Bill Nye Fails at Bioethics

Or, “Bill Nye Ignores Most Pro-Life Scholarship, ‘Science, Bitch’ Crowd Roars in Approval”

So Bill Nye’s new video is making the rounds on Facebook and the internet, in which he DEVASTATES the anti-abortion movement’s unscientific, backward, intolerant, and malicious move to force women to carry every child ever to term, especially if it’s against her will.  Yeah, not so much

With science!   Continue reading

Quick thoughts on Planned Parenthood’s new scandal

So Planned Parenthood is in some really hot water because they got caught explaining how they sell organs from abortions performed at PP facilities.  It turns out evil likes red wine with salad.

The biology of the matter is simply damning for the abortion-choice case.  The “it’s just tissue or clumps of cells” line dies a prompt death when it’s possible to specify particular organs far below 20 weeks of pregnancy.  That tissue has to be alive, which infers that the being that it came from was a living, organized whole that is literally dis-organized–in both senses of the term–for profit.  The essential humanity of the unborn is cast in stark relief because of this practice.

One comment that was food for thought was the question of consent.  Do mothers consent to have the remains of the fetus used in medical research?  Is this on the forms?  If not, why not?  Who would knowingly do such a thing?  And who would willingly try to claim that even though the unborn is a human being that has been dissected for research, that doing so is morally acceptable because they are just at that stage of development?

Planned Parenthood also released a small statement attempting to defend this barbaric practice.  I am sure it sounded better in the original German.  Unsurprisingly they pulled a card from the defenders of embryonic stem cell research, claiming that it is used to create cures and treatments.  News flash: it is still wrong, even if used towards good ends.

During the trial of Kermit Gosnell, PP spent quite a lot of time trying to explain how Gosnell’s practice was separate from PP and their own clinics were held to better standards.  It would seem that the difference between PP’s highest echelons of leadership and Gosnell is that Gosnell kept his own collection of aborted fetuses while Planned Parenthood sold them.  It has been suggested that this is their Gosnell moment and that might well be the case.

The media is silent.  When they do decide to talk about it, they will frame it as an unfair attack on Planned Parenthood.  Those evil Bible-thumping theocrats won’t let them sell aborted livers and hearts and heads for research!

That silence is deplorable since the sale of body parts described both in the video and the statement is patently illegal, and the Senior Director admitted that they were trying to keep the lawyers mostly out of the loop and make it otherwise covert.  I wonder why?  As if we didn’t have enough reasons to consider Planned parenthood a criminal organization, we have another huge reason to consider them one.

I still don’t think I approve of using hidden video for things like this.  I think they weaken (to an extent) the overall moral case of those who engage in it.  Nevertheless it does not affect the case against abortion…and certainly not selling fetal organs.

About that media silence: I cannot help but feel like we have morphed into some sort of cultural Stalinism.  The media has, by and large, become the new Pravda, and their power to declare truths has gotten us to the point where Planned Parenthood can sell aborted fetal remains and it’s only controversial because other people got the word out.  The possibility of truth, it seems, has all but died in American culture, and even if the media parrots some giant lie, people grumble, admit it’s a lie, but they are not challenged.  And so it continues.

Perry Noble’s ignorant, snide comments don’t look so loving now, do they?  I wonder if he considers Planned Parenthood more loving than Christians after this?

PBS, After Tiller, and unpleasant conclusions

No small ruckus has been raised among the pro-life community over PBS’ decision to air the documentary After Tiller on Labor Day.  They have already faced resistance to their decision and have stood by it.

Others, such as Matt Walsh, have argued against the wisdom of airing a deeply controversial film on a network that accepts grants from the federal government that uses taxpayer money.  There is some wisdom in this critique, since an awful lot of Americans might have misgivings about their tax dollars funding the airing of something they deeply disagree with.  Personally, I am inclined to say that PBS’ TV schedule is their own prerogative.  But since they felt resistance to airing After Tiller, they thoughtfully put out a twenty-nine-page guide and discussion booklet about the film for use by groups that choose to air the film themselves.

Except the reasons they give for allowing third-trimester abortions put them on a collision course with some profoundly controversial conclusions espoused by some abortion-choice proponents.

Continue reading

The President’s reckless rhetoric

 […] This is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

–From the Statement by the President on Roe v. Wade Anniversary, January 22, 2014

So end President Obama’s remarks about Roe v. Wade and his administration’s official stance on abortion, released on the 41st anniversary of the decision.  Unfortunately, the President’s remarks are deeply problematic, for reasons he probably didn’t intend.

The problem lies with the rhetoric: it is broad.  Too broad.  Much too broad.  So broad that an aircraft carrier can be parallel parked in the gap it leaves.  The logic of the statement is quite simple: abortion is a good thing because it helps women maintain equal footing and allows them to pursue their goals.  What could possibly be wrong with such a statement?

In his article for the Christian Research Journal, bioethicist Scott Klusendorf quotes several ethicists who defend the position that newborns and infants may be terminated on the basis of disability or a simple lack of development, or simply because they are not considered persons who have human rights until a given point after birth.  Klusendorf quotes Singer:

“Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”

Consider also, from his textbook Practical Ethics:

When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of the happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.

To be fair, Singer says that in most cases infanticide may be morally wrong–but that claim seems dubious in light of his much earlier claim about the moral worth of the lives of newborns.  But Singer is not alone.  Other ethicists have echoed Singer and have gone farther than him.  Klusendorf quotes Michael Tooley from 1972, the year before Roe, and draws the logical conclusion:

“[A human being] possess[es] a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity.”  Infants do not qualify.

Klusendorf’s discussion of another ethicist’s comments deserve attention as well.

More recently, American University philosophy professor Jeffrey Reiman has asserted that unlike mature human beings, infants do not “possess in their own right a property that makes it wrong to kill them.” He explicitly holds that infants are not persons with a right to life and that “there will be permissible exceptions to the rule against killing infants that will not apply to the rule against killing adults and children.”

So with these philosophers in mind, let’s revisit the President’s remarks.  The logic is unambiguous: if abortion can allow a woman to achieve her goals, it should be permissible.  But the President’s rhetoric is careless: these ethicists have given reasons why they think infanticide should be permissible, and all of them are grounded in the same defense of abortion that Obama has appealed to.

Which raises some uncomfortable questions for President Obama.  What reasons can he give for his stated defense of abortion that do not equally apply to Singers,’ Tooley’s, and Reiman’s defenses of infanticide?  If abortion–the act of ending a human life–is acceptable at one stage based upon the physical attributes of the unborn, as far as the ambitions of women or families are concerned, then Singer’s point that the newly born are developmentally similar to the unborn means that Singer and company can (and has)  use that very same rhetoric in the defense of infanticide on the basis that it will allow for the very same goals and opportunities to be pursued.

Which is surely not what the President meant to say, but the logic of his statement is unavoidable.  Why not follow Singer, Tooley, and others in their arguments about abortion and infanticide?  Would not more goals and ambitions be pursued by allowing infanticide?  Surely the good would outweigh the bad in such a scenario.  If size, location, or degrees of dependency or development can be appealed to to terminate a human being so that another can achieve a particular objective, why not grant more achievement?

But Singer is right in pointing out that newborns are developmentally similar to their unborn counterparts, and there is something of a circular firing squad within pro-choice philosophy.  To quote Christopher Kaczor, “Arguments against infanticide often apply equally well to abortion while arguments in favor of abortion often apply equally well to infanticide (The Ethics of Abortion, p. 41).”

And it is into this disturbing philosophical tempest that the President deploys his remarks.  Surely President Obama does not mean to allow such an application of his statement, but his sentiments are not used by defenders of abortion alone.  When his rhetoric can be used–and is used–by those defending infanticide, that rhetoric needs to be critically examined.

On Arguing Against “Anti-Choicers”

Early this month, Amanda Marcotte published a blog entry at RH Reality Check entitled “Anti-Choicers Can’t Get Around It: Their Arguments Have No Standing.”  This blog was linked on Twitter and elsewhere by a group out of St. Louis called Faith Aloud.

Marcotte mentions a particular lawsuit regarding the contraception mandate and the issue of legal standing, and then makes some sweeping generalizations about those she disagrees with.

To wit:

All their beliefs go back to the conviction that what other people, even perfect strangers, are doing in bed somehow affects them and so needs to be stopped by any means necessary.

And:

The problem with this belief is self-evident. What other people are doing with their bodies does not actually affect anti-choicers, and so their standing—not just legally, but morally—is always hard to impossible to establish. Thus, the never-ending parade of bad faith arguments and outright lies that come from anti-choicers.

Aside from the loaded language of “anti-choice” (most advocates of abortion choice dislike being called “pro-abortion,” after all), is this really the case?  Last I checked, the argument about abortion hasn’t been that it hurts us but that it hurts someone in particular: the unborn.  Does it surprise Marcotte that we don’t buy the “If it doesn’t hurt us personally” argument?  Could it be that it’s just not a solid argument?

Moving along:

Unable to come right out and say that they don’t want it to be too easy for women to have non-procreative sex, anti-choicers have instead latched onto this “religious freedom for employers” argument. Unfortunately, the argument doesn’t work without the assumption that your employer has some ownership over his employee’s private life, including her own religious beliefs.

Might it possibly be that “anti-choicers” don’t come right out and say they don’t want it to be too easy for women to have sex because…that’s not actually their concern?

The objection to the religious liberty of employers is mystifying.  In trying to assert that employers cannot tell employees how they can use their paychecks, she unwittingly makes the case that employers ought to be told how to use their own payrolls.  Why not go varsity with her own argument and apply it to everything else?  Why not food?  Utilities?  Gas?  Daycare?  Surely birth control is less important than all of that.  It would be a pleasant surprise if Marcotte answered the actual argument: that people should be free to use their paychecks as they see fit, not as how they think their employer should see fit.  If an employee at Hobby Lobby wishes to purchase birth control, well and good.  But the language of ‘imposition’ should apply to employers as well as employees.  If Marcotte applied her own standard to her own argument, this would be the result.

She then switches gears to discuss “standing” as the legal concept of a party to a legal case having actually been affected adversely by something.  She appeals to the criticism by conservatives of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the 2013 VMA show as evidence of people being upset about something not hurting them, and suggests a new reason we should be upset with Miley: ‘cultural appropriation.’

And what a criticism it is.  She links to a piece that, like several in the academic left after the performance, complained that Miley was wrong to 1) twerk, 2) slap the behind of her black backup dancer, and 3) a few other things I can’t describe here, not because they were wrong, but because she is white.

Last I checked, racism is telling someone they cannot do something because of their skin color.  Which is precisely the complaint against Miley by Marcotte and Friends: it wasn’t because it was demeaning to her as a woman, it wasn’t because it was appalling in general, it was because she lacked the appropriate skin pigmentation.

This is, essentially, a racist argument used by Marcotte and others.

Though, perhaps, Miley Cyrus could simply suggest that she is approaching race as others see fit to approach gender: malleable and ‘what we make of it.’  Who are they to judge her?  This critique of Miley is not the point; the point is that conservatives used it to once again tell women what they should do with their bodies (nevermind that Marcotte has a problem with it on basis of skin color rather than morality).

Marcotte then continues her screed by complaining about the complaints about Miley Cyrus: that it’s ‘slut-shaming’ and that women who do such things will be raped, or worse, get pregnant.  She then brings her blog full-circle by repeating her assertion: that at the core, the “anti-choice” cabal has nothing other than the desire to control the bodies of others and that they have no “good argument” for why we say what we do.  Everyone does metaphysics; to describe it as “people who want to control others” and “people who do not want to control others” misses the point entirely.  It’s not even applied fairly.

To be fair, I’m not sure Marcotte has tried very hard to look for any good arguments.  She does us a service by pointing out the bad ones (of which there are regretfully many).  Granted, she focuses more on the legal battle over the contraception mandate and not the philosophies in conflict, but in saying there are no good arguments for the conservative position, she is expressing ignorance about the philosophy with which she disagrees.  If David Boonin can write a very good blurb for Kaczor’s The Ethics of Abortion, I think Marcotte can do her homework and avoid saying regrettable things like this (or that it’s morally impossible to make such claims at all).

But Marcotte’s article brings its own criticism full-circle as well.  The argument goes that contraception doesn’t hurt “anti-choicers” who so bitterly and irrationally resist the calm and steady voice of reason.  I’m sure the folks that run Hobby Lobby don’t feel particularly ‘hurt’ by the multi-million-dollar fines they are racking up by disobeying the mandate.  I’m sure they’ll also not feel particularly ‘hurt’ by HHS and its supporters who so eloquently tell them to figure out what they’ll have to disobey to satisfy the demands of Marcotte and others.  Thomas Sowell describes at length in Vision of the Anointed how society as a whole has been adversely affected by the drive for sex education from the 1960s on, particularly in terms of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy.   And they certainly will not be ‘hurt’ by the imposition of a wishful, immature, half-baked philosophy that is wrecking our culture sexually (see Cyrus, Miley).  Except that we’re all being hurt by that.  And all the while, the most basic questions about the morality of actions is not even considered.

But until Marcotte critiques her own starting point and actually considers the good reasons for disagreeing with her, ultimately her position is a fundamentalist one.  Others have critiqued her work in the past, and things haven’t really changed since then.

Edit: Nick pointed out that others made a complete mockery of Marcotte’s attitude towards men with whom she disagrees.  I’d say it’s pretty accurate.

Phony Christians and phony outrage

Over the weekend a news show at MSNBC made some waves by making some bold claims regarding opposition to Obamacare by conservative Christians or politicians who say they are Christians.  Ted Cruz in particular was singled out for his comments about defunding ACA and also for his overtly Christian rhetoric.

The Blaze noticed the comments by Ed Schultz and promptly publicized them.

To quote from the Blaze piece:

“This is good for America and I won’t let them lie,” Schultz said. “They’re phony Christians. Phony Christians when they say that they are Christian but then they want to take away from their next door neighbor. They don’t want to be their brother’s keeper.”

“A growing number of right wing Christians are coming out day after day as a Christian,” he continued. “I think I have the right to expose their hypocrisy and call them out for all the things they are saying wrong and how misguided they are.”

[…]

“It is very simple. If ObamaCare is repealed, Americans will die. Children of God will die,” he said.

They are, of course, standard fare for politics and yet another common salvo against conservatives: A few weeks ago, President Obama said that “The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care,” among other things, and this is used to great effect in attack ads during every election.  Rhetorically, they have great strength, and are a reliable way to put an opponent on the defensive in a hurry without allowing much time or room to recover.  No one wants to have to answer the question of why they want others to suffer and die for seemingly insignificant reasons.  And it’s very easy to say the wrong thing trying to answer it.  Which is why we see it so much, and not just by liberals but by conservatives as well.  In the video segment linked by The Blaze, Cruz himself has difficulty answering a point-blank question of why he wants to take peoples’ health care away.

But Schultz’ comments about Christians who oppose Obamacare deserves comment first.  For starters, it begs all sorts of questions: Are Christians obligated to endorse anything that contains even the slightest bit of good?  Is the Golden Rule the Gospel?  Can a Christian be right about the Gospel and wrong about other things and still be a genuine Christian?   Is Ed Schultz a phony Christian himself for using a not-particularly-unique-to-Christianity-reason to call others phony?  (Answer: no.)

To put these questions (and Schultz’ comments) in perspective, we will reverse the situation.  Suppose that Ted Cruz states that only “phony Christians” oppose restrictions for abortion on demand.  (Hint: it would be Thunderdome.) Would Cruz be correct in saying that?  Of course not.  It would be as offensive as it is foolish.  And such is the case with Schultz’s comments.

On that note: What actually makes someone a Christian?  True, Jesus did command us to care for the poor, and the OT prophets spent an awful lot of time blasting the elite of Israel for their negligence in justice and caring for the poor even then, but is that what makes someone a Christian?   Last I checked, the Gospel has a little something to do with a Jewish preacher who was crucified for sedition and who, as his followers claimed, rose from the dead and promised to come again.  “Caring for others” is hardly a uniquely Christian trait, and is not what got Jesus crucified.

Now on to his most provocative claim: the claim that these “phony” Christians are just fine with, if not approving of, letting people die needlessly.  Or to put it as Obama did, conservatives are willing to let people slide straight into the grave because of some hidebound evidence-proof ideology.

But they have something in common that allows them to be easily answered.  And it’s time for this tactic to be neutralized.  Here’s how and why.

These comments make the mistake of confusing intention with foresight.  This is typically a distinction that only gets discussed in ethical situations that involve the abortion debate, but they are applicable here.  Furthermore, there is a difference between intrinsic evil and contingent evil at work here that blunts the attacks by Schultz and Obama.

If intention refers to the desire of a moral agent to bring something about, foresight is the ability to anticipate what might happen if a given event occurs.  Intrinsic evil is an act that is always wrong; it always (and intentionally) deprives someone of an inalienable good; a contingent evil is one that may result a deprivation of good that is not the intent of an act.  (One example used of a contingent evil is civilian casualties in a just war.  The casualties are foreseen as possible, but they are not intended and are not the goal of a just war.)  In this particular case, Schultz and Obama have switched the two, and accused their opponents of intending an outcome that is foreseen, and treating a contingent evil as though it were an intrinsic evil.

So revisiting the Schultz comments, what he has done is take a foreseen outcome and accused some Christians of making that the intended outcome, which is effectively a strawman attack.  It is true that some would die if Obamacare is repealed than if it were left in place, but these deaths are not the intent of those who oppose Obamacare.  And defending the defunding and repeal of Obamacare is much easier after distinguishing between intent and foresight, intrinsic and contingent evil.  Furthermore, it makes the attacks look unnecessarily harsh and foolish.

And Obama’s remarks about his Republican opponents fare no better: he has taken a foreseen consequence and accused the Republicans of making it their intended consequence.  It also helps that he has a willing media to faithfully repeat this attack.  And it also really helps that the Republicans who were the targets of these remarks are heretofore unable to effectively respond to them.

This distinction applies to other issues as well, particularly the marriage debate.  Recently I was asked why I wanted gay people to be unhappy.  But upon closer inspection, this too confuses intention with foresight: unhappiness is foreseen, but not intended, in saying traditional marriage has no other form than traditional marriage.  It might make some unhappy, but that is a foreseen consequence and not the intended consequence (which is stable, mother-father families).  Moreover, the usual moral framework is still in play: the moral status of homosexual acts, moral equivalence or neutrality, etc.  But knowing how to defuse a terribly intimidating attack may change how marriage is discussed, or at least remove some of the hostility–on both sides.  Defenders of traditional marriage use bad arguments too that can be answered using this distinction.

Of course, there is more wrong with Schultz’ remarks than just this confusion of intent and foresight.  Specifically, that the Christians who oppose Obamacare maintain their opposition to it on the grounds that intended, intrinsically evil acts are both allowed and mandated: the abortion mandate, the contraception mandate (as regards religious liberties), the death panels that suddenly don’t seem so outlandish, etc.  Yet Schultz ignores these, and simply accuses others of gross moral turpitude.  And it isn’t like the Republicans or the Christians Schultz accuses simply prefer no alternative to Obamacare other than death and destruction.  The Republican opponents of Obama maintain (and it should be noted this is up for debate) that the market is a better judge than government.  The Christian opponents of Obamacare maintain that government is not a good substitute for the church when it comes to charity, and for that reason oppose this particular ‘separation of church and state.’  And both typically think that government is not the only appropriate answer to human suffering.  Simply to say that Obamacare needs to be repealed is not to say that there should be no health care or charity at all.

So for Schultz, Obama, and others to malign their opponents with accusations of intent to harm, this amounts to slander.  An easily answerable slander at that.