Friday, March 25, 2011

False certainty

The tweeter/blogger @KushielsMoon, the "Christian" pro-choicer, and I have been engaging via tweets on the topic of whether very young babies can think or feel. I confess - it's difficult to deal with these kinds of things via Twitter. The 140 character limit is constraining, to be sure.

Anyway, I'd like to flesh out why I've been pursuing this line of argumentation. First, some of the tweets.


@ that they can't think or feel. Prove they can't think or feel. Sheesh. Stupid  =
 Christian Prochoicer 

@ You need a brain and specified cells to think or feel. A blastocyst does not have a brain or the specified cells.

@ Prove that u need a brain & specified cells 2 think/feel. U don't know, and u don't care that u don't know. MUST KILL BABIES!
 Christian Prochoicer 

@ SCIENCE. Individual cells don't think. Cells that aren't differentiated as brain cells don't let you think.

@ LOL reasoning fail. Science can't tell u whether or not. That's why I asked. So, show me the scientific study proving it. Go.
 Christian Prochoicer 

@ Science can't tell us that cells don't think? Please, please, please tell me you're joking. 

@ Still waiting for the study that PROVES very young babies don't think/feel. Duh, I know u ASSUME it.
 Christian Prochoicer 

@ I don't assume it. It's a scientific fact that cells don't think.  

Let's take a look at the first of those articles.  Kudos to @KM for coming up with the goods, at least through the first round, but if the first article can't keep up the goods and I conclude after reading the others that they're similar in (lack of) quality and relevance, I'm not going to bother with the others.

As we read through them, let's keep our eyes peeled for unargued-for assumptions.  @KM is telling us that brain functionality = mind.  This is physicalism, and it's hardly commendable for a so-called Christian to hold to such kind of things.
Does this "Christian" pro-choicer think that people have souls? If so, when do they get them and how does she know?  Will she appeal to scientific studies again to prove when people get souls?  What does it look like or smell like when a soul is received?  Does it increase, even a little bit, the mass of the person at that moment of ensoulment?  Does an imaging scan display different colors when the soul is in residence?
What about a mind capable of feeling?  How does @KM know for sure that brainwaves = thinking and feeling?
If she replies: We scan brains of adults and even children while they're thinking and feeling stuff, note how the scans look, and extrapolate backward.
...then how does she know for sure that such data is relevant for the very young?
And how does she know for sure that such is the only means by which thinking/feeling occurs and even can be detected? Does she remember back when she was a blastocyst?  Can she perform a mindmeld with blastocysts to see if there's any mind to access?

Answer: She doesn't know for sure.  She is perfectly willing, however, to kill that which she doesn't know isn't human.  Sadly, she doesn't seem to care.

Before we dive into the 1st article, the third one begins with this amazing sentence, which destroys @KM's argument.  The very first sentence!
--The evaluation of pain in the human fetus and neonate is difficult because pain is generally defined as a subjective phenomenon.
Not sure what else needs to be said here. Moving on.

When I quote excerpts, assume the emphasis is mine unless indicated otherwise.
The first one:
--Thus fetal-cognitive motor activity, including auditory discrimination, orienting, the wake-sleep cycle, FHRs, and defensive reactions, appear to be under the reflexive control of the brainstem which also appears capable of learning-related activity.
--the behavior of the fetus and newborn is likely a reflection of reflexive brainstem activities which are produced in the absence of forebrain-mediated affective or cognitive processing, i.e. thinking, reasoning, understanding, or true emotionality
How do they know the absence is there?  How can one prove a negative?  If they say that they haven't found any evidence of it, how do we know they're looking in the right place with the right tools and methods?

--It is rather obvious that the neonate is able to scream and cry and can even slightly lift the corners of the mouth as if smiling. However, these do not appear to be true emotions 
You know, I think I'll just apply the same reasoning to 19th-century Negro slaves.  They appear to experience pain when I lash them and hunger, fatigue, and nascent despair when I work them 24 hours without a break, but these do not appear to be true emotions. I know that b/c science says that they're not really human. How do the scientists know?  Just ask them!  Besides, you can ask one of my Negros.  See if you can understand the nonsense bababababaa that comes out of their mouths.  Pfff, Negros human.  Please.

--In fact, smiling, as well as screaming and crying can be produced from brainstem stimulation even with complete forebrain transection or destruction 
The irony is delicious.  Why didn't they come to the conclusion that there might be more going on there than meets the eye or the imaging tool, that resides in the cells of the brain?  Because of their physicalist presuppositions, that's why.

--Given its exceedingly long and ancient evolutionary history, not surprisingly, many brainstem functions are present before birth and occur without the aid of thinking, reasoning, or even forebrain/neocortical participation 
See?  It's not argued for. It's just assumed, and you better believe them because they're scientists.

Now, let me explain the other side of this.  I'm not saying that I'm 100% confident that very young babies in the blastocyst phase can indeed think/feel.  In fact, I think it's sort of doubtful.  But I don't base my argument on "scientific evidence" fundamentally, even though I am convinced that properly understood scientific reasoning is on my side.
But @KM is basing her position strongly on the assumption that the very young baby is not human, and one reason for that is that she thinks the baby can't think/feel.  She doesn't know that, and so she assumes what she needs to prove.  Thus most of her argument rests on something she simply assumes.
If you don't know for sure whether something deserves to live or die, whether you have the right to take that life, if you don't know whether you're aiming at a person or a tree or something, do you pull the trigger?  Not me - I stop to wait and see what it is I'm aiming at. @KM fills it full of lead.

The problem is presuppositions, not facts.

Abolish human abortion.  This "Christian" pro-choicer is a lead member of the culture of death.


Andrew said...

While I admire your zeal for the unborn, and your determination in dealing with a stubborn pro-choicer, I think you're in the wrong argument here.

Feeling/thinking do not make us human or valuable. Animals can feel and think, but that doesn't make them equal to humans. Coma patients certainly can't feel or think, but I don't think anyone would argue they aren't human.

What it comes down to is: the unborn are living humans. And thus, they have the same inalienable rights all living humans do.

The Official Senate report on Senate Bill 158, the "Human Life Bill," summarized the issue this way:

Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being - a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.

-Report, Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, 1st Session 1981, 7.

Rhology said...

Just an insight on what I'm going for here - this is not my main argument for abolition of human abortion. It is indeed, as you said, undeniable that even the very young are human beings. Jesus commands us not to murder people.

But the thing is, I granted @KM even her favored grounds for argument and am showing that even when I grant these things to her, her argument can't be sustained.

NAL said...

Only the latest post is showing up on the home page. Is this intentional?

Rhology said...

Thanks NAL.
Don't know what happened, but I'll have to look into it later.

Anonymous said...

Yu dnt thnk ethr!