The relevance of science to the debate on abortion

VJ Torley has linked to a National Review article criticising a You-tube video by Bill Nye. I don’t think Nye is right but he raises a good point which the article evades. Nye argues that “many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans” – the biggest failure rate is right at the beginning, a high percentage fail to be embedded in the uterine wall – so if you accord fertilized eggs the same rights as humans, then who should be sued/sent  to jail for this failure?

The NR review article is quite right to point out that there is a moral difference between an intentional intervention like abortion and natural unavoidable wastage. But it is  nevertheless relevant that many more fertilised eggs fail to embed than succeed.If you really think that a fertilised egg is morally equivalent to a human being then this process represents a loss of life far larger than abortion, malaria, war or pretty much anything else you can mention. It means many more “individuals” die from this process than are ever born. A truly staggering disaster. Sure It is no one’s fault, but why does no one seem to care very much?  Where are the appeals for research into avoiding this tragedy? Where is the mourning for all these dead individuals? Surely we should be diverting research from relatively minor natural killers like malaria to this worst of all natural tragedies?

This doesn’t happen because only crackpots really believe that a fertilised egg has the moral rights of a new born baby. But it only becomes obvious when the consequences are made clear. The abortion debate turns on whether a fertilised egg is morally equivalent to a new born baby. If someone believes they are morally equivalent then I can’t prove them wrong (I am a subjectivist after all) but they have to face up to the consequences of their belief and the science tells them they should be appalled by the tragedy of failure to embed in the uterus.

There is another twist to this.  Like many articles, the NR article argues that the fertilised egg is morally equivalent to a baby on the grounds that is a genetically distinct individual. This is a materialist argument. There is no mention of the soul. Surely most Christians think that the individual is not a bunch of chemicals, however special the bunch, but something spiritual? There are many theories about when the soul gets attached to the body but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to suppose it is attached when the process of creating the body gets started, especially as that process can lead to more than one body at that stage – each of which would presumably have its own soul.

51 thoughts on “The relevance of science to the debate on abortion

  1. Hi Mark,

    Sorry for not getting back to you sooner, but I only just came across this post. You write that Bill Nye argues that “many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans.” He’s flat out wrong there. The lowest estimate I’ve seen for the percentage of zygotes that go on to become babies is about 20%, and some estimates go as high as 60%.

    The fact that nothing is done is prevent the deaths of zygotes that fail to implant is shocking enough, but as recently as 1800, half of all children who were born died by the age of 8. Did that prove that newborn babies weren’t people?

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