The Instigator
JoshBrahm
Pro (for)
Winning
12 Points
The Contender
Rasputin
Con (against)
Losing
2 Points

We Can Be Reasonably Confident that Abortion Entails the Killing of a Human Being

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/14/2011 Category: Science
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 5,128 times Debate No: 17052
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (49)
Votes (4)

 

JoshBrahm

Pro

Last week Rasputin challenged me to this debate but I was too busy, so he graciously invited me to challenge him back when the business died down a little.

We agreed on a title, and Rasputin decided on these definitions:

Human: Homo sapiens sapiens
Kill: Organismal death

Here are a few other definitions for words I’ll use in my opening argument:

Fertilization: The union of male and female gametes, during sexual reproduction, to form a zygote.[1]
Organism
: I’ll use Google’s definition,[2] which is comparable to embryology textbooks: 1: An individual animal, plant, or single-celled life form. 3: A whole with interdependent parts, likened to a living being.

We’ve agreed on this format:

Round 1: Opening arguments
Rounds 2-3: Rebuttals/Counter arguments
Round 4: Closing arguments (No new arguments introduced this round.)



This is an important topic for people to consider carefully, as the ramifications of the conclusion are huge. If the unborn are not human, than the ethical debates over elective abortion, embryonic stem cell research, therapeutic cloning and the freezing of leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization are over.

Here is the syllogism I will defend in this debate:

P1: By the end of the fertilization process, instigated by two members of the human species, the zygote that follows is biologically alive. (The zygote is growing, metabolizing food into energy and reacting to stimuli.)
P2: The zygote is also a whole organism. (Its parts are working for the good of the whole; it’s on a path of self-directed development.)
P3: The zygote is a member of the human species.
P4: Abortion ends the biological life of the human organism, either in the embryonic or fetal stage of development.
C: We can be reasonably confident that abortion entails the killing of a human.

While it is theoretically possible that humans will eventually begin evolving into a new human-like species, I have no reason to think that this is happening in the majority of pregnancies in the year 2011.

I think we can be reasonably confident that abortion kills a human in the same way we can be reasonably confident that the earth is not flat, but closer to an oblate spheroid. [3] While there are still arguments being made today by people who believe the earth is flat, the best evidence seems to be that the earth is an oblate spheroid. Now that we have a combination of astronomical observations combined with evidence provided by global astronauts and satellites, the burden of proof rests on those that continue to deny these scientific theories and evidence, and replace them with stronger evidence for an alternative theory.

I look forward to reading what Rasputin’s alternative theory is.

Sources:

1: http://dictionary.reference.com...
2: http://bit.ly...
3:
Choi, Charles. "Strange but True: Earth Is Not Round." Scientific American 12 April 2007: n. pag. Web. 13 Jun 2011. http://bit.ly...

Rasputin

Con

FOREWORD

Thanks to Josh for the debate. I should state my political position would probably best be characterized as "prolife." However, philosophically speaking, the way in which I arrive at this stance, is quite far removed from the prolife movement. Moreover I consider my stance to be more like a "preference" rather than a belief in a "formal truth."

INTRO

"Can we be reasonably confident that abortion entails the killing of a Human Being?"

To answer this question, we start by asking, "Is material construct X of the set of Human Beings?"

So how shall Josh and I try to answer this question?

Well we need only jot down a list of criteria. If the material construct in question exhibits this criteria, then of course, we can welcome construct X to the set of Humans.

But what happens when Josh and I disagree about which criteria shall go on our list?

I drew a cartoon of this dilemma here.

http://img263.imageshack.us...

So the question we must ask is this:

"Who among us holds the 'master list' of criteria which specifies which material constructs are of the set of Humans?"

It is tempting to think that this is a "matter of biology", and that one need only ask a biologist for his list. What we must realize however is that taxonomies are not the kind of knowledge that can be revealed by the Scientific Method.

The Scientific Method can possibly reveal some objective truths about the cosmos. (The Dimensionless Physical Constants for example.) But when it comes to establishing a set of criteria by which we organize matter, this is purely a subjective undertaking.

We note further, that this observation is not limited to the "abortion issue."

Consider the pictures below for more examples:

http://img99.imageshack.us...

CONCLUSION

Let's restate:

"Can we be reasonably confident that abortion entails the killing of a Human Being?"

How might one be confident that he is holding the objectively true list of criteria that defines which constructs are human?

If Josh hands you his list, and Rasputin hands you a different list. How might you confidently select one?

This would be easy to do if, for example, we all had access to God's list of criteria.

http://img231.imageshack.us...

But if this sort of divine communication is not available, then we simply have no way to know which metric we should be using to ascertain how far (or how close) any construct is from the mark.

Another tactic Josh might try, may be to get Rasputin to agree on a "benchmark" -- that shall stand as the "perfect specimen" for what constitutes a member of the set of humans. Suppose we choose Adam and Eve (or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie).

http://img8.imageshack.us...

So it quickly becomes apparent that indeed, we are back at the same problem. Josh is going to write down the criteria that he considers important. And I'm going to write down mine.

But who among us is holding the list that closest resembles "the one true list"?

That is something that cannot be known by any degree.

And hence, one cannot be more or less confident about any given list whatsoever.
Debate Round No. 1
JoshBrahm

Pro

Thank you, Rasputin, for your prompt response. I think your cartoons are cute, and they certainly help communicate your view. (I don’t mean “cute” in a derogatory way.)

Over the last nine years that I’ve been working full-time in the pro-life movement, I’ve probably spent a few hundred hours talking to pro-choice people. It’s one of the best parts of my job. I get to learn more about people who are different from me, and believe different things. Some pro-choice people have made some great points in these conversations, and caused me to change the way I think about this issue.

As you can imagine, there are all types of pro-choice people out there. You have the really well-read pro-choice person who has read every word of Judith Jarvis-Thompson, David Boonin, Eileen McDonagh and Peter Singer. There’s the person in the middle who kind of landed on the pro-choice position by default, because after all, who’s against liberty? There’s the pro-choice person who’s angry that the subject is even being discussed. There’s the hurting person who has at least one abortion in his or her past. There’s the apathetic college student who doesn’t care about anything, and is bemused that I do.

But there’s nothing worse than talking to the Perpetual Skeptic.

It’s the laziest kind of debater. I can offer good argument after good argument, and he can simply smile and ask, “how do you know?” And round and round the circle of skepticism we go, until I get frustrated and walk away.

Imagine Rasputin walking in on a group of historians trying to determine why the Titanic sank:

Historian 1: The Titanic sank because the lookouts didn’t have the binoculars they usually use to spot icebergs, because they were lost before the ship left the harbor.
Historian 2: Yes, but they probably wouldn’t have seen anything anyway. There was no moon that night, nor wind that would cause the water to splash against the iceberg. I think the reason the Titanic sank was the Captain had been pressured into going faster than he was comfortable with.
Historian 3: All of that is moot. The reason the Titanic sank is their waterproof compartments didn’t go high enough to stop the water from spilling over into the others like an ice-cube tray. That’s what really doomed the Titanic.
Rasputin: How do you know what an iceberg is? How might one be confident that he is holding the objectively true list of criteria that defines which constructs are icebergs? If Scientist 1 hands you his list, and Scientist 2 hands you a different list, how might you confidently select one? You can’t, unless God tells us what an iceberg is. You’re all wasting your time. Here, let me draw a cartoon that illustrates this.
Historians: [Staring blankly at Rasputin] Really, dude? Get out of our meeting.


I made an actual argument for my view. Rasputin responded, “meh, no one can really know what a human is.” Rasputin, you will have to do better than that. There are some really smart people on this website. I don’t agree with all of their views, but at least they have the courage to make an actual argument in the court of public opinion. They won’t be impressed with your non-argument, and neither am I.

Remember my analogy about NASA vs. people that believe the earth is flat. We have some great evidence for the earth not being flat, so the opposing side must offer evidence for an alternative explanation. Simply responding with, “no one knows what an Earth is” won’t cut it.

Rasputin: “Josh is going to write down the criteria that he considers important. And I'm going to write down mine.”

This implies that maybe you’ll make an actual argument in the next round? Will you make a list of what criteria you think is important?

Because if you do, I think we can begin having a good debate. I think the question will be whether reasonable people can actually compare two lists and find fault with either of them. You think they couldn’t, and I think they could.

I think biologists have a great understanding of what kinds of things are biologically living. They can also test our DNA to show whether we’re human or not. We can literally draw the blood from a fetus can test her blood, and find that she is, in fact, a human.

Conclusion:

My arguments so far go uncontested. I would like to see a counter-argument or alternative theory, but I haven’t seen one yet.

Rasputin

Con

Introduction

I do sympathize with your take. I think it personally took me over five years to see the weight of these arguments. (I was a pretty good prolife debater back in the day.) And the political side of me still wants the prolife movement to succeed. However, the philosophical side of me can see now that their position in this regard does not have a foundation.

I will try to convey this point more thoroughly and hope to show that this is far removed from a mere exercise in skepticism or solipsism. And that, it is my belief, that this illustration is actually fundamental to the entirety of the abortion (and 'end of life') debate.

Let us try to understand your metaphors first.

The Flat Earth Debate Metaphor

Josh Brahm said: "We have some great evidence for the earth not being flat, so the opposing side must offer evidence for an alternative explanation. Simply responding with, “no one knows what an Earth is” won’t cut it."

This metaphor is not equivalent to my argument.

When Charles K. Johnson argued that the "Earth was flat," he indeed was not arguing about which matter in the universe constituted the Earth. (Nor about the definition of "flat.") Rather, his concern was about the shape of the already-agreed-upon material referent (e.g. "the Earth").

If both parties already agree on the bounds of the material constructs in question, then there is no argument to be had in this vein.

However, our debate is indeed about the very nature of exactly which material constructs are of the set of humans. This is a taxanomic issue -- which the Scientific Method cannot help us on. One cannot point a microscope at a cluster of atoms and see a category label.

The Ice Berg Debate Metaphor

Josh Brahm said:
Historian 1: The Titanic sank because...
Historian 2: Yes, but they probably wouldn’t have seen anything anyway. There was no moon that night, nor wind that would cause the water to….
Rasputin: How do you know what an iceberg is?
Historians: [Staring blankly at Rasputin] Really, dude? Get out of our meeting.

This is an example of the injection of an ancillary issue (Climatological & Geological convention or nominalism), into a debate - in which they do not belong (e.g. Maritime Disasters).

For example, when The International Astronomical Union is having a discussion on the proper usage of Optical/NIR Telescopes, it is not fruitful for them to discuss the definition of the material constructs at which they point their instrumentation.

However, since they are responsible for the conventions used to label celestial bodies, they do indeed spend a great deal of time talking about construct definitions when appropriate. (Most famously in 2006, when they invoked their prerogative to redefine the criteria for "Planet.")

In light of this, I can outline my own metaphor following your cue:

IAU Member 1: I don't think we should make hydrostatic equilibrium a requirement on our planet criteria.
IAU Member 2: Well if we don't then the bodies will oft be confused with the older "satellite" definition.
IAU Member 3: Either way, we're going to have to come up with some other label for the other objects - like "dwarf planet" perhaps.
Josh Brahm: Hey guys! We all know what a planet is! Doesn't everyone already get it? Why are we talking about this stuff? Let's get back to something more useful like my telescope issue or the email problem we're having with the I.A.U. web servers!
IAU Members: [Staring blankly at Josh Brahm] Really, dude? Get out of our meeting.

Josh said: "Will you make a list of what criteria you think is important?"

I will indeed. But first you must provide me with a method by which we may judge one list to be OBJECTIVELY_BETTER_THAN another list.

Josh said: "I think the question will be whether reasonable people can actually compare two lists and find fault with either of them. You think they couldn’t, and I think they could."

Indeed the I.A.U. had many lists at their disposal when they chose a definition of planet. They are reasonable people and they made a reasonable choice.

But the question we ask is, "Did the I.A.U. make the objectively correct choice?"

Surely, these people don't think so.

http://plutovian.files.wordpress.com...

What scale might Josh Brahm offer these parties, so that they might judge who is holding the correct list in their hand?

Josh said: [Biolotists] can also test our DNA to show whether we’re human or not.

Actually, all biologists can do is analyze a genetic sample and provide us with a number that depicts how much the sample varies from a benchmark genome.

But which sequence do you think we should use as the benchmark? (Personally, I'm voting for Angelina Jolie.)

Moreover, how much may our sample vary from the benchmark, before Josh Brahm no longer considers it human? (1)

(1) For a quite accessible treatment pertaining to the vast importance of this question, one might start with the 'criticism section' for the Neanderthal Genome Project wiki page and follow the cited papers. http://en.wikipedia.org...





Debate Round No. 2
JoshBrahm

Pro

I’d like to thank my opponent for being so gracious in this debate.

Rasputin, your responses to my metaphors has helped me understand where you’re coming from more clearly. I certainly don’t want to strawman you, and I see where my metaphors weren’t perfect analogies to your argument.


Taxonomical Problems

While there are legitimate taxonomical problems in defining some species, the idea that organisms reproduce offspring that are the same kind of organism is not controversial in the scientific community.

The taxonomical issues with defining some species is not a problem for my view that abortion kills a human organism. As my colleague Dr. Rich Poupard pointed out to me, “does the fact that biologists sometime have difficulty assigning the correct species to a certain organism create good evidence against our points?” The answer, at least in this case, is no. It will take actual evidence to defeat my position.


Pluto, the Ex-Planet

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) had to vote on a narrower definition for planets, because of the problems resulting from Pluto being considered a planet even though it was the only one not "clearing the neighborhood" of its orbit.[1] If the former definition of “planet” remained, Pluto would be included, but so would Eris and Ceres. Thus the IAU voted on what celestial bodies would be considered "planets." Based on the updated criteria of the IAU, Pluto was never a planet.

Similarly, if a large group of biologists and embryologists got together and figured out that fetuses aren't human after all, I'll read their report and weigh the evidence.

Anybody can propose new criteria for being a member of the human species, but without good evidence their definition is useless. So I think it’s time for you offer your criteria, and we'll compare your list with the experts of today.

If there is good evidence that humans often reproduce non-humans, I will change my position. But the scientific evidence right now seems to support the view that humans beget humans, so you have an uphill battle in front of you.


Determining the Best List

Rasputin said: I will indeed [provide a list of what criteria is important.] But first you must provide me with a method by which we may judge one list to be OBJECTIVELY_BETTER_THAN another list.”

To start with, let us both consider the two lists, and try to make sense of which one seems to make the most sense. Ideally, I would then like to see experts in the related fields comment. And then we do what we always do: pick the list that makes most sense. It’s possible that we’ll learn new things in 50 years we don’t know now that will cause us to reevaluate again, and that’s fine. For now, it seems that the best we can do is weigh the evidence we’ve got.

Here’s just a sample of the evidence we have right now:

Modern Teaching Texts on Embryology

  • "Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual."[2]
  • "A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo)."[2]
  • "[The zygote], formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being."[3]
  • "Human embryos begin development following the fusion of definitive male and female gametes during fertilization... This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development."[4]

Pro-Abortion-Choice Philosophers

  • Peter Singer: “It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’. Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.”[5]
  • David Boonin: “Perhaps the most straightforward relation between you or me on the one hand and every human fetus from conception onward on the other is this: All are living members of the same species, homo sapiens. A human fetus, after all, is simply a human being at a very early stage in his or her development.”[6]

From the legal arena, this fact has been upheld in the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case of Planned Parenthood vs. Rounds (2008) concerned the constitutionality of a South Dakota law requiring, in one part, that abortion providers inform women that abortion ends the life of a “living, separate, whole human being.” Planned Parenthood claimed that the state was forcing doctors to promote religious or ideological beliefs, but the court ruled that the law only required doctors to utter simple biological facts. The court ruled, “By common understanding and scientific terminology, a fetus is a living organism while within the womb, whether or not it is viable outside the womb . . . Planned Parenthood submitted no evidence to oppose that conclusion.”[7]


Can Biologists Determine Species?

Rasputin said: “Actually, all biologists can do is analyze a genetic sample and provide us with a number that depicts how much the sample varies from a benchmark genome. But which sequence do you think we should use as the benchmark? (Personally, I'm voting for Angelina Jolie.)”

I think your analysis of what biologists do obfuscates the issue, implying that this is a bigger problem than it really is. There are several ways for forensic scientists to determine species membership by analyzing mitochondrial DNA.

Consider this 1998 article published in the Forensic Science International, titled “Multiplex amplification of mitochondrial DNA for human and species identification in forensic evaluation.”[8] The authors describe a new method for “combining in a single-round PCR reaction both species determination, on the basis of the phylogenetically variable cytochrome b (cyt b) gene sequence and individual identification, on the basis of the hypervariable D-loop region sequence.” (Emphasis mine.)

From the article’s conclusion:

“In a first step, examination of the coamplified fragments on agarose gel allows for screening of human (two bands, 309 and 259 bp) or animal (one band, 309 bp) specificity.”

In other words, the forensic scientist can easily tell by looking at the data whether he’s looking at human DNA or animal DNA.


Conclusion

It is time for Rasputin to lay his cards on the table. I’m grateful that he doesn’t want to play the Perpetual Skeptic, but we are now into round 3 of this debate, and I haven’t seen any evidence, just skepticism. I’ve expressed willingness to consider alternative theories and evidence, and Rasputin has promised to offer his. Let’s all take a careful look at what he has to offer us.




Sources:

1: Inman, Mason. "Pluto Not a Planet, Astronomers Rule." National Geographic 24 08 2006: n. pag. Web. 17 Jun 2011. http://bit.ly...

2: Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition, Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. pp. 16, 2.

3: Keith L. Moore, Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology, 7th edition, Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2008. p. 2.

4: William J. Larsen, Essentials of Human Embryology, New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1998. pp. 1, 14.

5: Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 85-86.

6: David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 20

7: http://bit.ly...

8: Martin Bataille, Karine Crainic, Michel Leterreux, Michel Durigon, Philippe de Mazancourt, Multiplex amplification of mitochondrial DNA for human and species identification in forensic evaluation, Forensic Science International, Volume 99, Issue 3, 25 January 1999, Pages 165-170, ISSN 0379-0738, DOI: 10.1016/S0379-0738(98)00185-6. http://bit.ly...

Rasputin

Con

Josh Brahm said: "Based on the updated criteria of the IAU, Pluto was never a planet."

So do you think the 1950s definition of planet was objectively wrong? (Is the discovery that Pluto is not a planet, the same type of discovery as, say, the discovery of the speed of light in a vacuum?)

Or, do you think that the assignment of matter into categories is a subjective enterprise?

(Please answer this question in your next post, as it is fundamental to this discussion.)

Josh Brahm said: "I think it’s time for you offer your criteria"

Well like I said, I'm politically prolife. So I personally would probably just jot down the same criteria you use. We can just say a human is anything that varies from Craig's genome within 3% or so.

Here's Craig's genome:

http://genome.ucsc.edu...

Craig is a cool guy and three is a pretty number.

But the question I ask is:

Is the assignment of matter into categories merely a matter of convention, or a practice in the discovery of objective truth? (1)

(1) In this post, I use the classical definition of 'objective truth'. An objective truth is one that is true - despite the presence of minds to examine it.
Debate Round No. 3
JoshBrahm

Pro

Rasputin: “I’m politically pro-life.”

What do you mean when you say “politically pro-life?” I think it would be odd for anybody to be against abortion rights if they don’t think abortion entails the killing of a human being. So why in the world do you refer to yourself as “politically pro-life?”



Rasputin: “So do you think the 1950s definition of planet was objectively wrong?”

I think the 1950’s definition made the most sense based on what we knew then. Recently astronomers learned more about Eris, Ceres and more than 1,000 Tans-Neptunian Objects,[1] and the IAU, a collection of professional astronomers at the Ph.D level held a vigorous debate and then voted on the redefinition of the word “planet,” and Pluto became a “dwarf planet.” While some scientists still disagree about this decision, I feel pretty comfortable with the expertise and size of the group that voted on it. (2,412 astronomers from around the world were part of that assembly debate and vote.)[1]

I don’t think the 1950’s definition was objectively wrong. It was just too simplistic, and based on new evidence, was refined to something even more specific.

I think the same could theoretically happen with the word “human,” but again that would need to come about because of some new evidence that suggested our current definition is too simplistic. That evidence has not been seen, and as I’ve already shown, the vast majority of embryologists and the sharpest minds the pro-abortion-choice side has to offer all agree that the organism killed in an abortion is of the species homo sapiens sapiens.



Rasputin: Is the assignment of matter into categories merely a matter of convention, or a practice in the discovery of objective truth?

In the case of determining the species membership of an organism procreated by two humans, I think it’s both. I think it falls under the third definition for “convention” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “a general agreement about basic principles,”[2] but I also think people like me (and most people that say a human is a human,) are attempting to say something that is objectively true. It’s not like when I jokingly say chocolate peanut butter ice cream is the best ice cream ever. That’s my own subjective preference, and there are actually people that enjoy strawberry ice cream better. But when I look at a red ball and say, “that ball is red,” I am trying to communicate something that is objectively true. When I say that generally when two members of the same species reproduce, they produce a new member of the same species, I am trying to communicate an objective truth. Yes, there are a few exceptions to that general rule, but I haven’t seen one shred of good evidence that humans are one of them.

Thus, I believe we can be reasonable sure that abortion entails the killing of a human being.



Postscript: We are now into round four of this debate. I said in round one that we would have four rounds, and then I accidently created a five-round debate. So let’s continue with arguments and rebuttals in round four, but round five will be closing remarks only. No new arguments. In other words, Rasputin, if you have any evidence or arguments that you’d like to present that you haven’t yet, you must do so in the next round.



Sources:

1: http://www.iau.org...

2: http://www.merriam-webster.com...

Rasputin

Con

Josh said: "When I say that generally when two members of the same species reproduce, they produce a new member of the same species, I am trying to communicate an objective truth."

Yes, since you are a Christian, this is how you must argue.

For example, you must believe that, in the below image, there exists a tolerance value "J" -- for at least the third example.

http://goo.gl...

Hence, in the above image, if Josh and Rasputin walk to the right too far, we will have included too many organisms in the set of humans. But, if we don't walk far enough, we will have included too few organisms in the set of humans.

Now even if we suppose that Josh and Rasputin agree on a benchmark (say we use our friend Craig, or even a hypothetical Adam & Eve), we are still left with the question:

"How shall we choose our J?"

Is J the sort of number that can be unearthed via scientific evidence or formal logic? e.g. as one might derive Pi, or attempt to get increasingly better estimates of the length that light can travel in an interval of time?

Or, is J the sort of number that is merely concocted as a matter of convention?

Let's explore this.

What sort of scientific evidence might we employ to find the objectively true J?

To start, we might use the same technique used by Martin Bataille et al -- in the paper Josh quoted above. Martin got some saliva from an undergrad student. And he picked out some meat at the grocery store. Then he looked for differences in his samples. (1)

We can do this too!

Josh and I can go to the San Diego Zoo, and Josh can point to all the things in the world which he thinks are not human.

Then, we need only compare our newly-gathered samples to our Craig sample (2), and derive a number depicting the difference.

Suppose that, after a few long hours of bench biology, we come to the conclusion that Butch the Chimp is 4.24089% different than Craig.

And voila! We have successfully derived our J!

http://img824.imageshack.us...

We need only keep this number under 4% to exclude all of the organisms which we don't want to call "human."

Now of course the obvious problem with this scenario lies in the fact that we're merely applying our own subjective sample selection criteria.

Suppose that some animal rights protester came along and insisted that our J value was too low -- and that Butch was indeed a human.

Alternatively, Suppose that a Nazi sympathizer came along and insisted that our J value was too high -- and that only a very small set of white Europeans were actually human.

How might Josh and I use "scientific evidence" to show them that our specimen collection method was the objectively true one, and that their method is flawed?

How might someone craft a "scientific experiment" to reveal the objectively true J?

For if Josh is not able to craft an argument that shows that there exists ONE OBJECTIVELY TRUE value for J, then he must settle for a mere SUBJECTIVE VALUE for J.

And if this value is purely a SUBJECTIVE construct, then there is no OBJECTIVELY true answer to the question:

"What is a human?"

Notes:

1. "Samples of human DNA were extracted from human saliva cell pellet using the Qiagen QIAamp blood kit. Animal DNA was obtained from various species (pig, chicken, horse, beef) by extraction of fragments of meat samples, either cooked or raw, with the Qiagen QIAamp tissue kit." - Multiplex amplification of mitochondrial DNA for human and species identification in forensic evaluation page 2

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov...
Debate Round No. 4
JoshBrahm

Pro

Again, my thanks to Rasputin for being a gracious opponent.

I realize now I should have specified in the format that round 4 would be for rebuttal only, not new arguments, because now I must respond to Rasputin’s new arguments from round 4, or else it will be seen as a concession. It seems to me that Rasputin was wanting to get to his main point gradually, instead of laying his cards out on the table in round 1, which would have allowed us to have a more standard debate. So with this last round I will summarize the debate, and then rebut Rasputin’s round 4 argument.

Let’s catch everybody up. Rasputin challenged me to a debate, saying he doesn’t think anybody can know that abortion entails the killing of a human being. I started the debate with definitions and a syllogism for my argument. (A syllogism that hasn’t been mentioned once by Rasputin since.)

Rasputin responded that no one can know with any confidence that List A (of what material constructs a human being) is better than List B.

I responded that we can judge between both lists if we can look at both lists. I said it’s not enough to be a skeptic, but that actual evidence must be offered so that we can weigh it.

Rasputin responded with more questions about whether we can objectively judge between two lists. He also said that biologists are limited when they attempt to determine if something is human.

I responded that we can judge between two lists, and then provided ample evidence from embryologists and pro-abortion-choice philosophers all attesting to the humanity of the unborn. I also provided evidence from Forensic Science International that biologists are not as limited as Rasputin thought in their methods to determine species membership.

Rasputin, instead of responding to any of the evidence I provided, simply asked two questions, one about whether the 1950’s definition of a planet was objectively wrong, and whether the assignment of matter into categories is merely a matter of convention, or a practice in the discovery of objective truth.

I responded to both questions in round 4, and now I’ll rebut Rasputin’s newest arguments.

Ultimately, Rasputin is making a version of the continuum, or beard fallacy. “If you can’t prove scientifically how many millimeters long stubble must be before there is a beard, there is no way to be reasonably sure that a beard exists.”


Tolerance in Description

In your world, Rasputin, I don’t know how any simple task could be accomplished. How could I make an “apple pie” when different recipes exist and the concept of an “apple pie” is simply a subjective construct? How many apples does an apple pie need to have in it to be an apple pie? Would one gram of apple suffice? One milligram? Since we don’t know where to draw this line, we must give up on the concept of apple pies, because we can never be reasonably sure we’re looking at one! But we realize that in our descriptions of objects we see there can be some tolerance in a definition to allow for variation within an object or being that possesses a particular type of essence.



Philosophy of Language

I believe that words are tokens, meant to communicate meaning to somebody else. Miscommunications happen often, for at least two reasons.

First, some words change meaning over time. Some great examples here: http://bit.ly....

Secondly, some people think of different things when they hear certain words, based on their life experiences. For example, someone who has survived the severe flood in New Orleans may be confused or even annoyed when hearing somebody else describe the two inches of water in their basement as “a flood.”

What’s the point? The point is that hopefully we can come to a mutual understanding of the important terms used in a given discussion.

When I say “human,” I mean somebody like you, and President Obama, and the other 6 billion of those entities all over the planet. What do they have in common? We are the same kind of thing: human. We all have the same DNA fingerprint that forensic scientists can quickly identify as homo sapiens sapiens.

As my colleague Steve Wagner has commented, "Isn't it reasonable to say that generally, all life comes from pre-existing life; and that generally, living things reproduce after their own kind? If so, when we don't know what kind of thing something is, isn't it reasonable to ask, 'what kind of parents' does it have?"

Again, mutations can occur eventually, but those would simply be sub-species, theoretically with some kind of beneficial physical characteristic. The mutant would not be an animal, but would be a member of the genus, homo.

If a case is brought up of something that has one or two percent less human DNA than everybody else, as a pro-life speaker, I’d want to give the benefit of the doubt to life. I’d encourage all possible sub-species of humans to not abort their offspring. In fact, I’d be open to making it illegal for humans to cause the abortion of offspring for all higher mammals, if it’s not deemed necessary to save the life of the mother.

I honestly don’t know exactly what percentage of genetic variation would need to exist to disqualify someone from the human family, but I think it’s extremely reasonable to assume that if you could take a blood sample of any of the 1.2 million fetuses that will be aborted this year in America,[1] you’d find that they all have human DNA. And that would make sense, because they came from human parents.


Conclusion


Note again the title of this debate:
“We Can Be Reasonably Confident that Abortion Entails the Killing of a Human Being.” I never said we can be positive that abortion kills a human being. I said we can reasonably confident that it does.

According to the CDC, there were 4,131,019 births in 2009.[2] Can I be 100% positive about the exact percentage differentiation those 4.1 million babies would have if their DNA was compared to Angelina Jolie? No.

Can I be reasonably confident that there were 4,131,019 human beings born in 2009? Yes I can.

And if I can be reasonably confident that everyone being born is of the human species, than I can be equally confident that all the beings being aborted before they could be born are also of the human species.

Thanks for an interesting discussion, Rasputin. I wish you luck, but also encourage our readers to vote Pro, because I have successfully argued for the title of this debate. We indeed CAN be reasonably confident that abortion entails the killing of a human being.



Sources:
1: http://www.guttmacher.org...
2: http://www.cdc.gov...

Rasputin

Con

Thanks for debating. If you'd like to start another debate I'll gladly participate. You need not worry about the score as I fully expect to lose each debate. It will take several more generations for these issues to really become apparent. Many still have a rather naive view of concepts like "life", "death", and what constitutes an organism. We tend to think of "DNA" as the Rosetta Stone that delineates animal from non. And have a rather romantic view of the practice of taxonomy. Many are not even aware that we've been making strands of DNA for 30 years. (And, that anyone can buy a DNA synthesizer on eBAY):

http://goo.gl...

We are about to enter a great period of biological change. Let's start with an example.

Venter led the private side of the H.G.P. Last year, Science reported that he had successfully digitally recorded, synthesized, and transplanted the first viable genome.

A couple years prior, Venter gave a lecture in which he talked briefly about a lofty goal. The following is a slide from that lecture:

http://goo.gl...

Venter dreams of a day in which his laboratory technicians will be able to sit down at a computer, create any creature they desire, and render the genome in a living cell. Or, to put it another way, Venter wants to attach a DNA synthesizer to a piece of software much like the popular video game "Spore" -- which features its own creature designer interface:

http://goo.gl...

Now if you look at Venter's screenshot, you can see he's got a ways to go. But once he achieves this goal, whose scale shall we use to classify his new constructs?

Josh, in the above YouTube video, would you have us believe that all of those biological concoctions, could actually occupy a species category that objectively exists?

Venter has already applied for a patent for a creature he has labeled "Mycoplasma laboratorium." Since, in your above arguments, you seem to believe that a category for each species objectively exists, does this mean that you think that a category for "Mycoplasma laboratorium" objectively exists as well?

Question.

Given the 2010 findings that "Neanderthal DNA makes up at least 1 to 4 percent of a person's genetic makeup" how does this affect your classification schema?

If we are ALL walking around with varying degrees of Neanderthal DNA in us, then how much of this "alien DNA" is allowed to enter our bodies, before Josh says that the resultant construct is no longer human?

FSI

As your litmus test, you seem to be fond of quoting the above FSI paper. I find this puzzling for several reasons.

First, all the paper proves is that, when comparing the DNA of a college student to lunch meat, some differences become apparent. Now, this of course was never contested. When comparing the DNA of ANY two constructs whatsoever, differences become apparent.

Second, if we suppose that this is the "end all be all" test for delineating animals from humans, then this may lead to some curious results. For it would probably be the case that many of the below constructs possessed mtDNA that fulfilled the F.S. I. criteria, and hence, would be labeled "human" by Josh .

http://img13.imageshack.us...

If this were true, and if we were to reanimate these creatures, then, Josh, you would have some very odd looking church members sitting in your pews on Sunday.

In light of this, I find it very curious that you wrote this line:

Josh: "In fact, I’d be open to making it illegal for humans to cause the abortion of offspring for all higher mammals"

The notion that abortion is murder for "all higher mammals" will surely have some interesting ramifications.

One can't help but wonder whose definition you will be using for "higher mammals…?"

Is a pig a higher mammal?

Here is a xenotransplantation video of doctors performing an abortion on a pig, cutting out the neurons of the piglets, and injecting them into the skull of 21 year old stroke victim Amanda Davis:

http://goo.gl...

Josh, would you really have us believe that all of these doctors should be put in jail?

(As a side note, Josh, since some of the brain cells of Amanda Davis now have pig DNA, do you still consider Amanda Davis a human?)

ApplePie

Josh Said: How could I make an “apple pie” when different recipes exist and the concept of an “apple pie” is simply a subjective construct? How many apples does an apple pie need to have in it to be an apple pie?

Well Josh if you want to know how many apples are needed to have an apple pie, it says so right here:

http://goo.gl...

For the last 20 years, the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program, and Association of County Fairs, have all agreed that the answer to your question is 60%.

But we ask again: Does this number OBJECTIVELY EXIST as a property of the cosmos -- like Pi or the speed of light?

I would hope that, by now, you would realize that this is the sort of number that is merely jotted down as a matter of convention. And, cannot be unearthed via science.

Organisms

Josh said: "if you could take a blood sample of the 1.2 million fetuses that will be aborted this year...you’d find that they all have human DNA."

Let's do that!

In fact, let's take a sample of every organism on earth that has ever existed ever. Our task now is simple.

Draw a circle around the humans.

How shall we start?

Well, first we need a benchmark. I'm voting for the genome of Craig Venter or Angelina Jolie.

Do you agree? Yes? Good, we're almost done.

Now we need a tolerance value.

I'm voting for the number 3%.

Do you agree? Yes? Then we've succeeded!

We have now formulated a mechanism with which to test if any given construct is human or not.

We have found our J!

http://goo.gl...

We can now write our J value down on paper. (Just like the IAU did when they wrote down their rules for planets. And, just like the Pennsylvania Association of County Fairs did -- when they wrote down their rules for apple pies.)

Now if someone disagrees with either our benchmark, or our tolerance value, what shall we tell them?

If, as you say, "I honestly don’t know exactly what percentage of genetic variation would need to exist to disqualify someone from the human family" then why should they take heed of any rule set you would bother to scribe?

"Can we be reasonably confident that abortion entails the killing of a Human Being?"

To answer this question we need only devise a mechanism by which we can tell which constructs are human and which ones are not.

How to approach this task? Well, how do we approach other taxonomic exercises?

Can we be reasonably confident about which constructs are planets?

Sure. We need only fly to Paris, knock on the door of the International Astronomical Union, and ask them for their list of criteria.

Can we be reasonably confident about which constructs are apple pies?

Sure. We need only fly to Pennsylvania, knock on the door of the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs, and ask them for their list of criteria.

Now as we glance upon the two lists in our hands, we ask the question:

Does this matter selection criteria OBJECTIVELY exist (as Pi or the laws of logic might)? Or are they merely SUBJECTIVE conventions that someone has jotted down to organize their file cabinets, or to make tastier treats?

I hope it is becoming obvious now that this is the sort of information that is not taken to objectively exist.

This is not only true with pies and planets. But it is also true with biological constructs as well.

In order to win this debate, Josh would have had to provide an argument that illustrates why he thinks that a human benchmark OBJECTIVELY exists, and why he thinks a human tolerance value "j" OBJECTIVELY exists.

Since he has neglected to do this, we need only conclude that this was a subjective undertaking all along.

And that the question posed in this debate, does not have an objectively true answer. But rather, is merely a matter of subjective opinion.
Debate Round No. 5
49 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Rasputin 5 years ago
Rasputin
welp, see you when venter finishes his machine

hee hee

if anyone else wants to continue this debate, shoot me an email
Posted by JoshBrahm 5 years ago
JoshBrahm
I apologize Rasputin. I made you a promise that I haven't been able to keep. I'm juggling a lot of things at work right now, and continuing the discussion that you want to have is unfortunately not enough of a priority that I can make it happen right now. Maybe later, but not right now.

Warmly,
Josh
Posted by Rasputin 5 years ago
Rasputin
Josh,

>> "Ill post a comment here this week with some thoughts on that, so we can continue the discussion."

that'd be pretty cool. I have looked quite diligently for the christian position here.

Some things to consider would be:

1. What is the Christian prolife position on synthetic biology - particularly to the question: Does the species Mycoplasma Laboratorium objectively exist. Or, is it merely a "manmade" class of constructs like, say, the criteria that distinguishes the set of all iPhones from their cousin - the Android Phone.

2. If Josh sat before a grand plane on which all the constructs of the cosmos existed, how would he go about crafting a set of criteria to determine which constructs were of the set of humans?

http://img814.imageshack.us...

(This thought experiment is better than the one I posed in the debate, because it eliminates Steve Wagner's silly and recursive response to "see if the parents are human")
Posted by Rasputin 5 years ago
Rasputin
Thanks for responding.

If you get a chance later, try to examine the question a bit.
Posted by sadolite 5 years ago
sadolite
Predictable response, redirect from subject of debate. Doing exactly as I said in previous comment. Engage in dog and pony show to cloud the issue of human life and it's value.
Posted by sadolite 5 years ago
sadolite
Predictable response
Posted by Rasputin 5 years ago
Rasputin
So a virus is alive then according to sadolite. Are you of the opinion that the debate about viruses is just silly. And that scientists need only ask sadolite to solve their dilemma? If they did, would you simply have them formalize the ruleset you printed below:

"If it can bite humans, sting humans, scratch humans, or make humans sick, it's alive. But falling rocks and radiation are not alive."

>> "spare me the "animals can comprehend value" argument"

Is neanderthal man an animal or a human?
Posted by sadolite 5 years ago
sadolite
If it can bite you sting you scratch you or make you sick etc.ect.ect it's alive. (Spare me the falling rocks and radiation arguments) Some life is more advanced than others in nature but life is life. Don't confuse this with the value humans put on any particular form of life based on political expediency or personal human convenience.

Abortion has never been about determining what life is. That "life" argument within the "abortion" argument just a dog and pony show for the ignorant masses to justify killing human life. And please spare me the sentient non sentient arguments. Only humans put value on life, all other forms of life cant comprehend value. (Oh and spare me the "animals can comprehend value" argument)

History has already shown and society of today will see the results of devaluing human life to that of a germ IE: ( The unborn human fetus) in the future. History always repeats itself. The more humans try to devalue themselves the more they slaughter themselves like animals hunt other animals for food. It's as sure as the sun coming up in the morning. I will refer you to the Nazi era and the devaluing of human life, all based on political and financial expediency.

The abortion argument is no different. You must "devalue" the unborn in order to justify killing it. Why do you think pro choice advocates use your ridiculous tactics displayed in this debate and in this thread. To try and cloud the issue of what life is, so as justify killing human life based on personal human convenience. That will eventually turn into financial and political expediency for both the unborn and the living just as it did in the Nazi era. History "always" repeats itself. You make no new arguments your thoughts are not outside the box everything you have said has been said before and the results are always the same. When you devalue human life human life slaughters it self. Something of no value is not worth saving, simplicity at it's simplest.
Posted by Rasputin 5 years ago
Rasputin
>> "I Know what life is"

is a virus alive?
Posted by sadolite 5 years ago
sadolite
I Know what life is, I don't need some egg head moron babble to tell me what life is. I live it and see it everyday seven days a week 365 days a year . Only morons need a court of morons to tell them what life is.
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by BennyW 5 years ago
BennyW
JoshBrahmRasputinTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Rasputin argued definitions and didn't address the issue until round 4.
Vote Placed by TheNerd 5 years ago
TheNerd
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Reasons for voting decision: You forgot to define "being". There's a difference between being a biological shell and having the lights on upstairs.
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 5 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
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Reasons for voting decision: 1 pt to Rasputin to taking a novel approach to refuting the resolution and one which is valid however it is not so trivial to argue and another point for developing it. However it was not developed to the extent necessary to refute the resolution and lacked tags for clarity. 4:2 sh.
Vote Placed by KeytarHero 5 years ago
KeytarHero
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Reasons for voting decision: Con's entire argument seemed to rest on "because we both have different criteria, then we have no way of knowing who is correct" -- except that in round 3 Rasputin admitted he would probably jot down the same criteria as Josh. As such, it seems Rasputin would agree the criteria is good by virtue of his affirmation, and he never actually used any evidence to refute it, at any rate. Rasputin basically maintained that we should just remain skeptical.