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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Key to Avoiding Red Herrings

I'm currently reading through a book by John S. Feinberg [1] on Modernism and Postmodernism, and he made a claim in his book that I thought would be excellent to share. It's also a point that I've been raising in my presentations on abortion.

Feinberg tells us that there are two reasons that you need to clarify any issue at hand, that you need to think through the logic of the case presented and that if you don't, the case that you are attacking may be only peripheral to the topic at hand. Many thinkers skip the first reason and proceed right to the second. An example of this would be someone who tries to argue against evolution by presenting a case for God, throwing out arguments for God's existence. But that's only a peripheral issue, because even if God exists Evolution could have still happened. So you must address the arguments presented by evolutionists. In their mind, they may be thinking that God's existence would disprove evolution because you don't need naturalistic explanations if God exists, but by throwing out the Cosmological, Teleological, and Moral Arguments, you aren't making the case you think you are.

The abortion issue is similar. In order to adequately argue your pro-life or pro-choice case, you have to present a positive case (that is, a case that supports your position) and possibly a negative case (that is, a case that responds to your opponent's arguments). Good pro-life arguments support the biological humanity and philosophical personhood of the unborn child. Good pro-choice arguments argue that the unborn are not persons or that a woman should not be legally compelled to remain plugged in to the unborn child. When we keep this in mind, it's easy to see how many arguments are peripheral issues (that is, side issues that are affected by the issue at large but by refuting you do not refute the actual position) and don't even respond to the case presented.

Let's take the pro-life position. If a pro-life person makes an argument that the unborn are fully human and fully persons, then arguments about difficult situations, such as poverty, or from personal rights, like the right to choose or privacy, are not an adequate argument for the pro-choice position. If pro-life people are right, and the unborn really are full human persons, then poverty would not justify killing them (as it would not justify killing a human child outside the womb), nor would the rights to choose or of privacy. Conversely, if the pro-choice position succeeds, and the unborn either are not persons or do not have the legal right to remain plugged in to the woman, then a woman can have an abortion for any reason, whether or not we find it indecent, which is, incidentally, a point that Thomson made in her essay A Defense of Abortion. If a pro-choice person is going to respond to a pro-life argument, they must directly attack the case that the unborn are biologically human and philosophically persons and show how they are not, in fact, human or persons.

Now let's take the pro-choice position. If a pro-choice person makes an argument that the unborn are not persons or that a human embryo or fetus does not have the right to be plugged in to a woman against her will, then arguments about how abortions hurt women or how they could adopt a child out will not respond to those arguments. If the unborn really are not persons or do not have the right to remain plugged in, then a woman could logically be allowed to have an abortion to save the pain of bonding with the child then letting him/her go. Also, all surgeries carry an element of risk, so if there is nothing morally wrong with killing the unborn child, then the fact that it hurts some women is not a response to their argument.

This will avoid frustrations in the pro-choice person, who may feel as if they're not being listened to because the pro-life person is responding to a peripheral argument, but not the one being presented. In our attempt to have good, intelligent discussions on the abortion issue, we need to keep in mind what our arguments for the pro-life position are and what arguments pro-choice people present, as well as how to adequately respond to their arguments.

[1] The book I'm reading through is Can You Believe it's True? Christian Apologetics in a Modern & Postmodern Era, but the principle that I'm espousing in this article is one that anyone, religious or non-religious, can benefit from.

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