Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pro Choice–The Moral Blind Spot

The March for Life on Monday will no doubt remind us that God is the author of life, but to pro-choice secularists this is an unconvincing pro-life argument. The reflex rebuttals are, “You have no right to impose your religion on others” and the familiar “Separation of Church and State.” At this point the dialog shuts down, but I find that secular arguments tend to re-boot the discussion.
When this issue is debated using only secular logic one wonders how supposedly educated people can be BOTH pro-choice AND recognize science, reason & human rights. In fact, this is such a harsh contradiction, one can see a need for a diabolical force to help the pro-choice movement along; something to help generate a moral blind spot.
I occasionally debate pro-choice proponents on public news forums. To be honest, they have quite a bit of difficulty breaking down the simple logic in the following post:
“Scientifically, human life begins at conception as an objective fact. To say the first stage of one’s life or one’s personhood begins at some other threshold of consciousness or viability is subjective; a matter of opinion. To declare something as important as this on something subjective is irrational, especially when something objective is available.
Pregnancy is a case where two human lives are physically intertwined. When forced to decide if one life should be killed (permanently) vs. another life to be pregnant (temporarily), the reasonable course of action based on priority is to spare the life, because the right to be alive is the derivation of all other human rights and has the highest priority.
Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government; they are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of their humanity. The right to life does not depend on, and must not be declared contingent upon, the choice of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.”
Once past religious objections and into a human rights discussion we get immediately into this:
“What about the multitudes of women & girls pregnant from rape & incest?” As if this was the main reason abortions are sought.

And this one…
”What about all the women about to die or be maimed because they are pregnant?” As if pregnancy is a disease. As if pro-life means choosing the life of the baby over the mother.
The examples above are clearly exceptions, and basing common law on exceptions is absurd. To say unborn children MUST be declared “non-persons” because of rape, incest or danger to the mother is like saying oranges must be declared “non-round” because we have found some oval shaped ones. If a starving man steals a loaf of bread and we feel bad for him, should it then be legal to steal bread?
Stealing bread is wrong, oranges are round, unborn children are human, a human is a person...........and a person’s a person, no matter how small!


  1. What you deem "the simple logic" of your argument appears to me as so much nonsense, largely irrelevant nonsense at that.

    You say: "Scientifically, human life begins at conception as an objective fact." Okay, let's accept that. To be sure, that is not to accept that that fact is important or even material to the issue at hand.

    You continue: "To say the first stage of one's life or one's personhood begins at some other threshold of consciousness or viability is subjective; a matter of opinion." Okay, let's accept that. To be sure, that is not to accept that the characterization of this conclusion as "subjective" or "opinion" is important or even material to the issue at hand.

    You conclude: "To declare something as important as this on something subjective is irrational, especially when something objective is available." It's not clear what you mean by this. Subjective and irrational, of course, are not the same. In any event, it appears plainly wrong. People reach perfectly rational and reasonable conclusions based on subjective judgments all the time--likely dozens of times daily. (For instance: I think I'll take this route today rather than that one because I like driving around curves rather than turning at corners.)

    Let's try another simple, logical approach. Let's start on common ground: We have a woman on one hand, and we have a fertilized egg on the other. Let's take another step and, I trust, remain on common ground: Notice the similarities; notice the differences. The differences are too plain and too numerous to bother cataloging here. I'll just observe the most obvious: One is a sentient being and the other is not. What of the similarities? Well, both have a similar (i.e., human) DNA. Both exhibit some (but not all) similarities in other aspects of cellular structure (i.e., having a nucleus and cell wall and such). Even here, though, they are dissimilar in that no cell in the woman's body is the same as that fertilized egg; all of her cells have long since differentiated into specialized sorts. Any other similarities? None readily come to mind; perhaps, though, you can add to that short list.

    Now, from this common ground, we get to the issue at hand: Given those vast differences and few similarities, should we call them by the same name? Why?

    How to label something, of course, is not some purely theoretical or objective exercise; rather, it largely depends on the purpose of the labeling. Here, the purpose is largely a legal one. We are talking about whether an entity has "rights" recognized under our laws. Customarily, we have long spoken of "persons" having such rights, so the question thus arises whether to label the fertilized egg a "person." One of the recognized weaknesses of the form of argumentation known as characterization is that it depends entirely on unstated, unexamined, and unproven assumptions--here, that any entity characterized as a "person" also warrants having the rights normally associated with persons. Let's examine that underlying assumption. Why should a fertilized egg--whether called a person or not--have all the rights that you or I or that woman have? That is the real underlying question.

    1. Doug,
      First of all thanks for your comment.

      Second let me clarify how subjective relates to the irrational in this case. We are talking about universal human rights here, not a traffic rout. If you think human rights are not important, then there is not much more we can discuss about abortion. If you do, we can go on

      People are deciding decide when human life beings or when you and I became a person. If one does not accept any kind of divine authority, all we have left is some kind of measureable, empirical data (objective) or opinions (subjective). In any good scientific method, the data is used to from opinions, theories and conclusions. Those conclusions are then tested and proven or disproven.

      If we take human rights seriously, we will not accept opinions as a standard for human life. The Nazis said the Jews were non-persons, but where was the scientific method to show this? There was none. Where is the scientific method to show that an unborn child (at any stage) is a non-person? There is none.
      Your list of similarities and differences is rather bizarre. What are the differences between a 1 year old girl and a 100 year old man? I can give you a vast list of subjective differences and fewer subjective similarities. Given those vast differences and few similarities, should we call them by the same name? Why?

      You said. “Why should a fertilized egg--whether called a person or not--have all the rights that you or I or that woman have?” An equally valid question is “why not?” If we are going to directly attack and kill an unborn child at whatever stage of development, I would say the burden of proof is on you to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the unborn is in fact a “non-person”

    2. Many if not most abortions are performed on a fetus, which means small child, and look human because they are. These unborn babies then have their arms, legs, and head cut off and then sucked out with a vacuum. How can this be defensible?

  2. Hi Doug,

    The use of subjective here refers to where in the life of a fertilized egg does it get its rights? It is not subjective, scientifically, it is, objectively, human at conception. Ben was not condemning subjective judgments in general, just this one.

    I will take a swing at explaining this. If you concede the first two points, that a fertilized egg is a human, then is your point of disagreement in that you would assert that not all humans are persons?

    Thanks for reading the blog!


  3. Neither of you is addressing what I regard as the "real" question underlying the otherwise silly exercise of choosing whether to label a particular entity a "person." That question is why should a fertilized egg, regardless of label, have all the rights that you or I or that woman have?

    It is no answer simply to assert that an equally valid question is to ask "why not." You and I agree that you and I and that hypothetical woman have legal rights. We do not agree, nor does the law recognize, that the fertilized egg has any such rights. Hence the question arises: Why should it have such rights? The burden is on those who would change the status quo and accord it such rights.

    Nor is it an answer simply to trade one characterization for one or more other characterizations (e.g., to characterize a fertilized egg as "human life" or "human" or "human being"--apparently in an effort to edge closer, at least semantically, to that ultimate, desired characterization of "person."

    My point about getting past simple characterization is that it should not be assumed that simply by calling something by a name, e.g., "person," that that thing warrants the rights, etc., that usually are associated with things of that name. Rather, the real inquiry is whether that something, by whatever name, warrants those rights, etc.

    For instance, we generally associate the term "chair" with an object with certain attributes designed for sitting, usually a seat with a back supported by legs, typically four. If we decided to call another quite different object a "chair" for whatever reason (e.g., perhaps a tree which has the potential to be felled and crafted into an object designed for sitting), one simply assuming, without examination, that that object also had the attributes commonly associated with things labeled "chair" would obviously be wrong. Hence the need and utility of paying less attention to the mere characterization and more attention to the actual attributes of the object in question. Here, the object is a fertilized egg, and the question is whether it has attributes warranting the conclusion that it should have rights like you and I and that woman.

    1. Doug,

      Thank you for your clarification.

      The answer I have is "genetics." A fertilized egg is a human by virtue of its genetics. Any other animal is not for the same reason. A fertilized human egg will never grow to become a monkey (just as an infant will not) and so any inherent rights should apply.

      Your other statements are troubling in that you presume that all rights are granted (by whom?) and not endowed.

      Lastly, your final paragraph seems to tangle Aquinas' four causes. A chair and a tree might share the same material cause, but not the same formal cause.

      If a fertilized egg is not interfered with and allowed to grow, it has but one end, to be human. This is the only dimension that seems relevant to whether it is human or not. I see no difference (regarding its humanity) if that egg is destined to be a slave or master, boss or employee, pauper or king.

    2. I’m not talking about all rights (like the right to vote), only the right to be alive. A fertilized egg is a human being(or a person) the earliest stage of life just like the mother is in some other stage of life. This is why it has the right to be alive.

      I’m glad you brought up names, labels and attributes and what warrants rights? I’m asking for the science behind the names, labels and attributes because they will determine the rights in a legal system.

      If I ask a scientest to tell me if something is a person, what kinds of things would they look for?
      A unique an individual set of human DNA, Alive and growing (or changing), A genetic mother and father.
      The threshold for this is conception, which is a scientifically observable phenomenon. Time or stage of life is not a factor.

      Now explain how an unborn child (at whatever stage) is a non-person using science. You must also provide the threshold of when you magically changed from a non-person to a person. Let’s face it, non-person is a made up legal term to justify killing with no science to back it up.

    3. Joe,

      So, the similarity you see between you, me, and that woman on one hand and that fertilized egg on the other hand is "genetics." (I had earlier mentioned DNA, so I think we're largely on the same page.) Okay, so what? Why should the presence of human DNA in the fertilized egg lead us to recognize that the egg has a legally enforceable right to life (and perhaps other rights you and Ben have yet to think of or mention)? I readily understand why you, and I, and that woman have such rights. Why the egg should have such rights is not readily apparent. Hence, the question: Why?

      The point of my fourth paragraph was not to tangle with Aquinas, but simply to illustrate the logical flaw in characterization as a form of argument. Rather than focus on the characterization (or label), the focus should be on the validity vel non of the unstated, unexamined assumption that everything called by a certain label actually exhibits the attributes pertinent to the question at hand. Here, the question is not so much whether the fertilized egg should be labeled a "person," but rather whether the fertilized egg (by any name) should have legally enforceable rights. That question can and should be addressed directly without regard to the characterization.


      The question whether a fertilized egg should have legally enforceable rights is not a scientific question. Similarly, whether a fertilized egg should be characterized as a "person" within the meaning of a particular law, e.g., the 14th Amendment, is not a scientific question. Scientists can tells us facts about all the various stages of human life, which may or may not be relevant to particular legal issues. They cannot, on the basis of science, tell us what is a "person" as that term is used in a law. That is a question of law, not science.

      You ask me to explain how an unborn child (at whatever stage) is a non-person using science. Here goes: When interpreting the law, courts generally look to the text of the law and perhaps other evidence of its intended meaning--not to science or personal religious or moral viewpoints. The guiding principle is to determine the intent of the legislature or, in the case of the Constitution, the intent of those central to drafting and ratifying it. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court reviewed the 14th Amendment, which says, "nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." In keeping with the customary judicial approach to interpretation, the Court considered the use of the term "person" in the Amendment and the full text of the Constitution (which mentions "persons" in many parts) and extensively reviewed the use of the term in the common law of the 19th Century (when the 14th Amendment was adopted) and concluded that "the word 'person,' as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn." That is simply what the people who adopted the law in 1868 had in mind and intended. (One of the ironies of this ongoing debate is that some self-identified "conservatives" who typically champion "strict construction" and blast "judicial activism" would, when it comes to abortion, gladly infuse the Constitution with new meaning differing from what the drafters intended.)

    4. You have basically proven one point in the post above. To be pro-choice you must reject at least one of the following: Science, reason or human rights. You are using legal reasoning with consideration to human rights, but you reject science in the discussion of personhood. I wish to include science as the only way to gather the objective data that support the legal conclusion. By the way, thank you for your very good comments.

    5. Ben,

      Not really. In answering the legal question at hand, I (and the courts) use, rather than reject, reason. Nor did I "reject" science. Rather, using reason, I explained why science does not, indeed cannot, offer the answer you wish it to. If anything, it is irrational to suppose that science holds the answer to the question whether a fertilized egg should have legally enforceable rights. (Would you expect science to tell us what "due process" is? Do you suppose that there is some platonic form of "person" or "due process" out there in nature that science can "discover"?) Nor did I "reject" human rights. (Why you say otherwise, I do not know.) To the contrary, I directly addressed the question of human rights.

      Again, I emphasize that the discussion of "personhood" is meaningless, indeed downright silly, unless one examines the underlying assumption (all "persons" have "rights") with respect to the entity in question (a fertilized egg). Simply to call something a "person" and suppose "therefore" that it has or should have rights is NOT logical. If I simply call a tree a "chair" does that mean it has a seat, back, and legs? One must look past the label and directly address the nature, attributes, etc., of the entity in question.

      So, again, the central question: What is it about a fertilized egg (apart from the label you would attach to it) that warrants recognizing that it has legally enforceable rights?

    6. If there is no applicable science available, then we cannot use it. If there is, we should. I argue that there is applicable science to help “measure” your humanity or whatever you want to call it. I’ll need to log off now, but have the last word if you like.

  4. "using only secular logic"

    So far so good, I'm listening...

    "Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government; they are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of their humanity."

    Swing and a miss.

    This is an absolute appeal to some form of human exceptionalism whereby rights are inherent to the particular makeup of DNA (as prescribed by their maker, perchance?) and not a real thing. There are no inherent or natural rights. There are only things that others allow, or do not/cannot stop.

    Ben, a child is a potential adult, not an adult, similarly a fertilized egg is a potential person, not a person.

    A fertilized egg is human life for sure. (NB. Not A human life, simply human life, it can split and become two blastocysts both of which can become a person and they can likewise recombine to be one which can become a single human life.) Unfortunately so is a severed arm. When you work out what the difference between a severed arm and a fertilized egg is, without using the word potential, then you'll know why (very early) abortion isn't even a moral question. [I have a VERY different position for later stages.]

    Your position on 'the right to life' is completely disingenuous. Do you argue for complete and universal healthcare? Free food for all hungry people? Shelter and warmth for the homeless and elderly? Perhaps you do, but most strong pro-lifers do not and this is completely at odds with what they require women to give up (their autonomy) when they are pregnant. This is not really relevant to the whole process, it is just a bit of hypocrisy that needs pointing out from time to time.

    1. Hello again March; hope you are well.
      If you really believe human rights are a privilege conferred by government, then the German government in the late 1930’s had every right to declare Jews non-persons. If you agree with that premise, there is not much more we can discuss about abortion.

      A child is a person and a poetical adult, similarly an unborn child (in any stage) is a person with potential, not a potential person, and I think you know the difference between a severed human arm and a fertilized human egg.

      When you speak of very early abortion as not a moral question, but a VERY different position for later stages, you need to provide a “threshold”. When did you magically change from non-person to person and what is the supporting science? On the other hand, conception is a scientifically observable phenomenon we can use as objective data to measure the beginning of one’s life or “personhood” or whatever you like to call it.

      As far as other human rights, I’m only really talking about personhood vs. non-personhood here.

    2. Hi Ben, I am doing well, thanks for asking, I trust this finds you in a similar manner.

      Human rights ARE granted by other humans. There is nowhere else they could come from without positing some non-human right giver and nature just doesn't fit that bill (otherwise there'd be some natural law against AIDS, cancer and influenza) which means you're back to a super-natural rights issuer (God) and you've gone off the secular path.

      That doesn't mean I don't have strong opinions about which rights we should grant one another, but there is no objective place we can go look to see if I'm right or to prove that the Germans were wrong. I'd hope we all agree they were, but a majority agreement does not an objective fact make.

      I did not magically change from non-person to person it was a gradual change. Some form of neural activity is required before we can even begin the discussion of something being a person, otherwise it is simply cells (having a certain type of DNA doesn't make it a person).

      If I had to choose a limit it would be where medical science can make the foetus viable. At that point no abortion can take place, instead an extraction is done and the mother is free to go and the foetus is a ward of the state. The problem with this position is that it is very expensive (what price life?) and can lead to severely developmentally challenged children. Incidentally, this is currently around 22-24 weeks. Obviously this date is dependent on the state of technology and so is changeable.

      This approach maximises the liberty and autonomy of the woman while minimising the chances of killing viable foetuses.

      Your other approach makes a woman a slave to another being. That is unconscionable. The extreme on the other side allows for the killing of what is quite obviously a baby which is also unconscionable.

      I think you know the difference between a severed human arm and a fertilized human egg."

      Not by your reasoning I don't. Both are human, both require external sustenance to survive. Both have no cognitive function. If anything the arm is more human because it can, slightly, feel and react to stimulation. Neither can think. Neither can reason. Neither has any rights, nor should they. Again, I challenge you to tell me the difference without saying one can potentially become a fully formed human being.

    3. What is the difference between a severed human arm and a fertilized human egg? Quite simply, it is the first stage of your life, just like old age will be the last stage of your life (hopfully). Enough with the age discrimination.

    4. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    5. Well done Joe. In a relatively reasonable discussion about the secular reasons to possibly be against abortion (NB. no-one is actually in favour of abortion, each one is not a 'good thing') you somehow invoke a "Creator". Way to completely miss the point.

    6. I was just delving to see how much you were willing to discard to make your point. Found it.

  5. Ben, you are the one who is now arbitrarily defining a point in time that is significant. The moment your parents met was as equally significant and necessary as the moment the particular gametes that eventually made you fused.

    A single cell with no feelings, thoughts, desires, passions, cares, worries, loves, senses, experiences, ideas, memories, goals, personality cannot be, in any way, compared with an actual human being. Not that one needs ALL of these things to be a person but, ya know, one would be nice!

  6. Not really. Prior to conception, those two cells could become nothing more than themselves. At conception it could become nothing else but a human. It is the earliest that it COULD and MUST become human. Arbitrary? Hardly.

    1. Joe, you've gone from "Creator" nonsense to telos and I was going to ignore this point, but it may be instructive to show why you're fundamentally wrong.

      "Prior to conception, those two cells could become nothing more than themselves."

      That's not true. There are many things they can become, not the least of which is a possible chemical switch to enable the egg cell to actually become a full human being. We haven't found it yet for humans but it exists for several other animals,including mammals, so it agains requires humans to be somehow outside the natural order for it to be impossible in our case.

      "At conception it could become nothing else but a human."

      Again, this is patently false. An embryonic stem cell can become any body part and, most commonly, they actually become two embryonic stem cells.

      "It is the earliest that it COULD and MUST become human."

      Must? 80% of fertilised eggs are naturally disposed of, usually by never implanting in the uterus wall. That's hardly a MUST now, is it? A fertilised egg can also become multiple people, care to comment on that?

    2. Sure, can it become a whale? Nope. The unspoken assumption I made was that the fertilized egg would grow naturally without interference. All of the cases you mention is a form of interference.

      It can be stopped from becoming a human by death, but without artificially altering the DNA (the blueprint that stem cells use) it's going to be a human. You know this. Please acknowledge it.

    3. "Naturally and without interference"? You actually mean with the full resources and protection of a mother with the added assumption that a successful implantation in the womb occurs and there isn't a spontaneous miscarriage or genetic defect. Then, sure, without interference it has a chance of becoming a person. Or two, or more.

      Not willing to take the multiple people challenge?

      Of course if you go down the DNA route, as you seem to want to, then you suddenly get hit with cloning issues (where ANY DNA containing cell has the potential to become a human) and the severed arm issue I mentioned above. Except then you bring in the telos, or the potential to become a human. Frankly telos bores me and has no place in law. Potential is used a few times in law, but refers to what an actual person might have achieved rather than what something might have become. That's not to say the law is always right, there are many bad laws and bad principles, this just happens not to be one of them.

    4. I am glad you agree.

      Cloning issues are non-issues. Twins share DNA and are considered two persons. What about this troubles you other than to deny the right to life to some and not others?

    5. So how can one person (a fertilised egg in your view) become two people? That's one major difference between an egg (or ball of cells) and a real person. NB. It's not me that's pushing a DNA agenda, I think it's irrelevant.

      The right to life doesn't exist in the form you state here. The right to not be killed might exist but nothing in law forces Person A to give blood to save Person B (and that's way before we have even got close to asserting Person B's personhood here!) so I don't understand your "natural and without interference" argument.

      So you want a fertilised egg to have the right to life, then fine, but I assert it has no right to a host. It is therefore incumbent upon you to develop an artificial womb and then you can talk about a right to life.

  7. Okay Joe, what's you position on this situation:

    A fertilised egg is allowed to grow to about 100 cells (a blastocyst) at which point a few cells are removed to check for any genetic abnormalities. Those cells are frozen but the blastocyst is allowed to continue growing.

    The blastocyst continues unabated and becomes lovely baby Steve 9 months later.

    At that point the person the fertilised egg MUST become has become (Steve) so can I then perform my Frankenstein experiments on the cells left over after we ran the genetic tests, or have they magically become people too?

    1. So to my assumption of non-interference, you propose a situation of interference?

      As you yourself said earlier, "way to completely miss the point."

      In any case, I'll play. I would consider lovely Steve and his interfered with cells as twins.

    2. And, if I re-implanted the cells back into the blastocyst, where they would all eventually become Steve, have I killed his twin brother?

    3. March,

      Neither I nor you can know that. This is why interference of this type is unethical. You MIGHT be killing someone who would have grown up if left to himself after conception. Accidentally killing someone to perform Frankenstein experiments is not justifiable. Would you want someone to take that risk with you?

    4. "Neither I nor you can know that. This is why interference of this type is unethical."

      No, here is what I know. A small chemical factory that is replicating itself (in utero or in a petri dish) has absolutely no characteristics in common with a person with the exception that some of the chemicals that are being manufactured (and replicated) are done so using DNA that is 99.99% (or whatever) similar to actual people.

      Nothing that makes us view a person as a person (and I had a decent list of characteristics) is present in a fertilised egg. It is a pointless leap of faith to view a fertilised egg as anything more than an adult stem cell, or technically any cell. Without some kind of neural network it has no feelings or thoughts, cannot suffer and thus is not in any sense a person with legal rights.

      And, in response to Ben (Jan 24, 2012 07:44 AM) (I know he's speaking to Doug, but I actually agree in part with Ben), science does have something to say about a person's humanity. Albeit we will disagree on exactly what that is, society has been gradually moving towards neural activity (and, to a certain extent, ability) as a proxy for someone's humanity (personhood, whatever) and I see no reason to abandon that nor to say that science has nothing to say about it when it clearly does and is getting better at it rapidly. It is our cognition that makes us people, that is why rather than a binary graph it should be one that rises when the brain first develops, growing exponentially until it passes a 'humanity' threshold, rising less quickly until about the age of 25 and then slowly decreasing as we get older, staying above the humanity threshold until we have severe mental decline or death.

    5. March,

      I see that we are not able to agree on this. Your metric on what makes a thing human is simply put, cognition. Someday we may be able to detect and reliably measure cognition and then we can kill or oppress or demote to a lower caste anything that does not cogitate as defined by the appropriate committee.

      I hope you never fall on the wrong side of that judgment.

      Thank you for your posts.

    6. Joe, I never thought we would. All I was hoping for was an admission that there is no secular argument that could ever place a fertilised egg in the same moral, legal, practical, ethical, sensible domain as a person.

      Yes, cognition is key. No brain, no person. Simple as that.

    7. Secular arguments only get you so far. Physics without Mathematics or Mathematics without Physics will only get you so far also. More than one non-competing understanding of the universe helps to give you a larger picture and greater understanding overall.

      My earlier quote "We hold these truths..." showed that the greatest democratic republic of all time (ours) with its strong protections of individual rights was founded not only on the reason of the enlightenment but also on the foundational, non-secular, axiomatic assertion of God. Until relatively recently those protections extended to all life. A growing secular-only viewpoint has lost the big picture and, with it, the sensible rationale for protection of life.

    8. The 'Creator' was an uninterested, non-interventionalist deity, as you can see if you read any of Paine or Jefferson's writings. Most (but certainly not all) of the other thinkers of the time may have believed in a more personal deity, but not one borne of standard religions.

      The 'life' you seem to be so fond of was ONLY human life and the difference they believed between human life and all other forms of life was the ability to think and reason.

      Why people try to jump on the use of the word 'Creator' is beyond me. They were ignorant of many things, most owned slaves, so the fact that Paley's argument was still hard to get past, or that the universe so complicated that it was almost unthinkable to have come about without plan or thought is understandable. If they'd known about evolution they would surely have been less inclined to use such a phrase. Of course, we always want respected people
      to share our opinions as the appeal to authority is very tempting, especially within religious communities. Which is why they jump on Einstein using 'God' or Hawking's phrase "Then we shall finally know the mind of God." Both of which were poetic license wrongly claimed as religious belief by many.

      To try to compare either maths or physics with religious or spiritual thinking is risible. The only place secular arguments cannot get you is heaven and a secular or multi-faith society shouldn't be making proclamations about the existence of heaven let alone how to get there.

      Joe, life is irrelevant. Life without cognition is nothing more than a chemical process*. Meaning can only come from cognition.

      Life is not special, life is not sacred, cognition is. We rank cognition all the time, it's why people get so upset about dolphins and great apes and not so much about reptiles and insects. It's why children aren't allowed as much autonomy as adults and why people with severe mental problems have other people making legal, medical and financial decisions on their behalf.

      I personally think, and the law tends to agree, that we should err on the side of giving rights rather than denying them, e.g. from a strictly cognitive perspective an adult dog has more cognitive ability than a newborn, but we err towards the view that a helpless baby should be given full personhood status as it is much more harmful (to both society and the individual) to wrongly deny someone rights than to wrongly ascribe rights. I would take this back into the womb, as I described above) back to the point of viability - which is probably too far back in all honesty - but to go any further doesn't make sense. Before that point there is minimal awareness, and the only known life support unit is the mother and the foetus has no logical or legal claim to stay in the mother's womb.

      * I know the same could be argued for life with cognition, but still...

    9. March,

      Let's dig in to one of your statements then. The Deist creator of Paine or Jefferson did however influence the axiomatic statement that all men are endowed with the right to life. Conversely, without that world view there would be no warrant for it.

      Do you truly disagree with the fact that, whether the State acknowledges it or not, you yourself have the right to live?

    10. Of course I have no right to live! The best I can claim is that I have a right not to be killed. And even there all I am is a voice shouting out to other people hoping that they agree, otherwise I have no rights.

      (NB. You literally have no rights after NDAA 2012 was signed into law on 12-31-2011)

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  9. To paraphrase a gangster on "The Simpsons": is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread for your starving family? And suppose you have a LARGE starving family--is it wrong to steal a truckload of bread? And suppose your family don't like bread, they like cigarettes--is it wrong to steal a truckload of cigarettes? And suppose instead of giving them away, you sold them at a price that was PRACTICALLY giving them away--is THAT wrong?

    Also, "A person's a person, no matter how small" is a great slogan, but tread carefully: Dr. Seuss, God rest his soul, was pro-choice, and sued against pro-lifers using that for their cause. I don't know what Audrey Geisel, his widow, would do now, though....

  10. @Doug Indeap:
    "Fertilized egg"; sorry, this is as absurd as a two-wheeled automobile. A primary oocyte (or egg cell) is diploid, with a full set of 46 chromosomes. It exists only within ovarian follicles. Shortly before ovulation, it undergoes meiotic division, resulting in a haploid secondary oocyte (only 23 chromosomes) and a haploid polar body. At this point, it cannot develop further and become a person by itself. If it is not fertilized within 12-24 hours, it dies. If it is fertilized, it is no longer an oocyte. It ceases to be an egg cell of any type. It becomes a zygote. As such, it is a unique member organism of the species homo sapiens. If this, the creation of its unique genotype, is not where the life cycle of an individual member of the species begins, then where? Consult any modern biology text, written for any level of student, and the author(s) will agree that the zygote stage is the first stage of life of a rat or a pig or a dog or any other sexually reproducing organism from acanthus to zebras.

    If you think we can and should draw a line to exclude living member organisms of the species homo sapiens from the group or class "human beings with human rights" I'd like to know on what basis you'd do so. Bear in mind that I intend to demonstrate that the line you've drawn can, on that basis, logically be moved quite some distance, and probably in a direction you won't like. I do it to March Hare, below.

    As for the staus quo, look at the status quo ante. From ca 1600 years ago, to ca 100 years ago, the immorality of the unprovoked slaying any member of our species was taken as a given, even if it was still within its mother's uterus. Those who argued otherwise were labeled monsters, and those who acted otherwise were mortal sinners. Why is the current status quo acceptable, when the far longer-standing precedent it struck down is not? If the personhood of humans in the zygote stage of development (and later embryonic and fetal stages) is established in law, that becomes the new status quo, and Roe will be overturned by default. Will that be okay? Why or why not?

  11. @March Hare: I'd argue that the only thing that makes a fetus non-viable is the entirely human decision to meddle with its life processes and/or its environment, or its own failure to thrive. If we can do that to some members of the species Homo Sapiens based upon your analysis of when it can safely be moved from one environment (the womb) to another (the NICU), then why NOT pull the plug on anyone who is comatose and requires significant life support, especially poor people receiving Medicaid or old people receiving Medicare, who make us taxpayers into their slaves to support their medical bills? Whether they can later attain full function is already irrelevant to you, as embryoes generally do, in time, attain full function, and you regard that as no reason to protect them.

    A somatic cell hasn't the potential to become a human. Cloning involves somatic cell nuclear transfer, which is taking a secondary oocyte, destroying its nucleus, inserting the nucleus of a somatic cell, and handwaving the difficulty of getting that bit of artifice to behave like a zygote. Thus, human cloning is like hydrino power. It does not exist yet, and it isn't likely to.

    I very much doubt that cells removed from a blastocyst are sufficiently totipotent to develop into a person. I doubt cells taken from the embryoblast would form a placenta, and I doubt cells from the trophoblast would form a new embryoblast. Identical twins arise when the trophoblast collapses and divides the embryoblast within it, which is not what you describe. But if you've found researchers who have done it, by all means point out their work.

    Incidentally, I'd like to ask you some things: If I can be killed under NDAA, and this is just because it is the law, then why isn't slavery just when and where it's legal? If law can deny the right to life to anyone, why not liberty also? Is there such a thing as an unjust law? Is there such a thing as justice apart from legislation? Can law and justice be opposed to each other? Or is justice something that doesn't really exist?

  12. @Arkanabar, you touch upon one of those 1st year philosophical problems (is it wrong to painlessly kill a sleeping person?). There are many reasons why I consider it wrong (loss of autonomy, harm to friends/relatives, interference in future plans and opportunities, increased danger to other members of the population etc. etc.) unfortunately none of them make it objectively wrong. But moving on...

    "why NOT pull the plug on anyone who is comatose and requires significant life support"
    Because they have a legally binding insurance contract that protects them in case of events that cause them to require life support?
    "especially poor people receiving Medicaid or old people receiving Medicare, who make us taxpayers into their slaves to support their medical bills?"
    Because we, as a society, have decided to pool our funds in such a way that people who get into situations where they need life support but cannot afford it are given it from a common fund. If this was an optional fund we'd call it a great act of charity. It isn't so we don't, but if it is objectionable then we can try to elect people who will remove this social benefit and associated 'slavery' of the taxpayers.

    I'll try and answer your questions in one: justice, like morality, is in the eye of the beholder. We have a constantly shifting set of individual preferences, values, feelings/emotions and principles that combine into our view of morality (justice is one of these) and we are exceedingly bad at accessing these and evaluating them accurately or consistently. Many people are uncomfortable with this situation and grasp for the fake moral certitude that organised religion appears to provide, even when it goes against their own judgement (e.g. the majority of Catholics favouring, if not actually using, birth control.)

    I'll bow to your superior knowledge of the current state of reproductive science, but there is no a biochemical reaction at all stages and there is no reason to think that we will not be able to mimic those at some point in the near future.

  13. If justice is in the eye of the beholder and is blown about by the prevailing winds of popular opinion, then your answer is an attempt to obfuscate what would be, in plain language, "Well, because killing people like that would be really unpopular. But just you wait! Later on, when we are more decadent, savage, or barbaric, we will!" And you do not appear to regard such a sentiment as monstrous.

  14. Yeah, but it's only monstrous now. When we are more decadent, savage, or barbaric we won't.

    Or, monstrous, like justice and morality, is subjective and your opinion is that X is bad and because you so strongly believe it's bad that it must be an objective bad whereas, in reality, there is no objective good or bad.

    But, typos aside, I will allow my previous comment to stand as an answer to your most recent post, and your point in general.

  15. It is right that theft should be illegal but I don't think it follows that a starving man stealing a loaf of bread is immoral.(if that is what you were saying,perhaps not).In fact, perhaps it is a moral duty for a starving man to steal bread,if the other has plenty and the starving man has no other means.

    1. Thomas,

      I believe the point being made is, should we make stealing legal for everyone if there is a case where it is moral? Say, for example, a starving man.


  16. Pardon my late & feminine intrusion, gentlemen; I don't understand why it is being argued that abortion is ok because "a human fertilized egg" is not "a human." The only "abortions" this argument would allow is the use of abortifacient birth control. If it is agreed that the development of "human tissue" into "a human" is gradual, then we must look to a definitive threshold of change in order to prevent erroneously denying anyone the right to life (legally speaking). The "fertilized human egg" only exists as such for an instant & immediately begins to change and develop in the direction of "a human." By the time a woman has missed her period & become aware of the pregnancy, we are no longer talking about a "fertilized human egg" that in no way resembles a human. We are talking about an immature human life with a heart beat and neurological activity.
    If we were to continue with the "personhood" argument, that the unalienable rights recognized in the Constitution are not intended for the unborn, we would be arguing that full-term human beings who had simply not yet left the birth canal were somehow substantially different from those who had already made that transition in terms of whether or not they are people. The argument in favor of an arbitrary "viable outside the womb with assistance from medical technology" threshold into personhood is too variable to use as the determining factor. What about 30 seconds prior to reaching the "magic" 22-24 week point? Why is it a range, anyway? Matter of opinion? So one 22 week old fetus is a "person" and another is "just a human fertilized egg," depending on who you ask? Have you ever SEEN a 22 week old fetus? It looks like a person, only smaller. Why don't we just stop guessing & use the obvious & unmistakable threshold of conception? Otherwise, we risk terminating the life (killing) a human (person) who just might have some unalienable "right" to life.

    1. Good points. I even find the current debates in congress about a pain threshold to be irrational. A human is a non-person if they cannot feel pain? Really?