Episode 188 - What Can Science Tell Us About Abortion?

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One of the convictions we as Christians should hold is that human life is created in the image of God. We're actually created to actively image God, to reflect the glory of our creator. We see this in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 in the creation accounts. God says this, "Let us create man in our own image," and that's what He did for man, and for woman.

Then, in Genesis 9, in responding to a murder God says that when one person, one human being, murders another human being that the murderer should be killed, because, and this is key, human beings are created in God's image. So, in other words, God owns us in some very real senses, and it is not for one human being to take the life of another human being. God alone has that prerogative, in the areas He has not delegated to human authorities. So, all of that to say, life is valuable. Life, from the moment of conception until natural death, we would say from a biblical perspective, from a biblical worldview, is made in the image of God. It is worthy of treating with dignity, and respect, because it bears the mark of its creator.

Today we're going to talk about abortion, and we're going to talk about an article that was in the Washington Post talking about the March for Life that just happened. One of the emphases for the March this year was how science is on the side of the pro-life movement. So, there's a lot in this article. (You can read it here). But I want to talk about the scientific angle that comes in and respond to some of the comments made by someone who is very pro-abortion.

Here's what the article says. "The fact that the zygote," which is what results from a sperm and an egg meeting, it's actually a new type of thing; it's not just a fertilized egg, it's a new life. The article says, "The fact that the zygote directs its own development, leading to and eventually turning into a more complex embryo, and eventually a baby in the right circumstances,” leads the writer of the paper (who is a neurobiology and pediatrics professor at the University of Utah) to conclude that from the moment of conception embryos ‘are indeed living individuals of the human species.’" We've talked about this before. The fertilized egg, which is kind of a misnomer, it is a zygote; it is a new type of thing, has its own DNA. It takes in nutrients, it expels waste, it adds to itself and, as this article is saying, it “directs its own development.” By any other standard of life we would use in any other area it is alive. Of course, it is genetically human, so it's a human that's alive. Shouldn't it be afforded all of the protection we give to any other human that's alive? Yes, it should be.

Now, the article is going to respond to this with a quote from a woman named Sarah Horvath, who is a doctor, who has performed abortions and works as a family planning policy and advocacy fellow for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and she disagrees with the scientist's explanation of life. Here's a quote from her. "I think that's a gross exaggeration of an incredibly complex topic. There are many fertilized eggs that never implant, and eggs that implant in the wrong place that become miscarriages; that, in fact, become a type of cancer," Horvath said. The article goes on to say that Horvath says that, "The medical professionals don't have a working definition of when life begins, and her organization strongly supports increased access to abortion in it's official positions."

Then, there's a concluding quote for this section. The article does go on. It says, "Science isn't really designed to answer questions about the exact beginning of life, or the moral assignments of these sorts of things. Science tells us that abortion is safe; science tells us that abortion is healthcare; science tells us that abortion care can be life saving."

Let's talk about this. I want to rewind to Sarah Horvath's response where she says, "It's a gross exaggeration of an incredibly complex topic." She says, "There are many fertilized eggs that never implant and some implant in the wrong place." What does that have to do with the question? If nature, on it's own trajectory, and we would say that there's no such thing as just nature acting without God, but let's just analyze it somewhat from her perspective. So, if an embryo just dies on its own, why does that mean it's okay to kill an embryo that is not dying on its own? All people on the planet will die on their own unassisted. Does that mean it's okay to kill all people on the planet?

What we're doing here is taking her logic for a drive and seeing where it goes. And, if we consistently apply her principles in other circumstances where things are equal, and it comes to a conclusion that's wrong then that means it's wrong in this case, too. Because, you can't simply say that it's okay to kill something that would have died on its own. That makes no moral sense. It's horrible moral reasoning. So, her point here that, "It's a gross exaggeration. There are many fertilized eggs that implant, or don't implant, and implant in the wrong place," that says nothing about the legitimacy of abortion. All that says is sometimes things naturally go wrong. In fact, sometimes the body actually kind of jettisons the embryo if it determines that it is unhealthy and is not going to survive or is going to cause a problem. That happens sometimes. So, all of that to say her argument here is not an argument in favor of abortion; it's a description of what happens, but there's no way to get from this description to the fact that we ought to be able to intentionally kill embryos that are not having problems.

So, let's go to this next statement she says where she says, "Science isn't really designed to answer questions about the exact beginning of life, or the moral assignments of these sorts of things. Science tells us that abortion is safe, that it's healthcare and that abortion can be lifesaving." Let's tease that apart. If science isn't designed to answer questions about the exact beginning of life, how can science tell us when anything is alive? Now, on the one hand I think she might be right, but she's going to be inconsistent here, because she is going to tell us scientifically that we can determine when someone else is alive, or she's going to be able to tell us from a scientific and medical perspective when a person who was alive dies. There are medical criteria for these sorts of things. So, how is science able to tell us when something else is alive but not able to tell us when the unborn is alive? That really actually seems like a cop-out to me.

Now, what science can't do is tell us what is good and what is moral. It can't make value judgements. Those exist in the realm of philosophy and religion. But, then she goes on to say, "Science tells us that abortion is safe." Science actually isn't able to do that. Science can tell us that in these circumstances, when this procedure is taken, this is the result. It can determine how things usually work in the natural world, but what it can't do is tell us things like value judgements, what is safe and unsafe. It can't tell us that. It can't tell us what has value and what doesn't have value, and it can't compare relative values. All of that exists outside of science, outside of the scientific method. So, she's actually stepping out of her place here. She's conflating what science can do and as a tool that tells us about the natural world with the values and ethics of medical treatment.

So, science can't tell us that abortion is safe, and she's actually assuming what she needs to prove, because she's just said that science can't tell us when life begins. In other words, science can't tell us, from her perspective, that what is in the womb of a woman is not life. It's not equipped to answer that question, she says. I actually think science is equipped to answer that question, and this is a cop-out. But, she's saying science can't tell us. How do we act in any other circumstance when something may be alive or may not be alive that could be valuable if it's alive? Do we just treat it like anything else that we might dispose of? No, we don't. If you're driving down the road at night and there's this dark, shadow thing in the road, do you avoid it? I mean, you don't know if it's a person or not, but you're going to err on the side of caution, because if it is a person you do not want to hit another person. You don't want to take the life of an innocent person.

So, why do we flip that on its head in this case? Why do we say, "Well, science isn't equipped to tell us if it actually is a life, so we're just going to…” What word would they use, “kill it.” Actually, abortionists do use the word kill. How can you kill something that's not alive? That's a separate issue. But, we're going to destroy this thing if we're not sure it's alive. That is not how we behave in any other area of life, so why do we do it here? So, in a de facto sense she's assuming that it's a settled question because she's willing to destroy it, and yet she says, she can't be sure based on the scientific method and community.

She goes on to say that, "Science tells us that abortion is healthcare." Actually, it can't tell us that, because in order to know what healthcare is you have to know how something ought to be. You can't just give a description of how it is. In order for there to be an ought in the natural world, in the psychological realm, in the spiritual realm, there has to be something that designs that thing for a purpose. So, to care for one's health is to help align it with how it's supposed to be, with the objective standard of what actual true health looks like. Any type of sickness is a deviation from that. But, how is abortion healthcare? Pregnancy is not a disease; it's actually how the body is designed to work. Even if you take a creator out of it, which we shouldn't do, that is the natural way that our species reproduces.

You could even say that from a very naturalistic perspective, from an evolutionary perspective, human pregnancy is the means by which natural selection and random mutation has selected for the species to propagate. It is the picture of how it is working, and should work; it's not a disease so, therefore, healthcare is not a valid category. It actually isn't aligning a person with health. The other point, though, is obviously it's destroying and murdering something that actually is alive. Once again we go back to this. She's acting like it's a settled question while telling us that her tools of science are not able to tell us if it's alive. Once again, I think that's false.

So, even the healthcare part falls apart. What about this idea that abortion can be life saving. Now, there are some cases where if the child, the unborn child, is not aborted the mother will die. Those cases seem to be greatly overblown in terms of how often they occur, by the media and abortion advocates. But, once again, even if the life of the mother is saved, which seems to be an incredibly rare circumstance, something else died; the unborn child died for that. In saying that abortion can be life saving is an interesting idea once again, because I thought she said that science couldn't tell us when life begins. How can it even tell us when life exists if it can't tell us when it begins, or give us some objective criteria by which to adjudicate that circumstance and come to a conclusion. It's not able to do that she's saying. But, also, like I said, abortion kills something that's alive.

That thing that is alive is human, biologically, genetically human, and this is why textbooks that speak to genetics, and embryology, actually affirm that life begins when a zygote is created. When that egg is fertilized with a sperm you have a genetically new individual; you have a genetically new being, and that being is human, obviously. It's not a turtle; it's not a dinosaur; it's not up for grabs. It's actually able to be identified for what it is. So, we kill that thing. It has a heart at a certain stage of development that stops beating. We destroy that. So, no, abortion is not life saving when you look at it holistically. Maybe there are these incredibly rare circumstances, but once again we don't argue for a general principle from an incredibly narrow set of circumstances.

So, in summing up, I hope what you've seen here is that people make arguments, or at least they make points and assertions that sound good. Well, "The body spontaneously aborts some embryos sometimes, and some embryos fail to implant." So? That's how I would respond to someone. So, what does that mean? We can kill the ones that don't? Would you apply that in any area of life besides this? No, you wouldn't, and so we shouldn't apply it here. We've got to learn to ask questions of the seemingly compelling statements people make, and understand what science is equipped to do and not equipped to do. If it can't answer this question of when life begins, which I think it can, and I think it does, well then she can't play both sides of the fence later on.

Once again, we do have the scientific evidence on our side. It is physical and demonstrable that the unborn is a type of being that's alive. It takes in nutrients; it expels waste, it adds to itself; it has its own unique genetic code. When the blood of the unborn mixes with its mothers, if something goes wrong the mother's body actually sees it as an invader; it doesn't see it as part of itself. So, science is on the side of the pro-life movement, and this shouldn't surprise us because we all have to live in God's world. We're created in His image. We actually know that the unborn is valuable, but we can suppress that knowledge just like we can suppress the truth that God exists and will hold us accountable for what we do with the people who are created in His image.

So, I hope this has been helpful, just kind of walking through this article a little bit different of an episode today, but I was reading this article and it stood out to me, and I wanted us to walk through it together to understand how to pull these things apart and see if the claims that are being made actually hold water.

(Note: After recording this, I realized I’m somewhat uncomfortable with one way I argue against the points in the article. Just because someone can not tell you when life begins does not mean they can’t tell you when something is alive. However, in this case, since there is no valid scientific difference in a baby in the womb and a baby outside of the womb, it seems that Horvath’s line of reasoning would prevent her from rendering a judgement on when any human is alive, or she is just being very inconsistent or disingenuous here. So in this case, I do think the criticism is valid since the relevant circumstances for determining life for a baby in the womb are the same as for a baby outside of the womb.)