Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reflections on '...as long as it's healthy.'

This post was originally blogged at the Failed Atheist.

There is a common saying popular in Western culture when talking about the birth or scheduled scan of a child. It can arise in a number of different contexts but usually amounts to something like ‘…as long as it’s healthy’.

What does this mean? I don’t think people necessarily mean it in some sinister eugenic sense but what it means is that their child we be loved only if they are healthy. It places a condition on whether that child will be welcomed into the world and loved. I’ve heard it from so many people that it seems accurate to state that it’s culturally ingrained in our subconscious view of  the unborn child. A healthy child is a welcomed child whilst an unhealthy child is not, after-all in a culture of cost-benefit analysis an unhealthy child will just drain our resources right?

What’s wrong with ‘…as long as it’s healthy’? I can think of a number of reasons why we should stop saying it. There is nothing wrong in preferring a healthy child, I think most people can agree that we would prefer that our child was healthy than not. But that sentiment is not being portrayed in the saying, it goes much further than that by implying that an unhealthy child potentially won’t be loved by their parents and may be better off not being born. A parents love is meant to be unconditional but we have such a low cultural view of disability and poor health that it encourages our love for such children to be tentative and conditional. There is subtle yet pervasive pressure to only bring a healthy child into the world, this is why we have the scale of prenatal screening and diagnosis that we do, it is simply cheaper to diagnose and dispose of an unhealthy child before they’re born. Infanticide is still frowned upon here (for now), unlike the Netherlands and their Groningen protocol.

This is not a normal way to view ones children but part of a dehumanizing culture that has made an idol out of health and well being. We have trouble understanding that someone who may be in poor health or have a disability can be happy, our assumption is that those things equal a sub-par human existence which is not necessarily true. You do not need to be a healthy human being to be a good, influential or heroic one, just check out these people, Stephen Hawking, Hellen Keller, Jean-Dominique Bauby and Christy Brown as just a few examples of this.

To unconditionally love someone is to say that it’s good they exist. A humans dignity isn’t based in their talents and abilities but in their shared human nature. This is the Christian view of human value, we all share equal dignity grounded in being made in the image of God, and not because of how intelligent or physically able we may be. We should thus welcome all human beings into the world we share together, regardless of their health or abilities. When we keep repeating statements like ‘as long as it’s healthy’ we are partaking in an idea that implicitly intends not to welcome certain human beings into the world. Of course I understand that caring for a child who isn’t healthy may be challenging but we can make it easier by creating a culture where all humans are welcome and not only those who meets societal standards of normalcy. I therefore suggest that we stop saying ‘…as long as it’s healthy.’.

After writing this I discovered other people have also written about this, both from a Secular and Christian perspective, both very helpful for further reading.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Monkeying Around With Personhood [Clinton Wilcox]

Wesley J. Smith has written about a case in Argentina in which an orangutan named Sandra has been declared by the court to be a non-human person. This ruling essentially would grant Sandra her freedom because it is unethical to hold people captive unlawfully.

The BBC has even written about litigation in the United States to try to get Tommy, a chimpanzee living in captivity, recognized as a "legal person."

Peter Singer and Michael Tooley are two atheist philosophers who have long supported this notion that certain animals, like chimpanzees and dolphins, ought to be considered persons and human infants, embryos, fetuses, and the severely disabled ought not to be. Now it seems that fight has gotten bigger, even being won in at least one part of the world.

This line of thinking is atheist at its heart. If we are just the product of random mutations, a blind, naturalistic process of evolution, then really we are no more special than any other animal species out there. [1] This isn't just my interpretation, either. In Matter and Consciousness, Paul Churchland wrote: "The important point about the standard evolutionary story is that the human species and all of its features are the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process...We are creatures of matter. We should learn to live with that fact."

In fact, Singer and Tooley both (in Practical Ethics and Abortion and Infanticide, respectively) have argued that this idea that humans are intrinsically valuable is a religious idea, and we need to do away with these "antiquated" notions. The only reason we now view infanticide as wrong is because Christian morality has permeated Western civilization.

So if you are going to argue that certain animals deserve personhood, one of two things must happen:

1) You raise those animals to the status of human beings. So if Tommy and Sandra are persons, and infants are not, that means that killing a chimpanzee is more serious than killing a human infant. If you "murder" a chimpanzee, you deserve to be locked away in jail for life or executed. [2] If you kill an infant, you don't. At most, you would be guilty of a property crime, if you killed the infant against the parents' wishes. This is a highly counterintuitive idea.

2) You lower humans to the status of mere animals. After all, if we're no intrinsically different than animals, then it's really not seriously wrong to kill another human being. This is also highly counterintuitive, since we have very strong intuition that killing any human being, especially ones that are younger and more vulnerable than we are, is seriously wrong.

The bottom line is chimpanzees don't deserve personhood status. Personhood is not some arbitrary idea that we can just ascribe to entities and consider them "one of us." Being a person is inherent in being the kind of entity that you are (in our case, a human being made in God's image, or to state it in a secular way, an entity with an inherent nature as rational agents). Those who believe you are a person based on the functions you currently perform are guilty of a simple confusion: confusing being a person with acting as a person. As you must be a human before you can develop human parts, so you must be a person before you can develop personal properties.

I do not believe that animals are rights bearing entities. That's not to say that we can mistreat them. They are still entities that feel pain, and we should respect that. And a human being who mistreats an animal is at risk of becoming animal-like, themselves, becoming desensitized to pain in others. However, even if you believe they are rights bearing entities, you can ascribe rights to them without ascribing personhood to them. But what we also have to understand is that with rights comes duties. I have a right to live. This means that I am also obligated to respect everyone else's right to live. Apes cannot understand or abide by any obligations.

Sandra and Tommy are both blissfully unaware of these court proceedings. In fact, they don't care one iota about whether or not you consider them persons. This is an important difference between apes and humans. Apes may be highly intelligent -- but only when compared to other animal species (this is often lost in the animal rights debate). Apes are not very intelligent when compared to human beings. No ape will ever write like Tolstoy, or paint like Michelangelo, or compose music like Bach, or fly other apes to the Moon. And while apes may be able to use certain rudimentary tools -- that's all it is, a rudimentary tool. No ape will ever open a hardware store for the carpentry needs of other apes. And while infants may not yet be able to understand these rights and obligations, they will. And that's the crux of the matter. Human embryos/fetuses/infants will naturally develop these abilities, whereas apes never will.

So trying to ascribe personhood status to lower animals is unnecessary and makes a mockery of human dignity. Animals have been part of the ecosystem for a long time. Animals kill each other, protect each other, copulate, and do all manner of things without human help and will continue to do so without human intervention and without caring a bit about personhood or what it is. There is just no reason to ascribe personhood to animals. The only possible reason would be to ensure that humans don't mistreat animals or cause them to go extinct. But ascribing them personhood status is not necessary for that, either.

[1] I'm not wanting to get into a debate about evolution. It's certainly possible that God used evolution as the mechanism by which to create humanity. The operative idea here is if naturalistic evolution is true, this is the idea that would follow.

[2] Again, the debate regarding capital punishment is beyond the scope of this article. This idea here is that whatever the penalty for murder is, that's what you deserve if you "murder" a chimpanzee.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

‘Pregnant woman leaves prolife advocates speechless’ – A Response to a viral Pro-abortion/choice video

Over the last week the abortion debate has been reawakened in the UK, after a viral video of a pro-choice/abortion women criticising prolife campaigners went viral and has been seen nearly 5 million times. The abortion debate has been on the front of newspapers, on the TV, Radio and all over the internet, the first time to such an extent for quite some time. Borrowing the words of Francis Schaeffer, the roof has come off and people have been made aware of the point of tension. Simply that abortion is a violent, dehumanising act that kills a whole, living distinct human being and abortion imagery makes that fact impossible to hide from. This has made a lot of people very angry and the UK press are not happy about it!

The viral video has been extremely popular but I have written a response to it which you can read here, and there is also a link in the first paragraph to the viral video.

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Thoughts on Brittany Maynard's Situation [Clinton Wilcox]

You've probably heard the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with degenerative brain cancer, who took her own life rather than lose control of her bodily functions in what she referred to as "dying with dignity." Now, like all contentious issues, there are terms used that are emotionally-charged and obfuscate the main issue. In the case of euthanasia, "death with dignity" is one such term, since it implies that those who choose to live out their lives and accept the consequences are not dignified in their death.

Maynard's situation was tragic, and no one truly knows what they will do when they find themselves in that situation. It is a lousy situation all around. What she did was not brave, to be sure, but neither am I comfortable calling it cowardly, either. Even though she did the wrong thing, she was trying to take a situation that was beyond her control and bring it under her control. I don't want to overlook the tragedy of the situation, as so many have done so far. It's easy to denigrate someone for their choices when you're not the one going through it. I have even seen some indicating that because she committed suicide, she will not be in Heaven. But this is bad theology; Jesus told us that there is only one unpardonable sin, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12: 22-32). I do not know Maynard's spiritual condition. But the only thing that would keep her out is if she wasn't trusting in Christ as her savior and redeemer.

The stark reality is that Maynard did not "die with dignity." As Trent Horn points out, dying with dignity is about how you face death, not about how you die. Choosing an early death is not dying with dignity because death, itself, is undignified. It is our enemy, which is why Christ had to come and conquer it. With Christ, death is not final. There will come a time when all the dead will be resurrected, and this is the time that we, as Christians, can look to for hope. Maynard taking her own life prematurely was not dying on her own terms, because she was already dying. Her choice to commit suicide was merely preventing death from dealing the final blow.

The situation was made even more tragic by the fact that she was in constant pain. Now, there are painkillers one can take, and as Trent mentioned in his article, it is not impermissible to take painkilling medication that has an unintended side effect of shortening one's life. But to directly take one's own life to avoid what comes at the end of life is wrong. There have been others who have a similar condition to Maynard's who tried to urge her not to take her life, such as Kara Tippets.

I've seen several people wondering about how her situation differs from people on 9/11, who jumped from the Twin Towers to escape the burning flames that were engulfing the building. The disconnect is that the people jumping were trying to escape the flames, and probably weren't thinking clearly in the heat of the moment (pun definitely not intended). Maynard's death was a premeditated act that implicitly says she doesn't believe that living a full life of suffering and accepting the consequences is dignified.

It actually makes me think of a general on a battlefield, fighting a losing battle. Surely if a general were to engage in a losing battle knowing that he had no hope of winning, that would be wrong. It would be tantamount to murder of his soldiers, and suicide if he didn't make it out, himself. But what if they are engaged in battle with a ruthless enemy, with no hope of winning? The heroic thing to do is to fight to the very end, not to surrender and allow the ruthless enemy to slaughter your soldiers.

Allowing the decision to end the lives of people who are suffering opens a slippery slope. How much suffering is too much before we deem a life not worth living? We've already seen some of this in our culture which has allowed abortion and euthanasia, such as the fact that roughly 90% of unborn children diagnosed with Down's syndrome aborted, and children like Baby Doe who was born in 1984, but had Down's syndrome and needed a surgery to correct a condition in his throat so that he could eat. Since he had Down's syndrome, the Supreme Court allowed the parents of Baby Doe to murder their own child by starving him to death.

We already live in a culture that doesn't respect life and doesn't understand the wonder and the beauty of it, even those lives that are not lived up to our culture's standard of quality. Brittany Maynard's case is the latest in a tragic line of people who viewed their own lives, or the life of someone else, as not worth living.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: Persuasive Pro-Life by Trent Horn [Clinton Wilcox]

Special thanks to Trent Horn for the free copy to review.

Trent Horn used to work for Justice for All, and it really shows in this book. If you've ever been through a JFA seminar, this book is a terrific supplement to the seminar. It's basically the JFA seminar in print form.

Trent begins by explaining what's at stake in the issue, then turns to how to have more productive conversations on abortion. Instead of having conversations that devolve into shouting matches and name-calling, or even having civil conversations where both people talk past each other, Trent discusses skills to develop that will help you be more convincing in your conversations to be able to change hearts and minds on this issue.

After the conversation skill, Trent discusses the many different kinds of people you may encounter when you talk about this issue, and the best ways to respond to their concerns.

When I first heard that Trent was writing a book, I was told that the book would be similar to Scott Klusendorf's The Case for Life, only geared more toward Catholics. While Trent does quote many Catholic fathers and popes, this is not a book just for Catholics. Non-Catholics will get much out of the book, and the vast majority of information in this book can be accepted and used by non-Catholics. There are only two places in the book that I can recall that may not be specifically helpful to non-Catholics, but it is still very helpful to at least hear where Catholics are coming from on this issue, especially since they're the largest pro-life group of people in the world.

There was really only one misstep in the book that I can recall, but it's a minor one, as far as I'm concerned. In his discussion of abortions in the case of rape on page 207, Trent (in the mouth of a pro-life advocate) makes the statement that "rape is a tragic crime that men will never understand." But some men *are* raped. It's important to understand that while women are the vast majority of victims, there are still men who are raped, and may even be working for the pro-life field and can use that as a bit of common ground with the pro-choice advocate.

Trent's book is simply one of the better books you can own on the abortion issue. It will help you present a much more persuasive case for the pro-life position, not just because it presents good, compelling arguments, but also because it will help you be a much more persuasive arguer by treating the person you're talking to with respect, listening to their concerns, and finding common ground without compromising your pro-life convictions.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Responding to Philosophical Arguments Against the Pro-Life Position, Part IV [Clinton Wilcox]

This will be the last in this series, as the author, Brandon Christen, has indicated this is his last part. He seems to have forgotten his desire to respond to the argument from ageism, but I guess we'll have to be content with this. You can find the first part in this series here, the second part here, and the third part here.

Christen's article, that I will be responding to, can be found at this link.

Christen does consider this to be the strongest non-religious argument against abortion. The problem is, he doesn't seem to understand the argument. He seems to assume it means that you were a human at all points in your life. That's part of it, but the argument states that you are *you* at all points in your life. You were human at all points, but the same *you* now is the same *you* then when you were a toddler, and when you were in the womb. Here's a more thorough exposition of the argument from identity.

Christen begins by restating his fallacious argument that there is no evidence for a soul -- that there is a difference between humanity and personhood. That's true, but irrelevant. The argument from identity is not a personhood argument. Christen seems blinded by the "personhood" discussion so that he can't imagine any discussion of abortion that doesn't break down to a discussion of personhood. Whether or not you talk about person, the argument is that you are identical to yourself through all points of your life.

Before continuing, I just want to counter Christen's false claim that there is no good evidence that minds can exist outside of a brain. This is just false. We may not have experience of minds existing outside of brains, but it doesn't follow from this that it is impossible. After all, if God exists, he exists disembodied but is able to think, create, etc. So if God exists, then it is false to say that a brain must be present for a mind to exist. There is also very strong evidence that the brain and mind are separate. The Law of Identity states that A=B. In other words, for anything true of A, that same thing must be true of B. Otherwise the two things would not be identical. But there are things that is true of my mind that is not true of my brain. My brain is physical, whereas my mind is not. Whenever I have thoughts "about" something, my brain does not change shape to become the thing I am thinking of. Additionally, as J.P. Moreland writes in his book Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality, "Mental events are fellings of pain, episodes of thoughts, or sensory experiences. Physical events are happenings in the brain and central nervous system that can be described exhaustively using terms from chemistry and physics." Moreland goes on, "Physical events and their properties do not have the same features as do mental events and their properties. My thoughts, feelings of pain, or sensory experiences do not have any weight; they are not located anywhere in space (my thought of lunch cannot be closer to my right ear than to my left one); they are not composed of chemicals; they do not have electrical properties. On the other hand, the brain events associated with my thoughts, etc. -- indeed, with material things in general -- do have these features."

So there is very good evidence that the brain and the mind are separate. But moving on.

Christen goes on to assert a thought experiment, that if he was struck with a virus that erased all of his memories, everything that makes him "Brandon" would be gone. But this isn't clear at all. He's confusing the memories, experiences, etc., with the experiencer of those memories, experiences, etc. What is it, exactly, that was experiencing those events? Why is he so sure that "Brandon" would be gone, instead of "Brandon" surviving without his experiences intact? In fact, with one question I can refute his thought experiment: are we then morally permitted to kill Brandon once he finds himself in that state? If not, then doesn't it seem like the experiencer is still there, even if all of his memories are gone?

Christen seems to be asserting a form of dualism here -- that Brandon is not his body, just his collection of psychological experiences. But he has not made a case for this, besides some misguided assertions that there is no brain or "soul" (he assumes there is no evidence, rather than engaging the multitude of philosophical and theological books that give evidence for a soul or that the mind is independent of the brain). In fact, Edwin C. Hui, in his book At the Beginning of Life: Dilemmas in Theological Bioethics, argues that this dualism results in the view that the physical organism can exist independently of the psychological entity, and it's the psychological entity that should be given ontological significance (in other words, the psychological entity is the one with intrinsic value, the one whose existence is important, not the physical organism). But this contradicts normal human experience. The sensations that our body experiences need the body as a subject of experiences, to experience these sensations, and the psychological component is necessary to comprehend the sensations so they can be understood as meaningful. Since the boyd and psychological components are both necessary for our experiences, then both are necessary for the "I", the person who is the subject of experiences. Since the body is a necessary component to the person, one cannot hold that the body comes to be at one time while the person comes to be at another time.

So Christen's critique here, like his other critiques, is simply misguided. He seems to want to force "personhood" arguments into these other non-personhood arguments. But this simply won't do. In fact, the argument from numerical identity argues that the fetus is identical to me, despite not having psychological continuity with who the fetus will become later. Christen fails to really engage with the argument, itself, instead just engaging with whether or not we are psychologically connected to ourselves through out our entire lives. We are not, but this is irrelevant to the argument from identity.

So Christen's statement that there are no sufficient arguments isn't surprising -- he doesn't really understand the arguments. In order to find an argument compelling, you have to understand it. But in order to adequately refute an argument, you also have to understand it. These arguments remain unscathed.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Irrationality of the Pro-Choice Mindset [Clinton Wilcox]

The Blaze has reported on a woman on Reddit who has posted an open letter to her unborn child, a young person which she is going to have aborted next Friday. You can read the letter here.

Let's be clear about something, first. I am sympathetic to her position. I know it can be difficult to raise an unborn child when one is not ready to be a mother. The people in her life should be rallying around her to help her through this difficult situation and help prepare her to be a good mother for this child. I just don't see that this is adequate grounds for anyone to kill their child, to say nothing of the fact that the choice of whether to become a mother is before the procreative act of sex, not after. Once the child is conceived, you are a mother and have obligations to care for your offspring, whether or not you feel ready for them.

The Blaze has called this letter "heartbreaking." But what's heartbreaking about this situation is that she's bought into the pro-choice mindset. Abortion is often touted as a "religious issue," but the religious underpinnings of the pro-choice mindset are often ignored. In this letter, she acknowledges that this is a child, yet she seems to believe in a form of reincarnation, that the child she kills now will come around again when she's ready to be a mother, and this time she'll keep the child. But this doesn't line up with reality. The child she kills is a unique life that will not come around again. Once she kills the child, the child is gone for good. Here's an article from Secular Pro-Life that talks more about the religious underpinnings of the pro-choice movement.

If this letter had been written by a parent wanting to kill her toddler, this would not be seen as "heartbreaking." This would be seen as appalling, and rightly so. Yet because this is an unborn child, and pro-choice people tend to have a subtle reincarnation mindset, it's not seen as appalling because she can just try again when she's ready and this same child will come around again. This does not correspond to reality, but I can see how it would help some people sleep better at night.

She also claims that she wants her child to be happy. I hear this a lot from pro-choice advocates, and it seems a good way to justify this act of abortion. But this claim seems a little hollow when you understand that the choice is between giving your child life, or killing your child in abortion. How does your fear that you won't be able to give your child a good life justify killing the child through a gruesome procedure like abortion (or at all)? You can't claim you love your child and subsequently claim that killing her is the best thing for her.

The unborn is a unique individual right from conception. As a unique individual, once their life is snuffed out there is no coming back. We need to address the irrationality of the pro-choice mindset if we're going to see abortion made illegal again.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pro-Life Themes in Doctor Who [Clinton Wilcox]

I am very much a Whovian. I'm actually a fan of many science fiction shows, especially Star Trek. And as a side note, I don't consider Doctor Who to be science fiction. I consider it science fantasy. I have seen many articles written about the latest Doctor Who episode, "Kill the Moon," which seems to have a pro-life theme running through the episode. I am skeptical about this theme, as I'll outline below. However, as is the abortion issue, this episode has clearly been polarizing. I've seen reviews by people who hated it with the burning passion of a thousand suns. I've seen reviews by people who loved it. And even pro-choice reviewers have found a pro-life theme in this episode, such as this reviewer. This will contain obvious spoilers, so continue reading at your own peril.

Let's be clear: I love when science fiction shows present moral dilemmas. That makes for compelling television. I love it when they have philosophical discussions. That's why this episode (and others) have appealed to me. Doctor Who doesn't always present moral dilemmas or philosophical problems, but when it does, it makes for a great hour of television.

But here's the problem: Doctor Who has been a show that has always been about animal rights. There are many scenes from prior episodes that show that animals should be treated just like humans. A more recent example was when the Tyrannosaurus Rex was threatening modern London, and The Doctor condemned the British for killing the Dinosaur because it was scared and didn't know what it was doing.

In "Kill the Moon," The Doctor takes Clara and a student at Clara's school, Courtney, to the Moon in the year 2049. They discover that the Moon had put on weight, affecting its gravity, and was threatening the life of everyone on Earth. They later discover that the Moon is actually an egg and a space creature is about to hatch from it. They encounter a team of astronauts, led by Lundvik, who have been sent by Earth to plant nukes and destroy the Moon before it destroys them. But now with the discovery of the creature, they face a moral dilemma: Destroy the Moon, and the creature with it, or let the animal survive and hope that it doesn't destroy the Earth. Lundvik votes to kill the creature, while Clara and Courtney want to save the creature's life. As this doesn't involve him, The Doctor leaves in the TARDIS (which stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space) to allow the Terrans to make the decision for themselves.

It's not hard to draw a pro-life allegory from the tale, especially when you consider the ten points that Matt Bowman of Catholic Vote outlined in his article here. So I will at least concede that there is good reason to draw those parallels. But now I wish to talk about why I'm skeptical that it was a pro-life episode instead of merely an episode of protecting life in general.

First, I have no idea what the political views of Steven Moffat are. Gene Roddenberry would allow writers on Star Trek to explore themes that he didn't agree with. I don't know if Moffat has the same philosophy for his writers, or if Moffat considers himself to be pro-life. Until I do, I'm hesitant to call this a pro-life episode.

Second, this may not be a sentient creature that we are dealing with here. If this is not a sentient creature, then I think Lundvik's idea of killing the creature to save the earth would be morally permissible. Only if this was a child of a sentient species would this actually present a moral dilemma at all. As we know, there have been many instances in Doctor Who in which we are treated to the idea that "animals are people, too." So I'm not so sure this was actually about the wrongness of killing an unborn human child, specifically (or perhaps it was about abortion, but they would condemn all abortions, even of animals). But we also shouldn't look past the fact that The Doctor allowed them the choice, so even if we understand that saving the child's life was the right thing to do, it doesn't necessarily follow from that that abortion should be made illegal.

So at worst, this wasn't about abortion at all. At best, it was but it went about it in a very confused way that didn't really address the moral underpinnings of the issue. It would have been better if they simply would have encountered a pregnant woman and had this discussion. The objection might be raised, "but that wouldn't be science fiction-y." True. But let's consider an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that did this better.

Star Trek: The Next Generation had an episode called "The Child," in which Deanna Troi was impregnated by an alien against her will. She wasn't raped, the child growing in her womb was the alien. The alien belonged to a non-corporeal species (that is, the species is an immaterial species) and wanted to understand life as a humanoid. So the way he went about it was to start life right from the beginning, as an embryo, and live out an accelerated life in just a few days that culminated in dying of natural causes. During a briefing after discovering Counselor Troi's pregnancy, Commander Riker suggested the child be aborted (even referring to the child as "it"), but Troi was insistent that the child was hers, and she was going to keep him.

This is a much better episode that discusses the abortion issue and doesn't leave any ambiguity about it. I would love to know that Moffat is pro-life (and the writer of the episode, Peter Harness). After researching a lot of reviews of this episode, I can say that there is a good chance this was meant to respond to the abortion debate. But considering how they went about it, I don't think the episode delivered in the way they may have intended it to.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Responding to Philosophical Arguments Against the Pro-Life Position, Part III [Clinton Wilcox]

This is the third part in this five part series. For part one, go here. For part two, click here.

In blogger Brandon Christen's third part of his series, he responds to an argument from rights. The argument, as he outlines is, is that all human beings have right (such as the right to life), the unborn are human beings, therefore the unborn have rights (such as the right to life).

Christen begins by reiterating his position on personhood, but as I have argued previously (see part one), his position on personhood can be rejected because he is begging the question by dismissing the soul and he has not properly argued for why personhood is grounded in brain function. And in part two, I explained that appealing to the kind of things that are not persons (e.g. grass and rocks) is a false analogy because the unborn from fertilization and the kind of things that are persons. Grass and rocks will never be sentient, yet unborn human beings will be once they develop enough.

So his discussion about the kinds of things we grant rights to is also irrelevant. He is confusing two types of value: intrinsic (or inherent) value, and instrumental value. We only value things like grass and trees instrumentally: they are valuable only insofar as we value them for their beauty, shade, production of oxygen, etc. Conversely, humans are intrinsically valuable: they are valuable in themselves and don't derive their value from anything else.

So his entire discussion of rights is off-base, because he is comparing granting rights to rocks (which are not the kinds of things that engage in personal acts) with the unborn (which are the kinds of things that engage in personal acts). In fact, his discussion at the end regarding infanticide undermines his entire article, but I'll get there at the end.

Rights, properly understood, lay out the kinds of things that we should be legally allowed to do, and also the obligations that we also must abide by. There are two different kinds of rights: legal rights, which are rights bestowed on us by the government and come about as we mature. Examples of these are the right to drive and the right to vote (this will be important later in the article). There are also natural rights, which are rights that we have by virtue of being human beings (and don't come about by maturity). Examples of these are the right to life, the right to self-defense, the right to liberty, etc. As an aside, discussions of rights actually lead to an amusing dilemma for pro-choice people. So while a tourist does not have the right to vote in a country they are not a citizen of, they do have the right not to be killed in that country because of their natural right to life.

So his discussion about granting rocks rights is useless. It is true that rocks do not desire the right to assemble; the problem is that rocks never desire the right to assemble, so there is no point in granting it to them. I had no desire to go to church last night while I was asleep. It does not follow from that that I didn't have the right to go to church last night while I was asleep. The unborn are more like people in reversible comas than they are rocks (or even brain dead people) because they do not now but will have such a desire. Besides, infants have no desire for rights yet we grant them rights. If desires were a necessary condition for having rights, infants would have no rights.

His discussion of granting mice rights is equally as useless, for the same reasons I outlined in the previous paragraph. But now it seems like Christen's position is becoming more ad hoc. After all, mice clearly have desires; they have a desire for cheese, not to die, etc. It's true that these are merely instinctual desires, but why does that matter? Here's where Christen really runs into trouble. He is clearly defining infants out of the moral community by arguing that mice, since they do not have the abstract fear of death or future suffering that we do. Peter Singer would agree with his position, except that Singer is consistent and argues that infants are not part of the moral community.

I agree with Christen's discussion of what makes us unique over the animals. What I don't agree with is Christen pushing the unborn out of the moral community just because they can't do these things yet, and Christen has yet to give us any good reason for disqualifying the unborn.

In fact, Christen actually says that killing an embryo in its early weeks is equivalent to smashing a rock in terms of how much suffering it produces: none. But this is irrelevant to the question of moral worth. There are people like Gabby Gingras, who are born with a congenital inability to feel pain. So if you're talking about suffering from a physical standpoint, you would have to say it would be moral to kill Gabby Gingras since she would not suffer. If you mean from a psychological standpoint, you are equally in trouble because now you can justify killing someone in their sleep. They will not suffer psychologically if you kill them. Christen has no leg to stand on here.

At the end of this article, Christen involves a postscript that is even more ad hoc than we've already seen. I'll bring it down point by point:

"Note: Just so we are clear, I am not saying that nothing that cannot consciously enjoy rights should not have them."

He undermines his entire article/argument with this one line alone. How can you possibly defend infants having rights, despite not being able to consciously enjoy them, and not defend the unborn as having those same rights?

"I understand that toddlers cannot enjoy, in a sort of deeply, reflective way, the right to life. However, toddlers can experience pain and fear so it is still reasonable to extend the right to life to them."

Toddlers do not experience pain and fear in the same way that we do. At the toddler stage, you experience pain and fear in the same way that the mouse, in Christen's example above, does. So Christen should argue that it is wrong to torture toddlers but not to kill them, as per the same reasoning regarding his mouse.

"However, we still understand that toddlers do not have the right to vote and we do not mind since they do not yet have the ability to formulate cogent opinions on politics or even really care to vote at all."

And here's where my discussion on different types of rights come in to play. Of course toddlers cannot vote; but sixteen year olds can certainly care to vote and form cogent opinions, yet they must still wait until they're 18. So again, desiring rights is not a necessary condition for having them. The right to vote is a legal right, not a natural right, and is granted once sufficient maturity has been gained (and this is usually arbitrary, as some sixteen-year-olds may be perfectly mature enough to vote and some twenty-five-year-olds may not be). But the right to life is a natural right, which is granted to any human being, regardless of maturity, and was even granted to the unborn prior to 1973.

"This same principle would have us extend rights to other entities that, despite being unable to fully comprehend them, could nevertheless reasonably be said to benefit from them in a meaningful way."

Except for the unborn, he means. The unborn would reasonably benefit from having their right to life protected because they would be able to grow, mature, and flourish the same way that all human beings are meant to.

"This clarification does nothing to get anti-abortionists any closer to having reasonable grounds to extend the right to life to embryos, though, since an embryo lacks even the self-awareness necessary to reasonably consider caring if it lives or dies and thus does not have a meaningful benefit conferred to it if we go out of our way to keep it in existence."

This is just an ad hoc statement from Christen, meant to try and convince us to accept his reasoning despite the fact that it completely undermines his case. I've already explained how his reasoning fails, and there is no reason to re-hash it here.

So this is strike two, with two more articles to go. Christen has not given us any reason to reject these two pro-life arguments.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Responding to Philosophical Arguments Against the Pro-Life Position, Part II [Clinton Wilcox]

Blogger Brandon Christen is presenting a case that secular arguments for the pro-life position fail. This is the second part in this series of five, and you can find the first part here.

For Christen's second part of his series, he responds to what he calls the Argument from Future Deprivation. I am taken to understand that Marquis calls this argument the Future of Value (FoV) argument, so that's how I'll be referring to it. For more information on Marquis' argument, follow this link.

I said in the first part of this series that it's refreshing to find a blogger making a reasoned case against the pro-life position, instead of just resorting to name-calling and fear-mongering. However, he is off to a less than stellar start. In fact, I'm not even sure he properly understands Marquis' argument.

One preliminary point is that Christen takes issue with the fact that Marquis does not argue that murder is wrong in his paper; he merely assumes it, and is just attempting to showcase what it is about murder that is actually wrong. I find this not even to be worth considering and am only bringing it up because the author mentioned it. The topic of the paper was not strictly whether or not murder is wrong, but that abortion is wrong. Giving a full breakdown of the wrongness of murder would have been off topic, so it is not necessary. Additionally, why would he have to argue that murder is wrong? Shouldn't all sensible people believe that murder is wrong? Even so, this does give an account of why murder is wrong. In fact, in his first few paragraphs he does engage in a brief discussion of why murder is wrong, and then applies that to the unborn since the wrongness of murder also applies in the case of an embryo or fetus that is killed. So I fail to see the significance of raising this objection.

Christen does provide a roadmap to his article, which is helpful. His three main objections, none of which actually refute the argument, are as follows: 1) Fetuses are not entities "like you and me" (i.e. they are not persons like we are), therefore they do not have a "future like ours," 2) The loss of your future is not the worst loss you could suffer, and 3) this argument makes hedonism the default value assumption.

Let's take a look at his objections:

1) Fetuses are not entities "like you and me", therefore they do not have a "future like ours."

This point is simply irrelevant. Christen tries to force a personhood argument into the FoV argument, but this is not a personhood argument (despite his insistence to the contrary).

This is not an argument stating that if someone has a future "like mine," then we should not kill them. I am a musician, so in my future are performances, playing at weddings, playing for people's enjoyment, etc. This future is valuable to me. It does not mean it would be okay to kill someone who is an accountant and has pushing books in his future. We need to understand what Don Marquis meant by a "future of value": the loss of all of their future experiences, projects, enjoyments, etc. These are activities that are common to us all. The question of personhood is irrelevant because the mortal category here is not personhood but "having a valuable future." The fetus has a "future like ours", even if she is not presently "a person as I am."

Marquis has also stated that this argument has certain advantages because it avoids the charge of speciesism. He is not saying that humans are valuable because they are human, but that anything that has a similar future to the one all humans enjoy, whether alien races, animals, or anything else, should also be protected.

Christen goes on to say that he hopes no one denies that the fetus is a human biologically, which is good, though his definition of human being is lacking: "a clump of existence that exists as human 'stuff.'" This is just philosophical double-speak. The unborn are whole, individual organisms of the human species. All of us began life as a human zygote. It's true that "person" and "human" are not synonymous, as there are non-human persons (like God and angels, possibly extra-terrestrials, if they exist), but all humans are persons. As I explained in the introduction, Christen's argument that fetuses are not persons is question-begging because he assumes the soul doesn't exist; he doesn't argue for it. Additionally, he assumes personhood is tied into brain-functioning, but again, didn't argue for that, either. He is merely assuming it. Brain functioning is important; my memories, thoughts, emotions, etc., are important to who I am as a person, but it doesn't follow that it's all I am as a person.

His discussion of rocks, trees, plants, etc., just amounts to a false analogy. Being a person is not about the functioning you can perform now, it is about the kind of thing you are. Rocks, trees, etc., are not persons because they never can be persons. Human embryos and fetuses are persons because they are personal entities whose personal properties exist at the inherent level but will gain the present functioning in the future. Christen is just confusing matters by comparing a fetus (which is not now but will be sentient) to a rock (which will never be sentient). He may as well compare someone in a reversible coma or who is taking a nap to a rock. A fetus is more like a person who is asleep than a rock. The only difference is the person who is asleep once performed the functions we think of as personal functions, but this certainly isn't morally relevant in the question of whether or not we can kill you.

So Christen is merely confusing being a person with acting as a person. The fetus does not now have a sense of self, but neither did I last night while I was asleep.

Near the end of this section, Christen tries to shove a personhood argument into the FoV argument like a trapezoidal peg in a line-segmented hole. He argues that the kind of future we have is only one that sapient creatures have -- he says, "only things with some sort of personhood have experiences, and it is the ability to enjoy experience that gives the argument from future denial its weight." This is just a specious argument. Marquis states in his article that one of the reasons the FoV argument works is because it fits with our intuitions on the matter. We would see a child dying as a greater tragedy than an elderly person dying because the child had their whole life ahead of them, whereas the elderly person (presumably) lived a full life already. The loss of future experiences matters, and the ability to currently appreciate those experiences do not. A five year old child who is tragically killed is not able to appreciate the enjoyment of sex, falling in love, or traveling abroad, yet these would be real events in the future this child would have been robbed of. As such, a fetus does not now have to be able to appreciate these experiences in order to suffer a loss by being deprived of it.

2) The loss of one's future does not constitute the worst possible loss you can suffer.

This point is, again, irrelevant because whether or not this is the worst possible loss you can suffer, if this loss is morally relevant in the moral equation, then it doesn't matter whether or not it's the worst, only that it happens. I actually believe there are better arguments against abortion than this one, but I believe this is enough to justify the wrongness of abortion. This is a sufficient condition, not a necessary one, to ground the wrongness of killing you.

Christen even admits that Marquis (marginally) explains that this is not the case, but then goes on to dismiss it as it was only marginal. Apparently Christen believes Marquis was lying about this point. However, I did not get the impression from the article that Marquis was saying this is the worst possible loss you can suffer. If Christen did, fine. But again, it's irrelevant due to the reasons I outlined in the previous paragraph.

It is always tragic when a child will grow up in poverty, or in an abusive household, etc. But this objection does not refute the FoV. Appealing to cases of children in poverty does not negate the argument when it comes to children who will enjoy good futures. Also, we can't say for certain that a child won't enjoy his life when growing up in poverty because people have this stubborn habit of making the best of their situation. Granted, there are more severe cases of starvation overseas in Africa and other places, and that may prove a stronger counterexample to the FoV. Marquis may even concede this point (as he would concede that there are cases in which a future of value will not be had, and then it may be permissible to have the abortion, or it may be wrong for other reasons).

And one final point to this objection: the objection does not work to justify abortion because we simply can't know whether or not someone will enjoy their life if they're in a less than ideal situation. To say that we should abort children in poverty because they won't have a good life is nothing but elitism -- "someone couldn't possibly enjoy their life unless they have it as good as I do."

3) This argument assumes hedonism.

This is another irrelevant point. I believe that Peter Singer is wrong to be a utilitarian. I do not believe his views on abortion are wrong because he is a utilitarian. In fact, this is simply a classic case of the ad hominem fallacy. If you disagree with hedonism, that's fine. But if this argument assumes hedonism, that is not a refutation of the argument.

Second, I don't think this argument assumes hedonism at all. I don't know what ethical position Marquis takes, but this argument is not a hedonistic one. I am not a hedonist. I am a musician. I enjoy doing music and I would never want to stop. That doesn't make me a hedonist, and it does not make me a hedonist to say that playing music will bring me future enjoyment. Hedonism is the thought that pleasure is the primary or most important intrinsic good. I don't believe you can get that from Marquis' article.

So I really think that Christen is trying to make Marquis' argument more convoluted than it really is. The argument really just boils down to this:

1) Murder is wrong because you are robbing me of all my future experiences.
2) Abortion robs a fetus of all of its future experiences.
3) Therefore, abortion is wrong.

Marquis is not denying that there will be hardships in a person's life, or suffering. That's just a part of life. But it's still wrong to rob me of my future experiences.

Christen tries to draw hedonism out from Marquis' concession that someone near the end of life without a FoV may be justified in seeking to be euthanized, but Christen is reading something into it that is simply not there. I don't think Marquis would say that any elderly person who's bored with life is then morally justified in being euthanized. What he's really saying is that there may be cases in which a person is in such severe and constant pain that euthanizing that person may be the right thing to do since they do not have a valuable future ahead of them any longer.

So Christen has given three objections to the FoV argument, none of which succeed in refuting it:

1) Fetuses are not like you and me: this is irrelevant, because the value-giving property is "has a valuable future," not "is a person."

2) This is not the worst possible loss you can suffer: this is irrelevant, because all that needs to be shown is that it's enough to ground the wrongness of killing, even though there may be worse losses you can suffer.

3) This assumes hedonism: this objection just commits the ad hominem fallacy, and besides it's simply not true.

Next, I'll respond to his objections to the argument regarding rights.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Responding to Philosophical Arguments Against the Pro-Life Position [Clinton Wilcox]

Blogger Brandon Christen has written an introductory article, the first in a five-part series, responding to pro-life arguments. He is looking at the issue from an atheistic perspective. It's refreshing to find a pro-choice blogger who argues from logic and philosophy instead of the usual fare you get from sites like Salon or RH Reality Check. I would like to offer a response to his arguments and when he posts the other parts in his series, I will respond to those.

Christen begins his article by talking about the seeming stark divide among religious lines regarding the abortion issue -- that the religious are pro-life and atheists are pro-choice. But if you look deeper into this, you'll realize this isn't really the case. While it may be true that the religious are more likely to be pro-life and atheists are more likely to be pro-choice, there are certainly pro-choice religious people and pro-life atheists. In fact, as Bernard Nathanson talked about in his book Aborting America, abortion was initially disguised as a religious issue by the pro-choice lobby to help get abortion legalized in the United States. Abortion, itself, is inherently not a religious/non-religious issue, just like the slavery issue wasn't.

He also talks about the soul, but this is another misguided discussion. While it's true that if you're pro-life and religious, you will believe in a soul and that the soul is created at fertilization (unless you believe in the pre-existence of the soul), you don't have to believe in a soul to be pro-life. Atheists believe that murder of a fully grown adult is wrong even without having to believe in the existence of a soul. It's simply not necessary to take a stance on the existence of the soul to take a stance on the abortion issue.

Christen goes on to make the following point: "Under the banner of philosophical and scientific skeptical inquiry, this paradigm eschews the notion -- due to the utter lack of evidence for things like non-corporeal 'souls' -- that something as pure and simple as a soul is imputed to an embryo upon conception. This being the case, the only recourse for finding "personhood" is in looking at the physical brain. Decades of experience with neurological development and brain functioning (or brain damage) affecting character points heavily toward "personhood" being located in the brain, or at the least emergent from the overall process of the brain's computations."

There are a lot of assumptions going on here. It's simply false that there is no evidence for the soul. The fact that we are the same entity through all points in our life is evidence for the soul. There are other evidences but that is beyond the scope of this article. What Christen means is that there is no scientific evidence for the soul, but this should not concern us. Science is not the only method of gaining information about the universe. Science can only gather information about the physical aspects of the universe, so we should expect that science could not give us evidence for the soul (science also can't prove the existence of numbers, morality, or other abstract concepts). But scientific evidence is not the only kind of evidence there is.

Christen also assumes that the only recourse for finding personhood is in the brain, but there is no reason to accept this, either. He may argue that the brain is the best recourse, but why should we accept it as the only recourse? Additionally, how much of the brain must be developed before you can say someone is legitimately a person? Why can't we establish that being a human being is necessary for personhood, since being a human being also means that you will develop a human brain? After all, the brain develops from within the zygote because the zygote has the information stored in her DNA. So why isn't having human DNA the necessary aspect of personhood?

There may be decades of development in fields of science dealing with the brain that has helped us to understand how the brain affects personality, but Christen doesn't even attempt to connect how these developments show that personhood is actually located in the brain.

He then argues that the destruction of "a sufficiently uncomplicated bundle of neurological tissue" does not warrant the same ethical considerations as killing a full-blown adult because there is no person there. This is ultimately question-begging. He dismisses the concept of a soul out of hand without even engaging with any of the evidence for the soul (assuming there is none), he assumes, again without argument, that a soul is not necessary for personhood, and he doesn't even attempt to connect the dots as to how brain function is supposed to tie in to personhood. He just says that adults have psychological brain function, the unborn have none, so the unborn are not persons. But how does this follow, exactly?

Christen ends his article by briefly examining the four pro-life arguments he'll be engaging with in the next four parts of his series.

Argument One: Rights

The argument he's going to make here doesn't seem like it will relate to rights, per se, but as to the actual ontological nature of the unborn entity.

Argument Two: Ageism

This one seems pretty close to an argument that many pro-life advocates make. But again, it's another discussion about the ontological nature of the unborn child. If the unborn child from fertilization is a full-fledged human person, then to deny the unborn their rights would be ageism.

Argument Three: Denial of Future

I will be interested to see where Christen is going with the rebuttal here. This is an argument made by atheistic philosopher Don Marquis, which places the wrongness of killing someone in the fact that you are robbing them of their future of valuable experiences. He believes it has certain advantages because it is not an argument the relies on personhood or "speciesism."

Argument Four: Numerical Identity

This argument states that you are you through all points of your life, and since you were you in the womb, you had the same right to life you have now.

I will be looking forward to seeing Christen's future articles in the series, and will respond to them after they go live.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: Eli's Reach by Chad Judice [Clinton Wilcox]

Special thanks to Acadian House Publishing for the free book for review. Go here for my review of his first book, Waiting for Eli.

Eli's Reach continues where Waiting for Eli left off: after the birth of Eli, a child diagnosed with spina bifida in the womb. To be honest, while this book is a nice book that illustrates some of the trials that come with raising a child with spina bifida, it really feels more like an advertisement for Waiting for Eli than it does a sequel to it. It's still good for some updates on Eli, but at several points during the book he talks about people who "bought and enjoyed" his first book, Waiting for Eli.

His books have helped people in their faith and in the pro-life positon, and that's great. But don't expect an intellectually robust defense of the position in this book. For example, on page 81 we read about a struggle that a couple was having because their child was diagnosed with anencephaly. They told the doctor that they're just "living on faith," and when the doctor questioned the wisdom of their actions, they got angry and stormed out, rather than engaging the doctor. Yes, it's wrong to abort a child with anencephaly; but for those who disagree we have compelling reasons for this. We don't have to get angry when someone questions our views because we have good responses to them. The doctor told the couple that their child would not survive, and they responded that they were hoping for a miracle from God (one that never came, because the child still died shortly after childbirth, just as the doctor told them he/she would). We don't have to get offended when abortion is mentioned because we have compelling reasons for our position.

The book, itself, is not very well-written. It feels more like Judice is just reporting the facts, and doesn't really try to add any creativity to his writing. The few times that he does he relies on cliches to try and spice up his book.

So Eli's Reach really isn't a necessary book in the long run. If you read Waiting for Eli without reading this book, Eli's story will have served its purpose. In short, if you only read one of these two books, just read Waiting for Eli.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Response to Richard Dawkins [Clinton Wilcox]

This article will be a continuation of my previous article, which you can read here. Richard Dawkins recently sent a barbaric tweet regarding his belief that it would be immoral not to abort an unborn child with Down's syndrome. He recently wrote an article to clarify his position, which you can read here. His article is entitled Abortion and Down Syndrome: An Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar."

In this article, Dawkins is able to go into more detail about his position. Twitter, with its 140 character limit, is not conducive to good, in-depth dialogue. It's really not beneficial to try to engage in any meaningful conversations via that particular social medium. This is just the latest in a long list of examples that prove as much. However, in the article Dawkins repeats the fact that most mothers who are pregnant with children with Down's syndrome abort and most doctors recommend it. This may be true, but it proves nothing. If abortion is immoral, then it makes no difference whether most people do it or most experts recommend it.

Dawkins expanded his thoughts on the matter, which you can find in the linked article. His thoughts on the matter are misguided, however. He asserts that given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. But why is this? How can you possibly make this argument and not draw out the logical implications that we should kill children with Down's syndrome who are already in the world because it would be better to be dead than to have Down's syndrome? Dawkins' position is ultimately nonsensical because there is already a Down's child "in the world." She is in her mother's womb, and her mother's womb is in the world. Dawkins is arguing that this child, who obviously exists, doesn't exist until the magical moment of birth, and then for some reason it should be considered too late to do anything about the child with Down's syndrome.

Dawkins says that his morality is based on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, but this doesn't seem to reflect reality. Should we go to hospitals and kill all the suffering people in the hospitals? I would guess that Dawkins would say no. But why? If we have a moral obligation to reduce suffering, then we should kill all suffering people (assuming we can't end their suffering through medication and surgery). If Dawkins would say that these people should be given the choice, then his position fails because these children with Down's syndrome are not given a chance at life. And while Dawkins may be concerned about what the parents want, children with Down's rarely, if ever, want to die because of it. In fact, children with Down's syndrome are some of the happiest children you'll ever meet. Why should we let the parents play God and kill them just because the child would be an inconvenience to them?

Dawkins ends that portion with the slogan of moral relativism, "I would never dream of trying to impose my views on you or anyone else." Yet this is the same person who says that atheists should ridicule religious people "out of their faith." His claim is hollow. Plus, I think we are entirely justified in trying to force our views on others if we're trying to save lives. Should we prevent parents from abusing their born children, or should we allow them to, saying that we should not impose our views on them?

Responding briefly to Dawkins' five points:

1. The "prevailing medical opinion" is meaningless when it comes to ethical issues. The prevailing medical opinion in Nazi, Germany was that the Jews were subhuman and should be exterminated. If prevailing medical opinion calls for something immoral, it behooves us to oppose it.

2. I already responded to his misguided assertion that we should increase happiness and reduce suffering. In the tweet, he was not saying what he "personally would do." He said "it would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice." In other words, people of virtuous character would not allow their unborn child with Down's syndrome to live. This is heartless and cruel, not worthy of consideration in the life of virtue.

3. We do, indeed, have to be careful with the Holocaust analogy. The analogy being drawn is that "majority rule" does not excuse unethical behavior. You must prove that abortion is not immoral before saying that we should listen to the majority opinion.

4. Dawkins seemed to misunderstand this point. His argument actually is that we should not bring someone with Down's syndrome into the world. I agree that if you're going to make a "designer baby" (which is unethical in itself), then it would be wrong to give them Down's syndrome. But what Dawkins is talking about is killing a child already in existence with Down's syndrome. If he disagrees and tries to argue that there is no child "in existence" yet, then he is advocating eugenics, on par with someone saying that "we should not give anyone Down's syndrome," so we should kill this fetus and try again for a healthy one.

5. He asserts there is a fallacy. "The Great Beethoven Fallacy," he calls it (and yes, I have read The God Delusion -- his points on abortion really are not worth responding to). There is no fundamental difference between "we should abort this fetus now" and "you should have been aborted long ago." If you're saying that Down's syndrome fetuses should be aborted, you are actually saying "you should have been aborted." There is, however, a difference between "we should kill you now" and "we should abort this child before they are born." Some philosophers, like David Benatar, make a distinction between bringing someone into being and taking someone out of existence. Nevertheless, through all stages of pregnancy, there is a human being there. Dawkins has not made a case that one exists only when "personhood" is established. Dawkins hasn't even told us when personhood should be established. So his thoughts on the matter should be rejected as nonsensical, since you can't justify an action by treating someone who exists as if they don't.

Richard Dawkins tried for some damage control with this article, and I don't believe he has succeeded. He didn't come off quite as abrasive, but he is still espousing a barbaric position, one he doesn't seem to understand is barbaric. I have heard that scientists are closer to curing Down's syndrome, and that is great. But Down's syndrome is not a death sentence, and it does not mean a life of misery.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Richard Dawkins Has Done it Again [Clinton Wilcox]

Richard Dawkins is no stranger to controversy. From going on a tirade regarding a woman who felt uncomfortable in a situation on an elevator at an atheist conference, to stating that mild pedophilia is not morally blameworth, Richard Dawkins has consistently espoused problematic ideas. His latest is a statement regarding people with Down's syndrome, in which he stated that most women with a Down's syndrome baby do abort (which is true), but that it would be immoral to bring a child with Down's syndrome into the world if you have a choice. He later defended himself saying that he will not apologize for approaching moral philospohic [sic] questions in a logical way.

Right away this is problematic. Richard Dawkins is no friend of logic. His philosophically inept book The God Delusion makes atheist philosopher Michael Ruse ashamed to be an atheist. He's a good biologist but he is clearly out of his element when trying to do philosophy. However, Dawkins did not present a logical case for his position; quite the opposite. It's an obvious fallacy to claim that just because the majority of women abort their children with Down's syndrome means that it is right to do so. However, he is correct that the pro-choice positional logically leads to giving women the freedom to abort a child with Down's syndrome, and while you may find it detestable, it's their right (under a pro-choice paradigm). However, it does not follow from that that a woman is immoral for bringing a child with Down's syndrome into the world. So that makes his second logical error.

Additionally, Dawkins has admitted that he believes there is no such thing as right or wrong. In his book River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (Basic Books, 1995, p.133), he says "The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference." So considering Dawkins' belief about morality, he has no grounds on which to say that a woman who brings a child into the world is doing something immoral. C.S. Lewis was right when he said that no one can really live as a moral relativist (or a moral nihilist).

His statements regarding people with Down's syndrome were simply barbaric. Having Down's syndrome will present certain challenges for a child in their life, but certainly not enough to justify killing them before they are born. It's not even among the worst maladies that can inflict a person. And children with Down's syndrome are some of the sweetest children you'll ever meet, with a wonderful outlook on life. It's arrogant presumption on Dawkins' part to assume that someone would rather die than to live as "perfect" a life as he apparently does. I doubt he knows anyone with Down's syndrome.

The reality is if you argue that we should abort someone before they are born to prevent them from being in a bad situation, this is functionally no different from saying that we should kill people who are in that bad situation since they would be better off dead (but our own standards). Dawkins seems to believe that while we should abort an unborn child with Down's syndrome, but that we should not tell people with Down's syndrome that they should have been aborted before they live. But if having Down's syndrome is so bad that it would justify us killing them before they are born, it seems inconsistent to me to claim that we should leave them alive now.

Dawkins has written an article to defend his comments on Twitter. I will take a look at those in my next article as I believe it is worth responding to.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Throwing Cold Water On The "Ice Bucket Challenge" [Bob]

I really don't mean to be a killjoy. I love the fact that millions of people are engaging in the latest "Ice Bucket Challenge" to elicit donations for finding a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS - Lou Gehrig's Disease). I've seen the moving story on ESPN about the gutsy baseball star (Pete Frates) from Boston College who initiated the whole movement. I pray that the almost 1000% increase in donations to the ALS Association as a result of this "Ice Bucket Challenge" phenomenon will accelerate the finding of a cure that cannot come too soon.

ALS is a heartbreaking, debilitating, evil disease. I know this because I've been watching my father-in-law suffer with it for almost 8 years now. I hate ALS.

But I hate the willful and selfish destruction of innocent human beings more.

The "Ice Bucket Challenge" has become a cultural phenomenon that only the modern social media monster could create. But those who engage in it need to know that the ALS Association's search for a cure includes their own unapologetic support for Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). Stem cells offer an exciting area of research that may prove to lead to the most powerful cures for some of the most horrendous diseases mankind faces. But we all need to distinguish betweens Stem Cell Research and Embryonic Stem Cell Research. When it comes to ethics and how we all value human life, the differences between them couldn't be more stark.

I and others at the Life Training Institute have written about the failures and ethical issues surrounding ESCR before (here, here, here, here, and here among other places). The moral issue centers on only one thing: From what source do you derive the stem cells? ESCR destroys frozen or cloned embryos of a small, defenseless human beings for the benefit of others. The simple fact is that the clinical promise and moral superiority of adult stem cell and induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC) over ESCR is undeniable and avoids the destruction of innocent human beings. We don't have to resort to barbarism to seek a cure for diseases.

So, what to do?

You can begin by reading a short news story on "What's Wrong With The Ice Bucket Challenge?" It gives a short overview of the issue and a couple of solutions:

1) There is an alternative research group that does not engage in ESCR, the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. Feel free to dump a bucket of ice water on your head if you are so-inclined, but then send your money to an institute that respects the value of human life at all stages.

2) Alternatively, if you want to donate to the ALS Association anyway, include with your donation a stipulation that your funds are not permitted to be used in any ESCR program. The Association's Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Carrie Munk, has made a public commitment that they will not use your funds to support ESCR if you do so.

To be fair, the ALS Association does support a wide array of alternative research programs. I don't want to disparage an organization that is doing so much to try to find a cure for ALS. But please, if you choose option 2), do so with great trepidation because Ms. Munk also claims that "under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future." Seeing that there are no "very strict guidelines" that are strict enough to allow for the destruction of innocent human beings, this doesn't seem like an acceptable risk to take.

Let's end ALS, but let's end it the right way.

Responding to Difficult Situations Regarding Human Conception [Clinton Wilcox]

I am currently reading through a book called Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom by Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath. In the book they make the following observation: "We in the university have invented the very tenets of specialization. We have developed the strange notion that if we can find a single exception to a sound generalization then the entire thesis itself must therefore be rejected. Deeply suspicious of grand theories, we are schooled to be quibblers and clerks, to live in fear of having our work tainted with the humiliating label of 'popularization, of one scholar finding one exception to a sensible principle of history or literature" (Encounter Books, New York, NY, p. 24). The entire book examines Greek thought and the detriments to our culture that rejecting Greek wisdom has wrought. This passage struck me as particularly poignant. In no other discussion do I see the rejection of Greek thought (such as the reality of human nature) more than in my discussions on abortion.

The question of when human life begins has already been settled. Embryologists consistently agree that human life begins at fertilization. This is even accepted by pro-choice academic philosophers. But desperate to try and prove that there is nothing immoral about abortion, the average pro-choice person will try and argue that the unborn are not actual human beings by pointing to exceptions. Because teratomas and hydatidiform moles sometimes result from the sperm and egg fusion, this means that a human being never results from the sperm and egg fusion and begins sometime later. Embryologists (who are the experts) surely know about teratomas, hydatidiform moles, that human embryos can twin and fuse, etc., yet they still consistently agree that human life begins at fertilization. If pro-choice and pro-life embryologists agree on this point, we really should not be arguing it.

It is a true fact that sometimes non-human entities result from the sperm and egg fusion, but it doesn't follow from this that a human being never results from it, nor does it follow (as I have sometimes heard) that it begins as a human organism then "becomes" a teratoma. The reality is whatever it is it was ontologically from the beginning. No teratoma or hydatidiform mole begins as a human being then changes into a teratoma or hydatidiform mole. See this linked article for a more in-depth treatment of these issues.

Then sometimes they'll appeal to the fetus-in-fetu, which is a bizarre and horrifying situation in which one twin absorbs another, and essentially becomes "pregnant" with what remains of the original twin. As pro-life advocates, we don't claim that there is no mystery when it comes to the process of human development. But appealing to bizarre cases such as the fetus-in-fetu, like appealing to non-human entities that result from the sperm and the egg, does not disprove the sound theory that human life begins at fertilization. The fetus that was absorbed may still be a human person, but it is no longer alive and so there is nothing immoral in having it removed.

You can't respond to a sound theory by appealing to exceptions or hard cases. The science is quite secure in that human life begins at fertilization. These cases might be tragic but in no sense do they present a challenge to the reality of human development.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What the Hobby Lobby Decision Really Was [Clinton Wilcox]

Pro-choice bloggers have been generally confused regarding the recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold their religious freedom by not forcing them to provide abortifacient contraceptives. They think that this ruling has given religious employs carte blanche to mistreat their employees, or to oppress them, or all manner of silly things. NARAL alleged this gives employers a right to "interfere" in their employees' medical decisions. What they don't seem to understand is that Hobby Lobby is still providing 16 different forms of contraceptives to their employers. The ones they are no longer forced to provide, since it goes against their deeply held religious convictions, are contraceptives that cause an early abortion. But why let facts get in the way of a rhetorical argument?

Now the Satanist Church is getting in on the action. They're claiming that this ruling by the Supreme Court makes them "exempt" from state-mandated informed consent laws because they claim the material they must provide contains inaccurate and scientifically-misleading information. Ironically, in a letter you can download from their website, they claim that part of their religious beliefs are: "My inviolable body includes any fetal or embryonic tissue I carry so long as that tissue is unable to survive outside my body as an independent human being." How can someone who claims that informed-consent laws are scientifically misleading believe something like this? The "fetal tissue" a woman carries are not a part of her body, but the body of another, separate, whole human being. This truly is a religious belief, not a scientifically-accurate one. And if the Supreme Court can force a pregnant woman to undergo a blood transfusion for the good of her unborn child, you can't claim that abortion should be allowed because of "deeply held religious beliefs" since another human being is being harmed. Similarly, if someone's religion allowed for child sacrifice of two-year-old children, this also could not be allowed under religious freedom.

The Satanist church is just the latest in a long line of scientifically illiterate pro-choice advocates, trying to protect their "right" to abortion on demand. Some have argued that this decision would allow religious employers not to cover life-saving treatments like blood transfusions if a religious employer didn't believe in them. But this is just fear mongering. Blood transfusions are a life-saving medical treatment, whereas abortions are a procedure that takes the life of an innocent human being. Let's try to leave fear mongering out of the abortion debate, and focus on the real issue: are the unborn human beings deserving of protection? The answer, as I have time and again argued, is yes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How Not to Address Pro-Choice Arguments in 1,000 Words [Clinton Wilcox]

There's a video on YouTube that claims to be able to destroy "pro-abortion" arguments in two minutes by vlogger Buster Stein. I believe that we should be making the best arguments we can for the pro-life position, and responding adequately to the best arguments from the pro-choice side. Unfortunately Mr. Stein here does neither of those two things. Despite the title of his video, he doesn't address a single pro-choice argument nor does he make a very compelling case for the pro-life position. Stein's pro-life arguments are just taken from internet memes that you see floating around Facebook, but as is the case with memes they make lousy arguments. Additionally, his entire video is spent making a positive case, defending the pro-life position, instead of making a negative case, responding to pro-choice arguments against the pro-life position. Let's take a look at his arguments.

"If we're considered dead when our heart stops beating, shouldn't we be considered alive when it starts?"

Sure, but what about before that? Does Stein believe human life begins when the heart starts beating? My guess would be no. So why is he using this argument? Human life starts at fertilization. Once the heart starts beating it is required to keep you alive. But before that point, you are able to survive without a heart. Besides, as Dr. Maureen Condic has written in her essay "Life: Defining the Beginning by the End," it's not brain death or when the heart stops beating that determines true death. It is when your cells stop communicating with each other. She writes, "The medical and legal definition of death draws a clear distinction between living cells and living organisms. Organisms are living beings composed of parts that have separate but mutually dependent functions. While organisms are made of living cells, living cells themselves do not necessarily constitute an organism. The critical difference between a collection of cells and a living organism is the ability of an organism to act in a coordinated manner for the continued health and maintenance of the body as a whole. It is precisely this ability that breaks down at the moment of death, however death might occur. Dead bodies may have plenty of live cells, but their cells no longer function together in a coordinated manner." This is what happens at the moment of death, and this is what determines when you are truly dead. You may irreversibly lose the ability to function as a person when your brain dies or your heart stops, but it is the ability for your cells to act as an integrated whole that determine whether an organism is alive. So if we want to take a symmetrical view to human life, if our cells stop communicating when we die, then when our cells start communicating as an integrated whole (which happens at fertilization) is when we should be considered alive.

Even aside from the symmetrical view, there are reasons to know that the unborn are living organisms: They metabolize food for energy, they respond to stimuli, and they grow through cellular reproduction. So Stein is correct that the question is are the unborn alive, but he is using a bad argument to get himself there. Aside from that, everyone agrees that abortion kills something. What is at issue at the abortion issue is: are unborn human beings things that are morally permissible to kill? In that respect, Stein has not addressed this pro-choice argument.

"The same people who are for abortion have already been born."

This is a fair point, attributed originally to Ronald Reagan. It's true that no one advocates for their own people group to be killed. But again, this doesn't respond to pro-choice arguments. This is a pro-life argument of its own.

"Eagle eggs, unborn eagles, are protected whereas unborn humans are not."

This is another bad meme argument. Eagle eggs are protected because eagles are an endangered species. Chicken eggs are not protected. If the human race was on the verge of extinction, I think it's entirely possible that our government would outlaw abortion to attempt to get our population numbers back up.

Conversely, it's also true that many people care more about animals than they do human beings. This is a confusion, of course, as there are many reasons to think that human beings are intrinsically valuable whereas animals are not. In fact, many people who believe this way have probably been hurt by people in the past. But someone can believe both that it is wrong to kill animals and that it is wrong to kill unborn human children.

"People are concerned about the right to choose, but the right to choose what? Murder?"

This is a question-begging statement, as he hasn't made the case that abortion is murder. People who are pro-choice are not advocating for the right to choose murder because they don't believe that abortion is murder. You need to have that discussion, first.

Also, it's excellent that he points out that we're not trying to condemn women who have had abortion. Massive brownie points for that.

"These children deserve a destiny and a future."

This is one of the better statements he makes in the video, especially since a very similar argument has been expounded by philosopher Don Marquis. But unfortunately, he doesn't go into detail regarding their right to their future.

So I appreciate Buster Stein's enthusiasm and his desire to talk about the issue. The problem is that he's not using the best arguments that he can to defend his position, and a thoughtful pro-choice person won't be convinced by them.