Christians can get awfully reductionist when it suits them


Amanda Marcotte rips into stupid gotcha by Marco Rubio.

When Rubio appeared on CNN after Thursday night's Republican debate, he kept insisting that this vague entity called "science" has declared that human life begins at conception. (Actual biologists, for what it's worth, argue that life is continuous and that a fertilized egg is no more or less alive than a sperm or an unfertilized egg.) CNN host Chris Cuomo vainly tried to point out that "science" says no such thing, and Rubio got a little excited.

"Let me interrupt you. Science has—absolutely it has. Science has decided... Science has concluded that—absolutely it has. What else can it be?" he asked. Then Rubio reared up for what he clearly intended as his wowza line: "It cannot turn into an animal. It can’t turn into a donkey. The only thing that that can become is a human being."

This seems to be the core pseudo-scientific premise of the anti-choicers, and it rests on a fundamental flaw in their reasoning. Yes, it's true that a human zygote is alive and cannot become a cat or a donkey, but "human" here is being used in the broadest possible sense. We do not offer full rights and protections to everything that is "human", or bleeding, spitting, and masturbation and menstruation would be illegal. Those acts also destroy living, human cells that cannot become donkey or cat cells.

We only offer legal rights to reasonably well-organized collections of human cells. Teratomas do not have a right to exist, nor do warts or severely damaged limbs -- we will amputate badly injured, irreparable limbs even though they contain living human cells, because their retention puts the conscious part of the organism at risk.

I think the reason for this flawed argument (besides motivated reasoning) is that the public has a serious misconception: they know about genes and a little bit about inheritance, and unfortunately what they infer from that tiny bit of knowledge is a kind of genetic determinism. People, they think, are defined by the genes present in their nuclei. They aren't.

I wish there were a way to get this across, but I'm aware that it's a difficult argument that requires a deeper understanding of biology than most people have. Humans, in the narrow sense of conscious, behaving entities with a full suite of functioning tissues that allow at least semi-autonomous existence, are the product of genes plus developmental processes plus experience. Genes are not sufficient.

Genes are fully human in the same sense that a hunk of lumber is furniture. You have to recognize that there's more to it than just a raw material.


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This view does two things: it allows people (like rubio, but other liars of his ilk) who say without reservation "I'm not a scientist" when they are asked about evolution, or climate change, in order to pass the buck on those issues, to sound as though they are informed on some issues. It also allows folks who know the statement isn't true to be castigated as being both anti-science, anti-common sense, and anti-decency (because who doesn't like them some babies while they're in the womb? We know folks like rubio don't give a shit after the child is born.)

This is the same Rubio that, on climate change, declared that he is not a scientist (nor does he listen to them).

By howard hershey (not verified) on 11 Aug 2015 #permalink

“Actual biologists, for what it’s worth, argue that life is continuous and that a fertilized egg is no more or less alive than a sperm or an unfertilized egg.”

Actually, actual biologists would argue that an alive sperm or an alive unfertilized egg, by themselves, will never, ever grow to be recognizable, even by a child, as a human being.

The actual biologists would argue the same about teratomas, warts, damaged limbs.

The actual biologists would argue that ONLY a fertilized egg will ever grow to be recognizable, even by a child, as a human being.

Rubio’s heart was in the right place but his head wasn’t when he said: “The only thing that that can BECOME is a human being.”
This should not be, and is not, an argument from potential. There is no “becoming” here, only what “is”.
Marco would be accurate if he had instead said
“The only thing that IS is a human being.”

By See Noevo (not verified) on 11 Aug 2015 #permalink

The actual biologists would argue the same about teratomas

It's unusual to find S.N. in such a self-reflective mood. I presume that the backstory of why he invoked warts will never truly be told in public.

At his point, though...

[t]his should not be, and is not, an argument from potential

... he's simply trying to repurpose words from his shockingly idiotic and pursuit of self-gratification over at RI:

“If – hypothetically for we know how much you like those – the next Pope degreed that contraception was acceptable (like ann demonstrated, there is precedent for that), would you as a dutiful Catholic start promoting contraceptions as God’s will?”

I would respond in the same way I would if hypothetically Jesus Christ himself came back to earth and declared murder is acceptable now and should be promoted.
I guess I’d start promoting murder.

^ "shockingly idiotic and"

The earlier draft was a bit more free-wheeling.

Once again sn demonstrates that there is no area of science his religion completely prevents him from understanding

His lack of integrity and failed education helps too, of course.

The Bible does indicate a different value for babies after they are born, but if the Religious Right cared about the Bible, they would be emulating Jesus Christ, not Pat Robertson.

By Howard Brazee (not verified) on 12 Aug 2015 #permalink

Rubio's stance on fertilized eggs as human beings (instead of living tissue) would criminalize embryonic stem cell research. This is the "personhood" position, which I wrote about extensively in my forthcoming book, STEM CELL BATTLES.

By Don C. Reed (not verified) on 14 Aug 2015 #permalink