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Bill Nye the Unscientific Abortion Guy

This past weekend former-educational-TV-star-turned-science-advocate Bill Nye posted a video about abortion on Big Think. Nye attempts to use science to resolve the debate about abortion and arrives at the following conclusion: “When it comes to women’s rights with respect to their reproduction, I think you should leave it to women.”

The video is a perfect example of Maslow’s Hammer, or the saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In this case, the hammer is science and the nail is anything people disagree about. While science can tell us a lot about the world, it can't answer all of our questions.

For example, science gives us facts about the way the world functions (or what is), but only philosophy and/or religion tell us how we should live (or what we ought to be). This includes telling us whether it is right or wrong to kill unborn humans (or any human for that matter).

Refuting Nye's Main Argument

Unfortunately, not only does Nye’s video contain terrible philosophy, it doesn’t even get the science right. Let’s break it down:

"Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans. Eggs get fertilized, and by that I mean sperm get accepted by ova a lot. But that’s not all you need. You have to attach to the uterine wall, the inside of a womb, a woman’s womb."

Yes, human beings in the embryonic stage of life receive nutrients from their mothers' uterus. A human embryo cannot develop into an adult without implanting in the uterus just as a human infant cannot develop into an adult without attaching to his mother's breast or some suitable alternative.

"But if you’re going to hold that as a standard, that is to say if you’re going to say when an egg is fertilized it’s therefore has the same rights as an individual, then whom are you going to sue? Whom are you going to imprison? Every woman who’s had a fertilized egg pass through her? Every guy who’s sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human? Have all these people failed you?"

Does Nye believe that newborns are persons? If so, then does he think we should imprison mothers and fathers whose children die of natural causes like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)? If having a high mortality rate means one is not a person, then born children were not persons throughout much of human history. Historically, (as well as in some parts of the world today) the child mortality rate was between 33% and 50%. That means one-third to one-half of all children died before they reached the age of five.

If we accept that born children sometimes die from causes beyond their parent's control, and that this tragic fact does not nullify their right-to-life, then the fact that unborn children also die from causes beyond their parent's control does not nullify their right-to-life either.

Plus, it may not be the case that large numbers of human organisms are miscarried. Instead, what might be happening is defective human tissue that could never develop into a fully mature human being is lost. According to embryologists Keith Moore and T.V. N. Persaud, “The early loss of embryos appears to represent a disposal of abnormal conceptuses that could not have developed normally.”1

Answering Ad Hominems and Other Bad Arguments

"It’s just a reflection of a deep scientific lack of understanding and you literally or apparently literally don’t know what you’re talking about. And so when it comes to women’s rights with respect to their reproduction, I think you should leave it to women."

Bill, if you want to see someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, look in a mirror. If you want to see the scientific evidence that a human organism begins to exist at conception, watch this video.

"I’m not the first guy to observe this: You have a lot of men of European descent passing these extraordinary laws based on ignorance. Sorry you guys. I know it was written or your interpretation of a book written 5,000 years ago, 50 centuries ago, makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse they always have a baby. That’s wrong and so to pass laws based on that belief is inconsistent with nature."

What does being a male of European descent have to do with abortion? This seems pretty racist and sexist to me. Imagine if I said in response to another hot-button issue, “You have a lot of people of African descent protesting police conduct and trying to pass laws that are based on ignorance.”

Also, it was seven white men of European descent that struck down all legal protection for the unborn in Roe v Wade. Now that was an extraordinary law based on ignorance, but their positions are okay because apparently men are only allowed to have an opinion on abortion if they’re pro-choice!

Second, both Christians and non-Christians have put forward powerful, secular arguments against abortion that have nothing to do with the Bible. Read Christopher Kaczor, Patrick Lee, Scott Klusendorf, Don Marquis, Stephen Schwarz, Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen, and Frank Beckwith just to name a few.

Third, Christians do not believe that, “when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse they always have a baby.” Sometimes the sperm and egg never meet and so no new life is created. Sometimes they meet but what is created is just randomly generating tissue and not a human organism (e.g. a complete molar pregnancy). But sometimes the sperm and egg recombine to form something that is neither sperm nor egg. It is instead, as the eminent embryologists Fabiola Müller and Ronan O’Rahilly describe, “a new, genetically distinct human organism.”2

Pro-life advocates simply believe that all human organisms (i.e. human beings) ought to be treated equally. They should not be killed just because they are unwanted by older, bigger, more powerful human beings.

On "Telling People What To Do"

"I mean it’s hard not to get frustrated with this everybody. And I know nobody likes abortion, okay. But you can’t tell somebody what to do. I mean she has rights over this, especially if she doesn’t like the guy that got her pregnant. She doesn’t want anything to do with your genes; get over it, especially if she were raped and all this."

Why is it that “nobody” likes abortion? If the unborn are not human beings then abortion would be as innocuous as a wisdom tooth extraction. Instead, society's ambivalence towards abortion is evidence that abortion destroys a living human, organism.

After all, how could two human beings procreate a non-human offspring that only becomes human after birth? The answer is "they can’t.” Therefore, the human organism they procreate (i.e. the baby) should have the same right to life as his born brothers and sisters. All children have the right to loving support from their mother and father even if one of these people "doesn't want anything to do" with the genes of the other. At minimum, children have the right not be killed just because one parent despises the other.

In response to Nye’s assertion that “you can’t tell somebody what to do” I say bullocks. Nye says in another video that fracking, or drilling for natural resources with high pressure water, “can’t be unregulated.” So, it’s okay to tell businesses not to pollute the earth but it's not okay to tell parents not to kill their children. What about "My corporation, my choice!"

Finally, what is the “this” that Nye says women have rights over? I’m sure Nye means “the pregnancy” but that is just a roundabout way of saying the mother has unlimited rights over her unborn child. Civilized people long ago rebuked the idea that children are chattel property of their parents that can be disposed of at a whim. Perhaps Mr. Nye would like to join the rest of us in the 21st century and stop peddling crude, Stone-Age-like tyranny over helpless human beings.

Are There More Important Issues?

"So it’s very frustrating on the outside, on the other side. We have so many more important things to be dealing with. We have so many more problems to squander resources on than this argument based on bad science, on just lack of understanding."

It’s true abortion isn’t the only issue today any more than slavery was the only issue that affected people in America in the 1850's. But slavery was the most important issue because the lives of human beings matter more than "economic choice" or "state autonomy."

Likewise, if the unborn are human beings then over a million of them are killed in our country ever year and many of their parents suffer physical and emotional trauma related to this killing for decades after the fact. Unless a pro-choice advocate can show the unborn are not human beings (which Nye has failed to do), then he has no grounds to say abortion is not an issue worth pursuing in public debate.

"It’s very frustrating. You wouldn’t know how big a human egg was if it weren’t for microscopes, if it weren’t for scientists, medical researchers looking diligently. You wouldn’t know the process. You wouldn’t have that shot, the famous shot or shots where the sperm are bumping up against the egg. You wouldn’t have that without science. So then to claim that you know the next step when you obviously don’t is trouble."

This argument is akin to saying, “Look, without scientists you wouldn’t even have medicine that treats diseases like syphilis, so don’t tell us it’s wrong to deceive and kill African-Americans in order to study this disease! You don’t even know what you’re talking about!”

Mr. Nye, you are the one who is completely ignorant of the developmental growth of a human being. By defintion a human embryo is a human being in the first seven weeks of life and a human fetus is a human being in age anywhere from eight weeks until birth. Saying an unborn human being is not human because he or she is an embryo or fetus is as ridiculous as saying a fifteen-year-old is not human because he is a teenager.

"Let me do that again. Let me just pull back. At some point we have to respect the facts. Recommending or insisting on abstinence has been completely ineffective. Just being objective here. Closing abortion clinics. Closing, not giving women access to birth control has not been an effective way to lead to healthier societies. I mean I think we all know that."

I’m going to keep this post limited to just the topic of abortion, but notice that Nye is simply making assertions here and not giving any evidence for his position. He just wields the “hammer of science” (a metaphor that some news sites have even adopted) in order to shut down the discussion with one massive appeal to authority. This is ironic since Bill Nye only has a bachelor's degree in engineering. As one writer puts it, “Calling yourself the ‘Science Guy’ does not mean that you are an expert on anything. It means you're the host of a kids show.”

Why Not Debate the Issue?

"And I understand that you have deeply held beliefs and it really is ultimately out of respect for people, in this case your perception of unborn people. I understand that. But I really encourage you to look at the facts. And I know people are now critical of the expression 'fact-based' but what’s wrong with that? So I just really encourage you to not tell women what to do and not pursue these laws that really are in nobody’s best interest. Just really be objective about this. We have other problems to solve everybody. Come on. Come on. Let’s work together."

You want the facts? Okay, would you be willing to debate the facts about abortion with me? You recently debated Ken Ham on the issue of evolution and his only credentials are a long history of advocating for young earth creationism. When it comes to this issue I have the credentials that would justify a debate between us.

I have a graduate level education and have studied abortion for over a decade. I have written a book that has become the most comprehensive popular-level defense of the pro-life position (which is currently the first thing that comes up when you search “pro-life” on Amazon). It's also been endorsed by nationally known pro-life advocates such as Lila Rose and Fr. Frank Pavone. Finally, I have been invited by secular universities to debate other well-known defenders of the pro-choice position such as Dr. Malcom Potts at UC-Berkeley.

And just so it isn’t “two white men arguing over women’s rights” I would be happy to do a team debate where you and a female pro-choice advocate of your choosing debate me and a female pro-life advocate of my choosing, such as my friend Stephanie Gray. As you said, “I really encourage you to look at the facts.” So, let’s look at the facts together in front of an audience and see who’s position they really support.
 
 
(Image credit: New York Times)

Notes:

  1. Keith Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 9th ed. (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 2013) 36.
  2. Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Müller. Human Embryology and Teratology (3rd edition) (NewYork:Wiley-Liss, 2001) 8.
Trent Horn

Written by

Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

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  • Mike

    "When it comes to women’s rights with respect to their reproduction, I think you should leave it to women"

    Fine but is that a scientific statement?

    Lemme guess he doesn't believe in or "do" metaphysics either right?

    • Truth Seeker

      There are probably more career opportunities for physics majors than for metaphysics majors, whatever that is.

      • Mike

        educate yourself and you might find out

        • Truth Seeker

          Am I right in assuming that metaphysics majors spend a lot of time saying "You want fries with that?"

          • Mike

            no they ask would you like fries with your order LOL

          • Truth Seeker

            I prefer onion rings.

    • Justme

      How about the reproduction of males?

      • Mike

        say what?

  • Lazarus

    A nicely phrased challenge. I for one would like to see this happen.

  • Evan Keal

    Thank you Trent for your brilliant point-by-point counter to this condescending pseudo-scientist.

    The upside to Bill Nye's existence is bringing awareness to how confused the "pop" science community is about religion AND science. Kinda-like how Richard Dawkins actually ends up leading more people BACK to the church because of the intelligent responses folks like yourself provide to his absurd claims.

    Also, I (as one who never questioned "evolution") felt found that the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham actually exposed more flaws in our "faith" in science and popular "theories" than it did to solidify any of it.

    I for one, would LOVE to see a Trent v. Nye debate. I will personally pay the medical coverage for Nye for his inevitable trip to the "burn" center.

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Trent!!!

  • ClayJames

    Bill Nye´s arguments were painfully ignorant. As an engineer, it pains me to see how ignorant some of my fellow scientists can be when they talk about unscientific topics but still like to make it known that science gives them an upper hand in the debate.

    Also, the whole thing about letting a woman do what she wants with her body goes against the fact that 10% of Americans and 20% of pro-choice advocates think it should be illegal for a woman to abort in the 3rd trimester. So in other words, 80% of pro choice advocates believe that a woman should do what she wants with her own body until the fetus reaches a point where she cannot chose what to do with her own body. Most prolifers would agree with sentiment but just define this point somewhere else.

    • GCBill

      Also, the whole thing about letting a woman do what she wants with her body goes against the fact that 10% of Americans and 20% of pro-choice advocates think it should be illegal for a woman to abort in the 3rd trimester.

      These numbers can't be right. Pro-choices are not more likely to oppose late-term abortions than Americans in general.

      • ClayJames

        Sorry, that should say legal, not illegal.

        About 10% of Americans and 20% of pro-choice advocates think it should be legal for a woman to abort in the 3rd trimester.

        My point still stands.

        • GCBill

          OK, that makes more sense. I probably should have been able to figure that out myself, heh.

          FWIW "pro-life" and "pro-choice" both capture some of the ideological middle ground, which is that abortion should sometimes be legal. The "sometimes" folks are split on what to call themselves (as one would expect when they are only given two choices). Gallup has a revealing breakdown of this problem here (2nd graph). In reality, both the pro-life and pro-choice positions as commonly defended by bioethicists are already unrepresentative of the general population.

          • ClayJames

            The key point here, is that if you really get down to what people actually believe, the trump card is human life and not a woman´s right to chose. In other words, it is human life that determines whether abortion should be legal or not for over 80% of the population and 70% of people that say this has to do with a woman´s choice.

            It was absolutely brilliant for one side of this debate to make this about woman´s right instead of what it really is about. Most people on both sides of the debate (discounting the extremists on either side) believe that a woman has a right to chose what to do with their own body unless that choice is to kill a human life (or some other point along that fetus´development). The point being that the fetus is main determinant of whether abortion should be legal and even most pro-choicers believe that they can tell a woman what to do, or not to do, when it comes to abortion .

            The pro-choice argument would be similar to arguing that business owners should have slaves because they have the right to chose how to run their business.

  • Mike

    As someone who is newly pro life i think that there are zero moral issues with ending a molar pregnancy by causing a period or whatever as the multiplication of tissue and NOT the growing of organs means it is not a human being.

    Am i right about that?

    BTW aren't those also called "chemical pregnancies"?

    • Suzanne

      Blighted ovum is a condition whereby the egg is fertilizes and reproduces but fails to differentiate into different tissue types. It grows into a blob. It is alive, it is human, but it has no, independent metabolism, no neurons, no bone, etc. It has no body and I understand that such tissue is simply tissue and the removal of it from the woman's body is recorded as "abortion" on her record, but it is not considered morally wrong by any religion. I would check this out with your priest or pastor. This is a very common mishap of pregnancy. I've known several women who have experienced it. It's a form of miscarriage. My mother's heart was broken by such a pregnancy before she became pregnant with me.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I agree that Bill Nye's video was, to be charitable, very half baked and sloppily argued. But this is Strange Notions, so I think I'm required to argue against the article ;-)

    Instead, what might be happening is defective human tissue that could never develop into a fully mature human being is lost.

    I am surprised to see this on a Catholic site. I was under the impression that the Catholic (and pro-life) position is that once sperm and egg meet, there is a unique human with a soul and everything. If life begins at conception, then Mr. Horn is writing off human life as just tissue. It may seem like it would be OK to not worry about tissue that cannot develop into a "develop into a fully mature human being," but the Catholic church is against that as well: They argue against the abortion of a fetus that cannot survive (for example Anencephaly, where there is no brain).

    Why is it that “nobody” likes abortion? If the unborn are not human
    beings then abortion would be as innocuous as a wisdom tooth extraction.

    You might want to pick a better analogy. I'm pretty sure nobody likes to have their teeth pulled either. Abortion is due to either an unwanted pregnancy or a medical emergency. Nobody likes either of those, so regardless of the morality of abortion, there is plenty of reasons not to like them.

    Finally, what is the “this” that Nye says women have rights over? I’m
    sure Nye means “the pregnancy” but that is just a roundabout way of saying the mother has unlimited rights over her unborn child.

    I can't read Nye's mind, but he he might also mean rights over her own body. Pro-life advocates often forget that there is more than just the the unborn child involved in a pregnancy. It's one reason why they often get perceived as "anti-woman" (though not always accurately.)

    Bill, if you want to see someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, look in a mirror.

    In your section titled "Answering ad hominems" You lead off with an ad hominem. You also criticize Nye as unqualified because he is an engineer, but then hold up your masters in theology degree as your qualification. I do enjoy irony, especially when it is unintentional ;-)

    Overall, I agree with a lot in the the article. Bill Nye's video was poorly argued and, if I were a pro-life advocate, I would see no reason in it to change my mind.

    • Mike

      "I was under the impression that the Catholic (and pro-life) position is that once sperm and egg meet, there is a unique human with a soul and everything. "

      Again if it isn't a developing human being then it has no moral value. But i wonder i suppose what exactly are molar/chemical pregnancies? If they really are just random multiplying tissue then it has no moral value but if it is an organized developing organism that is differentiating its parts etc but that also has some deformity then it is human and has worth and we're back to square one.

      Basic embryology ought to have a clear answer on what molar preg. actually are though so i don't think this should be controversial.

    • Faith

      A complete molar pregnancy occurs when an empty egg is fertilized. Therefore, there is no joining of genetic material and no unique human being. In fact, on ultrasound, there will be only placental tissue without a fetus. There is, literally, nothing living to kill, and cannot possibly be abortion. That is what is meant as tissue. We are not talking about malformed living beings, such as a child developing without a brain who will never have life outside the womb, because that child still is living inside the womb.

      A partial molar pregnancy involves rapidly multiplying tissue that overwhelms a developing embryo, choking the life out of the living being and killing it.

      The existence of spontaneous abortion of malformed living beings or the removal of a fetus or embryo that no longer exhibits life does not justify the elective abortion of those same beings, any moreso than the natural death of someone deformed or injured in an accident does not justify killing someone who survives with their injuries or deformities.

      • Mike

        Finally some REAL science ;).

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Yes, elective abortion and spontaneous abortion are very different things and I do not mean to imply that the latter justifies the former. However, I do think that it is curious that many pro-life advocates, and seemingly Mr Horn, do not seem to care to much about partial molar pregnancies and see their spontaneous abortion as not an issue, even though those are human beings, in their view.

        • From what I've seen, that's like saying they aren't aggrieved when an earthquake kills thousands. Perhaps you can substantiate the claim that there was an expectation that they talk about said tragedy, but they refused to?

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Well.. Mr. Horn seemed to dismiss the loss of embryos as just human tissue... so I think that counts as an expectation....

          • Ah, I see; it would have been a bit more clear with a juxtaposition:

            TH: Instead, what might be happening is defective human tissue that could never develop into a fully mature human being is lost.

            TH': Instead, what might be happening is fatally ill human who could never develop into a fully mature human being is lost.

            (Underlining added, italics original in un-modified version.)

            You might have a good point, but I foresee some argument based on AT-'potentiality'. I would love to see @Trent Horn respond to this juxtaposition.

        • Faith

          They care a great deal! It's a loss of life, and we grieve that loss. Any miscarriage of a human being is seen as the death of a child. Many times, we are regrettably unable to know the child ever existed. But nobody willed it. It is simply not a *moral* issue.

          Mr. Horn is merely making the point that every *perceived* miscarriage isn't necessarily the loss of a life. That doesn't dismiss the fact that many are. It's simply science.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Perhaps we are reading Mr. Horn differently. He quotes the embryologist Keith Moore talking about abnormal embryos (not full molar pregnancies) in the same paragraph where he dismisses many spontaneous abortions as just "human tissue." To me, that sounds like he is dismissing abnormal embryos as just tissue.

            In either case, usually when I hear people confronted with the fact that many fertilized eggs fail to implant to the uterus, the reaction is to make excuses as to why that really isn't a big deal. If such a huge percentage of eggs fail to implant, and each of these is a human soul, you'd think there'd at least be a charity walk for research or something.

          • Faith

            The proper quotation is "abnormal conceptuses", which includes all products of a zygote and not just embryos.

            I will agree that Mr. Horn's quotation here lacks clarity without greater context. I disagree, however, that it dismisses on its face all abnormal embryos as nothing more than tissue.

          • Faith

            There is absolutely research happening to prevent miscarriage, both prior to implantation and beyond. It is a major part of NaProtechnology research, as well as research on infertility. What do you think pregnancy loss awareness is all about? If there is a hurdle, it is that so many people are unaware of fertility due to birth control and information being kept from women about healthy reproduction that it doesn't even occur to people that they may be miscarrying without ever knowing it. Even people who desperately want children, and would do anything in their power to protect them.

        • Mike

          do you mean that miscarriages are just as morally wrong as abortions?

      • ben

        Unfortunately, the Euthanasia movement, so rapidly growing in this country and the world, will (is) cause the death of people for just those reasons ("quality" of life, Downs Syndrome, depression...)

    • TH: Why is it that “nobody” likes abortion? If the unborn are not human beings then abortion would be as innocuous as a wisdom tooth extraction.

      OM: You might want to pick a better analogy. I'm pretty sure nobody likes to have their teeth pulled either.

      On the contrary, that makes the analogy better. Abortion is a serious enough operation that there is risk of death. I'm sure it's quite low, but surely even this qualifies as making one reticent to get an abortion. Nevertheless, let's pursue this.

      Suppose that after I have a tooth pulled out, I call a party and ask everyone to bring a hammer. The freaking tooth was making my life a pain in the ass, and so I want to celebrate its removal by its complete destruction. Everyone takes turn pounding it, piñata-style, until the dust seems to be as fine as it will get. People might think me weird in doing this, but I don't think the notion of 'immoral' or 'sacrilegious' or any related thing would arise. Maybe I've found a constructive, perfectly safe way to deal with my anger issues that others could emulate.

      Now, let's take a 5-month-old fetus. It was making my wife's life much worse than my tooth ever made mine. So she gets it aborted and obtains the remains tissue. She calls up a bunch of her girlfriends and they all bring their blenders. The fetus is sliced up so that each woman can have a piece, they all plug their blenders in (and my wife had me ensure the circuits could take this), and they all initiate the disintegration of the tooth fetus. Oh, the glorious end of this pox on my wife! Somehow, I think people would have a problem with this if they found out. A major problem. I doubt my wife or I could get elected to public office with that kind of thing on our record. Not in the US, and my guess is, not anywhere in the world.

      Of course, you can grant me the above but say that the human's "disgust reflex" (see Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind) is badly programmed. If you do choose this course of discussion, I will ask you how you know that it is "badly programmed". I'm not sure it matters whether the programming is genetic or cultural, but we could talk about that, too.

      Shall we?

    • Trent Horn

      Thank you for your comment, but let me clarify a few points. One, Catholics and pro-lifers hold that (outside of cloning) all human beings began life at fertilization but not all products of fertilization are human beings. Provided no human is successfully cloned, fertilization is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be a human being.

      Also, an anencephalic child is a kind of being that has the capacity to develop but that capacity is blocked by some defect. Cancer cells and molar pregnancies are not even of the kind of being we call "organisms" so there is no contradiction in valuing one but not the other. It's like comparing a car with a broken transmission to a pile of scrap metal and saying both are the same kind of thing. One is a car that may cease functioning as a car while the other is just a bunch of random car parts.

      Teeth pulling is not comparable to abortion because nobody says the decision to remove wisdom teeth is a "difficult one" people agonize over. The decision is usually very easy to make while the procedure can be difficult to endure. People may not look forward to the process but everyone agrees the procedure is morally neutral and people don't have all-out fights over whether teeth pulling is wrong or should be illegal. The unique moral ambivalence people have towards abortion make it unlike any other medical procedure and I contend the best explanation for that ambivalence is that what is killed is not tissue but another human organism.

      Third, I agree people should have rights over their own bodies. If pro-choicers can find a way to abort the child without touching his or her body or killing it in the process, then I wouldn't oppose abortion. :-)

      Fourth, you don't understand what an ad hominem is. Saying someone is incompetent or ignorant is not an ad hominem argument, it's an indictment. Both Nye and I do that. However, Nye also implicitly argues that pro-lifers are wrong because they are just a bunch of white, male Christians. THAT is an ad hominem. I'm not saying Nye is automatically wrong because he doesn't know what he's talking about (that's an ad hominem). I'm saying Nye just doesn't know what he's talking about and this is evident in his flawed position.

      Finally, my criticism of Nye's education is not ironic because I don't tout myself as an expert in science like he does, but only a well-read laymen. Nor do I simply appeal to my own authority but instead I use publicly accessible facts and arguments. Although, my second graduate degree in philosophy that I am currently completing does provide me more expertise on this issue that Nye since the morality of abortion is a philosophical issue.

      • David Nickol

        One, Catholics and pro-lifers hold that (outside of cloning) all human beings began life at fertilization but not all products of fertilization are human beings.

        It seems to me this position can be restated as, "All products of fertilization are human beings . . . unless they are not." One argument Catholics put forward about early embryo loss is that some products of fertilization are so genetically damaged that they could never develop into a human being. But who has ever said a candidate for ensoulment must have the capacity to develop into a "normal" fetus, child, or adult. As I understand it, even the most profoundly disabled fetuses that are actually born are considered to be ensouled human beings. Who is to say—if life (personhood) begins at conception—that even the most profoundly faulty unions of sperm and egg are not ensouled human persons?

        Robert George has said:

        “To be a complete human organism (a human being), the entity must have the epigenetic primordia for a functioning brain and nervous system, though a chromosomal defect might only prevent development to maximum functioning (in which case it would be a human being, though handicapped). If fertilization is not complete, then what is developing is not an organism with the active capacity to develop itself to the mature (even if handicapped) state of a human.”

        How can anyone possibly know this?

        • Trent Horn

          I’m not saying that, “some products of fertilization are so genetically damaged that they could never develop into a human being.” Instead, I’m just saying that some products of fertilization are not human beings and so they can’t develop into any of the stages of human life while others are so genetically damaged they cannot develop into mature human beings. You also said, “Who is to say—if life (personhood) begins at conception—that even the most profoundly faulty unions of sperm and egg are not
          ensouled human persons?”

          I would draw the line at something needing to be an organism and not just a collection of tissue. What does your question, “How can anyone possibly know this?” refer to?

          I agree it’s impossible in many cases to know if a particular product of conception was a human organism that has a defect and will die early or if it was just a randomly generating mass of tissue that died. But in general we can speak about the two different cases and can discover cases of the latter (e.g. molar pregnancies are the perfect example since they only contain placental tissue and have none of the traits an organism has).

          Wouldn’t you agree that even if there are cases where we aren’t sure, in general we can determine if something is a living organism instead of just living tissue?

          • David Nickol

            Wouldn’t you agree that even if there are cases where we aren’t sure, in general we can determine if something is a living organism instead of just living tissue?

            At conception and shortly thereafter? No, I would not agree. That would require extremely detailed knowledge of the genetic code that we just don't have. Only the most severe chromosomal anomalies could be determined by observation. Of course, if the zygote continues to live and develop, the more mature it gets, the more obvious chromosomal anomalies would be. But according to the best information I have found on the subject, 60% to 80% of zygotes don't live to more than a few days. Many of those do have gross genetic anomalies, but many of them either don't, or the anomalies are undetectable.

            This, I hasten to add, has no bearing (or at least no direct bearing) on the morality of abortion. I am not making an argument that now that we know so many very early embryos die, we can say, "Well, then abortion is no big deal. Since so many unborn babies die, it is no so serious to abort some of the ones that don't."

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

        To clarify, in the first part that I quoted (about human tissue) were you referring only to molar pregnancies? The quote from the embryologist seemed to indicate not... but it was hard to tell.

        What do you mean by "capacity to develop?" To me, saying that "an anencephalic child is a kind of being that has the capacity to develop but that capacity is blocked by some defect" is not much different than "the child has the capacity to develop, except that it doesn't have the capacity." Could I similarly say that an unfertilized egg has the capacity to develop, except that its blocked by its lack of full DNA?

        Regarding the moral ambivalence surrounding abortion (but not tooth extraction)... It sounds like you are just saying that the issue is morally ambivalent, therefore it's wrong. Forgive me if I am unconvinced.

        If pro-choicers can find a way to abort the child without touching his
        or her body or killing it in the process, then I wouldn't oppose
        abortion. :-)

        Cute! but I think you'd agree that you're dodging the question :-)

        I'll concede that yours was not an ad hominem, but then, neither was Nye's comment about "men of European decent." He never said that people were wrong because they are white men (an odd statement for him to make as a white man himself).

        • joseph3982

          I think a useful distinction might be in order here. In my bioethics courses with Dr. Lee he always emphasized that potentialities that a person possesses by virtue of their nature as a specific thing are what what are important when considering whether a thing should have rights or not. In the case of the child born without a brain example it very clearly lacks the capacity to become a full functioning adult because of the genetic defect. But thanks to its nature it has the potentialities that are inherent in all human conceptions and thus has a right at the very least not to be killed by abortion.

          The problem is that if you say that rights are based not on natures and their potentials but rather on something else (other accidental modes of being to borrow from Aristotle ) like whether the child's genetic makeup will allow a certain level of development than you are thrown into an arbitrary realm of defining how much of an accident is sufficient for personhood. How hi of an IQ for example.

          The challenge is to view the human person not in terms of a duality proposed by the likes of Peter Singer but rather as an organism vitally linked and one with the body itself. In other words "I am my body."

          By way of side note I think you misunderstand the ad hominem as well. Nye's was an ad hominem because he didn't rationally justify his statement but rather claimed the other sides views were illegitimate because of their race and sex. That he is white european doesn't prove he isn't making a fallacious argument, but rather serves as a delicious irony.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            How does one determine somethings "nature"? Seems to me that the nature of a child without a brain is not to live in any meaningful sense.

            ...[Nye] claimed the other sides views were illegitimate because of their race and sex.

            I don't think Nye did that. He pointed out that it is white men that make the laws, but never said their views were illigitimate for that reason.

          • joseph3982

            Hi sorry I've been in the process of trying to find work as well as editing my master's thesis so it took me a while to respond to your question. The question you pose regarding how to determine a things nature is a major epistemelogical inquiry. The explanation of which is beyond the scope of the time available to such a post. I myself think the Aristotelian/Thomist response to how a nature is known and defined is a good one which I myself favor. The short answer to your question about how a things nature is known according to Aristotle is that in order to know a thing you must know the form of a thing. When one defines the form of the thing you get an expression of its essence which is always a kind of universal. For example when we define human being we recognize that humans belong to the genus animal with a specific difference that differentiates it from other animal species which in the case of man is that he is, as described by Aristotle, a rational animal.

            For an in depth and philosophically enlightening exploration of how this works please see the following link to the Summa Theologia of Aquinas specifically Question 84 article 2 of the Prima Pars in which Aquinas explains and lays out how it is possible to know the essences (natures) of things. Its heavy reading but worth the time. A solid understanding of epistemology is necessary to understand the arguments about how a thing has rights based on its nature. Have fun and thanks for the question!

            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1084.htm

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Thanks for the info! Good luck in your job search and your thesis!

    • Faith

      "I was under the impression that the Catholic (and pro-life) position is that once sperm and egg meet, there is a unique human with a soul and everything."

      A more accurate way of stating the Catholic position would be :

      Once sperm and egg meet and form a unique human, that human has a soul from the moment of its creation. All fertilized eggs are assumed to form a human person unless and until it is demonstrated otherwise.

      Referring, of course, to situations like a complete molar pregnancy where the genetic material to form a unique human life was never present.

      • David Nickol

        Once sperm and egg meet and form a unique human, that human has a soul from the moment of its creation.

        The Catholic Church has no doctrine that ensoulment takes place at conception. The closest the Catechism comes is the following:

        2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

        What medical efforts are made to do something about the massive loss of early embryos? Paragraph 2274 would seem to require some efforts along these lines.

        • Faith

          This is a major focus of NaProtechnology. Hormonal support is frequently a measure taken. Addressing issues like endometriosis and PCOS.

          Using a system of charting to track fertility to be aware of when conception is likely, or even possible. NFP isn't just for avoiding. It's a valuable tool for understanding fertility and protecting the unborn.

          • David Nickol

            This medical technology is brought to bear only when women are trying to get pregnant. A faithful Catholic woman who is neither trying to conceive nor trying not to conceive, may in actuality conceiving quite regularly, but the pre-embryos are failing to implant. If there is any Catholic requirement for a woman who fails to conceive for unknown reasons to seek to discover those reasons and remedy them, I am unaware of it.

            Also, it is well known that certain practices (for example, cigarette smoking) increase the chances of embryo loss. Yet I have never heard it argued that Catholic women who are sexually active and fertile must refrain from smoking.

            The statement I quoted from the Catechism bears repeating:

            2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

            That is a very startling statement, since it does not merely forbid abortion, but requires positive action.

            It is a scientific fact that cigarette smoking causes the uterus to be less capable of allowing implantation. It would seem to me immoral for a woman who has any chance of conceiving to smoke, since the result of her smoking may be a failure of implantation of a healthy, viable pre-embryo.

          • Faith

            "This medical technology is brought to bear only when women are trying to get pregnant."

            Untrue. This technology is available to any woman with interest, whether trying to conceive, to avoid conception, or simply to be aware of fertility in order to take what positive action possible to care for unborn children.

            Even still, this technology has varying degrees of effectiveness, and the ability to protect an embryo prior to implantation, in particular, is presently negligible.

            Failure in positive action is most definitely a moral issue, but as far as many people are aware, there is nothing to be done at present to prevent these early losses. I imagine it is difficult to even confirm success when intervention is possible.

            Further, the Church leaves it up to conscience and medical advice to determine what action is possible in protecting the unborn, in the same way parents need to rely on conscience and medical advice to make medical decisions for their older children.

            All people also have a moral obligation of positive action to care for the health of their own bodies. Any action that compromises health is an assault on the body.

          • David Nickol

            Untrue. This technology is available to any woman with interest, whether trying to conceive, to avoid conception, or simply to be aware of fertility in order to take what positive action possible to care for unborn children.

            How many Catholic women who are not seeking to get pregnant would you estimate seek medical advice out of their concern for children they may be conceiving but fail to implant? It has got to be a very small number, because we know that the vast majority of faithful (or otherwise faithful) Catholic women employ artificial contraception.

          • Faith

            Numbers don't impact what is right, so I see no need to make such an estimate, especially since I don't make a habit of discussing with people their specific moral struggles when I haven't been asked. We are each, individually, accountable to God and to each other for our own actions, and for being unequivocal about Truth.

            The pro-life discussion isn't a matter of individual morality, though. It is a matter of public policy, and what is demanded of our government, in justice.

          • materetmagistra

            @David Nickol: "Of course the union of a human egg and a human sperm to form a zygote results in a human zygote. But calling somethinghuman is not the same as calling it a human or a human being. A human heart is human, but it is not a human."

            You are confusing nouns and adjectives, which confuses the issue you are trying to make a claim about.

            Is there any "human zygote" that is not necessarily also a biological "human being"???

          • David Nickol

            You are confusing nouns and adjectives, which confuses the issue you are trying to make a claim about.

            Wait a minute! I am not confusing nouns and adjectives. I am offering a clarification for the benefit of pro-lifers who make the unwarranted leap from human zygote to "human being" or "human person."

          • materetmagistra

            What BIOLOGICALLY is a "human zygote"? What species does the organism you call a "human zygote" belong to?

          • David Nickol

            A human zygote is a zygote of the species homo sapiens. A fertilized egg of species and subspecies Gallus gallus domesticus is a hen's egg. It is not a chicken.

          • materetmagistra

            The egg, if fertilized, contains an IMMATURE Gallus gallus domesticu , does it not?

            What BIOLOGICALLY is a "human zygote"? ["A...zygote is a zygote" doesn't answer a thing.] What specific type of organism is the human zygote an immature being of?

          • Mike

            everyone knows the truth but many of us would rather pretend otherwise.

        • Faith

          As for Church teaching, the Church teaches that human beings are, at once, body and soul. If human, one has a soul. http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/what-exactly-is-a-soul

          • David Nickol

            As for Church teaching, the Church teaches that human beings are, at once, body and soul. If human, one has a soul.

            Not so. The following is from the web site of the National Catholic Bioethics Council:

            People are sometimes surprised to hear that the wrongness of destroying a human embryo does not ultimately depend on when that embryo might become a person, or when he or she might receive a soul from God. They often suppose that the Catholic Church teaches that destroying human embryos is unacceptable because such embryos are persons (or are "ensouled"). While it is true that the Church teaches that the intentional and direct destruction of human embryos is always immoral, it would be incorrect to conclude that the Church teaches that zygotes (a single-cell embryo) or other early-stage embryos are persons, or that they already have immortal, rational souls. The magisterium of the Church has never definitively stated when the ensoulment of the human embryo takes place. It remains an open question. The Declaration on Procured Abortion from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1974 phrases the matter with considerable precision:

            This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of the moment when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement. For some it dates from the first instant; for others it could not at least precede nidation [implantation in the uterus]. It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent.

          • Faith

            Perhaps the link I shared was not enough to cite the basis of my assertion, the Catechism.

            362 The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual.

            I don't know how that relates to the assertions of the National Bioethics Council, but it seems quite clear to me.

          • David Nickol

            By that definition, a fertilized egg may not be a "human person" if to be a "human person" the human organism must be ensouled. The Church has no pronouncement as to when a developing embryo or fetus is given a soul. The Catechism does not say that Paragraph 362 applies to a zygote.

          • Faith

            It is my position that, despite there being no pronouncement specifically stating that we are ensouled at conception, that the teachings taken in tandem (that all human persons possess souls, and that human life must be protected from conception) add up to an affirmative teaching.

          • David Nickol

            You are welcome to your own opinion. I assume most pro-life Catholics believe the most reasonable position is that ensoulment takes place at the moment of conception. But that is a personal conclusion. The Church has not said that, and reasonable authoritative sources like the one I quoted make it clear the Church has not taken a position on when ensoulment takes place. You are perfectly free to argue that you believe, based on Church teaching, that ensoulment takes place at conception. You are not entitled to assert that the Church teaches ensoulment takes place at conception. It does not. It treats the matter as an open question.

          • Mike

            i think that that's bc it's not a scientific question when ensoulement takes place.

          • Faith

            In fact, if you read exactly what I have said regarding Church teaching, you will note that I never made such an assertion. I asserted that if human, one has a soul, which is exactly what 362 says (when taken in context in the Catechism to know that corporeal means body and spiritual means soul). Human beings have, at once, body and soul. I made no assertion as to when ensoulment occurs.

            I do reject your assertion that the Catechism allows for a zygote to not be human, however.

          • David Nickol

            I do reject your assertion that the Catechism allows for a zygote to not be human, however.

            Of course the union of a human egg and a human sperm to form a zygote results in a human zygote. But calling something human is not the same as calling it a human or a human being. A human heart is human, but it is not a human.

          • Faith

            Do you prefer if I use the Church's term, "person", for the sake of clarity? Okay. I reject your assertion that the Catechism allows for a zygote to not be a person.

            I reject your assertion that the Catechism allows for a zygote to not be treated as a human being.

        • materetmagistra

          What medical efforts are made to do something about the massive loss of early embryos? Paragraph 2274 would seem to require some efforts along these lines.

          The Catholic Church is most definitely not against natural death. People die of natural causes all the time. That's not immoral. What is immoral, however, is intentionally causing that death.

          • David Nickol

            Read the quote!

            2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

            Morally speaking, the Catechism is saying the newly conceived "person" has the same right to be "cared for" and "healed" as the newly born person. If it were somehow the case that 60% to 80% of newborn babies were to begin dying within a few days of birth, the sky would be the limit when it came to funding of research to solve the problem. But if it is truly the case (as it appears to be) that 60% to 80% of newly conceived persons die within a few days, how can Catholics argue "out of sight, out of mind"?

          • Mike

            who ever said that miscarriages are no big whoop?

            geez have you ever talked to a women who miscarried after trying desperately to conceive a child?

          • materetmagistra

            Why do you ignore the "as far as possible" portion of that quote?

            Even your "the sky would be the limit" is not true. No one is morally obligated to that extreme.

          • Michael Murray

            No one is morally obligated to that extreme.

            There are limits to moral obligation? I have to say I never got that concept from listening to the Gospel at Mass. I don't remember it saying "as you did unto the the least of these when you had available time and resources ... "

          • materetmagistra

            Sorry, not biting. Keep comments in context, please.

            David Nickol took this:

            2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being."

            and thought it meant this: "...the sky would be the limit when it came to funding of research..."

            Which is simply not the case. There is no absolute moral obligation to KEEP someone ALIVE.

            The phrase, "as far as possible," certainly implies more effort than your suggestion, though: "when you had available time and resources..." That's where the virtue of prudence (justice, too) comes in.

          • David Nickol

            Please note that I said the following:

            If it were somehow the case that 60% to 80% of newborn babies were to begin dying within a few days of birth, the sky would be the limit when it came to funding of research to solve the problem.

            Are you really denying that if it suddenly became true that newborn babies began dying "of natural causes" at that astounding rate, there would be no massive funding of medical research to do something about it? Really?

            There is no absolute moral obligation to KEEP someone ALIVE.

            Of course there is! "[T]he embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being."

          • materetmagistra

            ...as far as possible......

            That does not mean "the sky is the limit", which effectively means, 'there is no limit..."

          • David Nickol

            Again, I was talking about the hypothetical situation of newborn babies dying in the same proportions as newly conceived "babies." I was using an idiom ("the sky's the limit") in my first message, but I then asked:

            Are you really denying that if it suddenly became true that newborn babies began dying "of natural causes" at that astounding rate, there would be no massive funding of medical research to do something about it? Really?

            You do not need to answer, because it is clear to everyone that if it suddenly became the case that 60% to 80% of newborn babies began to die of unknown causes, there would be massive funding of medical research to determine why.

          • materetmagistra

            But, the causes of death for those very young human beings is not "unknown." There are many differnt causes of demise that we are really quite unable to do anything about.

          • Faith

            That might well be the case, that massive amounts of funding would be thrown at that problem. But that money would have to be taken from some other problem that may be of equivalent moral necessity, such as preventing the excruciatingly painful and equally horrible deaths of cancer patients, ALS patients, Huntington's, etcetera. Every human life is of equal value, but there are finite resources. There is nothing, morally, that would make the deaths of newborns anymore tragic than the death of anyone else.

            You are probably right, though, that people value newborn life above other types of life for other reasons (among them, primarily, that our parents have the closest bond with us, and the elderly don't have their parents to advocate for them), and would probably throw money at the problem in order to prevent the deaths of newborns.

          • Mary B Moritz

            Trent Horn has taken a reference from an Embryology textbook. I looked the reference up, and the longer citation is very informative:

            "The overall early spontaneous
            abortion rate is thought to be approximately 45%. Early
            spontaneous abortions occur for a variety of reasons, one
            being the presence of chromosomal abnormalities. More
            than half of all known spontaneous abortions occur
            because of these abnormalities. The early loss of embryos
            appears to represent a removal of abnormal conceptuses
            that could not have developed normally. "

            Please note that "conceptus" means the whole of embryonic and extraembryonic ceels after the zygotes starts dividing an finally forms the blastocyst.

            This fits well with the 60% of pre-implantation losses of fertilized eggs/embryos. This high number puzzled me twice: First, from an evolutionary perspective - human procreation is then a highly error-prone process, and even if nature has an early corrective... and Second, and this is more important: what about the embryos and their souls?

            David, you may be right that the CC did not define the moment of ensoulment directly, but indirectly, the strong rejection of embryonic stem cell (ESC) research on "superfluous" embryos tells us a lot. My take is that the Church strongly believes that ensoulment begins with the formation of the zygote. Biologically that makes sense, and from the perspective of metaphysical hylemorphism (Aristoteles, Aquinas) too.

            With regard to CCC2274, I would think that we should rely on God's providence: we have to care for the best of every child, but miscarriages, also much later, happen, and often cause deep sorrow to their parents - care is not enough! Yes, and we should heal everyone, if possible, but we know, it is not. And there are diseases you can treat in the US or in EU, but not in many part of the world...

            I do not argue "out of sight, out of mind", and I did not when I was first confronted with the nice argument: "You believe, they have a soul when 60 to 80% are flushed down the toilet: does your God not care?" But my approach is twofold: We are responsible if we take a co-creator role, and in reproduction technology, the role we humans are taking is far too active. Our responsibility needs to lead us to claim "in dubio pro reo" "in case of doubt for the accused [- ok, the embryo]" - and for all the very early spontaneous aborted embryos with genetic defect for which we do not know whether they even fulfilled the requirement to be a human person - I leave this question in God's care, because we do not know. And we cannot know. The sould cannot manifest itself except in its body.

  • Mike

    Just thought about this:

    would abortion be legal if we laid eggs?

    • Raymond

      It would depend on how they tasted with bacon and hashbrown potatoes.

      • Mike

        Good point ;)

  • Randy Tercero

    Trent. First off, you are the man. I enjoy listening to you on Catholic Answers and respect your passion in your arguments. One thing that I've heard from one of my relatives and I know you did'nt address it here but i was hoping you could discuss was the abortion clinics closing and what Planned Parenthood does offer other than killing babies. they offer contraception. I've heard the argument that if (God willing, when) these places close than women will revert to more dangerous means to getting rid of their babies. 2nd, I hear that it's contraception not abstinence that is lowering pregnancy rates. Just wanted to get your take, thanks for you time sir. Keep fighting the good fight!

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    I think it would be more interesting to see the two of you debate contraception.

    • Mike

      contraception i think distorts the balance btw men and women and has neg effects from there plus if preg occurs as it sometimes does its always the women who has to "deal with it".

      not sure but it also can easily cause women to become in the eyes of their husbands as just pleasure receptacles...i know that that's putting it crudely but i think you get my gist.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        That's the sort of thing I'd think would be more interesting for Trent and Bill Nye to debate

    • materetmagistra

      What bearing does "contraception" have on the determination of 'endowment' regarding fundamental human rights? Or, are you simply suggesting an interesting future article?

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I'm thinking it would be more Bill Nye's speed. Something simple and easy to refute (I hope this comment isn't also removed; I still don't see what was so terrible about the last one).

        Abortion is in my opinion a very nuanced and emotionally charged topic, and I don't think a debate with either Bill Nye or Trent Horn on that topic would be particularly enlightening or useful. There are other things I'd prefer to see them debate.

        I'd add it's also a women's issue, so I'd generally prefer to see women debating this in the public square.

        • Mike

          it's not only a women's issue though is it? i mean there's never been a baby aborted that didn't have a father correct?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Testicular cancer is a men's issue, even though it will have an impact on the people, men and women who, are close to those who suffer from the disease.

            Beard shaving is largely a men's issue, but the hairs scratch my wife when she kisses me.

            Pregnancy is presently a women's issue. Maybe future scientific progress will change this. ;)

          • Mike

            pregnancy is a women's medical issue but killing an unborn child is NOT only the mothers issue...all kids have dads whether our culture wants to down play that or not.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Abortion is about pregnancy, and pregnancy is a women's issue (as you seem to agree). It seem that abortion is therefore women's issue, even though other people are affected (the unborn child especially).

            How many men have had abortions?

          • Mike

            there has never been a man who's had an abortion.

            i think we agree that it is VERY MUCH MOSTLY a women's issue but that the father has a special role at least.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            What role do you think it should be?

          • Mike

            he should be able to stop the killing.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Only him and the woman involved, and not, say, a judge, or a magistrate, or the doctor?

            Do you think the father should have a special power over whether abortions should take place? Namely, that abortions should be legal if both father and mother consent?

          • Mike

            i think that the father should have some say but as things stand now that obv doesn't make any sense at all as he is not seen to have any real involvement beyond an emotional one and for men that role is usually discounted.

            i like the european model where even in france i think the doc speaks to the mother and the father and discusses the situation with them. apparently there is more 'consultation' in some european countries that are very pro choice but also recognize that this a life altering decision.

            i don't think that laws can change the situation. we as a culture as a society must first decide to change...our hearts and minds must change first and together but that is a long long way off and perhaps will never happen.

            ultimately there's no getting around 3 facts imho: 1 there's a live baby 2 it's very very small and can't talk and 3 it's inside it's mothers womb.

            these 3 are the ultimate contours of the debate i think and there doesn't seem to be a way to resolve all 3.

          • VicqRuiz

            I think a good argument could be made that if the mother wants to bear the child and the father prefers that it be aborted, any child support payments by the father should be strictly voluntary.

          • Mike

            do you mean that seriously?

          • ClayJames

            Abortion is primarily a fetus issue, because as soon as we determine that the fetus is a human life, then most people believe it should be illegal to kill it. How else would you explain that over 70% of pro choice advocates think that they can force a woman to not have an abortion in the third trimester by making it should be illegal to do so.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Fetuses are notoriously bad debaters.

          • ClayJames

            So are the mentally retarded, mute, stupid and any other marginalized group and it should be the responsability of the good debaters to stand up for their rights.

          • David Nickol

            Yes, but there has never been a pregnant man, has there? Pregnancy (and abortion) is certainly much more a woman's issue than a man's issue. However, the morality of abortion is not a women's issue, or not solely a women's issue.

            There's the old cliché that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. I am sure there is some truth to it.

          • Mike

            yes the issue is MORE even MUCH MUCH more a women's issue but it affects all of society especially the child that's killed and the father.

        • materetmagistra

          I'd add it's also a women's issue, so I'd generally prefer to see women debating this in the public square.

          So, only children of child abuse can debate concerning child abuse? Or, only battered women can debate about rape or abuse? Certainly those of us who have not suffered these things can take part in discussions and debates about them? Isn't that the benefit of having human reason?!

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Anyone can argue about anything, as Youtube comments clearly demonstrate.

            Many people have held public debates on all sorts of issues. Men have debated abortion. Probably somewhere two Christians have made a public debate on Islam. I don't think such things should be illegal. It just isn't as personally interesting or engaging to me. I prefer people who are most directly involved in a social or religious issue to debate the issue. If people are debating racism against blacks in the US, I'd like the debaters (one or ideally both) to be black. It makes it more relevant and interesting for me.

          • materetmagistra

            But, why should ANY of it matter to you. You are not black (at least your picture displays as such.) That you might develop opinions about the matter, they would be of no real merit or use, eh? Or, quite possibly, the converse is true, that our reason allows us ALL to engage in endless topics, even those we have no personal experience with.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I'm interested in many things. I wouldn't enter into a public debate about many of them.

            I love reading Homer in the Greek. I wouldn't debate about Homeric scholarship. I wouldn't have the necessary competency. But I'd be interested to be in the audience.

            I wouldn't enter into a public debate on women priests in the Catholic Church. That's an issue for Catholics. And I'd hate to be in an unenlightening and boring debate.

            I'd love to be in the audience if two well informed Catholics were debating about women priests.

        • Mary B Moritz

          Abortion isn't only a women's issue. A few years ago, a German magazine had a title story on men speaking up on the psychic wounds following the abortion of the children they fathered and were aborted against their wish by their wifes/girlfriends/partners. It is also known that many relationships break up following an abortion, and it is not always the woman that can't stand the situation anymore.

  • This includes telling us whether it is right or wrong to kill unborn humans (or any human for that matter).

    @Trent Horn: In your book, do you reject the dichotomization into 'human' and 'person'? I can see vague outlines of how one might do this, but I would be interested in seeing concrete versions, replete with responses to rebuttals.

    • materetmagistra

      Luke, is not every biological human being necessarily also a human person?

      If not, then how does one scientifically tell them apart?

      If not that way (scientifically) then, how?

      • Beliefs seem bifurcated on this point, and I would like to see each fork explicated and defended against criticism. For example, insisting that all fertilized eggs are persons has interesting consequences when it comes to the many excess fertilized eggs created via IVF. Some are perma-frozen, while others are destroyed. Depending on how you believe, these are as bad as abortion. And yet, I am unaware of them being treated as bad as abortion.

        As to my own thoughts, I really don't know what to think, yet. I lean toward 'person' from fertilized egg on. Does this commit me to arguing against IVF, or establishing some sort of guarantee that the perma-frozen embryos are eventually allowed to mature? Must I verify that there are double- and triple-redundancies on the deep freezing apparatuses, to ensure that a veritable slaughter doesn't happen on power loss and/or equipment malfunction?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I think it depends on how you defend a human person's right to life. Usually, our rights seem predicated on our status as rational and free beings that are self-aware with the ability to feel pleasure and pain, as well as possessing the capacity for happiness and unhappiness. An embryo has none of these characteristics, I think it is something of an equivocation to job from human person rights to human embryo rights.

          As to my own thoughts, I really don't know what to think, yet. I lean toward 'person' from fertilized egg on. Does this commit me to arguing against IVF, or establishing some sort of guarantee that the perma-frozen embryos are eventually allowed to mature?

          I think it does.

          • I think it depends on how you defend a human person's right to life. Usually, our rights seem predicated on our status as rational and free beings that are self-aware with the ability to feel pleasure and pain, as well as possessing the capacity for happiness and unhappiness. An embryo has none of these characteristics, [...]

            A person who is in a coma is not self-aware, is not [actively] rational, probably cannot feel pleasure or pain, and only possesses the capacity for happiness and unhappiness as a currently unrealizable potential. So, what you would have to say is that these potentialities have to have been actualized at least once in the past, and perhaps have to be actualizable sometime in the future, at least with probability p > N, for some small (and maybe zero) N.

            I'm skeptical of this "actualized at least once in the past" restriction; it seems ad-hoc in a bad way. For example, suppose I am cruel to a child by disallowing his/her gaining of a good education. That child will not necessarily ever feel pain or suffering from this choice. After all, "ignorance is bliss"—at least for long intervals of time. And yet, we still want to call this 'cruelty'—or at least [I thought—might be wrong here] Hilary Putnam does, in The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy. Even in the hypothetical where the child is never conscious of suffering due to this lack of actualizing his/her potential, we still say it was wrong to so-fail. At least, I have very strong moral intuitions in this direction. How about you?

            I think it does.

            Yep, and if so, what's up with all the rage against abortion but not IVF? You might say that IVF "promotes life", but that's like the person who gets an abortion but "will try again".

          • Ignatius Reilly

            A person who is in a coma is not self-aware, is not [actively] rational, probably cannot feel pleasure or pain, and only possesses the capacity for happiness and unhappiness as a currently unrealizable potential.

            I will admit that this is a problem with my position. It does not cover people in comas or newborns, which are both classes of beings that we think have rights. What I argue is that the properties I listed are sufficient to having a right to life, but they are not necessary conditions. We need other justifications or a different ethical framework to integrate our intuitions about comas or newborns. My problem is when people argue from properties like free will and then apply their argument to beings without free will.

            However, I think we would treat a coma patient differently than a fully functioning adult. Whether this is right or wrong is another question, but suppose a hospital only had enough medical resources to treat one patient. The first patient has been in a coma for a year and will die without medical intervention, while the second patient is a fully functioning human who will also die without medical intervention. Who do you save?

            I'm skeptical of this "actualized at least once in the past" restriction; it seems ad-hoc in a bad way.

            I am skeptical as well, but I would point out that their a difference in beings with memories and beings that do not possess them. Their is a difference in a being that has a personality and one that does not.

            Even in the hypothetical where the child is never conscious of suffering due to this lack of actualizing his/her potential, we still say it was wrong to so-fail. At least, I have very strong moral intuitions in this direction. How about you?

            I agree with your intuition, but in that case you are depriving a person of that which would maximize their happiness. Embryos are not persons yet.

            Let us suppose of the sake of discussion that Embryos should be protected so as to allow maximal human flourishing. Are we then obligated to procreate as much as possible? This seems like a reasonable deduction to make if we are arguing that potential persons should always be allowed to flourish.

            Yep, and if so, what's up with all the rage against abortion but not IVF? You might say that IVF "promotes life", but that's like the person who gets an abortion but "will try again".

            I think this is because their intuition on embryos having a right to life is incorrect. If someone has an abortion now, because they are not ready for a child, but then has a child when they are ready, I think they acted morally. The second child will have a better chance of flourishing.

          • My problem is when people argue from properties like free will and then apply their argument to beings without free will.

            I'm pretty convinced that one must deploy the categories of potentiality and actuality.

            However, I think we would treat a coma patient differently than a fully functioning adult.

            No doubt! But what would you do, other than maximize the likelihood that the human's potentiality be actualizable by him/her? This works for the child-needing education, the coma patient, and the unborn human being.

            [...] but suppose a hospital only had enough medical resources to treat one patient.

            Ugh, trolley car problems. (They almost always constitute bad planning (or negligence in failing to plan), for which people are culpable, IMO.) I would save the human who is more clearly save-able: the "fully functioning human".

            I am skeptical as well, but I would point out that their a difference in beings with memories and beings that do not possess them.

            I'm not sure how this matters; you picked actual memories, while ignoring potential memories.

            I agree with your intuition, but in that case you are depriving a person of that which would maximize their happiness. Embryos are not persons yet.

            You've just begged the question, by deciding who is and who is not a 'person'.

            Let us suppose of the sake of discussion that Embryos should be protected so as to allow maximal human flourishing. Are we then obligated to procreate as much as possible? This seems like a reasonable deduction to make if we are arguing that potential persons should always be allowed to flourish.

            This is indeed one of the more interesting objections I would like to see @trenthorn:disqus address. :-)

            I think this is because their intuition on embryos having a right to life is incorrect.

            Yeah, but then the professed logic would also seem to need changing. Why hasn't it?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm not sure how this matters; you picked actual memories, while ignoring potential memories.

            It seems to all boil down to how you view actual things verses potential things.

            You've just begged the question, by deciding who is and who is not a 'person'.

            Bad language choice on my part. I could equally have said that embryos cannot yet experience happiness, so there is not happiness to maximize.

            Yeah, but then the professed logic would also seem to need changing. Why hasn't it?

            I could speculate ;-)

          • LB: I'm pretty convinced that one must deploy the categories of potentiality and actuality.

            [...]

            IR: It seems to all boil down to how you view actual things verses potential things.

            Hey stop plagiarizing my thoughts. :-p

            I could equally have said that embryos cannot yet experience happiness, so there is not happiness to maximize.

            We optimize the potential actualization of potentialities all the time. Yes, I really did just say that, and I think it's not only coherent, but well-describes a good deal of long-term planning in which humans engage.

            I could speculate ;-)

            Well, so could I. I'm just not sure it would be helpful. I would caution us all with this, from a famous American sociologist:

                When it comes to religion, it is useful to keep in mind that most human beings are not logicians. Thus relevances that may seem totally incompatible to an outsider may not seem so to an individual who is not philosophically inclined. There probably is something like a drive for coherence in the mind, but often this coherence is tenuous or vague. Thus a surprising number of people who claim to believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church also believe in reincarnation or, with more immediate practical effects, practice contraception. Since pluralism means that individuals put together their religious beliefs like a child uses Lego pieces to construct an idiosyncratic edifice, it is not surprising that some of the ensuing constructions look a bit odd. (The Many Altars of Modernity, 57)

            Fail to acknowledge this, and one could be throwing stones from a glass house!

        • materetmagistra

          Does this commit me to arguing against IVF, or establishing some sort of guarantee that the perma-frozen embryos are eventually allowed to mature?

          Certainly a first and easier step would be to work towards making sure these difficult moral situations are not entered into. Some of the countries that allow IVF have laws that any created embryos need be implanted. Therefore the embryos created are few, and are immediately put in place and not stored "on ice."

          Other than that, since numerous embryos are already in existence, we are in a dilemma. Woman are not obligated to be impregnated with any of these embryos - and we are likely not obligated to keep expensive perma-freezing labs running at all cost.

          • Good point on there being multiple IVF strategies.

            I'm afraid I don't see the use of your second paragraph, given the extremeness of "at all cost". Clearly, if I could save 2 billion humans or one frozen embryo, I would choose the 2 billion humans (ceteris paribus). However, the Christian will identify that the very reason the situation evolved to require such a Trolley Car problem decision is probably due to sin, sin which needs repenting of.

          • materetmagistra

            But, hopefully you would not INTENTIONALLY kill any of them - the 2 billion OR the one frozen embryo.

          • Do you think a doctor should never intentionally abort a healthy child in order to save the mother's life?

          • materetmagistra

            At what point does the doctor stop having TWO patients?

          • David Nickol

            When both are going to die if the doctor does nothing?

          • materetmagistra

            And, at that point the doctor can introduce drugs or procedures that are warrented to save the mother's life, even if those drugs or procedures will risk the health or life of the unborn child. The child cannot live without the mother, so the mother's life needs to be saved to save the both: The drugs or procedures are necessary to SAVE BOTH. The doctor is still operating under the premise that he has two patients. Until the child dies, there is always hope. To intentionally kill one of his patients is not a moral authority the doctor has.

          • I'm afraid I don't see the relevance to this question; I don't see how your response to my question is possibly predicated on my response to your question.

          • materetmagistra

            I'm afraid I don't see the relevance to this question; I don't see how your response to my question is possibly predicated on my response to your question.

            Should the doctor ever intentionally kill one of his patients?

          • I am tempted to say "Yes": see ectopic pregnancy.

          • materetmagistra

            But, you are not sure?

          • It is a very hard question. Suppose my wife is pregnant and starts having terrible pains. We go to the hospital, and the doctor says that the fetus cannot physically survive to viability, and if nothing is done short of abortion, my wife is guaranteed to die. Would you be willing to take over the thinking process, here? You are welcome to carry the hypothetical (which I am led to believe really happens, and not-infrequently, except that the pain is sometimes avoided by imaging technology catching the situation earlier) to the point where one or more people decides one way versus the other.

            You seem very interested in teasing out what I think, and extremely reticent to expose what you think. Perhaps you would consider a change?

          • materetmagistra

            ...and if nothing is done short of abortion, my wife is guaranteed to die.

            Who is suggesting the doctor do nothing ?

            Even a Catholic doctor is not obliged to do nothing.

            Here's a Catholic bioethicist on the matter: "About half of the cases of tubal pregnancy will resolve on their own, with the embryo being naturally lost without the need for any intervention. When an ectopic pregnancy does not resolve by itself, a morally acceptable approach would involve removal of the whole section of the tube on the side of the woman’s body where the unborn child is lodged. Although this results in reduced fertility for the woman, the section of tube around the growing child has clearly become pathological, and constitutes a mounting threat with time. This threat is addressed by removal of the tube, with the secondary, and unintended, effect that the child within will then die."

            Read the rest here: http://www.ncbcenter.org/page.aspx?pid=940

          • Removing tube-cum-living human being seems to constitute 'abortion'. At best, what you're recommending is 'abortion+'. It would take some convincing for this to not just be a game whereby one ensures that the final goal one asserts is such that the death of the living human being is "sadly, a necessary consequence".

          • materetmagistra

            Did you read the entire article? Quite near the end, that author writes: "Some say that cutting out a section of the tube with a baby inside is no different than using methotrexate because, in either case, the baby ends up dying. Yet the difference in how the baby dies is, in fact, critical. There is always a difference between killing someone directly and allowing someone to die of indirect causes."

            Yes, the result ends up being the same - the child is no longer living. But, that doesn't mean both actions equal a "procured abortion." One certainly is a procured abortion, but, one isn't. Removing the tissue that is pathological is removing that tissue which is at risk of hemorrhage.

          • Removing the tissue that is pathological is removing that tissue which is at risk of hemorrhage.

            No. This is the fully correct version:

            Removing the tissue plus human being that is pathological is removing that tissue plus human being which is at risk of hemorrhage.

            I am very used to rationalizations, materetmagistra. I make them, and I see them made all the time. Jesus was executed via rationalization. I have not yet come to a firm conclusion about whether or not this scenario qualifies as 'rationalization'. But I do not rule it out.

            By the way, I do have a bit of knowledge of natural law theory. I do believe that the spirit with which we act is important. So, there is something to the argument that the overriding purpose is to heal the pregnant mother, not to abort. However, I am sensitive to futzing with means so that things end up looking nice. I have seen some very evil forms of "futzing with means" in my life. And so, I also have some skepticism.

          • materetmagistra

            Luke, one looks to object, intent and end to determine whether an act is morally good or morally evil.

            Two actions:
            (1) Intentionally kill the unborn child;
            (2) Remove damaged section of fallopian tube.

            object
            (1) Unborn child
            (2) Damaged section of fallopian tube

            intent
            (1) & (2) to save life of mother

            end
            (1) & (2) mother's life saved; child dies

            Yes, the end result is unfortunately the same, and yes, the intent of the doctors involved (to save the life of the mother) is the same; but, what makes abortion immoral in every situation happens to make action (1) immoral - the intentional killing of a fellow (innocent) human being happens to always be intrinsically immoral. There is no amount of rationalizing that can make it moral. When the means (what actually cures the mother) is the removal of the damaged section of fallopian tube it has no more moral significance than if the damaged section had a non-unborn-human cause. The fact that what has caused the damage in the fallopian tube is not a tumor but a tiny human changes nothing [save for the sad loss of a child for the parents.] The doctors, if they could, would do what they could to save the life of the baby once the section was removed - but given the gestational age there is little they can do. Contrast that with a doctor that kills the child with methotrexate. The death of the child is directly intended, not indirectly caused. The difference is a mother who need say: "The baby was killed to save my life," versus "The removal of the tissue saved my life, and the doctors could not save the baby as he was too (gestationally) young." No mother should be forced to resort to option (1), should be presented with only option (1). Relying on option (1) means that the medical field will never advance any better option....

            Ectopic pregnancies are difficult situations. There is little hope for the unborn child. Unless, of course, the ectopic pregnancy is misdiagnosed (which happens: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/w_ParentingResource/baby-born-deformed-misdiagnosed-ectopic-pregnancy/story?id=15421441) Certainly option (2) would prevent such problems due to misdiagnosis.

          • There is no amount of rationalizing that can make it moral.

            Well, if one consults the history of the RCC and ectopic pregnancies, then clearly the barriers can be pushed around if one is clever enough. Now you might say that T. Lincoln Bouscaren was actually "carving nature at her joints", or whatever the corresponding expression is for Natural Law theory.

            Take, for example, the fact that a fallopian tube which had one ectopic pregnancy is highly likely to have another. This makes it quite convenient to cut the whole thing out, and thus say that this is what you were doing. But suppose the counterfactual situation obtained: that fallopian tubes did not have this property, that the error was entirely the egg's fault and once methotrexate was employed, the next pregnancy would likely be just fine. What then?

            In this counterfactual situation, one option is that the fallopian tube could still be removed, but the justifications would seem to drastically weaken and it would more strongly seem like a rationalizing move. Another is to revert to pre-1930s standards, where many women with ectopic pregnancies die. It seems very iffy to base NLT on this seemingly highly contingent fact. Now, I could be wrong—perhaps in every such situation, the fallopian tube-equivalent shared fault, and ought to be removed. Perhaps God designed reality to ensure that this is the case. Suffice it to say that I'd want to see more examples before thinking this is very plausible.

          • materetmagistra

            Now, I could be wrong—perhaps in every such situation, the fallopian tube-equivalent shared fault, and ought to be removed.

            Are fallopian tubes and human beings of that age capable of being "moral agents" [re:"fault"]??

          • What justifies removing the fallopian tube?

            (A) There is a living human being inside that will kill the mother if it is not removed.

            (B) The fallopian tube is faulty and life-threatening to the mother.

            (C) ?

          • materetmagistra

            The fallopian tissue is damaged and leaving it in place to rupture endangers the mother's life.

          • But if there is a cyst on another organ, we remove the cyst, not the organ. The reason it is easy to talk about removing the fallopian tube is that the fallopian tube is a malfunctioning organ, and would stay a malfunctioning organ if methotrexate were successfully used. What would happen if the fallopian tube were to return to perfect functioning after the successful use of methotrexate? Would it still be justifiable to remove fallopian tube + living human being, ending in the death of the living human being?

          • materetmagistra

            ...and would stay a malfunctioning organ if methotrexate were successfully used.

            However, that comment begs the question regarding the licitness of that particular action, eh?

            What would happen if the fallopian tube were to return to perfect functioning after the successful use of methotrexate?

            That does not change the fact that a moral evil has been perpetrated,

            Would it still be justifiable to remove fallopian tube + living human being, ending in the death of the living human being.

            Of course - if the doctor deems it to be necessary to save the life of the mother. [Of intererst - found this at healthline.com: "The mortality rate associated with a ruptured fallopian tube is less than 0.1 percent."] Not to mention that healthy fallopian tubes are those that do not present with such problems.

          • However, that comment begs the question regarding the licitness of that particular action, eh?

            If you refuse to engage in that hypothetical, I'm afraid we might have to end the conversation.

            That does not change the fact that a moral evil has been perpetrated,

            This seems rather irrelevant to the hypothetical. Let's return to our hypothetically completely healthy fallopian tube. Now consider three ways to deal with the ectopic pregnancy:

            (1) Remove just the living human being.
            (2) Also remove the fallopian tube.
            (3) Also remove the entire uterus.

            Why choose (2) over (1)? And what makes (3) wrong?

            [Of intererst - found this at healthline.com: "The mortality rate associated with a ruptured fallopian tube is less than 0.1 percent."]

            You have to be very careful what the sample set is. If it's "women who have gotten the best that Western medicine has to offer", then it means something very different than if it's true of poverty-stricken women in Africa where there is virtually no available Western medicine. Note, in particular, that the sample set from the article could easily involve women who have been treated with methotrexate.

            Not to mention that healthy fallopian tubes are those that do not present with such problems.

            Why can't the fault be entirely the egg's? What law of nature or law of logic requires this? Perhaps you are asserting that evil can only exist if there is some sort of cooperation, such that the fallopian tube would somehow have to cooperate with the egg to create an ectopic pregnancy? I wouldn't reject such an idea out-of-hand, but I would need to see it made more rigorous and defended against cross-examination.

          • materetmagistra

            If you refuse to engage in that hypothetical, I'm afraid we might have to end the conversation.

            Huh? Either moral evil exists (and is to be avoided) or it doesn't exist. You want to hypothetically consider that it doesn't....well, in that case nothing is forbidden, eh? Morality becomes a moot topic. There is no ending a conversation that can't get off the ground....

            Let's return to our hypothetically completely healthy fallopian tube.

            But, healthy fallopian tubes do not present with ectopic pregnancies. Not to mention, if it is healthy, the mother's life is not at risk.

            Note, in particular, that the sample set from the article could easily involve women who have been treated with methotrexate.

            The take-away being that modern medicine can in most cases save the mother's life even if the tube does rupture.

            Why can't the fault be entirely the egg's? What law of nature or law of logic requires this?

            (1) An egg, even if it adheres to fallopian tissue will only remain an egg.

            (2) I am guessing you mean a fertilized egg - a zygote. How can a human being at that age be a moral agent (re: "fault")?

          • You want to hypothetically consider that it doesn't....well, in that case nothing is forbidden, eh?

            False; this is not what I wanted you to hypothetically consider.

            But, healthy fallopian tubes do not present with ectopic pregnancies. Not to mention, if it is healthy, the mother's life is not at risk.

            Ok, let's work with this logic. Let's take the next organ up which encloses the fallopian tubes. Is that organ healthy, or unhealthy? How far out can we 'zoom', call that organ 'unhealthy', and surgically remove it? Why even zoom one level out from the living human being, to the fallopian tube? If we zoom out one level, why not two?

            The take-away being that modern medicine can in most cases save the mother's life even if the tube does rupture.

            Yes, given the use of methotrexate. Subtract the use of methotrexate and the numbers may change. That possible state of affairs seems important to your argument.

            (2) I am guessing you mean a fertilized egg - a zygote. How can a human being at that age be a moral agent (re: "fault")?

            You may replace the ambiguous idea of "being at fault" with the [less ambiguous] idea of "being unhealthy, indeed life-threatening". The word 'fault' is not always used in a moral sense, but I'm happy to avoid its non-moral senses in our conversation from here on out (correct me if I falter in this).

          • materetmagistra

            Let's take the next organ up which encloses the fallopian tubes.

            What exactly would thatbe? And, it remains that it is the fallopian tube that is at risk of rupturing and hemorrhaging, is it not? Isn't that what puts the mother's life at risk? Why do we need to pretend otherwise and "take the next organ up"??

            Yes, given the use of methotrexate.

            (1) The reason to resort to the chemical is to prevent the rupture, isn't it? If the rupture is going to happen anyway, the doctor would certainly be negligent in delaying care, in delaying not addressing the rupturing tube.
            (2) Besides, it was not indicated that the doctors could save a ruptured tube iff "given the use of methotrexate." What was suggested is that modern medicine is able to save the woman should the tube rupture - in most every case.

            You may replace the ambiguous idea of "being at fault" with the [less ambiguous] idea of "being unhealthy, indeed life-threatening"....... Perhaps you are asserting that evil can only exist if there is some sort of cooperation, such that the fallopian tube would somehow have to cooperate with the egg to create an ectopic pregnancy?

            But, that is the topic - whether a given action is evil and therefore to be avoided. Fallopian tubes and human zygotes are not moral agents. In this case, the moral agent is the doctor - he is the one performing the action in question, is he not?

          • What exactly would that be?

            I don't know; does it matter?

            And, it remains that it is the fallopian tube that is at risk of rupturing and hemorrhaging, is it not?

            When there is a cyst on an internal organ which threatens the organ, you remove the cyst. So the idea that one must remove the fallopian tube is simply fallacious.

            (1) The reason to resort to the chemical is to prevent the rupture, isn't it? If the rupture is going to happen anyway, the doctor would certainly be negligent in delaying care, in delaying not addressing the rupturing tube.(2) Besides, it was not indicated that the doctors could save a ruptured tube iff "given the use of methotrexate." What was suggested is that modern medicine is able to save the woman should the tube rupture - in most every case.

            Suffice it to say that I do not believe the statistic you cited indicates what you appear to believe it indicates. If this tangent needs to die because we disagree on that fact, so be it.

            But, that is the topic - whether a given action is evil and therefore to be avoided. Fallopian tubes and human zygotes are not moral agents. In this case, the moral agent is the doctor - he is the one performing the action in question, is he not?

            Do you deny that "at fault" can have moral and nonmoral denotations?

          • David Nickol

            In my opinion, the threat requiring removal in the case of an ectopic pregnancy is the developing fetus, not the fallopian tube. This seems so clear to me that I think I have left some of materetmagistra's comments to me unanswered. If any other entity or entities were boring into the fallopian tube—say a parasite or a tumor—there would be no argument that the entities attacking the tube must be removed. If a tumor had just begun to grow on the fallopian tube, there would be no argument that a complete section of the tube had to be removed because there was "damaged tissue."

            And of course the reason for removing the tube is not that it is damaged, unless, of course, the doctor waits for the tube to rupture. Then the tube is damaged. But salpingectomy is done not because of the present state of the tube, but as a precaution. Whatever damage the tube has sustained, it is not currently so damaged that it must be removed. It is because of fear of further damage by the developing fetus that the tube is removed. And the purpose of removing the tube is clearly to remove the fetus.

            What is interesting is that it was very specifically Catholic teaching until 1933 that no intervention was permitted in ectopic pregnancy until the sixth month! This is a 1902 ruling from the "Holy Office," now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

            [From the reply of the Holy Office to the Dean of the faculty of theology of the university of Marienburg, the 5th of March, 1902] *

            1890 c To the question: "Whether it is at any time permitted to extract from the womb of the mother ectopic fetuses still immature, when the sixth month after conception has not passed?"

            The reply is:

            "In the negative, according to the decree of Wednesday, the 4th of May, 1898, by the force of which care must be taken seriously and fittingly, insofar as it can be done, for the life of the fetus and that of the mother; moreover, with respect to time, according to the same decree, the orator is reminded that no acceleration of the birth is licit, unless it be performed at the time and according to the methods by which in the ordinary course of events the life of the mother and that of the fetus are considered."

            So it took until 1933 for someone (Bouscaren) to point out a "work around."

            There are some Catholic ethicists (among them Martin Rhonheimer, whom I quoted at length in an earlier message) who believe that Bouscaren's analysis is misguided but who also believe that the use of methotrexate, or the surgical removal of the developing fetus, is permissible because the intention is not to kill the fetus, but to save the life of the mother. Their view requires a different theory of intention, which I don't pretend to understand well enough to explain. But suffice it to say they would argue (as I understand it), that the direct removal of the fetus from the tube could be carried out without the intention of killing it. It might be a bit similar to the Catholic understanding of self-defense. It is permissible to use lethal force against an unjust aggressor, if that is the only way to stop him. However, there must be no intention to kill the unjust aggressor. The intention must be only to protect oneself and stop the aggression. This is an example of how intention can be separated from action. If someone's home is being invaded by an intruder intent on killing him, and the homeowner has at hand only a lethal weapon, he may fire that lethal weapon in self-defense, but he must not intend to kill the invader. A bystander watching might say, "He shot and killed the intruder. Obviously, he intended to kill him." But if our homeowner is a devout Catholic with a pure heart and also knows his Thomas Aquinas, he can honestly say, "I fired a lethal weapon at the intruder, but it was not my intention to kill him."

          • If any other entity or entities were boring into the fallopian tube—say a parasite or a tumor—there would be no argument that the entities attacking the tube must be removed.

            Yep, I've been talking about 'cysts', but to no avail so far...

            However, there must be no intention to kill the unjust aggressor.

            Yeah, it's just hard for me to map this to methotrexate.

          • materetmagistra

            Do you deny that "at fault" can have moral and nonmoral denotations?

            To be clear then, so as to not fall into equivocation, why not use "cause" (or, there could be a better word that indicates "condition that leads to".....)

            You see, when you write:

            Why can't the fault be entirely the egg's? What law of nature or law of logic requires this? Perhaps you are asserting that evil can only exist if there is some sort of cooperation...

            it would appear that you are confusing "cause" - as in natural defect that has a given result - with "fault" - as in the zygote is able to do or not do a particular action out of choice, since you refer to "evil" in a discussion concerning morality. Yes, we can talk about some natural defect in the zygote itself that would lead to adhering to fallopian tissue....but, the zygote, being not over the age of reason, cannot be said to "be at fault (which normally means had a choice to either do or not do something.)"

          • To be clear then, so as to not fall into equivocation, why not use "cause" (or, there could be a better word that indicates "condition that leads to".....)

            Sure; I did say the following:

            LB: You may replace the ambiguous idea of "being at fault" with the [less ambiguous] idea of "being unhealthy, indeed life-threatening". The word 'fault' is not always used in a moral sense, but I'm happy to avoid its non-moral senses in our conversation from here on out (correct me if I falter in this).

            In response to this, you said:

            mm: But, that is the topic - whether a given action is evil and therefore to be avoided. Fallopian tubes and human zygotes are not moral agents. In this case, the moral agent is the doctor - he is the one performing the action in question, is he not?

            This appears to be you resisting the fact that 'fault' can be used in a non-moral sense. And so, I attempted to emphasize that it can be used in a non-moral sense, because you appear to still thing that what I said before my "You may replace" comment, when I used 'fault', was making fallopian tubes and human zygotes out to be moral agents.

            So, it seems that you got a little 'stuck' on the presumption that 'fault' is univocal and only moral, that I corrected this misinterpretation, and you kept running with it one more step. No worries: I do this sometimes, too.

            You see, when you write:

            Yes, I wrote that before my "You may replace".

            it would appear that you are confusing "cause" - as in natural defect that has a given result - with "fault" - as in the zygote is able to do or not do a particular action out of choice, since you refer to "evil" in a discussion concerning morality.

            My use of 'fault' was not entirely gratuitous; if only the zygote were at fault, only the zygote ought to be removed. If the fallopian tube is also at fault, then it too ought to be removed. The word 'fault' here is probably better than 'cause'. But my replacement for "being at fault" is "being unhealthy, indeed life-threatening". And it is not clear that the fallopian tube necessarily has this property! A more colloquial way to say it is to question whether the fallopian tube is at fault. I think you will find that you are in the distinct minority if you take issue with this. However, I will use the clunkier language, if you insist.

          • David Nickol

            This may be of interest to you. The following lengthy quote is from Martin Rhonheimer's book Vital Conflicts in Medical Ethics: A Virtue Approach to Craniotomy and Tubal Pregnancies. Rhonheimer is a highly respected, though at times controversial, Catholic priest and ethicist. Rather than attempting to summarize it, I will just present the whole excerpt:

            In my view, this difficulty arises because Bouscaren's argument does not take into account a fundamental and, in my opinion, decisive fact: the ectopic pregnancy and the pathological condition of the tube (which precisely results from the ectopic pregnancy) constitute a single and indivisible pathological phenomenon. Bouscarent attempts to dissociate the condition of the tube from the fact of the ectopic pregnancy, and to understand the former as a separate pathological phenomenon; he can then state that the operation is directed exclusively against the diseased tube, but not against the embryo. This produces the dilemma outlined above where the doctor must wait until the situation becomes life-threatening to perform exactly the same procedure that he could have performed sooner. It is the embryo, howver, and the embryo alone, which is the cause of the condition; without the pregnancy, even in a tube "predisposed" for an ectopic implantation, there would be no life-threatening state of the tube to make the operation necessary. The faulty initial condition of the tube is only the necessary condition of the ectopic pregnancy, not its cause; the cause is the act of procreation and the resultant conception of the embryo. The life-threatening condition of the fallopian tube and the ectopic pregnancy are therefore to be understood as a single and indivisible pathology. On this basis, however, Bouscaren's argument no longer seems valid, and even leads to counterintuitive consequences.

            To make plain the self-defeating structure of Bouscaren's argument, it could be argued that whoever has decided, at time T, to wait until the tube is damaged in a life-threatening way to perform a salpingectomy, for the sole purpose of allowing a direct killing to become "indirect" (which waiting would be obligatory, if a preventive salpingectomy is not permitted because it is a direct killing), waits only because he has already decided at a time T to remove the embryo from the uterus as a cause of the threat to the mother's life! Viewed intentionally, there is effectively no difference between the salpingectomies performed at either stage.

            As I understand his position, he has a different understanding of intention than many other Catholic ethicists, and he has argued that the direct surgical removal of the developing fetus, or the use of methotrexate, is permissible, because the intention (as he understands it) is not to kill the fetus.

          • Thanks!

            It is the embryo, howver, and the embryo alone, which is the cause of the condition; without the pregnancy, even in a tube "predisposed" for an ectopic implantation, there would be no life-threatening state of the tube to make the operation necessary. The faulty initial condition of the tube is only the necessary condition of the ectopic pregnancy, not its cause; the cause is the act of procreation and the resultant conception of the embryo.

            I'm not entirely convinced by this logic. It frequently "takes two to tango". One might even adopt a cooperative model of causation and say that good or evil can only take place when at least two agents converge and actualize. I played with something in this domain earlier:

            LB: Why can't the fault be entirely the egg's? What law of nature or law of logic requires this? Perhaps you are asserting that evil can only exist if there is some sort of cooperation, such that the fallopian tube would somehow have to cooperate with the egg to create an ectopic pregnancy? I wouldn't reject such an idea out-of-hand, but I would need to see it made more rigorous and defended against cross-examination.

            But that's probably what you were responding to in the first place, upon reflection. Anyhow, it strikes me that some model of causation (or 'metaphysics of causation', perhaps where 'metaphysics' is composed of 'ontology' (entities) and 'causation' (relationships)) is required to undergird these conversations. I would love to see discussions of it, and how different models yield different interpretations of the matter.

            As I understand his position, he has a different understanding of intention than many other Catholic ethicists, and he has argued that the direct surgical removal of the developing fetus, or the use of methotrexate, is permissible, because the intention (as he understands it) is not to kill the fetus.

            Intention is indeed a dicey topic. You just induced me (heh) to re-request Dominik Perler's (ed) Ancient and Medieval Theories of Intentionality, which my library failed to obtain the last time I tried. :-)

          • David Nickol

            Not to mention that healthy fallopian tubes are those that do not present with such problems.

            Although there may have been some characteristic (e.g., its shape) of the fallopian tube that increased the likelihood of the ectopic pregnancy, once the pregnancy exists, the danger to the mother is not from the tube itself, but from the embryo growing to the extent that it causes the tube to rupture. It does happen with some frequency that ectopic pregnancies "resolve" themselves (the developing fetus dies detaches), in which case that's the end of the problem. I have never heard of an operation to remove the "damaged" tube after the pregnancy ends of natural causes. So it is not a "pathological tube" that is a danger to the woman with an ectopic pregnancy. It is the growing fetus.

          • materetmagistra

            Yes, more than likely the fetus will die naturally before the fallopian tube gets to the point of rupture. But, the fallopian tube is damaged and sometimes does need to be removed even if the child naturally dies and naturally passes. Not to mention, the underlying cause of the ectopic pregnancy should be treated if it can be dignosed. Having had one ectopic pregnancy puts a woman at a much greater risk of suffering another one. Why? Unhealth - of the tissue, or other underlying cause. It is not normal for a zygote to attach outside the uterus.

          • David Nickol

            [Of intererst - found this at healthline.com: "The mortality rate associated with a ruptured fallopian tube is less than 0.1 percent."]

            We have not discussed the issue of when Catholic medical ethicists argue a salpingectomy is a licit intervention in an ectopic pregnancy. Certainly, in the very earliest stages, there is no threat to the mother's life. And 50% of ectopic pregnancies resolve themselves. Is it moral to remove the tube immediately purely as a precaution, or must one wait until it poses a real threat?

            Now you tell us that the mortality rate for a ruptured fallopian tube is less than 0.1 percent. I think one must ask, then, whether any intervention at all in an ectopic pregnancy is justified. If half of ectopic pregnancies resolve themselves then, assuming the other half result in ruptured fallopian tubes, the overall risk of death from ectopic pregnancy is .05 percent.

            I should note that whether or not your figure for the mortality rate of a ruptured fallopian tube is accurate, it is not placed in the proper context. The fact that modern medical science can deal very effectively with extremely serious, life-threatening conditions does not make them any less serious.

          • materetmagistra

            Is it moral to remove the tube immediately purely as a precaution, or must one wait until it poses a real threat?

            Why wouldn't every doctor wait until it looks as if an intervention is necessary?

            In all actuality, a woman has no idea that the zygote has not adhered to uterine lining until something is not "right." By then some symptoms are presenting.

            Because accurate diagnosis are impossible without ultrasound, it would actually be negligent on the doctors' part to prescribe anything before he knows where the zygote is. "Despite advances in medical imaging, roughly 40 percent of pregnancies diagnosed as ectopic are later revealed to be normal, intrauterine pregnancies, according to a 2002 studypublished in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology." [see: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/w_ParentingResource/baby-born-deformed-misdiagnosed-ectopic-pregnancy/story?id=15421441%5D

            Not to mention, a woman who refuses treatment to kill that child (because of moral implications) will more than likely CHOOSE to wait until absolutely necessary before risking her fallopian tube.

          • David Nickol

            The fallopian tissue is damaged and leaving it in place to rupture endangers the mother's life.

            Yes, but why is the fallopian tube damaged, and what is the risk? It is damaged because it has a developing fetus attached to it. The danger is from the fetus continuing to grow. That is what must be stopped. And the only way to stop it is to remove the fetus. Consequently the intent in removing the part of the tube with the fetus attached is necessarily to remove the fetus itself.

          • materetmagistra

            It is damaged

            Indeed. It is. And, it is licit to remove damaged tissue, even if a zygote is lodged within. The death of the zygote is unavoidable - as the doctor can do nothing to save him at such an early gestational age.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Take, for example, the fact that a fallopian tube which had one ectopic
            pregnancy is highly likely to have another. This makes it quite
            convenient to cut the whole thing out, and thus say that this is
            what you were doing. But suppose the counterfactual situation obtained:
            that fallopian tubes did not have this property, that the error was
            entirely the egg's fault and once methotrexate was employed, the next
            pregnancy would likely be just fine

            I don't think this scenario is as hypothetical as you imagine. The risk of an ectopic pregnancy is 1 in 50. A risk of a second ectopic pregnancy is 1 in 10 depending on the method used to end the pregnancy and when the pregnancy was caught. The fallopian tube is not necessarily defective at all. Indeed, it simply has a greater chance of ectopic pregnancies than the average person.

            One doesn't remove something just because it does not function as well as it could. I'm not going to remove my eyes because I do not see 20/20. The ideas of telos and natural law are abused horribly and used inconsistently.

            The idea that it is moral to remove the tube and the embryo inside, but it is not moral to just deal with the embryo is absurd. And by absurd I mean it is a contradiction.

            I think your hypothetical also brings out another moral intuition. If an adult was only going to live for another six months, I would take moral issue with ending that life in one month. On the other hand, if an embyro is implanted in a fallopian tube, I have zero issue with removing it or aborting it chemically.

          • While I don't necessarily agree with your "absurd" note or your final sentence, I think you raise some excellent points. And for the general record (@davidnickol:disqus, you might have thought son this), I'd love to see some more examples of the kind of thinking @materetmagistra:disqus is suggesting be used here, to get a bigger idea of what it says is ok and what it doesn't. Something other than contraception. Perhaps there really is a good principle that, while it cannot be applied precisely all the time—or at least, things sometimes seem weird when one does—it is nevertheless a fantastic principle.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Just to add another objection/example. :-) There is a theme in these ethical discussions that certain actions have natural ends and that it is wrong to use them otherwise. Sexual intercourse has as a natural end reproduction, therefore deliberately stopping that end from occurring is immoral. I wonder why this doesn't apply to eyesight or hearing or any of our other senses. I can morally blindfold my eyes to play a game, I can wear ear plugs over my ears so the factory noise doesn't damage them, and I dull my pain receptors before getting a tooth extraction. In all these ways I frustrate a natural end. Why are these natural ends different from the end of procreation?

            Also, I do not see reason to accept the premise that If action Y has natural end X then one ought to never frustrate end X while doing Y.

          • While I can see some difficulty there, I think Natural Law theory is onto something when it has the whole spirit of promoting life, and life in community. I've been strongly influenced by Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue on the importance of an ever-growing 'common good' which nonetheless does not stomp on private goods. I think in this day and age, many actions have the spirit of death for other people. When I say 'spirit', I mean a nonlocalized, statistically powerful effect which can however be plausibly denied in any given situation.

            So, for example, we have Assisted Suicide Increases Other Suicides. If that ends up being true, I think there is a good argument to be made that a 'culture of death' is indeed being advanced. Sometimes we cannot alleviate others' suffering, but we can enhance their joys—perhaps by finding new and glorious ways for them to contribute to the common good. My father-in-law actually chose to work while healing from a surgery because when he was working (as a surgeon), he didn't even feel the pain. Why? Well, my guess is that his dedicated focus to a common good made the pain irrelevant.

            And so, I suspect that Natural Law theory and the kind of reasoning @materetmagistra:disqus is advancing may indeed have a powerful good to contribute. However, that good has to be teased out; it's going to make us work to get at it. But that's true of most things of value. :-)

          • David Nickol

            You may find it interesting to follow this link (although I am not entirely sure it will work) and read the section "Ectopic Pregnancy" beginning on page 109 of Contemporary Catholic Health Care Ethics, Second Edition. Briefly, the Catholic Church prior to 1933 allowed medical intervention in an ectopic pregnancy only after there was a rupture of the tube, at which point the situation was life threatening. To quote, "A retired Catholic hospital chaplain spoke to one of the authors of this book and recalled his anguish at having to allow women to die from ectopic pregnancies; often the surgery, which had to be postponed until after tubal rupture, was too late."

            In 1933, T. Lincoln Bouscaren, a Jesuit canon lawyer wrote his doctoral dissertation on the subject and argued that the the tube in which the fetus was implanted had become "pathological" and could be removed. The intention, as he argued it, was to remove the damaged tube, and whatever happened to the fetus could be considered a foreseen but unintended "side effect." This argument became widely (but not universally) accepted among Catholic medical ethicists. It may be cynical of me to say this, but in my opinion it is such a preposterous argument that its acceptance is due to the same feelings as those of the hospital chaplain mentioned above. Ectopic pregnancy is too common, and too deadly for it to be acceptable to sit back and do nothing about, so a flimsy justification for life-saving intervention is seized on.

          • Hey, neato. @materetmagistra:disqus, you may find this interesting.

            To push back against the "rationalizing thesis", I do think there is such a thing as a "spirit aimed at enhancing life", in at least the sense that there is 'letter of the law' and there is 'spirit of the law', and the two are very different. I think Natural Law theory is onto something in this realm—the specific case possibly notwithstanding.

            I and others have observed a major shift in our age, away from looking after the welfare of the community and towards taking care of self, plus of course taxes for the welfare state and charity for people hurting who are far away. We ignore, for example, those in the community nearby us, some of whom end up being mass shooters if they life in the US. Anyhow, I'll let Charles Taylor articulate, as his view is much more representative of all Western reality (being more scholarly, and thus less parochial):

                The worry has been repeatedly expressed that the individual lost something important along with the larger social and cosmic horizons of action. Some have written of this as the loss of a heroic dimension to life. People no longer have a sense of a higher purpose, of something worth dying for. Alexis de Tocqueville sometimes talked like this in the last century, referring to the "petits et vulgaires plaisirs" that people tend to seek in the democratic age.[1] In another articulation, we suffer from a lack of passion. Kierkegaard saw "the present age" in these terms. And Nietzsche's "last men" are at the final nadir of this decline; they have no aspiration left in life but to a "pitiable comfort."[2]
                This loss of purpose was linked to a narrowing. People lost the broader vision because they focussed on their individual lives. Democratic equality, says Tocqueville, draws the individual towards himself, "et menace de la renfermer enfin tout entier dans la solitude de son propre coeur."[3] In other words, the dark side of individualism is a centring on the self, which both flattens and narrows our lives, makes them poorer in meaning, and less concerned with others or society. (The Malaise of Modernity, 3–4)

            My sense is that Natural Law theory fights against this tendency. See also Alasdair MacIntyre focus on a robust conception of the 'common good' in After Virtue (he talks quite a bit about the Greek polis). In the West, we seem pretty selfish these days—just look at how hard it is to get people to open up to accepting refugees. It's like we are on this knife's edge, of always having so many internal problems, that we don't have the bandwidth to really build up those on the outside. We can throw money at them, though. And bomb them. I see this knife's edge in churches, too: the people inside have so many problems that they can't clean up their act to powerfully help those not in the church. It's almost... convenient.

          • materetmagistra
          • Mike

            my understanding of the principle of double effect is that the killing is licit if it is un intentional and in direct i think so if you have to kill the baby bc the mother needs radiation therapy then it is moral.

  • GCBill

    Nye's arguments are pretty bad, but I don't think this article succeeds beyond showing that they're bad. After all,

    "science gives us facts about the way the world functions (or what is), but only philosophy and/or religion tell us how we should live (or what we ought to be). This includes telling us whether it is right or wrong to kill unborn humans (or any human for that matter)."

    Horn takes it for granted that once the embryo is shown to be human, it is deserving of full legal protection and no other ethical considerations should be made. Even if he turns out to be right, he would still be using the Hammer of Science irresponsibly. Which makes me suspect that the Hammer is something that most people feel justified in wielding when they think their own ethical views are transparently obvious, regardless of what those views might be.

    • Faith

      I didn't see Mr. Horn as justifying anything by science. Science tells us what is only and that is that the unborn are human, and living. Philosophy, ethics, natural law and the common good tell us when it is okay to take human life, and when it is not.

      Mr. Nye uses bad science to eliminate the other question by denying that the unborn possess human life.

      Mr. Horn absolutely thinks that natural law and the common good demand that we protect that life, however. It's just a question beyond science.

      • GCBill

        I think he does attempt justification via science (or at least appears to be doing so), namely here:

        "After all, how could two human beings procreate a non-human offspring that only becomes human after birth? The answer is "they can’t.” Therefore, the human organism they procreate (i.e. the baby) should have the same right to life as his born brothers and sisters. All children have the right to loving support from their mother and father even if one of these people "doesn't want anything to do" with the genes of the other. At minimum, children have the right [to] not be killed just because one parent despises the other."

        Many pro-choice arguments explicitly deny that the fetus's humanity is the only (or even primary) ethical consideration in determining the morality and legality of abortion. Someone as well-versed in the debate as Horn definitely knows this, so I take it the reason this fact is not mentioned equates to something other than ignorance. Now, regardless of whether the omission was careless or calculated, the end result is an argument that one should only find persuasive if certain philosophical commitments are already held. With that in mind, the difference between Nye and Horn is not the activity of Hammering, but rather the manufacturing quality of the Hammer.

        EDIT: clarity & continuity check <10 mins. after initial posting.

        • Faith

          Rights are an issue of philosophy by their nature. The qualification is the rights already afforded children, not the scientific reality that the unborn are children.

          Pro-choice arguments that accept the scientific fact of the humanity of the unborn don't dismiss their right to life. They place a woman's rights as superseding the child's because of the child's location.

          The right to loving support from mother and father has nothing to do with science and everything to do with philosophy. So I'm still not seeing him wield the science hammer here. His argument is informed by science, but is not based solely on science.

          • David Nickol

            the scientific reality that the unborn are children

            How does science show that the unborn are "children"?

          • Faith

            Forgive me. Is human offspring more palatable? I was using the dictionary definition of child - a young human below the age of puberty.

          • David Nickol

            It is not a matter of palatability. It's a matter of accuracy concerning what science can and cannot do.

          • Faith

            Do you disagree that science is capable of identifying life and species?

            I thought perhaps your objection was to some connotation unknown to me of the word "child".

          • David Nickol

            Pro-life advocates often make emotional appeals by using "child" or "baby" (or "innocent baby") when speaking of abortion. And, on the other hand, they accuse pro-choice advocates of trying to obscure the issues by referring to "embryos" or "fetuses."

            Do you disagree that science is capable of identifying life and species?

            Yes, but I don't think science can answer the fundamental questions about abortion. There is no scientific definition of person, and in my opinion, the question of personhood is the fundamental question in the abortion debate. Science cannot answer the question of whether a human egg fertilized with a human sperm is a person or not. Certainly the species to which the resulting zygote belongs is not in question. But science cannot answer the question of personhood.

          • Mike

            Maybe it's just wrong to kill a living human then? forget the word "personhood" and just see that killing a growing human being is wrong.

          • David Nickol

            That appears to me to essentially be the Catholic argument. However, not everybody is a Catholic, and outside of Catholicism, the argument is for the most part about personhood. The legal argument is certainly about personhood. And until the time (which I hope never comes!) that the United States is a Catholic theocracy, the legal argument regarding abortion cannot be based on Catholic doctrine.That may be a shame, if the one true source of Truth in the world is the Catholic Church, but that is how we make laws in our secular democracy.

          • Mike

            so you agree that killing a human being that is say only 4 weeks gestation is wrong but that that doesn't matter bc the usa is a secular gov?

            that the heck does the one have to do with the other?

          • David Nickol

            I have not said whether abortion is right or wrong. I am pointing out that the Catholic Church says it is wrong. I am also pointing out that under US law, it is not wrong. But of course it is ultimately the goal of the pro-live movement to change US law to prohibit abortion. In their quest to do so, the fact that the Catholic Church says abortion is wrong is not a factor. The Catholic argument against abortion is not a legal argument. Of course, the Catholic Church argues that abortion is wrong and should be outlawed, but the Catholic legal arguments against abortion cannot be based on Catholic doctrine. Catholic pro-life advocates such as Robert George (and I assume Trent Horn) do not rely on Catholic doctrine when making their legal arguments.

          • Mike

            so called catholic arguments begin with the facts of reality and reason from there.

          • David Nickol

            What are "the facts of reality"?

          • Mike

            omg geez...that there is a growing human being with a heart beating, with arms and legs growing with a brain with movement etc. etc. etc. see a standard embryology textbook.

          • David Nickol

            Strange as it may seem to you, those who are knowledgeable about embryology (including embryologists themselves) can disagree on the issue of abortion. The moral status of a zygote or embryo or fetus is not something that can be determined by science.

          • Mike

            "moral status of a zygote or embryo or fetus is not something that can be determined by science"

            precisely but the science is 100% clear that the zygote is a human being that is growing and moving and has a beating heart and IF LEFT ALONE will get big enough to survive outside the womb.

          • David Nickol

            The zygote does not have a beating heart or a brain or anything. A zygote is a single cell. Under the best of circumstances (perhaps 20% of the time), it may grow into what we would all concede is a human person. But that doesn't mean a zygote is a human person. A fertilized egg may grow into a chicken, but that doesn't mean a fertilized egg is a chicken.

            IF LEFT ALONE will get big enough to survive outside the womb

            A developing embryo or fetus, if left alone, will die. It requires a whole host of things from the pregnant woman's body.

          • Mike

            a zygote i thought was more than just 1 cell but either way it is already becoming a fetus which does have all those things.

            i concede that if a zygote had no direction or tendency to move towards a fetus then it would be moral to kill it. ie if sometimes it developed into a liver or changed into blood cells and was re absorbed or if it turned into just proteins or whatever.

            a fetus will only stop growing if an abortionist kills it by ripping it out of its moms womb but if the mother doesn't do anything but eat good and drink water it will likely grow to be big enough to live outside.

          • materetmagistra

            @David Nickol: "A developing embryo or fetus, if left alone, will die. It requires a whole host of things from the pregnant woman's body."

            All of us require a whole host of things (like air, water and food, even shelter) to sustain life. That such is required doesn't mean we don't have human rights, eh? Luckily nature has designed a system whereby the mother's body quite involuntarily nurtures the new life. If left in situ, if left alone (notice - not quite "equivalent" with your meaning of "left alone"), the unborn child most definitely will continue on the trajectory of its "life."

          • materetmagistra

            David Nickol, what can a biologist, using the modern tools afforded by science, tell us about the organism that comes into being at the fusion of a human sperm and egg?

          • David Nickol

            The biologist can tell us it is a human zygote. Biology cannot tell us whether it is a human person or a human being with a soul.

          • materetmagistra

            Biology cannot tell us whether it is a human person or a human being with a soul.

            First, the basic dictionary tells me: per·son
            (pûr′sən)
            n.
            1. A living human.

            At that, science most definitely can be used to determine that the tiny living organism that comes into existence at fertilization is a "human person," a living human.

            Second, if we cannot "see" human souls, certainly that would not be a good criteria to use to determine exactly which human beings have human rights, eh? However, we COULD use science to determine the complete set of biological individuals that might happen to have these things called human rights. After all, what you are saying is that in order to have human rights, one must FIRST be a biological human being, correct? Therefore, at a minimum you must be able to determine WHAT a biological human being is (and in turn, what is NOT a biological human being.)

          • ClayJames

            I think what you are trying to say is that legal argument should be, for the most part, about personhood. And If you look about what people truly believe (regardless of what they say) you will find that it is about personhood. Unfortunately, making this about a woman´s right to chose not only clouds the issue but it also brings this into the realm of woman´s rights.

            If we were honest with each other and first accept that this argument is really about, it would go a long way in helping define the debate.

          • David Nickol

            If we were honest with each other and first accept that this argument is really about, it would go a long way in helping define the debate.

            There are, of course, arguments in favor of a "woman's right to choose" that concede the personhood of the unborn (most famously Judith Jarvis Thompson's "famous violinist" argument). But a "woman's right to choose" is (or ought to be) a legal argument, since under American law since 1973, women do have a "right to choose" abortion.

            Interestingly, almost no one who believes Roe v Wade was wrongly decided believes the Supreme Court should have prohibited abortion. The overwhelming majority believe the Constitution neither permits nor prohibits abortion, and decisions on the matter should be left to the states. So the arguments against abortion one sees based on the Declaration of Independence appear only in forums like this. They are never part of serious legal debates

          • ClayJames

            I don´t agree. You can believe that abortion should be left up to the states and still believe that the states should rule on the side of human life. A woman´s right to choose is a legal argument, that determines the limits of what a woman can chose depending on the rights of those affected. And the right of those affected are determined by the people.

            The important point being that even though a certain segment of the population makes this about a woman´s right to chose, when they really explain what they believe, they hold that a woman has a right to chose what to do with her own body unless a fetus is a human life or has reached a certain stage of development, which is exactly what pro-lifers believe. So we would go a long way to frame the debate in that way instead of making this about something that no one really believes this is about.

          • Doug Shaver

            But a "woman's right to choose" is (or ought to be) a legal argument, since under American law since 1973, women do have a "right to choose" abortion.

            I believe that the advocates of legalized abortion made a grievous mistake when they framed the argument in terms of women's rights. I don't agree that abortion is homicide, but if it is, then women don't (or should not) have a right to do it. Equal rights are one thing. Legal privilege is something very different.

            There are, of course, arguments in favor of a "woman's right to choose" that concede the personhood of the unborn (most famously Judith Jarvis Thompson's "famous violinist" argument).

            That is an interesting thought experiment. Nevertheless, if it is stipulated that a fetus is a person, then I would argue that as a general principle nobody, man or woman, has a right to kill it except in self-defense.

          • David Nickol

            I believe that the advocates of legalized abortion made a grievous mistake when they framed the argument in terms of women's rights.

            Well, I think the pro-abortion movement realized that it sounds better to talk about "choice" rather than about abortion, just as the ant-abortion movement realized that it sounded loftier to call themselves "pro-life" rather than "anti-abortion." But in large part, I think both groups characterized themselves in the "culture war" that followed the Supreme Court decision, which did not materialize in its present form immediately after Roe v Wade.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think the pro-abortion movement realized that it sounds better to talk about "choice" rather than about abortion,

            I understand the difficulty to which they were trying to respond. They did need an alternative to "pro-abortion." I just think they ended their search for an alternative too quickly.

            I think both groups characterized themselves in the "culture war" that followed the Supreme Court decision, which did not materialize in its present form immediately after Roe v Wade.

            Agreed.

          • Faith

            I have intended to make no such emotional appeal, and yet you respond to me as if I have. "Embryo", "fetus", and "child" all have non-emotional definitions, (namely, embryo and fetus are stages through which a child passes, provided that it is agreed that the unborn are human). I have merely attempted to use them according to those definitions. I have even allowed for the use of the alternate term, "human offspring", as it seems that you find "child" objectionable on your own philosophical grounds.

            I have made no assertion regarding personhood, and your reading an implication of such into my use of the word "child" is not something I feel accountable for.

          • Doug Shaver

            I was using the dictionary definition of child - a young human below the age of puberty.

            Dictionaries record usage. They have nothing to say about ontology. In ordinary usage outside of debates about abortion, when people say "child," they are referring to a human being before the age of puberty but after birth. Before Roe v. Wade, "unborn child" would have been considered oxymoronic.

          • Faith

            There has most definitely *not* been such consensus re: usage of the word child, even before Roe v. Wade. Take, for instance, quotations from many of the citations in a review such as this. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2808697/#!po=8.82353

            Stillborn children have never lived this side of the womb, but they have been referred to as children for over 150 years.

          • Doug Shaver

            but they [stillborns] have been referred to as children for over 150 years.

            Yes, but they were born. Not born alive, but they were born.

          • Faith

            As is every child miscarried or removed surgically (cesarean or otherwise). Every single one crosses from the womb to the world, whether alive or not.

            So are you arguing that aborted babies become children when they exit the womb?

          • Doug Shaver

            So are you arguing that aborted babies become children when they exit the womb?

            I am not talking about what they actually are or become. I am talking about what they are called in ordinary conversation when the topic of conversation is something other than the morality of abortion.

          • Faith

            And my point is that abortion isn't beside the point. It's entirely the point. The morality of abortion isn't the starting point. Facts and beliefs about the unborn are the starting point. Ordinary conversation is colored by those things. It's not either/or. It's always. So by arguing about the semantics of words you use differently, you're making a statement about the unborn. Period.

            I'm pregnant. That's a fact. The CHILD in my womb is my offspring. I am the mother of five children. Three died in the womb, one is in my arms right now, and the fifth is growing inside of me. How I talk about that has nothing to do with being in a moral conversation about abortion. It's my existence, 24/7.

            Another word you could argue about would be "mother", right? But what's the point of arguing about the words someone else uses (yes, even ordinarily) *unless* you are trying to make a statement about the morality of ending the life of the unborn?

          • Doug Shaver

            So by arguing about the semantics of words you use differently, you're making a statement about the unborn.

            Of course I am, but you're not entitled to a default presumption that your use of those words should settle the issue. If you're going to use semantics to defend your position, then I get to use semantics to challenge that position.

          • Doug Shaver

            I am the mother of five children. Three died in the womb,

            Can we cease fire for just a moment? I want to say that I'm very sorry to hear that. Really. You have my condolences.

          • Faith

            "Can we cease fire for just a moment? I want to say that I'm very sorry to hear that. Really. You have my condolences."

            Thank you.

          • Faith

            Allow me to turn my presumption into a proper understanding, then.

            Doesn't the fact that I use the words differently in ordinary conversation directly contradict your position? How do you intend to defend your assertion that ordinary usage, in general, differs from the usage of many ordinary people (like myself)? Are there statistics? Or are you basing your assertion on personal experience?

          • Doug Shaver

            How do you intend to defend your assertion that ordinary usage, in general, differs from the usage of many ordinary people (like myself)? Are there statistics? Or are you basing your assertion on personal experience?

            The latter. My personal experience also informs me that the impressions I get from my personal experiences are often quite mistaken.

            That noted, please see my other post beginning "For any noun . . . ."

          • Faith

            In the interest of fair play, I will admit to seeing where you are coming from as regards common understanding of the word child when it is unqualified. Most people would assume that any child mentioned without qualification is a living, born child. But isn't that the whole point of adjectives like "unborn", "stillborn", "born", "living", or "dead"?

          • Doug Shaver

            For any noun, the point of attaching any adjective depends on context. In the context of a debate on abortion, anyone who speaks of "unborn children" is begging the question. Of course, so is anyone who says "If it isn't born yet, then it's not a child," but this illustrates what I'm getting at. This debate will not be resolved by arguing over the meaning of "child."

            This nation fought a ghastly civil war because there seemed to be no other way to resolve the debate over slavery. If we hope to avoid a similar resolution to the abortion debate, then we need to be talking about things more fundamental than the logicality of referring to unborn children.

          • Faith

            "This debate will not be resolved by arguing over the meaning of "child.""

            I feel compelled to point out that I didn't initiate a debate about the meaning of child, though I've clearly participated in one. To what end, I am uncertain, as I often just like to argue (mea culpa). I was willing to concede away "child" in favor of other terminology ("human offspring") in hopes of moving dialogue forward rather than getting swamped in the minutiae of debated terminology.

            I am, of course, painfully and completely aware that many people disagree on whether my babies were ever babies, and my mourning them baffles even family members. So the terminology is personally important. I agree, however, that debating language does not really form a cogent argument in defense of the rights of the unborn.

          • Doug Shaver

            I feel compelled to point out that I didn't initiate a debate about the meaning of child

            Fair enough.

          • Doug Shaver

            The morality of abortion isn't the starting point.

            But it is, for some people who have made up their mind about it before answering any related question. Tell me that you oppose abortion, and I'll know right then whether you believe embryo = child.

            Facts and beliefs about the unborn are the starting point.

            I might agree with that, but we might disagree about whether a particular statement represents a fact or a belief. One of my beliefs is that no judgment is a fact, and that includes moral judgments.

          • Faith

            I think what you're really getting at is that it is taboo to talk about miscarriage, so people don't have ordinary conversations about their dead children. And I think that's a shame, and refuse to submit to that pressure.

          • Doug Shaver

            And I think that's a shame, and refuse to submit to that pressure.

            The conservative in me is usually uncomfortable with defiance of longstanding social conventions, but in this instance I have no problem with it.

          • GCBill

            My point is that there is no attempted justification of any of the philosophy of rights contained within this article. For those who share the same convictions, he drives the point home, but for those who don't? Swing and a miss.

  • Mike

    What's led more ppl to change their minds on this issue than anything else?

    Ultrasound.

  • albert321

    Bill Nye should stick to Saturday morning kid show discussions of the correct temperature for boiling an egg

    • Mike

      i was surprised he doesn't have a phd in any thing to be honest.

  • Jack

    I must say Bill Nye's stance saddens me. There are two topics to be addressed. 1.) What is a human being (science has definitively answered this) and 2.) What rights do human beings have.

    1.) Human being (n): A member of the genus homo, specifically a member of the species homo sapiens. Scientifically this means that a human being is (a) a whole organism that (b) performs the 7 life processes and (c) has a complete set of human DNA (diploid). The stage of development is irrelevant to the definition above.

    2.) What rights do human beings have is a different question; one that science cannot address-but rather philosophy.

    One can argue that a mother's rights to bodily autonomy trump a child's right to life, but one can't say that science doesn't know and can't classify what a human being is, or that a human being isn't present from fertilization until death.

  • David Nickol

    I think all of us on both sides of the debate are pretty much in agreement that Bill Nye did a poor job of defending abortion.

    What I would be curious to hear is how the pro-life advocates envision an America in which all abortions are illegal. How many illegal abortions would there be? How would laws deal with abortionists and women who procured illegal abortions? Supposing criminalization was 50% effective in deterring abortion; what would be the social and economic effect of half a million unwanted births per year, most of them likely among the poor? Would those who oppose abortion most strenuously—political conservatives—be willing to provide economic support to half a million more children with unplanned and unwanted babies? How would the average conservative feel about a skyrocketing birth rate among blacks and Hispanics? Would the Catholic Church still continue it's battle against contraception?

    • Mike

      how was england in 1950? how was france in 1950? how was the entire western world for thousands of years before 1960s?

      don't forget that once abortion became illegal but not criminalized i bet you any money that the behavior of men and women would change almost instantly over night if you know what i mean.

      why do you suppose that 'blacks' and 'hispanics' are incapable of supporting themselves? they seem to be able to support themselves in great numbers in africa and s america.

      • David Nickol

        everyone knows the truth but many of us would rather pretend otherwise

        If you are so convinced of the obviousness of your position that you believe those who disagree with you have no integrity, I see no reason for you to attempt dialogue with anyone or anyone to attempt dialogue with you.

        • Mike

          sheesh don't take it so personally. i just meant that every one including even cecile r of pp knows that it's a baby that's squirming and growing etc. but bc she thinks that the rights of the mother trump those of the child she thinks that as unfortunate as the killing is it must be allowed to take place.

          • Michael

            What is it before it begins squirming? Is a fertilized ovum, a zygote, a baby as well? Do many of us know that fertilized ova are babies but would rather pretend otherwise?

          • Mike

            we all know that zygotes are babies...this is basic science. zygotes do not disappear and then reappear as fetuses. if you put a camera in a womb and followed the zygote it would differentiate and differentiate on its own and grow into you and me..that's basic non controversial science.

            look even the most ravenous pro choicer in the world when they are laying in bed alone at night with their thoughts they too have to wrestle with the basic facts that we were ALL zygotes that if our moms had killed that zygote that we wouldn't be here.

            if you can prove that the zygote say sometimes turns into a blood cell or becomes a protein and gets reabsorbed or even if you can prove that zygotes are not differentiated and unique genetically and do not grow on their own then i agree that killing it would be 100% moral and we'd move on.

            the problem with that is that as our technology improves we see more and more clearly that even at that early stage there is a unique human being being formed.

          • Michael

            Being against abortion does not necessitate the identification of zygotes as babies. We adults were all children once, but that does not mean that it makes sense to refer to five year olds as adults. A zygote is a zygote. A baby is a baby. An adult is an adult.

          • Mike

            what's your point?

            zygote is a scientific technical term for a STAGE of development; just like a baby sheep is a lamb etc.

            infant is also a technical term.

          • Michael

            My point is that zygotes aren't babies, and that it makes no sense to refer to them as such.

            Even if a zygote is a human being or a human person, it is still a zygote, not a baby. Later, it will develop into a baby, and none of us are going to refer to that baby as an adult. Rather, that baby will become an adult in the future. The baby is not yet an adult, and a zygote is not yet a baby.

          • Mike

            ok i agree.

          • Doug Shaver

            look even the most ravenous pro choicer in the world when they are laying in bed alone at night with their thoughts they too have to wrestle with the basic facts that we were ALL zygotes that if our moms had killed that zygote that we wouldn't be here.

            I would not be here if my father had not married my mother. That doesn't mean he would have done something immoral by not marrying her.

          • Mike

            if you think that your father not meeting your mother is the same thing as your father impregnating your mother your mother conceiving a child, it begins growing and then from the outside somebody kills it by sucking it out of your moms womb, if you think those 2 are the same then i suggest you consult your local embryology text book.

            dude you're grasping...

          • Doug Shaver

            If did not say "If my father had not met my mother." I said, "If my father had not married my mother."

            There are plenty of differences that are obvious even to me, but I'm asking about the morally relevant difference. You are the one who raised the argument "If X, then we wouldn't be here" for the immorality of X. So, given that it would have prevented my being here, why would it not have been immoral for my father to have decided not to marry my mother?

            And never mind if I should know the answer to that question. I do know at least one answer, but I want to hear yours.

          • Mike

            look doug if there is no new human being if the new unique self replicating moving growing and on and on and on IF it is NOT a human being then kill away. if otoh it IS a human being, and it was YOU, then you should reconsider killing it.

            if you have ANY evidence at all that the new human being is actually a liver cell or a protein or somekind of strange body molecule or if it is actually just blood or whatever, if the new thing that is growing is not human than the church will pay for it to be removed out of womens' bodies itself.

            what is it that gets aborted? what is it that gets terminated? what does it mean when a women's finds out she's pregnant? what is she pregnant with?

            if your dad had never married your mom but he had had sex with her and conceived you then you'd be here to make the inane arguments that you are making in this case IF she hadn't asked a doctor to suck you out of her womb and into the garbage. And obviously your mother DID NOT abort you, correct?

          • Doug Shaver

            Mike, none of that answers my question.

          • Mike

            ok thx for the exchange.

            ps did your mom abort you when you were a zygote?

          • Mike

            doug did you see my last q? answer pls.

          • Doug Shaver

            doug did you see my last q? answer pls.

            I asked mine first. When you've answered it, I'll answer yours.

  • VicqRuiz

    Medical science, law, and (most) religions seem to be able to agree that life ends with the cessation of independent brain function.

    Personally, I see no reason that life could be defined to begin when independent brain function begins. This has been found to be in the 6-8 weeks area.

    Of course, this standard would satisfy neither the "life begins when the sperm hits the egg" fringe nor the "life begins when the baby's head first shows" fringe, so I can safely assume that it will never be enacted.

    • Mike

      well i would concede that the law and the truth are not always in sync and we do the best we can. that would be a huge improvement over the status quo but there is too much on both 'sides' to give up the political expediency of the issue.

      james taranto at the wsj has written about how roe has been bad for the country's politics overall.

    • materetmagistra

      @VicqRuiz: "Personally, I see no reason that life could be defined to begin when independent brain function begins. This has been found to be in the 6-8 weeks area."

      Except, of course, that a biological human being has no need for "independent brain function" until it reaches a certain gestational age. The fact that it does not yet have "independent brain function" does not mean it is "not yet alive." The modern tools of science can be used to show that the tiny human being at these early stages is indeed very much alive.

  • mimibird

    "Second, both Christians and non-Christians have put forward powerful, secular arguments against abortion that have nothing to do with the Bible." I knew I couldn't trust you. I clicked on the first name you suggested, Dr. Christopher Kaczor, a Professor of *Philosophy* at a Catholic University. I am sure his "scientific" argument, for whivh he has no qualifications, have nothing to do with his bias.

    • David Nickol

      I am sure his "scientific" argument, for whivh he has no qualifications, have nothing to do with his bias.

      Trent Horn did not say Kaczor or any of the others made "scientific" arguments against abortion. As it is stated in the sentence you quote, he said they made secular arguments that have nothing to do with the Bible. And I am sure Horn meant secular philosophical arguments.

      There is nothing that necessarily prevents Catholic philosophy professors from being able to make purely secular arguments. One would have to judge the arguments on their merits, not on the academic affiliations of those who made them.

  • thecityismychurch

    It's hilarious for him to mock us as thinking sex always leads to pregnancy when he says "Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans. " For that to possibly be true, fertilization would have to occur after all sex. Humans only ovulate a couple of hundred times in their life.

  • Synder

    My favorite parts of the article are where the author cited pro-life sources for his claims and not scientific. Cute.

  • Goofy_Guy

    I was dumbfounded and lost all my respect for BN when I watched this ridiculous illogical video. I can only assume that the science grant (his sponser/employer) he currently has required him to do this video if he wanted funding. I can't believe that he possibly agrees with anything he said, otherwise he is an idiot and perhaps his degree should be investigated, either way he is dead to me and my children...(I doubt if he even understands what "dead" means)