Approximately 24 hours ago Ray Comfort and his Living Waters Ministry released the short 180 Movie regarding the subject of abortion, which has not only exploded across social media but also reignited conversations all over North America over the moral question about abortion. A bit skeptical about the film, given the hype and build up to its release, I decided to give it a viewing, mostly because I knew I would encounter conversations about it in my circles and wanted to be properly informed. And good thing, too, for the conversations have been plenty. While many of those conversations have regarded the biblical and theological integrity of the Way of the Master gospel witnessing techniques, one of them tonight regarded the issue for which the film was made in the first place, which I want to share with you here. While I have changed the young man’s name to protect his identity, the following is the conversation that we had tonight over the moral question about abortion. He did not explicitly state his position on the subject but I gathered that for him the issue remains a somewhat open question (due to things he had said prior to the part I am sharing here), having not settled definitively on one side or the other. He is a Christian but converted quite recently, a matter of a few months ago. We pick up the conversation mid-stream, where he is critically evaluating the merits of defining life in the womb as human.
~ * ~
JOHN: I don’t think the biological distinction between “human” and “non-human” is the morally relevant question.
DAVID: What then is the morally relevant question as it pertains to valuing human life?
JOHN: It’s like I said: “persons” are afforded full dignity and value. In fact, we already know that not all persons are human beings anyway.
DAVID: Who or what defines personhood?
JOHN: Oh, well God, I should think.
DAVID: Does Scripture give any indication at which point such personhood becomes morally relevant?
JOHN: I have looked and, actually, I don’t think it’s very clear.
DAVID: So the Bible is unclear about human life in the womb?
JOHN: It doesn’t seem to be very clear on that issue.
DAVID: Are you familiar with Psalm 139:13-15 and Jeremiah 1:5?
DAVID: What is unclear about the moral relevance question in those passages?
JOHN: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” I don’t see how that is going to make your case.
DAVID: That rather clinches it, I should think. Not only does God knit together the human life in the womb, but that life belongs and is known to him before that life is even conceived. Does that not indicate fairly clearly the moral relevance pertaining to the value of human life?
JOHN: It seems to be a statement of God’s foreknowledge, more than anything. I don’t think you can extrapolate anything else from that, particularly not anything helpful about dealing with a full-fledged person in the womb.
DAVID: That bothers me somewhat, that you don’t think anything beyond God’s foreknowledge can be extrapolated from that—such as, for example, his purpose for that human life, to which it is already set apart (consecrated) before it is even formed in the womb. The text rather explicitly states this. Ergo, you certainly can extrapolate more than God’s foreknowledge from this—not to mention what can be understood from this text and Psalm 139 about human life belonging to God.
JOHN: But the verse isn’t about that. It’s about God’s purpose for Jeremiah and foreknowing his destiny. I’d be more convinced if that verse was combined with more explicit statements about the topic, but that seems to be as good as it gets.
DAVID: How is what you said essentially different from what I said (vis-a-vis God’s foreknowledge and purpose for that human life)? You repeated what I said as if it was different from what I said.
JOHN: So, God making statements about foreknowing Jeremiah’s destiny implies that human life begins at conception? Non-sequitur.
DAVID: God foreknows Jeremiah’s destiny because he ordained it; before he was born God knew him, God consecrated him, God appointed him to a particular purpose.
JOHN: Yeah, right. So?
DAVID: What it implies, again, is that God not only knits together the human life in the womb but that human life belongs and is known to God before it is even conceived. That indicates rather clearly the moral relevance vis-a-vis the value of human life.
JOHN: Right, and God also foreknew that his parents would get together in the first place. I don’t think any relevant conclusion could be drawn from that, could it?
DAVID: John, that life is knit together in the womb by God; that life belongs and is known to God before it is even conceived. That life does not belong to itself, or to the mother or the father. It belongs to God. That is the morally relevant question as it pertains to human life.
JOHN: Yes, before he was even conceived God knew him. Obviously before he was conceived he wasn’t actually a person.
DAVID: Indeed. And yet even then that life belongs to God—because he is the one who brings it forth, knitting it together, having a purpose for it. If that life belongs and is known to God before conception, what about at conception or thereafter? You see what I mean?
JOHN: Okay, but in the situation outlined by the verse itself, God states that before Jeremiah was conceived God knew him. I think the “before” part is actually a problem to the argument.
DAVID: I cannot imagine how.
JOHN: Because if God knew Jeremiah even before he was conceived, then it must be that his parents had to get together or they’d be doing something wrong, frustrating God’s plans, not forming the life which is properly his, etc. And that seems highly implausible.
DAVID: That is an interesting and separate question from the one we are looking at.
JOHN: Well, I am arguing that perhaps the verse should not be taken in that direction, at the risk of implausible conclusions.
DAVID: Okay, let me address that. First, this subsequent issue you are raising pertains to the parents and their coming together, whereas our question pertains to the issue of moral relevance with respect to the value of human life. Therefore, it is a fallacious avenue to pursue (ignoratio elenchi). Second, we can certainly pursue that question if you like, but not until after the present question is settled. Third, your objection, at any rate, carries the implicit assumption that it is possible the parents could fail to come together (and thus do something ‘wrong’).
JOHN: I’m employing what I understand to be an analogous argument to yours about the nature of the verse, to demonstrate a reductio.
DAVID: See the second point.
JOHN: Yeah, I realize you think they are separate issues. But it strikes me as the same sort of reasoning being applied to different parts of the verse.
DAVID: Let us assume for the sake of argument that the verse carries the implication that I am arguing for. Let us continue in that vain. So, if that verse carries the implication I am arguing for, then what does that tell us about the moral relevance pertaining to the value of human life?
JOHN: That’s a loaded question (which is, by the way, what I think Ray Comfort was doing).
DAVID: An ‘arguendo’ does not a loaded question make.
JOHN: No, that’s not it. It’s the term “human life.” But setting that aside for a moment…
DAVID: Do we need to get into imago Dei? I would point to Psa 139:15 (cf. Job 10:9–11) as answering that question with its implicit reference to Genesis.
[A pause in the conversation for a few moments.]
JOHN: I think I lost track of what exactly I should answer—what the consequence would be of agreeing the verse implies that God directed the development of Jeremiah in the womb, or of agreeing that God directs the development of everyone in the womb? Sorry, I’m getting tired.
DAVID: You raised the issue of what the morally relevant question is with respect to valuing human life (with respect to the abortion issue in the context of The 180 Movie). My answer, calling upon those two texts from Scripture, seeks to answer you on that score, showing that the morally relevant question is answered by the fact that all human life belongs to God—not only in the womb but even prior to that. That is, abortion is wrong because that life belongs to God. Not to itself, nor to its mother, but to God. That answers what the morally relevant question is.
JOHN: Right, okay, which to me seems to leave us precisely where we started—namely, what counts as “human life.” The fact that God knew Jeremiah even before he was conceived (when obviously Jeremiah the person, the human life, was not around) doesn’t help to settle that question.
DAVID: If that person belongs and is known to God before it is a human life, would that not also apply to when it is a human life?
JOHN: If I accepted your interpretation of the verse for the sake of argument, that God knitting Jeremiah in the womb suggests that any developing embryo, fetus, etc., belongs to God and therefore only God has the right to direct what will or will not happen to that (developing) life, then yeah, I could see how that could apply to the morality of abortion. But I would suggest that that is a different argument than relying on defining a blastocyst as a human person or life or whatever. And I think that is a lot of weight for a single verse to carry, when the verse isn’t explicitly about that.
DAVID: Answer that question I asked you, please: “If that person belongs and is known to God before it is a human life, would that not also apply to when it is a human life?”
JOHN: You are assuming it all counts as human life. That is precisely what I question.
DAVID: I am getting to that.
JOHN: Okay. Then yeah, I granted that with my previous comment. (Also, I need to get going soon, after your next point.)
DAVID: All right, now observe the following. If that person belongs and is known to God before it is a human life (which answers the question of moral relevance), and if that person constitutes a human life upon being born (infant), then the moral relevance of abortion is answered at every stage in between—from conception to infancy.
JOHN: Right, which I just granted.
DAVID: At what point you happen to consider it a human life is irrelevant if that person belongs and is known to God even before it is a human life.
JOHN: Well, it wouldn’t be a person. But yes, I granted that.
DAVID: It would not be a person according to who or what?
JOHN: If the issue is that the (developing) human life or person “belongs to God” and therefore only God has the moral right to direct its progress or non-progress, then okay. That is an argument different from arguing that it is wrong because the blastocyst is a human life or person.
DAVID: Right. Whether it is a person, a human life, a potential human, etc., all of those points are irrelevant, given the answer to the moral relevance question.
JOHN: Okay. And I did explicitly state in the other conversation that a different argument could be advanced using a different morally relevant fact. So I think I will tentatively agree that, if I grant that interpretation of the verse, the argument could then follow.
DAVID: There are countless ways to answer this question. I have simply advanced two.
DAVID: The prior one I never actually got to finish because our conversation was hijacked.
JOHN: Yeah, the topic can rile people up.
DAVID: Are you too tired to argue for how that interpretation creates a problem for my argument?
JOHN: I think so. I am supposed to get up fairly early tomorrow. But, if you’d like, I’m game to pick it up another time.
DAVID: Sure thing.
JOHN: Okay, cool.
~ * ~
Have you watched The 180 Movie? Has it sparked conversations in your life about the moral issue of abortion? Do you have any positive encounters to share?