Archive for September, 2009
The inevitable questions and concerns of nuclear proliferation that haunted us in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, thus sending American forces hurling toward Iraq after sanctions broke down, now has us knocking at the doors of Iran, which I must say, is led by a nuttier bunch than even Saddam Hussein’s nutty bunch.
President Barack Obama at a recent U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday and throughout his campaign and young administration have made it clear that one goal is to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon capabilities. In a tactful display (sarcasm), given the rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear intentions, the country recently test-fired long range missiles with
sufficient range to strike Israel, parts of Europe and American bases in the Persian Gulf. — The New York Times, Sept. 28, “Iran Conducts New Tests of Mid-Range Missiles”
According to The Times article, an Iranian Foreign Ministry official said the tests had been planned for awhile and were not associated with, precipitated by or linked to the sanctions dispute. Maybe not, but they, perhaps, came at the very worst time.
In an interesting and provocative Newsweek article titled, “Why Obama Should Learn to Love the Bomb,” from Aug. 29, the writer makes the case that the existence of nuclear bombs, even in the hands of dictators, makes the world a safer place because no one in their right mind is going to actually use “the bomb” to wipe out a large expanse of people, citing the logical point that such action would likely bring about the destruction, not just of entire countries, but perhaps, life as we know it. Here’s the basic case:
The argument that nuclear weapons can be agents of peace as well as destruction rests on two deceptively simple observations. First, nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945. Second, there’s never been a nuclear, or even a nonnuclear, war between two states that possess them. Just stop for a second and think about that: it’s hard to overstate how remarkable it is, especially given the singular viciousness of the 20th century. As Kenneth Waltz, the leading “nuclear optimist” and a professor emeritus of political science at UC Berkeley puts it, “We now have 64 years of experience since Hiroshima. It’s striking and against all historical precedent that for that substantial period, there has not been any war among nuclear states.
Striking indeed. What also strikes me here is that for all of our (i.e. Americans’) worries about nuclear proliferation around the world and nukes in the possession of dangerous men, this country was the last to use one, with fantastic, yet tragic, results. It’s quite hypocritical of us, couldn’t one say, that we today now claim to be the bastion of peace and freedom, yet we were the last to use this nearly godlike (godless?) device of mass annihilation?
That said, while I want to agree with the Newsweek writer, I don’t know that I can. Though, while it’s true that, in the nuclear age, that cataclysmic event has happened only once, I’m not sure that all world leaders, even the evil ones, are made of the same stuff. The Newsweek article cites Hitler and Stalin:
… you need to start by recognizing that all states are rational on some basic level [I'm not sure that we do]. Their leaders may be stupid, petty, venal, even evil, but they tend to do things only when they’re pretty sure they can get away with them. Take war: a country will start a fight only when it’s almost certain it can get what it wants at an acceptable price. Not even Hitler or Saddam waged wars they didn’t think they could win.
To understand why—and why the next 64 years are likely to play out the same way [with no nukes]—you need to start by recognizing that all states are rational on some basic level. Their leaders may be stupid, petty, venal, even evil, but they tend to do things only when they’re pretty sure they can get away with them. Take war: a country will start a fight only when it’s almost certain it can get what it wants at an acceptable price. Not even Hitler or Saddam waged wars they didn’t think they could win. (italics mine)
Hitler and Stalin had some rational sides to their nature. Hitler, at least, was deluded, no doubt, but he was certainly not a religious fanatic in parallel to the 9/11 hijackers.
Islam, however, the religious that runs things in Iran, a clear theocracy, has a much stronger, and dare I say, deathlike grip over its believers than other major religions, at least in these modern times. This is where I must differ with the points made in the Newsweek article. Indeed, world leaders, even those like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who, if he held the bomb would, perhaps, not be a threat because Mugabe, for all his flaws, is probably a rational person in his own self-ingratiating way and would understand the dire consequences of using the weapon. It would be behoove him and his empire not to use it. This holds true for Hitler and Stalin.
But turning over nuclear usage to true believers who live by statements in the Koran like:
We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. — Koran, 3:149-151
is another game altogether. Sam Harris in his book, “The End of Faith,” speaks at length on Islam. Indeed, if any religion wants to bring about the utter annihilation of everything, it’s this faith. And I will not draw a distinction between moderate believers and “fundamentalists,” as George W. Bush did, because we only have to cite what the Koran actually says to find out its means to a consequential end. For even a cursory reading of the Koran reveals bloodletting of the highest order:
God will humiliate the transgressors and mete out to them a grievous punishment for their scheming (6:121-125). If God wills to guide a man, He opens his bosom to Islam. But if he pleased to confound him, He makes his bosom small and narrow as though he were climbing up to heaven. Thus shall God lay the scourge on the unbelievers (6:125)
So, these folks, namely those who take the Koran as literal truth (I realize that many Muslims are peaceful people), namely the leadership of Iran and who maintain a long-spent theocracy there, long, hope for, a global, total Islamist state. Short of that, I’m sure many of them would have no problem, and indeed be gleeful, for the chance to sacrifice or quicken their deaths to see that they spend eternity in their fanciful heaven and with their 70-something virgins. Again, the Newsweek article:
Nuclear weapons change all that (the costs of conventional warfare) by making the costs of war obvious, inevitable, and unacceptable. Suddenly, when both sides have the ability to turn the other to ashes with the push of a button—and everybody knows it—the basic math shifts.
Yes, the “basic math” does shift when you are dealing with rational leaders (even evil leaders can be rational), but when you introduce the religious variable, the math changes. I’m not sure that we, or Obama, “should learn to love the bomb” regarding those who lead theocracies because those who work toward a jihad actively seek the utter destruction of unbelievers. It seems to me that nuclear proliferation would play directly into their hands.
In a monumental discovery, scientists have found water molecules on the surface of the moon. We aren’t talking lakes or even puddles (that would be ridiculous and would have been discovered long before now if they existed on the moon), but these are mere molecules of H2O, but the amount of water that exists there was also a surprise. This is, indeed, a big deal because the moon was before now thought to be barren and bone dry. Here are a couple pictures, showing how the water is concentrated on the moon’s higher elevations at the poles:
Time will tell if any other planets, say Mars, contains liquid water (a necessary component for life), but rovers have found ice on the red planet and suspect water may reside below the surface (as it seeps up, it freezes).
This raises an interesting question. Since the discovery of water is so important to finding primordial, or simple, life on other planets (and we clearly have found water on Mars, and now the Moon), if we discovered, say, a single-celled organism or a very simple multi-celled organism on another planet (many scientists now believe that we are quite likely not alone in the cosmos), I ask: what would that do to the accepted Judeo-Christian doctrine that we are the central planet in the known universe and are uniquely created? Would it blow holes in creationism? Would it diminish the accepted axioms of creationism or not? I’m curious to know.
So, I’ve been thinking lately about the ongoing debate over the Bible’s 10 Commandments. To address this issue at all, one must first specify which 10 Commandment is the correct one, Exodus 20:2–17, Deuteronomy 5:6–21 or the Exodus 34:11–27.
For a set of laws seemingly so important to the precepts of Judeo-Christian belief, one would think that there would be one, and only one, version of the heralded Commandments, but no dice. Through translations and edit after edit, we have three. Admittedly, the versions from Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are largely similar, but they begin to differ at verse 14 of the latter version of the commandments.
So, before I offer my own, let’s review the commonly accepted 10, as this site has:
1. ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’
2. ’You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’
3. ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.’
4. ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’
5. ‘Honor your father and your mother.’
6. ’You shall not murder.’
7. ’You shall not commit adultery.’
8. ’You shall not steal.’
9. ’You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’
10. ’You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.’
I agree with No. 5 to a degree, unless the said father and mother are reprehensible, abusive people, and I also agree with Nos. 6, 8 and 9.
The other commandments can either be combined or dismissed. Nos. 1-3 can be lumped together because they all speak of God attempting to retain or hold of power over his “creation.” No. 4 was disavowed by Christ himself. No. 7, though certainly disagreeable and not preferred, should not be punishable by eternal fire (seems like overkill), for there are civil cases where, although one is technically married, one may also be technically separated from someone for a very long time, abdicating the said persons from the commitment presented in the marriage vows. Regardless, although it’s usually the case that adultery is not the best course of action, it’s certainly not on par with rape or murder.
No. 10 is stickier. While someone probably shouldn’t lust after other folks’ property or wives, etc., ambition is probably a good thing to the betterment of individuals in raising families and making ends meet. Given the localized nature of this particular commandment, the verse sets it rightly, not in some spiritual realm, but in Bronze Age Palestine, where one, indeed, has an interest in achieving a better means.
Also, not-so-mysteriously absent from this list is rape and slavery. Perhaps they are absent because the commandments are speaking only to other Jews in the very small and clanish world of the Palestine at the time. In other words, the commandment “Do not murder” means “Do not murder Jews,” not, “Do not murder anyone on the planet.” Thus, maybe it’s not so odd that rape and slavery didn’t make the Top 10, since, at least enslavement among fellow Jews wasn’t as prominent as enslavement by Jews of people from other lands. Given the ugly episode of Lot and his two daughters, Judges 21:10-24 and many other passages, rape and incest seemed to be par for the course in the bible. Thus, it’s absent from the main list as well.
All this being said, if the 10 Commandments were truly offered by God himself, one of the few passages in the Bible claiming direct, direct, authorship, they should be some of the most profound words ever read by man.
They should surpass any of meager literary offerings of Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, Donn, Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Eliot and many others.
But they do not. Thus, if I may be so humble, let me offer my own rules for living (I will not be so brutish as to call them commandments). These, which differ significantly in simplicity from some others that have been proposed, are presented in order of most important to least. Also, I don’t see what is so important about the number 10. Indeed, if it was symbolism the biblical authors were after, it would have made more sense to have the 7 commandments (Or, perhaps 12 for the 12 tribes of Israel), rather than 10. My first “rule” really takes care of most of the rest, but for the necessity of having a list in the first place, I’ll expand mine. I only need 8, and they are as follows:
- Thou shalt treat all human beings as equals, irrespective of race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation or creed;
- Thou shalt not murder;
- Thou shalt not enslave other human beings;
- Thou shalt not commit rape;
- Thou shalt not abuse children, mentally, physically or sexually;
- Thou shalt not steal or damage others’ property;
- Thou shalt not commit perjury; and
- Thou shalt not commit extortion.
I rest my case.
I was deeply saddened this week by the story of a particular person, I will call her Mary (A name often joined with this woman’s real name), whom I corresponded with briefly on a forum I frequent. Mary, who was once, I presume, evangelical herself, is married to an equally evangelical man. Mary’s husband recently caught her perusing a book on evolution, which raised his suspicions (Heaven forbid anyone try to learn any real, non-fanciful discoveries about the world!).
Anyway, on Friday, Mary’s evangelical husband texted her asking if she was doubting (meaning, doubting God) and that if she was, in Mary’s words, “it would lower his opinion of me and that he would probably want a divorce.” He wrote this, coldy, in a text message.
Mary later wrote:
We messaged back and forth and I admitted my doubts and I sent him a letter explaining the changes in my beliefs.
My husband just called me on the phone and said basically the same thing, “If I’d have known that you weren’t going to believe I never would have married you.”
Then he said, “I love you but you’re a different person now and you’ve been lying to me about who you are. I don’t respect you anymore. I don’t feel I can trust you with the kids. What attracted me to you was your faith in God and now I’m not attracted to you anymore. You might as well have slept with somebody else because you broke my heart today.”
I’m shattered and speechless. What am I going to do?
Presumably, as a fellow reader said, something must have attracted this person to Mary other than her belief in God. Her smile. Her smarts. Her quick wits. Something. But the hurtful words: ”What attracted me to you was your faith in God and now I’m not attracted to you anymore.” fills me with despair, and filled Mary with the words “shattered and speechless.” Such is the power of religion to destroy relationships and most everything else, as one commenter noted, including, specifically:
honesty, respect, love for one’s neighbor, patience, the search for truth, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, and every other fruit of the Holy Spirit.
One sympathetic poster referenced I Corinthians 7:13-16, and it is, indeed, poignant :
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. F18 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how F19 knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
If her faith in God truly attracted this person to Mary, then why didn’t he bypass this woman and marry God, one can’t help but ask?
Continuing with this series (Initiated by this post by a fellow blogger), I will now take on the subject of gay marriage and attempt to look at this issue from a constitutional, or in the absence of that, legal process. (My previous two discussions on the topic are here and here.)
Four states, Vermont, Massachusetts, Iowa (not exactly a bastion of progressive thought) and Connecticut, have legalized gay sex marriage. Washington, D.C., and New York recognize the civil union, but marriages are not performed there. The issue will go up for vote in Maine in November. Such marriages were legal in California in a period in 2008, but the infamous Proposition 8 was defeated by voters in November of that same year.
For a fairly detailed review of the issue in recent years, this page might be useful.
Gay marriage supporters — I probably shouldn’t use the nebulous word “supporters” because that could also mean straight people who support gay rights — rather, gays themselves, cite the Fourteenth Amendment to the constitution and, specifically, Loving v. Virginia. This U.S. Supreme Court case essentially said that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law was unconstitutional and that, indeed, whites and blacks had the right to have interracial sex. The case stemmed from the arrest of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, who were apparently married in Washington, D.C., but then returned to their home in Virginia. Police busted into their home, you guessed it, midway through the miscegenation. Gays and supporters cite these words from the highest court in the land: Marriage is one of the
basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival …
The Fourteenth Amendment Section 1 often cited by supporters is as follows:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The key bit here would be: “nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
As it stands, and as we’ve seen, the federal government has left the decision up the voters of individual states as to whether to allow gay marriage or not. Of course, tax and other benefits exist for straight couples that are often not afforded gay couples because the latter groups reside in states that have yet to adopt laws about gay marriage. And I get the hint that, for gay couples, this issue is about more than just tax benefits. I get the sense that it’s about recognition of their — I will not say “lifestyles” — their sexuality and humanness. I’ve implied (here and here) that if gayness is innate (and it is), the religious crowd, anti-gayness’ staunchest opponents, have a lot of explaining to do about their religious texts. I say “texts” because I’m not just talking about the Hebrew Bible. For, religious reasons are probably the predominant snag keeping gay marriage from being legalized across the country, despite the fact that marriage is a civil union.
As a side note, arguments asserting that gay marriage erodes the concept of “family”or further sends America into a moral spiral downward, as was claimed by Pat Robertson in May, are not discussed here because they are conjecture and have nothing to do with the legality of said civil unions.
Newsweek in the Sept. 14 edition featured a piece on the protests that Iran’s leaders may face — and subsequent crackdowns by the government — as that country’s liberal sector gets back to the books. Here’s the online version of the story. Classes begin this month, and as the article notes,
Throughout history, universities from Beijing to Berkeley have served as petri dishes for dissent, and with classes beginning this month in Iran, a widespread crackdown is likely. — Newsweek, Sept. 14
Supreme Leader Ayatolla Ali Khameini with his police and Basij will likely level more crackdowns against academia there. For a man in which little makes sense, this, at least, does, given that the university, even in a backward theocracy like Iran, is the one bastion of enlightened ideas surrounded by very, very dim minds and presents a threat to his holy power. Here’s what the enlightened Khameini said to a gathering of university professors earlier this month:
… many of the liberal arts and humanities are based on philosophies whose foundations are materialism (and can potentially) lead to the loss of belief in godly and Islamic knowledge.
You don’t say? We can only hope such loss is, indeed, the result because there isn’t much “knowledge” worth anything in Islam at all. We have a violent, cobbled together text mostly plagarized from the Bible, which calls its followers to, not live and let live, but actively engage in a push back against the rest of us non-Islam believers. By the way, every single Jew or Christian reading this is an “atheist” to the millions following Islam, and so they are to you. Further, they believe in their cobbled together religious texts more fervently than most in America, which is even more disturbing given the fact that it was put together long after the Bible.
One positive might be, for instance, that, perhaps if radical Muslims were less bent on the destruction of everyone who doesn’t believe as they do and if they didn’t believe in setting up a global Islamic state, or a jihad, that Iran eventually could develop as a center of learning like Turkey. But this isn’t reality at the moment, and we are a long way from all that. In Khameini’s version of reality, we should simply keep the lights dim and keep the bright bulb of progressivism far from those primitive, blood-soaked lands.
Returning to matters of religion and science, I’ve been listening to scientist Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion” audio book, and he, like other authors, who have taken up the subject of God, visited the ideas of irreducible complexity and the anthropic principle. I’ll take both one at the time.
They are both interesting and quite detrimental to the idea of a creator. Creationists argue from the irreducible complexity stance that we can point to certain body parts, like eyes or wings, as irreducibly complex, meaning that they would be useless organs if they were missing parts. Essentially, that they are uniquely perfect in their whole form and would serve no purpose if any of the parts were not there.
Apologists argue that since eyes, wings and other examples would be useless in such unwhole states, thus providing supposed evidence that a creator must have brought these elements into being. They also argue that the theory of natural selection breaks down. Natural selection posits that life evolves, not randomly or by chance, but by an intricate process that, over time, roots out the unfit elements in body parts and species, in favor of those parts that support survival of given species. Natural selection, then, according to some apologists, is invalid because we can find examples of organs or body parts that are complete in and of themselves and are useless without existing as a whole.
Charles Darwin, himself, even said that the “eye … could have been formed by natural selection seems, I fully confess, absurd in the highest degree,” which Dawkins noted that Darwin’s statement was a rhetorical device, not an admission that the eye was irreducibly complex. Dawkins notes that “a cataract patient with the lens of her eye surgically removed cannot see clear images without glasses but can see enough not to bump into a tree or fall over a cliff.” Flat worms have a “blurred and dim image, compared to ours” and have something less than half of human eyes. The cephalopod nautilus has an intermediate eye between flatworm and human.
It would be spurious precision to put numbers on the improvement, but nobody could sanely deny that these invertebrate eyes and many are all better than no eye at all.
Now, turning to the anthropic principle, has anyone reading this ever wondered about the probability of a world like ours forming that was perfect for the development of life? Surely so. But probably so, also, there is another world, yet undiscovered, possibly undiscoverable, that also houses life. It blows my mind, and it should yours, the sheer number of, not only planets, but galaxies in our universe. Not only that, but some scientists suggest that we are part of something called a multiverse, a group of universes, which in themselves, contain billions of galaxies, and dare I say, trillions of planets.
According to Dawkins, which is also according to astrophysicts, our galaxy contains between one billion and 30 billion planets. Moreoever, our universe contains about 100 billion galaxies. Take the irrefutable low number here. We don’t need 30 billion. Just take one billion: what would it mean to believe that a creator has fashioned this planet uniquely and ignored the others among a pool of one billion planets?
Did he fashion any others? Did life develop on any others naturally? It’s possible. The sheer number of planets in the universe suggests that we might not be alone, and further, that we might not be so unique after all. It also raises the probability, incredibly, that life on this planet was formed naturally. Dawkins, here, takes the estimation of a billion billion planets in the universe:
Knocking a few noughts off for reasons of ordinary prudence, a billion billion is a conservative estimate of the number of available planets in the universe. Now, suppose the origin of life, the spontaneous arising of something equivalent to DNA really was a quite staggeringly improbable event. Suppose it was so improbable as to occur on only one in a billion planets.
A grant-giving body would laugh at any chemist who admitted that the chance of his proposed research succeeding was only one in 100, but here, we are talking about odds of one in a billion, and yet even with such absurdly long odds, life will still have arisen on a billion planets of which Earth, of course, is one.
This conclusion is so surprising, I’ll say it again. If the odds of life originating spontaneously on a planet were a billion to one against, nevertheless, that stupifyingly improbable event would still happen on a billion planets (my emphasis). — “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins
This conclusion was so stunning that I have rewinded numerous times. Apologists, of course, simply ignore talk that the planet is millions of years old and the universe billions. They also ignore more irrefutable evidence that we now know that “things” existed well before God’s supposed creation of all things 6,000 years ago, including the domestication of dogs and humans.
But now turning to God. What would it mean to believe that a creator put this whole cosmic slideshow into action? What would it mean that he was the creator of all things, living and non. It would mean that he would have to be incredibly complex, not simple, and as Dawkins states, irreducibly complex:
Even though generally irreducible complexity would wreck Darwin’s theory, if it were ever found, who’s to say it wouldn’t wreck the intelligent design theory as well? Indeed, it already has wrecked the intelligent design theory. For, as I keep saying and will say again, however little we know about God, the one thing we can be sure of is that he would have to be very, very complex, and presumably irreducably so. — “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins
Thus, if we assume a creator, we get ourselves into an infinite regress, which eventually begs the question: Who created this extremely complex creator? He was always there, you say? Did he create himself? How could he possibly just always be there ad infinitem given his apparently complex attributes? Because he’s a god? That explains nothing. If he is actually active in our universe and in our dimension, does he supercede the natural laws that govern them? How can he supercede them? Because he’s god? That’s just a statement that means nothing. Simply stating that Poseideon or Zeus or Allah or Yahweh are gods does not make it so, nor does it ascribe to them attributes which trespass on natural laws that govern the world.
The Bible, of course, begins on this assumption, and moves forward on a pre-known set of events that, if God really loved us, he would have stopped the whole stupifying process from the time Adam and Eve first tasted of the fruit and stopped the entire bloody, hellbent affair that will lead millions of his creation to fire and brimstone. But no, he persisted and allowed thousands of years of suffering in the name of, and because of, religion. Moreover, he sat by idly amid tens of thousands of years of early human suffering and clambering toward enlightenment they would never know. He watched it all with folded arms, and then, from the Christian view, finally decided to intervene about 2,000 years ago in illiterate, Bronze Age Palestine, not in China or other parts, where folks could actually read. A fine place to begin a new religion, indeed.
After a short layoff, let me continue to address the interesting question posed by this blogger about the role of government in the various issues of the day. Here, I will take abortion.
This issue touches on one important irony in political thinking in America. While the Democrats have long been proponents of professionally performed abortion, at least to some degree, since the landmark Roe vs. Wade case, Republicans have largely been against it, no matter if it’s days right after conception or into the third trimester. The irony, of course, is that many Republicans play the small government card when speaking on certain issues (gun control, deregulation of banks, for examples) and the large government card on social issues, like abortion and gay rights. So, which is it? Is the Republican Party generally for less government or not?
But back on point, the Constitution, obviously, has nothing to say specifically on abortion, but as it turns out, James Wilson, one of the founders said, if but briefly:
With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb. By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and, in some cases, from every degree of danger. — “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals”
The hinge word in the above quote would be “stir,” which is was likely pulled directly from English common law of the same time. Do embryos “stir.” I don’t think so. Wilson probably meant before the mother began feeling signs the baby was moving inside. The English government allowed abortions for a time during this period before the embryo “quickened,” which I take to mean before it ceased being a clump of cells and began taking on a human form in the womb. Or, perhaps, this definition was similar to Wilson’s. Eighteenth-century folk, steeped in centuries of religious tradition and an infantile scientific one, had no better way to tell when embyros began taking on more humanlike forms, other than when the mother started to feel it.
So, three periods of pregnancies, not available to our founders, must be addressed when looking at this issue: early-term abortions (months one-three), mid-term (months four-six) and late-term (months six-nine).
Of the first term, there’s no doubt that the fetus begins to develop human-like traits well into the first period. But in the first days, when women usually find out they are pregnant and realize they either can’t afford a child, or another one, they hopefully decide to seek medical care at that point if they don’t want to, or can’t, go through with the process. At this point in the pregnancy, early in the first term, you are talking about aborting a group of cells. A three-day old embryo is a blastocyte consisting of 150 cells that, indeed, are more than 100,000 cells fewer than what is contained in just the brain of a fly. Do human blastocysts have brains or souls? Can they feel pain? No. The moment of conception is not the point at which a group of cells (which of the 150 cells would the soul belong to?) receives a soul, if those exist, despite what some have been told or believe. As Sam Harris rightly notes, when you scratch your head, you just laid to waste a thousands of potential cells that could have produced life, just like the blastocyst.
(As a side note, opponents of stem cell research have done much harm in their stupified and unlearned attempts to stifle research of this kind, which could help those suffering today and now be alleviated from symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, diabetes and a host of others. It’s egregious and immoral that some often favor the well-being of undifferentiated cells to actual living, breathing, suffering human beings.)
It’s usually not until the second month when this group of cells begin forming something resembling hands and a bodily form. It can be argued that embryos become “human” when they develop a brain (or maybe a heart in the second trimester). That’s fair. But in these last two developmental stages, abortion remains a viable option in the case of rape or likely malformation. I don’t know that I would go further than that, however. An abortion in the second or third trimesters purely for convenience, I believe I would stand against, without contemplating the thought of whether or not there was a soul in the child, and citing ethical responsibility on the part of the parents.
The abortion question also begs another: What about miscarriages? Miscarriages present another problem, at least from arguments of faith. If God is in complete control, he has the distinct power to “bless” the parents with a healthy birth, and he also has the power to see that the baby is born healthy, or not. He also has the power to govern over the entire delivery process. It’s plain as day: if God hasn’t this power, and stands by while a fetus with a supposed soul is miscarried (we call it abortion if done by doctors), he’s not omnipotent. One could argue, from faith, that miscarriages are one of the results of living in a fallen world, but does God have complete control or not? I’ve heard it claimed he does many times, but if he does, he’s got an odd way of showing it. Thus, we say he moves in “mysterious” ways to give a non-answer to questions like this and to dodge the simple logic of it: he’s either in complete control and in complete awareness of the millions lost, or he’s not.