Welcome friends, Scott Klusendorf here, president of Life Training Institute. Welcome to the Case for Life podcast. If you haven’t visited our social media sites, please do so. We’ve got resources there to help you along the lines of the topics we’re bringing up here. Today I want to continue what we began last time and that is sort of an unpacking of the whole SLED acronym, why we use it, what it does.
And how it can be helpful to you as a pro life advocate. The SLED acronym is not used as a slam dunk. Be all end all debate tactic where you just send your opponents home in shame. That’s not the purpose of it. The purpose of it is to clarify that the differences between you the embryo and you the adult are not good reasons for saying we could kill you then but not now.
Keep that big picture in mind. The pro life case is best understood as kind of a cumulative case, where each part of the case reinforces the other. Now, a cumulative case is different than what we call a leaky bucket syndrome, where you have a bunch of bad arguments you string together, hoping you can get a good one out of it.
That doesn’t work. Rather, a cumulative case is saying that each part of the argument is an essential part of the argument. And maybe someone says, well, that alone doesn’t persuade me, but taken as a whole, the pro life case should persuade them. When you combine our scientific case that the unborn are distinct living and whole human beings with our philosophical case, that there’s no essential difference between you, the embryo and you the adult that justifies killing you back then.
If you take that case as a whole, and then you add to it the answers to the objections we give, you’ve got a very powerful cumulative case for the pro life view. And it’s a legitimate case. In other words, we’re not stringing bad arguments together, hoping to get something good. There’s no leaky bucket here.
Rather, it’s a reinforced case. Think of it, as Bill Craig likes to talk about it, as a metal shirt. You think of the medieval knights. They would wear these metal shirts where interwoven between, uh, the, the plates of armor would be strands of reinforced steel to help protect the warrior against arrows or spears.
Same idea here. These arguments reinforce one another. The scientific case is one part, the philosophic case is another, and when you put them together you’ve got a very strong cumulative case. So don’t let people dissuade you from using the acronym because they say things like, well, I tried it and somebody didn’t, didn’t persuade, they weren’t persuaded.
They didn’t agree with it. Okay. That happens all the time. Don’t let that bother you. Oftentimes people say they’re not persuaded, but not because you made a bad argument, but because they simply are not thinking honestly or clearly about the subject. So don’t get dissuaded from using what is a good argument just because somebody else says, listen, I wasn’t persuaded by it.
So today. Last time we looked at S in the SLED acronym, S L E D, uh, for size. People love to say things like the embryo doesn’t count because it’s too small. We explained why that was a bad argument. Today we’re going to look at L in that acronym, level of development. People say things like this, well not only is the embryo small, It doesn’t even have a brain yet.
It’s not even got a functioning brain, or you’ll get a more sophisticated argument that might come from somebody like a David Boonin in his book, A Defense of Abortion. Boonin goes on to argue in his book that until the embryo has coordinate, or cortical brain function that is organized, it’s not yet a human being with a right to life.
You are identical to the embryo you once were, but you don’t have the same right to life then as you do now, because until you have organized cortical brain function, you don’t count. That’s Boonin’s argument, and uh, he’s basically making a brain development argument. Until you are developed to a certain level, you don’t have a right to life that we’re obliged to protect in law.
Okay, so what can we say about this? Yes, it’s true, the embryo is less developed, especially at the cognitive level or brain function level, than an adult. Okay, we all agree on that, but again, so why does that matter? And this is the problem that Christopher Kazer points out, that Pat Lee points out, and others, that these people love to arbitrarily select traits that they deem to be essential for personhood.
But they never really get to the foundational level and argue why those traits matter in the first place. In other words, they don’t do a very good job with their metaphysics, telling us why something is ultimately valuable in the first place. They just assert these traits and then think they’ve done their job.
It’s not enough to say the embryo is not self aware and think you’ve won the day. You’ve got to go further. Wait a minute. Why does self awareness matter in the first place? In other words, why is it value giving? They need to make an argument for that. And they tend not to. Most of them don’t do it. And they just assert their category and think we ought to accept it.
And it doesn’t work, whether you’re asserting its birth. or brain development or dependency issues like viability. You’ve got to go on to argue why these things matter in the first place. And to be clear, pro lifers often help our opponents out because we don’t demand that they do that hard work. Instead, Our critics say, well, the embryo is not yet self aware, and the typical pro lifer says, well, wait a minute, that embryo is dreaming in the womb by a certain point, and we can measure brainwaves by week eight, and they say all these things, and you just bought the premise that somehow these development criteria determine value.
Challenge it. Push back. Wait a minute. How developed do I have to be not to be killed? And why is that trait you’re arbitrarily picking out decisive and not something else? I mean, somebody says, well, until you have an organized brain that can function with cognitive thought, you’re not a human with a right to life.
That’s as arbitrary as me saying you don’t have a right to life unless you have a belly button that points out rather than in. How is that claim any less arbitrary than mine? And the answer is it’s not. They’re just asserting it, and we should always push back and ask why is that value giving in the first place?
Well, let’s look at it. Does level of development really determine your value? I think we can see a number of problems with this. First of all, Two year old girls are less developed than 21 year old young women. Two year old girls don’t have a developed reproductive system yet. Do we think they’re less human and valuable than the 21 year old who does?
And the answer is of course not, and yet that’s the logic that follows. Once you advance the principle, that development is what gives you value, you have bought into a line of reasoning that is going to take you to the position that those with more development have a greater right to life than those with less.
Now, there are pro abortion philosophers that try to get around this. For example, Kate Griesley, an author I mentioned last time around. She’s kind of a newcomer on the block and she’s written actually a rather engaging book on the topic. I find her quite endearing. She’s very persuasive. She’s pleasant.
She’s not a fire breather. She’s not like your typical Planned Parenthood activist or woke activist who just wants to scream at you. Uh, Griesley is thoughtful, but what she tries to do is she tries to get around this development problem that if development determines value, then obviously development doesn’t end at birth.
What do we do with the fact that You know, a two year old is less developed than a 21 year old. If we’re going to argue development gives us value, how do we get over the, the obvious problem that development continues through life? If we want a society based on equality, what are we going to do? And here’s her solution to it.
She tries to come up with, um, basically, uh, an idea that says, once you cross a threshold, you are equally a human being, even though development may continue. And, and she’s basically arguing for a, an, I, well, let me illustrate it this way, rather than get too complex. Imagine the state of New Jersey, she asks us.
to imagine. Hoboken is equally in New Jersey with Princeton, even though Hoboken is barely in New Jersey on virtue of the fact it’s right on the Hudson River, and if you swim out a few yards, you’re into New York. Griesley says that doesn’t matter. Once you cross into New Jersey, you are equally in New Jersey, whether you’re Hoboken or Princeton, which is dead center in the middle of the state.
And likewise, she said, if we look at the unborn, once they are born, they cross a threshold where further development and further emergence of their traits doesn’t change what they are. But until then, they’re not persons with a right to life. You first have to get into that area. that the metaphorical area of New Jersey there, which she defines as birth, once you’re out of the womb, further development doesn’t matter.
We stipulate that you have crossed the necessary threshold. Now note, note this here, the language. Stipulate. Why that stipulation? Why is birth the threshold that’s decisive and not something else? And what, what would she do with a preemie, for example? That is born at, say, 28 weeks that is nowhere near the brain development and physical development of a 39 week fetus that’s still in the womb.
How does the mere change of location bestow on that child Some magical moment where they are now one of us, and we just stipulate that their further development doesn’t matter. This doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s what she argues. And I think you, the minute you start advancing what she calls this range view of personhood, that once you’re in the range of New Jersey, or in her case, once you’ve been born, you’re in, even if you’re only a little in or.
a lot in. Uh, that seems just as arbitrary. It’s just another layer of philosophical arbitrary uh, thinking that has been imposed on the debate, it doesn’t really answer the question, why does birth matter in the first place? She does take a little bit of an attempt at answering that, but I’m not persuaded by it.
But in most cases, most people do not ever give you a reason why development must matter. So when we look at level of development, we point out that the unborn being less developed than you and I is not a good reason for saying we can intentionally kill the unborn. Because if you look at human beings throughout every stage of development, you’ll see differences, but we don’t think those with more development have a greater right to life than those with less.
And that’s the question we need to put to people. How does my level of development determine not only what I am, but what my value is? They need to give us an argument for that. It’s not enough to just assert that there’s a difference of development. Yeah, there is, but you got to argue why it matters. And again, that’s what we’re doing with the SLED acronym.
We’re not pretending this is a be all end all. But I just took a moment to unpack Kate Griesley. The guy on the street you’re talking to doesn’t know who she is, and by the way, he doesn’t care, and if you go into a deep philosophical discussion of her range view of human personhood, their eyes are going to glaze over on you.
You need a quicker way to simply demonstrate that the differences between that embryo that person once was and the adult they are today are not good reasons for saying you could kill them now but not today. And the SLED acronym helps you do that and it is perfectly adequate for that case. You should use it.
So again, we looked at size last time. Your body size doesn’t determine value. L, level of development, your level of development doesn’t either. Otherwise, human equality is going to be impossible because if development determines value, those with more of it are going to have a greater right to life than those with less, and you can kiss human equality goodbye.
We’ll look at environment where you’re located the next time. Be sure to visit us on social media as I mentioned earlier. Look forward to seeing you next time when we’ll look at why your location doesn’t matter any more than your size or level of development does. Stay hitched to your sled. You need it.
It will help you clearly explain to people the moral logic of the Pro Life View. Till next time, we’ll see you then.