The Chicken-and-Egg Problem for Abortion

A chick beginning to hatch

You’re likely familiar with the philosophical problem, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” But I want to pose a different sort of chicken-or-egg question for those abortion supporters who claim things like “My Body, My Choice.”

In the case of non-mammals like chickens, fertilized eggs develop outside of the mother’s body, so we can actually watch embryonic development occur. It’s a fascinating process. The chick grows inside the egg until she’s old enough to hatch, and then she hatches herself, by pecking her way out of the egg.

It’s worth asking two questions.

First, was the chick inside the egg alive before she hatched? Of course. If her life began at birth, she couldn’t have pecked her way out of the shell. Dead chicks don’t peck. For that matter, if she wasn’t alive, she couldn’t grow inside her shell. Metabolism is one of the key markers for life, since dead things don’t metabolize. And of course, it’s absurd to suppose that a dead egg suddenly turned into a living chick.

Second, was the chick a distinct living being prior to hatching? This answer is equally obvious: the chick is a living being distinct from her mother. If the hen looked down at the egg, and said “My Body, My Choice!” she’d be objectively wrong. The chick is a different being, with her own tiny body, and with her own genetic code. She is, by every scientific standard, a distinct organism.

A chick emerging from her egg

Sure, she’s still reliant upon her mother to live. The hen could easily kill her chick, either actively (by crushing the egg), or passively (by simply refusing to care for the egg). But the fact that someone’s life is entrusted to you doesn’t make them part of your person.

Of course, there’s one important difference between chickens and humans in this regard: in the case of unborn babies, they grow in an egg inside the mother. That’s it: that’s the incidental characteristic of human development that the entire argument for abortion is based on. If human babies grew like chicks, or if they grew in test tubes, we wouldn’t hesitate for a second to recognize them for what they are: living human beings, distinct from their mothers.

Of course, the fact that they grow in eggs inside their moms, instead of growing in eggs outside of their moms is an accident of geography. “My Body, My Choice” is just bad science. You can’t seriously claim this without grossly misunderstanding human anatomy or reproduction. It’s someone else’s body, your child’s body, and if it’s “your choice” to destroy her body, it’s just because she’s too helpless to defend herself.

51 Comments

  1. “was the chick inside the egg alive before she hatched?”

    The egg was alive before it was fertilized. As you say, “it’s absurd to suppose that a dead egg suddenly turned into a living chick.” So what you’re really asking is “was it a chicken while it was still in the egg?”

    According to ethical research guidelines on animals, that answer is no. They don’t count as animals, which is why when working on my thesis, we didn’t have to do anything to comply with animal welfare guidelines. My boss generally didn’t want us incubating eggs past two weeks. In part because there was no reason for us to do so, but also because at that point they have a nervous system. That’s about 2/3rds of their gestation time, so in terms of time, that would be the third trimester, though developmentally I’m not sure what the equivalent stage would be.

    “Second, was the chick a distinct living being prior to hatching?”

    Again, the egg was distinct from the mother before fertilization. Germ cells are seperated from the rest of the embryo very soon after conception. The egg that you developed from was present in your grandmother’s womb.

    So, again I’d argue your’e asking the wrong question, unless you take the position that life begins two generations prior to the actual organism.

    “If the hen looked down at the egg, and said “My Body, My Choice!” she’d be objectively wrong. The chick is a different being, with her own tiny body, and with her own genetic code. She is, by every scientific standard, a distinct organism.”

    The unfertilized egg also has its own genetic code distinct from the hen. This happens at meiosis, which takes place before the egg is laid.

    ” “My Body, My Choice” is just bad science. You can’t seriously claim this without grossly misunderstanding human anatomy or reproduction. It’s someone else’s body, your child’s body, and if it’s “your choice” to destroy her body, it’s just because she’s too helpless to defend herself.”

    I make that claim, and seriously. Perhaps I’m a bad scientist…

    Anyway, If you’d prefer to save the embryos, fund research into developing methods to transfer an implanted embryo into an in vitro system. Otherwise, it’s the mother’s decision to cut the embryo off. That it has no alternative isn’t anyone’s fault, but that doesn’t trump the mother’s rights to autonomy. If you were going to die without a new kidney, and I were the only one who were able to provide you with that kidney, I’d be morally obligated to give you my kidney. But if I chose to ignore morals, I see no reason I should be legally REQUIRED to give you one of my kidneys, even though doing so would mean your death.

    1. There’s been a lot of discussion since I’ve last responded, so forgive my tardiness:

      A. My original questions were:
      1) “Was the chick inside the egg alive before she hatched?”
      2) “Second, was the chick a distinct living being prior to hatching?”

      You claim that these are bad standards, because the egg was alive and distinct prior to fertilization. Carrying your argument to its logical conclusion, you claim that this would require us to hold “that life begins two generations prior to the actual organism.”

      But your answer is shifty. I asked if it was “a distinct living being.” Your answer is simply about whether or not its distinct. But that’s slight-of-hand, and you know it. All sexual beings naturally produce gametes. These have only half of the organism’s genetic code, since in that limited sense (that they’ve got an incomplete version of the organism’s genetic code), they’re distinct. But they’re not distinct living beings. They’re not organisms – a fact that you tacitly concede when you refer to “the actual organism.” A zygote is an actual organism; a gamete is not.

      Another way to approach the same question: females naturally produce eggs, males naturally produce sperm. This is each organism’s own genetic expression. But neither male nor female organisms naturally produce babies.

      So even though we refer to “fertilized eggs” and “unfertilized eggs,” we’re dealing with a distinction of kind, not degree.

      B. In response to your own question, “was it a chicken while it was still in the egg?” you answer that the ethical research guidelines say no. But you’re not seriously claiming that this reflects a scientific fact about when life begins, right? The ethical guidelines are intended to protect against cruelty to animals, and aren’t worried about animals with undeveloped or underdeveloped nervous systems. But that doesn’t mean pre-born chicks aren’t animals: that’s a scientific absurdity. The chick doesn’t somehow turn into an animal by hatching herself from her egg.

      In any case, to say that because a pragmatic rule doesn’t consider a chick to be a chicken until a certain point in her development is pure semantics.

      C. You claim that you would “seriously” hold to “My Body, My Choice!” but proceed to give the kidney-donation example. This example only makes sense if you acknowledge that the fetus isn’t the mother’s body (how could you donate a kidney to yourself). So no, I don’t think that you seriously believe that a chick inside of a fertilized egg is part of the hen, nor do I think that you seriously believe that a fetus inside of a fertilized egg is part of the mother.

    2. I’m happy to discuss the kidney example, but I don’t want to get too far afield. Short answer:
      (i) dismembering another human being isn’t the same as refusing to donate that person a kidney;
      (ii) there are certain contexts in which refuses aide is morally culpable — e.g., if someone is holding on to your hand to stop from falling over a cliff, and you let go of your hand to cause them to die, you can be held morally and legally culpable for that. This comes pretty close to the example you provide of an abortificant that cuts off the embryo from the uterine wall.
      (iii) The duty owed by a mother to her child is different than what is owed between strangers. This is true legally as well as morally. If you refuse to feed the homeless guy down the block, the law doesn’t care. If you refuse to feed your own kids, you’re accountable. There are plenty of contexts in which parents refusing to provide life-saving care for the child has caused them to be legally liable. Certainly, they’re morally liable as well.
      (iv) I’ve addressed a similar hypothetical before: http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2009/10/does-violinist-hypothetical-prove.html

      D. Below, you claim “When life begins comes down to a matter of personal belief. It is not a scientific fact.”

      You have made this claim several time, and never provide warrants for it. It’s not true. Science can say when an organism begins (be that a human, a chicken, etc.). You’re just substituting personal belief over science because the science is inconvenient.

      E. When Rebecca said, “I don’t think people actually believe that it’s not really a baby or human being they are supporting killing in the womb. I think they know it is and they just don’t care,” you responded, “I don’t see how that changes anything honestly. I’m arguing that mothers should decide for themselves what to do.”

      This suggests to me that you’re just not interested in when life begins (again, it’s inconvenient). You profess to not see how it matters. I think that you’re letting your views on the permissibility of abortion cloud your objectivity and scientific judgment here. You appear to be starting from the conclusion that abortion is okay, and working backwards to justify it.

      I.X.,

      Joe

    3. I think the most fundamental distinction I would make in the case of Kidney transplants vs pregnancy or bone marrow vs pregnancy (that’s the argument in the Kreeft video) is that of justice vs charity. Or if you don’t use theological terms, to donate a kidney or the like is properly altruistic. Pregnancy, even in the case of rape or incest, belongs to nature and therefore, to carry to term belongs at the very least to justice, but usually to altruism, too. The woman would therefore have to violate the order of nature to procure an abortion, even in the case of rape or incest because it’s just herself functioning as it ought to. Though I think most modern ethics are based on consequence without any division of virtues. And in such a case you’d be a lot harder pressed to supress abortions without saying forced kidney transplant/marrow transplants, etc. are wrong, which is why it seems we accept the volition of transplants in society and permit abortion. Though given the terrible stuff that goes on in the world it probably won’t be too long before things like forced transplants make an appearance.

    4. This is obviously not to say rape and incest are acceptable. However, another point. Philosophically we consider a human being someone with a rational soul. Materialistically, there is not way to even begin a discussion of a rational soul. So you have to look to a material entity (this is completely ignorigng the fact that you can’t really say anything about murder anyway, unless you use the “Moral Landscape” which, no offense if you like Sam Harris, is not even based on reasons; it’s just a series of “and we’d all agree this is bad…mmmmkay”) When looking at the material entity, there is no question that a zygote is ‘biologically individuated’ from the mother and the father. So you have to concede at least that much. Then the question becomes ‘pain’ which means we couldn’t eat meat. I’m pretty sure we’d give up abortion before meat. But the problem with pain is establishing the imperative that ‘pain’ is somehow commensurate with the ‘intrinsic dignity’ of the biologically individuated entity. What if not killing people caused me more pain than the people i’d be murdering if I was a psychopath. Then how does pleasure relate to ‘intrinsic dignity’ and ethical reprehensibility. I think we can take a look around and say that throwing out the virtue of temperance wasn’t our societies best idea. I don’t really think divorce helps any of the kids in those families. But do parents not have an obligation to their kids even if they were stupid about each other? No Fault divorce is a psychological train wreck, and causes the kids far more suffering than adults acting like children cause each other. Anyway, this is just an illustration of how quickly this rather amorphous concept of pain/pleasure based ethics balloons. Part of Peter Kreefts argument in that debate cited earlier was that you know it’s a human and you kill it, in which case it’s murder; or you think it could be human and you kill it, in which case it’s manslaughter. I’ve never met anyone, perhaps because I’m taciturn, who ever said abortion was good, but I don’t remember ever getting one to admit the reason they thought it was bad.

    5. @ Joe
      Was the chick alive and distinct prior to hatching.

      My answer was shifty because it was a question begging a misleading answer.

      Yes is the answer to both questions.

      I’ll ask two question of you:

      1. Are human eggs alive before conception?
      2. Was the egg a genetically distinct from the mother before conception?

      You answer the second one “yes,” with a similar “but with distinctions” that I had to your questions.

      As far as ethical guidelines, yes, I do think this reflects realities. When a nervous system develops and begins functioning, the ethics change. No longer is it just a mass of cells. In my book and other scientists’ books anyway. Which is not to say it’s a scientific fact. As I say, it’s not a matter of science. Science shows the egg is metabolically active before conception. Science shows that the early events following conception don’t actually rely on conception, you can simulate eggs with calcium and get divisions as if the thing has been fertilized. Science shows that there is nothing special about a sperm and egg coming together, you can fertilize a hamster sperm with a human egg or vice versa, and it develops indistinguishable from a normal human conception up until a point. What’s most unique to humans is a functioning nervous system, and that isn’t present at conception.

      Come up with defining characteristics for human life. They’ll either be not scientific or will have exceptions to them.

      On kidney donations, my kidney is my body, for me to do with what I want. The mother’s uterus is most definitely her body, for her to do with what she wants. If she doesn’t want an embryo staying there and feeding off of her body, she shouldn’t be required to feed it. My argument doesn’t rest on the EMBRYO being part of the mother’s body.

      The hand on the cliff is a valid point I hadn’t considered before. It assumes the other person is a person. I may have to give you that there is legal precedent for saying abortion can be outlawed after neural activity has started. Still, I think if for some reason, the person couldn’t be pulled up for months, so I had to hold onto them for four months, that would change the legal situation.

      On E: I was talking from a legal perspective. Rebecca was suggesting that a lot of women who get abortions don’t actually believe that life doesn’t begin at conception. I don’t see how that sould factor into the legal debate. If I believe life begins at 50, that obviously doesn’t make it okay for me to murder someone who is 40. Conversely, if someone believes that ants have just as much a right to life as humans do, and we catch that fool stepping on an ant, we don’t arrest them for murder.

      I don’t believe I’m working backwards from a conclusion. This is not the position I started off at. I used to be staunchly pro-life because I was told that life begins at conception by the church. And why the heck would I settle on “life begins at neurological function, sometime between conception and birth” if I wanted to justify my opinion that abortion should be legal? My position manages to annoy both pro-lifers and pro-choicers. If I chose it out of convinience, well, I’m REALLY underqualified to be a scientist.

  2. Lets take a little quick recap on how to reply to questions Phil. I can offer a couple of tips.

    What might be a good thing for you to try next time, is to try to highlight important keywords in questions, then check to be sure that what you answered reflects the question asked. For example “Was the chick inside the egg alive before she hatched?”

    If you look real closely, you will see that – “The egg was alive before it was fertilized” – slightly falls short of the question asked.

    Another example, “was the chick a distinct living beingprior– to hatching?”.

    You will see this time too, that – “again, the egg was distinct from the mother before fertilization” – just doesn’t quite make it. You might also want to fact check this, given that it’s the mother who develops the eggs at an early stage. They are cells of her own biology, just because they formed inside her own mother’s womb doesn’t mean that they are cells of her mothers and not her own. If that were true you could rightly say that you are still part of your grandmothers body, free for her disposal. False.

    One final example:

    “The chick is a different being, with her own tiny body, and with her own genetic code. She is, by every scientific standard, a distinct organism.”

    I will quote your own answer, try and see if you can spot the problem this time:

    “The unfertilized egg also has its own genetic code distinct from the hen.”

    Phil, I don’t think Joe is asking the wrong questions, I think it’s more accurate to say that you are answering the wrong ones.

    1. I think there is confusion over egg vs chick. I specified “before it was fertilized” for a reason.

      There’s a “chicken egg” with a shell that we think of as an egg. However, the egg didn’t begin at conception. There was an egg inside the mother hen before conception. If an egg is not fertilized in the chicken, it still gets made into a mature egg with a shell and laid.

      When I said “unfertilized egg” I meant “before conception.” So “Is the chick alive and distinct before hatching?” is the question Joe asked. My answer is “Yes, but that was true before there was anything anyone would call a chick.”

      My point was that “Alive” and “distinct from the mother hen” are not good standards to show that life begins at conception rather than hatching/birth, since both were true before conception.

    2. I haven’t been in biology for a while so feel free to give me a clue here.

      I’ve got eggs in my fridge…are they alive? My mom also has eggs in her fridge with a sell-by date of April. Are those alive?

      What would you check for to determine if an unfertilized egg is alive or not?

    3. Hi Phil. I see you haven’t quite noticed yet that you haven’t answered Joe’s questions. I see you also don’t seem to have noticed that I had attempted to point this out to you. Try out this little highlighting trick with my own message.

    4. @Daniel: the eggs you buy at the store are from hens that aren’t around roosters, so there’s almost no chance they are fertilized. I don’t know how metabolically active they are when an unfertilized egg is laid. Fertilized eggs are good in the refrigerator for about two weeks (16 degrees C, not 4 degrees C as is normal). You can pop them into the incubator from the fridge at two weeks and about half will develop.

      @Deduo:
      Yes I did. I said the answer was “yes” to both of them

      I then pointed out why that has no relevance to the abortion debate.

  3. Refusing to donate a kidney is not the same as outright killing a human being. Kidney failure, as a general rule, is something that happens. If a person does not donate a kidney than the natural course of things is death. To donate a kidney does not necessarily prevent death from kidney failure. Neither does refusing to donate a kidney cause death either. Someone else could donate a kidney.

    Abortion on the other hand is different. The baby is fine. It’s growing and developing. If nothing happens, labor and birth are the normal course of things. Abortion is the deliberate interference of the natural progression of things. It is the deliberate killing of another human being.

    You can’t really compare the two. The only thing you can compare abortion to (the deliberate changing of the natural progression of a human’s life by killing them) is euthanasia, genocide, or murder.

    Now you can argue the semantics of survivability, health of the mother, health of the baby, etc, but it all boils down to humans interfering with the natural course of events in order to bring about the ending of life. Because babies are alive from conception whether born or not until they are dead. They don’t start off dead and then become alive at birth (or some other arbitrary line people like to draw).

    1. Refusing to donate a kidney is the moral equivalent of refusing to have sexual intercourse.

      What abortion is is donating a kidney, changing your mind, and hacking open the recipient to get it back because it is yours — and making sure to do it in a way that will kill the recipient who could have lived otherwise.

    2. “It’s natural” sounds like an arbitrary distinction to me. The effect is still the same. By refusing to allow someone to use someone else’s body, death results.

      “Because babies are alive from conception whether born or not until they are dead. They don’t start off dead and then become alive at birth (or some other arbitrary line people like to draw).”

      Well, that’s kind of taking the whole crux of the issue and stating your opinion on it as a fact.

      I disagree. Conception does not result in a human, it results in a diploid human cell with a potential to grow a nervous system and become human if a uterus provides it the right materials.

    3. 1) Its not an arbitrary distinction. The way humans are formed is through sex. Kidney damage is caused by numerous factors. Likewise to be able to donate ones kidney is a modern and yes unnatural course. In other words sex to makr babies has happened since man. Kidney removal has not been.

      2) Dead things dont grow. Life is potential. Dead things dont have potential.

    4. Oddly enough, I’d make a distinction about refusing to donate a kidney Mary. Whether the agents engaging in coition are married or not. In the second case, they couldn’t be moral equivalents. In the first, I’m still not sure how i’d tackle that one; b/c a married person is morally obliged to sleep with his/her spouse ordinarily. I know it seems strange (it has to do with the nature of vows, which place the party who makes a vow under obligation, and obligations belong to justice, not that it can’t also be an act of charity as well), but not sleeping with your spouse can be a grave violation of justice in some cases. Whereas not donating a kidney isn’t on that footing. At least I don’t think it is.

    5. @Deltaflute

      You’re not really making any actual arguments.

      You’re just insisting that one is natural and the other is not without explaining why natural or artificial changes the morality of the situation. If it were natural for me to donate a kidney, would that make a difference if I refused?

      And you’re just restating that life begins at conception. You can’t define life. Dead things do grow. Mineral deposits, fires, crystals. Moreover, cells that are clearly not a human or a living organism grow. HeLa cells are cancer cells taken from a woman who died in the 40s or so. Put them in a dish with some blood and they’ll grow. They’re not a living organism with rights though.

    6. Phil- I argue that you aren’t making actual arguments either. Just because you dont agree with my reasons doesn’t make them wrong.

      I’m sorry that you are having a hard time distinguishing natural and normal course of life events. I simply can’t explain any better that the natural course of pregnancy is either to labor and deliver a live or dead baby (miscarriages involve a labor of sorts to expell the dead baby). Whereas you have to surgically have your kidney removed. Most people die with both kidneys as normally a person doesnt have them removed.

      One does not have to donate a kidney. That’s because its your body. Whereas in abortion its not your body. You’re removing someone else’s.

      The person with kidney disease will live and die as that’s the norm of kidney disease. To donate your kidney is to interfer.

      In abortion the norm as i said repeatedly is to labor and deliver. You interfer when you perform an abortion.

    7. As for life…we were talking about people not fires. Am i wrong? Cells are alive but not all of them grow into people.

      You were arguing that a human being starts off dead from conception no? But it doesnt work that way from conception they are alive until they die. They dont start off dead cells and than become alive.

      Sounds like you may be confusing personhood with being alive. I argue you are a person the moment you are alive. So when is a person a person?

  4. Furthermore, Joe’s point is that the slogan “My Body, My Choice” makes no sense. It isn’t your body.

    My husband and I practice body integrity. We didn’t circumcise our boys (or plan on piercing any future girls ears) without their express permission. It’s THEIR body. Not ours. And if they wish to be circumcised when they are older we will respect their decision.

    When someone chants “My body, my choice,” they are saying that it’s okay to kill someone because they are growing inside of them. The slogan should be more like “Their Body, My choice.” Because the choice, in most cases, of what happens to one’s body came about during sexual intercourse.

    Analogy: I go bungee jumping. I use a chord to make sure I won’t die. But there’s always a chance the chord fails and I die. Always. I run that risk every time. One time it fails. I die. Now I don’t want to be dead. But it’s a little late for that and you can’t reverse it. The choice was made to take the risk and deal with the outcome.

    In pregnancy the choice to take the risk comes with sex. Once you are pregnant that’s it. Choice over. But people want to and legally can reverse that choice. In order to do so they decide to kill someone else.

    So I understand the “My Body, My Choice” to mean “My Body, My Choice to have sex.” Or “Their Body, and as a parent My Choice” for abortion. But as it stands it makes no sense.

    1. “Furthermore, Joe’s point is that the slogan “My Body, My Choice” makes no sense. It isn’t your body.”

      The uterus certainly is. Say a woman takes an abortifacent to cause the placenta to detach from the uterine wall. Explain to me how that’s not a woman exerting control over her own body.

      “Because the choice, in most cases, of what happens to one’s body came about during sexual intercourse.”

      You’ve only shown that there is at least one point earlier where a choice could have been made. In theory anyway, I’ll assume you allow abortion in the case of rape or incest. But that doesn’t explain why there can’t be a second choice.

    2. 1) problem is the purpose. A woman isnt taking a drug for her uterus. Shes taking it to rid herself of carrying a baby. Its making a decision about another person’s body.

      2) no. Allowing an abortion for rape or incest again is taking away choice for baby. And punishing the baby not the perpitrator. Theres usually only one choice to be made. To take anothers life is making another decision not a second choice. The decision at hand id to take a risk of pregnancy resulting in sex. Abortion is ending anothers life. Different choices even though people view them often as being one and the same.

    3. Reread previous comment sorry for confusiin about reversal. I meant it to say that people think they can reverse their decision and legally they can (sort of in their delusion). The reality is that there are two decisions 1) to risk a preganancy and 2) what to do when preganancy results.

      It was late. Should have reworded it but thought evident from bungee analogy.

    4. I don’t see how intent changes whether or not her uterus is her body. If I don’t want someone leeching off of me, I have a right to prevent them from doing so. An abortifacent that ejects the embryo isn’t directly killing the embryo, it’s simply exerting control over one’s own body.

      If you’re not making an exception for rape or incest then your whole argument about “You had a choice whether or not to have sex” really unravels. Unless you subscribe to idiotic notions put forth by Akin about how women have a mystical ability to prevent pregnacy if they don’t want it.

    5. Phil- I’m trying to figure out you motivations. Are you here to hear the other side or are you here to persuade me to change my mind? If its the latter you are wasting your time.

      I assume Phil is short for Phillip. Delta is a woman’s name so I’m a woman. I feel i can speak from my point of womanhood having had two children. So now that we have that understanding…

      It is my uterus but my children’s bodies have always been their own. They were not leeches. They are not leeches. As a woman listening to you say that is disgustingly inflammatory. I suppose that as a man you’d never get that.

      Furthermore my self control is exerted when i dont have sex. You act as though self control begins at conception or that sex isnt about procreation. I don’t buy the argument that killing someone on purpose is a right because of geography or ability to take of themselves. I became a parent with responsibilities to my children from their conception. Thats why i took vitamins, didn’t drink or sit in hot tubs.

      I wasn’t just arguing my body my choice but thats the point of OP. If you want to go down the rape incest road, than its simple. Still not your body you are destroying. I could give more details about how i think the pro-choie side is exploiting victims but that’s off topic.

    6. @deltaflute
      I’m not having a hard time distinguishing natural vs unnatural. You’re saying pregnancy is natural and kidney donation is not. You say that because kidney donation isn’t natural, I shouldn’t be required to do it, but because pregnancy is natural, someone should be required to complete it.

      I don’t see why natural or unnatural changes the ethics of the situation.

      “You were arguing that a human being starts off dead from conception no? “

      No, I was arguing that the cells were alive BEFORE conception, thus “the egg is alive before birth” isn’t an important distinction. We may as well hold every sperm to be sacred: they’re just as living as a fertilized egg. There needs to be a better standard for what is human. I say it’s brain activity.

      “Furthermore my self control is exerted when i dont have sex… If you want to go down the rape incest road, than its simple. Still not your body you are destroying.”

      You undermine your arguments. You suggest that abortion is wrong because women have a choice, but then admit that even when they don’t have a choice, abortion is still right. Choice is then a red herring: it has nothing to do with anything. Why are you bringing up self-control?

  5. Hey Joe, I have a question about which I’d like to email you, but I can’t find your email address anywhere on the internet. If you catch this, can you please email me at [email protected]? Thanks much!

    Also, feel free to delete this comment once you’ve emailed me- I suspect that the spammers who lurk about the internet have some way of looking for email addresses left lying about like this, and I prefer that my inbox remain as free of spam as possible. Thanks again!

  6. I don’t think people actually believe that it’s not really a baby or human being they are supporting killing in the womb. I think they know it is and they just don’t care. Convenience and selfishness trumps everything. I used to believe like that. I can say that I thought abortion was right simply because the mother decided it was. If someone argued to me that it was a baby I wouldn’t say that it wasn’t. that wasn’t even the issue to me. The only issue was that women have total control to do whatever they wanted to. That was it.

    I’ve heard that stupid kidney argument before too. It was a Peter Kreeft debate, and the guy debating him used that as his entire argument. He was thoroughly crushed. Maybe you might want to look it up on youtube.

    1. “I don’t think people actually believe that it’s not really a baby or human being they are supporting killing in the womb. I think they know it is and they just don’t care. “

      I don’t see how that changes anything honestly. I’m arguing that mothers should decide for themselves what to do. When life begins comes down to a matter of personal belief. It is not a scientific fact. Additionally, the balance of mother’s rights vs embryos rights isn’t something we are at consensus about. Why the Church or the government has a right to dictate both to women rather than the women deciding for themselves is beyond me.

      “I’ve heard that stupid kidney argument before too. It was a Peter Kreeft debate, and the guy debating him used that as his entire argument. He was thoroughly crushed. Maybe you might want to look it up on youtube.”

      I’m a lot more interested in having a discussion than I am in watching a discussion, let alone a youtube video that I can’t skim through and find the relevant parts. So how about you tell me what arguments were used rather than just calling it stupid and noting that the argument failed others before.

    2. I think the point of the whole discussion is that when life begins is a biological fact, and not personal belief. When valuable life begins, or when biological organisms are entitled to rights based on their development or complexity is what you are proposing as a personal belief. It’s actually a philosphical question, but philosophy isn’t a matter of personal belief, at least until post-modernism. The whole point of philosophy was to discover objective truth, just like science. That there are limits to epistemology does not render the truths philosphy (or science) can discover somehow invalid, for instance murder (or abortion). Or that we now know that the earth goes round the sun. If you want to object to philosphy on the ground that it isn’t certain, then I’d say empirical studies can never ever be certain (the whole point of Descartes meditations). The question here is what is reasonable. And when life begins can be reasonably determined by science, and by philosophy, whether reasonable people accept it or not.

    3. @Ryan

      I didn’t understand most of your post, but I did get “when life begins is a biological fact” and “when life begins can be reasonably determined by science.”

      I’m a scientist and a biologist. No it cannot. Life cannot be accurately defined by science beyond “We know it when we see it.”

      When a human is a human is definitely beyond science. As I said, eggs are living before they are fertilized. The egg that you developed from was present in your grandmothers womb. Arguing metabolism and unique genetic codes make an independent life gets you to the absurd conclusion that life begins two generations prior to the actual person.

      It’s purely in the realm of personal belief, which is why I don’t agree with attempts to outlaw it. Were we as a society at a consensus that we believed life begins at conception, then sure, we could outlaw it. But we don’t. Most people are agnostic about when life begins. Just because someone’s holy book can be taken to say that life begins at conception doesn’t make it a fact.

    4. Biology

      Since there is no unequivocal definition of life, the current understanding is descriptive. Life is considered a characteristic of organisms that exhibit all or most of the following characteristics or traits:[29][31][32]
      1.Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state; for example, electrolyte concentration or sweating to reduce temperature.
      2.Organization: Being structurally composed of one or more cells — the basic units of life.
      3.Metabolism: Transformation of energy by converting chemicals and energy into cellular components (anabolism) and decomposing organic matter (catabolism). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life.
      4.Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of anabolism than catabolism. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter.
      5.Adaptation: The ability to change over time in response to the environment. This ability is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the organism’s heredity, diet, and external factors.
      6.Response to stimuli: A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism to external chemicals, to complex reactions involving all the senses of multicellular organisms. A response is often expressed by motion; for example, the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun (phototropism), and chemotaxis.
      7.Reproduction: The ability to produce new individual organisms, either asexually from a single parent organism, or sexually from two parent organisms.

      Took this gem from wikipedia

    5. I’d also point out that the problem with defining life, as i’ve always heard it, isn’t on the sexually reproducing organism side, it’s on the ‘organic things that do wierd stuff like viruses’ that are parasitic but they aren’t really capable of everything on the list thing. Then there’s the problem that you’ve just inconsistently called your own job useless. If biology is ‘the study of life and living organisms’ and you just can’t know or better ‘we know it when we see it’?

      the basic point is, if you want to keep equivocating, ‘since there is no unequivocal definition of life’, there is no point in having this discussion.

    6. It occurs to me that this part of my paragraph: “That there are limits to epistemology does not render the truths philosphy (or science) can discover somehow invalid, for instance murder (or abortion). Or that we now know that the earth goes round the sun. If you want to object to philosphy on the ground that it isn’t certain, then I’d say empirical studies can never ever be certain (the whole point of Descartes meditations). The question here is what is reasonable. And when life begins can be reasonably determined by science, and by philosophy, whether reasonable people accept it or not.” might be what needed clarification.

      So epistemology is the study of knowledge and how can acquire knowledge, what we can consider knowledge, etc. For example, suppose I tell you that the ‘subject’-x has ‘property’ y; this example can be rendered as the proposition ‘that girl, Sue, has blue eyes’ or ‘hands’ or ‘feet’ or ‘finger nails’ or ‘a snaggletooh’ (no offense to any girl readers who are sensitive about their teeth), just trying to alleviate contention here. So epistemology is the study of all such like propositions; how can you know that Sue has any of this properties. It’s based on observation, testimony, deduction, etc., or it’s based on some combination of all of those things. So philosophy studies many different types of propositions to determine their validity. So your particular discipline, which is biology, relies very much on the first type of discovery, namely ‘observation’. Now, I put forward Descartes because his entire philosophical system established that certainty cannot be based on ‘observation’. Philosophers have been squabbling about this contention for centuries now. Which is why scientists now do not establish ‘truths’ but only probable inferences. For instance, we now thing that the earth goes round the sun, because the observations we’ve seen via telescopes, actually going into space now, etc. all confirm the much easier math that the earth goes round the sun. For all practical purposes – our satellites would fall out the sky, we couldn’t send voyager out of the solar system, etc., helioscentrism works. It hasn’t failed yet, macroscopically. So we say ok, heliocentrism is true. With 99.9999999999% probability. Similarly, biology establishes things with a very very high probability. All your papers are based on a ‘well there’s this set of observations which we’ve established with this normal distribution (the bell curve for those who don’t know math) having this standard deviation and such and such a variance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_distribution). Anyway that is what an ’empirical’ proposition would be. Such and such is true because any other proposition has an absurdly low probability like 10^-1000000. Anyway, There are other propositions that can be true that are established based on a similar method. That in philosophy called inductive reasoning. Empirical testing is just a case where the induction has a really crazy high observation set. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Induction_(philosophy).

    7. @Ryan
      “Then there’s the problem that you’ve just inconsistently called your own job useless. If biology is ‘the study of life and living organisms’ and you just can’t know or better ‘we know it when we see it’?”

      Not really. Our job isn’t to define life, it’s to study it. I don’t need to come to any hard conclusions as to when life begins in order to determine how neurons grow. Science is focused on the concrete.

      “the basic point is, if you want to keep equivocating, ‘since there is no unequivocal definition of life’, there is no point in having this discussion. “

      I agree. The anti-abortion side needs to stop proclaiming that life begins at conception, since it’s a matter of personal belief when life begins, not a fact, and not something we’re all agreed upon.

      As for epistemology, it seems to me like you’re suggesting that philosophy is knowledge just as much as science. Which is a good point, but your statement “I think the point of the whole discussion is that when life begins is a biological fact, and not personal belief,” is wrong in my opinion. It’s not a biological fact. Biology shows that the sperm and egg are alive before conception.

    8. Phil,

      I get the impression that you’re still not addressing the “organism” distinction. You’ve said several times that gametes are distinct and alive, but that’s obviously misleading. My arm and my leg are distinct and alive, but that’s not enough to make them “distinct living beings” (which was the standard discussed before you shifted the debate).

      My arm and my leg aren’t organisms, gametes aren’t organisms, zygotes are. And all of this is purely science — the notion that science can’t determine the answer to this just isn’t true.

      I.X.,

      Joe

  7. “I’m arguing that mothers should decide for themselves what to do. When life begins comes down to a matter of personal belief. It is not a scientific fact. Additionally, the balance of mother’s rights vs embryos rights isn’t something we are at consensus about. Why the Church or the government has a right to dictate both to women rather than the women deciding for themselves is beyond me.”

    1. When life begins does not depend upon personal belief. Human life begins at conception. Unless we agree to believe that conception is something other than a fact, which would fly in the face of reason, then the fact that life begins at conception is scientific, i.e., empirical, and does not depend upon mere feelings (nor accept uninformed opinion) for corroboration for it to be empirically true. It is patently silly, therefore, to ignore the fact that, from the moment of conception, a new human life exists. To assert, then, that “when life begins comes down to a matter of personal belief” is silly.
    2. It may beyond you that a government or the Church may hold a position which requires conformity to a reasonable proposition. However, the fact that you nor others can appreciate nor accept a reasonable proposition such as the humanity of the unborn, for example, merely confirms you, et al, are being unreasonable or willfully ignorant. Which is it?
    3. If a woman is to make an informed and morally licit choice, then the Church, as a teacher of right behaviour (yes—She is still a teacher of right behaviour. Just because a few of her members are badly behaved does not render the teaching of the Church unreasonable.), could be considered an agent that can (and should) provide the necessary information to persuade a woman there are good and bad choices. A good choice is the protection of the unborn child; a bad choice would be to destroy that emerging life. No one has a right to destroy an innocent human life, a life, because it is human, that merits the same protection as any human life beyond the womb. Failure to acknowledge that a human being is defined as human more by his or her being(ness) than his or her viability or utility is a failure which does indicate the stupidity of the person who limits human rights to the powerful and opposes the protection of scoiety’s weakest members, i.e., the unborn.

    1. @ wendell

      1. It does. The eggs are alive before they are fertilized, before conception, they’re alive after. The only difference is how many chromosomes they have. I think human life begins with the nervous system, and that before that, it’s just a bunch of cells. To me, claiming that a human can be a single-celled embryo with two pronuclei is the silly claim. I’ve never met anyone I consider human with anything less than a trillion cells and a functioning brain.

      2. Well that just plain hurts.

      3. That’s your first point mixed with a little bit of number two.

    1. Brain damaged people do have a functioning brain and therefore are living humans. Brain-dead people do not. I consider them dead people. Comatose people with minimal brain activity I put in the same category as embryos between the point of neurulation and the point of birth: I don’t know if they qualify as living people with rights, I leave that call up to their families.

  8. The debate was over an hour so it’s not like I can just spell out all the arguments. I called the argument stupid because I was holding back from calling it disgusting. My point was confirmed that you don’t care if it is a baby or not. Since you don’t care about that, there’s no point in arguing or discussing anything because arguing with a savage with no decency is a waste of time. I used to be one so I should know.

  9. Are human beings created with a soul in the image and likeness of God, a little less than the angels, and possessed of corresponding rights and responsibilities conferred by God? If this is not true, then nothing is sacred and all morality is strictly arbitrary and ultimately reduces to ‘might makes right’. On the other hand, if it is true, then we need to be most diligent in embracing our responsibilities when demanding our rights. The most reasonable and safest assumption in applying those responsibilities with regard to human life rights for our youngest and most defenseless is that they begin as conception. At that point, even if only a single cell, it never develops into anything other than a human being (or beings in the case of identical twins). Anything else is rationalization for taking risks with another innocent person’s right to life and is morally unconscionable.

  10. If where human life begins depends on “personal belief”, that’s the same thing as saying there is no such thing as human life at all–that human life itself only exists in the imagination, in which case no one has the right to life, and murder of any kind does not exist and must not be criminalized. What Phil and those who think like him fail to grasp (knowingly or not) is that their argument legitimizes their own murders.

    If when human life begins depends on personal belief, then when Phil’s life begins depends on personal belief. In which case, if I choose to believe his life has not begun yet, then by his logic, I can have a hit man chop off his arms and legs, stab his skull, suck out his brains, and it would be immoral for the law to punish either the hit man, or me for hiring him, because “no murder was committed” because I personally chose to believe that he was not yet a human being with the right to live. That is, the government would be violating my “right to choose” when his life began if I were punished. I hope and pray that people who say things like this are just not thinking, and don’t really have death wishes for themselves: in fact, I’d imagine they don’t, otherwise why don’t they all put their money where their mouth is and commit suicide? (NOT suggesting they actually do such a horrible thing, just saying that the fact that they don’t exposes their own hypocrisy.)

    I was conceived and born after Roe v. Wade. If my mother had chosen to abort me, the United States government would have failed to secure my right to life, which the Declaration of Independence says is inexcusable–that when the government fails to do this, the people have the right to alter or abolish the government and replace it with a better one. If it was legal to kill me then, at what point did it stop being legal to kill me? Would it be legal to kill me now, when I’m a grown man? These are the most important questions there are: if this is not important, then nothing is, and nothing matters, including trying to persuade people to the pro-death position. It’s hypocrisy, all of it, by definition.

    The problem is that this is the natural result of a desire to impose “choice” over the reality. I know this isn’t the point of this particular blog entry so I won’t go into detail (especially since it’s not my blog), but sadly I fear this is the natural consequence of opposing absolute monarchy (which is THE government of Catholic Christianity, as Jesus is King of Kings, not President of Presidents), in favor of democracy. Once you get the idea into your head that our leaders must be the people’s choice instead of God’s (which doesn’t bode well for obedience when you think about it), other things that are rightly God’s choice and not the people’s (like when life begins, or where the boundaries of the sexes or marriage lie) become fair game–and the only reason it took so long is thanks to the mercy of the people, not because it naturally followed from their revolutionary beliefs.

    1. This didn’t occur to me until after I posted, and I can’t edit my post, so I’ll just add it here: even before opposing absolute monarchy came the grave sin of religious tolerance. A relationship with the Lord is something innate to our very existence–otherwise there would be no necessity for it, it would be optional only. Therefore idolatry and blasphemy are not to be treated as comparable to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Our free will must be respected, as God respects it, but error is not something to tolerate. School tests do not tolerate erroneous answers even when to refuse to tolerate them hurts the student’s feelings because he got less than a perfect score–and when it comes to God, that’s infinitely more important than a school test. When a student gets the wrong answer, do we attack the schools because the student honestly thought he got the answer right? If not, why in the world would we rather offend God than offend those who are in the wrong about Him? I would argue that even revolutionary republicanism wouldn’t have a leg to stand on were it not for the Protestant Reformation and the religious tolerance that resulted.

      I’m getting off my soapbox now before I’m tempted to take over this blog that isn’t mine.

    2. @Pair O’ Dimes

      Michael, you talk about brutally killing me, talk about religious tolerance being a sin, and suggest establishing a theocracy. I didn’t hide as an anonymous poster because I don’t believe I should have to be paranoid in expressing myself. Your two posts are disturbing.

      I’m not suggesting that killing people is acceptable based on one’s own beliefs. I’m saying there is a lack of consensus in society that life begins at conception, and there’s no factual basis for that claim either, therefore we as a society can’t very well declare embryos alive until we all agree to it or can prove it.

      This is not the case for me. I meet pretty much everyone’s definition of being alive, so it doesn’t come down to personal belief, the government has a mandate to uphold my right to life.

    3. @Phil:

      I’m not sure if I know what you think I posted. I did not in any way mean to advocate actually having you killed in such a way, as being pro-life means being pro-ALL life–but that’s what abortion amounts to, that’s why I used that graphic imagery. I was going by the logic that naturally follows through from the idea that where human life begins depends on personal belief. If where human life begins depends on the personal belief of someone else, then it naturally follows that where the destruction of a being becomes murder, and hence morally and legally wrong, depends on the personal belief of someone else. I attempted to explain why I think that view is inane and hypocritical on the part of those who believe so. If that’s not what you’re arguing, and I misunderstood you, my sincerest apologies, and I take it back–at least with regard to yourself. But if that is what you’re arguing–that where human life begins depends on someone else’s personal beliefs–then I don’t apologize and I don’t take anything back. Whether you are one of those who believe this is immaterial–the belief itself is ludicrous, and it’s hypocritical.

      You’re right that there is a lack of consensus in society that life begins at conception, but so what? Consensus doesn’t determine what is, or what is not–if it did, then we’d have to conclude that almost nothing (if anything at all) is real, because the entire human race agrees on almost nothing (and perhaps not even “almost”). And I don’t know where you’re getting your information from, but if an embryo isn’t alive, then neither you nor I am alive. If the embryo’s cells grow and divide, and if the embryo metabolizes, it is alive by definition. To claim otherwise is to ignore the reality, whether through no fault of your own or through willful ignorance–and that certainly doesn’t mean to make it a non-reality by lack of consensus.

      Again, so what? What if “pretty much everyone” is wrong, and you’re not truly alive at all? And you said “pretty much” everyone, you didn’t say “everyone”–which seems to concede that some people might believe you’re not. Without a consensus, doesn’t that mean, based on your own logic, that we as a society cannot declare you alive until we all agree to it, without exception, or can prove it to the satisfaction of those few dissenters who do not believe you’re alive?

      Facts are facts, irrespective of whether everyone (or anyone) agrees with the facts or not. If they depend on human consensus in order to be factual, then they are not facts but human mental constructs. That’s why I said that the idea that when human life begins depends on other people agreeing on it is just another way of saying there’s no such thing as human life. If human life exists, then it doesn’t matter if literally everyone is wrong as to when it begins–it begins when it begins.

      In any case, even if we can’t be sure when human life begins, isn’t it prudent to err on the side of caution?

      If the unborn is a human person and we can know it for sure, to destroy the unborn is murder by definition.

      If the unborn is a human person and we CANNOT know it for sure, to destroy the unborn is manslaughter by definition.

      If the unborn is NOT a human person and we cannot know it for sure, to destroy the unborn is criminal negligence by definition.

      Only if the unborn is NOT a human person and we CAN know this to the maximum possible degree of moral certainty is abortion not a crime by definition. And I hardly think this is true, therefore abortion is immoral no matter how you look at it. Even if there’s a chance the unborn is not a human person, if you’re not sure to a maximum possible degree of moral certainty, then to have an abortion or to perform an abortion is knowingly and deliberately acting in such a way that has a potential to be killing a human person.

  11. Phil,

    If I can redirect the discussion a bit, I’d ask this: why is murder wrong? Generally speaking, there are two camps:

    (1) Murder is wrong because it is the taking of an innocent human life. That person’s rights are violated.
    (2) Murder is wrong only because it involves the infliction of injury.

    The second camp flows naturally from the utilitarian perspective common in our society today – that we should focus on the “greatest good for the greatest number of people,” defined as maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. This is certainly the dominant view in the debate community, a community in which both you and I spent several years of our lives. It’s a view heavily indebted to Bentham and Mills

    And if this view is right, then I can definitely understand why you’d have trouble with the idea that a person without a functioning nervous system could have rights (or even be a person). Such an individual seems incapable of suffering injury, so how could it be wrong to kill them?

    But if you subscribe to that worldview (and I don’t know for sure that you do, but your comments suggest it), consider this hypothetical:

    If a scientist developed a way to replace all of the world’s air with a fatal dose of an aerosol painkiller, would that be wrong? In this admittedly unlikely hypothetical, the result would be that everyone in the world (in fact, all living creatures) would die a quick and painless death.

    Would that be immoral? If so, why?

    I.X.,

    Joe

    1. No no, I’m in the first camp, I believe murder is wrong because people have a right to life. The nervous system requirement I have is because person-hood to me seems to depend on the brain.

    2. Speaking as a biochemist, an embryo after the eighth week after conception already has a functional nervous system. It already has a brain. It is, by your definition, a person.

      Also speaking as a biochemist, my definition of personhood is the 26 pairs of chromosomes that form the human genome. By my definition (which is shared by a vast majority of my colleagues, if I may say so), personhood has begun at conception.

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