Monday, March 31, 2014

Fallacy Monday: The Strawman Fallacy [Clinton Wilcox]

Here is the introduction to this series, and here is my discussion of the first fallacy in this series. In today's article, I'm going to be looking at the strawman fallacy.

Simply stated, the strawman fallacy is committed when you attack a similar argument to the one a person presents, but is a distorted version. So you are responding to a different argument which means that your response does not engage with and rebut his argument.

According to Daniel T. Edward in Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments (Wadsworth, pp. 157-159), the origins of the term are unclear. The usage of the term in rhetoric suggests a human figure made of straw which is easily knocked down or destroyed, such as a military training dummy, scarecrow, or effigy (as cited and quoted by Wikipedia).

The reason that this is a fallacy should be obvious: By attacking a similar but distorted argument, you are not really addressing the argument made. So the argument stands, but it may appear you have defeated it because of the similarities.

Here are a couple of examples of this fallacy in action:

A common pro-choice strawman argument is: If abortion is homicide, then masturbation is mass murder. I have given this argument a much fuller treatment elsewhere, but essentially, as Scott Klusendorf mentions in his book The Case for Life, this makes the elementary mistake of confusing parts with wholes. Sperm cells are part of the parent organism's body, whereas the unborn is a whole, separate, individual organism of the human species that develop themselves from within into a more mature version of themselves, along the path of human development. All of us began life as a zygote, then developed into an embryo, fetus, newborn, infant, etc.

A common pro-life strawman I hear is when a pro-life person misunderstands bodily rights arguments. When a pro-choice person tries to argue they have a right to refuse life-giving treatment to the unborn, pro-life people often mistake this as the much weaker argument that a woman can do whatever she wants to or with anything in her body. It's important to keep these two arguments separate in your mind. Here is an article I've written on this very topic for clarification.

This is one fallacy that is easy to make but is also easy to avoid. If we just take the time to really understand what the other person is saying, then we can easily avoid frustrating them by responding to something they're really saying and not misrepresenting them or their views.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Logical Outgrowth of Failure to Respect Human Life [Clinton Wilcox]

It turns out that several hospitals in the UK, including Addenbrooke's in Cambridge, incinerated the remains of thousands of miscarried and aborted unborn children as clinical waste, while two of the hospitals used the fetal remains to heat their hospitals. The parents of miscarried babies were told that their child was "cremated," rather than having done what the parents wanted done with the remains.

While many of us find this abhorrent, it really shouldn't surprise us that hospitals would do this, as this is just a logical outgrowth of the pro-choice position, that preborn human beings don't have any rights. If you don't have any rights, your remains don't have to be respected. The only thing that makes this wrong, in the eyes of the pro-choice crowd, is the fact that they went against the parents' wishes. But to those of us who believe that all human beings have basic rights, this practice is despicable.

The NHS has put a ban on the procedure, but why bother if the life of the unborn child is of not enough value to protect them in law? If the unborn don't have rights to protect, then there is no reason to respect their remains. Nevertheless, I do hope that people will recognize that this visceral reaction they are feeling to using aborted and miscarried children to heat hospitals is an indication that maybe the procedure of abortion isn't as morally justifiable as they believe.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fallacy Monday: The Ad Hominem Fallacy [Clinton Wilcox]

Last week I began a new series on logical fallacies. The first fallacy I would like to examine is a very common one in the abortion debate, the Ad Hominem fallacy.

Ad hominem is a Latin term that means "to the man." An argument that makes an ad hominem fallacy is an argument that dismisses someone's conclusion based on something about their character. You are attacking them rather than their argument. I often see the term "ad hominem" thrown around in an attempt to stop a debate, but we need to understand that a personal attack does not automatically mean someone's argument is fallacious. It may be unkind to call someone names, but it is not logically fallacious.

For example, if I were to say, "You're an idiot. Now let me show you how you're wrong..." you are not making a fallacious argument. You are definitely being unkind, but if you are going to show them how their argument fails (by responding to one of their premises, for example), then you have not committed a logical fallacy.

Now if I was to say, "You're a jerk, so I don't have to listen to anything you say," that is clearly fallacious. You are dismissing their argument based on the fact that they're just not a nice person. But even jerks can be right.

Additionally, like most fallacies, the Ad Hominem attack is not always fallacious; sometimes it is called for. Philosopher Ed Feser gives an example of a time at which attacking someone's character is appropriate: "For example, suppose what is at issue is whether a certain person is a reliable witness or an unbiased source of information, as in a court case. Then there is no fallacy whatsoever in showing that his track record reveals him to be a compulsive liar, or to have a bad memory or bad eyesight, or to have been drunk at the time of the events he claims to have witnessed, or to have a personal stake in the outcome of the case. These are ad hominem criticisms -- criticisms directed 'against the man' himself -- but there is no fallacy involved, because the credibility of the man himself is precisely what is at issue" (emphases his).

Here are a couple of examples of the ad hominem fallacy in use:

From the pro-life side, I commonly see the argument that pro-choice people hate babies. Clearly, some of them do. I have met some pro-choice people on-line who are quite open about it. But I take it that these people are in the minority. Most pro-choice people don't hate babies. But even if they do, how does that negate their argument that abortion is permissible because of bodily rights, or because the unborn is not a person? It doesn't, so whether or not a pro-choice person actually hates babies, their argument still needs to be engaged with.

From the pro-choice side, one of the most common arguments I see are that if you are a man, your argument is invalid because you can't get pregnant. Again, this is clearly fallacious thinking because my being a man does not refute my argument that the unborn are full human persons from fertilization and it should be illegal to kill innocent human children.

So as we strive to have better conversations, let's stop trying to dismiss peoples' arguments by throwing around claims of logical fallacies and really try to engage with the arguments. Only by doing so can we really hope to understand the reasons that someone takes a position on this issue.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Value of Narrating a Conversation [Jay Watts]

The more I talk to students and detractors after presentations, the more convinced I become of the importance of narrating the conversation for all involved and listening.

For example, two students approached me after a recent talk to challenge me on the position that human life conceived in rape is intrinsically valuable and that destroying that life might not be the best response to the evil of rape. They were outraged and one of them, the young man, stated that my position was inhumane.

I pointed out that my position, however difficult it may be for them to understand, stemmed from what Christopher Kaczor refers to as an inclusive view of human value. If I believe that the best arguments indicate that all human life is equally valuable by virtue of what they are rather than some capacity or what they offer the rest of society then protecting an innocent human life regardless of the circumstances of its conception is merely intellectual consistency. We talked about how the rape exception is only relevant if they accept that the unborn are valuable human life, otherwise it is not the reason they think that abortion ought to be legal but a ploy to put me on the spot. Finally, I demonstrated that the options they offered, abort the child or face crippling and recurring psychological damage while raising the child of her attacker, weren't the only ones available.

We discussed this issue with a little more depth for a few minutes. They seemed to sense their position was faltering a bit. When I pressed them on whether they genuinely believed the right thing to do was to kill the child, the young man suddenly said, “I don't believe that there is any right and wrong in an objective sense. We decide what is right and wrong as a society.”

Right there the conversation took an unexpected turn, and it is important to point that out for everyone. “If you truly believe that there is no objective right and wrong then you have no axe to grind with pro-lifers. You don't recognize abortion is wrong, but only because, in your view, it isn't objectively wrong to kill anyone. We are just animals pursuing our nature. Humans killing humans is no different than chimps killing chimps or dolphins killing dolphins; both intelligent mammals that have been known to kill within their species. We are all just pursuing our nature. Unfortunately, if your view is correct than neither of our positions is morally superior to the other. We determine victory by securing the necessary political power to defeat our opponents. That is neither good nor bad. It is merely the way it is.”

I pointed out this was a radical departure from the earlier argument they were offering and that in this view they were just arbitrarily picking a criteria that made it wrong to kill certain human beings by social contract or some other means. None of the arbitrarily chosen points objectively trumped the others. 

Suddenly, they began to assure me that I was wrong, and that consciousness offered the best mark for determining value. The young lady emphatically stated, “It is the only thing that separates us from the insects and other animals. It is why we can just squash an ant but it is wrong to squash children.”

This new twist required that we all recognize what had just happened. It also set up the opportunity to point out some interesting inconsistencies in their views. “First of all, this young man claims he thinks there is nothing that we can do to another human being that is objectively wrong. But right now you both are claiming that consciousness is what makes us valuable. As I mentioned previously in my talk, consciousness isn't attained until months after we are born. Does that mean that both of you are willing to follow that view to its full implications and state that there is nothing morally wrong with killing newborns?”

Both of them affirmed this was the case, with the young lady categorically stating that she would own that position. “Can I just point out to both of you something that I find a little startling in our conversation? We started with you aggressively and emotionally challenging me on my position on rape and abortion as inhumane.” The young man hung his head and smiled a little.

“I called you inhumane and then I just said there is nothing wrong with killing newborns.” I nodded in agreement.

Both of these young people came into the conversation emotionally charged. We talked for an hour, with a couple of other students joining in, and it was respectful and reasonable the rest of the way. We made certain to define our terms and be consistent in our arguments. As we wrapped up our time together, they both promised that when I came back they would be better prepared.

That may not sound like a win, but you need to listen closely to what they acknowledged. By narrating the conversation for them we kept from getting bogged down in category errors (of which there were many) and demonstrated how retreating to a position to avoid the harder aspects of our view introduces contradictory elements into our larger worldview. Neither of these students recanted their views on the spot, but they did walk away recognizing that their opinions were entirely unsupported by arguments. That is a good start.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Fallacy Monday: A Discussion of Fallacies [Clinton Wilcox]

I've decided to institute a series called Fallacy Monday, in which each Monday I will take a particular logical fallacy, give a brief examination of it, discuss why it is a fallacy, and how it relates to the abortion issue, giving examples of the fallacy being used on both sides of the issues. Why Fallacy Monday instead of Fallacy Friday? Because Fallacy Friday is cliche, despite the sweet, sweet use of alliteration.

I'll admit it: one of my pet peeves is when someone throws around a fallacy in an attempt to dismiss a well-intentioned argument, especially if the person throwing the fallacy around doesn't really understand what the fallacy is. It goes something like this: Person A makes an argument, Person B responds with "that's just fallacy X. Try again." To this kind of person, engaging with arguments becomes simply a game of Spot the Fallacy. He is not trying to honestly engage with the argument. The problem is you must first engage with an argument before you can decide whether or not it is fallacious, because most fallacies are not always fallacies.

There are many different forms of logic, but the most common argument you'll encounter (even if someone doesn't frame it in this way) takes the form of a syllogism, which is just an argument containing two or more premises that lead to a conclusion (sometimes there will be multiple conclusions if the argument gets more and more complex; but usually simpler arguments are seen as more reliable since there's less of a chance that the argument will go wrong somewhere). A syllogism looks like this:

Premise 1: All men are mortal.
Premise 2: Socrates was a man.
Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates was mortal.

An argument is said to be valid if the conclusion follows from its premises. If it is impossible for the conclusion to be false if the premises are true, the argument is valid. If a conclusion does not follow from its premises, it is invalid.

If an argument is valid and all of its premises are also true, then it is sound. Otherwise, it is unsound. It's important to recognize these distinctions because an argument can be valid, but unsound. Take the following argument:

Premise 1: All fish are mammals.
Premise 2: All mammals have hair.
Conclusion: Therefore, all fish have hair.

Now, this is a valid argument. If all fish are mammals, and all mammals have hair, then it follows that all fish have hair. However, this argument is unsound because as we know, fish are not mammals. So while valid, the argument is unsound.

So what is a logical fallacy? Simply put, it is an error in reasoning. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says about fallacies, "Traditional accounts define a fallacy as a pattern of poor reasoning which appears to be (and in this sense mimics) a pattern of good reasoning...Such accounts are a problematic basis for a general account of fallacies insofar as what appears to be good reasoning to one person may not appear so to another. In assessing ordinary arguments, these issues can be avoided by understanding fallacies more simply, as common patterns of faulty reasoning which can usefully be identified in the evaluation of informal arguments." To reiterate, one must engage with all arguments because an argument that appears fallacious on the surface may not actually be fallacious once you really understand the argument. Most fallacies are not always fallacious. Fallacies are not recognized so we can try and poke holes in someone's argument, they are recognized to help us avoid errors in reasoning.

So on Mondays for an indefinite and undetermined number of weeks, I'll be looking at a different fallacy. I am a big believer in taking people and their arguments seriously, especially those who disagree with us. You just can't know if your argument is right unless you're interacting with the arguments of those who believe differently than you do. You also can't respect someone if you don't take their arguments seriously. So let's take our conversations to the next level. Rather than engaging in pithy statements and bumper sticker philosophy, let's really look at the issue seriously and see which side has the stronger case.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pastors Are Fallible, Too [Clinton Wilcox]

A pro-life friend from Michigan heard a pastor on the radio defending legalized abortion. I've heard all sorts of Biblical arguments made to try and defend abortion, but this one was especially bizarre. As Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason says, never read a Bible verse. In other words, don't just read one verse out of context. All sorts of heresies have begun that way. Sometimes to understand the meaning of a verse you have to read the entire chapter or sometimes the entire book. The Scriptures were originally not written with chapter and verse markings, and in many cases these markings are unhelpful because the chapter ends before a thought or argument is completed.

So which verse did this pastor use to support legalized abortion? Deuteronomy 30:19, which states: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live,". This is where the pastor ended his "quote." Notice the comma at the end; the thought wasn't even completed and in fact extends for another verse: "So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them."

This is a pretty shameful and blatant misrepresentation of Scripture. The immediate thing that jumps out at us is this: in context, this verse isn't even talking about abortion. What is it talking about? Let's take the entire passage in context, Deuteronomy 30: 15-20: "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them."

So what is the choice we're talking about here? Whether to continue a pregnancy or end it by aborting the human offspring? Hardly. The choice that Moses is setting before the people of Israel is this: Choose whether or not you are going to serve the Lord and follow His commandments. If you do, your life will be extended in the land. But if you don't, if you turn your heart away from the Lord and follow pagan gods, if you choose the curses rather than the blessings, you will not enjoy the blessings of the Lord. God is the giver of Life and sustains us, but if we are not willing to perform our duty as those who serve God, we will have to suffer the consequences.

This pastor asserts that God is telling us here that God wants us to be pro-choice, that we can't force life on anyone. You can't choose life if you aren't given the choice. But that's not what this passage is saying, at all. I don't understand the people who claim that we must be given a choice if we are truly capable of making a choice. It doesn't follow from that that we must be legally permitted to have a choice in order to be able to make one. We all have a choice whether to murder, rape, or steal, even though these things are not legally permitted. And just because I am a free agent does not mean I have any right to make a choice that harms or infringes on the natural rights of another person, another being made in God's image.

Conversely, I also see well-meaning Christians using this verse as a prooftext that God wants us to choose life for our babies. I believe wholeheartedly that abortion is wrong, it is an act of murder, and God wants us to choose life. But this passage does not speak to that. This passage speaks to the Israelites having the choice of whether to serve God, and receive his blessings, or to turn their backs on God and follow pagan gods, who are impotent and worthless.

In short, to reiterate Greg Koukl, never read a Bible verse. You can get the Bible to say anything you want it to say by ripping one verse from its context. That is unwise and poor Biblical hermeneutics. And by searching the Scriptures, as the Bereans did in the book of Acts, you will be able to prevent yourself from being taken in by poor Biblical interpretations.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

History of the Pro-Life Movement Part 1 [SK]

Breakpoint has part 1 up now.

A Follow-Up to My 40 Days for Life Article [Clinton Wilcox]

So I've now seen Babies Are Murdered Here in its entirety. My last article was purely to respond to the claims made in Jon Speed's article about 40 Days for Life, but it seems there are those who believed I was responding to the video, itself, without having watched it. Obviously, I was not doing that, though I was perfectly honest about my not having seen the video.

Having seen it, there's a lot to like about the documentary, and I agree with a good number of the points that are raised. I confess I allowed my view of AHA to color my perception of the film, and for that I was most definitely in error.

I did take issue with a few things in the documentary, however. So I'll give my thoughts on a few things that happened in the film.

At the beginning, the gentleman speaking (I think it's RC Sproul, Jr.), asks: "have 3,000 ever come to faith by [your method of evangelism]?" Now this is clearly a wrongly-worded question. If the Holy Spirit ever comes down in a tongue for fire and gets me preaching, then I would expect a multitude to get saved. I don't expect this to be a regular occurrence. And this gentlemen seems to be forgetting that there were many places in the Bible where only a few came to faith. He seems to be taking one example, Pentecost at Acts 2, and extrapolating from that that all of our encounters should be like this. Jesus spoke kindly to the woman at the well. He didn't call her a sinner, despite what Marcus alleges. He confronted her with her sin, but not in a way that was obnoxious. He helped her understand what she had done rather than throwing it in her face. This is what organizations like Justice for All help to do, to get people to realize for themselves these things are wrong, which is much more effective than just telling someone why they are wrong.

I still firmly believe that Jon Speed had no right to say that 40 Days for Life is not a Christian event, and now I am more firmly convicted that the reason he thinks so is because they don't want to use his methods at the abortion clinics. Jon Speed can wait until 40 Days for Life is over, then go to the clinics and do things his own way. He even concedes that 40 Days for Life has saved over 8,000 babies. So obviously their method works.

Around the 26:00 mark, R.C. Sproul, Jr. asserts that, "this misguided, poor, innocent, pregnant girl is a myth. This is a heartless woman." Now I don't know who gave him the ability to see into someone's heart, but this pregnant girl who is not culpable for the crime is not a myth. Many women are coerced into having abortions, and often abortion practitioners will use evasive language to downplay what the unborn child actually is. At any rate, calling abortion-minded women cold-hearted by the very fact alone that they are going in to have an abortion is just rhetoric. Women deserve better than abortion, and women deserve to be treated like people. We need them to know that we care about them as people, and we need to get to the heart of why these women feel they need to go in for an abortion.

There's more that I could say about this video, but I've said enough. It's not my intention to be divisive, and I only wrote this article to clear up some of the confusion surrounding my last article. So anyway, now I have seen the video, and I don't feel my original article was off-based at all. If anything, my comparing them to AHA may not have been the best thing, but the rest of my article stands without those comparisons.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Rules for Q&A [Jay Watts]

If you talk to groups here is a simple thing to remember about audience interaction. You may have heard the question a million times, but this is their first time asking you. Whether they are inquisitive in their manners or aggressive, they now have the opportunity to respond and choose this as their best possible question. We must respect that and use this as an opportunity to effectively reach our audience.

I love Q&A time and here are some tips I follow that help me continue to enjoy it:

1 – Q&A is part of your presentation!

The talk doesn't end when your outline runs out. How you talk to your audience will be a big part of what they remember about you. Your interaction will go considerably smoother if you prepare for this part of the job by thinking about what questions are raised by your position and what is an effective way to explain your ideas to people hearing them the first time. Which leads to point 2.

2 – Avoid technical language and find clear illustrations.

We grow comfortable with words that others never use or hear in the course of normal conversations. Using words that are over their heads doesn't make us look smart; it raises their suspicion that we are full of it. C.S. Lewis once said that if you can't simplify what you are trying to teach in order to be understood then you probably don't understand it yourself. Think through how you might answer objections and then ask yourself, “Will this make sense to someone that has never talked about this issue before?”

3 – Be gracious.

Don't be dismissive. When I tell someone that their question comes up a lot, I never refer to it is common. I try to encourage them that their question is obviously a concern that a lot of people share. 

Instead of thinking of it as a question that I hear all of the time, I recognize it as a piece to understanding the puzzle of the person in front of me. Similar questions indicate similar concerns or often similar mistakes in reasoning. The questions may be simple to you, but it is clearly something that is clogging up their thinking process. Help them sort it out.

This is still true even when the questioner is hostile; even when the question is clearly an attack and not a question. They honestly think whatever they are saying is powerful or embarrassing for you. When you handle it graciously and with a clear response it speaks volumes to everyone watching. Obviously some of the students I've talked to have a preconception, perhaps fueled by others they trust and love in their lives, about what kind of person I am or what kind of arguments I will present. It is a privilege to undermine those negative views in front of an audience by being both well informed and friendly in the face of hostility.

4 – Don't try to score points against your audience.

We are there to present the truth in love in the hope that (a) those who agree with us will be better equipped to defend their views in a gracious and impacting manner and (b) that those who disagree with us will reconsider their views in light of new information. It is not our job to show how smart we are at the expense of our audience. We win when we clearly communicate our ideas and make certain our questioner sees the areas of disagreement.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

On 40 Days for Life [Clinton Wilcox]

Blogger Jon Speed, who is affiliated with pro-life film Babies Are Murdered Here, has written an article denigrating 40 Days for Life as non-Christian. His article is entitled 40 Days for Life Stinks. Right away I can tell that this isn't going to be a critique of 40 Days for Life so much as complaining about them, and right I was.

Jon is adamant that 40 Days for Life is not a Christian organization. Right away, I should note that as far as I know, 40 Days for Life is not an organization at all, but a 40-day event that people of different churches and pro-life organizations participate in, meeting in front of abortion clinics to peacefully protest abortion and pray for its ending. On what grounds does Speed assert that an event where churches get together and pray for the ending of abortion is not a Christian event?

In Speed's own words, "40 Days for Life leaders oppose preaching the gospel at the clinics." Does he offer any proof for this? Not a shred. I have participated in 40 Days for Life now for a few years, and I am quite confident in saying that no one at 40 Days for Life opposes preaching the gospel, and they don't oppose conversations about the gospel with anyone who wants to stop and chat. But everything in its time. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything under the sun. Forty Days for Life is a peaceful protest, one in which pro-life advocates don't want to be obnoxious while getting their point across about abortion.

So in light of the fact that I have participated in the event and I am quite confident that no one at 40 Days for Life would oppose raising the gospel in conversations, I am quite confident what Speed means is that those affiliated don't want anyone to be yelling at the people going into the clinics and street preaching in front since it is supposed to be a peaceful protest.

Speed claims that 40 Days for Life is a humanist organization because it's man-centered and not Christ-centered, but this is a gross oversimplification. Speed must have overlooked Acts 17, in which Paul doesn't reason from the Scriptures with the Romans or preach the gospel at them, but reasons from philosophy, quoting their own poets, in order to convince them. There is a time to preach the gospel and there is a time to meet people where they're at, saying things that they need to hear, not just what you want them to hear. Become "all things to all men," as Paul wrote, "that [we] may by all means win some." Christianity is a religion that appeals to the intellect, not just to spirituality. Presuppositionalism is an untenable and indefensible view of Christian apologetics, as is evidenced by an interaction I had with two people from Abolish Human Abortion.

Speed made the following puzzling statement in his article: "BTW, ironically, statistics are not the friend of 40 Days if you compare them with the statistics of gospel-centered abortion clinic ministries." Two things to say to this: First, I asked Speed in the comments two or three times to back up this statement, and he was unable to. So the only thing to conclude is that he's blowing smoke with this statement. But second, even if it was true, it would be easily accountable by the fact that these gospel-centered groups operate all year round and 40 Days operates for...forty days a year. Speed quoted their figure at 8,000 lives saved since 40 Days for Life started in 2004. Definitely nothing to sneeze at operating for forty days a year for 10 years. If anything, I would think that should motivate us to hold 40 Days for Life events more often.

To make matters worse, he compares these Christians at this event to cockroaches, who scurry away "when the light is shed." This is just ridiculous nonsense, and I would think that people like Speed should take the words of the Scriptures more seriously, such as the commandment against bearing false witness against your neighbor, and showing love, not condemnation, to post-abortive women as well as to fellow believers in Christ.

Needless to say, Speed's arguments in this article are less than stellar. People in these presuppositionalist groups can't separate evangelizing from other discussions, so to them talking about abortion just is evangelizing. But this is nonsense. God exists outside the Bible, too, and has been revealed through nature (which is also Biblical -- Romans 1). People in these extremist organizations cherry-pick what they like from the Bible, and don't take a reasoned approach to any of their conversations, thinking, falsely, that if you are obnoxious about preaching the gospel, people will turn to God in droves. They take one example, Pentacost from Acts 2, and extrapolate from that that all of their conversations need to be like that, meanwhile ignoring the other passages that talk about people being met where they are, such as the aforementioned Paul in Acts 17, or Jesus talking to the adulteress at the well, and numerous other examples, and weren't condemned by a street preacher.

The pro-life movement will never succeed as long as there are people who are trying to drive a wedge into the pro-life movement, dividing us, and playing into the hands of the pro-choice movement by embodying all of their stereotypes (that pro-life people are only interested in condemning women for having abortions, that they are just belligerent loudmouths, and that abortion is a religious issue). We need a better way to operate, and we need to be united. As Christ, himself, said, "any city or house divided against itself will fall."

Friday, March 7, 2014

Picking on Small People: A Gigantic Case of Begging the Question [SK]

Question-begging means that you assume what you are trying to prove.

Consider President Obama's recent affirmation of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized elective abortion. The president praised the the decision "because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfil their dreams."

Mr. President, does "everyone" include the unborn?

Flashback to 2001: Lutheran theologian Ted Peters and colleague Gaymon Bennett provide a perfect example of this fallacy. And they try and use Scripture to get away with it. In their article Theological Support of Stem Cell Research, the authors repeatedly assume the unborn are not human. Yet the humanity of the embryo is precisely what is at stake in the debate over destructive embryo research. Thus, the authors beg the question.

You can read the full article at the link above. Below are statements by the authors (italics), followed by my comments. As you read their article, ask if any of the reasons they give for killing embryos for research work for killing toddlers for that same reason. If not, what are the authors assuming about the embryos in question? Pay particular attention to words like “neighbor,” “healing,” and “humanity.” To whom do these authors apply those terms?

“The stem cell debate has been framed by the wrong basic question: its moral heart lies not with abortion, but in its potential good. Stem cell research is morally significant first because it promises healing.” 

Healing to whom? Are the embryos in question healed by this research? Is it “good” for them? Suppose the issue was destroying two-year olds to cure five-year olds. Would the authors suggest we ignore our moral qualms and focus only on the alleged cures? Only by assuming the embryos are not human does their argument work.

“Theological and ethical reflection are at their best when framed by beneficence--a selfless love of one's neighbor that inspires struggle against suffering and death.”

Is the embryo my neighbor? Does destructive embryo research further his well being? Authors beg the question here and simply assume the embryo is not one of us.

“Beneficence asks: Does stem cell research further or hinder the betterment and well being of humanity?”

Again, the authors beg the question. Are embryos members of the human family? If so, killing them to benefit others is a serious moral wrong.

“For those who follow Jesus of Nazareth, decisive here is the Nazarene's ministry of healing. The Christian doctrine of salvation includes healing of body and soul. We human beings emulate God when we engage in our own ministry of healing. Medical research, in its own way, contributes to God's healing work on Earth.”

Does killing embryos for research “heal” them? And does medical research untempered by morality contribute to God’s healing work? What about the Tuskegee experiments in which Black men suffering from Syphilis were promised treatment only to have it denied so scientists could study the disease?

“The destruction of embryos for this research is not irrelevant to our ethical considerations. We must ask a question: when does life begin? Or better, when does morally relevant personhood begin?”

This is truly remarkable. Notice how quickly the authors ditch the scientific question—“When does life begin?”—for a purely subjective one—“When does morally relevant personhood begin?” The authors trumpet science when it suits them (when talking about alleged cures), but ignore it when the humanity of the unborn is at issue.

“The embryo is a potential human being, to be sure; respect for the early embryo shows our respect for God's intended future destiny. As such we do not support research that would lead to the wholesale fabrication of embryos for research purposes.”

Why not? If the embryos in question are not human beings, why not create them solely for destructive research? If they are not human, killing them for research requires no more justification than pulling a tooth.

“Rather, we support research that uses stem cell lines derived from embryos taken from fertilization labs. In the deep freezes of these clinics are thousands of embryos slated for destruction.”

The reasoning here is vacuous. All of us die sometime. Do those of us who are going to die later have the right to kill and exploit those who will die sooner? Death-row inmates are slated for die. May we kill them to harvest their organs? Again, only by assuming the unborn are not human does the argument work.

“Is it ethically licit to take surplus embryos and press them into the service of life-saving medical research? Armed with the principle of beneficence we want to answer, yes.” 

But armed with science—which establishes the humanity of the embryo—and objective morality—which says we shouldn’t kill one human so another can benefit—the answer is no. We do not have a right to kill distinct, living, and whole human beings to benefit others.

“We might recall Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story a robbed and beaten man is left on the side of the road to die. Priests pass by on the other side of the road, avoiding offering aid. A Samaritan happens along the road, carries the suffering one to the next town and pays for his health care. Confronted by suffering, the Samaritan chooses agape in the form of beneficence. Reducing the stem cell debate to the abortion controversy, we allow the unnamed suffering man--suffering from heart disease, Alzheimer's, or cancer--to die without aid.”

This misses the point entirely. The parable of the Good Samaritan does not establish the so-called “principle of beneficence” as defined by the authors, but refutes it. Central to the parable is the fact that a man was unjustly beaten so that other people (thieves) could benefit from his demise. Only the Samaritan set aside his own self-interest (benefit) to perform his moral duty to one who was vulnerable and defenseless. If the embryo is a human being, a point the authors scarcely entertain much less refute, their place in the story is that of the thieves who rob from one human being to benefit another.

Again, imagine if the above article were written to defend killing two-year olds to treat five-year olds. Would anyone today justify the author’s rationale?

[updated 9:23 to include Obama's quote.]

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Moral Relativism is Morally Bankrupt [Clinton Wilcox]

On Monday, March 3, 2014, pro-life advocate Seth Drayer debated pro-choice professor Ralph Webb on the question of whether or not abortion is a human rights injustice. It is not my intention here to give a full-blown review of the debate. Drayer won the debate, hand's down. He made a solid case that the unborn are human beings who are unjustly discriminated against, so abortion is a human rights injustice. Webb's response was less than stellar. But I do want to touch on one barbaric thing that Dr. Webb said during the debate, which is a natural result of his morally relativistic worldview. As Blaise Pascal has observed, there is no idea so absurd it has not been said by some philosopher. If you missed it, you can watch the debate in question here.

While Drayer was cross-examining Webb on his relativism, he asked Webb if sex trafficking is ever morally permissible in some cultures. Webb's response? "Yes." ...Yes? Yes? Let's take a moment to examine what Webb is saying.

Sex trafficking is a barbaric act by criminals to kidnap young girls, usually in their teens, from their homes or from their families while on vacation. These young girls are then brutally beaten into submission, sexually assaulted and raped several times a day for the sick pleasures of animals who, under all other considerations, appear human. And Webb believes this is morally permissible behavior in societies that have legalized it.

This is absolutely absurd, and any position that leads to absurdities we are free to reject. Of course, one should believe that morality is objectively binding on all persons and at all times, but this makes it much more difficult to justify abortion to the masses. If you can make abortion a religions or moral issue, and argue (falsely) that positions that are moral in nature should not be forced upon those who disagree with your morality, then it becomes much easier to justify leaving abortion legal. But this would also mean that if our society decided to legalize murder, rape, and theft, that would make those acts moral.

Any worldview that says that rape, murder, and torturing children for fun are moral if you believe it is, or if society legalizes it, that worldview should be rejected. To bring this a little closer to home, it was once legal in the United States to treat women as property and to enslave, beat, and kill blacks. It was legal -- that doesn't mean it was right, and it doesn't mean that the civil rights pioneers like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were moral monsters for opposing the morality of the day.

People like Webb hold to barbaric views, and if Webb believes that sex trafficking is moral in some cultures, he is someone that I would not want around my own (hypothetical) children.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Get Smart the Right Way [SK]

The pro-life position has some great thinkers providing intellectual cover those engaged defending the unborn. But not everyone is ready to digest a robust philosophical argument, especially if the concepts are new to you. 

A translator can help. Here are some suggested titles to get you ready for the smart guys:

Translators Who Will Help You Understand the Smart guys:

1. Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates

2. Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture

3. Greg Koukl, Precious Unborn Human Persons

4. Greg Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions

5. Ramesh Ponnuru, The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life

The Really Smart Guys:

7. Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life

8. Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice

9. Hadley Arkes, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose:

10. Christopher Kaczor, The Ethics of Abortion

11. Patrick Lee, Abortion and Unborn Human Life

Do Pictures Work? Choice Quotes [SK]

During the partial-birth-abortion debate of the mid-1990s, abortion-choice columnist Anne Roiphe wrote: "The anti-abortion forces will again display horrible pictures of the technique, which they call partial-birth abortion. Although few in the abortion rights movement take this approach seriously, it has emotional resonance and erodes public support for all abortion." (“Moment of Perception,” New York Times, September 19, 1996.)

She's wasn't the only one concerned. "When someone holds up a model of a six-month-old fetus and a pair of surgical scissors, we say 'choice' and we lose," wrote feminist Naomi Wolf. (“Pro-Choice and Pro-Life,” The New York Times, April 3, 1997.) 

Later, in a 1998 article in George Magazine, Wolf states: "The brutal imagery, along with the admission by pro-choice leaders that they had not been candid about how routinely the procedure was performed, instigated pro-choice audiences' reevaluation of where they stood." As a result, "the ground has shifted in the abortion wars." ("The Dead Baby Boom," George Magazine, January 27, 1998.) 

Cynthia Gorney, author of Articles of Faith, a book about the abortion wars, says that serious damage has been done to the pro-abortion side. "One of the dirty secrets of abortion is it’s really gruesome, but nobody would look at the pictures. With partial-birth, the right-to-life movement succeeded for the first time in forcing the country to really look at one awful abortion procedure." (Cited in Larry Reibstein, “Arguing at a Fever Pitch,” Newsweek, January 26, 1998.)

In 2008, the Los Angeles Times published a joint op-ed piece by Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, acknowledging that abortion-choice advocates are in deep trouble because pro-lifers are reframing the debate around pictures. “In recent years, the antiabortion movement successfully put the nitty-gritty details of abortion procedures on public display, increasing the belief that abortion is serious business and that some societal involvement is appropriate.” (Frances Kissling and Kate Michelman, “Abortion’s Battle of Messages,” Los Angles Times, January 22, 2008)

In "Amazing Grace" (the story of William Wilberforce) there's a great scene where Wilberforce wines and dines some members of parliament, then takes them on a cruise up the river to see a slave ship. The sight and smell were revolting and sickened everyone. Though his incremental approach had years to go before achieving ultimate success, Wilberforce's visit to the slave ship--a modest first step that didn't save one slave that day or even the next--eventually helped right the British Ship of State. 

I think we're doing the same thing when we use selective visual aids to reframe the abortion debate away from "choice" to what's being chosen.