By: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
From: John H.
Sent: Friday, March 14, 2014 10:17 AM
To: ‘Thomas Lee Abshier, ND’
Subject: Interesting thought experiment
Here’s a test:
“I’m holding a baby in one hand, and a petri dish holding an embryo in the other.
I going to drop one. You choose which.
If you really truly believe an embryo is the same thing as a baby, it should be impossible for you to decide. You should have to flip a coin, that’s how impossible the decision should be.
Shot in the dark, you saved the baby, because you’re aware there’s a difference.”
Anyway, I saw this “thought experiment” on Facebook. I think you will like my answer:
“I like it as an interesting thought experiment. But I don’t see it as an argument for abortion. If I were forced to choose between any two individuals to be killed, I will choose on the same basis. That is: Which individual human being holds greater worth to me? Arguably they are always the same worth. But if you were going to drop a dying 110 year old man versus a fetus that I believed had a good chance to survive, I would choose the fetus. There is a difference, but not a difference between one being a human life and the other not. Thanks for presenting this!”
From: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
To: John H.
John, as you know, I have a different perspective on this topic.
I believe the following summarizes your criteria for making choices about moral issues: you make choices based upon what would best serve your self-interest – and I know that you use principles such as the Non-Aggression principle, the Golden Rule, market-based decisions for the group, and contract by willing parties… as moral criteria. (By contrast, I make choices based upon what I think is God’s Law, which I believe will in the long term optimize my self-interest.)
The problem with using self-interest as a choice criterion is in determining what is truly in our best self-interest. Is it choosing what pleases us most now? Is it choosing what will produce the greatest benefit over a lifetime? Is it choosing what would seem to integrate to the greatest payoff in the afterlife? The question of what constitutes self-interest has no clear criteria or time frame, thus making a decision based on self-interest is a vague, indistinct, unclear endpoint.
You used self-interest as the criteria to make a decision in the thought experiment. But, a larger issue must be addressed regarding the baby vs. fetus thought experiment. First, note that it is of same class as the “lifeboat thought experiment” (e.g. There is only enough food for 6, but there are 7 on board; who do we throw over so the rest can survive?)
In both of these thought experiments, the issue is which person to choose to murder? In the process, we have justified committing murder in non-capital situations. But, there is no righteous/God-ordained justification for any of these murders. Thus, the effect (and arguably, the purpose) of presenting such a scenario for consideration (i.e. constructing a fictional situation with life/death consequences, and then placing the listener in the role of judge, where he must choose who to murder) is to expand the moral boundaries for murder based on feelings/theories/thoughts/self-interest.
This exercise/thought experiment involves a vicarious/virtual execution, and it has the moral effect of casting into doubt/obsolescence the 10 commandments while placing the participant in the role of having used a new theory of morality to justify a murder. The de facto effect is that the 10 commandments, in that person’s mind, have been deemed flawed and insufficient to properly define and delineate the boundaries of murder and justifiable homicide. Thus, in that man’s mind, he has put into question the entire basis of the Judeo/Christian ethic/morality. It is possible for this very reason that school districts all across the nation include the Lifeboat dilemma in their curriculum.
Having broken the foundation for the Judeo-Christian ethic, a moral/worship space has opened, a vacuum is present into which can fit a new god and a new religion where self-interest and personal perspective is the final/adequate/sufficient arbiter/standard of law. Thus, we have proven by object lesson, by a visceral example, the error of the old Yahweh-based (Judeo-Christian) religion, and thus replaced Him with a new god – self. I believe this is the hidden message in the thought experiment.
What do you think?
From: John H.
Sent: Sunday, March 16, 2014 9:47 AM
To: ‘Thomas Lee Abshier, ND’
Subject: RE: Interesting thought experiment
I think this is excellent!! And well said. You gave me a new way to look at it.
Of course, I assumed that the point of the original post about the fetus was to make a person decide that the fetus was not really human life, so he would choose the baby on that basis. Therefore, abortion would be okay because we would have already agreed that the fetus was not really human, etc. etc.
My disagreement was to show an example where I would choose the fetus over a whole human being, thereby showing that the fetus IS human and that my criteria is based on something other than whether one or the other is a human being. I was attempting to show the error in the pro-abortion logic that the original puzzle presented.
But you are CORRECT – the whole puzzle is unthinkable for the reason you gave. I don’t know if I would have come up with that one on my own, so THANK YOU!
Now, regarding the second half of your comment:
“This, in turn, opens the door to embrace a new god, a new religion, where self-interest, personal perspective, is the final/adequate/sufficient arbiter/standard of law. Thus, we have proven by object lesson, by a visceral example, the error of the old Yahweh-based religion, and thus replaced Him with a new god – self. I believe this is the hidden message in the thought experiment. What do you think?”
Sorry. This part, where you describe the alternative, I disagree with because I believe biologically we are incapable of acting in any way that is NOT selfish.
Every decision we make is automatically and unavoidably to please ourselves, even if that decision is to do otherwise. It is a red herring to set them up as opposites – God’s law versus selfishness. The most each of us can ever do is act on a human interpretation (our own!) of what the true universal laws are. There may be cases where you and I, for example, honestly each believe that we are doing the exact right thing according to true natural law, yet our actions are different. Of course, in that case, one of us must be right and one of us must be wrong because reality is consistent. But each of us has only our perception and our ability to think as our only tools or means for judgment. We are each doing the best we can do according to what we each perceive is best, and “best” is a selfish reward. This is precisely why the universe gives each of us the capacity to act independently, so that those who act correctly (even by accident!) according to natural law will prevail and thrive and those who act incorrectly (even despite deepest thinking and best scholarly and/or Biblical study) will ultimately fail and deteriorate. One’s actions determine one’s survival. It’s the universe’s way to self-correct, by permitting all possible actions by individuals, so that those who take the correct actions will thrive in this universe over the long term
From: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
To: John H.
John, I agree with your basic thesis, that it is impossible for anyone to ever act outside of his personal interest. I emphasize, I completely agree with your statement about self-interest, to the point that I will even make it stronger, it is not only biologically impossible, it is a logical impossibility to ever act outside of personal interest. (In other words, this is not a point of contention.)
The point I was making was that using choice alone (e.g. personal interest/assessment of maximization of pleasure/minimization of pain on whatever time frame, taste, personal advantage) as the standard against which to measure action produces the effect of creating another religion, with self as god. But, using such a standard as the metric of truth is useless, because all actions are approved by one’s sense of personal taste/preference/self-interest – there is never any action that would ever be censured/avoided on this basis. Thus the only force acting against a course of action would be the experience of pain/sickness/death from having chosen what was ultimately shown to be bad/wrong – but even that is a poor standard for judgment of Truth, since many good actions produce apparently bad results in terms of survival, etc.
What I am advocating is choosing a standard other than self interest to guide life, a standard that is more compassionate, more forward-looking, more proactive, more potentially maximizing of pleasure on the long term, more preventive of the disaster that lies at the end of choosing wrongly when deceived by the siren call of personal feelings/self-interest (whether from threat or seduction). All self-interest-based decisions rest upon a judgment in relationship to self, rather than upon principles/theory about an ultimate Right action – i.e., God-optimized life action.
In other words, I am advocating choosing an eternal standard – one which is actually reflective of the path which maximizes pleasure, life, opportunity, health… and minimizes pain/death/disease/poverty, as computed by God. This standard is True because it reflects the actual good heart/intent/design of the Creator of the system of life and its supporting platform.
I believe this eternal standard is hidden within the Holy Bible. But, of course, my belief has no bearing on the fact or truth of this claim, nor does scholarly commentary or logical derivation give any definitive proof to the Truth of this standard. (In short, I believe the Holy Bible is actually reflective of the actual standard that actually optimizes the conduct of life – but I can’t prove it, and neither can anyone else, we can only present a plausible case/argument/logic for the truth of that proposition.) I believe the evidence supports it, but evidence by itself is incomplete, but still necessary to include in the process of evaluation.
Thus, each man must make his own choice, based on incomplete data. He must evaluate all the available alternative standards of life, and choose the creed/doctrine/standard that he believes reflects best the model of how life is actually constructed. (Note: this exercise is not some optional ritual/initiation/passage that only the religiously minded must confront and make – every man will/must/has already made a choice of religion, but the choice is disguised, we all have a worldview/life-model.)
Men come to faith, and worldview by a number of paths:
● A relatively few make a choice of religion by logical comparison of the merits and truth of the alternative religions using logic, history, experiment, or doctrinal exegesis.
● In general, those raised without a formal religious indoctrination/training choose to follow the religion of self and the doctrine of personal choice, following what seems to be right and organizing their data to support the validity of that worldview.
● Those who are raised in a family with a strong religious bias, often follow that religion their entire life, since the formative forces of family are powerfully impacting and enduring on the mind/heart.
● Those who change religion often do so because of the results they see arising in the lives of those in their sphere or personal life. Many are drawn away by promises of a different religion, combined with the disappointment with the results of their current religion.
● Some change religion (e.g. from the religion of self, to enthroning Jesus as Lord) because of some dramatic personal experience – a miracle (healing, release from addiction, dramatic rescue from disaster), a revelation/vision, or a deep divine understanding.
● Many leave their birth faith because of the inconsistencies they see between fact and expectation about God’s nature/action (e.g., expectation that a good God will heal me, make me prosperous, protect me from harm…)
● Many leave their faith, or choose not to join in a faith because of the hypocritical character, behavior, or witness of practitioners of that faith – this is the equivalent of being seduced by the promises of an alternative religion. (There are hard realities of personal responsibility for outcome, as well as the reality of living in a world where men behave badly and natural forces act in chaotic sequence to produce action.)
But, in general, the way that religion should be changed, is by love, by relationship, by enrollment, by example. This is and should be, the primary reason that men choose to adopt Christianity as their path. As witnesses, men should seek to bring Glory to God by the fruit of their own lives (which should include a love of /care for other men), and that fruit should be a pleasing aroma that attracts other men to its source.
I believe by choosing the text of Holy Bible as the starting point, (i.e. the meaning of the actual words and literal phrases of its text) that one has chosen a good first-order approximation to the Truth that God intends man to live by to optimize his life experience. But, I believe it is in the deeper, hidden metaphors and implications of the text that he finds another deeper level of truth, and real insight into the throne room and the mind/heart of God as concerns the proper regulation of the mind/will/way of man. It is in finding that hidden mystery that one experiences the real transformation of life.
Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven, like a pearl of Great price – its value is so great, it’s worth the sacrifice of everything to obtain it. He likened the Kingdom to a mustard seed, which is very small but grows up into great things. In Proverbs, we are given a hint about God’s relationship to the man, Proverbs 25:2 (ASV) “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” In other words, it’s purposefully difficult to unravel God’s mystery by design. The mystery, unpredictability, is a fundamental part of understanding life, and the Bible, and God’s Way. His way is deeply hidden, as it should and must be; free will, drama, and interest in living in the universe depend upon it.
Solving questions regarding, “How to prove that the Holy Bible is the Word of God and optimizes life?” is an experiment and life choice that must be left to each individual. (But again, experiment will not prove God’s Word as true. But, paradoxically, the proof of God’s word as True cannot be done without experiment – experiment cannot definitively prove the Bible true or false – faith ultimately stands upon faith – this is true whether one follows the religion of “self-interest” or Yahweh/Yeshua.)
Again, I believe that the ultimate proselytization is based upon the fruit of the man’s life who is attempting to live according to the Word. Salvation and renewal of heart/mind/life comes as a result of giving one’s will over the Lordship of Christ. The real benefit/change comes from actually living the words and spirit of the Bible – a man is changed into a new creature by following the guidance of the words of the Bible, and the leading of one’s heart that comes from having made that commitment to follow the Spirit behind those words.
I do not advocate imposing a belief in the Holy Bible on anyone, but I do advocate allowing the experiment to be unhindered by the edicts of government. We now see the results of imposing a new secular religion upon the unaware by the power centers of our nation. (This comment, of course, reverts back to your advocacy of a non-interventionist state, directed by market principles.) My stand, as always, is that the mix of limited government and market as conceived by the intent of the founders was adequate, provided the nation has a generally Christian/Biblical worldview.
So, there are some ideas/qualifiers. Interested to hear your take on my implied argument for a Biblical worldview.
From: John H.
To: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
Tom, beautifully said. I can’t find anything to disagree with. But maybe I could if I dig hard for it! Just kidding!
Seriously, nicely worded. “Selfishness” would be better expressed as “short-sightedness”. And setting an example and showing a gentle passion for a good life is the greatest attractor.