requiem, in particular. One of noted atheist Richard Dawkins’ favorites, Mache Dich, Mein Herze Rein from Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion is also gorgeous. I used to sing in a choir when I was much younger. I hated singing about a god I didn’t believe in, so I would mumble and refuse to say “god.” I realize now that that seems more like the behavior of someone who thinks god exists but is angry or trying to deny it. Now that I’m certain there’s no evidence for god’s existence, I fully embrace religious music. I even have a favorite hymn. When I sing it, I smirk, because it’s my own little empty set joke.

I eat at Chick-fil-A

Despite its homophobic support of groups like the Pennsylvania Family Institute and Focus on the Family and its blatantly religious Corporate Purpose, I would still eat at Chick-fil-A. In fact, I would even encourage everyone to do the same. BUT! Only on days when they’re running free food promotions. I would also encourage my friends to stock up on condiments and buy nothing to supplement their freebies. In this way, we can cut into their profit while still enjoying delicious fried chicken products.

* More generally, I do this with any ad for an organization I disagree with, also to deplete their advertising budget.
** estimated cost of a click

Atheist Devotional

It’s not an empty set joke. It’s an idea that I would love to popularize. How much time does the average religious person spend on religious notions each day? I don’t have sources for the following numbers — they’re all just estimates that seem reasonable to me from what I’ve seen and heard. In other words, terribly unscientific. But please, if you know the numbers, comment and tell me. I would estimate that the average person who thinks of themselves as religious spends about this much time on the following:

    • 5 minutes per meal, praying x 3 meals per day = 15 minutes
    • morning/evening prayer (5 minutes each)  = 10 minutes
    • 2 hours of church, once a week, or an average of about 20 minutes/day

Total : 45 minutes per day

I’m leaving out all the other potential activities (like the ever-popular “family home evening” favored by the Mormons) to get a reasonable estimate. Now. Imagine that each religious person took all that time and did something that would make a measurable change in the world. Suppose they worked an extra 45 minutes and donated the money from that work to human rights organizations. Suppose they learned a new language and taught their children about a different culture. Suppose they wrote a bit of that novel every day. Even just suppose that they took that time to pursue a hobby that makes them happy. One they could just never find the time for. Lace tatting. Spencerian penmanship.

Wouldn’t the world be a much better place? Far from being an angry atheist, I would say that I’m a sad one. As I understand it, religious people have taken what might have been peaceful philosophies full of love and forgiveness and distilled them into an exhortation to hate gay people (but conveniently, not shellfish), discount science, fear and wish for the destruction of others with different beliefs, tell women how to dress & behave, and worst of all, to spread all of this nastiness to their children.

What should this atheist’s devotional be? When I’m around a piano again, it’ll be to master Liszt’s Liebestraume. Though, even if I live to be 208, I’ll never play it as well as Lang Lang:

What’s your devotional?