A Christian Conservative Goes to College, part 8 (Critical Thinking and the Abortion Debate continued)

Stephen J. Drain's picture

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20, NASB).
I have mentioned how the Critical Thinking Class seemed geared towards attacking conservative positions and Christian beliefs; in particular, one of the major assignments was for the class to read two major pro-abortion arguments, A Defense of Abortion by Judith Jarvis Thomson and The Moral and Legal Status of Abortion by Mary Anne Warren.[1] My last column was a minor critique of Thomson’s argument, but should I leave Ms. Warren to her own devices? As the Apostle Paul often wrote: “May it never be!”

In Warren’s argument, it appears she is responding to an argument by someone named John Noonan.[2] (The Noonan argument was not provided for us, nor mentioned in class; therefore I cannot comment on it.) The “pro-life” argument that Warren is attacking reads as follows (in her wording): “the traditional argument [is] that since (1) it is wrong to kill innocent human beings, and (2) fetuses are innocent human beings, then (3) it is wrong to kill fetuses.” Her argument follows with an attack on premise one above (“…it is wrong to kill innocent human beings...”). Her line of attack is against the term “human being.” What does it mean to be a human being? Is the term given to “a full-fledged member of the moral community,” she asks, or is it given “exclusively to members of the species Homo sapiens? She then arbitrarily, in my opinion, makes an exclusion: “It is not to be confused with what we call the genetic sense, i.e., the sense in which any member of the species is a human being…”
My question is, “Why not?” After all, what if the definition of human being encompasses any one or any combination of the three: 1. a member of the moral community, 2. a Homo Sapien, and 3. a genetic human. (Though I am confused as to how numbers 2 and 3 are different. I’m sure those of you smarter than me might be able to explain the difference.)
But she has already drawn a box and now attempts to force the reader into it. It will only be innocent full-fledged members of the moral community who have a right to life, who should not be killed. Thus I believe that her attempt to define what the pro-life argument is (above) and then writing a whole paper pouring her own meanings into the first premise is nothing less than her creating a straw man[3] argument. Why not let the pro-life people define their first premise.
Still, her argument says that we (society) are not obliged to protect all genetic human beings, only that we are obliged to protect full-fledged members of the moral community. She builds upon her assumed[4] and false starting point. She focuses only on what a moral human might be. “The suggestion,” she writes, “is simply that the moral community consists of all and only people, rather than all and only human beings.” Thus she next  works to define the term “person” all the while attempting to force the reader into her created construct and definitions, but one could, of course, reject her construct.
Warren argues that at least two of the following are required for personhood: Consciousness, reasoning, self-motivated activity, communication, and self-awareness. She concludes that since an embryo or fetus does not have any of the above, it is therefore not a person. And so she writes, “Actual persons have rights. Potential people do not have rights.”
So I return to my argument, what if the definition of human being encompasses any one or any combination of the three: 1. a member of the moral community, 2. a Homo Sapien, and 3. a genetic human. Perhaps the pro-life argument is as simple as stating the first premise as “It is wrong to kill an unborn genetic human being.” But, of course, she could then say, “Sez who?”[5] Here many Christians answer, “God says” and they attempt to make a biblical case which, most likely, would not be accepted by those who do not believe. Thus Arthur Leff essentially said that, without God, “there is today no way of ‘proving’ that napalming babies is bad except by asserting it (in a louder and louder voice)…”[6]
As I read her argument for class, I wrote the following note in the margin of her paper (edited): “BTW, if she believes that a fetus is not a person we have to behave morally towards, then why not use it as a food source?” Will she argue that it is not necessarily wrong to kill an unborn genetic human but it is not okay to eat an unborn genetic human? Why or why not? Would she now argue that there are some things we just should not do to a genetic human being, or that doing such a thing to the “fruit of the womb” would be immoral or disgusting or depraved? I think most Christians would believe that abortion, in most cases, is just as immoral, depraved, and disgusting.
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done” (Romans 1:28).
Back to her personhood argument: A fetus does not have consciousness? How do we know this? Does a person in a coma have one? Do we know that a fetus does not have the ability to reason on some level? How complex does the ability to reason have to be? By her definition, would not infants potentially be non-persons then as well? And what about the person in a coma? In fact, in response to every one of her personhood arguments I would ask, what about a person in a coma?
But she answers this: “Some human beings are not people, and there may well be people who are not human beings. A man or woman whose consciousness has been permanently obliterated but who remains alive is a human being which is no longer a person; defective human beings, with no appreciable mental capacity, are not and presumably never will be people; and a fetus is a human being which is not yet a person and which therefore cannot coherently be said to have full moral rights…. To ascribe full moral rights to an entity which is not a person is as absurd as to ascribe moral obligations and responsibilities to such an entity.” So, I ask, why not just kill the comatose, those “defective” human beings, or even infants? Sounds like Nazi Germany now. (I have tripped over Godwin’s Law.[7] I’m sorry; I could not avoid it!)
She responds with the argument that a fetus may respond to pain or that its brain is active by saying that the same can be said for some animals. “Thus, in the relevant respects, a fetus, even a fully developed one, is considerably less personlike than is the average mature mammal, indeed the average fish…. It cannot be said to have any more right to life than, let us say, a newborn guppy (which also seems capable of feeling pain), and that a right of that magnitude could never override a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, at any stage of her pregnancy.” Of course the horror and revulsion that many readers will feel when reading her words above is understandable. As Larry Norman[8] once wrote, “We kill unborn children and cry ‘Save the whales.’”
Warren makes plenty of unsubstantiated presuppositions in what she writes, for instance this “woman’s right to obtain an abortion,” why is that an assumed right? And if it is not a God-given right, then it is a society-given right… and if it is a society-given right, it could be revoked and/or changed; thus she could never say that the rights of the unborn “could never override a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, at any stage of her pregnancy” (emphasis added). Laws based on mankind’s whims could change at any time.
Apparently Warren is a “Society Says Relativist,”[9]; she seems to believe that society decides what is moral and what is not. Note the italic part of the following quote. (Actually, take in this entire quote, as her admission is quite remarkable.), “One of the most troubling objections to the argument presented in this article is that it may well appear to justify not only abortion but infanticide as well…. There are many reasons why infanticide is much more difficult to justify than abortion, even though if my argument is correct neither constitutes the killing of a person. In this country, and in this period of history, the deliberate killing of viable newborns is virtually never justified” (emphasis added). In other words, it might not always have been, nor may it always be wrong to kill a “viable” infant. (And what a loaded word “viable” is!)
She writes, “Nor, finally, is the frequently heard argument that legalizing abortion, especially late in the pregnancy, may erode the level of respect for human life, leading, perhaps, to an increase in unjustified euthanasia and other crimes. For this threat, if it is a threat, can be better met by educating people…” By educating people, huh? And who is to do the educating? The Society Says Relativists? People who have lost their moral compasses like Mary Anne Warren? People “who call evil good and good evil… who turn darkness into light and light into darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). People “whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (2 Timothy 4:2, NIV).
She goes on to say that as long as our society “feels” value for the lives of infants and is even willing to pay taxes to support orphanages, “it is wrong to destroy any infant which has a chance of living a reasonable satisfactory life.” Wow! So if society “feels” this way, then it is morally wrong to kill an infant. “Thus,” she continues, “while the moment of birth may not mark any sharp discontinuity in the degree to which an infant possesses a right to life, it does mark the end of the mother’s absolute right to determine it’s fate.” A mother’s absolute right? What a presumptuous, unproven statement. I ask again, “Who owns the house?”[10]
In conclusion, Maryanne Warren relies on a fallacious straw man argument from the beginning. Following on the heels of her straw man argument, she provides only the usual unproven presuppositions. Finally, we find that her moral laws are nothing more than relativism disguised as the almighty human reasoning. Three strikes and she’s out.
So let wisdom speak:
“[My] voice calls to all mankind. You who are naive, discern wisdom! And you fools, understand discernment…. I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil…. So now, children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways…. For the one who finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But the one who does not find me brings harm to himself; all who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8).
And some have called ours a culture of death…
Please see my first column on this topic: "Critical Thinking and the Abortion debate"
Feel free to peruse my other colums at http://blogs.bible.org/blog/26077

Read it here: http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/warren_article.html

[2] Possibly it is John T. Noonan, Jr., who wrote something entitled The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_T._Noonan,_Jr.

[3] “A straw man is a component of an argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.[1] To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man).

[4] Presupposition, remember?

[5] “Sez Who?” is a theory about morality by agnostic Arthur Leff: “Leff attempts to directly address whether a normative morality can exist without God. Leff answers the question in the negative. Leff states that absent an ultimate authority figure (i.e. God) handing down moral laws from on-high there is no reason for any person to prefer one set of behavior identified as "moral" to another. Leff terms this ‘the Grand Sez Who’" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Allen_Leff)

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Allen_Leff

[7] “Godwin's law (also known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies) is a humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1990 that has become an Internet adage. It states: ‘As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (100%)’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law).

[8] http://larrynorman.com/bio.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Norman

[9] “Society Says Relativism, also known as conventionalism or normative ethical relativism, teaches that all people ought to act in keeping with their own society’s code. What is right for one society isn’t necessarily right for another. People ought to do whatever their ‘society says’ to do” (from page 37 of Relativism, Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, copyright 1998, published by Baker Books).

[10] See my previous column in this series.


A very long, but excellent rebuttal against abortion "rights." Quoting Larry Norman writing, “We kill unborn children and cry ‘Save the whales’” is reminiscent of the Casting Crowns lyrics "we're sung to sleep by philosophies, that save the trees and kill the children." PETA is campaigning against fishing because fish feel pain when they are hooked using the tag line, "don't let your kids become hookers." These same far-left liberals will then defend a woman's "right" to have a doctor remove her unborn child, which has also been proven to feel pain. True, rational critical thinking is woefully absent from society today.

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