Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just an acorn

From an ongoing debate about abortion in Facebook that some of you might find interesting. My screen name is Quo Vadis...

"Can you answer one simply question for me Quo?" -Robin M.

I 'simply' shall try. ;)

"Can you explain to me how an acorn is an oak tree and why I should be held to the same laws against cutting down an oak tree for destroying an oak acorn?" -Robin M.

Ah. The old, "acorn = potential oak tree (no value), and fetus = potential human being (.: no value)" argument.

Problem #1: You are equating oak trees to human beings. To do so is dehumanizing and misleading.

Problem #2: The analogy breaks down the minute we contrast our view of the oak with our view of the human being.

An oak tree -- for a number of valid reasons -- increases in value over time. One reason would be the utilitarian aspect of it. A little oak sprout (let's say 0.5 inches above ground) doesn't do us much good. It isn't worth much at all, and if you trample over it, well, there's really no harm done and no lawsuit will be filed. Yet a one hundred foot oak tree has tremendous value to us from a practical standpoint, and even more so from a cultural standpoint.

Much like an old coin, we place astronomic value in a 400 year old oak. A nostalgic sort of value which increases with each passing year.

But this is not the case with man. We do not say, "The 85 year old man is more valuable to us than the 2 month old newborn, and next year, on his 86th birthday he will be more valuable still." We say their lives are equal in dignity and worth, irrespective of age -- and, if forced to make a choice, would probably spare the infant over the old man. This is anything but analogous to your oak tree example.

Problem #3: The physical remains after an abortion indicate the end not of a potential life but of an actual life.

And problem #4: Even if the analogy were valid (which it isn't, as I have just shown), scientifically speaking an acorn is simply a little oak tree, just as an embryo is a little human being.

The acorn is of the oak family. It has an oak nature. It simply hasn’t yet matured into a large oak tree. Philosopher Norman Geisler observes the following:

"It is a misunderstanding of botany to say an acorn is a potential oak tree. An acorn is a tiny living oak tree inside a shell. Its dormant life does not grow until properly nourished by planting and watering, but it is a tiny living oak tree nonetheless."

Your argument would be accurate if phrased like this: “An acorn has the potential to become a large oak tree but isn’t one yet. The fetus has the potential to become a 5-year-old but isn’t one yet.” The fetus is of the human family. The fetus has a human nature. It simply hasn’t matured into a child or an adult yet. So what? That statement only reveals the unborn to be less developed than born people; it does nothing to reveal that the unborn are not human.

The fetus has the potential to become an adult. It does not, however, have the potential to become a human because it already is a human. In the same way, the acorn has the potential to become a large oak tree. But it does not have the potential to be an oak because it already is an oak.

[Many thanks to CCBR and Randy Alcorn for aiding so much in my own understanding, and the sections of this post which have been stolen wholesale.]

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