Abortion and the concept of humanity

I have written about my stance on abortion in the past, but there is one thing I would really like to emphasize: the concept of humanity.

Everyone likes to claim the mantle of science. It’s very alluring, after all. Unfortunately, plenty of people are willing to claim it without a rightful basis. That especially includes so many anti-abortion folks. Just take a look at this site and scroll down to the excerpts from various biology texts. Again and again, the quotes say that human development begins at conception. However, that is not how they are being understood in the given context. The way the site (and those who cite it) are understanding the quotes is that they have definitively found a number of sources which say that humanity begins at conception. It’s just too bad that that is not a scientific concept. At least not here.

The important issue within the abortion debate is when humanity begins – and that is not something which can be determined scientifically. We can certainly say when development begins – that’s what all those quotes have done – but that is only an illuminating factor, not a definitive conclusion. That is, development is the joining of gametes and the process that takes place within the womb thereafter and we can thank science for the shedding of that light, but a human it does not make. We’re only picking out an arbitrary point; we may as well say the emergence of a new sperm or egg is the beginning of a human since each one contains its own unique DNA and a potential pathway to birth. The only difference is that a sperm or egg have less potential on their own than together because they haven’t an ability to appreciable change based upon their environment.

Anti-abortionists are muddling the debate when they claim development is the same thing as humanity. The first is a distinct, clear scientifically determined issue whereas the latter is only a scientific concept when we’re talking about species and evolution. The fact is, “humanity” is a subjective idea which only bears a relationship to development by virtue of human rationale.

One fact to refute creationism

Sometimes I pity the religious for not having a person as intelligent as Richard Dawkins on their side:

Capturing 200,000 galaxies

Have you ever wondered what 200,000 galaxies look like? Thanks to the European Southern Observatory’s VISTA telescope, now we all know:

And now for the patterns

I posted yesterday about why the Catholic Church’s coverup for sexual abuse is especially egregious. Today I want to toss up a rather lengthy list of the Church’s failings:

Here are some details of some major developments in the Roman Catholic Church abuse scandals in Europe in the last two years:


— November 30, 2011 – Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, agreed to a legal settlement over his role in administering an oath of secrecy to a teenage victim of clerical sexual abuse in 1975, the victim’s lawyer said.

— July 13, 2011 – The Catholic Church in Ireland concealed the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009, a decade after it introduced rules to protect minors, and the Vatican was complicit in the cover-up, a government report into the handling of sex abuse claims in the diocese of Cloyne, in County Cork, showed.

— May 31, 2010 – The Vatican named two cardinals and three archbishops from England, the United States and Canada to lead its inquiry into sexual abuse by clergy in Ireland.

— March 24, 2010 – Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of Bishop John Magee of Cloyne, accused of mishandling reports of sexual abuse in his diocese. He later accepted the resignation of two other Irish bishops.

— March 20, 2010 – In rare letter to Ireland’s Catholics, the pope told abuse victims he felt “shame and remorse” over the scandals and announced an official Vatican probe of Irish dioceses, seminaries and religious orders.


— November 11, 2011 – Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn faced down calls for radical change in the Church from priests and lay people at a four-day meeting. Catholic rebels made calls for “disobedience” and changes in the Church, after a record 87,000 Austrians deserted it in 2010, many of them in response to allegations of sexual abuse by priests.


— December 14, 2011 – Victims of sexual abuse by priests in Belgium should be able to claim up to 25,000 euros ($32,700) in compensation from the Church, with assessments made by an independent panel, a parliamentary commission concluded.

— Hundreds of victims of abuse in the Belgian Church came forward after the former bishop of Bruges admitted in 2010 to abusing his nephew for years. Almost 500 people filed claims with an earlier commission set up by the Church but this was disbanded after police seized its documents.

— September 10, 2010 – Widespread child sexual abuse in the Belgian Church drove at least 13 victims to suicide, a Church commission reported. Of the 475 cases it recorded, two-thirds of the victims were male, with boys aged about 12 most vulnerable.


— Sept 18, 2010 – Pope Benedict made one of his strongest apologies to abuse victims while on a state visit to Britain, expressing his deep sorrow to innocent victims of “these unspeakable crimes.”


— Jan 10, 2012 – A Catholic priest admitted in a German court to sexually abusing three boys over eight years, during trips that included to Disneyland in Paris.

— In April 2011 a survey said that some 180,000 German Catholics left the Church in 2010, a 40 percent rise over the previous year, amid allegations that priests had sexually abused children for decades.

— Aug 31, 2010 – The German Church unveiled new, tougher guidelines on dealing with sexual abuse of minors, obliging church authorities to report suspected cases to police.

— June 11, 2010 – A Jesuit investigation, commissioned in January, cited on May 27, 205 allegations of sexual abuse against priests at its schools in Germany, revealing decades of systematic abuse and attempts at a cover-up.


— Feb 18, 2010 – Italy has had dozens of cases of clerical sexual abuse involving about 80 priests over the past decade, a priest who runs an anti-pedophilia organization told Vatican Radio.


— Dec 9, 2010 – A Church-commissioned report said 1,975 people had declared themselves victims of sexual and physical abuse while minors in the care of the Dutch Church, and criticized the Church for not responding to the scandals more promptly.


— June 2, 2010 – Swiss bishops said they received reports between January and May of 72 perpetrators abusing 104 victims, up from 14 perpetrators and 15 victims in 2009.

With so many people with so much power and influence, the systematic nature of these coverups points to some common denominator which goes beyond simply “institution”. Here’s a hint: It’s religion.

The sexual abuse patterns of the Catholic Church

There is sexual abuse that happens all over the place. It can happen between any two sort of people and within any organization. We’ve seen it from teachers, from coaches, at the college level, in the workplace, and from just about any sort of individual in just about any sort of profession. Sometimes it even gets covered up. People will go to great lengths to protect the people and institutions which are important to them. It’s disgusting and I don’t think any rational person is ever happy to hear about it.

One thing, however, that we don’t tend to see is a widespread culture of abuse and subsequent coverups within a field. The Penn State abuse with Sandusky, for instance, was awful and there are plenty of questionable things which happened with that, but that doesn’t mean it’s a staple of colleges to protect predators. That will happen on the individual level and in specific circumstances, but no one can say that there has been a national higher education sexual abuse scandal. Moreover, when abuse does it exposed, heads role.

In contrast to all this is the Catholic Church. The sexual abuse happens at the individual level and is not something which the Church condones, but the coverup has been systematic. It hasn’t been at just one Church or one Sunday School (like Penn State was at just Penn State), but rather the entire, far-reaching organization seems have had a hand in protecting itself. The moral compass of the Church has been awry for decades upon decades now.

I’m going to end this post here because it’s a little longer than I intended, but I have scheduled a post for tomorrow which will list out a number of examples of the systemic failure of the Catholic Church across Europe.

How Simple Ideas Lead to Scientific Discoveries

Thought of the day

“There is no such thing as a fact which cannot be independently corroborated.”

~Adam Savage

Haiti and the immediate aftermath of the Earthquake

Things will certainly be improved during my visit, but I do not have high expectations.

Thought of the day

I’m currently only in Connecticut, but I can’t help but feel: There is hardly a greater thing in life than travel.

Haiti update

I leave for Haiti tomorrow. I will first be in Connecticut for Friday night, then Saturday morning I will be leaving from JFK. I should arrive in Port Au Prince sometime around noon. For anyone interested in tracking my group’s activity, we will have an international phone that shows our location. We can also post updates on what we’re doing (and I suspect we will). Go to this website to see everything. It looks to me like everything is visible without logging into anything, but I’ve been given a password for everyone to use: haiti2012.

I’ve scheduled a number of blog posts and I’m going to arrange for someone to monitor things while I’m gone. I don’t know if he will make any posts, but I’ve made it so he can. I’ll be back home on the 31st.