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What Is An Embryo?

What Is An Embryo?


The human is a person from the start. The question is where you place that beginning. "The body plan of the mammal starts being laid down at the moment of conception: within 24 hours the position of the head, back and limbs are settled" (Nature, 4th July, 2002).

"An embryo... is an active and highly organised unity, each part of it working not just for itself but towards a common end... That the parts of an organism work together for a goal is of course true of all living things and is integral to any truly satisfactory definition of life. But the goal towards which every part of the human embryo works is much more than present survival and lies far into the future. One might say that the embryo is the most far sighted of organisms, for it bends all its energies towards a far distant goal, the independent, fully functioning, productive, loving adult" (Riley's America, STAR 1.1.).

The Greeks gave us more than games. They gave us ' love of wisdom', philosophy. The organising principle of the embryo's purposeful activity in Aristotle's philosophy is the single subject of the total perfection of the individual which we call the soul. In Christian philosophy it is the immortal soul infused by God himself as his only intervention into the natural order.
This is the location of personality. You are a person from your beginning because, being human, you have an intellectual nature - you are capable not only of remembering like an elephant but of creating from your memories ideas of beauty, truth and goodness. At thirty you are the same person you were when you were three - or even three days old. You are simply more developed. You are the same person you were three days after your conception. All your future was contained in the activity of that single principle of animation - your soul. Some scientists abandon reason in favour of recording: a child becomes a person on the day s/he first smiles. What was she(he) the day - or the hour - before? If you are a human individual, you are a person - that is your nature. It is not Christianity, it is classical philosophy which would accord the embryo the dignity of personality.

"Living matter possesses an inherent goal or end-centered organisation that is nowhere present in the matter that preceded it. In one of the few recent philosophical works on life, Richard Cameron has presented a useful analysis of this directedness of living beings. Something that is alive, says Cameron, will also be teleological - that is, it will possess intrinsic ends, goals, or purposes. 'Contemporary biologists, philosophers of biology, and workers in the field of 'artificial life", he writes, 'have yet to produce a satisfying account of what it is to be alive, and I defend the view that Aristotle can help us fill this gap.... Aristotle did not hold life and teleology to be coextensive simply by chance, but defined life in teleological terms, holding that teleology is essential to the life of living things'"
Anthony Flew in There Is A God, p.125