Analysis

‘Expert’ incorrectly claims question of human life really one of ‘politics, not biology’

scientific american, preborn baby, fetus, biology

New human life begins at conception. In this age of scientific achievements which have taken virtually all of the mystery out of human development, it’s ridiculous that it is even necessary to continue to emphasize this point. Unfortunately, so-called “experts” driven by agenda rather than by truth continue to be platformed to propagandize, necessitating a continuous counterflow of common sense.

An Expert … In Theory

Sahotra Sarkar is one such “expert.” A professor of Philosophy and Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin, he recently penned an article for The Conversation in which he claimed that the question of when human life begins is one “of politics, not biology,” because biology, and therefore biologists, are incapable of determining when life begins. He also claimed that there is no consensus among biologists on this issue, anyway — the implication being that their input on this matter is therefore irrelevant.

Never mind the fact that he notes that he is a biologist immediately after making these statements, and rests the weight of his extraordinary claims upon the credibility this status implies… thereby paradoxically relying upon that which he has already undermined.  

His stated credentials will mislead many into thinking his claim carries scientific weight and validity. But what exactly is Prof. Sarkar’s educational background, and what is “Integrative Biology?” According to the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology, the discipline emphasizes “multiple perspectives …  to evaluate issues of biological complexity and their many dimensions, including the physical and social” in “areas that cross standard disciplinary boundaries.” Integrative Biology is also relatively new — the same journal admits the discipline didn’t “suddenly ha[ve] cachet and significance” until 2003, and that “There are almost as many conceptions of ‘integrative biology’ as there are people interested in the idea; this results in those people considering themselves to be ‘integrative biologists’ without any clarification of or agreement upon the central themes of the concept.”

In other words, “Integrative Biology” is a new term for a modern, interdisciplinary mish-mash lacking a cohesive definition, and practiced by an equally ill-defined mish-mash of individuals. 

According to Sarkar’s own personal website, his education is primarily in mathematics, physics, and philosophy. “I gravitated towards biology and its history and philosophy towards the end of my graduate education,” he says. He went on to work in “theoretical biology,” and, prior to his professorship in Integrative Biology, he was “Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science” at UTA. 

It is actually surprising that he is currently a professor at all, as he was recently disciplined and temporarily suspended by the university for alleged sexual misconduct and inappropriate advances toward his students.

So, here we have an alleged sexual predator taking a pro-abortion position — which is par for the course, given the long history of connections between sexual abuse and abortion. And we have someone who is claiming to be a scientific expert — not in the hard science of biology itself, but, rather, in “Integrative Biology” — with nebulous qualifications.

Surprisingly, it appears he even managed to confuse himself. In the originally published version of his opinion piece, which has since been corrected seemingly everywhere but at Salon.com, he stated that if the Supreme Court declares Mississippi’s 15-week abortion restriction law unconstitutional, it would overturn Roe v Wade, when the opposite is true — it would affirm Roe.

Terminological Trickery

But it’s no surprise that he got his facts wrong on Roe, given that many of his other claims are factually inaccurate. Indeed, Sarkar’s piece as a whole is a cynical exercise in semantic sleight-of-hand. 

His apparent question — when does human life begin? — is euphemistic in the first place. He is not actually asking anything related to the terms “human” and “life” as defined and understood by science and the masses. This would mean that his inquiry would relate to when a new organism of the species Homo sapiens can be considered to have life, which, by definition, is “manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally.” By all of these criteria, a zygote clearly qualifies as a new human life. 

Rather, it is obvious that Sarkar’s actual question is: “When is it no longer okay to kill a new human life?” That is an illegitimate question, because it is based upon the false premise that there is ever a time when it is okay to kill such a being.

Given that Sarkar’s premise is a lie, there is no necessity to dismantle his so-called “argument” piece by piece. There is no need to point out the paradox of his claim that biology — which, by definition and etymology, is “the science of life” — is incapable of making the most basic determinations about its sole object of study. Rather, it is ridiculously easy, and even necessary, to simply dismiss outright this piece of “expert analysis” for what it actually is: pure propaganda.

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