Thursday, March 8, 2012

Evolution and Infanticide--The Deep Connection

Infanticide is back in the news.  Of course, the trendy new oxymoron for this practice is "after-birth abortion."  It is important to see the philosophical presuppositions that lie underneath the ethics that allow for infanticide.  Back in 1983 philosopher Peter Singer published an article "Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life? in Pediatrics (July, 1983) in which he speaks of the erosion of the "sanctity-of-life view."  His words are almost 30 years old and they have set the course for a certain trajectory of bioethical thinking.  Here is a portion of his essay that lays out his philosophical understanding:
Whatever the future holds, it is likely to prove impossible to restore in full the sanctity-of-life view.  The philosophical foundations of this view have been knocked asunder.  We can no longer base our ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation, made in the image of God, singled out from all other animals, and alone possessing an immortal soul. Our better understanding of our own nature has bridged the gulf that was once thought to lie between ourselves and other species, so why should we believe that the mere fact that a being is a member of the species Homo Sapiens endows it life with some unique, almost infinite value?
Singer clearly sees the connection between the belief in creation in God's image and the sanctity of life.  He furthers argues that since we now know that this has been "knocked asunder" because there is no morally significant gap between us as humans and other species.  All of this must be predicated upon a foundation of naturalistic evolutionism.  Consider the words of Douglas Futuyma:
Perhaps most importantly, if the world and its creatures developed purely by material, physical forces, it could not have been designed and has no purpose or goal...Some shrink from the conclusion that the human species was not designed, has no purpose, and is the product of mere material mechanisms--but this seems to be the message of evolution.  Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution (Pantheon, 1983), pp. 12-13
Naturalistic evolutionism militates against design, teleology, and purpose.  All that is left is the material world that can be acted upon by the forces of physics, chemistry, and biology.  Under such a materialistic conception the very notion of "human nature" becomes problematic.  J. P. Moreland, in his critical discussion of naturalistic versions of evolutionary psychology writes:
[T]here most likely is no such thing as human nature understood as the essentialist claim that there is some range of properties that all and only humans share and that grounds their membership in the natural kind "being human."  Darwin's theory of evolution has made belief in, for instance, human substances with human natures, though logically possible, nevertheless, quite implausible.   
Moreland goes on to quote evolutionary philosopher David Hull:
The implications of moving species from the metaphysical category that can appropriately be characterized in terms of 'natures' to a category for which such characterizations are inappropriate are extensive and fundamental.  If species evolve in anything like the way that Darwin thought they did, then they cannot possibly have the sort of natures that traditional philosophers claimed they did.  If species in general lack natures, then so does Homo Sapiens as a biological species.  If Homo Sapiens lacks a nature, then no reference to biology can be made to support one's claim about 'human nature.'  Perhaps all people are 'persons,' share the same 'personhood,' etc., but such claims must be explicated and defended with no reference to biology.  Because so many moral, ethical, and political theories depend on some notion or other of human nature, Darwin's theory brought into question all these theories.  The implications are not entailments.  One can always dissociate 'Homo Sapiens' from 'human being,' but the result is a much less plausible position.  J. P. Moreland "Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Psychology as Research Programs: A Comparison of Their Most Plausible Specifications" in Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski & Michael Ruse in Dialogue, edited by Robert B. Stewart (Fortress, 2007), pp. 129-130.
It is such ideas that underly the disjunction between being a member of the class Homo Sapiens (being a "human being") and the concept of "personhood."  A recent article discussing infanticide is dependent upon precisely this disjunction.  The authors of this article simply state the disjunction in the following manner:
Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a 'person' in the sense of 'subject of a moral right to life.'  Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva "After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?" Journal of Medical Ethics (2012), p. 2.
This disjunction between "human life" and "human personhood" is sometimes difficult to understand for those new to the discussion.  It is important to see the deep underlying connection between evolutionary theory and the disappearance of human value.  Once evolutionary presuppositions are held then the ontological status of the human being changes.  Evolutionary assumptions allow only for naturalistic materialism.  The human being is a creature of matter only.  There are no immaterial aspects (i.e., spirit, soul, or substantive mind) only matter which is continually evolving.  Furthermore, the underlying matter which makes up the human constitution is simply the same material base (albeit reconfigured) that the rest of the animal kingdom participates in.  "Personhood" is, then, not a function of being created in the image of God.  Rather, it is becomes an arbitrary set point defined by what other humans deem appropriate.  In the current intellectual climate "functionalist" categories become the deciding factor for what determines "personhood."  The authors above arguing for the moral acceptability of infanticide offer their definition of "personhood" with following words:
We take 'person' to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.  (Ibid.)
Without this ability then there is no "personhood."  Without "personhood" then the interests of these "potential persons" is morally nil.  Without the grounding of "personhood" in the transcendent Creator who made us then there is no hinderance to treating people less than animals.  Coming back to Peter Singer, he writes in the above mentioned Pediatrics article:
Once the religious mumbo-jumbo surrounding the term "human" has been stripped away, we may continue to see normal members of our species as possessing greater capacities or rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and so on, than members of any other species; but we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of each and every member of our species, no matter how limited its capacity for intelligent or even conscious life may be. If we compare a severely defective human infant with a nonhuman animal, a dog or a pig, for example, we will often find the nonhuman to have superior capacities, both actual and potential, for rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and anything else that can be plausibly be considered morally significant.  Only the fact that the defective infant is a member of the species Homo Sapiens leads it to be treated differently from the dog or pig.  Species membership alone, however, is not morally relevant.  Humans who bestow superior value on the lives of all human beings, solely because they are members of own species, are judging along the lines strikingly similar to those used by white racists who bestow superior value on the lives of other whites, merely because they are members of their own race.
In denying the reality of the living God as our Creator we have simultaneously diminished humanity.  If mankind is nothing more than the resultant by-product of matter, time, and chance--an ever evolving conglomeration of matter burped up in a sea of chance--then there can be no transcendent value.  Without God we do not bear the image of God.  And, as Singer rightly reasons, without the image of God there is no sanctity of life.