Friday, January 22, 2021

at least for the elites, the science didn't matter much back then either

Hadley Arkes in FT with a sobering reminder on the history of our knowledge (at least of the elites) of the science on biological life. Even then, the science didn't matter to many people.

I continue to find it remarkable to hear people say that public opinion may change on abortion because we know so much more about the baby in the womb than we did in 1973 when Roe was decided. But the brief for Texas showed how precise and deep our knowledge of the child in the womb already was:

"It most certainly seems logical that from the stage of differentiation, after which neither twinning nor recombination will occur, the fetus implanted in the uterine wall deserves respect as a human life. If we take the definition of life as being said to be present when an organism shows evidence of individual animate existence, then from the blastocyst stage the fetus qualifies for respect. It is alive because it has the ability to reproduce dying cells. It is human because it can be distinguished from other non-human species, and once implanted in the uterine wall it requires only nutrition and time to develop into one of us."

And perhaps the most jolting argument on that point came in the decision that the lawyers cited from a case in New York in 1953, Kelly v. Gregory, twenty years before Roe. The court dealt there with the challenge, emerging already, that the offspring was merely a part of the body of the mother and that a woman should have sovereign control of her own body.

"We ought to be safe in this respect in saying that legal separability should begin where there is biological separability. We know something more of the actual process of conception and fetal development now than when some of the common law cases were decided; and what we know makes it possible to demonstrate clearly that separability begins at conception.

The mother’s biological contribution from conception on is nourishment and protection; but the fetus has become a separate organism and remains so throughout its life. That it may not live if its protection and nourishment are cut off earlier than the viable stage of its development is not to destroy its separability; it is rather to describe the conditions under which life will not continue."

let's just drop the "just" prayers

Going through my files, I love the point made by this letter to the editor of Touchstone by Richard Euson. (I can't find it on-line but will reproduce excerpts below.)

When I hear prayers that being, "We just ask...", I picture Bob Cratchit huddled over a single coal dying in the grate on Christmas Eve. He fearfully turns to Scrooge and asks for "just one more coal, Mr. Scrooge, just one more." Why "just" one more? Because he knows that Scrooge is a tight-fisted, miserly old devil. "Just" signals Cratchit's submission to his master's stinginess. So Cratchit doesn't ask for much. "Just one more lump of coal. Because it's not much, maybe Scrooge will relent.

Our "just" prayers imply that we're Bob Cratchit cringing before a divine Scrooge. We don't really expect much from God. "Just" is our way of rationalizing our lowered expectations while apologizing for the imposition...The "just" implies that God, like Scrooge, is stingy...

The surprising truth, brought home to us especially at Christmas, is that God is unimaginably, extravagantly generous. God didn't "just" send his one and only Son to be born in an obscure village in Judea. He gave the best he had: himself in human form and flesh...[And on the Parable of the Prodigal Sons] While Scrooge calculated the cost of every scrap of coal, the Father gladly gives the fattened calf, the signet ring, and his own robes."

Thursday, January 7, 2021

on comparing terrible politicians, parties, and partisans

When I say that X and Y are terrible, it does not imply that they are equally terrible or they are invested in the same kinds of terrible.

When I say that X is terrible in a situation with only two choices, it does not imply that I approve of Y, "support" Y, or am a fan of Y. (When I see people who choose terrible X over terrible Y, I apply the same logic.)

I recognize that knowledge about politics and public policy is usually light and biased. But I don't get excited about this, unless the ignorance is accompanied by dogmatism.

I recognize that preferences about politics vary and are important to many people. So, I tolerate those differences, unless they start making contradictory claims-- e.g., I'm liberal but I don't vehemently oppose cancel culture; I'm socially conservative and sexual ethics matter in a president...well, until it's our guy.

I recognize that preferences about public policy vary. So, I tolerate those differences, unless they start making contradictory claims (again, often with dogmatism)-- e.g., I'm "pro-choice" but only on abortion; I'm "pro-science" but it doesn't matter to me that biological life begins at conception; I'm "conservative" but condone or even embrace fiscal profligacy; I'm "liberal" but say little or nothing about warmongers.