The more I talk to students and detractors after presentations, the more convinced I become of the importance of narrating the conversation for all involved and listening.
For example, two students approached me after a recent talk to challenge me on the position that human life conceived in rape is intrinsically valuable and that destroying that life might not be the best response to the evil of rape. They were outraged and one of them, the young man, stated that my position was inhumane.
I pointed out that my position, however difficult it may be for them to understand, stemmed from what Christopher Kaczor refers to as an inclusive view of human value. If I believe that the best arguments indicate that all human life is equally valuable by virtue of what they are rather than some capacity or what they offer the rest of society then protecting an innocent human life regardless of the circumstances of its conception is merely intellectual consistency. We talked about how the rape exception is only relevant if they accept that the unborn are valuable human life, otherwise it is not the reason they think that abortion ought to be legal but a ploy to put me on the spot. Finally, I demonstrated that the options they offered, abort the child or face crippling and recurring psychological damage while raising the child of her attacker, weren't the only ones available.
We discussed this issue with a little more depth for a few minutes. They seemed to sense their position was faltering a bit. When I pressed them on whether they genuinely believed the right thing to do was to kill the child, the young man suddenly said, “I don't believe that there is any right and wrong in an objective sense. We decide what is right and wrong as a society.”
Right there the conversation took an unexpected turn, and it is important to point that out for everyone. “If you truly believe that there is no objective right and wrong then you have no axe to grind with pro-lifers. You don't recognize abortion is wrong, but only because, in your view, it isn't objectively wrong to kill anyone. We are just animals pursuing our nature. Humans killing humans is no different than chimps killing chimps or dolphins killing dolphins; both intelligent mammals that have been known to kill within their species. We are all just pursuing our nature. Unfortunately, if your view is correct than neither of our positions is morally superior to the other. We determine victory by securing the necessary political power to defeat our opponents. That is neither good nor bad. It is merely the way it is.”
I pointed out this was a radical departure from the earlier argument they were offering and that in this view they were just arbitrarily picking a criteria that made it wrong to kill certain human beings by social contract or some other means. None of the arbitrarily chosen points objectively trumped the others.
Suddenly, they began to assure me that I was wrong, and that consciousness offered the best mark for determining value. The young lady emphatically stated, “It is the only thing that separates us from the insects and other animals. It is why we can just squash an ant but it is wrong to squash children.”
This new twist required that we all recognize what had just happened. It also set up the opportunity to point out some interesting inconsistencies in their views. “First of all, this young man claims he thinks there is nothing that we can do to another human being that is objectively wrong. But right now you both are claiming that consciousness is what makes us valuable. As I mentioned previously in my talk, consciousness isn't attained until months after we are born. Does that mean that both of you are willing to follow that view to its full implications and state that there is nothing morally wrong with killing newborns?”
Both of them affirmed this was the case, with the young lady categorically stating that she would own that position. “Can I just point out to both of you something that I find a little startling in our conversation? We started with you aggressively and emotionally challenging me on my position on rape and abortion as inhumane.” The young man hung his head and smiled a little.
“I called you inhumane and then I just said there is nothing wrong with killing newborns.” I nodded in agreement.
Both of these young people came into the conversation emotionally charged. We talked for an hour, with a couple of other students joining in, and it was respectful and reasonable the rest of the way. We made certain to define our terms and be consistent in our arguments. As we wrapped up our time together, they both promised that when I came back they would be better prepared.