Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Re: A Pro-Choice Perspective

This is a response to a blog entry by Julie Wallace posted on The Mommypotamus blog. To get the full effect, you should read her blog first. I wrote this addressing her because originally I was going to post it as a comment under her blog, but it got too long, so I'm just going to post it here and provide a link there.

Hi Julie. A friend of mine on Facebook linked to your blog, and one of her friends suggested that we pro-life people read it with an open mind, so I did the best I could. I had a few disagreements with it that I wanted to mention, but before I do, I wanted to mention a couple of points of agreement.

First, I totally agree that the differences between the pro-choice and the pro-life camps should not prevent us from working together to reduce the number of abortions. Both sides seem to agree that adoption is a good alternative and ought to be encouraged. Second, I also agree that encouraging interracial adoption would be a good idea.

I could be persuaded if I had more facts, but I'm a bit skeptical that encouraging interracial adoption will do anything to reduce the number of abortions. From what I understand (and I could be wrong), the black children who have trouble finding homes are not newborns. There are more people willing to adopt newborns than there are newborns, and I've never heard of anybody, black or white, who had a difficult time finding somebody to adopt their newborn. But I'm open to correction on that.

Regarding the first misconception, I've never thought that "pro choice" meant "pro abortion," but I can understand how this confusion might come about. Maybe if pro-choice people tried a little harder to understand the pro-life position, they would also understand where these misconceptions comes from. And once they understand where the misconceptions come from, they can do a better job of straightening them out.

I'll give you an example of where this misconception comes from. Typically, people think of Planned Parenthood as a pro-choice organization, and they think of Crises Pregnancy Centers as being pro-life. It's understandable that, being pro-life, Crises Pregnancy Centers would try to help pregnant women with options, such as adoption, that would discourage them from resorting to abortion. But if Planned Parenthood were really pro-choice, we should expect them to help women who choose life just as much as they help women who choose abortion. But that isn't the case at all. Planned Parenthood does far more for women who choose abortion than for women who choose life. It is hard for some people to believe that Planned Parenthood is really pro-choice when they seem to only support one option--abortion.

You say that it is a misconception to equate "reproductive rights" with "abortion rights," but you don't do anything to explain where the misconception lies. What is the difference? You appear to contradict yourself later in your blog when you say, "The pro-choice movement is not about trying to convince women to have abortions; it is about empowering women to be able to make their own reproductive choices, free from state interference, regardless of their belief system." If the pro-choice movement is about reproductive choices, doesn't that include "abortion rights"?

I think it is disingenuous for you to say that abortion being about the life of the unborn is a misconception on the part of pro-life advocates since it is the linchpin of their argument for the pro-life position. This is the argument:

1. It is wrong to take the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.
2. Abortion takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.
3. Therefore, it's wrong to have an abortion.

Everybody agrees that it's wrong to take the life of innocent people without justification. And everybody agrees that abortion takes the life of something. There are only two relevant questions remaining: 1) What is the unborn? and 2) What is the justification for taking the life of the unborn?

From a pro-life perspective, if the unborn is anything other than an innocent human being, then no justification for abortion is necessary. If it's just a lump of tissue, an organ, or an appendage of the mother's body, then we don't need to offer reasons for why it ought to be legal. Just have the abortion; it's no different than having your appendix removed. But if the unborn is a distinct individual human being, then the only justification for taking its life that is adequate is to save the life of the mother. The reasons pro-choice people typically offer to justify abortions would never be used to justify killing somebody outside the womb. For example, you'd never condone infanticide just because it would spare the child grief later on in life. You'd never condone infanticide just because it relieves the mother of trauma, grief, or a financial burden. And for goodness sake, you'd never condone infanticide just to make it safer for mothers to kill their children! If the reasons pro-choice people offer would not work to justify killing a child, and if the unborn are just as much human beings as children are, then those reasons do not work to justify abortion either.

Now, granted, there are pro-choice people who think the unborn are just as much human beings as the born are, but who still think abortion ought to be legal. I can fully understand why such people would think it's a misconception that the debate is about the life of the unborn. Obviously, it's not about the life of the unborn for them, since they think abortion is justified anyway. But I think you are badly mistaken to think the life of the unborn is not a relevant factor in the debate.

I am skeptical that the debate is really about choice, per se. Nobody, on either side of the debate, supports any choice in any situation. We all support choice in areas where the options are all morally neutral or good. We all think people ought to have the freedom to choose their own doctor, whether to get married or not, what do to do for a living, etc. But none of us support the choice to drown our own children in the bathtub, to rob banks, to vandalize cars, etc. Before any of us are going to be pro-choice about anything at all, we first need to answer the question of whether the options under consideration are acceptable or not for a civilized society.

You are mistaken to say that nobody disputes what abortion actually is. I've debated the issue enough and seen enough debates on the issue to know with a high degree of confidence that most pro-choice people do not believe that an individual human life begins at conception. Many of them attribute personhood to the fetus at some later point during the pregnancy, and quite a few of them don't attribute personhood to the unborn until it is born. And, as you seem to recognize, some people use viability as the cut-off point. So you are very mistaken to say that there is no dispute about what abortion does--whether it takes the life of an innocent human being or not. Pro-choice people typically refer to the unborn as a "mass of cells" or a "lump of tissue" prior to when they consider it an individual human life. I've seen this first hand.

Your radical idea that we all stop talking about the moral issue struck me as extremely odd when just a few sentences earlier you said, "The debate is about whether or not the act of abortion is morally okay." And your rationale for why we should end the debate was almost just as odd--that we are never going to solve the dilemma satisfactorily. What, in your mind, would constitute "solving the dilemma"? Does that entail getting everybody to agree with each other? If so, then all debate is futile. Do you expect to convince everybody who reads your blog to be persuaded by your radical idea? If not, then why write it? You yourself are making an argument in this blog that will not convince everybody. If our inability to convince everybody is any reason for why we should end a debate, then you should never have written this blog entry.

But, you see, you don't need to convince everybody before it's fruitful to engage in debate. The fact is, people on both sides have been persuaded by arguments. It is because of arguments that you and I both hold the positions we hold. If you had not been given any reasons to change your mind, you probably would never have become pro-choice. Debate is fruitful whether it causes everybody to agree or not. It clarifies things for us. It forces us to think carefully about our own positions. It gives us an opportunity to understand why people disagree with us. It gives us the opportunity to change our minds. Heaven help us if we ever stop debating!

One of your reasons for why we should not ban abortions is because banning abortion will not reduce the demand for it. I think this is a bad argument for two reasons. First, because it is factually untrue. Abortions became far more prevalent after Roe v. Wade than before. And simple psychology should tell you that any sort of discouragement for an activity will reduce the incidence of that activity. Making abortion illegal certainly will not stop all abortions, but I'm confident that it will reduce them. Think of all the women who struggle with their decision, or vacillate, who sit on the fence trying to make a decision. In their cases, it wouldn't take much to push them one way or the other. If abortion were illegal, those people would be far more likely to choose life because they would have so much extra incentive to do so.

Second, even if banning abortion wouldn't reduce the demand for it, is that any reason to keep it legal? Assume, for the sake of argument, that abortion is no different than infanticide, as the pro-life camp thinks. Should we keep it legal just because people are going to do it anyway? Would you honestly use that same reasoning for any other issue? Laws do not prevent crimes. We all know that. Should we therefore make what we ordinarily consider to be crimes legal just because the law hasn't stopped them? Should bank robbery become legal just because the laws haven't stopped them? Should rape become legal? Hopefully you will agree with me that the notion is absurd.

You said, "In fact, many of my pro-choice friends believe abortion is immoral and have stated they would never do it themselves." This is an area worth pursuing because, as a pro-lifer, this is one area of the pro-choice movement that I confess to not understanding. Maybe you could clear this up for me, but first let me explain where my lack of understanding lies.

Why would anybody think abortion is wrong? Well, as I've said before, whether it's wrong or not depends on whether the unborn is a human being and whether there's adequate justification for it or not. If it's not a human being, then I see no reason why anybody would think it's wrong. So I can only assume that these pro-choice friends of yours fully acknowledge that the unborn are human beings just like everybody else. Now if they think it's wrong to take the life of innocent human beings, they must also think there is no adequate justification for it (because if there were adequate justification for it, then it wouldn't be wrong). But if there's no adequate justification for it, then why be pro-choice? To be pro-choice, don't you have to offer some sort of justification for why you ought to have the legal right to have an abortion in spite of the fact that your unborn is a human being? And if you have such a justification, then why think abortion is wrong? Abortion is either justified or it's not justified, so people who think abortion is wrong but that women should have the right to do it anyway strike me as being wildly inconsistent. It reminds me of what Abraham Lincoln said in the Lincoln/Douglas debates when Douglas argued that even if slavery is wrong, people should still have the right to do it. Lincoln said, "You can't have a right to do a wrong."

Being an attorney, you are no doubt aware of the difference between a causal slippery slope and a logical slippery slope. One is a fallacy, and the other is not. Your slippery slope argument is the former because it is a causal slippery slope. If abortion is a serious moral wrong, we cannot go ahead and allow it just because of what we imagine might happen next. But do we even have good reason to think your grim scenario would result if abortion became illegal? I think your imagined scenario is far-fetched, which is evident in the fact that abortion once WAS illegal in most states, but it did not result in the scenario you imagined. Your scenario is nothing but a non-sense scare tactic designed to persuade your readers to be pro-choice.

You ended your piece with the following questions: "Are you willing to give up your rights just so women can’t procure legal abortions?  Or is there another way for you to protect the unborn, one that leaves both your rights and your conscience unharmed?"

My answer is that I don't think it has to be either/or. We can do both. If pro-choice people want to reduce abortions because they think abortions are bad or because they have some desire to preserve life, then why stop at just one method of reducing abortions? Adoption reduces abortions, but does not prevent them altogether. Giving up the right to abortions is exactly the same. So let's do them both!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Does the doctrine of sola scriptura cause divisions?

I listened to a debate between TurretinFan (an anonymous fellow who is affiliated somehow with Alpha and Omega Ministries) and William Albrecht, which you can listen to on TurretinFan's YouTube channel. The debate turned out to be more interesting than I expected it to be. I just wanted to add my own thoughts to the debate.

Albrecht's primary strategy was to show that there was a correlation between doctrinal and denominational differences and belief in sola scriptura. He explained the correlation by saying sola scriptura had caused the differences.

TurretinFan responded by saying that correlation is not causation.

I agree with TurretinFan, but that got me to thinking. If correlation alone is not enough to demonstrate causation, then how could one demonstrate causation? Well, one way might be to consider the alternative. In any case, we should expect that if we remove the cause, we should also remove the effect.

It isn't quite that easy, though, because there are several different alternatives to subscribing to sola scriptura. One alternative is to deny the authority of the Bible altogether. But clearly removing sola scriptura in that case would not result in greater unity. On the contrary, it results in greater diversity. There are a myriad of religions and non-religious worldviews that deny sola scriptura.

Another alternative is Roman Catholicism, which is the point of view Albrecht holds to. In the case of Roman Catholicism, rather than rejecting the authority of the Bible, they have an additional source of authority alongside the Bible--the teaching magisterium. But this alternative doesn't eliminate diversity in beliefs. Catholics differ with each other on all kinds of things. I heard a sermon by a Catholic priest a long time ago where he quoted a statistic saying that 75% of Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation, even though it is an essential doctrine of Catholicism.

Albrecht seemed to consider any difference in belief on a doctrinal issue as division, whether people separated because of it or not. By that standard, there is lots and lots of division within the Catholic Church. Since the effect (division) remains even in the absence of the supposed cause (sola scriptura), it follows that sola scriptura is not shown to be the cause of division.

That is not to say that sola scriptura doesn't cause any division. One could argue that sola scripture is one among other causes of division, though I think that would be more difficult to demonstrate. I don't think Albrecht successfully demonstrated that sola scriptura causes any division.

But I'm surprised TurretinFan wouldn't admit that it does. On theoretical grounds alone, we should expect it to. Instead, TurretinFan pointed to James 4:1ff as evidence that sin is the cause of division. He says, "Scripture actually tells us one of the reasons, the reason why we have disunity and division among the body of Christ. James 4:1 states..." and then he quotes it.

It's interesting that he corrects himself from saying, "one of the reasons" to saying "the reason." Why did he do that? Well, if sin is the reason, as if there's only one reason, then that would exclude sola scriptura as being a reason, and especially the reason. But if he said, "one of the reasons," then that does not exclude sola scriptura as being one of the reasons. The resolve of the debate is simply that sola scriptura causes division and disunity. If sola scriptura is one among various other causes of disunity and division, then the affirmative (Albrecht) would be in the right. But if sin is merely one of various reasons for disunity and division, then James 4:1 does not negate the resolve. It's irrelevant. So TurretinFan had to correct himself to make it relevant.

It might've been fruitful for them to have debated this passage a little, but they didn't.

I've always thought that arguments against the legitimacy of other views based on diversity of belief were weak arguments. It really all depends on where you draw the circle around "us" and "them." If you're a reformed Baptist, you could say "we" have unity, and since there's so much diversity of belief among everybody else, then "we" must be in the right. Anybody can do that. Jehovah's Witnesses can do that. Five buddhists who all agree with each other on everything could do that. Authority structures like Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Catholics have do create some unity, but the unity is the result of the structure, not the result of actually having the truth on some issue. Somebody could invent a religion, create an authoritative structure around it, and create unity as a result, but that wouldn't give them any claim to legitimacy just because there was unity within their religion and diversity without.

As I've said a number of times on this blog, some amount of uncertainty and division is inevitable, regardless of how you try to patch it up. You just have to live with it. Setting up an authority structure does not solve the problem.

First, you have to figure out which authority structure to listen to--the governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses, the prophets of the LDS Church, or the teaching magisterium of the Catholic Church, etc. Since it would be circular reasoning to take the authority of any of these organizations on their own authority, you're forced to use your own cognitive faculties to assess the evidence and arguments to come to a conclusion. And since we are fallible, we are subject to making mistakes in the process.

Second, you have to interpret the interpreter. And we've seen that all three of the organizations I've mentioned have reinterpreted their own past documents. Non-Catholics are not really damned to hell. Black people aren't really cursed by God. The anointed class of Jehovah's Witnesses are not really inspired prophets. Etc. etc. Having an authoritative interpreter of the Bible doesn't really solve the problem of Biblical interpretation; it only postpones the problem since you now have to interpret the interpreter.

We might as well all face the fact that we cannot escape the problem of interpretation. And with the problem comes diversity. We are going to misunderstand some things. We just have to do the best we can to study the Bible and understand it correctly and be willing to live with the fact that we are fallible and might get some things wrong. That's the inescapable position we're in.