Tag Archives: Life

If unborn babies don’t have consciousness or don’t feel pain, may we kill them?

Was having a conversation by e-mail yesterday with a pro-abortion atheist, and he gave two reasons why he supported abortion in the first and second trimester. First, he said that unborn babies can’t feel pain, so it’s OK to kill them. Second, he said that unborn babies don’t have consciousness, so it’s OK to kill them. I thought it might be useful to link to something that answers both of these objections.

Frank Beckwith is the author of “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice“, which was published by Cambridge University Press, a top academic press. But before Cambridge University Press, Beckwith wrote four easy-to-understand essays for the Christian Research Journal. Part IV is the one that has the response to the two questions raised by my atheist friend.

Part I. The Appeal to Pity

Part II. Arguments from Pity, Tolerance, and Ad Hominem

Part III. Is The Unborn Human Less Than Human?

Part IV. When Does a Human Become a Person?

Excerpt:

Some ethicists argue that the unborn becomes fully human sometime after brain development has begun, when it becomes sentient: capable of experiencing sensations such as pain. The reason for choosing sentience as the criterion is that a being that cannot experience anything (i.e., a presentient unborn entity) cannot be harmed. Of course, if this position is correct, then the unborn becomes fully human probably during the second trimester and at least by the third trimester. Therefore, one does not violate anyone’s rights when one aborts a nonsentient unborn entity. [13]

There are several problems with this argument. First, it confuses harm with hurt and the experience of harm with the reality of harm. [14] One can be harmed without experiencing the hurt that sometimes follows from that harm, and which we often mistake for the harm itself. For example, a temporarily comatose person who is suffocated to death “experiences no harm,” but he is nevertheless harmed. Hence, one does not have to experience harm, which is sometimes manifested in hurt, in order to be truly harmed.

Second, if sentience is the criterion of full humanness, then the reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping would all have to be declared nonpersons. Like the presentient unborn, these individuals are all at the moment nonsentient though they have the natural inherent capacity to be sentient. Yet to countenance their executions would be morally reprehensible. Therefore, one cannot countenance the execution of some unborn entities simply because they are not currently sentient.

Someone may reply that while these objections make important points, there is a problem of false analogy in the second objection: the reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping once functioned as sentient beings, though they are now in a temporary state of nonsentience. The presentient unborn, on the other hand, were never sentient. Hence, one is fully human if one was sentient “in the past” and will probably become sentient again in the future, but this cannot be said of the presentient unborn.

There are at least three problems with this response. First, to claim that a person can be sentient, become nonsentient, and then return to sentience is to assume there is some underlying personal unity to this individual that enables us to say that the person who has returned to sentience is the same person who was sentient prior to becoming nonsentient. But this would mean that sentience is not a necessary condition for personhood. (Neither is it a sufficient condition, for that matter, since nonhuman animals are sentient.) Consequently, it does not make sense to say that a person comes into existence when sentience arises, but it does make sense to say that a fully human entity is a person who has the natural inherent capacity to give rise to sentience. A presentient unborn human entity does have this capacity. Therefore, an ordinary unborn human entity is a person, and hence, fully human.

Second, Ray points out that this attempt to exclude many of the unborn from the class of the fully human is “ad hoc and counterintuitive.” He asks us to “consider the treatment of comatose patients. We would not discriminate against one merely for rarely or never having been sentient in the past while another otherwise comparable patient had been sentient….In such cases, potential counts for everything.” [15]

Third, why should sentience “in the past” be the decisive factor in deciding whether an entity is fully human when the presentient human being “is one with a natural, inherent capacity for performing personal acts?” [16] Since we have already seen that one does not have to experience harm in order to be harmed, it seems more consistent with our moral sensibilities to assert that what makes it wrong to kill the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, the momentarily unconscious, and the presentient unborn is that they all possess the natural inherent capacity to perform personal acts. And what makes it morally right to kill plants and to pull the plug on the respirator-dependent brain dead, who were sentient “in the past,” is that their deaths cannot deprive them of their natural inherent capacity to function as persons, since they do not possess such a capacity.

These four essays are a very good introduction to common responses to pro-abortion arguments. I recommend that people get familiar with this, as once you look into it, you will see that the abortion issue can be debated with as much confidence as William Lane Craig defends Christian theism. You will have the same access to scientific evidence and rational arguments on this topic, and so you will have the upper hand. And that’s fun.

The best introductory book on the abortion / right to life issue is “The Case for Life” by pro-life debater Scott Klusendorf. The best comprehensive book is a tie between “The Ethics of Abortion” by Christopher Kaczor, and Frank Beckwith’s “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice“.

Stephen C. Meyer lectures on intelligent design and the origin of life

A MUST-SEE lecture based on Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s book “Signature in the Cell“. One of my favorite 6 arguments for a Creator and Designer is the origin of the simplest replicating living system. When you look into the cell, what you’ll find is carefully sequenced components that for complex structures, like proteins. In this lecture, you’ll learn all about this “biological information”.

I highly recommend watching the lecture, and looking at the slides. The quality of the video and the content is first class. There is some Q&A (9 minutes) at the end of the lecture.

Topics:

  • intelligent design is concerned with measuring the information-creating capabilities of natural forces like mutation and selection
  • Darwinists think that random mutations and natural selection can explain the origin and diversification of living systems
  • Darwinian mechanisms are capable of explaining small-scale adaptive changes within types of organisms
  • but there is skepticism, even among naturalists, that Darwinian mechanisms can explain the origin of animal designs
  • even if you concede that Darwinism can account for all of the basic animal body plans, there is still the problem of life’s origin
  • can Darwinian mechanisms explain the origin of the first life? Is there a good naturalistic hypothesis to explain it?
  • there are at least two places in the history of life where new information is needed: origin of life, and Cambrian explosion
  • overview of the structure of DNA and protein synthesis (he has helpful pictures and he uses the snap lock blocks, too)
  • the DNA molecule is composed of a sequence of bases that code for proteins, and the sequence is carefully selected to have biological function
  • meaningful sequences of things like computer code, English sentences, etc. require an adequate cause
  • it is very hard to arrive at a meaningful sequence of a non-trivial length by randomly picking symbols/letters
  • although any random sequence of letters is improbable, the vast majority of sequences are gibberish/non-compiling code
  • similarly, most random sequences of amino acids are lab-proven (Doug Axe’s work) to be non-functional gibberish
  • the research showing this was conducted at Cambridge University and published in the Journal of Molecular Biology
  • so, random mutation cannot explain the origin of the first living cell
  • however, even natural selection coupled with random mutation cannot explain the first living cell
  • there must already be replication in order for mutation and selection to work, so they can’t explain the first replicator
  • but the origin of life is the origin of the first replicator – there is no replication prior to the first replicator
  • the information in the first replicator cannot be explained by law, such as by chemical bonding affinities
  • the amino acids are attached like magnetic letters on a refrigerator
  • the magnetic force sticks the letters ON the fridge, but they don’t determine the specific sequence of the letters
  • if laws did determine the sequence of letters, then the sequences would be repetitive
  • the three materialist explanations – chance alone, chance and law, law alone – are not adequate to explain the effect
  • the best explanation is that an intelligent cause is responsible for the biological explanation in the first replicator
  • we know that intelligent causes can produce functional sequences of information, e.g. – English, Java code
  • the structure and design of DNA matches up nicely with the design patterns used by software engineers (like WK!)

There are some very good tips in this lecture so that you will be able to explain intelligent design to others in simple ways, using everyday household items and children’s toys to symbolize the amino acids, proteins, sugar phosphate backbones, etc.

Proteins are constructed from a sequence of amino acids:

A sequence of amino acids forming a protein
A sequence of amino acids forming a protein

Proteins sticking onto the double helix structure of DNA:

Some proteins sticking onto the sugar phosphate backbone
Some proteins sticking onto the sugar phosphate backbone

I highly, highly recommend this lecture. You will be delighted and you will learn something.

Here is an article that gives a general overview of how intelligent design challenges. If you want to read something more detailed about the material that he is covering in the lecture above related to the origin of life, there is a pretty good article here.

There is a good breakdown of some of the slides with helpful flow charts here on Uncommon Descent.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

What’s the best explanation for the origin of life for atheists?

I just ordered the newest edition of “The Mystery of Life’s Origin“, which is a classic book on the origin of life by pro-design authors. The new edition has several new chapters. It reminded me of my interest in the origin of life when I was a younger man, just starting full-time work with a hot Internet start-up in the big city.

Back then, I liked to listen to debates about the origin of life (e.g. – Walter Bradley versus Robert Shapiro, etc.), as well as lectures and interviews. I ordered tons of academic lectures and debates, especially from Access Research Network. Two of my favorite interviews from ARN featured Dr. Charles Thaxton and Dr. Dean Kenyon.

Let’s start with Charles Thaxton’s interview.

And here are the questions:

1. How did you first get interested in the origin of life?
2. How did you come to write The Mystery of Life’s Origin with Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen?
3. Was there an advantage to having the three of you collaborate on the project?
4. What is the primary argument of your book, The Mystery of Life’s Origin?
5. Have scientists come close to developing a plausible naturalistic explanation to the origin of life or do you still consider the origin of life to be a mystery?
6. Do you see a particular irony in the timing of Stanley Miller’s experiments and the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick?
7. How does the emergence of modern genetics tie in with the Darwinian scenario of life going from simple to complex?
8. What are the major problems with origin of life simulation experiments?
9. Isn’t it rather impressive that amino acids were produced in the Miller experiments?
10. How close is the development of amino acids to the threshold of life?
11. What are the steps involved in producing proteins from amino acids?
12. Why are amino acids isolated during this process?
13. How can the investigator affect the outcome of a simulation experiment?
14. How did you evaluate the different chemical evolution experiments?
15. Are the initial conditions in the simulation experiments plausible?
16. What did the earth’s early atmosphere contain?
17. Will the simulation experiments work with this atmosphere?
18. There seems to be an underlying assumption that the origin of life resulted without any intelligent input whatsoever yet the simulation experiments appear to rely upon intelligent guidance. Could you comment on this irony?
19. Are there any natural processes that would have filtered out destructive ultraviolet light?
20. What additional steps beyond creating amino acids would be required to develop life?
21. What is so difficult about making proteins or nucleic acids?
22. In addition to the energy problem in protein synthesis isn’t there a sequencing problem?
23. Are DNA sequences analogous to a written language?
24. Has Hubert Yockey made similar claims?
25. In The Mystery of Life’s Origin you refer to order, randomness, and specified complexity. Could you give us an overview of these concepts?
26. What do you think the presence of specified complexity in a living system indicates about its origin?
27. In inferring the necessity of intelligence to produce life haven’t you ventured from the realm of science to religion?
28. Could you summarize the reasons why you believe intelligence was involved in the origin of life?
29. What are the major objections to your current point of view?
30. How was The Mystery of Life’s Origin received by the scientific community?
31. What was Dean Kenyon’s response to your critiques of his book, Biochemical Predestination?
32. What was Dean Kenyon’s response to The Mystery of Life’s Origin?
33. Were you a bit apprehensive about meeting Kenyon after writing a book which was quite critical of his views in Biochemical Predestination?
34. Are self-organizational theories plausible?
35. Would you comment on the work done by Prigogine and Eigen?
36. What is your assessment of RNA scenarios?
37. What other problems do you see with an RNA world?

You can learn more about Charles Thaxton here.

And here’s the interview with Dean Kenyon:

And here are the questions:

1. What first interested you in biology and the origin of life? What is your academic background in this area?
2. What was your viewpoint on the origin of life when you wrote Biochemical Predestination?
3. How have your views on the origin of life changed since you wrote Biochemical Predestination?
4. Do many of your colleagues support your new position? If not, why not?
5. What are the general presuppositions that scientists make who study the origin of life?
6. What is the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis, and what role does it play in current research and teaching on the origin of life?
7. What are the major underlying assumptions of the Oparin (chemical evolution) hypothesis?
8. Are there any other important assumptions in origin of life theories?
9. How well are these assumptions supported by currently available scientific data?
10. What is your evaluation of the Miller type of simulation experiment? What do these experiments tell us about possible chemical events on the prebiotic Earth?
11. Is it possible that interfering cross-reactions might prevent life from arising naturalistically?
12. Stanley Miller’s pioneering work in the origin of life assumed a reducing atmosphere of methane, ammonia, water vapor, and carbon dioxide? Is there sufficient empirical support for this assumption?
15. How large a gap is there between the most complex “protocell” model and the simplest living cell?
16. What is the biologically relevant information content of the simplest living organism known to exist? What are estimates for a theoretical minimum information content of the first living cell?
17. How probable is it that such complexity could arise by undirected chemical processes?
19. What are the major unsolved problems in research on the origin of life?
20. What is the relevance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the origin of life?
21. Is it plausible that an “RNA world” was the precursor of the first living cells?
25. If life did not originate by chemical evolution on the primitive Earth, what other possible scientific explanations exist?
26. What do you mean by your statement that “perhaps scientism is more widespread than we like to think”?
27. Is it possible that natural processes are insufficient to account for the origin of all biological information?
28. Can science rule out the possibility that most biological information had an intelligent cause?
29. What alternatives are there to pursuing purely naturalistic explanations for the origin of life?
30. What do you mean by “intelligent design” as it relates to the origin of life?
31. Why is an intelligent design or creationist interpretation of scientific data bearing on origins not acceptable to many scientists?
32. What criteria could be used to determine if the information content of living organisms had an intelligent or natural cause?
34. Does academic freedom allow you to discuss the difficulties of scientific naturalism and origin of life theories? If not, why are they protected from criticism?
35. How should the origin of life be taught in light of the California Science Framework policy which states that “nothing in science or in any other field of knowledge shall be taught dogmatically”?
36. How is scientific progress impacted when critiques of current theories are suppressed?

You can learn more about Dean Kenyon here.

The challenge for naturalists posed by the origin of life makes it well worth your time to learn and understand. I used to explain this argument to my entire IT department on white boards when I was a young man. It’s fascinating, and more convincing than personal testimonies or abstract philosophical arguments. Although I read books on the origin of life, I learned how to present the information as an argument by watching the interviews above over and over.

People sometimes ask me how I was able to survive 22 years in IT with my theism intact. It turns out that there are no shortcuts to a theistic worldview. You have to support it with evidence. You have to be able to show your work about how you reached your conclusions. I’m a theist today because I never found a single atheist in any software development job who could even begin to challenge the evidence that I collected from listening to all those lectures and debates that I started from in my early 20s. It was as easy to defeat them as taking candy from a baby.

If only Christian parents and Christian leaders understood the importance of scientific facts when they talk to young people about Christianity. We need to be less worried about hurting the feelings of young people by making them “feel dumb”. Christianity isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s not a bad thing to ask people to work hard at learning how to rationally ground it with evidence. If we want to stop our young people from being lazy, ignorant and cowardly, then the right way to do it is to make them work. Make them learn. Make them fight.