Monday, April 15, 2013

Squirrels, Accidents, and Human Exceptionalism [SK]

I spoke to 1,500 Catholic high school students in Ontario (Canada) today. I get another 1,300 tomorrow. 

Catholic schools in Canada are funded by the government and are overwhelmingly secular. The dominant worldview is not much different than your average class at U.C. Berkeley. By far the most common objection I get from Canadian “Catholic” students goes like this. “You say you oppose all killing. So, are you a vegetarian?”

Today was no exception, as a female student made it very clear her beef with me was one of consistency: How could I be pro-life and enjoy a good Alberta steak whenever I visit Calgary? (Alberta has the best beef around—period!) Obviously, the student was channeling her inner Peter Singer. Indeed, the question stems from her belief that human life is morally equivalent to all other sentient beings.

Of course, her reply was flawed on several levels. For starters, my argument today wasn't that all killing is wrong. My argument was that it’s always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Elective abortion does just that, thus, I oppose it. Moreover, the sword cuts both ways: The student supported abortion, but not killing animals. Didn’t that make her inconsistent as well?

But I didn’t stay there. She was friendly and willing to engage, so I zeroed in on her God-given moral intuitions by relating two events from yesterday.

Me: During my drive from Albany (NY) to Guelph (Ontario), the car in front of me unintentionally flattened a squirrel who didn’t look before crossing. I didn’t stop to lend a hand. Was I wrong?

Student: No, that happens. As long as you didn’t try to hit him yourself, you didn’t do anything wrong.

Me. Agreed. Now how about this. Three hours later, just after crossing into Canada, I witnessed a horrific accident. A car behind me and to my left collided with the center rail and flipped end-over-end multiple times before finally coming to a stop (on its side) into a ditch. I immediately summoned 911 and stopped to lend assistance. (Miraculously, two women crawled out of the wreckage, but I’m doubtful the driver—trapped inside—made it.) I ended up staying on scene for two hours until the police finished clearing the crash site and interviewing me.

Student: That would freak me out.

Me. Ya, it didn’t make for easy sleep last night. But let’s change the story.

Student: Okay

Me: Suppose instead of stopping to help, I just drove on—like I did with the squirrel. Would that have been wrong?

Student: Ah, ya…

Me: But not wrong with the squirrel?

Student: Um, no.

Me: Why is that?

She had to leave for class, but hopefully that gave her something to chew on.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Debate w/ Malcom Potts (UC Berkeley): Outline of My Rebuttal re: Science of Embryology [SK]

One reason Potts completely melted down in front of 600 of his students was that I hit him very hard in his own area of expertise—embryology—demonstrating that he either did not know his science or was deliberately misleading. I was not sarcastic or disrespectful. But I continually pounded away on this question: “Why are all the other embryologists in the world wrong? Don’t you need to explain why they are wrong? You could be right, and I’m open to hearing that. But simply pulling rank on me won’t work. Give me a good argument why you are correct, and I will concede this debate.”
Of course, he never did.

[Stop reading here if you don’t want a detailed review.]

Below is an outline of his claims, and my responses to them. I began my rebuttal by quickly reviewing my opening case:

I. Review My Thesis: The unborn are distinct, living, whole humans. They are not constructed externally like a car, but develop themselves from within. Various embryology textbooks, like those cited in my opening speech, confirm this.

II. Dr. Potts’s response to my scientific case is not persuasive. He simply tried to pull rank on me. Here's what he said:

A. "No absolutes in embryology, only judgment calls."

1. Including that one? Self-defeating (like saying, “my brother is an only child”)
2. If we don’t know if the unborn are human, we shouldn’t kill them
3. But Potts does know. In our previous debate (last November), he pointed to a picture of an early embryo and said, “This is what you and I looked like after conception.” Thus, he just conceded my case!

B. "Absence of consensus—people disagree on embryo’s humanity."

1. So? How does it follow that because people disagree, nobody is right?
2. If disagreement means that nobody is right, Dr. Potts’s own position is refuted. After all, many prominent embryologists disagree with him!
3. Most important, we have a consensus: Embryology textbooks uniformly state each of us began as an embryo. Even thinkers who share Dr. Potts’s support for abortion agree (Alan Guttmacher, Ronald Dworkin, David Boonin, Peter Singer).
4. It’s not enough for Dr. Potts to pull rank on me: he needs to explain why my scientific case is flawed.

C. "No embryo is a living human until primitive streak emerges at 18 days"

1. Odd claim: Dr. Potts just told us we can’t know anything about embryology (no absolutes, only judgment calls) but now he says that we can’t be individual human beings before 18 days.
2. For a guy who says we can’t know anything about embryology he sure claims to know a lot!

D. Miscarriages—“Nature is the biggest abortionist.”

1. Potts commits the Is/Ought Fallacy: How does it follow that because nature spontaneously aborts high numbers of embryos that a) they are not living human beings, or b) I may deliberately kill them through elective abortion?
2. Many 3rd World countries have high infant mortality rates; does it follow that those infants who die sooner have less of a right to life than those who die later? 3. Admittedly, these miscarriages are tragic. But as liberal journalist Andrew Sullivan points out, just because earthquakes happen doesn’t mean mass murder is justified.

E. Hydatidiform Moles—“All acts of fertilization do not result in human organism.”

1. Confuses necessary and sufficient conditions: I’m not arguing that everything that results from sperm/egg union is human, only that all humans conceived without the aid of reproductive technologies came about that way.
2. Hydatidiform Moles moles do not start of as embryos and morph into tumors. Rather, they result from flawed or deficient conceptions and are intrinsically tumors from the beginning.

F. Ignorance—“Biological life is continuous, and any divisions between life and non-life are arbitrary judgement calls.”

1. This is demonstrably false. Just because life is continuous between generations does not mean we can’t tell when an individual human begins to exist. Dr. Potts still hasn't refuted the huge numbers of embryologists who disagree with him.
2. Abortionists know what they are killing—Warren Hern: “We have reached a point in this particular technology (D&E) where there is no possibility of denials of an act of destruction by the operator. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the current like an electric current.”
3. Planned Parenthood Brochure (1961—“Plan Your Children for Health and Happiness”): “An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.”
4. California Medicine (1970): "Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected."

G. H. Soul confusion—“Embryologist can’t say when life begins anymore than an astronomer can say what happens to the soul after death.”

1. True, science can’t tell us if embryos (or anyone else) has souls—that’s a philosophical question—but the science of embryology can tell us when each of us began (conception).
2. As I said earlier, many of Pott’s colleagues disagree with him on the empirical question of when life begins.
3. We don’t need decide if embryos have souls before deciding to protect them. The law doesn’t take a position on whether 35-year olds have souls, but it still forbids intentionally killing them.

H. “Ectopic pregnancy proves unborn are not human, as every doctor in the world will kill that embryo to save the mother.”

1. From the fact a doctor saves a woman’s life by treating ectopic pregnancy, with the unintended result the embryo dies, we are to conclude what—that the embryo wasn’t human and intentionally killing him is okay?
2. Treating ectopic pregnancy and elective abortion are not parallel. In the first case, the death of the developing human is foreseen but not intended. In the second, the death of the developing human being is both foreseen and intended.

How Your Pastor can Say a Few Words About Kermit Gosnell [SK]

This is not a substitute for a sermon, but a brief reminder to the congregation of what a "pro-life" church looks like. Here's what a pastor might say....
I’m going to take five minutes comment on a horrific case you’re not hearing much about in the news—the Kermit Gosnell abortion trial. I want us to pray about that case today--namely, that God will use the horrific details to expose evil and awaken the moral conscience of a nation.

Kermit Gosnell is a late-term abortionist who killed not only unborn humans, but those who survived his grisly procedures and were born alive. He killed them by slitting open the backs of their necks and severing their spinal cords. One nurse at Gosnell’s clinic said she heard one of the babies born alive screaming before Gosnell killed him. It’s against that horrific backdrop that I make my remarks today.

Our church is unashamedly pro-life, and you need to know what we mean by that.

First, our pro-life church is pro-human value. While the secular culture reduces human value to your functional abilities, we unashamedly affirm the clear Biblical teaching that humans have value because they bear the image of their Maker. Genesis 1 teaches this in the Old Testament and James 3 teaches it in the New—to name just a few passages. Scripture also teaches that because humans bear the image of God, the shedding of innocent blood is strictly forbidden. That is to say, Scripture condemns the intentional killing of innocent human beings. Again, both Old and New Testaments affirm this in places like Exodus 23, Proverbs 6, and Matthew 5. From this it logically follows that if the unborn are human beings—and the science of embryology affirms that they are—the commands against shedding innocent blood apply to the unborn as they do everyone else.

Second, our pro-life church is pro-gospel. While the secular culture insists that right and wrong are up to you, we affirm the clear biblical teaching that moral truths are objective, grounded in God’s holy character. Sadly, we humans—every last one of us—are rebels by nature. We don’t just act badly; we are bad by nature. Outside the saving work of Christ, we justly stand condemned whether we’ve had abortions or not. This is precisely why Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world. He didn’t need to. We were condemned already (John 3:17-18). Thankfully, God didn’t leave us in our default position. He sent Jesus to bear in full his righteous wrath against our sin—including the sin of abortion. God proved Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient by raising him from the dead! Here’s the takeaway: For those who trust in Jesus alone for rescue, their past, present, and future sins are covered with the perfect righteousness of Christ. You know what I call that? I call that great news for those who’ve participated in abortion. If you’ve had an abortion or even performed one like Dr. Gosnell, you don’t need an excuse—you need an exchange: Christ’s righteousness for your sinfulness. Not only will God give you that righteousness, he’ll adopt you into his family as a dearly loved child. So, don’t relativise your sin; run to the One who takes it away.

Third, our pro-life church is pro-equipping. My job as a pastor is to convey biblical truth in a way that equips you to engage friends who don’t share your Christian worldview. Upon hearing the truth about Dr. Gosnell, many of your friends who support abortion will protest that you are comparing apples to oranges. You’ll be told that killing a fetus before birth is one thing but killing one after is quite another. Really? You need to engage them with a powerful argument, one you can communicate in three minutes or less. Begin with science: The facts of embryology establish that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. True, they have yet to grow and mature, but they are whole human beings nonetheless. Leading embryology textbooks affirm this. Next, argue Philosophy: As Stephen Schwarz points out, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and children Dr. Gosnell brutally killed after birth. Sure, there are differences between born and unborn humans, but are those differences morally significant? They are not. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you had no right to life then but you do now. (The pastor can use the SLED acronym to illustrate this.)

To sum up, don’t let your friends focus exclusively on Dr. Gosnell. Refocus them on the holocaust before their very eyes, the one that snuffs out 4,000 lives a day. Pray Christ is glorified in your conversations, then work hard to give a reason for the hope that lies within you. These are dark days. But surrender to evil is not an option for our church. We’re commanded to expose evil, not cover it up (Eph.5). Let’s get to work.