Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Tomb of Jesus and Falsification: A Reply

[This is an answer to Yetimonk from this thread in the "Titanic director's new vid about Jesus' tomb..." diary over at Street Prophets. This is crossposted there as well]

In your [YM's] original entry into this thread you took exception with this statement

There can be no science in "this tomb announcement": it would not matter what they said they found - proof that it was Christ could never have any reality.
you [moi] go on record preemptively denying anything that could ever possibly invalidate parts of your belief system.
I do not think the Godel [see last link] categories:
  • false but unprovably false, or
  • true but unprovably true
apply to the resurrection of Jesus. I think the resurrection is objective and historical; and the only proof many will ever take is Thomas's: putting their fingers in the holes on his hands and side. That level of proof was available for about 40 days about 2000 years ago to about 500 people.

My response in the thread was
Weave an hypothesis about any discovery that could even begin to prove, with even a reasonable doubt, that a body was Jesus'?
This question still stands. If we are going to talk about "falsifiability"
Falsifiable does not mean false. For a proposition to be falsifiable, it must be possible in principle to make an observation that would show that the proposition was false, even if that observation is not actually made.
as a necessary aspect of scientific belief (even though this is not a discussion of scientific theory or philosophy of science, but of an historical event) then giving lip-service to falsifiability seems thin to me. I can "admit" to the "possibility in principle" of falsification - but I have no clue what that could possibly be in this case. What evidence could possibly falsify what we know historically even outside of Christian scripture and writings:
  • Jesus was a Jewish teacher who really existed
  • many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms
  • some people believed him to be the Messiah
  • he was rejected by the Jewish leaders
  • he was crucified by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius
  • his tomb was found empty
  • despite this shameful death, his followers, who thought he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by AD 64
  • all kinds of people worshipped him as God
Throw in Luke, who is generally considered, in the rest of his work, to be a careful historian - and said that he had investigated the witnesses carefully; and there is a great deal of evidence for the resurrection by the normal standards we use to gauge ancient historical events. Of course, when it comes to Jesus normal standards do not apply.

However, when it comes to the examination of ancient historical events, and documents, most scholars have granted that while they may theoretically falsifiable, in actuality it is highly unlikely that some new discovery is going to overturn our knowledge about an event - we teach this history in schools as if it is true and known to have happened. My major objection in your [YM's] comments in the thread was to this statement
I consider it unethical to try to convince others of them and even if I am willing to do so myself, to in anyway urge others to bet their life or livelihood on such an idea.
If teaching things that are "true, but unprovably true" is unethical then quite a bit of the educational content of our history and science classes is unethical. My question still is: what makes teaching that Jesus' resurrection was true, even if it is unprovably true, more unethical than a bunch of what we already teach as true, even if though it is unprovably true?

Christ's grave is not going to be found, and identifiable, whether he is buried in it or not; and it will not provide adequate evidence to overturn the eyewitness historical accounts even if it is. His body being found would be proof of a major conspiracy by the Apostles and his followers, and the idea that they would bury him in a marked ossuary is, on the surface, silly - they would have destroyed the body or, out of reverence, buried it in a way that made sure it was never found and identified. They certainly wouldn't lead folks to the grave by burying his other family members with him later. This is not "preemptively denying anything that could ever possibly invalidate parts of [my] belief system" - it is a rational recognition about what the finding of Jesus' body would mean about the activities of the Apostles. They would have gone to a great deal of trouble to pull this scam off, and then died rather than admit the truth; and to think a sign would be on his grave - "Jesus is here" - is more incredible than belief he was resurrected.

I really did read, and appreciate, the links you gave in this comment on historical science and philosophy of science - folks really need to read these. I am just not sure how they apply to this event; and I did not want to turn this into one of those discussions on the naturalistic/ materialistic assumptions in science - with its natural progression to the ID/neo-Darwinist debate and all the discussion about what is "real" science. However, it was rude of me to dance around your attempt at raising the level of the discussion above this silly Discovery Channel show - I should have engaged the links rather than ignoring them. I apologize for that. So, maybe we can get to what you [YM] asked for here:
I told you I hold beliefs in the same class. I was looking for common ground and simply trying to explain my understanding of how they can be dangerous and therefore require the consideration of ethics, which is subtle but important and wasn't my final point but I guess even that isn't common ground.

What I didn't get to is that the real problem is, which I thought would be an easy point to make, that unknowingly accepting one , no matter if it is ultimately correct, allows more dangerous and damaging ones to easily follow, and they are usually exploitable. Too many of these is a classical definition of insanity. Awareness and understanding are key protections. I figured it would be easy to make this point and then see where the conversation would go but instead we are a foot off the right side of the page and nowhere near understanding of each other.
One final note for the science part of the discussion: By its very nature, the resurrection is a unique, non-repeated event; and it stands outside the normal processes of observed death. The typical "proofs" that the resurrection didn't occur - that miracles are:
  • not possible,
  • not credible,
  • not scientific,
  • not historical,
  • mythological, and/or
  • not definable
are based on a "question-begging" pre-suppositions; and/or that nothing is true, and provably true, that cannot be reduced to naturalistic, materialistic causes: methodological naturalism. There is an arrogant assumption in there that we understand all natural processes in the universe so well that we can say that Jesus' resurrection was not a natural process - but for the sake of this discussion I will grant that the resurrection was a real miracle -
a divine intervention into, or interruption of, the regular course of the world that produces a purposeful but unusual event the would not have occurred otherwise
- and not some natural process we cannot understand because it only happened once and therefore cannot be observed and measured scientifically.

Tying back to the falsifiability theme of this discussion, the same chapter in When Skeptics Ask that contained that definition of miracles makes this crucial point
But if miracles are not objective and historical, then they are neither verifiable nor falsifiable. You can't prove they happened, but no one can disprove them either. This appeals to some Christians because it removes the need for defending their beliefs and calls people to "simply believe" without evidence. However, it also makes us fall victim to a valid criticism from Antony Flew.
Now often it seems to people who are not religious as if there was no conceivable event or series of events the occurrence of which would be admitted by sophisticated religious people to be a sufficient reason for conceding "There wasn't a God after all." ... What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?
In plain language, if a belief could never under any circumstance be false, then how can you say that it is really true? It has left the realm of true and false and simply exists as opinion . . . someone could deliver the corpse of Jesus Christ to [them] in a wheelbarrow and it would not falsify [their] faith in the Resurrection. The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, said that "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins" ( 1 Cor. 15: 17). This religious attempt to preserve Christianity from attack by modern science has left us with an empty faith that prevents us from ever calling our beliefs true.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Christian Carnival CLXII (162)

Gifted Performers Edition
Romans 12:4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly:

How do our posts reflect our gifts? We are all bloggers here; and I expected the division of gifts to be narrower than it was. The list is one our church used on its membership form.

(I Corinthians 12:28)
-organizing, designing and guiding human activities in such a way that Christ’s program is carried out-

(I Corinthians 12:28; Romans 16:7)
- casting vision to start new ministries using strength of leadership, influence and enthusiasm -
  • Don at Evangelical Ecologist wants you to think of this post as the blog version of that store you pass by at the end of the midway: tons of eco-bloggy Christian goodness to choose from. This "Around the Web" post is a roundup of news and links related to Christian ecology. If you're new to the subject, it's a great chance to dive in.

(I Corinthians 12:8)
- capable of discovering, analyzing and organizing truth for use by God’s family -

(Romans 12:8)
- motivating people through words of comfort, counsel, and exhortation -

(Ephesians 4:11)
- communicating the Gospel so effectively that many people respond in faith -

(I Corinthians 12:9)
- capable of trusting God’s presence and power even when a situation seems impossible to others -

(Romans 12:8)
- uniquely able to give eagerly, wisely, generously, and sacrificially from the resources God has provided -

(I Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:7)
- the capacity to recognize and meet needs through prompt, cheerful, practical assistance -

(Romans 12:8)
- able to motivate and inspire others to work together to accomplish God’s work -

(Romans 12:8)
- able to feel and express unusual compassion and sympathy,
offering comfort and support in times of need -

(Ephesians 4:11)
- leading, nurturing, protecting, and caring for the spiritual development of God’s flock -

(I Corinthians 12:28; I Timothy 2:7)
- powerfully proclaiming God’s truth so that people are encouraged, challenged, and changed -
  • Rev Bill at Rev Bill shares this post he has found dealing with "The Credibility Issue": how what preachers say in the pulpit needs to be lived out in their daily living. [the link is under the words "Here's a great post"]

(Romans 12:7; I Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11)
- able to understand and communicate the Scriptures clearly and with spiritual insight -

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Christian Carnival CLXI and Other Stuff

Christian Carnival CLXI (161)

The introduction from Don at The Evangelical Ecologist:
Thanks for being patient with me in getting comments/trackbacks moderated. My Lovely Valentine dropped me off in the snow at 02:30 a.m yesterday to catch up with my boss. We dealt wtih pretty heavy freezing rain and snow to get to Boston-Logan (Providence cancelled all its flights), and flew from there to Honolulu via San Fran for a Navy conference here at Naval Base Pearl Harbor.

I Joined My Church

Some may remember some discussion from me about church membership, and my typical lack of it in the past. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had started the three-part membership class for my church. My wife and I have officially joined; and for those that wonder those were individual decisions and not a family one - or mine as "head".

There are many seminary-type folks around; and other students of religion and its structures. For them I will give these links to our membership application (download PDF here); and our Unity Covenant (download PDF here)

"Biblical Advice for Bloggers"

I had saved this link long-ago and had forgotten about it. After the discussion on tone and demeanor in blogging that occurred in the Marcotte discussions; I thought I would post a link to this great analysis of how Christians should blog by Keith at Under the Acacias. His first point:
1. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your blog, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs. (Eph 4:29)

Is what comes from our blogs wholesome? Is what we are writing helpful for building others up? Or does it tear them down?

"Is Missionary Work Valid Today"

While at Under the Acacias I noticed that Kevin Smith had an essay answering the question Is Missionary Work Valid Today? which includes this paragraph (as well as alot more):
Christianity today is not a western religion. It is Middle Eastern in origin, but is now found in every country in the world. It is strongest in Africa, South America, and parts of Asia, where it continues to grow, not through the influence of western missionaries, but through local communities of believers in Christ. Missionaries are going from Africa to Europe as well as the other way around, and this is healthy, and much-needed. We as the church in the west are still faced with this vital challenge to recognise that our western forms of Christianity are at best culturally-bound, and at worst compromised. We need to recognise the validity of other cultures and different cultural expressions of faith in Christ. While holding fast to the good news of the kingdom of God, we need to allow Christ and his church to incarnate into local culture. What is not needed is the exporting of the worst of western individualist, consumerist, and success-orientated culture with its accompanying depression, suicide, isolation, community breakdown, self-indulgence, and injustice.

About Christian Carnival
Contributing a Post to the Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

Update: As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal. Blogs with content that is focused on a business, that has potentially offensive material Christians may not want to link to on their sites, or has no reference to distinctively Christian thought may not be included in this Carnival. There are other Carnivals that would be a more appropriate venue for that material. I realize that this will be a judgment call on the part of the Carnival administrator, and being human she may make mistakes. However, as the Christian Carnival is getting quite large, and it is sometimes questionable whether the entrants are seeking to promote Christian thought, I find this necessary.

Update: We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

So, if you have a post in this framework - go here to find out more: Christian Carnival Participation Instructions.

Read more!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Quaker Question Meme

Every now and then someone comes up with one of those "10 question" type things that everyone answers over at their websites. I am going to try to get one going here.

My community group went through the "Four Fammous Quaker Questions". The few Quakers I have talked to never heard of them; and most of the links online were Baptist - but still I will list and answer these questions.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Abortion: Choose Life

I was going to let this series go after the last post - "Why Shouldn't I Kill You" (Brain Cramps, Street Prophets) because, if anyone had really gone into the last three posts, this one would be superfluous - my position on abortion is clear:

  1. I believe an fetus is the type of life whose life it is seriously wrong to end: abortion is prima facie (not always) immoral. This is because:
    • from a Biblical argument we are created imago dei; we should be sharing God's love for the images he created; and being created imago dei is not about our biological and/or psychological development
    • arguing from a secular perspective, Marquis's "future-like-ours" argument (download here) is intuitively correct to me; and aligns with us being imago dei - it is not about our biological and/or psychological state

  2. I am not about making abortion illegal, and indeed think anti-abortion Christians are making a mistake in focusing on making abortion illegal instead of unchosen

  3. I will not really call myself "pro-choice" because, even though I am in favor of allowing the choice of abortion by women, it is not because I believe they have an unrestricted moral right to end the life of their child - just a legal one. In the vast majority of cases of abortion in the US, women are "choosing" poorly in the way they "control their own bodies and sexuality" in getting pregnant in the first place; and rationalizing the destruction of the child is just one more bad choice. This may be through ignorance, lack of education, lack of money, lack of adequate medical services, despair, etc. - and I will agree we need to work long and hard on all that. However, killing the child does not become a moral choice because the process up to now has been bad, or the other choices are difficult - it is just the last bad step at the end of a bad process laced with bad or inadequate choices.
There are reasons why abortion can be the most moral decision (it being the greatest good among a host of worse choices) - but most of the time the whole discussion is framed outside morality and framed in legality: whether or not it is ok for society to interfere in an abortion. What is the point of believing that abortion is prima facie (not always) morally wrong; and then not making it illegal. After all, if I think it is wrong to kill the child in the womb why wouldn't I legislate against that killing. Well, half the country doesn't agree with me on the moral status of the child. Frankly, if ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road there was a general consensus on the morality of abortion I would be willing to legislate it - but we are nowhere near that now.

On a broader level, it is obvious that the general culture, other than "knowing" killing is wrong, doesn't even really have a moral consensus on why killing in general is wrong, or the sanctity of life in general. We hardly, as a overall culture, show by our actions that we affirm this definition
The concept of the sanctity of life is the belief that all human beings, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity and therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status.
Again, human beings is the key word in this definition: we find a way to "dehumanize", or remove from imago dei, whomever it is convenient for us to remove: we do that with children in abortion, and we do it for all those reasons listed in the definition above. We also do it, against our deep conscience, because our surface conscience can be blurred or err for at least these reasons:
  1. insufficient experience: we do not know enough to reach sound conclusions;
  2. insufficient skill: we haven't learned the art of reasoning well;
  3. sloth: we are too lazy to reason;
  4. corrupt custom: it hasn't occurred to us to reason;
  5. passion: we are distracted by strong feeling from reasoning carefully;
  6. fear: we are afraid to reason because we might find out we are wrong;
  7. wishful thinking: we include in our reasoning what we are willing to notice;
  8. depraved ideology: we interpret known principles crookedly; and
  9. malice: we refuse to reason because we are determined to do what we want.
One of the common criticisms of pro-life people by pro-choice people is that the pro-life folk only care about life before it is born. I know that this is an extreme criticism, and mostly wrong, about the pro-life folks I know; and I know that Christians, and the culture, do not do enough to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widow, house the homeless, and care for the sick. There are just too many people in the world and the United States suffering from malnutrition, disease, war, etc. for Christians in the United States to be building churches like palaces with massively expensive crystal chandeliers. If politically conservative Christians are going to be opposing things like welfare, food stamps, and other social service programs in favor of private corporate, church, and individual mitigation then you had better be showing, by your actions, that private corporations, churches, and individuals can care "for the least of these" adequately. Christians are called to have less than they want; and take care of more neighbors than is comfortable.

I am pretty much opposed to this view expressed in one of the three earlier posts:
I actually do not find abstract philosophical arguments on this topic to have any relevance or utility. They bring little or no aid and comfort to those burdened by this decision.

My experience of those who have had to make this decision strongly suggests that matters of philosophy are in play for very few women at a time like this. The decision is most often taken on a pragmatic and emotional paradigm as opposed to a philosophic and intellectual paradigm.

Questions of philosophy, while fascinating intellectually, accomplish little toward a greater understanding of this matter.
While it is true that it is a little late when someone is pregnant, and struggling with the decision to abort, for them to begin to look at the philosophy/theology/ethics about abortion; part of making abortion "safe, legal, and rare" is for women, at that point, to choose life, rather than death, for their child. That is what philosophy/theology/ethics education and discussion does. It gives people the tools to make a difficult and rational decision in a tough and emotional situation - they know what they think is right, and wrong, before they face a life and death situation - when their beliefs are tested by pragmatism and emotion. If we avoid the "philosophic and intellectual paradigm", then when "s--t comes to shove", and we reach for the "pragmatic and emotional paradigm", we are likely to make any number of the mistakes quoted above.

There has been some suggestion that questioning the decision-making of women about abortion is somehow disrespectful of women, or even misogynist. If I thought only women made those mistakes - or that someone else should make the decision for women - that would be true. Since I am not in favor of making abortion illegal or in any other way taking that decision away from the mother; but instead respect women (along with everyone else) enough to want to challenge them to think more deeply on this issue, I think that criticism is unfair. All people, men and women, need to constantly reinforce our moral structures - because we are constantly under pressure in this world to act for our own benefit alone, place ourselves (and our needs) over all other considerations, and to compromise our foundational beliefs for transient reasons. That is reality and not disrespect.

Ethics of life discussion/education needs to happen far earlier than when the pregnancy test turns up positive. It needs to happen, along with sex education, in middle and high school. It needs to not just encompass the ethics of abortion; but kids need to be talking about all the ethics of life issues: the ethics of poverty, murder, war, capital punishment, AIDS treatment, etc. There needs to be an Ethics of Life course for every child in this country; and that, of course, cannot be Christian based. It will also, in a pluralistic society, have to include the study of persuasive views both secular and religious and for and against things like war, the death penalty, and abortion. Pro-life and pro-choice folks will have to let little Suzie and Johnny read, and discuss, both sides of the issue and work through, with their parents help, their own ethical framework on these issues. Only in this way will they be able to sort their way through all the difficult choices, for both women and men, the come with controlling their bodies and sexuality.

If abortion is going to truly become "legal, safe, and rare" in the United States than not only do we have to provide the structural and emotional support for more women to "choose life" - we have to make folks deeply look at this question:
Is a fetus the type of being whose life it is seriously wrong to end?
because, if the fetus isn't that type of being then worrying about abortion is nonsense - and choosing not to have one has nothing to do with choosing life. If it is that type of being, then we need to start measuring all our decisions about that life against that belief.

Read more!

Interrupting Heaven: Part 1

I am beginning to journal the study questions from Chapter 6 ("Interrupting Heaven: The Practice of Prayer") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. Someone said they appreciated my questions. They are not mine. They are the study questions in the back of the book, written by Kevin G. Harney.

How do we know what spiritual disciplines to practice? In a sense, the answer comes from thinking backwards
  1. First, we must understand clearly what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. Jesus spent much of his time helping people see what true spirituality looks like. [Get a vision, from God, for our life]
  2. Second, we must learn what particular barriers keep us from living that kind of life.
  3. Third, we must discover what particular practices, experiences, or relationships can help us overcome these barriers. . . .[And those are the spiritual disciplines we should practice]
This is the most important thing I have gotten from the book so far: we do not do spiritual disciplines just so we can check them off a list. They are not, as Ortberg points out, a barometer of spirituality or a way to earn favor with God. They are a way to enable the transformation God wants to make in your life.

The book presents ten different spiritual practices and/or experiences which may or may not be helpful in your path to the "Life You've Always Wanted":
  1. The Practice of Celebration
  2. The Practice of "Slowing"
  3. The Practice of Prayer
  4. The Practice of Servanthood
  5. The Practice of Confession
  6. Receiving Guidance from the Holy Spirit
  7. The Practice of Secrecy
  8. The Practice of Reflection on Scripture
  9. Developing Your own "Rule of Life"
  10. The Experience of Suffering
He is not covering an exhaustive list of all the practices, experiences, or relationships which may help us overcome the barriers to a transformed life - and with these you use the "shopping cart approach": take what is helpful and leave what isn't.

Small-Group Discussion Questions

  1. If we turn to prayer as a final desperate measure, only after all our own efforts have been exhausted, what does this reveal about our view of the following:
    • Prayer
    • Ourselves
    • God

  2. Read this quote by Dallas Willard:
    The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best
    If you truly believed that your prayers make no difference and that "everything would happen exactly as is does" without you praying, how would this impact your prayer life?

  3. Describe a time you prayed and saw clear and definite results. How did this answered prayer spur you on to pray more passionately?

  4. Walter Wink writes, "History belongs to the intercessors... those who believe and pray the future into being." If Wink is right, what implications would this have on one of the following:
    • Your personal commitment to pray
    • The power of a praying church
    • What you teach your children about prayer, if you are a parent

  5. Read:
    Luke 11: 1 It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples." 2 And He said to them, "When you pray, say: `Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 3 `Give us each day our daily bread. 4 `And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.' "

    Matthew 6:9 "Pray, then, in this way: `Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 `Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 `Give us this day our daily bread. 12 `And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 `And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]'

    • What core issues does Jesus address as he teaches his followers to pray?
    • Which of these areas do you tend to focus on the most when you pray?
    • Which do you need to focus on more?

    • What situations and life experiences most naturally move you to pray?
    • How can you use these God-given moments to propel you into more frequent and passionate prayer?
    • What situations and life experiences tend to keep you from praying?
    • What can you do to make these moments an opportunity to seek God in prayer?

    • What are some of the values of setting a specific time and place for prayer?
    • If you have a time and place you have set aside for prayer, tell your group members how this has helped you in your prayer life.
    • If you have not established a specific place and time for prayer, but want to, tell your group members where and when you plan to pray. Invite them to encourage you in this new discipline.

Read more!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Christian Carnival Catch-up: 158 - 160

CLVIII (158)

The introduction from Henry Neufeld at Participatory Bible Study Blog:
I’m your cyber-librarian for the week, and I’d like to welcome you to our cyber-library, temporarily located right here!
CLIX (159)

The introduction from Carl at Thoughts of a Gyrovague:
I am so sorry about the late posting on this. Technical problems and a packed schedule got in the way. Please enjoy this random sampling from some of the best Christian Blogs on the internet.
CLX (160)

The introduction from Diane at Imago Dei:
Welcome to the Christian Carnival for this week

About Christian Carnival:

Contributing a Post to the Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

Update: As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal. Blogs with content that is focused on a business, that has potentially offensive material Christians may not want to link to on their sites, or has no reference to distinctively Christian thought may not be included in this Carnival. There are other Carnivals that would be a more appropriate venue for that material. I realize that this will be a judgment call on the part of the Carnival administrator, and being human she may make mistakes. However, as the Christian Carnival is getting quite large, and it is sometimes questionable whether the entrants are seeking to promote Christian thought, I find this necessary.

Update: We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

So, if you have a post in this framework - go here to find out more: Christian Carnival Participation Instructions.

Read more!

Why Shouldn't I Kill You

All this suggests that a necessary condition of resolving the abortion controversy is a more theoretical account of the wrongness of killing. After all, if we merely believe, but do not understand, why killing adult human beings such as ourselves is wrong, how could we conceivably show that abortion is either immoral or permissible?
Thus ended the last post in this series - "Abortion: Talking Past the 'Other' ". This diary steps away from abortion - it is about adults killing adults. I want to look at a couple of things before I look at Don Marquis's position on this.
  1. From a Christian perspective, this is really not a question, although its application by Christians has been "interesting" over the centuries. We are all created imago dei - in the image of God - and part of loving God with our all is loving what He loves. That certainly includes our fellow images. A theologian could get much more in-depth than this; but I am a popularizer/apologist and not a theologian. Somebody is welcome to go deeper on this in the comments

  2. From a secular perspective, this is really not a question, although its application by humans has also been "interesting". Everyone "just knows", nearly everywhere on the planet, that it is prima facie "just wrong" to kill someone -- if you kill someone you will have to justify it somehow. Of course, human history proves - right back to the first brothers - that "everybody" is quite capable of providing justifications, before and after the fact, when they want to kill someone.

However, divine revelation only works as a reason in discussions with those that believe in the divine; and the same type of divine as me. The general revelation of natural moral law can only be used if people actually believe that there is a universal moral code embedded in our deep consciences - which many will fight tooth and nail, especially because it implies a creator God.

Even if we agree that me killing you is "just wrong" it is good to examine this beyond the "just know" stage because, as Budziszewski pointed out in What We Cannot Not Know, even if there is a natural moral law that overflows from the character of God into all of His creation - we have to continuously reinforce this deep conscience with good teaching because our surface conscience makes a mess of our deep one. There are

"at least" nine ways surface conscience can be blurred or err (and asks you to compare Aquinas's Summa Theologica, Prima Secundæ Partis, Question 94, Articles 4 and 6):
  1. insufficient experience: we do not know enough to reach sound conclusions;
  2. insufficient skill: we haven't learned the art of reasoning well;
  3. sloth: we are too lazy to reason;
  4. corrupt custom: it hasn't occurred to us to reason;
  5. passion: we are distracted by strong feeling from reasoning carefully;
  6. fear: we are afraid to reason because we might find out we are wrong;
  7. wishful thinking: we include in our reasoning what we are willing to notice;
  8. depraved ideology: we interpret known principles crookedly; and
  9. malice: we refuse to reason because we are determined to do what we want.

We therefore have to be intentional, and educational, about the morality of killing. So, let's look at how Don Marquis reasons out his view of the philosophical, secular reason why it is wrong for me to kill you.

* * * * *
. . . we can start from the following unproblematic assumption concerning our own case: it is wrong to kill us. Why is it wrong? Some answers can be easily eliminated.
  • It might be said that what makes killing us wrong is that a killing brutalizes the one who kills. But the brutalization consists of being inured to the performance of an act that is hideously immoral; hence, the brutalization does not explain the immorality

  • It might be said that what makes killing us wrong is the great loss others would experience due to our absence. Although such hubris is understandable, such an explanation does not account for the wrongness of killing hermits, or those whose lives are relatively independent and whose friends find it easy to make new friends.
A more obvious answer is better. What primarily makes killing wrong is neither its effect on the murderer nor its effect on the victim's friends and relatives, but its effect on the victim. The loss of one's life is one of the greatest losses one can suffer. The loss of one's life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one's future. Therefore, killing someone is wrong, primarily because the killing inflicts (one of) the greatest possible losses on the victim. To describe this as the loss of life can be misleading, however. The change in my biological state does not by itself make killing me wrong. the effect of the loss of my biological life is the loss to me of all those activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments which would otherwise have constituted my future personal life. These activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments are either valuable for their own sakes or are means to something else that is valuable for its own sake. Some parts of my future are not valued by me now, but will come to be valued by me as I grow older and as my values and capacities change. When I am killed, I am deprived both of what I now value which would have been part of my future personal life, but also what I would come to value. Therefore, when I die, I am deprived of all of the value of my future. Inflicting this loss on me is ultimately what makes killing me wrong. This being the case, it would seem that what makes killing any adult human being prima facie seriously wrong is the loss of his or her future.

How should this rudimentary theory of the wrongness of killing be evaluated?
  • It cannot be faulted for deriving an 'ought' from an 'is', for it does not. The analysis assumes that killing me (or you, reader) is prima facie seriously wrong. The point of the analysis is to establish which natural property ultimately explains the wrongness of the killing, given that it is wrong.
    A natural property will ultimately explain the wrongness of killing, only if (1) the explanation fits with our intuitions about the matter and (2) there is no other natural property that provides the basis for a better explanation of the wrongness of killing.
    This analysis rests on the intuition that what makes killing a particular human or animal wrong is what it does to that particular human or animal. What makes killing wrong is some natural effect or other of the killing. Some would deny this. For instance, a divine-command theorist in ethics would deny it. Surely this denial is, how¬ever, one of those features of divine-command theory which renders it so implausible.

  • The claim that what makes killing wrong is the loss of the victim's future is directly supported by two considerations.
    1. this theory explains why we regard killing as one of the worst of crimes. Killing is especially wrong, because it deprives the victim of more than perhaps any other crime.

    2. people with AIDS or cancer who know they are dying believe, of course, that dying is a very bad thing for them. They believe that the loss of a future to them that they would otherwise have experienced is what makes their premature death a very bad thing for them. A better theory of the wrongness of killing would require a different natural property associated with killing which better fits with the attitudes of the dying. What could it be?

  • The view that what makes killing wrong is the loss to the victim of the value of the victim's future gains additional support when some of its implications are examined
    1. it is incompatible with the view that it is wrong to kill only beings who are biologically human. It is possible that there exists a different species from another planet whose members have a future like ours. Since having a future like that is what makes killing someone wrong, this theory entails that it would be wrong to kill members of such a species. Hence, this theory is opposed to the claim that only life that is biologically human has great moral worth, a claim which many anti-abortionists have seemed to adopt. This opposition, which this theory has in common with personhood theories, seems to be a merit of the theory.

    2. the claim that the loss of one's future is the wrong-making feature of one's being killed entails the possibility that the futures of some actual nonhuman mammals on our own planet are sufficiently like ours that it is seriously wrong to kill them also.

    3. the claim that the loss of one's future is the wrong-making feature of one's being killed does not entail, as sanctity-of-human-life theories do, that active euthanasia is wrong. Persons who are severely and incurably ill, who face a future of pain and despair, and who wish to die will not have suffered a loss if they are killed. It is, strictly speaking, the value of a human's future which makes killing wrong in this theory. This being so, killing does not necessarily wrong some persons who are sick and dying. Of course, there may be other reasons for a prohibition of active euthanasia, but that is another matter. Sanctity-of-human-life theories seem to hold that active euthanasia is seriously wrong even in an individual case where there seems to be good reason for it independently of public policy considerations. This consequence is most implausible, and it is a plus for the claim that the loss of a future of value is what makes killing wrong that it does not share this consequence.

    4. the account of the wrongness of killing defended in this essay does straightforwardly entail that it is prima facie seriously wrong to kill children and infants, for we do presume that they have futures of value. Since we do believe that it is wrong to kill defenseless little babies, it is important that a theory of the wrongness of killing easily account for this. Personhood theories of the wrongness of killing, on the other hand, cannot straightforwardly account for the wrongness of killing infants and young children. Hence, such theories must add special ad hoc accounts of the wrongness of killing the young. The plausibility of such ad hoc theories seems to be a function of how desperately one wants such theories to work. The claim that the primary wrong-making feature of a killing is the loss to the victim of the value of its future accounts for the wrongness of killing young children and infants directly; it makes the wrongness of such acts as obvious as we actually think it is. This is a further merit of this theory.

    Accordingly, it seems that this value of a future-like-ours theory of the wrongness of killing shares strengths of both sanctity-of-life and personhood accounts while avoiding weaknesses of both. In addition, it meshes with a central intuition concerning what makes killing wrong.

  • this argument does not rely on the invalid inference that, since it is wrong to kill persons, it is wrong to kill potential persons also. The category that is morally central to this analysis is the category of having a valuable future like ours; it is not the category of Personhood.

Finally, Marquis points out that this is a minimal case - one can choose to protect more life (say in the area of euthanasia) but you cannot choose to protect less.

* * * * *
There is going to be a tendency, knowing what preceded this diary, and the nature of the work this argument came from, for pro-choice folks to want to fight the analysis because they think they are being "led down the garden path". You are of course being led down such a path - that is what a systematic philosophical argument is designed to do. That doesn't mean that each step on the path is wrong because you do not like the garden you are being led to. I ask you to focus your attention on the step we are standing on - arguing against it on the grounds of whether or not it applies to abortion will just turn this diary into another ethics of abortion discussion. I want it to be an ethics of killing discussion.

For the Street Prophets reading this - it may help you do that by knowing that this is the last of this series that will be posted at Street Prophets. If I continue it at all, which is up in the air at the moment, it will be at Brain Cramps for God alone.

I have accomplished what I wanted to at Street Prophets, which is to start a discussion about some deeper underlying principles that surround the issue of killing; and provide some grounding in the future to try to sort through sanctity-of-life issues. At this point, I will just say that this particular view of why it is wrong to kill provides me with an answer to the issues of

  • birth control
  • abortion
  • killing of infants and children
  • killing of human adults
  • killing of non-humans both from Earth and beyond; and
  • active euthanasia

which meets my intuitions on those issues - somewhat like a "unified theory" of killing.

It also provides a theory of killing that is not based on the higher revelation that I have as a Christian - I can come into the public square on issues around the taking of life without being a "bad little theocrat".

Next: "Choose Life"

Read more!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Abortion: Talking Past the "Other"

[Continues from Foundations of a Discussion]
[Crossposted from Street Prophets]

A sketch of standard anti-abortion and pro-choice arguments exhibits how those arguments possess certain symmetries that explain why partisans of those positions are so convinced of the correctness of their own positions, why they are not successful in convincing their opponents, and why, to others, this issue seems to be unresolvable. -- Don Marquis starting section I of "Why Abortion is Immoral" (download here)
Essentially, this whole diary is either direct quotes, or paraphrases, of section I of "Why Abortion is Immoral". I almost just said go read it and come back; or just posted the whole thing as written. I will probably regret the alternative I selected - which is attempting to survey the section. It is a very dense argument and this is tough. Really, you should download and read it (or I should have posted it all).

First, he considers the way both sides argue:
  • Typical anti-abortionist: She will argue or assert that life is present from the moment of conception or that fetuses look like babies or that fetuses possess a characteristic such as a genetic code that is both necessary and sufficient for being human.

  • Typical pro-choicer: The pro-choicer will argue or assert that fetuses are not persons or that fetuses are not rational agents or that fetuses are not social beings.
Both sides seem to believe:
  1. the truth of all of these claims is quite obvious,
  2. establishing any of these claims is sufficient to show that abortion is morally akin to murder; or that it is not a wrongful killing
In fact, both the pro-choice and the anti-abortion claims do seem to be true, although the "it looks like a baby" claim is more difficult to establish the earlier the pregnancy. We seem to have a standoff. How can it be resolved?

If any of these arguments concerning abortion is a good argument, it requires not only some claim characterizing fetuses, but also some general moral principle that ties a characteristic of fetuses to having or not having the right to life or to some other moral characteristic that will generate the obligation or the lack of obligation not to end the life of a fetus. The discussion then continues:
  • The anti-abortionist will claim that her position is supported by such generally accepted moral principles as "It is always prima facie seriously wrong to take a human life" or "It is always prima facie seriously wrong to end the life of a baby."

  • The pro-choicer will claim that her position is supported by such plausible moral principles as "Being a person is what gives an individual intrinsic moral worth" or "It is only seriously prima facie wrong to take the life of a member of the human community."
In both cases, these are generally accepted moral principles, so neither position is obviously wrong. Now, how might one deal with this standoff? The standard approach is to try to show how the moral principles of one's opponent lose their plausibility under analysis:
  • the anti-abortionist will defend a moral principle which tends to be broad in scope in order that even fetuses at an early stage of pregnancy will fall under it. In this particular instance, the principle "It is always prima facie wrong to take a human life" seems to entail that it is wrong to end the existence of a living human cancer cell culture, on the grounds that the culture is both living and human. The principle appears too broad.

  • the pro-choicer wants to find a moral principle which tends to be narrow in order that fetuses will not fall under it. Hence, the needed principles such as "It is prima facie seriously wrong to kill only persons" or "It is prima facie wrong to kill only rational agents" do not explain why it is wrong to kill infants or young children or the severely retarded or even perhaps the severely mentally ill. The principle appears too narrow.
Another standoff: The anti-abortionist charges, not unreasonably, that pro-choice principles concerning killing are too narrow to be acceptable; the pro-choicer charges, not unreasonably, that anti-abortionist principles concerning killing are too broad to be acceptable.
A quick sideline: Notice Marquis implies that both sides seek arguments to support their positions; and not that they take positions supported by the arguments. I will, for one, plead guilty. I do not think that is necessarily bad - in the next section he gives these standards on how to recognize a natural property:
A natural property will ultimately explain the wrongness of killing, only if (1) the explanation fits with our intuitions about the matter and (2) there is no other natural property that provides the basis for a better explanation of the wrongness of killing.
Our intuitions (experiences, etc.) are just fine within certain limitations. However, it means that all of your opponents may also be acting on their own intuitions (experiences, etc); and not under the evil influence of one, or another, political faction. They may be no more puppets than you are.
Anyway, now both sides try to "patch-up" their arguments, which causes both to run into further difficulties:
  • The anti-abortionist will try to remove the problem in her position by reformulating her principle concerning killing in terms of human beings. Now we end up with: "It is always prima facie seriously wrong to end the life of a human being." This principle has the advantage of avoiding the problem of the human cancer-cell culture counterexample. But this advantage is purchased at a high price. For although it is clear that a fetus is both human and alive, it is not at all clear that a fetus is a human being. There is at least something to be said for the view that something becomes a human being only after a process of development, and that therefore first trimester fetuses and perhaps all fetuses are not yet human beings. Hence, the anti-abortionist, by this move, has merely exchanged one problem for another.

  • The pro-choicer fares no better. She may attempt to find reasons why killing infants, young children, and the severely retarded is wrong which are independent of her major principle that is supposed to explain the wrongness of taking human life, but which will not also make abortion immoral. This is no easy task. Appeals to social utility will seem satisfactory only to those who resolve not to think of the enormous difficulties with a utilitarian account of the wrongness of killing and the significant social costs of preserving the lives of the unproductive
According to Marquis the two positions both use equally arbitrary means of extending protection to either fetuses or small children. Another standoff, and there are further problems:
  • the standard anti-abortionist principle "It is prima facie seriously wrong to kill a human being," or one of its variants, can be objected to on the grounds of ambiguity . . . the anti-abortionist is left with the problem of explaining why a merely biological category should make a moral difference. Why, it is asked, is it any more reasonable to base a moral conclusion on the number of chromosomes in one's cells than on the color of one's skin? If 'human being', on the other hand, is taken to be a moral category, then the claim that a fetus is a human being cannot be taken to be a premise in the anti-abortion argument, for it is precisely what needs to be established. Hence, either the anti-abortionist's main category is a morally irrelevant, merely biological category, or it is of no use to the anti-abortionist in establishing (noncircularly, of course) that abortion is wrong.

  • it is less often noticed that the pro-choice position suffers from an analogous problem. The principle "Only persons have the right to life" also suffers from an ambiguity. The term 'person' is typically defined in terms of psychological characteristics, although there will certainly be disagreement concerning which characteristics are most important. Supposing that this matter can be settled, the pro-choicer is left with the problem of explaining why psychological characteristics should make a moral difference.

    If the pro-choicer should attempt to deal with this problem by claiming that an explanation is not necessary, that in fact we do treat such a cluster of psychological properties as having moral significance, the sharp-witted anti-abortionist should have a ready response. We do treat being both living and human as having moral significance. If it is legitimate for the pro-choicer to demand that the anti-abortionist provide an explanation of the connection between the biological character of being a human being and the wrongness of being killed (even though people accept this connection), then it is legitimate for the anti-abortionist to demand that the pro-choicer provide an explanation of the connection between psychological criteria for being a person and the wrongness of being killed (even though that connection is accepted).

    Furthermore, the pro-choicer cannot any more escape her problem by making person a purely moral category than the anti-abortionist could escape by the analogous move. For if person is a moral category, then the pro-choicer is left without the resources for establishing (noncircularly, of course) the claim that a fetus is not a person, which is an essential premise in her argument.
Again, we have both a symmetry and a standoff between pro-choice and anti-abortion views. Feinberg has attempted to meet this objection (he calls psychological personhood "commonsense personhood"):
The characteristics that confer commonsense personhood are not arbitrary bases for rights and duties, such as race, sex or species membership; rather they are traits that make sense out of rights and duties and without which those moral attributes would have no point or function. It is because people are conscious; have a sense of their personal identities; have plans, goals, and projects; experience emotions; are liable to pains. anxieties, and frustrations; can reason and bargain, and so on—it is because of these attributes that people have values and interests, desires and expectations of their own, including a stake in their own futures, and a personal well-being of a sort we cannot ascribe to unconscious or nonrational beings. Because of their developed capacities they can as¬sume duties and responsibilities and can have and make claims on one another. Only because of their sense of self, their life plans, their value hierarchies, and their stakes in their own futures can they be ascribed fundamental rights. There is nothing arbitrary about these linkages
The plausible aspects of this attempt should not be taken to obscure its implausible features. There is a great deal to be said for the view that being a psychological person under some description is a necessary condition for having duties. One cannot have a duty unless one is capable of behaving morally, and a being's capability of behaving morally will require having a certain psychology. It is far from obvious, however, that having rights entails consciousness or rationality, as Feinberg suggests. We speak of the rights of the severely retarded or the severely mentally ill, yet some of these persons are not rational. We speak of the rights of the temporarily unconscious.

Of course, it might not make sense to attribute rights to a being that would never in its natural history have certain psychological traits. This modest connection between psychological personhood and moral personhood will create a place for permanently and temporarily unconscious. But then it makes a place for fetuses also. Hence, it does not serve Feinberg's pro-choice purposes. Accordingly, it seems that the pro-choicer will have as much difficulty bridging the gap between psychological personhood and personhood in the moral sense as the anti-abortionist has bridging the gap between being a biological human being and being a human being in the moral sense.

Don Marquis's conclusion is that
There are both plausibilities and difficulties with the standard positions. Accordingly, it is hardly surprising that partisans of either side embrace with fervor the moral generalizations that support the conclusions they preanalytically favor, and reject with disdain the moral generalizations of their opponents as being subject to inescapable difficulties. It is easy to believe that the counterexamples to one's own moral principles are merely temporary difficulties that will dissolve in the wake of further philosophical research, and that the counterexamples to the principles of one's opponents are as straightforward as the contradiction between A and O propositions in traditional logic. This might suggest to an impartial observer (if there are any) that the abortion issue is unresolvable.

There is a way out of this apparent dialectical quandary. The moral generalizations of both sides are not quite correct. The generalizations hold for the most part, for the usual cases. This suggests that they are all accidental generalizations, that the moral claims made by those on both sides of the dispute do not touch on the essence of the matter.

This use of the distinction between essence and accident is not meant to invoke obscure metaphysical categories. Rather, it is intended to reflect the rather atheoretical nature of the abortion discussion. If the generalization a partisan in the abortion dispute adopts were derived from the reason why ending the life of a human being is wrong, then there could not be exceptions to that generalization unless some special case obtains in which there are even more powerful countervailing reasons. Such generalizations would not be merely accidental generalizations; they would point to, or be based upon, the essence of the wrongness of killing, what it is that makes killing wrong.
All this suggests that a necessary condition of resolving the abortion controversy is a more theoretical account of the wrongness of killing. After all, if we merely believe, but do not understand, why killing adult human beings such as ourselves is wrong, how could we conceivably show that abortion is either immoral or permissible?
I think this is indeed the question that must be answered before we talk about abortion: why is it wrong for me to kill you? I can say the "Bible tells me so"; or it is against the law - but what is the moral/philosophical reason - the natural property as mentioned above - that is at the root of this question?

Next: Why Shouldn't I Kill You

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Abortion: Foundations of a Discussion

[Crossposted from Street Prophets]

I really haven't fully blogged on abortion - because it is one of my brain cramps. It is a brain cramp because nearly every woman in my immediate, and married family, has had experiences with abortion:

  • My mother was engaged to be married right after WWII, and her finance drowned one week before the wedding - leaving her pregnant. She had an abortion from a medical student in Texas - the eventual state of Roe v Wade. If she hadn't, she would have never met my father, they never would have married, and I and my three sisters wouldn't be here. Of course, at least one other would be.

  • Two (I know of - maybe all three) of my three sisters had abortions

  • One spouse went in, under severe pressure from the father of the child, and her own father, to have an abortion. The abortion clinic sent her away because her reasons were all wrong. Her daughter is now on her way to the Persian Gulf on the John Stennis - and she is a strong beautiful woman.

  • An older family member had an abortion sandwiched between two of her 5 other children because she felt it was financially undoable to have a child at that point. She is still not sure of heaven because of that - a true pity for a very Godly woman.
There really isn't a Biblical case against, or for, abortion - although I think this paragraph from Wiki deals with this well:
Such passages of the Bible are not taken in a proof-text manner by Christian tradition (that is, they are applicable to the question, although they do not mention abortion), but as illustrations of a basic ethical principle of the created order — a unity of instruction, or "world-view". And this provides for a syllogism, which forms the basis of the modern Christian pro-life movement. Scripture condemns the shedding of innocent human blood. The biblical insight into the order of things is that man is distinct from, and above an animal; and man is uniquely subject to God, whereas animals are given to man; and an unborn child is human and known to God. Therefore, even an unborn child is protected by God, as made in the image of God because it is human (an issue distinct from all speculations of when life begins).
Up until recently, however, I have not made a "religious" argument on abortion - I have stuck to a secular one.

However, that is two posts away. This post is the first of two on how we (badly) argue this issue; and what I see the core question of the discussion should be. The latter will come first in this diary, followed by some arguments that, IMHO, should be scrapped immediately by those that use them - that is, if pro-life and pro-choice folk actually have any desire to stop talking past each other; and find ways to reduce abortions in the US. Incidentally, that is on the agenda: almost every poll that phrases it that way shows that while maybe a third (at most) of the population want abortions to be illegal, two-thirds want it reduced and/or restricted from its present level. At this point after 30 years of debate, making abortion illegal is really off the table; but so is unrestricted access.

There were a few stories/diaries/posts that clicked together to produce the impetus for this diary. One of those was "Dignity as a Litmus Test: Why I'm a Single Issue Voter" where Joe Carter quotes David Gushee's definition of sanctity of life:
The concept of the sanctity of life is the belief that all human beings, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity and therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status.
I think folks who read this will generally agree with this definition unless they react to who said it and where it came from (one of those bad things about how we argue). The bold face words in the quote are, of course, key: the definition of human being as it relates to embryos, fetuses, and abortion. Few who read this will agree that indeed embryos and fetuses represent human beings in the sense Gushee means; and then say it is cool that 1,200,000 a year are killed. So, while the first thing the discussion can concentrate on is the "sanctity of life" statement above - the next is this statement from Don Marquis from his seminal (according to Wiki - download here):
Many of the most insightful and careful writers on the ethics of abortion-such as Joel Feinberg, Michael Tooley, Mary Anne Warren, H. Tristram Engel¬hardt, Jr., L. W. Sumner, John T. Noonan, Jr., and Philip Devine — believe that
whether or not abortion is morally permissible stands or falls on whether or not a fetus is the sort of being whose life it is seriously wrong to end.
I think that this is the core question and that your answer - yes or no - will be the basis of your position on abortion. If it is no, then abortion is a medical question between a woman, the father (if he is available and cares), and the doctor; and there is no moral content to this decision at all. If it is yes, then the ending the lives of 1,200,000 beings whose lives are seriously wrong to end is a moral question of huge proportions - and certainly not just the business of the woman, the man, and the doctor. Is this the core question? Discuss that below.

The whole abortion debate, and abortion law, revolves around where in the development of a human being - from fetus to 1st grade - the line is crossed between a being whose life it is not seriously wrong to end, and one's whose life is seriously wrong to end. I will look at the state of those arguments in the next diary. The rest of this diary assumes Marquis's statement of the core question is correct; and looks at some really bad sidetracks to this discussion I would love to see never be mentioned again in the debate (but have no expectation will not be)
  1. Abortion will never be illegal in the US; nor will it ever be unrestricted: As mentioned above, 2/3 of the country think abortions are out of hand - and Roe v Wade did not legalize abortion in the US:
    Before Roe, many states had already moved to modify abortion prohibitions. By 1973, four states had totally repealed their anti-abortion laws. Thirteen states had adopted the "Model Penal Code on Abortion" proposed by the American Law Institute (ALI). This Model Penal Code, drafted in 1962, provided abortion should remain legal whenever the woman's life or health is at risk, when pregnancy resulted from rape or incest or when the fetus had a severe defect. By 1973, all but five states had either amended their abortion laws or had pending legislation to do so. -- Kurt Entsminger
    nor would repeal of Roe and Casey end abortion in the US
    . . . If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, the regulation of abortion will revert to the 50 individual states. Those who envision reversal of Roe as a great panacea for ending the abortion tragedy will be sadly disappointed. There will be no automatic legal protection granted to unborn children by a reversal of Roe.

    Even the most conservative Supreme Court justices have refused to recognize that unborn children are persons within the meaning of the 14th Amendment. Nor is it likely that strict abortion prohibitions will suddenly re-emerge. Instead, in a post-Roe era, the political landscape involving abortion across the United States will be far more complicated.

    In many key states, we should sadly but realistically expect abortion laws to remain unchanged. These states have adopted public policies through legislation and judicial rulings that evidence a strong commitment to uphold legalized abortion on demand regardless of the disposition of Roe vs. Wade. Two of such states are New York and California, in which nearly 400,000 abortions are performed yearly. This represents almost 40 percent of all annual abortions in the United States . . .
    Deflection of the discussion from the core question above to legality/illegality is, to me, a strawman.

  2. Christians, at least, should not be attempting to make abortion illegal: This will make me popular in my conservative Christian crowd :-). Even though I answer the core question with a "yes"; the country is almost exactly split 50/50 on this issue. I think it is time for Christians who believe abortion is immoral to concentrate their considerable muscle on making abortion unchosen and not illegal. The point of Christ's coming and dying was that Mosaic Law could not make us moral or obedient - neither will human law. J. Budziszewski:
    Christianity is not a legislative religion . . . It is not even true that all of God's commands limit the kinds of laws that Christians can accept. To see this, contrast two such precepts: (1) I am prohibited from deliberately shedding innocent blood; (2) I am prohibited from divorcing a faithful spouse. Both precepts are absolute in their application to me, but that is not the issue. If we are speaking of governmental enforcement, then we are speaking of their application to others. The former precept should require very little watering down in the public square, for even nonbelievers are expected to understand the wrong of murder . . . But the latter precept requires a good deal of watering down in the public square, for before the coming of Christ not even believers were expected to understand the true nature of marriage . . . No doubt the Pharisees to whom He was speaking were scandalized by the idea that their civil law did not reflect God's standards fully. They must have been even more offended by the suggestion that it was not intended to. Among religious conservatives this suggestion is still a scandal, but it does not come from liberals; it comes from the Master . . . The civil law will be Christian - if it still exists at all - only when Christ himself has returned to rule: not when a coalition of religious conservatives has got itself elected.
    Budziszewski mentions his comfort with opposing abortion as part of opposing murder; but that again comes back to the core question above - is the embryo/fetus the type of being whose life it is seriously wrong to end. The 50/50 split in the country means this issue is closer to the marriage part of his argument above than the murder part.

  3. The core question is not a "woman's right to choose" or the "right to privacy": Let me be clear here. Since abortion is never going to be illegal in the US it is going to be a woman's choice. However, again, if you answer the question above "no" then there is no moral issue in abortion - other than perhaps the inclusion of your spouse, or significant other, in the decision. Does any married woman reading this think you could go down to the abortion clinic and end a pregnancy without involving your husband in the decision? While the abortion may have no moral content, the betrayal of your spouse certainly does. Even if the father of the child is not married to the woman getting the abortion, if they are still an active couple then this is a joint decision on almost any planet.

    If your answer to the core question above is "yes" - then in what other area of life do we allow one person to have the absolute decision to end the life of a being whose life it is seriously wrong to end? There is no such area.

    Similarly, the Supreme Court in Roe and Casey recognized that the right to privacy and choice ended at the point where the fetus might be a being whose life is seriously wrong to end. In Roe these rights were only unfettered for the first trimester and non-existent in the third - during the second the state had limited rights to stick their nose into the issue. Casey dropped the trimester structure and simplified to the question of viability alone - the right to abortion ended when the fetus was viable. Incidentally, the record for a child surviving after a severely premature birth was a birth in the 19th week in 1972.

  4. This is not a "woman's issue", and women are not the only ones that should have an opinion: A "yes" answer to the core question makes this a societal problem that involves the deaths of 1,200,000 beings whose lives are seriously wrong to end; and not about some male chauvinist's attempts to control the sexuality of women. While a "no" answer may lead to that conclusion; it ignores that by at least one pro-choice managed poll over half of all women in the US consider themselves pro-life. If it doesn't ignore that, it denigrates those women as quislings dominated and brain-washed by male chauvinists. I can hardly think of a more anti-woman attitude than that last one. Women are just as divided on this issue as men; and if abortion is prima facie (not always) immoral then it is a societal/cultural problem involving men and women - all of whom must agree to act to truly make abortion "safe, legal and rare".

  5. Abortion, the death penalty, and war are not the same issue - stop deflecting : All of these issue have different problems associated with them, and we will never discuss any of them intelligently if we sound like small children defending our theft of our siblings toy because they stole one of ours last week

  6. Be Consistent: One of my doubts about the "safe, legal, rare" line current in the Democratic Party is that I do not trust it. I agree with it; but do not trust those that speak it. I am not alone. Another story this week that helped start this post: Illinois Choose Life won its right to a specialty "Choose Life" license plate in Illinois.
    The benefits of the Choose Life license plate are the opportunities created to encourage and assist adoption of children in Illinois. The funds generated from sales of the Choose Life license plate will become available to homes for unwed mothers, pregnancy help centers, adoption agencies, and organizations that provide help for foster and special needs children.
    This is a conservative-supported cause; and it has been opposed by much of the pro-choice movement in Illinois. Barack Obama said:
    If we're going to be promoting one view of the abortion debate, then the other one has to be expressed as well, and we don't want license plates to suddenly become bulletin boards for political groups.
    Pro-choice folks have said these plates are "anti-choice". Now, pro-choice legislators in Illinois are trying to dump the entire specialty plate system to prevent this one from being available. One commenter asked the obvious question: if the pro-choice's slogan of "legal, safe and rare" is heartfelt - how can they oppose as "anti-choice" a license plate that encourages adoption and helps fund agencies that are involved in improving adoption services? Obviously, one key element in "safe, legal, rare" is adequate funding, and reform, of adoption services. If there is going to be a "meeting in the middle" on abortion - it is efforts like this that must be supported even if you dislike the general views of the sponsors.
That probably gives us a few things to talk about before the next post in the series - which will deal with the biology (when life begins) and personhood/sentience arguments used to define when a being is the kind of life it is seriously wrong to end.

Next: Talking Past the "Other"

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