I have been engaged in a discussion elsewhere regarding my position on abortion. I wanted to run this by the atheistnexus community as the perspectives here are particularly rational and helpful most of the time. Before I start, just know my mind is not made up. That is reason I am starting this discussion. Here are my arguments for my positions, which I openly admit may not be completely sound.

I support the practice of a death penalty. Yet I am resistant to some of the arguments of the pro-choice movement.

Regarding the death penalty, I am aware of the problem of wrongful convictions. This is a problem for the legal system. But in principle, I have no problem putting criminals to death that lack any hope for rehabilitation (mass murderers, genocidal war criminals, etc) if we can know for sure they are indeed guilty. The amount of evidence required needs to be extremely high to justify the death penalty. But if overwhelming evidence exists, then why keep these animals alive?

But abortion to me is the killing of innocent infant humans. It is a matter of location. If the child was only one minute 'old', having exited the womb, then killing the child would be murder. But because it is still inside a woman, we give it a different term 'abortion' and make it a choice. Isn't abortion just a nice way of saying unborn-infant-murder?

A common argument is that of choice. It is a matter of a woman's right to make decisions that affect her body. The pro-choice movement treats the opposition as weirdos that want to pass laws restricting what she can and cannot do with her own body. I feel they miss the point completely. There are TWO bodies in question, and the laws restricting abortions address the OTHER body - that of another human - living inside the woman. 

I understand there is a huge grey area here. When does the fetus become a human with the intrinsic right to life? Is it only when the brain has developed? But at what point in the brain development? I get it. It is not an easy question. That is why I do not actively oppose the pro-choice movement. I am still collecting information on the subject to refine my position. I certainly don't support the pro-life movement either. I am currently unable to form a completely justified position either way. 

I can see abortion as necessary or preferable in the cases of rape or to protect the mother's life. That makes sense. In other cases, where it is just promiscuity that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, I feel a vacuous moral subjectivity seeping into society. 

I also do understand that for the vast majority of mothers, the decision to have an abortion is not an easy one and continues to affect them emotionally well after the event. But that is how it should be. We should not be just OK with the idea of killing infants. It should be taboo. Abortion should be thought of as terrible, whether you support the practice or not. Would this perspective of taboo discourage irresponsible sexual encounters? Would this would discourage inception when not in stable healthy relationships? For some who have abortions for selfish reasons, it certainly does not seem that the taboo nature of the act has any affect on their habits. It is not unheard of for some women to get multiple abortions in their life time. How the heck does that happen? 

And of course, 99% of the time, this only applies to people willing to engage in unprotected sex. Why on Earth would you engage in irresponsible unprotected sex? Accidentally? Broken condoms?

I have no problem with recreational sex. But we have several highly effective birth control methods. If a woman is on the pill and the male uses a condom, the chances for an unwanted pregnancy approach zero. If for some reason a birth control method fails, adoption is an option preferable to the death of a human. 

Abortion is not a birth control method. It is a life control method - the act following a decision to kill an innocent human. It is a decision we give no other person in society. It is illegal in ALL other cases to kill an innocent human. But since it is a woman, and the human in question is inside her, we grant the woman this unique ability, even in cases where the pregnancy was just due to irresponsibility. 

So please be kind and help me out here. I am not going to bash anyone's personal position on the matter as I want my own position to be as sound and fair as possible. I just want to hear the opinions, specifically from people with superior understanding and life experience. I might challenge a bad argument, but it only be to seek clarification, not as an attack on any individuals beliefs.

Specifically, my questions are as follows:

1. In the case of irresponsible conception, why do we permit women to kill another human?

2. If it can even be answered, when does a human fetus get the intrinsic right to life? This is an unalienable right of all Americans (and all humans, I would argue. When does this right kick in?

3. Why are many atheists opposed to the death penalty but absolutely (in all cases/situations) pro-abortion? How is that at all morally consistent?

4. Is the practice of abortion detrimental to the social health of our society? Is the religious right to blame for a lack of sex education?

Tags: abortion, death penalty

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Good posting, Chris, but here's how they get around it. There's an old story in fundy churches how the preacher asked everyone in the congregation to raise their hands if they wanted to go to heaven. One little boy didn't raise his hand. The preacher asked him again if he wanted to go to heaven. The boy replied, "yes, but I thought you were getting a group together to go right now." Then the whole congregation laughs!

What it means is you have to be dead to go to heaven, and everybody wants to live. If you are not dead you are suddenly "transformed" or maybe "translated" etc. You do not get to heaven in your present state of life. These people all claim they have "faith" and that they have "blessed hope" and say they believe in "things not seen."

To me it means they know it is all make believe.

My daughter was over yesterday and I learned that my parents were really crushed when I dropped out of the ministerial studies. Her husband asked me if I still believed, and I said "no." I gave some examples of logic against belief. My daughter said she had "faith" and I told her faith was believing in things she knew was not so. Her reply was more like a definition of "hope" and she told me she did believe in things not seen.

They want to believe it because nobody wants to die. Deep down none of them really believe it. This is why Ken Ham will tell you today that "god is under attack." Why can the almighty god not defend himself?

"...faith was believing in things she knew was not so."

Her reply was actually more accurate. 

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." is the Hebrews 11:1 definition. It tells us a lot about this flawed basis for belief. 

Assurance is created based on faulty inductive arguments and anecdotal evidence such as near-death testimonies. Christians are taught to accept anecdotal evidence and not encouraged to apply the rules of logic to arguments for claims. 

Conviction is then bolstered for these unseen things by a self-deception that goes unnoticed to the believer. They accepted the belief based on bad premises, so their conviction in the conclusion is also flawed. But their lack of critical thinking skills allows them to believe with conviction in conclusions formed from bad arguments. 

Finally it does come down to hope in the end. Hoping for something alone is obviously a bad reason to believe it is true. But if one has been assured of the truth of a belief, and has reached a conviction in that belief, then the hope element seems justified

"To me it means they know it is all make believe."

I wish that were the case. But having at one point of my life been a believer too, I can assure you that much of the religious populous do indeed believe (based on faith) that these things are true. They are not conscious that their belief is not justified. They are not aware that it is all make believe because at some point someone convinced them it was actually true. 

To atheists, it is obvious that what they believe is indeed 'make believe.' That is because of our unique external perspective. I am thoroughly amazed and alarmed when I go back to my early writings about the supernatural composed when I was a believer. I sincerely thought what I was writing was actually true and tried to justify my beliefs. 

Of course, in the process of seeking justification (that was logically sound) I became an atheist. Once one understands the rules of logic and how to identify fallacious arguments, one finds that ALL of the things one had used previously to 'justify' beliefs in the supernatural are terribly flawed. Then one has to embrace the position that the belief is on faith alone. Once that point is reached, it becomes easy to dismiss the belief altogether. But to make that final step one has to become convinced that faith is inferior and no path to truth. 

The path to this end is to permit oneself to doubt. This is strongly discouraged in Christianity. "Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." Romans 14:22. Of course there are plenty more passages that discourage thinking in Christianity. It is fundamental to belief based on faith that one not be a thinker. 

It is a rather clever system Christianity has devised to keep people stupid. The only path out of the darkness is through doubt, and the application of reason. But by proclaiming this a sin, one avoids using this capability and remains trapped in gullibility. 

I think Glover is right to presume that the desire to commit suicide is typically a symptom of a disorder in need of treatment. In general, in the vast majority of cases, I would think suicide is indeed an irrational decision. Regarding the subject of the death penalty, however, I can see how an inmate might make a rational choice to end their own life as opposed to spend their life in prison. Perhaps we can make the death penalty an option that the inmate can chose if they so desire. Then again, as a means of punishment, letting a criminal kill themselves allows them to escape that intended punishment. If there is any deterrent value to the potential punishment of life in prison, killing criminals actually hinders that deterrence whether we chose to kill them or they make that choice. I would find it far more daunting to spend the rest of my life in prison than to simply die. My lack of belief in an afterlife makes death not mysterious or scary. My lack of existence is a lack of suffering whereas my life expiring from natural causes in prison indeed by definition is suffering.

Of course there is the ultra-liberal view that our desire to make people suffer is a flaw of our system and an indication of sadistic desires in ourselves. I disagree, as there must be actual real negative consequences for grievous crimes. Nobody wants to see someone suffer. But causing suffering must beget suffering. Forgiveness for grievous acts is by far more harmful for social stability than punishment. 

It is this very reason that Christianity lacks morality. If any act can be forgiven through faith, then there is no ultimate justice in that system. A rapist murderer can end up in heaven while a good person that simply disbelieves ends up in hell. It is ridiculous. Thankfully, our justice system is not THAT flawed.

Negative acts must beget negative consequence and positive acts must beget beneficial consequences. That is the only way to encourage cooperation in society. 

@laura, that's one of the best arguments I've heard. On both the death penalty and free choice.
What gets me is just how fast abortion wouldn't be an issue if men were the ones who got pregnant. Just like viagra has never been but birth control is still up for debate. It's more male bs.

Just my 2 cents worth here.

IF you find without a doubt that the person convicted of murder is guilty, then apply the death penalty. The one thing you can be sure of is that this person will not kill anybody again. In that way the death penalty is a deterent. First we have to get rid of dishonest prosecutors and judges. Use all trial evidence, etc.

Call abortion whatever you want to. A woman's body is not "an oven baking a child." An unborn fetus has no rights because it is not yet born. Not in favor of abortion at 8 months, but a woman should have control of her own body, and abortion is not birth control.

To solve our issues here I say:

Make ALL trial information available and hold everyone accountable to do so allowing strict legal penalties to enforce justice.

Make sex education mandatory in ALL schools.

IF you find without a doubt that the person convicted of murder is guilty, then apply the death penalty. The one thing you can be sure of is that this person will not kill anybody again. In that way the death penalty is a deterent.

Life without parole also prevents the person from killing again.

The death penalty doesn't actually seem to deter crime, with the usual interpretation of deterrence. You might think it would, but it seems that in first-degree murder (planned ahead), when the death penalty might be used, the person expects to get away with it. 

"Beyond a doubt" guilty is subjective and would be subject to the same prejudices, appeals etc. that there are now.  Juries in the USA are supposed to convict only if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  But it seems like they often use a simpler standard - whether they think the defendant did it or not.  

Life without parole might prevent that person from killing again, but the cost of it to taxpayers is outrageous! My remark meant that this particular person would not kill again and also not be a financial burden.

I think I see your point here, and I agree. The criminal that gets the death penalty will certainly not kill anybody ever again. As we have a screwed up system that allows murderers to get out on parole, where they can kill again, the death penalty does indeed stop that individual. It might not deter other individuals of murdering anyone. It probably does deter some individuals from not committing murder except in acts of passion. And in the grand scheme of things, one would think there is only a finite number of individuals capable of murder. Eliminating these individuals can then potentially deter further murders by just decreasing their numbers. Less murderers should equal less murders, if it can be overly simplified to that extent and be valid. 

But the data is pretty solid on this. The deterrent effect is minimal. Of course, prison in general is not much of a deterrent for drug sales, auto theft, or hardly any other crime. But we as a society cannot just abandon a technique based on a lack of deterrent effect. It also is a matter of punishment and keeping the bad people separated from the rest of us. It is also an attempt at correction, that is, rehabilitating some of the criminals to be reasonable in society. On both of these purposes our current prison and justice system both do a very very poor job as well. But it is not a complete failure in these regards either. People do get rehabilitated, albeit a small fraction of paroled individuals. People do sometimes turn over a new leaf.

Recidivism is not 100%, nor is deterrence effect 0%. Thus the system is performing at some level beneficial to the rest of society though there is certainly a lot of room for improvement.  

In discussions that involve ethics and morality, a "rights" perspective is very important. 

Why?  Because without rights "handed down by God", nonbelievers are in danger of adopting a "least harm" standard for morality.  The problem with this is that it's not possible for us, from our limited perspective, to estimate the harms.  We can't predict the future (because of the second law of thermodynamics).  And some of the harms are intangible and rather abstract to people caught in the heat of the moment.  A "least harm" perspective leads to a society none of us would want to live in.  For example, you could argue on a "least harm" basis that medical experiments on prisoners in Auschwitz were justified.  There are lots of benefits to being able to do medical experiments on humans versus animals, and those experiments could benefit far more people than were tormented, by the improving medicine.  But a society where people could be grabbed and tormented in medical experiments isn't a society we would want to live in. 

I would say that our consciousness is the fundamental miracle of the universe.  That the universe could generate, just by laws of physics, an awareness of itself.  The universe somehow transcended itself.  And we do not have the right to destroy this fundamental miracle in human beings.  So each conscious human being has a right to life. 

Having a rights perspective simplifies things.  It means you start with a right - then as a society we deal with the consequences. 

It's from a rights perspective that I'm in favor of legalizing drugs that are used primarily to alter consciousness.  People have the right to alter their consciousness, when they are adults and we know they can make their own choices.  If there are bad consequences of legalizing such drugs, we as a society should deal with those consequences - by education, by laws against driving impaired, etc. 

It is not mere consequentialism. Least harm is not a good fundamental for building a secular moral system. No harm would be a good fundamental. But morality cannot and should not be boiled down to just a list of guiding principles. Each moral decision has to be weighed on its own merits. We can create an objective secular morality, however. We can start with basic truths like life is preferable to death, pleasure is preferable to pain, and keeping my stuff is preferable to having it stolen and then build a society that seeks to enforce these truths. In your Auschwitz example I would argue that the medical experiments conducted there were more as a means of torment than a scientific endeavor to solve real problems. Was there any good research done there that lead to anything useful? Or was it just an extension of the sadistic mentality of the oppressors? 

The other problem I find is that I do agree that each conscious human being has a right to life but am becoming convinced of the pro-choice position. We know that infants in the womb dream. We know they hear and react to sound. We know they respond negatively to stress of the mother. Does this not qualify a fetus as a conscious human being? Where do we draw the line, then for abortion? I guess there is some developmental milestone before which the fetus lacks this ability of consciousness, which is where term limits on abortion get their validity. 

Also, it is striking that you draw a possibly unintended distinction of conscious HUMAN beings. Was this intentional? Is there not evidence that whales, elephants, and other animals exhibit an awareness of self that borders on sentience? I guess we, as a society, have largely figured that out too though we primarily base our prohibitions on killing certain animals on their population extinction risk. 

In your Auschwitz example I would argue that the medical experiments conducted there were more as a means of torment than a scientific endeavor to solve real problems.

The scientific reasons were most likely a rationalization. But medical experiments could be done on human beings that would have a good scientific justification, that's the point - things that we shouldn't allow.

The Nazis regarded Jews almost as insects.  Made soap and lampshades out of them. 

Trying to evaluate each situation individually is subject to rationalizations for choosing what's best for the chooser.  As well as peoples tendency to ignore the intangible and abstract in favor of the concrete and short-term.  That's why guiding principles like not killing are important.  They support the importance of the benefits that are long-term or intangible or abstract, in times when people are liable to forget those things. 

With abortion, I don't know exactly how late in pregnancy it should be allowed.  But before 6 months, when it seems the fetus really can't be conscious, usually should be plenty of time for a decision.

Is there not evidence that whales, elephants, and other animals exhibit an awareness of self that borders on sentience?

They may well be conscious though probably less so than people.  I believe in animal rights but not on par with human rights.

On what basis can you assign a probability to the relative conscious levels of various animals? What scale are you using to even determine what can be less or more conscious than people in the first place? I find your statement curious and seek clarification.

It seems that you assume they are less conscious than people for no particularly objective reason. They might consider themselves more conscious (whatever that means) than humans. At least they are not parasitic, trash-producing creatures like humans. Whales have not generated a great garbage patch twice the size of Texas in on land. We sure as heck did that to their environment. To them, if they have any concept of us, we are far inferior a life form than they.

Agent Smith in the movie the Matrix summed this up nicely: "Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet."

It may be from a fictional movie, but it is nevertheless quite true. We suck compared to every other life form on this planet.

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