Monthly Archives: January 2011

Dialogue on the so-called “mind-body mystery”

“Missy” = the mysterium
“Mat” = the materialist

Missy: We have plenty of evidence that our brains are necessary for our minds, but we find the manner of the connection mysterious.
Mat: To make reference to “connections” here begs the question. It assumes that there are two real things that need to connect.

Missy: I don’t mean to suggest that we are unable to form hypotheses about the mind-body connection. We are able to form hypotheses, some of which I shall mention in the next paragraph. Each of these has had staunch supporters. But each group of supporters has been counterbalanced by a similarly adamant group of detractors. In short, none of the proposed understandings of the mind-body relationship has been able to achieve a consensus.
Mat: Again, the phrase “mind-body relationship” implies that there are two ‘things’ that relate to each other somehow. That there are two such realities has to shown to be the fact.

Missy: The most notable hypotheses (about the mind-body connection) have been mind-body dualism, materialism, and identity theory.
Mat: Isn’t it true that only the first, dualism, tries to explain the ‘connection’; the other two do not try to explain any ‘connection’ or ‘relationship’? However, you might be expressing the idea that the same thing relates to or connects with itself, in the case of materialism and the identity theory.

Missy: According to mind-body dualism, the mind is a non-material substance (e.g. an immortal soul) associated in some way with the material body. To make a crude analogy, the body is like an automobile and the mind is like the driver. A close scrutiny of this theory uncovers serious problems, but the theory is serviceable for the everyday use of everyday persons, because it does reflect the stark difference between the kind of language we use when we talk about our ideas, thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. and when we talk about physical objects in space and time. In the former kind of language we in effect acknowledge the existence of entities (e.g. ideas) that cannot be located anywhere in space.
Mat: Of course, many people use the language of ideas, thoughts, feelings, desires and such without implying any belief that such entities exist as entities in their own right; e.g., reference to my thoughts is really just reference to my act of thinking. The only existing entity is the person who thinks certain thoughts.

Missy: If we probe people’s brains we find neurological events that seem to correlate with these non-spatial entities, but we don’t find the ideas themselves. They seem to be entities of a radically different kind.
Mat: Of course, this is only one interpretation, a questionable one at that. Many of us deny this implication of the existence of “ideas themselves” or “entities of a radically different kind.”

Missy: Thus mind-body dualism has a strong foundation in actual experience, but it also has serious difficulties.
Mat: No! Dualism is not founded on actual experience; mind-body dualism only arises from an interpretation of actual experience, an interpretation of experience which posits the strange entities such as “ideas themselves.”

Missy: If we assume that the mind and the body are two radically different kinds of substance, we create a difficulty in explaining how they interact. For example, suppose decide to raise my arm. The deciding is a mental act.
Mat: Yes, that the mind and body are two radically different kinds of substance is surely an assumption, a questionable assumption. But is it a given that deciding to raise an arm is a mental act? Couldn’t we say that the act of deciding to do something is done by the brain; i.e., that it is a neurological process?

Missy: The raising of the arm is a physical act. How do mental acts make physical acts happen? Or, for that matter, how do physical events (like stubbing your toe) cause mental events (like pain) to happen?
Mat: It is not at all obvious that the sensation of pain is a “mental event” rather than a physiological process. Could pain occur without the neurological happenings in the brain?

Missy: From the point of view of modern science, there is no such interaction, because there are no such things as mental acts and mental events. Granted that we have an extensive language about various kinds of mental entities and mental acts, but this language is misleading. Primitive people invented all kinds of spiritual entities to explain things they experienced. But as it turned out, none of these spiritual entities actually exist. Verifiable physical explanations have, in a wide variety of cases, replaced spiritual or supernatural explanations. It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that the language of mental entities will sooner or later be replaced by a language that refers only to physical entities and physical processes.
Mat: I’m not sure who concludes that that an ideal, purely physical language will replace our ordinary way of talking about ideas, thoughts, pleasures, pains, and such. This surely is not what many scientists and non-dualistic philosophers conclude. Our language most probably will remain intuitive and will continue to refer to thoughts, ideas, love, pleasure and pain and not replace such terms with the equivalent scientific terms that refer strictly to neurological processes.

Missy: To be more specific, this language will eliminate mental talk in favor of talk about brain events and brain processes. Many people who put great stock in scientific explanations subscribe to this theory, which is called materialism.
Mat: Materialism is a theory about reality; but this view about how language will evolve is another thing altogether. Materialist thinkers like Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and Doug Hofstadter do not (to my knowledge) propose that some type of scientifically pure language which refers exclusively to brain events and brain processes will replace our intuitive language that refers to ‘mental things’ and ‘mental events.’

Missy: Critics of materialism say that in materialism the tail wags the dog. We must resist the temptation to construct a scientific explanation of experience, for experience is the foundation of science.
Mat: Here you offer another very questionable proposition: namely, that experience is the foundation of science. Why would anyone claim this? In fact, the opposite seems to be case: the hard sciences attempt to eliminate subjective experiences as the basis for scientific propositions. This is the key to that objectivity sought by the sciences. Experience, in the sense of empirical observation and empirical verification play important roles in the sciences; but this is very different from concluding that “experience is the foundation of science.”

Missy: The axioms of geometry are the foundation upon which theorems are built. One doesn’t try to explain the axioms in terms of the theorems. Similarly, one doesn’t try to explain experience in terms of scientific theories. Rather, one explains scientific theories in terms of the experiences that verify them.
Mat: Why can’t we try to explain experience in terms of scientific theories? Surely in some of the relevant sciences — psychology, anthropology, sociology, etc. – it seems that one explains some experiences in terms of scientific theories. It is hard to see how ‘experience’ — the experiences of an individual can explain or verify anything. Theories are explained and verified by experiments, arguments, and well-grounded propositions. Propositions and arguments are not “experiences,” although some empirical propositions may be based on experience.

Missy: Since these experiences are mental events, mental events are indispensable presuppositions of science.
Mat: Of course, this is way too fast. You make several big jumps in reasoning here. Experiences relevant to the sciences are those had by persons. Are they mental events? Only if we assume the dualist version of such things. But this is a most questionable version of such things. I’m not sure what is an indispensable presupposition of the sciences. Since science is a human enterprise, I suppose you could say that humans who have experiences and engage in inquiry are presuppositions of science. But this does not admit your claim that mental events are indispensable to science.

Missy: One might say that these mental events are really brain events, but one can’t change the facts by saying it.
Mat: Right, if you had demonstrated the fact of mental events, then merely appealing to ‘brain events’ would not change the facts. But you have not established any such facts.

Missy: If neither dualism nor materialism is satisfactory, we should perhaps consider the possibility that mind and body are one and the same thing. But how can that be? Well, the two sides of a coin are not two different things. They are different perspectives on one and the same coin. Similarly, it might be the case that mind and body are not two different things, but different perspectives on one and the same thing. This hypothesis is called “identity theory,” because it interprets mind and body not as different things, but as different aspects of one thing, the person.
Mat: Yes, this is correct as a start to characterizing the identity theory.

Missy: But our cognitive capacity is finite, because our experience is perspectival. We do not see things whole. We see them from one side or another. By combining different perspectives, we arrive at an interpretation of the whole. In some cases the whole in question is simple, like a coin, and the combination of perspectives is sufficient to give us an unambiguous idea of the whole. But in other cases, like a person, or like the universe, our perspectives fail to combine in this way. Like a blind man feeling the leg of an elephant, we lack the ability to take in all the information we need. Suppose that the blind man has felt both the leg and the ear of the elephant. He has two incommensurable sets of data, and the combination of them fails to yield a single, coherent picture of the whole. The identity theorist thinks the mind-body problem is like that. On the one hand we have the language of physical objects. On the other hand we have the language of thoughts, ideas, experiences. These two languages are incommensurable. They fail to combine into a single, coherent picture of the whole. Thus, from this point of view, we are a mystery to ourselves. We don’t know what kind of a thing we really are.
Mat: Again, all this follows only by way of a particular interpretation of the situation. A good part of science is showing the blind man that his various set of data fit together to form a coherent picture of the elephant. Many so-called identity theorists and materialists (for sure) do not accept this idea that the two languages (physical and mental) are incommensurable and cannot yield a coherent picture of the whole. They seem quite commensurable to me; we ordinary folk talk about ideas, thoughts and desires; the brain scientists talk about brain processes. There is no obvious contradiction between the two. That there is a contradiction and that a coherent picture of the whole is denied would have to be argued successfully. You have not done this.

Missy: Our ignorance (with respect to our physical and mental aspects) does not prevent us from speculating. The philosopher Colin McGinn offers an example of such a speculation. On the basis of scientific evidence, he says, we know that the mind is in some way dependent on the brain. This evidence consists, for example, in studies of the effects of brain damage on the mental abilities of patients, or correlations between particular kinds of experiences and particular patterns of brain activity. But since the brain is localized in space while the mind is not, the brain-mind connection is difficult, maybe impossible, to understand.
Mat: Yes, this is speculation which assumes the dualistic picture. Given that assumption and all this talk about the mind existing but not in space as we understand “space,” of course we would then have a mystery as to where that “connection” is found and maybe “where” the mind is located.

Missy: There must be a connection, but that connection cannot be found in space as we know it, nor can it be found in the mind as we know it. The connection, therefore, must occur in a part of the “elephant” about which we have no information. McGinn speculates on just what part of the elephant that might be. He thinks it might be space. He thinks that our perspective on space might be severely limited, like the blind man’s perspective on the elephant when he feels only a leg. If space is something more than what we perceive it to be, then what we think of as the spatiality of the brain might be something more than we think it is. Indeed, the brain itself might be something different from what we perceive it to be. And the explanation of the relationship between the mind and the brain might lie in the aspect of space that is beyond the horizons of our knowledge.
Mat: (Somewhat tongue-in-cheek) String theory proposes eleven or more spatial dimensions. Who knows? The mind may be lurking there somewhere.

Missy: From the point of view of modern cosmology, space as we know it did not always exist. It originated in the Big Bang and has been expanding ever since. McGinn thinks it reasonable to suppose that the Big Bang had a cause, and that the universe must have existed in some quite different state prior to the Big Bang.
Space as we know it, then, could be simply our perspective on this larger and more ultimate reality. The larger reality is space, but it is more than space as we know it. It is space as it would be known to a mind less limited than our own. From this less limited perspective, there would be no mystery about how the language of the mental smoothly meshes with the language of the physical.
Mat: Yes, I suppose a speculative scenario could solve just about anything!

Missy: Of course, this is sheer speculation. We have no way to either verify or falsify such an idea. But we may find some consolation in at least being able to imagine an explanation of the mystery of the mind-body relationship. Indeed, it’s hard to simply suspend judgment on such theories. Once we hear them, we tend either to see them as plausible or implausible. Depending on which way we see them, we tend either to believe them or disbelieve them.
Mat: The mystery and pro-offered ‘explanations’ of the “mystery of the mind-body connection” are relevant only when certain questionable assumptions and inferences are made. When I point out that the ‘theories’ designed to deal with this mystery may be superfluous I am not “simply suspending judgment on such theories.” Someone who has not fallen into the conceptual traps set by dualists and mysterians does not need any “consolation of being able to imagine an explanation” of the concocted mystery.

Irony: A philosopher who cannot detect nonsense

Spotting Bullshit: A conversation with Stephen Law – (Free Inquiry, Feb/March 2011)

In the latest issue (Feb/Mar. 2011) of one of our better publications for the secular community, the periodical Free Inquiry, features an interview with philosopher Stephen Law, of Heythorp College, University of London. Law describes himself as a “liberal, a secularist, an atheist, and a humanist” and replied to a series of questions regarding his views on a variety of subjects including secularism, humanism, and atheism. But the questions which caught my attention related to his view of philosophy. The first one asked: What is Philosophy?

Law’s reply: “Philosophy is about applying our powers of reason so far as we are able to certain big questions, the answers to which at least appear to lie beyond the reach of science. For example: the metaphysical question “Why is there anything at all?” the ethical question: “What is right or wrong?” the epistemological question “How do I know that other people have minds?” or another metaphysical question: “Does time travel even make sense?” (Free Inquiry, Feb/March 2011, page 46)

With the exception of the metaphysical question, this is fair enough as an attempt to say what some of philosophy engages. But we should understand that these question are mostly conceptual questions and – in the case of the ethical question – a question regarding value judgments. These are not questions which “lie beyond the reach of science” in the sense that they attempt to probe a reality beyond the reach of science. To understand the role of philosophy in this way would be to revert to the delusion that somehow the philosopher’s thinking or reasoning can achieve a deeper knowledge of reality than the sciences. This is the delusion of traditional, metaphysical philosophy; it is not one which we should associate with the work of philosophy today.

Another question that I found surprising for an interview in a respectable publication was the question: What is the biggest problem in philosophy? — Law gave the following: “I’m not sure. Maybe the mind/body problem, or the question “Why is there anything at all?” (Free Inquiry, Feb/March 2011, page 46)

Trying to specify “the biggest problem in philosophy” can be an interesting exercise for undergraduate students of philosophy; but I’m inclined to classify it with such questionable, idle exercises as trying to say who the greatest philosopher is; or whether Shakespeare or Cervantes was the greater writer. The big problems in philosophy will vary depending on the philosopher and the area of philosophy in which he/she works. A philosopher of science will not list either one of Law’s candidates as the “greatest problem”: and someone specializing in social-political philosophy will surely not specify the metaphysical ‘problem’ of trying to say why there is anything at all instead of nothing.

So both the question and Law’s attempted answer surprised me. I was surprised that the interviewer — a philosopher himself (Floris Van Den Berg) and Law would seriously engage in such a dialogue. (After all, the interview is titled “Spotting Bullshit”) Furthermore, although the mind/body issue is an important problem for the philosophy of mind and for metaphysics meriting much attention and discussion, the second “great problem” – namely the deep question: Why is there anything at all? — mentioned by Law is surely a pseudo-problem, unless you happen to engage a certain type of metaphysics or theology. The question, insofar as it is one for modern thought, is one that is engaged by scientific cosmology and theoretical physics. Philosophy and theology, despite their pretense, are not in position to advance any significant theories (i.e., scientifically based theories) about deep reality, as would be required were we to take any proposed ‘answer’ to this somewhat vague question seriously. For the most part philosophers’ and theologians’ answers to the deep question fall into the category of the excreta of bulls. Neither the philosopher Stephen Law nor the publication Free Inquiry shows me that they are adept at spotting such product of the bull.


Despite their latest defeat in a Dover, Pennsylvania courtroom, the Creation/Intelligent Design (ID) movement is not going away; it remains a formidable social force. One of the ways that supporters of this movement attempt to gain credibility with the public is by holding debates with scientists and other advocates for evolution. Several arguments have come forward from supporters of evolution about the merits of debating with Creationist/ID supporters. Some of the best arguments for participating are that:

1. It affords scientists the opportunity to explain evolution and counter the Creationist/ID arguments.

2. Not participating fuels the misconception that scientists are afraid to defend evolution in public because they cannot answer their critics.

3. By not showing up, the Creationist/ID side wins by default.

Some of the best arguments against debating are that merely by participating, false impressions may be created in the minds of audience members, such as:

1. Creationism/Intelligent Design is a serious issue in science.

2. There are two and only two competing ‘theories’ about evolution.

3. Both ‘theories’ are of near equal intellectual and scientific merit.

It seems that there are reasonable arguments on both sides. However, experience has shown that debating creationist/ID supporters is no walk in the park. Any scientist contemplating participating in a public debate should be made aware that there are many potential pitfalls, including:

1. Most Creation/ID verses evolution debates are entertainment venues, not serious intellectual discourse. The majority of attendees arrive with previously formed opinions, often strong opinions! They come to cheer for their side, and to gain psychological reinforcement for their viewpoint. Sometimes, Creationist/ID supporters from local churches arrive by the busload and overwhelm the audience! This can be quite intimidating.

2. Some biologists spend most of their debate time merely explaining evolution. Since this is their specialty, minimal preparation is required. They perform as if they were giving a lecture, and assume that like the lecture hall, the audience will listen attentively, absorb the information, and accept their authority. This strategy is ineffective. Lecturing to a captive audience in a college setting is a much different form of communication than participation in the adversarial atmosphere of a debate. In a public debate, one must use the skills of persuasion and polemics to ‘sell’ ones ideas and arguments to the audience, some of whom are skeptical or hostile to those ideas.

3. Creationists are very adept at blind-siding their opposition with a barrage of novel arguments, often outside of the scientist’s field of expertise. In debates, this strategy has made some professional scientists appear inept, lacking in confidence, or unprepared.

4. In debates, the facts, evidence, and arguments are most effective by the way they are used against the opponent! Pro-evolution debaters cannot ‘win’ by merely presenting a mini-course in evolution. Instead, they must obtain a thorough knowledge of the opponent’s ideas and arguments and use most of their allotted time exposing those flaws. Unfortunately, this requires much time and effort directed toward research and preparation.

5. After major setbacks in the courts, Creationism morphed into Intelligent Design, which is more sophisticated than Creationism and spans many disciplines. Dissecting the flaws in ID often requires specialized knowledge in a diversity of fields. Now, ID has suffered a major defeat in the courts and is ‘evolving’ again. Thus, keeping current on the subject is an arduous task for anyone, including scientists.

6. ID, like Creationism, consists almost entirely of criticisms of evolutionary theory. In debates, this places the pro-evolution side in a defensive position from the outset, and adds more fuel to the misconception that evolutionary theory is weak or in jeopardy.

7. Several biologists have commented that Creationist/ID advocates can spew out more misinformation in five minutes that biologists can possibly dispel in five hours! Thus, Creationism/ID is analogous to a huge ball of tangled twine. It is far easier to tangle a twine than to unravel it, especially in the limited time parameters of a debate.

8. Unfortunately, the information content and the strength of the arguments themselves seldom ‘win’ a debate. Instead, the debater that displays superior public speaking skills usually makes the greatest impression on the audience. Many in the audience perceive qualities such as charisma, salesmanship, sharp wit, effective sound bytes, and even attractive physical appearance as synonymous with superior polemics and/or knowledge! This plays into the hands of the Creationists. Their persistent efforts at evangelizing, sermonizing, and debating, have enabled them to hone and polish persuasive public speaking and polemic skills. In addition, because they perceive “Evil-ution” as a threat to their worldview, they are highly motivated to defeat it. Thus, backed by strong financial resources, Creationists/ID advocates employ an army of skilled polemicists and debaters that work full-time in this effort.

Under present circumstances, it is probably wise that professional scientists not participate in public debates with Creationist/ID advocates. When professional scientists participate in these debates, not only do they cow-tow to the Creationists, they demean themselves and their profession. However, some of the arguments for debating are quite persuasive. Thus, the question of whether to debate poses a difficult dilemma: It seems that heads we lose, tails we lose. However, I offer a way out. I propose a strategy that should satisfy both opponents and supporters of participating in debates, and bring some good P.R. to pro-evolution supporters.

I strongly recommend that when asked to debate Creationist/ID advocates, all professional scientists and academics respond something like this, “Yes, I will participate in a debate and my speaking fee is $10,000!” Of course, the amount of the fee will vary based upon ones credentials, but it should be quite high – I suggest a minimum fee of $10,000! I realize that some will regard this proposal as outrageous. However, the beauty of my proposal is that it allows the scientist to accept the offer to debate and, at the same time, provides a strong deterrent to the Creationist/ID opposition. It places the ball in their court – put up or shut up! In order for this strategy to be effective, all potential debaters must insist that the Creationist/ID group sponsoring or participating in the event is obligated to pay the full amount of the speaking fee.

When asked to debate, scientists should immediately seize upon the opportunity to explain that such debates are really just entertainment venues – that they have nothing to do with real science – that it gives Creationism/ID undue credibility – that scientists would rather spend their precious time doing real science – and most importantly – that if forced to debate, the scientist’s time, reputation, and expertise is highly valuable.

If my proposal is widely adopted, professional scientists could no longer be accused of cowardice by ducking debates. At the same time, it is very doubtful that the Creationist/ID advocates will ever pay such high fees. However, in the rare circumstance that they do accept the offer, the money could compensate for the time needed to prepare or be donated to charity. Another potential benefit is that the fee would help drain some of the opposition’s resources. In summary, I think that asking for high speaking fees can be used as an effective bulwark and public relations tool against Creationism and Intelligent Design.

It’s time to ‘turn’ things around and place the Creationist/ID crowd on the defensive. Adopt my proposal and heads we win, tails we win!
Robert A. Richert

Charles Rulon: Anti-abortion rhetoric fuels domestic terrorism

Moral zealotry and violence

To moral zealots, a dis­a­greement is more than just a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion; it can be an attack on their core worth. As a re­sult, they have been known to lie, dis­tort, mis­quote, libel their oppo­nents and en­gage in censor­ship or repression. For ex­trem­ists, any setback is the “be­gin­ning of the end”. Religious extremists, writes Rabbi Robert Wol­koff, never need a poli­ti­cal purpose, since they “identify with divine power in annihilating the forces of chaos”. They believe they are engaged in an apocalyptic war between light and dark­ness. Their role in this cosmic conflict is to demonstrate the des­tructive power of the One True God against Evil. There is little room for com­pro­mise, since human laws are irrelevant next to “God’s Laws.” The opposition, writes Wolkoff, “is sym­­bolic of the forces of evil and chaos to be de­stroyed.”[1]

Abortion clinics and domestic terrorism

Since 1980 the National Abor­tion Federation has identified more than 10,000 reported acts of terrorism against lawful repro­duc­tive rights sup­porters in the United States. There have been thousands of abor­tion clinic block­ades. Clinic workers have been regularly stalked. There have been hundreds of clinic arson attacks, bomb­ings and even anthrax scares. There have been kidnap­pings and shootings. Nine abortion providers have been mur­dered. The latest assassination took place in 2009 when Dr. George Tiller, an abortion doctor who specialized in late term abortions, was shot to death while attending church. Dr Tiller’s clinic had been repeatedly vandalized over the last 35 years and in 1993 Tiller had been shot in both arms.[2]

In 1998, alone, about 25% of 351 clinics surveyed experi­enced severe violence in some form. In Jan­uary, a bomb exploded just outside a Birming­ham, Alabama repro­ductive health clinic, killing an off-duty police officer and critically injuring a nurse. In April, a gaso­line bomb dam­aged the Pacific Beach Clinic in San Diego, Calif. In May, foul-smelling butyric acid (which causes sick­ness and des­troys carpets and furnish­ings) was thrown into eight Florida repro­duc­tive health clin­ics. Several people required hos­pital treatment. In July, butyric acid was again thrown into eight Texas and New Orleans reproductive health clinics. In September, two Women’s Medical Clinics in Fayetteville, N.C. were firebombed. In October, bombs were found at two repro­ductive health clinics in N.C. and a sniper killed abor­tion pro­vider, Dr. Barnett Slepian. From November 1998 to March 1999, over 50 abortion clinics were evacuated and countless staff decon­tami­nated after receiving “anthrax” letters.

Inflammatory words fuel terrorism

Behind all this domestic ter­rorism has been the inflammatory “baby-killing” rhe­toric of the anti-abor­tion­ists. Their leaders, Christian ministries and pam­ph­lets have cried out that Amer­i­cans have mur­der­ed mil­lions of innocent pre-born babies. Activists have picket­ed abortion clinics and homes of clinic doctors with signs read­­ing “Blood Thirsty Child Killer,” “Baby Butcher” and “Death Doc­tor.” They’ve fol­lowed abortion providers to rest­au­rants scream­ing “mur­der­er” and “baby kil­ler.” They’ve passed out litera­ture equat­ing doctors who per­form abor­tions to those who ran the gas chambers in Nazi Germany. They’ve posted “Wanted Dead” posters and the names and addresses of clinic workers and doctors on hate-oriented web sites that cele­­brate violent actions. And even though the Bible is completely silent regarding elective abortions, some Christian fundamentalists have quoted scripture to prove that God’s will is being done when abortion doctors and staff are killed.[3]

Prior to the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009, Randall Terry of Operation Rescue had repeatedly called Tiller a “mass murderer” who was doing something that was “literally demonic.” And cable TV personality Bill O’Reilly had been fulminating about “Tiller the Baby Killer” on over 25 of his cable TV shows. O’Reilly attacked Tiller repeatedly as someone who would “kill a baby a half-hour before the baby is supposed to be birthed for no reason what­soever other than the mother has a pain in her foot”. This was blatantly false. Furthermore, only one percent of abortions occur after 21 weeks and almost always because something has gone horri­bly medically wrong with a wanted pregnancy. (After the murder, O’Reilly publicly stood by his “facts”.)

Denial of responsibility

So, who’s to blame for inciting the last several decades of anti-abortion domes­­tic violence and terror? The answer, of course, is anyone who has supported, encour­­aged, or tacitly con­doned the use of inflamma­tory words and phrases. They must all share the blame for the bomb­ings, murders and other acts of domes­tic terrorism. Christian Right leaders and various mem­bers of Con­gress have been demonizing and dehuma­ni­zing legal abortion pro­viders for over 30 years. Yet they continue to vehe­mently deny having played any part in fanning the flames of this domestic ter­ror­ism. They deny that their “baby mur­­derer” rhetoric is in any way re­spon­sible. Yet, throughout history people and entire nations have been incited by in­cen­diary propaganda and speech to dehuma­nize other humans because of their skin color, religion, sex­ual orienta­tion and so on.

Abortion doctors are disappearing

The number of abortion providers has been falling for decades. Many of them are near or past retirement age; they still remember the intense suffer­ing of women back when abor­­tions were illegal; they often wear bulletproof vests and live behind bulletproof windows; they are pick­eted and often shunned by their neighbors. Because of the constant in­flammatory rheto­ric, intimidation, acts of terrorism, plus feelings of isolation, poor pay and endless legal barriers erected, these older doc­tors are not be­ing replaced. Today, only 7% of hospitals now provide abortion services nationwide, down from 80% in 1974, the year after Roe v. Wade. Today, 87% of all counties in the U.S. no longer provide abortion services. Today, it’s not un­usual for medi­cal stu­dents to com­plete four years of medical school without even having to discuss abor­tion, let alone to perform one or observe a proce­d­ure.[4] To further exacerbate matters, many financially strapped hos­pitals have been taken over by Catho­lic-run institutions, which refuse to provide even Emer­­gency Contracep­tion for rape victims. So even though abortion still remains one of the most com­mon surgical procedures among U.S. women, abortion choice is increasingly becoming a legal right in name only.

[1]Wolkoff, R., “The Clash of Dark­­ness and Light,” L.A. Times, 3/3/94. B8.

[2]For further updates on anti-abortion terrorism check . Also google [Abortion Terrorism], or check and .

[3] “Who­ever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” (Gen­esis 9:6). “If any­one takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death” (Leviticus 24:17; Exo­dus 21; Num­­bers 35; Deuteronomy 19).
These leaders conveniently ignore the fact that the “Don’t Kill” Commandment didn’t protect those who were caught collecting firewood on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14-15; 35:2), brides who were found not to be vir­gins on their wedding night (Deut. 22:13-21), and disobedient child­ren who cursed their parents (Exodus 21:17; Lev.20:9; Deut.21:18-21). They were all to be put to death. This Old Testament god also vigor­ously demanded that all heretics be killed. Wives, children, brothers and close friends who tried to divert the faithful from this tribal god were to be stoned to death (Deut.13). The people of Samar­ia rebelled against this god and had their children “dashed to the ground” and their preg­nant women “ripped open” (Hosea 13:16).

[4] Fighting back is a national organization known as Medi­cal Students for Choice (MSFC) which now has chap­ters in over 100 medical schools and represents more than 3000 med­ical students nation­wide. There is also an organization called Phy­sic­ians for Repro­ductive Choice and Health ().

Charles Rulon: Anti-abortion laws have been medically and socially disastrous

“The low status of women and girls is one of the most damaging, wasteful and immoral defects of society today…Those who take pride in being anti-choice are not only fakes, they are anti-fam­ily activists whose acts are, in my view, the height of immor­ality… leading as they do to the deaths and misery of millions of mothers and children.”

—Dr. H. Mahler, former Director-General of the World Health Organization for 15 years

Anti-abortion laws, no matter how restrictive, have never stopped most abortions. Instead, it’s the number of mater­nal deaths and injuries that have been most affected by legal codes. In the last 30 years alone, over 600 million dis­traught girls and women around the world, twice the population of the entire United States, attempted self-induced abortions (knitting needles, drinking rat poison, douching with turpentine or bleach, being punched in the abdo­men). Or they sought out extremely danger­ous illegal abortions often at the hands of un­skilled and unscrupu­lous practitioners in filthy conditions and often with no pain killers, antibiotics or blood trans­fusions. Over 200 million of these girls and women developed medical complications seri­ous enough to require hospitalization, including abdom­i­nal, uterine and intes­­tinal perforations, massive hemorr­haging, deadly infections, and kidney fail­ure. Untold millions died horrible deaths.

“Morality becomes hypocrisy if it means accept­ing mothers suffering or dying in connec­tion with illegal abortions.”

—Gro Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway

Today, over 30% of all beds in OB-GYN wards of urban hospitals in Latin Amer­ica are filled with women suffer­ing from illegal abortion com­plica­tions. In many parts of Africa, the figure rises to an appalling 60%. Already inadequate health care sys­tems are severely taxed to the breaking point. Most of those who survived this horror faced life-long dis­abling pain. In poor coun­tries, the risk of death from an illegal abor­tion is 25-100 times greater than hav­ing a legal one.

In the United States, anti-abortion laws before Roe v. Wade (1973) were also a medical and social disaster. Hundreds of thousands of women with botched abortions filled our hospitals each year. (I had a student die from one such an abortion in Tijuana.) Medical costs sky­rocket­ed, families were torn apart and disrespect for the law was intensi­fied.

As more and more countries have liberalized their abortion laws and promoted birth control, the number of illegal abor­tions has continued to drop. Since 1995, 15 more countries have changed their abortion laws to allow greater access to abortion. By 2008 the number of dangerous illegal abortions had dropped to about one-fifth of its 1983 level. Some of the world’s lowest unwanted pregnancy and abortion rates are found in Western Europe where medically accurate sex education classes and excellent, affordable contraception is widely available. This is in stark contrast to the United States where one-half of all pregnancies are still unplanned.[i]

Some final thoughts

Globally, what continues to consign so many girls and women to death and phy­si­cal disability is the low value placed on their lives. The suf­­fer­ing to women and girls because of archaic religious beliefs and entrenched patri­archies, coupled with abysmal ignorance and pov­erty is simply stag­gering. We must seriously ask why we allow this carnage to continue. Raising women’s economic and social status, including providing them with the means to control their own reproductive futures, would provide one of the great­est benefits to huma­n­ity in the history of civilization. All who oppose such basic health measures are accom­­plices to the criminalization of millions of women, to the filling of hospitals and grave­yards and to the destruction of millions of families the world over.

Throughout our country’s history women’s repro­duc­tive rights have been legis­la­ted and religiously controlled almost entirely by those voices that will never have to exper­ience an unwanted pregnancy — male voices — the same voices that once opposed suffrage for women — the same voices that 100 years ago outlawed all contraceptives and birth control information. Today, it’s increasingly rare to find anti-abortion laws outside of totalitarian, militar­istic and conservative religious societies. Yet, today powerful religious/political forces in the United States continue to try to pass laws which would force girls and women with unwanted pregnancies to stay pregnant against their will— to be unwilling embryo incubators. Do we really want the United States to have the same anti-abor­tion laws as countries like Afghanistan and El Sal­vador?

Charles L. Rulon – Emeritus, Life and Health Sciences
Long Beach City College, [email protected]

[i] The abortion rate among Black women in the U.S. is 5 times higher than among White women; for Latinos it’s 3 times higher. Poverty is a major factor.

Spiritual Fitness, U.S Army Style?

A Washington Post news article (Jan. 5, 2011) by Jason Leopold reports the use of an

“An experimental, Army mental-health, fitness initiative” which requires that army enlistees “believe in God or a ‘higher power’ in order to be deemed ‘spiritually fit’ to serve in the Army.”

For those familiar with military policy and practice with regard to religious faith, this does not come as too great a surprise. Largely the military branches of US military (Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force) reflect the general society with respect to religious orientation. Within reasonable parameters, this is not objectionable, unless there is violation of the rights of personnel whose religious faith or lack of faith falls outside the mainstream, which means mostly those military persons who are not of the Christian faith.

Generally it is assumed by those in charge that most of the people in the military believe in God or at least in some form of “higher power.” For the most part, the rights of those who don’t are not obviously violated, although it does occasionally happen. We often hear the old falsehood that there are no atheists in the fox hole, meaning that when the bullets fly and one’s life is imperiled, everyone believes in a God or “higher power.” But any reading of the personal experiences of combat veterans and listening to their accounts of battle experiences show that this is a gross falsehood.

More recently, we heard about the situation at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where a clique of fundamentalist Christians either run the show or greatly influence happenings at that institution charged with training our highest officers in the USAF. Non-Christian cadets, even Christian cadets who don’t subscribe to the cult of Christian fundamentalist in charge, have complained of being subjected to overt discrimination and intimidation. Of course, officials at the academy have downplayed the problem and made only cosmetic changes to placate the critics.

But now we have the army with its strange notion of ‘spiritual fitness’ — which obviously discriminates against persons who might be very fit spiritually and morally, but achieve this without resorting to belief in any supernatural being. Yes, there are such people. Obviously, those who developed and approved the Army’s “fitness initiative” either ignored or don’t know about the great religious traditions which do not base spirituality on belief in a God (e.g., Hinayana Buddhism, Toaism, Confucianism, Unitarian Universalism, etc.). Nor do these ‘experts’ seem to be aware of the large range of philosophical ethical schools of thought and practice which are completely devoid of belief in a god or higher power.

The article relates the case of one atheistic soldier, a Sgt. Justin Griffith, who “took the test last month and scored well on the emotional, family and social components. But when he completed the spiritual portion of the exam he had to respond to statements such as,

“I am a spiritual person, my life has lasting meaning, I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.”

He was found to be spiritually unfit because he responded by choosing the box that indicated this did not characterize his view at all. He was advised that “”spiritual fitness” is an area “of possible difficulty for you” and given the following evaluation:

“You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life,” Griffith’s test said. The test results elaborated further: “At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles and values. There are things to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal.”

What happens, then, is that soldiers like Justin Griffith and other nonbelievers are “are guaranteed to score poorly and will be forced to participate in exercises that use religious imagery to “train” soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality.” All of this imposed on these people because of a very faulty and inadequate philosophy which lays down narrow, religious-based notions of “meaning and purpose in life” as the criteria for spiritual fitness.

At any rate, a number of humanist and secular groups protested the army policy, among them the American Humanist Association, which urged members and friends to sign a petition to Army officials protesting this violation of the rights of army personnel not given to the old form of ‘spirituality.’ Among those signing was Robert Richert, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, who attached the following letter to the Secretary of the Army:

Dear Mr. Secretary,

I served in the 25th Infantry Division of the U.S Army in Vietnam in 1969-70. I earned an Army Commendation Medal with a V-Device during my tour. I have never been religious nor ever believed in God. Although I was chided at times for my atheism, my lack of belief was never a major issue for the army or myself during my days of service. I did my job and that was it.
Through the American Humanist Association, it has come to my attention that the United States Army has been engaging in discriminatory, and I believe unconstitutional practices with the utilization of their Global Assessment Tool within the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. The tool, which is meant to measure various levels of each soldier’s daily functionality, unfairly targets humanists, atheists and other non-theists as dysfunctional in regard to their assessment scores. I KNOW THIS IS A FALSE ASSUMPTION, and frankly, so should the military!
It is my understanding that soldiers are assessed in the areas of emotional, social, family, and spiritual strength. Non-believers naturally score low in the “spirituality” portion of the exam, and are subsequently offered training, which is presented to them as mandatory, to improve their scores in this area. In my opinion, not only is this a misguided policy, it is a blatant attempt at proselytization; which should have no place within our military.
Recent polls consistently show that our young people are increasingly less religious than in the past, and as I’m sure you are well aware, our military is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever. The military should respect the religious and non-religious views of its members.
Please rescind this unnecessary and unjust policy.

Robert A. Richert, proud veteran

A Short Exchange on the concept of ‘Truth’

Recently the question of what we mean by “truth” came up in a discussion with one of my internet correspondents, Spanos. The issue related to a previous claim that a full understanding of what we mean by truth requires reference to an ideal observer, i.e. one who sees and knows everything.

I had stated that someone subscribing to a correspondence theory of truth, might claim that a proposition is true when it corresponds with the relevant state of affairs. For example, the proposition that “Obama is US president in 2010-2011″ is a true proposition if the factual state of affairs in 2010-2011 is that Obama is the US president. This can be stated clearly and understood clearly without any reference to perfection or to an ideal observer.

Spanos replied: “Obama is US president in 2010-2011″ is true in the normal, everyday sense of the word “true.” Is it therefore infallible? Any doubt that it is really true would be hyperbolic, but nevertheless possible. But this claim about Obama belongs to a very special class of claims. Many claims are easily doubted. These include claims made by lawyers, politicians, economists, marketers, historians, scientists, and philosophers. We often do not and cannot know what “the real truth” is in such cases. Certainly, either O.J. did or did not kill Nicole. But this appears to be one of those cases where we are simply helpless to know the real truth. In such a case, what do we mean by “the real truth?” We mean the actual state of affairs as it would be known to someone who possessed complete and infallibly accurate knowledge of all the relevant evidence. In other words, we mean the truth as it would be known to an ideal observer. This is, perhaps, truth in a sense that is never possible for us. Our ordinary applications of the word in everyday life do not measure up to this ideal of truth. Nevertheless, for some people it is the search for truth in this sense that gives meaning to life. Even if they can’t reach it, it is meaningful to just come closer to it.

Of course, this search may not really have the value that some people attribute to it. Either it does or it doesn’t, but can anyone claim to know the real truth about that? How about you? Do you find meaning in the search for “real truth?” Or are you happy to settle on conventional truth?

My reply: “Truth” is a word. Truth is a concept. The word is part of the English language. The concept is part of our conceptual scheme. I know how to use the word correctly and how to apply the concept correctly. Stating that Obama is currently the US president in January 8, 2011 is to make a true statement. Questioning the truth of this statement by asking whether it is infallible (as you did) is either engaging a idle type of hyper skepticism (somewhat of a philosophical joke) or connecting knowledge with infallibility (a conceptual error). If someone makes a statement which is doubtful, i.e, one for which there are good reasons for doubting, then I would not see it as knowledge of any kind. Your example: “We often do not and cannot know what “the real truth” is in such cases. Certainly, either O.J. did or did not kill Nicole.” Given this reasonable doubt, I would not claim knowledge of O.J. killing Nicole.

“True” in the normal sense of true, which is good enough for the sciences, is good enough for most people, including those practiced in philosophy, but who have not been sucked in by the pseudo distinction between normal truth and your notion of “real truth.” This notion of ‘real truth’ is often just an indication of some philosophical or religious ideology.

I don’t know what you mean by stating that “our ordinary applications of the word [truth] in everyday life do not measure up to this ideal of truth. “Truth as it would be known by an ideal observer” might have some use for some philosophies; but don’t over-rate this philosopher’s device (that all it is!) and set it up as the criterion for ‘real truth.’

Many people (philosophers, scientists, writers, thinkers, ordinary people) would like to know more than they currently know; and understand more than they currently understand. We could all improve in this respect. If you want to call this the “search for the real truth,” I cannot stop you. But understand that from my perspective that phrase betrays more confusion and false assumption than it expresses something noble and meaningful.

A Quick Way with the ‘Mystery’ of Consciousness

Recently I overheard the following exchange on the internet.

You seem to assume some great mystery about consciousness that can never be explained by our intelligence. With that I am quite suspicious. I see no great mystery there any more than I see a mystery about self-consciousness or the subject/object dichotomy (category of understanding). – Paulino

McGinn (writer on the subject) would challenge you to explain how mental phenomena arise from brain activity. If you were unable to do so, he would say that his point is proved: there is a great mystery about consciousness. – Spanos

We often hear people (mainly philosophers and some psychologists) assert that consciousness is a mystery which the physical and biological sciences cannot explain. For example, some point to the difficulty — even impossibility — of “how mental phenomena arises from brain activity.” Of course, much has been written and argued on his subject. There are theories which claim that such an explanation is not forthcoming; thus, we cannot escape some sort of dualism – so they claim. Other theories of mind and consciousness take up the challenge and offer accounts of how brain processes give rise to consciousness.

I offer a quick way with this issue which I present by way of a short dialogue between a ‘Mysterian’ — who claims that consciousness is a mystery not explained by the sciences —- and a First-Responder (e.g. scientist) who shows a way to defusing the putative mystery.

Mysterian (Mys): Nobody has ever explained how consciousness can arise from material things or physical processes, such as brain activity.

First Responder (FR): We can explain how conscious organisms (e.g., persons, higher mammals) evolve. This is called evolutionary biology, along with related neurology and evolutionary psychology. In short, we explain the emergence of ‘consciousness’ by explaining how conscious entities evolved.

Mys: But this does not explain consciousness itself. This does not explain the mystery of consciousness arising from purely material/physical processes.

FR: Your mystery arises only because you assume that stand-alone consciousness is a possibility. But if there is no such thing as a stand-alone consciousness, and consciousness is always the consciousness of some conscious entity, then your mystery dissolves.

Mys: But many great and reputable philosophers, scientists, and psychologists always refer to consciousness as such. Surely so many people cannot be wrong and confused about the existence of consciousness?

FR: The term “consciousness” is just a short-hand way of referring to the consciousness of some individual or groups of individuals capable of conscious thought. It is a convenient abstraction like so many other convenient abstractions that we routinely refer to without implying the existence of separate, mysterious entities: e.g., justice, love, evil, law etc. These are not mysterious entities which exist in their own right. What really exist are people in relations to other people which we designate as just, or loving, or evil. The same is true of consciousness. When I am conscious or aware of the cold air as I walk out the door, we might speak of my ‘consciousness’ that it is cold outdoors. But this does not imply a mysterious entity ‘my consciousness.’ It is just a short-hand way of referring to my being conscious of the temperature outdoors.

Mys: It seems that you have simply chosen to side step the difficult problem of showing how our idea of ‘consciousness’ in its own right comes about.

FR: If you insist on such an account it would go something like this. We explain our natural tendency to abstract, viz, the process of abstraction.

1) I (or any animal whose brain is adequately evolved) am aware of some object (a possible predator) in the environment.

2) We restate this as the awareness or consciousness of that object.

3) We make statements like “there is an awareness or a consciousness” of the object.

4) Then, if we’re not too careful, we infer the existence of an abstract entity called ‘awareness’ or ‘consciousness.’

This is how ‘consciousness’ arises.

But, none of this will dispel that human-all-too-human tendency to talk abstractly and then posit the existence of abstract entities. So people will go on scratching their heads and wondering about the “mystery of consciousness.”


As a former instructor for a Biology and Society class at LBCC, I was often asked if there were any way to interpret the Genesis creation stories so that they were compatible with the findings of modern science. My answer was always NO, not without considerable re-writing and re-defining of numerous biblical words and phrases.

Christians sometimes asked me if there weren’t still great enduring truths that could be culled from Genesis-1 and Genesis-2, such as there’s only one God behind all of creation and all humans are related? My response was that Genesis-1 also tells us that humans are not related to the other animals, a claim strongly disproved by science. Also, what makes belief in one god as opposed to a pantheon of gods (or no god) a great enduring truth? By eliminating goddesses and nature gods in favor of an all-powerful, jealous, patriarchal god, are we really better off?

Also, of course, the story in Genesis-2 ( man created first, then animals, then woman from man’s rib) does not jibe at all with modern scientific knowledge. In addition, woman is created almost as an afterthought, with man being the true “mother” of all humans. Is this some great patriarchal truth?

Also consider: This god condemned all future humanity to pain, torment and death just because the first couple (in particular, the woman), after being swayed by a talking snake, disobeyed him by taking a bite out of a forbidden fruit. If this is another great and profound truth, it’s a scary one. After all, before the first couple ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, how could they have known good from evil — that it was bad to disobey this god? And why didn’t this god want his first humans to know good from evil in the first place? In today’s world, to not know good from evil is a definition of insanity. So, what is the great enduring truth here?

I once asked a student how he could explain the fact that Genesis-1 and Genesis-2 contained two different and seemingly incompatible creation stories. He informed me that both creation stories were literally true. His pastor had told him that the man and woman created in Genesis-2 were Caucasians, whereas the humans created in Genesis-1 were the “inferior colored people” in the far away land that Adam’s son, Cain, visited after killing his brother, Abel. Well, another mystery solved.

Because of all the seismic difficulties with taking Genesis-1 and 2 as literally true, most liberal Christians largely ignore these creation stories. But then, what happens to original sin? And how does one decide which biblical stories can be ignored and which ones embody the “great truths”? If it’s through prayer and guidance by the Holy Spirit, then why do answers vary so dramatically in the over 30,000 different Christian sects? Remember, both the biblical Jesus and Paul interpreted the Adam and Eve story as an actual historical event (Matt. 19:4; Romans 5:12-14; I Tim. 2:13-14). So now what?

The problem, of course, with all such selective biblical interpretations is that given our creative imaginations, any story in any book, not just the Bible, can be selectively and “deeply” probed for a whole diversity of meanings and mystical instructions. Sam Harris in The End of Faith (2004) even imbued the recipe for adding salt and pepper to a vegetable dish with deep spiritual meaning. Salt and pepper is, of course, a metaphor for the black and white aspects of our nature that comes in the form of tiny grains which teach us that “our good and bad qualities are born of the tiniest actions which color the stream of our being by force of repetition”. Deep!

Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life Sciences, Long Beach City College

Charles Rulon asks: “Do anti-choice Americans REALLY believe their own baby-killing rhetoric?

Secular baby-killing rhetoric

The large majority of those Americans who oppose abortion choice are conservative Catholics and evangelical-fundamentalist Protestants. Yet in the United States where the separation of church and state is still a powerful political and legal force, God-beliefs for opposing abortion have been replaced in the public square with secular ones.

“When we have become so calloused as to ignore the killing of millions of babies each year, then we’re doomed as a society. This is another holocaust, just like the one during World War II in Nazi Germany.”

—Randall Terry – Operation Rescue

“It is a wrenching nightmare to see in the mind’s eye the delicate little hand of an unborn infant reaching out playfully to touch the very curette that is poised to rip him apart.”

—Senator Orrin Hatch, U.S. Senate

But do anti-choice supporters REALLY believe that aborting embryos and young fetuses is even in the same ball-park as murdering infants—that this REALLY is “America’s Holocaust”? Consider:

1. No jail time for women who aborted: Polls indicate that very few anti-choice Americans actually want to tear away from their families the millions of American women who “purposely and callously hired professional baby butchers for their convenience abortions” and throw them into the tens of thousands of new prisons we’d have to build. This was true before Roe v. Wade and would most likely remain true if Roe were ever overthrown. But there are only two logical choices: either hold women accountable for being “accomplices to murder” by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. One can’t have it both ways.

Anti-choice activists attempt to justify their “no jail time” position by claiming that “Those women who aborted were not at fault. They were victims of exploitation, coercion and misinformation. They were confused, frightened and manipulated by the greedy doctors of death, by the atheistic, secular humanist media and by a culture that doesn’t want to be bothered.” So in effect, anti-choice activists and their literature have characterized the over 45 million American women who’ve aborted since 1973 as helpless, naive, ignorant, morally weak pawns unable to think independently. It seems impossible for these activists to believe that morally good, intelligent, mature, informed, women would ever freely choose to abort.

2. Consent vs. non-consent: Most of us share the intuition that an innocent bystander’s body should not be used for the sake of another without his consent. Thus, Americans strongly support laws that protect us from being forced to use our bodies against our will to donate a kidney, or bone marrow, or just a pint of blood, even if it meant that an innocent child would die. Yet in apparent stark contrast, anti-choice supporters turn around and support laws that would force innocent women with unwanted pregnancies to use their bodies to keep tiny, unwanted, mindless embryos alive and growing.

Anti-choice leaders justify their position by responding that pregnant women are not innocent bystanders — that by consenting to have sex women have already implicitly consented to a possible pregnancy, so the ‘hands-off-my-body’ laws no longer apply.[1] This is why the large majority of anti-choice Americans make an exception for rape and incest, even though the result is still “an innocent pre-born baby torn apart limb by limb.”

Thus, and this is my key point, it’s the “consent vs. non-consent” aspect of sex that determines whether or not women with unwanted pregnancies should be forced to be unwilling embryo incubators, not some fundamental right-to-life of the “innocent pre-born baby”. Continued pregnancy is simply the price women must pay for choosing to have sex. It makes no difference if they used birth control that failed. It makes no difference if they were ignorant or confused or stupid teenagers. (For the Roman Catholic Church consent is irrelevant, since the Church oppose all abortions.)

3. Embryos in cold storage: If on September 11, 2001, instead of destroying the Twin Towers which killed some 3000 people, Afghan terrorists had “murdered” 3000 human embryos kept in cold storage in New York City, the U.S. would not have invaded Afghanistan in retaliation and the news coverage would likely have been relatively brief. Or if dozens of embryos in cold storage had been purposely flushed down the drain by protesters, very few Americans would have demanded that these protesters be tried for mass murder.

4. Opposing contraception: If anti-choice supporters really believed their own baby-killing rhetoric, one would think they’d want to dramatically reduce the abortion rate by supporting sex education, birth control ads on television, excellent contraception, financial assistance for the poor, and emergency contraceptive pills. And if all that fails, they would be pushing for the increased availability of the “abortion pill” which medically induces very early abortions long before human-looking fetuses have developed and long before “pain and anguish” are possible. Yet, the majority of anti-choice activists have opposed all these measures.[2] One would also think that those who are trying to force women with unwanted pregnancies to reproduce against their will would feel some obligation to care for the resultant children. But that has rarely been the goal of the anti-choice activists.

So what’s really at stake?

So if the large majority of anti-choice Americans, by their own behavior, don’t REALLY believe their “baby killing” rhetoric, why do they REALLY want to force women with unwanted pregnancies to stay pregnant against their will—to be essentially unwilling embryo incubators? What REALLY is going on? After all, the right to affordable, effective birth control and safe, early abortions is about the right of all women to decide for themselves their own reproductive futures, a right that is fundamental to female equality and human liberty.

Well, consider: Anti-abortion efforts have been almost entirely driven by men — men in Congress and state legislatures and conservative churches with awesome political and religious power. It’s about those male televangelists and bishops and cardinals and fundamentalist ministers who are trying to prevent any further weakening of antiquated religious dogmas devastated by hundreds of years of scientific and ethical advances. It’s about those men who want to keep women “in their place”, to punish “loose” women, and to force those women who are trying to “avoid their natural roles in life” to fulfill their responsibilities.

Millions of anti-choice religious followers have been brainwashed from the pulpit by these men to believe embryological falsehoods and medieval religious nonsense. They have been told that God will rain down punishment on the United Stated for having turned its back on Him by legalizing abortions.

That is what I believe has been primarily driving the Roe vs. Wade backlash for the past 35+ years.


Charles L. Rulon is an emeritus of Long Beach City College where he taught courses in Biology and Society for 34 years. He can be reached at .

[1] By similar logic, women who wear “suggestive” clothing or who go outside alone have implicitly consented to be raped. People in cars have implicitly consented to be killed in an accident.
[2]Most Americans who are anti-choice are also opposed to their taxes going to support research into better birth control technologies, or even the mention of responsible contraceptive use on TV. The Roman Catholic Church opposes all modern birth control methods, including sterilization. U.S. bishops have been vocal opponents of both domestic and international family planning programs and of legislation that would require health insurance plans to cover prescription contraceptives. Also, for the last three decades the “born again” Republican Party in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures across our country has consistently opposed family planning research, scientific sexuality education and contraception distribution.