Give me that old time religion

Over the year we’ve been in business we’ve seen plenty of ironic fallacies–these are the fallacies people commit by accusing others of committing fallacies. During the election the favorite was the reverse ad hominem–accuse someone else of attacking (thereby ignoring their justified attack and attacking them in turn). Here’s another variation on that theme–the reverse ad populum:

>These things come in waves, of course, but waves need to be resisted, even if the exercise leaves you feeling like King Canute. The new wave is fashionable doubt. Doubt is in. Certainty is out.

So Charles Krauthammer (famous for his use of the reverse ad hominem) would have us believe that since doubt is fashionable, people who believe it must do so simply because others do, not because perhaps they have a reason to doubt. This is a nice way of abdicating your responsibility for an argument against their view. That doesn’t make it right. And worse, I’m not sure if Krauthhammer knows this, but just because your belief is deeply held or profoundly felt doesn’t mean it’s *true.*

Of course, Krauthammer’s jeremiad (he used that word) on belief is really just a set up for his main argument.

>The Op-Ed pages are filled with jeremiads about believers–principally evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics–bent on turning the U.S. into a theocracy. Now I am not much of a believer, but there is something deeply wrong–indeed, deeply un-American–about fearing people simply because they believe. *It seems perfectly O.K. for secularists to impose their secular views on America, such as, say, legalized abortion or gay marriage. But when someone takes the contrary view, all of a sudden he is trying to impose his view on you.* And if that contrary view happens to be rooted in Scripture or some kind of religious belief system, the very public advocacy of that view becomes a violation of the U.S. constitutional order.

Now let’s look at this a little more closely. Embedded in the usual tripe about anti-religious feeling in the liberal media, is a familiar argumentative trope: religious [think Christian Evangelical not Muslim] versus secular. These two things do not rightly belong in the same category (at least in the way Krauthammer arranges them), so any attempt to compare them is bound to mislead. Besides, *legalized* abortion is not imposed on anyone the law recognizes; gay marriage (wherever it is legal) is not imposed on anyone either (barring probably unlikely shotgun weddings). These are activities, not views. Views cannot be imposed on anyone; activities can, but these activities can’t–unless your parents force the gay lifestyle on you; or force you to get an abortion. To avoid gay marriage, don’t go to gay weddings, or don’t be gay; to avoid abortion, give birth to any children you conceive.

4 thoughts on “Give me that old time religion”

  1. I recognize that the primary objective of this weblog is to expose and challenge the logical errors of your favorite pundits, rather than advocate or defend a particular political position itself. However, one comment in this post seems to do the latter, and it is on that ground that I address it:

    “Besides, legalized abortion is not imposed on anyone the law recognizes.”

    Slavery was not imposed on anyone the law recognized either. If slaves were legally recognized, it was as the property of owners with rights and liberties, not as people with rights and liberties themselves, just as conceived but unborn children/fetuses/embryos are implicitly recognized as the property of the woman, or as mere tissue, something that the woman is able to do with what she will because such is considered within her zone of privacy.

    “Pro-lifers”/”anti-choicers” see the legal nonrecognition of unborn children as an error, to say the least, and as an atrocity more precisely. They see abortion as murder. They think that the unborn should be legally recognized just as the born are.

    I suppose if we just refuse to recognize legally or repeal the current legal recognition of those whom we seek to harm, then we can say, “Besides, ‘x’ is not imposed on anyone the law recognizes.” Many things are recognized that should not be, and many are not that should be. This strikes at the classic difference between law and morality and the fact that the two are not necessarily a package deal.

    Since you went down this road, it would have been helpful to argue why the law should not recognize the unborn as people with rights, or why abortion/terminating the pregnancy/killing the fetus is not murder. In other words, if it was wrong not to recognize certain entities that would become slaves, but it is not wrong not to recognize other entities that will be born as children, then what is the difference that makes this morally acceptable or not morally objectionable?

  2. In response to VAD:

    The fact/value debate needs to be settled before we can put forward the analogy presented in your counter-argument. While a slave differs from a non-slave by convention alone, a fetus differs from an independent human organism in a wholly different way. Others have argued more eloquently than I what distinguishes a “person” from a fetus, but the point remains that this distinction is supported by a tenuous value-judgment.

    The point that the article is trying to make is that this value-judgment differs from legal prescription (or proscription) in that it is an opinion, not a rule for acting. By holding the (particular) religious position, one is universally prohibiting activities. The contrary position is not the secular position, but another universal proscription, namely universal enforcement. The secular position differs from this in that it neither affirms nor denies the morality of the activity (though an individual might harbor strong convictions nonetheless).

    In this instance law and morality are divided, but perhaps for the sake of a morality of a different sort. The immorality of the slavery example seems much easier to argue than the immorality of abortion, and deals with a more complicated set of circumstances. For example, one might argue that the fetus’s right to life enslaves the mother’s body.

    The point again is that the current laws are open to morality without defining it, while the overturning of such laws would wed (one particular brand of) morality with the law.

  3. VAD responding to Jem in eight parts:

    “…a slave differs from a non-slave by convention alone,”

    It is true that slavery was a convention, and within that convention, the slave was distinguished from the non-slave, but this tautological observation misses the point. Before there could be slavery, there had to be at some level, either explicit or implicit, a justification for it, whether it was why enslaving certain people—blacks—was good or the right thing in and of itself—regardless of any supposed economic benefits to owners—or why it was not wrong. The view by some that blacks were inferior and subhuman (fulfilling the latter justification: why slavery was not wrong) facilitated the denial of legal recognition to black slaves just as it was denied to horses or livestock, for example. It was not mere convention, but a value-judgment—that blacks were subhuman—that facilitated slavery, and it is the value-judgment that an unborn fetus is not fully human that facilitates abortion, one that you admit is tenuous. The key question, then, would seem to be why the former value-judgment is incorrect while the latter is correct.

    “Others have argued more eloquently than I what distinguishes a “person” from a fetus,”

    You did not argue this at all in your post, other than to say, “…a fetus differs from an independent human organism in a wholly different way.” This merely restates that there is a difference, which is in dispute; it does not shed any light on what that difference is, which, again, is the key issue. In addition, what you mean by “independent” is unclear. A child five minutes out of the womb is hardly more independent than he or she was ten minutes ago, yet those ten minutes determine whether or not the law can view termination as abortion or murder.

    How should we view the very premature baby in the incubator no longer than two hands cupped together, perhaps even smaller? In the womb, a baby that size/that old is just a fetus that can be aborted. It can be argued that the incubator with its supporting apparatus functions as the mother/womb in that it is just as necessary in order to keep the baby alive (nutrition, temperature, oxygen, etc.). The baby, then, is no more independent in the incubator than it would be in the womb. Any biological independence from the mother is insignificant because the baby’s former dependence on her has been substituted for dependence on the incubator.

    Can we “abort” the baby in the incubator? Is he/she/it still just a tissue mass, still a part of the woman’s body and therefore the decision to abort within her zone of privacy? The law answers “no” to all three questions. If these two kinds of babies/fetuses are equivalent as I think I have demonstrated, then either both babies are persons with rights or neither baby is a person with rights. To hold that one is and the other is not would be a contradiction, but that is exactly what we have between laws that recognize these incubator babies as persons and Roe v. Wade, which does not recognize the equivalent baby in the womb.

    “The point that the article is trying to make is that this value-judgment differs from legal prescription (or proscription) in that it is an opinion, not a rule for acting.”

    My original post did not dispute this point with which I do disagree. Since you mention it, however, I will dispute it now. I agree that value-judgments differ from laws, but not because of the reason that you offered. The point that both you and jcasey seem to make is that opinions/views cannot by definition be imposed, while activities can. Indeed, jcasey states, “Views cannot be imposed on anyone; activities can.” Imposition implies some degree of coercion, so in a very narrow sense, this is true. There is no “Jedi mind trick”, for example, to coerce another to believe in a particular opinion; opinions are believed through argument, persuasion, emotional appeal, etc., each of which is mutually exclusive with imposition.

    This dichotomy between opinion and activity is not so clear-cut, however, in the legal context. Laws are based on the opinions and views of legislators and, theoretically, the people who elect them. For example, one may dislike seatbelt laws; legislators impose through these laws their opinions that people should wear seatbelts for their own safety and that the state should force them to comply. The opinion expressed through this legislation has become the imposition of an activity: seatbelt-clicking imposed on motorists. The legislators have merely expressed this opinion in language and context that allows enforcement officials to punish those who act contrary to the opinion, i.e. those who break the law. It is a minor adjustment from the opinions of “should” and “should not” to the legal commands and prohibitions of “must” and “cannot”.

    “The secular position differs from this in that it neither affirms nor denies the morality of the activity.”

    I believe you refer to the secular position in general (and hence to the set of all particular secular positions) on any issue rather than a specific, secular position on abortion, but I will use abortion in order to provide counter-examples.

    What is implied is that the “secular [pro-choice] position” takes some middle road between affirmation and denial, effectively doing neither as if the pro-choicer has the option to render but instead chooses to withhold the judgment inherent in his/her “…strong convictions…”. The secular, pro-choice position actually affirms abortion’s amorality rather than doing neither of the above. To extend the travel metaphor, it really pulls a U-turn into the opposite direction where there is no judgment to withhold in the first place. Since abortion is amoral relative to the fetus, there cannot be strong convictions one way or the other in this regard. If one has them but withholds them, then that person likely displays moral cowardice disguised as tolerance and respect for privacy.

    What distinguishes many secular positions from religious positions, including in the case of abortion, is not the difference that you cite, but are rather the sources of support and not the positions themselves. (It is easy to illustrate this point by recalling positions that are shared between religious and secular doctrines, such as those on murder and theft.) A follower of religion A, for example, may claim that abortion is murder because religion A’s deity, deities, or sacred texts say so—this would certainly be a particular, religious position because it relies on religious decree for support.

    However, someone else may claim that abortion is murder merely because he or she fails to see the fundamental change in the fetus that the law seems to see in that ten-minute window to which I referred earlier—this is a particular, secular, pro-life position, for it relies on no religion for support. In addition, it denies the morality (and affirms the immorality) of the activity, which disproves your above claim.

    “The immorality of the slavery example seems much easier to argue than the immorality of abortion.”

    This is true in at least two ways. The argument against slavery probably requires far fewer steps and far less work, and it is probably much easier to persuade greater numbers of people of the argument’s merits. None of this, however, means that arguments for the immorality of abortion fail as a result, which you seem to imply. If they fail, they do so on grounds that have not been demonstrated by either you or jcasey.

    “…one might argue that the fetus’s right to life enslaves the mother’s body.”

    Enslavement is something into which one person or group coerces another person or group. A fetus lacks the capacity to enslave because it lacks the capacity to coerce, as does a newborn baby. If enslavement does occur, then it is by the mother’s own voluntary action when she chooses to have sexual intercourse. In the case of involuntary action, i.e. rape, then it is the rapist who enslaves.

    In any event, a pro-lifer would argue that pregnancy is not enslavement of the mother by the baby, but is rather a responsibility of the mother to the baby, one that does not significantly change immediately after the baby is born. Indeed, your logic would suggest that infanthood would enslave the mother after birth as well, for a mother cannot just decide to cease caring for her baby and to terminate it in order to cease the enslavement.

    “…current laws are open to morality without defining it, while the overturning of such laws would wed (one particular brand of) morality with the law.”

    As I argued before, law is based on opinion, and since some opinion is of the moral variety, some law is therefore based on and reflects morality rather than merely being open to it. Seatbelt laws, for example, reflect the opinion that seatbelts are good and that it is morally right for the state to force people to comply, and these laws are not “open” to the contrary moral opinion as the “click-it-or-ticket” campaign amply demonstrates.

    I am confused by the concurrence of your phrases, “current laws” and “such laws”; the former phrase implies all current laws, and the word “such” as a pronoun in the latter implies equivalence between the two phrases—“current laws” serving as the antecedent of the pronoun “such”. The latter phrase as a whole, however, implies a subset of some larger set to the exclusion of others in that larger set. If “current laws” means all current laws, and there cannot be a set of laws larger than all the current ones, and if “such” as a pronoun implies equivalence, then it seems we have a contradiction, for if they are equivalent, then how can one be a subset of the other? The only way to resolve this confusion is to speculate that “current laws” is not a general/universal phrase here, but rather means “current [abortion] laws” which would eliminate this contradiction.

    It also seems that “…one particular brand…” means “…one particular [religious] brand…” in this context. If this is the case, then what you seem to imply is that any efforts to overturn “current [abortion] laws” would be necessarily and exclusively religiously motivated, which would indeed run contrary to the First Amendment. However, I already have demonstrated in part 4 that there are some secular pro-life positions as well, disproving this claim. Moreover, I am certain that many who enacted legislation against murder were people who believed in religions that prohibited murder within their particular systems, but this does not mean that those successful efforts “…wed (one particular [religious] brand of) morality with the law.”

    To conclude, your points fail on their own merits, and therefore the ones that address my original post do not successfully rebut it. Jcasey’s statement, “Besides, legalized abortion is not imposed on anyone the law recognizes,” still absurdly leads to the logical parallel with slavery and how slaves were not recognized as persons with rights either. Moreover, the logic of that statement still suggests that we can just refuse to recognize legally or repeal the current legal recognition of those whom we seek to harm, so that then we can say, “Besides, ‘x’ is not imposed on anyone the law recognizes.”

    The key issue remains the difference, if there is one, between the fetus and the person (or between the fetus and the slave, whom we now recognize as a person) that renders abortion an amoral action with regard to the fetus and thus not murder. If the analogy is flawed, then it is because the comparison is between two unlike things. If they are sufficiently unlike, or different, to the point that slavery is immoral and abortion is not, then we have yet again arrived at that key issue of what that difference is, which, again, neither you nor jcasey has addressed. To claim, then, that the analogy is flawed is to fallaciously beg the question. At the end of it all, the pro-lifer wants to know what quality the “person” possesses that the fetus does not (or vice versa) that allows our society to deny legal recognition to the fetus but not to the “person”.

  4. Response to VAD’s comments–

    First of all, thanks for the substantial contributions to our comment section. Second, sorry I didn’t reply earlier. I was on vacation far away from internet connections of any sort. Finally, perhaps the phrase “anyone the law recognizes” was an unhappy choice of words–I was attempting to avoid the kind of objection you rightly raised. But, the point of my comment was that Krauthammer was wrongly contrasting views and opinions–and one’s right to express them–with activities (otherwise I don’t know how to read the conjunct “gay marriage and abortion”). Besides, this, not the morality of abortion as an imposition on the fetus (which is obviously worth serious consideration in any discussion of abortion, as you correctly point out) was the thrust of Krauthammer’s piece. In any case, thanks again muchly for the comments, I should have made myself more clear.

Comments are closed.