Interesting online discussion on Abortion and Personhood
Original Poster (OP)
"As the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade passes, it’s important to remember the both sides of the evangelical anti-abortion movement’s history. Yes, it did involve legitimate moral concerns about abortion, it did occasion serious reflection on the issue by evangelical scholars and pastors, and it did bring a formerly apolitical segment of America into the political process.
But its founding moral outrage stemmed not from Roe v. Wade, but from the prospect of government-imposed desegregation; it rest its intellectual foundation on highly dubious, non-scholarly arguments advanced by Francis Schaeffer; it mobilized lay evangelicals to action by telling them the Bible teaches something it does not actually teach; and it actively suppressed the scholarship of evangelicals who held alternative viewpoints."
I actually think the Bible does talk to this issue. Whether it comes from the commandment not to murder or to the judgment of the Canaanites and others who sacrifice their children to Moloch. I do not think it is an unwarranted leap to apply either to the issue of abortion. In fact, I think it rationally follows from both. Especially when you understand the context of ancient near-east cultures and their promiscuous activities needed a form of birth control. Child sacrifice being the only possible form of abortion for them. – Yes, I grant that the word ‘abortion’ is not in the Bible, neither is the word gravity, but that is not an argument against gravity or abortion.
God is Pro Life otherwise he might as well not have made Adam or Eve.
Donald your argument assumes that the debate over abortion is a debate over whether or not we should murder people--one would which certainly would be settled by the Bible's clear prohibition of murdering people. In reality, however, the debate is over whether or not embryos or fetuses are people in the first place. Those who don't think they are (and the Bible gives no conclusive reason to think one way or another on the subject--commandments against murder are irrelevant to the question of when full moral life begins) would not find themselves guilty of supporting murder by supporting abortion.
OP what do you mean by "people" and "full moral life"?
I mean an entity that possesses rights, such as you or I. The debate over abortion is a debate over whether or when the embryo is an entity like that. It's not a debate over whether or not we should murder people.
OP How or what does an entity have to do to gain those rights? Does the act of birth confer those rights?
That's the question at the heart of the debate over abortion. And that's exactly my point. It is not a debate over whether or not we should murder people; it's a debate over whether or when the embryo has the same rights as we do.
I think that is the problem. The debate has been moved from concrete human rights to slippery subjective personhood rights. Reframing the debate from human rights to personhood rights leaves us with the question as to who decides this subjective definition of personhood. Any definition can be challenged. For example if it was based on moral capability how could you make the argument it wrong to kill a child after birth? What is the difference in moral capability an embryo have over a new born or over someone with advance dementia? In Jewish circles and still in some Christian groups children are not seen as being morally until the age of accountability. Would we say that it is ok to take their life until that age? If not, says who? It becomes a subjective slippery slope that will change with society’s whims.
Human rights on the other had are not subjective. We as human beings recognize the inherent value of all human life regardless of arbitrary divisions. Human rights are about protecting all, regardless of what they can do for society, their race, their sexual orientation, their stage of development or disorder. We can determine with scientific accuracy that the embryo is a unique, human life. Further the embryo has not broken any laws and is also innocent. So we have an innocent, unique, living human. Don’t we as moral agents have a duty to protect innocent human beings?
And hence you've expressed one side of the debate over whether or not the embryo has human rights. My argument here is not that the embryo does not have human rights, although I do believe that, but that the question of whether it does (a question which the bible does not answer) is at the heart of the debate over abortion--not the question of whether or not murder is permissible (a question which the bible does answer).
God said he knew us before we were in our mothers womb. That settles it for Christians on whether it is life or not. Unless your one of those pick and choose Christians when it comes to Gods word.
That verse was not widely interpreted as teaching when life begins until around 1980, when the evangelical Right emerged. Probably because 1) it's a poetic reflection on God's foreknowledge, not a treatise on personhood and 2) it says that God knew us before we were in the womb. On your reading, shouldn't we then conclude that life begins before conception?
So no, the Bible does not answer the question, despite the very recent, politically-motivated efforts to suggest otherwise.
Yes life was already here when he spoke it here. I dont try to figure out every single thing with my own thoughts. I let the Holy Spirit guide me into all truth and wisdom of Gods word. His word changed my life 5yrs ago and continues to everyday. Thank You Jesus!!
When you speak politically are you talking about the morons up in Washington, The ones who use God to get votes or the other ones who mock God. Well I dont pay one bit attention to anything them liars spew from their greedy evil mouths. The President included with them.
By definition an embryo is a human and thus has human rights.
The Bible is silent about nuclear war. Yet I think any rational person using the precepts of the Bible can come to the conclusion that it is wrong and violates God’s created order. Likewise, abortion takes the life of an innocent human being. The Bible not speaking to the issue directly is to be expected. If the Bible said abortion was wrong the original readers would not understand the context and that portion of the Bible would be meaningless to thousands of years of readers. Yet we can take the precepts of the Bible and natures witness to God’s created order (science) and come to the conclusion that in fact it is a human being, that it is unique from the mother and father, that it is innocent and that it is alive. God’s created order is that we use sex for reproduction and abortion violates the God ordained outcome.
OP are you saying that even though the Bible does not speak directly about a recent medical procedure, you think that God should have included it in the Bible 3500 years ago, if He really thought it was wrong?
Your getting your conclusions there from catholic natural law theology, not science. Science cannot prove that the embryo is a human being since the category "human being" is defined by moral and philosophical criteria as much as by scientific ones. And you're forgetting that abortion has in fact been practiced for thousands of years, including at the time the Bible was written.
1.) I am not getting the definition from catholic natural law theory. I am using a Biological definition of what a Human being is.
Let me explain my point including more explicit references to the biology that is pertinent. First, the embryo is unique from the mother and the father, the child has a unique DNA sequence from the parents. Second, the DNA of the embryo is not that of a baboon or mushroom, it is human DNA. Third, is it growing (reproducing on a cellular level) and metabolizing the definition of biological life. We can even determine there is brain activity before the child is born. As far as we can tell all humans share a certain sequence of DNA that makes them Human and there are variations that uniquely identify the particular person from other people. I don’t need natural law to make my case. The only other premise I had was that the child was innocent. Generally, you need to prove guilt, otherwise innocence is presumed.
What cannot be defined scientifically is personhood as you have defined it. How would you define ‘full moral life’ scientifically? It can’t be done.
2.) What specific evidence is there that ancient cultures performed abortions, other than death by exposure and sacrifice? Both of which are infanticide and morally on the same level. I spoke to this issue earlier as the Bible does say God finds infanticide detestable.
The criteria you set forth for defining the category "human being" depend on philosophical assumptions about the nature of humans. I could just as easily assert a list of empirically verifiable features and say they characterize the nature of persons, such as the presence of a neocortex. Why a set of criteria should define a category like "human being" or "person" is determined by philosophy, not science.
As to the history of abortion, here's one place to start: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_abortion
OP The article you cited about abortion in the past uses a very broad definition for abortion and merely restates the type of activity I already mentioned that is not technically abortion in today’s use of the word but miscarriage or other forms of infanticide. For example in the cited article they equate the Code of Hammurabi’s “miscarriage through assault” as abortion.
So if you maintain the broad definition for abortion (as in the website you cited) in order to prove it has been done in Biblical times then the Bible does speak directly to the issue. If not, then abortion is not in the Bible because it is to narrow a definition and not something the readers could have related too.
What you really mean is that we define infanticide to extended to unborn life then the Bible condemns abortion. But to do that is to assume the fetus is a person, the very question we are debating. #circularreasoning
OP I think you may be missing something. I am not advocating the position that the Bible speaks directly to the issue, only that ‘your’ reference uses a broad of a definition for abortion. If you find it circular, then you should not reference it. ;-)
My claim is that we are taking the life of an innocent human being and that using the precepts of the Bible come to the rational conclusion that abortion is wrong in God’s eyes. I don’t claim the fetus is a ‘person,’ I think that is an ambiguous and arbitrary term. I think the fetus is an innocent ‘human being’.
The difference is a human being is something you are and a person is something you can do. Any being that qualifies as a "person" has to meet a set of criteria to gain rights. In fact, scientists claim that dolphins qualify as a “person” under the same set of criteria. However unborn and even newborns don’t qualify as persons under this criterion. This same a linguistic sleight of hand has been used in the past to exclude some humans from right from African America slaves in the US to Jews in Germany.
The claim that the embryo is a human being is a philosophical one, just as much as the claim that it is a person, as the category cannot fully be defined by science. It is based on criteria that exclude some entities and include others.
OP Well we have found our area of disagreement. When I say ‘human beings,’ I mean a ‘Homo sapiens’. To me the two terms are synonymous and can be quantifiable via sciences as I have previously explained and you have not yet refuted. I don’t want to be accused of using the term inappropriately, so here are some official definitions: “human being n. A human. human being n a member of any of the races of Homo sapiens; person; man, woman, or child.” The medical dictionary defines human being as “human [h(y)o̅o̅′mən] Etymology: L, humanus a member of the genus Homo and particularly of the species H. sapiens.” Form a science dictionary “A member of the species Homo sapiens” Based on the official definition and how I use the term ‘human being’ it is a question science can answer simply based on a DNA test. Therefore, it is not a philosophical question.
I believe the Bible supports this definition. The Bible uses adam as the term for all human beings. Sometimes translated ‘man’ it is used in the same way we often use the male specific term to mean all human beings. I don’t think this is a just happenstance. The Bible often sees all humans as an extension of Adam. As his descendants we carry forth his same nature. In science we see the same thing in the parents passing on their genetic makeup to their child via conception and the process of DNA transference. I won’t press this much further other than to say it is a fair interpretation and most importantly both view “human beingsness” as innate and not subjective.
Now that I have clarified what I mean by human being you might be able to see where I am coming from. My point is you use ‘person’ as an ambiguous term, you agree it is ambiguous and think there should be debate over what it means to be a person. I think that debates on the ambiguity of a term when the rights of human beings (homo sapiens) is involved will undermine the rights of all. That is why in the past people talked of human rights and not personhood rights. Human rights being rights you do nothing to earn but are simply conferred based upon your being human (a being of inherent worth to God).
Since you and I were discussion how the Bible sees this issue I think it is important to reflect on your definition of personhood and what Biblical support you have for that definition, so that I can better understand from the Bible how you support your view of what it means to be a person.
Donald, you are confused in several ways. First of all, if having unique human DNA not found in any other cells means an entity is a human being, then the sperm an egg would be human beings, since they also have unique DNA produced by the process of meiosis. Second, quoting a dictionary definition of human being obviously doesn't prove the category is a purely scientific one anymore than quote a dictionary definition of person. It is no more purely scientific than the category "person," as any definition of "human being" requires a particular set of criteria to be put forth (ex. unique human DNA, gathered into close proximity, a member of the human species, etc...") that depend on philosophical assumptions that are outside the realm of science. You fault personhood thinkers for setting forth a category defined by philosophical criteria than excludes some forms of human life, but "human being" is also a category defined by philosophical criteria that excludes some forms of human life. Why, for example, do you include the embryo but not the egg? Or why not cells in the human body? Both are living, may be genetically unique, are human life, and in the proper context may develop into a child. Yet you exclude these based on a category that depends on philosophical criteria, just as the personhood advocate does. My point here is not to argue for a particular definition of person, but to point out that both "human being" and "person" are philosophically-defined categories that will exclude some form of human life. The difference between them is semantics, and nothing more.
I used my definition advisedly when I previously said ‘unique’ human person. An egg or any other cell has only the mother’s DNA, something I can test by science. (And we rely on this fact for court cases) The Embryo however has unique DNA from the mother, again something that can be determined scientifically. There is no contradiction in my argument. Again the official definitions and I do not mean that a toe nail or piece of hair is a human being simply because it has human DNA. Where I think you may be confused is I am not saying DNA = human being, what I am saying DNA can be used as a test to determine the child is unique from the mother and human. The embryo is not the mother and it is not a dog, it is a unique human being. This is scientifically proven and irrefutable. Is the DNA of the embryo unique? Does the embryo have human DNA? These are yes or no questions that science can easily answer. I can see nothing philosophical about them, they seem to be hard facts.
In this explanation, where is the philosophical criteria I am setting forth?
You're not understanding my objection. Your assertion that whether or not an embryo is a human being is a strictly scientific question is wrong because how the category "human being" is defined is not strictly scientific. This is the structure of your argument:
1. A "human being" is an entity that is living, human, and possesses unique DNA from the mother and father. (a philosophical argument)
2. An embryo can be scientifically show to be living, human, and possessing unique DNA from the mother and father. (a scientific argument)
3. Therefore, the embryo is a human being. (a logical deduction)
#2 is true: the embryo can be shown to possess those characteristics. But #1 is a definition that is based on philosophical assumptions that not everyone shares (for example, James C. Peterson, the Chair of the Ethics division at McMaster University has an essay titled "Is a Human Embryo a Human Being?" in which he answers "no"). And it cannot be shown to be true by science. You assume without argument that 1 is true.
Nice syllogism. If premise #1 is incorrect please show it. Appealing to authority won’t cut it, especially a professional in ethics and not one in biology. Just out of curiosity if he is correct and the embryo is not a human being what exactly is it? Is it a dog or a goat or a dolphin? Having read these arguments before I can only assume your point will be that it is different because of it’s developmental state. If so, I think there might be a categorical error. For example, a puppy is a dog at a different development stage not a different species. Both puppy and dog are Canis lupus familiaris. My argument is an embryo is a human being at a different developmental stage. A human being and a human embryo are both Homo sapiens.
My point has been we should not determine human rights based upon a subjective definition of personhood but rather on the concrete definition of let’s say Homo sapiens. This seems to be the safest approach.
I do appreciate your patience in explaining your point so that I can understand where you are coming from. I think I am still stuck because I am not sure why you object to my definition or how it is exactly different from yours. If Human being does not equal Homo sapiens, something I think is scientifically determinable at any stage of development, then what is a human being?
I'm not appealing to authority to prove premise 1 is incorrect; I'm demonstrating that premise 1 is precisely the question being debated. Saying his opinion doesn't matter because he is not a biologist presumably discredits your opinion as well, in addition to being absurd. On the other hand, I do have advanced training in human biology; I'll have an M.D. from Johns Hopkins in a few months. Does that mean I'm right and you are wrong?
The question under debate here is: Does the embryo belong to a category--whether you call it person or human being is irrelevant--that gives it moral value? You enter the debate assuming without argument that it does and then proceeding with your argument on the basis of that assumption, thus engaging in circular reasoning. Your definition of human being is just as subjective as any definition of person is. And here's one problem with it: if your criteria for human being is "living, human, and possessing unique DNA from the mother and father," a definition you agreed with, then Hydatidaform moles--tumors that form from embryos--are human beings. And homo sapiens is just another word for human being, so substituting that word in does nothing to solve the problem.
One of my points has been that we disagree on definitions, I don’t believe that human being = person. I believe the definition of human being is self evident and I use DNA to prove scientifically one point that it is unique human from the mother. I think the DNA can confirm the self evident nature of my premise and gives us a concrete way to confirm and thus not circular.
However, you avoid answer the question, what do you think a human embryo is if it is not a human being?
Well that settles it then! Here we have this enormous debate raging among philosophers as to whether the embryo is a human being and here you come, with what credentials I'm not sure, saying the answer is self-evident! Because it has human DNA!
There's really no more to discuss at that point, other than noting that by that criterion every cell in the human body is a human being. I personally think the embryo is human life (as are all cells in the human body) but that it is special because it has the potential to become a human being, giving it an increasing amount of moral value as development proceeds in the womb.
It should be noted though that the majority of embryos (over 50%) spontaneously miscarry and are passed with the monthly menstrual flow. Since you believe embryos have the same moral worth as children, I'd be curious to know what you think about the fact that those who share your position, and presumably you yourself, evince no concern at all about studying and trying to address what would be the number 1 killer in history.
Or to pose another question--your position that embryos are humans requires you to believe that abortion in America is an atrocity with nearly ten times the lives lost as the Holocaust. And you think voting for Republicans and debating people online is a proportional and adequate response to a holocaust that has continued unabated for 40 years? To the slaughter of tens of millions of people?
Obviously the question is not settled. There are philosophers, ethicist, biologists and medical doctors on both sides of this debate. I have read from both sides and I think we should be able to follow the logic to the most rational conclusion simply based on the logic and not the credentials of the proponent of the view.
We are going in circles on the DNA issue. If I cut my finger off, I would not call the finger a human being. Yes it would have Human DNA but it is only a part of a Human being, or was if I cut it off. By self-evident I mean no one in their right mind would look at the finger and say look at the human being.
Here is a better explanation of the categorical error. When I use the term human being I mean to differentiate the being from a dog, cat, elephant or even dolphin. The term then seeks to differentiate an animal by the category of species. When I use the word embryo, adult, child, adolescent, or senior I mean to differentiate by the category of development of the being. You seem to be using the species category term of human being to apply it to a development level of a being to come up with moral worth definition.
I mentioned dolphin’s because there are those today who argue that dolphins are persons such as Thomas White, philosopher at Loyola Marymount University, who made the argument that dolphins aren't merely like people; they may actually be people, or he calls them, "nonhuman persons." His use of the term "nonhuman persons," seems to indicate the same categorical understanding I have and yet he would agree with you on the moral worth distinction for “person.”
Sorry, I am not a Republican and I don’t vote party line. I am curious where I could find your definition of person in the Bible. The Bible address philosophy and you say human being (person) is a philosophical question, so there must be something there. Even more curious to me is, do you think that God finds abortion morally good, bad or neutral?
Autobiographical point: I became pro-life in the 1970's before it was the consensus among evangelicals, and it was a Catholic who convinced me. I had not read Schaeffer. My point is that evangelicals entered the pro-life fold for a variety of reasons -- including philosophical. Perhaps several leaders on the Right joined the fold for the reasons mentioned in this article, but that is a historic curiosity and doesn't address the merits of the argument. The statement "with what credentials I'm not sure" strikes me as strange at best. We don't need credentials to render an opinion on this subject. No matter what his credentials are, Donald Hester's argument that the embryo is composed of human DNA is powerful. It seems to me that any doubt should favor the preservation of the embryonic life. Concerning the reference to the spontaneous miscarriage of 50% of all embryos, we should remind ourselves that a similar figure applied to the death of children in previous centuries. No reasonable person used that as justification for taking their life.
Yes but they would use that as a justification to try to save those lives, something which those who believe life begins at conception show no concern about. And again, if simply having human DNA makes something a human being, then every cell in our bodies is a human being. I only bring up credentials because Dinald had earlier summarily dismissed the opinion of a respected bioethicist because that person was not a biologist.
I am not sure how you know I have no concern for miscarriages. My wife and I lost our first child to a miscarriage, while not as emotionally taxing as having lost a child of let say a 10 year old, it was still a loss we mourned. That being said there is a difference between miscarriage and abortion in that one is intentional (a moral decision is made) verse something that is accidental.
My argument is NOT that DNA = human being. My argument is DNA can show the embryo is a human being without the need to appeal to philosophy. With DNA we can determine that 1.) An embryo is a human being and 2.) Distinct from the mother.
My other argument is the term ‘Human Being’ does not mean a development stage or moral value judgment on a life. Human being in the colloquial use and technical definition is a determination of species of animal.
It may have seemed like I was dismissing the credential, for that I apologize. What I was attempting to do was demonstrate the ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy. In my subsequent comments I clarified that no matter what an expert says we should be able to follow the logic of their arguments to determine the rationality of their claim.
BTW OP I appreciate your time in explaining your position. Through this discussion I think I better clarified my position. I also think it is important for people on both sides of this issue to discuss it without the tempers, accusations, malice, or divisiveness.