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.

The origin of life

I have been having a lot of fun debating the origin of life over at Not PC. Nothing like a bit of good scientific debate to provide a break from my normal science!

Most people assume that life originated in some “primordial soup” way back in the distant past. But this doesn’t work scientifically.

Say we assume that by some fantastic miracle, we got a puddle on the early earth that contained all the building blocks of life – DNA, RNA, protein, lipids etc. We can replicate this by taking a plant and putting it through a blender.

If we leave our blended plant for a while, will we get life forming in this soup? No, the chemicals in it will all break down over time following the laws of chemistry and thermodynamics.

If we put this soup in the sun for a while, giving it the input of energy, will we get life? No, the chemicals will just break down faster. The added energy simply speeds up the processes that must happen. We will get cooked soup. If we are lucky it may be tasty.

On the other hand, if we put the plant in the sun – exactly the same molecules, just organised into a complex structure – it will use the same energy through photosynthesis to grow.

So with a pre-organised system such as the plant, the energy input from the sun can be harnessed to create further order. However the disorganised soup will only become less ordered. There is no known scientific way to get over the hurdle from disorganised soup to organised living tissue, even if you did get a soup of all the right chemicals – which is in itself a chemical impossibility.

But when you present this to an atheist, they generally say something like this:

I’m not sure you wouldn’t get life if you left your blender long enough. Obviously, over the kind of time scales that humans are comfortable with, it’s unlikely that the plant will grow back out of its constituent molecules. However, we don’t know what might happen over hundreds of millions of years, with the addition of random other dust, lightning strikes, etc.

Ultimately, the atheist just ends up having faith. Despite all we know about chemistry and thermodynamics, which clearly states that the molecules in that soup would break down over time (they would actually react with each other and break each other down by the way), they are willing to disregard science and believe that somehow, something happened that science says is completely impossible. Just like in Frankenstein, the lightning hits and bang – the soup comes to life!

That is not rational, scientific logic. That is faith.

Science clearly shows life cannot come from non-life. Louis Pasteur showed this over a century ago, and the more we understand about biochemistry the more his early logic is confirmed. You can therefore conclude scientifically that life must come from life, and therefore the life we have today must have originated from another life.

This is rational. This is logical. This is consistent with the science.

The Christian will then believe through faith that original life was God. But acceptance of God or Christianity is not part of the argument at all, you don’t have to be religious to see that life only comes from life. You may become religious after you realise it though! 🙂

The atheist on the other hand must have faith that our current science is COMPLETELY WRONG! They are not following the science, but rejecting it in favour of some fairytale they hope will be shown in future to be true. All so they can believe in their presupposition that there is no God.

That is a leap of faith I am unwilling to take.

You could be dead tonight

On Tuesday night a car crashed outside our house. I was the first on the scene.

The driver had crashed a virtually brand new BMW convertible, doing at least 100kmh, into a concrete powerpole, snapping the powerpole and putting the lines into the hedge (cutting power to a very wide area). The car was a completely crumpled mess, even the wheels were shattered.

But when I arrived the driver was standing by the roadside flagging me down. She had only suffered a nasty cut to the head. The fact that she walked away is a miracle, the last two crashes on this stretch have been fatalities.

The car went sideways into the pole, hitting it just behind the drivers door. One foot further and the driver would have been dead instantly. Incidentally, despite it being such a snazzy car the airbags didn’t even go off – you can’t rely on safety mechanisms.

Remember, this earthly life is fleeting. One little slip (not necessarily by you), and you’re dead. The fact that you can even read this today is a blessing – don’t take it lightly.

If you were to die tonight, where would you go? Are you prepared to find out?

All you ever wanted to know about Christianity
Seven reasons you should not become a Christian (and one reason you should)