A human being, from the point of conception

Matthew Warner has a great post over at FallibleBlogma.com outlining the scientific basis of the origin of life. Quite frankly, it’s disappointing that it needs repeating, but some people just don’t want to believe it.

“It’s just a clump of cells.” Mmm… yes, as we all are. But, that there’s a unique human life, a new organism, from the moment of conception is not a matter of debate for any man or woman of science.

“That is, in human reproduction, when sperm joins ovum, these two individual cells cease to be, and their union generates a new and distinct organism. This organism is a whole, though in the beginning developmentally immature, member of the human species. Readers need not take our word for this: They can consult any of the standard human-embryology texts, such as Moore and Persaud’s The Developing Human, Larsen’s Human Embryology, Carlson’s Human Embryology & Developmental Biology, and O’Rahilly and Mueller’s Human Embryology & Teratology.” – Dr. Robert George

Then, this is where the twist usually comes.

At this point in the debate, some try and introduce a separate distinction and question of “personhood.” Aside from this usually being a convoluted way to try and create classes of human beings and that it doesn’t hold up to any consistently logical scrutiny, it’s also not at all a scientific argument. It’s a philosophical one. So it is totally irrelevant to the scientific question of when human life begins.

How often do pro-choicers change the topic mid-debate? It’s important to separate the science from the philosophy. Scientifically speaking, there is no distinction between a human being and a human person.

It’s sad that this needs repeating, but Matthew does a great job of repeating it.

Blaise Alleyne (0T9) completed a B. Sc. with a major in computer science, and minors in English and philosophy. He is currently in the Masters of Theology Studies program at Regis College at the University of Toronto. Blaise has been involved with UTSFL since becoming a member in 2005.

Posted in Abortion, Cloning, Stem Cells Tagged with: , ,
14 comments on “A human being, from the point of conception
  1. The Arbourist says:

    “Scientifically speaking, there is no distinction between a human being and a human person”

    is like saying…

    There is no difference between an acorn and an oak tree.

    Do continue with the scientific facts though.

    • Are we seriously having this conversation?

      A human being is an organism. A person is a social, legal, ethical, construct. A human person is a human being that is also a person (just in case you didn’t get that).

      Your acorn and oak tree analogy doesn’t last more than a second of scrutiny. An acorn ceases to be an acorn when it becomes an oak tree. The two things are mutually exclusive. However, I think everyone agrees that a human person is always a human being. The disagreement is just over whether a human being is always a human person.

      In other words, the acorn / oak tree example isn’t even analogous on a basic level. Do you believe that human beings and human persons are mutually exclusive categories? If not… then what are you talking about?

      A sound analogy between oak trees and humans would be to say that an acorn is to an oak tree as the sperm/ovum is to a human being.

      There’s no distinction between a human being and a human person in science. Ethics may attempt to make such distinctions, but those distinctions aren’t scientific. They’re philosophical. Is that hard to understand?

      By the way, poorly paraphrasing unexamined and tired old arguments isn’t very scientific either.

      • The Arbourist says:

        What in essence you are trying to say is that science says a blastocyst, fetus etc are human beings. I disagree. A zygote, a blastocyst, a conceptum is certainly human. But saying that “science says” that it is a human being is being dishonest with the meaning of human being.

        -human being

        1. any individual of the genus Homo, esp. a member of the species Homo sapiens.

        The fetus is clearly human, but should not be conflated with the sense of a separate autonomous individual.

        • Is “autonomous” a scientific term, or a philosophical term?

          I’m not sure whether you’re disagreeing with basic grade 10 biology, or just confusing semantics (e.g. are you trying to distinguish between a “human” and a “human being”?).

          A human fetus is an individual human organism. That’s why I said “human being” (i.e. “any individual of the genus Homo, especially… Homo sapiens”). A human organism is a human being.

          Even the definition you quote makes no qualification that human beings must be “separate” or “autonomous.”

          I feel like you haven’t read my post, or more importantly, the one I linked to. You’re making the precise error highlighted.

          You’re taking a scientific concept — membership in the genus Homo sapiens — and then putting non-scientific qualifications on the concept. You’re masking a philosophical argument as a scientific one.

          The human fetus is an individual of the genus Homo sapien. We can make ethical arguments beyond that scientific assertion of whether or not that even matters, or whether we ought to be able to mutilate and destroy the fetus, but we are moving beyond scientific arguments into philosophy and ethics.
          I welcome the conversation shift, but let’s not pretend it’s science we’re debating.

  2. The Arbourist says:

    The problem here lies that science does not takes sides in philosophical debates such as abortion. Now there are textbooks in embryology that define as you say life begins at conception. There are others that do not or at least admit that there is no agreed upon point (http://8e.devbio.com/article.php?id=162). There are other objections raised as well consider the argumentation here (http://deadwildroses.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/repost-inconsistancy-in-the-life-begins-at-conception-argument/) that life does not begin when you claim “science says” it does.

    I would submit that science does not yet say conclusively when life begins. Nor would I say in my arguments that science says ‘x’ until there is consensus on the validity of that fact.

    If the claim is true then of life begins at conception then there are a few more things to consider if one wishes to remain consistent in one’s views – http://deadwildroses.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/abortion-an-argument-from-self-ownership-part-ii/

    • “The problem here lies that science does not takes sides in philosophical debates such as abortion.”

      We’re in agreement here. My point is that this is a philosophical debate, not a scientific one.

      Except… the links you provided muddle the philosophical, historical and social questions with the science. The Developmental Biology texts rambles on about the historical context and the complex association with the philosophical question of abortion, etc… Why would it matter, for the purposes of science, to know what the ancient Greeks believed, when they didn’t have the medical technology and knowledge that we do today? Why would you need to survey opinions from before ultrasounds, knowledge about DNA, etc…? And regarding the complex philosophical associations with the abortion question, I thought you just said that “science does not take sides in philosophical debates such as abortion?”

      What’s clear is that conception brings about a unique human life, an individual of the genus Homo Sapiens.

      To say that science doesn’t know conclusively when life begins puts you among the company of creationists. It’s as if embryology is just a theory.

      And not many people agree with you.

      The longest reigning president of Planned Parenthood, Faye Wattleton, says:

      I think we have deluded ourselves into believing that people don’t know that abortion is killing. So any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus.

      There are a ton of similar admissions on the same page from ardent abortion supporters.

      You are in a very small minority if you think that we don’t know when life begins.

      Whether or not it’s okay, under some circumstances, to kill human beings, is certainly a question of philosophical debate (i.e. are all human beings persons?). But it’s either ignorant or intellectually dishonest to pretend that we’re dealing with something other than a unique human life in the case of abortion.

    • Regarding being consistent, there’s a reason that a miscarriage is a tragedy. What I find inconsistent is people who believe that a miscarriage is only a tragedy if the child is a “wanted” child, that the desires of an another individual determines the worth of a human being.

      I don’t see the inconsistencies.

  3. Glen Rhulani Nkuna says:

    In my own research, i have find out from different sources, especially ancient religious sources, that human kind are descendeds of either serpent or dragon. Its been said that we human creatures were created by other extra-terrestrail being from other planets. These extra-terrestrail or reptilians beings landed on earth in Africa in search for gold, the reason they searched for gold is because their planet which is called planet X or Nibiru was in great danger from the solar system. So they needed more gold to reflect the harmful sun rays away from their planet. What did they do to dig more gold? Eversince it was only a few of these reptilians that landed on earth, they decided to intergrade or sexual intercourse with earth creatures such as animals. The combination of an extra-terrestrail beings from Planet Nibiru and earthly beings(animals such as dinosours) resulted into a homo-sepien being. These homo-sepien being is said to be the origins of a human being and this being was enslaved to dig gold for the reptilians to be taken back to save their planet Nibiru. Through climate, invironmental metamorphisis and migration these homo-sepiens became what we call Grimaldi man originally an african man and further migration created what we call Cro-magmon man and later called caucasian. For more information please read on Credo Mutwa or Zacharia Sechin or study the ancient Gobon people history or Aboriginal and Kemet history. Know thyself PEACE!

  4. mannix fortz says:

    Hi Blaise, thanks for the very clear explaination about the beginning of life. Am still a student of this fact that I know in my heart is true, although am still searching for more. Am happy I encountered this link and was able to learn more. Again, thank you very much! By by the way, you can add me to your fb if you have. My user’s name is mannix fortz. God bless you and family!

  5. Conrad says:

    Define: point of conception of all beings

  6. TIM says:

    I don’t think most informed pro-choice advocates argue the science describing when human life begins. The biological evidence is conclusive, i.e., that human life begins at conception. The issue, rather, is that of the right to life. It is asserted, for example, that the right to life of a zygote is intrinsically of lesser value than that of the fully developed fetus. Of course, this is a philosophical assertion, but it is based on what science tells us about the biological development of the fertilized egg over roughly nine months.

    • No, the most informed and intellectually consistent pro-abortion advocates don’t argue against the science. But, to be intellectually consistent, advocates like Peter Singer follow that through to the logical conclusion and argue in favour of infanticide too. If the value we assign to human beings, with respect to their right to life, increases gradually as they get older, why should we fully value newborns or infants? There’s an intellectually consistent position that doesn’t attack the science, but it’s not particularly appealing.

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