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« What Social Conditions Promote Reconciliation? | Main | Miss Runner-Up: A Better Crown Is Coming »

April 21, 2009

The nature of the choice

Trig Palin I wondered when something like this was coming. Didn't take long.

I respect Palin's decision not to "make it all go away." She describes her doubts about whether she had the fortitude and patience to cope with a child with Down syndrome, and, with the force of a mother's fierce love, the special blessing that Trig has brought to her life. She speaks as someone who is confident that she made the correct choice.

For her. In fact, the overwhelming majority of couples choose to terminate pregnancies when prenatal testing shows severe abnormalities. In cases of Down syndrome, the abortion rate is as high as 90 percent. 

For the crowd listening to her at last week's dinner, Palin's disclosure served the comfortable role of moral reinforcement: She wavered in her faith, was tempted to sin, regained her strength and emerged better for it. 

As for those us less certain that we know, or are equipped to instruct others, when life begins and when it is permissible to terminate a pregnancy, Palin's speech offered a different lesson: Abortion is a personal issue and a personal choice. The government has no business taking that difficult decision away from those who must live with the consequences.

Alas for Ruth Marcus, the Post unwittingly undermined her argument by running the picture above with her article. When the choice is between a living, breathing, beautiful baby and, well, a pile of bloody little body parts, it becomes more difficult to view both choices as morally equivalent.

One more point. It is no slam against Palin to say, as Marcus says, that "if it were up to Palin, women would have no thought process to go through. The 'good decision to choose life,' as she put it, would be no decision at all, because abortion would not be an option." No matter what kind of time one lives in, no matter what choices it proclaims legal and legitimate, one still has a duty to make the moral decision. 

I've used slavery in America as an example before, and I think it fits again here: Because people had the legal choice to own a slave, did that make the choice legitimate, and was it wrong to take that "thought process" away from potential slaveowners? And don't we now regard those who owned them as having made an immoral decision, no matter how it looked in the context of their time?

(Image © Al Grillo for the Associated Press)

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Comments

jason taylor


Would anyone care to play with someone who thinks there should be an option to choose between cheating at cards and not cheating at cards?

Ben W

That's a bit of a strawman, Jason, since cheating is by definition immoral, but people disagree on the morality of abortion. A more apt comparison might be male headship over women or head coverings for women.

Ben W

Oops - I guess I should add that everyone also understands that the definition of cheating is immoral (likewise for murder), but not everyone understands that abortion=murder.

Heh.. reminds me of an old relative who told me that playing cards and drinking was sin. It does no good to berate people if they disagree on the definition of "morality"; you have to agree on what is moral first.

Gina Dalfonzo

We may have had the same relative, Ben. :-) Sounds like my great-grandmother, God rest her.

You bring up a good point that I'd like for us to explore a little more, if you wouldn't mind. Why is it, in your opinion, that not everyone understands that abortion=murder? From where I sit, it would seem -- leaving out for the moment the whole controversy over showing the remains on posters and placards -- that those remains would prove it pretty conclusively.

vikingmother

The status of girls, women has declined.

The many forces encouraging the young to "hook up" sexually with no thot of later consequences have been discussed in various forums...
*********************
But I am trying to impress on my teenage daughter the economic, social realities (as well as the moral of course).

Women take more direct destructive hits if dating/sex is done without vows. The vow puts part of the burden squarely & firmly on the man's shoulders...

vikingmother

My comment above does not directly tieto the article since I left out the following -

It's a truth universally felt (if not openly stated) that women, girls would not willingly want to add "I got an abortion" to their positive life experiences.

However, it seems many are shoving the young into casual sex "without consequences"
...which is (at the very least) biologically, emotionally, and medically untrue...

becky

Gina,
I think that a large part of people not equating abortion with murder is that most people never see the results of an abortion. They also never see the victim as it is hidden in its mother's womb. This makes it easy to dismiss.
We also have a great ability to believe whatever we want in spite of evidence. This seems, to me, to be a universal human trait. Whether it's global warming, the value of family or that "all roads lead to heaven" people don't want to be bothered by inconvenient truths.

Ben W

Gina, there are a lot of reasons. I don't think anyone seriously thinks that a fetus isn't genetically human, it's whether they're a human "being" with all the rights therein. For most religions, these rights are imbued at the point of ensoulment, whereas for secularists it usually has to do with higher brain function or with consciousness (someone correct me if I'm wrong).

From there it's just arguments over when ensoulment or higher brain function occurs. The latter science can determine, the first not so much.

Obviously for Christians, the question is what the Bible has to say. As I don my fireproof clothes, I'll say that I don't think the Bible settles the issue quite properly - we probably all know the plethora of verses supporting both sides of the argument. Speaking just for myself, I took some time to do serious study and prayer some years back, and found that while the Bible associates both blood and breath with "life" (and various prophets are referenced in the womb), Jewish law based on the Torah placed ensoulment at first breath.

Steve (SBK)

I think the 'game analogy' is interesting.
Are we playing Cribbage or Bridge? Looking at someone's hand in one game is required and cheating in the other.
Are we in a card version of Calvinball (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvin_and_Hobbes#Calvinball ) where everything is arbitrary? Is there a Game Master (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamemaster )?

The obvious strategy is to confuse people on what game they're "playing".
Should they maximize their own happiness or sometimes do hard things? Should they remove certain, dependent, pieces of tissue from a woman's body because the alternative is difficult or undesirable? Should they see a human being requiring its mother's body - as simply dead until viability can be accomplished on its own? Should they see their own life and choices as unrelated from moment to moment or should they see it as a process? And if a process, is a human being in a womb at a certain stage in a natural progression? Is there a 3rd alternative to calling that either an act of war (against the little, invasive beasts) or murder? Yes, there is an alternative, if we recognize that human beings are not human beings.

When the ball gets rolling, the slippery slope is off course, ending the game.

I hope I do not come across as flippant.

Steve (SBK)

"3rd alternative to calling that" : that = abortion.

Gina Dalfonzo

Thanks, everyone, for your contributions to the thread so far. You're making some great points.

Ben, I want to answer your comment in particular. I personally believe that life begins at conception, but let's that put idea aside too, for the moment. For the sake of argument, let me go back to your mention of brain function and ask, what would you think of the idea that the fetus is human when it has bodily functions? For instance, can we factor brain function, movement, reaction to stimuli, and/or heartbeat into the equation? How about the development of organs and limbs? Can we look at a fetus that has some or all of these things and say, "Okay, this is a human being with rights?"

I don't mean to be gross or morbid in my interest in the remains of aborted babies, but I do feel it's an important subject. And yet they provoke such a visceral reaction in people that they often shut down discussion entirely, or spark a round of shoot-the-messenger. (Not that I'm saying anything against visceral reactions, as it was a visceral reaction to one particular photograph that led me to embrace the pro-life cause.) But I think that to discuss the subject as rationally and calmly as possibly would be a good and an educational thing. I mean, I want to know if it would hypothetically be possible for someone to take a tiny severed arm or leg or head in his or her hand and honestly say, "This belonged to an organism that was genetically human but had no human rights." And, if so, on what grounds the person would be saying it.

Steve (SBK)

Ben,
I think you're right in that secularists have to use something like... brain activity. I don't really know what else they could use, and it seems VERY arbitrary (which is why some think that pigs are more "valuable" than small children). Why choose "higher" brain function? Why not choose "circulation"? Why not choose "genetically human"? Convenience?

I won't even get into the idea of 'rights' from a secular perspective (an illusion).

Re: discussions of the soul, part of the problem may be that we're too Platonic (souls existing apart from the body). Personhood is, I think, a better concept (something along the idea that we cannot be anthing, or anyone, different).

Nevertheless, (overly simplistic), in "matters of the soul", in religious vs. secular views, we have to accept the religous (because of the futility via secularism). And if in religious our only alternatives are the Talmud or the Catholic (early church), we accept the Catholic (conception).

LeeQuod

SBK, absolutely brilliant stuff from you. (No astonishment on my part; merely praise.)

Ben W wrote: "For most religions, these rights are imbued at the point of ensoulment, whereas for secularists it usually has to do with higher brain function or with consciousness (someone correct me if I'm wrong)."

I'd always heard it was birth. This has led to some interesting situations in law, where a pregnant woman has been injured or killed, and/or has her child.

Further, "higher brain function" and "consciousness" prove problematic for cases where the child is born disabled. Secularists dislike denying that the disabled do not have the same rights as the non-disabled; the comparison to Nazis is too uncomfortable.

Bottom line, though, is that secularists view this in a very pragmatic (and therefore logically inconsistent) way. Friends of mine had one of the most premature babies in medical history survive birth. Do you grant this child human rights merely because she's outside the womb, while denying the right to life to others of the same age and older who are inside theirs? The secularists do not follow logic - merely expediency. And that makes them no different in principle from the Romans who left their inconveniently newborn children to die on the hillside.

Ben W

Gina, to me there seems to be an extra special connection between our brains and who we are as persons. While people who lose the ability to use their arms and legs are still very much human, a person who irreversably loses their brain is just a walking shell.
Eventually, our medical knowledge will get to the point where we will be able to grow organs from stem cells in the labratory, but I don't think any of these spare limbs or livers will make up a human being. On the other hand, I'd say that if someone with nearly complete brain damage were to have their brain repaired by stem cell therapy, they might as well be a different person, as they would likely have new memories and personality.
Err.. does that answer your question?

Steve, see the above - although I'll add that nowhere does the Bible guarantee us the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" - so I'm glad that I live in a secular country, even if these rights are a manmade illusion. There's also plenty of philosophers who'd disagree that "brain function" or thinking is irrelevant to who we are as people. Not that an appeal to philosophic authority is valid, but their arguments are a good place to start that branch of the conversation.

David

Becky, Gina,
I don't think people would necessarily get the abortion=murder(=wrong) equation if they got to see the results of an abortion. We don't need to see the results of a cold blooded murder to know that it is wrong. Visceral reactions are not a reliable guide, or snakes and spiders would be deemed evil.

All,
Please help me understand: God has commanded me not to commit murder. After David (the king)committed murder, he acknowledged that his sin was against God - only. What then does God command me to do about someone else who is about to commit murder - which is a sin against God only? If a non-believer commits murder, has he sinned against God? Is there any reason (other than pragmatic ones) to try to prevent him from doing so, since he is lost anyway? Or, stated another way, isn't it essential to get him to believe in God first, after which questions of murder and/or abortion will become moot?

(Even then, the question of when "ensoulment" occurs will remain a bit of a mystery. We can save that for another day...)


LeeQuod

David wrote: "All,
Please help me understand:"

Oh, man. "Dogpile on David, everyone!" WHOMPF!

To avoid piling on myself, I'll just ask this: if the person about to commit the murder was going to kill someone you cared about, what would you do?

And then, God would ask why you care that much about some people, but not others.

So the focus is on the victim, not the murderer.

jason taylor

David:
David's sin against Uriah, and in a more subtle way, against Bathsheeba is included in his sin against God. God is the source of good and subsidiary goods like human life and human dignity come from God even as moonlight is really sunlight.

And the question "Is there any reason(other then pragmatic...)invites the response that the term pragmatic means roughly, "tending toward efficiency of means" and you cannot have means without an end.

In any case an unbeliever can still sin against God David. Every sin is a sin against God and most people have a fair idea of what constitutes sin even if they err on this or that. Even Nazis erred by making tribal loyalty absolute and even Communists erred by making compassion for the poor absolute: they didn't just invent their moralities.

In any case David, that was King David's prayer being recorded. King David was fallible like others. That was also poetry, not a theological dissertation and should not be logically dissected the way the later would be.

labrialumn

The only qualitative change is at fertilization. After that everything is a continuum of growth.

David

The purpose of my questions is to illuminate the difficulty of convincing a non-believer to behave as one who does believe in God. Neither showing aborted fetuses, nor invoking what someone would do where their particular interests are at stake, nor "dogpiling" them is going to change hearts or minds.

Steve (SBK)

Ben,
In saying that 'brain activity' is arbitrary, I don't mean that it is not important (or irrelevant), but I'm looking at the human person in the way labrialumn mentioned: as a continuum.
And in that sense, each person follows their own unique continuum (i.e. our 15 billionth millisecond in the womb is not when each of us started our brain activity, nor do we all learn to read at 2 via Sesame Street).
And in that sense, there is no secular equality where each person is entitled to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". There are strong, and there are weak, humans. Their equality is only God endowed. You do not live in a secular society. You live in a society whose Religious foundation allows each person to not be interferred with by the state, *because* each person is equal in God's sight.
And in that sense, humans in the womb are no different from humans outside the womb. Humans in the womb *will* be humans outside the womb, unless they are excised by someone restricting their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
A house being constructed is not inhabitable, but it is designed for a purpose and will serve no other purpose. If someone walking through a field (which they take to work everyday) comes across the beginning foundations of a house, which restricts their easy route through the field, tears up or burns that foundation, they are not guiltless of destroying a house or property. We cannot say, "Well, it's ok, the house wasn't finished. It didn't even have a fireplace or alarm system".

Again though, I think the brain is not irrelevant to who we are as people. But how is it possible to see killing someone's brain as different from not letting their brain begin... if in the natural course of things... the brain would be?

jason taylor

If persuading unbelievers that it is wrong to kill babies for convenience is somehow persuading them to act like a believer, maybe we do live in two different worlds. But as it happens I am still reasonably confidant that even unbelievers can get the point sooner or later.

labrialumn

David,
That is not what the Bible says.

There is right and wrong that all but sociopaths understand. Murder is among those which all agree upon, not merely Christians alone.

Romans 1: 18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Romans 2:14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

1 Timothy 1:8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that law[a] is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

We should remember that the majority of first-worlders who favor allowing abortion know full well that it is murder, and are just fine with the weak being murdered for the convenience of the stronger.

jason taylor

It is of course possible to have one's heart hardened to a degree by ones environment. And presumably mitigating circumstances are taken into account(and under this theory I would be judged more harshly for going to the Arena to watch Maximus the Merciful then a Roman would be). But even that presumes there is something there that was suppressed. For the matter of that, even Aztecs had a legend of a bearded man coming to bring judgment which in fact does make one think that they really did know better in their hearts.

Jan

Whether you are a Christian or not is irrelevant. As Scott Klusendorf points out, there are really only 4 differences between the pre-born and a newborn. (SLED)
1. Size-The pre-born is certainly smaller than an already born person. May we kill people just because they are smaller than others?
2. Level of Development-The pre-born is less developed than the born. May I kill my 3 year old daughter who doesn't have her reproductive system developed yet?
3. Environment- Inside vs outside of the womb. May I kill you because you changed location after your flight?
4. Degree of dependancy- The pre-born is dependent on her mother. May I kill one because he is dependent on insulin or oxygen?
Since most would find difficulty rationalizing killing a newborn who was smaller,not as developed, lived in a different environment than another, or was dependent on someone or something, why do they see killing the pre-born acceptable?

Steve (SBK)

Those are very good insights Jan.

Here's a link about Late-Term abortions and infanticide... (from 2001)
http://www.geocities.com/gregoryjrummo/prommom.htm

Ben W

Oy, a lot of posts. It's times like this I wish we had a forum section for discussion, instead of just Comments.

LeeQuod - I agree with you that secular views on this are somewhat pragmatic or logically inconsistent. Why does this matter, though? Christian views are likewise either logically inconsistent if solely based on the Bible or based on the belief that life starts at conception.

It is a very bad argument to say that secular views "do not follow logic - merely expediency", for several reasons. First, they *are* based on logic - they find the earliest possible point of viability or higher brain function, and ban abortions before that point (as 41/50 states have done). Secondly, why is expediency a bad thing in and of itself? You have to prove that there is some potential harm before this becomes a slanderous statement. Let me ask you a question - do you ever step on cracks in the sidewalk? Do you have *proof* that this is not causing microfractures in your mother's spine, or do you walk on cracks just because it's convenient?

Labrialumn - how can you say "The only qualitative change is at fertilization"? Implantation isn't a qualitative change? What about when identical twins split, and you form two fetii? Or going from 1 cell, no organs, to a fully developed infant with a plethora of organs isn't "qualitative"? It's gradual, but also qualitative.

Steve (SBK) - I completely rewrote my reply to you after rereading what these "certain inalienable rights" were, and what they meant. We all have these rights, although in a "survival of the fittest" situation we may not have the opportunity to benefit from them. They are inherent to us as free-willed, thinking human beings, and thus "inalienable". But how do you know at what points these rights are endowed? (note - we can get into some pretty heavy Enlightenment philosophy here).

I'm not sure I agree with "each person is equal in God's sight". Didn't He make some vessels for honor, and some for dishonor? I don't think the Bible ever emphasizes social equality (quite the opposite, in fact).

If you destroyed a foundation to a building, we'd say you destroyed the foundation, not the building. Likewise, terrorists killed ~3000 people when destroying the Twin Towers, but not the millions of descendants those 3,000 would have had. If we're going to talk about children that would exist "in the natural course of things", are we to ban birth control as well?

Jan, all those arguments could also be applied to stem cells (whether adult, induced, or embryonic). Is it immoral to take stem cells off of my skin and use them for research, just because they could also be used to create a baby if carefully put into the womb? (note - we don't know how to do this yet, and hopefully never will, but it wouldn't be far from current research).

Jason Taylor

Ben if it matters "at what point a right became endowed" then it is not a right but a folkway. And while this may help your argument in the short term, it really does not help you in the long term as it is chiefly liberals who are discovering new rights.

The scriptual phrase "some are born to dishonor, others to honor" is slightly cryptic and generates a lot of heat. But it is hardly meant to imply that you in fact have the right to decide which is which and certainly it is not meant to say mothers have the right to murder their children.

Jason Taylor

"That's a bit of a strawman, Jason, since cheating is by definition immoral, but people disagree on the morality of abortion. A more apt comparison might be male headship over women or head coverings for women. "

No Ben, it is not a strawman since murduring children for convenience is by definition immoral and it doesn't matter two bits whether people disaggree. If everyone in the world thought it moral it would still be immoral.

Steve (SBK)

Hey Ben,
You'll probably have a lot to respond to, so I'll try to keep this short.
I'm not sure what you mean by a 'survival of the fittest' situation. Can you expand please.

With regard to "But how do you know at what points these rights are endowed?", I don't know. Perhaps at the point where the rights are no longer alienable. When is that?

With regard to equality in God's sight, it is the ontology I am getting at, not the utility. Similar to how there is no Greek or Jew in the body of Christ, but there are hands and eyes and feet in his Church. I agree that the Bible doesn't require social equality. The poor and fatherless (motherless?) will likely always be with us.

Finally, the analogy of the building/foundation was to point out that the process was begun for a purpose, and the foundation had no other purpose than to become a house. The plans, the foundation and the home, are inextricably linked.
I fail to see how the terrorist story is the same, since it discusses separate entities (descendents).

Are we to ban birth control? (Talk about the possibility for heavy philosophy...) Could I hear from some Roman Catholics on this topic?

I feel like I could use Augustine's "ordinate loves" idea again today.

LeeQuod

Ben W wrote: "Oy, a lot of posts. It's times like this I wish we had a forum section for discussion, instead of just Comments."

Hey, I told you it would be a dogpile. Just remember that you asked for it. :-)

"LeeQuod - I agree with you that secular views on this are somewhat pragmatic or logically inconsistent. Why does this matter, though? Christian views are likewise either logically inconsistent if solely based on the Bible or based on the belief that life starts at conception."

Well, no, Ben, sorry, but they're not. See, John 1:1 could almost be translated/transliterated as "In the beginning was the logic, and the logic was with God, and the logic was God." The Bible makes an exclusive claim to be the truth about the Truth, to which all human logic should bow. So if Christians follow what the Bible says about an issue, they are *by definition* being logically consistent. (You can argue about Christians who use the Bible as a starting point for human reasoning, but I'm not talking about that.)

And the Christian viewpoint on this particular issue is decidedly anti-pragmatic. Someone has to fund crisis pregnancy centers and safe houses for pregnant teens, and that money could instead go to, say, prison ministries. I've known grandparents who had to help raise their grandchildren, families who had to sacrifice a lot to support their new bundle of joy, and families like the Palins whose child would require more care than usual. *That's* the difference. *That's* why this is important. Why are Christians willing to put their money (and time, and so on) where their mouth is?

As SBK indicated, you have a lot of replies to write - so don't feel pressure to respond to this one. I'll be satisfied if, some time in the future, you indicate that you thought about what I wrote.

Ben W

I'm thinking about it already. I appreciate the discourse with you guys - you make me rethink my faith and beliefs, and challenge me to back them up with Scripture and logic. Hopefully I do the same! Iron on iron and all that. Be back soon, hopefully - fun busy weekend ahead.

Jason Taylor

Ben, expediency is not a bad thing in itself. But the question is what is being expedited and how is the expedititing done.

Someone who kills his enemy has done a human thing. Even the gentiles love their friends and hate their enemies.

But someone who kills their own child out of sloth and desire to make it easier satisfy their lust has gone far beyond mere human weakness.

And the technician who helps her do that and helps hundreds like her, for the sake of money is approaching the diabolical.

Though rest from difficulty, sex, and even money are good things and worthy of being "expedited", they are not worth killing ones own child over.

Ben W

Okay, here's my attempt at defending my beliefs and some of the beliefs of others.

Jason says, "Ben if it matters 'at what point a right became endowed' then it is not a right but a folkway."
-Not really true - there are rights given by God and rights given by man, and even the rights given by God aren't always universal (a mentally insane person may not have even inner liberty). If I understand Enlightenment philosophy correctly, the "inalienable rights" require a thinking mind.

Jason says, "The scriptual phrase "some are born to dishonor, others to honor" is slightly cryptic and generates a lot of heat. But it is hardly meant to imply that you in fact have the right to decide which is which and certainly it is not meant to say mothers have the right to murder their children."
- I agree - I was bringing that up to say that the Bible doesn't say that we're all equal, or endorse equality on Earth.

Jason says, "No Ben, it is not a strawman since murduring children for convenience is by definition immoral and it doesn't matter two bits whether people disaggree. If everyone in the world thought it moral it would still be immoral."
- My point is that other people disagree that abortion is murder. *Of course* murder is wrong. It also doesn't matter two bits whether people disagree on the shape of the Earth - like you said, opinions don't make facts. So how do we know which of us is right?


Steve says, "I'm not sure what you mean by a 'survival of the fittest' situation."
Along the lines of "There are strong and there are weak humans. Their equality is only God endowed."
- In an ungoverned society where strength prevails, we may not have the ability to fully use our rights to "life, liberty," etc, even though they are God-endowed.

Steve says, "Finally, the analogy of the building/foundation was to point out that the process was begun for a purpose, and the foundation had no other purpose than to become a house. The plans, the foundation and the home, are inextricably linked. "
- Ah, okay, I understand your perspective better. The question, then, is "To whom does the foundation belong?" Does it have a separate owner from the start, or is the landowner the owner? Only the owner has the right to cancel the building project.


LeeQuod: I don't think I've ever heard someone translate "logos" as logic. Hmm. But let's run with this. You said "So if Christians follow what the Bible says about an issue, they are *by definition* being logically consistent." So if I, being Christian, follow a Biblical belief that a fetus becomes a person at birth (with the exception of a few predestined prophets), I'm being logically consistent?
Or, another case: predestination vs. free-will. Are the two extreme viewpoints on this logically consistent?

I'm not really concerned with whether something is pragmatic or not. Pragmatism is completely irrelevant to morality, for good or for bad. The Christians who donate to CPCs and march for Life do it for the same reasons as those who donate their money to PP and march for Choice - both sides believe that they are doing what's right.

Ben W

Eh, LeeQuod, my point at the end is back to your comment about the "pragmatic and therefore logically inconsistent" views of secularists. Here's some things I don't quite understand about your position:

1st) What do logical consistence or pragmatism have to do with morality?
2) If my morals are just based on logic and/or the Bible, are they okay?
3) Where does pragmatic=logically inconsistent come from? I mean, I could come up with a totally pragmatic morality based on "me first" that is also totally logically consistent (not very moral, though). And I saw your example about premature babies, and I know secularists that would agree with you (thus why most states only allow abortions of unviable pregnancies, even including artificial aid).

LeeQuod

Ben W wrote: "LeeQuod: I don't think I've ever heard someone translate "logos" as logic."

See here under "Etymology", as a starting point:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/logic
But why did you skip over my use of the word "almost"?

"So if I, being Christian, follow a Biblical belief that a fetus becomes a person at birth"

Hey, if you can find that one in Scripture, I'd love to see it.

"Or, another case: predestination vs. free-will. Are the two extreme viewpoints on this logically consistent?"

No, only predestination is logically consistent. (Can someone please revive labrialumn? I'm afraid he hit his head when he fainted from shock.) The problem with those two is that free-will is a matter of the heart, and unfortunately humans possess both. And besides, all theology starts from Scripture and applies human reason, particularly systematic theology, so it's not what I was talking about.

But nice try.

"Pragmatism is completely irrelevant to morality, for good or for bad."

So how could abortion - as Gina said, reducing a living being to body parts - be a force for good? All the arguments I hear always boil down to pragmatics with respect to the woman.

Steve (SBK)

Hey Ben, I'll only address the points you made to me (to keep it simpler)... though I do want to dig up an interesting quote on the concept of paradox (for your and LeeQuod's discussion, but that'll have to wait).

You said,
"In an ungoverned society where strength prevails, we may not have the ability to fully use our rights to "life, liberty," etc, even though they are God-endowed".

And I think that's true, but I also think that in our governed societies strength prevails much of the time. And if we believe that rights are God-endowed, then why resist the fact that a fetus would not have the ability to fully use his rights? It seems much more reasonable to see each person as uniquely created and endowed with all rights and privileges by their Creator at conception then at some arbitrary point in the future (other than possibly birth [I could see arguments being made], but then why resist late-term abortions)?

And that leads to the next bit (though, as always, analogies break down).
You said, "The question, then, is "To whom does the foundation belong?" Does it have a separate owner from the start, or is the landowner the owner? Only the owner has the right to cancel the building project."
This of course is where the analogy may break down/get confusing. Do parents "own" their children and can they do whatever they want to them? There is indeed a much stronger case that God "owns" each of us, and holds the power of life or death for each of us. And if He is the Owner, then, yes, He decides.

Some might bring up spontaneous-abortions (miscarriages) at this point, and I think that is a troubling issue... but 'the responsibility' in the process of a pregnancy is different for each of the parties. For the parents, I do not see a good case for the responsibility to mete out death.

If 'the foundation' is more like a 'sinkhole'... part of the landscape, just malignant, then yes, it would be completely natural and acceptable to "terraform" that thing out of existence.

To give God a 'foothold' in the process, I think, gives him much more. So, yeah, I don't think these arguments would be acceptable to someone holding to, what I'll call "secular moral foundations".

Thoughts?

Rolley Haggard

Predestination?

In the spirit of “where the heck did that come from?” begun by guilty others, I will respond to that momentary digression and go on record affirming my own unequivocal opinion that biblical predestination and libertarian free will are entirely compatible and logically consistent ideas and that they may be satisfactorily articulated as such, too. They just rarely are.

Conflicts obtaining between “viewpoints”, in my long-in-coming-to-it-but-now-firmly-held opinion, stem not from inherent contradictions or paradoxes in the principles themselves, but only from definitions assigned to one or both of those principles. In other words, get the definitions right (i.e. of sovereignty and free will), and the rest of the ancient puzzle slips into place without disingenuous biblical shoehorning or logical gerrymandering.

I don’t mean to sound simplistic but it was unavoidable in so few words. And as it would be totally hijacking the thread (I think that’s the term) to elaborate further, I’ll quit here, even though such newfound self-restraint is wholly unprecedented.

There. I think I feel better now. Thank you all for your indulgence.

--- Signed,

Rolley, foolishly succumbing to a visceral reflex, with lavish apologies to those who, righteously, take a dim view of such outbursts.

(Hic)

Ben W

LeeQuod, I don't exactly understand your position on predestination and logical consistency, but if that's not what you meant by logically consistent, I can drop it.

I wouldn't say that "abortion is a force for good", only that it can sometimes be morally neutral. Again, I only think pragmatism is bad if it's being used as an excuse for evil.

Steve, I agree with much of what you said, although as I understand the Enlightenment writings about the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", a thinking mind is required. Even in chains, you are still inwardly free; even in bondage, you can still be joyful. But this would mean that while God gives these rights, he gives them unequally and at different times.. plus it would mean that we're talking about apples and oranges.

On God holding the power of life and death - what does this mean about modern medicine and the absurdly large amounts of money that are often spent to extend life by a few months? From a biblical standpoint, should we stop struggling against death so much?

Rolley, of course it depends on how you define "predestination".. so that I know some people have formed Biblically-based beliefs that we would probably call bad theology, particularly because of its inconsistency.

Ben W

Alright, my faux stance for why life starts at birth, from the Bible:

First, based on Hebrew law, directly handed down from God - Exodus 21:22-23: "And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any [further] injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye..."
And the traditional Hebrew interpreation of this Scripture is just as it reads - the punishment for causing a miscarriage is different than killing a child.
(side note: yes, I know you can take the literal translation of the word "miscarriage" here and jump through some theological hoops to make it seem as if this dealt with a live birth - but you have to remember (1) this ignores several thousand years of traditional interpretation, and (2) live miscarriages weren't so common 3,000 years ago).

Second, "breath" is associated with "life" and "soul" throughout the Bible, first in Genesis 2:7, in which it says “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Likewise, as the Hebrew word for spirit is 'ruach', as in Job 32:8 - “There is a spirit [Hebrew, ruach, breath] in man: and the inspiration [breathing in] of the Almighty gives them understanding". Or Gen. 7:22, "All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died."

Third, I think that the silence of God on this despite traditional Hebrew understandings of the Torah is compelling. Despite the common view on when life started, God didn't feel fit to condemn abortion in either the Old Testament or New Testament - even as it was often discussed by Hebrew scholars and early Christians but never put into Scripture. It's not like Jesus didn't know what the traditional interpretation was.

Last, a counter-counterargument: while some Scriptures in Psalms and the Prophets mention that God had known the authors since the womb, we have to be careful about picking specific verses out of context to use for doctrine. We would be foolish to take Psalm 139:13 ("You did weave me in my mother's womb") as grounds for doctrine but ignore Psalm 137:9 ("happy are those who take your little ones and dash them against the rock"). In addition, many of these verses deal with predestined and foreordained prophets, some of whom God had filled with the Spirit in the womb - these aren't exactly normal cases.

Note that the above aren't really my beliefs. I agree with LeeQuod that it's silly to treat a 24-week old baby differently based on whether it's in the womb or not. But I do feel that this is a fair Biblically-based position, one on equal apologetic standing with some other common Christian beliefs.

Jason Taylor

Jason says, "No Ben, it is not a strawman since murduring children for convenience is by definition immoral and it doesn't matter two bits whether people disaggree. If everyone in the world thought it moral it would still be immoral."
-" My point is that other people disagree that abortion is murder. *Of course* murder is wrong. It also doesn't matter two bits whether people disagree on the shape of the Earth - like you said, opinions don't make facts. So how do we know which of us is right?"

That argument can be applied to any moral statement. All moral statements are statements of axioms. When you say that cheaters at cards are in a different category then abortionists, all you are saying is that it is more wrong because there is no Dishonest Gamblers Rights lobby. As it happens that would have made homosexuality wrong in 1850 and right now. It would have made severe corporal punishment right in 1650 and wrong now. In short, your definition of morality would make morality subject to vote.
The fact that some people disaggree with me about the statement that abortion is an abomination does not change one wit the fact that abortion is an abomination.


Ben W

"The fact that some people disaggree with me about the statement that abortion is an abomination does not change one wit the fact that abortion is an abomination."

Nor does it change the fact that this is a circular argument.

Ben W

"In short, your definition of morality would make morality subject to vote."

Can you think of a better way to do it? There is no objective way to pick a morality: either you rely on logic and the Golden Rule (which gives you secular morality), or you pick a set of Scriptures to work from. But in picking a set of Scriptures, you have to use fallible human judgment.. and we're back to square one.

It's all well and good to say (as some few people do) that we should follow God's laws for our moral/legal system, but obviously those who follow a different God will disagree. How can you convince them?

Jason Taylor

"Nor does it change the fact that this is a circular argument. "

No it was an assertion. And it was a claim of intuition.

Morality is not subject to proof. Neither is logic by the way. It is or it is not. The assumption that all is illigetimate that cannot be logically proven is self-contradictory.

And making morality subject to vote implies the legitimacy of "The People's"
judgement. Which itself cannot be proven. And given the behavior of "The People" at many times and places is highly dubious.

In anycase, one must define "The People". It might have occured to you that aborted babies are denied the franchise, might it not?

LeeQuod

Ben W wrote: "Exodus 21:22-23"

The background of that verse is that children were to a Hebrew family what employees are to a small business. The fine has to do with loss of future income, not a fine for damages. But even at that there is an attempt to place value on the unborn.

You also wrote: 'Psalm 137:9 ("happy are those who take your little ones and dash them against the rock").'

This is in the context of the pagan genocidal practice of slaughtering the upcoming generation of the conquered, in front of their parents for added humiliation and a demonstration of extreme brutality. The verse expresses a longing that the conquerors will receive poetic justice when they become the vanquished under some yet more powerful conquerors, as in "happy are those who take *YOUR* little ones and dash *THEM* against the rock".

And you wrote: "I agree with LeeQuod"

Ah, there is hope for you yet, Grasshopper. :-)

Rolley Haggard

Among other things, this discussion raises the question, “what exactly does it mean to be ‘biblical’?” A lot of folks seem to think it means that if a premise isn’t provable by biblical proof texts, it isn’t biblical and therefore it isn’t true. But that definition reduces the quest for truth to whatever the bible speaks to emphatically. Yet clearly, the bible not only doesn’t speak to everything, it was never intended to.

The purpose of the bible is, as the bible itself states in numerous places such as John 20:31, “...that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.” Anything else we may learn from the bible (and there is a great deal, indeed) is “added, at no extra charge”. But everything that is in the bible supports the single basic purpose of testifying directly or indirectly of Christ: “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27). “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39)

Thus to try and prove myriad things such as the moment a person becomes a person, and the criminality of abortion and slavery and so forth is to try and make a dollar out of 99 cents. It is to presuppose that the bible’s purpose is to cover all moral matters with emphatic teaching so that there are no moral gray areas. But the bible is not a “Morality for Dummies” handbook. It is a tutor, a guide, a shepherd to lead us to and keep us close to Christ. It touches on many moral issues, but all of that is subservient to the goal of “shutting us up to faith” in Christ (Galatians 3:23).

We mustn’t forget the maxim that “everything in the bible is truth, but not all truth is in the bible.” God also gave us a conscience, the law written on the heart, common sense, intuition, instinct, the scientific method, reason, logic, the Socratic method, consensus, and a host of other tools effective for discerning, formulating, and articulating truth. Nothing that is true will contradict what is in the bible, but we must not expect that the bible will unequivocally corroborate everything we conclude is true. That is not its purpose.

So what then is a proper definition of what it means to be “biblical”? I have suggested what it is not – it is not solely “what can be emphatically proven from the bible.” What then is it? In short, any proposition that is explicitly taught, indirectly implied, or justly inferred from plain biblical texts or clear biblical principles. And if it does not fall under any of those categories, then so long as it is not in conflict with anything that is clearly taught, implied, or inferred from the bible, it may in fact be complementary to the bible, and therefore acceptable until or unless it is discovered to be in conflict. Thus, to be “biblical” is to be in harmony with all that is in the bible, and to be in conflict with nothing that is in the bible. It does not mean one cannot or should not be dogmatic about things for which the bible produces no proof texts. The bible itself gives us more liberty than that, as Philippians 4:8 demonstrates --

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

The reason I and others are dogmatic on abortion and myriad other moral issues upon which the scriptures are not emphatic is not because we are less “biblical”. It is because we understand what being “biblical” really means. It means letting the bible have its intended purpose in our lives; i.e., letting it lead us beyond the law to the Lawgiver. The Lawgiver tells us, even as He showed us on the cross, that sacrificial love for others is the fulfillment of all morality. If we love all others as Christ loved us, we fulfill the law, for “love does no wrong to a neighbor.” (Reread Romans 13:8-10 for the first time!)

I daresay we will NEVER know with scientific certainty, prior to the return of Christ, when ensoulment takes place. Does that mean we should be ambivalent about it happening at conception? To conclude so is to adopt the same criminally disingenuous position taken by those who thirty-six years ago sided with the Supreme Court when it legalized abortion on the premise that “we cannot determine when life begins.” We all knew good and well back then what science only later corroborated – life begins at conception. Certain truths are self-evident. They don’t have to be proven in the laboratory. But we took guilty refuge in what we called “lack of proof”, not because we wanted to honor truth, but because we saw that if we made dogmatism contingent upon unequivocal scientific or biblical pronouncements, we could justify immoral behaviors that we were loath to relinquish (i.e., irresponsible sexual activity).

Anyone, especially a Christian, who claims agnosticism on the question of when a person becomes a person is not thinking biblically. In fact, they are not thinking at all. They are merely being led by their sinful lusts. Otherwise, why would they not want to err on the side of ensoulment at conception?

Ben W

Rolley, I agree with you oh so much until the last two paragraphs. You switch from the many different ways of discerning truth - conscience, prayer, the Bible, logic and reason, and consensus to "it's self-evident". But it's not! And to blame the other side's difference of beliefs on their sinful lusts is just intellectually sloppy. This is an excuse used throughout the ages, and it only demonizes the other side and closes the discussion.

The best answer I can give to your question ("why would they not want to err on the side of ensoulment at conception?") is that there's just zero reason to believe that ensoulment happens then. As there is a complete lack of any evidence (biblically, logically, or scientifically), why would we believe it "just to be safe"?
But why stop there? Look at the other things that some people "err on the side of caution" on: Alcohol, caffeine, electricity, burkas.

If we're worried about thwarting God's will for a future human being, shouldn't we avoid birth control also? If ensoulment happens at conception, which one of a set of identical twins has the soul? (and likewise for other clones). But if a soul is tied into a person's mind (as has always made the most sense to me), there is no foundation for a soul before the mind has formed.

Jason Taylor

"But why stop there? Look at the other things that some people "err on the side of caution" on: Alcohol, caffeine, electricity, burkas. "

Drunkenness is not the same as murder.

Thelma

"Fetus" is a Latin word. It translates, "young, offspring, little one," not blobs of tissue. Replace all above instances of "fetus" with "offspring" and watch logic win.

Rolley Haggard

Ben,

I assure you I have no desire or intention to demonize and I apologize if I came across that way. But neither do I want to discard a legitimate line of reasoning that might explain why some are so hasty in defending abortion. After all, the bible does say that the fallen human heart is more deceitful than anything and is desperately sick. With measured understatement I daresay the case can be made that sex has the capacity to distort objectivity. I merely wanted to make that point.

Surely you won’t deny that blindness, induced by selfish motivation, sometimes enters into one’s “beliefs”. As I understand it, many Germans truly believed that the cold-blooded extermination of Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, and the mentally handicapped was justly warranted. Apparently “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were not things “self-evident” to them. How ignorant of our founding fathers to presume such a thing. I’m being sarcastic not to alienate but to illustrate: If people can deny “self-evidentiary truth” once, they can do it a second time.

What I meant by “erring on the side of caution” is this – that even if there is only a remote chance that ensoulment happens at conception, why would we want to risk it? Are people’s lives “no big deal?” Your argument suggests we ought to err on the side of assuming it is not a person until proven so. Why not err on the side of assuming it is a person until proven otherwise? Consider -- if I’m wrong, all that happens is we let a natural process that will certainly produce a person continue. But if you’re wrong, we take an innocent life. When the stakes are that high, shouldn’t we err on the safe side?

Abortion is not the same as birth control. Abortion destroys life. Birth control (i.e., other than an abortifacient) merely prevents life. There is a commandment that says “thou shalt not kill”. There is no commandment that says “thou shalt not use contraceptives.”

My recommendation: let conscience speak. Even if we differ on particulars and shades of certainty, we can and should still take what is clearly the high road.

Ben W

"With measured understatement I daresay the case can be made that sex has the capacity to distort objectivity. I merely wanted to make that point."

Consider it well-made, and I extend my apologies if I misrepresented you. I would also posit, though, that religious belief also has the capacity to distort objectivity, Christians not excluded.

Using common sense or intuition as a means of argument cuts both ways - as evil as the Nazis were in ignoring self-evident truths, it was also once considered self-evident that women were the weaker gender, that African-Americans were a lower race, and that mice arose spontaneously from decaying hay.

About erring on the side of caution, I will attempt to answer your question with a question. If you were talking to a Hindu who was trying convince you to become a vegetarian, who said that killing animals for meat was murder and encouraged you to err on the side of caution with regard to the souls in animals, what would you say?

If birth control does not destroy life, what happens to the egg that would have been fertilized? Wasn't it alive? And if we're worried about the "person-that-would-have-been", doesn't birth control attempt to thwart God's will in this? (this last question directed more at Steve than Rolley).


Jason said, "Drunkenness is not the same as murder."

True. But caffeine may be manslaughter - at least, if we're considering fetii as persons:
Two cups of coffee a day doubles miscarriage risk:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080121080402.htm

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