Friday, November 5, 2010

Abortion: The SLED Argument

The first part of this three part series incited a number of comments, and as expected, key differences between a fetus and a full-term baby were cited. Specifically, the issue of dependency was brought up. Today I want to address that, as well as the three other key differences between a fetus and a newborn infant.

This argument is in fact not my own. It was first introduced in a 1990 book called Moral Question of Abortion, by Stephen Schwarz. It is commonly referred to as the "SLED" argument, because it begins by using the word sled as an acromyn, with each letter in the word referring to one key difference between a fetus and a newborn infant. While I will rely on the formula of the argument, I'll do so in my own words.


Size: One obvious difference between a fetus and a newborn infant is size. One might say, "how can something that small be a person?" But is it size that makes us human? Of course not. To say that would also imply that adults are more human than children, and that tall people are more fully human than short people. Men are typically larger than women, but they are not more human. I saw this bumper sticker just the other day:

Level of Development: Let's talk about this. An embryo in the very earliest stages doesn't have a lot of the things an adult has, including a functioning brain, the ability to experience pain, a beating heart, fingers, toes...the list goes on. But human value is not based on abilities, what a person can or cannot do. Again, brain damage does not make someone less human. Nor does a lack of fingers, nor the lack of an ability to feel pain. And one must consider the difference in development between a toddler and an adult. Despite the significant differences in both ability and appearance, the life of the toddler is no less valuable.

Environment: You might think this one would be a no-brainer, but thinking persists that because a child remains in the womb, it is not yet a person. "Location, location, location" certainly matters when we're talking about real estate values, but it has nothing to do with human value. Moving a few inches down the birth canal does not immediately make one human. Where you are and where you live doesn't give you value. That's basic human rights.

Degree of Dependency: Let's think this one through. An unborn child is absolutely dependent on its mother to live. That's true. However, we must allow that as science advances, younger and younger babies are capable of surviving outside the womb. A child that would not have been able to survive outside the womb twenty years ago might do quite well today. So does the child have more inherent human value simply because technology has advanced? Absurd. You may choose to argue that even that child could not survive without technology, but if you do, be prepared to give an answer to others dependent on technology like pacemakers and the like. Further, it's not as if a child is not dependent on its mother once it's been delivered. You couldn't just leave it alone outdoors and expect it to take care of itself. It's absolutely dependent on others for its care. So are most young children, but we wouldn't question the value of their lives, would we? Does being less dependent make one more valuable? Of course not. I could argue that none of us (or at least very few) are completely independent on each other. Dependency does not negate human value.


That's the SLED argument. I'm anxious to hear your feedback. And don't wander too far. Part three of this series on abortion will be coming soon.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Abortion: An Unreasonable Choice

I've been thinking about this for a while. Today I'm starting a three-part series on abortion. My thoughts on the subject have changed a lot over the years, but I've felt much more strongly about it since my wife got pregnant with our first child.

To start, I want to tackle the issue from the standpoint of logic. I'll admit there are stronger arguments, but I think this is an important one. The argument is similar to an important historical argument from Blaise Pascal. In case you're a little cloudy on who he was, you might want to check out his Wikipedia article. Anyway, theology wasn't what he was most known for, but he had a few things to say, and many would argue that this is his most significant contribution:


"… let us say: 'Either God is or he is not.' But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager? Reason cannot make you choose either, reason cannot prove either wrong. . . Yes, but you must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed. Which will you choose then? . . .

Let us weigh up the gain and the loss involved in calling heads that God exists. Let us assess the two cases: if you win you win everything, if you lose you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then; wager that he does exist. . . . And thus, since you are obliged to play, you must be renouncing reason if you hoard your life rather than risk it for an infinite gain, just as likely to occur as a loss amounting to nothing… Thus our argument carries infinite weight, when the stakes are finite in a game where there are even chances of winning and losing and an infinite prize to be won."

Personally, I think that's pretty brilliant. So let's take that same logic and apply it to abortion. First of all, we must establish something that neither side will like to admit. It's that we have no certain scientific proof of whether a human fetus is truly human or merely a collection of cells. I know both sides would like to argue with me on this point. But if anyone had incontrovertible proof of the truth here, there would be no reasonable debate. So for now, let all who will be reasonable agree that a human fetus either constitutes a genuine human life or it does not, and that there is some evidence to support both sides of the argument.

That being said, consider for a moment the consequence of each side being wrong. If I say that a fetus is, in fact, a living human being, the logical position is to forbid abortion. If I am wrong, and a fetus is not a living human being, then I have needlessly burdened parents with an unwanted child. There are further repercussions as well that encompass but are not limited to the risks of pregnancy to the mother and the life-changes that will inevitably ensue from the birth of the child. It must be noted that pregnancy puts the mother's life at risk.

Whereas in Pascal's Wager, the consequence of being wrong about God being real was really nothing, here there is a very real risk to being wrong. There is a lot of room for debate about the greatest negative repercussion to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. But does anything trump the possible death of the mother? To my thinking, nothing does.

Now let's look at the other side. If I say a fetus is simply a cell mass, and not a genuine human life, the logical position is to allow for abortion. But if I am wrong, the consequence of abortion is quite simply murder. It's pretty uncomplicated, and I don't think I need to say much more about it.

Let's weigh the consequences of being wrong. On the one hand, you burden the mother and/or father, may bring about huge life changes for them, and it's possible the health or even the life of the mother will be endangered. Bad stuff. But on the other hand, you have the certain and intentional death of an innocent human baby. And if there is a God that values life, as Blaise Pascal would argue there is, there will be a certain retribution.

Ok, some people really could give a flip about the God thing, but the logic of the issue seems clear. The Pro-Life position is simply more rational. You're weighing possible tragedies on one hand against a certain and ultimate tragedy on the other. And given that none of us can give a certain and incontrovertible scientific answer to the identity of the fetus, we're all gambling that we're right. So I think it's important to ask yourself, "What if I'm wrong?" Are you ok with the consequences of that? Or do you refuse to allow the question, and choose to remain in a bubble of ignorance and pride that will not allow for the possibility that the dissenting opinion could actually be right? And if that is the case, then you are the definition of "closed-minded."


Let's call this an introduction to the topic. In part two, I'll present evidence supporting why I believe a fetus constitutes a genuine human life. See you then.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Where to start?

Lately I've been considering a return to blogging. It's been more than a year since I've written regularly, and honestly, I just don't know where to start. But lately I've been reading some blogs again, and I randomly got two comments last week from readers I don't think I know.

By the way, thanks and welcome to both Anonymous and The Saxophone Player's Wife.

And so last week (or was it the week before?) I went on this random grammar tirade, and while it's true that grammar is a subject about which I'm quite passionate (Did you see how I avoided ending a sentence with a preposition there?), I admit it was kind of out of nowhere.

So let's start with the best part. I'm gonna be a dad. I think most of the people that will end up reading this have already heard that news, but you've probably never heard how excited I am. AND, dear reader, I've wanted to share this with you for some time. Sometime let's talk about abortion. Cause really, I'm not nearly as understanding as I used to be regarding that issue. Sorry. But an ultrasound can be a life-changing experience sometimes, just in case you didn't know that already.

We're having a girl. We're going to name her Emmelyn. It seems like every day I'll lean over to Wifey and ask something like, "Do you think Emmie will be smart?" or "Do you think Emmie will have curly hair?" or "Do you think Emmie will be funny?" Incidentally, if she doesn't have a sense of humor, she's not gonna make it in this house.

I'm already preparing my apology for the day my daughter comes to me and asks why we couldn't have given her a normal name. Because I know she's going to have to go through life repeating it to people that mistakenly call her Amy or Emma.

Honestly, there's no good reason we have for naming her Emmelyn. Sure, my mother-in-law's middle name was Lynn, and we're sort of naming our daughter after her. Her name was Kitty. Emmie's middle name will be Kitty. But really, I was just sitting around one day and thought it up. Emmelyn sounded like a real name to me, so I looked it up on the internet, and sure enough, it's a real, albeit obscure, name. And Wifey liked it too. So there ya go.

What else? We moved to the Dallas area. I'm no longer "a Texan on mission to California." My old church pretty much fell apart. (That's another story for another day.) I failed to get into any Ph.D. programs, which is just as well, because so far I've failed to graduate my Master's program too. (Grr! I'll get to that another time too.) And I've officially gone from employed to unemployed to underemployed, which is what probably best describes my current situation.

And even as I look back over this post, I feel overwhelmed by inadequacy at my ability to make up for more than a year of not writing, despite the much appreciated encouragement I've gotten from readers. It makes me want to just delete the whole thing and just find a Netflix movie.

But I'm not gonna do it. I'm gonna hit the publish button this time, with a few itemized disclaimers:

1. I make no promises, reader. I may blog again tomorrow, the next day, or I may wait another year.

2. If I do return to blogging, I hope to find some interesting topics. But I've figured out something that I think is a hard lesson for most bloggers. My blog is not likely to ever draw too many readers outside the circle of those that already care about me. That's ok. But even as I write now, I remind myself that the most important person I write for is myself. It's just good for me, as my wife often reminds me. So if I fail to entertain you, dear reader, I offer my apologies, but note that you have been warned.

3. To anyone from my church that reads my blog now or ever, let me apologize to you in advance my lack of pious restraint. I am humbled by the example of those saints that came before me, and even those that surround me now whose words are always befitting to their station. But me? I'm pretty raw, overly confessional, and sometimes bordering on crass, and if that comes out in my writing every now and then, you too have been warned.

4. To those who enjoy having something to argue about, to those that read my blog just to have someone to disagree with, to be mad at, to make fun of, you have been heard. I'll make an effort to get your ire up real soon.

To all of you, thanks for reading. See you again soon.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

My thoughts on the Muslim center near ground zero

I haven't blogged in a long time, but this is an issue I feel so strongly about that I'm choosing to emerge from the silence and make my feelings known. So here we go...

People, "Islamic" is not a word. Neither is "Islamist." If you're looking for the adjective version of Islam, it's MUSLIM. Now, whatever we all feel about whether or not there should be a Muslim center blocks from ground zero, I hope we can all come together and rally on common ground.

Grammar is everybody's problem.

If I hear one more journalist, pundent, or politician say "Islamic" or "Islamist" again, I'm turning the channel. It's a simple zero-tolerance policy.

While we're at it, the plural for "person" is "people." Not "persons!" We have no need of that word. Also, the act of moving is called "motion" - not "movement!" But we've been lax so long that both persons and movement have become accepted and proper English. We've got to draw the line somewhere.

The word is "Muslim," people. Say it with me. M-u-s-l-i-m...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Meet Penny!

We've been planning to get a second dog for months now, so Zeke will have somebody to play with, especially when we're out. Sunday afternoon we picked up a puppy from a rescue in LA. We're calling her Penny (I think). She's an honest mutt. Her mother was a mutt, with some identifiable Dachshund in her, and her father was a mutt of indeterminate breed. I won't go into responsible breeding here. I just want to show you our new family portrait!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New possibilities

Well, as feared, I didn't get into any of my schools this year. All the rejections came in a three-day period. It was pretty hard, and that's why I haven't gotten around to writing about it until now. It puts me in an interesting situation though. I'll be sending out a new round of applications in the Fall, but I've got a whole year free. We could do just about anything we like. We've got a few ideas.

1.) Move to Europe.

But what do you do next? Yay, I'm in Europe! I'd still have to find a job, get an apartment (Oh, sorry. A "flat."), and then there's the fact that I don't really know anybody in Europe. And I know me. I'm a homebody. Traveling is much more fun when it can be done by supper time and I can sleep in my own bed.

2.) Start a band.

But I'm already in a band! I've played in a bunch of bands in my life. On the upside, I already have a pretty red electric guitar. On the downside, bands have to rehearse. Hours and hours playing the same songs over and over. Listen - bands are cool, but trust me - it's a lot of work.

3.) Hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail runs North and South across the West coast, beginning at the U.S./Mexican border and ending somewhere in Canada. My brother-in-law has chosen this option himself, and plans to leave sometime in mid-April, depending on the weather. He's been training since December, and packing since . . . oh, I don't know. August?

More power to him, really. But Julie brought up a good point the other day. What do you do every night? Seriously. You're out in nature, all by yourself, with nothing to do but feed the fire. Yeah, I see the romantic appeal, but I just think I might get bored after about a week of that.

4.) ???

What would you do? I'm open to suggestions here. And yes, I have a few more ideas. But what would you do if you had a year with no real commitments?? (Assume you have to provide for yourself somehow.)

Monday, March 1, 2010

March already?

Seriously, it's March 1st, and I still have no idea where I'll be living or what I'll be doing as of this summer. Of the four schools to which I've applied, not one has responded. However, I have third-hand information that Fordham has already accepted the people they're going to be accepting, except they didn't accept me! So I'm trying to accept that.

That leaves two schools: Boston University and Marquette. Word has it that Marquette sent out their answers at the end of last week by snail mail, so I should know something there by the end of the week. BU says they're informing everyone of their decisions soon too.

Waiting, waiting. Tired of waiting.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Welcome, religious solicitors!

I'm regretting a conversation I had last week. I got a knock at the front door, and Zeke started barking. (What a vicious little dog. What does he really think he's gonna do?) I picked him up and opened to the door to find a young Jehovah's Witness looking for someone to talk to.

I have a policy about this. If somebody comes to my door and wants to talk about knowing God, I'm in. The last time it happened, it was an older lady, and a roommate and I (This was a few years ago) invited her in. She opened her Bible to Exodus 3:14 and showed us that God had actually revealed his name to be Jehovah.

Jehovah's Witnesses have a slightly different Bible from the one you might have (unless, of course, you're a Jehovah's Witness). Most biblical translation is done with the intention of faithfully translating the plain meaning of the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts. The Jehovah's Witnesses also rely on direct revelation through their prophets, as God tells them how the Bible should really be translated. So theirs reads a little differently sometimes.

I grabbed my own Bible and pointed out the distinction. She really wasn't interested. I shared a theory about the origin of the name Jehovah that I'll share with you as well.

In Hebrew, that text in Exodus 3:14 says God's name is YHWH. We transliterate that as Yahweh sometimes, but that's just a guess at the pronunciation. It's difficult to translate it in English. Most often we translate it as "I Am," but it says more than that. It's "I Am Who I Am," or "I Will Be Who I Will Be." But if you're reading Hebrew, you'll see something funny there. See, the Hebrew language didn't have vowels. But in later years, rabbis added in vowels underneath the text, so you'd know how to pronounce the words. This was an exception.

The true name of God, as revealed in Exodus 3:14 was spoken only once a year, by the High Priest. And there hasn't been one of those for about 2,000 years. So now we really have no idea how to pronounce YHWH. If you look at the word in the ancient Masoretic text, YHWH has the vowels "AOA" below it. That's short for "Adonai," which is what Jews will say instead of uttering God's true name, which they would deem sacrilegious.

Now watch this...

If for whatever reason, no one ever told you that, and you just tried to read the Masoretic text with no knowledge of all that, you might read it as "Yahowah," unless, of course, you were German. So much theological work was done in Germany over the past 1,000 years that German is now a required language for Ph.D. students in theology. You don't really have to know Hebrew or Greek, but you do have to know German (and probably French).

If you're German, and you see before you the word "Yahowah," you're gonna read the Y as a J and the W as a V, cause that's what you do in German. And all of a sudden, bam. There you are with "Jahovah" (or "Jehovah?"). It's just a theory, but do you think that might possibly be where that came from?

Back to my story...

So there I was, with a barking dog in my hands, looking at a young Jehovah's Witness through a screen door, and I just wasn't feeling up to the conversation. I said something like, "I'd be glad to talk to you, but I don't think you're gonna want to talk to me. I've had some training in theology, and usually you guys don't like to hear me out. I appreciate you coming by though."

I was nice, but the kid left. Fine. I've tried to justify it, but really I was just being lazy, as is so often the problem. So let me try and make up for it by saying that if there are any JW's out there reading this blog, or Mormons, or...I don't know...atheists, agnostics, whatever, let me just say I'd be glad to talk. And for everybody else, I hope you at least appreciated the etymology lesson.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Waiting, waiting

I realize it's been a while since I've made an update, but there's just been nothing to tell lately. The main thing I'm doing in life right now is waiting for the phone to ring or an e-mail or letter to come through telling me I'm accepted into a Ph.D./Th.D. program. (Incidentally, did you know that Chicago/Turabian style specifies spelling e-mail with a dash? Small price to pay for entry into the ranks of the grammatically elite.)

I'm at the point where every time the phone rings I take a deep breath before looking at the screen and answering. I have the ringer at maximum volume, and I have my email set to make a loud noise whenever something new comes in. Once a day Julie and I go to the mailbox together hoping to see a big manila envelope and dreading a little white one. I could hear something today, or it might not be until mid-March.

Rest assured, friends, that you'll know as soon as I do.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Some people have no imagination.

I'm going to see Avatar today for the second time. I'm sure you've heard about these people who are depressed leaving the movie because they can't go live on that planet with the blue guys. I sorta get that. But why Avatar?

My theory is that for many people, this is the first time they've ever felt like they disappeared into a fantasy. I felt like that too, but I feel that way often. I have ever since I was a kid.

When I was young, I wanted to be a superhero when I grew up. I haven't quite gotten over that. I spent an entire summer making superhero costumes out of paper bags. I used one for each foot, cut holes in one to make a shirt, cut holes in another to make pants, and improvised the rest. I had one for every member of the Super Friends.

I know I've been through this before, but I still can't shake the feeling that I'm just one industrial accident away from my dream! Consider this guy....

One day he's just your average teenager with average problems. The next...BLAMMO!

He's the amazing Spiderman! Or what about this joker?

One day he's your average working stiff. The next...BAZOOM!!

He's the incredible Hulk! (Oh, poor me! I'm doomed to walk the Earth with this totally awesome thing inside me!")

I could go on. The Fantastic Four - right place, right time. Captain America? Genetic experiment gone RIGHT. Then there's always the natural route. You know this guy, right?

Batman has no super powers. He has a few high tech gadgets, sure, but mostly he's just got skillz. And sadly, this is probably the route I'm gonna have to go. It's not like you can count on a meteor landing on you, or rogue gamma rays hitting you, or anything like that. I've got a ways to go. But hey, I lost four pounds this week. I'm on my way!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I've been putting this off, cause there's a lot of raw emotion surrounding it right now...

The main thing going on in my life right now is waiting to hear from schools. I've applied to four, and they each have their strong points.

1. Baylor University

Located way out in the middle of nowhere in Waco, TX, Baylor offers a university-based Ph.D. in religion. That's good, because it opens a lot of doors that a seminary degree wouldn't. But what sets this program apart is that it's the only one I know where most of the faculty are Christians with generally conservative, orthodox theology. It would be really nice to not spend the next 5-7 years debating the literal resurrection of Christ. Then again, I'm not afraid of a little debate. If you've been reading this blog for more than a week, you already know that.

2. Boston University

This is the only seminary-based program to which I'm applying, for reasons stated above. It's a Th.D. program, which is the same thing as a Ph.D. except that it's intended to prepare people to do scholarly work that will benefit the Church, as opposed to scholarly work that primarily benefits people that like to read long theoretical papers about the theoretical existence of God. Now you'd think there'd be more demand for the former than the latter. Not so! But I digress.

3. Fordham University

Located right in the heart of The Bronx, Fordham is a Jesuit school that has a professor who has really impressed me. It's a great school too. Please note that I've decided The Bronx should have a capitalized "The." I visited there a few months ago, and what I saw was exactly what you'd expect to see. If I woke up on a street corner there with no memory of the previous day, I think I'd recognize it even if I'd never been there before. Does that make sense? It does to me.

4. Marquette University

Marquette University is NOT located in Marquette, Wisconsin, as one might expect. It's in Milwaukee. Realizing that most people never get a chance to see the great metropolis that is Milwaukee, let me describe it for you. It's cold. Very cold. As I write this post, the temperature in Milwaukee is 19 degrees, and the wind chill is 8. And that's normal. You'd have to go South a little to get to Vancouver. That being said, it's kind of a nice town, as long as you have a parka and a dog sled team. Marquette is another Roman Catholic school, which you'd think would be a turn-off for me. Actually, to me that means their theology can't get too weird because they're under ecclesiastic authority. Marquette would be fun. Like any of these schools, it'd be a wonderful place to study.

So where are we now? We're waiting. Hopefully we'll hear from all of these schools in the next few weeks, or at least by March. We've already sort of heard from one. Last week Baylor sent out interview invitations to twenty candidates from across the country and the world. I didn't get one. That leaves three schools, and to be honest, any one of them would be great. For some reason, I'm feeling Boston right now. But I don't know. Marquette would be great. Fordham would be great.

So if you want to pray for me, pray that God will guide me to the right school, and that God will guide the right school to my application. I'd appreciate it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I've been taking a little break from blogging, but I've got a few minutes right now, and I thought I'd share a little story from over the Christmas break.

We spent the week before Christmas in Hawaii this year. (I know. Poor me.) The last day of the trip, everyone was going down this huge zip line down the side of a mountain. Fun, huh? But they had a strict weight limit of 250 lbs.

Now....that shouldn't have been a problem, but...well... I'm just about 250 if I skip a couple meals the day before, and hey, I was on vacation. I opted for eating poorly and not doing the zip line. Sad, I know.

All this was fine with Julie, because it gave her the opportunity to do what she really wanted: go to a day spa. An I was fortunate enough to come along. Just consider that a moment. Me at a day spa. You'll be both disappointed and completely unsurprised that I passed on the massage, aroma therapy, the rain shower thingy, the steam rooms (they has several varieties), and the salt water infinity pool. I pretty much just sat in a chair, read my book, and waited for Julie.

I did get up at one point. There was a scale in the locker room, and just for kicks, I wanted to see if that morning I actually was under 250.

I stepped on the scale on looked down to the digital readout.


I stepped off and tried again.


A third time.


Then I just let it sink in. I weigh Err. The scale didn't go high enough to measure my weight. You can imagine how that added to my overwhelming feeling that I didn't belong there. I could tell all the metrosexual men in that locker room were watching me, thinking, "What's he playing at? That scale will never measure his weight!" Guess I need one of those scales that trucks drive over, huh?

So a week ago I started a diet. A real one. A serious one. As it turns out, my weight is getting to be a real health issue. I've had high blood pressure during my last three doctor's visits, and I have high levels of some such thing in my liver.

Over the past few weeks, that Err has really sunk in. I'm marking it at my "before" weight. So far, so good on the diet. If there's anyone out there trying to think of the appropriate joke or insult, trust me - you'll never come up with anything better than that bathroom scale.