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My favorite science-religion books


In response to Thomas Cudworth’s request, these are the five science-religion books that I would recommend, or at least has influenced me the most — and help to explain my distinctive take on ID. You’ll see that some of these are available free on-line. Since my explanations are long-ish. They are located below the fold. 

  1. Leibniz, Theodicy (1710). This is the work that Voltaire ridiculed in Candide for its ‘optimism’, i.e. that this is the ‘best of all possible worlds’ (despite being so bad in so many respects). It understands perfectly the challenge that any ID theory must face – namely, how to explain the world’s palpable imperfections as the product of a perfect deity. However, in Critique of Pure Reason Kant seriously undermined the project of theodicy (70 years before Darwin) by arguing that even if Leibniz managed to show that science (as the rational quest for a grand unified theory of everything) doesn’t make sense without presupposing God, it doesn’t follow that science actually takes us to God. Various forms of this argument are still used – by both theists and atheists – to challenge the very idea of ID (and natural theology, more generally).
  2. Amos Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientific Imagination (Princeton 1986). This book is probably the most sophisticated synthesis of all the scholarship done by historians and philosophers of science to show how personal attributes of the Abrahamic God gradually morphed into the impersonal attributes of the physical universe that Newton brought together in his world-system. A key element, stressed by Vincent Torley here, has been John Duns Scotus’ doctrine of ‘univocal predication’, whereby the difference in virtues between ourselves and God is defined as a matter of degree not kind. For example, it became possible to speak of ‘divine omnipotence’ as an infinitely extended version of the power we normally exert – and see exerted – in the physical world.
  3. Thomas Henry Huxley, ‘Evolution and Ethics’ (Romanes Lecture, 1893). This is not a book, strictly speaking, but a long essay in which Huxley defines human civilisation – and he means mainly developments in law, medicine, science and technology — as organised defiance of natural selection. (This is an explicit challenge to Herbert Spencer.) The essay is largely a comparative study of the world-religions as cosmologies, from which Huxley concludes that the imago dei doctrine of the Abrahamic religions was unique in giving people the confidence to think that they could fathom and even control the forces of nature. However, it’s not clear how after the species-humbling consequences of Darwin’s theory of evolution how that confidence – so vital for the expansion of science and technology in the 19th century – would survive in the 20th century.
  4. Theodosius Dobzhansky, The Biology of Ultimate Concern (New American Library, 1967).  Dobzhansky, a Ukrainian émigré to the US with a foot in both natural history and experimental genetics, was perhaps most responsible for forging the ‘Neo-Darwinian synthesis’ in the 1930s and 40s. He was also an Orthodox Christian, a champion of Teilhard de Chardin and a president of the American Eugenics Society. This slim late work tries to put it all together by updating the biblical imperative that we are the earth’s stewards, in light of our growing powers to alter our own (and other species’) genetic makeup. Dobzhansky is quite clear that to be responsible is not necessarily to be timid in our attempts to provide intelligent direction to evolution. In this respect, the Nazis are faulted mainly for claiming that ‘nature’ (as in ‘natural selection’) was dictating their racist policies. People who think that there is a meaningful distinction between ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ should read this book.
  5. Norbert Wiener, God and Golem, Inc. (MIT 1964). The mathematician and father of cybernetics was raised a Unitarian and all of his popular works are peppered with biblical references, which have not been taken sufficiently seriously by those interested in understanding his philosophical orientation. This late work, which won the US National Book Award, argues that the design problems surrounding the creation of intelligent machines are high-tech versions of the problems that the Abrahamic God faced in creating beings in his image and likeness. Wiener’s understanding of the problem of evil is based on the Bible but heavily influenced by his reading of Paradise Lost and Faust.
Rude @ 11 "Paul Davies chides Christians for wanting to have it both ways—a good God unlimited even by logic—this was a point he made in his (1993) “The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World.”" and... Rude @ 20 "Could it be that God so transcends logic (and thus isn’t limited by logic) that the only theodicy left is to ban God from the here and now?" Sorry for barging in on this but I'd like to propose that God IS limited by logic because His very essence IS logic (or reason). As everyone knows, the first principles of reason are Being and Identity. The most fundamental characteristic of anything is that it exists, and everything that exists has identity. It is what it is, so to speak. If there is no existence then there is no identity and if something has identity then it exists. These two principles go hand in hand. They are often expressed as the law of non-contradiction, i.e. that something cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same way. In Exodus 3:14, God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." It occurred to me one day perhaps a couple of years ago, that this phrase, and the subsequent one where God says "tell them I AM sent you," reveals God as the personification, the Personalization, if you will, of the first principles of reason. This is one of the (many) things that drives me crazy(er) when the anti-theist crowd claims to have a monopoly on reason when we worship Reason. Literally. To say that God is not limited by His character is to say that He could sin. He can no more sin than He can be irrational. Part of His essence IS reason. Or so I say. It's also interesting to note that Jesus claimed the same thing in John 8:58 when He said, "before Abraham was, I am." tgpeeler
Hi everyone! Thanks for the comments. I’ve just come home from a long day at work, so I’d like to address the various comments that my post has attracted, one by one. Allen MacNeill (41)
As David Hume pointed out, our ethical decisions are usually not made as the result of rational deliberation, but rather on the basis of emotion and sentiment. [U]nlike many of the people that I have encountered who have made assertions like vj, Domoman, and charlie, I actually know (and care about) someone who has had to make decisions like this. Indeed, I have myself made similar life-and-death decisions as a 20-year EMT and emergency medical and fire responder in my local volunteer fire department. If you were married and wanted a child, but could only have one via IVF, would you attempt to do so, and if so, would you consider that you were at least an accessory to murder?
Well, Allen, I’ve had to make a life-and-death decision too. You’re not the only one. I have a long story to tell, so here goes. My wife and I got married on my wife’s 40th birthday. (That means if I forget our wedding anniversary, I’m in double trouble!) At the time, I had no idea whether my wife was still fertile or not, but we both thought it would be nice to try for a baby. So we did. And about three weeks after we got married, my wife conceived. When I found out that my wife was pregnant, I was over the moon. We both were. And if you ask me what emotion I instinctively felt towards my unborn child, it was simply love, Allen. You quoted Hume as saying that our ethical decisions are usually made on the basis of emotion and sentiment. That may well be true, and I have no problem with that, as I regard natural human impulses as God-given, and hence generally trustworthy. If you have children, then I’m sure you also loved them long before they were born, or even viable (which seems to be your criterion for having a right to life). So here’s my challenge to you: on your own reckoning, you would have to say that my feelings of parental love towards my unborn child were misplaced emotions - and that your own feelings were too, if you experienced the same emotions as I did. But if this is indeed what you would assert, then you are now saying that we should not always trust our feelings when making ethical decisions - which is contrary to the thrust of your quote from Hume. In that case, you are no longer making emotion the criterion for ethical judgements; you are placing something above it: namely, reason. Now, I have no problem with using reason to justify my ethical judgements, and I have already advanced arguments for the humanity of the unborn child. All I’m saying is: since you are evidently not a consistent emotivist, you will have to defend your own ethical position at the bar of reason, too. You write: None of these ethical dilemmas happen if one defines a human being as a developing baby who can survive outside of its mother’s body. Allen, I’ve got some news for you. Not ONE philosopher in the world today would agree with that yardstick. I’ve heard philosophers defend all sorts of cut-off points - conception, implantation, brain waves, sentience, birth, self-awareness - but no-one defends viability. Why? Well, for one thing, it’s utterly illogical. The proposition, “A is not able to survive outside B’s body” simply does not entail that A lacks human rights. At most, all it entails is that A has no claim to exercise its rights in a way that harms B. For another thing, what about zygotes and blastocysts that ARE able to survive outside the mother’s body? Are they human beings? And do they cease to be human beings when they implant, and become dependent on the mother? And what about medical advances? Are you saying that a 22-week-old premature baby that can be kept alive in an American hospital is a human being, but that a 22-week-old fetus whose mother happens to live in a Third World country without hi-tech medical facilities, is not a human being? Hypothetically, if a baby could survive outside its mother’s body, but still had to be attached to her body by an external tube, would you regard it as a human being? Well, what about a baby born in a Third World country who is allergic to any milk but its mother’s? If and when scientists ever create an artificial womb (and I hope they never do), would you then regard the embryo and fetus as human beings with rights? I’m curious. Anyway, back to my story. The early weeks of my wife’s pregnancy were blissfully happy. I would often squat down in front of my wife’s tummy and greet my unborn child when I came home from work, and say goodbye to it when I left for work in the morning - even though I knew perfectly well that it was not yet sentient. Talking to my child just felt like the appropriate thing to do. Then things started to go wrong with the pregnancy. My wife had to go into hospital for a few days. After that, the doctors let her out again, and for a while, all seemed well. We passed the end of the first trimester, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Everything should be OK now, I thought. We’re out of the woods. We weren’t. Around week 15, my wife started leaking fluid from her amniotic sac. There was a perforation in the worst possible place: at the opening of the womb. The doctors told us things did not look good. We were shocked and appalled. I was incredulous. This is the 21st century, I thought to myself. Why couldn’t the doctors fix a problem like this, I wondered. Why didn’t they have an amniotic fluid bank, just like the blood banks we have in our hospitals? Why couldn’t they stitch up my wife’s amniotic sac, and replenish it with fluid? I wanted to ask the doctors these questions, but living in a foreign country (Japan), I couldn’t. However, I did talk to one of my brothers (who is a nurse) and he advised us to prepare for the worst. It got worse. Doctors put the chance of our baby’s surviving at 5 per cent. And then it was zero. My wife and I were both in tears. I had seen our child’s ultrasound, but I had never had a chance to listen to its heartbeat before, as I had been far too busy juggling part-time jobs and making ends meet. So I asked a nurse in the hospital to let me listen to my child’s heartbeat, for the first and last time, before my child died. You wouldn’t think it could get any worse, could you? But it did. The doctor told us that he wanted to perform an abortion. I asked why, in my broken Japanese. With the aid of a diagram, he explained. If an abortion was not performed, he said, the child would not die right away. It would die a slow death, over a period of two weeks, as the last of the amniotic fluid drained away. Hearing that, I was still inclined to let nature take its course. Better a slow death than a violent one through abortion, which I wanted no part of. But there was something in the doctor’s explanation that I had missed, and I found out a day later: if the baby died naturally, it would rupture my wife’s internal organs when it eventually came out, leaving her unable to have another child, in all likelihood. The doctor said the only alternative was to abort the child, and bring it out as soon as possible. Before, I had been resigned to our child’s impending death. Now I was horrified that I was being asked to give my approval to such a hideous deed - for in Japan, they ask both the husband and wife to give their consent, before performing an abortion. My wife felt that we had done all we could to save our little child. And as her husband, I felt that I should put my wife’s interests first. I could not allow her to be ripped apart on the inside, and the doctors had told us there was absolutely no way to save our child. So with a heavy heart, I agreed. Some might say I committed murder, by bringing on the death of a child. I’ll let God be the judge of that. All I will say is that our child was already doomed to die, despite our best efforts to save it, and my intention in aborting it was not to kill it, but to expel it as speedily as possible from my wife’s body, before it could rupture her organs. Our unborn child died at the age of 17 weeks. It weighed 170 grams. We never knew if it was a boy or a girl, but we held a funeral ceremony for it afterwards - for that is the custom in Japan. That felt right too: we were farewelling a child, not a blob, or a potential life. Almost seven years have passed since our child died, but I still visit its grave every year, on the anniversary of its death. My wife and I felt drained after all that. But we still wanted to have a baby, so we didn’t give up trying. For a long time, nothing happened. Did either of us consider IVF? No. It struck us both as absurdly unnatural. After all, what does it entail? For a woman, it means having her ova extracted; for a man, the cold, clinical procedure of ejaculating into a test tube; and after all this, some lab technician brings a sperm and an ovum together. You want to make a child like THAT? Are you serious? But if you asked me on a rational level why I object to IVF, I’d say: because the actual procedure whereby the child is created is a mechanical one - and hence, a loveless one. Sure, the parents-to-be might plan the procedure lovingly, but that’s not the same thing. The actual process itself is an inhuman, loveless one. I’m not throwing stones at anyone here, Allen, and I mean no disrespect to anyone in your family. I wish them well. But you asked me what I thought of IVF, so I’m telling you. An additional reason for objecting to IVF is that it often involves the destruction of spare embryos - but as I said, even if it didn’t, I’d still be against it. You write:
Using your criteria, the parents of IVF babies – who became such because they wanted a child so fervently they were willing to go through with what is often a fairly arduous and very expensive process* – are guilty of murder if they agree to have their unused, frozen blastocysts destroyed.
Murder is commonly defined as intentional killing. Killing with intent presupposes that the killers have knowledge that they are indeed killing someone. Before a couple who destroyed their spare blastocysts could be charged with murder, one would have to establish that they were fully aware that they were killing someone. Otherwise, in a just society, homicide would be a more appropriate sentence. Ditto for the doctors involved. You write that that “ignorance of the law or a mistake of law is no defense to criminal prosecution” under American law. I’m from Australia, so I can’t comment, but I would have thought that ignorance of the pertinent facts (in this case, that the blastocyst being destroyed is indeed a human being) is clearly a different thing from ignorance of the law. You also write:
If you [italics mine - VJT] were married and wanted a child, but could only have one via IVF, would you attempt to do so, and if so, would you consider that you were at least an accessory to murder?
Short answer: yes, if that meant destroying surplus embryos, since I am fully aware that they are human beings. Well, what happened after that? Two-and-a-half years went by after the death of our first child, and my wife and I were more or less resigned to not having another child, but we never entirely gave up hoping. From time to time, we talked about adoption - but that’s not easy, in Japan. And then we were visited by another miracle. My wife became pregnant again. This time, our child lived. As our child grew inside my wife’s womb, I thought about how much we take for granted in life. We really have no right to expect a fertilized ovum, which is the size of a full stop, to develop into a bouncing baby who can smile back at you - but it does. That’s an everyday miracle. We take the laws of nature for granted all the time, without ever asking why they keep working the way they do. After all, these laws are utterly contingent. They don’t have to be that way. Use your imagination. When you think about it, so many things could go wrong between conception and birth, that it is a wonder that any babies are born at all. And yet they are. I had felt bitter at God after our first child died, but this time, we were truly blessed. My wife and I knew that our new baby was a gift from God. And when our son was born in 2005, the first thing I did when I held him in my arms was to say: “Thank you, God.” It’s a beautiful world we live in, but it’s also a world filled with suffering. Children, born and unborn, die all the time. Why? I don’t know. But the death of these children shouldn’t prevent us from thanking God for the ones that do make it - and the ones that don’t. I feel privileged to have loved two children of my own - one in this owrld, and one in the next. I hope I can be a good father to the son God has given me to take care of. tragic mishap
Part C Finally, I would like to criticize the common view that fetuses acquire a right to life when they acquire sentience. Sentience has nothing to do with having a right to life. It is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for having such a right. It can hardly be sufficient, or otherwise you would have to concede that mammals and birds (which are also sentient) had a right to life. Even most animal liberationists don’t go that far; most of them (including Peter Singer) assert only that animals have the right not to have suffering intentionally inflicted upon them, in order to further another agent’s ends. In any case, the statement “X can suffer” does not logically entail “X has a right to live.” You can’t distil a right to life from mere sentience. Nor can sentience be a necessary condition for having a right to life. If it were, then conditions such as hibernation (should it ever be achieved in humans - think Alien 3), coma and vegetative state (a condition from which people have been known to recover) would deprive a human being of his/her right to life. It would be OK to kill him/her, so long as he/she could not be awoken. (People in these states sometimes cannot be roused for months or even years.) “Ah,” I hear you object, “but these unconscious people still have brains.” That may be so, but if having a brain is the criterion for having a right to life, why not just say so, and dispense with the sentience requirement altogther? “Yeah, but they at least have a kind of capacity for sentience - they just need time, and maybe the right kind of neural jolt, before they can start feeling again.” Wait a minute. Sentience is the capacity to feel. Now you’re saying that having the capacity for a capacity to feel is what gives us a right to life? And what about a fetus? Doesn’t it have a capacity for a capacity to feel? “OK. Scrub that. Let’s focus on the brain. Brain death equals the death of a person; so brain waves mark the beginning of one.” But the problem with a purely neurological criterion for having a right to life is that it doesn’t do the trick. “X has a brain” does not entail “X has a right to life.” Neither does “X has a complex brain” or even “X has a complex, functioning brain.” Besides, which neurological marker should we pick? (A three-week-old embryo has a primitive brain; and a six-week-old embryo has primitive brain waves.) Perhaps the most alarming implication of the brain criterion for personhood, however, is that it destroys human equality. Einstein had a better brain than I do. If brain function is what gives us a right to life, then shouldn’t the better-endowed have more of a right to life than the rest of us? What else follows? Babies matter less than children, who matter less than adults. My moral intuitions are precisely the other way round: killing a baby is worse than killing an adult. Whom would you instinctively have saved first, if you had been the captain of the Titanic? Princeton philosopher Peter Singer contends that we could still all have an equal right to life, after all. All you need is the ability to have a concept of self, with a life in front of you. A four-year-old has that concept just as surely as Einstein. Yes, but not a newborn baby; and as Singer himself acknowledges, humans do not acquire a right to life until they are at least one year old. We are forced to conclude, in the words of Paul Ramsey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, that “Every good argument for abortion is an equally good argument for infanticide.” This is a point which Singer himself admits. He thinks parents should be able to kill their newborn babies if they elect to do so. Usually, he cites severe disability as a ground for killing a baby, but his own position that newborn babies are not persons with a right to life would imply that even if a newborn baby is healthy, it has no right to life. Need I say more? Well, Allen MacNeill and George L. Farquhar, I hope I’ve convinced you that the pro-life position is at least intellectually defensible, and that opposing views have severe problems of their own. tragic mishap
Part B Common Objections to the view that embryos are people with a right to life. 1. The twinning argument: zygotes sometimes split in two. Big deal. All that means is that humans have two modes of reproduction - sexual and asexual - and that the parents of identical twins are really their grand-parents (their parent - the zygote from which they both developed - having died). What’s the metaphysical problem here? There isn’t one. Nature has killed the parent, but sadly, nature kills children all the time - that’s just the old problem of evil. Bad things happen. The recombination argument is no more problematic than the twinning argument. Two individuals die; and a new individual, with its own developmental program, comes to be. That’s sad, but that’s life. 2. The cloning argument. A scientist clones a baby. When does its life begin? Even a clone cannot develop unless the donor’s nuclear DNA is inserted into a (denucleated) human ovum, whose development then has to be artificially triggered (e.g. by an electric shock). My response: if the trigger turns all the epigenetic switches on, so that the human development program is in run-mode, then that’s when the baby’s life begins. 3. Deformed human embryos. What about an embryo whose DNA is so damaged that it will never develop into a self-aware adult? Is it a human person? Yes. To illustrate this, consider a thought experiment. A scientist from the 22nd century travels back in time and repairs the genetic defect of a deformed embryo, enabling it to develop properly. Has the scientist added anything of value? I would say not, any more than someone repairing a crack in the “Mona Lisa” adds value to it as a work of art by restoring it to its original condition. (The deformed embryo may never have been in such a condition, but that is the condition that it should have been in, from a “programming” perspective.) There is a difference between adding or creating new information and restoring damaged information. The former adds value; the latter does not. Thus if a scientist from the 23rd century were to come back and tinker with the genes of a chimpanzee embryo, so that it developed a brain like ours, he/she would have thereby altered its value and created a new kind of entity, which would acquire a right to life only when it acquired the genes for developing a human brain. 4. The hydatiform mole argument (a reductio ad absurdum) - these non-viable embryonic growths seem to meet conditions (1) to (4) in Part A, so are they human beings too? My answer: probably not. With complete moles, all the genes come from the father, so the full set of instructions for developing into a human being is never present (in other words, condition (2) is not met). Partial moles, on the other hand, do have maternal as well as paternal genes (according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydatidiform_mole ). The question would then be: are the epigenetic switches fully activated? (Condition (4).) I would guess not; if they were, I’d be prepared to entertain the possibility that some moles are severely deformed human beings. 5. A few people are chimeras: their bodies have two or more different populations of genetically distinct cells that originated in different zygotes. Chimeras may be formed from four parent cells (two fertilized eggs or early embryos fuse together) or from three parent cells (a fertilized egg is fused with an unfertilized egg or a fertilized egg is fused with an extra sperm). If chimeras are people, then why aren’t moles? My response: obviously these individuals have all the instructions they need to develop (or they wouldn’t be alive); and luckily for them, the fusion event in their development did not turn their switches off, so they clearly meet all four conditions. Individuals resulting from the fusion of two zygotes are new entities, whose immediate parents (the zygotes from which they formed) are now dead: two developmental programs merged and formed a new third program, which happened to be viable. 6. The mortality argument - embryos die in large numbers, prior to implantation. True, but so did children until 200 years ago. What does that prove? 7. The vagueness of conception as a starting point: the process takes 24 hours to complete. My reply: when can we speak of the fertilized egg as having a single developmental program, and when are the epigenetic switches turned on? That’s when conception truly begins. In any case, I can live with a slightly blurry boundary. If we can’t pinpoint exactly when conception occurs, we can always play it safe and refuse to experiment with any egg that is in the process of being fertilized. We’re only talking 24 hours, after all… 8. The breast-feeding argument. Breast-feeding inhibits implantation, so breast-feeding mothers who have intercourse are guilty of murder if zygotes are human beings. Reply: murder is ordinarily defined as intentional killing. In this case, we are talking about a tiny human being whom the mother isn’t even aware of. The objection is puerile. 9. The “unwanted embryos” argument. What are we going to do with the thousands of embryos in laboratories? My reply: we don’t have to do anything, except refrain from intentionally killing them. We owe them that much. As I said, regardless of whether you believe in a soul, the pro-life position on human rights makes a lot more sense than the “sentientist” position that we acquire rights when we start feeling pain, or even later, when we become self-conscious. Those positions are fraught with ethical peril: they destroy human equality and harden our hearts to such a degree that we fail to recognize babies as people. Finally, anyone interested in reading articles by doctors and philosophers in defence of the pro-life position might like to peruse the following: “Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research: What’s Wrong With It?” by Professor David Oderberg in Human Life Review (Fall 2005):1-33 at http://www.rdg.ac.uk/AcaDepts/.....search.pdf . “Life: Defining the Beginning by the End” by Professor Maureen Condic at http://www.firstthings.com/art.....rticle=485 . “When Do Human Beings Begin? ‘Scientific’ Myths and Scientific Facts” - by Dr. Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D. at http://www.l4l.org/library/mythfact.html . tragic mishap
I should have just posted this from the beginning. It's a comment by vjtorley on this topic posted here at UD in March of last year. I didn't bother to look it up but it's probably still up on this site somewhere. The next comments are all a direct quotation from him: Part A - A Summary of My Own Position I maintain that any entity satisfying all of the following four requirements is a a human person with a right to life. [Note: Before readers rush in to accuse me of speciesism, I recognize that there may well be persons belonging to other species, but this does not touch on the issue which I am addressing, which is: which entities should be treated as human beings, with the same right to life as you or I?] Anyway, here are my four conditions: (1) The entity’s developmental end-point is a human adult. (Chimps fail this condition, by definition.) This characteristic is empirically verifiable, simply from inspecting the entity’s DNA. Why is this requirement necessary? Well, anything that’s not even on its way to becoming a rational human being (roughly, a human adult) can hardly be entitled to human rights as such. If it’s Martian, it may have rights as a Martian, and for all I know, some other animals (including chimps) might also possess a right to life, but that’s another matter entirely; (2) A complete set of genetic instructions - i.e. a program - for building a human being. Without a developmental program, the entity is not even a human-in-the-making, let alone a human being; (3) A biological embodiment for those instructions: in other words, the entity is an organism. This is important: I could put all the instructions for making a human being on a CD, but that certainly wouldn’t make it a person. In fact, it wouldn’t even be alive; (4) The developmental program in for building a human being has to be in run mode - i.e. the epigenetic switches are fully activated. Here, I agree with Professor Peter Singer that a mere potential for becoming a human person does not endow an entity with the rights of a person. If it did, then every skin cell which my body sheds would be a human person. This suffices to rebut George L. Farquhar’s objection relating to dandruff. I’ve briefly argued for why I believe the four requirements listed above are necessary for having basic human rights (especially a right to life), but that doesn’t prove they’re sufficient. Before I answer this question, however, I’d like to address the question of which entities actually meet these criteria. In short: zygotes, embryos and fetuses do, as well as children who have already been born. Ova and sperm cells don’t. Adult stem cells don’t, either. Let’s start with a zygote. A zygote possesses the following combination of characteristics: (1) A human telos or developmental end-point. It’s a developing entity, and the biological end-point of its development is a human adult. We can say the same of a fetus, a baby and a child. Could we say the same of an unfertilized ovum? Well, yes, if it’s about to be fertilized, we might. What about an adult stem cell? Yes. (2) A complete set of genetic instructions - i.e. a program - for building a human being. Note that all of the instructions are internal to the zygote. During pregnancy, the mother gives the embryo/fetus nutrition, warmth and love, but the one thing she does not give the embryo/fetus is information on how to develop. It already has all of that information. An ovum flunks out here; it only has half the instructions. Ditto for a sperm cell. On the other hand, adult stem cells have all this information, so they are still in the running… (3) A biological embodiment for those instructions: obviously, it’s an organism. An ovum and a sperm cell satisfy this condition too. So does an adult stem cell. A robot does not. (4) Fully activated epigenetic switches, which mean that the program for building a human body is in run mode. This disposes of the standard objection, “Every cell in my body has human DNA, so why isn’t it a person too?” The answer is that in skin cells, and other body cells, most of the epigenetic switches are turned off, which is why skin cells can only turn into skin cells. What about adult stem cells? They’re pluripotent, not totipotent. That’s precisely why advocates of embryonic stem cell research don’t like them. Although they are able to turn into a variety of different cell types, an adult stem cell, if implanted into a human uterus, will not develop into a human being. The only way to make it do so is to reset its epigenetic switches, essentially turning it back into an embryo again. If a scientist did that, then he/she would indeed have created a new human being, but until the switches are reset back to “embryonic mode”, an adult stem cell is not a human being. Note that all of the four characteristics listed above are actual characteristics, rather than potential ones. “What about the first one?” I hear you object. No problem there. The question is simply: what is the organism’s developmental end-point? We can know the answer to that question by looking at an organism’s DNA, long before it matures. So much for the old canard that the pro-life case is built on the potential qualities of the embryo. It is clearly not. Please note too that there’s nothing about an immaterial soul in these conditions, either. Now, I will acknowledge that Professor Singer has a valid point about personhood: rights are only exercised when we make choices, which is something that only a self-aware entity can do. My first point in response is that that a living organism which has a built-in and fully switched-on program whose terminus or end-point is a mature, self-aware adult, is the same entity as the adult it becomes: it has not only material continuity (same body), but also continuity of form(same program), continuity of process (it’s been running the whole time) and telos (same developmental goal). My second point is that during the course of its development, nothing is added to this entity that would enhance its value. As it develops, certain features (e.g. complex brain function) may emerge, but they are not added from outside. The instructions for building these features all came from within, and what’s more, these instructions were fully switched on from the beginning (conception). All that was needed was time for them to run, and a supportive environment, which however adds no new information. (Readers who are still inclined to think that the emergence of sentience in a fetus or self-consciousness in a baby somehow confers additional value upon it should see Part C below.) Now let V be the value of a mature adult. We have determined that the value added to the embryonic organism from which it develops is zero. Thus the value of this organism must be V minus 0, which equals V. Thus an embryo must matter as much as the human adult it becomes. But anything that matters as much as a human person, IS a person. Therefore, an embryo is a human person. Putting it less formally: a zygote is a living organism, with the complete genetic program that it needs to develop into a human adult, and the program is switched on and in run mode. Is there any good reason, then, to deny it the same right to life that an adult enjoys? I cannot think of any. tragic mishap
Dr. Fuller @ 17:
The open question is how much of our normal material humanity is necessary to convey a soul that is divinely accountable.
That will always be an open question, because only the Divine can answer it. I haven't heard from the Deity lately on that particular topic. Therefore I think it best to play it safe. After all, in Judaism the age of accountability is twelve. I don't know a lot of Jews, but I'm pretty sure I've never heard any of them, materialistic or no, advocating that divine accountability is the point at which an innocent person should no longer be terminated. tragic mishap
Sorry---just reread 17 and see that I misunderstood the comment (“there are neither conceptual nor empirical grounds for supposing that God makes regular direct interventions”), that it was predicated of Deism and not just asserted. I shouldn't be in such a hurry! No, I've no problem with the Deist position---was just wondering why its ban on interventionism is so universally accepted among theologians. Could it be that God so transcends logic (and thus isn't limited by logic) that the only theodicy left is to ban God from the here and now? Rude
Steven Fuller says, “I am always puzzled when people on this list talk about Deism.” Maybe I was the one and so I apologize for using the word for something maybe it shouldn’t be used for. But I have to disagree when you say that “there are neither conceptual nor empirical grounds for supposing that God makes regular direct interventions.” This actually is an empirical question that ID can pursue. Is “front loading” from the foundation capable of providing the biosphere with the design we now see? Or does what we see require regular direct intervention? Jon D. Levenson, as I mentioned, spends at least a chapter on modernism’s loathing of the notion of an interventionist Deity. Why that is should be is an interesting question in itself. Judaism, the most here and now of the Abrahamic faiths, traditionally spoke of the Deity as the Hebrew God of History. And some kind of interventionism was probably intended by Winston Churchill when he said, “I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants.” Anyway I respect Steve Fuller and enjoy his comments. How many thinkers are willing to endure the ridicule that comes with approaching ID honestly? Rude
Theistic Darwinists who reject John Duns Scotus’ doctrine of univocal predication often postmodernly allow that we have access to the deity subjectively but not logically. Thus they uphold the NOMA dicotomy wherein logic inhabits “science” and religion is entirely subjective within the realm of private feelings. If it’s true that Scotus’ principle is what made science possible in the West then it makes sense that it’s rejection is what’s destroying science now. For how long can empirical science last without any philosophical underpinnings? Atheism is nihilism but a healthy agnosticism (not the kind that knows we cannot know) might still inspire hope. And hope is hope only as long as it is bolstered by evidence—otherwise why not just believe in Santa Clause? Tenured celebrities may be having fun now, but any purpose the vagueries of life and the certainty of death might provide mean nothing at all to an increasing crowd stripped of the faith of their fathers. Rude
A lot of interesting things are being said here, but I only wish to make two interventions: (1) You can think of the Abrahamic religions as arrayed along a continuum according to the degree of materialism to which they are committed: Judaism the most materialistic and Islam the least, with Christianity occupying an ambiguous middle position, as exemplified by the concrete specificity of Jesus Christ. Metaphysical preoccupations about how one distinguishes ‘individuals’ – and especially what makes each individual unique – stem from biblical assumptions about the uniqueness of each person’s fate, which is a product of the unique set of circumstances that forces each person to take decisions, for which s/he is then held accountable. The life of Jesus dramatises this feature – which speaks to Christianity’s (intelligently designed) materialism. The open question is how much of our normal material humanity is necessary to convey a soul that is divinely accountable. By contrast, Muhammad in the Qur’an is treated as a pure vehicle through which the divine logos flows into print. The Prophet’s materiality is relevant only as a collecting point for the divine logos, not as a locus of personal agency. If you want an immaterialist account of information processing within the Abrahamic traditions, the classic Muslim self-understanding of the writing of the Qur’an would fit the bill to a tee. Indeed, this led several Enlightenment thinkers to judge Islam a ‘purer’ faith than Christianity – precisely because it did not fetishise the human body in a manner suggested by the significance Christians attached to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. (2) I am always puzzled when people on this list talk about Deism. Deism is basically an anti-clerical and largely anti-religious theist position. It upholds a generic monotheism – i.e. what is common to the Abrahamic faiths minus the ‘superstitious’ bits. Now this may not sound like much of a faith, and Deism’s reputation for portraying God as indifferent to Creation doesn’t help. However, Deism should be taken – and was taken by its 18th century proponent – as a reasonable good faith position if you want to take seriously (a) that the imago dei doctrine is correct and it enables us to make sense of reality; (b) that reality is palpably imperfect yet God is supposed to be perfect; (c ) that however (b) is resolved, there are neither conceptual nor empirical grounds for supposing that God makes regular direct interventions. But none of this implies that God is uncaring for or detached from his creation. However, it does require that one conceptualise God's relationship to us in a more imaginative -- and less straightforwardly parental -- fashion. Steve Fuller
As for moral issues I agree with Tragic Mishap—they’re not ammenable to empirical science when such is defined materialistically or—as today—the Zeitgeist is amoral. Morality like math consists of “what we can’t not know” (Budziszewski 2004) but what also so many do not want to know. In the end I think Western Civilization is doomed except it can get back to the revelatory source that once gave it a general consensus on ethics. Here I recommend Melanie Phillips (2010) “The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power.” Melanie Phillips is a religious agnostic but says this better than I’ve seen anywhere else. Rude
Seeing the recommendation above I thought to purchase Amos Funkenstein “Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century” but balked at the price. Steve Fuller’s description of the book interests me, especially “John Duns Scotus’ doctrine of ‘univocal predication’, whereby the difference in virtues between ourselves and God is defined as a matter of degree not kind.” I guess I missed Vincent Torley’s perceptive piece. But where did this notion that God is so utterly alien—so unGenesis 1:26-28—that by definition we could never recognize his hand in the cosmos? Surely it was not the Bible. Animism, of course, doesn’t distinguish the hand of agency from chance and necessity—though I’ve always wondered how accurate that really is outside our philosophical perceptions. I’ve worked as a descriptive linguist with the languages of animists, and such languages are as likely to distinguish grammatically chance from purpose as any other language. I’ve often mused that perhaps deism was the result of an over zealous interpretation of transcendance, that by exalting our God akbar than everything physical or abstract the theologians actually limited God. Now God sits outside of all reality where he neither interacts with us personally nor manages the course of our history (à la Daniel 4:17, 18, 25) except via the necessity built into the cosmos at the beginning. Rude
I don't. But it does seem that the only way to define an human "individual" in reference to morality is the possession of an individual spirit. Since that cannot be scientificially measured, then there is no way to know when an individual human being is "born". This leaves us with a scientific definition of when a human life begins, and it seems pretty obvious that conception is the only viable option. It certainly is the one which allows a theist/dualist to play it safe with regards to the timing of the embodiment of a spirit, since that cannot be known. It's a side benefit of this approach that because it's a scientific definition of life it should appeal just as strongly to a materialist who believes, for whatever reason, in individual rights. tragic mishap
I'm not sure that a scientific theory like ID really needs to have a defense of the importance of the individual. That seems a moral issue, and scientific theories really aren't the greatest at making moral judgements if the 20th century is any indication. The materialist view is that science is the highest or even only form of Truth and therefore morality must be justified by science. Most ID supporters oppose the view that science is the only form of Truth, and many including myself would probably say it's not even the highest form. In that case a defense of individual rights need not come from science at all. It can come from theology, philosophy, metaphysics or even law if need be. I'm just not sure that the issue you are raising means much to most ID supporters. Do you think morality must be justified by science? tragic mishap
Dr. Fuller, I'm not saying the book would not be an interesting read, but legally speaking, at least in the United States and most western countries, individual rights are legally protected. This sprang from the Judeo-Christian worldview, but it is our law now and almost no one questions individual rights under the law. If you were to attack individual rights, you'd be attacking the entire western system of justice. Nobody knows when or how God endows the human being with an embodied spirit. Defining human life as beginning at conception plays it safe from that perspective. If you are a materialist, you still need a definition of when a human life actually begins and a scientific one such as conception is still the best bet. The only way a materialist could really argue with that is by attacking the whole idea of individual rights, which is politically and legally a non-starter, at least in the United States. Anyone interested in the abortion debate in the US should check out the Personhood movement. A Personhood ammendment was on the ballot in Colorado in 2008 but did not receive enough traditional pro-life support to pass. 2010 appears to be a different story: http://www.personhoodcolorado.com/ tragic mishap
Maybe ID’s philosophers are coming to see the world as consisting of three things—not just matter and information, but matter and information and agency. The information or logos of life is not the cause of agency but rather its effect. For this I recommend Angus Menuge’s (2004) “Agents Under Fire, Materialism and the Rationality of Science.” Jacques Monod’s (1972) “Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology” is also recommended because there he distinguishes those two (chance and necessity) and furiously asserts that design can be nothing but the product of those same two. Every explanation must begin with something, and for Darwin (as now with Many Worlds) that is blind chance. Those outside the physics community instinctively decry any kind of ultimate necessity, as do George Lakoff and Rafael Núñez’s in their (2000) “Where Mathematics Comes From: How the embodied mind brings mathematics into being.” For a refreshing antidote I recommend Reuben Hersh’s (1999) “What Is Mathematics, Really?” Though neither are theists, both Paul Davies and Michael Denton are mathematical realists or Platonists. Paul Davies chides Christians for wanting to have it both ways—a good God unlimited even by logic—this was a point he made in his (1993) “The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World.” Michael Denton would explain all design from a Platonic perspective in his (2002) “Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe.” But law-like behavior is only capable of simple, repetitive patterns, as our own Bill Dembski has argued cogently beginning with his (1998) “The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction and Decision Theory).” Additionally it is important to distinguish between the necessity of principles—such as mathematical principles—which could be no other way and physical law which might vary in other possible worlds—one might start here with Richard Feynman’s (1964) “The Character of Physical Law.” And then I recommend atheist Martin Rees’ (2001) “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe.” Rees ends his book by noting that physical law appears designed and thus leaves us only two possible explanations: theism or many worlds (and nothing but pure dumb luck). But with modernism there emerged among theists a deep antipathy to an interventionist God, an issue Jon D. Levenson addresses in his (2009) “Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life.” Phillip Johnson early on noted that it would be much easier to admit to a God who triggered the Big Bang and has been inactive and silent ever since. And such indeed is the distinguishing feature between BioLogos and ID. There I know I sneaked in too many books—mostly not so science-religiony as just, well, just what they are. Rude
This thread gives me the opportunity to bring up a relevant and important book on just these topics of science and religion, that relates in a big way therefore to ID, and it is a book that would otherwise be neglected. I had initially intended to post this on the other thread about books on science and religion but post it here instead. I don't want to take away from what books Fuller discusses, just want to add an important one to the list, and it is a relatively recent publication. The book that immediately comes to my mind on science and religion is 'Synthesis of Science and Religion - Critical Essays and Dialogues' edited by T D Singh and Ravi Gomatam. It is a volume consisting of papers - lectures, essays, interviews - that made up the workshops and the like at the World Congress for the Synthesis of Science and Religion in Bombay (now Mumbia) in 1986 and this subsequent volume of proceedings was published in 1987. This congress was organised by the Bhaktivedanta Institute, a leading interdisciplinary institution, well-known in the scholarly Hindu and Oriental world. I read the book two years ago but fortunately have it on my shelves. On perusing it again I am reminded that it contains contributions on the dynamics and interplay between religion and science from the likes of the Cambridge physicist and Nobel Laureate Brian Josephson, an interview with Maurice Wilkins, an essay from George Wald, the Harvard biologist and even an introductory essay from the Dalai Lama appropriately entitled "The need for synthesis". Of especial interest is Notre Dame philosopher Ernan McMullin's contribution, "The impact of the theory of evolution on Western Religious Thought" where he takes a theistic evolution approach, admitting its difficulties to a degree, and the response to McMullin from T D Singh entitled "Vedantic Views of Evolution", where Singh makes it clear he sees Darwinian evolution as incompatible with a religious outlook. Singh in fact comments "The theory, atheistic in content and spirit, denied the necessity for God in the creation. Morover because it was presented within the framework of science, the theory became a dominant cause of conflict between science and religion. We should ask however why its atheistic influence on religion was stronger in the West than in the East". Singh then expands on this. Another East vs West debate on the nature on the antagonisms between science and religion in the book is Harvard Divinity School's Harvey Cox's essay "A Lover's quarrel: The Story of Religion and Science in the West" and the response from K R Anantharamum, a prof of metallurgy in Benares, "A Saga in Synthesis". There is a section on mind, brain and consciousness featuring essays from the likes of John Searle, Richard Gregory and MIT's J Weizenbaum and others. Other contributions by David W Long, theologian Jurgen Moltmann, so many others. It's worth mentioning here that in the foreword to the book by George Wald, he relates how a small group of scientists had approached the Divinity School at Harvard (in the late 50's), to begin at the great university a forum for dialogue. Wald mentions their role in the Institute of Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS). Wald relates how the theologians backed off on the idea of such a forum and thus in Wald's words they decided "to smoke out the most distinguished member of the Divinity faculty...Paul Tillich". They all went out for dinner together, Tillich bringing along his fellow theologian John Dillinberger. Wald writes: "we had hardly finished eating when Tillich announced that he had prepared a statement. He said that science has nothing to do with religion, neither to exercise a critique or even a commentary. Religion has to do with the existential qualities, with man's hopes, fears, aspirations, despair. Science is simply irrelevant. "We asked whether this was an informed view; did Tilich know any science? No, he said, he had never really made a meaningful contact with it." Interestingly enough over eleven hundred delegates from all over the world attended the 1986 Congress, representing the natural and physical sciences, mathematics, the social sciences, theology and other disciplines. It was an important event in the debate between and amongst religion and science and their overlapping boundaries and took place at the same time that the ID movement was beginning to coalesce as such in the West, although of course back then disorganised, inchoate and not yet existing as a proper movement. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, there is a wealth of meaty material here and it deserves a reappraisal especially in light of the developments over the last quarter century. zephyr
Steve, I am enjoying this discussion as a bystander but have to ask "from the audience". When you say:
"However, the ID supporter still needs to figure out how to cash out the Abrahamic idea that ‘individual’ expressions of the divine logos (aka embodied souls) matter in this scheme."
It seems to be only a problem if you try to account for the soul from the perspective of genes, i.e. the physical. Surely there is no logical reason to think that our physical makeup is the starting point for becoming/being an embodied soul. To illustrate this. Even if we manage to, completely synthetically (...from the most fundamental physical building blocks that we can manipulate) generate a complete functional body and manage to bring it to life, that act would still not logically preclude a soul being "provided" to achieve the perceived materialistic feet of creating live. This illustration's conclusion covers any human interaction with the physical process of producing a body. A very important consequence of this position is that our "power" over judging if any conscious life form has been endowed with a soul are completely limited, regardless how it came into existence. And our default position should only be that any conscious life most probably has an immaterial soul, until proven otherwise. If there are any logical reason to think that any act in nature can successfully preclude divine / intelligent intervention, of this "soul-giving-sort", from outside then I still need to learn about it. P.S. The problem in my mind is therefore only for the one who wants to entertain a materialistic priority for the view of the construct of an "embodied soul", which is logically unnecessary... regardless of the duality. I certainly know that I might be wrong and hope to be enlightened. mullerpr
My apologies for not getting back sooner. I’m afraid my answer is a bit complex, and I can’t promise to respond to everything everyone says. Life goes on. Tragic mishap is right with regard to Dobzhansky’s population genetics based view of the relativity of pro-choice/pro-life. But it touches on rather deep issues that help to explain why Thomists and other more conventional Christians stay clear of ID. The pro-choice/pro-life distinction is clearest if there is a clear ontological distinction between what’s natural and not-natural, such that ‘not-natural’ means interruption or interference with what is natural, which is how pro-life likes to cast pro-choice. This in turn presumes that the difference between ‘creator’ and ‘creature’ is clear. Thus, God creates all, but creatures experience the world, for the most part, as ‘always already’ created – and that’s what ‘nature’ means. But what happens as humans participate more in the creative process – e.g. through genetic selection and even molecular synthesis? This capacity brings us closer to God in terms of not only sheer physical power but also moral responsibility. It doesn’t follow that anything goes, of course, but it does follow that any strong metaphysical appeal to ‘nature’ (a la natural law) looks increasingly outdated and beside the point. I do not mean to deny that strong political arguments can be made for restricting the termination of life in various ways – but they are ultimately political arguments, i.e. decisions taken in an inherently open-ended situation for which the decision-makers are ultimately responsible. (It is not by accident that Dobzhansky uses Tillich’s existentialist phrase ‘ultimate concern’ to characterise his theology.) ID is especially open to this way of thinking about things because it is strongly committed to the idea that all of nature is an artefact – either by God, ourselves or perhaps some other beings. If you really believe in ID, ‘nature’ is simply the name for the intelligently designed reality that you don’t understand or can’t control or happens to be around before you mess with it. All of nature’s supposed ‘inherent properties’ were put there by some creative intellect, whose powers we are slowly approximating as creatures made in the image and likeness of God. (Again, Dobzhansky’s Orthodox Christianity is a helpful hint, since that’s been branch perhaps most enamoured of human ‘theosis’, i.e. our capacity to become godlike.) If you find this strange, think about the ultimate force of ID’s stress on ‘information’ as what enables matter to live. ‘Information’ in that sense is roughly equivalent to expressions of the divine logos, in which case one is more concerned with the promotion and transmission of such information than with the sheer survival of its particular material vehicles. Now, if this sounds to you like Richard Dawkins’ ‘selfish gene’ hypothesis, then you’d be right. Dawkins’ metaphor very much presupposes that genes are information-processors, just as ID does. The difference is that Dawkins can’t explain why genes have this character, whereas ID suggests that this is the scientific expression of the divine logos. However, the ID supporter still needs to figure out how to cash out the Abrahamic idea that ‘individual’ expressions of the divine logos (aka embodied souls) matter in this scheme. To put the matter crudely: Dawkins in principle could live with a world in which genes are proliferated wonderfully but at the cost of perpetually arbitrary nasty deaths for all the individuals who bear them, since ONLY the genes matter. Christians et al. can’t tolerate such a world on moral grounds – and this is where Dobzhansky’s ruminations prove relevant. Steve Fuller
Sorry but the bloodflow thing seems like something someone in the 18th century or before would posit. I'm not saying I would necessarily disagree if I were living then but I think we have knowledge now hat is much more definitive on the matter. Look up "cristopjer hitchens on abortion" on youtube. He seems pro-life but claims it's solely a secular problem. Probably because of his misconeptions about the relationship between religion and science. He also claims that Christians only care about people after they're dead. I guess he can't help himself though and has to take a cheap, caricatured shot at Christianity at least once a minute. Phaedros
That's an interesting viewpoint johnnyb. I'm more partial to the position that the firing of neural synapses is a more appropriate definition. Although I would definitely entertain arguments about other bodily functions marking the beginning of human life. Perhaps the beginning of lymphatic fluid flow, or the first contraction of a muscle protein. Perhaps the definition of human life depends on the individual contribution to entropy and corresponds to the first flow of urine and bowel movements. The creation of a brand new, unique set of DNA could certainly have nothing whatsoever to do with it. tragic mishap
A highly interesting list, Steve. I don't know that book by Theodosius Dobzhansky at all, but I just asked our librarians to get it. Your description is fascinating. I didn't know that Wiener was a Unitarian, or that it influenced his thinking about science. Also fascinating. As for Funkenstein, therein lies a tale. In 1984, I finished a disseration on the interplay of rationalist and voluntarist theologies of creation in early modern natural philosophy (focusing on Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, and Newton)in which I argued that the dialogue of divine omnipotence found in medieval theology continued right through the Scientific Revolution and influenced debates about what kind of knowledge science provides and how we ought to acquire it. A month before I defended my disseration, Francis Oakley's book, "Omnipotence, Covenant, and Order," came out--making very similar arguments (which he had first advanced in a much shorter form in a famous 1961 article that influenced me). Then, two years later, Funkenstein's book appeared. I recognize your description of it, and for me the key aspect was the continuity between medieval theology and early modern natural philosophy. A crucial study, as you point out. Although not identical to the arguments I had made, it might have made my arguments seem somewhat less original to a publisher. In any event, I wasn't able to get any grants to turn the dissertation into a publishable book, and I ended up writing a series of articles instead. I put Hooykaas on my first list (early influences), but I debated whether to put Oakley or Funkenstein on either list for similar reasons: all three of them found profound connections between Christian theology and early modern natural philosophy, the kinds of connections that my doctoral committee (which included Edward Grant and the late Richard Westfall) found a bit hard to accept, at first, in my proposal. Thanks for sharing your list. Ted Davis
tragic mishap - "Conception is the only philosophically defensible definition of the beginning of a human life" I disagree. I think the flow of blood marks the independence of the new life as a separate, whole entity. johnnyb
Also, the Nazi view that "‘nature’ (as in ‘natural selection’) was dictating their racist policies" probably came from Mein Kampf where Hitler argues quite vociferously that the French were doing it wrong by selecting at or before birth who should die. Instead, he apparently argued that instead no one ought to be killed at birth but allowed to live to adulthood, where Nature would decide their fate as the only authority on the subject. It is backwards reasoning, since apparently human choice is only part of the force of nature when the object of its attentions is a human adult rather than a child, fetus or simply prevention of conception. But Hitler could not allow the French to be right! The French had to be doing it wrong because they were the French and not good Germans. tragic mishap
I was interested in that statement as well. Would I be right in assuming the argument is that both abortion and "pro-life" forms of birth control are doing the same thing from the perspective of population genetics? That is a kind of human breeding driven by social forces? If so, that is not a meaningful distinction between the two positions. The meaningful distinction is when a fetus becomes a human with all the rights of other humans. Conception is the only philosophically defensible definition of the beginning of a human life (ask Vincent Torley). Therefore a pro-life position merely goes to the logical conclusion that any human fetus ought to have the same rights as any human being. Of course, the underlying assumption is that human life should have these rights. I saved Vincent Torley's entire comment on this subject if you would like me to post it. tragic mishap
Interesting choice of books. But I’m curious—when you say, “People who think that there is a meaningful distinction between ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ should read this book,” does Dobzhansky think there is a meaningful distinction? And who might think there isn't? Rude

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