September 03, 2015

We need an abortion law

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 3, 2015

We need an abortion law

With the recently publicized horrors of human fetuses/babies being torn apart and their body parts sold by Planned Parenthood (a major abortion provider in the U.S.), it's reasonable to think that Canada should introduce law to protect unborn children.

Presently, abortion in Canada is legal right up to birth. Most abortions occur much earlier, and most doctors don't do late-term abortions. Nevertheless, a law would be appropriate to protect at least those children in their, say, twentieth week who risk an unjust death by abortion because their body parts may be in demand.

Also, a law would be appropriate to protect children from sex-selective abortion, i.e., the killing of children merely because they are girls ("gendercide" is popular among immigrants who value boys more than girls). Moreover, a law would be appropriate to protect children who risk being killed because they have Down syndrome (90% of U.S. pre-natal children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted).

In Canada such a law could save hundreds of lives, probably thousands, yearly.

Still, some say abortion legislation is misguided: we should instead deal with the underlying causes that drive women to abortion. A pregnant woman may be facing psychological problems, so that should be our focus.

In reply, we should keep in mind that abortion kills an unborn child—a human being. That's hugely significant.

Also, we should consider Scott Klusendorf's insightful critique of the focus-on-the-underlying-causes argument:

"[T]his is like saying that the 'underlying cause' of spousal abuse is psychological; so instead of making it illegal for husbands to beat their wives, the solution is to provide counseling for men."

Klusendorf adds: "There are 'underlying causes' for rape, murder, theft, and so on, but that in no way makes it 'misguided' to have laws banning such actions."

But doesn't Canada's Criminal Code tell us the unborn are human beings only after they are born? Yes, but our law is mistaken.

Contemporary science—embryology, fetology, and biology—tells us that the human fetus is in fact a human being. It's a genetically distinct, self-governing dynamic entity which belongs to the human species. It's not feline or canine; it's human. It's not a cat or a dog; it's a human being. It's not a kitten or a puppy; it's a child.

At this juncture, one might grant that the unborn child is in fact a human being, yet object that it isn't a "person." That is, the unborn human being lacks some specific developmental feature which confers the right to life.

However, this approach to personhood is problematic. The allegedly decisive features fail because they weaken the personhood of many human beings who clearly already have the right to life.

For example, if self-awareness and rationality are the crucial criteria of personhood, then the right to life of newborn infants as well as sleeping, stunned, or mentally disabled persons is jeopardized. As a result, the equality in equal rights gets ungrounded.

At this juncture, one might object that difficulty in policing and enforcing abortion law would render it useless. In reply, we should note that it is difficult to police and enforce laws against, say, texting and driving, but the law works to discourage texting and driving. The point: if an action kills or threatens to injure innocent others, a law against the action is not unreasonable, even if not 100% effective.

Notice that there's room to be creative here. Perhaps a law against abortion should (a) criminalize the abortionists, not the women pressured into abortion, plus (b) help the women who are so pressured (just as our anti-prostitution law criminalizes pimps and johns, not the women pressured into prostitution, plus helps the women get out of prostitution).

Folks, most abortions are due to social problems (abortions for the horrific circumstances of rape, incest, or when a mother's life is threatened account for a small percentage only). Surely, social problems require social solutions—not the killing of children.

We need an abortion law.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

Further reading: 

August 06, 2015

Reductio ad absurdum

Photo: Jurassic World (2015)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, August 6, 2015
Reductio ad absurdum
Reductio ad absurdum is an argument strategy that employs logic to tease out the truth that another argument or claim is flawed. How? By reducing it to absurdity.

Let's look at this argument strategy in general terms, and then let's illustrate with a couple specific examples.

In a reductio ad absurdum argument, we assume, temporarily for the sake of argument, that the view under investigation is true. We approach the view in question with the attitude, "Okay, let's say it's true. What follows?" If the logical consequences of the view's assumed truth are false or logically contradictory, then it follows that the view under investigation is false or at least deeply problematic.

Here is an example from contemporary popular moral thought.

Consider the view that ethics is mere feeling, i.e., what's right and wrong is fundamentally a matter of subjective opinion or taste—there is no real right or wrong.

Let's say this is true, for the sake of argument. What follows logically?

If ethics is mere feeling, i.e., mere subjective opinion or taste, then right and wrong mean "I like" and "I don't like," respectively. Ethics becomes essentially similar to our attitudes to, say, food.

Just as I like chocolate ice cream rather than vanilla, you like vanilla rather than chocolate. No big deal. We're both right.

Cake: yum! Kale: yuck! Good: yum! Bad: yuck! This is the ethics-is-mere-feeling view.

But if the ethics-is-mere-feeling view is true (as we'll assume for the sake of argument), then another claim follows logically as true: just as Jane likes helping people and seeing them flourish, Joe likes torturing people and seeing them writhe in pain. So, if it's true that ethics is mere feeling, then Jane and Joe are both right ethically. No big deal.

Surely, though, that Jane and Joe are both right is clearly false (we know this via moral-rational insight). Hence, the assumption that ethics is mere feeling is flawed.

Here is another example from contemporary popular metaphysical thought (metaphysics has to do with the reality of being).

Let's say that personal identity, i.e., what I am, is wholly a personal matter—again, a matter merely of subjective feeling. My feelings about myself and my identity are trump.

Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner basically holds this view. He feels he is a woman so he is a woman—and so he has had plastic surgery to "feminize" his face and throat, had hormone therapy for growth of breasts, and may yet undergo genital surgery to remove his testicles plus use his penis to construct a "vagina."

But if the view that my feelings about myself and my identity are trump is true, what follows?

It means that we must accept the claims of "otherkin" as true. Otherkin are people who self-identify as—i.e., who believe they actually are, at least in part or wholly—non-human. They believe they are cats, foxes, dragons, etc. If feelings are trump, then they are non-human in fact.

Moreover, it means we must accept the claim of Adrian Van Oyen, who in a YouTube "coming out" video, claims to be a dinosaur. Yes, a dinosaur. And, according to Van Oyen, if you don't accept him for who he is, you are "transdinophobic."

(Note: Van Oyen's two-minute video is a stunt, ending with an image of a "facepalm" to the forehead; nonetheless, it makes an insightful philosophical point.)

Surely, however, the alleged truth of the thesis that my feelings about myself and my identity are trump lands us logically into obvious absurdities and falsehoods. Regardless of what a man feels, he is in reality not a dinosaur, nor a cat, nor a woman.

Feelings are not trump. Reductio ad absurdum.

Objective truth and reality are trump.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)


A. Here are a couple  interesting reductio-ad-absurdum-related bits located here because of space limitations in the main body of my column:

1. If my feelings about myself and my identity are trump, then we should also accept the claims of the "transabled." The transabled are people who feel that they are imposters if their body is in full working order, so they seek to amputate a limb or otherwise mutilate/ disable themselves. But the truth is that you are not in fact an imposter if your body is in full working order. Again, the alleged truth of the thesis that my feelings about myself and my identity are trump lands us logically into obvious absurdities and falsehoods.

2. The Bible is no stranger to logic (which makes good sense because God is the Logos). In fact, the reductio ad absurdum is employed in the New Testament. Paul preaches the resurrection of Jesus (which he and others know to be true) and Paul addresses those who say there is no resurrection of the dead. He argues "if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised" (1 Cor. 15:13). But Paul adds that he testifies to Christ being raised: "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead" (1 Cor. 15:20a). That is, Paul and others know this to be true. D.J. Hill, in New Dictionary of Apologetics, concludes: "So, Paul shows that the assumption that there is no resurrection leads to the contradiction that Christ has both been raised and not raised from the dead." In other words, in view of the known fact that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead, the claim that there is no resurrection reduces to the absurd.

B. For further discussion of reductio ad absurdum arguments, see:

1. Julian Baggini & Peter S. Fosl, The Philosopher’s Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods, 2nd edition (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 121-122.

2. D. J. Hill, “Reductio Ad Absurdum,” in New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, edited by W. C. Campbell-Jack & Gavin McGrath (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2006), 602-603.

July 23, 2015

Crusades versus Christianity

Photo: Kingdom of Heaven (2005 film)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, July 23, 2015

Crusades versus Christianity

Many persons object to Christianity because of the horror of the Crusades (c. 1096-1291). I think this objection can be diffused with four points.

First, contrary to popular opinion, the Crusades were not acts of unprovoked aggression against the Islamic world. The Crusades were in fact a belated response to centuries of Muslim military aggression. As Steve Lee points out in Apologetics Study Bible for Students, "Christian Europe had to defend itself or be overcome by Islamic invasion."
Second, though much evil occurred during the Crusades, the Crusades weren't as bad (comparatively speaking) as many think. Historical perspective is helpful. Compare the goings-on of some officially atheist societies with that of some predominately Christian ones.

The major horrors of Christian Europe—i.e., the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition—amounted to the killing of 1.4 million people. This is terrible and wrong, to be sure.

Significantly, however, the following body count under two officially atheist regimes should also be noticed: China 80,170,000; USSR 61,911,000. Total: over 142 million!

Two officially atheist regimes are responsible for 100 times as many killings than predominantly Christian societies!

(Note: The above numbers are from Rudolph Rummel, a Nobel Peace Prize nominated political science professor at U of Hawaii. Rummel's specialty is the study of genocide and deomcide.)

Third, Christianity's track record is far from wholly negative. Pros—not just cons—should be considered.

Near the end of his seven-volume A History of the Expansion of Christianity (Harper, 1945), Yale historian Kenneth Scott Latourette concludes as follows:

"[Christianity] has been the most potent force which mankind has known for the dispelling of illiteracy, the creation of schools, [and] for the emergence of new types of education."

Latourette adds: "The universities...were at the outset largely Christian creations.... Music, architecture, painting, poetry, and philosophy have owed some of their greatest achievements to Christianity."

Latourette continues: "Democracy as it was known in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was in large part the outgrowth of Christian teaching. The abolition of Negro slavery was largely due to Christianity. So, too, were the measures to protect the Indians against exploitation of the whites.... The elevation of the status of women owed an incalculable debt to Christianity...."

In fact, according to Latourette, "No other single force has been so widely potent for the relief of suffering brought by famine and for the creation of hospitals and orphanages."

(Recent social-religious historical work by Alvin Schmidt, Rodney Stark, Vishal Mangalwadi, and others confirms Latourette's work.

Fourth, whether the central doctrines of a worldview are true doesn't depend on the failure of adherents to live up to that worldview's moral standards.

For example, if the claim that the God-man Jesus in fact lived, died, and resurrected is true (as I believe it is), then it is not made false by my evil actions. My evil actions only show that I'm a lousy follower of Jesus.

Moreover—and significantly—whereas my wicked behaviour is condemned by Jesus' teachings, Stalin's and Mao's wicked behaviour—i.e., their murder of millions—is not condemned by their philosophies.

Stalin and Mao acted consistently with the Marxist-Leninist principle that a utopian end sometimes justifies dastardly means (such as murdering anyone who disagrees). The Crusaders and Inquisitors, however, when they did evil, acted inconsistently with Jesus' command to love others.

Yes, much evil occurred during the Crusades. But these evils are not inherent to Christianity. They are due to people who claimed to be Christians (and many weren't Christians) but didn't live up to Jesus' teachings. Christians who sin make Christianity unattractive, not false.

The objection to Christianity's truth based on the Crusades is therefore weak.

To recap, the Crusades were a response to Islamic aggression, not an unprovoked attack; the Crusades were, compared to the evils of officially atheist regimes, not as bad as many believe; Christianity has been a huge force for good in the world; the truth of Christianity centers on Jesus Christ—God come to earth as a human being—not the failings of His followers.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

Further reading/ listening:

  • Paul F. Crawford, "Four Myths about the Crusades"
  • Clay Jones, "The Truth about the Crusades": blog post and interview
  • Michael Karounos, Movie review: Kingdom of Heaven