Thursday, October 20, 2016

Q&A: What Do You Say to the "Keep Your Religion to Yourself!" Objection? (Jay Watts)

This past weekend I was speaking to a group at Northwestern University from Students for Life of Illinois as part of that organization’s annual summit. I made the case for life appealing to the three-step strategy that I generally outline:

1)   Simplify the issue by focusing on the single most important question concerning the right or wrong of abortion, what are the unborn?

2)   Argue our case using science and philosophy. The science of embryology tells us that from the moment of fertilization the unborn are a whole, distinct, and living human organism. Philosophy tells us that there is no essential difference from the embryo or fetus that we once were and the more mature human we are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependence do not do sufficient philosophical work to explain why it was ok to kill us then, indeed it was a Constitutionally protected right, but that if someone did the same thing to us at this stage in our life it would be the worst moral offense one human being could commit against another human being.

3)  Argue well, in a way that aims to win people with good arguments and not merely to beat people down with information.

During Q&A, a young woman asked the following question: What do you do when someone says this all just your religious view and shouldn’t be pushed onto others that do not share your religion?

My answer:

As I understand that objection, it claims that the belief that all human beings share a common intrinsic dignity by virtue of what we and are owed basic duties and obligations, not the least of which is to refrain from killing them, is by its nature a religious argument. My response has three parts.

First, it isn’t clear that this is true. None of the arguments that I provided are religious by nature. There are atheists that would reject the suggestion that objective moral values require a theistic worldview. Sam Harris appeals to objective morality when he condemns the practice of female genital mutilation in certain Muslim cultures. He isn’t arguing that those cultures violate a western cultural norm, but that the practice itself is objectively wrong for all cultures. Atheists like Sam Harris and Michael Martin have worked hard to ground objective moral values in a non-theistic worldview precisely because they acknowledge the existence of those values. Whether I believe that they can succeed in doing so is irrelevant to this point. It can be accepted that an appeal to objective morality is not religious by its nature.

This leads me to my second point; I never mentioned my faith or personal beliefs as part of my argument. It is true that I am passionately and unapologetically Christian and that my faith informs every area of my life. So what? I never said abortion is wrong because God said so. People objecting to our case need to address the science and philosophy, not my faith. This argument commits either the Genetic Fallacy (the pro-life argument was birthed out of religious communities) or amounts to a plain old Ad Hominem attack (Jay is religious therefore he is wrong). Objectors have a responsibility to interact with the arguments presented regardless of who is presenting them or what motivation I may have for putting forth the arguments.

Dr. Condic presented the case for the identification of early human life as a new independent organism from fertilization. (Maureen Condic was also at this event. See her article here). I presented the philosophical case that the best explanation of our experience of a shared universal human dignity that transcends cultures and subjective interests is that our dignity and value are grounded in our humanity. Replying with, “Yeah, but religion..” hardly addresses either of those arguments. Put them back on the hot seat and make them answer the question, “What are the unborn?”

Finally, why do they get to decide without argument what considerations are allowed into the marketplace of ideas? Who empowered them to declare that secular humanist reasons and materialistic naturalistic reasons can be publically advocated, but so-called religious reasons cannot? I have the right to advocate for my beliefs and try to convince others that my views offer the best explanations and solutions to the questions we experience in our world. If they want to argue that their worldview is superior then they need to make that case, but they don’t have the right to make it in a vacuum where other competing worldviews have been shut out of consideration. 

In truth, they are inconsistent in their objection to religious reasons informing advocacy. Where is the handwringing when Bono dedicates his considerable influence to acquiring help for people in Africa suffering from Aids and poverty? He clearly states that his desire to help is born out of his Christian faith, and yet he is applauded for those efforts. When HBO’s documentary program VICE ran a story about George W. Bush committing U.S. aid to help Bono establish programs that transformed the manner that some African countries fought Aids, no one cried foul when Bush stated his and Bono’s shared Christian values were his motivation for action. It is only when we stand up against one of the sacred pets of the progressive culture like abortion that they suddenly demand a litmus test for having a public voice on issues.

In a nutshell, I will talk about what I want, when I want, wherever I want, and they better come with more than “Shut up because you are religious!” if they wish to stop me. They had better be ready to make their case, because I won’t be deterred from making ours.

(Note: This is the answer as I gave it. It was heavily informed and influenced by the works of Hadley Arkes, Robert George, Greg Koukl, and Scott Klusendorf. All credit where credit is due.)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Baby On Board [Clinton Wilcox]

I've spent the last week in England and will be returning to California tomorrow. It's been a wonderful week but I'll be happy to finally be going home. I will look forward to returning next year. The three articles I wrote this week were written in England (the first one in Battle East Sussex, the second and third in London).

As I was riding in the tube to get to a destination, I saw a pregnant woman wearing a button that said "baby on board". It's a rear windshield placard I used to see around here in California, but this one had the official logo of the Underground tube on it. The button was officially made by the Underground tube in a country in which abortion is legal up until 24 weeks.

This kind of thing underscores the extreme inconsistency in our cultures. In the United States, in some states if you murder a pregnant woman, you'll be tried for two murders, as in the case of Scott and Lacy Peterson. Yet if the mother allows the child to be killed, it is no longer murder but abortion. Wantedness or unwantedness should not determine one's moral status, yet in many countries, that is exactly the situation we have.

Whether or not a person is wanted is a completely arbitrary consideration for human value. There are many people who are not valued, yet it would still be wrong to kill them (e.g. homeless people are generally seen as drains on society, but we cannot kill them). These kinds of laws just underscore how dangerous it is to live in the womb in our societies. No society is safe unless that society grounds human value in the nature of the human being, not in some arbitrary property possessed by that individual.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Is Making Abortion Illegal Legislating a Religious Viewpoint? [Clinton Wilcox]

The pro-life position entails that since unborn human beings are full human persons at fertilization, if you kill an unborn human being at any point in his/her development, you are committing an act of unjustified homicide which should be forbidden by law. Of course, many pro-choice people believe, not having actually listened very closely to the pro-life argument, that the pro-life view is grounded only in a religious belief. So they respond that we cannot legislate a religious point of view into law.

Of course, they are correct. But what they miss is that we are not trying to force people to become Christians, or worship Yahweh, or pray the Lord's Prayer three times a day. If the pro-life argument is correct, that human beings are full human persons from fertilization, then the law of the land can reflect that. As I've heard LTI's president Scott Klusendorf mention in a debate against Malcolm Potts, the law does not have to take a position on the soul to make murder illegal. If the unborn are full human persons as adults are full human persons, then the law is justified in making abortion illegal, just like it makes infanticide illegal, and just like it makes murder of older people illegal.

Consider a Venn diagram with two circles that intersect (hopefully my mathematical friends will be proud of me). In the left circle is the set "God's laws," and in the right circle is the set "humanity's laws." In the middle is the intersection between the two. We are not trying to legislate something that is merely God's law into the law of the land (again, we are not trying to make people follow Christian rituals or worship Yahweh). We are legislating one of God's laws into the law of the land, both of which intersect. Murder, rape, and theft also oppose God's laws, but they are laws that we should also institute into the laws of the land. Abortion is no different, as it is the intentional killing of an innocent human person.

The pro-life position naturally entails that abortion should be illegal. If the pro-life position is correct, then our government has no moral choice but to make the act illegal.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Must We Convert the Culture to Christianity to End Abortion?

It seems every so often I run across someone on Facebook (rarely in personal activism) who asserts that we must convert people to Christianity in order to end abortion, or that we must share the Gospel at all times with people, whether or not we make pro-life converts. To do anything less goes against God's teachings.

This may sound super spiritual on the face of it, until you stop and consider that, as Augustine said, "wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his master" (On Christian Doctrine, II.18.28). Or as it is commonly paraphrased, all truth is God's truth. Whenever we share the truth about abortion, that it is the unjustified killing of an innocent human person, we are sharing God's truth. Now, it's possible that someone would only be converted after you share the Gospel with them and they come to understand the universe as God does. But it's also very likely that someone will not take the Gospel seriously until they hear a Christian give a reasoned defense of one of their positions in another sphere of knowledge.

I, myself, have met people who said they did not come to Christ until after they became pro-life. In fact, this is true of Bernard Nathanson, an atheist physician who founded NARAL. He became pro-life while still an atheist, then converted to Catholicism later in life.

I have been attending the Clarkson Academy in Battle East Sussex, England. At this conference Michael Sherrard gave a presentation. He is the pastor of a church, and one of the members of his church asked a friend from college if he'd like to attend church with her one Sunday morning. The parishoner's friend was an atheist who agreed to go to church with her because it was important to her. While there, Mike gave a presentation on the pro-life position. The friend was highly impressed with Mike's rational defense of the pro-life position, so the rest of the time the parishoner had with the friend while the friend was in town, he spent time asking important questions about Christianity. His parishoner's friend's interest in Christianity was only piqued because he heard Mike give a reasoned defense of the pro-life position.

The cold reality is that if we want abortion to end, but we think we have to always share the Gospel in order to do it, we're going to turn many people off. We'll never end abortion that way. Scott Klusendorf, in another presentation, reminded us that even the Bible says this: narrow is the way and there are few who find it. We could never possibly hope to end abortion if our only goal is to share the Gospel. If we really want to save babies, we have to be intentional about when we give a reasoned defense of the pro-life position, and when we share the Gospel. Many of my conversations on abortion naturally lead into discussions of ultimate reality, where morality comes from, and so on. But if that was my only goal, I'd never see an end to abortion.

Book Review: The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution by Jenna Ellis [Aaron Brake]

It has been over one year since the Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges, a decision which granted legal recognition and moral validation to same-sex “marriage” in the United States. While this decision was just one of many abuses fueled by the judicial activism of nine unelected judges, it was also a culmination of sorts in our culture’s ever-increasing slide into secular humanism over the last several decades. Many Christians marvel at how we have come to such a place in a nation originally founded on objective moral and biblical principles. More importantly, they wonder if there is still a way back. Enter Jenna Ellis and her book The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution.

Ellis is an attorney, professor, and legal analyst who uses her expertise in these areas to make a persuasive historical and legal case that grounds the authority of our nation’s Founding Documents in Divine Law, i.e., the discoverable, objective, unchanging law of God that includes both science and morality. As she explains, proper constitutional interpretation will be based on reading the U.S. Constitution in context, interpreting and applying the text correctly, while taking into account the original intent of the Founding Fathers. This of course assumes an objective, fixed meaning to the text, a belief many secular humanists want to replace with the idea of a fluid, changing Constitutional document possessing no authority higher than man himself. In so doing, secular humanists undermine their own position by ridding themselves of any adequate grounding for objective meaning and value judgments, the very things they seemingly wish to celebrate after the Obergefell decision. With no universal authority from God, all that is left is man-made government, and what the government giveth the government can taketh away. Secular humanists cannot have their cake and eat it too. This is why our Founding Fathers appealed to Divine Law in securing our inalienable rights, not a social contract.

If that’s the case, does this mean Christians should argue for a moral constitution based solely on the “personal faith” of the Founders? As Ellis convincingly argues, that would be a mistake. What we need is an objective, legal basis and attempting to establish Constitutional intent on personal beliefs does not get to the most important interpretative question when determining meaning: What does the text say? Unfortunately, this question has taken a back seat in recent decades due to judicial activism and the misapplication of judicial review (Marbury v. Madison), whereby the Supreme Court has usurped power and effectively elevated itself beyond its originally intended authority and scope into the unchecked, final arbitrator regarding the interpretation, application, and constitutionality of laws. With doctrines like judicial review governing our country, appealing to the “personal faith” of the Founders simply will not win the debate. We need to get back to the authoritative basis and correct interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, and this begins by recognizing “that nearly all of the most prominent and influential Founders were lawyers.”[1]

Friday, September 30, 2016

Is Consent to Sex Consent to Pregnancy? [Clinton Wilcox]

In her book Breaking the Abortion Deadlock: From Choice to Consent, sociologist Eileen McDonagh argued that pro-choice people should move the debate from being about choice to consent. In other words, instead of arguing a woman has a "right to choose" abortion, they should be arguing that an embryo only has the right to a woman's uterus if she grants consent to the uterus, and only if consent is ongoing. She argued that sex doesn't make a woman pregnant, sex only creates the embryo, and it's the embryo that makes the woman pregnant. Since the embryo occupies the woman's uterus against her will, the embryo is essentially a rapist, or a parasite (or perhaps one of the aliens from Alien). Since the embryo is essentially a rapist, the state has an obligation to protect her from this invader in the same way the state would use the police to protect her from an actual rapist.

That's the thesis of her book, essentially. McDonagh has succeeded to some degree in changing the abortion debate to be about consent. I don't encounter this argument when I'm talking to a pro-abortion-choice advocate in person. But I occasionally encounter this argument in on-line discussions. It doesn't hold up to scrutiny, and it's not an argument that is seriously defended by most pro-abortion-choice people. It's more of an argument pro-abortion-choice people keep in their quiver as a backup.

The argument fails for a few reasons, mainly because it has a wrong idea of where to place responsibility for the pregnancy. It's true that sex creates the embryo, but what is missed is not simply that the embryo is too young to have any rational idea of what is going on so he/she is not morally responsible for implanting in the uterus, but the embryo also is not causally responsible for implanting in the uterus. The woman's body is. Once the embryo is conceived from the sperm and the ovum, tiny hairs in the fallopian tube, called cilia, then pick up the newly conceived embryo and transport it into the uterus, where it then implants. It is the act of sex, itself, that not only conceives the embryo but also causes the embryo to implant in the uterus since it starts a chain reaction of causes and effects that results in pregnancy. Any woman who consensually engages in sex is responsible, morally and causally, for her pregnancy (of course, the man is responsible, too, but I am focusing on the woman for the purposes of this discussion). Since she engages in an act that is intrinsically ordered toward procreation, she is, then, morally responsible for caring for any embryo that results from this union.

On top of tacitly granting consent to the use of her uterus by virtue of the fact she consented to the act that created the embryo and placed the embryo in a state of dependence upon her, this consent cannot be revoked. If the only way to remove someone from your property is to kill them, you cannot evict them. By way of analogy, if I allow someone the use of my house, I can revoke consent at any time. However, if I have granted that person consent to use my storm cellar during a tornado, I cannot then revoke consent until the tornado is gone and there is no danger. Even the idea of tacit consent can be seen here. Suppose "Weird Al" Yankovic's in town. I go to where he is appearing, then I drug his drink and take him back to my home, refusing to let him leave until he signs all of my CD's. But suppose I live in Kansas and in the midst of trying to get his autograph, a tornado touches down near my house. I can't, then, turn him out and say "tough luck, pal. You refused to polka with me, so my storm cellar, my choice." I now have a tacit obligation to protect him in my storm cellar because I have placed him in a state of dependence on me for protection.

Another argument sometimes invoked to make this point is if you get into a car and get into an accident, you consented to drive but you did not consent to being in an accident. The doctor will still heal the person, even though they consented to get behind the wheel.

This is, of course, true. But driving is not an act that intrinsically leads to getting in an accident in the same way that sex intrinsically leads to getting pregnant. If everything works as it is intended, then having sex will conceive a child. However, in driving, getting in an accident is an abuse of the intended function of the car. The intended function is to transport people and objects.

To reiterate, this argument is not a very good one. It is also easy to show why the argument doesn't work. It requires denial of the metaphysical reality of cause and effect, namely that sex causes pregnancy; it doesn't just cause the embryo. The embryo would not exist if the man and woman did not have sex in the first place.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review: Love Unleashes Life: Abortion and the Art of Communicating Truth by Stephanie Gray [Clinton Wilcox]

(Full disclosure: Stephanie is a friend and I have had the pleasure of engaging in pro-life activism with her. As such, I'll be referring to her by her first name because it feels weird to me to call her Gray. Additionally, even though she's a friend, these are still my honest thoughts on her book.)

Love Unleashes Life is the newest book from pro-life advocate Stephanie Gray. It's a book that covers some of the intellectual and emotional arguments for abortion and how to respond to them, but the main focus of the book is in teaching people not just how to respond to these arguments, but also in how to engage in a more human way, by recognizing when emotional hang-ups and past trauma are undergirding someone's arguments.

This book should be on every pro-life advocate's bookshelf. There are a lot of books you can pick up to help respond to pro-abortion-choice arguments, but precious few books that help engaging pro-abortion-choice people in a way that cuts to the heart and responds not just to concerns people have but in responding to the trauma they have experienced in the past. Few books, if any, do that as well as Steph's book here.

This book seems to be largely intended for Christian readers. It's neither a pro nor a con, but I think worth pointing out, since I have nonreligious readers, as well. I do think nonreligious people can find a lot of value in this book, if they can overlook the Scripture references. And of course, the arguments she gives against these pro-abortion-choice arguments are nonreligious so as to appeal to the largest number of people possible and change more hearts and minds on the issue.

Aside from the aforementioned, one of the things that stood out in particular is the fact that it's an excellent primer on communicating a controversial message. If you want to be a good communicator you will do well to pick up this book. On top of that, it has good focus on how to use language well (for a couple of examples, she talks about avoiding the word "but" because it can sound dismissive, and about using personal pronouns, such as "he" and "she" when referring to the unborn).

I really enjoyed her discussion of double effect reasoning (pp. 64-65). Usually in discussions about abortions in the case of the woman's life being in jeopardy, the intentionality criterion is emphasized (e.g. that the unborn child's death is foreseen but unintended), but the other criteria for when double effect permits saving the woman's life in a life-threatening pregnancy aren't really discussed. Stephanie discusses all four criteria in some detail, to show what kinds of procedures double effect reasoning justifies. Her discussion even helped clarify my thinking a bit on this issue.

As great as this book is, there are still some areas I feel could use improvement (perhaps for consideration in a second edition sometime in the future), and they're mainly along the philosophical side of things.

Her book was mainly geared toward helping people like me talk more humanly about abortion, so it's not meant as a primer on the intellectual arguments for abortion choice. However, there were some arguments that were conspicuously missing.

In her discussion of rape, she trots out the toddler to show that since we would not kill a toddler who was conceived in rape, if the unborn are fully human we should not kill the unborn for this reason. That's true as far as it goes, but most pro-abortion-choice people argue the reason abortion is permissible in rape is because she has been made pregnant against her will, so we should not force her to use her body for this child because she did not consent to having sex. Steph did address bodily rights arguments, but didn't address them in the context of the rape discussion.

Another thing was her constant use of the term pre-born. I understand why she is using it, and I know many pro-life people who insist on using it (over the term "unborn"). The problem is that many pro-abortion-choice people consider the term "pre-born" to be a propagandistic term. It can lead to irrelevant debates over terminology if you use that term rather than unborn. It's possible that Steph's experience has shown her otherwise, but in my experience using "pre-born" instead of "unborn" can derail the conversation. At the very least, I thought the book could have used a brief section talking about why she opted to use "pre-born" instead of "unborn".

Her section about personhood is good, but I feel it didn't go far enough. Most of the way Steph responds to the question of personhood is by driving home the point that it's ageism -- the reason the unborn aren't conscious or self-aware is because they're too young to be conscious or self-aware, but will be in time. However, in our current age we are defending what has come to be considered a controversial proposition -- that there are such things as natures, and that numerical identity is retained even in the absence of psychological connectedness. Again, I realize the point of the book was not to go too deep into these arguments (and there are other books one can read to learn how to respond to these arguments), but I feel that we'd encounter a number of people who might actually answer "yes" to the question of whether or not age is a relevant factor in one's value, especially considering that euthanasia is becoming more accepted. So I would have liked to see addressed why consciousness or self-awareness are not relevant factors in determining one's value, since there are a number of people we'll have to respond to who hold to these types of arguments.

My final con was regarding her section of the teleological view of the uterus. This is a view I wholeheartedly endorse, and she's really the only person in the abortion literature I've seen defend this specific view (other thinkers defend teleological views, but it usually has to do with the personhood discussion and whether or not we're persons from fertilization). I like her argument, but there were a few counterarguments I came up with in my head that I wish she would have addressed. So basically this comes down to I really wish she would have responded to potential criticisms of her views because I'm very much interested in how she would respond to them.

The missing arguments aren't a huge deal, since it's not really the point of the book to give a full primer on these arguments. This book is an invaluable resource to a pro-life advocate's arsenal.