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.