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Archive for the ‘Pro-Life Academy’ Category

Part I here.

After this post, we’ll gather on Wednesday’s and Saturdays for new posts in this series.

Charles Darwin never knew about DNA, or genes, or genetics. DNA and protein, as well as the debate about which was the genetic material came after Darwin. The definitive experiment showing DNA as the genetic material was performed in 1952 by Hershey and Chase, a mere eight years before I was born. No, Darwin didn’t have any of the knowledge that contaminates our perspective on him. We can be so smug and self-assured when we look back on Darwin and his contemporaries.

To do this conversation justice, we must enter into Darwin’s world as it was, and see that world through his eyes.

Young Darwin was actually a medical student who became taken with the field of natural history. It was a dynamic age in naturalism and, contrary to popular belief, Darwin was NOT the first to propose that life evolved. There were actually many before him, many who backed down under threats of excommunication from civil society and some from their churches. The most prominent proponent who advanced a scientific hypothesis of evolution was Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de la Marck. We know him today simply as, Lamarck.

Lamarck lived from 1744-1729, dying two years before twenty-two year-old Charles Darwin would set sail on his famous five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. Lamarck proposed that life evolved by organisms developing adaptations to their environment and then passing them on to their offspring. Today he is remembered in most biology classes as the fool who got it wrong. In reality, Lamarck was a brilliant invertebrate biologist who coined both the terms invertebrate and biology. Lamarck established most of the taxonomic trees for invertebrates, and is widely regarded in the field as one of the fathers of the field. Back to Darwin.

As a young and budding naturalist, Darwin was afforded the opportunity to sail aboard the HMS Beagle in 1831 (Recall that Darwin would not publish Origin of the Species until 1859). It was a time of great exploration and scientific documentation of the flora and fauna of distant lands, of geology and anthropology. The discovery of fossils and the observations of sedimentary rock containing those fossils was a hot topic. It was observed that sediments form at certain rates, and that sedimentary layers of rock could not have formed in the time since Sunday, 23 October 4004 BC, which was Bishop Usher’s biblical calculation of when the world was created.

The concept of geologic time outside of Bishop Usher’s frame was pointing toward a planet that was hundreds of millions of years old, at the least. Fossil evidence, it was further noted, indicated that the deepest sedimentary layers had the most primitive looking organisms, while organisms generally increased in size and complexity in the newer, more surface sedimentary layers.

Darwin carried with him on the Beagle Volume 1 of Principles of Geology, by the foremost geologist of the day, Charles Lyell. Darwin received Volume 2 when he reached South America. Lyell had Darwin do investigations for him, and it is fair to say that Darwin came away much more convinced of evolution based on the geology than did Lyell. In fact, Lyell disagreed with Darwin, and only gave grudging and tepid acceptance of modification by natural selection after Origin of the Species was published. Lyell would write in his 1863 book, Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man that it remained a profound mystery how man bridged the evolutionary divide between himself and the beasts. So not all scientists were of one accord in Darwin’s day, not even his great friend Lyell.

Regarding Darwin’s famous voyage on HMS Beagle, I’m rereading it for the first time in years. However, there is an excellent site with an interactive map of Darwin’s voyage that nicely summarizes each phase of the journey.

Get it here.

It’s worth doing a little reading at that site, as we’ll begin to systematize Darwin’s findings in our next post.

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It’s time that this blog tackle the issue of Charles Darwin, evolution, and the Culture of Death as they relate to one another. I’ll probably succeed in pleasing nobody on any side of this debate, but it’s a discussion that needs to be had by pro-lifers. The issue of Darwinian evolution evokes rather strong sentiments, and I welcome them all. In the words of Churchill, “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”

So, where do we begin? I’d like to begin with the science and then proceed to the philosophical and anthropological consequences.

First, I am a molecular biologist, and I thank God every day for the window into His creative mind that science has given me. If there is one thing that I can say with absolute certitude it is this:

Life Evolves!

That is a wholly separate issue from the question of how life began, and we’ll tackle those issues as well in later posts. However, for now it suffices to say that Darwin and I both happened on the scene quite some time after the appearance of life on this planet and that we both see the evidence for change over time.

It’s hard to see the evidence for change in humans over time, if only because we don’t live long enough to witness it first-hand. That’s why biologists who study evolution like to use organisms with short generation times. Fruit flys have generation times that are mere weeks, and bacteria such as E. coli reproduce every 20 minutes in liquid growth medium when grown at human body temperature.

It’s much easier to see genetic changes over the generations in an organism that reproduces every 20 minutes than in organisms that reproduce every 20 years.

At the cellular and molecular level, we see that DNA recombines in sexually reproducing organisms to create a riot of uniquely different members of the species. This enables the species to survive if some lethal threat arises that some members happen to be resistant to. We see this with antibiotic resistance in bacteria (which do not reproduce sexually).

Perhaps one in a billion bacterial cells might have acquired a mutation, or a gene from another species, that makes the cell resistant to a certain antibiotic (which are made by other organisms). When we take antibiotics, the drug kills the cells that are susceptible and leaves behind the ones that have developed resistance. These cells grow back in the presence of the drug. Over time, with excessive use of that antibiotic in a community, we see that almost all people coming to the hospital with an infection to be afflicted with antibiotic resistant strains.

The resistant strain has become the new norm.

That’s evolution, the endless cycle of mutation, adaptation, reproduction.

The evidence for evolution is so abundant that evolution has become biology’s prism through which all else is filtered. And that leads to evolution rising to the level of a Theory.

In everyday language, the words opinion, theory, idea, belief, hypothesis, conjecture, all tend to be used interchangeably to denote the cognitions of a single individual. In science, the same words have vastly different meaning.

A well-informed idea is called a Hypothesis. We design experiments to test the hypothesis, and the experiments must be designed in such a way that the hypothesis is open to being disproved.

When the same hypothesis is proven repeatedly and universally, it rises to the level of scientific Theory. There are only a handful of ideas that have risen to that level. Einstein’s Relativity is one.

When Theory has all of the wrinkles ironed out, it rises to the level of a scientific Law, and there are only a handful of those: The laws of Thermodynamics and Gravity being examples.

So when we say that Darwinian evolution is a scientific theory, we mean that there is a mountain of evidence to support that idea.

Was Darwin a racist or eugenist? We’ll consider that separately as we tease apart the science of evolution from the philosophical and political consequences that flow from the misapplication of the scientific reality. Today’s blog was just the opening round.

Next time: The core biological ideas surrounding evolution by means of natural selection. It would help if people posted comments here, and not just on FB, as not everyone reading the blog comes through FB. Thanks.

Also, Darwin is getting his own Category in the box on the right.

{Serendipity moment. After publishing this post, WordPress tells me it was the 666th post published on my blog. That ought to mean something to Darwin’s detractors ;-) }

Part II here.

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There has been confusion of late concerning the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listing for their Group 1 Carcinogens, including several forms of oral contraceptives and estrogen replacement therapy. The confusion has arisen because the original link by WHO has been changed. After some sleuthing, here is a treasure trove of information from WHO. Let’s take the links one at a time.

First are the IARC Group Classifications for agents and their degrees of carcinogenicity:

Group 1 Carcinogenic to humans (107 agents)

Group 2A Probably carcinogenic to humans (59 agents)

Group 2B Possibly carcinogenic to humans (267 agents)

Group 3 Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans (508 agents)

Group 4 Probably not carcinogenic to humans (1 agent)

The definitions of these groups may be found in the IARC Monograph Preamble on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Click here.

The page with links to the agents by various classification schemes may be found here.

The actual list of all agents, (IN Group number order) beginning with the following known (Group 1) carcinogens containing:

Estrogen therapy, postmenopausal
Estrogen-progestogen menopausal therapy (combined)
Estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives

may be found by clicking here.

The same estrogens may be found on the list that lists them in alphabetical order with Group number next to their name. Click here.

Going much, much deeper…

There is another link that shows the monographs on:

1. Exposure Data
2. Studies of Cancer in Humans
3. Studies of Cancer in Experimental Animals
4. Other Data Relevant to an Evaluation of Carcinogenicity and its Mechanisms
5. Summary of Data Reported and Evaluation
6. References

for each of the following:

Oral Contraceptives, combined
Hormonal Contraceptives, Progestogens Only
Post-Menopausal Estrogen Therapy
Post-Menopausal Estrogen-Progestogen Therapy

The link to this page (which contains all the links to the monographs) may be found here.

Hopefully, this helps. Contrary to rumor, WHO did not hide the data, but actually expanded it in new links. Remember that even small increases in risk when multiplied by hundreds of millions of women taking these drugs will produce large absolute new cases of breast cancer.

P.S. Here is a monograph on all of the known carcinogens: Click here.

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Over at Jill Stanek’s blog a debate between a pro-abort troll and the pro-lifers has developed, a debate over what the name “Fetus” means and what sort of rights issue forth from that name’s definition.

This is a massive blunder that pro-lifers get sucked into about 3,000 times a day. The dignity of the person does not issue forth from the meaning of an ancient Latin word, neither does the dignity of the organism depend on some arbitrarily line drawn across the developmental continuum. When presented with this losing argument by proaborts, we need to counter by reframing the question around objective reality and not get sucked into this quagmire.

My response to the proabort named Doug:

I’m a biologist, and we’re the ones who name things. Often we (men) name things after our wives (and since I’m a microbiologist, Mrs. Nadal has assured me that the day I ever name a disease after her is the day that she serves me with divorce papers).

Therefore, nomenclature can be an entirely arbitrary endeavor that is not descriptive of the biological entity before us.

For example, Escherichia coli (E. coli) does not look at all like Dr. Theodor Escherich who discovered it. (Trust me on this one. I’ve looked at lots of E. coli under the scope.) Nevertheless, Dr. Escherich spent his life saving people, and while some E. coli are normal gut flora without which we would die, some that have acquired some pretty nasty genes can kill us in a matter of days (the dreaded 0157:H7).

So not even a namesake necessarily shares the function of the one whose name it bears.

The same with developmental nomenclature. The reality of the embryological or fetal organism is not governed by its name any more than the benign/killer natures of Escherichia strains are a function of that sainted physician’s name.

“Fetus” describes a developmental stage shared by many organisms in the animal kingdom. Thus, there is nothing particularly human about the word for a biologist. Thus the word is hardly descriptive of human reality. (Pro-lifers don’t go to war over the deaths of fetal pigs, which are used by the tens of thousands in biology labs annually)

The truth here is that a human organism has a defined life cycle which begins at the moment of fertilization of a human egg (mother’s gametic tissue) by a human sperm (father’s gametic tissue) and becomes a new entity which is neither mother, nor father’s gametic tissue, but a stand-alone organism. A new human animal with its own unique genetic identity.

The rights attendant to that new animal derive from the kind of animal it is (human). If one disagrees with this fundamental premise, then one would not be at all disturbed by the happenings at Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s office. Further, one would not be any more bothered at the thought of saving those fetuses for a dissection lab than one would at the thought of using fetal pigs. For that matter, it would be an interesting lab to dissect a fetal human side-by-side with a fetal pig.

But I’m sure the very thought of that wrenches the gut of even the most strident proabort, and the question is:

Why?

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As we prepare for the best of all birthdays, a peek into the beauty of the womb, courtesy of the Endowment for Human Development. There are three separate videos. Just hit play for each below and enjoy.

Be sure to have your volume turned up for the narration.

1. Play Movie

2. Play Movie

3. Play Movie

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As the relative quiescence of the blog in recent weeks will attest, there has been a great deal going on that has kept me from posting, and I am truly sorry for the interruption of our ongoing discussion of EMBRYO. To Chapter 3, Dualism.

We need a little primer with some of the language that undergirds this chapter, specifically a discussion of essence and accidents. Before proceeding, I must confess that while I studied philosophy as a second major in college, that’s sand lot baseball and this is the major leagues. I invite Dr. Tollefsen to correct me if I fail in any way to present the philosophy accurately. This is his baby (no pun intended) from here.

Accidents- This is not the colloquial understanding of a mishap, but rather a description of an objects discernable characteristics: height, weight, shape, color, texture, material composition etc.

Essence- Perhaps a spice combination used by celebrity chef Emeril, but in philosophy a statement encompassing the very idea of what an object is, the very concept of the thing.

For example, we all know a chair when we see one, yet there are untold numbers of different types/models/styles of chair; everything from a simple wooden kitchen set chair, to a formal dining room chair, to an upholstered recliner. All are very different in material composition, texture, color, style, etc. Yet, they all share one essence: chairness.

This is an important exercise in metaphysics as we turn our attention from chairs to humans and human development: The essential “Gerard” relative to the accidental “Gerard” (who has added a few ‘accidental’ pounds since he got married 171/2 years ago).

Now, the authors take us into some rather challenging thought regarding the essential ‘me’ vs. the accidental ‘me’, which leads to a discussion of the philosophical error that is dualism. As regarding human beings, a common perception is that the essential ‘me’ is the mind/soul while the accidental ‘me’ is the body in which the soul resides and from which it is liberated at death. The authors quite correctly refute this understanding, not only in light of the resurrection of the body, but in asserting that “we are also essentially bodily, organic beings, part of the physical world, with biological lives essential, not accidental, to our existence.
The error of dualism plays itself in the area of embryo ethics. The organism need not exhibit all of its potentialities all the time to be the essential organism, the kind of thing that it is. To suggest that the kind of thing something is depends on some function yet to be performed, some accidental feature yet to be developed, is a grave error.

The authors go on to describe several types of dualism: mind-body, soul-body, Lockean, brain-body, and Constitutionalism. Under constitutionalism, the organic body/animal precedes the person’s existence, and in many cases, outlives the person. So here the human person is constituted by, but not identical to the human animal. Moral dualism will be further explored in chapter 5. In brief, it suggests that humans may come into existence at fertilization, but do not become worthy of moral respect (become persons) until some later stage of development.

The authors then go on to present some compelling argumentation against dualism, which we will pick up this Thursday in a second post on this chapter. I’m uncertain as to how people have understood the material in chapter 3, so I’ll draw the line here and see where the discussion takes us.

It’s good to be back.

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Note: As we progress though this book, I shall close the comments on the previous week’s post once the current post goes up. By all means continue any ongoing conversations. This will streamline our conversations by restricting them to one thread. So, Last week’s comments are closed. We’re open for business on this week’s post. My thanks to co-author Dr. Tollefsen for checking in and aiding us in our discussions. He’s writing under ‘CT’.

There is no way for me to condense all of the biology that the authors present in Chapter 2, Fertilization. They discuss a great deal about which much has been written here. Click here for several lessons in mitosis, meiosis and fertilization. Apart from the recapitulation of the biological fundamentals, I wish to bring out of the chapter a few key points made by the authors.

First, the biology presented in the chapter is flawless! For any who would suggest that perhaps a couple of philosophers miss nuanced features of biology which might lead them into erroneous conclusions, let me state as a molecular biologist that this chapter could easily be mistaken to have been written by an embryologist.

Fertilization

Recalling that the sperm contains half the number of chromosomes and the egg the other half, these two haploid cells join to form a diploid cell, the zygote. A question arises asking when the zygote comes into being. Is it upon penetration of the egg by the sperm, or when the two gametic nuclei join to form a diploid nucleus? Some say the latter, but I tend to agree with the authors in claiming the former, since, as they rightly point out, that after penetration of the egg by the sperm, both gametes cease to be (both structurally and functionally) as they were before. They form a new entity, both structurally and functionally.

Both sperm and egg exist as such as parental tissue types. When joined, a new biological organism comes into existence, with its own unique genetic identity and intrinsically unfolding developmental trajectory.

Despite the slight differences of opinion, the authors note that, “…there is widespread agreement among embryologists both that a new human individual comes into existence when there is a single, unified, and self-integrated biological system, and that this happens no later than syngamy.” (Syngamy=The lining up of the 23 pairs of chromosomes.)

The authors then run us through the various stages of embryological development:

Zygote, cleavage, morula, blastula, gastrula, up to the formation of what is known as the primitive streak. Prior to this, the embryo is capable of twinning, an issue that will be dealt with substantially in chapter 6.

Twinning is an important issue in development, as some would posit that prior to this stage, an individual does not exist. However, the authors quote a number of embryology texts which mark fertilization, not gastrulation, as the beginning of a new human individual.

The events of development described by the authors can be viewed in both 4D sonograms and fiber-optic videography at The Endowment for Human Development.

The authors go on to make several points about the human embryo:

1. It is distinct from any maternal or paternal cell. It is growing and has its own distinct direction.

2. The embryo is human, with a genetic make-up characteristic of human beings.

3, The embryo is a complete or whole organism, though immature.

The bottom line: A human embryo is not something different in kind from a human being. A human embryo is a whole living member of the species Homo sapiens in the earliest stage of his/her natural development.

Are embryos produced by in vitro fertilization and cloning still human organisms?

The authors say ‘yes’.

For IVF embryos, they are the product of sperm and egg union in a Petri dish rather than a fallopian tube.

For cloned embryos, they are the result of an egg that has had its haploid nucleus replaced by a diploid nucleus from a diploid body cell. The resultant ‘clonote’ (as opposed to naturally occurring zygote) functions as any embryo. Because they are the same as any other embryo, they ought to enjoy the same moral worth as any embryo.

Those are the chapter highlights. Chris, if I missed anything, my apologies. It’s been a hectic day.

There’s the red meat of all pro-life argumenation.

Discuss.

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