September 20, 2006

Ponderings: Ontological Dignity

1. Human life begins at conception (geography notwithstanding) because:

2. All the genetic material a person has or needs is present at conception, barring any defects

3. All humans have been created in the image of God, therefore

4. All humans have dignity – they don't get dignity, they aren't given dignity, they don't keep dignity. It is inherent to having been created in God's image. It is, a corrolary to the "I am" statements in Scripture.

I call this a corrolary because we have been created in his image, so dignity becomes something of a communicable (communicated) attribute...we are like God in having dignity...unlike an incommunicable attribute (like omniscience, omnipresence, etc) attributes that aren't communicated to humanity.


Bill said...

Sarah, just a few thoughts on points in your ponderings that might need clarification (though it might yield a less concise argument).

First, I assume that conception means the formation of a unified organism, whether by fertilization, twinning, cloning, Star Trek transporter accident, or whatever. I've had medical doctors tell me that they use the word "conception" as synonymous with implantation. (This definition sounds bogus to me, but that can't be helped if it is standard.) They don't seem to have a replacement word or concept that incorporates all the ways new individuals might come into being.

Similarly, on point 2, I'm not sure it's wise to put the argument in terms of genetic material. (Also, is this different from genetic information?). Every skin cell in my body also contains all the genetic material needed for my clone to live (excepting, perhaps, mitochondrial DNA or the like). So I would think you'd want something like, "contains all the genetic material needed for life and is a unified, living organism." There are better attempts at defining life out there, I'm sure.

Third, what is dignity? I'm wondering how this concept relates to worth (or maybe value) and rights. Is dignity the same as being "worthy of certain kinds of treatment"? Is dignity the same as having positive rights to be given certain things or be treated in a particular way by others? God certainly has both great worth (God is worthy of worship, after all) and has certain rights.

Unrelated theological question: is it just the "omni" that makes those attributes incommunicable? We know some things (have "science"), are present in some places (have "presence"), and are capable of some things (have "potence"). Or is it that God has these properties essentially (by God's nature), while we have them only contingently?

Sorry, meant to make this a quick comment but it didn't work out that way. :-)

Sarah J. Flashing said...

"I've had medical doctors tell me that they use the word "conception" as synonymous with implantation."

Yes, they often do make that error, intentional or not, and in the media as well.

"what is dignity?"

I am speaking of an inherent worth. I'm not sure I would frame it in the language of rights.

Your theological question: my intent wasn't to provide an exhaustive list of incommunicable or communicable attributes,...but I do believe that dignity is essential to our nature as image bearers, though our entire being is contingient.