Saturday, December 9, 2017

Cheetah Cubs, Human Development, and Moral Status

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park(Where I currently work) had a new member added to the family recently: A baby cheetah. While she is small, the animal care staff at the Park have jokingly stated that she is pretty much already in charge of the facility that she is currently living in.

(source: ZOONOOZ)

When I saw her the other day, a thought had occurred to me, regarding the issue of current potential and fundamental status: Though our capacity, physical characteristics, or our inherent potentials may change, we do in fact remain the same kind of being over time(ie "the substance view of personhood"). Given that many arguments in favor of abortion attribute a potential for personhood(or, more loosely, humanity itself), I think this little cub can help us think through how to assess the moral status of a being before birth, as well as afterwards.

For example, given that the cheetah cub in question has not fully developed yet, she is currently unable to do what cheetahs are most famous for: Running at 60-70mph while engaged in the pursuit of prey. I have seen these "Cheetah Runs", and they are over in just a few seconds. Yes, it's true, this is something that is unique to a certain kind of being: cheetah beings. However, can a cheetah not possess this ability, and still be understood as a cheetah?

Chris Kaczor gives a good illustration of this concept in his book The Ethics of Abortion in which he points out that a cat that is unable to purr is still a cat, though that cat has not completely lived up to his full potential as a member of a particular species. However, that being in question is still a cat, even though "felineness" is currently unable to be fully realized at this moment.

Back to our cheetah cub, while she may not be able to run at extremely fast speeds, she has the potential to do that one day, which is rooted to the kind of thing she is, not some characteristic that may be accidentally gained or lost(such as the number of hair follicles in her fur coat). Even if she never developed the ability to run, she is still the same kind of being, but is merely lacking the current capacity to live up to her full potential. To(loosely) paraphrase Dr. Frank Beckwith, she isn't a potential cheetah, she is a cheetah with potential. It would be absurd to say that she is merely a mammal, and won't become an actual cheetah until she is able to run.

How does this relate to the debate over abortion? One of the most popular arguments heard on the street level, and articulated more formally within the academy, is that the early embryonic being or fetal being is merely a "potential" human being or person. The reasons for thinking that the being in question is merely a potential human can vary from cognitive functioning, to appearance, to the presence of bodily functions. And yet, for all these qualities that must be achieved in order to gain status as a human being, they miss an important point: Human beings the only kinds of being that can develop these attributes, and do so merely with time. If someone hands me a license to operate a type of vehicle, I have attained the status of being licensed; however, no one had to hand me a pair of eyes with which to proofread this post: I attained that attribute(reading and comprehension) over time based on the kind of being that I am, a human being. One has to be a human being first in order to develop, from within, the characteristics that human beings inherently possess.

And even if I lost many of those attributes, I am still human, though I would be tragically lacking in the things I need to realize my humanity fully. It could also be the case that a human being currently lacks the ability to realize or achieve every capacity they hold, due to age. That doesn't mean they are of a different order of things separate from human beings; it means they simply belong to the category of younger human beings. And if the capabilities that are realized due to age are not what determines the kind of being one is, it seems then that this extends all the way to when one began to exist, which is obviously in the time before birth(and according to embryology, at the moment of conception, did one gain all the capacities that had yet to be realized and matured)

It seems odd to say that our current, temporary lack of a capability is what defines whether or not we are entitled to the most basic right anyone could have: the right to exist, and to be able to recognize those full potentials that we may have. Indeed, it seems even more tragic to permanently and violently deprive someone of the goods of life whenever it suits our preferences.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Book Review: A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide

Just yesterday I was able to finish this short book by pro-life activist and apologists Jonathon Van Maren and Blaise Alleyne. For those who are not familiar with the two, they are directors at the well known Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, and Jonathon is the host of the radio-show/podcast The Bridgehead, which hosts activists, intellectuals, and authors on a variety of subjects in the ongoing "culture wars" in the modern day West. Subjects covered include sexual ethics, pornography, abortion, human trafficking, pro-life history, religious liberty, and other hot topics.

The book A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide is a great expansion of the role that The Bridgehead plays in training pro-life advocates to successfully and persuasively communicate their views in the public square. The book is short(about 90 pages) and can be read through in a single sitting. In the introduction, the authors point out that many people who hold pro-life views on the issue of assisted suicide have been left challenged and frustrated when it comes to communicating a pro-life ethic on the issue, which the books hopes to alleviate. Personally, I have found myself in this category, without much understanding of assisted suicide and what the underlying philosophies and arguments are. With the culture gradually becoming more accepting of the practice, Christians and pro-life advocates need to be able to graciously engage on the topic, while acknowledging common ground with those who disagree.

This short work accomplishes just that. Van Maren and Alleyne do a good job of framing the issue of assisted suicide, by pointing out early on that the key issues aren't choice, autonomy, or dignity, but is instead the issue of suicide itself. They break down the views on the issue into three areas: The Split Position, the Total Choice Position, and the Pro-life Position.

Starting with the Split Position, they point out that many of those who hold that assisted suicide is a morally acceptable and even preferable response to human suffering will in fact support limits on the ability to choose to commit suicide. They come up with a handy tactic to highlight this hesitation, called "Trotting out the teenager", an expansion of the trotting out the toddler tactic used in the abortion debate. By pointing out that many people would NOT encourage a teenager who was suffering depression to engage in suicide, the issue then isn't choice or autonomy, but instead whether or not there are people we should protect and offer help to, instead of letting them engage in self-harm.

This leads to a "reduction ad absurdum" by the authors, who point out that if we would stop one person(say, a teenager) from choosing suicide, but not someone else, then we are engaging in a form of arbitrary discrimination, by assuming that some lives have more value, and are therefore more worthy of our care and attention. When this is pointed out, many begin to see the radical implications of a "right to suicide" ethic. Personally, I had never considered this angle before, and it was a great way to get myself thinking on the issue.

The second view, "Total Choice", is a bit more radical, in that it assumes that any person, at any time, may choose suicide for any reason whatsoever. While relatively few hold this view, some do, and the authors give a way to respond to this. One way is to, again, take the view to it's logical conclusion, and show that many will try to prevent suicide in one group pf people(say, a broken-hearted teenager) but will allow or encourage suicide in another group(the terminally ill). They highlight that many, even Peter Singer, who has advocated for "involuntary suicide" will make sacrifices to aid an ailing family member or loved one.

Before presenting the pro-life ethic as the preferred ethic on the issue, the book gives a brief but shocking look at the incidents and escalation of the acceptance of suicide in countries that have endorsed the practice. From horrifying stories out of Europe, to the gradual acceptance by the elderly of thinking they have a "duty" to their children to kill themselves, so as to prevent future burdens, Jonathon and Blaise highlight the dangers of a cultural acceptance of assisted suicide, or suicide in general.

Lastly, the authors present the pro-life ethic on suicide, in that suicide should not be endorsed or presented as a valid option, but instead both compassion and loving care are the obligations we owe to the suffering. The authors highlight several medical institutions to aid those who are suffering, such as palliative care, dignity therapy, and other methods of healing from suffering.

Overall, the book is a handy resource for anyone who wants an introduction to the issue of suicide and assisted suicide, and in learning how to communicate their views on the issue. I'd say the book can easily be considered the "Case for Life" of the anti-suicide pro-life movement, and should be recommended reading for pro-life ethics courses. The emphasis on tactics and common ground is especially important; with methods, stories, and thought-provoking scenarios taught through the book.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Twitter User's Dishonest Recap of My Debate [Clinton Wilcox]

A few weeks ago, I engaged in a debate with Matt Dillahunty at the Bible and Beer Consortium in Dallas. Our debate resolution was "should we have a right to die?" (I'm not a fan of that resolution; I prefer resolutions to be in the form of a statement.) It was my first live debate, although Matt and I had debated previously on the topic of abortion on a friend's podcast.

The audience I had to present for was definitely hostile to my point of view. I even had someone heckling me during the cross-examination portion (which Matt apologized for during the break) and during the Q&A. Unfortunately this is one topic that's very emotionally charged and it's difficult to get people to think rationally about it. I did have two people come up to me after the debate and thank me for presenting, telling me that it was the first time they'd ever heard a reasonable case for my position. A woman also came up to me afterward and asked for my contact information because she'd like to have me out to present at some point. So I do know that at least some people were positively impacted by my arguments.

But then there's Twitter user Maurice Reimann, who tweeted out the following:
Now, I'm not delusional. I know that not everyone is going to be convinced by my arguments. But the Twitter user above was dishonestly distorting the arguments that were presented. You can watch the debate at the link he provides, but I just want to quickly go over these statements in his tweet and show how dishonest they are. There's also no doubt I could have done much better during the cross-examination portion. I have improvement to make, that's for sure. However, Reimann is completely misconstruing the arguments that were presented.

This is a clear case of poisoning the well. Reimann is trying to present Matt's case as good as he can and my case as ridiculously as he can. If you don't even understand the arguments being presented, though, then you can't say you were not convinced by them.

#1: Matt "talks explicitly about end of life only" and Clinton "equates with abortion, suicidal teenagers, vegetative state, euthanasia"

Matt didn't talk explicitly about end of life only. It would be more accurate to say he talked about end of life barely. As I showed with my arguments, very few people actually end their lives because of severe pain or fear of severe pain. They end their lives because they want to control the timing and method of their own death, and dying with dignity. But Matt refused to talk about any other end of life cases. It was like we were debating abortion and he was only focusing on rape cases and refused to talk about other cases. As I showed, the case Matt wanted to focus on were the extreme minority of cases. He refused to talk about any others.

Now, I didn't equate it with abortion. I did mention a possible abortion case but the reasoning behind it was one of euthanasia -- will you kill the child because of a debilitating illness or allow the child to live? And speaking of that, how can Reimann call this "equating with euthanasia" when euthanasia is literally about end of life? The act of euthanasia is a doctor killing a patient with a debilitating illness. Dillahunty and Reimann may not be familiar with the literature on end of life issues, but I am. And suicidal teenagers and people in persistent vegetative states are very relevant when it comes to the end of life discussion. If there is such a thing as a right to die, that means that everyone has it, and we have no right to tell a distraught teenager that he can't end his own life. People in persistent vegetative states have lost their higher brain function and may never regain it (though some have), so are we permitted to end their lives? These are all relevant questions to the end of life discussion. Matt's incessant focusing on the hard case of people at the end of life in extreme and unrelievable pain wasn't getting at the heart of the issue, to say nothing of the fact that I showed the position I was defending does not necessitate I think it is always wrong to take a human life. But my view is nuanced, whereas Matt's was not, and he tried to sidestep the questions about whether or not we should permit suicidal teenagers to end their lives (and other questions, as well).

#2: Matt "requires heavy regulation and checks" and Clinton "invents arbitrary 'natural right' to life but not to death."

First, Matt may have required heavy regulation and checks, but he was being inconsistent in his views by requiring those. He also refused to take a position on whether or not anyone else, such as a suicidal teenager, had a right to die.

Second, I did not invent an arbitrary natural right to life, nor was I arbitrary in stating we don't have a right to death. A right to life is at the very heart of our judicial system. The Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed by our Creator with natural rights, and among these is the right to life. The Fifth Amendment states that no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law. What generates a presumption against killing you is that you have a right to life.

My view of natural rights was also not arbitrary; in fact, it is so commonsensical that many people assume this, even when trying to argue the opposite. Consider when I tried to push back with a thought experiment about our government killing homeless people, who do not contribute to society, away from the eyes of the public. The audience kind of turned on me because it was so hostile (it should have been obvious to any charitable person listening I was not denigrating homeless people but was responding to Matt's view about their lack of rights). Matt responded that they're valuable, but that's my view, not his. My view is that people are intrinsically valuable and so we ought to respect their rights. Matt was borrowing from my view of rights in order to avoid a barbaric conclusion from his own. Unfortunately because the crowd was turning on me and Matt was unfairly criticizing my use of thought experiments, in the heat of the moment I chose to abandon that line of reasoning.

I will add that a friend who had attended my debate suggested I may have made a mistake by trying to argue natural rights at the debate, and he may have been right for a couple of reasons. First, there was not very clear communication about the format of the debate. I thought we only had 15 minutes for opening speeches, when in fact we were given a half hour (Matt was gracious about this and was trying to be conscious about not taking too much more time than I took for my opening speech). If I had prepared for a half-hour presentation, I could have said more about the concept of rights. But at the end of the cross-examination, I ended up having to think about how to connect the dots between having a natural need translating into having a natural right, but we ran out of time before I formulated my thoughts. That was my fault for not having a better answer at the ready in case Matt challenged me on that.

Finally, my view of a "right to death" naturally follows from my position. The government cannot grant a right that violates the natural right of an individual, which means the government cannot grant a right to death because that's a violation of a person's right to life. You may not be convinced by the language of natural rights, but to call them arbitrary is just absurd.

#3: Matt was not arguing "this is a blanket right to die, go ahead" and Clinton made "slippery-slope arguments left and right"

It's true that Matt stated he wasn't arguing for a blanket right to die, but that was part of the problem with his view. He focused on one rare set of people at the end of life, when the debate resolution was regarding a right to die, in general. Matt didn't offer a nuanced view, so it is not clear why his position wouldn't entail a blanket right to die. Simply saying that doesn't make it so.

Additionally, I did not make slippery-slope arguments left and right. I made one slippery-slope argument, and I had to qualify it at the beginning because Matt had talked about fallacious slippery-slope arguments in his opening speech. I qualified my slippery-slope argument by saying that like most fallacies, this fallacy is not always a fallacy. A slippery-slope is not a fallacy if there is warrant for it, and I showed from other countries, such as Belgium and Denmark, that there is warrant for my slippery-slope argument. But again, making one slippery-slope argument is not making them "left and right."

#4: Matt argued "death is an unavoidable consequence of life; you can't avoid it" and Clinton argued "suffering builds character."

It's true that death is an unavoidable consequence of life, but it doesn't follow that we then have a right to hasten it. And again, he never answered the question of why we all don't have a right to hasten it if people who are suffering at the end of their life do.

This is the only argument of mine that Reimann managed to get right (and only half-right). I also added that suffering makes us empathetic to the suffering of others. Of course, these arguments don't necessarily apply to someone who is in extreme and uneasable suffering at the end of life, but again I conceded that my position does not entail that it is necessarily wrong to end these peoples' lives as an act of mercy. But I am familiar with the literature on end of life issues, and I was addressing a right to die in general, whereas Matt was constantly harping on one rare, extreme case.

To reiterate, I know that not everyone will be convinced by my arguments. But I think I was at least clear enough to make my arguments understandable by anyone sufficiently open-minded and willing to treat people charitably.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Book Review: Pro-Choice and Christian: Reconciling Faith, Politics, and Justice by Kira Shlesinger [Clinton Wilcox]

Kira Shlesinger's book is, unfortunately, the latest in a long line of books that don't add anything to the discussion on abortion, don't *really* interact with the pro-life position, and makes an argument that proves too much. If Shlesinger's argument succeeds, then we would have to allow a mother to kill her child of any age, not just while they're still in the womb. Her argument is just a rehash of the feminist argument you can find from other feminist authors, like Katha Pollitt. Even though she mentions reconciling her faith on the front cover, she concedes that arguing from Scripture for abortion is a very weak argument.

Let's first talk about a couple of good points. She talks about wanting to find common ground with pro-life people. This is great, since most abortion-choice writers don't seem very inclined to do that. This approach isn't novel -- it is an approach taken by many pro-life people, but it is a novel approach to see from an abortion-choice advocate who is not a philosopher, although some of the things she says in her book makes me think this is mere lip service and she's not being sincere.

Additionally, she is willing to concede the weakness of some abortion-choice arguments, such as arguments that try to appeal to prooftexts from Scripture.

However, despite the fact she can see the weakness in Biblical arguments, she doesn't see the weakness in the argument that pro-life people aren't *really* pro-life, they're just "pro-birth", only interested in birthing children or controlling womens' bodies: they are pro-capital punishment and they oppose government-funded healthcare and access to contraception. This is one of those things that leads me to believe she's not sincere about wanting to find common ground. For one thing, she doesn't understand the distinction between what pro-life people view as killing an innocent human child and putting to death a convicted murderer after being given due process. Second, many pro-life people (especially Libertarians) oppose government-funded healthcare and "access to contraception" (which usually just means "making the taxpayer pay for it") is that they oppose the government stealing money from taxpayers and giving it to someone who doesn't have a natural claim on it. For someone who is an Episcopal preacher and I would imagine takes the Ten Commandments seriously, I would wonder why she doesn't understand why some pro-life people think stealing is wrong, even if it's from the government.

On page 37, she also makes the tired argument that making abortion illegal won't stop them from happening. This is another argument in which she doesn't seem to be able to recognize the weakness of it -- making rape, theft, and murder illegal hasn't stopped them, either. But someone who commits those acts deserves to be punished for them.

Shlesinger's main argument for abortion can be found on pages eight and nine: we do not live in an ideal world, where men and women share equal responsibility for caring for a child, and there are diseases like the Zika virus, so women need contraception, including access to safe abortions (yes, she seems to believe abortion is a form of contraception). This is just the standard feminist argument, that regardless of whether or not the unborn are alive or persons, women need abortion because the world has "stacked the deck" against them. Unfortunately she doesn't seem to realize the weakness of this argument is that it justifies a woman taking the life of any child at any age.

Shlesinger takes two chapters to talk about the history of abortion, and while her history is more or less accurate, she does leave out some things which are detrimental to her case. For example, she tries to argue that the real reason abortion was made illegal in the United States (before quickening, in which it was already illegal) is because of reasons like doctors not wanting the competition from doctors without medical training who were doing abortions, so they formed the AMA. Requiring doctors to have a medical license to practice put these less educated practitioners out of business and they took a strict anti-abortion stance. Of course, this argument doesn't make sense to me, because why wouldn't these doctors continue to do abortions discretely, even while putting these other practitioners out of business? After all, according to Mary Calderone, 90% of illegal abortions prior to 1973 were still done by doctors in good standing in their communities. But Shlesinger leaves out the real reason abortion was made illegal before quickening -- in the 1800s, the science of embryology had discovered that life begins at fertilization. So abortion was made illegal before the point of quickening once when life began was discovered.

She also states, on p. 27, that abortion was illegal for 100 years, from 1873 Comstock Act to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but the reality is that abortion was always illegal in the United States, even prior to 1873, past the point of quickening, because medical science had not yet made the discovery of when life begins. You can read more about refuting some myths about the history of abortion in Joseph Dellapenna's fine book, Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History.

She also consistently conflates the issues of life and personhood. Life can be a philosophical concept, but it is also a biological one -- the unborn are biologically alive from fertilization. She argues that there is no consistent position on when personhood begins, as if that means there is no wrong answer.

Shlesinger, also, appears to be quite ignorant of the literature on abortion. She doesn't have a discussion on personhood, only asserting that there is no consensus on it. And the one philosopher she does quote -- Joel Feinberg -- it is not a direct quote, but a quote of Katha Pollitt quoting Joel Feinberg. She does not interact with any of the pro-life thinkers' arguments for the personhood of the unborn (e.g. Frank Beckwith, Christopher Kaczor, Alex Pruss, or Russell DiSilvestro). She also doesn't seem to know what arguments abortion-choice philosophers make for their position. She also quotes another philosopher -- Sydney Callahan -- regarding a statement on feminism, but she refers to Callahan as "him" (Sydney Callahan is a woman, a pro-life feminist, and her husband, Daniel, is an abortion-choice philosopher).

So what pro-life arguments does Shlesinger interact with? Not the argument that abortion is wrong because it intentionally kills an innocent human being. Not the argument that the unborn are persons because they are individual substances of a rational nature. Not even the Biblical argument that abortion is wrong because the unborn are human beings, and God has commanded us not to murder Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17), that God hates the shedding of innocent blood (Proverbs 6:16-19), and that child sacrifice had never even entered into God's mind to command (Jeremiah 19:5). These are the arguments that she does interact with:

-Ultrasound technology has made personhood arguments more persuasive to people. While this is true, this is certainly not the argument pro-life people make for why the unborn are persons. Personhood depends on what something is, not what it looks like.

-Psalm 139; while Shlesinger is right to criticize the use of this passage, what she fails to take into consideration is that the psalmist considers himself to have been himself while in the womb. In other words, this inspired psalmist taught a continuity of identity from the womb.

-Jeremiah 1:4-5; she is also right to criticize the use of these verses. After all, taken literally it would seem that God was saying we existed prior to our conception, which is not an orthodox Christian view. It would seem that the point of these verses is not to teach that unborn children are alive so much as to show God's foreknowledge.

-Amos 1:13; now we're getting a bit more murky. This verse says "Thus says the Lord, for three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead in order to enlarge their territory." Shlesinger asserts that we need to look at the context, and the context is that God is proclaiming judgement and destruction of Israel's neighbors for their wickedness and brutality. The punishment is for war crimes, not for surgical abortions chosen by the woman and performed by a licensed professional. I haven't really looked into this, so I'll take her word for it. As I mentioned above, there are better verses to use, ones that Shlesinger doesn't respond to.

-Third trimester John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth's womb at the approach of Mary with first trimester Jesus in her womb. Shlesinger's response here is that John the Baptist was past the point of quickening, and this was a special one, as the one chosen to herald the arrival of Christ, so using it to support fetal personhood is a stretch. At least for this passage, Shlesinger's response is less than persuasive.

That should suffice. So to quickly recap, this is a book to skip. Not only is her argument just a rehash of the feminist argument and she doesn't add anything new to the discussion, but she also doesn't have knowledge of the literature on abortion. There are better books out there.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Kids Aren't Alright: Should We Set a Limit on Having Kids? [Clinton Wilcox]

Anne Green and Carter Dillard, executive director and president, respectively, of an organization that bills themselves as “pro-family,” called Having Kids, wrote an open letter to Prince William and Duchess Kate on July 25th after Kate joked about having another kid. Apparently this didn’t sit well with this organization, whose mission statement is to “promote a sustainable and child-centered family planning model.” By that they mean limiting yourself to only having a small number of kids in an effort to reduce your carbon footprint and to give them a fairer start in life. Large families, they reason, are one of the leading factors in global warming, so to combat global warming, we should limit our family sizes to two children.

I’m not going to respond to everything this organization believes. They do have a white paper on their website which I may read and analyze at some point, but for now I’m only going to respond to their statements in this open letter. They also don’t mention abortion on their website, so it’s not clear what they think about abortion or whether or not abortion fits into their “family planning” model, as it does the “family planning” model of Planned Parenthood.

First, I’ll just point out how bold it is to tell anyone how many kids you think they ought to be having, especially the Royal Family. But even just a cursory reading through this letter shows that not only are their arguments faulty, they’re not supported very well.

Second, I do want to point out that having a child-centered family planning model is admirable, as so many people don’t take kids into consideration when having sex or getting married, so as long as their model doesn’t involve abortion, then I think it’s a good thing to consider the kids you will potentially have in your marriage.

But therein lies one of the problems: how many kids should each family have? It seems like each couple is different, depending on their circumstances. So while one couple might only be able to have one or two kids, some could have eight, nine, or even more and be able to give all the kids the individual attention they need. I know people who have a lot of kids and their children are not suffering in any way.

Another pretty glaring problem is, how do you plan for these families? Christians believe that we are called to “be fruitful and multiply,” which was the first commandment given to the first humans in the book of Genesis. So having a small family is not part of the Christian model, and the fact that any time you have sex it can result in pregnancy seems to indicate that small families were never intended for us. It’s also true that pregnancy can take a long time because certain factors have to obtain before pregnancy can occur, which may also be nature’s way of making sure we don’t get too overrun with people. But if, for example, Catholic moral philosophers are right and using contraception is immoral, then limiting your family through contraceptive means would also be immoral. Again, I’m not sure if they’ve addressed these questions elsewhere such as in their white paper, but in the course of this open letter they don’t address many of the potential responses to their views which they should anticipate due to how controversial their views will be to the majority of people who read their letter.

They argue that large families are not sustainable and limiting our family sizes has the most potential for mitigating climate change and its effects. They claim that multiple studies have shown this, except that they link to an article on The Guardian which talks about one study that showed that having one fewer child will help lower your carbon emissions. Of course, this study also says that the next best things you can do are sell your car, avoid long flights, and eat a vegetarian diet. So why isn’t Having Kids advocating for people to stop driving and ride bikes, to stop flying long distances, and to go vegetarian? Why is it just reducing family sizes that they are interested in pushing to fight carbon emissions, considering that what they’re asking of people actually goes against human nature and considering the fact that many countries are actually below their replacement rate? So clearly their claim has not been adequately supported.

One objection they did anticipate is that considering this is the Royal Family they’re talking about, their children will, of course, receive love, care, and attention from their parents. But this isn’t true of all children, so William and Kate should keep their family size low as an example to the rest of us. Of course, this ignores the fact that you don’t have to be “Royal Family” rich in order to give a large family your attention, love, and resources. It seems, at the very least, that the “ideal number” of children would be relative to the financial situation of their parents. Instead, Having Kids would rather you keep your family small and give your resources to other families who need them to provide a fair start for their kids. But this, now, seems inconsistent -- they should be saying that if you can’t afford to have any kids, you shouldn’t be having any kids. They seem to believe that even if you can afford it, you shouldn’t have a large number of kids. But now they’re saying even if you can’t afford it, you should still be able to have kids. This is inconsistent reasoning.

Taking kids into consideration when planning a family is a good thing. Telling people they should limit the number of kids they have when there are other alternatives to achieve your desired result is not.

Monday, September 4, 2017

How to Be An (In)Consistent Moral Relativist

The fall 2017 semester is now in full-swing at colleges nationwide! Among the many activities students are participating in, from starting new classes, "crashing" other classes, moving into dorms, getting to know one another, and attending fall semester orientations, the ideology of moral relativism(the idea that all moral rules and standards are to be viewed subjectively, relative to individual persons and cultures) is being promoted wholesale. From class syllabi to course materials, moral relativism is the primary moral system in many colleges, even if students and faculty don't realize it.

There are several major problems with a worldview that leaves moral and ethical rules to be decided by an individual student or cultural group.

1. Relativism makes social justice an oxymoron

Many colleges and universities have changed from institutions promoting the search for truth into camps for training so-called "social justice warriors". Indeed, my own local university, CSU San Marcos, openly promotes social justice oriented events every year, promoting "social justice" within the local community. For an example, the textbook from one of my courses, A New History of Asian America, unintentionally highlights this. In the first chapter of the book, the authors lay out an overview of interactions between the United States and various Asian countries and cultures throughout history, and attempts to argue that the values of the West were "imposed" on those within these cultures, instead of allowing those cultures to promote and thrive according to their own views of the world and cultural values. Worldviews like Christianity, capitalism, and the English language are all scorned as being "forced" upon those living in Asia at the time.

There is a problem, however. If cultural values(including moral rules and standards) are all determined by the individuals and cultures in distinct times and places, by what standard then are we supposed to condemn these acts of cultural imperialism? The American missionaries and businessmen sincerely thought that they were acting in the most morally superior way, such as promoting Christianity and the economic values of the United States and Europe. If cultural values are what determines morality, then there is no standard by which to condemn even the most heinous acts of imperialism throughout history. Doing so would, in turn, simply be imposing one subjective cultural standard(ours) on another culture(theirs), with their own distinct, subjective standard. And there is no standard by which to determine that this is even wrong to begin with.

Even within our modern day culture, this view(subjective moral rules) would make any effort towards a more just and equal society meaningless. As Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith write in their book Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air:
"What sense can be made of the judgement 'Apartheid is wrong' spoken by a relativist? What justification is there to intervene? Certainly not human rights, for there are no objective rights in relativism because there are no rights or wrongs of any kind...It would be inconsistent for the same car to sport the bumper stickers 'Pro-Choice' and 'End Apartheid'. Relativism is the ultimate pro-choice position, because it legitimizes every personal choice-even the choice to be racist."
2. There is no absolute "right" to anything if moral rules are subjective

During pro-life outreach last year on campus, a very adamant feminist student(who was loudly protesting our pro-life display, the Genocide Awareness Project) made the assertion that abortion was a right that should not be interfered with, because the Supreme Court had already recognized it as such. Very politely, I asked why it would be wrong for the same Court to turn around and take away that "right". She was unable to answer.

This raises an important question: Are there "rights" that civil government should recognize as objective? Or are rights only created by the government? If the former, then relativism is false. If the latter, then a moral relativist is caught in the ironic position of having to explain what is wrong with the government taking away abortion, same sex marriage, and re-instituting slavery. If the relativist thinks abortion and same sex marriage are things that all adults have the right to, then he is abandoning his own worldview of relativism in favor of objective moral rules. If not, he has no business complaining.

3. Students abandon relativism outside the classroom

This occurred to me the other day while looking for a parking space on campus. Virtually every parking spot was taken, and cars were circling the lot looking like hungry sharks. Whenever a spot opened up, drivers would rush to fill that spot.

Keeping in mind the philosophy that is embraced by almost the entire campus community, I almost decided to see what would happen if I cut off another student and took the empty parking space in front of us. I am sure they wouldn't be happy, and would call me all sorts of names that should not be repeated on a Christian apologetics blog.

Why though? What's unfair about stealing a spot from another student and thus making them late for class when "fairness" is a cultural concept? Suppose I grew up in a culture where you take the opportunities before you by being assertive. Is the cultural relativist going to do the horrific, blasphemous, triggering sin of telling me I was wrong to take their spot from them? Are they going to impose their cultural values on me? Drive on any freeway in southern California and you will see that no one is a true moral relativist.

Even the course syllabi in the philosophy classes promoting relativism will turn around and refute moral relativism on the first day by listing class policies:

Nothing more needs to be said about that.


An ethical worldview that leaves it's moral standards open to cultural or individual interpretations is impossible to live by. This seems to have escaped the vast number of social justice oriented professors, however, who make their livings by bashing Western norms and views on objective morality, while at the same time forgetting that this is only possible if there are objective moral truths that we are capable of knowing, that exist independent of our immediate acknowledgement of them(the so-called "First Things" that Hadley Arkes has called them)

Until these "First things" are remembered and recognized, students and professors within society will continue to suffer under the dictatorship of being inconsistent moral relativists.

Not Exactly Good Samaritans [Clinton Wilcox]

Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston last week and left much of the city underwater, as well as cities closer to the Gulf of Mexico, such as Rockport, Port Arthur, and Bridge City. Naturally, people are banding together to help the people affected by these hurricanes. When you think of sending in much needed supplies to help the victims of a hurricane, what do you ordinarily think of? Food? Clothes? Money? How about abortions?

Pro-abortion organization Lilith Fund posted on Twitter that they’ve been raising money to give free abortions to women affected by Hurricane Harvey and who can’t afford an abortion. Call me old-fashioned, but when I think of rebuilding after a hurricane, my thoughts turn to banding together as a community and working to overcome the hurdles in front of you. They don’t turn to killing people. This has caused some pro-life people to make the comparison to Lilith, the demon in Jewish folklore who steals babies in the darkness. This is likely not who they’re named after, but the comparison is apt. And one critic of Lilith Fund’s tweet on Twitter said that one problem Lilith Fund sees with Hurricane Harvey is that it didn’t kill enough people.

Thankfully pro-life organizations and legitimate charities are doing actual work in getting much needed supplies to victims of the hurricane. If you’re going to give money or supplies, make sure you’re giving them to an organization that is doing actual good. Don’t give your money to Lilith Fund or any organization that puts abortion advocacy over the needs of people. Or if you feel so moved, donate to a pregnancy care center which has been affected by the hurricane. Pregnancy care centers specialize in helping pregnant women in getting resources to help them keep their child. That's a cause worth supporting.

Friday, September 1, 2017

A Humanist's Response to the Sanctity of Human Life Act [Clinton Wilcox]

Ken Burrows, writing for the blog The Humanist, in an article titled "Politicians Playing God," tries unsuccessfully to give arguments for why the proposed bill, H.R. 586, should be rejected. A summary of the bill states: “This bill declares that: (1) the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human and is a person’s most fundamental right; (2) each human life begins with fertilization, cloning, or its equivalent, at which time every human has all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood; and (3) Congress, each state, the District of Columbia, and each U.S. territory have the authority to protect all human lives.” The bill has been co-sponsored by 31 Republicans.

The bill, of course, is correct. It is scientifically uncontroversial that each human life begins at fertilization. And it is also true that the unborn have a natural right to life that is protected by the Constitution. In 1973, the Supreme Court invented a “right” to abortion, but the reality is that the unborn were full human persons under the law and protected by the 14th Amendment for almost 100 years after the 14th Amendment was ratified, and then before that in American and British common law. But what arguments does Burrows provide us with? Let’s briefly examine them.

Burrows decided it was important to look at the gender of these 31 Republicans and accuses them of being men. Of course, this is irrelevant to the truth of their arguments. The bill isn’t a bad one just because it’s supported by all men.

He goes on to state that “such ‘personhood bills’ are almost always religiously driven.” So this is irrelevant statement number two. If these 31 Republicans really are motivated by their religion, that doesn’t prove the bill false. Most slavery abolitionists were also religiously motivated, but I’m sure Burrows doesn’t believe we should make slavery legal again because of that. Instead of arguing why this bill should be opposed, Burrows goes on to attack certain characteristics of these 31 co-sponsors that he doesn’t like.

Burrows next makes a fallacious appeal to consequences. The consequences he laments are: that it doesn’t accommodate any special-circumstance exceptions, not even in the case a mother’s life is threatened; it misinterprets the Fourteenth Amendment which does not guarantee a “right to life” but that a person cannot be deprived of life without due process of law; it would outlaw some popular birth control methods, such as the IUD which prevents a “fertilized egg” from implanting; and it would open an unfathomable conundrum as to the fate of excess embryos created with the goal of aiding pregnancies immediately or preserving them for later.

But appealing to consequences is not a way to prove the bill is wrong. These consequences are not illegitimate -- indeed, they are the logical conclusion of the pro-life argument, if the pro-life argument is successful. Any special circumstance that would justify killing someone outside the womb would justify killing someone inside the womb -- if the pregnancy is life-threatening, doctors would be able to perform a life-saving medical procedure, even if it’s not spelled out in the law. And other “special circumstances,” such as rape or fetal deformity, do not actually justify abortions. Saying that it misinterprets the Fourteenth Amendment is just splitting hairs -- if you cannot be deprived of life without due process of law, then you are guaranteed a right to life. What else does Burrows think a right to life is? Any birth control methods which commit an early abortion should be outlawed -- this would not be controversial to a pro-life advocate. And finally, pro-life people already accept the full humanity of excess embryos -- it is not a conundrum at all. That is why pro-life people oppose IVF, cloning, and other methods that create embryos artificially. Creating excess embryos is highly unethical.

Burrows then argues that perhaps the most contemptible aspect is that politicians are playing God, “arrogantly insistent on defining a debatable concept like personhood by their perspective only.” Burrows echoes the argument of the Supreme Court that religious, philosophical, and legal authorities have had difficulty with defining personhood. Of course this is an extremely specious argument: Burrows, for some reason, thinks that preserving fetal life is playing God but taking fetal life is not. We currently have a situation in which doctors are allowed to play God and take the lives of innocent, defenseless human beings all because they can feign ignorance about personhood. So no matter which side wins out, they will be “playing God” as Burrows understands it.

Burrows then repeats the oft-made argument that early church thinkers, like Augustine and Aquinas, did not pronounce on when ensoulment occurred. Of course, the people who make this argument always leave out two critical details: 1) these Christian thinkers still opposed abortion because they recognized that if you don’t know whether or not they have a soul, you ought to err on the side of caution and not take their life, and 2) the science of embryology determined human life begins at fertilization in the 1800s, several centuries after both of these gentlemen lived. If they had known the scientific information that we know now, they would certainly have opposed abortion in no uncertain terms from fertilization. After all, one of the earliest Christian documents, the Didache, unequivocally condemned both abortion and infanticide.

Burrows goes on to make a similar argument from English and American common law regarding quickening -- but of course, the same response holds here. Quickening was seen as the point at which an abortion could be prosecuted as a crime because the science of embryology had not yet proven the unborn are human from fertilization. It was a crime after quickening because that was the point that we could know the unborn were alive, because dead things don’t move under their own power.

Burrows then goes on to argue that there is no religious unanimity regarding personhood today. This, of course, is a terrible argument. For one thing, if personhood really does begin at fertilization, then the fact that you disagree does not justify you taking their life, just like no one was justified in enslaving black people, even when it was legal in the United States. Additionally, personhood is not a religious matter -- it is a philosophical one. Constantly repeating that pro-life people are just basing their views on religion doesn’t make it so, even if Burrows thinks it does.

Burrows’ next argument is from the Constitution: He argues that the Supreme Court reasoned that the Constitution doesn’t define the term person literally and that "in nearly all instances, the use of the word is such that it has application only postnatally. None indicates, with any assurance, that is has any possible prenatal application.” But this is just incredibly poor reasoning on the part of the Supreme Court and on the part of any who take its decision seriously. No, the Constitution doesn’t actually define the term person, but the unborn were considered persons for almost 100 years after the 14th Amendment was ratified. The only reason they are not considered persons now is because Justice Blackmun, et al, redefined the concept of personhood specifically to exclude the unborn. But Blackmun’s argument could justify killing just about anyone. You could argue, for example, that in nearly all instances, the use of the word person is such that it only has application to adults. Therefore, anyone under the age of 18 does not have constitutional rights.

Burrows continues that the court concluded viability is when they have a “compelling” interest in protecting fetal life because that’s when it has the capability to live outside the womb (though Burrows is wrong -- it’s not at the end of the first trimester when the fetus is currently viable, but at almost the end of the second trimester -- around 22 to 24 weeks). But again, this is a specious argument. First, to the medical community, viability is not the ability to survive outside the womb but the ability to live, grow, and develop.[1] So any embryo that implants in the womb is viable. Second, viability, as the Supreme Court intended it, has nothing to do with the fetus and everything to do with the current state of medical technology. So personhood cannot be dependent on viability. Third, everyone lacks viability somewhere. This argument would justify allowing NASA to murder an astronaut they don’t like by intentionally giving him a faulty spacesuit and then telling him to take a spacewalk. Or it would allow you to kill someone by taking him out to sea and then drowning him.

Finally, Burrows states that this kind of bill overreaches by violating the First Amendment of all those who disagree with pro-life people. This kind of argument always baffles me. The pro-life position is based on science (that human life begins biologically at fertilization) and human rights, neither of which I would think humanists would want to claim are religious. At any rate, Burrows clearly is not very interested in logical reasoning, as all of his arguments are nothing but clear cases of logical fallacies. He doesn’t even attempt to address the pro-life position that abortion is immoral because it intentionally kills an innocent human being. Unless an abortion-choice person addresses that argument, their responses will always be unpersuasive.

[1] Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary 1992 (1989), as quoted in Joseph W. Dellapenna, Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, North Carolina, 2006.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ann Furedi's Consistent Views [Clinton Wilcox]

Ann Furedi is a British abortion-choice advocate who is the chief executive of British Pregnancy Advisory Service. I only recently became aware of Furedi’s existence when I helped Gregg Cunningham prepare for a debate with her a few years ago. As far as the abortion debate is concerned, I don’t think she’s really contributed anything to the ongoing discussion by academics. And her arguments seem to be mainly those I encounter from abortion-choice advocates on the street level.

A website called Metro reported on Furedi’s appearance on a talk show colorfully titled Loose Women, which after a quick Google search seems to be the British equivalent of The View. However, if you have spent much time engaging with abortion-choice people, then Furedi’s comments wouldn’t seem newsworthy at all.

The title of the article says that Furedi believes abortion should be treated as contraception, but that’s not technically accurate. Furedi did not say that a couple should forgo using things like condoms and the pill and just get abortions. What she did say is that abortion should be there as a backup in case the contraception fails. A subtle, but important, difference. And when asked her thoughts on sex-selective abortions, Furedi said that while she may disagree with the woman’s reason, it should be up to the woman to decide.

Furedi’s comments aren’t anything new or novel, but perhaps the women on this talk show aren’t used to having this discussion. I don’t know where the ladies who host this show fall on the question of abortion, but many abortion-choice advocates draw the line at using abortion as birth control. So Furedi’s position that abortion should be available as a backup if their birth control fails is understandably distressing to them. Many abortion-choice advocates also draw the line at sex-selection abortion, so Furedi’s unwillingness to condemn even those abortions would understandably seem extreme. The reality is, however, that if Furedi’s support of abortion is grounded in a woman’s right to control her own body, then Furedi is being consistent in her views. If a woman has a right to an abortion on the grounds that she should not be forced to remain plugged in as “life support” for the unborn child, then no matter what her reason is for having an abortion, while we might consider it downright indecent, it’s her right and we have no right to condemn her for that. That’s where bodily rights lead, and if you’re troubled by that, perhaps you should think twice about whether or not bodily rights actually do justify abortion.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Making the Case for Life on Campus

A few months ago I published a piece explaining how to get the training necessary to become an effective pro-life ambassador over the course of the summer(if you missed it, click here).

Now, with the school season just around the corner, it may be a little bit late to pick up a book-length treatment on the subject of abortion. How can you become trained and equipped to persuasively communicate your views this fall, whether on a college campus, or even in high school? Here are some suggestions:

1. Study resources that are immediately available to you: When I first started attending college back in 2013, I was constantly studying Christian apologetics during my free time, so as to help equip myself to understand the issues I would be encountering on campus, and to be able to respond appropriately to the intellectual challenges on the campus. This proved to be invaluable, both to my education and in helping me craft my worldview while I was pursuing my academic career.

The are multiple resources available that can help you accomplish this. Websites are a great tool, and there are many pro-life and apologetic websites available. Below are a couple of my favorites: There is a graphic abortion video that plays on the homescreen automatically)

While websites are good, having a book length treatment on the abortion issue handy is an even more important strategy. While reading non-class materials during the semester can be hard to accomplish, there are short, concise titles available to choose from:
Stand for Life by Scott Klusendorf
Love Unleashes Life by Stephanie Grey
Politically Correct Death by Francis Beckwith(a longer title, but a really good handbook of arguments)
Pro-life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments by Randy Alcorn.

If you just don't have the time for reading, try out podcasts. They are inexpensive(ie "Free") and can be listened to while driving, working out, doing chores, or simply relaxing. They are a great way to learn the pro-life issue, current events, and the pro-life apologetics. The Life Training Institute has started our own pro-life apologetics podcast, where we discuss ongoing events and do regular episodes on issues related to pro-life apologetics in particular.

2. Take advantage of your school library

Many universities and community colleges give free access to their online databases for students and faculty members. This is key. The online databases can help you search for academic works by pro-life scholars, such as Don Marquis, Francis Beckwith, Robert George, and others.

Conversely, many of these pieces are not normally available unless one has a subscription to an academic philosophy or legal journal, so be sure to use the database.

Many of these articles are responses to or critiques of academic pro-choice arguments; most notably, arguments from "bodily autonomy" and personhood arguments. If you are looking for a good critique, this is the place to go.

3. Present Your Case Winsomely and Effectively

Now that you have the knowledge of the pro-life view, it is time to put it to use. Join a pro-life, politically conservative, or Christian club on campus, and connect with other like minded students. Many students may be pro-life on the issue of abortion, but are not doing anything to present that view clearly, carefully, and persuasively.

That ends now. Challenge like minded students to study up on the topic(using resources listed) and then "take it to the streets" by engaging in conversations. It doesn't have to be anything big; one-on-one conversations can accomplish wonders.

However, it is important to make sure that a student group that takes the issue seriously makes an effort to present their view to the larger campus community. Consider hosting a public outreach on campus for a day during the semester. Justice For All, Students for Life, Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, and other organizations do a fantastic job of helping make the case for life on campus, and teaching students to do so as well.

Afterwards, follow the display up with an event promoting solid arguments for the pro-life view. Organizing a formal debate is a great way of accomplishing that. This will give the pro-choice advocates on campus a chance to present their case, and a chance to show how the pro-life view handles common criticisms and objections.

Doing these three things can help you become an equipped and confident pro-life case maker on your college campus and in your community at large.

Gizmodo's "War on Technology" [Clinton Wilcox]

Gizmodo is a site I rarely read. However, as I do work in the pro-life field, their articles occasionally find their way onto my radar. An article written by Kristen V. Brown asserts that new technology could threaten a woman’s right to abortion.

Brown reports that in April, scientists had a major breakthrough with artificial womb technology that may help save fetuses born extremely prematurely. Eight premature baby lambs spent the last month of their prenatal development in an artificial womb and developed normally. This technology could save the 30,000 or so prematurely born babies each year while simultaneously threatening the right to abortion in a country that secures that right upon the viability of the fetus.

Of course, fastening the right to abortion on viability was just a poorly reasoned decision on the Supreme Court’s part. First, “viability” to the medical community has nothing to do with whether or not the fetus can currently survive outside the womb and everything to do on whether or not it is capable of growing and thriving. Every embryo that implants in the womb is considered viable to the medical field. Second, Brown’s article highlights why placing the fetus’ rights on viability (as abortion-choice advocates mean it) is irrational: because viability has nothing to do with the fetus and everything to do with the current state of medical technology. As medical technology progresses, including the development of artificial wombs, viability becomes earlier and earlier. It may one day be the case that any conceived embryo is considered viable, if they are able to be transplanted to an artificial womb right away.

But of course, as the term “botched abortion” indicates and as this article in Gizmodo implies, the desired outcome of every abortion is not to make a woman unpregnant but to produce a dead baby. Brown quotes I. Glenn Cohen, a bioethicist from Harvard Law School, as saying that it’s terrifying to think a woman has a right to an abortion only up until you can transfer that fetus into an artificial womb. It’s strange that a bioethicist would say it’s terrifying to tell a mother that she can’t kill her own child, and she should take responsibility for the child she had a hand in conceiving (or at least, that she should adopt the child out to a family who will take care of her). We wouldn’t say it’s wrong to force a person into parenthood instead of allowing her to kill her toddler. Yet when it comes to a fetus, it’s suddenly okay. When it’s the same child only two years younger, it’s okay to kill her instead of taking responsibility for her. You can be sure that if artificial womb technology becomes a reality, abortion-choice advocates, including Planned Parenthood, which receives millions of dollars in taxpayer money, will be lobbying to get the law’s understanding of why women have a right to an abortion changed.

In fact, Cohen’s own words are what’s terrifying. He says, “The way the law has thus far defined that a woman has a right to stop carrying a child. It doesn’t consider whether she also has a right to control what happens to the child if she is no longer responsible for carrying it.” Cohen calls the fetus a child, and yet he still thinks it’s okay to control whether or not the child dies just because she doesn’t want to raise her. This counts as an ethical position in today’s world.

It seems that everything has to be polarized around politics today. Instead of marveling at this new technology and appreciating the lives it can save, the achievement is brought down because of this author’s obsession with abortion.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Modern Human Experimentation [Clinton Wilcox]

Business Insider reports that scientists in Oregon have successfully edited the DNA of viable human embryos efficiently and apparently with few mistakes. The embryos in question were embryos with severe genetic defects that had no chance of developing into older human beings. And because these edits affect embryos at the genetic level, it will affect the genes that are produced in their sperm and ova, meaning that whatever changes are done to the embryo will also be done to any children that embryo eventually produces. This has led to fears that it may affect the course of human evolution. And of course, it has also spurred on fears that this will lead to “designer babies,” parents picking and choosing traits that they find desirable and eliminating traits that they don’t. Stanford University law professor and bioethicist Hank Greely, however, has tweeted that there’s a difference between embryos you implant and embryos that you edit which are “not to be transferred for possible transplantation.” Editing embryos you don’t intend to implant is not a big deal.

And showing us why calling someone a “bioethicist” does not mean they really are a reliable authority on ethics, legal scholar and “bioethicist” R. Alta Charo does not consider this to be unethical.

If you are a regular listener to our podcast, you heard my interview with Elijah Thompson of the Fetal Position podcast. We had a discussion about the ethics of genetic enhancement. You can listen to that if you’re interested on some of the discussion around genetic enhancement, itself. But this is tantamount to human experimentation. We rightly condemn the likes of Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed dangerous and painful experiments on Jews during the Holocaust, and we rightly condemn the United States Public Health Service for the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments on black people. This is no different. We are dealing here with human experimentation, except that doctors are allowed to get away with it, just as Mengele and the Public Health Service were, because embryos and fetuses today are not considered legal persons. R. Alta Charo is wrong when he says that this is not unethical. In fact, this might even be worse than Mengele or the Public Health Service because at least they didn’t create Jews or black people for the express purpose of experimenting on them.

If we’re talking about genetic therapy, in which we’re only trying to treat diseases, then genetic enhancement is not ethically problematic. If you’re talking about enhancing someone beyond the natural qualities of humanity, then there may be ethical concerns. But experimenting on human beings, even one you’ve dehumanized to make it easier to sleep at night, is always seriously wrong.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Down's Syndrome and What It Means To Be Human: A Response to CBS

There has been a recent headline from CBS regarding the "disappearance" of Down's Syndrome within Iceland has been making the rounds on social media as of late, and has provoked much justifiable outrage among those within the pro-life community. I will weigh in with some thoughts here.

Ironically, the title of the article happens to be "What kind of society do you want to live in?" The authors seem to imply that the virtual disappearance of Down's Syndrome within the country of Iceland is a good thing, and give a positive tone throughout the article.

The first line reads:
"With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.
It is here that we get a glimpse of what the authors are trying to hide within the piece while trying to shed this statistical outcome in a very positive light: The reason we are close to eradicating Down's Syndrome in Iceland is because we are "terminating" the individuals with the condition prior to birth.

Indeed, the article is one massive exercise in "begging the question"; that is, it assumes the unborn are not human, and can therefore be "terminated" prior to the full realization of the condition. To illustrate this concept, imagine what would happen if a story was run on the virtual disappearance of child abuse directed at disabled children within Iceland. Child abuse rates were at virtually zero. Then suppose we take a look at the reasons why the numbers were so low: Parents were being allowed to kill their children all the way up to age 8, as long as it was done quickly and quietly, with the advice of the family doctor. Would there be outrage? There'd better be. And yet, when it comes to these children prior to their births, CBS writes a piece discussing this idea as if it were good news.

In fact, one of the hospital staff members who helps counsel the women regarding the genetic test, Helga Sol Olafsdottir, makes this very point in the piece:

"We don't look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication... preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder -- that's so black and white. Life isn't black and white. Life is grey."
The "life is grey" assertion is absurd. Would anyone apply that to the idea of parents eliminating their toddlers in order to prevent "suffering" for the child or the family members? I think we would view such a person as a moral monster. And yet, we do it with the unborn human, simply because we assume that being unborn justifies killing them somehow.

There is no difference in kind between these children before birth and after birth. The only differences are the child's size, level of development(which can determine your currently exercisable abilities before birth, as well as far after), the environment that they currently reside in, and the degree to which they depend on those around them for their immediate needs. As Stephen Schwartz has highlighted, none of these differences really matter in the long run, as they all come in degrees, and can come or go through the course of our lifetimes. If these differences really do in fact matter, then human equality is a dangerous, repressive myth that needs to be abolished. That is absurd, and terrifying to think about.

How then should a civil society respond to something like Down's Syndrome? Probably by responding the same way we should for anyone else: With love, care, and respect for their shared humanity. Killing them before they are even aware of concepts like love and respect is never going to be the right answer.

In fact, a recent video titled "NOT SPECIAL NEEDS" illustrates this plainly. Advocates for those with Down's Syndrome pose a very important question to the audience: What "special needs" do these individuals really need? How about the same opportunities as the rest of us? And doesn't that include the right to live, just like everyone else? Anything less is not "pro-choice", but is instead the very bigotry that the West has worked tirelessly to eradicate, and has failed many times in doing so. Indeed, it asserts that we can know better what life with Down's Syndrome will be like than the individuals who have the condition do, and will impose our view of what it means to be human on them by killing them before they can even know what is happening.

"What kind of society do you want to live in?"

You'd better be darn sure you know the answer to that.

Professors Arguing Badly [Clinton Wilcox]

There’s a viral video going around of actor James Franco and philosophy professor Eliot Michaelson in a discussion about abortion with professor of philosophy at Princeton Elizabeth Harman. This is part of a new YouTube series by Franco, Philosophy Time.

Her argument is that if we abort the fetus before it is conscious and has experiences, then it is not morally bad to do so. How does she defend her argument for the permissibility of early abortions? She asserts that when it comes to the early fetus (and philosophers tend to use the catch-all term “fetus” to refer to the unborn organism at all stages of pregnancy, even though technically it’s not a fetus until about two months in utero), there are two different kinds of beings. Fetuses who have a future have moral status, and fetuses who don’t have a future, either because of miscarriage or because the mother kills the fetus in abortion, do not have moral status.

If you are perplexed by Harmon’s defense of her argument, you’re not alone. Franco’s expression tells it all. As Franco said, that’s something that you can only judge in hindsight. By Harmon’s criterion for personhood, that having a future as a person is what grants moral status, you can’t know whether or not any given fetus is a person because you can’t know whether or not that fetus has a future. And to argue that we know which fetuses are not persons because we know the mother is going to take her in and abort her, as Harmon does, is a clear case of ad hoc reasoning to justify her position on abortion. Her argument seems, prima facie, to be that whether or not a woman decides to abort is what determines whether or not she has moral status.

Harmon tries to save her view with a couple of caveats: 1) If you had been aborted while you were yet a fetus, then it wouldn’t have been wrong because you wouldn’t have had moral status, not being the kind of fetus that grows up into a person. So moral status is a contingent matter (i.e. contingent on whether or not your mother had aborted you). 2) It’s not looking at it correctly that each fetus has moral status which is taken away when the mother aborts him. There’s nothing about the present state of the fetus that grants it moral status. It’s not conscious and is not having any experiences. It’s derivative of its future that it gets to have moral status. Its future is what endows it with moral status. So when you abort him you’re not depriving him of something he independently has.

Neither one of these caveats save her view. It’s just as ad hoc as it was before. Caveat one, that if you had been aborted as a fetus it wouldn’t have been wrong is just another ad hoc explanation to justify her first ad hoc explanation. The only reason that fetus won’t grow up to be a person is because he is being prevented from doing so by his mother and the abortionist. If left alone, he will grow up into an infant and an adult. Even fetuses that miscarry have this same potential; it’s just being cut short by an external factor, just as an infant who dies of SIDS still has the potential to become an adult, it’s just being prevented by some unknown factor. Her second caveat, that it’s your future that grounds your moral status, abortion isn’t taking it away, again fails to take into consideration that all fetuses have that future, if not being prevented from doing so. These two caveats do not make her case any stronger.

Liz Harmon’s colleague, Robert P. George, stated on a Facebook status that Harmon’s view does have one redeeming quality: it does seem to explain the disconnect between a woman who aborts seeing her fetus as nothing but a “clump of cells” but a woman who wants the fetus seeing him as her baby, her child. But Harmon’s argument for abortion is so incoherent it’s a wonder why she doesn’t abandon it for another colleague, Peter Singer’s, better, albeit unsuccessful, argument for abortion. Ah, well. As has been well observed, there is no position so outlandish it has not been seriously defended by some philosophers.

That being said, another philosopher, Frank Beckwith, also on Facebook, pointed out that Elizabeth Harman has defended her argument in more detail in an article she's written and we should engage with the strongest version of her argument that she's put forth. So I will read Harman's article and respond to it in a future post. Stay tuned for that.

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