Thursday, November 15, 2007

Birth Control & Abortion

Here's an enormous change of subject for you!

I've been sitting on two topics on women's issues that I've long had in the queue for my blog. I've now found the time for them. I'll do one today, the other sometime later. Both relate in one way or another to my old debate with Jennifer Roth: Is There A Secular Case Against Abortion? The Carrier-Roth Debate (2000), which I blogged about a few months ago (in The Abortion Controversy).

The first of these issues is a claim I made in that debate, which I reproduce in full here (emphasis added):

However, abortion statistics, such as appear in any World Almanac, only measure medical procedures, including the use of prescription abortifacients like the "Abortion Pill." What is rarely understood in this issue is the fact that the most popular means of birth control actually partly relies upon inducing early abortion, and is very likely responsible for many times as many abortions as occur in counted procedures. Hormonal medications of this sort include "The Pill," and Norplant, as well as the numerous herbal solutions which share the same or similar chemical properties and are thus employed in third world countries as a less expensive alternative to the manufactured pharmaceuticals that they mimic. All these chemicals operate simultaneously on many levels, primarily by preventing ovulation and hindering sperm, but also by preventing implantation (and thus causing expulsion) of an egg that, despite all else, is fertilized anyway. In other words, all chemical forms of birth control, including the pill, cause abortions--and no one can know whether or when they have worked by their primary means or in this last-resort manner. This means that any discussion about the morality or legality of abortion necessarily entangles us in the morality and legality of the use of the pill and related implants and injections. This is all the more true given that women can deliberately cause this early-abortion effect up to three days after intercourse by taking a double or triple dose of their ordinary birth control pills.
In response to this, many years ago someone wrote to me that they had found a scientific article claiming there was no evidence of this. Though they knew there had to be something fishy about that (since they, like me, had read literature claiming the contrary) they wanted to know what was up with this article. The paper in question, by doctors Roberto Rivera, Irene Yacobson, and David Grimes, is "The mechanism of action of hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine contraceptive devices," in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 181.5 (November 1999): pp. 1263-69.

I'll now tell you more or less what I told this inquirer.

I had read in medical literature that birth control causes abortion (and how), but I could not remember where. So I was keen to see what these scientists had to say. Unfortunately, the AJOG article contains no original research on the question. It's simply a summary of other studies, most of which were not actually investigating whether the pill causes abortion. From this broad survey of past studies, Rivera et al. argue that we have no direct scientific evidence of induced abortions nor, if there is any, the rate of occurrence. Yet at the same time they show that it has been scientifically proven that all chemical birth control causes various physiological conditions that have been independently proven to cause abortions. So anyone of sense need merely do the math.

Since a large dose of birth control pills a whole day after sex is medically prescribed as having a high probability of preventing pregnancy, I find it very strange that they would ever dare claim "no scientific evidence indicates that prevention of implantation actually results from the use of these methods," and even though there is ample scientific evidence that chemical birth control has "effects on the endometrium that might prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum," they nevertheless conclude, "so far, no scientific evidence has been published supporting this possibility" and therefore (so they argue) "no scientific evidence supports an abortifacient effect."

So how the hell does a post-coital multi-dose prevent pregnancy? Seems to me there is only one way it could: by preventing implantation of a fertilized embryo. After all, the sperm will have merged with an egg and conceived, producing what most right-to-lifers call a child, well before the passage of twenty four hours. If you are not on the pill there is little to stop it. So the only way a post-coital dose could prevent pregnancy is by causing an abortion: it has to kill an embryo post-conception, one way or another. Unless they are going to invoke something like baby-loving time-reversing faeries, there is no other way around this conclusion [Except one, now noted in the comments section below: if the sperm gets in before ovulation, then the pill can work the way it normally does...but outside of that, or missing ovulation altogether, if it works at all, it has to be death for an embryo].

In truth, this study only claims that no one has actually "checked to make sure." I'm not surprised. It's not easy to check. Even the few studies that have been done (which they survey) did not have the means to ascertain this fact. But more importantly, it is not a study that any pharmaceutical company wants to fund, seeing as its results could draw negative attention from the pro-life movement. But as far as anyone of sense is concerned, the evidence (indeed, abundant scientific evidence) is clear: chemical birth control prevents the implantation of at least some fertilized embryos. Which then die. Given how many hundreds of millions of women use these chemicals, even if the percentage is small, you're still looking at a lot of dead embryos.

Embryos aren't babies, of course. But that is exactly the fact that needs to be conveyed in the public arena, with a good hard bitch slap on anyone who thinks the contrary. The math is simple, but the work is hard. I am pro-choice because I know embryos aren't people. And I know that because I have responsibly researched the relevant science and philosophy. But understanding why an embryo isn't a person requires figuring out what a person actually is, which requires working out just why persons are valuable, and all this must be done on a foundation of a sound survey of the relevant scientific evidence. And that's a lot of work. Apparently most people are lazy. Rhetoric and trickery are easy, and thus evidently more commonly preferred.

Hence I do not approve of my fellow pro-choicers playing word games simply to avoid admitting the pill kills embryos, just because pro-lifers call them people. A prominent example is the Planned Parenthood page
Ask Dr. Cullins: Birth Control. Just like here, some will say that killing an unimplanted embryo isn't really abortion, which is to hide the facts behind semantics. Or they will tempt non sequiturs, like claiming the pill does not prevent implantation because "it is very unlikely that an egg would be released or fertilized while a woman is using them," even though it is a scientifically documented fact that at least one in every hundred women using them gets pregnant. That might sound "unlikely" to a single girl, but on a global scale that's no trivial number of pregnancies.
If the pill fails to stop fertilization in 1 in 100 women, in how many other women did it also fail to stop fertilization, yet also prevented pregnancy by preventing implantation? To utter in the same breath that "in theory, it's possible" for the pill "to prevent implantation" and then claim that it does not prevent implantation because it reliably prevents fertilization, is far too shady to be considered honest. And yet this rhetorical trick appears even from the AJOG authors, who argue that because chemical birth control "is highly effective in inhibiting ovulation and sperm penetration, the possibility of fertilization is negligible," and yet "unintended pregnancies occur with all" chemical methods, which "provides incontrovertible evidence that fertilization and implantation can occur, albeit rarely." Knowing, as they must, that the percentage is better than 1 in 100, they are clearly resting on a rather Orwellian interpretation of the word "negligible."

This looks a lot like hiding behind the ignorance generated by a disinterest in conducting studies that would confirm an obvious but unsavory truth, and then twisting words around to make what we do know sound as palatable as possible. "Of course it doesn't happen. Except when it does. Which is almost never. And besides, no one's ever proved it. Except with obvious facts. But who needs those?" (and with that you're to imagine happy little faeries singing in the background, floating on tufts of love, plucking on harps of sugar candy)

Sorry, but that's just bullsh*t. Even the AJOG paper admits that "in women who received emergency contraceptive pills before midcycle, most biopsies showed" that "the endometrium also exhibited a lag in the development or maturity" of the relevant cells and "implantation would be unlikely in this type of endometrium." In fact, they document that even on regular chemical dosages, abundant scientific evidence confirms the same or similar implantation-hindering effects on the endometrium, all the time. There is no rational way to deny the conclusion that follows from this fact.

Since the effects on the endometrium are fully documented and conceded by these authors, and since as a matter of established physiology these changes will certainly reduce the probability (which is a fancy word for frequency) of successful implantation of fertilized embryos, and since it is an equally established fact that chemical birth control often fails to prevent fertilization, I do not see how the authors of this paper can honestly get away with dismissing the obvious outcome as "unknown." That's like shooting a machinegun into a darkened room and saying that because no one turned the light on, the effect on actual people living in that room must be negligible. I don't buy it. And neither will any pro-lifer. So what is gained? Since the deception is obvious, all this rhetoric does is amplify distrust. So why resort to it?

I must say the cynic in me wonders whether Big Pharma funded this study for the specific purpose of preventing pro-lifers from getting on their case. It qualifies as such a beautiful work of obfuscation: do no actual research, just summarize what's been done--which is, practically speaking, nothing--and then from "nothing" assert conclusions as hopeful as one can remotely justify, despite common-sense evidence more strongly supporting the contrary--which, to pass peer review, the paper dutifully includes, but then quickly buries under all those excessively hopeful pronouncements that since no one's seen it, maybe it doesn't happen (cross those fingers, knock on wood, rub that rabbit's foot raw).

I've seen this trick before..."Well, no one has seen evolution, so there's no evidence anything evolved." It's the same sad game. And all who resort to it should be ashamed.


Uber Miguel said...

Bravo! Granted.. you'll most likely get cheers from the right and boos from the left so I'm glad to jump on here as an early pre-emptive couterweight.

You're completely right on. I've noticed this for years but hadn't really given the issue that much serious thought. My only fear in clarifying these situations is that the public may not quite be ready enough for the optimism of using honesty to counter a position on false beliefs. But I completely agree that fighting fiery deception with fire does absolutely nothing toward actually resolving these issues - all you get is a lot of fire!

Thanks for the post.. I'm interested in helping the local Planned Parenthood - but they're definitely going to hear it about the misinformation in their materials. ;)

Pikemann Urge said...

Science should be done with neither fear nor favour, and yet the scientists you quote are - at least subconsciously - afraid to admit some basic facts (assuming you are correct).

This happens too much in the sciences. Some people need to grow up.

Thanks for the article. One does indeed learn something everyday.

Solon said...

>>understanding why an embryo isn't a person requires figuring out what a person actually is, which requires working out just why persons are valuable, and all this must be done on a foundation of a sound survey of the relevant scientific evidence.

Or by mere will and definition.

You have simply defined "person" as you prefer, not discovered it scientifically. There is no more scientific basis to your chosen line in a continual process than others. (If a developing brain leads to "personality," why not a developing brain cell? Etc.)

More deeply, you have willfully declared it true that "persons" in general are valuable - not bodies, not noble persons, not persons like us, etc. -, not discovered it scientifically in any way whatsoever. No doubt your "scientific" finding ultimately relies, at base, upon religious mythology of equal and infinitely valuable souls (or vulgarized Socratic/Platonic-Kantian mythology of a "divine" inner connection to absolute truth and the "real" world). -Or worse, mere mob agreement, which in turn relies upon the above.

Finally, I also don't see in your abortion discussion where you scientifically discover how it is simply true, in and of itself, that certain animals hopping about this particular rock in space OUGHT to do anything. In order words, that there actually exists something called moral truth, as opposed to mere means for getting along with each other in order to further the general power of our life form - and there is nothing "moral" about that - or the power of those who invented a particular "morality."

From your debate:

>>Morals must be based on universal values.

Ok, let's see where that leads...

>>Usually, this value, or something similar, is rightly assumed to be universally shared
>>I will continue this assumption.

Oops, a quick stumble. In other words, let's just declare something "universally true" for all time if a lot of people in our time happen to agree with it. We know mob agreement doesn't imply truth at all, but let's go even further and also ignore the long history of our species that clearly demonstrates a lack of universal agreement.

>>There are those, we can imagine, who [...] have no value for respecting individual human existence
>>But such people would not be persuadable on any point of morality anyway, rendering this debate of no use or interest to such a creature. We are thus speaking to, and for, everyone else.

In other words, let's please quickly ignore anyone from our species' history who logically demonstrates that there is no truth to these "universal" assumptions we just made because it topples our entire "scientific" house of cards and claims about "moral truth."

Isn't the scientific "truth" of the meaning and value of our lives much more complicated? That there are no "truths" hiding under rocks awaiting discovery by mystics or "scientists" and that the great nobility of life resides in our having to choose and forge our creation as we go along? And that the interesting questions about morality for the curious do not revolve around "a dispute about the facts [...] or a dispute about values," but rather around the nature and value of morality itself. If, as hinted above, morality as we know and live it has been founded upon otherworldly notions, does that not tell us that it therefore devalues our world, the only world we know, and is therefore nihilistic in nature? In other words - to bring the subject round to your original matter again -, antithetical to life?

Jon said...

I just gotta comment on this post. Richard, it was your debate about abortion on the sec web that was the impetus for my first foray into religious debate on discussion boards. At the time I was a die hard conservative Christian. A thread was started at iidb discussing your debate and I entered. Don't go back and read it. The arguments I made are embarrassing to me now.

Little did I know that 5 years and many posts later these forums would be instrumental in moving me away from evangelical Christianity and into agnosticism. Your writings were key in helping me see the light, along with a few other internet skeptics. Another key internet skeptic was a guy in the forums that goes by the name of bd-from-kg. I have no idea who this guy is, but if you know of him you know he is one of those people that make the discussion boards such a great place to learn.

As a Christian posting on the sec web forums I was stunned to watch as an agnostic provided the most powerful and persuasive arguments in favor of the pro-life position that I had ever read. I had just assumed (naively) that only someone that believed in God could justify such a position (and I concluded that Miss Roth had failed against you for this reason).

I'm going to take some time and dig up some of bd's key posts and post them at my own blog. You may find them interesting and challenging if you can spare time from your schedule. I've already posted one of his key posts, and I'll try to do more later today. For now I'm off to Ann Arbor to watch Michigan crush Ohio St.

RantingAndRavingAngryPharmacist said...

[quote]So how the hell does a post-coital multi-dose prevent pregnancy? Seems to me there is only one way it could: by preventing implantation of a fertilized embryo.[/quote]

Most everything else you said is quite true. However, Plan B aka The Morning After Pill does have another mechanism of action. Since sperm can live in a woman for 72hr (rarely even up to 5 days), MAP can and does work by preventing release of the egg after intercourse. Of course, the other mechanism of action is that it can and does prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Pharmacologically, there is *no* difference between MAP and BCP--to be ethically consistent one must support both or oppose both.

I think you are right about big Pharma pandering to the pro-life (but don't feel left out, Big Pharma will pander to anyone if it nets increased sales for them.)

Like with many things, there are many gray areas between "pro-life" and "pro-choice". Someone who identifies as pro-life may feel that life starts only at implantation, or only when there is a heartbeat, and therefor have no ethical problem with MAP or BCP. Conversely someone who identifies as "pro-choice" may feel abortion after the point of viablity should be banned. My personal feeling is that most Americans while calling themselves pro-life or pro-choice, fall somewhere in the muddy area, rather than adhere to the stringent beliefs of the most vocal pro-life and pro-choice leaders.

Richard Carrier said...

AIGBusted (aka Ryan): Sincerely, I mean no offense, but I had to delete your post, since it only contained a kudo and a link on creationism, which isn't relevant in a thread about abortion science (in case you're curious, my deletion criteria were posted here).

RantingAndRavingAngryPharmacist: Thanks for the new info. I've added a note to the original blog covering the sperm survival exception, which I hadn't thought of. Though sperm survival isn't relevant if the egg is already available (since it won't take anywhere near three days for a sperm to find it), if you haven't ovulated yet then I can see now how an emergency dose of the pill could operate the same way the pill usually does (by preventing ovulation or sperm motility, though I imagine with comparable failure rates for both). And I certainly agree with you on the philosophical points. Notably, confirming your last point, I'm one of those people in the middle: I oppose elective late term abortion.

Richard Carrier said...


You seem to be confused about some things. I said "figuring out what a person actually is...must be done on a foundation of a sound survey of the relevant scientific evidence." That's not the same thing as saying I "discovered persons scientifically" (whatever that would mean). There is a difference between arriving at a conclusion on a foundation of scientific evidence, and arriving at a conclusion by ignoring that evidence, and it is the latter I was opposing.

Otherwise, the central question, as I said, is "working out just why persons are valuable," which I do in my book Sense and Goodness without God. So if you are relying only on the Roth debate, where I specifically bracketed these fundamental issues as being already agreed between Roth and me (we only discussed the matters on which we disagreed, which you should know is standard practice in formal debates), then you need to read my book instead. The word "personhood" is even in the index. But it sounds like you will need to read everything I say about the meaning of words and propositions, and the factual foundation of moral values, before catching up to speed and understanding why I believe what I do.

At any rate, I do not arrive at what a person is by some arbitrary line drawing, nor do I rely on any notion of "infinitely valuable souls," much less in any Platonic sense (indeed, had you read my book, you would know I explicitly argue the contrary). Even in the Roth debate I identify some of the attributes required to be valuable, one of the most important being that you have to actually have those attributes. Potentially having them only makes you potentially valuable, by the law of commutation in logic.

Bad said...

There are actually a lot of other stories and reports basically denying that the pill, the MAP, and so on prevent implantation. Googling brought up some, but I thought the most interesting was this one by a pro-life person basically saying "hey, it turns out they don't prevent implantation, according to all these scientists." It's probably worth looking at and talking about a few of the other and more recent studies/claims than just the 1999 AJOG one.

Richard Carrier said...

Bad: If you find any peer reviewed science articles that make the claim, do let me know and I'll investigate them.

Ben said...

"Since the deception is obvious, all this rhetoric does is amplify distrust. So why resort to it?"

Man...words no one seems to be able to hear. Let's just keep the bullshit going and fuel umpteen hundred culturally codependent cycles of retardation! Yeah!

Or...we could just tell the truth and deal with the consequences like adults.


Solon said...

Richard, you seem to be confused about some things.

>>I said "figuring out what a person actually is...must be done on a foundation of a sound survey of the relevant scientific evidence." That's not the same thing as saying I "discovered persons scientifically" (whatever that would mean).

Whatever it means doesn't matter much because that's not what I said.

I said you did not arrive at your definition of a person scientifically. Instead you declared a position and then defended it through a series of steps (cortex=a first spec of novel brain "data"=individual=person=valuable), several of which are questionable, while arbitrarily inserting value. (Another example: my particular existence and cells could just as easily mark me as an "individual" if I wanted to define it that way - who cares about copies?) And then badly equating no brain activity at the end of a life with a life just beginning and quickly passing beyond that? (Would you unplug someone in a hospital who will get better in 2 months?) Or saying "Abortion Does No Harm" because it doesn't hurt, while entirely ignoring that it ends a life? Then playing to the crowd by throwing in crude utilitarian gains?

More fundamentally:

>>where I specifically bracketed these fundamental issues as being already agreed between Roth and me

What you did was agree with your fellow mystic to ignore all evidence that the fundamental point around which you were debating was obviously false by your very own definition of "moral truth" that you put forth at the beginning of the debate. As a so-called scientist and atheist, would you agree to assume it is true that god exist so as to engage in pedantic debate about the holy trinity?

If not, statements such as these are as embarrassing as Mr. Flew's having lent his name to Christianity:

>>there is a universal moral truth for everyone (or every sane person)
>>immoral, in that it could be an act of disrespect for an individual human's existence

And the declarations can only be explained because "Apparently most people are lazy. Rhetoric and trickery are easy, and thus evidently more commonly preferred."

>>I identify some of the attributes required to be valuable

No, you identify what you and many in our recent history might find valuable, not what a particular animal species on this planet simply OUGHT to believe and act on.

>>the factual foundation of moral values

No doubt you have a strong faith in your foundation, as the disdain you show for others in your writing makes clear, but it most certainly is not a "factual" foundation. If you have any online articles you can link to where you discuss the matter extensively I'd love to read them and would be happy to find that you are the first philosopher in the history of the world to have "discovered" a scientific basis for morality.

However, from what I've read online already, it clearly is the same old superficial "let's be happy!" rational-optimist routine, with vulgarized conventional mythology and assumptions of value buried underneath, exactly as I said above. Who exactly declared it true that the "logically supreme value" is "personal happiness"? Sounds like Christianity groped by juvenile Anglo-Saxon philosophers. The Greeks and Romans would have laughed at that. Moral behaviour is doing what is right, and you have not discovered that generic herd happiness is right, or that anything at all is right.

You seem badly confused between what certain animals do to get along and further their life form, and the truth about what they OUGHT to do. Your desperate need for moral rectitude and this confusion leads you into positions that undermine your professed self-understandings at a fundamental level. You'd be better off critically examining what exactly morality is, trace how it and the values you espouse originate, and what (and who) they serve. You might very well find yourself on the "other" side.

Lippard said...

This discussion parallels a similar one at the Triablogue Christian blog about how various methods of contraception work.

Bad said...

"Bad: If you find any peer reviewed science articles that make the claim, do let me know and I'll investigate them."

WHAT? Look, you're the academic with nothing better to do than literature searches. I'm a poor schlub who barely even has time to blog what with all the awesome video games out today.

You do all the hard work and then I'll link to you approvingly, got it?!

Seriously though, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm study seems a credible one I hear cited: it claims that "one-time treatment with levonorgestrel has no effect on the uterine lining."

Eliza said...

Richard -

There is evidence from medical trials to support the claim that hormonal contraception, including emergency contraception ("EC") using the "morning after pill" & the copper IUD), probably do work most often by preventing conception by delaying ovulation, and have less (if any) effect via preventing implantation. I'll use EC to refer to the "morning-after pill" here.

I'm an internal medicine physician who practices in a women's clinic at an academic medical center, so I teach about contraception, including at medical conferences, & I've reviewed the medical literature in detail regarding this question in the past, because the question comes up over and over, from patients and at medical conferences. I don't do research, I don't have any ties to Pharma, and I don't have any reason to want to believe that these medications to work one way instead of another. At this late hour (past my bedtime) I can't come up with all the references I'd found in the past by searching PubMed (the National Library of Medicine's online database of medical literature), but here's a rundown of the type of study results I'd found:

- Most conceptions result from intercourse that occurs 1-6 days before ovulation, rather than from intercourse right at or after ovulation, as most of us learned in sex education in high school. This study was done several years ago & involved recording when couples had intercourse each month (but not daily), frequent testing to determine exactly when ovulation occurred & when pregnancy resulted. If sperm need to be present before ovulation for conception but have a limited life span, then delaying ovulation by a few more days after unprotected intercourse could indeed be a potent route to preventing conception.

- EC is quite effective at preventing pregnancy when used shortly after unprotected intercourse, but its efficacy drops steadily over the subsequent several days. It's ineffective at something like 5+ days after intercourse. That time course suggests that it prevents conception (the early event) rather than implantation (the later event, occurring around 8-12 days post-ovulation).

- Several studies have shown that (a) ovulation, if it hasn't already occurred that month, is delayed in women after they take EC, and that (b) EC is much more successful at preventing pregnancy in women who have not already ovulated by the time they take it, and has very low efficacy at pregnancy prevention in those who have already ovulated. (In those studies, hormonal and/or ultrasound testing is done to determine when ovulation occurs.)

Here are a few references, from a search on Pub Med of "emergency contraception AND ovulation":

Novivoka et al. Contraception. 2007 Feb;75(2):112-8 (Can search for it on Pub Med by the PMID: 17241840). Bottom line: 0 pregnancies (of 7 expected) in 34 women who took emergency contraception before ovulation, 3 pregnancies (of 3 or 4 expected) in 17 women who took emergency contraception 1-2 days after ovulation.

Ortiz et al. Hum Reprod. 2004 Jun;19(6):1352-6. (PMID 15105392) Study done in monkeys (I hadn't found this one before) - EC prevented pregnancy if given before ovulation, but did not prevent pregnancy if given after ovulation.

Trussell et al. Contraception. 2003 Mar;67(3):167-71. (PMID 12618250) Review of 8 published studies, concludes that the efficacy of EC for preventing pregnancies was "higher - and in most cases substantially higher" when intercourse occurred 2 days before ovulation or earlier, than when intercourse occurred 1 day before ovulation or later, thus suggesting that efficacy at preventing pregnancy by preventing ovulation (preventing conception) was much greater than any efficacy at preventing implantation.

Hope that's helpful. That's all I can do right now to help provide some substantiation for the claims about EC acting to prevent conception, at least most of the time.

David Cortesi said...

While it was not the point of this post, the issue of spontaneous abortion is related.

I would appreciate it if you would apply your research & commentary skills to the implications of miscarriage for the philosophy of abortion. One finds frequent claims that a large percentage of all pregnancies are spontaneously terminated. The Wikipedia article on Miscarriage says Prospective studies using very sensitive early pregnancy tests have found that 25% of pregnancies are miscarried by the sixth week.

It seems to me that this has profound implications on the question of what, or when, is a person. Don't you?

Richard Carrier said...

Eliza: Thank you so much for all your additional observations and citations. All very helpful. However, the sample sizes are far too small, e.g. a population of 17 can hardly be expected to exhibit a phenomenon with a frequency of 1 in 100 (or anything else in that order of magnitude). Hence the studies and facts you mention mitigate the question of frequency but don't change my conclusion: it's still a quibble over how many, not whether, and its a deception to conflate the two.

DCortesi: Spontaneous abortion (i.e. miscarriage) is only an issue within the context of theism. In the Carrier-Roth debate neither of us were theists. Outside theism, as far as I can tell, the existence and frequency of natural miscarriage has no more bearing on the question of personhood than the existence and frequency of stillbirth or SIDS.

Richard Carrier said...

I apologize if anyone is annoyed by it, but following my stated deletion standards I deleted the entire heated and largely off-point debate between Miguel Picanco and Solon (including Bad's weigh-in). Even besides my reasons, all of you need to be much less hasty in resorting to insults and lambasts.

However, Picanco asked one question that was on-point and worth answering, which is whether I am familiar with Fyfe's "desire utilitarianism."

In answer, I am familiar with it in outline, but haven't exhaustively analyzed it, so though he is clearly very close to my thinking I can't yet say whether we have any differences. Formally, I combine all three ethical paradigms: I am a virtue ethicist (I believe morality is ultimately about the sort of person you are and not just the actions you perform or the choices you make) and construct that by combining teleological ethics (i.e. utilitarianism) with deontological ethics (e.g. of a neo-Kantian bent), such that an action is moral depending on what sort of person you embody when choosing that act.

I think this differs in some points from Fyfe, but as he constructs his system very differently I can't say for sure whether our approaches analytically reduce to the same one, especially as the root of my system is the goal theory (the natural fact from which all moral facts derive), which corresponds with his desire theory (and as I show in my book, even Kantian deontology is utilitarian in Fyfe's sense).

Richard Carrier said...

Bad: Dude, chill! All I said was if you knew of anything to let me know. No need to bite my head off. Hey, man, too much coffee that morning?

Seriously, though, the Stockholm study actually entails that regular use of the pill is more abortifacient than a single emergency dose (which is a notable example of how Eliza's evidence is problematic: as it only referred to single doses and not regular chemical treatment).

The study in question is "Mechanisms of action of mifepristone and levonorgestrel when used for emergency contraception" by Gemzell-Danielsson and Marions, Human Reproduction Update 10.4 (July-August 2004): 341-348, and does not contain any independent research but is yet another survey study of other work. And all it really found was that a single dose affects the endometrium less often (than regular use), not never (as is mistakenly reported in the press), and even then the emphasis is on single dose: they fully concede that regular use of the same chemicals has multiple counter-implantation effects. But their effect in this regard on a single emergency dose depended on time of dose (in a woman's cycle) and size of dose (large vs. small).

For example, on p. 346, "treatment with 200mg mifepristone," which the paper establishes is effectively equivalent to a proportionally smaller dose of levonorgestrel, "inhibits endometrial development and effectively prevents implantation." Ta-da! And though they then claim a much lower dose (10mg mif. or 1.5mg of lev.) "acts mainly to inhibit or delay ovulation but does not prevent fertilization or implantation," this partly contradicts what they say on p. 345, where they cite studies proving that 10mg mif. does produce effects inhibiting implantation, and it is only 1.5mg lev. that does not (though as they mention elsewhere it still does when used regularly, or in single but larger doses).

Hence when you read articles like Morning-After Pill's Not Abortion, Scientists Say, even the title is misleading, as the content of the article itself makes clear: notice all the qualifications slipped in here and there, a classic example of the "deny it while not denying it" tactic of deception. This article also exposes the politically charged context of the debate, and gives an example of quoting the Stockholm study out of context as saying something not quite what it actually says.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon said... I said you did not arrive at your definition of a person scientifically.

And I said that isn't what I ever claimed to have done, so claiming I didn't do it is moot. I arrived at it philosophically, applying logic to scientific and other empirical evidence. And I'll repeat again (hoping you listen this time): you need to read my book, which actually addresses the issue, not my debate with Roth, which only debated the points on which she and I disagreed.

Otherwise, it is you who are "assuming" Roth and I started on mystical foundations when we agreed upon the existence of universal moral values and natural persons. Since neither of us stated our foundations (since we didn't debate them), your assumption is without basis beyond your own imagination. If you want to know what my foundations for these statements actually were, you will have to read my book, particularly as it devotes a hundred odd pages to "critically examining what exactly morality is, trac[ing] how it and the values [I] espouse originate, and what (and who) they serve."

I don't know why you ask me now to point you to such, when I already did. So go to it man.

Solon said...

>>I arrived at it philosophically, applying logic to scientific and other empirical evidence.

In this context "scientifically" and "philosophically" mean the same. I wasn't indicating that you were out collecting field samples.

>>it is you who are "assuming" Roth and I started on mystical foundations when we agreed upon the existence of universal moral values and natural persons

My point all along has been that you are blissfully unaware of what your foundations actually are because your positions in this area are naive and superficial. Your foundations are mystical, it's simply a mystery to you still :-)

I do apologize for being frank, but I can assure you that my "assumptions" about your ideas are not merely in my imagination and, having read online a number of things that you've written, I see no need to buy your book merely to verify that there is no "there" there either.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon said... In this context "scientifically" and "philosophically" mean the same. I wasn't indicating that you were out collecting field samples.

You said: You have simply defined "person" as you prefer, not discovered it scientifically.

Your original statement, now combined with your last, suggests an ignorance of the difference between analytical (philosophical) and synthetic (scientific) knowledge. If now you claim no difference between science and philosophy (!) I have no idea what you were ever talking about. All I can tell for sure is you are stubbornly ignoring my repeated request to act responsibly and actually read what I have said on exactly this subject before pronouncing opinions on it. Go read Sense and Goodness without God. I will delete everything you post in this thread from now on until you actually start interacting with what the book says.

Solon said...

>>As far as deletions go, my rules are these: comments must be on-topic, must argue against things I actually said, and must contain relevant facts (merely naming authors doesn't count).
>>merely disagreeing with me is not a condition for deletion.

That's false.

You also censor mildly critical posts on this blog, such as on this post:

Not much for philosophy, I suppose?

Censored post here. Judge yourself:

Sadly, I forgot to screencap the 2nd post you censored below the above one where I quoted YOUR own words on morality (as YOU asked) describing YOUR argument in YOUR book and pointed out that was the type of weak, superficial position I was talking about which made your book not worth buying.

Solon said...

Here are the direct links to what was censored here:

direct to screencap

file host page

Richard Carrier said...

Solon, I told you I was going to delete everything you posted here until you read my book. I will continue to do so. So don't post here again until you've met my requirement. This is not a general rule. It is something I told you personally, for specific reasons already explained here. So stop bitching about it and do it. Or go away.

Solon said...

And I answered you each time that I've already read the basics of your argument about morality which you've posted, or others have quoted from your book, and it is extremely weak and thus your book is not worth buying for me. If I could find any good argument at all to indicate it is worth the time and money, I would buy it.

Why are you swearing and threatening people with more censorship just because they won't buy your book? It's very strange.

Richard Carrier said...

It is not strange, Solon. And everyone else here knows it. Even apart from the fact that this is my blog, and thus you have no rights here to be infringed (posting here is a privilege I extend, not a right you can claim), the reasons I am refusing to let you to continue to harass me have been made plain above and are entirely sensible. It will only cease to be harassment (and thus become respectable dialogue) when you actually bother to read what I have written on the very subjects you are criticizing. My online work does not address what you are talking about and therefore to claim you know what I have argued on these points by having read only some of my online work is bullsh*t. And I think you know it.

Solon said...

>>posting here is a privilege I extend, not a right you can claim

Who claimed such a right? As I explicitly said in the post you censored, "it's your blog and your sense of propriety will guide you." I merely suggested it's poor marketing and that censorship is an odd policy for someone in philosophy - unless the poster is being abusive or vulgar, but so far only one person has taken that road.

>>the reasons I am refusing to let you to continue to harass me

There's the crux of it. In philosophy people who think your arguments are weak and dare to disagree with you are not "harassing" you. Perhaps you are a little frazzled from blogwars with Christians?

>>My online work does not address what you are talking about

Obviously it does in fair part, and sketches out the basics, and there are all manner of passages quoted from it out there. Everything I have seen by you on the subject of morals is naive rational-optimism in my opinion and thus not worth paging through the minutiae.

>>to claim you know what I have argued on these points by having read only some of my online work

Look, are you going to go by a book by me on furniture design when I've only offered poor commentary on the subject in your opinion? Of course not. And if you point that out then I will have to say fine, or lay out some arguments, not suggest disagreement is harassment and that I have some secret arguments you need to pay for. The latter sounds more like Scientology than philosophy.

Uber Miguel said...

Doesn't google have a ban feature?!? As an aside, one does not need to fling foul language to be considered vulgar. I certainly consider constant nagging, cheap crude analogies, ignoring entire lines of argument provided as reference, and "intellectual" namecalling to be quite vulgar.

Solon said...

>>Doesn't google have a ban feature?!?

Another fine example of "philosophy."

Responding to a post in a logical manner is not considered "nagging" in philosophy. If you have an argument, make it. Otherwise, beware becoming what you wage war against.

Richard Carrier said...

Solon: Look, are you going to go by a book by me on furniture design when I've only offered poor commentary on the subject in your opinion? Of course not.

Actually, I would. In fact, if I were morally committed to rational discourse, I would be morally obligated to buy and read your book before repeating or continuing my criticism, at least in any situation properly analogous to ours.

Here is the (non-fallacious) analogy you are claiming:

You say something I think is inadequate about furniture design, I criticize you on that, then you tell me that you actually said much more, and material far more pertinent, on the very thing I am criticizing, and that in fact what you say in your book completely addresses my criticism and even corrects several incorrect inferences I have drawn, and refutes several claims I made about you. I then refuse to read the book and continue to criticize you on the same point.

That's debating a wall. It's not open discourse. So stop pretending to sit on any high horse here. You have abandoned rational philosophical dialog. And your persistence in pretending the contrary is really just a testament to what an a**hole you are.

RantingAndRavingAngryPharmacist said...

Hey Solon, maybe you could see about checking R Carrier's book out of the library? You don't necesessarily have to spend money to read his point of view.

Solon said...

>>see about checking R Carrier's book out of the library

I live in Asia, so no such libraries.

Anyway, what a waste of time it would be reading a verbose kitchen-sink book by someone who has not publicly put forth a good argument on the specific topic at hand, only bad ones - and then censors his blog. It makes little sense to buy books by people making bad arguments when there are so many good ones to read.

Richard Carrier said...

You're like a broken record. Never listen. Do no work. Keep repeating unproven slanders. Then claim you're being persecuted (when in fact you're just an *ss).

That's the end of it, Solon. I will delete everything you post from now on unless it conforms to the standards I have set for everyone and actually responds to what I've written (instead of persistently ignoring it).

Frog2008 said...

I'm not sure if this is really on-topic, but I did read an article recently that said that women urinate the synthetic estrogen in birth control pills into the water table and that is having negative effects on wild life, specifically fish, including trout in Alaska (which some people eat). Here is what a scientific, controlled study found in minnows:

In addition to the expected endocrine disruption (i.e., altered vitellogenin gene expression and protein induction and altered hormone receptor expression), effluent exposure was also associated with increased DNA strand breakage, a decreased number of lymphocytes, an increased number of granulocytes and thrombocytes, and altered expression of liver metabolizing enzyme genes.

The male fish are becoming less fertile because of estrogen in the water.

I don't particulary want to drink some woman's peed out estrogen (or eat fish whose DNA has been altered). Why are the environmentalists not up in arms about this?!!

RantingAndRavingAngryPharmacist said...

[quote]Why are the environmentalists not up in arms about this?!![/quote]

Because, right or wrong, environmentalists are more concerned about the alledged overpopulation of the world.

Richard Carrier said...

Actually they are up in arms about it. Science News has been discussing this problem for years now. Their articles mention the involvement of political, scientific, and environmental activists on getting the issue attended to and solved, and I see no signs it is being ignored.

The problem is related to the pharmaceuticals disposal threat, which the same people are working on: some people are flushing prescription drugs down toilets, too, but they are all peeing them out. Most drugs, being alien to the renal system, end up filtered out by our kidneys almost as soon as they get in, and then are peed out, which is why drug doses are so large. You may think a pill is small, but understood in terms of the tiny, tiny amount needed to act at the cellular level in blood dilution, a pill is gigantic, dozens or hundreds of times more than the body needs. Because all that excess is peed out. But this means far more of the drugs we take get into our water supply than into our bodies. Even drug addicts, BTW, are peeing cocaine and heroine and THC into the water supply.

Technological advances in water treatment are the only plausible solution, and the same advances will solve all these problems together (the same technology that can get birth control drugs out of the water will get all the other drugs out as well).

Already the threat to us is minimal, because we typically aren't drinking the tainted water. It's ending up in the environment which actually acts as a rather effective filter before returning that water to us (through rain, snow, wetlands, and groundwater development).

The problem is that, as anyone who works with filters knows, the poison doesn't disappear. It just gets stuck in the filter. Normally you just replace the filter. But you can't replace the environment, so using it as filter is a bad idea, unless it can completely deconvert the poison (by breaking it down into harmless chemicals). Right now there are a lot of drugs that don't break down easily, and unless we genetically engineer animals that do it, it will take thousands of years for natural selection to build those animals for us. Currently, the animals (who are in effect "filtering" the poisons for us) are being adversely affected, and though they will inevitably adapt and thus become immune (or possibly even dependent) on the poison, we don't have that kind of time.

A more practical solution right now would be to build our own machines to do it, i.e. improving water treatment facilities. That way we filter the water ourselves before dumping it back into the water cycle. We just haven't yet developed affordable filtering technologies for the more problematic drugs, but we're working on it. Many are already filtered out by current technologies, although even those often still end up somewhere, such as landfills or toxic waste dumps, since actually breaking chemicals down costs more than simply removing them. But even now we don't skimp on everything, and some drugs are broken down in water treatment and thus eliminated.

Emanuel Goldstein said...

Hey. I loved your remark "a good hard bitch slap to anyone who thinks the contrary".

At least its just a slap. Atheist put my relatives in Camps and killed some of them.

You would be too much of a wimp to do that yourself, of course.

Uber Miguel said...

wth, Andrew? Are you referring to Hitler's camps? Hitler definitely was not an atheist.. he tossed atheists into the camps first - and one of his rallying cries used to devalue the Jewish people included the accusation that they were just godless, soulless atheists.

In fact, it's almost tough to tell whether Hitler didn't refer to Jews simply as atheists in many of his early speeches - or helped the German nation of Christians become eve more comfortable with hating Jews due to this bait and switch approach with atheism.

Richard Carrier said...

Andrew said... Atheist [sic] put my relatives in Camps and killed some of them.

Wow. You are a weirdo.

Anyway, I assume you are referring to those Christian and Neopagan fascists called Nazis, who were following the God-believing Hitler, who was an old-earth creationist who definitely believed he was chosen by God to destroy both Judaism and Atheism and would go to heaven when he died--because he said so in his private bunker monologues during the war (as I show in my article on this in German Studies Review). Miguel Picanco provided some additional sources corroborating exactly the same thing (thanks Miguel!).

You would be too much of a wimp to do that yourself, of course.

If being compassionate is your idea of being a wimp, then I take that as a compliment.

Richard Carrier said...

Loneknight30 said... I cannot conceive of any objective definition of morality.

Then read my book Sense and Goodness without God.

If there were an omnipotent god, then its version of morality (objective or not) would be the only thing that mattered, since no one could stand against it.

We surely could.

If we wanted to (see No Need to Believe).

Unless god turned us into robots. But then we'd just be spectators, not participants, in whatever we do.

Thus if religious people could point to clear evidence that an omnipotent god had defined its moral code for us clearly, then I think we would be sensible to acknowledge, and follow that moral code. However, religion/s can point to no such evidence. In fact, far from providing clear proof of an omnipotent god's unwavering, and clear moral guidelines, various religious groups can be found to disagree on practically every single question of morality. Thus I happily accept the fact that I as an atheist have no objective moral code, because I know that religious people also have no such thing.

Nicely put. See Darla the She-Goat.

I too believe in a ban on late-term abortions. I think this would even have to include cases of rape if the pregancy has developed beyond a certain point. I would suggest to any woman that has been raped, that she take abortive measures early on, or not at all.

I agree.

Preferably early on, so as to avoid propagating the genes of a known rapist.

That's a reasonable position to take. The best way to reduce genetic susceptibility to becoming a rapist is to give those susceptibilities a negative differential reproductive success. Although it would take thousands of years to notice the effect of such a practice, even if all women volunteered to follow it (and had access to the means to).

I do not believe in assigning a small group of cells, or a fetus that has not yet developed a nervous system, the same rights as the pregnant mother who carries it and makes it's life possible, at her own expense.

My point exactly.

Richard Carrier said...

Loneknight30 said... On a note almost completely unrelated to this thread...Of particular interest to me was your explanation of Lee Smollen's "multiverse" theory, which I had never heard before. I like this theory, but I have to wonder how there could be enough mass at the center of a black hole (which should contain only the mass of a collapsed star, and some other objects that have been sucked in) to generate an entirely new universe, unless each successive universe is smaller (by mass) than the last, or unless the process somehow creates more mass.

Well, even were that how it works, mass is relative: if people and stars and planets in the next universe were half as large (and Plank's constant were halved as well), there would be half as much mass yet the universe would look and behave exactly like ours. Every successive universe could be halved again, for all eternity, and never would anyone notice. They would all look the same.

But that's not how it works. The successive universe is not made out of the matter that falls into a black hole. When matter collapses to a region smaller than the Planck scale, quantum mechanics dictates anything can happen, including the spontaneous creation of vast quantities of matter and energy. Thus the next universe would be composed of an entirely new batch of matter-energy, produced spontaneously by the quantum uncertainty generated by the core of a black hole. This new matter-energy would explode in a direction away from the parent universe. Thus we would not see anything happen to the black hole: it just sits there and slowly evaporates and then vanishes, while inside a whole new universe is growing, and when the black hole evaporates completely, that new universe is severed from ours and no longer even connected to it.

Physicists have actually worked out the equations for quantum tunneling that have this result. It's based on known physics. Inflation theory lays most of the foundations: a perfect vacuum state produces hyperinflation of a region of space-time, which generates a force which has an energy value, which energy value is so huge it generates matter and particles, which then cools and expands into a universe. All the contents of that universe come from the energy generated by the rapid expansion of the vacuum state, which rapid expansion is necessarily caused by the properties of a perfect vacuum state. Thus from nothing, something necessarily comes. That's the standard view in cosmology. As many physicists will tell you, "nothing is unstable."

For sources on all this see the works I cite in my book (above) for not only Smolin's hypothesis, but the Big Bang in general (where you'll find the basics on Inflation Theory) and the Linde Chaotic Inflation theory (a sound competitor to Smolin--in the debate I stuck with the easiest theory to understand, but in my book I explain LCI actually has a better case to be made for it on fundamental science, although both are plausible, and either, or indeed a combination of both, could be true).

It's possible both factors apply, though: if Planck's constant in the next universe is, relative to our universe, smaller than our universe's Planck's constant by the same factor (i.e. if the new constant were 10^-34 times smaller than our constant), then the total energy value of the new universe would be, in terms of energy in our universe, less than the total energy content of a single proton (and thus the smallest most microscopic blip of an energy fluctuation), yet that energy would fragment in the new universe in such a way as to produce vast quantities of protons 10^-34 times smaller than protons in our universe, and so on, so a whole vast universe would result (like Orion's Belt in Men in Black II). An earth in that universe, and people in that universe, would be 10^-34 times smaller than in ours, but from their perspective their universe would be massive.

Richard Carrier said...

Loneknight30 said... I also read Darla the She-Goat, and I would still argue that whatever initial metaethical premise you start with is somewhat arbitrary, and therefore the entire basis of any resulting morality would be subjective, not objective.

See my response to that in comments there (link here).

Loneknight30 said... Also, specifically the idea in that blog that people work to maximize their happiness in their lifetime is an obvious truth, and this is the reason to be moral. However it breaks down for guys like Napoleon, or Hitler, or Stalin, who have some talent, or opportunity that allows them to toss conventional morality out the window in pursuit of lusts that capture their imaginations.

See my response to that in comments there (link here).

My book, of course, lays out all the facts and arguments, and cites all the relevant science and scholarship.