In Isaiah 5:20 it says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” At the time abortion was legalized, opponents of the procedure warned that, if this moral floodgate was opened, there would be no telling what might pour through that would further devalue human life overall and increasingly erode traditional taboos.
Those professing to be enlightened and progressive scoffed that such a claim was an over-exaggeration designed to elicit fear. However, in the thirty-plus years since the legalization of abortion, some of the nation’s most celebrated academics in the most prestigious publications are now advocating that we as a society do away with infants that do not live up to some standard while going out of their way to defend the rights of animals and criminals.
Princeton Professor of Bioethics Peter Singer, who advocates bestiality (giving a whole other connotation to the phrase a boy and his dog) and animals rights as epitomized by the Great Apes Project which argues gorillas and orangutans deserve many of the protections enjoyed by human beings, believes that it is permissible to kill an infant up until 28 days after birth because an infant is not self-aware nor worthy of personhood since the baby has no preferences concerning living or dying. Furthermore, such a course of action might be of benefit to the family.
Interestingly, Singer is not some lone crank that got hold of a bad batch of pot in the faculty lounge. Professor Steven Pinker, director of MIT’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, in the November 2, 2000 issue of the New York Times Magazine defended the practice of infanticide by suggesting that the killing of an infant should be treated differently than a person.
Pinker argues that we only have a right not to be killed if we have “an ability to reflect upon ourselves as a continuous locus of consciousness, to form and savor plans for the future, to dread death, and to express the choice not to die.” Thus, infants do not qualify for protections against murder, and may be disposed of without offense.
The fundamental issue of this debate is perhaps one of the most important of all in this day of unsettled foundations. That of course is the question of what exactly is a human being.
Both Singer and Pinker argue that newborns should not enjoy legal protection from on the part of parents or the medical establishment because they are not fully human since they have not reached a certain level of development. The traditional ethical position contends that the baby is entitled to the same protections from bodily harm as any other member of the human family. Though these two professors have countless accolades and honors heaped upon them for their acclaimed erudition, both science and Biblical teaching affirm the position considered outdated by influential opinion-makers.
From scripture, it clearly teaches, “Thou shalt not murder.” And though many theologians and Bible scholars grant an exception for the taking of human life in the case of self-defense in the case of war or when confronted by someone intent on doing bodily harm and in the case of capital punishment authorized by the Noahic covenant as spelled out in Genesis 9, in no way does an infant pose the kind of threat presented by these specific exceptions. Inconvenience just does not constitute that manner of bodily harm.
Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” In Psalms 139:13-16 it says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;...My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”
If the embryo inside the mother is not a distinct person in his own right, how is the Lord able to know a specific collection of cells apart from the mother? Life as a continuum from conception and gestation on through birth and maturation is further confirmed in Psalms 51:5 which says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Nonpersons are not capable of existing in a state of sin.
Those with degrees as long as their arms cannot turn around and claim such speculations are ancient Hebrew superstitions. These prophetic revelations are confirmed by the very science the wonders of the modern world are based upon.
Both the fetus and the newborn are as genetically unique at these particular stages as the ethicists and physicians pondering the nuances of this philosophical quandary. Scott Rae writes, “(1) An adult human being is the end result of the continuous growth of the organism from conception. (2) From conception to adulthood, this development has no break that is relevant to the essential nature of the fetus. (3) Therefore, one is a human person from the point of conception onward (142).”
One of the most powerful arguments against both infanticide and abortion is that if you devalue human life at these stages, what is to prevent it from being devalued at other stages by radical utilitarians and the like? This is what happens when the standard suggested by both Peter Singer and Steven Pinker is employed.
For starters, what even is a “continuous locus of consciousness” and even if we knew, how many would even want to reflect upon it? Furthermore, even if one did, shouldn’t human value be based on something more than whether or not the individual is tickled pink at the prospect of his own belly button?
What if the individual does not temporarily possess the ability to reflect upon oneself as a “continuous locus of consciousness”; does this mean the disgruntled spouse has a window of opportunity each night to whack their mate as the sleep and get a get of jail free card? After all, during many stages of sleep one is not even aware of one’s surroundings much less one’s inner emotional workings.
The other criteria used to determine whether or not an infant is worthy of life are no less troubling. Both Pinker and Singer hold to a standard that an individual is not worthy of life unless one has the ability to ask to be kept alive.
If that is the case, if one slips on the ice and knocks themselves out, they had better come to before the ambulance gets there because who knows what organ hungry doctors would do if this criteria is allowed to play itself out. Before you know it, your kidneys and corneas could be on airplanes headed in multiple directions.
All joking aside, Pinker’s comments especially cause one to stop and pause to wonder if these remarks could be used to justify a sliding scale for human life not all that different than the blue books used by insurance companies to assess automobile depreciation. For example, Pinker says, to be worthy of life, one must savor plans for the future and dread death. Since the twenty-year old has more of these than the eighty-year old, doesn’t it then follow that it would be a greater offense to kill the twenty-year old than the eighty year-old? If the Professor has raised his children in light of such values, I trust for his own sake he does not let his guard down around them for fear of what he might find being plunged in his back as he ages.
Furthermore, who at some point in their lives (especially during the moody teenage years) hasn’t gone through a period where they didn’t care one way or the other whether life continued or not? Even if one is no where near jumping off the root of a building or suck fumes out of an exhaust pipe hasn't gone through times where the thought did not transiently skip across out minds how much easier things would be if we simply didn't wake up the next day. That did not mean that those around us had the right to do away with us.
It has been said that a society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members. If current academic opinion about how easily the unborn can be discarded is any kind of barometer, America could be in for a tumultuous twenty-first century.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. Frederick holds a BS in Political Science/History, a MA in Apologetics/Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a PhD. in Christian Apologetics from Newburgh Theological Seminary.