Friday, July 29, 2011

Worldview training and MTV [Jay]

While reading this story at Slate on what they call “advocacy” programming at MTV, specifically where shows called 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom follow actual pregnant teens and teens with babies chronicling their various struggles and challenges, I noticed a couple of things I thought worth sharing.

The writer claims that watching these reality shows increases condom use and thereby reduces teen pregnancy, but to support this claim they bizarrely link to an article about how fictional narrative shows impact teen behavior on contraception more than public service statements. There is anecdotal evidence that the $60K per year that MTV pays the girls combined with the all important mass exposure on MTV and even in tabloids(?!!) has resulted in some young girls getting pregnant for the express purpose of auditioning for the show. There will be no links to support that claim because it would require me to connect our blog to the most painfully stupid realm of media on earth, but if you are interested in looking it up on your own it took me all of 20 seconds to find.

Another claim in the article has better support. Here it is:

"research shows that viewing these MTV shows is positively correlated with support for abortion rights"

This links to an article that actually supports the claim made. In a Public Religion Research Institute study entitled What the Millennial Generation Tells Us about the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars there is the following:

*The study identified and tested a number of hypotheses about independent influences on attitudes about the legality of abortion. The following factors are independent predictors of support for the legality of abortion, even when controlling for other demographic characteristics:

Having a situationalist rather than a principle-based approach to morality has a positive impact on support for the legality of abortion.

Knowing someone who has had an abortion has a positive impact on support for the legality of abortion.

Having seen MTV’s reality shows about unmarried pregnant teenagers has a positive impact on support for the legality of abortion.

Recently seeing an ultrasound image of a fetus has a negative impact on support for the legality of abortion. (Emphasis theirs)*

This supports claims consistently made here at LTI. Notice the first item. If you make your moral decisions situationally you are more likely to support legal abortion. This means that those who foster a greater understanding of their worldview and see their life as impacted by objective moral laws are less inclined to support legal abortion than people who decide what is right or wrong based on the immediate consequences. Christians need worldview training and my work with both students and adult classes in this area over the last year has only strengthened my resolve that this is critical to changing attitudes about abortion.

The other important point is that when the focus is on the woman, as it is when millenials are thinking of a friend that has had an abortion or are watching MTV programs highlighting the struggling teens, the result is an attitude supportive of legal abortion. What happens when they see an unltrasound of a fetal human being, though? Apparently confronting the humanity of the unborn has a negative impact on their support for legal abortion. Imagine that! Seeing the unborn human life moving and, in the case of my own children, rolling around and stretching and being rather like every other human being makes it harder to believe that it is morally acceptable to rip the life to pieces. Who knew?

So we see even more evidence that having a consistent principled worldview and then keeping the argument on the identity of the unborn changes attitudes toward abortion. And you see even more clearly why we are so passionate about what we do here at LTI.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Thoughts on Campus Crusade [Scott]

I deleted my Facebook post on campus Crusade last night after it generated a slew of comments in less than two hours. I did so for two reasons. First, my strongly worded post was over the top. It is one thing to express concern over the group’s name change and the apparent motivation behind it (more about that below). It is quite another to say Christians should no longer support the group. Second, Facebook is not the place to launch a discussion where background concerns cannot be adequately expressed. In short, I was wrong on both counts. Thus, the following Blog post continues what began on FB. Your thoughts are welcome.

Most of the FB comments supported my view, but thoughtful critics asked the following question: What’s in a name? After all, many Christian groups leave out the name Christ, so what is the big deal?

They’re right about one thing. There is nothing wrong about leaving “Christ” out of the organization’s name. After all, my own organization doesn’t use the name in its title.

However, as Jay Watts pointed out, the problem here is not leaving “Christ” out; it’s taking him out—and for reasons that are questionable. The FOX story quoted a CC official as follows:
"We felt like our name was getting in the way of accomplishing our mission,” said Steve Sellers, the vice president for Campus Crusade, noting that the ministry will still be committed to “proclaiming Christ around the world.” Sellers said researchers found that 9 percent of Christians and 20 percent of non-Christians were alienated by the name Campus Crusade for Christ.
Sellers indicated several factors contributed to the name change, including overseas sensibilities. “Our name was becoming more and more of a hindrance,” he told Fox News Radio. He specifically mentioned the word crusade. “It’s reverted back to some of its meaning related to the Middle Ages – forcing Christianity on different parts of the world,” he said.

As for specifically removing “Christ” from their name, the Campus Crusade for Christ website states:
“We were not trying to eliminate the word Christ from our name. We were looking for a name that would most effectively serve our mission and help us take the gospel to the world. Our mission has not changed. Cru enables us to have discussions about Christ with people who might initially be turned off by a more overtly Christian name. We believe that our interaction and our communication with the world will be what ultimately honors and glorifies Christ.”
Well, if you are not trying to eliminate Christ from your name, but merely want to distance yourself from “crusade,” why not ditch the latter and keep the former? I gather from the article that CC thinks a name with Christ in it is a turn-off and smacks of intolerance. At the same time, if the big issue involves overseas sensibilities, why not change the name for foreign outreaches but leave it for U.S. ones? After all, the name Campus Crusade for Christ accurately describes the mission of the organization: 1) “Campus”—tells us your target audience. 2) “Crusade”—tells us your mission, evangelize the lost. 3) “for Christ”—tells us the main thing is Jesus and doing what honors him.

So what's to fear, that people will know what we truly stand for? Must we
accept the premises of the tolerance crowd to keep our witness?

For me, these are not good reasons to take Christ out of the organization’s name. As Gregg Cunningham once observed, have we become so seeker sensitive that we are believer worthless? My fear is that instead of engaging the culture, many campus ministries are quietly absorbing it’s premises. Is this a good witness of Christ?

To cite a related example (and this provides the background I bring to the name change issue), if you talk to any pro-life group reaching out to students, you'll soon learn that with rare exception, campus fellowship groups want little to do with the pro-life movement. Generally speaking, they're afraid they might turn people off if they get involved.

Well, at Cal Poly SLO in May of 2008, the response of Christians to the abortion controversy did in fact turn-off at least one non-Christian, but not for reasons campus fellowship groups might expect. The ASB student leader responsible for organizing an abortion debate at that campus expressed her dismay that Campus Crusade would not attend the event or get behind promoting it with its members.

She asked me directly why I thought that was so. She thought for sure the Christians would show up and she was puzzled that they didn't. Their refusal to get involved turned her off.

I didn't know what to tell her. Perhaps CC had good reasons for not attending and I hold out hope it did, though it's hard for me to imagine what those reasons might be. I suspect she is not the only secular student puzzled by CC’s non-involvment.

Indeed, according to a 2005 TIME Magazine piece, the overall trend is not encouraging. Instead of equipping students to confront the thought structures that determine culture in the first place, many of these groups help students nurture a very private and personal faith, a faith separate from the intellectual climate of the university. The TIME article states:
"But all the groups tend to go about their business quietly. "They kind of operate under the surface," McKaig says. Josh Sanburn, editor in chief of the Indiana Daily Student, notes that the number of students in the fellowships is roughly the same as the school's African-American student population, but unlike the Christians, "the black students on this campus are very good about making sure they're heard." Evangelical students, however, see their spiritual mission differently. Says sophomore CSF member Emily Hoefling: "We usually believe what affects people more than a newspaper article is to see people living Christian lives."
Question: Since when does "living Christian lives" mean checking out of the real action on campus?

I fear that the message to Christian students and the campus at large couldn't be clearer: Christianity is not relevant to the most pressing issues of our day. It's fine as a personal life enhancement, but irrelevant to the real world of ideas, politics, morality, and law where the rest of the world lives.

Again, is that a good witness for Christ? As Charles Malik pointed out half a century ago, “If you win the whole world [for Christ] and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover that you have not won the world.”

As I've said before, Christian leaders have it all wrong. My own experience suggests that far from turning people off, a persuasive pro-life case, graciously communicated, suggests to non-believers that maybe, just maybe, the Christian worldview has something relevant to say to the key issues of our day. But when we fail to even put in an appearance at key debates, the message to non-Christians is that we simply don't care about the big stuff.

Including the biggest issue of all, "Christ?"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Abortion and Evasive Thinking [Jay]

The other night I took a break from subject specific study to peruse Open Letters – Selected Writings of Vaclav Havel. Havel was an outspoken young playwright that would become the voice of dissidence in Czechoslovakia and ultimately the president of his country. The second essay in the book is entitled “On Evasive Thinking” and I thought it was worth a quick discussion.

It was originally given as a speech to the Union of Czechoslovak Writers in 1965 at a conference marking the 20th anniversary of Czechoslovakia's freedom at the end of World War II. Havel criticizes an article written after a woman was killed when window ledge fell off of a dilapidated building and landed on her in the street below. The writer of the article acknowledged the window ledge should not have fallen from disrepair but quickly turned the subject matter to how great it was that they were allowed to protest at all. How wonderful it is to have that freedom and how great it is that Czechoslovakia had advanced and modernized in women's fashions. Ultimately, the writer warned that, instead of protesting municipal matters, literature ought to be focused on the hope for the future of mankind.

This is what Havel calls evasive thinking. There is an issue at hand that has raised protest. Buildings were falling into disrepair in socialist Czechoslovakia and as a result of necessary work not being done a ledge fell off and killed a woman. What does that have to do with the freedom to protest or the fashion choices of Czechoslovakian women? Nothing at all is the answer. So why is the object of Havel's criticism going on about that stuff?

Here is Havel in his own words:

This way of thinking, in my opinion, is causing immense damage. The essence of it is that certain established dialectical patterns are deformed and fetishized and thus become an immobile system of intellectual and phraseological schemata which, when applied to different kinds of reality, seem at first to have achieved, admirably, a heightened ideological view of that reality, whereas in fact they have, without our noticing it, separated thought from its immediate contact with reality and thus crippled its capacity to intervene in that reality effectively.

He says that our words become more important than the subject we are talking about such that:

It's enough to call a fallen window ledge a “local matter,” and criticism of the way buildings are maintained as “municipal criticism.” and we immediately feel that nothing so terrible has happened... And finally, when you need to save money by leaving the upkeep of buildings not to a superintendent, but to a voluntary brigade of doctors, lawyers, and office clerks working on weekends, you need only to call it “socialist maintenance by tenants” and a doctor chipping away at a rotting window ledge on his building is warmed by the feeling that in doing so, he is helping to fulfill some higher phase in the development of socialism.

What has any of this to do with LTI or the pro-life position? I think quite a lot when you look at what Havel was saying. He criticized thought that vacillated between “on the one hand – but on the other hand” and “in a certain sense, yes – but in another sense, no” saying that when we lose touch with reality, we inevitably lose the ability to influence reality effectively. Criticism must be direct and on point and must be met in the same manner. When window ledges fall and kill people from disrepair, it does no good to pontificate about the nature of comparative freedom and the hope of the future and the destiny of man because, as happened shortly after the first incident, another window ledge is likely to fall and kill someone else (this time a man). So the advice to consider broader visions of humanity rings toothless in the ears of people worried that it is not safe to walk the streets.

So what is abortion about? What is the point in contention? Simply stated, it is now legal in the United States to kill unborn human beings and because of that legality we do kill unborn human beings at the pace of about 1.2 million per year in our country. The unborn are unquestionably human and unquestionably alive and pro-lifers contend that the unjust taking of human life is a moral offense that ought to be prevented and not a legal right that ought to be granted. Human beings matter and killing them without extreme justification is wrong.

There are ways to respond to this claim, but all legitimate responses must answer the question at hand. What are the unborn and why are we permitted to do what we are doing to them? The Supreme Court rulings are an embarrassment in this regard as they continually abdicate their responsibility to successfully identify the unborn while simultaneously legalizing the massive destruction of the unborn. They are not alone.

Reading Havel's examples of evasive phrasings reminded me of some of the conversations I have with defenders of abortion rights. “The unborn may be fully human in a certain sense – but then again they may not in another sense. There may possibly be such a thing as human non-persons. Since that is possible, are you going force your unproven beliefs on others?” Or “on the one hand they are human – but on the other hand is simple genetic identification enough to make us human? How do we identify morally valuable humans really? Isn't it obvious that some human beings are not valuable? Isn't it obvious that some animals share more in common with some humans than other humans do?”

It doesn't stop there. We just keep rolling on down the hill. “I understand that the unborn may be fully human, but what about the right to economic and vocational equality for women? Don't you believe that women should be equal to men? Don't you think women should be liberated from their reproductive systems?”

Ultimately, we arrive at the sea of absolute uncertainty where we cannot know if anything is truly right and wrong so we must assume that all rights are granted and that the identity of humanity as a category is absolutely in question. They would never phrase it like this but we have moved to where the substance of their arguments is something like, “On the one hand I like laws against murder and laws that protect me and my interest, but on the other hand I cannot see why people have rights beyond what we grant them and struggle to understand what you mean by people at all.”

It looks to me like the very definition of evasive thinking with all the tell tale signs of separating thought from its immediate contact with reality. Once you have become so intelligent that you can no longer recognize and identify a human being you have become far too smart for me. I remember a Stand to Reason Blog comment thread where a clever fellow waxed on about the question of genetic variations acceptable within the category of humanity and disingenuously pleading with someone to help him understand how we can accurately identify human beings. A fellow commenter very simply replied, “They have human parents for a start.”

G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book Eugenics and Other Evils how captivated and hypnotized people can become with complicated thought and how startled they can be when we use blunt terms to simplify matters. That is one of our goals here at LTI. The pro-life argument begins with a very basic observation that must be addressed. A particular class of human life is actively and legally being killed every day. Why is it OK to treat this class of humanity in a manner that we reject as inarguably immoral for most every other category of human being?

If the evasive language mentioned above is embraced then aborting human beings may be nothing because the unborn possibly do not matter. In fact, by killing unborn human beings you may be participating in the liberation of women and leveling the economic playing field. Isn't that lovely? Besides, it is questionable whether we have any real objective human rights and human life is difficult to define so there might not be such a thing as humanity at all. This is all so complicated that whatever you think we simply cannot take any actual action in the real world based this sea of differing opinions. So kill as many as you like.

That line of thinking won't do. There is an urgency to this argument. Life is being destroyed every day, moment by moment, even as I write this long blog post and as you later read it. It is not an academic exercise, it is a direct question far more harrowing than the fact that people were being killed by falling window ledges in Czechoslovakia in 1965. Human beings are being killed by the millions. Why is this OK? Havel's point on evasive thinking should be a reminder that we need to watch out for clever arguments that ultimately take us so far adrift that we are disconnected from the real question at hand and how we can influence the real world.

We know what we are doing to them, so what is it about the unborn that makes this acceptable? It is a question about the identity of the unborn, and the answer must address the unborn directly.

Is Pregnancy a Pathology? [Serge]

Soon insurance companies may be required to cover oral contraceptives without charging a copay for women who seek them. The reasoning behind this requirement is that giving a woman artificial hormones to trick her reproductive cycle to believe she is already pregnant is now considered important preventative care.

Medical insurance has always been a way for us to insure that a pathological condition would not impose an undue financial burden on a family. If you receive a diagnosis of cancer, and need to get expensive treatment to treat that pathology, your medical insurance is designed to help alleviate the financial burden. Insurance does this by taking all of the fees that others have paid who have not been diagnosed with a pathology and applying it to those that do. In other words, the healthy insurance carriers help cover the burden for those who get sick.

In terms of OC coverage, there are some important questions to ask. First, what pathology are we treating when we give a woman OCs? Is a woman's body which is functioning perfectly now considered pathological because it is acting a way she doesn't want it to? It seems that the desire to have sex without the possibility of children is a choice, but a healthy woman whose ovaries are working correctly are seen as pathologic?

Second, why should others who have purchased health insurance be responsible for funding the sexual behavior of others? Most drugs require a copay. OCs not only will have to be a covered benefit, but a copay will not be allowed. Why should this be the case.

If a woman wishes to have a choice to take a contraceptive - I have no problem with that choice. I don't understand why I also need to fund her choice.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Have You Heard the One About People and Animals? [Jay]

The idea behind Commonsense Corner segments of our podcasts (they can be found here) was that our commonsense intuitions matter. How we perceive things and how the world presents itself are legitimate points to be made in discussing issues like “Do objective moral values and duties exist?” or “Do human beings have intrinsic value?” Philosophy degrees are not necessary to observe that it is wrong to torture and murder a toddler or that human rights violations, even in nations that condone brutality, violate objective and basic human rights. Those points are legitimately made by anyone. We are not saying that our intuitions are infallible and are the end of the conversation, but as my friend Scott Klusendorf said, “We have to start the conversation somewhere.”

It is true that there are very sophisticated arguments in favor of a worldview that reduces human life to a mere byproduct of blind evolutionary processes. We cannot simply dismiss those arguments on the basis that they disagree with our commonsense intuitions. That said, it is also a mistake to believe that all arguments begin on equal footing. If there are features in our worldview that are problematic, it is dishonest to ignore those features. And it seems to me that the more obvious one of those features appears to be then the greater burden we have to explain it away. This simple observation is the basis of complex academic arguments like the Arguments from Consciousness by Dr. JP Moreland or the Kalam Cosmological Argument by Dr. William Lane Craig and many others. In their full glory, these academic arguments are dense with sophistication and display the remarkable erudition of their authors, but when I am standing in front of a class of lay people explaining them I focus on the simple foundations. We seem to have a conscious mind and the ability to make choices as free agents. Anything that begins to exist has a cause and the universe appears to have begun to exist. These are simple observations that require good reasons to abandon them.

Why revisit all of this? Because in our work it can become very easy to lose sight of what is commonsense. When you read argument after argument from the other side and realize that many (certainly not all) of those that oppose the full humanity of the unborn or the concept of human exceptionalism are highly intelligent individuals it can become easy to lose sight of where all of this arguing begins. The conversation can take some strange turns and before you know it you have forgotten where it all started.

I had a fascinating reminder recently of where it starts. I was in the mountains of Central Java in Indonesia giving my testimony at a gospel rally to more than 600 people from some 20 small villages near the Wonosari area. I concentrated this presentation on my transformation from a surly atheist that made it my life's goal to be intimidating and unapproachable to working in Christian ministry trying to be the light of the world and the city on the hill that God called me to be. As I talked about my former beliefs I mentioned in passing that as an atheist I did not believe that there was any real difference between man and other animals. As products of evolution, no animal enjoyed a privileged position in any metaphysical sense and that ultimately we were no more valuable than monkeys or sharks. I have made this point hundreds of times in the US especially at universities to student groups. It is not a remarkable or novel point and it is generally met with knowing nods of the head to assure me they have heard this before. That is not the reaction I got from this crowd, though.

How did this crowd of simple villagers in the mountains of Indonesia respond when I told them I once thought human beings were no different than animals like monkeys and sharks? They laughed. They laughed loudly. It wasn't meant to be a funny line and yet it was easily the biggest laugh I got all night, and suddenly I laughed along with them. For these people that work with animals intimately every day the idea that we were the same as their cows and chickens was a joke and a good one to boot.

Their commonsense intuitions tell them that people are different in easily observable ways from other animals. They are not yet learned enough to dismiss those intuitions easily. And though this anecdote admittedly proves nothing in the greater arguments, it was a reminder for me where those arguments ought to start. It also reminded me how clear some truths are to those who do not spend their time trying to convince themselves to deny what they know.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Abortion Debate is Up [Scott]

Randy Alcorn has posted the video of my debate with former ACLU President Nadine Strossen (Westmont College, 3/15/2001).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bumper Sticker Philosophy [Megan]

College campuses are like great big idea generators — lots of different ideas swirling around and giving birth to new ideas.
One of the best places to see the ideas being churned out is in a campus parking lot — namely on the backs of the vehicles in those parking lots...the ones covered with bumper stickers. And by comparing the bumper stickers adorning a single vehicle, one can discern whether or not the vehicle's owner is a careful thinker. A recent trip to the University of Georgia campus made this evident.
Case and point: the first sticker that caught my eye on one sticker-clad red sedan was a parody of the Christian fish symbol — inside the fish was "DARWIN," and the fish had stick feet. Just to the right of that sticker were two others (one placed just above the other) that respectively read, "Fight racism" and "Pro-choice." Uh-oh.
The owner of the red sedan was clearly not majoring in metaphysics. If she was — I'm guessing it was a "she" because of the nature of the remaining stickers — she might have picked up on some of the conflicts beneath the surface.
For starters, the "Darwin fish" showed her hand — she was undergirding her ideas with a naturalistic worldview. (Note: Naturalism asserts that reality can be explained by purely natural means — nothing beyond the physical world allowed.)
Not only that, the sticker — poking fun at the Christian fish symbol — implied that she believed her worldview is better than others. But "better than" depends on an unseen scale of goodness. Naturalism cannot account for goodness, much less better than. According to her worldview, ideas are just the inevitable result of bombarding particles. So ideas can be different, but none can be better than others.
The same problem extends to the views implied by the other stickers — including "Fight racism" and "Pro-choice." The best she can do is say she prefers those views to others, but she cannot explain why they are "better," or why one ought to hold them.
Furthermore, there is a gaping inconsistency between those two views. "Fight racism" implies that she thinks it is wrong to discriminate based on physical appearance — skin color, for instance. I agree.
But "Pro-choice," the view that advocates abortion, asserts that discrimination is okay on grounds of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency (SLED). Those are the only real differences between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today, and none of them are grounds for declaring embryos less human, less valuable, or less deserving of life than their born counterparts. As we teach at LTI, the unborn are unquestionably human — science has settled that for us. And human beings are intrinsically valuable — valuable just in light of being human, made in the image of God.
Ideas are powerful things, especially as they give birth to other ideas. Ideas that flow from a single falsity can be dangerous, which is evident in the web of beliefs — and actions — that flow from the single thought, "The unborn are not human."
Ideas that are grounded in the Christian worldview, however, harmonize in a way that is good, true and beautiful. They make sense of reality. As C.S. Lewis concluded, "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else."