Tuesday, April 27, 2004

An open letter to Dennis Prager

Dear Dennis,

I'm a regular reader of yours, and agree with much of what you write. But I don't follow the reasoning behind your position on abortion. As I understand, you support early term abortion (1st & 2nd trimester). What is your rationale? It seems to be related to fetal development.

1. To begin with, I seem to recall you're having said in the past that you believe in the soul as the seat of personality, such that the soul survives death. If so, why do you index the permissibility or impermissibility of abortion to fetal development? Isn't this reductionistic? Doesn't it reduce human identity to chemistry? A bag of chemicals? Isn't that the Nazi attitude towards the Jews?

There are even secular scientists like Nagel and Searle who admit that consciousness is irreducible to physical analysis.

2. For that matter, I don't know where you draw the line. Cognitive development ranges along a lifelong continuum. What about infanticide? What about a five year old? What about your young son? What about the elderly?

3. Even at the level of physical development, aren't you failing to distinguish between complexity and development? As you know, every human being has a unique DNA blueprint. Gestation doesn't proceed from simple to complex, but merely unfolds the enfolded complexity and completeness of the genetic programming. All the information is already there, complete and self-contained. Conception brings the program online. Don't confuse the light switch with the light source.

You're into music. Let's take a musical comparison. Bach conceives of the B Minor Mass in his head. He then notates it on paper. It takes a certain amount of time to write out the score. But Bach isn't composing the music as he notates the music. He is scoring a preexisting composition as it subsists, fully formed, in his mind.

4. Again, if you're applying the standard of cognitive development, isn't that quite elitist? But that standard, Mozart has a higher claim on life than Dennis Prager's young son. Isn't this the mindset of Nazi eugenics all over again?

5. If mental life is the standard, what about a man in a deep, dreamless sleep? Is he human when he's not thinking? When he's not conscious?

Sure, you may say he'll wake up, but you could also say that the baby will come to term. What's the difference? If you leave the sleeper alone, he'll wake up. If you leave the baby alone, he'll be born.

6. Or is your position based on viability? First of all, advances in medical technology continue to push back viability. In addition, a baby in the first or fifth or seventh month of its incubation is not supposed to be viable outside the womb. That's what the womb is for. Isn't it an evil perversion of logic that turns the natural process of gestation against itself as a justification for abortion? That's like saying that it's okay to terminate an adult because he's not viable outside an oxygenated atmosphere.

7. If in doubt, shouldn't we err on the side of life? As John Frame has said, if a hunter can't tell whether that motion in the brush is caused by a deer or a fellow hunter, does his uncertainly justify him in pulling the trigger? Doesn't it rather, obligate him to hold his fire?

8. I don't know how any observant Jew can read Psalm 139 and still support abortion.

9. As I construe the text, Exod 21:22-25 classifies as murder (subject to the lex talionis) a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage that is induced as an unintended consequence of an altercation. This is remarkable when you consider that the Mosaic law ordinarily classifies accidental killing as manslaughter. If the lesser is a captital offense, what of the greater? What does that tell us of God's reverence for the life of the unborn?


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  2. I'm not sure if you realize this, but Prager does not support abortion...at least not anymore. I'm not sure if he has changed his view (i.e. if he supported abortion before), but he does not condone abortion. This past summer (I believe in July sometime) I actually called into a show when he was speaking about it. He said that pro-choice advocates use illogical arguments. They say that woman have a right over their own body. He makes the point that the 'body' is not theirs, but, rather, the childs. He then went on to talk about how much he loves logic, which is why he believes in God. Anyway, just thought I'd throw that out there.