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Pro-Life, Pro-Choice & the Meaning of Words

  1. How words and language is used shapes the outcome of a logical argument.

  2. To get to a logically consistent, and intellectually honest conclusion, one must use words that have a clear and unambiguous meaning, and they must not transcend semantic areas. For example the word Law has a very different meaning in the semantic area of science than it does in the area of politics or morals.

  3. Often lawmakers do not do this. Hence we have very bad laws that defy logic and common sense, and as a result to a great deal of harm to individuals and to society as a whole. The only people benefiting from these laws are prejudiced individuals who are immune to logic. For example, most drug laws, and almost all laws pertaining to marijuana are of this type. A more recent example of the destructive use of language --- calling something by a different name --- is Credit Default Swaps. These were a form of insurance. In this case the financial institutions instead of saying that X is B, said said that X is NOT B. By calling something that was insurance by a different name, NOT insurance, they managed to avoid appropriate regulation, and to eventually create the economic mess in which we find ourselves.

  4. Any definition that includes within itself the use of the word that it is defining is automatically suspect, and probably invalid. There are many ways of defining a vegetable for example, but you will seldom if ever see a vegetable defined as something that comes from or is a vegetable. In paragraph 2, I mentioned the areas of Law and politics. In science one often defines things by examples. But these examples are but the top of a very well constructed pyramid. Thus in science, humans are

    A member of the genus Homo and especially of the species H. sapiens.” But this definition is quite complex, and does not deal in any way with philosophical or moral concepts. For example in science, one does not deal with the concepts of morals and philosophy such as killing or murder. It is this area of science, or rather its cousin mathematics where self referential definitions can work. For example a Fibonacci Number is defined self referentially.

  5. When it comes to a non scientific concept of human, that concept is --- well complicated ---. It seems that all of the more common definitions contain the word human, or some synonym such as people. That is, it is not trivially easy to find a meaningful definition. Here is one such definition from Kenneth Burke: I am sure that there are others, but I did not find them.

  6. When defining a human without using the term human in the definition one is always defining an adult human. Any other non scientific definition would be unable to distinguish a very young child from a pathologically hairless primate.

  7. Historically, any definition that does not use the word human as part of the definition will not define a child except as some sort of potential human. In fact, historically, the killing of a child was a crime of property since children and women were in fact property, not equivalent to any form of homicide.

The point of the above is to point out what is far from obvious. That is, in most cases, without a circular definition, or the kind of legal fictions in which our representatives, acting as self ordained gods, indulge, one can not logically say that a fetus or a child is the same thing as a fully realized human being. I used the term god in the sense that the bible does when referring to an entity that creates reality by the power of the word. It is unfortunate that our “public servants” often see themselves as some form of god, able to define reality by the power of their written word.

The exception here is science as I show briefly in 4 above. In this debate on what is a human, the authoritarian anti-choice camp indulges in a number of semantic tricks. The most clever, besides calling themselves pro-life, is in how they shape-sift the word human. And the most subtle way that they do this is to move its meaning across intellectual areas, claiming that the word human in law and morality, is the same as it is in science. But again, as we show 4 above, that is clearly not the case. We can see this explicitly, in many areas of law, where a corporation is defined as a person.

Many who are pro-life cite the laws that state that if a man harms a woman in such a way as to cause here to abort her fetus, then he is guilty of a form of homicide. They then go on to claim that it is a hypocrisy to then allow the woman to terminate the pregnancy. This line of reasoning is false for the following reasons:

  1. In order to object to dying beyond a very primitive reflexive level exhibited by almost all reproducing systems, such a system must have a concept of death. Any human not yet a capable of language has no such concept and thus can not object.

  2. The reason that we have laws pertaining to homicide is the assumption that nobody wants to die. But this presumes an entity capable of wanting and objecting to dying, either now or sometime in the future, and having had that capacity in the past.

  3. The question: Would one have objected to being aborted? is not really a question of the same sort as, would have objected to being killed last week. Many people can make a coherent argument about the lack of meaning of the first, and yet almost everybody will say that, yes they would have objected to being killed last week.

  4. Laws, to have meaning, have to relate to parties who have an interest in the situation. That is why many lawsuits are dismissed because the people involved have no standing. It is for that reason that, in general, a third party can not press charges if person A beats up person B. Person B must press charges. This is not the case if person B is killed for obvious reasons, and so we give the state the power to press charges. But Person B was not a part of and totally dependent on person A, and unless A was B's mother, never was.

  5. An entity that does not have a comprehension of death can not have standing in relative law. Person A, can object to a stranger being killed, because the person doing the killing, may later kill person A. Laws against all forms of homicide are relevant to all people who can feel threatened by that. However, in the case of a mother and fetus, the only entity with standing is the mother. In a similar manner, a person with severe neurological deficits and indicating little if any brain activity has no standing, though his/her family does.

  6. Because of this, it is not logically inconsistent to have a law that says that it is homicide to cause the termination of a pregnancy against the mothers will since she is the primary party with standing in the case.

In reality, a person or what we normally call a human is NOT a child, and neither one is a fetus, and neither of those is a zygote. As a society we may or may not give them the same or similar rights or responsibilities. Indeed, in different states, the offspring of humans indeed have rights and responsibilities that vary from state to state for a given age. Let me restate. When we refer to humans, we are seldom referring to children or to fetuses. Likewise, when we refer to children or fetuses, we are NOT referring to humans but to potential humans.

People pushing the pro life view, say that the entity created is a human because the union of a sperm and egg uniquely determines what will, without interference, a human. This argument is completely false. We mentioned one reason above, the fact that many fertilized eggs get destroyed by entirely natural processes because they can not survive as humans as determined by nature. There is another compelling argument that shows this argument is false. If a sperm and egg combination uniquely determined a human we would not have twins. Even more importantly we would not have twins that are radically different people. How different? You ask.

Some twins are comprised of a pair where one is straight, and one gay, or one straight and one trans gendered. How much different can you get than that? Oh yeah. One twin can absorb the other in the womb so that the second is not born. You see, in yet another example of denying or ignoring actual facts, the union of a sperm with an egg does NOT uniquely determine a human. What determines a human is not only genes, but also the chemical environment in the womb, nutrition, how the child is raised and loved etc. A fertilized egg may not even have a full complement of. chromosomes, and if it does, they may not all be working as they should. Is a fertilized egg with the wrong number of chromosomes a human? If so Why? What if it has the right number but some are severely dysfunctional? Is that zygote still human? Again, if so why? Would it not be instead, a failed new species?

In addition to the above facts and logic we know the following:

The nature of the adult at age, say 21, indeed even its vary existence depends on many things. While people who claim to be pro-life attribute some sort of specialness or sacredness to a fertilized egg, any basic search will turn up the fact that the rate of spontaneous abortions, AFTER pregnancy is confirmed, varies from 12 to 20 percent. Various estimates of spontaneous abortions that occur before pregnancy is confirmed range up to twice that. That is, nature concludes that 20% or more of fertilized eggs are not in any way viable and thus implantation does not take place, or if it does, it does not last for more than a couple of weeks.

The point of all of this is to offer clear and convincing evidence that a fertilized egg is NOT a human in any moral, logical or ethical sense. It is of the species human according to science, and science guides our law making, but it is not the only factor. A fertilized egg is, at most, a blueprint for what might, under the right circumstances, with a little bit of luck, become a human being. And in light of twin studies above, it is not a very specific blueprint. More like a sort of set of strong suggestions that can be changed on the fly as circumstances dictate. Often, 10 to twenty percent of the time in fact, the fertilized egg does not become a human but is expelled by the body. Sometimes the badness of the fertilized egg is not recognized, and what develops is some entity that will not survive after birth, or if it does survive, will require very expensive lifelong care.

A better description of a fetus or fertilized egg is that is is really a plan for a human. It may be a bad plan. It may be a plan so bad, that nature rejects the plan before she signs off on it --- that is before a live birth. She may reject the plan before the customer (the mother to be) even knows that the plans are done, or shortly after she knows. Maybe the plan is not that bad, but becomes apparent shortly before delivery of the product. That is, ultra sound establishes that the end product will fail shortly after delivery. This analogy of a fertilized egg, and in fact of any fetus being a plan for a human, and not a complete human is a much better description of the situation than calling a fetus a human.

For more on the legal definitions, and the reasons behind them see here

Those who torture language by calling a fertilized egg a human, torture it more by saying that “God does not make mistakes” If a fertilized egg that is rejected by the mother and spontaneously aborted, or something born without a brain or in some other way can not survive outside of the mother is not a mistake, then exactly what is a mistake?

What I am seeing here is a sort primitive simplistic shamanistic view of the world were words have power by virtue of their sound. In this view, calling something bad makes it bad. No evidence needs to be provided to support the assertional. Like wearing a bear suit gives you the powers of the bear.

A similar mental confusion is happening here. I suppose that a fertilized egg, even if it is doomed to failure since it will never be able to survive outside of the womb, and may even end in a spontaneous abortion, is by the technical scientific meaning, an instance of the human species. But we are not in the world of science here. We are in the world of philosophy and law. One can blend the two in an inappropriate way as has been done with drugs. But this will, and has, resulted in an enormous waste of time and resources. The proper way to use the concept of "human" in law is to borrow from religion / morality / philosophy.

In philosophy and law you avoid self referencing at almost all costs. So, we get back to What is a human? Since we are in law and morality no self referencing allowed.

In conclusion, those who put forth the argument that a fertilized egg is a human have no logic, no facts, no biblical scholarship* on their side. They have only a technical argument from biology, which is not appropriate in guiding morality. They simply want what they want and are willing to use the power of the state, which includes killing, to get someone else to act as they wish. I once heard the following definition of selfishness. Selfishness is not doing what you want, but forcing others to do what you want.

Consider this analogy. Fully grown oak trees are valuable things. Imagine that you had a contract for the delivery of a dozen Oak trees to your sawmill, and the person to whom you paid money for those trees showed up with a dozen seedlings. Or better yet, a bag of Acorns. And then to add insult to injury stated that under law that all three of these are the same so that he kept the terms of the contract.

I have no problem with people wanting to give different things the same legal protections. Peta, for example, wants to give primates the same legal rights as people in many circumstances. But they do not do this by telling the lie that primates are the same as people. Even though evidence would show that, by many measures, many primates are smarter than many people. This argument is not about if a fetus should have the same rights as a 30 year old adult human. It is about the factual and logical lies that the Pro life people cling to that a fetus is morally the same as a human.

* True believing zealots, immune to logic and reason cite some of the following

"I knew you before you were conceived"

to prove that a fetus is human. I would like for one of them to take any of the statements on the above page and apply it to a spontaneous abortion, especially a late term spontaneous abortion. That would surely make for an interesting paper. But these are the same people who still insist that, according to the bible, some day in the past, the sun stood still in the sky. This biblical statement was used for hundreds of years to punish people who put forth the idea that the earth actually moved about the relatively stationary sun. It only took the Catholic church 400 years to admit that error.

The poetic references to people in the womb, in no way implies that every entity in the womb is a person. unless the statement that "I knew you before you were conceived" somehow means that God can know the nature of collection of cells destined to spontaneously abort after a few weeks or be born without a brain. The meaning of that concept is probably more tricky than how many angles can dance on the head of a pin. Poetry is not logic. The fact that God placed a human into a womans womb does not mean that all things placed into a womans womb are human.

In fact, in the bible, human life is not considered to begin until a breath is taken. Please go here for an academic analysis of the biblical take on this subject

A little footnote here on the MISuse of the word proof or prove. EVIDENCE IS NOT PROOF. Evidence is evidence.

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Feel free to post links to this, or just take it, in its entirety and put it in your site with attribution.

I could be wrong about any of this. I am open to logic and facts that refute any of the above. Please be aware that name calling is the technique used by people who have neither logic nor facts on their side. Any editorial contributions are welcome.

A section on consequences

Has anyone thought that if an abortion is some form of manslaughter, then every spontaneous abortion must be investigated as a possible homicide? Who will look over the doctors shoulders to second guess his judgments? And should we have some regulation that every woman who travels outside the country must take a pregnancy test so that her other mommy, the state, can be sure that she is not leaving the country to commit murder? Will IUD's be made illegal?

A few minutes on the internet will provide abundant evidence that how an embryo develops depends not only on its basic code, but on which genes get turned on and off, when that switching happens, and the chemical make up of the womb in which the fetus grows. That is why identical twins are often radically different. That is the science, and as such it destroys the argument that a fertilized egg is unique. The fact that so many of such eggs are never viable, removes any underpinnings to a philosophical claim that such an entity is in some sense sacred and deserving of the same protections of adult humans, or even of born children.

As to any charge you may make that we should not play God. Those who make that allegation believe that only when they are not the ones playing God. When given the chance they choose to play god by not allowing nature to take its course, and allowing non viable people to die in peace or quickly. Rather they insist on expending all available resources (as long as they are not their resources) to keep what are clearly non-functional entities alive, even it they are in pain, and their family would rather that these people be allowed to die, as nature or God would seem to prefer.

Science and Morality are Different Things

Science and morality are two different areas. Science is a description of what is, along with theories that attempt to generalize the rules by which the natural world functions. The accuracy of a theory is judged by how well it makes predictions.

Morality is about how people think that they should behave, or if you are so inclined, what people believe about how God says you should behave. Science is about the rules that nature gives us, and Morality is about the rules that we give ourselves, or that God gives us (subject to our interpretation) We blur those two areas at our peril.

There is a troop or small band of primates. They may be gorillas, or chimpanzees or some other species. They are asleep. As a human you have the choice of flushing a petri dish of say, three frozen embryos down the drain, or killing one of the primates. I am sure that a few people will opt to claim that they will kill the primates. So we give them the chance to actually do so. We give them a knife.

For the vast majority of the remainder, we change embryos in petri dishes to implanted embryos, and keep advancing the age of the fetus. (In its early stages, we might make the test a little more complex by mixing the fetus of a pig or primate and that of a human)

At some point a majority of people will prefer to kill a primate rather than to allow the woman to have the abortion. I think that, at that point, we can conclude that the fetus has become philosophically and morally human.

The point of this experiment is to deconfuse (excuse the Bushie technique of inventing a word ) the two meanings of the word human from their science and moral contexts.

Normal sane people do not like killing. They do not even like killing animals. So on the scale of morality we can say at what point would a person decide that they would rathe kill a living primate than a collection of cells. Kill the primate, or dump the petri dish. Kill the primate, or use an IUD. Kill the primate or perform an abortion at what stage of development? Maybe a consensus of when a fetus is human is at that point whem most people would kill the primates. It is at that point that the cells are more human than chimp.

Here is another experiment. Take a child old enough to understand death. Show them a picture of an embryo and a primate, and ask them, if they had to kill one, which one would they kill? Perhaps self proclaimed righteous would do well to take a bit of advice from the bible, to wit, “"a little child shall lead them"”

Corinthians 15: 33 Bad Company Corrupts Good Morals

So what company is kept by those who claim to be pro life. Well first we know that they are almost always “Christians” who believe in the word of the bible. So what company are they keeping?

Historically both Nazi Germany, almost all of Eastern Europe, and Stalinist Russia were pro life. Well certainly they had harsh laws against abortion. In todays world, we have these

And this one

And let us not forget the world wide Church of child abusing pedophiles.

Check here and decide. Would you rather live in a Red/purple country or a Green/Yellow country

Take your choice Afghanistan or Australia. Saudi Arabia or Sweden. Looking at these countries we can conclude that those who call themselves “pro life” are, judging from the company that they keep, some combination of nazi commie islamo militant fascist authoritarian thugs. In the entire first world group of countries, is are ONE, that severely restrict abortions which is Ireland. Not coincidentally it is a almost entirely Catholic countries with a long and large history of Church abuse of actual children in its childrens prisons that it called orphanages. That would be the church that protects the unborn so that priests can molest them with impunity once they are born.

Correct me if I am wrong, but if one is a pro choice catholic one runs the risk of being punished in some way by the church, but there is no known instance of the church, of its own volition without extreme long term pressure from victims or their representatives,  punishing a priest who abused children

When one examines the story of the Church and the Pro Life groups one gets the feeling that one is in Orwells world of 1984 doublespeak..