Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Life ends frequently, but began maybe only once

At this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, Marco Rubio expressed a commonly held view among conservative Republicans that secularists are being inconsistent and ideological, rather than factual, regarding abortion: "The people who are actually closed-minded in American politics are the people who love to preach about the certainty of science with regards to our climate but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception..." This is completely false, and it is a good example of why secularists tend to think that many of the conservatives religionists in the Republican party are not particularly intelligent and that their leadership, pandering to their base, are not particularly honest. And this is just one of many such examples.

When asked for the age of the universe, a very simple question with a single, straightforward correct answer (13.77 billion years ± 0.059 billion years), Marco Rubio (like Rand Paul and other Republicans seeking a national audience) punted, saying: “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians”. What the bible says? A dispute among theologians? The age of the universe is an astrophysics question. Seeking the answer from the bible or from theologians is just as illogical and unreasonable as reading the bible, instead of the manufacturer's manuals, for instructions to maintain an aircraft, or hiring theologians instead of pilots to fly an aircraft.

So when does life begin? It may help to clarify this question by first addressing the related question "when does life end?". Life ends frequently, everytime an individual living creature dies. Everytime a bacteria, or an archaea, or a dust mite dies, everytime a single sperm or an unfertilized egg dies, a life ends.

It may seem intuitively logical for some people, given that we all experience our lives as individuals, to think that human life begins as human life ends, with each individual. But this intuition is wrong. Science tells us that life successfully began at least once, at least three billion years ago. Life may also have independently begun elsewhere in the universe, it may have started unsuccessfully multiple times within our solar system, we don't know. What we do know is that since life successfully got started billions of years ago, it has been continuous, and all life on earth may have a single, last common ancestor.

What about the role of conception? Conception is one of multiple requisite milestones in the continuous cycle of human life. Much of life reproduces without a conception event. Presumably Marco Rubio knows this, and he was talking only about human life. But human life evolved from single celled life, and a conception event doesn't change the overall context that all life, including individual human life, participates in the same continuous cycle of life.

So no, we secularists, or we liberals, who favor legalized abortion, are not being inconsistent, are not ideologically ignoring the evidence, are not being hypocritical, are not guilty of a double standard, for refusing to acknowledge the so called "absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception". Life is an ongoing, continuous process, it does not begin at conception. There is no scientifically established fact that human life begins at conception. It is the conservatives who keep asserting otherwise in the name of science that are being anti-scientific. They are the ones, after all, who advocate obtaining answers to scientific questions by reading the bible and asking theologians.

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