Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf

In a culture that does not regard an embryo to be a human person with rights, we have organizations like Planned Parenthood receiving millions of dollars to fund abortions. Pro-lifers have been forced to retreat into a corner as they continue to lose the abortion debate in both the legal and social arena. Does the pro-life position have any merit? Can pro-life Christians enter the marketplace of ideas and defend their views while making an impact in our culture? Scott Klusendorf in his book The Case For Life delivers a powerful resource that aims at not only providing a philosophical, biblical, and scientific pro-life case, but equipping Christians to dismantle the common pro-choice arguments and rhetoric that are steeped in our culture. Klusendorf divides the book into four main parts:
1. Pro-Life Christians the Debate
2. Pro-Life Christians Establish the Foundation for the Debate
3. Pro-Life Christians Answer Objections Persuasively
4. Pro-Life Christians Teach and Equip

Klusendorf opens part one with a fictional conversation in which two close friends, Emily who is  pro-life and Pam who takes a more (liberal) stance, have a discussion of abortion. The conversation highlights how some Christians, or pro-lifers, stumble when trying to defend their views or when trying to raise objections against pro-choice arguments. After exposing the hidden assumptions in Pam’s reasoning, Klusendorf focuses the abortion debate on one pivotal matter: the status of the unborn. This is part of a simple strategy for pro-lifers to utilize when engaging someone in an abortion discussion. First simplify the issue, then argue your position (25).  In step 1 (Simplify the issue), Klusendorf advices that the issue focus on the status of the unborn. Next, he introduces a tactic he calls “Trot out the Toddler,” in which one asks if a “particular justification for abortion also works as a justification for killing toddlers” (25). This tactic forces the pro-choicer to face the issue of the humanity of the unborn. Now Klusendorf briefly presents the case that “elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being,” and lists a brief summary of the main arguments pro-lifers use (he fleshes out the details later).
With the issue clarified, now the questions of “what is the unborn?” and “What makes humans valuable?” become relevant and important to arguing the pro-life case. Klusendorf argues that the unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human organism rather than a mere clump of cells (37). But what about the phenomenon of twinning? Is an embryo really an individual person prior to splitting into twins? Or what about when one has a miscarriage? Or when do we even know precisely when a human being comes into existence in the womb? These objections, along with the burning research lab scenario, are each dealt with in the chapter.

The chapter on “What makes humans valuable?” begins with Klusendorf reiterating the pro-life stance, making sure the reader properly understands the claim. Here is where the other dimension of the pro-life case is introduced, namely, how “human equality is grounded in the substance view of human persons” (50). Klusendorf notes how a human being, as a substance, develops or matures according to its kind. He then contrasts this to the view of property things, where “a property thing, like [a] car, is nothing more than the sum total of its parts” (50). If one takes this view to its logical conclusions, one is forced to accept that human beings are valuable only when they acquire a specific property. Thus, one could conclude that “basic human rights come in varying degrees” (53). Next, in drawing the distinctions between a secular (materialistic) and Christian (religious) worldview, Klusendorf raises the issue of natural human rights existing in a materialistic worldview without a “transcendent source of authority” to ground them (60). As part one comes to a close, the issue of Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR) is investigated. After stem cells and some political history surrounding the matter is explained, Klusendorf breaks the ESCR issue down to one question. He asks, “Is the embryo a member of the human family? If so, killing it to benefit others is a serious moral wrong” (76). With this question already answered in chapter 2--what is the unborn? A distinct, living, whole human organism--Klusendorf explains why ESCR is not only immoral, but unnecessary since adult stem cells can perform just as well, or better, as ESC’s at treating diseases (78).

Now, in part two Klusendorf revisits the conversation between Emily and Pam, pointing out the relativistic mentality in Pam’s thinking. Following a discussion of moral relativism, Klusendorf then describes our culture’s shift from moral realism to moral non-realism. He begins with moral realism presented in the Old Testament and how biblical texts are able to point us to “objective moral truths that exist independent of [our] thinking that they exist” (94). Furthermore, he cites how ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were able to discern some of these objective moral truths, hinting at the fact that these truths are open and knowable to everyone and not just those who had scripture. However, it was the seventeenth and eighteenth century that began the shift from moral realism to moral non-realism due the to the empiricist philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and David Hume (96). As a result, much of the seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophies have paved the way for our postmodern age, where individuals claim that objective moral facts are not knowable.

After demonstrating how postmodernism refutes itself--it makes a universal knowledge claim that there is no universal knowledge--Klusendorf proceeds to discuss the metaphysical issues surrounding abortion. Everyone takes a side on the abortion issue by bringing their metaphysical assumptions to the table; there is no neutral ground. According to Klusendorf, the “issue is not which view of ESCR has metaphysical underpinnings and which does not, but which metaphysical view of human value does a better job of accounting for human rights and human dignity” (103). For those who are pro-life, the view on ESCR “is that humans are intrinsically valuable in virtue of the kind of thing they are” (103). So can a secular ethic or metaphysic really account for human value and rights? Klusendorf says no. Assuming the secularist is a materialist, materialism cannot explain or account for “non-material minds, the existence of moral and rational oughts, and basic human rights,” while the Christian worldview does provide an adequate basis for these factors (113). Klusendorf devotes a brief section to showing the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and some of the reasons for adopting Christian Theism. He notes how a “theistic universe better explains human rights and human dignity” since “humans have value in virtue of the kind of thing they are, creatures who bear the image of their Maker,” and because objective moral values are “grounded in the character of an objective, moral lawgiver” (131).

With the metaphysical foundation set, along with the issue clarified, Klusendorf begins dismantling the common objections that pro-choicers raise against the pro-life view. Following the tactics that Greg Koukl teaches at STR, Klusendorf introduces the Columbo tactic while noting that the goal in using these tactics are for “clarity, not domination” (150). Ask your opponent questions of clarification like “what do you mean by that?” or “how did you come to that conclusion?” Klusendorf provides a list of dialogues that illustrate how to utilize the Columbo tactic, and give reader familiarity with engaging opponents with these questions.

The first objection that’s introduced is what’s called the “coat hanger” hanger objection. Basically it’s the objection that if abortion isn’t legal, women will be forced to go through dangerous back alley abortions. Briefly, Klusendorf notes that this objection 1) begs the questions 2) the law cannot stop all abortions but it drastically reduces it and 3) women are not forced to do abortions but commit them out of their own will.

The next objection is the tolerance objection that basically claims that one shouldn’t force their views on others (161). Klusendorf simply argues that this claim is rooted in a type of moral relativism, and it suffers from three main flaws: 1) It’s self refuting 2) relativism cannot say why anything is wrong and 3) no one can be a consistent relativist (161).

This next objection is one that Klusendorf brings up from personal experience. At a convention he was speaking at, an individual stood up and “chastised pro-lifers for focusing too narrowly on abortion” rather than focusing on broader social ills. Simply, Klusendorf responds that tactics like these are a distraction to the main issue, and “if detractors truly understand the evil of abortion, theres no way they will tell us to stop talking about it” (171).

The final objections Klusendorf deals with are the hardest common ones. First, concerning the rape objection, Klusendorf gets to the heart of the matter: what is the unborn? Again this issue is what resolves everything. He writes, “‘how should we treat human beings who remind us of a painful event?’ ... only after clarifying the issue do I make my case” (174). To help readers see how he handles this issue graciously, Klusendorf provides a dialogue that represents the typical way audience members present the objection.

Lastly, Klusendorf highlights a few points that demonstrate the flaws in the bodily autonomy objection. First, abortion is the direct killing of a child, not just the withholding of support (200). Secondly, Klusendorf notes, “While we have no obligation to sustain strangers who are unnaturally hooked up to us, we clearly have a duty to sustain our own offspring” (200). Thirdly, even if the child is an intruder, all that follows is one is justified in removing the child from the body, not killing him or her (200).

In the final part of his book, Klusendorf offers a call to pastors and Christians to engage this culture and make a stand for Christianity and the innocent lives that are being aborted everyday. He urges pastors to perform four crucial tasks: 1) Preach a biblical view of human life 2) equip the church to engage the culture 3) preach the restoration of the cross of Christ so that passion for ministry is restored and 4) overcome fears of offending or distracting people by presenting messages that deal with abortion issues. In the final chapters, Klusendorf stresses the cross of Christ and how we must come to grips with the reality that Christ forgives everyone who repents regardless of their actions, including those who have had abortions.

To win the debate against abortion, Klusendorf suggests that we recruit more full time pro-life apologists, we train our youth to respond to pro-life objections and understand the pro-life view, and we go visual and show the true horrors of what abortion really is. However, concerning the advice to go visual, Klusendorf notes that we ought to use these images properly and not trick audiences by surprising them. The book ends with a vivid and chilling story of an African-American boy named Emmett Till was taken at gunpoint, beaten and killed by white men because Till flirted with the wife of one of the men. When Till’s mother saw the beaten and distorted corpse of her son, she declared that the funeral would be open-casket. Why? So that the “whole world could see what they did to my boy,” Till’s mother said. In this manner, Klusendorf advises that we stand up and open the casket on abortion so that the horrors of this act can be seen by the world (243).

Overall, this book is an excellent resource for every Christian who needs a book that not only responds to common pro-life objections with precision, but provides a biblical, scientific, and philosophical case for the pro-life position. The review questions at the end of each chapter assists readers in digesting the material found in the reading, and it allows them to focus on the key points made in every chapter. Secondly, the writing is clear and lucid, keeping the jargon to a minimum. As a result, this book is excellent for the laymen and expert alike. At the end of the book, Klusendorf gives a list of the top five pro-life apologetic books to own. All in all, Klusendorf packs a perfect resource that will surely benefit any pro-lifer who can get their hands on it.

Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer David Rodriguez is a student at San Diego State University and is majoring in philosophy with a minor in biology. His primary philosophical interests include ethics, philosophy of religion, epistemology and medieval philosophy. In addition to philosophy, David has a keen interest in theology and medieval history. He is currently concerned with pursuing a career in bioethics. His webpages are and Ad Dei Gloriam.


Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Thanks for this helpful review.

SK said...

Thanks for the review, David!

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