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Monday, October 27, 2008

Killing Babies With Science

This cell is a human being. Or maybe it isn't. Only Paul Manata and his invisible friend know for sure.

Oh, Paul... I wish I knew how to quit you.

Like his namesake, Paul Manata continues to see through a glass darkly, and thus fails to realize that the person he rails against is a reflection of his own ego. I am similarly under no illusion that Paul will be persuaded by rational argumentation, and don't think anything I write will have an effect on him, so I primarily write for the 500-or so regular readers of this blog, and the thousands of visitors it receives each month. I'm especially happy to be welcoming the 50 or so visitors from Triablogue that have come over... you might actually learn something here.

It's a bit sad to see Paul thrashing about, appealing to his readers to vouch for the validity of his attacks on me. Apparently he thinks that simply by virtue of quoting me verbatim at length, he somehow can't be blamed for ignoring my statements and trying to put arguments in my mouth. For example, his clumsy assumption that my reference to "one organ among others" was the fetus, rather than the uterus. Without an effort at reading comprehension on his part it's no wonder there are so many blunders; I would spare myself the tedium of correcting him point by point unless I thought it would achieve anything useful. It's a bit like watching a wrestler in the ring trying to grapple with an invisible opponent, and looking up desperately to the audience to verify his victory. While the actual opponent has started to walk away out of sheer boredom and pity... and yet...

Even though Paul has failed to grasp the point that personal sovereignty is independent of the 'humanity' of a fetus, he has nonetheless insisted on it for his own arguments. Yes, he has hidden behind claims of irrelevancy, but even though I know how Reformed apologists loathe to argue for their own positions, I can't help feeling that it's a burden of which he needs to relieve himself.

As does his faithful reader, Craig Sowder, who posted this in the comments:
Paul,

I would be interested in seeing how you would defend the personhood of the fetus scientifically. I had said in one of my comments to Zach that I always considered "personhood" to be a metaphysical category rather than a scientific one. I mean, you can see cells, organs, limbs, etc. under a microscope, but you don't see "personhood", right? Maybe I'm not understanding what you mean when you say it's easy to prove it scientifically.
That makes two of us, Craig. Paul responds to this by saying:
I can use all the evidence of embryology and show that the fetus has it's own unique human DNA, it is a unified organism, it directs itself towards next stages of life, it is living, etc., etc., etc. So it is a human being. The offspring of humans. If not, what species is it?
And Paul steps into and even bigger scientific mess by invoking the concept of 'species,' which I've pointed out many times is rife with conceptual problems of its own. The things Paul mentions here (human DNA, unified organism, etc) are all necessary qualities that a human being has, but they are not sufficient in themselves. Now, I'll gladly grant for the sake of this issue that having human DNA can give something the characteristic of "human" (leaving the XenoMouse to the side for now), but grants no more special status to any cell by the virtue of that distinction. An adipocyte may be 'human,' but that does not make it 'a human.' Neither does a 'human' leukocyte, a 'human' chondrocyte, nor a 'human' pericyte.

This clone of a human's hematocyte is a human being. Or not. Theologians are scouring the Bible for the words "somatic" "clone," and "ethics." They'll get back to you never.

Never one to let the subtleties of scientific evidence get past him, Paul assures Craig that he can easily appeal to authority in this matter:
I think, as virtually all embryologists agree, it is undeniable that it is a human. That part of the debate is fairly a closed case.
"THUS SAITH MANATA!" Unfortunately, in my embryology course we never were lectured about the humanity of a fetus. Oh, I have no doubt that embryologists will agree that a "human fetus" is 'human,' but whether or not it is a 'human being' is the burden on Paul's back, isn't it? It's one thing to mind-numbingly assert that fertilization is that sufficient cause from which human beings arise, but even this does little to answer the question I asked (and still unanswered) two posts ago:
At what moment did I become a human being? When my father's sperm came in contact with my mother's egg? But when, precisely? When the sperm passed the corona radiata? When it entered, or after it had passed, the zona pellucida? Before or after the cell membranes fused? Before or after the second meiotic division of the egg? Before or after the first mitotic division? At what stage of mitosis: prophase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase?
Human development, if it is anything, is a temporal process. At one end of the process, there exist cells that are human, but not a 'human being.' On this we can nearly all agree. At the other end of the process, there is a 'human being.' The question I'd like to see answered by the all-knowing Manata, is when? When in the process of human development are there sufficient characteristics to call something a 'human being?' Please see the above quote for the level of precision I'm looking for.

Anticipating failure at this task, Paul runs from the scientific evidence he once championed:
...if pro-choicers want to add to the limits of science and argue that the findings of science are not enough to show t's[sic] full humanity, that we need to run to the philosophers to determine these questions, so be it.
Ah, yes. Smelling the stink of his own defeat, Paul throws clods of dirt at the evil scientists, who thrive perversely at the limits of science, and retreats back to the realm of philosophy, where curious notions like 'evidence' matter so much less than 'QED.' I certainly hope he enjoys the respite, and I'll keep a frosty mug waiting in case he ventures back into the fray.

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