On the recommendation of David Bentley Hart , I read Richard Dawkins’s The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution . Like Hart, I too enjoyed the book and was relieved that Dawkins kept his belligerence against religion mostly in check. (Operative word: mostly .)

One passage, though, caught my attention for its relevance to the debate over abortion. It comes from the chapter called “You Did It Yourself in Nine Months,” and goes as follows:

The irascible genius J.B.S. Haldane, who did so much else besides being one of the three leading architects of neo-Darwinism, was once challenged by a lady after a public lecture. It’s a word-of-mouth anecdote, and John Maynard Smith is sadly not available to confirm the exact words, but this is approximately how the exchange went:
Evolution sceptic : Professor Haldane, even given the billions of years that you say were available for evolution, I simply cannot believe it is possible to go from a single cell to a complicated human body, with its trillions of cells organized into bones and muscles and nerves, a heart that pumps without ceasing for decades, miles and miles of blood vessels and kidney tubules, and a brain capable of thinking and talking and feeling.

JBS: But madam, you did it yourself. And it only took nine months.



The key word is that deceptively simple second-person personal pronoun you . Yes, madam, you did it in nine months; and if at any point in those nine months an abortionist had intervened, you wouldn’t be here to raise your questions.

The beauty of this argument comes from its simplicity. The immorality of abortion was never about religion to begin with (except insofar as the religion in question sees itself as a guardian of natural law). Yes, the question of ensoulment is obviously relevant; but it is also an ineluctably metaphysical question as well, a field notorious for generating interminable disagreements.

For getting to the heart of the issue all one has to do is point to one’s interlocutor’s personal interest in the matter: you did it in nine months, so who are you to deny that same remarkable success to others? On this point see Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen’s Embryo: A Defense of Human Lif e. .

Articles by Edward T. Oakes

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