Is an embryo a person 2 – Twinning

One argument commonly put forward for why the embryo is not a human in the first 14 days or so of life, before implantation, is that it may yet divide into twins. If it can become two individuals, the logic goes, how can we say it is now a person? It must be in a pre-person state until it becomes two separate people.

Twinning is basically a cloning process, or a form of asexual reproduction. The one embryo splits into two pieces, which each grow into identical twins.

If we consider this from a purely atheistic perspective, the argument rapidly falls apart. Just because something may later become two individuals doesn’t mean it is not an individual before then.

If a bacterium divides to produce two identical clones, does that mean it was not an individual bacterium before the cloning? Of course not.

If the technology ever becomes available to clone a human adult (some claim it has already been done), a human adult could later become two humans. Does this mean the adult was not a human before the cloning?

The embryo is one human. If at some later point it can become two humans, that does not detract at all from the fact that it is already human. It only means that by killing it you have cut off the potential for two lives rather than only one – which is twice as bad.

Now if we add the Christian perspective, that humans are not only physical but also have a soul, you may be able to say the embryo is not human before it divided because the individual twins were not given souls until they separated.

But how do you know? This is pure speculation. God may do that, or He may give one soul at conception and a second one when twinning occurs, or (knowing twinning will occur) he may give both souls from the start… The Bible never says. We can speculate for ever but will never reach an answer. It is best to forget this line of reasoning and focus on the physical.

So whether you are atheist or Christian, the twinning argument holds no water. And anyway, most embryos don’t twin – how many identical twins do you know?

For a far more detailed refutation of the twinning argument, check out this excellent article by Alexander Pruss of Baylor University (hat tip MandM). Matt’s response is here, but he does not appear to really counter what Pruss says, just disputes some minor points.

I have discussed other issues around abortion in these posts.

Is an embryo a person?

This question is at the heart of the abortion debate. A pro-choicer may admit that genetically and scientifically an embryo is a human, but they will then argue that they do not yet have “personhood” so it is ok to kill them.

Before addressing the question of whether or not a human embryo is a person, let’s look at the question itself.

Where on earth did the idea come from that you can be “human” but not a “person”? What is the difference?

For an atheist, who believes only in the physical, an embryo is genetically human, and it is clearly alive. Therefore it is a living human. A living human is a person, because only the physical is real and they are a physical person.

However the Christian, who believes that a person is both a physical body and a soul, may believe that personhood is not physical. They may be able to believe that an embryo, although scientifically human, is not a person because they do not have a soul. In my opinion this is a poor argument, as we have no idea when the soul is imparted into the body, can never prove any view on this, so must stick with the science that says life starts from conception. But it is an argument that sounds plausible.

The atheist must accept the embryo is a person. The Christian may choose to believe otherwise (although this is illogical in my opinion).

So why are so many pro-lifers Christian, and so many pro-choicers atheists? Why are people expressing a pro-life position so often accused of being religious fanatics?

It’s really quite crazy when you think about it.

The pro-choice position is not based on atheistic logic. It is more often based on emotion – people have had an abortion or know someone who had an abortion, want to believe that that was ok, and come up with philosophical or religious reasons to justify their position. This process may be subconscious.

If you look into it hard enough, you may quickly conclude that abortion is wrong. Check out the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League, Libertarians for Life, and this excellent article on “Why should Atheists be Pro-Life”. But many people are unwilling to look at the issue with cold, hard logic, and become blinded by emotion.

So, in your opinion, can a human ever not be a “person”? If so, when does the embryo become a “person”? And WHY do you believe this? Logically, not emotionally.

Vatican hosting conference on Evolution

Ok, I’m not officially here, but I couldn’t let this one pass! I had gained the impression that Pope Benedict was more conservative than his predecessor (who stated evolution was “more than just a theory”), but this throws that idea out the window.

I would have no problem with the Vatican hosting a conference that was genuinely “A critical appraisal” of Darwinism, looking at it from both perspectives and discussing the science behind it and how it relates to Christianity. But that is not how they are approaching the issue. From the Vatican News Service:

Saverio Forastiero:

“…biological evolution – which is assumed and discussed as a fact beyond all reasonable doubt…”

Fr. Tanzella-Nitti:

“…from the perspective of Christian theology, biological evolution and creation are by no means mutually exclusive.”

Now the idea that evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive is a valid opinion to hold. But when such views are being stated by people organising the conference, who should be approaching the issue from an unbiased perspective and allowing both sides of the story to be debated, it shows the tone of the conference.

The topic of the conference:

Fr. Leclerc explained that the congress will be divided into nine sessions, focusing on “the essential facts upon which the theory of evolution rests, facts associated with palaeontology and molecular biology; … the scientific study of the mechanisms of evolution, … and what science has to say about the origin of human beings”. Attention will also be given to “the great anthropological questions concerning evolution, … and the rational implications of the theory for the epistemological and metaphysical fields and for the philosophy of nature”. Finally, he said, “there will be two theological sessions to study evolution from the point of view of Christian faith, on the basis of a correct exegesis of the biblical texts that mention the creation, and of the reception of the theory of evolution by the Church”.

In other words, they will be considering evolution to be an established fact, learning all about those “essential facts” underpinning it, then finally looking at how this can be fitted into Christianity through “correctly” understanding the scriptures.

There is only one way that discussion is designed to go…

Evolution is not an established fact – there are many dissenters, including atheists who disagree on purely scientific grounds. But just like global warming, if you speak up you will generally be ignored by the media (or ridiculed if you are lucky to be noticed), and could lose your job. Furthermore in the opinion of many Christians it IS mutually exclusive with Christianity – Evolution requires death before the Fall (undermining the Cross). It also requires God to use millions of years of death and suffering to create a world he then pronounces to be “very good”, and requires passages clearly written as literal (even in the Ten Commandments) to be interpreted as figurative to squeeze the theory into the text somehow.

By accepting evolution as undeniable fact before the conference even starts, discussion is stifled, and the results are predetermined – just like in a Green Party discussion on climate change…