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December 05, 2005

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From my blog:

According to Singer, "By 2040, it may be that only a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists will defend the view that every human life, from conception to death, is sacrosanct."

I guess calling your opponents names is what counts as intelligent discourse in Singer's world of philosophy.

It's easy for me and my ilk of know-nothings to brush off insults, especially when the writer is unable to write a short editorial with contradicting himself. In one paragraph, Singer argues that human embryos will no longer be seen as precious because they "have the potential to become human beings" and then later on he adds that "we will understand that even if the life of a human organism begins at conception, the life of a person—that is, at a minimum, a being with some level of self-awareness—does not begin so early."

So which is it? Is the embryo something with the potential to become a human being or an actual human being? Or are human organisms not the same thing as human beings?

Singer also takes on a strawman. The prolife argument is not "the unborn should be protected because they have the potential to be human beings." The prolife argument is the unborn should be protected because they are human beings and its wrong for one human being to intentionally kill an innocent human being based on accidentally acquired properties like size and level of development.

Not to be the Grinch, well it's Christmas, so why not. One does not have to agree with Singer's caviler dismissal of the worth of human life in order to take something of value away from his article in Foreign Policy.

He is correct about one thing - the importance of the Terri Schaivo case. When history is written it will stand as a watershed in which the downside of the "pro-life" movement revealed itself. The cynical manipulation of a tragedy for political and ideological gain shocked and appalled quite a few of us.

Shortly before the issue hit the big time the Bush Administration and the Republican leadership in Congress conspired to lower Medicaid benefits. I get specific here because these are the very same folks who, only weeks later, grandstanded on the Schaivo case.

What's the point? Simple, Singer mentions demographics. The first baby boomers hit their eighties in 2026. by 2040 we are going to have a huge number elderly needing medical care. Two questions arise and Christian conservatives are on the wrong side of both of them.

Who determines who stays "alive" in these situations and how do we pay for health care for all these old folks to come (i,e, us)? These questions not dancing - on - the - head - of - pins emoting about humanness will drive these issues. Rather then spending the time nit picking Singer, you all might want to address what will actually be driving the issue.

Reading Singer’s article is an exercise in patience, for after filtering through the jejune, self-laudatory tone of the paper, one encounters little by way of originality or good argumentation.

Singer begins by thanking himself that he is not a fundamentalist. The term is dropped often these days but means little more than “dumb piece of shit.” Being sure to place himself with the cool kids (those sages of academia), Singer engages in name calling. Fundamentalists, according to Singer, are poop-faces, and who needs to argue with a poop-face?

Singer, however, in Christ-like humility, empties himself of his divine attributes and condescends to dwell with mere mortals and poop-faces. The augur of truth then declares, “The category of humanity is not contained completely in the category of personhood” (my words). “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe…” (Matthew 9:8).

Singer poetically declares in philosopher’s nobility that some humans aren’t persons. Responsible for this conclusion is, “Some people aren’t self-aware or thinking being” (my own words). Perhaps Singer considers poop-faces among these unfortunate beings, for poop-faces certainly can’t engage in sophisticated thought.

What more can be said of Singer? His argument compels me. We should all cower before Singer.

Thanks, all, but I'll wait to read Doug TenNapel's line-by-line dissection (doubtless forthcoming)...

Seriously, I'll take issue with his discussion of those who have suffered irreversible brain damage:

"In these cases, with the hope of recovery gone, families and loved ones will usually understand that even if the human organism is still alive, the person they loved has ceased to exist. Hence, a decision to remove the feeding tube will be less controversial, for it will be a decision to end the life of a human body, but not of a person."

Prof. Singer, can you establish that the person has ceased to exist? Or is your position based solely on what you suppose people will "usually understand?"

Even if they do, remember: there was a time when people "usually understood" the world was flat, too, professor...

BEHAVIORALLY SPEAKING, it’s a silly statement (as far as predicting future human behavior goes). By default, most mammals think that members of own kind are “valuable”. Hungry wolves in a wolf pack do not eat each other until conditions become very extreme. How does any particular wolf know not to bite the tasty wolf sleeping next to him? Because his brain tells him that that shape has value. We are programmed to value each other and that’s not going to change in 35 years. There are some more examples here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonhuman_animals_ethics

THEOLOGICALLY SPEAKING, you do indeed need to know which religion is the right one in order to claim objective (platonic) moral value exists. As Scott Klusendorf says:

“…it is true, at some point if you're pushed far enough, you're going to have to ground your claim that humans have value simply because they're human. As Christians, I can ground that in the nature of God. Humans are valuable because they are made in God's image.”

Scott’s God told him (one way or another) that “humans are valuable because they are made in God’s image.” That’s how Scott knows humans are valuable. And this is why debating about abortion and “value” is pretty silly if your opponent is not a Christian already. If Scott doesn’t convince me that his God exists first, then he is just giving me Scott’s OPINION about what has value. And I don’t know why I should buy his opinion over any other on the table.

PHILOSOPHICALLY SPEAKING, Singer is right that humanness is not enough. First, it’s an exceptionally vague term. It would be nice if (in the back of the bible) there contained a precise definition of when carbon nitrogen oxygen and hydrogen is “human” and when carbon nitrogen oxygen and hydrogen is “not_human”. But I’ve never seen a Christian submit a definition.

Think about this: if a sniper shoots the first cell of a newly formed zygote, Christians call that murder. But if a sniper shoots the first cell of a zygote after the second one has formed, then no harm no foul.

Some how the “humanness” (really they mean the soul) hovers around totipotent_1 and totipotent_2 such that if one cell were to get shot, the humanness remains. Even though there are two constructs, and they are materially equivalent, Christians say there is only one “human” there!

Or consider this. Why do we say the hensel twins are “two humans” but Ernie Defort is “one human.”
http://members.tripod.com/~midnightwill/twins.html
http://phreeque.tripod.com/ernie_len.html

I could go on. But I discuss this issue in my conversation with greg in my essay online: “Why Ought a Secular Nation Subscribe to the Christian-Endorsed Classical Biological Definition of Life?”

Hugh Williams,

“…prof. Singer, can you establish that the person has ceased to exist?”

Hugh, why do you think the ovum is not a person?

Or, why do you think the carcass is not a person?

How does Hugh establish his existence / non-existence lines?

Tony,

I haven't made any claims about what counts as existence or non-existence.

My point was that Prof. Singer, arguing in favor of a culture of death, built at least part of his argument on what a hypothetical group of people will "usually understand." That may be effective rhetorically, but there's no logic there.

Granted, it was a short piece, and I don't think it would be fair to assume it was the sum total of Professor Singer's position on the subject. So don't get me wrong - I'm not playing "gotcha;" I'm just looking for a clearer understanding.

It seems intuitively obvious that a person arguing for death (whether it's Professor Singer or a prosecuting district attorney, for that matter) is on the hook for that kind of clarity.

Am I wrong?

Tony - one more thing -

What Prof. Singer did is called "begging the question."

Have a read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

Well i think singer is a dumbass too. But i'm just asking why people here think that his opinion about the starting line of when carbon nitrogen oxygen and hydrogen BECOME human, is better than anyone elses opinion.

I've posted my thoughts on my blog: http://www.verumserum.com/?p=85

Bottom line, Singer is using rhetorical sleight of hand by conflating end of life issues with beginning of life issue. The difference is profound. Give a 5 week old fetus a few months and it will almost certainly "recover" from what Singer sees as its lack of "personhood." Abortion is not the same as pulling the plug on someone at the end of life who is not going to recover.

All I know is, after reading Singer's article, I realized how sore my knuckles were from dragging on the ground all day. Better get some ointment for 'em.

Okay, seriously, here's a quotation from Singer's article that caught my attention:

"The possibility of cloning from the nucleus of an ordinary cell undermines the idea that embryos are precious because they have the potential to become human beings. Once it becomes clear that every human cell contains the genetic information to create a new human being, the old arguments for preserving 'unique' human embryos fade away."

Come on. We've known for a long time that "every human cell contains the genetic information to create a new human being." That's because every cell in the body contains the same genetic information. But not every cell can, on its own, be a human being. Regardless of the source of genetic material, cloning requires a zygote; any ordinary cell won't do. Singer's argument depends on his failure to make this distinction.

Red Loser,

Several of the first batch of cells created in the new zygote are totipotent and can be a human being. i.e. thats where identical twins come from

So which one is the human? and which ones are the humans?

Tony wrote:
"But i'm just asking why people here think that his opinion about the starting line of when carbon nitrogen oxygen and hydrogen BECOME human, is better than anyone elses opinion."

Well, for starters, the fact that you formulated that string of words into a symbolic representation of a specific kind of thought (evaluation) shows that you are a mind. After all, a physical substance or collection of substances surely is not a sufficient origin or explanation for your complex and specified ideas, including symbols, abstractions, beliefs, and evaluation. None of these mental acts/contents is physical, so you cannot be entirely physical either, since you are their origin.

So, for starters, an opinion about the beginning of human life that takes this into account and recognizes more than the physical molecules is superior to one that doesn't.

Steve,

That's a fair start. You could offer a rule, for example:

STEVE_RULE_1: Constructs that are conscious and can formulate strings are human.

Of course zygotes aren't concscious, so this rule won't do. Also, many mammals are conscious, yet they are not human. Also, Kanzi the chimp can formulate strings. Also, people in the grips of PVS aren't conscious, yet christians say they are human. Also, when you sleep you're not conscious...

ETC...

We need more steve_rules!

My reply can be found at my blog, here:
http://pspruett.blogspot.com/2005/12/reply-to-peter-singers-sanctity-of.html

I've done it in the form of a parody of Singer's own article. Sorry Melinda, had to go over 200 words to get in all the content.

Woops! Just realized this is a Steve blog post, not Melinda. Sorry, Steve.

"Red Loser,

Several of the first batch of cells created in the new zygote are totipotent and can be a human being. i.e. thats where identical twins come from

So which one is the human? and which ones are the humans?"

Eh, good one. First of all, that isn't really relevant to the original argument since a non-zygotic cell cannot become an embryo (a fact which Singer pretends not to notice). However, in the case of two totipotent cells separating, I suppose it's simply a matter of two human beings existing where before there was only one. If a paramecium divides in two, there are now two where before there was one. The parent was a paramecium organism and the daughters are each a paramecium organism. The same would be true of human zygotes since it's the same situation. It's a little weird to think about (i.e. unintentional asexual reproduction in humans), but I'm not sure I see any problem. Perhaps you can point it out to me.

Here's my 200 (-ish).

In response to Paul Singer's article entitled "The Sanctity of Life," I'd like to address three points.

First, Paul Singer belittles the religious on the ground that their dogma keeps them from learning about what is good for mankind; Oddly, however, we are meant to believe his view of right and wrong merely because we have an affinity for it. What he fails to realize is that morality is not ultimately determined by our feelings. In the end, we see that Mr. Singer's morality is just as dogmatic as the religious'.

Second, Mr Singer believes that because some embryos have been conceived without the use of sperm, this somehow takes away from the religious view that embryos are precious. Actually, since the religious believe that embryos are human beings, the process by which they came to be conceived is irrelevant.

And finally, should the ethic of the sanctity of human life be proven indefensible at both the beginning and end of, it would not then prove that the concept of a person is, as Mr. Singer proposes, distinct from that of a member of the human race. Furthermore, such a position is, itself, indefensible.

Bleh.

*Peter*! I meant *Peter* Singer.

Drat.

Tony wrote: "We need more steve_rules!"

But surely you do not suggest that we move on to new rules until we have revelled in (on) a bit of common ground, do you? Do we agree then that anything that is composed of physical molecules AND can formulate strings of words AND intends those strings to represent ideas is a human being? Do we agree at least on this?

Now, even if we agree on this, we still have a ways to go, for a sufficient condition (the three-part condition we've stated above) is not a necessary condition. So, if we agree about rule 1, it says nothing about whether or not a certain zygote is human...is that correct?

”…do we agree then that anything that is composed of physical molecules AND can formulate strings of words AND intends those strings to represent ideas is a human being?”

Well no. Like I said, it appears that Kanzi can do all three and he ain’t no human.

Here’s a website:
http://www.iowagreatapes.org/bonobo/language/#

The site also contains nice pics of Kanzi’s lexigram boards. There’s a great documentary on him too if youre interested.

Also, when I asked JP what he thought about hardware replacing wetware neural circuitry, he said he was open to the idea of souls remaining unified with such a construct but not committed to it. So it appears that if non substrate-specific soul unification is a possibility, at least, then constructs that are quite NON-human (in that they do not consist of a single human cell) may indeed perform your three mentioned criteria too.

This article has a nice description of Berger’s proposed hippocampus prosthetic.
http://www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,65422,00.html

But just for fun, lets assume that Kanzi is circus act and jp moreland is wrong.

Take it away steve…

Tony said: "Well no. Like I said, it appears that Kanzi can do all three and he ain’t no human."

How do you know he "ain't no human"?

How do I know that Kanzi the bonobo isn't a human?

I don’t. I meant that Steve would say he’s not. This is equivalent to asking the question: "how do you know that Pluto is a planet - not a rock?"

Both of these questions merely appeal to popular conventions in matter categorization methods. There is no answer, save a divine communiqué from the creator of the cosmos. Without that, answering these two questions is just a campaign for the speaker’s personal material labeling schema.

Tony,

What is *your* definition of a human being?

I've never met god so i don't know the platonic definition.

Deriving definitions for blobs of the matterial world is not the same as deriving deffinitions for, say, Pi.

-Tony: "I've never met god so i don't know the platonic definition."

OH, I see. So what you're saying is that you're going to give us *your* definition?

Sweet!

Well no. I'm saying I don't know the definition.

If you want me to guess God's definition i can do that for ya...i guess. But why dont you just ask me my favorite color too.

Let's see. Starting photoshop, red brush tool. OK here you go:

http://www.gregiswrong.com/dna/

-Tony: "If you want me to guess God's definition i can do that for ya"

No, silly.

You don't have a problem with using the word "human," as is evident in your presumptive inclusion of it in your arguments- so obviously you have a view on what that word means.

I want you to explain to us what that view is and how you came to believe in it.

It's just a circle of things that kinda look like me. Now does it match God's circle? I dont know. Are my circle tolerance boundaries defendable in a secular paradigm? No. It's a guess - no different than guessing God's favorite color.

-Tony: "Are my circle tolerance boundaries defendable in a secular paradigm? No. It's a guess - no different than guessing God's favorite color."

Well, that's honest. And I think such an answer ought to free up those of us who believe we have a correct answer to accept the burden of proof.

But let's get beyond trying to convince *all* the Christians before moving on with the discussion. Your next question should be: "How do you know your god is the right one?"

"...how do you know your god is the right one?"

Of course. This is all that is of issue in the abortion debate. It's about convincing your opponent that you know which religion is right and which religions are wrong, and that God told you which circles of matter in the universe have value.

Goodluck with that...

-Tony: "Goodluck with that..."

Thanks!

Ok, so you have these followers of Christ who went around saying they were eyewitnesses of the resurrection, and they were willing to die for upsetting the world with a message based on that resurrection.

What do you do with this eyewitness testimony?

Hmm. You must believe in UFO's too then right?

-Tony: "Hmm. You must believe in UFO's too then right?"

Oh, so you don't believe these people existed?

Well, the bible doesn't come across as allegory, and the places mentioned are real; also, the mentioned practices of the day (of government, religion, etc.) actually happened, so the writer appears to be trying to convince people of his day that such and such happened. So, the bible is a historically reliable document.

Wha? Was that a yes or a no?

I think there is better evidence that alien space craft have visited the planet, than there is that jesus christ was the son of god.

Yet, i dont believe in ufos either.

just need more...

-Tony: "Wha? Was that a yes or a no?"

Why would belief in the bible necessitate a belief in UFOs? I didn't figure you really wanted a response to this, but, well... there you go.

-Tony: "I think there is better evidence that alien space craft have visited the planet, than there is that jesus christ was the son of god."

So you think people making the claim of seeing UFOs is better evidence than is people dying for a resurrection they claimed to be eyewitnesses of?

I guess I just need more.

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