Which is the “Wrong Baby?” Doctor Aborts Healthy Child

He aborted the “wrong” baby. He had intended to abort a child with down’s syndrome, but instead, he aborted the healthy twin by mistake. Now, he has lost his license and is reported to be quite distraught.

Today, Al Mohler wrote on his blog:

Consider what this means for the sanctity of human life. We are now looking at babies as consumer products. We will accept babies that meet our specified qualifications, and abort when medical tests or other factors reveal that the baby does not meet our standards. Human life is reduced to just another consumer product subject to consumer preferences and demand.

Do we recognize what this means? The abortion of Down syndrome babies is a scandal of the first degree, and this nation is growing more complacent and complicit in this scandal by the day. Beyond this, we can be certain that babies are now being targeted in the womb for reasons far beyond Down syndrome. Specialists working with autism are concerned that forthcoming genetic tests will put babies who carry markers for autism next on the list for prenatal search and destroy missions.

This news story out of Florida is a warning to the entire nation. What is the real scandal here — that this doctor was ready to kill a baby with Down syndrome, or merely that he aborted “the wrong baby?”

The answer to that question will tell us all we need to know about the conscience of the age.

Or, stated differently, which one really is the wrong baby?

The question can only be answered if we, as a society, are willing to agree on one crucial issue: is the fetus a human being, or not. If not, then the entire abortion debate collapses. But if so, then all discussions of “rights” instantly shift to the question of responsibilities.

If the child is not a human being, then what has happened, however unfortunate, is no more damnable than a surgeon who mistakenly amputates the wrong leg. Granted, the patient’s express desires were compromised, but ultimately this is of significantly lesser consequence than the alternative position.

But if the child is a human being, then what has happened is no less damnable than had the physician performed his task as planned.

But the question is ever more basic: “who decides?”

The problem is this: morality is no longer anchored in one, objective reality. Recent data has concluded that among emerging adults, there simply is no category for understanding objective moral truth, relying instead on the product of individual, subjective morality:

[Emerging adults] are…doubtful that an identifiable, objective, shared reality might exist across and around all people that can serve as a reliable reference point for rational deliberation and argument…..It seems to be because they simply cannot, for whatever reason, believe in – or sometimes even conceive of – a given, objective truth, fact, reality or nature of the world that is independent of their subjective self-experience and that in relation to which they and others might learn or be persuaded to change. Although none would put it in exactly this way, what emerging adults take to be reality ultimately seems to consist of a multitude of subjective but ultimately autonomous experiences. People are thus trying to communicate with each other in order to be able to get along and enjoy life as they see fit. Beyond that, anything truly objectively shared or common or real seems impossible to access. (Christian Smith, Souls in Transition, p. 44-45)

And that is why it is so heinous to be (ahem) “ant-choice,” for the pro-life position naturally impinges on a woman’s assumed “right” to abortion. Any measure to curtail such rights is seen as a fundamental intrusion on a woman’s ability to make an individual choice.

Or, worse, the question of morality is assumed to be a purely “religious,” therefore having no determinative basis for medical and societal ethics. Again, statements to the contrary would be seen as a violation of the woman’s individualized rights.

In the present case, it (sadly) also means that there can never truly be a definitive answer to Mohler’s question. There can never really be a “wrong” decision in this case, for there are no absolute standards to which we may appeal.

Those concerned with the subject of bioethics must wrestle responsibly with these issues. Medical ethics can never move forward without a clear understanding of the nature of ethics itself, and the latter can never be understood so long as morality remains private.

LOST: Philosophy Around the Watercooler

For most people, studying philosophy is about as appealing as a root canal. Yet when ABC premiered the hit show LOST, suddenly philosophical ideas were piped into living rooms across the country.

Many have been quick to pick up on characters who share their names – in whole or in part – with famous philosophers including John Locke, Rousseau, David Hume and C.S. Lewis (but sorry, philosophy majors, the characters on the show don’t always emulate the philosophies of their namesakes, so you might want to be cautious about any overt comparisons in your next term paper). And did anyone else catch the last night’s visual nod to Kierkegaard?

When I was an undergraduate student, I had a physics professor who used to say that there was two ways of looking at mathematics: a “cathedral” view saw math for its innate beauty and complexity. A “wood-shop” view saw math for its ability to solve problems. I think philosophy is the same way, and since you asked, I’m of the “wood-shop” variety, who thinks philosophical questions are best answered in the context of life or, in this case, a TV show (is there a difference? Now there’s a philosophical issue. Talk amongst yourselves; discuss).

This isn’t a post about spoilers. Or smoke monster theories (though I have one). And yes, there are actually books out there that address these issues in more detail, including Chris Seay’s The Gospel According to Lost (I haven’t read any of these books, but I have a birthday coming up. So you should get on that).

Based on last night’s premiere, this is just a quick run-down of some major, philosophical themes that I anticipate being dealt with in the coming season.

PHI-LOST-OPHY 101

  1. Philosophy of time. This is the big one, and the one most integral to the show’s plot. What we saw in the premiere could best be articulated in the context of a “predestination paradox:” if Flight 815 lands safely, then how could Jack have set events in motion (culminating in the bomb) to ensure its safe return?

    Further, the episode raised questions regarding the absolute time of the island itself, which leads to some further exploration of the subject of alternate timelines and maybe parallel universes.

  2. Free will/determinism. This issue stems from the one above. Some philosophers appeal to something called the Noikov self-consistency principle, meaning that anything that happens must necessarily be what was “meant” to happen. Meaning that Jack and the others are – one way or another – destined to end up on the island, which could push the show all the way to the “fatalism” side of the free-will scale, meaning that the character’s actions are bound entirely by the hands of fate.

    This issue was previously explored when Desmond found himself jumping through time in an earlier season. Similarly, the greater theme of “destiny” has found itself on the mouths of more than a few characters, most notably John Locke. Additionally, in the premiere, the Locke/smoke-monster character told Ben that he didn’t “make him do anything.” The island will surely highlight the dynamic ways in which man’s freedom of choice is bounded by extenuating circumstance – time travel or otherwise.

  3. 3. Mind-body problem. This I didn’t see coming, but probably should have. The premiere featured a wheelchair-bound John Locke in conversation with Jack Shepherd, reassuring him that what had been lost was his father’s coffin and body, but that nobody really knows “where he is.”

    From the standpoint of philosophical anthropology, this is quite a mouthful; Locke’s ghost-in-the-machine statement makes a clear distinction between body and soul. Mind-body dualism is a subject discussed for centuries, and finds a multiplicity of answers. But like most components of the show, there seems to be a Platonic influence that highlights the contrast between the illusory, physical world and the “ideal” world that dances before us like shadows on cave walls. This mind-body distinction will almost certainly help explain how the survivors (including Hurley, Miles and even Jack) are able to see and communicate with the dead.

  4. Faith-versus-Reason. This was a theme that started back in season one. “You’re a man of science,” Locke tells Jack, “I’m a man of faith.” The premiere showed the island’s more mystical elements (the healing pool and temple) triumphing where Jack’s medical knowledge could not. As someone with a vested interest in both faith and science, I am optimistic the show will lead toward some form of compatibilism.

There are many other issues as well, including the duality of good-versus-evil (often visually revealed through light and dark – think the yin yang symbols of the Dharma initiative), the reflexive nature of karma/samsara and the nature of redemption itself, but currently it seems clear that these will be the pivotal philosophical questions that will govern the show in this final season.

WHAT’S THE APPEAL?

The show’s frustratingly complex plot combined with unconventional programming schedules has made television watching a baffling ordeal.

So why the fuss?

People love complex ideas. I really believe that. In the culture of Ancient Greece philosophers and scholars used to gather in the agora, or “marketplace” to discuss the latest ideas and teachings.

Now we’ve moved from the agora to the watercooler. And the greatest appeal is that these themes find themselves actually lived out in the context of human experience (albeit fictional), with the Kate-Jack-Sawyer-Juliet love story creating more drama than a girls’ dormitory. 

And people also like the idea that things make sense. Despite all of our postmodern posturing on the indeterminacy of truth, people still want to know that the butler did it. The appeal of LOST is the same as that of crime dramas and Gregory House: we want to watch the pieces fall into place to form a picture that makes sense, which in turn gives us a sense that our own lives make sense.

Alive in the Superunknown? Skepticism Taught to Schoolchildren

Yesterday was a sunny afternoon in Princeton, Texas, not far from Dallas.  40 young minds gathered for a program called “Camp Quest,” the first camp designed for “children of agnostics, skeptics and [self-proclaimed] ‘free-thinkers.’”  According to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News, the camp was designed for the purpose of “opening up [the children’s] minds and learning how to ask good questions.”  Among the activities was encouraging the children to invent their own creation myths.  The article concludes with the story of a little girl named Endeavor:

 “At noon, Endeavor was lounging in a pink lawn chair next to a girl she had met at the camp. Her new friend said she did not believe in God. Asked whether she believed, Endeavor answered without hesitation.

 “I don’t know,” she said, then went back to her juice box. [Her father] smiled.

 “That’s as good an answer as I could ever ask for,” he said.

 SKEPTICISM AS SOPHISTICATION

Agreed, atheists are in the minority nationwide, and are by no means worthy of the hostility or malice they experience for their beliefs.  I am always willing to engage in dialogue with honest skeptics regarding my own beliefs, and I expect the same respect in return. 

But within the last century (and with increasing popularity in recent years), there has been a push toward an egalitarian view of world religion in the name of intellectual freedom.  Like the father in the article above, it is preferable to remain agnostic in the area of religion rather than adopt a strong religious viewpoint.  After all, religious viewpoints are constrictive (in his work The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins likens religion to a veil that constrains the vision of its wearers). 

The North Texas Church of Freethought is a community of self-proclaimed “freethinkers” who meet regularly as something akin to a “church” service (no disrespect, but without Christ it ain’t the church).  When I visited with a small group of friends, we were warmly welcomed.  A good friend was even engaged in conversation with the leader (I don’t recall the title he used), who even extended an invitation to speak at a future service.  That is, until he learned that he was a seminary student, to which the “freethinker” replied, “Well, you won’t have any opportunity to share your views here.” 

And so in our present culture, there exists a growing subset of people for whom skepticism is the new mark of sophistication.   I’ve heard many parents say they don’t plan on teaching their children to “think for themselves” rather than choose a particular faith. 

IS IT THAT EASY?

Unfortunately, nothing is that easy. 

There are at least two points to be made here:

(1)   There is no such thing as absolute intellectual freedom.  One can never remain truly open to all points of view.  In essence, what these skeptics are ultimately saying is this: “Our view of religious pluralism is superior to all other forms of religious pluralism.”  Therefore they are guilty of the exact type of intellectual exclusivity they claim to avoid. 

(2)   Skeptics often wrongly equate freedom with the absence of boundaries.  Yet boundaries, discipline and restraint actually contribute, in some cases, to greater freedom.  This is seen quite easily in the intellectual sphere: disciplined study leads to greater intellectual growth and an increased capacity for cultural engagement.  Disciplined exercise routines lead to increased capacity for physical activity.  By contrast, the absence of such discipline and restraint leads to slovenly minds as well as bodies. 

 ALIVE IN THE SUPERUNKNOWN?

The grunge rock band Soundgarden famously sang of being “alive in the superunknown.”  The problem with (post)modern skepticism is that relegating knowledge to the “superunknown” subtracts from, rather than adds to, our humanity.  In his work Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton writes:

 “The new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty, therefore he can never be a true revolutionist.  And the fact that he doubts everything gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces but the doctrine by which he denounce it. … Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything, he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

Another philosopher once remarked that an open mind is like an open mouth: it’s only useful if it can be closed around something solid. 

The reality is that Christianity is far from restrictive.  Granted, history is replete with examples of the abuse of church authority.  But the reality is that Christianity is the only faith system that allows for both unity within diversity, as it rests on belief in a God who is both unified and diverse within Himself (i.e., existing as Father, Son and Spirit).  This is why the Christian message has been so prolifically articulated worldwide through a plurality of cultures and their respective means of artistic expression.  One of my professors shared with us the African theologian Kwame Bediako who spoke of “Jesus of the Deep Forest,” wonderfully illustrating the many ways that Christ’s message has been appropriated to different cultures without sacrificing the core message.

“An old, old story…” Changing Generations Part 4

In the previous post, we established that the central need for rising generations is a master story, or “meta-narrative” to provide meaning for life.  The epistemic shift that has taken place has resulted in the fact that young people, more so than previous generations, is characterized by uncertainty. 

From this central need we identified five related needs:

(1)   Identity: the need to answer, “Who am I?” 

(2)   Loyalty: the need to spell out, “to whom do I belong?”  Who do I trust?

(3)   Values: the need to answer, “by what shall I live?”  What do I pass on to my children?  What would I like to see prevail in respect to the true, the beautiful and the good?

(4)   Power: the need to answer, “how can I protect myself?” or how can I make my way against others?

(5)   Hope: the need to answer, “how can there be a future?”

(these are a modified form of those presented in two sources: Martin A. Marty, “Cross-Multicultures in the Crossfire: The Humanities and Political Interests,” Christianity and Culture in the Crossfire, ed. David Hoekema and Bobby Fong (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1997), 17.  and Marva Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshipping God and Being Church for the World.  (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1999), 22.)

In the next posts, we shall evaluate the way the gospel uniquely addresses these needs.  For now, we’ll look at the master story offered in the ancient scriptures. 

SEPARATION ANXIETY

George Segal, "Expulsion."  media Installation, 1986-7

George Segal, "Expulsion." media Installation, 1986-7

I realize that not all my readers will agree on the historicity and reliability of the Genesis creation story.  However, I will argue that at the very least, this passage provides an accurate description of the human condition. 

Man was originally created in God’s image to share fellowship with the Creator, fellowship with one another, and stewardship of creation.  Man’s rebellion changed all that, and from the day that Eden sank to grief, man has lived under a curse, the final outworking of which is death. 

The primary and most pervasive consequence of sin is estrangement.  This alienation is threefold:

(1)   Spiritual separation (man from God): though man was created in the imago Dei (the “image of God”) and designed for fellowship with Him, sin resulted in a separation between man and Creator (man even hid from God to avoid his own consequences). 

(2)   Social separation (man from man): though man was intended for fellowship with other humans (husband and wife even forming “one flesh”).  Yet sin drove a wedge between human beings, exchanging their shameless state for a frantically stitched covering of fig leaves and mistrust.  The world of fellowship and intimacy was replaced by mistrust, and where there once was a garden of plenty there is now poverty, war and hunger. 

(3)   Environmental/Cosmological separation (nature from nature): though the garden was always intended to be worked, Eden’s curse meant that now there would be “thorns and thistles,” meaning nature would actively oppose man at every turn.  The beauty of creation is now marred by a hostile climate of life-claiming floods and hurricanes, and it may well be that recent concerns over climate change have their roots in the lost paradise of Eden. 

RECONCILIATION

If separation and alienation are the effects of sin, then God’s redemptive work is that of putting it all back together again – to reassemble the fragments of a broken world and to make “all things new.”  (cf. Rev 21:5)  And the means that this was accomplished (and will be accomplished) is through the work of Christ in His first and second comings. 

It will be my argument that the primary way of understanding God’s redemptive work is through what scripture calls “reconciliation.”  Referring to Christ, Paul writes:

“…God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)

If the separations that occurred are spiritual, social and environmental in nature, then it follows that the work of reconciliation that occurs will be spiritual, social and environmental in nature.  We will explore each of these areas in detail in the posts to follow, but for now we must unify this Biblical “metanarrative” with the needs of contemporary culture. 

A NEW GOSPEL PARADIGM

I propose the following as a possible (certainly not only) scheme of unifying man’s needs and the Biblical paradigm.  Each separation is understood as addressing specific categories of need.  Thus, the doctrine of reconciliation satisfies these needs in a way that no other system is able. 

 (1)   Spiritual separation.

a.      Identity

b.      Trust

(2)   Social separation.

a.      Values

b.      Power

(3)   Environmental separation.

a.      Hope

 In the next post, we will pick up with the first category: spiritual separation.  We will evaluate the way that God has reconciled man to Himself, and how this presentation of the gospel is so uniquely powerful with today’s generations.

Changing Generations Recap

Hey readers.  A recent absence has prevented me from continuing this series, and recently I’ve opted to post on other issues.  However, I will begin posting on this topic again in the very near future.  That said, I wanted to take a brief moment to review where we’ve been so far. 

In Part 1, we looked at the distinctive styles of learning and epistemology that separate older and younger generations.  While previous generations favored a “foundationalist” perspective of truth, younger generations favor a coherence or “web” model, where truth is seen as a system of interrelated ideas. 

In Part 2, we looked at the way community – as well as its technological manifestations – influences this “web” model of truth.  The present generation is interconnected in a way not seen previously, and this often has great influence on the way they learn and respond to information. 

In Part 3, we looked at the way the prior observations have influenced the subject of “truth” as a whole.  Younger generations tend not to organize information into a meaningful pattern.  This means that they are very comfortable with contradiction, and yet at the same time are in constant search of some “master story” to give their life meaning. 

If you are so interested, you may click the links to take you to these posts:

Changing Generations Part 1

Amidst the Noise: Changing Generations Part 2

“To an Unknown Truth:” Changing Generations Part 3

I will be continuing very soon with more on how the gospel addresses both needs of emerging generations, and how this relates to the changing ways it is fundamentally received. 

Thank you, as always, for your continued interest and support.  I can’t wait to write more on this pressing topic.  Feel free to comment, post questions, etc.  Peace and God bless.

“To an Unknown Truth” (Changing Generations Part 3)

For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you.

-Paul in Athens, Acts 17:23

 

Picture this.  You’re standing before one of those photo-mosaic things.  Each individual tile is a separate photograph.  Up close, what you see is a dizzying array of individual pictures, almost like postcards – one depicting a beach scene, another a winter landscape, still another shows a bouquet of flowers. 

 Take a step back.  Then another.  Then another.

 Suddenly your eyes adjust to what you see.  The myriad of individual images coalesces to form one complete picture, such as the one of the Royal Albert Hall below: 

Andrej Olejnik, Albert Hall Mosaic

Andrej Olejnik, Albert Hall Mosaic

This is an analogy of how the coherence view can ideally operate.  An entire host of information connects in such a way as to provide a complete, structured view of truth.  A recent commenter very wisely observed that it might be possible for this coherence or network view to be a positive thing.  He is absolutely correct, but here is why I have been and will continue to be a bit cautious, if not outwardly critical.

 Let’s go back to the photo mosaic.  Again, individual images, all interconnected.  Take a step back.  Then another.  Then another. 

 But this time nothing happens.  There is no picture that appears.  Instead, the further you step back, the more confusing it becomes, little more than a blurred mess with no clear purpose or meaning.

untitled

For many, this is an unfortunate result of the present culture.  Those who are philosophically minded will be quick to recognize that my mosaic analogy alludes to what is called a “metanarrative.”  A metanarrative is a “master story,” an idea that seeks to organize and unify all other truths.  This is analogous to the first mosaic: the individual images coalesced to form a composite picture. 

In the second mosaic, there is no metanarrative, nothing to organize the pictures into anything meaningful.  In our postmodern culture, what has happened is a loss of a larger sense of meaning, and it is this that is man’s greatest need. 

And so, to answer a question someone had asked earlier, do younger generations get their truth from the internet?  The answer is yes and no. 

If we think of information as the individual photographs of our mosaic, and truth as the overall picture, what often happens is people absorb information through a variety of sources (that is, through their communities as mentioned previously).  However, these sources do not, on their own, provide a complete picture.  Thus, on a very general level, younger people gather information through an entire network of sources, but the question of truth is rarely asked.  It has been my general observation that in the absence of such questions, truth is often relegated to matters of personal preference (again, the danger of utilitarianism). 

And so what we are left with is a generation that lives life day by day, truth nothing more than a flickering sea of TV ads, youtube clips and radio sound bites.  Without an organizing structure or metanarrative, each experience communicates nothing beyond its own clichés of “buy me,” “sleep with me,” “use me.”  The end result is a generation that languishes in uncertainty and angst, devoid of any real meaning. 

 Searching for Meaning

All this sounds terribly depressing.   It doesn’t have to be, for it provides a fertile ground for reaching the needs of present and future generations. 

 In the previous post, we observed that the gospel is uniquely suited to answering man’s deepest needs.  In this post I have sought to argue that man’s greatest need is a sense of meaning.  Man desires a “master story,” something to give his life meaning and therefore purpose and direction. 

 And in the absence of this meaning, people have chosen a wide variety of options to try and make sense of their lives.  We are, in many ways, a society like that of ancient Athens, erecting our monuments to “unknown gods.”  But Paul reminds such a culture that God “…made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live,  so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27).” 

Our generation is reaching out blindly for meaning and direction.  The song is a few years old, but I can’t help but think of the band Hoobastank when I read this passage:

“Show me what it’s for,

make me understand it.

I’ve been crawling in the dark,

Looking for the answer.”

(Hoobastank, “Crawling in the Dark”)

 Similarly, in Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, the characters share this sense of meaninglessness:

The carapace of coolness is too much for Claire, also.  She breaks the silence by saying that it’s not healthy to live life as a succession of isolated little cool moments. “Either our lives become stories, or there’s just no way to get through them.”  I agree.  Dag agrees.  We know that is why the three of us left our lives behind and came to the desert – to tell our own stories and make our own lives more meaningful in the process.

The question of meaning is of vital importance.  All other needs are subsumed under it.  What other needs?  We will identify five:

 (1)   Identity: the need to answer, “Who am I?” 

(2)   Loyalty: the need to spell out, “to whom do I belong?”  Who do I trust?

(3)   Values: the need to answer, “by what shall I live?”  What do I pass on to my children?  What would I like to see prevail in respect to the true, the beautiful and the good?

(4)   Power: the need to answer, “how can I protect myself?” or how can I make my way against others?

(5)   Hope: the need to answer, “how can there be a future?”

 (these are a modified form of those presented in two sources: Martin A. Marty, “Cross-Multicultures in the Crossfire: The Humanities and Political Interests,” Christianity and Culture in the Crossfire, ed. David Hoekema and Bobby Fong (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1997), 17.  and Marva Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshipping God and Being Church for the World.  (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1999), 22.)

In future posts, we’ll be looking at how the gospel provides a unique way of organizing these needs, and how an ancient text can provide meaning to a modern and even postmodern people.