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Friday, September 25, 2015

Bill Nye and Why Some People Have Nothing to Add to the Abortion Debate

[As is not infrequently the case, what began as a late night Facebook response grew into a a blog length post. I hope this is of use to someone.]

Bill Nye has decided to step out of his area of expertise and opine on the issue of abortion. Those of us who care about the right to life of unborn human beings welcome his participation in this discussion and the opportunity to use his comments on abortion as a springboard for conversation.

Here is my response to selected portions of the short video he did arguing against the pro-life position:

1. "Many...more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans."

At this point in 2015, with all the great technological and scientific advantages of our day to help us better understand human life and development, it is hardly worth noting that life begins at conception/fertilization because anyone who bothers to read anything of relevance on the issue either knows this fact or is lying about not knowing it. See for example the following:

“Fertilization – the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism – is the culmination of a multitude of intricately regulated cellular processes.” [Marcello et al., Fertilization, ADV. EXP. BIOL. 757:321 (2013)]

Declarations like these are common place in academic papers and textbooks on the relevant issues related to human life and development.

The unborn is human because it is the product of human sexual reproduction (which results in new human beings) and it is a life as it exhibits irritability (reaction to stimuli), metabolism (converting food to energy), and cellular reproduction (growth), among other things:

"Living things consist of protoplasm and exhibit the following features: metabolism, growth, reproduction, feeding, excretion, irritability and movement. " (A Textbook of Science for Health Professionals, Hinwood, 1997, 250)

So when Nye talks about fertilized eggs becoming humans he is either (1.) ignorant of this basic fact of biology that eggs at conception/fertilization are complete humans and no longer eggs, not becoming human at a later point, or (2.) is being willfully deceitful. Neither option bodes well for him.

2. "...but that's not all you need, you have to attach to the uterine wall."

Nye is not clear on what he means by "all you need." All you need for what? To become human? Nope. We already saw fertilization has accomplished that process.

The process he is talking about is implantation, which is considered by many scientists and health professionals as the beginning of pregnancy, not human life. (To see more on this discussion: Practical Decision Making in Health Care Ethics,  Devettere, 2009, 232)

3.  "...if you’re going to say when an egg is fertilized, it therefore has the same rights as an individual, then whom are you going to sue? Whom are you going to imprison? Every woman who’s had a fertilized egg pass through her? Every guy who’s sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human?"

What is absolutely stunning about this argument isn't simply its complete lack of intellectual capital, but that it is presented with the air of being some great, knock-down argument against human rights for all humans.

In the law, we make distinctions all the time between the intentional, unlawful killing of human beings and natural deaths outside our control.

For example, before Roe v Wade and in no country today where abortion is illegal is a woman penalized for having a miscarriage.

So, why would any mildly intelligent person ever think that recognizing the human rights of a human being would mean we'd have to criminalize spontaneous abortions that take place at any time in a woman's pregnancy or any other manner of natural, unavoidable death that might overtake a new human being in its earliest stages of development?

We are not given the answer. Instead, we are assured those who think human rights begin with human life are ignorant of science. Well, the facts speak for themselves.

As for ascribing human rights to the unborn (a philosophical, not scientific judgement), philosopher Dr. Gary Gutting notes the following:

"The basic problem is that, once we give up the claim that a fertilized egg is a human person (has full moral standing), there is no plausible basis for claiming that all further stages of development are human persons.  The DNA criterion seems to be the only criterion of being human that applies at every stage from conception to birth."

In other words, if human rights are not the property of living human beings by that fact alone, no consistent basis exists for protecting the child in the womb even seconds before birth or for laws that criminalize fetal death (such as in the case of the physical abuse of a pregnant woman).

 But don't worry about all that stuff! Just keep beating the "you're anti-science" drum!

The rest of the video isn't worth my time or yours.

With the characteristic neuroticism of the militant secularism Nye represents, he takes a random side-swipe attack on the Bible.

What the Bible has to do with recognizing the immorality of abortion, I'm not sure and Nye does not care to explain. For someone who talks a lot about science and facts, Nye seems to be at a loss for both.

Maybe he should check out our friends at Secular Pro-Life and Pro-Life Humanists. Or, heck, listen to the countless secular arguments against abortion put forth by *gasp* religious people!

Beyond that, if Nye means to suggest my belief in Scripture leads me to believe children should be loved and cared for, not wantonly chopped to pieces or starved or poisoned (as happens in abortion procedures), consider me guilty as charged.

Finally, let me note, I have many pro-choice friends, whom I respect.

This post is not an attack on you.  It's not even an attack on Bill Nye.

It is an attempt to illustrate that even someone who calls himself a "the science guy" and gives off the most repugnant aura of intellectual superiority utterly fails at defending the indefensible, which is the killing of unborn children.

He doesn't even get close.

What does that tell us?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What's a Christian to Do with the Pope?

American Catholics are buzzing with excitement as the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, makes his way to the United States.

This post is not for them.

This post is for those non-Catholic Christians, particularly those in the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, who may wonder what to make of all the hullabaloo in light of Catholic and Restoration Movement differences.

Maybe more than any Pope in recent memory, Francis has captured the attention and hearts of folks beyond the ecclesial reach of the Roman Catholic fellowship, capitalizing on the growing trend away from factionalism/denominationalism in Evangelicalism.

I am one of those Protestants impressed with the self-effacing demeanor and actions of this Pope and his personable manner of speaking and being.

There's a simplicity about him that is attractive, especially as important a figure as he is.

However, the differences between the Catholic Church and the independent Christian Churches did not change when Francis became pope.

For those of us Christians who stand in the heritage if the Restoration Movement, doctrines like believer's baptism, the supreme authority of the Bible alone, the autonomy of the local church, biblical eldership, the priesthood of all believers, the sinfulness of sectarianism, and more make coƶperation with Catholics on issues of Christian faith and life difficult if not unwise.

Thus, what are some tools that might help us balance our personal positive appraisal of Pope Francis and disagreement with the institution he represents?

Firstly, let's remind ourselves that doctrine still matters.

Doctrine is not abstract. Doctrine is what separates the Westboro Baptist Church from the Amish

Doctrine is simply a word to describe the truths particular to our faith.

For all his genuine humility and kindness, Pope Francis is a man who takes upon himself names like Holy Father and Vicar of Christ, while we understand Christ as the sole head of the Church (Eph. 5:23; Col 1:18), God as the only Holy Father (John 17:11; see also: Matthew 6:9), and the Holy Spirit as the Vicar of Christ (John 15:26, 16:7).

This is an important doctrinal difference.

He also believes and teaches Christ is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the elements of communion.

This is more than the Communion wine simply being the literal blood of Jesus and the bread being his literal flesh (1 Cor. 10:16); this is a doctrine that sees the divine person of Christ himself in the Eucharist in such a way that the "host" is "adored" and put in a special tabernacle inside of the nave of the church.

The priest (which Francis is), takes upon himself the name of Alter Christus (another christ; see: Matt 24:5 for how Scripture speaks of other Christs), "celebrates" (to use Catholic terminology) a Mass believed to be propitiatory (something that satisfies the demands of God) re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross such that it were Jesus himself, not the priest, who was offering himself up.
The Catholic priest is said to act in the person of Christ during the Mass.

For us, this is blasphemy (see Exodus 20:4 Hebrews 7-10), a massive show of idolatry at the heart of the Catholic faith.

This is true with or without Pope Francis.

Secondly, we need to remember our brothers who have left the Catholic Church.

I have met and talked with many Christian Church/Church of Christ people who were once Roman Catholics.

They each have their own stories. Some sacrificed much to be immersed into Christ as adults. Some are still praying for Catholic friends and relatives that they will undergo the change they have.

When Christians, whether in our our movement or not, glom on to Pope Francis without restraint or pretend the differences between Catholics and Christians (of the RM) don't exist, we disrespect their journeys and devalue the truth behind their change.

The fact is, there are differences. And when someone recognizes this and still chooses to come to Christ in the Church of Christ, this should temper any potential over-enthusiasm with the Pope or his church that may dishonor the work Christ has done in their lives.

Thirdly, we need to listen to our brothers and sisters in countries like Italy and in Latin America, where Catholicism is the religion de jour, who are telling us to be sober-minded.

A joint statement titled “Roman Catholicism in Evangelical Perspective” written by a consortium of Evangelical denominations in Italy says as much. They write: is incompatible with the teaching of Scripture to have a church whose heart is a political state that is a legacy of an “imperial” church from which it has inherited titles and prerogatives. Christian churches must refrain from imitating “the princes of this world” and follow the example of Jesus who came to serve and not to be served (Mark 10:42-45).

...what appear to be similarities with the evangelical faith and spirituality of sectors of Roman Catholicism are not in themselves reasons for hope in a true change.

All the standing theological and ethical differences considered, they cannot initiate nor advocate for ecumenical initiatives with regard to the Roman Catholic Church.

[We] invite all evangelicals at the national and international levels to exercise a healthy biblical discernment (1 John 4:1) without falling into unionist initiatives that are contrary to Scripture and instead renew their commitment to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20).

Whether you agree with the statement or not, we owe it those believers who are fighting it out in the thick of Catholic land to listen to and consider their concerns.

Finally, when I express admiration for Pope Francis, some of my Evangelical friends get antsy, while my Catholic friends become hopeful, but neither reaction is warranted because the reasons I like him and other Catholics like Oscar Romero, Greg Boyle, Gustavo GutiƩrrez, and Miriam Heidland have nothing to do what makes them good Catholics, but because they show Christ in many of the things they say and do.

We can appreciate Francis's Christlikeness and recognize the truth when he speaks it while still respectfully disagreeing with some of the doctrines of his church.

I hope these emphases will help guide you and I as we follow the Pope's American tour.

Friday, September 18, 2015

#IStandForNothing: A Case Study in Manufactured Outrage

The Bible says nothing is new under heaven, but I cannot help but think something is special about the way 21st century Americans have perfected faux outrage.

From Michael Brown to Kim Davis, to college classrooms and the halls of government, non-issues are regularly transformed into front page news.

Take, for example, the latest case of imagined injustice, Ahmed Mohamed and his clock.

Fourteen year old Mohamed (a brown-skinned Muslim—this will be important in a moment) brought a homemade digital clock to school, intending to show it to his engineering teacher.

However, after a school official became concerned the contraption was perhaps not what the student claimed, someone called the police, who subsequently detained, interrogated, and released Mohamed with no charges filed, his story having checked out.

Maybe at one time this could have been a simple case of “oops” or a sad example of how violence has changed the atmosphere of the American classroom, but this is where Mohamed's race and faith come in, because quickly the story became about police heavy-handedness, Islamophobia, and racism

Activists, politicians, and ordinary citizens took to Twitter with the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed to denounce the obvious racial/ethnic profiling of this young man whose only crime was being brown and having an Arab last name.

Except none of this was true.

Yes, Ahmed is Muslim and, yes, he has dark skin, but that his detainment was race-based is without any basis in fact.

First of all, according to the New York Times, Mohamed was discovered with the device in his English class after the teacher heard it make a beeping noise

The teacher, apparently interested in what the out-of-place beeping in her classroom was, questioned Mohamed who produced his homemade clock.

Now when I think of a digital clock, this is what I think of:

This is Mohamed's clock:

Now you tell me: if you're an English teacher who must decide if a “metal briefcase-style box, [with] a digital display, wires and a circuit board...bigger and bulkier than a typical bedside clock, with cords, screws and electrical components” (according to the NYT description) is actually what the child who brought it says it is and not some kind of explosive, what would you do?

Well, this teacher, faced with uncertainty, aired on the side of caution and the authorities were contacted.

Now some folks claiming racism argue proper protocol was not followed and that if the boy was really a threat, why not evacuate the school?

In other words, because the teacher or police did not go far enough, this is somehow proof they racially profiled of Mohamed.

Besides it's manifest incoherence as proof positive of racism, the town's mayor in her statement posted on Facebook repudiated this claim, as did the school and the police department, saying proper protocol for a hoax bomb scare was followed.

And if you think you can't take their word for it, you now have a better idea of how the English teacher at Mohamed's school felt.

Finally, after the police investigation, Mohamed was released.

As I look at the stream of articles and posts trying to make Mohamed's situation, unfortunate as it is, something it's not, I cannot help but be disgusted.

Some folks are genuinely concerned about possible prejudice, but others are part of the growing class of professional Twitter activists, online lynch mobs, and racialists who decide before-hand what is true without compulsion to calmly consider the facts and weigh the alternatives.

Listen clearly: “this wouldn't have happened if he was white” is a claim, not evidence in support of a claim.

What happened here was the American system of law and justice at work. Mohamed is alive, free, and will be meeting with the President.

If this is racism, that word means nothing any more.

Understand, no one is safer or better off when we cannot even cut our teachers enough slack to appreciate that they refuse to take chances with the lives of their students, especially against the backdrop of mass school killings.

This teacher saw something, so she said something. And if she had kept her mouth shut and it had been a bomb, who would write articles praising her decision to take a teen with a suspicious device at his word? Who would tweet out her name or call her a hero?

I am weary of these self-serving ‪#‎hashtag‬ justice campaigns that cast good judgement to the wind and solve problems that aren't there.

Every day each of us is faced with real tangible ways to make a difference and, if you're a follower of Jesus, an eternal difference for good.

So, for your sake and mine, can we start working on issues that exist, instead of expending energy on ones that don't?