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February 03, 2009


I can understand your point. But I think with the nonstop (and disgusting) worship we see of Barack Obama in the media, in Hollywood and pretty much everywhere in this country, I think it could catch the attention of people.

What is pathetic is that he himself doesn't see the irony inherent in his pro-infanticide stance!

Brett, I think you point out a valid criticism of the focus on the "potential" of a human person rather than the intrinsic value and dignity of a person. I do believe though (as pointed out in holy Scripture), that we ought to be "all things to all men" so as to win them to Christ (or the Pro-Life side). For many in our increasingly secular culture, human dignity does (wrongly) depend on its usefulness and the commercial simply uses their own set of "values" against them. Call me a a sell-out, but I think the commercial can prove effective in getting some (especilly some Obama-worshippers) re-think their thinking. Good critique, though.

I think I agree with Mo, Brett. You are right, but it is a fine point that you make. Human potential cannot be our foundational argument, but can it not be used as rhetorical icing? Are you saying that this message is detrimental to the pro-life cause or that it merely does not convey the core of the pro-life position? If the latter, could it not be used to good effect in a 41 second TV spot?

(I Love STR - listen every week through podcast without fail. Subscribe to blog, Lover of Christ and my Christian brethren. - keep this in mind when reading this comment - written with full humility and a sprinkle of humor :-)

I appreciate your diligence and passion for the pro life movement. But don't you think you are over thinking/analyzing this? Enjoy a nice sunset, breath in some fresh air, write a love poem. Do something to loosen up. It seems you might be wound up a little too tightly.

I don't think that anyone that watches that little commercial would come to the conclusion that you are worried about. One would have to watch it several times and put a lot of mind numbing philosophical thought into it to come to those conclusions. So brother Brett, go enjoy some hot soothing tea.

I think people's first reaction to that video is "that was clever." The ad counters the argument some pro abortion advocates try to say regarding current circumstances (poverty, one parent, age of parent, etc.) are a good reason to end the life. The fact is current circumstances does not dictate future outcome.

On a personal note, my mother was 17 when she had me. Her doctor advised her to have an abortion. So this issue is very real to me.

May we praise our Lord for Obama, love him as our President, and pray for his success. Praise God for His Sovereign grace and love.

Brett - You are right on, as usual, and I agree with everything you say in your post, except your saying that the ad "sends the wrong message."

I think the ad effectively plays into the postmodern sensibilities that are prevalent today. The group places the fetus into a compelling narrative. I think a lot of people can relate to what the beginning of the ad is showing. And the ending ... is a wonderful surprise. The first time my wife and I saw the ad, we didn't see that end coming. We both loved it.

I think the ad will really make the average viewer think about what an abortion actually does. I don't think thoughts of "instrumental value" and "intrinsic value" come into play for most viewers.

I can't watch it due to an error: "We're sorry, this video is no longer available."

Either there's a bug or YouTube decided it wasn't politically correct to host the video...

Gee, I dunno. I agree with Brett that the video makes a bad argument. One of the arguments for the pro-choice side comes from the fact that abortion prevents people from having miserable lives. That's what the "every child a wanted child" slogan is about. But that's a bad argument because it amounts to mercy killing. We're not justified in taking somebody's life just to prevent them from being miserable.

This commercial is basically an answer to that argument. It's saying than even people who do start off having miserable childhoods or who apparently had little chance of ever amounting to anything can later do great things and have fulfilling lives. If abortion is bad because it prevents people from great achievements, then (1) that implicitly acknowledges the validity of the above pro-choice argument and (2) it could easily be refuted in situations where the child has no chance of great achievement. It's not hard to think of diseases or deformities that would prevent people from having anything but difficult or short lives.

On the other hand, if the goal is to save lives, do we necessarily need a sound argument to do it? Lawyers are experts at logical fallacies, especially ad hominems. The reason is that if you're a lawyer, the object isn't to arrive at the truth; rather, it's to win your case. And often a logical fallacy is more persuasive to people who lack critical thinking skills than a sound argument is. If we could save more lives with an unsound argument than we could be sound arguments alone, is it necessarily wrong to use them? I dunno.

I suspect this sort of ad is persuasive to some people, even though the reasoning is bad.

And I think the reasoning is bad, not just because the basis of the argument (instrumental value) is wrong, but also because even if instrumental value is a good reason to be pro-life, how many people become president? At best, this sort of argument can only say that we shouldn't have abortions because it's POSSIBLE the person might be president some day. Well, considering how remote that possibility is, this isn't a very strong argument for the pro-life side.

It's possible to rebut an argument by stating "even assuming your proposition A is true (and I don't concede that it is), your proposition B is refutable and does not follow from proposition B."
Thus, the message might be: even if life were based on instrumental value (and we don't concede that it is), your claim to some sort of special knowledge as to whom has instrumental value is speculative at best, and you end up playing God (without the benefit of omniscience). Therefore, even assuming your proposition that lives are instrumentally valuable is true (a point we do not concede), your conclusion that [all abortions should be allowed for any reason, or all abortions should be allowed in the second trimester, or abortion should be allowed when the parents are poor, etc.] does not flow from your premise.

As a lawyer, I make arguments like this all the time. I don't think the ad "implies" that instrumental value is the correct approach; rather, it rebuts another argument based on that faulty premise.

I meant proposition B does not follow from proposition *A* (in the first paragraph of my previous post).

You have a good point there, Naturallawyer. But if that's the way we argue, then it's going to come down to probability. If we concede, for the sake of argument, that instrumental value is what counts, then probability of instrumental value is going to determine who wins, and I don't think it's going to be hard for the pro-choice side to win in that case.

Brett, I'd love the video to make a better argument (maybe you should make one!), but this one is like a point-by-point refutation of the usual liberal emotional appeals, and I think that serves as important purpose

Chad -

You're joking, right?

Praise God for a president who has voted in favor of infanticide? Pray that his pro-child murder, socialist ideas succeed in this country?

I'm sorry, I cannot do that.

Mo, what is the alternative? We can praise him, blame him, or deny his sovereignty. What other options are there?


I disagree that the next step is "probability". Again, assuming without conceding the "instrumentalist" idea of value, probability of future success would seem irrelevant to me. If a person (under the instrumentalist view) turns out to be valuable (such as Obama in the example), then he has--and always had--value. Thus, the argument justifying abortion is not really whether there is a "probability" of someone being valuable or not, unless they are willing to say that it's permissible to shoot a gun into a crowd of sick people hoping to get the really miserable ones (i.e. not instrumentally valuable) and avoid the instrumentally valuable ones. If one concedes that *some* unborn persons are instrumentally valuable based on the success that *some* of them will achieve, then playing Russian roulette with instrumentally valuable souls, such as even the POTUS, seems ludicrous.
I still think the argument has teeth. Is a pro-choice person really going to resort to "instrumental value" as a last refuge? That either makes him/her (a) willing to gamble with the souls of valuable human beings (notwithstanding the existence of non-valuable human beings as well), which is no different than doing so with people outside the womb, or (b) willing to restrict abortion to cases where they are *absolutely certain* that there is no "instrumental value" in the person being aborted (and boy would that change the debate--I'd love the focus of the argument to be there, rather than where it is now). Otherwise, they must reject instrumental value completely and say that no unborn person has any value, even the future president of the united states. And, given this ad, that makes them look kind of stupid to the public, even if the public isn't sophisticated enough to grasp the complexity of the argument.

How does this ad differ from Scott Klusendorf and Steve Wagner's use of graphic pictures of aborted fetuses? After all, the killing of the unborn is wrong because they are human beings, not because they were killed gruesomely. The ugliness of the killing is not relevant to the question of whether the being killed is one of us.

Great art moves people. Great literature moves people. Neither is an "argument." Are you suggesting that such genres are illegitimate because they aren't arguments?

Remember, Jesus told the parable of Good Samaritan, not an explication of Kant's categorical imperative.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good argument as much as the next nerd at the coffee shop arguing with the Goth chick in the corner. But not every thing has to be placed under the grid of "argument" to be a legitimate form of persuasive communication.

Naturallawyer, I could be wrong, but I suspect most people are willing to accept a little collateral damage in order to save a majority. We do it in war all the time.

Pro-choice people who use the instrumental value argument seem to think abortion saves people.

In any particular case of an abortion, since they don't actually know the future of the unborn, they have nothing but probability to base their decision on. Do you really think it's persuasive (on the instrumentalist view) to say that you shouldn't abort somebody because, even though in all probability they will live miserable lives, there's still the remote possibility that they might have a good life?

Frank, I think the graphic pictures work because they convince people that abortion really does kill people. The graphic pictures serve as evidence, showing what abortion does.

But besides that, Frank, even if an "argument" isn't necessary to persuade, it seems to me that this video DOES MAKE an argument. And since it makes an argument, I think we SHOULD examine the validity of it.


"Pro-choice people who use the instrumental value argument seem to think abortion saves people."

I don't think this is true. In the several debates with pro-choicers that I've had, I've yet to hear the argument that abortion should be allowed solely because it saves lives, or because abortion is an inherently life-saving mechanism (they would get laughed at for suggesting that). Sure, they throw out the "what about when the life of the mother is in danger?" line, but they generally do not want to confine abortion to that instance (and if they did, I don't know that I'd call them pro-choice).

The collateral damage argument would only work in cases where the particular abortion in question could save a life. The instrumentalist argument is an argument about who is valuable enough for protection by the law; I don't think it has anything to do with collateral damage or saving other lives.

You also said: "Do you really think it's persuasive (on the instrumentalist view) to say that you shouldn't abort somebody because, even though in all probability they will live miserable lives, there's still the remote possibility that they might have a good life?"

Do you really think it's persuasive (on the instrumentalist view) to say that you should be able to abort somebody because, even though they will live an outstanding life (and therefore have inherent value under the instrumentalist view), and are no threat to anyone's well being (in all but the most idiosyncratic cases), there's still the very real possibility that they might have an undesirable life?

After all, if we're talking about valid arguments (not persuasive effect), the instrumentalist pro-choicer either contradicts him/herself, or admits his/her willingness to randomly shoot into a crowd of sick people to get rid of the miserable along with some very important healthy people, or admits that abortion should be restricted to cases of certain misery (I don't see any other logical options, though it's late and there are probably others...). If we're talking public persuasive effect rather than logic, the instrumentalist loses based on the artistic power of the ad noted by Dr. Beckwith, plus the distasteful response by the pro-abortionist that he/she is willing to engage in random "collateral damage" in cases where no protection is necessary (which is simply "damage" and not "collateral damage", which would imply some greater good) and it may result in killing very important people (under the instrumentalist view).

I still see the ad being effective and not harmful, unless pro-lifers misunderstand the ad to affirmatively state that the instrumentalist view is correct and then adopt that point of view as well. I just don't see that happening. It's a good ad.

Dr. Beckwith,

If you love a good argument, come tell us what you think of the Loving Parent Argument in the replies to Brett's prior post. Unless you agree with it, I can be your Goth chick.

I agree with the observation that there is a utilitarian like component to the commercial but I still believe it's still a good response to proabortionist becasue it uses the opposite side of the blade and cuts the weilder demonstrated by the sand they are kicking up as a result of it. It would be better if they shown human value as not tied to what you do.

Finally got to watch the video. Brett makes a good point that life's value is intrinsic rather than in its potential, but I don't think that's what the video intended to convey.

Instead, it seems to me they're trying to get pro-choicers to stop and think about the consequences of what they advocate.

"Frank, I think the graphic pictures work because they convince people that abortion really does kill people. The graphic pictures serve as evidence, showing what abortion does."

All it does is show that abortion kills beings that look like little people. I can show you pictures of aborted monkey fetuses and they would not look much different than human ones. Are the monkeys people?

What the "picture" approach does--if I may play the role of logic-chopping hard-ass--is reinforce the idea that people are people because of their appearance not because of their essence or nature. After all, what sort of pictures can you produce to show that the blastocyst is a person?

I am not suggesting that Scott and Steve are doing anything wrong. In fact, I think it is a great rhetorical technique to prick the consciences of people, to get them on the road to deeper reflection on the abortion question and to begin to see the full humanity of the unborn. But it, like the Obama commercial, is an entry, not a destination.

If you think of both of them that way, you won't get all uptight about the Obama commercial not being the Platonic ideal of a prolife argument.

Sometimes all you need just a rose and not a dozen to pique someone's interest.

Dr. Beckwith: "Sometimes all you need just a rose and not a dozen to pique someone's interest."

Right on. The ad is not the ideal pro-life "argument," but I think it's persuasive (along the lines of art and literature), as you stated earlier.

Jesse is also correct, "[I]t seems to me [the ad makers are] trying to get pro-choicers to stop and think about the consequences of what they advocate."

Sam -

I'm not seeing any conflict. We can still praise God. We cannot blame Him for the choice of people to vote for Barack Obama. We cannot blame God for Christians who knew what he stands for and still chose to vote for him. Of course God is still sovereign. One day Barack Obama will stand and give account for his life, just like everyone else. And of course I agree that we need to pray for him.

We can know and do all these things and still refuse to agree with his views. We can fight his policies in whatever way we can, either by speaking out or if things come to a vote.

What I see Christians doing is having the attitude of, "Well, he won the election. Now we have to stop speaking out against his policies and support him in everything he does."

As Christians, I cannot see how we can do such a thing. Barack Obama stands against everything we believe in, everything that God stands for - starting with the sacredness of life itself.
How can we just stay silent?

Think about what we're saying. If we say we wish for his success, we mean we are wishing he succeeds in implementing policies that are harmful to people. How can we support that?

There's some good discussion here! Let me respond and clarify:

(1) Chad: For the life of me I can't understand how you drew the conclusion that I'm "wound up too tight" from this post. Did I rant and rave? Don't think so. Besides, I live at the beach so I get sunsets and fresh air daily. If you knew me, you'd never accuse me of being too uptight. Be careful of drawing conclusions about someone's character or personality from a single blog post.

(2) Frank: We do not use graphic pictures to make an argument but to restore meaning to the word abortion, capturing the reality of abortion as it really is. Then we make the logical argument. I agree the gruesome nature of abortion is irrelevant to the moral status of the fetus and that's why graphic images are used for a very particular purpose.

And of course I'm not suggesting "such genres are illegitimate because they aren't arguments?" I said so in this very post: "Tools like this are a powerful way to put our pro-life arguments into narrative form." We need more of it.

(3) I'm open to the possibility this video might be an effective tool. It's use of irony is powerful. But my concern (which is a small one at this point!) is the argument being turned back on pro-lifers. Imagine another video, emotionally charged music playing in the background. In the opening scene we see a young single mom. She's struggling. She's poor. She's struggling with a drug addiction. And she's pregnant. The final scene shows her sitting in a dark alley, holding a newborn baby, in total despair. The video closes with, "Imagine the devastating consequences if abortion is not available to women." Same instrumentalist argument, different conclusion. And if the other side has much better story-tellers, we lose.


Re your point the "opposing video", the mothere's suffering in the alley wouldn't matter if that baby in the dark alley grows up to become president (the point of the Obama ad). The Obama ad isn't about what the mother suffers based on the choice of "abortion versus bearing a child". Under the instrumentalist view being hypothesized, Obama is valuable from birth regardless of his mother's suffering, because after all he will be POTUS. If the ad has its logical effect, the viewer is not going to be left thinking, "but Obama's mom went through pain and inconvenience, and that clearly outweighs Obama's worth as POTUS". The counter-video you propose doesn't undermine the Obama video, even if the Obama view does espouse an instrumentalist view of human value.

But lets assume for a moment that the pro-choice crowd makes a similar video where the kid grows up to become a crack addict (regardless of how the mother feels), and thus lacks human value under the instrumentalist view. You still face all the stuff Sam and I have been discussing: the makers of the "kid becomes a crack addict video" have to admit that they are willing to kill a future president of the united states so they can also kill the future crack addict. That is no answer (or at least not a pallatable one).

To the extent you are worried about the other side being better storytellers or making fancier commercials, isn't that true even if the Catholic commercial is more philosophically sound? (Even though I contend it is philosophically sound under an "if/then" interpretation.)

I think you may be missing the point NaturalLawyer.

Bret is making the simple argument that value is derived from being human. Unborn babies are human thus they should not be aborted without sufficient justification.

Value is not given to people based upon what one accomplishes or does not accomplish. A crack addict has as much a right to life as the president of the United States.

Thus, making a video that we shouldn't abort children because they may become the President of the US is emotionally persuasive but not logically sound.

Oh by the way, are you an attorney?

David: yes, I am an attorney (but don't let that trick you into thinking my arguments have any merit!). See my post at 4:21 yesterday for an understanding of my interpretation of the ad.

Of course I agree that all people (including crack addicts) are inherently valuable. I would imagine that the people who made the Obama ad also think that. They are responding to a false pro-choice argument that does assume an instrumental presupposition of value. The argument of the ad is "even if the value of a person is based on instrumentality (and we don't concede that it does), allowing abortion still permits the killing of instrumentally valuable people such as the president of the united states" (ergo, you pro-choicers shouldn't justify abortion on silly arguments like "what about the children who grow up to be crack addicts?" because you are still also wiping out the people who, even in your view, have value).

The ad does not ever propose that human beings who don't become president don't have value (or even come close to saying that). It's "if we assume for the sake of argument that x of your argument is true, y is still false".

I think there are some who have missed the point of the Obama advertisement, but I don't think it's me :-)

I actually agree with you and am not trying to be argumentative.

I was unaware of the reasons for the ad. an am merely tracing Bret's argument, which I do not think has anything to do with the instrumentalist view of value. He is just making the point that potential "greatness" of the unborn should not factor into the decision of abortion.

I like the video. I think it is compelling and persuasive for emotional reasons. I just happen to agree with Bret about the logic.

Anywho, I am in lawschool right now and hopefully will be an attorney one day.

What law school did you go to? Are you local to SoCal?


No problem, I didn't think you were being "argumentative" in a bad way (proposing an argument is a good thing, in my opinion, and you didn't seem discourteous or anything, and I hope I didn't either).

By instrumentalist view of value, I mean the view that someone's value is based on one's utility or "instrumentality" to some other perceived good. I think that view is exactly what Brett is addressing in saying that people are valuable regardless of their utility (with which I whole-heartedly agree).

By saying potential "greatness" isn't a factor, I think he's saying that a person is valuable regardless of what they accomplish (i.e., regardless of what other good results they reach, results to which they would be "instruments"). That, to me, directly addresses the view that a person's value depends on the ends to which they are the means.

I think the logic of the video is sound, and you have to read a premise (that isn't there) into the video to make it illogical. I don't think that's very fair at all. Exactly where in the video do they say that the value of Obama's life depends on his becoming president?

I tend to think the ad is specifically targeted at Obama in the hopes that he'll see it; the message isn't "you are valuable because you became president", it's "you are valuable, Mr. President, and you were valuable even before you were born."

So as not to bore the rest of the readers here, see the "about" section of my blog (click my name beneath this post) and feel free to leave a comment and I'll email you back with more details. I do work in LA.

I disagree with you view of the ad. I do not think you have to read a premise into the video, I in fact believe the premise at question is what the video was attempting to show.

Do not abort children because you do not know what they will grow up to be. What greater example than the president of the US.

Actually, the premise you do not abort children because of intrinsic value is the less reasonable premise to read into the video.

You guys are all too 'intellectual' for most of us here in flyover America! We are looking for some good, all-American, common sense! I don't care about your knowledge of vocabulary, or ability to 'win' an argument. I just care if you are 'real' and down-to-earth! Stop trying to impress each other! Speak in plain language, like old-timers such as myself might understand. You can't argue us out of our opinions...not the common man. If you must make an argument, make it plain and understandable. Stop using those 'big' words. You don't have to prove you're smart, we can see that you are. Why you all use more fancy, high-falutin words in one sentence than I have used in a lifetime. Sometimes it seems like a competition on these sites, to out-smart, out-vocabularize (is that a word?) each prove? You are SMART! Well, I am not, not in the way you all are. But I am hungry for the Truth, and for a deeper relationship with the I go to these sites, and I am always dissapointed that you smart guys take it over. I just can't compete. I don't have any degrees, or fancy vocabulary to express myself. You guys don't want to include us in your just want to prove your point, or prove your intellect. And when someone like me tries to enter the discussion, we are either ignored or intimidated. I think one of the things I love about Jesus is that He didn't have to prove anything! He was always plain spoken, so that the 'common' man could understand. No intellectual, He, He loved the average Joe. I work with Special Ed kids, and I have learned, there is a special skill in communicating with people who aren't on your same level intellectually. Perhaps, people who frequent this site, might consider those of us who aren't well versed in intellectual debate, but have something to say of value anyhow. Thanks for letting me 'rant.' God Bless

I am sorry you feel that way Robbie's Kid. All my comments were sincere and were not an attempt to prove how smart I am. In fact, I went back and read my comments and do not understand how you could come to the conclusion you did.

This is the first time I have seen you post anything so I haven't ignored you. How could I ignore you if I didn't even know you existed?

Robbie's Kid,

I would encourage you to go for it! Jump in there and say what you want to say! Everyone will respond however they see fit, and there's enough sincere Christians that frequent this site to internally police anyone who tries to browbeat anyone else. We don't tolerate bullies on this blog - they face enough pointed confrontation not to last very long.

What did you think of the video?

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