Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Q & A: What Bad Arguments Do You Hear the Most? [Jay Watts]

*The following is a duplication of a discussion I had after receiving a question through personal email/message. I thought it might be worth sharing and mildly edited it for posting. The dialogues are reflective of actual conversations that I have had and relate my personal experience talking to people about this issue over the years.*

Question: In terms of arguments appealing to pity, ad hominem and so forth. Which would you say is the most popular you have heard, and how do you normally respond?

Answer: Hey _______, I would say that you hear them all about as often as you talk to someone about important moral issues. What I mean by that is that most people don't have a clearly thought out position on moral issues, especially abortion. Every once in a while I talk to someone with a sophisticated defense of the pro-choice position, but that isn't the norm. Most people that I talk to generally have a point of view on which they haven't reflected too deeply. When that point of view is challenged, they can be initially more interested in beating back the challenge than examining the basis of their beliefs. When it comes to beating back a challenge, it seems that any stick will do.

They may start with presupposing the truth of their position:

Objector: Abortion must remain legal to protect privacy rights.

Me: But would you think that your neighbor must be free to abuse his 2 year old daughter in the privacy of his home? If not, then why not?

Obj: Of course not! My neighbor's child is a living human being that should be protected from abuse.

Me: So if the unborn are human in the same way, then privacy is not a justification for their abuse either. You assumed that they were not in your appeal to privacy, but that is exactly what you have the burden to demonstrate through argument.

Then they may move to ad hominem:

Obj: Well you shouldn't be allowed to talk about this anyway. You are a man and can't ever get pregnant. (or as I heard at one university, my arguments are white and Western.)

Me: I would like to respectfully point out that I argued through the science of embryology that the unborn are an independent human organism from fertilization and argued from philosophy that all humans share a common substantial nature that carries with it intrinsic value. Neither of those points is impacted by my gender, race, or geographical location. Arguments are right or wrong, valid or invalid, supported by evidence or refutable, but they are not male or female, caucasian or other, or subject to defeat by the compass rose. They have no gender or race. When you appeal to those things you are attacking me, not the arguments I offered in support of my beliefs and that is universally understood to be a fallacy, a mistake in reasoning. We have enjoyed a respectful conversation to this point, so please let's continue to try and focus on the issues and not me.

Then often I get the appeal to misery/begging the question combo:

Obj: Well if we make abortion illegal then women will die in dangerous back alley abortions again. It must remain safe and legal.

Resp: First of all, for whom is the abortion safe? Every successful abortion necessarily destroys a nascent human life. When we ignore their lives in this discussion we make the same mistake you made with the privacy issue. If women were determined through desperation to take action that resulted in the deaths of two year-old children it would be considered terribly wrong to protect those women as they did so. Even if we recognized they were legitimately troubled and driven through understandable stress, we couldn't make it safer to kill two year-olds and call ourselves a moral society. The burden is still on you to demonstrate that the unborn are different from you, me, or two year-olds in some morally relevant way. If they are valuable human life, you are arguing that we ought to protect a few from the tragic consequences of their wrong actions at the expense of more than a million other human lives a year in the United States alone.

Now, let's look at the evidence of the numbers of women that died every year from unsafe abortion prior to 1973. Any single death is inarguably a tragedy, but you will find that the numbers were wildly exaggerated to create a powerful argument from misery and by-pass ever having to consider, as a culture, the truth of what was being asked for in a right to abort our unborn children. (See here and here and here)

The best defenses are a strong familiarity with the arguments and the ability to patiently narrate the conversation. Point out the mistakes our objectors are making in an effort to clear their thinking; not to merely prove that you are right. They will marshall their every resource to beat back a challenge, and the overwhelming majority of those resources may be nonsense. Help them to see that. Our goal is to unsettle them in their views, not necessarily to win the moment. My experience is that if you are willing to help clear out the weeds and weather the initial storm most people can be reasonable and respectful in this discussion.

Take a hostile person and move them to the modest position of seeing our arguments as more reasonable than they previously thought. Take a neutral person and move them toward a position that recognizes the equal value of all human life including the lives of the unborn. Take a person who shares your beliefs but lacks any accompanying action and inspire them to do something. Take the advocate beaten down by years of abuse and perceived lack of impact and reenergize them and equip them to carry on.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Regarding PZ Myers' Unsophisticated Diatribe on Kristan Hawkins [Clinton Wilcox]

PZ Myers is at it again, this time ranting about pro-life apologist Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America. I've taken Myers to task before for his dishonest argumentation when he railed against Scott Klusendorf when Scott appeared on the Issues, Etc. podcast. Kristan gave a pro-life presentation at UMM College called "The Ugly Truth About Abortion: How it Does More than Just Kill Babies." Myers apparently attended the presentation, then decided to dismiss Kristan's entire case and write about it on his blog. You can view the article here. Let's take a look at Myers' response.

Regarding one of Kristan's arguments, Myers responded, "Setting aside the loaded word 'preborn', of course a fetus is alive. And of course its cells are taxonomically human -- but that begs the question. Is it a person? I'd say no, not yet, and that personhood is defined by a very fuzzy boundary. Which makes talking about their rights moot."

First, it doesn't beg the question. Begging the question is a specific logical fallacy. What he means is it raises the question. He at least admits that the human fetus is alive and biologically human. That's half the battle. He then asserts that personhood is defined by a very fuzzy boundary, but this is false. The best arguments show that personhood is established at fertilization, when the human comes into existence. There is nothing fuzzy about it, just because personhood is a metaphysical concept (morality and the laws of logic are also metaphysical concepts that are uncontroversial). To claim you must be able to do something before you are a person (e.g. you must be conscious or self-aware) is to put the cart before the horse, since there must be something first in order to do something. Finally, it doesn't make talking about their rights moot. What if Myers is wrong about personhood? Then we are killing human persons, which is a tragedy. Conversely, if the question of personhood is fuzzy, we have a moral obligation not to be killing them, since the benefit of the doubt should always go to life. If a construction worker is about to blow up a building, but someone may be inside, if he blows the building up without making sure, he is guilty of criminal negligence. Or if you are not sure whether the jacket in the middle of the road has a person underneath, would you drive over the jacket or swerve around it?

Myers then says, "The weird thing about her whole argument is that it applies perfectly well to tumors, as well. Cancer is growing, and alive; it has human 'parents', and its cells are human; so if Kristan Hawkins has rights, why doesn't a melanoma? We clearly do not simply give rights and privileges to collections of cells because they have human ancestry -- we have other criteria, often assumed and unstated, that we use to assign rights."

Myers is a biologist. If doctors can tell the difference between a human being and cancer, why can't Myers? I did not attend Kristan's talk, so I don't know how in-depth she went in to the arguments. But arguing that the pro-life position entails that cancers have rights is just philosophically confused and biologically inept.

A cancer does not have human parents (here Myers is guilty of equivocation on the term "parent"). Human life is an unbroken chain, from one person to the next. The parents have sex, they release sperm and eggs, which fuse and create a new, genetically distinct human being. A cancer is not produced like Myers was by his parents. According to the American Cancer Society, "cancer cell growth is different from normal cell growth. Instead of dying, cancer cells continue to grow and form new, abnormal cells. Cancer cells can also invade (grown into) other tissues, something that normal cells can't do. Growing out of control and invading other tissues are what makes a cell a cancer cell." Cancer cells are different from developing human beings, even ones who are at the early stage of human development inside the mother's womb.

Myers goes on, "She announced that the biology argument was the easiest to rebut. This is only true because being ignorant of biology makes everything simpler. She made familiar arguments: at the moment of conception, a unique whole human being comes into existence, with a unique combination of DNA. To which I say, if uniqueness is the criterion for preserving an organism, shouldn’t she be as vociferous in defending the rights of cows to live? They’re all unique, too. Shouldn’t the anti-choice picketers be out working to preserve unique habitats and endangered species?"

Myers doesn't attempt to refute Kristan's position, he just tries to argue that she is inconsistent. Maybe she is, but if so, how does this refute her position? To say nothing of the fact that many pro-life advocates do, in fact, care about animal rights. Myers is just guilty of not properly understanding his interlocutor's argument. It's not uniqueness that makes the organism valuable, per se -- the uniqueness shows that the individual human organism is a different organism from the parents. Myers picks out one word in the argument and attempts to refute her entire argument by nitpicking a term. He certainly hasn't shown how she is ignorant of biology (in fact, he agreed with her biology earlier in the talk, by agreeing that the unborn organism is alive and biologically human). Myers is just ignorant of philosophy.

Myers' entire article can be dismissed as an argument from incredulity. He doesn't make any valid points, he just tries to dismiss them because he finds them ridiculous. He goes on to say that Kristan emphasized the claim that a whole human being is created at the "instant" of conception. One argument was that she showed pictures that indicated that once the egg is fertilized, it is no longer a human egg but a human zygote (which Myers unprofessionally dismissed with incredulous flair). But this is a true fact -- once the sperm and egg fuse, the sperm and egg lose their identity, they cease to exist, and a new, genetically distinct human organism comes into existence. It's not just pro-life apologists he's disagreeing with, it's just about every modern embryology textbook on the planet.

Kristan's other argument, which is also true, is that the zygote from the beginning is a whole, individual, separate organism from the mother, only needing proper nutrition and environment to survive and thrive.

What is Myers' response? As an iron ingot is not a car, so is a zygote not a whole organism. But this is a false analogy: it confuses passive potential with active potential. Cars are artifacts. An iron ingot is not a car in the same way that sugar and flour are not a cake. They require an outside baker/builder, and once baked/built, they will lose their identity and become part of the cake/car. The sperm and the eggs are analogous to the iron ingot, not the human zygote. Human development is not like construction of an artifact.

Conversely, human beings are substances, as are all living things. The human zygote is more analogous to a Polaroid picture (an analogy that Richard Stith formulated). The human zygote is already a human being. It's true that the human zygote doesn't look like me, and hasn't developed his/her human parts. But therein lies the difference between a substance and an artifact. Artifacts find their identity in their parts. Substances are ontologically prior to their parts, which is just a fancy way of saying that they exist before they develop their parts. But everything that human being is and will develop is already written in his/her genetic code. He/she just needs time to develop these things. The capacities to develop them are already present. She has the active potential to develop these things. Active potential is a potential that she has inside herself (instead of from outside, as in the case of artifacts with passive potential) to develop, and these potentials are identity-preserving changes (instead of identity-altering, such as the sugar and flour losing their identities in the cake they become part of).

Myers also made some quip about "artificial wombs," since all that is needed is proper nutrition and environment. Perhaps Kristan did not talk about the environment (I wasn't there, so I don't know if Myers is forgetting that part), but there is more to developing an artificial womb than nutrition, although that is a problem, too (you can't just feed it a steak, after all). The environment must also be replicated, and there is the problem of how to transfer it, since it needs to be able to implant into the artificial womb. But all of this misses the point, as once the embryo implants in the womb, all you need to do is give it proper nutrition in order for the embryo to continue to grow and develop normally.

Then he continues by dwelling on something he said he wasn't going to dwell on, such as Jerome Lejeune being the Father of Modern Genetics. It's pretty strange that Myers has never heard of him, despite the fact that Lejeune discovered the cause of Down syndrome. According to the linked Wikipedia article, "In 1969, Lejeune's work earned him the William Allan Award, granted by the American Society of Human Genetics, the world's highest honor in genetics. As of 2013, he was the only Frenchman to have won it." So it's irrelevant to the truth claim of Lejeune that Myers has never heard of him.

Myers tries to assert that the only reason pro-life advocates have accepted him is because he's a Catholic and had "bought into" our doctrine. But the pro-life movement has accepted atheists as our own, such as Bernard Nathanson (who become pro-life while still an atheist, though he converted to Catholicism later in life), and A.W. Liley, the Father of Modern Fetology, who, as an atheist, was also appointed to the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, despite his atheism. Not to mention the modern atheists in the pro-life movement, such as Secular Pro-Life's Kelsey Hazzard, Pro-Life Humanists' Kristine Kruszelnicki, and pro-life philosopher Don Marquis.

Next he brought up the problem of animal rights. There are pro-life advocates who also believe in animal rights, so the pro-life position does not necessitate that animals don't have rights. However, it is not inconsistent to be pro-life and oppose animal rights, since all human beings are persons but animals are not persons. Being human is what matters, but it's not just belonging to our biological species; it's what being human means. Humans are intrinsically valuable because they are made in the image of their Creator, but also because they have an inherently rational nature. I don't want to dwell too much on the differences between humans and animals now, but suffice it to say if there is something intrinsically different about humans by which they are intrinsically valuable, then one can consistently hold that it is wrong to kill human beings but not intrinsically wrong (though it may sometimes be) to kill animals.

Myers also claims Kristan "dismissed" the criterion of nervous system development, but Kristan presented a good reason for doing so: if all humans are equally valuable, then their value cannot be grounded in something that comes in degrees, such as their development or their intelligence. It must be grounded in something we all have equally, and the only thing that qualifies is our common human nature.

Myers isn't convinced by Trot Out the Toddler reasoning, but it seems more accurate to say he just doesn't understand the philosophical concept of the reductio ad absurdum (which is what Trot Out the Toddler is, at is deepest level). The reason that arguing from circumstances doesn't work is because it does commit the fallacy of begging the question -- you have to assume the unborn entity is not a valuable human being in order for the argument to succeed. Suppose we were considering allowing abortion in the case of poverty. Well, we wouldn't allow a woman to kill her two-year-old child because of poverty, so if the unborn entity is a valuable human being, then we can't allow abortions in the case of poverty, either. So poverty isn't the real issue. The real issue is what is the unborn? If the unborn is not a valuable human being, then a woman could have all the abortions she wants, without needing a good reason. But if the unborn is a valuable human being, then any reason that wouldn't justify killing a born child wouldn't justify killing an unborn one.

Myers asserts, "The problem here is that we’re able to recognize that a fetus and a toddler are not equivalent: one is aware and interacting with the world, the other is grossly incomplete and in a state of total, passive dependence."

It's true that the toddler is aware and interacting with the world. But is that a good reason for allowing abortion? I was not aware nor was I interacting the world last night while I was asleep. So was it justifiable to kill me then? Of course not. If that doesn't work to justify killing someone in their sleep, in a reversible coma, or under general anesthesia, why would it work to justify killing the unborn? Also, to say the unborn organism is "incomplete" is ambiguous. Toddlers are also incomplete. A toddler is different from me because she cannot form complete sentences, she can't read this article that I'm typing, nor can she even feed herself. Yet no one would say those are grounds for toddler-cide.

Myers, again: "That’s what generates her absolutist stance: there is no difference between me, a 57 year old man, and a freshly fertilized zygote. Well gosh, since fertilized zygotes are naturally slaughtered in vast numbers all the time, and reality doesn’t seem to have any special regard for embryos, then the flip side of her conclusion must be that it’s perfectly OK to murder people."

Myers is one of the New Atheists, and considering how poorly they argue against the Bible, pulling statements out of the Bible, out of context, and using them to argue against the Bible, this doesn't surprise me. Kristan's statements need to be considered in context. Now, "philosophically" is probably not the word I would have chosen to use. I prefer to use the term "fundamentally." There is no fundamental difference between the zygote I once was and the adult I am today. There are, of course, differences -- but none fundamental, because I was numerically the same entity then as I am now. All of the changes were identity-preserving, and if you had killed me then I would not be here right now to write this article. But Myers wants to assert Kristan believes there is absolutely no difference between an adult and a zygote. That's dishonest, and ungracious.

Myers continues by railing against more of Kristan's reductios, again missing the point that these arguments show the absurd conclusions that certain pro-choice arguments lead to. He also uses another New Atheist tactic, using the word "magical" to dismiss claims he doesn't agree with. In this case, "magical" really means "metaphysical," and I'm wondering if Myers would say that the laws of mathematics don't exist, since they are metaphysical. Maybe math is just magic and mathematicians its sorcerers. Myers asserts that responses to Kristan's arguments wouldn't rest on the personhood of the fetus, but on the damage done to the fetus. But this just presents a new problem -- if it is okay to kill a fetus, why is it wrong to use Thalidomide to ease morning sickness, allowing the fetus to be born with missing limbs? Or as my friend Josh Brahm once put it, why is it okay to remove all of the fetus' future experiences, but not only some of them, like the ability to walk?

So now we get to Kristan's Ugly Truths. The first one is regarding abortion safety. Myers accuses her of giving a half-truth, but in reality, what Myers quoted only supports Kristan's point. Legalizing abortion did not make it safer -- medical advancements, such as the development of antibiotics, has made abortion safer. There is no reason to believe abortion mortalities will increase significantly if it is made illegal again.

Kristan's second Ugly Truth is that abortion harms women. Myers quoted some statistics he believes refutes Kristan's claims, but what Myers actually means is that statistics he found he agrees with "refutes" this claim. Consider the source. Myers posted an article from Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice institute in league with Planned Parenthood that has a vested interest in promoting abortion. I'm still dubious about whether or not there is such a thing as Post-Abortion Syndrome, but there is such a thing as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since a large number of women are coerced or otherwise forced into having an abortion (whether by a parent, boyfriend/husband, or life circumstances), if her abortion is traumatic then it's entirely likely she'll develop PTSD. Ignoring this only does a disservice to women, whom pro-choice people claim to want to help.

Now regarding the breast cancer link, I've seen studies that suggest there is such a link, but I don't have them handy. I don't know which sources Kristan was using, so I won't speak to this issue.

Kristan's third Ugly Truth is regarding the money-making potential of abortion. Myers repeats the untrue "only 3% of Planned Parenthood's services are abortions" claim. For why this claim is false, see this video. I don't know what the percentage of abortions done is, but considering that there are over a million abortions every year, it has to be pretty high (though of course, Planned Parenthood isn't the only abortion provider out there). Again, check Kristan's sources. Don't just take Myers' or my word for it.

Kristan's fourth Ugly Truth is that early feminists opposed abortion and thought women's reproductive ability was beautiful and wonderful. Myers concedes this point, so moving on.

Kristan's fifth and final Ugly Truth is that abortion exploits women and enables cover-up of abuse. Incidentally, Myers doesn't contest this point. He just says "pro-choice people think this is horrible, too." That's great, we have common ground there. But the argument is that legalized abortion allows this to happen, which not even Myers disagrees with. So Kristan's argument here succeeds.

Now, Myers does say this is a non-sequitur because even if this is true, that doesn't mean abortion is wrong. He's right. The problem is he's misunderstanding the argument. There's a difference between why abortion is wrong and what's wrong with abortion. He'd have a point if Kristan's argument was "abortion allows cover-up of abuse, therefore it is wrong." But what Kristan seems to be making (based on Myers' article, since I wasn't there) is that legalized abortion allows these things to happen, so it should not be legal. That's a different argument. Myers even admitted, at the beginning of his article, that Kristan's first argument is that abortion kills a living human being, and that is a sound argument for why abortion is wrong.

Myers then gives his thoughts on some questions. He agrees the first question was best avoided as off-topic. But for the second question, Myers doesn't seem surprised that she's religious. But as I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of pro-life atheists. In fact, the only people in the abortion issue for whom religion is consistently a problem are pro-choice people.

Regarding the third question, I generally agree with Kristan's answer here, but with some caveats. Abortions need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. As it was before abortion was made illegal in 1973, the woman should be granted full immunity with an eye to bringing down the abortionist and putting him/her in jail, since that will do the most good (it will save more lives to stop an abortionist than to simply put a post-abortive woman in jail). Second, women who abort (save women who self-abort) are not guilty of murder. At worst, they'd be guilty of accessory to murder, like the wife who hires a hitman to kill her husband. Third, many women are not morally culpable for the abortion. There are women who have been lied to by society and the abortion providers into believing she's just having a "clump of cells" or "mass of tissue" removed. Plus, many women are coerced into it. Every abortion is different, and as we have different degrees of murder of people outside the womb, each abortion needs to be considered on its own.

With question number four, I don't know the circumstances surrounding it, so I have nothing to say on the matter. Question number five, there's not much to say. I've heard that women do get some counseling, but it's biased counseling -- Planned Parenthood is there to sell abortions, so if a woman doesn't want to go through with an abortion, they don't help them. I've heard stories about women who wanted to keep the child turned away and actually referred to a Pregnancy Care Center because Planned Parenthood couldn't help them. That doesn't necessarily mean it's true of every Planned Parenthood. I can't speak to that.

Finally, number six was a statement, not a question. I'm not even sure what was meant by "Roe v. Wade" changed the conversation about abortion. I'm not sure if it did or not. Myers is somewhat correct in that a couple of states did lessen their restrictions on abortion before Roe v. Wade was decided. And there were always pro-life advocates who cared about the abortion issue (though it wasn't until the late 20th century that a movement started to emerge to liberalize the United States' abortion laws). But Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion across the board did cause pro-life advocates to organize.

This was just more of what I expected from Myers, more misunderstandings of pro-life arguments, bad biology, and a confusion of philosophical ideas. It's good that pro-choice people are trying to have a discussion about this, but if we could get less vitriol and more educated arguments from their more vocal proponents, that would go a long way toward advancing the conversation.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Pro-Choice Activist Spent Two Days as a Pro-Life Activist, Part I [Clinton Wilcox]

Pro-Choice journalist Robin Marty was invited to the Walk for Life in Washington, D.C. by Jill Stanek to see what it is pro-life people do at these events. She wasn't infiltrating; she wasn't pretending to be pro-life to deceive people and "collect dirt" on pro-life people. She was openly pro-choice at this event using this as a way to gather information about pro-life people in their element. I personally think she was very brave for doing this. If pro-life people would do the same, they might realize pro-choice people are people, too, not demons.

I've never been to the Walk for Life in DC. It may not be feasible until such time as I find a rich pro-life benefactor (or get hired to speak there). However, I did attend the Walk in San Francisco. Follow this link if you'd like to read my brief thoughts on that event. Now I'd like to offer my thoughts on some of the things Marty mentioned in her article.

Day 1

Almost right away, I noticed her (near) repetition with the term "safe, legal abortion access" (as in, pro-lifers oppose safe, legal abortion access). This is merely a rhetorical jab, as it indicates that pro-life people don't want women safe. We do, of course, want women safe. However, no woman is being forced to undergo an abortion (even a dangerous one). Since abortion is an immoral act which kills an innocent human being, this phrases confuses what is essential in the abortion issue. Thankfully she only used the phrase twice (I was afraid she'd continue to use it throughout the article to poison the well against pro-life people).

She first mentioned attending a protest outside of an abortion clinic with Father Frank Pavone and a group of pro-life activists. At the event, one Rev. Patrick Mahoney was trying to get himself arrested by violating a pro-life buffer zone law they have in the city. He actually seemed to look forward to getting arrested. Troy Newman of Operation Rescue indicated he'd love to get arrested, but he had a prior commitment.

Now, as a pro-life activist I am willing to get arrested if need be as a way to protest these laws and raise awareness of the bias against pro-life activism. However, I do not want it to happen, nor would I wish it to happen. I'm too soft to survive in jail, and I would probably let my kidneys burst before using the toilet in front of guys named Biff and Anaconda. These guys are a lot braver than I am.

There are parts of her article we can point to in order to show what not to do when you talk to pro-choice people. For example, when Marty was introduced to Newman, he asked her how she felt about having the blood of Tonya Reeves on her hands and the hands of her entire movement. However, I don't believe this to be a good statement to start off a conversation with a pro-choice person with. For one thing, she doesn't have Tonya Reeves' blood on her hands, nor does the movement. If abortion was illegal, Reeves may have still pursued an abortion anyway. Additionally, even though it is now legal, Robin Marty did not force Reeves to have an abortion. So while this may be a nice rhetorical trick, it doesn't hold up under scrutiny. It's just mean-spirited. While we want to convince people the pro-life position is true, we should aim to win the person above winning the argument (because even if you win the person without winning the argument, you've allowed her to see that pro-life people can be reasonable, which may lead her to taking pro-life people more seriously in the future and being more open to their arguments).

At any rate, Mahoney ended up not getting arrested, and Marty came to realize that pro-life people do care (at least "a little") for children after they are born.

Next she attended a die-in (something I've never been a participant in), and then to the hotel. She was struck by how many young people were in attendance at the event (she says the young people outnumbered adults 10 to 1). As I have been involved in the pro-life movement for about five years now, training high school and college students (and some older folks), I don't think I've had just an idea of how numerous the young people in the movement really are. But then again, the attendance at the DC Walk for Life always dwarfs the attendance at the San Francisco one, even with the San Francisco Walk bringing in a few tens of thousands of people. Marty really got a feel for just how young the majority of the pro-life movement is now.

Marty talked a bit about the "pro-life counterculture" that is developing, with everything from pro-life shirts to movies being made as an alternative to the mainstream. As a musician, myself, who is a Christian, I've become heavily disillusioned by the "Christian Contemporary Music" industry. For one thing, they can be just as secular as the secular counterparts, but you can't just slap Jesus on something and expect it to be good. By having this idea that we need to set ourselves apart, we've allowed the secular mainstream to put Christian artists in a box where non-Christians can be sure to steer away from. I prefer the idea that C.S. Lewis shared, that "what we want are not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects -- with their Christianity latent" (from "Christian Apologetics"). We should be writing art, literature, etc., to the best of our abilities. As Christians who recognize we are made in the image of a creative God, we should be producing the best products out there. Not specifically Christian products, but products that are a natural outpouring of our faith. Our music is not inherently better just because we say Jesus in every chorus. We don't need more art that is stuck in a box, appealing to a small subset of the population.

Jill Stanek and John Jakubczyk (don't even think about asking me how to pronounce that), a lawyer from Arizona, told her that they wanted to get into the mainstream, rather than creating a counterculture, using Frank Capra's movies as examples (It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).

It's amazing what interacting with people on a personal level can do toward your hostility toward them (as we often have difficulty separating a worldview from the adherent). But on the car ride to Irish pub The Dubliner, she exchanged baby photos with Matt Yonke. She mentioned that the rest of the car tried to process the fact that the 20-week fetal-pain abortion bill was rejected (while making a dubious claim about fetal pain being rejected by many mainstream groups, though it is based on solid scientific evidence), due to some GOP members having a problem with the reporting requirements for rape victims. So the pro-life leaders who were gathered put together a sit-in inside Rep. Renee Ellmers' office (though she skipped town to avoid just such an event).

Marty finished off the first day with discussions with pro-life leaders (the "conversion portion," as she was jokingly referring it to). One person in particular is very sincere, and his work in the movement is important. But we pro-life advocates need to have a discussion regarding the best way to ask questions. Is it best to ask "why were you not instilled with values growing up" or are there other ways of approaching this? Atheists can have values. The argument is not that atheists can't be good people or lead (relatively) good lives. The argument is that atheism as a worldview can't ground morality. When we say you can't be good without God, we don't mean that a lack of belief in God will necessarily lead to immoral lives (though it can), the argument is that without God there is no way to distinguish a good life from a bad life, or a good act from a bad act. You must have an objective standard of morality for that. Accusing atheists of having no values is ridiculous and makes it more difficult to have any hope of convincing people of the truth of Christianity.

I'll conclude with my thoughts on her second day at the Walk next time.

(Edit: Changed two paragraphs slightly.)

Monday, February 2, 2015

On Arguing Well and the Mistakes of Doc Holliday [Jay Watts]

Years ago, I sat down to lunch with a young man responsible for getting me around his university. I was set to speak there for the next two days, one training event and an event interacting with the student body to model respectful discourse. He told me that he was a philosophy major and passionately pro-life. The more he relayed to me the past events this campus group had organized the more a common theme emerged. This young man didn't argue for the pro-life position. He fought for it, or more to the point, he fought about abortion with anyone willing to engage him.

When I pressed him on the wisdom of adding personal vitriol to an already contentious debate he shrugged and simply responded, “I'm not convinced that I need to be nice to people on this issue. I'm just not worried about offending people.”

I replied, “OK, but are you at least convinced you need to be effective at helping people to change their minds? Because I'm not convinced that adding to the offense of our message with personal rancor is helpful to that end.”

I've talked to many people like that young man, people that see cordiality and respectful dialogue as weakness. These people are passionate defenders of the value of human life that are tired of hearing the same arguments over and over used to justify what they are certain is the destruction of innocent human life on an incomprehensible scale. On the face of things, I fully understand their position. We argue that tens of millions of innocent human lives are being destroyed worldwide every year through the practice of elective abortion. It is absurd for people like me to ask for civility in the face of that. The other side certainly isn't wringing their hands over incivility, so why should we?

I routinely tell audiences that we should have a threefold strategy: simplify the issue by focusing on the question “What are the unborn?”, argue persuasively using the science of embryology to establish the identity of the unborn and philosophy to establish the value of their lives, and to argue in a manner that honors both Christ and the central premise of our argument that all human life is endowed with equal dignity. The final point should not be seen as subordinate to the others. It is vital to reaching those who disagree with us.

Our goal isn't simply to win arguments, but to win people through effective arguing. People like the young man that I once was. As a hard living, profanity using, nihilistic atheist, I was ready and willing to throw down with anyone on any point and eager for the argument to get heated. I am a Watts, for crying out loud. My family raised me on emotionally bitter and hateful arguments. As Doc Holliday said in Tombstone, that is just my game.

Speaking of Doc Holliday, I recently read Casey Tefertiller's Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend. At the point of the narrative that Doc Holliday befriends Wyatt Earp, Tefertiller quotes several different sources on the disposition of my fellow Georgian. The general consensus on the good dentist seems to be that he was the most quarrelsome, argumentative, and troublemaking fellow that most people had ever met. His desire to argue and fight constantly got him into trouble. That is what everyone who knew the man said. Lawman Bat Masterson includes a small additional detail that adds something fascinating:

“Holliday seemed to be absolutely unable to keep out of trouble for any great length of time. He would no sooner be out of one scrape before he was in another, and the strange part of it is that he was more often in the right than in the wrong, which was rarely the case with a man who is continually getting himself into trouble.”

Everyone remembers that Holliday quarreled constantly, but only Bat Masterson seems to remember that he was most often right in his positions or reasons for quarreling. All that anyone else remembers is his legendary hostility.

I believe that the same is true when we engage people and match them in their emotion. I have been in the middle of some monumentally silly arguments where my dislike for the person in front of me fueled me to be willing to argue to my dying day rather than admit they were right about anything. I can't recall a single point they made after the fact, or even why I ever cared to argue in the first place. All I remembered is that I didn't like that person. I can't even guess how many people out there have only terrible memories of me in that regard. We are unlikely to be able to help anyone that holds an incorrect view to correct that view by becoming the worst versions of ourselves during the discussion.

Also, like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the pro-life message naturally carries its own offense. Our message is that the unborn are human just like the rest of us. As such, we have the same basic obligations and duties to them that we do to all valuable life not the least of which is to simply refrain from killing them.

One young woman at a university recently staked out a relativistic position in our conversation. Abortion was wrong for her but not necessarily for others. After a while she admitted that a couple of weeks prior to our discussion she had driven her best friend to get an abortion. This argument, no matter how respectful, was more than an argument about science and philosophy. My position judged her friend, as well as her own participation in her friend's actions. She loves her best friend, and yet the conclusion of my argument is that her best friend paid for the destruction of her offspring. If my arguments were correct, she helped her friend to do something terrible.

We offer a message that abortion is a terrible injustice in our world. We argue that our community legalized the killing of the next generation because we find their presence inconvenient or ill-timed. We are ending the lives of our offspring because we can't imagine how we can continue our current lifestyle with them around. In rare cases, women reach out to abortionists to destroy nascent human life because something terrible happened to those women and they are convinced that if they allow that life to mature it will remind them of that terrible thing. They fear that the worst event of their lives will continue to physically echo through their pregnancy and believe that destroying that life is an act of freedom and healing. Our arguments don't need us to amplify their offense in any of these cases. They call for a spirit of grace.

One of the things that most amazed me about Jesus when I first began to study him was how he was utterly unlike the world in which I was raised. All of my life I learned to glorify vengeance and the strength to make things right. Pay back was a... well, you get the picture. All of the sudden I was confronted with a man so strong that he refused to allow the world to make him in its image. The more the world hated him, the more he responded with grace and sacrifice. He was strong enough to be true to who he was and not be crafted by the events in his life. It was a strength that I could only understand to be beyond human; something otherworldly and unique.

It is in his name that I argue. It is in his name that stand up for the dignity of all human life. I must discipline myself to do so in a manner that honors Jesus. I am also convinced that doing so is the best way to reach people for whom anger and passion come easily but for whom grace and love may be an altogether alien concept.