Pharyngula

PZ Myers: godless babykiller

Forgive me, for I am guilty of the sin of false pride. I’m wont to judge Christians by the worst of them, and in contrast, to regard atheism as the refuge of the more worthy. I am chastised by the existence of The Raving Atheist, however, who shows me that godlessness is not necessarily correlated with rationality. He’s a useful reminder that a reasonable philosophy is not a guarantor that one is on the path to a truth.

If you haven’t been following along, The Raving Atheist is definitely an atheist, but he’s also an odd duck who has gone a bit unhinged on a few subjects. He’s strongly anti-choice, believing that the individual is specified at the instant of conception, in an argument that parallels the idea of ensoulment…but isn’t. He’s an atheist, after all. He’s chummy with a very bizarre character, Dawn Eden, who thinks sex is icky and is even more loony about abortion. Lately, his arguments have taken an anti-feminist twist, and the quote of the day he’s got up right now from Jill of Feministe is deplorable in its use of the dishonest ellipsis.

I’ve argued with him briefly about his idea that human identity begins at conception—I think it’s nonsense. I say that humanity is something that emerges gradually and is far more complex than having the right number of chromosomes and a certain set of genes: information is added continuously during development, and it’s a serious mistake to think everything that defines you is already present at conception. It’s worse than a mistake; I think it trivializes what it means to be a human being, reducing it to cartoon genetics. The Raving Atheist disagrees, and makes a bad argument.

Professor Myers does not pinpoint which moment he believes to be the true beginning of human identity, mathematically, genetically or otherwise. But his criteria do not appear to be all strictly scientific. Responding to a Feministe poll, he stated that he’s “in favor of voluntary late term abortions (where premature birth would impose severe economic hardship, for instance), and can even consider situations where infanticide is ethically tenable.” So at least part of the “complex process” of computation of human life involves dollars and cents, something well outside the competence of developmental biologists.

Well. This amounts to little more than saying a) Myers holds a position I dislike, and b) developmental biologists can only have informed opinions about developmental biology (but of course, he also chooses to disregard those.) Those claims do not support his thesis that conception is the instant of definition, nor does it address my argument that there is no sharp demarcation.

A few lame counterarguments aren’t worth addressing, but the Raving Atheist then proceeds to step over a line, one I’m not going to let go without sharply disagreeing.

Perhaps I am misinterpreting things again. To be charitable, I’ll assume that at least post-birth, he’s not talking about the impoverished but only the “undesirables” (wink wink). Having grown up surrounded by ‘tards, I’m in considerable sympathy with him here, but an unmagical sense of caution grips my non-soul. There are some decisions that might best not be delegated entirely to the professors, the gene counters and the bean counters.

That is contemptible.

No, I’m not talking about culling the undesirables. If you want to find someone who is dead set against eugenics, who thinks we do not have the right to dictate who lives and dies, who is opposed to all interference by the state in reproduction, well, you’re reading his weblog right now. While the Raving Atheist is sympathetic to the idea of killing the “‘tards,” I am not; I do not judge the worth of a human life by its IQ or health or how many fingers and toes it’s got. I’m also not one of the “gene counters” who defines humanity by the adequacy of its chromosome set, an accusation that is particularly ironic considering its source.

Let me clarify the comments that have thrown the Raving Atheist into a tizzy. I am in favor of legal late term abortions. That does not mean I want to impose them. I believe strongly that the decision is entirely that of the woman bearing the fetus. I also believe that the ‘cult of the fetus’, of which the Raving Atheist is a charter member, drives people to make bad decisions that are ridiculously wasteful and destructive. It can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to support a premature baby. While people should have the right to invest that much of their life in a fetus, we should also recognize that that is an expenditure that can destroy families rather than maintain them.

As for infanticide, it has been a reality throughout human history. Women have made that difficult decision over and over again, not because they like killing babies, but out of necessity. I do not think a few million years of stressed and desperate mothers are guilty of an ethical lapse; they’ve done what was right and needful. Infanticide is a reasonable thing to do if 1) you have no other way to control fertility, and 2) you are so impoverished that the life of an infant must be balanced against your life and that of other members of your family. That is not an endorsement of infanticide, but a recognition of reality, and a refusal to damn people who have been compelled to make painful choices.

(By the way, while I think the instances of justifiable infanticide in America would be extremely rare, our Republican overlords are working hard to generate the conditions where both of my prerequisites are increasingly common.)

I think the Raving Atheist’s interpretation was unwarranted and misleading, verging on outright dishonesty, and I think his sympathy for killing “‘tards” is repellent, but I’ll say one thing for him: he isn’t quite as insane as other people out there. A couple of other blogs have picked up on his idea, and gone even further in their hysteria.

Blogs like Uncommon Descent, and its odious Igor, DaveScot. I’m sure the Raving Atheist will be pleased at the common cause found with some Intelligent Design lunatics. For instance, this interesting sentiment:

That’s the question for PZ and people like him. In PZ’s world there’s nothing underneath our subjective attempt to make sense out of it. At the end of the day it’s all an illusion. So here we have a man who KNOWS there is no such thing as morality, yet he can’t stop talking about it nor can he stop believing in it.

You see, we atheists are intrinsically amoral, with no deity to guide us, which of course explains how I can advocate butchering babies.

Never mind that I’m doing no such thing, or that one can be a moral being without believing in the lies of priests. Despite his fetal derangement, I suspect the Raving Atheist can still see the flaw in that argument.

Oh, and speaking of moral beings…here’s DaveScot.

Actually it makes me feel like doing some pain experiments on PZ Myers. I don’t believe he feels pain. All the blood and screaming from my fists pounding his face to a pulp would be nothing more significant than an automobile engine leaking oil and bearings making noise from lack of lubrication.

Eh. I’ve had much more serious threats. All this does is say something about DaveScot. Something…unsavory. Shortly after he made that comment, another person chimed in:

How horrifying. For anyone who has held a newborn baby in their arms and experienced the exquisite sensitivity and vulnerability of these tiny creatures to talk in such brutalized terms about them just makes the blood run cold. Where are the women in these men’s lives?

In case you’re confused, she isn’t horrified about the brutal language directed at me—she’s horrified that I’m pro-choice. You know, once we human beings get taller than 3 feet and sprout hair and teeth, then it’s OK to pound them to a bloody pulp.

For the record, I love babies and kids, and have been happily married to a woman who also loves babies and kids. We’ve had three of oour own, and I also come from a large family. I value children as people, not as bags of genes. What makes my blood run cold are these mindless ones who reflexively defend any gestating scrap of tissue with 46 chromosomes, and willingly throw full grown women and men who oppose them onto the bonfire of their cultish delusions.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark
    December 8, 2006

    I found this post by following a link from http://scienceblogs.com/cgi-bin/MT/mt-tb.cgi/27593

    I think Dawkins would say that TRA is a victim of the tyranny of the discontinuous mind, or essentialism (philosophy). These types of people are not “wired” to understand the gradiations of complex issues. PZ, just be thankful that you do not suffer his affliction.

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