"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, May 05, 2006

Evolution and Abortion

Several posts down I included the words of Francis Canavan, who countered the usual baby's rights versus mother's rights talk by inserting the commonsensical notion that the child is in his mother's womb, which is, in fact, the only natural place for him to be.

A debate commenced in which one group repeatedly invoked the notion of competition between mother and unborn child for scarce resources. There is an immediate problem with that metaphor if we consider that Americans are typically not starving and that food is not scarce, but let's leave that aside.

The bigger problem is that this segment of the abortion debate could be dealt with via Darwin. In evolutionary terms, we all just want to reproduce and ensure the spread of our contribution to the gene pool. A pregnancy is, therefore, mission accomplished. In evolutionary terms, aborting a child is evidence of insanity. It is evidence that a person doesn't wish to do the only thing they are really here to do.

I find this fascinating because I've finally found a confluence in traditional morality and Darwinism. Darwin says, have the baby. Christianity says, have the baby. The natural law says, have the baby. All three agree that infanticide is evidence of a mind not working correctly.

48 comments:

James Elliott said...

"All three agree that infanticide is evidence of a mind not working correctly."

Great. Too bad you're glossing over the part where everyone's unsure of when it's an infant. Essentially, it comes down to whether or not one is honest enough to know that in the face of uncertainty, certain hard decisions have to be made.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Hunter,

Those are good points, and I think they are valid regardless of when you think humanity begins.

I find it curious that regions of the world where food is scarce are not as "liberated" as we are where food is in abundance.

Essentially, it comes down to whether or not one is honest enough to know that in the face of uncertainty, certain hard decisions have to be made.

Aside from your low blood sugar induced rants(*) of the last couple of days, you do have some insightful things to say here.

I believe the difference between your view and mine is that in the case of doubt, you'd prefer to defer to the mother, while I would prefer to do nothing.

If you're on a hunting trip and see what you *think* is a deer in the brush, do you pull the trigger, or pause because you're not sure?

Perhaps you'll disagree with the analogy, and thats OK.

(*) I personally chose NOT to get involved with the previous debate because ... well ... lets just say that my blood sugar was a little low. :)

mjwatson said...

No, no one who has looked at any of the scientific literature on embryology is in ignorance of when the human being is an infant.

Infancy is a stage of human development, one that follows the stages at which the human being is a fetus, and before that an embryo, and before that a blastocyst. Following the stage of infancy is toddler, child, pre-adolescent, teen, young adult, adult, older adult, etc.

At each and every stage this is no debate as to what the entity is: a unique human being.

I think the terminology you are looking for, James, is the distinction between a human PERSON, and a human BEING.

Regardless, Hunter's point remains, though it would be clearer to distinguish between infanticide and abortion (though both are the killing of a human being). An ethic of reproduction, or sanctity of life, both favor keeping and taking care of the youngest and most vulnerable among us.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

James, why is "infanthood" morally relevant? Is there something magical about being an infant that makes one deserving of respect? After all, if infanthood is a stage which you undergo, then it is an accidential change and not an essential one. In other words, I once was an adolescent, but I remained me through the changes.

My problem of the use of an economic model to determine human value is that it reduces us to eating, pooping, whoopey-making machines assessed by consequentialist principles. This can't be right because I first-person awareness that I am an intrinsically valuable being. So, any theory that offers another account just can't be right.

Hunter Baker said...

My point works regardless of the stage of development. Even if you are a stone-cold naturalist, materialist, the logic of evolution dictates that you want to reproduce and that you are driven to do so. Any distinction you would draw is a matter of irrelevant sentimentalism.

My, this is delicious.

Devang said...

I'm still waiting for a woman to chime into this discussion.

I have a rule: I abstain from abortion debates, and I won't break it, but I will offer some additional thoughts. The naturalist and darwinian views actually make the case for polygyny, and polyandry as well. But western culture isn't particularly enthusiastic about either of those two possibilities. Western society doesn't advocate ploygamy, but it is an option if you can find the consenting partners. The question is more social and psychological than it is theological in my view. It would be nice to live in an ideal world, but like James commented in the other post, we don't.

James Elliott said...

"Aside from your low blood sugar induced rants(*)..."

Yeah, I'm still a work in progress when it comes to gentility and certain topics. I appreciate the indulgence and the gentle critique, CLA.

"I think the terminology you are looking for, James, is the distinction between a human PERSON, and a human BEING. "

I'd probably replace those terms with "potential entity" and "person," MJ, but your point stands. Precision, especially on such topics, is important, and I'm not the best at practicing what I preach when reacting instead of pausing.

Dr. Beckwith:

"James, why is "infanthood" morally relevant?"

Does my reply to MJ make a difference? That is, in clarifying the use of imprecise language, does that change the nature of the question? In response to the usage of an "economic" model, I'll just postulate a question in return: In a pluralist society, when faced with an uncertainty of rather gargantuan proportions, doesn't it make sense to use a utilitarian approach in that instance, weighing the wrong that may occur versus the wrong that we know will occur?

"My point works regardless of the stage of development. Even if you are a stone-cold naturalist, materialist, the logic of evolution dictates that you want to reproduce and that you are driven to do so."

Hunter, I'm not so sure this logically follows. If it did, then wouldn't there simply be no question of whether or not to make the painful decision to abort a pregnancy? If evolution were so deterministic, as you assert there (and I'll assume that, like myself, you're doing so in devil's advocacy form), then abortion simply would not be a considered option - your brain chemistry (for example) wouldn't permit it.

But then, the moral what ifs of the abortion debate get us nowhere. I enjoy "big question" discussions (and, yes, Tom, debates) as much as the next person. But I'd be interested in policy prescriptions as well. I think we can all agree that we don't want there to be any abortions (in an ideal world). So, what can we do to get closer to that day?

mjwatson said...

Devang, how can you be sure a woman has not already chimed in? And why is it relevant? Are arguments gendered?

James, I agree about your point about terminology. We must rise to the point of argument, and part of that is agreeing on terms.

I think Hunter's point is meant to be modest. Isn't it interesting that on the question of encouraging childbirth and the nurturing of children, such usually opposed viewpoints as evolutionary and natural morality have some common ground here?

But it can't be pressed too far, as James' point about the difficulties involved with evolutionary morality and determinism, and Devang's point about marriage, shows.

In fact, I think evolutionary morality is a bit of an oxymoron and runs into an is/ought problem, but that's another subject altogether.

Devang said...

Devang, how can you be sure a woman has not already chimed in? And why is it relevant? Are arguments gendered?

I can't, but I do think the arguments made in the discussion don't represent the real life choice women go through. Nothing typed on the Internet could. A choice most men will never come close to comprehending. Men are incapable of viewing the debate as personally, as sacred, and as an 'internalized value' as women can, hence the theology and philosophy lesson. I'm sorry, I'll spare myself from that. So, if this argument isn't gendered, It ought to be.

mjwatson said...

Shoot, I'm not black I guess I should refrain from debating racism. I'm not Jewish, so anti-semitism is out too. I've never been mugged, I suppose crime is off-limits.

If identity politics is a must, then what to do when women disagree? And what to do with the most theologically and philosophically astute female philosopher of the 20th Century, Elizabeth Anscombe, who protested Truman's use of the bomb AND was arrested for protesting in front of abortion clinics? (Anscombe is also famous for wiping the floor with C.S. Lewis at a famous debate at Oxford).

Women do philosophy and theology too. But just in case we need a woman's voice to make the point:
http://www.feministsforlife.org/

Hunter Baker said...

"I think Hunter's point is meant to be modest. Isn't it interesting that on the question of encouraging childbirth and the nurturing of children, such usually opposed viewpoints as evolutionary and natural morality have some common ground here?

"But it can't be pressed too far, as James' point about the difficulties involved with evolutionary morality and determinism, and Devang's point about marriage, shows.

"In fact, I think evolutionary morality is a bit of an oxymoron and runs into an is/ought problem, but that's another subject altogether."

Right on, MJ. Just trying to highlight that the ultra-truncated materialistic reason side of things doesn't necessarily always get you the license you want or the ammo to win an argument.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Our always welcome visitor Frank Beckwith writes:

"(W)hy is "infanthood" morally relevant? Is there something magical about being an infant that makes one deserving of respect?After all, if infanthood is a stage which you undergo, then it is an accidential change and not an essential one."

I believe he answers his own question here, speaking of a

"...first-person awareness that I am an intrinsically valuable being."

That is an essential difference. But I'm afraid that it might be impossible to ascribe a first-person awareness, a consciousness, to the fetus at this point in our understanding of human development.

In fact, Peter Singer's logic in advocating "retroactive abortion," that is, infanticide, takes this further, and his logic is frustratingly impenetrable: is a six-month-old human any more self-aware than a puppy of the same age? The puppy is more certain to recognize the calling of his own name than the human infant. It is birth, by Singer's analysis, that is accidental, not essential.

All this line of inquiry yields us is Singer's conclusion, that we draw the line of "human" too soon, not too late, at the formality of live birth. I think human consciousness, as a requisite for "personhood," is a dry hole. "Infant" has no more meaning than "blastocyst" or "puppy," and I suppose we are indebted to Dr. Singer for making that distinction.

Now, I certainly share FJB's other concern:

"My problem of the use of an economic model to determine human value is that it reduces us to eating, pooping, whoopey-making machines assessed by consequentialist principles."

and it's astutely addressed by Mr. Watson

"Infancy is a stage of human development, one that follows the stages at which the human being is a fetus, and before that an embryo, and before that a blastocyst. Following the stage of infancy is toddler, child, pre-adolescent, teen, young adult, adult, older adult, etc.

At each and every stage this is no debate as to what the entity is: a unique human being."

In this case, the pro-life absolutist argues, DNA is indeed destiny, and essence. It is human because it is and can be defined as nothing else. "Human being" certainly fits.

And so, this is our conundrum: the philosophical materialist uses his calculator on the human equation---there are no absolutes, no infinities that defy entry into his keypad. We attempt to reduce what is transcendent to the vocabulary of the, I dunno, we need a retronym here, cendent.

It doesn't, nor will it ever compute.

Not the pre-philosophical man, nor the ancients, nor the children of Abraham ever contemplated that man's reason would someday make him a cold sapient beast. Males kill their children, yes, tigers eat their young, Zeus' father tried to eat him, but he was saved by his mother Rhea.

It is what's in a mother's mind, not her nature, that kills her own children. It is, by any definition of the word, unnatural. Fathers, on the other hand, per nature or Peter Singer, need no rational excuse at all. Weird, or perhaps not, that it should work out that way, that men are concerned in the least with such things, especially in the abstract---with saving some other guy's children.

That simply does not compute.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Altho it's bad form to post twice in a row in a discussion, please permit me to extend my appreciation for the precision and worthiness of our Happy Warrior Mr. Elliott's latest inquiry, on how a democratic republic should proceed in the absence of certainty. And for his all-around good cheer of late.

Should the moral, which is to say the moral conscience, inform the legal; is the converse instead true; or should the twain never meet in any liberalism, classical or modern?

I do want to get to all that, James. All things in their time. First Things first.

mjwatson said...

or should the twain never meet in any liberalism, classical or modern?

SHOULD the twain never meet? Hee hee, you are a sneaky one TVD.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"In a pluralist society, when faced with an uncertainty of rather gargantuan proportions, doesn't it make sense to use a utilitarian approach in that instance, weighing the wrong that may occur versus the wrong that we know will occur?"

In other words, in a society in which some citizens are utilitarians, others deontologists, others virtue ethicists, and yet others divine command theorists, utilitarianism ought to win, because well, its utilitarianism.

BTW, in a utilitarian regime, the pluralist society mantra could go as well, if it were discovered that intolerant genocide seemed to advance the greatest good for the greatest number.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Got me again, MJ. I picked up a few things from Uncle Leo.

Tlaloc said...

"At each and every stage this is no debate as to what the entity is: a unique human being."

Actually there is. A human being is by definition an organism. An early fetus is by definition not an organism. Therefor a fetus is not in fact a human being until late pregnancy.

There is debate over this matter because far too many people have no understanding of biological science. Much like the debate over evoution.

Tlaloc said...

"Even if you are a stone-cold naturalist, materialist, the logic of evolution dictates that you want to reproduce and that you are driven to do so."

We are not ruled though by the natural conditions we developed during. The development of our sentience was a radical break with the natural systems that came before it and have allowed us to alter the game.

You might as well say we asre driven to eat fruits and small rodents. Yeah, sure but we choose to expand our diet far beyond those options.

mjwatson said...

"Actually there is. A human being is by definition an organism. An early fetus is by definition not an organism. Therefor a fetus is not in fact a human being until late pregnancy."

Where are you getting this definition?

There aren't any pro-choicers even making this claim anymore, b/c every embryology textbook used in medical schools states unequivocably that the early fetus is a distinct human being, and by definition a human organism (though every human being is a human organism, not every human organism is a human being). Science is no help to you here I'm afraid.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4857703

Tlaloc said...

"Where are you getting this definition?"

Which one? For human being it is a simple matter: is all human tissue a human being? No. Only when that tissue actually comprises a complete organism is it a human being. The destruction of human tissue is not murder unless an actual human organism is killed.

For Fetus it is not an organism until late pregnancy because it is incapable of carrying out the seven processes (at the organism level) by which we define life. To begin with it is incapable of all but growth. As it develops it eventually is capable of all but reproduction (which is a special case and really should have been left off the list). At that point it is an organism (although still located within the mother) and a human being.



"There aren't any pro-choicers even making this claim anymore, b/c every embryology textbook used in medical schools states unequivocably that the early fetus is a distinct human being"

Then the books are unequivocably wrong. A single cell is not a human being.



"and by definition a human organism"

Absolutely not. A single cell, a blastocyst, and so on are absolutely not organisms. They are utterly incapable of carrying out the functions of an organism. They are not alive at the organism level. They are certainly alive at the cellular level but that is a different thing.

mjwatson said...

Sorry, can't just take on faith (!) an entry from the Tlaloc dictionary. The NPR story I cited quoted an entry from embryologists Keith Moore and T.V. N. Persaud in The Developing Human (7th edition, 2003), the most commonly used textbook in medical schools.

Now why should anyone trust you over them?

Or over this doctor's definition:

http://cancerweb.ncl.ac.uk/cgi-bin/omd?embryo

(embryology, gynaecology) In animals, those derivatives of the fertilized ovum that eventually become the offspring, during their period of most rapid development, i.e., after the long axis appears until all major structures are represented.

In man, the developing organism is an embryo from about two weeks after fertilization to the end of seventh or eighth week.


Or the following defintion for embryo from the NIH (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/mplusdictionary.html ):

Main Entry: em·bryo
Pronunciation: em-br-
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural em·bry·os
1 archaic : a vertebrate at any stage of development prior to birth or hatching
2 : an animal in the early stages of growth and differentiation that are characterized by cleavage, the laying down of fundamental tissues, and the formation of primitive organs and organ systems; especially : the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception -- compare FETUS


So, Tlaloc knows more about the science of embryology here than the National Institute of Health, the textbooks used in medical schools, and members of the President's Council on Bioethics.

I think this excerpt from the NIH definition hits it pretty well:

the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception

Or, from a more popularized website (http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=3225 ):

Definition of Embryo

Embryo: The organism in the early stages of growth and differentiation from fertilization to, in humans, the beginning of the third month of pregnancy. After that point in time, it is termed a fetus.


Can you cite something that shows why these sources, which appear rather trustworthy, are mistaken? Anything other than the Word of Tlaloc?

If not, then I suggest you take a moment to display a shred of intellectual integrity and admit that you are mistaken here. If you don't, then you've pretty much demonstrated that there is no reason for anyone to take anything you say here seriously. Opposition and obstinancy would be your chief concerns, it would seem.

Matt Huisman said...

Tlaloc>> As it develops it eventually is capable of all but reproduction (which is a special case and really should have been left off the list).

That's really funny. Now we're going to argue about the definition of 'organism'. We'll start with the widely accepted 'Seven Life Processes' - except for this one...

Come on, is an embryo a distinct, living entity that's part of the species homo sapiens? What if we changed the terminology and said that Homo Sapiens life is intrinsically valuable and deserves protection? Would that be better?

James>> But then, the moral what ifs of the abortion debate get us nowhere...I think we can all agree that we don't want there to be any abortions (in an ideal world).

I don’t know that I really buy that last sentence. It seems to me to be empty sentiment given that there is no situation in which an abortion advocate would counsel against (and certainly not deny) a mother having an abortion. The desire is not for there to be no abortions – the desire is that there be no situations. Abortion ‘solves’ too many issues – sexual freedom, women’s lib, overpopulation, inadequate parenting, crime, etc. - which is why many passionately promote it rather than discourage it.

Tlaloc said...

"Sorry, can't just take on faith (!) an entry from the Tlaloc dictionary."

I'm the last person to ask you to take something on faith. But reason is a different matter. The incorporation of organism into the definition of human being shouldbe pretty obvious if you think through the example I gave you above: is human tissue automatically a human being? The answer of course is that it is not. Only in the particular instance when said tissue comprises an entire organism do we conside it a human being.



"Now why should anyone trust you over them?
Or over this doctor's definition:"

That doctor's definition perfectly matches with mine. He says "In man, the developing organism is an embryo from about two weeks after fertilization to the end of seventh or eighth week."

Key word -> developing. As in it is a developing organism. I.e. not an organism yet but on its way to being one.



"So, Tlaloc knows more about the science of embryology here than the National Institute of Health, the textbooks used in medical schools, and members of the President's Council on Bioethics"

Uh, no. But what I said in no way contradicts what they have said in anything you quoted here.



"If not, then I suggest you take a moment to display a shred of intellectual integrity and admit that you are mistaken here."

Reread what I have said and the definitions quoted, nothing in them conflicts remotely. So will you take your own advice and own up to your mistake?

Tlaloc said...

"That's really funny. Now we're going to argue about the definition of 'organism'."

I certainly hope not. But if people can deride evolution they can deride any part of science I guess.



"Come on, is an embryo a distinct, living entity that's part of the species homo sapiens?"

No not really. It is amass of tissue entirely dependent on the mother's body, hence not 'distinct.' It is not alive in terms of being an organism and hence not a 'living entity.'



"What if we changed the terminology and said that Homo Sapiens life is intrinsically valuable and deserves protection? Would that be better?"

No. Because either you are still restricting it to organisms or you are ina world of trouble. The same criteria that includes a blastocyst will include skin cells, tumors, appendices, etc. Those are all tissues. hey are not protected under any of the laws against harming or killing human life because they are not in and of themselves human. They are human tissue but not human beings.

mjwatson said...

Moles, tumors, and the like are human organisms. That's why up above I distinguished between human beings (embryo, fetus, child, adult etc.) and human organisms (all human beings are human organisms but not all human organisms are human beings).

I sat in a lecture/debate with Lee Silver (http://web.princeton.edu/sites/PEI/pdf/facultybios/silver.pdf) where he blew his nose into a petri dish and noted that the cells living there were human organisms. He was making a pro-choice point, as he is about as pro-choice as they come. But the point is that tumors, moles, growing mucuous cells, and the like, are human organisms.

Note that this isn't even a question of morality at all, it's simply scientific defintion. I grant that in all possible worlds Tlaloc's defintion could make sense. But in the world we live in, by any scientific or medical authority one could care to cite, it is 100% incorrect. Which is why he can only reference himself.

Keep digging. :)

James Elliott said...

"In fact, I think evolutionary morality is a bit of an oxymoron and runs into an is/ought problem, but that's another subject altogether."

So true. The whole discussion is predicated on a complete fallacy, which is that evolution is an ethical system that proscribes behaviors. Evolution is a neutral scientific fact. Whether or not we use it to inform our actions is another.

James Elliott said...

"It seems to me to be empty sentiment given that there is no situation in which an abortion advocate would counsel against (and certainly not deny) a mother having an abortion."

I'm honestly very curious where value statements such as yours come from, Matt. Do they come from experience, anecdote, or second-hand data? I often find this line of propoganda epoused by pro-life advocates; it is a central conservative tendency to ascribe personal motivations to opposing actors. (Sadly, it has become so among many liberals, as well.) Essentially, one side is accused of propoganda without the accuser evaluating whether or not the accusation is propoganda itself. "J'accuse!" so many cry, without pausing and asking, "Et moi? Qu'est-ce que c'est que j'ai dit?"

It's really no different than a pro-choice individual accusing a pro-life one of attempting to impose their sexual strictures on women. Look at that very term: "Abortion advocate." They are choice advocates. They refuse to substitute their judgment for another's. What they do is provide information. There's a reason why it is nearly impossible to just walk in to a clinic and demand an abortion - why you have to meet to a counselor: To make sure you are aware of the ramifications of your action.

I usually encounter such blanket statements from idealogues. While you are quite reasonable in tone at all times, and I know this is a topic for which you have great feeling, I have to ask if this is one of those times where passion trumps knowledge.

Tlaloc said...

"Moles, tumors, and the like are human organisms."

No. I have no idea where you learned biology but you are completely wrong on that. An organism is a complete living entity. In the case of single celled organisms the level of celular life and organism life are thesame. But for any multicellular life form taking a single cell out of it's body does not create a new organism.



"I sat in a lecture/debate with Lee Silver (http://web.princeton.edu/sites/PEI/pdf/facultybios/silver.pdf) where he blew his nose into a petri dish and noted that the cells living there were human organisms."

Then he's an idiot who doesn't know his field or you are remembering the discussion wrong.



"He was making a pro-choice point, as he is about as pro-choice as they come."

Not a good way to establish scientific credentials.



"But the point is that tumors, moles, growing mucuous cells, and the like, are human organisms."

No they really aren't. I'm sorry you learned that from some guy who was more interested in serving his political goals than his chosen field but it is absolutely bogus. What he was doing was either failing to distinguish between "alive at the cellular level" and "alive at the organism level" or intentionally confounding them. Either way he was 100% wrong.



"Note that this isn't even a question of morality at all, it's simply scientific defintion."

Indeed and I suggest that we use the definition. Hint: it doesn't include human cels removed from the body.



"But in the world we live in, by any scientific or medical authority one could care to cite, it is 100% incorrect. Which is why he can only reference himself."

You seem to have it backwards. You can only cite the one professor (anecdotally) who apparently miseducated you. Al the other definitions you listed meshed perfectly with what I was saying.

Tell you what has anyone else here ever taken biology? Did they actualy teach you that individual cells taken from a multicellular life form constituted new organisms? If so I'll be very surprised since that is in fact completely contrary to the definition.

consider here:
http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node=organism

where in they reference the following:
"Another definition of a living organism is (from Biology 3ed, Peter Raven and George Johnson, Mosby, New York, 1992):

movement
sensitivity
death
complexity"

(listing off the attributes the thing must exhibit in order to be considered an organism)
This is an older definition and it certainly has been improved upon (in part to excude things like crystals and fire from being technically organisms) but it should be clewr it already excludes what MJ is talking about.

Tlaloc said...

Actually in a way I think I do like your definition better in a way. You want to redefine organism to include any cells of your body so that a fetus is the equivielnt of what you sneeze out? Fine. Now is there any moral/ethical dilemnma to having sneezed and so having expelled those human "organisms" from your body to where they will die slowly?

No? So then why are you complaining about abortion?

See you can choose to play fast and loose with the definitions. Sure I may try to corect you but that is a side issue because when you change the definition you don't change the underlying logic.

previous argument:
fetus are not human organisms and hence their destruction is acceptable because we do accept the destruction of mere human tissue for a variety of reasons.

Then you change the term organism.

so all that happens is we change the wording of the argument to reflect our new definition:
a fetus is not a complete human organism and so its destruction is acceptable because we already accept the destruction of mere human tissue for a variety of reasons.

I'm happy to continue arguing the definition point if you want but I thought I'd point out that even if I conceded the point for sake of argument it still doesn't help your underlying thesis.

Hunter Baker said...

It's a ridiculous discussion and MJ has been only too good to indulge it. Being married to a person who deals professionally in the unborn human being and the mother of same, I can affirm that the textbooks affirm the fetus as an independent entity, human organism distinct from the mother. A fetus is, in fact, merely a human being who is very young. This is acknowledged by the Supreme Court, which doesn't dispute that abortion destroys a human life, but instead debates the question of constitutional personhood.

Tlaloc said...

"I can affirm that the textbooks affirm the fetus as an independent entity, human organism distinct from the mother."

Then your text book (for which subject by the way?) is choosing not to use the scientific definition of organism.



"A fetus is, in fact, merely a human being who is very young."

No a baby is a human being who is very young. A fetus is merely a blob of tissue that may one day be a human being. Just like sperm and ovum. You don't have to like it but it is the case.



"This is acknowledged by the Supreme Court, which doesn't dispute that abortion destroys a human life,"

The Supreme Court is not and never will be the arbiter of scientific consensus. Their opinion on the matter than is moot.

Hunter Baker said...

I'm referring to an embryology textbook just as MJ was. It's hard not to have the science agree with you, especially when you pride yourself on being the scientific type. Unfortunately for you, this time you're up against Devil Darwin, science, and the good Lord's Jesus people. Yikes!

mjwatson said...

Per Lee Silver:

Your hubris is remarkable. First he's an idiot, then you steal his argument. For the third time on this thread, there is a distinction between human being, and human organism. The latter is a field that encompasses the former, but there is a distinction.

As for the definition of organism, the one you cite is the second listed. You conveniently leave out the first, which is as follows:

consumes nutrients
produces wastes
reproduction
growth

Human cells do all these things, and can do so in a petri dish removed from the body.

But even then I don't know what "everything2.com" is or how trustworthy it is. I prefer the Oxford Reference collection of 100 dictionaries, including one for the biological sciences. Their first definition is as follows:

1. organism
An individual living system, such as an animal, plant, or microorganism , that is capable of reproduction, growth, and maintenance.
(From A Dictionary of Biology in Biological Sciences)

Their second defintion, micro-organism:

2. micro-organism

micro-organism Literally, a microscopic organism; the term is usually taken to include only those organisms studied in microbiology (i.e. bacteria, fungi, microscopic algae, protozoa, and viruses), thus excluding other microscopic organisms such as eelworms and rotifers.

Accorind to this dictionary of the biological sciences, bacteria, fungi, microscopic algae, protozoa, and viruses are all organisms, micro ones to be sure, but organisms nonetheless.

Btw, here's some more definitions from the Oxford dictionaries on embryo:

1. embryo
A young animal that is developing from a sexually fertilized or parthenogenetically activated ovum and that is contained within egg membranes or within the maternal body. The embryonic stage ends at the hatching or birth of the young animal.
(From A Dictionary of Zoology in Biological Sciences)

embryo An organism in its early stages of development. The developing human is known as an embryo for about its first two months in the womb. Conventions differ in defining when the name first applies — whether it is immediately after fertilization or after implantation of the fertilized ovum in the uterus a week or so later.

Notice that the embryo is defined as an organism (and that it is a developing human does not mean it's not a human being, given that toddlers and pre-adolescents are also still "developing".)

It may be a ridiculous discussion, as Hunter noted, but it's revealing. For one thing it's interesting, and kind of fun, for the Christians to keep citing impeccable scientific sources and you to deny them. It's also interesting to note that you seem incapable of acknowledging that you're mistaken.

We've all been wrong before. It won't kill you to acknowledge you've lost a merely definitional argument. But you won't. Which is entertaining in a way (as is always the case when one doesn't realize one has lost an argument), but actually more useful because any fair-minded reader of this thread will be less likely to consider you a serious pursuer of truth in future discussions.

Matt Huisman said...

I often find this line of propoganda epoused by pro-life advocates; it is a central conservative tendency to ascribe personal motivations to opposing actors.

Maybe it would help if I clarified my statement a bit more – abortion advocate not being entirely clear. We’re used to thinking of there being two camps, pro-life and pro-choice. However, I believe there are at least three abortion perspectives – anti (me), neutral (you), and pro. This last category of people views abortion as an immense benefit to individuals and society. They do not regret abortion in the least.

These are the people I’m primarily referring to when I use the term ‘abortion advocate’. As for the neutral camp, I see little evidence that this group is prepared to ‘intrude’ into the life of the mother and endorse policies or procedures that would reduce the number of abortions (and I don’t mean outlawing the procedure). You yourself have implied that you fear the efforts of the pro-life side more than you do the pro-choice side.

In my opinion, both the neutral and the pro camps are acting entirely rationally, given their value systems, in supporting abortion. The reason that I made my ‘…empty sentiment…’ comment was to spark a moment of reflection on those values. Abortion involves competing goods and requires wisdom to properly discern. The neutral crowd acknowledges some sort of discomfort with the procedure, and I am merely encouraging them to reflect on why it is there. I don’t believe it is helpful to allow people to delude themselves into thinking that it’s not, and that they can somehow be both for and against abortion.

Tlaloc said...

"It's hard not to have the science agree with you,"

I'll have to take your word for it.



"Unfortunately for you, this time you're up against Devil Darwin, science, and the good Lord's Jesus people. Yikes"

Dude, I already quoted you one source that clearly indicates I'm not. How many do you want.

Tlaloc said...

"First he's an idiot, then you steal his argument."

Honestly I don't think he's an idiot. I think you are misconstruing whatever he said that day in class. And no I'm not stealing his argument, I just find it funny that pro-lifers would compare a fetus to a sneeze.



"As for the definition of organism, the one you cite is the second listed. You conveniently leave out the first, which is as follows"

I left it out because it wasn't sourced as from a scientific book or paper. The second was. Furthermore as they make clear the definition you are enamored of includes things like fire and crtystals. It is an older obsolete definition. Why you think clinging to it helps your case I can't imagine.



"1. organism
An individual living system, such as an animal, plant, or microorganism , that is capable of reproduction, growth, and maintenance.
(From A Dictionary of Biology in Biological Sciences)"

Which fits what I have ben saying and refutes what you have. Notice the words "individual living system." An organism is a complete system it is not a part of a system. Really, trust your own source, okay?



" Accorind to this dictionary of the biological sciences, bacteria, fungi, microscopic algae, protozoa, and viruses are all organisms, micro ones to be sure, but organisms nonetheless."

Of course they are, I;ve never said otherwise. The difference between a bacterium and a single human cell is that the bacterium is the entire organism itself. A human cell is merely a part of an organism.



"1. embryo
A young animal that is developing from a sexually fertilized or parthenogenetically activated ovum and that is contained within egg membranes or within the maternal body. The embryonic stage ends at the hatching or birth of the young animal."

And that matters how? You have a gift for dramatically stating things that have no bearing on the argument. Nothing inthere states the embryo is an organism. Yes it is a "young" animal because chronologically it will develop into the animal under the right conditions.



" embryo An organism in its early stages of development."

Indeed. The key words being "in its early stage of development." As before an outline is an essay in its early stage of development but you cannot say an outline is an essay. In development precisely means it is not yet the thing it is to become.



"Notice that the embryo is defined as an organism"

No it isn't it is defined as a proto-organism. Something that will beome an organism by your own source.



"For one thing it's interesting, and kind of fun, for the Christians to keep citing impeccable scientific sources and you to deny them"

Feel free to continue citing them but try to actually understand them. All you've done is bolster my case.



"It's also interesting to note that you seem incapable of acknowledging that you're mistaken."

On the contrary I have admitted to error on this very blog a number of times. But when I'm right, and my sources say I'm right and YOUR sources say I'm right... wel no then I'm not going to pretend tobe wrong to make you feel beter. Sorry.

Seriously, reread your definitions. Look up the meaning of the word developing. Try to understand that you are dead wrong here. Every source either of us has quoted has been in absolute agreement with my position so far.

James Elliott said...

"This last category of people views abortion as an immense benefit to individuals and society. "

Aside from that freak who wrote "Freakanomics," I defy you to point to anyone who actually thinks this and is in a position to A) influence others, B) influence policy, and C) isn't a complete crack-smoker.

"The neutral crowd acknowledges some sort of discomfort with the procedure, and I am merely encouraging them to reflect on why it is there. I don’t believe it is helpful to allow people to delude themselves into thinking that it’s not, and that they can somehow be both for and against abortion."

The discomfort comes from knowing that one could be wrong. It's not an issue that demands adherence to two poles of thought (and there are few that do). It's a hallmark of liberalism that conservatism seems congenitally incapable of embracing.

James Elliott said...

Someone make the semantic argument stop. It hurts my brain, and not because I don't get it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm with you on that, James. He who controls the definitions controls the debate. Where there is no stipulation of definitions, there is no discussion.

Tlaloc said...

"Someone make the semantic argument stop. It hurts my brain, and not because I don't get it."

Sorry it hurts your brain but it is important. Too many times recently has the religious right been allowed to meddle with science. They've been allowed to mess with the definitions and the resulting discussion is polluted beyond any use. It has to stop.

Science is absolutley superior to religion when it comes to the matter of describing the physical world. When religion steps into that ring it deserves and needs a severe beat down.

I'm quite happy to administer it.

Matt Huisman said...

I defy you to point to anyone who actually thinks this and is in a position to A) influence others, B) influence policy, and C) isn't a complete crack-smoker.

Planned Parenthood, NARAL, NOW, Ralph Neas, 90% of the Democratic party, etc. Now whether these folks should be disqualified by A, B or C is a fair question.

Abortion is just as much a women's lib issue as it is a privacy issue. Privacy gets more pub because it works better legally. But the 'taking control of our future' line has always been a large part of the movement.

It's not an issue that demands adherence to two poles of thought (and there are few that do). It's a hallmark of liberalism that conservatism seems congenitally incapable of embracing.

We haven't been making policy proposals here James. We've been going back and forth on whether this is a life worth protecting or not. There may be many dozens of reasons for each, but there are only two choices on the table.

mjwatson said...

I am happy to give up the semantic back and forth James, because in reality that debate was over a long time ago. The "blob" notion has been dispelled by modern embryology. Hence the debate being taken up by both sides as to human personhood vis-a-vis human beings.

Tlaloc is welcome to continue swinging at his definitional windmills, but anyone else can merely compare the definitions I provided and judge for themselves their meaning. That Tlaloc has to resort to calling embrology textbooks "unequivocably wrong" and nationally famous science professors "idiots" should tell us something. If anyone is persuaded by his "beat down" on this thread, or his purposeful (at least I hope it's purposeful given what the alternative would mean)misreading of the scientific terminology involved, please speak up.

James Elliott said...

"Planned Parenthood, NARAL, NOW, Ralph Neas, 90% of the Democratic party, etc. Now whether these folks should be disqualified by A, B or C is a fair question."

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of those organizations. FUNDAMENTAL. And I'm not so sure it's correctable, since it persists without multiple proofs otherwise on this site alone.

James Elliott said...

"If my fellow citizens want to go to hell I will help them. It's my job."
-Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Tlaloc said...

"That Tlaloc has to resort to calling embrology textbooks "unequivocably wrong" and nationally famous science professors "idiots" should tell us something."

It is worth pointing out that when you actually quote from them it is clear your sources are just fine, it is you who don't understand them. I'm perfectly fine with every single one of the quoted definitions you gave, but your interpretation of them is in fact wrong.

mjwatson said...

I wrote:

"1. embryo
A young animal that is developing from a sexually fertilized or parthenogenetically activated ovum and that is contained within egg membranes or within the maternal body. The embryonic stage ends at the hatching or birth of the young animal."

Tlaloc wrote: And that matters how? You have a gift for dramatically stating things that have no bearing on the argument. Nothing inthere states the embryo is an organism. Yes it is a "young" animal because chronologically it will develop into the animal under the right conditions.

Your response here is one you employ often. A young animal is, in fact, an animal. "Young" in this instance is what in English is referred to as an adjective. Hence the embryo is an animal, a human being. You also employ this move with "developing organism". Again, "developing" modifies organism, which is the noun, the thing or entity to which we are referring.

A "young animal" is an animal, a "developing organism" is an organism.

This is simple English, and is supported by the fact that scientists, philosophers, and doctors on all sides of the abortion controvery treat the language this way.

(a similar, though equally disreputable, move is to say that I've put forth Lee Silver's moral position as if it's my own, a contention that cannot be anywhere even inferred above).

It does, however, raise the question as to why Tlaloc continues to flail away at this. And in trying to comprehend this one comes to the place where politeness and truth must part ways. Why would one continually misread something as plain as that an embryo is a human being at an early stage of development, an organism in its own right distinct from the host organism (the mother)?

One possibility is that Tlaloc is too dull to understand the language, in which case he is something of an idiot, in the literal non-perjorative sense. It is certainly impolite to say so, but after a while one can't just keep patting idiots on the head when they ruin perfectly good conversations. Hence the parting of ways betwteen truth and politeness.

But I don't think that's it. Tlaloc occasionaly says something that is not entirely half-baked. There's some intelligence there, though this would mean that his misreadings are intentional, and thus that in all likelihood he is rather malicious in his purposes here.

The frequent recourse to religion-bashing when religion has not been mentioned, the consistent inability to admit a mistake, and, in this case, an utter disregard for clear meaning and scientific authority (a dogmatism if you will) indicates that he does not care to exercise the good faith and give-and-take that a dialogic community such as this requires (contrast Mr. Elliot for soemone who cuts against the grain of most here but does so with a great deal more respect for his interlocuters and the issues at hand).

Good conversation is not ready-made. It requires of people of all persuasions some common virtues as to what counts as dialogue and respecting another's position.

I grant that my saying this is not polite, and I'm not a part of this blog so it's not my place. But I won't say it is uncivil, because at some point indulging the idiotic or the malicious (take your pick) becomes uncivil to those who would otherwise value a good conversation.

And I'll leave it at that. Others can have the last word.

Hunter Baker said...

"If my fellow citizens want to go to hell I will help them. It's my job."
-Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

James, this is a magnificent quote that well supports the pre-Roe jurisprudence. Holmes believed strongly in deferring the legislatures. That's what he means in this quote. Let them pass the laws they want. I will defer to their decision. With Roe, the court abdicated that deference.

James Elliott said...

I happen to agree that Roe perhaps should be overturned. While the decision came to the same conclusions all other democratic legislatures have when considering the question of abortion, there is value in the process, which was truncated.