Thursday, February 24, 2005

On what basis Pro-life?

Over at David Koyzis's blog on Feb 22, there is a discussion going on about Chuck Colson's article about the religious left. The relative importance of the issue of abortion is addressed in the comment section of that blog.

Recognizing that abortion is a secondary issue in this string, still...does it bother anyone else that the predominant Evangelical argument against abortion requires a body-soul dualism and an illogicall interpretation of Ps 139? Ie, it is based on the assumption...nowhere established (and certainly not in Ps 139) that every fertilized egg is a human being? That somehow a human "spirit" comes necessarily into existence at fertilization, and therefore human beings really can and do make other human beings at will? We can make batches of them in a petri dish, and regularly do so. Note: I am staunchly pro-life/anti-abortion. But these assumptions seem neither Biblical nor adequate to me. Is the best possible argument against abortion, that it constitutes murder? If so, is it the same kind of murder as if I killed my wife? Is the fertilization-equals-human-being concept Biblical? Or even more abstract, and more germaine to the upcoming Cloning Wars, is any cell which could, under the right circumstances and in the right place, become an embryo...a human being?

19 comments:

  1. Care to elaborate on why you are pro-life?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Is the body-soul dualist notion really the core of predominant evangelical arguments? I'd be interested to see that established if it's so. It's possible I imagine that something like that notion is what a sizeable, relatively uninformed chunk of evangelical population thinks, but does it represent any sort of consensus among leaders by whom we'd normally gauge the state of evangelical thought & polemics?

    Are there reasonable Christian ideas out there that posit against conception an alternative beginning point for human life? Interesting, if so.

    ReplyDelete
  3. There is no doubt that conception is the beginning point for human life. Just as a foundation...the first hole dug for a foundation...is the beginning of any building. But is every hole a building? Is every foundation a building? To say that every human being began as a single cell is moot and obvious. To say that every fertilized egg, including all the spontaneous abortions (estimates as high as 1/3 of all conceptions) are human beings may be more than the Bible says. Thought question for coherence: Someone throws out a tray of extra zygotes after an in vitro fertilization. Do we believe that those twenty 16-cell balls of cells will be resurrected at the last day? Will they have sinned? Can we have any idea in what sense they would be "human"? They would have never had any nervous system, no consciousness at all, ever. They would never have sinned. Never felt anything. Never known anything.

    I well understand that in asking these things I will set hearts aflutter with dismay. But really; where in the Bible does induced abortion constitute murder? This is an honest question, and I do not know the answer. Again: I have no doubt that abortion is terribly wrong, but I wonder whether we can articulate precisely why it is wrong. I'm having difficulty supporting the "murder" basis, at least in the very early stages of pregnancy.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Those do seem too me to be reasonable questions, and some are undoubtedly unanswerable without some particular revelation from heaven. Consciousness may be a troublesome thing to define from a variety of angles, I guess – isn't that so? —Anyway, my heart's not fluttering. :)

    I'd agree, I think, that murder isn't really a useful category for identifying what wrong is committed in ending early embryonic human life. A positive duty to protect human life wherever we aren't obliged for some just reason to cut it off, instead of prohibition against murder, maybe, ought to be the generalized basis for understanding here. What do you think – is that likely to stand up to examination?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think "a positive duty to protect human life", as you said, is a better basis. But I think we need to think all ramifications through carefully. For example, the ethical issues of stem cells, therapeutic cloning, and abortion meet at the omnipotent stem cell, ie, a human cell that under the right circumstances, in the right location, etc, could become, theoretically, an individual human being. The Christian "man on the street" does not fully comprehend the fine distinctions that must be made in the stem cell/cloning discussion. The issue of the "humanity" of such a cell is THE issue in this discussion, which I hope to begin here soon. Just for starters: When the original fertilized egg has undergone two divisions, there are four identical cells, each one of which is fully capable of becoming a separate human being. Do we have four humans or one? If we tease them apart into four separate cells, so that they no longer touch each other, they will become four separate embryos (this is one way to amplify the number of embryos in in-vitro fert., and the way identical twins occur) If we don't, they will together become only one. Is each cell's "human being" status, then, dependent upon whether it is touching another human cell? If we destroyed two of those cells while they were touching (ie, while they weren't in anyone's argument "human beings"), the remaining two would go on quite unperturbed to become a human individual, simply dividing again to replace the two lost cells. If we separated the cells before so destroying them, some would now argue that we have committed murder, twice, once for each cell destroyed. Is this a valid way to do ethical reasoning in this sphere?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Call me a knucklehead but I have never argued abortion on the basis of "body/soul" dualism but I always use biology. If a person says who knows when life begins why not say, "Life is when biological reactions are taking place" and hman is defined by genetics. So he issue has to do with the our law should protect human life that can with care experience the minimum level of self-consciousness and human experience.I would write the law in such a way that protects the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the retarded and the unborn but not a clinically brain dead person on life support. I would define it entirely biologically.
    brad

    ReplyDelete
  7. Brad, I'm with you BUT your last exception...the brain-dead person...does not seem to meet strictly biological criteria. Or should I say, it does, but would require protection. To except the brain-dead person from humanity, it seems to me you must bring in some consciousness issues, or ability to interact, or something that distinguishes the "brain-dead" person from the severely mentally defective one. Remember...the brain is not "dead"...it still has many cells alive and undergoing biological processes. It is simply not functioning "as a brain", ie, interactively and interconnectedly.

    As a physician who regularly has to decide when someone is dead...who legally "defines" them as dead...I can say that this is not simply a biological issue. Is Ms. Schiavo dead? Again, I will ruffle feathers, but if I were her physician, and her family were not insisting that they wish to care for her and believing that they interact with her...I would say she probably is dead. Problem is, there are other human beings...her parents...who continue to relate to her and believe she relates back. That should be enough for us to keep her alive. But it is not based on some objectively measureable parameter of her humanity. It is based on her role as person...however limited...in a community of persons.

    The strictly biological criteria lead to the types of logical dilemmas noted in my comment above...a cell is/isn't a "human being" depending on its immediate environment and the "set" of its nuclear processes (the extent to which it is determined.) I think we need a broader ethical basis, one that considers other personal contexts. Note, I'm just exploring here. But soon, very soon, a whole host of these issues will be upon us, and I think we need a deeper base than we have.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I intentionally said a combination of biology and a potential for a minimum level of consciousness (like an animal). The Schiavo issue if i understanding it right, some think she doesn't have any potential for even the most miniaml level of consciousness. By stating it this way we protect the most severly sick and disabled and the unborn but we do not resist things like turning off life support. As for a clump of non-embrionic stem cells or unfertilized eggs or something. These have zero potential as they are for any consciousness and the eggs example does not have a human genetic code. The main point is to keep the issue entirely biological an dhave nothign to do with souls and mysteries.
    brad

    ReplyDelete
  9. First, you're asking the right question. The body-soul thing really does seem utterly ridiculous to those of us that are pro-choice. The image it conjures up is God-as-assembly-worker, dropping souls into newly-fertilized eggs as they come down the assembly line.

    Maybe God really is the factory worker writ large, but as a tactical matter, if I were pro-life I'd back off that position and work toward banning or severely restricting abortion of fetuses that have reasonably well-formed brains.

    This position is both ludicrous to those whom pro-lifers have to win over and, as you point out, is based on some incredibly strained interpretations of biblical text.

    ReplyDelete
  10. " Call me a knucklehead but I have never argued abortion on the basis of "body/soul" dualism but I always use biology."

    Your argument presupposes body/soul dualism, however. There's a body, and this entirely other thing (which typically goes undefined) called a 'soul' that exists independently of biological structures.

    ReplyDelete
  11. JPE,
    No it doesn't. How do you know, when I make this arguement annonymously, that I even believe in a soul or care. No way..My argument has nothing to do with a soul and if it does than I must have mis-stated my argument. My definition of human under the law does not pre-suppose that there is a soul. Nope.
    brad

    ReplyDelete
  12. I linked this discussion

    ReplyDelete
  13. Joe,

    Regarding your comments about the ability of embryos to split into seperate embryos, you may want to check out this article by Francis Beckwith, called "What Does it Mean to be Human?"

    In it answers the objection that
    "1. The early embryo is not a unified being; rather, it is merely a cluster of totipotent cells that may divide into separate entities and could later recombine.

    2. Any entity that may divide into separate entities and that may later recombine is not an individual being.

    3. Therefore, the early embryo is not an individual human being."

    That seems to be similar to the questions you were asking.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm not an expert on Biology, yet I think we have to view the abortion issue primarily as theological. Jesus had his harshest words for those who were strong (in a worldly manner)imposing their crushing wills on those who were weak. Nowhere else is this imbalance as true as in the abortion procedure. So perhaps, it is a greater sin to dispose of petri-dished fertilized eggs than a fully grown human. At least a fully grown human has a chance of being able to defend himself or herself.

    ReplyDelete
  15. After posting my thoughts, I went and read some of the Beckwith article linked above in a previous post. I agree that "fertilized egg" is a misnomer--I should have used the word "embryo." Doing such, denotes the creation of a unique life.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'm finding the Beckwith article pointed out by Macht above very interesting & helpful. Looking forward to Dr Kearns's comments.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Eric,
    Theological yes..but I, personally, was refering to how I discuss this with an unbeliever and how I deal with it politically.
    brad

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you all for the good discussion, and for the reference to the Beckwith article, which I shall read with interest. I just returned from Jubilee in Pittsburgh, where I picked up some promising books from Bro. Borger's table. I'll try to pick up this discussion with more thoughts on this subject presently, on a new post.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Brad,

    I'm not sure we can build a substantive case against abortion on anything but theological grounds. This makes the prospect of persuading non-Christians certainly unlikely. One's basic presuppositions about the universe affect everything. And, if someone does not believe in Christ,their understanding is already darkened.

    Eric

    ReplyDelete