Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Burning Research Lab, Part 4,999,999 [SK]

Defenders of Destructive Embryo Research never tire of the following dilemma, which they think kills the pro-life case against ESCR. The alleged dilemma goes like this: Suppose a research lab is on fire. Whom should you save: a vial full of frozen embryos or a newborn? Ellen Goodman is famous for this question and she's banking that our moral intuitions will drive us to choose the newborn, thus proving we don’t really think the embryo is human after all.

Melinda Penner nails the primary reason the example fails: It proves absolutely nothing. She writes:

The only reason it's a dilemma is because it pits the value of both against each other. A dilemma is a difficult choice pitting competing values against one another. It wouldn't be a dilemma if there weren't two valuable things at stake. Something valuable is going to be lost with either choice. So the fact that it's a dilemma assumes the value of the embryos, otherwise it would be easy.

I'd probably grab the baby, assuming it was as easy to grab as the embryos, only because of it's viability to survive since the embryos need to remain frozen. After all, the point of saving someone is survival. The embryos are unlikely to survive the rescue in any case because they require strict conditions that probably can't be found in such an emergency. The baby will survive with easily provided help.

Now new variable could be introduced to the dilemma that change that survival calculation - a lab nearby could keep the embryos in their optimum condition, the baby has a terminal disease, etc. There are circumstances where I'd choose the embryos. But it's that issue of survival that determines the choice, not that deep down I think one is really more valuable than the other one. So the dilemma just doesn't prove anything.

I'd also probably save a 30-year-old gall bladder patient over someone hooked up to a respirator from a hospital fire for the same reason, but that doesn't mean one is more valuable than the other. (Emph. added)

There are other problems with Goodman's case. Here's what I said for an upcoming publication:

First, how does choosing to save one human being over another prove the one left behind is not human? Given a choice between saving my daughter and a building full of other people, I would save my own kid. Would that prove the others were not human beings?

Second, the debate over embryonic stem cell research is not about choosing who we’re going to save—as in the case of the burning lab. It's about who we're going to deliberately kill to benefit us. Saving my own kid first is permissible. Shooting those left behind is not, even if it would increase my chances of escape.

Third, moral intuitions are important but they are not infallible. We must examine them in light of reason. A little over a century ago, many Whites thought it unthinkable that anyone would consider Black slaves human beings. Hadley Arkes recounts one such example from chapter 32 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where Huck contrives a story to explain to Aunt Sally his late arrival by boat:

“We blowed out a cylinder head.”
“Good gracious! Anybody hurt?”
“No’m. Killed a nigger.”
“Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.”

Notice it’s simply assumed the black man is not one of us. Thus, it’s no stretch to imagine a proponent of slavery putting the following challenge to a northern abolitionist: “Your barn is burning. You have a choice of saving a Negro slave or a white schoolboy. Which would you choose?” If a majority of abolitionists leave the black kid behind, does that change the kind of thing he is or, more to the point, justify us killing him to get the white kid out?
Ramesh Ponnuru demonstrates just how crazy the alleged research dilemma really is with the following considerations:

If I were in a burning building and in one room was a neighbor's three-week old triplets and in another was your own nine-year old daughter, and I only had time to get into and out of one room safely, who would I rescue?

If I were in a burning building and in one room was the healthy mother of four small children who were utterly dependent on her, and in another were two patients in the final stages of terminal cancer, who would I rescue?

If I were in a burning building and in one room was a research scientist who was making great strides towards a cure for Alzheimer's and in another room were four heroin addicted fifty-eight year old men who move in and out of the penal system and will likely do so for the rest of their lives, who would I rescue?

If I were in a burning building and in one room was a five-year old child and in another were seven people in comas, who would I rescue?

If I were in a burning building and in one room was a five-year-old child and in another were two older women suffering from advanced cases of Parkinson's disease, who would I rescue?

If I were in a burning building and in one room were five men and in another were three pregnant women, who would I rescue?

I could go on.

Answers to any of these questions do not justify actually killing anybody or treating anybody as unequal to anybody else precisely in respect to basic human dignity and the right to life (i.e., the right not to be killed or have one's life used as a mere means to benefit others). In all of these cases, there is no question of my actually killing anyone. The question would be whether I was showing unfair favoritism toward some over others. In answering that question, all kind of things become relevant that would not be relevant to a decision on whther to kill: family ties, the life prospects of the potential rescued beings, the suffering they would undergo if not rescued, etc. (Emp. added)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Get This Book [SK]

In my humble opinion, Johah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism brilliantly describes how we arrived at our current political landscape. Goldberg's thesis is simple: The political left, not the right, is most responsible for fascist thinking and action.

Now, the portion of his book dealing with Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood, and eugenics is on on-line.

Read it, then go buy the book.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This is Comprehensive Sex Education [Serge]

The RH Reality blog was nice enough to have a real sex educator explain the advise that she gives teens to help decide whether they are ready to have sex:

As a sexuality educator, I spend most of my time helping parents understand how to talk with their children and teenagers about sex, sexuality, gender, and all of the myriad issues that go along with those things. One question that parents often ask me is how to make sure their teenagers are ready to have sex. Putting aside issues of whether parents should have substantial input and control over their teenager's sexual activities, I found that parents were relying on goals that were far too vague.
She seems to doubt whether parents should have substantial input or control over their childrens' sexual activities. Is there doubt that parents should have "substantial input" into their 14 year olds sexual activities? I guess she doesn't think so.

And so, my list of ten concrete things that teenagers need to do before they have sex was born.
Remember, this list is for teens...

1. Have an orgasm.
Yes, before you start having sex, you should give yourself an orgasm. It's important to know what feels good to you before you can show another person what feels good to you.
Interesting choice for number one. I don't think showing another teenager what feels good to you is one of the main problem teens deal with in regards to sexuality.

2. Know the other person's sexual history.
And I don't mean just vaginal intercourse for this one!
3. Know the other person's STD status, as well as your own.
The only way to know this for sure is to be tested! And if you're both virgins, well, you're not going to be for long. You might as well get that scary first STD testing out of the way so you'll know what to expect next time around.
This is good. If you have never had sex before, you should still submit yourself for STD testing just to get used to the procedure. Since you're relegating yourself to a young life of frequent STD testing, you might as well get the first one over with. Nothing says romance as good as a mutual appointment at the health department to see if there are any pathogens growing within your nether regions.

4. Talk about exactly what STD protection and birth control you will be using.
These two issues go hand-in-hand (for heterosexual couples), and it is the domain of both parties to be intimately involved.

5. If you are part of a heterosexual couple, talk about what happens if the woman gets pregnant.
Here are a few options to talk about, in alphabetical order: abortion, adoption, raising the kid alone, raising the kid together. With the understanding that reality is different than the theoretical, make sure you're both on the same theoretical page.

I'm sure many 15 year olds take the time to discuss whether they will raise their theoretical child together or apart. And they say sexual purity is unrealistic.

6. Have your best friend's blessing.
We can rarely see someone we're in love with clearly. It is often our best friends who can see our lovers and our potential lovers for who they really are. Listen to what your best friend has to say, and take it to heart. If it's not what you wanted to hear, give it some time. Wait a month. A good relationship will be able to withstand another month before having sex. Then ask a different friend, and see what they have to say.
Not a word about having your parent's blessing, but it would be a good thing to get the heart-felt wisdom from your 15 year old best friend. Of course, the waiting part is good advise. A "good relationship" will be able to withstand a large number of months before having sex.

7. Meet your partner's parents.
At the very least, make sure you know why you haven't met your them. The best sex comes out of knowing someone well, and knowing someone's family is an important part of knowing them. (Even if they're really, really different from their family.)
8. Be comfortable being naked in front of each other.
You don't actually have to strip down in broad daylight to make sure you've reached this milestone, but it sure helps!
Because that "uncomfortable when naked" problem is plaguing the nation's sexually active teen.

9. Have condoms on hand.
Make sure they fit right, that they're within the expiration date, and that they haven't been exposed to extreme conditions (like the inside of a really hot car). Condoms should be part of any respectful sexual relationship. There need be no assumption of hook ups outside of the relationship, just an assumption of good sexual habits being made and kept.
Evidence of a respectful sexual relationship: Condoms. My wife will be so surprised.

10. Make sure that your partner has done all of these things too.
Part of a happy, healthy sexual encounter is taking care of everyone's emotional needs and physical health. Both people need to pay attention to themselves and to their partner. That way each person has two people looking out for them. It's just the best way to do things.

I suppose the best things that can be said about this list is it seems a very good case for sexual purity. It certainly shows the chasm between what the average parent wants for their teen and what the sexual educators believe is best. The advocates of comprehensive sex education often claim that they wish to increase the communication between teens and parents, but nothing on this list even mentions that.

Friday, December 12, 2008

NEJM to Women: You Can't Handle the Truth! [Serge]

Anyone who needs evidence that doctors do not often make the best logical thinkers need look no further than this amazing article in the New England Journal of Medicine. At issue is the S. Dakota law than mandates that doctors provide to their patients certain information as part of the informed consent process. I must admit that I am uncomfortable with the way part of the law is written, but I am amazed at the objections of the medical community with some if the wording in the statute. To put things in perspective, I am involved in an informed consent conversation with patients between the ages of 15-25 literally every day I am at work. I know a bit about this. Lets see what the NEJM objects to:

The majority in Rounds [the case that declared the law constitutional] dismissed the First Amendment argument by focusing on the statute's inclusion of a definition of "human being" as "an individual living member of the species of Homo sapiens, including the unborn human being during the entire embryonic and fetal ages from fertilization to full gestation."1 The reference to this definition, the court found, makes the description of the fetus as "a whole, separate, unique, living human being" a biologic, rather than ideological, one.
This is because the description of a human embryo or human fetus as an individual living member of the species homo sapiens is completely true, accurate, and scientifically verifiable. Using the term human being in that context is accurate, and is biological. I'm starting to wonder what the problem is.

But although state legislatures have substantial discretion to define terms used in their laws, they cannot merely use the iteration of definitions to cloak religious, philosophical, or metaphysical language in statutory garments and call it "scientific" or "biologic."
Read that last sentence slowly. Despite the fact that the statute clarifies exactly what it means by a human being, and truthfully states it is a human being that is killed during an abortion, the author seems to believe that the term is really some form of cloaking device for religious (!), philosophical, and metaphysical language! How dare we use scientific truths to cloak our religious ideology and foist it on unsuspecting young abortion patients! Believers of all sorts need to take of the "statutory garments" off of any scientific term we use, regardless of their truth, to reveal the religious or ideological underpinnings.

As a side note, I am a follower of Jesus Christ and an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Should I be concerned about any cloaked religious meanings when I use the term "third molar teeth" in my consent form? Just asking.

Proof of cloaked meaing in true scientific terms? This should be good...

The dissent in Rounds noted that "human being" has no specific scientific or medical meaning and that its meaning varies with the context. Although it may refer to purely biologic characteristics, especially when distinguishing humans from other species, "it also may be a value judgment, indicating entitlement to the moral or political rights shared by all persons."2 Post notes that the question of "whether the fetus is a human being is thus understood by all sides to the abortion controversy to be an essentially contested moral proposition."4 In its abortion cases, the Supreme Court has shied away from making value judgments related to the term "human being," when life begins, or whether the fetus is a "human life." The Eighth Circuit's position that the use of the definition resolves the ideology question is overly simplistic, at best.
We should worry about cloaked ideology because any term can have different meaings based on context. First, I believe this is wrong. I am unsure of any context in which the basic meaning of "human being" as a member of our species would be incorrect. Granted that some may have used the term inaccurately in the past, but that doesn't make it incorrect to use in any context as long as the term corresponds to an organism of our species.

Secondly lets consider the context in which the term human being is used. It is used in the context of an informed consent discussion. In other words, the context is a doctor stating "this is the thing that I need your permission to cut apart and suctioned out of your body." Why should the accurate biological description of the "thing" be inappropriate?

I could go on further but lets move on a bit...

The requirement that women sign each page of the disclosure document allows them no latitude to decide for themselves how much or little detail they wish to have about the procedure. The requirements of certification and for writing and recording of questions and answers in the medical record will have a chilling effect on open discussions between physicians and patients and are likely to "compel a woman to conform her speech to the state's chosen messages."2
Before I continue let my explain the informed consent process for wisdom teeth surgery, one that most would agree is a far easier decision to make than whether or not to have an abortion. The patient views a flash presentation showing the risks of the surgery, complete with drawn pictures of impacted teeth, the nerve in the jaw, etc. They have to press a button that they understand each aspect before they click to the next one. The have the opporunity to ask questions both to me and in the flash demonstration at any time, and these questions are documented and written in the chart. They then read a detailed 1 page consent form describing all of the risks of surgery and anesthesia (including death) and initial every paragraph. This is not optional - third molar surgery is an elective procedure. I don't know one surgeron that would be willing to cut something out of a patient without the patient knowing what the procedure entails.

So why should it be different for something as potentially life changing as an elective abortion? Regardless of your position on whether abortion should be legal, shouldn't a patient seeking abortion be given the most accurate information possible, or should we claim that they cannot handle the truth and should be protected from knowing what they are consenting to? I think enough of women to believe that they can handle the truth. I wish the rest of the medical establishment did also.

Two Links [SK]

Paul Manata has a good piece on how some abortion-choice advocates wrongly construe pro-life arguments, then falsely claim victory in refuting them.

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis on a lapse in moral reasoning:

I have heard the argument that God cares as much about social justice issues (such as poverty and racism) as He does abortion, making a vote for Obama okay. I certainly believe God puts a very high priority on caring for the poor and I, too, have wanted to see equality demonstrated through a "minority" president. But to equate having a better income or the desire for a first black president, regardless of his positions on abortion and morality, to the issue of killing 50 million babies is not justice—it is a gross distortion of justice and a great deception. I fear that we have been desensitized to this issue of abortion. I believe it kills babies and takes innocent life. Let's not forget this in our noble attempts to be kind and conciliatory.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Same Sex Marriage Fallacies [SK]

This blog is about bioethics, but the issue of SSM relates to a primary question in debates over abortion and ESCR: Who are we as a people and how can we best contribute to the common good?

Though I won't dwell on the question of SSM in many further posts, here are some excellent links that lend insight to the issue. Most are replies to a recent Newsweek article suggesting the Bible supports SSM:

Robert Gagnon’s rebuttal to Newsweek's sloppy theology

Justin Taylor’s summary of the Gagnon article

Beckwith on The Failure of Justificatory Liberalism in First Things

Rob Bowman on the fallacies of SSM theological arguments--a reply to Tony Jones

Mollie Hemmingway on Newsweek

Justin Taylor links to lectures on Bible and Homo Sexuality

Update 10: 21 PM--Christianity Today goes after Newsweek

For continued coverage of SSM from a Christian worldview, look for additional posts at www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net and theologica.blogspot.com

Update 12/16--Stand to Reason has more on bad same-sex marriage arguments here and here.

History of California's Prop. 8 and how judicial tyrants are poised to overrule the people can be found here.

Update 12/30 Patrick Lee on why marriage is inherently heterosexual.

Update 1/08/09 Melinda Penner on Getting to the Real Issue

Update 2/27 Greg Koukl on SSM challenges and responses

Greg Koukl, Doing What Comes Naturally

Greg Koukl, SSM: http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2010/01/samesex-marriage.html

Melinda Penner on what marriage is:

Andrew Cline on SSM

Albert Mohler on The Bible and Homosexuality

Robert George, et al, write on the purpose of marriage.

Robert George and Ryan T. Anderson on a natural law definition of marriage.

I will update this post as more material comes up for review.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stem Sell Nonsense [SK]

Jivin J has a great post that raises three questions pro-ESCR advocates Amie Newman and Rick Weiss fail to answer. First, if the embryos in question are not human beings, why have any restrictions on ESCR? Second, why these particualr proposed restrictions rather than others? Third, what's the proper relationship between science and ethics?

Jivin writes:

While Newman struggles to understand the difference between science and ethics, Weiss fails to provide reasons for why his suggested restrictions should be in place in the first place. Why only provide funding for research on cell lines from human embryos created for reproductive purposes? Why do the embryos have to be in excess of medical need and slated for destruction? Why shouldn’t the federal government provide funding for research on cell lines created from human embryos who were created with the intention of killing them for their cells?

His piece doesn’t even attempt to answer these questions. There seems to be no ethical anchor for his position. If killing human embryos for research isn’t ethically wrong, then why are stem cells derived from human embryos created solely for research not “ethically derived human embryonic stem cells?”
Read the whole post.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hey Christian, Go Read Something! [Serge]

Recently a received a kids Christmas catalog from Christian Book Distributors (here it is online). As I thumbed through it, I was surprised at what I found, or more specifically what I did not find. I saw page after page of DVDs, CDs, Christian jewelery (a guitar pick on a chain labeled "pick Jesus" was a standout), T-shirts, sweatshirts, and occasionally, a book or two. In fact, I decided to count - on the first 37 pages of this catalog from a Christian bookstore, there were approximately seven pages of books. On the other hand, there were over seven pages of DVDs and over ten pages selling sweatshirts and T-shirts. It seems as Christians, we are far more likely to buy our kids a shirt that says "rooted in faith" than to give them the tools they need to defend their faith in the face of a hostile culture.

Contrast this to what our kids will see at the local Barnes and Nobles. Sure, there may a small section of DVDs, CDs and gifts, but mostly they will be see books. Lots of books. They may not be able to buy a T-shirt with a quote from Richard Dawkins, but they will see the God Delusion prominately dislayed. Of these two options, Chritian and secular, which do you believe our curious children will take more seriously? Which do you believe will influence our kid's worldview more?

Let me be clear that I do not fault the Christian bookstore here - they are a business. I'm glad they exist, and hope they make a profit to stay in business. It is not their fault that Christians are more apt to buy a DVD they can feel safe to stick into the player than to read JP Moreland. The problem lies with us. How seriously do we study our faith? How have we grounded our worldview? Do we really seek to follow Christ and be his disciple? Is this committment to the truth the kind of thing we wish to advertise on a T-shirt?

For Christmas this year, do your child a favor. Buy him of her a challenging book. Read it with them and discuss it afterwards. Take the time to challenge your kids about worldview issues after they consume secular media. This will last far longer than a T-shirt or a guitar pick.

Friday, December 5, 2008

At Least One Campus Gets It [SK]

The University of Calgary--with its eager desire to prosecute peaceful pro-life students for displaying graphic images of abortion--needs to read this editorial from the Oklahoma University Daily. The editorial is in response to the Justice for All exhibit, which you can view here.

Whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life, it’s impossible to walk down the South Oval without cringing at the giant photos of mutilated fetuses on display.

But the presentation by the Justice for All is constructive, if cringe-inducing.

The people who stood alongside the display on Monday and Wednesday and answered questions from passers by were well-informed about the issues they were discussing.

Unlike the students present at some demonstrations, they knew what they were talking about and were able to talk about it compassionately.

They were respectful and reserved. Instead of shouting people down, they were quiet until people approached them and started talking. Then, they answered questions with what appeared to be genuine feeling and intelligence.

Their views are controversial, but they were presented in a compelling and coherent format. The giant photos didn’t make up the sum total of their presentation; they were also armed with brochures and handouts that offered interested students even more information about one of the nation’s most divisive issues.

But what we appreciate most about the Justice for All isn’t that they managed to communicate their message effectively, it’s that they succeeded in inspiring civil conversations about a controversial subject.

They made a “Free Speech Board” where students could write any reactions, even negative ones, to the display. They provided notebooks for people to record whether they supported or opposed the display of graphic photos on the South Oval. Most importantly, they talked to people.

Over the years, dozens of different groups and individuals have trotted down the South Oval in efforts to raise awareness about something, be it homelessness, genocide, or the very real danger that women who wear lipstick are bound for hell.

These people have tried a variety of formats, from harassing students for money to staging protests to standing on benches and screaming at people.

Of all of these groups and all their methods, none has been more effective at creating a space for discussion than the Justice for All. On Wednesday, the scene on the South Oval was one of remarkable calm, considering the nature of the photos that were on display.

Along the sidewalk, pro-life and pro-choice advocates traded barbs, but closer to the photos themselves, small groups of people were gathered, talking — at normal volume levels — about abortion. Others were paired off, talking one-on-one.

Everyone clearly felt strongly about what they were saying, but they were saying it with at least a modicum of respect and none of the hysteria that tends to accompany the topic.

Regardless of where you stand on the abortion rights spectrum, it’s difficult to deny that the Justice for All has done an admirable job of creating a much-needed space for debate that is passionate but civil.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Question About Distinct, Living, and Whole [SK]

Anonymous writes:
I have some sort of flat-footed questions to ask: First, what is the significance of being a "distinct, living and whole human organism"? And why single out these particular features? Also, how do you define the terms "distinct," "whole", "human" and "organism"? (And why think we've got the right definitions?)

Thank you in advance for your answers.

The reader correctly summarizes my position--namely, that embryos are distinct, living, and whole members of the human species regardless of their size or location. As is true of infants, toddlers, and teenagers, embryos are human individuals at a particular stage of their development and thus they do not differ in kind from the mature adults they will one day become.

Each of these points can be clarified as follows: To say the embryo is distinct means it is different in kind from any cell of its parents. Sperm and egg, for example, cease to exist at fertilization, their role restricted to surrendering their constituents into the makeup of new entity, the embryo. From the start, this new entity not only directs its own internal development, it has something completely different from both parents: its own unique chromosomal structure. Later, it will bear other distinctions such as different blood type and different internal organs. (For a summary of the science of embryology, see here.)

That the embryo is living seems obvious on the face of it, as dead things don’t grow. Scientists generally agree that anything that exhibits irritability (reaction to stimuli), metabolism (converting food to energy), and cellular reproduction (growth) is alive. Not only does the embryo exhibit all of these things, it develops itself in ways conducive to its own survival and maturation. True, there is some limited disagreement about how we should define “life,” as some things have only some of the characteristics of living things (for example, viruses). However, just because we don’t know if a specific thing is alive does not mean we can’t know if anything is alive. And anything the exhibits the three qualities above is living.

It’s also clear the embryo is human, since it comes from human parents and has the genetic constitution characteristic of human beings. Put simply, human parents produce human offspring. To deny this, one must explain how two human parents can produce offspring that is not human but later becomes so.

Most importantly, the embryo is a complete or whole human organism rather than part of another living entity. All of its cells work together in tandem toward the growth of a single entity, the embryo. Mere clumps of cells do not function this way. Maureen Condic, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, writes:

From the earliest stages of development, human embryos clearly function as organisms. Embryos are not merely collections of human cells, but living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells do nothing like this under any circumstances. The embryo generates and organizes distinct tissues that function in a coordinated manner to maintain the continued growth and health of the developing body.
Robert George and Patrick Lee summarize embryonic development this way: “From conception onward, the human embryo is fully programmed, and has the active disposition, to develop himself or herself to the next mature stage of a human being.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Steve Wagner Accepts New Position with Justice for All [SK]

The Stand to Reason Blog reported the news of his move today.

I've known Steve since we first had lunch together in early 2001. Over enchiladas and rice at El Torito, Steve informed me of his desire to leave the teaching profession (he taught music) and pursue full-time pro-life apologetics work.

Since then, Steve has emerged as one of the finest (if not the finest) trainer of pro-life students and a terrific communicator for our cause. I have no doubt he'll make a substantial impact at Justice for All.

Two additional thoughts:

First, Stand to Reason gets high marks for not only recruiting talented Christian apologists, but graciously releasing them when opportunities for advancement arrive. I've seen other ministries clutch onto staffers and lay guilt trips on them when a move is forthcoming. Not so at STR--I know from experience. I'm certain Steve would agree.

Second, Justice for All, with its emphasis on training pro-life students, is a tailored fit for Steve. David Lee, JFA's Executive Director, is a perfect pro-life ambassador with a passionate vision to impact college campuses throughout the nation. I look forward to the ministry impact Steve and David will make working together in the years ahead.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Since You Could be Attacked, We Must Shut You Up [Serge]

This seems to be the main argument from the University of Calgary in their decision to disallow the public display Scott discussed here. Here is a portion of their letter that they sent to the organizers:

Of course, the violence that the pro-lifers warned about is the violence that could be perpetrated upon them. They are informing the school that a small amount of security would help to decrease the chance of any attacks upon them. The school's response is cowardly and pretty amazing - in order to be safe they cannot let any "discussion" comparing abortion with the holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.

Imagine a group that wished to protest against campus rape. They had images and were prepared to discuss comparisons of rape with the issues of other violence and other forms of past abuse of women. They were concerned that a small minority of the men who viewed these images and discussion could be upset enough to attack them - despite the fact that there were no attacks during the other five times that the signs were displayed.

Would the woman's group be made to hide their signs and limit discussion of the issue in the name of safety? Would they accept that?

Living life without being confronted with points in which you disagree is not a basic human right. A college campus is the perfect venue to explore the more controversial issues that confront us. This craven attempt to protect the students from a viewpoint that they may disagree with is morally vacuous, and unworthy of a higher learning institution of any form.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Reason to be Thankful [SK]

...is not only that God provides for our needs, but that He adopts those he justifies into his own family.

CJ Mahaney explains this amazing truth in this presentation. It's well-worth the 75 minute investment.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Free Exchange of Ideas? Not in Canada [SK]

From Jo Jo Ruba of the Canadian Center for Bioethical Reform:

November 24, 2008: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
University of Calgary Pro Life club members assert their right to freedom of speech

The University of Calgary is threatening arrest, fines, expulsion and suspension of its own students if they express their views on abortion through a controversial display on campus.

Although these students have exhibited signs from the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) five times on campus without incident, the university is now demanding them to face their signs inwards so no passers-by can see the signs, effectively censoring the students.

“Rather than fulfilling its mission of being a forum where all views can be expressed and debated, the university is censoring a minority opinion on the basis of anonymous complaints,” points out Alanna Campbell, of Campus Pro life (CPL), the student club which sponsors the display.

Dr. Harvey Weingarten, president of the U of C, has stated, "The role of universities is to promote, permit and enable the free exchange of ideas, debate and civil discourse. If universities do not support these values, which societal institutions will?” (Academic Freedom Needs to Come First: Canadians Universities React to Proposed Academic Boycott, Sara Hanson, The Gauntlet, July 19, 2007). The president’s comment reflects the university’s own policy laid out in its Academic Calendar showing that the University aims “to promote free inquiry and debate”.

The university justifies the censorship because of some anonymous complaints about the display, and claims that the display could cause others to be violent if faced outward, even though this has not happened the previous five occasions.

“Banning an event because of the possibility of someone else being violent towards it, is like telling women they are not allowed to walk on campus at night because of the possibility they may be sexually assaulted,” stated Leah Halllman, president of CPL. “The right solution to that potential crime is to provide lighting and security to deter the person who might commit such a crime, not to ban the women.” Hallman adds that her group requires all of its GAP display participants to agree to a code of conduct, which includes a commitment of non-violence.

GAP is a peaceful, educational display which utilizes 4x8-foot signs to show the reality of abortion to the public, drawing comparisons between it and other genocides. Hallman states that the students just want to exercise their legal right to peacefully express their views without the fear of censorship because views like theirs should be debated at a university.

“We do not want to be arrested, but the university’s attempt to bully us is wrong. If the university can silence our viewpoint on campus just because it’s unpopular in some quarters, then they can censor other views as well,” says first-year student and vice president of CPL, Cameron Wilson. "Being told to turn signs inward is like being told that you can express your views as long as nobody can hear you.”

The students plan to defy the university’s censorship demand and exercise their free-speech rights on campus on Wednesday November 26 and Thursday November 27.

For more information please contact:
Leah Hallman, CPL President (403-808-3412)
Cameron Wilson, CPL Vice President (403-465-9164).
More detailed information can be found at: www.campusprolife.com

Monday, November 24, 2008

No Money for Pro-Life Work? [SK]

To stay alive politically and eventually advance our cause culturally, pro-lifers must raise vast amounts of money from those most likely to support our cause--churchgoers.

Apparently that won't be easy.

Justin Taylor posts this sobering statistic:

In fact, fewer than 5 percent of churchgoers actually tithe 10 percent of their income; the average, according to numbers from Empty Tomb, a Christian research group that puts out annual reports on church giving, is now 3.4 percent, or 21 percent less than what dust-bowler counterparts gave during the worst of the Great Depression. Figures show that churchgoer contributions have been cascading downward since the 1960s. Religious conservatives do give more. Problem is, they only give nominally more and other groups give next to nothing.
I'm reminded of Gregg Cunningham's famous quote:

There are more people working full-time to kill babies than there are working full-time to save them. That’s because killing babies is very profitable while saving them is very costly. So costly, that large numbers of Americans who say the oppose abortion are not lifting a finger to stop it. And those that do lift a finger to stop it do just enough to salve the conscience but not enough to stop the killing.

HT: Justin Taylor

Thankful for Godly Mentors [SK]

This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for two men who mentored my early development as a pro-life apologist. Each has made a huge contribution to the defense of the unborn.

Gregg Cunningham, Executive Director of The Center for Bioethical Reform, made the first investment, though I doubt he knew it the first time we met.

The setting was a Saturday breakfast for pastors in November of 1990. At the time I was an associate pastor in Southern California and organizers from the local crisis pregnancy center and right-to-life affiliate invited me and 100 others to hear a pro-life message aimed at equipping church leaders to think strategically about abortion.

Five of us showed up.

Undeterred by the dismal attendance, Gregg, with his background in law and politics (he served two terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives where he wrote the bill ending tax-financed abortions in that state) launched into the most articulate case for the lives of the unborn I’d ever heard. That was impressive enough.

But then he showed the pictures. Horrible pictures that made you cry.

In the course of one seven-minute video depicting abortion, my career aspirations were forever altered, though it took a few months to realize it. Greg asked us to think of the two religious leaders in the parable of the Good Samaritan who, although they most likely felt pity for the beating victim, did not act like they felt pity. Only the Good Samaritan took pity, thus proving he, and he alone, truly loved his neighbor.

For the next several months, I followed Gregg to many of his Southern California speaking events. I memorized huge portions of his talks and devoured his writings. Six months later, I left my job as an associate pastor (with the blessing of the church) and hounded Gregg even more until he put me on staff as his understudy—a position I was privileged to hold for six years. Watching him dismantle abortion-choice arguments in front of hostile audiences, I lost my fear of opposition. Watching him sacrifice the comforts of this life so he could save unborn humans, I lost my desire for an easy job. Both losses have served me well.

Gregg’s signature quote haunts me to this day: Most people who say they oppose abortion do just enough to salve the conscience but not enough to stop the killing. That’s a staggering truth. Every time I tempted to quit, I remember it.

While Gregg Cunningham taught me courage, Greg Koukl taught me to be a gracious ambassador for the Christian worldview. Koukl is not only a top-notch apologist, he’s also one of the most winsome guys you’ll ever meet. His mission is to equip Christians to graciously and incisively defend truth. That’s refreshing, as too many Christians lack the diplomacy skills needed to effectively engage listeners.

I first heard Greg on the radio back in 1989. I thought, “Wow, this guy is really smart!” By 1993, his Sunday afternoon show was my personal clinic in clear thinking. In 1996, we met for the first time at a pro-life conference in Pasadena, where we were both presenters. In 1997, we met again, this time for lunch. Later that same year, I joined his staff at Stand to Reason.

Shortly thereafter, Greg taught me a valuable lesson that continues to payoff each time I write or speak. The setting was the University of Illinois (Champaign), where I was scheduled to debate author and political science professor, Eileen McDonagh. Campus abortion-choice advocates did not want the debate to transpire and tried numerous ploys to stop it. First, they claimed that debates only serve to legitimize the “anti-choice” position. If you won’t debate slavery-advocates, why on earth debate pro-lifers? When that didn’t fly, they went after me personally with a series of editorials in the school newspaper. Everyone of those stories falsely claimed I was associated with groups advocating violence against abortion doctors, while some even claimed that I hated gays.

In response, I typed out a heated reply that shot down each of those lies and sent it off to Greg for a quick review before faxing it to the school paper.

That was a smart move. Greg graciously suggested that I tone things down a bit, or, a lot. Instead of anger, I should communicate sadness that a fine university committed to the free exchange of ideas would even think of censoring a debate over a legitimate public policy question. His advice saved the day. I revised the letter and instead of looking like angry victims, the pro-lifers on campus now appeared reasonable and willing to debate while the abortion-choicers looked like cowards out to suppress academic freedom. The school paper even hinted as much in a subsequent write-up after the debate was canceled. (I showed up anyway and after making a defense for the pro-life view, took questions from critics—which made abortion-choicers look even more unreasonable.) The comic drawing along side the story suggested those censoring the event were “pansies.”

From that day forward, I had a Koukl filter. Even if I’m hundreds of miles away, I hear Greg asking if the piece I’ve just written or the talk I’ve just given communicates in a winsome and attractive manner. When the answer is no, guess where I go?

Back to his radio show. Back to the commentaries on the Stand to Reason website. It’s there I recover my ambassador skills.

I thank God for both of these men. They are responsible for saving countless lives and equipping many others for effective Christian service. I am but one they’ve impacted for eternity.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why Embryos Don't Seem Human, Part 2 [SK]

A category mistake arises when the arguer cites evidence or facts as belonging to one category when in fact they belong to another.

For example, a man who says "science proves the doctrine of the trinity" commits a category mistake. Science can do no such thing because science only measures material things, while God is an immaterial being. To get proof for the trinity, we'll need philosophy and theology.

Virginia Postrel, the former editor of Reason Magazine, makes a common category mistake when arguing for embryonic stem cell research. In a December 2001 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece she takes aim at pro-lifers who treat

microscopic cells with no past or present consciousness, no organs or tissues, as people. A vocal minority of Americans, of course, do find compelling the argument that a fertilized egg is someone who deserves protection from harm. That view animates the anti-abortion movement and exercises considerable influence in Republican politics. But most Americans don't believe we should sacrifice the lives and well being of actual people to save cells. Human identity must rest on something more compelling than the right string of proteins in a petri dish, detectable only with high-tech equipment. We will never get a moral consensus that a single cell, or a clump of 100 cells, is a human being. That definition defies moral sense, rational argument, and several major religious traditions.
As stated earlier this week, the construction analogy used by Postrel here is deeply flawed because embryos aren’t constructed piece by piece from the outside; they develop themselves from within. Her bigger problem, though, is her misuse of categories.

Can you spot her category error? Consider her claim above:
We will never get a moral consensus that a single cell, or a clump of 100 cells, is a human being. That definition defies moral sense, rational argument, and several major religious traditions.
Here's the problem: She answers what is an essentially scientific question--"What kind of thing is the embryo?"--with morality, theology, and an appeal to public opinion, none of which provide the proof we need. True, science can't tell us how to value the embryo (anymore than it can tell us how to value 16 year-olds), but it can and does tell us what kind of thing the embryo is. On that point, there is little debate: From the earliest stages of development, the embryos in question are distinct, living and whole human organisms.

In short, Postrel poses a scientific question and then answers it within non-scientific categories--a clear error.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

War Worse than Abortion? [SK]

A few weeks before the elections, a nun at a Catholic high school thanked me for speaking to 400 of her students on the theme, “The Case for Life.” In fact, she couldn’t say enough good things about my talk. “I agree with everything you said. It was exactly what our kids needed to hear."

However, a moment later it was clear we didn’t agree when it came to applying pro-life principles.

“If only our students were pro-life on all issues,” she lamented.

I didn't have to guess what was coming next. I made a quick mental review of the excellent points made by J. Budziszewski in his 2004 Boundless article and prepared to engage her. (Conversation is reconstructed based on memory and I've added additional explanation to a few of my points.)

She continued:

"I am consistently for life, and that’s why I’m voting for Obama.”


“That’s right. Most people focus too much on abortion. I’m pro-life and care about all life. So does Obama.”

“What do you mean people focus too much on abortion?”

“I mean Bush with the war in Iraq has killed so many people there is no way I could vote for him. John McCain will do the same thing. How can any person who cares about life vote for someone who supports war?”

“Are you suggesting the President unjustly killed innocent people? If so, how?”

“Yes I am! Think of all those innocent women and children killed in Iraq—over a million of them since we invaded the place six years ago.”

“Did you say over a million? How did you come up with that number?”

“I heard it someplace. Besides, war is a pro-life issue like abortion and right now it’s even worse than abortion.”

“To be worse than abortion, how bad would an unjust war have to be?”

“It’s all bad. Abortion, war, poverty—I oppose all of it."

“But you said the war in Iraq was worse, so much so that you are willing to overlook Obama’s stated promise to keep abortion legal at all costs.”

“I just know war is worse right now.”

“To be worse than abortion, wouldn’t an unjust war have to kill more innocent people than abortion does each year?”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“For the record, I don’t think you are right about a million deaths in Iraq over the last six years, but suppose it’s true. Do you know how many unborn humans are killed by elective abortion each year?”

“A lot, I know.”

“Try 1.2 million—each year. So even if you are right about a million unjustified killings in Iraq in the last six years, the evil of abortion is measurably worse. Yet if I understand you correctly, you think pro-lifers should support a guy who is going to use the entire resources of the federal government perpetrate an even greater injustice on the unborn. ”

“He won’t do that.”

“But he said the first thing he’d do as president—the very first thing—is sign into law The Freedom of Choice Act, which would sweep away all state and federal laws limiting abortion—including parental consent laws, partial-birth abortion bans, and laws forbidding the use of federal tax dollars for elective abortions. There’s no denying Obama is deeply committed to the legalized killing of unborn human beings. Doesn’t that trouble you?”

“You are being too harsh. Obama personally opposes abortion—I’ve heard him say so myself. He wants to reduce it. But unlike Bush, he’ll actually do something about it by funding social programs that get to the root of why women abort in the first place. He’ll make health care more affordable for poor people. That will help reduce abortion. Everyone knows abortion rates went up under Bush after going down under Clinton.”

“That’s not quite accurate. True, reported abortion rates dropped from 1992 to 2000, but Clinton can’t take credit for that. Truth is, pro-life Republicans dominated state legislatures during these years and they were able to pass modest legislation (like public-funding restrictions and informed-consent laws) that effectively reduced state abortion rates. Clinton had nothing to do with it. As for rates going up under Bush, that’s simply false. They continued to decline. But even so, laws which allow the killing of unborn human beings are unjust even if no one has abortions. Imagine a candidate who said he was personally opposed to rape while he had a 100% voting record in favor of men having a right to assault women. Suppose he told the public the underlying cause of rape is psychological, so instead of making it illegal for men to attack women, the solution was to provide federally funded counseling for men. The public wouldn't buy it, even if he favored social programs to treat the underlying causes of rape.”

“But abortion isn’t the only issue. We shouldn’t be single issue voters.”

“Of course abortion isn’t the only issue—anymore than the treatment of slaves wasn’t the only issue in the 1850’s or the treatment of Jews the only issue in the 1940s. But both were the dominant issues of their day. Thoughtful Christians attribute different importance to different issues, and give greater weight to fundamental moral questions. For example, if a man running for president told us men had a right to beat their wives, most people would see that as reason enough to reject him, despite his foreign policy or economic reforms. The foundational principle of our republic is that all humans are equal in their fundamental dignity. Your candidate for office rejects that principle. What issue could be more important than that?”

“Well, I just can’t support a candidate who’s for war.”

Note: Catholics who say we can set aside the abortion issue as long as a candidate is good on other issues (like the war) do not understand church teaching. I like how Fr. Thomas Williams corrects that faulty thinking in his interview with National Reveiw:

First of all, you can’t simply leave abortion aside. You must compare the evil of abortion with the evil of war.

--There is the question of magnitude. It is not too difficult to compare the millions killed each year through abortion with the thousands killed in Iraq. Though all of these deaths are terrible, the proportion is radically lopsided and far greater weight must be given to the millions.

--There is the question of moral absolutes versus prudential judgment. The deliberate killing of innocent human beings is always gravely evil, and a law permitting it is scandalous and shameful. The decision to wage war is not intrinsically evil the way abortion is, but still must be carefully pondered, and a number of criteria must be taken into account. War must be morally justified. In this process there can be a legitimate diversity of opinions, while no such diversity is possible in the case of absolute moral principles like that prohibiting the slaying of the innocent.

--The decision to wage war in Iraq is now a moot point, since America has already been engaged there for some time. The question now is how much longer to maintain a military presence there, and how best to establish stable Iraqi self-government. This is a question of far less gravity than the question of waging war in the first place, and one which is even harder to evaluate morally. No clear judgment exists that can claim the absolute moral high ground here, and some have gone so far as to say that withdrawal of troops at this time would be immoral. Consequently the candidates’ diversity of judgment on this question matters far less than their positions on abortion.

--In the present election, the candidates stand as polar opposites on the question of abortion. One favors it and has consistently voted to uphold and extend abortion rights. The other opposes it and has consistently voted to restrict and lessen it. I see no way that their present positions regarding continued U.S. involvement in Iraq could possibly outweigh the abortion question from a moral perspective.
Update 12/28--Seems "Tim," member of the 'Christian' band Underoath, has confused himself with exactly the kind of thinking I'm critiquing in this post. He writes:

So many times Christians naturally move toward to the conservative candidate due to pro-life issues with abortion, while they ignore the utter disregard for life already being lived out on earth. Is standing up for unborn children enough to negate the disregard for human life already in motion pertaining to the acts of war and sacrifice?
Tim--As stated above, to be worse than abortion, wouldn’t an unjust war have to kill more innocent people than abortion does each year? Run the numbers, my friend. It's not even close.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Atheists Need Better Ads [SK]

...than this poorly thought-out sales pitch:

"Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake."

Why the heck should I?

That's precisely the question atheists struggle to answer. Sure, atheists can recognize moral truths and act according to them. In short, they can be good without God.

But as Melinda Penner points out, the question isn't about being good; it's about explaining good, and evil:

It's about an explanation for how these categories of universal, immaterial properties fit in a natural, physical universe if God doesn't exist.

The fact that atheists can be good isn't challenged by theists. And it actually makes sense in a Biblical worldview since all human are moral creatures and capable of great good and great evil. The problem is that atheists can't explain the existence of these categories.

We can be good for goodness sake. Even theists believe there is an intrinsic value in being good, and goodness just motivated by fear of God. Virtue is a love of the good. God loves the good, I believe, and we should love what God loves.

The ad confuses the grounding question once again. It's easy to assert goodness. It's harder to explain it without God.
Note: For an extended treatment of the grounding problem for atheists, see Paul Copan Can Michael Martin be a Moral Realist?

Imperfect Candidates: Formal vs. Material Cooperation with Evil [SK]

Can pro-life advocates morally defend voting for candidates that are less than perfect? It’s a question we’d better consider before the 2010 mid-term elections, and J. Budziszewski weighs-in with his thoughts on the matter.

Here’s the upshot. There’s a difference between formal and material cooperation with evil. In the first case, you intend to enable the evil doer. In the second, you intend no such thing, only to limit him from doing an even greater evil act—thus, you do not share in his guilt.

Budziszewski illustrates the distinction between formal and material cooperation with the following imaginary dialogue between a professor and two of his students, Don and Thersea (edited slightly for space and clarity):

Professor Theophilus (PT): Let's say that candidate X and candidate Y both hold certain immoral positions, but candidate X is worse. If you vote for candidate Y because of his immoral positions, then you're intentionally cooperating with evil. That's called 'formal' cooperation. Formal cooperation is always wrong… But suppose you vote for candidate Y for a different reason. You don't do it to enable him to do bad things, but to prevent candidate X from taking office and doing even worse things. In that case you're not formally cooperating with evil.

Don: But you're sort of cooperating.

PT: It's true that the effect of your action is to make it more likely for candidate Y to take office, where he can do wrong. That's called 'material' cooperation. But in material cooperation, enabling him to do wrong isn't your intention. Your intention is to keep the candidate X from taking office where he can commit even graver wrong.

Don: I don't see why material cooperation isn't wrong too.

PT: Try an easier example. Suppose you're a teller in a bank. A robber grabs a customer, holds a gun to the customer's head, and says 'Unless you give me all the money in your drawer, I'll blow his brains out.' What should you do?

Theresa: Give him all the money in my drawer.

Don: I agree.

PT: So do I, but think about it. That's material cooperation too, isn't it? Giving the thief the cash has the effect of enabling him to commit theft, but that's not your intention. You're not trying to help him do wrong, either as a goal or as a means to some other goal. Your intention is merely to keep him from committing the even graver wrong of murder."

Theresa: I get it. You don't share in the guilt of stealing by giving him the money, because you're not trying to help him steal. And you ought to give it to him, because otherwise something even worse would happen."

PT: Right, and it's just like that when you vote for candidate Y. You don't share in the guilt of the wrong things he wants to do when you vote for him —

Don: Because you're not trying to help him to do them. And you ought to vote for him because if the other guy wins, he'd try to do something worse.

PT: Right

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

With Friends Like These [SK]

The Washington Post now likes pro-lifers.

Well, not really.

It likes liberals with pro-life sentiments, but who campaign vigorously for candidates sworn to advance laws promoting the killing of unborn human beings. These self-described pro-lifers, echoing Democrat talking points, tell us abortion is a tragic choice, but laws regulating abortion don’t work. What’s needed are social programs aimed at reducing the underlying causes that lead women to abort in the first place. Obama took this same approach, insisting that his own political party—the one that’s sworn to promote the killing of unborn humans through abortion, ESCR, and cloning at taxpayer expense—will best advance the pro-life agenda.

As I said during my interview with Justin Taylor, this is complete and utter nonsense.

First, if abortion does not unjustly kill an innocent human being, why is Obama or any other Democrat worried about reducing it? But if it does unjustly kill a human being, isn’t that good reason to legislate against it?

Second, laws which allow—indeed, promote—the killing of unborn human beings are unjust even if no one has abortions. Imagine a candidate who said he was personally opposed to spousal abuse while he had a 100% voting record in favor of men having a right to beat their wives. Suppose he told the public the underlying cause of spousal abuse is psychological, so instead of making it illegal for husbands to beat their wives, the solution is to provide federally funded counseling for men. It’s no stretch to say the voting public would see right through his smokescreen, even if he favored social programs to treat the underlying causes that allegedly contribute to abuse.

After all, there are underlying causes for rape, murder, theft, and so on, but that in no way makes it misguided to have laws banning such actions.

HT: Melinda Penner

Why Embryos Don't Seem Human [SK]

Amidst all the political propaganda coming out of big bio-tech, it's easy to lose sight of the core reason destructive embryo research seems plausible to many Americans. The reason, as philosopher Richard Stith points out, is simply this: Most people think an embryo is constructed piece by piece rather than something that develops from within.

Consider a car, for example. When does the car come to be? Some might say it’s when the body is welded to the frame, giving the appearance of a vehicle. Others insist there can be no car until the engine and transmission are installed, thus enabling the car to move. Others still point to the addition of wheels, without which a vehicle cannot make functional contact with the road.

But no one argues the car is there from the very beginning, as, for example, when the first two metal plates are welded together. After all, those same metal plates can be used to construct some other object like a boat or plane. Only gradually does the assemblage of random parts result in the construction of a car.

According to a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece cited by Stith, most Americans see the fetus exactly the same way—as something that’s constructed part by part. It’s precisely this understanding, writes Stith, that renders pro-life arguments absurd to so many people. As they see it, embryos are no more human beings in early stages of their construction than metal plates are cars in the early stages of theirs.

Journalist Michael Kinsley is a case in point. He writes that pro-life arguments for the humanity of the embryo are “absurd” and can only be defended with an appeal to faith. “A goldfish resembles a human being more than an embryo does. An embryo feels nothing, thinks nothing, cannot suffer, is not aware of its own existence.” For Kinsley, we each start out as something less than human and only gradually become so.

But as Stith points out, the construction analogy is deeply flawed. Embryos aren’t constructed piece by piece from the outside; they develop themselves from within. That is to say, they do something no constructed thing could ever do: They direct their own internal growth and maturation—and this entails continuity of being. Unlike cars, developing embryos have no outside builder. They’re all there just as soon as growth begins from within. In short, living organisms define and form themselves. An oak tree is the same entity that was once a shoot in the ground, years before it had branches and leaves.

Stith illustrates the difference between constructing and developing this way:

Suppose that we are back in the pre-digital photo days and you have a Polaroid camera and you have taken a picture that you think is unique and valuable – let’s say a picture of a jaguar darting out from a Mexican jungle. The jaguar has now disappeared, and so you are never going to get that picture again in your life, and you really care about it. (I am trying to make this example parallel to a human being, for we say that every human being is uniquely valuable.) You pull the tab out and as you are waiting for it to develop, I grab it away from you and rip it open, thus destroying it. When you get really angry at me, I just say blithely, “You’re crazy. That was just a brown smudge. I cannot fathom why anyone would care about brown smudges.” Wouldn’t you think that I were the insane one? Your photo was already there. We just couldn’t see it yet.
Likewise, whenever critics of the pro-life view describe the embryo solely in terms of its appearance, they fall into a constructionism. It’s an easy error to make. Our intuitions are not immediately impressed by the image of an eight-celled embryo with its dynamic self-directed development obscured.

However, our initial intuitions about the embryo can change dramatically upon reflection, as Stith explains:

When we look backwards in time or otherwise have in mind a living entity’s final concrete form, development becomes intuitively compelling. Knowing that the developing Polaroid picture would have been of a jaguar helped us to see that calling it a “brown smudge” was inadequate. If we somehow had an old photo taken of our friend Jim just after he had been conceived, and was thus just a little ball, we'd have no trouble saying, "Look, Jim. That's you!" Thus the most arresting way to put the developmental case against embryo-destructive research would be something like this: “Each of your friends was once an embryo. Each embryo destroyed could one day have been your friend.
To sum up, human beings develop. To say they are constructed is simply false. Nevertheless, the construction view remains intuitively plausible to large numbers of Americans eager to support destructive embryo research.

In other words, pro-lifers have their apologetics work cut out for them.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Putting Things in Perspective [SK]

Turn up the speakers and enjoy this stellar video presentation produced by Catholic Vote. It attacks the false notion, embraced by many Catholics (and some Evangelicals), that all issues are equally moral when it comes to voting.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Couric's Question and Framing the Debate [Jay]

So why is it so hard to answer the Katie Couric question? Even some of my pro-life and radically behind Palin friends are concerned that she did not answer the question. But is this an indication of some inability to articulate her pro-life beliefs? A little bit, but it is also a pure and simple fact that most politicians are Jacks (or Jills) of all trades and masters of none. So when she is asked a question about abortion it would be silly to expect her to respond with the same proficiency as Frank Beckwith or Scott Klusendorf. She simply is not working on this issue at that level.

But let’s not miss the nature of the question. This is the real rookie mistake that most people make in dealing with interviewers. The question is:

If a 15-year-old is raped by her father, do you believe it should be illegal for her to get an abortion, and why?

What if we flipped the field on the interviewer? What if we offer a question for an answer?

Let me answer you by asking you this question. An innocent human being is conceived after a father rapes his daughter. Why should we be allowed to kill that human being?

The problem with Katie Couric’s question is that it presupposes that abortion is a right that pro-lifers wish to restrict or deny. This is simply not the case and we must be clear about that at all times. We live in a land with unjust laws as it pertains to the unborn. I recognize that many nations allow and often times even help pay for abortions but that does not make it a right as we understand natural rights. So do not play that game.

If you think that Couric does not presuppose that then look at the follow up:

But ideally, you think it should be illegal for a girl who was raped or the victim of incest to get an abortion?

What is missing from both questions? Perhaps the unmentioned human being that will be killed by the abortion? Both the question and the follow up focus on a woman her situation and a procedure. What kind of person wants to stop her from getting an abortion? She needs an abortion because she is a victim. Of course the women in question are victims of terrible crimes and those crimes and the criminals that perpetrated those heinous assaults must not go unpunished. But every abortion is a violent and deadly assault against a human life and that fact is absent in either the question or the response.

Palin must not answer this question the way it is posed. She must clarify what is missing from this discussion; the innocent human being that is being killed to pay for another’s crime.

Abortion is wrong because it kills an innocent human being for elective reasons. Anytime anyone asks a question that leaves the unborn human being out, it is our responsibility to put them right back in front and center.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Corporal Punishment and Pro-Life Arguments [Jay]

Now this is interesting to me. The Slate, a proudly left internet magazine, has an article by Alan E. Kazdin called Spare the Rod on the ineffectiveness of corporal punishment and the need to address the issue here in the United States beyond merely banning it in the public school system.

The article states that there is scientific evidence that corporal punishment is harmful to children. As such, we must ask whether we as a culture should take a principled stand and make it illegal across the board including in the privacy of one’s own home. Mr. Kazdin acknowledges that such a law would be ineffective at actually stopping people from using this form of punishment on their children. However, it would help in educating people and if passed in conjunction with a nationwide effort to inform public opinion (he draws on littering and smoking comparisons and I would add drunk driving and seat belt laws to that) then the law itself would serve to both dramatically reduce the instances of corporal punishment and educate the populace at the same time.

It sounds so logical when someone talks about it in those terms. Laws reduce the specifically addressed action and inform our community morally? Now how does this differ from proposed restrictions on abortion? Why are these arguments so much more compelling when we are talking about spanking your child rather than tearing your unborn children limb from limb and then sucking the parts out of the uterus to be reassembled like a grisly puzzle on the table?

Oh yeah, women have a constitutional right to kill their offspring as long as they have not yet been born. Then we have a responsibility as a society to protect that child even from spanking. Another noticeable difference is that in one case the cool Europeans agree with you. Never underestimate how important that is.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sorry. [Jay]

I apologize for disappearing for a while, but I had a banquet to prepare for the CPC at which I work. Oh, and there was one other thing that has eaten into my spare time of late. Her name is Rio Nika and she is a pocket sized beauty. She was born on 9-11-2008.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Re: McCain Radio Spot on Stems [SK]

Yes, the ad is unclear on the face of it. But McCain's position is no mystery: He supports using tax dollars to destroy "leftover" embryos (those embryos released by their parents for destructive research), but opposes cloning them for medical research. I haven't detected from him any substantial change in his views, though maybe I've missed something.

His position is indefensible. Like I've said before, McCain will disappoint us on some levels, this being one of them. Yet given the alternative,I'm not about to jump ship. Even greater evils await us should he lose.

They just called for my gate. I'll try to check more on this when I get home.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

McCain-Palin on "Stem Cell Research" [Serge]

OK, I'll admit that I am quite confused about this radio ad:

Hmmm. Palin has stated numerous times that she is against embryonic stem cell research, and McCain seemed to soften his stance during the Rick Warren symposium. I hope that the campaign is intentionally using the term "stem cell research" to advocate all types of SCR that does not involve the killing of human embryos. It seems that the examples that are given are consistent with the recent advances in adult stem cells. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Jivin J on Biden:

Jivin J writes on Biden's crummy thinking on ESCR.

Joe Biden's Bad Religion [SK]

When Joe Biden isn't smearing Sarah Palin, he's busy peddling nonsense on abortion. "I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and even more devout that I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society."

So Biden embraces a "religion" he doesn't think is true in the real world of politics and law? (Greg Koukl says more about that problem here.)

Bear in mind that Joe has no problem imposing the abortion-choice view that a fetus has no rights whatsoever on a pluralistic society and that contra his own claim, the question of when life begins is a scientific one that can't be answered by theology or philosophy.

There's more going on here than meets the eye. As Yuval Levin points out, the real debate is not over when life begins. Biden doesn't have a leg to stand on when it comes to that question. The real fight, culturally, is over the question of human value. Does each and every human being, regardless of size, location, and development have an equal right to life?

Now if you are a pro-lifer, the minute you reply that all humans have value simply because they are human, Biden and those like him are going to accuse you of making a controversial religious claim, one that has no place in the public square given our pluralistic society.

Whenever I hear this, my first question to my critic is: "What do you mean by religion?"

Everywhere and always, I’m told religion involves metaphysics, that is, comprehensive doctrines about ultimate reality that can’t be proved empirically or argued for rationally. You must accept them on faith. I then ask, "What do you mean by "faith?" Most often I hear that faith means believing something in spite of the evidence; it’s what you fall back on when the facts are against you.

After asking his reasons for believing that, I say: "Tell me why you think anything has value and a right to life." The answer inevitably is grounded in metaphysics, some comprehensive doctrine about the nature of human beings and their place in the world which can’t be proved empirically. I then explain that although the pro-life view is implicitly religious, it is no more religious than alternative explanations about human value and human rights. Everyone is asking the same exact question: What makes humans valuable in the first place? Science can’t answer that question because science deals only with things we can measure empirically through the senses. If you want an answer, you’ll have to do metaphysics.

I've dealt with alleged metaphysical neutrality in other posts, but Biden's dismissal of pro-life arguments as "religious" just won’t work. True, the claim that human embryos have value in virtue of the kind of thing they are (rather than some function they perform) is indeed grounded in a worldview that admits a transcendent starting point for human rights and human equality. But saying an embryo of fetus has value is no more religious than saying it doesn't. Both claims involve prior metaphysical worldview commitments.

I simply don't get why anything that smells like religion is so troubling to secularists like Biden. The Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail all have their metaphysical roots in the biblical concept of imagio dei (i.e., humans bearing the image of God). If pro-lifers are irrational for grounding basic human rights in the concept of a transcendent creator, these important historical documents—all of which advanced our national understanding of equality—are irrational as well.

Moreover, the claim that comprehensive doctrines are faith based and have no place in the public square is itself a comprehensive (and controversial) doctrine, an article of faith that is implicitly religious. What is "religion?" Tim Keller writes that religion "is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing." Keller argues that even the most secular pragmatist comes to the table with a master narrative, a comprehensive explanation about the nature of the universe and our place in it. In most cases, the secularist is attempting to answer the exact same questions theists do such as what makes humans special? Where do rights and moral obligations come from? What is the common good? A religion doesn’t have to be organized along denominational lines to count as religious. All that’s needed is a set of comprehensive assumptions about the nature of the world and how we should function in it.

Thus, all moral views spring from assumptions that are implicitly religious and sectarian in nature. They rely on overarching doctrines that cannot be proven scientifically and about which many people disagree. Consider the twin claims that women have a fundamental right to bodily autonomy and self-realization. Those claims, writes, Keller, "are impossible to prove and are ‘conversation stoppers’" just as much as appeals to the Bible. So why is only the pro-life view dismissed as religious while the abortion-choice view—which has its own set of moral oughts grounded in prior worldview commitments—gets a free pass?

In short, the pro-life view is indeed religious, but it's no more religious than the abortion-choice one.

McCain and Palin should make that clear to voters.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Audacity Of Nope [Bob]

A quick summary of the view I'm about to put forth is this:

When it comes to the abortion issue, Barack Obama is a moral coward.

That ought to be succinct enough. I don't say things like that lightly so let me explain why I'm saying it now. I'll start with Obama's response to Rick Warren at his recent appearance at Saddleback Church in southern California. Here's the exchange:
WARREN: ... Now, let’s deal with abortion; 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. As a pastor, I have to deal with this all of the time, all of the pain and all of the conflicts. I know this is a very complex issue. Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.
I can do no better than my friend Jay at addressing the "pay grade" issue (here) so I won't. But this is nothing but a spineless diversion from the actual topic in question. Obama knows that if a fetus is a person (i.e. life begins at conception) he cannot defend his pro-abortion view. So instead of confronting that moral question, he punts.

Let me just say that his answer to that question was all I needed to come to my "moral coward" assessment. But there is more that I have learned since that has only strengthened my confidence in that assessment.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Whose Pay Grade is He Referencing? [Jay]

I wanted to quickly look at something that Barack Obama said at Rick Warren’s forum to discuss issues with the two presidential candidates of the major parties. Obama was asked when human life was due some protection under the law. He responded that “whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity … is above my pay grade.”

If we presume that he is deferring that question to God, as I cannot imagine who Obama would be deferring to otherwise, then this raises interesting questions on how he processes things morally. If candidate Obama honestly appeals to agnosticism on when life begins, he is obviously allowing for the possibility that the unborn may in fact be human beings and people in every true sense of the word. But he does not know that for certain, and so he supports the most radical agenda imaginable in the name of reproductive freedom. Even if a child survives an abortion, there can be no legislation enacted to protect that child from the medical staff following the mother’s decision to its grisly conclusion. He defended his position by saying that there was already legal protection for children, as if he were unaware that these particular children in question were not seen as newborns but the product of failed abortions. A terrible reminder of what happens when human value is determined subjectively.

This puerile defense fails to recognize one obvious fact. There are already laws on all of the books that protect human beings from being unjustly killed and that has not slowed down the abortion machine for a moment. That is why the unborn, or in this case the newly born, need explicitly stated protection. It is too easy to redefine them for the sake of legalizing their extermination by any means necessary.

But candidate Obama is not as daft as that. He says that he fought that Act not for what it did, but for what it might do. It might threaten Roe v. Wade in some future chain of legislation built upon the most modest and humane first steps, and so candidate Obama shows clearly that he is radically pro-abortion in that he will brook no legal protection of any child that might begin to build a legal case that abortion is morally wrong and ought to be stopped.

Then he has the audacity to defer to the “higher” pay-grade on the question of the humanity of the unborn. “Only God knows,” he says with a political wink while he promises to immediately rescind all Executive Orders that protect the unborn. “Who among us can answer that question?” he soothingly asks us as he defends fighting legislation that’s only function was to require hospitals not to neglect to death newborn children that had survived the doctor’s attempt to destroy them.

Taken at his word, we learn a chilling lesson about candidate Obama through this conversation. In the face of ignorance, stick to your political allies. If you do not know what it is because such questions ought to be left to God alone, kill as many as you need to. After all, Obama is convinced that women take abortion very seriously, so I guess the identity of the unborn doesn’t matter at all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

This is the call that never ends, it just goes... [Jay]

So my wife, who is now 7 months pregnant and enjoying no end to the brutal list of pregnancy induced irritations that have plagued her on the third time around, has made it clear she wants Mexican food for dinner. After we have finally corralled our two children in the usual battle royale that is leaving the house and as I am walking out the door the phone rings. Being the idiotic man that I am, I pick it up and a frightened young woman starts nervously asking me if I can participate in a survey that she promises me is not selling anything.

“How long will it take?” I ask.

“I promise to ask the questions as quickly as I can,” she answers.

“But I assume that you have done this before, about how long do you think it will take?” I ask again.

“I promise to ask the questions as quickly as I can,” she answers again and so eerily identical in tone to the first time that I wonder for a moment if this actually already happened.

In an attempt to break this weird pattern I try a new approach. “I am about to walk out the door, so if it is going to take too long I cannot do it, but if it is a couple of minutes I probably be willing to help you out here.”

“I promise to ask the questions as quickly as I can,” she reassures me and simultaneously breaks my will to resist. As I hear the words “alright, I’ll do it,” coming out of my mouth the back of my head catches fire from the gaze of my stunned wife and I see the children run off for further mayhem.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Well it did not take long to parse through some of the questions and realize that this survey was being done on behalf of none other than Planned Parenthood. Suddenly this had become a work call! As I relish in every opportunity to let any and all people know how much I just love (read “despise with an enduring and endless passion”) Planned Parenthood, I participated in the survey in the hopes that perhaps my negative feelings could somehow be translated into a statistic that I could one day pull out and site on a future post. My mind reeled at the possibilities.

The questions were pretty routine fare asking about the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the NRA (I assume that the pollsters see that organization as the ideological opposite in some sense at it was clearly a question meant to tell them more about the opinion holder than the opinions themselves) and more than a few questions about abortion and Planned Parenthood.

Now here is why I hate surveys. I was asked what view adequately expresses my own opinions about abortion (Obnoxiousness mine):

1 – The constitutional rights of women to have access to reproductive medicine must remain unfettered by restrictive laws passed by moral majority misogynists.

2 – There ought to be some “reasonable but limited” restrictions on abortion.

3 – Abortion should be restricted except in the extreme cases of life of the mother, rape and incest.

4 – Abortion should always be outlawed under every circumstance.

5 – I don’t know.

I then asked, “How do you note that I refuse to answer based on the grounds that my view is not accurately represented on your list?” She responds that I have to choose from the list. I ask her if option #3 is meant to be inclusive of those people that do not believe that the life of the mother ought to be sacrificed without consent but would not support the abortion of children of rape or incest.

She asked me, “So you want me to put you down for #3?”

“Not if it does not include the view that I just asked you about.”

“Then you want me to put you down for #4?”

“No I do not think that based on the way you phrased that option it accurately represents my beliefs. You could just note that I refused to answer this one over an objection to the question.”

She paused for a moment and then to my surprise she said, “Do you want me to put you down for #5, then?”

I collected myself and explained this was not a case where I did not know how I felt, it was a case where the question was flawed and their categories did not clearly represent my views. Another moment quietly passed and she finally said, “So do you want me to put you down for #3?”

Lets avoid the silly game of trying to figure out how this girl is processing the information I am giving so that she keeps changing the number that she wants to put down for me in an effort to move onto the next question. After a few more passes at trying to illustrate how my views are not represented in her options where by she responds with repeated suggestions on the appealing and intriguing possibilities of numbers 3, 4, or 5, I finally tell her, “You can either note that I do not want to answer this question, or we can quit this survey altogether, how about that? Does that clarify my position enough for you?”

“Please hold,” she says and leaves me waiting for about one minute while she confers with the great council on stupid surveys and someone anoints her with the necessary wisdom that she needed to either just fill in a number for me or move on to the next question. I know this because the very next thing I hear is a click and her voice saying, “The next question is how certain are you about your views on abortion: Not at all certain, somewhat certain, or very certain?”

“I would say I am very certain wouldn’t you?” But being the good little survey professional she was she pushed right through my attitude to ask me to grade Planned Parenthood on a scale 1- 10.

Let me think about that for a minute.