Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Kids Aren't Alright: Should We Set a Limit on Having Kids? [Clinton Wilcox]

Anne Green and Carter Dillard, executive director and president, respectively, of an organization that bills themselves as “pro-family,” called Having Kids, wrote an open letter to Prince William and Duchess Kate on July 25th after Kate joked about having another kid. Apparently this didn’t sit well with this organization, whose mission statement is to “promote a sustainable and child-centered family planning model.” By that they mean limiting yourself to only having a small number of kids in an effort to reduce your carbon footprint and to give them a fairer start in life. Large families, they reason, are one of the leading factors in global warming, so to combat global warming, we should limit our family sizes to two children.

I’m not going to respond to everything this organization believes. They do have a white paper on their website which I may read and analyze at some point, but for now I’m only going to respond to their statements in this open letter. They also don’t mention abortion on their website, so it’s not clear what they think about abortion or whether or not abortion fits into their “family planning” model, as it does the “family planning” model of Planned Parenthood.

First, I’ll just point out how bold it is to tell anyone how many kids you think they ought to be having, especially the Royal Family. But even just a cursory reading through this letter shows that not only are their arguments faulty, they’re not supported very well.

Second, I do want to point out that having a child-centered family planning model is admirable, as so many people don’t take kids into consideration when having sex or getting married, so as long as their model doesn’t involve abortion, then I think it’s a good thing to consider the kids you will potentially have in your marriage.

But therein lies one of the problems: how many kids should each family have? It seems like each couple is different, depending on their circumstances. So while one couple might only be able to have one or two kids, some could have eight, nine, or even more and be able to give all the kids the individual attention they need. I know people who have a lot of kids and their children are not suffering in any way.

Another pretty glaring problem is, how do you plan for these families? Christians believe that we are called to “be fruitful and multiply,” which was the first commandment given to the first humans in the book of Genesis. So having a small family is not part of the Christian model, and the fact that any time you have sex it can result in pregnancy seems to indicate that small families were never intended for us. It’s also true that pregnancy can take a long time because certain factors have to obtain before pregnancy can occur, which may also be nature’s way of making sure we don’t get too overrun with people. But if, for example, Catholic moral philosophers are right and using contraception is immoral, then limiting your family through contraceptive means would also be immoral. Again, I’m not sure if they’ve addressed these questions elsewhere such as in their white paper, but in the course of this open letter they don’t address many of the potential responses to their views which they should anticipate due to how controversial their views will be to the majority of people who read their letter.

They argue that large families are not sustainable and limiting our family sizes has the most potential for mitigating climate change and its effects. They claim that multiple studies have shown this, except that they link to an article on The Guardian which talks about one study that showed that having one fewer child will help lower your carbon emissions. Of course, this study also says that the next best things you can do are sell your car, avoid long flights, and eat a vegetarian diet. So why isn’t Having Kids advocating for people to stop driving and ride bikes, to stop flying long distances, and to go vegetarian? Why is it just reducing family sizes that they are interested in pushing to fight carbon emissions, considering that what they’re asking of people actually goes against human nature and considering the fact that many countries are actually below their replacement rate? So clearly their claim has not been adequately supported.

One objection they did anticipate is that considering this is the Royal Family they’re talking about, their children will, of course, receive love, care, and attention from their parents. But this isn’t true of all children, so William and Kate should keep their family size low as an example to the rest of us. Of course, this ignores the fact that you don’t have to be “Royal Family” rich in order to give a large family your attention, love, and resources. It seems, at the very least, that the “ideal number” of children would be relative to the financial situation of their parents. Instead, Having Kids would rather you keep your family small and give your resources to other families who need them to provide a fair start for their kids. But this, now, seems inconsistent -- they should be saying that if you can’t afford to have any kids, you shouldn’t be having any kids. They seem to believe that even if you can afford it, you shouldn’t have a large number of kids. But now they’re saying even if you can’t afford it, you should still be able to have kids. This is inconsistent reasoning.

Taking kids into consideration when planning a family is a good thing. Telling people they should limit the number of kids they have when there are other alternatives to achieve your desired result is not.

Monday, September 4, 2017

How to Be An (In)Consistent Moral Relativist

The fall 2017 semester is now in full-swing at colleges nationwide! Among the many activities students are participating in, from starting new classes, "crashing" other classes, moving into dorms, getting to know one another, and attending fall semester orientations, the ideology of moral relativism(the idea that all moral rules and standards are to be viewed subjectively, relative to individual persons and cultures) is being promoted wholesale. From class syllabi to course materials, moral relativism is the primary moral system in many colleges, even if students and faculty don't realize it.

There are several major problems with a worldview that leaves moral and ethical rules to be decided by an individual student or cultural group.

1. Relativism makes social justice an oxymoron

Many colleges and universities have changed from institutions promoting the search for truth into camps for training so-called "social justice warriors". Indeed, my own local university, CSU San Marcos, openly promotes social justice oriented events every year, promoting "social justice" within the local community. For an example, the textbook from one of my courses, A New History of Asian America, unintentionally highlights this. In the first chapter of the book, the authors lay out an overview of interactions between the United States and various Asian countries and cultures throughout history, and attempts to argue that the values of the West were "imposed" on those within these cultures, instead of allowing those cultures to promote and thrive according to their own views of the world and cultural values. Worldviews like Christianity, capitalism, and the English language are all scorned as being "forced" upon those living in Asia at the time.

There is a problem, however. If cultural values(including moral rules and standards) are all determined by the individuals and cultures in distinct times and places, by what standard then are we supposed to condemn these acts of cultural imperialism? The American missionaries and businessmen sincerely thought that they were acting in the most morally superior way, such as promoting Christianity and the economic values of the United States and Europe. If cultural values are what determines morality, then there is no standard by which to condemn even the most heinous acts of imperialism throughout history. Doing so would, in turn, simply be imposing one subjective cultural standard(ours) on another culture(theirs), with their own distinct, subjective standard. And there is no standard by which to determine that this is even wrong to begin with.

Even within our modern day culture, this view(subjective moral rules) would make any effort towards a more just and equal society meaningless. As Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith write in their book Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air:
"What sense can be made of the judgement 'Apartheid is wrong' spoken by a relativist? What justification is there to intervene? Certainly not human rights, for there are no objective rights in relativism because there are no rights or wrongs of any kind...It would be inconsistent for the same car to sport the bumper stickers 'Pro-Choice' and 'End Apartheid'. Relativism is the ultimate pro-choice position, because it legitimizes every personal choice-even the choice to be racist."
2. There is no absolute "right" to anything if moral rules are subjective

During pro-life outreach last year on campus, a very adamant feminist student(who was loudly protesting our pro-life display, the Genocide Awareness Project) made the assertion that abortion was a right that should not be interfered with, because the Supreme Court had already recognized it as such. Very politely, I asked why it would be wrong for the same Court to turn around and take away that "right". She was unable to answer.

This raises an important question: Are there "rights" that civil government should recognize as objective? Or are rights only created by the government? If the former, then relativism is false. If the latter, then a moral relativist is caught in the ironic position of having to explain what is wrong with the government taking away abortion, same sex marriage, and re-instituting slavery. If the relativist thinks abortion and same sex marriage are things that all adults have the right to, then he is abandoning his own worldview of relativism in favor of objective moral rules. If not, he has no business complaining.

3. Students abandon relativism outside the classroom

This occurred to me the other day while looking for a parking space on campus. Virtually every parking spot was taken, and cars were circling the lot looking like hungry sharks. Whenever a spot opened up, drivers would rush to fill that spot.

Keeping in mind the philosophy that is embraced by almost the entire campus community, I almost decided to see what would happen if I cut off another student and took the empty parking space in front of us. I am sure they wouldn't be happy, and would call me all sorts of names that should not be repeated on a Christian apologetics blog.

Why though? What's unfair about stealing a spot from another student and thus making them late for class when "fairness" is a cultural concept? Suppose I grew up in a culture where you take the opportunities before you by being assertive. Is the cultural relativist going to do the horrific, blasphemous, triggering sin of telling me I was wrong to take their spot from them? Are they going to impose their cultural values on me? Drive on any freeway in southern California and you will see that no one is a true moral relativist.

Even the course syllabi in the philosophy classes promoting relativism will turn around and refute moral relativism on the first day by listing class policies:


Nothing more needs to be said about that.

Conclusion

An ethical worldview that leaves it's moral standards open to cultural or individual interpretations is impossible to live by. This seems to have escaped the vast number of social justice oriented professors, however, who make their livings by bashing Western norms and views on objective morality, while at the same time forgetting that this is only possible if there are objective moral truths that we are capable of knowing, that exist independent of our immediate acknowledgement of them(the so-called "First Things" that Hadley Arkes has called them)

Until these "First things" are remembered and recognized, students and professors within society will continue to suffer under the dictatorship of being inconsistent moral relativists.




Not Exactly Good Samaritans [Clinton Wilcox]

Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston last week and left much of the city underwater, as well as cities closer to the Gulf of Mexico, such as Rockport, Port Arthur, and Bridge City. Naturally, people are banding together to help the people affected by these hurricanes. When you think of sending in much needed supplies to help the victims of a hurricane, what do you ordinarily think of? Food? Clothes? Money? How about abortions?


Pro-abortion organization Lilith Fund posted on Twitter that they’ve been raising money to give free abortions to women affected by Hurricane Harvey and who can’t afford an abortion. Call me old-fashioned, but when I think of rebuilding after a hurricane, my thoughts turn to banding together as a community and working to overcome the hurdles in front of you. They don’t turn to killing people. This has caused some pro-life people to make the comparison to Lilith, the demon in Jewish folklore who steals babies in the darkness. This is likely not who they’re named after, but the comparison is apt. And one critic of Lilith Fund’s tweet on Twitter said that one problem Lilith Fund sees with Hurricane Harvey is that it didn’t kill enough people.

Thankfully pro-life organizations and legitimate charities are doing actual work in getting much needed supplies to victims of the hurricane. If you’re going to give money or supplies, make sure you’re giving them to an organization that is doing actual good. Don’t give your money to Lilith Fund or any organization that puts abortion advocacy over the needs of people. Or if you feel so moved, donate to a pregnancy care center which has been affected by the hurricane. Pregnancy care centers specialize in helping pregnant women in getting resources to help them keep their child. That's a cause worth supporting.

Friday, September 1, 2017

A Humanist's Response to the Sanctity of Human Life Act [Clinton Wilcox]

Ken Burrows, writing for the blog The Humanist, in an article titled "Politicians Playing God," tries unsuccessfully to give arguments for why the proposed bill, H.R. 586, should be rejected. A summary of the bill states: “This bill declares that: (1) the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human and is a person’s most fundamental right; (2) each human life begins with fertilization, cloning, or its equivalent, at which time every human has all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood; and (3) Congress, each state, the District of Columbia, and each U.S. territory have the authority to protect all human lives.” The bill has been co-sponsored by 31 Republicans.


The bill, of course, is correct. It is scientifically uncontroversial that each human life begins at fertilization. And it is also true that the unborn have a natural right to life that is protected by the Constitution. In 1973, the Supreme Court invented a “right” to abortion, but the reality is that the unborn were full human persons under the law and protected by the 14th Amendment for almost 100 years after the 14th Amendment was ratified, and then before that in American and British common law. But what arguments does Burrows provide us with? Let’s briefly examine them.


Burrows decided it was important to look at the gender of these 31 Republicans and accuses them of being men. Of course, this is irrelevant to the truth of their arguments. The bill isn’t a bad one just because it’s supported by all men.


He goes on to state that “such ‘personhood bills’ are almost always religiously driven.” So this is irrelevant statement number two. If these 31 Republicans really are motivated by their religion, that doesn’t prove the bill false. Most slavery abolitionists were also religiously motivated, but I’m sure Burrows doesn’t believe we should make slavery legal again because of that. Instead of arguing why this bill should be opposed, Burrows goes on to attack certain characteristics of these 31 co-sponsors that he doesn’t like.


Burrows next makes a fallacious appeal to consequences. The consequences he laments are: that it doesn’t accommodate any special-circumstance exceptions, not even in the case a mother’s life is threatened; it misinterprets the Fourteenth Amendment which does not guarantee a “right to life” but that a person cannot be deprived of life without due process of law; it would outlaw some popular birth control methods, such as the IUD which prevents a “fertilized egg” from implanting; and it would open an unfathomable conundrum as to the fate of excess embryos created with the goal of aiding pregnancies immediately or preserving them for later.


But appealing to consequences is not a way to prove the bill is wrong. These consequences are not illegitimate -- indeed, they are the logical conclusion of the pro-life argument, if the pro-life argument is successful. Any special circumstance that would justify killing someone outside the womb would justify killing someone inside the womb -- if the pregnancy is life-threatening, doctors would be able to perform a life-saving medical procedure, even if it’s not spelled out in the law. And other “special circumstances,” such as rape or fetal deformity, do not actually justify abortions. Saying that it misinterprets the Fourteenth Amendment is just splitting hairs -- if you cannot be deprived of life without due process of law, then you are guaranteed a right to life. What else does Burrows think a right to life is? Any birth control methods which commit an early abortion should be outlawed -- this would not be controversial to a pro-life advocate. And finally, pro-life people already accept the full humanity of excess embryos -- it is not a conundrum at all. That is why pro-life people oppose IVF, cloning, and other methods that create embryos artificially. Creating excess embryos is highly unethical.


Burrows then argues that perhaps the most contemptible aspect is that politicians are playing God, “arrogantly insistent on defining a debatable concept like personhood by their perspective only.” Burrows echoes the argument of the Supreme Court that religious, philosophical, and legal authorities have had difficulty with defining personhood. Of course this is an extremely specious argument: Burrows, for some reason, thinks that preserving fetal life is playing God but taking fetal life is not. We currently have a situation in which doctors are allowed to play God and take the lives of innocent, defenseless human beings all because they can feign ignorance about personhood. So no matter which side wins out, they will be “playing God” as Burrows understands it.


Burrows then repeats the oft-made argument that early church thinkers, like Augustine and Aquinas, did not pronounce on when ensoulment occurred. Of course, the people who make this argument always leave out two critical details: 1) these Christian thinkers still opposed abortion because they recognized that if you don’t know whether or not they have a soul, you ought to err on the side of caution and not take their life, and 2) the science of embryology determined human life begins at fertilization in the 1800s, several centuries after both of these gentlemen lived. If they had known the scientific information that we know now, they would certainly have opposed abortion in no uncertain terms from fertilization. After all, one of the earliest Christian documents, the Didache, unequivocally condemned both abortion and infanticide.


Burrows goes on to make a similar argument from English and American common law regarding quickening -- but of course, the same response holds here. Quickening was seen as the point at which an abortion could be prosecuted as a crime because the science of embryology had not yet proven the unborn are human from fertilization. It was a crime after quickening because that was the point that we could know the unborn were alive, because dead things don’t move under their own power.


Burrows then goes on to argue that there is no religious unanimity regarding personhood today. This, of course, is a terrible argument. For one thing, if personhood really does begin at fertilization, then the fact that you disagree does not justify you taking their life, just like no one was justified in enslaving black people, even when it was legal in the United States. Additionally, personhood is not a religious matter -- it is a philosophical one. Constantly repeating that pro-life people are just basing their views on religion doesn’t make it so, even if Burrows thinks it does.


Burrows’ next argument is from the Constitution: He argues that the Supreme Court reasoned that the Constitution doesn’t define the term person literally and that "in nearly all instances, the use of the word is such that it has application only postnatally. None indicates, with any assurance, that is has any possible prenatal application.” But this is just incredibly poor reasoning on the part of the Supreme Court and on the part of any who take its decision seriously. No, the Constitution doesn’t actually define the term person, but the unborn were considered persons for almost 100 years after the 14th Amendment was ratified. The only reason they are not considered persons now is because Justice Blackmun, et al, redefined the concept of personhood specifically to exclude the unborn. But Blackmun’s argument could justify killing just about anyone. You could argue, for example, that in nearly all instances, the use of the word person is such that it only has application to adults. Therefore, anyone under the age of 18 does not have constitutional rights.


Burrows continues that the court concluded viability is when they have a “compelling” interest in protecting fetal life because that’s when it has the capability to live outside the womb (though Burrows is wrong -- it’s not at the end of the first trimester when the fetus is currently viable, but at almost the end of the second trimester -- around 22 to 24 weeks). But again, this is a specious argument. First, to the medical community, viability is not the ability to survive outside the womb but the ability to live, grow, and develop.[1] So any embryo that implants in the womb is viable. Second, viability, as the Supreme Court intended it, has nothing to do with the fetus and everything to do with the current state of medical technology. So personhood cannot be dependent on viability. Third, everyone lacks viability somewhere. This argument would justify allowing NASA to murder an astronaut they don’t like by intentionally giving him a faulty spacesuit and then telling him to take a spacewalk. Or it would allow you to kill someone by taking him out to sea and then drowning him.

Finally, Burrows states that this kind of bill overreaches by violating the First Amendment of all those who disagree with pro-life people. This kind of argument always baffles me. The pro-life position is based on science (that human life begins biologically at fertilization) and human rights, neither of which I would think humanists would want to claim are religious. At any rate, Burrows clearly is not very interested in logical reasoning, as all of his arguments are nothing but clear cases of logical fallacies. He doesn’t even attempt to address the pro-life position that abortion is immoral because it intentionally kills an innocent human being. Unless an abortion-choice person addresses that argument, their responses will always be unpersuasive.

[1] Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary 1992 (1989), as quoted in Joseph W. Dellapenna, Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, North Carolina, 2006.