Can We Deal with the Truth?

February 27, 2024 • Posted in Blog


D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.
Executive Director

Two things have happened in recent weeks that should get our attention. Both are truth claims, and come from opposite ends of the cultural and political spectra.

First of all, what is truth? The Free Dictionary is helpful: truth is defined as “Conformity to fact or actuality.” That which conforms to reality is truth. An example often bandied about is my action based on what I believe about gravity. That is, if I believe that the gravitational pull of the earth does not exist (is not true), then I should be able to step out of a second story window and not fall. The truth (the reality) of the matter is that the earth does indeed have a gravitational pull, and I will feel its effects immediately upon exiting the window.

Richard Dawkins, a biologist, writer, and noted “new atheist” from the UK, made a truth claim on X, formerly Twitter, on 30 January 2024. In reference to an article from Scientific American, Dawkins wrote:

This ridiculous article (shame on the once-great Scientific American) ignorantly misunderstands the nature of the sex binary: “Actual research shows that sex is anything but binary”.

Sex is not defined by chromosomes, nor by anatomy, nor by psychology or sociology, nor by personal inclination, nor by “assignment at birth”, but by gamete size. It happens to be embryologically DETERMINED by chromosomes in mammals and (in the opposite direction) birds, by temperature in some reptiles, by social factors in some fish. But it is universally DEFINED by the binary distinction between sperms and eggs.

You may argue about “gender” if you wish (biologists have better things to do) but sex is a true binary, one of rather few in biology.

So sex is binary: who knew? According to Dawkins, it would seem that biologists and physicians should be in the know. Additionally, anyone growing up on a farm, or in close proximity to one, would probably be clued in as well. We could perhaps add those who have found, to their joy (or their dismay), that a pregnancy test was positive. And the list goes on . . .

Another recent truth claim came from the Supreme Court of Alabama. Three couples who lost frozen embryos in a strange accident in an Alabama fertility center sued the Mobile Infirmary Medical Center (“the Hospital”) and the Mobile Infirmary Association (“the Association”), which owns and operates the hospital (p 4 of decision). The couples claimed Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applied to the loss of their embryos.

It is noteworthy that plaintiffs and defendants alike agreed that

  1. an unborn child is a genetically unique human being whose life begins at fertilization and ends at death; and
  2. unborn child usually qualifies as a “human life,” “human being,” or “person,” as those words are used in ordinary conversation and in the text of Alabama’s wrongful-death statutes. That is true, as everyone acknowledges, throughout all stages of an unborn child’s development, regardless of viability. (p. 8)

What they disagreed about was whether an unborn child not located in a physical uterus when it was killed was a person. Indeed, The defendants argue that this Court should recognize such an exception because, they say, an unborn child ceases to qualify as a “child or “person” if that child is not contained within a biological womb. (p. 8)

The Alabama Supreme Court found that neither the text of the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act nor this Court’s precedents exclude extrauterine children from the Act’s coverage. Unborn children are “children” under the Act, without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics. (p. 11)

How will we cope with this truth, that embryos, no matter their location, are rightly children? Some are postulating that IVF will be more difficult or expensive. The Medical Association of the State of Alabama said in a statement: “The significance of this decision impacts all Alabamians and will likely lead to fewer babies – children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins – as fertility options become limited for those who want to have a family.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom had a different take:

“No matter the circumstances, all human life is valuable from the moment of conception,” spokeswoman Denise Burke said in a statement to the BBC. “We are grateful the Court correctly found that Alabama law recognises this fundamental truth.”

Perhaps it is time to take a good long look in the mirror. What do we see? We need to come to terms with what it means to be human. Are we made in the image of God, or do we fashion ourselves? If we have a right to live, from where do we derive that right? Are we privileged with the right to determine who else has the right to live? If so, what are the parameters? Alabama Chief Justice Parker has written cogently on this subject in his concurrence with the above cited opinion (pages 26-48); I highly recommend reading his conclusions.


Worth Your Time: Selections from the Bioethics Library

C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D. Distinguished Fellow of the Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture

C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D.
Distinguished Fellow
The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture

Artificial intelligence is already embedded imperceptibly in all of our lives. The autocomplete in our word processors, the algorithms that track our purchases, the uncanny way social media find to market a product directly to us, even though we’ve never uttered the name of the product out loud. AI is ubiquitous and will only become more so. These two essays—one by a mathematician-philosopher and the other by a physician-theologian—show the dangers of forfeiting our agency to artificial intelligence.

William Dembski, Artificial General Intelligence as an Idol for Destruction

Jeffrey Bishop, MD, What is Man that AI is Mindful of Him?