Intelligent Design

At Mind Matters News: Must we be able to reason to be thought of as human persons?

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Michael Egnor: A common argument as to why abortion is generally ethical is that the unborn child cannot reason:

But human life is a continuum precisely because every stage of human life — from zygote to senescence — is human. A zygote is just as much a human being as you and I are. You and I were just as much human beings when we were zygotes as we are now, and we will be just as much human beings when we are on our deathbeds as we are now.

Children in the womb at every stage are certainly human beings, just as we all are. Human life is a developmental process of actualization of potencies. We grow, physically, mentally, and spiritually. No one is less than human just because of age or stage of development or ratios of potency to actuality.

We are all human beings at every stage of life. Whether we are “persons” or not depends on the reigning moral and legal definition of “persons.” The moral quandary — the agonizing and contentious moral quandary in the abortion debate — is not whether zygotes or embryos or fetuses or newborns are human beings (they are), but whether they are persons worthy of respect and protection.

Michael Egnor, “Must we be able to reason to be thought of as human persons?” at Mind Matters News (May 15, 2022)

Takehome: Reason is a natural quality of the human being but, like everything in nature, it develops in stages. One can’t say it doesn’t exist when undeveloped.

You may also wish to read: Do babies really feel pain before they are self-aware? Michael Egnor discusses the fact that the thalamus, deep in the brain, creates pain. The cortex moderates it. Thus, juveniles may suffer more. Jonathan Wells recalls, from when he was a lab technologist, how very premature infants would scream when he took a drop of blood for tests.

34 Replies to “At Mind Matters News: Must we be able to reason to be thought of as human persons?

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Thoughts: What is a human being? An accident of cosmos formation, life emergence and a particular accidental collection of molecules forming a body? Can that account for rational, responsible, significantly free mind as general potential and/or as expressed in the course of living? If not — and credibly it cannot [we need an oracle to work with the bodily cybernetic loop] — then the suggested paradigm becomes self referential, incoherent and self discrediting by self falsification. So, we need a fresh paradigm, one that extends Turing’s oracle concept to a two tier controller for the cybernetic loop. This breaks out of GIGO and the inherently non free, non rational nature of dynamic stochastic computation. But, it opens the world of freedom, common sense and judgement. KF

  2. 2
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Aristotle, Confucius, Siddhartha Gautama and the author of Ecclesiastes all addressed that within the same time frame 550-350 BC.

  3. 3
    Viola Lee says:

    Egner writes, ” Perhaps the most common justification that abortion proponents give for supporting abortion is that the human embryo or fetus isn’t capable of rational thought — and rational thought is the defining characteristic of humanity.

    That is not a common argument: I don’t think that is an argument used at all. Where did Egner get that idea?

    He also writes, “All living things have souls, because “soul” is defined as the characteristics that make them alive. The specific array of abilities and possibilities a living thing has determines what species of living thing it is. A tree has different abilities and possibilities than a man has. So Coyne is wrong to say “there’s no evidence [a zygote] has a soul”. If it’s alive, it has a soul.”

    I don’t think this is a common idea either. Trees have souls? That might be an Aristotelian idea but it certainly isn’t a common idea in the world today.

  4. 4
    JVL says:

    Michael Egnor: If it’s alive, it has a soul.

    Are they all eternal I wonder? In the afterlife do you bump into the souls of trees and dinosaurs and trilobites and all the chickens raised to be slaughtered and made into chicken nuggets and all the bacteria that ever lived? I wonder if some of them are sore about the development of antibiotics.

    If viruses are only sort-of alive do they have sort-of souls?

  5. 5
    jerry says:

    It was explained to me at a secular graduate school by the professor that the fetus is genetically identical to an adult human at conception and during gestation.

    Obviously different cell count and different stage of development but identical genetically. So we were killing a human being, just one that’s in a different stage of development.

    Look around and each human you see was once in that exact same stage.

    Aside: every human is adding cells to its body during its life so cell count or stage of development should not be the issue.

  6. 6
    relatd says:

    What a strange situation. Souls are not biological things. The animist position is this: “a person who believes all natural things, such as plants, animals, rocks, and thunder, have spirits and can influence human events:” That is quite wrong.

    Everyone reading this began life as an embryo.

  7. 7
    Silver Asiatic says:

    It’s the argument that the fetus is not conscious. Even if true (although it is proven that developing babies in the womb feel pain) it would mean that we could kill any living adult who was not conscious, however temporary that might be.

  8. 8
    relatd says:

    Another attempt to justify abortion? An embryo is a unique human being.

  9. 9
    JHolo says:

    SA: It’s the argument that the fetus is not conscious. Even if true (although it is proven that developing babies in the womb feel pain) it would mean that we could kill any living adult who was not conscious, however temporary that might be.

    Yes, it is certainly true that mid to late term embryos experience pain, but experts in neurological development agree that the ability to perceive pain begins around the 23rd week. They certainly respond to stimuli, but responding to stimuli and the perception of pain are not the same thing.

  10. 10
  11. 11
    JHolo says:

    Relatd: The heart begins to beat long before that.

    True. But, contrary to romantic literature and often used metaphors, the heart is just a pump.

  12. 12
    asauber says:

    “the heart is just a pump”

    Jholo,

    What value would you place on a working heart for someone?

    Andrew

  13. 13
    JHolo says:

    Andrew: What value would you place on a working heart for someone?

    The same as I would put on a working liver, a working spinal cord, working kidneys, and many other things.

  14. 14
    asauber says:

    “The same as I would put on a working liver, a working spinal cord, working kidneys, and many other things.”

    Jholo,

    Great. But you haven’t really described the value of these things. Would you please?

    Andrew

  15. 15
    JHolo says:

    Andrew: Great. But you haven’t really described the value of these things. Would you please?

    Value to whom? I find my heart, brain, kidneys, liver, etc. to be of great value to me. My organs may not hold the same value to you as they do to me.

  16. 16
    ET says:

    21 weeks is the earliest a human baby has been born and survived.

    Egnor is right. Being a human is a process that has a beginning and an end. Science says that life starts at conception. And that life is a human life, ie the beginning.

    But AGAIN, unless we hold the men accountable for unwanted pregnancies, abortions will always be a problem.

  17. 17
    relatd says:

    ET at 16,

    Hold men accountable? A woman and a man are both required for pregnancy to occur. The idea that the man could just walk away and it’s only the woman’s choice, where did that come from? Total Strangers who said sex outside of marriage is OK?

  18. 18
    JHolo says:

    ET: But AGAIN, unless we hold the men accountable for unwanted pregnancies, abortions will always be a problem.

    Men are legally and financially accountable for any child they are the father of. I’m not sure what you are suggesting.

  19. 19
    asauber says:

    “Value to whom? I find my heart, brain, kidneys, liver, etc. to be of great value to me. My organs may not hold the same value to you as they do to me.”

    Jholo,

    Well, I hope you recognize they have value to the person who uses them for life. I’m not sure that you do. You seem strangely defensive about it.

    Andrew

  20. 20
    Belfast says:

    ET
    You are right, but that is not what Egnor has done here. He sets up a very debatable statement (“common argument”) which makes his article appear a refutation, in other words, the start-a-fight-to-draw-attention ploy.
    There is nothing to disparage in the rest of his article, and the debate will go on anyway.
    Right now, the trimester argument looks like eventually being the only game in town, politically, condensing to absolute ‘no’ at any time versus 1st trimester (however defined in length.)

  21. 21
    ET says:

    But AGAIN, unless we hold the men accountable for unwanted pregnancies, abortions will always be a problem.

    JHolo:

    Men are legally and financially accountable for any child they are the father of.

    That doesn’t have anything to do with what I said. And if the girl doesn’t speak up and say who the father is then he doesn’t pay.

    Men have to be held responsible for unwanted pregnancies.

  22. 22
    JHolo says:

    ET@21, I still don’t know what you are talking about. If a woman has an unwanted pregnancy and doesn’t want to identify the father, how are you going to hold him accountable? If she has an abortion without letting the father know, how are you going to hold him accountable?

  23. 23
    JHolo says:

    Andrew: Well, I hope you recognize they have value to the person who uses them for life. I’m not sure that you do. You seem strangely defensive about it.

    Of course they have value to the person who uses them. But I don’t see what point you are trying to make here. My initial comment was simply a clarification to the statement that embryos feel pain.

  24. 24
    Fred Hickson says:

    If I have a close relative with kidney failure and our tissues match and I donate one of my kidneys so that my relative doesn’t die and is able to live a normal, dialysis-free life, whose kidney is it?

    Edit: spelling.

  25. 25
    ET says:

    I would think that the laws would be a deterrent, JHolo. Laws that say the men responsible will be fined, imprisoned or castrated.

    And you bring up another point. It seems that men don’t have any reproductive rights.

  26. 26
    ET says:

    Wow! This could solve everything!:

    If I have a close relative with kidney failure and our tissues match and I donate one of my kidneys so that my relative doesn’t die and is able to live a normal, dyalasis-free life, whose kidney is it?

    Are you off of your medications, Fred?

  27. 27
    Fred Hickson says:

    @ ET. Try reading Jerry at comment no 3.

  28. 28
    ET says:

    @ Fred. Try making your point. Viola Lee posted comment no 3. Jerry was no 5 and it doesn’t pertain to anything you are now spewing.

    So, I ask again, are you off of your medications, Fred?

  29. 29
    Fred Hickson says:

    Apologies, ET, slip of the finger. Try reading Jerry at comment no 5.

    (Though it seems you managed to work it out)

  30. 30
    ET says:

    Learn how to read, Fred. Make your case. What Jerry posted doesn’t have anything to do with your asinine question about kidneys.

  31. 31
    ram says:

    ET: Men have to be held responsible for unwanted pregnancies.

    Your version of God has to be held responsible for everything (Isaiah 45:7)

  32. 32
    asauber says:

    “But I don’t see what point you are trying to make here.”

    Jholo,

    @11 you declared “the heart is just a pump.” Seemed like a pretty obtuse thing to say. Just making sure that’s not all you think the heart is. It’s a pretty special organ.

    Andrew

  33. 33
    ET says:

    Ram:

    Your version of God has to be held responsible for everything (Isaiah 45:7)

    What if I don’t have a version of God?

  34. 34
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Isaiah 45:7

    The Hebrew words used for peace and evil in this verse are shalom and ra. The word shalom is a greeting and along with literally meaning “peace” it is an informal way of wishing someone well. Prior to this verse, Isaiah is describing how God is in complete control of the universe. The Israelite’s suffering is not the result of God being unable to fend off other evil gods, a belief common among non-Jews of the time. Rather, when the Israelites suffer, the prophet has made it clear that God is aware of their suffering and is directing it toward a good end.

    The Catholic RSV translates Isaiah 45:7 thusly: “I form light and create darkness, I make weal (shalom) and create woe (ra), I am the LORD, who does all these things.” Just as darkness is the opposite of light, the opposite of peace is unrest or calamity, not necessarily moral evil. This passage describes only how God is the ultimate cause of both what we enjoy and suffer through, but it is God who will deliver us from these sufferings we must endure for our own good.

    — Trent Horn

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