I have been putting off saying something about Adam Gopnik’s weird essay about Paul Ryan and abortion (in which the author compares Ryan to the ayatollahs, and unborn children to beans), only because I’m a huge admirer of Gopnik’s writing, and it is never pleasant to find oneself so strongly on the opposite side of someone whose work you treasure. Besides, I’m in Paris, a city that has lived so pleasantly in my imagination in no small part to the work of Adam Gopnik. So I have been emotionally disinclined to tackle this essay. Shame on me, I guess … but happily, my fellow Gopnik fan Ross Douthat has done the work for me, and by the end, he’s bouncing the rubble. Excerpt:
The rest of Gopnik’s piece offers a variation on the conventional pro-choice argument about the impossibility of knowing when a human life is finally “fully grown and when it isn’t” — or phrased more philosophically, when “the formed consciousness that distinguishes human life from bean life arises” — and why this uncertainty requires us to err on the side of (his words, not mine) “every woman for herself.” The broader argument-from-uncertainty is less implausible than the direct comparison of embryo to an acorn, but for a supposed champion of enlightenment the combination is still a strange one. In the name of science and progress, Gopnik is offering dubious embryology plus a view of human rights that’s essentially mysterian — abstracted from biological identity, agnostic about its own parameters, more comfortable evoking folk wisdom than reckoning with the science that’s replaced it. He’s draping himself the mantle of secular reason even as he talks misleadingly about biology and declares that some of the most crucial questions about justice, the law and human rights are eternally inaccessible to reason.
And for this combination – bad science married to mysterianism and question-begging — we’re supposed to banish religion to the sidelines of our common life? I’ll pass, thanks.
Read the whole thing. Really.