The campaign to defund PP “relies on the assumption that abortion is to be whispered about.” #ShoutYourAbortion
On Saturday, a tweet from writer Lindy West created the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag to encourage women to talk about their abortions. Her hope was that open conversation would help to overcome the stigma of abortion. As she explained in an article in The Guardian,
The fact that even progressive, outspoken, pro-choice feminists feel the pressure to keep our abortions under wraps – to speak about them only in corners, in murmurs, in private with our closest confidantes – means that opponents of abortion get to define it however suits them best. They can cast those of us who have had abortions as callous monstrosities, and seed fear in anyone who might need one by insisting that the procedure is always traumatic, always painful, always an impossible decision. Well, we’re not, and it’s not. The truth is that life is unfathomably complex, people with uteruses own their bodies unconditionally, and every abortion story is as unique as the person who lives it.
My opposition to abortion stems from concern for the people within uteruses–the children for whom the idea of “living” an abortion story is sickly ironic. But while I am appalled by Ms. West’s sentiments, I do agree with one of her opening observations: “Not talking about our personal experiences with abortion wasn’t conscious.” No, the extreme reluctance of almost everyone on the pro-choice side to actually talk about what abortion is and does, as illustrated by the media’s allergic reaction to the recent Planned Parenthood undercover videos, is not at all “conscious.” If Ms. West wants to start a conversation about abortion, I am all for it.
In her article she wrote,
There are no “good” abortions and “bad” abortions, because an abortion is just a medical procedure, reproductive healthcare is healthcare, and it is a fact without caveat that a foetus is not a person. I own my body, and I decide what I allow to grow in it.
Ms. West is quite right on at least one point; she does own her body, and, legally, she can decide whom she allows to grow in it. But there is still the fact that, when she had her own abortion, she had something growing inside her, and after that abortion it was no longer growing–would never grow again, because it was dead.
I am curious what that something was. Ms. West declares categorically that “a foetus is not a person,” so what is it? By definition, the term “fetus” merely refers to a developmental stage. When I worked at a stable, I saw ultrasounds of fetal horses. Perhaps you have encountered a fetal pig in biology class. What sort of fetus was growing within Ms. West? Unless humans reproduce along radically different lines from other mammals, it could only be a human fetus.
Of course, Ms. West guards against the obvious by denying, not that an aborted fetus is human, but that he or she is a “person.” Humanity can be settled with a simple DNA test, but personhood is more of an abstraction and is therefore harder to pin down. But a simple question may be helpful: Does Ms. West believe that a two-year-old child is a person deserving of basic protections, such as the right not to be dismembered in the name of “reproductive healthcare”? If so, and if she believes a fetus is not a person and therefore should not enjoy such protections, then there must be a moment at which the non-person becomes a person. What would that point be?
If you are pro-choice, I want you to answer that question in your mind. I realize it may be a different point for different people. For some, it is the moment when the unborn child emerges from the birth canal. For others it coincides with fetal viability. Others choose some other point between conception and birth. Wherever your “personhood point” is, please imagine a fetus who has reached that point. Picture the child which you and I agree is now a living human person, deserving our protection and care. Now rewind one day earlier and imagine picking up a scalpel and killing that child.
But no, wait, it is not a child yet. It will be a person, a human child, tomorrow, but today it is just a fetus, so killing it is perfectly fine. Just be careful to keep your mental image of today’s fetus distinct from the image of tomorrow’s human baby, because they are going to look pretty identical and you would not want to get mixed up and kill a living human child.
Abortion says to every newborn baby in every hospital in the country, “We could have ended your life, after you were conceived, after you had begun growing, as long as the poison or scalpel got to you soon enough.” So go ahead, #ShoutYourAbortion, but remember that every abortion story is as unique as the person who did not survive it.*
* If you have had an abortion yourself, and if you feel more like weeping than shouting, please know that you can be forgiven. The Apostle Paul, after warning that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” and describing the sins his readers must avoid, added, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:11). God rejects those who make light of their sin, but his hand is extended in mercy toward those who repent.
34 thoughts on “If #ShoutYourAbortion wants to talk about it…”
Hi Dave (or do you prefer David?
I would like to start a conversation about abortion.
I am not published in the Guardian, but perhaps you would indulge. Perhaps we could learn from each other. Come to (better know the truth and be set free?
I’ll raise one question to see what the response might be. You speak of DNA proving the “humanity” of the fetus. Yes you are correct to say “It could only be a human fetus.” But with the term “humanity” I think you mean to say somewhat more than that? Perhaps to be more truthful you should say “the humanness” of the fetus, for “humanity” is something like we want to ascribe to real persons, and hence to beg the question. “Oh the humanity,” and humanity is something quite beyond what mere animals have.
Point is, the fetus is
Something happened so I could not continue typing (be better if we can use e-mail)’
TO CONTINUE, the fetus is human in the sense it is human cells, as is a fingernail or hair of a human person or a fetus. This humanness is does not give it humanity any more than a fingernail has humanity.
Sincerely in Christ,
Douglas, thanks for starting a conversation. It sounds like we agree that the essential question of abortion is whether we are killing a human person or not, so that’s some good common ground to start from.
I’m puzzled by your implication that I relied on DNA to prove the personhood of the fetus, because I wrote, “Humanity can be settled with a simple DNA test, but personhood is more of an abstraction and is therefore harder to pin down.” I agree that not everything with human DNA is worthy of protection; for example, I had my wisdom teeth removed with nary a qualm of conscience.
The point I was trying to draw out in this article was to ask when the fetus becomes a human person, since you and I and Ms. West seem to agree that human persons deserve protection. For the sake of clarity, would you mind answering the question I posed above: “If she believes a fetus is not a person and therefore should not enjoy such protections, then there must be a moment at which the non-person becomes a person. What would that point be?” When would you say that a fetus becomes a person, worthy of the same protections you or I could enjoy? I think defining that point would be helpful in clarifying where and on what grounds we disagree.
Hi Dave, thanks for the response.
I nowhere spoke of “personhood.”
I do not agree with your claim: ” “Humanity can be settled with a simple DNA test, but personhood is more of an abstraction and is therefore harder to pin down.” I think it is the other way around, not about what DNA proves, but that personhood is LESS of an abstraction – that it is (if not distorted by false claims and false language) fairly plain what a person is. A person is a BORN human being (to answer your last question), not for instance some INVISIBLE zygote. The idea of invisible human beings is ridiculous, to my mind.
On the other hand, “humanity” seems rather more abstract, like I wanted to suggest with “Oh the humanity.” What it is that constitutes humanity is, I think, what makes us different from other animals.
Like I suggested earlier, what DNA shows is humanness, that the cells are HUMAN CELLS. Is that not correct? With “humanity” I think you are claiming more than that the cells are human, and hence somewhat begging the question.
Do you agree with the last statement of my original response (without the superfluous “is” – difficulty to correct and add emphasis is why I suggested E-mail)? The humanness of the fetal cells does not give it humanity (any more than the wisdom teeth have humanity.)
Mind you, the UNIQUENESS of the DNA, not being identical to the DNA of the host womb (except in the so far only theoretical case of the clone) is worthy of some notice.
Hi Douglas, if you prefer the term humanity, that’s fine with me. I think what I mean by “personhood” is pretty much what you mean by “humanity.” As I said above, I do agree with your assertion that human DNA alone does not impart humanity (to use your preferred term).
I think, though, that you too easily dismiss the significance of the fact that a human fetus is its own living, growing, human life. Upon what philosophically consistent grounds can you value and protect my life but not that of the smaller and dependent fetus?
You said, “A person is a BORN human being (to answer your last question), not for instance some INVISIBLE zygote. The idea of invisible human beings is ridiculous, to my mind.” So if someone covers me with a blanket, does that mean they can shoot me in the head? I’m being serious here, because it sounds like your only criteria for humanity is that it must be a human life which is visible. If being visible is not literally your criteria for distinguishing between a valuable baby and a killable eight-month-old fetus, then could you clarify what criteria you would use?
(Incidentally, I didn’t follow up on your suggestion of using email because I think discussions between Christians on important topics like this are valuable to have publicly, if you don’t mind.)
Actually I prefer the terminology “human being” or “person” (which I take to be pretty much synonymous) for identifying what is worthy of deserving protection against being killed. “Humanity” I find more ambiguous and vague. ‘Personhood” I guess is what a person has that makes it a person (speller don’t like it), depending on grammatical context.
The difference between you and a fetus is that you are a person and a fetus is not, whether under a blanket or not. Being invisible (to the naked eye) is referring to the very early conceptus, for those who talk of “from the moment of conception.” To my mind it is strange indeed to think there are invisible human beings when NOT under a blanket, that is how small the zygote is, that you need a microscope to see “a human being” and otherwise would not be able to identify it at all. Strange, twisting of language I think, to call such “a person.” A human being. Also having absolutely no possibility of consciousness and any sentience whatsoever.
There’s where it seems obvious it would also be proper to say it is far from having “humanity,” though I generally like to avoid that more vague term. If there is one thing that makes human beings human (created in God’s image) and raises them above all (other) animals it is having at least a smidgen of intelligent thought ability.
You say that a human fetus is “its own living growing human life.” It is certainly life in the sense it is composed of LIVING CELLS. And human life in that the living cells are human cells. (What we seem to have both agreed on a couple of times.) But if you go beyond that, then you need some basis other than that to insist it is a human being and not merely “human life.”
You mention it is DEPENDENT; sometimes it is said we are all dependent on one thing and another, but I don’t think that’s a very relevant point. One thing to notice about the dependence is THE FETUS IS A PARASITE, necessarily attached to its host and obtaining all its sustenance therefrom. Also it is in CONSTANT TOTAL AQUATIC DARKNESS, and you are not – you have a real independence it fails to have.
I might jest “to prove it’s independence, let it go free, release it from it’s prison.” But that argument only applies to those who mistakenly claim it is INdependent – I know you recognize its dependence, but you might have said it is TOTALLY dependent, i.e. a parasite. YOU are not a parasite in the biological meaning of the term, of that I am sure. And it is – of that I am also sure.
So I have given you a couple of reasons why I think the fetus is not a person, not needing to be treated as a person, a couple of ways it is QUITE UNLIKE YOU; basic is it’s NOT EVEN an animal, and certainly not an independently existing, living breathing animal in the kingdom of light. Can you provide any reasons for thinking it is actually a person (even when invisible to the naked eye and having no possibility of intelligence)?
Shouldn’t any actual real human being who is hosting such a parasite be at liberty to detach it, remove it from being flesh living on the very flesh and blood of the perhaps very unwilling host.
btw, I am ok with it being a public Christian discussion, a good idea really, only I find missing the ability to emphasize with things like bold and underline. And I do find this font in small light grey when doing the typing to be “difficult”; could it perhaps be BLACK or blue?
And please do not be too hard on me if I use CAPS (seems to be the only resort I have) – if I do it is not that I mean to be shouting, just EMPHASIZING.
Douglas, my apologies for the delay responding. I’ve been busy and sick, which is not a helpful combination for keeping up with online conversations.
I think both our positions have extremes that seem unreasonable at first glance. According to me, a literally invisible zygote has value and deserves protection as a human child. According to you (I think?), an eight-month-old fetus, viable outside the womb, can be dismembered within the womb with no more concern than one would feel over crushing a tick. I can see how how my position looks unreasonable at first glance, and I hope you can see how yours seems barbaric. In fact, I think a (relatively weak) pro-life argument is simply that if I’m wrong we’re protecting something that doesn’t need it, while if you’re wrong we’re killing a child.
But there are much better arguments for the life of the unborn child. I think you’re simply wrong to depend on things like intelligence, dependency, or size to determine human value. If intelligence determines value, can I kill a family member with Alzheimer’s? If dependency determines value, can I kill someone on a feeding tube? If size is the key, is it okay to kill a preemie as long as she is under a certain weight? The value of a human being comes from being a human being, created in the image of God. We don’t need anything additional added to it (a large enough human, an independent human, etc.). A human life is valuable because the human is human.
I know we agreed that not all human cells are human beings, but the fetus is special because the fetus is a life, unlike things like tumors or toenails. You can end a fetus’ life. I can’t end my toenails’ lives, because they are not alive. In contrast, before an abortion there is a human life in the mother’s womb; after the abortion, that human life is dead.
Suppose I put it in a syllogism: (1) Ending a human life is murder. (2) A fetus is a human life. (3) Abortion ends a fetus’ life. (4) Abortion is murder. What part do you disagree with? I would also like to hear your opinion about the abortion of a fetus at seven or eight months. You have seemed to be avoiding that question and I think your answer would be helpfully clarifying.
[Please note, due to limitations of reply threading, apparently my blog won’t let you reply directly to my comment here, but you can hit “Reply” on the post a couple above this one and your reply will settle into the right spot. Also, you can add emphasis using HTML formatting, e.g. the i and b tags for italic and bold: http://www.w3schools.com/html/html_formatting.asp ]
Thanks Dave. Sorry to hear you were sick and certainly accept your apology. A soon after response is nice but we are all busy and certainly you may find other things more important.
The tumors and toenails have life, and it is human life. Their cells are alive and may be killed, the life of the tumor or toenail ended.
When you say: “A human life is valuable because the human is human.” I think you are “reverting,” if I may put it that way. It is not enough to say: “I know we agreed that not all human cells are human beings…:” and then again say “the human is human” and think that is some kind of argument. The entity of VALUE is the human BEING; “the human is human” tells us NOTHING about whether it is a human being.
So to be consistently TRUE, I think you should avoid thinking and saying something is of value BECAUSE IT IS “HUMAN.” It is not – it must be MORE than human, more than the tumor, to be of value.
Your toenails are alive, and you END that life when you cut them off. The term “Life” is slippery, is what I think pro-lifers slide into error on. That and the term “human” as already noticed.
You say “there is a human life in the womb” (should not additionally beg the question by calling her a mother!), and this would not be merely begging the question IF you were to use the terminology “an alive human being.” (Still untrue!) With “a human life,” that can be translated to TRUTHFULLY mean what is there is ALIVE and HUMAN. And like we are noticing, so is the tumor. It is “A LIFE,” but what sort of entity is it that is alive?
That is, “a human life” seems to possibly be ambiguous; any ambiguity can be removed with “a human being,” or simply “a human.” [I have not until this moment noticed this problem with “a human life”; perhaps another example of how slippery “life” and “human” are?] Your reliance on “because the human is human” shows that too. That it is human life is no argument, though generally “a human life” would NOT apply to the fingernail. However, I can imagine a surgeon saying “I removed the human life that was your tumor,” and then it might be thought to be A human life. ?
It seems to me we (always?) have in mind “a human being” when we say “a human life,” though I don’t KNOW that is the case.
Often it is said LIFE begins in the womb, at conception. That is not so, since both the ovum and the sperm are very much alive (if there is conception) and it is THAT LIFE that continues in the merged entities.
The tumor is a life like the fetus is a life. You CAN end the life of the tumor, a least theoretically, and hopefully in most cases somebody will end the life of the tumor. That “life.” It is alive, consists of alive cells, just like the fetus, and like the fetus is often susceptible to killing.
I AGREE that “The value of a human being comes from being a human being, created in the image of God.” Question is, what can truthfully be called a human being?
To answer that I look quite a lot NOT to the things like size mentioned above, but what it is to be “human” in the sense of having HUMANITY, like what is the difference of having been created “in the image of God,” the sort of thing we point to in order to distinguish human beings from other animals, like having at least a smidgen of intelligence and consciousness. Other animals have consciousness and sentience AFTER BEING BORN, and so do we. But not (much?) before, and certainly not at all in early pregnancy. So the human being is NOT there.
The question about late pregnancy is answered I think by noticing what it is to be an animal BEING. The major statement I would put forward on this is “A HUMAN BEING IS AT LEAST AN ANIMAL BEING. Which requires having been born. The farmer does not have more chickens until the eggs are hatched, nor does the fact his sow is pregnant mean he suddenly has the bounty of a dozen more pigs! Birth is when we are recognized to be an alive human being and our lives are measured as starting at that point. Enough for now! Thanks.
Oh your syllogism: leaving aside the question of “a human life” INVARIABLY being “a human being,” I would have to say I particularly disagree with #2 and #4. I think you could figure that out by now.
Ending the life of a fetus is NOT MURDER because a fetus is NOT A HUMAN BEING.
Thanks for your response. My thoughts below.
Sorry for being unclear. I was not arguing that a fetus is human with that sentence. I meant simply that if someone is human, then that alone is sufficient to establish their worth. To use the terminology you prefer, a human being’s life is valuable because the human being is a human being. I believe we agree on that?
I don’t know if you are doing it consciously, but your argument throughout this post is equivocating two meanings of the word “living.” We can say that a cell within an organism is living, or we can say that some organism is alive. Yes, the cells in a fingernail or a tumor are “alive,” and you could kill those cells, but you cannot kill the fingernail or tumor itself because it is not alive. To quote a standard dictionary definition of “life,” it is “an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.” Neither the fingernail nor the tumor possess those qualities. So, no, you are simply incorrect, my toenails are not alive and I do not end their life when I cut them off. Surely you can see there is a difference between shooting a deer, or even just stepping on a cockroach, and cutting off a toenail?
In contrast to the toenail or tumor, a fetus has those qualities of life. It has a capacity for metabolism and growth. It can react to stimuli. While it cannot reproduce yet, it has that inherent capacity (like sexually immature living creatures of all kinds, including human children for the first years of their life). The fetus is a life, like a deer or a cockroach, and unlike a toenail or tumor.
I think your parasite analogy is terribly misguided for many reasons, but even by that criteria, the fetus is a life. By definition, a parasite is a living, separate biological lifeform. I can end a tapeworm’s life in a way that I cannot end a tumor’s. That’s okay, because a tapeworm is a tapeworm, and not a human being. But what kind of life is an unborn fetus? Abortion ends the life of something, and I surely cannot see what is being ended other than a human life.
Referring back to my syllogism above, I believe I have demonstrated that a fetus is a human life. We agreed that it is human, and by every scientific definition it is a life (unlike a toenail or a tumor). If you agree with my premise #1 that ending a human life is murder, then it follows that abortion is murder. If I may press the point, that would mean you are an apologist for murder. I hope you will at least prayerfully consider whether that might be the case.
I anticipate that your response will rely again on your distinction between being a human life and being a human being. I believe that is a false distinction, and I think its fallaciousness can be illustrated with a question. If aborting a fetus ends its life (as “life” is defined scientifically), what kind of organism’s life is being ended? If I shoot a deer, a deer’s life is ended. If I kill a puppy, a dog’s life is ended. If I abort a fetus, what kind of life am I ending? I’m asking in a purely biological sense. If tissue from the body was analyzed, what species would the lab say it was?
A follow-up question that just occurred to me: Let us assume that the victim assisted by the Good Samaritan was unconscious and would die without care. Upon what grounds is he worthy of protection but a fetus is not?
I pressed some wrong button when I was pretty well ready to reply to you. Now will have to redo the whole thing…
The question of whether what is found in a womb, or on the way there, is A LIFE, the member of a species, can be approached from either end – the earliest origins or just prior to birth. If we consider a favorite pro-life expression, from the moment of conception, at that moment it is not even a fetus.
What you call “an organism,” for that term to do the work you want it to do (identify a human being as a human being), must be an animal and the member of a species. To be an animal it must have organs and particularly sensory organs, to be the kind of animal a human being is.
It is not enough for it to have HUMAN cells, as we agree.
It comes to my mind again that it is a strange idea indeed that PERSONS can be invisible to the naked eye, and that they could NEVER sense anything or do anything. That there are such “persons.” That many, perhaps most of what you want to call persons (human beings) NEVER sense anything, NEVER have any kind of thought, NEVER do anything. For I am sure you know that many and perhaps the majority of conceptions miscarry “naturally.” (God kills them – would you subscribe to such a theory?)
Anyway, to be an animal, a member of the human species, what does that require? I don’t think there is any “scientific” (to use a term you seem to like) reason to think how the member of a species is determined is any different in the case of a human being than for other animals. So just like the pregnant sow is NOT a dozen pigs, and the fertilized chicken egg is not a chicken (the farmer who tried to sell “ALIVE ANIMALS” on that basis would be deserving of having his scam revealed for what it is, and he would only be able to pull it off on an extremely ignorant and blind buyer), so too the pregnant woman is not two people and that is generally evident, especially evident early in the pregnancy.
So what is an animal being, the “being” part of “human being”? It is a born entity, A life in the sense of being an actual animal.
It is not enough to be of a certain species, for as we considered and agree upon, the cancer cells are human, of the human species. It must be a species being, the MEMBER of a species.
Just like anyone who wanted to call the pre-fetal contents (or even the fetal contents) of a pregnant sow’s womb “pigs” would be laughed out of court, so too the idea that there are persons who live in absolute darkness and entirely “underwater,” (in a fluid) ALL THE TIME, is ridiculous!
Just as we measure the age of a pig from its birth, so too we measure the life of a person from when it starts, at birth. We NEVER add nine months (approximately) to determine its “TRUE age.”
So on your #2. (in sum), the fetus is not A life, whether it is a pig fetus or a human fetus. Some pigs and some humans are not born alive, and then we do NOT say they lived for a while, though it was unfortunately not on this earth. No, though we may call them pigs or humans, they are ALWAYS dead pigs or dead humans; they were NEVER alive beings of any age, never alive animal beings that are pigs, nor alive animal beings that are humans, human beings.
You speak of “life of a biological creature (an organism), the latter of which is what I defined above: ‘an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.’”
It may be true you defined that in that way (or more accurately perhaps your favorite definition of your chosen dictionary was that); I am not going to go over everything you said to see if that is a true claim. The point I want to make here is, what you present here as a definition appears in that particular dictionary as A definition of “LIFE”, and is NOT the definition of “life of a biological creature (an organism).”
This is very critical and completely obliterates the vital distinction between LIFE (like I pointed out, there is only one kind of “life” and that is the life that ANY LIVING THING has, regardless of what that alive “thing” may be), and A life in the sense of a distinct living being. THE TUMOR HAS LIFE AND THEREFORE MUST COME UNDER THIS DEFINITION YOU GIVE. And that does not distinguish it from the animal being – there is LIFE in both the tumor and the animal, and the fact of that life (as per your definition, however good it might be) does not serve to distinguish between the two.
So the FAILURE TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN TWO VERY DIFFERENT THINGS is yours.
Best regards, Douglas
First you say, “I meant simply that if someone is human, then that alone is sufficient to establish their worth. To use the terminology you prefer, a human being’s life is valuable because the human being is a human being. I believe we agree on that?”
These two statements are NOT the same thing. In the first statement you beg the question with “someone”; less inserting of the desired answer into the question would be achieved with “if something is human, then that alone is sufficient to establish its worth.” Accepting that (or not), this claim of yours is false, and the problem is that it SHOULD READ: If something is A human, then that alone is sufficient …
We know a single human hair is human, so being “human” is not sufficient to give MUCH value.
The major distinction that MUST BE MAINTAINED is between “human,” and “a human.” I think we established earlier that the cancer cells, the flesh that is cancer cells, is human flesh.
So to call the fetus “human” (i.e human flesh, human cells, etc.) is NOT to elevate it above the tumor, but to call it “a human” is to (try to) do so. It is only to TRY to do so, because it is false, unless there are sufficient grounds for saying it is “A human.”
Thing is, you can’t take the well established fact that it is human, it consists of human cells, to mean it is A human, so your statement :”if someone is human …” CANNOT be taken to be the same thing as “a human being.”
The term “someone” can give the implication it is indeed a human being, but that usage is only legitimate if it has in some other manner been shown to be a human or a human being. Being “human” means it (unless it is MORE than that) is like the fetus or the fingernail, I mean the tumor or the fingernail. (Actually all three are in the same category of NOT being human beings.)
You say: “I don’t know if you are doing it consciously, but your argument throughout this post is equivocating two meanings of the word “living.” We can say that a cell within an organism is living, or we can say that some organism is alive. Yes, the cells in a fingernail or a tumor are “alive,” and you could kill those cells, but you cannot kill the fingernail or tumor itself because it is not alive.”
Cells may be living, and they may the cells of an ORGANISM (distinct independent biological entity) that is living. I don’t think there is an equivocation on the meaning of “living”; its meaning is “is alive.”
What is “it” in the case of the tumor? It is a mass of cells, it is flesh. The cells are alive, so when you say “you cannot kill the tumor itself because it is not alive” that can be taken to be saying there is no life in the tumor to begin with. “Not alive” means “has no life.” The equivocation is NOT with “living,” but what sort of entity it is that has life.
The tumor has life, unfortunately. It consists of living cells just as much as the forty year old person is alive and that life is based on the life found in all its living cells, the constituents of which it is made, what it is. In the case of the tumor, usually the doctor tries to kill that life, which one wants to say, probably has to say to be truthful, is the life of cells that are very much alive but are NOT an independent organism (like any of the cells in themselves are, that is they can be killed, the life taken from them, they can be made dead. And if enough of them are killed, then the tumor will have been extinguished, be no longer growing, no longer have life.
The equivocation is between “life,” having life on the one hand, and being “A life.”
This parallels the possible equivocation between “human,” and “A human.”
The question is not WHAT IS ALIVE, in the sense we can point to cells that have life, we know which cells we are talking about, and they are all alive! In that sense the entire entity we are pointing to, whether it is a tumor or a cockroach, is alive. IT HAS LIFE. It entirely has life, and in that sense is alive. Is living.
Question is, is it A life? A being, a distinct biological entity, a member of a species. That has among other qualities the quality of consisting of alive cells. The question is NOT whether something is alive, consists of alive cells, but rather whether it rises to the status of being biologically an organsim, member of a species.
Any and all living cells are a life ( a single-cell being) and have life, are alive. And so too the cockroach. But not a tumor AS A WHOLE; though it has life, consists of alive cells, it is NOT “a life”. I think you are right in that.
But that is where, it strikes me, many pro-life arguments go off track. They assume if you discover “life,” that is the same as it being “a life,” when that is not so. Maybe that is what you are getting at in suggesting two meanings of “living”; THE ACTUAL DIFFERENCE WE MUST BE CLEAR ABOUT IS BETWEEN “LIFE” AND “A LIFE.”
There is wrong-headed speculation, I think, in the paragraph(s) of MY last posting where I said:
“ It is “A LIFE,” but what sort of entity is it that is alive?
That is, “a human life” seems to possibly be ambiguous; any ambiguity can be removed with “a human being,” or simply “a human.” “
Having looked at that again, I am content to accept without argument that “a life” is the same as “a human life” or “a human” in the case where one is referring to a human being. That means of course that merely calling it “a life” doesn’t make it a human being – it may be some other kind of being OR it may not be “a life,” a human being, it may not be a member of the human species.
“I think your parasite analogy is terribly misguided for many reasons, but even by that criteria, the fetus is a life. By definition, a parasite is a living, separate biological lifeform. I can end a tapeworm’s life in a way that I cannot end a tumor’s. That’s okay, because a tapeworm is a tapeworm, and not a human being. But what kind of life is an unborn fetus? Abortion ends the life of something, and I surely cannot see what is being ended other than a human life.”
You are correct – a fetus is not a parasite. And mostly for the very reason you indicate – it is NOT a living, separate biological lifeform. But it is parasitic, it lives ENTIRELY off it’s host, inhabits a living organism, and becomes dead if cut off from the host (unless it is removed entirely intact, rather at once, and with other measures it’s life is sustained, only even possible at later stages.) Actually you can end the tapeworms life in much the same way you end the life which a tumor has – detatch it from it’s host, the cells its cells feed on. (Might take longer for the cells of a tapeworm to become all dead than for those of a tumor.)
I sense you want to make much of the idea of not being able to end the life of a tumor, because, I guess you would say, because it is not an organism. I think that is wrongheaded, and almost blatantly false. The life which a tumor has is ended, and certainly that life is no more. IT (however you wish to characterize it) was once alive, and IT (in total) no longer is. Note that one is here NOT claiming “it as an organism,” for that would be wrong – there is no organism to kill. But you do not therefore say the tumor cannot be killed, meaning what that can only mean, that the cells of the tumor cannot be cut off or burnt off or in some other way become dead. I think this is so, I can certainly imagine the surgeon saying he killed the tumor, and not seeing anything in any way untruthful about that. If you want to legislate language to be that you cannot use “killing” in that way, well there might be some point, a certain consistency, but you certainly would be legislating language and not allowing some common usage.
Because it is not “A life” does not mean it does not have life. That same distinction. And wherever there is LIFE, that life can be ended, come to an end. That says nothing about whether the entity in question is an organism, or not.
Your last two sentences here: “But what kind of life is an unborn fetus? Abortion ends the life of something, and I surely cannot see what is being ended other than a human life.” Here your very form of words prejudge the answer; more neutral questioning would be: “What kind of life does the fetus have?” (All fetuses are unborn, so the adjective is unnecessary – it only comes I imagine because you are used to referring to the fetus as “the unborn” – I won’t mention the other really false term – in order to suggest it is only a matter of time until it will be born of course!)
Anyhoo, the answer is, first, “the usual kind,” there is only one kind of life in that LIFE IS LIFE, it is what certain organisms, cells, etc. have, and may cease to have. It is not as though there is a special kind of life for large organisms, another kind of life for cells, another kind of life for collections of cells, etc.. Which mostly means the question is rather senseless. (It has the life of cells, it has the life of certain organizations of cells, when it is alive cells it has the life of WHATEVER IT IS. It is not legitimate to try to pack your idea of what it is into some special definition of “life”; when it is alive it has the life that fetus cells have. The same sort of LIFE any alive animal cells have, including a tumor.
Abortion ends the life of some “thing,” and what that thing is is a fetus. (In case we didn’t notice -like they say, lol.) What is being ended is, what is being killed ( I guess if it is the case that killing never applies to non-organism life, then murder is certainly not possible), what is being ended is the life which a fetus possessed. It was alive cells and no longer is alive cells. That is about as obvious as anything can be. There is no necessity or even any grounds for calling that “a human life.” It is a fetus – you at least ALMOST knew to call it that before it became dead.
It is a fetus and remains a fetus and its life as a live fetus has come to an end. It is then good for research and little else – and of course that would mean that THE REALITY IS it was NEVER much good for anything! (I really shouldn’t be so abrasive!)
No, you have not demonstrated that “a fetus is a human life” (a human being) that “by every scientific definition it is a life.” We agreed that it is human LIFE, but we, perhaps more clearly now, do not agree that it is A LIFE. It is not an organism, the member of a species. Your “INHERENT CAPACITY” to reproduce will not do – the fetus qua fetus (i.e. WHAT IT IS!) has no reproductive ability; no fetus has ever produced another fetus. (If that ever happened it would be a really weird cancer.)
And especially is it not a species being; it is not a human being because it is never any kind of animal being.
Note it might help to avoid failing to notice the major distinction between “human” and “a human” (that little “a”) by always putting “human being” in parenthesis behind any use of “a human life.” It is forgetting that little difference, that small “a,” and rather interchangeably using “a human” and “human” that gets many pro-life people to where they want to go. It is rather obviously HUMAN substance, but that does not mean it is A HUMAN.
The last paragraph of the main body of your post: I agree with the first sentence here, that that is a false distinction. You can probably see that from what I have said already; I was wrong to somewhat speculatively raise it as a possibility. But your “what kind of an organism’s life is being ended?” includes a false premise. It is NOT an organism in the strictly biological scientific sense (though it is human, we agree, it consists of human cells), as I have already indicated.
I think I have already answered your followup question, the fetus does not deserve the protection the Good Samaritan guy deserves because it is not a human being. It does not have the barest requisites of members of humanity, it has no usable sentience or intelligence, and is not a being, not a member of the human (animal) species. That does not mean it is not “human” in the sense that it consists of human cells – on that we agree.
Amid your definitions and distinctions above, I do not see a direct rebuttal to the essential points:
1. The fetus is human. We agree on this point.
2. The fetus is a life, as a matter of scientific definition. You are continuing to equivocate between living cells (part of an organism, like a tumor) and life of a biological creature (an organism), the latter of which is what I defined above: “an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.” As I anticipated you would, you argued the fetus cannot reproduce, but neither can toddlers beget toddlers. The immature members of a species have capacity to reproduce once they reach sexual maturity, and the fetus has that as well. A fetus is a life in the way that a single amobae is, but my leg is not–it is an organism. That is what is defined above. Ask any scientist what it means to be a living organism, and he’ll list criteria similar to those above, criteria the fetus meets.
The fetus is A LIFE; an organism (not merely living tissue). The only species it could possibly be is human. Therefore it is a human organism, a human life. Therefore, ending that human life is murder.
Oops, I posted my latest (today) above a post or two like you suggested earlier, so I guess the blog is now working better and it is posted out of place. Seems IF there is a “post comment” button then I can post it in place. Sorry.
I could repost it right after your latest comment, it seems. And then perhaps delete (no I don’t think I can delete or edit anything after posting … well you get the drift…
Douglas, I’m replying here to your comment posted above.
As you said, we can approach the question of abortion from either end, looking at the unborn child a moment after conception or a moment before birth. I grant that the moment after conception is a less intuitively obvious case to make, and if you were willing to grant the humanity of the viable eight-month-old fetus then I’d be glad to engage the question of the just-conceived child with you. However, since you are apparently fine with killing an unborn child who is recognizably human in every way and could survive outside the womb, I’d rather start at that end of things. I do find it interesting that you say that you are fine with abortion of viable fetuses, but all your examples and arguments rely on the “undifferentiated tissue” picture of the unborn child which really is only accurate for the first several weeks.
Within four weeks, the child is easily visible to the naked eye and is beginning to develop organs. At eight weeks the tiny baby has a functioning heart and other organs. Since you are okay with abortion of an older fetus, why do you keep referring to the fetus as if it was just an invisible blob of tissue? Are you uncomfortable with the thought of injecting deadly saline solution into an unborn child who can feel pain and try to move away from the needle, then using forceps to tear apart and remove recognizably human limbs and organs out of the womb?
Yes, many persons die before birth, and the rest of us die after it. God kills all of us. It’s right there in Genesis 3. But there is a huge difference between God choosing when someone’s life will end and another person murdering them.
Actually, the law does recognize a pregnant woman as two people with fetal homicide laws, which exist in a majority of states. As for chicken eggs, do you know why stores don’t sell fertilized eggs? My wife and I buy eggs from a farmer, so they are fertilized, and I’ll tell you: When you crack open a fertilized egg that has developed a bit, there is quite obviously (and shockingly, if it’s unexpected) an unborn chicken inside it. And about pigs… Have you ever dissected a fetal pig in biology class? If it’s not a pig, why can we learn about mammal biology from it? It certainly looks like a pig. Of course, a pregnant sow is not a dozen pigs, but she is one pig who has a dozen others inside her–which is why a farmer can sell a pregnant sow for much more than one that isn’t, since the buyer is getting more than one pig.
Actually, women who miscarry often mourn their lost child as a lost child. If the fetus is old enough, they often bury him or her with much greater care than one would dispose of a removed tumor, say. And, as I said above, fetal homicide laws do presume that the unborn child “lived for a while,” because the defendant is charged with murdering him or her.
The whole point of a definition like that is to differentiate between “life and a life.” A tumor is not a life by that definition. It does not have metabolism, nor reaction to stimuli, nor reproduction. The definition is a definition of “a life,” to use your terminology. It is a very basic definition that you would find in any scientific or medical dictionary. The particular one I quoted just happened to be the first one I looked at. Here are two more definitions which say essentially the same thing which are literally the first two I just found when looking up “life” in an online dictionary: 1 and 2. These are definitions of what you have been calling “a life” as opposed to mere “life.”
I find it very curious that you say you are “not going to go over everything [I] said to see if that is a true claim.” You’ve spent quite a lot of time talking about this issue with me, but you seem very uninterested in the actual scientific/medical definition of life which would clarify precisely the point we’ve been going back and forth on.
Right now I’ll limit myself to the last couple of points you make: will try to remember to deal with the other stuff again in another post. (Don’t know whether to laugh or cry.)
Anyway, your last point, “I find it very curious that you say you are “not going to go over everything [I] said to see if that is a true claim.”
Perhaps even more curiousity would mean looking more closely at what I and you are saying, to see first of all what is your claim that I am referring to here. Can you answer that question?
The claim I am referring to is: “ life of a biological creature (an organism), the latter of which is what I defined above: ‘an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.’”
The answer I gave is: “It may be true you defined that in that way …”; THAT is what I did not try to figure out, whether precisely what you say here is what you said earlier (as you claim).
That is, I was not concerned whether you correctly represented what you said earlier, but only how you were now using “your” definition. So I said:
“The point I want to make here is, what you present here as a definition appears in that particular dictionary as A definition of “LIFE”, and is NOT the definition of “life of a biological creature (an organism).”
This is the KEY POINT that you do not seem to be even now be noticing.
It is not true that I am, “very uninterested in the actual scientific/medical definition of life.” What I was trying to point out is that what you NOW refer to in that manner is what you formerly called “life of a biological creature (an organism).” And I take it you meant that to be a definition of “A life,” not merely something with life (including the tumor!)
So do you see that is to CONFLATE TWO VERY DIFFERENT THINGS, “life” as per some dictionary definition of that singular term, and the idea, the reality of “A life” as a distinct organism? Can you answer that question?(That you see the conflation.)
Like I pointed out (to repeat myself again), your (dictionary) definition is of LIFE and that is what is found in any entity that is alive, including the tumor. Can’t you see that? Tell me how I am wrong in pointing that out…
THERE IS ONLY ONE KIND OF “LIFE,” AND THAT IS THE LIFE ANYTHING ALIVE HAS.
BTW, a little look at one of your additional definitions: “life”
1. Vitality, the essential condition of being alive; the state of existence characterized by such functions as metabolism, growth, reproduction, adaptation, and response to stimuli.
2. Living organisms such as animals and plants.
Which is actually two different definitions, you may notice. They are essentially the difference we are considering, 1. Being the definition of “Life” and 2. Being the definition that is NOT “life” per se, but “A life.”
And in particular, you CANNOT USE ONE DEFINITION TO DEFINE THE OTHER. They are indicating two different things may be referred to by the one term. AND the dictionary is actually failing to notice that the precise difference between definitions 1. and 2. is that between “life” which defines ALL LIFE, and in the case of the second definition, “life” that occurs with an “A” in front of it. (The definitions are rather simple and do not point out this fact I have just pointed out.)
To repeat, 1. and 2. are two different meanings of “life,” the latter actually being “a life.”
A brief conclusion: you say of all the dictionary definitions of “life” you have presented so far: “These are definitions of what you have been calling ‘a life’ as opposed to mere ‘life.’” No so, except for the second definition (2.) that I have just discussed above. They are mostly definitions of “life,” WHICH THEY SAY THEY ARE – with a correct understanding of the matter (not found in this particular dictionary) it can be seen that this 2.is in fact a definition of “a life” whereas 1. is not.
NOTE: Unless one wants to be confused (or confusing!), one must be sure to use “life” without an “a” ONLY when one is referring to the sort of thing ALL living things have, and on the other hand ALWAYS have an “a” in front of “life” when one wants to use that term to refer to a distinct organism. Agree?
A further interesting thing – that M-W entry re “LIFE” you first gave has definition 5a. ”the period from birth to death.” Take that! (Authority.)
On dictionary definitions in general, they are DEFINITIONS OF ONE WORD. So “a life” does not specifically appear and ones needs to contemplate further than the dictionary does what the grammar of how the “a” in front of “life” means one is not talking of the same thing as when one simply says “life.”
Hi Douglas, sorry if I misconstrued your comment about not going over what I had said. I did not realize that was what you meant.
The word “life” has multiple meanings, as you pointed out in your comment above. A dictionary typically lists all possible meanings of the word. As we have agreed, there is a difference between what you call “life” and “a life.” Since, as you said, a dictionary does not define phrases, one of the definitions of “life” encompasses what you are calling “a life,” i.e. the life of a particular biological organism.
I think this has been a frustrating exchange for both of us because I have been assuming that the meaning of “a life” was pretty obvious and clear and that we would agree on it and then move on to discuss its implications. Your distinction between “life” and “a life” is basic Biology 101, so I assumed you agreed with the Biology 101 definition of “a life,” which is what I’ve offered from several dictionaries. Apparently you do not agree with that, so I’d like to get our definitions clarified before moving on.
We agree that “life” and “a life” are two different things. I understand those words to mean…
1. “Life” as we are using it refers to the type of substance. It is composed of biological tissue, rather than non-biological matter. So, my leg, or a tumor, or an elephant’s trunk, would be “life” as we are using the term. On the other hand, a fossil or a rock or dirt would not be life.
2. “A life” as we are using it refers to a particular organism. Everything from an amoeba to a dog to an elephant is a life. A person is a life. On the other hand, my leg, a tumor, or an elephant’s trunk would not be “a life” in itself.
What is the difference between “a life” and mere “life”? For example, what is the difference between a cell from my leg and a one-celled amoeba? I think your answer to that question would be very helpful. You have denied that a fetus is “a life,” but I cannot recall your defining precisely what you mean by the categorical term “a life.” So, please, if you would, define what you mean by “a life,” and what makes a cell from my body different from an amoeba, or a person’s leg different from a dog. What characteristics do an amoeba or dog have which make them “a life”?
My answer (and the answer of any biology textbook) would be that they have those qualities listed in the definitions I gave earlier: “capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction… the state of existence characterized by such functions as metabolism, growth, reproduction, adaptation, and response to stimuli… the state that distinguishes organisms from inorganic matter, manifested by growth, metabolism, reproduction, and adaptation.” Since you disagree with that distinction, what criteria would you use to define what makes something “a life”? I think that is the crux of our disagreement right now.
You say: “the Biology 101 definition of ‘a life,’ which is what I’ve offered from several dictionaries.” I tried to point out that I do not think that is quite true, that it is mostly false, that they are not so much a textbook definition as dictionary definitions and dictionaries offer only definitions of single terms. So mostly what you have been pointing to have been definitions of “life.”
I pointed to the two definitions of “life” in the one dictionary:
1. Vitality, the essential condition of being alive; the state of existence characterized by such functions as metabolism, growth, reproduction, adaptation, and response to stimuli.
2. Living organisms such as animals and plants.
I think a close look at this shows the difference we are trying to get at – that Definition 1. is of “life” and Definition 2. is of “a life,” though it doesn’t specifically say so and in fact both definitions come under “life” in the dictionary.
Problem is, you have been using the first (1) “Vitality” definition, parts of it, as defining of “a life.” That is, you seem to have taken the CHARACTERISTICS OF A STATE OF EXISTENCE to be NOT that which is found in anything that has life, but as indicating “a life.”
Whereas I would like to point out, and I think I am correct in this, that the true and appropriate definition of “a life” is given in 2. Can you agree on this?
(Definitions 1 and 2 are different meanings, NOT pointing to the same thing.)
The cells of which your body or any living (animal) body is composed, how are we to look at each one of them? Or do we need to – I suspect nothing of our differences re the fetus are based on how we refer to the individual cells of a piece of flesh, though I think they are “organisms” in the sense in which you seem to want to define that, that it is “a life,” that each cell grows and reproduces, etc. But I suggest our particular understanding of this may not be relevant, may not have to be considered by us.
On the other hand you offer definitions of “life” and of “a life”:
1. “Life” as we are using it refers to the type of substance. It is composed of biological tissue, rather than non-biological matter. So, my leg, or a tumor, or an elephant’s trunk, would be “life” as we are using the term. On the other hand, a fossil or a rock or dirt would not be life.
2. “A life” as we are using it refers to a particular organism. Everything from an amoeba to a dog to an elephant is a life. A person is a life. On the other hand, my leg, a tumor, or an elephant’s trunk would not be “a life” in itself.
I see some difficulties with these your understandings: First of all, I think we are trying to get at WHAT THINGS REALLY ARE, the correct usage of the terms, not merely “as we are using it.” Like you point out, we do not seem to be using these terms in quite the same way, you and I.
To my mind, using “life” to refer to “type of substance” as you indicate it, is not correct. It does not get at that element of vitality that LIFE is precisely and distinctly. It is not about whether something is biological tissue as opposed to dirt and rock, for instance. The vital and TOTAL meaning OF LIFE is that some biological tissue is alive, and some is not. (Except it is not only tissue that may have life, be alive – even single cells are alive.) The dead body is still biological tissue and not rock or dirt (though it may turn into the latter. That is, it can decompose and become something other than tissue, but the difference indicated by LIFE is between life and death or probably more precisely, LIFE AND THE ABSENCE OF LIFE.
Your second proposed definition, of “a life,” I find one thing to quibble with. I would say of the leg or tumor, “would not itself be a life,” rather than “‘a life’ in itself.” In itself, that is inside itself, it has life, and one does not want to be taken to meaning that with “a life.”
Plus, to indicate like the dictionary’s definition does, that plants and animals are instances of “a life” is I think very important to understanding. (After that comes the definition of “animal,” I suspect.) So best regards!
And bear in mind that LIFE is what all alive things, all living things, “possess,” It is not a way at all to distinguish between various things that have life. (In other words don’t throw around the term “life” as though it was in any way relevant to arguments about abortion (other than as part of the expression “a life.”) Once one recognizes that yes indeed the fetus has life, may be alive, and yes indeed, it may become dead, may come to not have life. Facts nobody denies.
BTW, on the face of it (without further context), “pro-life” just as much means one favors (not killing) mosquitoes as it means one favors (not killing) fetuses.
I think you have it precisely backward, that “a life” is what is defined by “functions as metabolism, growth, reproduction, adaptation, and response to stimuli,” which makes me think we’re still not using the terms in the same way. Like I said, I was attempting above to figure out what you meant by those terms, so my apologies if I didn’t hit it quite accurately. I keep thinking that your terminology of “life” vs. “a life” is getting at the basic distinction between living tissue vs. a living organism, but I’m still not sure if that is what you mean. In fact, looking back over your comment, you still don’t seem to have clarified what makes something “a life” vs. “life.” Perhaps we can clarify things by jettisoning that terminology altogether and focusing on the underlying concepts themselves.
There is a category of things, let’s call it X, which contains things like a leg or a tumor or an elephant’s trunk. There is a second category of things, let’s call it Y, which contains things like an amoeba, or a dog, or an elephant. My one, single, solitary question for you is how we can tell the difference between members of group X and members of group Y. I’m not asking what you would call group Y, but what characteristics distinguish group Y from group X.
A LIFE: a living organism, an alive independent being, complete in itself member of a species.
It is not only a cell or an organ or spurious growths like tumors but a functioning organization of cells and organs with homeostasis to maintain itself as an autonomous animal.
LIFE is common to both “a life” and those entities we want to in this definition distinguish from it. That means in both categories X and Y there are characteristics of a state of existence or condition of being alive that includes such functions as metabolism, growth, reproduction, adaptation, and response to stimuli, functions which most alive cells must have. This I think has been confusing in that dictionaries are not too concerned to make the distinction we are making. These functions therefore appear in the definition of “life” yet we also want them in the definition of “a life.” Of course when we say LIVING organism it must include the functions that all “life” has.
Note that in differentiating between X and Y we can and do rely much on examples of what falls in one category and not the other. An amoeba has no set cell organs, structure, or defining shape, yet each single cell organism carries on an independent existence. It seems a major thing about an organism or “a life” is its autonomy.
Thanks for this clarification. I think this is an incredibly important point and I’m glad we are moving toward clarity on it. I’ll reply later to your longer comment below.
Your definition of “a life” is generally accurate, except for one serious flaw. You referred to “an alive independent being,” and later “an autonomous animal.” Technically, no animal is “independent” or “autonomous,” because every organism depends on things like air, light, food, etc. Perhaps you mean a life is not dependent on other living creatures, but that does not make sense either. Every immature living organism depends on its parents, herbivores depend on living plants and carnivores depend on living animals, parasites depend on their hosts, and creatures in symbiotic relationships depend on one another. Unless you radically redefine the word, I think you need to discard this part of your definition.
This simply is not true. Let’s just take a leg (group X) as a representative example. A leg as a leg cannot metabolize. A leg cannot reproduce to create new legs. A leg by itself does not respond to stimuli unless it is attached to a central nervous system elsewhere in the body. The fact that legs do not have these characteristics is precisely why we do not consider them living organisms.
These criteria are why we call a bacteria on the tongue a living organism, while a very similar tongue cell is not. They are the difference between a tapeworm (group Y) and an intestine (group X).
It simply IS true that both categories X an Y must have those functions indicated – they HAVE LIFE, are alive, and the only possible untrue element in what I indicated is that it perhaps should have read that ALL ALIVE CELLS much have ALL those functions. I think it is perhaps possible one may be missing in some exceptional cases, so I said “most alive cells must have.” I do not know for sure so went with the weaker claim.
You say: “The fact that legs do not have these characteristics is precisely why we do not consider them living organisms.” I doubt that is true. We do not call a leg a living organism because we know it is only an organ, ONLY PART of an actual autonomous living being or organism, not itself a complete organism.
The leg that does not reproduce itself (as yet another leg) is a rather strange intellectual thing, and
nothing we do not agree on (unless you want to insist there is no life having the characteristics of life in it). Anyway since we both agree it is not itself an organism, I’m not sure that we need to pursue it further.
Yet I would ask you to respond precisely to a couple of very precise questions: One dictionary definition of LIFE that you gave a link to (I cannot seem to find the link but I think it was labeled “(2)”) was:
“1. Vitality, the essential condition of being alive; the state of existence characterized by such functions as metabolism, growth, reproduction, adaptation, and response to stimuli.
2. Living organisms such as animals and plants. “
Can you understand this the way I understand it – the way I have already indicated? IT IS TWO DEFINITIONS OF THE ONE TERM “LIFE.” Yes, or no?
The first definition (1.) gives us “vitality … etc.” This gives us WHAT ALL LIFE MUST POSSESS, WHAT MUST BE PRESENT IN ANY LIVING THING. I presume you can understand the tumor and the leg are alive, contain life, though they are not alive beings, not alive organisms.
And being alive THEY MUST HAVE things like metabolism, growth, etc. Yes or no?
The second definition (2) is of LIVING ORGANISMS, where the life indicated in (1) must be present since it is found in ALL life. But ORGANISMS ARE NOT THE ONLY THINGS THAT ARE ALIVE, as I thought you were pointing out (in referring to the leg, etc.). So the STATE OF EXISTENCE defined by (1) also applies to things NOT included in (2). Yes or no?
I think it is “simply” a misunderstanding of what the dictionary says if you do not fully agree with what I have just said here.
That being the case, ALMOST THE ONLY THING THAT DISTINGUISHES THE LEG AND THE TUMOR FROM THE BACTERIA AND THE PERSON IS THE ELEMENT OF AUTONOMY. The organism is a being in itself. And not part of some other (living) thing. The difference of autonomy is (at least) these two things: positively a self-contained being, and negatively not an attachment or part of some other living thing .
Having autonomy is NOT the same thing as lacking dependency in that any organism must interact with its environment to find nourishment (even if it “eats light” as in the case of the plant which we need not consider). The interaction involves the environment that is not the organism itself, and the dependency is that it is able to find (gain) it sustenance from that interaction.
The factor of being sustained by it’s environment is NOT the factor of it being able to act autonomously and achieve that successful interaction. This autonomy the organism must have to be one “life”; unlike the leg and the tumor it is a unitary and self-complete whole. On the other hand it is like the leg and tumor because of the fact that ALL LIFE needs sustenance which is metabolized, etc.
You claim in you Nov 24 response: “The pig fetuses display every one of the criteria for being a distinct organism, and any scientist would say that they are simply unborn pigs.” And you want to discuss it in this thread, so here goes:
Your “any scientist would say” is sheer imagining, and means nothing! It’s only a feeble attempt to add credibility and authority to what you say is so. I personally think most scientists would be more careful not to go beyond what they know, and would call them fetuses. And I think a very major percentage of scientists of biology would KNOW they are not pigs until born, THEY DO NOT BECOME MEMBERS OF A SPECIES UNTIL BIRTH (or hatching where that is the mechanism of reproduction).
You would not answer a question like “Do you think an animal exists as the member of a species BEFORE it is produced in the womb?,” would you? I hope you at least see why you don’t answer that question.
I’m sorry, but a pig fetus does not appear autonomous to me. It is chained where it is, has no independent animal movement, and is not using whatever elements of organs it has as a fully operational real born and breathing animal being.
Hi Douglas. I hope you had a good Thanksgiving.
Paraphrasing, you just stated that a leg is not a living organism because it is not a living organism. While tautologically true, that is not a helpful definition. The question is how we know something is a living organism. The way scientists make such a determination is by using the criteria I have been pointing to.
I’m not sure how these two statements fit together logically. You said that all things in both categories have those functions, yet you then casually dismissed the fact that a leg does not reproduce itself. That is the whole point. That illustrates the use of these criteria. The leg cannot reproduce itself, cannot metabolize (you ignored this point), and cannot respond to stimuli (you ignored this point too), which is how we can tell it is not a complete organism.
You seem to think I am just making up these criteria, so I did a quick Google search to find some scientific sites that show these criteria. I just searched “criteria for living organisms” and these were the first sites that came up. This really is just Biology 101. The criteria vary slightly, but they are always essentially the same.
No. That’s what you are not understanding about these criteria. In itself, the leg or tumor does not have metabolism. It can only metabolize as part of a larger organism. The fact that it cannot metabolize in a self-contained way (when cut off, it dies) indicates that it is not an organism.
No, organisms are the only things which have the characteristics listed above. Therefore, definitions 1 and 2 refer to the same things.
My only problem with defining an organism as “a self-contained being” is that the definition is too broad and vague. It would contain things like rocks and fossils which are not organisms. I think the criteria used by scientists, which I alluded to above, are more precise. I don’t really care if you want to use this definition, though, because a fetus is plainly “a self-contained being.” Yes, it is also contained within the mother’s womb, but that does not mean it is not self-contained. After all, I am self-contained even though I am wearing (contained within) clothes. More to the point, a tapeworm or bacteria is self-contained even though it is inside a human body. Unless you believe tapeworms and bacteria are not living organisms, it seems like this definition would mean a fetus is a living organism as well.
The second part of your definition, “not an attachment or part of some other living thing” is unscientific and inaccurate. “Not a part of some other living thing” is fine, but “not an attachment of some other living thing” does not work at all. What about parasites? Or nursing infants? Or the billions of living bacteria which inhabit our bodies?
Your first definition would encompass fetuses, and your second is fatally flawed. Do you accept the scientific criteria I offered above, or do you feel my critique of your definitions is unfair? It seems like you have to pick one of those two options.
Regarding the pig fetuses, my reference to the post above was to say that our discussion here would resolve the question of the pigs. I don’t think it’s helpful to debate the pig example further, because our answer regarding humans will be precisely the same as our answer regarding pigs. To answer your question, “You would not answer a question like ‘Do you think an animal exists as the member of a species BEFORE it is produced in the womb?,’ would you?,” of course I don’t think it exists before it exists. It begins to exist when it is “produced in the womb.” When it begins to exist in the womb, it begins to exist as a member of whatever species it belongs to.
ON AMBIGUITY AND PIG FETUSES
RESPONSE TO DAVID’S NOV. 20 FIRST TWO PARAGRAPHS:
“As you said, we can approach the question of abortion from either end, looking at the unborn child a moment after conception or a moment before birth. I grant that the moment after conception is a less intuitively obvious case to make, and if you were willing to grant the humanity of the viable eight-month-old fetus then I’d be glad to engage the question of the just-conceived child with you. However, since you are apparently fine with killing an unborn child who is recognizably human in every way and could survive outside the womb, I’d rather start at that end of things. I do find it interesting that you say that you are fine with abortion of viable fetuses, but all your examples and arguments rely on the “undifferentiated tissue” picture of the unborn child which really is only accurate for the first several weeks.
Within four weeks, the child is easily visible to the naked eye and is beginning to develop organs. At eight weeks the tiny baby has a functioning heart and other organs. Since you are okay with abortion of an older fetus, why do you keep referring to the fetus as if it was just an invisible blob of tissue? Are you uncomfortable with the thought of injecting deadly saline solution into an unborn child who can feel pain and try to move away from the needle, then using forceps to tear apart and remove recognizably human limbs and organs out of the womb?”
First, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN UNBORN CHILD, so for you to use that terminology is to seriously beg the question! It is precisely what is at issue – that is, IF you had good arguments for the view that there is such a thing, it might be legitimate usage. Let’s see the arguments first!
Secondly, can we try to stick to using the most plain and clear terminology, rather than perhaps again somewhat begging the question with rather slippery terms like “humanity”? We have discussed this a bit before – it may be seen to be much the same as “humanness,” and noticing once again THE ONE POINT WE SEEM TO AGREE ON, the fetus is human in that it consists of human cells, then we MIGHT be saying that same thing by claiming it has humanity. I pointed out that term seems to be best reserved for the features of human beings that distinguish them from other animals.
To maintain clarity please avoid the ambiguous (and therefore questionable) terminology of “humanity” and “humanness” when referring to the fetus. Can you agree to do that, does it not make sense to do that? If you mean to be saying it is A HUMAN BEING, then please use those words and not the slippery ones, okay? Do you agree, we should try to be clear?
E.g. in your statement above, BETTER than speaking of “granting the humanity of the viable eight-month-old fetus…” would be to say: “if you are prepared to grant that the eight-month-old fetus is a human being, a person..” IF that is what you meant to say. Right?
In other words, you should not think you can get away with somewhat suggesting it is a human being by suggesting it is human, has “humanity” features (like consisting of human cells), without presenting arguments for it being properly considered a human being.
Also, to not prejudice the issue and be clear about what we are clear about at this point, let us replace the blatant self-contradiction of “unborn child” with the clearly true (and neutral) term “fetus” and consider your CLAIM IN PASSING: the fetus “who is recognizably human in every way… .” Note how if the questionable noun indicating “human being” (the question in question) is not part of the statement, the “who” that ALSO begs the question, illegitimately making the claim that what is referred to is a person when that is precisely what is in question, is more clearly out of place. That is, the way to make the passing reference without doubly begging the question would be to say: “the FETUS THAT is recognizably human in every way… .”
Of course I still think that is a false claim, but it now looks more like the claim it actually is. Though it too is pretty much just a sideswipe, a claim in passing not at all argued for. I know this mode of argumentation is very much what pro-life people do, and you no doubt have read a lot of pro-life discussion, but I would hope this helps you to see when questions are begged and claims made without any real true arguments.
So anyway, I certainly think it is FALSE that a fetus “is recognizably human in every way.”
Of course the truth of this depends very much on what is “recognizably human,” what “recognizably human” means. First “recognizably,” what is it for a human being to be recognizable?
Now I see we again have THE AMBIGUITY OF “HUMAN”; if we are going to discuss this in a clear fashion (since we AGREE IT IS HUMAN (cells)), we must say “recognizably a human being in every way.” That is the claim you want to make, you take yourself to be making. But it is NOT the claim you are making by merely using the term “human.” Correct?
So, to actually argue against your actual claim, that a fetus is recognizably a human being “in every way,” first I would say: recognize how, how can we even recognize it at all? Whatever it is, WE DO NOT SEE IT, and certainly the way we recognize actual human beings in our actual experience is not by “seeing” them with ultra-sound. There is not much way to recognize it for what it is by looking at it, therefore, for to actually look at it we must change it, change its state RADICALLY. It either becomes dead and we remove it and it is a dead fetus and lacks that one feature we particularly want to find, to “recognize” in a human being, life. Or it is as per your case “viable,” is born, becomes a living being, an actual human being, and is no longer a fetus.
You cannot claim that after altering its state radically we see IT, and not something else. We see a living breathing soul, an actual baby; that is not what a fetus is. (It is an underwater growth subsisting in complete darkness, to say a bit more about it that I have already pointed out but perhaps you didn’t notice?)
Are you seriously claiming that we can recognize something to be a human being when it subsists entirely in a fluid and total darkness? It is a growth there, NOT IN GOD’S KINGDOM OF LIGHT!!
But beyond the question of recognition, there is the question of what constitutes a human being.
Despite your FALSE CLAIM: “all your examples and arguments rely on the “undifferentiated tissue” picture… ,” (I am pretty sure MOST of what I have said is about what is growing in the womb at any stage of its development – like our discussion of the difference between “human” and “a human being” – do I have to point all the rest of it out to you?). And it is FALSE that I “keep referring to the fetus as if it was just an invisible blob of tissue.” (It is not even tissue when it is only one or a few cells (invisible) and it also is NOT even a fetus at that stage.)
Anyway, fetuses in pig bellies are pig fetuses but not pigs. That a pregnant sow might be worth more than one not pregnant is NOT because there are pigs inside her, but because a certain amount of time and expense (breeding and feeding) is required to move from the non-pregnant to pregnant condition, and because the end result is likely more pigs the pregnant state might well be preferred. That value certainly does not prove what might not even be a fetus is actually a pig!
I’ve got an idea – I should start a company to market pig fetuses! (But I would never get away with calling them pigs, and they certainly would NEVER BE ALIVE, if that means anything to you.)
They are NOT members of the species of ANIMALS called pigs until actually born, just like human fetuses are not human beings (animals) until born.
That you can dissect a pig fetus proves no more than cutting apart the parts of a tumor taken from the womb of a pig would prove. No one denies there is some differentiation of parts of the fetus (so too are there various cells and cell components in the cancer) – that may well be part of the definition of fetus as compared to embryo. But though examining a primitive leg-like structure may teach one much about the leg of an actual pig without being part of an actual pig, just like inspection of a light switch just installed on an auto-production line could tell you much about how modern light switches work, it does NOT mean the leg-thing is part of an actual pig any more than that the light switch being a reality means the car is a reality. The car may be without wheels and without an engine, and no one would buy it as an actual car. Because IT IS NOT WHAT IT ONLY MIGHT BECOME.
Perhaps you could contemplate for a moment what gestation is all about – is it not HOW a new human being is produced? Do you actually think it exists BEFORE it is produced?
An additional note on your claim about a fetus: “who can feel pain and try to move away from the needle… .” Again the claim is prejudiced by using who, suggesting thereby a person. (Not to mention the prejudging by the foul contradiction you like to use to identify a fetus!) That some alive flesh in the womb reacts to being poked by a needle does NOT mean there is some conscious entity feeling pain. I don’t think there is, and to think there is is sheer speculation. The flesh is alive flesh and thus has the characteristic of life of “responding to stimuli.” That is, it proves nothing more than that the flesh is alive, which no one ever doubted.
Then you speak of “recognizably human limbs and organs.” This use of “human” (rather than “human being”) shows it may only be “human” in the same sense the cells (of the flesh) are human cells with human DNA. And like the light switch already pointed to, that there are things in a womb like unto things of a born human being does not prove it is a human being any more than the presence of a switch attached to some metal would prove “there always was a car”!
BTW, have you figured out if you can accept what I say about “A LIFE”? (Nov.22)
Doesn’t have to be any final word – you can change your mind later of course.
Hi Douglas, I just replied to your definition of “a life” above. This post is responding to your comment immediately above this one.
Regarding my use of the term “unborn child,” I will continue to use the term because it is accurate, though I realize you disagree. I don’t mind also using “fetus,” but I’m not going to police my language to avoid a term just because you don’t agree with it. I don’t mean to be impolite, but I think it is important to call things what they are.
I will also continue using “humanity” as I have been using it, to mean a human person. When I say that a fetus has humanity I do not mean that it has human cells, but that it is a human person. Hopefully that is clear and not “slippery.”
This goes back to what I said above about the criteria that determine if something is a living organism. The pig fetuses display every one of the criteria for being a distinct organism, and any scientist would say that they are simply unborn pigs. But, rather than just meaninglessly disagreeing with one another, let’s pursue this point in the discussion thread above.
Do you realize this is the same argument that was used to justify vivisection (cutting apart living animals without anesthesia for scientific research)? The fetus has a nervous system just like you or me. It responds to pain in the same way you or I do. I have as much reason to believe that a fetus can feel pain as I have to believe that any human other than me can feel pain.
This is a fascinating sentence: “It either becomes dead and we remove it and it is a dead fetus and lacks that one feature we particularly want to find, to ‘recognize’ in a human being, life.” I am struck, first, by your curiously passive “becomes dead.” If a fetus becomes dead, that is called a miscarriage. In an abortion, the fetus is killed. Secondly, you say the fetus lacks the one feature of life after an abortion. So, it is recognizably human except for having life? In that case, wouldn’t that mean it is a human being who was killed? Could you clarify what difference there is between the living, born child and the dead, aborted child except that the latter has been killed?
I find your emphasis on the invisibility of the fetus in the womb to be bizarre, frankly. It’s not like the womb is some mysterious black box. Yes, we have ultrasound, but you also can see a baby emerge from the womb, or, in a C-section, a doctor can literally cut open the womb and look in to see the unborn child. Are you seriously arguing that it is some totally different kind of being and then radically changes its ontology as it emerges? As the child emerges from the birth canal, is its head human while its feet remain… something else? During a C-section, does the fetus become a child when the light from the incision first hits it, or when the doctor reaches in and grasp it, or when it clears the mother’s womb on the way out? At what point does this total ontological change occur?
But my “recognizably human” point was more empirical than philosophical. So, I would just ask you this: does this aborted child appear “recognizably human” to you?
I’m sorry to show you that, Douglas. It made me feel sick finding and posting that picture, and I hope it makes you feel sick to look at it, but I want you to see what we are talking about here. I think I can safely describe that little child as “recognizably human.” You’re right, he or she is lacking “the one feature” of life, but somehow that does not make me feel any better about what happened to him or her.
Yes David, it is important to call things what they are. But your calling something what you choose to call it does not make it that, and I was hoping you would realize “unborn child” is to severely BEG THE QUESTION that is at issue. Anyway, I guess you want to help maintain what I call “a big lie,” the fact that if an untruth is repeated often and invariably enough it will come to seem to be true, be taken to be true.
It is NOT because I don’t agree with it that you should avoid such terminology, but because it makes your argument seem like special pleading and dependent on those of the opposite viewpoint accepting your view without argument. And I may not be the only one who will come to realize it is a big lie. So I may be mistaken, but to call things what they are, I think it is a big lie and part of a big lie technique of using one’s own self-defined private language to define reality and supposedly win arguments. Therefor I would caution you to avoid it, but …
You say: “ I will also continue using “humanity” as I have been using it, to mean a human person. When I say that a fetus has humanity I do not mean that it has human cells, but that it is a human person. Hopefully that is clear and not “slippery.”
Again, a private language is not in order. Your use of “human” in relation to your picture of THE FLESH illustrates how you are not even noticing your equivocation with that word – I will say more on that later.
It will be clear and not slippery IF whenever you use “humanity” as you have been using it, to mean a human person, you SAY SO. Otherwise it will certainly look slippery to me, since it says what is true, that there is “humanness” in the thing, but often will be designed to mean one has to accept it is more than that, that one is referring to a human person. Hence it may be BOTH TRUE AND NOT TRUE, depending on what you actually mean by it. If someone else cannot determine that, if it is left indeterminate, then it is slippery! (Mere hope won’t help.)
You say: “ I am struck, first, by your curiously passive “becomes dead.” If a fetus becomes dead, that is called a miscarriage. In an abortion, the fetus is killed. Secondly, you say the fetus lacks the one feature of life after an abortion. So, it is recognizably human except for having life? In that case, wouldn’t that mean it is a human being who was killed? Could you clarify what difference there is between the living, born child and the dead, aborted child except that the latter has been killed?
Look Dave, I hate to have to point this out, but it is when (if) a fetus is killed that it becomes dead. What kills it may be “natural” or it may be human agency. Sometimes what you want to call “miscarriage” is called “abortion,” especially in domestic animals. Vets say a cow aborted and it does not mean the vet killed its fetus. (Hardly do we say the cow killed its fetus, but that seems to be another story.) “(Human) induced miscarriage” is one totally accurate way of describing what you especially don’t like.
You clearly are not enough wanting clarity yet, wanting instead to cling to and use THE AMBIGUOUS TERM “HUMAN.” Recognizably human means it is composed of human cells, right? Is no claim about whether it is a human being, right? (Surely an analysis of the cells is one way to RECOGNIZE it as “human.”) That is your problem, or your “solution” if you need to be ambiguous to seem to make a useful point.)
So yes, it is “recognizably human” in that it appears to kind of have the form of a human being and like the DNA would confirm, IS HUMAN. (I take it the picture of YOUR FLESH LOVING OBJECT is not the picture of a pig fetus, in that sense it is recognizably human!)
What “it is a dead fetus and lacks that one feature we particularly want to find, to ‘recognize’ in a human being, life.” means is that IT IS DEAD as I say and WHEN DEAD THERE IS CERTAINLY NO POINT IN ARGUING FURTHER ABOUT IT. What I was actually saying is that you in your searching for recognition of “the human” would WHEN IT IS DEAD find only a dead fetus, and certainly ONLY A FETUS and to point to that would not be to make the point you want to make. There would be no point in looking for a human being because THEN it never would be an ALIVE human being and your real point is for it to be alive. (This is all making too much of a virtually non-point.)
To say “lacks that one feature we particularly want to find, to ‘recognize’ in a human being, life,” is NOT to say that is the ONLY feature of a human being it lacks, only the one I thought you were always particularly keen to find. If the only case you have for “recognizing” it (or one of two possible ones) is a dead state – you cannot see it otherwise is my point – THEN it is not really what you want to be talking about, it is RADICALLY DIFFERENT than an alive fetus, what you actually want to be preserved. (Surely you must agree the difference between dead and alive is a radical difference.)
The “difference there is between the living, born child and the dead, aborted child ,“ as you put it, is that the one is a human being, and the other NEVER WAS! The one has been born, is alive in the world as a living breathing real animal being, and the other “thing” you are pointing at is a PILE OF BLOODY FLESH like that you with the picture threw in my face. If someone killed the real child, (which you claim is the ONLY difference) certainly a doctor doing a post-mortem of the two dead entities could readily tell which is the dead human being and which is not, which is only a dead fetus.
The “ontological” change you are inquiring about is particularly marked and defined by the breath of life, like unto what God breathed into man in the beginning. It only comes at birth, it is a feature of birth, but a lot of functions of the real human being other than that begin then too.
What was only a fetus minutes before becomes a functioning human being and not just a growth completely tied to a womb in a fluid of utter darkness. Your picture is of an (ex) blood-sucking type of entity. Fine flesh, but we don’t even feed it to the dogs.
Yes of course Dave some of THE FLESH YOU PROMOTE is “recognizably human,” (I guess that idea is why we don’t let dogs have it), but like we have gone over many times and you seem to continually forget, that does NOT mean it is a human being. You like to pretend it is (perhaps) and many an unthinking person may “think” it is a human being because you call it “human.” IT NOT ONLY LOOKS (RECOGNIZABLY) HUMAN – IT IS HUMAN. (Dead) HUMAN cells constituting flesh having somewhat the shape a real human being (just born) would have. It probably would have been an actual human being IF it had not become dead before being removed from the womb. IF it had not been killed by someone (IF that is what happened to it.) But those “Ifs” mean it never was a human being, never was an animal being that, as we can see from the picture, would have been a human being IF it had survived. There are defining moments of life, the lives of men. And birth is certainly one of them.
Your reference to vivisection is very irrelevant. Vivisection is of real born actual animals having for sure a complete nervous system. And even if doing a very late abortion, one can avoid anything like vivisection by a lethal injection or cutting of a vital part first, I am pretty sure. Even IF or when there is the possibility of pain.
You say: The fetus has a nervous system just like you or me. It responds to pain in the same way you or I do. I have as much reason to believe that a fetus can feel pain as I have to believe that any human other than me can feel pain.
In general the nervous system of a fetus is different than mine or yours, and early on there is for sure nothing of the sort we have with consciousness and actual pain. So that makes the last sentence you say here MOSTLY FALSE – most fetus nervous systems are quite unlike yours or mine – and notice you are saying “believe” – you can BELIEVE anything like this you want to, but in general the belief is going to be false because it is based on false assumptions. And overly generalized, referring to one’s idea of a late or mature fetus with the unmodified term “fetus.”
On “fetal homicide laws” I guess you know these are a fairly recent thing, attempts by pro-life types to introduce the idea that the fetus is a person, an idea that is NOT in conformity with most law pretty much everywhere. That is, the fetus is NOT (even legally) a person in relation to abortion. So if you want to make reference to the law, that is pretty much the law. If there are recent changes it is because of intense political pressure by those who dwell in ignorance and untruth and want to maintain and propagate that. Pardon me for expressing the truth the way I see it.
And finally (we seem to find it difficult to get away from dealing with a whole bunch of things at the same time!) you say:
As for chicken eggs, do you know why stores don’t sell fertilized eggs? My wife and I buy eggs from a farmer, so they are fertilized, and I’ll tell you: When you crack open a fertilized egg that has developed a bit, there is quite obviously (and shockingly, if it’s unexpected) an unborn chicken inside it.
This strikes me as rather funny – most farmers selling eggs directly to a neighbor would NOT be selling fertilized eggs and would try to avoid having roosters around that can access the eggs (though one or two nearby may provide incentives for the hens.)
But the point is, the bit of blood you may find in an egg is CERTAINLY NOT A CHICKEN – if you were not so keen on maintaining some warped view of the human fetus you would not begin to think what is certainly not a chicken is a chicken – anyway, what you found is a bit of flesh growth a bit of blood cells plus – whatever exactly it is, and certainly that is dependent on how long the egg has been sitting around. Whatever the defect is, the farmer wants to avoid it for the obvious reason you experienced and expressed – so usually eggs are “candled” before being sold, held up to bright light and one can see if there are SPOTS on them, which might be fertilization, or some other defect.
The reason stores don’t sell fertilized eggs is certainly NOT because somebody may thereby turn out to have bought a chicken for dinner rather than an egg. Most people if they are not trying to make some tortured argument can well enough distinguish a chicken from an egg, EVEN IF THE EGG IS FERTILIZED! It is still sold as an egg (if it is sold) because it IS an egg – and certainly could not be passed off as a chicken in any reasonable climate of commerce or common sense.
BTW, how can you think to be making sense when you say: “a pregnant sow is not a dozen pigs, but she is one pig who has a dozen others inside her.” (The math is a little off.) Actually, I would have thought that THE ONLY WAY TO UNDERSTAND THE STATEMENT “a pregnant sow is a dozen pigs” is that one is claiming there is the one pig (sow) one can see and eleven others hidden inside her. So the one claim is the other, is it not? Hence because YOU ACTUALLY KNOW a pregnant sow is never a dozen pigs, you somewhat accidentally say that, taking it to be something else than you want to claim. The expressions mean the same thing, but to you one looks more true than the other. Which is to say you recognize the truth (does one say “deep down” or sub-consciously?), but are willing to blatantly contradict it.
Or an additional thought, is it SOME KIND OF ESOTERIC “OTHER” you are using, when you say there are a dozen “others” inside her? Who knows how you are using it if you want to have private languages (word usages) here and there? A cautionary tale.
I replied to your other post, regarding criteria for life, above. It might be good if you posted your response to the post above and to this one together below this, to bring the discussion into a single thread.
I limited my response below to your essential points, since we do seem to be covering an unmanageable number of arguments, like you said above.
I’m curious. If someone killed a nine-month-old unborn child, and someone else killed a baby shortly after birth, how exactly would a doctor tell the difference in a port-mortem?
Are you saying that breathing is “the breath of life” that makes us human? Does that mean that every breathing animal is human? Because it sounds like you are saying that breathing is what makes us human.
What other functions that make us human begin at birth?
Thanks! Let us be thankful we can discuss these things (and at least on some occasions seem to make some sense of it all.) I live in Alberta, Canada, and we had Thanksgiving some time ago. I guess you are further east since I posted something once at 11 and it got next day date.
I am going to start a new thread, I guess you would say, on EXISTENCE. Dealing with only the last point of your 11/30 reply. Hopefully we have no trouble keeping track of 3 threads – even more hopefully we can soon dispense with the one about defining LIFE versus A LIFE. I had thought we almost had that resolved – will soon respond to your latest on that.
You say: “ It begins to exist when it is “produced in the womb.” When it begins to exist in the womb, it begins to exist as a member of whatever species it belongs to.”
So you want to fudge the question by changing it to “begins to exist”? When it begins to exist it exists? Well that appears to have some truth to it… Would we say it has the beginning of existence? I don’t think so. But the point is, when we begin to produce something, when something has just begun to be produced, it is not then (fully) produced.
Doesn’t FULLY exist? I don’t think we want to say that – what exists exists – it’s always a matter of determining what it is, not that “existence” somehow makes what is not complete complete.
When it is just begun to be produced, it does not even half exist in the sense that IT IS NOT EVEN HALF THERE. That is, more correctly, what exists exists, and it is not even half of the entity being produced. It is not even one tenth of the entity being produced when the producing of it has just begun. When you claim it exists because it has “begun to exist” this must mean that IT exists as less than one-tenth of itself. It certainly does not fully exist as 100% of itself, that is IT PER SE does not exist, only some very primitive parts of itself exist.
The product is NOT existing at the beginning and is existing at the end of the process.
The process is existing throughout the entire time, going from the state where the thing does not exist at all to where it is fully made. The process exists while the product is only being brought into existence, is being made. THE PRODUCT IS THE END, NOT THE BEGINNING. IT IS THERE IN THE END, AND IS NOT THERE IN THE BEGINNING!
YOU CANNOT SAY THE BEGINNINGS OF A THING, A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF THE PARTS OF AN ACTUAL THING, ARE THE THING. (Itself) Even as I would insist a leg is only part of such a thing and therefor not a thing or organism like unto the organism it is a part of, and you would insist a leg is not an organism itself for seemingly other reasons, has a different ontology I guess you would also say, IF the entity has no leg at all (or any other organs) then certainly it is not such a thing, is not any such organism.
Lets look again at your claim: “When it begins to exist in the womb, it begins to exist as a member of whatever species it belongs to.” What is IT? It cannot be the end product AS AN EXISTING THING, it cannot be a human being, because that is precisely what is to be produced, what has only begun to be produced and HAS NOT YET been produced. (Otherwise the process of gestation could be skipped, there would be no need for nine months of pregnancy!)
IT does not exist – only the beginnings of what will lead to it exist!
To repeat what I said above, IF the entity has no leg at all (or any other organs) then certainly it is not such a thing, is not any such organism. I think this is unassailably true, that when it has nothing like legs it cannot be considered an organism with organs. Therefore the early contents of the womb are certainly not a human being organism, and you should give up arguing that such is a human being. We could focus our arguments more clearly, on the post-viable fetus, were you to admit this small (or I guess to you it would be large) TRUTH.
BTW, breathing makes it an animal BEING, not a human being. It cannot be a being that is an alive human being (or any kind of alive animal being) unless it is breathing. I’ll say more on this later.
“LIFE” versus “A LIFE”
Your first point:
“You say: “The fact that legs do not have these characteristics is precisely why we do not consider them living organisms.” I doubt that is true. We do not call a leg a living organism because we know it is only an organ, ONLY PART of an actual autonomous living being or organism, not itself a complete organism.
Paraphrasing, you just stated that a leg is not a living organism because it is not a living organism. While tautologically true, that is not a helpful definition.”
Your paraphrase is wrong I think. What I say is, we know the leg is only one part of an organism (we know has many parts) therefore we know the leg itself is not an organism. The simple and logical point that a part of something is not a whole of that something (organism) is I think more than a mere tautology. Anyway, IF it is a tautology it is NOT what you say, “that a leg is not a living organism because it is not a living organism,” but rather “it is not a living organism because it is only part of a living organism.” I think there is quite a big difference, and I think the latter is a truth (you perhaps want to ignore?) and very useful to see the true nature of things.
But it brings up the important point – can there be ORGANISMS WITHIN ORGANISMS (which then cannot be the same kind of organism)? And I think clearly the answer is yes – all organisms that are not single celled organisms are composed of cells which are themselves alive organisms. Correct?
So clearly there are single celled organisms in all non-single-celled organisms..
So there are at least two kinds of life in the larger organism in that there is the life of the cells, and the life of the organism itself. Correct?
And many organisms like human beings and pigs have a number of organs, which themselves are composed of living cells. Correct?
So those three different things must be kept straight, and not confused with each other.
Concerning the two dictionary definitions, I think perhaps you contradict yourself. You agree they are two different definitions, which means two different meanings, right? Two different usages, referring to different (types of) “things”?
Then you say: “ definitions 1 and 2 refer to the same things.”
Let me say it for about the 4th time – definition 1. indicates characteristics ANYTHING THAT HAS LIFE, IS ALIVE, MUST HAVE.
Definition 2. is what it says, of “an organism.”
And you are right, they both refer to “the same things,” in fact they must refer to THE SAME THING, “life,” of which they are purported to be definitions. Right?
Once you get that right, what I have said just above makes sense, right?
Complicating the matter is the fact these 2 definitions do NOT refer to the same thing (to appear to contradict myself, but hopefully to actually clarify), they do not both refer to what is ostensibly “life,” what they are apparently definitions of. Actually the first is a (the) definition of “life” and the second is a (the) definition of “a life.” The dictionary does not explicitly tell us that, but that is the accurate way to interpret it.
So, to clarify this further, when you say: “No, organisms are the only things which have the characteristics listed above,” you are incorrect. Or in one sense correct – only organisms are “a life” but parts of organisms have life. I guess it turns out to be the life of the cells of which it is composed, so that a leg or (other) part of an organism has life but is not “a life.” I think that’s the distinction that must be maintained.
Wikipedia tells us: “All known types of organisms are capable of some degree of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development and homeostasis.”
They have life, and they are “a life.” Which are NOT THE SAME THING, in that the leg composed of alive cells has life, but it is not “a life,” an organism. I’m thinking the “homeostatis” is an element of what I referred to as autonomy, and is found in “a life” but is not a defining characteristic of all that has life, it that it is not a feature of a leg. (What you want to call the leg ITSELF.) Though it would be an element of all the cells that constitute the leg, I suppose.
To say the same thing again, things other than organisms have LIFE.
Got it? Or what is not yet clear?
You say: “My only problem with defining an organism as “a self-contained being” is that the definition is too broad and vague. It would contain things like rocks and fossils which are not organisms. I think the criteria used by scientists, which I alluded to above, are more precise. I don’t really care if you want to use this definition, though, because a fetus is plainly “a self-contained being.”
I would have thought we could assume we are talking about living animal beings, so it seems obvious to me “self-contained being” does not include rocks. With “self-contained living animal being” one would be referring to things like homeostasis which organisms must have. They are self-actuated, self-controlled, not merely in a container – that is certainly not all I meant by what I said. It is all you can say about the fetus, though, in terms of it being an organism. Any further more complete understanding and you would see the fetus is certainly not a living ORGANISM.
I had further explicated what “autonomy” means with the statement: “a pig fetus does not appear autonomous to me. It is chained where it is, has no independent animal movement, and is not using whatever elements of organs it has as a fully operational real born and breathing animal would.”
Note the idea of USING ORGANS THE ORGANISM HAS, the fact the organism is organized in the sense ITS PARTS WORK AND ARE WORKING, not that there are some element of organs that are not AN OPERATIONAL WHOLE. It is self-directed, a living whole with things like homeostasis. As you show with the bit about wearing a coat, “self-contained” is not sufficient in itself to fully understand the autonomy of an organism. I said the difference of autonomy is AT LEAST these two things; and then explicated further in my reference to the pig fetus.
“Attachment of some living thing” is different than “attachment TO a living thing.” Parasites are attached to, but are not in any way an actual part of the other organism. The suckling babe is only temporarily “attached to,” and certainly not an attachment of, part of the mother (s breast). And bacteria can certainly be distinguished as distinct organisms, self-regulating and not part of the human being body on which they live. Again, the fact that one organism is not a part of another organism is not the only thing to be said about its autonomy.
With your reference to your “scientific criteria” that I fail to come up to the standard of, I suspect you are still wanting to understand “organism” with the FEATURES OF ALL LIFE by which an organism CANNOT be distinguished from what is living and not an organism. These are the elements like metabolism and reproduction and may be nicely defined scientific things in your mind, but it is only the self-directing AUTONOMOUS elements like homeostasis that actually achieved the required differentiation.
That is, I certainly reject your “scientific criteria” if they are not (correctly used!) in line with what I have just said.
Breathing is one function of the kind of animal it is, the animal that first exists at birth when it becomes a member of it’s species, an animal being. A human being in this case, since we already established that the fetus is of course human. The fetus is always human – what it lacks until birth is being an animal, an animal being.
It is not a tapeworm or some other kind of animal that does not have breathing as vital to it’s operation as a organism; it must take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, whereby it is able to utilize the elements of food as energy.
It is the “being” element rather than the “human element” of “human being” that is defined by birth, given at birth. There are the elements of autonomy that include of course being released from the womb prison, no more shackled to an umbilical chord. Hence independent movement becomes possible. With the respiration of breathing the energy of food taken in by a then first used, useful mouth is able to be utilized. The entire digestive system first operates then, not only providing nourishment but the excretion of waste products. As an actual organism the human being pees and poops, to mention the unmentionable.
And I am pretty sure many of the sensing systems of the human body first begin to operate then, the eyes open and are able to actually see, etc. Limbs (arms with hands and fingers, for instance) become functional; many organs are only then first able to operate. There is a functional, operational whole organism, no longer only what might become one.
On the post-mortem thing, I am pretty sure there would be evidence of the lungs having being used, that they inflate with the first breath of life and would thenceforth even if dead look different than ones that had never inflated. And I suspect one who knows what to look for can tell if eyes have never been opened (used), etc. Any doctor should be able to give a more detailed answer to that question.
[above 3 sections posted 12/2. Perhaps we can notice the date and refer back to one of the sections at a time to try make things more manageable?]
On the comment just above: I apparently tried to insert the wrong code to bold a sentence where the above changes to blue color. It removed the sentence: “A HUMAN BODY WE CAN CLEARLY SEE IS A WHOLE LIVING ORGANISM IN THE CASE OF AN ACTUAL HUMAN BEING.”
My December 1 comment should be more obviously labelled “EXISTENCE.”
December 2 are the three others. (WITH BLUE AT END)
Perhaps we can refer to these “separate subjects” (EXISTENCE, BIRTH, LIFE vs.A LIFE, and AUTONOMY)
one at a time? And keep in mind there are the 4 areas of discussion. Let’s try to at least not expand beyond dealing with the four, one at a time, for the present? [Perhaps try to TITLE EACH POST WITH CAPS?]
So I await what you have to say on these 4 topics. Thanks Dave!
Yes, I’m on the east coast of the US, in North Carolina. My wife and I have good friends who are Canadian, which really works out for us because we get to enjoy two Thanksgiving celebrations a year…
This point is pretty easily disposed of, I think. I believe you would agree with me that the fetus exists in some form from the moment of conception? After all, we could not talk about it unless there was an “it” (existing) to talk about. The question is not whether it exists, but what it exists as. Is it a tiny, embryonic human being (as I argue) or is it whatever you say it is? That brings us to the next question…
But this “only a part” test doesn’t really work. Suppose I am in some sort of accident which requires amputation of both my legs and both my arms. I would then be in multiple parts. However, one of those parts would be “me,” the living human organism. How do we tell which part is a living human organism and which parts are medical waste? By using those criteria of a living organism which I keep referring to.
No, actually. No scientist in the world would say that an individual cell of a larger body is by itself a living organism. There is a huge difference between a single-celled organism (like an amoeba) and a single cell from a larger organism. The latter is not an organism in itself precisely because it lacks the criteria of a living organism which I keep referring to. (If you doubt me, please, do some research. Find literally anyone who would say an individual cell within a larger body is an organism.)
No. See above.
I know I was nit-picking at your “autonomy” definition, but that is precisely the point. If your definition cannot stand up to attacks, then it isn’t useful or accurate. Trying to clarify, you said, “Note the idea of USING ORGANS THE ORGANISM HAS, the fact the organism is organized in the sense ITS PARTS WORK AND ARE WORKING.” Again, this doesn’t make sense. If my liver or kidneys fail or I go blind, so I am no longer using all the organs I have, do I cease to be an organism? Obviously, I would still be an organism, which means that having using all the organs is not a good definition of what makes something an organism. Your definitions continue to be imprecise and inaccurate. I think that is because you are primarily just trying to avoid using the criteria I keep pointing to, which are used by all scientists, because you know those criteria are unhelpful to the position you espouse.
I find your use of quotation marks interesting here, since these are, in fact, the criteria used by scientists to determine whether something is an organism, as attested by the four sites I gave you. In fact, they are the same criteria offered by your own Wikipedia quote, which you yourself say is a definition of what it means to be “a life, an organism.” For you to use the quote for that purpose at one point and then to reject those same criteria a few paragraphs later seems rather disingenuous. If you’re going to reject the basic scientific definition of a living organism simply because it is inconvenient for your argument, I have to conclude you are not arguing in good faith and it is not worth my time to pursue the conversation further. I’m sorry that we have not been able to have a more fruitful discussion.
Brother in Christ, do not be discouraged. It is a noble enterprise we are engaged in, even if we do not always speak in the clearest and best way, and conclusions of truth are not to our total liking.
One can string together the words “embryonic human being,” but that does not mean there ever is any such thing. (Also taking exception to your claim: “After all, we could not talk about it unless there was an “it” (existing) to talk about.”)
In other words, whether it makes sense is something that must be argued for; so far you have not argued for it (as you claim) unless you think your “it begins to exist as a member of whatever species it belongs to” still stands as an argument.
Here is my argument for the opposite view:
The simple facts are:
HUMAN BEINGS are a species of animal, a certain animal species. (Not a plant.)
A SPECIES BEING: When does a new member of an animal species come into being?
Certainly not with a fertilized egg, which is merely an early step (producing live sperm and egg is even earlier) in human being reproduction (production).
Only upon birth is the reproduction complete, and there is then after the gestation process an actual human being, an animal being that is a human. There is genetically new HUMAN protoplasm from conception; there is the actual animal BEING coming into existence as the member of a species at birth.
On your amputation example, your question: “How do we tell which part is a living human organism and which parts are medical waste? is perhaps easiest answered by noticing which parts are not alive. The limbs only have to be lacking one or two of the characteristics of life (which you call criteria of a living organism) for it to be obvious they are not alive, are medical waste. It other words, what you suggest, your scientific criteria applied to the torso, is the difficult way of making the determination. That the limbs go dead shows they are not and were not a self-sustaining organism (like the torso proves itself to be.) They were only inessential parts. (I don’t think we much disagree on this point, only that the determination is far simpler and easier than you might be suggesting. In fact almost the only thing a normal person needs to make the determination is for the limbs to be cut off.)
Prior to the limbs being cut off life is found in the entire organism, and hence it is much more difficult then to ascertain which are essential parts of the organism and which are not. The torso maintains the elements of life, the limbs do not. NOTICE this maintenance is the really essential (organism) element – NOT THE OTHER CHARACTERISTICS OF LIFE FOUND THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE INTACT BODY. This is what I have been calling autonomy with elements like homeostasis.
So there are at least two kinds of life in the larger organism in that there is the life of the cells, and the life of the organism itself. Correct?
No. See above.
See below – CELLS DIE – after weeks or months of being alive. That happens (usually) without adversely affecting the organism of which the cells are all parts, and in fact is how the organism maintains its system consisting of organs consisting of tissues … THERE IS OBVIOUSLY THE LIFE (lives) OF THE LIVING CELLS, and on the other hand the life of the organism itself. If there were not different kinds of life or different lives there could be nothing (like the limb) going dead (being cut off) without the entire organism being dead. Life ends in the cells, of the cells (much more, and “all the time”) – in the entire limb even – yet the life of the organism continues.
Your “above” reference is to insist that the LIVING cells which make up the organism are not themselves organisms. I am certainly not going to try to prove or disprove your view that all scientists would agree with you on that – it makes little difference to what we are talking about, it’s a red herring the way I see it. It is quite fine with me if you don’t want to call the cells that make up an organism themselves organisms. You may be totally correct in that view.
THE VITAL POINT IS THAT THE CELLS ARE ALIVE. (There is life in an intact leg.)
The cells of a leg are all alive (a cell has a lifetime of a week to a year.) Note how the simplest fact of it being alive and having a time during which it is alive before it ceases to be a functioning alive entity suggests the cell …anyway… Also notice cells have many of the features you want to find in an organism – growth, metabolism, movement … anyway …
THE ALIVE CELLS MUST HAVE CHARACTERISTICS OF LIFE.
(As per the first of those two dictionary definitions I keep pointing to.)
You seem not to want to see the difference between “ life” and “a life”(organism) … but surely you realize you cannot make the distinction between the leg and the tumor on the one hand, and the human body of which they are (obviously) only a part on the other, without that difference being involved? For truly both the leg and the organism have life. As an intact leg it has life, for surely it’s cells of which it is composed have life.
So please tell me what is wrong in what I have just said?
Btw, your appeal to authority that I put in quotes (“scientists”) would be more credible if you said “biologists”; I can imagine some scientists, for instance climate “scientists” (the big fad these days) knowing very little biology.