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Social Issues: Letters

July 26, 1983
Pediatrics P.O. Box 1034
Evenston, IL 60204
Attention: Editor

Mr. Peter Singer ("Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life?", Pediatrics, July 1983) is to be congratulated on the consistancy of his position with his philosophical underpinnings. Most evolutionists will not come right out and say that an intelligent dog or pig ought to be considered superior to a defective human being, but that is, of course, the logical conclusion. I would maintain, however, that the intuitive assignment of a special value to human life by many people (I can't speak for the dogs or pigs) is based on more than Homo sapiens "racism".

This is not to say that the problems Mr. Singer discussed 'are all blackand white or easily solved. Whether or not to treat an infant with no reasonable hope of meaningful existance raises all sorts of questions, including the economic question of whether the same resources (which are, regretably, always limited) might be better used to help many other individuals. However, philosophical tools to deal with these problems are not exclusively in the hands of those who "put aside the obsolete and erroneous notion of the sanctity of human life."

Believers in the uniqueness of human beings as a special creation of God, for the most part, also believe that death is not the ultimate enemy and physical life is not the ultimate good. Therefore, a decision to allow death to occur can be completely in keeping with the view of the sanctity of — even the most defective — human life. Actually the view that suffers the most when challenged by these difficult problems, is that of humanism, since its flower of human value grows out of a root which is labeled "we are really only accidental collections of molecules".

Are we free to choose, then,. between thorough theism or thorough atheism? First, I hope that no one was too comforted by the assertion that other cultures, namely the Greek and the Eskimos, could "hold the line" on whose life was expendable. What of the Nazis? What of the Khmer Rouge? They did indeed "hold the line". They simply drew it around certain races and classes.

Furthermore, the philosophical foundations for sanctity of life have not been "knocked asunder". On the contrary, the explosion of knowledge in the, past century has made it possible to rigorously and quantitatively show that the incredibly complex structures of even the simplest living things could not have come about by chance but must have been designed.

I challenge anyone to consider the simple mathematics involved. The probability of a one—hundred amino acid enzyme falling together in the correct sequence from an ideal mixture of pure L amino acids (that refuse to spontaneously revert to the more stable racemic mixture and have even agreed to spontaneously fall together into chains of the required length) is approximately one in 10130. This means that if every atom in the universe (generously 1090) became an amino acid and tried for thirty billion years (1018 seconds) at 1012 times per second to come up with the proper configuration, by the end of the time, only one ten billionth of the possible configurations would have been tried and if someone "got lucky" and hit upon it, the poor protein would fall apart while waiting for the hundreds of even more complicated macromolecules to gather together in the proper configuration for even the simplest cell to begin life. Will it be any easier to design "by trial and error" the incredible machinery of the immune system and the human brain among other things and record the program on a self replicating molecule?

The only ones who can ignore this compelling evidence for the existence of a supernatural, superintelligent planner and builder are people who have decided not to consider the possibility of anything supernatural. This is routinely done in the name of science at the expense of logic. Science, indeed, can be defined to consider only the physical universe, but truth cannot.

The theistic point of view comes with intellectually respectable credentials. Consideration of it may also be stimulated by recognition of the logical conclusion of the alternative. "When you get on a train of thought, check your ticket to see where it is going."

Ross S. Olson, M.D.

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