The Raving Theist

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Choosing Life, Consistently (With 8/8/06 and 8/9/06 Updates)

August 7, 2006 | 76 Comments

Time to go pro-life all the way: for reasons related to my opposition to abortion, I am adopting the “consistent ethic of life” and renouncing my support for capital punishment. I believe that the mere potential for good inherent in all human life is a sufficient basis for abolishing the death penalty. Whether it is expressed in religious, secular or philosophical terms, there is a something at the core of even the worst of us worthy of respect and protection.

The death penalty debate, unlike the abortion one, is rarely framed in purely religious terms. This is not to say that religious arguments, and passionate ones, are not sometimes raised by both sides of the controversy. What I mean is that advocating for one side is generally not viewed as “imposing religion” upon society. There is no slogan equivalent to “keep your rosaries off my ovaries” in the capital punishment arena. No one says “keep your Mass off my cyanide gas.” When a legislature enacts or repeals a death penalty bill, objections based upon church/state separation generally do not arise. [They also tend to fade in discussions of late-term abortion or infanticide].

But reading Jill of Feministe’s call to de-emphasize the problem of executing the innocent in favor of rejecting capital punishment on its face, I was struck by the parallels to my own allegedly “magical” anti-abortion position. The abolitionist — one who puts aside questions of innocence, racism, age or retardation and the like in favor of a complete ban — is arguing for nothing but life for life’s sake. Such an argument against execution, it seems, could easily be easily be dismissed as “DNA magic,” as a fetishistic obsession with the bare resemblance of the criminal’s genetic structure to our own, or as an embrace of “ensoulment.” Why not simply declare that the condemned, like the fetus, is “subhuman” or a mere “parasite”? Why protest against the perfectly “legal medical procedure” of lethal injection?

It is of no use to distinguish the prisoner by asserting that his clump of cells has developed to the point where he is a “real” human being with a consciousness. The consciousness only counts against the argument. Having metastasized into something evil, the creature’s possession of a brain only aggravates the danger posed. Nor do arguments concerning the condemned’s capacity for pain carry much weight. Any death can be brought about painlessly and instantaneously, with the subject experiencing no more discomfort than a blastocyte. It is magical thinking to say otherwise — factually and scientifically false. And if the question “how would like it if your mother had aborted you?” is for some reason nonsense, then so is the question “how would you like it if the state had executed you?” In either case, you would be in no position to complain today.

These specious objections aside, the abolitionist position can rest only upon a respect for the core human identity and the potentiality for goodness it entails. It is a potentiality that may, unlike the fetus, take far longer than nine months to realize. Rehabilitation can be a long and expensive process. And it must be recognized that it is, in fact, only a potentiality, not an actuality.

But I believe that that is enough. Vengeance solves nothing, resurrects no one, and I seriously doubt that those inclined to kill are deterred (or necessarily even aware) of the prospect of the ultimate penalty. Every person can eventually serve to some productive use, even if incarcerated. I am persuaded by the reasoning of Pope John Paul II in Evangelium vitae that:

[We] ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

George H. Smith, author of the seminal work “Atheism: The Case Against God” comes to a similar conclusion with respect to capital punishment. He contends that the right to life is “inalienable” and that the death penalty is impermissible even in cases “where reasonable doubt is impossible and where the crimes have been especially heinous” [“A Killer’s Right to Life,” Liberty 10, no. 2 (November 1996): 46]. I concur that whether argued as a question of mere humanity or mere Christianity, we are better off with less killing than more.

UPDATE (8/8/06):

Zuzu of Feministe responds. A few comments:

(1) There has been a persistent misconception that I have posited the existence of a “soul” to imbue the fetus from conception with some necessary but missing moral or religious worth. In fact, all I have ever argued is that from conception, the resulting cell clump possesses a number of identifying, distinctive foundational traits from which John and Joan Smith could readily deduce it was their own rather than that of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The Smiths might well value that uniqueness — and the fact that the cell clump, unlike a pebble, possessed the remarkable capacity to one day spring into consciousness — without resorting to the notion of a soul. Even if adamantly pro-choice, the Smiths might believe that the clump was entitled in some circumstances to extraordinary, heightened legal protection from (and punishment of) aggressors by reason of its distinctive status, protection and punishment of a kind that their toenails or saliva might not command. Nothing about that belief turns upon a question of faith, or involves the transfiguration of the fetus into personhood through the notion of ensoulment.

(2) With respect to the soul, I have previously argued that insofar as it is conceived of as eternal, its existence does not particularly aid any arguments against killing — abortion or ordinary murder.

(3) Zuzu argues that “the arguments in favor of the fetus’s personhood turn on notions of faith.” But her definition of “personhood” is “legal personhood” — i.e., whatever the law says a person is. Right now that’s birth, but presumably it would be rational to believe a chair to be a person if the law said it was, and “faith” to think of oneself as one if the law said otherwise. I note that even with respect to her question-begging definition, Zuzu is not consistent — she (like the law) takes pains to bestow some degree of inalienable personhood-ness on non-threatening late-term viable fetuses (or perhaps she thinks they have souls). So I have the impression that there’s some point between conception and birth at which she’d permit an atheist to show respect without leveling a charge of conversion (not that there’s anything wrong with it).

(4) Professor Myers never offered any scientific challenge to my observations regarding the individuality and identity of the post-conception human entity. In particular, he did not dispute the (1) “but-for” nexus between that entity and the ultimate person, or (2) the John/Joan vs Brad/Angelina uniqueness of the entity, and its distinctive racial and other genetic characteristics. Ultimately, he abandoned the notion that some scientific question was involved, asserting that ” the moment when one is human . . . is an emotional, social, economic, and personal decision.” (Much like what he alleges to be my “irresponsible affiliation with those charlatans and fanatics“).

(5) My basic point as to the death penalty is that Jill’s extreme abolitionist position — shared by me — can easily be charged with fetishizing personhood (or consciousness or human life or whatever you want to call it). Why spare a violent, dangerous creature merely because it shares our genetic structure? I have identified the inherent potential for good as my reason, but certainly that position could be attacked as a ruse to disguise a belief in the soul.

UPDATE (8/9/06):

Amanda of Pandagon responds.

See my response to Zuzu, above.

(1) Amanda believes that there may be some secular moral (although not legal) argument against abortion in late pregnancy once the fetus has a functioning brain. What she finds special about bare human consciousness, or general awareness without any particular thoughts, is not explained. Nor can I percieve what her objection to kill it while it slept would be; the unconscious brain is mere matter (albeit with the potential for consciousness).

(2) With respect to the death penalty, Amanda does not explain why she opposes the extinguishment of an evil, violence-prone (and potentially anti-feminist) consciousness. All she says is “I believe all people have rights.” In the absence of a fuller secular exposition, I am forced to assume that she means “I believe all people have souls.”

(3) Amanda is also amused that I couldn’t “find a non-Pope to quote in [my] ‘atheist’ post on the death penalty.” In fact, immediately beneath the quote from the Pope I quoted uber-atheist abolitionist George H. Smith. Amanda’s counter-factual denial of the plain existence of that quote further supports the inference that she is converting to an irrational, soul-based ideology.

Comments

76 Responses to “Choosing Life, Consistently (With 8/8/06 and 8/9/06 Updates)”

  1. Erik
    August 7th, 2006 @ 5:49 pm

    “…if the question “how would like it if your mother had aborted you?” is for some reason nonsense, then so is the question “how would you like it if the state had executed you?” In either case, you would be in no position to complain today.”

    These are not equivalent for the very simple reason that you have an anticipation of living when you have been born and are conscious. So this factor is in play for the condemned criminal but not for the fetus. My perception of what the state could do to me, particularly the possibility of being executed for a crime I did not commit, is markedly different from perceiving, as an adult, the possibility of having been aborted instead. The latter is an idea I can live with easily and gives me no qualms whatsoever; the former is not.

  2. a different tim
    August 7th, 2006 @ 5:56 pm

    Well, at least he’s consistent. If he opposes abortion for the reasons he states (and I have no reason to doubt him) then he should oppose the death penalty too.

    Of course, the fact that I’m also against the death penalty has no bearing on my sudden decision not to question one of RA’s posts……..

  3. June
    August 7th, 2006 @ 6:37 pm

    So, we must protect human dignity by keeping its worst examples alive? Yes, they can do some good in jail, but they can also kill and rape and maim again and again.

    This “reasoning from potential”, this unwillingness to take a stand for the community cheapens all of our lives. When some swine comes to rape our families and conquer our countries, we’ll need more than such limp dick reasoning to defend us.

  4. Lily
    August 7th, 2006 @ 7:13 pm

    I have never been an enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty but I do support it. The issue, it seems to me, is protecting those who haven’t earned a death sentence. There is the safety of others to consider– prison workers (guards, nurses, librarians, etc.), visitors and other prisoners.

    It also seems to me that certain crimes are so heinous that death is the only appropriate punishment. Justice demands it, and the safety of the community demands it. There really is a difference between vengence/revenge and justice. We blur the difference at our peril.

    However, this is one of those many issues on which serious and intelligent people can disagree. I certainly feel no inclination to cast aspersions or call down wrath on those who want to err on the side of life.

  5. PhalsePhrophet
    August 7th, 2006 @ 7:22 pm

    Kill them all and let God sort it out.

  6. Choobus
    August 7th, 2006 @ 8:15 pm

    The death penalty is a great idea, IF you can administer it fairly. Since this is impossible in our society it should be abolished.

  7. sternwallow
    August 7th, 2006 @ 8:47 pm

    I, too am against capital punishment, though I am in favor of permanent solitary confinement with no contact with society. But there are some very good reasons, economic and practical to snuff a life whose potential has been realized in a sociopathic beast. I propose a compromise. 1) Abolish capital punishment. 2) Once the convicted individual is incarcerated, allow him to obtain a gun. If he tries to use it, blast his butt in self defense. If he hands it back, he can go back into his cell to serve time. His choice. The state is not responsible if it has to kill him. It’s a win-win.

  8. SteveG
    August 7th, 2006 @ 9:31 pm

    I am with RA here. I find it extremely difficult to be pro-life on abortion while still maintaining that capital punishment is necessary in modern society.

    The more we look to death as the answer to any problem, the more we foster a culture of death.

    There are times (in a just war) when it is absolutely necessary, but the less we indulge it as the answer the better off we are as a society…IMO.

  9. Kamikaze189
    August 7th, 2006 @ 9:35 pm

    If you know somebody killed someone else, on purpose, and planned it out, and are sane, I see no reason why we should bother with this person. Why let the scum rot in prison when you could just kill them and never have to worry about it? It costs money to feed them. And time. And space.

    It sounds heartless, but why take the chance?

    Don’t kill anybody in the first place. It’s simple.

  10. ocmpoma
    August 7th, 2006 @ 9:59 pm

    “I believe that the mere potential for good inherent in all human life is a sufficient basis for abolishing the death penalty.”
    Care to demonstrate that this inherent potential exists in all human life?

    “Time to go pro-life all the way…” You call being against abortion and capital punishment “all the way”? I beg to differ. What about non-human life? Or do humans have some sort of “inherent superiority”?

  11. Godthorn
    August 7th, 2006 @ 10:09 pm

    Here RA is siding with the majority of thinking atheists, and is in opposition to the majority of Christians.

    There are several reasons for opposing capital punishment that he did not address, and they are those most persuasive to most of us. Foremost of these is the probability (not mere possibility) that more innocent people will get convicted and executed. There is no question that many have been. Secondly, rather than being a deterrent to crime, it abets it by making the society itself a murderer and diminishing the value of the individual. And thirdly, it makes blatant hypocrites of most Christians, who unfortunately comprise the greater portion of the populace, and whom we should be doing what we can to render less so. –Thorngod

  12. freddy
    August 8th, 2006 @ 12:05 am

    If you don’t believe in an afterlife, then the question “How would you like it if the state HAD executed you?” is just as nonsensical as asking “How would you like it if your mother had aborted you?” You may as well ask the worms eating your dead carcass if they would prefer if you had lived out your natural life. Regardless, when you’re dead, you’re dead. No thinking, no regrets, no moral condemnation is possible. Arguably, because prisoners are adults (or in Texas, possibly late-adolescents) and self-aware when they are executed, the time leading up to the execution would be much more traumatic than the days leading up to an abortion are for a fetus, but I doubt this has any pertinence to the argument RA is trying to make.

  13. Cap'n Awesome
    August 8th, 2006 @ 1:36 am

    I don’t believe in the death penality. I wouldn’t mind these worthless examples of human life being executed, but it is more economically feasable to keep them alive in labor camps. The average state and federal prisoner costs 22,000 dollars a year to taxpayers. There is no reason that they can’t put these people in labor camps and make them work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week at the point of a gun. This approach would solve so many problems, but people get squimish (Liberals and admittedly my Libertarian brothers and sisters) at the idea of the state using people as slave labor. I don’t care, violent criminals forfiet their rights.

  14. Cap'n Awesome
    August 8th, 2006 @ 1:36 am

    I don’t believe in the death penality. I wouldn’t mind these worthless examples of human life being executed, but it is more economically feasable to keep them alive in labor camps. The average state and federal prisoner costs 22,000 dollars a year to taxpayers. There is no reason that they can’t put these people in labor camps and make them work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week at the point of a gun. This approach would solve so many problems, but people get squimish (Liberals and admittedly my Libertarian brothers and sisters) at the idea of the state using people as slave labor. I don’t care, violent criminals forfiet their rights.

  15. Cap'n Awesome
    August 8th, 2006 @ 1:36 am

    I don’t believe in the death penality. I wouldn’t mind these worthless examples of human life being executed, but it is more economically feasable to keep them alive in labor camps. The average state and federal prisoner costs 22,000 dollars a year to taxpayers. There is no reason that they can’t put these people in labor camps and make them work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week at the point of a gun. This approach would solve so many problems, but people get squimish (Liberals and admittedly my Libertarian brothers and sisters) at the idea of the state using people as slave labor. I don’t care, violent criminals forfiet their rights.

  16. Pansy Moss
    August 8th, 2006 @ 3:40 am

    Applause

  17. SuX0rZ
    August 8th, 2006 @ 5:43 am

    Hmmm…. well i don’t like the idea of death as a punishment either but it’s not as bad as a life sentence.

  18. Lily
    August 8th, 2006 @ 7:02 am

    Permanent solitary confinement? That is cruel. A death penalty is a kinder outcome.

    Labor camps? If prisoners do the work that would otherwise go to non-criminal contractors, you punish the innocent. Here in Alabama prisoners (with good records–it is considered a privilege to be allowed out) are used to do unpaid labor. They maintain the campus I work at. Good idea? Ask the local landscaping companies who would otherwise be doing that work for a decent amount of money.

    Of course, to get around that problem, we could have prisoners just bust rocks. But that strikes me as cruel, too.

  19. Kreme
    August 8th, 2006 @ 7:59 am

    As an atheist I support experimental medical testing, if not just labotomy crime tendency removal on criminals who would otherwise get the death penalty, and am pro-choice up to within the first month, and a half of pregnancy (free morning after pills, and contraceptives for all). To those criminals who choose to sign waivers to give their lives to science over drone lobotomy procedure, I also support the idea of giving monetary supplements to needy family members on their behalf, should their bodies produce effective marketable results.

  20. Kate B.
    August 8th, 2006 @ 8:12 am

    Whoo-hoo! Good choice, RA!

  21. FPS Jason
    August 8th, 2006 @ 8:16 am

    Where do babies go when they die? Heaven or Hell?
    If you were a fetus, wouldn’t you rather want to go to Heaven rather than cause a burden to your 14 year old mother and her family?
    Pretty much, its all about control. Pretty soon, the church is going to come down heavy on picking your nose or some rediculous thing like that.

  22. Dada Saves
    August 8th, 2006 @ 9:46 am

    So what should an appropriate response to, say, murder be, if not execution?

    More to the point: should abortionists, the women who have abortions, and anyone accessory to an abortion (a man who pays for it; a friend who drives the pregnant woment to the clinic, etc) suffer the same fates as any other murderers and their abettors?

    Before you had your change of heart re capital punishment, did you feel that all of the above were fit to be executed?

  23. "Q" the Enchanter
    August 8th, 2006 @ 11:02 am

    “And if the question ‘how would like it if your mother had aborted you?’ is for some reason nonsense, then so is the question ‘how would you like it if the state had executed you?'”

    Yes–both questions are nonsensical. To the extent I have a “right” to life, I have it only while I’m alive. Resentment or disapprobation about its abrogation after I’ve died will have to be left to the living.

  24. "Q" the Enchanter
    August 8th, 2006 @ 11:02 am

    “And if the question ‘how would like it if your mother had aborted you?’ is for some reason nonsense, then so is the question ‘how would you like it if the state had executed you?'”

    Yes–both questions are nonsensical. To the extent I have a “right” to life, I have it only while I’m alive. Resentment or disapprobation about its abrogation after I’ve died will have to be left to the living.

  25. "Q" the Enchanter
    August 8th, 2006 @ 11:02 am

    “And if the question ‘how would like it if your mother had aborted you?’ is for some reason nonsense, then so is the question ‘how would you like it if the state had executed you?'”

    Yes–both questions are nonsensical. To the extent I have a “right” to life, I have it only while I’m alive. Resentment or disapprobation about its abrogation after I’ve died will have to be left to the living.

  26. June
    August 8th, 2006 @ 11:08 am

    TRA’s posts used to cut through the nonsense of the GodSquad, smashing directly into the religion maggots eating at the heart of our society. But his posts are becoming cheesy, fundamentally flawed somehow, riddled with remnants of religious teachings, filled with fear of offending the tiniest element of society, appealing to inalienable rights. Now he cites the Pope (that old friend of his!), which is especially ironic because even the Pope, that ultimate limp dick, sees an exception for the defense of society.

    Am I out of step with society for saying that (for starters) terrorists, cannibals, and child rapists must be executed within a year of their conviction?

    Is it really so hard to find a philosophical ground on which to stand and say to a Jeffrey Dahmer that he has forfeited his right to live among us? If we are unable to say that terrorists should be executed, if we must keep alive such horrors as the Baby Without A Face, if our reasoning and our philosophy leads us to keep alive a serial killer and cannibal because he has the potential for good inside him (beside the remains of his latest victim) then we need a new philosophy.

    A TERRIBLE THOUGHT JUST DAWNED ON ME!
    We may actually need religion in our society to give us hope and courage! At least, religion gives us tools like the Crusades, the Conquistadors, the Inquisition, the Holocaust to clean out the weak and the diseased, the heathens and infidels, the witches and lepers, the mental and physical cripples, the pimps and the whores, and all them other sons-a-bitches that disagree with us.

    Without a God as righteous parent figure, the human brain is apparently incapable of reasoning itself to a standard of decency. We have actually evolved to a moral point where we are no longer capable of protecting our family, our country, our culture against real evil, without appealing to spirits.

  27. Severalspeciesof
    August 8th, 2006 @ 11:55 am

    June,

    Imbibe yourself with some ‘spirits’ and that terrible thought will go away.

  28. Andrea
    August 8th, 2006 @ 12:28 pm

    At a minimum, declaring that the world needs “less killing” implies a deceptive commonality between the circumstances surrounding capital punishment and those surrounding abortion. I know RA didn’t call for criminalization, but the “pro-life” statements clearly link the issues when only one connection exists: the penal system’s inability to prevent either form of killing. Women will get abortions regardless of the procedure’s legality just like some smug prison docs will execute till the needles are pried from his hands.

    Lumping together uncomparable issues under some “killing” category is like feeding weight gainer to an anorexic; treating symptoms ignores the root of the problem. Realistically, the world will see less “killing” only when we become unsatisfied with stupid slogans and YES recognize how the meaning of “potential” changes with the situation. Slogans really are easier and way more fun than making a difference, though. Right now I’m looking to label myself. I can’t be a “pro-lifer” anymore because I not only support, but could even see myself encouraging euthenasia, combat death, pulling the plug, miserable people who commit suicide, and any death cause by Darwin Award-like behavior.

  29. Thorngod
    August 8th, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

    Those who equate the death of a franchised human being with that of a foetus are either ignoring or overlooking a huge disparity in effects. A foetus has no mind or personality, no friends, loved ones or dependents. If any loss is felt by its creators, it is incomparably less than the loss of a developed child or other loved one. It is not the effect on the primary “victim” that largely determines the harm and any moral fault. It is the secondary effects.

  30. Shelley
    August 8th, 2006 @ 1:11 pm

    At least he’s consistent. Anti-choice, (read: life supporters) death-penalty proponents make me sick with their hypocrisy.

    Sheesh.

  31. Oliver
    August 8th, 2006 @ 2:33 pm

    Haha. RA is now quoting the Pope with approval! That aside, I agree with you. I think there is probably some potential for good or reform of character in most people and killing someone is not the answer to a crime. I can understand some people would want it from feelings of anger and retribution, but that is not necessarily the right basis for a modern justice system. I think it is barbaric and you don’t find many other democracies around the world doing it (are there any?). I also think the forced labour and isolation ideas above are cruel and would make the person so angry and/or mentally deranged any rehabilitation would be unlikely. I also partly think so, and especially re. the death penalty, because many inncocent people are convicted of crimes. Also where do you draw a hard-and-fast line between a person who is deemed to be a dangerous ”monster” who (it is argued) should be killed to protect society from terrible harm (as a cheaper alternative to life-long imprisonment), and someone whose act was a one-off or had other factors involved like provocation or self-defence etc? How can you be sure the death penalty is never, never used inappropriately? You can’t, and it is irrevocable. Also, it should seem worse to an atheist than a Xtian. A Xtian might just think ”well God will sort out his own” (as I read once some Xtian army leader said to his soldiers when they were not sure which were the enemy and which weren’t in some batttle or other) and if a mistake was made then God will doubtless send the wronged person off to eternal bliss (as long as they believd in him). On the other hand if you are an atheist, killing someone means taking away his only chance of life, and I’m not sure the state has the right to do that.

  32. Lurker
    August 8th, 2006 @ 3:25 pm

    Personally I don’t have a problem with the death penalty per se. For me there is a huge difference between an innocent, unconscious human fetus who has done nothing and a guilty, conscious human adult who murdered another person in a particularly vicious and cruel manner.

    Whether or not the adult deserves to be put to death is up for discussion (as it should be). Whether or not a viable fetus deserves to be put to death is not up for discussion.

    Should we overturn R v W so all abortions are illegal? I don’t think so. I’m for putting severe restrictions on when it can occur.

    Love it or hate it that’s my take.

    Let the hurling of insults begin!!

  33. Drusilla
    August 8th, 2006 @ 3:25 pm

    A foetus has no mind or personality, no friends, loved ones or dependents. If any loss is felt by its creators, it is incomparably less than the loss of a developed child or other loved one.

    Thorngod – I shall assume that you wrote without thinking. Otherwise, I would be required to assume that you have become endowed with omniscience or, at the very least, have entered in close, mystical contact with the One who is. How confusing that would be. Someone might think you had decided to become a god or converted.

  34. Thorngod
    August 8th, 2006 @ 3:38 pm

    Drusilla, what’s your argument?

    In the absence of an intellibible God, we humans must think for ourselves. (Perhaps I should say, “SHOULD” think for ourselves.)

    I always think when I write, though I occasionally make a mistake in expression. I don’t think I made one in the lines you quoted. (Did you misread “creators” for “Creator”?)

  35. Thorngod
    August 8th, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

    Lurker, several years back, of 22 or 23 men on death row in Illinois, about a dozen were proven innocent. Is that alone not reason enough to abolish the death penalty?

    And all things should be “up for discussion.” It is only through reason that we can arrive at truth, justice, or any other worthwhile human goal. Human happiness is not threatened by discussion, but by fear, prejudice and superstition.

  36. Gathercole
    August 8th, 2006 @ 4:31 pm

    As many here have pointed out, an excellent reason to be against the death penalty is that many people who are executed have later turned out to be innocent. This is not RA’s argument, however. Innocent people being executed? Meh. What’s really important is that LIFE IS SACRED!!!!1 Once again RA values abstract concepts above real individuals.

    And also, MOCKING SARCASM ALERT:

    “or perhaps she thinks they have souls”

    It’s a lot easier to be sick of RA’s stupid promises when he fails to keep them.

  37. Drusilla
    August 8th, 2006 @ 4:40 pm

    Thorngod – To decide that “if any loss is felt by its creators [(parents)], it is incomparably less than the loss of a developed child or other loved one” is to take on the role of determining what others experience. No human being has the ability to rank the suffering of any other person. Only one who is omniscient can possibly know who suffers more. If you are omniscient, or are being instructed by the One who is, then your statement would be accurate. Since you do not believe in omniscience and since, I assume, you consider mystical communication with God a form of superstition and fantasy, I prefer to believe you were merely being thoughtless. I certainly hope so. The alternative is very ugly indeed.

  38. Kreme
    August 8th, 2006 @ 4:46 pm

    I don’t like the idea of indirectly paying for the killing of monstrous human individual, unless there is a benefit to be had from the execution that helps to better the lives of others. Killing alone doesn’t do this, however, incapaciting the criminal by removing his/her willingness to destroy at least removes the responsibility of killing away from others. An impaled criminal does no further damage. Or then again, why not use the criminal’s living body for useful scientific medical research instead of merely tossing it in the crapper by either charring it, or poisoning it to full death? Reparations gained from doing so I think provide a much greater incentive not only to deter crime, but for people to feel better justice is being served.

  39. Lurker
    August 8th, 2006 @ 5:12 pm

    Thorngod
    I share your concern for executing innocent people. I don’t want that either. However, if you choose to err on the side of caution perhaps we shouldn’t lock up people for life either because they may be proven innocent later (after death). This is a ridiculious position, but perhaps we shouldn’t put anyone in jail because maybe they are really innocent.

    I’m for doing our best under the circumstances. That’s all we can ask for. I’m for minimizing the number of executions while still allowing them under law when special circumstances warrant. The same goes for abortions. Both should be extremely rare. E-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y. I can’t say that enough.

  40. Ejacu1337
    August 8th, 2006 @ 6:18 pm

    “If you are omniscient, or are being instructed by the One who is, then your statement would be accurate.”
    If you are omniscient, you don’t really have a choice in the matter since you already know what will happen. And “instructed”? Please, non of this God Quest rabble belongs in an intelligent conversation.

    A woman should be allowed to do what she wants with her body. Seeing as how a fetus is dependant on, is connected to, is inside of and is part of her body, it clearly falls under that jurisdiction. I don’t want some religious nut telling ME how to make a big choice like that.

  41. Paul
    August 8th, 2006 @ 6:26 pm

    Zuzu, in apparent ignorance, wrote: “In fact, all I have ever argued is that from conception, the resulting cell clump possesses a number of identifying, distinctive foundational traits from which John and Joan Smith could readily deduce it was their own rather than that of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.”

    But reality is far more complex, You can easily remove the concept of “soul” from the below and substitute “individual” or “unique person” or something similar. The main point still holds:

    “[R]esearch on human reproduction shows that the ‘moment of conception’ is not a moment at all. Sometimes several sperm penetrate the outer membrane of the egg, and it takes time for the egg to eject the extra chromosomes. What and where is the soul during this interval?”

    “Still, one might say that at whatever point . . . the new genome is formed, the specification of a unique new person has come into existence. The soul, by this reasoning, may be identified with the genome. But during the next few days, as the embryo’s cell being to divide, they can split into several embryos, which develop into identical twins, triplets, and so on. Do identical twins share a soul? . . . . Indeed, every cell in the growing embryo is capable, with the right manipulations, of becoming a new embryo that can grow into a child. Does a multicell embryo consist of one soul per cell, and if so, where do the other souls go when the cells lose that ability? And not only can one embryo become two people, but two embryos can become one person. Occasionally two fertilized eggs, which ordinarily would go on to become fraternal twins, merge into a single embryo that develops into a person who is a genetic chimera; some of her cells have one genome, others have another genome. Does her body house two souls?”

    From “The Blank Slate” by Steven Pinker

  42. RHF
    August 8th, 2006 @ 7:01 pm

    What do you expect when the false doctrine of evolution is purported as fact?
    Voltaire was right, when we believe in absurdities, attrocities will follow.

  43. RHF
    August 8th, 2006 @ 7:03 pm

    Abortion is MURDER– no other way you can see it.

    ATHEISTS, FEMININSTS, — Take your false logic and shove it you know where.

  44. Godthorn
    August 8th, 2006 @ 7:26 pm

    RHF, on what dark corner of the globe did you spend the last 150 years?

    Drusilla, the parent who is nearly as distraught over the loss of a mere pregnancy as he or she would be from the death of a developed child is a very strange and twisted human being. And as for “playing God,” that is what every honest thinker does in his mind when he or she thinks.

    Lurker, we’re not far apart. I’m not utterly opposed to killing. I just don’t think it’s something an enlightened society would do except in extreme circumstances. As to abortion, I agree, the fewer the better. We should consider it a minor “murder” (in a non-legal sense) and try to avoid it.

  45. Andrea
    August 8th, 2006 @ 8:47 pm

    Paul, an embryo, whether ending up as a single child or twins, is unique because everyone is different, fetus or not, criminal or not. RA made the cell clump identity argument, not Zuzu, and he did not argue that a fetus has a soul, so unfortunately the Pinker quote was wasted. How is it “ignorant” to say that one fetus differs from the next, or does not have potential? No pregnant couple would trade its cell clump for the clump of another pregnant couple. Why? Because the desirability of the pregnancy has no effect on whether the fetus has the potential to grow into a unique adult human being.

    RA’s argument is that drawing a line at personhood is missing the point; what’s important is remembering that everyone gets a chance at life (fetus) and opportunities to improve (prisoner), rather than have that life be viciously cut short by those who haven’t yet learned to live by example.

  46. June
    August 9th, 2006 @ 12:16 am

    What is all this yammering about personhood and inalienable rights and potential goodness? We’re not talking about a Constitution here; we’re talking about raw nature. Nature does not owe you a damn thing. It can take 250,000 of us with a single tsunami, and there is no appeal. You and you alone are responsible for what you do with your life. If you run for the hills, you survive; else you suck the big one.

    Each of us was once a sperm that outraced a million other sperm to be the first to the egg. We trampled on the rest to make it, we fought our way upstream. For every one of us, a million others did not make it. SO WHAT?

  47. Andrea
    August 9th, 2006 @ 12:39 am

    Raw nature may not owe you a thing, but the products of raw nature – people – require cooperation to survive. The fittest aren’t loners; you’re more likely to survive that run for the hills with a little help from others along the way.

    And everyone here is one those who “trampled the rest.” I know you’re somewhat playing devil’s advocate here, but throwing decency on the backburner doesn’t make anyone superior, just callous. In a lose-lose situation, why not just do the right thing and let people live their lives?

  48. Cap'n Awesome
    August 9th, 2006 @ 12:51 am

    This is in response to Lily’s comment about my labor camp idea. American industries have millions, if hundreds of millions more job them there are Americans. How many jobs are shipped overseas every year? How many illegal immigrants flood our country ever year? Millions and millions. Yet still American unemployment remains around 5 percent every year. There are plenty of jobs criminals could do without taking away a single American job. It would even help reduce illegal immigration and outsourcing. Why would a bussiness go to China to make their tennis shoes when prisoners could do it for less money, plus the savings in importing. Even taking away construction jobs likely isn’t taking away a job from that many Americans, so many construction jobs are held by illegals.

  49. Cap'n Awesome
    August 9th, 2006 @ 12:51 am

    This is in response to Lily’s comment about my labor camp idea. American industries have millions, if hundreds of millions more job them there are Americans. How many jobs are shipped overseas every year? How many illegal immigrants flood our country ever year? Millions and millions. Yet still American unemployment remains around 5 percent every year. There are plenty of jobs criminals could do without taking away a single American job. It would even help reduce illegal immigration and outsourcing. Why would a bussiness go to China to make their tennis shoes when prisoners could do it for less money, plus the savings in importing. Even taking away construction jobs likely isn’t taking away a job from that many Americans, so many construction jobs are held by illegals.

  50. Cap'n Awesome
    August 9th, 2006 @ 12:51 am

    This is in response to Lily’s comment about my labor camp idea. American industries have millions, if hundreds of millions more job them there are Americans. How many jobs are shipped overseas every year? How many illegal immigrants flood our country ever year? Millions and millions. Yet still American unemployment remains around 5 percent every year. There are plenty of jobs criminals could do without taking away a single American job. It would even help reduce illegal immigration and outsourcing. Why would a bussiness go to China to make their tennis shoes when prisoners could do it for less money, plus the savings in importing. Even taking away construction jobs likely isn’t taking away a job from that many Americans, so many construction jobs are held by illegals.

  51. Paul
    August 9th, 2006 @ 8:21 am

    Andrea:

    Everyone is not different: identical twins are – how shall I say? – identical.

    I specifically accounted for the soul in my Pinker post.

  52. June
    August 9th, 2006 @ 9:23 am

    Concepts like “potential for good” and “inalienable right” need some reference as to what law we are talking about: federal, natural, spiritual? This is an atheist blog and TRA is an atheist (yes, I still take him at his word). So, before he teeters too high on his pro-life horse, I wanted to gently point out that none of us come to the table of life with clean hands. As a sperm, we all denied millions of other sperms the chance to be born. And we must all struggle to survive from day to day.

    I value decent behavior above all else. I put it right up front on the altar, as a brightly burning flame, hot enough to singe the eyebrows of those who kneel and spout religion but don’t practice it. Cooperate with society, obey the law, carry your burden, contribute your share, and you earn the right to struggle another day.

    So who exactly is struggling with you? That terrorist, that rapist, that cannibal! You kill him or he kills you. You can gasp at the brutality of Nature all you want, the lamb must die so that the lion can eat.

  53. Andrea
    August 9th, 2006 @ 10:20 am

    Paul said: Everyone is not different: identical twins are – how shall I say? – identical.

    Oooh you got me Paul. You know what I meant. And anyways those twins are identical only for whatever purpose categorizing twins serves. DNA is separate from environment so they would not be considered “identical” as the word is commonly used, ie interchangeable.

  54. bernarda
    August 9th, 2006 @ 11:09 am

    RA is more off-the-wall than ever. He resorts more and more to mystical arguments: “Having metastasized into something evil”

    “Evil” is not a scientific concept, it is pure theology.

    Then RA quotes the greatest mass murderer in history, John-Paul II, ” [We] ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity”

    JP II condemned tens of millions of people, mostly Africans, to death by opposing the condom and thus encouraging the spread of aids, often by catholic priests, yet opposes hypocritically execution, but not in all cases.

    Both RA and JP II are inconsistent. Either it is wrong for the state to execute someone or it is not. You can’t have exceptions. Who is to decide “absolute necessity”. What a bunch of rubbish.

    RA also hypocritically says, “we are better off with less killing than more.” Of course for him that doesn’t apply to the millions of women who will be killed in newly illegal abortions. Thus, RA is in favor of protecting male life. What a misogynist asshole!

  55. Paul
    August 9th, 2006 @ 12:02 pm

    Andrea, I concede your point that, eventually, identical twins aren’t identical. However, the embryos of identical twins may be identical (but separate) for all intents and purposes.

    My goal with the original Pinker post was to show that you can’t just imagine that a specific genome perfectly and exactly defines a unique individual.

  56. Annie B.
    August 9th, 2006 @ 1:40 pm

    RA, if it’s “Time to go pro-life all the way,” does that mean being against abortion from the point of conception? If I recall correctly, you felt that abortion was ok if it was earlier in the fetal life. if I’m wrong or have missed an earlier post on this, my apologies.

    I’m just curious: did the story of Maria Goretti and Alessandra have anything to do with this change?

  57. Trevor Blake
    August 9th, 2006 @ 8:31 pm

    There is a much stronger argument against capital punishment than the inherent good (or even potential good) of individuals. And that is the fact that the state and the courts may be in error. People innocent of the crimes they are convicted of can in no way be morally put to death. Since the state and courts are known to err – even one error is enough – it is absolutely never moral to put someone to death. Therefore, even if a person is not inherently or potentially good, even if they are actually terribly wicked, capital punishment is never morally correct.

  58. June
    August 9th, 2006 @ 11:36 pm

    Argument 51 applies to all convictions, and so it puts an end to the entire criminal justice system.

    Moreover, since it is just as immoral to intentionally kill or maim anyone, all social enterprises in which someone will be hurt must end. That puts an end to medicine, construction, transportation, commerce, travel, manufacturing, space exploration. Next, all sharp objects and poisons of any kind must be ….

  59. Mark
    August 10th, 2006 @ 2:49 am

    “JP II condemned tens of millions of people, mostly Africans, to death by opposing the condom and thus encouraging the spread of aids”

    Nitwit, the church opposes all sex outside of heterosexual marriage, which is a very effective way of stopping most cases of AIDS. Exactly why would Africans ignore the Pope on extramarital sex, but pay attention to him on condoms?

  60. Jody Tresidder
    August 10th, 2006 @ 1:37 pm

    “Exactly why would Africans ignore the Pope on extramarital sex, but pay attention to him on condoms?”

    Because, Mark, his authority would be positive – in favor of doing something, not negative and prohibitive.

    (I’m not arguing the moral position: just why one admonition might be obviously more effective than another).

  61. Thorngod
    August 10th, 2006 @ 1:42 pm

    June, the difference is that death is irrevocable. There is also the argument that unnecessary murder by the social group is even more onerous than most of those committed by individuals.

  62. June
    August 10th, 2006 @ 7:48 pm

    OK, let’s see what I remember of my high school logic.

    51 argues first that a proposition is invalid if it can be erroneously applied. No, the proposition (Capital Punishment) is still valid; its application needs to be perfected. Under this logic, it is equally immoral to imprison an innocent for life.

    51 argues that execution of ALL is wrong, “even if they are actually terribly wicked”. That argument is defeated by a single counter example. I give you Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, who killed deliberately, admitted everything, had no remorse, and even requested to be executed. Obviously, 51 is simply against CP, and uses possible error as a strawman. There are many wicked people that unquestionably deserve execution.

    55 argues that “unnecessary murder by the social group is even more onerous than most of those committed by individuals”. That’s an appeal to emotion. Murder is NEVER acceptable. But CP is not murder, it is a right granted to the State by the People.

  63. Godthorn
    August 10th, 2006 @ 11:24 pm

    Yes, CP is an option granted to the state, presumably by a majority of the people. And just as I oppose the people’s religion, so I oppose their moral judgement. “Murder” is a legal term and also a moral term. I contend that “the people” are committing murder. If the death penalty were reserved for only the most willful and heinous of crimes, I would not be much opposed to it. But our lauded juries too often vote with their intestines rather than their brains, and there are many innocent people in prison and there have been many innocent people put to death. I have served on several juries, and I have seen how anxious many people are to punish a stranger for the wrongs they themselves have suffered from someone else. And the people want their pound of flesh, and are so willing to pay for more and more prisons, and so reluctant to pay for the programs that would make prisons less necessary.
    -Thorngod

  64. bernarda
    August 11th, 2006 @ 3:31 am

    Halfwit Mark in responding to me: “Nitwit, the church opposes all sex outside of heterosexual marriage, which is a very effective way of stopping most cases of AIDS. Exactly why would Africans ignore the Pope on extramarital sex, but pay attention to him on condoms?”

    There are two things here. One is that besides anti-condom propaganda, measures are taken to prevent the promotion and distribution of condoms. There is the example of Uganda which once had an effective anti-aids strategy, but the catholic church and the protestant American fundamentalists opposed it and now aids is on the rise again.

    The answer to the second point on extramarital sex is so obvious that I wonder why moron Mark even asked the question.

    Not everyone in the world has the perverted hangups about sex that the cretin xtians and muslims and many other religions have.

  65. June
    August 11th, 2006 @ 7:56 am

    Good Lord, Thorngod, you must live in a hellhole of justice! Here in California, we do NOT allow blood-thirsty juries to snuff a defendant in a frenzied rush to vengeance. We carefully define a limited set of capital crimes, we apply special rules every step of the way, we coddle the convicted on deathrow, we spend 20 years reviewing the case in the courts, and we are careful not to hurt the criminal as we end his life.

    But at least you grant that execution is a legal right of the state, and that some willful heinous criminals deserve execution.

    BTW, if you insist on calling CP “murder”, I will call Poisoning The Wells and win the debate on grounds of Intentional Fallacy :).

  66. Thorngod
    August 11th, 2006 @ 9:31 am

    I live in the state second only to Texas in the rate of death penalty sentencing and execution. I don’t know where Illinois ranks, but as I pointed out in #31 above, half the men on death row in that state were discovered to be innocent a few years back, and the governor was so shocked that he commuted the sendences of the others. And I don’t know how just California’s appeals system is, but in Texas, if you’re convicted, you’ve got an almost ironclad guarantee of execution.

    And I do insist on labeling CP “murder.” In any instance where punishment or “justice” is being applied, the strongest term should be used in description of it, because the emphasis should always be leveled at the harm being inflicted. We should always err on the side of understanding, forgiveness and mercy.

  67. June
    August 11th, 2006 @ 1:15 pm

    Well, Thorndog, I’m just an immoral atheist, but I will never argue for murder, and I am not for executing innocent citizens. So I grant you that “CP is murder in a state that convicts the innocent half the time.” A lawyer may argue that all of them were legally convicted under the system of justice of your state. It’s a shitty system, but that’s the universe for you.

    While we are on fine legal points, Saddam Hussein just asked why he was being tried under international law, but in an Iraqi court. He also complained they were trying him personally for crimes committed by Iraq as a country. He pointed out they are trying him under laws passed AFTER the crimes were committed. And he showed that he has never been legally deposed, is still President of Iraq, and can dissolve the court that is trying him.

    Very troubling points, if we are serious about giving him a fair trial. I wonder what would happen if he were found innocent and then sued the U.S. for 200 billion dollars?

  68. Thorngod
    August 11th, 2006 @ 2:38 pm

    I think it’s likely he’d be assassinated by a relative of one of his victims before he could collect. And my attitude toward such a killing by an individual is rather opposite that toward execution by the state.

  69. June
    August 11th, 2006 @ 2:57 pm

    Well, his “victims” tried to assassinate him once before.
    He’s not all that dumb.

  70. Thorngod
    August 11th, 2006 @ 3:31 pm

    He’s now far more vulnerable. But I think we need not be concerned. He’s done for, one way or the other.

  71. June
    August 11th, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

    No doubt.

  72. bookjunky
    August 12th, 2006 @ 11:15 pm

    Eeeev’ry sperm is saaa-cred, eeeev’ry sperm is greeaaat….

    Women’s bodies reject about 30% of conceptions because they’re flawed. Women also have the right to refuse to carry a fetus for a variety of other reasons.

  73. Will
    August 14th, 2006 @ 4:57 pm

    Haven’t posted here in quite some time mainly due to this issue and the repeditiveness of the arguments, but RA, I’m sorry to say that while you anti-abortion position is thought out and supported on a secular basis, you have never convinced me of how a clump of cells or a fetus wholly incapable of surviving outside the womb can have greater rights than the owner of the womb. Until you can do that, your opinion will be as meaningless to a real debate as is the Pope’s. Life may or may not begin at conception, but a woman is not an incubator. All else is meaningless hand-waving distraction.

  74. Godthorn
    August 15th, 2006 @ 12:18 am

    Will, while I agree with your basic stance, I think you were hasty in a couple of points: Life is already present at and prior to conception, in sperm and egg, and in the zygote. It is not “life” that the idiots are really contesting (though they have a habit of referring to it as such). It is “human” and/or “soul” they are disputing about, and neither term can be sensibly applied at the point of concepton.

    The other mistake you make is stating that a woman is not an incubator. A pregnant female certainly IS an incubator–unless you are restricting the term to the sort of mechanical device used to hatch baby chicks.

  75. Trevor Blake
    August 16th, 2006 @ 9:24 pm

    June: it is never possible to bring a dead person back to life, be they dead from murder or from capital punishment. That is part of why murder is a greater evil. It is possible to free and compensate (in part!) someone who was imprisoned unfairly. Therefore your claim that my argument leads to the invalidation of all justice is false. Because non-CP punishments can have some (small, small, small) measure of being corrected, they can continue to exist. CP has exactly zero measure of being corrected. That is why it is specifically never appropriate.

  76. Ilíon
    January 8th, 2009 @ 11:35 pm

    Rave,
    I have no idea whether you’ll get notification of a comment to an entry this old; so, rather than writing a long post here, I’ll merely link to something I said to a theologian and hope that you can read it: http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2008/10/judge-for-yourself-sermon-on-mt-71-6.html?showComment=1223861760000#c1383891710000836047

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