The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

Conceptual Thinking

April 11, 2006 | 54 Comments

My conception about conception is ill-conceived, says Professor Myers (see comment 51) of Pharyngula:

I’m afraid you are engaging in magical thinking. Your identity was most definitely not established at fertilization, mathematically or genetically. You are the outcome of a long, long chain of equally significant developmental events post-fertilization — you trivialize a complex process when you dismiss it as nothing but a foreordained computation once two gametes meet.

What you are preaching is a kind of genetic predestination that has been rejected by developmental biologists everywhere. It’s been about 30 years since a serious biologist made a comparable claim, and he (Benzer) has retreated far from it since.

Your quoted post is talking about Sperm (and Egg) Magic. Life doesn’t work that way.

In the sense in which what Professor Myers says is correct, unfortunately, I haven’t realized my full identity even today. The chain of “significant developmental events post-fertilization” will continue until my death. While plainly I am not now identical developmentally to what I was at conception, I am also radically different from what I was at ages one, two, five, ten and fifteen — so much so that it could be argued that I am not meaningfully the “same person” as any of those individuals, or the one I will be at 100. And certainly any number of significant pre- or post-natal influences — environmental, psychological or physical — could have at any of those points shaped me into something very different that what I am at present. No “foreordained computation” charted my path from infancy to boyhood to manhood. But these observations offer little help in determining at which stage of incarnation my physical being became privileged against extermination.

There is no magic in arguing that my identity at conception was sufficiently “me” to merit such protection. Obviously, it was sufficiently me that had that particular clump of cells being destroyed, I would not have been here today. Clipping my mother’s toenails would not have done the job. My identity did not reside in a clump of cells in a different woman, and another zygote would not have become me had the one in my mother been eliminated. That kind of theory is the one that requires magic, one involving an immaterial soul and its migration from body to body.

Magic, too, would be the theory that mathematically and genetically I could have become something entirely different. I could not have become a tree frog. I could not have become Professor Myers. I could not have assumed the genetic identity of some other race, or even the genetic identity different parents of my own race. Even developmental biologists would recognize that the genes of my parents predestined my physical make-up in a more significant way that any subsequent developmental event. So if my embrace of conception is “magic,” it is less so than any later point at which someone might draw the line.

Professor Myers does not pinpoint which moment he believes to be the true beginning of human identity, mathematically, genetically or otherwise. But his criteria do not appear to be all strictly scientific. Responding to a Feministe poll, he stated that he’s “in favor of voluntary late term abortions (where premature birth would impose severe economic hardship, for instance), and can even consider situations where infanticide is ethically tenable.” So at least part of the “complex process” of computation of human life involves dollars and cents, something well outside the competence of developmental biologists.

The financial viability of the fetus or toddler, then, must be assessed. Note, however, that the professor requires the economic hardship to be “severe.” So at least in some cases, like Jill, he would legally prohibit the procedure and compel childbirth (or childrearing) — presumably at that the magic moment of development identified by the biologists. That decision, in turn, could only be overruled by properly qualified certified public accountants.

Perhaps I am misinterpreting things again. To be charitable, I’ll assume that at least post-birth, he’s not talking about the impoverished but only the “undesirables” (wink wink). Having grown up surrounded by ‘tards, I’m in considerable sympathy with him here, but an unmagical sense of caution grips my non-soul. There are some decisions that might best not be delegated entirely to the professors, the gene counters and the bean counters.

UPDATE: Professor Myers responds (comment 5). Note: His support of infanticide does not extend to undesireables.

Comments

54 Responses to “Conceptual Thinking”

  1. dom
    April 11th, 2006 @ 10:33 am

    “I’m against abortion, because the procedure could have been used to prevent my existence.”

    Even if it had been, a similar person would have popped up sooner or later. The same goes for all of us. On the large scale, abortion just postpones the existence of various types of individuals. Nobody is so unique that a similar replacement wouldn’t be conceived, not aborted, and then born eventually.

  2. Aaron Kinney
    April 11th, 2006 @ 10:37 am

    The reason that a woman chooses to terminate her pregnancy is irrelevant. The whole point is that the woman has direct ownenship and control of her body at all times.

    The termination of a pregnancy where the fetus can survive outside the womb is, by definition, not an abortion anyway. A baby that can survive outside the womb must be killed in a seperate act.

  3. "Q" the Enchanter
    April 11th, 2006 @ 10:45 am

    “Professor Myers does not pinpoint which moment he believes to be the true beginning of human identity, mathematically, genetically or otherwise.”

    But this is precisely the game Myers is refusing to play. There is no “moment” to “pinpoint.”

  4. "Q" the Enchanter
    April 11th, 2006 @ 10:45 am

    “Professor Myers does not pinpoint which moment he believes to be the true beginning of human identity, mathematically, genetically or otherwise.”

    But this is precisely the game Myers is refusing to play. There is no “moment” to “pinpoint.”

  5. "Q" the Enchanter
    April 11th, 2006 @ 10:45 am

    “Professor Myers does not pinpoint which moment he believes to be the true beginning of human identity, mathematically, genetically or otherwise.”

    But this is precisely the game Myers is refusing to play. There is no “moment” to “pinpoint.”

  6. Thorngod
    April 11th, 2006 @ 10:54 am

    All that confabulation on “magic” and identity could as easily be applied to any tadpole or acorn, each of which will produce its unique adult. The only difference is that, as a more intellectually privileged organism you are able to wail your precarious selfhood. I say you were conceived in the “Big Bang”–by which I do not refer to the one enjoyed by your parents. When you cease to exist you will not care, and no more would you or anyone else have cared had you never existed. -Thorngod.

  7. PZ Myers
    April 11th, 2006 @ 11:15 am

    Exactly. There is no moment. Saying it’s at conception is particularly bogus, though — it’s a gradual process.

    Mr RA is incorrect. Many developmental biologists would consider later events more significant than what particular subset of alleles he has. Just to name one, Lewis Wolpert is rather well known for his emphasis on the importance of gastrulation.

    The claim that the freshly fertilized zygote was sufficiently “RA” is absurd. The sperm that gave rise to you was also unique: it contained it’s own special combination of alleles; it bore a handful of novel mutations; its genome had been modified chemically in unusual ways. The same story is true for the egg. If those particular gametes had been destroyed, you also wouldn’t be here today. Do you urge the protection of every precious sperm, every beloved egg?

    You may not realize this, but even us biology professors are also human beings. I have at times handled this thing you call “money”. In case you didn’t know, science is also not a high paying occupation, so we also know a bit about poverty from personal experience. I agree it’s not scientific. Picking an instant and calling that the moment when one is human is not scientific. This is an emotional, social, economic, and personal decision.

    Your assumption that I’m talking about purging “undesirables” is unwarranted, wrong, and well, more than a little sleazy. I’ve gotten too much heat from the “scientific” racists for my defense of diversity and refusal to rank the value of human lives for your insult to be in any way appropriate.

  8. bUCKET__
    April 11th, 2006 @ 11:18 am

    Some random guy existed for a few decades a few hundred years ago. In hindsight, they should have killed him where he stood.

  9. benjamin
    April 11th, 2006 @ 11:50 am

    Myers,
    As RA noted, people continue their development throughout their lives. Our bodies change, our beliefs change, our attitudes change, and yet we can be recognized as developing humans even as these changes occur, and we are protected by a legal right to life. It’s not important when the greatest change to our identity takes place. What’s important is when we become a developing human. My understanding is that a developing human begins at fertilization. After fertilization, the zygote requires nutrients and a proper environment to continue development, the same as you and me and everyone else. The amount of nutrients and the amount of certain hormones can change the outcome of development, but it wont change the zygote into something non-human. Once again, the same is true for you and me and everyone else. Hormone treatment and diet can effect my developmen to this day, but they wont make me anything but human. Is there something I’m missing? Is there something that a zygote needs besides nutrients and the proper environment to continue its development? I’ve read about rats being bread in artificial wombs, and I’m assuming that human development isn’t all that different. Can you clear this up for me. When does human development begin, and what is necessary for it to continue?

  10. Jason Malloy
    April 11th, 2006 @ 12:06 pm

    This pretty much is the Secular analogue of ‘ensoulment’, the entirely spurious “moment” RA believes a certain arrangement of matter picked up his individualized continuity of consciousness. It is also just a drop in the bucket of flawed premises (logical, ethical, and empirical) that constitute this “Pro-life” position – from the conflation of actual with potential, the absurd weighting of fetus over woman (and even animal), to the blindness towards the poisonous reality of what this viewpoint would mean for society.

    Throw in the obligatory Nazi allusion for rhetorical oomph and we have the perfect nonargument.

  11. Rocketman
    April 11th, 2006 @ 12:08 pm

    This is a pointless debate. THe question of abortion comes down to a single choice. The life of the person to be against the freedom and self determination of the woman carrying it.

    Waffle all you want but the Raving atheist is correct in his assumption that the basis for what he is was present at conception.

    The freedom of the mother to choose regarding her own physical being must also be a consideration.

    The question is what is a worse crime–to prevent the development and birth of a human being or to condemn the mother to be to decisions regarding her own being.

    Is is the removal of potential against against self determination

    or is it murder against slavery.

    For myself–I have to come down marginally more against slavery. But that stance is so narrow that I find myself being burned by that line.

  12. Thorngod
    April 11th, 2006 @ 12:26 pm

    Or is it superstition against rationality? -Thorngod.

  13. Viole
    April 11th, 2006 @ 12:27 pm

    This is so bloody pathetic. Seriously. Can’t you make it through a single one of these anti-choice rants without managing to misrepresent someone, RA?

    And why do you never answer anyone’s questions? What do you think should the punishment for a woman who has an abortion? The doctor who performs it? The friends and relatives who provide financial or emotional support?

    I’m going to have to switch to reading atheist blogs by rational people.

  14. Tom
    April 11th, 2006 @ 1:53 pm

    Even if it had been, a similar person would have popped up sooner or later. The same goes for all of us. On the large scale, abortion just postpones the existence of various types of individuals. Nobody is so unique that a similar replacement wouldn’t be conceived, not aborted, and then born eventually. -dom

    “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out. And it won’t make any difference, ’cause I’ll make another one that looks just like you.” -Bill Cosby

    The point is, of course, that “similar” individuals are not the same individual. Even identical twins are never considered to be the same person. The loss of a genetic code at a particular juncture in time is the loss of a potential individual. Even a clone would never equal that individual’s “replacement.”

  15. Mookie
    April 11th, 2006 @ 2:10 pm

    “Wow, what are the odds that the condom would break?!”

    “I don’t know, honey, but according to RA, we should consider this potential child even more valuable, simply because greater odds were against its conception and survival.”

    “Yeah. It was our intent to save millions of dollars over the course of our lifetimes by avoiding having children, hence the $.50 condom, but now that you put it that way, I think we should throw out any plans we had before and care to this miracle growing inside of you.”

    “Agreed, darling. If the child was able to surmount such impossible odds, it must certainly be special and worthy of a chance at life.”

    “This almost sounds like religious or superstitious drivel.”

    “Its not, dear. The Raving Atheist is perfectly rational and non-magic-believing. He wouldn’t say something that made no sense.”

    “I guess you’re right. Looks like we’ll have to change all our plans for the future just to stick to his ill-conceived notion of the value of a clump of cells.”

  16. hermesten
    April 11th, 2006 @ 2:50 pm

    Or is it superstition against rationality? -Thorngod.

    On this issue, it would seem, the RA has chosen superstition, but hey, it’s a popular choice these days. Is the RA in danger of conversion? Will he end up like those Christians in Waco who, recently, left a talk by Bill Nye the Science Guy, screaming “we believe in God,” after Mr. Nye blasphemously stated that the light coming from the moon was reflected light –not “source” light like it claims in the Bible? Should we expect future tirades against homosexuals and evolution?

  17. Paul
    April 11th, 2006 @ 2:58 pm

    I don’t see RA as embracing any kind of superstition. I simply see a concious decision not to step onto a slippery slope.

  18. Jean-Paul Fastidious
    April 11th, 2006 @ 2:58 pm

    The particular sperm and egg that were to form RA both existed before conception and had the potential (and, as it turned out, actuality) to come together. If RA Sr. had worn a condom, RA Jr. would not be here today. So how are condoms not morally equivalent to abortion in this scenario?

  19. Mookie
    April 11th, 2006 @ 3:47 pm

    Thanks for intercepting and deleting my post.

  20. Jean-Paul Fastidious
    April 11th, 2006 @ 4:09 pm

    “I don’t see RA as embracing any kind of superstition. I simply see a concious decision not to step onto a slippery slope.”

    But in order to avoid one slippery slope, he’s stepped back onto another that slopes quite a far way in the opposite direction.

    Like Myers says, the egg and sperm that were to become RA were once unique entities with the potential to come together and eventually be the RA that wrote this blog entry. Those two gametes, and only those two gametes, could have become RA.

    RA wants to pin the start of his existence on when the two came together, even though at that time RA didn’t exist as an actual person, but only a potential person. But this is sufficient, he says. RA might argue that two gametes separated by even a Planck length are not sufficiently him as a fertilized egg, but that seems to me as arbitrary a point as saying he was only sufficiently himself after his head crowned or when he turned 21.

    All that was sufficient to make RA was present before conception. The act of conception didn’t fix that sufficiency anymore than any of the other developmental steps that followed, or potentially might not have followed. There was a state of uncertainty before conception — maybe a different sperm would have gotten to the egg first? — but there was also uncertainty after — maybe the zygote might not have become a viable embryo?

    The bottom line: If RA Sr. had worn a condom, RA Jr. would not be here today. How are condoms not morally equivalent to abortion given RA’s moral calculus? Worse still, how is anything that would have altered any necessary steps leading to his existence not also equivalent? And what about those necessary steps in his existence that necessarily altered the necessary steps in the existence of some other potential person, now sadly lacking in any potential?

    If we take RA’s arguments seriously, and not simply apply them only as far as it suits us for the desired conclusion, then he’s opened up a Pandora’s Box of rights for people who aren’t actually there. I think that’s where people are seeing magic in his thinking.

  21. Viole
    April 11th, 2006 @ 8:21 pm

    [UPDATE 2: Jill of Feministe bans me from her blog (comment 48) and I apologize (comment 49)]
    -The Raving Atheist, Magic

    Now here’s a load of garbage for you, considering you turned around and did precisely the same thing to PZ Myers. Try apologizing by not doing it anymore, hm?

  22. Mary
    April 11th, 2006 @ 8:43 pm

    On the large scale, abortion just postpones the existence of various types of individuals.

    And so does murder, the existence being of the later stages of said individuals.

  23. SBW
    April 11th, 2006 @ 8:56 pm

    RA you’re not engaging in superstitious thinking and your logic is flawless.

    The bottom line is that depending on whatever rule of measurement you’re using anything can be justified, from abortion to ethnic cleansing. Look at the number of people that are absolutely pro-choice during the first-trimester but think aborting a full-term fetus would be heinous.

    It’s a slippery slope when you are trying to determine who/what is eligible to be killed legally and who/what isn’t.

  24. Pascal's Wager
    April 11th, 2006 @ 9:37 pm

    PZ Myers states that the fertilized zygote was not RA. Where does that line of logic transcend from? The 23 chromosomes from the egg unite with the 23 from the sperm to create a zygote. Through the process of mitosis the DNA from those 46 chromosomes creates every cell of every part of a person’s body, meiosis obviously forms the sex cells (gametes) of an individual. Granted, there may be a case of trisomy 21 causing Downs syndrome or another such genetic disorder, but none-the-less that person is still that person with the same genetic material and DNA that was in the zygote at conception. Is it not true that the genetic information on those 46 chromosomes determines who that zygote becomes, if not, where does the additional information between zygote and birth come from?

  25. Pascal's Wager
    April 11th, 2006 @ 9:37 pm

    PZ Myers states that the fertilized zygote was not RA. Where does that line of logic transcend from? The 23 chromosomes from the egg unite with the 23 from the sperm to create a zygote. Through the process of mitosis the DNA from those 46 chromosomes creates every cell of every part of a person’s body, meiosis obviously forms the sex cells (gametes) of an individual. Granted, there may be a case of trisomy 21 causing Downs syndrome or another such genetic disorder, but none-the-less that person is still that person with the same genetic material and DNA that was in the zygote at conception. Is it not true that the genetic information on those 46 chromosomes determines who that zygote becomes, if not, where does the additional information between zygote and birth come from?

  26. Pascal's Wager
    April 11th, 2006 @ 9:37 pm

    PZ Myers states that the fertilized zygote was not RA. Where does that line of logic transcend from? The 23 chromosomes from the egg unite with the 23 from the sperm to create a zygote. Through the process of mitosis the DNA from those 46 chromosomes creates every cell of every part of a person’s body, meiosis obviously forms the sex cells (gametes) of an individual. Granted, there may be a case of trisomy 21 causing Downs syndrome or another such genetic disorder, but none-the-less that person is still that person with the same genetic material and DNA that was in the zygote at conception. Is it not true that the genetic information on those 46 chromosomes determines who that zygote becomes, if not, where does the additional information between zygote and birth come from?

  27. Jean-Paul Fastidious
    April 11th, 2006 @ 11:42 pm

    (I’ll try this one more time since my last two entries from earlier today weren’t posted. If this one doesn’t get through, then I guess I’m just talking to myself and will give up trying…)

    Pascal’s Wager: “where does the additional information between zygote and birth come from?”

    Where does the additional information between gametes and zygote come from? Was anything added? And if not, why were the sperm and egg, although separated in space, not considered together to be RA? Why don’t we say RA existed before conception? And why then aren’t condoms morally equivalent to abortion? After all, if RA Sr. had worn one, RA Jr. wouldn’t be here today.

  28. Mister Swill
    April 12th, 2006 @ 12:29 am

    And we have come full circle, back to the main point I was making during the first RA abortion posts: Human reproduction is not a process that lends itself easily to the drawing of thick, distinct lines. When does life begin? What makes me me? What, exactly, is a person? These questions have no objective answers. No consistently agreed upon definition of life is specific enough to draw a sharp, clear line between “life” and “not life.” Everyone certainly has their opinion on these answers, but all of these “Unaborted Atheist” discussions have shown pretty clearly that nobody has stumbled upon any objective truth.

    Once again, I must make the point (and I’ll keep making this point, RA, until you start to address my questions) that it’s perfectly fine to argue about these things in a philosophical setting, but once we start discussing what should be prohibited by law, there needs to be more substance. I understand that the law does and should have a basis in morality, but it only makes sense to use generally agreed upon concepts of “right” and “wrong” as the law’s moral barometer. Not what “God says.” Not what the president says. And not what some crank lawyer with a sarcastic website thinks are the absolute answers.

  29. PanAtheist
    April 12th, 2006 @ 8:16 am

    Actually, RA, you talk more of *blastula* magic, and *embryo* magic. Egg-and-sperm sure DON’T hold any magic for *you*!

    You go forward, noting how you’re “identity” keeps changing thoughout life. And say this is equivalent to the changing identity in the development of the womb. Actually that change of identity that goes on there is fundamentally different, but I guess, when you are backed into a corner, like you are, you have to clutch at straws. And you won’t go *back* to the dual egg-and-sperm, because, it would seem, you have trouble keeping count of anything greater than, er, one. If either of those had been exterminated you, pal, would not have existed as surely as if the blastula that-built-the-embryo had been exterminated.

    Go back to dreaming of religion RA!
    That seems to capture your imagination!

    Give me an honest free-thinker any day, over a brain-fractured “atheist”.

    The main “thrust” of your post, is, as always, pathetically beside the point.

    Want to thrust your militant tendency in our faces now do you?

  30. Jivin J
    April 12th, 2006 @ 8:40 am

    For a biology professor (PZ) to claim that whether something is a human or not is “an emotional, social, economic, and personal decision” must be the pinnacle of mystical pro-choice atheism.

    Is the non-human entity magically transformed into a human organism when a woman looks at her emotional, social, and economic situation and them makes a personal decision not to have an abortion? Is the woman’s mind so powerful that the decision’s it makes transforms what the unborn actually is? I was unaware that a woman’s mind could decide what genus and species something belonged to.

    Such jibberish should be laughed out of town.

    PZ Myers has a faith. Pro-choice mysticism is thy name.

  31. benjamin
    April 12th, 2006 @ 8:51 am

    Please, anyone feel free to comment on my earlier post. I think I have made it clear why a sperm is not human, why an egg is not human, and why a zygote is. A sperm is not a developing human. No matter how perfect the temperature and the humidity, no matter how healthy the nutrients available to it, it is not a developing human, so it wont grow a nervous system, or arms or legs, etc. The same goes for an egg. A zygote on the other hand, when placed in the proper environment, and with the appropriate nutrients available will continue its human development, because it is human. Just like you or I it will die in a harmful environment and without proper nutrition. Just like you or I, it undergoes changes as it develops. It IS human just like you or I, while a sperm is not, and an egg is not. So don’t argue about when the information to describe a person came into being, because we are not information. We are living beings of flesh and blood.

  32. tarkovsky
    April 12th, 2006 @ 8:54 am

    In “The Boys From Brazil” (US movie from circa 1978 starring Laurence Olivier), ex-nazis manage to clone Hitler using his DNA and trying to re-create the hardships of Adolf (lost his father at a young age, etc).

    Think also of Young Mozart who at 5 was composing menuets. In fact think of any prodigy.

    What is the “value” of a fetus? Does the fetus have “potential” and therefore worth protecting more than other fetuses?

    If you knew you were about to abort a fetus who has the potential of becoming president of the USA, would you still go ahead and do it? And what if it were a future Stalin or Bush? Would that influence your choice? Would this decision be better than superstition or randomness?

    What is the “value” of any human being? Since this value is not determined by God (who isn’t there), then who determines the value?

    Humans of course. But this valuation is not outright explicit. Equality and human rights is a recent concept (20th century).

    Apparently we avoid the slippery slope. People have kids, they raise them to the best of the abilities, the state provides schooling and religious(!) infrastructures. Citizens are bred, they pay taxes, end of story. Perhaps for the state, the potential of the individual is not worth managing; we manage statistically our population and hope for the best.

    We say (in our democratic way of thinking) “let the children be” and we “pray” they will grow up into something “useful” to society (read carefully: of “value” to society).

    Exactly what values are promoted these days? Well we always need good strong soldiers we can send out to get killed, so we need good healthy DNA; we also need intelligent, savvy and machievelli-like leaders; we need smart geeks too because high-tech is the key; we need resilient hard-working low-paid immigrants for the sweatshops; etc etc etc. Yeah well come to think of it, the system can absorb all sorts of profiles.

    Don’t be naive. The sort of discussion around abortion or non-abortion always leads (NB: who correctly pointed this out earlier on? tip of the hat) to Nazi-style DNA-based filtering.

    Do we need filtering?

    Our current judeo-christian brain-washing prevents us from admitting that DNA filtering is (unfortunately!!) a very good strategy for human communities. But that is taboo! Bad bad bad atheist!!!

    IMHO, you either let the woman decide herself about her fetus or the state assumes responsibility (orwellian style?). I don’t see any other possible alternatives.

    You choose. After all, there is no God, only humans and their man-made laws.

  33. Dada Saves
    April 12th, 2006 @ 10:09 am

    ‘In “The Boys From Brazil” (US movie from circa 1978 starring Laurence Olivier) …’

    Not. Starring Gregory Peck as Mengele. (Olivier was second lead.)

    But I agree with your broader points, I think.

  34. Spencer
    April 12th, 2006 @ 10:48 am

    “the Raving atheist is correct in his assumption that the basis for what he is was present at conception.”

    As is the basis for any genetic being. That is what has bothered me about the “distinct genetic conception” argument. It seems to assume that humans are worth saving because of their individual genetic distinctions, yet it does not seem to permit (or at minimum, is never discussed) any other form of information-based life the same premises.

    Given only the premise of pro-life based on genetic distinction, there is no logic to limit it to the human species.

  35. Mookie
    April 12th, 2006 @ 2:26 pm

    You blocked my post and the post(s) of other(s), RA. I can’t vouch for the others, but I think my post may have added something to the discussion. You didn’t want to deal with it, so you ABORTED it. A series of events led up to me writing that post, odds stacked upon odds, a unique occurence. You snuffed it out as do responsible women who don’t want parasites growing in them. It is kind of ironic in a way.

  36. The Raving Atheist
    April 12th, 2006 @ 2:50 pm

    Mookie,

    I have never blocked a single comment in the history of this blog. There are automatic controls which hold comments temporariliy until the administrator (not me) has confirmed that they are not spam.

    If you want to be banned from a blog, go to Feministe, Pandagon or BushvChoice (NARAL’s official blog), all of which have banned me for expressing my views.

  37. Mookie
    April 12th, 2006 @ 2:58 pm

    JPF at #20 also complains of losing post(s). You ever try pissing into the wind?

  38. benjamin
    April 12th, 2006 @ 3:15 pm

    I lost a post once. I wrote something, and then hit “submit” on the “Subscribe to Comments” line, instead of hitting “Post” like I should have. I wonder if that is happening to some people on a more regular basis.

  39. Mookie
    April 12th, 2006 @ 3:30 pm

    I got a message that said my post was being suspended in limbo until it was “convenient” for it to be passed through and posted. I wonder if there is a large file that has lost posts. LostPosts.txt

  40. Paul
    April 12th, 2006 @ 7:56 pm

    OK benjamin, I’ll bite.

    “I think I have made it clear why a sperm is not human, why an egg is not human, and why a zygote is. A sperm is not a developing human.”

    Any definition you can offer of “human” or “developing human” will merely beg the question semantically.

    “No matter how perfect the temperature and the humidity, no matter how healthy the nutrients available to it, it is not a developing human, so it wont grow a nervous system, or arms or legs, etc. The same goes for an egg. A zygote on the other hand, when placed in the proper environment, and with the appropriate nutrients available will continue its human development, because it is human. Just like you or I it will die in a harmful environment and without proper nutrition. Just like you or I, it undergoes changes as it develops.”

    All you’ve done is to semantically define “human” as that which won’t survive in a harmful environment. Furthermore, why should the environment be the determining factor? Why shouldn’t we say that a fetus isn’t human because humans are beings physically disconnected from other beings, but a fetus isn’t?

    What are your criteria for which criteria we use to decide what is human and which criteria we throw away for deciding what is human?

  41. Chris
    April 13th, 2006 @ 6:39 am

    Mookie,

    As the administrator of RA’s account I can tell you that the only posts that get removed are spam or duplicates. How about quote the note in the comment warning: “Note: TypeKey users have their comments automatically approved. Why not try TypeKey?”

    Now please get over yourself and stop whining. You are not special. No one is concerned with deleting your drivel. Even though I could use the space for more intelligent comments.

  42. Viole
    April 13th, 2006 @ 10:56 am

    Hold on there, Chris! There’s no cause to get quite so insulting. That spam filter of yours can be quite annoying, when it holds some post you spend a hour typing, especially since most people aren’t going to sift through all the inane previous comments to see if the ones you’ve just let through are worth reading.

  43. Jesse
    April 13th, 2006 @ 11:49 am

    The RA is simply applying his own morals, developed from the sum of all the factors of his environment since his conception. Religious beliefs are frequently formed in the same manner. Unfortunately, clinging to both beliefs and morals sometimes means abandoning logic. In matters of religion and superstition up until this point, RA was able to forsake them and pursue logic, and created a blog to satirize those who were not as strong willed as himself.

    But finally even he has succumbed, for this humanist pro-life stance he has taken clearly deviates from cold logic. This is where he has decided to draw the line where romantic ideals become more important than an unskewed view of reality. That’s fine. But the point is he drew a line, and in the context of his ridicule of those of religious faith, really cannot call himself a “free-thinker” any longer. It’s perfectly fine to be superstitious and romantic, that’s your choice. But there’s no way to justify being a hypocrite.

  44. benjamin
    April 13th, 2006 @ 12:03 pm

    Jesse, please demonstrate for everyone how RA has abandoned logic. To make it easy, please use a 2 column proof.

  45. benjamin
    April 13th, 2006 @ 12:52 pm

    Paul, a zygote implanted in the womb is basically feeding. (Remember that mice have already been bread in artificial wombs) Does a tick cease to be a tick when it latches on to you and sucks your blood. It doesn’t. In the same way, a developing human is no less human when it is in the womb. I have not tried to define what it is to be human, but I have derived some tests which can differentiate a sperm and an egg (not human) from a zygote (human). Biology shows us that a sperm is not human, en egg is not human, and a zygote is. To say something to the effect of “it’s ok to kill a zygote because it isn’t human” is wrong. It is also wrong to pretend that any logic protecting a zygote would have to be extended to sperms and eggs. Pro-choice atheists like to pretend that they have logic on their side when it comes to the abortion debate, and yet they make many logical mistakes and hold positions for reasons that are untenable.

  46. Mookie
    April 13th, 2006 @ 1:33 pm

    Chris,

    I don’t care what you think of my posts. And now I know that it is your incompetence that is causing people to lose their posts. And no, I do not want to use typekey. You’re just going to have to fix the site filter.

  47. Thorngod
    April 13th, 2006 @ 2:14 pm

    The logic of the pro-choice argument is not (or should not be) in the question of “life” or “human,” but in the difference between sentient and insensate, between the welfare of existing persons versus non-persons, and in considerations of population excess and the increase of misery.

  48. benjamin
    April 13th, 2006 @ 3:11 pm

    Thorngod, I am glad we agree as to the humanity of the zygote. Some people like to refer to zygotes as inhuman parasites, or as “part of the mother’s body” both of which are incorrect. I personally don’t see current sentience as a good deciding factor for the morality of killing a human. Do you find it wrong to kill someone in their sleep? To me, there isn’t a difference between killing someone who is expected to regain sentience in 8 hours because they just fell asleep and in killing someone who is expected to become sentient in a number of months. I don’t see how population excess has a bearing on the abortion debate, or on the right to life of any individual. To bring that up and argue that as a reason to allow abortion, you give one group of people (would be parents) the power to put another group of people (the unborn) into the group “undesirable” and to legally have them killed. If abortion is otherwise wrong, but population consideration makes that wrong a right, then why not allow parents to kill born children as well? And why not allow the employed to kill the unemployed? Slippery slope indeed! You’ll be glad to know that the birth rate for american women is less than 2. Our population would shrink if people weren’t immigrating here by the millions. Population excess indeed! As for misery, I have to agree that anyone who feels they are suffering too much should be free to off themselves, and doctors should screen them to make certain that their intentions are solid, and to make sure that they aren’t skipping out on any responsibilites (like loans or parenthood of minor children) and help them do it. Of course, the decision must be that of the individual.

  49. Thorngod
    April 13th, 2006 @ 4:45 pm

    Unlike the embryo, the sleeper is a personality, and except in rare cases is known, loved and depended upon by numerous others. Consider the immense difference in the secondary effects caused by the death of a fetus and that of a fully developed sleeping person. It is those effects that are of utmost importance, not the death of the subject. He/she would not care! Which does not mean that it would be okay, however, for you or me to kill the sleeper, even if he/she were an unknown and uncared-about hermit. Such an act, except in extraordinary circumstances, would dimish our humanity and might tend to diminish that of others….
    As to population, while I agree it is peripheral and cannot be a deciding factor in the moral question of abortion, it does add weight for those of us who are convinced that we humans are seriously fouling and overcrowding our nest. Also, I was not referring to American population growth, but to the planetary. Further, the misery I was referring to is corollary to the population problem. There are six times as many starving and otherwise miserable people on the planet now as there was 200 years back. Every human birth presses the increase. The real question raised here, of course, is not so much that of whether abortion is moral, but whether creating new lives is immoral.

  50. Paul
    April 14th, 2006 @ 8:31 pm

    Benjamin wrote: “I have not tried to define what it is to be human. . . .”

    But of course you have defined what it is to be human. If a fetus was not defined as human to you, you would not be against its abortion.

    “Biology shows us that a sperm is not human. . . .” Please show me how this is not defining what is human.

    “To say something to the effect of “it’s ok to kill a zygote because it isn’t human” is wrong. ”

    You’re jumping the gun. I never said anything about killing a zygote. Let’s first agree about definitions.

  51. Jason
    April 15th, 2006 @ 10:48 pm

    Hard to believe PZ is a university professor, isn’t it?

    Oh, wait… No it isn’t.

  52. ema
    April 16th, 2006 @ 8:57 am

    There is no magic in arguing that my identity at conception was sufficiently “me” to merit such protection. Obviously, it was sufficiently me that had that particular clump of cells being destroyed, I would not have been here today.

    There’s also no accuracy in that argument. To use your example, since a preembryo, up until ~14 days after the completion of fertilization, hasn’t yet acquired the potential to develop into an individuated human entity, had that particular clump of cells been destroyed, maybe you, or maybe not you would not have been here today.

  53. benjamin
    April 21st, 2006 @ 4:50 pm

    I don’t know if anyone comments on anything once it is off the front page, but I must point out to Paul that stating whether something is in a category or not does not define the category. To say “RA is an atheist” is not to define every atheist as being identical to RA. The statement doesn’t define what an atheist is, it only says that RA doesn’t posess any qualities contrary to the definition of atheist, such as belief in God. A sperm is lacking a quality that is necessary to the definition of human, which is a full set of chromosomes (46 I believe). A zygote on the other hand has a full set of chromosomes, and I fail to see any quality that would exclude a zygote from being human. Would you like to argue that a zygote has such a quality, or lacks some other human characteristic?

  54. Brian Macker
    May 5th, 2006 @ 10:51 pm

    Dom,
    Even if it had been, a similar person would have popped up sooner or later. The same goes for all of us. On the large scale, abortion just postpones the existence of various types of individuals. Nobody is so unique that a similar replacement wouldn’t be conceived, not aborted, and then born eventually.

    I don’t find this argument the least bit compelling.
    1) I took population genetics and you don’t understand the numbers involved. The odds are next to nil that another person identical to you will be produced in the future if you were aborted. If the gene pool were stable and humans didn’t go extinct it would still be a very long time. I don’t think the sun would burn that long. But those assumptions are incorrect. Gene pools are not stable and species go extinct. It is perfectly valid to say that no one with identical or even close to identical genetic structure is going to pop up some time in the future if you were aborted. When someone is aborted, unless they have an identical twin or their genetic clone is saved in some other way then there is no possibility of a duplicate. Put another way, are you claiming that the dinosaurs are going to return?
    2) Personal identity is not equivalent to genetic identity. A genetically identical individual to Dom produced some time in the future would not be you. It would be someone else.
    3) If you understood time factors in economics you would understand that current opportunities are always more valuable that distant ones. That’s why if I borrow $100 off you then you wouldn’t mind being repaid tomorrow but would be real upset if I waited for you to be on your deathbed. It’s also why people charge interest. Even if you were not aborted but frozen and then implanted into a womb in some distant future that is not a genetically viable strategy for competing in the world. That is it harms your genetic opportunities.
    4) The same genetic individual at some future date would not have the same environment and therefore would not become the same individual. Alexander the Great born today might end up in prison and not as the mass murderer he was.
    5) Who’s to say that the imaginary future self wouldn’t get aborted also.
    6) You do understand that twins are different individuals. Do you mean to imply that I can kill one of the Olsen Twins if I please because I would not be “preventing her existence” since another copy does exist?
    7) On your theory I guess you don’t mind me coming over and blowing your brains out since some future self is sure to come into being to complete any potential you might have.

    Do you see why I have a problem with your claim?

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