Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Kinsley, IVF, and Embryo Destruction"

Michael Kinsley (former editor of the LA Times editorial page, Slate, and the New Republic) writes on Science Fiction: What Pro-lifers Are Missing in the Stem-cell Debate. He suggests that pro-lifers are caught in an inconsistency, namely, they oppose embryonic stem-cell research but there is little controversy about in-vitro fertilization and test-tube babies. Key quote:

"In short, if embryos are human beings with full human rights, fertility clinics are death camps—with a side order of cold-blooded eugenics. No one who truly believes in the humanity of embryos could possibly think otherwise."

Al Mohler
and Joe Carter have both responded to Kinsley's piece--and both agree that he is correct with regard to this inconsistency.

"Inconsistency arguments" are routinely used in public rhetoric, and we should recognize them for what they are, namely, arguments that point out that it is incompatible to hold Position A while simultaneously holding Position B. But we should also recognize the limitations of such arguments, for the rhetorician is often trying to argue something more than that.

Let me explain, letting Position A stand for belief that "all abortion is evil." One could propose a number of things for Position B, for example, the belief that "the death penalty is just." All that the inconsistency argument can attempt to show is that given certain principles, it is logically incompatible to support both A and B.

But the argument doesn't in itself show that A is wrong, for (1) one could be wrong about A but right about B; (2) one could be right about A but wrong about B. (One could also show that the logical consistency is only apparent: for example, in the above case, the compatible principle between opposing abortion and supporting the death penalty would not be that "all taking of life is wrong" but "all taking of innocent life is wrong.")

Applying to the Slate article at hand, Kinsley suggests that if you oppose embryonic stem-cell research, you should also oppose things like IVF. That very well may be true, but it doesn't suggest in the least that pro-lifers are wrong about ESCR--only that they are wrong about IVF.