Over on NRO, Patrick Lee & Robert George review Lee Silver’s new book on bioethics and dismantle his arguments against “religious fundamentalists” who supposedly wrap their religious objectives in scientific rhetoric.
Silver says that the claim that human embryos are human beings at an early stage of development is “hidden theology.” This could mean two different things. First, as this claim is presented in the book, Silver asserts that we actually hold our position on the status of the human embryo on theological grounds. We are, he suggests, hiding this fact, manufacturing arguments that sound scientific, but are in reality merely a cover for our real, theological, and indeed, “fundamentalist” grounds.
To describe such a claim as an ad hominem argument is to exaggerate its standing. It is nothing more than ad hominem abuse. Silver knows that we are Catholics, and so he uses that fact to suggest that our real ground for believing that human embryos are human beings is Catholic doctrine. But here he has things exactly backwards. Our ground for believing that human embryos are human beings is the indisputable scientific fact that each human embryo is a complex, living, individual member of the human species. Although our claim does not rest on the authority of the Catholic Church, or any other religious body or tradition, we find the Church’s teaching against human embryo-killing credible precisely because it — unlike Silver’s contrary teaching — is in line with the embryological facts. If “fundamentalism” consists in obstinately clinging to a moral, religious, or political view in defiance of empirically demonstrable findings of science that falsify its premises, we are not the fundamentalists in this debate. It is Lee Silver himself who has fallen into a form of fundamentalism.
The biological fact that human embryos are human beings in the earliest stages of their natural development is, to say the least, inconvenient for Professor Silver. So he commits the very offense of which he accuses us and others who oppose his agenda. He hides his ideology under a veneer of science. But the veneer is easily pulled off and the truth exposed. Just examine any of the major embryology texts now in use in American medicine. What you will find is the teaching that a new human individual exists from the earliest embryonic stage forward. That individual is a complete, though, of course, developmentally immature, member of the human species, whose life — whether it lasts for nine minutes, nine days, nine years, or nine decades — is a human life.