Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jay's Worldview Chapel Talk

I recently had the opportunity to give a basic talk to a high school co-op (9th-12th grades) about why students should study worldview. I edited out some of the direct interaction with the students because there was no sound system so it is difficult to hear them and there is an original edited copy that I had to chop up for YouTube so I lost a word or two here and there. Otherwise, I thought I would share it for those interested.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Should We Treat our Close Genetic Siblings the Same? [Serge]

I hope the boss enjoyed his stay in our fair state at the best university in the nation. As a follow up, it is only in places like the University of Michigan where ideas such as the Great Ape Project can be conceived. Since academia believes that human are really no different than other apes, the Great Ape Project believes that we should give advanced primates the same type of "human" rights that we now deny to human beings in the fetal stage of development. Here is a page describing the gorilla, which shares 97.5% of our DNA, as a peaceful vegetarian who shows great emotion.

Should we grant gorillas the same human rights as we do newborn humans? If we do, I believe we have a big problem. You see, in the wild, gorillas travel in packs of a dominant male and many females. When the male dies or gets beaten in a fight, the new dominant male tends to do something that the peaceful description of these animals neglected to mention. The new male will brutally kill all of the infants that the other male had fathered. Gorilla infanticide is widely known and is not in dispute.

This may be related to high rates of infanticide documented among mountain gorillas at Karisoke. Infants deprived of protection by an adult male are almost certain to be killed and as a tactic to protect against this, females join new groups in the absence of a silverback (Watts 1989). Until recently, infanticide had only been recorded among mountain gorillas; direct evidence now exists for eastern lowland gorillas and indirect evidence has been recorded among western lowland gorillas (Stokes et al. 2003; Stoinski pers. comm.).

So, if we grant gorillas the same rights that we have as human beings, should we not hold them to the same moral standard as we do a human being that would exhibit this behavior? If a human man began a new relationship and the first thing he did when he moved in was to kill all of the children who lived in the house we would consider him a moral monster of the highest sort. However, when one of our "closest genetic relatives" exhibits this behavior we don't treat them the same way. If they are deserving of human rights, we should this be so?

Still think there is little difference between human beings and other animals?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Humans no Different than Animals? [Scott]

I’m speaking tonight at the University of Michigan. One objection I’ll almost certainly get during the Q&A will be that the unborn are human but not persons.

Whenever I hear this, I ask, “What’s the difference? Do you mean there is a class of human beings whom we can set aside to be killed while others can’t be? And who exactly qualifies not to be killed?”

The answer as to who qualifies will inevitably be ad-hoc and disqualify many people outside the womb. Once that point becomes clear, my interlocutor will try and turn the tables on me. “So why do you assume that humans have more value than animals? Isn’t that ad-hoc?”

Setting aside for the moment that if all animals (including humans) are equal, this undermines the case for elective abortion rather than strengthening it, do our intuitions really suggest that species membership is morally irrelevant? For example, is there really no difference between a man who kills the family dog to feed his starving son and one who kills the son to feed the dog? And if humans are no different than animals, why are we outraged at Michael Vick who clubbed pit bulls to death for losing fights? Isn't it because we expect better of him as a man?

Truth is, while it’s commonly asserted that species doesn’t matter, it’s seldom argued for. Indeed, our intuitions scream otherwise.

As Christopher Kaczor points out, there’s a moral difference between a hit-and run involving a squirrel and one involving a newborn, even a mentally disabled one. And while some people are vegetarians out of respect for animals, “there’s still an important difference between eating a hamburger and a Harold burger, even if Harold, due to his mental handicap, was no more intelligent than a cow.” Indeed, our condemnation of cannibalism rests on the assumption that differences in species are morally relevant, as does our condemnation of sex between humans and animals.

At this point, a clever critic of the pro-life view might bring up human-animal hybrids. Imagine we have a monkey with 60 percent monkey DNA and 40 percent human DNA, and the brain of a human. Imagine further this chimp shows signs of having a rational nature, like his human counterparts. Doesn’t that defeat the claim that having a human nature is an all or nothing proposition?

As Kaczor points out, the animal-human hybrid objection is a non sequitur. Suppose creatures of mixed origin are indeed manufactured. If that happens, “then we shall have to debate about whether they should be included in the category of persons. But the debate about such creations need not undermine the moral conviction that all human beings—anyone who arises from human parents—should be accorded equal rights.”

Finally, writes Kaczor, a mentally disabled girl and her dog may be equally incapable of reasoning, but this condition in the girl is a tragedy but inconsequential for the dog. That’s why we take heroic measures to help her develop this skill while not giving it a second thought for Fido. In short, species matters.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Watch This [Scott]

This short video by Tripp Almon clarifies the moral logic of the abortion debate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No Regrets [Bob]

If you've had any doubts about the role of "pro-life" Democrats in defending the unborn, read this and have all your doubts removed: Stupak: No Regrets

Sickening, but enlightening.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What's Good for the Goose...[Scott]

My flight to SFO went quick in part because I chose to tune out the overcrowded coach section and focus exclusively on Christopher Kaczor’s The Ethics of Abortion.

Get the book. His chapter refuting the bodily rights arguments of Judith Jarvis Thomson and David Boonin is great. True, he covers many points we’ve addressed elsewhere on this site (see here and here), but he also adds some new takes on the issue.

Briefly, Thomson argues that even if the unborn is human, innocent, and has a right to life, he does not have the right to use the mother’s body to sustain his own life against her will. She may withhold support if she chooses. Abortion is the justified withholding of support. In addition to her famous violinist analogy where she likens unwanted pregnancy to being forcibly hooked up to a musician that needs your kidney to survive, she describes the fetus as an intruder, though an innocent one. The mother may justly remove the intruder if she wants to withhold supporting him.

Of course, for Thomson’s argument to work, the relationship between the mother and the intruder must parallel the mother’s relationship to her own child. Right away there are problems. First, there can be no intruder until two parents create him. Second, abortion is much more than withholding support—it’s actively killing another human through dismemberment or poisoning. Indeed, per Thomson, I not only have the right to remove an innocent intruder from my yard; I can cut him up and throw his body parts in the garbage! As abortion-choice advocate and philosopher Mary Anne Warren points out, “mere ownership does not give me the right to kill innocent people whom I find on my property.”

Nor is pregnancy parallel to being forcibly hooked up to a violinist. In Thomson’s analogy, the violinist has an underlying pathology and needs your kidney to survive. If you unplug him, he eventually dies from his illness, not because you actively killed him. You might even argue that although his death was foreseen, you did not intend it by withholding your support. Indeed, as Kaczor points out, a general in a just war may foresee that some of his troops will be killed in battle, but he does not intend their deaths. Conversely, with elective abortion, the death of the unborn human is not only foreseen; it’s intended. He dies not from an underlying pathology, but from an intentional act of dismemberment. Moreover, other than the case of rape, waking up and finding yourself forcibly hooked up to a violinist is not like pregnancy where both father and mother voluntarily engaged in an act biologically ordered to the creation of offspring.

Kaczor adds a point I hadn’t considered, namely, that Thomson is inconsistent. That is, while it’s true that you did not choose to be hooked up to the violinist, it’s equally true that he didn’t choose to be hooked up to you. If you may unplug yourself by directly killing him, then he should be free to unplug by directly killing you. True, the fetus lacks the power to detach, but the question here is not power but the moral right to detach at the cost of the mother’s life. Suppose the fetus had an agent to help him do this the same way a mother has an agent to perform the abortion. Is the fetus morally justified detaching even though it kills his mother? In short, if the violinist may not unplug himself causing your death, then you should not unplug and cause his.

I guess you could say the sword cuts both ways.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

JivinJehoshaphat nails it on Jonathan Alter [Jay]

Here is a great post from JivinJehoshaphat called Jonathan Alter Proves Himself a Fool. I am not going to cut and paste here because it is a work of art and ought to be appreciated in its whole.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Good Logic, Horrific Conclusion [Serge]

The mainstream gradualist view on abortion seems to afford the human fetus some form of moral status as it develops in the mother's womb. This explains why early abortion is tolerated and late-term abortion is generally seen as wrong in our culture. Here is an excerpt by the director of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Ann Furedi that takes that type of reasoning to task. Like Peter Singer, she gets the logic correct, but her conclusions are downright horrific. She uses this logic to defend the view that abortion should be legal at any time during the pregnancy, and we have no right to even ask why a woman would wish to obtain a late-term abortion. (All emphasis mine)

To me, the argument for a gradualist approach to the ethical rightness or wrongness of abortion that depends on the gestation of the fetus is weak, lacks intellectual consistency, and seems self-serving...

To the ‘ethical straddlers’ concerned about gestation we must ask: is there anything qualitatively different about a fetus at, say, 28 weeks that gives it a morally different status to a fetus at 18 weeks or even eight weeks? It certainly looks different because its physical development has advanced. At 28 weeks we can see it is human – at eight weeks a human embryo looks much like that of a hamster. But are we really so shallow, so fickle, as to let our view on moral worth be determined by appearance? Even if at five weeks we can only see an embryonic pole, we know that it is human. The heart that can be seen beating on an ultrasound scan at six weeks is as much a human heart as the one that beats five months later.

Claims that the fetus has ‘evolving potential’ make little sense. The potential of the fetus does not evolve; it just is. A fetus may draw closer to fulfilling this potential as it develops and as its birth approaches, but the potential does not change. Indeed, from the time of conception, as soon as embryonic cells begin to divide, an entity with the potential to become a person is created. It is the product of a man and a woman, but distinct from them. It has a unique DNA and, unless its development is interrupted or fails, it will be born as a child...

But it is difficult to see how it can be argued that a fetus should be accorded a moral status that differs at different stages of its development on the grounds of ‘evolving potential’, since a fetus at 28 weeks is no more or less potentially a person than one at eight weeks.

If it is ‘drawing closer’ to the fulfilment of the fetus’s potential that changes its moral status, then it seems that there is a difficult problem in finding a moral – as distinct from a pragmatic – justification as to when is close enough for the status to change. Since a fetus draws closer to fulfilling its potential from the day it is conceived, and is constantly evolving as it grows, which day - or which developmental change - matters morally? Is it when there is evidence of a beating heart, or fetal movement, or a particular neurological or brain development? Who makes this decision? And why?

It seems to me that the attempt to accord a ‘gradualist’ moral significance to the development of the fetus is little more than an attempt to disguise a personal reaction as an ethical argument. It exemplifies thinking that starts from an a priori assumption that something is ‘bad’, and then tries to construct an argument to justify the badness. In this case, the assumption is that later abortions are ‘bad’ and the arguments about the significance of the evolving potential of the fetus are an intellectually elevated way of justifying an assumption that is, in fact, no more than prejudice.
There is one major flaw with her line of reasoning. She posits birth as the one special event that bestows full worth and human rights on the developing entity that she was willing to kill in the womb. She does this by mere assertion. If there is something about a human being that gives it special moral worth, then doesn't it make far more sense to recognize that worth begins when the entity becomes a human being? She argues correctly that the gradualist approach is intellectually dishonest and self serving, but in its place she recommends a position even more intellectually dishonest and self serving.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stuff to Look At [Scott]

Townhall columnist Mike Adams, using The Case for Life, helps a student formulate questions for a pro-abortion professor.

Jivin J reports on a leading U.K. health official who suggests letting babies die to save money. Jivin replies, "Doesn't socialized medicine sound great?"

Ten reasons why Trevin Wax is an encouraged pro-lifer.

Nathan Schlueter on drawing pro-life lines: "We live in a regime that protects the right to abortion on demand. How can we best save lives under these circumstances?"

Matt Yonke of Pro-Life Action League sums up last week's discussion on incremental legislation (reposted from the comments section):

Hi everyone.
It seems to me the debate is not being framed correctly. Personhood advocates are often fond of saying they don't support laws that end with, "And then you can kill the baby." This is a rhetorical feint as no law ever written in American literally ends with such language.

What they mean is that they believe these laws give approval to abortion under certain circumstances. But nothing could be further from the truth.

What must be remembered is that the one-two punch of Roe and Doe said that you can ALWAYS and for ANY REASON kill the baby until it's out of the womb. Since the highest court in our land has ruled that, no lower law or legislature can give a woman more right to an abortion or approve it more.

Put another way, the abortion license is as big as it could possibly be. State laws can't make it any bigger. The only thing state and local laws can do is limit the abortion license, and they do that quite effectively, all the while making the public more and more conscious of the humanity of the child in the womb.

So, far from ending with, "And then you can kill the baby," incremental measures really end with "And then you CAN'T kill the baby." If you're a minor and your parents don't know about it, you can't kill the baby. If you don't wait three days, you can't kill the baby. If you won't look at the ultrasound, you can't kill the baby.

The default position under Roe is you can kill the baby. Incremental measure say, under certain circumstances you can't kill the baby even if Roe says you can. Hopefully, such laws will continue to close the abortion license little by little until such time as it can be done away with altogether.

With the debate framed that way, there's not only nothing wrong with incremental measures, there's also nothing incompatible between personhood and incrementalism. There's no reason supporters of incremental measures and supporters of personhood amendments can't work side by side. Heck, there's no reason the same person couldn't support both.

One final note, when personhood advocates throw incrementalists under the bus for being less-than-truly-pro-life, just remember who you're throwing under that bus. You're throwing my boss, Joe Scheidler, Fr. Frank, Troy Newman, Lila Rose, Monica Miller, Bryan Kemper and a host of others who have dedicated their lives to saving unborn babies from abortion under that bus too. Are you sure you want to do that?

Note: Comment threads for last week's discussion topic are now closed unless you add something really, really, novel to the discussion that causes us to go, "Wow, we never heard that one before." We wish you luck.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Unprincipled, Unprincipled, Everyone Unprincipled! [Jay]

Last night, I fully intended to let the whole incrementalist thing go. After 24 hours straight of having my pro-life bona fides passive aggressively attacked I was a little sick of the game. Then it occurred to me, they are right.

It was the millionth time I saw questions about “unprincipled incrementalists” and the subtle hints about me and my fellow LTI ministry cohorts defining some human beings as less valuable than other human beings that finally cleared it up for me. It was a little hard for me to see at first because I was caught up in how many of us quit our jobs that previously supplied our families with that little useful thing called money and began a life of living on support to speak, teach, write articles, research materials for future books, and debate people on college campuses defending the position that all unborn human life is equally and intrinsically valuable. Eventually, through the helpful comments from others that it is not what I do or how I live my life but what they think of my position on political strategies that determines whether or not I am pro-life, I saw the light.

I was in a crisis. My entire DVD/Blu Ray collection had to be revisited before I went to bed. My bookshelves needed to be purged. My house was full of unprincipled incrementalist propaganda! I had been a fool all those times I had felt that emotional swell at the end of Amazing Grace with the eradication of the British slave trade. William Wilberforce was unprincipled! The slave trade was legally abolished in 1807, the scene at the end of the film, but it was not until 1833 that the slaves were actually freed. So he was really participating in perpetuating the idea that the slaves were worthless. Also, some British slave traders continued to defy the law for years so other than dramatically decreasing the number of new slaves being taken and shifting the political landscape of Britain forever he did not actually free any slave at all by this point. Why were these people cheering for this unprincipled compromiser?

I looked at my bookshelves and saw my Civil War section and was struck with how one of my heroes, Frederick Douglass, no longer deserves the mantle of abolitionist. Sure he was a former slave that dedicated his life to ending that evil institution as it was practiced in America, but he was unprincipled in doing so. He struck out from the real abolitionists and tried to form broader anti-slavery coalitions with the less principled Free Soilers and Republicans believing that a larger force working to limit slavery would faster facilitate the end of it. Who cares if he was right, didn't he realize that by allying himself with people that hated slavery for silly reasons (like it bred laziness in the southern states) or people who were willing to compromise to stop the spread of the slave state power that he was agreeing with them on those points? No matter what he said and in spite of the fact that his past experiences gave him greater reasons to hate that institution than any of the “real abolitionists”, his actions exposed him for what he was. Compromised and unprincipled. Nothing demonstrated that more than when he allowed a wealthy benefactor to help him buy his freedom. Didn't he realize that he was supporting the idea that people could be bought and sold? Who cares if he wanted to be free? That is nothing compared to being principled in the eyes of those who have arrogated the authority to bestow or divest that title from others.

My head was reeling. I couldn't find anyone on my history shelf that had ever been able avoid the trap of accepting less than all that they ultimately wanted in pursuit of a greater goal. Gandhi, unprincipled over and over again. Martin Luther King, Jr. was compromised! And don't get me started on that moral monster Lincoln. Everywhere there was nothing but unprincipled compromisers.

What has been accomplished by all of this? What had these men and women wrought by accepting a graduated move toward greater goals?

And what about the so called pro-lifers of the last 38 years? Oh how they have failed us! Sure the pro-abortion side is bemoaning the dearth of doctors and nurses willing to perform abortions out of fear it will compromise the ability to actually supply the current pace in the future when this generation of abortionists goes away, but that is small potatoes. It is absolutely true that for the first time since Roe v. Wade the majority of Americans identified themselves as pro-life, but that hardly matters because they don't get to make that call. I know that liberal journalists are writing articles lamenting how they have lost the argument on principles and need to change their tactics, a claim I have even seen repeated in pro-choice panel discussions, but they are blind to the truth of their success. They are trying to get the argument off of the unborn and back on the rights of women because the PBA debate and other legislative efforts undermined the public support of abortion in ways they see as dangerous, yet they cannot understand it was all a compromised and unprincipled waste of time on our part.

It was to no avail because we clearly should be further along than this by now. I mean I don't really know how long it takes to reverse the philosophical tides of history and reinstall a broader ethic that respects life rather than diminishing it to a functional machine whose worth is determined by utility. It is hard to tell how fast we should be able to arrest the worldwide liberalization of abortion laws and swing this ship back in the right direction. Nobody else seems to have a specific time table either, but it sure feels like we should have been able to do it by now. If it feels that way then it should be that way and so this has all been unprincipled failure to this point

I thought of all of these things and all of these men and women that I admire that are being cast as unprincipled and compromised and you know what I did? I went to bed and slept like a baby because if I am unprincipled like William Wilberforce, Frederick Douglass, Francis Beckwith, Hadley Arkes, and my good friend Scott Klusendorf then that is fine with me. I can learn to live with the disapproval of the rest.

To further demonstrate this point, comments will be closed on this post. It is a principle thing, so I am sure you all understand.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Francis Beckwith Replies to Rebecca Kiessling [Scott]

Frank replies:

Rebecca writes (see comments section): "As a strategic means of ending abortion, unprincipled incrementalism has been a complete failure and got us the ruling in Roe v Wade."

At this point, I am going to have to pull rank on you. You really don't know what you're talking about.

First, Roe v. Wade is not the result of a strategy employed after Roe v. Wade. That is actually impossible, unless you believe in time travel and backwards causation.

Second, both the Human Life Amendment and the Human Life Bill of the early 1980s failed to pass. So, based on your reasoning, non-incrementalism is a complete failure, since each was a non-incremental approach.

The problem is how we judge success and failure. But none of us is ever in the position to make that judgment, since success may require literally centuries to undo the damage of the Enlightenment (which took about 300 years to unravel the moral foundations of Western Civilization). If anything, what we have seen over the past decade or so is a real shift in opinion from prochoice to prolife. And it happened after the partial-birth abortion debate and the Born Alive Infant Protection Act (BAIPA), both of which shifted the focus from "choice" to the nature of the unborn. The prolife movement was not going to have a chance unless it changed the question in the debate, which has been largely owned by the other side.

Think about the same-sex marriage advocates. They first began with decriminalizing homosexual acts, then moved to civil unions, and then once those were in place they raised the question, "So, what's the difference between these couples and different gendered ones?" That question could not have been asked in 1970 without snickers from even liberals. SSM is now a reality in at least five states.

Incrementalism is the only way to go, since it shifts the premises assumed by the wider culture making it nearly impossible to resist the next step. In the prolife case, that is precisely the strategy as well. If a child killed by PBA is protectable, why not the one killed by D&C two months earlier by a method no less brutal though its victim is smaller? Or the BAIPA. If the state must save the child who survives the abortion, why not a minute earlier, or a month earlier?

It's not always about what people explicitly believe. It's sometimes about what they implicitly believe and are eventually forced to concede given the trajectory of their worldview.

Incrementalism for its own sake is indeed counterproductive. But incrementalism for the sake of breaking new ground to push people in the prolife direction when they otherwise would not entertain it is ingenious.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Old Posts for the New Argument [Jay]

I posted this morning expressing my feelings on the recent arguments in response to Scott's defense of Abby Johnson that has digressed into a rehashing of arguments on incrementalism that were covered pretty well back in 2007. The post was then removed by me because my boss is a good Christian man who encourages the nice side of me and discourages the dog in me that wants to scrap. I did not want to dishonor him. I will say that the people who question Scott Klusendorf's commitment to protecting the unborn and imply that he is in some sense compromised or guilty of the innocent blood of aborted human beings are... well I have nothing productive to say there so let us move on.

Here are two blog posts I wrote in 2007. They cover my position on incrementalism versus absolutism.

Jay on Incremental Legislation

Incrementalism vs... What?

That is my contribution to the discussion, and I am moving on. There are bigger fish to fry in this effort.

Save the Foreskin, Kill the Child [Serge]

Only in San Francisco.

Self-described "civil rights advocates" say that a ballot proposition to ban circumcision is on track for gathering signatures, meaning that San Franciscans may vote on the measure this November.

This is the most humorous example of how intellectually disingenuous the pro-abortion choice crowd is when they claim that abortion is a private decision between a doctor and their patient.

According to this view, the government needs to protect young, innocent human beings from the horrors of having a small piece of skin removed from an admittedly sensitive part of their body. This protection supersedes the decision making process of the physician and patient's parents, and clearly shows that when it comes to foreskin, the government knows what is best more than the parent or doctor.

However, the decision to intentionally kill an innocent human being remains out of the purview of government and continues to be a protected right that can only be determined without government interference. Foreskin > children when it comes to value.

It is a strange world we live in.