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Embryo and Einstein – Why They’re Equal

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The photo on the right is a picture of Albert Einstein, shortly after receiving the Nobel Prize in 1921. The photo on the left shows how Einstein looked when he was very young (about three days old). The aim of this essay is to demonstrate on purely philosophical (i.e. non-religious) grounds that a human embryo is a person, who matters just as much as you or I do. I shall also attempt to explain exactly why an embryo is just as valuable as you or I. From this it follows that the embryo from which the adult Einstein developed had exactly the same moral worth (or intrinsic value) as Einstein the man, and that an outside party – for instance, the doctor who took care of Einstein’s mother while she was pregnant – would have been morally bound to treat the embryo Einstein as a fully-fledged human person, having the same inherent right to life as the great scientist whom the embryo later developed into. I have written this essay specifically for people with no religious beliefs, so I will be making use of purely secular arguments, based on uncontroversial scientific concepts, which should be familiar to anyone who has spent time studying the emergence and development of biological forms in the natural world. In the interests of full disclosure, I will state up-front that I am a Catholic, and that I am also a member of the Intelligent Design movement. However, I would like to emphasize that I am not claiming to speak on behalf of any group in writing this essay. The arguments put forward here represent my own personal views.

I am writing this essay in response to some arguments recently put forward by the “New Atheists,” most of whom would totally reject the notion that Einstein as an embryo had the same moral value as the adult Einstein. For instance, evolutionary biologist Professor Jerry Coyne has recently argued that a 100-cell blastocyst cannot be as valuable as an adult human being because it lacks thoughts and feelings, and concludes: “A blastocyst is no more what we think of as a ‘person’ than an acorn is the same thing as an oak tree.” For biologist P. Z. Myers, it is the height of absurdity to regard embryos as being just as valuable as adults (see here and here). Philosopher Sam Harris is utterly incredulous that anyone can still believe an embryo is a unique human person, given the fact that early embryos are susceptible to both fission and fusion (see here). Harris argues that “if our concern is about suffering in this universe, it is rather obvious that we should be more concerned about killing flies than about killing three-day-old embryos” – an odd remark for him to make, as neither flies nor three-day-old embryos are sentient (see here). And the evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, after contrasting his “secular consequentialist” approach to ethics with “religiously absolute moral philosophies,” adds: “One school of thought cares about whether embryos can suffer. The other cares about whether they are human” (The God Delusion, Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006, p. 297). It is an ethical axiom for Dawkins that only sentient beings matter: early embryos fall outside the scope of legitimate moral concern, because they are incapable of suffering. And even if some embryos turn out to be capable of suffering, “there is every reason to suppose that all embryos, whether human or not, suffer far less than adult cows or sheep in a slaughterhouse” (Dawkins, 2006, p. 297).

However, I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so I should mention that Christopher Hitchens is a noble exception to the generalization that New Atheists tend to be ardently pro-choice: unlike the other “New Atheists,” Hitchens openly refers to the embryo/fetus as an “unborn child,” although he does not go so far as to advocate the repeal of Roe v. Wade. And while Dr. Richard Carrier is generally pro-choice, he is also on the record as saying that he would oppose elective third trimester abortion as being identical to infanticide (see the Carrier-Roth Debate here).

In this essay, I shall endeavor to show that a strong intellectual case can be made, on non-religious grounds (i.e. without assuming the existence of God or an immaterial soul), for the pro-life view that a human person begins at the exact moment when the sperm cell penetrates the ovum (or oocyte, to use a more accurate medical term), and that a human embryo – even if it is severely deformed – has the same right to life as a fully rational human adult. In other words, I shall argue that if you grant that a rational human adult has a right to life, then you must also grant that an embryo or fetus has a right to life, too. What distinguishes this essay from other essays written in defense of unborn human life is that I shall endeavor to explain precisely why a human embryo is every bit as valuable as you or I. Moreover, my explanation makes no appeal to the merely potential qualities of the embryo; instead, I only invoke actual properties. Thus my argument is invulnerable to the philosopher Peter Singer’s criticism that a potential X does not necessarily have the rights of an actual X – for instance, a prince (who is a potential king) does not possess the same rights and privileges as an actual king. And unlike the philosopher Don Marquis, who argues that an embryo/fetus matters just as much as we do because it has a future like ours, my account of why a human embryo matters is based principally on its present characteristics. Finally, my explanation makes no appeal to the existence of an immaterial soul, although it is perfectly compatible with belief in one.

Later, I shall address the moral issue of abortion. In particular, I shall contend that Judith Jarvis Thomson’s argument for the morality of abortion is flawed, and I will show that the available evidence indicates that abortion harms women’s mental health, even in cases such as rape and incest. However, my principal aim in this online essay is to demonstrate that a human embryo is a person who matters just as much as an adult.

My argument in a nutshell

In brief, the essence of my argument is that a human embryo is a person, because it is a complete organism, embodying a developmental program by which it directs and controls its own development into a rational human adult, and in addition, it has already started assembling itself into a rational human adult. A human adult is not merely something the embryo/fetus is capable of becoming, in a passive sense; rather, it is the mature form of the organism that the embryo/fetus is currently assembling itself into, by executing the instructions contained in its developmental program, which has already started running. (In this respect, the embryo/fetus differs vitally from a potential king, who is legally incapable of doing anything to make himself king, and who has none of the rights that properly belong to a king.) I shall argue that it is reasonable to regard any biological organism which is currently assembling itself into a rational human adult through a process which is under its control, as being just as valuable as the adult it will become, and as therefore having the same right to life as an adult. I shall also contend that nothing is acquired by an embryo, fetus, newborn baby or child in the course of its development which would add to its inherent moral value in any way; hence a one-cell embryo must be just as valuable as you or I. Finally, I shall argue that a severely defective embryo, which has no hope of developing into a rational human adult, has the same right to life as a normal embryo, because the correction of its defects does not require the addition of any new instructions to its developmental program; all it requires is the repair of program flaws, and that this correction would in no way alter its identity as a human individual, or add to its inherent value. Given that a normal embryo has the same right to life as a rational human adult, it follows that a severely defective embryo (which is just as valuable as a normal one) has the same right to life as well.

Dedication and Acknowledgements

I would like to express my thanks at the outset to the Intelligent Design movement for alerting me to the ethical significance of the developmental programs which are found in living organisms. I’ll say more about these programs below.

Read the rest of the essay here.

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113 Responses to Embryo and Einstein – Why They’re Equal

  1. vjtorley,

    I haven’t read your full essay yet but regarding this:

    a human embryo is a person, because it is a complete organism

    An embryo really isn’t a complete organism because it lacks any ability to survive independently of the mother.

    And this:

    it directs and controls its own development into a rational human adult

    It directs and controls? What is this “it” that’s doing the directing and controlling? Are you suggesting the embryo is somehow controlling its own development?

    Similarly here:

    it has already started assembling itself into a rational human adult

    The embryo has started to assemble itself!? So, assuming I’m a rational human adult, does it make sense for me to say that I was assembled by an embryo?

    And here:

    A human adult … is the mature form of the organism that the embryo/fetus is currently assembling itself into

    So again, a human adult is what the embryo assembles! One then wonders if perhaps the embryo should be the one with all the rights of personhood, and not we adults, who are merely the products of its assembly.

    I don’t think an embryo assembles itself toward adulthood any more than I will disassemble myself when I die. There’s no person or consciousness involved in either case.

  2. Pops is dependent on insulin to survive, doesn’t make him any less human.

  3. An embryo really isn’t a complete organism because it lacks any ability to survive independently of the mother.

    Normo, different animals. Drawing nutrients from the mother is the same as adult humans drawing nutrients from the environment. We do not say that humans are incomplete organisms.

    It directs and controls? What is this “it” that’s doing the directing and controlling? Are you suggesting the embryo is somehow controlling its own development?

    That is what science is endeavoring to find out. How does an organism in fact direct and control? Only a neo-darwinist would protest the use of these words to describe what an organism is actually doing. I would presume this protest is mainly due to those neo-darwinists that are atheists or if they are religious believe giving intelligent qualities to organisms at all levels ‘somehow’ boxes God in.

  4. The embryo has started to assemble itself!? So, assuming I’m a rational human adult, does it make sense for me to say that I was assembled by an embryo?

    Embryo is simply the name given to a stage of development. You were an idea first, then the process began with copulation, then a fertilized egg, then a blastocyte, an embryo, a fetus, now an adult, then to be a spirit.

    So again, a human adult is what the embryo assembles! One then wonders if perhaps the embryo should be the one with all the rights of personhood, and not we adults, who are merely the products of its assembly.

    As VJTorley is saying, you cannot decouple the adult from the embryo as they are part of a seamless process of development. Pro-abortionists want to decouple each phase by labeling the stages, and giving separate qualities to each stage, giving the appearance that the person and the embryo are different objects.

    But we know this is not the case. An acorn is like an egg in an ovary. we do not consider an egg a person. However, when you but the acorn in the ground and it sprouts, do we still call it an acorn? Of course not. We call it an oak tree, albeit a lil’ oak tree.

    By the same token, when sperm find the egg, it is no longer an egg but a lil’ person.

  5. VJTorley,

    I just wanto to say thank you for this essay. I have always argued the case for life along the same lines you are doing, by using logic and reason, no emotional appeals, or religious views.

    I am very glad to see you have ‘assembled’ this type of argument for life.

    You are sizzling VJ. Btw, make sure you leave the top a wee bit askew to let off just enough steam so the pot keeps boiling but the top won’t blast off. :)

  6. Nancy Pearcey in a recent interview posted here…:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....rens-book/

    …made pretty much the same argument of personhood.

    NormO,

    I think other’s have addressed the issue you have with an embryo being a complete organism.

    However, you might want to consider the issue of personhood and where that demarkation in human development can be made if at all.

    We don’t now allow partial birth abortions. Is that because the fetus is now a person? What’s the rationale for that either way?

    Another issue is intrinsic value:

    Some mothers would never have an abortion because they want children. So they value what they will eventually give birth to.

    Are we of value because of the value placed upon us by our parents, siblings, others? Or do we have intrinsic value apart from what others may value in us?

    It would appear that those who don’t have a problem with abortion believe that human value is not intrinsic, but endowed upon a person by others. Yet very few live consistently by such an ethic.

    Intrinsic value seems to be what we base our laws on such that Einstein is just as, but no more valuable than a poor Ethiopian woman of no renown.

    Why should the issue of intrinsic value be any different in the womb? The dependency issue doesn’t seem to cut it, as we are all dependent upon something other than ourselves to sustain life.

  7. Regarding “complete organism”. What does that term really mean? Can someone define that for me? Until such time, I will retract my comment about it because on further reflection, I think this term is meaningless.

  8. My wife and I went through a very long infertility ordeal. We took every test in the book, but never found out the problem.

    After many years my first daughter was born, at which time I was a Dawkins-style atheist. Something very profound happened.

    I began to sink into a period of angst about my atheistic-materialistic worldview, what it ultimately meant, and what it would mean if I passed on this worldview to my beloved child.

    But I was still convinced that “science” had it all figured out, and that my infinitely beloved child (whom I adored with an indescribable passion from the moment I knew she was conceived) was just the result of random mutations and natural selection that did not have her mind.

    As a result of many influences, including the works of ID authors, I realized that the “random mutations and natural selection as an explanation for everything” crap was way beyond crap — it was an attempt to refute the transparent evidence of design that contemporary legitimate science is progressively upholding with evermore evidence and analysis.

    Call me an IDiot if you like, but the birth of my first daughter taught me more than anything else about both science and all that matters in life.

  9. Gil, I know you probably are not much of a rocker, but this song is right on target for what you just expressed:

    Live – Heaven (official video)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ff3NUP-xzqQ

  10. Dr. Torley,

    I accept that your argument is persuasive to you, but it isn’t to me. This demonstration doesn’t even come close to the irrefutability of, say, the mathematical proof that from the Peano axioms it follows that multiplication is commutative.

    The point at which a human sperm and egg become a human being is essentially a decision which each person must make for him or herself. There is no argument that can prove any particular point of view without a priori assumptions having been made. For example, in my philosophy, each one of us is, in essence, a spiritual being, a soul, if you will, a part of God made by Him from Himself in His image and likeness. We incarnate into human bodies many, many times. (yes, I am, dare I say it, a believer in reincarnation.) In my view, the fetus becomes a human being at the point when the soul takes up residence in the body. However, this cannot happen until the brain is sufficiently developed, which occurs sometime during the third trimester.

    Thus, to me, a fertilized egg is not a human being. It is a human BODY in process of development, granted, but a human being is not just a body, it is a body mated with a soul, and an embryo is definitely not that.

    I have said this before but I am going to repeat it here: To make abortion illegal is to impose a basically arbitrary definition of a human being on the larger population who clearly do not share it. If they did, then abortion would be no more tolerated in our society than is murder. This to me is an unconscionable restriction of freedom. If you believe as Dr. Torley does, then don’t have an abortion, and don’t perform one, but to impose that on the entire population is tyranny.

  11. VJTorley,

    This post is self-conflicting, or at least badly mistaken about the principle of potential in the mode of Pete Singer’s and similar arguments. You say:

    Moreover, my explanation makes no appeal to the merely potential qualities of the embryo; instead, I only invoke actual properties. Thus my argument is invulnerable to the philosopher Peter Singer’s criticism that a potential X does not necessarily have the rights of an actual X – for instance, a prince (who is a potential king) does not possess the same rights and privileges as an actual king.

    And yet, your argument does precisely that — see your “Part C – Why Sentience Is A Totally Inadequate Criterion for Deciding At What Stage Fetuses Possess a Right to Life”, where you offer various (weak) critiques of sentientism, which is precisely what Singer is getting at with the “a prince as king-in-potentia does not have the rights of a king” argument.

    Your simply don’t like the point Singer makes. Curiously, you suppose “Sentientism Mark I” is problem simply because “it’s too vague”, which if that were a problem, is no objection ON PRINCIPLE. If I ask you “how many grains of sand in a ‘heap’?”, you will have a hard time answering; there is no precise number of grains of sand that make a heap, a heap. Yet, even so — despite the problem of vagueness here — you (and I) will have no trouble agreeing that a single grain of sand does not constitute a heap, and a pile higher than your waist would indeed be a heap. This is known as the “heap problem”, which I’d guess you are familiar with given a formal background in philosophy, but the more I read you, the more dubious I become on that…

    Anyway, you’ve done precisely what you said you were not doing, relied on just that thing you claimed you didn’t need to rely on. You rely on the potential future, in precisely the same sense which Singer’s criticism savages such claims. Your argument is perfectly vulnerable to Singer’s counter, and I’m really not so concerned as to why you would disagree with Singer, but rather that you just don’t even seem to grasp that your argument is PRECISELY that which Singer’s point is lodged against.

    Or do you think your argument is invulnerable because you simple to do not embrace Singer’s conclusion? You’ve said here: My arguments are invulnerable to critiques against arguments from potential futures, and yet my argument rests squarely on potential futures.

  12. Gil,

    I can’t be the first to protest this, but just for the record, it’s not even REMOTELY credible from you when you describe yourself as a “Dawkins-style atheist”. A Dawkins-style atheist would have been deeply disturbed at the implications of patterning young, impressionable, innocent minds in the supernatural superstitions you have apparently given yourself over to.

    Which is not to say you weren’t an atheist, or an agnostic, or unbeliever of some kind. But a “Dawkins-style atheist” claim by you is either to consider your readers fools, or to betray yourself as not even passingly familiar with the thinking of Richard Dawkins. Not only has your “born-againness” apparently effected a total transplant in psychology and demeanor, it has produced a profound amnesia as to what Dawkins-style atheism consists of, conceptually. You don’t seem vaguely familiar with it, in the way young earth creationists who say “I used to be a hard core evolutionists” often go on to insist that evolutionary theory holds that humans descended from monkeys.

    As a long time Christian, I’m familiar with a description of atheists Christians are apt to apply in apologetic situations: this is an atheist who needs to crawl into God’s lap so he can slap him in the face and spit in his eye. The clever polemic there being that the unwitting atheist has, in criticising God, inadvertantly confessed his reality, etc.

    That very much sounds like the kind of atheist you were. If I’m right, why not just own that, and stop pretending to the “street cred” that’s putatively available to Christian converted from being “badass” in the style of Dawkins? Can’t it be enough to say that was your rebellious period, where you were intent on spitting in God’s face, a rebel, a prodigal son, on a long but glorious arc back toward the arms of God?

    THAT would be modestly credible, and would fit very much with your general narrative, especial posts like this particular one you have put up, here. The “Dawkins-style atheist” just is a non-starter.

  13. I agree with VJTorley, since we are on topic regarding changing the world, I’d like to also mention the millions of animals that are slaughtered on a daily basis for mere convenience.

    Humans are designed to be vegetarians, and there is no need to slaughter millions of helpless animals.

  14. I can see you put a lot of thought and effort into your Prolife Page which I appreciate. I wish I got to read it more carefully before commenting, but I wanted to respond before this article got to pg 13 of UD. :-)

    “In brief, the essence of my argument is that a human embryo is a person, because it is a complete organism, embodying a developmental program by which it directs and controls its own development into a rational human adult, and in addition, it has already started assembling itself into a rational human adult.”

    –While you say you will “make no appeal to the merely potential qualities of the embryo”, I believe you are indeed doing so.
    Having the “developmental program” to become a feeling, emotional, rational, thinking, sentient being is not the same as being a feeling, emotional, rational, thinking, sentient being. I agree with you that it’s a problem to argue from “potential qualities” (after all, to argue what it may become is to admit to what it isn’t) but IMO you haven’t escaped the problem.

    The same goes for when you argue that no “inherent value” is added when we gain sentience, emotions, etc (higher brain functions) since the “instructions” for developing these qualities were already present beforehand and active – but again, the “instructions” for developing these qualities aren’t the same as the qualities themselves. It’s therefore also irrelevant IMO as to whether these qualities form from “within” or from a source “outside”.

    To me, the question is: what are the qualities that we treasure and value in humans? IMO, it’s not that we are a “complete organism” or our “developmental programs” or our “instructions” or our genes, or that we have a heartbeat – what we value is that we’re feeling, emotional, thinking, sentient beings (qualities that we begin to have around the end of the second trimester).

    I believe the weaknesses in your argument are displayed in statements such as:
    “Likewise, a rational Martian would certainly have rights as a Martian, but not human rights as such. On the other hand, a non-viable embryo satisfies this requirement.”

    So why SHOULDN’T a Martian that displays sentience and feelings and intelligence, etc, have the same rights as us humans? Because of a different genetic makeup or “developmental program”? Does it really seem reasonable to anyone that such a being should have less rights than a non-viable embryo?

    “Objection 10. Breast-feeding inhibits implantation, so if zygotes are human beings, breast-feeding mothers who have intercourse are guilty of murder. My reply: Murder is ordinarily defined as intentional killing. In this case, we are talking about a tiny human being whom the mother isn’t even aware of. The objection is puerile.”

    —But the mother (at least in many cases) IS aware that a zygote MAY very well occur while having intercourse. So it sounds like it would at least be manslaughter. This side effect of breast feeding is well known. In fact, breast feeding is a common method of preventing pregnancy (and so, actually, it is often “intentional”).
    So this begs the question: Do you believe breast feeding should be outlawed? If not, why?

    “there is a total asymmetry between the appearance of brain waves in the developing embryo and the cessation of brain waves at brain death. Brain death also marks the end of a human being’s life; whereas the appearance of brain waves does not mark the beginning of that life. The appearance of brain waves in the human embryo is simply an event in the life of an already existing human being, who is several weeks along its developmental trajectory…
    What has been lost at death is not merely the activity of the brain or the heart, but more importantly the ability of the body’s parts (organs and cells) to function together as an integrated whole.”

    –I seriously doubt that there’s ANYONE who considers “brain death” as the end of a human being’s life because of the loss of “the ability of the body’s parts (organs and cells) to function together as an integrated whole”. It doesn’t even come into play.

    If it were discovered tomorrow that actually the organs DO still function as an “integrated whole” after brain death, would it change anyone’s mind one iota as to whether “brain death” is death or not?

    If the person you used to know no longer feels, thinks, or is sentient, etc, and is declared “brain dead”, than you person you know is gone – there is no longer “personhood”. That is why we say that the person is dead. I doubt anyone seriously cares at that point how well the small intestine and spleen are working together.

    (And actually, and I think this is beside the point since, as I said, I doubt anyone actually cares about the loss of an “integrated whole”, but this IS likely symmetrical to the embryonic state. There are organs in the embryo, and they are “functioning” to a degree, but aren’t accomplishing much, in part, because the brain and nervous system haven’t developed enough yet to coordinate everything. So even IF someone took the loss of an “integrated whole” argument seriously, it would be self-defeating.)

    “It is often asserted that the relevant feature of brain death is not the loss of integrated bodily function, but rather the loss of higher-order brain activities, including consciousness. However, this view does not reflect the current legal understanding of death.”

    –True, but the reasons given for that legal definition (at least from what I’ve seen) is that we’re still quite ignorant of what’s going on in such states. Is the coma REALLY irreversible? Is there REALLY no consciousness? As we learn more, the “legal understanding of death” may change, but currently the courts, understandably, play it safe, as I believe they should.

  15. F/N: Great job, VJT, as usual. Let us also not forget the actual view of morality that may underlie objections — i.e. a priori materialism-driven amorality [cf here and here], and how it sometimes leads some such to cynically manipulate our moral sensibilities. KF

  16. One morning we will all wake up in a global electronic ghetto where somebody will decide who will be allowed to breed. “1984″ or the Communist caricature paradise will be laughable in comparison with this wonderful prospect. It is being done in the name of progress or, when translated into the human language, lust for pleasure, money and glory, the three temptations of the Christ. And Darwinism is the milestone on the way to everyone’s happiness.

  17. Bruce David,

    Thank you for your post. I see from your comments that you are a Cartesian dualist, who regards the soul and body as two different things – which is why you have no problem with the concept of reincarnation. (On the Aristotelian view, the soul is the form of the body.) The chief difficulty I have with the Cartesian view is that it fails to take into account the unity of the human person – for instance, the fact that it is one and the same “I” who thinks about lunch, decides that it’s time to eat, sees some edible food in the kitchen, makes it into a salad, eats and digests it, and enjoys it. Which of these operations do you attribute to the soul? For instance, does the soul see? And yet surely you cannot deny that the body sees too? Which is it?

    I am also a bit confused when you write that “each one of us is, in essence, a spiritual being, a soul”, and in the next paragraph state that a human being is “a body mated with a soul”. Again, which is it?

    You write that the soul cannot take up “residence in the body” until the third semester of pregnancy. But why? Let’s grant that the fetus is not sentient until that date. So what? What’s to stop the soul lying dormant until the body is sufficiently developed? Why can’t it enter a fertilized ovum? You’re willing to allow that the soul remains in the body of a hibernating animal, I presume, even while it’s unconscious for several months. So why can’t it remain inside a developing embryo for a few months? And if you’re willing to ascribe a capacity to feel to a hibernating animal, why aren’t you willing to ascribe it to an embryo which is currently running its own developmental program, which will make it into a sentient being in a few months?

    For that matter, how do you know that a newborn baby has a soul? Certainly it can feel, but it does not display rationality until the age of two or three. Or do you believe that all sentient beings are equal, and that “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy”, as PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk memorably put it?

    Finally, I am mystified as to how you can describe a fertilized egg as a human body, without conceding that it has a human soul as well. What sense does it make to speak of a living human body which lacks a soul? Why call it a human body then? As Dr. Feser puts it his book, Aquinas, “[A]n immature or damaged human being still has the form of a human being, and thus a soul, otherwise he or she wouldn’t be human in the first place.”

    I contend that whatever it is that controls our development is what makes us valuable. I cannot see why something that’s programmed to acquire sentience or sapience should be any less valuable than a sentient or sapient being.

    Finally, I suggest you have a look at Part C of my essay (see here ) in order to see what’s wrong with the sentientist view, and also a look at part D(vii) (see here ) to see why it is legitimate to speak of an embryo as possessing rationality even though it does not exercise it.

    You write that “To make abortion illegal is to impose a basically arbitrary definition of a human being on the larger population who clearly do not share it.” There are many societies which hold that a baby isn’t a human being until the age of two, and who tolerate infanticide until that date. So I say to you: by the same logic, to make infanticide illegal is to impose a basically arbitrary definition of a human being on the larger population who clearly do not share it.

    Do you believe that making infanticide illegal is “an unconscionable restriction of freedom”? No? Well, neither do I believe that making the killing of an embryo illegal is “an unconscionable restriction of freedom”. Instead, I would see it as a defense of innocent human beings.

  18. NormO,

    How’s this for a definition of “complete organism”? Professor Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, writes in her essay, Life: Defining the Beginning by the End :

    What does the nature of death tell us about the nature of human life? The medical and legal definition of death draws a clear distinction between living cells and living organisms. Organisms are living beings composed of parts that have separate but mutually dependent functions. While organisms are made of living cells, living cells themselves do not necessarily constitute an organism. The critical difference between a collection of cells and a living organism is the ability of an organism to act in a coordinated manner for the continued health and maintenance of the body as a whole. It is precisely this ability that breaks down at the moment of death, however death might occur. Dead bodies may have plenty of live cells, but their cells no longer function together in a coordinated manner. We can take living organs and cells from dead people for transplant to patients without a breach of ethics precisely because corpses are no longer living human beings. Human life is defined by the ability to function as an integrated whole-not by the mere presence of living human cells…

    What does the nature of death tell us about the beginning of human life? From the earliest stages of development, human embryos clearly function as organisms. Embryos are not merely collections of human cells, but living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells do nothing like this under any circumstances. The embryo generates and organizes distinct tissues that function in a coordinated manner to maintain the continued growth and health of the developing body. Even within the fertilized egg itself there are distinct “parts” that must work together – specialized regions of cytoplasm that will give rise to unique derivatives once the fertilized egg divides into separate cells. Embryos are in full possession of the very characteristic that distinguishes a living human being from a dead one: the ability of all cells in the body to function together as an organism, with all parts acting in an integrated manner for the continued life and health of the body as a whole…

    [T]he loss of integrated bodily function, not the loss of higher mental ability, is the defining legal characteristic of death….

    Embryos are genetically unique human organisms, fully possessing the integrated biologic function that defines human life at all stages of development, continuing throughout adulthood until death. The ability to act as an integrated whole is the only function that departs from our bodies in the moment of death, and is therefore the defining characteristic of “human life.” This definition does not depend on religious belief or subjective judgment.

  19. Hi NormO,

    Thank you for your comment. You write that “An embryo really isn’t a complete organism because it lacks any ability to survive independently of the mother.” By the same token, someone on dialysis (or even someone on a feeding tube) isn’t a complete organism isn’t a complete organism either, because he/she is incapable of surviving independently. And what about a newborn baby growing up in a poor Third World country where there’s no infant formula, who happens to be allergic to all breast milk, except for its mother’s? It can’t survive independently of its mother, can it? For that matter, what about a five-year-old child growing up in a subsistence society, in which its parents are the only ones who are capable of feeding it, as all the other parents are too poor and too busy feeding their own children? That child can’t survive independently of its parents, can it?

    The philosophical mistake you are making is that you are confusing a complete organism with an independent organism. The two concepts are fundamentally different. Here is what Professor Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, writes about organisms in her essay, Life: Defining the Beginning by the End :

    Organisms are living beings composed of parts that have separate but mutually dependent functions. While organisms are made of living cells, living cells themselves do not necessarily constitute an organism. The critical difference between a collection of cells and a living organism is the ability of an organism to act in a coordinated manner for the continued health and maintenance of the body as a whole. ..

    From the earliest stages of development, human embryos clearly function as organisms. Embryos are not merely collections of human cells, but living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells do nothing like this under any circumstances. The embryo generates and organizes distinct tissues that function in a coordinated manner to maintain the continued growth and health of the developing body. Even within the fertilized egg itself there are distinct “parts” that must work together – specialized regions of cytoplasm that will give rise to unique derivatives once the fertilized egg divides into separate cells. Embryos are in full possession of the very characteristic that distinguishes a living human being from a dead one: the ability of all cells in the body to function together as an organism, with all parts acting in an integrated manner for the continued life and health of the body as a whole.

    In response to my claim that an embryo “directs and controls its own development into a rational human adult”, you ask:

    What is this “it” that’s doing the directing and controlling? Are you suggesting the embryo is somehow controlling its own development?

    Yes. Again, this is what biologists say. Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, explains why a one-cell embryo is a true organism, with its own developmental program, in an online paper titled, When Does Human Life Begin? A Scientific Perspective (White Paper, Volume 1, Number 1, October 2008, published by The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person):

    A car is not a car until it rolls off the assembly line – until then it is a bunch of parts in the process of becoming a car, but not there yet. Similarly, a cake is not a cake until it comes out of the oven – until then it is a variously gooey mass of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter that is gradually becoming a cake. (p. 11)

    However, a profound difference exists between manufacturing and embryonic development. The difference is who (or what) is doing the “producing.” The embryo is not something that is being passively built by the process of development, with some unspecified, external “builder” controlling the assembly of embryonic components. Rather, the embryo is manufacturing itself. The organized pattern of development doesn’t produce the embryo; it is produced by the embryo as a consequence of the zygote’s internal, self-organizing power. Indeed, this “totipotency,” or the power of the zygote both to generate all the cells of the body and simultaneously to organize those cells into coherent, interacting bodily structures, is the defining feature of the embryo. (p. 11)

    From the moment of sperm-egg fusion, a human zygote acts as a complete whole, with all the parts of the zygote interacting in an orchestrated fashion to generate the structures and relationships required for the zygote to continue developing towards its mature state. Everything the sperm and egg do prior to their fusion is uniquely ordered towards promoting the binding of these two cells. Everything the zygote does from the point of sperm-egg fusion onward is uniquely ordered to prevent further binding of sperm and to promote the preservation and development of the zygote itself. The zygote acts immediately and decisively to initiate a program of development that will, if uninterrupted by accident, disease, or external intervention, proceed seamlessly through formation of the definitive body, birth, childhood, adolescence, maturity, and aging, ending with death. This coordinated behavior is the very hallmark of an organism. (p. 7) (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    You then ask:

    So, assuming I’m a rational human adult, does it make sense for me to say that I was assembled by an embryo?

    Not quite. You were assembled by an organism running its developmental program. By “developmental program” I simply mean: a complete set of instructions within the cell(s) of an organism – especially within its genome – which direct and control its development from an embryo into a mature adult. The organism which assembled itself into you was once an embryo. The same organism is now an adult: you. And it still runs the same developmental program.

    You write:

    One then wonders if perhaps the embryo should be the one with all the rights of personhood, and not we adults, who are merely the products of its assembly.

    The organism is the repository of rights. Because I’m the same organism as the embryo I developed from, and because I embody the same developmental program, I have the same basic human rights as an embryo – among which is the right to life.

    Finally, you write that “There’s no person or consciousness” involved in the embryo’s self-assembly. I don’t equate personhood with consciousness. To me, an organism that’s its own program to develop into a conscious being is just as valuable as the conscious being it develops into. I can’t see why you wouldn’t call it a person. As I argue in my essay (see Part A, section (iv), Argument #2), it boils down to this equation:

    V + 0 = V (the organism’s value as an adult).

    Nothing from outside adds any value to it during its development, so its value at conception must be V as well. That’s why I believe an embryo is just as precious as you or I.

  20. Hi Gil,

    Thank you very much for your comment. I can definitely relate: parenthood does change your values. A child is a more powerful argument for the existence of God than a dozen philosophical arguments. I think what parents come to realize as they await the birth of their child is this: you have absolutely no right to expect things to work out well. Anything could go wrong. At any level of development you care to envisage – the unborn child’s heartbeat, its developmental program which knits its body together, or even the laws of Nature which we all assume will keep running tomorrow – things could go horribly wrong, and it is a miracle that they don’t go wrong far more often. In the end, you realize that we are all in the hands of God. That’s what hit me, anyway. The other thing that hit me was the unexpected beauty of a child, and the joy of being a new parent. Then you have to ask yourself: what am I going to tell this child about Gauguin’s “Big Three”: “Whence came we? Who are we? Whither go we?” That’s when you realize that some of the “answers” offered by our culture are things you could never say to a child, if you loved that child.

  21. It was for that daughter that I bought a cartoon video in 1994 entitled The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I had no idea who C.S. Lewis was, but figured out that the story was a Christian allegory. As it turned out, many years earlier a Christian friend of my wife had given her a copy of Mere Christianity for me to read, knowing that I was an atheist, but I never opened it, shelved it, and forgot all about it. Shortly after I viewed the cartoon video I discovered the book and read it.

    During that same period I was arguing with a Christian friend (who gave me a Bible, which I still have and take to church every Sunday) about Darwinism. He suggested I read Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton, which I did.

    A young child, a cartoon, three books, and a good friend — everything went downhill rapidly after that! :-)

  22. I play keyboards in a praise band at our church, so I’ve gained an appreciation for good rock music!

  23. Eigenstate,

    You can’t be a prodigal son unless at some stage you’ve known your Father. From what Gil has posted previously, I gather that he didn’t grow up in a religious family, so to describe him as being “on a long but glorious arc back toward the arms of God” would be a mistake.

    You write that “A Dawkins-style atheist would have been deeply disturbed at the implications of patterning young, impressionable, innocent minds in the supernatural superstitions you have apparently given yourself over to.” I suggest that you might like to have a look at former atheist Jennifer Fulwiler’s home page here . This post is very moving: Finding Rest . Here is a woman who grew up in a family that didn’t believe in God, where books by leading atheists (such as Dawkins) were standard dinner table conversation, and who was so fervently atheistic that she used to regularly argue people into atheism. And yet all along, a part of her was deeply depressed about the soul-suffocating aspects of this worldview. Her personal story is here .

    Even Dawkins-style atheists can feel deeply ambivalent about whether – and to what degree – they should pass their beliefs onto their children. And in Jennifer Fulwiler’s case, it was her realization that acknowledging the objective reality and transcendence of her love for her child was at odds with her materialistic worldview that brought her to belief in God. I’m not surprised to learn that Gil, despite his avowed atheism, was brought to belief in God in a similar fashion.

  24. Eigenstate,

    The actual property that embryos possess from the one-cell stage is that they physically instantiate a developmental program, which is running from the get-go. What I’ve attempted to argue (especially in Part A, section (iv)) is that any human organism possessing this actual property has the same inherent value as you or I have.

    Now it is certainly true that a developing organism has not yet reached the (actual) goal of its development. But the developmental program it is running as it moves towards this goal is actual: it’s encoded in its genome, in every single one of its cells.

    So in answer to your argument: my argument does not rest squarely on potential futures; it rests on current, actually running developmental programs. There is no resemblance here to Singer’s case of a prince who is a potential king, as the prince is not transforming himself into a king. Rather, kingship is something which will be conferred upon him when the current monarch passes away. The prince does not make himself a king; but the embryo does make itself into an adult, by virtue of the developmental program it is currently running.

  25. OT

    I was link surfing and came across a website called “Theology Degrees Online”… and noticed this from (apparently) a professor:

    “Creationism, also known as the theory of intelligent design, holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause”

    …for crying out loud. So not only can ID be accused of being Creationism, but now Creationism is ID.

  26. Hi Goodusername (#12),

    Thanks for your comments. Re the Martian case, you ask: “So why SHOULDN’T a Martian that displays sentience and feelings and intelligence, etc, have the same rights as us humans?” I’m not saying it wouldn’t. They just wouldn’t be human rights, that’s all. They’d be Martian rights.

    Re the breast-feeding case: the breast-feeding mother may be aware, in the abstract, that breast-feeding hinders the implantation of zygotes, but she is not aware of whether she has a zygote inside her body; nor does she intend its death. Since neither foresight nor intent are present, we cannot call her a murderer, by any stretch of the imagination.

    Now let’s get to the heart of the matter: why do we value people? You write:

    If the person you used to know no longer feels, thinks, or is sentient, etc, and is declared “brain dead”, than you person you know is gone – there is no longer “personhood”.

    First of all: would you value someone (e.g. a friend or family member) who could feel and was sentient, but could not think? I’m guessing that you would say no. In that case, you’re not a sentientist but a personist. In my essay, I addressed the arguments of both sentientists and personists in Parts C and D respectively.

    Now if you’re a personist, then you have to answer the question of why it would be wrong to kill Ripley in Alien 3, while she was in a state of cryogenic sleep – or for that matter, why it would be wrong to kill someone in a coma (the longest one lasted for was 37 years), but OK to kill an embryo who will wake up in just a few months.

    You might say that Ripley already has a developed brain. I say: so what, if the embryo is running its own program that will build it one, without the need for further instructions from outside? Recall my case of the Master Spy in Part A, section (iv). A thing that can assemble itself into a computer is just as valuable as the computer it assembles itself into, so if you were a spy, you’d be just as happy to steal it as you would be happy to steal an actual computer.

    You might say that Ripley can think and has a concept of self. OK, fine. Does that mean that you don’t regard a newborn baby as a person? It certainly doesn’t have a concept of self – and it’s a lot less smart than a crow, a chimp or a dolphin, when it’s born.

    But even if you are willing to bite the bullet and say that babies aren’t people, there’s still a flaw in ascribing value only to human beings whose brains have already been molded by the information they’ve been exposed to in the outside world – i.e. their experiences of and interactions with others, which have made them into the persons they are. That sounds like a plausible personist view, but it isn’t. Here’s why.

    First, the personist argument above is fundamentally flawed, because it fails to distinguish between information and instructions. Even if the amount of information added to our brains exceeds the amount of information in human DNA, only the latter information deserves to be called instructions, because it is part of a developmental program telling the embryo/fetus how to assemble itself. Instructions are one level up from the information the embryo/fetus receives from the outside world. For it is these instructions that process the information coming in from outside, using it to mold the unborn child’s brain.

    Second, I would like to reiterate that no new formative information is added to a developing embryo/fetus after fertilization. By formative information, I mean the instructions in its developmental program that tell a human organism how to develop. (That also includes its brain.) Those instructions are contained in each body cell of the embryo, in its genome. And they are also found in a one-cell embryo.

    I might add that my gut instincts are very different from yours, regarding what I’d value. Let me illustrate. Think of a close friend or family member, and the information in their brains (good and bad memories, pleasant and unpleasant feelings, lessons learned in life, etc.) which makes them into the person they are (on your account). Now imagine that medical technology is much more advanced than it is now, but that a head transplant is medically necessary for some reason, to save that family member’s life. Or imagine that the family member opts for a head transplant. Which would you value as the person you loved: the head or the body? And what if the body their head is transplanted onto is robotic? Now imagine that this person wants to load their all their personal memories onto a CD, before they die. Assuming it were doable, would you ascribe any ethical value to the CD? If you’re self-consistent in your ethics, you’d ascribe value to the head and the to the CD. But I wouldn’t. I’d identify more with the loved one’s body, and I’d attach zero importance to the CD. In my book, anything that doesn’t have a body, isn’t even an organism, and therefore isn’t an individual.

    Or again: consider the case of a sick, disturbed individual walking into a hospital and going into a ward where people in a permanent vegetative state are kept. Now suppose that the disturbed individual takes all the bodies and feeds them to some hungry wild animals. On your own account of personhood, you shouldn’t care, right? But you DO care, don’t you?

  27. Hi Upright Biped,

    I had a good chuckle when I read that. Thanks.

  28. Hi Kairosfocus,

    Glad you liked the essay I wrote. You’re certainly right about people “out there” adopting different ethical codes – and some of these can be very nasty ones, too. Thanks again.

  29. Hi computerist,

    I don’t eat meat myself actually, although I’ll eat fish. If you’re a vegetarian for ethical reasons, all I can say is: good for you. Nowadays there are so many substitutes for meat.

  30. Hi Steve,

    Thanks very much. Glad you appreciated my pro-life essay.

  31. Dr. Torley,

    I don’t suppose one needs grow up in a religious home to be a prodigal, or to “know one’s Father”. If you’ve heard William Lane Craig give his testimony, that’s a picture that fits here, and fits Gil, from what I piece together apart from the tone-deaf embellishments he clearly adds to up his “street cred” with other Christians; Craig was not raised in a religiously faithful home, church was a sometimes thing, an afterthought. But even at his most “unbelieving”, he always thought God existed. He just didn’t have that personal relationship with Jesus that “Sandy”, his high school classmate invited him to, until sometime after that fateful invitation from her. Craig was full of angst because even there was a god, it wasn’t personal, and there was no cosmic meaning for him, personally, etc.

    I have no trouble with accepting that as Craig’s going from “unsaved” to “save”, nor do I have any trouble with the idea that Gil was a “faith rebel” in his own right. But this doesn’t interfere with the “arc of prodigalism” at all. It predicates it.

    Here’s a very simple rule I think you will find effective and trustworthy on this. If you suppose that your particular kind of atheism or unbelief is “soul-suffocating”, or “despairing”, or “meaningless” then you can be quite confident your paradigm is at loggerheads with Dawkins-style atheism. Dawkins’ atheism is expansive, perhaps even awe-struck to a fault in terms of its capacity for wonder, meaning and fulfillment. And it goes beyond just appreciation of the secularly numimous experience; there is moral deontology at work in Dawkins’ framework that propels a kind of evangelistic zeal (which many here are surely aware of as it rubs their fur the wrong way constantly).

    Which is just to say that someone who says “I was a Dawkins-style atheist” and “I found it soul-suffocating” has outed themselves as either quite ignorant about Dawkins’ views, or dishonest, or perhaps just content with self-contradiction. I don’t know where Gil or others who make such claims come down on those three options, but it’s a problem on any of them.

    If you ask Richard Dawkins if he is ambivalent about whether to pass his beliefs down to his children, what do you think he’d say? Of course that’s a priority for him, as it is for any conscientious parent. Dawkins just has a set of core principles – rational thought, scientific thinking, anti-authoritarian courage in the face of (Christian in his social context) cultural hegemony, valuing corrective feedback loops and reliance on objective falsification and validation wherever possible, interest in human nature and human biology as the basis for human morality and progress, and as the predicate for priorities on justice, equality, law, liberty, etc.

    A lot of that negates and discredits Christianity, obviously, but Dawkins is not one we would find to be ambivalent. He resist the indoctrination of dogma, as do I — all of the things he would impart are not given as “de fide”, as unassailable divine truths or cosmic moral commitments to some deity or other tyrant. They are just tools that have shown themselves to work, and to be more accretive for human dignity, well-being and progress than any other set of tools. It can and should be tested and questioned, all of it.

    But that doesn’t mean that it’s given with a sense of ambivalence. Dawkins would scoff at such a notion, and at the related notion that such a person would be any kind of “Dawkins-style atheist”.

  32. Dr. Torley,

    First, as I understand this post, it’s meant to appeal to secular types. As such, you’re excusing yourself when (or if) you invoke telic language like “reached the (actual) goal”. In secular terms, “goal” is not problematic in the sense of the “selfish gene”; biology optimizes the resources in a given milieu, and genes only have a “goal” of propagating in an analogical sense: genes don’t “aspire” or “direct” anything in a telic way towards their own reproduction, but rather genes are around because they are the ones that have happened upon adapations that have been successful in persisting in the developing environments they exist in.

    That means that in a secular sense, your “goal” terminology is a problem. It’s pedagogically useful for humans, who are predisposed toward telic thinking, to conceive of non-telic process in telic terms, but, as this blog regularly chronicles, many of us are given to forgetting that we’re anthropomorphising biological process. The map is regularly mistaken for the territory.

    That’s important here because you are, it appears, looking to disguise the “potential future”, which is very much the problem Singer is pointing out to you, by euphemising it as “the goal”. It may be, analogically, that the “cosmic goal” for the Prince is to become King one day. But this does not endow the Prince with the rights of a king, even if that was “the goal”.

    Saying “that’s the goal” doesn’t help you here, even a little bit, on secular terms. I understand the genesis of the argument you are making from theistic grounds; I was a devout Christian for 30+ years, and as a human I’m well aware of my predisposition to getting confused about the world around me because I have a knee-jerk reflex toward construing everything in telic terms. But your argument, proffered to the secular, won’t get any traction on secular terms. It will only have currency if you assume your premise that there is some transcendent goal in view there, and one peculiar to humans. Such goal-oriented thinking can only hold on superstitious ground.

    In Singer’s example, the Prince is precisely what you claim he is not; a “king under development”. He is learning, watching, being trained in the social graces, the military arts or what not, hopefully in such a way that when such powers are invested in him, and he BECOMES a king, the results will be good, or at least bad, for all the subjects who must live under the tyranny of rule-by-king.

    Your last sentence belies the theist/telic error in your putatively secular-compatible argument: a three day old embryo does not “make itself” anything. It’s just biology. There is no governance, no intent, no consciousness, no will there at all, none whatsoever. To suppose there is is to engage in gratuitous anthropomorphizing of a clump of cells. That’s your prerogative for your superstitions, but that is directly contrary to any scientific or objective view of what is actual going with that three day old zygote.

  33. eigenstate,

    Dawkins’ atheism is expansive, perhaps even awe-struck to a fault in terms of its capacity for wonder, meaning and fulfillment.

    These are properties of a person, not of atheism or theism. The life around us is wondrous regardless of how we think it came about.

    But awareness of a purpose adds another dimension to it. It’s one thing to wonder at flower or a bizarre treehopper. It’s another to consider that someone imagined how it would amaze you and placed it there for you to see. Humans typically desire interaction. Now, in a sense, all of these things become interactions, like receiving gifts. (I don’t mean to sound all Hall-Markian.)

    That is obviously not a logical argument for design or against atheism. If there is no purpose then that “awareness” is false. But we’re not talking about which is true or false, but rather which offers more fulfillment. The above example is but one reason why belief in design offers a degree of meaning and fulfillment that atheism cannot.

  34. A soul is a living creature, not something imparted to one. At least that was the view from both Judaism and Christianity until they began giving precedence to Greek philosophy with its roots in pagan mythology.

    The OP was geared toward a non-religious argument, but now souls have been brought into the discussion.

  35. Eigenstate, did you think through your response before you pushed play?

    You reduced the issue down to no more than a man changing his shirt, and only under that dilapidated form does your comment come even close to having merit. And whatever level of confidence you have that Dawkins reached his zenith by a dispassionate/scientific review of evidence can only stand up if that review is allowed to include ignoring evidence to the contrary.

  36. @ScottAndrews2,

    But awareness of a purpose adds another dimension to it. It’s one thing to wonder at flower or a bizarre treehopper. It’s another to consider that someone imagined how it would amaze you and placed it there for you to see. Humans typically desire interaction. Now, in a sense, all of these things become interactions, like receiving gifts. (I don’t mean to sound all Hall-Markian.)

    Yes, but that dimension is… how to put it? Conceited. I don’t doubt that there is psychological gratification there in that understanding, a kind of depth of purpose and telic narrative that is appealing. As a long time Christian, I know well that this is something powerful as a conceit. But once you look critically and see that as a conceit, as something constructed not because it obtains objectively, but obtains in our minds precisely because it is gratifying, it loses all the gratification. Unless we are gratuitously narcissistic, understanding that we are fooling ourselves takes all the fun out of it, all the meaning out the previously perceived meaning.

    If that’s not clear as a dynamic, consider someone else’s “deeper meaning than yours”, and maybe it will help demonstrate this. I have a Mormon friend who is keen to explain through his henotheistic theology the profound meaning of our lives on earth, not just our eternal fate hanging in the balance (meaning similar to what most Christian would ascribe), but whole new worlds and universes hang in the balance. The celestial winners in the Mormon eschaton have their own universe to become of the God of.

    Cool huh? Well, it doesn’t work on me, but it certainly does for others. All of this, created by the God of this universe, God the Father Yahweh, so that we each, if we are pious and faithful and courageous in our righteousness under the ordinances of the CoJCoLdS may one day inherit a universe we might rule ourselves. We may become gods!

    Sorry, your puny Christianity can’t compete with that kind of extra dimension, that deeper meaning. Your Christian heaven is just flat, warm soda in the TV room compared to that. Whole worlds created just for you, and for your to inherit and rule! Wow.

    But that makes you say “meh!”, I’d guess. As it should. And that is the salient point. The Mormon’s “deeper meaning” is just totally uncompelling, meaningless, because it doesn’t strike you as veridical, and as a theological conceit, rather than an existential probability.

    And in that, you’ve got what you need to see that your own “deeper meaning” or “extra dimension” is just credulous fluff, a conceit by the same measure. It’s not meaningful if it’s just self-deception. Or, more precisely, it’s not meaningful if it’s a bit of self-deception you are AWARE of. The “fulfillment” you speak of isn’t fulfillment when it is exposed as simple conceit under the light of critical analysis.

  37. Upright Biped,

    I disagree, of course, but that isn’t the point at issue. You may think Dawkins is out to lunch, has bogus premises for his conclusions, etc. Doesn’t change the problem of the unmistakable gap between Dawkins’ ideas and Gil’s faux “Dawkins-style” atheism.

    To be fair, I understand Gil to be using Dawkins as a bogeyman here, a kind of “dog whistle” phrase which just signals to the faithful that Gil wasn’t just a rebel unbeliever, he was a righteously bad dude, so much more to the glory of God for the miracle of his salvation, etc. It’s pandering to the peanut gallery, here. I get that. But it’s worth pointing out that it’s a particular conspicuous and tone deaf form of pandering. If you’re going to pander, Gil, do it with some style and subtlety, eh? I for one would appreciate that.

  38. eigenstate,

    Is your Ph.D. in sophistry? If not, you should apply for an honorary degree. I find your argumentation to be completely incomprehensible, and your insults and suppositions are based on pure fantasy.

    Everything I have said about my background is absolutely true and accurate.

    For most of my life I was exactly like Dawkins. I made all the arguments he makes. The Blind Watchmaker was my newly-discovered bible of materialism, which I read two years before the birth of my first daughter.

    I confess to not being diplomatic like VJ. It’s undoubtedly a vestigial remain of my inherently fallen nature.

  39. eigenstate,

    I really wasn’t trying to make any such point. If there were any objective way to measure happiness and fulfillment, I doubt very much that the average churchgoer would score higher than the average atheist. I’m religious, but I guarantee you as I’m as critical as an unbeliever. If you find fault with it, I’m probably right there with you.

  40. Dr. Torley,

    I will address your response by paragraph (except the 7th, since I have not had time to read the references in that paragraph.)

    1st paragraph: I am not a Cartesian dualist at all. The philosopher whose view of the Universe most closely conforms to mine is Bishop Berkeley. The material world, in my view, is a kind of virtual reality in which God assumes the role of the computer that controls and coordinates the reality that we all experience.

    2nd paragraph: My belief is that Who We Really Are is a soul, period. When we take residence in a human body, we are also a human being, but that ends when we die (and begins again in the next incarnation). So we are souls permanently and human beings temporarily. I believe that there are other sentient races in the Universe, and that souls such as ourselves can take up residence in such a body, in which case the soul would be incarnated but not as a human being.

    3rd and 4th paragraphs: My belief regarding the time at which the soul takes up residence in the body is the result of my accepting as true what has been reported in books such as “Journey of Souls” and “Conversations with God”, in which it is stated that souls cannot incarnate until there is a developed brain with which to merge. You may disagree, but that is my belief. Also, based on those books, I believe that the incoming soul invariably does merge with the body at that time, and is fully merged by the time birth occurs.

    5th paragraph: To me, souls and bodies are separate phenomena. A human body is just that, a body. A soul is a soul. Bodies don’t have souls; souls inhabit bodies, when they choose to. It is also part of my belief system that it is known ahead of time which bodies will be stillborn, miscarried, die with the death of the mother, or aborted, and souls simply do not choose to incarnate into such bodies (why would they?).

    6th paragraph: Who We Really Are is what to me is valuable, and Who We Really Are is immortal, made in His image and likeness, and cannot be damaged. Bodies come and go. All bodies deteriorate and die eventually. They are useful (extremely useful) for the purposes for which earthly existence was created, and that is their value.

    8th and 9th paragraphs: In such a society as you describe, making infanticide illegal WOULD be to impose a definition of a human being on a society which does not share it, and doing so would not work, any more than making abortion illegal ever worked in our own society. You simply cannot legislate morality successfully. The validity of the law must be accepted by the large majority of the population, or you invariably end up with a situation in which the law is regularly broken and vast resources are used trying to enforce it that could be put to other purposes. The only action that makes sense is to attempt to persuade people of the validity of your own point of view, which I realize is exactly what you were doing in this post. But until such time as you are successful in such an endeavor, attempting to impose your views on a population that does not share them by force of law is tyranny and doomed to failure.

  41. Eigenstate,

    Dawkins is a coward. His cowadice stems from ignoring the evidence that contradicts him. For a man who fronts himself as an empiricist, it is the flaw that cannot be reconciled. But apparently you think highly of his methods.

    As for your thing with Gil – I don’t know and don’t care. Judging by your comments, it looks like to me that you don’t know where you end and Gil begins. You seem to have a rather personal certainty that you know him, and can generate within yourself his history of thoughts and motives. Doing so seems to be quite important to you.

  42. @Gil,

    Is your Ph.D. in sophistry? If not, you should apply for an honorary degree. I find your argumentation to be completely incomprehensible, and your insults and suppositions are based on pure fantasy.

    Everything I have said about my background is absolutely true and accurate.

    For most of my life I was exactly like Dawkins. I made all the arguments he makes. The Blind Watchmaker was my newly-discovered bible of materialism, which I read two years before the birth of my first daughter.

    I confess to not being diplomatic like VJ. It’s undoubtedly a vestigial remain of my inherently fallen nature.

    There’s not any fodder here to power any sophistry, even if that was my intent. It’s not an argument, even, just an observation. Have you ever heard a young earth creationist brag about being a former “Dawkins-style evolutionist”, one who “really believed we descended from monkeys!”? If so, you surely wince at the conspicuous self-discrediting of those two statements. You don’t need to know the person’s history at all, you just need to understand that “really believed we descended from monkeys” puts paid to the whopper that one was a “Dawkins-style evolutionist”. No way that could be true, by the YEC’s own testimony against himself.

    Here, you’ve outed yourself on your whopper in precisely the same fashion:

    I began to sink into a period of angst about my atheistic-materialistic worldview, what it ultimately meant, and what it would mean if I passed on this worldview to my beloved child.

    That’s telling us you were manifestly not a Dawkins-style atheist, any more than than man-from-monkeys evolutionist is a Dawkins-style evolution. Such angst is the utter failure to grasp and/or apply the epistemology and rational heuristics that Dawkins espouses. It is to be as “anti-Dawkins” as one could be as an unbeliever.

    People passingly familiar with Dawkins identify this easily, just as easily as you understand the error of a YEC you thinks Dawkins teaches man descended from monkeys. It’s just a clear and non-controversial observation, that’s all.

    Again, what I told someone else, above: if you suppose your life is meaningless, and your fall into the kind of melancholy angst you describe above (and have mentioned before), you’re an anti-Dawkins. You’re are manifestly rejecting his core views and principles, his basic perspective on the world. It’s an easy test: am I inclined to worry and stress over the “meaningless of materialist life”? If so, you may be on the right track, or not, but clearly, you’re not sharing anything with Dawkins-style atheism if that’s where you find yourself.

  43. @ScottAndrews2,

    I really wasn’t trying to make any such point. If there were any objective way to measure happiness and fulfillment, I doubt very much that the average churchgoer would score higher than the average atheist. I’m religious, but I guarantee you as I’m as critical as an unbeliever. If you find fault with it, I’m probably right there with you.

    Well, I’m sorry to have misunderstood you, then. I can only think, then, that we are struggling with the overloading of “meaning” as a term here. I did pay particular attention to this from you:

    That is obviously not a logical argument for design or against atheism. If there is no purpose then that “awareness” is false. But we’re not talking about which is true or false, but rather which offers more fulfillment. The above example is but one reason why belief in design offers a degree of meaning and fulfillment that atheism cannot.

    I understand that point and agree. I just can’t reconcile that with this, just prior, from you:

    But awareness of a purpose adds another dimension to it.

    I’m thinking you would agree with this, based on what you’ve said: if the “awareness of purpose” is just imagined, the “another dimension” is imaginary as well, no?

    Perhaps not, though. If you are thinking in “perception is reality” kind of way — the sense of fulfillment IS fulfillment in the final sense — then I would have to just nod and say “yes, true by definition”. If a “sense of fulfillment” is the final goal in what you are saying, then sure, one can create all sorts of value and meaning just imagining value, and synthesizing ideas of one’s “specialness in the universe”, etc.

    I was thinking about some sense of meaning or fulfillment outside of just the confines of one’s brain, though. I think that’s where I got confused, and started talking past what you intended. Sorry about that.

  44. @UprightBiped,

    I believe you are having difficulty with my pointing back to the idea that your particular grievances against Dawkins, as enlightening as they are to read, run orthogonally to the complaint I’m raising. I can allow, arguendo, that you are completely correct, and that Dawkins is a shameless coward, if that makes you happy, and it doesn’t make Gil’s posing any less an exercise in “Voguing for Christians”. Say what you will about Dawkins, it won’t reconcile the bombast from Gil.

    I can’t think how to make that any more clear than that.

    As for the special knowledge of Gil, see my comment to Gil in 8.2.1.1.8. No history knowledge needed. If you know New York City and someone claims they were a “Bloomberg-style New Yorker” who “lived in SoHo, just a couple blocks south of Houston street”, and they pronounce “Houston” the way someone would pronounce “Houston, Texas”, rather than “Howes-ton”, you know that guy is a poser. You don’t have to know his history, or getting confused about where you begin and he ends (???), you just observe that this cat has his claims badly and irreconcilably wrong. That’s all.

  45. The clarity of your point is not your problem Eigenstate.

    You told me how a New Yorker would pick out an imposter by hearing them mispronounce the name of a well known landmark, but you didn’t tell me how you know someone is lying by recreating for yourself their thoughts and motives from years before by interacting with them on the internet today.

  46. “I’m not saying it wouldn’t. They just wouldn’t be human rights, that’s all. They’d be Martian rights.”

    That implies there’s a difference between the two (otherwise it would be a very odd thing to even bring up) – and what difference would you be alluding to if not the “right to life”? (Perhaps the right “to bear arms”? I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with the idea of Martians running around with their lasers!)

    Re the breast-feeding case: the breast-feeding mother may be aware, in the abstract, that breast-feeding hinders the implantation of zygotes, but she is not aware of whether she has a zygote inside her body; nor does she intend its death. Since neither foresight nor intent are present, we cannot call her a murderer, by any stretch of the imagination.

    But, as I said, it IS very often done with foresight and intent – It’s actually a very common form of birth control (i.e. done, at least in part, for the purpose of birth control). It’s hardly any defense that a zygote MIGHT not be present! The knowledge that there is a strong likelihood that a zygote may be present is PLENTY reason to charge someone with murder.

    And since we know of this effect (many would say “benefit”) of breast-feeding, and being that there are alternatives, how can it remain legal? Why aren’t you advocating a ban on breast-feeding? (Or, alternatively, advocating a ban on intercourse while breast feeding?)

    First of all: would you value someone (e.g. a friend or family member) who could feel and was sentient, but could not think? I’m guessing that you would say no. In that case, you’re not a sentientist but a personist.

    Actually, I’m very doubtful that the qualities I’ve listed (emotions, intelligence, sentience, etc) can be separated like that. Sentience without an ability to think? I doubt that’s possible. I suppose if pushed I would say that without an ability to “think” that there is no longer any personhood, but any response to stimuli would be like an amoeba responding to being probed. “Sentience” is linked to the ability to have subjective experiences – but what would such a thing even mean without an ability to have thoughts? Also emotions – without any thoughts, what would there be to get emotional about?

    It might be an interesting exercise to discuss what the “minimal” list of qualities are necessary to be a “human” or a “person” and also to what degree the various qualities need to be present, etc, but, as already said, I don’t think they are really independent qualities, and also, in this particular discussion, it isn’t actually relevant. If we were somewhat close on when “personhood” occurs, then discussing the relative importance of each quality or to what degree they need to develop, etc, would be relevant. However, you believe that a zygote is a person despite not having any of those qualities to any degree. I’m especially confused as to what you see as relevant considering this next statement:

    Or imagine that the family member opts for a head transplant. Which would you value as the person you loved: the head or the body? And what if the body their head is transplanted onto is robotic? Now imagine that this person wants to load their all their personal memories onto a CD, before they die. Assuming it were doable, would you ascribe any ethical value to the CD? If you’re self-consistent in your ethics, you’d ascribe value to the head and the to the CD. But I wouldn’t. I’d identify more with the loved one’s body, and I’d attach zero importance to the CD. In my book, anything that doesn’t have a body, isn’t even an organism, and therefore isn’t an individual.

    Wait… so if a loved one of yours had their head and body separated, and both kept alive somehow… the part that you’d identify with as your loved one is… the body? You wouldn’t identify with the head – that part that knows you and is talking to you (and is wondering why you keep paying attention to the body)?

    I have to say, that is so shocking that I don’t even know if I believe you. Seriously, if someone had bet me as to whether there was even ONE person on earth that felt that way, I would have bet against it.

    I have to know: Is there ANYONE out there that agrees with vjtorley on this?

    This brings up all kinds of interesting questions. As the head is talking to you in the above scenario, do you refuse to talk back? Or perhaps (let’s say his name was Bob) would you say “stop pretending to be Bob, you aren’t Bob!”? Let’s say “Bob’s” body is given the head of stranger in a transplant – would you really treat that “body-head” combo as “Bob”? If so, don’t be surprised if that “body-head” combo is freaked out and wondering why you keep insisting that he’s “Bob”.

    Let’s say you had a head transplant – you switched heads with someone else. Which “body-head” combo do you think will actually wake up after the surgery thinking that it’s “you”? As “you” wake up with another person’s body, do you reach into the pocket to get the driver’s license to find out who “you” now are?

    Or let’s say you were in a bad accident, and woke up in the hospital. Your loved ones visit you and are all happy that you are doing well. A few hours go by and it occurs to you to look under the blanket, and you find that you have a robot body. Do you decide at that point that you didn’t survive and are dead? Or do “you” decide that you are not, uh, you?

    To answer your question about whether I’d value the CD… I already listed what I value with humans – sentence, emotions, feelings, intelligence etc – which of those are present in a CD? If, OTOH, the CD had more than just memories, but somehow captured the complete personality of the person – the “mind”, as often occurs in sci fi – and when the CD were put into a robot it would then speak and act just as the family member would (passing a “Turing test”, so to speak), and seemingly was sentient and conscious, etc, then I might very well consider the robot as the continuation of the person.

    Or again: consider the case of a sick, disturbed individual walking into a hospital and going into a ward where people in a permanent vegetative state are kept. Now suppose that the disturbed individual takes all the bodies and feeds them to some hungry wild animals. On your own account of personhood, you shouldn’t care, right? But you DO care, don’t you?”

    If, for sake of argument, we can be certain that they are in a permanent vegetative state, will never recover, and are not conscious or feeling, etc, then yes, I would find the account disturbing, but in much the same sense as if he fed bodies from the morgue to wild animals. I would not view it as nearly as disturbing as if he fed conscious sick patients to wild animals.

  47. vjtorley:

    “What I’ve attempted to argue (especially in Part A, section (iv)) is that any human organism possessing this actual property has the same inherent value as you or I have.”
    ====

    Yep, couldn’t agree more and the scriptures also support such a view. Unfortunately, the abandondment of morality has created a number of situations which propagate such programs as abortion. Lack of respect for the marriage arrangement, brutal amoral science programs like Eugenics, etc.
    —-

    vjtorley:

    “So in answer to your argument: my argument does not rest squarely on potential futures; it rests on current, . ”
    ====

    But for the moment now let’s go ahead and take that futures point up. Again, let me restate, I’m in total agreement with life as starting with that embryo, for even the very same reasons as King David acknowledged in his mention at Psalm 139:16 of his own beginning as an embryo being written in writing so to speak, as of his own personal specific genetic code which he recognized only the Creator could see the full potential.

    However, let’s again go back to the subject of an embryo’s future. I wish the anti-abortion crowd would be more consistant when it comes to respect for life. I live in a mostly Secularist atheistic country as is most central and especially northern Europe. Most here have left all Churches because of the horrific wars especially experienced here. Primarily after the horrors of WWII, did people begin losing faith in a Creator. Correct me if I’m wrong, but most of anti-abortion movement have a blief system that forbids killing an unborn child(no problem there), but they also believe that once that child is saved and born into the world, it has an obligation when grown up to support whatever country it belongs to and go out and fight and kill by taking other life. This is why I refuse to call the movement “Pro-Life”. Because it is not consistant with those values it claims to hold onto so dearly.

    Can you understand the hypocracy seen by many ??? Maybe it’s a bit tough living in a country disconnected from areas which had actual war carried out on their own soil, but that’s the reality here in Europe and anywhere else where people rejected religion in favour of communism.

  48. eigenstate,

    I’m thinking you would agree with this, based on what you’ve said: if the “awareness of purpose” is just imagined, the “another dimension” is imaginary as well, no?

    Yes, I even said so.

    Whether one thing or another is true has certain hypothetical consequences. (If there is no God, then X.) But I don’t reason that those consequences determine the truth. I’ve seen such reasoning and I don’t agree with it.

  49. Hi Goodusername,

    Thank you for your post. I can see I won’t persuade you easily. Re Martians: you might like to re-read what I wrote in the Introduction of my article:

    (3) This article is about human persons, not other animals and not computers. While I acknowledge the theoretical possibility that there may be persons belonging to non-human species of animals, who would also have a right to life, I shall refrain from discussing the issue of non-human persons. This article deals exclusively with human persons. I would also like to add that regardless of whether sentient animals are persons or not, cruelty to animals is wrong. Additionally, this article does not touch on the possibility of artificial intelligence: it says nothing about whether computers could ever qualify as persons with rights.

    My remarks on Martian rights need to be interpreted in that context. It’s not that I see any difference in content between Martian rights and human rights; it’s just that Martians and humans have a different nature, that’s all. The locution “human rights” is firmly entrenched in our language. If we accept this locution, then we can speak of Martian rights as well. In my essay, I am only concerned with the former.

    Re breast-feeding: its moral permissibility is established by virtue of the fact that it is a natural activity which is inherently good for the child, who benefits from it. From a biological perspective, it’s the proper thing to do, when one has a baby. As regards breastfeeding being used as a form of birth control: some mothers may use it (partly) for that reason, but its efficacy is principally due to the fact that it inhibits ovulation, by inhibiting the secretion of GnRH. The fact that it may on rare occasions inhibit implantation as well is not intended by the mother, and as I said, if a zygote is present in her body, she is presumably unaware of this fact. So portraying a breastfeeding mother as a murderess is simply ridiculous. Mere foresight of a possible hazard to a possibly existent person, in the absence of any malicious intent, doth not a murder make.

    Regarding the head transplant case: I am not alone in my intuitions. You need to read around a little more. Here’s a good place to start: “A dialogue on personal identity and immortality”, by the philosopher John Perry (Hackett Publishing Company, 1978). Note: the kind of soul Perry takes aim at is a Cartesian soul, not an Aristotelian hylomorphic one (which is the kind I believe in, as I made clear in Part D, section (vii)).

    I do not believe that I am just a head on stilts. I am an embodied being. My arms, my legs, my chest – they’re all part of me, and not just part of my brain’s body – as if “I” were up here in my head, and my body were nothing more than a mechanism attached to my head. No; my body is an organism. My brain is grounded in my nervous system, which travels all around my body. The notion that “I” go wherever my head goes flies in the face of these biological insights. I have to say that you sound just like a Cartesian dualist – except that whereas the Cartesian is a mind-body dualist, you’re a head-body dualist, with the head being the real “me”. All I can say is: what a conceited organ the head is!

    Even more preposterously, you are prepared to seriously entertain the notion that a person’s identity could be transferred to a CD which could be inserted into a robot. If the robot passed the Turing test for being that person, you’d be prepared to consider it as a continuation of that person. I have trouble believing that you seriously believe this. Consider: what if multiple copies are made of the CD, and inserted into multiple robots? Which of them is the person you once knew? Or what if the person retains his memories while multiple copies are made of the contents of his brain, onto various CDs, and immediately after they are downloaded and inserted into various robots, his sister cannot distinguish between the “real” person and his robot replicas in a Turing test? What then?

  50. Hi Eocene,

    Thank you for your post. I respect your demand for consistency on the part of the pro-life movement. You’ll be happy to know that many in the pro-life movement would echo your sentiments.

    Regarding killing in war: at best, it is only permissible for the sake of defending innocent human life, and even then there are many conditions attached. See here and here for a short modern account of just war theory.

    At any rate, what all pro-lifers agree on is that the intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong.

    Having said that, it needs to be acknowledged that religious institutions have behaved hypocritically in lending their support to wars. In the early twentieth century, the common theological view was that if you were a private citizen living in a State which found itself at war, and you were somewhat doubtful about the ethics of such a war, you should give your State the benefit of the doubt. (Talk about “My country right or wrong”!) Only if the State violated the rules of war in a clearcut way could you refuse to serve. Thank God that kind of thinking has gone the way of the dodo.

    It might interest you to know that the Canadian moral theologian Germain Grisez (who is a widely respected author) thinks that you can’t morally intend the death of even a wicked person, let alone an innocent one. You can intend to inactivate them or render them no longer dangerous, but you cannot have your heart set on killing them, either as an end or a means to an end. Food for thought.

  51. Hi Eigenstate,

    Thank you for your post. Let me be clear: I do not credit a three-day-old embryo with any foresight, intent, will or consciousness. Having a goal requires none of these things. I should say that I am using the word “goal” in a third-person sense; I am not using it to mean “intention” or “aim”. You can replace “goal” with the Greek telos, if that makes you feel more comfortable. Any biologist would say that the heart is for pumping blood. That is its telos – which is not the same as saying that in times past, organisms with hearts were more evolutionarily successful than those lacking them. The latter statement may well be true, but it isn’t the same in meaning. A doctor who knew nothing about evolution (e.g. William Harvey) could still figure out what the heart is for, without looking at its history, and if (per impossibile) a creature with a heart were to suddenly coalesce from a swamp, its heart would still be for pumping blood too – even though it had no evolutionary past.

    The point I want to make here is that no matter how hard you try, you cannot totally eliminate teleological language from biology – and nor should you. Most biologists have no wish to, anyway; only a few radical philosophers seem to want to pursue such a path. A developing embryo has a telos: as a very young human being, it is on the first step of a long journey towards becoming an adult human being.

    I should add that in Part A, section (i) of my essay, where I list the five requirements for qualifying as a human person, I do not use the word “goal” at all. I use the term “developmental goal” just once, in Part A, section (iv), Argument #2. Here I simply mean the terminus, or end-point, of the developmental program: a rational human adult. Lastly, I quote Professor Maureen Condic, who remarks in passing that “the ‘goal’ of both sperm and egg is to find each other and to fuse”. Notice that even here she uses inverted commas. So I do not think that your accusation of anthropomorphism is a fair one.

    Regarding the prince in training: I’m afraid your example fails as a parallel. Ordinarily, princes are schooled in the art of being a good king; but this is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for them to become king. Many princes have ascended to the throne without any preparation, and many others who were well-prepared to reign as king have never been given the opportunity to do so. All the training in the world cannot make a prince a king. For that to happen, (i) his father must die or voluntarily cede the throne; (ii) he must be the first in line to succeed his deceased or retired father; and (iii) he must be publicly crowned king. These three facts, and these alone, can make a prince a king. So the potential of a prince to become a king is vastly different from the potential of an embryo to become an adult. The embryo is doing something (executing a developmental program) which, if allowed to continue, will turn it into an adult, in about 18 years’ time. But the training that the prince is undergoing will not make him a king, no longer how long it continues. All it will make him is ready to assume the responsibility, when and if that happens – a fact which is beyond his control, unless he engages in parricide.

  52. vjtorley:

    “Even more preposterously, you are prepared to seriously entertain the notion that a person’s identity could be transferred to a CD which could be inserted into a robot.”
    =====

    Never underestimate the power of the Sci-Fi Channel for not only indoctrinating under the guise of entertainment, but subliminally so, so as not to be noticed and then having to later deny it. Everlasting life/Atificial Life to an Atheist/Agnostic is after all having their consciousness downloaded into a SuperComputer.

    Hmmmmmmm, maybe that’s what CERN project is really about ???

    It’s yet another aspect of their faith and hope in Scientifism as a means to bring about all that is wonderful for mankind and what this court trial of independent self-determination is all about. Thus far human independence has been an abysmal failure. As Jude says: ‘To bad for them’.

  53. Hi Bruce David,

    Apparently you haven’t had time to fully digest Parts C and D of my lengthy essay yet. Fair enough; you’re a busy man and I won’t rush you.

    I was interested to read that you are a Berkeleyan. I would just like to say in passing that I believe an embryo is as fully rational as you or I. It has a mind too. All that stops an embryo from thinking is the immaturity of its body (which it requires in order to have knowledge of its surroundings), coupled with its lack of experiences to date (since its nervous system is as yet undeveloped). The notion of a “mind in waiting” might sound odd, but I submit that it is not unreasonable. In speaking of the mind, incidentally, I don’t mean a separate thing from the body. On my view, there is one thing – a human being – with many different powers, most of which require a body, but two of which (intellect and will) do not.

    I cannot comment on “Conversations with God”, as I haven’t read it.

    Regarding legislation against infanticide: politically speaking, it may well be correct to say that prohibition is unlikely to succeed until a majority of the population accepts that newborn infants are people too. Imposing such a view on the population may well be “tyranny”, and it may well fail anyway. But that does not necessarily make it morally wrong; it merely makes it imprudent. I would certainly say, however, that a government which attempted to roll back our civilization’s long-standing prohibitions against infanticide should be fought tooth and nail, and in that context, I wouldn’t see force as inherently immoral. Majority rule has no inherent normative force whatsoever, if the majority declares that individuals it formerly recognized as people are in fact not people at all. The situation with the unborn is different; the law never consistently regarded them as persons in the first place, so violence in the pro-life cause would be morally wrong. In a democratic society, one must wait patiently until the people come to recognize the unborn as genuine people, but once they do so, this action can never be validly reversed.

    In any case, as you rightly point out, my essay was written as an attempt at rationally persuading people that it makes good sense to regard an embryo as a human person who matters just as much as you or I do. I do not expect to see victory in my life-time; pro-lifers are in it for the long haul. Many of us recognize that we may have to wait until our present society collapses (as it probably will) before we can achieve real progress. In the meantime, we just have to keep making a rational case for the personhood of the embryo.

  54. Dr. Torley,

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Thank you for your post. Let me be clear: I do not credit a three-day-old embryo with any foresight, intent, will or consciousness. Having a goal requires none of these things. I should say that I am using the word “goal” in a third-person sense; I am not using it to mean “intention” or “aim”. You can replace “goal” with the Greek telos, if that makes you feel more comfortable. Any biologist would say that the heart is for pumping blood. That is its telos – which is not the same as saying that in times past, organisms with hearts were more evolutionarily successful than those lacking them. The latter statement may well be true, but it isn’t the same in meaning. A doctor who knew nothing about evolution (e.g. William Harvey) could still figure out what the heart is for, without looking at its history, and if (per impossibile) a creature with a heart were to suddenly coalesce from a swamp, its heart would still be for pumping blood too – even though it had no evolutionary past.

    I don’t have any problem with telic language in biology, nor do I wish to discourage its use. But I do identify a major problem in people forgetting that there is anthropomorphic projection at work. There’s no problem in my saying of my truck: “she’s running fine right now”, or “she’s trying to start, but can’t quite turn over”, that’s useful and effective use of language. But it’s a problem if BY THAT, I start to think my pickup truck is a female person of some kind. It’s a “way of speaking” and it’s powerful, but some reasoning has to be maintained about the anthropomorphic underpinnings of our telic language.

    The heart is “for” pumping blood, in that casual, but useful sense. Per biology, there is no agent that is willing or directing any design, there. It’s the long term result of a biological exploration of a fitness landscape, with cumulative effects of successful adaptation accruing along the way. The problem is, that’s a clumsy mouthful to regurgitate over and over in conversation, so we, being highly resourceful beings, use a kind of anthropomorphic shorthand: it’s “for” pumping blood.

    That works, I use and endorse the same kind of language all the time. But I try not to forget that the “for” is a pedagogical device in my language to breeze past the non-telic (so far as we can tell) processes at work.

    The point I want to make here is that no matter how hard you try, you cannot totally eliminate teleological language from biology – and nor should you. Most biologists have no wish to, anyway; only a few radical philosophers seem to want to pursue such a path. A developing embryo has a telos: as a very young human being, it is on the first step of a long journey towards becoming an adult human being.

    I understand, and my comments above hopefully clarify my position on that. I don’t think the radical professors’ efforts here are fruitful, but I can understand the impetus, even so. While telic language is wonderfully useful and effective for us, it’s also an invitation to people to start confusing the map with the territory, to start confusing “for”-as-descriptive-of-systems-evolved-from-impersonal-and-sometimes-stochastic-processes with “for”-as-the-intention-of-some-cosmic-designer.

    If you and I talk about our pickups as a “she” (“she’s running well right now!”), and people start to get confused about the personhood of our pickup trucks, we’d consider avoiding using such anthropomorphic language, perhaps. But the better option, it seems to me, would be to just advise people to be aware of the utility AND the risks of anthropomorphic language, and to proceed accordingly. Don’t confuse map with territory. Don’t confuse “heart is FOR pumping blood” with some kind of agency or intelligence in that design.

    I should add that in Part A, section (i) of my essay, where I list the five requirements for qualifying as a human person, I do not use the word “goal” at all. I use the term “developmental goal” just once, in Part A, section (iv), Argument #2. Here I simply mean the terminus, or end-point, of the developmental program: a rational human adult. Lastly, I quote Professor Maureen Condic, who remarks in passing that “the ‘goal’ of both sperm and egg is to find each other and to fuse”. Notice that even here she uses inverted commas. So I do not think that your accusation of anthropomorphism is a fair one.

    Again, I’m sorry I gave the wrong impression. I don’t mind the language you are using, per se. I use it myself, and to good ends. But you’ve broken the isomorphism in your application here, and perverted the analogy. You’ve gotten confused about your pickup truck really being a “she” just by using “she” to refer to your truck.

    The sperm and egg example is a good one to iluminate your problem. As humans, we have a pervasive inclination to “telify”, to superimpose telic concepts on the world. It’s useful on the main, but prone to pitfalls like this one. It’s just part of our evolved psychology — we are adapted profitably to construe the world around us in teleo-centric frames. It’s advantageous for us in the same way paranoia is advantageous for a deer (and humans!). Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the deer that skitters away because she hears a twig snap somewhere nearby is expending energy unnecessarily; there is no predator snapping that twig preparing to make that deer its lunch. But even so, that “mistaken judgment”, wrong most of the time, is advantageous for the deer. Better to expend the energy “by mistake” ten times, than to be wrong just once, when there really is a predator about to attack, and become its lunch.

    Humans see the world through intensely teleo-centric lenses. We are “telists” by nature. And good for us, that’s a very powerful trait, overall, even though it’s a constant source of mistaken judgment, just as “run from the predator!” is for the deer the vast majority of the time. Unlike the deer, we have the rational faculties to understand our predicament, and both benefit from our teleocentric paradigm AND achieve some level of critical objectivity, so as to identify some cases where where our teleocentric biases lead us into folly, mistake and self-deception.

    Regarding the prince in training: I’m afraid your example fails as a parallel. Ordinarily, princes are schooled in the art of being a good king; but this is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for them to become king. Many princes have ascended to the throne without any preparation, and many others who were well-prepared to reign as king have never been given the opportunity to do so. All the training in the world cannot make a prince a king. For that to happen, (i) his father must die or voluntarily cede the throne; (ii) he must be the first in line to succeed his deceased or retired father; and (iii) he must be publicly crowned king. These three facts, and these alone, can make a prince a king. So the potential of a prince to become a king is vastly different from the potential of an embryo to become an adult. The embryo is doing something (executing a developmental program) which, if allowed to continue, will turn it into an adult, in about 18 years’ time. But the training that the prince is undergoing will not make him a king, no longer how long it continues. All it will make him is ready to assume the responsibility, when and if that happens – a fact which is beyond his control, unless he engages in parricide.

    I’m afraid this just looks like an exercise in special pleading, with some pedantry. Prince->King is in many, many ways NOT like zygote->Einstein, granted, and I never supposed or asserted otherwise. Singer’s point keeps its equity in the parts that do support the isomorphism: StateA -> StateB does NOT imply that the attributes and qualities of StateB transitively apply to StateA. That’s all. That’s what the arrow signifies, a change in status or configuration, and one which entails changes that predicate different ontological assignments: the “right of kingship”, say, or “electrical activity in the cerebral cortex”.

    Singer could have said, if he were to anticipate your objection, that we should rather consider the cast that a 7 year old boy does not have legal accountability assigned to him in the same way it would be assigned to him at 27. Tom, our 7 year old, will predictably become a 27 year old man, and on the same terms as your zygote becomes a 27 year old adult. But between 7 and 27, the “arrow” happens: Tom7->Tom27, and this is fundamental to the status of Tom as a legal person. At 27, barring any extenuating mental problems, he has reached the age of competence and legal accountability.

    But at 7 year old, the same person, with the same DNA, is different enough in substantial terms that we do not assign the rights or responsiblities to him at 7 that we do at 27.

    That avoids the (apparently) distracting disanalogical features of the Prince->King example.

    I’m tempted to point out that your assault on the Prince->King idea fails on the merits — “(iii) he must be publicly be crowned king” is an example of the special pleading I’m talking about, as it’s not hard to imagine scenarios where the prince becomes king upon the death of the father-kind, no ceremony or any other protocol needed — but I don’t think it matters for our purposes, here.

  55. Dr. Torley,

    It seems we agree on some points and disagree on others.

    I would like to ask you some questions regarding your second paragraph, however. If you believe that a human being is “one thing”, how is it possible for a fertilized egg, which has no nervous system whatsoever, much less a fully functioning brain, to have a mind? You say, “In speaking of the mind, incidentally, I don’t mean a separate thing from the body. On my view, there is one thing – a human being – with many different powers, most of which require a body, but two of which (intellect and will) do not.” How is it possible for the mind to be “not separate” from the body and yet not “require” a body? And if the human being is “one thing” and the mind is not separate from the body, what happens to the mind and will upon death of the body?

    It appears to me that you are trying to have it both ways–the mind and body are one for the purpose of making abortion immoral, yet two different things for the purpose of affirming the immortality of the soul.

  56. Hi Eigenstate,

    Thank you for your reply (10.1.1.1.1). I can’t go any deeper, so I’ll have to start a new thread here at #16.

    Telic language is not, as you maintain, an anthropomorphic projection. Teleology is ineliminable from science – even at the inorganic level. Anything that has a tendency to bring about a certain effect E (e.g. the tendency of white phosphorus to generate an explosion in the presence of air) is inherently directed at that effect: it has a disposition which is inherently directed towards the generation of that specific effect (e.g. an explosion). If it didn’t, then literally everything would be an accident. Scientists don’t believe that; they believe that there are laws of nature, which describes natural tendencies of matter/energy. As Professor Edward Feser puts it: if A tends to cause B, then causing B must be inherent or natural to A. There’s nothing anthropomorphic here. If you believe that things have dispositions, then you believe in teleology.

    Your truck example is a badly confused one, on two counts. First, you liken the extrinsic finality of the truck parts (e.g. its engine), whose teleology depends on the ends of their human designers, to the intrinsic finality of the cell’s parts, whose teleology can be described perfectly well in English, regardless of whether you believe cells were originally designed or not. You seem to think that telic language implicitly refers to the end of some designing agent, and you state that “there is no agent that is willing or directing any design”. Extrinsic finality requires an explicit postulation of a designer; intrinsic finality does not. My pro-life essay is written for people who don’t believe in an agent who designed the cell or anything else in Nature. Even an atheist can legitimately say, for instance, that the function of a mitochondrion is to generate ATP for the cell. Even if (per impossibile) there were no God and no intelligent minds whatsoever in existence, that statement about the function of a mitochondrion would still be true. Likewise, the fact that the heart is for pumping blood is an objective fact. You don’t have to believe in God or any other agent in order to believe it’s true.

    You suggest that the statement, “The heart is for pumping blood” is a convenient short-hand for, “The heart’s pumping blood is the long term result of a biological exploration of a fitness landscape, with cumulative effects of successful adaptation accruing along the way.” I’ve already explained why this attempted reduction won’t work. William Harvey knew nothing about evolution but he could still figure out what the heart was for, without looking at its evolutionary history. I also used the well known example of “Swamp man” – a creature with a heart that suddenly coalesces from a swamp – to argue that its heart would still be for pumping blood, even though it had no evolutionary history. Function and history are two different things.

    Second, I’m afraid the examples you provide of anthropomorphic language when describing trucks are not very good ones. Apart from the use of the feminine gender, there’s nothing wrong with the sentence “She’s running well at the moment” to describe the operation of a truck engine: it’s literally true. To say, on the other hand, that the engine is “trying to start” is indeed anthropomorphic, but it’s just convenient short-hand for: “The truck driver is trying to start the engine, but the engine is not functioning properly”.

    What about an elderly person in a hospital with a weak heart ,which is prone to occasional failure? We could say that the elderly person’s heart is “trying to” beat properly, but this would be anthropomorphic language, and there’s no need for it. What we mean here is simply that the heart is not functioning as it would if it were a normal heart. This kind of language is teleological but not anthropomorphic; it’s just a statement of medical fact.

    Regarding Singer’s prince->king example, you write:

    Singer’s point keeps its equity in the parts that do support the isomorphism: StateA -> StateB does NOT imply that the attributes and qualities of StateB transitively apply to StateA. That’s all.

    I agree. My point with the embryo is that this is not a complete description of the situation. What we have is:

    Developmental program that transforms A to B and is currently at state A,

    followed by:

    state B.

    I’m not making a general point here that would apply to all of the attributes and qualities of state B; rather, what I’m saying is that if an entity in state B has natural rights, it would be more sensible to ground those rights not in the entity’s states, but in the underlying program which generates them.

    Finally, you write:

    Singer could have said, if he were to anticipate your objection, that we should rather consider the cast that a 7 year old boy does not have legal accountability assigned to him in the same way it would be assigned to him at 27. Tom, our 7 year old, will predictably become a 27 year old man, and on the same terms as your zygote becomes a 27 year old adult. But between 7 and 27, the “arrow” happens: Tom7->Tom27, and this is fundamental to the status of Tom as a legal person. At 27, barring any extenuating mental problems, he has reached the age of competence and legal accountability.

    In reply: legal rights are not the same as natural rights. Your point is perfectly valid for the former, but not for the latter. Natural rights are grounded in a thing’s nature, so it makes sense to base them on the most fundamental feature of that thing. In the case of a living organism, that’s its developmental program. The right to life is not conferred on us by society, unlike the right to vote or drink alcohol.

    You may recall that at the very beginning of my Introduction, I wrote:

    [In this article] … I shall simply assume as a “given” that human persons matter in their own right, and that it is (always or almost always) wrong to intentionally kill them. I am of course aware that there are some philosophers who reject the idea that human persons matter in their own right and who regard morality as a purely social construct, but I have yet to hear a convincing explanation from these philosophers as to why it would be wrong to kill a wandering stateless nomad in the Sahara desert. However, most atheists do accept the premise that human persons matter in their own right, and I shall be engaging them on their own terms. My aim will be to show that if they grant this premise, then there is no good reason why they should deny personhood to the embryo; consequently, it is (always or almost always) wrong to intentionally kill embryos.

    I hope the point I was trying to make is clearer to you now.

  57. Hi Bruce David,

    In response to what you wrote in 9.1.1.1.1, I’d like to invoke a distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic dependence. Plant growth is intrinsically dependent on the presence of carbon dioxide, water vapor and various nutrients. However, the dependence of plant growth on soil is merely extrinsic: nothing in the nature of a plant requires or presupposes the existence of soil, and indeed hydroponic agriculture is possible.

    Likewise, thinking and choosing are not intrinsically dependent on the existence of a nervous system. There is nothing about the nature of thinking, as such, that requires these things, and we can certainly imagine a life-form thinking even if it didn’t have a nervous system: it might have some other kind of body, or it might not have a body at all. Thus it is not absurd to attribute a mind to a fertilized egg, even though it lacks a nervous system. Seeing, on the other hand, is intrinsically dependent on the existence of bodily organs that receive and transmit light; in the absence of these, there is no seeing, by definition. Thus it would be absurd to attribute sight to a fertilized egg, but it would not be absurd to attribute a mind to it.

    The intellect (which thinks) and will (which chooses) are extrinsically dependent on the body, but not intrinsically dependent. Rather than saying that they do not require a body in my post above, I should have said that they do not intrinsically require a body.

    After death, I believe we are in the hands of God. It is certainly a most unnatural thing for a soul to be separated from its body, and without God interposing, all our mental activities would shut down at the moment of death. The post-mortem state is extremely unnatural, which is why Jews, Christians and Muslims look forward to a resurrection, when we shall be complete again.

    Finally, I’d just like to say that even if I didn’t believe in God or a soul, if I still believed that it was wrong to kill people, I’d include embryos in my definition of people. The whole point of my essay was that a pro-life case can be made without talk of God or a soul. All you need to recognize is that an embryo is a human organism with its own developmental program, which is already running. I can’t see why anything like that should be any less valuable than I am.

  58. Vjtorley/Eocene:

    Even more preposterously, you are prepared to seriously entertain the notion that a person’s identity could be transferred to a CD which could be inserted into a robot. If the robot passed the Turing test for being that person, you’d be prepared to consider it as a continuation of that person. I have trouble believing that you seriously believe this.

    Recall what the original question was – and look again at my answer.

    The question was if I would ascribe any ethical value to a CD of memories. I answered “no”, and since it was implied that I would (for some reason), I figured I would go through the list of requirements, yet again, before I would even entertain the notion of valuing a machine in such a way.

    First, one would need to “somehow” (I have no idea how) “capture the complete personality of the person” onto the CD – not merely memories. Memories are only a part of what we are. Even if this monumental feat were somehow accomplished, I STILL would not view the CD as a person. After all, a cd is just an inanimate piece of matter. Even IF all the data required to form a mind/person were on a CD – there’s still no sentience, emotions, feelings, intelligence etc present.

    And so yet ANOTHER monumental engineering feat would need to be accomplished, namely a robot or machine that is capable of displaying the sentience, emotions, feelings, thoughts (i.e. the “personality”) of the person on the CD (again, I have no idea how such a thing would be accomplished).

    If ALL of that is accomplished – and while speaking with the machine it seemed for all the world that I was speaking to the person I knew – and I couldn’t tell any difference, then in that case “I might very well consider” that I was in fact speaking to the same person I once knew.

    Is any of this feasible? I don’t know – but I was hardly trying to give the impression that it was in any way trivial or within reach – if anything, I was trying to give the opposite impression – my point was to explain just how trivial a “cd of memories” is to anything that I would even consider of human value.

  59. goodusername:

    “First, one would need to “somehow” (I have no idea how) “capture the complete personality of the person” onto the CD – not merely memories. Memories are only a part of what we are. Even if this monumental feat were somehow accomplished, I STILL would not view the CD as a person. After all, a cd is just an inanimate piece of matter. Even IF all the data required to form a mind/person were on a CD – there’s still no sentience, emotions, feelings, intelligence etc present.”

    “And so yet ANOTHER monumental engineering feat would need to be accomplished, namely a robot or machine that is capable of displaying the sentience, emotions, feelings, thoughts (i.e. the “personality”) of the person on the CD (again, I have no idea how such a thing would be accomplished).”
    ====

    In other words you’d have to accomplish on a CD the very reverse of what this scripture says about what happens to a living person at death:

    Ecclesiastes 9:5-10

    Amplified Bible (AMP)

    (5) “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; and they have no more reward [here], for the memory of them is forgotten.”

    (6) “Their love and their hatred and their envy have already perished; neither have they any more a share in anything that is done under the sun.”
    ””””””

    So clearly, there is no conscientious thought, reasoning, no longer any massive amounts of data memory files of life’s experiences and neither do any longer have any sort of emotions such as love , hate , jealousy , etc, etc, etc. At death it is clear here they cease to exist at the point of death. Death is always the opposite of life. The verse below is interesting as it compares the same eventuality of humans and all animals. Death is equal to all.

    This next scripture may interest you.

    “Ecclesiastes 3:19

    GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

    (19) “Humans and animals have the same destiny. One dies just like the other. All of them have the same breath of life. Humans have no advantage over animals. All of life is pointless.”

    Maybe I came in halfway here amd missed something ??? From your first post you seemed to be dealing with conscientiousness , emotions, etc. Perhaps an embryo being compare to a clear blank CD , is that correct ??? As time goes on more and more research is being found that an unborn child does have conscietiousness or self awareness as studies seem to show unborn child response and stimulation to music, reading , tone of voice and emotions. Again, I came late here and no doubt from reading the OP there are clearly things I don’t agree with. There may also be another thread here dealing with similiar subject matter, but for the moment I can’t think of where I posted some of the same thoughts. Maybe this makes some things clearer, or maybe not.

  60. Hi Dr. Torley,

    Re. your second paragraph, you seem to be saying that as the sperm is travelling up the Fallopian tube towards the egg, there is no mind, and at the moment the sperm pierces the outer membrane of the egg, still no mind, but at the moment the DNA of the two is united and cell division begins, suddenly mind comes into being. Well, I agree it’s not absurd, but being saved from absurdity is not a very strong argument. Do you have any evidence for the truth of this belief?

    You also said, “The whole point of my essay was that a pro-life case can be made without talk of God or a soul. All you need to recognize is that an embryo is a human organism with its own developmental program, which is already running. I can’t see why anything like that should be any less valuable than I am.”

    Well my whole point is that whether or not your case is convincing depends on one’s worldview. It’s not convincing to me because I see the soul and the body as separate phenomena, and it is the soul which for me has intrinsic value because it is what we really are. The body is just a tool that is used during our temporary residences on this planet, and its value derives from the fact that having a body is necessary for us to be able to experience earthly life. On the other hand, a materialist might conclude that a developing embryo isn’t a human being (or a “human organism” ) until it has the capacity to think and feel, and that capacity is completely dependent on a functioning central nervous system. Thus it isn’t a human being until it has a well formed brain.

    In more general terms, my point is that there is no conclusive argument one way or the other, and each such argument depends to some extent at least on one’s a priori assumptions regarding the nature of reality. Pro-lifers frequently (and annoyingly) just assume that it is a given that abortion is murder. It is no such thing. It is a matter for each individual’s own conscience to decide.

  61. Maybe I came in halfway here amd missed something ??? From your first post you seemed to be dealing with conscientiousness , emotions, etc. Perhaps an embryo being compare to a clear blank CD , is that correct ???

    Vjtorley would give human rights to zygotes/embryos while I would not. The reason I wouldn’t is because, IMO, they don’t have “personhood” – no feelings, emotions, thoughts, etc.

    Vjtorley asked if I would value a cd of memories and implied that I would – although I’m not sure what I said to give that impression. My answer, essentially, was that not only would I not, but to illustrate the point, described how a heck of a lot more than that would need to be accomplished before I would even entertain the idea of valuing an object/machine in that way.

    As time goes on more and more research is being found that an unborn child does have conscietiousness or self awareness as studies seem to show unborn child response and stimulation to music, reading , tone of voice and emotions.

    Yes, agreed. While I would say that an embryo is not a “person”, I would say that an 8 month old fetus is. Where I would draw the line is, I fully admit, very problematic.

  62. Bruce David:

    “Well, I agree it’s not absurd, but being saved from absurdity is not a very strong argument. Do you have any evidence for the truth of this belief?”
    ====

    Ultimately if there were a creator, this creator would have the ultimate say in whether or not is was or wasn’t. In that we are talking about the Bible here, then yes there are scriptures in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures which support the fact that abortion would be killing and that should be the biggest basis for christians.

    However, is there actual science behind conscientiosness, emotions, feelings or at least at what point those develope ??? More and more research is finding out that unborn babies do respond somewhat, but at what actual stage they begin this I can’t say for sure. But from the biblical and scientific understanding, at conception there is definitely an entire blueprint or schematic for that particular human being.
    —-

    Bruce David:

    “Well my whole point is that whether or not your case is convincing depends on one’s worldview.”
    ====

    No arguement there.
    —-

    Bruce David:

    “It’s not convincing to me because I see the soul and the body as separate phenomena, . . ”
    ====

    Actually if you look up the Hebrew word ‘nephesh’ and Greek word ‘psyche’, you’ll find they literally are nothing more than the life enjoyed by a living organism while it’s alive on earth and both body/soul cease to exist at death. Nothing floats off into a netherworld. Such concepts didn’t enter into Christianity until the second or third century. Animals are shown to be equal to humans at death, with humans having no superiority over animals in this respect. But that will get you alot of controversey around here. Often what you actually read and research when it comes to words/terms in the bible is far different than long held traditional dogmas and doctrines. Many during the Dark Ages and Medieval Times lost their lives for highlighting just such truths about the bible itself. One has to wonder why ??? It was also during those same times when the seeds of atheism began to germinate underground before appearing above ground centuries later.

    In any event, maybe that explains some things and acknowledges some similiarities of thought here.

  63. Eigenstate: …man-from-monkeys evolutionist is a Dawkins-style evolution…

    Please write coherently in the future so I can figure out what you are talking about. Is it incomprehensible that I was once a Dawkins-style atheist who changed his mind, based on evidence and experience with the real world, and not that I have some nefarious creative memory?

  64. Gil,

    I think what Eigenstate is essentially saying is that you couldn’t have been a Dawkins-style atheist because Dawkins is fulfilled in his atheism, and therefore would never have a need to think otherwise. He would never, like you, feel the need to re-examine his atheism, because there’s nothing troubling him about it. Well maybe not, until such time as there is something troubling about it. It sounds rather presumptuous to me.

    I would say that a person who is not prepared to be bothered in some way with what they claim to believe, has not really done the examination it takes to believe it.

    In other words, if Dawkins had not had his moments of doubt regarding atheism, one wonders how strongly and thoroughly he has thought it out. It then becomes a belief system that stands rather uncomfortably close to a blind faith commitment, wherein one avoids the uncomfortable and trumps up the wondrous. That might be an accurate way of depicting the current Dawkins milieu, but we’re not prophets or mind readers here. We simply don’t know, and that’s why it sounds presumptuous to me.

    So I would propose to Eigenstadt that perhaps Dawkins too has his melancholic moments of doubt as well; he just doesn’t show it in the verbal ways in which one could detect it easily. However, some of that “doubt” seems to be manifest in the manner in which he deals with those he disagrees with; particularly with those he thinks are creationists. He seems quite angry at times as if he has some sort of evangelical duty to convert the “idiots” to his way of thinking for their own good; and this need seems to contradict the very worldview he’s trying to convert them to. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. There’s got to be some melancholic doubt rising in there somewhere.

  65. Dr. Torley,

    Telic language is not, as you maintain, an anthropomorphic projection. Teleology is ineliminable from science – even at the inorganic level. Anything that has a tendency to bring about a certain effect E (e.g. the tendency of white phosphorus to generate an explosion in the presence of air) is inherently directed at that effect: it has a disposition which is inherently directed towards the generation of that specific effect (e.g. an explosion). If it didn’t, then literally everything would be an accident. Scientists don’t believe that; they believe that there are laws of nature, which describes natural tendencies of matter/energy. As Professor Edward Feser puts it: if A tends to cause B, then causing B must be inherent or natural to A. There’s nothing anthropomorphic here. If you believe that things have dispositions, then you believe in teleology.

    Sure, I have no problem with this. “Impersonal teleology” as a long-form way of saying “law” or “principle” in physics is just fine with me. The problem is the map/territory conflation, where this kind of language begins to equivocate an become confused with the semantics of teleology as directed-by-agents. The product of a willed plan, in other words. I don’t have any objection to using agent-telic language either. I will just politely point out where the equivocation becomes problematic.

    It’s worth pointing this out, contra Feser: “dispositions” in the way Feser and others conceive them are retrodictive. We apply tautological tools to our physics as a means of thinking and talking about the subject. Mass attracts mass becomes, per Feserian swizzling, “Mass is disposed to move toward other mass”, or even more anthropomorphically “Mass wants to move toward mass”.

    It’s all the same physical dynamic; it is what is no matter what we language we use to discuss it. But I only believe things have dispositions as a matter of description and pedagogy. They don’t “want” anything or “seek” anything in any agency-directed way. The physical laws and the substance of spacetime are such that mass [behaves physical in such a way that we describe it as "attracts"] mass. This is an area where humans are easily “bewitched by language” (and Feser is a flamboyant example of this problem, as are most followers of Aquinas), but keep in mind that “disposition” is the “map” you use to conceptualize the territory so your human brain can make some headway on the issue. The map is not the territory. Mass does not “beckon” or “desire” or “tempt” or “pull” other mass in any way that matches our anthropomorphic senses of the term. These are just the best terms we can come up with to conceptualize the dynamic.

    So yes, I certainly believe “things have dispositions”, but that expands to “[what we call 'things'] have [experience-based patterns of dynamism that is regular enough for us to identify as a principle and which we call "disposition" for lack of a better term, being of teleocentric mind]“. The “disposition” isn’t any more intrinsic than the word “blue” is intrinsic to the sky. Gravity is what it is, and the sky is has the spectral features it has, no matter what handles and concepts we assess them with. Things have “handles-which-we-call-dispositions-so-we-can-talk-about-them”. And even that isn’t complete: using “have” there is prejudicial and problematic, as well. But that just points up the futility of being pedantic here. It makes effective manipulation of these ideas terribly cumbersome. So we “cheat” to our advantage, and use some handy telic shorthand, and it’s good that we do. But we fall into error when we forget that “disposition” is a “map” feature, and not part of the terrain.

    Your truck example is a badly confused one, on two counts. First, you liken the extrinsic finality of the truck parts (e.g. its engine), whose teleology depends on the ends of their human designers, to the intrinsic finality of the cell’s parts, whose teleology can be described perfectly well in English, regardless of whether you believe cells were originally designed or not. You seem to think that telic language implicitly refers to the end of some designing agent, and you state that “there is no agent that is willing or directing any design”. Extrinsic finality requires an explicit postulation of a designer; intrinsic finality does not.

    That doesn’t change anything, as I understand it. The “man-made-ness” of the truck/engine is not relevant to the point I was making regarding the language. I could invoke anthropomorphic humans use in reference to organic, non-man-made objects just as well, and it would illustrate the same point. Extrinsic finality doesn’t impinge upon our choices to engage in anthropmorphic language or not.

    I might just as well have used the example of referring to the creek out in my back yard: “she’s running a little lower this fall than last fall, and her water’s much more muddy”. That just obviates the need to bother with the issue you raise here. The stream is no more dependent on human designers than the cell is. I’ll just chalk that up to my not choosing an example more carefully.

    My pro-life essay is written for people who don’t believe in an agent who designed the cell or anything else in Nature. Even an atheist can legitimately say, for instance, that the function of a mitochondrion is to generate ATP for the cell. Even if (per impossibile) there were no God and no intelligent minds whatsoever in existence, that statement about the function of a mitochondrion would still be true. Likewise, the fact that the heart is for pumping blood is an objective fact. You don’t have to believe in God or any other agent in order to believe it’s true.

    Agreed. But it requires that we stipulate what we mean by “for”. It’s not a term that entails design, foresight, or any agency it all. It is just descriptive as a matter of retrospect. We observe the dynamics of hearts and blood, and “retro-infer”, as teleocentric beings, that pumping blood is what the heart is “for”, as a matter of pedagogy. The heart and the blood know nothing and care nothing about this. They just are what they are. We humans struggle to avoid being “bewitched by language”, and to keep map features distinct from the territory as we make efforts to render the world around us more intelligible.

    In an animal, the heart certain is “for” pumping blood. The animal requires a means of blood circulation to function. But this “for” is the kind of “for” as “mass is FOR attracting other mass”. This is hard stuff, I grant, and very tricky as a matter of avoiding map/territory confusion. Thinking about extramental reality in performative ways is difficult because we are so adept at analogical thinking, and analogical thinking is fraught with dangers (again, this blog is a terrific museum of this problem). Calling DNA “a program” is useful at an elementary/beginner level, but misleading and deceptive at a nuanced level.

    You are probably aware of the regular efforts in Christian circles to explain and conceptualize the Trinity for children or newcomers to the faith. Perhaps you’ve heard “The Trinity is like a triangle” as one attempt at such an explanation. While we can see the rationale behind this attempt, and some superficial pedagogical power there, on the whole, most Christian theologians I know would agree this is a counterproductive bit of analogical thinking (for reasons I suspect we both understand and don’t need to delve into here).

    DNA-as-language, or things-having-agent-like-dispositions are similarly problematic. I can certainly see the superficial value and traction of DNA-as-language, but the overall impact of that kind of analogical thinking is to mislead and confuse rather than inform, if you develop a textured familiarity with the biology it addresses.

    You suggest that the statement, “The heart is for pumping blood” is a convenient short-hand for, “The heart’s pumping blood is the long term result of a biological exploration of a fitness landscape, with cumulative effects of successful adaptation accruing along the way.” I’ve already explained why this attempted reduction won’t work. William Harvey knew nothing about evolution but he could still figure out what the heart was for, without looking at its evolutionary history. I also used the well known example of “Swamp man” – a creature with a heart that suddenly coalesces from a swamp – to argue that its heart would still be for pumping blood, even though it had no evolutionary history. Function and history are two different things.

    No, I don’t suppose any of this is contingent on an evolutionary history as far as using our terms go. Harvey was projecting backwards, like you and I do naturally: this things works that way, so we naturally describe this thing as “existing for” that function. Knowledge or ignorance of the evolutionary history doesn’t change this one way or the other.

    What about an elderly person in a hospital with a weak heart ,which is prone to occasional failure? We could say that the elderly person’s heart is “trying to” beat properly, but this would be anthropomorphic language, and there’s no need for it. What we mean here is simply that the heart is not functioning as it would if it were a normal heart. This kind of language is teleological but not anthropomorphic; it’s just a statement of medical fact.

    There’s nothing wrong with anthropomorphic language. It’s often quite useful, and aesthetically appealing, boot. We just have to be vigilant in watching out for confusing our teleocentric ways of conceiving the world around us with a teleocentric mechanism AS the world around us. As long as we don’t conflate and confuse, it’s all good.

    I’m not making a general point here that would apply to all of the attributes and qualities of state B; rather, what I’m saying is that if an entity in state B has natural rights, it would be more sensible to ground those rights not in the entity’s states, but in the underlying program which generates them.

    Ahh, well, here is where I can things really going off the rails, then. If this is a secular appeal, as you claim, then… what’s the technical term for my reaction….. oh yeah: WTF???

    In secular terms, those rights are grounded in states (e.g. electrical activity in the frontal cortex as the trigger/predicate for legal personhood) because the rights are synthetic. They are legal devices, social constructs, collective value judgments. What is this “natural right” you speak of, asks the secular reader. That’s an undefined term as you have it, stripped from states of being and functional, actual capabilities (e.g. the ability to experience pain and suffering, and to be aware that one is in a state of pain and suffering).

    Sorry, Dr. Torley, but this is where you and secularism part ways, big time. The problem is only exacerbated by your confusion over the “program which generates them” idea. This is gratuitously anthropomorphic language at work, for transparently telic reasons — you are indeed trading on future states, just apparently in hopes that I, or perhaps even you won’t notice. ;-)

    It cannot be anything more than special pleading as you have it, because a puddle levels out to form a flat surface of the water filling it as part of “program which generates puddle shapes” in precisely the same way you suppose a zygote is running a “program which generates adult, sentient human beings”. “Running a program” is just a human conceptual projection, that can be applied to any law based and/or repetitive process. (This is where you’ve fallen into a “simplistic trap” similar to thinking that yeah, I really can understand the Trinity by thinking about it analogically like a triangle — “DNA as a language” or “Cell as an operating system” are superficially good as analogical thinking and rigorously bad as analogical thinking).

    That said, maybe you can refer me to your preamble somewhere regarding the secular semantics of “natural rights” APART from states of being? That seems a crucial part of all this that I can’t locate from you.

    In reply: legal rights are not the same as natural rights. Your point is perfectly valid for the former, but not for the latter. Natural rights are grounded in a thing’s nature, so it makes sense to base them on the most fundamental feature of that thing. In the case of a living organism, that’s its developmental program. The right to life is not conferred on us by society, unlike the right to vote or drink alcohol.

    This is perfectly incoherent in secular terms. I totally understand this as a theistic construct; it’s bootstrapped in the sovereignty of God as creator in some supposed capacity to “establish value” by divine fiat. I don’t agree with that view, but it’s coherent, once you stipulate the existence of such a deity.

    Natural rights on secular terms obtain as value judgments about states of being or capabilities. Expressed negatively, they are NOT, and cannot be (else you have theism) grounded in “future states” or mere potential. That presupposes some personal telos, some fiat-from-divine will that by definition cannot be reified in secular terms. That’s why you see the kinds of positions you do from secularists. Singer’s support for sentientism eschews future states because it MUST. Future states as the basis for rights presupposes a divine (or otherwise normative) authority, a goal “blessed” by some divine will. If you take away divine will, the future states predicate doesn’t get off the ground. So what if the zygote doesn’t become what it might have become? There’s no god that cares, and the zygote is just a clump of unthinking cells. It does not and cannot care, or even be the least bit aware.

    This should be easy to see from your own perspective by just considering the case of the human sperm and egg. They are each “for” (per your semantics) combining so as to produce a zygote, and thereafter a functioning, sentient human being. Why isn’t preventing fertilization a deprivation of the “natural rights” of the sperm and egg? They are each “running a program” which aims at producing a human being.

    This just falls on the other side of your divine fiat (or maybe not if you are a conservative Catholic!). But the zygote is no more running a program toward human individual than the sperm is. It’s just one frame lower in the stack, to use programming terminology. If the unthinking, non-sentient sperm or egg are not “possessed of natural rights to human life”, then neither can the zygote be, on secular terms. For a secularist, one has to appeal to the states of being and faculties which we want to protect. “Assigned rights” versus “natural rights” as you understand “natural rights”.

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

  66. @Gil,

    Please write coherently in the future so I can figure out what you are talking about. Is it incomprehensible that I was once a Dawkins-style atheist who changed his mind, based on evidence and experience with the real world, and not that I have some nefarious creative memory?

    Sure it’s conceivable, it’s just not a reasonable conclusion based on what you wrote, and have written. Look I don’t doubt that you changed your mind about God, but it’s not plausible that you were a Dawkins-style atheist who fell for the theology of C.S. Lewis, or whatever other things soothed your angst, your “inner Sartre”. That would not be Dawkins-style atheism, because Dawkins holds his atheism as the very antidote for the angst and melancholy you were wallowing in the first place. You think Dawkins-style atheism is Sartre or Camus. It’s not, not at all. It’s a godless form of C.S. Lewis, so to speak. It’s an atheism that for him is fulfilling, meaningful, enriching, expansive, and numinous in a secular sense.

    That’s all there for you to discover. But by all the signs, you just aren’t familiar with the man’s writing, speaking and ideas beyond a superficial, “Christian bogeyman” level. If you were, it would be obvious how conspicuously implausible your history is with “Dawkins-style atheism”.

    Think about it, perhaps in brutally simple terms. You are telling us:

    1. I was a fulfilled, dedicated, prosperous and happy atheist.
    2. As a result, I fell into hopelessness, angst, and despair!
    3. Then I read C.S. Lewis, and had a daughter.
    4. Now I’m a happy, fulfilled Christian!

    1. and 2. conflict with each other. if 1 was true, 2 wouldn’t be true. Readers who understand this are just forced to conclude that you simply don’t understand what “Dawkins-style atheism” involves.

  67. @CannuckianYankee

    So I would propose to Eigenstadt that perhaps Dawkins too has his melancholic moments of doubt as well; he just doesn’t show it in the verbal ways in which one could detect it easily. However, some of that “doubt” seems to be manifest in the manner in which he deals with those he disagrees with; particularly with those he thinks are creationists. He seems quite angry at times as if he has some sort of evangelical duty to convert the “idiots” to his way of thinking for their own good; and this need seems to contradict the very worldview he’s trying to convert them to. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. There’s got to be some melancholic doubt rising in there somewhere.

    The armchair psychology aside (1) one doesn’t need some Freudian dissonance to see the benefits of anti-theism; 2) Dawkins is dialectical, not coercive, an advocate for both liberty and peaceful, non-violent progress away from religious practice and faith; 3) if your community were intent on teaching kids and everyone else that astrology did indeed determine the cosmic fate of every individual per their position against the zodaic, your “evangelism” wouldn’t be any more hard to explain than combatting malign and destructive nonsense), I’m quite sure Dawkins has those kinds of moments of doubt, despair, etc. He has, in his books and speeches, variously recounted, in blunt, harsh terms, the “cynical interpretation” of a clear-eyed and rigorous look at the world around him. There is no “cosmic purpose”, and life IS “meaningless” on parochial Christian sense of that world (i.e. meaning is solely obtain by the valuation of something by God).

    But it’s these very moments, and the way Dawkins’ beliefs perform and interact with those moments that make “Dawkins-style atheism” the kind of paradigm that is totally incompatible with Gil’s narrative. It is in these moments, in struggling with those insights into reality, that proves out the integrity an fulfilling nature of Dawkins’ atheism. It’s because of Dawkins’ “Dawkins-style atheism” that he DOESN’T fall for the sophistical prose in Mere Christianity, for example. To find refuge in that is to deny the very thing that Dawkins’ embraces most deeply.

    So it’s not that Dawkins, or other similar-thinking atheists don’t have those moments. They do, and it is the interaction of that form of atheism in those very moments that proves out and tests that form of atheism. For Dawkins’, that form of atheism IS sustaining, fulfilling, effective, creative, enlightening and discerning even and ESPECIALLY at those moments. If Gil was a “Dawkins-style atheist”, it would be at just those points where he falls into despair that his atheism sustains, clarifies, fulfills, and strengthens him.

    He was just some other kind of unbeliever, based on what he’s said. There’s lots of other kinds.

  68. Eigenstate,

    You make Dawkins out to sound like some sort of “true believer” rather than the “unbeliever” he claims to be. This is partly why I find your characterization of Gil as not having been a Dawkins-style atheist (call it “true believer”) to be somewhat presumptuous. Gil apparently didn’t buy into it as much as Dawkins currently has when those times of doubt arose, and looked into something else that had more intellectual promise – and promise fulfilled. That’s what I see him saying. You seem to be saying that you must buy into it fully, or you’re not an atheist of the Dawkins type, and that to me sounds awfully close to a leap of faith rather than the grand “intellectually fulfilled” foray into pure and unfettered science confirmed logic that many atheists claim as uniquely their own. Grant that Dawkins-style atheism leaves some people cold. Grant that someone like Dawkins could one day re-examine his/her atheism and find it lacking all the wondrous promises heaped upon it; like when it finally dawns on him/her, as the writer of Ecclesiastes came to perceive “All is meaningless and chasing after wind,” and I think you’ll be closer to reality.

  69. @CannuckianYankee,

    I freely grant that Dawkins-style atheism leaves many people feeling cold. They don’t want to embrace it, even (especially) if it’s true. That’s been my point through this issue — this is not Gil’s thing, and never was, quite obviously, just by the way he talks about his atheism AND his theism. It isn’t until one understands that Dawkins’ atheism doesn’t have anything like that effect on Dawkins, that one can see the absurdity of Gil’s claims.

    I’m fine with your identifying Dawkins’ fulfillment as a “leap of faith”; I don’t agree with that assessment, and think Dawkins’ fulfillment comes precisely from eschewing such leaps, but it doesn’t matter. Call it a leap of faith for the purposes of this exchange. The point remains that even if that’s the case, it still puts paid to Gil’s posing. Wrong or right, your view or mind, it’s STILL incompatible with “falling into angst that is remedied by… C.S. Lewis”.

    That’s the profile of an anti-Dawkins, the kid who really DOES believe in God (even if not from a religious family or practice) and wants to be a rebel, who wants to “climb up in God’s lap so he can slap his face”. And then, when the thrill of rebelling wears off, come back home to a hero’s welcome for the man who plumbed the depths of the abyss, who wasn’t just a rebel, wasn’t just a garden variety heathen, but was Dawkinsian in his atheism, and was yet saved by God’s insuperable grace. Etc. Etc. Etc.

  70. There’s been an attempt to reason on this apart from religion, but I don’t know if that works.

    I’m what you might call pro-life*, but really only because of what the Bible says. If the Bible did not describe an embryo as a potential person with all its parts already designated, I wouldn’t see any reason not to abort it.

    The foundation for the belief that an embryo is a person is scriptural. Our arguments boil down to, “God says so.” (Not that reasoning of the OP isn’t valid, but I don’t see a pregnant teenager taking it into account.) There is no basis for convincing an atheist of it. Half of the people who do believe in God don’t even care about it.

    *I don’t like labels. I don’t picket or bomb abortion clinics. I believe that a woman is responsible for the life within her, and it is not my place to force a decision on her. I won’t complain if abortion becomes illegal, but I have no interest in legislating my beliefs. Everything that I learn from the scriptures is for me to do and teach, not to judge or coerce.

  71. Eigenstate,

    So I suppose then that if Dawkins were to become a theist out of dissatisfaction with his own form of atheism, having looked over carefully his own assumptions and examined them “from premise to conclusion,” (to borrow from William J Murray), and found it lacking, then he wasn’t really a Dawkins-style atheist to begin with?

    “OK, that makes perfect sense to me.” Is that what you expect me or anyone else while carefully examining your rationale, to say here? Unlikely.

  72. @CannuckianYankee,

    The same rules would apply to Dawkins himself that apply to Gil, no? We can’t read minds. If Dawkins ISN’T really a fulfilled atheist, who finds the atheism that accompanies his worldview gratifying, meaningful, prosperous, etc., he’s no more credible when later succumbing to the CS Lewis appeal than Gil is.

    If Dawkins’ goes from “premise to conclusion” and does reverse all his stated values and priorities, then he’d be the first one to say that he, Dawkins, has ceased to be a “Dawkins-style atheist” as the term applied before his conversion. In transition, he would be some new kind of Dawkins-style atheism — Dawkins Atheism Mark II, identified by angst, despair and melancholy as an unbeliever in tacitly affirming theo-centric definitions of meaning and purpose.

    Dawkins can change his mind, and retreat from his current Dawkins-style atheism. But in that case, we just have a naming problem. Dawkins is now not a “Dawkins-style atheist” in the extant meaning of the term, just as Gil never was an atheist in that mode. We may need to find a new term to apply – Angsty-Dawkins-style atheism? — but in any case, Richard would have ceased to be a “Dawkins-style atheist” as that term currently connotes.

  73. –eisengate: “I freely grant that Dawkins-style atheism leaves many people feeling cold. They don’t want to embrace it, even (especially) if it’s true. That’s been my point through this issue — this is not Gil’s thing, and never was, quite obviously, just by the way he talks about his atheism AND his theism. It isn’t until one understands that Dawkins’ atheism doesn’t have anything like that effect on Dawkins, that one can see the absurdity of Gil’s claims.”

    Well, let’s see. Reflecting on his personal history of intense partisanship, Gil describes himself as a Darwkins-style atheist, which would be consistent with Dawkins’ no concession policy. For you, on the other hand, Dawkins-style atheism is less about partisanship and more about self satisfaction. For me, though, Dawkins-style atheism is less about self satisfaction and more about bad philosophy posing as good science.

    Did it ever occur to you that there might be several facets to Dawkins-style atheism and that your assessment of what it means is no better than anyone else’s. Obviously, such characterizations are subjective. Inasmuch as you attacked Gil’s credibility on the puny grounds that his account of Darwkins-style atheism doesn’t match your definition, perhaps I should, in the same petty fashion, attack your credibility on the grounds that your account of Dawkins-style atheism doesn’t align with my definition.

    I would not do that, however, any more than I would attack another blogger whose definition of eisengate-style pettiness takes a different form than my definition of eisengate-style pettiness. In fact, eisengate-style pettiness is a mulifacted phenomenon, just as Dawkins-style atheism is a multifaced phenomenon, and no one should presume to define either curiosity in a single sentence.

  74. Hi everyone,

    I’m rather astonished that Eigenstate is seriously maintaining that in order to qualify as a Dawkins-style atheist, you have to be a self-satisfied one. It’s simply nonsense, because today’s New Atheists themselves wouldn’t qualify, by that criterion.

    Have a look at this post on Uncommon Descent. It’s a report on the 2007 Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference in London included a “social” occasion in which Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones, and Lewis Wolpert all participated in a “debate” in the London Museum of Natural History.:

    While Wolpert generally supported the views of both Dawkins and Jones, he also suggested that there were some problems with natural selection bringing about speciation. Dawkins in turn stated that he saw no reason why a mouse could not de-evolve into a sub-species and then re-evolve with wings. Wolpert disagreed, which led Dawkins to say “Lewis, you are starting to sound like a creationist.” Whereupon Wolpert responded, “It is funny that you should say that. [pause] Sometimes in the dark of the night, I wish that it (creationism) were true.

    Or have a look at Jerry Coyne’s post, Once again: does religion produce knowledge?:

    Religions have both carrots and sticks, but the whole package is certainly one that many adherents swallow as a whole. Can anyone deny that the thought of a benevolent sky father, one who, if you behave yourself, will take care of you and help you obviate death, is something that people want to be true?

    Or here’s a report in Christianity Today on Christopher Hitchens, who is currently in the advanced stages of esophageal cancer (someone whom we should keep in our prayers, by the way):

    Instead of the “false consolations of religion,” which he equates with superstition, Hitchens said he places his trust in medical science and the support of friends and family.

    Hitchens, while rejecting religion, nevertheless acknowledges its consolations.

    Oh, and here’s Karl Marx :

    Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

    Marx too acknowledges that religion brings happiness – even if he considers it illusory. He says he understands it: as long as human economic conditions remain bad, he claims, people will feel the need for its consolations.

    Wolpert, Coyne, Hitchens and Marx all acknowledge the consolations of religion, and none of them, I think could be fairly characterized as not wishing that it were true. Eigenstate says you have to be self-satisfied in order to qualify as a bona fide New atheist. I wonder how many of the New atheists would be left standing if his criterion were applied strictly.

    Hmmm…. maybe not even Dawkins himself?

    Dawkins sang “Amazing Grace” — in a church, every word, loud and clear, at the wedding of Charles Simonyi, according to Susan Hutchison. See here . Dawkins himself apparently has a different recollection now – claiming that he couldn’t have sung it because he doesn’t know the words. Considering that he attended Oundle, a Church of England school, from 1954 to 1959, according to Wikipedia, I find that somewhat implausible.

    In any case, Dawkins acknowledges the consolation of religion in this interview here . He just says that doesn’t make it true. He does say, though: “If all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it and I would immediately change my mind. As things stand, however, all available evidence — and there is a vast amount of it — favors evolution.” That doesn’t sound like a man who’s happy that there’s no God.

  75. Eocine:

    Thanks for you comment. However, I never thought this discussion was about the Bible. My spiritual perspective does not arise from Christianity, and in fact I do not take the Bible as an authority on anything, although there is some spiritual truth contained therein. Furthermore, Dr. Torley has stated that his post was intended to demonstrate that an embryo is as valuable as a fully developed human being without reference to any religious belief at all.

  76. vjtorley,

    I actually agree with much of this post, and hope that much of the UD crowd read it.

    I usually hear on UD that atheists, especially the “New Atheists”, are biased against religion and “don’t want there to be a God” (usually for some odd reason about not wanting justice to exist, or something).

    I think there are very few atheists that would be disappointed if evolution were disproven. And very few atheists would be disappointed if it were discovered that there’s everlasting life and God.

    I do have doubts that Gil was ever a “Dawkins-style atheist” though. I’ve never met a “Dawkins-style atheist” that thought that “science had it all figured out”. Not even Dawkins himself: “we must acknowledge the possibility that new facts may come to light which will force our successors of the twenty-first century to abandon Darwinism or modify it beyond recognition.”

  77. @Dr. Torley,

    I’m rather astonished that Eigenstate is seriously maintaining that in order to qualify as a Dawkins-style atheist, you have to be a self-satisfied one. It’s simply nonsense, because today’s New Atheists themselves wouldn’t qualify, by that criterion.

    None of these quotes you provide below this go toward the point you are making here. Understanding and affirming the soothing gratifications and various conceits that Christianity and other forms of theism offer does NOT deny or impinge on the fulfillment of one’s atheism, IF one values the gratifications of clear, rigorous, objective(ish) thinking. I was a Christian for decades so both well understand and affirm these same gratifications. It would be great, I think sometimes, to have my consciousness persist after death. It would be gratifying if some form of final and thorough justice were levied, at least upon the people I think were particularly nasty and abusive in this life.

    None of that be denied or diminished. It just isn’t compensation for the kind of fulfillment realized (for some, and Dawkins explicitly puts himself in this category) by eschewing those shallow, imaginary gratifications (and that’s a charitable label, many of them are simply conceits) in favor of a disciplined, creative and accountable mind and belief framework.

    That’s why I reiterated the point with regard to Gil. It’s not that Dawkins can’t appreciate those gratifications. When Dawkins surveys the spectrum, their charms and value is just insufficient in light of the alternative he is comparing it, too. The “materialist concept of meaning and purpose” is far less grandiose than the Christian appeals to our narcissism. It’s humble by comparison in terms of “cosmic splendor”, admittedly.

    But that deficit is, for many, more than compensated for by the understanding that the materialist concept of meaning and purpose in life is ACTUAL, and not an exercise in self-deception and anodyne self-aggrandizing.The universe doesn’t care, and there is no God, but your daughter cares that you are her father, and the hungry, homeless person cares that you work to bring some shelter or food or medicine to him. And the sunny fall day outside is coldly impersonal — it’s just the weather — but you are still quite comfort with it’s purpose, as an environment for enjoying a brisk walk with your trusty dog at your side. Your wife will be as dead and decayed and annihilated as a person as you will be one thousand years hence, but there purpose in fulfilling the desires for a nice night out on the town, and pleasure of each other’s company and affection.

    That doesn’t deny any of the you-will-be-saved-and-you’ll-live-forever-and-all-justice-will-finally-be-achieved stuff. It doesn’t ignore the appeal of an almighty creator God having a personal interest in little ole you. That kind of belief framework just doesn’t find that kind of appeal to be actual, credible, or otherwise sufficient to compete with the fulfillments offered by having the sense to deny all of that.

  78. Hello Vince. I was surprised to see my name in your piece. Thanks for the citation. Would you have the URL for that available? I don’t remember it and I’d like to see where I failed you.

    I’m afraid I’m not very impressed with your five reasons for opposing abortion.

    (1) The entity (a) contains a developmental program (i.e. a complete set of instructions within the cell(s) of that entity, directing its development into a human adult), which has (b) already started running.
    (4) The entity is a biological organism, which physically embodies its own developmental program.

    So if it turned out that the mother was actually directing the development of the fetus and doing all of the assembly work using information that she possessed would you deny that the baby that resulted was really human? I doubt it, so #1 and #4 don’t really matter.

    (2) The entity is the kind of thing that matures. More precisely: the entity is the kind of thing that has a mature developmental form.
    (3) The mature form of this kind of entity is a rational human adult.

    This is interesting, considering that we have apparently argued on First Things. I remember being shocked that several people on that magazine have expressed sincere regret that few Down syndrome babies are being born lately. I know they’re shocked because they’re being aborted first, but doesn’t that strike you as being creepy that an apparently decent person is sad because fewer Down syndrome babies are being born than there used to be?

    But judging by #2 and #3, you won’t share their sadness, at least for the portion of those fetus’s whose Down syndrome damage will be so strong that the babies will never develop into rational adult human beings. Right?

    (5) The entity is a whole organism, and not merely a body part.

    Well, I question the use of the word “whole” here, since the “entity” is in fact missing both arms, both legs, both eyes, both ears, it’s nose and all of its internal organs. It is in fact, missing ALL body parts.

    Question: Suppose you start with a rational adult human being and turn him over to a torturer/executioner and that t.e. starts hacking off body parts.

    I think we would all agree that if he hacks off an arm, the victim is still a human. Ditto with both arms, or a leg or both legs. He’d still be a human without any appendages at all. He’d still be a human if his eyes were put out or his nose was cut off or his ears were amputated and his eardrums were broken.

    If the t.e. were really skillful, he might remove the victim’s heart and lungs and keep him alive on a heart-lung machine and he’d still be a human being. And I’m sure he’d live a little while if he also removed his stomach, liver, kidneys and all his other internal organs. He might be the most miserable human being on the face of the earth, but if he could be kept alive he would still be a human being.

    But if the torturer/executioner shot the victim in the head, that would be it for him. Destroy the brain and the arms, legs, eyes, ears and all the other organs don’t matter. They can be in perfect shape or they can be destroyed, if the brain is still intact and functioning the victim is still a rational human being.

    I think that’s the real key to abortion. What counts is the functioning brain. More specifically, the mind that the brain produces. If it doesn’t exist, you don’t have a human being, just human flesh. And of course, the brain doesn’t really begin to function until birth.

    Reading your arguments, I think you started with a rational adult human being and worked your way back to conception to see what stayed constant all the way. It turned out that being a discreet organism was all the two have in common, so that became your criteria for human-beingism and the other four reasons were added to bulk up your argument some.

    My suggestion is that you start thinking of abortion by asking what does a rational adult human human being possess that makes it worthy of what we call “human rights”.

    I’m betting that you will eventually be forced to settle on a functioning brain – a mind.

    Then you can start asking if a fetus has a mind. Then you can start asking whether any other animals deserve “human rights” and then you can start wondering about other organisms, such as extra-terrestrials and then about non-organisms such as the fictional R2-DE and C3PO of Star Wars fame.

    My score would be:fertilized egg up to birth – no.

    Apes – yes, at least for the human rights we give a child. I don’t think I’d let them vote.

    Other animals: Some rights, at least the right to live and live reasonably freely. (I’m thinking of pets and larger animals here.)

    All other sentient creatures: certainly the right to not be tortured.

    Space aliens: If you can talk to them, full human rights. (Maybe not voting – they aren’t citizens after all.)

    Robots: Same as space aliens.

    You can eventually come up with a very defensible philosophy, something that has completely escaped ALL of the “pro-life” people to date.

  79. That Dawkins quote got mangled somewhere along the line. Kurt Wise said, “If all the evidence in the world turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist, since that is what the word of God indicates.” Indicating that he puts the Bible above all other evidence.

    In the article you quote, Dawkins says, “If all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it and I would immediately change my mind. As things stand, however, all available evidence — and there is a vast amount of it — favors evolution.” That quote doesn’t make sense since Dawkins is already convinced by the evidence that creationism is incorrect. I’ve read it elsewhere and he actually said that if all the evidence turned against evolution he would immediately change his mind, which makes a lot more sense.

  80. Hi dmullenix,

    Looking at the Dawkins quote, I completely agree with you that the word “evolution” makes a lot more sense than “creationism”, in the context provided. The source I quoted from must have accidentally gotten his wires crossed. Thanks for pointing out the error.

  81. Greetings VJ Torley, an excellent essay with some fascinating references.

    Just to clarify, dmullenix never actually read Dawkins saying “…that if all the evidence turned against evolution…” He just made that up because it made more sense!

    What Dawkins actually said (in The God Delusion) was:

    If all the evidence in the universe turned in favour of creationism, I would be the first to admit it, and I would immediately change my mind.

    Naturally, Dawkins is just making that up too, because he will be the last person to change his mind when Intelligent Design theory replaces the theory of evolution.

  82. Eigenstate,

    Thank you for your lengthy reply. I’d like to zero in on the following comments of yours:

    In secular terms, … rights are grounded in states (e.g. electrical activity in the frontal cortex as the trigger/predicate for legal personhood) because the rights are synthetic. They are legal devices, social constructs, collective value judgments. What is this “natural right” you speak of, asks the secular reader. That’s an undefined term as you have it, stripped from states of being and functional, actual capabilities (e.g. the ability to experience pain and suffering, and to be aware that one is in a state of pain and suffering).

    Sorry, Dr. Torley, but this is where you and secularism part ways, big time…

    Eigenstate, I really think you need to read more widely from secularists’ writings. I am amazed that you honestly think secularists don’t believe in natural rights. Have you never heard of Ayn Rand and her brand of philosophy, known as objectivism? Say what you like about it, but it’s certainly a coherent, well thought-out philosophy. Or for that matter, what about the anarcho-libertarianism of Murray Rothbard? Or if you’d like someone more academic, how about Philippa Foot?

    A significant number of atheists are Aristotelians or Kantians. Both of these kinds of atheists acknowledge the reality of natural rights. Not all atheists are relativists or utilitarians.

    I should add that I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard atheists argue that we don’t need God in order to discern right from wrong; the Golden Rule, they say, is enough. However, the Golden Rule is not a social construct; its application makes perfect sense, regardless of whether you happen to be living in a society, or a wandering stateless nomad. All it assumes is a recognition that you are interacting with an “other”, who has interests of his/her own. An atheist who subscribes to the Golden Rule as a fundamental guide to right and wrong ipso facto believes in natural rights.

    Atheists who don’t believe in natural rights don’t interest me very much, because to my mind, their position lacks intellectual rigor, and fails to do justice to very basic ethical intuitions. In the Introduction to my essay, I explicitly stated:

    I shall simply assume as a “given” that human persons matter in their own right, and that it is (always or almost always) wrong to intentionally kill them. I am of course aware that there are some philosophers who reject the idea that human persons matter in their own right and who regard morality as a purely social construct, but I have yet to hear a convincing explanation from these philosophers as to why it would be wrong to kill a wandering stateless nomad in the Sahara desert. However, most atheists do accept the premise that human persons matter in their own right, and I shall be engaging them on their own terms. My aim will be to show that if they grant this premise, then there is no good reason why they should deny personhood to the embryo; consequently, it is (always or almost always) wrong to intentionally kill embryos.

    I have absolutely no interest in arguing for embryo rights, against someone who thinks rights are a social construct. That would be a waste of time: obviously, such a person is not likely to attach value to a non-sentient embryo. All I can do, when debating such a person, is to point out that their own position fails to answer my original question (why it would be wrong to kill a wandering stateless nomad in the Sahara desert), and that both sentientism (which grounds “rights” in states of consciousness, insofar as it recognizes them) and personism (which grounds them in our ability to have a concept of self) are deficient and inconsistent moral philosophies, as I argued in Parts C and D of my essay.

    My second major quarrel with your post concerns the nature of dispositions. You write:

    So yes, I certainly believe “things have dispositions”, but that expands to “[what we call 'things'] have [experience-based patterns of dynamism that is regular enough for us to identify as a principle and which we call "disposition" for lack of a better term, being of teleocentric mind]“. The “disposition” isn’t any more intrinsic than the word “blue” is intrinsic to the sky. Gravity is what it is, and the sky is has the spectral features it has, no matter what handles and concepts we assess them with.

    Your claim that “The ‘disposition’ isn’t any more intrinsic than the word ‘blue’ is intrinsic to the sky” fails because we have to assume the reality of intrinsic dispositions in order to account for the behavior of the universe in the absence of human observers. It really doesn’t matter if the sky is not blue when no-one is looking at it, but it does matter that a blue star like Rigel (in Orion) keeps emitting the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation that we refer to (in our language) as blue, regardless of whether we are there to observe it doing so or not.

    Your denial of the objective reality of intrinsic dispositions also makes nonsense of the scientific quest to discover the age of the Earth and of the universe. I hope that you would accept, as I do, that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old, and that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old. To estimate the age of the Earth, scientists rely on dating methods which presuppose that things – such as decaying radioactive nuclei – have dispositions, in the absence of human observers. And they’d better have human-independent dispositions, because otherwise it would be impossible to say how they will behave in the absence of human observers. If you don’t believe in intrinsic dispositions, how can you be so sure that the ages estimated by scientists are correct? It’s no use saying: “Well, these nuclei have always decayed in the same way whenever we’ve observed them, so it makes sense to assume they decayed that way in times past, too.” That’s not good enough. You’re assuming what you’re trying to prove: that these nuclei have a fixed pattern of behavior, even though (on your account) they have no underlying character or dispositions of their own, which would ground such regular behavior.

    You deny the objective reality of intrinsic dispositions, but accept that things have “regular patterns of dynamism”. Sorry, but a regular pattern simply isn’t sufficient to warrant a scientific inference about the future or the unknown past. To take a well-worn example, consider the following two cases:

    1. Every lump of gold is less than a mile in diameter.

    2. Every lump of uranium is less than a mile in diameter.

    Both statements are probably true, but the second is a law (or more precisely a corollary of one), while the first is not. Why? Because adding atom after atom to a lump of uranium eventually produces an explosion, whereas adding atom after atom to a lump of gold just produces a bigger lump of gold. Uranium has a built-in disposition to explode, which gold lacks. The built-in disposition is what explains uranium’s behavior. If uranium did not have such a disposition, then safety precautions at nuclear reactors would be difficult to justify.

    The general philosophical point I wish to make here is that in the absence of natural dispositions, scientific induction would make absolutely no sense, and everything would occur by chance, and nothing by necessity (let alone design). Or as Aquinas succinctly puts it: “every agent acts for an end: otherwise one thing would not follow more then another from the action of the agent, unless it were by chance” (Summa Theologica, I, q. 44, art. 4).

    If you acknowledge the fact that some things happen of necessity, then congratulations: you acknowledge dispositions in the minimal sense I intend, for the purposes of my essay. If not, then I wonder whether you really believe the sun will rise tomorrow. If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t. Why? Because I can think of 101 other things it might do – and the fact that it has never done these before is no reason to think that it won’t do them tomorrow.

    Third, you seem to be very hung up about teleological language. In response to my assertion that the heart is for pumping blood, you write:

    But it requires that we stipulate what we mean by “for”. It’s not a term that entails design, foresight, or any agency at all. It is just descriptive as a matter of retrospect. We observe the dynamics of hearts and blood, and “retro-infer”, as teleocentric beings, that pumping blood is what the heart is “for”, as a matter of pedagogy.

    But in my essay on the personhood of the embryo, I didn’t argue for any kind of “design, foresight, or any agency at all”. I simply assumed that embryos had developmental programs, and I explicitly stated that I was making no assumptions whatsoever about these programs having a Designer. And I certainly didn’t assume that the embryo had any foresight or agency.

    Let me add that you are making a false dichotomy here: you are assuming that in the absence of an agent or Designer, the word “for” can only be descriptive (in a retrospective sense) – whereas I am asserting that the word “for” is prescriptive, regardless of whether we believe in the reality of agents or Designers with foresight or not. Cigarette smoking is bad for your heart, whether you or anyone else believes it or not. That’s a prescriptive statement, which is also an objective fact. Likewise, the heart is a pump, regardless of whether anyone knows this fact or not. Pumping blood is what the heart is for, because this pumping process is conducive to the stability and functioning of the body, as a biological whole. That’s another prescriptive statement about the heart, which is also an objective fact. I cannot for the life of me see why you would regard such a statement as suspiciously anthropomorphic.

    My fourth and final point relates to the developmental programs in the embryo. Eigenstate, as far as I am aware, you are not a scientist, let alone a biologist – and I have to say it shows. I’m not a scientist either, but I did a double-take when I read your comment:

    … a puddle levels out to form a flat surface of the water filling it as part of “program which generates puddle shapes” in precisely the same way you suppose a zygote is running a “program which generates adult, sentient human beings”. “Running a program” is just a human conceptual projection, that can be applied to any law based and/or repetitive process.

    I’m sorry, but I have to say you’re wrong here. There is a very good reason why scientists don’t talk about puddle programs, whereas they do talk about the developmental program in the embryo. It is this. A program is a sequence of ordered instructions with a beginning and an end. It relates to an ordered series of events occurring over time. It has a direction, starting with an initial (immature) form and ending with a final (mature) form. None of this can be said of the behavior of puddles. Appealing to the laws of Nature won’t help here; the laws are symmetric with respect to time. The development of the embryo is not. Developmental programs in the biological world are not reducible to laws as such. The behavior of puddles may be regular and repetitive (e.g. the fact that they splash when something goes through them), but they are not directed at any future state.

    An embryo has, from the moment of conception, genetic instructions from which (in principle) its final form (a mature adult) could be deduced, given enough scientific knowledge about the genome and the environment of the womb. These genetic instructions are there in the embryo from the get-go; they are not just future states. If they were not, the term “program” would indeed be inept.

    Developmental programs are present in the embryo, and they are real. That’s why Professor Eric Davidson could write:

    The body plan of an animal, and hence its exact mode of development, is a property of its species and is thus encoded in the genome. Embryonic development is an enormous informational transaction, in which DNA sequence data generate and guide the system-wide spatial deployment of specific cellular functions. (“Emerging properties of animal gene regulatory networks” by Eric H. Davidson. Nature 468, issue 7326 [16 December 2010]: 911-920. doi:10.1038/nature09645. )

    And that’s why James Watson could write:

    “We know that the instructions for how the egg develops into an adult are written in the linear sequence of bases along the DNA of the germ cells.” (James Watson et al., Molecular Biology of the Gene, 4th Edition, 1987, p. 747.

    In short: I haven’t based my argument for the personhood of the embryo on speculative metaphysics or hidden appeals to theology, as you seem to think, but on solid science. It should be evaluated on that basis.

  83. Hi goodusername,

    You wrote:

    Vjtorley asked if I would value a cd of memories and implied that I would – although I’m not sure what I said to give that impression.

    The reason why I made that inference was because of your statement in 12.1.1:

    To answer your question about whether I’d value the CD… I already listed what I value with humans – sentence, emotions, feelings, intelligence etc – which of those are present in a CD? If, OTOH, the CD had more than just memories, but somehow captured the complete personality of the person – the “mind”, as often occurs in sci fi – and when the CD were put into a robot it would then speak and act just as the family member would (passing a “Turing test”, so to speak), and seemingly was sentient and conscious, etc, then I might very well consider the robot as the continuation of the person. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    In a follow-up comment, you qualified this remark somewhat: you argued that it would be very difficult to store someone’s entire personality on a CD, and you added that the CD would also have to be inserted in “a robot or machine that is capable of displaying the sentience, emotions, feelings, thoughts (i.e. the ‘personality’) of the person on the CD”. Fair enough.

    So you’re still prepared to entertain the possibility that a CD, when inserted into a suitably constructed robot, might conceivably be the continuation of a human person. That was what provoked my incredulity. Your response is a heavily qualified one, but it still reflects what I would refer to as “head-body dualism”, where the head is viewed as the repository of mental states and one’s personality in general. The problem with making these states the foundation of human rights is apparent in cases like the following one, which I mentioned above:

    …[W]hat if the person retains his memories while multiple copies are made of the contents of his brain, onto various CDs, and immediately after they are downloaded and inserted into various robots, his sister cannot distinguish between the “real” person and his robot replicas in a Turing test? What then?

    A robust biological account of human identity, which grounds our human rights in our bodies (and the developmental programs they instantiate) rather than our mental states, is the only effective response to bizarre cases like this, because it blocks them at the first step.

  84. ScottAndrews2,

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    I’m what you might call pro-life*, but really only because of what the Bible says. If the Bible did not describe an embryo as a potential person with all its parts already designated, I wouldn’t see any reason not to abort it.

    You might want to have a look at this article by Doris Gordon, a libertarian atheist who converted from being pro-choice to being pro-life. The article tells the story of her transformation. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

    By the way, would you view a newborn baby as a human person possessing the same inherent value as you or I do, if the Bible didn’t say so? If so, on what rational grounds would you do so? I’m just curious.

  85. Hi Chris,

    Thanks very much for providing the correct quote. I have a couple of books by Dawkins in my study, but The God Delusion isn’t among them. Glad you were able to check. Thanks again.

  86. Hi Dmullenix,

    I was wondering when you’d show up. Welcome, anyway.

    You asked me for the link to the original discussion we had. Here it is: http://www.firstthings.com/blo.....-abortion/

    As you can see, I’ve fleshed out my position since we last corresponded on the subject.

    You attempt to ground human rights in the functioning brain – a view which I critiqued in Part C and Part D of my essay, which address sentientism and personism respectively.

    You ask:

    So if it turned out that the mother was actually directing the development of the fetus and doing all of the assembly work using information that she possessed would you deny that the baby that resulted was really human?

    Actually, that would pretty much destroy my argument for the personhood of the embryo. I acknowledge as much in my essay, in reference to the interactive personist account, which I critique, according to which the process whereby we acquire our sense of self is directed from our external environment. Here’s the relevant passage:

    For if it could be demonstrated that the process whereby we acquire our concept of self (and also our rationality) is directed from without, then my reason for claiming that an embryo/fetus has the same inherent value (and hence, the same right to life) as a rational adult would no longer apply.

    Would this demonstration destroy the pro-life position? Not necessarily. A pro-life advocate could still argue that unborn human beings have rights, simply because they are human organisms, which retain their identity as organisms as they develop from embryos to fetuses, and eventually into rational adults. But this would be a weaker pro-life argument than the one I am advancing here. Pro-life advocates who adopt this line of argument tend to justify his/her ascription of human rights to all human organisms by arguing that the alternatives (e.g. restricting human rights to sentient or sapient human beings) are philosophically and legally much more problematic than the broad pro-life view, which ascribes rights to all human beings. However, the general problem I have with this strategy is that proving the other positions wrong doesn’t establish that your position is right – unless you are able to enumerate all positions that could possibly be held on a given issue, and refute them one by one. To the best of my knowledge, no-one has attempted to rigorously enumerate all possible grounds for denying rights to the embryo/fetus. As a philosopher who rates the virtue of thoroughness highly, I could never be content with merely refuting existing pro-choice positions, as I would always worry that some intrepid philosopher might advance a more sophisticated pro-choice position tomorrow. The pro-life argument which I am putting forward in this essay is more ambitious: what I have striven to do is to provide a positive reason for regarding the embryo/fetus as a being with rights. I have not attempted to build my case simply by attacking other positions, but rather by arguing for the philosophical soundness of my own position; for if my reasoning is correct, then it is capable of standing on its own merits.

    So in short: yes, I would be disturbed if (hypothetically speaking) it could be shown that the embryo’s development was in fact directed by the mother.

    Re Down syndrome: a Down syndrome baby is still the kind of thing (a human being) that matures, and the mature form of this kind of entity is a rational human adult. In my essay, I address the question of “defective” fetuses, in the following argument (#3 in Part A, section (iv)):

    1. An entity (let’s call it E) whose developmental program is fully switched-on and which is currently assembling itself into a rational human adult, has the same inherent moral value as that adult.

    2. Any entity with a flawed developmental program, which could (in principle) be converted into entity E, without losing its identity, and without the input of any new instructions into its developmental program, is morally equivalent to E and hence has the same inherent moral value as a rational human adult.

    3. A defective embryo could (in principle) be converted into entity E, without losing its identity, and without the input of any new instructions into its developmental program.
    (Justification: despite its genetic defect, a severely defective embryo is still the kind of thing that develops into a rational human adult when mature; hence if a hypothetical super-skilled surgeon could correct its genetic defect either at or shortly after fertilization, this embryo would develop into a rational human adult too. Moreover, even after surgery, it would still be the same individual, and it would also be the same kind of entity. Hence its identity would in no way be altered by the surgical procedure.)

    4. Therefore a defective embryo has the same inherent moral value as a rational human adult.

    Personally, I hope that doctors learn to cure Down syndrome one day (see my note in Step 3 above), but in the meantime, I have no hesitation in ascribing the same inherent moral value to a Down syndrome infant, or indeed an ancephalic infant, as I myself possess. I even think that it may be possible to grow frontal cortexes for adults suffering from anencephaly, one day. That would be great.

    I’d also like to comment on the following quote of yours:

    But if the torturer/executioner shot the victim in the head, that would be it for him. Destroy the brain and the arms, legs, eyes, ears and all the other organs don’t matter. They can be in perfect shape or they can be destroyed, if the brain is still intact and functioning the victim is still a rational human being.

    I think that’s the real key to abortion. What counts is the functioning brain. More specifically, the mind that the brain produces.

    I think you should re-read the quote from Professor Maureen Condic, in her article, Life: Defining the Beginning by the End, which I cited in my essay:

    It is often asserted that the relevant feature of brain death is not the loss of integrated bodily function, but rather the loss of higher-order brain activities, including consciousness. However, this view does not reflect the current legal understanding of death. The inadequacy of equating death with the loss of cognitive function can be seen by considering the difference between brain death and “persistent vegetative state” or irreversible coma. Individuals who have entered a persistent vegetative state due to injury or disease have lost all higher brain functions and are incapable of consciousness. Nonetheless, integrated bodily function is maintained in these patients due to the continued activity of lower-order brain centers. Although such patients are clearly in a lamentable medical state, they are also clearly alive; converting such patients into corpses requires some form of euthanasia.

    Despite considerable pressure from the medical community to define persistent vegetative state as a type of brain death (a definition that would both expand the pool of organ donors and eliminate the high medical costs associated with maintaining people in this condition), the courts have repeatedly refused to support persistent vegetative state as a legal definition of death. People whose bodies continue to function in an integrated manner are legally and medically alive, despite their limited (or absent) mental function. Regardless of how one may view the desirability of maintaining patients in a persistent vegetative state (this being an entirely distinct moral and legal question), there is unanimous agreement that such patients are not yet corpses. Even those who advocate the withdrawal of food and water from patients in persistent vegetative state couch their position in terms of the “right to die,” fully acknowledging that such patients are indeed “alive.” While the issues surrounding persistent vegetative state are both myriad and complex, the import of this condition for understanding the relationship between mental function and death is clear: the loss of integrated bodily function, not the loss of higher mental ability, is the defining legal characteristic of death….

    Embryos are genetically unique human organisms, fully possessing the integrated biologic function that defines human life at all stages of development, continuing throughout adulthood until death. The ability to act as an integrated whole is the only function that departs from our bodies in the moment of death, and is therefore the defining characteristic of “human life.” This definition does not depend on religious belief or subjective judgment.

    I hope that answers your objection regarding the brain.

  87. vjtorley,

    I can see myself acting in ignorance in the case of aborting a fetus. But I would probably still see an infant the same way. (I can’t really say. I’m a father and rather biased at this point.)

    To formulate rational grounds for such thoughts goes against my grain. I prefer not to overthink it.

    I think that’s where so much of the trouble lies. Often as not the truth is very simple, and complex reasoning rarely succeeds where simplicity fails.

    Take for example this scriptural statement: “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” It simply asserts that every house has a builder, trusting the reader to share that assumption. If the reader wishes to reason that perhaps a house might build itself, there’s nothing else to be said. He must have some reason for seeking that conclusion.

    Likewise, I wouldn’t even bother rationalizing my belief that a newborn infant is as valuable as I am. (Is there an exact, precise equality? Do his greater remaining years of life outweigh my knowledge and experience? I’d rather not try to balance them.) That might seem to put me at a disadvantage if I want to convince someone else. But that’s really my point. It’s a rare person who doesn’t believe that infants are people and is waiting to be persuaded otherwise. The only persuasion I’ve ever seen work with sufficient force is when a person comes to appreciate God and decides to obey him and try to see things his way. (In the scriptures this is called ‘metamorphosis.’ Recent discussions shed light on what type of transformation that is.)

    I read Gordon’s article. She reasons that if parents are obligated to care for their children, why would that begin at birth and not at fertilization? Makes sense to me.

    But I’ll never think of it as philosophy. I haven’t much use for it as it seems to cloud what should be clear. Just my personal thinking – when we take a simple truth and make it a subject of philosophy, we devalue the self-evident nature of that truth.

  88. Hi Vincent,

    Thanks for the URL. I’d forgotten that one. Looks like half of the UD crowd was there.

    Regarding your development argument, I think it completely misses the point. It shouldn’t make any difference HOW an adult is made. Would you treat a person differently if they were started via IVF instead of the old fashioned way? Were the people in Brave New World less human because they were hatched in a factory instead of being born? (Assuming they didn’t get the fetal alcohol treatment.)

    The whole development argument is getting dangerously close to saying someone whose father is a doctor is better than someone whose father is a bricklayer. I don’t agree with that. I’m in the “it’s who you are, not how you came to be” camp. Ditto with whether the embryo self-directed its development or its mother did that chore. What counts is who you are, not how you got there.

    Regarding Biosphere Two: Acorns and oak trees are different. For instance, you can’t make furniture from an acorn; you can from an oak tree. An acorn may have the same value as an oak tree TO A PERSON WHO IS INTERESTED IN HAVING AN OAK TREE AT SOME FUTURE DATE, but that doesn’t make an acorn the same as an oak tree.

    The Master Spy is in a similar situation. The crystal will enable him to grow a supercomputer, but it is not a supercomputer and it can’t do the things a supercomputer can do. A really powerful supercomputer may have a mind, but the much simpler crystal can not.

    I think the “defective fetus” argument is deeper than you appreciate and that FAILURE to have an abortion can produce a very major sin. Consider two women, both pregnant, both know they are carrying a Down syndrome fetus. One carries the fetus to term. A baby is born and eventually develops a damaged mind in a damaged body. The other woman aborts the Down fetus long before it can possibly have a mind, gets pregnant again and carries the healthy fetus to term. The baby develops a normal mind in a normal body.

    Here’s the kicker: Both women produce a single mind. One produces a damaged mind and body, one produces a healthy mind and body. I think that the woman who refused to abort the first fetus and start over committed a MAJOR sin, one equivalent to having a normal baby and deliberately poisoning it to produce Down-like damage. You can’t get much more evil than that and yet good people are doing it.

    Professor Condic’s argument is not germane to abortion. She’s talking about when we declare the human body dead. Nobody disputes that the fetus is alive. The question in abortion is, “Does this flesh have a mind?” The evidence is solidly in favor of flesh only, especially in early pregnancy, because the brain is undeveloped or missing entirely.

  89. Let me add emphasis to my last posting. I believe it is very highly immoral to NOT have an abortion if you know your fetus will develop into a seriously defective human being.

    If it’s going to have a small defect, like an inconspicuous birth mark, preventing the defect may not be worth the trouble, expense and risk of having an abortion and going through the pregnancy again.

    But for a serious defect – something like Down syndrome, or a Thalidomide baby – not having an abortion and starting over is seriously evil. And I mean Nazi-quality evil.

    A lot of people, like the people I mentioned on First Things lamenting the dearth of Down babies, might not realize that they’re doing evil. They may think they’re doing the right thing, but that doesn’t make their babies whole.

    Knowingly producing a seriously damaged baby instead of aborting that pregnancy and doing it over right produces the same results as having a healthy baby and deliberately damaging it. In both cases, the result is the same. The mother who doesn’t abort may have a clearer conscience, but only because she is seriously misinformed about abortion.

    I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for the anti-abortion forces and none at all for the leadership. They cause terrible damage to real human beings in order to save mindless flesh. I think most of them sincerely want to do the right thing, and think they are, but their mistaken beliefs cause them to sin.

    And it doesn’t take rocket science to figure it out.

  90. Dmullenix,

    Thank you for your post. I have to say I find your ethical position on Down syndrome extremely bizarre. People with Down syndrome have minds, and from what I’ve observed, they seem to be happy with their lives – arguably they’re happier than I am, most of the time. Many of them can hold down productive jobs, too. Why on earth would you think it immoral to create such people? If they’re happier being alive than not existing at all, then I cannot see how you could describe the act of creating them as immoral, even on your own humanist premises.

    You mention “starting over again” as if it were as simple as cleaning a slate. I think you should talk to a few women who have had miscarriages. They will tell you that getting pregnant again isn’t that easy. When you’re in your twenties, having another baby might seem as easy as 1-2-3 – but most people these days don’t marry until they’re about 30, and having another baby in one’s thirties and forties is a far from routine matter. You also ignore the trauma of aborting a pregnancy, which I write about in section F of my essay.

    Refusing to abort a Down syndrome baby is in no way equivalent to deliberately poisoning a baby. In the former case one allows a baby to live, knowing that it has a genetic defect; in the latter, one performs an action with the intention of producing a defect. You can’t tell me that those two actions are morally equivalent.

    You seem to judge the value of an act solely by the result it produces – in this case, a mind. I think most people would find your utilitarianism bizarre: it completely ignores the agent’s intentions and his/her “attitude of heart and mind”, as the Dalai Lama puts it in his book, Ethics for the Third Millennium. Indeed, even many utilitarians would recoil at your claim that we should strive to maximize the average happiness enjoyed by the population as a whole, as opposed to the total happiness enjoyed by the population. If the woman were to have her Down syndrome baby and then have another normal baby, she’d be maximizing the latter but not the former.

    The aim of my essay was to argue that even if we grant that an embryo/fetus doesn’t have a mind, it’s still just as valuable as a human adult (who certainly has one), if it has a built-in program for turning itself into an adult. That was why I stated in #27 above that the presence of such a program was pivotal to my case for the personhood of the embryo – and I realize that other arguments can be made, based on weaker premises. (By the way, your point about IVF misses the point I was trying to make: an embryo created through IVF – or for that matter, cloning – also embodies a developmental program, and this program is switched on and running in clones and IVF babies too. Your assertion that it’s not how you get there but who you are also overlooks the bigger question: exactly what is it that makes us who we are? I don’t think it’s our minds, and I don’t think it’s just having a human body either. I think it’s having a body that’s building itself.)

    What I was trying to argue in my essay can be expressed in a simple equation: V – 0 = V, where V is the inherent value of a rational human adult and 0 is the inherent value gained during the course of an individual’s development from conception to adulthood. I see no reason why the emergence of a mind in the developing individual should be taken as conferring value upon it, if the program which directs and controls the acquisition of such a mind is running in the individual all along. It’s just a developmental stage. Moreover, I argue in Parts C and D of my essay that accounts of value which base our rights on our currently possessing a mind are either self-refuting or inconsistent.

    Finally, the point of Professor Condic’s article is that our legal system currently defines death as the end of the life of an organism, NOT as the end of the functioning of a mind. Mental functions are mediated by “higher” brain centers; the life of the body is controlled by “lower” brain centers. The body can still live for a long time in the absence of a functioning mind, and legalizing abortion on the grounds that an embryo/fetus lacks a mind would also require us to automatically legalize the euthanasia of individuals whose higher brain functions have ceased – something that most people don’t want to do, in our democracy. That was the point of Professor Condic’s article on re-defining life and death.

  91. dmul,

    I have a dear friend who has down syndrome. She went to college and is doing quite well on her own.

    I think you need to reconsider your reasoning. You’re suggesting that we predict an outcome that we do not have in our power to predict.

    The fact is that we don’t know just by looking at certain obstacles like down syndrome (or even the use of Thalidomide – which is hardly ever used any more) that a person will not have a life worth living. You are saying that it is in our power and self-interest to do away with those we think will not lead a life worth living. What is a life worth living, Dmul? Are you suggesting also that we kill all the down syndrome individuals who have not been aborted? That’s what the evil Nazis did. They were just being consistent with the idea that there are certain lives not worth living.

    To call not having an abortion evil is in my view a very preposterous position.

    Educate yourself ever so slightly on Down Syndrome as just one example and you find that:

    “Often Down syndrome is associated with some impairment of cognitive ability and physical growth, and a particular set of facial characteristics. Individuals with Down syndrome tend to have a lower-than-average cognitive ability, often ranging from mild to moderate disabilities. Many children with Down syndrome who have received family support, enrichment therapies, and tutoring have been known to graduate from high school and college, and enjoy employment in the work force. The average IQ of children with Down syndrome is around 50, compared to normal children with an IQ of 100.[5] A small number have a severe to high degree of intellectual disability.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Down_syndrome

    “A small number have a severe to high degree of intellectual disability.” Clearly not something that we can predict.

    But even if we could predict, that would be no reason why we should resort to abortion.

    The right to life should be in our thinking as pretty much an absolute by virtue of the fact that we can’t predict these things among many other reasons. If we could predict, and that prediction was our measure on worthiness for life we’d more likely be killing off the potential Hitlers before we started killing off the developmentally disabled.

    Why don’t you go an interview say 100 people with down syndrome and ask them one simple question: do you wish you’d never been born? If the response is overwhelmingly in the negative, I think you will have your measure for whether their lives are worth living. Quite dangerous thinking there. Your utopian world will be full of perfect people. Will you even meet that mark of perfection? The sci-fi movie Gattaca comes to mind here.

    http://www.amazon.com/Gattaca/.....038;sr=1-1

    So you’ve given us your moral argument for abortion.

    Back to the OP and see if there’s really an argument there, DM.

  92. DY: I’m glad your friend is doing well. Would you give a healthy person Down syndrome? Would you want to see a healthy person afflicted with Down syndrome?

    The question is not “When is a life worth living?”, it’s “Will you knowingly produce a human being with a serious defect when you don’t have to?”

    Abortion does not “…do away with those we think will not lead a life worth living.” “Those” would be people with minds. Minds do not exist in the womb. Abortion kills flesh.

    There is no soul in the womb. That knowledge is why the abortion laws were changed.

    “Are you suggesting also that we kill all the down syndrome individuals who have not been aborted?”

    Of course not. Your friend is no longer mere flesh, she has a mind now and that is what makes her a human being. A defective mind, and she’s stuck with it, but it’s okay because the anti-abortion apologists can tell themselves that she went to college. Or, if she’s a little worse, that she’s so happy. Or if she’s even worse, “We’ve learned so much, caring for her. It’s really made us better persons.” (My favorite) Or, for the really bad ones, she goes into an institution and wears a helmet for the rest of her short life because she falls down all the time and nobody talks much about her. And I guess the really really bad ones don’t live to make it to an institution. But if her parents had done the right thing, their child would have been born with a normal brain and body and she’d just be an ordinary friend.

    “That’s what the evil Nazis did.” The Nazis killed minds. Abortion kills flesh. Flesh only has value if it’s attached to a mind.

    If I was to interview 100 people with Down syndrome, I would ask them, “Would you prefer to have been born without Down syndrome?” And if the answer was yes, I would tell them to blame the anti-abortion movement – their parents could have stopped the defective pregnancy and gone on to have a normal baby. And then I would tell them to try to forgive their parents because the rank and file are being missinformed by the leaders of the anti-abortion movement, and those leaders, who should know better and could know better with minimal effort, are the real sinners and bear the real guilt here.

    Do you realize what you’re doing here? You’re asking a MIND if it wants to continue to exist, BUT THERE ARE NO MINDS IN THE WOMB. Go ahead; ask 100 fetuses if their lives are worth living. Ask a thousand of them. Or a million. You will never get an answer because there is no mind in the womb that is even capable of understanding the question, let alone answering it. We’re dealing with flesh and someone who will not sacrifice flesh in favor of a mind is a person who is capable of doing great evil while thinking themselves virtuous.

    Vj, this floored me: “Why on earth would you think it immoral to create such people?”

    There is nothing like a religion or an ideology to make good people do bad things. “If they’re happier being alive than not existing at all, then I cannot see how you could describe the act of creating them as immoral, even on your own humanist premises.”

    Do you think they’d be happier still if they didn’t have Down syndrome? Again, abortion does not kill minds. Abortion is stopping a pregnancy BEFORE a mind is produced. See above about asking a fetus if it’s happy. You will never get an answer because a fetus has no mind.

    Regarding “starting over again”: If you have a couple who would deliberately carry a known-defective pregnancy to term because an abortion can be painful and sometimes it’s not easy getting pregnant again, that couple is not morally fit to be parents in the first place.

    “Refusing to abort a Down syndrome baby is in no way equivalent to deliberately poisoning a baby. In the former case one allows a baby to live, knowing that it has a genetic defect; in the latter, one performs an action with the intention of producing a defect. You can’t tell me that those two actions are morally equivalent.”

    I can tell you one thing: to the baby, they are exactly equivalent. You don’t get to suddenly become un-retarded if your parents screwed you up because of negligence instead of deliberately poisoning you. They can say, “Well, the anti-abortion people lied to us,” but that won’t help the baby one iota.

    Don’t go down the philosophical rabbit hole here. We’re not talking about maximizing the average happiness of the population, we are talking about one individual baby and whether that baby is born normal or with a serious defect.

    “The aim of my essay was to argue that even if we grant that an embryo/fetus doesn’t have a mind, it’s still just as valuable as a human adult (who certainly has one), if it has a built-in program for turning itself into an adult.”

    Well, your argument is false because it doesn’t confront the single most important fact about abortion: Minds are what count. They are infinitely important. Flesh is only important if a mind is using it. There are no minds in the womb. When your arguments take into account these facts, you will no longer be arguing against abortion.

    Here’s an equation to help illustrate the truth about abortion: F + NM = F. Flesh plus no mind equals flesh. Here’s another one: M > F. Mind is greater than flesh. Or this all purpose equation: F > Anything else. A mind is greater than anything else.

    Finally, the end of human life is not symmetrical with the beginning of human life. At the beginning of human life, we know that the mind does not exist because the hardware humans need to produce a mind, a functioning brain, does not exist. Up until about 2/3 of the way through pregnancy, there is absolutely no chance of a mind being present and the odds are still astronomical until well after birth.

    At the end of life, we know that the body once contained a mind. We also know from experience that it’s possible for the brain to be prevented from generating a mind, but all the information and hardware may still exist and sometimes the brain will start to function again and the mind is present again. This calls for lots of extra caution at the end of life, but it has no bearing on the beginning of life where we know with 100% certainty that no mind is present.

  93. DMullinex,

    “The question is when is a life worth living?”

    It is not up to us, mortals, to decide that. It is the will of God to give life and take it away. We shall probably see in the age to come why such things as severe illness or violence are allowed to happen by God.

    Re abortion:

    Some examples. Mendeleev was the youngest of in excess of 10 siblings. St Matrona of Moscow (XX century) was blind from birth and yet she saw spiritual things more clearly than some of us see material. If their parents had decided to kill them the world would not have had a wonderful scientist and a wonderful saint.

    Two twins talking in their Mum’s womb. One says: “What Mum are you talking about? There is no Mum.” The other: “Yes, there is. I believe.” The first: “Besides, there is no life after birth. I know this for a fact because no one ever returned to the womb.” The other: “Yes, there is.”

  94. Dmullenix,

    If I was to interview 100 people with Down syndrome, I would ask them, “Would you prefer to have been born without Down syndrome?” And if the answer was yes, I would tell them to blame the anti-abortion movement

    Abortion wouldn’t have cured them. They would just be dead. The better question is to ask is whether they regret not having been aborted.

    Well, your argument is false because it doesn’t confront the single most important fact about abortion: Minds are what count. They are infinitely important. Flesh is only important if a mind is using it. There are no minds in the womb.

    Why is it illegal to disturb sea turtle eggs? They aren’t even sea turtles. It’s because we value the potential sea turtle.

    Which will you argue – that a sea turtle is more valuable then a person with Downs Syndrome because at least it isn’t defective, or because they are more rare?

    What if a child is born with undetected Downs Syndrome. Would it be ethical to kill it? If it was ethical a few months ago, why not now?

    You’ve made your judgment on Downs Syndrome. Would you be prepared to take an on-call job advising parents of children with other birth defects on a case-by-case basis whether their child should be carried to term? Or could you make a list?

    These are rhetorical questions. There is logic that favors aborting fetuses for any number of reasons. There is logic that favors preventing certain adults from reproducing. One could reason that society would benefit by applying the death penalty to most crimes, even retroactively.

    What prevents us from acting on logic? It is our values. Values are personal, and apply only where we have authority. In the case of parents deciding whether to abort a fetus, I believe that they have the authority to act on their values, even if I am certain that their decision is immoral.

    Societies have gone down the path of logically devaluing life for various reasons, and we know where that leads. When we devalue any life we devalue our own. I’m not evaluating that as good or bad. But it’s true.

  95. I know that some parents with both healthy children and children diagnosed with Down syndrome testify to learning what parental love truly is only after their ill children were born. After all, we are all here in this world in order to learn to love. In this light, what people with Down syndrome are doing for us is much greater than what we may have to offer them in return.

  96. Dmullenix,

    Thank you for your post. I don’t think I’ve seen such a bizarre post in a long time. I’m not saying that as a personal criticism, but you and I are evidently poles apart – I’m tempted to say galaxies apart – on some issues. Oh well. Let’s begin with your math.

    Here’s an equation to help illustrate the truth about abortion: F + NM = F. Flesh plus no mind equals flesh. Here’s another one: M > F. Mind is greater than flesh. Or this all purpose equation: M > Anything else. A mind is greater than anything else.

    An embryo isn’t just flesh. It’s an organism running a developmental program. What you need to show is that an organism with a mind is greater than an organism currently running a program that will enable it to build itself a mind. This I deny.

    You also need to define “greater”. Do you just mean: “having more fun”? I will happily grant that minds have more fun than anything else. But it doesn’t follow that they are more important. And it certainly doesn’t follow that an organism with a mind is more important than an organism currently running a program that will enable it to build itself a mind.

    You write: “Flesh is only important if a mind is using it.” But what you need to show is: “An organism currently running a program that will enable it to build itself a mind is only important if a mind is using it.” I see no reason to believe that.

    Let me ask you this. What do you think happens to your mind when you go to sleep, or fall into a coma? Where does it go? Evidently it ceases to function. Does that mean you cease to exist when you’re in a coma? You yourself deny this, when you write:

    We also know from experience that it’s possible for the brain to be prevented from generating a mind, but all the information and hardware may still exist and sometimes the brain will start to function again and the mind is present again.

    So what happens to you while your mind is not functioning? In such a situation, you evidently identify with the “information and hardware” in your brain. You regard that as the real “you”. OK. If it’s OK for you to define yourself in terms of information and hardware, then why do you object to me defining myself in terms of a developmental program in my genome, which is capable of generating my mind in a period of a few months? Remember that it may take years to coax a person’s brain out of a coma (41 years is the record, I believe).

    You write:

    There is no soul in the womb. That knowledge is why the abortion laws were changed.

    Please read here:
    http://www.angelfire.com/linux.....ife.html#J
    (Part J – Outlawing Abortion: The Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion in the Nineteenth Century)

    A short extract:

    One of the great myths of the pro-choice movement is that abortion was criminalized in the United States of America in the late nineteenth century, mainly for petty, vindictive reasons: in particular, putting the “quacks” who performed many of the abortions out of business; increasing the numbers of “Americans,” i.e. native-born citizens, who were having many fewer children than Catholic immigrants; and keeping women in traditional child-bearing roles.

    The truth is that abortion was outlawed in America primarily for humanitarian reasons. The story of how this happened has been chronicled by James C. Mohr, in his book Abortion in America (Oxford University Press, 1978), and more recently by Frederick Dyer in his work, “The Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion” (Science History Publications, USA, 2005. ISBN 0-88135-378-7.)…

    To sum up: the physicians’ crusade against abortion in the United States in the nineteenth century succeeded because of a firm and unbending conviction on the part of doctors, which they were not afraid to uphold during consultations with their patients, that the embryo/fetus was an unborn human person with a right to life, from the moment of conception.

    In response to my point about Down syndrome children being happy, you write: “Do you think they’d be happier still if they didn’t have Down syndrome?” I’m sure they would, but I’m equally sure that since the pleasure in their lives far outweighs the pain, they’re not likely to turn on their parents and ask them: “Why did you create me?”

    Let me ask you another question. Take a couple in their late forties who have never been able to conceive, and who finally experience the joy of pregnancy. Half-way through, they discover that their unborn child has Down syndrome. Would you consider them immoral if they chose to continue with their pregnancy? After all, chances are they’ll never have another baby anyway. By any reckoning, one is surely better than none.

    Finally, you write:

    If I was to interview 100 people with Down syndrome, I would ask them, “Would you prefer to have been born without Down syndrome?” And if the answer was yes, I would tell them to blame the anti-abortion movement – their parents could have stopped the defective pregnancy and gone on to have a normal baby.

    ScottAndrews2 nailed it on the head with his response:

    Abortion wouldn’t have cured them. They would just be dead. The better question is to ask is whether they regret not having been aborted.

    In a similar vein, referring to a Down syndrome child, you write:

    But if her parents had done the right thing, their child would have been born with a normal brain and body and she’d just be an ordinary friend.

    No. She wouldn’t be, period. There’d be another child.

  97. Eugene S, see paragraph 6 of my reply at 30. Anyone who needs a crippled child to learn to love has my sympathy. No, strike that. Their child has my sympathy.

    ScottAndrews2: “They” would not have existed to be cured. We’re talking about abortion, remember? No minds, so there is no “they” present.

    It’s illegal to disturb sea turtle eggs because we want sea turtles. We DON’T want children afflicted with Down syndrome or any other serious defect. That’s why good people stop the pregnancy before any mind forms and start over.

    If a child is born with undetected Down syndrome or any other serious defect, it’s a child, not a fetus. You don’t abort children.

    I will give general advice to anybody living in the first world and having reasonable access to health care who is contemplating creating a baby: If you are not willing to monitor your pregnancy and abort it if you detect a serious defect, you are not morally fit to be parents. Please don’t try, you sinners.

    Scott, I think the anti-abortion forces have done more to devalue human life than any other Americans since at least the days of Jim Crow and Selma. ALL anti-abortionists have, at the least, equated human life with a mindless piece of flesh. Many of the anti-abortionists, the ones who would let a mother die rather than have an abortion, go further and put the mindless piece of flesh above a human being. Shame on them all! They are sinners.

    VJ, there’s nothing weird about my post. The problem is that you’ve drunk deep from the anti-abortion cup. I can summarize everything I’ve said like this: Minds count. They count more than anything else in the world except another mind. Human minds (and any other human quality minds that may exist elsewhere in the universe or on earth in the future) count most of all. Flesh only counts if it somehow serves a mind.

    “And it certainly doesn’t follow that an organism with a mind is more important than an organism currently running a program that will enable it to build itself a mind.”

    Development programs don’t count for anything at all. Can you talk to a development program? No, but you can talk to a mind. Can it talk to you? No, but a mind can. Can it comprehend anything? No, but a mind can. I would sacrifice a development program to save a kitten any day because a kitten has at least a simple mind.

    I define “greater” as “being more important than.” A human mind is more important than a kitten’s mind. A kitten’s mind is more important than a slug’s mind. A slug’s mind is more important than a stone.

    When you’re asleep or unconscious, your personality and all of your memories still exist; they’re just temporarily on hold. They can be restarted instantly by something as simple as an alarm clock or the sound of a snapping twig.

    A fetus has no personality and no memories. They do not exist. They will START to form at birth. They will only start to form if the baby is interacting with the world. The baby has to be able to move its arms and legs to learn to control them, to use its eyes to learn to see, to hear voices to learn to speak, to reach out and touch things to learn the shape of the world – there is almost no part of an adult mind that is not totally dependent on interaction with the universe to form. Fear of falling and spiders, maybe, and not much else.

    IF the baby is raised so it can interact with the universe, and all else goes well, THEN it will slowly begin to form a mind – and every mind will be different. Even if the baby is one member of a pair of identical twins, and has exactly the same DNA as her sister, her mind will be different from her sister’s. If you get a cloning factory to manufacture a million fetuses with identical DNA, every one of them will develop a different mind because the minds start to form AFTER birth and every one is different because every one interacts with the universe differently.

    (The most I’ve ever heard of any fetus “learning” is that if you play music with a simple beat to a fetus for the last month or two of pregnancy, it will be calmed after birth if you play the same beat. I wouldn’t be surprised if it works just as well for cat fetuses and kittens.)

    There is absolutely no comparison between a fetus without a mind and an unconscious human. Zero. Nada.

    If your happy Down symptom children turn on their parents, they should ask, “Why did you create me with a defect? You KNEW I would have Down syndrome. Why didn’t you start the pregnancy over and do it right? If you had better morals, I could have been normal.”

    Yes, I would consider your couple in their late forties to be heinously immoral if they put their selfish desire to have a baby ahead of that baby’s well being and continued their pregnancy when they discovered their child would have Down syndrome. I’d feel the same way if they had a healthy baby and injected it with a poison that created the same symptoms. I would support putting people like that in prison.

    See my reply to ScottAndrews. “They” don’t exist in the womb. There is nobody there to “cure”.

    Think carefully about this:

    VJT: In a similar vein, referring to a Down syndrome child, you write:

    Me: But if her parents had done the right thing, their child would have been born with a normal brain and body and she’d just be an ordinary friend.
    VJT: No. She wouldn’t be, period. There’d be another child.

    And whose child would that be? Somebody else’s? Remember, the mind begins to develop AFTER birth and most of it is formed from its interactions with the world. She would be the only child to develop a mind. She would be their child and she’d be normal.

  98. VJTorley is from Australia or somewhere in that general vicinity and it’s struck me that many commenters here are too young to remember pre-Roe V. Wade, so here’s how America came to change its abortion laws, to the best of my recollection.

    I was born in 1947 and up until sometime in the late 50’s or early 60’s, abortion basically wasn’t thought of much, but when it was nearly everybody would have considered it pro-forma immoral. By that, I mean that nobody thought much about it, but everybody just “knew” it was immoral. After all, babies lived in the womb and then they were born.

    I even remember seeing a short-lived comic book series that starred two babies, in their mother’s womb. They could talk and everything and they were even wearing diapers. The series was short, probably because they didn’t have much to talk about.

    Things started to change in the late 50’s or early 60’s. The first thing I can remember was a remarkable series of photographs that appeared in Life magazine, which was still very big and had a wide circulation in those days. The cover picture was of a baby, floating in the womb, eyes open, with a look of wonder on its face. (A dead face, actually, but that wasn’t pointed out till much later.) That picture still circulates. I’ve seen it in the last year. And, of course, it was proof positive that babies lived in the womb. You could see it with your own eyes.

    Except that inside the magazine, the article showed equally clear pictures of all stages of gestation. I can’t remember how young they started – they may have skipped the fertilized egg and blastula stages. But there, in color, perfectly focused and several times life size, were pictures of a very early embryo. Just a few weeks. And man, it did not look anything like a baby. And there were other pictures, taken at later and later stages of pregnancy, and man, it took months before they started looking human and even then it was an alien version of a human. If you woke up with one on your pillow, you’d scream!

    Ordinary Americans (and I assume the rest of the first world) started learning about the real details of human gestation in those days and it was obvious to just about anybody that at the beginning of gestation, we were not dealing with a human being. More of a cross between a worm and some sort of sea food. And this new knowledge was what started to change attitudes on abortion.

    And then the Sherri Finkbine case broke. She was a mother of four and the hostess of a children’s TV show in Phoenix, Arizona. Her husband picked up some sedatives in England and brought them home. Sherri took several of them. She was pregnant at the time. Then the news came out: When taken during early pregnancy, Thalidomide causes horrible birth defects. Among other things, it screws up the limbs. Instead of arms and legs, you get flippers – if you’re lucky.

    Her doctor recommended a therapeutic abortion, everything was set up to perform it and then she told her story to a friend at a newspaper to warn others about Thalidomide. And the letters and threats began. The hospital cancelled the abortion, she was fired from the TV station, she had FBI protection at one time. She tried to get an abortion in Japan, they wouldn’t let her in. She finally went to Sweden and obtained a legal abortion. The fetus had no legs, one arm and it was so deformed they couldn’t tell the sex. And everybody in America followed the case in the newspapers and TV. By that time, I was rooting for Sherri and so was, probably, a majority of the country.

    I graduated from High School in 1965. In either our freshman or our junior years (62 or 64), our English class featured debates and my team drew “Abortion” for a topic. This sent me out to the library, digging up everything I could find on the subject and even by that time, even to a high school boy, it was glaringly obvious that, at least in the early stages of pregnancy, the fetus was not a human and abortion was not murder.

    By the mid sixties, everybody’s attitudes towards abortion were changing. Even the religious right started to change and several prominent conservative pastors came out in favor of abortion, at least to save the life of the mother and to a lesser extent to prevent terribly deformed babies from being born. (This is not my opinion, by the way. I read it in an article in Christianity Today, Billy Graham’s magazine.)

    Then in 1973, the Supreme Court decided Roe V. Wade and instantly, the religious right backtracked to their original positions and all the pastors that had stuck their necks out on abortion pulled them right back in again.

    The problem was that the religious right hated the Supreme Court like you can scarcely believe today. Literally, if you went for a drive through the Bible Belt, you’d see “Impeach Earl Warren” (the Chief Justice) signs on billboards and painted on barns. Satan himself wasn’t loathed as much as the Supreme Court because they were A: Liberals and B: Took the constitution seriously, which lead to decisions that took away many of the unjustly acquired privileges that conservative religion had usurped. Particularly, prayer in schools!

    I live in Wisconsin and we “lost” prayer in schools back in 1895. Yes, that’s eighteen ninety five, the late nineteenth century. We “lost” it because some Catholic parents sued because their children were being forced to read the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer in the schools – and then they got beat up on the way home because they objected to it. And of course, it turned out that not having a school teacher read a cursory prayer to the students made absolutely no difference to the education or morals of Wisconsinites and Wisconsin continued to have one of the best school systems in the country.

    But when the Supreme Court, which was already widely hated by conservatives of all stripes, took school prayer away from the entire country, the religious right went ballistic and they haven’t come back to earth to this day.

    And then those Supreme S.O.B.s went and legalized abortion!

    That was the beginning of the anti-abortion movement and no amount of reasoning has ever worked on them because their hatred of abortion is purely emotional. Today, after the anti-abortion movement has conducted almost thirty years of screaming rhetoric, wide spread harassment, tons of bald faced lies and committed a few outright murders, they have made themselves completely logic and fact proof. For them to face the error of their ways now would also mean facing the extent of their immorality. And they aren’t ever going to do that!

  99. dmuulenx:

    Development programs don’t count for anything at all. Can you talk to a development program? No, but you can talk to a mind. Can it talk to you? No, but a mind can.

    Minds don’t talk. And people can and do talk to inanimate objects.

    A fetus has no personality and no memories.

    Nice bald assertion.

    BTW it is NOT anti-abortion, it IS PRO-LIFE

    I will give general advice to anybody living in the first world and having reasonable access to health care who is contemplating creating a baby: If you are not willing to monitor your pregnancy and abort it if you detect a serious defect, you are not morally fit to be parents.

    Fortunately your opinion means nothing to the rest of the world. Also I take it that your parents were not morally fit because here you are and you are definitely defective.

  100. They don’t need your sympathy. It looks like it is you who need theirs, given your statements. It is so convenient to shield yourself from the pain of this world by philosophising.

    You have worries about you future child’s health? No problem, call a human being a foetus, press the button, and get rid of it. Oh no, I forgot. The dead body could be utilised for making skin care products…

  101. Joseph,

    That’s Darwinism. No wonder.

  102. DMullenix,

    I, for one, have nothing to do with US anti-abortion movement. I don’t even live in the US. But I oppose abortion because I am Christian and because I think it is murder. The first country to legalise abortion was the USSR under Lenin (1920). It speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

  103. Hi dmullenix,

    Thanks for your posts. Before I talk about the Sherri Finkbine case and the photos in “Life” magazine, I’d like to highlight this remark of yours:

    If your happy Down symptom children turn on their parents, they should ask, “Why did you create me with a defect? You KNEW I would have Down syndrome. Why didn’t you start the pregnancy over and do it right? If you had better morals, I could have been normal.”

    This is staggeringly nonsensical. The child is telling his/her parents that if they had started the pregnancy over and did it right, he/she could have been normal???? But if they “started over”, it wouldn’t be the same child! It would be another one.

    Ask yourself this: does it make sense for a child to say to his/her parents: “Why did you create me? If you’d been more careful, you could have created another child, Fred, instead of creating me! Why didn’t you do that?”

    Of course it makes no sense for a child to say that – for then the child is wishing him/herself out of existence.

    The only way I can make sense of your remarks is to suppose that you are a Hindu, who believes in a soul that can be reborn in various bodies. Only within that framework would it make sense for the child to complain to his/her parents: “Why didn’t you abort me and start over? For if you had, I could have been reborn in a better body, instead of being stuck with this crummy one!”

    Come to think of it, I have noticed a lot of references to “soul” vs. “flesh” in your recent posts. You even speak of “sinners” – a rather puzzling term, because I was under the impression that you were an atheistic materialist who (presumably) would have denied the reality of free will and hence of sin. Perhaps I have you pegged all wrong. If so, I apologize. Are you by any chance a Hindu, dmullenix? Don’t be shy – you’ve got plenty of distinguished company (Mohandas K. Gandhi, for instance). Well?

    Your memory of the photos of the embryo and fetus that were published in Life magazine is faulty. You mistakenly claim that they came out in the late 50s or early 60s. In fact, they didn’t come out until 1965. You also claim that they convinced millions of Americans that the embryo/fetus was not a human being:

    Ordinary Americans (and I assume the rest of the first world) started learning about the real details of human gestation in those days and it was obvious to just about anybody that at the beginning of gestation, we were not dealing with a human being. More of a cross between a worm and some sort of sea food. And this new knowledge was what started to change attitudes on abortion.

    In fact, the Life magazine photos of the embryo and fetus were actually welcomed by the pro-life movement as bolstering their case! Pro-lifers printed them over and over again. I know, because I grew up seeing them in the early 70s, while I was living in Tasmania. You want proof that the Life photos helped the pro-life cause? Here’s an extract from the Wikipedia article, A Child is Born (book) :

    A Child Is Born (full title: A Child Is Born: The drama of life before birth in unprecedented photographs. A practical guide for the expectant mother; original Swedish title: Ett barn blir till) is a 1965 photographic book by Swedish photojournalist Lennart Nilsson. The book consists of photographs charting the development of the human embryo and fetus from conception to birth; it is reportedly the best-selling illustrated book ever published…

    The book was often cited as presenting the first images of a live fetus in utero. In fact, Geraldine Flanagan’s The First Nine Months Of Life had in 1962 compiled a similar set of fetal images from medical archives.

    Life, an American magazine, marked the publication of A Child Is Born by reproducing in its 30 April 1965 edition 16 of the book’s photographs. The pictures were run simultaneously in the British Sunday Times and in Paris Match. All eight million printed copies of Life containing the images sold out within four days…

    The images played an important role in debates about abortion and the beginning of human life. Nilsson himself declined to comment on the origins of some of the photographs’ subjects, which in fact included many images of terminated and miscarried fetuses: all but one of the images that appeared in Life were of fetuses that had been surgically removed from the womb. Nilsson also refused to be drawn on the question of the point at which life begins, describing himself as a journalist and the debate as one for other authorities. Pro-life campaigners perceived and presented the book’s images as evidence that a fetus is a well-developed, discrete human person from well before birth. Pro-choice activists, on the other hand, have portrayed the images (and the technology they represent) as evidence of medical and imaging techniques that now allow serious fetal defects to be detected very early and furnish pregnant parents with more information upon which to base choices. Some critics have described as ironic the images’ popularity with pro-life campaigners who argue that the fetus is a living human, given that many of them depict (surgically or spontaneously) aborted fetuses.

    Both the popularity of the images with pro-life campaigners and the photographic techniques, which have been described as eliding the presence of the woman in whose womb the fetus is developing, have made the book the subject of substantial feminist critique. Some of these criticisms have addressed the book’s language, which often describes the photographs’ subjects as “persons” or “babies”. (Bold emphases mine – VJT.)

    I’d now like to discuss the Sherri Finkbine case, which you make so much of. You write:

    And then the Sherri Finkbine case broke. She was a mother of four and the hostess of a children’s TV show in Phoenix, Arizona. Her husband picked up some sedatives in England and brought them home. Sherri took several of them. She was pregnant at the time. Then the news came out: When taken during early pregnancy, Thalidomide causes horrible birth defects. Among other things, it screws up the limbs. Instead of arms and legs, you get flippers – if you’re lucky.

    The Sherri Finkbine case did indeed have a profound influence on public attitudes towards abortion – but only in the case of severe deformities. (The Catholic Church, to its credit, continued to insist that Thalidomide fetuses had the same right to life as everyone else.) But there’s something you forgot to tell us about Thalidomide babies, dmullenix – quite often, it doesn’t cause the horrible birth defects you describe. Here’s what the Website RealChoice says about the Sherri Finkbine case:

    Finkbine, then 30, is shown in BBC coverage smiling radiantly as she steps off a plane in London after her abortion.

    It’s interesting to note that only 20% of the babies born to mothers who took Thalidomide were born with birth defects. But this mere 20% chance of missing or deformed limbs, or other birth defects, was considered to be enough to justify aborting the 80% of thalidomide-exposed fetuses who would not have been affected.

    This speaks volumes about our attitudes toward people with disabilities. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    I’ve tried to locate a medical source for that 20% figure, and I’ve found one. See this brochure by OTIS (Organization of Teratology Information Services). Excerpt:

    When a pregnant woman takes thalidomide 34-50 days (4.5 to 7 weeks) after the beginning of her last menstrual period, there is a risk of approximately 20% or greater to have a baby with problems such as extremely short or missing arms and legs, missing ears (both outside and inside), and deafness. There is also a risk of other problems such as heart defects, missing or small eyes, paralysis of the face, kidney abnormalities, and mental retardation. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    So 20% apparently refers to the risk of severe defects. There are also lots of miscarriages caused by thalidomide. Even so, the point remains: a significant number of mothers who took the drug go on to have normal babies. It is not an automatic sentence to a life of misery. But how many people know that?

    Finally, here is an article by Mary Kenny, a former pro-choice feminist, about a woman named Alison Lapper, who was born without arms and with flapper-like legs – not as a result of her mother taking Thalidomide, but as a result of a congenital disorder called phocomelia. An excerpt:

    The admirable Lapper certainly did have a hard time as a baby. Her birth mother was told that Alison was too ugly to live, and doctors considered her “a cabbage”. She was brought up in foster care, but overcame her many difficulties and disadvantages to gain a first in fine art at Brighton University, and to become a delighted mother herself.

    Lapper herself is glad she was not aborted. As she puts it: “At least I’m alive, and people should celebrate that.”

    You seem to think that people were very pro-life back in the 1960s. They were not. They were pro-natal, perhaps, but not pro-life. Unlike you, my memories of the 60s and early 70s were of a time when it was difficult for people even to conceive (terrible pun, I know) of the embryo/fetus as a person. In 1972, when I was in Grade 7, I remember our Social Science teacher casually remarking that “the day you were born was the day you began to be”. Nobody took any exception to the remark – it just seemed natural to think that way at the time. I know I did. The idea of holding a funeral for an unborn child would have seemed absurd, back then – although apparently they’ve always been quite common in Japan, where I now live. When a woman miscarried, doctors would often tell her to “have another baby”.

    Even in the Catholic Church, many theologians did not regard the embryo/fetus as an unborn child. You want proof? Take a look at this excerpt from Peace through the Truth, by Fr. Thomas Harper S.J. Here’s what it says about original sin and the fetus:

    It is evident from the whole tenour of what we have written about original sin, that this hereditary taint cannot be infused into a child, (if such we may call it,) before it has received its soul. For it cannot affect a yet lifeless foetus, a mere mass of matter; since it formally consists in the privation of a spiritual quality, between which and matter there can be no conceivable proportion.

    “Lifeless foetus”? “Mere mass of matter”? “Before it has received its soul”? He sounds a lot like you, doesn’t he, dmullenix?

    And that’s not all. Pro-life Catholic philosopher Professor Edward Feser has noted (see http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.....8539236781 ) that “As late as the 1950s, Scholastic writers of unquestioned orthodoxy, in books having the Imprimatur, were debating the question of whether the rational soul was present at conception.”

    The fact is that although the Catholic Church has consistently opposed abortion as a mortal sin and an attack on innocent human life for 2,000 years, it has never dogmatically defined whether the embryo/fetus is a human person. From 400 A.D. until the late nineteenth century, the dominant theological view was that it was not one, in the early stages of pregnancy. See the article on ensoulment in Wikipedia. This view was largely shaped by the poor biology of that time: the ovum wasn’t even discovered until 1827.

    What changed this medically uninformed attitude among the populace? Nineteenth century American doctors. The full story is described in “The Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion” by Frederick N. Dyer (Science History Publications, USA, 2005. ISBN 0-88135-378-7.) These doctors often had to combat public perceptions that the fetus wasn’t a person until quickening. Professor David Storer forcefully condemned such nonsense in a talk entitled, “An Introductory Lecture before the Medical Class of 1855-56 of Harvard University,” in which he remarked:

    The generally prevailing opinion that although it may be wrong to procure an abortion after the child has presented unmistakable signs of life, it is excusable previous to that period, is unintelligible to the conscientious physician. The moment an embryo enters the uterus a microscopic speck, it is the germ of a human being, and it is as morally wrong to endeavor to destroy that germ as to be guilty of the crime of infanticide.” (David Storer’s lecture was printed in “Two Frequent Causes of Uterine Disease,” Journal of the Gynaecological Society of Boston, 6 (March 1872): 194-203, 198-99.)

    That’s what got the ball rolling. David’s son Horatio continued the medical crusade, and by 1900, abortion was outlawed across the U.S.

    Looking at your post, I think your most serious philosophical mistake is to regard the mind as some sort of “thing”. Because you view it as a thing, you are prepared to argue that it possesses importance in its own right. But where’s the evidence that the mind is a thing? The only thing I can see is the human body. And that thing begins at conception. What about the brain, you ask? That’s just a part of a thing, not a thing as such.

    What about the soul, you may ask? Now you’re getting religious, aren’t you? But as I argued in my pro-life essay (see here and scroll down to “When does the embryo/fetus acquire rationality?”), on an Aristotelian view of the soul, it should be present when a human body is present. We now know that applies from conception onwards. (Aristotle didn’t know that.)

    So to sum up, talk of “the mind” appears to be a way of reifying a set of spatially and temporally discrete experiences into a thing which possesses rights. It won’t work. There is no such thing. You can’t get a subject of rights out of a pack of mental states. But you can get them out of an organism which contains and is running its own developmental program, which will enable it to have those experiences.

  104. Eugene S “The first country to legalise abortion was the USSR under Lenin (1920). It speaks for itself, doesn’t it?”

    And Hitler believed a fetus was fully human and enacted the death penalty for abortionists (although he made abortion legal for those races he considered subhuman). Nicolae Ceausescu banned both abortion and birth control. I don’t know what Osama bin Laden’s position on abortion was. Do you have some kind of a point here?

    VJT: There’s a mental short circuit that’s hard to avoid – the difference between destroying an existing mind and never creating a mind in the first place. The first case is a tragedy, the second is – absolutely normal for all of the billions of minds that never existed because their mothers had a headache on the night they otherwise would have been conceived.

    You’re right that a mind that exists, such as the Down symptom child I mentioned, is unlikely to want to die. And it would be absolutely useless for her to complain about her condition because the deed is done – for whatever reason, she’s here, she’s hurting and there’s nothing that can be done NOW to fix it. But if her parents had aborted their defective pregnancy and gotten pregnant again and delivered a healthy child, that child would have been happy and the Down child would never have existed to feel bad about either it’s condition or its not existing.

    I assumed for the sake of argument that the child in question has the knowledge and intelligence to understand that if her parents had aborted their defective pregnancy and had another child instead, she would be that healthy child. Or he, depending. But in any case, they could have had a healthy child and she or he would be it. That’s the spirit I wrote that paragraph in.

    No, I’m not a Hindu, although re-incarnation would be neat if it were real. Imagine all the evil people reborn as dung beetles. Karma would be neat too. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that I know of for either.

    When I say “soul”, think “mind”. I use “flesh” and “mind” when talking to the religious.

    I’m an atheistic materialist and I have no problem with free will. I do have a problem with people who try to define free will as being something outside of and unaffected by this universe, such as the dualists who seem to think the brain is just a relay station for a supernatural entity of some sort that does the actual thinking.

    I also get very annoyed by the people who believe that if there’s no supernatural then every motion of every particle in our brains and bodies is pre-determined by the motions of previous particles that move them. That type of Newtonian determinism is dead, done in by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. To see what I mean, try to knock a cue ball into a corner pocket on a pool table that’s a mile across. You can’t do it because the uncertainty of the positions and momentums of the atoms in the pool cue make it impossible to hit the ball accurately enough to hit the pocket every time. The balls will fan out and only a small percentage of them will actually hit the pocket. The virtual particles that are now known to appear and disappear on the sub-atomic scale are also completely unpredictable, as far as we know. I’m sure there are other phenoma that rule out Newtonian determinism that don’t come to mind right now.

    To me, free will is people being born with DNA that determines some of their development and their experiences in gestation and the world which determine the rest. The totality of the two have caused them to develop their distinct personalities, including their knowledge and preferences. That knowledge and those preferences constitute their free will. It’s not completely free, I can’t speak Swaheli no matter how hard I try, but it’s what we’ve got and it’s enough.

    Given free will, I have no problem with sin. It’s deliberately, carelessly or negligently doing something that is both bad and unnecessary. Such as failing to terminate a defective pregnancy before it produces a defective human being.

    Thanks for the date on the LIFE photos. I remembered them as coming out in the early sixties. I know photos of the early stages of gestation were available then because I had some ready to use in that debate and still remember my disappointment when the teacher said “No props.”

    Regarding the Sheri Finkbine case: Sometimes the anti-abortion forces are REALLY scary. So it’s all right with them if the odds are “only” 20% that the fetus will turn into a baby with deformed limbs, missing arms and legs, missing ears, deafness, heart defects, missing eyes, paralysis of the face, kidney abnormalities, mental retardation or some combination of the above. That’s one chance in five. They would literally have a better chance if their parents just played Russian roulette with them. Nobody has a right to take that kind of a chance with somebody else. Anyone who does should be jailed.

    Thanks for reminding me that the Catholic church used to have a relatively benign policy on abortion: No abortion after quickening, which is at about the 14 week mark. 80 or 90 percent of all abortions are performed before that point and most of the rest are caused by the late discovery of a serious defect or a threat to the mother’s health. It’s tragic that they backslid. Congratulations to Fr. Thomas Harper S.J. and everybody else who held that belief. Their knowledge and morals were better than the rest of the heirarchy and the Church sinned mightily when it overruled them.

    Regarding Allison Lapper, I’m glad she’s happy despite having no arms and flapper like legs. You don’t say if her parent knew of her condition in time, but if they did and had an abortion and tried again, their healthy child would probably be even happier with normal limbs and Allison would never have existed. She would no more have mourned her non-existence than she would have if her mother had come down with a headache on the night she was conceived or as the million or different boys and girls her mother might have given birth to if a different sperm had fertilized her egg that night.

    “Looking at your post, I think your most serious philosophical mistake is to regard the mind as some sort of “thing”. Because you view it as a thing, you are prepared to argue that it possesses importance in its own right. But where’s the evidence that the mind is a thing? The only thing I can see is the human body. And that thing begins at conception. What about the brain, you ask? That’s just a part of a thing, not a thing as such.”

    Sometimes you just take my breath away. It’s hard to even get a grip on that “argument” because it’s so breathtakingly inane. Are you saying that YOUR mind is nothing? Or that it’s not important? What in the world is typing, your fingers? What’s making them move? Your muscles? What’s making your muscles move? Your nerve impulses? What’s causing those nerve impulses? Nothing?

    And the brain’s not a thing? The brain? The physical brain that you can hold in your hand? I give up.

  105. Lapper herself is glad she was not aborted. As she puts it: “At least I’m alive, and people should celebrate that.”

    I find such statements interesting, but for myself I can only say I wouldn’t be bothered if I’d never been born regardless of reasons why. Why should I?

  106. And how could you? There’s nothing there.

  107. dmullenix,

    Thank you for your post. A few quick comments:

    1. I have been unable to locate any evidence that Hitler regarded the fetus as fully human, as you claim. You might want to have a look at this post for a contrary view. I note that the Nazis jettisoned the pro-life Hippocratic Oath.

    2. Your reinterpretation of the odd “Hinduistic” paragraph which you wrote apparently now means that the child reproaching the mother for not having the abortion is the healthy child that would have been created if the mother had had the abortion. But since this healthy child does not exist, it can’t reproach the mother for not creating her. Aren’t you being just a little melodramatic here – imputing reproachful feelings to an imaginary being?

    3. I’m glad to hear that although you’re an atheistic materialist, you believe in free will, and I have no quarrel with your definition of sin: “deliberately, carelessly or negligently doing something that is both bad and unnecessary.” But I’m puzzled when you add: “free will is people being born with DNA that determines some of their development and their experiences in gestation and the world which determine the rest.” “Determines”? What’s free about that? You even say that the whole of people’s development is determined – some by DNA and the rest by environment. What room is there for freedom in this account of yours? As for determinism being false in physics: I agree, but as any philosopher will tell you, being undetermined doesn’t automatically make you free.

    4. Re the Sherri Finkbine case: evidently you think that the mother has the duty to abort, even if there’s only a 20% chance that her baby will be born with a major abnormality – which means that 80% of the babies killed wouldn’t have such an abnormality. Now let me ask you: what if it were 2% and not 20%? Would she still have the duty to abort? Your logic seems to suggest that you would say that a mother has the duty to abort, even if the probability of a major abnormality is higher than the average for the population as a whole. Am I right? Is this your view? Because if it is, then what you’re really saying is that a woman over the age of 35 has no right to have a baby, and that a woman who has a condition that makes her slightly more likely to have a baby with a genetic defect has no right to have one either. In your Utopia, would such women be forcibly sterilized? Just curious.

    5. You claim that “The Catholic church used to have a relatively benign policy on abortion: No abortion after quickening, which is at about the 14 week mark.” Not true. As John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, put it (see http://www.priestsforlife.org/.....a.html#qa8 ):

    “Pope Paul VI declared that the teaching of the Church about the morality of abortion ‘has not changed and is unchangeable.’ Although some people point out that Saint Thomas Aquinas thought the soul did not come to the fetus (‘ensoulment’) until sometime after conception, the fact is that he considered abortion gravely sinful even before this time. He taught that it was a ‘grave sin against the natural law’ to kill the fetus at any stage, and a graver sin of homicide to do so after ensoulment.”

    6. Regarding the skepticism I expressed towards the view that the mind is some sort of thing, you write:

    Are you saying that YOUR mind is nothing? Or that it’s not important? What in the world is typing, your fingers?

    I’m not saying that my mind is nothing; I’m just saying it’s not a thing. My height and weight aren’t things either; they’re properties of a thing (me). What you call the “mind” seems to consist of EITHER a discontinuous succession of mental states and/or mental acts, OR some underlying power that I possess, to enjoy these states and/or engage in these acts.

    On the former view of the mind, it is difficult to see how sleeping people could be said to possess minds – which raises the question of how (on your view) they could be said to possess rights.

    On the latter view of the mind, we have to ask ourselves: where does the power reside? You say it resides in the brain: the brain is what has the capacity to think, when it is sufficiently mature. But I could reply: if individuals with a capacity to think have a right to life, then why shouldn’t individuals (such as the embryo) with a programmed capacity to acquire that capacity have the same rights?

    7. Finally, you write:

    And the brain’s not a thing? The brain? The physical brain that you can hold in your hand? I give up.

    You must have a pretty big hand if you can hold your 1,360 cc. brain in it! Seriously, though: the brain is not a thing but a part of a thing. Moreover, its development is regulated by the body’s built-in developmental program, so I’d regard the latter as the more ontologically fundamental. That’s where the power to think ultimately resides: in the program that generates it.

  108. DMullenix,

    A human being comes into existence as soon as conception takes place. It is a human being at that instant onwards regardless of the development stage.

    I don’t care about Chaushesky et al but if they said what you said they did, I agree with them on this point. BTW, as far as I know it was Hitler’s policy on the occupied territory of the USSR to encourage abortion which actually had been banned by Stalin.

  109. Thanks for replying, VJ.  Before replying in kind, I’d like to show you an illustration of one of the absurdities that bedevil the anti-abortion movement and which they are almost completely blind to.  On your pro-life page,

    http://www.angelfire.com/linux.....olife.html,
    you tell the story of “Rebecca Kiessling, a successful attorney and pro-life speaker who was conceived through rape.”  You quote her thus: ”I was adopted nearly from birth. At 18, I learned that I was conceived out of a brutal rape at knife-point by a serial rapist. Like most people, I’d never considered that abortion applied to my life, but once I received this information, all of a sudden I realized that, not only does it apply to my life, but it has to do with my very existence. It was as if I could hear the echoes of all those people who, with the most sympathetic of tones, would say, “Well, except in cases of rape… ,” or who would rather fervently exclaim in disgust: “Especially in cases of rape!!!” All these people are out there who don’t even know me, but are standing in judgment of my life, so quick to dismiss it just because of how I was conceived. I felt like I was now going to have to justify my own existence, that I would have to prove myself to the world that I shouldn’t have been aborted and that I was worthy of living. I also remember feeling like garbage because of people who would say that my life was like garbage – that I was disposable. Please understand that whenever you identify yourself as being “pro-choice,” or whenever you make that exception for rape, what that really translates into is you being able to stand before me, look me in the eye, and say to me, “I think your mother should have been able to abort you.”   My goodness!  How shocking!  What a bunch of immoral monsters those pro-abortion people are! Except … what if her mother had fought off her rapist?  What if she had kicked and scratched and screamed for help and broke free from her rapist and run away without ever getting impregnated?  Poor Rebecca Kiessling would never have existed!  Yet those immoral, perverted pro-abortion people still insist that a woman has the right to resist a rapist!   Don’t take my word for it, ask one directly.  “Do you support a woman’s right to scream for help if she’s being raped?  Do you support her right to fight back?  To kick her rapist, to scratch his face, to break lose from his grip and run for her life?  You do?  Do you realize that if she resists rape, some baby that she would otherwise have had will never be born and little Rebecca Kiessling will never exist?” So how about it, everybody?  Do you support a woman’s right to not be raped, even if it means that some man or woman will never be born?

    Are you willing to go up to a woman who was conceived by rape and look her in the eye and say, “I think your mother should have been able to fight off her rapist.”

    Not getting raped, not having sex, getting an abortion. All three acts have exactly the same result: some innocent person is never born. No person ever exists. Yet the anti-abortion forces only object to one of them. And they don’t even see a problem.

  110. Reply to 36:

    1: As your reference confirms, Hitler banned abortion, at least for “real” people. As I also said, he didn’t mind it for “sub humans”. I’m still waiting for Eugene S to tell us what his point was. That anything an evil person does is immoral? I hope not. I have it on good authority that Lenin and Hitler both breathed oxygen.

    Quite a few medical organizations have dropped the abortion portion of the Hippocratic Oath. Hippocrates was Greek and the Greeks thought that a human was present from the moment of conception and just got bigger and bigger until birth. We now know that this is not true and the medical profession changed it’s rules to accommodate reality. The anti-abortionists haven’t.

    2: There are two problems with thinking about abortion. One problem is that the anti-abortion group has come to their position through emotion and it’s extremely hard to use reason to argue people out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into. Their minds hold on to their beliefs tenaciously and actively block out facts and reasoning that threatens those ideas.

    The second problem is that reasoning on abortion is tricky – it’s a little like modal logic. If you follow the rules of logic faithfully, you are sometimes surprised by where you end up.

    If a woman carries a defective fetus to term, the process goes like this:

    (Conception) -> (Fetal development) -> (Birth) -> (Development of a defective mind and/or body) = (A) (The defective child who is angry with her parents for screwing her up.)

    If a same woman gets pregnant, aborts her defective fetus and gets pregnant again, the process goes like this:

    (Conception) -> (Fetal development) -> (Abortion) = (b) No mind ever exists.

    (Conception) -> (Fetal Development) -> (Birth) -> (Development of a normal mind and body) = (C) (The normal, happy child.)

    The defective child at (A) is justifiably angry with her parents for creating her with a seriously defective mind and/or body. She knows they could have done much better by her and gotten an abortion, which would lead to (B): No mind to be angry. If her parents had then started another pregnancy and it proceeded normally, the result would be (C), a healthy child with no complaints.

    A lot of people get hung up with child (A). She exists, she has the same right to continue existing as any other person. But if her parents had aborted the pregnancy and started over, the situation would be (B) – a child would never have existed and what doesn’t exist not only doesn’t mind not existing, it’s unable to mind. No complaints at all. If her parents got pregnant again, child (C) would have eventually been born and it would have been normal and as happy as any other normal child.

    3: When I say the world determines the rest, I mean our environments have a tremendous influence on how we turn out. I mentioned that I am unable to speak Swahili. That’s because I grew up in an English speaking country. Had I been raised in a Swahili speaking country, I would speak and understand Swahili as well as I speak and understand English.

    I also grew up as a mentally active English speaker. I didn’t blindly accept everything that came my way. My inborn proclivities, determined by a combination of my DNA and fetal development, lead me to accept some things and ignore others. The things I accepted changed me and influenced other decisions further down the line.

    I wound up as Dave Mullenix, English speaker and debonair man about town. In another country, I might have wound up as Dave Mullenix, debonair Swahili speaker. In another socio-economic class, I might have wound up as Dave Mullenix, functional illiterate who died in a famine back in 1955. If I’d been born to the same parents in the same place, and fell in with a bad crowd, I might be Dave Mullenix, Prisoner 073-730.

    We have free will, we make choices, but we also live in the world and it has its affect on us.

    4: You’re incorporating the biggest anti-abortion lie into your reasoning. Abortion doesn’t kill babies, children, adults or grand parents. It kills a fetus and no mind is ever produced. If there’s a 20% chance that a fetus will develop into a malformed baby and you abort it, the 20% of malformed babies never exist and the healthy babies aren’t killed, they never exist either. There’s a whopping big difference between being killed and never existing!

    5: I don’t care what John Cardinal O’Connor or Pope Paul VI said or didn’t say. At various times in the past, the Catholic Church has had a much more sensible and moral attitude towards abortion.

    6: Here, you’re either deliberately BSing me or you have a really serious problem, especially for a philosopher. Your height, weight and mind are properties and they are also things. They can be observed and measured.

    7: The brain is a thing. It is also a part of a body. Have you studied fetal development? A lot of brain development is done by directing dendrites to grow up a chemical gradient for a certain period of time and then connect to whatever neurons are closest. That’s one of the ways alcohol causes fetal alcohol syndrome – it slows the growth of the dendrites. They follow the chemical gradient for the correct amount of time but then they are nowhere near the correct neurons and problems ensue.

    That randomness – connect to whatever neurons are closest – is one of the reasons why the same DNA gives us different people. If you take a zygote and divide it in two, with luck you’ll wind up with two embryos with identical DNA, each as alike as you would expect for two organisms which were once one, and get two completely different people at the end of the process. That’s why the process is not important, only the mind that is produced at the end.

  111. Hi dmullenix,

    Thank you for your post. Let me get straight to the point. If, as you maintain, it is my complex brain states that make me who I am, then an intellectually impaired person who was able to trace his/her intellectual impairment back to the action of some chemical which damaged his/her brain while he/she was still in the womb would not be able to sue in a court of law for damages suffered. For if his/her mother hadn’t been exposed to the chemical, then a different pattern of brain states would have resulted in the developing fetus, and on your non-biological account of personal identity, he/she would then be a different person. So a judge could then throw the case out of court, saying, “Why are you complaining? If your mother hadn’t been exposed to that chemical, YOU wouldn’t be here to complain! I take it you’re glad that you’re at least alive, aren’t you?”

    The action which a person should sue for, on your account of personal identity, is wrongful creation. Thus a person could sue the chemical company on the following grounds: “Look at me. My existence is hell – I’d be better off dead. This chemical company made me the way I am today, with my intellectual impairments. If it wasn’t for this company, I wouldn’t be here – my mother would have had a different child, with a different brain. Since this company is responsible for making me who I am, and since being “me” by its very nature entails being in a living hell, day in and day out, then this company is obviously responsible for making my life hell. That is why I’m suing them for wrongful creation.” But then the judge could respond: “If you’re so unhappy being alive, then why haven’t you killed yourself already? Look – here’s a suicide kit, and you can do it painlessly. Why don’t you, then? And what’s more, why should I award you any money? It won’t make you happy, because by definition your existence is hell.” And I would have to agree with the judge’s logic. Suing for wrongful creation is just silly.

    On my account of personal identity, on the other hand, suing for damages suffered in the case above is a straightforward matter. There already was a human individual in the womb, with a developmental program up and running. Since the program was running, we have an already existing person, who was damaged by the chemical.

    You spent quite a bit of time ripping apart Ms. Rebecca Kiessling’s testimony. I’m sure the lady is perfectly able to defend herself – she’s a lawyer, after all, and has probably met 100 people like you, with the same objection; “What are you complaining about? If your mother had had an abortion, you would never have existed, anyway!” But those objectors cannot explain why the individual in the case I described above should be able to sue the chemical company, so their position is philosophically indefensible. Ms. Kiessling’s pro-life position is clear, consistent and perfectly defensible.

    Legal cases aside, there are good grounds for preferring my account of personhood to yours. For what it boils down to is a question of: what should we ultimately value?

    There are certain mental states – e.g. acts of thinking and choosing and loving – which only persons can have, and it might seem tempting to value these and only these. But then we would be hard-pressed to explain how people can retain their value when they go to sleep, or fall into a coma.

    You say we should value people’s complex brain states, since these are what gives rise to the mental states that we associate with people when they are awake, and these states continue to exist even when the person is asleep. I say we should value any human individuals with developmental programs that are up and running, since these are ultimately what gives rise to complex brain states, and hence (on a materialist account, which I’m adopting here for argument’s sake, as my pro-life essay was written for atheistic materialists), what gives rise to the mental states that only people can have.

    So who’s right? Should we value the proximate cause of people’s mental states (as you claim) or the ultimate cause (as I claim)? I would argue as follows. If we are to value people properly, then whatever we value should be something reasonably permanent (like people) and not transient (like their fleeting mental states). So far, so good. But I would also add that whatever we value should not be something which is controlled by something else – for then it would be more logical to value the ultimate locus of control, as it’s what’s really in charge. A person, by definition, is something autonomous: it’s in charge, and nothing tells it what to do. In a human individual, the developmental program is what’s really in charge. It tells the brain and other bodily organs how to handle incoming information and environmental stimuli. It also directed the formation of the individual’s complex brain states during its development in the womb and as a very young child. So I would say: the feature in a human individual which gives it ethical value is not its complex brain states, but its developmental program, which is reasonably stable and lasts throughout the individual’s lifetime. That’s what we should value, and that’s what we should base our claims of personal identity on.

    I would also add that since an individual’s complex brain states are in state of constant flux throughout his/her lifetime, it makes little sense to identify these states with the permanent and enduring entity we call a person. The only thing which is enduring about these states is the capacity to have them – and that capacity is grounded in the person’s developmental program. An individual with a developmental program that’s up and running can be called a thing, with at least one stable property: his/her developmental program is always the same program throughout his/her life. Hence it makes sense to say that the person is always the same person.

    Well, that’s about as clear as I can make my position, Dave, so I think I’ll sign off here. I hope that helps.

  112. Hi Vince,

    Thanks for that last reply. I think I understand your position much better now and I think I can see a way to agreement.

    Unfortunately, we’re just entering the Thanksgiving holiday season in the US and I’m going to have very poor connectivity until Friday or Saturday. I have to look up a lot of stuff on fetal development and post-natal brain development before I can give a good reply.

    A short preview: The developmental program builds a human body with a brain inside it and then, in interaction with sensory data from that body and the outside world, creates a mind in that brain.

    The interaction with the body and the world is absolutely necessary. The developmental program can’t make a mind without it.

    This mind is permanent and occasionally conscious. It is the most valuable thing in the known universe. It is me and it is you.

  113. Hi, I’m finally back. Sorry for the delay, visiting relatives, children and a computer doing video games and facebook all day.

    I typed out an explanation of how the mind develops, but it got so long it was starting to look like a KairosFocus piece, so I’m going to start over. In Msg 38, you write:

    If, as you maintain, it is my complex brain states that make me who I am, then an intellectually impaired person who was able to trace his/her intellectual impairment back to the action of some chemical which damaged his/her brain while he/she was still in the womb would not be able to sue in a court of law for damages suffered. For if his/her mother hadn’t been exposed to the chemical, then a different pattern of brain states would have resulted in the developing fetus, and on your non-biological account of personal identity, he/she would then be a different person. So a judge could then throw the case out of court, saying, “Why are you complaining? If your mother hadn’t been exposed to that chemical, YOU wouldn’t be here to complain! I take it you’re glad that you’re at least alive, aren’t you?”

    Well, there’s no telling what a judge would say, but let’s assume this one is having a bad day. Presumably he would say the same thing to Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who had an iron bar driven through his head. I think we can assume this made a BIG change in his complex brain states. Presumably if he had sued the railroad, that judge would have thrown the case out of court, saying that if he hadn’t gotten that iron bar shot through his head, HE wouldn’t be here to complain. This is ridiculous on at least two counts: First, Phineas Gage was the same person both before and after the accident. He was changed, but he was still Phineas Gage. Second, a person who was intellectually impaired due to something that happened in the womb didn’t exist in the womb and his/her (now impaired) mind would not have developed until after birth. That person could not have sued the chemical company for making her a different person, but s/he could sue because the chemical made her develop into an impaired person.

    I think the problem here is that you’re mistaking consciousness for mind. Your conscious ideas change every time you think of something new. Your mind is what generates those conscious ideas and it is enduring. It changes, but it’s also continuous from infancy to death.
    Incidentally, there actually are lawsuits for wrongful life. Google says, “Wrongful life is the name given to a legal action in which someone is sued by a severely disabled child (through the child’s legal guardian) for failing to prevent the child’s birth.” There’s also “wrongful birth” where the parenta sue for the same reason and “wrongful abortion” where someone has an abortion of what would have been a healthy baby because a doctor mistakenly told her that the woman would be in danger if she continued the pregnancy or that the fetus would be deformed or disabled.

    I get the impression that all three types of lawsuits have been brought only against doctors. If anyone successfully brings a wrongful birth lawsuit against their parents, and such lawsuits become common, I predict a sudden and large reduction in anti-abortion sentiment.

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