But not to Dr. Egnor. He states:
The exact moment at which a fertilizing egg becomes human is a good scientific question.No! That is a horrible scientific question! Is asking the exact size beyond which a stream becomes a river a good scientific question? Of course not, because this is not an empirical problem but one of definition. Define the term human however you want, but don't pretend it is an empirical question to be solved. Scientists can't even agree on what constitutes a living organism, so what makes you think pinpointing the demarcation between human being and not human being is easily solved in a testable and falsifiable manner? (1)
I am however grateful that Dr. Egnor clarified how far the right to life extends. His original statement was as follows:
I assert that all human beings have at least one right of personhood --the right to life.Now, I took that as being absolute, since there was no asterisk at the end of that statement. But that has been clarified; there are asterisks for things such as war, self-defense (but not for things like therapeutic abortion or assisted suicide; still not entirely sure why that is). It's not that having this as an absolute is an impossible standard. William Lloyd Garrison, an ardent abolitionist, opposed the American Civil War on the grounds that all wars are fundamentally unjust. Tolstoyans avoided violent action for any reason. And here's what Gandhi had to say about self-defense:
This truly non-violent action is not possible unless it springs from a heart of belief that he whom you fear and regard as a robber... and you are one, and that therefore it is better that you should die at his hands than that he, your ignorant brother, should die at yours (2).Kohlberg would have been proud. So please forgive me for taking Dr. Egnor so literally; when he said persons have a right to life, he really did mean that it was conditional. Thanks for clarifying.
But, getting back to the Human Origins exhibit, while open to interpretation the answer to the question of what makes us human almost assuredly includes some of our unusual cerebral abilities. Abstract reasoning, symbolic thought, language use, planning for the future. These abilities are common in some degree to all the great apes, and certain rights have been extended to non-human primates accordingly. But they do require a brain, something a zygote most definantly does not have.
But anyone who works with brains for a living would know that (3).
(1) But don't let me stop you. Apply for an R01 with that specific aim. When you get back the pink sheets, please let us know what the reviewers had to say.
(2) Before I get accused of quote mining, yes Gandhi did go on to say that violent self-defense was preferable to doing nothing. But he considered it second to non-violent resistance.
(3) And furtive? You've got to be kidding. Since when is using the medical term for a medical condition furtive? If you don't like the term, I suggest you lobby the AMA and textbook publishers to change it. In any case, you must admit that the term is exponentially less furtive than the decidedly non-medical terms "pre-born person" and "partial-birth abortion".