Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

In recent days my attention was drawn to an article written by an abortion-choice broadcaster from England, Miranda Sawyer. The article details her recent re-examination of her abortion-choice views. Its significance is twofold. First, Ms. Sawyer is honest and candid about the inadequacy of many of the arguments advanced in behalf of abortion-on-demand. Secondly, it reveals just how far people are willing to go to preserve their point of view. The will often trumps the intellect.

Ms. Sawyer was prompted to re-examine her view of abortion after she became pregnant.

“My mind kept returning to the pregnancy test. If my reaction to those fateful double lines that said ‘baby ahead’ had been horror instead of hurrah…then I would have had little hesitation in having an abortion. But it was that very fact that was confusing me. I was calling the life inside me a baby because I wanted it. Yet if I hadn’t, I would think of it just as a group of cells that it was OK to kill. It was the same entity. It was merely my response to it that determined whether it would live or die. That seemed irrational to me. Maybe even immoral. … when you’ve experienced the out-and-out weirdness of pregnancy and birth and the fantastic beauty of the resulting child, it’s hard not to question what a termination does, or is.”

So why not abandon her abortion-choice position in favor of a pro-life one? According to her, it’s because she is “not religious.” This is revealing. Apparently she believes that opposition to abortion could only be justified on religious grounds. This is an indictment on the pro-life movement. We have a responsibility to make a case against abortion that does not appeal (at least primarily) to a religious grounding.

How did Ms. Sawyer resolve the conflict between what she wanted to believe, and what she was being led to believe by both experience and reason? By accepting the abortion-choice philosophical claim that there is a difference between being alive, and being human (or stated by others as a distinction between being human and being a person). In her words:

“In the end, I have to agree that life begins at conception. So yes, abortion is ending that life. But perhaps the fact of life isn’t what is important. It’s whether that life has grown enough to take on human characteristics, to start becoming a person.

“In its early stages, the foetus clearly hasn’t, so I have no problems with early abortions. … But once an embryo has developed enough to feel pain, or begin a personality, then it has moved from cell life into the first stages of being a human. Then, for me, ending that life is wrong. … That’s why late abortion will always be tricky. Who are we to say whether the life inside is a person, or not?”

Her escape hatch is the personhood theory of human value. If the unborn look enough like those of us on the outside of the womb, and if the unborn behave enough like those of us on the outside of the womb, then they are valuable and should be protected. The question is, Who gets to decide how much one must looks and act like us before they are valuable? And who gets to decide what qualities are to be measured. Different people have different lists. Where is the objective basis for determining this? Ms. Sawyer seems to recognize this, but ignores what she recognizes. For while she says we cannot say whether the life inside the womb is a person or not, she has said who is and who is not a person. Those who feel pain and exhibit personality are persons; those who don’t aren’t. What people won’t put their mind through in order to keep their will on the throne!

I am on Skeptic Magazine‘s email distribution. In the April 4th edition, David Ludden reviews Victor Stenger’s new book, God: The Failed Hypothesis. Stenger, a physicist, tries to refute some of the common scientific arguments for God’s existence. 

To tackle the problem of how the universe came into being fully charged with energy (the only known violation of the first law of thermodynamics), Stenger argues that there is a “close balance between positive and negative energy” so that “the total energy of the universe is zero.” I heard Peter Atkins make the same claim in a debate with William Lane Craig. This is absolutely nonsensical. If the total energy is zero, then there is no energy. And yet energy exists. How do explain the origin of energy by saying the value of energy is zero? Besides, even if there is positive and negative energy, and these two opposing forces cancel each other out, one still has to explain the origin of positive and negative energy at the point of singularity (Big Bang). Where did it come from?


What about the second law of thermodynamics (disorder increases over time)? If our universe is moving from an ordered to a disordered system, it must have been ordered in the beginning, and this would require a designing intelligence. Not so says Stenger. He says the universe began in a maximum state of disorder, but since it is expanding, that disorder is spread out throughout the universe, giving the appearance of order. Really? If I take a bag full of garbage, and empty the bag of garbage into a large field, I don’t get order when the wind starts dispersing the garbage throughout the field. I simply have lots of space between the garbage. That space is not ordered. It’s simply the lack of garbage. Disorder spread out over a large area cannot create order, or the appearance of order.


Stenger gets bold when he tries to tackle the most important philosophical question of them all: Why is there something rather than nothing? According to Ludden, Stenger argues that “the laws of physics tell us that nothingness is an unstable state and will soon ‘undergo a spontaneous phase shift’ to a state of somethingness. …A state of continuous nothingness is so improbable that it could only be maintained through divine intervention.” I’m not sure what physics Stenger is appealing to. Since so much of physics has become a metaphysical discipline of philosophical speculation, I’m inclined to think the physics he is appealing to are little more than mental gymnastics, having no basis in empirical verification. Be that as it may, notice how he is treating nothing as something. He calls nothingness a state that “undergo[es] a spontaneous shift.” Nothing cannot undergo anything! There is nothing to act, or be acted on. It makes sense to say a caterpillar undergoes a phase shift into a butterfly, but it makes absolutely no sense to say that nothing undergoes change into something. Indeed, if there is nothing, what could cause the phase shift? It can’t be the laws of physics because there is no such thing as physics in a state of nothingness. There are no causes either. There is nothing! Only something can cause something else to come into existence.


It never ceases to amaze me how people who claim to be so intelligent and rational can believe such inane things. There’s no end to the amount of self-deception one can generate when they subjugate the truth to their will. Paul was right. People would rather believe a lie than the truth. They willingly suppress the truth. They would rather believe that energy is zero, and nothing can become something than admit there is a God.