Monday, June 23, 2014

The Imago Dei, or "Why should secularists care about human life?"

I’ve had a few Christian pro-life friends of mine (kindly) tell me they don’t really understand how a secularist can defend the pro-life position. Sure, they get that we don’t need religion to understand fetal development, and we don’t need to believe in a god to recognize that abortion is violence. But they trip over how a secularist could defend the pro-life view on a metaphysical level. Why should secularists care about fetal development or the violence of abortion? What transcendent reason do we have to care about human life in the first place?

In other words, these Christian pro-life friends of mine want to know how I, as a secularist, can truly defend the pro-life position without the Imago Dei.

The Imago Dei (“Image of God”) is the idea that all humans are made in God’s image—that humans reflect God's moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature. Many Christians believe the Imago Dei is why we humans are valuable in the first place and why we’re more valuable than other species. If there's no special connection to God, if there's no soul, many Christians have a hard time understanding why we should value humans any more than any other random collections of atoms meandering through existence.

This question moves the conversation beyond the abortion debate. Christian pro-lifers aren’t asking secular pro-lifers why we care about fetuses. They’re asking why we care about anyone at all.

Got this pic from an advice column about atheists and morals.

A lot of times we secularists take offense to the question. We think Christians are saying secularists can’t or shouldn’t care about anyone, as if, by definition, we can’t be good people. We think Christians are saying we inherently suck. And yes, sure, there are some Christians who actually think that. But most of the Christians I know aren’t saying that at all. They aren’t saying “You can’t be good.” They’re saying “You clearly are good. I just don’t get where you believe your goodness comes from.” It’s not an accusation, it’s a curiosity.

So why don’t we hear it that way? Here’s the problem. Suppose a Christian (call him “Bob”) asks an atheist (call her “Sue”) the following: “If there’s no god, why shouldn’t we murder people?” Bob means, “If there’s no god, there’s no objective morality. If there’s no objective morality, what objective moral reason can we have not to kill each other?” But Sue hears, “If there’s no god, shouldn't we just start killing each other?” Then Sue kind of worries that if Bob ever loses his faith he’ll become a homicidal maniac. That’s where we get memes like this:

Do you see the communication breakdown? It’s like if Bob asked Sue, “Why, in your opinion, is the sky blue?” and Sue heard either “If you don’t believe in God, you aren’t allowed to think the sky is blue” or “If I didn’t believe in God, I would no longer think the sky is blue.”

In this analogy, Secular Pro-Life purposely doesn’t articulate a position on why the sky is blue. We start with the premise that the sky is blue, and go from there. That is, we start with the premise that human beings are valuable, and build our pro-life position off of that.

One of the reasons we take this approach is because secularists don’t have one unifying reason for why human beings are valuable. Secular people use a wide assortment of ethical approaches to reach the same conclusion.

Christians, who have a specific, unified answer to why humans are valuable (the Imago Dei), sometimes find our secular stance incomplete, since we avoid the question. Some of my Christian pro-life friends have asked me how SPL can reach out to other secularists if we don’t offer some metaphysical answers.

But here’s the thing: other secularists aren’t usually looking for metaphysical answers. I have never, not once, had a secularist sincerely ask me to explain why we should care about other human beings. It’s only Christians who ask me that, and only in the context of trying to understand our different religious perspectives.

My fellow secularists aren’t looking for reasons to care about humanity. They already care. They already believe murder is wrong and that we should take care of one another. The secular abortion debate is not about whether human beings are valuable. In most circles, that premise is just a given. The secular abortion debate is about whether the fetus counts as a human being and, if so, whether that’s enough to trump bodily rights. And since those are the premises secularists debate, those are the premises SPL focuses on.

Just as we can all agree the sky is blue even if we don’t articulate why, we can all agree human beings are valuable even if we don’t dig into why. If you really want to get into the “why,” that’s fine, but understand that, to most secularists, that’s a religious debate. Not an abortion debate. 


Neil Shenvi said...

"[Christians are] saying “You clearly are good. I just don’t get where you believe your goodness comes

Some Christians might be saying this as well, but I think the more formal question that is posed by -say- Christian philosophers is: "I don't get how you explain what goodness _is_. If God doesn't exist, what grounds the concept of 'goodness'?"

So the question is not whether atheists ought to be good (they should) or whether atheists can engage in moral behaviors (they can), but whether they have a plausible explanation for where 'goodness' comes from in a universe without God.

ElbethL said...

Those two questions are essentially the same, though. A person, atheist or otherwise, cannot be good if there is no goodness to be had. Perhaps a Christian philosopher would phrase it differently but it boils down to the same thing.

Crystal Kupper said...

Great food for thought. I love it when you discuss bridges between the two communities, so keep blogs like this coming!

SPL fan said...

Nice job articulating the communication disconnect and representing the Christian objection as one centered on objective morality. Wish I saw more of that on the internet!

As a SPL-supporting Christian, I figure for the pro-life cause, *why* any of us care is beside the point (except when pro-aborts explicitly reject universal human rights). We can start at the common ground and don't need to dig beneath it as far as prolifery goes. But since you bring it up, I thought this bit was especially interesting:

"My fellow
secularists aren’t looking for reasons to care about humanity. They already care."

To me, aside from sounding naive, this comes across like a massive cop-out (especially since Christians get hammered by internet atheists with silly definitions of "faith" as "believing without reason." Suddenly, you don't need a reason?) You're nearly saying "we don't have a reason to care" or "we don't need a reason to care." The specifc Christian objection here is this: without an ontological grounding, you're position is incoherent; it's playing make believe; literally making stuff up (in this case, "goodness" "justice" etc.); you're asking me to not just believe something exists but also accept a moral obligation -- without a reason. It opens you up to so many of the common criticisms leveled at Christians.

You can get away with this in a Judeo-Christian heritage society, where there's this shared general cultural heritage of innate individual human value. But large swaths of humanity (like China) don't have that Good Samaritan ethic embedded in their cultural DNA. What will you do when you can't count on a majority of people to agree that they "should care" *without reason*? What reason will you give them when you have to make the case? Majority of Mainland Chinese, for example, think "universal" human rights are merely "Western values" (the ones that have even heard of universal human rights).

Sean said...

I would be interested in hearing some of the secular reasons for why human life is valuable. I haven't heard any articulated in my memory.

Without hearing any, I'm so quick to say that all secularists have the law of God written on their hearts. They don't have to think about why things (like abortion) are wrong. Because they have God's law written in their conscience they know they are wrong intrinsically.

m17l6s85 said...

I think if that were true there'd be a lot more uniformity on people thinking abortion is wrong. Many secularists believe abortion should be legal and, moreover, many people of faith do too. According to Pew, 39% of Protestants, 45% of Catholics, and 76% of Jewish people think abortion should be legal (

I can't speak for everyone, but I suspect a lot of secularists don't believe in objective morality, but still believe there are strong subjective reasons to care about people. I also suspect they don't talk about it much because (at least from what I've seen) people don't try to understand what they're saying, and instead respond with questions like "So you don't think child rape is actually wrong?" Don't tend to be very helpful or productive conversations.

purrtriarchy said...

Knowing that something is alive does not automatically mean that it has intrinsic value.

zounds said...

Do all "secularists" share the view that abortion is "wrong" ? If not, then the exercise of justifying a secular pro-life view is wise to explore; doing so among the like-minded (whether 'religious' or 'atheist') is a valuable exercise and preparation ...

Clarsa_mcelhaney said...

It is a mistake to equate thinking abortion is *wrong* with believing it should be illegal. It's quite reasonable to hold a personal belief that abortion is wrong and still believe that the decision should be a medical, personal, and individual one rather than a blanket legal decision made for everyone by lawyers or elected officials. My guess is that a survey asking "Do you think abortion should be legal?" would get very different results from one asking, "Do you think abortion is wrong?" We set up a false polarity when one side is arguing "what is ethical?" and the other is arguing, "who gets to choose?"

m17l6s85 said...

No, many secularists think abortion is morally acceptable. And I agree, that means it's important to explore the secular pro-life view. The point of the article is that nearly all secularists think humans are valuable, so when you try to explain a pro-life perspective to a secularist, you usually don't have to establish first that humans are valuable, because they usually already agree with that. Instead we focus on whether the fetus counts as a valuable human being and how that interplays with bodily rights.

m17l6s85 said...

You're absolutely right. Polls continually show very different responses about abortion depending on whether the poll is asking "is it moral?" or "should it be legal?"

Chandler Klebs said...

"Bob means, “If there’s no god, there’s no objective
morality. If there’s no objective morality, what objective moral reason can we have not to kill each
other?” But Sue hears, “If there’s no god, shouldn't we just start killing each
other?” Then Sue kind of worries that if Bob ever loses his faith he’ll become
a homicidal maniac. That’s where we get memes like this:"

I happen to have been in the exact position that Sue is in many times. I WANT them to believe in their God ONLY for the reason that some of them will instantly kill me if they stop.

Is it possible I have misunderstood what they have been asking me?

LN said...

Basically, as m said, it's about context. There's definitely a time and place to question a secularist about how they ground goodness, but the abortion debate (usually) isn't the place.

Her point, I think, is that almost all secularists agree that human life is valuable. Now either:
(a) they're pro-life, in which case, you can be happy they're pro-life/work with them, or you can bring up deeper philosophy if you feel you're on good enough terms and it hopefully won't backfire and remove them from the PL movement.
(b) they're not pro-life, and you can dig deeper and show them why their own perspective would be *more consistent* if they applied it to the unborn.

But in no scenario would asking a secularist how they ground goodness lead them to the pro-life cause, would it? It's just a religious/philosophical discussion. You don't need it to draw people to the PL movement. That's the main point of this blog post.

LN said...

And what you call "God's law written on our hearts," I'd call natural selection for altruistic traits which are more beneficial than the lack thereof, and allow us to propagate as a species. Tom-ay-toe, Tom-ah-toe.

LN said...

So true, and I think this shows why the whole "everyone has God's law written on their hearts" is false: there's massive disagreement about the legality of abortion, among other things. It's not like we have uniform morality.

Sean said...

That is subject to the same line of objections above, LN. Of course there are answers for the objections above.
I don't think that morality can be ingrained in a species any more than intellect or culture can be passed on genetically.

LN said...

Well not all of us have the knowledge base to become geneticists, evolutionary biologists, or neurologists. Don't be too hard on yourself.

Michelle Ewing said...

If you discovered a human was alive, do you think that factor alone would give the human value? or are there conditions like mental abilities, criminal history, independence, ect.?

purrtriarchy said...

Depends if they have a functioning mind or not.

docmccarthy said...

The problem is many secularists don't thing human life is valuable - that's why there are so many abortions in the world. Man(kind) is the reason why this planet is such a mess - their argument - and with the population growing exponentially, it is ok to abort. Fewer humans are good for the planet. Many of these secularists bow at the altar of Gaia. I am sure there are secularists who value human life but their number is few.
One good things about those (secularists) who do value human life, they hopefully soon see the face of God.

purrtriarchy said...

Abortion has been going on for thousands of years, in thousands of *religious* societies.

And if it's secularists who don't believe life is valuable, then why do the religious spend so much time killing each other and engaging in all out genocide?

docmccarthy said...

Because they are human. That's why abortion has been going on forever and infanticide, as well. Remove God and especially, Jesus Christ, from the center of your being and you are more apt to sin beyond measure. Humanity has free will to decide how their life will unfold. Guided by God, there is hope for a more goodness then evil and with Jesus, everlasting life. What an invitation to be work hard to be good. And, good is great.

purrtriarchy said...

But I thought it was only the religious who respected life?

purrtriarchy said...

Then why the genocide of the crusades?

And the amalekite people?

The Nun said...

I have wondered about this question. But at the end of the day I don't care why secularists care about human life, I am just happy you do.

LN said...

No idea why you'd say most secularists don't value human life. That's not been my experience at all. In fact, many secularists I know are quite adamant about human rights (except abortion).

LN said...

Nope. More than 1/3 of both Protestants and Catholics are pro-choice. I don't think religion will necessarily lead you to the pro-life side.

docmccarthy said...

You don't get it, do you? Humans have finite, sinful natures. With God at the center of people's lives there is hope to get with the Lord. Read the Bible - God's word. I am surprised you didn't use the Inquisition for your example. The Crusades were holy wars - Christians reclaiming their land from the marauding Muslims. There are times when the sword must be raised against another man or people. When evil can only be stopped with violence. God offers many examples in the Bible. Abortion is abject evil - a civilized society that is God-fearing would not let their most innocent lives be destroyed in such an evil and devious manner. But, God has been rejected in American society - consequently returning it to a more pagan, uncivilized state. This is my last response.

docmccarthy said...

True, practicing Catholics are entirely pro-life. Protestants aren't Catholics - you really have to do some homework. Humans are humans. You will find them everywhere you look!

purrtriarchy said...

So genocide is moral if God commands it or if you do it in his name?

How do you feel about the passages in the bible where the Israelites are commanded to slice pregnant women open and bash the heads of babies against the rocks?

So basically, what you are saying, is that the religious only value the lives that their god tells them to value.. Baby killing is moral if it is done to people who worship another deity...

ElbethL said...

While I agree that there's no need to have more common ground other than a respect for humanity and human rights in order to have the abortion debate, the fact is that I have been challenged--by atheist/secular abortion apologists--to do exactly that. And these people aren't going to respect my view that people have value, in an objective sense, ultimately because God made them valuable.

So when I ask the question, "How do you, as an atheist, logically ground the idea of goodness?" it's not a debate challenge. I'm not really concerned with whether you--or I--might ever take up axe murder as a hobby. Obviously that won't happen. I'm looking for tips. You HAVE that grounding, that's something you have done that I have not. So, as a SPL-supporting Christian (that is such a wonderful label, hee!), I don't challenge that atheists can be good people even with a secular morality. Clearly you can. But, if you are willing to do it, these are talking points that Christian pro-lifers would REALLY appreciate it if you would share. Because I need to have the abortion debate with people who are going to demand that I ground human rights/goodness/human value in a secular sense, and that's not something I really know how to do.

Obviously, you can say no when anybody asks this question of you. The burden is not all on you. And I don't wish to imply that it is. But, quite contrary to what some people have said, yes, this actually is something that could help draw people to the pro-life movement.

LN said...

I didn't say Protestants are Catholics. What?

docmccarthy said...

You can't lop Protestants and Catholics together. There are thousands of Protestant denominations in this country (just goes to show what happens when man thinks he is God). Most accept contraceptives. Catholics do not, unless they aren't true Catholics. Big, big difference between the Catholics and Protestants.

LN said...

For the third time, I didn't say Protestants are Catholics. What are you even talking about? I said that 1/3 of Protestants AND 1/3 of Catholics (look at the freaking photo) are pro-choice. That's literally ALL I said.

docmccarthy said...

I don't speak for God. But He did level Sodom and Gomorrah. And he helped the Israelites defeat their enemies - if you want to call that genocide, fine. Routing the Muslims was a military action. Commanders are known to do some pretty bad things in time of war. But if you look at what's happening in Iraq with ISIS - their behavior in the name of Allah - is butchery. A Christian, God-centered person would not behave this way. The Christians wanted their lands back and finally picked up arms and drove the Muslims back to the Middle East. Again, you make week points. People who say they are a member of a Christian religion can still act badly (Muslims, on the other hand, act badly because of their religion.) A true Christian would fight if they had to, the enemy that is present - that might be other Christians - someone is acting badly.

docmccarthy said...

You so loud. What you are saying is 1/3 of Christians accept abortion - they aren't Christian or they are Christian in name only - can't accept contraception or abortion and be a Christian.

purrtriarchy said...

The crusades were nothing more than a land and money grab. Genocide for the sake of profit

LN said...

Are you seriously defending the Crusades?

Elmer said...

Thank you for your excellent thoughts!
Re: "[Christians are] saying “You clearly are good. I just don’t get where you believe your goodness comes from.” It’s not an accusation, it’s a curiosity."

I think this may be true in many cases. But I think more often the logic goes something like this. As Christians, we see and appreciate the common ground we have. We greatly respect secularists who share and advocate values that are important to us. We then see this as an opportunity to advocate our faith as well. It's certainly not because we think secularists "inherently suck"! It's more a way of appealing to our shared value, and asking, "could it be that our shared value says something more about reality?" "Could it be that there is a divine source for what we agree is good?" Please understand that this is not because we Christians think you secularists are somehow unacceptable. But we (at least the mature ones) simply believe that there is something of value in our faith that could benefit you as well, and are attempting in our ... sometimes incompetent ways ... to offer this using the common ground we have.

Thanks for your good work and please keep it up!

cait said...

I always thought that atheists ought to be anti abortion. If all you have is this life, then is it not even more valuable? From a faith based perspective however, we also get a lot of taunting and nastiness from abortion supporters who deride our faith and motivation. So, I believe that to engage in any discussion about abortion we have to avoid religious arguments, they just do not work in the world we now live.

Francine said...

Speaking as a Catholic and not speaking for all Catholics or Christians, maybe they are "assuming" being a Secular Pro Life means you are an atheist. Which is like saying all Christians are Catholic, no, but all Catholics are Christians. I, speaking on behalf of just me, find the secular position - in my mind that translates to scientific position - easier to reach people with. We live in a concrete world and I think the scientific approach proves it dead on to people who don't want to look at it from the "Imagio Dei" position.

Simon Jm said...

What about will have ;)

Clinton said...

The thing is, there's a time and place for the conversation. If a secularist already accepts that all humans are valuable, so much the better. I don't have to do the work of convincing them of this fact before I try to convince them that abortion is wrong.

Whether or not secularists can ground human value is applicable to the question of whether or not God exists. If I'm there to talk about abortion, then discussions of God's existence are off-topic (though I have gone there if the person I'm talking to is comfortable going there).

Clinton said...

Well, I do believe that we have the moral law (or, God's law, but I try not to use overly religious language in discussions with non-religious people) written on our hearts. The thing is, all civilized societies down through human history have generally agreed about morality: We should not be selfish, we should not murder, we should not take what isn't ours. Where societies and individuals have differed is in the application of these moral statements (who should we be unselfish toward? What counts as murder? etc.)

Clinton said...

Not sure I should take you seriously since having many Protestant denominations is a far cry away from people thinking they are God. Instead, we believe that Christians should be free to come to their own conclusions and not trust one person (except for God, of course) to interpret the Scriptures for them. You need to do your own homework.

John Whitehead said...

Thanks for this post. You do a very good job of explaining some tricky issues (and misunderstandings) in a fair-minded way.

Chalkdust said...

If a zygote is allowed to use a person's body for nine months, including injecting her with mind-affecting and body-altering drugs, and allowed to take her blood, if she carefully watches her behavior to avoid doing anything that might damage it; if (once it is born) someone spends a lot of time, effort, and energy feeding, cleaning, clothing and caring for it, then that zygote has a chance (only a chance, mind, and not even a very good one) of growing into someone with a functioning mind.

To have the same chance of growing into someone with a functioning mind, an oocyte needs the same one correctly-timed twenty-minute session of sex.

The oocyte needs so little more than the zygote to develop a mind. How can you claim that a zygote is a person, based only on potential, and that an oocyte is not?

Chalkdust said...

Wait, wait, wait. Morality can be inherent ("written on our heart") if it is given by a deity, but cannot be inherent ("ingrained in a species") if it is constructed by natural selection? What's the difference?

Beth Brown said...

Thank you for this post. I am a Christian, but believe that the abortion debate in our society can and should only be won with secular arguments. I haven't been in Bob's position to ask that question because I don't know any pro-life secularists personally, but if I were, I would be asking so that I could personally know how to respond to my secular friends who are pro-abortion. I know that religious beliefs are not enough to convince them & I would want to know the secular reasons that abortion is wrong. How do you respond to someone who says abortion sometimes is the best way to care about another human being? What if the baby is severely disabled and will have a hard life? Also, how do you respond to someone who says it is okay to take another human life if that life is dependent on your body to survive? I have been shocked by some of the recent abortion discussions where people acknowledge that it takes a human life, but are okay with that because that life is dependent on the mother. People who would say "You might think it's right to defend all innocent human life, but that is not what is right for me so we should leave decisions about abortion being right or wrong up to the mother. Don't force your morals on others." For me the answers to these questions come down to humans being made in the image of God and God being the one to decide when life starts and stops, but I know that will not work with someone who doesn't believe in God. I guess I can't help but feel like the abortion debate sometimes requires an answer to "why" & would really appreciate hearing the secular response.

Chandler Klebs said...

I just had a christian friend tell me that I have to believe in Jesus to be against killing babies.

Simon Jm said...

A couple of points.

1st one can say pretty well the same for any baby many infants, and even recovering coma victims. If having a present personhood capacity is necessary to be deemed a person, then these fall short. The 'Prince isn't a King' anti-potentiality argument works on all of these cases.

Next what philosophers and biologists fail to appreciate is a systems POV incorporating a internally guided 'self developing/construction/assembling' perspective.

Anything that self-assembles is essentially already itself & developing to its final configuration.

Teleonomically even the blastocyst IMO meets this as it has its genetic plan to develop towards an adaptive final goal. Even if assisted the prime self assemblage is internally driven.

If we designed a machine system to self assemble into a car it is by its very design and functionality a self assembling car at all stages of its self construction. To say otherwise destroys the meaning of these terms.

Most philosophers are stuck in an ancient or clockwork -simple machine- view of present capacity.

If you want to deem us persons we are telenomically self-assembling persons once fertilization has completed and you have a unique self-contained biological system.

PS an oocyte can be viewed as a incomplete subsystem that combines with sperm to create a self assembling system so isn't a self assembling person.

PPS for what its worth we aren't fundamentally persons either but thats another argument.

Chalkdust said...

So is a tubal ligation morally equivalent to abortion?

If a woman has ovulated, and there is sperm in her cervix, then her zygote-to-be is essentially self-assembling, in your sense above. That is, the oocyte and sperm are perfectly capable, on their own, of coming together, uniting, and forming a zygote. No outside assistance is required; only the built-in machinery in sperm and egg cells is needed.

In the words of Richard Dawkins,

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky
ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to
be born.
Every month when I ovulate and don't have sex, that's a potential person that is not born. Every time a sperm cell reaches an oocyte, it beats out billions of others in that race---there were billions of potential people in your mother's reproductive tract a few hours or days before you were born, only one of which---you---made it out.

I do not consider potential people to have the right to exist---I have the right to choose not to have sex this month if I don't want a baby. This debate seems to be about when a potential person (with no right to exist) becomes an actual person (with a right to exist[1]).

You think that a potential person becomes an actual person as soon as a self-assembling machine that will someday become that person exists. This doesn't make sense to me. If we had a completely automated factory that manufactured sentient robots (mechanical people), it would not be murder to turn it off; why does it become murder if the assembler happens to use itself as raw materials?

No; a potential person becomes an actual person the first time it satisfies the criteria of personhood. Once it's done that it remains a person and has the right to exist again in the future (which is why it is immoral to kill coma patients if they have a chance of coming out of their comas). But a blastocyst? Yes, if you leave it inside of, and allow it to feed off of, a person, it will eventually grow into a person itself. But that person doesn't exist yet, it is still a potential person, and I see no reason to give it rights above those of other potential people.

[1] Footnote: just because someone has a right to exist does not mean that anyone else has an obligation to help them to exist. I have a right to keep living, but if I was stricken with kidney disease, I would not have the right to take your kidney in order to stay alive.

kitler said...

Zefs do indeed assemble themselves. Out of the materials provided by the woman's body. Literally.

Put a zef in a petri dish and that self assembly is gonna go nowhere

Simon Jm said...

So is a tubal ligation morally equivalent to abortion?.........

No, as I stated before for humans the oocyte and sperm don’t individually have the full set of instructions to then
start to self-assemble a human being. Michael Tooley has a similar argument with his egg sperm machine, but that fails to differentiate between constituent subsystems and a unique and complete biological organism.

Next your use of potentiality fails
to appreciate there are varying degrees of potentiality. I could have a drum of organic material if organized in a particular way could create a mature animal.

Compare that potentiality to one of a baby animal. Would we say they have the same degree of potentiality? No.

Simon Jm said...

You think that a potential person becomes an actual person as soon as a self-assembling machine that will someday become that person exists.. ....... it would not be murder to turn it off; why does it
become murder if the assembler happens to use itself as raw materials?

Regarding a factor that created self-assembling A.I. –not totally analogous for biological reasons but workable- it would depend at what stage of construction you turned off the factor. If you
turned it off prior to the finished construction of the bootstrap phase, then
nothing has been harmed as no individual A.I. existed.

But say you booted it up
and denied it power so it could be self-supporting, that would be like starving
a baby and wrong.

Simon Jm said...

"No; a potential person becomes an actual person the firsttime it satisfies the criteria of personhood. Once it's done that it remains a person and has the right to exist again in the future (which is why it is
immoral to kill coma patients if they have a chance of coming out of their comas)…….."

It is often argued that it isn’t until someone has passed the mirror test -indicating self-awareness- that technically
they are persons. So if we strictly applied that all babies and many infants don’t pass this test. Please address that.

Also as I said the way it is argued that a preset capacity is needed to be classified as such so it is very much contested philosophically that a coma victim is a person, even less so if they
also suffer from amnesia. Some philosophers try to use memories but that is problematic
and still runs into the ‘Prince is not a King’ argument. A recovering coma victim retains their rights due to legal precedent and technicalities, rather
than a grounding in personhood capacities.

Simon Jm said...

"[1] Footnote: just because someone has a right
to exist does not mean that anyone else has an obligation to help them to
exist. I have a right to keep living, but if I was stricken with kidney
disease, I would not have the right to take your kidney in order to stay alive."

Positive rights and bodily autonomy is something you might actually find we agree on to some degree when the price is
high. So yes someone doesn’t automatically have a right to use my body to stay alive. But what happens when the offender causes the victim to need to use their body? What then?

I don’t know your situation but say you are a landlady with an infant child and a tenant stories toxic waste in
your basement to earn some extra cash. This causes your son to need a kidney transplant or die. As fate dictates the tenant is the only one able to donate a match. Morally he could be argued to owe your son his kidney but personally even if there were laws granting bodily compensation I would make that an option,
not enforce it. He would have the choice of paying the bodily compensation or
facing a custodial sentence.

Like the
act of creating an A.I., creating persons puts special obligations on the
creator something which bodily autonomy doesn’t automatically abrogate IMO.

A woman has sex and unbeknown to anyone is pregnant and then goes to an isolated island
by herself for an extended biological survey. She breaks her communication
equipment so cannot be relieved for 1 yr. She gives birth and must decide does
she care for this non person human including
breast feeding or euthanize it so she can continue her studies.

Now this woman didn’t consent or wish to be a parent, didn’t consent to have it feed off
her, nor is this immature human a person. She may even have taken precautions not to get pregnant.

By many of the arguments used by PC’s she would be within her rights to euthanize the
baby. Why shouldn’t she?

kitler said...

ut what happens when the offender causes the victim to need to use their body?

Having sex while female = a criminal offense?

She gives birth and must decide does she care for this non person human including
breast feeding

Breast feeding is not an extraordinary burden.Not at all comparable to having something live inside you.

kitler said...

Regarding coma patients, along with newborns, this is what a neurobiologist has to say on the subject:

Sentience does not leave while someone is in a coma. A coma is an alternate form of consciousness just like sleep, and most certainly not the same as ‘clinically brain dead’. A person who is in a coma still has all the neural circuitry that is required for consciousness, as opposed to fetus under 26-30 months of gestation, which does not-at-all have the brain structures that houses sentience.

“A person who is in a coma (and not clinically brain dead) still shows brain activity in centers of the brain that a fetus under 26-30 months of gestation does not even have! A person that is in a coma still has a functional subconscious that does note and record events that happen while in a coma (that is why events or conversations that happened in front of the coma patient can be recalled by said coma patient when they wake up)” — as opposed to a fetus that has none of these capacities. This can clearly be seen on MRIs where the self-awareness area of the brain can and does light up in coma patients.

“A person who is asleep or in a coma can and will feel pain or pleasure and respond accordingly, a fetus under 26-30 weeks does not! Consciousness is private, subjective and experienced from a particular point of view: yours. This is what accounts for your point of view, for the unique ‘interiority’ that gives the feeling that you exist inside your head somewhere. For instance, ‘Is your version of the color red unique to you or the same for everyone?’”

A baby has the ability to feel this, but cannot yet verbalize it. MRIs clearly show a lighting-up of the still-growing area of the brain that is involved in self-awareness, much like in full-grown adults and older (verbal) kids.

Because its brain is still growing, a young baby does not yet have self-awareness (and so cannot pass the “mirror test“). It only has mere-animal-level awareness. We note that that level can be pretty significant; a praying mantis, the insect, has non-faceted focusing eyes, stereoscopic vision, and enough consciousness/awareness to notice a potential meal, and it has enough volition to hunt and catch that meal –yet no abortion opponent would claim that suffices to make a praying mantis a person! So, why should a less capable unborn human qualify as a person?

In very young humans the part of the brain that eventually houses self-awareness is functional and does register the baby’s experiences that pertain to self. The baby is registering that experience as a self experience even if the baby can not yet recognize who self is. Meanwhile, a fetus under 26-30 weeks does not even have these brain structures, and the unborn close to that time frame do not show any activity in these structures until they are sufficiently formed. An older fetus, able to be aware of things it experiences, is no more capable than a new-born baby in this regard. Months of brain-development after birth is required for true self-awareness to begin to exist.

More regarding the color red:
“For instance even if a baby is not self aware yet it already has his/her interpretation of that color red. That interpretation is unique and specific to that baby. The baby will not have a different view of the color red by becoming self aware.”

If the baby has an additional experience tying its awareness to the color red (think of how “Pavlovian conditioning” works), then at that point there is an additional emotional component that the baby now connects to that color.

“In short, certain experience are registered in the area of the brain that houses sentience and self awareness even when the brain in question has not made those connections yet. Similarly a coma patient shows activity in the area of the brain that houses self-awareness even while in that coma. This does not mean that the patient is always self-aware, merely that the brain cycles in and out. It is actually very similar to how alpha beta and gamma waves work and how they connect to the different sleep cycles.”

Simon Jm said...

No, it isn't the act of sex that would be punished. Say a couple went on holiday and didn't take enough formula when they knew there could be problems and the baby dies. Going on holiday isn't being punished it is the duty of care issues relating to an act that will affect another full moral agent.

& no breast feeding isn't an extraordinary burden -that is why I also use the toxic waste analogy- but many PC's think bodily autonomy is absolute and I've had at least one say on this site that the woman would be within her right to refuse breast feeding.

kitler said...

If women owe prenates bodily compensation for the 'offense' having sex while female (even if they did use birth control), then how about cases where they have sex *knowing* that every zygote will be doomed? Have they not caused harm?

Some women get uterine ablations. They then have sex, knowing that NO zygote can implant on their uterine wall. Is tihis murder? Manslaughter?

And tubal ligations. Occasionally they fail. This failure more often than not leads to an ectopic pregnancy. The embryo in an ectopic pregnancy is *doomed*. If a woman knowingly has sex with the tubal ligation, has she not put an innocent baby in harm's way? Either murder, or manslaughter.

What are your thoughts?

kitler said...


1) there is no duty of care where one is required to give bodily compensation

2) you assume that zygotes are full moral agents

Forcing a woman to give bodily compensation to a zef is still a form of punishment for having sex while female, however. The punishment IS with the forced bodily compensation. If you stab someone in the kidney, we throw you in jail, or we take your kidney to make them whole again. So, forcing a woman to remain pregnant against her will IS punishment for having sex while owning a uterus.

Simon Jm said...

But I would also step back and try to put things in

How we ground full moral value and what we are very much

Relying on personhood is quite problematic both in
classifying what we are and how that grounds full moral value.

Personally I find both sides have problems on this.

Next I’m very much Pro-Sex but think there are many ways to
enjoy sex without risking an innocent life. Furthermore think that even if conservative
disagree with contraceptives they must realize others don’t share their views and
should be pushing for 100% proof male contraceptives and better sex education
as well as universal health care.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for the interesting questions.

Simon Jm said...

Some women get uterine ablations. They then have sex, knowing that NO zygote can implant on their uterine wall. Is this murder?

I think something like manslaughter and also par with child destruction. What I try to do is break it down to does action X leads to harm
to full moral agent Y.

Often people don’t
think something is wrong if they have be socialized to think it is normal; we
just aren’t used to think of early prenatals are entities worthy of consideration. Partly out of sight out of mind, but also due to the large anatomical/developmental
differences at this stage. Many people just don’t identify with something that doesn’t at least look like them.

Simon Jm said...

"If women owe prenates bodily compensation for the 'offense'
having sex while female (even if they did use birth control), then how about
cases where they have sex *knowing* that every zygote will be doomed? Have they
not caused harm?"

Are we say talking about a couple with a genetic defect that knows each ‘life’ would die? Essentially a woman that would always have
miscarriages? On the face of it if the life never had a chance of a mature existence
and never suffers, I might be ok with it but would need to think about it. One
could say that no person ever existed like an encephalitic baby.

But if you meant a genetic disease with a high likely of baring
a child that would suffer and die from it yes. Of course there would be a risk assessment. If
someone says well it should be ok, what they seem to be doing -at least to me-
is treating these humans as a means to and end and no different than say a zygote
created and destroyed for body parts or a designer baby killed cause it didn’t have blue eyes.

Simon Jm said...

Its late and I'm running low on battery It will be 24hrs before I get to this one. Cheers

Simon Jm said...

Traditionally yes but few have talkeda bout David Boonin's toxic waste analogy.

2. For the sake of argument but as is often pointed out lack of personhood also applies to babies.

The punishment is for any act that knowingly creates a person entity and doesn't provide duty of care until care can be passed on. Whether it is pushing a button on baby making machine or A.I. factory or sex if the agent fails to then care for that full moral agent then they are punished. It isn't the act by itself.

Chalkdust said...

Wait, wait, wait.

If I damage an existing person in a way that causes them to need a kidney, you are willing to let me choose whether or not I want to give them my kidney in compensation.

But if I have sex and get pregnant, according to most pro-lifers I should have no choice: I must let my z/e/f use my uterus (and the rest of my body) whether I want to or not.

What's the difference? Why is my kidney mine, to use or withhold as I please, but my uterus public property?

Chalkdust said...

I'm not sure I accept the mirror test as a determining test of personhood, that is, of sufficient sentience to qualify as a person. I think that weaker criteria might be sufficient. For example, I have read that if you stick your tongue out at a very young baby, the baby will often respond by sticking its tongue out back at you; I personally would accept that as adequate evidence of sentience to give the baby personhood.

I have not personally spent a great deal of time around newborn infants, so I can't really comment on the pro-life claim that infants are not self-aware (I haven't personally performed the tongue test, for example). However, even if you could convince me that my reading was wrong and newborns really and truly are not persons, I still would not argue for legalized infanticide as strongly as I argue for legalized abortion.

During pregnancy the z/e/f uses its host's body for its own benefit, often to her detriment (causing side effects such as fatigue, nausea, pain, nosebleeds, and a weakened immune system). The z/e/f has no right to use her body against her consent, and so she should have the right to stop being pregnant any time she chooses. After birth, however, no one is forced to care for the baby against their will. Every state in the US allows newborns to be surrendered at designated "safe haven" sites, to people who have chosen to accept surrendered babies. Incorrectly granting a newborn personhood, and thus incorrectly forbidding its abandonment, thus does not impinge on any real person's rights in a way that forbidding abortion does.

I have commented on coma patients before in this context; see this post.

kitler said...

Did you see my post below to Simon regarding the sentience of coma patients and infants?

Chalkdust said...

This one? Fascinating stuff, although in the case of coma patients it's a side issue---even if consciousness DID stop in a coma it would still be unethical to kill someone in a coma if they had a chance of coming out.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the bodily rights argument and why it matters---why it is wrong, for example, for Clinton to insist that fetal personhood is a more important question---and part of my conclusion is that bodily rights are why forcibly preventing abortions is immoral. Fetal nonpersonhood is just why abortions are not moral---bodily rights are a better argument why we pro-choicers should care as much as we do.

Pro-lifers love to claim that according to our definitions, newborns are not people and therefore clearly we must support legalized infanticide. I'd always suspected that they were overstating their case---and your comment just makes me more sure of that---but even if they were right, I would still feel very differently about abortion and infanticide.

kitler said...

They make the mistake that non-person = a blank check to kill.

But, there is no reason that infants cannot be protected. After all, many species of animal are.

Simon Jm said...

My Hybrid position-I'm NOT PL or PC- thinks bodily compensation is a valid compensation claim-esp in cases of existential dependency -and does not differentiate between the temporary use of the woman's body, organ transplant or blood donation. Ofc one cannot endanger -high risk-or take a crucial organ.

BUT a person is NOT a commodity therefore it isn't enforceable but like any other case where compensation is owed and not paid a custodial sentence is required.

As I said I try to use existing moral and legal precepts many people already accept and apply it to this case. Ofc bodily compensation is novel but compensation in general isn't.

IMO neither side truly thinks of the underlying principles many already agree with and rather look narrowly at pregnancy and bodily autonomy from their own perspective.

I also maintain many US PL's are inconsistent on the claim they truly highly value human life and rather are obsessed with personal negative rights.

Simon Jm said...

Can you reference that?

"A person who is asleep or in a coma can and will feel pain or pleasure and respond accordingly,"

Thats doesn't gel with standard definitions of traumatic comas

& I would add it would depends on what sort of coma and what sort of damage a brain has sustained.

Obviously a medically induced coma is different to one that has suffered serious damage.

In that regard it is no different from sleep. As the underlying capacity is still there.

Whereas severe trauma can destroy or damage the brain circuitry. Even if some parts of the brain register some aspects of sentience there is no underlying complete capacity unlike sleep.

Philosophers might be using a different crir

kitler said...

If the underlying injury is too severe and permanent, some patients may never recover from this state.

Yeah. Sometimes the damage is so severe that they will never regain consciousness. In which case, they are in a permanent vegetative state, and are effectively braindead.

and I'll ask my friend for some more info

Simon Jm said...

The thing is I'm quite happy to say a person is still a person if the functionality is lacking via damage but will recover. This need by some philosophers for a present functional capacity is clearly flawed.

But nor do we need a present fully functional capacity. A baby is still a person because of the teleonomic plan that organizes itself to have and maintain that capacity.

The same is for all healthy Zefs but as has been rightly argued being a person doesn't grant a automatically grant a right to use even an offenders body against their will.

What it would mean though that like other non functioning person humans they are still afforded full moral consideration.

Lastly miscarriages are often raised as a problem for this thinking. Most die due to being unviable so like death at later stages of life, this is a risk of coming into existence as a human. Should they be mourned yes but due to many circumstances this happens without the mothers knowledge.

m17l6s85 said...

My response is usually to ask if the person would apply the same standard to a 2-year-old. So, for example, would that person say that sometimes the best way to care for a 2-year-old is to kill her? Or would that person say that if the 2-year-old is disabled and will have a hard life, we should kill her? If not, then the question is "what is the relevant moral difference between a fetus and a 2-year-old"?

kitler said...

A 2 year old is a viable, autonomous individual. Sentient, sapient, and does not occupy the body of another.

The difference is quite clear.

m17l6s85 said...

1) Viable, autonomous - we don't say that people relying on respirators, ventilators, or dialysis, or people in potentially reversible comas aren't people, yet they aren't autonomous.

2) Sentient, sapient - how would you feel about killing a newborn as the best way to take care of the newborn?

3) Occupy the body of another - this doesn't speak to the moral worth of the entity. If you were dying of a kidney disease and someone hooked you up to another person's kidneys, you may not have a right to use those kidneys, but the situation doesn't make you not-a-person. It doesn't change your moral worth.

kitler said...

1) they have proven that they can survive outside a uterus, they are just damaged. They are still, in essence, VIABLE individuals.

2) A newborn is sentient, and the centers of the brain that give rise to sapience are already working. Not so in a fetus

3) no thing - person or non-person, has the right to occupy the body of another without consent

Sean said...

I feel like it's clear. It's presuppositional. When I see order, I anticipate finding some intelligent being who made it ordered. Where I see law, I anticipate a lawgiver. Where there is no lawgiver, there will be no law.

m17l6s85 said...

1) If you only care about living independently of a uterus vs living independently of any help, then you're just arguing by definition. "A fetus isn't a person because it's a fetus." The question is: *why* does the inability to live outside the uterus change the fetus's moral worth, when other human's dependence to live doesn't change their moral worth?

2) "the centers of the brain that give rise to sapience are already working" - so present-capability for sapience isn't important, so much as a future ability for sapience?

3) That doesn't speak to the moral worth. Thomson's Violinist doesn't have the right to use your kidneys, but the Violinist is still a person anyway.

vulgarism said...

An unborn human is not a person because it is not yet an individual. It is a human under construction. Until it can survive as an independent autonomous Iindividual it is merely a potential person.

A newborn is already a separate individual, with the existing brain structures in place. Zefs prior to 24 weeks are incapable of sentience.

Yes and no thing, be it an endangered eagle, guinea worm or Antonin Scalia, has the right to use your body without consent

dudebro said...

The neurobioloigist answered your question:

A "coma" patient who's part of the brain has damage in the area that houses sentience to the point that they no longer register as having any activity there would be in fact brain dead, think terri schiavo.

He is in effect answering his own question by admitting it depends on the type of coma and severity of damage and them merrily continues to contend that all coma patients are the same (insinuating that they have the same capacity to sentience and recovery) and therefore non sentient fetus's have the same rights as comas patients who can not possibly recover.

These "coma" patients that he is discussing will never recover and are in fact no better then beating hearth cadavers. When I have some more time I will post a full response to him.

Simon Jm said...

Nothing really to add as that still isn't a present functional capacity.

dudebro said...

Doesn't have to be immediately acted upon. The point is it's there. It exists. The sentient parts of the brain are operational. Not so for a zygote, which has no brain, and may never develop a brain.

Simon Jm said...

That isn't how it is viewed in philosophy and is why there is such a scramble to invoke memories or past desires etc.

What is needed is functionality and that simply isn't there. It isn't being impeded like with drugs, immobilized as if in stasis; the brain is damaged so functionality missing.

If you want to 'but its self repairing' then that opens the door for self development as well.

dudebro said...

The capacity is there. The coma patient is simply temporarily not accessing those abilities.
Which is why the sentient areas of the brain will still light up on an MRI. The capacity, it exists. A soccer player does not cease to be a soccer player if he bruises his toe. But if you cut his foot off, he has lost the capacity to play soccer completely.

In a zygote, the capacity does not even exist.

And like I said, I prefer to go with neuroscience over philosophers. You can keep embracing bullshit if you want. I like facts, not fanciful opinions.

Simon Jm said...

Ofc if you don't understand what the philosophers are saying you would side with the neuroscience.

The thing you don't understand is once you drop that stipulation the other options like self development, can also be on the table.

This is a philosophical debate couched in neuroscientific facts.

The way it is framed is that if you are a person you need a present underlying functional capacity. & personhood is more than mere consciousness or sentience.

Try thinking about the difference between Locked in Syndrome and someone
in a coma whether the is no consciousness due to damage but can be

It isn't as if in the latter that thinking being is waiting there for their brain to repair. Even if modules of the brain pick up sensory data and store it the functional capacity isn't there to ACT like a person.

& what is different between a baseball pitcher and personhood is that a baseball pitcher is accidental to its identity while being a person is fundamental.

Again that is why philosophers then resorted to memories and desires to ground their accounts. said...

I'm amazed no one's tore you apart yet.

So the only reason you value someone else is (or anything) is because of its capacity to give you something, to reciprocate your kindness. Pretty selfish stand point. Presumably you see no value in a severely disabled person if they can't give you anything back? Or a baby for that matter. Or a homeless person with no family or friends.

Even coming from this absurd stand point, a fetus, if allowed to develop, will develop the capacity to reciprocate and give you some benefits, so even then of course it's valuable. said...

I'm amazed no one's tore you apart yet.
No one's torn my argument apart, including you, because my argument is valid, and therefore no one has a valid counter-argument, including you --as I shall explain in detail below.

So the only reason you value someone else (or anything)
STOP RIGHT THERE. I did not use the word "value" at all in what I wrote. Therefore you are trying to put words into my mouth. Obviously you might be able to refute words you put in someone else's mouth, but that is not-at-all like refuting the words the other person actually used. That alone, resorting to Intellectual Dishonesty, suffices to prove you don't have a valid counter-argument!

is because of its capacity to give you something, to reciprocate your kindness.
UTTERLY FALSE. You are giving primacy (per that word "only" you used that I quoted above) to something that was presented as a mere "also". I quote: If we define "good" at least partly in terms of the benefits associated with people getting-along with each other, then secularists only need to point at that, to explain their goodness. Such benefits can include not-getting-arbitrarily-killed-today (which can easily happen when people don't get-along with each other), and even you would probably agree that is rather more important to you, than any possible/potential reciprocity-of-kindness.

Pretty selfish stand point.
YOU PICKED THE WRONG STAND POINT, and therefore anything you say based on that standpoint qualifies as "worthless blather".

Presumably you see no value in a severely disabled person if they can't give you anything back? Or a baby for that matter. Or a homeless person with no family or friends.
WORTHLESS BLATHER, TWICE OVER, since you are focusing on "value" as well as referencing the wrong stand point.

Even coming from this absurd stand point, a fetus, if allowed to develop, will develop the capacity to reciprocate and give you some benefits,
FALSE. There are no such guarantees. The fetus might be miscarried next week, for example. After birth it might be abandoned in the woods, its mother murdered, and be adopted by wolves and grow up to become a "feral child", no more than a clever animal (it takes significant Nurture to turn a human animal into a person (defined here as an entity having significantly more mental capabilities than an ordinary animal); humans do not acquire personhood automatically as a result of purely biological growth). And, of course, even if it did develop the capacity to reciprocate goodness, that doesn't mesn it would actually choose to do so.

so even then of course it's valuable.
FALSE, because you are confusing "potential" with "actual". What the fetus is right now is what counts --and what it is right now is a mere animal organism, poisoning and drugging its hostess. On what basis should what it might be able to do take preference over what it is actually right-now dowing? The next time you see a potential bridge, tell me what it is like to drive your car over it! said...

Human beings are still under construction after birth too (a newborns brain isn't fully developed yet). Being 'under construction' is no excuse to kill. said...

A newborn is an independent organism. An embryo isn't, and may never be. said...

A newborn might be dependent on oxygen for survival. Doesn't mean he or she should be killed.

Unborn human beings after viability cannot be killed just because they are dependent upon the mother. And, no self respecting doctor will deliver a baby at 24 weeks just because the woman doesn't want to be pregnant anymore. The woman HAS TO remain pregnant (unless she meets one of the states exceptions). For the LIFE of her unborn son or daughter she should have to remain pregnant before viability as well. said...

Nope. said...

You keep saying that a woman carrying a viable fetus is under government compunction to remain pregnant until term. And it's still not true, myintx. If a woman, say 26 weeks pregnant, develops pre-eclampsia, a delivery will be forthcoming to save her life. No permission from any government entity is needed, nor will permission be sought. The fetus may or may not survive. said...

Yeah sure you will. How many wars have been fought with the idea that some "god" fights on one or the other, or both sides, depending upon who you ask? said...

The pews in all Catholic churches are full of Catholics who thumb their nose at the pope and bishops and use contraceptives. Why? Because they are intelligent. And because they are in the trenches on the front lines, being as they are the ones supporting and raising families. The priests, bishops and the pope are not the ones doing the heavy lifting. said...

LOL. Christian: A person who follows the teachings of, and believes in the divinity of Jesus. Tell me something. What did Jesus ever say about contraception or abortion? said...

Jesus: Anyone who takes up the sword will die by it.
You: Sometimes it's necessary to take up the sword.
See the difference? said...

Shorter you: Killing people is ok, so long as they worship a different "god" than you do. When did Jesus ever say that? Also, I have news for you. Muslims believe in the same "god" as Christians and Jews do. Many people proclaim the evil the do is in the name of a god. That doesn't make that a reality. It's a justification for doing what they want to do. Nothing more. said...

Guess you didn't see the part in the post where I said "Unless she meets one of the states exceptions".... said...

yep said...

" Christian: A person who follows the teachings of, and believes in the divinity of Jesus."

Interestingly enough, I had two acquaintances who identified as Christians but who were agnostic about Jesus's divinity. said...

Were they by chance Jehovah's Witnesses? J.W. do not believe in the trinity. They believe not that he was exactly "divine" but was the only being created directly by god, and existed as an angel prior to and subsequent to his earthly life. said...

No, I don't think that they were. I am unsure about the other one, but one of them said that he was a Christian due to him admiring all of Jesus's (alleged) good works or something like that and that Jesus's divinity or lack of it (he was agnostic on this issue) is irrelevant for him.