Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
If you’re an atheist who debates Christians you’ve certainly enjoyed the thrill of boxing your opponent into an intellectual corner in which they’re forced to retreat. This is an inevitability when you’re sparring with someone who must (per their worldview) cling to an absolute moral precept.
It’s really quite easy to do. They’re forced to defend their worldview and faith, but they’re also human – influenced by the same emotions and external factors as your garden variety godless bastard – so it’s easy to push them into a tug-of-war with themselves. Once they’ve stated their defiant moral position, you drop the hammer by putting them into a hypothetical yet totally plausible and reasonable situation. Then just sit back and enjoy the show.
Keep it simple. Make it an undeniably fair and reasonable YES or NO type question, and they will never – NEVER – commit to an answer. Wager every dime you own on it. They’ll dodge the question and obfuscate until you show them some mercy and let them off the hook. And wager an extra hundred bucks that they’ll deny that they’re dodging the question in spite of their inability to say either of these two simple, short words.
This rant was inspired by an exchange I had with an anti-stem cell research proponent after a story about a fully-cured HIV patient hit the news wire. We ended up engaging in a (very short) debate that harped on the morality of stem cell research during which I played the never-failing “fruit of the poisonous tree” card.
This debate tactic works flawlessly with any ideological position that is shattered when a seemingly harmless or life-critical byproduct (the “fruit”) is embraced by the person defending the worldview that denigrates the “tree.”
With regard to the subject matter at hand, stem cell research (the tree) is verboten because it smacks of “man playing god” and the taking of human life through the destruction of a human embryo. But unfortunately for the poor bastards who want to burn down that tree, they must necessarily burn the harmless fruit (like stem cell transplants or anything else) that grows from its limbs. The fact that no embryos are killed in the commission of a stem cell transplant is wholly irrelevant. The transplant itself is fruit of a very poisonous tree, and you’re a flaming hypocrite if you embrace it for any reason, in any way, shape, or form.
Meet the Players:
TC = Typical Christian | GB = Godless Bastard
TC: I think stem cell research is just fine and dandy, as long as we’re not killing embryos to do it. Then again, I also object to freezing embryos in fertility clinics. Human beings are not spare parts, and humanity begins at conception.
Irony Alert #1: He just made this a black and white issue by declaring that “humanity begins at conception.” There is no equivocation. He is absolute and resolute.
GB: Not so fast there, cowboy. While I respect your position based on your worldview and moral code, once you take that leap you put yourself right smack dab in an inescapable “fruit of the poisonous tree” dilemma.
While they’re not killing human embryos in stem cell research labs daily (they have a couple of alternate options now), know that this kind of research serves as the very foundation for life-saving medical advancements. If you rail against the foundation yet run to a doctor for any resulting therapy, then you necessarily step onto hypocritical soil of the highest order. I generally have no problem with people wanting to have their cake and eat it too, but in this instance the baby (or is that the embryo?) gets thrown out with the bathwater. I laud you for your principles, but you get a big finger-waving “none for you” should you need that medical technology to save your ass.
TC: My doctor has clear instructions that if I am ever incapacitated, no treatment resulting from embryonic stem cell research is to be used to save my ass. So yeah, if I say it I mean it. I’d prefer to die than to violate the principles I live by. If we cannot protect the most vulnerable among us, then we are no more than savages.
Irony Alert #2: Remember all of this, especially “So yeah, if I say it I mean it. I’d prefer to DIE [my emphasis] than to violate my principles.” This is an affirmation of a black and white position, and it all gets thrown out after he paints himself into a corner. No, he only “means it” when it’s convenient, and principles are principles only if they don’t change.
GB: I respect your stance, but I think you’re a very rare exception. It’s impossible to know what a person would say or do until they’re on the business end of an immanent life or death situation, but I believe that most people would flip like a burger and opt for any lifeline available. Okay, fine. I believe you. But here’s the really fun question. Let’s say it was your child who needed that procedure. Would you discourage them for all of the aforementioned? I think most parents would beg them to get the procedure.
TC: At the point of fertilization, it’s on its way to reaching the point that you regard as being human. My contention is essentially that once the journey has begun, the embryo (or blastocyst or whatever) is entitled to be protected as a person. Mind you, I don’t extend that notion to cases where a pregnancy poses a danger to a mother’s life. But as I said earlier, humans are not spare parts. Embryonic stem cell research smacks of something perhaps Dr. Frankenstein might have engaged in. Stem cells from the placenta, or adult stem cells are of course another matter. You make good points (like always). And you’re right many people would flip if things became dire. I hope I’m not one of those people (and I’m hoping things don’t become dire). Anyhow it’s doubtful either of us would ever change the other’s view, but it’s always fun to argue the big issues.
Irony Alert #3: Principles now give way to hypocrisy when exceptions are made to save a mother’s life – yet he still won’t commit to an answer.
GB: Sorry buddy, but you dodged my question. I believe I asked you what you’d say or do if your child were in that dire position. Would you dissuade him or her as you have argued here?
I’ve always maintained that faith and the principles that stem from it have there limits because theists will always manufacture an out. Not to pick on Christians specifically, but it’s been my experience that when those limits are reached (either by personal misfortune or because some prick like myself browbeats them into a hypothetical corner), the fallback rationalization for their duality is something along the lines of “I’m human” or “I’ve fallen short of the glory or god” punctuated with “I’ll be forgiven.” It’s all a very convenient Get Out of Jail Free card.
So what say you? Are you a father who would lecture his child that their only life-saving option is verboten because it’s the fruit of sin, or do you throw out your principles and tread on that soil I mentioned?
TC: I don’t think anyone can truly predict how they’d act in an extreme situation. I’m perfectly willing to die (or kill) for my kids. And in this case it’s not so much about “sin.” Over the decades my beliefs evolved from Christian to something resembling Deism. Without a belief in Hell it’s hard for me to believe in the ultimate consequences of sin. As such, there’s no “Get Out Of Jail Free” card for me. We are what we do.
My kids are all adults, and I would counsel each of them to follow his or her own conscience. And I would support whatever decision they made. But if such a situation arose while they were still in my care? I imagine most parents would flush whatever morals they have down the toilet to save their kids. I’m fairly certain I know how I’d act if it was me, as I stated above. But my kids?
As I think this thru (and my lack of an answer B4 was a stalling tactic so I could think about it all), most higher animals, including humans, have a built-in instinct to protect their young and persist their own bloodline. A new alpha-male lion kills and eats the young of the former alpha male in the pride. A bear will destroy anything that gets in striking distance of its young.
Maybe it’s a stretch here, but would similar instincts kick in for me if one of my kids became deathly ill? Would I sacrifice an unborn child (which is how I regard an embryo) to save one of my own? I can’t honestly say no, because of how I feel about my children. Oh, and I will find a way to pin your ass to the ideological wall at some point very soon.
Payback’s a bitch.
GB: I’ve asked this question a gazillion times, and every single time – without exception – this is the response I get. Always.
Sorry, but this is about sin and this kind of cherry picking is a Get Out of Jail Free Card. Saying that “my beliefs evolved from Christian to something resembling Deism” doesn’t remove the issue of “sin” – be it literally biblical or figuratively humanitarian. Yours is a now a poorly played game of semantics, and I won’t let you use it to avoid interrogation or accountability. You made it all too clear where you stand on the matter, and anything outside of your own black and white boundaries makes it a sin. You’re the one who argued that an embryo should be afforded the same rights as those that go to term. Killing is a sin – whether it’s murder in the street or research in the lab. And you know damn well that the age of your children is entirely irrelevant. They are your children now and forever. That they are of the age of consent does not speak to your worries and concerns as their dad. This is yet just another flaccid obfuscation.
At any rate, you’re over complicating this. It’s a simple yes or no. Your equivocation is the dance of duality. You said that you personally would not accept any such treatment based on your black and white belief that life begins at conception. (You’re the one who made this black and white at the outset, so I’m fairly allowed to hold you to it.) No one could possibly blame you for sticking to your principles, although I still say you’d flip if you found yourself on the business end of it. It’s easy for you to maintain your position in this instance because this is a purely hypothetical situation. There’s no real fear or emotion involved in the proposition.
At any rate, you’re going on about higher animals, bears and lions, built-in instincts, and some implication about you having to “sacrifice” something [which I never stipulated], but none of this is relevant and serves to be nothing but a series of obfuscations. You made your position clear based on your moral code, and then I shat all over it by setting you up to look like the worst dad alive, a hypocrite, or a liar.
FACT: Embryos were killed in the past to develop this life saving technology. It is, per your worldview, fruit of the poisonous tree from that day forward. Embryos are human life, human life was killed for medical gain, killing human life is a sin. It’s clearly black and white per your prior statements. The question is, would you give your son the same speech you gave me, or would you encourage if not beg him to save his life by way of this medical technology? Aw shit. Let’s make it really fun. Your son is an infant and can’t make decisions for himself. Now what say you?
You can slice it up all you want, but this argument is binary. You either stick to your guns (bad father with principles) or you flip (duplicitous cherry picking Christian). You were steadfast in your decree before I muddied the water, and now you’re dancing around it. It’s okay. Just embrace your hypocrisy, admit that you’d beg your adult child to get the transplant (or make the decision for your infant), and then convince yourself that god will forgive you for it. I won’t tell anyone.
TC: No, I haven’t danced around anything. The issue isn’t binary. It’s a multifaceted issue that involves a great many variables, mostly related to human nature. And it’s not a religious issue for me. It’s a human rights issue. So no you haven’t shat upon anything. You’ll have to get up a lot earlier in the morning to head me off at the pass, regardless of the issue. Most of the questions in your previous post are answered in my previous post so I’ll not reiterate it all here.”
GB: Incorrect. YES or NO is binary. You can paint all the facets and variables you desire (which is really nothing more than an obfuscation), but it’s my hypothetical question with the facets and variables that I have painted. If you don’t like it, then ask your own hypothetical questions when we’re done and you won’t hear a word of complaint from me. But this is my question, I’ve painted the facets and variables, and there are only two options: YES or NO. “I’ll not reiterate it all here” is just your way of saying “I refuse to commit to an answer.” And that’s a dance. You started out by making it a patently black and white issue, and now you want to argue that it’s fuzzy gray because I asked an uncomfortable question.
This is simple a matter of putting a person to a personal test of principles. Principles are easy to spout when they don’t immediately impact you. If you don’t want to stick to your guns, fine, but then you negate your initial assertion. Life is sacrosanct or it’s not. Period. Facets and variables don’t – and can’t – change that. If you rail against that which takes a human life (and you maintain that an embryo is), then that’s it. It’s verboten.
And whether it’s a religious or human rights issue is wholly irrelevant. How you feel about the human rights aspect carries no weight because it’s trumped by the religious aspect that you can’t deny. The taking of life is for god and god alone. Period and end of discussion. Conveniently arguing “human rights” [only now] to sidestep the duality of a religious worldview is a subterfuge.
Your problem, as with most religious arguments, was making it black and white out of the gate. If humanity begins at conception then there’s really nothing to discuss here. Your position is set in stone. If you embrace for personal gain that which came from the taking of life, then you’ve just pissed all over your assertion that humanity begins at conception. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order.
Look, everyone (including yours truly) turns hypocrite when a gun is held to their head. The only difference is found in the rationalization that one offers up to explain it away.
If you were drowning and I threw you a lifeline, would you take it? Answer: Yes. There is no equivocation.
Your child is about to die and the doctor is throwing you a lifeline. Would you take it?
So the question stands. YES or NO.
Remember, you said: “My doctor has clear instructions that if I am ever incapacitated, no treatment resulting from embryonic stem cell research is to be used to save my ass. So yeah, if I say it I mean it. I’d prefer to die than to violate the principles I live by. If we cannot protect the most vulnerable among us, then we are no more than savages.”
If you say it, you mean it? Well, if your answer is yes, then clearly you don’t – yet you don’t want to be one of those savages either. But no parent would ever say no. And from a me-and-my-principles standpoint there’s no sane rationalization for the duality between no for me, but yes for my child.
Again, principles are principles only if they don’t change.
I know man. It’s a raw deal.
TC: [no further responses]
I think the matter is fairly settled.