Saturday, January 6, 2007

My On-line Exchange With "Daniel" [SK]

...over at Justin Taylor's blog covers topics like:

1. How do embryos differ from bodily cells?
2. Does the Bible's silence justify abortion?
3. Are humans valuable by nature or function?
4. What is the pro-life argument?
5. Are pro-life advocates inconsistent? If so, does it matter?

(Scroll down about half-way through the comments on JT's blog to see where I jump in.)


  1. Scott,

    Thanks for all the interaction brother. I see from the looks of this blog that one might call you a 'pro' at this. :-)
    Let me see what responses I may be able to summon up.

    First, concerning Scriture: my own view is that the abortion question (or perhaps more pertinently, the morning-after pill question) isn't one that the authors of Scripture were confronted with. This isn't particularly troubling, since new ethical situations arise from time to time which Scripture does not address. Thankfully God in his grace equips us with brains to think through such matters. :-)

    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.

    You also say that science 'confirms' that fetuses are human beings. If the question is whether or not fetuses have a genetic code and a developmental process which is distinct from their mother, then yes, of course, fetuses are human beings. But that is not what I would seek to deny.

    There are obviously many differences between human embryos and (for example) my fingernails. The question I was raising was whether there were any moral differences. Being human in the biological sense doesn't guarantee instantaneous membership in the moral community of human persons.

    By equivocating biology and morality you have misunderstood (or at least misrepresented to the kind folks at JT's blog) my position.
    As for my use of the term 'fertilized egg', I am not naive. I simply meant an egg after it has been fertilized by sperm. I am fully aware that once it is fertilized, it's genetic code now makes it a separate human organism (though it could split into two or three such organisms depending on the circumstances). I may not have a PhD in biology, but I know the basics of reproduction. And again: I do not deny the humanity (biologically speaking) of human embryos. To assert that I do is misleading.

    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?

    To conclude, I would be interested in hearing what you have to say to my conjoined twins scenario. A single embryo at some point splits, but not completely enough to have it become a separate organism (or at least, not permanently). It then develops into identical twins who are (say) conjoined at the hips (they share the same pair of legs). If our only 'moral ingredients' are biological, then this is only one human being. From my perspective however, since personhood depends on relevant neural structure, I would say we have two human beings (in the moral sense--one in the biological sense) since there are two brains. So as I understand your perspective, destroying said twins before birth and cell splitting would be one murder, and destroying said twins after birth would be two murders (but why two if your only criterion is biologically human genetic code?). My perspective is simply that destroying a conscious human entity seems to provider a better benchmark for being able to tell what's murder and what's not (though this needs to be more fully fleshed out, of course).
    Do you see my point? I'd be intereted to hear your thoughts about this. I can still be convinced that I'm wrong, if in fact I'm wrong. :-)

    Oh, and do I get the prize for longest post ever? ;-)

    I wish you the best.

  2. It's not that the Bible is silent concerning abortion, but rather, the Bible is silent concerning the humanity of a zygote. From scripture it is clear that abortion of a fetus is murder, but it is not clear from scripture that abortion of a zygote is murder.

  3. Daniel:
    I'll address your points after I return from my trip.
    Thanks for posting,

  4. There is no "scriptural silence" on the matter of abortion. Not only does the Old Testament law specifically prohibit mourning a miscarriage as one would the death of a person, Numbers 5 11-28 describes the circumstances under which an induced miscarriage can be a sacrament delivered by a priest in a temple.

  5. Scott, welcome back from your trip! I'm thankful you've taken the time to address my concerns. It seems as though we'll not see eye to eye on this issue, but I'll make a couple final comments.
    First, I think that saying there are only 3 viable options for how to think of human 'worth' is quite artificial. I see no a priori reason to think there could be many more.
    Have I ever met a human who was not a person? Well, no, and most people haven't because in most cases there's no need for such a distinction. However, I might argue that Nancy Cruzan, Terri Schiavo, anencephalic babies, and all day-old conceptuses fall within that category. So while I have never met such a human, that doesn't mean they don't exist.

    I have to say, I don't find your articulation of the pro-life view particularly persuasive (though this is probably because I have misunderstood it). Though this is the case, I want to make it clear that I find the 'pro-choice' position equally dubious. As a Christian, the question I ask myself is not what can I morally be allowed to do? But rather, how can I be a caretaker of the Earth. This applies to my resources, the pregnant mothers in my community, their unborn children, my relationships, and every area of my life. The political rhetoric tied to the pro-life and pro-choice views makes it very hard to remember these things, so maybe that's why I can be skeptical of their traditional formulations...

    In any case, thanks for the conversation. I wish you all the best.

  6. Scott,
    A pebble has been planted. I think that sooner or later Daniel will have to examine what he believes and see if his positions can adequately answer your questions.

    Saying "I don't find your articulation of the pro-life view particularly persuasive" without providing substantive reasons for why you don't find the view persuasive shows me that hopefully Daniel is at least questioning the reasoning behind his personhood theory.

  7. JivinJ, I'm glad you think a pebble has been planted. I'll also be the first to confess my thinking on this issue has not cemented. I do feel quite strongly however, that the traditional pro-choice and pro-life positions (which are political views about what should be legal, which in turn make moral assumptions) are poorly framed.
    My interactions with Serge and Scott have been largely in the negative. But just because I don't write the 30 page essay it would take to flesh out my views more fully (something like personhood theory combined with communitarian ethics) doesn't mean I don't have at least some things sorted out.
    In any case, it's been fun and challenging dialoguing with you folks.
    I wish you the best (and tell Serge I'm still waiting for his response to my updated conjoined twins scenario). :-)

  8. Hi Daniel,
    Does whether someone thinks something should be legal or illegal always be a political view?

    For example, is my belief that killing toddlers should be illegal a political view?

    It certainly could have political consequences but it seems to be a moral view first which has effects in the political arena.

    Do you think the prolife view as presented by Scott and Serge is poorly framed? Or do you think the prolife view which you might have encountered in the past is poorly framed. What do you mean by poorly framed?


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