The Scientific Consensus and the Pro-Life Position

I have been told that I need to accept “scientific consensus” as fact. Think, for example, about climate change. According to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research for the great State of California, “The scientific community has reached a strong consensus that global temperatures are rising rapidly as a direct result of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from human-made sources.” The Governor’s web-page then provides me with summaries of reports on climate change supporting that assertion.

As defined by RationalWiki (a web-page that contains information fashioned for those who think themselves intellectually superior because they are atheists), the scientific consensus is “what most scientists in a particular field of study agree is true on a given question, when disagreement on the question is limited and insignificant. The consensus may or may not turn out to be confirmed by further research.”

Despite the indisputable fact even in the eyes of RationalWiki that the consensus may or may not turn out to be confirmed by later research, i.e., it may not be accurate and we just don’t know it yet, if one disagrees with the so-called scientific consensus, then that person is both anti-intellectual and anti-science. Why? Well as one outspoken individual on Quora puts it when responding to the question “If you disagree with the majority scientific consensus but arrived at your findings through genuine research, does that make you anti-science or anti-intellectual?”
If you have to ask, then the answer is “Both”.Because what it indicates, almost certainly, is that you have an overwhelmingly overrated opinion of your own intellect.
I am not sharing the foregoing to enter into discussions about climate change (which is not really a religious debate), but merely to lay out the ground-rules. According to these ground-rules, even if the scientific consensus may later prove to be wrong, to stand in opposition to the present scientific consensus makes one anti-intellectual and anti-scientific. Fair enough?

So, I am pleased to announce that a relatively new study (July 25, 2018) by Steven Andrew Jacobs, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, Division of Social Sciences, Department of Comparative Human Development, has demonstrated that the scientific consensus on “when life begins” is that life begins at the point of conception. His paper, which is available on-line and entitled Biologists’ Consensus on ‘When Life Begins’, questions a large number of biologists (5,502, to be exact) holding a broad spectrum of beliefs on the abortion issue and concludes that the pro-life position is, in fact, held by the consensus of the biologist community. The entire abstract (with emphasis added) is below:
Many Americans disagree on ‘When does a human’s life begin?’ because the question is subject to interpretive ambiguity arising from Hume’s is-ought problem. There are two distinct interpretations of the question: descriptive (i.e., ‘When is a fetus classified as a human?’) and normative (i.e., ‘When ought a fetus be worthy of ethical and legal consideration?’). To determine if one view is more prevalent today, 2,899 American adults were surveyed and asked to select the group most qualified to answer the question of when a human’s life begins. The majority selected biologists (81%), which suggested Americans primarily hold a descriptive view. Indeed, the majority justified their selection by describing biologists as objective scientists that can use their biological expertise to determine when a human's life begins. Academic biologists were recruited to participate in a study on their descriptive view of when life begins. A sample of 5,502 biologists from 1,058 academic institutions assessed statements representing the biological view ‘a human’s life begins at fertilization’. This view was used because previous polls and surveys suggest many Americans and medical experts hold this view. Each of the three statements representing that view was affirmed by a consensus of biologists (75-91%). The participants were separated into 60 groups and each statement was affirmed by a consensus of each group, including biologists that identified as very pro-choice (69-90%), very pro-life (92-97%), very liberal (70-91%), very conservative (94-96%), strong Democrats (74-91%), and strong Republicans (89-94%). Overall, 95% of all biologists affirmed the biological view that a human's life begins at fertilization (5212 out of 5502). Historically, the descriptive view on when life begins has dictated the normative view that drives America's abortion laws: (1) abortion was illegal at ‘quickening’ under 18th century common law, (2) abortion was illegal at ‘conception’ in state laws from the late 1800’s to the mid-1900’s, and (3) abortion is currently legal before ‘viability’ due to 20th century U.S. Supreme Court cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. While this article’s findings suggest a fetus is biologically classified as a human at fertilization, this descriptive view does not entail the normative view that fetuses deserve legal consideration throughout pregnancy. Contemporary ethical and legal concepts that motivate reproductive rights might cause Americans to disregard the descriptive view or disentangle it from the normative view. However, these findings can help Americans move past the factual dispute on when life begins and focus on the operative question of when a fetus deserves legal consideration.
The pro-life position has long been that the most basic question that needs to be answered in the abortion debate is whether the fetus (a word developed to dehumanize the baby in the womb) is or is not a living human being. This study shows that the scientific consensus overwhelmingly agrees with the pro-life view that the baby in the womb most certainly is a human being from the moment of conception. And we also know because of the ground-rules that to disagree with that consensus position makes someone both anti-scientific and anti-intellectual.

Justice Blackmun’s opinion in the poorly reasoned Roe v. Wade (1973), which legalized abortion in all 50 states, gave as one of it’s justifications the fact that it was effectively above the pay grade of the Justices to decide when life begins because no one knew.
We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
Now that we know that the biological community has come to a consensus, we can (as Mr. Jacobs states in his abstract) move on to the “operative question of when a fetus deserves legal consideration.” And so that future Supreme Court justices don’t think that there isn’t an answer when they face this question again, the answer to Mr. Jacobs’ operative question is that the baby in the womb deserves legal protection from the point of conception. Any other answer risks the court being able to say in the future that some human beings deserve protection while others don’t. Having observed man’s inhumanity to man over the last few centuries, that possibility terrifies me.

HT: Lee Stobel


The Pixie said…
Interesting that you look to science to solve a moral question.

Do you just do that when science happens to agree with you, or do you consistently look to scientists to tell you what is morally right or wrong?

As a scientist myself, I do not, by the way.
BK said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
BK said…
Actually, I deleted my first comment because it was a quick reaction to what you said. But then I realized that what you ask is really the question for you, not me.

"Interesting that you look to science to solve a moral question. Do you just do that when science happens to agree with you, or do you consistently look to scientists to tell you what is morally right or wrong?" Here's a case where the scientific consensus says that the infant in the womb is a living human being. Since you are one of those people who seem to elevate science to somehow give you a better view of morality, do you accept the scientific consensus on this point? If not, why not?
you are confusing human life with human being, My hair is human life,I don't have a funeral every time I get a hair cut.
the t shirt really seem to me to mock scientific consensus.
The Pixie said…
BK: Since you are one of those people who seem to elevate science to somehow give you a better view of morality...

I specifically stated that I do not do that in my comment. But why let your stereotyping stand in the way of reality...
BK said…
No stereotyping. Your denial will do.
BK said…
"you are confusing human life with human being, My hair is human life,I don't have a funeral every time I get a hair cut."

May be cause for another post (although I won't), but I get your point.
The Pixie said…
BK: No stereotyping.

So why did you think "you are one of those people who seem to elevate science to somehow give you a better view of morality"? Is there anything I have said that has lead you to believe that?

BK: Your denial will do.

Are you actually saying that the fact I say I do not do it is all the evidence you need to confirm that I do? I hope I have misunderstood you here!
believer333 said…
This is an impossible issue to settle in my opinion. If we set a law about when life begins, what does that do? How does intellectually determining when life begins to equate with who is to take responsibility for that life. Seems to me that God determined that the woman is responsible for the life within her and the man is responsible for giving it life and caring for it.

Then there are violation issues. Was this conceived out of love or immoral actions? It is then the woman's responsibility because it is in her body, although the man should be compelled to provide support if wanted. If a woman conceived out of force, it is then the woman's responsiblity although the one who forced should bear a certain responsibility depending upon the woman's decisions. But he should never be included in anything that the woman doesn't want him included in and there should be reparations.

Basically, there are two people who bear some kind of responsibility for a life that arises in a woman's body. I think we violate human respect when we make laws about what a woman can or cannot do with the life in her body. There are a lot of women who would NOT try to get an abortion if they really knew what happens. But then there are some women who have been forced into pregnancy that need to abort because they cannot deal with a life of contact with their rapist. Perhaps, we should take a look at poor countries where large populations of children die because of starvation and lack of care. Most of these children were the results of forced sex on the women who were then left to care for them. Do we care about that?

What do we do about the men who rape? I think that is where the laws need to start being changed. That is a primary problem.
you make great points 3. hope you don;t mind my using your first name
BK said…
Believer, I hear you. But I don't think it is an impossible issue to settle, however, I do think it is an issue where we can get a majority of people to agree. There will always be hardliners, but the science is behind the pro-life movement. I also think that there does have to be more accountability on the part of men. I agree women bear the burden of raising the children conceived and many men are not even held financially accountable for their actions. That is something that we need to work on.
BK said…
Pixie, you virtually always misunderstand me. I think it is intentional.

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