Dan Hannon has an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University and is on staff at the Pennsylvania State University Center for Molecular Toxicology and Carcinogenesis. I found his thoughts below helpful after a conversation on abortion went south on me. --SK
I recently had an opportunity to talk with a co-worker and present to him—at least in part—a case for the pro-life position. I say in part because we really couldn’t get past the science part of the discussion and into the philosophical reasons why we shouldn’t unjustly take the life of an unborn child. This was the second time we had discussed abortion.
In a previous conversation, my pro-choice colleague had focused more on the degree of dependency defense, and I had been unable to adequately respond to his challenges. Some time after that, I had heard Scott present the case for life through a series of podcasts, and I felt much better equipped to answer my co-worker’s arguments. And since he is very open to discussions and debate over sensitive issues such as politics, abortion, and euthanasia, I thought I’d have another go at him.
Unfortunately—and for no weakness in the pro-life position itself—the second conversation didn’t go as well as I’d hoped either. But this time, it wasn’t because I was unprepared. It was because we could not agree on the facts in question. This time, the debate had shifted, and his objection was that he didn’t consider the unborn to be human.
“If it’s not human, what is it?” I asked, shifting the burden of proof back to my office mate. He countered that it was not a human being, or at least he didn’t consider it one until the point of implantation. I pressed him on the point that implantation has no greater significance in declaring the unborn human than any other point in the pregnancy. Moreover, I cited that the science of embryology declares the unborn to be human from conception. “So you are willing to reject the established view of embryology on this point?” I asked. “Yes,” he said.
We had further discussion including whether the embryo is “living,” but at this point you can see where the conversation was going—nowhere, since we couldn’t agree on the facts—and what I was up against. I can’t say this turn in the discussion was entirely unexpected, since in previous talks it became evident to me that my counterpart was a relativist. He freely admits that the point where he thinks abortions should be illicit—he actually has one—is arbitrary and is his personal preference. He also related that he cannot decide why he doesn’t have a problem with early-term abortions—whether he thinks the unborn are not human or whether he has no problem with aborting a human being.
Needless to say, I came away almost as disappointed with this conversation as I had the previous one, though it was a valuable learning experience. We can have the case for life down cold—not that I myself have it mastered—but come away from a discussion having made what seems to be no discernible progress with a person. In cases like my co-worker, relativism, apathy, and emotional/personal barriers seem to trump rationality. Though it can be discouraging, sometimes we have to be satisfied with the job we have done even if it appears to be a fruitless effort; we present the most thoroughgoing case that we can, and we must be satisfied knowing we have done our best.