Irving Response to Dr. John Haas' Book Review of: Kischer/Irving, The Human Development Hoax: Time To Tell The Truth!

Dianne N. Irving
Associate Professor
History of Philosophy and Bioethics
De Sales School of Theology
Washington, D.C. 20017
Copyright November 18, 1995
[Submitted to Editor for publication in UFL Pro Vita; rejected.]
[Edited for format and clarity July 22, 2004]
Reproduced with Permission

Have you ever read something so erroneous that you don't know where to begin to correct it? Such was my reaction as I read with great curiosity Dr. John Haas' review of the "philosophy" section of the book co-authored by Dr. Kischer and myself, The Human Development Hoax: Time To Tell The Truth! (see full review below). I am aware of Dr. Hass' distinguished pro-life works in moral theology, and I have great respect for him and for his work. However, I do think, in justice, his comments deserve an immediate response. Not because they are harshly critical. Reacting and responding rationally and maturely to harsh criticism is an everyday and necessary part of academic and personal growth and life. However, his comments are so philosophically naive or factually inaccurate that they could render many of our arguments meaningless and defeat the whole purpose of the book.

First, Dr. Haas obviously goes after my very credentials as a philosopher, and so, as embarrassing as it is, I must respond. None of the "philosophy" I have used is peculiar to me, nor an aberration of standard interpretations of historical philosophers. It is common and basic information found in any introductory philosophy (not theology) books or courses. I hold two advanced degrees in philosophy: a Master's in metaphysics and epistemology (distinction) and a Doctorate with concentrations in the history of philosophy (which I have been teaching for many years) and in secular bioethics. I have used and successfully defended this "philosophy" through over 60 graduate level hours of pure philosophy courses, maintaining a straight "A" average, two 8-hour written comprehensives (metaphysics/epistemology and ethics) earning a distinction, and a 400-page Doctoral dissertation precisely on the issue of "personhood" and "delayed hominization" which was successfully defended before the Department of Philosophy, the Graduate School, and before scholars University-wide. [See Irving, Philosophical and Scientific Analysis of the Nature of the Early Human Embryo (Georgetown University 1991). Every published article of mine has been peer-reviewed by professional philosophers, moral theologians, physicians and scientists alike - with none of the comments such as Dr. Hass has made. None. This is not to say that I am perfect - heaven forbid. I am keenly aware of and freely admit to my foibles and frailties. But it is to respond to Dr. Haas' clear derogatory implications, that the "philosophy" used in these articles is somehow peculiar to Dianne Irving or way outside of the mainstream of traditional philosophical interpretation. After having carefully read his remarks several times I must conclude that they issue either from considerable naiveté in the issues proper to philosophy as a science (independent from theology), unfamiliarity with the vast historical and current properly philosophical, or "secular" bioethics, literature - or such a cursory reading of the articles that he develops in effect a "straw man" argument, accusing me of interpretations which are not mine but are in fact the interpretations of those bioethicists (who are NOT philosophers) against whom I am arguing in the articles!

Second, let me at least indicate briefly what I mean:

-- He asserts that I intersperse my reflections with "shocking assertions for which she provides little or no support". This makes me smile, because throughout my graduate course work and in published articles ever since I have constantly been berated for using too many references! The references are there at the end of each article, Dr. Haas - what can I say? Perhaps Dr. Haas did not notice them; perhaps because he is not a philosopher the purely philosophical significance of these references eluded him; or perhaps he is use to a different sort of bibliography as a theologian. But the references are there, and in great number. Additionally, those who publish 10-20 page articles know that they do not rehash a lot of background, but simply drop footnotes to references which fill in the details.

-- "Both Plato and scholastic philosophers are dismissed as dualists!" This statement is simply incredibly philosophically naive, and places a ridiculous burden on me to prove the obvious. It is like denouncing a chemist for stating that the atomic number of helium is 2, or a theologian for stating that the Bible consists of both the Old and the New Testaments! Philosophically it is a truism that Plato and most scholastics are dualists, as can be ascertained in any basic introductory philosophy book or course (e.g., Etienne Gilson's Being and Some Philosophers, Edwards' Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or Copleston's History of Philosophy). It is also a truism that such dualism is seriously problematic in Descartes.

Most of my articles deal with the philosophical metaphysical and especially anthropological dualism i.e., the mind/body split (i.e., where a human being or person is defined in terms of two separate substances). Often I am discussing the theoretical or practical problems inherent in any philosophy containing a dualism, or a mind/body split (e.g., absolutely no interaction can take place between a separated soul and a body!). A mind/body split in philosophy is by definition a dualism (perhaps it means something different in theology?). I, on the other hand, am arguing for a philosophical system that does not contain a mind/body dualism, e.g., an Aristotelean-Thomistic philosophy (not theology). Plato's philosophy contains not only an anthropological dualism, but a metaphysical and epistemological dualism as well. Much of this is traceable to Plato's problem with the chorismos. This is not the place to teach the fundamental problems of the chorismos in Plato's philosophy, but if Dr. Haas is unfamiliar with it and the consequences for Plato's dualism, well, what can I say? Even Plato himself admitted (e.g., in the Parmenides) that thus systematically his philosophy did not work! This chorismos problem of both Plato and of Descartes are full expounded in the philosophy texts mentioned above (and in my extensive footnotes).

By studying the history of philosophy, we know that most scholastic philosophers (and theologians as well) drew heavily from philosophical platonism and neoplatonism, especially via St. Augustine. Thus they automatically inherit a theoretical mind/body dualism (often also a metaphysical and epistemological dualism) from their platonic philosopher forefathers. Many of their neoplatonic presuppositions can even render scholastic philosophy and theology pantheistic or gnostic. A philosopher can usually tell that someone is oblivious to purely philosophical issues when they classify St. Thomas as a "scholastic". St. Thomas may have lived during the "scholastic" period, but philosophically he was not a scholastic, but rather an "Aristotelean", a realist - thus at least partially explaining his many excommunications! This too is discussed at length in the philosophy texts above.

Historically, Descartes is clearly "like" Plato in that his philosophy also contains a notoriously problematic mind/body dualism - albeit with different content. How can Dr. Haas possibly, with any academic responsibility, be so "shocked" that Descartes is philosophically a dualist and that this is not a problem? Descartes even admits to only two substances in the whole world (e.g., as in the article on Descartes in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, supra). He is, in fact, the father of modern philosophical dualism. Furthermore, to find it "peculiar" that I say that Descartes has certain metaphysical and anthropological presuppositions imbedded in his philosophy is to bare one's ignorance of basic philosophical issues and modes of analysis and argument and the bare historical facts about Descartes' philosophy. The article in Edwards (see also Crombie) clearly describes the consequences of Descartes' "metaphysical presuppositions" on his physics - rendering it scientifically invalid (e.g., see the analysis of his theory of the vortex in the Encyclopedia, supra).

-- In my article "Which ethics ..." (I guess), I presume that Dr. Haas' confusion about "intellectual artifacts" arises not only from the above, but also from my poor ability to make such language clear to a non-scientist. The article was written for a scientific journal and a scientific audience. As I often paraphrase from Aristotle, a small error in the beginning leads to a multitude of errors in the end. By way of explanation here, just as in philosophy one can say that if the major or minor premise is not correct then the conclusion is not correct - so in science, if the preparation for or the execution of an experiment contains an artifact, then the conclusions of the analysis of the experiment are likewise incorrect. Similarly, if the "ethical" theory or the anthropological presuppositions that decision-makers in science are basing or grounding their decisions on (e.g., is it "ethical" to use human embryos, i.e., "pre-embryos" or pieces of the mother's tissue, in destructive research) is faulty, then those decisions will likewise be faulty. Perhaps Dr. Haas is unaware, but the same faulty "ethical" theory and "anthropology" (admittedly "fabricated" in the Belmont Report) that so much of bioethics is based on, and which in effect now governs secular medical ethics, has now made its way into the new field of research ethics. In fact the Belmont Report's "ethics" has been actually stated as the ethical basis of the O.P.R.R. federal guidelines on research using human subjects, and the recent international WHO/CIOMS guidelines on the use of human subjects in research. The already nationally and internationally institutionalized use of such "ethics" and "anthropology" is what I am responding to in that article. Dr. Haas exhibits literally no familiarity with the secular bioethics literature and bioethicists I am addressing in my articles.

Further, it is a common strategy for philosophers to identify and attack what they see as faulty or erroneous "philosophical presuppositions" in the theories they are analyzing. Moreover, philosophers cannot resort to the Bible, Church teachings, or the Magisterium for a philosophically viable rebuttal in "the public square". As St. Thomas made perfectly clear, philosophy and theology are two different and separate though related sciences, each with its own subject matter and own method (epistemology). To analyze an argument or theory in terms of "philosophical presuppositions" is part and parcel of the method proper to philosophy. However, in this particular case, Dr. Haas' reaction must be similar to others who are not philosophers or scientists, and a welcome criticism. At least the journal attribution (Accountability in Research), which is clearly scientific, should be replaced on the first page of this article.

-- "Dr. Irving attributes the most outrageous position to Kantian ethics ..." Here Dr. Haas is not being philosophically naive, but rather factually incorrect, putting words into my mouth which I myself do not say in any article. In fact, I am gratified that Dr. Haas sees a problem with such an interpretation of Kantian ethics, but such an interpretation belongs to those against whom I am arguing in the articles. Perhaps Dr. Haas is not aware of the efforts of many modern and contemporary writers to ascribe "personhood" only to those human beings who are morally autonomous and who try to cite Kant (or other rationalists) as an authority (e.g., Tris. Englehardt, Peter. Singer, etc.). From the very fact that such "outrageous" interpretations have existed for quite some time now, the very idea should not shock Dr. Haas so much. If he had carefully read these articles, he could not attribute such an interpretation to me. I am merely saying that if you interpret Kant this way (as bioethics Founders Beauchamp, Childress, Englehardt, Singer do!), then you will also logically be required to agree that my "list" of human beings are not persons either (and all that consequentially follows from that). Indeed, this argument of mine against such an interpretation of Kant (or other rationalists or empiricists) is the very basis for my own argument about "conceptual transfer" - which Dr. Haas has also probably never heard of.

-- "The soul is variously described as . ..". I fail to get Dr. Haas' point here at all. How does it reflect any specific problem in any of my articles? The fact is that the soul is described variously throughout the history of philosophy. Is this new to Dr. Haas? In my article "Philosophical and scientific expertise ..." I make it quite clear, and abundantly reference from the original writings, that for both Aristotle and St. Thomas the human soul is not a "part" (a concept which is conducive to delayed hominization), but the form of the human body, with multiple powers; that it is present throughout the body (and not, e.g., in the brain only); and that the rational soul, by their own definitions, includes virtually the vegetative and the sensitive powers. Thus for them there is no such thing as a rational soul alone all by itself, without the other two powers, waiting to drop in on and suddenly direct the development of a human being - which development has already taken place before three months (despite Aristotle's aberrant and self-contradictory treatise, the De Anima). Further, the soul alone is insufficient for a formal definition of "human being" or "human person" for St. Thomas, who requires that indefinite matter (i.e., the human "body") be included in that specifically philosophical definition (all fully referenced from the original writings in my articles). So what exactly is Dr. Haas' criticism here? And if he is confused about the term "principle", then he has obviously not read either Aristotle or St. Thomas directly, but perhaps only in a truncated "survey" course. The "soul" for them is the principle, cause or source of motion or action (e.g., growth) of a thing. Those are the very words used by both Aristotle and by St. Thomas. What is Dr. Haas' point?

-- Dr. Haas states quite condescendingly that the issue of "ensoulment" is "a very complex one", and implies that my articles are somehow too naive because I don't discuss his point that the official teaching magisterium of the Church teaches that we don't know when ensoulment takes place. In response:

First, I admit to being just a humble philosopher, using restricted and limited knowledge. And while I am as quick to admit that I am no moral theologian, I just want to note that other well known moral theologians, in the context of a different conversation, comment that although knowledge of the precise time of ensoulment is not morally necessary, it is quite possible to reason back from empirical experience of biological facts to the immediate presence of a rational soul (the whole rational soul!) at fertilization. In fact, this is precisely what I did do in my doctoral dissertation in philosophy.

Second, all of my "philosophy" in these specific articles is drawn from my 400-page Doctoral dissertation in philosophy which was precisely on the issue of "ensoulment". Dr. Haas does not need to tell me how complex this issue is, and I know of few other writers at this time, frankly, who have concentrated on this issue using only science, philosophy and logic in writing as extensively as I. Dr. Haas implies knowledge of pre-Roe arguments on ensoulment, but unfortunately like too many others he seems oblivious to the arguments now current in secular academia - especially in mainstream bioethics - which are the arguments that are effecting and helping to form public policy. Many of these post-Roe arguments bear little resemblance to those pre-Roe, and cannot be assimilated to them. This includes the arguments of over 25 secular writers on ensoulment in my dissertation (which I quote often) and which goes into far more detail than my 20-page papers.

Furthermore my dissertation was in philosophy, not in theology, and uses purely scientific and purely philosophical arguments. In such arguments, even if I wanted to, I would not even be allowed by the Graduate School to use references to religion, theology or the Catholic Church's magisterium to support my philosophical arguments. This is not to belittle the history of the issue of ensoulment in the Church, the superiority of theological truths or the teachings of the magisterium. It is to point out the limits and restrictions which my dissertation was under, and, frankly, that a secular audience can relate and respond to. As for other kinds of arguments on ensoulment, I leave it to moral theologians to develop the arguments based on theology and the magisterium of the Church.

-- "Care must be taken not to turn biological facts into moral laws". I would appreciate it if Dr. Haas could point out to Dr. Kischer or myself even one example in these articles where either of us tries to make such a ridiculous claim. Where is his proof? If no such example exists, then Dr. Haas has no reason or right to claim or imply that it does. Thus what is the purpose of such a statement? Is Dr. Haas afraid of science or concerned that scientific facts do play an integral part in these bioethics arguments on ensoulment? Does he not realize the legitimate and centuries-long established relationship between science, philosophical anthropology and philosophical ethics? As I have clearly stated in the opening chapter of my doctoral dissertation, what something is (anthropology and natural philosophy) certainly determines whether or not it should (ethics) be used in destructive experimental research. Unfortunately the Bible cannot tell us the correct and exact facts about human embryological development; nor can moral theologians! We need the science of human embryology to do that. But that is not to claim or imply in any way that scientific facts are moral laws! What is Dr. Haas talking about? I just can't follow his "logic".

In sum, while authentic, academically sound and factually correct criticism is essential to any one's personal and professional growth and development, I find I can not grow either personally or professionally from Dr. Haas' "criticisms". Nor can I allow them to go unchallenged, as they would seriously and illegitimately weaken the arguments in our book. His comments are philosophically naive, immature, unfounded and seriously ignore the very commonly accepted academic "facts" within the history of philosophy. He seems totally ignorant of the current arguments in secular bioethics, and tends to blur the distinction between philosophical and theological approaches to these arguments. Some of his comments also seem unrelated to any specific argument in these articles whatsoever - indeed, sometimes he seems to be simply talking to himself, or making sweeping accusations or implications which these articles simply don't merit. Finally, he attributes to me arguments and interpretations which are in fact not mine, and if he had read the articles even halfway carefully he would have realized this. Indeed, his "criticisms" are unfounded, careless and singularly unhelpful. All of this, together with the rather emotional language in this section on philosophy, suggests that he is making more of an ad hominum attack for some reason, rather than an objective, well-informed and well-grounded academic review.

I hope that this "response" will be published so as to clear up the many ambiguities, confusions, and errors on these critical issues that his rather reckless published "review" might have caused your readers.

DR. JOHN HAAS' BOOK REVIEW OF IRVING/KISCHER, The Human Development Hoax: Time To Tell The Truth! [University Faculty for Life Pro Vita Newsletter, VI (Fall 1995)]

We are grateful to John M. Haas, John Cardinal Krol Professor of Moral Theology at the Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for the following review of The Human Development Hoax: Time to tell the truth (Gold Leaf Press, 1995) by two of our members, Dianne Irving, Ph.D., formerly a research biochemist, presently Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy/Bioethics, DeSales School of Theology, Washington, DC and C. Ward Kischer, a human embryologist, Associate Professor Emeritus, College of Medicine, University of Arizona, Tucson. We quote, in part and, to some degree, in medias res:

"Both authors quite correctly point out that scientific definitions are actually being altered and scientific data ignored or presented in misleading ways in order to advance the agendas of the advocates of abortion, fetal experimentation, and genetic engineering. Most of those involved in the pro-life movement have known of the attempts by these same individuals to date pregnancy from the moment of implantation rather than fertilization so as to justify (they think) the use of drugs or procedures to prevent implantation thus removing the intervention from the socially volatile designation of "abortion". The authors point out many other supposed "moments" suggested by various authors for the point in time at which this living thing must be considered human.

The book is truly very useful in exposing these machinations for what they are. Those involved in the pro-life movement can receive in this one volume a wealth of information on human embryonic development. The arguments and often distorted facts put forth by the advocates of abortion and fetal experimentation receive thorough and wide-ranging challenges from Kischer and Irving.

The authors particularly target for criticism Clifford Grobstein, Ph.D., a developmental biologist, and Richard McCormick, S.J. who argue that there is an "entity" known as the "pre-embryo" which is not to be considered a human person and which therefore is not afforded the protection of law guaranteed for all U.S. citizens in the fourteenth amendment. Kischer and Irving both make the point that there simply is no biological foundation for postulating a being which precedes and is essentially different from the embryo. Even the blastocyst and zygote are not of a different species from what is referred to as the embryo but are merely stages in its development.

Kischer and Irving also point out that the term "pre-embryo" is not found in any of the standard medical or embryological texts which predate the abortion debate. They argue quite cogently, with ample evidence, that the change in terminology was driven by a desire to justify early abortions and early fetal experimentation. Regrettably, the term is now found in the fifth edition of Keith Moore's The Developing Human, a widely used textbook in embryology. It is also now found in the most recent edition of Nomina Embryologica and the Nomina Anatomica, international reference works on medical terms.

Furthermore, Irving and Kischer do show the untenable position of any author who would hold to some "biological marker event" other than fertilization as constituting the moment of personhood, or, if one is disposed to such concepts, "ensoulment". The designations of the moment of "personhood" are simply arbitrary; there are some who will claim it occurs at two days, others fourteen days, others six weeks, others eight weeks, and still others, at birth or even after. These, of course, were arguments heard in the abortion debates even before the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling. They continue to be as untenable now as they were then. Kischer and Irving, however, look at the most recent arguments made for various theories of "delayed hominization" and provide a wealth of information drawn from the increasingly sophisticated science of embryology.

There are many strengths of the book, which include an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court of New Jersey [substantially written by Dr. Irving], the testimony by Dr. Irving which she presented before the National Institutes of Health Human Embryo Research Panel as well as her painstakingly careful critical analysis of Moore's book on embryology [see par. 4 above]. Also valuable are Dr. Kischer's correction of many factual errors in embryology commonly used by scientists, moral theorists, and the formulators of public policy."

At this point the review treats at some length the many typographical, mechanical and style-sheet errors, found in the uncorrected and inadequately edited advance review copy Dr. Haas was working with. He discusses further, occasional unclear writing, lexical choices and phrasing that he judges inappropriate for academic discourse. We regret that the fact that that was the case with the copy Dr. Haas was using, was not made clear. He aptly comments as well, that "many" readers who are not pro-life "would [be led] simply to dismiss the entire work" because of the errors. Despite such errors, however, he commends the book to pro-life readers.

Professor Haas then goes on to consider "The Philosophical section of the book" which," he contends," is ... rather weak." He continues:

"Dr. Irving rightly laments the fact that the only moral methodologies which seem to be used to address questions in the abortion debate are deontology, or duty-motivated ethics, and utilitarianism. She indicates that the broad tradition of a realist, or natural law, approach is hardly ever appealed to any more. However, she intersperses her reflections with shocking assertions for which she provides little or no support. Both Plato and scholastic philosophers are dismissed as dualists! She makes the astounding assertion that "[t]he modern counterpart of Plato was Descartes"! ... She also uses a most peculiar expression to refer to what she calls "metaphysical and anthropological presuppositions". She refers to them as "intellectual artifacts" (p. 145).

Furthermore, Dr. Irving attributes the most outrageous position to Kantian ethics.

But if "Kant" (sic) is right, and human persons are not to be defined with a material body, but only in terms of 'rational attributes'; and if only rational and 'autonomous' human beings are 'persons' - and therefore due ethical respect and protection; then non-autonomous human beings are not persons, e.g., Alzheimer's and Parkinsonian (sic) patients, persons with mental illness, drunks, drug addicts, the comatose - even very young children. (p. 147)

I am no Kantian, but that is without a doubt the most peculiar and most unwarranted interpretation I have ever read of Kantian ethics.

Finally, the discussion of ensoulment is not very sophisticated. There is a fair amount of discussion of ensoulment, which the authors insist takes place at fertilization, but the soul is variously described as "a principle, a power, or ... a part of only one whole thing ..." (p. 93) Which part, I wonder. And is a "principle," can a "principle" be a "part" of anything?

The question of ensoulment is a very complex one, and it might be well to recall that the highest teaching authority (magisterium) of the Catholic Church has not yet determined when it considers ensoulment to take place. Yet this fact does not keep that same doctrinal authority from declaring that the destruction of natal life at any stage of its development or the experimentation on human life from the moment of fertilization are most grave and heinous crimes. The fact alone might cause both Kischer and Irving to reconsider their well intentioned but rather crude attempt to make the morality of such acts contingent solely upon whether or not ensoulment has taken place at conception which they seem to base exclusively on the biological facts. I believe it is quite correct that one cannot formulate moral precepts in the area of bioethics without taking cognizance of the biological facts, but care must also be taken not to turn biological facts into moral laws.

In conclusion, it is my judgment that The Human Development Hoax can be a useful book for those whoa re already committed to the pro-life position and need scientific data to help them in formulating their positions. It is also useful in informing the reader of the ways in which the advocates of abortion and fetal experimentation are misusing or distorting scientific data to advance their programs."

Dr. Haas closes his thoughtful review with final reference to "the poor editing and occasional poor writing" that he finds in the book. This we have tried to account for above.

It can be anticipated that this review will stimulate considerable reader response. We, accordingly, invite those who might wish to express their response to submit such for publication in the next issue of the newsletter (c. Jan. 1996). Naturally, the authors may wish to respond, as well as members in philosophy and the sciences, but we will, of course, consider any suitable submissions. (emphases added)