It is not too often that that an NPR reporter can raise my blood pressure to new and dangerous heights, but Julie Rovner did it with just nine words. At the beginning of her report on Personhood USA (Abortion Foes Push to Redefine Personhood) that aired on June 1, 2011, Rovner opened her on-air story thusly: 'When life begins, of course is a theological question.' Perhaps the producer or editor of her story should have added that such a statement falls within the clear definition of commentary.
I'll gladly concede that believers of all stripes have entered the debate not on how but when life begins, but the question is not solely theirs. Homo sapiens --and perhaps H. neanderthalensis-- have mused on death and life's beginning for millennia, calling on unknown and long-since-dead gods for explanations of both. And long before Keith Mason or his god showed up; and the question can be asked by believers and non-believers alike; and we continue to find that the question is still not fully answered. A moral question? Certainly. A theological question? Perhaps. Regardless, a peerless philosophical and scientific question posed seductively and perfectly for the dialectic.
Rovner's introduction is nothing more than the retooling of Gould's NOMA argument. Is there anything more dangerous than leaving the rich debate of the ultimate meaning of life wholly to those who peddle fairy tales from the Stone Age; to crystal-wearing tie-dyed charlatans wishing for a return to the Age of Aquarius? Rovner's capitulation to theological faith-claims leave the question of when life begins open to Jedi masters, but not to Richard Dawkins. Or worse: those who believe that there is no god but god and Mohammed is his messenger --who subscribe to suicide and to murder and to the atomization of the infidel-- are welcome to the table for discussion, while Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are left holding their intellect and reason on the front porch pondering the danger of the 'no solicitation' sign on the door.
No matter how kindly offered, one does not accept a belly rub from the intelligent design --or indeed from any faith-based-- community when it comes to their erroneous summation of the age of the Universe. And one certainly isn't going to beg for a tail-wagging scratch when it comes to figuring out when life begins after the dust settles from the musky dance that literally fleshes out the question in the first place. If Keith Mason and the remaining followers of the Nazarene want to reduce the number of unwanted and aborted pregnancies, then they must endorse the wholesale emancipation of women and the education of children as regarding sexual and reproductive health. Anything less is window dressing for their version of an Orwellian nightmare of control and caprice.