Friday, September 28, 2007

More Fun With "Persons" [Jay]

Here is an interesting story about what can happen when personhood becomes the standard of rights bearing rather than moral value determined by our human nature. Wesley Smith writes a great post about a group seeking to legally identify a chimpanzee as a person.

The term is so meaningless that animals can be argued to be persons while unborn humans are excluded. This is not the argument of one fringe group. Singer utilitarians endorse the rights of animals over humans under certain conditions dependent upon the utility of the human in question.

HT: Second Hand Smoke

Person is not the Point [Jay]

In this post by Dr. Allen Stairs at AskPhilosophers, he responds to a question about an inconsistency between objecting to capital punishment on the grounds that you may be killing an innocent person, and affirming the right to abortion though the act may be killing an innocent person. Dr. Stair’s response hinges on pointing out that in one instance the question of the guilt or innocence of a determined person is the central question, and the other the actual determination of personhood is the question. He appears to think that this draws a clear distinction between the two issues.

His answer is a bit deceptive though. He frames the abortion issue as hinging on the identity of the fetus as a person and he develops a bit of straw man by behaving as if this was the claim of the pro-lifer in general.

"The question presumably isn't whether the fetus is biologically alive; it surely is. The question (or part of it anyway) is what this living being is. One common way of putting it is to ask whether the fetus is a person -- a being with the same moral standing as you or me."

He calls it the Ronald Reagan argument. My favorite line is where he states:

"Whether or not a fetus is a person seems to be what someone once called an essentially contested question: there may be no straightforward fact to be had."

This answer is misleading. Even if I am willing to stipulate the differentiation between the two objections; (1) Capital Punishment is morally wrong because we risk killing an innocent person. (2) Abortion is morally wrong because we risk killing an innocent person. The wrong of (1) is that we are certainly killing a person who may or may not have committed a capital offense. The wrong of (2) is that we are certainly killing an innocent life that may or may not be a person. Therefore the objections are of a different nature and do not demonstrate an inconsistency in the logic of the pro-choice capital punishment objector.

The problem in the answer is that he assumes too much. The question was framed using the word person and Dr. Stairs takes this allowance and runs with it without clarification. He is absolutely correct in stating that there may be no straightforward fact to be had on identifying a fetus as a person. That is not due to the nebulous nature of the fetus, though. It is because the term person and the qualities of personhood are themselves nebulous. The question of the humanity of the unborn is the central argument of the pro-life position. The personhood of the fetus is the retreat of the abortion rights defender since both the evidence of life and the biological humanity of the unborn are uncontested facts. What else can they claim the unborn lacks if they wish to protect the “right” to abort them? They may be alive, they may be human, but they are not human persons.

Here is the oft-repeated tricky part for those who make this claim. What then constitutes the difference between a human being and a human person? The answers are wide and range from the arbitrarily absurd (breathing air) to the well articulated and clever (certain cerebral and cognitive developmental events). There is no clear answer to the question. But it is not acceptable for the defender of this position or any trained professional to then turn around and say, “Well, it sure is hard to determine personhood so the issue is irreconcilable.” In a different post, Dr. Stairs abdicates himself and all others from any responsibility to explain the determining point at all.

"It's hard to see why we'd have to have a sharp answer to the question of when something acquires rights or becomes a person, or becomes depressed or becomes fluent in a language or for that matter becomes a tree, or becomes bald... for it to be okay to say: "It's not there yet."

Personhood is their pet argument, not ours. They developed it to defend themselves against the growing evidence that other factors were settled. The unborn are unquestionably alive and biologically human. We argue that they are human beings by nature and deserve inclusion in the natural rights of the human family as articulated in the Declaration of Independence. That others arbitrarily decided that they are not persons without any ability to clearly explain what they mean by that does not make the identity of the unborn a question mark. It only calls into question the strength of this defense.

Notice that there are two built in back-up arguments as well. In stating that the issue is in part about the personhood of the unborn he leaves open the alternative of granting the personhood of the unborn but then arguing that the bodily autonomy of the woman weighs most heavily in the moral question. He dabbles in differentiating the difference between the two as relevant to the innocent present suffering of the person facing execution and the lack of suffering of the fetus:

"Abortion holds no such horror from the fetus's point of view, because the fetus doesn't have a point of view. It has no conception of its future, let alone of itself."

This is a complete whiff. The question is on the morality of what we are doing to (a) the person being executed and (b) the unborn life being aborted. I hope that Dr. Stairs is not suggesting that if we are capable of psychologically or medically creating a cognitive condition where by the innocent person facing execution did not suffer in any way that it would change the morality of unjustly killing them. If not, I am not certain how the presence of anguish and suffering weighs on the matter as to our treatment of the unborn.

The questioner might or might not have meant to use the term person in the question. The answer hinges on a trained professional philosopher not clarifying his terms. Those of us who argue in this area are keenly aware of the importance of word choice. It is our responsibility to clarify the different terms and the impact these terms have on the arguments to those asking direct questions. We must assume them to be less familiar with the nuances of language. If we do not, we are either being sloppy or intentionally vague.

A few Links [SK]

1. Daniel Bonevac writes on divisive chruch-growth strategies, and how to detect them in your own church. Meanwhile, Breakpoint Blog has a discussion on why modern evangelicalism is viewed poorly. Though neither post is about pro-life issues per se, my own experience is that many churches who buy into seeker-friendly formats stop talking about abortion (and the gospel). That's not to say everything contemporary is bad, only that market-driven churches tend to preach, well, what the market wants to hear. And that market aint into abortion talks.

2. Albert Mohler nails it in God, Politics, and Politicians. A politician's defense of abortion based on privatized "faith" can't stand up to scrutiny.

3. Serge, you don't need to fret: I'm not suicidal over the Dodger meltdown--I'm used to it. Shucks, it's been 19 years since the last meanningful Dodger moment.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Faith, Science, and Stem Cells: What if There are a Bunch of Swamis? (Part 5) [Serge]

I'm certainly not one to visit a psychic, but imagine one day you drove past a building advertising a psychic with a crystal ball. A few blocks later, another psychic has a sign in the window that states "we have ten crystal balls!". The question is, who is better at predicting the truth?

Clearly, if a crystal ball is not an effective way of predicting the future, then ten crystal balls will be no better than one crystal ball in telling you next week lottery numbers. This also means that going to psychics and playing the lottery are unwise choices, but that must wait until another post.

Using this same logic, if one scientist makes a prediction that is not based on solid evidence, then having a large number of scientists agreeing with the prediction is no greater indicator that the prediction will come true. The important aspect about any prediction about the future is the available evidence that one is using for making such a claim, not the number of individuals that agree with you. Even if those individuals happen to wear white lab coats. It is important to remember that these scientists are not making scientific predictions - they are expressing their faith-based hopes. They are not looking into their microscopes for the data that supports these predictions, but instead are consulting their crystal balls.

For example, here is a letter given to Congress by the American Association for the Advancement of Science regarding the debate on embryonic stem cells:

The scientific consensus is that embryonic stem cell research is an extremely promising field of research that may lead to the development of more effective treatments for devastating conditions like diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and Parkinson’s disease.
A mentor of mine likes to remind us that the absence of consensus does not mean the absence of truth. Likewise, simply because a certain group, with preconceived ideologies regarding science, agree on a faith-based idea, it does not indicate either a scientific truth or even a scientific theory.

Just like the crystal ball example, we should look at the history of such predictions especially in regards to the incredible cures that are promised "just around the corner" as long as we give them lots of money. The examples of predictions by scientists that have not panned out are numerous and easy to find. Every single time you read about a drug that needs to be recalled should remind us that there was a time in which the "consensus medical opinion" supported the use of the drug. Every so often we hear about a potential cure for cancer - yet even today our main strategy for treating cancer is basically unchanged for the past 40 years. We either cut it out or poison it.

This is not to say we should have a completely skeptical view - but we should pause and investigate when confronted with miraculous claims. We should look at the advantages and challenges of any form of medical research. We should not only examine the ethics of the practice itself but the future impact of that practice on humanity. The faith-based predictions of any number of scientists does not indicate science. Hope is good, but self-serving false hope is cruel, when it comes either from a crystal ball or the mouth of a "scientist".

Serge on Issues Etc. [Serge]

Todd Wilken of Issues etc interviewed me yesterday regarding my article on the bodily autonomy argument for abortion rights in the Christian Research Journal. It wasn't easy changing gears so quickly (the interview started about 5 minutes after I saw my last patient) but Todd is quite a gracious host. The program often focuses on apologetics and the list of those they have had on (including Scott a number of times) is very humbling. Anyone interested can listen to it here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Beckwith #7: Problems with Thomson's 'Equal Reasonableness' [SK]

Previous Posts on Beckwith's Defending Life:

#1 Overview of major themes
#2 The nature of moral reasoning
#3 What Roe said and did, part 1
#4 Roe, part 2: Blackmun undercuts his own case
#5 Roe, part 3: Blackmun's viability errors
#6: Metaphysics and abortion debate

(Note: National Review has just published its own take on Defending Life.)

Frank concludes chapter 3 with a discussion of Judith Jarvis Thomson's equal reasonableness defense of abortion. Thomson, famous for conceding the humanity of the unborn in her 1971 "violinist" essay (which Frank deals with in chapter 7), concedes the reasonableness of the pro-life position. However, that does not mean she thinks abortion is wrong. To the contrary, she thinks those who favor abortion rights are equally reasonable. She writes, "while I know of no conclusive reason for denying that fertilized eggs have a right to life, I also know of no conclusive reason for asserting that they do have a right to life." In other words, those who reject a reasonable pro-life argument are not unreasonable for doing so. Thus, the issue of fetal personhood is up for grabs with no side clearly winning the day. Given this impasse, Thomson says the woman's liberty to abort must prevail. "Severe constraints on liberty may not be imposed in the name of considerations that the constrained are not unreasonable in rejecting."

Frank points out three problems with Thomson's argument. First, she does not adequately assess the strongest pro-life argument when she claims the abortion-choice one is equally reasonable. Her presentation of the pro-life view amounts to this: The fertilized egg contains a biological code that will govern its entire future development, therefore, it is already a human being with a right to life.

Though popular on the street, Thomson's summary of the pro-life argument ignores the sophisticated case some philosophers and apologists make for the full humanity of the unborn based on the substance view of human persons. That view states that a human being is intrinsically valuable in virtue of the kind of thing it is, a substance with a rational nature that maintains its identity through time and change. Put simply, the adult you are today is identical to the fetus you once were. Thus, if you are intrinsically valuable today, you were back then as well. (In short, you are valuable by nature not function.) Thomson makes no attempt to engage this metaphysically rich pro-life argument. (She's also wrong about the embryo being a "fertilized egg"--sperm and egg cease to exist at the completion of the conception process and give rise to a new human organism.)

Second, it is not unreasonable to reject Thomson's position. Consider Thomson's primary claim: "Severe constraints on liberty may not be imposed in the name of considerations that the constrained are not unreasonable in rejecting." Why should anyone believe that? She never tells us. She merely asserts it. Moreover, Thomson wants to use the law to constrain the liberty of pro-life lawmakers and activists who seek to legislate protection for the unborn--even though, as she concedes, it is not unreasonable for them to reject the abortion-choice view in favor of the pro-life one.

Third, Thomson never tells us why "liberty" is the highest good when all sides (we'll assume for the sake of discussion) have equally reasonable arguments. Indeed, if it's true that no one position--abortion-choice or pro-life--wins the day on the moral status of the unborn, this is an excellent reason not to permit abortion, because the odds are at least 50/50 that an abortion results in the death of a human entity with a full right to life. Given those odds, we should err on the side of life, not liberty. Frank provides the following example:

"Imagine the police are able to identify someone as a murderer with only one piece of evidence: his DNA matches the DNA of the genetic material found on the victim. The police subsequently arrest him, and he is convicted and sentenced to death. Suppose, however, that it is discovered several months later that the murderer has an identical twin brother who was also at the scene of the crime and obviously has the same DNA as his brother on death row. This means that there is a 50/50 chance that the man on death row is the murderer. Would the state be justified in executing this man? Surely not, for there is a 50/50 chance of executing an innocent person. Consequently, if it is wrong to kill the man on death row, it is then wrong to kill the unborn when the arguments for its full humanity are just as reasonable as the arguments against it."
Finally, Thomson's own "liberty" principle--namely, "severe constraints on liberty may not be imposed in the name of considerations that the constrained are not unreasonable in rejecting--collapses into absurdity with Frank's shooting range illustration:

"Suppose that there is a shooting range in Central Texas, located only 1,000 feet from the playground of a local elementary school. The county commission, at the request of concerned parents and teachers, prohibits the shooting range to operate when the students at the school are on the playground, because there is a 1 in 100 chance a bullet will ricochet off one of the targets and hit a child. Imagine the marksmen who practice at the range, with the support of the range's ownership, employ Thomson's principle to rebut the commission's policy: "Severe constraints on liberty may not be imposed in the name of considerations that the constrained are not unreasonable in rejecting." The response on the part of the commission would likely be: "Yes, your principle may be correct, but you are in fact unreasonable in rejecting the policy's constraint on your liberty, for reason requires that you accept a public policy to protect the innocent from unjust harm even if there is only a 1 in 100 chance of it occurring."

Science, Faith, and Stem Cells: Science or Swami? (Part 4) [Serge]

Others in the Series

I've been busy for a bit, presently mourning the fact that my beloved Tigers (and Scott's Dodgers) will not be in the post season this year. Yet I was confident that there would be no shortage of examples of scientists making faith-based statements when I returned. Of course, I was not disappointed.

The latest scientist to get his faith-based views aired as "science" is veterinarian Dolly cloner Ian Wilmut. Ian tends to make a lot of claims, and I won't deny that his use of SCNT to clone a sheep was quite an accomplishment, but see if you can detect the science in this story:

THE CREATOR of Dolly the sheep has predicted that treatments using stem cells could become as common as antibiotics.

Professor Ian Wilmut, director of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Edinburgh University, said the first of these revolutionary therapies is expected to be available in around a decade and will develop rapidly over the coming years.

Wilmut is looking into his Crystal ball and making bold predictions. Predictions themselves are useless unless they have some evidence behind them. Does Wilmut offer any new research that would indicate that "revolutionary therapies" would be around in a decade? Is there any indication that the problems with ESCR and human cloning are in any danger of being overcome? Is there any accountability in the future regarding these predictions? There is not. The media simply reports the unchallenged words of a scientist and claims they are science. His predictions are mere faith-based assertions.

Wilmut pointed out that researchers around the world were already considering the use of stem cells to repair corneas, bones and specific cases of spinal cord injury.

"New therapies are just the same as medicines, they have to be tested and shown to be effective and safe," he said. "So it will be a small number of cases and a small number of treatments first, which will grow over the years and the decades.

Lets do some math. The first mammal embryonic stem cell was isolated in 1981 from a mouse. The first human embryonic stem cell was isolated in 1998. That means we have worked with ESCs for 26 years with mammals and 9 years with humans. So far, we have had not one cure of a disease in animals (without significant complications) and not one attempted treatment in human beings. Yet Wilmut asserts that stem cell cures will be as readily available as antibiotics in a mere ten years. As if we can simply stroll down to a neighborhood pharmacy and pick out our newly cloned embryos that will make us a "repair kit" to use at our convenience.

Wilmut may be lacking ethical standards, but his faith is fully intact.

HT: Wesley Smith

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New Book on Defending the Faith [SK]

It's called Reasons for Faith, and yours truly contributed a chapter entitled, "Abortion, Research Cloning, and Beyond: New Challenges for Pro-Lifers in the Brave New World."

Here are two quotes from that chapter.

Regarding ESCR:

Until recently, ESCR advocates have flatly denied any intention of implanting cloned embryos in order to harvest tissues or organs from later term fetuses—a practice known as fetus farming. But researchers are growing impatient. Stem cells from early embryos have yet to deliver one promised cure and their tendency to form dangerous tumors could render them therapeutically useless. Indeed, throughout the scientific community, there’s a growing concern that usable cells will not be obtained unless cloned humans can be gestated well past the embryonic stage. Fearing a public backlash, big biotech is trying to legalize fetus farming on the sly with a series of phony cloning bans. In each case, what’s banned is the live birth of cloned human beings, not their creation for destructive research. And just when you thought the lies couldn’t get worse, cloning advocates are busy telling Americans that cloning is not cloning, that embryos are not really embryos, that morals are mere preferences, and that some humans are not really persons. If you think this is all science fiction, look no further than January 4, 2004....

Indeed, experiments are already underway in which cloned cow embryos are implanted, gestated to the early or late fetal stage, then killed so their organ tissues can be harvested. Among the many benefits, cells extracted from later-term fetuses are stable, allowing researchers to get around the tumor problem associated embryo cells. “We hope to use this technology in the future to treat patients with diverse diseases,” said Robert Lanza, who co-authored one of the cow studies. Legally, he’s got a green light: The New Jersey law—and others styled after it—permit this same cloned organ farming to be done in humans.
Re: Bodily rights arguments:

During our debate at U.C. Davis in June of 2006, Dr. Meredith Williams, who performs some abortions, repeatedly called abortion tragic and said that she, too, wanted to reduce the practice provided no laws were passed restricting it. But why abortion is tragic and why she wants to reduce it she couldn’t say. Seriously, if the unborn is just a "parasite" as she claimed more than once during our debate, isn’t removing that parasite a great event rather than a tragic one? The more abortions the better! She can’t have it both ways.

Throughout our exchange, Dr. Williams couldn't decide whether women had an absolute right to bodily autonomy or not. For the first part of our exchange, she more or less argued they did. However, during the cross x, she backed off that claim when I pressed her with this question provided by physician Rich Poupard:

"Let's say a woman has intractable nausea and vomiting, and insists on taking thalidomide to help her symptoms. After having explained the horrific risks of birth defects that have arisen due to this medication, she still insists on taking it based on the fact that the fetus has no right to her body anyway. After being refused thalidomide from her physician, she acquires some and takes it, resulting in her child developing no arms. Do you believe that she did anything wrong? Would you excuse her actions based on her right to bodily autonomy? The fetus after all is an uninvited guest, and has no right even to life let alone an environment free from pathogens."

When Dr. Williams said the woman was wrong to do that, I replied: "So if the mother wants to harm her unborn child with drug use that's wrong, but if she wants to kill it with elective abortion that's fine?" Many of those present immediately grasped the absurdity of her position.

The New Atheism: Five Links that Help [SK]

The new atheism is nasty: Religion is not only foolish, it's dangerous and should hardly be tolerated.

I suppose you might call it atheism with attitude, but it's really more than that. While the arguments presented are shallow and bombastic, the goal is to drive anything that smells of metaphysics from the public square AND, if Dawkins gets his way, even from the home.

The field of bioethics is not immune from the influences of this new atheistic attitude. Pro-life advocacy, we are told, is nothing more than an attempt to force irrational and intolerant religious absolutism on an unsuspecting public. Thus, it must be squashed. Although the articles below are not about bioethics per se, they deal with the principal claims these new atheists make.

1. Melinda Penner on Christopher Hitchen's God is not Great. Penner nails the key point, namely, that Hitch makes all kinds of moral claims about how bad religion is for society but not once does he adequately ground a single one of those claims. Nor does he ground his claims for rational oughtness. He can't do either, because his materialistic worldview won't let him.

2. Frank Beckwith on how Richard Dawkins assumes design in his critique of design advocate, Kurt Wise.

3. William Lane Craig on why design inferences are rational even if we can't fully explain the designer.

4. Doug Wilson debates Christopher Hitchens on the theme, "Is God Good for the World?"

5. Alvin Plantinga writes of Richard Dawkin's poor attempt at philosophy. "You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou tone of the book, can be annoying."

I'll post more links on this topic as I find them.

Of Tobacco and Unborn Killng [Jay]

With all due respect to Joni Hirsch Blackman, the author of this article in the Daily Herald.com, but the complete misunderstanding of the moral issue of abortion articulated in this piece demonstrates a lack of sophistication that goes beyond mere relativism. I was so stunned when I saw how JivinJehoshaphat summarized the article that I almost did not believe someone could get this sort of silliness past a proper editor. This is really a recurring theme in journalism today. Obviously, editors are no longer taking the effort to be fully informed or editorial review is so weak as to be laughable. That is the case at our local paper, The Atlanta Journal/Constitution. Cynthia Tucker has published a defense of her editorial style claiming that she gives individuals the opportunity to publish their opinions even when she knows they are factually inaccurate. This is a measure of fairness. As a result, it is impossible to trust anything you read in the editorial pages of our paper. Conservatives and liberals alike produce the most ridiculous distortions and mistakes as the AJC sends them on into print. Who cares if is right or wrong, it is all opinion.

That is not even fine when people are discussing the various methods of stimulating the economy, but it is absolutely irresponsible when it comes to issues of bio-ethics. Small mistakes in our reasoning can lead people to believe that whole classes of human beings ought to be freely killed. Zero margin of error forces us to be more careful.

Which leads us back to this article. Let us begin with the beginning:

Tobacco kills.

No one disputes that, yet tobacco is sold in countless stores throughout the country and in our community. In fact, there is a tobacco shop not far from where I live in Naperville, and I -- someone who has watched people die because of tobacco -- sneer when I drive by.

It's tempting, but I'd never harass the people who go in there or try to have the store shut down -- even though the whole purpose for the place being there is to sell something that eventually will kill whoever is using it.


Tobacco universally kills everyone who uses it, huh? Do I really have to respond to that. Lets just call it gross factual error and move on.

Tobacco is legal and the store has a right to be there. So instead, I, and others who feel the way I do, try to educate people about the dangers of tobacco.

That's not good enough for those opposed to abortion. They not only voice their opposition, they want everyone to be "protected" from a new health clinic in Aurora near Naperville offering many necessary health care services besides abortion.


Yikes! So if this is not a bad analogy I am unaware of what one is. The lethality of abortion on the unborn if done correctly is near 100%. The unborn are involuntarily slaughtered. The abortion doctor is not killing the unborn as a by-product of another action. It is the job he/she is paid to do. Find the unborn child, kill it, and remove it from the mother’s body. I can see how Blackmun confuses this with a tobacco shop where people buy pipe products, cigars, and cigarettes. I know people that smoke an occasional pipe with the approval of their doctor and suffer no ill effects. I know others that smoke cigars when they can get their hands on a good one. They do not die as a result of this. The tobacco shop owner can easily sell products to adults that may or may not use them responsibly. If they abuse the product, it will most likely hurt them. It will not necessarily kill them. How on earth is the tobacco shop analogous to the abortion provider? One always intentionally terminates a life that had no protection or alternative. The other sells products to adults who choose to use those products either responsibly and in moderation or to excess and the detriment of their health.

This shows how deeply rooted the misunderstanding of moral arguments is in our culture. “Hey, you do not like abortions, well I hate cigarettes but you don’t see me standing on the corner protesting. I think soft drinks are evil, too.” In this context, evil loses all moral force and is reduced to statements of preference. Here you see it on all of its rhetorical glory.

In point of fact, we are brought back to the same question that always hangs over us on this issue. What are the unborn? If they are innocent human beings then the analogy that has been made is insulting. Our moral outrage over tobacco shops and abortion facilities ought not to be comparable. It is simply a greater moral offense by far to destroy innocent human life for elective reasons as a profession than it is to sell an unhealthy product to adults. If the unborn are not innocent human beings enjoying natural rights that include the right to life, then killing them is no moral offense at all and the tobacco shop is far worse. One of those positions is true, but the truth of either position is not dependent upon our preferences. It is objective.

I will not comment on the pastors and clergy that are defending this abortion facility. I will not go into the fact that Planned Parenthood took a deceptive route to acquiring the zoning permits and licenses to open this facility in question. Today I am merely angry with the editorial boards that are willing to shill for Planned Parenthood by publishing utter and complete nonsense from authors with no sense of duty to know what they are talking about. This issue is just too serious for child like analogies to be bandied about by writers trying to meet a deadline.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Pro-Life Pastor in the 21st Century [SK]

"We risk a truly post-human future. How is your pulpit ministry equipping Christians to respond biblically?"

That's the essence of what I asked pastors in Kalamazoo last Wednesday. My theme was simple: What does a pro-life pastor looks like? (This talk adds to what I told a larger gathering of Christian leaders in Lincoln last week.)

My thesis: Given current assaults on human dignity, the pro-life pastor must commit himself to four essential tasks.

Read-on if you want more. (I apologize for the long post--I wanted to quickly post my notes for the benefit of those who attended.)

The thesis is significant, because I don't think we have many 'pro-life' churches--at least not the way I define them.

Due to technical limitations, the presentation was not taped. What follows below are the notes for my intended remarks. I said most of what's here, but not everything. For now, it's all I have time to post. If you want more detail, I've included links so you can see my sources and get more explanation of my main points.

Title: "The Pro-Life Pastor in the 21st Century"

I. Introduction: Our Problem--Human Nature is up for Grabs. The Biblical view of human dignity is under assault in ways barely imagined a decade ago. Some examples:

A. Human/animal hybrids: Research labs are moving forward on the creation of embryos that will be part human and part animal. Three groups eagerly await the arrival of these hybrid embryos: 1) scientists who will use them for grisly medical research, 2) transhumanists who wish to alter the biological nature of human beings in hopes of radically advancing our evolutionary development, and 3) radical animal rights advocates who consider any claim of human exceptionalism to be dangerous and intolerant and who look to the creation of these hybrids to knock humans off their privileged perch.

B. Scathing attacks on human dignity, once restricted largely to academia, are now featured prominently in popular media. Peter Singer, who thinks killing disabled newborns is only wrong if it adversely impacts other interested parties, writes in The Dallas Morning News: "During the next 35 years, the traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological and demographic developments. By 2040, it may be that only a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists will defend the view that every human life, from conception to death, is sacrosanct." Meanwhile, Wesley J. Smith cites a New York Times editorial writer as saying, "We are all of us, dogs and barnacles, pigeons and crabgrass, the same in the eyes of nature, equally remarkable and equally dispensable." There you have it: Darwinism proves humans are no more and no less valuable than barnacles. And who can forget PETA's Ingrid Newkirk saying that a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy is a roach? I guess eating a man is no different than eating a steak.

C. Scientism is trumping morality in debates over cloning and embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Make no mistake: The public supports ESCR. The idea is that if we can do it, we should do it. Even some so-called 'pro-life' politicians are falling for this dangerous idea. For example, Senator Orrin Hatch, defending ESCR, writes, "It would be terrible to say because of an ethical concept that we can't do anything for you." Does Senator Hatch realize what he just said? If science trumps morality, how is he going to condemn the Tuskegee Experiments where black men suffering from Syphilis were promised a cure only to have it secretly withheld so scientists could study how the disease kills people? How will he decry the medical holocaust of Jews in Nazi Germany?

D. The 'new atheism' treats all religious truth claims as harmful and intolerable. It's atheism with attitude and its principal goal is to drive metaphysics--including belief in human exceptionalism--from the public square. While the arguments presented by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens (to name a few) are shallow and bombastic, the field of bioethics is not immune from the influences of this new atheistic attitude. The case against ESCR, we are told, is nothing more than an attempt to force irrational and intolerant religious absolutism on an unsuspecting public. Thus, it must be squashed.

E. Radical environmentalists view humanity as a curse on the plantet. "This myth [of human exceptionalism] is at the root of our environmental destruction--and our possible self-destruction," writes University of Washington psychology professor David P. Barash. If that weren't bad enough, TIME quotes abortionist and anthropologist Warren Hern of the University of Colorado calling our species an "ecotumor" or "planetary malignancy" that is recklessly devouring its host, the poor Earth.

F. Personhood rights are replacing human rights. As Smith points out, most bioethicists do not believe that membership in the human species gives any of us value. Rather, what matters is whether any organism--animal or human--is a 'person,' a status achieved by having sufficient cognitive abilities. Thus, a self-aware puppy has more value than a day-old infant. Peter Singer writes, "The fact that a being is human does not mean we should give the interests of that being preference over the similar interests of other beings. That would be speciesism, and wrong for the same reasons that racism and sexism are wrong. Pain is equally bad, if it is felt by a human or a mouse."

G. The acceptance of personhood theory meant a majority of Americans strongly favored the direct killing of Terri Schiavo simply because her cognitive abilities were less than our own. The whole ordeal put in place a premise that it's okay to kill people who don't improve. Truth is, Terri had no duty to get better. Pro-lifers failed to make that case and we're still paying for it. Politically, anyone who thinks pro-life lawmakers weren't punished in 2006 for intervening on her behalf is living in a dream world. Further punishment likely awaits them in 2008.

H. For many Americans, clear thinking on abortion is eclipsed by personal experience. Over 80 million of them have participated in an abortion-related decision (if you include boyfriends, husbands, parents, etc.), and many of those same people are in our pews. The numbers are most likely increasing: The Guttmacher Institute reports that 18% of all abortion patients identify themselves as "evangelical" or "born-again" Christians--up from 16% in 1987. (That's nearly 1 out of every 5 women who abort.)

II. Theme: "The Pro-Life Pastor in the 21st Century." Take a close look at your ministry in the face of these assaults on human dignity. What are we, as Christian leaders, doing right now to equip our people to respond biblically and persuasively?

III. Significance: The question is crucial, because Christians who ignore current debates over abortion and embryo research may soon face even tougher challenges. Nevertheless, I'll tell you how some churches I know respond: They give the local crisis pregnancy center (CPC) director five minute each year--on 'Sanctity of Human Life Sunday'--to briefly discuss her ministry to women in need, followed by a vague sermon that says little about abortion per se, but rather discusses our need to be 'pro-life' in all areas like caring for the poor, feeding the homeless, stopping spousal abuse, etc. Now, there's nothing wrong with a discussion of these topics or with giving the CPC director time to highlight her work (indeed, we should give her much more time than that!), but is a tepid pro-life Sunday once each year going to equip lay people to persuasively respond to these assaults on human dignity? What's needed is pastoral leadership that preaches truth and equips lay-persons to engage the culture with a robust, but graciously communicated, biblical worldview.

IV. Thesis: The pro-life pastor commits himself to four essential tasks. First, he preaches a biblical view of human value and applies that view to abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and cloning. Second, he equips his people to engage the culture with a persuasive defense of the pro-life view. Third, he restores lost passion for ministry with cross-centered preaching. Fourth, he confronts his own fears about preaching inconvenient truth.

A. Task #1: The pro-life pastor preaches a biblical view of human value. We don’t need Scripture to expressly say elective abortion is wrong before we can know that it’s wrong. The Bible affirms that all humans have value because they bear God’s image. (Gen. 1:26, 9:6, Ex. 23:7, Prov. 6:16-17, James 3: 9.) The facts of science make clear that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are unquestionably human. Hence, Biblical commands against the unjust taking of human life apply to the unborn as they do other human beings. Moreover, if humans have value only because of some acquired property like self-awareness--as critics of the pro-life view assert--it follows that since this acquired property comes in varying degrees, basic human rights come in varying degrees. Theologically, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature made in the image of God. (For more on these points, go here.)

B. Task #2: The pro-life pastor equips his people to engage the culture with a persuasive defense of the pro-life view. Scientifically, pro-lifers contend that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. True, they have yet to grow and mature, but they are whole human beings nonetheless. Leading embryology textbooks affirm this. (See here and here and here.) Philosophically, pro-lifers argue that there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant in the way that abortion advocates need them to be. For example, everyone agrees that embryos are small—perhaps smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence. But since when do rights depend on how large we are? Men are generally larger than women, but that hardly means they deserve more rights. Size does not equal value. Pro-lifers don't need Scripture to tell them these things. They are truths even atheists and secular libertarians can, and sometimes do, recognize.

C. Task #3: The pro-life pastor restores passion for ministry through cross-centered preaching. Millions of Christians have given up on a passionate pursuit of God-glorifying ministry because they feel disqualified by past sexual sins which may include abortion, fornication, pornography, etc. Ignoring these sins does not spare people guilt; it spares them healing. And we wonder why there is little passion for missions, evangelism, pro-life advocacy, and worship in our churches?

John Piper deals with the problem of past sexual sin and how believers can be freed from its clutches, but for now, the starting point for human healing is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That gospel teaches how a holy God designed a good world where the humans He made to worship Him and enjoy communion with Him forever willfully rebeled against their creator. Although these rebel humans deserved God’s almighty wrath, He held back His righteous judgment and sent Jesus to take the punishment they deserved. By God’s design, Jesus—the sinless one—was killed on a cross by the very people he came to save. Yet the story doesn’t end there. Three days later, God affirmed Christ’s sin-bearing sacrifice by raising Him from the dead. As a result of Christ’s sin-bearing work on their behalf, God’s people—all of them unworthy of anything but death if judged by their own merits—are declared justified by God the Father, who then adopts them as His own sons and daughters. Who, then, can bring a charge against God’s elect? Paul’s answer is clear: No one can. For it is God who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5; 8:33). It is His gift, completely undeserved, so that no one can boast.

Like all sinners, post-abortion men and women need this gospel. With it, they live each day assured God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s righteousness not their own. They experience unspeakable joy knowing their past, present, and future sins are not counted against them. Instead of ignoring abortion and refusing to show Christians what's truly at stake, pastors should use this difficult topic to reiterate the great truth of the gospel, which alone frees people to pursue passionate ministry for the kingdom.

D. Task #4: The pro-life pastor confronts his own fears over preaching inconvenient truth. Three examples:

1) Fear of distraction: Pastors sometimes ask, "Won't addressing abortion distract the church from the gospel?" This is a legitimate concern. Our preaching must always direct sinful human beings to the righteousness that God alone provides. The good news is that we can use the topic of abortion to point people to the very gospel they so desperately need. At the same time, we should remember that God's gospel is addressed to particular audience, human beings. But our attempts to communicate that gospel suffer when the very definition of what it means to be human is up for grabs. Indeed, it's hard to preach that man is a sinner, that man needs to repent, and that man can be saved only through Christ when nobody knows what a man is anymore.

To site J. Gresham Machen, teaching Christians to engage the ideas that determine culture is not a distraction from the gospel. Rather, it removes roadblocks to it:

It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root. . . What is today matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mould the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity. . . . What more pressing duty than for those who have received the mighty experience of regeneration, who, therefore, do not, like the world, neglect that whole series of vitally relevant facts which is embraced in Christian experience—what more pressing duty than for these men to make themselves masters of the thought of the world in order to make it an instrument of truth instead of error? (Emphasis added.)
In short, it's not either/or: We can preach the gospel and confront false ideas, including the one that says humans have no intrinsic value.

2) Fear of driving people away who might otherwise hear the gospel. I dealt with this problem in my previous post on clergy and abortion, suffice to say that well-crafted pro-life talks suggest to unchurched people that the Christian worldview is reasonable to believe. When I gave a pro-life presentation at the University of North Carolina Law School, a young female professor responded (in front of her students): “I did not come to this event with the same pro-life views you hold. In fact, I came here today expecting an emotionally charged religious presentation. Instead, you gave one of the most compelling arguments I have ever heard. Thank you.” True, she didn’t fall on her knees and confess Christ on the spot. But now she’s begun wrestling with Biblical truth. To use a baseball example, you don’t have to hit a home run with every conversation. Sometimes just getting on base is enough. And you’ll certainly do just that whenever you clarify the moral logic of the pro-life view.

3) Fear of offending people with abortion-related content. It’s amazing how people will tolerate a strong pro-life presentation if you make your case graciously and incisively. Kindness goes a long way and often pays off with changed lives. Consider this email from 15 year-old Brittany, received after I spoke to an assembly of 1,000 high school students in Baltimore:

Dear Scott,
Yesterday you came and talked to my high school, Archbishop Spaulding, about pro-life. It made a big difference on how I thought about abortion. I was totally for abortion and I thought that pro-life was just plain stupid. I have totally changed my mind after I listened to the pro-life point of view. Upon watching the short video clip of aborted fetuses, I felt my stomach turn and I thought, “How could anybody do this? How could anyone be so cruel and self absorbed as to kill an unborn baby who doesn't have a say in that decision?” Then I thought, “Oh my gosh, I think that!” I was totally ashamed at how selfish I had been. Before the assembly, I didn't want to listen to what you had to say. I was going to nap during your speech…until I saw that video. Now, I am totally changed forever. Keep doing what you do!

Always stress grace. Give hope to those wounded by abortion. Ask God to fill your heart for lost and hurting souls. Then speak and show the truth in love. They can take it.

(Pastors--The best practical tool for training Christians to defend life is the DVD series Making Abortion Unthinkable from Stand to Reason.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Why Counsel for one thing but not the other? [Jay]

Why is it wrong to abort children because of minor genetic anomalies that may or may not present themselves physically during the course of a lifetime? On what grounds does the pro-choice advocate object to this practice? If it were discovered that a brief counseling session with the parents reduces the chances that they will choose abortion as a solution, why would we encourage counseling on genetic or medical issues but condemn it for social or economic issues? All of these questions are brought up by William Saletan’s brief post in his Human Nature at The Slate.

Sometimes the slippery slopes of the choice position reveal themselves all on their own and it is a welcome counter argument to those who claim that pro-life arguments like the SLED acronym are making exaggerated claims. When the value of a human being is determined by virtue of his/her utility, then all human life is in danger of running afoul of those who ultimately define what constitutes useful life. The answer is simple, either human life has value by virtue of its nature or others decide your value by virtue of what you can do or offer. It is personal. Unborn human life is a member of our human family and the more we foster an environment that is dangerous to them, the more we cultivate a culture that is dangerous to us all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Preference, not Circumstances or Morality [Jay]

In a comment, a guest of this blog said that he did not think that abortion-choicers (the new fangled term that Scott has been using) are generally relativists. Well, I have heard many people elsewhere doubt the existence or the prevalence of relativism, so I wanted to briefly discuss it in light of the question of the value of life.

We assert that objective moral values exist and are true for all people at all times regardless of circumstances. Furthermore we assert that one of those values is that it is prima facie wrong to kill any member of the human community. In this argument then, if the unborn are members of the human community then it is prima facie wrong to kill them through abortion. Every scenario that must be evaluated where a mother wishes to get an abortion begins under the assumption that outside of extraordinary circumstances it is immoral for her to do so.

Now let’s look at what we have described as the relativist position. If anyone wishes to argue that the abortion-choicer simply adheres to a different moral position than the absolutist then they are correct. As long as by different they are conceding that the abortion-choicer denies that a moral value is inherently present in human life and that they assert circumstances dictate the value of that life. Now lets also concede here that the average choicer on the street in not a Peter Singer utilitarian that is actually arguing that human life becomes a person of value at the moment it is a self-conscious being. How does the assigning of value functionally work in the issue of abortion for most people? It is entirely the preference of the mother that determines the value of the child.

You may cry foul here and argue that some women can not afford to have children. It is not the financial circumstances that determine whether the life has value in this question though, because plenty of people that can not afford to have children do in fact have them all of the time. I have seen only one very radical choicer argue that poor babies are by nature unfit to live. If poor mothers want to have children should they be forced to abort? Of course not, but then we are conceding that it is not the financial situation but the preference of the mother that determines value.

What about health of the mother? Some women suffer depression, gestational diabetes, extreme nausea, hyper tension, and a whole host of other physical and emotional stresses. Are those reasons for abortions? Absolutely not! Many women who are suffering from health issues choose to push through and deliver their child. The woman who runs our ministry was told that attempting to give birth to her first child may kill her, and she chose to risk her life for the sake of her child. Would any choicers condone a law that forced a woman to have an abortion if her health was at risk? None that I have read. So the mother’s preference is what matters, not the issues of health.

You see, in the functional abortion decision making process the supreme moral standard of value to life is not based on outward circumstances at all. It is based on the preference of each individual woman in question. The current law of the land in the United States protects a woman’s right to have an abortion for any reason she can concoct and she needs only to be able to find a doctor that is willing to destroy her child for her. Not because of poverty, health, physically challenged children, or fear of loss of wages, but simply based on her preference. The value of the life of the unborn is entirely determined by the whims of the women who carry them. If you think it is insensitive to refer to the tortuous decision to abort a child as a whim then tough. When life ceases to matter because today someone has decided that a life is inconvenient but tomorrow they may feel entirely different about a different life in the same circumstances that is whim. That is also relativism plain and simple.

Beckwith #6: Metaphysics and Abortion Debate [SK]

Previous posts in this series:

#1 Overview of major themes
#2 The nature of moral reasoning
#3 What Roe said and did, part 1
#4 Roe, part 2
#5 Roe, part 3: Blackmun's viability errors

I'm away in Grand Rapids (speaking at four schools and a crisis pregnancy center banquet), so I'll get right to the point.

Chapter 3 of Defending Life may be the most important section of the book. (If you don't yet have a copy, the main argument can be found here.)

As Frank explains, the nature of the debate is such that all positions on abortion presuppose a metaphysical view of human value, and for this reason, the pro-choice position is not entitled to a privileged philosophical standing in our legal framework. At issue is not which view of abortion has metaphysical underpinnings and which does not, but which metaphysical view of human value is correct, pro-life or abortion-choice?

The pro-life view is that humans are intrinsically valuable in virtue of the kind of thing they are. True, they differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, but they are nonetheless equal because they all have the same human nature. Their right to life comes to be when they come to be (conception). The abortion-choice view is that humans have value (and hence, rights) not in virtue of the kind of thing they are, but only because of an acquired property such as self- consciousness or emotional awareness. Because the early fetus lacks the immediate capacity to exercise these properties, it is not a person with rights.

Notice the abortion-choicer is doing the abstract work of metaphysics. That is, he is using philosophical reflection to advance a disputed view of human persons--namely, that humans are valuable by function not nature. Hence, the abortion-choicer's attempt to disqualify the pro-life view from public policy based on its alleged metaphysical underpinnings works equally well to disqualify his own view. Why, then, is it okay for the abortion-choicer to legislate his own position on abortion but not okay for pro-lifers to legislate theirs?

Here's the question he ought to ponder: Which metaphysical worldview better explains human dignity and human equality? Is it the one that grounds human value in our common human nature or the one that grounds it in accidental traits that come and go within the course of one’s life-span? That’s the real issue at stake with abortion/ESCR.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Beckwith #5: Roe Part 3 [SK]

Previous posts on Defending Life:

#1 Overview of major themes
#2 The nature of moral reasoning
#3 What Roe said and did, part 1
#4 Roe, part 2

(Also, Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason interviews Frank about the book here--registration may be required, but is painless.)

So far, Frank has shown that Blackmun's key premises in Roe are problematic. First, abortion was not a common law liberty, but was restricted from the point life was known to exist. Prior to the mid-19th century, that point was "quickening." However, as scientific discoveries established conception as the beginning of life, state laws were changed to protect unborn humans throughout pregnancy. Second, the primary purpose of these new laws (beginning in the late 1860s) was not to protect women from unsafe surgical procedures, as claimed by Blackmun, but to protect unborn human life from unwarranted destruction. Third, Blackmun's claim that no one knows when life begins undermines the right to abortion. That is, he stated the right to an abortion is contingent on the status of the unborn. Thus, if the status of the unborn is disputed, so is the right to abort. As Frank points out, "the Court's admission that abortion choice is based on a widely disputed fact, far from establishing a right to an abortion, entails that it not only does not know when life begins, but it does not know when if ever the right to abortion begins."

Frank next discusses Blackmun's use of "viability," which appears circular. The relevant portion from Roe reads:
"With respect to the state's important and legitimate interest in potential life, the 'compelling' point is at viability. This is so because the fetus presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb."
Assuming Blackmun is using "meaningful life" to mean "independent life," his circular argument amounts to this: Viability is justified as the time when the state's interest in the fetus becomes compelling because at that time the fetus is an independent life, or is viable.

Blackmun never tells us how undergoing an accidental change from dependent being to independent one changes the essential nature of the fetus. Christopher Reeve, for example, did not change his identity or become less human because his accident left him dependent on others. Moreover, he seems to confuse physical independence with ontological independence. That is, he asserts that because the fetus depends on the mother, it's not an independent being, a 'meaningful life.' Blackmun is mistaken. Although the fetus depends on the mother, he's still a separate being from her.

Frank sums things up by quoting Hadley Arkes: "Once again, the Court fell into the fallacy of drawing a moral conclusion (the right to take a life) from a fact utterly without moral significance (the weakness or dependence of the child)."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Memo to Fred: Fight on Principle or Lose [SK]

Fred Thompson is now the latest GOP candidate to stumble over the moral logic of the pro-life position. He says he's withholding judgement on the Terri Schiavo case, suffice to say that issues like it should be left to local governments.

Perhaps Fred was just confused. If so, he's hardly alone. Indeed, the pro-lifers critiquing him better take stock of their own rhetoric.

For example, the most common remark I hear from pro-lifers about the Schiavo case is, "It's a shame they killed Terri--she might have gotten better." Or, when speaking of PVS patients in general, the reply goes, "You just never know, they might come out of it like that guy who was in a coma for 19 years."

True, they may come out of it. But that kind of thinking puts in place a premise that it's okay to kill people who don't improve. Truth is, Terri had no duty to get better. Her life had value as it was. Remember: The pro-life argument is that humans have intrinsic dignity simply because they are human, meaning Terri shouldn't have to get better to avoid being killed.

Michael Schiavo, of course, insisted Terri would never want to live in a disabled state. Well, maybe she did and maybe she didn't.

Who cares?

Seriously, since when is it morally acceptable to kill those who wish to die? That's the question that should have been asked. Suppose, for example, Terri was well enough to request that a doctor kill her. Would the state of Florida allow it? No way. State laws do not recognize your right to kill yourself, much less have someone else do it for you.

If human beings have inherent worth and dignity (which is the foundation for the pro-life position Fred Thompson allegedly espouses), the right to life cannot be wished away by anyone, including disabled persons who want out or local governments who want you dead. You don't cease to be human just because you want to be killed. That's what's meant by saying a right is "inalienable."

Maybe our "pro-life" politicians should stop trying to out-smart The Declaration of Independence.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Challenge to Christian Leaders: Preach and Equip [SK]

Later today in Lincoln (NE), I'll be speaking to 135 pastors and Christian leaders on their need to engage the culture on pro-life issues. You can read a brief summary of my intended remarks here.

The challenge for the local pastor almost always comes down to this: Do I trust God to protect His ministry through me when I preach inconvenient truth?

Those present will also see this three minute video and be challenged to show it at their churches. Please pray they will.

Be advised, I'm about to do what I've never done on this blog, communicate feelings. On one hand, I'm encouraged: Yesterday, I spoke to 1,000 students at two Catholic high schools in Omaha. Today, before speaking to pastors at lunch, I get another 1,200 at a school in Lincoln. Indeed, I thank God I'm able to communicate to thousands of students each year in schools all over the country.

But there's a flip side to all this that's profoundly discouraging. You simply have no idea how much work it takes to get into ANY school, despite my established credentials and despite my appearances on Focus on the Family and other Christian media outlets. The problem isn't me: People simply don't want to raise the abortion issue and spark potential controversy (which, by the way, is minimal when the presentation is done correctly). Steve Weimar, who sets up my speaking agenda, spends hours negotiating with schools to have me speak. And once we get in, we then must fight for the opportunity to use visuals depicting abortion. Too many people in Christian leadership fear man more than they fear God. I once asked a school principal who wanted me to speak without pictures, "Are any of the reasons you are giving me for not showing this film worth the price of children's lives that could have been saved if we'd shown it?" He acknowledged the question was a good one, but gave the standard reply: "Our students just aren't ready for this."

So what are we to conclude, that seeing an abortion is worse than a student actually having one?

At the same time, many Christian leaders fear that abortion presentations will drive people away from the Gospel.

Despite the mistaken notion that we are somehow responsible for saving souls with clever programs designed to sell non-Christians on church attendance (the Bible paints a different picture--it's God's gospel and He draws those who are His), it's just plain wrong that pro-life presentations drive people away. My own speaking experience confirms this.

In 2005, Campus Crusade students and staff at West Virginia University aggressively promoted my talk "The Case for Life." Instead of driving people away, the talk drew 400 students, including many non-Christians. (FYI, Crusade's promotional efforts were brilliant--staff made sure that students could get university credit for attending the talk!) After presenting a rational case for the pro-life view, I concluded by saying something like this:
Tonight, you've heard a rational case for the pro-life view. True, I did not hit you with Bible verses, but make no mistake: I believe that the pro-life position squares nicely with a Christian worldview. And I think that worldview is true and reasonable to believe. I'm not going to give an altar call tonight. Quite frankly, I've not given you enough information to fully consider the claims of Christ, though CC staff members are standing by to help you with any questions you might have. My goal tonight is really quite modest. I want you to examine just one question: If the Christian worldview on abortion is true and reasonable to believe, shouldn't we at least explore what that worldview has to say on other important matters like the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? His claim to be the only way to salvation? Biblical faith is not belief in spite of evidence; it's belief based on evidence, as the writer of Hebrews explains. Hopefully, I've shown tonight that Christian belief is relevant to at least one key issue we face today. If you'll take a closer look, I think you'll see that it's relevant to a whole lot more.
The response was overwhelming. No hissing. No complaints. Just lots of applause and compliments. And tons of great questions after the meeting officially ended.

None of this surprises me. In fact, Christian leaders have it all wrong. Pro-life presentations, properly presented, don't drive people from considering the gospel. Rather, they suggest to non-believers that maybe, just maybe, the Christian worldview has something relevant to say to the major questions of our day. And any worldview that can make sense of those questions is worth a second look.

There. I vented. I took out my frustrations on you, gentle reader. Now, I'm going to challenge the pastors...graciously. May God be glorified in all.

(For more on what I say to pastors about pro-life issues, go here.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Beckwith #4: Roe, Part 2 [SK]

Previous posts on Beckwith's Defending Life:

#1: Overview of major themes
#2: The nature of moral reasoning
#3: What Roe v. Wade said and did

In my last post, I outlined Frank's initial critique of Roe v. Wade--namely, that Justice Blackmun relied on a faulty reading of U.S. abortion history to find Constitutional support for abortion-on demand through all nine months of pregnancy.

Admittedly, I'm tired after a day of speaking, so I'll stick to summarizing a couple of points from chapter two that should not be missed.

First, Blackmun's claim that the unborn are not persons under the 14th amendment is flawed. He essentially argues from silence: "The Constitution does not define 'person' in so many words" and in those instances where the word is used--for example, in describing who qualifies for Congress and other public offices--it always applies to born people, not the unborn. But this begs the question because nowhere does the Constitution define what is meant by 'person;" thus, the 14th amendment cited by Blackmun can't be used to exclude the unborn. Put simply, the passages in question tell us which existing persons qualify for certain public positions, not who counts as a person with rights in the first place. The requirements for Congress, for example, dictate you must be 25 to serve in the House and 30 in the Senate. Clearly the Court can't be saying that because a fetus can't hold these public offices he or she is not a person--for this would mean that 20 year-olds are not persons either. Hence, Balckmun's argument is absurd.

Second, Blackmun stated that the right to an abortion was contingent on the status of the unborn. That is, if the personhood of the fetus is established, the case for abortion rights collapses, for the right to life of the fetus would then be guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. He then justified his case for abortion by saying the personhood of the unborn was disputed because no one knows when life begins. As Beckwith explains, this undermines his case for abortion rights completely:

"But if we are to accept the Supreme Court's holding in Roe and agree with Justice Blackmun that the right to an abortion is contingent upon the status of the unborn, then the allegedly disputed fact about life's beginning means that the right to abortion is disputed as well...So, the Court's admission that abortion choice is based on a widely disputed fact, far from establishing a right to an abortion, entails that it not only does not know when life begins, but it does not know when if ever the right to abortion begins."
Ouch!

LA Times and the "Unfair" Missouri Law [Jay]

Ok, I’m irritated enough to write again. Thank you for all of your prayers and well wishes.

What rileth thee so greatly you may ask? Why the LA Times and this ridiculous article by Stephanie Simon about Missouri’s laws concerning the minimal standards that abortion facilities must meet to perform abortions.

Here is the first paragraph:

“A first-trimester surgical abortion takes about two minutes. After, patients at the Planned Parenthood clinic here walk down a dimly lighted hall to a small, spare recovery room, where they rest in recliners, a box of tissues by each chair. Most are cleared to go home after 15 minutes.”

Right away we know we are on a winner here. Two minutes?!! How does she think abortions work? You walk through the door and a trained professional medical doctor whacks you over the head with an abortion club and the lump of cells that we call “Notababy” falls right out of you. Then go take a chill on the lounge with your tissues and we will send you home soon.

I was under the impression that this was a medical procedure performed by educated medical professionals that required certain safety precautions be in place to protect the patient. I was also under the impression that the government routinely regulated the construction and clinical standards of medical facilities. When I worked in the HVAC industry, the regulated standards of air quality in hospitals and medical facilities was very high and depending on what procedure happened in any given room, varied from zone to zone. This is life in the big city for medical professionals. This is not some new fangled fancy law that the clever pro-life legislators have dreamed up. It is the inclusion of abortion providers in a previously existing standard. So when Simon writes:

“They have enacted the most far-reaching regulations in the nation -- dictating the physical layout, staffing and record-keeping policies of any facility that performs five or more abortions a month, including private doctors' offices that regularly prescribe the abortion pill.”

She is overreaching a bit on how draconian the laws are. And as much as I love to hear abortions compared with vasectomies as is done later in the article it is not lost on me that the poor pitiful put upon organization of Planned Parenthood has a few dollars to spare if they wish to rescue these facilities.

As for Peter Brownlie’s imbecilic confusion as to why giving women pills that will kill the unborn life and cause her body to go into contractions and expel the remains from her womb would cause his facility to come under the new restrictions, well he ought to be closed for sheer stupidity. Simon’s insulting line about how it is “just like a miscarriage” shows a callousness that must be intentional. Yeah, Stephanie, why not sell them over the counter while we are at it? There is nothing more natural in the world than medically induced miscarriages that have in the past led to several complications including death. Why would we want to regulate that?

This Family Research Council blog right here by Andrew Schlafly does a good job at doing a point by point breakdown of this article. My question for Stephanie Simon goes right back to the beginning of this article. The second paragraph is this:

"Thousands of women have safely ended pregnancies at this clinic since it opened in 1987. Conservative lawmakers in Missouri say abortion patients deserve better."

Ms. Simon’s article and beef is based on the defense that abortion is a terribly safe procedure. The women getting abortions in these clinics face little serious risk to their health and this move is an obvious ploy to close abortion clinics, make it more difficult for women to get abortions, and will not make any woman safer.

Even if I stipulated the truth of her opinion on the incredible safety and brevity of first trimester abortions, so what? You can make abortion as risk free as you want for women and it is still deadly to the unborn human being. Why are those of us who want to see an end to abortion required to play fair in her eyes. You want to act like doctors then you get treated like doctors. You want to hide behind your enlightened position that you understand this better than the rest of us because of your training, then Missouri is taking you at your word. If you are experts at this outpatient surgery then super, you are now being graded like every other expert.

If taking them at their word and forcing them to meet the standards of professionalism that others are already meeting puts them out of business then super. They can cry all that they want, but in the end they can not have it both ways. Unless some judge rescues them, of course. But that never happens...oh,wait.

*CORRECTION: I originally mistakenly attributed the rebuttal of the LA Times article to the blogger at FRC, Joe Carter, that posted the Schlafly response.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Beckwith #3: What Roe v. Wade Said and Did, Part One [SK]

Previous posts on Francis Beckwith's Defending Life:

#1: Overview of major themes
#2: The nature of moral reasoning

In chapter 2, Frank turns his attention to the most controversial Supreme Court ruling to date, Roe v. Wade (and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton). The chapter answers three key questions: 1) What did the Court actually conclude in Roe? 2) What was the Court's reasoning in the case? 3) How did the case shape future Court decisions, such as Casey vs. Planned Parenthood? The short answer is the Roe Court concluded that a woman has a right to abort for any reason or no reason through all nine months of pregnancy and it relied on a faulty history of abortion law to arrive at that extreme conclusion. Moreover, the premises put in place by Roe were later reinforced and made worse by the Casey decision.

(If you are still awaiting your copy of Defending Life, you can still follow the discussion: Frank provides a complete legal analysis of these three questions in the Liberty University Law Review.)

Regarding question #1, The Court in Roe struck down the abortion laws of all 50 states and concluded that a woman may obtain an abortion for any reason she deems fit through all nine months of pregnancy. That is, the Court mandated a policy of abortion-on-demand that no state anticipated prior to the ruling. True, Justice Blackmun did institute a trimester system which he claimed balanced the interests of the State, woman, and fetus, but a quick glance at Roe and Doe shows that alleged "balance" is a sham.

During the first three months of pregnancy (1st trimester), the abortion decision is the woman's alone. Under no circumstances may the state move to protect fetal life. The same is true for the second trimester, where abortion may only be regulated to safeguard the woman, not her unborn offspring. During the third trimester, the state has a compelling interest in fetal life (now that the offspring is viable) and may--if it so chooses--pass legislation protecting the unborn. However, there's a huge catch: The proposed legislation must not interfere with the woman's "health." In Doe, the Court 's definition of "health" is so broad you can drive a mack truck through it. Accordingly, "health" must be defined "in light of all factors--physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age--relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors relate to health." (Doe v. Bolton, 410 at 179, 192) Given all pregnancies impact a woman's emotional and family situation, the court's "health" provision has the practical effect of legalizing abortion up until birth.

Indeed, a 1983 U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee concluded that "no significant legal barriers of any kind whatsoever exist today in the United States for a woman to obtain an abortion for any reason during any stage of her pregnancy." (Report, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, on Senate Resolution 3, 98th Congress, 98-149, 7 June 1983, p. 6.)

As to how the Court arrived at its conclusion (question #2), the answer from legal scholars--including many who support legalized abortion at some level--is clear: Justice Blackmun relied on an extremely flawed history of U.S. abortion law written by an attorney for The National Abortion Rights Action League, Cyril Means. In short, Blackmun had to rewrite history to overcome the fact that by 1869, nearly every state and federal territory had laws restricting abortion. The stated purpose of those laws, which coincided with advances in medical science, was primarily to protect the unborn. These laws had not been seriously challenged prior to the late 1960s, so how was he now going to strike them as unconstitutional?

After reading Means, Blackmun concluded that 1) prior to the 1850s, the common law generally did not restrict abortion before quickening, and 2) when abortion restrictions were later passed in states and federal territories, their primary intent was to protect the mother from unsafe medical procedures, not affirm the right to life of her unborn offspring.

Both conclusions were false. True, common law in the early 1800s did allow for abortion before "quickening," but that's only because the primitive embryology in play at that time could not determine if life was present until the mother felt the child move. As John Warwick Montgomery points out, lawmakers were saying as soon as you have life, you must have laws protecting that life. In no way did the common law or individual state laws allow for abortion after life was present. Indeed, the most important burst of anti-abortion legislation took place in the late 1860s, just as the science of embryology established the humanity of the unborn from conception, not quickening.

Moreover, Blackmun was just flat wrong about the intent of these laws. Although the mother's safety was a secondary consideration, anti-abortion lawmakers, relying on the advice of physicians, made clear their primiary intent to stop the "unwarranted" destruction of human life.

In my next post, I'll deal with question #3--How Roe shaped subsequent court decisions--as well as why Blackmun's appeal to the 14th amendment fails.

Beckwith: Defending Life, #2 [SK]

Previous posts in this series:
Defending Life #1

In my first post on Frank's book Defending Life, I presented the core argument he defends:

1. The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community.
2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community.
3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.
4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong.

To refute this standard pro-life argument, you must do one of two things. 1) You must show that the argument is not valid, meaning the conclusion does not follow logically from the premises. 2) You must demonstrate that the argument is unsound, meaning the truth of one or more of the premises can be falsified.

In chapter 1, Frank deals with the nature of moral reasoning. Specifically, he notes the tendency of some abortion-choicers to skip the hard work of refuting the pro-life argument by changing the kind of claim the pro-lifer makes. That is, instead of refuting the pro-life advocate's moral claim about the nature of the unborn and the wrongness of elective abortion, they simply change it to a preference one they like better.

Suppose I said, "Chocolate ice-cream is better than vanilla." You might well reply (rightly), "Ha! That’s true for you but I like vanilla better." In this case, I’m really telling you what I prefer, not what’s right or wrong, true or false. Problem is, many people today confuse claims about ice cream with claims about truth. They simply don’t know the difference between moral claims and preference ones.

Consider the popular bumper sticker: "Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!" Notice what’s going on here. The pro-lifer makes a moral claim: "Elective abortion is wrong because it unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being." The abortion-choice advocate responds by changing that moral claim into a preference one he likes better, as if the pro-lifer were talking about what she likes rather than what’s right, regardless of one's preferences. Now, perhaps the pro-lifer is mistaken about her claim (we will grant for the sake of discussion), but we should never confuse the type of claim she is making. She’s not saying she dislikes abortion (maybe she likes it); she’s saying its wrong even if she prefers it. To refute this moral claim, abortion-choicers must present evidence the pro-lifer is wrong rather than changing the type of claim the she is making.

Why do abortion-choicers confuse moral claims with preference ones? The culprit is "relativism," the belief that right and wrong are determined by one's own personal preferences or one's own society.

Relativism fails for several reasons. 1) Cultures may not differ as much as we think. Sometimes the differences are factual not moral. For example, a co-worker may agree with pro-lifers that humans have intrinsic value, yet support early abortion. He does so because he thinks that the unborn are not distinctly human until later in pregnancy. He’s factually mistaken on this point, but he holds the same moral belief as the pro-lifer, namely, that humans have intrinsic value in virtue of the kind of thing they are. This is not a moral difference, but a factual one. 2) Even if cultures do in fact differ, the absence of consensus does not mean an absence of truth. That is, the cultural relativist is guilty of the is/ought fallacy: It does not follow that because people disagree we ought to assume that nobody is correct. 3) If morals are relative to culture or the individual, there is no ethical difference between Adolph Hitler and Mother Theresa; they just had different preferences: The latter liked to help people while the former liked to kill them. Who are we to judge? But such a view is counterintuitive. 4) Relativism, in any form, cannot say why I ought to be tolerant of other cultures. Suppose my culture decides not to tolerate minorities. Now what? 5) If morals are relative to one’s particular society, moral reformers like Martin Luther King and Ghandi are by definition evil. 6) Relativism--and this is the key point--is ultimately self-refuting. The abortion-choicer who says to pro-lifers "you shouldn't force your views on me" just forced his view on them.

For more on relativism, see Beckwith and Koukl here and Hadley Arkes here.

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