Tom Gilson

On the Murder of George Tiller

On the one hand it ought to go without saying, but on the other hand it emphatically must be said: the killing of George Tiller was absolutely wrong. As Robert George put it:

Whoever murdered George Tiller has done a gravely wicked thing. The evil of this action is in no way diminished by the blood George Tiller had on his own hands. No private individual had the right to execute judgment against him. We are a nation of laws. Lawless violence breeds only more lawless violence. Rightly or wrongly, George Tilller was acquitted by a jury of his peers. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” For the sake of justice and right, the perpetrator of this evil deed must be prosecuted, convicted, and punished. By word and deed, let us teach that violence against abortionists is not the answer to the violence of abortion. Every human life is precious. George Tiller’s life was precious. We do not teach the wrongness of taking human life by wrongfully taking a human life. Let our “weapons” in the fight to defend the lives of abortion’s tiny victims, be chaste weapons of the spirit.

Via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments

71 thoughts on “On the Murder of George Tiller

  1. Yes, of course: Robert George is spot on.

    But, let us not forget: lots of little lives will likely now be saved. Let us also not forget to call a spade a spade: indeed George Tiller had rivers of blood on his hands–gravely evil acts repeated over and over… and the evil act of murder committed against him does nothing to diminish or absolve Tiller of responsibility for his crimes against many, many defenseless innocents.

    Let’s provocatively use some of liberals’ own disordered reasoning against them, shall we? Liberals argue that crimes committed by minorities are somehow “less” grave or “less” subject to sanction than those same crimes committed by the majority (Sotomayor is an example of such a racist vision) because of “mitigating” circumstances. Well then, for the crime of murdering a mass murderer-abortionist, should not Tiller’s murderer therefore receive a lighter sentence… or even be acquitted for saving lives?

    No, of course I’m not suggesting this–just pointing out just how morally repugnant some of the justification for abortion is.

    Everyone who supported slavery was free. Everyone who supports or performs abortions was born. That’s how oppression works.

  2. Holopupenko,

    No, let’s not use disordered reasoning for any reason whatsoever.

    I am pro-life, not merely anti-abortion. That means that I’m against abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, most wars, pollution, and shooting people during church services.

    What happened is that a gunman shot and killed a man, thereby cutting short his potential to repent. This was an act of profound evil, of a kind that ought not to be excused in any way. Don’t try to score points against liberals with it, don’t pretend that it’s anything other than evil.

    Satan would love for Christians to start showing how much we really hate others in this … Don’t play into his hands by even suggesting such nonsense.

    Condemn all evil as what it is.

  3. I debated whether or not I would post a comment because I can see this post getting sidetracked real easily, but, then I’m not contributing to the conversation. So…

    The way I understand things, God alone, not us, has the power over life and death. We should, therefore, neither seek to hasten death or prolong life. Murder hastens ones death. For a private citizen to murder someone, regardless of what acts they committed in the past, is morally and ethically reprehensible. I agree with Robert George, violence against abortionists is not the answer.

    Brief and, I hope, concise.

  4. I in no way condone the violence that was commited against Tiller, but what I find most amazing about this story is that Tiller was the Usher in a Lutheran Church when this happened. Does anyone know how Tiller was able to justify to himself what he did and still consider himself Christian? That is the biggest question I find myself asking.

  5. Being Lutheran myself, I would assume the phrase simul iustis et peccator (at the same time saint and sinner) was not unfamiliar to Tiller. And then there’s the grace of God. I won’t condone what Tiller did, but at the same time, I won’t make any judgments about whether or not he was a Christian. Bonhoeffer was a part of the plot to assassinate Hitler, and I don’t hear anyone judging whether or not he was a Christian.

  6. I have been receiving an education listening in on the give-and-take conversations on this blog, especially since I do not have the training in logic and philosophy as do many of the contributors.

    One thing seems to be missing from the Christian standpoint concerning the problem of evil (theodicy). I bring this up in this thread only because Wickle mentioned his name in a previous comment.

    How do those presenting the problem of evil from the Christian viewpoint integrate the reality (alleged reality) of Satan and fallen angels–who apparently promote evil in defiance against their Creator.

    I apologize if this is the wrong thread to introduce this subject.

  7. Anthony,
    Is it so hard to imagine that Tiller may have believed he was doing the right thing?

  8. OS:

    It’s one thing to “believe” you’re doing the right thing (though, you’d be hard pressed to convince any reasonable person that murdering innocent, defenseless human beings is the “right thing”); it’s another thing altogether as to whether your assessment of the “right thing” is correct. Hitler thought he was doing the “right thing” by purging Europe of Jews… and the parallel of slavery, Nazism, and abortion in reducing human beings to something less than human (to justify murder hiding behind the euphemism of “choice”) is astounding. Moreover, some acts (like abortion) are intrinsically evil, i.e., evil by the nature of the act itself.

    Try again. Help us out: could it be that your moral relativism is getting in the way of your ability to reason things through carefully?

  9. Let me play Devil’s Advocate here for a minute: So all instances of abortion are intrinsically evil? What about instances where carrying the pregnancy to term will put the life of the mother at great risk or could even be fatal? Or what about spontaneous abortions (miscarriages)? Are they intrinsically evil?

    In and of itself, the term abortion does not refer to why the pregnancy was terminated.

    As used by society, where one freely goes to the doctor and has the pregnancy terminated, both my denomination and myself hold that for the most part, this specific act of abortion is morally wrong. However, within that, there are some instance where that is not the case, specifically in cases of rape or incest.

  10. Craig:

    There are certain actions that of their very nature are so disordered that regardless of the circumstances a human being could never do those actions and truly remain faithful to their human dignity. Abortion is one of those. Murder and adultery are others.

    Note, however, both the formal (what we are choosing) and material (what we do physically to fulfill the act) aspects of the act must be accounted for. Moreover, all three components of a moral act (intention, object [choosing the act and the physical act itself], circumstances) must be good in order for the act itself to be good. If one of those components is evil, the entire act is evil.

    So, with regard to your examples of rape or incest, both the intention (death of an unborn child) and object (the act of abortion) are evil, while the circumstances may be good. Therefore, in both those cases, the killing of the unborn child is evil because it is a choice of evil. One can never choose evil to do good.

    Spontaneous abortions or miscarriages are not morally evil but naturally evil, so the human mother can never be at fault: she did not choose the evil. There is an important distinction between a human act and an act of man. The former involves choice animated by the will as informed by the intellect. The latter concern acts such as breathing, bowel movements, or spontaneous abortions.

    Regarding the case “where carrying the pregnancy to term will put the life of the mother at great risk or could even be fatal.” Let’s take the concrete case of uterine cancer when a woman is pregnant. If it isn’t taken care of right away, it’s very likely that the mother will die. The choice is terrible: either continue to carry the child and die (hence abrogating responsibility and love for her husband and remaining children), or try to cure the cancer with the resulting death of her child.

    Here is where the principle of double-effect comes into play that is based on the absolute principle that one cannot choose evil to do good. Double-effect has four conditions: (1) the action itself as chosen must itself be good, (2) we must intend only the good, (3) when we choose an action, and we see it will have a good and an evil effect, the good effect must precede the evil effect, (4) a proportionally grave reason must exist.

    So, back to the concrete case: the woman may go ahead and have the cancerous uterus removed to save her life because what she is seeking is a good. She is doing this with good reasons to be supportive and faithful to her husband and to her remaining children. What is being removed is the pathology: an evil that is a disease for which she is seeking healing, and so she intends well. The potential death of the child (quite likely in such a case) is not willed: it is a consequence of the act, but not an immediate one—it’s indirect and unwanted. Finally, there is a proportionally grave reason for doing so: she is not undertaking the act to preserve her figure or whatever but to save her life… with no intention of harming the child. It is a heart-rending decision.

    Good questions. I hope this helps.

  11. I’m loath to jump in on this topic—its one where minds are almost never changed.

    But I will, briefly, at least.

    So, with regard to your examples of rape or incest, both the intention (death of an unborn child)….

    You consider it a child even if they go to the doctor and get the “day after” pill immediately following the event?

    How can a single cell, or even 100 cells be considered a child?

    It will grow into a child, if left to do so. No disputing that. But it isn’t a child as yet.

    Another issue that I’d be interested in hearing the christian take on:

    christian pro-lifers generally claim that the soul enters or is formed at the moment of conception. At least I’ve heard this claimed by them many times. Is this your position?

    And, if so, why are you convinced of this? I don’t know of any biblical basis for the claim.

    Couldn’t the soul as easily be speculated to form at the moment when the brain develops enough for consciousness of some minimal sort to be possible?

    Either way, its unconfirmable so all we can do is speculate. But that seems at least as reasonable a place to think it occurs as conception.

    Another thing: if you believe that the soul enters at the moment of conception, given the rate of early spontaneous abortion (where, in most cases, it was never known there was a pregnancy) then heaven must be made up of 90% (or more) of human beings who never experienced life on earth at all.

    That would form a bit of a problem for “soul building” and other theodicies argued for in the previous discussion (since most of humanity would never have had the opportunity for such).

    I’m not interested in getting into a debate on this—I’m happy to simply say I disagree (or probably will) and leave it at that. But I’d be interested in knowing what your views are on those topics.

  12. Holo,

    That’s for the response. It helps me understand where you are coming from. I’m not sure if I totally agree with you on all points. But, your post was very insightful.

  13. @david ellis:

    You recognize, don’t you how metaphysically-based your position is? I recall you saying in our discussions on the sources of ethics that you didn’t prefer to base you ethics on ontology, specifically on the question of whether moral truths exist. Perhaps that doesn’t make any difference in this context, you’ll have to let me know about that.

    But when you say,

    How can a single cell, or even 100 cells be considered a child?

    It will grow into a child, if left to do so. No disputing that. But it isn’t a child as yet.

    You are taking a stand on the ontological status of the developing fetus. An unsupported stand, I might note. One might even fairly view it as a slogan type of stand. For surely you know that it’s not the only opinion out there. You present it as if it is obvious, but (obviously) it is not obvious to everyone. So tell us, why do you think we ought to consider your statement believable?

    (I’ve written in the past of your frequent failure to make one-liner statements without supporting arguments. I decided to do it this time with different words. It’s the same issue, though.)

    christian Christian pro-lifers generally claim that the soul enters or is formed at the moment of conception. At least I’ve heard this claimed by them many times. Is this your position?

    And, if so, why are you convinced of this? I don’t know of any biblical basis for the claim.

    (David, are you so committed to denigrating Christianity that you won’t even capitalize the word when it’s the first word in a paragraph?! Take a look at the comment guidelines, okay?)

    That’s an interesting question. You’re right: the Bible does not say the soul enters at the moment of conception, or that the soul is first formed at the moment of conception. In Psalm 139 there are hints of it, but it’s not distinctly stated. The issue was not live then, was it?

    So when does the soul enter/form? As Christians, we’re committed to the fact that it happens sometime during the child’s development in the womb. We don’t know when. So when should we feel free to kill that child? When can we do so without moral culpability for taking the life of a living soul?

    Suppose you were at a shooting range with a gun, and in front of you was a large cardboard panel with a target painted on it to look realistically like a small girl (though obviously not one). You have nine minutes in which you may fire the gun, or you can choose not to fire it at all. But you’re told that at some unknown, indeterminable point during that nine minutes a real little girl is going to step behind that target and stand there until the cardboard panel drops and reveals her at the end of the nine minutes; or that she might already be there when the timer starts. You don’t know when they’ll be there. All can do (as you said in your comment) is speculate.

    When do you fire? If you guess it’s safe to fire in the first three seconds, but the girl was already there, are you free of culpability?

    Here’s the real question: why fire at all? And (back to the question you asked) can you see why your question doesn’t really need a more definite answer than it has, in order for us to oppose abortion?

    Abortion is usually justified with reference to some life circumstance revolving around the mother, which almost always comes down to a matter of lifestyle or economic interruptions. So let’s extend this analogy a bit further to make it more parallel with abortion. Let’s suppose there’s someone in your life who is a real pain in the butt. They cost you money, they cost you hours and hours of time, they embarrass you every chance they can get, they take things from you, they break your things, they tie down your attention so you can’t do what you want. Suppose that’s the person coming in behind the cardboard, instead of that little girl. When do you shoot? If you do it in the first few seconds, and they’re already there, are you free of culpability?

    Another thing: if you believe that the soul enters at the moment of conception, given the rate of early spontaneous abortion (where, in most cases, it was never known there was a pregnancy) then heaven must be made up of 90% (or more) of human beings who never experienced life on earth at all.

    That would form a bit of a problem for “soul building” and other theodicies argued for in the previous discussion (since most of humanity would never have had the opportunity for such).

    God knows what he’s doing with them. We don’t have to. I don’t really see how this affects soul-building theodicies. The soul-building theodicy doesn’t claim that God is building every person’s soul for eternity; especially since God knows some people will reject that opportunity. It only claims that one way in which God’s allowing evil may be morally justifiable is in his building souls for eternity. Which ones, or how many, are not an integral part of the theodicy at all.

  14. I can even see situations where an abortion would be considered by reasonable people, but the abortions Tiller performed were not usual abortions. He performed 3rd trimester abortions, some even after 28 weeks. The reasoning for some of his abortions included to alleviate “temporary depression” in the pregnant woman. Or that continuing the pregnancy [would] constitute a substantial and irreversible impairment of the patient’s mental function. This is abhorrent to me, but what I was really looking for that I have not been able to find are words from him explaining how he relates his beliefs as a Christian to what he does for a living. I think the anecdotal evidence points to the fact that he thought he was a practicing Christian in good standing. I would just love to know how he thought that was true.

  15. Anthony,

    I don’t want conjecture on how Tiller might have justified what he did with what he believed.

    I support the death penalty, I’m pro-choice and a Democrat. I don’t think that makes me any less Christian and I don’t think that calls into question my standing in the church.

    Just because Tiller performed 3rd trimester abortions doesn’t make him a special case in the church. He’s not the exception within the church, rather, he’s the standard. Everyone in the church is a sinner in some way or another. All practicing Christians are sinners, no way around it. Even unrepentant sinners are welcome in the church. The church is for the sinner (repentant or otherwise).

  16. As I said, I not interested in getting into yet another debate (and I’m even less interested in yet another debate about abortion than I am another concerning the problem of pain). And I was not presenting an argument when I stated my opinions, nor claiming them to be indisputable or authoritative—they were simply that. My opinions.

    I’m just interested in hearing your opinions on those matters in return.


    I can even see situations where an abortion would be considered by reasonable people, but the abortions Tiller performed were not usual abortions. He performed 3rd trimester abortions, some even after 28 weeks. The reasoning for some of his abortions included to alleviate “temporary depression” in the pregnant woman.

    On that I completely agree with you. If Tiller’s practice was as I’ve heard it characterized then I agree that he was a murderer (even if the law refuses to recognize him as such).


    So when does the soul enter/form? As Christians, we’re committed to the fact that it happens sometime during the child’s development in the womb. We don’t know when. So when should we feel free to kill that child? When can we do so without moral culpability for taking the life of a living soul?

    A reasonable response given your belief in souls.

    Not believing in souls, only in persons, I draw the line at the formation of the brain since that seems the bare minimum level of development for any sort of consciousness to be possible—and that seems to me the most morally relevant fact.

    Again, before you make another accusation of “billboard argumentation”, I’m not making an argument. Simply sharing an opinion.


    Just because Tiller performed 3rd trimester abortions doesn’t make him a special case in the church. He’s not the exception within the church, rather, he’s the standard. Everyone in the church is a sinner in some way or another. All practicing Christians are sinners, no way around it. Even unrepentant sinners are welcome in the church. The church is for the sinner (repentant or otherwise).

    Maybe so, but if he was doing the sorts of abortions that its claimed he did then, being an unrepentant murderer, his church and minister were remiss if they were not regularly calling him on it.

  17. Yeah, I was wondering about that too. On this issue its not always easy to be sure one’s sources aren’t slanting the facts to fit their agenda.

    I hadn’t heard the “temporary depression” claim. Only the second one. Which does strike me as a way of trying to get around laws restricting late term abortions to instances where the woman is in medical danger.

  18. Maybe so, but if he was doing the sorts of abortions that its claimed he did then, being an unrepentant murderer, his church and minister were remiss if they were not regularly calling him on it.

    We don’t know what the ministers were doing, so I’d rather not speculate.

  19. One thing that bothers me about those who oppose all abortions is that they do not seem to be putting forward alternatives or participating in the consequences. How many of you are foster or adoptive parents? How many of you are foster or adoptive parents of children who were born addicted? Or with FASD? How many of you personally support an 18 year old non-high-school graduate who has three children?

  20. ordinary seeker,

    You make an excellent point. You sound like my Ethics professor by pointing out that we don’t talk about what kind of community we need to be to support those whose vocation is raising kids through adoption. You aren’t my Ethics professor…are you?

  21. David:

    The soul does not “enter” the body at conception any more than the form of any real being “enters” the material. A person is NOT the soul. My sense is (correct me if I’m wrong) is you view the Christian position on persons as some form of dualism. Dualism–which took a HUGE leap backward with Descartes–is as pernicious an understanding of persons as materialism is. The ONLY reason one sees the term “hylomorphic dualism” together is to distinguish the two causes of form and matter. They are NOT parts. One does not “contain” the other. They are, in fact, inseparable: even when your soul “departs” the body at death, that soul is not you: you are body and soul as one. The human soul is created by God at the instant of material conception. The brute animal soul is a (to use a philosophical term of art) a “material” soul, meaning once the brute animal dies, there is no more form (in the philosophical sense): it’s just a pile of chemicals.

    From a different perspective, the soul is the “intelligible aspect” of the human… just as “dogginess” together with the concretizing accidents is the intelligible aspect” of this particular dog Fido. So, your speculation that the soul could “enter” the body when the brain reaches a certain point of development is, from the philosophical persepctive, nonsense: what would the “thing” be without a form (soul in the case of a human)? Well, nothing, because that’s an impossible situation: EVERY real thing must have a form in order for us to know it.

    Anyway, I’m in Ohio for the next few days, and this is about all I can write for now.

  22. I find this conversation terribly dispiriting. The anti-choice echo-chamber must be hermetically isolated from the broader society if you all can seriously wonder how a doctor performing safe and legal medical procedures to protect women’s health can reconcile his career with his religion.

    You must not be aware that the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Church, the Disciples of Christ, the United Methodist Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America all have official Church policies strongly supporting the right to reproductive choice. The largest Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational, Lutheran, and Methodist Churches in this country all support the right to abortion.

    According to most polls approximately 20% of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal. 30% believe it should be legal under all circumstances, while approximately 50% believe it should be legal under some circumstances. The vast majority of American Christians believe that women should have access to safe and legal abortions.

    George Tiller is a great American hero who risked his life for decades to provide safe and desperately needed medical procedures for families in crisis. Christian doctrine affirms the unalienable right to bodily self-determination, for stewardship over one’s own body. Nearly all of the nation’s major Protestant denominations recognize that a woman’s dignity as a human being and as a citizen require that she have control over her own body. George Tiller lost his life in service of his deeply Christian calling to serve and protect the rights of women.

  23. Third trimester? 28 weeks?

    If those churches support that, which I doubt, then they are not in touch with majority opinion in the U.S. (see here and the bottom of this page); and even if they were, they would still be wrong with respect to God’s Word.

  24. gregory,

    I don’t fall into the Pro-Life camp (or as you said the anti-choice camp), but I do think that at 28 weeks, induced abortions should not be performed except in very rare instances and only to protect the life of the mother. This would be the exception, not the rule. At 28 weeks and beyond, I think other alternatives need to be explored (adoption, foster care, etc.).

    You must not be aware that the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Church, the Disciples of Christ, the United Methodist Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America all have official Church policies strongly supporting the right to reproductive choice. The largest Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational, Lutheran, and Methodist Churches in this country all support the right to abortion.

    I can only speak for the ELCA, but that is not entirely true.
    The Social Statement on Abortion can be found athttp://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements/Abortion.aspx Basically it allows for abortion to protect the mother’s life, when the fetus is not likely to survive long after birth, or in cases rape or incest.

    To quote from the Statement:
    “Because of our conviction that both the life of the woman and the life in her womb must be respected by law, this church opposes:
    * the total lack of regulation of abortion;
    * legislation that would outlaw abortion in all circumstances;
    * laws that prevent access to information about all options available to women faced with unintended pregnancies;
    * laws that deny access to safe and affordable services for morally justifiable abortions;
    * mandatory or coerced abortion or sterilization;
    * laws that prevent couples from practicing contraception;
    * laws that are primarily intended to harass those contemplating or deciding for an abortion.

    The position of this church is that, in cases where the life of the mother is threatened, where pregnancy results from rape or incest, or where the embryo or fetus has lethal abnormalities incompatible with life, abortion prior to viability should not be prohibited by law or by lack of public funding of abortions for low income women. On the other hand, this church supports legislation that prohibits abortions that are performed after the fetus is determined to be viable, except when the mother’s life is threatened or when lethal abnormalities indicate the prospective newborn will die very soon.”

  25. Tom,

    Unless I am very much mistaken, Dr. TIller was a resident of the state of Kansas, which is where he practiced medicine. His practice was subject to the laws and regulations of that state. The law in Kansas only allows abortion past fetal viability to protect maternal life or significant threats to maternal health. Moreover, Dr. Tiller was required to consult an independent physician to confirm that maternal life and/or maternal health were at risk. Moreover, the law required Dr. Tiller to report his determination to the state government for any fetus over 22 weeks.

    Anti-choice Attorneys General prosecuted Dr. Tiller for supposed violations of this law. Dr. Tiller was acquitted on all counts. Correct me if I am wrong, but this means that in the eyes of the state Dr. Tiller acted within the law. He was not performing elective abortion at 28 weeks.

    Craig,

    The ECLA statement is, in fact, strongly pro-choice, although less strongly than several of the other churches. The only abortions that the ECLA would outlaw are post-viability elective abortions–abortions that are already illegal in Kansas and throughout the United States. They carve out a late-term exception that would allow abortion in cases of severe fetal abnormalities incompatible with life, and when maternal life is at risk. They seem not to carve out a maternal health exception for post-viability abortion, a position with which I strongly disagree, but nonetheless I

    But let’s get the facts straight here: only a tiny percentage of all abortions in this country occur after fetal viability, and nearly all of them occur in cases when maternal life is at risk or the fetus will not be able to survive. Over 60% of abortions occur before 9 weeks (at which point the fetus is less than 1 inch long and the fetus weighs less than 1/10th of one ounce). Nearly 80% occur before 11 weeks (at which point the fetus is around 1.2 inches long and weighs around 1/6th of one ounce). Only 1% of abortions occur after 21 weeks–these are medical procedures to protect the mother’s life and health.

    Referring to most aborted fetuses as ‘babies’ is highly misleading at best. But a late-term abortion is certainly a tragedy. No one knows this more than expectant mothers, which is why so few of them have abortions at the end of their pregnancies.

    As for religious affiliation and abortion, over 70% identify as Protestant or Catholic.

  26. Gregory,

    Yes, the ELCA statement supports abortion (and I have admitted as much elsewhere) in certain instances and uses pro-choice language in places, although it does not condone abortions of unintended pregnancies. It’s not a blanket support of the right to abortion.

    Anyways, I don’t disagree with you. I was just speaking from the Lutheran perspective. Besides, it sounds like we agree on most points.

    And to be honest, I’m probably transferring my feelings onto you. I pulled out of a conversation the other night because of baseless attacks against the ELCA for their Social Statement/failure to discipline Tiller. So to say I’m oversensitive everytime the ELCA is mentioned would be an understatement. If I am transferring my feelings onto you, I apologize.

  27. Craig,

    The pro-choice position does not require that the ECLA ‘condone’ any sort of abortion. Pro-choice is not pro abortion. The only abortions the ECLA believes should be outlawed are elective abortions after fetal viability. Given that only 1% of abortions take place after fetal viability, and moreover that those are rarely if ever truly elective, the ECLA statement can only be read as strongly pro-choice.

    statistics are from:
    http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html

    The idea that the ECLA should have disciplined this man is absurd. Firstly, the idea of the church disciplining lay members is highly problematic. Secondly, and more importantly, this man was acting well within the bounds of the ECLA social policy statement–indeed, he was following the mandate of the statement to help ensure safe and legal access to ‘morally justifiable’ abortion.

    This entire discussion misses a fundamental point: only a tiny, disturbed, number of individuals would knowingly wait until 22 weeks to seek an elective induced abortion. Focusing on that tiny group and acting as if they are representative of the millions of women–most of whom are mothers–who have availed themselves of safe and legal reproductive choice is reprehensible. In those very few cases abortion should be limited. But for the well over 99% of women who seek abortions before viability and/or to protect their lives and/or to terminate a fetus with irregularities incompatible with life, abortion is morally justifiable and morally necessary.

  28. Gregory,

    Thank you for further commenting. I have to admit, I’m fairly weak in knowledge when it comes to the field of bioethics. So this helps me out greatly as I work to improve my position in the discussion.

    On a purely side note, after some reflection, I have to wonder how much of my recent ethics class I’m reading into the social statement. Just something for me to consider.

  29. Wait a second. Can we first address whether the unborn child is a person or not before deciding whether another’s “rights” trump that of the most defenseless of humans. If proabortionists were true to their position, they must assert the unborn child is not a person and support that position. If they agree the unborn child is a person, then they have to defend their position that others trump the child’s right to life. Why is this issue skirted? May we also not ignore the fact that throughout history, when entire groups of humans were reduced to something “less than human”… that horrific consequences ensued?

  30. Holopupenko,

    If you refer to an embryo or a fetus as an ‘unborn child’ you have already prejudged the question you are asking, namely, is the ‘unborn child’ a person. A child is a person. Why don’t we use the appropriate medical terms here–embryo and fetus–so as not to prejudge the outcome of the discussion by the terms we employ.

    You consider an embryo a person? This morning I made myself an omelette, and as sometimes happens with organic eggs, there was a tiny spot in the yoke indicating that it had been fertilized. That spot was an embryo. Did I just kill a chicken? I think not.

    If it were the case that an embryo were a person then we would have to say that the overwhelming majority of persons die without a brain, without eyes, and without limbs: that the vast majority of persons spend their entire existence as a tiny clump of cells that dies within weeks. In fact, by this definition it is the rare human being who is even born. According to this definition, an infant baby is not young, but has actually reached old age—all life outside the womb would be old age, and even the the third trimester would be late middle age.

    Clearly this is not how personhood is understood in common sense, in philosophy, or in theology. There is just no rational basis for ascribing equal moral weight to a microscopic clump of cells and a living, breathing person with moral agency. It makes no sense.

    The question of whether an embryo is a human being, as opposed to a person, is more or less irrelevant: human being specifies a species and carries no moral designation. Person is the relevant moral term, and the two terms should not be mixed up.

    That being said, even if you unreasonably insist that an embryo or early-term fetus is a person there is still strong reason to embrace a pro-choice position. There are many real-life examples to illustrate this. For instance, if someone in the hospital needs a blood transfusion to survive, I still have the right to refuse to donate my blood to save that person. It’s my blood, and the government cannot coerce me into giving it away even if it will save a life. I have an extra kidney and could probably save a life by giving it away. Or transplanting my bone marrow. Even if a clump of cells is a person, how can the government force a woman to donate her biological material to that person if she doesn’t want to?

    Fetal viability is a rational line because at that point a woman can refuse to donate her biological material to the fetus and the fetus can still survive outside her body. She does not have the right to insist that the fetus is killed, but she does have the right to have it removed from her body when she wants.

    If a woman wants to rid her body of an embryo or fetus she can do so, regardless of government regulation. The only question is whether she will have access to a safe and legal abortion, or will have to put her health at risk to end the pregnancy. Throughout all history women have terminated pregnancies, and they will continue to do it until the eventual extinction of the human species.

    Finally, none of this is relevant to the heroic work of Dr. Tiller, who was murdered not for providing early term elective abortions, but for providing medically necessary abortions to protect women’s lives and health. Certainly there can be no legitimate moral case for forcing women to sustain severe and irreversible injuries or to risk death? This man risked his own life to save women’s lives.

  31. If a woman wants to rid her body of an embryo or fetus she can do so, regardless of government regulation. The only question is whether she will have access to a safe and legal abortion, or will have to put her health at risk to end the pregnancy. Throughout all history women have terminated pregnancies, and they will continue to do it until the eventual extinction of the human species.

    For me, this is one of the big points in the abortion debate and is the biggest reason why I am pro-choice. I was just having this conversation with my wife last night. Women will find ways to have abortions, whether it is in a clinic/hospital or in a back alley somewhere. I’d rather it be in a clinic/hospital since they are sterile and the risk of infection and even death is almost minimal.

  32. Craig:

    You don’t know what you’re talking about–philosophically (neither size, location, environment, dependency, or development have anything to do with dignity or personhood), theologically (made in the image and likeness of God, Jeremiah 1:5), or morally (personhood is not, at its base, a “moral term”)… and Tiller was indeed a murderer. That you support Tiller and view him as a hero is your misfortune… and your support for abortion means (quite inescapably) that you share some of the responsibility that it occurs. That’s all that needs to be said.

  33. If you refer to an embryo or a fetus as an ‘unborn child’ you have already prejudged the question you are asking, namely, is the ‘unborn child’ a person. A child is a person. Why don’t we use the appropriate medical terms here–embryo and fetus–so as not to prejudge the outcome of the discussion by the terms we employ.

    Okay, let’s use the proper, (informal) scientific terms – a fetus is a human being. You seem to want to judge the morality of killing this human being (an innocent one) on the basis of personality type – or in this case the lack of one. What kind of person decides the fate of an innocent human being on the basis of personality type? I’m curious, besides the fetus, are there other innocent human beings with certain personality types that you think we can choose to ‘abort’?

  34. Craig:

    TEN-THOUSAND HEARTFELT APOLOGIES. Please forgive me – there was no intention to make such a stupid mistake, and there is no excuse for not being more careful with the names. I sincerely apologize for confusing the names. The comment was aimed at Gregory’s comments – not at you.


  35. You don’t know what you’re talking about–philosophically (neither size, location, environment, dependency, or development have anything to do with dignity or personhood)

    That depends on what one means by personhood. Given your background beliefs one might well think what you say above.

    But if personhood is defined in relation to consciousness or the capacity for consciousness then things like development are indeed quite relevent. If an organism has not developed a brain and has not any capacity for consciousness it seems reasonable, on those views, to say its not a person.

    And is it really necessary to use phrases like “you don’t know what you’re talking about”? There are many times when I’ve thought the same of you. But one can express disagreement, even very strong disagreement, in a more courteous manner.

    Surely you don’t speak this way when face to face with people. So why do so when on the internet?

  36. David:

    Your personal opinion on “consciousness” is repugnant and unsupportable (it’s a reductionist operational definition of personhood). Sleeping people are not conscious, and neither are those in a coma. Terri Schiavo was not in a coma: she WAS conscious… until people with similar views to your own got a hold of her, declared her a vegetable (“vegetative state”), and agonizingly starved and dehydrated her to death. I actually might agree with you, by the way, on the entity being born without a physical brain—BUT not because the physical brain is missing, rather because the entity was likely not ensouled at the moment of conception. The brain is necessary for the physical manifestation of human acts, but it is not sufficient for forming personhood designation (angels are persons), nor can it be equivocated with the mind.

    As for Gregory: I call ’em as I see ’em. He indeed does not know what he’s talking about from the three major perspectives outlined. This is not merely being “incorrect” on a few points: it’s a repugnant world view that reduces weaker human beings to something “out of sight, out of mind.” The ironic thing is you, who rail against God for the torture of innocents babies, find no problem in defining out of the human family entire classes of humans, and hence will not raise a finger to alleviate their suffering or stop their destruction. You should, truly, be ashamed of yourself.


  37. Sleeping people are not conscious, and neither are those in a coma.

    Which is why I referred to personhood as something to be defined “in relationship to consciousness or the capacity for it” rather than saying personhood was simply having consciousness.


    Terri Schiavo was not in a coma: she WAS conscious… until people with similar views to your own got a hold of her, declared her a vegetable (“vegetative state”), and agonizingly starved and dehydrated her to death.

    I do not advocate the absurdity which is euthanasia by dehydration. Euthanasia should either not be done or should be done by a quick, painless method. Our legal system’s idea of a compromise on this issue is pure idiocy.

    As to whether she was conscious or lacked, at that point, even the possibility of consciousness (was a “vegetable” to use your term) I do not know the details of her case nor have I the medical expertise to claim to know one way or the other. It seems to me that the matter was one legitimately decided by her husband based on the medical advise and judgment of her doctors. They might have judged incorrectly, I don’t know, but it seems to me that they are the right people to be making the call in her case. Not you and not I.


    I actually might agree with you, by the way, on the entity being born without a physical brain—BUT not because the physical brain is missing, rather because the entity was likely not ensouled at the moment of conception.

    Actually, I was thinking more about the status of normal embryos prior to the formation of the brain rather than ones which, for some reason, have some genetic or developmental defect and fail to form a brain.

    But thinking over such cases is relevent and was on my mind in thinking about this issue so I’m glad you brought it up.


    The ironic thing is you, who rail against God for the torture of innocents babies, find no problem in defining out of the human family entire classes of humans, and hence will not raise a finger to alleviate their suffering or stop their destruction.

    Actually, when the embryo is capable of suffering then it is, in my judgment, a human person whose well-being must be taken into account. If you think I thought otherwise you misunderstood my position.

  38. Holopupenko,

    You obviously have no interest in attempting any sort of conversation. You make blanket, unsupported assertions and then use those assertions as the evidence for your points. It’s just silly to try to talk to you.

    SteveK,

    What you say is very interesting, and it demonstrates me point. You write:

    You seem to want to judge the morality of killing this human being (an innocent one) on the basis of personality type – or in this case the lack of one.

    That’s more or less correct. A ‘lack of personality’ is, by definition, a ‘lack of personhood.’ A person is, inherently, that which has personality. A dog, a possum, a carrot, etc. has life but lacks personality and therefore lacks personhood. Likewise, a first trimester fetus lacks personality and is therefore not a person. That is exactly my point.

  39. I’ve known many a dog with loads of personality. I think we need a better definition of personhood than having personality.

    Maybe what you mean is that a person is a sapient being.

    There are some tricky problems with that approach, though—as anyone who’s done much study on the philosophical issues surrounding animal rights (or the lack thereof) knows.

  40. >That’s more or less correct. A ‘lack of personality’ is, by definition, a ‘lack of personhood.’ A person is, inherently, that which has personality. A dog, a possum, a carrot, etc. has life but lacks personality and therefore lacks personhood. Likewise, a first trimester fetus lacks personality and is therefore not a person. That is exactly my point.

    This runs into the same problem that Holo mentioned regarding unconscious children/adults. If the deciding criteria for doing harm is that the being lacks personality at a particular moment or duration in time then smothering ANY innocent human being in their sleep (child, adult, fetus), or while in a coma, is perfectly fine under the banner of “choice”.

    I presume you would object to legalizing that, and the only reason I can think for objecting is because you find it personally offensive – which is a very weak argument.

  41. Gregory:

    It’s interesting you try to turn the tables on the “unsupported assertions” thing: the pot calling the kettle black indeed! In any event, it is true you don’t know what you’re talking about: we need focus upon only one of your earlier assertions (“person is the relevant moral term”) to see that born out. Yet, lo and behold, now you define a person as something having a personality. Are you kidding… I mean, really? “Having a personality”?!? Even David Ellis sees the problem with that: not only is that unbelievably backward, it’s also substantively wrong. The definition of a person is “an individual substance of a rational nature.” For something to “have” a nature doesn’t mean the nature is fully actualized at a certain point in its development or if injured or if asleep… which leads to why you so wrongly claim the following:

    this is not how personhood is understood in common sense, in philosophy, or in theology. There is just no rational basis for ascribing equal moral weight to a microscopic clump of cells and a living, breathing person with moral agency. It makes no sense.

    Ignorant scientistic reductionism that proposes (like David Ellis) an operational definition for personhood rather than an essential definition. You (like David) share in the morally-repugnant vision of the strong over the weak: one person’s “decision” trumps another’s life… oh so similar to Hitler’s and slavery’s vision of “out of sight, out of mind.” The pile of bodies continues to grow, and it makes escaping your moral responsibility for permitting it to occur all the more difficult. You have a lot more homework to do, Gregory.

  42. I recently read a post on another blog which proposed an interesting thought experiment about abortion and personhood:

    Imagine a building is burning and you can save either (but not both):

    a 3 year old child

    or

    10,000 fertilized embryos

    Which do you choose and why?


  43. You (like David) share in the morally-repugnant vision of the strong over the weak: one person’s “decision” trumps another’s life….

    In reality, my view is not that might makes right and that one person’s decision trumps another person’s life. I simply disagree with him on the nature of morally significant personhood and when it begins. I disagree with his opinion that a zygote is a person.

    But why address the real opinions of others when it’s so much easier to rant, name-call, misrepresent and demonize?

  44. I recently read a post on another blog which proposed an interesting thought experiment about abortion and personhood:

    Yeah, interesting, but it has nothing to do with the central issues of the abortion debate.

  45. On the contrary it goes right to the heart of the abortion debate and the underlying dispute concerning what constitutes morally significant personhood.

    But I can see why you’d want to claim otherwise. Neither option puts those holding Holo’s position on personhood in a favorable light—either he lets a child die in agony in favor of 10,000 mindless fertilized cells or he acts in a way that’s hard to reconcile with his view that zygote’s are people.

    Here’s the relevent section of the post on “Abortion and Moral Personhood” from which I got the question:


    if you ask a pro-lifer to consider a hypothetical scenario where they have the chance to save either one child from a burning building or ten thousand children from a burning building, inevitably the staggering majority will answer that they’d save the ten thousand children rather than only the one child. However, if you then rephrase the question and ask them if they’d choose to save either one child or ten thousand blastocysts from a burning fertility clinic, they almost invariably choose to save the single child over the multitude of blastocysts. Of course, this response is nonsensical if they truly believe that moral personhood should be attributed to blastocysts, and it reveals a deep-seated uncomfort with the implications of their position.

    The whole post can be found here:

    http://saintgasoline.com/2009/03/18/abortion-and-moral-personhood/

  46. David:

    As pointed out earlier: you disagree personhood begins at conception because you apply a scientistic operational definition to personhood. Mixing apples and oranges is too kind a way of characterizing such an error.

    Personhood is not based upon someone’s or some groups “morality,” it is not based on the limited epistemological reach of the modern empirical sciences, it is not based on Paul’s repugnant reductionist mantra “it’s all neurons, anyway,” it’s not based on the silly, superficial reductionism of Gregory who “sees” yolk as the entirety of the being (the bricks of a house are NOT the house itself), it’s based on philosophical considerations of the nature of a rational being, and on theological considerations that that being was formed in the image and likeness of God.

    Therefore, you are, because of the narrowness of your operational definition, eliminating a certain class of rational beings from personhood. You are, therefore, contributing (perhaps indirectly, but that’s beside the point) to their deaths. Hence, you are at once both a hypocrite (railing against God for “killing” while intentionally supporting the killing of innocents yourself) and selectively inattentive to the ontological status of unborn human persons because this undermines your world view. And here’s a beauty: Euthanasia should either not be done or should be done by a quick, painless method. Pragmatic power of the strong over the weak. Sick.

    As for supposedly Neither option puts those holding Holo’s position on personhood in a favorable light—either he lets a child die in agony in favor of 10,000 mindless fertilized cells or he acts in a way that’s hard to reconcile with his view that zygote’s are people. That’s both a misdirection and a false dilemma: two errors in one statement–amazing! The personhood thing in terms of the status of the three year old and the 10,000 unborn children is not the issue. The issue is the moral act as characterized by the components (object, intention, circumstances), and in this case (all things being equal) a possible issue of double-effect, which I wrote about earlier. Quite tellingly, you didn’t even consider that I might run into the building to try to save both, and might lose my own life in doing so… but actually save both. Intention is nowhere to be seen in your pharisee-like scenario. All you want is to show that it’s supposedly impossible so that you can continue with the repugnant view that unborn children are expendable. Mind-reading on my part? Given your fallacies, errors, tactics, and worldview… I doubt it.

  47. David,

    A dog cannot have personality–it can have individual traits and characteristics. Personality is an attribute (in fact, a defining attribute) of personhood.

    SteveK,

    There is an enormous difference between a sleeping person and an embry: the difference between unconsciousness (whether temporary or permanent) and lack of consciousness. An embry is in no sense unconscious–unconsciousness is a state that can only be defined as relative to an existing consciousness. The fact that an embryo may (or may not) eventually develop into a being with consciousness is totally irrelevant. Any sperm and any egg could join and develop into a being with consciousness. That doesn’t make it murder to wear a condom or to refuse to have sex or to masturbate, etc. etc.

    It’s interesting that you dismiss David Ellis’s apropos example of the relative moral value of an embryo and a child: why not answer it? In fact, I find it utterly bizarre that anti-choice activists target late-term abortion, when, if you believe that an embryo is a person deserving all the rights of personhood, the much more significant crime is first-trimester abortion. Over 90% of abortions take place in the first trimester, and almost none of them relate to the mother’s health, life, or the health of the fetus. If any abortion is a murder, according to anti-choice logic, it should be first-trimester abortion.

    Holopupenko:
    David Ellis merely misapplied personality to his dog, which has traits of individuality but certainly not personality. You define personhood as “an individual substance of a rational nature” and then fall back on SteveK’s incorrect assertion that an embryo is merely in a temporary state but that its essential nature is rational. The concept of substance is not exactly uncontroversial, but even taking your definition it does nothing to help your argument. Why should be believe that the essential nature of an embryo is rational substance? In the entirety of human history, of all the billions of embryos that have come and gone, not one has displayed any evidence of rationality ever. The only relation of an embryo to rationality is potentiality, and like I said before, any sperm and any egg, even before they meet, have between them the potential for rationality. You have changed your terms but added nothing to your argument.

    As for your argument that I have somehow thrown in my lot with Hitler, again, baseless and overwrought assertions are not helpful. As for siding with the strong over the weak, on the contrary, I am siding with pregnant women over the apparatuses of power that seek to control their bodies and their lives. You say the bodies ‘pile up,’ but actually they don’t: the vast majority of abortions involve no body, merely a microscopic clump of cells.

    The bodies that used to pile up were the bodies of women who died in dangerous childbirths or after attempting back-alley abortions. Fortunately, no woman in the United States needs to die in this way because of the commitment we have to reproductive choice and reproductive health.


  48. it’s based on philosophical considerations of the nature of a rational being, and on theological considerations that that being was formed in the image and likeness of God.

    That’s YOUR way of defining personhood—not THE way of defining it.


    Therefore, you are, because of the narrowness of your operational definition, eliminating a certain class of rational beings from personhood.

    That class being zygotes?

    Yes. Yes, I am.

    Because they aren’t rational beings. A zygote is a cell with the potential to develop into a rational being (or, in all too many cases, an irrational one).


    And here’s a beauty: Euthanasia should either not be done or should be done by a quick, painless method. Pragmatic power of the strong over the weak. Sick.

    Nonsense. My position isn’t about the weak being forced to die by the strong. Quite the contrary—its YOU who would deny people the right to make their own choices about whether life under their circumstances is worth living.

    I’m simply pointing out the stupidity of “indirect” and slow methods of euthanizing—as if it wasn’t “real” euthanasia if you just let them die of dehydration rather than dying quickly with a shot that stops their heart.

    I’m not surprised that you won’t answer the question regarding the thought experiment I proposed and then explain why you made the choice you did and why its consistent with your position on the moral personhood of zygotes.


    Quite tellingly, you didn’t even consider that I might run into the building to try to save both, and might lose my own life in doing so… but actually save both.

    LOL. The question is “if you could only accomplish one. Which would it be?”

    You do understand the nature of a thought experiment don’t you? I thought you claimed to be well read in philosophy.

    But dodge all you like. It only demonstrates my point.

  49. Gregory, June 3:

    Referring to most aborted fetuses as ‘babies’ is highly misleading at best.

    Gregory, June 3:

    Clearly this is not how personhood is understood in common sense, in philosophy, or in theology. There is just no rational basis for ascribing equal moral weight to a microscopic clump of cells and a living, breathing person with moral agency. It makes no sense.

    Gregory, June 7:

    Holopupenko,
    You obviously have no interest in attempting any sort of conversation. You make blanket, unsupported assertions and then use those assertions as the evidence for your points.

    Anyone see some irony in there?

  50. On the contrary it goes right to the heart of the abortion debate and the underlying dispute concerning what constitutes morally significant personhood.

    This was on the table prior to this hypothetical example of yours, so it doesn’t add any value.

    My response to the example would be to try and save them all because they both have value in the eyes of God. The fact that you are forcing me to choose one or the other doesn’t change my response – they all have value – it only forces me into a difficult situation.

    From what I can tell, God doesn’t subscribe to consequentialism. He subscribes to holiness, love, sovereignty, justice, grace, forgiveness, etc. It’s how he can say a sinner is worth saving, loving and forgiving even though that sinner does some pretty terrible things.

  51. David and Craig:

    Neither one of you gets it: you continue to impose an operational definition rather than a substantive definition (what they can do rather than what they are). It’s pretty clear by now neither one of you understands the important distinction (please, don’t go running to Wikipedia)… but that’s why, in addition to other errors, one is justified in concluding that you truly don’t know what you’re talking about.

    The reductionism is screaming at you, and yet you fail Philosophy 101 miserably: “a zygote is merely a clump of cells”… so, a house is merely a pile of bricks, boards, and nails… and jazz music is merely the pigments of the notes printed on the page… NOT! Well, then, be consistent and stop referring to it a zygote: simply provide us an accounting of the chemicals… and then join the intellectually and morally repugnant reductionist club of Paul “it’s all neurons, anyway” Rinzler.

    Also, please share with us what “THE” definition of personhood is, and please show how the definition I provided (it’s not mine—it’s the classic definition provided by Boethius) fails.

    ALL your errors stem from the reductionist view of beings you try, with no success, to impose. It’s hard to respond to such blatant errors… and to their concomitant pharisaical, false dilemma “thought experiments”. Oh, and to echo Tom, the irony is bitter-salty… like cyanide.

    Finally, these gems are too good to pass up: “the vast majority of abortions involve no body.” Let’s leave aside the impreciseness of the term “vast”… so, umm, what about those aborted persons who DO have bodies? And this: “… its YOU who would deny people the right to make their own choices about whether life under their circumstances is worth living.” Really? And the unborn baby has a choice in the matter? Did murderous George Tiller, who specialized in late-term abortions, provide the unborn child a “choice”?

    Power over the weak is a very, very addictive form of poison. Both of you contribute–at some important level–to the deaths of innocent unborn children… and then have to gall to rail against God for “permitting” evil to occur. Although I’m not a psychologist, my guess is rationalizing away the personhood of an entire class of human beings is a deeply-disordered defense mechanism with guilt transferral.

  52. You are in error. My definition of human personhood is not operational (not that operational definitions are a bad thing). Its as much a substantive definition as yours is. Just a different one.

    I define a human person in such a way that the essence of human personhood lies in having a human mind (and don’t think that the sleeping mind is any problem here—the sleeping mind is simply unconscious. Not nonexistent).

    A zygote doesn’t have a mind. It never has had a mind. Not even an unconscious mind.

    You call us reductionists but YOU are the one who seems to be defining human personhood in terms of having a full set of human DNA.

    I don’t.

    Human persons could, theoretically, not even have DNA (imagine, for example, humans of the future colonizing a planet radically different from Earth and using different chemicals from DNA to engineer human beings with the same form, same senses and, most importantly, same kinds of minds as those of earth humans but who would be able to thrive in their new environment).


    Also, please share with us what “THE” definition of personhood is, and please show how the definition I provided (it’s not mine—it’s the classic definition provided by Boethius) fails.

    Unlike you, I am not so presumptuous as to think my approach to defining personhood is the only one possible.

    Calling something a “person” is, after all, simply a label we give to some things and not others depending on whatever criteria fit our definition of the term.

    Ultimately, its mere semantics.

    What’s important in regard to the abortion debate is the question of whether zygotes and embryos have rights, what those rights are and why they should be (or shouldn’t be) regarded as having them.

    Perhaps we should actually get back to those issues rather than semantic disagreements over what different people mean when they apply the label “person” to something.

  53. Calling something a “person” is, after all, simply a label we give to some things and not others depending on whatever criteria fit our definition of the term. Ultimately, its mere semantics.

    This underlying relativism is why discussion is impossible.


  54. Steve: From what I can tell, God doesn’t subscribe to consequentialism.

    Then you are not in agreement with those who judge God’s allowing suffering to be morally acceptable because it brings about a greater good?

    Which is, after all, a consequentialist theodicy.


  55. This underlying relativism is why discussion is impossible.

    My comments were simply a recognition of the obvious fact that different people can mean different things when they use the same word (sometimes subtly different, sometimes substantially different).

    Words don’t have meanings handed down by God. They have the meanings we give to them.

    That’s why its so important to find out how people are defining key words when debating an issue with them—and why debating semantic differences and the “right” meaning for words can so often derail discussions away from anything of substance.

    I shouldn’t have to explain this to you if you know as much philosophy as your remarks indicate that you believe you do.

  56. Then you are not in agreement with those who judge God’s allowing suffering to be morally acceptable because it brings about a greater good?

    I’m not opposed to this line of argument on a macro, or ultimate, sense because it takes into consideration the grounding issue. I was commenting on the lower level scale, that God isn’t so much concerned with immediate consequences at the lower level because the higher level issues associated with God’s character (holiness, love, sovereignty, justice, grace, forgiveness, etc) take precedence.

  57. David, you wrote,

    Unlike you, I am not so presumptuous as to think my approach to defining personhood is the only one possible….

    Ultimately, its mere semantics….

    Perhaps we should actually get back to those issues rather than semantic disagreements over what different people mean when they apply the label “person” to something.

    This is utterly astonishing. It continues:

    Words don’t have meanings handed down by God. They have the meanings we give to them.

    Most words as symbols (sounds made by humans, letters written on the page, etc.) do not have meanings handed down by God; I’d be willing to grant you that. As far as we know he only named a few things, early in Genesis. If you wish to contradict that, you would of course be responsible to show why this view of God is wrong.

    But that issue is of little consequence anyway. Let’s set aside words as symbols and ask about meanings of words. Any symbol will do, which is why there are thousands of languages and even more ways of coding meanings into words. What remains after analyzing all that out is the concept expressed by the symbol. Is there or is there not such a thing as personhood, however it is coded semantically? Of course there is. Is that conception relevant to this debate, or is it not? Of course it is.

    This “it’s all semantics” thing is a transparent dodge.

    Oh, and by the way, back to the first quote above: If you are not so presumptuous as to think your approach to defining personhood is the only one possible, why are you so presumptuous as to think you can make your moral decisions as if it (and its close relatives) were the only ones possible? If it is possible that personhood begins at conception, which I think you have just acknowledged, then it is possible even by your own view that abortion is murder of the innocent. I refer you again to the cardboard target analogy, which still calls for some kind of response.

    (Holopupenko at least has responded, not to the cardboard target analogy but to what it means for a child’s soul to form.. His view is one of a handful taken by Christians. As it turns out, the cardboard target analogy works for any of them, though in some views, like the Thomistic one presented by Holo, it has even more force than in others. In fact as far as I can see, and as I have already said, the analogy even works for your position: that you don’t claim to have the only possible definition of personhood. See above.)

  58. An observation…one side desires to be as close to the line of immorality so as to *technically* not cross it, the other side desires to be clearly, unquestionably, on the side of morality.

    Regardless of the arguments, regardless of who is correct, the desire of the heart is on full display here.

    (goes well with your cardboard target analogy, Tom…why desire to fire at all?….why desire to abort at all?)


  59. If it is possible that personhood begins at conception, which I think you have just acknowledged, then it is possible even by your own view that abortion is murder of the innocent.

    No I didn’t acknowledge that. I simply acknowledged that Holo may be applying the label “person” to zygotes, depending on his definition of the term and his beliefs about the nature of zygotes, but that in no way acknowledges that I think he’s right or might be right in believing zygotes have rights.

    Just as a Nature worshipper could arbitrarily define personhood as simply being alive and claim that trees are persons and shouldn’t be cut down.

    You could, simply for the sake of argument, grant his idiosyncratic definition of persons, and disagree that persons, under that definition, have rights.

    Much of the reason I don’t think its very useful debating personhood is that your concept of personhood involves ensoulment or being created in the image of God or something similar.

    And, of course, the nontheists here don’t define the word that way.

    So rather than debate the definition of person it seems more profitable to debate the underlying disagreement—over whether zygotes have souls.

    Another issue worth consideration is the question of whether, since the reasons for prohibiting abortion of zygotes seem to be entirely derived from religious doctrines, should a government be in the business of forcing something on its citizens based on someone else’s religion.

    You surely wouldn’t want to have Hindu prohibitions against eating meat forced on Christians by the law of the land, would you?

    In a society with freedom of religion, if one is only able to give religious reasons for objecting to the abortion of zygotes then how can one support making such abortions illegal (unless, of course, you DON’T support freedom of religion—including freedom from having someone’s religious beliefs made the basis of laws imposed on others).

  60. So rather than debate the definition of person it seems more profitable to debate the underlying disagreement—over whether zygotes have souls.

    That is a theological question. You don’t accept theological answers so what is there left to discuss?

    You are left only to debate the issue of ‘personhood’, which, as far as I can tell is a philosophical debate. But since you said it’s not very useful debating personhood, where do you go from here? Nowhere, I think.

    How about this as a first step…let’s collectively, as a nation, DESIRE to reduce the number of abortions/murders by making it more difficult to have an abortion except in certain agreed upon situations? Would you support that legislation?

  61. your concept of personhood involves ensoulment or being created in the image of God or something similar

    Philosophically ignorant and erroneous sloganeering. A person is an individual substance of a rational nature. Full stop.

    As with most atheists, none of the following terms are understood, but ignorance of these terms doesn’t stop them from invariably employing them erroneously as the basis for straw man conceptions of what is known and believed by Christians: “soul,” “form,” “substance,” “nature.”

    Worst, however, is the discussion-stopping deeply-held logical (as opposed to epistemic, ontological, or moral) relativism (whereby meaning is imposed upon reality by the knowing subject rather than understanding that meaning grasped as the intelligible aspects of mind-external objects) clearly expressed and championed by David.

  62. As I noted above, it’s not my definition–it’s the one the Church fathers introduced and later Boethius explicated upon around 500 AD. Of course, it presupposes one understand the terms:

    (1) “substance” (that which is under[sub]-stood[stance]);

    (2) “rational” (capacity by nature for abstract reasoning irrespective of developmental state or injury); and

    (3) “nature” (a dynamic perspective of “whatness” referring to innate tendencies or capacities).

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