Tag Archives: Abortion

Memes and Hidden Premises

Philosoraptor EnthymemeIt’s hard to be on the internet these days without seeing these “memes” (rhymes with dreams). Memes (also called image macros), are clip art or photos with whatever caption a person wants to use to convey an idea. Atheist Richard Dawkins is credited with coining the term back in 1976 to describe the concept of a piece of cultural information propagating and changing over time in an evolutionary fashion. He derived the name from the Greek word for mimicry, “mimema”, as he was trying to show how ideas could propagate through imitation and evolve over time. With the advent of the net and things “going viral”, the name has stuck around, if not exactly the same as he intended.[1] The common internet memes we see so often today might also be classified with another similar-sounding, but unrelated, term: enthymemes. What’s that? Glad you asked. An enthymeme is an abbreviated syllogism, and a syllogism is a set of 3 propositions: 2 premises and a conclusion. The classic example is the following:

Premise 1) All men are mortal.
Premise 2) Socrates is a man.
Conclusion) Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

An enthymeme shortens this format down to only 2 propositions. “Enthymeme” comes from the Greek word en-thymos, meaning “in mind”, because one proposition is “kept in mind” instead of stated.[2] This can take a couple of forms. The conclusion can be left out as a form of rhetorical setup where the audience makes the connection given the 2 premises that are allegedly true. An example of this could be something like, “Only lawyers are qualified to serve in Congress and write laws, and I don’t see a law degree hanging on your wall…” The intent is for the audience to fill in the conclusion in their own mind that the speaker’s opponent wouldn’t be qualified to serve in Congress by that measure. Hopefully, they would also question the truth of the first premise, but I digress.

More commonly, one of the premises will be given, along with a conclusion that is supposed to obviously follow from that. Here’s where we have to not rush to agree with the catchy sound bite until we’ve examined it a little closer (even if the conclusion expresses something we support). In this case, the conclusion is stated, so we know the author’s intent. The stated premise may be true, but there is typically a hidden premise (“kept in mind”) that may or may not be true, and that will typically determine whether or not the conclusion necessarily follows. Once we discover the hidden premise, then we can actually analyze the view being put forward. Why is this important? If the 3 requirements of clearly defined terms, true premises, and valid argument are met, then we have a sound argument and the conclusion has to be true (whether we like it or not). Therefore, it’s important to be able to see whether someone’s view is actually supported by the reasons they give.

While validity is a measure of correct form, the argument  can still be valid even with false premises as long as the conclusion necessarily results from the premises (like the rhetorical example above). Take, for example, the following argument: “How could it be right to restrict abortion? Any restriction on a woman’s right to control her own body is wrong.”[3] This is a passionate plea on a controversial issue, but is it justified? Rewording the initial question into a declarative sentence, we have “It is wrong to restrict abortion” as the conclusion, and “Restricting a woman’s right to control her own body is wrong”  as the only stated supporting premise. But there has to be something connecting these 2 propositions together. The hidden premise in this case is “Restricting abortion is restricting a woman’s right to control her own body.” Put in syllogistic form, we would then have the following:

Hidden Premise 1) [Restricting abortion] is [restricting a woman’s right to control her own body].
Stated Premise 2) [Restricting a woman’s right to control her own body] is [wrong].
Stated Conclusion) Therefore, [restricting abortion] is [wrong].

Note: brackets are used to help keep track of the terms of each proposition to more clearly see the relationships between terms. Now we can see that this is indeed a valid structure because the conclusion does necessarily follow if the premises are true. But the argument still has to pass 2 other tests for the conclusion to be true: clear terms and true premises. In this case, the fetus is a separate human body with its own DNA, fingerprints, blood type, and gender, residing in the mother’s body. Therefore, it is not  part of her body, so the hidden premise is false. Also, most people wouldn’t think twice about restricting a woman’s right to control her own body if she were trying to commit suicide, so it would seem that even the stated premise is not true (at least not without being more specific). Now, the stated conclusion could still be true, but not for the reasons given by the author. This, then, is not a sound argument.

So before you share that next clever meme that supports your view, or get frustrated by one that doesn’t, take a few minutes to look for hidden assumptions. Then examine their logic. You might just be surprised how many popular sentiments don’t have a leg to stand on.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme, accessed 2015-10-06.
[2] Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic, Ed. 3.1 (St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), pp. 264-275, “Enthymemes”. This chapter includes this bit of wisdom – “[T]here is no more practical skill you can learn from a logic course than this: how to smoke out an arguer’s hidden assumptions.” Indeed!
[3] ibid., p272, Exercise #20.

How to Get Away with Murder

7 half-week_embryo
Baby at 7 1/2 weeks after conception

There is a curious inconsistency in American law right now. Many states have laws stating that if a pregnant woman is murdered, the assailant will be charged with not one, but two, murders. Even if she is only injured but the fetus is killed, murder (or manslaughter) charges may be brought against the assailant for the death of the fetus. 23 of those 38 states count the killing of the fetus as murder/manslaughter at any stage of pregnancy from fertilization to birth.[1] For instance, Scott Petersen in California was charged in 2004 with 2 counts of murder after he murdered his wife who was 8 months pregnant.[2] But most of these state laws also have a very specific exception for when the intentional killing of an unborn child is not considered murder: when the person doing the killing is an abortionist. But what’s changed for this exception? What, precisely, is the difference between the criminal and the abortionist?

Is one killing and the other not? No. Clearly, the baby is alive in both cases prior to the act, and dead afterward. In the case of late-term murders and late-term abortions, the presence of detectable heartbeat, brainwaves, metabolism, and response to stimuli makes it clear that the baby is alive in both cases. The absence of these signs of life (and the dismemberment common in abortion)  makes it clear the baby is very much dead after both acts. But even in the first trimester, there are certainly enough signs of life to say the object being killed is not inanimate (fetal heartbeats, for instance, have been detected at 22-30 days after conception, brainwaves as early as 6 weeks, 2 days).[3] Even assuming the baby were just a “clump of cells” as some like to say, there is no question that they are living cells at the very least.

So both involve killing something, but is abortion killing a human? That’s really the only question that matters, isn’t it? If the baby isn’t a human, then why are are people like Scott Petersen sitting on Death Row with two counts of murder against them instead of just the mother’s murder? I’ve heard abortion compared to having a tumor removed, that they’re both just unwanted, parasitic blobs of tissue. The claim that a fetus is just a clump of cells or a “blob of tissue” is a bit of an oversimplification as the the baby is already made up of roughly 1 billion cells and has most of its adult organs formed by the time its embryonic stage is complete at 8 weeks (from conception). At best, that “blob” comparison is only valid for the first few days after conception.  Of course, the tumor alluded to would also be considered living cells, and animals also exhibit the same signs of life like heartbeat, brainwaves, breathing, and response to stimuli. So what makes this rapidly developing “clump of cells” human? First, it has human DNA, and it gets this individual-specific DNA within the first  day after conception, as 23 chromosomes from the father and 23 chromosomes from the mother are combined to form a new 46-chromosome human with all the genetic information needed to form a fully-functioning human. The degree of development doesn’t change this basic genetic criteria. It has the same DNA at 80 years old that it did 1 day after conception. Second, an adult human is the natural consequence of the development of this “blob of tissue”. While a tumor may share a person’s DNA (with certain mutations), tumor growth never results in the formation of a new person.

So it’s human. But why think this baby is a separate human? Isn’t it just a part of its mother’s body? The baby’s connection to the mother (the umbilical cord) is one of life support. If you were connected to another person for an emergency blood transfusion, would you then become part of that person? Of course not. Your dependence on the other person does not change your status as a person. One could also point to things like its unique set of fingerprints (present by 10 weeks). After all, we’ll often use these to uniquely identify a person throughout their life post-birth. Of course, the baby often having a different blood type from it’s mother and a different gender half the time clearly confirms it is not part of it’s mother’s body even though it resides inside her body. But even with the same blood type and gender, and before unique fingerprints have formed,  DNA testing will show the baby is a distinct, separate human from it’s mother as half of it’s 46 chromosomes came from the father to form a genetically unique human.

So the baby seems to be unequivocally a distinct living human. But is killing it murder? After all, murder is more than just killing. In cases of self-defense or protecting innocent life, killing an assailant is not considered murder, but justifiable homicide. Does abortion fall into this category? That is how it’s viewed in these legal exemptions for abortionists. But generally, the other exceptions have to be justified by saying that an innocent person might’ve been killed or some other serious crime would’ve been committed if the assailant hadn’t been killed first.[4] Yet, the unborn baby seems to be the very picture of innocence, having had no chance to do anything malicious to anyone that should warrant death.

In the end, we need to recognize that the abortionist is committing murder by intentionally killing a unique, living, innocent human without provocation. And what’s worse, through decades of scientifically, philosophically, and legally false propaganda, generations of women have been tricked into supporting institutionalized murder on an epic scale. I haven’t used any religious rationale in this post, just basic reasoning and science. But notice how the science supports the historic Christian position that abortion is wrong. This is to be expected if Christianity really is the true revelation of our Creator, for science is simply the observation of the physical world He has made.

[1] http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/fetal-homicide-state-laws.aspx, accessed 9/20/2015.
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Peterson, accessed 9/19/2015.
[3] http://www.ehd.org/science_main.php?level=i, accessed9/19/2015.
[4] Other noncivilian justifications include the carrying out of legal duties by agents of the state such as judges, police, etc, or soldiers following lawful orders in wartime.