Friday, August 31, 2007

Science, Faith, and Stem Cells: Life Begins at Conception (Part 1) [Serge]

The phrase "life begins at conception" is a frequent one used in pro-life circles. First, I will admit that the phrase is somewhat sloppy. When a pro-lifer uses this term, they actually are claiming "the life of an individual human being begins at conception". Shortening phrases in this way is common: in fact pro-life is actually short for "pro-innocent human life."

Is the phrase "the life of an individual human being begins at conception" a scientific fact or a faith based assertion? Is it testable, able to withstand scrutiny, and supported by the available empirical evidence? The answer is an unqualified yes.

Every text in human embryology supports this (see JivinJs embryology quotes for numerous examples.) Neuroscientist Maureen Condic puts it this way:

From the earliest stages of development, human embryos clearly function as organisms. Embryos are not merely collections of human cells, but living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells do nothing like this under any circumstances.
Even those who support ESCR cannot escape this fact. For example, Christopher Thomas Scott, in his pro-ESCR book Stem Cell Now, states on page 22

Life begins with a single cell. One cell, dividing into two, then two into four, and four into eight until there are billions of cells: patterned and diffuse, color-coded and clear, working class and upper-crust, ancient and young, assembled into a great, thriving mass that is the complete organism.
Neither gametes (sperm and egg) or other groups of somatic cells have the capacity as a human organism, whether it be the one-celled zygote or a fully mature adult. This is precisely what science supports.

It is very important to understand the implications of the fact that the individual life of a human being begins at conception. Logic dictates that this scientifically verifiable fact tells us that the life of a human being cannot start at any other point in time. In other words, when a scientist claims that no one knows when a human life begins, they are either incorrect or are using the term "human life" in a non-scientific way. Regardless, their assertion will not be testable, supported by empirical evidence, or able to withstand scrutiny. In other words, it won't be science, as I will demonstrate in the next post.


  1. Serge,

    This is a great series so far. Thanks. I love to read your contributions to this blog.

    I have a comment from the orthodox Catholic perspective. When we say that we are pro-life, we are not adding the word "innocent" to our shorthand. Reasonable Catholics can (and do) debate the use of the death penalty or not; or whether or not a particular war is just, but we can not disagree on human embryonic stem cell research, abortion, and euthanasia, all of which destroy "innocent" human life and are the foundation for a culture of life.

    I'm not sure how many of us are in the orthodox camp; my guess is that we are outnumbered by the "pro-innocent human life" group--but that's okay!

    One final thought: I like the use of the word conception instead of fertilization, because I know that God conceived us in His mind long before we were fertilized!

    God bless you.

  2. Thanks for your comments Doc,

    The addition of the word innocent is simply meant to differentiate from any other killing that may be justified. This encompasses not only the death penalty (which I have some issues with)and war, but things such as killing in self defense. Regardless of what one thinks of these issues, they are different than the killing of someone who is truly innocent.

    I would appreciate feedback on the other parts as they come out!!

  3. I don't think it can even mean pro-ALL-innocent-human-life, at least not for many self-identified pro-lifers, because otherwise we'd see a lot more opposition to war among this group. It's not as though war kills only the combatants.

    But other than that quibble, good post. I have a post on terminology confusion in the works, and will be linking to this.

    (Sorry if this posts more than once. I got an error message the first time I tried.)

  4. Well argued. The abortion movement has got to be one of the most unscientific movements out there right now. The only way they can defend it is by using slogans.

  5. Hi Jen, and thanks for the link.

    I would challenge the argument that every person who is truly "pro-innocent human life" would need to be a complete pacifist when it comes to war. I believe that the liberation of Jewish prisoners in Germany was a "pro-innocent human life" act, although the military action did indeed kill a number of innocent German civilians, including women and children.

  6. At the very, very least, anyone calling themselves pro-innocent-human-life ought to demand that war be an absolute last resort, when no other action is possible to prevent even worse loss of life. That standard would have kept us out of a lot of wars, including the current Iraq debacle.

    That not even this minimal standard is followed is deeply troubling.

  7. Jen,

    I'm not going to engage you further in this except to agree that military action should be a last resort.

    However, I am always pleased to know that the pro-life movement does not only consist of middle aged, big family - big CO2 producing, big SUV driving, tax-cut loving conservatives...

    Like me :blush: :-)

    Celebrate diversity!

  8. I completely respect your decision not to get dragged off onto a tangent. :)

    And yes: celebrate diversity!


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