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Cross posted at The Christian Watershed.

I watched the film The Boy in the Striped Pajamas today and, aside from being a very depressing movie, one interaction stood out to me. It was between the protagonist 8 year old boy and his antagonist Nazi father, who is the Comendant for the local concentration camp. The boy had just seen Jews in their Nazi-issues clothing working on a farm (he didn’t know it was a concentration camp and to him it looked like a farm) and inquired to the father about them:

Boy: “Who are the people that work on the farm?”

Father: “Well, you see, those people aren’t really people.”

In other words, the father was telling the boy, “They might look human, but they’re not really human persons; they have no value, so we can do to them as we wish.”

This has been the reasoning for the Nazis, the Soviets (for political prisoners), the slavers, and multiple other nationalities throughout history. The Romans, in an effort to boost “manliness” believed that the patriarch of the family was able to decide who was and was not a human person. This led to weaker boys in the family being killed off. The Spartans viewed the fail and fragile as not being human, to the point that infanticide was a common practice. The reasoning always goes back to one argument, “No matter how much they look like a human or biologically/genetically resemble a human, they’re not a human person.”

The above actions would be, to most people, detestable. If we woke up tomorrow morning and read about a father killing his 13 year old son because he believed his son to be weak or not “manly” enough, every group from Christian organizations to organizations that support transvestites would be declaring such an act to be deplorable, and rightfully so.

Imagine the outrage if we read about the University of Kansas Medical Center taking in the severely retarded and disabled and using them for medical experiments. Imagine what would be done if, against their will, such individuals were forced to give up their organs for some “therapeutic organ relocation program” that took vital organs from the severely disabled and gave it to able-bodied patients who needed the organs. Would anyone in the news media laud the benefits of such a practice, or would the focus be on whether or not such victims (or experiments depending on one’s point of view) are human persons? What if it were done to the homeless? Considering the vast medical benefits, would anyone object?

I would argue that most decent human people would object to such views. We can look to how we treat the Nazi medical experimentation on prisoners to determine the public’s reaction to the aforementioned scenario. Though such experiments offered the prospect of great medical advancements, such prospects are completely ignored and viewed as irrelevant by the vast majority of people. Why is this? Because most humans, no matter what they argue, generally hold the view that human persons have value.

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Dealing with Intrinsic Human Value

Prelude | Essence and Potentiality | Definitions | What is human? | Intrinsic Value of humanity | Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part a) Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part b) | Functionalism and Utilitarian ethics revisited | Conclusion


Chris over at BioSled TrueFire offered up an article on intrinsic human value. He wanted my opinion on it and here it is:

1) From a secular view, it’s a good argument. It points out that the only consistent part of human nature is our flesh and blood. However, he leaves it there. The problem is that many biological creatures also have flesh and blood, but we don’t consider them human. However, this can be easily tweaked to point out that all humans share the same DNA. Both the astronaut and the homeless man have the same DNA (not replicated, but the few differences simply distinguishing how they will look within their species; by saying “same” I mean of the same type, not replicated). What is more, from the moment of conception to the moment of death, the DNA does not naturally change.

The importance in this is that if we reject intrinsic human value, as Chris argues, we end up promoting discrimination. Some humans perform at better levels and do more for society than other humans. Someone who wins the Nobel Peace Prize has more utilitarian value than someone who works a minimum wage job and plays video games all day. Thus, if we reject intrinsic value in humans, we must rely on utility. This has interesting implications not only in the abortion debate, infanticide, and end of life issues, but carries over into legal matters; when a person is killed, rather than simply looking for who did it and punishing the person, we would have to evaluate the persons involved, the utility of the victim, and the utility of the perpetrator. If the perpetrator has a higher utility and terminated the person of lower utility because of that person’s lower utility (especially if the person lowered the utility of society as a whole), then the killing could easily be seen as justifiable.

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One of the biggest reasons for allowing abortion is the belief that it somehow helps in the general women’s liberation, specifically in female sexual liberation. By allowing abortion, so the argument goes, it gives a woman complete rights over her reproductive system, which gives her full liberation. It doesn’t matter what the woman chooses, so long as she has a choice. There are, of course, multiple problems with this view:

#1 – It assumes that women (or men for that matter) have an autonomous right over their own bodies.

This way of thinking assumes too much – it assumes that we can do whatever we want to our bodies without having a communal consequence. However, there are times where what I do to my body will inevitably affect those around me (i.e. if I inject myself with an airborne disease, because it will harm those around me I do not have the right to do such a thing). Almost everyone would argue that if we take an action against our body that negatively affects others, that action shouldn’t be taken.

In this case, the child in the womb is ontologically separate from the mother, though reliant. That is to say, the child really isn’t part of the mother’s body. The mother plays host to the body. If a guest comes into your house, eats your food, drinks your water, and sleeps in your bed, does that guest belong to you? Of course not – the guest, though reliant upon you, is not a part of who you are.

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