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What We Mean When We Talk About the "Value of Human Life"

At Evolution Blog, Jason Rosenhouse offers "Replies to Smith and Klinghoffer," meaning Wesley and myself on assisted suicide versus the idea of life's sacredness. Rosenhouse insists that "Human origins have no implications for the value of human life."

The source of his confusion seems to be that in writing about the "value of human life," Rosenhouse and I are talking about two different things. I'm referring to the idea that a human life per se has an exceptional value, a sacredness, which demands that it be regarded with awe. Hence empowering or compelling doctors to hasten death cannot be readily countenanced. Instead, give maximum comfort to a patient in pain and where appropriate seek to arouse the spark, the awareness, of purpose and meaning in him that many of us believe resides in every human soul. Give love rather than a lethal injection or, in the case of the ghoulish defrocked physician Philip Nitschke whom Wesley wrote about earlier, the suicide bag.

Rosenhouse evidently has in mind something different: that the experience of living a life of a certain quality or comfort has ultimate value. Hence in the absence of that level of comfort, it may be humane to kill or help someone kill himself. If a person is uncomfortable, whether from physical or emotional causes, and says he wants to die, kill him.

Wesley Smith has been a pioneer in documenting the true callousness and abuses that inevitably follow from this well-intentioned "humane" stance. No one knows more about it than Wesley both as a journalist and from personal experience. Certainly not Jason Rosenhouse.

My position follows from the observation that life gives evidence of purposeful intent, and that the cosmos seems to be designed with us in mind. That is an awesome thing to consider, and it demands that human life be respected. Jason's stance follows from the opposite view, that biology arose by chance and offers no evidence of objective purpose or meaning, other than the meaning we choose (arbitrarily) to give it.

That's why I said to begin with -- and this is what set Jason Rosenhouse off -- "Whether the context is biology or cosmology, the ultimate issue at stake in the controversy over origins is the picture we carry around in our mind of what a human being is, what a human life is worth." Clearly, your opinion on that issue has profound downstream consequences. And that, I think, is the primary reason that the debate about intelligent design matters so much.

I also notice that Rosenhouse ignores the "Two Doors" challenge at the end of my post, which I've now posed to him, Coyne, Harris, Myers -- without receiving an answer -- and any other scientific-atheist who cares to try giving a candid reply. The fact that Rosenhouse is (I believe, like Harris and Coyne) of Jewish background makes it especially relevant.

I'm on Twitter. Follow me @d_klinghoffer.