Saturday, July 21, 2012

Abortion- a biologist's perspective

This morning I woke up and realized that there was a highly controversial, polarizing, and emotionally-charged issue that I had failed to say anything about. Baffled at how I ever could have let this issue slip through my fingers for so long, I subjected myself to a cold shower, many push ups, and forced myself to eat nothing but asparagus for breakfast (oh wait, I like asparagus).

Alright, enough humor to try to put you at ease. I actually think this is a very serious issue and one that more people should talk about! Because this is such a charged topic, I certainly can understand why most try to avoid the topic all together.

Let's try to have a level-headed, non-emotional, respectful conversation about this! Hear me out, and I promise to hear you out. Also, while describing biological concepts I will throw in some star wars jokes to help readers learn about science stuff (this will prevent some readers from being bored). When talking specifically about abortion, I will avoid humor because it is a very serious issue. I want to be sensitive in case anyone has been harmed in the past with anything relating to this topic. So, I will divide this post into two sections, as clearly defined by my gigantic labels.

A Biologist's Perspective on Abortion
First of all, I think everyone can agree that murder is wrong. Please note I'm not saying that abortion is or isn't murder right now. All I'm saying is that murder is wrong. If you disagree on that one, we need to have a different conversation!

Now then, how does murder happen? When one human (or group of humans) kills another human (or group of humans).

When it comes to abortion, I think the question of paramount importance is this: 'is an unborn baby a human?' A few other appropriate questions could be 'at what point after conception is a baby human?' 'is a baby only alive once it is born?' and 'is a human actually present at conception?'

It is with reference to these questions that as a senior biology major (who never got less than an 'A' on any test given by Dr. Dini [if you go to Tech, you probably know what that means]), that I feel that I can speak authoritatively. After all, biology is defined as 'the study of life.' What is that I hear some of the feminists in the crowd saying? 'Josh!!! You are a GUY- you can't talk about abortion!' Well... I certainly am not a female, and I have what it takes to prove it. However, I am a biologist working for Texas Tech on a shark research team and a member of Howard Hughes Medical Institute. I think I can talk about what is and isn't human (in terms of biology)!

And now to answer the questions above. Let's start out with 'Is a human present at conception?'

Before I answer, let me give you a little biology background in genetics: All living organisms have these crazy things called genomes. Genomes contain all of the DNA present within an organism. DNA is genetic material that contains all the information necessary for the structure and function of an organism.

Let me share an interesting little example for you. If you have a bacteria of species X, you take its genome out, and add in the genome from bacterial species Y, bacteria X will turn into bacteria Y. That's right- species X will transform into species Y. If you don't believe me, ask Craig Venter:

This means that the identity of an organism is defined by the DNA that is present in its genome! You are a human because you have a human genome. I also am a human because I have a human genome. Winnie-the-Poo is a bear because he has a bear genome (Grizzly?). Free Willy is a killer whale because he has a killer whale genome. Babe, Lassie, and Flipper are all... I digress.

There is one more bit if biology we need to know before we can answer the question of 'is a human present at conception.' You might want to get any children out of the room now, because we're gonna talk about sex!

Now then, sperm and eggs. What are they? How do they function? Well, humans are what is known as diploid organisms. This means that our cells have two sets of chromosomes (chromosomes contain all of your DNA) - one from our mom and one from our dad. This would be in opposition to haploid organisms, which only have one set of chromosomes. (and you thought our discussion about sex was gonna be a lot more interesting, didn't you)

When people have sex, sperm go on an adventure to find an egg (kinda like Easter). The sperm from the dad have one set of chromosomes, and the egg in the mom has one set of chromosomes. When a sperm and an egg unite, the resulting cell is diploid. Watch this: Now insert 'sperm' for 'friends' and 'human genome' for 'deflector shield.' The result of the 'friends' arriving is a 'deflector shield' that has two sets of chromosomes. This means that conception results in (to use the words of the Emperor) 'a fully armed and operational' human genome. Go to (0:50 of Sex, Star Wars, Human Genome. Now we all understand!

Before the sperm and eggs unite, they have genomes that are identical to that of the parents. After the sperm and eggs unite, a new, unique, and most importantly -human- genome is present.

Now we are getting back to the serious portion of this post.

What I'm about to say has nothing to do with religion, political affiliation, race, gender, etc: I'm just gonna hit you with some good old fashioned science. Based off of biology, a human IS present at conception. If an abortion takes place at any point following conception, it is ending a human life. Ending a human life is wrong. Ending a human life is murder.

My condolences to any who have been harmed by this topic. I hope I have not added to that in any way. However, the fact that abortion results in the termination of a human life is inescapable. In the case of pregnancy/birth causing the mother to die, we are dealing with two human lives. We could talk about that issue for a lot longer, so it deserves its own post. Rape does not make ending a human life right. Mental retardation does not make ending a human life right. The potential for a less-than-happy life does not make ending a human life right.


  1. Thank you Brandon! Btw, how is life going? Also, I'd love to hear from you more if possible. =D

  2. A walnut contains the entire genome of a walnut tree, but when we eat it we are eating a nut, not a tree. A fertizied chicken egg, which I ate plenty of down on the farm as a child and contains the entire genome of a chicken is an egg, not a chicken; that really was an omlette, not a pot of chicken and dumplings. IMO, the male's only choice, which should be taken a lot more seriously in the matter than it ever seems to be, is whether or not to have sex with the female. After that, all matters take place in the female body and choices about what happen next are 100% up to the female; it's her body. No man can comprehend female reproduction, sorry. I am the original HHMI Scholar at TTU, a former bench scientist, and I have raised 2 children of my own to adulthood. It is not my responsibility to decide what other women need to do with their bodies, thank goodness; I find that to be extreme arrogance to think I would know what's best for them. No one knows what they themselves would chose to do in any situation unless they are in that particular situation and that's a fact.

    1. you are playing with semantics, not discussing biology. another way of stating your argument is: "when a cannibal eats a child, he is not eating an adult human". but as you can actually see, both are still human.

  3. Hi Melody!
    You certainly have me beat on those credentials. =D

    After thinking for a bit I'll respond appropriately to your comment. In the mean time, might I ask:

    How would you define a human?

  4. Hi again, Melody!
    Ok! I’ve had a bit of time to think and write. Sorry this comment is long (not surprising considering this is a complex topic).

    First off, thank you for your comment. It is very nice to have a fellow biologist to talk to about this. You certainly have me beat on credentials, but I think this will just make our conversation better. There are certain parts of your comment that I agreed with, and certain parts I disagreed with.

    What you said about the walnut is true, but there is a difference between a walnut and a zygote. A walnut isn't technically a nut, but a drupe (aka stone fruit). More importantly, walnuts are seeds, and are therefore comparable to sperm or eggs- they are part of the parent's body, not a new organism.

    As for the fertilized chicken eggs- a fertilized egg is a zygote.

    When a zygote forms, you have a new cell present. This cell is isn't the mom, and it isn't the dad. Basically you have a single-celled parasite inside of the mom (parasites dwell inside of and are dependent upon another organism, but have their own unique identity). But what kind of cell is a zygote? Well... Its a human cell.

    If you take 100% of my cells, you have Josh Willms. If you break of some of them (lets say all the cells that make up my arm), you don't kill me. If, however, you were to obliterate 100% of my cells, I would certainly die. In the case of a zygote, that human cell is 100% one cell. Killing that cell is killing 100% of the cells that the new human possesses.

    Also, I developed from a zygote. That initial cell is identical to all of the somatic cells in my body in terms of the DNA it possessed.

    If we start defining humans using a different standard (than genomes), I think we start to run in to problems. This comment is too long already though, so if you would like to hear my thoughts on that let me know.

    I agree with what you said about the men's choice being taken more seriously- they choose whether or not to have sex.

    I will never understand female reproduction in terms of having babies (thank goodness). I think I can understand the biology of reproduction though (in the same way that I understand genetics, cell biology, ecology, etc.), and that is all I will claim to understand about it.

    This is certainly a complicated issue, and there is vast diversity in the situations surrounding abortion. If women have the choice whether or not to have an abortion, perhaps we could agree that they should at least make an informed choice? After conception, once a zygote forms, there is a unique, diploid, human cell. The only difference from that human and other humans is the number of cells (along with developmental changes). If the number of cells that you have makes you more or less human, then sumo wrestlers are more human than any of us.

    As always, disagreeing on a polarizing subject does not change our friendship in any way. I have been deserted by too many people because I believed something different than they did. =( I didn't appreciate that, so I won't do it to others.

  5. Hey again,
    Sorry to hit you with three comments without even giving you a chance to respond. I promise this is the last one.

    I agree that it is wrong to tell other people what to do with their bodies.

    If a zygote is a human, it is wrong to tell that human to die. To do so would be... to tell that human what to do with their body. What is more, it is telling that human to die.

    Thank you for your input.

    Once again I hope that I have not hurt anyone with this post, or with my comments. That was not my intention in any way. My goal is to save what I believe (based off of my current scientific understanding) are lives that I believe are being lost due to our current laws.

  6. Hi Josh,

    I agree that the real question of abortion lies on determining whether a fertilized egg is "human" in the same way we are "human." From a biological standpoint, the zygote does indeed contain all the genetic material to form a human. But I don't think you can equate one with the other.

    It appears that you define a human being present if a cell contains the genetic code of a human. No other requirement is needed. Is that correct?

    If I use this definition, it appears that I can say that any cell in my body is a human. Every human cell contains all the DNA to code the entire human. I will assume that my application of your definition is wrong, because this is absurd. We do not grieve when our fingernails are trimmed, nor when our blood is drawn.

    So then that must not be what you are saying. Mind clarifying a bit? To me, seems like you jump from “the GENETIC MATERIAL TO CODE FOR A HUMAN is present at conception” to “a HUMAN is present at conception.” To me, a human is significantly different than DNA. We have thoughts, feelings, are not entirely dependent on one organism for nourishment and protection. We have memories, experiences, and live a life!. Why should terminating a single cell with some human DNA be at all the same thing as murdering a living, breathing person? You have not convinced me.

    Adam Izraelevitz (from the good old days :D)

  7. Hi Adam!
    Thank you very much for your comment, and it is good to hear from you. Your feedback is very well put, so well so that I have a thesis with backup to respond to you, which has never happened in one of my response comments before. =D

    Thesis: Factors such as size, intelligence, absolute dependency, memory, emotion, and experience are all a PART of life, but not what DEFINES life. Increasing or decreasing any of these factors does not increase or decrease how 'human' someone is. A better definition for life is this- 100% of the cells within a body which contain human genomes.

    The focus of my post was indeed to point out that a zygote has unique genetic material- this is to separate the existence of the zygote from the mother or father (i.e. they zygote is not a part of the mother, although it is contained inside her).

    However, in the comment two above this one I added a bit that perhaps should have included in the body of my post:

    "If you take 100% of my cells, you have Josh Willms. If you break of some of them (lets say all the cells that make up my arm), you don't kill me. If, however, you were to obliterate 100% of my cells, I would certainly die. In the case of a zygote, that human cell is 100% one cell. Killing that cell is killing 100% of the cells that the new human possesses."

    That should respond to your comment adequately on the biological side of things. If you don't feel the same, let me know!

    I will respond to the rest of your concerns in my next comment.

  8. Your comment did not only address the biological aspect. Memories, experiences, thoughts, and feelings are certainly factors that are essential to what it means to be human.

    However, I do not think these are good standards by which to define whether or not a human is present in the womb, or at what point during development a cell or group of cells becomes human. Allow me to provide a few examples.

    1) Intelligence is not a good standard by which to measure whether or not an organism is human. If this were the case, the mentally handicapped would become 'less' human. In addition, even if someone loses their mind or goes crazy, I don't think they become less of a human, and it certainly isn't ok to kill them.

    2) Size is not a good standard by which to measure humanity, because small people are not less human than big people.

    3) Absolute dependency on one's environment is a poor standard, because all of us are absolutely dependent on our environment to survive. The difference between you and I is that we are entirely dependent on earth, while a zygote is entirely dependent on the mother (who is, incidentally, also entirely dependent on earth).

    4) Memories are a poor standard, because people don't become less human when they lose their memories. Also, newborn babies don't have any memories yet, but they are not less human for this.

    5) Experience is not a good standard, once again, because newborn babies have no experience, but are definitely still human.

    6) Emotion is not a good standard, because, well, Ron Weasley is human.

    And so I say, all of those things are a PART of life, not what DEFINES life.

    Because I found that the factors listed above were not useful in determining whether or not an organism is 'human' or 'alive,' I turned towards biology. What defines life in a biological sense is genetic material. I should propose a complete definition though- A human life is 100% of the living cells in a body which contain the same genome, along with material excreted by those cells which is still attached to that body. I feel that this definition is far more useful.

    When would you mourn more? When a very old person who has lived a long and fulfilled life dies, or when a newborn baby dies? I would say that the old person has lived for a long time and experienced the parts of life, there is an aspect of celebration when that person dies. I would certainly be sad when they left us as well. When the newborn dies, I would be much, much sadder. There can be no celebration in this case, because the life is present, but the parts of life that come later never got to be realized.

  9. Unfortunately, I'm still not convinced.

    “When would you mourn more? When a very old person who has lived a long and fulfilled life dies, or when a newborn baby dies? “

    I agree with you, in that when a newborn baby dies it is more tragic because, as you say, “the parts of life that come later never got to be realized.” And, though you don't actually make the comparison, I'm assuming you are implying that because a fertilized cell has so much potential, it should be grieved in the same way. And it is here that I disagree.

    Let's, for now, assume that there are two distinct things – potential for human life, and human life itself. I'd say, and I think you agree with me, that what makes the death of a newborn baby so much more tragic than the death of an elder is not that the newborn baby is more “human” than our elder, but that it has more potential. However, just because the baby has more potential does not mean that a zygote is human. If we agree that there is a distinction between potential for human life and human life itself, than this comparison does not work.

    Which would you grieve more? A newborn baby that a mother spent 9 months carrying, or a miscarriage that happened immediately after conception and the mother never knew she was pregnant? I would contend that the newborn baby is so much more tragic, because not only did it have so much potential, but the baby was an actual human being. The miscarried zygote, on the other hand, is sad because the potential was lost, but in no way comparable to the death of a child.

    I would also say that the vast majority of society agrees with me – no woman will examine the blood of a period after she may have conceived. If that cell was indeed “human” by all standards such that murder applies, society would and should make all efforts in this example to find the egg, see if it was fertilized, and if so, do whatever you can to preserve it. But this is silly – that cell is not human. It has the potential for life, and nothing more.

  10. Hi again! Once again, thank you for you feedback.

    I agree with what you said about a newborn being mourned more than a zygote. However, I feel like I included the part about mourning a newborn vs an old person more as an after thought. It could also serve to demonstrate that the length of a life is not a good way to determine whether or not something is alive. The majority of my response had to do with the definition of life.

    What you said about a zygote not being human simply isn't true from a biological perspective. That cell is absolutely human.

    You could argue that it isn't human in the sense of lacking higher intelligence, emotions, size (number of cells), etc. However, I think I already address those issues in the main body of my previous comment (I'm counting both of them as a single comment).

    I like what you brought up about life and potential life. Sperm and eggs are parts of human bodies, and they have the potential to become new life forms. In an evolutionary sense, chemicals have the potential to become living cells. Also, inanimate objects can be incorporated into cells via metabolic processes, and therefore also have the potential for life.

    Perhaps we should make a distinction here, because we may be talking about two different things. There is biological life and the biological definition of a human, and emergent life and the emergent definition of a human. I believe I have already given an adequate definition for biological life. Also, I haven't seen any arguments so far that would refute my claim that a zygote is a biological human.

    Do you agree with me in that sense?

    I feel like you are focusing more on the emergent properties of humanity. If we use that definition for life, which would include intelligence, experience, memories, etc. then I would say that a zygote certainly is not emergently alive.

    Conclusion: A zygote is biologically a living human. A zygote has the potential to become an emergent human.

    Would you agree with my conclusion statement?

    1. Hi my name is Eric and your a very intelligent young man Josh, and it seems that you are one of a small handful of people that correctly understand science and its just to bad that a few people don't get what your trying to convey. Are you familiar with Ken Ham? He's got site to check out, got great scientific knowledge on it. If you want to check it out here's the address . Ken made the Creation Museum in Cincinnati and if you haven't been there, its really awesome! If you have some time off and curious to see whats its like, take a road trip there, you wont regret it! My best friend goes down there about every year and he and the family loves it every time they go.

      I'm not sure if Unicorn will write back, I've been following the dialog between you guys. It seems that he's a knowledgeable guy but I think that some of his rebuttal is not based on science (the facts) as much as it is on his personal opinion. You make a great, clear case Josh but Unicorn just doesn't understand or doesn't want to believe or come to the truth that a zygote is a Human life. I don't know in Unicorns case, but to me, and from listening to all the evolutionist, pro-abortion type scientists is that they are not basing their “truth” on actual factual evidence, but more on their own immoral agenda(for money, political power, rejecting the idea that there might be a Creator that they would have to answer to for all the wrong that they have done,.....etc.etc.).

      I guess if set our minds on something that we want (even if its wicked or not) and find something that resembles like it could support our theory in what we want, then we can make it into “truth” and do our best to shoot down the opposition. That is the mindset of the majority of the scientific community. Instead of searching for the real truth and finding facts with a open mind they go into their field of study with a predetermined mind, bent on getting their way. Sorry to ramble Josh and whoever may see this but human life is so precious and I feel compelled to help defend the defenseless (baby zygotes, not you Josh :) ) and hopefully add to the conversation positively.

      If we think its ok to end a life in the womb because it doesn't resemble like a “real baby” because it “just” a zygote. Ask yourself this, if you got into a horrible accident and lost your legs, arms and most of your face and your paralyzed with no way to communicate, would you think its right to say that your not human anymore and deserve to be discarded like tomorrows trash?
      Whats the difference? We are created; meant to live for something bigger than us and not to be discarded because we are insignificant or an inconvenience (zygote or paraplegic) to others.

      Keep up the good work Josh!

      “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalm 139:14

    2. Hi Eric!
      Thank you very much for your response and for the link! It is very good to hear from you, and I thank you for such a lengthy response. I am very familiar with answersingenesis and the Creation Museum.

      I have to let you know that I very much think that evolution took place and that our earth is older than 6000 years or so. The reason my blog post is kinda unique is because I am a pro-biology, pro-evolution scientist who thinks that abortion is wrong not based off of religion, but based of of biology.

      I would be more than happy to discuss evolution, the age of the earth, answersingenesis, or just about any deep issue with you! I would also be more than happy to read any articles you send me on these topics. =D

      If I may, I think I need to defend Unicorn a little bit (Hi Unicorn! I'm guessing you will probably read this, and feel free to correct me if anything I say is inaccurate!). I don't think he has an agenda for money, political power, or rejecting some form of higher power. He is bringing up some very good points that apply to my arguments in a constructive way. What you said may apply to other people, but I think Unicorn is just having a fair and intellectually informed discussion with me. =D

      I admire your desire to protect the defenseless. I think that is very very very important! It is also the reason I wrote this post.

      Once again thank you for your response! And again, feel free to hit me with any material that you feel is relevant to what I'm doing on this blog, namely- gathering as much evidence as possible to determine whether or not God exists. You could even share the gospel with me if you are so inclined.

      Your friend,
      Josh the Searcher

    3. Oh and one more thing! If you are interested, here is a post of mine on the age of the earth:

      I would love to get your feedback. Also, if you can show me arguments or evidence that refute this, I promise to change my mind.

      Also, I have to say thank you again! All of your kind words and positive feedback really means a lot to me. I also thought your analogy about loss of function was really good. Even if someone is immobilized and loses all of their senses- heck, lets even knock them unconscious, they are still human.

      I hope to talk with you again soon,

    4. Hello again Josh, I'm glad you liked my post and sorry it was a little to long, I had a lot on my heart.

      I don't know if Uni will reply back to what you have been discussing with him because I believe your argument is sound and he shouldn't have any rebuttal against what you've said based on science alone. I didn't think that his motives are from political or religious, etc... but when I saw his last post, he talks about “morally human” aka human morality or moral code and that to me tells me that the subject, at least from his perspective, has shifted from science to ethics and that's why I brought up the topic of making your mind up before the facts are presented. It's not a bad thing to stray from the initial topic, heck, I do that all the time. You'd be surprised at how ppl will ignore the plain truth that's right in front of them and twist it to conform what they want it to say or be(not to say that Uni is doing this, but its indicative to human nature). This is a great example (watch the video from begging to end and you'll see what I mean)

      . I don't want you guys to think that I'm being defensive, I just wanted to make it clearer on what I said (or at least I hope I made it clearer).

      Your a smart man also Uni and I was wondering how you came up with your name? Unicorns DO fly, on the cartoons that my kids watch and the Unicorn Pillow Pets they throw at me all the time. That's all I see are flying Unicorns. Here's a pic shot from an observatory showing a Unicorn, with wings, flying out in space shortly before it exploded.

      Proof baby!

      Well, its late and I need to head to bed soon. As far as the world being older than 6000 or 10000 years or so, I believe in the literal meaning of 6 days of creation and that's more on faith in The Word of God(The Holy Bible) more than scientific evidence. I think that this book will be able to explain better on a scientific level than I can and I think I might just buy it.,4245,228.aspx

      Seventy-nine cents is not a bad deal. This subject is one I would like chat with ya in the future. You have a good night Josh and all that are reading, hope to see you all soon.

      Oh, by the way Josh, do you have an XBOX 360? I do and if you do to and your on XBOX Live, let me know and add me to your friends list if you would like. We can play some Call of Duty and talk trash to others while talking about pro life and the sorts, and tea-bagging them too. Good night and I'm out!


    5. Hi KurlyD (and Josh if you are reading this)

      Thanks for your comments KurlyD – its nice to have productive conversations about a topic that is this controversial, so I'm really happy that there is an underlying tone of respect we all have for each other, even though we do disagree.

      I'll first address your comment on how I strayed from the topic at hand, as you said “the subject, at least from his perspective, has shifted from science to ethics.” I would like to refer you back to Josh's original blog post, where he concludes with the following statement: “Ending a human life is wrong. Ending a human life is murder.” Please correct me if I am wrong Josh, but it seems that Josh was using the science behind what makes us human to answer an ethical question, namely whether abortion is morally equivalent to murder. My posts have been concerned with whether his scientific claim can actually be applied to the ethical situation. Josh and I both agree that a zygote is biologically human. I do not dispute whatsoever his claims about the biology behind fertilization or DNA. What I do dispute is this application of a scientific concept to an ethical dilemma. I explain my reasoning in some followup posts, which you, if inclined, can peruse. I don't really want to repeat myself in another post.

      Secondly, I'd like to make a comment about why the topic of abortion is so controversial. What makes abortion such a divisive subject is that both parties have, from their perspectives, so much to lose by conceding. If you are pro-life, then giving in to a pro-choice argument would be allowing murder to happen. If you are pro-choice, giving in to a pro-life argument would be abandoning those people who's lives were saved by abortions, or were rape victims, etc. So both parties have so much at stake, it is extremely difficult to approach the topic with an open mind.

      I commend Josh for starting this blog, because it seems like its a great place for people to put aside their previous biases and really discuss a topic, without the fear of being wrong. Since we are all on an honest search for the truth, no one “loses” an argument – we all win! Because if we do find a nugget of truth from our conversations, all of us benefit, regardless of our previous biases or opinions.

      Thirdly, about my username... It is quite a long story, but it is suffice to say that I created this profile more than 5 years ago and have not used it since. I wanted to comment on Josh's blog post, and I guess Google remembered this old username. It has no real meaning, except people often forget that it is Pegasus that was the original flying horse. Unicorns originally did not have wings – their only distinctive feature was the single horn. However, popular culture has mixed them so now we have unicorns with wings.

    6. Hi guys!
      Kurly: You bring up the most important point that has ever been discussed on this blog- I DO have an XBOX 360. However, I only play Gears of War 3. (I don't have very much time for video games unfortunately) However, once I get to med school I need to make the time- doctors who play video games do faster surgeries and make fewer mistakes.

      Also, I will check out that book and maybe do some blog posts on it! =D

      Underground Unicorn,
      What you said about my blog being a good place to discuss things, and everyone searching for truth (which means we all win), absolutely made my day! I consider that to be one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me and I take it as a gigantic complement. =D

      Also, your explanation of why abortion is so polarizing was very informative. When opposite sides have a lot to lose, they tend to dig trenches. When they class with each other the trenches get deeper. Anyway, good thought.

      See you guys later,

    7. Hello Uni and Josh. What a subject eh? Yes abortion is a very heated discussion in America and the world in general. Why? Because its murdering a defenseless unborn child, 9 months along or a zygote. That tends to get people going. It certainly got you going more on the ethical side (even though Josh made a couple of concluding remarks about killing a zygote is wrong(and is there a scientific right to kill somebody with out it being a morality issue?)) because that, as humans, is what we make a lot of our decisions based on; our conscience. For instance, when I see a human vegetable on TV, I feel real bad about his situation because he/she is still human (even if they never wake up again) and I want that person to get better if possible. Now, I could fight my conscience (God given moral compass) and think “well he/she's not moving, cant respond to anything, useless, cost a lot of money and heartache to the family...just unplug him/her. Its the “humane” way and go about my day” then do my best to justify my thinking or actions by collecting partial or incorrect data to substantiate my claims or I could just listen to my conscience saying “find the truthful facts and don't spin them”. (I know, I need to work on sentence structure:)) So maybe it was for the better to talk about this on the ethical side, because it shows how much we value (or don't value) life. It's what we default to at times because it's at the core of who we are.

      Before I continue on, I challenge you guys, or anybody who sees this post, to watch this video on my website. Its called the 180' movie, if you are really searching for the truth, then you need to watch it in its entirety with an open mind. The movie will most definitely add to this discussion. Just click on my user-name in this post and it will take you there. Stop reading now, watch it, then come back here and read the rest please.

      If I could, I wish I could shrink myself down to the size of a zygote and give the baby a big hug.
      I especially wish I could have done it about a year and half ago when my wife had a miscarriage. I wanted to see, hold and bury what was left of him/her, but they were gone, my wife had mistakenly flush him/her down the toilet thinking it was just vaginal bleeding. Then to find out the next day when we visited the doctor, we found out that she had lost the baby. It was a sad, sad time, and to this day, still brings a tear to my eye. Its worries me to think that girls will throw away a precious human life when there are people out there trying hard to have kids but cant. Make no mistake about it! The babies are the victims here, not the girls throwing away the babies (even though a small % has died because of a abortion doctor botching the killing procedure, however, they wouldn't have died if they didn't go to the clinic). For what ever reason, if the girls parents say get rid of it, or they cant afford it or even if they got raped, adoption is the solution to abortion. Let somebody who is willing to love a child, that cant have one, adopt them into their homes to be cared for.

      Life is a gift that is not to be taken so lightly and its never to be thrown away. You guys have a good one! Hear from you soon.


  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. “What you said about a zygote not being human simply isn't true from a biological perspective. That cell is absolutely human… Perhaps we should make a distinction here, because we may be talking about two different things. There is biological life and the biological definition of a human, and emergent life and the emergent definition of a human.”

    Yes, when I stated that ‘that cell is not human,’ I did not mean it wasn’t biologically human – I mean it is not “human” in the sense that murder is wrong to kill a “human.” I do not refute the fact that the zygote is biologically human, but I do disagree that it is “human” in the same way a baby or a person is “human” in the eyes of the law/moral reasoning. From now on, when talking about a human in the sense that you cannot kill a “human,” I will refer to it as “morally human,” or human in the eyes of the law/morality.

    “Conclusion: A zygote is biologically a living human. A zygote has the potential to become an emergent human.”

    I absolutely agree with you. If I may clarify our debate, it seems that the question we are debating over is whether a zygote is morally human. We both agree it is biologically human, but being biologically human does not necessarily imply that it is morally human. Let me explain why. You said in your previous post:

    “I agree with what you said about a newborn being mourned more than a zygote.”

    If this is true, WHY do you grieve more for a newborn than a zygote? If a biological human is the lawful equivalent to a newborn baby, shouldn’t we grieve the same, if not more, if the zygote dies? We mourn the least for the elder because, though he is morally human, he has the least potential (he has already lived a great life). We mourn more for the child because, yes he is morally human, but also he had so much wasted potential. If we follow the same logic, we should mourn the MOST for the zygote because, if we consider a zygote morally human, it has the most potential of all! It has only exists a few days, versus a newborn which has lived months!

    Yet, you said it yourself, and I agree with you: the miscarriage of a zygote is not nearly as sad as the death of a child. To me, it makes no sense to say a zygote is the moral equivalent of a human.

    Does this mean one can willy-nilly kill zygotes whenever? Absolutely not! The potential for human life is extremely important, and should NOT be wasted without good reason. But, in the case of abortion, comparing a zygote to a newborn does not make sense.

  13. Hi again Adam,
    This has been a very good conversation. I feel like we are making a lot of progress, and I'm thinking about this more deeply than I ever have before. Thank you for everything you have said so far.

    I'm glad we agree on the distinction- A zygote is biologically human, and has the potential to become an emergent human.

    Since we agree that a zygote is biologically human, we can now focus our discussion on whether or not a zygote is morally human and whether or not destroying a zygote is murder.

    To figure this out, we need a definition of what it means to be morally human. It seems to me that what makes humans unique as a race (compared with other animals) is intelligence, emotions, and self-consciousness. Hmmmm this is very tricky because animals also display intelligence and emotion, just to a lesser degree than we do. Who knows whether or not animals are self-aware...

    You know, I'm not really sure where to proceed from here. I keep on jumping back to our uniqueness coming from our genome. It all keeps on coming back to biology for me, because, well... I'm a biologist and thats how I see the world.

    I tend to not like the definition based off of intelligence because there is a broad range of intelligence within the human race, and being more or less intelligent does not make one more or less human.

    The same holds true for emotion and self-awareness. Having more or less emotion does not make one more or less human, just as being more or less self aware does not make one more or less human.

    One more thought on the grieving issue: I think historically people tend to not grieve fetuses or growing babies that die very early because of a lack of education. On the large scale, we just didn't know that much about the development of a zygote into a baby.

    Because of this, I think we should decide whether or not to grieve based off of our conclusion concerning the identity of a zygote, rather than deciding the identity of a zygote based off of our current emotional response.

    And there I will leave you for now, and I look forward to your response. I would like to have a definition that is better than a simple biological one, but until then I have to keep falling back to it because it seems to be the only universal and truly fair definition. Perhaps you could give me another definition for humanity that applies to all humans?

    Your friend,

  14. Hi Josh,
    Yes, I agree this has been a very productive conversation, thanks!

    “I think we should decide whether or not to grieve based off of our conclusion concerning the identity of a zygote, rather than deciding the identity of a zygote based off of our current emotional response.”

    So you bring up a good point – does morality cause us to grieve, or does grieving cause morality? In other words, is morality external to humans and cause us to act in certain ways, or does us acting in certain ways cause us to call it morality?

    From a biologist's perspective, would you agree the latter is more probable? I say probable, because though we know they are linked, the direction of causality is unclear. Since we cannot know with certainty which causes which, we need to ask which is more probable: general trends exist which we classify as morality, or do morals exist causing this general trend in human society?

    It seems to me that the evolution of society can fairly comprehensively explain why the vast majority of morals are universal among different societies. Just as organisms evolve and the ones that succeed more in their environments survive, the same should work with societies. Take for instance a society where lying is perfectly acceptable. This would never work because conversation would be meaningless – you would never know if who you were talking to is lying. Thus, this society would fall apart. Another example – a society where willy-nilly murder is widely adopted. Chaos would quickly tear apart this misfortuned society. The societies that succeed would be the ones where truth-telling is emphasized so interactions are meaningful, and killing is discouraged so teamwork is possible.

    If I am right in saying that societies naturally develop universal moral rules, then it seems that what we attribute “morality” to is simply these tendencies which preserve a society if the majority of its members abide by these tendencies. This means that the arrow of causality is not morality → societal trends, but societal trends → morality.

    Let's take this back to your earlier comment. If morality is derived from society trends, what better way to figure out what makes something moral than look at that society? You said it yourself, no one grieves more for a zygote than a child. In fact, I may go out on a limb to estimate that almost every human on earth would agree with you.

    To summarize my position:
    1. Our grief at the loss of a being is proportional to that being's potential for humanity, given that that being is morally human. (remember the elder dying vs newborn child dying example)
    2. A zygote has more potential for humanity than a newborn child (one has minutes of existence versus the other having months of existence)
    3. If we suppose that a zygote is morally human, then our grief should be proportional to the zygote's potential for humanity. (from 1)
    4. We should grieve more for the zygote than the newborn child (from 2,3)
    5. We do not grieve more for the zygote than the newborn child (observation)
    6. Thus, a zygote is not morally human.

    My discussion about the evolution of society causing morals is my defense of premise 1.

    1. Hi again! Sorry it took me so long to respond.

      I enjoyed your thoughts on the evolution of apparent morality.

      I agree with what you said here: "If I am right in saying that societies naturally develop universal moral rules, then it seems that what we attribute “morality” to is simply these tendencies which preserve a society if the majority of its members abide by these tendencies. This means that the arrow of causality is not morality → societal trends, but societal trends → morality."

      I would add that a biological process cannot create objective morals, but only perceived objective morals. What I mean here is that biology can never say things are 'right' or 'wrong.' It can only cause the evolution of sentient beings who have 'morals' imbedded within them, although there is no true or absolute reason for following these morals.

      I am a little bit uneasy about this: "If morality is derived from society trends, what better way to figure out what makes something moral than look at society?" Let's say the Nazis took over the world. The societal trends would have been atrocious. Would you consider those trends to be moral?

      After thinking more about the grieving over a zygote, I think I need to change my opinion. People who don't understand what a zygote really is in a genetic sense (most people) not grieving over a zygote means nothing to me. I will let the conclusions of our discussion dictate whether or not I grieve more. If a zygote is human, I will grieve the same. If not, I will grieve less.

    2. I appreciate the logical way in which you explained your position. That is a very effective way for us to communicate.

      Right now I disagree with #1 and #5. I feel that this trend of grievance exists because people don't know what they are dealing with. If this trend still existed after everyone had taken a few biology classes, I would be more inclined to agree.

    3. A final thought before letting you respond again (on this topic).

      While I don't currently know whether or not a God(s) exist, I think that God(s) are necessary for objective morality.

      If a higher being exists that created everything, and it has authority over what it created, it can give objective morals to people. In this case, the higher being decides what is right and what is wrong.

      If there is no higher power, there is no objective morality. No one can tell another person that what they are doing is actually 'wrong' in a truly moral sense. In this case, everyone becomes their own 'god' deciding what is right and what is wrong.

      So, if a higher being exists. It gets to define morality. If no higher being exists, individuals decide on morality for themselves.

      I think that this path will ultimately lead our conversation towards politics. This would mean that in a monarchy, the kind would define what is right or wrong. For our democratic society, those who the people elect to make laws get to decide.

      So for now, it would appear that we have arrived at morality by consensus.

    4. "If there is no higher power, there is no objective morality. No one can tell another person that what they are doing is actually 'wrong' in a truly moral sense."

      If there is no higher power, that doesn't necessarily imply that morality is now relative (i.e. no objective morality). As we talked about before, societies develop trends to preserve the society. We call these trends morals. Now, if someone is acting against the trend, I would call him immoral. But, that does that mean that I or anyone else became "their own 'god' deciding what is right and what is wrong." I simply replaced the authority of the "higher power" with these societal trends.

      "Let's say the Nazis took over the world. The societal trends would have been atrocious. Would you consider those trends to be moral?"

      Let me clarify. When I refer to societal trends, I do not mean the moral trends of a specific society. That would be moral relativism. I refer to trends that are present in ALL societies, or the vast, vast majority of them. These are trends that are fundamental to the existence to the society.

      When I said we need to look at society, we need to at the collection of societies and find these things that are universal. And, I would claim that grief over the death a newborn is almost universally greater than the grief over the death of a zygote.

    5. "I feel that this trend of grievance exists because people don't know what they are dealing with. If this trend still existed after everyone had taken a few biology classes, I would be more inclined to agree."

      This is an interesting thought! Well, then lets take the subsection of people on earth who really understand what a zygote is, namely the fertilized egg of a women, which if successfully attaches to the wall of the uterus, will develop into an embryo, then a fetus, then a baby. Look deep into your heart, put yourself into that situation. All other things equal other than their ages, which would you grieve more for if it died?

      You would probably know more than me, but are the majority of biologists pro-choice or pro-life?

  15. “Perhaps you could give me another definition for humanity that applies to all humans? “

    This is a very deep topic to discuss. Before we launch into it though, I would like to point out that I do feel I have adequately shown that a zygote is not morally human, without needing to define what it actually means to be “morally human.” In a way, we don't need to know. We can prove definitively that something is not morally human without having to say exactly what “morally human” is. However, I think this is an interesting question, and wouldn't mind getting into it.

    Let's start by looking at some corner cases. This is always a good strategy for figuring out definitions. It seems that we disagree on the zygote. What about a man who's brain died completely, and is a living vegetable. Would you consider him human? He is brain dead, but his body is alive. From my understanding (this is from a TV show.. so if I am wrong let me know! haha) I think the law would say that he is not alive, and the family members can pull the plug and let the organs be donated, thus saving some lives. If he was considered morally human, killing him would be murder, and the law wouldn't allow that. So, assuming that TV show was correct, a brain-dead man is no longer morally human.

    Got any more corner cases? Lets put some out there and see how we feel about them, then we can brainstorm some ideas. I've got a few, but I want to hear your opinion of this corner case first.

  16. Hello again,
    Right now I disagree with this statement: 'I would like to point out that I do feel I have adequately shown that a zygote is not morally human, without needing to define what it actually means to be “morally human.”'

    I mostly disagree with the 'without needing to define what it actually means to be "morally human."'

    I think that you do need to define what a human is before you can say that a zygote isn't one. A definition as certainly necessary if we are going to have a conversation about it.

    For example, consider the box I am currently holding. Inside of it, I have something. You don't know what is in the box. Can you tell me whether or not a gameboy falls into the same category as what I have in my box? Can you tell me if a cherry is the same color as what I have in my box? Nope. You don't know what is in the box.

    I think that we need to define 'humanity' before we can determine whether or not a zygote is morally human.

  17. Looking at some corner cases sounds like a great idea!

    First let me examine your first example- a man is brain dead and is a living vegetable. For this case to apply to a zygote, we would have to add that while this man is brain dead, he will wake up and continue life in about 9 months.

    If a man were brain dead, I would not consider him human. If a man were brain dead, but was going to regain the function of his brain in 9 months, I think it would be immoral to kill him. If it were me, I would definitely want to wait it out and go on living.

    But there is a further difference- this man would have already experienced life, whereas a zygote has experienced nothing. For this scenario, we have to determine whether or having had past experience makes the difference.

  18. I think I have another example.

    Let's say that a baby is born in a coma. The baby cannot move, feel, learn, see, or experience anything. If the baby could dream, what could it possibly dream of? Never having opened its eyes there would be a blank slate. However, in 9 months this baby will awake from its coma and go on with life normally.

    Is this baby morally human before it wakes up?

  19. "I think that you do need to define what a human is before you can say that a zygote isn't one."

    So this isn't true, let me explain why. Here's an example: I see some alien-like thing and have no idea what its. Defining it is extremely difficult. But, what I do know, is it is not an apple. Nor a book. Nor a bed. Saying what something is and what something is not are totally different. Now, to say what something is not does mean you need to know at least bit of information of what that something is. But you need a lot less information to figure out what something is not than to find out what something is.

    "A definition as certainly necessary if we are going to have a conversation about it."

    Well, it depends. If we are trying to show that a zygote is not morally human, we don't need a strict definition for it. If we are trying to show that a zygote is indeed morally human, then you do need a strict definition. It is always easier to prove something is not something else, because you only need to find one case that shows this distinction. To prove something is something else, it requires a strict definition because a single example against your proof will falsify the claim.

    1. Hmmm you bring up a good point. My analogy had a flaw- instead of you knowing nothing about what is in the box, you actually know some things about what is inside. So, you could say that what is inside isn't a sky scraper because it would obviously be too big.

      When it comes to a zygote though, I think it is very helpful to have a definition for what is human, because the difference (if there is one), between a zygote and a human is very slight.

      In the case of development within the womb, it becomes especially important to have an exact definition, so we don't accidentally kill what should be considered morally human. For example, if we define 'human' as having a brain, then whenever a brain develops we have a human. If we define 'human' as being born, then when a baby is born it becomes 'human.'

      Unfortunately it is very difficult to pinpoint an exact moment of 'morally human now' because the development of a zygote is incremental.

      In the past, the definitions of 'morally human' that I have seen include zygotes. If you have a definition that excludes them, then I could change my mind on this. I will also try to think up/research some definitions and let you know what I come up with.

    2. "In the case of development within the womb, it becomes especially important to have an exact definition, so we don't accidentally kill what should be considered morally human."

      This is a good point, and I think we would both agree that having a great definition would help immensely. But again, I must stress this: a comprehensive definition of "morally human" is not necessary for determining whether abortion is murder. To "not accidentally kill what should be considered morally human" does not require knowing what morally human is, it requires knowing what morally human is not. If we can show that a zygote is not morally human, than that is all we need to conclusive state that abortion is not murder.

    3. If you guys see this, then look up at my post a little bit up aways(just in case you didn't see it)
      I was wondering Josh if you could turn on links here and if not, no big deal, just thought it would go quicker for everybody to click instead of copy and paste. To the xbox dealio, I also play Gears 3, just not as much as the other COD games so if you want to just add me to the friends list. If not, no sweat, whenever its convenient for ya. Just say its me josh and ill know its you. Later!
      by the way, was having an xbox really the most important point, if so, then lets start another blog called"to have or to have not an xbox360"
      later Josh


    4. I think there is a big difference between the single human cell at conception (zygote) and a living human.

      If we go to biology (Taxonomy) we find that the zygote has almost none of the traits required for membership in the club Homo sapiens.

      If we go to Medicine we find that without significant brain function there is no living human. Even those in a coma have "significant brain function" so they are not really "brain dead".

      The question I have pondered is this:

      What is the significant difference between the zygote and every other human cell such that the zygote should be classified as a living human.

      Answer: The zygote has the program codes (to create a human) turned on and the other cells do not.

      There is no doubt that this difference is significant, but does this qualify the cell as a living human ?

      Note that every other cell has these same codes, they are just not turned on. Note also that the 200 cells after the zygote are also totipotent and thus are capable of creating a human in of themselves.

      Having these specific program codes turned on means that there is roughly a 30% chance that this cell will result create a human- result in the creation of the human.

      So having these codes turned on means that there is a possibility that a human will be created.

      Does having this potential mean that this cell should be classified as a living human and why ?

  20. I have a proposition for a definition of morally human:

    Moral humans are all biological humans that will 'wake up.'

    I came up with this definition while thinking about the brain dead man who would eventually wake up, and no longer be brain dead. This man may not currently be experiencing life, but given enough time he will go on experiencing life.

    The definition is not saying 'everything that has the potential to become a moral human is a moral human' because sperm, eggs, food, and basically everything made of protons has the potential to become part of a moral human through one process or another.

    I think this definition is good because it is simple, it excludes all non-biological humans, and it excludes people who are brain dead that will not wake back up.

    If this definition is acceptable, zygotes would be considered biological humans that will eventually wake up.

  21. Check out this article and the responses after that, its really good.

    I hope it helps you guys with your definition of "morally human"


    PS Did you guys watch the movie on my website yet?

    1. Hi again Kurly!
      Sorry I didn't respond sooner! I had to run to class right after throwing up my definition. Unfortunately I don't know how to turn links on... Do you know how? I'm not very tech savvy. =(

      I haven't watched the movie yet but I will watch it tonight. Also, I have never been one to turn down playing gears! I'll try to add you next time I play.

      I also look forward to checking out your latest link as well. I'll let you know what I think asap.

      See you on the battlefield!

    2. Oh, and this link is probably the best on the "moral humanity" this will tell it all. Thanks for responding!

    3. Hi Kurly!
      Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I have been applying to MD/PhD programs, which is pretty distracting.

      I enjoyed the latest links you gave me. The info on 'after birth abortion' was absolutely terrifying. I can't believe that such a thing could even be discussed as a possibility.

      The info at 'answersingenesis' I found to be pretty disappointing though. Are there any articles in particular that you think I should direct my attention towards?

      Sorry again for taking so long. Thank you for you input!

  22. This is an interesting discussion. Just one thing I would like to say. Even if you determine that a zygote is not "morally human" you would also have to determine that for an embryo and again for a fetus. Only determining that a zygote is not "morally human" is not a complete enough argument in favor of abortion. Just my opinion. Maybe I'm missing something already presumed.

  23. Hi!
    That is an excellent point, and I totally agree with you. To take things even further, we could end up having to place things somewhere on a sliding scale from 0 seconds (conception) to birth (around 9 months). It becomes quite difficult to pin down an exact time because development isn't step by step, but evenly gradual.

    In my opinion, if there is any doubt, err on the side of life.

    Anyway, I agree with what you said. You added a great point that was pretty conspicuously absent from our previous conversation! Thanks a lot for sharing. =D


    1. no doubt that life itself is a continuum. I find it obvious that the beginning of human life is well before conception. Animate does not come from inanimate.

      Just because life is a continuum does not mean that we can not pin down a time. For example:

      It seems that many folks have settled on the idea that without significant brain function the fetus is "abortable" Many states put this time at 20-24 weeks.

      This time will vary from one fetus to another depending on the rate of fetal brain development.

      While there is no exact time, what can be said for sure is that at 10 or even 15 weeks there is no significant brain function.

      I have journal articles that describe why for example it is impossible for a fetus to feel pain prior to around 20 weeks.

      "These fibers then "wait" just below the neocortex until migration and dendritic arborization of cortical neurons are complete and finally establish synaptic connections between 20 and 24 weeks of gestation"

      Essentially the brain is not "wired/hooked up/online" until these synaptic connections are established.

  24. Wow, what an intense discussion!

    I just wanted to point out that it is not necessarily an across-the-board human response to not mourn the passing of a zygote or fetus. Part of the problem is ignorance: we don't necessarily know when a woman is exactly pregnant and there are times, as unicorns said, in which zygotes pass away unnoticed and unmourned. But I don't think that the emotional response to death of a subject can necessarily be used in determining the reality of whether or not something is human. It can definitely be used in determining if something is "perceived" as human, but can only be considered conjecture or circumstantial evidence in determining the reality. I say this because there are many deaths that happen everyday for which the majority of society does not mourn. At times, people even rejoice at the death of enemies or those perceived as evil. The Nazis even lost all sensitivity to the slaughter of full-grown humans. None of these examples of emotional response add or subtract anything from the objective reality that unmourned humans are exactly as human as everyone else, biologically.

    With that being said, it is actually a none-too-outrageous response of a pregnant mother to existentially feel compassion for the young zygote or fetus within her and to truly grieve at the earliest of miscarriages, even if the on-going pregnancy could have put her life at risk. The ancient Hebrew authors called God's love for us (one of the words for it), who are entirely dependent on His creation and grace to continue to live, "rechamim" which comes from the word "womb."

    All of this is to just clarify that mourning a passing of/feeling compassion for/being totally apatheitc toward fellow humans cannot affect the reality of what is and is not a human, although it can affect the argument for what is "morally human." The problem with the concept of "morally human" is that it could actually negatively affect the perception of other humans in a bad way, i.e. the disgust felt for the inferior within the perpetrators of genocide.

  25. You're logic is flawed. The comparison of the alien thing to the apple or book isn't an equivalent situation. You know without any doubt what an apple is. Therefore, you right conclude that the object in question (the alien thing) isn't an apple. In this discussion the object in question is the zygote yet you conclude that the zygote (alien thing) is not morally human (apple). Before you knew what the apple was. Now you do not know what morally human means. You can't make a determination on something when you don't fully understand what one of the possibilities is (morally human). Also, it's always much more difficult to prove a negative. If I say there's gold in California, you'd likely agree without demanding verifiable evidence. But if I say there's no gold in California, I would need to overturn every bit of dust, grain of sand or piece of dirt to exhaustively prove that there is absolutely no gold in California.