In a previous post, three foundational questions in the debate about abortion were raised.

  1. Does a right to life even exist for anyone?
  2. If it does exist, how and when is the right to life conferred to an individual?
  3. Are there instances where a person’s choice has more value than another person’s right to their own life?

This post will seek to address the third question.  The heart of the problem is the conflict between the right of a woman to control her own body and the right of a fetus to not be aborted.  When examining conflicting rights, such as these, it is useful to consider Hohfeld’s analytical system.  According to Hohfeld, all rights can be divided among four distinct classes (also call Hohfeldian incidents) that are described below.

  1. Claims—A has a claim that B x if and only if B has a duty to A to x.
  2. Liberties—A has the liberty to do x if and only if A has no duty to not do x.
  3. Powers—A has a power if and only if A has the ability within a set of rules to alter A’s own or another’s Hohfeldian incidents.
  4. Immunities—B has immunity if and only if A lacks the ability within a set of rules to alter B’s Hohfeldian incidents.

Many describe ‘claims’ as ‘claim-rights’ and ‘liberties’ as ‘privileges.’ Hohfeld further categorized these fundamental incidents into tables of opposites and correlatives.  For example, if A possesses a power, then A does not possess a disability.  However, if A possesses a power, then some other individual, B, possesses a liability. 
With Hohfeld’s system, we now the conflict of woman and fetal rights discussed above, following the excellent work of Dr. William May.  In this discussion we only need to concern ourselves with the first two Hohfeldian incidents: claims and liberties.  There are three possible logical relations between two persons, A and B, and some incident, x.

  1. A has a claim that B should x if and only if B has a duty to A to x.
  2. B has a liberty (relative to A) to x if and only if A has no-claim that B should not x.
  3. B has a liberty (relative to A) to not x if and only if A has no-claim that B should x.

Notice that claims involve actions (i.e., the x) performed by the party other than the one possessing the claim.  In contrast, the action is done by the person who possesses a liberty.  For example, people claiming a right to smoke are really claiming a liberty to smoke (i.e., the smokers actually smoke) relative to other people.  Fetal right to life involves action performed by another party (the mother) and, therefore, represents a claim.  In the most fundamental sense, the right to life means a person should not be unjustifiably killed by another person.  An abortion necessarily results in the killing of the fetus.  Therefore, the corresponding Hohfeldian incident represented by the fetal right to life is,

The fetus (A) has a claim that the mother (B) should not abort him/her (x) if and only if the mother has a duty to the fetus to not abort him/her.

The right of a woman to control her own body is more nebulous because it shifts from circumstance to circumstance.  A grown woman certainly has the right to not eat green beans for dinner if she desires to not eat them.  In this context, the phrase means that a woman has sufficient autonomy over her body to enable her to abort her child should she so choose.  Thus, the right of a woman to control her own body is actually a liberty in the Hohfeld system, for she is performing an action over her own body relative to the fetus. 

The mother (B) has a liberty (relative to the fetus, A) to abort her child (x) if and only if the fetus has no-claim that the mother should not abort him/her. 

We now clearly see that the crux of the issue is whether or not a fetus possesses the claim that the mother should not abort him/her.  If the fetus has such a claim, then this claim will curtail the mother’s liberty to abort the child.  This is an important observation because it significantly clarifies the conflict between the right to life of the fetus and the right of a woman to control her body into the single question of whether or not the fetus has a claim to not be aborted.  If the fetus does not possess the claim to not be aborted, then the mother does in fact have the stated liberty.

To answer this question, we need to know if abortion satisfies the criterion of being a justifiable killing.  It seems hard to think that it is.  No one has such a strong sense of personal autonomy that it eclipses another person’s right to their life.  This is because a person’s right to life flows from their ontology and is therefore inviolable.  If the fetus does have a right to life (see this previous post for an argument), then the mother is duty bound to not abort the child.

There are three foundational questions in the debate about abortion.
  1. Does a right to life even exist for anyone?
  2. If it does exist, how and when is the right to life conferred to an individual?
  3. Are there instances where a person’s choice has more value than another person’s right to their own life?
I believe that the first question is largely non-controversial in this debate. Most individuals recognize the right to life for humans beginning at birth and ending at natural death. Thus, I will tacitly assume that the answer to the first question is “yes, humans do enjoy a right to life.” However, I want to examine the second question in some detail, for that is one of the crucial divides. The third question, although very important, will not be dealt with at this time. However, a few posts here by other bloggers have touched on this very important issue.

There is a new organization in Oklahoma that is focusing on abortion abolition.  I think the idea of forming local abolitionist groups in the mold of the slavery abolition movement of the 18th and 19th centuries is exactly what we need.  The hypertext link will direct you to the Oklahoma Abolition Society.   I highly encourage you to look at this organization.

Abolish human abortion!

I found myself defending pro-life policy on some online Canadian newspaper.  The pro-abort author was, shall we say, less than tactful.  My friend Rhology summed up the article well when he said, “You promised vulgarity and implied immaturity, and you didn’t disappoint!”  The real action, however, was in the comment box.  In my opinion, the conversation developed well.  Many pro-life arguments were advanced (e.g., definition of life and its beginning, analogy to slavery or genocide, time when the right to life is conferred to humans, etc.) and most were not challenged.  Few pro-abortion arguments were advanced and most of the conversation from their end revolved around ad hominem and bluster.  In this post, I want to capture a few of the arguments to save for personal use later on.

 The important questions in the context of abortion are as follows:

(1)    Does a right to life even exist for anyone?
(2)    If it does exist, how and when is the right to life conferred to an individual?
(3)    Are there instances where a person’s choice has more value than another person’s right to their own life?

I think the first is not controversial, so I will not go into that here.  The second and third questions are the central questions in the debate.  These are discussed in more detail below.

Read the rest of this entry »

At the beginning of last summer, I wrote a short blog post describing my summer reading goals.  I wanted to explore the concept of Molinism.  I can’t say that I am completely finished with my reading goals, but I do think that I have read enough to say that I am fairly comfortable with Molinism.  It has been an adventure to say the least, involving much reflection and meditation on the subject.  It is an interesting feeling to shift one’s theology.  In this case, it is less of a shift and more of a systematizing.  I know what a shift feels like.  At one point in my life, I championed a strong charismatic approach to Christian life but that is no longer the case today.  I have also shifted from a functional Arminian to a 5-point Calvinist to my current position over a number of years.  I guess if labels are important then I am a moderate Calvinist who holds to a Molinist explanation to the tension between libertarian freedom and God’s sovereign decrees.

May God be glorified in all and through all.

My unannounced and unanticipated hiatus is over.  I thought I would have more blogging time during the winter break, but apparently that wasn’t the case.  Time has a way of slipping away, and the break was refreshing (both intellectually and spiritually).  I spent the very beginning of the new semester at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.  The flight was very long (Oklahoma to Texas to Florida to New York), so I spent some uninterrupted time with a good book: The Joyful Christian.  It is a collection of excerpts from C.S. Lewis, covering a wide range of topics.  The chapter on apologetics stood out to me, especially the following quote:

I have found nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate.  For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result, when you go away from that debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar.  That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the Reality–from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself.

I don’t consider myself an apologist in the formal sense, at least not one like the great Christian apologists of our time or times past.  However, Lewis struck a chord with me.  All to often I struggle with loving the arguments of Christianity more than the source of Christianity, for it is immensely logical and self-consistent.  It is explains everything: the origin of the world, the nature of man, etc.  It also provides a real solution to man’s main problem, reconciliation to God through Jesus.  I constantly remind myself to turn my affections to the source of the arguments.  Without Christ Himself, there are no arguments.  I suppose my point in posting this is a gentle reminder to myself and those who read this: love the Lord your God for who He is, not the arguments that are grounded by His very existence.

Come quickly Lord Jesus.

I find it interesting that adherents to scientism claim that modern science, especially evolutionary biology, has proven intelligent design theories and various strains of Biblical creationism false.  The main strategy is simply to claim that ID or creationism conflicts with the facts of science.  However, this conflates raw facts, which scientists seek to explain with theories, with the “facts” of the theories themselves.  Let me give an example to clarify how this is wrong.  Albert Einstein gave a theory to explain the low-temperature heat capacity data of crystalline materials. The theory worked pretty well, but not perfectly.  Peter Debye gave a theory that fit the available data much better.  Is it valid to say that Debye’s theory ignored the “fact” of Einstein’s theory?  Yet, that is exactly what is going on when it is claimed that ID or creationism is proven wrong by evolutionary biology.  They are competing ways of viewing the data, which ultimately gets back to whether or not evidentialism itself can distinguish the two.  The simple answer is: it cannot.  At its root, scientific evidence is the interpretation of raw facts (data) through the context of a worldview.  It is this act of interpretation that gives raw facts their meaning, linking together the facts in a coherent manner and systematizing the facts into a theory.  It is my contention that the methodological naturalism used in science results in scientific theories that are inexorably tied to a naturalistic worldview.  This is what makes using scientific evidence as a truth test for other worldviews so specious.

Brian Auten has given a list of 100 contemporary Christian apologists, including appropriate web links for each individual.  This appears to be an excellent resource for Christians.

I read my son Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss tonight, and I was struck by the over-arching theme of the book.  Anyone who is familiar with the book or movie will know that the entire plot of the story revolves around Horton the elephant saving a city, called Who-ville, that is full of people.  These people, however, live on a speck of dust, and only Horton is able to hear them.  The other jungle animals think Horton is mentally unstable for thinking there are people on the speck and attempt to discard and destroy the speck.

The parallels between the citizens of Who-ville and unborn children are striking.  I have no idea if Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) intended his book to mirror so closely the rights of the unborn, but the overlap is unmistakable to me.  In the book, we see Horton repeatedly trying to save the very small citizens of Who-ville from death.  These citizens have no voice of their own until the very end of the book.  Horton summarizes his motivation well with his signature line, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”  Isn’t this true with the unborn children today?  They have no voice, but they are still persons.  Who are we as a country to deny them the basic right to life?  May God use this simple story to impress into the minds of my children the crucial fact that all people are persons regardless of size or capability.

Today is election day.  For the (very) few that actually read this blog, please go vote.


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