If some fetuses make choices, logically they have language


They agree on some things but disagree on other things. The East/West split occurred long before the Reformation.


Also, there are multiple Eastern Orthodox (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.) churches, but they have pretty much the same beliefs.

(George Brooks) #43

cc: @Richard_Mohr

While I wonder if I will ever find the exact article I read more than a year ago, I do think I have found enough Eastern Orthodox thought which, while not perhaps universally accepted within the Orthodox communion, should show how differently millions of other Christians can look at Baptism and Sin.

Using Google Books, I located this work:

Theological Sentences: Unveiling the Undeniable Impact of Sacrificial Obedience
By Samuel J. Mikolaski

You’ll notice that in his various references to Infant Baptism, the term for Sin is rarely entwined with his

[Section] 10.1.11
". . . . ethnic and national identity received religious imprimature.
To be a Christian meant to be part of the group, through infant baptism,
where group meant ethnic identity and nation…

"In the Eastern Orthodox traditions baptismal theology and practice are quite different from Episcopal tradition practice in the West…

At baptism the infant or convert is sealed with the Oil of Chrism, a sign of receiving the Spirit and is made fully a member of the church. This at least honors biblical kerugmatic practice in conjoining Baptism, union with Christ armed with the Spirit, and membership - though one might disagree with its application to infants.

"…baptism upon personal profession of faith is the most clearly attested pattern in the New Testament… They emphasize that the church is the community of faith, and that on either mode nurture in faith is the responsibility of the church.

Infant baptism is jusitfied on grounds of:
- corporate faith and
- the faith which the child shares with its parents, a form of understanding which may be deemed to be parall with believers baptist and the explicit faith of the convert, but both are said to be responses to grace."

Sin just isn’t one of the things that come up when discussing the nuances of infant baptism.


I realize that different churches regard the sacraments differently. The only thing I was questioning was your statement:

"But I also know that the Eastern Orthodox community has also written things along these lines:

‘Frankly, the Church likes to baptize infants to give parents comfort, but not for any theological reason.’"

(George Brooks) #45

Yes… I understood that part when I read it. Those are the words I read… as well as the kind of language I was able to provide above.

I also understand that you can consider my comment to be completely without weight if I cannot produce the citation; that’s perfectly fair. I will search some more … just to see if a slightly different set of search parameters can do the trick!

But the jist of my statement stands: these Orthodox discussions about infant baptism (and there are lots of them on the internet) are rather striking in the kind of language they use:

  1. they wax sentimental;
  2. they emphasize culture;
  3. they focus on traditions.

But very few of them use the word “sin” anywhere in the context of infant baptism. And other than something from a Russian Orthodox writer, none of them have used “sin” an important part of the situation.

It’s a completley different reading experience compared to anything we read in either Roman Catholic or Baptist-Zealous literature specifically on Infant Baptism, whether theologically or ritually focused.

@Richard_Mohr, if you would like to offer comments about why you think the Eastern Orthodox communion baptizes infants, I’m sure we would benefit from the “home team” viewpoint!

(James Stump) #46

Sorry I’ve missed out on this thread. It’s a topic I’m very interested in. There are lots of books being written now about language–what it is, which species have it, etc. No better place to start (but not end) than with C.S Peirce and the distinction between icons, indices, and symbols (though those are just words too!). We can’t lump all of communication into one pot and pretend that they are only degrees of difference between them.

Remember this post almost a year ago by Bethany Sollereder? It is relevant to much of the discussion in this thread. Though I asked her to take out “choice” as applying to non-human animals (and plants!).

(Nick Levinson) #47

I’d be interested in more about choice among various kinds of nonhuman organisms, especially microorganisms that exercise it and fetuses if they might, and whether anyone has come up with a way to have a signified, something an organism could choose, without a signifier, as that, as far as I know, is impossible. I replaced language with biocommunication system, as not as demanding as language, in post #11, above, and I started to refer to symbols rather than to words in that post.

I’m not sure we can’t organize systems of communication along a continuum so as to recognize degrees.

There’s likely more recent work than C.S. Peirce’s, since he died about a century ago, but I’m interested in other taxonomies of linguistic units.

I had hoped to find my list of words (now symbols as signifiers) that I argued a fetus would have, but it’s not in my current computer files and I now think it’s in my handwritten notes on many subjects, years old, and stacked thousands of pages high. I’d do better starting again to compile a plausible list.

Separating out the theology when tightly intertwined with other knowledge is perhaps something someone else can do better than I can.


Silly me…I thought baptism was all about purification from sin and repentance. Don’t know where John the Baptist got his ideas.

(George Brooks) #49


Now don’t be doing a dance on my head. See how quickly you forgot the underlying issue?

Yes, John talked about those things… but did he say these things about infants and toddlers? Isn’t baptism best understood as an act of volition… not as some kind of metaphysical bubble bath?

The Western world has this rather bizarre notion that humanity is tainted from Birth. And yet people are quick to assail the Gnostics for their “life is a prison” philosophies!

In the Eastern Orthodox world, I get the sense Christians don’t walk around talking about what miserable wretches they are. But if they do, they certainly don’t say that they were miserable wretches since birth.

(Christy Hemphill) #50

So, say I offer a dog a plate of rancid hamburger on the left and a juicy fresh steak on the right. Do you think the dog has to have an abstract symbolic mental representation of both rancid meat and fresh meat in order to choose the fresh? Even a young dog with no experience with rancid meat will choose the fresh meat. Why is a signifier at all necessary for the choice to occur?


I prefer to look at what their churches actually teach and practice. After all, if somebody looked at BioLogos discussions only, without looking at anything else, he could come away with some totally bizarre notions of what Christians believe.

Note that the Nicene creed is recited at the Baptism service. (The church has a fixed liturgy; they aren’t at liberty to simply wing it.) And the creed includes this sentence:

_I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins._


That’s not your call.

(Nick Levinson) #53

@Christy: In that case (and the example might be better if both were steaks or both were hamburger, either way one rancid and one fresh), the signifier need only be an intracanine symbol meaning ‘healthy meat’, ‘fresh meat’, ‘meat over there’, ‘a more acceptable aroma from something edible’, ‘a more acceptable color from something edible’, ‘better food’, or ‘trustworthy food’ and could be a less sophisticated signifier that fulfills the purpose of leading to a good outcome rather than a bad one. Some animals that hunt animals prefer live animals over already-dead ones and vultures have the opposite preference, but each does have a preference and would need a signifier to fulfill it. Would you have another hypothetical to test?

@beaglelady: I’m not acting as a BioLogos official but as a user like any other, including you. I think you were positing that plants not making choices when they do what they do disproves that some microorganisms make choices, but it does not disprove that, because some microorganisms could make choices even if no plants do. While plants contain microoorganisms, that some microorganisms make choices does not mean that the microorganisms that make choices can be found in plants. If you were positing that plants make choices, that’s interesting, but is tangential, because that does not address whether fetuses do, which is necessary to whether they have a signifier for what they signify as something to choose. It becomes hard to read a topic when several topics get intertwined and there is much new science on plants. Or if you have a line of thought that says that plants indeed make choices and from there that fetuses also do or that plants making choices disproves that fetuses do, please share the line of thought.

(Christy Hemphill) #54

But why does the dog need a signifier? Why can’t it make a choice based on nothing more than the stimulus?

(George Brooks) #55


That’s easy enough to do. E. Orthodox clergy love to write on the topic of baptism.

I don’t think that will be difficult at all.

Again, as far as the sin angle goes…yep… it’s part of their world view … but not when it comes to infants.

You see the difference, right?

(Nick Levinson) #56

It’s because it’s logically impossible. There’s no way to do it. The dog has to address, somehow, what it is choosing.

If there’s poison in your food and you know nothing of its presence, either you can’t do anything about it except by accident or prophylactically (e.g., you throw all the food away), and the nonaccidental cases require a signifier.

By the way, although not dispositive, computer science provides a perspective that’s helpful here: the process of breaking a procedure down into steps that can be processed by a computer. For example, you can tell a spreadsheet (a high-level program) to give you the sum of 2+2+2, but the lowest-level hardware can’t process that because it can add only two numbers at a time, so the software has to intervene to convert your problem into 2+2, wait for the answer, send answer+2, and accept the new answer as final by keeping track of all the steps so as not to miss one or go too far (doing all this very quickly). This idea of breaking a procedure down into steps comes up a lot. Another example is that suppose you want to extract someone’s name from a database. In the way the computer stores the database, typically, it assumes that the name starts at a certain place on the hard drive and that a name could be of various lengths, but it still needs to know the length of the name you want so it doesn’t cut it short or collect irrelevant gobbledygook after it. Common choices among programmers are to enclose the name between flags that you don’t see on your screen or to precede the name with a quantity indicator, like 7 for Christy (and other ways may be possible, like having a quantity indicator somewhere else). You, being a human, probably don’t do that. Neither do I. But that’s probably true only consciously, a high level in our mental processes. I’m not sure how our brains at lower levels store words and know where one word ends and another begins, it may not be in the way that computers do, but it has to separate them somehow.

Most of us see colors in three ranges. A few, who are tetrachromats, see colors in four ranges. At least one is an artist and another is an interior decorator whose clients are unable to distinguish some color swatches she shows them. I don’t know if they have names for the additional colors they see, but I’m not a tetrachromat, I don’t think I know any in person (just from the Web), and I doubt most hair coloring shops meet any, so most of us have no names for most of the colors tetrachromats see and therefore we’d have difficulty ordering a wig or a painting as a surprise gift for a tetrachromat, even though the colors in the fourth range evidently exist. We could do it by stating combinations of light wave frequencies or wavelengths, but I, for one, don’t have a list of those combinations specific to the fourth range, so they don’t help me as potential signifiers.


They baptize infants for the remission of sins. I am Curious George as to why you don’t see this. But whatever.

Does the Eastern Orthodox Church View Infants as Without Sin?

What are you even talking about? Fungal diseases?

(Nick Levinson) #59

A scientist wrote and in reference to that I wrote “some microorganisms”. Whether fungal or disease-specific, I don’t know and it doesn’t make a difference. If some microorganisms make choices, then maybe fetuses do, too. And any organism making a choice has to have a way to refer to each choice: a signifier for each signified. Therefore, if a fetus makes a choice, the fetus has to have at least two signifiers. In other words, if fetuses make choices, they have signifiers (precursors to words) before they are born. If fetuses make choices, that result is important to science and, arguably, to much of our lives. That’s what I’m talking about and have been in the opening of this topic and ever since.

(Christy Hemphill) #60

I think this is the weakness of your whole argument. You assume that it is impossible to choose without symbolic labels. I don’t think this is true. I don’t think it is a given or a logical necessity at all. It’s just your assumption. You need to ground this assumption in something other than what seems intuitively obvious to you. Mice run mazes. They choose over and over again whether to go right or left. I don’t think there is any reason to assume they have to have an abstract symbolic label for “right” or “left” in order to turn and proceed in a direction. It is as “logically” obvious to me that they don’t need a label as it is to you apparently logically imperative that they must.