Human Dignity, Enlightenment, and Global Bioethics


Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from a paper delivered as a plenary session address at CBHD’s 16th annual summer conference, Global Bioethics: Emerging Challenges Facing Human Dignity. The article subsequently appeared in Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics Volume 26, No. 2 Summer 2010, 93-110 and is used by permission. The audio version is from the original plenary address entitled, “Human Dignity, Enlightenment, and Global Bioethics.”
“Dignity Never Been Photographed: Scientific Materialism, Enlightenment Liberalism, and Steven Pinker”
By Francis J. Beckwith, PhD
In March 2008, the President’s Council on Bioethics published a volume entitled, Human Dignity and Bioethics.[i] It consists of essays penned by council members as well as other scholars and practitioners invited to contribute. As one would guess, the idea of human dignity and what it means for bioethics, both in theory and in practice, is the theme that dominates each of the works contributed to this impressive volume. But for those who have been following or participating in the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary world of secular bioethics during the past fifteen or twenty years, the insertion of the idea of “human dignity,” or even the word “dignity,” as the anthropological foundation of bioethics is highly unusual. Much of the cutting edge literature in bioethics, with few exceptions, tends to employ the language of modern political theory and contemporary analytic political philosophy and jurisprudence. So, for example, one finds in these cutting-edge works discussions about the meaning and implementation of the principles of autonomy, justice, nonmaleficence, and beneficence, as well as calls for the application of these principles to what constitutes physician neutrality, informed consent, and patients’ rights. This project often goes by the name principlism. There is, of course, much that this project has contributed to the study and practice of bioethics. For each principle and its application has a long and noble pedigree about which many of us hold a variety of opinions. But what distinguishes principlism from the concept of “human dignity,” and what makes this central concern of the council’s volume so astounding, is that advocates of principlism typically intend for it to be a means by which a physician, ethics committee, nurse practitioner, general counsel, etc., need not delve into the metaphysical question for which “human dignity” is offered as a partial answer, namely, “Who and what are we, and can we know it?”[ii]
To put it another way, if bioethics commits itself to the idea that “human dignity” is essential to its practice, as the President’s Council suggests, it follows that bioethics must embrace a philosophy of the human person, a philosophical anthropology, if you will, that can provide substantive content to the notion of “human dignity.” But such a suggestion seems to run counter to two ideas that are dominant in the secular academy: (1) Enlightenment Liberalism, and (2) Scientific Materialism.
Enlightenment Liberalism is, roughly, the view that a state that aspires to justice and fairness ought not to embrace one view of the human person as the correct view because to do so would be to violate the principles essential to liberal democracy. This is why the principles central to principlism, such as autonomy and justice, are almost all procedural in their application. That is, when they are applied and practiced correctly, they commit the relevant medical personal and institution to as minimal an understanding of the human person and her good as possible.[iii] Now, as I point out below, I think that this is actually false. In fact, secular bioethics does commit its practitioners to a substantive understanding of the human person and the human good, one that is as contested and controversial as the so-called “religious” views for which principlism is often thought of as a neutral arbiter.[iv] What I am suggesting here, however, is that this is not how its supporters present, or in some cases understand, their position.
The second idea, Scientific Materialism, is, roughly, the view that science is the best or only way of knowing, and that science is committed to methodological naturalism (that science must proceed under the assumption that non-natural entities cannot be items of knowledge that may count against the deliverances of the hard sciences). Therefore, philosophies of the human person that affirm non-material properties like “human dignity” are not items of real knowledge. Thus, such philosophies of the human person, though they may be privately embraced and practiced by individual citizens in accordance with their own religious sensibilities or believed on the basis of utility[v], none of these philosophical anthropologies may ever serve as the basis on which a society may regulate research and practices of bioethical controversy, such as embryonic stem-cell research, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, or reproductive technologies.
As one would suspect, given these definitions, advocates of Enlightenment Liberalism and Scientific Materialism offer them as neutral and uncontested concepts that provide a fair, impartial, and scientifically respectable foundation for the practice of medical ethics in a pluralistic society of competing worldviews.[vi] Despite their intuitive appeal to many in the academic and professional cultures in which a secular bioethics is dominant, I want to argue that these views are not neutral and uncontested concepts. Rather, they support an account of the common good and the human person that answers precisely the same questions that the so-called contested worldviews, including so-called religious perspectives, attempt to answer. In order to make my case, I employ as my point of departure several comments that appeared in a 2008 article published in The New Republic, “The Stupidity of Dignity,” authored by Harvard University psychology professor, Steven Pinker.[vii]
Following the lead of bioethicist, Ruth Macklin, who published a 2003 editorial entitled, “Dignity is a Useless Concept,” [viii] Professor Pinker maintains that “dignity” adds nothing of importance to bioethics:
The problem is that “dignity” is a squishy, subjective notion, hardly up to the heavyweight moral demands assigned to it. …Ruth Macklin… [has] argued that bioethics has done just fine with the principle of personal autonomy—the idea that, because all humans have the same minimum capacity to suffer, prosper, reason, and choose, no human has the right to impinge on the life, body, or freedom of another. This is why informed consent serves as the bedrock of ethical research and practice, and it clearly rules out the kinds of abuses that led to the birth of bioethics in the first place, such as Mengele’s sadistic pseudoexperiments in Nazi Germany and the withholding of treatment to indigent black patients in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study. Once you recognize the principle of autonomy, Macklin argued, “dignity” adds nothing. [ix]
Pinker seems to be making two claims: (I) “Dignity” cannot be adequately defined because it is a subjective notion, and thus cannot serve as a basis for moral judgments, and (II) “dignity” is unnecessary since the principle of personal autonomy can do all the work that dignity is procured by its advocates to handle.
In what follows, I assess each claim as well as some of Pinker’s sub-claims. Although I do not directly offer and defend a particular understanding of intrinsic human dignity (even though I, in fact, believe one view of the human person is correct) [x], I offer several counterexamples and clarifications that rely on what I believe is an understanding of human dignity embraced by many members of the President’s Council on Bioethics. I conclude that the view embraced by Pinker and his allies—and the cluster of ideas that they are convinced is entailed by it--is not the only one that rational reflection has the power and insight to deliver.
I. Dignity is Subjective
Pinker argues that the concept of dignity is too subjective, and thus is relative, fungible, and harmful. On each count, Pinker fails to make his case.
A. Dignity is Relative
Human dignity is relative, argues Pinker, because people and cultures have disagreed on a variety of behaviors and whether or not those who engage in them are acting in a dignified fashion. For example, what constitutes proper dress or culinary practices, whether modesty requires knee-high stockings, or whether licking an ice cream cone in public is a case of bad gastronomic form, are matters of wide and varied opinions across cultures and across time.[xi] This, according to Pinker, constitutes definitive evidence against the idea that human dignity is intrinsic to the person and thus is not reducible to the flux of unguided nature, historical epochs, and/or social institutions.
This argument can be challenged on at least three grounds: (1) disagreement is not sufficient to reject intrinsic human dignity, (2) disagreement between cultures, ironically, counts against Pinker’s position, and (3) Pinker confuses relative practices and beliefs about which social indignities may arise with the idea that intrinsic human dignity is a real property had by human beings by nature.
(1) It does not follow from the fact that there are differing understandings of human dignity that there is no such thing as intrinsic human dignity or that no one has authentic or even approximate knowledge of it. The fact that Mother Teresa and Margaret Sanger, for example, had different conceptions of human dignity does not mean that neither one was right. The premise—“people disagree on what constitutes human dignity”—is not sufficient to support the conclusion, “therefore, intrinsic human dignity is either not known or non-existent.” It may, of course, turn out that Pinker is correct. But the mere fact of disagreement cannot logically ground his claim.
(2) Pinker has set down a principle—disagreement about what constitutes human dignity means there is no truth on the matter—that is self-refuting. After all, some of us believe that Pinker’s view is mistaken. We, in other words, disagree with Pinker over whether intrinsic human dignity exists and whether any of us can have knowledge of it if, in fact, it does exist. Some of us indeed believe that intrinsic human dignity is real and knowable, whereas others of us, like Pinker, do not. But, according to Pinker’s own principle, disagreement over the question of human dignity means that one ought to believe that there is no truth on the matter. Thus, Pinker himself ought to abandon his own position about human dignity’s relativity as the truth on the matter, since some of us, after all, disagree with it. In other words, his principle is a proposition for which there is no universal agreement, and thus on its own grounds must be rejected. As Hadley Arkes points out concerning a similar argument in support of moral relativism, “My disagreement establishes that the proposition does not enjoy a universal assent, and by the very terms of the proposition, that should be quite sufficient to determine its own invalidity.”[xii]
(3) Conceptually, Pinker is confusing the “dignity” we often associate with social practices and what they may or may not mean to the community with the idea of dignity as a philosophical or theological concept that refers to an intrinsic property had by human persons from the moment they come into being. The former, no one doubts, is in a sense relative. But as many have pointed out[xiii], these social practices are often relative to that which is non-relative. That is, the sorts of practices offered by Pinker as evidence of dignity’s relativity typically acquire their meaning and justification because of their power to actualize and protect deeper and apparently unchanging truths. C. S. Lewis provides several illustrations to make this point:
I know that some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behaviour known to all men is unsound, because different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities.
But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own. Some of the evidence for this I have put together in the appendix of another book called The Abolition of Man; but for our present purpose I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to-whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked. [xiv]
On the other hand, the philosophical or theological concept of dignity—that it is an intrinsic property had by human persons from the moment they come into being—is not something its defenders claim can be discovered by mere empirical observation of cultural practices, as Pinker seems to think, for he limits his critique to recording just such observations. But, just as the country singer Johnny Lee once sang of his vain search for love in “single bars” and with “good time lovers,”[xv] Pinker is looking for dignity in all the wrong places.
According to those who champion the idea of intrinsic human dignity, it is something that we come to know when we reflect upon the nature of human persons, their properties and powers, as well as the goods that contribute to a human being’s flourishing.[xvi] And yet, much like everything else in which we believe, the idea of intrinsic human dignity is deeply embedded in our cultural, jurisprudential, and religious traditions. Thus, it is sometimes very difficult to understand it apart from the institutions, laws, mores, practices, and beliefs in which the idea of human dignity finds expression, protection, and application.[xvii] This is why, for example, for most people the parable of the Good Samaritan, the charitable work of Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial resonate with them more than Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. And yet, human dignity is not reducible to these institutions, laws, mores, practices or beliefs in which and by which it is recognized. For we can think of clear-cut cases in which and by which such institutions and practices have in fact not adequately protected human dignity, such as in the cases of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and American slavery. This is because human dignity is an intrinsic property had by all human beings by nature. And much more follows from this insight.
Intrinsic human dignity, if it indeed exists, cannot be a degreed property like rationality, intelligence, good looks, height, or weight. For these are accidental properties that by their very nature change, develop, diminish or cease to be actual over time for the human being who has them. But that means that the human being is logically prior to its accidental properties, for the human being subsists as a unified being through all the changes it undergoes. Thus, if the human being is logically prior to its accidental properties, its intrinsic dignity cannot be one of those properties, for an intrinsic property is a necessary condition for the being to be the sort of being that it is. Moreover, if any of the human being’s accidental and degreed properties were the ground of its dignity, dignity would no longer be an intrinsic property that is actualized in any being that exemplifies human nature. It would also mean that we would have to abandon the idea of human equality and draw the conclusion that no two human beings have the same degree of dignity.[xviii]
Because human dignity is not a degreed property, it cannot develop and/or atrophy. For that reason, it is not a material property that has mass or extension. Moreover, because human dignity is intrinsic to every being that exemplifies human nature, it is not the sort of property that is local, in the sense that it depends on the actualization of particular human powers and properties, such as intelligence, good looks, rational faculties, etc. Rather, human dignity is a global property, one that applies to the human being as a whole. That is, human dignity is the property had by the unified entity of a particular sort that maintains absolute identity through change, including the development, growth, and flourishing, as well as the decline and diminishing of her numerous properties and powers. This is why it is difficult to sustain the idea of “human dignity” as an intrinsic property of the whole being if one maintains that the human being is merely a collection of material parts rather than a real unified entity whose parts work in concert for the good of the whole. In sum, its champions claim that human dignity is an intrinsic, immaterial, non-empirical, non-degreed, and essential property had by human beings by nature.
But remember, the second of the two foundational ideas maintained by Pinker and his allies is Scientific Materialism, the view that limits knowledge to the hard and social sciences, which exclude the possibility that we can have knowledge of an immaterial, non-degreed, non-empirical, intrinsic property such as human dignity. [xix] As he asserted in his 2003 testimony before the President’s Council on Bioethics:
The idea of humans as possessing some immaterial essence that categorically distinguishes them from animals, I think, is going to come under — is going to become less and less credible, and there will be, I think, a crisis among the religious faiths that depend critically on the assumption that there is some nonmaterial essence….I think there's going to be a rethinking of ethical issues, such as responsibility and justice and equality, not that it will evaporate….On the contrary, I think they will focus our ethical discussions on what we most value, what we want moral guidelines to do.[xx]
In his 1997 book, How the Mind Works, Pinker is more explicit in his commitment to Scientific Materialism:
The traditional explanation of intelligence is that human flesh is suffused with a non-material entity, the soul, usually envisioned as some sort of ghost or spirit.  But the theory faces an insurmountable problem:  How does the spook interact with solid matter?  How does an ethereal nothing respond to flashes, pokes, and beeps and get arms and legs to move?  Another problem is the overwhelming evidence that the mind is the activity of the brain.  The supposedly immaterial soul, we know now, can be bisected with a knife, altered by chemicals, started or stopped by electricity, and extinguished by a sharp blow or by insufficient oxygen. [xxi]
And now we see why Pinker’s epistemological and metaphysical commitments limit his analysis of human dignity to wardrobes and eating habits—empirical claims that can be observed and quantified—when in fact the human dignity embraced by its advocates is not that sort of property. This is why, for Pinker, ethics is “what we most value, what we want moral guidelines to do. “[xxii] On the other hand, for the supporter of intrinsic human dignity, ethics is the normative standard by which we assess the rightness of what we value and what guidelines we want. But this option is not open for Pinker. He is committed to an evolutionary account of ethics that maintains that what we value emerges from inherited behavioral dispositions, though these dispositions, he admits, provide no moral grounds for why an agent ought to behave consistently with those dispositions in the future.[xxiii] So, he offers us an account of morality that is bereft of an account of the duties we may or may not have to obey it.
Ironically, Pinker’s suggestion that Scientific Materialism ought to be the metaphysical principle that guides our bioethics violates the first foundational idea that he and his allies embrace: Enlightenment Liberalism. That is, because proponents of Scientific Materialism attempt to answer the same fundamental question that contrary points of view attempt to answer on matters bioethical—who and what are we and can we know it?—a regime, whether political or legal, that proclaims Scientific Materialism as its official position on the nature of human persons and our knowledge about them violates Enlightenment Liberalism’s requirement for worldview neutrality. Although he claims in one place that “a free society disempowers the state from enforcing a conception of dignity on its citizens,”[xxiv] Pinker nevertheless seeks to shape policy in a direction that recognizes only those views informed exclusively by Scientific Materialism.
B. Dignity is Fungible
According to Pinker, dignity is often set aside or trumped when another good is at stake. He writes:
The Council… treat[s] dignity as a sacred value, never to be compromised. In fact, every one of us voluntarily and repeatedly relinquishes dignity for other goods in life. Getting out of a small car is undignified. Having sex is undignified. Doffing your belt and spread-eagling to allow a security guard to slide a wand up your crotch is undignified. Most pointedly, modern medicine is a gantlet of indignities. Most readers of this article have undergone a pelvic or rectal examination, and many have had the pleasure of a colonoscopy as well. We repeatedly vote with our feet (and other body parts) that dignity is a trivial value, well worth trading off for life, health, and safety. [xxv]
Pinker is confusing awkward or embarrassing situations or events—which in our verbal nomenclature we call “indignities”—with a violation of a person’s intrinsic human dignity, which, as we have already seen, its proponents maintain is an intrinsic moral property had by human beings by nature. This understanding of human dignity means, among other things, that human beings and their caregivers should treat the human person consistently with his or her own good as a person and not merely as a means to some apparently good end. So, according that understanding, a violation of human dignity would occur if a physician were to discourage her patient to undergo a routine pelvic or rectal examination because of the “indignities” described by Pinker. This is because the good of the patient is compromised when he or she willingly abandons her own good in order to avoid a mild indignity that is by its nature not intrinsically immoral.
C. Dignity is Harmful[xxvi]
Pinker maintains that dignity is harmful. That is, of course, an odd thing to say because willing the good of the human person—as human dignity requires—cannot, by definition, be harmful. What then does Pinker mean? What he means is that throughout human history, governments, and especially religious groups, have committed unspeakable crimes against people in the name of enforcing their version of “dignity” on others. He writes:
Every sashed and bemedaled despot reviewing his troops from a lofty platform seeks to command respect through ostentatious displays of dignity. Political and religious repressions are often rationalized as a defense of the dignity of a state, leader, or creed: Just think of the Salman Rushdie fatwa, the Danish cartoon riots, or the British schoolteacher in Sudan who faced flogging and a lynch mob because her class named a teddy bear Mohammed. Indeed, totalitarianism is often the imposition of a leader’s conception of dignity on a population, such as the identical uniforms in Maoist China or the burqas of the Taliban. [xxvii]
Pinker is no doubt correct that there are, and have been, despots who employ the language of “dignity” for the purpose of violating the intrinsic human dignity of their citizens. But that’s not an argument against the claim made by many contributors to the council’s report that a human being possesses intrinsic dignity by nature. Pinker is simply making the observation that political and religious leaders sometimes debase language for the purpose of achieving unjust ends. Who disagrees with that?
Nevertheless, a supporter of intrinsic human dignity could find Pinker’s examples to be useful illustrations of what happens when a culture or civilization abandons or does not fully embrace the idea of intrinsic human dignity. In fact, one such supporter, Pope John Paul II, whose name is mentioned in the council’s report over fifteen times, makes this very point in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae:
It is true that history has known cases where crimes have been committed in the name of “truth.” But equally grave crimes and radical denials of freedom have also been committed and are still being committed in the name of “ethical relativism.” When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal, at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a “tyrannical” decision with regard to the weakest and most defenceless of human beings? Everyone’s conscience rightly rejects those crimes against humanity of which our century has had such sad experience. But would these crimes cease to be crimes if, instead of being committed by unscrupulous tyrants, they were legitimated by popular consensus? [xxviii]
Thus, the rhetorical trick that Pinker brings to our attention—using the language of “good ends” to justify violating or ignoring a person’s intrinsic dignity--was brought to the world’s attention in 1995 by a Slavic Pope who knows something about what it means for a regime to embrace ideologies that violate human dignity. As a citizen of Poland, he survived the totalitarian adventures of two such regimes: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. [xxix]
Pinker is certainly right to bring to our attention this disreputable practice of employing the language of dignity as a means to sequester it from one’s policy deliberations. For this reason, let me suggest yet another example, but one often ignored by Pinker and others who embrace similar views on intrinsic human dignity.
Consider the eugenics movement of the 20th century. Its members offered a scientific research program that they were confident would secure certain desirable ends: human excellence, social improvement, and the eradication of a variety of mental and physical pathologies. The eugenicists offered the promise of a brave new future free of misery and disease, one that might fail to be realized if the citizenry stood in the way and continued thinking of the targets of eugenicists as persons with intrinsic dignity. Take, for example, the following comments that appeared in an article published in 1914 in the Virginia Law Review:
Could there be general welfare, or would the blessings of liberty to us and our posterity be secured, if there were not restraint upon the human object of the sterilization laws as already passed? Can there be the full blessings of liberty, or full domestic tranquility, if those civilly unfit are allowed to procreate their species and scatter their kind here and there and everywhere amongst our people?....We bestow care upon the breeding of our chickens, horses and cattle; is not the human being worthy of equal care? Nature provides certain immutable laws. It is the duty of our scientists to develop those laws for the benefit of mankind. And if by research it has been found that sterilization will prevent the procreation of idiots, criminals and degenerates, is it not the duty of the legislatures to enact laws which will bring it about? Has it not been for ages an undenied principle that the few must suffer for the good of the many? And when we cause these few to suffer, does it not foster and promote the preamble proclaiming the object of our Constitution? [xxx]
Pinker, ironically, offers the same type of rhetorically-charged parade of utopian promises—human excellence, social improvement, and the eradication of a variety of mental and physical pathologies—in order to justify several practices such as embryonic stem-cell research and “therapeutic human cloning.” [xxxi] He suggests by his comments that researchers and scientists should not take into consideration the moral status of their research subjects or how that research may change the way we think of ourselves, our children, and the other members of our community. Those who think otherwise are labeled “theocons.” Writes Pinker:
[T]heocon bioethics flaunts a callousness toward the billions of nongeriatric people, born and unborn, whose lives or health could be saved by biomedical advances. Even if progress were delayed a mere decade by moratoria, red tape, and funding taboos (to say nothing of the threat of criminal prosecution), millions of people with degenerative diseases and failing organs would needlessly suffer and die. And that would be the biggest affront to human dignity of all.[xxxii]
Although Pinker’s language is far more urbane and politically correct than the crude suggestions made by his eugenicist predecessor in 1914, the moral substance is the same: utilitarian considerations, rather than the question of intrinsic human dignity, ought to serve as the basis by which we assess our scientific work on human subjects. Like the 1914 eugenicist, Pinker is asking us to set aside or diminish the question of the moral status of ourselves and our research subjects and focus exclusively on the promised end of eradicating all illness and imperfection.
II. Dignity is Unnecessary
Having dealt with Pinker’s claim that dignity is too subjective, I want to now assess his claim that dignity is unnecessary— that the principle of autonomy can do all the work for which dignity has been conscripted by its advocates. Here is Pinker’s argument, as I quoted above at the beginning of this article:
Ruth Macklin… [has] argued that bioethics has done just fine with the principle of personal autonomy—the idea that, because all humans have the same minimum capacity to suffer, prosper, reason, and choose, no human has the right to impinge on the life, body, or freedom of another. This is why informed consent serves as the bedrock of ethical research and practice, and it clearly rules out the kinds of abuses that led to the birth of bioethics in the first place, such as Mengele’s sadistic pseudoexperiments in Nazi Germany and the withholding of treatment to indigent black patients in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study. Once you recognize the principle of autonomy, Macklin argued, “dignity” adds nothing. [xxxiii]
There are several reasons why I do not think this argument works: (1) autonomy presupposes dignity, but is not identical to it, (2) dignity has greater explanatory power than does autonomy in accounting for certain wrongs, (3) non-autonomous human beings can have their dignity violated, and (4) Pinker’s view has problems accounting for autonomy as a power had by a rational agent.
A. Autonomy Is Not Identical to Dignity
What if, while on a panel discussion at a meeting of the American Psychological Association, someone turned to Pinker and shouted, “Please sit down and shut up. I am right and you are wrong. And that’s that.” I suspect that Pinker would find this treatment grossly inappropriate, one not consistent with the sort of respect a man of his accomplishments and stature should be afforded in such a public venue. He would indeed be correct. But why would he think so? Is there something about him that requires others to treat him with respect and deference? Perhaps it is his accomplishments. That seems partly right. But what precisely is it about his accomplishments that demands our respect? It seems to me that they are impressive because they are the consequence of the development of natural gifts that a person with such gifts is morally required to hone and perfect and not to waste on frivolity. After all, if in another possible world Steven Pinker2 had in fact spent his adult years as a couch potato collecting welfare checks, eating Cheetos, and watching Jerry Springer until he died as an obese loner in a Central Texas trailer park, we would rightfully lament the incredible waste of native abilities that not only disrupted Mr. Pinker’s own good but the common good as well. So, we would say that Steven Pinker2, by living a life of laziness and self-indulgence, did not properly respect himself. He would, by all accounts, have exercised his personal autonomy, and yet he did so in a way inconsistent with the intrinsic purposes of a being of his nature. So, the exercise of autonomy not only cannot adequately ground human dignity; it can be exercised inconsistently with that dignity.
Thus, we would be correct in saying that in a sense one ought not respect people like Steven Pinker2 who, when given the opportunity to hone and nurture certain gifts waste these potentials in a life of sloth and depravity. But the “respect” not owed here is not the respect about which defenders of human dignity write. It is a second-order respect that is earned by persons who properly employ and nurture those natural talents that are not equitably distributed among human beings (and thus come in degrees and thus cannot be the basis of first-order respect, or human dignity). But the withholding or lavishing of second-order respect on a particular being makes sense only in light of the sort of being it is by nature, that is, a being who has certain intrinsic capacities and purposes that if prematurely disrupted by either its own agency or another agent, result in an injustice. So, the human being who wastes his talents is one who does not respect his natural gifts or the basic capacities whose maturation and proper employment make possible the flourishing of talent and skill. That is, the idea that certain perfections grounded in basic capacities have been impermissibly obstructed from maturing is assumed in the very judgment one makes about human beings and the way in which they should treat themselves (as in the case of Steven Pinker2) or be treated by others (as in the case of the actual Steven Pinker who was told to shut up and sit down). Thus, both Steven Pinker and Steven Pinker2 possess intrinsic human dignity, even if Steven Pinker objects to our assessment about the grounds by which we should accord him the respect to which he believes he is entitled. And in neither case is the principle of autonomy doing any of the real work.
B. Dignity Has Greater Explanatory Power Than Does Autonomy.
According to Pinker, “[I]nformed consent serves as the bedrock of ethical research and practice, and it clearly rules out the kinds of abuses that led to the birth of bioethics in the first place, such as Mengele’s sadistic pseudoexperiments in Nazi Germany.” [xxxiv] Although it is true that the Nazi victims were not provided with informed consent, it does not follow that the absence of that informed consent is the reason why the Nazi research was wicked.
After all, suppose we discovered that half of the Nazis’s victims had come to believe Adolph Hitler’s rhetoric and concluded that they were in fact to blame for all that was wrong with Germany. And imagine that some of them willingly became Mengele’s guinea pigs and the remaining went to the gas chambers because of their love for the Fatherland. These courses of action would be entirely voluntary, an exercise of the principle of autonomy. Yet, the reason why these people were gassed was precisely the same reason why the non-voluntary victims were gassed. A bad reason to do evil does not become less of a bad reason simply because the victim voluntarily participates in his own unjustified homicide. Replacing intrinsic dignity with autonomy actually diminishes that wrong, for it turns an intrinsic wrong into a conditional one. So, ironically, if this analysis is correct, it is autonomy and not dignity that is not a necessary condition for assessing the wickedness of these acts. Thus, it is the idea that human beings have intrinsic dignity that best accounts for our understanding of the wrongness of the Nazi atrocities.
C. Non-Autonomous Beings Can Have Their Dignity Violated
Not only can the principle of autonomy not fully account for the wrongness of the Nazi atrocities, it also cannot account for the wrongness of intentionally creating non-autonomous human beings for apparently noble purposes. And it seems that only intrinsic human dignity can do that. Consider this example. Imagine a developmental embryologist manipulates the development of an early embryo-clone in such a way that what results is an infant without higher brain functions, but whose healthy organs can be used for ordinary transplant purposes or for spare parts for the person from whom the embryo was cloned.[xxxv] Given the dominant accounts of moral personhood in the literature—views that claim that a being’s possession of intrinsic value is contingent upon some presently held property or immediately exercisable mental capacity to function in a certain way[xxxvi]—it is not clear how intentionally creating such deformed beings for a morally good purpose is morally wrong. It certainly cannot be that the embryo-clone’s autonomy is violated, since it has not reached a point in its development at which it can exercise autonomy. In fact, the whole point of tinkering with the embryo-clone’s development is so that it will not become autonomous.
Suppose, in response, someone argues that this is morally wrong because the unborn is entitled to his higher brain functions. But as bioethicist Dan Brock argues, “this body clone” could not arguably be harmed because of its “lack of capacity for consciousness.”[xxxvii] Yet, he concedes that “most people would likely find” the practice of purposely creating permanently non-sentient human beings “appalling and immoral, in part because here the cloned later twin’s capacity for conscious life is destroyed solely as a means to benefit another.”[xxxviii] This intuition, however, only makes sense if the cloned twin is entitled to his higher brain functions. But acording to the view embraced by Pinker, the principle of autonomy is adequate for the purpose of determining whether scientific research is ethical. But the pre-sentient fetus is not autonomous. So, the entitlement account does not do the trick if autonomy is the ground of dignity, as Pinker claims. It seems to me, therefore, that what one needs is this sort of principle: it is prima facie wrong to destroy the physical structure necessary for the realization of a human being’s basic, natural capacity for the exercisability of a function that is a perfection of its nature. But there are two problems for Pinker if he accepts this: (1) autonomy is totally absent from this account, and thus it shows that the principle of autonomy cannot do the sort of work he claims it can do, and (2) it means that human beings have certain natural ends that are perfections of their nature, an idea at home with the philosophical anthropology embraced by proponents of intrinsic human dignity.
D. Pinker’s View Has Problems Accounting for Autonomy as a Power had
by a Rational Agent
According to Pinker, because “all humans have the same minimum capacity to suffer, prosper, reason, and choose, no human has the right to impinge on the life, body, or freedom of another.”[xxxix] But according to Pinker’s account of the human person, all our faculties, including the cognitive faculties by which we reason, arrived in their present state as a result of blind non-rational forces combined with natural selection and/or perhaps other material causes.[xl] In that case, what grounds would provide warrant for Pinker to claim that his exercise of his cognitive faculties including his reason is functioning properly? Alvin Plantinga has raised a similar question in what he calls an evolutionary argument against naturalism.[xli] I will briefly summarize Platinga’s argument while applying it to Pinker’s case.
Here’s the problem for Pinker: If he provides reasons for his belief that his cognitive faculties are functioning properly he must rely on those very cognitive faculties in order to arrive at those reasons. However, Pinker tells us that all our cognitive faculties, including his, arrived in their present state as a result of blind non-rational forces combined with natural selection and/or perhaps other material causes. But, as Plantinga points out, “[e]volution is interested, not in true belief, but in survival or fitness.” Thus, “[i]t is. . . unlikely that our cognitive faculties have the production of true belief as a proximate or any other function, and the probability of our faculties’ being reliable (given naturalistic evolution) would be fairly low.”[xlii] Thus, “any argument” Pinker “offers” for the reliability of his cognitive faculties “is in this context delicately circular or question-begging.”[xliii] Although it is not formally circular in the sense that the conclusion appears in the argument’s premises, it is, writes Plantinga, “pragmatically circular in that it purports to give a reason for trusting our cognitive faculties, but is itself trustworthy only if those faculties (at least the ones involved in its production) are indeed trustworthy.” Thus, Pinker or your garden-variety naturalist “subtly assumes the very proposition” he “proposes to argue for.” In other words, “[o]nce I come to doubt the reliability of my cognitive faculties, I can’t properly try to allay that doubt by producing an argument; for in doing so I rely on the very faculties I am doubting.”[xliv] Thus, one of the grounds that Pinker offers for the principle of autonomy—the minimal capacity to reason—is not an obvious deliverance of reason, since it seems, according to the arguments of Plantinga and several other thinkers[xlv], difficult to sustain while embracing a materialist and evolutionary naturalist account of the human person.[xlvi]
III. Conclusion
The idea of intrinsic human dignity as essential to bioethics has come under greater critique in recent years, largely by thinkers such as Professor Pinker, who are committed to Enlightenment Liberalism and Scientific Materialism. They see the prominence of human dignity in the 2008 report of the President’s Council on Bioethics as a threat to the hegemony of principlism as well as the apparent worldview neutrality of Enlightenment Liberalism and Scientific Materialism, both of which are thought by their advocates as supportive of principlism as well as essential to a fair and just liberal democracy in the 21st century.
But, as we have seen, both Enlightenment Liberalism and Scientific Materialism fail to deliver on what their proponents promise. That is, neither one is neutral, and neither one is the only legitimate deliverance of rational reflection. [xlvii]

[i] President’s Council on Bioethics, Human Dignity and Bioethics: Essays Commissioned by the President’s Council on Bioethics (Washington, DC:, 2008), available at
[ii] There are, of course, exceptions to this, such as the Christian principlisms of Scott B. Rae and David B. Fletcher. See Scott B. Rae, Moral Choice: An Introduction to Ethics, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009); and David B. Fletcher, “Response to Nigel de S. Cameron's Bioethics and the Challenge of a Post-Consensus Society," Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics 11:1 (Spring 1995)
[iii] This is especially true of the principles of nonmaleficence, beneficence, and justice. Although they are less procedural than the others, they are nevertheless often presented as largely procedural with minimal substantive content. Consider, for example, how the principle of nonmaleficence is presented by the standard text in the field, Principles of Biomedical Ethics by Tom Beauchamp and James Childress, 6th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). On page 149, Beauchamp and Childress write that “the principle of nonmaleficence imposes an obligation not to inflict harm on others.” But, with few exceptions, Beauchamp and Childress are reluctant to say that a fully informed and competent patient may be able to harm herself if she non-coercively chooses a course of “treatment” with which her physician cooperates. For example, they ask us to “consider the actions of physician Timothy Quill,” who prescribed “the barbiturates desired by a forty-five-year-old patient who had refused a risky, painful, and often unsuccessful treatment for leukemia. The woman had been his patient for many years, and members of her family had, as a group, come to this decision with his counsel. The patient was competent and had already discussed and rejected all reasonable alternatives for the relief of suffering.” After briefly mentioning some problems raised by Dr. Quill’s critics as well as Dr. Quill’s lying to the medical examiner in order to minimize his legal liability, Beauchamp and Childress write that they “do not oppose Quill’s act, his patient’s decision, or their relationship.” (Ibid., 183).
[iv] See Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., “Public Discourse and Reasonable Pluralism: Rethinking the Requirements of Neutrality,” in Handbook on Bioethics and Religion, ed. David E. Guinn (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 169-198.
[v] Writes Steven Pinker: “[E]thical theory requires idealizations like free, sentient, rational, equivalent agents whose behavior is uncaused, and its conclusions can be sound and useful even though the world, as seen by science, does not really have uncaused events.... A human being is simultaneously a machine and a sentient free agent, depending on the purpose of the discussion, just as he is also a taxpayer, an insurance salesman, a dental patient, and two hundred pounds of ballast on a commuter airplane, depending on the purpose of the discussion. The mechanistic stance allows us to understand what makes us tick and how we fit into the physical universe. When those discussions wind down for the day, we go back to talking about each other as free and dignified human beings.(Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works [New York: W. W. Norton, 1997], 55, 56) (emphasis added)
[vi] See Jeffrey W. Bulger, “An Approach Towards Applying Principlism,” Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics 25.2(Summer 2009)
[vii] Steven Pinker, “The Stupidity of Dignity,” The New Republic Vol. 238 Issue 9 (28 May 2008): 28-31.
[viii] Ruth Macklin, “Dignity is a Useless Concept,” British Medical Journal 327 (20 December 2003): 1419-1420.
[ix] Pinker, “The Stupidity of Dignity,” 28.
[x] Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
[xi] “One doesn't have to be a scientific or moral relativist to notice that ascriptions of dignity vary radically with the time, place, and beholder. In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. We chuckle at the photographs of Victorians in starched collars and wool suits hiking in the woods on a sweltering day, or at the Brahmins and patriarchs of countless societies who consider it beneath their dignity to pick up a dish or play with a child. Thorstein Veblen wrote of a French king who considered it beneath his dignity to move his throne back from the fireplace, and one night roasted to death when his attendant failed to show up. [Leon] Kass finds other people licking an ice-cream cone to be shamefully undignified; I have no problem with it.” (Pinker, “The Stupidity of Dignity,” 30)
[xii] Hadley Arkes, First Things: An Inquiry into the First Principles of Moral and Justice (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 132.
[xiii] See, example, Arkes, First Things, 134-158; C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (a revised and amplified edition, with a new introduction, of the three books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality) (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001; originally published in 1952), 5-6; and Timothy Mosteller, Relativism: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: Continuum, 2008), 43-57.
[xiv] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 5-6.
[xv] From the song, “Lookin’ for Love” by Johnny Lee:           
I spent a lifetime lookin' for you
Single bars and good time lovers were never true
Playing a fools game, hopin' to win
Tellin' those sweet lies and losin' again.
I was lookin' for love in all the wrong places
Lookin' for love in too many places
Searchin' her eyes, lookin' for traces
Of what I'm dreamin' of
Hoping to find a friend and a lover
I'll bless the day I discover,
You - lookin' for love.
[xvi] See, for example, J. P. Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism (London: SCM Press, 2009); Patrick Lee and Robert P. George, “The Nature and Basis of Human Dignity,” Ratio Juris 21.2 (June 2008): 173-193; and John Finnis, Fundamentals of Ethics (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1983)
[xvii] See, for example, Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press)
[xviii] Lee and George, for example, argue that a human being is intrinsically valuable and possesses intrinsic dignity because it is a being with a rational nature, i.e., one that has the basic natural capacity for rationality from the moment it comes into existence. (Lee and George, “The Nature and Basis of Human Dignity”). In making their case they argue that this basic natural capacity is not an accidental property:
On this position every human being, of whatever age, size, or stage of development, has inherent and equal fundamental dignity and basic rights. If one holds, on the contrary, that full moral worth or dignity is based on some accidental attribute, then, since the attributes that could be considered to ground basic moral worth (developed consciousness, etc.) vary in degree, one will be led to the conclusion that moral worth also varies in degrees.
It might be objected against this argument, that the basic natural capacity for rationality also comes in degrees, and so this position (that full moral worth is based on the possession of the basic natural capacity for rationality), if correct, would also lead to the denial of fundamental personal equality…. However, the criterion for full moral worth is having a nature that entails the capacity (whether existing in root form or developed to the point at which it is immediately exercisable) for conceptual thought and free choice—not the development of that basic natural capacity to some degree or other. The criterion for full moral worth and possession of basic rights is not the possession of a capacity for conscious thought and choice considered as an accidental attribute that inheres in an entity, but being a certain kind of thing, that is, having a specific type of substantial nature. Thus, possession of full moral worth follows upon being a certain type of entity or substance, namely, a substance with a rational nature, despite the fact that some persons (substances with a rational nature) have a greater intelligence, or are morally superior (exercise their power for free choice in an ethically more excellent way) than others. Since basic rights are grounded in being a certain type of substance, it follows that having such a substantial nature qualifies one as having full moral worth, basic rights, and equal personal dignity.
(Lee and George, “The Nature and Basis of Human Dignity,” 190; citation omitted).
[xix] See, for example, Margaret Urban Walker, “Introduction: Groningen Naturalism in Bioethics,” Naturalized Bioethics: Toward Responsible Knowing and Practice, eds., Hilde Lindemann, Marian Verkerk, and Margaret Urban Walker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 1-20
[xx] Meeting Transcript (6 March 2003), President’s Council on Bioethics, available at
[xxi] Pinker, How the Mind Works, 64.
[xxii] Meeting Transcript (6 March 2003), President’s Council on Bioethics, available at Pinker writes elsewhere: “The foundation of individual rights is the assumption that people have wants and needs and are authorities on what those wants needs are.” (Pinker, How the Mind Works, 48)
[xxiii] “[M]oral emotions are designed by natural selection to further the long-term interests of individuals and ultimately their genes.” (Pinker, How the Mind Works, 406). Writes Pinker:
Our organs of computation are a product of natural selection. The biologist Richard Dawkins called natural selection the Blind Watchmaker; in the case of the mind, we can call it the Blind Programmer. Our mental programs work as well as they do because they were shaped by selection to allow our ancestors to master rocks, tools, plants, animals, and each other, ultimate in the service of survival and reproduction.
Natural selection is not the only cause of evolutionary change. Organisms also change over the eons because of statistical accidents in who lives and who dies, environmental catastrophes that wipe out whole familes of creatures, and the unavoidable by-products of changes that are the product of selection. But natural selection is the only evolutionary force that acts like an engineer, “designing” organs that accomplish improbable adaptive outcomes (a point that has been made forcefully by the biologist George Williams and by Dawkins)….
Nature does not dictate what we should accept or how we should live our lives….I do know that happiness and virtue have nothing to do with what natural selection designed us to accomplish in our ancestral environment. They are for us to determine. In saying this I am no hypocrite, even though I am a conventional straight white male. Well into my procreating years I am, so far, voluntarily childless, having squandered my biological resources reading and writing, doing research, helping out friends and students, and jogging in circles, ignoring the solemn imperative to spread my genes. By Darwinian standards I am a horrible mistake, a pathetic loser, not one iota less than if I were a card-carrying member of Queer Nation. But I am happy to be that way, and if my genes don’t like it, they can jump in the lake.
(Ibid., 36, 52). See also, Steven Pinker, “The Moral Instinct,” New York Times Magazine (13 January 2008), available at
[xxiv] Pinker, “The Stupidity of Dignity,” 30.
[xxv] Ibid.
[xxvi] Ibid.
[xxvii] Ibid.
[xxviii] John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae: Encyclical Letter on the Value and Inviolability of Human Life (25 March 1995), available at (13 July 2009)
[xxix] George Weigel, Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II (New York: HarperCollins, 1999)
[xxx] J. Miller Kenyon, “Sterilization of the Unfit,” Virginia Law Review 1 (1913-1914): 461-462, 466.
[xxxi] “This spring [2008], the President’s Council on Bioethics released a 555-page report, titled Human Dignity and Bioethics. The Council, created in 2001 by George W. Bush, is a panel of scholars charged with advising the president and exploring policy issues related to the ethics of biomedical innovation, including drugs that would enhance cognition, genetic manipulation of animals or humans, therapies that could extend the lifespan, and embryonic stem cells and so-called `therapeutic cloning’ that could furnish replacements for diseased tissue and organs. Advances like these, if translated into freely undertaken treatments, could make millions of people better off and no one worse off. So what’s not to like? The advances do not raise the traditional concerns of bioethics, which focuses on potential harm and coercion of patients or research subjects. What, then, are the ethical concerns that call for a presidential council?” (Pinker, “The Stupidity of Dignity,” 28).
[xxxii] Ibid., 31
[xxxiii] Ibid., 28
[xxxiv] Ibid., 28
[xxxv] Carol Kahn offers this proposal in her essay, “Can We Achieve Immortality?: The Ethics of Cloning and Other Life Extension Technologies,” Free Inquiry (Spring 1989), 14-18.
[xxxvi] See, for example, David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (New York: Cambridge University Press)
[xxxvii] David W. Brock, “Cloning Human Beings: An Assessment of the Ethical Issues Pro and Con,” in National Bioethics Advisory Commission, Cloning Human Beings, vol. 2 (Rockville, MD: The Commission, 1997), E8 (hereinafter, NBAC 2)
[xxxviii] Ibid., E9.
[xxxix] Pinker, “The Stupidity of Dignity,” 28.
[xl] Writes Pinker:
Our organs of computation are a product of natural selection. The biologist Richard Dawkins called natural selection the Blind Watchmaker; in the case of the mind, we can call it the Blind Programmer. Our mental programs work as well as they do because they were shaped by selection to allow our ancestors to master rocks, tools, plants, animals, and each other, ultimate in the service of survival and reproduction.
Natural selection is not the cause of evolutionary change. Organisms also change over the eons because of statistical accidents in who lives and who dies, environmental catastrophes that wipe out whole familes of creatures, and the unavoidable by-products of changes that are the product of selection. But natural selection is the only evolutionary force that acts like an engineer, “designing” organs that accomplish improbable adaptive outcomes (a point that has been made forcefully by the biologist George Williams and by Dawkins).
(Pinker, How The Mind Works, 36)
[xli] Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 216-237.
[xlii] Ibid., 219. Philosopher Anthony O’Hear makes a similar observation:
In the Darwinian view, even our reason is simply an instrument of survival. It was not given to us to unearth the ultimate truth about things but simply to find our way around the savannah well enough to survive and reproduce. That we have a disinterested power to seek and the ability to find the truth for its own sake is as much of an illusion as our faith that our moral sense is truly altruistic and other-regarding. It may, be like our moral faith, a useful illusion, for purposes of survival and reproduction, in that having the illusion may encourage us to uncover facts that aid survival. But it is an illusion none the less, foisted on us by our genes, that we are really engineered by nature to discover ultimate, universally valid truth. Neither our sense nor evolution in general provides any guarantee that what our investigations reveal is the real truth, as opposed to a set of notions useful for a time in the struggle for existence, which of course, leaves a question over the Darwinian notion itself that we are basically survival machines. Is that real truth or merely a notion useful in the struggle for survival? The Darwinian account, seeing our knowledge, as everything else about us, in terms simply of selective advantage, gives us no hope for deciding.
(Anthony O’Hare, After Progress: Finding the Old Way Forward [London: Bloomsbury, 1999], 68)
[xliii] Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 234.
[xliv] Ibid. Plantinga suggests that the idea of properly functioning cognitive faculties makes the most sense if they were designed by a being for that purpose. That is, “naturalistic epistemology flourishes best in the garden of supernaturalistic metaphysics. Naturalistic epistemology conjoined with naturalistic metaphysics leads via evolution to skepticism or to violation of canons of rationality; conjoined with theism it does not. The naturalistic epistemologist should therefore prefer theism to metaphysical naturalism.” (Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 237). For a response to Plantinga’s case, see Branden Fitelson and Elliot Sober, “Plantinga’s Probability Arguments Against Evolutionary Naturalism,” in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives, ed. Robert T. Pennock (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 2001).
[xlv] In addition to Plantinga’s work, see William Hasker, The Emergent Self (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, Naturalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 25-96; Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei, especially 41-103; J. P. Moreland, Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument (New York: Routledge, 2009); J. P. Moreland, “The Argument from Consciousness,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 282-343; Victor Reppert, “The Argument from Reason,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, 344-390; Keith Yandell, “A Defense of Dualism,” Faith and Philosophy 12 (October 1995): 548-66; Charles Taliaferro, “Animals, Brains, and Spirits,” Faith and Philosophy 12 (October 1995): 567-81; Ric Machuga, In Defense of the Soul: What It Means to Be Human (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002);
[xlvi] I say “evolutionary naturalism” to distinguish it from theistic evolution or other understandings of evolution that are non-naturalist. Because it is often mistakenly assumed that evolution is in-principle inconsistent with final or formal causes, many people, including some Christians, have come to believe that evolution per se is a defeater to the belief that the universe is designed. I address this error in Francis J. Beckwith, “How to Be An Intelligent Design Advocate,” University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy 4.1(2010). See also Etienne Gilson, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution, trans. John Lyon (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984) and Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: The Free Press, 2006)
[xlvii] I began working on this paper while I was serving on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame (2008-2009) as the Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow in the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture. I would like to thank the Center’s director, Professor W. David Solomon, for allowing me the opportunity to spend the year at Notre Dame free of my ordinary responsibilities at Baylor. I would like to also thank my Baylor department chair, Professor Michael Beaty, for supporting my research leave, as well as the director of Baylor’s Institute for the Studies of Religion, Professor Byron Johnson, for providing me with additional financial support during my year at Notre Dame.
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from a paper delivered as a plenary session address at CBHD’s 16th annual summer conference, Global Bioethics: Emerging Challenges Facing Human Dignity. The article subsequently appeared in Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics Volume 26, No. 2 Summer 2010, 93-110 and is used by permission. The audio version is from the original plenary address entitled, “Human Dignity, Enlightenment, and Global Bioethics.”




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