Pro-life Position Presented at Secular University – Part Four

Posted: February 9, 2011 by Alan Shlemon in Do the Right Thing, Events

Here’s part four of my presentation at Central Michigan University (see below for more details). At the end of my presentation, I answer a question from an audience member about abortion in the instance of rape.

I was invited to present the pro-life position at Central Michigan University for about 25 minutes. Then, anyone in the audience was given a chance to debate me. People took turns with their challenges for about an hour. The biology department students were offered extra credit if they could debunk my scientific claims.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Part Four

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Patty, Tony, Tony, Stand to Reason, Brett Kunkle and others. Brett Kunkle said: Alan has posted part 4 of his pro-life presentation at Central Michigan University: […]

  2. Sam Harper says:

    I’m not totally convinced that all the arguments of the SLED test are sound. Let’s take size, for instance. You argue like so:

    1. If size is relevant to human value/rights, then taller people would have more value/rights than shorter people.
    2. Taller people do not have more value/rights than shorter people.
    3. Therefore, size is not relevant to human value/rights.

    A person might dispute that first premise by using a reductio ad absurdum argument. Support, for example, that I made this argument:

    1. If size is a relevant factor in whether a child needs a booster seat, then a 5′ 5″ child needs a booster seat more than a 6′ child.
    2. A 5′ 5″ child does not need a booster seat more than a 6′ child.
    3. Therefore, size is not a relevant factor in whether a child needs a booster seat.

    You can probably see the flaw immediately. Size is not a relevant factor AFTER A POINT, but it IS a relevant factor PRIOR to that point. It doesn’t follow that because size is irrelevant beyond a certain point that it is therefore irrelevant prior to that point.

    In the same way, it doesn’t follow that because size is not relevant to value between adults that it is therefore not a relevant factor in the case of the unborn.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think size determines value either. I think the unborn are just as valuable as adults. I’m just disputing the way you are arguing for it. I don’t think your argument is sound.

    The same sort of argument can be made in the case of “level of development.” Maybe level of development is not relevant to value beyond a certain level, but it doesn’t follow that it is therefore irrelevant prior to that level. Children are just as valuable as adults in spite of their difference in development, but it doesn’t follow that therefore embryos are just as value in spite of the difference in their level of development.

    And you can make the same sorts of arguments in response to location and degree of dependence. In fact, in most pro-choice arguments I’ve heard, it isn’t the DEGREE of dependence that is the relevant factor, but the NATURE of the dependence. What you’ve got to argue is that the unborn’s right to life should trump the mother’s right to sovereignty over her own body. That’s the real issue.

    • That’s a very good point, Sam. I guess my only question would be where IS this point where it does make a difference? It seems to me that any point one chose would simply be arbitrary. Some might make the day of birth the point that it makes a difference, but what moral difference does a few inches down the birth canal make (plus I doubt many, of not most, people would approve of abortion 8 or 9 months in)? Where else? When it starts looking humanoid? When it develops a brain and a heart? How well developed should they be? I know your “point” wasn’t to give us that “point”, but those are just my thoughts.

      • I guess one could argue that we’re not exactly being “arbitrary” since we’re not just choosing at random what level it matters, but looking for specific conditions to be met, like the ones I just listed. I’m not precisely sure why some of those conditions should be preferred over others though.

      • Sam Harper says:

        Kyle, I’m just going to play devil’s advocate, because I don’t think there IS a point at which size or level of development makes a difference. But if I were taking the pro-choice side, I would accuse you of committing the fallacy of heaps. What you’ve demonstrated is that the line between valuable and not valuable is fuzzy, but you haven’t shown that it’s not there.

        If you start adding one grain of sand at a time to a pile of dirt, eventually you will have a hill. And since you’re adding them one at a time, there’s no clear point at which adding one more grain will convert the pile of dirt into a hill. But it doesn’t follow that therefore nobody can tell the difference between a pile of dirt and a hill.

        In the same way, it may not be clear at what point the unborn goes from not being valuable and worthy of protection to being valuable and worthy of protection, but it doesn’t follow that therefore we can’t tell the difference. There may be a gray area in there somewhere, but on both sides of the gray area, there’s a clear area. A clump of indistinguishable cells is not valuable, but a fully formed fetus with all its arms, legs, and organs IS valuable. We don’t need to know exactly at what point it goes from being not valuable to being valuable before we can make this distinction.

        At least that’s how I’d argue if I were pro-choice.

  3. Ah. I see what you mean. How would you argue if you were pro-life (which you are)?

    • Sam Harper says:

      I would simply argue for the humanity of the embryo from conception on the basis that its parents are human, it has human DNA, it’s DNA is distinct from both parents, and if allowed to, it will go through every stage of human development from embryo to adult. I’d make this argument:

      1. Humans are valuable and worthy of protection.
      2. Embryos are humans.
      3. Therefore, Embryos are valuable and worthy of protection.

      Of course somebody might dispute my first premise on the basis that I’m begging the question since, in their view, not all humans are valuable and worthy of protection, the unborn being and exception. But it seems to me that if you want to make an exception to a general rule, it’s up to you go justify the exception. After all, nobody is going to dispute the rule as a generality.

      I don’t know how I’d go about demonstrating that size, level of development, etc. are irrelevant, but if somebody wanted to claim those things WERE relevant, the burden would be on THEM to demonstrate it. Instead of trying to prove, as Alan does, that size and level of development are irrelevant, I would just poke holes in whatever arguments the other person brought up in an attempt to show that they ARE relevant.

      How do we really know that short people are just as valuable as tall people? There’s no way to prove that. It’s just an intuition we have. But intuition doesn’t help much when it seems that some people simply lack that intuition when it comes to the unborn. Alan’s illustration may help to cause that intuition to rise to the surface, so I don’t think it’s necessarily an illegitimate tactic even though it’s an unsound argument. But I’m personally against using unsound arguments, even if they happen to be persuasive. You lose credibility that way.

  4. Dante says:

    Your lecture was very powerful and helpful. Thank you very much for sharing the video.