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December 06, 2008


Deconstructing arguments of people who end their post with the phrase "I just don't understand why (so and so) can't see this simple point." I also see lots of Christians ending their post with this "admission." The unfortunate thing is that most of the time when someone says that, they don't want to understand.

Whoops, I made a fragment. Haha, that's the problem with hasty editing. I meant to say that I enjoy deconstructing such arguments.

Thank you I have written a few letters to the paper already about abortion, but I may have to borrow a couple lines from Wade on my next one.

Some people act as though abortion is a simple issue. Perhaps in some cases it is. Certainly in some cases it is not. Throughout Wade’s article important issues were ignored. I would like to point some of these issues out.

Wade raises the question, “What is it we are aborting?” Good question. Unfortunately, another equally important question is ignored in Wade’s piece—“In virtue of the kind of thing it is, is it usually morally wrong to kill it?” Wade answers the first question with a short discussion of the fact that a fetus enjoys membership in the biological kind homo sapien. And, as any honest and informed person will tell you, that is certainly true. But now we have to address the second question. Why, in virtue of enjoying membership in the biological kind homo sapien, is it morally wrong to kill a human being? Is it because humans have a certain number of chromosomes, are featherless bipeds, or have thumbs containing a certain kind of DNA that it is wrong to kill humans? No. These facts are morally irrelevant. Or at least it is not obvious that they are morally relevant. So, an argument must be made.

But, of course, it is wrong to kill humans (usually). So, if it is not these biological facts that ground a morally non-arbitrary distinction between a human and a dog, what does ground the distinction? Personhood. It is because humans are persons that it is usually wrong to kill them. And, of course, if there are non-human persons (which there are), it would be wrong to kill them too.

So, the question relevant to the moral status of the fetus is not biological. It is philosophical, since personhood is not a biological concept, but a philosophical one. The real question at issue, then, is “When does personhood begin?” Some people will tell you that this question is not relevant, or that it is just something people say without knowing what they mean. Well that is false, and any advice about navigating through this issue predicated on the assumption that people don’t know why personhood is morally relevant and biological status is not is just bad advice. If you don’t believe me, then I suggest you take the advice when speaking with someone quite clever, like a philosopher, and see where it gets you.

Back to the issue. An important question to ask is, “When does personhood begin.” Now, if all objects that are member of the kind homo sapien are also members of the kind person, then we can say, “Personhood begins when human biological life begins.” But why think every member of the kind homo sapien is also a member of the kind person? Are anencephalic babies (babies born without brains) persons? Is a zygote a person? Are the extremely brain-damaged persons? What evidence do we have that they are? Scripture? Good. Maybe there’s something there. But what evidence do we have that can in principle be available to those who do not trust Scripture? What reasons could we give to rational creatures that would be persuasive to them qua rational creatures? These are hard questions.

Unfortunately, these are questions routinely ignored by the typical man-on-the-street overconfident Christian apologist. When considering the possible morally significant differences between a fetus and a newborn, Wade ignores an extremely important possibility—personhood! Perhaps personhood does not begin at conception. St. Thomas Aquinas thought it didn’t. Perhaps a human being becomes a person some time after conception and some time before birth. In that case, the level of development certainly is morally significant! Wade asserts that apart from the four differences mentioned, the unborn and newborn are identical beings. But, of course, this is false if it is the case that the newborn is a person while the zygote is not. And how does Wade know this is not the case?

But difficulties remain. Judith Thompson has successfully shown that the right to life does not entail the right to be a parasite. If the fetus is a person, it has a right to life. But from this we cannot conclude that the fetus has a right to be a parasite. Of course, there are times when the fetus does have such a right, but that is due not merely to the personhood of the fetus, but to other facts as well. And it seems that there are also times when the fetus does not have a right to be a parasite, as in the case of rape, or when the fetus is a threat to the life of the mother.


"What reasons could we give to rational creatures that would be persuasive to them qua rational creatures? These are hard questions."

And you know what, I have long thought the same. Their is a very deep philosophical "delima" per say to someone who does not trust scripture. Though I do not believe scripture to be anything arbitrary or manmade, and I believe that the ramifications of violating scripture are gaurenteed for christian and non christian alike, still a.. problem, for lack of a better term, remains when arguing with someone who does not believe in God.

I will say this, Abortion is insane, and barbaric, and in my very humble opinion, the deeper issues you presented can only be rationalized philosophically with a subtily evil and broken moral compass -- either with "good" or selfish intent.

Sorry, the end of my post was a bit unclear**
The deeper issues being those challenging what exactly 'personhood' is, when you reject the fact that a fetus, can only become a child. The opposite would seem to imply that consciousness constitutes humanity. The former point, in a larger sense, should be the end of the disgussion.

Ill tell you what, and I may be getting way ahead of myself here and this is a bit off topic.. Forgive me,

Given that shard of 'crafty philosophy', this is what I think, is logically consistant, and the idea im presenting is nothing new, but gosh I swear it makes sense. In a truely Godless world (yikes!), Abortion should by all means be acceptable. And by that, I cant in good consciousness make a solid case for a moral standard outside of common opinion, which given the scenario, kind of doesnt make sense.

Honestly, whats the point of sparing a fetus if hes "not gonna feel it" anyways? Im sure people have thought of this before. [And forgive me again, this post is going to get a little sadistic but bear with me for the sake of an analigy.] Whats stopping someone from dumping a baby off, after its been born? I mean, who can honestly remember anything from when they were one? The string of logic is foolish, yet into itself "it makes sense".

Im not saying that everyone thats pro-choice is anti-God, their are some people who are genuinely unsure. But gosh, you have to have a pretty disconnected moral standard if you can honestly, and casually, destroy what can only become a human life, unless of course you adhere to no morality. In the same vein, morality itself doesnt really make sense. You should by all means have the right to blow someones head off who ruins your night. Its a living person? So what, right? Who am I answering to? The government? Who cares? Who do they answer to? The public? Who cares, who do they answer to? I know these issues have been done to death philosophically. And from a Godless perspective, it makes complete sense. Or i must be insane.

For the record, I love God with all my heart, and mind.

Lora's comment overlooks some important issues. The point is not that it is 'normally immoral to kill human persons' but rather it is wrong to kill human persons without adequate justification.
Also, the fact that there is disagreement over when a human being becomes a human person does not justify throwing up our hands and let each kill (or not) as we choose. It seems that when someone is convicted of a capital crime, most people oppose executing the person in question as long as there is any doubt the condemned is actually guilty.
The issue is not about being a 'rational creature' as one would e hard pressed to show that a fetus is already a rational being, so the issue of one who is severely disabled also is irrelevant. It is the kind, not the condition, that matters.
It seems that given the high burden of justification for taking the life of another human being, that where there is a question, then we ought to err on the side of life.
By the way, there is nothing about a rape that makes a fetus any more or less a parasite than one conceived through consensual sex. If it is justifiable to kill an unborn baby conceived by rape, why not any child so conceived? It goes back to the question, "What's the difference?" If being dependent on others for life support or care makes one a parasite, what would you do with our elderly or disabled?

Very good points daniel and thats another thing I strongly agree on. If were, "unsure", why would we opt for the obviously worse decision, which is to allow the slaughter of unborn children? Very good.

Is there a person deciding what personhood is or when it begins? Or I should say who is the person that is defining personhood?
I would have to ask that person to defend their personhood. Good luck with that one.
We are different in kind from the animal world not degree. So the fact is there is an innocent human being in the womb and we would do well as a society in general and human beings in particular to stop killing them.

It has to be remembered that abortion leads to a greater good, or God would not allow it. is a fascinating article by a leading Christian philosopher.

'It is possible that God has overriding reasons for permitting the world's most terrible atrocities to occur.'

There is an *overriding reason' for permitting abortion to occur.

I would argue that the only 'overriding reason' God permits any evil acts to occur is His mercy toward ALL of us. When He steps in to deal with evil, He will deal with ALL evil. So, if He decided to destroy all evil tonight at midnight, where would you be at 12:05? We make a grave error when we mistake God's patient mercy with His approval.

'When He steps in to deal with evil, He will deal with ALL evil. So, if He decided to destroy all evil tonight at midnight, where would you be at 12:05?'

I'm not evil.

Pastor Mobley's piece is well done; thanks for sharing it.

On the question of "personhood," my reply is we talk about human rights instead of person rights for good reason -- at different points in our history Africans, Native Americans, and Jews, among others, have been considered non-persons. Person is too flexible; human is very clear. All humans have the same basic rights; if that is not true, be careful or yours may be the next rights that are lost.

The only important difference between a human and a dog is that the former is human. If we let it go beyond that we are danger of all kinds of things spiraling out of control.

Lora, I'd love to hear about these alleged "non-human persons" some time.

you said: " And, of course, if there are non-human persons (which there are), it would be wrong to kill them too. "

I agree that there are non-human persons. God is three of them. Angels are, if I understand correctly, personal beings. Probably there are others that fit that description, but I don't think that any of those persons are within our ability to kill as one must have access to them to do so. Therefore, while your statement may be true, it doesn't seem to me that it can be applied to this situation. I think that anyone that is human, on the other hand, is by definition a person. Personhood is not determined by a stage of development. There is no process through which a person develops. Personhood speaks to what a thing is, not what a thing becomes. You can become a tennis player by developing skills and exercising certain muscles of your body, but there is nothing you can actually do or any process you can go through to make you a person. It is a de-facto part of the creature's being. That is why a dog or a cat or a horse or a cow, cannot become persons. They either are or they are not and they are simply not and there is no process they can go through to become. Now, you can stop being a tennis player and continue to live. From a purely temporal viewpoint, you cannot stop being a person without the cessation of your life. Thus, being a person is a unique kind of thing that cannot be measured by the same measure as most of the things around us. I think that an attempt to do so is misguided.

Thanks for the comments, all. I'm the "Wade" Steve mentioned. In fairness, most of my argumentation came lock, stock and barrel from several presentations Steve made to a South Dakota group in August (that's where we met).

The most frequent commenter to the letter followed his point to a logical conclusion by sending me a link to a medical ethics article that used five arbitrary "personhood identifiers" to define away the moral status of the unborn.

I'm serious on this one: That author said many animals, a hypothetical alien being, and some fish are more accurately "people" than the unborn.

Lora is correct- we need to challenge such a reasoner with the grounding question- "Why do you say that?" In this case it is quite arbitrary.

Thanks for commenting/reading.

For the record, I am pro-life and a Christian. I just happen to believe the issue is not as simple as some make it out to be (and it isn't as complicated as others make it out to be either). One complication is the issue of personhood. If that's why it is wrong to kill human beings (usually), then we cannot ignore this question in the abortion debate. Of course, until we come to a conclusion, we ought to adopt pro-life policies, but that doesn't mean we get to stop asking the hard question about personhood, or whatever morally significant mark humans carry that renders it morally impermissible to kill them at will.


I have two questions:

First, why is it wrong to kill a human being in the first place (I suggested personhood; any other suggestions?)?

Second, once we answer the first question, why think a zygote will be covered?


The second question wasn't very clear. What I mean to ask is, "Once we discern the morally significant mark which makes it wrong to kill certain things, why think the zygote has that mark?"



Non-human persons would include angels, God, demons, and possibly persons in other regions of the universe.

Also, you suggest that the only morally significant difference between a human and a dog is that the human is a human.

Why is this morally significant? What fact about being a human makes it so morally significant? The number of legs we walk on? Our DNA? Or is it that we are persons? But then you've just conceded my point.

Also, the fact that many in the past got the personhood issue wrong (concerning minorities and women) is no reason at all to think that we ought to give up on the personhood issue. Past failures don't justify ignoring the real issue.


I think a valid question is, "How do we know that personhood and being a human being are NOT one and the same?" Many have made the argument about personhood, but where is their justification that shows that there actually IS a difference?

Also, if a fetus is NOT person, then why is it that so many mothers who give birth prematurely to underdeveloped fetuses want to save them? Is it because they will become something else? Because they will develop some other quality in the future? Or because they already have value and worth?

I understand your point about it being a complicated issue Lora. I just think that no matter how complicated it may be, it's atrocious. The slave trade was complicated in that economies were built upon it. The Third Reich was complicated. The fact that something is complicated doesn't mean it should be allowed, though. That is what I am always thinking about when Obama makes his comments in this regard.

I challenge any person to view the second video on the site Wade referenced ( all the way to the end and still tell me that we can't decide the issue because it is complicated. I forced myself to watch it, but I was frankly deeply haunted and disgusted by what I saw.

This isn't an attack on you Lora. :o) I understand you are pro-life. I just wanted to add my thoughts to the mix.

In the word of God, murder was wrong because humans are made in God's image. For which the shedding of the blood (murder) of another human was not to be done. (Yes, I know literally there are other means of murder.) Now a zygote by the 17th day has blood of its own. Which shows personhood separate from the mother. To me it is that simple.

Lora, what do you mean by "person"? It seems to me that the word is used in two different senses. In one sense, it just refers to any sentient being. In that sense, people, gods, angels, dogs, and cats are all persons.

In another sense, it just refers to any human being. It seems to me that would cover humans at all stages of development from embryo on.

I don't know of any other sense of the word "person," but I get the impression that you're using it in some third sense.

It also seems to me that if we've got to ask why it's wrong to kill a human being, we might as well ask why anything at all is wrong. In most cases, it seems reasonable to BEGIN the discussion with the assumption that it's wrong to kill human beings without justification, and then argue over whether the unborn are examples of human beings.

Saying that it's wrong to kill human beings because they are persons doesn't seem to help because then we'd have to question why it's wrong to kill a person. What is it about personhood that makes it wrong to kill? Why isn't being human enough? And why the distinction?

"It also seems to me that if we've got to ask why it's wrong to kill a human being, we might as well ask why anything at all is wrong."

thats essentially what i was getting at earlier

This is what has happened to America and Western Civilization now that Darwinian Humanist Atheism and Kinsey Sex Education is taught as truth in the Academy. They teach love without meaning and abortion without guilt. This effects our families as our children go through todays Academy . Why are our people allowing this? Have they also been brainwashed by the Darwinian Humanist Atheist Academy? America used to be a christian country of sorts, but now it is like the country my Grandfather escaped from. He was considered one of Darwin’s so called lower races as this Social Darwinism was taught as science in the Academy of Western Civilization. Today America isn’t even a christian country of sorts, to few seem to give a rip and Genesis 1:27 means nothing to most teaching in todays Academy in America. In the guise of separation of church and state the Darwinian Humanist Atheists in the Academy have separated christianity from Western Civilization, and this harms our children and our society. I have the textbooks to prove this as the bookstores of the Academy are full of them. Many of our people there are engineered to become spokespersons for atheism. Greed and Social Darwinism is the order of the day. The State is now the punisher of those who do not conform to it’s Social Darwinism. What does this remind you of?

I'm going to choose to believe that "personhood" begins at a point one hour older than the advocate of endless subtle nuances over the question. Now, if I subscribe to Nietzsche's 'Will to Power', and possess the motive and means to do so, why would it be 'wrong' to perform a relatively late term abortion on you?

Peter Singer, the Bio-Ethics Chair at Princeton has no qualms over the 'ethics' involved here, so I'm in exalted company.

If we are to conceive, so to speak, any arbitrary point where murder is 'moral', the only question is, 'who will determine that point?' Without a transcendent appeal, the one with the biggest gun will be making that, and a great many more determinations.

"The right of abortion thus represents the limit of a line on which the great majority of Americans are already traveling: abdication of any responsibility, at any price, because we will not bear it. Apparently, then, in its expression of this absolute readiness to renounce personal responsibility and let others bear the consequences, a belief in the right of abortion renders one supremely fit to be a subject of the modern state." Jeff Snyder

The above post hits the hammer right on the tippy tip of the nail.

Lora, Thank you for your very clear and thought provoking initial post. Your respectful tone is very appreciated. I have the same question as Sam did a few posts above. Why is it any more right or wrong to kill a "person"? Aren't you essentially back at square one in asking why it's wrong to kill a human?

The question, “Why is it wrong to kill a person?” is a good question. But I think this misses one of the main points of my first post, namely that being a member of the kind homo sapien is not what grounds the immorality of some instances of killing.

Suppose that it were possible to kill an angel. Or suppose there were non-human intelligent life in other galaxies (creatures that were rational, experienced pain and pleasure, planned for the future, made choices, etc.). Would it not be wrong to kill these creatures? Of course it would. But clearly they are not human. So, being a member of homo sapien does not get at the rock bottom of why it is wrong to kill something. What does?

Some may say, “Having the image of God.” I tend to agree. But why think a zygote has this? What is absurd about thinking that the image of God is given to a creature some time after conception and before birth? Any ideas?

Personhood is a better criterion than being human, since the personhood criterion covers the cases of angels and non-human persons. But then the question is, “Why is it wrong to kill persons?” Good question. But notice that I don’t have to answer it to make my point that being a member of homo sapien really is not morally significant, unless one can show that in virtue of being a member of this class, one also has some other feature that is morally relevant.


Lora, would you please tell us specifically what you mean by "person"? From this post, I can only guess that you mean "creatures that were rational, experienced pain and pleasure, planned for the future, made choices, etc." But if you would tell us explicitly what you mean by it, it would be easier for us to consider your idea.


"I'm not evil."
By whose standards? We seem from your post to agree that God is and that he has a moral law. How do you measure up? (I know I fail miserably, which is why I need Jesus as much as anyone else does.) I would argue that anything short of perfect fulfillment of God's moral law is evil.

>>my point that being a member of homo sapien really is not morally significant

I find that chilling. Also depressing. This shift in our cultural understanding has huge implications. The very concept of universal human rights can't survive this shift. The more people in our world who believe this, the more you'll see human rights abused by the people who have the power to define them (and by "them" I mean both rights and "persons").

There's a lot involved in this discussion, so I'll just direct everyone to where we had this conversation earlier in more detail because I don't want to interrupt the conversations already happening here. But I do urge everyone--especially those of you who consider yourselves to be Christian to think carefully through the implications.

Lora, Tell me; this zygote - is there the possibility that it might develop into a turnip, a crustacean, or a tumbleweed... instead of a human 'person'? Is there anything that needs to be added to it from the outside to affect its transition from zygote to human 'person' (your observation and assessment for instance)? Does it contain all the information needed to become what would pass your criteria for 'personhood'? If you weren't around to determine if this transition had occurred to your satisfaction, could it be surmised that it did, in fact, happen apart from your approval, or not? Since it's obvious that you, personally, can't be there at every zygote's individual transition, we need to know exactly at what specific point this metamorphosis manifests itself so we don't inadvertently murder a newly minted human 'person' instead of a mere theoretical potentiality. In a pinch, could you cobble together the ingredients for a zygote of your own?

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