Monday, February 28, 2011

Which Law Reduces the Most Evil? [Serge]

I've been reading the comments that have offered about Scott's posts here and here, and I can't help but wonder about this question. Right now abortion is considered a legal right for essentially all 9 months of pregnancy. We can all agree that this is an abominable situation that demands social justice. I believe we can also all agree that what we seek in the future is that every single human being, regardless of the circumstances of their conception, should be valued and protected by law.

However, in the meantime, lets imagine a continuum of laws that lie somewhere between the present situation and the one that we all seek after. Let me offer an example:

1. The present situation: abortion a legal right for basically all 9 months of pregnancy.
2. Abortion legal in the first trimester, but illegal thereafter.
3. Abortion illegal in all three trimesters with the exception of rape and incest.
4. The ideal situation: every human being is protected by law without exception.

Once again, we agree that the present situation (#1) is abominable and the ideal situation (#4) is what we should seek. It seems that absolutist position would hold that until #4 could be accomplished (which we agree is a laudable goal), that we should not support any reduction of abortion that could be accomplished by laws 2 or 3.

Do I have this correct? Could anyone offer a logical argument to support that we should reject 2 & 3 until we can accomplish 4?

When Spiritual Platitudes Replace Good Arguments [Scott]

I wrote yesterday that Abby Johnson's comments must be viewed within the context of discussing particular abortion-control legislation aimed at limiting evil insofar as possible given current legal restraints. Nowhere does she say she endorses permanent legislation permitting rape abortions but expressly says, "that no matter the circumstances, a child never deserves to be killed." However, as we work for that goal, "it's important for us to win some battles before we win the war."

In response to my post, a particular "pro-life" group known for self-righteously attacking other pro-lifers submitted two comments which I refused to post. The first was a long rambling quote from the group's website. The second was uncharitable to Mrs. Johnson, so I did not post it either.

However, a Facebook discussion about the morality of incremental legislation was instructive and I've posted the relevant portions here (names hidden). It illustrates the tendency of some purists (not all) to use religious pronouncements instead of rational arguments. My point in highlighting this tendency is not to claim I'm right (though I think I am) in the discussion that follows, but to show how some Christians think they can pull a spiritual trump card that frees them from addressing their opponent's arguments. From their alleged perch of Spiritual maturity they lecture the rest of us. Effective pro-life apologists do not operate that way.

So we can kill a little for awhile? Pro aborts get that if we are "choosing to kill a few" we are NOT legitimate pro lifers and they call us hypocrites and rightly so. Abby thinks she is doing what is right but so did Paul before God opened his eyes. To be politically correct is to Godly wrong.
We are not chosing to kill--the abortionist is. We are choosing to save as many as we can while we work to save all. You assume this is immoral thinking but you don't provide any evidence to back up that rather bold claim. You simply assert it.
Sadly, (I really hate admitting this!) I was once blindly following other "Christians" in the exceptions camp, then God, in all His love, grace and mercy showed me the error of my thinking.
Raw assertions that you are following God while the rest of us are ignorantly following a compromise do not an argument make. What's divisive is the intellectual dishonesty that takes Johnson's comments completely out of context and then falsely demonizes her.
It's all about "what does Jesus say," not what any of us think or say, we should always go back to the truth( the word of God) with people. Jesus said he came to bring a sword-- the truth rightly divides. The prolife movement is and always has been a big circus with so many different agendas. There is only a remnant that is truly working towards one goal together. Which should be The Gospel, sharing Christ so that people become born again. Then disciplining. We need to share Jesus, it's Jesus that changes lives, not us. The power to change is in Jesus, His Holy Spirit does the changing. Sometimes in loving one another, there is correction involved; but it should always be done God's way not our own way. Only we ourselves know the motives of our hearts, and our hearts do not lie and we know it. The Prolife movement is in serious need of the Truth being shared in all it's fullness...there is too much mixture.
There is no need to over spiritualize things here. The issue here is quite simple: Did Abby justify rape as a legitimate reason for abortion? That's the claim, and the evidence for it is nowhere to be found. Instead, the very video used to attack Abby shows that her attackers took her statements completely out of context, as noted in my comments above. The biblical thing to do in such a case is simply to admit the error, apologize, and move on.
Scott do you share the Gospel in your training, or do you just try to steer people away from committing abortion? Just curious....
And your point is? If your neighbor is beating her two year old to death, should you just preach the gospel to her or steer her away from killing her kid? When your own kids misbehave, do you simply preach the gospel to them or do you take action to correct the bad behavior? Moreover, you present a false choice. Pro-lifers can do both, depending on the circumstance. But, if you feel I must justify my pro-life work by preaching the gospel, take a look at this presentation and then tell me if I'm good enough to meet your standard.
Scott, Do you have children? Will you give one up to save someone else's? This makes no sense but the pro death people laugh at the hypocrisy. THEY get it that we will compromise and let some slip through the abortion mill without protection or voice. Jesus said to leave the 99 and go after the ONE. I am with Jesus.
Your solution is to protect no one until we can protect everyone. And that's the position of Jesus? How does it follow that because I can't save all children I shouldn't try to save some? I'm not the one compromising when I support incremental laws aimed at limiting the evil done. Rather, the abortionist is compromising because he's forced to give up the current status quo--namely, that any child can be killed at any point in pregnancy for any reason or no reason. Whenever I chip away at that status quo so that some lives are saved, I am not compromising. I'm improving the moral landscape. True, I don't intend to stop chipping away until all children are protected, but until that day comes, I will work to save as many as I can given current legal restraints--namely, the federal courts which disallow direct legislation protecting all unborn humans. Moreover, the premise of your statement is completely false. I am not the one who decides who lives and who dies. Rather, the federal courts have done that in Roe, Doe, and Casey, to name a few. I'm just trying to limit the evil done until those court decisions are overturned. What's wrong with that?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Abby Johnson is being Unfairly Savaged by Some Pro-Lifers [Scott]

A small but vocal band of pro-lifers is attacking Abby Johnson for allegedly saying that we shouldn't get in a "tizzy" about rape abortions. These pro-lifers are intellectually dishonest. Indeed, the very video used to attack Johnson proves she is not guilty of the charge.

Put simply, Johnson's comments must be viewed within the context of discussing abortion-control legislation aimed at limiting evil insofar as possible given current political realities. Her specific remarks center on ultrasound and right to know bills. Nowhere does she say she endorses permanent legislation permitting rape abortions. Instead, she expressly says, "that no matter the circumstances, a child never deserves to be killed." However, as we work for that goal, "it's important for us to win some battles before we win the war." In short, she says that when it comes to this particular piece of legislation, we shouldn't get in a tizzy over rape but should work to promote the good insofar as possible. This is sound moral thinking: If you can't eliminate the evil, you work to limit its impact. To suggest that Johnson endorsed rape abortions in general is to ignore the context in which she made her remarks in the first place.

Update 2PM: A few Facebook replies to the content of my post above are instructive...

Reply #1: "Scot so we can kill a little for awhile? Pro aborts get that if we are "choosing to kill a few" we are NOT legitimate pro lifers and they call us hypocrites and rightly so. Abby thinks she is doing what is right but so did Paul before God opened his eyes. To be politically correct is to Godly wrong."

Me: We are not chosing to kill--the abortionist is. We are choosing to save as many as we can while we work to save all. You assume this is immoral thinking but you don't provide any evidence to back up that rather bold claim. You simply assert it.

Reply #2: "Sadly, I was once blindly following other 'Christians' in the exceptions camp, then God, in all His love, grace and mercy showed me the error of my thinking."

Me: Raw assertions that you are following God while the rest of us are ignorantly following a Satanic compromise do not an argument make. What's divisive is the intellectual dishonesty that takes Johnson's comments completely out of context and then falsely demonizes her. Pathetic.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Theseus, My Dog Bruno, & Identity Through Change [Jay]

One of the keys to understanding the substance view of human value is the concept of maintaining identity through change or time. We say that humans are a substantial thing, a human being, and that our value is determined not by characteristics that we acquire or developmental stages that we reach but by our very nature. A human being is a substance that has value in and of itself. Moreover, we say that the unborn is fully human and therefore valuable in and of itself without need to develop into something more valuable or acquire traits to endow value. We are a substantial thing and that substance in question has intrinsic value.

Scott offers a basic contrast of substance and property things in Chapter 3 of The Case for Life. Substances are living organisms that maintain identity through time, while property things, such as cars and machinery do not. When I teach classes, this distinction is an important one to spend time on. If a student really grasps this idea then they are on the road to being a formidable defender to the value of human life.

The other night I was reading Volume 1 of Plutarch's Lives and was struck by a passage that I thought demonstrated this point very well. After Theseus returns to Athens triumphant in his many challenges including killing the minotaur, the people of Athens want to honor and remember these great deeds. It reads:

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalerus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, the other contending that it was not the same.

Getting beyond how funny I think it is that even in ancient times philosophers were already turning artifacts into arguments, it is a great example of the difference between a substantial thing that maintains identity through change and a property thing that does not. You see, the philosophers that argued that this was no longer the same ship were absolutely right.

Ships are constructed things. They are put together piece by piece until they are in a form that can functionally fulfill the purpose of their design. The original ship in which Theseus sailed was constructed of particular planks of woods, particular sails (which were very important to the story), and particular oars. The ship is not alive and is not a thing that is developing under its own orientation toward an expression of its nature. It is a collection of parts fulfilling purpose.

So if an oar was damaged and had to be replaced by the Athenians wanting to preserve Theseus's ship then all is already lost. Though most of the parts of the ship were in fact the very parts that cut through the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and carried Theseus back from his victory over the minotaur, the whole is no longer identical to that ship. One oar is different and so it can no longer literally be called the ship that Theseus sailed. With every further change of parts the problem compounds itself. Fewer and fewer of the components of the ship ever sailed under Theseus and an increasing percentage of the ship is comprised of planks, oars, and sails that had nothing to do with the very exploits that drove the Athenians to want to preserve the boat in the fist place. In the end, what the Athenians have is a replica of something important to them but not the thing itself.

Contrast this with my dog, Bruno. Bruno was a Sharpei that we rescued. He had been abused almost to the point of death by vicious owners who were trying to make him a fighting dog. When he failed to impress them as a killer it appears that be became a bait dog, an object of violence of the other dogs being trained to fight. The day animal control rescued him, he had been denied food so long that he could not stand up and was a mess of injuries and sores. They initially decided there was nothing left to save and that it would be humane to put him down. Then one of the animal control agents that removed him from his owners decided he wanted to save Bruno's life. The vets nursed him back to health and a few weeks later we took him home as our family pet.

Bruno suffered for the rest of his life from what was done to him, but the worst of the damage was psychological. Long after the physical signs of abuse had faded and all of the parts that had been tortured were replaced with new healthy parts that had never known the life he lived prior to coming to our home, Bruno, the substance that endured through the change, remembered. He loved my wife Trayece immediately and she was his home for the first few months as he would not leave her side. Once he finally became comfortable with me and our home it is safe to say that he never wanted to leave. The front door could be wide open and he would never consider wandering out. The world he knew outside of the walls of our home held no allure for him.

We loved him and he responded with a fierce loyalty. He remained suspicious or at best indifferent to other adults with very few exceptions but was bizarrely gentle with children. Missionary friends of ours came to visit one time, and their youngest son had some special needs from surviving being born extremely prematurely. Our fear of how Bruno would respond to the young boy grew as their visit approached, and we considered putting him away for the night. To our delight, the two played together all evening and Bruno, who could be terrifying to an adult in an ordinary game of tug of war with a rope toy, seemed to understand the limits of the boy and played exactly at the level he could handle.

And yet, to his dying day a certain combination of things freaked him out. He never overcame his insane fear of thunderstorms or stairs, but far worse was his response to a man wearing a baseball cap holding a cup. I don't know what terrible memories that combination unleashed on him, but he immediately became aggressive and agitated. We warned friends not to hold cups when they weren't drinking just to be safe. He never attacked anyone or even bit anyone in all the years that we had him, but Bruno was scary when he was angry.

Something happened to Bruno. Though the parts that it happened to had long since been replaced by new biological cells, it happened to Bruno. And through the all the good years and all the love we enjoyed with him, that something impacted him all the days of his life. When he died of brain cancer much of what he had been had already been lost as his illness progressed, and yet it was still Bruno. Biological Bruno changed, but substantive Bruno maintained identity through that change. All that happened to him from the time that his life began to the time that it ended can be properly said to have happened to Bruno.

Ships don't remember battles and when you replace the damaged parts of a ship the physical structure is not impacted by the past. The effects of the battle simply are no more. This is true because the ship is no longer identical to the ship that was damaged or sailed under Theseus. The ship the Athenians preserved looked like Theseus's ship, but was not. At the time of his death Bruno did not look anything like the abused dog that we first welcomed into our home, but he most certainly was. Changing parts changes property things in a way that it does not substantive things. Though the parts change, the substance endures through that change and through time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Body, My Choice? [Scott]

The latest 5-Minute Pro-Lifer is up.

Main points:

1. The alleged parallels between a woman being unnaturally hooked up to a total stranger and her natural connection to her own child fail to persuade.

2. If the right to bodily autonomy is absolute, no limits on abortion can be justified. This leads to horrific consequences.

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Equip Yourself to Defend Life on Campus [Scott]

Note: Due to a technical glitch that kept superimposing another video over this one, I had to repost this from yesterday.

Equipping was the subject of my 39 minute address to the Students for Life of America National Conference (Washington D.C., January 23, 2011). The outline is below.

SFLA 2011 Scott Klusendorf from Alliance Defense Fund on Vimeo.

Title: "Equipped to Engage: Making the Case for Life on Hostile Turf."

Topic is significant, because many pro-life students feel they've been dropped into a campus environment where they are out gunned and in way over their heads, where they lack the weapons to engage the arguments arrayed against pro-life views both from foes and from those who claim to be on our side!

Thesis: We engage by making a clear and persuasive case for life. We do that 4 ways:

1) We engage by clarifying the nature of moral reasoning
2) We engage by clarifying the one question that really matters
3) We engage by clarifying the case for life
4) We engage by clarifying objections

What's Victory? [Scott]

That’s one of the questions for an interview later today. I’m glad, because no social reform movement succeeds without a clear definition of what it means to win.

Here’s a preview of what I’ll say. Pro-life victory is defined narrowly. It happens when unborn humans are legally protected, which means outlawing elective abortion and destructive embryo research. That’s the standard. True, our tasks vary achieving that objective and necessarily include pregnancy center work, apologetics, political strategy, and educational campaigns, to name a few—but the objective itself is singular.

Pro-life victory does not mean the poor are fed and every unwed mother has all her needs met if in the end elective abortion remains legal. It does not mean reducing the need for abortion while lawmakers make sure it is nowhere restricted. It does not mean mass conversions to Christ, though as a Christian I have a mission to communicate the gospel wherever possible. It does not mean that we wait for hearts to change (though I hope they do) while another 40,000,000 humans are killed.

Pro-life victory means one thing: The state no longer permits 1,200,000 (read that number again, slowly) defenseless human beings to be butchered annually through elective abortion. It means the state no longer funds and permits destructive embryo research. In short, victory does not mean hearts are changed; it means the heartless are stopped. As Martin Luther King once said, “it may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me.”

To that end, I’m encouraged by five current trends (there are others) that give me hope for eventual victory, though I’m prepared for a long fight:

First, the political party sworn to uphold elective abortion as a fundamental right suffered heavy losses in November and will likely face more losses in 2012. That party, as long as it retains a congressional majority, will kill pro-life bills and advance pro-abortion ones. Even its few “pro-life” members are problematic, and not just because the vast majority of them caved on opposing abortion-permitting health care legislation. The fundamental problem was that in 2006 and 2008, they voted to elect a pro-abortion Speaker of the House. In the 2010 mid-term elections, they paid dearly for that compromise.

Second, the pro-life student movement is exploding on campuses across the country and with it comes a renewed interest in pro-life apologetics, visual depictions of abortion, politics, debates, and training seminars. In 2004, a mere 60 students attended the annual Students for Life of America conference in Washington D.C. The 2011conference had over 1,800 attendees from 200 campuses. This student movement is, for the moment, overwhelmingly Catholic, but I’m hopeful evangelicals will step up. True, on one hand, you’ll look far and wide for a major evangelical conference that features pro-life apologetics in a workshop, let alone a keynote address. Nevertheless, leaders like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung and Randy Alcorn are outspoken in their condemnations of abortion and perhaps under their influence a groundswell will follow. Here’s the bigger challenge: Evangelical student ministers must not only preach on abortion, they must also equip their people to engage the culture with a robust, but graciously communicated, case for life—a case that can compete in the marketplace of ideas. Thankfully, the pro-life student movement is beginning to do just that. Claremont political science professor Jon Sheilds writes that while pro-life students are making a persuasive case, their pro-abortion opponents are lazy and stagnant, preferring to silence their pro-life opponents rather than debate them. It isn’t working.

Third, a sizable number of Catholic scholars—including Pope Benedict—are drawing clear distinctions between contingent evils and intrinsic (absolute) ones. The former includes things like war and capital punishment that are not intrinsically wrong, but only contingently so—meaning they must be prudently considered and rationally justified. The latter, however, includes absolute wrongs like elective abortion that should never be tolerated. These scholars (see here and here) are clarifying for Catholic voters an important moral truth: We should never support a political party that promises to avoid contingent evils (like war) while it wholeheartedly promotes intrinsic ones (like abortion).

Fourth, some evangelical scholars are fighting back against those in their own ranks who discourage political involvement. Theologians like Wayne Grudem are connecting the dots: Christian belief is not just about John 3: 16, but transformed living which includes the transformation of government. True, political success can’t save souls eternally (only the gospel does that), but it can promote a more just society for the weak and oppressed. To that end, Christians should exert significant influence on government. Moreover, Grudem nails the core problem with those evangelicals discouraging political involvement: They wrongly take one of the ways that God restrains evil in the world (changing hearts through the gospel) and assert that it is the only way that God restrains evil (thus rejecting the role of civil government). Truth is, God gave both the church and the government a role to play. In short, pro-life evangelicals don’t have to choose between preaching the gospel and reforming culture. They can do both.

Finally, the nation’s leading abortion provider—Planned Parenthood—is on the ropes. While scholarly books affirming the anti-child agenda of PP were in print 25 years ago, almost no one but the most stalwart pro-life advocates read them. That, coupled with a pro-abortion media bias, meant that PP’s reputation escaped scrutiny. However, the Internet changed all that. Thanks to undercover groups like Live Action, Planned Parenthood’s cover up of child trafficking is now exposed with a simple mouse click. And the credit for that exposure goes to yet another student pro-life group, Live Action led by UCLA student Lila Rose.

To sum up, I’m hopeful. Can you imagine how many lives will be saved once the evangelical students are more engaged?

Update: Regarding my mention of Live Action, credible pro-life philosophers are debating whether lying is always wrong. I don't believe it's always wrong (If Nazis knock on your door and ask if you are hiding Jews, is it wrong to lie if telling the truth means innocent people are unjustly killed?), but you can read the debate here and here and here.

Update 2/18: Frank Beckwith argues that telling an intentional falsehood is not always wrong.

Update 2/19: Peter Kreeft argues for Live Acction.

And so does Hadley Arkes

Monday, February 14, 2011

Worldview Class Takes on "Philosophy is Dead" Claim [Jay]

After reading some of the most incredible and condescending dismissals of philosophy by professional physicists this week, I decided to put the claim that philosophy is dead to the test with a high school worldview class. They were not troubled and saw the flaw immediately. It may be basic, but it is dead on.

Here Dr. William Lane Craig says something similar but obviously with a great deal more sophistication in his Reasonable Faith Question of the Week article on Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow's assertion in The Grand Design that "Philosophy is Dead."

Whatever verdict we make on their arguments, the point is that despite their claim to speak as scientific torchbearers of knowledge, what Hawking and Mlodinow are engaged in is philosophy. The most important conclusions drawn in their book are philosophical, not scientific. Why, then, do they pronounce philosophy dead and claim as scientists to be bearing the torch of discovery? Simply because that enables them to cloak their amateurish philosophizing with the mantle of scientific authority and so avoid the hard work of actually arguing for, rather than merely asserting, their philosophical viewpoints.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why Christians Should Discuss Politics [Scott]

Here's a good letter in the "Reader Mail" section of Biola Magazine Fall, 2010 (the official magazine of Biola University--sorry, no link to the actual letter). The author, Douglas Dunsmoor, explains why the Christian community should embrace political discussion rather than run from it:
In the spring 2010 Biola Magazine, a couple of opinion pieces called to keep politics out of the magazine. There are several problems with such an idea.

First, it’s self-defeating. It makes a statement about politics in the magazine in order to say that no political statements should be made in the magazine.

Second, it’s a part of pursuing truth (which we should do, especially as Christians) to discuss what ideas are true and best in any area, including politics. Regardless of what political party currently does or doesn’t hold to some idea, if it’s a good one, we should all want to understand and implement it.

Third, it’s also loving to strive to know what ideas are true and best, as certain policies can greatly help whereas others can greatly harm many people.

And, finally, we as Christians need to set a good example for our culture of how to discuss issues over which we have disagreements in a kind, respectful, reasonable way. If there are disagreements over something argued for in the magazine, let’s engage the ideas and arguments by presenting further reasons and evidence for and against certain ideas, fostering healthy dialogue and debate.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"The magnitude of the problem" [Megan]

This post by R. Albert Mohler Jr. at The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood is worth a read.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Re: Desires Determine Rights? [Scott]

In a previous post, I challenged the claim that the right to life turns on having an immediately exercisable capacity for desires--namely, a desire to go on living. (Michael Tooley and Peter Singer more or less affirm the desire thesis.)

Christopher Kaczor adds a delightful example to support to my own position:
If Buddhists are right that the Buddha as well as other spiritual masters have reached a state of Nirvana--no longer desiring anything whatsoever and even extinguishing the capacity for desire--then either such mystics are no longer persons or having desires is no longer necessary for personhood.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stem Cell Science You Can Love [Jay]

One of the common misconceptions that I often hear is that pro-lifers are anti-stem cell research. That is simply untrue. I and others like me are against research that relies on the destruction of nascent human life to further research into possible cures for more developed human beings. That means that I am simply against the destroying of innocent human life in order to medically benefit another. But this shows stem cell science that I heartily applaud.