RE: Infusion of the soul as a process

From: John Burgeson (
Date: Mon Jul 29 2002 - 12:32:27 EDT

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    Adrian wrote, in part:

    "The problem with the denial of personhood at conception is not only because
    one would then have to find some arbitrary point for personhood to emerge
    (implantation, age of viability, 3rd trimester, birth, etc.), but also
    because the consequences for making an erroneous assessment leads to the
    loss of a human life."

    I agree that the denial of personhood at conception leads to the arguments
    you make. But the insistence of personhood at conception is likewise with
    problems, for the reasons I have previously set forth. There is, however, a
    rational middle-ground, and that is the position of neither denial nor
    insistence, but an "I don't know" position, coupled with the rather obvious
    observation that there does not seem to be any way to ever know. I think
    that's how your logic then works out:

    "Either the zygote is a person or not. Furthermore, either we know what it
    is, or we don't." That leaves four possibilities:

            A. The zygote is not a person and we know that.
            B. The zygote is a person and we know that.
            C. The zygote is a person and we don't know that.
            D. The zygote is not a person and we don't know that.

    If A is true, then the destruction of these early cells is permissible.
    However, no one knows for sure that A is true.

    If B is true, and we destroy the zygote, we have committed murder.

    If C is true, and we destroy the zygote, we have committed manslaughter.

    If D is true, and we destroy the zygote, because we don't know for sure that
    it is not a person, we have committed criminal negligence.

    Even if we don't know whether A,B,C, or D is true, there is a greater
    likelihood of us committing a condemnable act than not if we choose to
    destroy the zygote."

    I'd modify some of the above to account for the problem cases such as rape,
    incest, health issues, etc. But otherwise, if one takes the above to apply
    only to healthy pregnant females without any of the above conditions
    applying, then I think you have stated it fairly.

    "But based on reason, we can be quite sure that personhood begins at the
    point when there is the full complement of human genetic material set in
    place and motion."

    Agreement with this statement is wholly dependent on the definition of
    "personhood." As you use it, you imply "soul" without using that word. So I
    can't concur with it.

    "...any ratioanl, moral individual would choose to err on the side of

    OK. I have no argument here. As I mentioned in a post to Terry, I think
    abortion is, generally speaking, a "wrong."

    "Furthermore, from divine revelation, we know that personhood begins in the
    womb,.... ."

    Well, we know that the Psalmist thought so (Ps 139 I believe). I have
    difficulty extracting science from the Bible, and particularly from the
    Psalms. So I would regard this verse as supportive, but not determative.

    "...and that the killing of innocent lives is prohibited."

    Where? Where is the wrod "innocent?" Were there none "innocent" when the
    Hebrews wiped out their opponents, men, women, children, infants? Were there
    no pregnant women among the slaughtered?

    "We also know that (at the earliest) in the 6th month of Elizabeth's
    pregnancy, Mary conceived. She then visited her cousin a short while later
    (can't be more than 3 months or the baby would have been born). Therefore,
    Mary was at the most 3 months pregnant, but probably earlier. Elizabeth
    greeted Mary as if she assumed that a life had begun in Mary's womb.
    Therefore, the boundary has to be 3 months or less."

    I think I would buy this argument. In Luke 1 the NIV reads:

    "41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and
    Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed:
    "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But
    why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As
    soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb
    leaped for joy. "

    In the past, the first quickening was taken as the evidence that a new soul
    had come into being. I don't know if that belief was based on Luke's account
    or not though.

    "Furthermore, Christians have traditionally held that the Incarnation took
    place at the point of Mary's conception."

    That is new news to me. You may be right; I have never thought of it that
    way. I think it is a valid argument.

    "It is also the tradition of the vast majority of Christendom to protect
    life from the point of conception "

    Not always. But traditions are not anything more than guidelines and are not
    prescriptive. Else we'd still be keeping slaves.

    We may have beaten this to death.


    (Ipsius sunt tempora)

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