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Monday, May 13, 2013

A Philosophical Response to Abolish Human Abortion

This will be a follow-up to my previous article on Abolish Human Abortion, which you can find here. Specifically, I’ll be responding to their article “I Argue from Science, Not Religion...written by AHA member Brian Biggs.

Brian says that he understands why we would use a purely secular approach to our conversations with pro-choice people, although he calls our approach “reductionist.” The definition of reductionism is “the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it.” While the circumstances of abortion may be very complex, the morality of it is really quite simple. We are not distorting it at all, merely focusing the conversation on the central question, namely “what is the unborn?” As Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason argues, if the unborn are not valuable human beings, then no justification for abortion is necessary. But if the unborn are valuable human beings, then no justification for abortion is adequate. One does not need to be a Christian to see that killing innocent human beings because they’re in the way is wrong.

The problem with this article is that it’s written from a purely presuppositional position. Presuppositionalism, as it stands, may be convincing to the believer him- or herself, but it will not be convincing to someone who doesn’t share their presuppositions. I’m not saying that all presuppositional arguments are bad, necessarily, but in order to be convincing you can’t just rely on arguments from the Bible. After all, Christian philosophers have a long, proud history of using arguments from science and philosophy in order to argue for God’s existence. On Mars Hill, Paul, in Acts 17, reasoned with the Romans not from the Scriptures, but from natural arguments. He even quoted their own secular poets in his sermon. It is not always necessary to argue from Scripture to convince someone of the pro-life position (or even that God exists). Paul, himself, even wrote elsewhere that “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). We must be ready with arguments from general revelation, depending on the person that we’re talking to.

As Thomas Aquinas once noted, all truth is God’s truth. Brian fails to recognize that there are two sources of truth: General revelation, which Millard Erickson describes as “God’s communication of Himself to all persons, at all times, and in all places.” Then there’s Special revelation, which Erickson describes as “God’s particular communications and manifestations which are available now only by consultation of certain sacred writings” (Christian Theology, 3 vols., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983, 1:153). In other words, general revelation is what is revealed through nature and can be discovered by studying God’s creation. Special revelation is God’s specific communication to us and from which we can understand things about God that we could not learn from general revelation alone (such as that he exists as a Trinity). God is the God of all creation. Surely one can know that God exists from the existence of the universe, and can learn certain things about it (such as discovering the moral law, that abortion is wrong, etc.). However, the Gospel is required to make us aware that we need to be saved from the wrong things that we have done, that God will hold us accountable but has provided salvation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

So a Christian pro-lifer does not actively seek to leave the Gospel out of our discussions on abortion, but neither is it required to convince someone that abortion is wrong. If abortion is wrong, it’s wrong regardless of whether or not the Bible teaches that it’s wrong, and this contention can be supported apart from Biblical arguments.

So no, we are not abandoning the Christian worldview. In fact, by arguing from science and philosophy, we are reinforcing it.

Then Brian makes a baffling statement: “When you pit science against religion, or when you insist on arguing without any reference to God, you deny at least one of three important theological truths: God’s aseity, his act of creation, or his sovereignty.” Brian is not using God’s aseity correctly. Arguing with philosophical arguments has nothing at all to do with God's aseity. Plus, as I’ll argue below, by discounting scientific and philosophical arguments, Brian (and by extension, AHA) are actually discounting God’s sovereignty, not upholding it. Plus, I think it's worth pointing out that for the last two-thousand years, science has largely been a Christian endeavor. Christians set out to learn and understand the universe that God created. Before about 100 years ago, the scientists were also the theologians and philosophers, who believed they could better understand God not by simply perusing the Scriptures, but also by understanding His very creation.

Brian is correct that God is self-sufficient and not dependent on anyone else outside of himself. But this says nothing about God’s work in creation, and this is not what God’s aseity entails. As J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig explain, “Aseity...refers to God’s self-existence or independence. God does not merely exist in every possible world (as great as that is) but, even more greatly, he exists in every world wholly independent of anything else. The Scriptures affirm the preexistence of the divine Word...God is unique in his aseity; all other things exist ab alio (through another)” (Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2003, p. 504). In other words, God’s aseity means that God necessarily exists and is not dependent on anyone else for his existence (as we are, as contingent beings). While this is supported in Scripture, as Moreland and Craig indicate, the doctrine of divine aseity has been developed by Christian philosophers like Leibniz and Anselm.

When God designed the world, he designed the physical laws that govern it, but he didn’t create the moral law. In fact, that's a position that Christians should not hold. Consider the Euthyphro Dilemma, named for a character from one of Plato's dialogues. William Lane Craig explains what this dilemma entails: "Is something good because God wills it, or does God will something because it is good? If you say that something is good because God wills it, then what is good becomes arbitrary...But if you say that God wills something because it is good, then what is good or bad is independent of God." (William Lane Craig, On Guard, David C. Cook Publications, Colorado Springs, CO, 2010, p.135). So if the first horn of the dilemma is true, certain things are wrong only because God says they are, which means that morality is not objective, but subjective based on the whims of God. But if the second horn is true, then God is not sovereign because he is subject to a higher law. If what AHA says is true, then they are taking the first horn of the dilemma (that God created the moral law), which means that their argument entails that morality is not really objective (and Brian may simply be unaware of the implication of his statement).

So how does one solve the Euthyphro Dilemma? By realizing that it's actually a false dilemma. There is a third option, which Christian philosophers argue, that "God wills something because he is good...God's own nature is the standard of goodness, and His commandments to us are expressions of His nature. In short, our moral duties are determined by the commands of a just and loving God. So moral values are not independent of God because God's own character defines what is good. God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so on. His nature is the moral standard defining good and bad. Therefore, they're not arbitrary...God wills something because He is good, and something is right because God wills it" (ibid., pp. 135-136, emphases me).

God can use any arguments to show that he exists. By limiting your arguments to only arguments that contain the Gospel, you are limiting God’s sovereignty by saying that God can’t work through natural arguments. But many Atheists have been converted by natural arguments apart from the Gospel, such as C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel. So of course, God is sovereign over the whole world (and in fact, over the whole universe). This just means that all of reality is evidence of God, not just the words contained in Scripture.

God is the ultimate standard of good. But this doesn’t mean that only Christians can recognize it. If there is an objective moral code, it’s objective for everybody (objective just means independent of the human mind). Just like Atheists can recognize the physical laws set in motion by God, they can recognize the moral law that God has placed on everyones’ hearts (Romans 2).

So wisdom means tailoring your message to your audience. Not everyone will be receptive to the Gospel, but just about everyone will be receptive to secular arguments against abortion. If your goal is to change hearts and minds on abortion, changing the culture’s mind about God is not necessary (and probably not even possible). After all, this country is now more secular than ever, even though we did end up abolishing slavery. The United States did not become a Christian nation before abolishing slavery.

Saying that we must bring up the Gospel in all of our discussions about abortion is to have a clear ignorance about our culture. People, now more than ever, require arguments from general revelation before they can be receptive to Biblical arguments. They need to have good reason to even suppose God exists before they will take religious arguments seriously.

So it’s not about avoiding being mocked for our faith, it’s about “becoming all things to all men,” as I think I once heard somewhere. It’s about using wisdom in our discussions and using arguments that will be convincing, since converting someone to Christianity does not guarantee a pro-life convert. And for the record, I’ve convinced more people on the spot to become pro-life from only going over the scientific evidence of human development than giving religious arguments. Of course, those other people may have converted later, I’m just telling you the results I’ve personally seen. One can become pro-life by just seeing the evidence laid out in front of them, but in order to become a Christian requires a radical paradigm shift that is never easy to make.

Also, it’s not that we’re ignorant of the theological arguments. It’s that we’ve seen what works and we go with that. We’re not afraid to talk about our Savior or the Gospel if the situation calls for it, but when we’re out talking about abortion what’s important is to show them why they should oppose abortion. And religious arguments are not required for that.

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