Birth Control

Albert Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, opens up a big bag of issues in his post on birth control and the evangelical.

What are the issues here? Is this a moral problem for evangelicals? Do you think this is a problem? What is your view on birth control?

The effective separation of sex from procreation may be one of the most important defining marks of our age–and one of the most ominous. This awareness is spreading among American evangelicals, and it threatens to set loose a firestorm.

Most evangelical Protestants greeted the advent of modern birth control technologies with applause and relief. Lacking any substantial theology of marriage, sex, or the family, evangelicals welcomed the development of “The Pill” much as the world celebrated the discovery of penicillin — as one more milestone in the inevitable march of human progress, and the conquest of nature….

For many evangelical Christians, birth control has been an issue of concern only for Catholics. When Pope Paul VI released his famous encyclical outlawing artificial birth control, Humanae Vitae, most evangelicals responded with disregard — perhaps thankful that evangelicals had no pope who could hand down a similar edict. Evangelical couples became devoted users of birth control technologies ranging from the Pill to barrier methods and Intrauterine Devices [IUDs]. That is all changing, and a new generation of evangelical couples is asking new questions.

A growing number of evangelicals are rethinking the issue of birth control–and facing the hard questions posed by reproductive technologies. Several developments contributed to this reconsideration, but the most important of these is the abortion revolution. The early evangelical response to legalized abortion was woefully inadequate. Some of the largest evangelical denominations at first accepted at least some version of abortion on demand….

Thus, in an ironic turn, American evangelicals are rethinking birth control even as a majority of the nation’s Roman Catholics indicate a rejection of their Church’s teaching. How should evangelicals think about the birth control question?…

Third, we should look closely at the Catholic moral argument as found inHumanae Vitae. Evangelicals will find themselves in surprising agreement with much of the encyclical’s argument. As the Pope warned, widespread use of the Pill has led to “serious consequences” including marital infidelity and rampant sexual immorality. In reality, the Pill allowed a near-total abandonment of Christian sexual morality in the larger culture. Once the sex act was severed from the likelihood of childbearing, the traditional structure of sexual morality collapsed.

At the same time, even as evangelical Christians are helpfully informed by the natural law, our mode of moral reasoning must be deeply biblical, and the Bible must be the ruling authority. For most evangelicals, the major break with Catholic teaching comes at the insistence that “it is necessary that each conjugal act remain ordained in itself to the procreating of human life.” That is, that every act of marital intercourse must be fully and equally open to the gift of children. This claims too much, and places inordinate importance on individual acts of sexual intercourse, rather than the larger integrity of the conjugal bond.

The focus on “each and every act” of sexual intercourse within a faithful marriage that is open to the gift of children goes beyond the biblical demand. Since the encyclical does not reject all family planning, this focus requires the distinction between “natural” and “artificial” methods of birth control. To the evangelical mind, this is a rather strange and fabricated distinction. Looking at the Catholic position helps, but evangelicals must also think for themselves, reasoning from the Scriptures in a careful consideration….

Fifth, with all this in view, evangelical couples may, at times, choose to use contraceptives in order to plan their families and enjoy the pleasures of the marital bed. The couple must consider all these issues with care, and must be truly open to the gift of children. The moral justification for using contraceptives must be clear in the couple’s mind, and fully consistent with the couple’s Christian commitments.

Sixth, Christian couples must ensure that the methods chosen are really contraceptive in effect, and not abortifacient. Not all birth control is contraception, for some technologies and methods do not prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg, but instead prevent the fertilized egg from successfully implanting itself in the lining of the womb. Such methods involve nothing less than an early abortion. This is true of all IUDs and some hormonal technologies. A raging debate now surrounds the question of whether at least some forms of the Pill may also work through abortifacient effect, rather than preventing ovulation. Christian couples must exercise due care in choosing a form of birth control that is unquestionably contraceptive, rather than abortifacient.

The birth control revolution has literally changed the world. Today’s couples rarely ponder the fact that the availability of effective contraceptives is a very recent phenomenon in world history. This revolution has set loose a firestorm of sexual promiscuity and much human misery. At the same time, it has also offered thoughtful and careful couples an opportunity to enjoy the joys and fulfillments of the marital act without remaining at all times equally open to pregnancy.

 

 

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://disorietedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

    Mohler seems to be engaging in a common fallacy: The notion that everything is *so much worse* today than it ever was. Perhaps it is, but he doesn’t bother to support it. The notion that birth control = promiscuous sexual behavior is assumed rather then proven. It would certainly be difficult to prove, given the existence of fertility cults, temple prostitutes and adultery as far back as you care to travel.

    True, birth control now makes it more likely that behavior can occur without the consequence of childbirth – but it also reduces the number of abortions; infanticides; children raised in poverty; and abandoned, abused and generally broken children. Once again, a leading evangelical voice is concerned about others’ morality without paying much attention to the real-world conditions from which he is safely insulated.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Why are we giving Mohler our attention? His influence only grows as we give it to him.

  • http://wallybarthman.wordpress.com/ Brian Wallace

    Anytime anyone speaks of the “good old days” I am reminder of a comment from one of my seminary professors: “There are no good ole days for my people (African Americans).”

    I refuse to believe that the past was this great thing and the present is a slow decline. The challenges facing the church change and transform and they only seem worse because we’ve dealt with (or at least know) the challenges we’ve faced in the past.

  • Phil Miller

    No American ever had premarital sex before the 1960s – it’s a bonafide fact!

    Not all birth control is contraception, for some technologies and methods do not prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg, but instead prevent the fertilized egg from successfully implanting itself in the lining of the womb. Such methods involve nothing less than an early abortion.

    It’s true that some birth control prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the wall of the uterus, but I don’t understand how we one can call this an “early abortion”. This happens a good percentage of the time just naturally (I’ve read anywhere from 30-50%). Is God responsible for all these “early abortions”, then?

  • Jeremy

    Ugh…I wonder what Al’s position on gun control is. Somehow I don’t think he’s applying his logic consistently.

    He has a good point in 6 though…it was really hard for my wife and I to get a straight answer from her OB/GYN about certain types of birth control. In his mind, preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg does not equal abortion, but we didn’t want to play that semantics game.

  • http://www.thinveil.net Brandon Vogt

    Paul and Brian: There is plenty of secular research to confirm that birth control has drastically increased the rates of divorce, infidelity, abortion, pornography, rape, hook-ups, and binge-drinking. Mary Eberstadt has an excellent new book on this research title, “Adam and Ever After the Pill.”

  • Tom F.

    Meh, Mohler is probably half-right on this one. (Never thought I’d say that!)

    The idea that technologies (such as birth control) don’t require discernment in using is indeed probably an idea that many people may have picked up from culture, and something that seems more picked up from the gospel of technological advancement than from scripture.

    On the other hand, I have never heard anyone directly address this:

    “Much more often than not, the process fails. Although the statistics on the failure rate of human fertilization are not entirely robust, given the biological and ethical delicacy of conducting research in this area, the numbers consistently suggest that, at minimum, two-thirds of all human eggs fertilized during normal conception either fail to implant at the end of the first week or later spontaneously abort.” http://discovermagazine.com/2004/may/cover/article_view?b_start:int=2&-C

    So if there’s 7 billion people on the planet right now, that means that there were another 14 billion who, if life begins at conception, never made it out of the womb. This is without any abortion. What are we to make theologically of that? No fair just saying “its up to God”, because a consistent sexual and reproductive ethic means not only cherry-picking the data that fit in nicely.

    So that’s my take: half-right, and half not addressing some really big questions. (Although maybe Mohler has spoken on this. Links would be welcome.)

  • Phil Miller

    There is plenty of secular research to confirm that birth control has drastically increased the rates of divorce, infidelity, abortion, pornography, rape, hook-ups, and binge-drinking.

    There are all sorts of factors that come into play when talking about social issues such as this. I suspect that asking 10 sociologists to analyze the data would result in 10 different answers. Charles Murray links much of these same issues to the disappearing middle class in his book Coming Apart. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that economic status plays a bigger role in predicting divorce rates than anything else. Actually, right now, in the US, wealthier people are less likely to get divorced than those on the other end of the scale.

  • scotmcknight

    I wonder if Mohler ought to appeal to Humanae Vitae, to be honest. The fundamentals of the Catholic view of sex – nuptiality, etc — are at odds with any kind of birth control. So, once Mohler permits birth control — wise birth control — moral birth control — has he not in essence undone the Catholic teaching?

  • http://disorietedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

    As Phil notes, there are numerous other factors. The legal system has changed to make divorce easier, technology has broadened the definition of unfaithfulness and made it easier, abortion was legalized. pornography is far easier to access thanks to the Internet, etc. Perhaps the hookup culture can be tied more clearly to birth control, but studies disagree on exactly how prevalent that culture is, and even if we can determine conclusively that birth control has led to a verifiable, significant increase in premarital and extramarital sex, I’m unclear as to what relevance that has for a Christian couple’s decision whether or not to use it. If the argument is that it’s a net social negative that should be banned, then we need to weigh it against all the positives (such as the prevention of unplanned pregnancies, a large percentage of which end in abortion) I mentioned above.

  • CDL

    Phil Miller (#4) and Tom F. (#7)

    You make a good point. That fact really does muddy the waters of this discussion. Things were so much simpler when the world was flat…

  • Jeremy

    Actually, it doesn’t muddy the waters at all. Human agency makes them completely different situations.

  • http://thekingsfellowship.com Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    When I was in my seminary Christian Ethics class and birth control came up, I was shocked at how none of us had even thought about it. Shouldn’t we think about it? Disagree or dislike Mohler all you want but perhaps non-Catholic Christians should engage with the issue.

    The technological severing of sex with procreation all the entailing responsibilty must have massive impact on the nature of sex, sexual unions, meaning of marriage, etc.

    Lauren Winner’s great book ‘Real Sex: the Naked Truth about Chastity’ is one that can be appreciated by all, conservative evangelicals and emergent types both. She at least stirs the pot on the issue, see page 64.

    I think we should all at least think about it.

  • Tom F.

    Oh, Jeremy, do unpack that a bit. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were avoiding the question. :)

    Sure, human agency might get you somewhere, but the question remains: Why is something that God allows to happen most of the time, so abbhorent that it requires avoiding even the remote possibility of it happening with human birth control? For example, lets say that 99% of the time, hormonal birth control prevents ovulation, but that 1% of the time, it prevents implantation. Why, if God allows eggs not to implant all the time naturally, should humans be so concerned about ticking that percentage of non-implanted eggs up from 66.6% to 66.9%?

    Theologically, why is it that God, who is so often quoted from the psalms as being responsible for what happens in the womb, so careless with a full 2/3 of fertilized eggs? What does that say about his character?

    So much is made about the “natural” order of things being important, and the basis for reproductive ethics (especially on the Catholic side). Well, here the natural order is that most eggs don’t implant. Why is the natural order a good defense of something like opposing homosexual relationships, but the natural order is not applicable to the questions regarding the status of fertilized eggs.

  • Phil Miller

    Actually, it doesn’t muddy the waters at all. Human agency makes them completely different situations.

    Well, I think that’s the thing. If we’re saying that human agency has a role in whether or not other people come into existence in the first place, it’s hardly cut and dry. I guess I’m not ready to agree that a fertilized egg should be equated with a developing fetus. It seems that the transition to personhood happens somewhere in the future.

    I’m not saying I have a good answer to these questions, but, personally, I don’t know if I would have a problem with these birth control methods, at least from an ethical standpoint. I’d think I’d actually be more concerned about the health issues that seem to be associated with some of these methods.

  • ks

    There is no logic in equating the availability of birth control to more (extra-marital) sex. Just because it is available does not mean that it is accessible or affordable or even used appropriately to prevent pregnancy. There are way too many factors in the equation. And let’s be honest, when were are talking birth control, what we really mean is the Pill, which is so scary to this guy not because of what it does but because it gives women the choice of controlling their own bodies without a man’s knowledge even. And we all know what happens when women are allowed to have that kind of power… It is a slippery slope!

  • Joshua

    “A growing number of evangelicals are rethinking the issue of birth control–and facing the hard questions posed by reproductive technologies.”

    Really? Who?

  • Joshua

    This post reminds me of why I prefer to read guys like Roger Olson. At least Olson supports his assertions with evidence, either from statistics or otherwise. Mohler makes one unsubstantiated claim after another – they can neither be refuted nor denied. And in fact, the whole post looks like a series of straw-men.

  • Dan Arnold

    I’m glad to hear Mohler beginning to talk about the lack of a theology of sex and marriage. These are things that will require far more than quoting a handful of Bible verses. For those who attack Mohler for supposedly glorifying the good ole days and not thinking about what life would be like without birth control, I suggest it would be worthwhile reconsidering what he saying. Theologically, what does it mean when we have decoupled s*x from procreation? (Sorry Patheos, this is NOT spammy!)

    I’m just not sure if Mohler or others can go down this road without ending up in the same place as the Catholic Church, which he clearly thinks “claims too much.” While Mohler points to Humanae Vitae, he ignores John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. It is an extraordinary treatment of Catholic Theology regarding Sex and Marriage, one that addresses the very points Mohler brings up. And not to open a can of worms that this post isn’t trying to address, but as Rowan Williams brings up in his essay from 20 years ago, “The Body’s Grace,” once we have decoupled reproduction from s*x, the arguments from Natural Law against homos*xuality begin to break down.

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

    I think the spam filter is bothered by my repeated use of the word “sex.” So, I’ve edited out the “e” and replaced it with an * instead to see if it will go through. I never knew spam filters were so prudish… ;)

    Something really annoys me about the way this conversation usually proceeds in evangelical circles. Mohler’s article is a case in point. The discussion of the ethics or morality of birth control is almost always done in the abstract (with not a little pining away for the moral “good ole days”–something that most women and minorities should take issue with), with little to no consideration being given to the real people who ultimately have the most, it seems, to gain and lose from the outcome of this debate: women.

    In his article, Mohler fails to even bring up the fact that women’s ability to exercise some sort of control (albeit limited and fallible) over their fertility has been a very important step in the ability of women to enter the workplace (some by choice and some by necessity) and women’s ability to exercise their vocations in ways that are not necessarily tied to the home (with the fulfillment of women’s vocations not always the same thing as paid labor). This expansion in women’s labor and vocational horizons has not been an unambiguously good thing, either, and it has its own consequences, many of which have been discussed, studied, and analyzed at great length. But, my point is this: evangelical thinkers like Mohler who don’t address the way birth control has been viewed and used by regular women–women who are seeking to make the best use of their bodies and lives and carve out the best lives for their families–are missing a large part of the point.

    At the end of the day, barring all the posited mental and emotional differences between men and women, the one thing that distinguishes women’s experience of the un-contracepted s*x act and men’s experience of the same is that, for women between the ages of 12 and 50 or so, pregnancy is always a possibility (except in cases of natural infertility, of course). And, the consequences of procreation, even with a supportive, loving, and faithful spouse, are generally born mostly by the woman for the first couple years (at least) of a child’s life (especially if the woman breastfeeds). This makes a woman’s stake in the control (again, in a limited and, yes, fallible way) of her fertility very high. Without some kind of family planning (whether it be through the Pill, NFP methods [which are much more scientifically based nowadays], condoms, or other forms of contraception), most married women (let alone single women without spouses) engaging in regular s*xual intercourse with their husbands are going to be pregnant and/or nursing children for a large portion of their adult lives. This is not necessarily bad. More power to women who want to do so! But, not all women want to do so (or even can do so, because of health reasons) or feel called to do so.

    So, I’m more than willing to have this conversation about birth control. It is important. I think the separation of sex from procreation in our cultural imagination is problematic in a number of ways. I think the loosing of s*x from marriage has resulted in a culture where, by and large, the consequences of s*x are the sole responsibility of the woman (because, if you didn’t control your fertility, then that’s clearly your problem). We should talk about all these things and what to do about them. But, we can’t return to a time when birth control was not an option. Women (and men) now have the option. Women (and men) now think about their lives in terms of the ability to, in a limited way at least, control the results of their s*xual encounters. So, let’s have a real, honest conversation about contraception, but let’s not leave out the real women whose real lives are involved here.

  • Fish

    As strawmannish as Mohler’s arguments may be, they represent another front on the war on women. I have had conversations with Christians who are receptive to the notion that if the birth control pill in some cases causes fertilized eggs to be detached, then the pill interferes with life beginning at conception and ought to be illegal. As it was here until 1963. 1963!

    It is no secret why church attendance is shrinking as negative perceptions of Christians increase. Given a choice between a daughter who is in charge of her own body and an institution which doesn’t get that, I’ll take family 100% of the time and trust that God understands.

    When the church makes war on modern women, the church is going to lose. It may take a while, but it will happen as surely as Christ rose from the dead.

  • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

    Joshua (#17),

    This is just an educated guess, but I’m pretty sure Mohler has in mind people like Doug Phillips (of Vision Forum Ministries), Voddie Baucham, and others who subscribe to so-called “Quiverfull” teaching. You can do a Google search and find quite a bit of information on them, if you aren’t familiar with their ideology already.

  • Julie

    As a medical student, I had to comment.

    First, a couple of you have very accurately pointed out the overwhelming frequency with which fertilized eggs fail to implant in the uterus. I think this would be a valid point for Mohler or others to not when in engaging in such discussions.

    Second, Mohler is inaccurate in his representation of various contraceptives’ mechanism of action. For example, the copper IUD functions by inhibiting sperm motility and thus preventing fertilization; for this reason it is considered to be a first-line form of emergency contraception after rape and such emergent situations. The hormonal IUD appears to have a similar mechanism and may even suppress ovulation to a degree. Recently published results even suggest that Plan B (the morning after pill) in fact DELAYS ovulation rather than preventing implantation. I don’t know much about the Pill except that there are numerous “Pills” which almost certainly do not uniformly fall into the same mechanistic category.

  • Phil Miller

    Theologically, what does it mean when we have decoupled s*x from procreation?

    But this hardly started with the introduction of The Pill. Perhaps the pill changed the dynamic simply because it put women in the driver’s seat. But condoms have been around for centuries (even going back to ancient Egypt).

    I guess I just don’t buy an argument that seems to be saying that the advent of the Pill changed human nature to such a degree that we’re much worse than we were before. We’ve always been bad. Even in America, there was promiscuity before the 60s. During WW1, there were all sorts of efforts made in trying to educate soldiers about STDs and the red-light districts around bases.

    Perhaps one simple reason more people have premarital sex now is simply that they’re given more freedom and opportunity to do so. Before automobiles were common, traveling for the average person was a much harder thing to do. People generally had less free time as well. I just don’t like trying to boil everything down to simple narrative when it comes to these issue.

  • Joshua

    Emily,

    Thanks, but if that’s true then Mohler should have named them and incorporated things they have either written or said into his argument.

  • SeanPN777

    “…widespread use of the Pill has led to “serious consequences” including marital infidelity and rampant sexual immorality.”

    Absurd. Was it “The Pill” or the condition of the heart? This train of logic derails quickly. Let’s apply it to another field of science and medicine…

    “…The widespread use of pain killers has led to rampant drug abuse of prescription meds, so let’s get rid of them.”

    Sorry but I think this is very poor logic that just doesn’t hold water. As has been stated above, I’m pretty sure “rampant sexual immorality” started a looong time before The Pill (anyone read a little letter written to the Corinthians lately?). I would agree with Phil at #23 that any increase we have seen is probably due more to the social acceptance of said behavior, not The Pill.

  • David LaDow

    “widespread use of the Pill has led to “serious consequences” including marital infidelity and rampant sexual immorality. In reality, the Pill allowed a near-total abandonment of Christian sexual morality in the larger culture.”

    When has the ideal state of sexual morality ever been achieved? When I study history, there always seems to have been infidelity and immorality, well before the advent of modern birth control.

  • ft
  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    I have talked to a number of doctors (mostly Christians that are also pro-life). I have yet to have one of them say that any pill is an abortifacients. I have read several that are familiar with the drug market and all of them also agree that the only reason that abortifacient is used on medical packaging is marketing. (multiple means of preventing pregnancy must be better than a single means).

    So I want to bring up the facility that is always in birth control debates that the pill is an abortifacients. If it is not, and that is the current science, then much of the discussion is really moot.

  • Elaine

    Like Dan@19, I’m not sure if Mohler or others can go down this road without ending up in the same place as the Catholic Church.
    Well said Emily@20.

  • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

    Joshua (#26),

    We agree on that. But, that would be a tricky move. I doubt very much that Mohler wants to hitch his wagon, so to speak, to the Quiverfull movement, no matter what his sympathies. Many evangelicals are wary of their ideas and they are ideologically even more to the right than Mohler and most SBC leaders. So, I think you’re right. But, I also think Mohler is too shrewd a politician to associate himself with them.

    Now, that said, some conservative evangelical women have been quietly pressing the anti-contraception perspective for some time. See, for example SWBTS “first lady” Dorothy Patterson’s article on the topic here: http://www.dorothypatterson.info/Contraception.cfm. Also, Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ bestselling book, Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free, offers the same point of view.

  • Robin

    Julie,

    Could you please explain for laymen how firm those understandings of the mechanisms by which various forms of birth control are. I remember sitting with our OB right after we were married and discussing different birth control options. The bottom line on most methods were “we are pretty sure it works by doing “x”, but there is a small chance it could be doing “y.” So with something like the morning after pill, is it that most physicians/clinicians now think it works by delaying ovulation, but the mechanism is still complex enough that it could be working by preventing implantation…or is it clear enough now that we are 100% sure it is not operating in the latter manner?

    I guess my overall impression on birth control methods is that we generally have a dim understanding of the actual mechanisms and you appear to be stating we have more certainty than I previously understood us to have.

  • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

    ft (#29),

    Thanks for the article! Burleson has been a flashpoint of controversy within the SBC for a number of reasons, but he has been one of the few (that I know of) to weigh in publicly against the creeping Quiverfull theology in the evangelical right. Again, I think there is good reason to see behind Mohler’s article a real sympathy with the QF point of view, particularly since both Mohler and QF teachers share patriarchal gender ideology and eager participation in the Christian “culture war” (which QF families hope to win by out-populating and out-educating their non-Christian or liberal Christian neighbors).

  • Robin

    Here is an interesting article on how the pill affected s*xual immorality in the early days. It was written by a woman who was coming of age at the same time the pill was introduced. Her perspective was that prior to the arrival of the pill, one of the main reasons women (in that time) had for denying intercourse was the procreation outcome. Her contention is that young women were unprepared for dealing with the (sometimes unwelcome) advances of young men when they could no longer point to childbirth as an excuse. They were put under more pressure to welcome unsolicited sexual advances.

    It is anecdotal, but I think it does provide an important look into the emotional and psychological upheaval that such a change in technology could produce.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1346813/The-flip-1960s-sexual-revolution-We-paid-price-free-love.html

  • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

    BTW, for those interested in the genealogy of the anti-contraception movement within American evangelicalism, the two (now out of print) books that were the “first shots” (that I know of) were Charles Provan’s The Bible and Birth Control (http://amzn.com/9991799834) and Rick and Jan Hess’, A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ (http://amzn.com/0943497833). There have been others since then, but Provan was an influence on Mary Pride (The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality), whose book is looked upon by many as the antifeminist, pro-natal starting point for the Quiverfull movement. The Hesses wrote their book in response to Pride’s and with her endorsement. Doug Phillips, whose father was converted to Christ by the late R. J. Rushdoony (whose theology remains influential on Phillips), now carries the banner most publicly with his organization, Vision Forum Ministries, with which a number of SBC ministers cooperate and/or support.

  • Angela

    This article makes me wonder where Mohler is getting the idea that such a large majority of evangelical, childbearing-age married couples are lacking in God honoring thought and consideration in their family planning decisions. Secondly, how is an ill-organized internet text, that could be interpreted judgementally, suddenly supposed to nurturingly prompt a couple to think about their family planning in a way that honors God, if it’s not been something they’ve realized needs to be discussed?

  • jim

    Tom F#14 and a few others similar sentiments.
    “Theologically, why is it that God, who is so often quoted from the psalms as being responsible for what happens in the womb, so careless with a full 2/3 of fertilized eggs? What does that say about his character?”
    It says he is God. And he alone has the rights to determine which ones will and which ones wont implant.

  • AHH

    Robin @33,
    Here is the recent NYTimes story on how “morning after” contraception (Plan B) works by preventing fertilization, not by preventing implantation:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/health/research/morning-after-pills-dont-block-implantation-science-suggests.html
    Sounds like the science on that conclusion is at the “almost certain” level but not at the absolute 100% level which is pretty hard to achieve on internal medical things.

  • Phil Miller

    It says he is God. And he alone has the rights to determine which ones will and which ones wont implant.

    Can God’s rights be overthrown by a pill then? Or what about cases of IVF? Could God not have gotten the job done without the intervention of modern medicine? It just seems that pat answers like this create more questions than they answer.

  • gingoro

    I agree with Mark Baker-Wright, why are we giving Mohler more places to push his point of view.
    DaveW

  • jim

    maybe “rights” wasn’t the correct word. But, yes, seems like Gods will can be overthrown. He clearly doesn’t condone me walking up to my neighbor and slapping him in the face. But i can still go ahead and do that if i so choose.
    re IVF, Lets stick to one topic at a time. :)

  • Erin

    Let me start by saying that I’m a mother of 1 daughter, an evangelical feminist, and a full-time PhD student (so not at all fan of the ‘full quiver’ movement), and I think that Mohler has brought up (albeit poorly) an important issue for evangelical married couples to think about. My husband and I have been married for 8 years, and we’ve practiced Natural Family Planning (NFP) for five years. I started taking hormonal birth control when we got married, and in my experience it 1) had some very scary side effects (uncontrollable mood changes and spikes in blood pressure) and 2) made me feel like I was enslaved to “the pill” in order to prevent pregnancy (heaven forbid if I forgot to take it one day!). In our experience NFP accomplishes birth control and family planning in a way that honors a woman’s body (and God’s design of it), and creates intimacy between a husband and wife. Admittedly, it does tie s*x more closely to procreation, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t mean that “each and every act” is equally likely to result in procreation. What practicing NFP has taught me is that conceiving and procreating isn’t a roll of the dice, and there are very predictable times of the month (the two-ish weeks after a woman’s ovulation/fertile period and cervix closing) that pregnancy is impossible. Of course, it’s possible to practice NFP carelessly and thus wind up with an unplanned pregnancy (but that’s also true of some forms of hormonal birth control), but it’s worked well in both directions for us (it only took us a month to conceive our daughter). And Although it may seem like NFP is incompatible with feminism, in our marriage it has proved to be a more empowering form of birth control than the pill. I think what Mohler’s article points out is that conversations about birth control and family planning need to happen, and that education about all viable options is key.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    @Erin,

    I think one of the issues is that many women have different responses to birth control. That is true of every medication. So some react badly, some react well. I think that it is probably the wrong decision to take some people’s bad reactions and say it is inappropriate to use for everyone.

    The same could be said for NFP. Many women have uneven cycles or other issues that would make NFP difficult to practice. I think if that is your chosen method and it works, then great. But fundamentally, what is different between using NFP and other methods of birth control.

    Either we believe that it is morally appropriate to have some control over the birth of children or we don’t.

  • Erin

    @Adam

    1) I didn’t say that hormonal birth control was inappropriate for everyone to use. I was speaking from my own experience to give a different perspective on NFP. Namely that people who practice NFP are not necessarily synonymous with people who espouse the ideology of movements like the full quiver movement.

    2) Most of the NFP material available is distributed by Catholics, which suggests that even Catholics think it’s morally appropriate for married couples to exercise control over their fertility.

    3) NFP has come a long way in its methods for detecting fertility. I have an uneven cycle and we’ve practiced it with no problem, so an uneven cycle doesn’t necessarily rule out successful use of NFP.

    For me, the fundamental difference between using NFP and using hormonal birth control is that I don’t have to put hormones in my body that make me sick. I’m in support of birth control, and of women (and couples) taking control of their fertility. I just think people should be aware that hormonal birth control isn’t the only option, because for me it was an unhealthy one.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    @Erin,

    I postit your point that you can practice NFP and not espouse some of the negative idea.

    My point about your 2) isn’t that NFP doesn’t extert control over fertility. But that much of the discussion asserting that other birth control methods are morally different than NFP.

    3) That may be. My issues are primarily about its morality.

  • Erin

    @ Adam,

    Fair enough, NFP doesn’t exert control over whether a woman is fertile. I was just responding to your phrasing “either we believe it is morally appropriate to have some control over the birth of children or we don’t.” For most couples, NFP certainly accomplishes control over the birth of children (both in preventing pregnancy and in procreating).

    Re: 3) are you suggesting that NFP is immoral?

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    @Erin

    Sorry, I think we are talking past one another.

    My issue is primarily that many people that suggest that NFP is the only acceptable form of birth control also suggest that other forms of birth control are wrong because they are working to prevent God from acting. But because NFP is fairly reliable when used appropriately, especially with modern tools, it would seem to me that NFP would have the same moral objections that other birth control methods have.

    So either birth control (including NFP) is wrong or birth control (including NFP) is not morally wrong.

    That doesn’t mean that particular methods don’t have some issues, but that the act of controlling fertility isn’t the primarily moral issue. (Which is what Mohler and the Catholic church seem to be suggesting.)

  • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

    Erin (#42),

    I really appreciate the point of view you’re raising regarding the benefits of artificial birth control (ABC) vs. NFP methods for women seeking to plan their families. I have a number of colleagues happily using NFP methods and I know from experience that ABC does not necessarily mean “control” at all. (My proof is my beautiful 22 month-old daughter, who is only 14 months younger than her brother.) :) I’ve been “thinking out loud” about this issue vis-a-vis feminism on my blog over the last couple of years. I’m not trying to toot my own horn at all, but you might be interested in these two posts responding to a controversial commercial for the birth control pill, Beyaz:

    http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com/2011/01/beyaz-popular-feminism-of-mass-media.html

    http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com/2011/03/beyaz-commercial-part-2-making-myself.html

  • JohnM

    Scot,

    Why bother quoting Al Mohler in this forum? If Al Mohler said kittens and puppies are cute some of your commenters would declare they are all hideous and to be despised because Mohler likes them. That reaction is pretty much a given with this group.

    I’ve always understood “Sixth, Christian couples must ensure that the methods chosen are really contraceptive in effect, and not abortifacient.” Beyond that I never saw anything wrong with birth control. However, I have to admit it raises a question of values and priorities. For married couples might it not come down to our reason for contracepting (didn’t know that was a word until I heard it on Catholic radio) is simply wanting to have more for ourselves, with less personal sacrifice? Is that so bad? I don’t know, but how good does it sound when you say it like that?

    It might be true “Once the sex act was severed from the likelihood of childbearing, the traditional structure of sexual morality collapsed”. However, that doesn’t speak well of the traditional structure of sexual morality either since it suggests the only motive for self control and fidelity was fear of temporal consequences to oneself. That’s fine for the world, and maybe we shouldn’t expect more, but Christians have better reasons.

  • Tom F.

    Jim, don’t get sidetracked- I’m not saying that God doesn’t have the right to have 2/3rds of embryo’s not implant. (I’m not sure what that would even mean anyway.)

    I’m asking: Given that 2/3rds of embryos don’t implant, and that God is responsible for this 2/3rds number, what does that mean about God and embryos? I mean, if he’s God, why not just prevent these eggs from being fertilized? Why allow them to be fertilized and then not allow them to implant? If life begins at conception, what does it mean that God wanted so few human lives to come to development? I don’t these questions are going to go away by just telling people, “Well, that’s God, and he gets to decide that.” Awful convenient way to end a discussion, no? Maybe you can make a better case if you would care to suggest why God did it that way? Otherwise, people might suspect that the uncertainty in this area makes you uncomfortable, and you’d simply like the status quo upheld without talking about it. And that makes people suspicious. (I doubt you put up with this move in arguments that you don’t already find attractive, anyway.)

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m open to the idea that life begins at conception. I consider myself a moderate on abortion, and I can see good reason that pretty quickly in development of an embryo, we probably shouldn’t allow abortion. But when folks like Mohler start suggesting that we should be worried about a slim chance that human contraception might occassionally lead to an egg not fertilizing, I start to scratch my head, since God is apparently okay with it happening. And not just happening, but happening A LOT.

    And so I begin to wonder…is something else driving Mohler’s argument at this point? Would love to hear differently, that someone has figure this stuff out, and that there’s no agenda, and great. But unfortunately, it looks like “God gets to do whatever he wants” is the best I’m going to get, huh.

  • http://lukeandstephdubbs@blogspot.com Luke D

    As part of this “younger generation” and as a newly wed (4 months), this has been something I thought about a good bit. Some friends of ours were under the conviction that they were trusting God with all of their lives (finances, job, vocation…) but then controlling the number of kids they had and so they stopped using birth control and then soon were pregnant. When I talked to my parents about the whole thing, the wisdom they gave was memorable:

    my mom said: “God wants you to have as many kids as you humanly can, be careful” :)
    and then my dad pointed out that we just don’t live in an agrarian society anymore where families need 6 or 8 kids to run a farm; so now raising a little tribe is an enourmous difficulty in this differently shaped culture. So that second quote for me, was really helpful on wrestling with the issue.

    and thanks Scott, for being open to look in all directions and denominations throughout the church

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    John M.

    If Al Mohler said kittens and puppies are cute some of your commenters would declare they are all hideous and to be despised because Mohler likes them. That reaction is pretty much a given with this group.

    While I don’t think Mohler would come down on the side of liking kittens and puppies ;) , I don’t think your comment has much evidence here. You are making allegations that do not have substance. Most, if not all, of the arguments on this page seem fair handed. It seems you are trying to pick a fight and demean folks here.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I believe that I have Al Mohler’s MO down. It used to annoy me that he largely does not advocate one position or another throughout most of his article, but then he turns at the end and makes his position clear, though not too clear.

    One of the old adages of sales is that if you can get them saying yes 10 times, it is almost a virtual certainty that you will get the 11th. So in this article, most of the article is filled with material that is motherhood and apple pie.

    1. Children are not just be impositions
    2. We have sex for several reasons, just one is to procreate
    3. People should consider the Catholic argument and weigh it.
    4. We are no obliged by scripture to have as many children as possible
    5. Evangelical couple may, at times, use birth control
    6. Make sure you are taking contraceptives and not abortifacient

    You will not find many people in any religious stripe that will argue with most of that. Perhaps number 6 is a bit controversial, but not to someone who even knows Al Mohler’s name.

    His point that he wants to implant is buried in this paragraph

    The birth control revolution has literally changed the world. Today’s couples rarely ponder the fact that the availability of effective contraceptives is a very recent phenomenon in world history.This revolution has set loose a firestorm of sexual promiscuity and much human misery. At the same time, it has also offered thoughtful and careful couples an opportunity to enjoy the joys and fulfillments of the marital act without remaining at all times equally open to pregnancy.

    As noted earlier, all we have to do is read Corinthians or that book that talks about Sodom to know that this is not really biblical. Al Mohler is trying to set up the world as evil and he has a solution. That is wrong.

  • JohnM

    DRT – “Most, if not all, of the arguments on this page seem fair handed.”
    Re-read some of the comments. You don’t need the “if”. There are some good comments, but among them you’ll see that even some of the comments that kind of agree with Mohler’s point aren’t exactly going out of the way to give Mohler any credit.

    I’m not an Albert Mohler groupie myself, but know a little bit about his views and some about the majority report in this forum and whenever I see the article by him posted here I think to myself “wait for it…wait for it”. I didn’t have to wait long.

  • MSP

    What bothers me is the comment about the separation of sex from birth control being a defining mark of this age. It demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the history of birth control, which existed as early as ancient Egypt and was widely, widely practiced throughout the nineteenth century.

  • Robin

    I think Mohler’s main point, and it is a big one, is that evangelicals don’t even have a framework for thinking about contraception. I thought about it when I got married. Since then I haven’t thought about it at all from a theological position. I haven’t spent time pondering what our bodies or for, if contraception enhances or interferes with that purpose, I have basically been on auto-pilot for 8 years, and there is nothing within evangelicalism that would prompt me to do otherwise.

    Christ is Lord of all, and even apart from proof-texts evangelicals need to at least think through contraceptive issues. I have never, not once, seen it discussed in any protestant church setting, from any position. Our bodies, reproduction, all of that is to important to just ignore.

  • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

    Is it possible that some people’s general distaste and easy criticism of Mohler is something he has earned to some degree? I’m not sure why commenters making swift work of dissecting Mohler’s argument is indicative of a flaw on their part. You don’t earn a reputation for being a combative, culture war fundamentalist for no reason.

  • scotmcknight

    Robin, as a former Catholic, do you think Mohler’s appeal to Humanae Vitae is reasonable? Doesn’t it’s logic lead to non-contraceptive sex?

  • Phil Miller

    Christ is Lord of all, and even apart from proof-texts evangelicals need to at least think through contraceptive issues. I have never, not once, seen it discussed in any protestant church setting, from any position. Our bodies, reproduction, all of that is to important to just ignore.

    Actually, my experience of it has been just the opposite. Evangelicals are obsesses about talking married people’s sex lives. They want to tell people how often they should have sex, what they can and can’t do, whether the lights should be on (sadly, not a joke), etc. Actually, I think it’s a big issue in many Evangelical churches because there’s still a culture in many of them that says that until a woman is a mother, she’s really hasn’t fulfilled her purpose on the earth. Women who delay having children for a while after they’re married are looked at with great suspicion.

    So I’ve heard plenty of Evangelical’s opinions on birth control. There may be a lack of coherent theological thought behind it, but, heck, that doesn’t usually stop someone from talking about something.

  • Robin

    Phil,

    talking about sex isn’t the same thing as having a theology of pharmaceutical contraception. A well rounded Christianity should produce Christians who know how to think critically about everything from contraception to fair trade coffee. The lack of critical thought about this issue shows the real anemia of a soterian-centric Christianity.

    Scot,

    I am not familiar enough with humanae vitae to comment intelligently on that. I will say that once you start using the traditional Catholic manual contraception, you have already allowed that not every s*xual encounter is intended for procreation, so from a theological standpoint I see very little difference between “pulling out” (sorry, I know this is a family blog but I can’t think of another way to put it) and the use of condoms or other physical barriers.

  • Julie

    Robin (#32), though nothing in medicine is 100% certain, changed paradigms of thinking rarely revert to the previously held ones. A previous poster linked the NYTimes article about Plan B. I also uncovered the most recent medical review of copper and hormonal IUDs’ mechanisms of action; the abstract concludes with, “The common belief that the usual mechanism of action of IUDs in women is destruction of embryos in the uterus is not supported by empirical evidence.” (The paper points out that in animal models the IUD is toxic to sperm.)

    An angle that no one here has examined yet is that contraceptives overtly marketed as such are not the only agents we ingest that reduce fertility. For example, certain foods can thin the uterine lining, making implantation of a fertilized egg less successful. I’m sure other medications can have similar effects, not to mention putting one’s body through consistently intense exercise. I have yet to hear a religious figurehead rail against such foods, drugs, or activities in the name their “abortive” potential. I’m not suggesting that anyone rely on low-estrogen foods as a means of contraception(!), but it begs the question of how far we should go if anything potentially abortive is considered sinful.

  • JohnM

    Emily Hunter McGowin #57 – Whether or not one feels Mohler has earned easy criticism as a person his argument should be evaluated on merit and some of the comments were not so much dissecting the argument as slashing at the man. I do give you credit for honestly acknowledging there is a negative predispostion regarding Mohler here. I’m not worried about him, for all I know he may relish the criticism, and as I said before, I don’t really follow him, though I don’t find him as objectionable as all that either. What he wrote is worth reading and I just note there isn’t much use trying to have discussion based on a persons commentary if the knee jerk reaction is going to be it-must-be-stupid-because-he-said-it.

  • Scott Blasco

    I find the “but 2/3rds of embryos don’t implant at all, and God allows that, so why would intentionally preventing one more from implanting be immoral” line of reasoning almost hilariously ridiculous. Let’s expand the sample size of genetically unique human organisms (which includes both an embryo and an adult): “100% of humans die, and God allows that, so why would intentionally making one die be immoral?”

    Agency completely changes the question. One happens naturally (miscarriage before birth, just plain-old “death” afterward), the other is the result of a human being’s actions (abortion, murder, euthanasia, etc). In all cases, an individual human organism dies, but in a couple of them, the cause of that death is some immoral action. No muddy waters, here.

  • Tom F.

    John M.- Good point about reflexive distrust of what Mohler says. I noticed that in myself as I was writing, and so I tried to post something in my first post about an area of agreement. I don’t like the idea that I would not consider someone’s thoughts just because of who the thoughts come from.

    It sort of reflexive: as I hear what he has to say, I feel somehow like he is wagging his finger at me as someone who has questions in this area, and so I only have two options, either agree with him, or get defensive. (I’m not saying he actually is or isn’t “finger-wagging”, just where I’m coming from.) I tried to say something nice, but I’ll admit, its hard to. A sort of “third-way” response is really difficult with morally charged issues that feel like its not okay to disagree on. I mean, if I have doubts in this area, does that mean that I’m part of the people who are ruining America? God help us all as we grow in truth and love.

    Blessings-

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    A bit late on the conversation and honestly haven’t read it all so forgive me if I am repeating things already said, but I wanted to add something. If you look at actual birth rates as well as records it turns out that the pill in and of itself wasn’t nearly as revolutionary as we think it is. Birth rates fell to modern levels repeatedly during times of severe economic hardships. People have known how to control their fertility (and not just through abstinence!) since time immemorial. Believe it or not, using crocodile dung as a cervical cap can be quite effective. The biggest consequence of the pill wasn’t really that sex and procreation could be de-coupled, it was that it was sold as a way of doing that. It was new and modern and scientific. And people put their faith in scientific progress in a way that they hadn’t done with other methods that had previously been used to prevent contraception.

    Of course, as a means of preventing unwanted pregnancies, the pill and it’s other modern contraceptive methods have failed horrendously. Yes, they work for those who use them diligently, but obviously not nearly enough people use them diligently for the claim that sex and procreation have been decoupled to have any validity at all. The ever increasing numbers of children born to single mothers should make that abundantly clear.

    As to the Roman Catholic Church’s claims about contraception, I think that they should be taken very, very seriously – up to a point. I think that it ought to be entirely possible for a faithful couple to accept the warnings and perils of modern views of contraception without eschewing contraception altogether. I think that it is clear that in practice a couple can avoid the pitfall of “contraception mentality” while still making wise use of contraception as a tool for choosing when to be open to the conception of children and when the arrival of a new family member would be harmful or inappropriate. But I do agree that the cautions about contraception ought to be taken very seriously.

  • Erin

    Scot,

    I know your question about Mohler’s appeal to the Humanae Vitae was directed to Robin, but as a former Catholic myself, and a current practitioner of NFP, I thought I would offer my two cents. I would agree that the logic of the Humanae Vitae does lead to non-contraceptive sex, and furthermore, I don’t think Mohler does a very good job of representing the heart of the Catholic position on birth control, which is that married love and family planning requires parental responsibility, education about the reproductive process (NFP isn’t a withdrawal method – in fact, I think the literature speaks directly against practicing withdrawal as a form of birth control if my memory serves me correctly), and spiritual maturity from both partners (in terms of abstaining during times of fertility to prevent pregnancy, honoring one another as s*xual beings, etc.). At one point (though not the point Mohler quoted) the Humanae Vitae reads that, “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life,” which is not necessarily the same as Mohler’s summary: “that every act of marital intercourse must be fully and equally open to the gift of children.” The absence of artificial birth control does not necessarily equate to a blithe and fatalistic view of reproduction (as Mohler’s statement seems to suggest). Rather, the Catholic position advocates that married couples “experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception…[and] acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator.” However, given that the Humanae Vitae is unequivocally against all forms of artificial birth control, I don’t know if Mohler can have it both ways (and I think he should take a bit more care to accurately portray the Catholic position). But I also think that the Catholic Church has the theological high ground on this one at the moment, as Mohler’s position on artificial methods of contraception isn’t nearly as coherent as the Humanae Vitae’s theological defense of NFP, at least in this article.

    As a side note: although this is anecdotal, in my experience NFP has (as the Humanae Vitae promises) fostered greater levels of intimacy, love, and respect between my husband and me precisely because we have had to take greater responsibility for our family planning. It has also given me a greater appreciation for God’s good design of our s*xuality, and of childbearing as a wholesome and beautiful (and dare I say s*xual *gasp*) experience. Though we did not begin practicing NFP on moral grounds, it certainly has enriched our marriage in ways that artificial birth control failed to.

  • Phil Miller

    talking about sex isn’t the same thing as having a theology of pharmaceutical contraception. A well rounded Christianity should produce Christians who know how to think critically about everything from contraception to fair trade coffee. The lack of critical thought about this issue shows the real anemia of a soterian-centric Christianity.

    Can’t really argue with this line of thought. My point was simply that I have heard a surprising amount of talk about birth control in Evangelical circles even if the theological underpinnings of the discussions are a bit cloudy. I see a lot of people wanting to take stands without really quite knowing why they’re taking the position they’re taking. Perhaps that a better way to say what I was trying to get at.

  • Phil Miller

    Agency completely changes the question. One happens naturally (miscarriage before birth, just plain-old “death” afterward), the other is the result of a human being’s actions (abortion, murder, euthanasia, etc). In all cases, an individual human organism dies, but in a couple of them, the cause of that death is some immoral action. No muddy waters, here.

    It still leaves quite a lot of grey areas with regards to the issue, though. What is natural? Is a withdrawal method “natural”? Why couldn’t that be said to be interfering with the process that was put in place by God? These issues are tricky because it isn’t simply a matter of God predetermining what is going to happen. There seems to be a lot in which humans have a say, too. Truly determining causality is actually not the simplest thing to do.

    Even beyond the questions of causality, for me it still comes down to whether or not we’re prepared to say that a fertilized egg should be treated as a human being. The fact that so many of them never are implanted or even fail to make past a few days after being implanted seems to lean towards them being something else. If we’re saying that the Christian principle at play is respecting human life, it seems that God designed a process which is in and of itself rather wasteful with life (again, if a person says that a fertilized egg is a human being).

  • Kristin

    While I admire the rhetoric of “life begins at conception” I do not find it helpful in the end. Ecclesiastes 11:5 “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” I find it really pretentious to claim to know the answer to exactly when life begins and then spout of contraceptive rules and regulations based on this claim. According to this line of thinking I probably have several embryo children in heaven that I didn’t even know about and heaven is primarily filled with chromosomally abnormal embryos that didn’t make the cut. When you add up failed implantations, miscarriages, and still births, you approach a nearly 90% rate of ‘mortality’ before birth. It makes no sense.

    Instead, we can acknowledge our bodies were created by God for reproduction and should consider carefully if we attempt to alter the natural process. It’s not about rules and pills, but about the heart and honoring the fact that God created us to have children. We should be encouraging believers to have a desire for children, be patient for them to reach that point, and be gracious to those who never do….not force them into parenthood by demonizing birth control.

  • http://thinklaughweepworship.blogspot.com Emily Hunter McGowin

    I tend to be very supportive of NFP methods and the benefits that, I think, are experienced by couples who commit to non-artificial forms of birth control. But, to complicate things a little bit, those who are interested can read a series of posts over at the Women in Theology blog, which featured a series of stories from real women (all Catholic, I think) who used or use NFP. The index to the series can be found here. Again, I think hearing from the experiences of real women is helpful for this conversation. Not all women who use NFP found the practice life-giving or empowering.

  • Phil Miller

    We should be encouraging believers to have a desire for children, be patient for them to reach that point, and be gracious to those who never do….not force them into parenthood by demonizing birth control.

    Why should we encourage believers to have a desire for children? If it’s a matter of discouraging selfishness, I guess I can see some point in that. But, honestly, I guess I’d rather see people who don’t really feel a need to have children simply not feel pressured into having them at all (which, I know you kind of said that, too).

    I guess I see a lot of people in the church who seem to be telling others something like, “you’ll never be truly happy or fulfilled until you have children.” While some people do seem to really find those things through children, not everyone does. I think a lot of it has to do with a person’s innate desires. I know women who’ve dreamt of having children since they were little girls. I also know women who truly have no desire to have them (some married women, too). I don’t think either type of woman is more Godly than the other. They’re just different.

  • Tom F.

    Scott- I don’t feel you have fairly represented my point. Feels a bit like a straw man to me.

    Furthermore, you may be be begging the question. The questions is: “How should we view fertilized but not implanted eggs”. You are right: there are no muddy waters if its simply assumed that any prevention of the implantation of a fertilized egg is wrong. But that is the question I am raising: why is it wrong if God allows it to happen so often? And you can’t answer that question by simply reasserting that it is wrong.

    As to why this logic doesn’t lead to all human beings becoming permissible to be killed, its because the moral status of human beings is not in question. The question is, should fertilized but not implanted eggs be placed in the same category as living, breathing human beings?

    I think you have to tie yourself in knots to get there, including having to start worrying about any human actions that might prevent this. This includes contraception, but as we know more, the scope of responsibility for women increases absurdly. As Julie has noted, certain foods affect implantation rates. If a woman eats those foods, and knows that this may affect her chances of the egg implanting, is she committing abortion by eating those foods? All of sudden, the ethical burden becomes more restrictive than it ever was, even under the most restrictive ethics. But if you will allow them those foods, than why not contraception that may have the same effect?

    Furthermore, the logical extension (why not just allow for the killing of all human beings) that you are trying to force me into might come back and bite you. For example, there is a certain conservative economic argument that suggests that God has given economic abilities and intelligence to some, which allows for them to make more money, than those whom he has given less intelligence/ability to. In effect, God allows for economic inequality in society by allowing for an unequal distribution of talents. Let’s take the poor to be analogous to fertilized but not implanted embryos, and the rich to be analogous to the implanted embryos.

    Human agency increases poverty based on these unequal talents all the time, at least in our country. It increases poverty at least some of the time amongst people who do not have immoral reasons for being poor. (I think the immorality thing is overplayed, but I will grant that it is a subset of those who are poor to avoid a red herring.) Does that mean that conservatives who hold this theory of unequal outcomes could be accused of morally justifying poverty 100% of the time?

    I wouldn’t make this case, but it seems similar. Conservatives who are theologizing about economics begin with a natural phenomenon (the fact of poverty) that is morally undesirable (poverty) and justify human agency that leads to its outcome some (not all) of the time based on the fact that God allows for it. How is what I’m doing with human embryos different?

    Of course, you may be more consistent, and you may or may not try and justify poverty, or you may justify it in different ways. I wish I knew how Mohler justifies it, but apparently for all of his copious blogging, he has never done a post that tried to tackle the causes of poverty from a theological point of view. That’s pretty concerning in itself. Thousands of blog posts, and you never once address poverty from a theological point of view? (Again, open to hearing about posts I may have missed.)

  • AHH

    To the extent Christians think theologically about reproduction and birth control (which I agree is needed), stewardship of God’s creation must be a part of the discussion. Overpoulation is putting an increasing amount of stress on God’s world. At some point, we must consider the extent to which adding to the population beyond a replacement level may be unloving toward our neighbors on the planet, and to future generations, who suffer the consequences of our poor creation stewardship.
    Not that this issue should rule the discussion (it would not justify abortion, for example), but we can’t go forward assuming that adding more children to this finite world is an unambiguous good.

  • Scott Blasco

    Neither structures of poverty (an admittedly serious issue) nor “pulling out” at all change the dynamics of what I posted above. Structures of poverty may be rooted in different innate abilities (or different levels of initiative, depending on whom you ask), but are ultimately precisely what they are: structures built and sustained by human actions. To that extent, our participation in them should absolutely be the subject of careful and focused scrutiny. Coitus interruptus or barrier methods likewise have no bearing on what I posted above, because what I posted above was directed at contraceptive methods that may work by preventing the implantation of a embryo.

    Hemming and hawing over “well, maybe a fertilized egg isn’t human” is utterly unscientific. An embryo is a genetically unique member of the species homo sapiens at the earliest point of development. Consult any embryology textbook and you’ll find the same. It is an individual human being. If you want to stick to science, an embryo is literally as human as you are. Constructs such as “personhood” are perhaps useful in some settings, but if you want to go there, you need some non-arbitrary means of determining that at point X of development a human organism suddenly attains “person” status and should be protected from direct killing (development being a continuous process, though, a “point X” would be perhaps impossible to really nail down… when does an infant become a toddler? At what point is a person “elderly?”).

  • Tom F.

    Scott- watch the tone. “Hemming and hawing” gets my blood going a bit. Apparently my questions are illegitimate?

    I don’t understand the “scientific” thing: yes as a scientific category, maybe it is as “human” as I am, but science doesn’t traffic in ethical categories. For example, “you shouldn’t kill humans” is not something that is scientifically verifiable. Therefore, the “scientific” category of human is somewhat impotent in terms of ethical questions. Science is an important aid to ethical reflection. But I don’t think it can “settle” this issue quite as easily as you say.

    I think again, we are still begging the question. Moral reflection before modern science did not consider embryos. (It seems as though quite a few people thought that humans were whole, and inside sperm. This used to be the reason why (male) masturbation was considered a truly awful sin, as it literally destroyed future human life.) The question is whether the embryo, scientifically defined as continuous with human life, fits into the same sort of ethical category as human being, with destruction of embryos = destruction of human life = something as awful as the murder of my neighbor. Are you really saying that the fact that extremely large numbers of embryos fail to implant has no bearing on the significance of how human agency might be involved in causing them not to implant? That seems extreme. Furthermore, why is science a consideration in establishing human personhood in a genetic sense (as you referred above), but not a consideration when it comes to the actual mechanics of natural reproduction and the rates of failure, as I’m trying to suggest? I would love for both to be involved, but I usually only hear about one or the other from each side.

    Granted, a non-arbitrary point to say: “here is a human life that we should protect at any cost” is a point lacking to me and those who would look to explore other ethical ways of approaching this issue within the Christian tradition apart from an increasingly rightward turn. I didn’t say I had everything figured out. It would just mean a lot to me if YOU could grant that its a pretty weird thing that something that we have to avoid so strongly (the destruction of embryos) is something that God appears to have built in with a pretty high failure rate. Something so serious that people may need to stop using contraception because there might be an extremely small chance that a fertilized egg might not implant. It would just mean a lot to know that you look at that and share some tension over why that might be.

    Also, glad to hear that you think poverty is maintained (in part) by human action. I think that makes you the most consistent, and I also hope that your consistency will mean that as you hear religious conservatives make arguments that suggest otherwise, you will gently correct them.

    Peace

  • Phil Miller

    It is an individual human being. If you want to stick to science, an embryo is literally as human as you are. Constructs such as “personhood” are perhaps useful in some settings, but if you want to go there, you need some non-arbitrary means of determining that at point X of development a human organism suddenly attains “person” status and should be protected from direct killing (development being a continuous process, though, a “point X” would be perhaps impossible to really nail down… when does an infant become a toddler? At what point is a person “elderly?”).

    Well, it’s hard to defend the position that all embryos are precious human beings when so many of them are simply destroyed in the process by default. I mean, the logical outworking of that means that we should be medically intervening to collect these fertilized embryos in some way and try to implant them. We have the technology to do that, after all. Yes, an embryo does represent a unique human organism in the sense that it is possesses a unique genome, but is that what truly makes us human?

    It seems that being a creature that is made in the image of God implies something beyond pure genetics. It’s interesting that in Leviticus, the penalty for killing a pregnant women’s fetus was the paying of a fine, not the life of the offender. “Quickening”, the time when the Jews believed the soul entered the baby was not until the mother felt movement – typically 40 days after conception or so. I’m not saying these are definitive answer. It just seems that’s there other things to consider.

  • Holly

    You all were waiting to hear from the woman who has 9 kids (and who is not quiverfull nor Catholic, right?)

    I thought that Mohler had some good points regarding evangelicals. By and large, we *have* lost our view of children as a good and worthwhile result of marriage. I think that’s sad, and I think that’s our loss. Kids ARE great, and they are a very worthwhile investment of our lives – whether biological, sponsored, fostered or adopted.

    But I thought the integrity of his argument broke down at the end. It’s as if he’s saying, “YES. Kids are good! People should want them! People should embrace pregnancy as part and parcel of a healthy, Christian marriage. But gosh darn it – NOT 15 kids. That’d be crazeeeee! Reject the birth control mindset – but please, people, use it wisely!”

    Okay. I loosely paraphrased. (Grin.) But that’s the sort of sense it made to me.

  • Scott Blasco

    A couple of particular statements seem to have missed part of what I was saying before:
    “It would just mean a lot to me if YOU could grant that its a pretty weird thing that something that we have to avoid so strongly (the destruction of embryos) is something that God appears to have built in with a pretty high failure rate.”

    “Well, it’s hard to defend the position that all embryos are precious human beings when so many of them are simply destroyed in the process by default.”

    Every human being is ultimately simply destroyed in the process of existence. God has built in a 100% failure rate to human life. We call it death, and it happens to everyone–some sooner, some later, but everyone dies. Does that make it hard to defend “born” humans’ status as “precious human beings?”

    Science is not in the business of making ethical statements (well, GOOD science isn’t), but if our ethical statements ignore what science can reliably tell us in favor of some other idea that lets us hold on to our pet ideologies, then they are at the very least flawed. Before we knew what we know about human development, there may have been room to wonder about “quickening” and such. Now, what we know with certainty is that there is no non-arbitrary dividing line in the development of the human organism between embryo and adult at which we can say “hey, that non-human thing just became human.”

    So yes: destruction of embryos = destruction of human life in every bit the same way as destruction of your neighbor does. Don’t forget that it used to be common for people to leave newborns out in the elements to die because they didn’t want them. It was still illegal to kill one’s adult neighbor, but newborns weren’t seen as really fully human (something like Peter Singer’s old work, or perhaps the recent “after-birth abortion” paper published by a couple of so-called ethicists).

  • Tom F.

    Okay, Scott, I think I’m done then. You seem less interested in a discussion, and more interested in simply ramming your thoughts down our throats. You didn’t answer any of my other questions (you know, the ones that are typically hardest for your position to answer), and you gave no ground whatsoever. Thanks for playing.

    May God grant you peace on your way.

  • Scott Blasco

    Sorry, Tom. I guess I thought I answered the two questions you had in your previous comment in the course of my last one. What questions do you think are hard for me to answer from my position?

    And no, I gave no ground. I was given no reason to do so, and having been down this road many times before, I don’t anticipate someone coming up with some stunning new angle that will make me suddenly decide that some human beings are okay to kill and some aren’t. By all means, though, surprise me.

  • Phil Miller

    Does that make it hard to defend “born” humans’ status as “precious human beings?”

    What makes it hard is that 50% or more of these “precious human beings” are literally flushed down the toilet unknowingly. That, by definition, is saying we don’t consider them “precious”.

    So yes: destruction of embryos = destruction of human life in every bit the same way as destruction of your neighbor does.

    Well, you can assert that all you want, but I think there are plenty of people who will never believe that. If that’s the line you’re going to take, I suspect that these sorts of issues will remain deadlocked for quite a while.

    Ironically, I actually probably would have argued along similar lines as you earlier in my life, but it was reading some of the various statistics involved in conception that changed my mind. I just don’t see how we can say that an embryo that never had a body beyond a few cells is a full-fledged human being unless we want to revert to something akin to gnosticism.

  • Scott Blasco

    Phil,

    That, by definition, is saying we don’t consider them “precious”.

    Is it? Do you think that every human life that ends without your knowledge is not precious? There’s really nothing we can do to stop some embryos from being flushed from the body; it is a natural process. Many of them are due to some sort of chromosomal anomaly that would prevent them from flourishing. That doesn’t change their identity, which is that of irreducibly unique human beings.

    The fact that people will never believe what is clear from science and reason is evident in the continued prevalence of creationism. That doesn’t make those people right, nor justified in their belief. You say statistics regarding conception changed your mind. How? I assume you mean the roughly 50-70% of pregnancies that end prematurely (either through failed implantation or miscarriage). Again, literally 100% of human beings die. Naturally. By design. How does the fact that many of them die very early in their development in any way negate their humanness? At what point in development from embryo to adult to you propose to find some non-arbitrary dividing line between “not human” and “human?”

  • Phil Miller

    At what point in development from embryo to adult to you propose to find some non-arbitrary dividing line between “not human” and “human?”

    As it relates to the birth control discussion, I would say that implantation is a very important threshold. Without being implanted in the wall of the uterus, there’s really no way that embryo will ever reach maturity. That’s really what started this whole discussion – Mohler’s use of the term “early abortion” to describe methods that make it harder for implantation to occur. Also, if a person is going to argue for personhood of embryos, does that mean we should expect to see all these people in a renewed heaven and earth someday? That is almost getting back to Origen’s line of thought of the pre-existence of souls.

    On a broader level, I do find this whole discussion very interesting because it raise some really challenging questions as to what it is that makes us human. Personally, I don’t think it’s simply the fact that we are lump of cells with human DNA. Yes, that’s an intrinsic part of it, but it seems that the whole issue of imago dei and our human experience comes into play as well. I relate it to the mystery of the hypostatic union. It’s something that we’ll likely never understand completely.

  • Scott Blasco

    That is almost getting back to Origen’s line of thought of the pre-existence of souls.
    Nonsense. These embryos existed. Regardless of any spiritual speculation, in the abstract, they are real physical entities.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s simply the fact that we are lump of cells with human DNA. Yes, that’s an intrinsic part of it, but it seems that the whole issue of imago dei and our human experience comes into play as well.
    There’s no reason to import some body-soul dualism here except to carve out exceptions to “do not kill.” There is no sense in the Old Testament of such a dualism, even where the Imago Dei is concerned. There is likewise no strong sense of it in the New Testament, where our identity as eternal beings is inextricably bound up with our existence as resurrected bodies. It doesn’t really matter that we don’t (can’t) really understand the dynamics of identity (which is true regardless of whether one believes in a spiritual realm). No, we’re not just a lump of cells, but our identities as human beings also cannot be divorced from the fact that we are, and will remain after the parousia, physical bodies.

  • Phil Miller

    Nonsense. These embryos existed. Regardless of any spiritual speculation, in the abstract, they are real physical entities.

    You seem to be taking a pretty harsh tone in all of this. But no one is denying that embryos have existence. But what does that mean? They certainly aren’t self-aware at that point. Can that existence really be equated to something like a fully human existence?

    I’m sure you’ll take this to say that I’m on a slippery slope to killing grandma, but I really don’t see it that way. There’s a big difference between ending the life of human who has a known identity, a memory (even it is non-functional) to a collection of cells that has the potential to develop further but has a pretty good chance of not even without human intervention.

    No, we’re not just a lump of cells, but our identities as human beings also cannot be divorced from the fact that we are, and will remain after the parousia, physical bodies.

    That’s my point. How can we in any compare a newly fertilized embryo which is a ball of 16 cells a few days after fertilization to an human body? A germinated seed isn’t the same thing as a mature plant, or even a young plant. It’s not a process where there are necessarily easily quantifiable steps, but it is a process that goes through several developmental stages.

    This isn’t necessarily related to birth control, but Greg Boyd wrote a good paper on this issue here: http://issuu.com/rapalculict/docs/gregory_a._boyd_-_christians__abortion__politics_a

    I think he makes a good point in it that there will probably always be disagreement about when life begins, but if we could come up with a compromise for sometime in the first trimester (11 or 12 weeks when the first brain activity is recorded), it would be an easier task of ensuring that abortions past that point are banned.

  • Scott Blasco

    I apologize if my tone comes across as harsh… internet forums, yadda yadda. You had said that recognizing the humanity of the embryo borders on an Origenist “pre-existence of the soul,” which is plainly false, since the embryo has a real physical existence.

    Yes, there will likely always be disagreement about when life begins, but as I said before, that disagreement can only continue to the extent that the relevant science is disregarded. The criteria you’re attempting to use to muddy the waters include:
    -self-awareness
    -memory
    -number/developmental stage of the “collection of cells”
    -measurable brain activity

    None of these things have any bearing on the identity (ontologically speaking) of the embryo through its development to adulthood. You and I are both “a collection of cells,” physically speaking, with exactly the same genetic makeup we had as embryos. We can compare a newly fertilized embryo to an adult human body precisely because they are both stages of development of one and the same organism. There is no point of magical ontological transformation that *presto chango* turns one into they other. I don’t think that you individually are likely to kill grandma (or anyone else), but this reasoning is exactly what lies behind the dehumanization that allows the evils of slavery and genocide to occur.

    And that “potential to develop further” line works equally well with infants. A newborn has the potential to develop further, but will not without (very intensive) human intervention. All of the criteria you use against recognizing the irreducible humanity of an embryo work with neonates: they have no known identity (even to themselves), have little to no functional memory, are of questionable self-awareness, and are of a stage of development where they might develop further, but might not. These are, in fact, the exact reasons why some ethicists argue for the permissibility of infanticide. And why not? All either of us are is “a collection of cells,” so if that inherent identity as a human being is not what makes one “human” in the rhetorical sense you’re using, then it really is (as you say) a slippery slope to setting whatever bar you want to set as a minimum qualification of human-ness to merit a right to protection from being killed.

  • Phil Miller

    Yes, there will likely always be disagreement about when life begins, but as I said before, that disagreement can only continue to the extent that the relevant science is disregarded. The criteria you’re attempting to use to muddy the waters include:
    -self-awareness
    -memory
    -number/developmental stage of the “collection of cells”
    -measurable brain activity

    I’m not muddying the waters. They’re already muddy the way I see it.

    What I’m saying is that there is something defines our humanness that goes beyond our pure physicality. After all, our genomes vary only slightly from those of other primates. It seems there’s a slippery slope on your side of the argument as well, because if you’re saying that an embryo deserves to be treated a precious life simply because it’s a living collection of cells, what separates that from other animal life that we generally have no problem killing?

    I would say the thing that makes us unique is that we are spirit and flesh in a mysterious union. The fact that they are not easily separated or separable at all is what makes this issue not so clear cut to me.

  • Scott Blasco

    What I’m saying is that there is something defines our humanness that goes beyond our pure physicality.

    And I agree. That doesn’t in any way imply that what is physically, genetically a human being is any less than an actual and full human being. An embryo is not just a living collection of cells (although it is that), but more specifically is already and wholly a genetically unique individual member of the human species. It is separated from other animal life in the same way that you and I are: we are human, which both of us believe is a species of animal set apart by being Image-bearers (and our genetic relatedness to other species is really just a red herring, here). That is a theological truth knowable only by Divine revelation, and not deducible by any examination and comparison of a human and a different animal. Any attempt to dislodge our Image-bearing status from our physical existence at some point along the continuum of human development is necessarily ad hoc and arbitrary (including appeals to old Jewish traditions concerning a “quickening”). So I disagree that there is any kind of slippery slope implied by my argument.

    Most telling, perhaps, in terms of our shared faith, is this: if an embryo is not fully human (in your rhetorical sense), then… what exactly was the Annunciation all about? The physical entity of Jesus began its development as an embryo. Was that embryo only human at that point (or perhaps not yet human enough to be considered “human”), and only later became divine? You referred earlier to the hypostatic union. To claim that the Jesus-embryo was human but not divine until some later point in time would be the Nestorian heresy. Likewise the claim that the Jesus-embryo was not yet truly human, but was perhaps already divine by parentage. From the moment of the Annunciation and conception of Jesus, he was fully human and fully divine. Whatever you believe regarding the humanity of your average human embryo, you must also believe about the fully-human Jesus-embryo lest you fall into Christological heresy.

    I don’t believe going into theological territory is necessary to prove that an embryo is every bit as human as an infant/child/adolescent/adult, but between you and I, as Christians, it can be perhaps an instructive angle to consider.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott Blasco,

    I don’t buy your argument at all. You say:

    “That doesn’t in any way imply that what is physically, genetically a human being is any less than an actual and full human being”

    This simply does not make sense. If I cut off my finger the cells in the finger are genetically human, but are not a human being. The hair in my shower is not a human.

    The most you can say about the group of cells is that they have the potential to become a unique human. Simply having the DNA of a human does not qualify.

    And yes, we do need to make these waters muddy. If I can clone a human, is that person human by your standard? When?

    And just because it is difficult to draw a line about when a group of cells becomes a human does not mean that they are not just a group of cells with the potential for being a human in the beginning and at the end they are a human being.

    And as far as the animals are concerned, the early development of a human in the womb is actually quite close to the way the animals are, and I think that makes a fine analogy. We go through many stages in the womb. We have a tail, we have gill slits, we are just like an animal. I think the analogy fits perfectly.

    The only difference is the potential to be human

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott Blasco,

    You also say that whatever position we take on this we also have to have the same position for Jesus. Why? Clearly the immaculate conception was a one off event and god intervened in the life of Mary. There is no compelling reason that we have to apply it to Jesus.

    And if you look at the announcement, the angel says that she will become pregnant (does not say anything about the personhood at that point), and will give birth to a son (clearly a person at that point). I am not arguing that he was not sooner, I am simply arguing that the immaculate conception has no bearing on this.

  • Scott Blasco

    DRT,

    You don’t have to buy my argument, but you should at least get your science straight. It makes no difference whatsoever whether our physical development as mammals is remarkably similar to the physical development of other mammals. We are of a different species from the very moment of conception. At that moment a whole individual human being is present, even if in (literally) embryonic form. After that point, nothing but time and nurture are required to see its development to adulthood.

    The finger/hair obfuscation has no bearing on it either, unless you want to claim that your finger or hair is an individual and whole human being, which an embryo is from an objective scientific point of view. But they are not: they are parts of a whole human being, but they are not the whole.

    If you clone a human, it becomes a human being at the same point as every other human being: at the point when the parts necessary to make a unique human being come together to form an embryo. Why would that confuse matters? It isn’t some other human, even if it is genetically identical. It has been artificially engineered to be a whole and individual human being, but the artificiality of the process doesn’t change the outcome of it.

    If you want a better understanding of the science at hand, this is a good starting point: http://www.abort73.com/abortion/medical_testimony/ Obviously, you can continue to disagree, but as I said earlier that puts you in the same position relative to science as young earth creationism does: denial of scientific facts in order to continue holding to a falsified ideology.

    With regard to Christology: if Jesus was not fully human in the same way that we are (“in all points tested as we are”), then salvation is lost. If you haven’t studied theology this point may be somewhat unclear to you. Look into some of the Christological heresies of the early Church (Nestorianism is one of the big ones, but what you’re hinting at is called “docetism,” which says that Jesus only appeared to be fully human). In the words of the great early theologian Gregory of Nazianzus, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.” Again, though, as important as correctly understanding Jesus is to theology, it is a side point when it comes to establishing the full humanity of the human embryo, which can be done by science and reason alone.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott Blasco,

    You seem to have missed the point I made. You said ““That doesn’t in any way imply that what is physically, genetically a human being is any less than an actual and full human being”

    So it seems based on this statement that you are making the requirement to be considered a human being that it must only be genetically human. If that is the case then my finger counts as a human being.

    What is your requirement for something to be human? I don’t have my science wrong. You ahve your argument wrong. What is required for something to be a human being?

    The reference you gave does not answer the question either. They claim it is a human being at conception. By why not at the gleam in daddy’s eye? Why not at implantation?

    Scott, what is your definition for a human being? If you say conception, then there are much bigger problems that simply abortion, we have all the human beings being flushed down the toilet.

    With regard to Christology, I make no notion toward any of those heresies with my statements. Why could not have god implanted a 1,000 cell organism in Mary. And Jesus could have had nothing at all to do with Mary’s genes. None of that takes away from his humanity. Why would you think it does? Are you now going to say unless Jesus was the result of a sperm and egg that we are saying that the gospel is at stake? Then you need to go over to that thread and see how far that argument gets you.

    You are too quick to call me a heritic and ignorant of science Scott.

  • Scott Blasco

    So it seems based on this statement that you are making the requirement to be considered a human being that it must only be genetically human.

    You’re mistaken. I said “human being,” which you’ve changed to “human.” Yes, your finger is human, but it is not a human being, it is a part of a human being. An embryo is not a part of some larger organism, it is a whole and complete organism in and of itself, at one stage in that organism’s development. You might re-read the first paragraph of my comment #88.

    Conception is the point at which a new, unique organism of our species begins its life and development. That is a human being. It is already what it is at implantation; implantation does not transform an embryo into something it was not before. You do, in fact, have your science wrong if you think that is not true. Scroll down the page a bit of the link I provided, and you’ll find citations from a dozen or so embryology textbooks saying the same thing I am.

    Regarding the “flushing down the toilet” problem, I’ve already dealt with that at length above (see comments 63, 78, and 82).

    Christologically speaking, you are mistaken again. If Jesus was not Mary’s son biologically, then he was not of David’s line, and his humanity would be something other than ours. This is old news, and I’m not going to dig into Christology with you here. Go read a book if you want to know why the idea that Jesus not having Mary as a real human parent destroys his humanity and the gospel in one fell swoop.

    I’m not calling you a heretic. I said what you suggested about the Incarnation would lead to heretical conclusions. Based on what you’ve said above, though, I will call you ignorant (in the formal sense, with no insult intended) in at least this area of science.

  • John Inglis

    I’m with Blasco on this one regarding the science and what constitutes a human or human being, depending on how one prefers to word it.

    The only “potential” is for later stages of development of the same organism.

    The gill slit thing is irrelevant; even evolutionists no longer believe that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scot Blasco,

    Very good, then you do have the definition that that group of cells traveling down the Fallopian tube is a human being.

    You see, I am not trying to convince you that you are wrong, I am trying to understand your perspective and wanted to nail you down a bit more on this. So I am getting from you that you really are willing to say that the moment of becoming a person is conception. And you also believe that the genetics have to be OK for Jesus to be in the line of David. And, you believe that the genealogy of Mary is correct in the bible. And you believe that if Jesus did not have David’s gene’s in him then the gospel is at stake.

    I find all of that to be unnecessary. In the case of calling that thing a human being at conception, well, it is just plain dangerous to adopt that view. If it really is a person, then we have a whole lot that we need to change about the way that women lead their lives. Are you prepared to argue that we should do that? I mean, if a woman’s lifestyle leads to low rates of implantation, then she is a serial murderer by your definition. I just can’t see that. You seem to have a very low bar for what you feel we should be doing to stop the crime of manslaughter. On the one hand you feel every single fertilized egg is a human being, and then you generalize by saying that there generally is something wrong with them and that is why they don’t implant. That does not make sense. Tell me, isn’t there still going to be millions that don’t implant for non-genetic reasons?

    I am curious about this. Let’s say that a woman knows that her eggs cannot implant for some reason or another. Is it manslaughter and murder for her to allow her eggs to get fertilized?

    I just have a difficult time imagining that you would want to call those cells a human being. I think this creates so many problems that it is impractical for us to use that as the definition. That is why I was trying to nail you down. I just want to make sure that you really are arguing that it is a human being at conception. I find your perspective of what is a natural way to commit murder and one that is not natural to be highly problematic.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scot Blasco, I also ought to state my position on this so you know. I believe that we need to look at this from a practical standpoint because the evidence for a soul is pretty slim. And, if it does indeed turn out that people have soul’s then it is certain that god will resurrect those souls. So I feel it is easily defensible to assume that there is no soul independent of the body. To flesh this out just a bit more, it is not OK to take the stance that god will make it work out for people in the end no matter what, and therefore we should just kill people when they have a bad life here. This is not OK because there is doubt about there being an eternal existence, therefore we cannot think that way. We must view life in a conservative approach, therefore no killing miserable people. And in the case of there being a soul (and it being imparted at conception), then we have presumed the existence of supernatural existence anyway, so it is a different case.

    So, from a practical standpoint, a fertilized cell is not a human being unless you presume a soul, which I think is OK to do from a thinking standpoint. So we are left then deciding what makes a person a human being? I don’t think there is any question that a fertilized egg is not a person. There is no possibility of cognition, independent life, feeling, nothing. That is not a person. And that is not even remotely considering the implications of treating that thing like a person. That makes it wholly unacceptable.

    So at some point it should be treated as person. At some point between fertilization and birth it should be treated as person. That is where this issue gets to be an interesting discussion to me. As just described, I have zero problems with saying an fertilized egg, or even a recently implanted one is not a person. It is obvious to me that we cannot treat them as such, and that is the real point of this exercise, figuring out how we should treat them. This is not really an argument about whether they are a person or not, but rather how we should treat them at each stage of development. Do you agree with that?

    So I was pushing you to figure out where you stand, exactly. If you come down on the side that says we need to treat them as a person from the moment of conception then I just find that to be an irrational position and do not really want to discuss it with you further. But if you felt that there is some point after that, then I would love to hear your position.

    You see, I have not reached a conclusion yet. There is a point in there somewhere, but I don’t know where. I absolutely do believe that the animal analogies are appropriate. If we are to think that part of the definition of a person involves the fact that animals are different than people and have less worth, then that can shed some light onto how we define what a person is. I actually believe that we have too low a view of animal life, but that is just my view.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott Blasco,

    Go read a book if you want to know why the idea that Jesus not having Mary as a real human parent destroys his humanity and the gospel in one fell swoop.

    OK, I read this one http://www.amazon.com/Velvet-Elvis-Repainting-Christian-Faith/dp/031026345X

    In this one he clearly implies that even the virgin birth is not necessary to believe to have the gospel. Does that mean I am no longer ignorant?

  • Phil Miller

    It just seems odd to me to get hung up on the issue of what the classification of a human embryo is from a scientific perspective. From a pure scientific perspective, even if one grants that an embryo represents human life in some form, it doesn’t give us any guidance as to why that life is more important than any other animal life on the planet. To make that distinction, we must turn to theology.

    We already tacitly assume that a being’s full personhood lies somewhere beyond the fact that they have a fully functioning body, anyway. We don’t, for example, think that a person who has a defective heart, liver, or kidneys is less of a person than they would be if all those things were functioning the way the ought. But without some really profound intervention, those people would die. The reason we intervene in those situations is because we are affirming that these people have value that goes beyond their physical bodies.

  • Phil Miller

    In this one he clearly implies that even the virgin birth is not necessary to believe to have the gospel. Does that mean I am no longer ignorant?

    Actually, I don’t believe that’s the point Bell was trying to make in that particular passage, but that’s another debate altogether…

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Phil Miller, I agree that a human being’s worth goes beyond their functioning as a human body. But we still have to define what that thing is. I don’t think Scott Blasco is right in his assertion of it being a human being at conception unless we have a soul, and that soul is conferred at conception. Both of those positions seem extremely problematic to me.

    Scott’s whole perspective and angle that life starts there and it is only a question of when we die is interesting rhetoric, but it is simplistic and childish to believe that we don’t have to make choices of real consequence at various life stages. For example, my Godmother, my Aunt, was just diagnosed with tumors in her lungs that are likely going to be a fatal cancer for her. No biopsy was done, no effort to save her is going to be made. Nothing. Is that wrong?

    Well, she is a human being! Certainly is. And they may be able to be cured! Absolutely.

    But the decision depends on her stage of life, and many other considerations. Should we be allowing the spontaneous abortion of her life to proceed? Well, we are.

    Human beings are much more than the simple genetic make up. To make that the marker of decisions relating to how we should treat them is avoiding reality. We need to have a more nuanced and rich version of how to talk about this instead of having folks like Scott Blasco accusing people of ignorance for not adopting his positions.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Phil Miller, I am curious, I do believe the point Rob Bell was making is that some things are required, but others are not. Scott Blasco is pretty much saying that what he believes is required to be a Christian. I am saying it is not.

  • Scott Blasco

    DRT:

    Once again, theology is entirely beside the point in whether an embryo is a human being. That is a matter of objective biological science, which I note you’ve skirted entirely (that whole long list of embryology textbooks thing). To say that an embryo is not a human being is, once again, a scientifically ignorant statement. Unless you believe killing human beings (lets throw in “without their consent” just for good measure) is an ethically sound action, then killing an embryo is as immoral as killing a fetus, infant, child, adolescent, or adult.

    You switch your language back and forth between “human being” and “person,” which is a convenient rhetorical trick but is deceptive. “Personhood” is not a scientific category. “Human being” is. This is simple biology. Then you throw in “those cells.” You could refer to a homeless man in the same way: a bunch of cells. Makes it sound less important if you want to do violent things to a bunch of cells than if you want to do them to a human being, doesn’t it? Equivocating over “personhood” doesn’t get you out of the science, which in this matter is utterly clear. I don’t “feel” that an embryo is a human being, I know it on the basis of science. It’s not a “view” to adopt, it is biological reality.

    You suggest dividing the lifespan of human beings into periods of “non-person” and “person,” but just as I’ve written in previous comments, making such a division is necessarily ad hoc and arbitrary. So how about taking “a conservative approach,” therefore not killing human beings? Again, as I’ve said before, 100% of human beings die. Natural deaths are not what I am debating here.

    The existence or not of souls have literally nothing to do with it. In the context of this debate, I literally do not care if human beings have souls. I could become an atheist tomorrow and my position on this would not change in the least. I don’t intend to debate theology with you here (especially if you take Rob Bell as a serious and credible theologian… gag me). Follow whatever heretical beliefs you want. My position in this debate isn’t about religion or theology, but about the objective scientific fact that embryos are human beings and your denial of that fact.

    DRT, I would be very interested in hearing you interact with the actual science of human development, but I don’t get the sense you’re interested in doing so. If all you want to do is pontificate about how, “well, I don’t think that an embryo’s a human being and I think we need to have a nuanced conversation about when it’s okay to kill human beings,” then… well, you’ll fit in with a whole lot of people with whom I’ve discussed this issue, who come into it claiming to value reason and science and show themselves to be little interested in either when shown that reason and science do not support their ideologies.

    Phil:

    While you and I may agree that people are “more than the sum of their parts,” so to speak, it does not follow that human beings understood purely as rational animals deserve less protection or are less valuable. It also doesn’t follow necessarily that atheism implies a mechanistic view of the universe that values human lives no more than those of ants or blades of grass. You might find the Secular ProLife group interesting in that regard (as well as the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott Blasco,

    I feel like you are fighting against things that I am not saying. My switching between human and person etc is simply an attempt to conform to your language, nothing else. I am not trying to be tricky here.

    And I have no doubt about the fertilized egg being human from a definitional standpoint, it is clearly not a chicken or a goat. It clearly is a human being at an early stage of development. I have no problem with that.

    And I do get the science. As soon as the egg is fertilized it has a full gene count. No argument from me there.

    What I am saying is that those facts are not relevant to this conversation. I totally get that you are putting your shingle out there saying that you want to say that we have to treat a fertilized egg the same as a 2 year old, and that is fine if that is what you want. I really do not want to talk to you if that is your position because you are being far too simplistic in this, to the point that it is simply irrational, in my view.

    You see, we cannot treat a fertilized egg as having the same rights as a 2 year old. That would create havoc on our society. We need some other definition of when and how we do grant rights to a human being, or human, or person, or group of cells, at a very early stage of development.

    Further, I don’t really care what words you use, let’s divide human life into a flushable vs. unflushable segment. The words are not the point to me. The point is what actions should we take or what actions should we not allow. Let’s call the early stages of human development the gummi bear stage for all I care.

    Can’t you see that if you have made the distinction that you consider the dividing line in treatment to be the moment of conception that you have created a whole world of problems and complications? I simply don’t believe it is productive to get into that type of situation.

    The more interesting, and relevant situation is in trying to come up with an approach that there can be some level of unity behind. Some level of rationality that will successfully weigh the various factors that converge on this situation like the rights of the mother and the viability of the zygote, just as examples.

    I also want to address your repeated accusations regarding the science. You are contending that science says it is a human being as soon as contraception happens. And science does say that. I am not doubting that except that you are also assuming that the scientific definition of it being a genetically human life form at an early stage of devolopment is the appropriate critereon to use in this decision. Science does not say that. That is a legal, theological and metaphysical issue. You are simply wrong in your contention that science says anything about your position. Science also contends that the zygote must be implanted, and that it must form a placenta, and it does not have a brain, and it does not have a heart beat, and it does not have consciousness, and it does not have arms and legs, and it does not resemble a human being in any stretch of the term except by the fact that it has human genes. In other words, your argument that science says it is defined as a human being is true, but absolutely irrelevant to most thoughts on this subject. One would have to ascribe to your next assertion that we should treat things that match the narrow scientific definition of it being a life form with human genes as the only critereon for this exercies. I don’t believe that is the definition we should adopt therefore I don’t want to argue with you whether it is a technically correct definition. That is irrelevant to me.

    You are using science incorrectly here and distorting the actual situation.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    To try and state this a bit more concisely, Scott, don’t you see that science makes no claim to the moral treatment of human beings? Science does not make moral claims.

  • Scott Blasco

    DRT:
    Yes, as I said above more than once, good science does not make moral statements. That is the realm of philosophy, which is why I’ve repeatedly said “science and reason” are all that are needed to get this right.

    You say that treating human beings at the earliest stages of development the same as human beings at later stages would wreak havoc on our society (incidentally, we don’t “grant” rights, we recognize them, which means they are inherent in the thing which “has” them). I ask you: if our society is structured in such a way that the dehumanization of a class of its citizens is necessary for its smooth continuance on its present course, is that not a structure that should be disrupted? Slavery was a very important part of the economy when it was legal, and one argument against abolition was the havoc it would cause. And it did radically change things. I doubt you would argue that abolition was not worth the cost. Was it “productive” to get into the situation of recognizing the humanity of black people and saying that white people could not own them? Many people argued that it was not (and some still do). Regardless of whom it inconvenienced or hurt, it was the right thing to do for all of the same reasons protecting the unborn from the moment of conception is.

    Yes, let me be clear: any form of contraception or any medical intervention that directly causes the death of an embryo should be illegal. That includes preventing an otherwise healthy embryo from implanting. I believe this is unavoidable if one takes a consistent and principled position that values human life. You’ve said that is simplistic, but in all of your posts have failed to make any principled distinction between human beings at different stages of development that would justify legally killing one and not the other. “Does not resemble a human being in any stretch” fails to accomplish this, because what a human being “resembles” is a subjective criterium. Varying abilities or levels of development fail to accomplish it, because no natural development of an organism entails an ontological change. That is why it is relevant to the debate that the science is utterly clear that at conception a new human being is present where there wasn’t one previously. After that point, any division of its lifespan into killable and not-killable is not only arbitrary, it is impossible to do in an objective and principled way: development is a continuous process, and the stages we label in it are abstractions for convenience, not real punctuations of that process.

    So do me the honor of answering a couple of questions:
    First, you say my position is “irrational,” a claim I reject. My position is that all human lives are inherently and equally valuable throughout their development, and should be protected as such. Please explain what you think is irrational about this.
    Second,, can you propose an objective and measurable criterium by which a human being can be justly killed without its consent? Having done so, can you show why you believe that criterium is what should form the basis of our recognition of the rights that human being has inherently? If that criterium applies before birth, what about the “rights of the mother” that you vaguely invoke?

    If you can answer these questions, you’ll have done more than all of your previous posts have toward advancing the discussion.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott,

    Let me start by saying that I can totally understand you adopting your position. It is the most conservative in regard to preserving the viability of a human embryo. If that is the position you want to take then you can have at it. Frankly you sound like and intelligent person and if you have made your mind up that the moment of conception is the starting point to treat the human being cells the same way that we would treat a 3 year old, then I really don’t believe there is anything I can say that would change your mind. I think you have heard all of the arguments and you have come down on that position. That is fine.

    What I am telling you is that I find it simplistic and unrealistic given the way life is actually lived in this world. Now if you were someone who did not have a good appreciation for the stages of development, or the nervous system, or similar items, or believed in a soul, then that would be one thing. But you obviously are aware of roughly the same information that I am aware of and yet you choose to believe as you do. Go for it.

    Here is why I feel that is not the right position for me:

    1. The base for thinking about this not zero abortions versus 300 million, the base is that abortions are going to happen even if the law is changed. Read this short page to get an idea of what is really at stake.

    http://www.now.org/issues/abortion/roe30/beforeafter.html

    2. As the statistics on that page show, there is great and real danger to a sentient human being at an advanced stage of development where there is ZERO debate as to whether they experience feeling etc. That is, the mothers are often killed and mamed in hack job abortions. So one of the considerations is weighing the guaranteed problem to a guarenteed fully formed person versus the debatable moral justification for flushing some cells that only have potential to become fully formed.

    3. If nominally 50% of ferlized eggs to not make it, BY GOD’S PLAN, then that gives me an pretty strong indication about how I may be able to make the real and tangible trade-off between fully formed humans and ones who do not fit any measure or definition of human except that they share the genes with us.

    4. I believe that there is not a life present in the fertilized egg in the sense that the life would be resurrected at Jesus return. There has not been any neural development, there are no thoughts, there are no bodily functions, nada, nothing. There is nothing to resurrect except an extrapolation of what could have been a life if conditions were right. There is nothing that actually existed.

    5. If you believe in a soul, then you could argue that there is indeed something to resurrect, and this could be a more interesting conversation, but you don’t, and I don’t. Given that I don’t think there is a soul, I am left with the thought that there could still be one and what would happen then. Well, in that case then they would be resurrected with Jesus and I would stand judgment based on my understanding and my beliefs. This is not an easy judgment, but nonetheless it is one that needs to be made. I pray that Jesus would forgive me because I tried to make the best and most informed decision that I could.

    6. I am not arguing for third trimester, or second trimest or any abortion at this point. I am saying that your position of conception is not one that seems reasonable to me, for all the reasons I have stated.

    To address your specific requests, I consider your perspective irrational because every decision requires weighing of various outcomes. You don’t do that. All you do is adopt a position and you don’t weigh it against the downside to accepting that position. That is irrational.

    Your second question is a trick question and I will not answer it explicity. But, I will say that if my wife was brain dead I would pull the plug and I would hope that they would do the same for me.

  • Scott Blasco

    DRT:

    Thanks for your informative comment. A few comments in reply to your numbered points:

    1. Yes, people will still seek abortions. That is a poor argument for making them legal. People murder each other with great frequency. People rob and rape each other with great frequency. All of these actions could be made safer for at least some people if they were legal and regulated. The fact that people will do these things whether they are legal or not has no bearing on whether they should be legal.

    2. You’re using “person” and “cells” again to differentiate between human beings that deserve protection and human beings that don’t, but you’ve openly refused to answer a direct question regarding when you think human beings merit such protection. This point, together with the one above, begs the question–that is, it assumes its conclusion (some human beings can be licitly killed by other human beings–”flushed,” in your words) is true in the course of arguing for it. That is a logical fallacy.

    3. Fully 100% of human beings do not make it, by God’s plan. We all die, some sooner and some later. Does this give us a strong indication about how to make trade-offs about things that we want to do but which might kill some people? And I don’t agree with your statement about “any measure or definition” except genetics defining humanity against embryos. Please name those measures and definitions and explain why they are normative.

    4. and 5. Both of these points once again argue from your religious beliefs, but those are not good bases for recognizing human rights. You say “there is nothing that actually existed,” but you have already granted previously that, scientifically speaking, an embryo is a human being. We do not share religious beliefs, so I don’t recognize the validity of your religious beliefs in the establishment of basic human rights.

    In coming to my position, I came from a conservative pro-life upbringing to a very liberal pro-choice point some years after college. I made all of the arguments you make, and considered all the points you bring up. All of those points were things I wrestled with when I began to be convinced on the basis of science and reason that all abortion is murder. So yes, I have weighed all sorts of points in coming to my position on this issue, and none of them stand up. I don’t deny there are difficult life situations that abortion might seem to make easier, but I deny that difficult situations make acceptable justifications for killing human beings. Apparently you don’t.

    And I don’t know what’s “trick” about my second question. Maybe you don’t like how it’s phrased. You’re making an ethical claim regarding ending human lives. I’m asking you for your rationale in valuing one life above another (in truth, almost always valuing the convenience for one human over the life of another). If you can’t answer those questions but continue to hold to your position, your position becomes as cowardly as President Obama’s “that’s above my paygrade” nonsense.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    So we part ways Scott.

  • Scott Blasco

    DRT:
    Sorry to hear that, and that you apparently are unwilling to answer a straightforward question about your views. Like I said, I used to be very pro-choice. I never expect anyone to change their position in a combox thread, but I hope you will continue to weigh these arguments in your mind, and eventually come to understand and embrace the truth of the matter.

    God go with you.

  • Phil Miller

    Yes, as I said above more than once, good science does not make moral statements. That is the realm of philosophy, which is why I’ve repeatedly said “science and reason” are all that are needed to get this right.

    That’s a self-contradictory statement. If science can’t make moral statements, how can it tell what’s right? All it can tell is the facts as they exist. It doesn’t give you an ethical framework through which to interpret them.

    I’m asking you for your rationale in valuing one life above another

    We do this all the time. It’s why the president travels with a Secret Service detail and I don’t. American society has deemed his life more valuable than virtually anyone else in the country.

    But getting back to the question of implantation, there are things that women do that can affect their chances of have an embryo successfully implant in the uterus – caffeine, alcohol, lack of folic acid – these have all been tied to making it less likely happen. So it’s entirely conceivable that women are engaging in these behaviors without having a clue about it. If you say you want to make all drugs that interfere with implantation illegal, what about these other substances? Is a woman liable to be charged with manslaughter because she engaged in these activities?

  • Scott Blasco

    This is a self-contradictory statement…

    You’ve misunderstood what I wrote. “Science AND reason.” Hence philosophy. (And by “get this right” I mean correct… as in, I think there is a correct answer to be had by the right exercise of reason, drawing on the knowledge attainable from science).

    If you were under constant credible threat of being murdered, you could expect to receive considerable police protection. Even so, I don’t think your presidential example is a very good one. Governmental efforts to protect the president from credible threats does not mean that his life is of objectively greater value than yours or mine, even if we might be willing to die to protect him. I would willingly die to protect my family, too, but I don’t think that my life is less valuable than my wife’s or child’s. Self-sacrifice is an entirely different matter than killing someone else for one’s own purposes.

    And I didn’t say that I want all drugs that could interfere with implantation to be illegal. What I said was “any form of contraception or any medical intervention that directly causes the death of an embryo.” Many drugs have unintended and even undesirable side-effects. Ideally we should work to eliminate side effects that can destroy life, and control against off-label use. Food products are more complex. I think it would be impossible to control for every dietary variable that can affect fertility, but that is a different matter than taking drugs with the intent of preventing implantation, which is a known part of many contraceptive drugs (especially so-called “emergency contraceptives”).

  • Phil Miller

    Many drugs have unintended and even undesirable side-effects. Ideally we should work to eliminate side effects that can destroy life, and control against off-label use. Food products are more complex. I think it would be impossible to control for every dietary variable that can affect fertility, but that is a different matter than taking drugs with the intent of preventing implantation, which is a known part of many contraceptive drugs (especially so-called “emergency contraceptives”).

    All I’m saying is that people like yourself truly believe that preventing the implantation of a fertilized is the equivalent of ending a human life, than you sure seem reluctant to treat it as such. What happens when someone kills someone unintentionally with their car because of negligence is a good parallel. We consider that manslaughter under many circumstances.

    It’s my contention that even though people say that an embryo is a human life or a person, they aren’t ready to accept all the consequences that brings with it. Should the penalty be the same for intentionally ending the life an embryo as it is for ending the life of a teenager, for example? I’ve not really heard anyone, except for possibly a few extremists, take the position that it should be. And if that’s case, they are tacitly admitting that they really don’t see the two acts as equal.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Phil Miller

    All I’m saying is that people like yourself truly believe that preventing the implantation of a fertilized is the equivalent of ending a human life, than you sure seem reluctant to treat it as such. What happens when someone kills someone unintentionally with their car because of negligence is a good parallel. We consider that manslaughter under many circumstances.

    That is stating the primary issue rather well. I was not as successful in stating this as you. I want to see how Scott responds, but my guess is that he will no acknowledge that he is advocating for treating them differently.

  • John Inglis

    It’s a fact that a separate organism, at an early stage of development, dies. If that death is morally relevant and caused in some morally relevant way that attaches to another individual, then that individual bears the moral responsibility for their role in the death. It’s simple logic, even if inconvenient.

    However, the analysis of moral relevance and attachment is hugely significant. If we accept the premise that God kills humans (I don’t, but many do) but remains morally pure, then it cannot be that all human death has a moral dimension. So then we have to decide when a human death has moral significance, and it may be there is no moral significance to human death until some time after a human is born–or some other point on the continuum. In addition, if a mother takes a drug after being told by a liar that the drug is safe, then she is instrumentally causative of the baby’s death. That does not, however, mean that she is necessarily culpable.

    My point being that we cannot deny that a human dies when a one cell organism dies, however, that death does not necessarily (and thus automatically) have moral significance.

    Concepts of “manslaughter” are western legal concepts and are thus only secondarily moral categories. That is, one must first attach moral significance to an event and an associated action. Once that is done, one can then create legal categories to deal with it. Framing an issue as “manslaughter” or “negligence” both clouds and predetermines the issues.

  • John Inglis

    Re Scott Blasco @ #107: excellent comment.

    Re Phil Miller “If science can’t make moral statements, how can it tell what’s right? ”

    It is typically accepted as a trite truism that science cannot make moral statements. The idea is usually expressed as some form of “you cannot derive ‘ought’ from ‘is’”. I cannot think of any moral philosopher of significance who would argue that science makes moral statements. Science can help assemble facts so that we better understand potentially moral events and actions, but science cannot tell us whether they are moral.

  • Phil Miller

    John Inglis,
    Well to me, that simply is circling back to a position that is saying that human life itself (if we’re operating under the assumption that is correct to refer to an unimplanted embryo as a human life, which isn’t something I’ve been convinced of yet) doesn’t really have any inherent worth other than what we assign to it. To me, that sounds like pure moral relativism.

    I will say this again – I don’t understand how one can take the position that an unimplanted embryo is a priceless and precious human life on one hand, but on the other not be upset at all that something like 60-80% of those embryos simply die in the process. One could say that we weren’t aware of that fact until relatively recently. OK, but it still doesn’t follow. Now that we’re aware of it, shouldn’t we be trying to intervene to save those embryos in some way? If, for example, we were mining gold using a certain process and it came to light that during the process we were using half of the potential gold we could collect was being lost, we’d certainly do something to change the situation, even it meant going to great lengths.

    My point in all this is rather narrow in scope actually. I don’t consider myself pro-choice. As to abortion, I still think that under most circumstances, it probably should be banned. However, abortion is talking about a procedure that happens after an embryo is implanted. I have not been convinced through all of this that there is any reason to equate an unimplanted embryo (which will definitely die if not implanted) to an implanted one (which at least has a fighting chance to survive).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    All,

    I really don’t buy this whole idea, like Phil said, of the culpability when we are not directly responsible. Once we are aware of the fact that more than half of the fertilized eggs are being killed then we have an obligation to take action. It does no good to sit there and say that we did not take the action therefore it does not matter and we are not responsible.

    Guys (I think you all are guys), if you really view the fertilized egg as being a human life with the same worth as a 3 year old, then you cannot wash your hands of it.

    And that is the whole point of my argument, you not acting like you believe that they have the same worth as a 3 year old.

    FWIW, I too am not making a stand on any point past implantation at this point, but I certainly am making a stand that conception is not the point for us to use at this point in time.

  • Scott Blasco

    I don’t understand how one can take the position that an unimplanted embryo is a priceless and precious human life on one hand, but on the other not be upset at all that something like 60-80% of those embryos simply die in the process.

    For the same reason that one might not necessarily be upset at the prospect that 100% of human beings die. It’s part of nature. It happens at different times for different humans, but it naturally happens to all of them at some point. Causing it to happen artificially is what concerns me in this discussion (and in any discussion of abortion). Interfering with that natural process might bring about unforeseeable problems. If we were able to “save those embryos,” we might find that they did not successfully implant because they were malformed in some way that precludes their continued development. “Nature” lets them die instead, just as it eventually does with all of us. Accepting mortality as part of human life is, in my opinion, essential to living that life honestly.

    Once we are aware of the fact that more than half of the fertilized eggs are being killed then we have an obligation to take action.

    I don’t think you’ve made your case for this point. For one, it would be impossible for us to know with certainty whether there is a fertilized egg present to implant or not. If by the power of some super future-technology we COULD know when one was present, you still haven’t made a compelling case that we must FORCE it to implant successfully if we could (again, using some future-tech that we do not currently have). Accepting that those embryos that by nature will not successfully implant will die is not the same as using drugs to directly cause any potential embryos to fail to implant (and thus to die), nor as intentionally rendering the womb inhospitable to embryonic life.

    What I agree you can’t wash your hands of is intentionally causing what would otherwise be a successful embryo from implanting, thereby killing it (or killing it at some later, post-implantation stage of development).

    To Phil’s comment #112: I can see why you think not digging in on possible dietary problems is a weak position to take given what I am arguing. I would say that building a road in a climate that gets icy in winter comes with the knowledge that it is likely that at some point, someone will get in an accident on that road and die. That does not come with the same moral culpability as intentionally icing a road with the desire to cause such an accident.

    Also: since we basically cannot know with certainty when an embryo is present or when one has been caused to fail artificially, it would be impossible to prosecute its murder. The same is not true of abortion at later, post-implantation stages of development, in which cases I personally do believe that, particularly for the doctor involved, it should be treated the same as any other homicide. That said, I am also fundamentally opposed to the death penalty, so I think murderers, whether they kill people before or after birth, should serve time and not be executed.

  • Bev Mitchell

    It is not my intention to prolong this conversation but it did pique my interest to see it gain new life after about a day off (missed it on the first pass). So, while waiting for the Sox game to start, I read the article and scanned all the comments, looking for something that did not appear, though with this group there is reason to hope that it might. Robin came closest:

    Robin #60
    “A well rounded Christianity should produce Christians who know how to think critically about everything from contraception to fair trade coffee.”

    Well said. So I wonder what Mohler’s opinion is of more than 7 billion folks on this seriously limited planet? Or drones with hellfire missiles terrorizing mountain villages in various parts of the world? Or the almost certain loss of untold millions of lives due to global warming? Or capital punishment? I am surprised that since the foundational issue is the sanctity of human life we seem so easily able to compartmentalize. After all, the only commandment human beings have obeyed to a fault is “be fruitful and multiply.” The rest need a lot more attention. And, including all issues where our actions deny life in any discussion on denying life, would have a way of putting things in perspective. 

    Actually, I’ll rephrase my questions. I’m not terribly interested in knowing 
    good leader Mohler’s views on these things. However, it would be very good if a lot more evangelicals would at least show some evidence that they are thinking seriously about them. We probably have a lot of ‘splainin to do on many fronts. 

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott says:

    I would say that building a road in a climate that gets icy in winter comes with the knowledge that it is likely that at some point, someone will get in an accident on that road and die. That does not come with the same moral culpability as intentionally icing a road with the desire to cause such an accident.

    Yes, but that is not the proper analogy here. Building a road that will kill half of the people who go across it would be the proper analogy.

    You are totally off the map here Scot. Correct me if I am wrong here, but there was much less of a percentage, much much much less killed on D-Day than are flushed due to non-implantation. You are way off the map Scott.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott,

    Further, given the current birth and death rates, this means that there are more people killed in the US each year due to non-implantation that there are total deaths in the United States ! If you actually believed your position then there is a much bigger problem out there.

    Scott, you are manipulating facts and arguments to try and substantiate your claims in an inappropriate way. You are not seeking truth here, you are seeking to have your personal opinion here. I don’t want to deal with you unless you are willing to adopt a stance where you are willing to discuss these issues with facts, not spin.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott says

    For the same reason that one might not necessarily be upset at the prospect that 100% of human beings die. It’s part of nature

    This is incredible garbage Scott. Please tell me how much effort is expended in the US alone to try and extend life, with the holy grail of endless life being worth infinite amounts? Do you want to contend that everyone just sits around and says “oh well, everyone dies, and it is natural, so we are not going to put effort into extending life let alone making it never end if we could do that”

    Scott, your arguments are patently irrational. There is not comparison between the amount of effort expended in extending life of after borne humans and those that are pre-implantation. Don’t you see that? The fact that 100-% ends in death is irrelevant to this.

    I am trying to explain this in a way you may understand, it would do much more good if you asked questions that were seeking what is actually happening that trying to justify your personal view. What questions do you have? I am not a heretic, nor ignorant of the science as you first tried to intimidate me. I find that approach quite distasteful Scott.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I wish I could say that English was a second language for me, but it is not. Pls forgive the many errors in my emotion filled post….

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    By the way, I was asking Scot McKnight why we would not debate abortion on this site because I need need help in refining and defining my view. But now I see that it would not be fruitful to do that.

  • Scott Blasco

    DRT:

    If you’re interested in discussing things and substantiating your (our) claims, you could start by answering the two questions I posed to you several comments above (comment 105).

    Object to the road building analogy, that’s fine. God built the “road” that you’re talking about. You still haven’t shown why failed implantation and the natural deaths that result from it are the disastrous problem you seem to think they are. As I’ve said repeatedly, all humans die, either naturally or not, some early and some late. I’m not as concerned about the “when” as I am about the “how” (particularly when that “how” involves other humans killing them). What facts am I “manipulating?” What’s inappropriate? That I make an argument that you’ve been unable to refute, and you don’t like that?

    This is incredible garbage Scott. Please tell me how much effort is expended in the US alone to try and extend life, with the holy grail of endless life being worth infinite amounts?

    I don’t think that it is necessarily right to spend gobs of resources trying to extend life. Honest living, that accepts mortality, should entail NOT seeking to eradicate death. Not only do I think it’s a fool’s errand, I think it’s immoral to do so. It’s horrendously selfish, for one, to not make room for future generations to have the planet the way every generation before us has. So yes, I do “contend” that we should not put effort into making death end. Physical death is part of human existence, and should be accepted as such.

    Perhaps you can enlighten me as to which questions that seek “what is actually happening” I should ask. I was under the impression that I did ask the question of what was actually happening with this issue, learned that science had some clear and inconvenient answers, and from there reasoned my way to what I believe. As to “what questions do you have,” I asked them above, and you outright refused to answer them.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott,

    I don’t need to critique your view on your terms. You view is irrelevant to the world, that’s the problem. You are taking a simplistic stance that is irrelevant and being consistent about it. That does not mean it makes any sense when applied to this world. You view does not. It fails to take into account reality. That is the problem.

  • John Inglis

    I’d say that Scot’s view happens to be inconvenient to those who don’t want to do as Jesus did and put others (babies, aka products of conception) first, even if that means a great deal of self sacrifice. The answer is simple for Christians. For the rest of society, the science is still clear, and the social and moral implications of unfettered abortion also clear. Hence if we want laws to prohibit abortions at various stages, it is incumbent on us to also endure self-sacrifice and provide the support that pregnant women and mothers of infants need. Both types of laws are needed at the same time.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    John Inglis,

    You are making a claim that has no basis. Show me how you could possibly know that Jesus would think that an unimplanted fertilized egg should be put first. You are making a hypothetical. I too can say that Jesus would clearly have put the will of a young mother over a bunch of cells that is not a human being.

    You do not have claim to the moral high ground here.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Let me soften my last sentence. I believe you do not have claim to the moral high ground here, but I concede that this is a very complex issue.

  • Scott Blasco

    DRT, you’re kind of flailing here. If you want to convince me that my view is “simplistic,” “irrational,” or “irrelevant,” then you do indeed have to critique it on my terms in order to show either that it is not consistent with its own premises or that its premises are not valid. You’ve not done either. Simply saying that my argument is simplistic or irrelevant doesn’t accomplish anything or provide any impetus for me to reconsider it. By all means challenge me, if you can. Angry dismissal does not challenge me.

    I don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from your comment #126. You said I needed to ask questions about “what is actually happening,” and I asked you which questions those would be (no answer from you). I ask you what about my argument is “irrational” (no response from you). I ask you direct questions about matters essential to your own position (no answer from you). When are you going to start engaging in a discussion, as opposed to angrily dismissing points that you don’t seem to be able to actually argue against? What reality have I failed to take into account? I believe I’ve addressed every objection you’ve raised, so perhaps there’s something you’ve been saving up to blast me with. Let’s have it.

  • Scott Blasco

    By the way, all involved here might find this very brief article interesting:

    http://www.humanlifereview.com/index.php/component/content/article/64-2012-spring/165-the-struggle-for-human-equality-it-must-be-waged-on-all-fronts

    “If being human—in and of itself—does not accord an individual the highest moral value, then we have to decide what subjective criteria to apply to deciding who and what matters more and less.”

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott Blasco,

    I don’t think you understand what I am saying. I have no desire to convince you of my argument since I don’t believe that you can be convinced of my argument. I am not angry, far from it, I am saddened, but not angry.

    I did respond to your questions but you do not interpret my responses as legitimate. That is fine. You are your own person.

    I am not really interested in driving a conversation around whether, in a Utopian world, we should allow all humans to have a chance at life. The answer to that is clearly and emphatic yes.

    But we do not live in a Utopian world and that makes your position irrelevant. Not only do we not live in a Utopian world, but we can’t even come up with a first step on how to get in the right direction to that world. We don’t even know, for certain, that your view of preserving every fertilized egg is something that Jesus would want us to do.

    You are obviously intelligent. You have obviously thought through the logic of your position and you are convinced that it is a logical one. That’s nice.

    This reminds me of the whole Calvinist approach. At some point you need to step back and look at the bigger picture to understand whether you have reached some sort of local optimum in your approach. I feel that you have. There is no way to get to my perspective from yours if I am willing to debate with you on the rules of your local optimum.

    In my view there is another optimum that has a much higher payback in the kingdom of god, but you have to be willing to go backwards to get there and it does not seem like you can do that. It requires you to let go of the validity of the arguments that have gotten you to where you are now and build a new structure. I can’t help you do that. You need to do that.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott Blasco,

    I finally got around to reading that article you quoted by Wesley J. Smith. I wish you would have posted that sooner because if I had known that you thought that was respectable I would not have wasted as much time as I have with you on this subject. For goodness sake, a rant on human exceptionalism! Scott, you need to ease up a bit on the whole thing if this is table fare for you.

    Did you post an incorrect link or something?

  • Scott Blasco

    DRT:
    If I don’t understand what you’re saying, I have to guess it’s because you’re not saying it very well. You responded to the first of my two questions, and I replied with why I found that response to be inadequate. You have multiple times stated that you refuse to answer the second question, so I don’t know why you now think that you have answered it.

    We don’t even know, for certain, that your view of preserving every fertilized egg is something that Jesus would want us to do.

    What in the world are you talking about? Where have I said anything like this? I’ve said nearly the opposite, in fact–that natural deaths should be accepted as part of nature! What I’ve objected to is directly and intentionally causing the death of an embryo.

    Along these same lines, I’m not talking about some Utopian world, and I honestly have no idea where you would come up with the idea that I am. Is it where I said that death was a natural part of human existence that we should accept? Or maybe where I said that sometimes there are very difficult circumstances in life, but that killing other human beings is not an acceptable way out of them? There are incredibly difficult, even tragic, situations in which people find themselves. Murder is never an ethical solution. So your whole “your position is irrelevant” is a groundless assertion, and not only that, your explanation for why you think so bespeaks an utter failure to comprehend what I’ve been writing.

    Again, please fill me in on this “bigger picture” I need to step back and consider. You haven’t shown any of my arguments to be invalid, so I have no reason to “let go of [their] validity.”

    And do you know what “human exceptionalism” means? It means that human beings are in some way of a higher moral status than other animal life. Unless you’re one of the more extreme varieties of animal rights people, you already believe this. If you eat meat or use animal products, you already believe this, if only implicitly. I don’t know what you find offensive in Smith’s article, but whatever it is, it would get you further and be more respectable if you were to respond to the argument rather than roll your eyes at it and talk about wasted time. Give me a break. I thought you wanted dialogue!

    It would be lovely, DRT, if you would answer questions and challenges put to you instead of evading them, misrepresenting my statements, and moving goalposts. You spin a fine sentence, but I’ve yet to find anything but straw in any of them.

  • John Inglis

    Excellent responses, Scott B., informative and helpful.

    It’s not a complex issue. It’s only complex for those who have to do mental and moral gymnastics in order to avoid facing the clear moral implications of their positions. Pooh-poohing Smith’s article simply indicates to me that DRT does not, chooses not to, or cannot grasp the nature of the issues involved and the lines of reasoning that must be brought to bear on the matter.

    Whether I claim the higher moral ground or not is irrelevant, and allegations of such serve only to cloud the debate.

    A similar clouding of the argument is calling the baby simply a “bunch of cells”, as if that settles anything. DRT is also a “bunch of cells”, as am I. So is a penguin. We are also localized masses of atoms. What of it? I don’t think anyone would argue the point that intentionally killing either DRT or me, the bunches of cells that we are, would be morally wrong.

    We have to analyse the issue more carefully; is there anything about a particular mass of cells that makes its death a moral issue?

    In addition, what about a pre-implanted or post-implanted bunch of cells (DRT and I are the latter) would make it, or fail to make it, a “human being”? Clearly the cells are human, not dog or penguin, so the issue for DRT must be the “being” part of the compound term.

    At this point we must clarify the concept we are discussing, and not rely on the word as if there was something inherent in a particular combination of letters. Words are merely referential labels, they are empty cups that must be filled with meaning.

    For me, “being” refers to some entity that is alive. I would say that “God” and “angels” are beings even though they don’t have physical bodies. Rocks are not beings even though they are physical. Aliens are beings even though they are imaginary. I would venture to include dogs and sea slugs as beings, too, for I don’t make self-aware intelligence and will essential aspects of “beingness”. However, I can see an argument for doing so.

    At this juncture it is again necessary to recall that words are not magic and not the key to the argument. We must ask, what is it that we want to talk about? Figure out the concept first and then give it a label. Do we want to talk only about whether something is alive? or about something that is alive and has certain mental capacities? or something that has both of those attributes plus a soul?

    I would call the bunch of cells a human being simply because it is alive and that’s how I would use the word “being”. Not all would use that word in that way, so instead of arguing who’s social context should be given preeminence in giving a particular definition to a particular series of letters let’s analyse the concepts.

    First, the bunch of cells is human. It’s rather obvious that the attribute “human” does not have moral significance in and of itself, but only in conjunction with some other attribute. A strand of hair is human, but cutting a strand of hair at the barbers and throwing it out has no moral significance.

    OK, then, what about the conjoined term “being”? DRT believes that adding that term causes the compound term to have a moral sense that he believes should not attach to the bunch of cells. Do he, Scot and I disagree about what the term “being” adds as an attribute, the moral significance of that attribute, or both? Is the term “being” adding only one attribute to the bunch of cells, or more than one?

    Using “human being” is unhelpful unless we all mean the same thing by it, and if we don’t (which I suspect we don’t), then we need to discard the term for now and focus on the attributes of that human bunch of cells.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott Blasco,

    So do me the honor of answering a couple of questions:
    First, you say my position is “irrational,” a claim I reject. My position is that all human lives are inherently and equally valuable throughout their development, and should be protected as such. Please explain what you think is irrational about this.

    This is irrational because it is irrelevant. We cannot and will not ever protect embryo’s prior to implantation like 3 year olds.

    Second,, can you propose an objective and measurable criterium by which a human being can be justly killed without its consent? Having done so, can you show why you believe that criterium is what should form the basis of our recognition of the rights that human being has inherently? If that criterium applies before birth, what about the “rights of the mother” that you vaguely invoke?

    I am not trying to establish this. I am simply saying that there is no question in my mind that the life of a 3 year old can be traded off for an egg prior to implantation. I also think the rights of the mother outweigh that of an embryo prior to implantation. Whether I come up with an agreeable line after that is irrelevant.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    John Inglis,

    A similar clouding of the argument is calling the baby simply a “bunch of cells”, as if that settles anything. DRT is also a “bunch of cells”, as am I. So is a penguin. We are also localized masses of atoms. What of it? I don’t think anyone would argue the point that intentionally killing either DRT or me, the bunches of cells that we are, would be morally wrong.

    No, it is not clouding the issue, it is adding clarity to the issue. The only thing in common between me and a group of cells, or more accurately for this conversation, a fertilzed egg prior to implantation is that they have human DNA and can grow and mature. The group of cells has no nervous system, no thoughts, no emotions, no differentiation, no capability to choose, no ability to reproduce, no independence, no love. It is simply a cell. A special cell no doubt, but a cell no less. I believe it is more accurate to refer to that early stage of development as a group of cells because it clearly delineates that key differences between a 3 year old and that.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    John Inglis, I agree with the rest of your post. The rest is semantics.

    And you absolutely did contend to have the moral high ground on this. You said

    I’d say that Scot’s view happens to be inconvenient to those who don’t want to do as Jesus did and put others (babies, aka products of conception) first, even if that means a great deal of self sacrifice.

    Now please. If you compare yourself to Jesus and say that your position is inconvenient for me, then I think it is pretty clear that you are trying to claim the moral high ground.

  • Scott Blasco

    DRT:
    I note that, once again, you’ve not replied to the points I made in my last post, but have simply sidestepped them in order to shift your goalposts once more.

    At this point, I am in doubt as to whether you know what the word “rational” actually means (or “relevant,” for that matter). You haven’t shown anything irrational about what I’ve argued, you’ve simply stated that “we” can’t treat embryos the same way we treat 3-year-olds (why that makes my argument “irrelevant” is a point you have also failed to establish beyond mere assertion). To be sure, we are technologically incapable of treating embryos with the same direct therapeutic and protective measures as we can treat toddlers, a limitation that we most likely will always have (and which I’ve already discussed above). What we can do for both toddlers and embryos is outlaw their direct and intentional destruction. The purported fact that “we” “cannot and will not ever protect embryos prior to implantation like 3 year olds” is true in the sense that our technological limitations preclude many forms of such protection, but to the extent that you use that as an excuse to keep embryo-destroying drugs or research legal, you’ve stepped into the realm of justifying directly and intentionally causing the destruction of a living human being.

    Infants can die because of SIDS, and though we can try to take protective measures (back sleeping and so on), there’s nothing we can do to stop it entirely, and it would be absurd to argue that knowing about SIDS requires us to outlaw it. It is a human tragedy, but is a natural occurrence. Embryos sometimes fail to implant, and after they implant they sometimes fail to survive for other natural reasons (the same applies after birth, of course). It is absurd to argue for legislation against these natural occurrences, even as we are right to recognize that they are tragic losses of life. What would also be absurd would be to argue that, since both cases involve the natural deaths of human beings, we are justified in deliberately causing similar deaths.

    And your answer to my second question (in your comment #136) skirts the issue entirely, which is that you are arguing that it should be legal to directly cause an embryo to fail to implant, thereby directly and intentionally causing it to die. I asked you where in the continuum of human development such direct killing action is “okay,” and where it is not, and what sets the boundary between those two points. If you haven’t thought about that, your position calls for you to do so if you want to avoid the natural implication that directly causing the death of a human being is okay. You need to establish what kind or age or abilities or whatever demarcate that boundary between “killing okay” and “killing not okay” if you want to hold to your distinction between embryos and toddlers in a consistent, non-question begging way.

    And, incidentally, what you have in common with an embryo is not limited strictly to having DNA and being able to grow and mature, although those are common traits. As we’ve discussed above at some length, and as you conceded above, an embryo is, scientifically speaking, a living individual human being at the earliest stage of development. You’re welcome to continue with your “bunch of cells” circumlocution, but it doesn’t add any clarity to the issue, since we all know about how human life develops. What it does do is demonstrate your willingness to dehumanize that which you know to be human in order to justify violence against it.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scott Blasco, I may write more later about the rest of the post after I read it, but I want to respond to this one part.

    There are some questions that are quite leading Scott. Please answer this simple question yes or no. When did you stop beating your children? Please do not avoid my direct question, just yes or no Scott, when?

    You see, I did answer your questions.

  • Scott Blasco

    Nice try, but your attempt at misdirection is obvious. I’ve not tried to artificially limit the way you answer the question, I’m simply asking for an honest statement about an essential component of your position. Let it take whatever form you think best explains it, but at least answer it. I’m not trying to trick you or make you admit something you haven’t already said. You’ve agreed that an embryo is a human being. You’ve stated your position that it should not be legally protected from being directly and intentionally killed. Why do you think it’s okay to kill that human being and not another? When does it become no longer okay, and why?

    And because I’m not one to skirt questions: I reject the artificial limitations on your question. I never began beating my wife or child, so I have never had opportunity to stop.

  • Julie

    To stir the pot further, might I point out that twinning can occur shortly after conception as a result of the rapidly-dividing zygote splitting off cells. Even aside from the issue of a huge percentage of embryos failing to implant, is personhood — not merely humanness — established from the single-cell moment of conception? All of us would agree that identical twins — the result of this splitting-off — have separate souls, personalities, and identities. Does this fact better define the considerations when determining the moral status of the products of early conception?

  • Scott Blasco

    Julie:
    I don’t think it changes things. Twinning doesn’t change the status of the embryo as human. If you want to get into the concept of personhood, which is not something scientifically identifiable or testable, twinning would seem to be an instance of one embryo being two “people” in a pre-divided state. Alternately, there is some talk in the scientific realm (that is beyond my expertise) of one embryo “parenting” the other by division (“fragmentation” is what I believe it is called). It is an asexual form of reproduction that results in a second organism that is genetically the same as the first.

    To all (but especially DRT):
    I find on reflecting on this thread that I owe you an apology for an unnecessarily harsh tone. My goal in engaging difficult issues like this is rational, gentle, and irenic argumentation. While I may have achieved the first of that triad, I’ve frequently failed the second two. I have not engaged with you charitably here, which is a great fault of mine. Please accept my apology.


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