At a recent meeting of the Orange County St. Thomas More Society we were fortunate enough to have Father Robert Spitzer, SJ present a his new book 10 Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy Of Life Issues. You might remember Father Spitzer as the Jesuit Priest who defended God’s existence against physicist Stephen Hawking’s belief that God isn’t the creator of the universe on CNN’s “Larry King Live.” I’ve been fortunate enough to hear many talks from Father Spitzer, including dozens of riveting homilies from the pulpit. He is a brilliant and holy man.
His conversation at the latest Thomas Moore gathering centered around his efforts to challenge young people (he's primarily an educator) to recognize certain universally held principles when addressing the notion of when life begins in connection with the morality and legality of abortion.
If this summary seems incomplete, that's my fault. I have no philosophy background and I'm taking notes best I can. Spitzer uses no notes as he excitedly takes us through his new theory. I encourage you to get his book to fill in the gaps.
Fr. Spitzer points out that the abortion issue has historically been argued with the same false reasoning that supported such historical follies as the subjugation of Native Americans as inferiors and the Dred Scott decision.
In those areas, available scientific data could not prove that Native Americans or Africans were not inferior so courts and governments declared them inferior, since there was doubt. It was a backwards philosophy that basically said, “we’re not really sure, so we’re going to err on the side of ‘you are inferior’ and let the harm to you continue.” Sound familiar? This is Roe V. Wade. “We’re not really sure. We have these trimesters, we think we can divide abortion rights into what’s OK and what is less OK, but by all means let the fetus killing continue.”
Universal Principles of Reason and Ethics
The Principle of Complete Explanation:
Are all opinions equally valid, or at least have some kind of validity? Yes? If so, then Newton was just as correct as Einstein with respect to the physical universe? Of course not. Einstein had more information. He knew a lot more so his opinions were better. The theory that explains the most data wins! The theory that leaves out large amounts of data, loses!
The Principle of Non-Contradiction:
Something cannot both “be and not be” in the same respect at the same place and time. Objective reason, contradictory theories need to be ruled out. We should prefer theories without contradictions.
Principle of Objective Evidence:
You can’t make a public argument relying upon subjective experiences. (A posteriori - corroboratable; or a priori evidence -based on non-contradiction).
With this foundation, Fr. Spitzer starts to quiz his contrarian students about the definition of human life.
“Would you say that a human life is life that belongs to a being of human origin?
“Yes,” the student says, “but how do you know they’re human?”
“Well I can map out the entire genome of a single celled human zygote and tell you for certain that it will develop into a human being with human capacities.”
We all, as human beings, share the same mitochondrial DNA. We all come from the same “Eve Gene,” but apes do not. At the single cell stage, prior to attachment, the science can even tell what the zygote will look like when it’s older.
Most would agree, and follow Spitzer’s logic. Most do agree that this is a fine definition of a human being. And from there it is not hard to convince them that this should be the legal definition of a human life in court cases involving abortion.
Why? Because according to our universally accepted principles, we need to be consistent to obtain justice. We want the best and most complete definition of a human being science can bring us. If it is not the best, it is incomplete, or contradictory, or non-objective. Hence any court cases which used an inferior definition of human life should be revised to reflect the best evidence now available in the same way Einstein revised the understanding of the physical universe vis-à-vis Newton.
Roe V. Wade was decided PRIOR to the genome and protein sequencers. It used completely inadequate criteria to define a human being. The court even admitted it was “uncertain.”
But, as Father Spitzer points out, even faced with this uncertainty the court allowed for the killing of pre-born babies, not unlike the Dred Scott court case where faced with uncertainty about the humanity of the Black race, allowed for their enslavement.
Principles of Ethics:
1. Principle of Non-Maleficence “Do no unnecessary harm, but if a harm is necessary, minimalize it.” This is an objective good.
2. The Ends Do Not Justify The Means
You can’t use a harmful means to get to a non-harmful end. You need a “non-contradiction” to get to the end. If the end causes harm, it must prevent a greater harm or evil. In both Dred Scott and Roe V. Wade, the court said, “When in doubt, do harm.”
Spitzer also brings up the 16th Century debate between Dominican Friars Sepulveda and De Las Casas over whether Indians in the new world were mere savages to be subjugated, or capable of full human potential. Sepulveda’s argument was again, “When in doubt, do harm.” De Las Casas had evidence that some of the Indians were quite accomplished in the arts and sciences.
De Las Casas’ argument was that until it can be proved that these are not human beings, do no harm. This is the correct priority. Roe V. Wade and Dred Scott said you have to prove you are a human being to have rights. That is a sad priority that we should reject.
The Dred Scott Court actually asserted “we must assume they are not citizens or human until it can be proved that they are.” What would be proof? Well, if they were mentioned in the constitution that would have satisfied the court. But it wasn’t there of course because certain rights were not mentioned in the constitution because they were so intrinsic.
The Roe V. Wade Court looked for evidence that fetuses were “persons” but claimed they couldn't find it.” (The victim has to prove his personhood?). The Court misspoke when it said “the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense." Spitzer’s book points out the very public cases that did establish that pre-born infants had the right to sue and inherit property.
But even if there weren’t any cases that indicated the personhood of the fetus, we are left with the same fallacy. People have to prove they are human. De Las Casas warned that this theory would open ourselves up to rampant violations of the universal Principle of Non Maleficence.
3. Principle of Full Human Potential. The assumption that people that have the capacity to develop into humans with the full potential to achieve all that is human, e.g., self reflection, moral, and aesthetic cognizance, etc.
Roe V. Wade’s denial of this principle was one not based on race but on the nonsensical notion that since fetuses haven’t historically achieved full human potential, this is their death warrant.
Principles of Inalienable Rights:
This fundamentally Christian notion, first expressed according to Father Spitzer in 1620 by Jesuit Francisco Suarez in his book De Legibus. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of property are inalienable, yet not expressed in our Bill Of Rights because they should not be granted to a people, for then they could be taken away theoretically. John Locke studied Suarez’ principles at Oxford, fortunately.
Locke wanted to ground justice in these principles independent of “positive law” to avoid the tyranny of the majority that might vote to deny them to some. Surprisingly, both Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson agreed with this notion of Natural Law. Federalists and anti-Federalists alike were on board. Why did the Dred Scott and Roe V. Wade Courts go so wrong? The Emancipation Proclamation nullified Dred Scott. What will nullify Roe V. Wade? Where’s our Lincoln?