Thu | Aug 6, 2020

Horace Levy | Espeut’s aborted logic

Published:Thursday | July 26, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Peter Espeut begins the statement of his position (Gleaner, June 15, 2018, 'Genuine debate about abortion') with the assertion: "The foetus in the womb of the mother has 46 chromosomes and, therefore, is a human being." He regards this as a scientific fact.

However, he overlooks or chooses to ignore what is equally to be asserted, namely, that this'human being' develops through a series of states or stages. Distinct from the mother throughout, it is first a human embryo and a human foetus before becoming a human baby.

Evidently, the notion of a series of states or stages of development is unacceptable to Peter when applied not just to the body component of the embryo and foetus (which is scientific fact), but also to the soul component.

To most people this could be a new idea. But it seems to follow from the tight-knit relationship of body and soul, matter and form (philosophically essence, not outward shape). Their respective potentials are actualised, that is, develop, in tandem. So at the earliest stages, I have argued, and many people at least implicitly hold, there is no full 'human being' with a right to life that would make its termination murder.

For Peter, though, the soul is so 'sacred', so complete from the moment of a conception (because, though contrary to the creation process, directly infused by God?), that growth is ruled out. Yet in the tripartite division of body, soul and spirit that he advances, he has spirit evolving. Why then not also the soul as spirit?

The tripartite division is popular in some church circles. It can find no support, however, in ancient or modern philosophy, or in the New Testament, according to Jesuit John McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible (admittedly my 53-year-old edition).




Tripartite spirit has no functions (love, purpose) not already possessed by the soul. Its basis appears to lie in the origin of the word as breath or wind. Really, 'spirit' is the active and dynamic aspect of what 'soul' suggests as substantial and enduring. Thus, the same New Testament Greek pneuma is variously translated as 'soul', 'spirit', 'mind', 'self', 'being', depending on context and what the authors of its several gospels and letters were trying to convey as Jesus' 'Good News'.

Peter's problem is to mistake his celebrated logic, which is useful for ordering concepts so as to lead to compelling conclusions, for the far more important insight, which grasps reality, often something not previously known. In addition, the innate conservatism of church people, rightly protective of good traditions, has regularly led them to reject knowledge advances, such as those of a Galileo or a Darwin and of many others.

Testosterone domination of the Church has grievously worsened this tendency in matters of sex, gender and procreation. Church positions are set by fear of the flood they think will follow any crack in the door. They should be trusting in the goodwill and good sense of church members, through the presence of the Holy Spirit they proclaim. In fact, most women, whose voices should dominate in this matter, decide on an abortion reluctantly. They find it distressing.

Thanks for the doctorate, Peter, but not in philosophy, where I have only a master's, but in theology (STD=Sacred Theology Doctor), except for the fact that I never met the condition of having my dissertation (or a part of it) published, which is why I've never used the title.

- Horace Levy is a human-rights lobbyist. Email feedback to and