Friday, December 11, 2015

Oh, no he didn't.

Uproxx.com posted a video by Bill Nye, and titled the post "Bill Nye Uses Science To Debunk The Logic Of Anti-Abortion Legislature".

Except he didn't. What Bill Nye did is tilt with a few carefully chosen strawman caricatures of anti-abortion arguments. Here's the video that Uproxx references:


To be fair, when dealing with controversial issues, a lot of the "information" that's communicated is simply through slogans and signs. It's a problem that's magnified by a desire on the one side to try to get the most message into the fewest words; and a lack of desire on the other side to listen any more closely than that. So caricatured arguments are often self-constructing. But let's see where Nye goes wrong, shall we?

The first strawman is right there in the title, bold type: that anti-abortionists want to tell women what to do with their bodies. Their bodies are not the issue. It is the bodies of the beings dependent upon them that are. More on that later.

The second is Nye's observation that "many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans." That may be, but it's completely irrelevant. This is descriptive of a natural process, and none of those eggs are the subject of abortion. Not one. And as such, they're not the subject of anti-abortionists arguments, either. Nye is just engaging in some obfuscation, hoping that you won't notice that he's completely talking past the issue to focus attention on a non-sequitur. But hey, he gets to get all "sciencey" and "educational", as if you didn't know all about the birds and the bees already. Basically, he's also using the opportunity to be condescending to those who already not only know the facts of life, but assume that their opponents do, too, without the need for remedial instruction.

He then takes this into an attempt at reductio ad absurdum by questioning "who are you going to sue?" over the eggs that aren't implanted in the uterine wall. As if you had to sue over a natural process. As if natural processes are someone's fault. Of course, this is a starting assumption worthy of any liberal who is engaging in "low effort thinking" about a subject,  which is exactly what Nye encourages here. He most certainly is not using science. Rather, it's less-than-stellar barracks lawyering. And even there, it's a reflection of a deep legalistic lack of understanding. Natural processes... what a court calls "acts of god"... are nobody's fault. Not everyone who's born lives to old age either. They succumb to all sorts of calamities, from lightning strikes to heart attacks to cancer and liver disease. This natural rate of attrition doesn't keep us from making laws against deliberate murder. Nye is simply using an emotionally-charged legal fallacy to try to make you feel silly, and winds up making himself look ignorant in the process. It's safe to say that he "apparently literally" doesn't know what he's talking about.

He then uses the phrase "women's rights with respect to their reproduction", which completely dismisses any rights that may be held by men in respect to their reproduction. It's plainly sexist. It does take two to tango, and no amount of equity is achieved with placing all authority with one group, and all blame with the other. It's one of the things he should have paid a little more attention to in his remedial sex ed. Surely an enlightened individual would recognize that shared responsibility must be accompanied by shared rights.

Nye then goes beyond sexism and straight into racism. Hey, why not? The race card is a liberal staple. "A lot of men of European descent" is a dressing-up of our old standby, "old white men". And in Nye's world they're passing laws based on ignorance. But as we've seen Nye is already proving himself to be highly ignorant (or at least "ignoring") of the oppositions actual arguments. Maybe he's got something there... he's an old white guy. If people took his advice literally, they'd dismiss his arguments, too. The thing is, the "old white guy" canard is another irrelevancy. People elect representatives, and polls of women show them to be as divided about abortion themselves. But Nye ignores these facts to tilt with a racial strawman. This isn't science, either. It's poor rhetoric.

From here it's a sloppy segue into an argument against the Bible. This particular strawman is the assumption that anti-abortionist reasoning is rooted in the Bible alone. In fact, atheists and agnostics, as well as non-Christian theists are also divided as to the subject of abortion, and many theists hold secular reasoning for their pro-life views as strongly as their religious beliefs. Their opposition to abortion is held independently of their religion. But religion is a convenient scapegoat. If you can argue with "a" religious view, you can stretch it, insisting it is shared by all those who are religious, and you don't have to bother with pesky issues.

At this point in the video it's clear that Nye really isn't speaking to convince anyone to join his side. He may actually believe he is, but he's not arguing as if he were actually doing anything more than cheering on the home team. Certainly, if one is going to use the Bible to speak with Christians, one will want to have a passing familiarity with at least the parts pertinent to what one is saying. Nye, on the other hand, speaks as if he is totally ignorant. He states that the Bible teaches that sex always results in children (ignoring high-profile cases of barren women, including those who later have children, such as Sarah, the wife of Abraham). This is an attempt to make Christians feel silly and stupid. More accurately, his argument instructs atheistic liberals to believe that Christians hold such beliefs and are therefore silly and stupid. It actually makes Christians -- who know the Bible better than he -- believe that Nye himself is biblically illiterate. Nye says, "That’s wrong, and so to pass laws based upon that belief is inconsistent with nature." Laws that are consistent with nature would recognize this: pregnancy doesn't result every time you have sex, but you have to be impressively ignorant to miss the fact that pregnancy can happen any time you have sex, even if you don't like the guy. Or girl. Bill Nye is denying the science.

It is certainly ironic that Nye casts people as scientifically illiterate when discussing science, and then personally proceeds to screw up the science and display actual illiteracy when discussing a book.

His next statement, "It’s hard not to get frustrated with this, everybody. Nobody likes abortion, okay. But you can’t tell somebody what to do," rises to the level of hypocrisy. Nye has no problem whatsoever telling somebody what to do when it's for other causes that he feels are important, even when it's based on shaky science and revisionist data. These are the "more important things" referred to by Nye. These are the things that trump nascent human life.

Nye then proceeds to pretend that science is an exclusively anti-religious affair. "You wouldn’t know how big a human egg was if it weren’t for microscopes, if it weren’t for scientists, medical researchers looking diligently." But the father of microbiology, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, was a Calvinist. From his Wikipedia article, "He often referred with reverence to the wonders God designed in making creatures great and small. He believed that his amazing discoveries were merely further proof of the great wonder of God's creation."  Look up the references yourself. Genetics was pioneered by a monk, Johann Gregor Mendel. The Calculus was devised by the devout though unorthodox Isaac Newton. Kepler determined the orbits of the planets through a dogged determination to find out the truth of God's creation. It was a Catholic priest named Georges Lemaitre, not Steven Hawking, who proposed the Big Bang. If it weren't for these and other religious gentlemen and their reverence what they referred to as "the Book of Nature", then you wouldn't have science at all, much less sanctimonious condescending atheists who erroneously claim science as their own exclusive domain. It is only in recent years that the idea has been incubated that science and religion are mutually exclusive. And though this nonsense has been swallowed by many atheists and theists alike, it is by no means true.

Nye closes with this: "Just really be objective about this. We have other problems to solve everybody. Come on. Come on. Let’s work together."  Duplicity abounds. If Nye were objective, then he wouldn't cling to the fiction that this nascent life, small and dependent as it may be, is "the mother's body". A genetic lab in a blind test will confirm that these are not the same individual. Objectively... scientifically... it is a life of its own, genetically distinct from the mother, and is by no means "her body". Obviously, to a "pro-life" adherent, life takes precedence. It's right there in the name. IF these other things are so much more important in Nye's estimation, and he himself claims they are, then it is he who should back off of the issue, and work on those other problems instead.

So, did Bill Nye use science to debunk the logic of anti-abortion legislation? No, he used strawmen, distraction, condescension, fear-mongering, false appeal to authority, mis-characterization, misrepresentation, belittling, and emotional cajoling. In short, everything but science.


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