What is an argument?
Scott summarizes the pro-life syllogism and responds to some of the common responses to pro-life arguments.
Hello, my name is Scott Cludo and I’ve been making the case for Life for 32 years, and today I want to invite you into my classroom, so to speak, and see where we might begin to understand how to be clear on abortion. We are in a culture that sadly does not want to argue, and that’s a huge problem for pro-life advocates.
What tends to happen is we start discussing abortion with people and we don’t set any ground rules and it ends up being a free for all. The way it is when you’re having an argument with your spouse or your parent and you’re winning. Every rational mind in the universe knows you’re winning and your spouse or parent changes the subject on you.
Well, that’s the challenge for pro-lifers. People love to change the topic. They don’t engage the argument. So today what I want to do is give you a lesson that I give to my students, whether I’m teaching at Cedarville University where I’m a professor, or at Summit Ministries, where I teach students how to be good Christian ambassadors defending a Christian worldview on abortion.
The very first rule, and this is essential, if you don’t do this, you lose. Okay? So make sure you get this. The very first rule you need to keep in mind is that your argument needs to be clearly defined outta the gate, and here are the three words you need to tuck away in your mind and not forget. If you need to write ’em down, write ’em down.
Word number one for being successful is a pro-life. Apologist, syllogism. Somebody go, wait a minute. It’s too early. I haven’t had enough caffeine today to know what you’re talking about. What is a syllogism? I don’t even know how to spell it. Let alone know what it is. Here’s a syllogism. Uh, a syllogism is a couple of premises followed by conclusion.
For example, Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. Notice, the conclusion follows logically from the premises. It’s not something that’s just floating out. There is a mere assertion. There’s a logical structure to the claim. Now, that argument I just gave you about Socrates, Can be evaluated one of two ways.
You can show that one or more of the premises is false, thus you can refute it or you can show that the conclusion does not follow logically. Outside of that, the argument stands. This is the rule you need to keep in mind. Now, pro-lifers have a syllogism we’re gonna get to in just a minute, but let me give you the second most important word that I teach in my classroom.
Syllogism. Anybody want to guess what the third one’s gonna be? You don’t need prophetic gifts to know. The third word is going to be syllogism, syllogism, syllogism, syllogism. You know, I learned this in English at U C L A. Uh, what they did is they had a series of courses there that we English majors referred to as the Darwin courses because they were do designed to weeded out anybody not fit to be an English major.
They were very tough courses. Brutal, to be honest. And about half the class would drop by the, the end of the first week of English 10 a. Well, in English 10 A. The first of the Darwin courses, what would happen is you’d submit your first paper two weeks in, and the ta, the teacher’s assistant who was assisting the professor in the classroom would pull you aside and say, Do you wanna pla pass this course?
Do you wanna be an English major? If so, you’re gonna show up in my office every Tuesday at 9:00 AM and I’m gonna teach you how to write because right now what you’re putting out there is boring garbage. And they would literally rip you to shreds and teach you how to write and what the, what the professors hated in the English department.
And what would get you an F for sure is if you simply submitted boring plot summaries. When analyzing a Shakespeare poem or a Milton play, you had to come in and argue your point right out of the gate, get right to it, March right in the front door and make your case. And they drilled that into my head.
And so often what happens when we talk to people about abortion, we don’t come in through the front door and make our case right up front, and then we wonder why we’re so distracted. Why is it this discussion is going all over the moon? Instead of actually being on message. So we wanna be on message and you won’t be if you don’t stick to your syllogism like glue.
So what is the pro-life syllogism? It’s very straightforward premise one. It’s wrong to intentionally kill. Innocent human beings, it’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings. Premise two. Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings. Conclusion. Therefore, abortion is wrong. It’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.
Abortion does that, therefore, it’s wrong. Now, as you’ll see, as we unfold, un unfold this more as we take a deeper dive into the classroom where I teach pro-life apologetics. You’ll see how we defend this in great detail. But for now, let me give you a one minute summary of how we defend that syllogism. We defend it by science and we defend it by philosophy.
We argue scientifically that there’s no essential difference between you an embryo and you an adult that changes the kind of thing you are. In other words, You were human from the one cell stage. You didn’t start off as one kind of living thing and then morph into something else. You are the same being.
There’s no essential difference in your nature as a human being from the time you were at the one cell stage till the time you were an adult or older. I. The point is from the very beginning, you remain the same kind of thing, a distinct living and whole human being. Then we argue philosophically that there’s no meaningful difference between you, the embryo, and you, the adult that justifies killing you back then.
Sure there are differences, but that’s not really the question. The question we need to press as pro-life advocates is this. Are the differences between me, the embryo and me, the adult sufficient to say I could be intentionally killed then, but not now. That’s the question. And what a lot of people love to do is we’ll see is simply assert, well, that embryo differs from us, and your answers should be almost as snarky.
So why does that matter? Tell me why the differences matter. It’s not enough to p point out a mere difference. I need to know why the. Differences matter such that we can say, I can kill you then, but not now. And if you look at the differences between you, the embryo and you the adult, you see there’s a difference of size, a difference of level of development, a difference of environment, meaning where you’re located and a difference of degree of dependency.
But none of those are good reasons for saying. You could be intentionally dismembered back then, but not now. As an adult. Our opponents need to argue for why those differences matter, and trust me, they almost never do. They merely assert them. Now there’s another problem we face, and that is even after we make our pro-life argument, the propensity of people we’re talking to to change the subject is legion.
It happens almost every time, and I’ve made. A few notes here of examples where people do this. The first bad thing people do when they try to change the subject is they try to argue. With labels rather than syllogisms. Now, I’ve got an example here from a Supreme Court Justice. You might think, wow, you would expect that a Supreme Court justice would actually know how to argue correctly.
But I’m gonna give you an example from the Dobbs decision that was decided a year ago where Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey were overturned a great pro-life victory. But while that case was being argued before the Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayer made a very fallacious argument, and here’s what she said.
She said to the solicitor General Scott Stewart of of Mississippi, she said to him, how is your state’s interest anything but a religious view? Let me translate that for you. She was essentially saying to the solicitor General of Mississippi, your case has no merit because it’s just subjective religion.
She goes on, The issue of when life begins has been hotly debated by philosophers since the beginning of time. It is still debated in religions. So when you say that this is the only right that takes away from the state, the ability to protect a life that’s a religious view, isn’t it? Okay, this is completely bogus and something that sodomy should have learned in seventh grade Logic Logic class.
Let me put it to you very plainly. Arguments are sound or unsound, valid or invalid. Short of her showing that one or more of the premises of the argument are false or showing that the conclusion does not logically follow. The argument by the solicitor general stands, she didn’t do that. She tried to change the subject from can states protect feed of life before viability to, oh, your argument is religious.
Therefore, it does not count and I can invalidate it. That simply will not do. You’ve gotta do the hard work of refuting an argument. It doesn’t do any good to give it a label and think you’ve somehow carried the day. That’s the lazy man’s way out, and that’s exactly what the Supreme Court Justice in this case tried to do.
Sadly, instead of arguing, she tried to punt, um, another bad way. People argue. Is they, they fault an argument for its origins rather than its merits. If you forget everything else in this first session, here’s the lesson I want you to keep in mind. Arguments stand or fall on their merits, not the person making them.
It is entirely possible for a bad person to make a good argument. I mean, if Joseph Stalin argues that gravity is real, And he’s right that his argument corresponds to reality. The argument’s a good argument, even if he’s a bad person. But what tends to happen is people love to say on both sides of this debate that so-and-so’s a bad person.
Therefore, the whole case goes away. And by the way, pro-lifers, you do this too and you shouldn’t do it. I’ll give you a prime example. People love to say, well, Margaret Sanger was a racist. Okay. I happen to believe she was. I also think she was a eugenicist. She really did want to see more children from the fit and less from the unfit.
All of that is true. But let me ask you this. Even if Margaret Sanger is a racist, does it follow that the argument for abortion rights is bad? Could the argument for abortion rights still be good? Let us suppose. Even if its founder, Margaret Sanger was an awful person. And of course the answer is yes.
Arguments stand or fall on their merits apart from the person making them. An example in Christian theism comes to mind right now. There’s an argument for the existence of God called the Kal. Cosmological argument, and it simply goes like this. Everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist, therefore, the universe was caused.
Now Christians use this argument to defend the existence of God, and I happen to think it’s a good argument. Here’s what’s interesting though, and you may not know this. That argument does not have Christian origins. It has Islamic origins. It was actually. Developed by an Islamic scholar many centuries ago.
It is not origin. Its origins are not Christian. But does that mean Christians shouldn’t use the argument? Of course not. If the argument’s good it, it stands on its merits, we should use it. And the fallacy a lot of people do today, as they personalize everything, everything becomes a personal thing and it’s an attack on the person.
And we think somehow if we can ruin the person, we’ve refuted the argument that’s in play and that is simply not. Case another way you’ll hear this, you’ll hear pro-lifers, uh, be attacked because the, uh, people who put forward the pro-life argument were allegedly men who hated women. Well, maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.
But how does that refute the soundness or validity of the syllogism that we put forward? Remember our three key words? Syllogism, syllogism, syllogism. Our opponents have to do the hard work of refuting the argument. It’s not enough to say we can make someone look bad, therefore the argument goes away. No, it doesn’t go away.
You’re just being lazy and you’re engaging in the ad hominem fallacy of attacking a person rather than refuting the argument essentially. Um, I. Another way, way people argue that’s very bad is they fault the motives of those advancing the argument. They’ll say things like, you know what? You just don’t trust women to make their own personal decisions.
Well, again, maybe I do, maybe I don’t. But how does that invalidate or show that my argument is unsound when I argue that the unborn are distinct living and whole human beings and intentionally killing them is wrong. Even if I do. Distrust women, even if I’m actually a bad person for distrusting women, my motives aren’t in play here.
What matters is what is the actual argument? And again, keep the main thing. The main thing. Do not let people take you off message. Keep the main thing. The main thing. Imagine this a lawyer takes on a client. And he doesn’t even like the client. In fact, he thinks criminals are scum and he’d rather they all be just locked up.
However, in defending his client, he makes a very good argument for, for defending him, and the client ends up getting off from the crime. Does it follow that the, the lawyer somehow? Uh, was immoral because his personal motives for taking the case, maybe he just wanted to make money, maybe he wanted popularity and he really didn’t give a rip about the client.
His motives don’t matter. What matters is did he make a good argument defending his client? If he did, and that argument prevails, we call it a success. It doesn’t matter what his motives were. And the same is true with the pro-life view. It doesn’t matter what motivates pro-lifers, although I think I know what does.
They love children and they love women. It’s not hate that motivates them. It’s love. But set that aside. Suppose it we’re not. The argument against abortion could still be sound, could still be valid, even if pro-lifers are rascals again, syllogism, syllogism, syllogism, and that syllogism stands or falls apart from the person making the case another bad way People argue.
As they appeal to legal neutrality, they say things like, well, the state shouldn’t get involved in passing laws against abortion. It should remain neutral. This is impossible. State neutrality on abortion is impossible. I. The state either recognizes the right to life of the unborn and thus protects that, right, or it doesn’t recognize it, and thus permits killing the unborn.
There is no middle ground here. Imagine it were 1860, and somebody said, Hey, you know what? The US government shouldn’t get involved in slavery. That’s a personal issue. It should remain neutral on the issue, therefore, We should keep slavery legal, ’cause we don’t want the federal government involved in it.
If somebody argued that way, I think you’d immediately see the fallacy in the argument. By saying slavery should remain legal. You’re taking a position that slaves do not deserve the protection of law. That is not a neutral position saying, let’s leave it to each individual slave owner to decide for himself whether to free his slaves or not, treats the slaves as property that is not neutral, that is taking a position on who counts as one of us.
And the problem for pro-lifers is too often our critics try to say to us, well, we’re, we’re really the people who are neutral here. You’re trying to impose your view. No, everybody has a dog in this fight. Everybody is taking a position on what matters on human life. Think about, uh, justice Soda Meyer, who I quoted a moment ago.
She said that religious. Groups have disagreed for centuries on when life begins. What a silly argument. How does it follow that? Because people disagree. Nobody is right. What so do Mayer was trying to do is say, I’m neutral. I’m not going to impose a religious view here. I’m not going to take a position when people disagree.
Look, they disagreed for centuries on whether slavery ought to be moral. That didn’t mean there wasn’t a right answer. People disagreed at one time on whether the earth was flat around it didn’t follow that nobody was right on the question. As Hadley AKIs points out, the absence of consensus does not mean an absence of truth.
You’ve gotta do the hard work of refuting. The argument and our critics, again, are trying to dodge and change the subject much the same way as when you’re arguing with someone like your spouse or your kids and they change the subject on you. Same kind of thing going on here. Not a very grownup way to argue.
I might add, uh, Another bad way people argue is they attack the person rather than the argument. And they’ll say things like, well, you’re a man. You know, I gotta be honest with you, when I hear this now, a days in today’s transgender universe we live in, when people say to me, well, you’re a man, you have no voice.
I’m tempted to look at him and say, well, how do you know I’m a man? Who are you to judge my pronouns? I don’t do that, but it’s tempting. But more realistically, again, arguments stand or fall on their merits, not the person making them. A pro-life woman uses the same exact syllogism and evidence that a pro-life man uses.
You have to do the hard work, the heavy lifting of refuting that argument, not just attacking the person who happens to be making it. Uh, another thing you’ll get is, oh, You’re pro-life. How many unwanted kids have you adopted? There goes your whole argument. Okay, let’s go back to our syllogism. What does it say It’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being?
Abortion does that, therefore it’s wrong. Suppose all pro-lifers. Don’t give a rip about kids once they’re born. We don’t care what happens to ’em once you’re out of the womb. We have no more interest in you. You are on your own. We’re not going to adopt you. We, quite frankly, don’t care about you. Suppose we were that callous and mean we’re not.
But suppose we were. How does our alleged unwillingness to adopt a child? Justify an abortionist, intentionally dismembering him. In other words, how does that become a license to kill? And the answer is it doesn’t. At best, this argument attacks the pro-lifer individually. It does nothing to show that his argument, meaning his syllogism was mistaken or, or somehow wrong.
All it does is attack the person. Another one you’ll get, oh, you’re pro-life. You’re against all killing. What about the death penalty? Do you oppose the death penalty with the same fervor you do abortion? Notice two things about this. First of all, Did we argue that it’s always wrong to kill? Let’s go back to our syllogism.
Remember I told you the three most important words you’ve gotta constantly come back to are syllogism, syllogism, syllogism. Did we argue that all killing is wrong? No, we did not. What our critic is doing at this point is changing our argument. He’s creating a straw man. He’s attacking an argument we did not make, and he’s trying to attribute that argument back to us and we should have none of it.
We did not argue that all killing is wrong. We argued that it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Abortion does that. Therefore it’s wrong. He changed the terms of the argument. But that aside, suppose we were inconsistent in that some of us who are pro-life. Allow for the death penalty in some cases, but not abortion.
Suppose we were inconsistent now. I don’t believe we are, but suppose we were. Would our argument against abortion still be valid and sound? And the answer is yes, because it stands on its merits, not how I behave consistently. That argument that it’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.
Abortion does that, therefore it’s wrong stands or falls apart from my behavior. Now, I don’t think we are inconsistent. I’ll tell you why very briefly. The death penalty is about killing a person who is not innocent. They have committed a capital crime and assuming the evidence supports the case against them, and they’ve been justly tried, I.
Then it’s no inconsistency to say that you would support the death penalty for an obviously guilty person, but not the innocent unborn. In other words, we recognize that there’s a difference between intentionally killing an innocent human being. I. Using the power of the state to bring justice on someone who’s committed a capital crime.
One is clearly innocent. The one is by definition, not so These two are not parallel, and there really isn’t an inconsistency. Now, it could be the case that one could argue that the death penalty is wrong, but it would be wrong for reasons. Other than abortion. So trying to link these two together and attack the pro-lifer isn’t going to work another way.
People attack the person rather than, the argument is they say to the pro-lifer, well you, you’re not really pro-life. You’re just pro-birth. What are you doing about refugees? What are you doing about immigrants? What are you doing about poverty? What are you doing about equal pay for women? What are you doing about poor kids in inner cities?
You don’t care at all about life. You just care about being pro-birth. There goes your whole case. Well, let’s go back to our syllogism before we go any further. Suppose again that we don’t care about any of these other human lives. The immigrant, the refugee, the the poverty stricken family, uh, those that are struggling to make minimum wage.
Suppose we have no sympathy, no care for any of them. Not true by the way, but suppose it were. Could our argument still be valid and sound even if we are that heartless? And of course, the answer is yes. Again, the thing I want you to take away from this session is this arguments stand or fall on their merits, not the people making them.
If you can keep that in mind, you can get rid of about 99% of the bogus nonsense that’s out there on this issue of abortion. Uh, suppose though, That we look at this for a moment, is it true that pro-lifers have a responsibility to take on every social ill under the sun because they oppose the intentional killing of an innocent human being?
And the answer is no. Imagine going to the American Cancer Society and saying, you’re not a medical organization. You don’t care about saving lives because you only treat one disease. Not all of them. Why? If you really cared about saving lives, you’d treat not only cancer, you’d treat heart disease, you’d treat diabetes, you would treat lupus, you would treat Crohn’s disease, you would treat all diseases.
But no, you spend all your resources on just one. There goes your whole case for being about saving lives. Well, anybody that said that to the American Cancer Society would be laughed off the stage if they said it publicly as right. They should be. Pro-lifers, it’s the same thing. How does it follow that?
Because we oppose the intentional killing of an innocent human being to the tune of a million abortions a year, that we are therefore responsible to fix everything wrong with society. This is just bogus. But by the way, it’s a dishonest claim to begin with. If you were to call the bluff of the person who attacks you this way, you’d see how quickly they really don’t mean what they’re saying.
What you should do when you hear somebody say, oh, you’re just pro-birth. You don’t care about refugees, you don’t care about immigrants, you don’t care about the poor, and their list will be a mile long of things you have to do. Look up in the eye, and here’s what you need to say. Suppose I do everything you’re demanding.
I do. I take care of every social issue under the sun, even though it bankrupts me in my pro-life organization. If I do all that, will you join me in being pro-life in opposing abortion 100% of the time? And I do mean 100% of the time, the person will say, no. Women have a fundamental right to an abortion.
Now let’s unpack what that means. That means that a woman has a right that springs from her nature as a human being that the government cannot impede. There can be no restriction on fundamental rights because they’re pre political. You have them in virtue of being a human individual. It’s not something the state grants, it’s something you have by nature, if a right is fundamental.
The state cannot infringe upon it. What that means then is what you’re really arguing you should say to the critic is that women have a right to an abortion that is utterly unrestricted, can never be infringed upon. That means abortion through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason or no reason, and nobody can say different.
That’s, that’s the view you’re defending. That’s your extremist view. Why don’t you defend that extremist view rather than hiding behind people? Who are refugees or suffering from income deprivation, in other words, call their bluff. They don’t really believe what they’re telling you here. This is dishonest.
Finally, again, notice what Justice Soda Maier said. She appealed to consensus, and this is very common in a postmodern world that we live in today. One that rejects biblical authority, one that rejects objective meaning and purpose in the universe according to her. Truth or stand truth or falsity stands or falls based on how many people agree or disagree.
You don’t have to be a rocket science major to understand why this is fallacious. I. People disagree on all kinds of things, as I mentioned earlier, but it doesn’t follow. Nobody is right. Even today. People disagree about things they can’t agree on doctor-assisted suicide or euthanasia, or whether there should be many genders or just two.
But does it follow? There’s no right answer that corresponds to reality, and this is a very good time to define what we mean by truth. When we say something is true, when we say the pro-life position is true, for example, here’s what we mean. It corresponds to reality. If I say to you that it is dark and overcast outside my office window today, as it is, if that statement corresponds to the way things really are, I’ve made a truthful statement.
It doesn’t matter what my motives were, it doesn’t matter the origins of that statement. It doesn’t matter my gender. It does not matter who I am personally, what my motives might be. That statement is true if it corresponds to reality. And pro-lifers make an argument that they believe corresponds to reality.
That argument must be refuted, not lazily dismissed by people like Soda Mayar who don’t want to do the hard work of engaging in actual pro-life argument. Make them work hard for their case. Don’t let them pass easy. That’s the essence of what it means to make a case for life, and I look forward to inviting you into the classroom again in our next episode.