Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Re: Scott's Exchange with Daniel [Jay]

I know that Daniel addressed his questions to Scott (and Scott has replied in the comments section of that post), but I can’t help but stick my nose in and address a couple of things that I see in this dialogue. I hope that my previous detachment works to my advantage in engaging here. I think that Daniel is a bright guy and offer these counters with respect. I obviously think his logic is flawed, though. For instance he says,

To say that Scripture, by extension, condemns the killing of conceptuses is, in my opinion, to beg the question of whether conceptuses are human persons in the fullest moral sense possible. That question is not addressed in Scripture. You argue that such a distinction (between a human person and a biologically human non-person) does not exist. I do. We both do so outside of the biblical text.

Neither Scott nor any of the pro-life philosophers and apologists that have asserted the humanity of the unborn beg the question. They have very carefully constructed an argument based on medical science and philosophical determinations of the nature of beings, which is consistent with scripture and traditional Christian theology. But the key issue that puzzles me about the position Daniel takes is that THIS POSTION assumes to redefine the nature of the human life at the earliest stages of development. All of the arguments that Scott, Frank Beckwith and others propose are based on a continuity of being. I am a human being now because I was and always have been a human being from the earliest moments of my life. Anyone who seeks to remove the definition of full humanity from my person at any stage of my development must have compelling reasons to do so. I am already a human being, you must provide evidence to redefine my nature or my value. These are not compelling reasons by the way:

--You are young and poorly developed.
--You are very small and hard to see.
--You are not yet capable of making moral distinctions. (That one is baffling, as very few people I know seem capable doing this as adults much less in the embryonic stage)
--You lack the cerebral development to maintain your humanity in a moral sense.

If Scott has assumed the full humanity of the unborn, he has done so based on scientific evidence, philosophical reasoning, and continuity with the known facts of individual nature. Daniel’s arguments outside of the biblical text challenge the humanity of an entire group of people for inadequate reasons. He must provide evidence to move me from the solid bedrock of the full humanity of the unborn to an unspecified human thing with a self admitted “fuzzy” transition time into what he calls a “membership in the moral community of human persons.”

Daniel continues:

Your objection to my using consciousness (not self-consciousness mind you--and the distinction is very important) as a criterion for personhood is that I don't say why it 'gives humans value'. But let me point out that the only thing that you've said gives humans value is their being biologically human (supposedly because they thus bear the image of God). But this means that under a (granted, very hypothetical) scenario where a separate species were to exhibit sophisticated neurological functioning (e.g. consciousness and self-consciousness)--be it another mammalian species, an extraterrestrial species, or even an 'enlightened' robot race (have you seen "I, Robot"?)--you would have absolutely no moral qualms whatsoever enslaving or eliminating such a race (again, I know this is a hypothetical, but bear with me). Your only 'moral ingredients' as it were, are biological (assuming I have properly understood you). So I return the question to you, why do merely biological facts matter from a moral perspective?

This portion confounds me, and Pejar had a similar theme in his accusations. Pro-lifers do not use biological factors to exclude anyone. It is the opposition that seeks to exclude people. The very people that are arguing for the freedom to terminate the lives of innocent human beings because they are inconvenient or possibly of some research or medical value are worried that when sentient non-human life arises pro-lifers are going to exclude them from legal and moral protection. This is speculative silliness.

Also, the determination of the morality of my actions is not based on the moral nature of the object of my actions. I do not think of bottle nosed dolphins as moral creatures, no matter how much they look like they are smiling. I do think it would be immoral for me to torture a dolphin though I do not recognize their place in the moral community. Daniel’s assertion that the morality of how I treat an “other” is tied into the moral nature of that “other” seems false. I think that I can clearly treat an amoral creature in an immoral fashion. Therefore, I can use my moral obligation to treat others with respect and protect the sanctity of life to love a creature that lacks the moral component of humanity or the stamp of our Creator on their being.

Finally, I admit that I believe humanity is special based on its relationship with God. A young man recently lost his life because after he heroically pulled his grandmother out of a burning building he foolishly went back in for the cats. With all due respect to cat owners, the young man was more important and his loss grieves the grandmother in a way that the absence of her cats does not. I believe that by virtue of his humanity he is worth more than the cats he died trying to save.

Jay Watts is the Development Director for Cobb Pregnancy Services and a guest contributor to the LTI blog.

1 comment:

  1. Jay, thanks for your thoughts.
    As my interaction with Scott (and later, with Serge) indicated, I do think neurological structure is a factor in drawing the boundaries of the moral community. I do not however, think that it is the only factor. While I am hesitant to speak decisively about dolphins, I can fully affirm that frogs are not significant members in the community of moral persons. Nevertheless, I (like you) think torturing them is wrong. In fact, I think torturing any animal is wrong, regardless of that animal's moral standing.
    My perspective on this issue is informed by the conjoined twins thought experiment which Serge posted on (he hasn't responded to me yet). However, I don't think my view lapses into anything like Singer's (despite Scott's worries) because I think the moral universe also must include communitarian considerations.
    No time to flesh that out here, but I thought I'd defend my views as being a little more nuanced than has maybe come out in my conversations with Scott.
    Thanks again for the challenging thoughts.


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