The Range Master and the Doctor: A Parable About Abortion

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You’re on a firing range holding a loaded pistol. The target area is curtained off, all but a piece of cardboard standing about three and a half feet tall, cut in the shape of a little girl, no more than five yards down the range.

The range master says to you, “See that cardboard there? There’s a girl behind the curtain who’s about that tall. We’ve told her to walk behind the cardboard any time she wants to during the nine minutes you’re scheduled to be on this range, and to stay standing in that one place once she gets there. We don’t know when she’s going to decide to do that; in fact she might be there already.”

He continues with his instructions: “It’s up to you. Fire whenever you think it’s okay.”

A woman walks into an abortion clinic. The doctor tells her, “Look, we all know there’s controversy over when a fetus reaches the stage of being a real human person, but you can forget all that. Let’s go ahead and operate. It’s okay.”


Questions for discussion (for those who might find them helpful):

  1. Does the range master’s instruction seem wrong to you?
  2. What do you think of the range master? What do you feel about him?
  3. Does the doctor actually know for sure when it’s “okay”? How? On what basis?
  4. What do you think of the doctor? What do you feel about her?
  5. Explain.

Postscript:

Life circumstances have allowed me little chance to say much about the videos on Planned Parenthood, released by the Center for Medical Progress. The above is sufficient, if you ask me, to demonstrate the moral reality of what goes on in abortion clinics. Unfortunately some people seem to have needed even more of a shock to be able to see it.

(For further commentary on these videos I recommend The Stream.)

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190 Responses to “ The Range Master and the Doctor: A Parable About Abortion ”

  1. Question:

    An evil scientist has kidnapped your friend. He has taken him to his secret hideout where he proceeds to surgically cut his head off and maintain both the body and the head on separate life-support systems. He is demanding $100,000 for the return of the head, which will be given back with this life-support system that enables the severed head to be fully functional in terms of thought, and speech.

    Since he is your good friend, you have little choice but to take up a collection and have him released.

    Later, the evil scientist says to you that if you give him another equal sum, he will return the body with its life-support system. However he has engineered the system so that the body can never be reconnected with the head. The body in fact, does little more than just lie there. It is however very expensive to maintain both systems.

    Do you purchase the body?

  2. I hope I am not guilty of enabling here, but it does amuse me that someone expects anyone to seriously entertain the possibility of splitting one human into two humans. I suppose by the reasoning of the hypothetical that all transplant recipients count as two people.

    Anyway, this particular silly hypothetical strikes me as further showing the correctness of the opening question and its parallel with abortion. That is if it is the best response that someone can come up with to answer the question.

  3. Hi Bill L,

    My past experience with you tells me you are not a troll and that therefore you pose this question because you think it adds something to the questions raised in the OP. But I must admit the connection alludes me as well.

    Cheers
    Shane

  4. The question I’ve proposed is directly related to the OP, even if you don’t yet understand how. Sometimes, engaging a hypothetical can lead to a greater understanding. They can help people think in new ways as Tom has tried to do in the OP.

    If this is baffling to you, think closely about question #3 in the OP. It is the one that gets to the heart of the issue. Of course Tom is talking about a fully developed human girl, and no one who seriously maintains the morality of an abortion would advocate shooting the girl. But the premise of the OP refers to abortion. The question for most people is “At what point do we recognize the rights of human personhood, and why?”

    Tom believes it can not be decided, so one should take one of the most conservative approaches. Some people advocate a more conservative approach and advocate the protection of every sperm and egg (they are alive, after all). On the other end, some believe in the rights of abortion up until the day before birth. Many societies have also practiced infanticide.

    Now, I’ve noticed that some on this blog have stated that the cut off should be at conception. Why? Well, I suppose it’s hard to think about any other cut off points. But hopefully hard questions won’t deter us from thinking about them. I’ve chosen to address Tom’s points and questions by proposing another question. Hopefully, he has the courage to think about this difficult issue. Perhaps he will change my mind in the process.

    With the body in question, we have a living human body. It has a heart and lungs; it is breathing and alive. Is that what matters? Is this all that matters? Do we protect this human life? Why or why not?

  5. Of course Tom is talking about a fully developed human girl, and no one who seriously maintains the morality of an abortion would advocate shooting the girl.

    Bill L

    But this isn’t true. If we were to change the age of the girl to say two weeks, we would have many abortion advocates (Peter Singer comes to mind) who would tell us that a two week old does not have the requisite sentience to qualify as a person and the right to their life associated with that. Fire away! would be his response.

    As to your rather tortured example above it doesn’t really illuminate the issue. Analogies have to at least basically parallel the realities if the situation. The separate head and body illustration falls far enough outside reality that it fails to do that. As is said in the legal field, bad facts make bad law. This is a example of bad facts making a bad illustration. Is the head that defines life? is it the body that defines life? Wow, such a quandary. Or is it wow, such a lot of nonsense.

  6. BillT

    If we were to change the age of the girl to say two weeks, we would have many abortion advocates (Peter Singer comes to mind)….

    You’re right about Singer. But his is a minority position. Again, as I have noted, some people/societies would even advocate infanticide at an even more advanced stage. But that is not a position taken by most people in Western countries. And it still doesn’t help us much when we are trying to decide when to extend rights to people, while taking away the rights of others.

    If you think my question is too tortured, then you probably need to think deeper about the issue. Do you care to try? It may illuminate the issue in ways you’ve never considered. Or I may just be wrong and you will change my mind.

    Try to remember, “life” is not the issue. Sperm and egg cells are alive. I’m guessing you don’t advocate the protection of these cells (I could be wrong).

  7. Bill L: The situation you describe would only be relevant if the body will, in the course of time, regrow a head, just as a female human fetus will grow into “a fully developed human girl.”

    And in that case, of course you have the same willingness to ransom the body that you would the head.

  8. David Bolin,
    Thank you for being willing to think about this. I think you make good points.

    So if I understand your position correctly, it is the head (and presumably brain) that make a difference here. I agree.

    That is indeed an interesting position as many “right-to-life” advocates believe in the full protection of anencephalic babies. And many also advocate the protections of brain dead patients who can be kept alive through life-support systems (think Terri Schiavo). From what I gather, you would not support these. Correct?

    More importantly, you seem to be saying that it is the potential of something to be able to have that head and brain in the future. Correct? It seems to me that most sperm and egg cells have that potential as well, under the right circumstances. Also, it is highly likely that scientists will be able to soon generate humans from stem cells (actually, this has already been done to a limited extent), so should we advocate the protection of all stem cells?

  9. Bill L

    The analogy fails because the division of the head and body is arbitrary. It doesn’t change or illustrate anything to make the dividing line 1/3 – 2/3 or 1/2 and 1/2 or everything but his left leg. Neither bodyless heads nor headless bodies are examples of “life” as we know it. The division of a head and a body doesn’t parallel any known division of life from non-life. There is no quandary because we don’t see either as representing life in any real or analogized sense.

  10. BillT,

    Neither bodyless heads nor headless bodies are examples of “life” as we know it. The division of a head and a body doesn’t parallel any known division of life from non-life.

    Currently there are (wealthy) people who have their heads cut off and cryogenically frozen. They hope to be thawed and cured of whatever ails them. Is this not life?

    What of anencephalic babies I mentioned above? Are they not alive?

  11. Currently there are (crazy) people who have their heads cut off and cryogenically frozen. They hope to be thawed and cured of whatever ails them. Is this not life?

    No. It isn’t.

    Anencephalic babies will not survive without extraordinary life preserving measures. Death from natural causes is death from natural causes.

  12. Bill L
    Your question doesn’t seem relevant to the abortion issue. Living body parts are not the same thing as the whole being. The principle for preserving one doesn’t necessarily translate to the other because they are different kinds of things.

  13. BillT,

    Is it OK then to kill all people who are now cryogenically frozen? Most of them have complete bodies.

    Some anencephalic babies have lived years without extraordinary life support measures. Are you saying that things that do require life support should be allowed to die (think Terri Schiavo)?

  14. Bill L
    You are also asking moral questions pertaining to when should we stop intervening and let nature take its course whereas the abortion issue is asking moral questions pertaining to should we intervene and stop nature from taking its course. Not the same.

  15. “Is it OK then to kill all people who are now cryogenically frozen?”

    Bill L, they’re already dead!

  16. “Is it OK then to kill all people who are now cryogenically frozen?”

    Bill L – they’re already dead!

  17. SteveK,
    You have a good point. But I’m not too clear about what is “natural” and what is not. Is a dog licking its wounds “natural?” What about a human attending to a wound to prevent infection? What of surgery? There are some foods that help cause an abortion; is eating them “natural.” Why, or why not? Does something being natural or unnatural equate with moral or immoral?

  18. Bill L,

    DaveB got the answer right about the (crazy) frozen people.

    People are free to choose extraordinary life saving measures or not. Differing circumstances may indicate for different decisions.

  19. DaveB and BillT,
    They are not really biologically dead in the sense that their cells are breaking down. Mice and other animals have been successfully thawed from a cryogenic state. It seems likely given the current advancements that we will be able to do this with humans as well. Why then should we consider these people as good as dead?

  20. Why then should we consider these people as good as dead?

    Because current medical technology says that they are. When current medical technology says that they aren’t, we can talk. But isn’t this all just a sidelight. The question doesn’t really require complex analogies or crazy frozen people. When is it ok to kill a human being? That is, when during their lifespan would you draw the line and allow someone to intentionally terminate a life and why.

  21. BillT,
    So if I understand you correctly, it’s OK to kill (let’s say thaw and destroy) these people now. Correct? However, if say in 5 years we successfully thaw them (as we have done with mice) it will not be OK. Is that correct?

  22. Bill L

    Like David and I already said, they’re dead already. They have a right to be left alone if that’s what they paid for. But this isn’t getting us anywhere. There isn’t any moral question here.

    When is it ok to kill a human being? That is, when during their lifespan would you draw the line and allow someone to intentionally terminate a life and why.

    We’ve already answered this question. Will you?

  23. BillT,
    Well wait a minute here. I said that that in a few years, they will likely be able to be thawed successfully. At that time you presumably would not want to kill them, but you’re saying that currently it is OK currently? Really? You would seriously say it is OK to kill someone who will likely be able to have a successful life in the future?

    I just want to be clear about your position.

  24. Bill L
    The answer to “What is it?” is pretty clearly known in your examples. If the “what” isn’t a viable, naturally developing living human being then I fail to see the parallel to abortion.

  25. Bill L,

    If they are medically and legally dead then they’re dead. (And remember they had to be medically and legally dead before they were frozen or the people who froze them would be guilty of murder.) If they are medically and legally alive then they’re alive. How hard is this to understand. Wacky speculation about dead people becoming alive is the stuff of horror movies not reasoned discourse.

  26. SteveK,

    I’m sorry, perhaps I’m a little dense. It’s not “clearly known” to me. Could you answer the last questions I asked you?

    BillT,

    Again, I’m still being dense. Why is it OK, to kill these people at one point (when you consider them medically dead) but not at a later time once they are thawed?

    All,

    I’ll have to take a break (work and all). Thanks for your thoughts. I hope to get back to this later this evening.

  27. Again, I’m still being dense. Why is it OK, to kill these people at one point (when you consider them medically dead) but not at a later time once they are thawed?

    No one is killing these people. They’re already dead. They’re not “considered” dead they actually are dead both medically and legally. And this whole discussion has nothing to do with the topic.

    Can we move on and would you answer the question I asked you. I’ve answered your question multiple times and in multiple ways. Seems a bit rude for you to go on this way.

  28. Bill L
    You do know that the “what” (dead bodies, severed heads) isn’t a viable naturally developing living human being. No parallel to abortion.

  29. “But I’m not too clear about what is “natural” and what is not.”

    From an atheistic worldview, everything exists in its natural state and behaves as nature created them to be. The human will and human desire are no exception.

    “Is a dog licking its wounds “natural?” What about a human attending to a wound to prevent infection? What of surgery? There are some foods that help cause an abortion; is eating them “natural.” Why, or why not? Does something being natural or unnatural equate with moral or immoral?”

    With qualifications…Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I explained above “why” – at least from your perspective. Unnatural and moral duty don’t fit inside your worldview. A Theistic worldview doesn’t have this problem so I’m uncertain how to answer your questions.

  30. Thanks everyone for your comments and corrections. Let’s see where to start?

    First, thank you David Bolan. You were right about mice. It appears at this point it has only been bacteria, plants, human cell cultures and embryos that have been successfully thawed. Of course there are frogs that become naturally frozen and thaw on their own. I think everyone can see and hopefully can agree that the science and technology necessary for doing this with humans will be soon to come.

    So, given what some have said, I am now wondering if it is morally acceptable to kill frozen embryos? Given what BillT and David Bolan have said, I think their answer would have to be ‘yes’ – it is acceptable to kill them.

    Or perhaps I’m jumping the gun. I don’t want to assume too much. What if regulations allowed for living people to be frozen? Would you still advocate that it is acceptable to kill them (destroy them after freezing)?

    I am still trying to grapple with BillT’s stance. If someone is medically and clinically dead, as he states, they still have the possibility of being brought back. CPR can be performed on medically dead people for a half an hour with successful resurrection. But as I understand from BillT, it would likely be fine to stop CPR and harvest the person’s organs after a minute or so. Why? Well, “their medically and clinically dead.” “Legally dead” is a bit different. That comes from a doctor’s pronouncement. However this is sometimes done before irreversible death. For many of our cryogenic subjects, this is purposefully the case.

    Last, I’m hearing a lot of objections to the analogy / thought experiment itself. I kind of get the impression it’s a case of “Well, we don’t like your analogy because it just doesn’t relate to abortion.” But no one seems to have problems when the OP uses adolescent girls, paper targets and gun ranges. Personally, I think all of these thought experiments are good to think about. What I really suspect the issue is, is one of well, we don’t agree with your stance or like what it implies… therefore we don’t want to answer it.

    The subject here is abortion, but the subject of abortion is a question of when and why we assign protections to people, and under what conditions. Again, Tom doesn’t like to think about grey areas, so he draws a conservative line – an example of black and white thinking. I’m getting the impression that others hear feel the same way – spectrum thinking not allowed. Don’t even entertain the thought.

    I’ll be back with more, including my perspective about when it is OK to kill people, in a while.

  31. Bill L,

    Your summary of what I said is wrong and more than a little disingenuous. We were talking about people who are legally and medically dead. They have no possibility of being brought back from a cryogenic state or in any other way. I never said or intimated anything like “it would likely be fine to stop CPR and harvest the person’s organs after a minute or so.” That’s a lie and an outrageous statement completely unrelated to anything I wrote.

    I gather you see your role here to troll this thread and offer as many obfuscations a possible to the discussion. As I said before, that’s more than a little rude especially given the numerous polite and comprehensive answers we have offered to you. You further continue to avoid answering our questions to you. It’s extremely disappointing to have you misrepresent the discussion and what I’ve said and to have you continue to introduce non sequiturs into the discussion while avoiding the topic and questions at hand.

  32. BillT,
    Let me offer my apologies then. I thought I was clear that I did not want to assume anything in your statements and I thought I had consistently asked for clarification.

    I thought I was clear that cryogenically frozen people would likely be able to be brought back and that was the assumption under which I was proceeding. I even asked you several times if that was indeed the case you were supporting, to which you never objected. I’m not sure how I could have been more clear, but I will assume the miscommunication is my fault.

    I also never said that you said that it would be fine to stop CPR; there was no lie intended. I was simply following through with what you had said – that it is fine to destroy people who are medically and legally dead. But as I pointed out, doctors sometimes pronounce people dead when they are not irreversibly dead.

    I’m honestly not trying to “troll” any more than Tom did in the OP… I honestly don’t see that there is much difference between what he and I are doing. Furthermore, I had explicitly written that I would be back shortly to address your questions. Are you just upset that I didn’t do it fast enough?

    Last, I will suggest to you that what you now see as “non-sequiturs” are not that at all. But it may require a bit of patience on your part to try to understand how this relates. I hope you give it the chance, as I am trying to do with Tom’s OP.

  33. I’m honestly not trying to “troll” any more than Tom did in the OP…

    And finally this is what it’s all really about (while admitting that yes, you are trolling!) You’re all upset about what Tom wrote in the OP but instead of addressing that directly and explaining reasonably (if you could) why you think that what he wrote is wrong you decided to engage in a bit of “tit for tat”. Well that’s very grown up of you.

  34. Bill L, fun as it was I think we have indulged your head in a jar talk for long enough. If you want to believe that you’ll be seeing FM-2030 one of these days then that’s fine. Start a blog about it or something.

    For now I’d rather talk about the grim reality of abortion. Here is a fun fact. Did you know that the most common abortion method used in the second trimester is dismemberment? Call me crazy, Bill L, but I think that the dismemberment of humans is wrong.

    I am also interested in the topic of abortion because I believe that sometime in the next decade my country will again see another major push to make abortion legal. And the sad fact is that I think as many of the Judeo-Christian principles that undergirded society fade away they will be replaced by the type of egoism that surely must be a contender to be named ‘spirit of the age’ in many western countries. This is the same egoism that I think lies behind many of the arguments for abortion and motivates many of the most vociferous pro-abortion campaigners that I’ve seen.

    BTW, for those interested in an excellent debate on abortion (both sides are very articulate and also respectful) then have a listen here – http://www.apologetics315.com/2011/09/scott-klusendorf-vs-nadine-strossen.html. Video is available but you can google that yourselves 😉

  35. Tom,

    Per last thread, you referred me to this post.

    For abortion after the second trimester, I generally agree with what you write here. For abortion at or before the second trimester, I generally don’t.

    Under a naturalistic view, there isn’t a person without a brain. Thus, unless the fetus has reached the stage of having a functioning brain with the capacity for pain and conscious experience, there can be no controversy about having an abortion.

  36. BillT,
    I take Tom’s OP seriously. I really didn’t think he was doing anything wrong, and I don’t see that I am either. I’m just trying to get people to think about the issue more carefully. I hope Tom is doing the same. In that sense, I see myself as no more or no less of a “troll” than he is.

    Billy Squibs,
    That’s interesting. Where are you from?
    I did know that about 2nd trimester abortions. You may be surprised to find that I agree with you in many cases. And honestly, almost no one here has honestly entertained the “head-in-a-jar” scenario I posited (I think my reason for this was explained in #35).

    So, to spell out my answer –
    I believe the most reasonable approach we can take with abortion and deciding any right-to-life issue is the point at which something can suffer. By that, I mean not only sensing pain, but having the kind of though that allows any creature to comprehend that pain is something bad, and that it wants to avoid this.

    Most of the neuroscience I’ve reviewed on this indicates that these faculties are fully in place in a fetus by about 26 weeks. However, some studies indicate that the primitive neuro-networking starts to form as early as 22 – 24 weeks. For this reason, I believe a logical point (baring better information) is the more conservative 22 week period. After that, the only exceptions would be for the life of the mother.

    Now of course there is a movement in the US to pass fetal-pain bills, usually cut off at the EXTREMELY conservative 20 weeks. Though I think this is beyond reasonable, I would be OK with such a compromise, in order to appease even the overly concerned.

  37. I believe the most reasonable approach we can take with abortion and deciding any right-to-life issue is the point at which something can suffer.

    Just arbitrary stuff Bill L. The point at which something can suffer doesn’t define it’s status as a human life it just assuages your guilt. “If it can’t feel pain it isn’t human.” It’s human life at conception by any and every scientific definition. Those are the facts Bill and the “reasonable approach” (if reasonable correlates with truth).

  38. I never said it wasn’t human at any point. That’s not the question. The question is when and why we assign the rights of human personhood.

  39. Or,

    You don’t care.

    Fire when ready.

    .

    .

    .

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    .

    .

    .

    .

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    .

    Think about it.

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    That first sentence is literally true, in my opinion. You don’t care. You don’t care something, that is. Maybe you don’t care that you don’t know. Maybe since you don’t know you’ve decided it doesn’t matter, which is synonymous with deciding you don’t care. Maybe you don’t care as much about that life, which might or might not be a real-live morally significant human person, as much as you care about adults’ rights to make morally significant choices without consequences.

    I don’t know what it is that you don’t care, but there’s something. If you cared about the fact that the life you’re willing to extinguish just might be a life that matters, you wouldn’t be willing to take the risk of extinguishing it. You just wouldn’t.

    There’s something in you that just doesn’t care … about something.

    Care to tell us what it is?

  40. Are you speaking to me Tom?

    Assuming that you are, what makes you think I don’t care? Is it that I don’t hold the same position you do?

    I do care Tom, probably just about as much as you do about the severed body that I posed in my question (#1), and probably for relatively equal reason.

    I care enough to understand the biology of the human mind, and to care about suffering. You on the other hand seem quite willing to cause others suffering. Do you not care?

    I care enough to understand the complexity of the issues and not get trapped in to black and white thinking on this. Why don’t you?

    I am only willing to fire when that paper target is removed and I can see that there is no one in the line of fire. So with that, I will fire when ready, but only when I’m sure, because I do know.

  41. You and everyone else who thinks abortion might be okay depending on “when we assign the rights of personhood.” You don’t know when that decision is truly right. Yet you’re willing to take that life anyway.

    Speaking of which, this touches on another topic: Who assigns rights? I wrote about this in another context not long ago.

    If humans can assign or deny other humans’ rights to life without even knowing what they’re doing, then freedom’s end is foreshadowed by that, too.

  42. RE: 47 edited:

    Then maybe you’re as opposed to abortion as I am.

    (I don’t have any idea what you mean about me being willing to cause other people suffering. Fill me in, please.)

  43. The connection between your severed body story and the abortion issue escapes me. Other commenters have already pointed out the disanalogy there.

  44. Regarding the example given in the OP, I think there are three questions we need to sort out here: the moral question, the legal question and the metaphysical question. Quite obviously under our laws, and the laws of all modern democratic societies, you could be charged with criminal negligence just shooting at the target. You are endangering the life of not only another human being but an innocent child. But is being legally wrong the same as being morally wrong? No, not really.

    Consider what happens when we alter the circumstances. For example, suppose the shooting range is located in a Nazi death camp and the little girl is Jewish and has already been condemned to death, so the guards decide to have a little fun. Is risking the life or killing a Jewish girl immoral? What makes it immoral? Is it immoral even if it’s not illegal?

    Or suppose the man shooting the pistol is being initiated into a secret society. To be accepted as a member he has agreed to do anything the society asks him to do. However, unknown to him there is no girl behind the screen. Does he do anything legally wrong if he begins shooting? How about morally? I would say no to the first question but yes to the second.

    My point is that morality is not defined by the law. So what determines morality?

    The final question is a metaphysical question. Most people agree that morality is defined by personhood. Peter Singer, as sited by someone earlier, agrees that taking the life of another person is morally wrong. But who or what defines what a person is? Is it a question that can be answered scientifically? I would argue no. If I am right, how can the question be answered?

  45. Tom,

    You don’t know when that decision is truly right. Yet you’re willing to take that life anyway.

    As I have told you, I do know. In fact I am willing to be more conservative than my own personal position (which would have been 22 weeks). Did you read what I wrote?

    Speaking of which, this touches on another topic: Who assigns rights?

    I haven’t read your link. But the short answer is “we do” – humans making decisions the best way we can. Who else will?

    I don’t have any idea what you mean about me being willing to cause other people suffering. Fill me in, please.

    I hate to say it but I’m not surprised that you’re not aware of the suffering you want to cause. Unwanted children cause many people suffering. Disabled children cause many people suffering. I suggest you start talking to people who have had abortions and actually listen to them. I don’t have time to go in to all of it now.

    They’re choosing not to accept the consequences of choices they’ve made.

    OK Tom, next time you are working on your car, or something mechanical, and you cut your hand, why don’t you just let it bleed and get infected. Shouldn’t you accept the consequences of the choice you’ve maid to work with sharp objects?

    The connection between your severed body story and the abortion issue escapes me.

    We don’t think purchasing the severed body is worth it because it is the brain that is who we are. Human bodies without their heads do us little good. A fetus without a brain is equally as valuable.

    So Tom (and others), will you go on not knowing and causing suffering in real humans? Will you continue to put potential humans worth over the suffering of actual humans?

    Or can you explain to me why the intertwining of haploid DNA is suddenly magically different?

  46. You don’t know.

    You have only inconclusive human conjecture that your standard is the right one.

    As for assigning rights, read the link. If humans assign them, then freedom’s end is terribly foreshadowed.

    I hate to say it but I’m not surprised that you’re not aware of the suffering you want to cause. Unwanted children cause many people suffering.

    I’m not causing it. The people who chose to do what they chose to do (sex, you know) are the cause, if anyone. Don’t blame me for their choices.

    Disabled children cause many people suffering.

    Right. My life-long genetically disabled older sister, one of the most loving individuals in the entire world, has caused our whole family lots of suffering. There’s no denying it. She has. We’ve wept. We’ve worried. Many times we’ve wondered if she would live. We’ve cared for her at incredible cost of time, money, and heartache. My parents should have aborted her, right? The world would be a better place without the love she’s poured into thousands of lives, and the love we’ve given her, after all.

    Is that what you think???

    I am about as angry as I could possibly be right now–angry enough to call names at any moral idiot who would try to foist that kind of moronic stupidity on us here. (Don’t ask whether I’m talking to you. I am.)

    Speaking of moral idiocy:

    OK Tom, next time you are working on your car, or something mechanical, and you cut your hand, why don’t you just let it bleed and get infected. Shouldn’t you accept the consequences of the choice you’ve maid to work with sharp objects?

    OK, maybe that wasn’t moral idiocy per se. It’s logical idiocy. It’s only fueled by moral idiocy. Don’t you see there’s no analogy there? There can’t be, because of the incredible difference between making a choice that produces a life and making a choice that harms it. Don’t you think that enters into moral considerations?

    It is not the brain that is who we are. It’s the whole person that is the person we are.

    Will you continue to put potential humans worth over the suffering of actual humans?

    Of course not! Why would I do that? It would be stupid.

    A potential human, you see, is some conceptual, hypothetical person, not yet conceived, who may come to be as a result of a man and a woman having intercourse. I don’t assign that potential human much moral importance at all. A human zygote, human embryo, human fetus, human baby, human child… on the other hand, is a human, and a human’s worth is intrinsically so great that he or she should never be killed–especially if that human is a defenseless, innocent young human being sacrificed for adults’ convenience.

    “Intertwining of haploid DNA” — “magic” — what an amazingly loaded linguistic shift from the purely material/natural to the superstitious, as if there were no sensible third way of looking at the matter. I’m not going to try to explain anything on that, except that your question is based on an illegitimate set of tendentious premises.

    You’re an interesting person to converse with here most of the time, Bill L, but I’m sure as hell glad you didn’t get to decide my big sister’s fate. It would have made sense on your standards. On real-life-lived standards, though, it would have been an absolutely morally idiotic thing to do.

    I stand by my assessment of your moral sense on this matter.

    I don’t think you’ll like it.

    Live with it.

  47. You can raise your moral standards easily enough though, simply by delving all the way into the questions, How do you know what that unborn child is, morally? How do you know that the answer you’ve given to that question before now is in the right category, or on the right track?What will you do with the fact that really don’t know the answer to that second question after all?

  48. I didn’t say anything about your sister Tom. I didn’t say it was right for everyone and every situation. I recommend reading more carefully and being more careful with what you infer. It’s not what I think.

    I’m sorry you don’t care about the suffering of others. I don’t know how I could make you. But if you and others like you limit the ability of people to get abortions before 22 weeks, you will be causing suffering, whether you realize it or not. All based on protecting cells that are no more capable of thought, feeling, or suffering than a skin or liver cell.

    It is not the brain that is who we are. It’s the whole person that is the person we are.

    So then tell me, would you not choose to protect the severed head that I gave from my hypothetical in #1? After all, this is not a whole person.

    I think you’re an interesting person as well Tom. No matter how much name-calling you do, I think I would still like you if we met in person. I wish you would choose to think more deeply on this issue and get to know some of the actual people who have been helped by abortions.

    EDIT: @56, I think I’ve covered most of the questions if you look carefully enough at what I wrote. To put it quite simply, single cells do not suffer. Anyone who puts potential future suffering over real suffering is not acting morally. And as I have said, I do know. I’m sorry you don’t understand how that could be possible.

    Just as an FYI, I get a lot of grief from extreme abortion proponents for my stance. So I’m used to it. No hard feelings.

  49. What an astonishing sequence of words:

    I recommend reading more carefully and being more careful with what you infer. It’s not what I think.

    … followed by …

    I’m sorry you don’t care about the suffering of others.

    What a crock. You moralize at me and then you violate your own advice in the very next sentence.

    I’d better get off the Internet before I call you worse names yet.

  50. “Human bodies without their heads do us little good. A fetus without a brain is equally as valuable.”

    Valuable = utility and “what’s in it for me”

  51. Consider this, though. My aim is to do what I can to increase human goodness and reduce human evil.

    I just went through foot surgery. It was suffering. It was good, not evil.

    Suffering is related to evil, both in its cause and its effects. It may also be caused by persons doing good, and its effects may be good. It’s not a simplistic, black-and-white matter.

    So the reduction of suffering is certainly a goal for me but it’s a secondary goal, not a primary one. The increase of good and the reduction of evil are primary goals.

    Killing defenseless young humans for the convenience of those who hold absolute power over them is universally evil.

  52. You really were talking about my sister, by the way.. You were speaking in terms of a principle which, if applied consistently, would have recommended her being aborted.

  53. If I understand what you are saying in #60, you have your reasons for causing suffering. That worries me more than a little.

    You really were talking about my sister, by the way.. You were speaking in terms of a principle which, if applied consistently, would have recommended her being aborted.

    Not if you understood what I had said (and did not say).

    But I’m afraid this is all I have time for tonight. I have an early day tomorrow and will be away from the computer. Goodnight everyone.

  54. BillL @ #44,

    The question is when and why we assign the rights of human personhood.

    Who is we? Just you, BillL? Tom and you? Everyone? Does society decide what human rights are and who is entitled to them? What qualifies you to answer such questions?

  55. Bill L., SteveK.,

    SteveK is included here because the Naturalist is attempting to fit into his own system and frame the kind of metaphysics which his own system and frame cannot accommodate, a point which SteveK brought up and which Bill L has yet to break free of.

    We end in a place far more obscene than utility feeding into an ethic of mere functionalism.

    Bill L expressly advocates allowing pain-pills in the 20th week. In other words, anesthesia eradicates all value – that is to say – anesthesia eradicates the only kind of value his naturalism can afford – and he expressly stated he is willing to allow this in order to accommodate this or that group. Hence he is anything but black and white on this issue – so long as anesthetics can eliminate his only metric of humanity. To be consistent – which he will not be – we can equally apply his logic to the adult which has capacity for suffering. Healthy 20 year olds who face a bout of depression are, inch by inch, gaining the right to euthanasia-on-demand in Belgium. Bill L will pull-back at that – we are sure – as being consistent isn’t something he’s demonstrated. Yet. Perhaps we’ll be surprised.

    It gets worse. When Tom notes that surgery to repair a foot – though it must involve anesthesia and pain and suffering – is “good”, Bill L. states that calling said event “good” is a move by Tom which “worries him”. Perhaps a more permanent anesthesia is needed and until such “potentiality” arrives we just should not operate on Tom’s foot? As Bill L hasn’t used potential/is in any Christian/A-T mode we just have to guess. Causing pain – even to save a life – or a limb – seems to worry Bill L’s ethical milieu. But we have to guess – as he’s all over the map. Worse yet still, he then accuses others of not caring about his human suffering.

    Bad metaphysics explains why we have what we have from the Naturalist.

    Value cannot be located in what something “is” because that kind of metaphysical consistency cannot be cogently applied within the confines of the Naturalist’s system. Therefore Functionalism, and an inconsistent functionalism at that – as their own system (Non-Theism) cannot claim an “is” to any “function” as such is teleological in regress – and thus – again – a mere begging of the question. We find their system unable to find a line from A and through to the end. Inconsistent thinking and blind cul-de-sacs abound. There is no “through and through” in their ethics because there is no through/through in their metaphysics. To prove the point, Bill L applies a half-witted notion of potentiality in a manner entirely alien to Christian (and A-T) metaphysics and thinks he’s accomplished something.

    SteveK’s #34 captured it.

    It’s the same thing every time on this topic: The Naturalist is forced to go to brain dead adults and bodiless heads in order to salvage some kind of “appearance” of a “systematic” attempt at “consistency”, all of which becomes unsystematic and inconsistent when unpacked.

  56. The “argument” from vagueness is exceedingly puzzling. So there are cases where it is difficult to ascertain whether a people is dead or alive. So? What is the supposed moral of this conundrum?

  57. Bill L., are you a parent? If so, and if you doubt there can be good reasons for suffering–even for causing suffering in your own children–then I never want to meet your children.

    I’m only speaking the obvious. Children who grow up in a world just as they want it to be do not grow up being St all likable.

    So it is plain that the absence of human suffering cannot be the definition of human good. I’m seeking human good.

  58. G. Rodrigues, my own argument from vagueness is strictly for those who cannot understand the moral worth of a baby in the womb on metaphysical terms. Its intent is to remind people that we don’t give permission to use lethal force when we don’t know what we’re pointing our guns at. Abortion proponents don’t know, but they use their lethal procedures anyway. They should be able to tell that it’s wrong.

  59. @Tom Gilson:

    G. Rodrigues, my own argument from vagueness is strictly for those who cannot understand the moral worth of a baby in the womb on metaphysical terms. Its intent is to remind people that we don’t give permission to use lethal force when we don’t know what we’re pointing our guns at. Abortion proponents don’t know, but they use their lethal procedures anyway. They should be able to tell that it’s wrong.

    So your argument is that *if* the pro-abortion person thinks there is a genuine conundrum then, granting the conundrum for the sake of argument (nota bene: there is no such conundrum), we should still err on the side of caution.

    So far so good. What I still do not understand is what Bill L pretends to show by raising vagueness issues about life. There are cases where a definitive answer is difficult. Ok. Now what?

  60. @Bill L

    I believe the most reasonable approach we can take with abortion and deciding any right-to-life issue is the point at which something can suffer. By that, I mean not only sensing pain, but having the kind of though that allows any creature to comprehend that pain is something bad, and that it wants to avoid this.

    So you assign no value at all to the entire future lifetime that the fetus has been deprived of? It’s all about consciousness and avoidance of pain?

  61. All,

    I apologize, I just noticed my typo from yesterday:

    I believe the most reasonable approach we can take with abortion and deciding any right-to-life issue is the point at which something can suffer. By that, I mean not only sensing pain, but having the kind of thoughts that allows any creature to comprehend that pain is something bad, and that it wants to avoid this.

    bigbird,

    So you assign no value at all to the entire future lifetime that the fetus has been deprived of? It’s all about consciousness and avoidance of pain?

    Yes, that is correct. It is probably similar to the way you assign no value at all the the entire future lifetime of sperm and egg cells (I’m assuming that you do not advocate their protection on the chance that they will have future lifetimes). I also don’t assign value to the future lives of stem cells, even though they could potentially become human lives worthy of protection. Perhaps if you could explain to me why there is something special when egg and sperm are united that happens in that moment (not in the potential future) I could be convinced. So far, no one seems to have done this.

    scbrownlhrm,

    You have misread me. I was not speaking about pain. I was speaking about suffering.

    And more generally, to everyone… Tom and others have brought up a great point. I do agree that some suffering can be beneficial (I certainly exercise, work on my language skills, and try to improve my math skills). But there is a limit and I do not wish to cause unnecessary and excessive suffering when the costs outweigh the benefits. What worries me is that too many people have used this idea of causing suffering in others for the greater good to justify horrible acts (think genocide, political and religious persecution). I think we can all agree that we have to be very careful when we take the position that it is OK for us to cause another to suffer.

  62. Good point on being careful about causing others to suffer.

    I think I was being careful, and I don’t know how the language of “causing others to suffer” even enters in to the discussion. By opposing abortion I do not cause any other person to suffer. They cause it upon themselves. They are pro-choice and anti-consequence; or rather, they are pro-consequence as long as the consequence is to crush out an innocent human life, and to bother their own as little as possible.

    They are the cause of their own suffering.

  63. “Perhaps if you could explain to me why there is something special when egg and sperm are united that happens in that moment (not in the potential future) I could be convinced. So far, no one seems to have done this.”

    Under your worldview? Can’t do it. It’s impossible.

  64. Bill L.,

    Perhaps you should stop misrepresenting the Christian / A-T bit about potential. You should also stop expecting the Christian / A-T approach to stand and fall on that one vector.

    Sperm? Eggs? Stem cells?

    Huh?

    Even worse:

    Secondary causation in all of that?

    Final causes in all of that ?

    You do realize this is a *Christian* blog, no?

    This is the nonsense you’re aiming at:

    I may use trees to build a man’s house. Using said trees to build a fire makes me guilty of house-burning.

    Comical dis-logic.

  65. I’m sorry you don’t care about the suffering of others.

    -Bill L

    This must be one of the most logically challenged, morally repugnant statements I’ve read here.

    So, two people choose to have sex and as a result of that choice create a human being. They then decide that they don’t want this human being in their lives. So, they decide to kill this human being so that they aren’t inconvenienced by it and thus made to “suffer”. Therefore, anyone who opposes their decision to kill the human being they chose to create is guilty of not caring about “the suffering of others”.

    At this point Bill, I’m beginning to feel more than a little sad for you.

  66. “Perhaps if you could explain to me why there is something special when egg and sperm are united that happens in that moment (not in the potential future) I could be convinced. So far, no one seems to have done this.”

    First off, it is not true “no one seems to have done this”.

    “It’s human life at conception by any and every scientific definition.” (#43)

    So, the “something special when egg and sperm are united that happens” is that a human life is created. Is the creation of a human life special enough for you Bill? It’s pretty simple even for someone for whom “being dense” and lying about what other people have and haven’t said is his favorite tactic on this thread.

  67. “Under your worldview? Can’t do it. It’s impossible.”

    Although non-theistic pro-lifers over at Secular Pro-Life might disagree with you. This said, I do tend to agree with people like DougJC (in the previous thread) that the notion of the sanctity of human life owes a great deal (if not everything) to some transcendent source.

  68. Frankly I do not see how Bill L’s moral opinions (or those of any of the other non-theists who comment here) are binding on me or anyone else. Sure some of his moral opinions overlap with some of my moral beliefs, but my moral beliefs are not simply my opinions. So, to change my mind, on something like abortion, he has to start with something other than just his opinions.

  69. Billy,
    His reality has no objective “specialness” which another person could argue for. All anyone could do is appeal to Bill L’s subjective sentiments toward human life and apparently he has none.

  70. I’m really happy to have folks like those at Secular Pro-Life around. But at the same time I totally agree with you Steve.

  71. Tom, @71

    To be clear here, IF you vote to make abortion illegal, then you are causing suffering. Any time you force someone to do something against their will, you are causing suffering. If you don’t believe this, try to imagine forcing poor parents to adopt children against their will. That is akin to the suffering you cause. Now if you’re saying that you just personally oppose abortion and only speak out to others to see your point of view, then I agree – you’re probably not causing much harm. But I have a feeling you’re an active voter.

    Of course the same can be said of me – I would vote to outlaw abortion after 22 weeks (with extreme exceptions). But, as I hope you are now beginning to understand, that is where you have to begin weighing the suffering of one person against another.

    That’s all I have time for this morning. Have a good day everyone.

  72. You’ve got your causal agency categories mixed up, Bill L. A vote against abortion is not the cause of the woman’s suffering. Her actions are the cause of her suffering. The vote against abortion causes something else: it causes the closing of one way of escape from that self-caused suffering. It does so legitimately, in my studied opinion, because that way of escape is an illegitimate one.

    This is no mere philosophical trickery or word play. There is a direct causal chain leading from voluntary (in the vast majority of cases) sexual relationships to pregnancy. There is no direct causal chain leading from any particular vote to pregnancy. That much is painfully obvious, I know.

    So the pregnancy is caused by the sexual encounter. The unwantedness of the pregnancy is caused by other social circumstances surrounding the situation, as well as by the mother’s internal attitudes. Undesired pregnancies happen with or without legislation on abortion.

    Now, when laws limit abortion, that admittedly does produce a sort of suffering, but it’s suffering in a different category. It’s the sort of suffering that involves a person enduring in her own life the consequences of her own decisions. That can be painful, no doubt, but it happens at the same time to be the same category of suffering by which most of us learn most of the really important things we know about life. You reap what you sow. If actions didn’t have consequences no one would learn anything.

    This kind of suffering, again, is the kind that people learn from. It is suffering that can serve a good purpose. I’m willing to accept responsibility for contributing to a person’s life-learning that way. I do not own any responsibility for voting any woman into an unwanted pregnancy, however. Biology doesn’t work that way. You knew that, but you didn’t draw the proper causal connections for some reason.

  73. @Bill L:

    Perhaps if you could explain to me why there is something special when egg and sperm are united that happens in that moment (not in the potential future) I could be convinced. So far, no one seems to have done this.

    An “egg and a sperm united” is a *human life*. And contrary to what you say, the value of such a life lies partly, but not wholly, *because* it has a potential future. It is the same reasoning that leads us to cry “foul” on murder, which is the deliberate curtailing of an innocent human life. This principle is recognized in virtually every civil Law, when for example, Fathers receive an indemnity, which is compensation for damage or loss sustained, when their child is killed. A “egg and a sperm united” is no different from any other “bag of chemicals” known as human beings in this regard.

    And if there is nothing special in a human life, there is likewise nothing special in the “random bag of chemicals” known as Bill L, in which case there is no moral wrong in crushing your skull and vacuum cleaning the mess left behind.

  74. @Bill L

    So you assign no value at all to the entire future lifetime that the fetus has been deprived of? It’s all about consciousness and avoidance of pain?

    Yes, that is correct. It is probably similar to the way you assign no value at all the the entire future lifetime of sperm and egg cells (I’m assuming that you do not advocate their protection on the chance that they will have future lifetimes).

    I assign no (or very limited) value to a sperm and an egg because separately they are not human beings.

    What worth do you place on your own future lifetime? Is not the main objection to murder that it deprives an individual of the future that would have been theirs – not that it causes them pain?

  75. Bill L, further on my answer to this:

    To be clear here, IF you vote to make abortion illegal, then you are causing suffering.

    If you vote in favor of taxes for education, you are causing suffering.

    If you call the police on someone who’s trying to steal something out of your garage, you’re causing suffering.

    If you’re on a jury and you vote “guilty,” so that the offender gets sentenced to jail time, you are causing suffering.

    The “causing-suffering-by-your-vote” ploy is an empty one.

  76. “The subject here is abortion, but the subject of abortion is a question of when and why we assign protections to people, and under what conditions. ”

    ” . . . to people . . . ”

    Isn’t the heart of the original proposal “When does ‘it’ become a person?”

  77. Let’s all be honest that the only reason why anyone needs to discuss “personhood” is in order to deny rights to some subset of human beings. At various times blacks, Jews and now unborn babies have been labelled non-persons. It’s a morally vacuous argument.

  78. It also flys in the face of the U.S. Constitution’s reference to inalienable rights. I don’t see where it says some subsets of humanity are excluded.

  79. The UN Declaration of *Human* Rights too, among others. Wasn’t equal rights a recent hot topic? Where are these people now?

  80. OK, more generally for everyone who is asking the question or stating that human life begins at conception. Here is what I would like you to do…

    In a large bowl, put together these ingredients:
    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 cup buttermilk, shaken
    1 tablespoon liquid red food coloring
    1 teaspoon white vinegar
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
    8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
    12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    3 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar (3/4 pound)

    Mix them all together, then pour them in to cupcake pans. Serve them immediately and tell your family that this liquid goop is actually “Red Velvet Cupcakes.”

    When they look at you in disbelief and complain that they are not cooked, just tell them it doesn’t matter. All of the ingredients are there. They have the potential to become cupcakes, and are therefore equally as good.

    Personhood is the issue here. Not people. The fact that past societies have used personhood to deny humans certain rights is not relevant (although it is informative for other issues). Those people were simply wrong.

  81. Tom @81,

    A man commits a crime; let’s say theft. You are part of a group of voters who have decided that all theft, should be punishable by chopping off the hands and feet of a thief.

    So now when his punishment is carried out, you can say “I am not causing his suffering. His own crimes did.”

    I have already told you that everyone who votes does cause suffering. But don’t you think we should try to ensure that suffering is for the overall good? If we tax people to gain income for education, it is because we expect overall good to come from that education.

    So since you no so little about the lives and situations of the particular people who get abortions, and since no one is made to suffer before 22 weeks, why not let them make their own decisions?

  82. You’re switching points on me here, Bill L. You were raising serious doubts about my morality since I seem to be willing to allow people to suffer. Do you concede now that this isn’t the strong moral point you were seeming to imply?

    As for your final paragraph, see the OP (from a contemporary secular perspective). From a theistic or even Aristotelian perspective these things are not so unknown.

    Note how you’re begging the question, by the way. You say “No one is made to suffer before 22 weeks.” There is someone there, arguably, and whether suffering is the one and only standard is open to debate. You say it is. I say you’re wrong. You certainly can’t assume it. (See the OP again.)

  83. bigbird,

    [To Bill L:]
    I assign no (or very limited) value to a sperm and an egg because separately they are not human beings.

    What worth do you place on your own future lifetime? Is not the main objection to murder that it deprives an individual of the future that would have been theirs – not that it causes them pain?

    I mentioned Dolly the Sheep in another thread and I think it is relevant here. Conceptually, a sperm is not necessary for an egg to become a human being, an electric shock works just as well. Conceptually, any human cell can be a new human life, there is nothing special or truly “life-giving” about a sperm joining egg (except that it provides a means of genetic recombination which appears to be very important for evolutionary diversity).

    In this case, we can not use “potential future” as an open-ended criteria for person-hood under a naturalistic view. Instead, the capacity for conscious awareness in the present must be the primary key to person-hood now and for the future of that being. Without capacity for conscious awareness, there is no person. But with that capacity and consciousness, a person begins to exist and it is then murder to take that away from them.

  84. Tom,

    I do think you care about suffering when it doesn’t inconvenience your other beliefs and desires. I was a little harsh with you yesterday after you attacked me; I admit it. What I don’t think you care about in this particular instance is minimizing suffering or causing unnecessary suffering. You have what you see are higher goals… I understand that. But I know your goals are based on your own personal conviction about the world that can not be known by you.

  85. You’re right Tom. Got my documents mixed up. Still, those who want to deny certain humans the right to life are the same people demanding equality for all.

  86. Thanks SteveK,

    It is a little strange how so many religious fundamentalists are so adamant when it comes to denying actual humans right, but are the first to give a higher priority of rights to single cells.

  87. Bill L, you say,

    I do think you care about suffering when it doesn’t inconvenience your other beliefs and desires.

    That’s your most disgusting insult so far.

    It was tempered by the rest of your comment. Maybe you didn’t intend it the way it came out.

  88. It is a little strange how so many religious fundamentalists are so adamant when it comes to denying actual humans right, but are the first to give a higher priority of rights to single cells.

    Not strange. Sheesh.

    First of all “fundamentalists” is an ill-defined pejorative that does little good here.

    Second, we are not giving single cells more rights than actual humans, based on our view of the matter. We are giving single-cell humans rights that properly inhere in single-cell humans. These rights do not include all the same rights other humans have, for example, the right to own property, to vote, to marry, etc., but they do include the right to continue living.

    Third, since we’ve explained this kind of thing over and over and over and over again, you ought to recognize that this is not an inconsistency in our worldview. It’s an inconsistency between your worldview and ours. To borrow a few of your words, it is a little strange how you think it’s a little strange that there should be some inconsistency between your beliefs and ours.

    It’s also a little annoying. I mean, you’ve had every opportunity to hear what we’re saying, but you continue to treat our position as something completely different than what it is. Do us the courtesy, please, of not attributing your beliefs to us, okay?

  89. That’s your most disgusting insult so far.

    It was tempered by the rest of your comment. Maybe you didn’t intend it the way it came out.

    I certainly didn’t intend it as much of an insult. I thought I was just trying to represent what you expressed to me yesterday. I was just referring to what you see as a higher goal.

  90. Anyway, I think we’ve taken this as far as it can go for now. If there is one thing I hope you take away from this Tom, it is that people who don’t agree with your stance on abortion have often thought about it, and do know what you claim we do not. I know you think I’m wrong about my reasoning; I don’t expect us to solve that. But it is anything but blindly firing at targets. I know that you will never accept that it is YOU who does not know, and instead is choosing to cause suffering.

    But if there is one thing we DO agree on, it is that there should be severely limited abortion after 22 weeks. Perhaps we can see that at least we have some common ground.

  91. Doug JC,

    Conceptually, any human cell can be a new human life,

    No, the foetus is a human life. That’s the difference.

    BillL,

    Personhood is the issue here. Not people. The fact that past societies have used personhood to deny humans certain rights is not relevant (although it is informative for other issues).

    Whether personhood is the issue here is what is under contention, therefore you need to justify that statement not just assume it. It’s obvious that the only reason personhood is raised is to exclude giving certain human beings rights.

  92. Melissa,

    Glad to see you’re still on here. With all sincerity, you are one of my favorite (if not, most favorite) commenters on this blog.

    Whether personhood is the issue here is what is under contention, therefore you need to justify that statement not just assume it.

    I believe I have done so in my comments, just probably not to your satisfaction.

    It’s obvious that the only reason personhood is raised is to exclude giving certain human beings rights.

    That’s not obvious to me. I have also seen it used to grant rights to non-humans. Much of society is becoming more aware that it is indeed the level of cognition and the ability to suffer that have any meaning in these issues. The religious issues just don’t seem to hold up as well.

  93. Bill L’s performance is about what we expect.

    He wants to assert that he’s given this “serious thought”.

    But there is a problem.

    He applies a half-witted notion of potentiality in a manner entirely alien to Christian (and A-T) metaphysics and thinks he’s accomplished something. He then fails to differentiate between two bags of chemicals – well – he attempts it by question begging – but – that’s a no-go from the get-go. “Serious” thinking, hardly. Marginal metaphysics trump sweetly nuanced question begging every time. Then, as is usual for the Naturalist, he is forced to go to brain dead adults and bodiless heads in order to salvage some kind of “appearance” of a “systematic” attempt at “consistency”, all of which becomes unsystematic and inconsistent when unpacked. Bill L expressly advocates allowing pain-pills in the 20th week. In other words, anesthesia eradicates all value – that is to say – anesthesia eradicates the only kind of value his naturalism can afford – and he expressly stated he is willing to allow this in order to accommodate this or that group. Hence he is anything but black and white on this issue – so long as anesthetics can eliminate his only metric of humanity.

    To be consistent – which he will not be – we can equally apply his logic to the adult which has capacity for suffering. Healthy 20 year olds who face a bout of depression are, inch by inch, gaining the right to euthanasia-on-demand in Belgium. Bill L will pull-back at that – we are sure – as being consistent isn’t something he’s demonstrated. Yet. Perhaps we’ll be surprised. Perhaps he’ll surprise us all and reign in his emotive fictions to agree with “reality”. All Bill L needs is a few groups to “appease” or to “accommodate” (as he expressly stated) and the anesthetic arrives on scene – ready to be applied to “personhood” and carry out said appeasement, said accommodation of this or that group.

    That’s what Bill L stated about his approach here. “Serious” thinking at work.

    Serious thinking finds a metaphysical line of seamlessness for ethical delineations, only, we have so far only been given appeals to mutable Normative winds on the one hand and arbitrary question begging on the other hand.

    In short, there is no evidence in this thread to support the following assertion made by Bill L.,

    “If there is one thing I hope you take away from this Tom, it is that people who don’t agree with your stance on abortion have often thought about it”

    We find their system unable to find a seamless line of logic from A and through to the end. Inconsistent thinking and blind cul-de-sacs abound. There is no “through and through” in their ethics because there is no through/through in their metaphysics.

    Very unserious thinking.

  94. Regarding human rights – and there can be no doubt those cells are a human being – I don’t see the connection between the human right to life and the level of cognition. The way it works is you cannot deny a right unless there is justification. If dark skin color cannot justify a killing because skin color doesn’t affect the ability to live, how is it that a certain (temporary) lack of cognition can? Explain.

  95. SteveK,

    A temporary lack of cognition?

    Bill L. has already conceded such as proper grounds for anesthesia (to end humanity/capacity for suffering) and then apply life-ending measures in order to accommodate the demands of this or that group, as described earlier (my previous comment).

  96. Lack of Cognition:

    “But might some human being not lose his rationality or capacity to learn languages due to brain damage or the like? Doesn’t that mean the former is not really part of his essence and the latter not really a property? No, that doesn’t follow at all, because to be impeded in the exercise of a power does not entail that one doesn’t have it. From an A-T point of view, every single human being – including one in a so-called “persistent vegetative state” – necessarily has rationality, the capacity to learn languages, etc. Terri Schiavo was a severely damaged rational animal, not a non-rational animal; a human fetus is a rational animal that has not yet been fully formed, not a non-rational animal; and so forth. Restore Terri Schiavo to perfect health and you get someone who can once again exercise her rationality. Restore a rose bush or a dog to perfect health and you still have something that can never exercise reason. Let a human fetus develop fully and you get something that can exercise rationality. Let a rose bush or a dog develop fully and you never get something that can exercise rationality. Thus it is erroneous – not to mention absurd and morally obscene – to compare the likes of Terri Schiavo or a human fetus to a plant or a non-human animal. And thus does bad metaphysics lead to the rationalization of grave immorality, even murder. But I digress.”

    A bit further:

    “For to say that dogs are of their nature four-legged does not mean, on an Aristotelian understanding of the nature or essence of a thing, that every single dog will in fact have four-legs. It means that any dog in its mature and undamaged state will have four legs. Even three-legged dogs by nature have four legs – that is to say, being four-legged is what they naturally tend toward. It’s just that in a three-legged dog this tendency has been frustrated. Similarly, a human being who is so severely brain damaged that he can no longer reason, or so psychologically aberrant that he is utterly unmoved by the demands of morality, is still someone who by nature tends toward rational activity and a sense of guilt at doing evil. It’s just that, as with the damaged dog, the manifestation of the natural tendencies has been blocked. (Note that this does not make them any less human, any more than a three-legged dog is any less a dog. An imperfect or damaged dog is in no way a non-dog, and an imperfect or damaged human being is in no way non-human. You have actually to be an X in the first place in order to count as an imperfect or damaged X.)”

    Sloppy metaphysical lines account for the straw man of eggs and sperm and bodiless heads and so on being levied against the Theist. Only an X can be a damaged X means nothing at all – in fact cannot “mean” anything at all to a system of ethics housed atop a system of constitutional indifference “through and through”. Teleology’s void cannot be so easily “pretended / make-believed” into existence merely be pushing molecules around and then mindlessly begging the question on the one hand and arbitrarily appealing to the malleable winds of cultural norms on the other hand. Of course, as adeptly spelled out in other threads/places, “Human Nature” is a metaphysical non-entity – pure illusion – within Naturalism and hence arbitrary question begging in a bizarre form of Functionalism is all that the Naturalist has left. Perhaps “Anesthesia” and “Consciousness” and an odd and Sloppy Non-Theistic “Potentiality” can all work together to allow the Naturalist to feel like he’s actually found some kind of convoluted coherence? Not a chance – convoluted or otherwise – as this thread has demonstrably shown.

  97. Dolly the Sheep and the appeal to pushing molecules around is just sloppy thinking as per #73 and #82’s human life and #109. It doesn’t do any rigorous work other than mindless appeals to cultural norms on the one hand and arbitrary question begging on the other hand. No metaphysical justification – at all – for a line being drawn “here” but not drawn “there” is delineated for us. There is no actual state of affairs presented, just a few blind cul-de-sacs.

    A part of, but not the whole of, the dynamics here is this question asked earlier in #83:

    “What worth do you place on your own future lifetime? Is not the main objection to murder that it deprives an individual of the future that would have been theirs – not that it (murder) causes them pain (suffering)?”

  98. Bill L.,

    Glad to see you’re still on here. With all sincerity, you are one of my favorite (if not, most favorite) commenters on this blog.

    Flattery will get you everywhere:). I also find your comments in general add a lot to the conversation but in this thread I have been surprised by your lack of acknowledgement of the contentious nature of some of the assumptions underlying what you’ve written here. You wrote this to Tom.

    I know that you will never accept that it is YOU who does not know, and instead is choosing to cause suffering.

    We know that a fetus is a human being. We know that it is wrong to take the life of an innocent human being. We know that carrying and nurturing a human being, as does living in any real community, involves self-giving love. We know that self-giving love entails suffering. We know that to live in a community characterized by self-giving love is good and in fact is our human calling. We know that the avoidance of suffering is not the pinnacle of human morality. Therefore the community that prioritizes the avoidance of suffering over all else is not morally good nor will it lead to real life and flourishing of human beings. Due to our calling to be Christ in the world, as the church, we will not support measures that encourage that mindset, that fail to affirm the goodness of self-giving love or that label the taking of innocent human life to avoid suffering as good.

    My point being that avoiding suffering is not the number one measure of whether something is moral. The only suffering that Tom is inflicting on anyone is any bad feelings they might have about themselves for their choices, but I don’t think you really think that making people feel bad about their actions is necessarily a moral failing.

    Much of society is becoming more aware that it is indeed the level of cognition and the ability to suffer that have any meaning in these issues.

    Since personhood is just a human construct, people are not becoming more aware of anything. What I think many people are believing is that morality is driven by empathy, hence your statement that it is only cognition and the ability to suffer that have meaning in these issues. This is in itself a contentious claim. Since the fetus, although human, is so dissimilar to a grown human, we don’t feel any empathy and therefore have a reduced or non-existent moral obligation.

  99. Bill L. and DougJC,

    Before moving on:

    Since each of you have evaded two questions from Bigbird and SteveK, another try might be worth the effort before moving on:

    What worth do you place on your own future lifetime? Is not the main objection to murder that it deprives an individual of the future that would have been theirs – not that it (murder) causes them pain (suffering)? And: How does a lack of cognition strip us of our value?

    While you Bill L are stuck on suffering, and while you Doug JC are stuck on an arbitrary (both cultural and question begging) line sliced into the Pie that is Functionalism, neither of you have told us if the theft of one’s future outranks either pain or current-function.

    Moving on:

    Your decision to stay within the confines of Naturalism and hence assert logically sloppy appeals to cultural norms on the one hand and arbitrary question begging on the other hand fails to afford you any means to any metaphysical – and thus logically lucid through and through – justification – at all – for a line being drawn “here” but not drawn “there”. Neither of you have presented for us an actual state of affairs which applies to all human life – rather – you’ve only presented a hodgepodge of disjointed cul-de-sacs all seemingly isolated from one another.

    If we just say suffering, well, so be it, but anesthesia takes care of that and fails to offend logic (your lack of logic, that is) when applied to a later age than we initially – arbitrarily – sloppily – defined as “here” but not “there”, as in, say, Fetal Anesthesia For Abortions After Week 20:

    Lawmakers in Montana are taking the pseudoscience of “fetal pain” to new lows with a measure that would require the use of fetal anesthesia in abortions performed after 20 weeks. “The question of when pain control and anesthesia should be required is pertinent and is timely…… Based on the scientific research accomplished and published over the last three decades, the answer to this question is when the unborn child is 20 weeks gestation or older.” But that is not, in fact, the answer. The Journal of the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and researchers at institutions from Harvard University to University College London have repeatedly concluded that the evidence just isn’t there to support claims about fetal pain before the third trimester….”

    Nothing there violates Doug JC’s lack of logical lucidity because “capacity” is as arbitrary and metaphysically ungrounded as is the lawmaker’s various semantics. Also, nothing there violates Bill L’s lack of logical lucidity because “suffering” means what any person says it means. And besides, since neither of you posit the innate defense of the natural order of normal care and feeding – that natural chain of continuity – then anesthesia (and an assortment of other X’s) easily strides past any gatekeeper you may have thought you were able to posit.

    If we just say present capacity, we end up in the same place: no place in particular on the ethical map. Present capacity is a dangerous place to arbitrarily, sloppily, insist on drawing a line “here” but not “there”. Why? Because Functionalism is as wide open as is Suffering to an abject failure of “taking offense” when that line shifts upstream or downstream for, again, there is no “logical chain of lucidity to offend” in the first place, as others at STR have noted.

    Hence you are each inevitably conflating and equivocating should you resist any change to the boundaries of your logically sloppy “lines”. Moving forward in time that failure to take ownership of that kind of incoherence carries an eventual cost that is high:

    Belgium finds a growing trend in depressed yet otherwise healthy 20-something year olds demanding and being granted the right to euthanasia”.

    Nothing there violates Doug JC’s lack of logical lucidity because “capacity” is as arbitrary and metaphysically ungrounded as is the lawmaker’s various semantics. Also, nothing there violates Bill L’s lack of logical lucidity because “suffering” means what any person says it is. And besides, since neither of you posit the innate defense of the natural order of normal care and feeding – that natural chain of continuity – then anesthesia (and an assortment of other X’s) easily strides past any gatekeeper you may have thought you were able to posit.

    Why point out the obvious? Simply to remind you that you are both taking us on an ethical journey to, well, nowhere in particular.

    Others at STR have noted the stubbornness of the Non-Theists who are willing to pay any and all intellectual costs in their premises so long as their conclusion remains intact. They plow ahead and “bite the bullet” just to be able to keep their premise/conclusion ratio intact. Belgium’s emerging realities are to be expected in the Non-Theist’s anti-intellectual climate. In fact, far more anesthesia/euthanasia of all sorts of permutations and combinations are – quite likely – going to walk hand in hand with your premises because they (your premises) just do not house enough logical lucidity “through and through” where human life is concerned.

    There is no point, no foci, no locus on that ontological chain of continuity which cannot be (logically) sacrificed vis-à-vis running hand-in-hand with both of your own philosophically incongruous and ethically capricious “bullet-biting” in this particular arena.

    Of course, mere consequentialism isn’t the argument here. Rather, logical lucidity amid metaphysical coherence through and through is, simply, demanded. And it is that which finds the Christian’s various truth claims converging amid seamlessness, all the while finding the Non-Theist’s various truth claims diverging into nothing more than incoherence and self-negation.

    While it is true that a fetus is not a potentially rational animal or a potential person, but is in fact an actual rational animal and thus an actual person who hasn’t yet realized all his potentials, the (proper) form of potential (not un-actualized possibility) is a part of, but not the whole of, the Christian’s panoramic logical lucidity which applies to all human life. Given that “part” (not “whole”) of Christian metaphysics that is potential (not un-actualized possibility) we find that the potentiality that is the embryo carries us past some of the Non-Theist’s conflations:

    What is potentiality or in principle capacity in general? How does it differ from (metaphysical) possibility? …….. A potentiality is not the same as a possibility. It is obviously not the same as an actualized possibility, but it is also not the same as an un-actualized possibility………. For example, a human embryo has the potentiality to develop, in the normal course of events, into a neonate. This potentiality is something actual in the embryo. It is not a mere or un-actualized possibility of the embryo. What is a mere possibility is the *realization* of the potentiality. Just as we must not confuse a disposition with its manifestation, we must not confuse a potentiality with its realization……”

    As seen from you in this thread, many equivocate and conflate between the “brain dead adult” (on the one hand) and the “womb” (on the other hand) as they mistakenly assume such will allow them to “bypass” logic’s demand for lucidity. As with the rest of reality, that kind of incongruous methodology inevitably sacrifices coherence – forfeiting logical lucidity – such that truth claims are forever moving away from convergence, forever into divergence. Fetal Anesthesia and 20 year olds demanding “the right to euthanasia” are a few examples of your own milieu’s diverging lines, but they are not the point. The “points” are merely threefold:

    1) Without logical lucidity such divergence easily strolls through your gates without setting off any alarms – without offending any logic within your premise/conclusion set.

    2) In case you missed it, you don’t have a logically lucid approach to the panoramic treatment of all human life.

    3) You are – by your sloppy appeals to normative bell curves and by your reliance upon what amounts to (arbitrary) question begging – taking us on an ethical odyssey to – well – nowhere in particular.

  100. @Bill L

    Once again, the issue is about suffering, not strictly (or importantly) about pain.

    You still haven’t answered the question of whether losing your life deprives you of your future. Suffering is not the only issue, or even the most important one.

    @DougJC

    I mentioned Dolly the Sheep in another thread and I think it is relevant here. Conceptually, a sperm is not necessary for an egg to become a human being, an electric shock works just as well. Conceptually, any human cell can be a new human life, there is nothing special or truly “life-giving” about a sperm joining egg (except that it provides a means of genetic recombination which appears to be very important for evolutionary diversity).

    Irrelevant. We are talking about actual human life, not what conceptually can become human life, whether it be sperm and egg or genetic material, egg and electric shock.

  101. Melissa,

    I don’t have much time this morning, but here is a little:

    ….I have been surprised by your lack of acknowledgement of the contentious nature of some of the assumptions underlying what you’ve written here.

    That’s a good point and I think you are right. I haven’t really had the time to go in to it enough.

    We know that a fetus is a human being.

    Yes, you are right. But what seems to not be understood or acknowledged by many of those here is that there are huge differences between single cells and a fetus that is say 8 months in development. Did you notice the recipe I gave in #91? I hope I don’t need to point out that the ingredients mixed together represent the early stage of the fetus; the cooked cupcakes represent the later stage. What happens between (in both cases) is essential. So no, I have yet to see why a zygote should deserve any more protection than a gamete or a stem cell.

    I agree with much of what you say about caring and nurturing. But I need to understand why there is anything there that deserves this more than any other single cell.

    Let’s see if we can tie this in with bigbird’s question:

    Do I care about my future life now? Yes, of course. Will I care about it on my deathbed? No.

    Did I care about my future life when I was a zygote? I have no reason to think so. This is why I asked the question in #1 about the body without a head. No reasonable person assigns equal importance to a human without a brain.

    Many here seem to believe there is something magical/special that happens when haploid DNA is combined. I admit that this is an important step. But it is no where near the importance of the development of the brain during gestation (not even in the same ballpark). Without that ability to think and suffer, or even something close to this ability, I will need to be given another reason to extend empathy. I haven’t heard that yet. It seems that Steve K has been the only one so far who has really recognized the difficulty of doing this on secular grounds. Hats off to him (he is usually my 2nd favorite participant in the blog).

    If there is anything special or magical, it is that phase of development where our neurons come together at such a level that we become those things we recognize as thinking and suffering humans.

    If I have missed anything that you feel can be addressed, please let me know. I usually don’t bother reading scbrownlhrm’s comments. He doesn’t seem interested in understanding or reading carefully, and I find his “communication” style incomprehensible. Overall, I believe his participation really lowers the quality of this blog.

  102. @Bill L

    Do I care about my future life now? Yes, of course. Will I care about it on my deathbed? No.

    Did I care about my future life when I was a zygote? I have no reason to think so.

    That wasn’t my question. Originally I asked:

    “So you assign no value at all to the entire future lifetime that the fetus has been deprived of?”

    It’s of secondary importance of whether you or the zygote is aware of your potential future. My question really is about the value of someone’s future lifetime whether or not they are currently aware of it.

    If your answer is, yes, it’s important to me but that’s because I’m conscious of my potential future life, then you’ll need to explain why it can’t be taken from you when you are unconscious and unaware of it being taken. And of course babies have no concept of the future either – if it is taken from them without inflicting suffering, why is that not ok under your assumptions?

  103. Bill L,

    As per #113 & #116, the “style” you seem to be avoiding is answering very straight forward questions.

    Since its not only my question, but also Bigbird’s, perhaps now that he’s asked you twice you can consider answering such a generic, basic question.

    BTW, fetal anesthesia is an interesting intersection to your premises, as per #113.

    If the “style” of challenging your model, and asking questions, and so on, isn’t to your liking, well, that is odd.

  104. bigbird,

    That wasn’t my question. Originally I asked:

    “So you assign no value at all to the entire future lifetime that the fetus has been deprived of?”

    I assign no more value to the future lifetime of a fetus before 22 weeks then you assign to the future lifetime of sperm and egg cells.

  105. scbrownlhrm,

    The “style” of yours I’m referring to is mostly that you are either uninterested in understanding the position of another, or are unable to articulate that. Secondary is your common use of lengthily word salads.

    I’m sure you understand what you intend to convey. But I usually do not.

  106. Re #118:

    That’s weird.

    Separate sperm and egg cells are not discrete organisms, and their future lifetimes (post-ovulation, in the case of egg cells) are measured in hours; a few days at most. They have no future.

    A 10-week fetus (just to pick a number out of the air) is a discrete organism with a life expectancy in the U.S. of about 75 years, and the likelihood of a very fruitful, productive life filled with love.

    Unless someone kills it.

  107. Bill L.

    My failures aside, your model doesn’t offer any coherent (logical) reasoning to abstain from fetal anesthesia at any age.

    #113 offers a bit of a wider explanation of this charge.

    Your approach is fine IF your intention is to travel to no place in particular, ethically speaking (#113…no need to retype it etc.).

    We already know you agree with SteveK in that you have no logical basis for drawing a line “here” but not “there”, given Naturalism.

    So none of this is aimed there. Rather, we’re just curious on your willingness to be consistent.

  108. “I assign no more value to the future lifetime of a fetus before 22 weeks then you assign to the future lifetime of sperm and egg cells.”

    This is consistent with an atheistic worldview. What isn’t consistent is that you have discovered value in anything. Cognition / awareness have no objective value.

  109. @Bill L

    I assign no more value to the future lifetime of a fetus before 22 weeks then you assign to the future lifetime of sperm and egg cells.

    And yet one is a human being and the others are not.

    I believe your criteria of conscious experience is simply a convenient smokescreen to permit the killing of foetuses, and not a particularly good one at that.

    Newly born babies are not self-aware, so as long as they don’t experience suffering there seems no reason under your criteria why they cannot be killed if they are not wanted.

    As Peter Singer said many years ago: “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons … the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”

    Of course, neither you or Peter Singer can explain why self-awareness or conscious experience should define personhood.

  110. SteveK,

    Just a minor FYI, I don’t identify as an atheist. Agnosticism seems to be the only position I can adequately defend; congratulate yourself – you are partly responsible for my “de-conversion.”

    As for cognition and awareness having “objective” value, it will require a longer conversation. The only things that can assign value are sentient entities. That is what I have done.

  111. Here’s a start to that longer conversation.

    You say, “The only things that can assign value are sentient entities. That is what I have done.”

    If you were expressing a mere inability to assign value to non-sentient entities, that would be an accurate way to express it. But that isn’t what you’re doing in the rest of your conversation here. You are quite sure there’s no ethical barrier to killing non-sentient entities, including unborn babies at less than 22 weeks. If you thought they might even possibly have value, then you would have doubts about whether killing them was ethically supportable, but you have no such doubts.

    So in the rest of your conversation here, you’re actually making a positive statement that you deny value to non-sentient entities. You’re not saying, “I can assign value only to sentient entities,” remaining agnostic about non-sentient entities. You’re saying, “I can deny value to non-sentient entities.”

    Meanwhile you also identify as an agnostic: you do not know whether there is a God. This seems to lead to an enigma. You are saying:

    1. I am confident that unborn babies prior to 22 weeks have no value, and may be freely killed. (From your assertions here.)

    and

    2. There might be a God, for all I know. (From your profession of agnosticism.)

    From this it follow that you should believe 3:

    3. If there is a God, then he must be a God who assigns no moral or spiritual value to unborn children before 22 weeks. (Follows from 1 and 2.)

    Do you know that much about God in your agnosticism? How?

  112. @Tom

    If you thought they might even possibly have value, then you would have doubts about whether killing them was ethically supportable, but you have no such doubts.

    It’s this kind of certainty in such a critical moral judgement that I find utterly baffling.

    And yet to hold such a view, certainty is required, because any doubt would mean there is a distinct possibility of endorsing a holocaust. And who would want to do that?

  113. As for cognition and awareness having “objective” value, it will require a longer conversation. The only things that can assign value are sentient entities. That is what I have done.

    It seems to me that there are only two options:

    (a) you’ve assigned a higher value to something that has no intrinsic higher value.
    (b) you’ve discovered intrinsic higher value.

    Without God, (a) is the answer to everything that you think has higher value. Rationality, the cherished icon of today’s New Atheism, is no more valuable than blind faith or irrationality or indifference. Certain arguments may be factually true by way of logic, but ignoring that rational conclusion in favor of blind faith because you find it more valuable is perfectly fine and dandy. If atheism is true, nothing of value follows – including the higher value of truth.

    But if (b) is the answer, then God explains why this is a fact of reality and why such things as rationality have value over irrationality or blind faith.

    So as an agnostic, are you discovering with your mind things that have a higher value – like truth – or are you assigning a higher value to things that don’t actually have a higher value?

  114. Someone double check my math. If we accept Bill L’s claim that a baby may be freely aborted before 22 weeks but that abortions should be “severely limited” afterwards (see #103) we come with up 22 x 7= 154 days… x 24= 3696 hours… x 60= 221,760 minutes… x 60= 13,305,600 seconds (we could go further but for the purposes of this discussion we don’t need to go down to nanoseconds.) My point is very simple. What is it that happens at the 13,305,600th second baby’s gestation that suddenly makes it worth saving? Come on, something must happen at the moment.

    Notice that Bill L keeps mocking and ridiculing pro-lifers about conception. For example @ #115 he tells Melissa, “Many here seem to believe there is something magical/special that happens when haploid DNA is combined.” Well, scientifically we know human life begins at conception. What I want to know is what happens at the 13,305,600th second of a baby’s gestation that suddenly makes that baby worth saving. Surely, Bill L has a scientific explanation for us.

    The pro-life position is not a magical one; it is a scientific one. There is a complete unbroken chain of development— of continuity– from the moment of conception to the birth of the baby. Bill L appears to be claiming that something discontinuous happens 13,305,600 seconds into a baby’s development that changes all that. What is it? Surely he has an answer.

  115. Bill L.,

    But what seems to not be understood or acknowledged by many of those here is that there are huge differences between single cells and a fetus that is say 8 months in development. Did you notice the recipe I gave in #91? I hope I don’t need to point out that the ingredients mixed together represent the early stage of the fetus; the cooked cupcakes represent the later stage.

    Well your application of the analogy is wrong. The ingredients undergo various chemical reactions on baking to form a cake (an artifact but we’re looking at a new form). For the human being the “ingredients” are the sperm and egg. These form the substance that is a human being. The human being remains a human being from conception to death, there is no change into something else at some magical time. I just don’t understand why you keep equating the fetus with sperm and eggs as you do in your later comment to bigbird. Scientifically you’re wrong on this count. Now if your point is that the cake represents a person then fine but we’re still back at an impasse, because you haven’t provided an answer as to why the level of cognition is so important. Also do you disagree with Singer on the value of newborn babies? I guess the one thing that can be said about him is that at least he is consistent. Or do you think that the main mark is our level of empathy, and we naturally feel more for a human baby than a pig. But if value is in the feelings of sentient creatures to something/someone that throws up all sorts of problems in itself.

    I agree with much of what you say about caring and nurturing. But I need to understand why there is anything there that deserves this more than any other single cell.

    It is an actual human being. I think your use of language in referring to the fetus is dishonest, it’s almost like you are refusing to acknowledge their humanity.

    This is why I asked the question in #1 about the body without a head. No reasonable person assigns equal importance to a human without a brain.

    You don’t think that the fact that an adult human body can’t regrow a head has anything to do with it, therefore there is no conceivable way it could be called a human being.

    Many here seem to believe there is something magical/special that happens when haploid DNA is combined.

    Yes, a new human being is created.

    Without that ability to think and suffer, or even something close to this ability

    Given that criteria I suppose you don’t have anything against killing human beings who are temporarily unable to think or suffer. Or do they look enough like you to be protected by your feelings of empathy?

  116. Let’s call this impasse what it is: a worldview divide. There’s no standing with one foot on the dock and one on the boat. Either one is a materialistic atheist, or one isn’t.

    On atheistic materialism, when cells with haploid DNA combine, nothing special happens. Nothing. Nothing magical, either.

    On most other worldviews, though, the egg and sperm aren’t just small bags of haploid DNA: they have a teleology and a final cause (roughly speaking, a purpose for being), not just material and efficient causes attached to them.

    If Bill L wants to hang on to the theory that there’s nothing more to haploid DNA cells than the chemicals in them, then he really ought to own up to believing in atheistic materialism.

    Bill L, do you realize that’s the question for you? It’s the same question I asked in #125. You’ve adopted a position that’s only fully defensible on a strong form of atheism (materialism), but you’ve also told us you can’t commit to atheism.

    As an old friend used to ask, Which is it? Is you is or is you isn’t?

  117. @Tom Gilson:

    On atheistic materialism, when cells with haploid DNA combine, nothing special happens. Nothing. Nothing magical, either.

    Right. “nothing special happens”. Nothing happens, really. At all. There are no selves. And if there are no selves no self ever comes into existence. Or a self goes out of existence. Bill L does not exist; there exists a congery of atoms doing a maddened dance and exhaling some sound waves, but it really means nothing. Is nothing.

    Estragon: Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!

    — S. Beckett, “Waiting for Godot” Act I

  118. bigbird,

    Irrelevant. We are talking about actual human life, not what conceptually can become human life, whether it be sperm and egg or genetic material, egg and electric shock.

    My point is that the difference between an egg and an egg stimulated to divide is barely anything at all. Sperm can do it but so can electric shock. But you are concluding that an egg stimulated to divide is suddenly and instantly a human life but an egg not yet stimulated is not. That position seems to require a dose of religious metaphysics and philosophy to justify.

    Absent the religious metaphysics, naturalism takes the evidence of biology at face value and thus personhood has to instead correlate to something above biology: conscious capacity. It is the process and functioning of neural networks that can reflect on themselves and feel things that is truly marvelous and unique in our reality. Human DNA really rather pales by comparison. Conscious capacity must also then be species and even substrate-independent, possibly including other primates, mammals and future artificial intelligence.

    Let me also comment on a couple other things you’ve said.

    Newly born babies are not self-aware, so as long as they don’t experience suffering there seems no reason under your criteria why they cannot be killed if they are not wanted.

    But who would make the argument that newborn babies don’t suffer? Certainly no one here. Self-awareness and consciousness is a continuum that probably follows brain development and I take Tom’s point to heart: if there’s any chance of a harming someone capable of suffering, avoid it. But it requires extensive religious metaphysics and philosophy to believe suffering is possible without a developed nervous system.

    Of course, neither you or Peter Singer can explain *why* self-awareness or conscious experience should define personhood.

    Conscious experience is objectively more valuable than non-experience; being is better than non-being. I think we all start there. But religion seems to go on to say a lot more: God, where we came from, where we’re going, etc. I don’t know how to justify those assumptions as well as the self-evident value of conscious experience.

  119. DougJC,

    You speak of “absent the religious metaphysics.”

    I’m wondering: take away the religious metaphysics from the equation, and precisely what do you have? You seem to think it’s naturalism. Are you suggesting that naturalism + religious metaphysics equals something?

  120. Absent the religious metaphysics, naturalism takes the evidence of biology at face value and thus personhood has to instead correlate to something above biology: conscious capacity.

    Huh? If conscious capacity correlates to something more than biology (your words), then isn’t your argument *not* taking biology at face value? In other words, you seem to be invoking a metaphysical view of a different kind in order to argue that consciousness is something special – but maybe I’m not following you correctly.

  121. I hope Bill L will answer JAD’s question in #128. Should be interesting.

    My question is this. Bill L, are you absolutely 100% certain that a fetus cannot experience that “something” which causes personhood at any other point in time? Say the 13,305,500th second of development? Or at 21 weeks and 5 days? Or 22 weeks and 2 days? It does make a difference. If a woman asks for an abortion and it’s the 6th day of the 21st week, but that “something” happened the day before, and you say yes the abortion is acceptable, then you are responsible for the death of a person. If another woman asks for an abortion at 22 weeks and 1 day, but that “something” has not yet happened – the fetus is not a person, and you say no the abortion cannot be done, then you are responsible for the suffering that will occur from the unwanted child.

    How certain are you?

  122. Doug JC,

    But you are concluding that an egg stimulated to divide is suddenly and instantly a human life but an egg not yet stimulated is not.

    Yes, that’s what science says. Human life begins at conception. An egg is not a human life. Where’s the problem? Of course that position requires a metaphysical position, what conclusion does not? It seems to me that it is you who are not taking biology at face value. Rights to humans does not fit what you want so you invent a category called personhood that sits over and above biology.

    It is the process and functioning of neural networks that can reflect on themselves and feel things that is truly marvelous and unique in our reality. Human DNA really rather pales by comparison.

    Neural networks reflect on themselves? They feel things? And is it your argument that the feeling your neural networks have for neural networks is what makes it wrong to kill something with neural networks?

    Conscious experience is objectively more valuable than non-experience; being is better than non-being. I think we all start there.

    Huh? Is conscious experience objectively more valuable than non-conscious experience? What do you mean by more valuable? Is time spent sleeping really objectively less valuable to a human being? If being is more valuable than non-being why do you seek to snuff out human life? I realise that your worldview fails to give you tools robust enough for you to answer many of the relevant questions so you end up with loose thinking buttressed by sentimentality.

  123. OK, so much to cover here, so little time. My apologies for being brief. It seems that a few people are interested in JAD’s question in 128, so I’ll start there:

    I partly gave the answer in #91 with the recipe. Is there a point in time during baking when the goo goes from non-cupcake to cupcake? Not really. What we are sure of is that the goo is not a cupcake, yet the hardened final product, whether slightly underdone, slightly overdone, or just right is indeed a cupcake. It is a qualitative standard, but we see definite beginning products that are not, and an end product that is.

    This is why I mentioned the phases of development back in #42. There is a point at around 26 weeks where we are sure all of the networks are in place and are functioning that it is near impossible to distinguish the kinds of brain changes after that point. Before 22 weeks, they are not in place at all. So the magic window is between these points.

    At what point does the goo become a cupcake? Well, we probably want it to solidify. When does that happen? We make judgments when baking… it’s starting to get hard on the top. Let it go another 10 minuets or so. Is there a magic second? Of course not.

    Why do we require that kids not get their driver’s license until age 16? Certainly some kids can drive perfectly well at 15; some are complete disasters until age 20. But we have to draw that cut off somewhere.

    Abortion is an extremely important issue, and we don’t want to be guilty of genocide for lack of knowledge. So we take the most conservative position given the knowledge we have. Now with a 22 week ban, is it likely that in a certain percentage of fetuses that no real sentience or consciousness has formed at say 24 weeks? Yes, of course – most probably. But until we have better methods of evaluation, we choose the most conservative approach reasonable. This way, no unavoidable suffering is foisted upon anyone.

    Now this brings us to Melissa’s points in #129. In fact the chemical ingredients are not just the sperm and egg. They are largely the nutrients that pass over the placenta and the cooking is the time it takes to do anything with those ingredients. Everything must be in place just as a pile of plastic, wires and silicon chips do not make a computer.

    As a biologist, I have learned to look at all of life as a process in motion. Sperm and egg cells are human cells, they are just haploid. The zygote is of course little different except for the now diploid DNA and the process of protein production that begins. But many of our cells are similar in the kinds of reactions that take place. The real difference lies in the only thing that can make things matter – the brain that comes later (Tom seems to have figured this out from a secular POV in #130. I be back with more for his questions later.)

    Melissa, I do disagree with Singer. I understand his points (Dennett has similar ones), but I think they are not conservative enough. I’m more in line with Carl Sagan on this. See his books “The Dragons of Eden,” “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors,” and “Billions and Billions” for the importance of cognition (first 2 books) and its relation to abortion (last book) for more detail. I simply don’t have time right now – sorry.

    More, single cells are not the same as full grown human beings. I am not being dishonest. In fact I could say the same of you, but I am giving you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you mean well, and are doing your best. Your right in that it is the cell of a human being. But the important differences lie elsewhere.

    Last, why don’t we kill human beings who are temporarily unable to suffer? Because we do not want to live in that kind of world, where we are afraid that if we fall into that state that we will not wake up. Because something that is conscious has hopes and dreams about the future. Needless to say, single cells do not.

  124. Tom,

    Good job on #125. I would say you are largely accurate.

    Do you know that much about God in your agnosticism? How?

    That’s a great question, that follows your 3 summations.

    No, I don’t know that much about God. But I don’t think you do either. I’m a bit of a militant agnostic (“I don’t know and you don’t either”). [That’s supposed to be funny. I don’t have too many other jokes.]

    What I do know is that about half of all pregnancies end in a natural abortion (a miscarriage) where usually the mother isn’t even aware of what happened. If there is a God, it is not the kind who cares about dead fetuses.

    I’m curious, what do you think happens to all of those miscarried unborn (in terms of their souls)? Also, I believe abortifacients are mentioned in the OT. What did Jesus say about them, or abortions at all? Does this tell us anything about the importance of abortions to a God who could see the future?

    Sorry, this is all I have time for. Goodnight everyone.

  125. I am sorry to be blunt and introduce a note of disagreeable discord in an otherwise civil atmosphere, but personally I am not just appalled by the complete irrationality and magical thinking (so aptly exposed by JAD), but also by the utter, complete and disgusting moral obtuseness of the proto-nazis.

    So it will not be a big loss if I just stay in the side lines and pray that God may have mercy on us all and not visit our many murderous sins with righteous judgment.

  126. Hi, Bill L.,

    Thanks for the good questions. I’ll start with one for you. Granted that you don’t know that much about God, who you think might exist,how do you justify your strong conviction that early-term abortion is okay? You’re literally saying your certain it’s okay, and yet your beliefs about a possible God absolutely entail that you cannot be certain. How do you square those two thoughts?

    You return the riposte that I don’t know that much about God, either. I think God actually has made himself that well known. For this part of the discussion, though, if I were as little confident in my knowledge of God as you are, I’d still find it impossible to say it’s definitely okay to kill babies at even the earliest stage of development. Given the plethora of voices warning that this is an offense to God, and given the possibility that they might be right, there’s no way I could insist that my position was right instead.

    As for miscarriages, my wife and I experienced that and we expect to see that child in heaven, grown up to adulthood in God’s care. We might be wrong. This is an unanswered question in Scripture. We don’t know God that well, because in this he has not revealed much. It probably even sounds a little weird to you.

    It could even be that aborted children end up with the same destiny or fate as miscarried babies. That wouldn’t make it right to abort them. It’s wrong to kidnap a child, even if you’re doing it to take her to live with a rich family inside the gates of Disney World. It’s wrong to abort a child, even if your motive is to send her to heaven forever. (Let us not suppose that this actually is anyone’s motive.)

    In other words, the fate of miscarried babies has nothing to do with the abortion question for adults.

  127. You say, “If there is a God, it is not the kind who cares about dead fetuses.”

    You’re sneaking in some naturalistic assumptions again. Let me reveal those assumptions by writing them into your sentence:

    “If there is a God, it is not the kind who cares for dead fetuses, because if they’re dead they’re just dead and there’s nothing more God can do.”

    How do you know that?

    What God does with dead fetuses is his own information to keep. What he does with grown-ups who sacrifice unborn children on the altar of their own convenience is not so hidden.

  128. Bill L.,

    The question at hand is whether or not you can logically and coherently argue that you know what the nature of the fetus is. Your metaphysics being sloppy of late, it seems your militant agnosticism isn’t holding up and you are in fact importing supra-naturalistic nuance in your “attempt” to make your case.

    So you therefore seem to claim you “know”.

    But your “know” part is sloppy and disjointed.

    Whether we go back to your “I don’t know” posture or stay on your “I know” posture, you don’t really seem to know after all.

    That’s the whole point of the OP: If you don’t know – and point the proverbial gun and yell “FIRE!”, where are you left standing?

    You state:

    I believe abortifacients are mentioned in the OT.”

    And you state the intellectually sophomoric flavor of:

    People die, therefore No-God”, or, “People die, therefore God-Doesn’t-Care”.

    It’s easy to be wrong about what one clearly doesn’t know.

    The evidence of your mistaken thinking is mounting – that last comment essentially cementing your sloppy metaphysical assessment of the questions at hand regarding the nature of the fetus.

    Given that the premises within your formulations aren’t up to speed on Christianity, and thus lead you to such obvious mistakes in thinking, it seems highly plausible, and demonstrably so of late, that you aren’t up to speed on other premises in your formulations as well and, thereby, have traveled into yet further (obvious) mistakes in thinking.

    Perhaps such mistakes in your thinking are why you cannot tell us why your line can be drawn “here” but, factually, “…..cannot be drawn “there” without offending logic’s chain of continuity….”.

    Your silence on that question leads us to wonder if you’ve missed the point about the real question at hand: Do you know what the fetus is?

    Such “mistakes in thinking” are the entire point of the question about pointing a gun at one-knows-not-what and shouting “FIRE!!”

    Given such sloppy thinking on your part, P. Kreeft’s worthwhile essay Human Personhood Begins at Conception carries us into your (demonstrable) one-knows-not-what is going on there in the womb on what is now (demonstrably) several fronts. As Mr. Kreeft’s essay notes, “So the soft pro-choicer must distinguish between human beings and persons, must say that fetuses are human but not persons, and that all persons, but not all humans, are sacred and inviolable. Thus the crucial issue is: Are there any human beings who are not persons?” Kreeft’s essay nicely captures many of the ad hoc fallacies presented by Non-Theists in this arena.

    A brief excerpt:

    Suppose abortion is a difficult, obscure, uncertain issue. Even if you take this “softest pro-choice” position, which we can call “abortion agnosticism,” you stand refuted by the following quadrilemma.
    Either the fetus is a person, or not; and either we know what it is, or not.

    Thus there are four and only four possibilities:

    1. that it is not a person and we know that,

    2. that it is a person and we know that,

    3. that it is a person but we do not know that, and

    4. that it is not a person and we do not know that.

    Now what is abortion in each of these four cases?

    In case (1), abortion is perfectly permissible. We do no wrong if we kill what is not a person and we know it is not a person—e.g., if we fry a fish. But no one has ever proved with certainty that a fetus is not a person. If there exists anywhere such a proof, please show it to me and I shall convert to pro-choice on the spot if I cannot refute it.
    If we do not have case (1) we have either (2) or (3) or (4). What is abortion in each of these cases? It is either murder (in 2), or manslaughter (in 3), or criminal negligence (in 4).

    In case (2), where the fetus is a person and we know that, abortion is murder. For killing an innocent person knowing it is an innocent person is murder.

    In case (3), abortion is manslaughter, for it is killing an innocent person not knowing and intending the full, deliberate extent of murder. It is like driving over a man-shaped overcoat in the street, which may be a drunk or may only be an old coat. It is like shooting at a sudden movement in a bush which may be your hunting companion or may be only a pheasant. It is like fumigating an apartment building with a highly toxic chemical not knowing whether everyone is safely evacuated. If the victim is a person you have committed manslaughter. And if not?

    Even in case (4), even if abortion kills what is not in fact a person, but the killer does not know for sure that it is not a person, we have criminal negligence, as in the above three cases if there happened to be no man in the coat, the bush, or the building but the driver, the hunter, or the fumigator did not know that, and nevertheless drove, shot or fumigated. Such negligence is instinctively and universally condemned by all reasonable individuals and societies as personally immoral and socially criminal; and cases (2) and (3), murder and manslaughter, are of course condemned even more strongly. We do not argue politely over whether such behavior is right or wrong. We wholeheartedly condemn it, even when we do not know whether there is a person there, because the killer did not know that a person was not there. Why do we not do the same with abortion?

  129. Bill L.,

    @ #138

    It sums to simple question-begging.

    If you’re intellectually satisfied with that, then okay.

    Such satisfaction with so little accounts for why you cannot, and hence do not, tell us why your line can be drawn “here” but, factually, metaphysically, cannot also be drawn “there”.

    Fetal anesthesia:

    Sure, it might be a person, or feel pain. Or not. We don’t have to know, though, because fetal anesthesia is a valid, justified – vis-à-vis Naturalism’s unavoidable means/ends – bypass of such arbitrary lines. Lines “here” or lines “there”. So it goes.

    All which fetal anesthesia ushers into this arena stands as the intellectual defeater of all of your premises and conclusions, as touched on earlier in this thread.

    Again, as you are intellectually satisfied with so little, then the proverbial gun aimed at we-know-not-what remains.

  130. @Bill L

    Abortion is an extremely important issue, and we don’t want to be guilty of genocide for lack of knowledge. So we take the most conservative position given the knowledge we have.

    Even assuming your position, the most conservative approach can only be not permitting abortion. Allowing it at 22 weeks is not conservative!

    What if research in the future is able to demonstrate that fetuses do have brain activity or sentience at 14 weeks? Or less? Oh well, I guess we were wrong, too bad for the hundreds of millions of sentient human beings that were aborted because we made a scientific error??

    Last, why don’t we kill human beings who are temporarily unable to suffer? Because we do not want to live in that kind of world, where we are afraid that if we fall into that state that we will not wake up.

    But we do live in a world where the most dangerous place for a human being is in the womb. In some countries, the fetus has a less than even chance of survival.

    Because something that is conscious has hopes and dreams about the future. Needless to say, single cells do not.

    So your future is important to you? But only because you can consciously appreciate it?

    Babies don’t have hopes and dreams about the future. So as long as they are unwanted and don’t suffer in the process, your view inexorably draws you to that of Peter Singer – infanticide.

  131. Tom,

    Granted that you don’t know that much about God, who you think might exist,how do you justify your strong conviction that early-term abortion is okay? You’re literally saying your certain it’s okay, and yet your beliefs about a possible God absolutely entail that you cannot be certain. How do you square those two thoughts?

    I think I’ve gone over most of that. I justify it based on my knowledge that single cells do not suffer, that half of pregnancies end in a miscarriage anyway, that there is no mention of abortion in the Bible or any other religious text I know of. Even if there were mentions of it in any religious texts, I have no reason to think that these texts are the word of God (I have many reasons to think they are not).

    Something you note here:

    It’s wrong to abort a child, even if your motive is to send her to heaven forever.

    Consistency seems to demand that you are saying that God is doing something wrong.

    “If there is a God, it is not the kind who cares for dead fetuses, because if they’re dead they’re just dead and there’s nothing more God can do.”

    How do you know that?

    I DON’T assume there’s nothing God can do. I assume God can do what ever he wants. That’s my point here. God aborts many more fetuses than humans will ever come close to.

  132. bigbird,

    What if research in the future is able to demonstrate that fetuses do have brain activity or sentience at 14 weeks? Or less? Oh well, I guess we were wrong, too bad for the hundreds of millions of sentient human beings that were aborted because we made a scientific error??

    That’s a great question. We would indeed be in error, and a grievous one at that. That is why we choose the most conservative time (22 weeks) that we can given our knowledge. We know that we will be causing suffering by cutting back the date to an earlier point, so we should not act on something we know is wrong when we can avoid suffering. We simply have little choice but to proceed with the best knowledge we have in every situation. The mistake would be to use the worst information we have when we can avoid suffering.

  133. Everyone,

    I don’t have time for much more right now. I’m going to start reading Tom’s new post. I think I’ve covered the important questions in this thread , but for lack of time I may have missed something. Please let me know if you have specific questions.

  134. Consistency seems to demand that you are saying that God is doing something wrong.

    When God takes a life, he takes a life that he is responsible for, and he takes it somewhere. I can’t do that. You can’t do that. There’s no analogy there between God and humans.

    I DON’T assume there’s nothing God can do. I assume God can do what ever he wants. That’s my point here. God aborts many more fetuses than humans will ever come close to.

    But you do assume there’s nothing that God does nothing right and just with those babies. That’s the core of your complaint, isn’t it? That if it’s not right or just for humans to kill babies in the womb, then it’s also not right or just for God to let babies die there.

    You forget that God has means to accomplish justice that are far beyond our disposal. You cannot compare God’s actions to ours, because you cannot see all of God’s actions.

    If God let babies die in the womb and did nothing further for them, just as humans can do nothing further for them, then your argument here would have force. Instead, you’re still doing what I pointed out in #142: You’re speaking of God as if he were subject to your naturalistic assumptions. You err in doing that.

    There is no mention of abortion in the Bible or any other religious text I know of. Even if there were mentions of it in any religious texts, I have no reason to think that these texts are the word of God (I have many reasons to think they are not).

    Abortion is not mentioned. You’re right. Neither is computer cracking (malicious hacking). Global warming isn’t either. There’s not a single word in there about pollution.

    The principles are all there, though. It’s absolutely dazzlingly clear in the Bible that God hates child sacrifice. In OT times they sacrificed to satisfy Molech. Now we sacrifice children to satisfy ourselves.

    Your agnosticism is better defined now, though. Although you do not know if there is a God, you think you know that if there is a God, then he’s just fine with abortion.

    What if there is a God? What if you’re accountable to him? What if you’re wrong? What if his ways are completely different than you think, and better than you imagined? Then you would be missing out on the joy of his goodness. And you’d also be careening headlong into the other side of his goodness: his justice, which entails accountability.

    You’re taking a terrible risk: a risk of losing the good and gaining the consequences. You don’t know that it’s not true, but you’re willing to insist that your way is certainly right anyway. This is not just a logical inconsistency on your part (though it is that); it’s also a perilous way to approach your own future.

  135. You’re taking a terrible risk: a risk of losing the good and gaining the consequences. You don’t know that it’s not true, but you’re willing to insist that your way is certainly right anyway. This is not just a logical inconsistency on your part (though it is that); it’s also a perilous way to approach your own future.

    You may be right Tom. But I don’t know any other way to approach life than to be honest about what I do know and what I don’t know.

  136. Bill L.,

    I don’t know any other way to approach life than to be honest about what I do know and what I don’t know

    Then be honest about what you do not know. The options which arrive via “Cases 1-4” in comment #143 inform the “abortion agnostic” such as yourself on how to do that. Given that both your “I know” posture and your “I’m an agnostic” posture are inconsistent and disjointed, it is clear that you do not know the nature of what we find housed in the womb.

  137. @Bill L

    That’s a great question. We would indeed be in error, and a grievous one at that. That is why we choose the most conservative time (22 weeks) that we can given our knowledge. We know that we will be causing suffering by cutting back the date to an earlier point, so we should not act on something we know is wrong when we can avoid suffering. We simply have little choice but to proceed with the best knowledge we have in every situation. The mistake would be to use the worst information we have when we can avoid suffering.

    No, on an issue that involves life or death to a human being, the only possible conservative time is never.

    We don’t have “little choice but to proceed with the best knowledge we have” – we can look at the consequences of us potentially getting that knowledge wrong, and re-adjust accordingly.

    This is arguing on your ground, by the way, using your own criteria of consciousness.

    But what is grounding your criteria? Given this is a crucial moral issue, what makes it right to terminate the life of a human being without consciousness or self-awareness?

    This appears to be a fairly arbitrary measure chosen because the consequences merely suit human convenience.

    How do you determine what’s right and what’s wrong?

  138. My last comment didn’t appear for some reason. My basic message (now with 50% less snark) was to question Bill L’s subjective assertion that 22 weeks is an “EXTREMELY conservative” cut off point.

    In Europe many countries forbid abortions after 12 weeks (France, for example) and even a country like Sweden, which is often touted as a beckon of secular enlightenment by New Atheist types, has a limit of 18 weeks. Of course these countries extend this if there are extenuating circumstances but I don’t think this necessarily helps demonstrate Bill’s assertion.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6235557.stm (dated 2007 so some laws may have changed)

  139. Tom,

    I’m wondering: take away the religious metaphysics from the equation, and precisely what do you have? You seem to think it’s naturalism. Are you suggesting that naturalism + religious metaphysics equals something?

    Absent religious metaphysics, I’d say one could have any of several positions, perhaps they’d all be characterized as a kind of naturalism. I will characterize my form of naturalism as assuming there is no mind at the root of it all (until that assumption fails).

    So “no mind underlying reality” (naturalism) + “mind underlying reality” (religion) … well, I don’t see how to add them up, they appear to be mutually exclusive.

    SteveK,

    Huh? If conscious capacity correlates to something more than biology (your words), then isn’t your argument *not* taking biology at face value? In other words, you seem to be invoking a metaphysical view of a different kind in order to argue that consciousness is something special – but maybe I’m not following you correctly.

    Conscious capacity is special but I don’t think we have to invoke any metaphysical view to think that; we do it every time we wake up on the morning. But when I talk about taking biology at face value, I mean that we see that conscious capacity requires a brain of innumerable neurons and synapses. We do not see innumerable neurons and synapses in the division of an ovum so, at face value, we have no reason to expect conscious capacity there. Absent conscious capacity, we have no other reason (that I can see) to suppose a dividing cell is a person apart from religious beliefs.

  140. Melissa,

    Yes, that’s what science says. Human life begins at conception. An egg is not a human life. Where’s the problem? Of course that position requires a metaphysical position, what conclusion does not?

    Science defines human life in the narrow sense of replicating cells with human DNA that may eventually form an independent organism from the host. But under that definition there is no metaphysical position that science is taking, as far as I can tell. It’s devoid of moral position, of rights, of positions on personhood.

    It seems to me that it is you who are not taking biology at face value. Rights to humans does not fit what you want so you invent a category called personhood that sits over and above biology.

    No, science is not addressing the issue of personhood or rights when it defines human life, as far as I can tell. That’s left to society through social, religious, moral, legal analysis, experiment, argument, study; this process seems to be converging over time to conscious capacity as the best definition of personhood, it seems to me.

    Neural networks reflect on themselves? They feel things?

    Colloquially speaking, yes. In more rigorous form, it’s a certain kind of dynamic process of information computation and transfer characterized best (so far) by biological neural networks that is thought of as the conscious experience that “feels”, not the material, neurons, or synapses themselves (assuming we’re talking about a modern neuroscience view).

    And is it your argument that the feeling your neural networks have for neural networks is what makes it wrong to kill something with neural networks?

    “Wrong” means, in part, normative behavior within a class of conscious-experience-having social organisms. So a dynamic process of consciousness on neural networks, yes, but within a unique class of highly social organisms and formed and shaped with deep intuitions for social behavior embedded in those neural networks. Being one such social organism, I share vital concern for how other social organism should treat each other; our shared values and goals move us to make objective moral laws — laws that apply to everyone, not just a subset. It’s who we are, and who I am.

    Huh? Is conscious experience objectively more valuable than non-conscious experience? What do you mean by more valuable? Is time spent sleeping really objectively less valuable to a human being?

    Life –experienced consciously– is generally better than never having lived. Of course there are probably those who have lived in extreme pain that do not agree, and I won’t argue with that. Time spent dreaming, relaxing on the edge of sleep or wakefulness is a valued part of conscious experience. Time spent unconscious is nothing at all, I don’t see anything valuable there.

    If being is more valuable than non-being why do you seek to snuff out human life?

    My definition of being and personhood necessarily includes conscious experience of some form. I do not seek to snuff out personhood or being by that definition.

    I realise that your worldview fails to give you tools robust enough for you to answer many of the relevant questions so you end up with loose thinking buttressed by sentimentality.

    Wrong and wrong, but that’s okay.

  141. Doug,

    Absent conscious capacity, we have no other reason (that I can see) to suppose a dividing cell is a person apart from religious beliefs.

    Well, there’s no reason to suppose it if you hold some non-religious belief that gets you to arrive at this conclusion. Science and biology have nothing to say about personhood. Gripe all you want about religious belief, but don’t forget that your non-religious beliefs are also in play.

    You believe the girl isn’t behind the target and are willing to fire when ready. I believe it’s best to not be so sure especially when your logic also justifies the killing of unconscious adults because they are not persons by the same reasoning.

  142. DougJC

    Absent religious metaphysics, I’d say one could have any of several positions, perhaps they’d all be characterized as a kind of naturalism. I will characterize my form of naturalism as assuming there is no mind at the root of it all (until that assumption fails).

    So naturalism is what you have left when you subtract religious metaphysics from something?

    No.

    Naturalism is its own philosophical position. It’s not a default state, it’s not a zero-based philosophy, it’s not like some base upon which other metaphysics are built by way of addition.

    Naturalism is a positive and definite statement that the universe is the kind of place that could and did come to be without any agency, design, or intelligence guiding it. It further states that the universe is still the kind of place where everything that takes place does so through matter and energy interacting according to strict physical causation of the sort we label “natural law,” except there might be also be events happening uncaused and in a metaphysically true random manner. The effect of this for humans is that we’re ontologically one with everything else in the universe, and specifically we have no free will, but only the illusion thereof.

    These ideas are not what you get when you start with a Christian worldview and subtract the religious elements. Start with Christianity, subtract God and religion, and what you have is absolute confusion (epistemologically) or absolutely nothingness (ontologically).

    Let me hasten to point out that if you start with a naturalistic worldview and subtract the features I described two paragraphs up, and you would have absolute confusion (epistemologically) or absolute nothingness (ontologically).

    What I’m cautioning against here, you see, is a basic error in atheists’ and skeptics’ thinking. They (which perhaps includes you, DougJC) seem to think that naturalism is the default, and religion is what you get when you add error on top of it. That’s not true. You can’t add anything on top of a worldview that says there’s no God, no agency, no freedom of will, and come up with the Christian belief in a sovereign Creator and morally responsible agent-humans.

    You do say,

    So “no mind underlying reality” (naturalism) + “mind underlying reality” (religion) … well, I don’t see how to add them up, they appear to be mutually exclusive.

    And that’s correct. Did you notice it contradicts what you said right before?

  143. “Wrong” means, in part, normative behavior within a class of conscious-experience-having social organisms.

    That’s what our culture says it means.

    Is it right sometimes, then, for people to gang up on gay youth and slowly, gleefully mutilate them over a period of days, leaving them barely alive, just for the fun of it?

  144. I don’t see how “conscious experience of some form” could be the basis for an ethic dividing murder from moral behavior, on naturalism, when naturalistic thinkers can’t even agree on what conscious experience is.

  145. Melissa, I forgot about this one:

    This is why I asked the question in #1 about the body without a head. No reasonable person assigns equal importance to a human without a brain.

    You don’t think that the fact that an adult human body can’t regrow a head has anything to do with it, therefore there is no conceivable way it could be called a human being.

    You did notice that the severed head could also not regrow a body, right? So why would it conceivably be called a human being?

  146. Bill L.,

    You did notice that the severed head could also not regrow a body, right? So why would it conceivably be called a human being?

    Because the functions of the body have been artificially replaced but you cannot artificially replace the functions of the head.

    As a biologist, I have learned to look at all of life as a process in motion.

    Actually I think that’s probably more to do with a materialist metaphysics rather than any necessary interpretation of the biology. Conception is the beginning of a new discrete human life as opposed to various other cells, eggs, sperm and for instance sloughed off skin cells which are not.

    The real difference lies in the only thing that can make things matter – the brain that comes later

    People with brains can assign a subjective value to things. It doesn’t follow that therefore things with brains matter.

    More, single cells are not the same as full grown human beings. I am not being dishonest. In fact I could say the same of you, but I am giving you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you mean well, and are doing your best. Your right in that it is the cell of a human being.

    Since I never claimed that single cells are the same as a fully grown human, your first sentence is not to the point. Your last quoted sentence continues your trend though. It is not just the cell of a human being, it is an actual, if immature, human being.

    Last, why don’t we kill human beings who are temporarily unable to suffer? Because we do not want to live in that kind of world, where we are afraid that if we fall into that state that we will not wake up.

    Surely you must realise how sad this is, how much is missing from your moral worldview?

  147. Doug JC,

    Science defines human life in the narrow sense of replicating cells with human DNA that may eventually form an independent organism from the host.

    Since we are talking about a human life (see context) an egg, sperm or any other single human cell is not a human life. The fetus is.

    No, science is not addressing the issue of personhood or rights when it defines human life,

    Try to follow the conversation, I never said science has anything to say about personhood.

    Life –experienced consciously– is generally better than never having lived.

    By what measure? What does it mean for something to be better on your worldview?

  148. Melissa,
    I realize that a response to #163 may be that the head has a future. Let’s set aside the fact that the body may also have one (albeit a very bleak one).

    If your argument is then that the single cell may have a future, then we are at the position where we should protect every sperm and egg cell (or stem cell) since they may also have one (It is my understanding that some Catholics hold this position). But that future trajectory can be halted so you must provide a compelling reason protect or not protect at that moment. Single cells don’t care about the future and they never did. Sure, others are free to care about them. But it is immoral to force others to do so when it leads to their unnecessary suffering. If you admit it’s just about the future, then you are telling me that right now, it is about nothing.

    @164

    Surely you must realise how sad this is, how much is missing from your moral worldview?

    No, I don’t.

  149. Bill L.,

    I realize that a response to #163 may be that the head has a future. Let’s set aside the fact that the body may also have one (albeit a very bleak one).

    No it’s not about the head having a future. I realise that under a materialist view the problem of identity and the self is pretty much intractable. Not so if we hold to a moderate realism with respect to forms, which therefore makes the rest of your comment off track. An immature human being is still a human being, a human organism, and therefore has all the essential aspects of a rational animal already there but in potentiality. The headless body does not. To forestall the obvious objection, the egg does not have within it that potentiality by it’s nature. While a zygote is directed towards the actual exercise of rationality, locomotion etc, the egg is directed towards the production of a zygote.

    Now you can continue to maintain that there is no forms, only processes but that leaves you in the position that everything you want to talk about is just an arbitrary division of one continue, all encompassing process. You undermine everything else you might want to say about anything at all really.

    But that future trajectory can be halted so you must provide a compelling reason protect or not protect at that moment. Single cells don’t care about the future and they never did. Sure, others are free to care about them. But it is immoral to force others to do so when it leads to their unnecessary suffering.

    Since the idea of a reason that would compel everyone to care about your life is nonsense, I’m not sure why you think we must provide a compelling reason for you to care about the fetus.

  150. SteveK,

    Gripe all you want about religious belief, but don’t forget that your non-religious beliefs are also in play.

    Sure, but the context of the post is that atheists are improperly applying their beliefs. I’m pointing out that one can really only say that if one assumes atheists hold religious beliefs (at least in the instance of holding a blastocyst to have unborn rights.)

    You believe the girl isn’t behind the target and are willing to fire when ready. I believe it’s best to not be so sure especially when your logic also justifies the killing of unconscious adults because they are not persons by the same reasoning.

    No, not just unconscious. The only time I would support an unconscious adult to be taken off life-support is if there is no medical way to return them to consciousness and that conclusion is based on brain scans. A dead brain means a dead person, no matter how long the heart can pump. But, sure, there’s much room for caution if the brain is largely intact and extensive physical damage is not seen.

  151. Tom,

    So naturalism is what you have left when you subtract religious metaphysics from something?

    No, I agree. Naturalism is it’s own philosophy that represents a radical difference and departure from most of the tenets of a religious view.

    Did you notice it contradicts what you said right before?

    I don’t see any contradiction. Someone holding a naturalistic view does not hold religious metaphysics and therefore would not be inclined to view a dividing egg as a human life having rights. Further, someone holding a naturalistic view would be inclined to think of rights in terms of conscious awareness, beliefs, ability to feel pain, etc., which in turn would be linked to physical brain development and function, so would look to brain development in fetal development as the key to when to draw the line at abortion. Maybe I’m missing your point.

    Is it right sometimes, then, for people to gang up on gay youth and slowly, gleefully mutilate them over a period of days, leaving them barely alive, just for the fun of it?

    Definitely not. But I’m not sure why you would think I would say otherwise. I noted that “Right” and “Wrong” are used as normative descriptions, meaning they relate to correct or incorrect standards of social behavior. This differentiates say “Up” or “down” which don’t have any normative component.

    I don’t see how “conscious experience of some form” could be the basis for an ethic dividing murder from moral behavior, on naturalism, when naturalistic thinkers can’t even agree on what conscious experience is.

    I don’t see any disagreement on the existence or value of conscious experience among naturalistic thinkers. You mentioned that Dennett has some skepticism about conscious experience. Well, he still definitely believes in the existence and value of conscious experience, you can be sure of that:

    Everything real has properties, and since I do not deny the reality of conscious experience, I grant that conscious experience has properties.

    Quining Qualia

  152. Melissa,

    Try to follow the conversation, I never said science has anything to say about personhood.

    You’ve missed something perhaps starting at #104. When I said any human cell can be a new human life, I meant that any human cell can become a fetus with minimal effort (although this won’t happen due to ethical concerns of course). I addressed this to the possible idea that there is something necessarily biologically special about “fertilization” absent religious views. What is special is the vast array of reproductive machinery in each and every cell waiting to be activated. There is nothing obviously special about a simple flip of switch putting a chain of future events into motion that should instantly bring a person into existence any more than the chain of events that culminated in flipping the switch should be considered enough to do the same. There needs to be some metaphysical belief over and above what we observe at the microscopic level to find this compelling, and that belief is unlikely to be held by an atheist.

    Now if this observation seems obvious or irrelevant to you, then I would I guess you misunderstood me earlier, made a reply with that misunderstanding, which led me to misunderstand your comment about science and human life. Now, do you think it would have been better if I had made some pointed remark to you like “Try to follow the conversation.” from the beginning, would that have actually assisted in communication?

    What does it mean for something to be better on your worldview?

    Same as in your worldview. If it is raw experience, we either recognize it as pleasurable/uplifting or we recognize it as non-pleasurable or painful by the nature of the experience. If the “it” to be judged is more complex than raw experience, it will still be evaluated in terms of what we think is the most likely end result in possibly many raw experiences, and that brings in analysis and reason. But this is not meant to describe “selfishness” at all but what a self is: something driven by its nature to want to do what is good for it. The “drive” and “nature” are both generated and expressed in the self’s raw experiences.

    So on those terms I recognize that conscious experience is better than non-experience and, more importantly, that those with capacity for conscious experience, with beliefs, memories, hopes, dreams, share something with me to a far greater extent than DNA. I am a being that is driven by its nature to see itself as something like a cell in a larger organism, an “entity” made up of all conscious beings.

  153. Sure, but the context of the post is that atheists are improperly applying their beliefs. I’m pointing out that one can really only say that if one assumes atheists hold religious beliefs (at least in the instance of holding a blastocyst to have unborn rights.)

    Huh? How on earth does that follow from the rangemaster analogy? Are you saying that belief in human worth is a religious belief? I happen to hold that it’s a belief that utterly fails on atheism–and I’m talking about human worth at any stage or age–but I’m surprised to hear you imply this.

    Did you notice how the second half of #168 went? SteveK said that the logic of your beliefs would lead to justifying people who are unconscious. You answered, in effect, “No, I don’t believe that.” But what about the logic of your beliefs? Or are you willing simply to ignore that?

    I don’t see any disagreement on the existence or value of conscious experience among naturalistic thinkers.

    Nagel, Rosenberg, the Churchlands, …

  154. What does it mean for something to be better on your worldview?

    Same as in your worldview.

    So, it means that it more nearly approaches God’s intention or more nearly reflects God’s character?

    I thought not.

    If it is raw experience, we either recognize it as pleasurable/uplifting or we recognize it as non-pleasurable or painful by the nature of the experience.

    That’s not what it means on our worldview. It doesn’t even come close. See here for a related discussion.

  155. “So on those terms I recognize that conscious experience is better than non-experience and, more importantly,…”

    And more importantly, those that see it differently, because of their nature, are as equally correct as I am.

  156. Doug JC,

    You’ve missed something perhaps starting at #104. When I said any human cell can be a new human life,

    Look, you were trying to argue that the fetus is no different than any other human cell. I have given you the reason – that it is an actual human life. A human life. That’s all. The science says that conception is when the new human organism begins. An egg is not a human life. Now we know that you don’t think all humans are to be valued, only those that you deem to be persons. I hope you can begin to grasp the very narrow point I am making here.

    There is nothing obviously special about a simple flip of switch putting a chain of future events into motion that should instantly bring a person into existence any more than the chain of events that culminated in flipping the switch should be considered enough to do the same. There needs to be some metaphysical belief over and above what we observe at the microscopic level to find this compelling, and that belief is unlikely to be held by an atheist.

    You’re saying science doesn’t consider conception to be the point at which a new human organism comes into existence? I think you’re wrong on that. Follow up – why does the formation of neurons or whatever other physical change in an already formed organism suddenly flip the switch? If you don’t think your metaphysical views drive the answer to this question then you’re kidding yourself.

    Same as in your worldview.

    Not even close.

  157. Bill L @ #41,

    I will need to convince Tom that the suffering he and others are causing is the greater harm…

    Tom is causing suffering? How? Because he is prolife?

    I am prolife but also “prochoice.” Here’s what I mean. In a free and open democratic society I believe that there are many morally acceptable forms of birth control. Furthermore, I do not believe that the state should regulate most forms of birth control or personal sexual behavior. I will not go into specifics here, but as a protestant I am much more liberal about birth control than a catholic. (So, I am prochoice in regards to birth control.)

    However, this does not mean that I condone every form of behavior by sexually active adults. But I do think that sexually active adults need to be held morally responsible for their actions. It is their irresponsible behavior that is the cause of unwanted pregnancies and the suffering that causes. If birth control were used as advertised there should be very few unwanted pregnancies. It appears to me that Bill L is blaming Tom for their irresponsible behavior? How absurd.

    However, it’s even more absurd than that. Since 1973 abortion has been legal in the U.S. Tom has not stopped any abortions. So according to Bill L’s reasoning just having a belief that abortion is wrong causes suffering. But wait, there is more. Bill L believes that abortion should be restricted after 22 weeks. So, according to his logic, his belief is causing suffering. Does he see the inconsistency in his own thinking?

    Well, if freedom of thought, belief and conscience cause suffering, why don’t we just eliminate those freedoms? It appears to me that is where Bill L’s logic is leading us. In my opinion that kind of thinking is really scary.

  158. I intended the previous comment (#175) to be posted on “The Overwhelming, Mysterious, Multi-dimensional Glory of God’s Goodness” thread. Somehow things got crossed. Probably operator error. No problem, it fits here as well. See Bill L’s comments @ #166, 147, 103 etc.

  159. JAD,

    I’m glad to here you have a very reasonable position on birth control.

    For some of the explanation about how the extreme pro-life position contributes to suffering, see #’s 54, 80, and 92.

    For what you’re calling an inconsistency, see also #80. At some point (after 22 weeks, but really probably closer to 26 weeks) you are no longer dealing with the suffering of just one person. Like the doctor who has to separate conjoined twins, you have to make considerations for both.

    Of course Roe v. Wade hasn’t been overturned yet. But elected politicians in many states have made it almost irrelevant:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/map-where-its-hardest-to-get-an-abortion/283254/

    And this article is a bit old. It’s become even more difficult in the time since.

  160. Bill L,
    You seem to have completely missed my point. You haven’t really explained how Tom’s (and my) prolife position is responsible for causing anyone else’s suffering. (You’ve just made assertions.) Up at #55 Tom himself briefly responded to your charge:

    Bill L: I hate to say it but I’m not surprised that you’re not aware of the suffering you want to cause. Unwanted children cause many people suffering.

    Tom: I’m not causing it. The people who chose to do what they chose to do (sex, you know) are the cause, if anyone. Don’t blame me for their choices.

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2015/08/the-range-master-and-the-doctor-a-parable-about-abortion/#comment-117672

    Nevertheless you have tenaciously persisted here as if you had the moral high ground. You even carried it over to the next thread. (See comment @41, “The Overwhelming, Mysterious, Multi-dimensional Glory of God’s Goodness.”) But all it is, is your personal opinion. As I wrote earlier at #77:

    Frankly I do not see how Bill L’s moral opinions (or those of any of the other non-theists who comment here) are binding on me or anyone else. Sure some of his moral opinions overlap with some of my moral beliefs, but my moral beliefs are not simply my opinions. So, to change my mind, on something like abortion, he has to start with something other than just his opinions.

    For example, it is very clear that 22 weeks is completely arbitrary on your part. You haven’t proved to me or anyone else that there is anything scientifically certain or sacrosanct about 22 weeks.

    If we were in a court of law and Tom were arguing on behalf of the defense, he could at this point object to the judge that you the prosecutor/accuser were being argumentative. I think the judge would sustain that objection and tell that you had made your point and that it was time to move on.

    From my experience with the interlocutors who show up here when they start to become argumentative it is because they have very weak arguments.

    One of the reasons I am Christian is because the moral/ethical teachings of Jesus are very solid, very strong. Jesus himself made that claim near the end of his Sermon on the Mount:

    24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

    It would be rather foolish of me to reject a world view that had solid foundations for one that didn’t.

  161. JAD,
    If you can not understand how it would cause poor parents to suffer by forcing them to adopt (as mentioned in #80), I probably can’t help you.

    If you can’t understand how children will suffer by being with parents who don’t want them either, I wouldn’t know what to say.

  162. Right. Let’s make sure those kids don’t suffer. Let’s kill them instead! That’s the compassionate answer!

    If you can’t understand how obstinately you’re deflecting and misattributing the cause of the parents’ suffering—though now at least you’re saying “it” would cause suffering, rather than “Tom” is causing it—then we probably can’t help you.

  163. Sorry Tom, unless you can give me a coherent reason I should care more about a zygote more than you care about sperm and egg cells, I can’t see a reason not to kill them. I think we’ve made it clear that we’re not going to solve this.

  164. It’s a worldview divide. You can’t give any coherent reason we should care for a bag of cells at 22. 1 weeks more than 19.9. Your position seems to be, “I don’t care unless you prove to me I should care.”

    I see the first three words there as being way too much of your story.

  165. Tom,

    Huh? How on earth does that follow from the rangemaster analogy?

    I take your post to be talking about atheist uncertainty in regards to the proposition “a fetus is not a person with rights”. From my atheist perspective, that uncertainty starts out low at the zygote stage and then starts to increase at the start of nervous system development; at some point the uncertainty reaches a point where the proposition should be considered questionable (which I take as the main point of the post). But my point was about the fertilization stage. You didn’t raise that issue but it came up separately during the discussion.

    Are you saying that belief in human worth is a religious belief?

    No, belief in human worth is an atheist belief as well.

    Did you notice how the second half of #168 went? SteveK said that the logic of your beliefs would lead to justifying people who are unconscious. You answered, in effect, “No, I don’t believe that.” But what about the logic of your beliefs? Or are you willing simply to ignore that?

    Do you mean #159? I meant to specifically deny that the logic of my belief justifies killing people who are unconscious. Consciousness experienced the first time is taken to bring a entity into existence and that person continues to exist as a dynamic process as long as the brain exists and has the capacity for consciousness. Momentary or even decades-long unconsciousness in no way changes that. It is only before the start of conscious experience that I would argue there is no person there to identify (apart from assumptions of spirit/soul). I assume this is a standard atheist view.

    Nagel, Rosenberg, the Churchlands, …

    Again, I don’t see disagreement there on the existence or value of conscious experience, but certainly plenty of disagreement on what causes it, where it comes from, what it consists of, how to replicate it, etc.

  166. Melissa,

    Look, you were trying to argue that the fetus is no different than any other human cell.

    Well, no, the opposite, any human cell can become a fetus, but the point of that argument has passed relevance. But yes, a fetus does represent a human life as defined by science.

    You’re saying science doesn’t consider conception to be the point at which a new human organism comes into existence? I think you’re wrong on that.

    Again, it has passed relevance, but I was saying conception seems a rather arbitrary point to consider the true value we normally associate with human life — personhood– coming into existence. Thus, human life as defined by science turns out to be less practically useful as a guide to moral treatment under an atheist view.

    Follow up – why does the formation of neurons or whatever other physical change in an already formed organism suddenly flip the switch? If you don’t think your metaphysical views drive the answer to this question then you’re kidding yourself.

    Yes, a key point: there is no switch. It is more likely a continuum from non-person to personhood over a period of time without any stark line to identify. Thus it is important to be certain about the ‘non-person’ side of things in neural development under an atheistic view.

    Same as in your worldview.

    Not even close.

    The “good is to be done and pursed, and evil is to be avoided”. Human action is of its nature directed toward what is perceived to be good in some way, whether it really is good or not. This perception can only be taken directly from the self’s raw experience as composing its form and being. This is straight out of Feser.

    Form and being can certainly apply to the on-going process of being a conscious entity in a network of critical social interaction and one can even see a hint that fulfilling nature and essence might be another explanation for the optimization in society and morality over time that is steadily reducing violence and enhancing general well-being.

    Evolution is a mindless process under atheism but it does not seem completely far-fetched that there just aren’t that many ways to evolve a planet-dominating super-organism without deeply moral sub-organisms working together tireless for the good of the whole. Our cells do that for us after all, a hierarchical progression is suggestive.

  167. Tom,

    You can’t give any coherent reason we should care for a bag of cells at 22. 1 weeks more than 19.9.

    I’ve explained this multiple times, as has DougJC. There comes a time in a conversation when you have to wonder if the person is even listening to what the other is saying. For the most part, you’ve done a good job; that you are not on this point is telling me the discussion is becoming unproductive.

  168. Doug JC.,

    Well, no, the opposite, any human cell can become a fetus, but the point of that argument has passed relevance. But yes, a fetus does represent a human life as defined by science.

    OK good. So I presume that means the claim that prolifers should, to be consistent, provide the protection to all single human cells that we provide to the human zygote has been refuted.

    the true value we normally associate with human life — personhood– coming into existence.

    First up there is no “personhood” that comes into existence. Personhood is not a substance in that sense, it is a human construct. So when you say “personhood” comes into existence what you are really talking about is a feeling of value coming into existence in your own mind.

    Thus it is important to be certain about the ‘non-person’ side of things in neural development under an atheistic view.

    So you need to be certain about when you feel a particular human being is worth caring about … or whether the particular human being meets the criteria you have decided merit your protection?

    The “good is to be done and pursed, and evil is to be avoided”. Human action is of its nature directed toward what is perceived to be good in some way, whether it really is good or not. This perception can only be taken directly from the self’s raw experience as composing its form and being. This is straight out of Feser.

    Yes, but when you redefine (or misinterpret) the key terms (form, being, good etc.) you get something that is not even close. Which is what you are doing.

  169. Melissa wrote,

    “Conception is the beginning of a new discrete human life as opposed to various other cells, eggs, sperm and for instance sloughed off skin cells which are not.”

    How do two people (treated as two separate people by every branch of Christianity AFAIK) constitute a discrete human life? As in identical twins.

  170. Simon,

    Regarding twinning and chimerism, just search for those words / related terms at that link, which his “The Overwhelming, Mysterious, Multi-dimensional Glory of God’s Goodness” here at this blog.

  171. From a thread at STR discussing the question of how do you get your soul a few details arose which may be relevant to the topic here. The often used “neurons are the better candidate for personhood” nuance was obviously present, and so Genome (fully present) vs. Neurons (fully absent but hitting some “threshold” number which equates to personhood) arose in dealing with three terms: 1) Embryo, and 2) Human Being, and 3) Person. Two quotes of that much longer thread:

    A Christian replied to the notion that the Christian is, or seems to be, defining both Person and Human Being by Genes/Genome:

    “When Tim observes that “all the genetic information is present at conception” this is his evidence that a human being begins at conception. It’s not that a high number of genes leads us to think that an organism is a human being. We don’t count the number of genes and say “Wow, that’s a lot of genes… I think it’s enough to qualify as a human being.” *Furthermore* Tim believes a human being is a person (even though Tim didn’t say that). And the reason I mentioned that is because I assume you think neural connection is a better candidate for being a person… since it seems pretty obvious that having a certain number of neurons is not what makes someone a human being.”

    So going a bit further:

    I see why you might confuse Tim’s two prongs, or two statements, as contradictory.

    You have to avoid the mistake of thinking that the Theist’s epistemology is the immediate reflection of a materialistic ontology. “Human Being” is the only descriptor the physical sciences can offer us here and that is simply because of the fact that causes cannot gift their effects with properties which they (the causes) themselves do not already implicitly house. Whereas, “Personhood” is something which a pure scient-ism cannot ontologically locate and hence the Theist overlays those two terms onto a singularity – the embryo.

    Tim is simply stating the obvious with two different “directional” statements:

    1) The scientifically obvious (embryo = human being).

    2) The Theistically obvious vis-à-vis natural theology (embryo = person).

    How you should react is simply to ask two questions:

    1) “Are those two statements compatible?”

    2) “Can physicalism (etc.) go farther, fit better?”

    Well, let’s see:

    Starting with the basics, brain development (neuronal) and additions (again neuronal structures, sheaths, and so on) do not peak until the late teens, and, combined with that, “properties” in materialism do not, in fact cannot, “emerge” if by “property” we mean any nuance whatsoever in the effect which is that which we do not find implicitly within the cause. If there is something the neurons are “doing” which you want to tell us the embryo “can’t do” then you are guilty of contradicting the most basic of scientific facts:

    A true physicalism makes no allowance for emergent properties in nature that are not already implicit in their causes. Unless, then, one is positing the existence of proto-conscious material elements, particles of intentionality and awareness that are in some inconceivable way already rational and subjective, and that can add up to the unified perspective of a single conscious subject (which seems a quite fantastic notion), one is really just talking about some marvelously inexplicable transition from the undirected, mindless causality of mechanistic matter to the intentional unity of consciousness. Talk of emergence in purely physical terms, then, really does not seem conspicuously better than talk of magic. (David Bentley Hart)

    If we back up a few steps and just grant the often used “Neurons equals Personhood” nuance (of course neurons, scientifically, do not mean or define human being) then we are measurably, factually in a state of affairs wherein the 10 year old is less valuable, less human, less of a person, than is the 17 year old.

    But moving on:

    There is no difference in property between the embryo and the adult where properties are concerned as far as the physical sciences can tell us. Why? Again, it is a simple fact that a chemical reaction is a chemical reaction. Therefore (again) if one means to claim that something, anything, within the effect’s property (person, awareness, suffering, joy) emerges downstream which was not already implicit in the cause – then one is dead in the water from the start, both scientifically and metaphysically. The Neurons do not (on science) “have something” and they do not “do something” there in themselves (the downstream effects) which the embryo itself (on science) does not “have” and is not “doing”.

    That principle reinforces just why it is, of late, more and more Non-Theistic Biologists are affirming that, on their view’s premises, there is no such thing as “life vs. non-life”.

    So far nothing that we’ve seen in the materialist’s tool box gives us any ability to tell us there is a downstream property which is not already implicit in the embryo. This does not help the Theist directly – but rather – it merely gets rid of the Non-Theist’s fray of fallacious “definitions”. Indirectly it may help the Theist’s two claims (human being vs. personhood overlaid one atop the other) as follows:

    Tim merely states the Christian’s claim: At conception there is a person.

    Tim then simply agrees with the science: As far as science can go, science claims that, on species, on organism, and so on, the embryo is what we call a human being.

    Science cannot say any more.

    The arbitrary slicing point in the materialist’s chain of chemical reactions at “neurons” suffers from the fact that it cannot scientifically demonstrate personhood. That leaves one arguing against the Theist’s metaphysical claim with premises which cannot scientifically contradict the Theist’s claim given that future properties downstream (the effects) of the embryo (the cause) cannot magically appear if the causes themselves do not implicitly house said effects.

    Whereas, that we observe properties (awareness, personhood, etc.) in the effect downstream makes sense vis-à-vis the Christian’s claim given that the cause and the effect do not have to suffer the pains of circularity, the pains of question begging, which the materialist’s toolbox must suffer in trying to define and account for those downstream properties. The Non-Theist has to “pretend” that there is something in the effect (awareness, personhood, etc.) which is not in the cause (embryo, etc.) and create a fiction by which to claim that sets of chemical reactions over “here” have constitutional properties which sets of chemical reactions over “there” do not, or did not, have.

    Now, useful fictions are fine, but, we find then that it is always reasonable to draw that line anywhere for Reason herself hears only the sound of her own voice – and thus cannot be mistaken – for there is no fundamental contour of reality which she shall contradict should she move said line this way or that way by, say, a few months, or years, or decades. It’s all the same and the indifference of “Whatever” ends all sentences.

    Whereas, our brutally repeatable experience of the Self affirms the Theist’s chain of continuity wherein we find – downstream – in ourselves all the stuff of person, of “I”, of reason-ing, of awareness, of logic, of the Self, of the Other, of love’s Self-Giving. The Theist is *not* saying that said properties are “happening” in the embryo’s biochemistry (the cause/effect issue) – but the Theist *is* saying that said properties are – vis-à-vis *essence* – fully present.

    And that matches both the physical sciences and our undeniable and brutally repeatable experience of – wait for it – reality.

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