Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An Interview with Scott Klusendorf

With the upcoming anniversary of Roe v. Wade (Jan. 22 is the 35 year anniversary), I thought it might be helpful to interview Scott Klusendorf, a wise and winsome advocate for the cause of life. Focus on the Family will broadcast Scott's talk Reaching Hearts on Abortion on Jan. 24 and 25. For more info on Scott and his work, see the Life-Training Institute.

JT: Your book, Equipped to Engage: Pro-Life Christians in the Brave New World, will be published by Crossway in late 2008. Can you give us a one-sentence summary of the book?

SK: The pro-life message can compete in the marketplace of ideas provided Christians properly understand and articulate that message.

JT: What is your goal in writing Equipped to Engage?

SK: My primary purpose is to provide intellectual grounding for the pro-life convictions that many evangelicals hold, but can't articulate. Christians in particular find it difficult to discuss issues like abortion, cloning, and embryo research without a clear understanding of the essential truths of the pro-life position. This book helps readers articulate a biblical worldview on these issues in the face of an increasingly secularized culture.

JT: Who will most benefit from the book?

SK: While the book is primarily for evangelical Christians, it will benefit any pro-life supporter looking to communicate pro-life principles. One of its chief aims is to simplify issues like abortion and embryo stem cell research. Despite claims to the contrary, these issues are not morally complex. They come down to just one question: Is the embryo a member of the human family? If so, killing him or her to benefit others is a serious moral wrong. It treats the distinct human being, with his or her own inherent moral worth, as nothing more than a disposable instrument. Conversely, if the embryos and fetuses in question are not human beings, killing them to extract stem cells or advance your career requires no more justification than pulling your tooth.

JT: Secular critics like Lee Silver insist the pro-life view has no rational basis and is grounded solely in religious sentiment. How would you reply?

SK: Silver and those like him are just plain wrong that pro-life advocates provide no reasonable defense for their views. Sure they do. The problem is, many secularists take no time to actually engage pro-life arguments; they simply dismiss them as "religious ideology." However, this dismissal does not constitute an argument and it ignores the sophisticated case pro-life apologists present in support of their position. Scientifically, pro-lifers contend the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human organisms. Unlike standard bodily cells that function as parts of an existing organism, embryos are whole human beings directing their own internal development.

True, they have yet to mature, but they are whole human organisms nonetheless.

Philosophically, pro-lifers argue there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today. Differences of size, development, and location are not relevant in the way that abortion advocates need them to be. For example, everyone agrees that embryos are small-perhaps smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence. But since when do rights depend on how large we are? Men are generally larger than women, but that hardly means they deserve more rights. Size does not equal value. Pro-lifers don't need Scripture to tell them these things. They are truths even atheists and secular libertarians can, and sometimes do, recognize. Yet rarely do strict secularists present principled arguments explaining why pro-life advocates are mistaken on these points.

Moreover, the pro-life position has more explanatory power than the abortion-choice and pro-embryonic research ones. For example, advocates of elective abortion and embryonic stem cell research cannot account for basic human equality. If humans have value only because of some acquired property like consciousness, it follows that since this acquired property comes in varying degrees, basic human rights come in varying degrees. It's far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature.

JT: You've stated before that many abortion-choice arguments are flawed because they ignores the central philosophical question in the abortion debate: What is the unborn? Can you give us an example of what you mean?

SK: Certainly. Many well-intentioned people cite rape as a justification for abortion. Aside from the fact that few actual pregnancies result from rape, this argument is a case of using worst-case scenarios and emotion to avoid clear thinking on the matter. That is to say, while the rape objection has rhetorical force, it misses the key moral question: How should we treat innocent human beings that remind us of a painful event? Is it okay to kill them so that we can feel better? True, pro-life advocates must do all they can to lovingly care for victims of sexual assault, but if the unborn are human, hardship does not justify homicide.

JT: What are the top five pro-life books and how do they differ from your upcoming book?

SK: For newcomers to the debate, Randy Alcorn's Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Questions (Multnomah, 1992; revised 1999) is terrific. Randy's work is a valuable reference guide for lay people, highly readable, and meticulously organized so that the reader can pick and choose those parts of the book needed for the immediate pro-abortion challenge at hand. It is not, however, a systematic defense of the pro-life position, nor does it teach specific tactics for defending one's view in the secular marketplace of ideas. Equipped to Engage will retain Randy's easy-to-follow style, but provide a more systematic foundation for the pro-life apologist, teaching him or her not only what to think, but how to think.

For more seasoned readers, Francis J. Beckwith's Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion-Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007) is absolutely stellar. Indeed, this outstanding book is a favorite of advanced pro-life apologists everywhere. The arguments presented are lucid and hard-hitting, but the style is clearly more academic than Alcorn's book. It's one of the finest (if not the finest) systematic defenses of the pro-life position to date. Regrettably, lay readers may not have the patience to master the sophisticated case Beckwith presents. Equipped to Engage provides a balance between the easy-to-read style of Randy Alcorn's book and the semi-academic style of Beckwith. It's both systematic and readable at the lay level.

The third title is Ramesh Ponnuru's excellent book The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life (Regency, 2006). Ramesh's strengths lie in outlining the political implications of the debates over abortion and embryo research and how those debates have been hijacked within the Democratic Party, the Federal Courts, and the Media. His survey of the cultural and political landscape is breathtaking and second to none. However, although his book contains pro-life apologetics, it's not designed to equip lay people to make a case for life where they live and work. Rather, it gives pro-life advocates a snapshot of where we are culturally on key bio-ethical issues and how we arrived there.

Fourth, there is Hadley Arke's Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (Cambridge University Press, rev. ed., 2004). Hadley's thesis is simple: If we can arbitrarily alter the definition of "man" to suit our preferences, and if nature provides no definition of a human being that we are obliged to respect, then we remove all claim to natural rights, including the right to an abortion. That's key, because as you know, secular liberals insist that abortion is a fundamental human right the State should not infringe upon. Arkes simply wants to know where this alleged right to an abortion comes from. In other words, is it a natural right that springs from our nature as human beings or is it a positive (legal) right granted by government? If the latter, the abortion advocate cannot really complain that she is wronged if the State does not permit her to abort. After all, the same government that grants rights can take them away. On the other hand, if the right to an abortion is a natural right--a right one has in virtue of being human--then the abortion advocate had that right from the moment she came to be, that is, from conception! Thus, we are left with this amusing paradox: According to the logic of many abortion-advocates, unborn women do not have a right to life but they do have a right to an abortion! Absurd! In short, the defenders of abortion cannot tell us where rights come from or why anyone should have them. By advocating an alleged right to choose, they have talked themselves out of the very natural rights upon which their own freedoms are built.

Finally, we shouldn't overlook Wesley J. Smith's A Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World (Encounter Books, 2004). The debate over human value has moved way beyond the abortion controversy. We're now contending with human cloning, genetic engineering, and the creation of human-animal hybrids. As I said before, the very definition of what it means to be human is up for grabs. But how many churchgoers block out time to think seriously about what makes humans valuable in the first place? That, coupled with a deafening silence from our pulpits, and it's no wonder many believers are ill-equipped to sift through the lies and deceptions coming out of big-biotech. Smith's book gives Christians the tools they need to think clearly on these biotech issues.