Friday, October 24, 2008

Adventures in Special Pleading: How to Sink Your Case for Abortion Rights

Zach Moore responded to my critical interaction with his comments on Craig Sowders blog.

Characteristic of Moore, his post contains pictures of aborted fetuses and embryos along with theologically ignorant slogans tacked on to the pictures. Apparently attacking caricatures is what passes for Moore's claim to have achieved cognitive rest in atheism. Always one to attack 50 foot straw men, Moore doesn't disappoint.

He says things like: "This little boy likes baseball and jellybeans, but God decided to abort him, just like the other thirty percent of pregnancies that end in miscarriage." But of course the 30% number has been challenged (cf. Davis, Abortion and the Christian, pp. 60-61; and Higler, Human Reproduction, pp. 136-152). Some place it lower, some higher. However, many embryologists have noted that the numbers are skewed since in a high amount of cases, fertilization has not occurred and what are aborted are not complete human beings (cf. Ashley and Moraczewski, Is the Biological Subject of Human Rights Present From Conception?, in The Fetal Tissue Issue, p.47). The main point here is to demonstrate that it is rather unclear how well Moore has studied this issue, and that he has the tendency to make empirically false, or at least highly disputed, claims.

Secondly, it's rather odd to hear pro-choicers use the "God commits abortion" argument since (a) it's flat out wrong in that God is not the actor, we have confusions about causality here, and (b) all people who die, or get raped, or steal, etc., did so on the basis of the decree of God. So why don't we read sophisticated atheists arguing that theists shouldn't think murder or rape immoral since God allows them? I've also found these objections to commit composition fallacies. Assuming God's good plan is made up of all good parts.

The post is much shorter when you remove the "argument ad pictorum" and the "ubiquitous pejoratives", like:

· "Paul Manata; a man who walks and talks with the bearing and authority of someone who speaks regularly with an omnipotent, omniscient, invisible friend."

· "It's possible that Paul's invisible friend tells him whether to choose Cheerios or Wheaties for breakfast."

· "I'm always glad to know that I've merited the attention of God's chosen."

So we'll try and weed out the pejoratives, the smarm, and Bill Maher condescension of this New Atheist, and focus on what Moore takes to be his substantive rejoinders.

Moore begins by struggling to make his "perfect world" justifier for his "safe, legal, and rare" stance make sense. I'll refer to this principle as,

[UP] the Utopian Principle

He recognizes the problem he has invoking [UP],

After writing this, I realized that the phrase "perfect world" would probably be taken all too literally. After all, in a "perfect world," birth control would never fail, right?
I did not take him too literally, and am unsure if his claim about "birth control" was meant to be serious or not.

Moore says that he,

came back to clarify my use of that phrase to mean "the most optimal world that I can conceive."
Right, I got that.

We'll label this principle:

[UP*] Utopian Principle acheived by conceiving

I'm still unsure how this "clarifier" does the wok Moore wants it to. I'm unsure if he knows the almost unlimited range "conceiving" has. Is he using this term as it has been used traditionally in philosophy? As David Chalmers writes, "There is a long tradition in philosophy of using a priori methods to draw conclusions about what is possible and what is necessary, and often in turn to draw conclusions about matters of substantive metaphysics. Arguments like this typically have three steps: first an epistemic claim (about what can be known or conceived), from there to a modal claim (about what is possible or necessary), and from there to a metaphysical claim (about the nature of things in the world)." Typically, 'conceivability' has been taken to mean, thinkable without logical contradiction. And there should be no doubt that I can fit a whole bunch of fun into that big box.

Okay, so at this point in the debate Moore has given his [UP], then clarified (he thinks) it to mean [UP*], and was then questioned by Craig Sowder as to why Moore would want abortions rare. Moore then acts as if I ignored some relevant qualifier, though I'm unclear how it helps Moore out, at all. Nevertheless, since Moore takes it to be important, I'll quote him quoting himself in full:

At this point, I was asked by Craig why rarity would be something I would hope for, if there was nothing immoral about abortion. Paul jumped on my answer to this question, which he neglected to quote in its entirety, but which I will do here:

'The rarity I would like to see for these procedures isn't inspired by any intrinsic immorality, but because it's such a difficult choice for women, who have to choose between their procreative and self-preservative instincts.'[emphasis added by Moore]
Moore thinks I've misdiagnosed this. He writes, "Paul claims that I have merely pointed out the existence of angst, and suggests that education is the solution." Well, it is angst:

angst –noun, plural ängste  /ŋkstə/ [engk-stuh]. a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish.

And I didn't suggest that education was "the solution" but named it as a possible solution given that if the belief: "This entity is a living, human being" were dropped, one side of the conflict would be eliminated. I had stated that there was more than one way Moore's [UP*] could go.

But Moore feels he has a substantive rejoinder hidden in this emphasis on the "educational." He writes,

I don't think that any amount of education can alleviate the emotional strain of choosing between two contradictory instincts. This is not an intellectual matter we're dealing with- it's a subconscious, primordial battle between the basic neurological impulses nearly all animals share: SURVIVE. REPRODUCE. This conflict is only subject to philosophical gerrymandering by those who don't have to answer these calls. And these are truly effectual calls, mind you- not subject to reason, evidence, exegesis, or any such intellectual strategy. Thus, the "angst" Paul correctly identifies is not so easily assuaged, and thus I am not as confident as Paul that this could be ameliorated with simple education (would that it were so).
Not only must I have missed this massive internal battle that my hamster went through as it ate its young, or my thousands of hours watching Discovery channel and seeing the countless animals that would kill or abandon their young. One also need not point out the radically different state of affairs in the ANE. But let's leave all this alone for the moment.

The main point here is that it is easy to conceive of a world where the "angst" is removed. The nature of [UP*] allows my suggestions. There's no "logical contradictions." So, despite all of Moore's efforts, he's still done nothing to non-arbitrarily answer Sowder's question. Why did he opt for one conceivability and not another? This is precisely the question up for dispute. In other words, a little analysis reveals the question begging nature of Moore's gerrymandering.

Moore then moves on to his "primary" argument for abortion. What is important to note is that the context of my post dealt with Moore's claim that the human status of the fetus was irrelevant to his argument, such that the fetus could be fully human and yet rightfully aborted in all circumstances. I attempted to show that this view was indicative of Moore's more general ignorance on matters abortion related. Moore now tells us what his main argument is:

My primary argument in favor of allowing abortion is that all human beings are sovereign over their own bodies. Thus, anything growing inside my body stays there only by my own approval (assuming that I have the available medical technology to remove it at my discretion).
Since Moore claims the fetus could be a full human and his argument still goes through, and since that was what I was objecting to, I will assume that we both accept this principle, which is logically entailed by the above statements of Moore. Call it the Fetus's Sovereignty principle:

[FS] Human fetuses have full sovereignty over their body

I maintain that by Moore allowing [FS], which he would have to if the fetus was a "full human", he undercuts his entire argument. So, my claim will be that Moore's argument only works if the fetus is not a human. And, of course, this makes his position irrelevant to the abortion debate since no pro-lifer disagrees that non-human "stuff" in the body is, ipso facto, immoral to remove. Therefore, Moore will need to either drop his argument as an argument for abortion, or submit it to the editors for some major revisions.

Now, originally I had pointed out a material objection to Moore's sovereignty thesis, saying:

"First, it's not true that all humans have sovereignty over their body and can do what they will with it making what they do ethically okay. They can't (well, shouldn't) strap bombs to it and run into occupied office buildings."

Moore takes umbrage with this, I'll quote his response at length:

Perhaps Paul has not understood what I mean by "sovereignty" over one's body. He seems to think that I'm mounting a variation of Homer Simpson's "Pie Eating" argument: "All right pie, I'm just going to do this [opens and closes mouth] and if you get eaten it's your own fault!" I am not talking about things people do to each other with their bodies; I am talking specifically about the right to decide what things stay in one's body and what things stay out. That is, one has the right to decide what kind of food one wants to eat, what kind of aesthetic modifications can be made to one's body, and what kinds of medical procedures should be undertaken. Of the latter, these include the decision to undergo a cardiac bypass, the decision to undergo a gastric bypass, and the decision to bypass pain and suffering through euthanasia. Either Paul agrees that we have sovereignty over our bodies or he does not. If we do not, then we cannot decide for ourselves what kind of food to eat. It's possible that Paul's invisible friend tells him whether to choose Cheerios or Wheaties for breakfast. But if Paul does agree that we have sovereignty over our bodies, that only he has the right to decide if his malignant testicle should be removed, then he seems to be special pleading for women not to have the right to remove anything they want from their bodies as well. [emphasis original]
There are plenty of errors in the above:

i) I reject Moore's false dichotomy that "Either Paul agrees that we have sovereignty over our bodies or he does not. If we do not, then we cannot decide for ourselves what kind of food to eat." I do not grant full sovereignty over the body as Moore defines it. For example, I don't think it extends to humans living inside our body. So on Moore's terms, I reject sovereignty. But I'm unclear how it follows that I "cannot decide for ourselves what kind of food to eat" becauase I reject that "one can kill full humans living inside their body, i.e., their children." I call this view of sovereignty then, Moore-sovereignty.

ii) I reject the idea that each and every single human being has the kind of "sovereignty" over their body as Moore suggests. For example, he claims that only the individual has the right to decide of some malignant tumor should be removed. Unfortunately, some young children suffer from cancer. Some of them might not want any medical surgery, or they may think, however cute, that eating "magic gumdrops" will cure it. In these instances, I'm glad that those children don't have the sovereignty Moore would like them to have, and their parents or guardians can make that decision for them.

iii) As is painfully obvious, Moore begs the question against my own objection saving that: "I am not talking about things people do to each other with their bodies." But since we've granted the full humanity of the fetus, you are, in fact, "talking about things people do to each other with their bodies." Since the fetus is a human, then it can't be the body of the woman's that is getting killed. So Moore fails to show how my argument from analogy is off.

iv) One wonders if I knocked Moore out, and then sowed a three-year old into his back using skin graphs from other areas of Moore's body, and I included some breathing and feeding apparatuses for the toddler to survive a bit, upon awakening, could Moore now kill that toddler? That seems odd. If not, then he's giving up his 'sovereignty' to do with inside his body whatever he wants.

v) Given that we both hold to [FS], then what of the fetus's sovereignty over what goes into or happens to her body? Here's an argument:

[1] If I am Moore-sovereign, then I have a right to not have burning chemicals placed on and in my body without my permission, especially if I am legally innocent. I also have the right to not have my body sucked into huge vacuums and them chopped to pieces.

[2] [FS] states that fetuses are Moore-sovereign.

[3] Therefore, human fetuses have a right to not have burning chemicals placed on and in their body without their permission, especially if they are legally innocent. They also have the right to not have their body sucked into huge vacuums and them chopped to pieces.

Which premise can be denied? Moore admitted he held to [1]. [2] was shown to be logically entailed from his sovereignty statements. Therefore, [3] follows necessarily. QED.

Therefore, my argument stands. Moore's argument doesn't go through if the fetus is a full human. What makes this argument even stronger, is that I've drawn my conclusion from premises Moore gave me.

vi) I am not guilty of special pleading, Moore is. I do think I have a right to remove tumors, and I think women have a right to remove tumors. The fetus, to quote Ahnold, "Is not a tumah." I do not think that I have the right to murder a fetus if, ex hypothesi, I could carry one. So I also, quite consistently, do not think that women have the right to murder their fetuses. These distinctions seem all rather elementary to me. There's not so much as a case for special pleading on my end. Indeed, (v) showed that Moore was guilty of special pleading.

Moore makes claims like this, apparently assuming they strengthen his case:

Although I appreciate the effort he has made on my behalf, he's running with the wrong assumption. I've already made it clear that I consider sovereignty to extend only to within one's own body for the sake of this argument.
Yes, and I'm specifically defending what happens to and within the fetsus own body.

Moreover, the fetus is not like a tumor, a wart, or any other non-fully human "stuff" in my body. It's not clear that the right to do what you want with non-human "stuff" in your body entails the right to do the same with fully human persons in your body. So Moore needs to justify this massive leap.

Paul's counterexample of a suicide bomber is simply the product of a categorical error.
No, it's not, as (iii) made clear above.

He's also assuming that I'm granting "human" or "person" status to a fetus, which I frankly have not; but again, it's immaterial to my argument.
Here's where Moore starts to hedge his bets. ;-)

As I made clear in my original post, it is relevant whether the fetus is a full human. I wrote: "So, Moore thinks "personhood" (or, if he will, humanity) doesn't matter for his argument. I beg to differ, for more than one reason:"

So, I am arguing that if the fetus is a full human, Moore's argument sucks. If he wants to add the extra premise that:

[P] The fetus is not fully human.

But Moore never argued [P]. He thinks it "immaterial." I do not. I have argued why it is not. Since that argument goes through, and it does, then Moore needs to revamp his argument.

Of course I will argue for the full humanity, [~P]. I have "science" on my side here too. In fact, arguing for the full humanity of the fetus is actually one of the easiest arguments to make, I think. But that's "immaterial." Before we can go anywhere else, Moore needs to deal with the actual argument I'm giving, rather than move goal posts. So I'll assume he'll join me in assuming the full humanity of the human, [FS], and then seeing how those two assumptions entail that Moore should be pro-life.

Even if I were to follow Paul down his rabbit hole and grant that a fetus has the same sovereignty enjoyed by its mother, that only extends to within the fetus' own body.
Moore wants to make this a "rabbit hole" issue, but it's clearly not since the very reason I bothered posting was because Moore made the ludicrous claim that his argument goes through even if the fetus is fully human.

I'm not sure why he's stuck on "within" either. Doesn't "topicality" work too? Or can I do whatever I want to Moore's body so long as it's not "within" it? And, besides, Moore just gave the farm away, again. Abortion methods do things to the fetuses body, on it and in it, that go against Moore-sovereignty.

Moore now continues to run with the "get me away from Paul's actual argument" ball as far as he can. He writes,

Paul, by special pleading against the complete sovereignty of women, would have us believe that one organ among all others is arbitrarily off-limits.
But of course this is false if we grant the full humanity of the fetus. Moore has to since that point is "immaterial." His argument must go through if we do not grant humanity, and if we do. So, here's another argument.

[1] No human is "one organ among all others."

[2] Fetuses are human. (granted because of it's immateriality)

[3] Therefore, no fetuses are "one organ among all others."


I wrote,

"Third, another thing Craig might want to ask, it seems that not only do we have exceptions to murder, but sometimes parents don't have obligations toward their young children. Since we're dealing with a mother taking the life of her child, we have another moral consideration in play. Do we have exceptions here, too?"

Moore responds quite incoherently,

As has been shown previously, my argument is not one that advances a mother's right to take the life of her child. I've only argued that a woman's sovereignty is without exception, not that I am seeking exceptions as Paul does.
But it is clear that if:

[1] A pregnant woman has the right to destroy any living thing in her body, without exception.


[2] Fetuses are living full human beings.


[3] Fetuses are living full human beings inside their pregnant mother's body, making them children of the pregnant women.

then it is the case that,

[4] Therefore, a mother has a right to destroy a living full human being that is her child.


Again, all of these premises are premises Moore either explicitly or hypothetically grants.

I asked about ES cells and their existence in a Petri dish. As of right now, we harvest them from embryos, many frozen and not living in a mother's body. Apparently Moore can't go through with the logic of his position for he claims, and I quote him at length,

At long last Paul has given us something to chew on. It's a great question, not least of which because there's no clear answer. However, I should make it clear that we're no longer dealing with my argument for sovereignty, since stem cells do not need to be cultured inside a woman's body. In engaging with the stem cell question, we finally have no choice but to grapple with the concept of "humanity" or "personhood." And my answer to this question is, though Paul may be disappointed by it, "I don't know." I don't hold to a neo-Platonic worldview, and therefore I don't feel epistemological pressure to categorize reality using Universal concepts. "Humanity," like "species" or "life" does not neatly intersect with the reality our senses and reason present to us. At what moment did I become a human being? When my father's sperm came in contact with my mother's egg? But when, precisely? When the sperm passed the corona radiata? When it entered, or after it had passed, the zona pellucida? Before or after the cell membranes fused? Before or after the second meiotic division of the egg? Before or after the first mitotic division? At what stage of mitosis: prophase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase? The interim points, like Zeno's paradox, are infinite; yet a human is the result.
But if we grant the full humanity of the embryo, then she has sovereignty over her stem cells. This follows, by the strictest logic, from Moore's own premises. Indeed, his own "organ" argument leads to the conclusion that, if he were consistent, he'd have to say that the embryo is the only one that can tell us whether she wants to give up the ES cells. But Moore just doesn't have the courage to follow his own logic.

Moreover, I don't resort to any Platonism, neo or otherwise. I could make the case playing Moore's own game for the full humanity of the fetus. One place where this argument is strongly advanced is, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, by George and Tollefsen. See answer to pedantic questions in ch. 2, esp. pp. 36-42.

I'm always glad to know that I've merited the attention of God's chosen, especially when there are so many more enjoyable things to do in Michigan's own Tulip Country. Between keeping one's wife pregnant, instilling a fear of The Lord in one's children, and drinking deeply of the Boddington's, I consider myself lucky to register on the radar. Cheers, sir!
I can't help reading this without adding a nervous laughter coming from Moore. I see no way he can get around the arguments I've just leveled toward his way.

But, even in this, I can't find agreement. See, I'm not the biggest fan of Boddington's anymore. Used to like it a lot, not too much anymore. It's more beautiful looking than it is tasting.

I'd still by ole Zach a beer or three of he were ever out my way. Cheers!


  1. Great read Paul.

    Suppose I have a bomb surgically implanted in my body at time t1. At t2 the bomb will set off when I am in a crowded area.

    Strictly going off the principle that "all human beings are sovereign [morally I take it] over their own bodies", this should be morally permissible.

    But of course Moore doesn't want to say that, as it is clearly morally wrong. So, he can change the principle to the Sovereignty Principle 2 [SP2]

    SP2: All human beings are soveriegn over their own bodies, unless their choice results in the harm of another human.

    But clearly this won't help Moore, if he grants for the sake of argument that the unborn entity is a human.

    Here he tries to limit his principle to SP3.

    SP3: SP2: All human beings are soveriegn over their own bodies, unless their choice results in the harm of another human *outside of their* body.

    Why should we accept SP3? It is prima facie dreadfully ad hoc, and strikes one as special pleading. I can't think of independent reasons for believing the principle to be true, unless one presupposes what Moore is trying to prove, which would beg the question.

    Again, great read.

  2. In addition, aren't women morally responsible for drinking and using drugs while pregnant?

  3. Good points, Caleb. I almost typed the exact same thing but deleted it. Great minds 'n all... :-)

    Anyway, yes, I agree, I see no way for Moore to give any non-arbitrary response to your questions.

    I assume, since moore is an Objectivist (though he might deny it for media purposes :-), he may try to defend SP3 by shouting: Existence Exists!!

    Not sure how SP3 follows from *that*, but Objectivists assure us that everything follows from that.


  4. "Adventures in Special Pleading: How to Sink Your Case for Abortion Rights"

    Paul, I'd say you've done a nice job in showing how Zach Moore has done it to himself.

  5. "Existence Exists!!" hahaha

    As an aside...I like me some Boddingtons...

  6. Atheists have no busines talking about "invisible friends in the sky" when plenty of them believe in invisible memes that control our behavior.