« Monday afternoon odds and ends | Main | Freakin' at All Saints »

November 09, 2004



Well, let's look at gay marriage, one of the "values" issues cited by some. Those who are in support of it generally cite the values of equality, love, family, social support, commitment and acceptance. Those who are against it usually cite the values of chastity, conformity, purity, prevention of deviancy and the like. Values of expression vs. values of suppression.

Of course, nobody's come up with a convincing argument why it would destroy heterosexual marriage.


I've spent plenty of time, XRLQ, with folks who breezily proclaim that they are "agnostics" -- largely because they seem to know that a claim not to know something is almost impossible to disprove. Again, I'm not saying that all who call themselves agnostics are in this camp -- but plenty are.


Or because they don't want to get in a discussion? I've used the agnostic get-out-of-fight-free card sometimes. (It also works wonders to really irritate someone.) Doesn't mean that I haven't deeply thought about it, just that I almost never am willing to discuss this with random people, and no other response works as well to get them to leave me alone.




Incidentally, it's not that I'm unwilling to have a serious discussion about my beliefs, it's that I'm unwilling to have said discussion with strangers or almost-strangers or people who accost me on the street to tell me that aliens control us or that I am going to hell or whatever. There's a time and a place I like these discussions, but most people seem entirely uninterested in accepting that: saying "well, it's just not possible to know" shuts them up where nothing else does.


I don't see how that separates agnosticism from any other theological -ism. If the existence of God were proven, or even proven to be provable in theory, that wouldn't just make the atheists wrong for "knowing" he didn't exist. It would also make most "theists" doubly wrong, first for falsely believing in a version of God that doesn't exist, and again for NOT believing in the one that does. We agnostics wouldn't be off the hook, either, though, as we too would be proven wrong: we said God's existence couldn't be proven, and it was. Oops!

Of course, that doesn't work for those who water down the concept of agnosticism to mean merely "I don't know," rather than "it is my position that no one really knows, nor can they." A mere "I don't know" may be the laziest position, but it is also the only 100% honest one. While I am equally skeptical of your "knowledge" that God exists and of Amanda's "knowledge" that he doesn't, the only thing I can be 100% certain of is that at least one of you is wrong. The other is probably wrong in claiming to know the unknown, but maybe not! For all I know, one of you might know something I don't know. So I do have to remain a tiny bit agnostic even about my own agnosticism.

BTW, I've encountered plenty of theists and atheists who fall back on equally lazy non-arguments to avoid being proven wrong. The lazy atheist falls back a semantic game where a-theism is treated as though it were merely the absence of a positive belief in a deity, not a specific belief that no such deity exists. By casting the debate in these terms, they rhetorically shift the burden of proof from the 50-yard line, where it belongs, to the other team's end zone, then smugly smile and pretend to have won the debate. Meanwhile, the lazy religionist falls back on something unattackable like "that's my personal belief" or my favorite, "[some book written by a bunch of guys claiming to speak for] God said it, I believe it, that settles it!"


I oppose abortion because I believe the zygote and the foetus to be a person, not because my religion forbids it. The process of development is dynamic. If anyone can come up with a convincing dividing line between not-person and person, I'd like to hear it. Is it birth? Why does it matter that we can now see the baby? Is it viability? Why does dependency equate to not-personhood? Amanda? Anyone? Peter Singer, of all people, makes the pro-life argument here. (Going on to justify infanticide as a way to get round it) I've seen this developmental process-It was getting a secular Biology degree that convinced me. I saw a very very young foetus, a few weeks old, preserved in formaldehyde. (Yuck, I know. It was from a miscarriage, btw) It was human, and it was a human being. I couldn't deny that. And one of the rights of a human being is the right not to be killed. Even by one's mother. No person has title over any other, whether they are dependent or not. Likewise, if you want to talk about legislating religious beliefs, Singer doesn't think personhood happens until "consciousness and self-awareness", at about 2 years old. Now THAT is a religious metaphysical belief. Whether the unborn child is a separate biological entitity entitled to protection is a moral issue, like murder or rape. The fact that the church forbids it is irrelevant, except if you are a member. (Note to Frances Kissling)

As for the Values question, Hugo cites tolerance and inclusivity as liberal values. OK. What do they mean to you? They seem to be used as buzz-words, and ill-defined ones at that. I got an email back from a liberal (Tory, alas) MP, responding to my argument against the (badly drafted, as well as a bad idea) Civil Unions Bill with "She believes in a tolerant and inclusive society, and people who are committed to each other". What does that mean? What do tolerance and inclusivity mean? Do you want to "tolerate" everything? Plural wives? committed human-animal partnerships? the whole lot? How do you decide what not to tolerate? Is it how you feel on any given day, or are there criteria? Do you see any difference between "tolerance" (As in "This ought not to be illegal") and acceptance? (This is morally OK?) Likewise inclusivity. What are we to include? What are we not to include? How do you decide?


Xrlq, I've already agreed with you once on this thread, and now I'm forced to concede that you've written a couple of the best paragraphs on agnosticism I've ever read. Bravo.


responding to my argument against the (badly drafted, as well as a bad idea) Civil Unions Bill with "She believes in a tolerant and inclusive society, and people who are committed to each other". What does that mean? What do tolerance and inclusivity mean? Do you want to "tolerate" everything? Plural wives? committed human-animal partnerships? the whole lot? How do you decide what not to tolerate?

This isn't some great unknown; there's been a lot of thought and energy devoted to these questions. I'm tempted to just tell you to go read some John Stuart Mill and get back to me.

Does tolerating the behavior harm uninvolved others? If the answer is yes, we've got a number of follow-up questions we need to ask. How much, how, directly or indirectly, can the harm be mitigated in some reasonable way, etc.

If the answer is no, well there we go. And the psychic harm of knowing those people out there are doing icky things and not being sent to prison for it doesn't count. Nor does imagined "decline of civilization" harm--it has to be tangible and real. If not, forget it.

Yes, there are borderline cases that are tough to answer. That's true of almost anything government or any other organization is trying to do. Doesn't mean it's not worth trying.


Does that count? Or shall we continue to pretend that the pro-choice side is immoral and decadent?

Amanda: Absolutely agreed. Can we agree this is a courtesy both sides should extend?


Can anyone provide a non-deity based ethic that gives value to any human life? Nietzche, Dostoevsky and Arthur Leff argued (differently) that it's not possible.


Agreed, but the problem is that logistically speaking, for reasonable people to disagree, the standard must be pro-choice. That way those who don't want abortions can opt out and those of us who have good reason to see a zygote as not a human--good reason--can act accordingly, if need be.

What a lot of pro-lifers neglect to understand is under a system of illegal abortions, women who don't want one but are subject to men who want them to have one don't have much legal recourse. Pro-choice means women who wish to carry unplanned pregnancies are freer to do so if they wish, as well.


Wasn't "quickening" a much-later-in-pregnancy phenomenon back in the day when we didn't realize what happened at conception/implantation?


Amanda, I'm curious. What legal recourse do women have now if they don't want an abortion but are being pressured into one.


I meant to add: and why does that legal recourse depend on abortion being legal?


It's about the intersection of society and legal issues--back when abortion was illegal, women were pressured/forced into it more often by men that didn't want public embarrassment in a way that they aren't so much now.

Basically, under the legal system, if a man tries to push you into it, you can go to friends and family for help without taking the chance that he'll go to jail for trying to arrange an illegal abortion.


Forced abortion = assault, in the legal sense. Finer gradations, I leave to the lawyers. Any undesired medical procedure is considered assault in the legal sense.

Woman being pressured in system with legalized abortion encounters medical professionals who require her to undergo pre-abortion counselling, in private (no boyfriend, husband, or natal family allowed in the room), and then to sign consent. The signing of a consent for procedure is common for all medical procedures and is often done in the presence of other family members for non-controversial procedures, but the private pre-abortion counselling is intended to allow the woman to say she doesn't want the abortion or isn't sure about it. If she has reservations, the medical personnel 1. will not do the procedure 2. can inform boyfriend or family member that they will not do the procedure because the woman in question is not a good medical candidate for the procedure (true!). In other words, help get the woman "off the hook". And the "getting off the hook" occurs in other non-abortion situations where the patient is being pressured by family members! However, if the woman being pressured or threatened keeps a stony face in public, does not admit to reservations in the interview, and does sign the consent, medical professionals are probably not going to pick up on the situation and will do the procedure. The woman must make her wishes known to someone, or must flee the situation at home - in other words, there is some minimal requirement for self-defence, even in the legalized-abortion system.

Woman being pressured to get abortion in system where abortion is illegal can be taken to abortionist by boyfriend or family member, confined there, the procedure done, and then she can be threatened with jail - if you go to police over this, you too have committed a crime and you will go to jail, and in fact I will tell them that I helped you at your request, that I am a respectable man who couldn't say no to his daughter despite her slutty behavior, and that I will never do it again but let her suffer the consequences of her sluttiness.


I might point out that I have no personal experience relating to abortion, but the above info is generalizable by anyone who has worked in either the medical services or legal services/ law enforcement realms. So a cancer chemotherapy nurse or a lawyer who donates services to indigent-law clinics or an experienced police officer can all tell you the same thing above.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Regular reads

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 01/2004