Pro life thought experiment


No, that’s not what’s being said. It’s not that there’s any difference, any more than you could say that there’s no difference between an infant and a 25-year-old.

Rather, the point is that they are both human and they both deserve the dignity due to humans.


A thousand human embryos in what? A jar?

For the embryos to be viable, they’d have to be connected to something. So, I would save the one that is more certain to survive. The 5 year old. The n I would save as many of the others as I could.


I think this is a trick question to make people doubt about worrying for the lives of who they call “embryos”. I’m not sure if we should allow just ANY question enter our mind and soul. Plus this is propaganda inspired from an article by Ben Shapiro who of course doesn’t know what to answer because it’s a tricksy idea. Not all ideas come from God. But I’ll give my honest thought on this:
Lord, I wish that in such a situation I will be able to save any of these choices or both.


In order to make a rational choice between saving the 5 year old or the embryos one must, I think, discern a categorical difference in human life outside the womb.

The 5 year old, I assume, is in a natural state. That is, naturally conceived, born and growing normally. Absent the fire, what is the probability of postponing the child’s death to its natural end?

The embryos are in an unnatural state. Unnaturally conceived, unborn and extra-uterine. Absent the fire, what is the probability of postponing their deaths to their natural end?

All the actor can do is remove fire as the proximate cause of any deaths. My reason tells me that the 5 year old is more likely to die of natural causes then are the embryos. I save the child.

Is this distinction sufficient to decide? If one says “no” and cannot discern an alternate reason to save one or save the others then, and only then, one should let their emotion guide them. The Spirit urges us to do good and avoid evil through both faculties. Often it is only the unreasonable emotions (emotions against reason) that lead us into error.


Indeed that is the battleground. And we shall not be able to make progress until we can come to an agreement in the problem “just what IS a human being”? Philosophically speaking, of course. You can present your suggested definition. I am willing to listen.

That approach would be a classic case of the “end justifies the means”, which I deny - and I think you do, too. The actual “end” is insufficient make a value judgment, without examining the actual means and the other possible means.


I would save the five year old. The embryos cannot be implanted ethically. Their death will be upon those who initially brought them there for research. Here’s another question, let’s say that the whole world becomes religious and we’re left with these embryos. Wouldn’t we be obligated to leave them frozen?? We can’t grow them. Even if we had an artificial womb it still wouldn’t be ethical!


I don’t see why it wouldn’t be (I admit to having issues with the teaching on embryo adoption though so not really a surprise if I’m wrong on this). My understanding is that implanting them is wrong for the same reasons as IVF. Implanting in an artificial womb and putting them up for adoption later would not have those moral issues. It would just be a matter of numbers.


Embryos meet the biological definition of ‘living being’. From the Biology Online definition of ‘life’:

An embryo has all of these capacities: it grows, it metabolizes, it responds to stimuli, it adapts, and it has the capacity to reproduce. Therefore, “life”.

An embryo that is formed from the union of a human sperm cell and a human egg cell is ‘human’. It cannot ever become anything else – not a pig, or a bird, or a rock, or a fish. It will always, and only, ever be a human.

Therefore, “human” and “life”, and so, “human life”.

I think you’re confused.

Nevertheless, please help me understand the case you’re making. What’s the ‘end’, and what are the ‘means’, that you’re seeing here? More to the point, given what this phrase means in the context of Catholic Moral Theology, how is the ‘end’ morally good, and how are the ‘means’ morally evil?


We are trying to get to the philosophical definition of human beings, not the biological one. By the way, those stipulated characteristics are arbitrarily chosen. The most important part is to maintain one’s homeostasis in a changing environment and exhibit complex responses to complex stimuli. And those characteristics do not require a carbon-based cellular arrangement.

Again, much too imprecise. What about mutants, who are a brand new species? How many deviations are “allowed” before the new being is considered super-human or sub-human? What about constructing a zygote in a test-tube?

The church does not come to your rescue either. If you would say that humans are rational animals with a rational soul, then the question of “ensoulment” arises, and the church does not want to step into that particular “mess”.

So the philosophical question of “what is a human?” is far from simple.


why would we use a philosophical definition over the scientific one? Seems to me that philosophy would adapt to science, no?

Of course, the scientific definition clearly shows abortion to be wrong, while one can still mess around with the philosophical one.


While correct that the Church does not state when ensoulment happens it clearly teaches that the joining of a sperm and egg is a new human life.

The following is from Evangelium Vitae, paragraph 60:

Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life. But in fact, “from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and … modern genetic science offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the programme of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time-a rather lengthy time-to find its place and to be in a position to act”.57 Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo provide “a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?”. 58

Furthermore, what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo. Precisely for this reason, over and above all scientific debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself, the Church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being in his or her totality and unity as body and spirit: “The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life”.


We were talking about the philosophical definition of humans. Without this mysterious “soul” all you have is some tissue with some DNA. Not to mention that there is no well-defined “human” DNA, it more like “ahem, I guess, that DNA is somewhere - like - between these really undefined boundaries, y’know?” Not to mention that the fertilized egg can split, and you get some maternal twins, who do not come directly from the impregnation of the ovum.


These innocent human beings are in the words of Donum Vitae: “exposed to an absurd fate, with no possibility of their being offered safe means of survival that can be licitly pursued” (D.V. I.5).


This is a novel claim. Why ‘philosophical’ and not ‘biological’, since the question is about life? Isn’t that within the realm of the natural sciences?

In any case, please make your claim for the difference between the two, and why we should look to the one and not the other. Perhaps then we might be able to proceed.

“Arbitrarily”? Not so. They’re chosen by scientists, to meet the needs of their discipline. Not ‘arbitrary’ at all, but ‘deliberate’.

Not at all. How many mutations within Homo sapiens are there? How many have been defined as new speciation? C’mon, now… you’re just being difficult for the sake of being difficult. :wink:

The Church absolutely steps into that discussion! However, it’s not a scientific discussion, so the Church doesn’t suggest it should become one.

And far from relevant… unless you demonstrate otherwise… :wink:


In post #35 it was you who started to put some monetary considerations on the value of fetuses vs. actual children - thereby talking about humans. I asked you what is the philosophical definition of humans. You did not decline it there, but you decline it now. Why?

Biology is the only science which cannot define its subject. The difference between living and inanimate organisms is arbitrarily defined. Not even biologists can decide if viruses are “alive” or not. What about computer viruses? What about web-crawling info-bots? Well designed computer viruses are able to change their own internal structures when they “perceive” a hostile environment. They exhibit many of the functions usually attributed to life.

No, I am being precise for the sake of being precise.

According to the church’s teaching, the most fundamental “feature” of being human is to have an “immortal, rational” soul. And the church is unable, unwilling to declare when “ensoulment” occurs. So, if the “ensoulment” happens at the birth - according to the Bible, God breathed a soul into the nostril of Adam, then there is no problem with not accepting humans until they take their first breath. In many languages the word “soul” is actually derived from the word “breath”.

Of course, if you decline to participate, I have no problem with that.


The Church also teaches that we cannot know when ensoulment occurs, and that abortion, whenever ensoulment occurs, is always an intrinsic evil.

Why do you think a philosophical definition for a human being is better than a scientific one, seeing as the scientific one is very clear and well within the boundaries of scientific knowledge?


As much as I thought I’d never have a chance to say it… I agree with SuperLuigi. So someone quote this so he’ll see it. The article saying " 3. Most Pro-Lifers Freely Admit The Supreme Value of Already-Born Human Life, But That Doesn’t Make Prenatal Life Valueless. Virtually every religious system, including Catholic religious doctrine, allows passive abortion (the moral equivalent of this case) in order to save the life of the mother. Let’s say a woman has cancer and she requires chemo in order to cure it, but the chemo will result in the death of a fetus. There is no third option. Catholic doctrine suggests that the doctor bears no moral responsibility; the abortion is a byproduct of saving the woman’s life. So Tomlinson’s hard choice doesn’t remotely demonstrate the valuelessness of embryonic life." should be enough to dismiss the argument. Placing more value on the 5 year old’s life doesn’t invalidate the pro-life argument.


Ahh… I missed seeing the qualifier “philosophically speaking”.

I’m declining it because I don’t see the relevance. If we’re asking a biological question (“what makes a human being?”), then we use biology to answer the question.

Why should we ask the question in philosophical terms?

(In any case, in a Christian framework, the question is bound up in theological terms: a human being is an ensouled human made in the “image and likeness of God”. From that perspective, from the moment of conception, the embryo is a human being.)

Are you certain? :wink:

So… the Church does teach about ensoulment.

Actually, I believe you’re thinking about the word “spirit”, not “soul”. :wink:


Hey, bud! This is a discussion forum. What kind of “relevance” are you looking for on an anonymous discussion forum? The relevance is that it can be fun, and maybe we can learn something about the “opposing” side. And there is a lot of relevance… see below.

Biology alone cannot supply the answer, just like it cannot answer its own fundamental subject: “what is life”? The question is not just biological, also political and even theological. The theological answer is insufficient, because it cannot answer lots of follow-up questions. What about test-tube babies? Those who are either partially, or (eventually) fully created in an artificial environment. What about cyborgs? How many and which parts can be replaced by artificial prostheses, and still have a “human” at the end? What about hybrid beings (chimeras), composed of some human and animal genes? What about death? When does death occur? These are pertinent questions and have ramifications in the everyday life. So the “relevance” is there. But if you are not interested, there is no reason for you to participate. (The frequent “non-answer” that these are all “mortal sins” and should not be practiced is just a cop-out.)

The catechism is not sufficient, because it is a changing document. Read here:



That is another SSDD moment. Though it is true that terms are used in different contexts with different meanings, for example “spirit is a strong alcoholic beverage” and “soul is a musical style”. But I am not aware of any difference in the context we were talking about.

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