Aethics: On Abortion

 

Aethics is what I’m tentatively calling my own attempt at an objective (or at least only human-subjective) moral philosophy. The idea being that by incorporating ideas from Epicureanism and Utilitarianism you can come to a fact-based, rational and logical moral decision on difficult problems. There’s some important key components to this though:

  • Facts first: Any decision must be based on facts.
  • Provisional: An ‘aethical’ point of view accents that any decision made through it is provisional, not absolute.
  • Situational: Any moral or ethical decision depends on context. What is wrong in one instance may not be wrong in another. No decision is set or settled in its entirety.
  • Emotions & Feelings Have Value: People’s emotional pain should be taken into account and weighed up in a decision.
  • Strive for Objectivity: While emotions have value and meaning they should not guide the moral decisions.

Given recent objectionable events in the US (and oh, there’s been so many) and a couple of discussions from anti-abortion atheists it felt like this would be a good subject to take these thoughts on a test-run.  I am not used to seeing anti-abortion sceptics and atheists and it was disappointing to see that they had no real, co/gent or fact-based arguments against abortion.

What’s the Goal?

To maximise liberty, minimise pain and to consider what is the best possible course of action in most circumstances.

 

What are the Facts?

What are the facts that might influence our decision whether abortion is right or wrong?

  • Scientific consensus is that a foetus cannot even potentially feel pain until at least the 24th week.
  • The very first stuttering of foetal consciousness occur around 20 weeks but this is intermittent, they’re only synchronous and ongoing from 27 weeks. The best evidence that we have that the transition has been made from ‘lump of flesh’ to a human being.
  • In the UK elective abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks.
  • In the UK abortion for medical reasons (mental or physical problems for the mother, or deformity and issues for the foetus) is allowed later.
  • In the UK 91% of abortions take place beneath 13 weeks.
  • Medical abortions made up 47% of abortions in the UK.
  • 1% of abortions were due to foetal deformity.
  • Abortions cause distress and regret is some people (whether this is down to abortion itself or social disapproval is unclear).
  • This is a contentious public issue.
  • Unwanted children or children raised in care are more likely to be societal problems as a demographic.
  • Contraception fails.
  • It is unrealistic to expect people not to have sex.
  • An unwanted pregnancy can curtail a woman’s academic or professional career.
  • The man may not want to be a father as much as the woman may not want to be a mother.

What Can I Conclude and What’s the Reasoning?

Given that what defines our humanity is our consciousness we can consider abortion completely problem free up to 24 weeks. Nothing is being lost, nothing we should rationally consider human is being lost and there’s no question of the foetus feeling, comprehending or understanding pain. Given the relative uncertainty over brain function this is probably the best cut-off point for elective abortion in any case.

Given that a foetus can probably feel pain after 24 weeks abortions after this period should include anaesthesia to prevent needless suffering on even the most basic level.

In the case of medical abortions past 24 weeks we need to consider what does the most or the least harm. When it comes to mental distress and illness this is more difficult to process but mental illness is real illness and pregnancy and birth can be stressful and even life threatening to someone with mental issues. It should be treated as seriously, then, as physical risks to the mother. Ultimately, the mother – a fully realised, actualised, thinking, feeling human being with experience, talents and societal contributions has more inherent worth by any measure than a potential human being.

How should we approach the interface between the desires of the mother and the father in the case of an unwanted pregnancy?

It is the mother’s body and thus, ultimately, it has to be her decision. We cannot ethically either force a woman to become a brood mare or force her to get an abortion. Either would be an absolute violation of personal autonomy and would devalue a real and present human being compared to a potential human being.

unwanted pregnancyWe cannot ignore the role of men in this though. An unexpected pregnancy can and does create a burden for the father that they may not want and over which they are given no choice. If we are to respect the personal autonomy of the mother we must also respect the personal autonomy of the father. Since the father cannot either demand a pregnancy be continued nor that it be aborted we have a problem. A man who wishes the child to be carried to term is simply out of luck. There is no way to compensate him for the loss of his potential offspring without causing a very negative effect on others. There is no simple way to negotiate this issue. The other way around we do have an option though. An unplanned, unexpected or accidental pregnancy that a man does not wish brought to term he might be able to legally disconnect himself from his responsibility to that child. A sort of ‘legal abortion’ that allows him to evade child support and other responsibilities for a child he never wanted, in exchange for giving up all rights and claims to that child.

I think I’ve covered the main issues here. If I’ve missed anything or you see a flaw in the reasoning, please let me know.

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Seven Refutations: Follow Up

WonkaSeven Refutations got some attention from the oxymoronically entitled ‘Reasonable Faith’ forum. Predictably the majority of replies are scoffing and misdirection but there’s a few bits and pieces there worth replying to, so this is a follow up. I don’t want to support WLC in any way as I think he’s a morally repugnant charlatan, so I won’t be posting in that forum but I’ll address what – few – pertinent points there are here.

1. Why is there something instead of nothing?

Objection: You don’t answer the question!
Counter: ‘I don’t know’ is an answer, you can substitute ‘we don’t know’ if you like. Saying ‘goddidit’ is still a god of the gaps and fallacious however you want to put it. The rest of this objection missed the point entirely.

Objection: False (WLC is making claims, not providing evidence), you’re currently trying to dispute part of his evidence.  To try to suggest that he therefore has no evidence either shows a deficient understand of what constitutes evidence, or disengenoussness (sic).
Counter: A claim (god did it) is not evidence, no matter how many times you claim it is. The deficiency in understanding of what words mean seems to be a big problem amongst apologists.

Objection: Further, isn’t “I don’t know” a tad bit antithetical to the truth? Do you actually care about the truth, or only about making yourself feel like you’re an intellectual?
Counter: It is honest and in pursuit of truth you can’t allow your preference or desire to shape what you think. I care enough about truth not to make things up or settle for shitty arguments.

Objection: “But what about those that think the brute fact that anything exists may be evidence for something else?”
Counter: It may or may not be. If you want to say the universe is evidence for god/Nyx/enormous quantum computer you’ll need to provide evidence.  Asserting it is ‘god’ without such backing is pointless, bald assertion.

Objection: “If you truly knew the arguments for the cause of why anything exists at all (the universe, time, space, etc…) like the Kalam, or the argument from contingency, you’d know that eventually there has to be a first cause to all this stuff in order to avoid infinite regression.”
Counter: I do, I have – in particular – addressed the nonsensical Kalam argument several times before. I reject the assertion that there HAS to be a first cause to all this stuff in general and that it is god in particular. Evidence still required. Otherwise – again – it’s just assertion.

2. Cause and Effect

Objection: You’re not addressing the ‘actual‘ cosmological argument.
Counter: Fuck me that’s a long-winded way of saying nothing at all. Saying ‘contingent’ doesn’t alter the objections to the claim in any way it just means you’re now claiming the universe is contingent and god is not. Still no evidence for a god and you’re now making two claims about two things without evidence. The refutation stands unchallenged even by this long-winded article. In the end it comes down to this ‘Everything has a cause’ may be a simplification but it is the core of the argument that is universal from WLC to stupid creationists on social media. The objections to it apply to every form of the cosmological argument so far presented whether long-winded and pseudo-intellectual or not. Here’s a longer-winded way of saying the same thing from my POV.

Objection: There are no exceptions within the scientific literature.  If you’re refering to quatum (sic) events like the creation and annihilation of virtual particles, then you’re confusing indeterminacy with being uncaused (sic).
Counter: ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous things’. Virtual particle pairs are not to to with indeterminacy. Here’s a brief, accessible overview of how this applies.

Objection: Please address the actual Kalam cosmological argument, “everything has a cause,” is not a part of the Kalam cosmological argument.  Neither is, “everything has a cause, except God.”  These are not premises to the argument, and as such your criticism does not address the argument.
Counter: Not using your preferred phrasing is not the same as not addressing the argument. Also it is by no means clear that the universe ‘began to exist’ in any meaningful sense, spacetime being what it is.

Objection: This argument is flawed from the start. You are implying these are contingent “gods.” Of course, if you are arguing against someone that holds the position that their God is contingent, your argument is a very good one. Unfortunately, as a Christian, I hold that God is uncreated. An eternal, uncaused God. Or, as Aristotle would put it, the unmoved mover. A necessary being that exists by its own necessity. Therefore, your argument is null and void against a non-contingent God(s).
Counter: This is covered in the original refutation being replied to.

3. Design & Complexity

Objection: You’re not accounting for the universe being the way it is.
Counter: Missing the point again. I don’t have to – though there is a lot of science on this it would be besides the point of this post and this counter. This is not an argument from ignorance, ‘I don’t know, therefore goddidit’ is.

Objection: What does my perspective have anything to do with observing nature and seeing that they are finely tuned? My perspective does nothing to change the brute fact that the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, or that certain arbitrary quantities that were put in initial conditions for the laws of nature to run on were so precisely tuned, that it implies a designer like: the balance between matter and anti-matter, or the level of entropy.
Counter: This objection makes a good example of the problem of perspective. You are coming at it with the presupposition of design (still with no evidence, only fallacious argument from incredulity). That something can be described mathematically doesn’t make it designed, that qualities are what they are doesn’t mean they are designed. Fine tuning is ‘puddle thinking’ (ref: Douglas Adams) which is another example of distorting perspective.

Objection: What are you implying here? The oscillating model? The multiverse theorem? Even then, many of the multiverse models can’t account for fine-tunning.
Counter: No implication, just that things are as they are. If they were different they’d be different. We arose fitting the universe, not vice versa. There is no ‘fine tuning’.

4. Objective Morality

Objection: You say there’s no objective morality but you object to Craig on moral grounds!
Counter: No objective morality is not the same thing as no morality.

Objection: Saying there is a possible explanation, but not giving one, is the fallacy known as the Phantom Third Option.
Counter: The point is only that there are many possible explanations and zero reason to think, of this set, that yours is the one. At least not without evidence.

Objection: Also claiming that God rapes children? Have you actually read the bible?
Counter: Yes, and the history and observations thereof. This is why I say this. Mary would have been 12-14 (possibly even younger), too young to give meaningful consent. Furthermore she was not consulted or asked, but simply knocked up (at least according to your mythology). What else would we call this?

Objection: This seems like a rhetorical bluff, please provide information on what science investigates morality, and the relevant evidence.
Counter: For just one example, of many, check here. The objector has followed up in a manner that demonstrates they have no idea what they’re talking about. This – and other experiments like it – show that morality is not unique to humans and is determined by ev psych and conditions. It supports the point that there is no objective morality and that morality is ‘nothing more’ than a result of these things. Along with everything else it utterly destroys the idea that there’s anything objective about morality. The foundation and origin of morality is, like other traits, survival utility. In humans this is at the level of group selection and complicated by the separate evolution of social/moral systems and their exploitation by toxic memes (such as religion).

Objection: You then go on to accuse God of breaking his commandments. First, did he ever say that he was required to follow these commandments? I distinctly remember a “thou shalt” before each commandment.
Counter: If you’re arguing for an objective morality why would you make an exception for god? If the morality is truly universal and objective then it would also apply to god – how could it not? Entering into specific critique isn’t really relevant here save that WLC is trying to assert this one, particular, god. Point is there is no objective morality.

Objection: We really can’t point to anything that’s universally or objectively wrong? Really? What about torturing babies? Is that something that is “OK” at some point or another depending on the situation?
Counter: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb under New York and unless I torture the President’s newborn baby girl to death he will detonate it. The greater good is served by torturing the child to death. Perhaps a religious cult sacrifices a child once per year to ensure the harvest and has strong taboos about not doing this. Within their moral system this is not only the best option, but the only moral option, an honour and it would be immoral not to do it from their point of view. Morality is subjective, temporal, conditional. The closest we can seem to approach to objective morality – IMO – would be a combination of Utilitarianism and Epicureanism. The greatest good for the greatest number. That would still be subjective though – humanocentric if nothing else.

5. Ontological Argument

Objection: This does not answer the ontological argument. For one, a perfect roast beef sandwitch can be eaten, and so cannot be perfect. It also relies upon the existence of all the ingredients it is composed of, and so cannot be necessary. Making a mock version of an argument does not refute that argument, it simply refutes your understanding of the argument.
Counter: Reductio absurdum is a valid technique for exposing problems in the argument. A sandwich would not be perfect if it could NOT be eaten and why should there be only one, why shouldn’t it be a regenerating sandwich? For someone who has an imaginary friend you have a shockingly limited imagination. Stop limiting the OmNOMipotence of the ontological sandwich. The ingredients are intrinsic to the sandwich as the various qualities claimed for the god would be. This objection is absolutely groundless.

Objection: Please address the actual ontological argument.  Dr. Craig uses the argument formulated by Dr. Alvin Plantinga; the most charitable I can be of your above criticism is that it might invalidate Saint Anselm’s ontological argument, but the argument used by Dr. Craig is different.
Counter: It does. The rephrasings of the argument don’t invalidate the criticism which can be rephrased to meet every incarnation.
EG: 1.  It is possible that a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists.
2.  If it is possible for a maximally great roast beef sandwich to exist, then a Maximally Great roast beef sandwich exists in some possible world.
3.  If a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists in some possible world, then a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists in every possible world.
4.  If a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists in every possible world then a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists in the actual world.
5.  If a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists in the actual world then a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists.
6.  Therefore a maximally great roast beef sandwich exists.
7. Furthermore this is MY maximally great roast beef sandwich and therefore cannot be maximally great for me if it isn’t here for me to eat it.
8. Where the fuck is my roast beef sandwich?

Objection: You are using an outdated one so there are newer versions. Nonetheless, your argument still fails because it is talking about ontologically great properties of which a sandwich would not participate. Thus, the parody fails.
Counter: I’ve not seen any better ones and the basic problem is that the concept of a thing is not a thing. We can even imagine things which are logically and physically impossible (like various god definitions). The sandwich does not have to be an active participant. It must just be concievable.

6. Resurrection

Objection: JESUS MYTH! LOL! R U SRS?!?

Counter: Before I actually looked into it I assumed, as many do, that Jesus was a real person, just calcified in accrued myth over time. When I actually looked for evidence and applied historical and scientific method though, I found there was absolutely no evidence for him whatsoever. Now, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence but it is suspicious, especially given the contemporaneous historians, diarists etc make no mention and there’s no Roman record. Add that to analysis of the mystery cults of the period and the themes (Ref: Carrier, even though he’s a bit of a dickhead sometimes) and given the mythological nature of every single other religion – including modern ones – it seems a far more reasonable position that this Jesus character is pure fiction. Anyone who wants to claim otherwise is welcome to present evidence (NEW evidence please) that he existed. I cover this problem briefly here.

Objection: You can’t just wave your flag around and say “there’s no evidence” and act like you just refuted an argument. You have to refute the following facts about Jesus’ resurrection by merely naturalistic explanations- 1- Jesus’ tomb was found empty 3 days after his crucifixion. 2- On multiple occasions and in multiple settings, individuals and large GROUPS of people saw appearances of Jesus after He had died. 3- The disciples suddenly went from sheer doubt and depression about Jesus being who He says he was after He was killed to complete and utter confidence that Jesus was who He said he was, even to the point of death. People don’t die for things they know not to be true, and the disciples had the prime position to know whether or not Jesus’ resurrection was indeed true or not.
Counter: That you strongly believe your mythological events happened does not mean that they did. Until you can show that these supposed events did actually happen and were not simply stories, there is no case to answer.

7. Experiential

Objection: For the believer that has the inner-witness of the Holy Spirit, God’s existence is merely an axiomatic truth.
Counter: The same can be said for true believers of any and all religions. None of whom have any evidence. All of whom claim a unique handle on truth. Diax’s Rake applies.

8. Additional

Objection: “I don’t know” isn’t an answer.
Counter: It is an honest one. Having ‘an’ answer doesn’t make it a valid or reasonable answer. Insisting, loudly and at length, that 2+2=6.2759 doesn’t make it any more true. Point is ‘I don’t know’ doesn’t try to cram in an unsupported answer, as theism does.

Objection: Don’t mock us!
Counter: ‘Ridicule is the only weapon which may be used against unintelligable propositions…’ – Jefferson

Objection: You’re so angry!
Counter: Of course I fucking am. Look at all the harm religion does in the world. My anger has fuck all to do with the content of my points.

Objection: You’re a troll!
Counter: No, trolls don’t really engage other than to wind people up but it’s a typical gambit to smear someone who doesn’t agree with you as a troll.

Objection: You just want traffic to your site!
Counter: I don’t gain anything from it. Really, genuinely, I think WLC is a huge wanker and don’t want to support him.

Objection: You’re not using the biblical meaning of faith!
Counter: I disagree. I define it thus: Faith=(belief-evidence) in the religio-spiritual context. Why? Because that is what it is in this context. See number 2 here. This differentiates religious faith from trust or belief, which can be based on evidence while faith is not. Your supposed biblical definition is Hebrews 11:1
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
This is not inconsistent with my definition, indeed, it meets it. Hope is not substantial, hope is a wish that things will turn out in a particular way. Faith then is substituted for substance in this instance, it is not substance itself. The ‘evidence of things unseen’. Things that are not sensed, detected, confirmable are not evidence. Again, this is a substitution.
So faith is a substitute for substance and a substitute for evidence – things that would rationally support a belief.
As I said then, Faith=(belief-evidence)

Objection: WLC is a scholar with impeccable credentials!
Counter: This doesn’t stop him being a wanker or being wrong. As to the things he holds qualifications in, I refer you to Mr Wonka above. Even if he wasn’t an irredeemable tosspot, charlatan and terrible human being none of these ‘accomplishments’ would make him correct. It is possible for someone to be clever in one regard (in this one, selling people on sub-Chopra bullshit) while an idiot in another (logical and rational thought). Lest we forget, one of the most Brilliant scientists in history, Newton, was also a ceremonial magician and an alchemist.

Summary

None of these objections undermine or remove the refutations in any way. We still have claims without any evidence to back them up by the bucketload along with various strawmen. Craig’s arguments are child’s play to dismantle and nothing in these objections has done anything to bolster them.

I Knew the Discovery Channel Shooter

james-lee-and-signI’ve always been worried by crazies and fanatics. What really cemented for me that we should oppose and speak up against these kinds of ideas was my experience with James Lee, known as the Discovery Channel Shooter (even though he didn’t shoot anyone).

James was very active on tribe.net as was I for some time, some years ago. Primarily I was involved in the political and skeptical tribes but despite the presence of people like me, tribe.net was always pretty overrun with conspiracy theorists, religious nutters and other people deeply entrenched in ‘woo’.

James didn’t particularly stand out from the other crazies at the time but, looking back, I can see some warning signs that separated him from the other kooks and nutballs on the site. Things that might help others differentiate the genuinely dangerous or at-risk from the trolls, Poes and harmless crazies.

I often wish I’d put more effort into getting through to him, into debunking the nonsense he and others spread there. I see it now, still, all across social media and bullshit spreads much faster than truth or sober thinking. It’s made me treat so many different peculiarities and crazy ideas much more seriously – at least in terms of the harm they can do.

Here’s what – from memory – separated James from the others:

  1. James’ obsession was singular. While his concerns were environmentalist and extreme the object of his obsession was the Discovery Channel. This made little sense to anyone who talked to him. They weren’t ‘evil’ in his mindset, the problem that he had was that they weren’t doing enough to tackle and promote environmental concerns. He became utterly fixated on them to the exclusion of all others.
  2. James took his actions into ‘real life’. James wasn’t just a ranting voice on the internet. He tried to organise other people and got more desperate when nobody really followed his lead – despite having his believers and enablers on tribe.net and elsewhere. He picketed their building, he made the transition from shouting and ranting online (everywhere he could) to ‘doing something’.
  3. James wouldn’t engage. Anything beyond his obsession didn’t seem to exist for him. We would ignore feedback that went beyond the bounds of his beef with Discovery Channel and would angrily and emotionally react to anyone not in agreement with him on that singular focus. He did, however, pay attention to positive feedback which he did get from other crazy – if less crazy – people and peacemakers.

I don’t think we can afford to ignore or tease people like this online. I think they must be confronted with dissenting views and, if necessary, reported and dealt with legally or psychologically as happened with Dave Mabus. Their obsessions and peculiarities are amusing only so long as they don’t tip over the edge and encouraging or enabling them can do just that.

There aren’t ‘two sides’ of equal worth to every story and as skeptics we need to publicly oppose and debunk everything from homeopathy and anti-vax nonsense to religion and 9/11 conspiracies. They’re literally and figuratively poisoning political and social discussion and advancement and they’re leading to tragedies like James Lee.

His actions have been branded those of a terrorist. He was mentally ill. He needed help, he needed to be taken seriously, he needed someone to talk sense and get through to him. He didn’t deserve to be shot.

So, Atheism+ eh?

I somehow missed all this getting started but I’ve spent today trying to catch up between bouts of work, driving lessons and other interruptions. I think I’m up to speed but there was a lot to catch up on and if I have the wrong end of the stick do be sure and correct me.

What it seems to be is people doubling down on what I already made a post about a little while back. (Short version is that I asserted that it was bloody stupid to assume that just because we’re both atheist that we agree on everything else). This A+ idea seems to be an actual bold and ‘out’ attempt to conflate a whole bunch of stuff with atheism.

On the face of it, there’s nothing you could or should object to. This is how it’s put in one place:

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

Great! I care about social justice. I support women’s rights (and mens). I protest racism. I fight homophobia and don’t have anything against trans people. I use critical thinking and scepticism! I should fit right in then eh?

Well maybe, but I’m a bit suspicious. For one thing I don’t want atheism getting tangled up in a bunch of other political and ideological strings because I’ve spent a great deal of time getting it through people’s skulls that all it means is ‘I don’t believe in god/s’ and that’s it. After all, they already conflate atheism with Communism and think one’s t’other and vice versa and that’s a whole lot of stupid one has to correct. Now I’m going to be confronted by people, fearful of some ‘liberal conspiracy’ pointing at A+ and gibbering in abject terror and that’s going to be much harder to refute.

If you’re putting ideology over truth, ideals over scepticism, ought over is, then you’re heading for trouble and the evidence I’ve seen up to this point rather suggests that’s what’s going to happen here.

You’ve got the rootless accusations of misogyny, the poor treatment of thunderf00t at the hands of the ideologues, the stupidity surrounding Elevatorgate, the scaremongeringly unhelpful harassment policy push, the number of times we see The Claim and Cause Entwined going on. There’s a near total lack of willingness to apply the supposedly lauded trait of scepticism to claims around these progressive elements and if you do dare to question it’s presumed that you’re against whatever it is that’s being promoted.

“You know… I’m not sure these rape statistics are entirely kosher.”

MISOGYNIST!

“I think you’ll find it is true that there are racial differences in rates of criminality but I suspect the cause to be economic…”

RACIST!

“Chromosomaly you’re still male of course.”

TRANSPHOBE!

Question the data, even if you don’t question the cause, and well… people might as well just point at you and shriek ‘WITCH!’ Once the accusation is made, you’re fucked, no matter what the truth is.

This seems like a supremely bad, elitist (oh the irony) dick move but is probably doomed to be another failure.

Remember ‘Brights’?