Senator Specter’s Snake Oil

Funky recently sent an email to Senater Arlen Specter regarding stem cells and cloning. He got the following response, which he forwarded to me. I was more than happy to fisk it for him. Senator Specter is a noted proponent of science and embryonic stem cell research in particular. As his letter to Funky indicates below, he should spend less time advocating and more time with a undergraduate-biology text, as he makes some very basic mistakes in describing what cloning is and is not. Presumably he sent similar letter to other constituents, and so fisking this mess of half-truths is even more important.

"Cloning and stem cell research have been topics of much debate over the past several months. Unfortunately, a key fact that sometimes gets lost in the rhetoric is that there are really two types of cloning: therapeutic cloning, which is not really cloning at all, and reproductive cloning."

Okay, therapeutic cloning is not really cloning, we’re going to have some words about that, but let’s see how this is developed first.

"I believe that human reproductive cloning is unethical, irresponsible, and dangerous. However, the other technique, which has been misnamed therapeutic cloning, is not what most Americans think of when they hear the word cloning. The entire procedure takes place in a petri dish, not in a person. Also, a sperm never fertilizes the egg. Most importantly, and unlike reproductive cloning, a baby is never born."

Specter considers birth and being fertilized by a sperm to be crucial factors in why therapeutic cloning is not morally wrong, which is curious to say the least.

First off, Specter makes an implicit error in describing cloning. He states that since reproductive cloning does not involve fertilization with sperm, it is not really cloning. WRONG. The whole idea with cloning is that you do not combine genes from different organisms (i.e., a male and a female) but take them from ONE organism. NEITHER reproductive nor therapeutic cloning use sperm, since that contradicts what a clone is supposed to be. For a supposed advocate of science research, this sort of mistake or ambiguity (Maybe he was trying to make some sort of different point? Maybe it was the intern’s fault?) is a disgrace.

Now let’s get into some other issues. At the end of the paragraph, we read that therapeutic cloning is okay because "a baby is never born". Well, once again, we hit the issue of abortion and when personhood begins.

We also see that because a child is not born, it is okay. Does this mean that we must spend some time in a uterus to have our humanity conferred upon us? What is the substance in the uterus or placenta that does that?

One of my pet peeves is that the "life begins at conception" position is called religious, whereas hand-waving type arguments such as "personhood begins at birth" are not, even though the latter cannot point to any significant, intrinsic change to organism that would make a believable difference in the organism’s moral status, whereas the conception benchmark can point to the establishment of an organism’s identity as a separate organism with its own genome.

Such arbitrariness finds its apotheosis in utilitarianism, where there is no real inherent personhood, just a relative weighing of everyone’s good. If more benefit from your demise than you would stand to gain from remaining alive, then you lose. Good night.

"On April 21, 2005, I, with Senators Dianne Feinstein, Orrin Hatch, Tom Harkin and Edward Kennedy introduced S. 876, the "Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act of 2005," which prohibits human cloning while preserving important areas of medical research. My bill would prohibit human reproductive cloning by imposing a criminal penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a civil penalty of at least $ 1 million dollars. "

So if we bring a cloned human embryo to term, we’re criminals, but if we kill it early, we can do important research and get Mr. Specter’s applause.

Ya know, people would sometimes attack pro-lifers for going on about "slippery slopes", but read this paragraph of Specter’s closely: it is no longer a matter of "choice" with what we do with our embryos, since now in the case of cloned embryos, Messrs. Specter and Kennedy want to make it mandatory for us to kill cloned embryos, because if we brought them to term, we’d face severe federal penalties. Where is the abortion rhetoric taking us now that our abilities to manipulate organisms are far more varied and powerful than in 1973, when the Supreme Court declared it open season on prenatal human life with Roe v. Wade?

Perhaps within a few decades, we will be able raise a human being from a fertilized egg to a full-term infant without the use of a uterus. Such a child would not be born, and so according to Specter’s letter, perhaps that child would not be a person. Can we do what we want with such children if they are vat-grown, so to speak, and not raised in utero?

"Over the past four years as both Ranking Member, and now Chairman, of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, I have convened and participated in 15 hearings at which scientists, patients, and ethicists have described the promise of stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, which is also known as nuclear transplantation. Most scientists strongly believe that this research has the potential to cure many of the most devastating diseases and maladies afflicting Americans today, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, severe burns, paralysis and many more. In testimony before my Subcommittee, scientists have estimated that over 100 million Americans are afflicted with diseases that may be treated or cured using what our scientists are learning from stem cell and nuclear transplantation research."

Education, I have convened and participated in 15 hearings at which scientists, patients, and ethicists have described the promise of stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, which is also known as nuclear transplantation. Most scientists strongly believe that this research has the potential to cure many of the most devastating diseases and maladies afflicting Americans today, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, severe burns, paralysis and many more. In testimony before my Subcommittee, scientists have estimated that over 100 million Americans are afflicted with diseases that may be treated or cured using what our scientists are learning from stem cell and nuclear transplantation research.

Okay, check out Do No Harm and see that adult stem cells are delivering the goods on many of those diseases in the here and now. Adult stem cells are technically simpler to harvest and manipulate–recall the KISS principle of engineering: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Alzheimer’s is a red herring for embryonic researchers: replacing the brain tissue will not necessarily replace the personality who originally got the dementia. Besides, if you do not focus on the amyloid plaque production that causes Alzheimer’s in the first place, trying to make new neurons and glial cells doesn’t make much sense.

With their ability to replace damaged cells and tissue, stem cells appear to be a veritable fountain of youth.

Ah, and folks like Specter think that pro-lifers are manipulative by playing on people’s guilt for killing fetuses, yet these guys make promises about fountains of youth when even big embryonic researchers, like the cloning researcher in South Korea, admit that any sort of human treatment may be a decade or more past the horizon.

In the meantime we are getting many adult stem cell treatments either in the market now, or in the FDA pipeline. How long before embryonic stuff even gets to the beginning of the FDA’s arduous testing?

For a quick fisking of embryonic research rhetoric, check out this First Things article.

"In their embryonic stage, stem cells show great promise for a wide range of therapeutic use, as they are capable of giving rise to any cell type in the body. If a person’s neurons have been damaged by Parkinson’s disease, the stem cells can be turned into brain cells and used to replace the patient’s damaged cells. If a patient has suffered heart damage, stem cells can be turned into heart cells and replace the patient’s damaged cells with new, healthy heart cells."

Again, already being done with adult stem cells, and without the risk of rejection from using foreign embryonic stem cells, or the baroque process of cloning one’s own embryos to create genetically identical stem cells. See my point about KISS above.

"Nuclear transplantation is one of the most promising techniques using stem cells. This technique combines a donated, unfertilized egg with the nucleus of a body cell from a patient. This creates an embryo that is genetically identical to the patient. Next, the cells divide and form a hollow ball of about 100 cells from which stem cells can be derived. These stem cells can then be turned into whatever type of cells the patient needs to repair damage done by injury or disease. Therapeutic cloning is not what most Americans think of when they hear the word cloning. Most importantly, and unlike reproductive cloning, a cloned baby is never born."

Which begs the question of abortion and personhood. The paragraph does describe the process of cloning and killing very well in a technical sense, but it does not solve any moral debates.

"This promise of this research is so great that 40 Nobel prize winners, over 100 patient advocacy groups, actors Michael J. Fox, Christopher Reeve, Kevin Kline, and former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter have written to Congress and the President pleading with us to ban reproductive cloning but allow nuclear transplantation and stem cell research to go forward. The legislation that I have introduced does exactly this. Importantly, my bill would allow medical research into nuclear transplantation, thereby allowing promising research towards cures for a vast array of disease to proceed. In addition, my bill would apply strict Federal ethical requirements to all nuclear transplantation research, which includes informed consent, an ethics review board, and protections for the safety and privacy of research participants."

Ah, so here were are trying to bank on some sort of inherent moral authority that Nobel prize-winners, actors, and politicians possess.

So if a scientist says that something is good, it must be so? History makes me skeptical, to say the least. Many scientists once advocated eugenics–the USA had a thriving eugenics movement that the Nazis used at a template for their own work, and eugenics was quite trendy until WWII and news of the Holocaust snapped people out of it. Where was the morality in that? What makes scientists more inherently ethical than others?

In short, using scientists as a sort of secular priesthood, or permitting any elite to define its own values and compel the public as a whole to follow these values without a broader dialogue and consensus is incompatible with a Republic. I wish that a Senator of all people could do better!

And why should I give a rat’s tail what a Hollwood actor thinks? Many Hollwood actors think that bad thoughts were implanted in us by an evil alien named Xenu, a la Scientology. At least Nobel prize-winners have actually done some real thinking about something at some point in their lives. They’re a less laughable authority than Hollywood.

I’ll do y’all a favor and not get started on Clinton. Former President Ford, I can understand, since from what I’ve heard he may be even clumsier than me, and no doubt wants a reliable supply of spare parts. Perhaps he could be turned around with some good demonstrations of existing non-embryonic technologies. :)

"Currently, it is unclear whether either bill has the votes needed to pass the Senate. I am hopeful, however, that Congress will be able to move ahead in banning reproductive cloning, while simultaneously establishing a regulatory group to oversee how the science of nuclear transplantation helps discover life sustaining cures. While some people consider research on human embryos inherently unethical, I believe that such objections might be outweighed if the research on nuclear transplantation was proven to be beneficial for the purposes of saving the lives of many Americans."

The same has been said for other controversial research before, and I feel ill that a Jewish person, of all ethnic minorities, can say this without a second thought. How quickly we forget!

Medical atrocities happen within the US; many people know about how poor rural blacks were used as guinea pigs in the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, but even more recently in the 1960s, a New York City facility (Willowbrook State School) deliberately infected mentally retarded patients with hepatatis as a research experiment.

But hey, syphilis and hepatitis are serious public health risks, so while you and I consider it unethical, it is in the public good, right? And it’s only retarded people and poor blacks, right? What were they going to do anyway?

"Again, thank you for bringing your views to my attention. Be assured that I will remain attentive to your concerns as the Congress grapples with this difficult, yet vitally important issue affecting so many lives. If you have any further questions on this issue or any related matter, please do not hesitate to contact me or visit my website, at http://specter.senate.gov. "

Oh, you’ll be hearing from us again, Mr. Senator…. Mwah ha ha ha! 😉

Update:

Here’s a news article relevant to this topic:

"Option to stem cells found: Pitt experts say placental cells offer palatable alternative"

"University of Pittsburgh researchers have discovered that one type of cell in the human placenta has characteristics that are strikingly similar to embryonic stem cells in their ability to regenerate a wide variety of tissues."

Comments 62

  1. dlw wrote:

    David, I see you now get to decide what the “essentials” are…. So the truth is finally out: the things we happen to disagree on are non-essentials, and the things we agree on are (happily) essentials… see, there’s no reason why we can’t get along?

    There’s no reason we can’t show Xtn unity despite our differences on this matter of both when we become human beings and what sorts of regulations ought “society” at large to have regarding when the termination of a life is illegal. After all our ability to show Xtn unity is what will display our Xtn love and they will know we are Xtns by our love, not by our zeal to make this city reflect our fallible understandings of the heavenly city.

    And yes, by the vincentian creed that which is essential to the faith is what all true Xtns have agreed on in all times and places and so if we are to include Augustine and Aquinas as true Xtns then we need to treat the belief as to when we should treat the unborn as a human being as a non-essential.

    I think the stalemate on the abortion issue has been poisoning our politics for the past thirty-some years and I am up to here with contempt for both sides for letting this go on.

    And You have hit the nail right on the head! Middle-mindedness is muddle-mindedness. The truth is out there, but why do SO MANY (well-meaning and oh-so-earnest) folks seem to think that it lies at the midpoint between two errors?

    Since when do I think it lies at the midpoint? The truth is that changing hearts is more important than changing laws, even laws that will save lives. As such, we must weigh all of our decisions of how to use our political capital with the question of whether this will set up or remove barriers to our ability to share the gospel with others. Standard pro-life activism has only set up barriers and that is why our generation needs to take up more leadership on this and the homosexual marriage issue to keep us from repeating the mistakes that were made in the past thirty-some years.

    There is more nobility in Planned Parenthood (hopefully you’ve all been filled in about their newest cartoon) than that. So it seems you have finally admitted that the position between two “sides” (which you claim to occupy) is actually itself… a side… and guess what? We’re back to exactly ground zero. There is no middle. Now the question is: what are you going to do with all that pent up contempt? I’d recommend a whip of cords! THAT would be useful…

    Your’e suggesting I whip myself or take on a messianic role in the temple? That’s not really funny or loving. It sure as gehenna doesn’t deal with the factual content of what I’ve been writing for you. Are you familiar with 1 John 4:5-7?

    They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

    Do you think you are evincing the spirit of truth by not listening to me? I’ve done my best to listen and respond to everything you’ve said. So help me God if I’ve failed in that regard.
    peace,
    dlw

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 4:02 am
  2. Jerry wrote:

    Wow, this snowballed just this afternoon. Here are some objections to previous posts by dlw. May not get to the rest of it before taking a long weekend off.

    DLW wrote: “We do not bemoan the loss of a couple of brain-cells. You
    Catholics do endorse/accept alcohol consumption, which inevitably ends up
    killing off some brain-cells I believe when it is consumed. Likewise, if
    we were made privvy to all of the many times when newly-formed zygotes
    were subsequently absorbed by the woman’s womb, we would not mourn the
    death the way we would a miscarriage in the 2nd or 3rd trimester. We are
    open to experiments on some of our brain-cells if it can provide good
    benefits for ourselves and others. Afterall, its not like we use them all
    and so we can spare a few.”

    1. You make a metaphysical and scientific error, in that you identify a
    part, i.e. brain cells, with a whole, that is, an entire organism. The
    death of brain cells in and of themselves is no more problematic than the
    death and shedding of your skin cells or the loss of baby teeth. It is not
    the death of an organism.

    2. You make a sort of epistemic error is saying that if we knew all the zygotes that miscarry that we would not mourn them as we would a 2nd or 3rd term miscarriage.
    First, let’s grant that you’re right about this assertion that we would not mourn so much for the death of a zygote or embryo, and you may well be. With that in mind, what you describe is a reflection of human
    emotions and the fact that we often need time to form bonds with
    people. I just learned that 123 Chinese miners are likely dead in an
    accident.

    I’m not getting particularly upset b/c I never knew them, does that mean
    their death is okay?
    Especially in a nation that professes the rule of law, one cannot
    conflate human emotion with objective worth. Unwanted minorities
    invariably suffer when we do so.

    DLW wrote: “It is a heresy in my book to say that it should be treated as a full human being just because some immaterial soul might be present.”

    You’ll note that I make no arguments to religious tradition in my post. I
    don’t see why I or anyone else should be bound by one person’s definition or heresy, *especially* if it just one person’s idea of heresy (which is how I understand the phrase “in my book”), and not even a church body’s! (In a nation of 280M people, that means that we can have as many as 280M “heresies” in theory, how would that work?) I’m not sure how a republic of any kind could sort that out.

    I don’t expect dlw or Theo to believe in the Real Presence or the
    Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, let alone think that we should compel
    such belief by force of law! I’d like the favor to be returned, if at all
    possible, regarding their religious beliefs (or lack thereof 😉 ).

    I’m also puzzled regarding something that dlw stated in his posting on
    “depoliticizing abortion”. You make reference to avoiding
    “theories of personhood”, but in this posting on Funky’s site, you accuse me and others of heresy regarding ensoulment. Sounds awfully like some theories are being used.

    For that matter, what about the competing theories that a slave is 2/3rds of a person and that a slave is a person and cannot be forced into
    involuntary labor? One of those propositions was originally in the
    Constitution, and the other was an amendment. Whose theory is right there?

    Or is purely a matter of who has the power to write the Constitution or
    add amendments?

    If we cannot argue about theories and how the apply to the world and
    whether one is more valid than the other, then what about any law? Is it
    just who has the power to enforce his or her world vision?

    And on a lighter note: Theo, how was your climbing expedition? :)

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 4:01 am
  3. theomorph wrote:

    There is a meaningful difference between an embryo and an adult of a species: development (protection, care, time, perhaps even some dumb luck). What’s not so careful about that thinking?

    What’s not careful about it is that you’re saying that on the one hand there’s a meaningful ontological difference between an embryo and an adult, but on the other hand each demands the same ethical obligation. Now, it’s certainly feasible to reasonably expect that two unequal (i.e., different) objects demand the same (or a similar) ethical obligation, but to do so you must derive that ethical obligation for different reasons; you must reason the same ethical end from two different beginnings. That is, you cannot say that two different things (in this case an embryo and an adult) both demand the same ethical obligation while maintaining that, yes, they are ontologically distinct, but without making two distinct ethical arguments.

    We have an excellent grasp on why the adult demands an ethical obligation of protection because most of the history of human ethical philosophy has concerned adult humans. We, as a species, have covered that ground well. What we have not covered is why an embryo—which is invisible to the naked eye and therefore counterintuitive as a locus of ethical obligation—demands protection. To say that the embryo demands the same protection as an adult because both are human begs the question of humanity. We know what humanity is in an adult, whether we can agree on a codified definition or not, we all behave according to an implicit recognition of other human beings. We do not experience that recognition in the case of an embryo, therefore “humanity” is clearly not the proper criterion for establishing the obligation of a protection ethic for embryos.

    My point is not that it’s impossible, unthinkable, illogical, or unreasonable to suppose that a protection ethic for embryos might be contrived, but rather that a suitable one has not yet been contrived, and running in circles by calling embryos “human beings” when they clearly do not manifest the same qualities that are clear to observers and have been considered in the historically established philosophies of human ethics will not do the trick. Regardless of the biological, developmental, or genetic connections between an embryo and an adult, the fact is that ethics are not primarily about the abstract ontological connections of an object, but about that object’s interaction with individuals who reflect upon it subjectively. That is, we did not develop the philosophical ethical obligation of “thou shalt not kill” because we recognized the genetic benefits of protecting members of our own species. Rather, it’s much more likely that the benefit is what led to the evolution of the recognition, which means we are “hard wired,” so to speak, to intuitively understand what another human is. Embryos do not fit that intuitive understanding, and must therefore have their ethical protection established according to a different standard, if at all.

    What I am suggesting, then, is not that embryos are naturally, intrinsically, or necessarily unworthy of protection, but rather that no argument I’ve heard for their protection addresses embryos as embryos. Instead, arguments for protecting embryos place them a priori into the ethical category of “human” without demonstrating their humanness as has been clearly observed in other “marginalized” groups whose numbers have been added to the sphere of “humanity” in recent centuries (e.g., women, dark-skinned people, children, etc.).

    As a kind of thought experiment, I propose that should we devise a quantum computer that achieves “artificial intelligence” on par with human intelligence, such an entity would be accepted into the ethical sphere of humanity rather quickly while the status of embryos remained controversial. Why? Because such an AI system would behave as a human where an embryo does not and cannot. In the establishment of ethics, abstract arguments from genetics and development cannot replace the concrete experience of interaction.

    At any rate, if I don’t comment for a couple days, it’s because I’m climbing a mountain in Yosemite National Park. 😉

    Posted 08 Aug 2005 at 5:41 am
  4. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    For the hammer, I suppose every problem is a nail.

    To the rationalist, every problem appears to be solvable by rational means. I suppose this is true even if the problem is rationality itself.

    To the materialist, every problem with a solution has an objective one.

    If you only “believe” things that that you are intellectually convinced of, then you are either a) an agnostic, or b) quite easy to convince (i.e., a dolt), and certainly not in either case c) excercising faith.

    In other matters, I’m not aware of any claim that revelation is immutable. Instead, I think it is rather… umm… relevatory…

    Augustine and Acquinas heretics? That’s a good one. Assuming your interpretation of them is correct (which I do not, btw, grant), then did they advocate or allow techniques that prevented natural conception and human development, the destruction of “zygotes” or “embryos”? Given that they thought spilling semen (filled with little babies) on the ground was equivalent to murder, I somehow doubt it. Heh… as I said… a good one. I’m sure people of old (even the very smart ones) had lots of very funny theories, but as you often and correctly say (but don’t seem to quite get), right practice IS entwined with right thinking. And in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is. And this truism is something that apparently Augustine and Aquinas did get. (Tho’ just for the record, neither of these Doctors of the Church ever proclaimed infallible teaching.) My point being merely: you can spot a false teaching often merely by its fruits, and surely MUCH more easily than by its intellectual antecedents.

    And I see now… we can save many unborn lives by pronouncing them (by sheer linguistic sophistry) not to be lives. Yep, that’ll woik.

    Cheers!

    Posted 12 Aug 2005 at 7:55 pm
  5. Jerry wrote:

    “As for the brain-cell, I said nothing about them getting confused with each other, just that Gerry’s implicit def’n used of a human organism would apply equally to all of our cells as well as the newly-formed zygote.”

    dlw, where did I implictly say this?

    BTW, it’s Jerry, not Gerry. :)

    Posted 09 Aug 2005 at 5:41 pm
  6. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Theo, you may be getting gbm3 confused with me… who, by long practice, knows better than to accuse you of utilitarianism 😉

    David, I see you now get to decide what the “essentials” are…. So the truth is finally out: the things we happen to disagree on are non-essentials, and the things we agree on are (happily) essentials… see, there’s no reason why we can’t get along? And I loved this bit:

    I think the stalemate on the abortion issue has been poisoning our politics for the past thirty-some years and I am up to here with contempt for both sides for letting this go on.

    And You have hit the nail right on the head! Middle-mindedness is muddle-mindedness. The truth is out there, but why do SO MANY (well-meaning and oh-so-earnest) folks seem to think that it lies at the midpoint between two errors? There is more nobility in Planned Parenthood (hopefully you’ve all been filled in about their newest cartoon) than that. So it seems you have finally admitted that the position between two “sides” (which you claim to occupy) is actually itself… a side… and guess what? We’re back to exactly ground zero. There is no middle. Now the question is: what are you going to do with all that pent up contempt? I’d recommend a whip of cords! THAT would be useful…

    Cheers!

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 2:06 am
  7. gbm3 wrote:

    “Funky recently sent an email to Senater Arlen Specter regarding stem cells and cloning.”

    Could you post that letter?

    Posted 05 Aug 2005 at 8:40 pm
  8. dlw wrote:

    Steve, one cannot dichotomize faith and reason, the two are intertwined. As I recall, Christian thought has long relied on both revealed and natural wisdom in the discernment of right conduct. As such, in deciding what we ought to do wrt the human zygote/embryo/fetus we ought to deliberate on scripture and our traditions and the facts about fetal development that are available to us today in ways that were not available in the past. You’re not a fideist or an ultramontanist? Can’t say I care much for those positions.

    I agree that our influence on macro stuff is limited, but it does exist and depends on our ability to develop stances that differ from the predominant positions in ways that hold true to our belief systems and will be persuasive for others. I mean political change is possible and it always starts with individuals and so why can’t we help to start or strengthen changes. From my studies, it seems that such does make a difference in setting up or breaking down barriers to our ability to share about our faith with others.

    As for the brain-cell, I said nothing about them getting confused with each other, just that Gerry’s implicit def’n used of a human organism would apply equally to all of our cells as well as the newly-formed zygote.

    cheers,
    dlw

    Posted 09 Aug 2005 at 5:11 pm
  9. dlw wrote:

    My apologies, yes, this was the view during the early church, as well. But there was a period in the middle when early-stage fetuses were not seen as human beings.

    I think it is worth mentioning that the abortions available during the early-church were quite dangerous and usually for the later stages(as I recall). As technology has changed, so has the precise nature of the ethical dilemma. And so I don’t see it settling as a precedent whether or not it is okay to take a morning after pill.

    dlw

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 4:52 pm
  10. theomorph wrote:

    I can see, theomorph, why you don’t see this. Without God, there is no point besides yourself: getting as much as you can here and making sure no one else takes it from you.

    That’s the kind of ridiculous comment that just feeds my dislike for all things Christian and theistic. You people seem to think you have it all together and that the rest of us are just selfish atomists drifting in existential meaninglessness or something. Then you get annoyed at me when I make generalizations. (And don’t even try to pull me on saying “you people” when you’ve gone and made just as broad and brash a generalization—which happens to be one I’ve heard many times from Christians. It’s getting damned old. Try being an atheist before you claim to know what’s in an atheist’s head.) As far as I’m concerned, that kind of comment is just about as close as it gets to being a discussion ender without actually eliciting palpable anger from me.

    If life does have a point, it’s certainly much bigger than just me. Rather, I am only one tiny individual in a vast sea of people more powerful than I, in a universe whose forces can overcome me so easily, and none of it is under my control. You don’t know me in my day to day life. You don’t know how I behave, how I interact with people, what sacrifices I make, whether I’m completely selfish, or anything. You’re just putting a “utilitarian” label on my comments (and inaccurately, I think, because you just want to have that label as a handle to whip me around and say rude things like the comment above).

    You can slam “utilitarianism” as much as you want, but I am dead sure that you are a smart guy who makes most of his decisions by rationally weighing options, costs, benefits, goals, and so on. (How the bloody hell else would you decide to leave Protestantism and head for the RCC? Just a feeling? Ha! You do way too much thinking about this stuff to claim that one. You thought it through in a rational and utilitarian manner, but you were considering spiritual utilities, rather than terrestrial ones.) You just don’t like to use that method on certain things, so people who do use that method, even just in philosophical reflection, you’re going to call selfish utilitarians.

    You can say all you want that I’m just being a utilitarian, but here I am, not reproducing or spreading illegitimate children around, or getting myself saddled with the responsibilities of child-rearing because I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. Is that your dreaded “utilitarianism” or is it just being responsible? Am I selfish for not reproducing like a freaking rabbit, since the biology is all ready to go? To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to bring kids into this world until I can give them a bigger push start than my parents were able to give me. I don’t think that’s selfish at all.

    And that crap about getting as much as I can and keeping others from getting it… yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I don’t live high on the hog. I don’t want to live high on the hog. I prefer to work a low-paying job that allows me to be a whole person with less stuff than a high-paying one that destroys my moral center and turns me into an automaton with lots of stuff. Yeah, real utilitarian. Real selfish. Because I try to cultivate the good things in myself and improve the level of discourse around me, because a civil society is better for everyone. Like your practice of Christianity is anything different. I try to be a better person, and so do you—you just say you’re doing it for God instead of yourself. Wow, big difference.

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 7:36 pm
  11. dlw wrote:

    Okay, so your will is made up…(is that what you were referring to?)

    You choose to align yourself with an organization that settles the matter for you, because there is no other rational means for it to be settled “objectively”.

    Is your will made up on whether the matter is a nonessential or essential one? You hold to the infallibility of Catholic Tradition, do you also hold to its immutability? How do you deal with the Church history that implies otherwise? How do you deal with heretics like Augustine and Aquinas who based their beliefs on when we become human beings on observation not past dogma? How do you deal with these people as your fellow Catholics whose approaches were more akin to mine, as I understand it?

    IMO, your fideism is just one approach to RCatholicism. More scholastic approaches, like mine, have deep roots in RCatholicism. IMO, even if rationalistic scholastic approaches are fallible and do not mandate complete agreement among devout believers, they can still be of value. And, it may be the relative lack of the use of reason on the scientific and political aspects of these difficult questions surrounding the beginning of life that have led for us to fail to save many unborn lives despite the exorbitant amounts of activism that we have poured into the matter. For isn’t right action(praxy) inextricably interwoven with right understanding(doxy)?

    cheers,
    dlw

    Posted 12 Aug 2005 at 5:56 pm
  12. gbm3 wrote:

    “And it is important to bear in mind that as they didn’t have access to the technology to observe the development of human life from conception on this is speculation.” -dlw

    They couldn’t see the zygote, however,

    “Now we allow that life begins with conception…” written A.D. 210.

    They knew that 2 human unit components (obviously not a human to start) had to unite to form an individual: this human eventually leaving the inside of a woman.

    They didn’t need 21st century technology to make that determination. In fact, they could make determinations about the result without seeing it, even from the beginning of its status as a separate individual.

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 7:29 pm
  13. dlw wrote:

    Sorry gbm,
    We see but through a mirror darkly on these sorts of issues and ought to be open to the leadings of the HS to modify our beliefs on non-essentials like this issue.

    We also need to remember that in apologetic exchanges with non-Xtns that better communication about differences and similarities is facillitated by respect, including not throwing your partner’s views into an urn and then ridiculing and dismissing the urn.

    dlw

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 10:19 pm
  14. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    David,

    First, it is not up to us to judge the presence of a soul. In fact, contrary to popular (even RCC) opinion, not even the RCC attempts to infallibly define when a soul exists in a human organism. Our job is simply to behave as if there is a soul, for there could be. We have no way of knowing. We will forever have no way of knowing whether there even is a soul, much less when it is “granted” to and individual.

    Second, my aesthetic judgements should be made law if enough people agree with them. Sadly, tho’ not surpisingly, not enough do. I’ve no idea what you mean by “I’m sure we’re all just killing some in our heads beating this dead horse over and over again.” The old “political capital” argument? Bah. It is a profound mistake to think that orthodox Christians can sit at modernity’s table and have any influence whatsosever–rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic is rather apt analogy in my estimation. Our capital must be spent on preserving families, communities, and local institutions, so that we’ll have something left with which to rebuild.

    Theo says:

    What I am suggesting, then, is not that embryos are naturally, intrinsically, or necessarily unworthy of protection, but rather that no argument I’ve heard for their protection addresses embryos as embryos.

    We have had millions of years to adjust to the idea of “people vaguely like myself, therefore with whom I can/must empathize”. We have had only seconds (on a geological scale) to adjust to the idea of “so when we start out we’re just a single cell”. It is possible that millions of years in the future we might “naturally” recognize “humanity” in that single cell. But it seems (today at least) impossible to to address embryos as embryos. So we address them as entities in whom there is potential, given a few short weeks of protection and care, to develop into entities that we can immediately recognize and possibly empathize. Suppose an adult suffered an accident (say gamma radiation) which turned him into a large blob of gelatinous goo (with the same DNA) and from which we could detect no brainwaves. Suppose further that medical technology had advanced to the point where it was feasible to “bring back” this person intact given a few weeks of ordinary and unremarkable care (e.g., keep in a barrel at 37C, adding electrolytes in proportion to mass, and stirring occasionally). Would we not think it our duty to provide this care? This seems perfectly analogous ethically to the question of the fertilized oocyte.

    Best regards

    Posted 08 Aug 2005 at 11:01 pm
  15. dlw wrote:

    I beg to differ. Newborns are full of movement, response, personality, desires, and all the stuff that makes people human. They also have faces like we have, hands, feet, voices (though not language), and so on. When I see an infant, I think “human person.” When I see a picture of a microscopic blastocyte, I think “clump of cells.” When I see a picture of a more developed fetus, I think “Gawd it’s creepy how much that thing looks like a stereotypical Hollywood alien.” (Incidentally, I’m not trying to be funny?that’s really what I think.)

    They are getting better at taping the actions/movements of the unborn. This goes well beyond just taking photos. I wouldn’t be so confident about how that can be used to draw the line. When I see photos, I can only see the human form, perhaps a bit out of proportion, but definitely human. I don’t think that’s subjective and if it is, I’d be willing to wager that we could eventually get more than 75% of US citizens to affirm the unborn at after 3 months as deserving to be a legally protected human person.

    “At issue I believe is whether we accept as suitable impressions made with the assistance of advanced technology that would be impossible for the naked eye.”

    There is also the issue that it’s incredibly easy to make a fetus, but incredibly difficult to raise a child.

    We’re not talking about per se making a woman responsible to carry a human zygote to term upon conception. We’re talking about identifying the decision to carry the unborn past a certain stage of pregnancy with a duty to carry her or him to term under normal circumstances.

    People can make fetuses at an extraordinary rate if they want to, and I personally think that if you’re looking to preserve “life,” protecting every single conception is not going to do anything but lead to problems like overpopulation.

    I think there are quite a few adequate means for birth control available and that we should strongly discourage the use of abortion for such a purpose if possible.

    Rather, seeing as how people copulate so freaking irresponsibly these days, I would rather see millions of fetuses flushed down the toilet than see millions of poorly parented children running in the streets of the neighborhood where I live and jumping in front of my car at all hours of the day and night (which I am not making up).

    Yeah, I agree that more needs to be done to provide for people’s children and I am sympathetic to the population pressure argument. I think it is natural and responsible for a family to limit its size. My own mother had her fallopian tubes removed after she gave birth to her fourth child. I think with education, woman can make these sorts of decisions along with their families.

    I liked what Lauren Winner wrote about all married couples needing to be open to having children, but not from every specific sexual act.

    As I’ve written before, my goal in this debate is both to prevent abortions and to depoliticize the issue so that more other issues like how we can better provide for people/children growing up in disadvantaged situations can be more important in our elections. I think the stalemate on the abortion issue has been poisoning our politics for the past thirty-some years and I am up to here with contempt for both sides for letting this go on.

    dlw

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 6:25 pm
  16. dlw wrote:

    the conception benchmark can point to the establishment of an organism’s identity as a separate organism with its own genome.

    I’d like to disagree with this. The newly formed zygote is not an organism by the standard def’ns of organism as given in Merriam-Webster Online, which are 1.a complex structure of interdependent and subordinate elements whose relations and properties are largely determined by their function in the whole, or 2. an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent.
    Thus, because it is not until the fifth week that we see organogenesis begin, according to scientific research, we cannot technically call the newlyformed zygote an organism, unless you want to use a nonscientific standard def’n of organism.

    Furthermore, the newlyformed zygote may have its own genome, but that is not what makes it unique as the twinning process proves. Its genome can become shared with another and its distinctness as an individual will eventually be based on its genome and experiences both within and outside the womb.

    I see cloning as a replication of what happens naturally with twins. The real issue is when the unborn human fetus/zygote should be a legally protected person. I believe as a christian that to have human dna, be biologically alive is not sufficient to be a human being, as all of our cells fit these requirements. The additional criterion of “potential” is a necessary, but not sufficient criterion. I think what determines whether something is a human being is its soul, understood as referring to the totality of their being. We recognize this by the observance of the physical development of the embryo. It is only at the 48th day of pregnancy, shown here, that the embryo takes on the human form. It is not good enough to look at the arms or legs. The determination needs to be based on the totality of the human zygotes form.

    Yet, I also don’t believe that we can expect to make law what we Xtns believe to be right and that all attempts to change the law risks endangering the loss of our autonomy from state(something the RCC has been quite fallible with historically) and that is why I don’t think it is wise to try and aim to extend legal personhood any earlier than the end of the first trimester for the foreseeable future. I have my own idea for how we can gradually work toward this point that I am still awaiting constructive criticism from Funky and Gerry, regarding.
    cheers,
    dlw

    Posted 07 Aug 2005 at 10:58 pm
  17. Funky Dung wrote:

    For those interested, the letter can be found at SBA List.

    Posted 05 Aug 2005 at 9:55 pm
  18. gbm3 wrote:

    BTW, **off topic**, I read that “potions” in the Didache is more accurately translated as oral contraception.

    Sample:
    “Again, scholars link such phrases as ‘practice magic’ and ‘use potions’ with artificial birth control.” http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/HISTCONT.HTM

    I read somewhere (can’t find ref) that there was a plant in the Roman Empire that was so overused as “the pill” that it went extinct. Although, don’t quote me on that.

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 2:17 pm
  19. dlw wrote:

    I don’t think I’ve read that yet.

    I started reading a document with a latin name from the pope on abortion at the request of a catholic friend, but it was so long and it seemed to start off with the implicit premise that there was no distinguishing between the fetus animatus and inanimatus and then linked the issue to a whole host of other issues.

    I doubt that the interpretations were literal as understood by the original audience, inasmuch as abortion is not a pressing issue for a nomadic/agrarian-based society where there is always a need for another hand to help. The only people that would possibly demand abortions were prostitutes. And of course, the ancient hebrews didn’t exactly observe the human zygote/embryo and so I doubt the text was meant to settle the issue at hand.

    I will agree strongly about the cultural condemnation of the sorts of homosexual acts that were prevalent in the surrounding societies. I am very skeptical about whether the notion of a homosexual orientation was part of the OT or NT world-view. Based on my studies of the scientific findings on this, I find some validity in the notion. But I think it is more accurate to say that homosexuality is both chosen and not chosen, with our sexual orientations not being based on genetics, but likely the hormonal-balance formed in our brains while we are fetuses. It also seems that our orientations are not immutable but not easy to change either. The person needs to be highly motivated and have a very supportive community to have a good chance of changing and I don’t see anyway people can be pressured into that sort of thing. I don’t see the Bible as settling how the Church should minister to people with homosexual orientations. I think that if we can permit divorcees to remarry that we can permit couples with homosexual orientations that cannot change and do not have the gift of lifelong celibacy to marry so long as the union aspires to emulate the Xtn ideal of marriage in all other respects. And I should also mention that I think it is biblical for the male couples to be requested to abstain from anal intercourse.

    As for masturbation, I think the root of the issue is what Jesus taught about the need to avoid mental adultery. One can commit mental adultery without masturbating and so it is possible to masturbate without committing mental adultery. Though, I would agree on the need for self-discipline regarding masturbation as a guard against mental and physical adultery.

    Its not like I think I’m smarter than Pope John Paul, I just stand on different shoulders than he does. Shoulders that may not be able to trace a clear line of descent back to the original disciples, but such is life.

    dlw

    Posted 12 Aug 2005 at 11:08 pm
  20. Funky Dung wrote:

    It was a canned letter written by either Grassfire, SBA List, or someone similar. I’ll try to dig it up.

    Posted 05 Aug 2005 at 9:47 pm
  21. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    David asks:

    But why is your mind so made up?

    To which I respond: Aaaaarrrgghhh! 😉 That is precisely the thing I was not saying (and actually went to great pains to avoid even the impression of having said it). Go back. Re-read. Recompute. Then respond–not to what you thought I said, but to what I actually said.

    Brinksmanship, eh? Interesting…

    Cheers!

    Posted 12 Aug 2005 at 4:50 am
  22. Funky Dung wrote:

    “Now, maybe I am wrong to raise
    such questions at Ales Rarus, inasmuch as this is an evangelical
    Catholic blog. My apologies if that is the case. But for me, I see
    the issue in question as wrapped around fundamental issues of
    ecclesiology and the meaning of the soul/imago-dei and that is why I
    raised those issues in the defense of my non-Catholic Christian view.”

    So long as you avoid ad hominem attacks and profanity, feel free to raise whatever questions you like. In my view, blogging is utterly worthless if it doesn’t generate intelligent conversation and opportunities for learning and expansion of horizons.

    Posted 12 Aug 2005 at 3:16 am
  23. dlw wrote:

    I promise not to ad hom Steve and not to say anything about his mother, either ;). I don’t allow profanity on my blog, either.

    I’m glad to hear you’re cool on keeping the conversation going…

    dlw

    Posted 12 Aug 2005 at 3:36 am
  24. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    If we could observe the human species from a non-human perspective with sufficient scanning technology, then yes, the hypothetical advanced aliens would recognize the fertilized oocyte as human. Our watchers would see that the embryonic stage is simply one of several crude (more less arbitrarily defined) stages of normal development of humans, a stage from which, if the embryo, then zygote, then foetus, then toddler, then child, is given ordinary care and protection will experience “human life” in much the same way that we adult humans experience it.

    When human life begins is not a hard question at all. When a human life ought to be accorded care and protection is the “difficult” one, at least when according care and protection to such a life interferes with the convenience or pleasure of another.

    I doubt very many of us finds “identity [merely] in being a separate organism within our genome”, but I think it is fair to say that those of us allowed to live into adulthood can, as members of a species that has developed strong senses of community and empathy, identify an individual at an earlier stage of development as being one of us.

    Posted 06 Aug 2005 at 7:08 am
  25. saladin1175 wrote:

    There is no god but Allah:

    And Allah is his name

    He wears Gorblimey trousers

    And he doesn’t like the rain

    Posted 12 Aug 2005 at 12:17 am
  26. dlw wrote:

    Steve, it is true that much of Protestantism denies the inevitable role of tradition based on the fact that the Bible does not provide for us Xtns an exhaustive definite blueprint for right conduct in every conceivable ethical situation. We have been infected by the naive realism and scientism of the Enlightenment and espouse it with heavy doses of evangel-speak.

    But I don’t see this as intrinsic to Protestantism(sola scriptura does not mean rejection of the importance of tradition, just a reassertion of the fallibility of tradition; with the manner in which ecclesial governance is organized being a matter of fallible tradition), just as I don’t see the extreme concentration of ecclesial governance within the RCC as intrinsic to them but rather a product of historical circumstances, in their case the sudden reduction of the centers of Xty from 9 to 2 caused by the rise of Islam.

    Perhaps the HS will lead us to find a new consensus, or perhaps there will be a range of acceptable views. My beliefs stand on the belief that our past development of our traditions on this difficult matter have not been teleologically led by the HSpirit and so we should be open to changing our views on it since it is a non-essential matter. It shouldn’t have to kill us to alter the exact specifics of what we believe on this issue.

    And some of the means by which the HSpirit moves within the Church and forms new understandings for how we should govern ourselves is through: prayer, deliberations on scripture and our traditions and the world that God has created.

    You write that the protection of human life is a settled question for the Church. I think the better frame is the continued authority of the commandment not to kill. What is at issue is the right understanding of what is a human life. As I’m sure you know, your “Church” has differed historically on what this should mean. It has only been in the more recent centuries that all abortion has become viewed as murder. Now, I agree that the earlier views were wrong(in conclusion and perhaps motives), but I don’t think their methodology was wrong in that they considered both natural and revealed revelation in making their fallible judgements about what should be considered right conduct. I mean with all due respect, protestant scholasticism was a continuation of a very catholic approach to Xty. You can’t shoot it down without rejecting a good deal of Catholic tradition as well. (Oh, but we know Tradition in Catholicism is equally authoritative with Scripture and never changes! Yeah, right!)

    And so I don’t see the Transcendent as being at stake here, but rather ecclesial claims to have bottled a more potent version of the transcendent for its members. And I’ll admit that I have been influenced by the enlightenment and the importance of the use of reason as a tool in the discernment of right conduct. That is part of the reason I could never convert to the RCChurch despite the aspects of it I find attractive, because I see no contrition for how it has presided over the serious decline of Xty in much of Europe or denied significant native participation in ecclesial governance in much of the Latin Americas and seriously marginalized female participation in ecclesial governance as well.

    We do not bemoan the loss of a couple of brain-cells. You Catholics do endorse/accept alcohol consumption, which inevitably ends up killing off some brain-cells I believe when it is consumed. Likewise, if we were made privvy to all of the many times when newly-formed zygotes were subsequently absorbed by the woman’s womb, we would not mourn the death the way we would a miscarriage in the 2nd or 3rd trimester. We are open to experiments on some of our brain-cells if it can provide good benefits for ourselves and others. Afterall, its not like we use them all and so we can spare a few.

    I don’t see why the same view cannot be held for the newly-formed zygote or when it reaches 25-50 cells and may be used for stem-cell research where useful. It is a heresy in my book to say that it should be treated as a full human being just because some immaterial soul might be present. This is not the hebraic conception of soul. Potential is a necessary, but not sufficient criterion for something to be treated as a human being.

    cheers,

    dlw

    Posted 09 Aug 2005 at 10:27 pm
  27. Funky Dung wrote:

    DLW,

    have you read Theology of the Body or Love and Responsiblity by JPII? I think if you did, you’d see how Catholic teachings on sexual matters are part of a large and consistent whole. JPII’s exploration of Genesis makes pronouncements against abortion, masturbation, homosexuality, divorce, etc. make a lot of rational sense. I think you’ll appreciate that it’s based on the literal interpretation of Scripture that you admire.

    Posted 12 Aug 2005 at 9:55 pm
  28. theomorph wrote:

    If we could observe the human species from a non-human perspective with sufficient scanning technology, then yes, the hypothetical advanced aliens would recognize the fertilized oocyte as human.

    What is “human”? Noun or adjective? If you had a disembodied brain from a member of Homo sapiens and you pointed to it and said “human,” what would you mean? Do you mean “That brain is human,” “That brain came from a human,” or “That brain is part of a human”? If parts are “human,” and embryos are “human,” then you’re still left with an existential and experiential category which is the psychological human with self-consciousness that is distinct both from parts and embryos. What is that?

    Posted 07 Aug 2005 at 2:04 am
  29. dlw wrote:

    I will agree that it is a valid statement under certain very vague def’ns of organism. I would alter my previous post to say that I think that it is a potentially misleading word-choice given the ambiguity associated with the term organism.

    But basically all the statement under scrutiny then says is that the newly-formed zygote has its own human dna and is a living thing. And that is precisely why it is not obvious that it is a human being.

    Steve, I have to disagree. I think that all lines based on autonomy or size or potential are arbitrary. Yet, our ability to first recognize ourselves in the other(human zygote) is decidedly not arbitrary. Take a look at the earlier stages and see how non-human they look like by contrast to all of the subsequent stages of development.

    I think there is a reason why prolife advocates only show the hands and feet of zygotes after a week. Those are the only parts that look human at that point. To truly judge the presence of a soul, one needs to deliberate on the entirety of something’s existence. According to Christos Yannaras(see Orthodox Anthropology) the proper Xtn understanding of soul is the way in which life is manifested in a person, the whole person, which is expressed by the body, which corresponds to our ego(identity) to the way in which we realize life.

    And so even if you still think the determination of when we become human beings is a purely aesthetic judgment, one cannot insist that your aesthetic judgment be made law and to rule over all others. I mean there are just so many human organisms out there and I’m sure we’re all just killing some in our heads beating this dead horse over and over again.

    dlw

    Posted 08 Aug 2005 at 5:18 am
  30. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    At the risk of continuing to encourage you here, David, I will respond to the more egregious or interesting bits…

    Rationality or reason is just the consistent application of the rules of grammar.

    Hmmm… Well then using grammar, prove that the square of the length of the hypoteneuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the legs. Or restricting yourself to grammar alone, propose a model of atomic structure that predicts the interactions of the chemical elements under standard temperature and pressure.

    we are human beings and that we do become human beings at a particular point

    I am, for the record, sick of the crockin’ load of bullshit. I know you’ll complain and write ream upon ream about how I am wrong and how I must bow to your superior intellectual understanding of science or dictionaries or moral philosophy or any of the above, but a fertilized oocyte is human (as distinct from other genomes) and it is an organism (as distinct from mere organs). We differ on whether such an entity deserves any or some rights to protection and care, but we ought not play fast and loose with English grammar for mere rhetorical gain.

    Who said I only “believe” things that I “understand”.

    Well, certainly not I. You’ve managed again to object to the thing which I did not say.

    Well I’m just a protestant seminary student but last I read, the proper ideal hermeneutic for understanding the Bible is the literal one as it would have been understood by the original audience.

    Heh. Assuming facts not in evidence: 1) that there actually is a “proper ideal hermeneutic”, and 2) that we might agree on it.

    And we must test teachings wrt the Bible as understood from a Hebraic worldview.

    Ditto.

    I don’t see what sorts of fruits you are pointing to to justify the falseness of their [Church Fathers’] teachings

    In the interest of charity, I was attempting to note that Augustine and Aquinas were right about Christian practice (not unnaturally interfering with human reproduction) even tho’ their theories (about a few things) may have been absolute bunk. By contrast, here you are with all these very rational and compelling arguments, but in advocacy of a practice which destroys human organisms. Faith and practice are essentially synonymous. Neither is a synonym for theology (which is, at best, human theorizing).

    It is the rival dogmatism between conservative and liberal fundamentalism that has made the politics of abortion persist in a stalemate for more than thirty years.

    Ah. Now this is telling… but I am not surprised. You, like most muddle-headed “moderate” evangelicals see the enemy as various fundamentalisms. Like most evangelicals you probably narrowly escaped it, and therefore, like a recovering alcoholic, detest it so much more. For had you been a permanent victim of fundamentalism, you would have born scorn for your silly, irrational, anti-intellectual, fideistic beliefs, been seen as uncool by the hip and relevant Christians, and been paralyzed from “reaching” a world that would see your beliefs as “scary”. But you’ve outgrown that now. Welcome to adolescence. I say the problem is not and has never been too much fundamentalism, but rather too little of it.

    Best regards

    Posted 13 Aug 2005 at 6:01 am
  31. gbm3 wrote:

    “It has only been in the more recent centuries that all abortion has become viewed as murder” -dlw

    Actually, the RCC has viewed abortion as morally unacceptable since the Didache (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04779a.htm; c. 100 AD book of the Church before the Bible was cannonized in the 300’s).

    “The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child” (Didache 2:1?2 [A.D. 70]). http://www.catholic.com/library/Abortion.asp

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 1:18 pm
  32. theomorph wrote:

    My point is not to pin particular criteria to the definition of “human” but to show that even if you’re going to call an embryo and an adult both “human,” there is still a meaningful difference between the adult and the embryo, and ignoring that difference with the gloss term “human” and applying the same ethical standard to both under that banner is hardly careful thinking about an issue that is clearly important to many people on both sides of the argument.

    Posted 07 Aug 2005 at 6:35 pm
  33. dlw wrote:

    I’m glad you are listening, I’m sorry you think that I’m only introducing facts not in evidence.

    I know we don’t both belong to a religious organization that considers the Vincentian creed to be authoritative. I view it to be common sense and a proper frame for debating about what should be essential and nonessential. It is the base for why I believe the precise moment of when we become human beings is a nonessential matter. I agree that there is some ambiguity in the interpretation of who are true Xtns, but I offered examples on the matter at hand that I thought we could both agree were true Xtns.

    I’m sorry if your offended by my use of X for Christ. Its a blogging short-hand and should not be seen as diminishing the referent in any manner.

    At ANY RATE, you are right to point out that unity is a sign of love… but WE DON’T HAVE UNITY HERE! So pretending it is so doesn’t make it so. There is one church, one faith, one baptism, one Lord. To me, unity means submission to (giving up one’s intellectual veto power over) that one church/faith &c. And we’re not going to have unity by everyone just getting together and emasculating the hell out of the word “unity” so that it can be something we can pretend to have…
    We can still have a unity that transcends our disagreements on these issues. IMO, a lot of historic disagreements between protestants and catholics are based on stuff that people thought were important a long time ago and a good deal of it was politics/economics. I appreciate my friendships with my catholic friends and what I learn from them. I admire aspects of the RCChurch. I doubt sincerely that they are the one true church as the RCChurch’s works/traditions seem only to work (inspire committed belief and changed lives) when they are a minority
    church.

    And as I understand it, the unity of the RCC is more ecclesial/structural/sacramental than anything. Within the faith there is an incredible amount of theological diversity, not unlike that found among the many different sects of protestantism.

    Charity demands the perfection of its object. Ooh, I think it wrong to expect any of us to get perfection right. An openness to dialogue and to alter our views/behavior on stuff that convicts the hearts of fellow believers and that end up convicting our own heart seems more reasonable.

    You will not believe Christian teaching (all Christian teaching prior to 1930 BTW) on contraception. I do not know WHY you will not… you may have the best motives, but yet, you will not. Therefore the problem is with your will, not with your mind… and I am responding accordingly–intentionally trying to yank you away from this superegoistic way of handling things, which again I consider to be the actual problem and quite far from the solution.

    Thankyou for concern. I see contraception as a matter of tradition, inasmuch, as I understand it, the Bible doesn’t deal with the problem of fertility in a non-agriculture-based society with child-labor laws. As I understand it, prior to the Protestant-Catholic schism the view was that the Church relied on both Scripture and Tradition for its teaching and role in society and, unlike Scripture, Traditions were fallible and subject to change some.

    And so the fact that most church teachings prior to 1930 were opposed to all artificial forms of contraception does not entail that we should oppose such as well. As mentioned earlier, I like the view that all Xtn couples should be open to having children, but not with every sexual act, which doesn’t imply that scheduling periods of abstinence for the sake of spiritual discipline is not also a good idea.

    Now it may be that you are NOT the one in error and that it is ME who is in error on this subject. Then the exact same rules of charity apply. No amount, no conceivable amount of argument, no amount of cleverness, no amount of trickery will change my mind because…. MY WILL is made up on the matter, just as yours is. So here we are. Enlightenment rationalism fails us. We can choose to live together peaceably and not kill each other, we can even agree to do business, we can even agree to cooperate in actions upon which we agree… BUT if one of us wants to convince the other about human life & contraception, rational arguments cannot work… which is why I recommended a whip of cords… or a baseball bat in pinch.

    But why is your mind so made up? As stated before, I’ve given my understanding of why this is a nonessential issue based on an accurate understanding of Xtn history that I think we can both agree on. If something is nonessential then why should we be so dogmatic on changing our minds on it? And why do we need to put down the arguments given for alternative views as trickery? I’ve actually changed my precise view on this topic a number of times over the past three years since I first started writing and debating about it extensively. It may change again. I believe in eschatological infallibility when it comes to matters of tradition as is the case with this issue.

    if you want to find common cause with pro-lifers, don’t go ’round assaulting the prolife view. If you want to find common cause with committed Catholics, don’t go around assaulting the Infallibility of Church Tradition…. unless you have a baseball bat… because in the end, they think they’re right and you think you’re right and that’s that… and if you pretend that no one is right, or that it is impossible to be right, then that is reflective of an even worse intellectual malady.

    Does the value of RCChurch Tradition(s?) stand and fall with its infallibility? I would hope not. Now, maybe I am wrong to raise such questions at Ales Rarus, inasmuch as this is an evangelical Catholic blog. My apologies if that is the case. But for me, I see the issue in question as wrapped around fundamental issues of ecclesiology and the meaning of the soul/imago-dei and that is why I raised those issues in the defense of my non-Catholic Christian view.

    In honesty I don’t see your view as per se prolife. I see it as pro every newly-formed zygote is sacred. And I see this view as having historically caused more harm than good as far as redirecting the sword of the state to save unborn and born human lives. IMHO, It is the unquestioned preponderance of this belief among many Xtns that makes resolving the politics of abortion so difficult. It is because of the vehemence with which both sides hold their beliefs(as you have well illustrated) and the chasm between them that there is an unwillingness to trust the other side in making compromises.

    I’m sorry to sound uncivil… but that is rationally how I see it: We’re treading beyond of the bounds of rationality here. And only a fool would think that rationality can solve all problems… if it even solves any (important ones) remains to be seen.
    Rationality provides correct inference on the implications of beliefs. We are still responsible for what beliefs we base our lives/mission to the world upon. I do not see compelling evidence that RCChurch traditions have yielded more fruit in the fulfillment of the great commission than alternative traditions. That belief that we ought to missiologically center ourselves as Xtns around the great commission undergirds my faith. I do not need an infallible authority/method/ecclesial body in this regard. I need to be part of a Xtn community and held accountable by it for what I believe and I how I live out my life/faith.

    Only a fool would think that arguing this matter is going to do any good. The only good to be had in any of this is a nice, cathartic ass-whoopin.

    I believe in miracles and for me, the miracles that count most are changed hearts/minds/lives. That can include the minds/lives of my fellow Xtns. I have been a Xtn since I was seven and I thank God every day for the ways my faith has matured from the dispensationalism/stoicism that I came to believe as a child. And I’m still open to changing my mind some on other nonessentials. This seems like common sense to me and so I get puzzled by when others resort to brinksmanship on these sorts of issues.

    thanks for the two cents again :). I think I can buy a candy-bar thanks to you now.
    dlw

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 10:18 pm
  34. theomorph wrote:

    Geez. I leave for a couple days and the discussion gets way more complicated. I don’t have time to wade into this one right now. . .

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 3:34 am
  35. dlw wrote:

    Ignatius was not infallible. He, like many of the early fathers was influenced by greek philosophy which was often quite at odds with the hebraic world-view of Jesus. And it is important to bear in mind that as they didn’t have access to the technology to observe the development of human life from conception on this is speculation.

    I think my point that later Church leaders, like Augustine and Aquinas, made it official policy that conception was not when we become human beings still stands. Augustine was opposed to all abortions and contraception because as a sex-addict he thought that sexual intercourse was intrinsically evil and only justifiable if for the purpose of procreation.

    dlw

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 6:54 pm
  36. dlw wrote:

    For the hammer, I suppose every problem is a nail.

    To the rationalist, every problem appears to be solvable by rational means. I suppose this is true even if the problem is rationality itself.

    To the materialist, every problem with a solution has an objective one.

    Rationality or reason is just the consistent application of the rules of grammar. It is an inevitable key ingredient in communication. It is the communication part that is important for me, coupled with my belief that Xtn traditions are only eschatologically infallible and must rely on revealed and natural wisdom.

    Its not a matter of materialism, but rather one of moral realism. This includes the belief that we are human beings and that we do become human beings at a particular point and so our spirit-led deliberations should ultimately be led to center around the “objective” truth.

    If you only “believe” things that that you are intellectually convinced of, then you are either a) an agnostic, or b) quite easy to convince (i.e., a dolt), and certainly not in either case c) excercising faith.

    Who said I only “believe” things that I “understand”. I believe in the second coming and that we will all be raised like Xst from the dead, but I don’t have a clue how that is going to happen and I don’t believe that it’s going to be in some immaterial heaven or on some cloud, but that our earth is going to be renewed somehow, yet another thing I don’t understand. I believe these things because they are part of the revealed wisdom in the Bible.

    I do not believe the newly-formed zygote is a human being because this is a tradition of men and I think we Xtns should avoid teaching as doctrine the precepts of men.

    In other matters, I’m not aware of any claim that revelation is immutable. Instead, I think it is rather… umm… relevatory…

    Well I’m just a protestant seminary student but last I read, the proper ideal hermeneutic for understanding the Bible is the literal one as it would have been understood by the original audience. There also are allegorical interpretations, but those unfortunately can be too easily twisted into making the text seemingly say something that is utterly foreign from what the authorial intent was.

    I would agree that revelation did not stop with the Bible, but that we shd treat prophetic insights that have occured since the canon was closed differently. And we should treat the deuterocanonical texts properly as secondary texts of some value as they were treated before the Protestant-Catholic schism.

    And we must test teachings wrt the Bible as understood from a Hebraic worldview. That’s why if the view the newly-formed zygote shd be treated as a human being is based on a notion of soul that treats the soul as immaterial and fundamentally unobservable then I think it is founded on bad theology. That notion of soul is more greek than it is hebraic. The hebraic notion of soul was far more holistic and consisted of the entirety of our beings.

    Augustine and Acquinas heretics? That’s a good one. Assuming your interpretation of them is correct (which I do not, btw, grant), then did they advocate or allow techniques that prevented natural conception and human development, the destruction of “zygotes” or “embryos”?

    Do they have to advocate for such techniques if they denied that we are human beings at conception? As I mentioned before there have been historically differing beliefs in the Catholic church. I believe Augustine opposed all forms of preventing a pregnancy because he believed that sexual intercourse was an evil that can only be justified if it is done for the purpose of procreation. That is a very different justification than the belief that the newly-formed zygote is a human being or fetus animatus.

    Given that they thought spilling semen (filled with little babies) on the ground was equivalent to murder, I somehow doubt it. Heh… as I said… a good one. I’m sure people of old (even the very smart ones) had lots of very funny theories, but as you often and correctly say (but don’t seem to quite get), right practice IS entwined with right thinking.

    Yeah, and the passage being referenced by the spilling of semen did not condemn masturbation as a sin, but rather the failure of the man to carry out his legal duty to give the wife of his dead brother children to take care of her.

    Men who lack the gift of celibacy should not take such a vow and such a vow should only be taken in the context of a community where thorough accountability is provided. A lot of bad sexist theology seems to have stemmed from such situations.

    And in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.
    In theory, all practice reflects a theory but in practice many are quite noncognizant of the theory that underlies their “common sense” accepted practices.

    And this truism is something that apparently Augustine and Aquinas did get. (Tho’ just for the record, neither of these Doctors of the Church ever proclaimed infallible teaching.) My point being merely: you can spot a false teaching often merely by its fruits, and surely MUCH more easily than by its intellectual antecedents.

    See, they were just as much heretics as I am ;). I don’t see what sorts of fruits you are pointing to to justify the falseness of their teachings. Presumably one can have some false teaching and other not-so-false teachings and intellectual midgets like us would be wise to avoid making such sweeping statements about intellectual giants like them.

    And I see now… we can save many unborn lives by pronouncing them (by sheer linguistic sophistry) not to be lives. Yep, that’ll woik.

    We don’t need to claim to have an infallibe base for what we believe about when we become human beings to act to save unborn lives and prevent abortions. If we have that sort of humility and let it affect how we treat our opponents on this matter, we will find that it is easier for us to compromise. It is the rival dogmatism between conservative and liberal fundamentalism that has made the politics of abortion persist in a stalemate for more than thirty years.

    How we understand our position and portray it to our opponents will make a difference in whether we can end the standoff and move on to giving other issues more weight in our political activism.

    cheers,
    dlw

    Posted 12 Aug 2005 at 9:41 pm
  37. dlw wrote:

    huy,
    1. You make a metaphysical and scientific error, in that you identify a
    part, i.e. brain cells, with a whole, that is, an entire organism. The
    death of brain cells in and of themselves is no more problematic than the death and shedding of your skin cells or the loss of baby teeth. It is not the death of an organism.

    You’re missing my point. The brain cell, like any other cell from the human body, can live for a period on its own(as we can live in its absence) and it fits the same criterion for being a human organism as you used for the newlyformed zygote. The death of a human organism is not problematic or tragic. Its not a matter of identifying a part with the whole, but rather that your def’n of the whole initially is quite vague.

    2. You make a sort of epistemic error is saying that if we knew all the zygotes that miscarry that we would not mourn them as we would a 2nd or 3rd term miscarriage.
    First, let’s grant that you’re right about this assertion that we would not mourn so much for the death of a zygote or embryo, and you may well be. With that in mind, what you describe is a reflection of human emotions and the fact that we often need time to form bonds with people. I just learned that 123 Chinese miners are likely dead in an accident. I’m not getting particularly upset b/c I never knew them, does that mean their death is okay? Especially in a nation that professes the rule of law, one cannot
    conflate human emotion with objective worth. Unwanted minorities invariably suffer when we do so.

    It is true that our lack of mourning for them could only reflect our limited awareness of their existence, or it could also reflect a belief that we are the way we are not by chance mutation but also by the guidance of God. In which case God meant for the females womb naturally to absorb a significantly rather large portion of the zygotes that get formed in it. In fact this may reflect God’s will since we know God opens and closes women’s wombs(Gen 20:18, 30:2).

    We know that our very own high estimation of the sanctity of human life stems from God so can we expect for God to design the world so that so many “human beings/organisms” would die so needlessly? Or maybe it makes more sense if they are not “ensouled” at that very early stage and should not be mourned any more than the death of a brain cell?

    You’ll note that I make no arguments to religious tradition in my post.

    I don’t see why such should be off limits. Our beliefs about when the human zygote/embryo/fetus should be treated as a human being is fundamentally a matter of religious tradition. And religious tradition should be open game for apologetic debate among Xtns, IMHO.

    I don’t see why I or anyone else should be bound by one person’s definition or heresy, *especially* if it just one person’s idea of heresy (which is how I understand the phrase “in my book”), and not even a church body’s! (In a nation of 280M people, that means that we can have as many as 280M “heresies” in theory, how would that work?)

    The differences betwen the greek and hebrew notion of soul as I described above is not just a view that I myself hold. As a devout Xtn, I do not believe theology is a free-for-all and that that is the proper justification for Church authority as us lay people tend to get it wrong rather easily do to our lack of training and how easily we are swayed by modern currents in thinking unlike those who are more girded in the faith by virtue of their extensive training. If I am right about the difference then surely you would agree that the hebraic def’n is correct and not the greek def’n? My inference is that if we hold to the hebraic def’n as described by Cristos Yannaras, it should not be so indeterminate as to when the unborn gets “ensouled”. The ensoulment of the human zygote/embroy/fetus should correspond to her/his physical development and our beliefs/practices should reflect a deliberation on the facts of her/his development.

    If doxy and praxy are truly intertwined then wrong belief should lead to wrong practice. In this case, treating a soul as immaterial leads to an excessive conservativism that commits considerable ecclesial resources to the protection of something that is of less importance than the saving of already-born souls.

    I’m not sure how a republic of any kind could sort that out.

    Its not a matter of a republic sorting something out, but rather a matter of historical precedent and continuity with the biblical hebraic worldview of Jesus Christ.

    I’d like the favor to be returned, if at all possible, regarding their religious beliefs.

    I’m not trying to legally impose my belief that the hebraic notion of soul is kosher unlike the greek notion. I am debating my Xtn brethren on this aspect of faith.

    I’m also puzzled regarding something that dlw stated in his posting on “depoliticizing abortion”. You make reference to avoiding “theories of personhood”, but in this posting on Funky’s site, you accuse me and others of heresy regarding ensoulment. Sounds awfully like some theories are being used.

    Can’t say I’m following you either. I use the legal term of personhood as an entity that is given its own legal rights/protections apart from the wishes of others. This is something we decide as a matter of our laws and is not per se bound to any particular theory of personhood. Inasmuch as I advocate the use of nat’l referendums for the change of when we treat the unborn as legally protected persons, I am implicitly identifying personhood as based on something that other persons recognize in the other.

    Is it purely a matter of who has the power to write the Constitution or
    add amendments?
    Absolutely not, I hold to moral realism that personhood does exist and we are all called upon to respect it. My qualms are more methodological wrt the formation of our beliefs as to when we treat the unborn as human beings and how we then go about setting our community ethical standards and influencing some our nat’l legal standards. I think the RCChurch has generally failed to appreciate the need to keep more distance/autonomy from the nat’l gov’t due to its unfortunate Constantinization.

    If we cannot argue about theories and how the apply to the world and
    whether one is more valid than the other, then what about any law? Is it
    just who has the power to enforce his or her world vision?

    We are arguing about theories and how they apply to the world and what-not. For me the issue is about the danger of attempting to wield the sword of the State on a specific issue where the fallenness of the world makes it likely that nat’l law will likely diverge from our community standards (which are more alike than different) for years to come.

    As stated before, I think true wisdom lies in aiming to eventually make elective abortions after the first trimester illegal and to prevent earlier abortions through alternative preventive measures and then to spend more political capital on the wider rubric of prolife issues that folks like Jim Wallis have brought up.

    dlw

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 5:34 am
  38. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    David, if you sense that people aren’t listening to you, it does little good to throw more words at them. Actually I am listening but I’m trying to respond in a way that I think has the best chance of “working”, and, not surprisingly, it is not a methodology you expect. It is somewhat frustrating to continue in this argument because you tend to introduce “facts not in evidence”, which of course quickly escalate the argument beyond acceptable bounds. Case in point:

    The “Vincentian Creed”, which as of this morning was an ungooglable phrase (congratulations… those are hard to come up with). So while I may draw some vague notion of what you’re trying to say by the phrase, it is a non sequitur right off the bat since no religious organization whose authority we both recognize considers this “creed” to be authoritative. (It is far from clear to me that you recognize the authority of any religious organization… which may be the real crux of the problem anyway…) Now do you not detect the slightest problem in the phrase “that which is essential to the faith is what all true Xtns have agreed on in all times and places”? Who are “all true Xtns”? No, no, no… do not answer that one, that’s not what I’m looking for. My point is you keep assuming facts not offered in evidence… assuming some common ground, where I say, there is none. (And BTW taking the Christ out of Christmas is one thing, but taking the Christ out Christian is a new low…. and yeah, yeah, I know I know it’s Chi, not X, but you seem to be very selective in the words you abbreviate with Greek letters… off that horse.)

    At ANY RATE, you are right to point out that unity is a sign of love… but WE DON’T HAVE UNITY HERE! So pretending it is so doesn’t make it so. There is one church, one faith, one baptism, one Lord. To me, unity means submission to (giving up one’s intellectual veto power over) that one church/faith &c. And we’re not going to have unity by everyone just getting together and emasculating the hell out of the word “unity” so that it can be something we can pretend to have…

    Charity demands the perfection of its object. I’m convinced you are in error. Ergo, the most charitable thing to do is to point out this error. I have (in spades in the past) attempted to show this through rational means. That failed. I have become convinced (over several months) that it is rationalism itself that is the problem, and that therefore increased levels of rationality will not work on you. The problem is not with your intellect but with your will: You will not believe Christian teaching (all Christian teaching prior to 1930 BTW) on contraception. I do not know WHY you will not… you may have the best motives, but yet, you will not. Therefore the problem is with your will, not with your mind… and I am responding accordingly–intentionally trying to yank you away from this superegoistic way of handling things, which again I consider to be the actual problem and quite far from the solution.

    Now it may be that you are NOT the one in error and that it is ME who is in error on this subject. Then the exact same rules of charity apply. No amount, no conceivable amount of argument, no amount of cleverness, no amount of trickery will change my mind because…. MY WILL is made up on the matter, just as yours is. So here we are. Enlightenment rationalism fails us. We can choose to live together peaceably and not kill each other, we can even agree to do business, we can even agree to cooperate in actions upon which we agree… BUT if one of us wants to convince the other about human life & contraception, rational arguments cannot work… which is why I recommended a whip of cords… or a baseball bat in pinch.

    Understand this: if you want to find common cause with pro-lifers, don’t go ’round assaulting the prolife view. If you want to find common cause with committed Catholics, don’t go around assaulting the Infallibility of Church Tradition…. unless you have a baseball bat… because in the end, they think they’re right and you think you’re right and that’s that… and if you pretend that no one is right, or that it is impossible to be right, then that is reflective of an even worse intellectual malady.

    I’m sorry to sound uncivil… but that is rationally how I see it: We’re treading beyond of the bounds of rationality here. And only a fool would think that rationality can solve all problems… if it even solves any (important ones) remains to be seen. Only a fool would think that arguing this matter is going to do any good. The only good to be had in any of this is a nice, cathartic ass-whoopin.

    My $0.02

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 8:06 pm
  39. theomorph wrote:

    . . . the conception benchmark can point to the establishment of an organism’s identity as a separate organism with its own genome.

    That’s all well and good, but how does it relate to real life? Do you find your identity in being a separate organism within your genome? The experience of being human has nothing to do with genetic individuality. Rather, humanness comes from a completely different stratum in our biological organization. To borrow (and re-imagine) an oft-used analogy, trying to define humanity by pointing to organismal distinctness within a genome is like trying to define a mousetrap by discussing the molecular structures of the materials comprising its components. You’re on the wrong page altogether.

    When does human life begin? That’s a hard question. But an even harder question is, What is this human life whose beginning we’re debating? Is “human life” an intrinsic category in the universal context, or is “human life” only a psychological category created by our species? If you could observe our species from a non-human perspective, would “human life” be an obvious category, and where would it begin and end? I think the philosophical aspect of this problem is all too often just ignored by ideologues on both sides.

    Posted 06 Aug 2005 at 4:55 am
  40. edey wrote:

    j
    very good article, as always. it’s reminiscent of the talk you gave at the newman center and the article you wrote for the anchor.

    Posted 05 Aug 2005 at 4:28 pm
  41. dlw wrote:

    I thought I’d let Funky and others know that I responded again to his comments on the issue of how we may stem the future effects of the declining oil production with what he considers “sin” taxes on oil/gas consumption.

    dlw

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 7:46 pm
  42. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    there is still a meaningful difference between the adult and the embryo, and ignoring that difference with the gloss term “human” and applying the same ethical standard to both under that banner is hardly careful thinking about an issue that is clearly important to many people on both sides of the argument.

    There is a meaningful difference between an embryo and an adult of a species: development (protection, care, time, perhaps even some dumb luck). What’s not so careful about that thinking? I don’t see how this can be argued objectively. Any line in the sand between a human organism (David’s deft handwaving notwithstanding) deserving of care and protection and one not deserving is ultimately arbitrary–purely “aesthetic”. I understand the “aesthetic judgements” of those on “the other side” of the issue. I just don’t agree with them.

    Posted 08 Aug 2005 at 2:21 am
  43. dlw wrote:

    Slava Boho!(Ukrainian for Praise God!)

    I think the best we can aim for in the near future is to make all elective abortions after the first trimester illegal and then to use preventive approaches to reduce majorly the number of first trimester abortions.

    And I should add that just because I think that abortions before the 48th day of pregnancy are not murder, doesn’t have any qualms about them and would not prefer for them to be avoided.

    But I do have problems with treating the zygotes that may be used for IVF as full human beings and insisting that they be legally treated as such, given that this relies so heavily on the conception belief.

    dlw
    dlw

    Posted 08 Aug 2005 at 5:34 pm
  44. theomorph wrote:

    Theo, I think the issue is whether we provide the unborn human zygote/embryo/fetus protections analogous to those currently provided to newborns, who also do not evince many of the things we cherish about humans.

    I beg to differ. Newborns are full of movement, response, personality, desires, and all the stuff that makes people human. They also have faces like we have, hands, feet, voices (though not language), and so on. When I see an infant, I think “human person.” When I see a picture of a microscopic blastocyte, I think “clump of cells.” When I see a picture of a more developed fetus, I think “Gawd it’s creepy how much that thing looks like a stereotypical Hollywood alien.” (Incidentally, I’m not trying to be funny—that’s really what I think.)

    I have had the hard-wired intuitive recognition of another in an unborn, specifically my youngest sister who was born when I was 18. I was showing off catscan pictures of her five months before she was born.

    That’s completely subjective. If you have that experience, then you are morally obligated to protect your unborn youngest sister and more power to you.

    At issue I believe is whether we accept as suitable impressions made with the assistance of advanced technology that would be impossible for the naked eye.

    There is also the issue that it’s incredibly easy to make a fetus, but incredibly difficult to raise a child. People can make fetuses at an extraordinary rate if they want to, and I personally think that if you’re looking to preserve “life,” protecting every single conception is not going to do anything but lead to problems like overpopulation. Rather, seeing as how people copulate so freaking irresponsibly these days, I would rather see millions of fetuses flushed down the toilet than see millions of poorly parented children running in the streets of the neighborhood where I live and jumping in front of my car at all hours of the day and night (which I am not making up).

    If you are honestly interested in having a big family and you want to be a good parent and you’re going to try (and maybe even fail, but try nonetheless) and do your best, then shoot, have 15 kids. I don’t care. It’s your business. But to say that all conceptions should be protected is, in my opinion, nothing but foolishness, regardless of the noble motivation.

    I have spent too much time with too many kids in public school to believe every one of them should exist. Kids didn’t ask to be born and having more of them isn’t always a good thing. Sure, any kid from low circumstances has the potential to do great things. But let’s be honest. Statistically, it’s much more likely for any given kid to be a criminal, an indigent parasite, or a depressed blue collar worker just scraping by. I guess if you’re going to say “life” is always inherently valuable, regardless of what one does with it, then sure, conceive and keep as many kids as you can. But if you’re going to do that, then destroy federally mandated educational standards and stop making public education compulsory. Allow people to raise their own children.

    But so long as people can just keep having them and handing them over to the state, I’m all for a temporary moratorium on reproduction, even if it means destroying millions of embryos and fetuses. They aren’t people yet. Most of them would be better off not coming into this world anyway. Maybe that’s pessimistic, but I like living kids too much to wish for huge, unmanageable numbers of them being handed over to the state for education, health care, and welfare.

    I know that probably sounds like a tired old liberal argument or something, but it’s just what I see and how I feel. I’m not beholden to “life” in general when we’re talking about protecting all conceptions in the abstract. But like I said, if you have a child or a sibling on the way, or a pregnant friend, or whatever, and you want to protect that embryo-fetus, by all means, do so. But don’t require everybody else to do the same. Requiring people to protect offspring they wouldn’t keep if they had the choice isn’t going to make anything better.

    As for all the church politics, I couldn’t care less which sect is right. They’re all equidistant from reality, in my opinion. So I’ll stay out of that discussion.

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 5:38 pm
  45. Funky Dung wrote:

    I don’t agree with a lot of DLW’s positions, but I’m with him on this. I’d rather see a reduction in abortions ASAP than keep my fingers crossed for a ban later. Besides, the former isn’t mutually exclusive with the latter.

    Posted 08 Aug 2005 at 4:48 pm
  46. dlw wrote:

    Theo, I think the issue is whether we provide the unborn human zygote/embryo/fetus protections analogous to those currently provided to newborns, who also do not evince many of the things we cherish about humans.

    I have had the hard-wired intuitive recognition of another in an unborn, specifically my youngest sister who was born when I was 18. I was showing off catscan pictures of her five months before she was born.

    At issue I believe is whether we accept as suitable impressions made with the assistance of advanced technology that would be impossible for the naked eye.

    Now that doesn’t settle the matter of discernment between elective and nonelective abortions, but it would go a long ways and, as I have advocated, I believe that if more than 75% of the US population were in favor of a given alteration to when the human fetus should be treated as a legally protected person that the change should be made and not otherwise.

    dlw

    Posted 08 Aug 2005 at 4:40 pm
  47. dlw wrote:

    Steve,
    You seem to be implicitly using the greek notion of soul. I would suggest this is not the biblical hebraic notion of the soul, which I defined earlier, thanks to Yannaras.

    Soul refers to our totality of being and is not divorced from our physical form and that is why it is not so radically indeterminate whether we are truly “ensouled” yet. That is also why honest deliberations on and communication about the facts of human fetal development by a community of people committed to the sanctity of human life should go a long way to build a better consensus as to what our community’s ideals should be.

    “I’m sure we’re all just killing some in our heads beating this dead horse over and over again.”
    this “some” refers to the human organism/brain cells that are dying as a result of us going over this yet again.

    The old “political capital” argument? Bah. It is a profound mistake to think that orthodox Christians can sit at modernity’s table and have any influence whatsosever–rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic is rather apt analogy in my estimation.

    Our world is in the process of redemption. We will not start over but hold in continuity with this existing world when Xst returns and so we have a responsibility to take care of it and that includes being better stewards of our political capital.

    Our capital must be spent on preserving families, communities, and local institutions, so that we’ll have something left with which to rebuild.
    Our families/communities/local stuff are still affected by nat’l and int’l institutions and so if we care about the local/familial stuff, we need to also care about the more macro stuff.

    think about it.

    dlw

    Posted 08 Aug 2005 at 11:55 pm
  48. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    David, it appears that you are missing the point, which is that there are no “facts” about “fetal development” that are capable of changing the mind of anyone (except perhaps a very poorly informed person) on this issue. Such rationalism is unbecoming a person of “faith”. That is to say, it is only a budding materialist that would seek to turn a moral question into a scientific one, the materialist that would actually go on believing that objectivity will answer moral questions.

    And it is not that I don’t care about “macro stuff” (as you so quaintly put it), but that I have come to the conclusion that I have very little (actually no) power influence such “stuff”. Better to utilize my limited power to influence the things that can be influenced. I say again, ours is not to immanentize eschaton. (See also Tony Esolen’s excellent Touchstone article “Where Went the Neighborhood?”.)

    Toward the idea that a human brain cell might be confused ontologically with a human zygote I have little more than contempt. Pity perhaps (and temporarily) for one so confused as to hold it, but of the idea itself: contempt, that being the charitable response to hardened and willful ignorance.

    Cheers!

    Posted 09 Aug 2005 at 3:52 pm
  49. dlw wrote:

    I would also add that even if I accepted lock, stock and barrel all of what Pope John Paul wrote in the book on Genesis about the different topics, I think it still would be important to recognize that the matter at hand is how we may attempt to capture and wield the sword of the state to prevent such behavior. I don’t see that as as straightforward as whether or not the behavior is sinful and I think precedent has shown repeatedly that ecclesial authorities of all churches are fallible in this respect. But I do, unlike John Yoder, believe that we Xtns should participate in the reformation of the rules that govern us so as to promote godliness and to witness to others through our selflessness, but we need to discern what aspects of this fallen world we can and cannot change and learn from experience how to pick our battles better.

    dlw

    Posted 13 Aug 2005 at 4:43 am
  50. Amy wrote:

    Someone posted that article out of the PG on a message board and I just knew you’d have it here :) Life may now proceed as usual.

    Posted 06 Aug 2005 at 1:10 am
  51. gbm3 wrote:

    “I think it is worth mentioning that the abortions available during the early-church were quite dangerous and usually for the later stages(as I recall).” -dlw

    Don’t know.

    However,

    “Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does.” (The Soul 25 [A.D. 210] by Tertullian; http://www.catholic.com/library/Abortion.asp )

    This is to illustrate that the belief of the Church regarding the humanness of the newly formed existed from its beginning.

    “Requiring people to protect offspring they wouldn’t keep if they had the choice isn’t going to make anything better.”

    “I have spent too much time with too many kids in public school to believe every one of them should exist. Kids didn’t ask to be born and having more of them isn’t always a good thing. Sure, any kid from low circumstances has the potential to do great things. But let’s be honest. Statistically, it’s much more likely for any given kid to be a criminal, an indigent parasite, or a depressed blue collar worker just scraping by.” -theomorph

    Wow! Utilitarianism at its apex. Better=more useful.

    It might sound funny, but…

    My kid loves Thomas (the tank engine) & Friends. The main moral of the theme song: they are really useful engines.

    I really despise the emphasis on usefulness as the end to life (and the show for that matter; I don?t understand the fact that the writer was a minister: maybe the protestant work ethic at play).

    Why? There’s more to life that what one can do. I think this is where the RCC has it right: dignity in work/utility is apparent, but one’s dignity as a human is not derived from it.

    One’s dignity simply comes from being a creation of God.

    I can see, theomorph, why you don’t see this. Without God, there is no point besides yourself: getting as much as you can here and making sure no one else takes it from you.

    Posted 10 Aug 2005 at 6:32 pm
  52. dlw wrote:

    I wanted to apologize for my remark about papal infallibity in my last post.

    And Funky, get over yourself. What’s with this pointing out logical fallacies stuff without actually getting involved in a discussion?

    dlw

    Posted 13 Aug 2005 at 6:15 pm
  53. Funky Dung wrote:

    P.S. I recognize and accept that I am often one of the obstinate fools – if not here, then in Real Life™. I thought I ought to point that out lest anyone should think I was being overly harsh or perhaps ignorant of the stench of my own excrement. 😉

    Posted 13 Aug 2005 at 6:08 pm
  54. Funky Dung wrote:

    I see this thread has outlived its usefulness. I have no way of closing comments for a post, so I’ll just have to ask folks to respect my request to stop the thread here. If you would like to hash this out further – using a modicum of civility and charitable interpretation of each other – by all means write your own posts on the matter. Since David has a blog and Steve does not, the latter is invited to write a post for my blog. I implore both of you to read up on logical fallacies (check the links in my sidebar or Wikipedia for help) before writing. Pay particular attention to argumentum ad hominem personam, ad hominem tu quoque, ad odium, ad antiquitatem, ad temperantiam, ad ignorantiam. Actually, they’re all quite interesting and informative, but those in particualr stood out as necessary for you two.

    I like that both of you comment. I enjoy contemplating your very different views. I don’t wish either of you to stop coming here and provoking discussion. I would, however, appreciate if the two of you could keep your pissing contests to yourselves. There’s a point – and we reached it some time ago here – where the argument is no longer interesting or fruitful for other participants and becomes a cock fight between two obstinate fools.

    Posted 13 Aug 2005 at 6:05 pm
  55. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    David, you’re still not getting it: You actually believe that we can arrive at a mutually acceptable conclusion regarding human life by the employment of reason. You are not alone in this belief. This is, in fact, the foundational flaw of all of Protestantism, originating in Luther himself (tho’ to be fair he had plenty of impetus from Augustine and the scholastics–he took them one step further). But it is a flaw, a flaw that I think is already proving fatal to survival of orthodoxy within protestantism. Protestantism is simply juvenile agnosticism. Protestantism remains orthodox in precise proportion to the extent that it denies its own fundamental tenets.

    Now I agree that faith and reason are intertwined–so much so as to be mutually incoherent without each other. But it is you that is attempting the untangling… not me. Protection of human life is a settled question for the Church. I believe (an act of the will) that the Church has spoken infallibly on the matter. The transcendant (revelation, infallibly interpreted) holds trump. To deny this is to intentionally exercise our will to disbelieve our own tradition. No amount of rationalization, no amount of information, can change this. God could surprise me, but it would have to be him doing it… And he’d probably have to kill me to convince me.

    And I think you are shifting your guilt off on Jerry here. He is not the one who deems a human zygote to have roughly the ethical equivalency of a human brain cell. You do.

    Cheers!

    Posted 09 Aug 2005 at 8:05 pm
  56. Funky Dung wrote:

    Since when does Merriam-Webster Online represent the totality of medical science? Wouldn’t any of these definitions (by that kind of standard) be just as good? I’m not convinced a zygote isn’t an organism just because Merriam-Webster don’t say it is.

    Posted 07 Aug 2005 at 11:42 pm
  57. gbm3 wrote:

    FD is right, we shouldn’t be stumbling blocks for each other. Unfortunately, we sometimes are, I’m sorry if I was.

    This goes to show that I don’t have it all together. I was offended (it takes much for it to happen) when I read theomorph’s comments:

    “Requiring people to protect offspring they wouldn’t keep if they had the choice isn’t going to make anything better.”

    “I have spent too much time with too many kids in public school to believe every one of them should exist. Kids didn’t ask to be born and having more of them isn’t always a good thing. Sure, any kid from low circumstances has the potential to do great things. But let’s be honest. Statistically, it’s much more likely for any given kid to be a criminal, an indigent parasite, or a depressed blue collar worker just scraping by.”
    &
    “But so long as people can just keep having [babies] and handing them over to the state, I’m all for a temporary moratorium on reproduction, even if it means destroying millions of embryos and fetuses. They aren’t people yet. Most of them would be better off not coming into this world anyway. Maybe that’s pessimistic, but I like living kids too much to wish for huge, unmanageable numbers of them being handed over to the state for education, health care, and welfare.”

    I come out of and have seen lots of this taking place to varying degrees. Too many of these people have been looked down upon and have been unable to get beyond it. They make mistakes, their parents made mistakes; who hasn’t made mistakes? We can say if they were never born, they wouldn’t be a burden, but if our thinking was changed affectively to see and treat them as gifts from God from their beginning as an individual human entity, even if small, more of them, including their parents, could be turned around to something positive (mentally, spiritually, and/or physically).

    As Jesus said there will always be the poor (in many ways), but effectively serving a genocidal mandatorium is not the way to handle it.

    At this point I will stop in this specific discussion, save I offend again (unless there is a very specific point to question). I’m sure another discussion will come to this juncture again.

    Just some facts to clarify:

    I was never protestant. I was baptized Catholic and came back many times. The reasons were/are not utilitarian but simple. I believe in God revealed in and through Jesus. When He said that the “gates of hell will not overcome” His church (Mt 16:18 ), I take it to its end. Jesus didn’t leave His church, sinners that make/made up His church forgot Him.

    I am one of the latter: I constantly loose it. But with help from the Church I am reconciled.

    I do weigh the options, but I try to put God’s desire over mine and my family’s. Many times it is paradoxical, but he’s holier than thou (and everyone).

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 3:35 pm
  58. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Well, human is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun it is relatively unambiguous. Human as a purely biological modifier to an individual of a species is also unambiguous. This is the way I usually use the term “human” in discussing whether an organism is human or not. The “disembodied brain” would be an organ removed from a human. It is a human brain. It was part of a human. It is not a human.

    Human, in the sense used by Capt. Kirk to describe Spock’s sacraficial death at the end of Wrath of Khan is more ambiguous, and perhaps that is more the kind of definition you’re digging for, but this gets at subjective aspects of humanity. Such aspects are without doubt quite important and may, in fact, be normative in “being human”…. but they don’t seem to help us objectively identify a distinct member of the human species. Theo, you have yourself publicly doubted that consciousness is even definable. And I think we’d all agree that consciousness could not be defined in a way that would be empirically verfiable. So why now make it a critical part of the definition of “human”?

    Posted 07 Aug 2005 at 7:06 am
  59. dlw wrote:

    Jerry,
    The majority of the def’ns by which a newly-formed zygote can be considered a human organism would also apply to most of human cells, as well.

    That’s why it was implicit.

    dlw

    Posted 09 Aug 2005 at 9:39 pm
  60. Funky Dung wrote:

    Am I imagining things or are people taking things a bit too personally? Let’s keep this civil, folks. I know text doesn’t display emotions well, so perhaps the impression I’m getting is wrong. Even so, let’s not even accidentally be stumbling blocks to each other, other Christians, and especially those who have not accepted the the Gospel.

    Pax Christi

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 11:35 am
  61. dlw wrote:

    Well then using grammar, prove that the square of the length of the hypoteneuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the legs. Or restricting yourself to grammar alone, propose a model of atomic structure that predicts the interactions of the chemical elements under standard temperature and pressure.

    I never said grammar “alone” does this. I said that reason/rationality consisted of the correct application of the rules of grammar.
    You’re boring me here, Steve.

    we are human beings and that we do become human beings at a particular point

    I am, for the record, sick of the crockin’ load of bullshit. I know you’ll complain and write ream upon ream about how I am wrong and how I must bow to your superior intellectual understanding of science or dictionaries or moral philosophy or any of the above,

    It’s not a contest. I get no pleasure in debating you for its own sake. But I think you just broke the rules of Ales Rarus about profanity. I don’t want anything from winning. I want these sorts of debates/discussions to get more civil and productive.

    a fertilized oocyte is human (as distinct from other genomes) and it is an organism (as distinct from mere organs). We differ on whether such an entity deserves any or some rights to protection and care, but we ought not play fast and loose with English grammar for mere rhetorical gain.

    It’s not enough to have human dna(or even to have your own unique dna, after all twins do not have their own unique dna and they are still considered individual human beings). I agree that the newly-formed zygote is a living entity, unlike with other human cells or sperms. My point earlier was that organism is too vague of a word. It is subject to too many possible def’ns and not all of them are true for a newly-formed zygote.
    I don’t see this as rhetorical games, but rather playing true to the complicated nature of the english language.

    Well I’m just a protestant seminary student but last I read, the proper ideal hermeneutic for understanding the Bible is the literal one as it would have been understood by the original audience.

    Heh. Assuming facts not in evidence: 1) that there actually is a “proper ideal hermeneutic”, and 2) that we might agree on it.

    If you deny that there is a proper ideal hermeneutic of the Bible, you open the can of relativism of an enormous plurality of subjective interpretations. Oh, but you don’t need to hold to such a hermeneutic since you have the infallibility of the pope to interpret the Bible for you. But where then is the basis for the belief in the infallibility of the pope? It must have been one of those teachings that Jesus shared with the disciples that they just neglected to write down.

    If we aren’t willing to submit to the authority of the Bible as it is best understood within its original context then our faith is watered down and bound to bear bad fruit.

    I don’t see what sorts of fruits you are pointing to to justify the falseness of their [Church Fathers’] teachings

    In the interest of charity, I was attempting to note that Augustine and Aquinas were right about Christian practice (not unnaturally interfering with human reproduction) even tho’ their theories (about a few things) may have been absolute bunk. By contrast, here you are with all these very rational and compelling arguments, but in advocacy of a practice which destroys human organisms. Faith and practice are essentially synonymous. Neither is a synonym for theology (which is, at best, human theorizing).

    I do not oppose some practices that destroy human entities. I do not consider these to be fetus animatus. We can surmise that if Aquinas at least was sent back by God to participate in this debate that he would agree with me. The difference between Aquinas and me is that I am living in a time where technological change has made the sorts of notions that he and Augustine developed to be of more consequence.

    And that brings me back to my point of whether this is an essential or a nonessential issue? And if it is nonessential then why should we claim we will never, not even on the pain of death, change our views on it? Shouldn’t we reserve that level of vehemency for those things that are truly essential to our faith?

    Welcome to adolescence. I say the problem is not and has never been too much fundamentalism, but rather too little of it.

    *lip-twipping*, didn’t you say something earlier about being fed up with rhetorical grand-standing? What do you call the above? Why is the problem too little fundamentalism? And how are you using the word fundamentalism? I usually use it as I did here. And did you notice I did not specifically accuse you of being a fundamentalist? I said that the fundamentalism on both sides of the abortion issue is what is responsible for the policy deadlock on the issue.

    So I’m sorry man, I’m gonna have a little bit of a hard time breaking bread with you and pretending everything just peaches after you describe with profanity my thought out posts as mere rhetorical flourishes that you then go on and call me muddled.

    I see myself as a “Life House” Xtn. I’ve let go of some beliefs I’ve held onto and I don’t claim infallibility for their replacements, but I believe they are consistent with the Biblical worldview of Jesus. If that makes me deter others from seeking a faith in Jesus, digging into the Bible, Church History, learning about Xtn theology then I probably am not acting according to God’s will.

    But I see the opposite happening and so I think Jesus is still alright with me. Jesus is still all right.

    dlw

    Posted 13 Aug 2005 at 5:08 pm
  62. mrskin wrote:

    Looks Michael is doing well so far having Parkinson. When I first heard he had the disease, I thought he’d be dead in a few years. Glad to hear he still kicking and making a difference in the world.

    Posted 20 Oct 2006 at 3:02 am

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 2

  1. From Defining an Organism {Science} @ Ales Rarus on 18 Sep 2006 at 2:10 pm

    […] In a previous discussion on embryonic stem cells, dlw asserted the following definition of an organism from Merriam Webster and the subsequent assertion: […]

  2. From Welcome Post-Gazette Readers! :) @ Ales Rarus on 31 Oct 2006 at 10:20 am

    […] There are some good folks who deserve to take the credit with me – perhaps even away from me. Jerry Nora writes most of the stem cells posts. As a med school student and bioethics hobbyist, he's more qualified than I to argue effectively on such topics. The posts about labor practices were written by Lightwave, a professional computer geek who has an MBA. The reflection on Humanae Vitae was written by edey, a gentle soul with a bleeding heart wrapped in brutal honesty, who was once upon a time was fiercely pro-choice. […]

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