Re: off topic (Re: Cryopreserving the unborn)

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Mon Jan 17 2000 - 08:50:35 MST

On Mon, Jan 17, 2000 at 06:40:28AM -0800, Zeb Haradon wrote:
> Out of curiosity, what does an atheist anti-abortionist base their argument
> on?

Speaking as an athiest (but one who is pro-choice and anti-death penalty),
I'd say that assuming a link between theism and a stance on abortion is
to make a fundamentally misguided assumption. Moral reasoning and belief
in a Big God Person Watching Over Us(TM) would appear to be orthogonal,
if not independent; while an appeal to religious belief is often used to
justify moral assertions, the absence of religious belief doesn't imply
the absence of a moral stance (and the presence of religious belief
doesn't guarantee one either, as the history of the Inquisition should
make clear).

If I had to concoct an argument against abortion starting from an atheist
viewpoint, I'd make a big point about the uniqueness of individual
intelligence. I have to take the assumption that _my_ existence has
merit as a starting point. If I also adopt the assumption of mediocrity,
then I am not privileged or unusual in having a meritorious existence. It
follows that all me-equivalent entities -- human beings -- are important.
If we pursue this line of reasoning to a logical conclusion, it implies
that no human beings are unimportant: therefore destroying human beings
is ....

(Personally I don't like this sort of logical argument. It's too divorced
from actual experience to be relevent; besides, it assumes that I am worth
exactly as much as an anencephalic foetus, a Josef Stalin, and a Kurt Godel.
While ascribing different values to any of these individuals is a rather
complex operation and prone to argument, settling for the "all humans
are equal" assertion is, I think, an even greater error -- especially
in an age of cheap tissue cloning and imminent uploading. I am inclined
to think that coming up with a moral framework for evaluating the importance
of intelligence is going to be one of the most trying philosophical and
ethical problems of the next century. Does your word processor have rights?
Your pet African Grey parrot? Well, what about a complex medical expert
system? A robot driven by a 10 Gnode neural network? A chunk of cloned,
differentiated human cerebral cortex sitting in a vat, copied from
an original DNA template called "Slobodan Milosevic"?)

-- Charlie

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