Dead things don’t grow
Embryos can exist in a frozen state, you can’t. That doesn’t prove the embryos isn’t alive.
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Hello friends, welcome to the Case for Life podcast where we equip you to defend your pro-life views persuasively. Thanks to Life Training Institute for sponsoring this podcast and being an essential partner of it. Also, if you would like to sponsor this podcast, we’d be delighted to talk to you. Contact us at our social media sites and we’ll be glad to start a conversation with you. Today I want to dive into something that’s making the rounds on the internet. It’s in the form of a meme, and you may have seen this, and it goes like this. The meme says, if putting a baby in a freezer would kill it How can you claim an embryo is alive at the earliest stages of development? And the idea here being that embryos that are frozen are not alive. That’s the first form of this argument. The second form of the argument, which is also important to keep in mind, goes like this. How can you claim that’s even a baby? when it would be dead if you put it in a freezer? If the baby wouldn’t be a baby if you put it in a freezer, how can you claim an embryo is a human being when it’s frozen? That’s kind of the meme that’s floating around right now. You’ve probably seen it. If you haven’t, be aware it’s coming your way. Now, what’s interesting about this, the first form of that argument is designed to make the claim that the embryo at the earliest stages of development, especially in a frozen state, is not even alive, and therefore the whole pro-life argument collapses. You can’t even say the embryo is alive. We’re not even asking the value question here. The critics are making the claim that this is not even a living thing because if you put a baby in a freezer, it’s dead. Therefore, if an embryo is frozen, it’s not alive either. And they’re trying to create this kind of symmetry that wants us to believe there’s a parallel between a frozen embryo and a dead thing. And that is not going to work, and I’ll explain why in a moment. The second way this objection is put forth is to say, well, you wouldn’t call that embryo a baby. And I’ll speak to that momentarily, but let’s jump to the first one, the idea that the embryo is not even alive because if you put a baby in a freezer, it would die. Therefore, you’re silly to claim the embryo is alive, especially in a frozen state. Well, here’s the problem with that argument. Babies, it’s true, will die if you leave them out in exposure in the cold or freeze them. They will not survive that. You won’t either, by the way, just to be clear. So the argument here is really vacuous to me, and here’s why. Embryos are the kind of thing that can be frozen, more mature human beings cannot be. In other words, the embryo at the earliest stages of its human development has the ability to do things that more mature human beings cannot. For example An embryo, at the earliest stages of development, does not need a brain to live. You do need a brain to live. Something else in the embryo coordinates its bodily system so it functions as a whole living human being. For adult humans, even children, newborns, and even fetuses, the brain does that, but not for the early embryo. Something else coordinates the early embryo’s ability to function as a coordinated living organism. With you as a more mature adult, that’s the brain that does that. So embryos don’t need brains to live. Embryos also don’t need socialization. They don’t need to be around other humans to thrive and flourish. You do as a more mature adult human. By the way, this seems to me to be pointing to something that is often unmentioned, and that is people love to talk about what embryos can’t do, For example, they can’t think cognitively, they don’t have a sense of self, they don’t see themselves existing over time, they don’t have immediately exercisable self-awareness, and the list goes on and on that people put forward to try to dehumanize these embryos. But nobody talks about what human embryos can do that you and I can’t do. Well, one of the things that embryos can do is exist in a frozen state. Embryos do not start off as one thing and then become something else in the course of their development. That is mere fantasy. Embryos start off as human and remain human. They do not change the kind of thing they are. In fact, no living thing does. No living thing goes from one kind of thing to another in the course of its development. What happens when an embryo is frozen is that its development is suspended temporarily until it is thawed out and implanted into a womb. But that doesn’t mean the embryo is dead. Embryos in their embryonic state as human beings can remain in a suspended state and not die. Newborns and adults cannot. That doesn’t prove the embryo is not alive. And the reason we know this is, think of this. I’ll use an example from Robert George in his book, Embryo. During Hurricane Katrina in 2007, rescuers using flat bottom boats were able to reach a hospital that was submerged in water. And in that hospital was a fertility clinic that contained frozen embryos, I think about 1400 of them. And these rescuers were able to rescue a canister of 1400 frozen embryos. And one of those embryos they rescued was later implanted in a woman’s body and born later. And this embryo, when it was born, was named Noah, fittingly, given the flood of Katrina. You see the example there. Well, what’s interesting is to ask this question. Was Noah that was born, 14 months after he was rescued, the same human being that was rescued that day when Katrina hit and the rescuers were able to get to him? And of course the answer is yes, he’s the same human being. If they had not rescued those embryos, it would have been Noah who died. He would have never come to be. But he was able to live in that suspended, frozen state as an embryo while you and I cannot. And later he was implanted into his mother and born alive. And he’s the same being today as he was in that frozen, suspended state back when Katrina hit. There’s no difference. He wasn’t one kind of thing then and another kind of thing later when he was born. That’s pure fantasy when people assert that. So there’s no symmetry between a newborn who would die if you put him in a freezer and an embryo that can survive in that state because embryos have the capacity to live in a suspended state where you and I do not. Now the second version of this argument is a little bit different, and it’s good to keep these 2 versions in mind. The second does not explicitly say the embryo is not alive. It says the embryo is not a baby. Now this is a little bit different, but let me explain why it doesn’t work and it’s no more persuasive than the first claim. And the reason it doesn’t work is that baby is simply a term for a certain stage of development. When critics say to me, well, that embryo doesn’t look like a baby, my response is, you’re precisely correct. It doesn’t look like a baby because it’s not a baby. But the argument is not, is the embryo a baby? any more than it is, is the embryo an adult, a teenager, or a toddler? The argument is, is the embryo a living human being at the earliest stages of development? That’s the question we need to answer. And of course the embryo is the same being at the embryonic stage that it will one day become as an adult. And by the way, it’s not just pro-lifers who argue this way. Even pro-abortion philosopher David Boonin makes this point in his book, A Defense of Abortion, when he argues that his son Eli, at the embryonic and fetal stages, was the exact same being as he was as a newborn, a toddler, and a young child. In other words, David Boonin agrees with us that that your embryonic self is identical to your later adult self. There’s no difference here. In other words, living things don’t become one kind of thing after starting off as something else. They remain the same kind of thing through all stages of development. That’s Boonin’s argument, and that’s our pro-life argument as well. So it’s not just pro-lifers arguing this way, more honest and careful-thinking pro-abortion thinkers will at least admit that we’re identical to our former embryonic selves. Now, admittedly, Boonin goes on to argue, as we’ve talked about in other podcasts, that just because you’re identical to your former embryonic self does not mean you have the same right to life then as you do now. But this objection we’re dealing with today is not making that argument. It’s making the argument that, number one, you’re either not alive at the embryonic stage because a baby could be frozen and that would kill the baby, therefore the embryo also cannot survive and is not alive in that environment, or they’re making the claim that being a baby is somehow value-giving. And this is where we need to be very careful with our language. The pro-life argument is not that abortion is wrong because it kills a baby. The pro-life argument is that abortion is wrong because it intentionally kills an innocent human being, whatever his stage of development. So the fact that there are stages along the way of being human does not mean that you are human at one stage, but not an earlier one. So a baby is simply one stage on the developmental line of the same enduring entity, the human being that begins at fertilization. It’s the same being through all the stages of development. It does not begin as one thing and become another. So when somebody says to me, that embryo is not a baby, fine, I agree with you. Nothing there that is troubling to my argument whatsoever. But it is a human being at the earliest stages of development. By the way, this argument is very similar to its cousin argument that goes like this. Well, an acorn is not an oak tree, therefore an embryo is not a human being. This is also a vacuous argument. Yes, it’s true, the acorn is not an oak tree, but it is an oak. In other words, oak tree is just one stage of development along the continuum of the same oak in its lifetime. For example, the oak may start off as a sapling, a twig, kind of become a green weed, and eventually becomes a thick oak with very strong roots and a thick bark and what we would think of as a massive example of strength. But it’s the same kind of living thing through all of its stages of development. The oak tree is identical to the acorn it once was. The acorn is not some separate kind of being. It is the same being as the oak tree. And likewise, embryo, fetus, baby, teenager, adult, whatever stage you pick out on the continuum of human development, These are just stages along the way of the same living human organism. This is not a different kind of living thing. It’s the same kind of living thing. Its outer form changes. Its looks and appearance change. Its capabilities change. But it’s the same kind of being all along the way. So what is typically true of all of these objections, they all assume, without really arguing for it, that a change in appearance or change in function somehow means that you have a different kind of living thing. And that simply is not the case. And I come back to this question I think we always should return to. How is it possible for 2 human parents to create offspring that isn’t human but later becomes so? That’s what our critics need to answer, and I’m still waiting for a satisfactory response to that question. Living things maintain identity through time and change. Their form changes, their appearance changes, their capabilities changes. But that doesn’t mean they’re different kinds of things. And we should also remember, as I mentioned at the top of this, that differences do not mean a lesser value. By the way, there are things embryos can do that you can’t do. We mentioned a couple of them. Embryos can survive without socialization. Embryos can live submerged in water. So can fetuses? You can’t. Embryos can be frozen and live. You can’t. Does that mean the embryo should have more value than you do? Well, of course not. And neither does it work to say that we have more value than embryos simply because we have cognitive abilities embryos don’t have. Differences in function do not mean differences in value. That must be argued for, not merely assumed. Look forward to talking to you next time. Thanks for joining us, and please join us on our social media sites. Add Close