Friday, August 31, 2007

Science, Faith, and Stem Cells: Life Begins at Conception (Part 1) [Serge]

The phrase "life begins at conception" is a frequent one used in pro-life circles. First, I will admit that the phrase is somewhat sloppy. When a pro-lifer uses this term, they actually are claiming "the life of an individual human being begins at conception". Shortening phrases in this way is common: in fact pro-life is actually short for "pro-innocent human life."

Is the phrase "the life of an individual human being begins at conception" a scientific fact or a faith based assertion? Is it testable, able to withstand scrutiny, and supported by the available empirical evidence? The answer is an unqualified yes.

Every text in human embryology supports this (see JivinJs embryology quotes for numerous examples.) Neuroscientist Maureen Condic puts it this way:

From the earliest stages of development, human embryos clearly function as organisms. Embryos are not merely collections of human cells, but living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells do nothing like this under any circumstances.
Even those who support ESCR cannot escape this fact. For example, Christopher Thomas Scott, in his pro-ESCR book Stem Cell Now, states on page 22

Life begins with a single cell. One cell, dividing into two, then two into four, and four into eight until there are billions of cells: patterned and diffuse, color-coded and clear, working class and upper-crust, ancient and young, assembled into a great, thriving mass that is the complete organism.
Neither gametes (sperm and egg) or other groups of somatic cells have the capacity as a human organism, whether it be the one-celled zygote or a fully mature adult. This is precisely what science supports.

It is very important to understand the implications of the fact that the individual life of a human being begins at conception. Logic dictates that this scientifically verifiable fact tells us that the life of a human being cannot start at any other point in time. In other words, when a scientist claims that no one knows when a human life begins, they are either incorrect or are using the term "human life" in a non-scientific way. Regardless, their assertion will not be testable, supported by empirical evidence, or able to withstand scrutiny. In other words, it won't be science, as I will demonstrate in the next post.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Science, Faith, and Stem Cells (Introduction) [Serge]

What makes a statement scientific?

In many public policy debates regarding bioethics, the opposing sides are often referred to as the "religious" or faith based side and the "scientific" side. In the area of ESCR, this is clearly the case. Those who promote the destruction of human embryos for research are seen as using "scientific" arguments, while those who promote the idea that human beings should be protected regardless of their stage of development use "religious" or faith based arguments. As I will show in a series of posts, this assumption is simply incorrect.

So what makes a particular statement scientific? Many believe that a scientific statement is one that is made by a single or group of scientists. However, it is easily demonstrated that such a view is clearly false. Scientists are capable of making many statements that are not based on science, and non-scientists can make statements completely based on science. For example, when my young son states that the earth rotates around its axis and revolves around the son, he is making a scientific statement. His lack of formal education (compounded by the fact that his science teacher is the writer of this post) does not disqualify his statement from being scientific.

Since I wish to give my opponents the benefit of the doubt, I will use a definition of science given by one of the most ardent supporters of ESCR (who also is one of our most vocal critics). Chris Mooney is an editor at Seed Magazine, blogger, and author of The Republican War on Science. Here is what he says about the definition of science (p14.)

Most crucial is defining science itself. The science may provide us with rock-solid facts, these facts, in and of themselves, do not constitute science. Instead, science amounts to a process - institutionalized at leading universities, research facilities, and scientific journals worldwide - for systematically pursuing knowledge about nature and, in the social sciences, ourselves. As its core, this process features the testing and retesting of hypotheses to ensure that they withstand the most withering scrutiny.
There are some problems with this definition, especially the part that I did not emphasize. The reason is that his definition of the scientific process itself cannot be tested and retested to withstand scrutiny. Nevertheless, I will accept his definition of science in that is consists of statements about the real world that are testable, verifiable, and provisional.

Furthermore, Mooney makes a statement about what institutes the abuse or politicalization of science on page 17. I like finding common ground with my opponents, and I have to agree with him here (with a small caveat):

But what does it mean to politicize science? What constitutes political science "abuse" in the first place? Here is my definition: any attempt to inappropriately undermine, alter, or otherwise interfere with the scientific process, or scientific conclusions, for political or ideological reasons.
There is a problem with his use of the term scientific process here (which as I explained earlier cannot be tested), but I certainly agree that undermining, altering, or interfering with scientific conclusions would be politicizing science. I need to repeat that the term scientific conclusion is not merely an opinion of a scientist, but a scientific conclusion testable, supported by empirical evidence, and able to withstand scrutiny.

In future posts, I wish to show that by using the definition of science, it is the supporters of ESCR and human cloning who have repeatedly "politicized" scientific conclusions and evidence, while the pro-life view is actually the one most supported by the science.

Lastly, in his preface, Mooney also states something that I can agree with. This should be the driving force of the whole debate:

Restoring the integrity of science to our government and public life will depend on commitments and contributions from all who hold to the Enlightenment inspired belief that, if we can just get the science right, we're at least somewhat more likely to get the policy right as well...
Agreed. Next I will show how we can get the science right.

Awe-Inspiring [SK]

If this does not help you rejoice in your sufferings and rethink your priorities, I fear nothing will.

HT: Justin Taylor

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

An Opportunity [Jay]

If you live in the Atlanta area, you have the opportunity next week to see something very special in my opinion. Full disclosure, I am the Development Coordinator of Cobb Pregnancy Services and the event in question is our fundraising banquet, but I would not mention this if I did not think it was something worth seeing.

Johnny Hunt, the Pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock,(FBCW) will be speaking on Thursday, September 6th in the Basement Hall B at FBCW on the issue of abortion. The reason I am excited about this is because Johnny was so excited after hearing about Scott’s presentation last year that he asked if he could do this for us. The senior pastor of a major church in the Metro Atlanta area wants to address the issue of abortion. He has promoted it to his entire congregation, which I think numbers around 7,000 people directly addressing the issue of abortion and the need for action from churches. He is fired up, and I am dying to hear what he has to say.

If you wish to attend please e-mail me at to RSVP.

Doors open at 6:30pm and program begins at 7:30pm. Food and drinks will be provided in a buffet. Here is a link to more info.

Devastating Quote [SK]

Justin Taylor writes:

Sally Morgenthaler, author of the influential book Worship Evangelism, has now concluded: "For all the money, time, and effort we’ve spent on cultural relevance—and that includes culturally relevant worship—it seems we came through the last 15 years with a significant net loss in churchgoers, proliferation of megachurches and all."

Journalistic Malpractice [Serge]

In my chosen field of work, there is an understanding between my patients and I that assumes that I perform surgery with a basic level of competence. Any time I fail to adhere to that standard of care, I could be considered guilty of malpractice. Maybe it is for this reason that I get quite frustrated with articles such as this one in the Toronto Star from faith and ethics reporter Stuart Laidlaw. Laidlaw makes three significant factual errors in the first half of his article on the ethics of embryonic stem cell research.

True care needs also to address the ethical issues surrounding their care – including the research done to arrive at a treatment. For Sullivan, medical decisions cannot, and should not, be made in a moral vacuum. For the Catholic church, embryonic stem-cell research tops the list of concerns.

"The ethical issues arise where the vulnerable are threatened," Sullivan says, referring to the stem cells destroyed in labs.

Strike one. No one that I have ever encountered has a problem with the destruction of individual human stem cells. It is not the stem cells that are vulnerable, but the embryos that the stem cells come from. This is not an insignificant point. I firmly believe that if it becomes technically possible to derive pluripotent stem cells without destroying embryos, there would not be the ethical outcry that we have now. It is not destroying the stem cells that are ethically troubling, but the fact that we destroy human organisms to get them. A "faith and ethics" reporter should know this.

He expects such research to get a boost in the coming years as the Bush administration comes to an end, taking with it the White House ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Strike 2. There is no ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The federal government spends millions of dollars funding this research. They merely restrict the research to the embryonic stem cell lines that were created before 2001. In fact, JivinJ reports that the recent "breakthrough" for ESCR took place with a federally funded stem cell line.

Funding for this study came partially from Geron, which hopes to develop medical products to help heart-attack survivors. Other funding came from the federal National Institutes of Health.
Once again, even a modicum of research would have shown that his statement was false. Lastly:

Meanwhile, moratoriums restricting stem-cell research in other countries, such as Germany and Australia, are nearing an end, scientific journals are calling for more stem-cell and other research, and Democratic presidential candidates are letting it be known they support the work.
Strike 3. While not as egregious as the other errors, this one is quite an overstatement, at least in Germany. It is true that a panel in Germany has considered overturning their restriction of ESCR, it is far from a done deal.

However, despite this week's events, the issue is far from decided in Germany and fierce division is anticipated when The German Parliament begins to debate the issue later this year.
Saying that the moratorium is nearing the end is simply sloppy. It may not be so at all. Faith and ethics reporters are supposed to be using facts to support their points, not their crystal balls.

The worst thing about reporting like this is that it is so common. I could point out numerous examples of reporting as bad as this almost every day when articles talk about stem cell research. They get it wrong so many times it is amazing. A reporter's chosen profession compels them to investigate and check on the facts before writing on them. Is it too much to expect them to do their job?

Failure to Think Through His "Implications" [SK]

In response to my piece on Romney, a commenter at the STR Blog named Alan berates me for not thinking through the implications of my pro-life view. In short, he's convinced that if the unborn are recognized as having a natural right to life, a massive disruption of our social and legal order will follow. In his view, I've failed to consider that. To make sure I get the point, he concludes, "Is the failure to consider the implications of what you propose responsible behavior?"

To which I replied:

I don't think you've considered the implications of your claim above. Imagine saying to a minority suffering discrimination: "We will protect you, but only after we fully consider the implications of doing so."

No, human beings deserve protection under law because justice demands it, not because (or only if) every conceivable implication is exhausted.

Thus, if SCOTUS has sufficient warrant for upholding a law recognizing the natural rights of the unborn, I see no reason to dismiss that law simply because we haven't figured out all the implications.

As abortion-advocate and philosopher Mary Ann Warren points out, “The fact that restricting access to abortion has tragic side effects does not, in itself, show that the restrictions are unjustified, since murder is wrong regardless of the consequences of prohibiting it.”

That brings us back to the one question that really matters here, doesn't it? Answer that question and concerns over implications, while important, aren't as spooky as one might think.

Monday, August 27, 2007

There is Already Violence [Jay]

Earlier this year I had the privilege of sharing dinner with Scott and his family at his house. David Lee of Justice for All and Steve Wagner of Stand to Reason were there as well. At one point, Scott and I were discussing the comparisons between the political environment of pre-Civil War United States and the current environment as it pertains to abortion. Scott called across the room to David, who was lounging on a couch in the relaxed sort of manner that he naturally exudes. “Hey David!” Scott called. “Do you think that the disagreement over abortion will ever lead to violence?”

David looked over and in the his calm thoughtful demeanor answered, “There is already violence.”

Scott clarified that he specifically meant violent disagreement between those who hold dramatically different views on the issue of the sanctity of life on par with the violence of the Civil War, but David’s answer has stuck with me. It was so matter of fact. Abortion is violence. I am not certain a day has gone by that I have not revisited that moment; the calm, thoughtful, honest recognition that there is already violence in the land.

Recently I reviewed a piece by an abortionist at DailyKos that goes by the moniker Beket. He was simultaneously carrying on an exchange with the JivinJehoshaphat gang. In the comments at Jivin’s site Beket said the following in relation to violent threats and persecution from the pro-life community:

It’s not that I am “afraid” although I have plenty of reason to be afraid. A partial listing: My clinic burned to the ground by a “pro-life” arsonist. - Two men arrested waiting for me down the street from a clinic with a scoped “deer rifle.” - Numerous anonymous death threats, some by phone in the middle of the night, some by an anonymous bull-horner at 2 – 3 AM. - Myself and several close associates stalked and picketed at home at all hours, agitating the neighbors against them, not me, BTW - My awareness that there are some very active and very intense, and very unstable, members of the “pro-life” community who believe all abortion doctors should be murdered. - The realization that your delivering the kind of inflamed rhetoric you do to people like that can only lead to violence.

There is not an active, intense pro-choice faction fanned to rage by the flames of over-the-top rhetoric that invokes “God” and is dedicated to violence. The same cannot be said for “pro-life.”
(Emphasis his)

Without engaging in the type of argument that would be the equivalent of, “Pro-choicers are violent, too,” which is childish and does seem to tacitly excuse the inexcusable pro-life violence, this argument from Beket irritates me. It irritates me because any abortionist that believes that people are violently opposed to their work because of something a pro-lifer said is incredibly deluded about their profession. It irritates me because this view seems to be commonly held by those who dismiss not just the humanity of the unborn, but the violent manner in which they daily die.

My response to this argument of his was this:


I am most sorry to hear about how you have been threatened and treated. That behavior is in direct contradiction with the teaching of Christ.

I beg you to see, though, that the concern that you have for the violence being instigated by pro-life language is misplaced. You deal in violence. However you choose to define the life you take, you do so in a violent manner. That violence invites violence is a tragic truth of human existence. You profit from the violent end to life, so you attract those who have a violent reaction to that. You are both equally wrong. (emphasis added)

I abhor violent tactics in the pro-life movement. I think it is incredibly misguided to threaten and bully people into doing what we want and to go so far as to murder another human being shows a radical misunderstanding of the pro-life position. It is difficult to differentiate such behavior from every other terrorist in the world who believes that God has given them a free pass to murder anyone who is perceived to be working against their ideology. But for any person who makes their living violently ending innocent life to be surprised that others disagree violently with them exposes an obtuseness that is difficult to fathom. The radical violent “pro-lifer” is the ideological opposite of the abortionist. The overwhelming majority of pro-choice Americans do not feel so strongly about their beliefs that they are willing to go out and kill the unborn as a profession. The overwhelming majority of pro-lifers are not committing acts of violence against abortion doctors as an extension of their beliefs. The extremes draw each other out, not the rhetoric.

There is already violence. Pro-lifers and pro-choicers can both condemn the actions of those who perpetuate that violence, but the abortionists must not behave as if they were innocent victims of inflamed rhetoric. That is nonsense. Violent action invites a violent response, and as clear as I can I will state it again; BOTH EXTREMES ARE WRONG.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Michael Vick and Human Exceptionalism [SK[

...will be the topic of my sermon at Trinity Evangelical Church this Sunday.

Text: Matthew 12: 9-14, with special emphasis on verse 12: "How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!"

Christ is no doubt pointing hearers back to Genesis 1: 26-27 where humans have transcendent value because they bear the image of their maker. Indeed, our horror over Vick's dogfighting practices only makes sense if human exceptionalism is true. Prosecutors and critics are not blaming the dogs; they are blaming people who ought to behave better than animals. In short, when dogs or rhinos tear each other up or kill unsuspecting prey, we don't slap them with jail time.

Nevertheless, Christ's claim that man is more valuable than animals is shocking to those who insist human exceptionalism is the foundation for moral evil. As Wesley J. 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.

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.--Peter Singer.

This myth [of human exceptionalism] is at the root of our environmental destruction--and our possible self-destruction.--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. Meanwhile, Smith cites a New York Times editorial writer who says that "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.

Smith is correct: If you tell people they are no different than animals, don’t be surprised when they behave that way. Give Vick back his football.

Update 8/29: You can order an audio copy of the presentation here. (Scroll down page to sermon for 8/26/07.)

Hope vs Hype [Serge]

The score for embryonic vs adult stem cell treatments remains at 73 to zero. There has not been one human trial for ESCR. However, this does not prevent supporters from making non-scientific claims about the future. It is important to take a look at their track records.

Marcia Baum, executive director of the Michigan Citizens for false information Stem Cell Research and Cures [sic] is arguing that the recent news that we have produced pluripotent cells from mouse fibroblasts should not stop us from killing human embryos. Lets take a look at this claim she makes from an editorial in the Lansing State Journal a few months ago:

We have taken many steps already with human embryonic stem cells - in fact tests aimed at overcoming spinal injuries and treating some forms of diabetes are slated to start soon. It is senseless to delay this research while waiting to see if the mouse stem cell discovery is really the breakthrough some are now predicting.
Sounds promising, until someone actually checks out the claims.

First, the most promising ESCR treatments for juvenile diabetes were promoted by a company caled ES Cell international from Singapore. In fact, their latest info for potential investors lists February 2008 as a goal for human trials. Once again, this sounds good, as long as you overlook this bit of news:

EMBRYONIC stem cell research has suffered a major blow with a major Singaporean-Australian company abandoning work on therapies due to lack of success and soaring costs.
But the current issue of the leading international journal Science reports ESI is "halting work on human embryonic stem cell therapies" as investors had lost interest because "the likelihood of having products in the clinic in the short term was vanishingly small", according to stem cell pioneer Alan Colman, who until last month was ESI's chief executive.
So much for those trials. Do you think ESI was overhyping the potential for human trials for the sake of new investment?

Well, there is still her claim that human trials will begin soon for spinal cord repair. In fact, it is true that Geron corporation has announced that they should begin human trials by 2008.

However, if the story of ESI doesn't make you a bit skeptical, this information from Wesley Smith should. Geron has made the same claim in 2005, 2006, and 2007. In fact, the book Liberation Biology by Ronald Bailey states that trials should begin in 2005.

It seems that the media remains content to publish the unsubstantiated dreams of ESCR researchers. Eventually they are going to have to come up with some real evidence to support their claims. Until that time, there is always next year.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mitt Romney Needs Pro-Life 101 [SK]

Just when I thought Mitt Romney was making a good case for his pro-life credentials comes this soundbite indicating he doesn't have a clue about the moral logic of the pro-life view. According to ABC news, Romney said that although he is 'pro-life,' he supports letting states "make their own decision" about whether to keep abortion legal.

Yikes. Can you say hello Stephen Douglas? Hello popular sovereignty? Here's the full quote from the ABC story:

"My view is that the Supreme Court has made an error in saying at the national level one size fits all for the whole nation," Romney told Nevada political columnist Jon Ralston in a televised interview. "Instead, I would let states make their choices."

Asked by Ralston if it was "OK" with him that Nevada is a "pro-choice state," Romney said, "I'd let states make their own decision in this regard. My view, of course, is I'm a pro-life individual. That's the position I support. But, I'd let states have this choice rather than let the federal government have it."
ABC responded (correctly) that as recent as August 6, Romney voiced support for the proposed Human Life Amendment--which, if enacted, provides the unborn with protection under the 14th Amendment, thus banning abortion at the federal level. Romney's campaign sought to deflect the apparent contradiction by saying that while the candidate supports the amendment and is truly pro-life, he does not think it's "achievable" at this time.

That last point is fair enough: There's no disputing that anything remotely resembling a Human Life Amendment is DOA with the Pelosi-Reid congress. To avoid trouble, all Romney had to say was that he supports an amendment and until we get one, the federal courts should not foreclose on state laws protecting the unborn. What pro-lifer could argue with that? (The secondary headline on the piece claims he said as much, but the article itself tells a different story.) However, Romney did more than describe the current political landscape. He said while he is a pro-life "individual," states should have the right to decide the abortion question for themselves and the federal government should stay out of it. From a pro-life perspective, that's a deeply problematic resolution to the question "Where do basic human rights come from in the first place?"

The Founders and Lincoln gave a much better answer than Romney, distinguishing natural human rights from merely legal ones. Natural rights are those rights that you have simply because you are human. They are grounded in your human nature and you have them from the moment you begin to exist. For example, you have a natural right not to be harmed without justification as well as a natural right not to be convicted of a crime without a fair trial. Government does not grant these basic rights. Rather, government’s role is to protect them. In contrast, legal (or positive) rights are those rights you can only acquire through accomplishment or maturity. These rights originate from the government and include the right to vote at your eighteenth birthday and a right to drive on your sixteenth. But your natural right to live was there all along. It comes to be when you come to be.

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

The moral logic of the pro-life view--apparently missed by Romney--is that elective abortion unjustly robs the unborn of his natural right to life and thus NO state can legitimately allow the practice. From California to Massachusetts, the natural rights of the unborn transcend any laws generated by the states.

With his latest abortion soundbite, the once pro-choice governor and current pro-life candidate appears to embrace the popular sovereignty of Stephen Douglas, a doctrine that once killed slaves because they were too black and now kills fetuses because they are too small.

Mitt, you gotta do better. Fire your speech writer and call Frank Beckwith, immediately.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Good Son's Grief [SK]

I'm sad to report that Jay's father, Jim Watts, passed away last night around 9:oo PM. (If you are unfamilar with the struggles Jay's faced in the last two weeks, see his posts here and here.)

I can't imagine the pain he must feel right now. Please join me in praying for him and his family, especially leading up to the visitation (Tuesday evening) and the memorial service (Wednesday afternoon).

You can send notes to Jay by posting a comment here or emailing me at

For hand written cards, please send them to LTI and we will forward them immediately:

Jay Watts
c/o Life Training Institute
P.O. Box 50918
Colorado Springs, CO 80919.

Jay, we appreciate all you do for the cause of life. May the God of all comfort be overwhelmingly present to you and your family during this hour of grief.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

This is A Good Sign [Jay]

The title of this post does not refer to the content of the ad by this Manhattan storage facility placed up in New York City. I mean it is a good sign that the opposition is getting increasingly hysterical. It is a sign of progress. If they did not sense a change in attitudes they would not be getting as riled up as they are. Anna Quindlen and the “Terribly Tough Question,” coat hangers on ads, and a more focused agenda from the pro-abort side mean that they sense that the fight is recommencing in earnest. Perhaps, the days that they believed they could trust the judicial protection of Roe v. Wade are over.

The further we get advancing the pro-life belief that it is a bad idea to violently destroy innocent human life because it is inconvenient the more those who hold the opposing view will growl and spit. A pastor once told me that if you throw a rock into a group of dogs the one that hollers the loudest is the one you hit. Now we have to keep pushing, keep the dogs yelping. As long as they bark, we can be assured that something is working.

HT: Drudge Report

Euphemism Alert: Nuclear Transfer Product [Serge]

It seems lately that blogging has been difficult not because I have had little to post about - but because I could post on so much that it is tough choosing. I have been spending much time preparing for a presentation I gave this past Tuesday, and in doing so I was able to catch up on much of the latest news regarding ESCR. As part of my presentation, I criticized the way scientists seems to be attempting to use increasingly deceptive language when describing what has previously been known as human cloning. Human cloning to therapeutic cloning to somatic cell nuclear transfer to the now preferred nuclear transfer. I await what new term awaits us when nuclear transfer fails to sway enough of the public.

Now Sean Morrison at the University of Michigan has a new name for cloned human embryos . In this speech (at about 1:18 to 1:20) he gave for Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures [sic] (the source of much of my blogging fodder), he twice uses the term "nuclear transfer products" to describe a cloned human embryo.

I suppose that would make most of the rest of us "copulation products", but I'd rather not go there.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I Love My Father [Jay]

I originally posted this at my blog Really?!! Scott invited me to post it here as well. As Many of you have been kind enough to pray for me and my family during this time, I did so. God bless. JW

There is an upside to having your own blog. It means I can pretty much write whatever I want to without worrying about what others think. Most of the time I use that power to be as stupid as I feel like being but not tonight. My father is dying in an ICU unit here in Marietta, GA. No doctor has told me or my family that he is, in fact, on his death bed, but when a man lies in intensive care for nearly 3 weeks and is not physically progressing it does not take a Rhodes Scholar to see the truth. It may be tomorrow, next week, or next month, but he is dying.

Our relationship has never been perfect. He is an alcoholic and a heavy smoker, facts that are wreaking havoc on his body right now. He was an adulterer who left our family when I was nine years old and is now divorced from his third wife. During my teenage years, I was a self destructive little punk that rebelled against everything. In my twenties, my new found faith drove a mild wedge between us. In my thirties, my father was given the option of walking away from alcohol and keeping his relationship with his grandchildren or continuing to drink himself to death and be cut off. He chose the latter.

Tonight I walked into his ICU room and saw a body that is not long for this earth. More importantly, I saw my father struggling with life. A chair was sitting in the room and I pulled it next to his bed and wept for several minutes. I wept because I love my dad. I do not care what has happened between us or the years of bitter dispute that have passed. I love him and it is killing me to watch this.

It is a fact of biology that I am my father’s son. I can see we have the same oddly wrinkled and heavily lined hands. Our arms share the same shape. His face and body structure are now mine. I look like him, and sometimes when I lose my temper with my young children I hear my father’s voice booming out of me. For years I tried to shake the imprint of my father from me, either out of spite or then later out of fear of becoming him. It became clear to me as I matured that I could never stop being my father’s son.

As a Christian, it often feels like I understand certain big concepts. God’s unmerited favor for example. My mind grasps the explanation of what it means, but as with many of the truths of God that I think I understand, time and events often expose the ignorance of my heart. Tonight was one of those lessons. As I held my father’s hand, prayed and sang Rich Mullins songs, I had a hard time understanding the true differences between us. I was an adulterer in my youth. I was a drunk. I abused drugs that my father would never dream of doing. I lied to my mother and betrayed her trust. I alienated my family just as he did. As my father groaned in pain and shifted in his bed to relieve the agony of the cost that his choices are exacting from his last days, I was at a loss as to the qualitative difference between the man that is in the hospital bed and the son that sits by his side. I am no better than he.

The answer is grace. The grace of God dominates my life. And here is what I never fully understood until tonight. I might have been able to say it, but I never fully got it all the way through my whole being balls to bones as the oracle in The Matrix would say. God’s grace transforms my life because I let it. Not because I am a good man, and not as a result of proper works. It is God’s desire to love me and somewhere along the road I started to get myself out of the way and let Him. That is all the difference, but it makes all the difference in the world.

At one point I realized that my father’s eyes were open and so I moved into his field of vision. There was not a flicker of recognition in his gaze. His motionless eyes did not even track to my movement. I sat back down and prayed even harder that he would wake up and that I could talk to him for a moment. A few minutes later as his eyes suddenly darted in my direction in response to a comment I had made. I stood up and moved around to the other side of his bed and back into his field of vision. He watched me all of the way around and looking into my eyes the whole way. After a moment, he dropped his gaze.

“Daddy!” I called to him. I know it is odd that a 36 year-old man with a dysfunctional relationship still calls his father daddy, but I don’t care. His eyes shot back up. “Do you know who I am?”

He ever so slightly nodded and said what passes for yes in the garbled voice that is left to him for this time. My father was before me and with all that I had been thinking about for the last hour I tried to decide what I most wanted to say. “Do you know how much I love you?” He answered yes. “I am here with you,” I told him. The corner of his mouth drew up ever so slightly into a smile. I talked to him about God and other things, but in that one moment I realized all that truly mattered.

Paul said that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. That there is none righteous, no not one. Whatever plans or prayers I had about how my father may turn his life around they all crumbled to the ground the night of July 26th, when I heard the message on my answering machine that he had been found unconscious and unresponsive. Whatever problems I had with him in the past or unresolved issues still exist, they are meaningless now as well. He is pitiful, frail, dying, and it is all his fault. So how is he any different than the rest of us before God. We can never get what was lost to our poor decisions and choices back, but we can hold on with furious passion to the hope for our future. For me and my father, that future contains the moments that I have left with him now and the hope of eternity with him then. It is time to start getting into practice for the future relationship where all that is left in the end is faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Correlation Does Not Equal Cause [Bob]

John R. Lott Jr., of National Review offers an interesting report (August 13, 2007, p. 18) on the common claim among abortion supporters that abortion serves to lower crime rates. The data invoked to buttress this claim is the unexpected and rapid drop in violent crime that occurred between 1991 and 2000. Their argument goes like this:

  1. Aborted children are, by definition, "unwanted"
  2. Raised in an unwanted environment, children who could have been aborted will likely become criminals
  3. The 1973 Roe-v-Wade decision legalized abortion
  4. Children born subsequent to Roe reached adulthood in the early 1990s
  5. Because those children were "wanted" children, they were less likely to be criminals
  6. Therefore, violent crime dropped upon their reaching adulthood
This argument elicits three immediate responses.

First, so what? Even if it can be shown that more abortions lead to less violent crime, that fact would do nothing to answer the moral question around which the pro-life argument centers. The possibility of lowering crime rates sometime in the future does nothing to justify the taking of innocent human life now.

Second, it is amazing to see the height of the arrogance displayed by the deterministic assumption that the dismal, criminal future awaiting the "unwanted" rationalizes snuffing them out before birth. This makes Tom Cruise's "Pre-Crime" unit in Minority Report look tame by comparison. At least those pre-criminals were arrested and tried by those who claimed to know the criminal's future intentions. The aborted human fetus gets no such chance.

Third, there is no indication that the "violent crime" statistics include the millions of fetuses that were also victimized by premeditated homicide. Purely an oversight, I'm sure.

Those observations aside, Lott shows that the entire abortion-reduces-crime argument is a myth anyway. While there are plenty of alternative explanations ...

higher arrest and conviction rates, longer prison sentences, "broken windows" police strategies, the death penalty ... right-to-carry laws, a strong economy, or the waning of the crack-cocaine epidemic
... the real answer lies in the way abortion proponents choose to manipulate the data itself. The idea that abortion reduces crime stems from a 1966 Swedish study that compared the plight of the "unwanted" children of women who were denied abortions, with "wanted" children born at the same time. While there is no doubt that environment influences behavioral outcomes, Lott notes that the authors of the original report "never investigated whether the children's 'unwantedness' caused their problems, or were simply correlated with them."

This is a common deficiency in data interpretation. While two events may seem to be correlated, the appearance of connectedness does not necessarily imply causation. It is easy to correlate data, it is quite another thing to do the hard work of determining causation.

An example of this error that comes to my mind is an infamous one in which a Navy F-14 Tomcat crashed into the Pacific Ocean on approach to an aircraft carrier, killing its (equally infamous) pilot. The press (most notably Peter Jennings) droned on about the bad fortune of the deceased pilot whose plane had crashed "because of engine failure." Yes, the F-14's engine had failed. That fact was correlated with the crash of the airplane and the death of its pilot. But what the press (and the Navy) failed to mention was what the rest of us Naval Aviators knew -- the F-14 is a two-seat airplane. The backseater of that fateful event not only survived, but was eyewitness to, and knew exactly how, the airplane's engine had failed. As it turned out, the cause of the engine failure was a pilot-induced error. The pilot had stalled the engine herself and failed at the basic aviation procedures meant to correct for such an engine failure. While the engine failure could be correlated with the crash, the actual cause was the pilot herself.

Back to the issue at hand. The aforementioned study took on a life of its own and became the cornerstone of the "abortion decreases crime" theory which later studies assumed to be true in interpreting their own data. But a closer look at the demographics in the data shows that abortion could not have been the cause of the drop in crime rates in the early 1990s. As Lott points out:
... murder rates began falling first among an older generation -- those over 26 -- born before Roe. It was only later that criminality among those born after Roe began to decline. (emphasis mine)
Likewise, data from Canada shows that:
... while crime rates in both the United States and Canada began declining at the same time, the Canadian Supreme Court [did not strike] down limits on abortion nationwide until 1988.
Note to data "correlators": The "unwanted" criminals were 3 years-old when violent crime started its decline north of the border.

In fact, Lott shows that rates of out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families soared after Roe for many reasons that have been documented elsewhere. Both of these have been shown to be causal factors in the likelihood of later criminal behavior. So, a closer look at the data indicates not only that the "abortion-decreases crime" theory is false, but that its exact opposite has been shown to be true. Increases in abortion actually increase crime.

Serge and Jay have been masterful in demonstrating the devious advertising, data manipulation and outright falsehoods that have been perpetrated by pro-abortion advocates. Here we have yet another example of the data collectors, interpreters and reporters making the data say whatever they want it to say.

Hey Dad, Turn Off the Radio! [Serge]

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a Detroit Tiger's game with my soon to be 7 year old son and his grandfather. Comerica park is about a 2 hour drive from our home, and I expected to drive most of the way listening to my IPod as my son quietly took in some Disney movie in the backseat (the trip must be greater than an hour for us to play a movie). I must admit, I was looking forward to some time with nothing but what I wanted to listen to.

Ten minutes into the trip, my son asked for me to put a movie in for him. We quickly realized that in our rush to get out of the house, we forgot to bring a DVD. My son simply said, "Oh well Dad, I guess we are going to have to talk for the whole time." Two hours conversing with a seven year old.

It was great.

We talked about what he likes and doesn't like about being home schooled. A slowdown at a construction site turned into a discussion about what each of those trucks do, and how his Dad sometimes feels he could trade in his surgical career just to run that large backhoe. We talked about the time my Dad took me to Tiger Stadium when I was young and how we sat through a rain out and punched All Star ballots for hours. I challenged him with math problems, including how much larger Comerica Park is than Dow Diamond, where we frequently watch minor league baseball. When it began to rain for earnest, we both prayed that the game would be played, but acknowledged that there were things far more important, including the time we were sharing.

The game did get played, and we had good seats (see picture). The Tigers stunk up the place, but that really didn't matter much. The highlight of the whole trip for me was not watching the game or even riding the baseball ferris wheel. The highlight was the trip down.

I'm going to be forgetting the DVD and neglecting to turn on the radio more often.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

More Michigan Stem Cell Insanity [Serge]

One of the reasons my blogging has been a bit sporadic is that I am preparing a talk regarding embryonic stem cell research and human cloning. Our Michigan Representative John Moolenaar has invited me to speak regarding this issue at a forum in Oscoda, Michigan next week. During my research, I often run across things like this published in the Detroit News that drive me nuts.

This is an article by A. Taubman regarding stem cell research in Michigan. Those outside of Michigan may not have heard the name, but Taubman is a wealthy real estate developer responsible for many malls in Michigan and across the country. Here is a quote:

My friends in the medical community (at 83, I'm one of their best customers) tell me that it's becoming increasingly difficult to recruit young chemists and medical researchers to our universities.

According to his opinion piece, he is credible on this topic because 1) he sees a lot of doctors because he is old, 2) his doctors tell him of the difficulties of recruiting scientists in this state (I'm sure they mention this right after the old prostate exam). Taubman then goes right for the big lie:

Why? In part, because embryonic stem cell research is essentially illegal in Michigan. Our researchers are permitted to work with stem cells from the tissue of adults, children, umbilical cords and developing fetuses. But the vast majority of scientists agree that stem cells from embryos, with the ability to reproduce themselves into any one of hundreds of cells found in the human body, hold the greatest promise.
Essentially illegal? That would be surprising considering that the University of Michigan has an Center for Hes Research. In fact, embryonic stem cell research is legal and ongoing in this state, as long as human embryos are not destroyed. It is unfortunate for Mr. Taubman to tell this falsehood, but it unconscionable for the editors of the Detroit News to allow this to be published. Taubman continues:

The amazing medical breakthroughs made possible by embryonic stem cell research -- with the potential to improve the quality and length of our lives -- will happen somewhere else if Michigan continues to opt out.
What amazing medical breakthroughs? As of this date, there have zero clinical trials on human beings from ESCR, let alone any "breakthroughs".

I could go on but I've had enough. This is the state of the debate regarding this issue today. If their case is so strong, why the need to tell falsehoods?

Why Only Prosecute the Doctor? [Serge]

Anna Quindlen poses this question in this piece in Newsweek magazine. Quindlen tries to place the pro-lifer in a tough dilemma - if we favor jail time for a woman who has had an abortion, we are cold-hearted animals. On the other hand, if we support the idea that doctors should be punished for performing abortion but we should have mercy on the woman who seeks one, we must not really believe that the human fetus is intrinsically valuable.

In this symposium on NRO, Hadley Arkes answers this much better than I can, so I will quote him directly. However, there are a few points that I have not seen brought up before that I wish to add.

Ms. Quindlen that the law does not need to invoke the harshest penalties for the sake of teaching moral lessons. The point may be made at times with gentler measures. In the tradition of legislating on abortion, a certain distinction was made out of prudence: On the one hand there may a young, unmarried woman, who finds herself pregnant, with the father of the child not standing with her. Abandoned by the man, and detached from her family, she may feel the burden of the crisis bearing on her alone, with the prospect of life-altering changes. On the other hand, there is the man trained in surgery, the professional who knows exactly what he is doing — he knows that he is destroying a human life, either by poisoning a child or dismembering it. And in perfect coolness and detachment, and at a nice price, he makes the killing of the innocent his office-work. Certain women may indeed be guilty of a callous willingness to destroy a child for the sake of their own self-interest. But the law makes a prudent, tempered choice when it makes the abortionist the target of its censure and brings solely upon him the weight of the punishment.
Two additional points here. First, there is already legal precedent for punishing physicians who perform prohibited medical procedures regardless of the culpability of his patient. I'll use myself as an example. If a patient sought me out and convinced me to perform a procedure that I am not licensed to perform, I would be criminally guilty of practicing without a license. I would more than likely need to surrender my license to practice and my also face criminal charges that can end in jail time (see examples here). The patient, even if they sought me out and convinced me to perform he procedure on them, would not be liable for any charges. As a physician, my responsibility in these matters is far greater than the patient's for the very reasons Arkes explains.

Second, there is another reason why laws against abortion may be merciful to the mother. Although the number of illegal abortions that occur would probably be less than our pro-abortion choice opponents claim, it seems clear that some would occur. In that case there is a significant chance that women who received an illegal abortion would be at risk for serious medical complications. These complications would be best treated as quickly as possible in almost every case. If the law would mandate serious punishment for women who have illegal abortions, there would be a great disincentive to seeking medical care for any complication. It is reasonable to argue that the care of those who have made the poor decision to kill their child is paramount. Also, it is reasonable to hold the physician who caused these complications to a higher standard and to hold them primarily responsible for the injury.

One question that we need to address is what is our goal in crafting laws that would make abortion illegal? I believe our goal needs to be to save the greatest number of children while having compassion of women who are in a crisis pregnancy. Focusing our energy and legal punishments on the physician is the bast way to accomplish both goals.

HT: Evangelical Outpost

Friday, August 3, 2007

Looking for Straw Men in a Mountain of Straw [Jay]

JivinJehoshaphat linked to this post by “Beket” at DailyKos. Beket, an abortionist, apparently confuses Jivin for someone who accused him of being demon possessed or at least for managing a Blog where such an accusation was leveled. I have still not seen where the demon possessed comment came from, but to associate that comment with Jivin is utterly ridiculous and deplorable in its own right. Even if a commenter leveled such a charge somewhere, it is the weakest sort of “guilt by association” argument to besmirch Jivin’s character as a result.

That said, Beket has developed an interesting defense against criticism with this post. This plodding, nearly 7,000 word rant against organized religion in general and the Catholic Church specifically is so filled with bad arguments, inaccuracies, and misunderstandings that it ought to invite easy criticism. The problem is that in order to sort them out one must be willing to endure a painful explosion of unnecessary adverbs, distracting run on sentences, and a torturous section on how he was shunned as a child in Texas for intellectually dismissing his belief in Santa Claus. It would take someone willing to publish an equally long response to address the sum total of problems. That would be unfair to those who dedicated themselves to staying awake during the workday.

Some quick issues that I would like to address. Becket is incredibly inconsistent. For example, he repeatedly excoriates religious folk for having an arrogant certainty of the nature and existence of God. Then he goes on to say things like this:

Thusly, the systems of belief and superstition known as religion were born out of the human mind and elaborated upon through many centuries of richly imaginative folklore, ritual, and art.

I've found that generally, in regard to matters beyond the mundane and practical, believers do not think, and thinkers do not believe.

Perhaps the main reason religious dogma has survived and flourished through the ages of human history is that chieftains, rulers, and monarchs, both secular and sectarian, found the fear of imaginary "gods" so useful as a means of maintaining control over subjected masses of people by perpetuating myths of their own "divine" selection or guidance - exactly the manner in which, and the reason, religious belief is kept alive today.

He does sound certain that God does not exist and that the belief in God is irrational. But it is the certainty and the arrogant presumption that others ought to act according to our beliefs that bohers him most right? Let see:

No human and no human institution, religion, or philosophy is infallible, perfect, or above criticism - and nothing is more contrary to, and irreconcilable with, the fundamental ideals and principles of the United States of America than attempts to force upon others dogmatic and absolute religious beliefs and philosophies about what to think and how to behave.

So he categorically believes that it is wrong to force your beliefs on others and law ought to be crafted and protected solely from this philosophical perspective. But that is exactly the arrogant presumption that he hates in pro-lifers.

He claims that pro-lifers believe that abortion is immoral because of the presence of a soul in the unborn and that all life is God created and therefore precious. Although I agree with the latter part of that assertion, I have never read in any of Dr. Beckwith’s, Greg Koukl’s, or Scott Klusendorf’s arguments nor written in any of my own posts that the presence of the soul is material to the question of the morality of abortion. I have seen and made the argument that the substance or nature of the unborn as a human being affords the unborn protection under the law and that unnecessarily killing human beings is morally wrong. This is not stripping one group of people, women, of a right but justly including another group of people, the unborn, in the most basic and fundamental right that we already acknowledge to exist. That is the right for innocent human beings to live. The right to not have your life unnecessarily terminated.

Beket radically misunderstands the cosmological and the teleological arguments for the existence of God and misrepresents them in his post. He makes critical errors that either indicate he has not thoroughly researched this topic or is out of his element in addressing them. It is odd how people that respect the amount of study it takes to become a medical doctor and the expertise necessary to practice medicine routinely insult theologians and philosophers by wading uninvited into these fields and making a bloody mess of things as they do so.

As quickly as possible, the first cause argument is now most often championed in the form of Dr. William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological argument. It says that anything that began to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe has a cause. This makes Becket’s objection that the causal agent lacks a cause irrelevant as the causal being in question is by nature the necessary being of the universe and never began to exist.

The teleological argument is not based on the appearance of design in the human body, but the appearance of fine tuning in the initial conditions of the universe that are responsible for creating a life producing and sustaining environment. Perhaps he is confusing this with Behe’s irreducible complexity arguments. Either way, he does not fairly represent either idea and one must assume he is unaware of the actual arguments versus his gross misrepresentation.

He seems to believe that by teaching that people ought to wait until marriage to have consensual monogamous sex the Catholic Church is responsible for the AIDS/HIV pandemic. It hard to imagine how that is reasonable considering if the world were taking those teachings seriously many of the ills that bother Beket would be less severe. He also rails against the Catholic Church for the Inquisition and not apologizing for executing Bruno. That is helpful in the debate over abortion.

There are so many strange things in this voluminous post. It includes but is not limited to his apparent argument that human life is no more precious in creation than the life of a chimpanzee, that religion is responsible for global misery and overpopulation, the always lovely myth of a plague of back alley abortions prior to Roe v. Wade, and his biblical exegesis on abortion. There is far too much to fully address. One very odd point for me is that this courageous and bold attack on Catholicism inspired by the imagined slight from a non-Catholic blogger is posted under a pseudonym. That is very courageous indeed.