Four Sobering Realities About the Abortion Debate

Yesterday marked the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision in which abortion was declared to be a Constitutional right. Here are four sobering realities to consider:

1. The Mushy Middle on Abortion

The juxtaposition of two major marches in Washington, D.C., this week — the 2017 Women’s March yesterday and the March for Life four days from now — is one of the most recent signals of a cavernous cultural divide on issues like abortion. Americans are almost perfectly split between the half who call themselves “pro-life” and the half who call themselves “pro-choice.” The reality is much grayer, and when given a middle option, a large plurality take it. 50% of Americans are in favor of abortion being “legal only under certain circumstances,” with 29% in favor of legality under any circumstances, and only 19% favoring outright abolition.

2. The Democratic Party’s Movement Away from the Middle

In light of that last point, take a moment to consider this astounding report from The New Yorker:

Like many observant Catholic Democrats over the years, [former Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Tim] Kaine’s mantra on reproductive rights is that while he’s “personally opposed” to abortion, he’s largely inclined to keep the law out of women’s reproductive decisions. […] He has a 100 percent rating of his votes in the Senate from Planned Parenthood. His policy positions on abortion may not be ideal to reproductive-rights advocates, but they are acceptable, particularly if the top spot on the ticket is occupied by an old friend like Hillary Clinton.

But in recent years, there’s been a trend among pro-choice folk that’s less friendly to the old “personally opposed to but” pivot, or to any other attitude that condemns abortion morally while tolerating its legality. More and more feminists are insisting on recognition of abortion as a routine medical service like any other, if not an actual social or moral good. This evolution can be tracked in the language on abortion policy in Democratic Party platforms in recent years. In 2004, the platform included the 1992 Bill Clinton formulation pledging to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” In 2008, after a behind-the-scenes battle, the platform dropped “safe, legal, and rare,” but included language indicating reduction of abortions as a goal. In 2012, there was no longer any language referring to abortion as a bad thing that needed to go away as much as possible.

Interestingly, Hillary Clinton was still using the “safe, legal, and rare” formulation as recently as 2014. But the “rare” language seems to have dropped out during the current election cycle.

Senator Kaine already treats his pro-life views the ways that the apostate priest Sebastião Rodrigues treated Christianity in the movie Silence: something that he quietly believed in, but wasn’t going to let get in the way. But even his 100% pro-choice rating wasn’t enough for the rising faction within the Democratic Party that wants abortion not just legal, but praised.


That’s not a sane electoral strategy — after all, only 29% of Americans want abortion on demand, and not all of them likely a much lower percentage think abortion is terrific. Rather, it’s the sort of dogmatic devotion to abortion that the Left long concealed behind soft slogans like “Safe, legal, and rare” and an insistence upon “pro-choice” instead of “pro-abortion.” Thanks be to God that mask is off, and the “pro-choice” side has shown its true colors:

 URGE Executive Director Kierra Johnson wears a "(Heart) Abortion" shirt at the 2017 Women's March in D.C.
URGE Executive Director Kierra Johnson wears a “(Heart) Abortion” shirt at the 2017 Women’s March in D.C.

3, The “Mushy Middle” is Sort of Frightening.

In one sense, it’s awful that the “pro-choice” side is becoming ever more extremist in its pro-abortion advocacy. But there’s another sense in which the most troubling voices actually are those middle “personally opposed” people. Now, obviously this 50% block of Americans is too large to generalize, but many of them say things along the lines of what Kaine said in the Vice Presidential debate:

For me, the hardest struggle in my faith life was the Catholic Church is against the death penalty and so am I. But I was governor of a state, and the state law said that there was a death penalty for crimes if the jury determined them to be heinous. And so I had to grapple with that.

When I was running for governor, I was attacked pretty strongly because of my position on the death penalty. But I looked the voters of Virginia in the eye and said, look, this is my religion. I’m not going to change my religious practice to get one vote, but I know how to take an oath and uphold the law. And if you elect me, I will uphold the law.

And I was elected, and I did. It was very, very difficult to allow executions to go forward, but in circumstances where I didn’t feel like there was a case for clemency, I told Virginia voters I would uphold the law, and I did.

And later in the same debate:

Hillary and I are both people out of religious backgrounds, from Methodist church experience, which was really formative for her as a public servant.

But we really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith. But it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else.

So let’s talk about abortion and choice. Let’s talk about them. We support Roe v. Wade. We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own supportive partner, their own minister, but then make their own decision about pregnancy. That’s something we trust American women to do that.


If someone says “I don’t believe that the fetus is a living human being,” they’re wrong, but in an understandable way. It’s a simple mistake about the facts. But the “personally opposed” crowd is claiming (in many cases) that abortion is the intentional taking of innocent human lives, but that they still think it should be legal. That’s not an innocent mistake about facts, but a barbaric set of priorities.  Kaine’s position seems to be that killing people (babies or criminals) is wrong, unless voters really want you to do it.

The “personally opposed” crowd acts as if the only way that we can know that it’s wrong to take human life, or that unborn children are alive, is through religion, which is obviously untrue. But even if that were true – if Senator Kaine knew abortion was wrong simply because it had been revealed to him by God – what sort of man would reject God in favor of the voting public?

Regardless of your views on abortion, or about when life begins, etc., both pro-lifers and pro-choicers should be horrified at anyone whose position amounts to “I think abortion is murder, but also that it should be legal.”


4. Abortion is More Common Than You Imagine.

“In 2013, 664,435 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC from 49 reporting areas.” That means that, on average, there was one baby aborted for every five who were allowed to be born. That number is so high that it’s hard to imagine, so let’s illustrate it. According to FiveThirtyEight, there were approximately 485,000 marchers at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington (photos from Mashable):

Additionally, there were an estimated 150,000 protestors at the Women’s March in Chicago (as this video shows):

If you were to take the Chicago crowd and the D.C. crowd and combine them, you would almost have the number of abortions reported to the CDC in a single year. And the CDC’s numbers are undeniably low, since their “reporting areas” don’t include giant areas like California, nor do they include abortions that occur prior to implantation. So the numbers are actually even higher.


Surely, a horror of the magnitude is worth taking a public stand against, right? If so, I hope you’ll consider going to the March for Life on Friday.



    1. Science can tell us biological facts about a zygote such as the structure of its DNA, but it cannot tell us philosophical facts about it, such as whether the zygote has intellect. Who knows when the biological organism gets intellect: no answer is better than the wrong answer.

        1. Oh, there is this idea that science tells us life starts at the moment of conception. And in a sense, this is true. But, science can only tell us the physical facts about this life: it cannot tell us that this life has rights or embodies intellect. So, pro-lifers and pro-choicers can all agree on the basis of science that life begins at conception, because this has nothing to do with whether that life has rights or a rational soul: it’s not a relevant point to make in the debate. Instead, we need philosophical reasons to think the zygote has or does not have a right to life, or a rational soul, etc.

          1. Hi Steve,
            Thanks for clarifying. I don’t have much time and am not a trained philosopher or logician, but one thing I did have a few ideas about your “rational” soul in the unborn life.

            1) I think you use the word ‘rational’ to imply one with capability to know or think or be aware. I don’t know how much weight we ought to give this idea since the infant (through science) cannot say too much about the infant’s consciousness since it lacks its own personal voice or means to articulate that. We who do have voice must therefore speak for the fetus, right?

            Scripture does say that God knew us before he knit us in the womb. John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb at the presence of Mary and her conceptus, and Elizabeth knew that Mary was the mother of her Lord before Mary said a word. As God created the world, he certainly created DNA and the process of reproduction. This implies God’s ‘mark’ or imprint or presence of God within all fetal life, so therefore, killing it is not something most of us who are rational (believers) want to do.

            2) Next, also with reference to parental choice, it is simply against all animal nature to kill in situ conceptus. No animal kills its conceptus and I dare say most (there may be some rare exception?) animals do not kill their own newborn species. Abortion is against nature; therefore unnatural. If the fetus were not alive, it would not need to be killed, quite simply. It shall continue to live; if left alone, it would develop and enter out of its mother’s womb as a fully formed “rational” human (albeit not fully able to articulate its rationality except by cries, reflexes, instincts, and aversive responses to pain).

            3) What rights ought we assign another rational living human being? I think that is fairly obvious. Do you?


        2. Steve,

          You said that “there is this idea that science tells us life starts at the moment of conception. And in a sense, this is true.” That’s not just true “in a sense.” It’s 100% true.

          “So, pro-lifers and pro-choicers can all agree on the basis of science that life begins at conception, because this has nothing to do with whether that life has rights or a rational soul: it’s not a relevant point to make in the debate.”

          Do you realize how strange this claim sounds?

          I mean, think about it this way. If science had demonstrably proven the opposite – that life began in the third trimester (for example), would you consider that a “relevant point” in the abortion debate?

          Pro-choicers insisted for years that abortion was okay because (in the words of Roe v. Wade), “There has always been strong support for the view that life does not begin until live birth.” We know without a shadow of a doubt that this view is scientifically absurd. And Roe itself was clear that this question was an important one, but one which the Court claimed it wasn’t competent to answer. We know those answers to a certainty today. And now you’re saying it doesn’t matter?

          At the very least, I think we should be able to agree on this. Murder is, at a minimum, the taking of innocent human life.

          So to acknowledge that abortion intentionally ends a human life is to acknowledge it as murder. That, too, seems relevant to the debate.

          So even though I completely agree with you that science can’t tell us that murder is wrong, science can tell us that abortion is the kind of thing we mean by murder.

          1. Joe,

            If science can only ever tell us the physical facts about being human, and there is more to being human than the physical facts (both theses we accept), then science cannot — even in principle — tell us the whole story about humans. So, what science gives us when it says life begins at conception or the third trimester etc. is only a partial story: 100% true as far as it goes, but incomplete on its own.

            What does science leave out? It leaves out the facts that are relevant to the moral dimension of abortion: is the unborn biological human ensouled? Does it have rights? Is it innocent? These are the questions the debate about abortion turn on, and they cannot be answered by science.

            Now, you say that “science can tell us that abortion is the kind of thing we mean by murder”, but science doesn’t tell us that a biological human is innocent or has rights or a soul. As such, science doesn’t tell us that abortion takes the life of an innocent rational animal: it tells us abortion is the termination of a biological organism — whether or not it is innocent or rational, science can’t say.

            It would take a philosophical argument to show that part of being a biological human is being a rational animal: only then will the deliverances of biology be relevant here. If you have such an argument, I’d certainly consider it. As you may recall, I have my own philosophical reasons for believing this is not the case, but I’m open to changing my mind.

          2. Steve,

            Consider this horrendous thought. What if Mary, the Mother of Jesus had re-considered what the Angel Gabriel said to her, and had a notion that she might have to spend years of her life trying to protect he Son from others, and might even need to flee and live in Egypt to do so, and without any money. And so, she decides to have an abortion, even after an Angel of God had offered her to be the ‘Mother of God’.

            Would not this act of hers have been the most heinous thing anyone has ever contemplated? What would the Angel Gabriel have thought? Could satan himself ever have ever done such an evil such as as this? Would not Eve herself shrink and bring at the act which would be worst than the first sin in the Garden of Eden?

            If she visited Elizabeth, what would she have said to her?

            Not “How is it that the mother of my Lord has come to me”, but, ” How is it that the Mother of My Lord has killed the Christ of God, the Savior of the world?!!”

            Jesus was the Son of God, Savior of the world, in all of it’s ramifications while He was a ‘zygote’. Mary was his mother, the Mother of God, while He was a zygote. John the baptist, as a fetus, let for joy in Elizabeths womb at the presence of Jesus the ‘zygote’. Moral, philosophical, personal life begins at conception. As it was with Jesus, so it is for the rest of us also.

            These fictional thoughts of a potential abortion by Mary, the Mother of God, are horrendous and repulsive even to consider, but being so, they demonstrate how horrendous and seriously evil the current culture of death and abortion is today. And recall what Jesus said in the Gospel: ” What so ever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto Me.”

            May God have mercy on us for all of our multitudes of grievous sins!

          3. Auto spell correction mucked up this post. Sorry for the insufficient editing! But I hope you get he message.

          4. Steve,

            “If science can only ever tell us the physical facts about being human, and there is more to being human than the physical facts (both theses we accept), then science cannot — even in principle — tell us the whole story about humans.”

            This is true: the argument against abortion is based upon a scientific teaching (abortion is the killing of unborn human beings) and a moral teaching (it’s wrong, and ought to be illegal, to kill innocent human beings).

            But that doesn’t make the scientific fact half-true. It’s 100% true, and is a necessary part of the argument against abortion. (If abortion WEREN’T the killing of an innocent human being, most of the arguments against it would go away).

            Questions about ensoulment and the like are (a) easily answered from philosophy [the soul, or anima, is the animating principle of a living thing, so knowing that the fetus is a living being actually reveals this answer, as well], and (b) not particularly critical to the debate [even an atheist who disbelieves in souls believes, or ought to believe, that it’s wrong to kill innocent human beings].

            So once you grant the scientific point (that abortion intentionally terminates the life of a human being), you need to either say that you’re okay with murder, or redefine what murder is so that abortion isn’t really murder because of your special pleading…. or admit that abortion is wrong. Those are the only three options (and it currently looks like you’re muddling towards the second).

          5. Joe,

            As it stands, your argument commits the fallacy of equivocation **

            1. Killing unborn human beings is wrong and ought to be illegal. [Moral premise]
            2. Abortion is the killing of unborn human beings. [Scientific premise]
            3. Therefore, abortion is wrong and ought to be illegal.

            ** The term “human being” may refer to the same thing in both premises, but it means one thing in the moral premise and something else in the scientific premise.

            I’m gonna save everyone the steps involved here and fast-forward to where the argument needs to be:

            1. Every unborn biological human is an innocent rational animal.
            2. Killing innocent rational animals is murder.
            3. Therefore, killing unborn biological humans is murder.
            4. Abortion kills unborn biological humans.
            5. Therefore, abortion is murder.

            It’s got only three premises — (1), (2) and (4). Moreover, (2) and (4) will be granted by any sane person. So, all you gotta do is defend (1).

            You’re right that unborn biological humans obviously have an animating principle (or soul), but that this animating principle involves rationality is far from obvious. Once you have an argument for this, then we’ll be able to move beyond the logic of your argument to evaluating the truth of its premises.

          6. I’m having a hard time following Steve. Steve says, “You’re right that unborn biological humans obviously have an animating principle (or soul), but that this animating principle involves rationality is far from obvious. Once you have an argument for this, then we’ll be able to move beyond the logic of your argument to evaluating the truth of its premises.”
            Steve, are you saying humans aren’t really human until we can obviously prove they have “rationality”? What about the living who are extremely mentally handicapped? Or folks with dementia? I assume you’d classify them all as human, as they were born into this world. Or maybe you wouldn’t. I honestly am not following your argument. At all.

          7. Steve,

            My argument isn’t committing the fallacy of equivocation. You’re already conceding that “human being” has the same referent in both premises (which, by itself, means that it’s not the fallacy of equivocation).

            So let’s cut to the chase. The real question is simply: is murder okay if your victim doesn’t presently show signs of rationality?

            Even here, you’re not really defining how “active” the rationality is. Obviously, a human being is the type of creature that is rational, and given enough time (and barring some unforeseen tragedy) the unborn child will come to exercise rationality in the way we normally think of it.

            But your hemming and hedging about murder suggests that you think that maybe these children aren’t “rational” enough yet – that they need to be currently showing signs of rationality. If that’s the case, then we should be consistent, and say that it’s okay to murder the comatose, and the sleeping, and perhaps the severely mentally retarded.

            That’s one problem with playing games with the prohibition of murder: once you redraw the lines, it’s hard to know where to stop.

          8. Joe,

            Ah, this confirms a suspicion I had. It is not the case that terms refer to something in the same sense just because they refer to the same thing. So, we can all grant, at least for the sake of argument, that science and philosophy are referring to the same thing when they talk about “human beings.” The issue here is whether or not they are referring to the same thing in the same sense. But, the fact is, they cannot: science can only refer to humans insofar as they are physical. Therefore, the term “human being” cannot mean the same thing in science as it does in philosophy. This is why your reasoning is equivocal. The fallacy of equivocation, btw, concerns the meaning of the terms in an argument, not just the referents.

            But, let’s suppose all this is wrong and cut to what strikes you as the chase. Why do you think the animating principle of the zygote is rational? The matter of the zygote isn’t even in the form of an animal, let alone in that of a rational animal. The matter of coma patients and the like is at least in the form of an animal. On Aristotelianism, it is better to say that the zygote is a rational animal *in potency*, not in actuality.

          9. Steve,

            You say: “Ah, this confirms a suspicion I had. It is not the case that terms refer to something in the same sense just because they refer to the same thing.”

            I’m not disputing that – I grant that from the outset. But that isn’t what the fallacy of equivocation means. If I say “psychologists say men behave in X way, but historians say that they behave in Y way,” the fact that psychologists and historians treat man under different aspects doesn’t make it equivocation. It would be equivocation if I used “man” in one instance to refer to humanity, and in the other to refer to males. If it were “equivocation” to refer to the same referent under two different aspects, it would be impossible to ever cross disciplines.

            So since we both seem to agree (at it is, in any case, my position) that “human beings” is the same discrete referent whether we’re considering humans from a moral/philosophical or scientific perspective, it’s not the fallacy of equivocation. You’re misusing that term – it just doesn’t apply here.

            But to your question: you’re still trying to make my argument “abortion is wrong because these human beings have rational souls.” It’s true that they do have rational souls, and that it’s wrong to kill an innocent rational creature, but that’s not my argument. My argument is that intentionally killing innocent human beings is (a) murder [by definition] and (b) wrong.

            Nothing in that argument depends upon a theory of ensoulment, or upon an Aristotelian metaphysics or biology.

            Having said that, you’re conflating two senses of potency and act. A creature with the potency to develop the faculties of rationality already has what we mean by a “rational soul,” because the development of the requisite faculties is a result of the animation (and not a cause of it). A “rational soul” isn’t just one that is present in the act of reasoning, or even just one that has the capability for reasoning right now.

            I’m fine debating this whole Aristotelian question, but do you get that nothing in my argument “murder is wrong” depends upon it?

          10. Joe,

            Right, referring to the same thing under different aspects isn’t necessarily equivocation.

            But, it’s not the mere fact of being different aspects that’s problematic here: it’s that the validity of your argument turns on the different meanings, and would not work if you gave the same meaning in both premises: if it carried moral meaning in both, the scientific premise would be false or unjustified, and if it carried only scientific meaning in both, the moral premise would be false or unjustified. But, I don’t wish to belabor the point.

            As to your argument, it is murderous and wrong to kill innocent people, but only because they are rational animals. So, if we’re talking about something that isn’t a rational animal, then it’s not the sort of thing that could be murdered, only terminated. That’s why I think your argument has to deal with that topic.

            Finally, with regard to act and potency, the zygote doesn’t have an inherent potency to develop rational capabilities: only a divine act of creating a soul can give such capabilities to it. It is in potency in an external sense.

          11. Steve,

            You said, “if it carried moral meaning in both, the scientific premise would be false or unjustified, and if it carried only scientific meaning in both, the moral premise would be false or unjustified.”

            That’s just not true. Think about it this way: broadly speaking, economics considers man as an (at least potential) economic actor, whereas biology considers him as a member of homo sapiens.

            Those are different aspects of man, but the referent is the same. So if an economist reported, “a community of twenty men engaged in economic activity in this area until they were executed by the government,” that would be to say “twenty members of the species homo sapiens engaged in economic activity, etc.” even though the economist doesn’t particularly care that they’re members of the species homo sapiens.

            And so the economist, the biologist, and the ethicist might all be interested in this data for different reasons, but it’s the same data. You seem to be saying that, because economists and biologists are interested in man for different reasons that they mean different things by “man.” I have to stress that this would render any sort of cross-discipline knowledge as entirely incoherent.

            We’d have to say that I know that there were twenty men killed there, economically-speaking, but were they killed biologically and ethically? That distinct is, properly speaking, nonsense.

            I know that we’re at the risk of belaboring this point, but it’s this that you’re getting hung up on (or hiding behind). You seem to want to say that they’re scientifically human, but not morally human. And my point is, that’s a false distinction used to obscure the crime of murder.

          12. To your other two points,

            “As to your argument, it is murderous and wrong to kill innocent people, but only because they are rational animals.”

            This is a critical point: why is this the only reason murder is wrong? You’re making this assertion, but not defending it (and it strikes me as indefensible). And what degree of rationality has to be present (or active) for you to consider a person a “rational animal”?

            “Finally, with regard to act and potency, the zygote doesn’t have an inherent potency to develop rational capabilities: only a divine act of creating a soul can give such capabilities to it. It is in potency in an external sense.”

            I’m also not seeing any coherent argumentation here. There already is a soul, or the zygote wouldn’t develop. Your theory is scientifically false, inasmuch as there’s no interruption in fetal development in which it suddenly lurches from irrational to rational.(You’ve suggested before that science can’t determine if a creature is rational or not: that’s at least partially false. Rationality isn’t reducible to the physical, but it corresponds to physical structures.)

          13. Joe,

            I am making such a big deal about the different ways in which science and philosophy refer to humans because we can only logically infer that it’s wrong to terminate the life of the unborn at any stage if the unborn is a rational animal at every stage. But, as I’ve said, science can’t tell us that the unborn is a rational animal at all, let alone at every stage: only philosophy can tell us this. So, we need a philosophical reason to think the life that science says begins at conception is a rational animal. Have you given any such philosophical reason?

            Your main argument has been that because science and philosophy are referring to the same thing when they talk about “humans”, if science says humans begin at conception, then philosophy does too. But, this just isn’t true: science tells us that humans qua biological organisms begin at conception, it does not tell us that humans qua rational animals begin at conception. We can’t just assume without argument that the unborn are rational animals at every stage.

            Your main argument relies on not acknowledging the different ways in which science and philosophy refer to humans: once this difference is acknowledged, it’s clear that the scientific claim that life begins at conception in no way means the unborn are rational animals from conception onward, and thus that terminating the unborn at any stage constitutes murder. Of course different fields refer to humans differently, but this terminological ambiguity is not itself a fallacy of equivocation: it’s the argument’s reliance upon this terminological ambiguity.

            “why is this the only reason murder is wrong? You’re making this assertion, but not defending it (and it strikes me as indefensible). And what degree of rationality has to be present (or active) for you to consider a person a “rational animal”?”

            I am asserting that killing an organism doesn’t count as murder unless that organism is a rational animal: it’s not the only condition for murder, but it is sine qua non. Killing animals isn’t “murder.” Moreover, I’m not saying that rationality has to be manifested to any degree at all in order for an organism to be a person, I’m just saying that an organism is not a person unless it is a rational animal. It can be hard to tell when an organism has rationality, but it is quite easy to tell when an organism has the form of animality, and zygotes have none of the properties that Aristotelians and Thomists have identified as “animalistic.” Since it’s not an animal, it’s not a rational animal.

          14. Steve, you say, “it is quite easy to tell when an organism has the form of animality”. In YOUR opinion, roughly, when do YOU think a human being (or whatever term you prefer you to call it in its very early stage) becomes “animalistic”? 10 months? 12 months? 2 years? Also, you seem to be suggesting, if not flat-out saying, that killing an unborn baby is no different than killing an animal. That’s a little chilling for me personally.

          15. Steve, your argument here:
            “It can be hard to tell when an organism has rationality, but it is quite easy to tell when an organism has the form of animality, and zygotes have none of the properties that Aristotelians and Thomists have identified as “animalistic.” Since it’s not an animal, it’s not a rational animal.”

            Would seem to be ascribing nothing less than a fundamental transformation of essence to every single animal during the course of its development. That we can identify, scientifically, the zygote, the fetus, the infant, and the adult all as one and the same organism — and yet, this very same organism transforms into a different substance, its very essence changed. That essential species can change while biological species does not.

            The very fact that we can recognize the zygote as one and the same organism as that which it later develops into would seem to bely such a claim. There is a recognizable essence of the species and the individual which is preserved throughout. This fact should be obvious when we extend such line of argument from the sensitive soul to the rational. Regardless of the vast, fuzzy gray area in which we may not be sure if an animal is rational, if we are to speak of “rational animals” as a distinct category at all we must admit that we have some capacity to determine that certain animals are rational and some are not. And if we’re being honest, we can clearly identify points at which every human is lacking those signs of rationality.

            And yet, we do not say that a man in a coma has temporarily suffered a change in essence; this is patently absurd. The man in the coma is the same man he was before he fell into the coma, and the same man he will be after. Likewise, the newborn infant — which surely demonstrates no hint of the rational soul as yet, at least not unless we redefine the scope of “rationality” so broadly as to encompass a great many animals we ordinarily would not consider rational — is not an essentially distinct *kind* of entity from the man or woman he or she will later grow up to be. Nor would we characterize those with severe cognitive impairments, such that they never progress mentally beyond an infantile state, as anything other than human by essence.

            In short, the fact that an organism does not, at a given stage of its life cycle, nor even due to some accidental defect (temporary or persistent), evidence in full the complete set of traits essential to its kind does not change the kind of thing it is — that is, its essence.

          16. jim louis: I’d certainly never say that killing an unborn baby is no different than killing an animal, that’s chilling to me too. But, the idea that the zygote is a baby is not one I can wrap my mind around.

            Here’s what I know: forms are like blue-prints according to which matter gets organized. The blue-print of “animality” lays out the plans for having the power or ability to sense. So, when causes organize matter according to the blue-print of “animality”, what they do is form physical organs for sensation.

            The zygote not only lacks any physical organs for sensation whatsoever, but it has no inherent tendency to develop them. Left to its own devices, it will continue to do the only thing it can do until it dies: cellular division. It is only upon implantation that its matter develops in the direction of having physical organs for sensation.

            So, while nothing I’ve said about the zygote rides on when ensoulment occurs, I believe a God creates our rational animality at implantation.

            I’m actually pretty surprised by the reactions I’ve gotten so far: I’m just arguing for the traditional Aristotelian-Thomistic position of delayed ensoulment.

          17. Steve, you said earlier that “it’s quite easy to tell when an organism has the form of animality”. In YOUR opinion, when does the zygote become animalistic enough for you to be comfortable in saying it’s a human being, and therefore, not okay to kill?

            TKDB brought up great points also.

            I truly cannot figure out what you’re trying to say.

          18. Steve,

            The Aristotelian definition of man as a “rational animal” is a definition of a species, with “animal” being the genus and “rational” the specific difference. So is your claim that women briefly carry a non-human species of animal inside their wombs that supernaturally transforms into a human / rational animal?



      1. Steve, there simply is no such thing (for all practical intents and purposes) as “no answer” in this subject as far as policy goes. You either think it is ok to kill the unborn human organism, or that it is not. There is no “neutral” stance, because the supposed “neutral” stance (as posited by Roe v. Wade and the more moderate pro-choice rhetoric) is identical to the stance that the unborn are not persons: “We’ll just stay out of it and let you do what you personally think best.”

        So, on a policy level, we cannot but pick a side. However, we *can* decide our policy from a neutral epistemological position. And the neutral epistemological position leads us surely to the pro-life position.

        When faced with a very high-stakes ethical dilemma in which you must take action, but lack a critical piece of information necessary to determine that course of action, the most ethical approach is to take whichever position is the least evil *under the assumption that the position is wrong*. For example, if you’re driving a friend’s car down the highway at night and see a person-shaped lump in the middle of the road, and the only way to avoid it is to swerve off into the ditch where you might damage your friend’s car, the ethical course of action is to avoid the maybe-a-person. It might turn out not to be a person, meaning you just damaged your friend’s property for (in retrospect) no reason. But given the information available to you at the time, that was the best choice, and certainly damaging your friend’s car is preferable to running over a person collapsed in the middle of the road. You’d have to be extremely callous to simply keep going and run down something you have good reason to suspect might be a person.

        If we assume the unborn human organism is a “human life” in the ethical sense, and conduct policy accordingly, *and we are in fact wrong*, then we commit the evil of needlessly burdening a woman’s freedom to make decisions about her own body. A serious wrong, to be sure, but far less so than the alternative: If we assume the unborn human organism is NOT a “human life”, *and we are in fact wrong*, then we commit the evil of murdering innocent children.

        I think we can all agree that murder, and particularly infanticide, is a far greater evil than restricting freedoms in one particular, relatively narrow area.

        Thus, the pro-life position does not necessitate demonstration of the positive claim that the unborn human organism is a “human life”, but rather is simply the most ethical policy to take under a neutral, agnostic position on that point. The burden of proof lies on the pro-choice position to demonstrate non-personhood of the unborn.

          1. Then demonstrate it. Looking at your arguments in the thread above with Joe Heschmeyer, I would say you have so far not succeeded in this task.

            To summarize your position, as I understand it, you posit that the zygote is not a person because it is not a “rational animal”, and this lack of rationality is (so you claim) somehow observable in it. There are two big problems with this line of argument.

            First, in your arguments to distinguish the non-rationality of the zygote from the non-rationality of an adult whose cognitive faculties are temporarily suspended (as in a coma), you say, “The matter of the zygote isn’t even in the form of an animal, let alone in that of a rational animal. The matter of coma patients and the like is at least in the form of an animal.” Now, first of all this is a bad application of Aristotelianism, because it focuses only on the formal cause as a determiner of a thing’s essence, and ignores final cause. This is not only bad Aristotelianism, but even bad biology, for even biology recognizes something along the lines of final causation or inherent powers similar to what’s considered in Aristotelian descriptions of essence. For example, the biological definition of a living thing includes the ability to reproduce — but this does not exclude immature members of the species who have not yet reached sexual maturity. The fact that they have they are teleologically ordered toward reproduction, and have the inherent power to fulfill that teleology (given sufficient time and resources and nothing to frustrate that power) is sufficient to qualify. Curiously, when the zygote’s inherent power to achieve the capability to exercise rationality is raised, you counter with “the zygote doesn’t have an inherent potency to develop rational capabilities: only a divine act of creating a soul can give such capabilities to it.” Firstly, this appeal to a divine act of ensoulment separate from the generation of the organism itself is not Aristotelian, but rather Cartesian, so you’re mixing metaphysics here. Moreover, this metaphysical bait-and-switch undermines your former argument from the form of the organism’s matter — if rationality can be determined from the form of the matter, then why does it take a divine act of ensoulment rather than simply a working out of inherent powers in that form to develop rationality? And finally, an appeal to a particular moment of ensoulment is simply a non-starter in a pluralistic society where we’re approaching things from a position of neutrality.

            Moreover, the core of your argument here from the lack of a form we recognize as that of a rational animal is fundamentally an appeal to a materialist explanation of rationality. That is, you have snuck in an additional premise: “Rationality can be accounted for in terms of certain observable and known physical structures and/or processes, the absence of which means the organism is not rational.” This premise has not been demonstrated, and indeed is quite possibly false. What’s more, (as I alluded to in the previous paragraph), this premise is fundamentally incompatible with your argument to a moment of ensoulment.

            The other big problem with your argument to non-rationality is that you have failed to provide an adequate definition of “rationality” such that the zygote, like non-human animals, is demonstrably non-rational, but born humans are rational. If we are focusing on present capacity for rational behaviours, it would seem that not only zygotes but even infants are ruled out as non-rational, and thus not “human life” as you are framing it. If the criterion for qualifying as “human life” is to demonstrate the PRESENT capacity for rationality beyond that seen in non-human animals, then infants certainly fail. A 6-month-old infant certainly demonstrates no more capacity for rational thought at that stage in development than does a cat or a dog.

          2. Hi Steve,
            I cannot join the relentless debate but I am struck by some of your statements and language. “I am of the mind…” suggests that you are choosing a position yet are not convinced that it is one with which you are at peace or completely accept.

            I’m still a bit puzzled. If a zygote consists of sperm and egg from a human male and female, would you call it a human zygote? Granted, said zygote may not appear or look in the form of a human, but it would develop into the form of a human. Why might one see it as human but not as a person ? Is there any other form of human life which one might define as non-person?

          3. I’m afraid I’m not sure where to startTKDB, but here are few remarks that will hopefully clarify some issues:

            The idea that it takes a divine act to create the human soul is not Cartesian: early Christians such as Tertullian developed it against the Traducians, and Thomists have long advocated it. It’s a Catholic dogma, if I recall correctly. But, even if it were Cartesian, a mixed metaphysics is not necessarily a bad thing: we ought to believe what seems to be the case, no matter who teaches it.

            Moreover, it’s not bad Aristotelianism that says the formal cause determines a thing’s essence: it’s just Aristotelianism. A thing’s essence, properly speaking, is its formal cause.

            The conception of “rationality” I work with is Thomistic. So, I’ve argued that zygotes aren’t rational animals because they aren’t even animals, let alone rational ones. The argument isn’t that their matter fails to manifest rationality — something rational animals can do, as you’ve pointed out — but that their matter fails to manifest animality — something rational animals cannot do.

          4. Steve,
            On the matter of Cartesian metaphysics, I was referring not so much to the origin of the rational soul itself, but specifically to the notion of the soul being added separately to a preexisting body. Mixing this with Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics is problematic because the two notions of “soul” are incompatible. The soul either is a separable entity distinct from the body, or it is not. You can’t have it both ways.

            As for my comment about “bad Aristotelianism” I admit my language was imprecise. What I meant was that by ignoring the final cause, the inherent powers that exist within the thing but are not presently manifested, you are not getting a full account of the formal cause. All of the four causes go hand in hand.

            I might be going threads here, but this is a natural follow up to this point: Your identification of implantation as the point at which the zygote is substantially transformed is plainly in error. The motive principles that drive the development of the blastocyst into the more differentiated embryo are intrinsic to the blastocyst, not some change brought about by an extrinsic force. Even the placenta it’s formed from the blastocyst, not the mother’s womb! Implantation is simply the stimulus that signals the blastocyst to manifest those inherent powers, as the warmth and longer days signal trees to put out new leaves and perennial flowers to sprout and blossom in the springtime. It is the recognition of the appropriate environment, in which the necessary nutrients and support for further growth and development can be obtained, that triggers the expression of an as-yet unexpressed intrinsic power. The fact that this power is not expressed without implantation is no more evidence of its absence than the fact of an acorn not sprouting unless planted is evidence that it lacks the inherent power to develop into an oak.

            I am puzzled as to why you’re willing to accept manifestation of rationality as an optional criterion for the humanity of a given individual, but insist that an absence of manifest “animality” (as it were) is disqualifying. I can agree to the Aristotelian definition of man as “rational animal”, but if we’re willing to allow flexibility on absence of the former due to age, why not also the latter? This seems to be a purely ad hoc distinction.

  1. I hold the Catholic church in particular, and the rest of the Christian denominations in general, responsible for much of the growth of the abortion movement over the last 50 years.

    Why? Because the Catholic Church has the truth and power of Christ to catechize both it’s own members and the world at large through explicit Biblical scriptures against abortion, but largely fails to do so in any significant way. Christian denominations also, fail to teach their members the explicit scriptures relating to abortion in a significant way, and so, are not guiding their flocks adequately in this area of Christian doctrine. The proof of this is in the tens of millions of abortions that have been committed by both Catholics and Protestants over the last 50 years.

    What I’m trying to say, is that both Catholics and other Christians, through sloppy catechesis, promote a sense of mystery or uncertainty as to when life actually begins. They neglect to stress to their congregations that there is absolute scriptural proofs that leave no room for a Christian to doubt. They might indeed write in catechisms that life begins at conception, but don’t provide the detailed scriptures demonstrating where exactly in the Bible it is undoubtably proven.

    Here’s the sequence of events from the Bible that are pertinent to proving absolutely, that life begins at conception:

    1. The angel Gabriel, at the annunciation, instructs Mary to travel to her cousin Elizabeth’s home, so as to aid her in her 6 months ‘miracle laden’ pregnancy with John the Baptist.
    2. Gabriel at this time stresses to Mary to be quick with the journey, which indicates that she would have started as soon as possible, and would probably have been able to make the trip within a few days time.
    3. When Mary arrives, Elizabeth “… cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the MOTHER OF MY LORD should come to me?” (Luke 1:38)
    4. Elizabeth also states “…as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” ( Luke 1: 44)

    Implications of these short scriptures?

    Life begins at conception. The entire is scenario is initiated by an Angel of God . That Mary needed to RUSH to Elizabeth stresses the importance of the time element involved. That Elizabeth addresses Mary as the “MOTHER OF MY LORD” only a few days after the conception of Jesus Christ, (and in a state inspired by the Holy Spirit), indicates that the Person of Jesus was present in Mary at only a FEW DAYS gestation. The conclusion is: LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION.

    If no one else believes this truth, every Christian must believe it. And if every Christian believed it in the past, then there should have been a reduction of about 1/2 of all of the tens of millions of abortions that have taken place in the USA over the last 50 years.

    Why don’t Catholic Churches stress this in homilies? I’ve never heard it once in my life. Why don’t they teach it in Catholic schools? I’ve never heard it throughout 12 years Catholic education. Why don’t Bible loving Protestants stress these scriptures? I’ve never heard it once from countless conversations with them. Millions of Protestant believers have had abortions, and continue to have abortions, even with the explicit evidence that life begins at conception in the very scriptures that they rely on via ‘sola scriptura’?

    It’s confounding that Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, don’t catechize their flocks better regarding God’s biblical teaching that Life begins at conception, and that abortion is an act of homicide.

    However, I think most Christians have abortions largely due to ignorance. And, this should be remedied as soon as possible.

    By the way, I try to practice what I preach regarding abortion catechesis. And last Saturday, a friend and I distributed about 9000 Immaculate Heart Radio Station station cards at the West Coast Walk For Life. Catholic Radio is one of the very faithful teachers on Life issues today. My argument is mainly that there needs to be more ‘Life’ catechesis on the parish and local church level.

    1. Not sure it is the Catholic Church as much as it is the leadership and Shepherds – don’t think Christ has changed his teaching. Looks to what is going on today, they say they are not changing dogma simply the pastoral care – no one appears to be in charge and no one is being held accountable. It has been a long slow decent since the sixties.

      1. The Catholic pastors may be excellent in many other areas of the faith. But they seem to shy away from discussing the above scriptural proofs for ‘life beginning at conception’ to both Catholic students who need to know these morally essential facts, and parishioners as a whole. I think that they might fear to open a ‘can of worms’ wherein the more liberal members of the parish might cause them trouble. This actually happened with the Archbishop of San Francisco about two years ago, over enforcing traditional Catholic teachings at the local Catholic schools. And it was the militant Catholic left that caused a huge, nationwide uproar. So, this might be a reason that many pastors might be intimidated from defending ‘life’ issues publicly.

        That’s just my guess, though. On a side note, I couldn’t believe how few San Franciscans were at the Walk for Life last weekend. Since I was distributing that particular Radio frequency, I needed to ask where the people were from before giving out the cards. And so many were from Sacramento and the Central Valley. Many came from far away, even San Diego and Portland. But so few from San Francisco. It seemed to be only those from St. Dominic’s Church, and their army of Dominican priests and sisters, and Star of the Sea, the same parish and school that the Archbishop had trouble with. Other than those, San Franciscans seemed to be far and few between. What a shame for a host city.

        1. If you’ve seen the movie “Silence”, there’s a strong parallel to being a faithful Catholic in San Fransisco (or anywhere else) these days and being one in 17th century Japan.

          1. I wasn’t planning on it, but I’ll take a look at the film when I get the chance. Thanks for the recommendation. And, I’ve been through so much liberalism in San Francisco, both within the Church and without, that anything resembling orthodox worship makes me jump out of my pants in spiritual rejoicing. My current parish, for instance, has perpetual adoration and just last month returned the Tabernacle back to where it had been since ‘gold rush’ days, that is… in a traditional setting centered in the sanctuary behind the altar. What a joy. Finally, a sign of some spiritual sanity going on in mine, and other, local parishes in my area.

            – Al

    2. Dear awlms,
      I empathize. I don’t know where you live–I’m guessing San Fran or L.A.? For the past 20-30 years, I’ve lived within one of the most liberal dioceses in the U.S. Fortunately, I recognized the problem, having grown up in a most orthodox diocese, having received a good education and catechesis from the Baltimore Catechism until Confirmation, having a parent who read, “The Wanderer.” Then came Vatican II. Some good histories describe well what happened there–The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber is one–catechesis, education, architecture, liturgy, and discipline suffered from confusion in the aftermath of liberal theologians who hijacked the proceedings and often inserted confusing language within Vatican II documents. The teaching of mixed truth began in earnest, just a few short years before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 hijacked our Bill of Rights. Church teaching did not change with Vatican II, but some of its documents did not clearly state that fact. Many read (if they did read at all) what they wanted to see, which was not always Christ’s sacrificial teaching or love since it is perceived as difficult to do.

      Today, after many wayward bishops and theologians propagated many scandals, while much doctrinal laxity was practiced, and yes, encouraged by many priests in my diocese, the tide has finally begun to turn. Although there are far fewer priests and far fewer parishioners, I have not had to church-shop to find a good priest who knows a mortal sin when he hears one in confession. I have not had to church-shop to hear a priest speak Catholic truth from the ambo. I am so very fortunate in this, and I hope and believe you will experience it too. As you say, Catholic Radio is a wonderful blessing, and everyone ought, who can, support it and encourage all to listen. It is filled with good truth. Prayers for the best.

      1. Hi Margo,

        My wife and I moved out of San Francisco about 7 years ago and ended up in a Dominican parish about 30 miles away. The Dominicans here are very solid and parish life is a joy and blessing. We have perpetual adoration at out parish and also many groups to join if desired. So, at least my wife and I ended up in a good place spiritually. I only wish similar blessings to all others. In any case, almost everyone has Catholic radio, so the truth is available for almost every one, should they only take the time to tune in. We’re very fortunate to have such a great spiritual resource at our disposal.

        Best to you in the Lord,

        – Al

  2. Good points, well written.

    Horror literally swept me at hearing Kaine’s debate remarks since he names the Catholic faith as his own. He claimed to be against the death penalty, which the Catholic Church does not teach is ALWAYS wrong (if I remember JPII’s apostolic letter or encyclical which does accept its RARE occurrence if criminals cannot be prevented from further innocent life-taking except by death). On the other hand, the Church does teach that abortion is ALWAYS wrong, even in cases of rape or incest, since the life begotten of even those evils is innocent and deserving of protection.

    In essence, the election was won because of heinous disregard for truth. One candidate had glaring flaws and faults, but God, in his regard for widows, orphans, and fools, does not abide sin. Praise be God.

    1. Kneeling – Thanks for the blogspot. Interesting.

      Also, did you hear the VP debate? Pence’s defense of life was eloquent; Kaine’s was null and void.

  3. I’ve come full circle. It took some philosophy to turn me back to science. Aristotle and Thomas believed that ensoulment occurred at implantation (around the time of a pregnant woman’s first missed menstruation) because other scientific methods or means were not available. I think we can justifiably excuse them a little scientific misunderstanding.

    Science today can show this: It is at the moment of conception that the animating principle or essence of humanity is set in motion. That is the moment when DNA from a human male combines with DNA from a human female and something entirely new and different is created. A new human. A person. A soul.

    1. And St. Elizabeth, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, confirms this when she said to Mary: “…whence is this to me, that the MOTHER OF MY LORD should come to me?”. This was said only a few days after Mary’s conception of Jesus, making Him an embryo of, most likely, less than a week old. When Elizabeth says ‘my Lord’ she means Jesus. So the person of Jesus was empirically inherent in the week old embryo, proving that both spiritual and physical life begin at conception. (Unless one wishes to dispute the the state of Jesus in the few days before Mary’s encounter with Elizabeth… which is ridiculous.)

      Also, why would Christians use Aristotle or St. Thomas as a trustworthy source when we have Mary and Elizabeth who were eyewitnesses of these events in the scriptures? Is a philosopher more trustworthy that the Mother of God? Or the mother of the greatest prophet of the Old Testament? Both of whom were specially chosen by God as the first Christians of Christ’s Holy Church?

      If philosophers were sufficiently wise to teach on such subjects, then Jesus ‘The Master’ would not have been needed as a teacher of doctrine. But Jesus Himself says:

      “For I say to you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see the things that you see, and have not seen them; and to hear the things that you hear, and have not heard them.” (Luke 10:24)

      Christians should look to the Gospels for wisdom, as Christ is ‘Lord’, ‘Master’ and ‘Teacher’, and is thus incomparable to all other philosophers and prophets concerning life’s many mysteries.

      1. Hi Awlms,
        I agree completely that Christians don’t need Aristotle or even St. Thomas when we have revelation itself, the Word. I was stating that I left returned to science since another poster had tried to reach some truth through those paths (I don’t think he subscribes to Christianity, but I give him credit in trying to reach truth through whatever means God makes available to him.)

        If you’ve ever read Bernanos, the entire posting here on this topic reminded me of “Under the Devil’s Son”. Manifestations of spirits, both for good and for ill. seemed to be bouncing off each other, confusing many. Thank God it’s a new day tomorrow and thank you for your ending post tonight. God bless.

        1. Hi Margo,

          I really wasn’t focusing on your comments in a critical way, but just focusing on the point that you made above, that Jesus is the supreme teacher of us all, and no one else even comes close. This is why we receive Jesus in the Eucharist and no other philosopher, and also why we are baptized in His name and not someone else’s. I actually am probably the least capable commenter here on this site due to my inept abilities in Aristotelian logic. But I highly appreciate it in other’s. So, actually, I’m not very capable of dealing with atheists in any sort of apologetic way, as other’s can, so I focus on the great many Christians (Protestant and Catholics) who don’t know the teachings of Christ very well.

          In this particular topic and circumstance we have a good example of how revelation can teach us very quickly the profound truth as to when a zygote or embryo becomes a person. It’s really taught by the Angel Gabriel because he instructed Mary to act the way she did immediately after the incarnation of the Christ into this world. And what could be more pertinent to the abortion issue than the pregnancies of the first 2 Christians in the history of salvation…Mary and Elizabeth? So, this historical account was probably directed by Divine Providence especially for our generation, to make things easy to understand that there is ‘no mystery’ when it comes to when ‘life begins’ for a person.

          As I stressed earlier, much debate focuses on convincing atheists or unbelievers of these truths. However, there are still tens of millions of Bible believing Christians that are still having abortions, even though they read the Bible and attend Church on a regular basis. And it is these that I focus on because the fruit is easier to pick. That is, we need only a few sentences of scriptures to show them how abortion is very wrong, and that they are in error. And we can do it in a nice way…because what is more beautiful, angelic or tender than these nativity stories? And virtually ‘all’ people in this country, even ‘non believers’ celebrate Christmas in one form or another; and so they should be somewhat ready for this type of evangelization, again, especially if taught in a nice and non-judgmental way…as so many people are actually very ignorant of the teachings of Christ, due to lack of focus and study.

          That most of these Christians who are having abortions will probably never read a sentence from Aristotle’s Logic, I think it better to focus on the strategy of pointing to the nativity texts to convince them, first asking if they’re Christian already, when talking to them. And I think Protestants generally avoid these scriptures because so much revolves around the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so it is even more important to focus these Christians towards these particular scriptural texts, as they might have overlooked them in their Bible studies.

          Anyway, that’s an explanation of why I do what I do. Maybe one day I’ll pick up Aristotle’s logic and give it a try, but I’m still working on the Gospel of Christ at the present, and have a lot to learn from Our Lord Jesus Christ.

          Best to you, and keep up the excellent comments.

          – Al

    2. Edit to my comment of yesterday evening: “Something entirely new and different is created…” should read more “someone unique comes into being.” Thanks.

  4. I’m not nearly as smart as you guys and gals but reading Steve’s posts reminded me of 1cor: 1:20b Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? Much is said in 1cor. about wisdom…

      1. Gary does not criticize anyone. Gary mentions Steve’s *posts* which focus on science and philosophy– worldly wisdom. Revelation, scripture, Catholic tradition, theology represent otherworldly or supernatural perspectives. Joe has presented issues in light of supernatural perspectives.

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