William Saletan reviews the latest attempt by the tireless Robert P. George (and co-author Christopher Tollefsen) to defend human life against scientific efforts aimed at the relief of our estate (as Francis Bacon would put it).
Saletan poses some challenges to their case, which apparently relies almost exclusively on science to make the case for respecting our humanity from its earliest beginning. Here’s the nub of Saletan’s argument:
“The proper way to identify the nature of an organism,” they write, is “to look at it through time.” Each of us “comes into existence as a single-celled human organism and develops, if all goes well, into adulthood.” But in the big picture, the embryo isn’t a future adult. It is, as the authors acknowledge, a future corpse. And the program is far bigger. It doesn’t end at death, because it doesn’t run on one body. It runs on the network of humanity. In fact, it runs on the entire Internet of evolving species.
According to even a teleological science, in the end we’re all dead, providing food and fertilizer for our successors. Our humanity gains its significance, not from science, but either from our capacity for self-assertion (in which case, the argument against abortion or destructive embryonic stem cell research is at best merely a pragmatic one) or from our creatureliness. Because science can’t answer the biggest question, it can’t settle the dispute. And since we’re "doomed," so to speak, to be unable all to agree on the answer, the dispute will always be with us.
Properly understood, this gives no comfort to those who would privatize abortion decisions or deregulate embryonic stem cell research. Rather, it leaves us with the various political mechanismes for conducting our disagreements--legislation and constitutional amendment, above all.