Intellectual Integrity

Ep 42 – The Burning IVF Lab Analogy

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Hello friends! I’ve had a TON of conversations on this analogy lately.
Some productive.
Some not so much.

Hopefully I can help you guys think through this issue and also communicate it well.
Here’s the podcast:


PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS

The information in this post/podcast has come from a ton of conversations I’ve had on this topic, informed by various posts at a bunch of different sites. I wish I could point you to all of them, but I just don’t remember where I found all of the information over the last several years. However, it was most likely a combination of ERI, Secular Pro-Life, and LTI, as well as the absolute best article on this topic in existence: Embryos and Five-Year-Olds: Whom to Rescue by Robert P. George and Christopher O. Tollefsen

I’m not trying to be a jerk here but it seems that the fertility clinic argument is embraced by people who are not trained, at all, in philosophy. This seems to make sense for those who are already biased towards choice, and basically no one else. Maybe the “fence-sitters”. But concluding “therefore abortion is ok” from this thought experiment is intellectually lazy.
I use this thought experiment as something of a litmus test for the pro-choicers I’m talking to. If they genuinely think this is a good thought experiment, I know I have some work to do. This isn’t meant as an insult, but merely an observation. The key here is that you should know your audience, but never use their ignorance as an excuse to be a jerk to them. The goal is to convince, not make them feel or look stupid/uninformed.

At the same time, this thought experiment is awkward. There doesn’t seem to be a pro-life intuition that people have on it. There’s a lot going on (killing vs letting die, saving vs killing, emotional manipulation, etc), so the uninitiated or untrained may be persuaded. In my opinion, if this thought experiment made you pro-choice, you were tricked and your ignorance was preyed upon. And tbh I’d probably be insulted that I was manipulated instead of taught how to think properly.

Before diving into the IVF analogy, let’s talk about thought experiments.
No, you CAN’T SAVE BOTH. You just can’t. You’re not allowed to do that. Stop offering that as a solution to this. That’s not how thought experiments work. Way too many people think that a proper response to this is to assert that you can save both. But you can’t.
You think you can do these things, but you just can’t, Nemo!
The point of a thought experiment is to flesh out our moral intuitions within the parameters of the thought experiment. One of the parameters is that you have to choose between the embryos and a toddler.

All of that being said, let’s talk about it.

It has been recently popularized by an author on twitter (who subsequently blocked me after I engaged him on it), but he didn’t invent it. Here’s his take on it, but the basic idea is this:

You are in a burning IVF clinic. In one corner, a child. In the other, 1000 embryos. Which do you save? If you save the toddler, this shows that you know they’re not equal. And if you’d just admit this, you’d understand that abortion is ok.

Right off the bat, anyone trained in basic logic will notice that this is a non-sequitur of massive proportions. There is no coherent train of thought that would allow you to logically conclude “therefore abortion should be ok” from “you would save a toddler from a burning building”, but the problems are much deeper than mere logic alone.

Because this is a complicated question, I suggest you do three things when talking about this with a pro-choice person.

  1. Respond directly to the question before diving into your explanation.
  2. Ask what the pro-choice person thinks you should conclude from this.
  3. Negotiate for time. Ask for permission to flesh out the details. Ask for permission to explain why their conclusion is faulty.

When you do all three of these things, you’ll have your answer out of the way, the pro-choicer’s conclusion, and the time to explain the flaws properly. And when you have all of these, you have the beginnings of an actually productive conversation!

Look at how much I’ve already said on this and I haven’t even started to address the thought experiment itself! Sometimes simple questions have complicated answers, and unfortunately people will ask a “simple” question, ignore the complicated answer, and then pretend that “no one has EVER answered it honestly“.

As George Horne says, “Pertness and ignorance may ask a question in three lines, which it will cost learning and ingenuity thirty pages to answer. When this is done, the same question shall be triumphantly asked again the next year, as if nothing had ever been written upon the subject. And as people in general, for one reason or another, like short objections better than long answers, in this mode of disputation (if it can be styled such) the odds must ever be against us; and we must be content with those for our friends who have honesty and erudition, candor and patience, to study both sides of the question.”

Ok, so without further ado, here is a bulleted list of the problems with the Burning IVF Lab thought experiment.

  • “What would you do?” isn’t a good question. The good question is “what should I do?”. This point may seem a little pedantic to some, but it is an important distinction. What I would do might depend entirely on my emotional state at the time. Moreover, extracting a moral principle should rely on the answer to the “what should I do?” question, not on what I would do. Maybe I’m a sociopath, and what I would do is the immoral choice!
  • One of the important things about this analogy is the question that it is asking. It is asking “which would you save?”, whereas abortion is asking “can we kill this?”
    Right off the bat it is asking a different question, so the entire thought experiment doesn’t even really apply to question of abortion. It might be a little bit better if the thought experiment was trying to get us to conclude something about embryo destructive scientific experiments with ESCs. It would be closer to the moral question, but still not a good thought experiment.
  • The choice to kill is always a devaluing judgement call. The choice to save is not devaluing, but a comparison of valuable human persons.
  • It is perfectly reasonable to save the toddler over the embryos, because this isn’t just a numbers game. If it was 1000 embryos vs 1 embryo, obviously the 1000 should be saved. But it’s much more complex than that. It is a mistake in thinking to see this as purely a utilitarian numbers game.
  • There is a significant difference between the kinds of deaths the embryos would suffer vs the kind of death the child would suffer. The toddler would suffer and die (probably slowly) in a fire. The embryos would cease metabolic activity. This doesn’t make them non-human, of course. It just means that the suffering of the toddler would be infinitely greater than the suffering of the embryos. So if we’re trying to reduce the physical suffering of those involved, the answer is obvious. Save the one that can suffer. Moreover, the familial attachments that the toddler has to her family would mean much greater grief than the loss of the embryos. Additionally, if you save the child, she is guaranteed to survive. The embryos… not so much. Not unless you have access to an IVF clinic and a perfect record of success in implantation, which no one has. Not yet anyway.
  • It’s weird to think that the scientific fact that a new human life comes into existence at conception is somehow going to be changed by a thought experiment that asks whether or not you would save a toddler or an embryo. My actions regarding an ethical dilemma has nothing to do with basic human reproductive biology. And while the embryos may not be “babies”, they are living human beings at the beginning stages of their biological development. No philosophical analogy is going to change this fact of biology, heartily embraced by every developmental biology textbook, and almost every qualified scholar, in existence.

The best way to engage with this, I’ve found, is to say which one you would save, and then ask them what you should conclude from this.
Let’s say you’d save the toddler (most would). What does that mean about the embryos? Almost all of them say it means the embryo isn’t human. And that seems obviously false, but demonstrating that is hard. The best way that I’ve found is to ask permission to explain why, and then modify the thought experiment to include 2 non-embryo entities.

Thought experiment modifications:

  • What if it was two toddlers, and one was your daughter?
    • Saving your daughter doesn’t mean that the other toddler is a worthless non-human or non-person. If that
  • What if I have access to an IVF clinic, and I can save all 1000 embryos? Or better yet, what if the 1000 embryos are the only hope left for the human race? What if all that’s left of the human race is just you, the toddler, and 1000 embryos?
    • This certainly changes the moral equation. But choosing the embryos doesn’t mean the toddler isn’t a valuable human being.
  • What if it was 2 pregnant women or 2 not-pregnant women?
    • This decision seems obvious (all else being equal) because they are pregnant. There are four people vs two. If we use this thought experiment, does this mean abortion is immoral?
  • Comatose patients and a toddler.
    • People agree that the comatose patients are morally relevant individuals but many would choose the toddler. What does that mean about the comatose patients?

…aaaaand that’s all I have on this analogy.
It took much longer and much more work than I had originally planned, but that’s what happens when there is a quick question asked by someone who didn’t think through virtually ANY of the assumptions built into the question.

Now go out there and save some babies.

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Tomlinson & the Burning Fertility Clinic

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Hello friends! As you have likely heard, writer Patrick Tomlinson tweeted out a slightly dramatized version of the “burning research lab” thought experiment, and (for whatever reason) it went somewhat viral and now everyone thinks this is some kind of devastating analogy that absolutely destroys the pro-life position on abortion.

Here’s a link to the first tweet in the chunk (click to to read the whole thing):

The horror!

The problem is, this analogy has been refuted countless times by people well before Tomlinson tweeted it, and hundreds more times since. But it doesn’t stop “news” outlets like LADBible and Salon from featuring Tomlinson, as if he invented this analogy or something.

Usually, I’d just post a response article (like this one or this one or this one or hundreds of others) and leave it at that, but I guess a mere response article won’t do nowadays because the internet has become a place where everyone actively searches for their biases to be confirmed, and who needs to be challenged to change their beliefs, right? It turns out, Tomlinson is also really good at confirmation bias, because he has been blocking people who show the stupid analogy for what it is; nonsense. He blocked Ben Shapiro, which is how I found out about him.
So I made a meme (cuz that’s what I do over at DPLM), tweeted it, and tagged Tomlinson.

In response, he called me “desperate” because making fun of him in meme format is desperate I guess? lol

and then told me that he doesn’t block everyone, just those who “acts the fool”.

So I asked if he is interested in engaging me on the subject.

He never responded to that.
However, he did respond to some other things.

Someone else asked if Tomlinson would save 1000 comatose people or a 5 year old…

… and he said that he would save 1000 people in comas.
As would I. But this still doesn’t justify abortion or the analogy in any way. And I do my best to flesh out why the analogy doesn’t prove what he (and those who think like him) think it does.

Obviously not, and he would never admit such a thing. But that’s what he is trying to get us to conclude with “his” analogy.

It’s true. 1000 comatose patients and 1 5-year-old are not equivalent.
But again, this doesn’t do anything to remove the inherent moral worth of the 5-year-old. I try to explain that to him:

… and he didn’t respond to what I said with anything even remotely coherent. He just responded with a gif saying that I’m missing the point.

So then I tried to get him to explain the point that I missed.

… and apparently he didn’t want to clarify what point I missed.

… and that’s when he told me to “read the fucking thread” and blocked me.

Which is ironic, because I was actually not “acting a fool” at all, but really doing my best to engage with the argument. He didn’t block me when I made a meme (which is arguably “acting a fool”) and decided to block me when I showed his analogy to be silly.

Thanks for confirming the meme, buddy.

I guess any argument is invincible if you ignore those who refute it.
If you’re curious as to how to refute the argument (outside of what I said to Tomlinson), visit the links I provided above. They’re great.

Or look at some of the resources in the comments under this Facebook post!

Or watch Ben Shapiro beat him up a bit on his show, here:

 

Ep 38 – In Defense of Dank Memes

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Look at this dank meme

Hello friends! Thanks for listening to episode 38, where I give a handful of excuses as to why i’ve been gone for over a month, and then dedicate way too much time talking about memes. But hey – at least I’m not a normie.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Dank ProLife Memes

Pls liek n shair dis eppisōd k thx bye

Ep 36 – Being Comfortable with Controversy

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Hello friends!

I’ve got something a little different for you today, I hope you like it. Many people are uncomfortable with controversial conversations, and I hope to change that. I want people to be comfortable with controversy so that we can have productive conversations on issues like (but not limited to) abortion.

The three articles I read in this episode:

Links to things on the backfire effect:

Announcement! I am working on my first book, tentatively titled “Comfortable With Controversy – How to Talk to Your Friends and Family about Politics and Religion”. If you want to be a part of the group of people who get a free copy of the book before it is released, send me an email at FetalPositionPodcast@gmail.com.

If you enjoyed this or thought it was absolutely terrible, let me know in the comments below, on the facebook page, private facebook group, twitter, or by email (FetalPositionPodcast@gmail.com). Thanks so much for reading/listening!

Recognizing Your Own Ignorance & Avoiding Sensationalism

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Let’s admit it.
Critical self-reflection is a lost art. And I don’t mean finding faults in your physical appearance while trying to take a selfie. I mean intellectual critical self-reflection. We have no idea how to do this.

Yet, it is probably one of the most important things we can do, as seekers of the truth. We have to be able to look at a situation, idea, or event and say, “wow, yea I really have no idea what’s happening here. Maybe I should wait a frickin second before diving into this with my unjustified opinion!“.

Unfortunately, most people don’t do that. Uninformed people make uninformed decisions and this inspires other uninformed people make additional uninformed opinions that none of them understand. And they all get together and pat each other on the back cuz of how incredibly informed they believe they are.

The problem is worse than just a bunch of ignorant people, however. The effect of this inability to engage in critical self-reflection is compounded when paired with our ever-problematic pride.
I’ve experienced this first hand. As soon as you publicly attach your name to a particular ideology, it is very difficult to reverse that decision. Even when that position is obviously wrong! Because not only would you have to admit that you were wrong about something, but you’d have to re-evaluate how you come to your conclusions. And if that isn’t a punch in the pride, I don’t know what is.

This re-evaluation would FORCE you into being the kind of person who doesn’t immediately have a loud opinion he can shout as soon as something important happens!
And that kind of person is so boring! Waiting to understand a situation is totally lame. How else are we supposed to feign being informed for 27 facebook likes and 17 retweets? We want knee-jerk emotional reactions to all things, right away! And we want to form groups of people who have the exact same knee-jerk, emotional reactions to everything, so that we can be isolated from alternative opinions!

Here’s my solution. Be actively thinking about your own self-reflection. You ought to know yourself better than anyone else, other than possibly your significant other. Or your mom.
I have found that when I am ignorant on a topic and someone presents an opinion that I think is wrong, I immediately feel an anger well up inside of me. I have this unrelenting urge to tear them to pieces, but I have no idea how to do that. And my inability to slap them around makes me even MORE ANGRY!

I was presented with a situation like this a few weeks ago. I forget the topic, but I found myself immediately angry. I stopped myself and thought, “wow, ok. So this anger means that I am ignorant about this topic. Instead of publicly declaring my knee-jerk, emotional opinion on this (that I will likely have to revoke later, with my tail between my legs), I should do a bit of research.”

And I’m glad I did.
Turns out, I was wrong. And had I publicly declared my opinion on it, I would have had to defend the false view in order to maintain my pride.

So, if you’re like me and you find yourself angry at a particular topic, follow these steps:

  1. Ask, “why am I angry?”
  2. Is it because I am ignorant about this topic?
  3. Should I delete what I just wrote, or take back what I just said?
  4. How can I become more informed on this topic?
  5. What does the other person believe about it, and why?

If we all could just chill out for 1/2 a second before launching into an ideological battle about something we haven’t studied at all… the world would be a better place.
Start with yourself.
Today.
Be the change you want to see in the world.