Who Is "Fully Human"? When Christians Make the Cut & Humanists Just Miss
June 1998By Alan L. Anderson
Alan L. Anderson, a convert to Catholicism, is a writer based in Illinois.
Writing in The New York Times Magazine last fall, Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at MIT, offered some interesting ruminations on the subject of life, personhood, and the killing of newborn babies. Pinker seems uncertain whether newborns are truly human beings and, thus, whether society should treat the termination of their lives as seriously as, say, the murder of someone Pinkers age. To buttress his point that newborns may not be fully human, Pinker specifies four traits that he believes characterize the truly human being, and he concludes that our immature neonates dont possess these traits any more than mice do.
According to Pinker, to be regarded as fully human one must possess the following: (1) a unique series of experiences that defines us as individuals and connects us to other people , (2) an ability to reflect upon ourselves as a continuous locus of consciousness , (3) [an ability] to form and savor plans for the future , and (4) [an ability] to dread death and to express the choice not to die .
But Pinkers traits not only differentiate the newborn from the adult, they also differentiate one adult from another. Take Trait #1, for instance, what sociologists call anomie the disconnectedness an individual feels toward others and society. It varies from one adult to another. Since Pinker argues that we should treat less harshly those who take the life of a newborn, does it not follow that we should treat less harshly those who take the life of an adult who scores poorly on Pinkers Four Traits of the Fully Human?
Actually, given Pinkers criteria, the life of an orthodox Christian should be afforded greater protection under the law than the life of a liberal secular humanist. Just compare the two on the Pinker Scale.
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