Michael Egnor tries again

| 34 Comments

“Listen to the fool’s reproach! It is a kingly title!”–William Blake

Dr. Egnor has posted response to my comments about his blog posts. He basically makes three points: first, he accuses me of misrepresenting him by calling him a creationist; second, he claims that it is constitutional for creationists to teach religion in government schools; third, he claims I am part of a conspiracy to preach atheism to schoolkids…or something. Let’s see how much of this holds up.

34 Comments

Whack! Thud! Slam! That’s the sound of Egnor getting smacked down. V. hard. Golly, the good doctor is a glutton for punishment!

This part made me laugh (punctuation edited to show the way I read it):

“They, too, want to propagate their religious message - that God created the earth and living beings through traditional legislative and administrative processes, without undue interference by federal judges and litigious atheists.”

I think the main problem is that Egnor doesn’t understand the difference between “atheism” and “secularism” (or he doesn’t care about the difference). Science is secular; it makes no comment either for or against the supernatural. That’s not it’s job. You cannot scientific prove or disprove the existence of a god (although you can narrow the list down a bit).

The US government is also secular. All government agencies are required to be neutral when it comes to religion.

It’s like Egnor can’t understand the concept of religious neutrality. Everyone and everything is either for Christianity or against Christianity and there is no gray in between.

It’s like Egnor can’t understand the concept of religious neutrality.

I imagine this is true only in practice, but not in principle. I would guess that in principle, Egnor could understand the equal validity of all non-Christian historical religious traditions. But Egnor’s faith isn’t a religious tradition, it’s not even religion in his mind. It’s simply TRUE. And schools prohibited from teaching children the truth aren’t schools at all, how can they be?

Egnor, atheism is not a religion. Are you stupid, ignorant, illiterate, uneducated or a complete moron? Or is there another choice? How about wrong?

Atheism means “without god.” Simple as that.

No belief in the supernatural. No teleology. No atheist churches. No atheist scripture. No atheist priests. No atheist prayers. No atheist dogma. No atheist congregation. No atheist holidays. No atheist food, dress or behavior proscriptions.

In short, none of the hallmarks that you would associate with a religion.

I submit to you, Egnor, that your irrational fear of atheism results from your own lack of faith. Finally, I would submit to you that your idea that the brain is like a cell phone is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read coming from someone with a medical degree.

p.s. I enjoyed your recent essay, especially your complete inability to articulate the “theory” of “intelligent design.”

Complete. Inability.

Nice job.

Mr. Egnor doesn’t think teaching gravity is “atheism”. Actually… maybe he does. As I recall, Intelligent Design covers that one too!

Doc Bill said:

Egnor, atheism is not a religion.

If atheism is a religion, then “off” is a television channel, “bald” is a hair color, and “I don’t have a car” is a brand of car.

Doc Bill said: Egnor, atheism is not a religion.

Sure it is. Atheism doesn’t believe in religion, therefore it is a view about religion. If it is a view about religion, then it is a religious view. If it is a religious view, then it is a religion. QED.

Why is someone as obviously unimportant as Dr. E even beng engaged in this level of “debate”? He is clearly nothing more than an ignorant attention-whore, and represents a now entirely impotent set of cobblings less dangerous than the ravings of Mr. Hovind or the confidence scheme of Casey Luskin and Dr.Dr.

If we ignore him, he’ll either go away or commit anact of public indecency that will get him arrested. Let him stew in his own dishonest ravings, like thousands of others do.

Atheism doesn’t believe in religion, therefore it is a view about religion. If it is a view about religion, then it is a religious view. If it is a religious view, then it is a religion. QED.

Atheism is lack of belief in, or belief that there are no, gods. Religion is something different. Atheism, as the name implies is the opposite of theism, but neither is theism a religion. Christianity is a religion (a theist one), as is Buddhism (which is atheist). Similarly, you can be theist and non-religious and atheist and non-religious. So whether something is theistic or atheistic is independent of whether something is a religion or not.

So atheism doesn’t posit a view on religion either way, therefore is not a view about religion, therefore is not a religious view.

Quad erat confutandum.

386sx said:

Doc Bill said: Egnor, atheism is not a religion.

Sure it is. Atheism doesn’t believe in religion, therefore it is a view about religion. If it is a view about religion, then it is a religious view. If it is a religious view, then it is a religion. QED.

If atheism is a religion, then atheist professionals in the US enjoy the tax privileges of clergy. Can anyone point out to me one such professional who has taken advantage of those tax privileges?

Why does Movable type ask for signing in now?

ChaoSkeptic said: it makes no comment either for or against the supernatural. That’s not it’s job. You cannot scientific prove or disprove the existence of a god

You see, science cures diseases, creates miraculous technologies and amazing products. Thus science has built a good reputation and good will among the public. So they want in. They want part of it. They covet that reputation and good will.

If all they want is God to be taught in schools, civics and history lesson plans offer ample opportunities. Given their track record of wangling concessions from, or subverting and diluting standards in, biology textbooks, they could easily get unfairly glowing view of Christianity from civics and history book authors. So if their aim is simply to give their God a leg up in the US Public schools, there are easier ways to do it than to fight the entire science establishment and subdue science teachers.

They are not interested in Non Overlapping Magisteria. Not from SJG. Not from you or me.

We should realize that our aim is NOT to make them accept evolution or understand it. Our aim is simply to stop them from running stealth candidates to school boards, to prevent the subversion of public education. In USA they got political power by their alliance with fiscal conservatives, gun rights activists, property rights supremacists. That alliance is showing signs of fracturing. If the cost of keeping the anti-evolutionists in the big tent is more than the benefit the alliance gets, they will be thrown out. Let us work towards increasing the cost of supporting anti-evolutionists in the Republican Party.

[Sorry for the unfair allegation that Movable Type is demanding a log in to post comments on this site. Something must have misfired in my browser. To the webmaster: I am using Firefox + NoScript extension with permission to PT to execute javascript]

Egnor says: It is part of the debate because intelligent design and Darwinism are affirmative and negative answers to the same scientific question: is there teleology in biology? The Darwinian assertion of unguided processes is meaningless unless lack of unguidedness — design — can be tested scientifically. If a scientific question can meaningfully be answered in the negative, then there must be the logical possibility of answering the question in the affirmative.

Ho hum. The answer to this is 25 years old:

The two model approach of the creationists is simply a contrived dualism (22) which has not scientific factual basis or legitimate educational purpose.

[Ruling in McLean v.Arkansas Board of Education, 1982, section IV(A)]

If atheism is a religion, then atheist professionals in the US enjoy the tax privileges of clergy.

Even if true, you would have to be a professional atheist, not an atheist professional, to qualify. Same with Christianity, being Christian isn’t enough to get a tax break, you’ve got to be one for a living for that.

Dr. Egnor is a creationist. Belief in god means you are a creationist as god is defined as the creator. So the question would be is he a Big C or little c creationist. Denial of scientific facts to reconcile religious beliefs makes one a Big C creationist. Dr. Egnor has written repeatedly denying scientific facts, thus he is definitely a Big C. Whether is goes all the way to denying the age of the earth or not matters little. In fact, it seems to me it makes him all the more disingenuous. I deny these facts not those?

At least with a YEC, know have a consistency of the denial - while wrong at least it seems more genuine.

It reminds me of people who claim the moniker - pro-life. They fight for the elimination of abortion and contraception. Yet, they also turn around a support state execution. This is hypocrisy. The Catholic church, at least so far as I know, gets this consistent - wrong - but consistent. They assign a fertilized egg full human status - a wrong and unscientific thus religious holding - but also decry state execution.

I appreciate the genuine, consistent aspect of their claims. Although, they lack scientific basis and are thus religious.

Yet another Egnor howler for which the courts gave an answer 25 years ago (italics in the original):

Egnor said: The teaching of public schoolchildren that evolution — “an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process” is a ‘fact’ and not a theory, is the propagation of a religious viewpoint.

If he really believed that, then he should not be arguing for teaching “weaknesses” of evolution (NB: I’m going to drop the scare quotes from now on out of convenience), he should be arguing that it is illegal to teach it at all. One could not, for example, make teaching the Genesis story less religious by teaching its weaknesses. Its religious with or without weaknesses, and if TOE was religious, the same would be true of it. And the courts have already said this:

Assuming for the purposes of argument, however, that evolution is a religion or religious tenet, the remedy is to stop the teaching of evolution, not establish another religion in opposition to it. [Ruling in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 1982, section V(C)]

Understanding that teaching weaknesses can’t possibly make teaching the TOE more or less legal than it already is, lets us see the demand to teach weaknesses for what it really is - just a variation of the old, previously rejected equal time argument. Its: hey judge, if you’re going to let secularists teach that non-God theory, at least give us religious folks time to say why we think its wrong.

Another interesting thing about the McLean ruling from today’s perspective is that the “Academic Freedom” argument was already used by creationists. The courts didn’t buy it 25 years ago either. (For those of you interested in this, the Academic Freedom argument is explicitly rejected in section V(B).)

George said:

They assign a fertilized egg full human status - a wrong and unscientific thus religious holding…

I don’t really want to open up a whole new argument here. And let me preface by saying that I do not want abortion to be illegal. I want people to make good/informed decisions but I don’t want it to be illegal. But i’m not sure how “unscientific” it is to assign human status to a human zygote.

What makes us homo sapiens anyway?

Genes and Heredity: The zygote has just as many chromosomes per cell as you do. It also came from two fully human parents. If nurtured correctly it has all the genetic information it needs to develop into an adult human.

.….….….….….….…..NOT.….….….….….….….…..

Size: Are you willing to say that a newborn is less human than you because you are bigger? Or that women are less human than men because they are, on average, smaller?

Brain Capacity: So, the people with less brain capacity are less human? What about someone who is comatose? Are they less human because of their lessened brain activity?

Location: Is a zygote/embryo/fetus less human because it is still attached to/inside of the mother? Well, a cesarian section can change this. It is illogical to equate location with humanity. If a zygote is fertilized outside of the mother (IVF) and then implanted, does it go from human to not-quite-human?

Self-Sustainability: Infants are not self-sustainable. Abandon an infant and it will die. Comatose humans are not self-sustainable.

* oh but an infant can be raised by someone else! Well, a zygote can be implanted in someone else (surrogate motherhood).

So, you have to draw a line. Where do you draw it? Can someone be charged with double-homocide for killing a pregnant woman? The courts say, yes.

Remember, science says what is, not what ought. It is unscientific to consider a fertilized egg anything but a human zygote. Like infant, toddler, adolescent and adult; it is just one more stage in human life. Science can not tell us what we should or should not do concerning this life. It can only tell us that it IS a human. It is up to us as logical thinkers to compare the value of its life to other lives. We do this with convicts and siamese twins. We just have to also be ethical about how we do it with zygotes/embryos/fetuses.

George said: Belief in god means you are a creationist as god is defined as the creator.

Sorry, I don’t buy that. A god could be as much a product of the unknown origin of the universe as its physical contents. Zeus was a god. He didn’t create the universe or Earth in ancient Greek cosmogony. One could certainly believe in and worship Zeus without buying into the just-so backstory of the creation of the world. Did Odin create the world in Norse mythology? I’m sure there are plenty of other extant religious traditions with a current god who is merely a resident of the universe, not its creator.

In other words, who says you have to define god as the creator?

I suspect that many moderate Christians hold a similar position: “The universe came into being somehow–Big Bang, it was always here, a bubble in a multiverse–whatever. We don’t know how or why, and it really doesn’t matter. Part of that universe is God, but that doesn’t mean he created it. We recognize the infinite regress problem of a god creating the universe (What’s HIS origin?). And the material state of the universe, including life, may have arisen through purely material means (evolution). Or maybe God tweaked it a bit along the way. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that somewhere along the line, God took an interest in the human species, perhaps endowed them with souls, and sent a great teacher (Jesus), perhaps his “son” in some sense, to show them better principles of living.” (Note: my take on rational Christians. Personally, I am atheist.)

A moderate, and I believe widely-held, system of belief such as this does not require a god as a “creator” an any sort of Genesis sense. Maybe just a creator of the human soul.

misha wrote:What makes us homo sapiens anyway?

I’d like to give the archaeologist’s answer to that, as it’s the thing that IMHO takes us away from purely biological definitions. [controversial viewpoint] Yes, Homo sapiens is a mammalian species and thus just one among the billions of life forms to grace (or prey upon) this planet. But the humanity of Homo sapiens is something that - as far as we know - is shared by no other genus: the special relationship Homo has with material culture. Now, plenty of other species use and even make material culture, as has been well documented for more than fifty years. But their use of material culture fulfils two basic purposes: (1) to make the performance of everyday taks, such as getting termites from a mound, easier, or (2) to decorate itself or its home to make itself more attractive to the opposite sex. In both cases, there is a good evolutionary purpose behind the material culture. In the case of Homo sapiens, there is a special relationship with material culture. It surrounds us from birth to death and our lives are intertwined with it; possession of it gives us self identity and self worth; lack of it arouses the sympathy or contemept of fellow species members; much of what we do is geared to its production, distribution, acquisition and disposal. In other words, we are consumers. The foetus does not partake in this relationship with material culture. While its parents, their medical advisors and others may employ material culture that affects it, it is a passive recipient of those effects. For that reason, I would argue, the foetus is not fully ‘human’. [/controversial viewpoint]

misha said:

So, you have to draw a line. Where do you draw it? Can someone be charged with double-homocide for killing a pregnant woman? The courts say, yes.

Some courts say yes. Homicide is a state issue so there are many different rulings, for instance, in Oregon it is only a single homicide at any stage. Other states draw the line in different places, such as California where it is double homicide after the embryonic stage, in New York not until after 24 weeks, and so on. The truth is no one knows where to draw the line.

misha said:

George said:

They assign a fertilized egg full human status - a wrong and unscientific thus religious holding…

I don’t really want to open up a whole new argument here. And let me preface by saying that I do not want abortion to be illegal. I want people to make good/informed decisions but I don’t want it to be illegal. But i’m not sure how “unscientific” it is to assign human status to a human zygote.

What makes us homo sapiens anyway?

Genes and Heredity: The zygote has just as many chromosomes per cell as you do. It also came from two fully human parents. If nurtured correctly it has all the genetic information it needs to develop into an adult human.

.….….….….….….…..NOT.….….….….….….….…..

Size: Are you willing to say that a newborn is less human than you because you are bigger? Or that women are less human than men because they are, on average, smaller?

Brain Capacity: So, the people with less brain capacity are less human? What about someone who is comatose? Are they less human because of their lessened brain activity?

Location: Is a zygote/embryo/fetus less human because it is still attached to/inside of the mother? Well, a cesarian section can change this. It is illogical to equate location with humanity. If a zygote is fertilized outside of the mother (IVF) and then implanted, does it go from human to not-quite-human?

Self-Sustainability: Infants are not self-sustainable. Abandon an infant and it will die. Comatose humans are not self-sustainable.

* oh but an infant can be raised by someone else! Well, a zygote can be implanted in someone else (surrogate motherhood).

So, you have to draw a line. Where do you draw it? Can someone be charged with double-homocide for killing a pregnant woman? The courts say, yes.

Remember, science says what is, not what ought. It is unscientific to consider a fertilized egg anything but a human zygote. Like infant, toddler, adolescent and adult; it is just one more stage in human life. Science can not tell us what we should or should not do concerning this life. It can only tell us that it IS a human. It is up to us as logical thinkers to compare the value of its life to other lives. We do this with convicts and siamese twins. We just have to also be ethical about how we do it with zygotes/embryos/fetuses.

Just my two coppers, but I do believe that the legal separation of embryo from human is based on the distinction in terms of the adjective not the noun. As an adjective, the word human means “the form of a human”. As such, the adult male and female Homo sapien bodies are “human” along with anything that resembles such. So children and babies are miniture human forms, but a zygote is not.

I won’t argue that such is arbitrary, but that’s my understanding for what it’s worth.

misha said: So, you have to draw a line. Where do you draw it?

Well, there’s your problem. Where did you get the assumption that one has to draw a single, bright line at all?

Remember, science says what is, not what ought.

True. Science says that there is a fine gradation between an unfertilized sex cell and fully grown human. You are trying to plunk a bright hard ought line down somewhere on it, and wondering why it doesn’t work well.

Like infant, toddler, adolescent and adult; it is just one more stage in human life.

I note that at least three of these stages are given different gradations of legal rights. A sliding scale of rights to match a sliding scale of development. Wow, what a novel concept.

We just have to also be ethical about how we do it with zygotes/embryos/fetuses.

Why stop there? Cloning and stem cell research offer the possibility of human parthenogenesis and the ability to turn one type of cell into another. Combine those two and you have the possibility of taking almost any living cell in the body and turning it into a complete living human being. Every cell becomes a potential zygote. Scratching those skin cells off is murder! Sunburn is massacre! Giving blood is unethical…we must protect our precious bodily fluids!

Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews said:

The foetus does not partake in this relationship with material culture. While its parents, their medical advisors and others may employ material culture that affects it, it is a passive recipient of those effects. For that reason, I would argue, the foetus is not fully ‘human’. [/controversial viewpoint]

I don’t know if your argument holds water. I would argue that a comatose adult is also a “passive recipient.” Its family, their medical advisors and others employ material culture that affects it.

Infants are also passive recipients. They can not feed themselves, nor can they find food on their own. They require someone else to employ the material culture for them.

It surrounds us from birth to death and our lives are intertwined with it; possession of it gives us self identity and self worth

Are you suggesting that the desire for “things” makes us human? So someone who has less desire for “things” is less human? Would a stronger desire for things make someone more human? If so then greed should be a virtue. I think Ghandi and Jesus would disagree. They would also disagree with the idea that possessions gave them self-worth.

Robin said: Just my two coppers, but I do believe that the legal separation of embryo from human is based on the distinction in terms of the adjective not the noun

Well, what if I were to call it an embryotic human? Is that incorrect terminology.

Embryo is merely a stage in human life. Just like adult, adolescent, toddler or infant (notice that i did not have to specify each stage with “human”).

It is a human zygote, a human embryo, a human fetus, a human infant, a human toddler, a human adolescent and a human adult. If it were not human, what kind of zygote would it be? And in this case “human” is the adjective that describes each stage.

In converse, it is a zygotic human, embryotic human, fetal human, infant human, adolescent human and adult human. These words can be used as nouns or as adjectives. So creating a distinction between which are human and which are not is illogical and unscientific.

Robin said: As such, the adult male and female Homo sapien bodies are “human” along with anything that resembles such. So children and babies are miniture human forms, but a zygote is not.

How similar? And to what adult are you comparing? As far as genetics are concerned the zygote is 100% human. It shows 100% human qualities in its single cell. It is a 100% human cell. It may not look like an adult but that shouldn’t make it less human.

If you are going to argue that “human” is based on body structure then it has to come down to physical characteristics.

Is someone born without arms human? Why? Is someone born without legs human? Why? Is someone born with only one lung human? Why? Is someone born without eyes, ears and a nose human? Why? What about someone born with excessive body hair?

And what if you combine all these things together? Are they still human? And what about elephant man, was he human?

See, its not that easy. How many characteristics and which ones does it take to be human? And if you are going to say that it is physical form then why do we differentiate between Neanderthal and Homo Sapien? I can find several photos of known humans that carry less physical resemblance to the rest of us than a Neanderthal would.

Ravilyn Sanders said:

You see, science cures diseases, creates miraculous technologies and amazing products. Thus science has built a good reputation and good will among the public. So they want in. They want part of it. They covet that reputation and good will.

Hmm, coveting. Well, it’s not like there’s a rule against that in that moldy old book of myths they worship, is there? And surely there isn’t one against lying or stealing either, or they wouldn’t keep doing those things, would they?

Biblical morality is a crock of shit.

eric said:

True. Science says that there is a fine gradation between an unfertilized sex cell and fully grown human. You are trying to plunk a bright hard ought line down somewhere on it, and wondering why it doesn’t work well.

Actually there IS a strong line between an unfertilized sex cell and a fully grown human. The unfertilized cell has 26 chromosomes while the cells of a full human have 26 PAIRS of chromosomes.

And, I never said anything about an unfertilized cell. I was just referring to zygotes. And they ARE fertilized. And I’m not trying to plunk a bright hard ought line. I’m trying to discuss an is line. As in, IS a zygote human?

I note that at least three of these stages are given different gradations of legal rights. A sliding scale of rights to match a sliding scale of development. Wow, what a novel concept.

Isn’t that what I said here?

misha said: And let me preface by saying that I do not want abortion to be illegal…

It is up to us as logical thinkers to compare the value of its life to other lives. We do this with convicts and siamese twins. We just have to also be ethical about how we do it with zygotes/embryos/fetuses.

eric said: Why stop there? Cloning and stem cell research offer the possibility of human parthenogenesis and the ability to turn one type of cell into another.

EXACTLY!!! We need to be ethical with these all of these issues as well.

eric said: Scratching those skin cells off is murder! Sunburn is massacre! Giving blood is unethical…we must protect our precious bodily fluids!

I never said such things. I never used the word murder. I said that abortion should NOT be illegal. But scientifically a zygote is a human. And therefore we should take extreme care concerning our ethics with them.

This is a strange discusion for Panderites, and as a regular lurker, one that caugth me off guard, as I thought it was a discussion on general Egnorite idiocy; which I was enjoying by the way. As a former Catholic I know the Churches view has changed dramatically over the millenia. The early church believed life, or, the soul, and therefore person became animate, live, at ‘the quickening’. Quite simply upon the first discernable movements of the foetus; quite sensible really. The modern church has twisted that into the point of fertalisation, and if we take the Pope’s, and church’s teachings on contraception seriously, even before this. But seriously if life begins at fertalisation, and I suppose therefore, the ‘soul’ enters the zygote, then logically, if all these ‘humans’ die before birth they should enter ‘paradise’. Could you imagine the mind numbingly dull conversations you would have, FOR ETERNITY, not only with Billy Graham and co, but also with umpteen millions of embryo souls. “Hi, I’m Rob, what’d you do down on earth, oooh, sorry, your a zygote soul, bummer; happy eternity brother, or sister, see ya” Rob

robert van bakel said: “Hi, I’m Rob, what’d you do down on earth, oooh, sorry, your a zygote soul, bummer; happy eternity brother, or sister, see ya” Rob

We strongly condemn the anti-zygotism prevalent now a days in the paradise. Most live-birth supremacists have an exaggerated sense of their own worthiness and shun conversations and contact with the zygote-souls. It is time we zygote-souls come out of the closet and demand our birthdeath rights. Remember, we are all zygotes first before we were anything else.

To fight for the rights and equal treatment for both sides we have formed a think tank Distortion Institute. Please contribute generously.

misha said:

And I’m not trying to plunk a bright hard ought line. I’m trying to discuss an is line. As in, IS a zygote human?

But it is only an “is” question because you have chosen to hide the “ought” element in the definition of “human”.

misha said:

Robin said: Just my two coppers, but I do believe that the legal separation of embryo from human is based on the distinction in terms of the adjective not the noun.

Well, what if I were to call it an embryotic human? Is that incorrect terminology.

Embryo is merely a stage in human life. Just like adult, adolescent, toddler or infant (notice that i did not have to specify each stage with “human”).

It is a human zygote, a human embryo, a human fetus, a human infant, a human toddler, a human adolescent and a human adult. If it were not human, what kind of zygote would it be? And in this case “human” is the adjective that describes each stage.

In converse, it is a zygotic human, embryotic human, fetal human, infant human, adolescent human and adult human. These words can be used as nouns or as adjectives. So creating a distinction between which are human and which are not is illogical and unscientific.

I’m not arguing that your perspective is wrong, I’m merely pointing out a potential explanation for where the (obviously arbitrary) distinction comes from. Keep in mind, this isn’t really I scientific or scientifically logical concept - it is a concept that has developed based on a perceived need. Abortion is a practical, societal, logistical, medical, and personal issue. It is a means of population, reproduction, and economic management. Whether you personally find it morale or not is a separate issue, but the foundation of it is largely social not scientific.

Robin said: As such, the adult male and female Homo sapien bodies are “human” along with anything that resembles such. So children and babies are miniture human forms, but a zygote is not.

How similar? And to what adult are you comparing? As far as genetics are concerned the zygote is 100% human. It shows 100% human qualities in its single cell. It is a 100% human cell. It may not look like an adult but that shouldn’t make it less human.

If you are going to argue that “human” is based on body structure then it has to come down to physical characteristics.

Is someone born without arms human? Why? Is someone born without legs human? Why? Is someone born with only one lung human? Why? Is someone born without eyes, ears and a nose human? Why? What about someone born with excessive body hair?

And what if you combine all these things together? Are they still human? And what about elephant man, was he human?

See, its not that easy. How many characteristics and which ones does it take to be human? And if you are going to say that it is physical form then why do we differentiate between Neanderthal and Homo Sapien? I can find several photos of known humans that carry less physical resemblance to the rest of us than a Neanderthal would.

Interesting questions, but clearly they need to be directed to someone else other than me. I would say that from a purely practical standpoint, a person is born without arms, or eyes, or hands, or body hair, or whatever still *looks* human compared to a zygote, which is really just a clump of cells. And sure, Neanderthals look very human - let me know when you find one being oppressed and we will likely have really interesting legal and social issues to deal with.

But all of this is rather academic. The issue is that someone (or more likely a group of someones) came up with an arbitrary differentiator to present a legal basis for abortion. That’s really all there is to it. For the longest time people with dark(er) skin were differentiated from those people with light(er) skin and labelled “less-human”. Purely arbitrarily. Some minority of folk actually believed this to be true (and scientifically so) and a good majority just went along with it because it was a) convenient, b) the way it was, c) etc. Over the years, however, people decided they didn’t buy the arbitrary differentiation argument and lot of folk discovered that those “lesser humans” were a heck of a lot more like ‘em then many of their neighbors. And lo and behold, after a lot of fighting and protesting and basically getting to know one another, society decided that THAT particular concept was absurd and squashed it as a a legal basis for discrimination. There’s still a minority that believes it, but the majority now find it appalling. The point is, it was an arbitrary conceptual discriminator for a legal basis.

I think misha’s argument suffers from a conflation of “genetically human”, which obviously a zygote is, and “should be treated as a person”, which is a whole separate question. No-one has ever argued that human zygotes aren’t genetically human, have they? It’s just that since they share that distinction with skin cells and HeLa cells, it can’t be a justification for treating zygotes as you’d treat people. It should be clear that if you had a choice between saving from fire (a) an infant or (b) a freezer full of blastocysts, only a monster would choose (b). Blastocysts have no differentiated organs or nervous system; they are not “people” in any sane sense of the word.

At present unused blastocysts from fertility treatment clinics are classed as medical waste and incinerated. Using those cells for research seems self-evidently a better option.

So misha: blastocysts are human cells. Well spotted. This has no ethical implications whatsoever. The ethical question is: is it morally better to use discarded cells for scientific research or to let them go to waste?

Stephen Wells said: It should be clear that if you had a choice between saving from fire (a) an infant or (b) a freezer full of blastocysts, only a monster would choose (b).

I agree.

I think the problem is that I’m being reamed for saying that zygotes are human. I’m NOT saying that they need to be given all the rights and priviledges of the rest of us. Or, that we should save them to the detriment of infants or adults. I know it may sound simplistic but “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” More value should definitely be placed on infants and adults than zygotes.

My argument was from a purely scientific standpoint. It developed out of this quote.

George said: They assign a fertilized egg full human status - a wrong and unscientific thus religious holding - but also decry state execution.

All I was saying is that, “scientifically” the zygote is human. So George’s statement is wrong.

Now, what we do ethically with a human zygote is still up for debate. And thats where I agree with Robin. The level of rights attributed to different stages will be argued and debated. We will place value on different levels of development, and that is fine. This debate may have religious holdings but the “humanicity” of the zygote does not.

Misha said: I think the problem is that I’m being reamed for saying that zygotes are human. I’m NOT saying that they need to be given all the rights and priviledges of the rest of us.

Well, okay, what do you mean by “human” then? Tell us in your own words. Because right now I think Stephen and others are right - you seem to be hiding your ought in your definition of human. Specifically, you seem to be saying that anything with the right number of the right chromosomes ought to be considered human. Despite your statements otherwise, this is not “purely scientific.”

And, a quibble, some birth defects such as down syndrome alter the number of chromosomes. You’ve said an unfertilized egg (23) is not human but a fertilized egg (46) is. What are you going to do with 47? 45? And what are you going to do with a clone that never underwent fertilization? Both cases illustrate my earlier point, that you are trying to interpret a series of many tiny incremental developmental steps as a binary (human/not human) distinction.

Misha said:

More value should definitely be placed on infants and adults than zygotes.

and:

My argument was from a purely scientific standpoint. It developed out of this quote.

George said: They assign a fertilized egg full human status - a wrong and unscientific thus religious holding - but also decry state execution.

All I was saying is that, “scientifically” the zygote is human. So George’s statement is wrong.

George’s statement is not wrong. “Human” is not the same as “full human status”, a point which you began by conceding when you stated that some “human” things (infants) have more value than others (zygotes)

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on March 9, 2009 6:17 PM.

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