Monday, 28 September 2009

Another reminder on the dangers of mixing Fundamental Moral theology with ostensibly corroborating scientific evidence,,,

{We were in the middle of arguing on Holy Smoke Blog regarding the HFE bill - and a few had referred to common sense science [which they equivocated with natural law] as being the source of our morality. I felt compelled to warn them of the inherant dangers within this stance; in that when the science crumbles; so too does the ethical reliance upon it}

I'm not speaking as some amateur who's read a few websites - I was compelled to read and research extensively for my double-thesis for Ethics on when Life begins :
Be very , very careful what you mean when you say life begins at conception ; ensure that you have your philosophical and ontological grounding as the first principle - the unique essence in potential which if no direct external force is applied it is internally directed [even if incapable of actuating it] towards becoming a human being ;
that this is the only tenable point in time when one cannot equivocate away this internal directing force.

This may seem ridiculous but you'd be amazed at the way Pope John Paul II's teaching of 'ensoulment at conception' was diretly turned against him by biologists and ethicists :

a] Ever wondered why there is a 14 day limit on embryo experimentation ? You'd be stunned at the answer - and utterly astounded that Baroness Warnock was considered a great intellect at the time.
14 days is deemed the time when it can be determined visually if there is either one or more embryos [twinning or recombination].
Therefore as it cannot be shown that there is either one or more it is impossible to say that 'ensoulment' [or unique psycho-personal individuation] occurs before this time.
i.e. Because you cannot tell under a microscope whether it's a single embryo or twins + ; it's morally acceptable to experiment on them before this time - because if there is such a thing as ensoulment it must occur after this !!!
Insane ? Most assuredly - but that's the grounds for the law of this land !
But supposing some pro-choice person was to corner you with this hypothetical:
Identical Twins - a fertilised embryo splits in two, now was there one individual who became two replicas, or one individual who suddenly had an adjacent replica, or one individual who perished and became two new entities, or one individual divided between the two entities ? How do you apply individuality and ensoulment in this regard ? head spinning yet ?
This is what happens when you try and rely on tenuous scientific support without reasoning the principles through first.

b] There are problems with 'conception' per se in that it isn't as cut and dried as everyone presumes.
Beware of stating the 'presumed case' because others may fallaciously attempt to destroy your case by applying exigent facts which don't disprove the philosophical case but they do hack away at the groundwork when one unnecessarily over-relies on the science.

For a start regularly more than one sperm penetrates the ovum - and in order to ensure genome integrity all other genetic material must be expelled from the ovum - evolution has made provisions for this and ensured that the actual genetic integration between the sperm and ova to form a zygote occurs between 24 and 48 hours after sperm penetration.

Next you have to worry about the 'Germaine Greer fallacy' - that of the fact that we do not know why around 30% of all fertilised concepti do not implant and are ejected [ you'll hear a lot of pro-choicers double this figure ; but there are many decent research papers out there which confirm the c.1/3 figure] - assuredly some are genetically defective [blighted ova] and would never develop so are expelled as an expediency for further potential to conceive - but regarding a significant percentage of those 'spontaneously' expelled they do not appear to be defective - we have no idea why this 'natural abortion' occurs.
Consequently you have the quite offensive and specious corollary of Germaine Greer that according to catholic sentiments regarding conception a priest should be holding requiem masses for sanitary towels.

You'll also hear of pro-choicers speaking of hydatidiform moles and choriocarcinoma as a [fallacious] substantive proof that sperm and egg do not axiomatically mean life ; therefore one can do what one wishes with all fertilised ova.
Pro-choicers equivocate the 'necessary' condition of fertilisation as being invalid by its 'insufficiency' - which is as logical as saying dynamite isn't explosive because the fuse sometimes fizzles out.

Then there's the implantation fallacy - one that's even used by reprehensible liberal catholics to justify the use of iuds, the morning after pill and even the contraceptive pill itself.
the idea is one of the fertilised embryo 'interfacing' with the mother - implanting and transmitting signals for the production of hormones triggering subsequent development of the four [misnomered] 'foetal membranes' .
The seed not being a real seed unless it's in the soil.
The embryo not being alive until it's implanted.
Imagine this notion as the tree falling in the woods not making a noise if there's no-one to hear it - grossly ridiculous epistemology deriving its justification from bastardised enlightenment idealism - you'll see the same fallacious reasoning all over the place - something doesn't exist until it makes its presence known ! Aristotle is spinning in his grave.

c] The nucleic acid problem .

I've already mentioned when fertilised an embryo can split into twins,triplets etc and this allows arguments condemning the notion of ensoulment.
does each twin get half a soul, or does an extra soul pop up or descend from heaven ; and what happens to the second soul if recombination [a regular risk in IVF] occurs ? does one human being contain two souls or does the soul vanish ?

but lets go all frankenstein - supposing we separated the embryo up cell by cell at an early stage and implant this genome into irradiated ova - thus producing dozens of siblings - does the multicell embryo contain one soul per cell in order to ensure each of these new embryos is ensouled or do these souls pop into existence when the new embryo is formed - if so what happens to the original soul ?

yes, this is obscene speculation - but it's all grounded in that single comment of His Holiness of blessed memory...get my point ?

let's go to the ultimate proposition - every cell in one's body could potentially produce a clone - supposing in a nightmare future billions of clones were made from a single human - from where would their souls derive unless the soul was not inherant within each and every cell ?

utterly ridiclous of course - alien and anathema to all we were trying to morally and ontologically defend within the unique individual deriving from conception who must be afforded all the rights and dignity as an entity which is directed towards a fully fledged living human being and person external from the womb - and be deemed as essentially human life without exception ; irrespective of the accidental consequences occurring to it which may not allow this to be completed.

what is a soul ?
how are we ensouled ?
are we even ensouled or is the process even more spiritually and supernaturally mysterious ?

We don't know !
Therefore we must always as a moral categorical imperative err on presumptive caution that irrespective of any scientific or metaphysical speculation - the conceptus is axiomatically a unique aspect of creation to its fullest extent which includes being created in God's image to its fullest extent regarding its possession of a soul.

We must NEVER transgress this principle by conspiring with presumed corollaries or corroborating scientific evidence which seem to justify our ontological and moral principles - it's building a house on sand; and sadly this is what Pope John Paul II, in all innocence and wondrous faith in the divine; inadvertently became embroiled in; by allowing his statements regarding our faith to be analysed out of context as scientific phenomena.

Yet again all I'm saying is beware
Rely on our fundamental moral principles and construct one's arguments accordingly - not on presumed scientific phenomena which seem to vindicate it.

{ A few responded [another e-mailed me] , implying I was speaking detrimentally of Pope John Paul II , who was highly educated with two doctorates yet never claimed to be an expert [they presumed I was claiming I was, although I never even implied it] on the issue so took advice from the experts - one in paticular referred to anyone wishing to know more on the subject should consult the site . This led to my response :}

...I made no reference to evangelium vitae or questioned its moral integrity or its potential contrariety with scientific evidence ; nor did I anywhere make any counterclaims regarding ensoulment or the validity of Pope John Paul II's statement.
I was referring to those who cling to these 'soundbites' and infer a great deal more to the point of hyperbolic construction of a principle grounded upon it - it's how every ideology begins.

I would never claim this was His Holiness' rationale; but I know there are a great deal of people out there who presume certain things grounded in these presumed 'factoids' and formulate their ethical stances accordingly - and the moment science appears to compromise or jeapordise that morality 'built on sand' it collapses. The moment we stopped arguing on our terms and attempted to take the fight to them on their ground - we were sunk.

Spend a decade arguing with pro-choice 'christians' who ground their morality on obfuscatory pro-choice propaganda built from mendacious embryological "old wives' tales" and you'll see where I'm coming from.

I didn't claim to be an expert on the subject ; but I am highly experienced in the argumentation on the subject - I have only a meaningless pseudo-honorary doctorate in logic ; but did spend nine years studying and researching life ethics at third level education - intimating I was blowing my own trumpet or fallaciously appealing to authority was below the belt.

I didn't go on an all-out assault on the warnock report because it would take weeks of typing just to scratch the surface of the travesty - I merely referred to one of its most outrageously irrational conclusions.

Nor would I refer anyone to the Linacre site as a primary resource for ethical instruction - because it isn't ! It's there to inform and relay principles and the arguments which flow from them - were the uninformed to refer to the articles without recourse to a fundamental catholic moral theological instruction regarding our basic moral principles - confusion would arise ; especially when contrary hypotheticals or opinions of past Church fathers and saints are made without qualification [because a reader's awareness of the catholic position is regularly presumed by the author].

If you think I'm being specious please allow me to take one example from Helen Watt's article on pre-implantation diagnosis.
Within it she assumes [I contend she presumes] [for argument's sake] that the entity before twinning is destroyed completely and the twins formed are entirely new entities.
Understand so far ? whether one agrees or not or simply has no idea isn't that important [however metaphysically earth-shattering]; but that which follows IS important:

"If, on the other hand, the conceptus does not have developmental potential in any environment, then it is not a human embryo, and not a human being."

She then proceeds further along this line of development 'as act' as being of axiomatic mandatory import.

Notice the far from subtle danger in all this ?
Consider the phenomena of spontaneous abortion of the apparently non-defective embryo ? Or for that matter the defective.

Extrapolate this to congenital or developmental defects within the embryo or foetus which make its viability impossible - travel farther along this line of argument and consider anencephalic foetuses .

Is Ms Watts implying that only that which develops or maintains the potential to develop is solely human ?
[Notice the affinity with the seed/soil corollary I mentioned earlier ?]

It would appear so ; and if she was it would be utterly contrary to catholic moral teaching [inherant since the Didache, but absolute since Pius IX] regarding the embryo from conception ; irrespective of its implantation or its spontaneous abortion - it possesses a full share of human dignity and authenticity in what von Balthasar and Benedict XVI refer to as 'a democracy of essence'.

But more than likely this statement was a mere oversight , never intended to be considered on its own ; but as an exigent aside to the main thrust of the argument relating to the dignity of pre-implantation embryos by clinicians.

Inadvertently in attempting to argue one case , she takes a little less care in qualifying her side-points and lets slip through an argument which if taken out of context could destroy everything she is attempting to argue.
Normatively this wouldn't matter one jot ; because the informed reader would immediately overlook the potential unintended consequences and see it solely in the light for which it was intended.

But let's supposing someone slightly less informed of the catholic principles were to read the article ?
and they had suffered miscarriages of embryos who through an internal fault would never reach full term ; or bore an anencephalic foetus ; and then read that comment ?
They would presume Ms Watts was saying their child was never a human being !
Or suppose a secular biologist directly seeking ethical loopholes to dismiss or destroy catholic principles as contradictory, irrational, fallacious or contrary to scientific evidence - caught sight of this sentence ?
Imagine what a Dawkins or Robert Winston would do with this nugget ?

Are we so presumptuous to conclude that 'blighted ova' which would never develop into embryos past the zygote or blastocyst stage aren't fully fledged souls in Heaven when we have no idea what's in the mind of God or His providential will ?
We must always err on the side of caution [as Ms Watts wondrously concludes elsewhere] ; and maintain that prime moral principle of Human Life from conception as a categorical imperative ; we dare not consider anything else without the potential of contravening God's will.

Do you now see what I'm saying ?
I'm not talking about the ethics of an issue ; I'm talking about how to argue from our Ethical standpoint; not inadvertently ,as Chesterton puts it, 'thinking backwards'.
The late, great Fr Robert Noonan [OFM [cap]] declared that regarding catholic morality - "lest ye become like little children" is the most crucial of scriptural considerations.
Sure we must be as cunning as serpents and exercise the graces of our intellect and wisdom to their fullest extent ; but the principles intrinsically bear an innocence ,and adamantine simplicity of Truth [devoid of gnostic mystagoguery and obfuscatory complexity] Truth - the Person of Christ.

Human Life is Sacred - a gift from God.
Human Lovemaking is a gift from God in which we share in God's life and love [it invokes inseparable unitive and procreative aspects].
Human life begins at conception.

Three principles : with due concern to Original Sin tell me a single ethical argument pertaining to life and sexuality to which these cannot be applied; and in doing so manifest the totality of the catholic position.
Simple in context: Profound beyond our human consideration in discernment and deliberation - Divine Mystery.
Apply these fundamental principles and we have the promises of Christ given to Holy Mother Church that we cannot err.

When we attempt to argue outside this remit in any other way using any other grounds we are prone to failure ; and have our own arguments turned against us.

{Of course this led to arguments that I automatically alienate atheist pro-lifers by including God in the Catholic Fundamental Moral theological principles for Life and Human Sexuality}

You misunderstand the point of first principles.
You presume they must be the lowest common denominator, the most watered-down which the greater amount can agree upon.
You expect us to remove God from the equation ; this would axiomatically introduce a hidden agenda on our part; and a diminution of the principle; others may agree with the inviolability of human life from conception to grave [or somehwere in-between] ; but their reasoning could be grounded on all manner of reasons and beliefs which may either have a remote affinity or a contrariety with our position.
Natural law is a consequence and support for our theodicy ; not a criterion for it.

{he claimed he didn't misunderstand ; and that it was quite obvious I was on a hiding to nothing and participating in a 'dialogue of the deaf' by making God a mandatory element [I didn't] for a pro-Life position }

But you are misunderstanding !
...and to be frank , you're also being quite specious: Why should extra principles alienate and exclude those with similar sentiments and principles who have no theistic grounds for them ? My enemy's enemy dude.
You also refuse to acknowledge what I said in regard to first principles : excision from them does not make them simpler [e.g. 'even if there were no God our existential authentic human identity includes respect for every living individual; refusing to use them as a means to an end and considering their life inviolable'] - reductionism is not retrogressive re-grounding or simplification - that's known as Ockham's fallacy.
Your 'solely' misunderstands the holistic dissemination nature of intrinsic consequential predication - the A-B-C synthesis may preclude A-B for some; but not necessarily B-C ; or even the A--C for others.

{Of course it didn't do any good - there are those among us who think having God in the equation axiomatically invalidates the integrity or congruency of the argument. Consequently in order for them to 'get on board' we have to throw out our underlying principles . All too sad.}


Ttony said...

We need to find a job for you ... public apologist somewhere online, and somewhere for you to teach sixth formers face to face.

berenike said...

How about another post for the Faith movement on the methodological madness of mixing theology with ostensibly corroborating scientific evidence?


Anonymous said...

yes , but..

1. Right on mate! Bout time we started and ended with thoushalt not kill, 'cos G-D says so , and stopped bending over backwards and apologizing for our own existance.

2. you obviously move in more rarefied intellectual circles than me( if divine providence gives you an intellect and the possibility of study over so many years, p'raps part of the reason is getting the lampoil aboard for your encounters with subtly minded prodeathers.)Me, I´m the family ignoramus in teaching who dudded out on engineering and never could even have aspired to higher science.
Point being :
I mainly have to argue with other teachers and ilk, who agree you shouldn't kill, but thee amd me and G-d are "medievel" and that science ( 3rd hand sundaysupplement +MSM reports and documentaries science) says that bubs are "just bunches of cells" (aint we all? ) ( cells being again "just" "Blobs of life" which is late-19th cent darwinism, but still going the rounds )or parts v their mother's body.
Science can and must evolve in understanding, so that as you say, its a shifting foundation, but such arguments are rubbish, and usually it's worth using dna , say, to emphasize this.
I don't know if one could use as common understanding of natural law the Americans' underreorted riposte to (above my pay scale)Obama last year: "Anyone ever bought a condom got a damn clear idea as to when life begins".

3. The only sophisticated nuance I ever meet is identical twins. Pro tem, I reply that A they aren't. (nearly , but not quite, they are just a damn sight more similar than anyone else)B Although We cant predict which fertilized eggs'll twin , this is not indeterminate but IS determined by the particular cell's chemistry . Even if it were proven in future to be more indeterminate than seems to be the case protem, the main point is that unforeseeable aint in G-d's vocab., and the minor point is that the people I argue with's prophets are Dan BRown and Dawkins usually at second or third hand . so they'd have the wrong end of the stick anyway.
My personal opinion is that however
difficult concedption turns out as definable on an hour tohourbasis, if its gonna be twins it gottwo souls already, Great sinnerit is thatIam, judgement for the clouding of,I dont know G-d's mind nor nuffink, just in my experience of Him He don't sorter hang about dithering.)

As you say abt them as get lost on the way, what atheist prolifers think I dunno, we'll meet'em in heaven , aint that nice , and those of us end up in the other place gonna get a nasty surprise anyway.

Finally, not your generation, and you are Quite clear what you understand by the term, but I LOATHE the word ensoulment. It surfaced for me with normanStjohnStevas , MP's shill game to wool over the english hierarchy's eyes when abortion became english law to keep all the papishers quiet, and quiet we were and then there it was, law, and just confused any and everybody, the american bishops were flanneling around ensoulment (without, I think, using the word), excusing its variants in the Church's history last year in an lengthy apologetic antabortion statement that read to me as fighting back with every last blow of our handbags. Im sure Im being judgemental. LONG STORY.
THe US Hierarchy DID quote Augustine on that one, but didn't go into the then-considered possibilty of human reproduction working on the same lines as rabbits' does, some quirks of which were known to the greeks (Does can save up sperm for a rainy day).
IT is perfectly rational, we do it with rats and chimps etc, until further knowledge, to admit as aworking hypothesis that any given animal trait MAY be shared by humans.
Nonetheless, last seen, we arent rabbits.I think.

Anyhow, More powerto yr elbow.
Sorry Im anon here, but I've forgotten the password to be my internetself: MIKE CLIFFSON

Psiomniac said...

You are all over the place philosophically, as usual :-)

Psiomniac said...

Sorry, OTSOTA I mean, not you Mike I haven't read anything of yours before.