Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Opening The Casket

The political landscape has changed in this country. The consequences of these changes -- especially for the unborn -- are not hopeful. They are horrific. We need to stand up and do something about it. I don't say that to lay a guilt trip on anyone. I say it to offer a reality check.

I want to offer a challenge to the pro-life among us (and that includes me) who are educated and aware of the horror of abortion but continue to sit quietly by as it goes on. To do so, I will offer the same challenge that Scott Klusendorf does both in his talks and in his new book, The Case For Life. I want to challenge anyone who reads this to open up the casket on abortion. Here, in Scott's own words, is that challenge:
In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14 year-old Black youth, traveled from Chicago to visit his cousin in the town of Money, Mississippi. Upon arrival, he bragged about his white girl friends back in Chicago. Now this was surprising to his cousin and the cousin’s friends because blacks in Mississippi during the 50s didn’t make eye contact with white people, let alone date them! Both actions were considered disrespectful. Later that day, Emmett, his cousin, and a small group of black males entered Bryant’s Store where, egged-on by the other males, 14-year old Emmett flirted with a 21 year-old white, married woman behind the counter. After purchasing candy, he either whistled at her or said something mildly flirtatious. (Reports vary) The cousin and the others warned him he was in for trouble. A few days later, at 2:00 a.m., Emmett was taken at gunpoint from his uncle’s home by the clerk’s husband and another man. After savagely beating him, they killed him with a single bullet to the head. Emmett’s bloated corpse was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River. A barbed wire fan had been shoved over his head. His face was partially crushed and beaten almost beyond recognition. The local Sheriff placed Emmett’s body in a sealed coffin and shipped it back to his mother in Chicago. When Mamie Till got the body, she made a stunning announcement: There would be an open-casket funeral for her son Emmett. People protested and reminded her how much this would upset everyone. Mamie agreed, but countered, “I want the whole world to see what they did to my boy.” The photo of Emmett’s mangled body in that open casket was published in Jet magazine and it helped launch the Civil Rights Movement in America. Three months later in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus when ordered to do so. She said the image of Emmett Till gave her the courage to stand her ground.
Most Americans are blissfully unaware of the reality of abortion. Their knowledge of it is intellectual (at best) and far removed from anything concrete. So I agree with Scott. Unless people see the reality of abortion, they will never be truly motivated to end it. I offer the following links as a way to bring that reality to the forefront. Click on any one of them and be prepared to gag with revulsion ... and then consider what we all can do to stop it.

"Looking Abortion in the Eye": Father Frank Pavone

Life Training Institute Video and Still Shots

The Abortion Gallery

That's enough ... but there is plenty more. The question is:

What will we do?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Empty Political Yammering

[This is a re-posting from August, 2006 concerning the political argument that is often raised to defend Embryonic Stem Cell Research. Since that time, the congressional candidate I responded to has won election to the U.S. House of Representatives and is currently serving as a freshman Congressman from the 29th District of NY. Unfortunately, his views are still as vacuous as they were 3 years ago ... only now he actually gets to impact the debate by voting. Just another thoughtless politician who uses empty rhetoric to defend his own moral cowardice.]

My former college roommate, who is running for Congress in the 29th District of New York, issued a press release about his stance on Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR) to which I am compelled to respond. I understand Mr. Massa’s zeal for pursuing medical solutions and being “pro-cure” (as he calls himself). As a cancer survivor, Mr. Massa’s sensitivity to these issues is perfectly understandable. I share them. So, I should preface my remarks by saying that I, and many like me, do not in any way oppose stem cell research – as long as it does not entail the destruction of human embryos.

Mr. Massa said that his opponents hold "an extreme, politically convenient belief system that favors frozen, microscopic cells over living human beings. How pro-life is that?" I believe this statement is loaded with inaccuracies and deserves a reasoned response:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Clonefusion on ESCR

Closely related to the ESCR debate is the issue of human cloning. If you don't understand why that is, take a minute to read this piece on the "Confusing Moral Logic of Embryonic Stem Cell Research" by Greg Koukl on the Stand To Reason website.

The gist of it is this: In promoting ESCR as the means to cure every disease, its proponents fail to mention where they will get the embryonic stem cells in which they place so much hope. Simple logic tells us that embryonic stem cell research requires ... embryos -- lots of them. And the way you get lots of embryos is to mass-produce them. This requires lots of eggs from women who get paid to donate them. It also requires that those eggs become fertilized to form the embryos needed to do the research.

The best, most efficient way to produce lots of embryos then, is to create them by removing the egg cell nucleus (which only contains half the DNA needed for a fully formed embryo) and replacing it with a complete set of DNA from the nucleus of a body (somatic) cell -- that is, to insert the somatic cell nucleus into the the de-nucleated egg cell. The scientific term for this procedure is perfectly descriptive of the process -- somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). You may not recognize this term but I can promise you that you have heard it talked about in another way. It is also known as cloning.

Because cloning has such an eerie, science-fiction sound to it, its proponents either avoid using the word altogether or stick softening adjectives in front of it to make it sound more acceptable. So we are conditioned to differentiate between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning, the former being the (so far) unacceptable option that conjures images of a horror film, while the latter offers hope for curing all disease. "It's therapeutic, isn't that cool?"

Here's the thing. There is absolutely no difference in the process that leads to reproductive or therapeutic cloning. They are the same thing. The only difference between the two is in the future of the embryos created by that process. And here we expose the most bizarre immorality of the whole thing: Reproductive cloning is illegal. Therapeutic cloning is just fine. In other words ...

If you artificially create human embryos with the intention of allowing them to live, you will be prohibited from doing so.

But ...

If you artificially create human embryos with the intention of destroying them by tearing them apart to do research, go right ahead.

Don't buy the rhetoric. Remember what the embryo is -- an unborn, unique human person. ESCR is morally repugnant for the same reason abortion is -- it destroys that person. And "therapeutic" cloning is an oxymoron -- especially if you happen to be the embryo whose cells provide the desired "therapy."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stems Sell

Let's be clear about this issue: No one that I know of is against stem cell research. No one.

Disagree? Confused?

That is probably because you have listened to the press report on this issue in ways that are deliberately meant to marginalize the pro-life view as being heartless to those for whom stem cell research (SCR) promises cures. To hold such a view is to be "anti-science" and everyone knows that those who hold to such a view are the same religious zealots who are also "anti-choice" and the same backwoods Neanderthals who think the Earth is only 6000 years old. Anti science no doubt.

Forget the straw man argument against the Creationist label (as a side note, this is why I never refer to myself as a "creationist" when being challenged by someone who wants me to defend my view. They just can't get past the picture in their mind that goes with the title, "Creationist." For that reason I tell them that I am an "Intelligent Design Progressivist" when it comes to the history of life on Earth. They have no idea what that means so invariably they continue to listen, if for no other reason, so that they want to figure out what the heck I'm talking about). Let's just look at a summary of the facts about stem cells ...

The first thing we have to do in the discussion of this issue is be very clear about differentiating between stem cell research (SCR) and embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). All the issues that go into the "when does life begin" discussion as it applies to abortion are exactly the same as those that should be in play with stem cell research. The moral problem is not with stem cells per se, it is with embryonic stem cells. The reasons for this are obvious. Embryonic stem cells come from embryos! What is an embryo? It is not a "thing," it is a stage in the development of a thing -- namely a unique human being.

Embryonic stem cell research destroys unborn human beings. It's as simple as that.

When President Bush signed an executive order that stopped public funding for the creation of new lines of embryonic stem cells (he allowed the 21 lines in existence at the time of his order in 2001 to remain), he agreed to a compromise that allowed continued research on those lines that were already in play. He did not, in any "anti-scientific" way, prohibit stem cell research that was not embryo-destructive.

Our new president recently rescinded Bush's executive order so that ESCR will no longer be prohibited. Why would he do that? I believe there are several reasons, most that are related to the idolatry of human autonomy. It is a historically verifiable fact that we humans don't like anyone to tell us what we can or can't do. We're rebellious when it comes to anyone placing moral limits on our actions. Some refer to this human tendency as "The Fall of Man" and to the consequences of this trend "Human History" but that's a topic for a larger discussion.

In this case, some believe we should pursue this scientific area of research simply because we can. But that is not what they will tell you. What they say instead is that the research shows promise for curing all kinds of horrible diseases and that it is therefore a moral imperative we continue with ESCR for that reason. But once again the facts get in the way of the desire. And the facts are these ...

Even if you choose to ignore the most damning reason for allowing ESCR -- the immorality of it -- you still have to contend with the fact that what researchers find most attractive about embryonic stem cells is actually the biggest obstacle to the hope for their success. The cells that are capable of becoming the widest array of different tissues (totipotent and pluripotent stem cells) are also the hardest to manipulate and control. They have been found to create tumors and are actually destructive.

Meanwhile, the more differentiated kinds of cells (multipotent) which are derived from cord blood, placenta and adult tissues, are actually giving the most promising results. Chuck Colson recently commented on this topic (here) but the list of successes that have come from adult stem cells is extensive (detail here) and includes:
  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Heart Tissue Regeneration
  • Corneal Reconstruction
  • Autoimmune Disease Treatment: Diabetes, Lupus, Crohn's, Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Anemias, Cancers, and Immune Deficiencies, and Other Diseases
From the most recent count I've seen, the final tally is this:

Successful Adult Stem Cell therapies -- 73 (and rising)

Successful Embryonic Stem Cell therapies -- 0

So, if both morality and progress work against the pursuit of ESCR, why is it still pushed so hard? That's a question you have to ask yourself. But when you do, remember that grant money and the promise of financial payoff carry a lot of weight with those who also practice the idolatry of human autonomy. When you add those two motivators together, morality and success quickly become irrelevant.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The S-L-E-D Test

If you are ever in a discussion with an pro-abortionist who attempts to make the case that the unborn are in some way different from other human beings and therefore fall under a category that does not require the protection we give to those who actually can defend themselves, there is an easy way to help them clarify the indefensibility of their position. It's simple to remember and it goes like this ...

The differences between you and an unborn human being can be summarized as falling under one of the following four categories, none of which qualify as justification for taking its life:

Size
Yes, the unborn is smaller than you. But you are also smaller than Shaquille Oneal. Does that mean you are somehow less valuable than Shaq? Does the size of a thing define its worth? Let's hope not.

Level of Development
Yes, the unborn is less developed than you. But so is a 3 year-old little girl less developed than her 35 year-old mother. Does her level of development make the 3 year-old less worthy of life than her mother?

Environment
Location, location, location. It may define value in real estate, but it certainly does not do so in the measure of our humanity. Does where you are define what you are? If I move from the family room to the driveway, am I somehow less valuable as a human being? The answer is obvious -- just as obvious as the fact that moving several inches down the birth canal does not somehow increase the value of the human being who, moments before, resided in his mother's womb.

Degree of Dependency
Yes, the unborn is more dependent on its mother than a grown man. But how does one's level of dependency change one's value as a human being? Left alone in the woods behind your house, your 3 year-old child would most certainly die of exposure and starvation. He is fully dependent on you, his parent, to survive. How is it that you would charge someone who did such a thing with negligent homicide, yet you use the same logic to rationalize abortion?

Obviously, these four criteria do not in any way serve to define a difference in value between those the pro-abortionist will not protect and those they will -- those, say, like themselves. The SLED test is a quick and powerful way to make that point.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Philosophical Case For Life

If the scientific case is so airtight, how do pro-abortionists justify their position? They do so by a disguised appeal to a philosophical issue that they believe makes the scientific case irrelevant. They try to make a distinction between a human being and a human person. Though common sense would seem to make this a distinction without a difference (have you ever met a human being who was not a human person?), this is a distinction we must address.

So, what is it that they claim makes someone a "person"? Most everyone I have heard/read about claims that self-awareness or consciousness is the instrumental property that constitutes personhood. That is, unless you are aware that you are alive and kicking in some fashion, you cannot be a human person. Consider the consequences that follow from such a claim ...

If I am asleep, I am not a human person. If I get knocked out in a boxing match, I am not a human person. If I am under sedation for surgery, I am not a human person. You get the picture. One could think up an enormous number of situations in which our acceptance of this argument as justification for taking the life of an unborn human being can also logically lead to justification for taking your life in situations when it would clearly be wrong to do so. It sure sounds like there must be something inherently wrong with this kind of argument. What is wrong is that those who use this argument to justify abortion are misapplying the properties that make human being valuable at all.

Notice above that I emphasized consciousness as an "instrumental" property -- that is an accidental property (like skin color, sex, age, reasoning ability, height etc.) that does not define our value us as human beings based on what we are but rather defines our worth based on what we can do or how we look. This is an important distinction. The pro-life claim (which, by the way, does not depend on the Bible to support it) is that human beings are valuable in virtue of the kind of thing they are -- their ontological status in philosopher-speak. So, in the case of the unborn, their status as a member of the human family prohibits the unjustified taking of their life, not the fact that that they may, or may not, be conscious.

Very few abortion rights advocates are capable of living with the ramifications of their stated view. But one is. His name is Peter Singer. Dr. Singer, in his book Practical Ethics, argues that infants, based on the fact that they are not yet "conscious," can be killed by the attending physician (or anyone else) for any reason from the moment of birth for 30 days. One has to wonder how Mr. Singer draws the arbitrary line at 30 days? Why not 45 days? Or 90? Or 365? His view is horrific but at least he is consistent. If consciousness is the criteria for personhood there are a lot of people at risk as we speak who have probably never considered that those who would kill an unborn baby, if they were also consistent, could use the same justification for murdering them.

Next time, a simple argument that shows the power of the pro-life position as it relates to any pro-abortion argument based on the instrumental value of human beings ...

Bizkit the Sleep Walking Dog

No explanation required

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Scientific Case Against Abortion

Recently, over at the LTI-Blog, the team critiqued an RHReality Check video that, in part, claimed that "there is no actual scientific moment at which life begins." Really?

Instead of listening to empty assertions about science, let's just look at ... oh, I don't know ... what the scientists trained in these areas actually have to say about it:
  • "[The Zygote] results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm ... unites with a female gamete or oocyte ... to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual." (The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 6th ed. Keith L. Moore, Ph.D. & T.V.N. Persaud, Md., (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1998), pp. 2-18)
  • "It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual."(Human Embryology, 3rd ed. Bradley M. Patten, (New York: McGraw Hill, 1968), 43.)
  • The zygote thus formed represents the beginning of a new life." (Biological Principles and Modern Practice of Obstetrics. J.P. Greenhill and E.A. Friedman, (Philadelphia: W.B. Sanders, 1974), p. 17)
  • "Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition." (Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3d ed. E.L. Potter and J.M. Craig, (Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975), p. vii)
  • Prior to his acceptance of unrestricted abortion on demand, Planned Parenthood’s former president Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone, much less a medical doctor, would not know this. “This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.” (Life in the Making, Viking Press, 1933.)
  • Dr. Landrum Shettles, the first scientist to successfully achieve fertilization in a test-tube, writes that, "Fertilization confers and defines life."
  • Prominent feminist Naomi Wolf, in an article for the New Republic, said to her fellow pro-choice advocates: "Clinging to rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death, we entangle our beliefs in a series of self-delusions, fibs and evasions." ("Our Bodies, Our Souls,” New Republic, Oct. 16 1995)
  • Psychologist and pro-choice advocate Magda Denes wrote, "I do think abortion is murder – of a very special and necessary sort. And no physician ever involved with the procedure ever kids himself about that." (“The Question of Abortion” Commentary 62, December 1976)
There are more, but the point is this: Scientists know exactly when life begins. If you are ever challenged with the old canard, "No one really knows when life begins," please do not let it pass without a firm rebuttal. Your average person may not realize it but the abortion choice crowd certainly does (especially those like the young lady who appears in the RHReality video linked above): This is nothing but a smokescreen meant to avoid the issue. This is not the opinion of the pro-life advocate and it certainly is not a claim from the Bible. This what doctors are taught in their embryology text books.

Scientifically, the embryo is a unique, distinct, whole human being from the moment of conception. Where the abortion choicers have learned to shade the issue is not in the scientific debate, it is in the philosophical debate about the difference between a human being and a human person.

More on that issue next time ...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pro Life Resources

As I approach the topic of pro-life apologetics this month, I also want to offer a list of good resources that you can use to follow up on some of these issues for yourself. Below are some of the best I know about. Click on any of the blue links to go directly to the resource listed. Please feel free to recommend additions to this list ...

Books

Beckwith, Francis. Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice
Klusendorf, Scott. The Case For Life (Coming March 31, 2009!)
George, Robert. Embryo: A Defense of Human Life
Fredenburg, Michaelene. Changed

Video/Audio/Presentations

Life Training Institute: Presentation resources
LTI Podcast: Weekly podcast addressing pro-life issues in the news (also available on iTunes)
Stand To Reason: Comprehensive list of bioethics papers, commentaries and other resources
Evidence For God: Papers and Powerpoints on Pro-Life topics
STR YouTube Videos: Search for the topic of your choice
Common Ground Without Compromise: Steve Wagner (of STR) offers techniques for discussing abortion
Making Abortion Unthinkable: Koukl & Klusendorf demonstrate how to articulate the pro-life position

Websites

Life Training Institute: The website of Scott Klusendorf - information, documents, speaking schedule
LTI-Blog: Blogsite of the Life Training Institute
JivinJehoshaphat: A young pro-lifer's blog -- good takes on the issues
Jill Stanek: Former nurse who witnessed abortion firsthand, now a committed pro-life activist
LifeSiteNews.com : Worldwide news source on life issues
Abortion Changes You: Michaelene Fredenburg's site - focus on the personal impact of abortion
Abort73.com: Practical information on the case against abortion and ways to help

Friday, March 6, 2009

Jonathan Krohn Addresses CPAC

If Obama doesn't need a birth certificate to prove his nationality, does this kid need one to prove his age?

KROHN 2012 !

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Am Pro-Choice ... But Please Keep Reading

My friend Scott Klusendorf is among the best pro-life apologists on the planet. I say 'among the best' only because I haven't heard them all -- but he's the best I've ever heard speak. His new book, The Case For Life, will be out in just a few weeks and, after getting a sneak preview of it, all I can say is that anyone who wants to promote and advance the pro-life cause to save the unborn has got to read it. Scott makes the complex simple, and the pro-life case clear.

What may be surprising to many is that Scott is unabashedly pro-choice. I share that view with him and you can see him defend it here: (Scott at Gordon College)

I believe that women should be free to choose their doctor, their profession, their husband, their recreational activities, where they live ... They should be free to choose everything about their lives. Everything, that is, except choices that are morally wrong ... choices that deny others the same kinds of liberty women enjoy for themselves ... choices like having an abortion. So, to those who attempt to label the pro-life movement as being "anti-choice," your objection rings hollow. Abortion is not a question of freedom of choice. It is a question of moral right and wrong.

Because there aren't enough Scott Klusendorfs in this world, I have taken it upon myself to try to articulate the pro-life position through my own little sphere of influence. This month I am teaching a 4-week course at my church about "Defending Life" and I am using a lot of Scott's material. In that class we started out discussing the fact that the Bible doesn't seem to help us out much on the issues of life. For instance, the Bible never specifically mentions: when life begins, abortion, stem cell research, or euthanasia. The question is: Does that mean that the Bible is silent on these issues?

I think not.

There is no doubt that the Bible unequivocally promotes the value of human life from beginning to end. We Christians believe that value to have its source in our being made in God's image. Through the words of David in the Psalms, the prophets in the Old Testament, and Jesus himself, there is no doubt about this fact. Being made in God's image is what sets us apart from the rest of the creation. It is what allows us to contemplate the divine and have a relationship of any kind with our Creator. It is what makes us unique -- and valuable. So, if you are a Christian, the Imago Dei is enough. But it is not enough for everyone.

Those who rely on the Bible alone to make the case for life will be in deep trouble when they try to take that case outside the church. But take the case outside the church we must. To do so requires that we not rely so much on the Bible. Some folks cringe when I (or others) say that but I don't see any way of getting around it. Those who promote abortion on demand don't care what the Bible says. So our work is cut out for us.

But that's OK -- we have science, philosophy and politics on our side too.