While it might look like I am attacking Botkin, that is certainly not the case. I strongly applaud her precisioned take-down of Wilson’s theology and pray more posts come.
Kate Botkin’s most recent post, while most of it was an excellent critique of Wilson’s deranged practices, offered a troubling piece of argumentation. Note, she isn’t endorsing abortion (at least not in this post) but she is advancing the argument that a man who’s molested dozens of children isn’t a better human being than a woman who gets an abortion at 8 weeks. I think some kind of rebuttal like this was inevitable, given that Wilson immediately deflects to abortion whenever he gets in trouble.
I won’t enter that line of debate. What did intrigue me was her following suggestion:
You don’t have to agree that abortion is Ok to understand that some women do not view early abortion as evil, based on biology and the belief that the soul enters a child along with consciousness, or at a certain stage of development.
So, does a unborn baby gain a soul at consciousness or at conception? Most pro-life Christians want to say at conception, but since they lack a coherent doctrine of the soul they really struggle with this point. Part of the difficulty is that consciousness is a faculty of the soul and so Botkin’s suggestion isn’t entirely in left field. I think she is wrong but for different reasons.
Maybe this isn’t even Botkin’s position. I’ll grant that. I know what she is doing. Every time Wilson begins to feel the heat, he deflects the issue back to abortion: “Gee golly, I know shielding pedophiles is bad, but it’s not as bad as abortion.” Well, you’re just saying that because you can’t answer the question. Botkin then takes you up on your point and since you guys have an anemic doctrine of the soul, you can’t answer her.
I think I can. Let’s rephrase her argument:
(And I am using “soul” and “person” as more or less synonymous. There are some nuances but most Christians think along these lines).
P1: An unborn baby gains a soul/becomes a person at the gaining of consciousness
P1*: Consciousness is what makes a soul/person.
P1’: Body and soul aren’t the same thing.
I think that is a fair summary. Here is why I think it is wrong. With J. P. Moreland I would say
P2: “the soul is an individuated essence that makes the body a human body” (Moreland 202).
Botkin would agree so fair. P1’ and P2 make the same point. I add another premise:
P3: The soul has capacities. Capacities come in hierarchies.
P3 is important in the euthanasia debate. I can have a capacity for something yet not be exercising it. At the moment I have the capacity for speaking Russian. This is called a 2nd-order capacity. Sadly, I cannot speak Russian right now, thus I do not have a 1st-order capacity.
Souls also have faculties.
P4: a faculty is a compartment of the soul that contains a natural family of related capacities (204). Mind, will, and spirit. And consciousness.
The problem with the ensoulment argument (P1) is that it identifies the soul/person with actualized capacities. Therefore, when the person is no longer exercising an actualized capacity like consciousness, then he is no longer a person. Like when you are under anesthesia.
There is another, albeit more technical, problem with ensoulment. If consciousness is the sine qua non of what it means to be a person/soul, but if I’ve established that consciousness is rather a capacity of the soul’s faculties, then the following reductio obtains:
P5: An unborn gains a soul at the gaining of a soul (1, 1*).
True, but not very helpful. The difficulty is that advocates of ensoulment are defining a soul by what the soul could do. Defining by function is always dangerous. A person under general anesthesia cannot function. Does he cease to be a person? Why not? As Rae notes, “To appeal to some higher-order capacities as determinate of personhood” cannot be done without acknowledging that personhood is not dependent on lower-order capacities (Moreland and Rae 251). These higher-order capacities are latent, just as they are with the unborn.