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January 24, 2007

Comments

>> “Compared to Michel Kinsley, embryos have no value. Compared to the size of the cosmos, Mr. Kinsley has no value. Both conclusions are flawed for the same reason: Size does not determine value.”

Well why can’t we use size as a measure of value? Suppose, in the purest expression of his statement, Kinsley offered the rule:

“I think a construct of C N O H with a genetic signature in the range H acquires ‘value’ when said construct penetrates an imaginary spherical region of five inches in diameter.”

Why would Kinsley be WRONG in offering this rule?

Let us not pretend that Christians aren’t doing the EXACT same thing. They are offering a rule too. Their rule is:

“I think a construct of C N O H with a genetic signature in the range H acquires ‘value’ when said construct undergoes a chemical reaction known as fertilization. And I believe this because God told me so via the bible or via a supernatural communiqué with my mind.”

It is fruitless to argue that one measuring stick of value is any better than another. Value can’t be measured. All the pro-choicers AND the pro-lifers can do is throw a definition of which constructs they think have value on the table.

As Scott Klusendorf said:

“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. Now guys…can come along and say, "See your position is religious!" Fair enough…[But how is a secularists] going to ground the claim that adults have value?

Scott is right. He honestly admits that his position on abortion is ultimately based in biblical Christianity -- in some way God has told scott which constructs of C N O H have value and scott thinks all Americans should listen to him and God. Nothing wrong with that – it’s a fair opinion. Additionally, scott is right that the pro-choicer has no grounding whatsoever. The pro-choicer can only choose an arbitrary standard - like the ‘imaginary spherical region of five inches in diameter’ chosen above.

But how might we ascertain whose value scale is the right one? Scott’s is based on the will of God. But what if Scott’s opponent doesn’t believe that his God exists.

There are a lot of non-arguments in the abortion issue. It really does come down to one question though: “Whose God is the right one, and which constructs of C N O H has he elected to value.”

Debating the issue without the bible in your hand is, I think, pretty intellectually dishonest.

Tony,

I’ll take your points one by one:

>> You wrote: “Well why can’t we use size as a measure of value?”

You can. You’d just be wrong in doing it. Someone bigger than you would be more valuable; period. You end up addressing attributes.

>> You said: “And I believe this because God told me so via the bible or via a supernatural communiqué with my mind.”

Wrong. Biology tells us what human life is. Earned personhood is a figment of the pro-abortionist imagination.


>>You said: “Value can’t be measured.”

Wrong. Humans are more valuable than dogs, albeit, no unit of measurement given but still undisputable ordinal value nonetheless.

You said>> “But how might we ascertain whose value scale is the right one? Scott’s is based on the will of God. But what if Scott’s opponent doesn’t believe that his God exists.”

Does one have to believe in God to know murder and killing the innocent is wrong? For example many atheists believe killing in war is wrong, why? This is simply not the question.

>> You wrote: It really does come down to one question though: “Whose God is the right one, and which constructs of C N O H has he elected to value.”

Wrong. It really comes down to what does abortion kill?

>> You wrote: “Debating the issue without the bible in your hand is, I think, pretty intellectually dishonest.”

Perhaps you meant to write “with a Bible in your hand." It’s not a matter of honesty regarding what you hold in your hand. Perhaps you mean to say not everyone is a Christian, therefore, non-Christians don’t have to respect life. If this is your claim; come out and say it. As for honesty; I say pro-lifers stick to the accurate and horrific pictures of what abortion looks like.

I think people are still missing the point of Montano's arguments. It isn't that I totally agree.

Please fill me in.

Thinking back a few weeks to the story of rescuing embryos from the lab fire, did you hear that a baby was born from embryos rescued from a lab in New Orleans?

I don't need a Bible in my hand to argue against abortion. Tony, my neighbor, the guy walking down the street, the abortionist, and I *all* know that a human is valuable without needing special revelation from God. This is why even the abortionist finds it abhorrent when a person is murdered, because they have an intuition (placed there by God) that such an action is morally wrong, because that thing has value, yet they would not have a problem taking antibiotics to kill the organisms in their body causing them harm.

Since we all know that, the only thing I have to do is point out that the unborn and the already-born are not different in any morally-significant way that justifies eliminating for one the protections offered the other.

Lyndon, I understand Tony's argument, I just think it doesn't work. Tony thinks God has left us all "in the dark" and that we can't know that humans have value unless we have a "burning bush" experience.

In other words, I am under no obligation to prove that murder (of an adult, if that helps some of you with the moral equation) is wrong, even though "murder" (under a definition similar to what Tony offered above) is really just "the removal of a certain energy signature from a collection of C, N, O, and H molocules in a certain structure."


Hi paul whats up,

>> “I don't need a Bible in my hand to argue against abortion. Tony, my neighbor, the guy walking down the street, the abortionist, and I *all* know that a human is valuable without needing special revelation from God.

Assume that your opponent thinks that all humans are valuable. My point is that you need a bible in your hand (or rather a supernatural communique) in order to know which constructs are human. – i.e. which constructs are the valuable ones, i.e. which constructs are “god’s people”. It is tempting to think that biology can answer this question. But this is NOT a question in the realm of science. To call one blob of matter a child of god (i.e. a zygote), and another blog of matter NOT a child of god (i.e. an ovum), necessarily requires supernatural knowledge.


>> “Tony thinks God has left us all "in the dark" and that we can't know that humans have value unless we have a "burning bush" experience.”

Almost. A burning bush is a little dramatic. If I were still Christian, I would argue that the supernatural communiqué of which constructs of C N O H to value is just one of God’s many miracles. For example, even when birds are raised in isolation, they still know how to build nests. They are literally born with the knowledge of how to build a nest in their brain/mind. So if I were Christian, I would put it in the realm of miracles of this sort. And indeed, we are programmed to recognize each other. Even newborns will stare at human faces or even simple black and white drawings that look like this

: )

Now I would argue that this is because of biology. But if I were Christian, I would argue that this is one of God’s miracles. i.e. the burning bush that he used to tell us who are “brother” is.

This is the proper way to argue the abortion issue. You must convince your opponent that you know which god is the right one, and that he supernaturally told you (and your opponent) which constructs in the universe have value and when.


Kevin,

>> Wrong. Biology tells us what human life is.

Classification of matter in the universe is a task of many sciences. In biology, we are interested in the activity of a subset of constructs of, mostly, carbon nitrogen oxygen and hydrogen. Now the sperm and the ovum are also made of C N O H. But it is a convention in biology to call an organism a “NEW” organism following the fertilization event. But this is an arbitrarily selected origin. There is no discoverable property here – the construct in question does not have a visible NEWNESS property once fertilization is over. There is no formal proof to be coaxed from an axiomatic system – as in mathematics. There is no discoverable property like Pi – as in geometry. There is nothing to be reaped from the manipulation of universal constants – as in Physics. To say that the starting line of an organism starts at fertilization is a line an imaginary as the border between the US and Canada. It’s just a line. It’s just an agreed upon rule. It’s just a convention.

If Kevin says that Pluto is a planet, and Tony says that Pluto is a rock, how might one devise a schema to ascertain which one of our claims is TRUE? Sure we could jot down some criteria and see if it fits. But where did these criteria come from? Where did the criteria for HUMANESS come from?

Or, as in this picture: http://www.gregiswrong.com/world2.htm

if Kevin says the Panda is the C N O H in the blue circle, and Tony says the Panda is the C N O H in the blue and red circles, how might one devise a schema to ascertain which one of our claims is TRUE?

* * *

As Robert Morison said:

"What we observe are some unusual sets of objects separated from the rest of the world by certain peculiar ways of handling energy. These objects we elect to call 'living things'."

As Richard Dawkins said:

"Words are only tools for our use, and the mere presence in the dictionary of a word like 'living' does not mean it necessarily has to refer to something definite in the real world"

As Ernst Mayr said:

“Attempts have been made again and again to define "life." These endeavors are rather futile since it is now quite clear that there is no special substance, object, or force that can be identified with life.”

Hey Tony,
I was wondering if the panda would pop back up again, seeing as the convo was headed towards this turf once more. Actually, I'm glad - I've been doing some thinking on your question here, and while I don't really have an answer (yet) I do have some thoughts and questions that might lead to some fruitful dialogue on the issue. So, if you'll allow me, I'll go a little Socratic here. Your question is:

***if Kevin says the Panda is the C N O H in the blue circle, and Tony says the Panda is the C N O H in the blue and red circles, how might one devise a schema to ascertain which one of our claims is TRUE?***

MY question is: what do you mean by "Kevin" or "Tony"? What is that? What is asking this question - Tony Montano, or Tony plus the eggs he ate for breakfast this morning, or Tony plus his eggs plus his keyboard, or...??? And to what is the question being directed? To a computer server? To Kevin? To Kevin plus his bran muffin plus his monitor plus...?

Aaron,

Nice post; this is simply a ‘poor man’s’ version of Nihilism; disguised by Tony's meta-narratives.

Nothing more; nothing less.


Hi Aaron,

>> “MY question is: what do you mean by "Kevin" or "Tony"? What is that? What is asking this question - Tony Montano, or Tony plus the eggs he ate for breakfast this morning, or Tony plus his eggs plus his keyboard, or...???

Ask yourself this, what is the purpose of eating eggs?

Ultimately, food makes the brain go. Sentient systems (like aaron and tony and panda bears) are those which contain networks of neurons which exchange resources with the universe to power said neurons. The brain somehow allows for the property of sentience. There are no successful explanations for a material basis for consciousness at this time. [See Roger Penrose – Shadows of the Mind, The Emperors New Mind, Wegner – the illusion of conscious will, Antonio Demasio – The Feeling of What Happens, JP Moreland – Body and Soul]

So assume that your opponent grants your point that sentient systems ought to be considered independent sub-systems of the cosmos - pending an adequate material explanation of mind. This wouldn’t help the Christians case in the abortion issue because zygotes aren’t sentient. In fact sentience itself is rather tricky to spot and one could make the case that young children don’t posses this trait until years after birth.

So it’s a fair point but it doesn’t help the prolife side much.

Kevin

Nihilism? Not even close. If we really want to generalize just call it a pretty straightforward inference from materialism.

Specifically though, this is a question in the realm of the Philosophy of Biology. A relatively new branch of study

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_biology

Tony,
Thanks for the reply. Actually, my aim wasn't to help the pro-life side at this point. My aim was to make the point that the very act of asking the question you did necessitates that sentient systems ought to be considered independent sub-systems of the cosmos. Otherwise there's no questioner, no questioned (questionee?),and no point to asking the question, as I see it. Granted that the point of your question was to demonstrate that any nominal referent is constructed and arbitrary, what are the implications of the above conclusion?

>> Granted that the point of your question was to demonstrate that any nominal referent is constructed and arbitrary, what are the implications of the above conclusion?

When Christians make statements in the form of:

“Human life begins at conception and that’s a scientific fact”

the above arguments illustrate that this is a ridiculous statement. It should say:

“Human life begins at conception and that’s a scientific convention”

Hi Tony,

I agree, science can't answer questions of value (in this issue). God has already communicated (through general revelation) that we ought to respect other people (that includes not killing them). It sounds like what we're splitting hairs over is "which humans/people". You seem to think that fewer cells means the rules don't apply. I'm not sure, by the way, how you can say science doesn't give us access to the knowledge of whether something is human or not. If I find a bone in the desert, couldn't I use science to determine if it is human or not? Why can't this also be done with the unborn?

I still (despite your insistence on the "right way to argue the abortion issue") do not need to defend the labelling of humans as "valuable". If someone tells me that it's okay to kill their two-year-old, it's not *my* job to argue the contrary -- their claim is *obviously* false, and if you don't think so, then we have bigger problems. All I need to do is ask for a distinction between their two-year-old and their unborn (fetus, ovum, fill-in-the-blank) that makes one protection-worthy and the other expendable.

Tony,
You keep wanting to bring it back to the abortion issue. I'm not there yet - I want to work farther back up the pipe for a while. So before we get to the application of your point, I want to make sure I have understand it correctly: is the point of your panda question that to any nominal referent (not as is nominalism, but just as in name)is constructed and arbitrary (or a convention)?

Aaron,

Yes but any nominal referent to a material construct.

Some nominal referents, like Pi and E=mc2 and F=ma and a2+b2=c2 and triangle, etc are discoverable properties of the cosmos/platonic realm.

Words like planet rock tree human car and ipod, are just circles we draw around atoms. Usually in the name of utility.


Paul,

>> I'm not sure, by the way, how you can say science doesn't give us access to the knowledge of whether something is human or not.

It’s the same as saying, “science gives us access to the knowledge of which heaps are planets and which heaps are floating debris.” It’s just a label. It’s just an appeal to convention.

>> their claim is *obviously* false, and if you don't think so, then we have bigger problems.

How come the claim “It’s not ok to kill an ovum” is obviously false.

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