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January 11, 2008

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>> “[A]t all stages of our lives — from the embryonic through the fetal, infant, child, and adolescent stages and into adulthood — we are human beings with dignity and the right to life.

Why not apply the same rights at the unfertilized ovum stage?

“Our dignity does not come from having achieved a certain level of intellectual proficiency or even conscious awareness. … We have our dignity in virtue of the kind of entity we are: that is human being, a creature with a rational nature. And we became that when we came to be.”

This is equivalent to saying:

“A material construct achieves right-worthiness once a cluster of elements of carbon nitrogen oxygen and hydrogen are in a configuration which Dr. Robert George of Princeton thinks represents a good starting point.”

Hi ToNy,

DNA is a very distinctive property among individual persons, acting as a type of "fingerprint" which allows for distinguishing unique identity. The expression of new DNA at conception is a non-arbitrary starting point for personhood, which is why the unfertilized ovum stage, when no new DNA is present, isn't a logical point at which to apply rights. The law often uses DNA to distinguish and identify adults, so the true arbitrariness is found in efforts to create a different standard of personal physical identity for the pre-born.

I would ask of you, why indeed should we not apply rights at the unfertilized ovum stage? Why *should* we apply rights at the toddler stage?

Enjoyed this, Melinda! My wife and I have always been pro-life, but having a baby of our own really helped us internalize what we had always believed intellectually. Before our daughter was born, we loved her for who she was -- not because of any utilitarian purpose she might have for us later on. That's how God sees all life. He loves us because of who we are, His children, and not because of what we might do. Human life goes through various stages, but it IS human life at every stage -- and should be accorded respect and protection.

How might Poppies ascertain which strands of DNA are right-worthy?

Since every strand is a little different, what is Poppie’s personal DNA taxonomy threshold? Give me a number.

Note: the average chimpanzee DNA is about 5% different than Poppie's DNA - based on the Britten calculation.

What do you mean by "Poppies?" If you are referring to the flowers, I don't understand your argument. If you mean something else, well I still don't understand your argument.

Chimpanzees likewise seem irrelevant to the argument at hand, regardless of how similar their DNA is to "poppies."

Mike,

The guy's name is "Poppies" dude.

see second blog comment above.

ToNy,

It all comes from our starting points eh? :)

In reality your point ir obvious. Yes, Dr. George thinks that life begins at conception as far as humanity and the rights inherent that status are concerned.
Your implied position is that it completely arbitrary due to your atheism. You may not be an atheist and just asking good questions but if I am right, your barbed questions imply you do not think so.

Anyway all that to say we each have certain starting points and are looking at things through separate lenses. Like it or not, if the Bible is correct then our position stands regardless of how you want to label the starting points. If you are right, then ultimately yes, the definition of life is completely arbitrary. It all depends on who is right eh?

On an aside note away from ToNy's argument, I thought it was funny to think about how if we found something that resembled the baby just newly fertilized on a distant planet. Instead of calling it a "Selective Reduction Cnadidate" or a "clot" most abortionists and atheists would be screaming excitedly, "there is LIFE on a distant planet!" There would be no pretending it was not actually an alien LIFE lol since it would have bearing on anyones biases!

Wow, that "poppies" mix up was pretty hilarious. :)

So ToNy...

An issue of Popular Mechanics a while back had this to say about the accuracy of forensic DNA analysis:

"...Put simply, DNA matching identifies the most distinctive genetic sequence in a sample of hair, tissue or fluid and calculates the likelihood that sequence exists in more than one person. If the sample quality is high enough, the odds can be one in trillions."

Even a single strand can mark a new rights-worthy being with a distinctive sequence quite apart from the parent, which we can differentiate with an astronomically high accuracy.

Regarding your note: clouds and watermelons are both 90% water; sometimes it's the differences which are most germane.

I'd truly be interested in hearing your views on the questions I posed earlier, btw.

BRAD,

>> "Anyway all that to say we each have certain starting points and are looking at things through separate lenses. Like it or not, if the Bible is correct then our position stands regardless of how you want to label the starting points. If you are right, then ultimately yes, the definition of life is completely arbitrary. It all depends on who is right eh?"

YES!!!!!!!

Your answer was 100% CORRECT. Praise God to the most high!!! Do you have any idea how hard I have to work to convince Christians that what you just wrote is true?!

The abortion issue is NOT about biology at all. It's about whose taxonomy is going to be selected as the "lens" through which we view matter in the universe.

Unfortunately Brad, no one at STR, nor most of the people that post here will agree with you.


Poppies,

I don’t know why you brought up forensic accuracy. I guess you missed the point. Let’s try again. Suppose I showed Poppie a creature which had a genome that was 2% different than Poppie. And one that was 3%, and one that was 6%, and one that was 10%. And one that was 20%.

How might Poppie ascertain which of the creatures were “god’s people”.

>> “I would ask of you, why indeed should we not apply rights at the unfertilized ovum stage? Why *should* we apply rights at the toddler stage?”

There is no discoverable reason either way. There are pragmatic reasons (i.e. sperm is hard to give a social security number to). But to answer this question one would necessarily need a divine communiqué from the creator of the universe. And I don’t believe in God.

See Brad’s Answer.

Okay ToNy, we're on the same page now, discussion-wise. I completely agree that the abortion issue is not about biology. I was simply pointing out that there are unique, identifiable biological markers which tend to accompany the appearance of a new, distinct human person. Rights aren't associated directly with those markers, as you know, but are instead directly connected with the human person-ness of the being.

I'd be interested to know how you as an atheist determine that life is valuable in any non-utilitarian fashion (unless you are a utilitarian, in which case I at least commend your consistency).

>>Why not apply the same rights at the unfertilized ovum stage?

Why apply rights at all? How do you get rights from C N O H ? How is this statement even coherent coming from your position?

>>Your answer was 100% CORRECT...Unfortunately Brad, no one at STR, nor most of the people that post here will agree with you.

Well, that's because Brad is Reformed (hiya, brother!) and probably has done some reading in presuppositional apologetics, or at least in theology from presuppositionalists.

Reformed without the bitter aftertaste I hope lol. While yes I am at least partially Reformed, I am pretty much my own style and would not be recognizable if compared to a Calvinist model etc. I go where the evidence leads, or at least I try to.

Anyway, thanks ToNy, I appreciate the kind words. One thing I was curious about as I read your later post. Do you not find Intelligent Design compelling at all? I am working through The Privileged Planet and have studied the whole RNA/DNA thing and am surprised if you do not even find it slightly plausible. A lot better to me than the current theories for ultimate origins and first principles!

Fun discussion, thanks!

Brad

One other thought is that that is why the fight is so vitally important to Christians, or at least, it ought to be. To us, the fertilized egg at ANY point is valuable in the sight of God and worthy of respect and protection. As a Christian, whenever I drive by a Planned Parenthood or when I am falling asleep thinking about how there were just tiny babies getting suctioned I want to weep or to even give my life to just make it end. Our presuppositions or "lenses" matter a great deal and thus those from the athiestic side ought to understand that is why we fight so hard. to us it is truly a matter of murder and life. The whole idea flows very naturally and plausibly from our beliefs.

Lenses are very powerful realities whether they are coherent or incoherent!

Brad

Poppies,

>> “I'd be interested to know how you as an atheist determine that life is valuable”

I’m agnostic.

I don’t believe that any given cluster of matter is more or less intrinsically valuable than any other. That would require a God.

Aaron,

>> “Why apply rights at all? How do you get rights from C N O H ?”

Well the abortion question is a no-brainer to me because in my worldview, intrinsic rights don’t exist.

But in the name of fun philosophy, even if I were to adopt all the tenets of Christianity, we see that if I make the statement, “person-ness starts at totipotent_1” I am merely giving an opinion.

It would be nice if in the back of the bible, such a sentence existed. But it doesn’t.

So when Christians argue for pro-life policy – they are merely campaigning for their own material labeling schema – as is everyone else in the debate.

It may be the case that God’s matter taxonomy just happens to be the same one man is applying when he chooses totipotent_1 as the starting line of person-ness—and indeed that is exactly what the Christians are arguing. But, unfortunately, they unwittingly do so under the pretense of biology.

>> “Do you not find Intelligent Design compelling at all?”

I’m not a crusading evolutionists and I think we’ve been way too quick to adopt it. I’m skeptical and remain on the fence about it currently. Though I do think it will be adequately illustrated someday, I don’t think it has been yet.

In the last few years, two of my heroes – Stephen Wolfram and Geoffrey Miller both published books that were somewhat critical of classical Darwinian evolution--as it is practiced today. And they both off their own different approaches to the issue.

This passage is from “The Mating Mind” which I highly recommend.

“Selection is frugal: it penalizes traits that impose costs without offering benefits. If most innovations give net survival benefits only once they have passed some threshold of complexity and efficiency, it is hard to see how evolution could favor them before they reached that threshold. This has always been the single most serious objection to Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. It was argued most forcefully by the zoologist St. George Mivart just after The Origin of Species was published, and it has been a stumbling block ever since. Some minor innovations do not suffer from this threshold effect. A giraffe's neck could have evolved to its present length gradually, each increment of length giving an immediate improvement in reaching higher acacia tree leaves. An insect's camouflage could evolve gradually, each step further reducing a predator's chance of noticing the insect. Neck-stretching and color-changing could provide net survival benefits continually throughout their evolution.”

“Some evolutionary theorists such as Richard Dawkins and Manfred Eigen suggest that the threshold effect is overstated for many major innovations. They think that there are often ways to evolve dramatic innovations along a continuous path where every step right from the beginning yields a new survival benefit. They might be correct. We do not know enough about the evolutionary dynamics of complex traits to know how common the threshold problem is. Most biologists still believe this to be the most significant problem that theories of evolutionary innovation must address. I agree. In my experience with running genetic algorithm simulations on computers, the threshold problem is a very serious obstacle to evolving innovations. If you actually try to evolve something complicated and useful inside a computer using simulated natural selection, you are likely to be frustrated. Simulated evolution often stalls for no apparent reason, gets stuck in a rut for thousands of generations, and shows a perverse tendency to avoid interesting innovation whenever possible. This frustration with simulated evolution's limited innovation ability is fairly common among genetic algorithm researchers.”

Miller goes on to suggest that sexual choice has been underplayed in evolutionary biology.

I dunno… I’m in wait and see mode on that one but maybe.

I’ve seen through lots of ID talks and powerpoint presentations. One thing I’ve noted, is a Christian researcher will talk for 2 hours using logic and reason and healthy skepticism, and he’ll give good reasons as to why he believes evolution is questionable.

Then at the end of all that, he concludes with a prayer and a nod to a 2000 year old book that says we came from a magic garden.

Nah, I’d need more than that from both sides.

ToNy, sorry for assuming about the atheism thing. I appreciate your open mindedness, and am frankly very impressed at your general consistency. I think you're quite unclear on the bible's unequivocal teachings on the beginnings of life, and I'm a bit disturbed at the conclusions you reach about life and value, but nonetheless, it's refreshing to see someone who thinks in a critical manner.

"Why not apply the same rights at the unfertilized ovum stage?"

A human being is an organism capable of going through every stage of human development given the right environment in which to do so. Unfertilized ovum does not qualify.

Louis,

Baby K will never be "capable of going through every stage of human development".

Is Baby K human?

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

Tony said: "I don’t believe that any given cluster of matter is more or less intrinsically valuable than any other."

I would be willing to bet that if this is what Tony believes, he does not behave as though it were true.

William, I certainly hope not. In fact, Tony, the very fact that you come on the message board and discuss these things with us seems to imply that you value humans and their ability to reason more than, say, the plants in your backyard. Surely we have some more value than those.

Brad - "Reformed without the bitter aftertaste I hope lol."
That is hilarious. Why is it that I see so many bitter Reformed folks on the web than I do from other theological stripes? Looking at the conversations on another blog that I linked to through the post on JP Moreland's ETS paper, I found some pretty angry, bitter-sounding folks who made fun of people all the time in the name of "hyperbole", yet cried "ad hominem" if the same was done to them.


William,

I do believe Tony and others can behave as though this were true. The key words are "intrinsically valuable". To Tony, intrinsic value seems to mean value accorded by a supernatural being 'behind the scenes' of nature, as it were.

But Tony, and I or you, are also value-makers, in the sense that we can accord more value to some clusters of matter (say, toddlers) than others (say, a rock). Of course, this is a personal or subjective value, not an objective value.

Tony can confer subjective (maybe even sentimental) value. A toddler can confer value ("I like candy more than rocks"). I can confer different values on the same things from Tony or toddlers (maybe I like rocks more than candy... or even rock candy).

So what do we do when our subjective values clash if there is no objective value, especially over life or death issues? Let might make right? Do we just have to let the majority decide? I don't know the answers.

Shane,
What good is a value at all if it is subjective? Subjective values - especially in the realm of the value of human beings - are worthless. If you just prefer that someone not kill your family, yet someone else prefers that he does kill your family, it's all just a matter of preference, isn't it?

If you're talking about choosing a favorite candy, subjective values are harmless enough. When it comes to human life? Not so harmless.

"What good is a value at all if it is subjective? "

I guess that's my point, but I'm wondering how objective values are discovered.

I came across a troubling essay by Elizabeth Anderson "If God Is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?" which, as far as I could tell, argued for a subjective morality based on 'reciprocal claim-making' by members of society. Something about this kind of morality strikes me as extremely weak, but I can't put my finger on what that is.

>> "If God Is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?"

This title of this essay is pretty bad. It should be something more like:

“If there does not exist a sentient creator of the cosmos who substantiated one true and universal objective moral code, then does that mean that there is not one true and universal objective moral code?”

Well yeah it does.

All we’re left with is a law derived by introspection of our “monkey morality” as it’s been called. – also called “herd mentality” or “hard wired ethical encoding”

But make no mistake about it, the “oughts” in no way can be derived from such earthly moral systems. You need a God to have “oughts.”

So why do most of us “behave”?

Ask yourself, how does the wolf know not to eat the wolf he’s hunting next to?

Reciprocity and team work usually benefit the herd. It is in the species interest to feel an “oughtness” response when we’re about to do something (or have just done something) that will harm ourselves or our tribe.

True for many animals.

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

Oh good someone finally put this scene on YouTube

An absolutely picture perfect description of what happens when someone tries to argue for the existence of objective moral laws – without citing a God or his book.


Alexander: “This is a perversion of every natural law.”

Morlock: “Who are you to question 800 thousand years of evolution.”

An absolutely PERFECT point. The Morlock won the debate.

If I was still Christian, I would show this scene to every kid in the church.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YabE5ZS2Mfo

If Tony was hungry and I brought him a nice silver platter filled with roast chicken, carrots and potatoes, I doubt that he would choose to eat the platter and leave the rest. He recognises that the "cluster of matter" chicken, carrots and potatoes have an intrinsic value as food which the platter does not have. This is knowledge that conforms to reality.

Tony said: "It is in the species interest to feel an “oughtness” response when we’re about to do something (or have just done something) that will harm ourselves or our tribe."

This is opinion. Even the Wiki article assumes that the form of behavior actually is altruism. This is equivocation on the term altruism, failing to distinguish between an ethical usage and the evolutionary biology application that Tony recites.

More detail on altruism here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism

I think Tony uses quotes around oughtness for good reason. He believes that oughtness comes only from God ("You need a God to have “oughts.”)
and he rejects God existence (sort of, since I think he still wants to sit on the agnostic fence). Consequently anytime he uses the term ought, it really doen't mean ought.

Great scene from the movie. I have not seen this version of the Time Machine. I like the earlier George Pal version very much.

In this clip the Morlock claims that he is the inescapable result of events, implying that is all everything is. That seems to ignore his whole narration about how he/they conciously & intentionally, biologically engineered themselves toward a particular purpose.

I would ask the Morlock who he thinks he is, questioning anybody else's questioning. This doesn't settle any debate. It is the "who are you to judge" response we often hear from secularists. I think Christians have a coherent answer. Even after "800 thousand years of evolution" I don't think the Morlock came up with one.

ToNy,
So, do you think "oughts" are real? Or are there no "oughts"? Seems like you're well on your way to convincing yourself that there is a God if you behave as if "oughts" really do exist.

Justin,

I think there are no oughts.

>> If Tony was hungry and I brought him a nice silver platter filled with roast chicken, carrots and potatoes, I doubt that he would choose to eat the platter and leave the rest. He recognises that the "cluster of matter" chicken, carrots and potatoes have an intrinsic value

Human waste has value to the bacteria living in my septic system. And no value to me. Hence the term “waste”. I thought we already covered this - this I just an example of subjective value – see Shane’s post above.


>>” article assumes that the form of behavior actually is altruism. This is equivocation on the term altruism, failing to distinguish between an ethical usage and the evolutionary biology application that Tony recites.”

Ya the words get messy here. Strictly speaking, in my world view, altruism in the traditional sense of the word doesn’t exist. A better word in the paradigm of evolutionary psychology is perhaps hard-coded reciprocity or Pavlovian conditioning. I was just arguing that what we call “altruism” is actually one of these two.

Tony said: "Human waste has value to the bacteria living in my septic system. And no value to me."

I think we are playing around with the meaning of the word value and avoiding truth.

Certainly you are paying someone to have your waste removed through the septic system, so your waste does have value to you in a negative fashion. Similarly, if your waste did not pass from your gut you would appreciate the value it would have if it were in your septic system instead. In fact, your waste may end up being recycled in such a way the the product fertilizes the carrots I offer that you seem to feel can only be subjectively categorized as food for you.

You may think that categorizing carrots as food for Tony is a subjective value because you don't like carrots or are allergic to them but if you were given a choice of selecting a food which would you choose, carrots or a silver platter? I believe the choice can be made not only on the basis of a subjective value (I like carrots)but on the basis of knowledge informed by truth.

Carrots are food for humans and silver platters are not.

If human waste provides food for bacteria but not for Tony that does not make the concept of food subjective.

This is why I can agree with Robert George that for human beings "Our dignity does not come from having achieved a certain level of intellectual proficiency or even conscious awareness. … We have our dignity in virtue of the kind of entity we are"

Shane says: "So what do we do when our subjective values clash if there is no objective value".

If subjective values clash and there is no objective value why worry about what to do? Its all just flavors of ice cream. If values which are considered subjective clash and there exists an objective value that actually corresponds to one of these "subjective" values, how would we know it?

I contiue to believe, just as Tony cannot help but talk in terms of altruism and oughtness and cannot help but choose carrots for food over silver platters (though he maintains that neither has intrinsic value as food for him), he cannot live and does not behave consistently with his philosophy.

Tony said: "If I was still Christian, I would show this scene to every kid in the church."

I think you just did!!

ToNy,
But, would you agree that almost everyone in the world behaves as if there are "oughts." (If not, we label them as sociopaths - or whatever the proper nomenclature is these days.)
It seems to me that you have recognized that "oughts" must come from a God, and you recognize that most people -yourself included,as William pointed out- cannot help but behave as if "oughts" exist. What I can't fathom is why this has not lead you to believe that there is a God.

By the way, as I've said before, I am glad you are back to posting on the board.

William,

By intrinsic value / objective value, the poop would have value even in a universe in which humans did not exist.

>> “he cannot live and does not behave consistently with his philosophy.”

Let’s assume I’m the biggest hypocrite in the world. This in no way effects the veracity of my logical claims.

Justin,

Yes when the Christians point to the source of the “oughts”, they think they come from the Christian God.

When I point to the source of the “oughts,” I think they come from evolutionary psychology – i.e. herd mentality, hard-wired ethical encoding.

And of course in my rendition, there are no platonic / objective oughts at all. Just machines following a program.

Tony said: "Let’s assume I’m the biggest hypocrite in the world. This in no way effects the veracity of my logical claims."

This is a true statement. Do you believe it? (I am not intending to call you a hypocrite, we are just assuming for the sake of argument:))

Tony said: "And of course in my rendition, there are no platonic / objective oughts at all. Just machines following a program."

Of course you would have to say that since you are just following your program. But what does this mean for your claim to logic?

Tony also said: "By intrinsic value / objective value, the poop would have value even in a universe in which humans did not exist"

How do you know that it does not have this value? You reject intrinsic value because you believe that it must come from God and you don't want to believe in God. Correct? This is inspite of the evidence before you that carrots are food for you and silver platters are not.

Genesis 1: 31
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Romans 1: 18-20
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

This is an example why "a Christian researcher will talk for 2 hours using logic and reason and healthy skepticism," and then "concludes with a prayer and a nod to a 2000 year old book that says we came from a magic garden."

It holds together and it follows reality in a way that your reasoning does not, in my opinion. It is true.

From your point of view I don't think that you can speak of truth, oughtness, logic or altruism. They do not exist for you. I don't understand how you can claim any meaning for what you say?



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