Tuesday, 26 September 2017

When does personhood begin?

There are arguments for personhood beginning at fertilisation, at implantation in the womb, at birth.

Fertilisation seems possible. It is a specific time that 2 gametes which are not persons become a single cell. This single cell has a continuity with the person born. That is, there is a discontinuity at fertilisation and no discontinuities thereafter, and there is little disagreement that the sperm and egg are not persons.

However embryos split into two sometimes and humans can also artificially split them and continue to split them. Some argue that a new soul occurs when an embryo splits into 2 (which is a somewhat reasonable argument). More problematic is the issue of multiple embryos combining to form a mosaic. Does this mosaic baby have 2 souls, or do 2 souls become 1, or does 1 die (probably not as both cell lines continue in various ways)?

Further, the embryo becomes 2 distinct structures: the baby and the placenta. The latter supports the baby through pregnancy but it is not exactly part of the baby. The embryo can develop solely into support organs (placenta) in a molar pregnancy (hydatidiform mole) and there does not appear to be a person at any stage even though fertilisation has taken place.

The problem with womb being the definition of personhood is what about ectopics that survive? Abdominal gestation occurs rarely but they are clearly babies. Ectopic pregnancies are usually tubal, but can occur elsewhere, and abdominal pregnancies may have started out tubal.

Theologically traducianism implies personhood at conception for continuity. There must always be a soul because the soul is inherited. Conversely, if the concept of the new creation of souls (creationism) is correct, this potentially allows for a gap between conception and personhood. Note that these arguments (traducianism and creationism) are a result of the theology and our theology should be scriptural. So what does the Bible argue for?

Birth seems too late. Many scriptures point to personhood starting before birth, though to argue specifically for fertilisation from the Bible is a little harder. Job talks about the night he was conceived (Job 3:3).

Although previously I thought conception equalled personhood, I am now not so certain. In Scripture life is very clearly connected to blood. Combining this with what we know about human physiology, one could argue for circulating blood: a heart and blood cells. Death should be defined by absence of a beating heart (not brain death). If this is the case then perhaps personhood starts when the heart and blood cells are made: about 2–3 weeks post conception. Note that this is 4–5 weeks after usual dating; pregnancy dates are calculated from last menstruation which is (usually) about 2 weeks prior to fertilisation.

There is also an enigmatic verse in Ecclesiastes that says
As you do not know the way the spirit [ruach] comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. (11:5)
It is unknown whether ruach should be translated "spirit" or "wind" here, but if it is the former, it is at least possible that God sends the spirit into a fetus in a way that we do not understand.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Monday quote

Is there any man that thinks in chains like the man who calls himself a free-thinker? Is there any man so credulous as the man who will not believe in the Bible? He swallows a ton of difficulties, and yet complains that we have swallowed an ounce of them. He has much more need of faith of a certain sort than we have, for scepticism has far harder problems than faith.

C. H. Spurgeon

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Worldview thinking

Peter Leithart wrote a critique on worldview thinking back in 2003. Some of this may be in reaction to how he was seeing this played out at the time. Nevertheless, I don't find the complaints generally valid.

God has an opinion about everything. As God is truth, his opinion is correct. In as much as we think correctly we are thinking God's thoughts after him. At its simplest: the Christian worldview is the worldview of God; of Christ.

All people have a worldview. All worldviews are at least somewhat incorrect and usually inconsistent in places. One may therefore complain that we cannot know God's thoughts for certain, which is true. Because we are not outside ourselves how can we, with an imperfect worldview, know the true worldview. The errant man is chasing an inerrant truth external to himself but is only judging with his own errant perspective.

These complaints are true enough. But they are not insurmountable. And they neglect how we know and approximate truth.

Leithart's complaints are: 1) how do we get external to ourselves to judge (as my above paragraph); 2) worldview thinking is intellectual, specifically how do we know whether our worldview forms our externals compared to whether our externals shape our worldview; 3) worldview presupposes a birds eye view; and 4) worldview philosophy overrides theology.

The 4th complaint is merely a problem to avoid. And it is not a problem confined to worldview thinking. It is a problem all men take to the Bible, at least men who see the Bible giving a somewhat consistent testimony. We all systematise to some extent and we all categorise our ideas; thus our prior ideas may frame our theology at the expense of Scripture. Fine as a warning, but a warning all men need. And at least worldview thinking reminds us that theology is philosophy, or rather our philosophy is our theology.

The first 3 complaints are very much related. It is a confusion that appears to come from a more binary perspective: truth is not falsehood. Which is entirely correct. But falsehood is not entirely untrue and incompletely understanding is not necessarily false understanding.

We gain knowledge by degrees and we modify our thinking incrementally. This is a design feature. We learn from our elders, and our reason. And our ability to reason leads us into increasing amounts of truth. So complaint 2 is in fact not a problem, but why worldview thinking works. Our thinking comes from our surroundings and shapes our surroundings. That is how we grow in knowledge. God gives all men nature from which we gain knowledge. He gives us all the ability to reason. These externals (nature and reason) lead us to more truth. And the truth allows us to modify our environment based on that truth. It is a spiral of gaining more and more truth. Worldview thinking does not know everything that is true, rather it gains knowledge of the truth. Thus complaints 1 and 3 are also dealt with. We don't get external to ourselves, but we judge from what true knowledge we do have, using that knowledge to weed out wrong ideas and gain new right ideas. And we do end up getting a bird's eye view or sorts, only incomplete, out of focus and a few misinterpreted pictures. But as our view gets better the gaps are slowly filled in, items come into focus, and we come to realise that some of the things we thought we were seeing are in fact something else.

Or to change the analogy. We struggle with advanced calculus but we can count. We learn our times tables. We are taught what primes are. Then the trigonometry we were getting wrong we now get right; and not only do we get it right, we can see why it is right.

Further to natural knowledge we have Scriptural knowledge. This gives us greater understanding than natural knowledge and curbs the extent our reasoning can mislead us. When we submit ourselves to Scripture we allow God to guide us into truth increasingly. The spiral goes inward to truth.

This also explains why those who consciously reject God have a tendency away from the truth; how overtime their worldview becomes increasingly incorrect. Worldviews are not just an intellectual exercise. We need faith that God has given us reason. We need faith in our fundamental presuppositions, and faith that God will guide our divine-originating (but broken) reason into truth. Those who reject trust in God grow in foolishness as God does not protect them from their faulty presumptions and faulty reasoning.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Monday quote

Violation of conscience is a grave act against man. It is the most painful blow inflicted on human dignity. It is, in a certain sense, worse than inflicting physical death.

Pope John Paul II (1982).

Under the threat of losing their jobs, citizens are being forced to sign declarations that do not agree with their conscience and with their convictions,... Violation of conscience is a grave act against man. It is the most painful blow inflicted on human dignity. It is, in a certain sense, worse than inflicting physical death, murder.... The principle of respect of conscience is a fundamental right of man, guaranteed by constitutions and by international accords. I raise my voice to God, together with all men of good will, so that the consciences of my countrymen are not suffocated.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Monday quote

Those who refuse to let their opponents dispute have no right to complain if they hear instead lewd catcalls in the streets; in a sense, it is what they have chosen.

C.S. Lewis.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Monday quote

A common argument in modern culture is that differences between the sexes are essentially social constructs;... it is in fact social constructs that allow sexual differences to be minimised.

Matthew Hosier.


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