Science v. Religion on When Life Begins

One of the looming questions in the abortion debate relates to when human life begins.  From a scientific perspective, this question has been solved for centuries, thanks in part to the work of a seventeenth-century Italian scientist by the name of Francesco Redi.  And it’s left the opponents of the scientific view appealing lamely to outdated religious definitions.

I. Francesco Redi and the Theory of Spontaneous Generation

In 1688, Redi debunked a then-popular theory, namely, spontaneous generation, that claimed that dead things could spontaneously give rise to new life. This view dates back at least to Aristotle, who mistakenly taught (and by the way, this is where it’s about to get a little gross) that certain insects spontaneously originated “from putrefying earth or vegetable matter,” while “others are spontaneously generated in the inside of animals out of the secretions of their several organs.

An illustration from Francesco Redi’s 1688 work
debunking spontaneous generation. (h/t Scientus)

It was based on a simple mistake: if you leave meat out, it’ll eventually start rotting, and you’ll see maggots and flies crawling around on it, and the dead meat seems to be turning into these living creatures.  Of course, what was really happening was that maggots and flies were eating the rotting meat, and then laying tiny eggs, which eventually hatched.  But people generally didn’t know that, until Francesco Redi used a simple experiment to disprove spontaneous generation:

Francesco took eight jars, placed meat in all the jars, but covered four of the jars with muslin. Maggots developed in the open jars but did not develop in the muslin-covered jars.

In other words, dead things (like rotting meat) don’t suddenly become baby flies. So no matter who or what we’re talking about, from maggots to men, a simple principle is at play: living things come directly from other living things. Dead things don’t suddenly spring to life.

For some reason, in the abortion debate, this is still a revolutionary idea.  The scientific position, shared by pro-lifers, is simple: the father’s (living) sperm and the mother’s (living) egg form a (living) offspring when the two fuse (a moment in time known as conception or fertilization).  This living offspring is both alive and is distinct from each parent.  As Evangelium Vitae puts it:

[F]rom the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already.

Simple, scientific stuff.  Two living beings create a third living being.  The “pro-choice” side of the debate can’t acknowledge this without admitting that the “choice” in question is the killing of a living human being (albeit a tiny one), and yet they can’t deny it, either. To deny it would be to say that, at some point in the pregnancy cycle, a non-living embryo simply springs to life: the very sort of absurd spontaneous generation that Redi’s opponents believed in.

So what does the pro-abortion side do? Ignores the science, and obfuscates instead. Let me show you what I mean.

II. Using Religious Dogmatism Against Science

19th century engraving of
Faustus and the Homunculus

The online website My Family Doctor routinely hosts debates on a variety of issues including, “When Does Life Begin? Medical Experts Debate Abortion Issue.”  They began the article thusly:

In every political season, abortion emerges as one of the most hotly debated topics. It draws in everybody—from the religious to the political. But what about the scientists?

In fact, My Family Doctor seems to have had trouble finding actual scientists willing to claim that life begins after conception (for precisely the reason outlined above). The only doctors, scientists, and scientific organizations mentioned in the piece either agree that life begins at conception, or avoided answering the question.  This is part of a broader pro-choice strategy of simply ignoring the science and hoping that it’ll go away:

“Pro-choice docs would say that it is not their business to determine for a patient when life begins,” says Diana Philip, interim executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers and its sister organization, the Abortion Conversation Project. “Ultimately each patient determines the value and definition of life and that definition lies within her own mind and heart.”

See? Who cares about the science, when “each person” can make up their own “definition of life” within their own heart?  Maybe Francesco Redi’s opponents could have employed a similar tactic, printing bumper stickers like “Don’t believe in spontaneous generation? Don’t leave rotting meat out.”

The reason the pro-abortion side is reduced to holding their ears until science goes away is that science is really clearly on the pro-life side.  As Donna J. Harrison, M.D., of the American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists put it, “any biologist in the world can tell you that a mammal’s life begins when the sperm from the father unites with the egg from the mother.

Harrison’s debate opponent wasn’t actually a doctor or a scientist at all (despite the article’s introduction), but a professor from the University of Puget Sound’s Department of Religion, Dr. Suzanne Holland. Following the pro-choice strategy described above, Holland ignores science almost completely, and refuses to actually say when life begins.  She gives four possible answers.  First, the position that she falsely ascribes to the Catholic Church:

The Twins Georg and Regula Rahn, Zürich, 1752.

The genetic view (the position held by the Roman Catholic Church and many religious conservatives) holds that life begins with the acquisition of a novel genome; it is a kind of genetic determinism. 

As we saw above, the Catholic position is based on fertilization, not simply “genetic determinism” revolving around a “unique genome.” After all, identical twins have the same genome, but distinct epigenetics. If this really were the Catholic Church’s position, She’d have to deny that each twin was a unique individual.

Holland proceeds to lay out three alternative views, each holding to some view of spontaneous generation: that the non-living child simply springs to life.  The first alternative is the

Those who hold the embryologic view think life begins when the embryo undergoes gastrulation, and twinning is no longer possible; this occurs about 14 days into development. (Some mainline Protestant religions espouse a similar view.) 

This view requires holding that at some indistinct point in the second week of development, a non-living being becomes a living being by losing its ability to divide into two distinct individuals.  This is ironically anti-scientific, since this same process of cellular division and reproduction is used in other organisms to prove that they are alive, not dead.  Likewise, this view would “prove” that plants and microbes aren’t alive, since they reproduce asexually.

Proponents of the neurological view adhere to brainwave criteria; life begins when a distinct EEG pattern can be detected, about 24 to 27 weeks. (Some Protestant churches affirm this.) Interestingly, life is also thought to end when the EEG pattern is no longer present. 

This requires believing that a non-living creature somehow brought itself to life by … generating its own brain.  Plus, several people who showed no EEG activity were declared “dead” before fully recovering, like Karen Arbogast or Zack Dunlap.  So maybe that’s not the best rubric to use, particularly standing alone?  Finally:

Unborn child, aged twenty-one weeks

Finally, one can say that life begins at or near birth, measured by fetal viability outside the mother’s body. (Judaism affirms something close to this position.) After all, somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of all embryos conceived miscarry.

This is the most absurd of the choices, since viability depends on the child and the culture. Roe defined viability at 24-28 weeks, but since then, plenty of children born in the two weeks before that have survived, due to technological improvements.  It makes absolutely no sense to say that a 23-week old fetus in America is alive, while a 23-week old fetus in Zimbabwe is dead.  And of course, even the prematurely-born children who died… died… which shows that they were previously alive.
    Each of these alternative views is also trying to claim that life begins at a certain point in embryonic or fetal development. This is self-evidentially absurd, since the unborn child must be alive in order to grow and develop in the first place!

    Holland doesn’t actually commit to any of these positions. To do so would open herself up for debate on the issue (and show the absurdity of each view). All she’s trying to do is muddy the waters, to make the issue of when life begins look unclear. It’s not.  And since she can’t marshal any science to support her claim, Holland is left claiming that some unspecified Protestant and Jewish groups support her.  But the question of when life begins is a scientific question, whatever else it may be. If some religious group comes along and defines it at your fourteenth birthday, that doesn’t invalidate the science. It invalidates the religious group.

    Of course, if it was the pro-life side using religious dogmas to deny objective science, we would be ridiculed in popular culture, and quite reasonably, for waging a “war on science.” But we’re quite comfortable with the science here.


    III.  When Life Begins Scientifically
    As I said above, the science on when life begins is perfectly clear.  The only scientific source Holland cites to is Dr. Scott Gilbert, author of an article entitled “Against Science and Scripture.”  In it, he makes the same argument that there are four possible places life could begin, and like Holland, relies on a combination of bad science and, mostly, bad Biblical exegesis.  But while Gilbert feigns confusion on when human life begins, he has no trouble knowing when life begins for every other mammals.  From his textbook on developmental biology:
    Newborn Golden Retriever puppies

    Traditional ways of classifying catalog animals according to their adult structure. But, as J. T. Bonner (1965) pointed out, this is a very artificial method, because what we consider an individual is usually just a brief slice of its life cycle. When we consider a dog, for instance, we usually picture an adult. But the dog is a “dog” from the moment of fertilization of a dog egg by a dog sperm. It remains a dog even as a senescent dying hound. Therefore, the dog is actually the entire life cycle of the animal, from fertilization through death. 

    [….]

    One of the major triumphs of descriptive embryology was the idea of a generalizable life cycle. Each animal, whether an earthworm, an eagle, or a beagle, passes through similar stages of development. The major stages of animal development are illustrated in Figure 2.1. The life of a new individual is initiated by the fusion of genetic material from the two gametes—the sperm and the egg. This fusion, called fertilization, stimulates the egg to begin development. The stages of development between fertilization and hatching are collectively called embryogenesis.

    So every new individual creature, whether an earthworm, a beagle, or a human being, is an individual from the moment of fertilization.  Whether we say “dog” or “puppy,”  “human” or “fetus” is purely semantics.  From fertilization through death, a dog remains a dog, and a human being remains a human being.

    That’s science.

    96 Comments

    1. By the way, sorry for the nearly three week absence from this blog: I was in D.C. for a week, followed immediately by a six-day silent retreat. I am back at the seminary now, and will hopefully have a bit more free time.

    2. Joe,
      Are you distinguishing between “human life” and an individual. The cell mass for the first two weeks is human life but not an individual because the cells are totipotential, uncommitted vis a vis one person and can be teased in the lab unfortunately into twinning because of that. That is why in section 60 of Evangelium Vitae, John Paul notes the ” scientific debates…to which the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself.”
      Section 62 of Evangelium has an infallible section which in the first edition was italicized but someone removed the italics but the infallible section was possible because John Paul polled every Bishop by mail and was able to get their concerted agreement with him not on all of Evangelium Vitae’s comment on early life but precisely on condemning abortion. If you read section 62, it will become apparent wherein the infallible section starts at least.
      I have the original italics but stored away somewhere here. The twinning issue is debated within Catholicism at “Theological Studies” periodical which Rome and Popes are aware of because the Vatican recently intervened there on behalf of Germain Grisez as to an editing issue in a marriage debate. You can search their past issues during the 1980’s I recall for the twinning debate with Catholics on both sides which explains John Paul’s above comment in section 60 of EV about the Magisterium not expressly committing itself on certain scientific debates.

      1. Bill,

        I think it’s sufficient, for purposes of the abortion debate, just to establish that we’re dealing with at least one living human being, distinct from either parent. If Jack and Jim are twins, the question of whether the pre- twinning blastocyst was Jack, Jim, or both Jack and Jim is a fascinating theoretical issue, but tangential to the question of whether abortion would be wrong in such a case. With the Church, I think that the question of individuation in twinning can be left unresolved without impacting the abortion question.

        Practically speaking, there is no question that the blastocyst is alive, and distinct from the mother. The question is just whether it’s a living human being… or multiple living human beings. In the case of late-stage twinning (days 13-15 after fertilization), the twinning is incomplete, and you result in conjoined twins, sharing organs. Yet nobody would suggest that it’s okay to kill conjoined twins, or that they’re not really human beings. I’m fascinated by the science behind twinning (I was reading on this issue quite a bit last semester), but I think that as an argument against life beginning at conception, it’s facile. At most, it would prove that one twin is the progeny of the other rather than coming directly from their parents… but none of that would impact the abortion debate in any way that I can conceive.

        I.X.,

        Joe

      2. Joe,
        But the early cell mass cannot be either Jack or Jim because its cells are totipotential. The reason it’s important is credibility amongst other things. The pro life movement has being sayng that the pill is an act of abortion and therefore murder through inhibiting implantation. But that accusation can come back to bite those who say it. Research has found that obesity inhibits implantation also. So are we willing to consistently tell pro life over weight women that they also are murdering tiny people through their inhibiting implantation in a way simply different than the pill and possibly more efficaciously than the pill? Zeal in scientific matters is great until it isn’t.
        The other problem is the chimeric individual who has the dna of two people as shown in several cases now. It happens because two fertilized ova which would have been fraternal not identical twins ordinarily…lay too close in proximity to each other and begin a cellular interchange and fuse into one person very early on but after fertilization. Two individuals cannot become one individual but two totipotential cell masses can become one individual.

      3. On one hand you’re willing the death of a human being. On the other you created conditions that may inhibit implantation. Sorry, not the same thing. Fat people are not the same as abortionists

      4. Bill, totipotential yet has the exact codes, instructinons, and blueprint to become exactly Jack or Jim, and only Jack or Jim. Sounds like Jack or Jim to me.

      5. Exactly, Joe. [“At most, it would prove that one twin is the progeny of the other rather than coming directly from their parents… but none of that would impact the abortion debate in any way that I can conceive.]

        It is NOT essentially NON-Human before that point. The debate is not affected. It is HUMAN and thus has HUMAN RIGHTS – the most basic being a Right to its own Life.

      6. Bill, I address your twinning argument below. But no, the fact that embryonic children possess certain skills that they later lose doesn’t make them not human, nor does it make them not individuals. That logic doesn’t hold any water, and it seems to be based on the idea that “individual” and “the cells comprising an organism’s body” are interchangeable. They’re not, even for a smart materialist. Otherwise, would you consider Siamese (conjoined) twins to be one person or two? They share organs. And when we shed skin cells, does a piece of us die? If we’re cloned, is our clone “us”? Or, to use your logic here, does our ability to be cloned prove that we’re not individuals? And would you similarly claim that plants don’t exist, because they’re capable of reproducing asexually?

      7. Also, as for your obesity argument, all manner of activities impact the likelihood of implantation, the likelihood of miscarriage, and the life expectancy of offspring. In other words, being obese reduces the life expectancy of your children (at least according to some studies).

        By your argument, it seems we would have to either (a) accuse obese parents of murder, or (b) deny that children are human beings. Both of those options are facially absurd. The reason has been explained to you above: there’s no intention of harming the child.

        In the case of the pill, the intended use is “birth control,” or more accurately, birth prevention. If it prevents birth by killing a child in the early days of pregnancy (by preventing implantation), we’re not dealing with an unfortunate and unintended side effect. We’re dealing with the product working as intended.

        I.X.,

        Joe

      8. Bill,

        1. The problem seems to be that you consider the embryo “potentially” human. But an embryo is a human being from the time of fertilization.

        2. The fact that some embryo’s split and become multiples has no bearing on the question of whether a human life is destroyed when one commits abortion.

        3. If the abortion is committed before the split, then one human life has been extinguished. If after, then more human lives are extinguished.

    3. Joe, thanks for your post here. I have wondered if I were to ask high school seniors that question “when does human life begin?” The answers would be telling I think. Can a young adult leave a school system and not know this fact?

    4. Okay, third time is a charm

      The problem theists often have with understanding science is that theory and hypotheses follow observation and reality, not vice versa. When reality or other observations conflict with scientific theory, it’s the theory that has to change, not vice versa. This is why the only people who cite Redi as an objection to the abiotic origins of life (the first cells came from self-replicating RNA which came from organic molecules which came from inorganic molecules) are creationists and not true scientists. Or else they have some wild theory about aliens or time travel.

      The scientific response is to realize that the theory that life comes from life does have exceptions, and they’ve universally accepted it and moved on.

      More specific to the question, no one is saying life is coming from non-life with conception. Sperm and eggs are clearly alive, and the resulting zygote is alive, but there is clearly a distinction between living human cells and human life. Henrietta Lacks is said to have died in 1951 even though her cells (HeLa) cells are alive and growing in hundreds of labs around the world.

      On twinning before 14 days: “This view requires holding that at some indistinct point in the second week of development, a non-living being becomes a living being by losing its ability to divide into two distinct individuals. This is ironically anti-scientific, since this same process of cellular division and reproduction is used in other organisms to prove that they are alive, not dead. Likewise, this view would “prove” that plants and microbes aren’t alive, since they reproduce asexually.”
      No it doesn’t. It implies that personhood starts after the living cells in question can’t be symmetrically divided. Humans cannot be divided to make identical organisms. Life can, many lower organisms can, but that’s not a characteristic of humans. The mass of cells can be alive without being a person.

      The same distinction between “living cells” and “living person” explains why your objections fail against the neurological point of view. A brain dead individual still has life in his or her body, but is dead. An embryo before neural activity is clearly “alive” but isn’t necessarily a person yet. And also puts the Gilbert quote into a better context. A dog zygote is canine by genome and is a living cell, but is not necessarily what you would call “a dog.”

      Finally, I have to point out that when human life begins, and in fact WHAT LIFE IS is outside the realm of science. Seems absurd, and is an argument against Holland, but it’s true. Science can’t define when human life begins as each of us, including scientists, don’t use scientific reasoning to determine what is and what is not human. Science can’t even find a good definition of life. Every standard one can think of, you can find things that are clearly living that fail the standards, and/or things that are clearly not alive that meet the standards. At best, scientific observations can help us shape and refine what we think of as living or “a person.”

    5. “The mass of cells can be alive without being a person.”

      Actually – it would be two PERSONS. Two persons have their beginning from that one cell. Big whoop. What does that change? They are both HUMAN, aren’t they? And, as they are decidedly HUMAN, versus non-human, they present with fundamental Human Rights – Rights we have at every moment we are this organism called Human.

      “An embryo before neural activity is clearly “alive” but isn’t necessarily a person yet.”

      How many non-person HUMANS do you know? To be HUMAN is to be PERSON. If this is not true, there could exist non-person humans. (Note: Such ideology underlies the Dred-Scott decision and Nazi Germany anti-Jewish legislation.)

      Within a HUMAN embryo there exists the entire blueprint for a HUMAN nervous system. A HUMAN nervous system at DAY 1 looks a certain way – scientific observation can describe that for us. Instead, you are making the claim that ‘personhood’ requires the attainment of some level of development. “Neural activity” is merely one measurable point along a continuum. Everything prior to that point is a necessary stage to get to that point.

      Looked at from another angle, you are confusing function AND essence. The HUMAN embryo is in its essence a HUMAN. A HUMAN embryo has not attained a certain degree of HUMAN functioning in his parts, but he is nonetheless HUMAN. Again – HUMANS enjoy HUMAN RIGHTS by virtue of their essence (by what they are), not by function (what they do.)

      “Science can’t define when human life begins as each of us, including scientists, don’t use scientific reasoning to determine what is and what is not human.”

      Practically every Human embryology textbook written before 1973 defined conception as the point when a new human being comes into existence. Since 1973 there has been a certain willed ignorance…..an ignorance driven by political correctness, not science. A scientist most definitely can determine (1) that a human embryo is ALIVE (versus dead); and (2) that the embryo is HUMAN (versus another species.)

      1. First, please familiarize yourself with Godwin’s law And maybe brush up on the holocaust and slavery and then come back and tell me if you think it’s not childish to go comparing someone you’re arguing against to such things.

        >Actually – it would be two PERSONS. Two persons have their beginning from that one cell. >Big whoop. What does that change? They are both HUMAN, aren’t they?

        So you’re suggesting that a single entity can be TWO people now? “What does that change?” Well, my basic understanding of personhood for one thing. I think of a person as “one person.” I guess that’s a tautology, but what you’re saying makes no sense.

        Given that EVERY zygote can be split at least once up to 14 days, are you suggesting that at least two lives begin at every conception? Would it not be murder then to not split the embryo given that otherwise, only one of the potential lives will develop?

        >Within a HUMAN embryo there exists the entire blueprint for a HUMAN nervous system. A >HUMAN nervous system at DAY 1 looks a certain way – scientific observation can describe >that for us.

        That’s a lie. There is no human nervous system at day one.

        I got my PhD studying chicken neural tube development. Chickens develop in about a third of the time as human embryos. They have cells fated to become neural tissue, and they’re starting to form something that will develop into the central nervous system. But they do not have neurons at that point. You’re simply wrong.

        Is it that you’re lying through your teeth to try to convince yourself that your worldview is right, or did someone just misinform you?

        >Looked at from another angle, you are confusing function AND essence. The HUMAN embryo is >in its essence a HUMAN. A HUMAN embryo has not attained a certain degree of HUMAN >functioning in his parts, but he is nonetheless HUMAN. Again – HUMANS enjoy HUMAN RIGHTS >by virtue of their essence (by what they are), not by function (what they do.)

        You’re just saying human over and over again. My pinkie finger is of human origin and living. My sperm cells are “human” and alive. Neither are afforded their own set of human rights: they’re not people. An embryo doesn’t necessarily have human rights as it’s not necessarily a person.

        If repetition helps you. An EMBRYO is NOT a PERSON. An EMBRYO is NOT a PERSON. An EMBRYO is NOT a PERSON. An EMBRYO is NOT a PERSON. An EMBRYO is NOT a PERSON. An EMBRYO is NOT a PERSON.

        >Practically every Human embryology textbook written before 1973 defined conception as the >point when a new human being comes into existence. Since 1973 there has been a certain >willed ignorance…..an ignorance driven by political correctness, not science.

        There are quite a few other concepts in embryology, and science in general, which have advanced since 1973. I find it amusing you try to write off changes in the last 40 years as “ignorance based on political correctness.” Particularly when your objection to life beginning after conception due to neural activity seems to be due to ignorance based on ideology.

        Seriously, don’t compare people to Nazis unless they are killing Jews. It’s rude and immature.

      2. “There are quite a few other concepts in embryology, and science in general, which have advanced since 1973.”

        No, there was no “advance in science” that led to the re-definiton of when human life begins. Just a refusal to put into print that which was wanted to be ignored.

        Human life begins at conception. At conception there exists a “whole, separate, unique, living human being.”

      3. “First, please familiarize yourself with Godwin’s law And maybe brush up on the holocaust and slavery and then come back and tell me if you think it’s not childish to go comparing someone you’re arguing against to such things.”

        Childish maybe to deny and dodge the argument being made.

        I was not comparing YOU to such things. I was reminding you that both the Dred Scott decision and the Nazi Germany anti-Jewish legislation operated under the same ideology you are presenting – namely that NON-PERSON humans can exist.

        Frankly, there is NO such thing as a non-person human. All humans are persons.

        “So you’re suggesting that a single entity can be TWO people now? “What does that change?” Well, my basic understanding of personhood for one thing. I think of a person as “one person.” I guess that’s a tautology, but what you’re saying makes no sense.”

        Again – this does not affect or change the debate. Each of those humans actually BEGAN at the point of conception.

        “That’s a lie. There is no human nervous system at day one.”

        At Day 1 all that is necessary for a human nervous system is present, eh? It’s there in the genetic code. That is exactly how a Human Nervous System looks at Day 1.

        “Is it that you’re lying through your teeth to try to convince yourself that your worldview is right, or did someone just misinform you?”

        Try to keep the discussion to facts and logic not histrionics, please.

        “My pinkie finger is of human origin and living. My sperm cells are “human” and alive. Neither are afforded their own set of human rights: they’re not people.”

        Neither your pinkie finger nor sperm cells are “whole, separate, unique, living human beings.”

        “An embryo doesn’t necessarily have human rights as it’s not necessarily a person.”

        At conception there exists a “whole, separate, unique, living human being.” And, being HUMAN, the human right to life (among the other human rights) would be inherent/intrinsic to its being.

      4. Are you really so deeply marinated in the conservative media bias that you think “political correctness” or some liberal conspiracy caused scientists to abandon the truth about whether or not life begins at conception?

        Anyway, we’re off on a tangent. Science can’t determine when a person is a person. You’re making a big deal out of word choice in embryology books. Maybe it annoys you, but it doesn’t mean that science could ever prove that a person is a person at conception.

      5. Phil, you might want to actually read the Wiki entry regarding Godwin’s Law: “While falling foul of Godwin’s law tends to cause the individual making the comparison to lose their argument or credibility, Godwin’s law itself can be abused as a distraction, diversion or even as censorship, fallaciously miscasting an opponent’s argument as hyperbole when the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate.”

      6. Phil: “Science can’t determine when a person is a person. You’re making a big deal out of word choice in embryology books. Maybe it annoys you, but it doesn’t mean that science could ever prove that a person is a person at conception.”

        Again, can there be any non-PERSON human beings?

        There is absolutely NO difference between person and human being.

        Lest you claim bias, let’s check 3 online dictionaries:

        Dictionary.com
        person
        1. a human being, whether man, woman, or child;
        2. a human being as distinguished from an animal or a thing.

        Merriam-Webster
        person
        1: human, individual

        TheFreeDictionarybyFarlex
        person n. 1) a human being.
        This is also noted there – In general usage, a human being.

        And, using available technology, a scientist MOST DEFINITELY can prove whether any embryo is HUMAN (versus non-human) and whether that same embryo is ALIVE (versus dead.)

      7. athomemama:

        “Again, can there be any non-PERSON human beings? There is absolutely NO difference between person and human being.”

        You’re making a semantic argument and trying to act like it’s more important than mere words. A fertilized embryo can be “human” in the sense that it has a human genome but not be a “person” with human rights. HeLa cells are “human” but they are not Henrietta Lacks. They are not afforded rights.

        “And, using available technology, a scientist MOST DEFINITELY can prove whether any embryo is HUMAN (versus non-human) and whether that same embryo is ALIVE (versus dead.) “

        A scientist can tell a living cell from a dead one, but cannot define what is life. Science can tell you what tissue is human and what is not, but cannot define what a person is.

        If I want to tell if my fertilized frog embryos are alive, I wait to see if they divide. If they don’t, I know they’re either dead or haven’t been fertilized. But “able to divide” is not a universal character of life. You are alive, yet you don’t divide. It’s not even a universal feature of living CELLS. Your brain cells don’t divide, but are alive. Conversely, bubbles divide but are not alive.

        We decide what is alive and what is not based not on science but on a “I know it when I see it” basis.

        That gets complicated when discussing more advanced matters like “When did a person become a person and when do they have human rights.”

        “I was not comparing YOU to such things. I was reminding you that both the Dred Scott decision and the Nazi Germany anti-Jewish legislation operated under the same ideology you are presenting – namely that NON-PERSON humans can exist.”

        Ah, so rather than comparing me to the Nazis, you were putting words in my mouth THEN comparing me to Nazis. I never defined an embryo as a “non-person human,” or anything similar. “You’re using the same ideology as the Nazis” IS comparing me to Nazis.

        JoAnna Wahlund:

        So you’re saying I should ignore someone who is equating me to the Nazis and try to have a serious conversation with them?

        I suppose I did in fact try to have a serious conversation, which kind of defeats my argument there. Anyway, it was offensive and obviously didn’t derail the conversation.

    6. It interests me greatly that those that continue to try to argue for the notion that human development can be interrupted artificially and at the will of the mother to prevent further development ultimately try to pick a point in the process where “personhood” inheres. Folks, human development doesn’t end until someone’s mid-20s. That’s why we call it a PROCESS. A 19 year old whose brain hasn’t fully developed its executive process is still not a fully-realized human, to the extent she isn’t yet all that she will be. In fact, we can look back in her development since her conception and pick any given point where she’s “lacking” in stuff she will later have – speech, breathing on her own, vision, hearing, neurological activity, heartbeat, lack of “totipotential-ity.” The theory that it’s okay to stop your development artificially if you’re not yet what you will be absent that artificial intervention is really the problem.

      1. Michael,
        It interests me greatly that no one here has a full name except for the blog owner, Phil and myself. I’d say more than half of Catholic commenters on the net are anonymous in one form or another. What is that about?
        While human development continues for decades, there is something unique to the first 14 days that totally ceases around that point. There is a life multiplication that stops and does not continue past around day 14.
        The 20 day old pre born cannot divide into multiple people. The 55 day old preborn cannot divide into multiple people. The six year old in school cannot divide into multiple people. The 20 year old cannot. Ergo there is a growth process that does not even exist after day 14 after which the primitive streak of one person appears….the basis of the bilateral axis of having two ears, two arms, two legs, two nostrils, two eyes etc. That streak appears after the totipotentiality of the cell mass ceases and the cells commit to being one person rather than three or five or two.

      2. “That streak appears after the totipotentiality of the cell mass ceases and the cells commit to being one person rather than three or five or two.”

        Continuing to fret over where the point is in human embryonic development where cells lose certain abilities is being scrupulous about something that does not change the debate. What is present at conception is completely HUMAN. As such, your shared humanity with it imposes upon you a restriction against deliberately taking its life.

      3. “Continuing to fret over where the point is in human embryonic development where cells lose certain abilities is being scrupulous about something that does not change the debate. What is present at conception is completely HUMAN.”

        Yes it does: people do not have the ability to divide into more people. Fertilized embryos do. The amount of people you can get from one fertilized egg is greater than one, they’re not discrete beings.

    7. Now that you’ve gotten so popular, I’m not reading the other comments carefully, so I may be covering ground that has already been covered. So apologies.

      But to nitpick a little, it seems that we’re conflating 2 uses of “life”, one scientific and one religious. The scientific as you state is fairly well settled. The religious is less so. The religious question is: when does life attain that dignity, sanctity, imago dei or whatever it is (rationality?) that differentiates it from the other animals.

      Now, clearly, Catholics are obliged to take the position that this at least might be at conception and therefore to take a scientific-human-life is always equivalent to a religious-human-life. But you could imagine the two being separated, and I think the more liberal churches do so explicitly (I mean, of course they do. They do everything, after all.).

      Thus, I think the best argument is not to say that science settles the debate by itself. Rather, I’d say, that even in the absence of revelation we all know that human life at some point has an inviolable dignity such that murder is wrong. And that given the state of science it is hopelessly arbitrary to put it at any place other than conception. Am I giving too much up?

      1. Then Latenter, all over weight Catholic women including pro life women who are heavy by eating habits are murdering human persons since obesity militates against implantation of the fertilized ova in the uterine wall: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20395425
        You then must fraternally correct all over weight Catholic women in your life who can lose weight by telling them they must lose weight. I and Phil above do not think there is a person but there is life inchoatedly until totipotentiality of the cells is over at around day 14 after which identical twinning becomes impossible beause the cells finally commit to being this organ direction or that one in one person or in five.
        So Phil and I do not see over weight women as murderers but you do…not explicitly yet until you connect the dots…but implicitly now.

      2. “Then Latenter, all over weight Catholic women including pro life women who are heavy by eating habits are murdering human persons since obesity militates against implantation of the fertilized ova in the uterine wall…”

        Here are the dots for you, Bill. Shouldn’t be too hard to connect.

        Murder implies DELIBERATE…INTENTIONAL.

        Abortion is the deliberate targeting of the unborn human for killing.

        An overweight woman is most likely not putting on weight with the intent of blocking implantation or promoting spontaneous abortion.

      3. athomemama,
        Actually neither are birth control pill users trying to block implantation since it is not the main purpose of the pill nor does it happen frequently. Birth control pill takers and overweight pro life and non pro life women are united in their not intending to block implantation. So what? If they know that their choices lead to non implantation, they are responsible even if they do not intend non implantation. An industrial polluter does not intend to give people lung disease…they intend to maximize profits though,even if it leads to giving people lung disease. The pill taker or the obese woman does not intend non implantation but she knows that it may result from her actions. If she agrees with you that the embryo at that stage is a person, then like the polluter, she is responsible not only for what she intends but for what she knows is a co-effect.
        Phil and I simply don’t agree with your side that a person is present prior to the end of totipotentiality of the cells which is after implantation. We do not see either the pill taker or the overweight woman killing a person through non implantation. But those of you who see a person existent at fertilization logically find yourselves accusing women of killing a person when those women prevent implantation directly or indirectly. Indirectly applies to both pill takers and over weight women….neither has the goal of non implantation…both have choices however that allow non implantation to be more likely than normal.

      4. Bill, you are incorrect. Women take the birth control with the primary intention and purpose of preventing pregnancy. The packaging insert of all birth control pills clearly states that the secondary mechanism of the pill is to inhibit implantation. Therefore, the effect of inhibiting implantation is a foreseen, intentional consequence of one’s use of the Pill.

        An obese person, on the other hand, does not eat food for the express purpose of preventing pregnancy by inhibiting implantation. Any such side effect, if it exists, is unforeseen and unintended.

        Do you propose accusing all women who have had miscarriages of murder, in the event that they are overweight or took ibuprofen or engaged in any other activity in very early pregnancy (prior to when a pregnancy can be detected by modern medical technology) that MAY have inhibited implantation even if that side effect was unforeseen and unintended?

      5. Since nobody has mentioned it…the theoretical woman in question could be overweight for a variety of reasons not simply food related ones. I’ve known people who are “over-weight” because of the medications they must take in order to prevent things like seizures. So are you proposing that a person whose taking anti-seizure medication and is therefore overweight stop in order to prevent miscarriages?

        That seems absurd since obviously the person in question would not want to be over-weight nor is intending miscarriage.

        This is different, as JoAnna points out, then taking the Pill for the express purposes of preventing pregnancy through physical changes including thinning the lining of the uterus. One could argue that taking the Pill for other therapeutic means (such as in my mother’s case because she was severely anemic) is different. My mother did not intend to prevent pregnancy only to not bleed to death.

        It is the purposes of a medication and the purposes of a person (ie intending to gain weight in order to miscarry) that therein lies the sin. The Pill and being overweight are morally neutral. Meaning it is the express intent of the user that is or is not a sin. Since most Pill users do not take the pill to prevent bleeding to death but rather to prevent pregnancy, most Catholic argue from that position.

        Hope that explains it better.

      6. Latenter,

        I do think that you’re conceding too much. The question I’m posing is, scientifically, whether living human beings are formed at conception/fertilization or at a later point in the pregnancy. My point is that this isn’t really a scientific debate: at least, not seriously. It’s been settled for decades, if not longer. To suggest that a non-living thing becomes living, or that a non-organism turns itself into an organism is a joke, scientifically.

        Of course, this raises the moral question of whether all human beings should be protected from murder. But as you suggest, the answer to this question can also be known without appeal to revelation.

        I view the distinctly religious questions (Imago Dei, ensoulment, etc.) as more or less irrelevant to this question. There’s a reason that a substantial minority of atheists are pro-life, and it’s not because they believe each unborn child is made in the image and likeness of God, and has an immortal soul.

        I.X.,

        Joe

    8. “After all, somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of all embryos conceived miscarry.”

      How is this known?

      bill bannon: I am not a fan of the commmon ‘anonymous’ handle, but I am concerned that I not be able to be traced back to any actual specific human being who has an address somewhere on one of the seven continents and can be visited or hacked into. There are a lot of wackos out there in cyberspace; you shouldn’t be attempting to attach shame to those of us unwilling to expose our entire person to them.

      There should be some measure of shame reserved for those who speciously advance the argument that obesity is the same thing as a procured abortion.

      1. Federalist,
        No one here is talking about procured abortion. PS….I’ve used my name for years with one odd ball hacker calling me by phone despite our phone being unlisted and in my wife’s maiden name. Now that’s a hacker. That’s one incident in over ten years. You’re in more danger eating a balanced meal that includes saturated fat.

    9. Until the “pro-life” camp learns the nuances in the words that are commonly used when discussing the life cycle, I don’t see how any agreement will ever be reached. It threatens the future “un-post” by the unwilling members of the scientific community at large that see this issue as a genetic fallacy at best.

      1. Bill Bannon said:
        [—
        But the early cell mass cannot be either Jack or Jim because its cells are totipotential.
        —]

        Why would it be a problematic that the embryo potentially host both Jack and Jim? What is the necessity for it to be a known(to us) number of persons at conception? You seem to be saying that it is undefined until after the totipotential stage. I would make the claim that after conception, that number is deterministic, yet it looks random and undefined to us because of its complexity.

        I am an engineer, not a biologist, but I do have some experience in modeling complex systems. Once you identify and model an influential number of the inputs, things do not look as random or undefined as they once did (i.e. weather forecasting)…. The final result of totipotentiality would be no different if all of the variables were known to us and modeled, but they are not. Instead of saying tomorrow there will be rain, they could potentially say at conception, there lay Jack and Jill.

    10. How strange. Being obese is Analogous to taking the pill. We must stop obese women from eating if we are truly pro life. Twisting words to obscure an indefensible argument is always a good idea. I think I’m against the deliberate torture of animals. A such I think we should ban all driving since people hit animals causing them great pain. These people are making a conscious choice to drive knowing that they might run over an animal. Thus it’s the same thing as a person intentionally torturing an animal. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it. Just as one person takes the pill with the willful intention to prevent life forming as a result of the act they choose to perform is different than a person whose actions have a wide range of negative results (obesity) one of which results happens to have a similar effect as a chosen act is ridiculous. Great so you can divide a Person up to fourteen days. so what. Left on it’s own it turns into one or more humans. That is why we realize that life begins at conception. The same things the moment before conception do not form a human being even if both are present in the mothers body. This difference is what is commonly referred to as life. Regardless of what the scientific community has as a formal definition of life at the moment, this joining of two that will grow into a unique human or humans is what people consider life.

      1. Adieu and Godspeed. This entire thread is anonymous except for three people and not always, but mostly, that decreases the pride one takes in working at one’s posting in terms of research or logic.

    11. “Adieu and Godspeed. This entire thread is anonymous except for three people and not always, but mostly, that decreases the pride one takes in working at one’s posting in terms of research or logic.”

      If you have worthy ideas, they can be defended. Doesn’t matter the opponent. Or the opponent’s name.

    12. Pray without ceasing. May we open our hearts to the will of God.
      I am simply going to make some points here.
      The break down of the family. Sex outside of marriage, Rape, abortion, “I dont want to be reminded of that event everyday when I look at the child. A chain of sins that we are trying to correct with more sin. The child was not to blame for the rape or the act of sex. There are those out there that cannot have children. We should not abandon a child because of the sins of the parents. Let us instead show it the unconditional love that all children deserve. Not because we have to but because we CAN. Someone once said to me “Why are you being so good to me?” I replied, “Because I can be.” I am sad to see on here that everyone is talking/angrily responding at eachother. What happened to respectable debate? Listen to what eachother are saying. Form a response and curtiously listen to what they are saying. Even if you feel it is wrong. We can still be curtious. Acknowledge good points and respectfully disagree with those you believe are false and ask for the source of the information so that you may learn and give an educated response. Dont thrive on the fact you won or are winning an arguement.

      31″The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise. 32 He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.(Prov.15:31-32)

      Faith and Reason do not contradict eachother. Lets not forget though that not everyone shares our faith.

    13. Life begins at conception. Cells can be “teased” into twinning before two weeks. So what? Does that mean that if science finds a way to “tease” cells into twinning for adults, then adults aren’t human? The fact is that, at conception, the process of human development has begun, and whether it (rarely) ends up splitting into twins is immaterial. It can’t be said that the life before two weeks is NOT an individual. At best, it can be said that it MIGHT not be a single individual. It’s still human life in the process of human development and human life should not be taken.

    14. Upon further reflection –

      That embryo, before twinning IS actually ONE individual, eh?

      True, it is possible twinning MIGHT happen, but there is no denying that ONE individual of the human species is at that time present.

      If twinning occurs, there would then be TWO individuals present.

      That at conception there exists a “whole, separate, unique, living human being” is completely true and provable by available technology.

      1. Athomemama:

        >That at conception there exists a “whole, separate, unique, living human being” is completely true and provable by available technology.

        The mother and father’s DNA doesn’t instantly fuse at conception, so at best it would be a half hour after conception. But more importantly, I’d consider a “whole living human being” to involve a functioning nervous system.

        If the sperm or egg were defective, say missing chromosome one, you could get conception and early development, but the “embryo” would never amount to anything more than a few cells. That’s clearly not a human. Being human requires more than conception.

      2. Phil: “The mother and father’s DNA doesn’t instantly fuse at conception, so at best it would be a half hour after conception.”

        The entire process of fertilization/conception ENDS with the fusion of the pronuclei of the germ cells.

        Phil: “But more importantly, I’d consider a ‘whole living human being’ to involve a functioning nervous system.”

        The WHOLE nervous system is there in that embryo – coded in the genome, is it not?

        Phil: “If the sperm or egg were defective, say missing chromosome one, you could get conception and early development, but the ‘embryo’ would never amount to anything more than a few cells. That’s clearly not a human.”

        It is an embryonic HUMAN BEING, is it not? Albeit a human being whose genetics will allow it but a very short lifespan.

        Phil: “Being human requires more than conception.”

        Put another way, you mean simply having a human genome is NOT enough to make an organism a human being. Hmmm, what “more” would be needed?

      3. You appear to be correct that most people define conception as ending after pronuclear fusion, I apologize for that.

        “Phil: “But more importantly, I’d consider a ‘whole living human being’ to involve a functioning nervous system.”

        The WHOLE nervous system is there in that embryo – coded in the genome, is it not?”

        Yes, the genes for the nervous system are present in the fertilized embryo, as it is in each and every cell in your body. That’s not a nervous system.

        “Phil: “If the sperm or egg were defective, say missing chromosome one, you could get conception and early development, but the ‘embryo’ would never amount to anything more than a few cells. That’s clearly not a human.”

        It is an embryonic HUMAN BEING, is it not? Albeit a human being whose genetics will allow it but a very short lifespan.”

        It’s human tissue, but I wouldn’t consider it a “human being” endowed with any rights just by virtue of egg activation.

        “Phil: “Being human requires more than conception.”
        Put another way, you mean simply having a human genome is NOT enough to make an organism a human being. Hmmm, what “more” would be needed?”

        A functioning nervous system… like I’ve been saying…

    15. All (esp. Bill and Phil)

      Five points that I am not sure have been made clearly:
      1) Terminology: I propose, for clarity’s sake, that we agree that the question is about whether a human being (defined as a human organism) is created at fertilization, or at some later point in the pregnancy.

      The terms we’ve been using are being abused. “Human” and “human life” are being used in an equivocal sense. My pinkie is human, and is composed of living cells, but it’s not a human. And as Phil pointed out, “person” isn’t a scientific category at all.

      From a purely scientific perspective, we can answer the question of when a human being’s life begins. But science can’t tell us whether every human being is endowed with the inherent dignity to be protected from being killed. That’s a completely separate question, and as I noted in the original post, it’s evasive to blur the two.

      2) The Scientific Conclusion: At conception / fertilization, a new human being is created. Ironically, even the criticisms essentially concede this. For example, one of Phil’s links begins, “The earliest stages of human development, until day five or six after fertilization, normally occur in the woman’s fallopian tube (or oviduct).” That’s an implicit concession that human development (the lifelong process of human growth) begins at fertilization.

      Are there any scientific arguments against this conclusion? Because most of what I’ve seen here are philosophical arguments using scientific language: that until a certain stage in human development, we don’t want to consider the human being a “person” or a “unique human being,” etc.

      3) Totipotentiality: Bill’s argument assumes that from days 1-14, we have cellular totipotentiality, and that it then shuts off. The truth is that it’s much more of a gradual process, as this chart illustrates.  We have a higher degree of adaptability at day 1 than day 4 of our unborn lives, for example.  The movement away from totipotentiality is immediate, in other words.

      Nor does this process stop at birth: there is a reason why stem cells derived from umbilical cords are so valuable: they’re more adaptable than cells at a large stage in our lives. Similarly, we have over 300 bones at birth, but this reduces to 206 by adulthood.  In other words, there’s a gradual transition lasting from conception until adulthood of moving from flexibility to stability (and strength).  Other examples of this are the presence of fontanelles in infants, the absence of (bone) knee caps, and ossificiation (which lasts from month three of pregnancy until age 25).

      If this flexibility means that embryos are not human (Phil’s argument: “Humans cannot be divided to make identical organisms”), it seems that we could just as easily claim that babies are not human (for example, by claiming “Humans do not have over 300 bones”).

    16. 4) Twinning:  More to the specific point on twinning, Bill’s argument is that none of us are human beings while we are capable of being twinned, going so far as to say that “the early cell mass cannot be either Jack or Jim because its cells are totipotential.”  To put it bluntly, this argument is scientifically absurd.  Phil’s argument that “Humans cannot be divided to make identical organisms” is also wrong.  By either standard, if we ever develop the ability to clone adult humans, we would have to conclude that adults are not really human beings.

      From 1-15 days of our unborn lives, we possess the ability of twinning. There are several other abilities that infants possess that are lost as we age.  To claim that this proves that unborn children aren’t human, because humans “cannot be divided to make identical organisms” is a completely circular and unscientific argument.

      5) Personhood: I propose that we simply leave this debate aside for now. Phil or Bill, if you want to claim that some human beings shouldn’t be considered “people” by virtue of their age or the number of cells making up their body, understand that this is (a) this tactic of dehumanizing certain people and groups has an ugly history, and (b) it’s not a scientific claim.

      Perhaps it would be a more constructive debate if we could at least agree on what the science says, before everyone starts playing philosopher about when they personally consider people “people”?

      I.X.,

      Joe

      1. The potential for twinning would not in fact make any case whatsoever for the human being lacking personhood, individuality, etc.

        From an ontological standpoint, the person prior to twinning is not either of the two twins, viz, in twinning, one person dies and two more persons come into being.

    17. Joe: “I propose, for clarity’s sake, that we agree that the question is about whether a human being (defined as a human organism) is created at fertilization, or at some later point in the pregnancy……From a purely scientific perspective, we can answer the question of when a human being’s life begins.”

      Agreed.

      Is there anyone who would care to deny the science: The life of the individual member of every animal species begins at conception, when a genetically new and genetically complete individual first comes into existence.

      1. I would fail to agree because while conception is sufficient for personhood, it is not necessary. Twinning would be an off-case, where two new persons come into being without being directly conceived in the womb via the normal process.

      2. NJM-
        First, I think the idea here is to stick to scientific terminology:”human being” versus “person.”
        Second, regarding twinning, a necessary precursor is conception. That is the beginning for all that comes after.

      3. Well, one point I’m somewhat implying is that it really isn’t a huge question of science as much as it’s an ontological question. Obviously there needs to some science so that we can see what is happening (which is why many thought life began with the semen, because there wasn’t adequate knowledge about conception), but once we know this, we can begin our ontological search (this is implied by the term “being,” of which ontology studies).

        To state that a necessary precursor is conception is somewhat superfluous, if not inaccurate. Production of the egg and sperm cells are also necessary precursors (if you maintain that conception is necessary, but this is inaccurate, and I will explain), but they are not sufficient for the coming into being of a human person (being). Conception is sufficient, but it is not necessary (if you could manufacture a zygote without conception, you would still have a person). By saying conception is “sufficient,” we automatically state that a human person’s life begins immediately at the moment of conception. Saying it is not “necessary” means that there could be other sufficient criteria for the beginning of human life. In logical language, to say A is sufficient for B is to say that A implies B. To say that A is necessary for B is to say that B implies A.

        in Christ,
        Nicholas

      4. Again, Joe’s question “is about whether a human being (defined as a human organism) is created at fertilization, or at some later point in the pregnancy.”

        And, science can answer that question: The life of the individual member of every animal species begins at conception, when a genetically new and genetically complete individual first comes into existence. No “ontological search” is necessary to answer the question.

        Regarding your, “Conception is sufficient, but it is not necessary (if you could manufacture a zygote without conception, you would still have a person)”…..even IF you could manufacture a zygote without conception, that does nothing to negate that every conception results in a human being.

    18. Having noticed that one commenter mentioned an objection to the pro-life position that appealed to totipotency, I would recommend philosopher David Oderberg’s paper “Modal Properties, Moral Status, and Identity”, as well as his paper “The Metaphysical Status of the Embryo.” I’ve found them to be quite competent refutations of the argument from totipotency, which was advanced most prominently by Singer and Kuhse in their book ‘Embryo Experimentation.’ Links to each article are provided below. (A warning: the papers are both quite long, the former more so than the latter, but the content is very good.)

      “Modal Properties, Moral Status, and Identity”: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUieNmFPZDduTnF5Zk0/edit

      “The Metaphysical Status of the Embryo”: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUiecEZLQU9ubVphdU0/edit

      Thanks for the post, Joe!

    19. I should have mentioned that both papers can get a bit abstract at times (this being analytic philosophy, after all), but it’s not terribly hard going for someone with some basic familiarity with the issue.

    20. It seems like a lot of people are getting hung up on the pill preventing implantation when A) that’s not its primary mechanism of contraception (which is preventing ovulation), and B) “Because COCs so effectively suppress ovulation and block ascent of sperm into the upper genital tract, the potential impact on endometrial receptivity to implantation is almost academic. When the two primary mechanisms fail, the fact that pregnancy occurs despite the endometrial changes demonstrates that those endometrial changes do not significantly contribute to the pill’s mechanism of action.”

      Obviously this doesn’t apply to anything post-fertilization (just like “Plan-B” won’t work post-fertilization), but seeing how often “the pill” and “abortion” tend to be used interchangeably, it’s worth pointing out the differences. Also, feel free to not take my (or wikipedia’s) word for it, and go ask a OB/GYN about these things.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combined_oral_contraceptive_pill#Mechanism_of_action

      TLDR: The pill works by preventing ovulation (thus fertilization), and when that fails pregnancies still occur despite the effects on implantation receptivity.

    21. ahem. All flowering plants reproduce sexually. And their life cycles also start with fertilization of oocytes (in the pistil) by spermatozoa (in pollen).

      The Pill causes both endometrial atrophy and endometrial edema. These are mentioned as “endometrial changes that may inhibit implantation” in the “Mode of Action” section of Clinical Pharmacology description of numerous COCPs on Drugs.com. Typically, that’s not me, that’s the FDA.

      Phil Spear, if I understand you right, you claim that there are in fact individual organisms that are clearly individual members of the species Homo Sapiens, but are not to be regarded as human beings with human rights, because they lack a certain level of nervous system function? Would you also regard any human being whose nervous system has dropped below a certain minimal level of functioning also as not having the status of a human being with human rights?

    22. I don’t see that anyone here has really responded effectively to the basic distinction Phil, as I read his comments has made:

      Namely: Something can be alive, be human, and not be a human-being (or person)

      For all the accusations levied Phil and Bill for loose semantics, the opposite seems to be true…

      Athemomama: “Phil: “…they’re not discrete beings.” The important point – they are, however, HUMAN.”
      “There is absolutely NO difference between person and human being.”

      Joe: “To suggest that a non-living thing becomes living, or that a non-organism turns itself into an organism is a joke, scientifically.
      Of course, this raises the moral question of whether all human beings should be protected from murder.”

      Dave: “At best, it can be said that it MIGHT not be a single individual. It’s still human life in the process of human development and human life should not be taken”

      All of these comments seem to blur the distinction between living, human, and living human. Joe even makes this mistake in his attempt to clarify terminology:

      “I propose, for clarity’s sake, that we agree that the question is about whether a human being (defined as a human organism) is created at fertilization, or at some later point in the pregnancy.

      The terms we’ve been using are being abused. “Human” and “human life” are being used in an equivocal sense. My pinkie is human, and is composed of living cells, but it’s not a human. And as Phil pointed out, “person” isn’t a scientific category at all.

      From a purely scientific perspective, we can answer the question of when a human being’s life begins. But science can’t tell us whether every human being is endowed with the inherent dignity to be protected from being killed. That’s a completely separate question, and as I noted in the original post, it’s evasive to blur the two.”

      The ironic thing about this is, the third paragraph in using the phrase “human being” makes the mistake he recognizes as true in paragraph 2: human and life don’t equal a human. With that distinction in mind, nothing about the science says we can answer when a human being’s life begins. We can only answer when life that is also human begins. This is essentially Phil’s point that science can’t say when personhood begins, and never will be able to.

      The discussion of twinning and totipotentiality I consider to be a mere illustration of this type of identity problem. Something is perhaps human, and living, but not a living human (or living human being, or person).

      1. Leumas81,

        The confusion that you’re seeing is the result of you expressly conflating “human being” and “person,” and then understanding “person” in an undefined (and non-scientific) sense. Science can say when a human being comes into existence, just as it can say when any organic being comes into existence. The question is when a unique organism comes into existence, and that question is purely scientific, not philosophical.

        If you want to say that every human being is a person, I agree! But you can’t say that some humans are not persons, and therefore conclude that some humans are not human beings.

        I.X.,

        Joe

        P.S. You’re also blurring “living” and “a life.” My arm is living, but it’s not a life, as it’s not a distinct organism from me.

      2. I’m not conflating anything. I’m saying that the way the discussion was going is as follows:

        For Phil and myself, human being, person (in a non-scientific sense yes) and living human are synonamous, and also distinct from something that has the properties of being both living and human.

        Whereas what you, and several others on this thread have done is assume that if there are cells which are human cells and alive they necessarily comprise a living person (or human being) (Again non-technical sense of person).

        My point is merely that asserting the cells qualify as a “human being” or “person” is not very morally helpful. Yes something living has been produced by mother and father at conception, and yes that living thing might have some human properties, but that doesn’t scientifically prove it to be “human” in a sense that is morally useful.

    23. In his second point Joe says:
      “2) The Scientific Conclusion: At conception / fertilization, a new human being is created. Ironically, even the criticisms essentially concede this. For example, one of Phil’s links begins, “The earliest stages of human development, until day five or six after fertilization, normally occur in the woman’s fallopian tube (or oviduct).” That’s an implicit concession that human development (the lifelong process of human growth) begins at fertilization.”

      Unfortunately, there are example of implicit concessions the other way in the thread as well. For example Joe says:

      “That logic doesn’t hold any water, and it seems to be based on the idea that “individual” and “the cells comprising an organism’s body” are interchangeable. They’re not, even for a smart materialist.”

      I don’t know how you could assert this statement and simultaneously maintain that there is no difference between a collection of living human cells and a living human.

      In the earlier statement about discrete beings, antheomoma even admits that being human and being a discrete being is not the same thing – this is entirely Phil’s position.

      If the purpose of this article is simply to say that at conception there is something living with the potential to become a human, that is very obviously, plainly true. It also doesn’t seem to do anything to answer the question of when that collection of cells reaches personhood, or living human being status, or individual, whatever you want to call it. This thread involves a lot of arguing back and forth about semantics, that really got everyone not very far I think.

      1. Leumas81,

        A.

        By your own admission you don’t understand how (1) an “individual” and “the cells comprising an organism’s body” could be distinct, while (2) “simultaneous[ly] maintaining that there is no difference between a collection of living human cells and a living human.”

        For (2), what you’re reducing to “a collection of living human cells” is much more than that: it’s a living organism, a human being. In fact, you’re doing exactly what I was criticizing in (1). You’re reducing the embryo to its material components (and specifically, the specific cells which it comprises). But this is obviously absurd.

        If you, as an individual, are coterminous with the cells comprising your body, you’re only a few nanoseconds old. And by the time you finish reading this, “you” have ceased to exist, and another individual has come into existence in your stead.

        B.

        As for the rest, we all agree that “being human” isn’t the same as “being a human being.” My arm is human, but it’s not a human. In the first sense, you’re using human as an adjective. There are all sorts of things we can speak of as human in that sense: human cells, human speech, even human engineering. But to speak of “a human” (or a human being, etc.) is to use human as a noun, and has a completely different meaning. Everyone agrees on that point. It is utterly non-controversial, and (properly understood) immaterial to this discussion.

        You’re trying to draw a second distinction, between the human organism that is alive from fertilization and a human person. That’s the distinction that we disagree on, and it’s
        a non-scientific one that has no bearing on whether conception marks the beginning of a human life. Beyond that, you’re just confusing terms.

        C.

        You say that if “the purpose of this article is simply to say that at conception there is something living with the potential to become a human, that is very obviously, plainly true.”

        No, that is very obviously, plainly false. It already is a human, not just potentially so. “Human” doesn’t just mean whatever you want it to mean.

        Just as we can distinguish “human” in its adjectival and noun forms, a similar distinction can be drawn between the adjective “living” and the noun “(a) life.” It sounds as if everyone agrees that the conceived embryo is living. My point is that, scientifically, it is also a life. Perhaps starting here would be a clearer starting place for you, since you seem to be imagining “human” in an unscientific way.

        I.X.,

        Joe

      2. Joe – I feel like we agree on all the key points, and just have reached different conclusions. What we disagree on is the personhood status of what it is that is alive.

        The things is, my argument is that this is a moral/philosophical debate that science can’t dictate one way or another. You are saying that because the thing is living and has human properties, science proves that human life begins at conception.

        But if you mean “human life” in the moral/philosophically relevant sense (which I guess I was just assuming from the beginning), science clearly doesn’t prove that at all.

        This was Phil’s point from the beginning, and one I agree with. I think we agree that the basic distinction is utterly non-controversial. We may be confusing each other in a few places, but overall, I think we understand each other.

        The key is the “second distinction which is non-scientific and has no bearing on whehter conception marks the beginning of human life”. I agree its non-scientific, but disagree it has no bearing on the beginning of human life, as long as we understand the term human life to mean morally relevant human life.

        If you don’t mean that by the term human life, then I guess I don’t see the point of the discussion anyway since it is completely unhelpful from a decision-making point of view.

      3. Leumas81,

        As you said, you’re using (making up) a non-scientific definition of “person,” and then you’re equating it with the term “human being,” which has a concrete scientific meaning (a human organism, a member of the species Homo Sapiens). That’s what I mean by conflating.

        You’re also mischaracterizing the position that the pro-lifers are taking on this. We’re not saying that all living human cells are human beings, much less that they have any inherent rights. The living human cells in my hair isn’t a separate human being, nor does it have any rights which I’m bound to respect. But if I had a twin brother, he would be a separate human being, and would have such rights.

        P1 [Major premise (moral / ethical)]: It is immoral, and should be illegal, to intentionally kill an innocent human being.

        P2 [Minor Premise (scientific)]: A human being is formed at conception/fertilization. This being is distinct from either the mother or the father. As you put it, conception creates a new member of the species Homo Sapiens.*

        Conclusion: Abortion is immoral, and should be illegal.

        My point is that there’s absolutely no legitimate debate about the minor premise, P2. Bill, Phil, and now you have been raising arguments that are ostensibly scientific arguments against P2, but are actually philosophical arguments against P1. This matters, because a lot of people are wishy-washy on abortion under the mistaken notion that there’s some lingering scientific question about when life begins. There’s not.

        I.X.,

        Joe

        *There may be other moments at which a unique human being is created, whether at the moment of twinning or in an artificial environment. But the fact that human beings might be formed at moments besides conception doesn’t rebut the claim that “a human being is formed at conception/fertilization.”

    24. The lynchpin of this is Joe’s concluding statement:

      “Phil or Bill, if you want to claim that some human beings shouldn’t be considered “people” by virtue of their age or the number of cells making up their body, understand that this is (a) this tactic of dehumanizing certain people and groups has an ugly history, and (b) it’s not a scientific claim.

      Perhaps it would be a more constructive debate if we could at least agree on what the science says, before everyone starts playing philosopher about when they personally consider people “people”?”

      This statement asserts that the collection of human cells is a human being, and then says its dehumanizing to suggest the collection of cells is not a person. But there is nothing about scientifically demonstrating the cells are both alive and potentially human that suggests it is a human.

      Joe: I feel like everyone agrees on what the science says, and playing philosopher is all that this thread is about. The argument about something alive coming from something dead really is not that powerful, since Phil is willing to admit that the cells are alive and human, just not a living human (individual/person/etc).

      Despite the fact that he was outnumbered, and was lacking good support from the commenters, nothing I’ve read here suggests to me that Phil’s original distinction is not logically valid and philosophically relevant to the “murder” discussion.

      Anathemoma even defines human being explicitly as a human organism. But this assumes the conclusion you are all trying to prove. It assumes the answer to the key philosophical question of when personhood begins. You can’t define human being as any living human cells and then say, “well science says living cells are there at conception and they come from humans so… voila!” The whole argument is circular.

      1. “This statement asserts that the collection of human cells is a human being, and then says its dehumanizing to suggest the collection of cells is not a person. But there is nothing about scientifically demonstrating the cells are both alive and potentially human that suggests it is a human.”

        These are the same errors as your previous statements.

        1. The cells aren’t potentially human. They are human. And the organism is a human.

        2. I’m not the one saying that “the collection of human cells is a human being.” My whole point is that it’s ridiculous and unreasonable to reduce an organism to a collection of cells (even for a smart materialist). That’s exactly what you’re doing when you’re conflating “human beings” (the term that I used) with “collection of human cells” (the term that you used).

        3. Once more, an embryo is more than a collection of cells: it’s a living organism. And you can’t credibly deny that.

        4. You act as if I’m saying that because there are living human cells, these cells necessarily form an organism, and hence, a human person. That’s not my argument. Rather, I’m saying that there is (undeniably) a living organism, and that this organism is human, and that therefore, we have a living human being (since “human being” and “human organism” are synonymous).

        I’ll try to leave terminology and nuance aside as much as possible, since that seems to be causing confusion. Do you disagree that after conception, there is a living organism distinct from the mother and father? If so, on what basis?

        I.X.,

        Joe

      2. I feel like (4) is very helpful here. You’re argument is

        1) X is living.
        2) X is human.
        3) therefore, its a living human being.

        And the very simple, oft-repeated, been around forever, counter-argument is that there are lots of counter-examples available of things that have both properties 1 and 2 but do not reach 3.

        Which gets back to the original thesis of all this: what science proves. Science may prove 1 and 2, but it could in no way prove 3. This is implicit in the fact that it is a conclusion drawn from (1) and (2). My problem is the assertion that (3) is a scientific fact, when in fact it is a moral/philosophical inquiry because of the set of properties/right implicit in the concept of “human being” that are all inherently non-scientific.

        To answer your bold question – NO. I just don’t think that living organism is a human person.

      3. Leumas81,

        Re-read my(4). You’re saying that my argument is the exact thing that I just said it wasn’t. I will repeat: it is insufficient that X be living and human (in the adjectival sense). X must also be a human organism. That is exactly what I said above. My point is that, scientifically speaking, there is no question that after conception, you have a new human organism… and not just because it is living and human.

        My bold question was, “Do you disagree that after conception, there is a living organism distinct from the mother and father? If so, on what basis?

        Your answer is “NO. I just don’t think that living organism is a human person.”

        Besides not providing a basis for your disagreement (you “just don’t think” it), you’re also conflating the question again. I’m not asking about how you would personally define “personhood.” I’m asking about something both objective and scientific, about a living organism. Ironically, you did answer this question, even while evading it, by saying, “I just don’t think that living organism is a human person.”

        So it sounds like you actually agree. It is a living organism, yes? And if it is a living organism, is it a living human organism, or some other type of organism?

        I.X.,

        Joe

      4. Joe, after reading all your replies, I think we have stopped talking past each other. I think the key is that yes, I was discussing everything entirely in the context of premise 1, while you were having the discussion within the realm of P2.

        I agree with you completely that it is not a scientific question. I just think the P1 discussion is the more interesting one.

        I think all I was really trying to do was point out that science can’t prove P1. Thanks for taking the time to respond to all the comments, this has been, overall a good discussion I think.

    25. Joe,

      I have to ask, do you really think you’ve engaged in a rigorous examination of the issue here? The majority of this article is based on a “debate” in an article (with no attributed author) on a pro-life website. The notion that the views found in this one article are representative of the scientific community’s stance on the issue is absurd. That you didn’t bother to look for the source of the supposedly pro-choice advocate’s summary is also telling (a longer, but still incomplete version is here: http://science.jburroughs.org/mbahe/BioEthics/Articles/Whendoeshumanlifebegin.pdf). If you’re being intellectually honest, I think you know that you’ve not engaged with the best arguments surrounding the issue here.

      1. “The majority of this article is based on a “debate” in an article (with no attributed author) on a pro-life website.”

        No it’s not. My Family Doctor isn’t “a pro-life website,” nor was the link to an “article,” but to what essentially amounts to two opposing editorials with opportunities for each side to rebut one another. The rest of the post drew from a short piece by Dr. Scott Gilbert in which he makes the exact same (philosophic, non-scientific) arguments that he makes in the longer piece that you link to.

        If you think that there’s a convincing argument that life begins at a point later than conception, raise that argument and defend it. Just saying, “there are more arguments out there than the ones you listed in this blog post” is a lame argument that you could raise in response to anything, ever.

        I.X.,

        Joe

      2. Joe,

        You’re right, I should have been more specific – M.F.D. is not a “pro-life website” per se, but based on the editorializing in related articles, I’m seeing a bias. For the sake of argument, let’s say it isn’t biased.

        I’m hoping we can avoid the semantics of whether or not the debate was hosted in an “article”, and rather focus on who they chose to represent the two sides. On the one side, we have an MD (and president of the American Association of Pro Life OB/GYNs). As you note, the other side features Dr. Holland, who is not an MD, but has a PhD in Religion. I’m sure it’s mere coincidence that one is vastly more qualified to speak on the topic, but it remains an odd choice to have her argue on behalf of the science of when life begins. I’ll also note that you take it a step further and use it as evidence to imply that real scientists wouldn’t support her position. As it happens, her only original contribution to the debate was pointing out the difficulty of determining when somebody is no longer alive, and arguing that it’s just as difficult at the other end of the spectrum. The rest was a quite shallow summary of benchmarks Dr. Gilbert lists (which I linked to previously), which is why you felt he was making the same arguments.

        “Just saying, “there are more arguments out there than the ones you listed in this blog post” is a lame argument that you could raise in response to anything, ever.”

        I didn’t say, “there are more arguments”, I said you didn’t engage with the best arguments. When the topic is “Science v Religion”, reducing the entire opposing (science) argument to a poor paraphrasing from a theology professor is pretty lame, no? It’s not reasonable to expect better?

      3. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect better. And if you can find or construct a better argument, by all means, present it.

        But the Gilbert source you’ve linked to is just as bad. It’s the same arguments I addressed above. And while Dr. Gilbert is a scientist, his arguments are not. He even presents them as philosophy, rather than science. From the introduction: “Is a zygote or an embryo a human being? These are intricate philosophical questions that often incite intense debate, for their answers are used as evidence in the answers to questions about the moral status of a zygote, embryo or fetus.”

        Now, truth be told, the question of whether or not a certain organism is a human being is a scientific question, but he eschews that in favor of science-flavored amateur philosophy.

        I’ll extend the invitation again. If you think that there’s a serious objection to the scientific conclusion that fertilization results in a living human being, I welcome that argument. But if you can’t find such an argument, you can hardly use that against the pro-life side of this debate.

        I.X.,

        Joe

      4. You seem more interested in semantics that actually taking things as intended. Now, for the record, Dr. Gilbert is not my choice for a source – I’m merely pointing out to you who’s views were being paraphrased. It is clear though that he’s merely listing the different benchmarks that occur at the start of the human life cycle. At no point does he say “this is what the scientific consensus is”. I also think it’s clear that he’s using the term “human being” differently than you portray him as doing.

        I don’t think there’s any serious objection to the scientific conclusion that fertilization results in a living human being, biologically (other than maybe how long it takes for fertilization to occur). However, even if the biological aspects were instantaneous at fertilization, merely being a human being does not guarantee one all rights at all times (in utero or otherwise). That’s not a question that science can answer for us – though it can help us think through it.

        “But if you can’t find such an argument, you can hardly use that against the pro-life side of this debate.”

        Why would I use this article against the pro-life side of the debate? I’d be guilty of the same thing I’ve accused you of 🙂

      5. “If you think that there’s a serious objection to the scientific conclusion that fertilization results in a living human being, I welcome that argument.”

        It would be more accurate to say that there is a scientific conclusion that fertilization *may* result in a living human being. My wife twice had fertilized eggs that never progressed pass the point of a clumping of cells. They would never develop into anything you could describe as human – no sentience, no feelings, no emotions, not even instincts or other such reactions. Had they not been removed they would have continued to grow until they killed her, without ever producing a human being. Should those have been given rights, even though they had no potential for any kind of awareness?

      6. FranticRed,

        I think that your conclusion, that “fertilization *may* result in a living human being,” is based upon conflating science and philosophy. Scientifically, nothing in the definition of a “living human being” requires “sentience,” “feelings,” “emotions,” or “instincts or other such reactions.”

        You can argue that, philosophically, a “living human being” isn’t a “person” (whatever that means) prior to these things,* but you can’t argue that this is true, scientifically. This response also answers the thrust of your several other comments, since they’re essentially reiterations and reformulations of the same erroneous argument.

        I.X.,

        Joe

        *For the record, I think that this philosophical argument is a bad one, and one that most of its proponents have thrown together thoughtless. But my point is simply that it’s an argument that could be made about a philosophical (re-)definition of “man,” not about a scientific definition of whether or not we’re dealing with a human organism.

      7. No, my conclusion is based in fact – it is not a philosophical argument. You cannot deny that except by ignoring the example I gave of the two pregnancies I mentioned that my wife had, which you seem to have done entirely. I find that a little odd, since you specifically asked for that.

        You can pick and choose your definitions all you want, but it still requires you to make assumptions. Take human being – there are multiple definitions listed, of which you seem to be selected the one that says human. That is a non-definition. What is a human? Well, it’s a human. You have defined nothing there. That leaves us to move on to the other possibilities.

        The next definition in the list is much clearer – any member of the races of homo sapiens; a person; man, woman, or child. Ok, so we can probably agree that a zygote is closest in relation to a child. So lets see what a child is. Quite a few possibilities here:

        1. A person between birth and puberty (I am assuming you want to ignore that one in favor of a definition that better suits your argument, so lets move on to the next one) 2. A person who has not attained maturity or the age of legal majority – ok, more there, but that still doesnt tell us anything, since cultures across the word cannot even agree on the age of maturity or legal majority, and it certainly doesnt specify anything in the womb, so lets move on – 3. (and here is the closest we can come to what you are arguing) an unborn infant, a fetus. Ah, a fetus. We’ll get back to that. The remaining definitions are an infant/baby, one who is childish or immature, son/daughter, offspring, member of a tribe, descendant, or the idiomatic meaning we apply to objects.

        Ok, so your best option is fetus, which due to word limitations I will cover in the following post.

      8. A fetus. Well, since you like to throw around science a lot, scientifically you dont have a fetus until at least the 8th week. So if you want to play semantics, your argument about what human beings are cannot stand up until you have a fetus – 8 weeks in.

    26. I also wanted to respond to the whole idea of that simply because there is genetic code for something means that something exists. Since that genetic code is nothing more than potential to develop, you would have to accept the fact that because I have in my head a plan to create a ray gun that said ray gun already exists – simply because the potential is there. Take again the aforementioned clumpings of cells – these never developed a nervous system, nor would they – yet the code to create one was in the DNA. By the argument that the code for one existed you would have to say that, despite the fact that one never manifested nor could have manifested because of other irregularities in the genetic code, there was in fact a full nervous system in those collections of cells.

      And before anyone decides to try and point out that the aforementioned cell clumps (you might as well call them tumors, since that is essentially what they were) were not an organism, the definition for an organism is:

      1.An individual animal, plant, or single-celled life form.
      2.The material structure of such an individual.

      Note that it doesn’t say *all* the material structure of such an individual.

      My personal belief is that while a fertilized egg fits the definition of an organism and of course by extension a living being, it is merely the potential to grow into a human. Until there is non-instinctual brain activity, it cannot be scientifically argued that said organism has any self-awareness. If it lacks self-awareness, it has no concept of what it is to actually be, and for all intents and purposes is an organic computer that merely has not awoken yet. I should probably note that this does not mean that I think it’s totally fine to have an abortion for any reason before the point that non-instinctual actions begin to occur. I personally think arguments like “I’m not ready for children”, or “It will mess up my career” are pretty pathetic and not a good reason for an abortion.

      And if we want to assume that the potential to grow into a human = being a human, then we open the door to describing masturbation as genocide, allowing your eggs not to be fertilized as depraved indifference, and so on. Because let’s face it, if all you need is the right circumstances, that can be said of a lot of things. A sperm has the potential to become part of a human given that it fertilizes an egg and vice versa. Just like a fertilized egg has the potential to become a human being if there isn’t a mix-up in its combined genetic code that prevents it from developing past a clump of cells. Hell, scientists can extract my genetic code from my skin and there will most certainly be, if it does not already exist, the technology to grow a full human being from that.

      Oh, and assuming life begins at conception, fertilization at it’s absolute fastest happens about 30 minutes after ejaculation. It *can* take up to five days. That would make the morning-after pill, assuming it is taken immediately following sex, a complete non-issue – unless you are to assume that all forms of protection are by nature immoral.

      Both sides of this debate require assumptions. It strikes me that a lot of the arguments against the OP are not that abortion is not wrong, but rather that we cannot scientifically claim that the potential to grow into a human is the same as being human.

      1. Oh, and on a related note, a fertilized egg is a zygote, not a fetus. It does not become an embryo until it completes travel down the Fallopian tube and subsequently implants itself on the uterine wall. At that point it is an embryo. It also does not become a fetus until around 8 weeks.

      2. FranticRed,

        You say: “My personal belief is that while a fertilized egg fits the definition of an organism and of course by extension a living being, it is merely the potential to grow into a human.” This is an honest acknowledgement of what’s going on here:

        1. A fertilized egg, scientifically, is a living being.

        2. Those seeking to justify abortion are left asserting their “personal belief” over and against the science, or by ignoring the science (and substituting half-baked philosophy).

        Typically, those seeking to justify abortion do this by throwing the amorphous term “person” into the debate, and by saying that some human beings (namely, the unborn), aren’t “persons.” You do it by saying that they’re “living beings,” but not “living human beings.”

        If you actually meant this as a scientific claim, you’d have to say that, at some point in their life cycle, a living being can become another species. This is, of course, absurd.

        The correct (inescapable) answer is that a being remains itself throughout its whole life cycle. If it ceases to be itself, it ceases to be. This means that a thing remains the same type of organism throughout its whole life cycle: for example a caterpillar is already a butterfly (as a member of the sub-order Rhopalocera). That’s the sort of living being that it already is, even though it doesn’t show all of its distinctive butterfly characteristics yet. It may look indistinguishable from a moth caterpillar, but they’re different species (even as caterpillars).

        So you’re right that “the potential to grow into a human” and “being a human” are two different things. But you’re wrong (again, scientifically) that a preborn child merely has “the potential to grow into a human.” You’re using “human” in an unscientific and seemingly arbitrary way.

        I.X.,

        Joe

        P.S. As for terminology like “zygote, “embryo,” “fetus,” etc., these are imprecise classifications meant to roughly demarcate different phases in the life cycle of a human being, just like terms like “infant,” “toddler,” “child,” “adolescent,” “adult.” Imagining that the terminology describes substantial (rather than accidental) changes in the individual being described would be a mistake.

      3. Asserting their personal belief? Re-read what you have said and compare it to the scientific facts that have been presented. By definition, your choice to ignore these facts means you are merely asserting your personal belief.

        1. A fertilized egg is a living being – but by the definition of an organism – which is any contiguous living system – so if you want to talk living being my thumb is a living being. Heck, any two cells that are in contact are a living being. Pretty arbitrary phrase, isn’t it?

        2. Those on the pro-life side do the same thing. That’s what morality is.

        I’m not throwing the word person around because it is arbitrary. Human isn’t as I have shown with all definitions in my previous responses. Whether you attach living or being to the word is irrelevant to this argument – I think we can agree on that without going into silly “what it it is dead?” arguments.

        And I don’t make the claim that a species can change into another. I am making the claim that it has not yet become a member of any species.

        Your argument that a caterpillar is a butterfly is incorrect. Butterfly is a stage of development in the live of that insect. What you have claimed is tantamount to saying a child is already an adult – and you do not want to open that door, I believe.

        And yes, by definition the potential to become something is different from being something. If you are going to argue otherwise you might as well claim that since flour, eggs, and so on have the potential to become bread or cake, it must be bread or cake.

        Also, I never said preborn child. I said a zygote. Those are two completely different things, by definition.

        Terminology such as zygote and embryo are extremely specific, scientific terms. Fetus is more arbitrary since it only exists after *around* the 8th week. If you go back and read over the definitions again you should be able to see that your comparison to terms like infant, toddler, child, etc. is ludicrous.

    27. And one last thing – the argument that those are human cells prior to around that 6th day doesn’t really fly. They are cells created in the human body, but those cells are not present in humans they are merely black slates with genetic code and do not differentiate into the cells that actually make up your body until embryonic development starts.

      1. FranticRed,

        Surely, you realize that this argument is circular, right? You’re arguing that prior to the 6th day, these aren’t “human cells,” because they don’t make up “your” body until embryonic development starts. The whole point is that, prior to the 6th day, these are your body. Your body is made up of a certain number of cells right now. As a child, it was made up of far fewer cells. As an infant, fewer still, as an embryo, fewer still.

        The flip side to this is that, the younger you are, the more flexible your cells are, which is why the stem cells from umbilical cords are so valuable: they’re still flexible. They have a greater degree of totipotentiality. This elasticity is true of your entire body. Consider, as I said above, “the presence of fontanelles in infants, the absence of (bone) knee caps, and ossificiation (which lasts from month three of pregnancy until age 25).”

        To simply say that (a) prior to a certain stage in human development, or (b) prior to a certain stage of cellular determination, the cells aren’t “human” is to simply declare what you’re trying to prove … and in this case, to declare something scientifically false!

        I.X.,

        Joe

        P.S. I forgive the grammar: believe me, I’ve made more than my own share of grammatical mistakes in the course of this blog’s lifetime.

      2. …I think you might need to look up the definition of a circular argument. A circular argument is A is A because of B and B is B because of A. I made no such circular argument. I merely stated that a zygote is a blank canvas with a a collection of DNA stuffed inside – I will however correct my previous comment that those cells do not exist in the human body afterwords – they are merely stem cells, so we most certainly do have them.

        But here’s the thing. Since a Zygote is merely a collection of stem cells, then to claim it is human is to claim that any collection of stem cells is human. So if you pull out and destroy adult stem cells, you have also committed murder.

        What about these cells makes them human? They are blank slates, substantively the same as stem cells from any species save the DNA inside them. So the only logical conclusion is that it is the DNA that makes something human. Even though they have not created anything yet other than a blank cell. You might as well claim that a blank canvas is a painting simply because an artist knows what he wants to put on it (and of course the painting may change as he progresses, or he may decide it isnt working and dumps it – but the same thing happens naturally with DNA as well; sometimes things don’t happen according to plan – take the clumpings of cells in my wife for example; they had all the necessary info to make a human stored in them but failed to do so). Or better yet – I buy a storage unit from Ikea. It contains instructions inside, so it must also already be a storage unit. No one in their right mind would claim that was a storage unit – it is merely the pieces to make one with some instructions.

        Much as the cells the zygote is dividing into are the pieces to make a human.
        The way I see it, you can either accept scientific definitions as a whole – which would mean accepting that you don’t have a human until somewhere around the 8th week when the embryo becomes a fetus, or you can accept that any scientific definition for any of this is in question and must be cast out because there are too many conflicting opinions, or you can drop the science act entirely and simply accept that you believe what you do because that is your faith.

        There is nothing wrong with believing something because of your faith. The problem is, when you try to insert science into faith, faith falls apart if science succeeds. Faith by definition is belief in something unproven or unprovable. The second you prove something, you can no longer have faith in it because it is proven.

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