Sep 29 2009

Science 101: ‘Embryo’ Is A Stage Of Life, Not A Form Of Life

Published by at 8:23 am under All General Discussions,Stem Cell Debate

Scientific illiteracy is really hurting America right now. I know math and science are hard, and I know it is ‘cew’ to diss them and slack off. But to do so handicaps people in a profound and serious way.

Take the creationists (or whatever label they wish to run under) and their attacks on evolution. It is one of reality’s (and therefore God’s) little ironies that the one science that explores the hand of God in creation (read DNA and genetics) is the one science the pro-life movement attacks with fear and loathing. The one science that proves beyond a doubt life begins at conception is always under attack by people who have the right idea, but no way to communicate it scientifically and legally make the case for life.

Biology is pretty clear on its definitions, which have been around for centuries. Life is broken out into forms of life (a.k.a. species). This taxonomy is how we distinguish different living organisms from each other. Humans are one such organism, of the species homo sapien. In pre-modern times species were identified and distinguished by their anatomy – the build of their bodies and their organs and systems. In modern times the distinctions could be measured absolutely in the DNA, which could detect differences between closely related species. DNA is the penultimate discovery of the science of evolution, which stretches back to its beginnings in the Church – of all places.

Yes folks, the science of evolution began in the church yard with a monk and his garden.

Anyway, DNA testing has become the defacto measurement of not just taxonomy and the study of species, it is also the legal standard by which to distinguish individual human beings. DNA is so sensitive it can tell who was or was not at a crime scene. More importantly, it is methodology now embraced in our courts. Its results are indisputable if performed correctly.

At the nexus of evolution and our legal system is an interesting question – when is a human being a human being? Thus we get to the title of this post. Too many people think an ’embryo’ is a form of life. It is not. The term refers to a stage of life shared by numerous animals (including those who lay eggs to give birth). It is not a form of life, like humans or fish or something else. It is a stage of life.

An ’embryo’ is also not an appendage or component of an organism. We have those defined as well: arms, legs, torso, fingers, liver, lungs, skin, brain, etc. All of these are physical components of an organism. They cannot live on their own. They share the same DNA has the host organism. This is what distinguishes a sack of cells from an embryo. Scientifically, and through DNA testing, the two are completely different.

Why am I discussing this?  Because an interesting article out this week that sees a serious threat to abortion in this country:

It is one of the enduring questions of religion and science, and lately of American politics: When does a fertilized egg become a person?

Abortion foes, tired of a profusion of laws that limit but do not abolish abortion, are trying to answer the question in a way that they hope could put an end to legalized abortion.

Across the country, they have revived efforts to amend state constitutions to declare that personhood — and all rights accorded human beings — begins at conception.

Some personal background before I get into this. I am pro-life, but do not think this nation needs a ban on all abortions. There are heart wrenching times when aborting a young human is necessary. Having faced those decisions a few times myself I know this is not something I want the government in on, or the doctor to be able to over rule me on. One of our lovely and healthy twins was the subject of many discussions with some doctors who did not see much hope for her. It is the decision of the parents (hopefully both agree). So let me clear that up first. I am pro-life, but not to the point of banning all abortions.

With that said, the poor saps who wrote this article have no clue that the science is established and done. A “fertilized egg” is a human being. It is the point where conception creates new life.  Prior to that we had two components of organisms – egg and sperm. After the moment of fertilization, we have a new and unique human being. And this can be proved in a court of law without any doubt or question.

Unlike the global warming mythology and the disgusting harvesting of embryos for magical stem cells, the science of creation is not in doubt. It has just never been tested in court.

Creation of the unique human individual happens at conception, when the magic of two DNA sets combine to make a one-of -kind, never seen before or to be seen again, human being. DNA has so many combinations and instructions that even fraternal twins (non-identical) can show amazing distinctiveness. As will their DNA. Each child is a unique gift. Each one is different. Even with identical twins (who do share DNA) there are different life experiences to be had, which shape a unique individual.

And that is the point. If one does a DNA test on the fertilized egg, embryo, fetus, baby, toddler, child, teenager, adult or senior citizen you find two things. First, through all the stages of life the DNA pattern stays the same and is unique to that human individual. And second, the DNA will not even be close to the mother or father (siblings are close in DNA, not parents which provide half the DNA).

That means, using a court recognized test, it can be proven without any doubt (over and over and over again) that the human individual is created at conception. The science is clear and indisputable (if only global warming was on such firm footing), and the legal recognition of DNA testing is well established.

QED: The human individual, and the rights that go with that designation, exists at conception legally, scientifically and morally.

Once this fact is communicated the number of abortions for convenience should rapidly fall to near zero. There is no need to force people to behave morally, though we all know that is not even realistic. Give people the hard facts and they will make the right decisions, as best they can.

Let’s start there and see where this new enlightenment takes us. We don’t need to defend the killing of human beings at their earliest stages of life, and we do not need to intrude on the tough life and death decisions of families. We just need to understand the stakes and put our faith in the American people. Let the facts fall where they may (and do).

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Science 101: ‘Embryo’ Is A Stage Of Life, Not A Form Of Life”

  1. BarbaraS says:

    Could anyone tell me exactly when the pro abortion folks think life begins? Have they come up with a time frame? Have they arbitrarily decided it is at 6 weeks, 12 weeks or just before birth even to the point of being halfway out their mother’s body? Like so many of the left’s belief’s, this one defies common sense.

  2. BarbaraS says:

    Life begins when the egg meets the sperm and forms a new entity. To aver that the very beginnings of life is not the beginning of life will twist reasoning into a pretzel.

  3. kathie says:

    The protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the enlightened, cosmic declaration of our fundamental, governing principals. The legal sanctioning of abortion is contrary to those principals. In my mind it is no different then legally sanctioning slavery. Slavery rational was also defined in terms of person-hood. People can try to define what is a human being and when, until the cows come home, but we all know the facts no matter how well they are twisted to make them fit into a law legalizing abortion. Our government already recognizes the sanctity of life, period. Most of us, mere mortals, try to protect life, enhance life, and sometimes have to make excruciating decisions to end it, and that is how it should be, a personal decision that carries personal responsibility.

  4. WWS says:

    A very good post, AJ, I think you’ve described a position that the vast majority of Americans (but neither of the political fringes) would agree with.

    To Barbara: interesting question: here’s a good link to learn how the beginning of life has been defined through human history. It is not a scientific history, rather a philosophical one: but science is at its best when it reinforces and works hand in hand with philosophy, and I think it’s quite important when the 2 disciplines come to the same answer by completely different paths.

    some excerpts: most radical pro-abortion leftists (like NOW and it’s progeny) take what was once the old Roman pagan view:

    “Indeed, Seneca disapprovingly states that it was common practice for a woman to induce abortion in order to maintain the beauty of her figure (Tribe 1990). The Stoics held that the fetus was no more than a part of the woman’s body during the entire duration of pregnancy and was ensouled only at birth by a species of cooling by the air, which transformed a lump of flesh into a living and sentient being (Tribe 1990). ”

    Note that these were the same people who thought sacrificing men and women in the Colisseum in gruesome ways was an absolutely wonderful form of entertainment.

    English Common law took a more moderate and practical view, specifically in terms of when should an offender be liable for the loss of a life if he or she damages a pregnant woman’s unborn fetus: “English common law located the beginning of a human soul at “quickening,” believed to be the stage when the soul enters the body and the embryo could be felt moving within the uterus, which occurs at about four months.”

    The history of Catholic views on abortion is fascinating and very long. (you can read it at that link) But it strikes me that what AJ has described scientifically is almost identical in effect to the views of Tertullian, who wrote in 197 AD: “But for us, to whom homicide has been once for all forbidden, it is not permitted to break up even what has been conceived in the womb, while the blood is still being drawn from the mother’s body to make a new creature. Prevention of birth is premature murder, and it makes no difference whether it is a life already born that one snatches away or a life that is coming to birth that one destroys. The future of man is a man already: the whole fruit is present in the seed (Tertullian, Apology; as cited by Bonner 1985).”

    “While Tertullian regarded infanticide and abortion as forms of homicide, indicating that he believed the fetus had acquired a status of humanness, he did recognize the need for abortions when necessary to save the life of the mother. So while Tertullian considered the embryo a human being, he did not designate it the same status of personhood as that held by the mother (Buss 1967). Tertullian’s views on abortion were reinforced by Saint Basil the Great, writing in 374, when he declared that abortion was murder, and that no distinction between the formed and the unformed fetus was admissible in Christian morality (Buss 1967). ”

    Tertullian was a thinker and writer who I think, in spite of the passage of two millennia, would find our modern society very recognizable.

    (as an aside, it’s somewhat amusing to consider the dates of those statements while remembering Nancy Pelosi’s statement last year that the Catholic Church has only “recently” come to condemn abortion)

  5. Phil-351 says:

    BarbaraS, to answer your first question, the LEGAL definition is that life begins at birth for the Fed Gov’t, birth being defined as fully and completely as outside the mother’s body. This wacky definition has been used to legally justify the ‘partial-birth abortion’ and ‘late-term abortion’. Until birth, LEGALLY the mother can abort at any time in the Fed’s eye.

    Just another reason to be weary of Gov’t health insurance that will allow public funding for abortion-on-demand.

  6. Alert1201 says:

    Great post AJ. Although I come from the creationist point of view I find nothing in your post that I would disagree with. Much appreciated.

  7. AJStrata says:


    Thanks – we really shouldn’t have to disagree, should we?

  8. crosspatch says:

    People are already selling aborted fetus body parts for profit.

    Once someone can make a quick $1000 from an aborted fetus, you are going to see every crack ho in the nation getting pregnant for profit.

    Again, more insanity brought to you by the left. They are just plain insane and I still fail to see how any decent human being can align themselves with the left and still look themselves in the mirror every day.