Saturday, 13 June 2015

The accusation that atheists are pro-abortion

Abortion is a contentious topic of conversation between theists and atheists.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), was an American birth control activist who advocated for the right of women to have control over their own reproduction. She coined the term “birth control.” She left the US because of their obscenity laws that forbade the discussion of reproductive matters outside of a person’s private dwelling. 

She had one “basic principle” that “every child should be a wanted child,”  and because she believed that women prefer to choose the children they have, and with whom they have them, she was labelled as being in favour of “eugenics.”

With birth control in mind, and because most atheists encourage this philosophy, the idea that someone might be “pro-choice,” the words the theist hears is “pro-abortion.”

This is simply not true. Most atheists who are pro-choice are also against the death penalty. “Pro-life” should mean “for all life,” including that of the worst serial killers, and despots. Unfortunately this is not the case. The majority of people who shout about how abortion “kills babies” are usually also be the the ones waiting outside prisons where a serial killer is about to be murdered by the state, claiming “justice.” What if the justice is being meted out to someone who was protected against abortion previously when they were picketing outside abortion clinics?

What does “pro-choice” mean? It is, very simply put, giving a woman the right to decide for herself, what to do with her own body. This right of choice includes being able to make the decision without input from the father who may or may not want the potential child. 

That sounds a little harsh but it is ultimately her body. She should make the decision about whether or not she wants to harbour another person in her body and spend the next two decades taking care of someone she may not want in her life. 

What does being “pro-abortion” mean? This is an aspect of being pro-choice but with the added element of being in favour of abortion in all circumstances where the question may come up.

Being pro-choice does not imply that the outsider who is looking on, and who is not personally involved in situation feels that they have a right to tell the pregnant woman what to do. This is the stance of the anti-abortion group.

Anti-abortionists believe that what other people do with their bodies is the business of the person who may even be on the other side of the world, and may not even know the potential mother personally. These people imagine they have the right to demand that every woman give birth, no matter what the circumstances of the conception, the health of the foetus, or the situation of the family. People like the late Mother Teresa, and Mahatma Gandhi,  and the Vatican.  

The two people mentioned above, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi, were both more than aware of the problem of over-population in India. Their solution to the problem: abstinence, and putting unwanted children into orphanages. Both are held up as role models to society, and hailed as “saints.” They were “saints” who denied that sex was a natural drive in humans, as much as it is in all animals, and also that over-population was a problem easily solved by birth control.

There is really no need to elaborate on the position of the Catholic Church on both abortion and birth control. It is generally-known that all popes, since birth control was freely available, have opposed it, and advised abstinence instead. 

This is also the position of fundamentalist religions everywhere. They deny that sex is pleasurable simply because if it wasn’t we wouldn’t do it, but that it’s something to be ashamed of and to be held back unless the desire is to “make a baby.” 

Despite all their protestations about how “sinful” pleasurable sex is, their adherents continue to procreate in vast numbers, leading to the problems we now face with too many people and not enough food.

Is there a case for abortion?  There may be a case for abortion that even those who are pro-choice for others, but not for themselves may consider having an abortion. These may be in the case of rape, or incest, or severe problem with the foetus. For example if the foetus is developing normally but will die shortly after birth due to brain or other insufficiency, someone who may otherwise not choose abortion, may consider aborting the foetus rather than to go through the trauma of birth and milk production when the chances of the child living through its first day are slim. The point is that this should be the choice of the individual involved. It should not be decided by governments or outsiders picketing a clinic.

My personal opinion on abortion is not important. I cannot make choices for other people. I don’t set myself up as the decider of what other people should do with their lives. However to say that I am “in favour” of abortion in a fallacy. I’ve never had to make that choice for myself. I hope that if I had had to to so, my choice would have been in the best interests of my own life, and those of any any other children I might have had.  

However, having said that, as an atheist and a vegan, I believe that all life has value, including the unborn, and that young life has more value than life already lived. 

Since life is of supreme value (if anything has value), life comes first. To deny this argument you have to argue that a very specific biomass (weight of biological cells) does or does not have moral value; or; you have to argue, as I often do, that nothing in fact has moral value. Whether anything does in fact have moral value is a separate argument.  John Ostrowick.

Where a pregnancy was caused by incest; excessive maternal age (Downs); in association with thalidomide; foetal alcohol syndrome; other major drug abuses, which would cause retardation or physical deformity, I believe there is still an argument to be made for all life having value.

David Benatar, a Professor, at the University of Cape Town, is an atheist and thinks that abortion is mandatory and always ought to be performed in all cases since life is mostly suffering and therefore giving birth is to impose a life of suffering on a creature which did not ask to be born. His view is called anti-natalism and it is articulated in his book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence

As I said earlier, as a humanist, and a vegan, I disagree with Benatar’s thesis. I do believe that abortion should only be performed in the most extreme cases where there is no hope whatsoever for the child to have a fully-actualised life. I repeat what I said earlier, what other people choose to do with their lives, is not my business.

John Ostrowick, referred to earlier, says:

On whether a woman should have an abortion if pregnant as a result of rape, future issues come up, e.g. that a woman might emotionally or physically abuse a baby born to a rapist on the grounds that she didn’t want it and therefore resents its inconvenient existence. In such a case, I feel that she is in the wrong and is an abuser, no better than her rapist. Convenience DOES NOT outweigh moral value of life, it is completely unacceptable, and rather than having abortions, women should opt for sterilisation or implanted contraceptives (“the loop”) instead.

I recognise that abortion as a social control measure (statistically, epidemiologically) allows for lower birth rates in low-income and low-education groups. And that this results in fewer future criminals being born, since most criminals come from poor families. However, I find this sinister, Macchiavellian, and downright eugenicist; it’s basically eugenics against the poor. I think that the solution is prevention: that is, not abstention, but education, upliftment, etc. The reason we have criminals is poverty, not childbirth.

John Ostrowick is not only pro-life in all cases, but he is also an atheist.

Thus it may be seen that while I support the right to choose, I definitely do not support the idea of abortion as a method of birth control. Just as I do not support the death penalty for felons, I believe that life is valuable, to be treasured, and people should be able to live in such a way that they may achieve fulfilment from this, the only life they will have.

However, I fully support the decision an individual woman makes about her own body. I do not believe that anyone, other than the people immediately involved in the decision, should be allowed to influence that decision, and that the medical profession should allow for the person making the decision to be able to carry out her decision with the best possible medical care.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Despots and atheism

Following on the subject of where atheists get their morality, the claim is often made that some of the world’s worst dictators, and criminals were atheists, for instance Adolf Hitler, and that their atheism was the cause of their despicable acts.
Michael Sherlock calls this the “atheist atrocities fallacy.” 
The atheist atrocities fallacy is a multifaceted and multidimensional monster, comprised of a cocktail of illogically contrived arguments.  It is, at its core, a tu quoque fallacy, employed to deflect justified charges of religious violence, by erroneously charging atheism with similar, if not worse, conduct.  But it is much more than this, for within its tangled and mangled edifice can be found the false analogy fallacy, the poisoning of the well fallacy, the false cause fallacy, and even an implied slippery slope fallacy.
Arguments by analogy rest on a comparison. Their logical structure is this:
(1) A and B are similar.
(2) A has a certain characteristic.
(3) B must have that characteristic too.
To poison the well is to commit a pre-emptive ad hominem strike against an argumentative opponent. As with regular ad hominems, the well may be poisoned in either an abusive or circumstantial way. For instance:
  1. "Only an ignoramus would disagree with fluoridating water." (Abusive)
  2. “My opponent is a dentist, so of course he will oppose the fluoridating of water, since he will lose business." (Circumstantial)
Slippery slope arguments falsely assume that one thing must lead to another. They begin by suggesting that if we do one thing then that will lead to another, and before we know it we’ll be doing something that we don’t want to do. They conclude that we therefore shouldn’t do the first thing. The problem with these arguments is that it is possible to do the first thing that they mention without going on to do the other things; restraint is possible.
Thus Sherlock is saying that when theists use the “mass murderers were atheists” argument, they are saying that an atheist is the same as a murderer because they both don’t believe in God; that because someone doesn’t believe in God, they are likely to commit atrocities; possibly even that atheism will lead to people committing mass murder.
This is simply not true, it is demonstrated with figures of the religiousness of people in the world’s prisons, and, if religion is all that is stopping someone from committing mass murder, then they are already a mass murderer because they are not controlling themselves, but depending on their religion to control them. 
Here are a few examples
The third President of Uganda (1971-1979), his rule was characterised by political repression, persecution, killing, nepotism, corruption, and various human rights abuses. The death toll attributed to him ranges from 100,000 to 500,000 people. 
Contrary to the idea that Amin was an atheist, he was a member of two religions in his lifetime:
He was born into Roman Catholicism but his father converted to Islam in 1919, changing his name from Andreas Nyabire, (1889-1976) to Amin Dada, and named his son after him.
Amin was educated at an Islamic school in Bombo, Uganda, in 1641, leaving with no more than a fourth-grade English language education.
Another claim made against atheism, is that communists are atheist, and therefore their crimes can be attributed to their atheism.
I’m not talking about socialism, which is something completely different from totalitarian-type communism. Socialism is the political ideology that advocates the ownership of society’s benefits by all members of that society, and it’s not a bad thing, but also not the subject of this discussion.
Communism of the sort that Brezhnev et al practised, is similar but distribution is to each person according to his/her needs, and forbids private ownership of any material goods, with everything the property of the state. Worship of a deity is changed to the worship of the Soviet, i.e. the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This is not atheism, which is merely the disbelief in the existence of gods.
Stalin was one of the revolutionaries of the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was appointed General Secretary of the Central Committee in 1922, and after the death of Lenin, expanded the functions of this position, eliminating opposition. He remained in this position for the rest of his life, stepping down in the year before his death. 
Under his rule, millions of people were incarcerated in labour camps, and between 1934 and 1939, organised a “great purge” of dissidents, mostly intelligence, from government, and the armed forces.
The “cult of personality.” developed under Stalin. Numerous towns, cities, and villages were renamed eponymously, and he was awarded grand titles” “Coryphaeus of Science, Father of Nations, Brilliant Genius of Humanity, Great Architect of Communism, Gardener of Human Happiness” and “helped rewrite Soviet history to provide himself a more significant role in the revolution of 1917.
Hitler’s history is not important here. His atrocities are well-known. The claim that he was an atheist is merely false because there is ample evidence that he was a Christian, and a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I shall merely quote some of his own words as evidence that he was not an atheist.

It doesn't dawn on this depraved bourgeois world that this is positively a sin against all reason; that it is criminal lunacy to keep on drilling a born half-ape until people think they have made a lawyer out of him, while millions of members of the highest culture-race must remain in entirely unworthy positions; that it is a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator if His most gifted beings by the hundreds and hundreds of thousands are allowed to degenerate in the present proletarian morass, while Hottentots and Zulu Kaffirs are trained for intellectual professions.  - Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf Vol. 2 Chapter 2
That this is possible may not be denied in a world where hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people voluntarily submit to celibacy, obligated and bound by nothing except the injunction of the Church. Should the same renunciation not be possible if this injunction is replaced by the admonition finally to put an end to the constant and continuous original sin of racial poisoning, and to give the Almighty Creator beings such as He Himself created?  - Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf Vol. 2 Chapter 2
To do justice to God and our own conscience, we have turned once more to the German Volk.  - Adolf Hitler in speech about the need for a moral regeneration of German, February 10, 1933
May divine providence bless us with enough courage and enough determination to perceive within ourselves this holy German space.  - Adolf Hitler, Speech, March 24, 1933
I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord's work.  - Adolf Hitler, Speech, Reichstag, 1936
The Catholic Church should not deceive herself: if National Socialism does not succeed in defeating Bolshevism, then Church and Christianity in Europe too are finished. Bolshevism is the mortal enemy of the Church as much as of Fascism. ...Man cannot exist without belief in God. The soldier who for three and four days lies under intense bombardment needs a religious prop. - Adolf Hitler in conversation with Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber of Bavaria, November 4, 1936.
I do not think that any more need be said.
To conclude, I quote further from Sherlock’s essay on the “Atheist Atrocities Fallacy,”
The atheist atrocities fallacy is a multifaceted and multidimensional monster, comprised of a cocktail of illogically contrived arguments…This is precisely how Christian apologists employ the atheist atrocities fallacy…But it is much more than this, for within its tangled and mangled edifice can be found the false analogy fallacy, the poisoning of the well fallacy, the false cause fallacy, and even an implied slippery slope fallacy.
When someone presents adverse information about, or associates unfavourable characters, characteristics or qualities with, a targeted person, or in this case, worldview (atheism), with the intention of undermining it, this is known as poisoning the well.  “Stalin was an atheist, therefore atheism is dangerous.”  By associating atheism with these villains of history, the religious apologist is attempting to throw an unjustified negative light on atheism.

To claim that any of the men mentioned behaved the way they did because they didn’t believe in God is amply demonstrated to be false. By contrast, I’ll link to a news  item which mentions today’s greatest philanthropists. What they have in common, is that they are all, without exception, also atheists.