Squaring the Culture




"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

05/18/2009 (6:30 pm)

What Is A Human Being? A Key to the Abortion Debate

human

In the various debates about abortion, most everybody agrees that there are certain things one should not do to human beings unless they deserve it; things like, you know, decapitation, or poisoning, or total dessication and dismemberment with a sharp object. Those of us who feel that abortion is wrong argue from that point that if treating an adult human being a certain way is wrong for any set of reasons, then treating a gestating human being is wrong for the same reasons. It’s a pretty simple argument, and provably correct. Because it’s correct and most everybody knows it, proponents of legalized abortions are forced to argue that at certain points in the normal development of human offspring, what’s gestating inside the mother is not a human being.

So the abortion debate is simple, and the only item in question is, what’s a human being? Because if the gestating zygote, fetus, or whatever is a human being, then the moral calculus is pretty clear; we don’t do certain drastic things to other human beings unless they genuinely deserve it.

Words mean things, so unless somebody wants to suggest that the words “human” and “being” are being used metaphorically or figuratively, we should be able to settle the question by reading the dictionary.

“Human” simply designates species. Any attempt to base humanness on value, maturity, cognitive ability, or any other characteristic is simply obfuscation; “human” denotes only species. Whether an object deserves the adjective “human” or not can be determined by testing DNA. Does the cell contain human DNA, as opposed to, say, canine, or bovine? If so, then it is a human cell. Is the ear comprised of cells that all contain human DNA? Then it’s a human ear. Is the infant comprised of cells that all contain human DNA? Then it’s a human infant. And so forth. Very simple, very unambiguous.

“Being” is a bit tougher, because it’s imprecise and general by design, like the word “thing.” “Being” is a general word denoting existence (based on the verb, “to be”), only in this instance it implies life; normal English usage in America would not ordinarily call something a “being” unless it were alive. So let’s assert that in this instance, it means “a living thing,” or to be more precise than “thing,” “a living organism.” If anyone thinks “being” in the phrase “human being” denotes something other than “a living thing,” you’ll need to state your reasons very clearly.

being

So, any object that (a) can properly be called a living organism, and (b) is comprised of cells that contain human DNA, is, by simple definition, a human being.

Now if you go to a site frequented by science-minded atheists, like PZ Myers’ Pharyngula, you will find biologists who are partisans with dogs in the hunt when it comes to the abortion debate. However, even there where they’re inclined to argue that a recently fertilized zygote in a human mother is not truly a human being, the definitions of the individual word “human” and of the phrase “living organism” are not particularly controversial. Granted, the precise point at which a being ceases to be “a sperm cell from one organism, and an egg cell from another organism of similar species” and becomes properly “an organism of particular species” in its own right, is arbitrary within about a 6-hour period; it’s a process, not a singularity. However, I don’t think even the partisans at Pharyngula would dispute that at the end of that process, what remains is, in fact, a living organism; it’s a collection of cells in a single, interactive system, that share common DNA, grow, and produce negative entropy from outside themselves (e.g., they eat). That’s a matter that’s got general agreement among biologists. And of course, since all the cells in that “collection of cells” are provably human cells, and since the collection of cells meets the common biological definition of life, then scientifically and provably it’s a human organism — or, in plain English, a human being.

Immediately, I can hear the howls, but honestly, folks, it really is that simple. The howls all speak of “meaning” which, frankly, is an imposition from whatever philosophical system you’re articulating. If you want to make this into a philosophical question, fine, but please admit that that’s what you’re doing. The scientific and biological question is easily resolved. It’s a “human being” when it can properly be called “human” (denoting species) and “being” (denoting that it’s a living organism.) That’s how language works.

To escape the common moral obligation to refrain from arbitrarily killing human beings, somebody will have to produce a logically valid syllogism proving that to treat a human being brutally who has X characteristic is morally wrong, but to treat a human being brutally who lacks X characteristic is not morally wrong. Then they’d have to show, logically or scientifically, when it is that a human being acquires X characteristic; and at that point, they’d have logically produced an argument that makes abortion defensible before a particular point in time.

I’ve heard that done plausibly with brain waves (though I don’t agree). I’ve heard people try “consciousness,” but that would mean — logically — that it’s morally acceptable to murder an unconscious human, and that’s absurd. I’ve heard people try “intelligence,” but that would mean — logically — that it’s morally acceptable to murder unintelligent people, and that’s heinous; the Nazis went down that road, and the rest of humanity shouted “No!”

I’m asking folks to shed their emotions, and deal with the simple facts. “Human being” is rather easy, if we shed the emotions. The remaining questions are just questions of logical consistency: if we consider a criterion sufficient to change the moral equation, does it work in all cases, or does it produce absurd or objectionable exceptions?

Defenders of abortion rights like to pretend that opponents of those rights stand only on religious grounds, but the truth is that opponents of legal abortion stand mostly on simple, consistent, and generally-accepted definitions of common words. It’s the proponents of legal abortion who insist on inserting problematic theories of “meaning,” which impose their particular philosophy on the rest of us, and especially on some 50 million human beings who will never see the light of day.

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39 Comments »

May 18, 2009 @ 6:58 pm #

I think the most cogent argument that may allow early abortion is the concept of subjecthood – i.e. is there a “me” there yet. Later, when I have time, I’ll expand on this.

May 18, 2009 @ 7:38 pm #

[...] I posted the following as a comment on the thread called Politically Correct Torture, and Dr. Turek asked me to post it separately as an article. So, here goes. I also posted this as an article on my own blog, which you can reach here. [...]

May 18, 2009 @ 8:21 pm #

That’s kinda funny, Jim, because before St. Augustine of Hippo wrote his Confessions, the concept “me” as an entity separate from society hardly even existed in adult human societies. Thus if whatever argument you produce is correct, it would have been appropriate to murder ALL HUMANS before about the 4th century AD.

(I’m not being entirely serious. But it is kinda funny.)

May 18, 2009 @ 9:27 pm #

Good to hear your sense of humor once in a while, Phil : )

May 18, 2009 @ 10:14 pm #

Speaking of emotions:

Phil also asked readers to put aside their emotions for a minute and deal with the simple facts. Yes, for the point he was making there okay. But I’ve never forgotten how it was that I changed my own mind many years ago regarding abortion. I was listening to a young Irish woman sing a lullaby to her unborn baby on a Focus on the Family radio program. I changed to pro-life right then and there.

I am not advocating for emotions to dictate over reasoning and objectivity. There was reasoning involved both before and after that fact. But I mention this simply to remind us that being human is also a proper balance of our reasoning and our emotions. I believe there is a place for emotional confirmation in this debate– and it goes strongly to the side of defending the unborn. To get too far away from that endangers us with our getting too far away from being human ourselves.

May 18, 2009 @ 10:16 pm #

And on the side of reason:

Even IF pro-abortionists could establish a sufficient reason for terminating a human being in the womb, they have another problem in logically explaining how it is that a human being can be terminated in one mother’s womb and yet be cherished and protected in an identical mother’s womb.

May 19, 2009 @ 4:41 am #

From the moment of conception the child yet to be born is a distinct human being, as it can not rightly be called anything else. It grows, it moves, its heart beats, it has a unique DNA structure formed from the mother and father. It is tethered to the mother as it grows, dependent upon her for the sustenance of life. But make no mistake, the cleaving of personhood from humanity is a philosophical one, an artificial construct that I can assure you does not matter a whit to the tiny baby growing within its mother. When an abortion is performed and the matter drawn from the mother is analyzed any scientist will discern that the remains are human. In our laws we make it illegal to take the life of another human being under almost all circumstances. Furthermore, we make it a crime to assault children, whether physically, sexually, what have you. There is no logic that holds water that diminishes the undeniable fact that when a woman is pregnant, she is pregnant with a human child. And since it is wrong to kill innocent human beings and the being within a human mother is itself human, one cannot logically conclude that abortion is anything other than wrong.

Who among us would want to be aborted prior to our birth?

My answer to that is none of us; survival is the strongest of our instincts.

Which of your children would you voluntarily kill?

My answer to that question is none of them.

The question of choice, in my mind, is misplaced. The choice properly occurs at intercourse. Without that act, there is no child. Once the wheels have been set in motion the action has consequences, and the consequences require responsibility.

May 19, 2009 @ 6:29 am #

turfman, your last point is exactly what is going on here, and what I alluded to in comments on a previous post. People have longed to escape responsibility for an action they wish to perform. In the past, these actions, such as intercourse, were hedged in with moral rules, and breaking those rules was sinful behavior, that is, behavior that engenders a penalty. The mostly successful attempts of the last few decades to remove not only the moral hazards, but the physical hazards as well has been abetted by technology and philosophy. Hence the splitting of hairs and the shifting definition of terms.

May 19, 2009 @ 10:53 am #

It’s interesting that dullhammer is raising the question of when it’s appropriate to include our emotions in our thinking. I’m currently working on a pamphlet for CrossExamined.org regarding the philosophical question of whether miracles are possible, and in my reading preparing for that, I came across CS Lewis’ mention that the scientific mindset deliberately truncates human reason. I’d never thought about it in exactly those terms, but he’s correct in that part of the deliberate process of the scientific method is designed to filter out everything other than dispassionate observation. Part of the bias of the modern West is to imagine that that makes us better informed, but Lewis, writing from the point of view of an earlier and frankly saner West, notes that this omits data, and sometimes important data.

The topic on which he raises this is the argument for the insignificance of man based on the size of the universe; Lewis points out that this is an emotional reaction, not a reasonable inference. It turns out he approves of the emotional reaction, even while noting that it’s not a correct inference; he argues, as do I, that that was the purpose for the size of the universe. (He also notes, interestingly, that to the ancients, what provoked emotion was not the size of the universe, but its brightness; but either one will do when the point is to convince Man of his insignificance.)

At any rate, I agree with dullhammer that in the case of abortion, the deep, emotional reaction everybody feels about abortion is actually the sane reaction. Even the question of when a human being becomes a human being is moot in the face of that. I mean, seriously, WHO CARES whether there’s a month or two during which some arcane philosopher won’t assign humanity to the whatever-it-is that’s growing inside the woman’s womb? All you have to do for it to gain significance is wait a while. All other things being equal, the kid will acquire significance, and all you have to do for that to happen is just DON’T KILL IT DELIBERATELY. This is as opposed to, say, a rock, which can only obtain significance if some able sculptor decides to reconfigure it into artistically interesting shape. So, who the heck is so eager to kill kids that they’re actually hunting for a narrow window during which they can say “Well, it’s not significant enough YET, so let’s go ahead and KILL KILL KILL!!!” My gut tells me there’s something deeply wrong with that (discounting such cataclysms as “Mom is certain to die during childbirth,” or something equally dire) and I think turfmann and Chris have correctly identified what that is.

May 19, 2009 @ 11:31 pm #

Hi Phil (and all),

Well, despite your strong pushing in your original post that it’s all so very simple, I think it’s pretty obvious that you’ve have committed a pretty awful philosophical error of “begging the question.”

http://moreunsolicitedthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/05/abortion-and-term-human-being.html

I really get puzzled how you and your regular readers get to the point where you can start saying “Well, it’s not significant enough YET, so let’s go ahead and KILL KILL KILL!!!” I understand very much the strength of your emotions about abortion…I share them. But once again you must demonize the opponents in the most herculean possible way in order to make your position seem like it’s God-approved. Holy crap, just argue the case already!

The distinction that is drawn is DIRECTLY tied to your “dictionary” definition of being, def. no. 2: CONSCIOUS mortal existence.

May 20, 2009 @ 7:45 am #

Darkhorse,

Thought I might try to address your post before Phil, as part of the “and all” greeting.

Begging the Question: Joe engages in building a straw man argument as he attempts to dissect the supposed ‘begging the question’ error. He makes point #2 to read “killing is a morally impermissible thing to do to another ‘human being’”, which is an oversimplification of 99% of all pro-life advocates position. Self-defense, saving the life of the mother, etc. are not unheard of concepts, hardly even debatable, for both pro and con on abortion. Yet it seems to have escaped Joe as he supposedly analyzes the pro-life argument. Phil himself does not make a blanket statement against killing humans, (as seen in paragraph 2 “we don’t do certain drastic things to other human beings unless they genuinely deserve it.” Though I don’t think he qualified the exception quite enough, the fact remains Joe has to omit all qualifications in order to build his straw man and make his final invalid point.

Ironically, Joe’s whole complaint sounds a lot like asking “Should Those Behind Torture Be Prosecuted?” instead of asking whether or not waterboarding is even torture in the first place? THAT is begging the question.

Demonizing the opponents: Phil is exaggerating (kind of like you saying ‘demonizing’) the position of the opponents in order to expose what is wrong. Just as some people might ‘demonize’ the position of the those who advocate . . . smoking. Without necessarily hating any smokers.

“CONSCIOUS moral existence”: It is definition #2, which can be included or not. I don’t imagine you are ready to argue that an unconscious human being is not really a ‘being’ are you? And are you aware (conscious?) of the fact that Phil actually addresses ‘consciousness’ in his article in the third from the last paragraph?

I probably won’t have opportunity for any back and forth on this, as the next few days will be quite busy. But I’ll still check in.

May 20, 2009 @ 7:51 am #

Jim,

First, your reaction to my comment, which is a separate argument from what I posted.

I use exaggerated language (which is obviously exaggerated) as exaggeration is always used — to emphasize the main point. The reason people might be uncomfortable with the exaggeration is because it hits too close to the truth; in cases where the truth is less painful, people find exaggeration humorous.

The main point is this: the only reason, in the abortion debate, that any individual even raises the question of when a human being becomes meaningful is to determine when it’s appropriate to kill it. At the base, I’m pointing out a simple fact. The fact happens to be demonic in its own right — which is my point. I’m not demonizing anybody; the people engaged in the exercise have demonized themselves.

Regarding begging the question:

Yes, there are plausible philosophical discussions over the meaning of human life. It’s not begging the question, though, if my point is to emphasize that those others are truly irrelevant questions; it’s only begging the question if I don’t provide the reason why those are irrelevant. I did: I explained that every attempt to add criteria to the definition of “human being” beyond the simple meanings of those words, constitutes an imposition from a philosophical system. The position that claims that abortion takes a human life does NOT come from such an imposition, but rather rests on simple definitions.

The abortion debate is, at it’s core, a mighty effort at rationalization; an entire culture has engaged in a spineless, sniveling effort to excuse a practice that every one of us acknowledges is heinous. The cure for rationalization is to call it what it is, and to state the obvious facts we’re trying to ignore. The fact we’re trying to ignore is that abortion takes a life, and everybody knows it, no matter how carefully they try to say otherwise. I haven’t read Joe’s article yet, but in general, the attempt to make the question of human meaning seem like the central question of the abortion debate IS the rationalization, and needs to be called that. It is not respectable.

Maybe you can explain to me when it’s appropriate for a Christian to dignify lame rationalizations. I don’t think it ever is.

May 20, 2009 @ 8:53 am #

“The main point is this: the only reason, in the abortion debate, that any individual even raises the question of when a human being becomes meaningful is to determine when it’s appropriate to kill it.”

And thus, you start right off in your reply by begging the question again. The VERY VALID philosophical discussion is NOT when a “human being becomes meaningful” – it is asking the question of whether, up to a certain point, there is a human being at all.

As to your exaggeration: When you reach the point where you must turn the opponent into someone who is gaily bouncing around committing murder, smile on their faces, you cross a very important line…whether right or wrong for the reasons you give, abortion is almost never, ever an easy decision.

Your mischaracterizations of those who participate in it do NOT help the discussion, even a little.

May 20, 2009 @ 10:38 am #

Jim,

You’re not even engaging my argument, just repeating your own. You’ve switched off your brain — and you have the temerity, even while ignoring my perfectly reasonable discussion, to claim that I’ve switched off mine.

Try inserting your correction into my sentence and see if it changes anything; you’ll discover that it doesn’t. “…the only reason, in the abortion debate, that any individual even raises the question of whether the living organism is what they would call a ‘human being’ is to determine when it’s appropriate to kill it.” What’s changed? The situation is precisely as I described it, even with your change included.

You’re not even making sense, pal. It’s not just that you’ve attempted a distinction that doesn’t exist; it’s that I don’t have to define “human being” for my statement to be completely and literally correct; only that it’s biological life. That, once again, is easily defended simply by consulting a biologically correct dictionary for the meaning of the word “life.” If you want to play your little game and say “but it’s not HUMAN life”, fine — but it’s still true that people are hunting for a little window during which it’s allowable on the surface to kill a living organism — an organism that will certainly, all other things being equal, BECOME a human being in every proper sense of the word if people will just refrain from trying deliberately to kill it. “Kill” is a precisely correct term for what is being done; look it up, it means “to end a life.” Stick your fingers in your ears, scream “IT’S NOT HUMAN!!!!” as loudly as you like and stamp your feet, but those are easily provable facts, and precisely correct.

I’m not the one demonizing my opponent here. I’m arguing that the question of when a human being becomes a human being is a red herring, introduced to avoid the obvious; and you’re calling me names and slandering my character in response.

And by the way –you’re making my point for me. The only way this insane position of the abortion legalizers can be defended is by making absurd accusations against those who simply apply common definitions, like I’m doing.

May 20, 2009 @ 11:44 am #

By the way, Jim –

Have you noticed that I never use the terms “pro-life” or “pro-choice?” I don’t, because I’m a stickler for word meanings; and also because I remember the 1970s when both of those phrases were birthed. They’re marketing slogans, aimed at poisoning the intellectual well, both of them. The positions are about widely legal abortions, and against widely legal abortions.

I’m saying this to illustrate that I’m not the mindless, partisan bomb-thrower you take me for. If I were, I’d be using phrases like “pro-death folks” to describe my opponents.

When I say “they want to kill it,” I mean precisely that. I’m not trying to poison any wells; I’m trying to return sanity to the discussion. I EXPECT that the rationalizers will scream like stuck pigs when I talk like that; if you stick a pig, it squeals. But not all discussions equally deserve approaches that mollify both sides. If ever there was a topic in which the self-absorbed Boomer infant does not need to be mollified, absolving them from the stark reality of what abortion does is it.

Also by the way, I’m curious: did you likewise harangue your friend Joe over his repeated use of the word “torture,” the way you’re doing over my use of the word “kill?” My usage is more precise than his.

May 20, 2009 @ 9:33 pm #

Phil: “you’re calling me names and slandering my character in response.”

One. Give one name I called you and give a single slander to your character that I participated in.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

May 21, 2009 @ 6:15 am #

Ok, Jim, you succeed in drawing attention away from your complete unwillingness to address a single argument honestly on this one. (But I’ve noticed, and believe me, I’m COMPLETELY disgusted.)

I erred when I said you called me names. You didn’t… but read on.

I wrote 640 words yesterday. You’ve addressed three of them. No, you didn’t call me any names, because you didn’t go from “you’re demonizing your opponents” to “therefore, you are a demonizer”. Cute little game you’re playing.

Now, would you like to address an argument for a change?

You’re upset because I’m challenging the comfy little moral high ground you’ve hacked out for yourself, from which you can judge all those less intelligent, Pharisaical little turd-like Christians who are not so enlightened as yourself. Get over it; you were committing self-righteousness when you camped on that ground. It’s bad ground. You’re not better than anybody, no matter how badly you want to pretend you are.

Abortion kills. It’s designed to. To use the word “kill” in association with it is precise. Those who want to rationalize abortion — and make no mistake, this is what every defense of abortion amounts to, because, as even its defenders are so fond of telling us, “nobody likes the idea of abortion” — hate using the word because it cuts directly through their rationalizations. Explain to me why this is a bad thing. I thought truth was helpful. Forgive me for violating “charity” by speaking the unvarnished truth. We both know God never does that, right?

The entire defense of abortion has amounted to a 40-year-long series of disingenuous word games. To play their games is to capitulate to them before we even begin. You’ve capitulated. I have not. The correct response to the defense of legal abortion is to blow away the obfuscatory fog, and use precise words. They can’t abide by it. They hate the light.

Now, address the two, clear arguments I’ve made, without resorting to pop psychology and telling me what a divisive fellow I am. (1) To raise the question of what constitutes a human being, aside from the common uses of those words, inserts complex, personal philosophies into a question where none is necessary; (2) The only reason anybody does it is to justify a killing before the living organism acquires full rights, which will happen if we merely refrain from killing. These arguments make clear what I said in the last paragraph: the defense of abortion is all about obscuring clear, moral imperatives by creating a fog.

Everybody knows abortion is wrong.

May 22, 2009 @ 12:28 am #

Hey there Phil,

I just wanted you to stay true to the accuracy with words to which you so loudly cling. No sense in throwing poop-balls when I’m trying to make progress in a discussion! I really did laugh out loud when you blamed ME for drawing attention away from the argument.

It would be an important thing right now to explore why you are making me into something you know very well I am not in order to defeat me in this argument.

That person who likes to “Stick your fingers in your ears, scream “IT’S NOT HUMAN!!!!” as loudly as you like and stamp your feet” – you knocked him dead! Good job…now where is that dead man? I didn’t even SAY that phrase, nor imply it, let alone scream it!

That guy who was calling you names and slandering you? Yes, you repented, but why do you think you even went there? What WAS that? That was one of the oddest things I’ve seen in a long, long while.

You knocked THIS guy to the moon: “You’re upset because I’m challenging the comfy little moral high ground you’ve hacked out for yourself, from which you can judge all those less intelligent, Pharisaical little turd-like Christians who are not so enlightened as yourself. Get over it; you were committing self-righteousness when you camped on that ground. It’s bad ground. You’re not better than anybody, no matter how badly you want to pretend you are.”

EITHER you have no memory of our long conversations, or it is very important that you defeat someone here. Shake your head, snap out of it, you know you are not describing me. I said from near the beginning of this message chain that I understand the strength of emotions about abortion, and share them.

But I don’t want to be accused of distraction, so here it is: I think there IS a valid argument about when human life begins here, and it has far more to do with the incredibly difficult circumstances surrounding the “felt” need for an abortion than it does about “philosophy”.

Now to a very important question you asked:

Try inserting your correction into my sentence and see if it changes anything; you’ll discover that it doesn’t. “…the only reason, in the abortion debate, that any individual even raises the question of whether the living organism is what they would call a ‘human being’ is to determine when it’s appropriate to kill it.” What’s changed? The situation is precisely as I described it, even with your change included.”

Now, I am being very, very honest here: this seems like light years of difference to me (and by the way, does not beg the question). You need only think of other situations in which circumstances may lead to the necessity to end the life of a living organism that is not a human subject. These are myriad.

But I don’t want to make light AT ALL of the very serious ramifications of the practice of abortion. If you believe that the biological material itself, before the existence of a “subject” to be destroyed, is still sacred amd worthy of protection, THAT IS FINE!

Most people DO believe this. The question follows, then…does the sacredness of the embryo, before the existence of the “subject”, always and forever trump every other concern for the mother. You have already admitted it does not – at least in the case of the threat to the mother’s life.

It is clearly reasonable to ask, then: Does any other concern for the mother rise above the general concern for the embryo (pre-”subject”) as something sacred, wonderful? THAT is the philosophical question to ask…and that I haven’t noticed you get to.

It will not due to extend “subject”-hood, or full humanity, back, simply to appeal to time: “an organism that will certainly, all other things being equal, BECOME a human being in every proper sense of the word if people will just refrain from trying deliberately to kill it.” This argument leads me to believe that you would push for full prosecution under the laws that protect the mighty trees of the Redwood Forest for someone who crushed a pine cone.

Again, I do NOT intend to make light of either the sacredness of the human embryo, nor of the often incredibly severe circumstances that often lead a woman to choose abortion, just because I use an example that I think mirrors the situation.

At times you will have to pardon me here, because I am now both working hard and trying to start a business, and only have a chance to put a word in for those I know who disagree with you, and I don’t always have the time to either sit at the computer all day and research my answer right away, or construct the most fluent answer.

I don’t believe that gives you license to mischaracterize what you already know about me though.

May 22, 2009 @ 2:01 pm #

Now, I am being very, very honest here: this seems like light years of difference to me (and by the way, does not beg the question). You need only think of other situations in which circumstances may lead to the necessity to end the life of a living organism that is not a human subject. These are myriad.

These other circumstances you speak of… does the living organism ever have a chance of “becoming” a Human Being? If not, why not? What pray tell is the difference between a pre-embryonic (I think this is where you are drawing the line) human and a bacteria? Protozoa? Aomeba? I seem see a very distinct difference between some other living organism and a human at any stage. It seems to me that only one specific type of cell(s) ever has a chance of becoming a human. Where does human-hood come from? Why does this line seem so arbitrary?

May 22, 2009 @ 5:27 pm #

See, Jim, I didn’t mention “sacredness” at all; just the general acceptance of the moral injunction against murder. “Sacredness” is your word.

The key to this argument is that the living organism we’re talking about has one characteristic that no other living organism has — namely, in the ordinary passage of time (and not very much time, at that), this one is going to become something which we all know is wrong to kill for no reason. We all know killing a human is wrong unless it deserves to be killed, but we want to kill this one (for reasons having nothing to do with what it deserves,) so we hunt for an excuse to call it something other than meaningful human life, knowing perfectly well that even if we manage to find an excuse, the organism will acquire full protection of moral law in a short while. There is simply no reason for even considering differentiation without first the motive to kill. The motive comes first; the rationalization follows.

Thus, we establish that the very act of attempting to differentiate “human being” from “living organism that for some reason is not really a human being YET” is morally on a par with conspiracy to commit murder; we have motive and opportunity, and we seek only a valid excuse to circumvent the moral law. It’s like contriving to provoke someone into attacking you, so that you can murder him and call it self-defense. By raising the issue at all we indicate that we know what we’re contemplating is murdering a human being, and we’re just looking for a loophole.

That’s why your objection is meaningless here:

“You need only think of other situations in which circumstances may lead to the necessity to end the life of a living organism that is not a human subject. These are myriad.”

Yes, they are, but none of those are going to become humans and the subject of this universally-accepted moral injunction. So, that’s meaningless here.

You then observe,

“It will not due (sic) to extend “subject”-hood, or full humanity, back, simply to appeal to time: “an organism that will certainly, all other things being equal, BECOME a human being in every proper sense of the word if people will just refrain from trying deliberately to kill it.” This argument leads me to believe that you would push for full prosecution under the laws that protect the mighty trees of the Redwood Forest for someone who crushed a pine cone.”

There are several meaningful differences here. First of all, the apt comparison would be to a seed that’s germinated in the ground, not to a pine cone. As with sperm and egg cells, only a tiny percentage of the seeds in pine cones ever become a tree. And second, the protection we afford full-grown redwoods never has the moral force of the protection we afford human beings, so it’s appropriate to differentiate on the basis of things like timber value or location, even after germination.

My point is that the mere passage of time has no real meaning.

It is clearly reasonable to ask, then: Does any other concern for the mother rise above the general concern for the embryo (pre-”subject”) as something sacred, wonderful? THAT is the philosophical question to ask…and that I haven’t noticed you get to.

Note, again, that “sacred” and “wonderful” are your words, not mine; I’m simply relying on the general moral understanding regarding murdering human beings. Given that, the question answers itself. When do concerns other than “your life or mine” mitigate the moral imperative not to murder? It’s generally understood that if a person threatens your life, you have a right to defend yourself, even to the point of killing; but without that threat, you don’t have that right, even if he’s blackmailing you, embezzling you, cheating you at cards, or in any other way threatening your property or well-being. Things like the inability to raise a child, or extreme economic hardship, certainly justify some remedy; but they never justify murder.

My point in all this is that these questions are not difficult questions, and have been settled long ago. The only reason the abortion debate exists at all is that people want to kill, and are looking for an excuse to do it without bringing moral sanctions on themselves. It’s classic rationalization, the very sort that people engage in when they want to murder an adult. If a guy is deliberately ruining your business, or sleeping with your wife, or violently abusing your daughter, you WANT to kill him — and you begin making rationalizations. “He deserves it.” “Nobody would blame me.” “The world would be a better place without him.” That’s why the laws exist. We don’t bother passing laws against things people never want to do. There’s no law, nor commandment, against chopping off your own foot; none is necessary. Murder, though, is tempting; there are reasons why we want to do it. Hence, the moral law. And that’s why we can’t permit ANY of the rationalizations through the door — because they’re the way murder ALWAYS gets through the door.

May 22, 2009 @ 6:46 pm #

Phil:

“That’s why your objection is meaningless here”.

I love the way you use the word “meaningless”. I wonder if it is a statement that, since it seems to me that the point we are discussing is really meaningful…that I and your readers should simply conclude I am a blabbering idiot?

I will NOT call your position meaningless if I disagree…but I do appreciate the glaring lack of other personal attack in your response. Well done…finally (take that in jest).

Keep in mind that it is a very different thing to: (1) kill that which will, with the mere passage of time, become something that we all know is wrong to kill; and (2) kill that which is something that we all know is wrong to kill.

The admitted wrongfulness of (2) does not imply the wrongfulness of (1).

The fact that something (a buried seed/acorn in the redwood forest) will, with the mere passage of time (and if left alone) become a giant redwood, does not mean that it is wrong to dig up the seed/acorn. To the contrary, it would be at minimum, morally profane to destroy one of those magnificent trees.

Nor is it wrong to deny the vote to Children who, with the mere passage of time, will reach voting age.

In moral arguments where “will become” is brought in as a supplement, the interlocuter is trying to finesse the “is not” liability. The trump is “is not.”

Acorns, even germinated, are not oak trees. An embryo is not a “someone.”

A person who is alive as the result of an implantation process of a previously frozen embryo cannot credibly say “I was in the freezer for several years before I was born.” He correctly says “the entity that became me was in the freezer for several years, but I wasn’t there.”

Jim

May 22, 2009 @ 8:59 pm #

Oh, by the way, Phil – I borrowed the line of thinking I just posted from Joe…because he has had the time to carefully word it.

Also, I noticed you didn’t use words like “sacred”; but I think we can use that without appealing solely to religion.

As a nation, we have agreed that things like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone should be held sacred; there is no question at all that, if we absolutely HAD to destroy either of these to preserve the earth and humanity, we would.

Before an actual person exists during early development, before there is a “subject”, the sacredness calls for deep, deep care about decisions effecting it.

As much as it is fun to caricature our opponents, I don’t think MOST people in the “Pro-choice” camp are in favor of anything but the reduction in the number of abortions…even if they believe that abortion should be legal.

The greatest thing would be if they simply became unnecessary.

May 22, 2009 @ 11:10 pm #

A person who is alive as the result of an implantation process of a previously frozen embryo cannot credibly say “I was in the freezer for several years before I was born.”

Huh? Why not? Such a statement would be both medically and scientifically sound.

Dr. Hymie Gordon, professor of medical genetics and physician at the Mayo Clinic:

“… we can now also say that the question of the beginning of life – when life begins – is no longer a question for theological or philosophical dispute. It is an established scientific fact.Theologians and philosophers may go on to debate the meaning of life or purpose of life, but it is an established fact that all life, including human life, begins at the moment of conception … as far as I know, this has never been argued against.”
Dr. M. Krieger, The Human Reproductive System:

All organisms, however large and complex they may be when fullgrown, begin life as but a single cell … this is true of the human being, for instance, who begins life as a fertilized ovum.
Dr. B. Patten, Human Embryology

The formation, maturation and meeting of a male and female sex cell are all preliminary to their actual union in a combined cell, a zygote, which definitely marks the beginning of a new individual.
Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth, a principal research associate in the Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School:

So, it is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception, when egg and sperm join to form the zygote, and this developing human always is a member of our species in all stages of its life thereafter.
Dr. Ronan O’Rahilly and Dr, Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 2nd edition:

It needs to be emphasized that life is continuous, as is also human life, so that the question “When does life begin?” is meaningless in terms of ontogeny. Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.

Before an actual person exists during early development, before there is a “subject”, the sacredness calls for deep, deep care about decisions effecting it.

This sounds like an arguement for not killing it. What makes a clump of cells so sacred? Is it the essence of being human, maybe?

I don’t think MOST people in the “Pro-choice” camp are in favor of anything but the reduction in the number of abortions…even if they believe that abortion should be legal.

[emphasis mine]
Slightly off topic, but don’t all “pro-choicers” believe abortion should be legal in some shape or form?
More to the point-why does something that supposedly has no moral connections/reprecusions need to be reduced? If it is no different than a docter prescribing an antibiotic what’s the weighty issue? You can’t have it both ways. It cannot be sacred and nothing special at the same time.

Let’s insert slavery into your statement where abortion is and see what happens;

“I don’t think MOST people in the “Pro-choice” camp are in favor of anything but the reduction in the number of slaves…even if they believe that slavery should be legal.”

Does that make any sense?

May 22, 2009 @ 11:11 pm #

crud, I missed a tag… sorry

(Webmaster notes: I put it back for you. Let me know if I put it in the wrong place.)

May 23, 2009 @ 8:55 am #

You got it. Thanks.

May 23, 2009 @ 9:04 am #

Nick, et al,

You hit the nails squarely. Thanks.

From Darkhorse’s post I thought it would be interesting to google the life cycle of an oak tree, so I got what you’ll see below. That got me to thinking about the human cycle. I find it interesting that it can be made to look like the relatively simple oak, or it can be made to look like a partnership with the Creator himself.

Also, if you were the Devil and considered humans to be something on the pesky level of fleas, might you not attack them at their most vulnerable point in their life cycle? That would be both the physically pre-born AND the spiritually pre-born, in my humble opinion. And no doubt there would be a lot of very nice people involved in the Devil’s campaign, but that would not make the results any less diabolical.

For what it’s worth to this discussion, I am posting the summaries in separate posts below. Obviously the third one comes from my own POV as a Christian. And I do realize the abortion debate can carry on just fine even without direct references to Christianity. But there are a lot of Christians in this discussion and I personally find the ‘Big Picture’ information to be illuminating of the Creator, the zygote and everything in between.

May 23, 2009 @ 9:05 am #

The Life Cycle of an Oak Tree

“The acorn falls. it germinates. grows baby leaves. grows true leaves. in about 20 years, it produces acorns. cycle repeats.”

May 23, 2009 @ 9:06 am #

The Life Cycle of a Human Being

Fertilization, implantation, development and birth, growth, maturity, fertilization and the cycle repeats.

May 23, 2009 @ 9:07 am #

The Dual Life Cycle of a Human Being

Fertilization occurs between a man and a woman who have (optimally) developed a lifelong bond of love.

The resulting zygote/blastocyst falls and implants to the wall of the uterus, the embryo receives nutrients from the mother through the placenta, where growth then can bring enough development for the baby to be born into a family.

There development continues for another twelve years with increasing influence from other human relations: mother, father, siblings, friends, school, church, sports, etc., often lasting for one’s entire life.

Full physical development is not complete until approximately age 19, though reproduction can begin years earlier. And the physical cycle can repeat at such a point.

*Somewhere between birth and death a human being can be born a second time, through reception of the Seed of God’s Word and regeneration by God’s Holy Spirit, resulting in an eternal relationship with the Creator through the one true and perfect Human, Jesus Christ. (see parable of the soils [Luke 8:5-21] in light of the ‘abortion’ principle.)

*Without this second birth the human spirit becomes trapped within the confines of mortal flesh resulting in such degeneration that eventually it will be no longer recognizable as human.

*It has been found that since Pentecost many of those who are ‘born again’ have become active in being partners with God in sharing the Seed of God’s Word. This has resulted in an explosive increase in the reproduction of other relationships between humans and their Creator.

To the praise of His glory.

May 23, 2009 @ 1:12 pm #

Jim,

A couple of housekeeping items before we return to our discussion.

1) Your first objection in this discussion was “YOU are demonizing your opponents” (which I wasn’t.) Your latest post began “YOU are belittling me by calling my argument ‘meaningless’” (which I’m not — belittling, that is.) If you’re really interested in reducing the personal component in our discussions, perhaps you should consider using less of it yourself.

2) “Meaningless” is used as a synonym for “irrelevant.” It implies nothing about the arguer.

3) I’m actually careful to avoid words like “sacred,” not because they can’t be used to denote what we’re talking about (you’re right, it would serve to explain), but because so many in the abortion debate would seize on it and use it to demonstrate that all opposition to abortion is just so much partisan religious faith. I’m not sure for which Devil you’re advocate today, I really don’t trust Joe, and I don’t know who’s reading this besides us, so I’m not going to abandon my caution. The arguments against abortion are not particular to the Christian religion, although the Christian religion is the Western vehicle through which we still see most clearly the fundamental moral underpinnings of all major human civilizations, and express understandings common to humanity.

Now…

Joe’s and your rebuttal was masterful in that it somehow turned “It is NOT” into several paragraphs. That’s really pretty much what you said though.

Keep in mind that it is a very different thing to: (1) kill that which will, with the mere passage of time, become something that we all know is wrong to kill; and (2) kill that which is something that we all know is wrong to kill.

The admitted wrongfulness of (2) does not imply the wrongfulness of (1).

I should “keep it in mind” as though it were some axiom of truth? From where, pray tell, did this axiom arise? The fact that the mere passage of time is all that stands between the embryo and the rights of personhood is the first premise of my argument; you and Joe don’t get to simply assume it into the background. You actually have to argue something first.

The admitted wrongfulness of (2) bloody well does imply the wrongfulness of (1). No — it denotes it plainly.

In moral arguments where “will become” is brought in as a supplement, the interlocuter is trying to finesse the “is not” liability. The trump is “is not.”

Nonsense.

Which of the following is most like a human being? (a) rock (b) tree (c) automobile (d) orangutan (e) human embryo 3 weeks into gestation

A rock is not a human being. A tree is not a human being. An automobile is not a human being. An orangutan is not a human being. But I’m very clearly and precisely maintaining that even if one manages to prove that a human embryo is not a human being (which I am NOT granting, by the way), the human embryo possesses a characteristic that clearly and obviously separates it from those other “is not” objects… namely, that in the normal passage of a few months, it will become one, whereas none of the others would ever pass from “is not” to “is” even if given a few millennia. To put “human embryo” in the same category with “rock” is simply and obviously wrong.

Dullhammer nails it rather nicely by positing the normal human life cycle. You guys want to clip a segment out of the cycle and say “This is not part of the same thing.” That’s clearly and obviously wrong.

Furthermore, by attempting to place “human embryo” into a separate category along with “automobile, rock, tree,” Joe ignores the main force of my argument: the only reason anybody would ever even dream of putting “human embryo” into the “is not” category rather than the “is” category is if they’d decided a priori that they wanted to kill it, and were looking for an excuse. That’s my point: you and Joe (and the entire abortion-legalizing world) are chopping logic solely to justify a killing. Observing this marks it clearly as immoral rationalization.

This explains the rather astonishing category fallacies you fall into. Vis:

Acorns, even germinated, are not oak trees. An embryo is not a “someone.”

You’re substituting level of development for personhood. “Acorns, germinated, are not oak trees” could just as easily be an analog — in fact, would be a better analog — for “children are not adults.” You wouldn’t say “a child is not a “someone,” would you? So don’t try to pretend that “germinated acorn/oak tree” is a valid analog to your argument. It’s not. And “acorn, not germinated” is even worse, as I pointed out last time; that’s like saying I’m trying to assign personhood to a sperm cell. Sperm cells are human — “human sperm cells” — but they’re not living organisms, they’re cells. Like sperm cells, most acorns don’t become oak trees.

I can do the same thing with oaks that I do with humans, though; the acorn, germinated, is a living organism of the genus Quercus, and very much part of the normal life cycle of the oak tree. The fact that we value the lumber from the adult Quercus but not from the acorn, does not make the acorn any less part of the life cycle, or any less a member of the genus.

Or this lovely category fallacy:

Nor is it wrong to deny the vote to Children who, with the mere passage of time, will reach voting age.

That might be a valid argument if I was arguing for driver’s licenses for embryos. You know perfectly well that I’m not. Voting rights have to do with ability. (Although, demonstrating that ability functions as a sub-category within a larger category to which rights inhere, the child who is too young to vote is nonetheless considered a full citizen.)

A person who is alive as the result of an implantation process of a previously frozen embryo cannot credibly say “I was in the freezer for several years before I was born.” He correctly says “the entity that became me was in the freezer for several years, but I wasn’t there.”

This, I simply deny, as Nick has already. The first formulation is much better, and much more likely to be said, both colloquially and literally.

The fact remains, and remains uncontested: you’re chopping logic solely for the purpose of justifying a killing you decided to perform a priori. It’s nothing but rationalization. And that’s even if I grant that a living human organism at the implanted embryonic stage is not a human being — a claim that I find linguistically unsupportable.

By the way, if Joe’s going to participate in our discussions here, he may as well come on back and do it in person. But I don’t trust him.

May 23, 2009 @ 3:38 pm #

Phil:

Your argument is another shining example of why I say you would do very well to get some philosophical training, even a philosophical degree. Then your power with words would be mighty indeed!

I say this because there are two separate lines of argument going on that you keep blurring, and I will grant you the benefit of the doubt and assume you don’t realize it.

The discussions of acorns, minor children, rocks, etc. is ONLY one to establish that there is very meaningful differentiation between “will be” and “is”. It is not for the purpose of equating acorns, trees, rocks with humans. Come on!

The other discussion is whether, if an embryo is not yet a subject, with consciousness, whether other concerns could override our careful attitude toward it…and again, you’ve already said yes.

Despite your “Nonsense”, your calling a real argument an a priori assumption, your “chopping logic” statements, I am a reasonable person, a somewhat clear thinker, and these arguments appear to me to be well worth consideration.

I will not call “Nonsense” to your counter-arguments…but I do seriously believe they are intended to belittle real thinking on the issue because, if someone concludes the opposite, they’ve missed something “so simple.”

May 23, 2009 @ 6:46 pm #

Your argument is another shining example of why I say you would do very well to get some philosophical training, even a philosophical degree. Then your power with words would be mighty indeed!

I say this because there are two separate lines of argument going on that you keep blurring, and I will grant you the benefit of the doubt and assume you don’t realize it.

Why, you arrogant little PUTZ!

First of all, the second discussion you mention, whether there are valid concerns that might override our careful attitude toward an embryo that “is not yet a subject, with consciousness,” is a red herring you’ve been trying to insert and which I HAVE BEEN DELIBERATELY DEFLECTING. I did answer your question at one point very directly, based on the assumption that the embryo has full human rights; I did this because I’m not going to let you treat the primary argument as having been granted. So, no, Jim, I’m not missing what you’re saying, I’m not mistakenly blurring two arguments, and most emphatically I have NOT “already said ‘yes’” (except to the extent that I’ve granted that there exists such a thing as a human being who deserves to be killed). I’m refusing to let you take the discussion away from something we have not resolved, which is that differentiation that you keep insisting on, but that I’m disputing in a manner that YOU HAVE FAILED TO ADDRESS EVEN ONCE!!!!!!

In the second place, there ARE two arguments here, but you’ve got them wrong. The first argument is over the proper usage of the words “human being,” suggesting that any usage involving characteristics beyond species and the presence of biological life are unnecessary impositions from personal philosophies. This was the argument raised in the post to which this discussion is attached, but we have both, for all practical purposes, abandoned this argument. I do not consider it settled, however.

The second argument is the one we’re discussing now, regarding whether the differences between the various stages of development in the human life cycle are meaningful to the question of whether ordinary moral injunctions against murder apply to all of them.

The discussions of acorns, minor children, rocks, etc. is ONLY one to establish that there is very meaningful differentiation between “will be” and “is”. It is not for the purpose of equating acorns, trees, rocks with humans. Come on!

I think what you mean is that you didn’t intend analogies between oak trees and humans, in which case the correct response is that you presented them as balanced pairs, and the common way to interpret a balanced pair is as an analogy. So you really should blame yourself for presenting it improperly, if that’s not what you meant.

However, in terms of the actual argument you’re making, the similarity of human embryos to rocks and trees is PRECISELY the equation you’re attempting. Here’s the argument you’re raising in syllogistic form:

  • Major premise: human beings may not be killed (unless they deserve it), but subjects other than human beings may be killed with impunity.
  • Minor premise: human embryos in utero are not human beings.
  • Synthesis: Therefore, human embryos may be killed with impunity.

(And from there, you begin trying to assert concerns over which an embryo might be killed.)

The entire purpose for the discussion of whether embryos have the rights of human beings is aimed at making the minor premise true, and therefore the syllogism true. The idea is that for the purpose of determining murder, there exist only two categories of being: those with full human rights, and those without. Human beings have full human rights, subjects that are not human beings have no human rights. It’s because the embryo is not a human being that it’s appropriate to end the life of the embryo (or fetus without brainwave, or fetus without consciousness, or whatever BOGUS criterion you slip in there while pretending I’m not sophisticated enough to notice.) In this matter of human rights, you attempt to group the human embryo with trees and rocks — the category you call “is not.”

And what I’m attempting to argue, but you keep refusing to address (this time by pretending I’m not quite competent enough to argue in the same room with Great Philosopher Jim) is that the differentiation you’re offering is not sufficiently meaningful to separate the embryo from its full human rights. It’s the fact that your argument REQUIRES that we group the embryo into the same category as rocks and trees — the category of “things lacking human rights” — that makes it so obviously wrong.

The differences between a human zygote, a human embryo, a human fetus, a human infant, a human toddler, a human child, a human adolescent, and a human adult are granted. Those are STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT in the life cycle of a HUMAN LIFE FORM (otherwise known as a human being, but that takes us back to the argument from the original post, which we’ve abandoned.) Some meaningful differentiations can be made based on stage of development; this is obvious to the casual observer.

However, what I’ve said several times already is that even IF you somehow manage to establish that an embryo is, by the imposition of some philosophical system or other, not a “human being” for some reason, it’s STILL something that is clearly and properly distinct from any other object on the planet besides human beings — e.g. a third category between “a human being” and “not a human being,” belonging to species “human” and being a living organism, but for some squirrelly reason still not human being enough to satisfy you — and that, since the only difference between “human being” and this distinct third category is the passage of a relatively short time, an objective and uninvolved observer would automatically grant this third category the full rights inhering to anything in the “human being” category. My point is that the attempt to pretend that this third category is actually part of the second category, “not human,” and can therefore be treated the same as an orangutan, a tree, or a rock, is so obviously wrong that it could only be made by a participant who is anything but dispassionate.

The sum of the argument is that when you say “It’s not a human being,” I respond “What is it, then… a ZEBRA???” Whatever criteria you apply, the embryo is more human being than it is anything in the category where you’re attempting to place it.

Now, will you please stop pretending I’m not as capable a philosopher as you, and address the freaking argument???

May 23, 2009 @ 8:54 pm #

Maybe this will help, though I fear you will take my lightness of mood wrong.

Regarding the embryos in the freezer: Is it proper to regard them as “He”, “She”, and “Them”? If someone brought a bunch of embryos to your home to store in your freezer, are they then your house guests?

May 23, 2009 @ 10:38 pm #

Darkhorse,

I don’t see that it really helps. Other than to lighten the mood.

Suppose you were frozen on some future day and brought to my house. Should I play music for you over the sound of the freezer fan in the summer? Could I use you for a stair step to my porch in the winter time?

The serious question would be: if a woman came to your house and announced that she was carrying an embryo in her uterus, would you congratulate her, or would you tell her to kill it?

And how can BOTH responses be moral at the same time?

May 24, 2009 @ 12:09 am #

Hi Dullhammer,

I haven’t had a lot of time to respond to you directly…a couple of times because I wasn’t quite sure I understood you.

But surely you know from all I’ve said here so far that I take this subject very, very seriously (other than the occasional break-the-tension humor).

In your hypothetical situation, I wouldn’t for two seconds presume to know the woman’s circumstances. I would do just what you would do, if she was considering ending her pregnancy (no empty euphemism intended there) – I would befriend her, try to understand with her the gravity of her situation and circumstances, and try to be Jesus to her.

May 24, 2009 @ 12:24 am #

By the way, Phil:

Okay, light mood over,

I gave you my honest impression of the problem of your argument. I claim no ability to think more clearly than you. I believe I have known people who do, one of which you know.

To say, “The argument is not so simple as you’re making it, and here is why,” is not to try and sneak red herrings in. I don’t believe I offer my viewpoint in an arrogant manner; nor do I believe I was trying to fool anybody.

You said: “My point is that the attempt to pretend that this third category is actually part of the second category, “not human,” and can therefore be treated the same as an orangutan, a tree, or a rock, is so obviously wrong that it could only be made by a participant who is anything but dispassionate.”

I trust a cursory review of the things I said would convince anyone here that I believe no such thing.

If the existence of someone who sees merit in both your core position (sans the oversimplification) and the position of those cursed arcane philosophers causes you angst and discomfort, we can move on.

May 24, 2009 @ 8:21 am #

Hi Darkhorse,

Direct replies are not always necessary. To me at least. I will have a reply for you later in the day, though.

in Christ,

DH

May 24, 2009 @ 7:30 pm #

Darkhorse,

here’s a hypothetical for you, or anyone interested. (My apologies, in advance, to the anti-gamblers in the crowd.)

Suppose a man has a lottery ticket in his wallet for a jackpot of more than a million dollars. But the winning number has not yet been revealed. As he starts to pay for lunch the ticket falls onto the counter and gets soaked in his unfinished bowl of soup. He doesn’t want to put such a thing back into his wallet so he leaves it there, figuring it’s a typical loser anyway. The waitress salvages it and considers it a kind of a tip. Later that week she ends up a millionaire.

Follow up rhetorical Qs:

1) Would you support the man’s choice to abort his ticket?

2) Would you support the waitress’ choice to bring the ticket to full term?

3) Would you say the main point, thus far, is on ‘choice’ or on the ‘ticket’?

4) What is the meaningful differentiation between “will be” and “is” regarding the ticket in this story?

5) Where is the gamble regarding the value of the unborn?

6) Why would anyone need a law telling them NOT to throw their treasures away?

7) Or even a story?

May 25, 2009 @ 8:55 am #

If the existence of someone who sees merit in both your core position (sans the oversimplification) and the position of those cursed arcane philosophers causes you angst and discomfort, we can move on.

This is not about my angst. It’s about your failure to address a fairly simple argument.

You said: “My point is that the attempt to pretend that this third category is actually part of the second category, “not human,” and can therefore be treated the same as an orangutan, a tree, or a rock, is so obviously wrong that it could only be made by a participant who is anything but dispassionate.”

I trust a cursory review of the things I said would convince anyone here that I believe no such thing.

I’m fairly sure you don’t; but you’re acting as Devil’s Advocate here for those who do. And the point is, this is the necessary logical conclusion from any argument raised that attempts to place gestating human offspring into some category other than “human being” for the purpose of assigning full human rights. The human embryo winds up in a category along with rocks where it clearly does not belong.

The difficulty of whatever life circumstances cloud the issues, which is the red herring issue I’m deliberately resisting, is, as I pointed out before, normal, and always present whenever a human being wants to kill another for any reason. There are very few pure psychopaths who kill for mere sport; we have reasons to kill each other, and some of them are pretty persuasive. The fact that they exist for whomever wants to kill the embryo does not make any difference to the logical question regarding into which category the embryo should go for the sake of human rights, any more than they make a difference to the logical question regarding what rights inhere to the adult human being.

To say, “The argument is not so simple as you’re making it, and here is why,” is not to try and sneak red herrings in.

It is, when the argument truly is as simple as I’m making it. I didn’t see the “here is why” part. You kept repeating various differentiations between “will be” and “is” that were not germane to the argument, and ignoring the reasons I gave for why they were not germane. We’ve been talking past each other.

I’ll gladly back off of the word “sneak” and suggest instead that you and I simply disagree. I don’t think you’re trying deliberately to fool anybody. You take my colorful wording too personally; I don’t mean to impugn your character, just to identify the argument as an interloper.

By the way, I’ll take some of the blame for the fact that it seems like there are two arguments; the “second argument” I mentioned yesterday, now that I think about it, is really an illustration demonstrating that the first argument is not an oversimplification. In fact, I’m rewording my presentation of this particular point of view in the light of our failure to communicate.

Regarding the embryos in the freezer: Is it proper to regard them as “He”, “She”, and “Them”? If someone brought a bunch of embryos to your home to store in your freezer, are they then your house guests?

This seems funny to you, but honestly, I would in fact consider the embryos “them” and my house guests. I wouldn’t lay out towels for them because, obviously, they don’t need them, but I would treat them with a great deal of respect and care. I suspect that you would, too.

The interesting thing about this quip of yours is that it illustrates that a large part of this debate is emotional. It’s easy to consider an embryo less than a human being because it doesn’t look like a human being. No face. No arms. No legs. No conversation. No clothing. Nothing but “a blob of tissue,” barely even visible. It’s a smaller, less dramatic version of the reaction we have to seeing someone like the Elephant Man (remember that film from the 80s? Outstanding film.) If it doesn’t look human, it must not be! But in fact, those are illiterate, primal reactions, not literate, thinking ones. I’m the one here who’s attempting to remove all the emotional reactions and return us to a completely dispassionate rendering of the facts of which we’ve been apprised by scientists. If it’s got human DNA, and it’s growing in a progression that’s clearly a part of the human life cycle, then it’s a human being — regardless of how it looks.

That’s why your offer of backing off if the existence of opponents causes me “angst and discomfort” is so far off the mark. It’s not my emotions that have launched this debate, it’s yours.

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