Friday, June 29, 2007

Beware of Geneticists Bearing Gifts [Bob]

As we consider the ramifications and moral implications of the technological push for genetic manipulation, it is enlightening to see how proponents of the associated research view the surrounding issues. Newsweek magazine offers us indications about that topic in its recent article about James Watson, one of the co-discoverers of DNA, who recently agreed to have his entire genetic blueprint sequenced and made public. Watson, who says he was motivated to reveal his genome because he has "always wanted to be a hero," believes that his example will motivate others to do the same. The result will not only "make people healthier" by giving them information that can prevent disease, he also holds out hope that "it will make people more compassionate."

Sounds good so far. But reading a little further gives a glimpse into what Watson means when he says these things. The sound bites resonate with us all, but the implications of those sound bites, in my opinion, are chilling. Remember, Watson is the man who has previously "endorsed designer babies, genetic engineering to make 'all girls pretty,' and curing ‘stupidity’ through genetics."

With those views in mind, consider some of Watson’s other comments:

We’ll understand why people can’t do certain things … Instead of asking a child to shape up, we’ll stop having unrealistic expectations … We’ll want to help rather than be mad. If a child doesn’t finish high school, we treat that as a failure, as his fault. But knowing someone’s full genetic information will keep us from making him do things he’ll fail at.

It is no secret that Watson is a full-blown Darwinian materialist. He and his ilk believe that genes are destiny. This is the inevitable end of a pure materialist view of the world. Watson's determinism assumes that your genetic information defines: your ability to succeed or fail, your health and intelligence, your character, your talents, and your personality. It is not controversial to say that your DNA is a significant contributor to all these things. But that is not what Watson is saying. Watson is saying that genetics is the sole determinate of who your are and the boundary to what you can become.

With that in mind, Watson's quotes (above) again betray not only a thinly-veiled arrogance, but the not-very-well-disguised propensity to play god. He wants us to "understand why people can't do certain things," avoid "unrealistic expectations," and not force incompetent people into doing things that genetics will show they "can't do." In other words, James Watson considers it "compassionate" to practice what has elsewhere been referred to as "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

This is the chilling position from which totalitarians categorize and mandate the careers and fates of "laborers" whom they determine could do nothing more than what the totalitarians decide they can do. And Watson's not kidding. He has assigned himself to the position of the first guinea pig in Project Jim, the program with which Watson hopes to introduce Personal Genome Sequencing. His sequencing only cost about $1 million to accomplish. He hopes to reduce that to $1000 for the likes of you and me. The eventual goal?

A full sequence [which] can be compared to the benchmark genome—sort of an average of the genomes of the people who ponied up DNA samples for the human genome project—so if you have any misspelling at all it will be detected.
Get it?! If your genetic footprint shows "misspellings" when compared to the "benchmark genome," we won't have to waste any more time educating or training you for things you just won't be able to do anyway. And we'll call that "compassion."

There are huge problems that have been identified with trying to "benchmark" the human genome. Not the least of which is the unknown interactions and dependencies that exist within it. We can't even decipher the hidden meaning of what has previously been labeled "junk DNA," but has since been found to be anything but "junk." In short, we have no idea how messing with one area of the code -- in our misguided attempt to "fix" it -- will affect other areas. This could bring new meaning to the term "unintended consequences." This is not to say that we shouldn't seek gene therapy to prevent and cure disease. That's laudable. But, as the article points out,

gene-disease claims have a lousy track record. Of those for complex diseases involving multiple genes, notably mental illness, few have been confirmed. And when scientists have tried to validate a claim the results have been sobering. Geneticists ... recently examined 85 variants (translation: "misspellings") in 70 genes that studies had linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Exactly zero of the variants were more frequent in heart patients than in healthy patients.

That said, don't confuse gene disease therapy with what Watson proposes here -- preemptive, genetics-based segregation. Watson doesn't just want to "benchmark" to identify disease, he wants to "benchmark" to identify the measure of your value to society. But one has to wonder how, and by whom, the benchmark genome will be determined. How and, more importantly, who, will determine which of your genetic descriptors are "misspelled."

What is really telling about all this is Watson's own response to the process he is so enthusiastic about for the rest of us. You see ...
...there is one part of his genome he has asked to keep private, even from him: whether he carries gene variants associated with Alzheimer's disease. He fears that if he knew he did, he would interpret each slip of memory as impending dementia.
Watson's idea of compassion for you is to sequence and catalog your genome, categorize it as compared to some unspecified definition of "normal," then to actively treat you according to those findings. But for himself, compassion is the opposite. Watson doesn't want anyone telling him things that might artificially limit his notion of a life well-lived. This not only shows that Watson's worldview is fatally flawed because he can't live within its confines, but that he must unwittingly borrow from the very theistic worldview he claims to reject.

This entire discussion takes us beyond the ethical questions involved in Watson's endorsement of "designer babies, genetic engineering to make ‘all girls pretty," and curing ‘stupidity’ through genetics." It goes beyond the questionable ambition to promote the athletic, aesthetic or academic goals of personal "enhancement." It goes beyond the pro-life objections to eugenically motivated parenting or the feminist objections to genetic-based female discrimination.

This discussion reveals some foundational issues inherent in two completely different views of the world. Those of us who view life as a gift are content to be thankful for it and revel in the uniqueness, and varying talents, that make people, and therefore life, so interesting. We believe it would be boring to watch a baseball game wherein every chemically enhanced player hit a home run every time they came to the plate. We believe the distinctiveness of each human being marks them as a unique reflection of God's image and is therefore something with inherent dignity for which we should be grateful.

We believe in real compassion -- a concept that stems from the Latin com, which means "with" and pati which means "to suffer." Compassion is not some detached claim to show concern for another by placing artificial limits on their human freedom. Compassion is an action word that demands a sense of unity with the sufferer.

This seems to be a concept with which James Watson is unfamiliar. Watson wants no part in shared suffering and shows no hint of gratitude for the gift of life. What Watson seeks is mastery -- the highest expression of the materialist worldview. For those who see genetics as the deterministic measuring stick of life, there can be no higher aspiration than to master the code that defines that life. For them compassion is not to "suffer with," it is to control and conquer nature itself. C.S. Lewis warned us that such people ...
reduce things to mere Nature in order that [they] may 'conquer' them ... Man's conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men ... Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.
Like the pigs in Animal Farm, materialist geneticists see themselves as a little more equal than the rest of us. For all the grand hopes and plans they claim for implementing a high-tech utopia for you and me, they aren't willing to foist the implications of their dream on themselves. As Herbert Schlossberg puts it in Idols for Destruction, "the greater the pretensions to righteousness, it sometimes seems, the greater the potential for evil."

So beware of the "compassion" of the new geneticists. It comes at an enormous cost -- one they are unwilling to pay themselves. And it leads to a destination that is anything but actually compassionate.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

If You Are a Politician, Don't Ever Tell Me Again [SK]

...that legislation restricting abortion is too controversial and lacks public support--thus, we cannot make any incremental moves until we change the hearts of the people.

Consider this: The U.S. Senate is poised to pass a sweeping immigration bill that grants amnesty to millions of Mexicans who flagrantly break U.S. laws. The public outcry against the bill is gargantuan and yet key GOP senators are either determined to partner with Teddy Kennedy and push the bill through anyway or else they remain non-committal by voting for cloture. I'm talking about Senators like Lott, Bond, Burr, Coleman, Gregg, Cochran, Ensign, and Hatch, to name just a few.

(To see how pathetic these Senators are, you just gotta see THIS video clip!)

I'm going to remember this moment, Senators, next time we need your help passing a pro-life bill.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pesty Media Problem Nothing New [SK]

Some journalists have a history second-guessing real men, as Ralph at Thick Blue Cloud explains.

(The Sherman quote is priceless!)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Are they Lying or Uninformed? [Jay]

President Bush vetoed the current bill put before him by congress that would lift some of the restrictions on the ability of research groups to compete for federal funding to conduct human embryonic stem cell experiments. That is all that happened. Here are a couple of more facts. The federal government currently awards taxpayer money for the purpose of experimenting with embryonic stem cells from humans. Many states including but not limited to California, Connecticut and Maryland also award taxpayer money for the same purpose. Knowing those facts to be true please explain the following statement by New Jersey Assemblyman Neil Cohen:

"We realize that sick and injured New Jersey residents cannot afford to wait and suffer because of failed presidential leadership on this issue," said Assemblyman Neil Cohen, D-Union, who has long pushed state-funded stem cell research.

New Jersey is in the process of borrowing $450,000,000.00 to invest in stem cell research over the next ten years. The funds will go to research in both adult and embryonic stem cell lines. As is the norm these days, the rhetoric is flat misleading. New Jersey has been honest in admitting that this is not just altruistic borrowing and that they hope to draw in business and ultimately profit the state from this investment. That is what makes this nonsense from Cohen all the more distasteful.

JivinJehoshaphat has a great post highlighting some Hillary quotes on ESCR. He comments that it is amazing how ignorant people continue to be about the facts of stem cell research. Wesley Smith recently commented on how impressive the scientific community has been in finding alternatives to embryo destructive research to free themselves from the restrictions of the Bush administration. All of this makes the party line from the pro-embryonic research camp so difficult to comprehend. If pluripotent cells can be acquired without destroying embryonic human beings, what possible motivation could anyone have for wanting to destroy human beings? If researchers continue to demonstrate that they are creatively addressing the ethical restrictions and yielding promising results, what possible reason could we have to push headlong and recklessly into one area of research over another in a field that is entirely based on the promise of possible future benefits?

I talked to a scientist that told me that Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s would be the last to benefit from this research because they are breakdowns that occur over multiple systems. They are not isolated to the eye for example. He told me that the “cures” are possibly decades away. The language of many supporters of embryonic stem cell research would have us believe that the cures themselves are ready to be implemented and the only thing that is lacking is the Presidential OK to fund them.

I have no problem with people articulating arguments that disagree with the pro-life position, but let us be clear. When I say that traditional human embryonic stem cell research destroys the embryos used as a source for the stem cells I am making a statement of incontrovertible fact. When I claim that the human embryo being destroyed is a whole, distinct, living human being with natural rights including the right to not be destroyed for research purposes I am making a truth claim about the nature of the unborn. When I say that unecessarily killing innocent life to benefit others is morally reprehensible I am making a moral claim. When proponents of embryonic stem cell research say there is a ban on this research, that people will be healed of terrible diseases if Bush would pass the legislation, and that there are no alternative methods of producing beneficial stem cells to treat people they are either lying or grossly uninformed.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Links [SK]

Clarke Forsythe on why Colorado Right to Life, Judie Brown, et al, need a crash course in legal history before publishing their next full page ad attacking James Dobson. (I've already argued elsewhere that Dobson has not embraced relativism or legal positivism.) HT: Jill Stanek

For fun, read Thick Blue Cloud on Spurgeon and Chesterton

Melinda Penner on why atheist Richard Dawkins can't argue for his position without assuming the very theistic worldview he so despises

Ed Whelan on why President Bush may yet have an opportunity to appoint a strong conservative justice

Bloomberg is Scared that I'm Still a Doctor [Serge]

At least that's how I read these comments:

Mr. Bloomberg's freewheeling question-and-answer session was peppered with the kind of provocative, blunt talk that could appeal to some voters while alienating others. "It's probably because of our bad educational system, but the percentage of people who believe in creationalism is really scary for a country that's going to have to compete in a world where science and medicine require a better understanding," he said in one such foray.
I'm sure that the "bad educational system" that I endured at the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, and the Detroit Medical Center is responsible for my failure to blindly accept the naturalistic view of the universe.

No More "Need " for Cloning? [Serge]

The recent news that Japanese investigators have found a way to make pluripotent stem cells without either destroying human embryos or using cloned embryos is hard to overemphasize, if it pans out. The best article I found on the new research is this one at TCSDaily, which has not been very favorable to our point of view in the past. This article gets it right. read the whole thing, but here are some great excerpts:

Only a few days ago an article in the leading journal Nature brought amazing news. A Japanese team at Kyoto University has discovered how to reprogram skin cells so that they "dedifferentiate" into the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell. From this they can be morphed, theoretically, into any cell in the body, a property called pluripotency. It could be the Holy Grail of stem cell science: a technique that is both feasible and unambiguously ethical.

"Neither eggs nor embryos are necessary. I've never worked with either," says Shinya Yamanaka. The first instalment of his research appeared a year ago -- and was greeted with polite scepticism by his colleagues. At the time they were mesmerised by dreams of cloning embryos and dissecting them for their stem cells.


They say that the reprogrammed cells meet all the tests of pluripotent cells -- they form colonies, propagate continuously and form cancerous growths called teratomas, as well as producing chimaeras. "Its unbelievable, just amazing," says Hans Schöler, a German stem cell expert. "For me, it's like Dolly. It's that type of an accomplishment."...

With an ethical solution looking quite plausible, the pressure will be on scientists to explain why therapeutic cloning deserves to be legalised and funded. Two years ago, Dr Janet D. Rowley, an Australian working in the US who is an implacable foe of the Bush Administration's policy, dismissed ethical solutions like Yamanaka's. "We have extremely limited research dollars, and to use them to study these alternatives is wrong," she declared. "That money should be available for actual research." But now stem cells derived from embryos are starting to look like dead-end "alternatives."

Don't expect supporters of embryonic stem cell research to respond rationally, not in the short term, at least. The other day, Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel told the US House of Representatives as he voted to overturn the Bush policy: "It is ironic that every time we vote on this legislation, all of a sudden there is a major scientific discovery that basically says, 'You don't have to do [embryonic] stem cell research.' "

Connect the dots, Mr Emanuel. Maybe you don't have to.

Truth is Not Discovered by a Majority Vote [Serge]

In many news reports regarding bioethical issues, we are often confronted with large medical groups giving their opinion on certain issues. Because of the societal authority that doctors possess, these "recommendations" are frequently given a privileged place in the debate, regardless of the quality of the thinking or reasoning that was used to come up with the "recommendation.

Here's an obvious example. ACOG issues this press release at there national meeting calling for increased insurance coverage for contraception because it is a "basic health necessity". If taking contraceptive medication is a health necessity, than what condition exactly is the medication treating? Do we now consider fertility to be a pathologic condition that necessitates treatment? Oh wait, isn't there an entire group of women who pay out a large amount of money to OB-GYNs in order to treat their infertility? So is infertility a pathological condition that needs treatment, or is it a sign of health? It is quite confusing, and is further evidence of the poor thinking of this group.

This is another story which should cause us to be skeptical. The AMA is going to vote on whether or not internet and video game addiction is a recognized medical pathology. Now, maybe this "addiction" should be recognized, and maybe it shouldn't (count me as skeptical), but I know for sure that the true answer to that question is not based on a popular vote. Furthermore, the AMA, which is a huge organization of many types of physicians is then going to give the American Psychiatric Association their recommendation, and the APA "takes the AMA's recommendations seriously, said APA medical director Dr. James Scully." I thought that these matters should be settled by those with the most knowledge, but instead a popular vote from other docs will settle this issue.

Next time you confront with a recommendation from a medical group, please be skeptical of there conclusion. How did they come to this decision? Was it a select committee (which occurs often), or a general vote from the delegates? Was there research reviewed, or were these docs only acting on their own opinions and ideologies? The more you look into it, the less convincing these opinions really are.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Incremental vs ...What? [Jay]

The problem for those who oppose the incremental approach is that their position has the appearance of lacking compromise and the air of spiritual superiority while it is, in actual fact, unworkable. To illustrate, there are two positions that I have heard expressed by those who are critical of Gonzales v. Carhart. (1) That any legislation that ends with “and then it is okay to kill the baby” is compromised and in fact works to further entrench laws that protect the practice of elective abortion in the United States. (2) That some factions of the non-incrementalists would accept a law that recognized all abortions performed after the first trimester as murder, but the PBA ban is insignificant and accomplishes no real limitation. (See comments under this post)

If you take the first position then you are rather like the pacifist that decries the necessity of any war while living under the protection of those who disagree with you. By virtue of your position, you are not compelled to actively participate in the actual measures that establish peace. By the sacrifices of those who are willing to fight for just reasons, you are free to celebrate the eventual victory and pat yourself on the back for not violating your principles. The truth is that the incremental assault on elective abortion in the United States is in the process of creating limits on abortion, putting the arguments in the public forum, and influencing our culture toward being more respectful of unborn life. (see here, here) I have never heard anyone on the opposing side (Pro-Choice) claim that the PBA debate and subsequent ban on the procedure HELPED the pro-abort position. I have heard many people from both sides express the opinion that focusing the argument on the specifics of the PBA procedure was productive for the pro-life side. The Born Alive Act, the PBA ban, the parental consent laws, and other incremental measures continue to keep abortion in the public eye. As these measure progress and the movement advances, anti-incrementalists can continue to NOT help advance smaller limitations on elective abortion while accusing others of compromise and evil tactics. When the dust has settled and we are, God willing, victorious, they can then say how all along they never compromised and abortion was ultimately made illegal, as they always knew it would be.

Position 2 assumes that some form of incremental advancement is acceptable, but bickers over the starting point. Nearly 90% of all surgical abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks as reported by Guttmacher. I fail to see how the acceptance of 9 out of 10 abortions as legal makes one position inherently more Godly than those who would take smaller steps that are currently available. Keep in mind, the ultimate goal of the incremental approach is the same as position 2. Both the incremental approach and position 2 accept that an immediate overturning of Roe v. Wade and a Constitutional amendment banning all abortions is not going to happen without some previously taken measures. Position 2 is an incremental position with a strong opinion about the starting point. Position 1 is a different kind of position because the holder of that belief can not accept ANY incremental move toward the ultimate goal. Position 2 appears to be a difference of degree of increment acceptable and so the powerful rhetoric and accusations of betraying biblical teaching from this group are just confusing.

So ultimately both positions appear unworkable. One prevents any movement but total movement and so can not be a part of the process of changing the law on the issue of abortion. The other can not be differentiated enough in type to proclaim a clear distinction from every other incremental view. It expresses no refusal to move incrementally, they merely disagree on the particular issue that ought to be championed first.

Bad Argument Against Incrementalism [SK]

Commenting on my earlier post ("Doing What's Right When You Can't Do What's Best"), 'drr' writes:

Let's suppose that Roe v. Wade legalized the killing of ten-year-old children rather than unborn children (who have exactly the same dignity as ten-year-old children). Would the "authentic 'pro-life' response" (to quote Dr. Charles Rice) "be to insist that no grade-school child may be stood up against the wall and shot except in special cases, such as where the mother threatens suicide if the child stays around, or if he puts a strain on her physical health or emotional equilibrium, or if the child's father is a rapist or a close relative of the mother, or if the child's grandmother has approved the execution? No way. The only authentic 'pro-life' response to such a decree would be to insist that the law may never validly tolerate the intentional killing of the innocent of any age, including grade-school children." So it is with abortion.
As a colleague of mine points out, the analogy is flawed, since it relies on the emotion of seeing a 10-year-old shot to overwhelm the reader’s reason, which is really cheap. He then provides a better analogy:

Imagine if 10-year-olds were being secretly, without much fanfare, taken to death camps where they were quickly and painlessly executed. Suppose you lived in a community in which a majority of citizens either supported or were indifferent to the killings. So, you know that you can’t ban the killing entirely or directly at this time. Also suppose that you can’t engage in civil disobedience to stop the killings, since you know that it will do no good in the long run. However, you realize that in your community people are aghast at one procedure that kills the 10-year-olds, one that consists of crushing their skulls and sucking their brains out. You know that you have a chance to ban this, even though it will hardly dent the killings. But it will serve to teach people about the nature of the children and why killing them is wrong. This is the best you can do given the situation you are in. It’s not clear to me what Rice’s problem would be with this. Is he actually suggesting that one either do nothing or everything? That is madness, not to mention a misapplication of natural law theory.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Find Something Accurate, I Dare You. [Jay]

This opinion piece by Rachel Wagner in the Michigan Daily is everything that is wrong about the reporting by the media on the embryonic stem cell research debate. It is factually inaccurate, misleading, uninformed, and hopelessly biased. Other than that I highly recommend it!

I do not know Rachel, so please do not misunderstand my befuddlement that this nonsense made it to publication as a personal attack against her. I understand that her opinions are rooted in terrible pain and the experience of watching her uncle die of Parkinson’s, but my wife will angrily attest that I would be as hard on her if she ever wrote anything so ridiculous as this. For instance:

As of August 2001, only research on existing stem cells could be federally funded, greatly restricting the amount of research and progress that could help people with diseases like juvenile diabetes or certain types of cancer.

Read this sentence and understand that the thing that greatly reduces the whole world from being able to pursue the panacea of embryonic stem cell research is the inability of certain researchers to receive tax payer money from the United States government to underwrite their research. At best you are making a case for why certain researchers highly dependent upon federal funding are handicapped versus international scientists from less restrictive nations and with better fundraising skills.

Next:

Despite its medical benefits, embryonic stem cell research remains controversial because of the feeling that it destroys a human life. However, the pro-life argument regarding stem cell research is fraught with complications and contradictions.

It is not the “feeling” that we destroy human life that makes it controversial. It is the actual destruction of life that no one seems to be able to identify as anything other than “human” that is problematic. Now lets get to the contradictions:

How, then, is it more pro-life to save an embryo that will ultimately be thrown away than to use that embryo to improve and save lives? It's counterintuitive to protect something that will never have a fully developed life over a person who already has a life but suffers from a permanent, debilitating disease.

Why will it never have a fully developed life? Oh yeah, we intend to kill it. So since we are going to be killing the life anyway, we might as well exploit it. It would be wasteful not to. How could anyone discern an ethical issue there?

You can literally print this article, tack it to your wall, throw a dart and hit a terrible argument equally worth mentioning here. In fact, please do so and put them in the comments if you wish. I have to ignore the incredible misinformation she spreads about the “future” possibility of adult stem cells being useful (Hands shaking uncontrollably as I write) and in the interest of length finish up with this line:

Ironically, in postponing embryonic stem cell funding, more people will die of diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's and brain cancer. (Emphasis mine)

That is well balanced reporting there. No need to panic, folks, the pro-lifers are just trying to kill people to save embryos. I think I am going to post about how bio-ethics issues seem to invite the well publicized opinions of people that have absolutley no idea what they are talking about however heartfelt their intentions. It also seems to inexplicably shut down the discerning eye of editors who ought to know better.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Comments from Baker Article (Part 2) [Jay]

These are the comments left for Mr. Gerard Baker in response to his post on Hollywood and abortion on The Times Online. These are actual statements that I cut and pasted without the entire comment and the identifier tags of the author. We can say with certainty that you may run into one of these arguments.

Try this one:

I believe that abortion is the termination of a human life, albeit in its earliest stages. I also believe that a woman has a right to do it. When chose to abort my first pregnancy, many years ago, I knew that I would be a poor and unhappy single mother and a burden to my family and society. Because I delayed childbearing until I was older, I am a happy, married mother who contributes to society and is materially secure enough to provide my children with a good start in life. I have never regretted my choice, and I feel that if one considers all factors, I did what was morally correct.

This argument concedes the humanity of the unborn, but places a higher value on the autonomy of the woman to make decisions about the right of that life to live or die based on financial, sociological, and marital status considerations. She obviously thinks that the developmental stage is somehow significant as well. But the morality of terminating innocent human life is not subjective to financial pressure is it? Would she condone my killing my young children because it would benefit my wife and I right now and make us better able to take care of possible future children? If not, why not? Does she think that human life in the earliest stages of development lacks value? What contextual pressures are present in her description that makes killing the unborn a moral action?

How about this doozy:

The fact is that the baby is a parasite on the mother and has no intrinsic right to life. Our nature mean we nurture our young, but they have no natural right to it.

Peter Singer type stuff here. The unborn clearly are not fully human. They only derive value as we develop an emotional attachment. Singer once said that the only true tragedy of the very young infant dying is that it emotionally hurts the parents. The newborn itself possessed no real value inherent to its nature. Of course this raises the question when does a pile become a heap and what kind of atrocities would you condone under this line of thinking? When do the unborn cease to be parasites and become something of value? Do you deny all natural rights and assume that only positive rights as granted by crafted law exists? What makes any law truly just then?

An oldie but a goodie:

Woman are not baby making machines. It is a woman's right to chose whether to be one.

Beyond the poor construction of the statement (We are not, unless we want to be, then we are), it fails to recognize that women do not often get pregnant by divine insemination. If you do not want to have a baby, it might behoove you to avoid activities that tend to result in babies. After failing to do so, you are not suggesting that innocent life must be sacrificed to enable your ability to continue to make poor choices with obvious results are you? What are the unborn? If they are human beings then you do not get to kill them to avoid the logical consequences of your actions. There is a less violent and destructive path to avoid being a baby making machine. Sex is the only action that people seem to delude themselves into believing that they have a “right” to do it as often as they like with no repercussions no matter how much the science of procreation and infectious diseases informs us otherwise.

Oh no! The earth is over crowding as I paste this one!!

This is nonsense. How can anyone argue, in an age where world population is approaching 7 billion and the planet is going to hell in a hand-basket from ecological collapse, that there is anything noble or necessary or unselfish in encumbering the world with yet another unwanted child? The vast majority of women who have abortions do not in fact "agonize" over the decision. Recent attempts by the Religious Right to prove that abortion "harms women" by turning then away from their divinely ordained function as foetus incubators keep foundering on the sheer weight of medical evidence proving that women who have had abortions are no more depression or suicide-prone than anyone else.

So many bad arguments in so short a span that I am a bit overwhelmed. I love the pattern, though. Assertion, different assertion, and not a shred of evidence. The call for depopulating the world is always a bit odd. The depopulation folk want the right to kill all of those other people cluttering up their world. You may remember the speech reported on here, where Eric Pianka delivered an address to fellow scientists calling for the elimination of 90% of the human population of the earth to save other species. The scientists reportedly applauded presumably believing that people as important as them could not be killed by the desired Ebola strain to wipe out the undesirables. Population explosion and over population has been argued for 200 years and continually fails to sucessfully predict anything. (see here) Throw in a healthy dose of global climate disaster and you have a hodge-podge of junk science condoning killing actual people for theoretical problems. Even if it could be proven that these concerns were legitimate, as I have said repeatedly, "lets start killing people!" is a terrible solution.

Now are you arguing that as long as women do not agonize over the decision and have no resulting health problems they ought to be able to kill as many unwanted children as they want? That could be scary.

The “women can not be stopped from doing truly important things” argument is next.

There's nothing inherently good about being self-denying. I don't want to live in a world full of frustrated people, and I don't thank you for promoting this. If it were possible that, say, Churchill in wartime (or Einstein, or Edison) were to suddenly find himself pregnant, it would not be moral of him to choose to abandon his great work and keep the baby. Women, too, sometimes have great work to get on with that is unrelated to procreation, if you can imagine that.

Apparently if any of those three men had become impregnated then it would have been moral for them to get abortions to wage war on Hitler, publish in physics and write letters encouraging the creation of the atomic bomb, and electrocuting animals to push DC over AC power.(Sorry for the editorial comment) Not sure what the point is here other than women should not have to stop their lives and raise children while they are doing much more important and personally fulfilling tasks. If the unborn are not human beings then there is no need to argue this point, but if they are… well you have got to be kidding. Who decides what ultimate goals and life works are important enough to justify killing human beings? Does the probability of success in these goals play into the decision? Is this back to the old, “abortion is the great sexual equalizer” stance?

The same writer makes this final comment:

What motivates you to confuse fetuses with children?

Saying that the unborn are whole, distinct, and living human beings is not a confusion of categories. It is a claim about the nature of the unborn. They do not have to be children to matter. Identifying them as a fetus establishes nothing relevant. The next assertion by this man was that the motivation to call the unborn humans is sexist. Even if it were true, (Not an admission) so what? That is the genetic fallacy. I can be as sexist as the day is long and it does not impact the arguments in favor of or against that truth claim I have made about the nature of the unborn. Even if you proved I was sexist, you still have to address my arguments. My motivation for presenting an argument says something about me, not the issue at hand.

More Debate on Hollywood (Part 1) [Jay]

This article by Gerard Baker in The Times Online takes a different point of view to Knocked Up and Hollywood’s reticence to address the subject of abortion in blockbuster movies. I think that the author is absolutely right in his convictions about the immorality of abortion and I think he goes way out on a limb as to postulating why the movie industry fails to make more main stream big budget movies about abortion. I was an actor in another life and studied the film industry. His acknowledgement that few people would want to see a movie about abortion is correct, and I think that it is unnecessary and impossible to then declare by nature of that being true we can assume that most people know abortion is immoral.

This statement: “When even Hollywood declines to celebrate the moral courage involved in choosing an abortion, it might be time we all woke up to what abortion really is.” It is just confusing as they celebrate the fool out of these films every chance they get. If you do not think so, look the following links to the awards of Vera Drake and Cider House Rules, both films centering on abortion. Also see this post on the film winning the highest award at this years Cannes Film Festival. In his dismissal of the argument that the fact that abortion movies do not make money is the central reason they are not made as “flimsy”, he compares abortion films to conspiracy films (which people historically love by the way) and TV shows about gay couples. (the economics of TV and tent pole blockbuster films are so radically different this amounts to comparing a grape to a grape fruit) But he is entitled to his opinion.

The comments, however, are very interesting.. Not because they are brilliant, but because you have a full array of pro-abortion arguments not given as examples, but actually offered as truth claims. I will post them in the next post as a follow up.

HT: JivinJehoshaphat

Good Pro-Con Book on ESCR [SK]

The title is Human Embryo Experimentation published by Greenhaven Press, a firm specializing in educational materials for public and private schools. The essays contained in the book, both defending and critiquing the practice, are well-written and condensed, giving the reader a clear overview of the arguments presented by both sides.

Before I heap too much praise on this little volume (it's only 80 pages), I should disclose that I am one of the contributors. I make the case that embryonic stem cell research is immoral while journalist Michael Kinsley takes the opposing view. Some of my favorite pro-life apologists--including Robert George, Patrick Lee, and Wesley J. Smith--also contribute chapters.

Here's the table of contents:

1. Human Embryonic Research Is Necessary--Terry Devitt
2. The Potential of Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy Is Exaggerated--Mary L. Davenport
3. Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Is Immoral--Scott Klusendorf
4. Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Is Not Immoral--Michael Kinsley
5. An Embryo Should Be Regarded as a Human Being--Patrick Lee and Robert P. George
6. Banning Stem Cell Research Violates Human Rights--David Holcberg and Alex Epstein
7. Stem Cell Research Should Be Federally Funded--Sam Berger
8. Embryonic Stem Cell Research Should Not Be Federally Funded--America
9. No Form of Stem Cell Research Should Be Federally Funded--Ron Paul
10. The Government Must Regulate Stem Cell Research--Bernadine P. Healy
11. Therapeutic Cloning of Human Embryos Should Be Banned--Wesley J. Smith
12. Therapeutic Cloning of Human Embryos Should Be Tolerated--Shane Ham
13. Embryonic Stem Cell Research Threatens Women’s Health--Pia de Solenni
14. Women Should Be Well Paid When Donating Eggs for Embryonic Research--Ronald M. Green

I have one minor gripe. The publisher writes, "Articles are printed in their entirety and footnotes and source notes are retained. These books offer the reader not only a full spectrum of dissent on the subject, but also the ability to test the validity of arguments by following up on sources used as evidence."

That's not exactly right. My article was edited (fairly) and most of my footnotes were not retained, including several important sources regarding the beginning of human life and ethical alternatives to ESCR. However, the publisher does refer readers to the original article from which my text was taken. (You can see my original piece here.) None of the other authors are footnoted well either.

Despite this one flaw, I think this volume is a great edition to our public and private school systems, provided they use it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mississippi or South Dakota? [Serge]

drr states in the comments here:

Proposed legislation, on the other hand, that would ban all abortions without exception directly confronts the abortion mentality that the right to life is negotiable. Such legislation may not pass at first, but it helps to educate the public about the truth of the inalienable right to life and bring about a cultural change in people's attitude toward abortion, and that cultural change is absolutely necessary for the legal prohibition of abortion.
We have some examples to work with here. South Dakota passed a law in the State legislature similar to the one that drr suggested. Before it even made it to the courts, the electorate, which is one of the more conservative states in the country, rejected the law by a twelve point margin last November. There is no evidence whatsoever that this law had even the potential to stop one abortion in the one abortion clinic operating in South Dakota, nor is there evidence that South Dakota is a more pro-life state after this law was defeated. In fact, Judie Brown stated that the vote was a was a " runaway for the culture of death."

On the other hand, Mississippi has used the so-called (and badly named) incrementalist strategy. Mississippi used to have 7 abortion clinics - they now have one. Here is an interview with Americans United for Life President Peter Samuelson regarding the situation there:

We've called it the "Mississippi Miracle" because they've been so successful in achieving a 59 percent reduction in the number of abortions since Casey and in having six out of their seven abortion clinics close. We think that's a wonderful thing. We think that shows that Mississippi as a state, that the population there has really come to understand that abortion is not the right choice for women.

And over a period of years -- this isn't just one law in one year; this is over 12 years now, 13 years now -- the politicians have gone over and over again to the electorate and said: "We are doing this. We are restricting abortion. We are regulating abortion." And the population has responded by having fewer abortions.

And we know that women are just choosing fewer abortions in Mississippi, which is wonderful. It's not merely that the women are crossing the state lines to [have abortions in] other states. If there were lots of women seeking abortions, there would be more abortion clinics in Mississippi. We just know that many women in Mississippi are choosing not to have abortions. That's why we call it the "Mississippi Miracle."

Reducing abortions 59%. Closing six abortion clinics. Readying legislation that will continue to place pressure the one remaining clinic and preparing for an eventual overturning of Roe V Wade. Read the whole interview, and also read what the pro-abortion choicers are saying about this strategy.

Which strategy is the one that is failing?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Get This! [SK]

Many pro-life apologists emerging in the early 1990s learned our stuff by devouring Francis J. Beckwith's Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights. We loved the combination of a readable style with hard-hitting philosophical argumentation.

Well, Frank's new book Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice is scheduled for release in August. I've reviewed drafts from portions of the manuscript and even though I've not seen the whole thing, I can confidently say this will be the single best tool for the pro-life apologist we've ever seen.

Do yourself a favor and pre-order it. Amazon has it discounted for a pre-publication sale. Only $15.63.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

And Over Here is Where We Will Kill Your Impoverished Unwanted Child One Day. [Jay]

Drudge Report has this article about a YMCA run program in Manchester, New Hampshire that took middle school aged children on a field trip to the local Planned Parenthood. It was reported that this Planned Parenthood office does offer abortions and the young people encountered pro-life demonstrators and sidewalk counselors outside the facility. As this program is run in conjunction with the public school system, an investigation into how and why this happened has been launched.

Most troubling to me are the comments in defense of this field trip that accompany this article. The STAY program focuses on “at risk” children. Many people feel that if children fall into the “at risk” category then we need Planned Parenthood to help them find the appropriate birth control and family planning options for when they inevitably do what those “at risk” kids do. We have to take action to help these people because their parents can’t or won’t do it themselves. Does it end with birth control provision and “family planning?” The slippery slope ought to be obvious by now. After all, the Ron Weddington call to arms, “We don’t need more poor babies” so lets "limit" their procreation through abortion approach is the only realistic option, right? If you do not see it, I invite you to read an excerpt from the Weddington plan championed in his letter to then President-elect Clinton looking to fast track the RU486 option through FDA approval DATED January, 6 1992:

And, having convinced the poor that they can’t get out of poverty when they have all those extra mouths to feed, you will have to provide the means to prevent the extra mouths, because abstinence doesn’t work. The religious right has had 12 years to preach their message. It’s time to officially recognize that people are going to have sex and what we need to do as a nation is prevent as much disease and as many poor babies as possible.

Condoms alone won’t do it. Depo-Provera, Norplant and the new birth control injections being developed in India are not a complete answer, although the savings that could be effected by widespread government distribution and encouragement of birth control would amount to billions of dollars.

No, government is also going to have to provide vasectomies, tubal ligations and abortions…RU 486 and conventional abortions. Even if we make birth control as ubiquitous as sneakers and junk food, there will still be unplanned pregnancies.
(EMPHASIS ADDED)
[TO READ THE ENTIRE LETTER, CLICK HERE AND GO TO THE LAST 4 PAGES]

Notice that all the family planning in the world is not going to stop the need for abortions. The ridiculous argument that pro-aborts are more interested in limiting abortion through sex education than pro-lifers is rhetorical nonsense. If you do not think the practice of elective abortion is morally wrong, you will always reserve it as an option for dealing with “tough” situations. If you reserve it as on option, it will always be the seemingly easiest alternative.

To his credit, in another part of the letter Weddington does clarify that he is “not proposing that you (Clinton) send federal agents armed with Depo-Provera dart guns to the ghetto.” That is a relief, because for a second there this line of thinking sounded ghoulish and creepy. This is the argument that these people are proposing in their defense of the field trip to Planned Parenthood. We are going to use our persuasive ability to convince these “at-risk” kids that they WILL have sex, that their procreation is bad for society, and that we will provide them with anything and everything we can to help curtail their breeding including terminating their pregnancies for them.

While we’re at it, lets swing by Planned Parenthood and show the kids where we will kill their future children they are bound to produce because they are “at-risk” and incapable of sound judgment. They might get a kick out of it. PP promised not to use the “Depo guns” while we were there.

Killing the poor is a great way to end poverty. It is also morally reprehensible and evil, but hey we gotta do something.

Sola Scriptura Confusion [SK]

A colleague of mine forwarded an email from a dedicated pro-lifer who faithfully serves our cause, but who disagrees with my take on extra-biblical knowledge. The email doesn't challenge my biblical citations, but still finds fault with my piece (edited for brevity):

I do not agree with Scott... His reasoning follows the reasoning of Erasmus when he debated Luther. (Same argument about extra-biblical truth) I don't disagree with many of his specific points, just the weaving together of them to bring out the pattern of incrementalism. This is the age old battle over "sola-scriptura" and it does make a difference because "ideas have consequences"... This debate is like a repeat of the Reformation in our day.
Me:
Lots wrong here, starting with the definition of sola scriptura (SS). Briefly, SS never meant "Bible only," as in we can only use Scripture for what we understand. The protestant reformers never said such a thing. Rather, it means the Bible is our only theological authority, that Scripture alone gives us knowledge leading to salvation. As a Calvinist who affirms the five solas of the Reformation, I fully agree with this view. Nowhere do the reformers say that science, philosophy, etc.,--what some call pagan philosophies--can't be used to inform our general understanding.

Greg Koukl, making this same point, cites John Calvin as follows:

In reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator....How then can we deny that truth must have beamed on those ancient lawgivers who arranged civil order and discipline with so much equity? Shall we say that the philosophers, in their exquisite researches and skillful description of nature, were blind?...Therefore, since it is manifest that men whom the Scriptures term natural, are so acute and clear-sighted in the investigation of inferior things, their example should teach us how many gifts the Lord has left in possession of human nature, not withstanding of its having been despoiled of the true good.
Koukl goes on to explain Calvin's position regarding extra-biblical knowledge (footnotes included in his piece):

According to Calvin, only man's supernatural gifts were lost, specifically "the light of faith and righteousness, which would have been sufficient for the attainment of heavenly life and everlasting felicity."

Would this great Reformer condemn the contributions of modern psychology as mere worldly wisdom? No, that's all part of the natural gifting God has given to man. Calvin even extols what he calls the shrewd observations of Aristotle:

"Aristotle seems to me to have made a very shrewd distinction between incontinence and intemperance. Where incontinence reigns, he says, that through the passion particular knowledge is suppressed: so that the individual sees not in his own misdeed the evil which he sees generally in similar cases; but when the passion is over, repentance immediately succeeds."

The broader context of this passage makes Aristotle's point clearer. People have a tendency to acknowledge general moral principles, but go into denial when they personally contemplate committing sin. Afterwards, guilt and remorse set in.

Whether one agrees with the particular point or not is incidental. What is important is that John Calvin--a principal Reformer utterly dedicated to the biblical doctrine of "total depravity"--quotes an unregenerate Greek philosopher on the vicissitudes of the human psyche. Calvin is using Aristotle's psychology to help articulate an aspect of man's fallenness.
Exactly. As I said in a previous post, Paul did a similar thing in Acts 17, quoting pagan poets to make his case for the gospel.

FYI, the Protestant Reformation was principally about two things largely unrelated to the value of extra biblical knowledge in general. Namely, the dispute was over how one understands justification (that is, how sinners get right with God) and over what constitutes legitimate theological authority (namely, is it Scripture alone or Scripture plus church tradition?) I have no interest in debating those questions here (and I won't--this is a bioethics blog), suffice to say the real battle lines over SS were not about the value of extra-biblical sources of knowledge in helping us grow in wisdom.

Bad Reporting from Our Side [Serge]

It frustrates me greatly when pro-abortion choicers misrepresent scientific data in order to support their ideology. It frustrates me even more when those on our side do the same thing. Here is a report from Catholic News Agency that claims this about Plan B emergency contraception:

The most recent scientific study on Levonorgestrel, the essential component of the “morning-after pill” or “emergency contraceptive,” confirms that the drug does indeed have a third effect on users, which consists in preventing the implantation of a fertilized ovum in the womb of the mother.
Here is another post from prolifeblogs that mirrors this thought:

A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility found that levonorgestrel, the drug contained in Plan B emergency contraception, does inhibit implantation after all, at least some of the time. (Preventing implantation interrupts an existing pregnancy and is an abortive mechanism.)
Interesting stuff, until you realize that both claims are completely untrue. Here is the abstract of the study in question. The investigators used computer models to determine the effectiveness of LNG as contraception if it acted via a pre-fertilization mechanism and compared it to the effectiveness if it also had a post-fertilization mechanism. The results were this:

With disruption of ovulation alone, the potential effectiveness of levonorgestrel EC ranged from 49% (no delay) to 8% (72-hour delay). With complete inhibition of fertilization before the day of ovulation, the potential effectiveness of levonorgestrel EC ranged from 90% (no delay) to 16% (72-hour delay).
This is not surprising at all, although it may very well be helpful if real experimental data ever come out that confirms the actual effectiveness of LNG. In fact, this post of mine essentially predicts these numbers. In the meantime, the authors do note that the projected effectiveness of LNG if it acts via a pre-fertilization mechanism is lower than the effectiveness rates reported in the literature. However, it is precisely those rates that have been previously reported that are under question not only by me, but by a number of pro-EC researchers. This study does nothing to shed light on the true effectiveness of LNG EC, and thus cannot confirm its actual mechanism at all. The authors understand this when they conclude:

The gap between effectiveness of levonorgestrel EC estimated from clinical studies and what can be attributed to disruption of ovulation may be explained by overestimation of actual effectiveness and supplementary mechanisms of action, including postfertilization effects.
Reporting that this paper confirms a post-fertilization mechanism for Plan B is completely irresponsible. Reporting the results of scientific papers using your ideology to cloud what they actually say is simply wrong.

Hadley Arkes on Premises [SK]

Regarding the recent SCOTUS decision on PBA, I've argued elsewhere that we must distinguish between the rhetoric of justices and the actual premises they put in place with their rulings, premises that may help us with future court cases. (Hadley Arkes and Ed Whelan say more about that here and here.) I've also rejected the claim made by some pro-lifers that a law must immediately save lives in order to be effective in helping us reach our goals. Practically speaking, The Emancipation Proclomation didn't free one slave south or north of the Mason Dixon line, but it redefined the Civil War and pushed the brutality of slavery to the forefront. I think the same can be said about PBA, and that's progress by any measure.

Well, Jivin J alerts me to this latest piece by Hadley Arkes, again on the fallout from the PBA SCOTUS decision. It seems abortion-choicers are turning to legislation to save them from the impact of the Carhart decision. However, in doing so they affirm an important pro-life premise: States should have a say in abortion policy:

With this panicky recoil from the holding in Carhart, the liberals are now behind the push to have the states start legislating again on abortion. With each move, they affirm the premise that the legislatures may indeed legislate on this subject. Their aim, of course, is to vindicate the right to abortion, but they will find that, as they try to shape that right, they will also be marking, unavoidably, the limits of abortion. And those limits, they will discover, will be drawn in far less broadly than any "limits" that can be found in the law of abortion as it has been shaped by the federal courts....For the pro-lifers, the quibbling over trimesters touches no issue of principle, for the child does not undergo any change in species, or any morally relevant change, in the shift from the first trimester to a later one. Still, a deliberation in a legislature, even in New York or New Jersey, may find legislators trying to confine, or pretend to confine, abortions to the first trimester. But once that move is made, they would be open to the move to forbid abortion after the first evidence of a beating heart. In one recent survey, 62 percent of the respondents professed to be opposed to abortion after the evidence of a beating heart.
Read the whole thing here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Doing What's Right When You Can't Do What's Best [SK]

In reply to my comments (on another blog--scroll down for reader replies) defending incrementalism, Lolita challenges me with this question: “how did the pro-life movement get to the point where they regulate child killing?” She continues her case against incrementalism as follows:

The midwives did not go to Pharoah and say how about if babies born on Monday, Wednesday or Friday be killed but, the other days they can't be and try to legislate the situation to save some. They just defied the law because it was immoral. It went against Do Not Murder. There are incremental laws we could make that would not do this. Dr Charles Rice has written a book on this.

I enjoyed your application of philosophical views to the Bible but, what you and other pro-lifers do is try to out think the basics, right and wrong. God talks quite a bit about man doing right in his own eyes. God gave us the command of do not murder, it is that simple. Legislation that is crafted with this principle, the oldest precedent in mind would be based on a moral principle that is solid. When we try to do evil that some good may come, the Bible tells us that does not happen and we face unintended consequences of that legislation.

Also I personally don't find combining my Biblical theology with pagan philosophy very satisfying, the Bible is not to be interpreted in light of Aristotle or any other pagan Greek philosopher.
Me: Below is what I posted in response, with links to sources added here for clarity.

Lolita,
I reject your premise that incrementalists are regulating child-killing. We are doing no such thing. The federal courts, not pro-life lawmakers, decided that no unborn child has a right to life and can be killed for any reason whatsoever. Activist judges are the ones ultimately regulating both child-killing and those measures designed to restrain it.

And herein lies a major problem with your previous post: In the guise of moral purity, you fail to take into account the role of the federal courts in abortion policy. No doubt, you and I agree Roe v. Wade is unjust. It is also (for now) the law of the land. Legislators, however strong their pro-life convictions, cannot overturn that law. Remember: The federal courts have totally co-opted the issue from the other two branches of government, the legislative and the executive, leaving the people no real say on the matter. Lawmakers can, however, support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by this act of raw judicial power, thus lessening its negative consequences. In this case, writes Nathan Schlueter, incrementalists “are not protecting the right to kill the unborn in limited cases, but are preventing the killing of the unborn in all but those cases. If we were living in a time prior to Roe, the situation might be different.”

Until the judicial power grab is reversed at the federal level and states can once again propose laws to fully protect all unborn humans (and may that day come soon), how can we best save lives? We could, I suppose, pass perfect legislation that has no hope of surviving a federal court challenge. Doing so might make us feel better, but it saves no lives whatsoever. Moreover, these ill-timed bills, once struck down by the courts, only serve to create yet another layer of established legal precedent against us while, at the same time, they throw pro-life dollars into the pockets of pro-abort attorneys. (When you lose a court case, you pay the other guy’s legal fees.) In short, you show me: Where are the votes at SCOTUS to either 1) uphold a bill fully protecting all unborn humans, or, 2) uphold an incremental law of the type that you and Judie Brown would support? You and I both know they’re not there.

Greg Koukl has a better suggestion: Instead of making a moral statement we can make a moral impact by legislating to protect as many lives as we can given the judicial restrictions currently imposed on us. “The wise statesman,” writes Harry Jaffa, “will act to achieve the greatest measure of justice the world in which he is acting admits.” Doing so does not constitute an illicit cooperation with an unjust law. It does not concede the legitimacy of any abortion. It does not collapse into moral relativism, a point you make often but nowhere defend. Rather, it recognizes current legal and political obstacles and works within them to save as many lives as possible.

Recognizing that elective abortion is already authorized by a more powerful, over-arching federal court does not constitute cooperation with any abortion. Nor does it admit or support the rest of the evil that we are powerless (legally or politically) to reverse right now. Note also that we are not agreeing to the killing of some lives to save others. The killing will happen regardless. We are agreeing to the saving of as many lives as we can.

True, you could say it’s best to simply remove ourselves from the current legal and political framework that we’ve inherited. But living in this world often involves tolerating some evils you are powerless to change to avoid even greater ones you can. Pro-lifers who opt out of the admittedly less-than perfect political realm abandon unborn children to the care of pro-abortionists. (Of course, there is a point at which a government becomes so thoroughly unjust that revolution is warranted. Few pro-lifers think we’ve reached that point, however.)

One final point. Throughout our exchange, you’ve repeatedly questioned the value of extra-biblical knowledge, insisting that Scripture alone be your guide. Problem is, you are doing something that is extra-biblical. Nowhere does Scripture teach that other sources of knowledge have little or nothing to contribute (a point Koukl firmly establishes in this piece). Instead, its claim is more modest: The biblical documents are sufficient for knowledge leading to salvation, a point I wholly concur with. At the same time, we aren't "interpreting" Scripture with pagan thinkers, as you allege. We're simply benefiting from their insights where applicable.

Indeed, J.P. Moreland writes how Scripture repeatedly affirms the value of extra-biblical knowledge. In addition to Paul quoting pagan poets (Acts 17), Scripture acknowledges the wisdom of cultures like the Edomites (Jer. 49:7), the Phoenicians (Zachariah 9:2), and many others. The book of Proverbs is filled with examples of knowledge obtained from studying non-biblical sources--ants, for example. Furthermore, Scripture repeatedly affirms the existence of natural moral law: true moral principles rooted in the way God made things and knowable by all people independently of the Bible (Job 31:13-15; Romans 1-2). In fact, the Old Testament gives examples of people qualified to minister precisely because they had mastery of extrabiblical knowledge. In Daniel 1: 3-4, 2:12-13, 5:7, we see Daniel and his friends positioned to influence Nebuchadnezzar because they had mastered Babylonian culture, literature, and science better than their pagan counterparts. Because of this, they were ready to serve God when called upon.

As John Wesley wrote (himself a scholar on many non-Biblical texts), "To imagine that none can teach you but those who are themselves saved from sin is a very great and dangerous mistake. Give not place to it for a moment." Or, as the late Dr. Francis Shaeffer observed, the Bible is true truth, but not exhaustive truth. It is completely true about everything to which it speaks, but it doesn’t speak about everything there is to know.

Best,
Scott

Hollywood is Anti-Choice? [Jay]

This article in The New York Times on-line by Mireya Navarro talks about the perceived hesitancy of Hollywood to make a stand on the issue of abortion in mainstream high profile studio productions. It is an interesting read.

Abortion is not an issue that makes money for Hollywood. The economics of filmmaking are such that it would be unwise to invest a large amount of the studio’s money to make a big budget movie designed to irritate a large percentage of your audience. According to the article, that is what independent films are for. The anomaly that Navarro points out is that Hollywood is not more realistic in its representation of how often women choose abortion as an option. It is odd that the Dream Factory is not more prone to champion the pro-choice position, or at least dealing with it at the realistic level at which it exists according to Navarro.

Here is one excerpt I wanted to share:

But an executive with a Hollywood film production company who spoke on condition of anonymity, unauthorized to speak for the company, noted that the film industry has other tough questions to worry about aside from commercial considerations.

“At a time when women’s reproductive freedom is under attack in the courts, why wouldn’t it come up as part of the conversation?” the executive said. “Are you making a statement by assiduously avoiding the discussion?”

Some on the anti-abortion side seem to think so. Many conservative bloggers have claimed “Knocked Up” as an anti-choice movie, in part because the movie never presents abortion as a serious option.


I am one who is often irritated by how abortion is handled by the entertainment industry. Their effort to present all sides is the very definition of the pro-abort position. “There are all of these equally valid opinions and everyone is free to hold to their own conscience and conviction. You may think the unborn are babies and you may think they are growths that need to be excised. Either point is valid.” That is not balance that is the relativistic mantra of people who say, “if you do not like abortions then don’t have one.” Nonsense. They also have a tendency to celebrate the movies and shows that have the “courage” to tackle the issue head on.

But to call Knocked Up “anti choice” because it does not specifically take the abortion option center stage is a bit ridiculous. To demand that every film dealing with unplanned pregnancies ought to make certain that all of the movie goers understand that these characters have the right and the legal option to end this pregnancy if they so choose (as this reviewer seems to endorse) is to create an extreme burden to politically grandstand. It is not that the movies and television shows proclaim the sanctity of life or the humanity of the unborn. They just do not show enough women getting their abortions and weighing that specific option. Very troubling indeed. Contrariwise, I think it a bit foolish to perceive a pro-life victory where there is only outright avoidance to protect revenue.

I will say one thing in support of the theme of the article. I encourage the entertainment industry to do more films that portray abortion honestly and realistically as well. Then even if everyone still chose to be unmoved by the enormity and monstrosity of the issue, we could say with certainty that they were without excuse.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with someone after Sunday school yesterday. We were discussing why Dr. William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, and other Christian philosophers were so strong in crafting their arguments and defending their views in debate. In addition to the fact that they are brilliant and careful scholars with a tremendous work ethic in their preparation, we both concluded that it helps that they are right. If Hollywood were to produce movies that realistically portrayed the widespread practice of abortion in our culture, perhaps that would help. The more our position represents the truth, the better it is served by honest exposure. I somehow doubt that is the point of this article though

Planned Parenthood Sets Record [Jay]

Here are some of the numbers from this article at LifeNews. I will just cut, paste, and vomit:

However, Planned Parenthood's latest annual report reveals it made $902.8 million dollars from 2005-2006 and did 264,943 abortions.

And this:

The annual report showed that Planned Parenthood reported receiving taxpayer funds totaling $305.3 million -- a whopping $32.6 million (12 percent) more than last year. As a result, taxpayer money now accounts for 34 percent of Planned Parenthood's income.

'The bottom line is that Planned Parenthood is losing donations, its clinic income is down and you and I are being forced to pay more so the organization can kill our children through abortion and spread its perverted ideology throughout the land" Sedlak said.


And finally:

"This marks the 34th year in a row that Planned Parenthood has reported "excess revenue" — otherwise known as profit," Sedlak said. "Over the years, Planned Parenthood has reported total profits of over $700 million. It has amassed a treasure chest of assets worth $839.8 million."

Sedlak estimates that about $112.6 million, or 32.5 percent of the income its facilities generate, comes from doing abortions.

What a grisly way to make a dollar. As a fundraiser, I look at giving trends from foundations and private donors. So many well-respected philanthropists and charitable organizations contribute to this cause it is not worth listing them all. It is unfathomable to me that donating to Planned Parenthood has no greater stigma than it does. We have a lot of work to do.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Outstanding Young Talent [SK]

Last night at Fayette County Library, Josh Brahm of Georgia Right to Life delivered a well-researched and articulate case against embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) and human cloning.

Josh, only 23 and already an accomplished musician, is an excellent communicator and a rising star in the field of pro-life apologetics. Josh's main points in part 1 of his presentation were as follows:

1. The morality of ESCR comes down to one qustion: What is the Embryo?
2. The pro-life case against ESCR can be defended both scientifically and philosophically. Scientifically, we know a) the embryos in question are whole living members of the species homo sapien, and b) destroying them for research is not producing the cures to match the hype of proponents. In fact, embryo cells are currently treating no known diseases because we cannot control them and even if we could, our bodies tend to reject foreign tissue. Conversely, adult stem cell treatments (which do not require killing the donor) are treating 72 known diseases. These cells are easier to control and are ethically unproblematic to use.

Solid stuff. Notice the nice mix of pro-life apologetics and ethical alternatives that should mark every good presentation on ESCR. (Some of Josh's notes on the topic can be found here.)

In part 2, Josh tackled the issue of cloning. Regrettably, I had to leave early, but I have no doubt he covered this material equally well.

Nice work, Josh.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Hope vs Hype for Embryonic Stem Cells [Serge]

I have heard it said that today's scientific community does not have great faith. According to this article, this is clearly not true. They have great faith in their ability to find solutions to problems in human beings that they have been unable to find in other animals. They also have faith in their ability to predict not only cures, but actually how long the procedures that will create the cures will take. They quickly mention some progress using adult stem cells, and simply assume that this progress will accelerate once they can use hESCs. Their faith is amazing, only surpassed by the media's gullibility in reporting such empty promises.

The introduction of human embryonic stem cells (hEBCs) in another human being has two significant clinical problems. First, there is the problem of immune rejection. However, this may not be an issue in the eye, in which immune rejection does not frequently occur. However, there is also the problem of teratoma formation. Although teratomas are benign (meaning only that they do not spread to other tissues), you can easily see why growing tumors may be a bit of a problem in the small, closed environment of the eye. So far this problem has alluded investigators. You can see how this issue will be handled way down in the article:

Pete Coffey of UCL, the director of the project, said he was confident the procedure would work in humans but the team needed to ensure the safety and quality of batches of cells, which would take time.
Which is a bit like saying that we are confident that we will soon be visiting other distant galaxies, but the team needs time to work out that "light speed" issue. Its amazing how the media falls for this.

Freedom of Conscience, eh?

British Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly responding to outspoken Catholic priests warning that Catholic politicians that support abortion rights are in violation of church teaching and undermine their relationship with the church body says the following:

"We have freedom of conscience issues for extremely good reasons in this country. Issues like abortion and so forth are ones that people have deep personal convictions on," Ms Kelly said.

"Church leaders will always say what they think - that's their prerogative. Politicians have to make up their own minds based on their individual conscience. And that's the way it should be," she added.

My understanding of conscience is that it is consciousness of a moral obligation or standard of goodness and the conviction to act upon that awareness. I think she means that everyone must determine whether they intuit a moral element to abortion either way and act accordingly. You should notice that her list of such issues is a rather short, “abortion and so forth.” One is left imagine what other issues she equates with abortion.

There is a problem with this line of thinking. The standard of conscience that the pro-life position appeals to is largely accepted by most civilized cultures. I think that Secretary Kelly would embrace the belief that killing innocent human beings for elective reasons is immoral. The British government and politicians do not need to examine their conscience to determine whether ending innocent human life when it is not necessary is wrong. The objection then may be that whether or not the unborn are innocent human beings is the question of conscience. That is wrong. The nature of unborn human life is a question of identification not conscience.

There are two incontrovertible facts about abortion:

1 – The unborn are living “somethings.”
2 – Abortion terminates the life of the unborn.

Neither of these points is arguable. The unborn are alive and they are in fact an actual entity of some sort and the abortion procedure kills them. The obvious question from those two facts is “What are the unborn, then?” Whether or not truth (2) is moral or immoral is not determined by how I feel about the unborn but how we identify them. The morality that I will apprehend and respond to is set. Does it apply to the unborn? To answer that question we have to determine what they are.

What they are is not affected by what I think about them, though. The unborn are actually and objectively something. Pro-lifers assert that the unborn are whole, distinct, living human beings and offer philosophical and scientific arguments to support that claim. This description either accurately describes the nature of the unborn or it does not, but that question is one of intellectual argument not conscience.

Some Comments on Comments [Serge]

In the comments in this post, this blog was accused of not allowing opposing comments on this site. This is simply not true, as evidenced by many of our threads in which we deal with opposing points of view. In fact, we have never rejected a comment for the reason that it disagrees with our point of view. We welcome and encourage those with opposing points of view to make their case in as persuasive a way as possible.

However, this is a moderated blog. Some comments are inappropriate and are rejected by myself or the other blog contributers. Obviously, a comment that uses profanity will be rejected. Also, a comment that is submitted to a number of posts or other blogs will be rejected as spam. Comments have to also be appropriate for the post, and materially address the content of the post in question.

In other words, a comment will never be rejected because it opposes our view. It will be rejected if it fails to address our point of view. There were a number of comments from CRTL folks that fell into this category. We repeatedly asked the commenters to address specific points that were made in our posts, and they refused to do so. Instead, they repeatedly challenged Scott to a debate on their forum and spammed us in regards to the letter to Dr. Dobson. Such comments were rejected, and further of that type will be so in the future.

On the other hand, if followers of the CRTL strategy, whatever it is, wish to challenge the views expressed on this blog, then they will be posted and responded to. Furthermore, I wish to issue a bit of a challenge. If anyone from CRTL wishes to make a positive case for an alternative pro-life strategy that they believe will save the greatest number of human beings than the ones presented here, then I will not only allow the comment, but will initiate a separate post for it. Note that this needs to be an actual strategy, not merely stating that present policies are evil or that the recent court rulings are bad. Cursing the darkness is not enough - please explain what you wish to do in place of the present strategy. If you do so, then we would be more than happy to respond.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

And She Thinks Dobson is Questionable? [SK]

Funny, one of Dobson's critics from Colorado Right to Life seems to have an indiscretion of her own brewing. In a post she is moderating over at Pro-Life Blogs (namely, an article by Judie Brown), she adds words to reader comments without indicating the added remarks are her own. She also claims that I allow no opposing comments on the LTI Blog.

Jivin J addresses both points in his reply to the offending party:

Leslie,
If you would like to respond to my arguments please do so in your own comments. Do not add something onto my comment (by editing it) and never indicate who is making the comment. That is an inappropriate way of dealing with comments you disagree with.

I'll continue to do things (and support prolife organizations) to limit and restrict abortion with the end goal of stopping abortion while you continue to waste your donors' money on cheap attacks at other prolifers.

Scott allows no opposing posts on his site? Are you referring to comments or posts? If posts then well, yeah, duh - it's his site - it doesn't make sense for him to allow a post with opinions he disagrees with.

He does, however, allow comments by individuals who disagree with him on various issues (including numerous comments by your husband) and doesn't edit them with snide comments like you do.
Yes, and for the record, here is the link to one of those posts where her own husband gets his say, without editorial additions from the LTI blogging staff! (We respond in our own comments without adding to his!) To my knowledge, the only time I've rejected comments is when those posting them repeatedly ask that I debate them on other forums (instead of the one we're writing in) or when gross profanity is present. In short, opposing views are welcome! Redundant requests (from the same people) that I carry the debate to other forums are not. (In fact, when one of CRTL's spokespersons mentioned that his comments were not showing up on the blog, I asked him to email them to me directly and they got posted that very day.)

Update, 6:00 PM--I'm wrong about Leslie's husband being the one who posted remarks to our blog. Correction accepted on that point. It was someone else from the same organization (CRTL) with the same last name. Nevertheless, we let him disagree freely, without adding any of our own words to his comments. You can see the exchange for yourself here. You will also notice that the CRTL representitive is not the only one taking issue with me. So much for disallowing dissent.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Examples of Legal Positivism [SK]

One more thought before I get back to vacation mode.

Though somewhat dated, John Noonan’s A Private Choice provides a very helpful overview of what legal positivsm looks like. One of Noonan's major themes is the clash between traditional American jurisprudence (grounded in natural law and natural rights) and that of Austrian jurist Hans Kelsen (the father of legal positivism in post 19th century America).

Anyone reading Noonan's book understands immediately that Dr. Dobson is no legal positivist on the order of Kelsen.

Noonan begins with a little history. Traditional American jurisprudence, grounded in the Declaration of Independence, held that government was not an absolute sovereign whose fiat creates rights. Rather, human beings exist prior to the state and have certain natural rights simply because they are human. Prior to the 1960s, the courts more or less upheld the traditional model.

For example, in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional an Oregon law requiring that children be sent to public school. “The child,” wrote Justice McReynolds, “is not the mere creature of the state.” The parents had an inherent right to determine their child’s education—and that right was not a mere creation of the state!

Later, in Loving v. Virginia (1967), the Court declared unconstitutional a Virginia statute forbidding interracial marriage. Chief Justice Warren: “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed on by the State.” The right to marry exists prior to the state and is not dependent on it.

By the late 1960s, however, the traditional model was crumbling under Kelsen's brand of legal positivism. For Kelsen (1881-1973), the legal order is the source of all rights. “The physical person is, thus, no natural reality, but a construction of juristic thinking.” That is, the state defines who is and is not a person, who does and does not have rights. If the state says you are not a subject of rights, you don’t exist.

Kelsen has dominated court decisions on abortion since the early 70s. In a New York state case--Bryn v. New York City Health and Hospitals, 1972-- Judge Charles Breitel wrote that although the unborn in the womb were “human" and “unquestionably alive, it is not true that the legal order corresponds to the natural order.” Who was a legal person was for the law, not biology, to say. Justice Adrian Burke, dissenting, invoked Declaration of Independence to argue that all men are created equal with fundamental liberties that precede the state and arise from a source superior to it. Few listened.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter announced (in their famous “mystery passage”) that, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” That is, human nature is not fixed, but determined subjectively. But if that is true, there can be no fixed rights that arise from that nature, including a fixed right to an abortion. So why can’t a future Court just arbitrarily decide that women don’t have a right to an abortion? The Court didn’t say.

So what are left with? The Court has affirmed the right of a person to define his own concept of existence, the meaning of the universe, and the meaning of human life. But, writes Hadley Arkes, “was there any reality or truth attaching to him? And what was there about him that commanded the rest of us to respect these decisions he reached about himself and the universe?” Why can’t we just make him up to be someone who has no rights if that fits our own concept of meaning and human life? In short, the Court’s mystery passage assumes the very thing it denies: By demanding that we respect a person’s judgement about human life and the meaning of the universe, the Court assumes that the human being in question actually exists as a rational agent, whether my own concept of the universe admits him or not.

Noonan sums up the danger this way: Your rights flow from your human nature. Yet not one of those rights is secure if power rests with nine people in robes to simply define you out of existence.

Again, can anyone please tell me where Dr. Dobson has ever said the law should define who is and is not a human being with rights?

One final thought. Prior to Kelsen, the distinction between natural and legal rights came to a head in the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates. As Arkes points out, the debates centered on this question: Were the rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence natural ones or were they merely the creation of positive law? Lincoln argued for the former: The claim “All men are created equal” meant that no man by nature is the ruler of another man in the way man by nature rules a dog. If the slave is a man, those same rights found in the Declaration (including the right to liberty) apply to him as they do the white man. In short, the slave was a human being with certain rights that spring from his nature and those rights hold across time and place. Because they are present whenever beings with a human nature are present, neither government nor popular opinion could legitimately deny them. Douglas took the latter position, suggesting that who was and was not a bearer of rights depended on popular sovereignty. Unlike Lincoln, he acknowledged no truths grounded in the nature of human beings that would hold across time and place. Instead, we only have those rights granted through positive law. Southern states did not count slaves as bearers of rights and that fact alone settled the matter.

Nevertheless, Lincoln--that great advocate of natural rights and liberties--worked incrementally to limit the evil of slavery in his quest to preserve The Union. Critics of Dobson may think Lincoln mistaken on that point, but it's clear the latter was no legal positivist.

Neither is Dobson.

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