Sunday, September 07, 2008

Joe Biden and the Fact/Value Dichotomy

Joe Biden on human life from The NY Times today:

"I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception.”

You don't need religious faith to believe that, Mr. Biden. You only need an elementary knowledge of biology. Conception is the beginning of life. There is no controversy over this in the scientific literature. At that point, one receives a full and unique (unless one is twin) genetic code. At that point one is human with a human trajectory--unless one is aborted.

Does Biden take his "faith" to be fact? If so, then human life is being savaged in this country on a daily, hourly basis--over one million abortions a year. As a Roman Catholic, Biden should oppose abortion on demand and work to protect human life. But he is stuck in the fact/value dichotomy:

Values, religious faith, beyond reason
Fact, science, evidence, reason

Francis Schaeffer wrote about this dichotomy years ago in his brilliant work, The God Who is There (1968). Joe Biden should read it, but he won't. His faith is private, personal, and has no purchase on political policy. In other words, it is profoundly unbiblical.


Darrell said...

You can check out video of Joe Biden discussing this on Meet the Press this morning HERE

a said...

If you believe that life begins at conception, do you believe that the birth control pill should be outlawed?

If you don't, I find you to be hypocritical.

Please answer my question.

Anybody who doesn't want to outlaw the pill (regular daily birth control bill) is an abortionist and is no different that being an Obama supporter. The pill often causes abortions.

Dr. Groothuis: I pray that you would stop the double-talk and repudiate Mr. McCain for not taking a stance that doesn't try to outlaw the most universally abortive method.

The birth control pill has caused untolds more millions of abortions because it does not allow the egg and the sperm to survive. It kills them after conception (when it happens, which is frequent).

I don't see much difference between Biden and McCain on the issue of abortion.

a said...

"I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception.”

Then why don't you want to outlaw the birth control pill. You are guilty of the same thing Dr. Groothuis. Please be humble and repent.

Abortion by the pill is just as heinious as abortion on demand. Outlaw both; one is an improvement but it is not enough to say that you are against abortion. Only that you are against it in a few cases.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


How do you know what I think about birth control methods? I am against any birth control that kills the embryo. So there. This is what I teach in my classes, sometimes shaking up my students. Contraception is one thing; abortifacients are another.

Now, can we expect a political leader to try to outlaw the pill today? No. But by turning back abortion on demand by reversing Roe v. Wade, etc., is a gigantic step forward. In that, there is a world of difference between Biden and McCain.

Any legislation that decreases abortion is good But we cannot expect perfection in a fallen world.

a said...

"I am against any birth control that kills the embryo."

Okay. Fair enough. This doesn't sound like McCain, and the birth control pill kills just as many embryos as abortion on demand.

Why don't you lament about this?

"Any legislation that decreases abortion is good"

Okay--so you're taking a practical approach, going for 1 million vs. 2 million abortions per year. I appreciate your honesty, but I don't think that you fairly distribute your invective.

At the end of the day, if life begins at conception, what is the difference between a 1 day old baby and a 3 month old baby.

By only shooting for prohibiting later term abortions you sound dangerously similiar to the person who only wants to prohibit Late term abortions.

I thought that you were a virtue ethicist. Your argument (which I think makes a lot of sense) doesn't seem that way.

Could you please respond without being defensive?

The Daily Fuel said...

"When Is a Woman Pregnant?

To be sure, not every act of intercourse results in a pregnancy. First, ovulation (i.e., the monthly release of a woman's egg) must occur. Then, the egg must be fertilized. Fertilization describes the process by which a single sperm gradually penetrates the layers of an egg to form a new cell ("zygote"). This usually occurs in the fallopian tubes and can take up to 24 hours. There is only a short window during which an egg can be fertilized. If fertilization does not occur during that time, the egg dissolves and then hormonal changes trigger menstruation; however, if fertilization does occur, the zygote divides and differentiates into a "preembryo" while being carried down the fallopian tube toward the uterus. Implantation of the preembryo in the uterine lining begins about five days after fertilization. Implantation can be completed as early as eight days or as late as 18 days after fertilization, but usually takes about 14 days. Between one-third and one-half of all fertilized eggs never fully implant. A pregnancy is considered to be established only after implantation is complete."

Source: American College of Obstetricans and Gynecologists.

David said...

Dan, whoever you are, your passive-aggressive tone approximates something that is unfriendly and condescending in nature. If you're going to admonish Doug for being defensive, then I would instruct you to relax a bit and stop making assumptions about others.

Anonymous said...


You said: "Okay. Fair enough. This doesn't sound like McCain, and the birth control pill kills just as many embryos as abortion on demand."

This is untrue, and the claim of some that the properly used daily birth control pill might be abortifacient does not seem to hold up. We simply do not have good reason to believe that abortions have occurred as a result of "The Pill". As it stands, it is extremely improbable that there is any causational relationship present.

Please do some technical reading: (The American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists)

Ethically, there does not seem to be any inconsistency whatsoever between being pro-life and not supporting the eradication of COCs (these are far different than emergency contraception, by the way).

The bottom line is that Obama is still monstrously pro-choice while McCain is not. The attempt to derail McCain by way of "The Pill Argument" cannot succeed, as the facts are not on the side of the prosecution.

David said...

"Abortion by the pill is just as heinious as abortion on demand. Outlaw both; one is an improvement but it is not enough to say that you are against abortion. Only that you are against it in a few cases."

I'm sorry, Dan, but your moral creativity is seriously lacking here.

There is a big difference between performing an act which *always* results in the death of a human being, and performing an act which *might* result in the death of a human being.

Moreover, the purpose of having an abortion is precisely to kill a living being inside the womb; whereas the purpose of using birth control is rarely to kill a living being.

Surely one's motive and intention makes some moral difference, no? As such, it strikes me as obviously false to claim that "abortion by the pill is just as heinous as abortion on demand."

I'm afraid moral analysis is more complicated than that.

a said...

So now we have a disagreement with the fundies. How fun! Thanks for berating Dan who seems concerned that there might be many abortions caused by the Pill. What a jerk!

"Dr" G writes: "I am against any birth control that kills the embryo."


Sarah writes: "This is untrue, and the claim of some that the properly used daily birth control pill might be abortifacient does not seem to hold up. We simply do not have good reason to believe that abortions have occurred as a result of "The Pill". As it stands, it is extremely improbable that there is any causational relationship present." Hmmm.... one wonders if such strident language derives from personal experience. Surely it does. Ah--her profile indicates that she is newly married and is probably on the pill!

Dan writes: "I'm sorry, Dan, but your moral creativity is seriously lacking here." I love how you just roast this guy who's concerned with preventing more abortions before you seem to tacitly accept part of his premise.

Keep up the anger. It is very entertaining!

Perhaps, however, "I'm afraid moral analysis is more complicated than that." which in this case means righteous indignation is acceptable.

Praise Jesus for all the love.

a said...

Sarah Geis:

That was an interesting article. The basic idea is that if people take the pill every day, then .75% of people have a yearly abortion. That's a very low number indeed.

11 million woman are on the Pill, so that means that there are approximately 82,500 abortions caused by the pill each year.

But if women miss some days, the chance of an abortion is nearly 2.5%.

Let's just say that 70% of women take it every day (.7 x 11,000,000 x .0075 = 57,700 and that the other 30% = .3 x .025 x 11,000,000 = 82,500) for a grand total of about 140,000. I recognize that this number should be about 60,000 less, but those are the vagaries of how the pill is used.

As David wrote, I guess that moral anaylsis is more complicated and since they weren't done on purpose that things are more sticky.

Still, 80,000 concerns me.

The range of error within the areas that I'm describing had a deviation of 1.2, so the math seemed pretty solid.

I apologize for saying 1 million babies, when the fact, as Sarah has helpfully shown, is really around 85,000 with a fairly sound deviation.

That still concerns me, but less so.

ryan said...

Dr. Groothuis,

Thanks for posting on this. I saw Biden on Meet the Press yesterday and was flabbergasted by his response on the abortion issue. Especially when he got to the point of saying that the abortion issue will always be one in which people form their opinions based on their faith. Then he followed it by trying to show how the issue is different than opposing fascism. The saddest part might have been that Brokaw did not push back against these lame arguments.

David said...

For the record, there are two individuals named "david" posting on this thread. Please keep that in mind, as I don't wish my arguments to be associated with the other.

OK, david, where exactly did I "berate" or "roast" Dan in my post? When did I demonstrate any level of "righteous indignation"? To criticize one's arguments is not the same as attacking their personal character. Don't you agree?

Yes, this gentlemen is concerned that certain forms of birth control are killing innocent human beings. I can generally respect that concern while thinking the related arguments are misleading or extreme.

At no point did I express anger in my post. I simply pointed out, in calm and rational fashion, the errors I found in his line of thinking: there is obviously a moral difference between a human(possibly) being killed through birth control, and a human that is killed through abortion.

If pointing that out makes me mean and offensive, then perhaps this blog is not the place for you. When it comes to discovering the truth, we prefer reason and logic over emotion and defensive posturing. Cheers!

John Stockwell said...

The practice that most widely results
in the death of embryos and fetuses is
the attempt to get pregant.

place the number of fertilized eggs
that fail to attach to the uterine wall
combined with spontaneously aborted
fetuses at somewhere between 40%-60%.

For women with fertility issues, these
numbers may be closer to 80%-100%.
Now, is the message that you want to
send to our young women that everytime
they are trying to get pregnant they
are offing one of these little "persons"
a month, untill they actually get

Anonymous said...


You seemed to have missed two very important concepts in the article: correlation and causation. Here is an example of the terms: most people over the age of 80 who drink water will die within 1-10 years. This is a correlation. Water does not, however, cause death in the elderly population. You are misinterpreting the numbers.

It is not wise to support any and all methods of birth control, as they are not created equal, but neither is it wise to eradicate those which are not considered to be abortifacient.

That is all I will say about this matter, and I'm sorry I took what now appears to be absurd bait in the first place.

a said...

John Stockwell

Your statistic is scary. It causes me a lot of grief to know that I unintentionally may have caused 5 or more abortions.

Adoption may be a better option since there are so many unwanted children. People that rail against abortionists without taking the time to love and nurture a needy child make me sick. I htink that you have confirmed this conviction.

David said...

Is Dan really claiming that even non-abortifacient forms of birth control should be outlawed? That strikes me as rather extreme.

Perhaps the thought is that all pill forms of birth control are either actually or potentially abortifacient.

Alas, only Dan can clarify this distinction for us.

Tom said...

In defense of the good Senator Biden: from the fact that he thinks there are some issues that can't be decided by reason but that must be taken on faith (i.e., on the authority of revelation), it hardly follows that he accepts the Schaefferian dichotomy across the board. The position that there are some matters of Faith that must be accepted on the authority of revelation rather than the demonstration of reason goes back at least to the writings of Aquinas. I daresay that Biden would not be bothered to run afoul of Schaeffer if he has the backing of St. Thomas.

As for the matter of whether he should allow what he takes on the authority of revelation to determine how he votes in the Senate: although, I don't expect you to agree here, Doug, I think these are difficult matters. If you think that reason can't decide a matter that faith has a clear teaching on, what do you do when you are charged with making laws in a pluralistic, secular representative democracy? Maybe the answer is obvious to you but I have to say it isn't clear to me. That's not to say that I think that what one thinks one knows by faith is irrelevant in such circumstances. I just think it isn't as obvious as you suggest.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


You missed the point.

It is a scientific fact that human life begins at conception. It is not something dependent on biblical revelation, although the Bible makes this claim as well.

I take Christianity to be a knowledge tradition, not fideism. If I know X and X has moral consequences for society, I will act out of that knowledge of X. It doesn't matter of Mr. Secular down the street does not know X. We both vote and work out our ideas. He votes to support abortion on demand (claiming that unborn children have no rights); I vote to turn back abortion on demand (claming that the unborn have the right to live). My belief is backed by logic and Scripture; his belief is backed by neither.

Why should I not act out what I take to be true simply because someone else denies it? At another level, politics always imposes values through the state. The question is, "Whose values?"

Yes, we know many things through biblical revelation that we would not know otherwise, but these are still items of knowledge, not mere belief (or at least they can be known if we orient ourselves to them properly). I deny Thomas's claim that the truths of revelation are "above reason" and not items of knowledge.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Sir Fab is deleted because he is not able to make a comment without gratutious insults. If he learns manner, giving arguments without invective, he may return.

The Daily Fuel said...

Please be specific and tell me what was insulting. You are much more insulting and gratuitous, but then again it is your blog.

You have the attitude of a child who won't let others play with him because they beat him, so he takes the ball and goes away.

Why not let the content stand and let others be the judges? If I am as insulting as you say, you have nothing to lose, and your leaving my post on your blog should be to my detriment, shouldn't it?

The Daily Fuel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Daily Fuel said...

By the way, here are a few examples of what you wrote on different occasions.

About Obama you said the following (some of which are gratuitous, some of which are insulting, with a few being both):

"Unlike Sen. Obama, [Palin] has executive experience and got to where she is by fighting corruption instead of being part of a notoriously corrupt political machine."

"Any presidential candidate who claims he does not know when human life begins or when a fetus gets human rights is both a moral and biological ignoramus and unfit for The White House."

"Any presidential candidate who rises to the top in Chicago politics (the most corrupt political machine in the country) is automatically suspect."

"Senator Obama, if you are going to unctuously quote the Bible to try to impress ignorant Christians..."

"To chose a pro-choice vice-president (like Tom Ridge or Joe Leiberman) would be to bow toward the culture of death." (This is a formula you usually reserve for Obama or Democrats)

"[W]ith Obama in The White House, terrorist attacks would increase..."

"The California courts have decreed from on high (or on low) that parents cannot homeschool their own children unless they have state teaching credentials. We must cut to the chase on this piece of legal vandalism [by a conservative judge, no less]: it is unvarnished statism, the worship of the state as an ersatz god."

"Statism--the philosophy of the Democrats" (and then you equate statism and fascism)

So, to summarize, you can call Obama--who is unable to defend himself on your blog--corrupt (by association), a promoter of the culture of death, and pro-infanticide, an ignoramus, and so forth, and you take me to task for gratuitous insults? (without even qualifying what was gratuitously insulting.)

Please, at least don't patronize me by inviting me to learn manner. Praytell, who should I take as an inspiration?

Once again, it seems to me you sometimes fail to meet the standards you are so quick to chastise others for not meeting.

a said...

"Once again, it seems to me you sometimes fail to meet the standards you are so quick to chastise others for not meeting."

Well said.

I might add that he is quick to claim that others lack logic, when it's clear to those of us on the outside that he's simply overly convinced of his fundamentalist party line. Like we can't see through that.

And some esteemed Christian--not fundamentalist--philosopher like Tom comes along and hints: "you might want to temper that argument. You shouldn't be so dogmatic. I'm not so certain." All the while the good Dr. doesn't see the irony or adopt the same charitable attitude.

Fundamentalism, dear Sirfab, is a sociological phenomenon marked by extreme dogmatism. You can judge for yourself.

I've lived in fundamentalism and I've lived out of it. At college (Dartmouth), there was a liberal bent, but not to the degree that you see a fundamentalist bent on this blog. He claims that there is a liberal fundamentalism, and there is, but it's a small percentage, just like Doug doesn't represent mainstream evangelical thinking.

Take this blog for what it is and laugh at it.

John Stockwell said...

Dr. Groothuis wrote:
It is a scientific fact that human life begins at conception. It is not something dependent on biblical revelation, although the Bible makes this claim as well.

It is also a scientific fact that a large
percentage (pick your number 30%, 40%)??
of eggs that are fertilized do not make
it to term. That number can approach
100% for women who have difficulty
conceiving. Thus in the embryo/fetus
world we are talking about something
that is apparently practically

Indeed, couples "trying to have a child"
for extended periods of time---years
in fact--likely are responsible for
the deaths of one embryo or fetus a
month while they are doing this, until
they succeed or pass their child
bearing years.

So, I repeat the question: Is the
message that you want to send our
young women, that they are killing
persons everytime one of these many
many fertilized eggs doesn't make it
to term?

The Daily Fuel said...

Am I the only one who does not understand what Dr. Groothuis means by conception? Given what I understand about the mechanics of human reproduction I am much more comfortable with the definition of an established pregnancy given by the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists, which I posted earlier. (It assumes that the condition sine qua non for the development of an embryo, implantation, has been successfully completed.)

David said...

"You missed the point.

It is a scientific fact that human life begins at conception. It is not something dependent on biblical revelation, although the Bible makes this claim as well."

While I'm not quite comfortable saying it's a "scientific fact" that life begins at conception, your point is generally on target: the status of the unborn is not necessarily a faith issue, and can be determined (to some degree) independent of special revelation.

Biden's comment is frustrating because it suggests there is no objective evidence to support one's views on this matter. This may not have been his intention, but it's still just as damaging to our understanding of the issue.

David said...

OK, I really need to get back to work, but I can't resist one last comment. Doug, you asserted the following:

"I deny Thomas's claim that the truths of revelation are 'above reason' and not items of knowledge."

I'm still getting immersed in the Thomistic literature, but I'm pretty sure Thomas does *not* claim that the truths of revelation are not items of knowledge.

They are above reason, in the sense that reason alone cannot prove the Trinity or Incarnation, but that doesn't mean Thomas thinks they are unreasonable.

And besides, for Aquinas there are some items of knowledge which can be known through both natural and special revelation (e.g. the existence of God).

So this insight suggests he does think the truths of revelation are items of knowledge. Schaeffer was a decent theologian and amateur philosopher, but not a very good interpreter of Aquinas.

Granted, this comment was a small part of your overall point, but I just wanted to supply an alternative perspective. Cheers!

The Daily Fuel said...

For the record, my thought is that as effective as modern contraception methods are nowadays, the need for abortion "on demand" (or for no reason, as Dr. Groothuis sometimes likes to call it) should happen very rarely outside saving the life of the mother, rape, or incest.

The fact is, I am opposed to abortion as an "after the fact" birth control method, but I believe that recourse to it could be greatly reduced by educating young people on contraception (and yes, I believe that public funding and schools have a role to play in doing so, because not all kids have responsible, mature parents.)

On the question of public funding being used to provide abortions. As long as abortion is legal, I don't see why public funding should be withheld when healthcare is provided by the government (for example, through Medicaid.) Our tax money pays for a number of things which different people find abhorrent, like for example the war in Iraq. And, as an insured of limited means, I have no say in whether my insurance company provides abortion to women using money I and others paid into the risk pool. Since most people get health insurance through their employers, many who are against abortion are already probably funding it, unbeknownst to them. So it really isn't an issue of whether public money, as in taxpayers' money, should fund it, because the public is funding it anyway.

Making abortion illegal, as religious conservatives would like to do, would not eliminate the demand for abortions, though I have to say that I understand that just because the demand for something exists is no reason to make it or keep it legal. On the other hand, reversing Roe v Wade would simply return the issue to the states, and many liberal states would not ban abortions. This would create a situation in which people who live in a state where abortions are banned could simply travel to a state where abortion is legal (if they had the financial means to do so). Surely, everything aimed at making abortions harder to get might help people be more thoughtful about preventing unwanted abortions in the first place, but will it?

I also vehemently disagree with those who say that embryos or fetuses are a special (more important) category of defenseless people. The world is full of quite important, already living and breathing people who receive none of the help they should get on moral principle (think about the physically or mentally disabled, human beings who are starving or who live in unconscionable conditions, the uninsured sick, victims of systematic crime or wars, etc.). From an ethical point of view, I really do not see why a fetus should be given the same or more rights than people who are already experiencing a high degree of unnecessary, callous suffering at the hands of society. It seems a politically expedient position to take, even when it is animated by the best intentions.

Once again, really complicated issue, on which perfectly reasonable people can disagree, and which is not served well by taking a totally ideological vs. a pragmatic approach to it.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


You threw around "Christocrat" and ridiculed my argument, saying it was "above my paygrade." Those are gratituitious insults. Posts with that kind of thing will be deleted.

I stand by all I said about Obama as factual, period.