Monthly Archives: December 2011

More on the Confusion regarding ‘Representations’ and the Objects represented

By Juan Bernal

Something that the neurologist Antonio Demasio asserted reinforced the old belief that our experience of the world is at best an indirect experience of “representations” of that world.


An email correspondent, Spano,  remarked:

Yesterday, in Antonio Damasio’s interview with Ira Flatow on Science Friday, Damasio frequently used the word “representation.” He spoke of the brain as producing a representation of our internal and external environments on the basis of inputs. He apparently assumes that “the represented” is not directly available to us, but is known only indirectly via a representation.”

Moi  Here we go again with this business of “input to the brain” and “represented stuff not directly available to us”!

Far too many people — mainly philosophers and psychologists — and now Antonio Damasio  (of all people!)  —- assume that it makes sense to think of “us” (the knowing subject) as somehow situated inside the brain.  Sure, if you think of the subject (who perceives and has experiences) as located inside the brain or identical to the brain, then a mystery arises as to how the subject (the person?) interprets that input, which may or may not represent external reality.  But why in the world do we have to accept this queer perspective?  None of us are inside our brains (or alternatively, we are not identical to our brains) and then have to try make sense of input from the outside?

The fact that is overlooked is that human beings (the persons) have brains which enables them to learn about their environment.  In other words, the human subject exists and operates in that ‘external’ environment.  Science, neurology and the cognitive sciences, can investigate and analyze the process by which the brain allows the animal (or person, or subject that perceives) to perceive and learn about his environment.  In the process of such an investigation one may speak about “input to the brain.”   But this is not to be understood as “input to the subject or person,” although it may correctly be called “input to the brain.”  The brain is an organ of the body; the person and his embodied mind exist in the world of objects, animals, cities, and apple trees.  They’re already in that world which, according to the ‘skeptical’ perspective is allegedly not directly accessible to us.  The very idea of “gaining knowledge of the world” is an idea which only makes sense in a social context, of an environment in which people exist among other people, in a natural and social environment which they know about and with which they interact.  Given all this, it makes little sense to introduce the fictional subject isolated and entombed inside a brain, trying to make sense of input from outside the brain.

Does all this ignore the function of the brain/mind in “constructing” (at least in part) that which we experience, e.g., the object that we see?

No it does not.  I simply do notn’t draw the inferences that Spano draws.

Spano asks:

“Why does Damasio make a represented/representation distinction? Because the role of the brain/mind in constructing a representation is all too obvious. It was obvious to the British empiricists and to Kant, . . . ”

Moi:   Of course, there is often a call for this distinction between the object as my brain/mind presents it and the object which is not equivalent to my presentation.  For example, suppose that I’m familiar with a particular piece of hardware which is part of a ground radar system.  What I see when I look at it will be very different from what others, who might not be familiar with the equipment, see.  Those who like to talk in terms of the “representation and the represented” will say that different persons looking at the equipment have different ‘representations.’  We could even allow the figurative talk which states that we see different things.  I see that part of the radar receiver which modulates the incoming radar signal, changing its configuration so that the signal can eventually be a visual target at the radar scope.  You might just see a gray box with connections to other gray boxes.

But none of this implies (or logically requires) that none of our visual ‘representations’ can provide information about the real object.  They all do, but at different levels of complexity.  To admit that my ‘representation’ differs from your ‘representation’ is not to imply that any of us are out of contact with the real world.  In my example, the ‘real world object’ is the radar system that radar engineers created; and there is absolutely no reason for concluding that nobody has access (perceptual or otherwise) to this reality.  To the extent that the British Empiricists and Kant inferred ‘non-reality’ from representation, they completely misunderstood the implication of the term ‘representation’ in this context.

Yes, scientific analysis proves that the brain/mind contributes many aspects of the object that we perceive. I might even agree with the statement that the brain/mind constructs much of what I perceive.  In his book, Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett discusses much of this work of the brain in constructing and filling in large parts of what we perceive.  Those of us who call ourselves scientific realists do not deny this.  What some of us deny is that this scientific analysis of the visual-neurological process of perception shows that we do not perceive the real world.  What such analysis discloses are the processes (mostly neurological processes) which make possible our experience of the real world.  To think that we experience only a questionable ‘representation’ of something else which we cannot describe, as Spano seems to do, seems reasonable only when one assumes that we must explain how we access the external world from a strictly subjectivist perspective (we are ‘inside’ the brain or the mind and must explain how we can know anything about external reality?).

But maybe I have all this wrong?  Maybe we are deceived into thinking that the world we know is real, when in fact it is just a fictional story concocted by our brain/mind.  Of course, this scenario is hard to square with the fact that our brain-mind evolved to help the animal survive and flourish in its natural environment, which surely is a real world.

Spano repeats:

Yesterday, in Antonio Damasio’s interview with Ira Flatow on Science Friday, Damasio frequently used the word “representation.” He spoke of the brain as producing a representation of our internal and external environments on the basis of inputs. He apparently assumes that “the represented” is not directly available to us, but is known only indirectly via a representation.  

Moi:  I don’t dispute that the “brain produces representations of our internal states and external environment on the basis of inputs.”

But this neurological fact does not imply that “the represented is not directly available to us,” unless the “us” at issue is the brain itself (or a homunculus inside the brain?) receiving and translating those inputs.

These neurological processes (the brain receiving and processing input) enable the subject (person, animal) to perceive and negotiate the environment in which the subject exists.  In other words, the neurological processes are part of the bodily operations that make the environment directly available to us.  (Is this too easy a reply to all this talk of the representation and the unknowable ‘represented’?)

The subject who experiences and interacts with the world and the world (environment) experienced come as one package. The person, as a corporeal being, has a brain which functions in particular ways to enable the subject to function in his environment.  We should not separate one for the other and then talk about “inputs to the brain which are representations of a reality that the subject cannot directly access.”   Well, you can separate them, but only as a thought experiment.  Descartes indulges his hyperbolic doubt and gives his ‘cogito’ argument for his absolutely certain ‘knowledge’ that the thinking subject alone is real.  But this is just a thought experiment.  It does not show that a thinking subject can exist in isolation from everything else.  Similar statements can be the made about other thought experiments:  John Locke’s claim that we directly experience only ideas, or Hume’s claim that all we have is the subject and his impressions (and the irrational belief that these represents real objects).  Following this is Berkeley’s thought experiment: All that we take to be material reality can be reconfigured as modifications of the subject’s perceptual ideas; i.e. for any perceptual object, to be is the same as “to be perceived.”

The Classical British Empiricists and much of Western Epistemological thought in the 18th – 19th centuries  (even up to the ‘sense datum’ theorists of the 20th century, including Bertrand Russell)  made too much of these thought experiments.    They took on the skeptical problem of showing how knowledge is possible given a subjective perspective, a problem for which Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy offered a possible solution.

These famous thought experiments do not alter the fact that human beings are biological creatures who evolved with a nervous system suitable to the environment in which these beings exist.  The evolved large brain and sense faculties enable the human being to apprehend many features of his environment, interact with it (cause certain changes in the environment;  be affected by external causes and conditions), There is no general skeptical problem of having to show how the human subject’s perceptual experience accesses an external reality, although, of course, there are specific skeptical problems with regard to illusions, delusions, experiences affected by strange conditions (both subjective and objective ones).   But these come up in the context of a generally reliable mechanism (brain, sense faculties) for apprehending and negotiating the environment.

Any thought experiment which proposes that the subject can be conceived in isolation from the external world, which includes the social world of other people, of language, meanings, and concepts, proposes a fictional scenario.  It is a fiction because all of these thought experiments “smuggle in” essential elements form the external, social world.  Primary among these is language. The thought experiments utilize words, meanings, and concepts which require some natural language, which in turn is a social phenomenon.  Language cannot be a private exercise, private to the subject in isolation from everything else.  The notion of a subject existing in complete isolation from its natural and social environment is mostly a philosopher’s fantasy.

In short, all that “floundering about in the swamp” of Western epistemology could have been avoided.

C Rulon: Pro-Choice Christians (Supported by Biblical Passages)

By Charles L. Rulon

Pro-choice Christians

Today, tens of millions of American Christians are pro-choice.  For the last several decades, dozens of different Christian and Jewish groups have supported ex­cellent contracep­tion, emer­gency contra­cep­tive pills and a woman’s right to choose.  The Religious Coalition for Repro­duc­tive Choice (RCRC) repre­sents over 40 different denomina­tions and faith groups in this coun­try.  They argue that since major re­li­gious sects in the U.S. strongly disagree among themselves on the abor­tion issue, this issue obvious­ly cannot be a “strug­gle between the God-fearing and the God­less”, as often portrayed by the anti-choice activists.   RCRC surveys have found that wide­spread sup­port exists among Christ­ian and Jewish organiza­tions for repro­ductive choice, including safe, early abor­tions.[i]

There is also a Catholic organiza­tion, Cath­olics For Free Choice. They empha­size that Cath­olics who are con­vinced that their conscience is correct,  must follow their con­science rather than the dic­tates of the Church.[ii]  In both France and Italy, countries which are 80-90% Catholic, abor­tion is legal and paid for by the state during the first trimester.  Most European Catholics do not believe that an em­bryo or young fetus has the same sacred value or inalienable right to life as does a newborn.

For pro-Christians, the Christian God is pro-choice.  They refer to a number of relevant biblical passages to support their position.  And since the Bible is vague about the time of ensoulment, some believe that souls can only thrive in wanted pregnancies, others that the soul can only enter fetuses after the brain and body have be­come sufficient­ly develop­ed to receive a soul.  For still others, it’s when breathing becomes potentially possible.

These pro-choice Christians believe that women are mor­ally equal to men and capable of making their own tough ethical decisions regarding abor­tion.  They believe that God would not want us to try to force the eighty million women on our planet who have unplanned preg­nancies each year to stay pregnant against their will.  By supporting choice they believe they’re do­ing God’s work by help­ing to end mas­sive debil­ita­t­ing infec­tions and excruci­a­­ting deaths from il­legal abor­tions for millions of desperate women.  To quote Reverend Ann Fowler, Episcopal priest,  “To talk theologically about women’s rights to choose is to talk about justice, equality, health and wholeness, and respect for the full humanity and autonomy of every woman.”

Bible passages used to support abortion choice

Just as anti-choice Christians have interpreted selected biblical passages to support their posi­tion, so have pro-choice supporters found passages to support their position.  Here are a few:

a. Given the hundreds of laws, moral edicts and com­mandments in the Bible, mostly telling followers what they cannot do, the fact that the Bible (including all the pronounce­ments by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul) is completely silent regarding both elective abortions and the time of ensoulment speaks volumes.

b. Exodus 21:22 refers to an invol­untary mis­carriage as a re­sult of a woman being caught in the middle of a fight.  Of sig­nifi­cance here is that the woman’s life is held to be much more valu­able than that of the abort­ed fetus.

c. In Numbers 5: 11-31, God tells Moses (accord­ing to one interpretation) to have a priest mix a potion that might produce an abortion if a man’s wife has become preg­nant by another man.

d. The Bible is clear that a person does not begin at con­ception, but with breathing.  In Genesis 2:7, God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (in some translations, “a living soul.”) The Hebrew word for a human being or living soul is nephesh, the word for “breath”.  “Nephesh” occurs over 700 times in the Bible as the identify­ing factor in human life.  Thus, if the fetus is not breath­ing (or if its lungs have not yet formed, making breathing impossible – before the 24th week) it is not yet a person in God’s eyes.

e. In Genesis 38 Judah mistakes Tamar as a prostitute and orders her to be burned to death despite the fact that she is pregnant.  Yet, if her twin fetuses had been considered persons, the law would have delayed her execution until the twins were born.

f. The Incarnation, or the “Word made Flesh” (John 1:14) was celebrated at Jesus’ birth, not at the speculative time of Mary’s conception.  This biblical tradi­tion is followed today, since we count age from the date of birth rather than from conception. The state issues no conception certificates, only birth certificates. It issues no death certificates for fertilized eggs that do not im­plant or for miscarriages.

 g. In Numbers 3:15, only male babies older than one month were to be counted as persons.

h. Jesus said of Judas: “It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). In effect, Jesus is saying that it would have been better if Judas’ mother had had a miscarriage or an abortion.   And by extension, couldn’t one argue that all mothers whose chil­dren will likely grow up to denounce Jesus should have abor­tions?

i. Ecclesi­astes 3 tells us that “To every thing there is a season… a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which has been planted…”  Is this just referring to agricul­tural advice, or does it, instead, refer to abortion. The Japanese refer to abortions as “thin­ning seedlings.”  Both the Japa­nese and the ancient Heb­rews were close to the soil; it was natural for them to discuss hu­man af­fairs in agri­cult­ural terms. The good farmer plucks up those seedlings that have been planted too close to others.  Like­wise, the good wife and mother aborts those “seedlings” that come too close together in time to permit good mothering or survival of all.

Thou shalt not murder

Christians who oppose choice respond by quoting the 6th Commandment, “Thou shalt not murder (Exodus 20).  But by so doing they conveniently ignore all those God-sanctioned killings that were “excep­tions” to this Command­ment—kill­ings that would be considered barbaric in mod­ern humane societies.  For example, the Old Testament god instructs his follow­ers to kill those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15; 35:2), to kill children who curse their parents (Exodus 21:17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 21:18-21) and to stone to death brides found not to be virgins on their wedding night (Deut. 22:13-21). A husband even had this god’s auth­or­ity to kill his wife and children if they pressured him to change his religion (Deut. 13:6-10).

Vir­gin girls also could be righteously offered to angry mobs to protect male guests from harm.  In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:6-8), Lot refuses to turn over his two male guests (angels in disguise) to the angry mob and, instead, offers his two virgin daughters.  Yet the two angels still viewed Lot as a good man and his family the only family worth saving in the entire town.  A similar story occurred in Judges 19.  The woman was offered to the mob to pro­tect a male guest.  She was raped all night, dying a hor­rible death!  But again, there was no mention of outrage or even moral disap­proval at her having been turned over to the mob in the first place.

This tribal god also had no intention of protect­ing the elderly, the crip­pled, the women and the children in enemy villages. They were all slaughter­ed with no mercy as he ordered (Deut. 2:34, 3:3-7, 7:1-6, 20:16-18).  In the Book of Joshua, his followers killed tens of thousands; they “utter­ly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel command­ed (Joshua 6:21-24; 10:40).”  After the second city fell (with Joshua and his men killing 12,000 men, women and children), Joshua wrote upon stones a copy of the Ten Commandments, including “Thou shalt not kill” (Joshua 8:24-25, 30-32).  The slaughter continued in the books of Judges and Kings with “utterly monstrous blood­baths”.  Over 400 cities were demolished by the Israelites.  The campaign lasted some 170 years.

Of course, when those powerful male leaders opposed to abortion righteously quote the 6th Command­ment they conveniently ignore all of these “God-given excep­tions”.  They also ignore the fact that nowhere in the Bible does it say that God cares about fetuses at all.  He certainly didn’t seem to place much value on them (or babies) when he drowned them all (Genesis 6-7).  And when the Sam­arians rebel­led against this god, he had their preg­nant women “ripped open” and their “little ones dashed to the ground” (Hosea 13:16). Nor did the biblical god seem to care about the innocent fetuses in enemy villages since, as just mentioned, he ordered all the pregnant women to be slaughtered.


Charles L. Rulon is an emeritus professor of Life and Health Sciences at Long Beach City College, California.

[i] <>

[ii] <>


Some Remarks on a Blind Alley in Western Epistemology

By Juan Bernal

(A reading of Richard Rorty’s theses in his book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, stimulated some of the thoughts contained in this remarks.)

A traditional approach to perceptual knowledge and associated distinctions misled philosophers in the western tradition for periods following Descartes.  The distinction between internal (subjectivity) and external (objectivity) played a major role, as did that between the merely contingent and the necessary.  In addition, there was the desire to grasp the noumenal (the purely object, thing-in-itself).

Assumptions: Knowledge is an assemblage of accurate representations; and in order to set knowledge on a firm foundation one must show knowledge to be analogous to the direct apprehension of an object.  [Rorty: They held to the notion of the foundation of knowledge based on an analogy with the compulsion to believe when staring at an object.” (162, ‘Mirror’)]

First:  Descartes’ meditation leading the ‘Cogito ergo sum’ brings in the stark divide between the internal-mental realm (subjectivity) and the external-material realm (objectivity).  With this comes the problem of establishing knowledge of the external on the firm foundation of ‘clear and distinct ideas’ clearly and immediately presented to the knowing subject.  The knowing subject is a thinking being, a mind seeking to make sense of ideas presented to it, ideas which must represent objects in the material-physical realm.

Secondly:  John Locke and other classical British Empiricists (Berkeley, Hume) accept a large part of the epistemological problem gotten from Descartes. They  see their task as being that of showing how the subject can have knowledge of the external world.  They focus on the mental processes underlying knowledge and beliefs about the external world; and on the subject’s apprehension of ideas or experience of impressions (putatively caused by external objects impinging on the senses).

Hence, they work with a notion of knowledge as primarily perceptual experience.  In their ‘analyses,’ they tend to confuse explanation and justification, so that one is often unsure as to whether they’re doing a quasi-psychological explanation of mental processes that base our knowing something or trying to defend a form of propositional knowledge. But mostly they ignore propositional knowledge, i.e., they favoring ‘knowing of X’ (knowledge by direct acquaintance) over ‘knowing that P’ something is the case.

The divide between the subject’s experience and external reality remains evident; hence, the skeptical problem remains prominent.

Thirdly, Immanuel Kant moves part of the way to recognizing the propositional character of knowledge with his focus on the rules that the mind must apply in order to know anything.  He recognizes that knowledge cannot simply be identified with perceptual experience, as the empiricists were inclined to do; but his focus on the structures of the understanding (mind?) indicates that he does not escape from of the idea that an explanation of knowledge requires some type of quasi-psychological analysis of mental processes.  (However, Kant appears not to have discarded entirely the Cartesian distinction between the internal-mental-realm and the external-material-realm.).

Accordingly, what we experience (and can know) results for the synthesizing activity of the transcendental ego.  But this, in turn, leads to a differentiation between objects of experience (phenomena) and the thing-in-itself (noumena).  Human experience and knowledge are limited to phenomena.

On pages 160-161 of his book (Mirror..), Rorty tells us that Kant was the first to think of the foundations of knowledge as propositional rather than objects (i.e., ideas, impressions, sensations). Instead of a search for ‘privileged representations,’ Kant searches for the rules of the mind that make experience possible. Thereby, he advances in the direction of a propositional rather than a perceptual view of knowledge.  But he only went half-way, because his ‘Critique’ was contained within the framework of causal metaphors —- “constitution,” “the working,” “shaping,” “synthesizing.”

[See Rorty’s summary statements of his assessment of the epistemological enterprise,  Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, pages 160-163.  See also he work on Kant by Robert Paul Wolff, Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity) ]

Epistemology and the problem of Justifying our Knowledge

The “Cartesian Problem”:   The subject (the thinking being = mind) apprehends ideas.  The basis for any knowledge outside the subject’s state of consciousness is the apprehension of clear and distinct ideas, because these are the only basis for the certainty required by knowledge.  So the problem of showing how knowledge of external (material) reality is possible is the problem of showing how the subject’s apprehension of clear and distinct ideas bridges the gap between subjective consciousness and external (material) reality.  This is often called the “skeptical problem”:

The problem:  How do we get from A to B?

A:  The subject apprehending his immediate impressions, perceptions, sense-data, etc , i.e. Subjective Experience.

B :  Knowledge of objective (material) reality

John Locke, Bishop Berkeley, and David Hume in turn take up this problem, with Hume showing that it leads to a philosophy of skepticism regarding both the reality of an enduring self and knowledge of objective reality.

 John Locke (primary/secondary qualities)  -> Berkeley’s Idealism  –> Hume’s Skepticism

In turn the challenge of David Hume’s skepticism was the subject of Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy (of the Critique of Pure Reason).

(Kant’s Critical philosophy)     purports to resolve   (Hume’s Skeptical philosophy).  

Kant argued that there were three responses to the Cartesian problem:

Humean Skepticism  (an untenable position)
Dogmatism  (Naïve Realism [e.g., Thomas Reid’s Realism?])
Kant’s Critical Philosophy  (Transcendental Synthesis of experience).

Only the latter was thought to constitute an adequate, philosophical resolution of the Cartesian problem.

Acordingly, skepticism develops from the empiricism of Locke and Berkeley.  Dogmatism or naïve realism simply ignores the divide between subject and objective reality and posits that the subject directly apprehends objective things and properties. In the Kantian approach, the subject contributes the forms of intuition and categories of the understanding to make experience and knowledge possible.  The Kantian ‘solution’ is presumably one satisfactory response to the Cartesian challenge.

The challenge of the Cartesian problem is handled by Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy (of the Critique of Pure Reason), satisfactorily in the opinion of many, but not all agree.  The crucial point is that Kant accepts the Cartesian problem as the starting point and then argues that his critical philosophy shows how experience and knowledge of objective reality are possible.

But there are alternative ways of dealing with the problem, such as representative realism and phenomenalism.  I will not discuss these, but instead will mention an alternative model of perceptual experience which avoids the skeptical problem altogether and, contrary to the accepted view, is not a piece of mere dogmatism.    The common-sense realism of Thomas Reid, can be developed into a Darwinist-Pragmatist model of sense perception.

Thomas Reid, a Scottish philosopher and contemporary to David Hume, rejected the Cartesian starting point, opting for a common sense premise that humans know and interact with a material world.  Reid’s common-sense realism [An Inquiry into the human mind (1764) & Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1786)] has the character of dogmatism only when viewed from a perspective of the Cartesian problem.  When that starting point is rejected, Reid’s philosophy has the advantage of avoiding the idea of perception as passive sensing in favor of a propositional account of perception. This has much to recommend it.   Furthermore, this type of realism can be seen as reinvigorated, first by the Darwinian evolutionary account of animal life, including the evolution of intelligent, mindful humans, competing for survival in the world; and secondly by a scientific based pragmatism, of the sort developed by John Dewey.

Here we have an alternative to the Kantian ‘resolution’ of the Hume’s skepticism.  Kant’s resolution accepts the Cartesian problem and offers the transcendental philosophy of the first Critique as a solution to that problem and all its offspring.

The alternative solution (Reid, Darwin, Dewey) starts by rejecting the Cartesian problem and, along with it, all the offspring (including Humean skepticism).  In its place we have the common-sense realism of Thomas Reid, which can easily be seen as harmonious with a Darwinian Evolutionary philosophy and with a modern pragmatic philosophy, such as that developed by John Dewey.

With the model of sense perception of sense perception, which I shall call the “Reid-Darwin-Pragmatic model,” we assume as a starting point the existence of the individual in a natural, social world.  Instead of saying with Descartes that there is a chasm between the perceiver (the subject) and the objective, physical world which must be bridged if we’re to avoid the skeptical trap, we assume that the subject occupies a place in that objective, material world, which he perceives and with which he causally interacts.  In other words, we start with a picture of the person (human being) located in a natural/social world, perceiving things (not apprehending perceptions),  interacting with other persons and participating in actions and events, all of which also are found in that world.  He does not just perceive things, but also causally interacts with many parts of the world which he inhabits.

Not only do we avoid the skeptical dilemma, but this model also avoids the serious conceptual problems of the Cartesian-Humean mode, some of which include: .

First, the subject of the Cartesian-Humean model  has to be an abstract ego, a mental subject or “homunculus” existing inside the head who apprehends the data (perceptions, impressions, sense datum) provided by the sense faculties.  The perceiving subject is not the physical person who walks the earth, but a mysterious “ghost-in-the-machine” receiving sense impressions.

Secondly, the Cartesian-Humean model assimilates the act of perception to a passive sensing or reception of sensation.  This ignores the fact that an adequate analysis of perception reveals that the act of perceiving presupposes that the perceiver applies  relevant meaning and concepts to the object perceived.  In other words, perception is concept-laden, propositional in nature, an activity,  and cannot be adequately analyzed as a passive sensing of immediately given data.

Thirdly, we avoid the problem of presented by a subjective, private language, whose concepts presumably do not rely on concepts applied to the external world.  Ludwig Wittgenstein and ordinary language analysts have fairly refuted the notion of a private language.  But the model of a subjective ego apprehending and identifying private impressions assumes the applicability of a private language, which ultimately turns out to be an incoherent notion.

C Rulon: Creationism & Intelligent Design: To debate or not to debate

By Charles L.  Rulon

Several years ago I participated in a debate at LBCC on Intelligent Design, the Trojan horse of creationism.  These were my opening remarks.

I want to be up front with all of you.  I have real mixed feelings about being here today to debate those who reject the established fact of our bio­logical evolu­tion.  Let me emphasize that word “fact”.  Evolution (meaning that all species, from trees and insects to fish and humans, have a common ancestry going back billions of years) is as much a scientifically settled fact as the fact that our earth goes around the sun.  We are cousins of apes and even more distant cousins of all mammals.  Our extremely ancient ancestor was a species of fish that went extinct hundreds of millions of years ago.

Scientific evidence for evolution continues to pour in.  Millions of fossils, including tens of thousands of so-called “missing links,” can be seen in museums around the world.  Strong evidence also comes from the fields of genet­ics, molec­ular biology, embry­ology, biogeo­graphy and com­­­par­­a­­tive anatomy and physi­ology.  Few, if any, scienti­fic concepts have been more exten­sively tested and more thorough­ly proven than our evolu­tion. Essentially the entire scientific community worldwide now accepts that biological evol­ution is a fundamental aspect of nature.

Millions of Christians in the U.S. have also now accepted the scientific fact of our evolution as God’s way of creating us.  They believe that, since God is the author of all truth, what­ever is demon­strated as being scientific­ally true is a signal that God made it that way.  They believe that the purpose of Scripture is distorted by those who try to make it a science text.  For some, the vast scope and scale of evol­ution only magnifies their admiration for a god who could set such an incredi­ble process in motion.

So why am I here today?  Have I actually deluded myself into think­ing that I have some silver bullet argu­ments to convert my opponent, not to mention all of the creationists in this audience?  No.  I gave up on that long ago.  Decades of personal experience have convinced me that there’s no scientific evidence I can present that would sway the large majority of anti-evolutionists.  Up to now, the only way that creationists have been defeated from introducing their dogmas into public school science classes have been in court cases where their fake science has been exposed.

So, again, why am I here today?  I guess it’s because I believe that science educators have a duty to defend the scientific method and good science from irrational attacks.  I also feel an obligation toward those stu­dents in the audience who are still undecided — students whose minds haven’t already been snapped shut by anti-evolution pseudo-science.  Even so, there are still several excellent reasons for both scien­tists and science edu­cators to not debate the anti-evol­u­tionists — for my not being here today.  Here are some of them.

Debating skills trump facts

 First, in science it’s the rigorous appli­cation of the scientific method that counts, not the oratory skills of the scientists. Yet, the over­whelm­ing majority of public de­bates are not won by the actual scientific evidence presented, but by the emotional rap­port, pub­lic speak­ing skills, likeability, and appar­ent authority of the debaters.  How could it be otherwise given the way our evolved brain works and given the audi­ence’s lack of scientific expertise?   Creation­ists know this.  Many are excellent deba­ters with impressive, entertaining, power-point presenta­tions.  In fact, for decades many Christian funda­mentalist colleges have been churning out lawyers and other graduates who are highly skilled in de­bating and in attacking evolution science.

Debates legitimize the creationists

The second reason for my not debating creationists is that there is no such thing as bad publicity for their move­ment.  It’s pure Hollywood.  If a scientist shows up to debate, it’s “proof” that a scientific controversy actually exists.  If the scientist declines to debate, it’s “proof” that evolu­tionists are running scared.  Let me say this again.  Creationists set up debates to mis­­­lead audiences into thinking that a sci­en­tific con­troversy actual­ly exists between biological evolu­tion and Intelli­gent Design — that evolution is just a theory, a weak and crumbling one at that.  Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  Regardless of superficial scientific appear­ances, today’s Intelligent Design arguments were mostly fabricated by a handful of Christian apolo­­gists and political organizations with the mission of dis­crediting evolution and of bringing biblical teach­ings and conservative Christian values into public school classrooms.

Debates spread misinformation

A third reason for my not debating creationists has to do with the subject of misinformation.  From my own frustrating personal experiences, the anti-evolu­tionists are capable of presenting more scientific misin­forma­tion in 30 min­utes than I could possibly refute in a week.  It is a relatively easy task for them to churn out dozens of pseudo-factoids in a very short time span.  They are counting on the fact that very few science teachers, much less students in the audience, have the necessary exper­tise in the scientific method or in evol­u­tion­ary biology, historical geology, anthropology and paleon­­tology to be able to quickly and skillfully expose the plethora of half-truths, poor logic, outdated references, mis­leading quota­tions, selective data, and outright false­hoods of those who con­tinue to attack evolution.

Equal time arguments

A fourth reason for not debating creationists is that equal time is given to both sides. So what’s wrong with that?  Isn’t that fair, the democratic way?  What’s wrong is that science is not demo­­cra­tic.  Equal time is not given to competing theories.  Instead, there is the rig­or­ous evalu­­ation of all the evidence on all sides.  Regarding our biological evolution, the scien­tific evidence in sup­port is monumental, enormous, vast.  Not so for creation/Intelligent Design “science”.  Thus, to require science teachers to give equal time to both (only possible by using spurious arguments to attack evolution and to support Intelligent Design) is to require teachers to lie to their students.  This appeal for equal time has been an effect­ive propa­ganda tool for creationists for decades.  By appealing to fair play and by persuading ignorant and/or religiously moti­vated legis­lators, judges and school boards, creationists have successfully wedged their anti-scientific relig­ious beliefs through the back door into science classes in school districts across the country.  Many powerful politic­ians con­tinue to support these efforts.

Debates are membership drives

A fifth reason for my not debating creationists is that these debates are also pub­licity stunts for the bene­fit of increasing the membership of conser­vative Christian clubs on high school and college campuses.  Such clubs across our nation now num­ber in the tens of thousands.  Most are spreading falsehoods regarding evolu­tion, thus creating seri­ous obstacles to the ongoing sci­ence education of those students who believe these falsehoods.  Let’s not forget that when Christian clubs convince students to reject evolu­tionary biology they are, in effect, also con­vincing students to reject large chunks of well-established phy­sics, chem­istry, astronomy, anthro­pology and geology. And they are persuading students to reject the most valuable tool humans have ever discovered to relia­bly advance our empirical know­ledge.  I’m talking about the scien­tific method, itself.  Thus, creationists are, in essence, trying to push us back into the dark ages of ignorance and super­stition.

To make matters worse, many of these Christian clubs hold religious beliefs that can seriously interfere with students’ ability to make rational, compassionate and scientifically informed decisions in other important areas such as emer­gency contraceptive pills, the abor­­tion pill, gay rights, death with dignity and overpopula­tion.  And let’s not forget the extremely scary End Times apocalyptic theo­logy beliefs cur­­rently held by millions of biblical creationists.  After all, why be concerned about global climate change, or the destruction of our planet’s life-support systems, or WMDs when the devastation of our world is inevitable anyway as foretold in Scripture.  Why work for peace and nuclear disarm­ament talks, since doing so could interfere with the timetable for Christ’s return.

In closing

America’s time-tested freedom of (and from) religion means that every sect may worship however it wishes in its own private church, but it cannot use the power of government to push its beliefs on others. Yet, today, the U.S. is being confront­ed with large num­bers of articu­late, scientifically ignorant, politic­ally active Christ­ians who are locked into ultra­-religious, anti-scien­­tific views and who want to force these views on others through our elected officials, our courts and our schools.  To quote Sam Harris in his book, The End of Faith, “Our world is fast succumbing to the activities of men and women who would stake the future of our species on beliefs that should not survive an elementary school education.”

This is why I’m here today.

Charles Rulon is an emeritus of Long Beach City College where he taught in the

ife Sciences for 34 years.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Notes from fall of 1987: Some Reflections on Philosophy I

By Juan Bernal


Traditional Philosophy (sometimes called “speculative philosophy”) is similar to some forms of religion in these ways:

1) tries to achieve a synoptic view of reality (i.e. attempts to view reality as a whole);

2) deals with questions concerning the significance of human existence;

3) takes up questions of value and attempts to define the highest good.


The more admirable type of philosopher is one who attempts to live and teach in accordance with the Socratic principle that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The better part of philosophical wisdom discloses that the examination of human existence is lifelong enterprise, and that there is no assurance that we will ever achieve knowledge, much less achieve spiritual fulfillment or peace of mind.


Religions claim to teach “higher truths”. They purport to teach about the spiritual aspect of reality, the significance and purpose of human existence, and the spiritual-moral obligations that apply to humanity. Religion –more than other institutions– assumes the role of telling us how we ought to live our lives (..also how we can deal with such aspects of reality as ageing, suffering, and death).


Ch. 2, Why Explore Philosophy? (Making Sense of Things, Troxell & Snyder) approaches introductory philosophy by asking how people attempt to make sense of the world.

An attempt to make sense of things?   Maybe philosophy should be seen as simply being an attempt to make rational sense of our world, of both natural and social phenomena that we experience.  Of course other disciplines come into play here: the natural sciences, social sciences, history, ..So after we touch on the sciences and historical inquiry, what is the contribution of philosophy?  Can we say that it is an attempt to make sense of those aspects of our world not treated by the sciences and by history?

Do we …

Sort out, analyze and interpret the findings of the sciences (?)

Evaluate our claims to knowledge and justified belief (?)

Attempt to make sense of our experience and existence (?)

Analyze and clarify such concepts as knowledge, truth, reality, justice, moral evil, etc. (?)

Analyze the notions of moral value and human freedom. (?)

Evaluate such traditional problems as that of mind/matter, freedom/determinism; knowledge/skepticism; existence or absence of a deity; problem of evil. (?)

State the value or dis-value of religious faith (?)

Sometimes we just try to make sense of existence, both at the social and personal levels.


We should distinguish between a philosophy of life (viz. a personal outlook on things), on the one hand, and philosophy as a discipline (the study of philosophy), on the other hand. These are two distinct things, although in some cases there can be a relationship between them.  For example, as when my study of philosophy results in my adopting a particular outlook on reality.


Questions sometimes arise regarding the value or desirability of a specific law, a set of laws, or even an entire legal system.

Suppose that we find ourselves arguing for or against a specific law: e.g. laws of apartheid in South Africa, segregationist laws in the U.S., or laws that require participation in a war even when this is contrary to the individual’s conscience. Could we say that in such a context philosophical considerations become relevant, even crucial?

Similar questions may be raised concerning other institutions: e.g., forms of government, economic systems, religions, technology, consumer-materialistic values, etc..

Arguments bearing on issues such as these would presuppose certain “deeper” values and assumptions. Undoubtedly, philosophical critiques and re-constructions would come into play here.


Most likely, the world that we confront every day is a reality open to philosophy. Understating it, we might say that philosophical values do not predominate.

How should a philosophically-minded person deal with this situation?  Should one be heroic and try to follow the Socratic model?



What is the Socratic model?

Socrates took the position of “one who does not know,” or one who makes no claim to knowledge; then he proceeded to expose others as being mere pretenders to knowledge; i.e., as really not knowing what they claimed to know (e.g., not really knowing what “virtue” is, or “courage”, etc.).

By exposing pretense and ignorance, Socrates was laying the groundwork for a genuine pursuit of truth.  Supposedly, he showed us that one cannot advance in the direction of truth until one has cleared away error, ignorance and pretense. In so doing, he also showed us how very difficult the pursuit of truth is.

 ”The destroyer of weeds, thistles and thorns is a benefactor whether he soweth or not.”   Robert G. Ingersoll


“What we’re destroying is nothing but houses of cards, and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand.”                           Ludwig Wittgenstein

Here the philosophical spirit is found working to clarify things, to sweep away confusion and error, ….all as a prelude to the mind’s journey toward knowledge, understanding and truth.

“We cannot pursue the lady called wisdom until we clean up our mess and learn to walk straight” .—- Pale Moon

Notes from fall of 1987 – Some Reflections on Philosophy II

By Juan Bernal

What can the “philosophical spirit” mean to the non-philosophical world, a world that cares little about clarification, analysis and the pursuit of truth?  Should the “philosophical person” take the role of a missionary and work to win converts among the un-philosophical?

To go out and attempt to convert the world is silly and Quixotic. The world in general is not disposed toward philosophical work.  But some individuals within the large non-philosophical set are naturally disposed to ask philosophical questions or ask questions that require philosophical treatment. Such individuals are susceptible to the philosophical, Socratic sting. We might approach them.

What does one attempt to teach?  ….philosophy as a method for dealing with certain questions and problems?  ….a reflective, logical approach to life?


It seems that most people do not perceive a need in their lives for philosophy.  But there are others (a minority) who regard philosophy as critically important.


Probably most people who complain that philosophy is a useless and boring subject do not know what philosophy is, but base their view on a misconception (e.g. philosophy as armchair speculation and groundless metaphysics dealing with the supernatural). Such people commit the “strawman” fallacy.  They have an erroneous idea of philosophy, and on this “basis”, reject all philosophy as useless.  For some, experience has given them a caricature of philosophy; hence, they see nothing to recommend it and hence is easily reject it as a frivolous activity.


But if people attempt to think for themselves on significant, vital issues, they will see a need for philosophy.  If people have some curiosity about the way things are; if they still retain a sense of wonder about existence; if they haven’t conceded all spiritual, moral and intellectual work to the “experts”; they have a need for philosophy.



The human psyche is vast and has incredible depth. Individuals occasionally get lost within it. We are shocked by its distances and depths, and frequently are led to think that somehow we have stepped beyond it.  Thus we have belief in such things as: out-of-body-experiences, soul transmigrations, reincarnations, etc..

The psyche presents us with astonishing visions, and speaks to us with many voices —some awesome and terrible.

(It is not clear that the preceding remarks have much to do with philosophy.  Do they touch on religion?)


When I sit down (or stand up) and try to sort things out for myself…..Is this philosophy?

Most likely this by itself is not philosophy. Genuine philosophy requires a special kind of reflection and intellectual work.


Philosophy is difficult to define.  Sometimes analogies and similes can help:

An intellectual exercise:

Philosophy can be seen ….

“      as a game ……(hobby).

“      as a way of life.

“      as a style of problem solving.

“      as a form of intellectual work.

“      as a form of spirituality ……(religion (?)).

“      as a type of illness ……(a nervous disorder).

“      as a life-long commitment to searching for truth.


The psyche seeks to express its depth; this expression may take the form of philosophy, art, poetry, religion …etc..

Philosophy as an art form.

“      as imaginative literature.

The poet and the writer of literary works (e.g., novels) attempt to express their experience of human existence. They each work at giving expression to their vision of reality; and if they succeed, they enable us, their readers, also a share in that vision and offer us a “living”  of their experience. This is how great works of literature function.

Can we say correctly that philosophy also functions this way? The activity by which an individual attempts to express his/her vision of some aspect of reality?  (…attempts to express some significant experience in his/her existence?)

Our immediate inclination is to say that philosophical work must be distinguished from poetry and literary art.  The philosopher attempts to resolve (at least clarify) problems in a rational, discursive way. This is very different from the poetic, literary expression of a significant, moving experience.

However, we may hesitate when reminded that some of the great philosophers combined their philosophical work with expression of poetic and literary vision (e.g., Plato, Nietzsche, Santayana).

[Generally when someone expresses his vision of things, he is not engaged in the work of grappling with philosophical problems; however, someone's poetic view of reality or experience could lend insight to the philosophical worker, enabling him a to see things in a new light, or even lending a clearer view of something he could only see obscurely before.]

Great music or a beautiful song may be great art, even a poetic expression of something the composer saw or felt; but it would not appear to be a form of philosophy.  By appreciating it I may feel (experience, “see”) some of what the composer felt; and it may lead me to look at things (the world, existence, other people, suffering, joy) in a different way.  But only if we were  to speak metaphorically or figuratively would we refer to music as philosophy. (Yet there  could be a philosophy behind it.)

Religion, more so than philosophy, seems close to literary art and poetry.  Some forms of religion, at least, can be seen as human attempts to express certain visions, experiences, aspirations, hopes, fears, etc..

A song, a cry, a prayer may be the means by which I express what I feel or try to express what I see (experience).  If I am truly inspired and have sufficient talent, I might create some form of art (poem, musical piece, novel) by which I express my experience.  But my attempt to express my experience of the world does not imply that that I have created a philosophical work.

Notes from fall of 1987 – Some Reflections on Philosophy III

By Juan Bernal

Walt Kaufmann tells us that “in the end, true education is a process of self-education.”  But, as he also notes, there is still a great need for teachers and guides in this process of educating oneself.

An analogy might help: Suppose I set out to climb Mount Everest. If I accomplish my goal I will have realized a great personal achievement; something I will have done myself, but not entirely by myself. For this great personal achievement will have required the help of others; instructors, trainers, guides and such.


Genuine education involves self-development and spiritual growth.

Philosophical development:  All persons start as nature’s primitives; many have the potential to become much more, to develop their intellectual, creative and spiritual faculties.  But this growth and development does not come easily. Effort and sacrifice are required.   Most people are not willing to pay the price.



Start with the premise that we are rational, autonomous beings; that we are meant to think for ourselves, …that we are not mere drones who perform functions mindlessly,  unquestioningly following appointed authorities.

Then ask: How much is truth and how much useful myth in the pronouncements of our religious, governmental, and military authorities?



Truth-Seeking                |

God-Seeking                  |       Are these aspects of the same

Soul-Development         |        enterprise?

Seeking the True Self     |

It’s difficult to say how one would deal with this question.

The poet might say that all these seek to achieve the same goal.  But certainly such a proposition cries out for clarification, and even if we were to clarify it, we probably would have no way of evaluating it.


(Nov. 24, 92)

…check W. Kaufmann’s Future of the Humanities (p. 26) for a statement of the utter failure of German academic philosophy in the 1930′s to confront the crisis of NAZI criminality.

(Nov. 30, 92)

A dilemma for academic philosophers: ..we prefer to deal only with “philosophical issues,” and avoid the messy arena of the world’s social, economic, political, and moral problems. We don’t want to become partisans and advocates for political movements and ideologies; and we surely don’t pretend to be prophets and wisemen.

Subsequently, we mostly avoid discussion of society’s political/economic, social and moral problems. Most of us don’t think it is our business to do critiques of other people’s behavior and values, or to criticize government policies and social conventions.

We go on as if things were generally all right. But things are not all fine. (“Peace! Peace!” they cry, “but there is no peace…”  Jeremiah (?) ) And there are plenty groups and individuals ready to step into the role we have abandoned and offer their “solutions” and ideologies as remedies, often to the greater detriment and increased suffering of society.


Two tendencies in philosophy:

1) ….to be impressed and excited by mathematical reasoning (& formal logic) and the scientific method as models for philosophical inquiry. [Here we find most rationalists such as Descartes, Spinoza; Logical Positivists; Bertrand Russell (at some stage of his development); the early Wittgenstein; and many Anglo-American, analytical philosophers.

2) be excited by poetry, literature, drama, and thus see philosophy as imaginative work that attempts to express some aspect (or aspect(s) ) of human experience. [Here we find such philosophers as Nietzsche, Santayana, W. Kaufmann; some of the existentialists (Sartre, Camus, Heidegger)]

[Plato's work touches both camps.]

Roughly, the two tendencies are those of the positivist and the existentialist. One sees philosophy primarily as analysis; the other tends to see it as human drama.


Our motto could be: Learn to think for yourself, but also work to discipline your thinking. (…suggests that genuine autonomy is conditioned by self-discipline.)

Practical ethics/morality: One should emphasize the need for fair dealing with our fellow humans.  . . . the need for honest, candid talk. The principles of seeking the truth and speaking the truth to the best of our ability. (Compare this to the attitude of the politician/salesman, who says whatever will gain him an advantage and help to achieve his purpose.)

From one style of critical philosophy: The study of epistemology in which we do an analysis of the concepts concerning knowledge, belief, is our central focus. . . .  We carry on inquiries into the different kinds of knowledge, the grounds for knowledge, the range of our knowledge.  We explore the many ways in which belief, opinion, conviction, and such pass for knowledge.

We argue the need for rational inquiry, empirical observation  and rational argument. We recognize the power of emotion and the effectiveness of different methods of persuasion.

We analyze the uses of language, the need for clarification and straight thinking.

We learn how better to handle information; how to find the relevant points; how to draw the logical or probable conclusion.

We shall consider whether there are limits to science and rationally-based knowledge. Is the range of reality far greater than the range of the rational mind?  ….whether science and the rational approach presuppose some conformity between nature and the human mind, which brings in questions as to the value of metaphysics. (…consider also the challenge of quantum physics.)

Abortion & the Battle for Women’s Reproductive Freedom

By Charles L. Rulon,

Emeritus professor of Life and Health Sciences at Long Beach City College, California.

Millions of Americans still want to force women with unwanted pregnancies to stay pregnant against their will — in effect, to be unwilling breeding machines.

For millennia, women’s reproductive rights have been legislated, adjudicated and religiously controlled by those who would never have to experience an unwanted pregnancy —men.  For millennia, poor young unskilled mothers had to do whatever it took to find food and shelter for their children. This often meant becoming sexual and domestic slaves to men.  Also, for literally millennia, unwanted pregnancies were often followed by extremely dangerous abortion attempts and/or by the wrenchingly painful smothering to death or abandoning of new-born infants.

But as science and technology continued to advance, particularly in the last century, birth control methods became increasingly effective, early abortions finally became much safer than giving birth, and powerful religious patriarchies began to weaken. The long sought for reproductive emancipation of women was finally beginning to take giant steps forward.  Since Roe v Wade (1973), over 40 million American women have opted for an early safe legal abortion. That’s more women than there are people in the entire state of California! That’s over 40 million women who had a major second chance to control their own destiny.

Yet, four decades after Roe there still remains in the U.S. a powerful backlash by America’s religious-political patriarchy and their followers.  The overwhelming majority of anti-abortion voices in power today—in our pulpits and political machines—are white, conservative, Christian male voices—the same voices that once opposed both suffrage and birth control for women.

Today, abortion facilities still remain in only 13% of our nation’s counties, while state and national efforts to further weaken Roe continue unabated.  The right of women with unwanted pregnancies to not be forced to stay pregnant against their will continues to lose ground to nation-wide campaigns like Personhood-USA with its well-financed attempts to have embryos, blastulas and microscopic zygotes protected by law as persons.

Pro-choice politicians, of course, recite their support for elective abortions (“safe, legal & rare”).  But then most hurry on as though they are uncomfortable with their position, or believe that there are more important issues to debate.  But is a woman’s right to be freed from reproductive enslavement really a less important issue?  After all, the right to excellent birth control backed up by early safe abortions is about the right of women to decide for themselves their own futures, a right that is fundamental to female equality and human liberty.

Valuing Women’s Lives

Two decades ago a State of the World report documented that globally, “what consigned so many women to death or physical impairment was not a deficiency in technology, but a deficiency in the value placed on women’s lives.” Today, the suffering to women and girls due to ancient religious dogmas, entrenched patriarchal laws and customs, plus the desire to punish “loose” women, coupled with abysmal ignorance and grinding poverty is simply staggering.  Anti-abortion laws, which try to force women with unwanted pregnancies to be unwilling embryo incubators, in effect, treat women as obligatory breeding machines. They place women in a permanently and irrevocably subordinate position to men.

Throughout history the large majority of women with unwanted pregnancies have been willing to risk almost anything to escape from such reproductive enslavement.  As a result, anti-abortion laws across our planet have been major public health and social disasters.  In just the past 30 years over 150 million girls and women filled the hospitals in these anti-choice countries with life-threatening infections, massive hemorrhaging, perforated intestines and uteruses, and kidney failure as a result of illegal abortion attempts.  Several million died.  In the U.S. before Roe, hundreds of thousands of women each year with botched abortions filled our hospitals. Medical costs soared, families were torn apart and disrespect for the law intensified.

The world’s lowest rates of abortion by far are found in Japan and Western Europe where few legal restrictions are placed on abortions and where contraceptive use and comprehensive sex education are widespread.  In fact, today it is increasingly rare to find anti-abortion laws outside of totalitarian, militaristic, and /or religiously fundamentalist societies.  Do we really want the United States to have the same laws suppressing women’s reproductive equality as do countries like Afghanistan and El Salvador?

A World of Wanted Children

Our world is already up to its ears in unwanted, hungry and abandoned children. In the last 30 years restrictive laws and coercive pressures have resulted in over one billion unplanned and mostly unwanted embryos carried to term. Tens of millions of abandoned children now wander the streets.  Poverty soars.  Crime escalates.  Massive ecological destruction, social unrest and militarization continue.

In the U.S. over 500,000 children have already been taken from their parents and placed in foster homes, and over 15 million children now live in poverty, with hundreds of thousands abandoned. Yet, most of our 2012 Republican Presidential contenders, plus tens of millions of Americans continue to try to pass laws that would force women into having more children than they really want, even though we can’t or won’t take care of the children we already have.

Mostly because of religious/moralistic obstacles, a depressing half of all pregnancies in the US are still unintended; for African-American women, it’s 70%.  Roughly half of all such unintended pregnancies are aborted. The abortion rate among Black women is five times higher than among White women; for Latinos it’s three times higher. Poverty remains a major factor. Thus, the passage of anti-abortion laws in the U.S. would heavily discriminate against poor minority women.

In this 21st century of science and human enlightenment to claim that microscopic human fertilized eggs and blastulas(!!), or even half-inch limbless, faceless embryos(!), much less 1st or 2nd trimester mindless, senseless fetuses are somehow equivalent to children already born and, thus, should have the same right to life and that this is America’s Holocaust is rationally absurd and ethically repugnant.  Fundamentalist religious insanity comes to mind.  Most Americans know this “absurdity” at some level. That’s why very few Americans want to send women who abort to prison, not even for a day!

Furthermore, to claim that human embryos have some kind of God-given sacred right to life is not even a biblical teaching according to most Christian theologians and millions of pro-choice Christians.  Instead, such pronounce­ments are basically incendiary propaganda generated by America’s powerful religious patriarchy with the ultimate purpose of controlling the religious/political thinking of tens of millions of conservative Christians.

 Closing Thoughts

The politician who gets my vote is the one who makes female equality one major part of his or her platform. After all, an investment in global economic opportunities for women, plus reproductive health care (including sex education, contraception, emergency contraceptive pills and early abortions) would provide one of the greatest benefits to humanity in the history of civilization.  Few other measures could make such a contribution to the health and well-being of women and children, reduce poverty and the threat of war worldwide, plus improve our chances of achieving a sustainable future, yet cost each of us in the affluent world only a few dollars a year in foreign aid.

The uncompromising position of the Christian Right and their political allies puts an ugly face on democracy and on the religious spirit of love and compassion. It’s a position that demeans the intelligence and moral character of women and returns them to the Dark Ages of dangerous illegal abortions.  How long can civilization continue to tolerate undemocratic, authoritarian pronouncements from male popes, ministers, televangelists, born-again politicians and others who demand religious obedience?  How long can we continue to tolerate men who are concerned primarily with the maintenance of ancient institutions and belief systems in a modern scientific world they do not want to understand and where the need to preserve their power has priority over all else?  How can any society ever expect its citizens to live in a way that is higher, nobler and more spiritual when it continues to try to force women with unwanted pregnancies (a persistent and major reality throughout the entire history of human­kind) to stay pregnant against their will?