Roe v. Wade Was Decided (Partly) on Science Denial

In the Netflix documentary, Reversing Roe, at around the 28:00 mark, Sarah Weddington, the attorney who argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court in 1973, recounts that during the case a justice asked her when she believed a human life begins. She responded, “Your Honor, we did not try to say exactly what moment that was. There is no one answer to that. Different religions have different answers to that question. There is no legal standard that says, ‘At this point the fetus becomes a human.’ So, the question is, who gets to make that decision? Is it the woman or is it the government? And my position has always been it’s not the government.”

This is a classic case of a false dilemma (or trilemma). Why are these the only options? Weddington confuses the issue by pretending that the humanity of the unborn is either a religious issue, a decision to be made by old white men (the Supreme Court in 1973), or the woman carrying the baby.

None of these things are true. The humanity of the baby in the womb is a scientific fact from the moment of conception. Any attempt to confuse this issue is ignorance at best and malignant ideology at worst.

Consider for example these statements from widely used textbooks:

“The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

“The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” [Sadler, T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

“Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.” [Carlson, Bruce M. Patten’s Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3]

In other words, there is no question scientifically when a human life begins. To deny this is to deny science.

But there is trickery afoot in Weddington’s comments in Reversing Roe. I’m sure she knew at the time that human life begins at conception. The real question that needs answering is, “At what point does a human fetus become a person.” This may sound like an inconsequential distinction, but it is actually the crux of the matter.

Pro-Choice thinkers have succeeded in separating the issues of human life and personhood. The personhood of an individual is now what provides dignity and protection under the law. So, while it is clearly unscientific to deny that an embryo is human from the moment of conception, the way to deny the baby in the womb protection is to say it is not a person. The question, however, is who gets to say when a human becomes a person? That leads to the next essay, “Dolphins and Computers are Persons While Babies in the Womb Are Not.”

See the previous essay, “Let’s Not Forget What Abortion Really Is.”

Mark Farnham is coauthor of the forthcoming book, Talking About Ethics: A Conversational Approach (Kregel, 2021).

It Would Be So Much Easier to “Believe the Science” If We Could Trust the Scientists

science fraud

During this Corona Virus crisis those who have questioned the conclusions of scientists and the decrees of politicians have often been depicted as “science deniers,” a term most often assigned to anyone who questions the accepted pronouncements of climate change. As with climate change, however, the reason many people question or disbelieve the edicts from those at the top is simply that they don’t find the people making them to be trustworthy. Too many examples abound of scientists and politicians who are mistaken, revealed to have an agenda, or who act hypocritically.

There are some obvious violations of trust, such as “Dr. Lockdown” in the UK, Neil Ferguson, who was the architect behind the shutdown and social distancing there, discovered not to be social distancing from the married woman with whom he had a sexual tryst last week. Or the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, who got a haircut last week, despite the fact that barbershops and salons remained closed under stay-at-home state mandates. While seemingly minor offenses, they go to show that sometimes authorities that enforce restrictions on others feel they themselves are above the law. This certainly does not encourage trust in the “experts.”

Less nefarious, but more to the point, scientists and doctors are sometimes wrong. Notice how the protocols for ventilator use have changed. Previously the experts said to use ventilators “this way.” Now many are saying to use them “that way,” or not at all in many cases. The shortage of ventilators has now become a glut. This is one of the problems with “trust the science.” Either the doctors were right in their first use of ventilators or they were wrong. If they were wrong, then they should not have been believed. If they were right at first, they need to explain now why the protocols have changed. The same is true of the use of face masks.


The very nature of science is one of ever-changing conclusions, as old “settled facts” are refined, revised, or overturned. In addition, scientists disagree among themselves, so that science does not speak with one unified voice in regard to many practical applications. This has become obvious in the home-made videos of doctors on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis challenging the protocols they believed were killing patients. Scientific data has to be interpreted and two scientists can agree to the facts yet disagree on the interpretation of those facts.

When we factor in experts with a vested interest in certain conclusions, our skepticism about “always believing the experts” proves wise. Over 50 years ago Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutionsexposed the illusion that science is a completely neutral venture. Science has to be funded and often comes with an agenda, scientists sometimes seek to enhance their careers at any cost, and sometimes they are simply wrong in their conclusions. As an example, Neil Ferguson predicted in 2005 that up to 200 million people could die of the bird flu. In reality, in the years before and after that prediction only a few hundred people died of the bird flu.

This is not an anti-science piece. It is rather a warning against scientism, the belief that science is the only path to knowledge because the material world is all that exists, and only science is equipped to discover knowledge of the material world. Scientism breeds a naivete and credulity about scientific authorities that is unhealthy because it is uncritical. Yes, science should be believed when it stays in its lane and recognizes its limitations, but when it seems less than objective and its purveyors stand to benefit from its conclusions, we the people ought to challenge the pronouncements of science and the resulting fiats from politicians until they can actually prove them to be true and necessary for the common good.

Children Are the Ultimate Victims of Identity and Gender Politics

I Don’t Know

“What’s going on in a world where, when children are married off as brides, conscripted as soldiers or forced to work in sweatshops, we rise in condemnation. Yet those who beat their breasts about such violations of human dignity advocate as rights unrestricted access to abortion, physician assisted suicide and gender-reassignment surgery? What’s going on? Confusion. We are reaping the harvest of a generation’s long societal worship of the idol of personal autonomy.”

When children as young as three years old are given the choice of their gender, and subsequently undergo surgery to mutilate their genitals, we have truly descended into cultural madness. See the full article here: The Age of Consent in a New Age.

Answering Objections about the Problem of Evil and Suffering

Losing_faithOne of the most difficult objections to the Christian faith to answer is the question of how there can be a good, loving, powerful God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world. The challenge with this objection is that unbelievers borrow Christian views of the brokenness of the world and deep, human depravity, while simultaneously rejecting the God who tells us how those things came to be and acted so that these two things would be overcome. The sense of justice and desire for mercy and restoration that so many unbelievers long for shows that intuitively we know the world is not as it should be. Only Christianity can provide an answer for these deep questions that keep so many from believing.

In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan is asking his brother Alyosha how he can believe in a good God when he has seen and heard of so much suffering in 19th century Russia. The description of human suffering is realistic and should cause us grief just to read it.

There was a little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother, most worthy and respectable people, of good education and breeding…This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty- shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn’t ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child’s groans!

Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer to dear, kind God’!

What can a Christian say to those who question or deny the existence of a loving, powerful God in light of the magnitude of evil and suffering in this world? This series of posts will provide some answers to this difficult apologetics question.

Affirm That This World is Under a Curse

When unbelievers raise the objection to God’s existence because of evil and suffering in the world, they are asking good questions, for two reasons. First, by taking the problem of evil and suffering seriously, they are expressing the inner longing that each person has to reconcile his beliefs with the way the world is. Most people don’t want to be irrational. They want the world and their beliefs to be consistent with each other. Therefore, when unbelievers raise this question they are balking at a perceived contradiction. They clearly see that the world is unjust, cruel, and disappointing. To believe that a God exists who could fix these problems, but does not, would be a contradiction in their minds.

Second, when unbelievers raise this objection to Christians, they have already dismissed many of the other belief systems and religions. As will be explained a little later, many worldviews cannot account for evil and suffering, so they deny that such things exist. On the contrary, Christianity tells the story of how evil and suffering entered the perfect world God created. It takes serious the reality of evil in the human heart and the brokenness of the world because of the curse of sin.

The problem of evil and suffering, therefore, is a very real problem. And it is a Christian problem. No other religion affirms that God is all-powerful and all-good, and that heinous evil resides in the human heart, and suffering marks the natural world. People who deny that God is all-powerful or all-good don’t have to give account for evil and suffering in the world, because either their god can’t do anything about evil and suffering, or is indifferent to them. Those who deny the reality of evil, or who believe that people are basically good, or who deny that suffering is anything more than an illusion also do not need to answer this objection. No, the problem of evil and suffering is a distinctly Christian problem.

In addition, because of technologies such as the internet, cell phone cameras, and social media, people living today are more aware than ever before of the heinous nature of human acts of evil and the global scale of suffering. Both of these are staggering when considered in their raw reality and totality. For all of human history until the last few decades, evil and suffering outside our immediate locales, our town or region, has seemed distant. Reports of such beyond our immediate context took days or weeks to reach us, and had to be described by word of mouth or print media. Today however, we are eyewitnesses, almost immediately, of some of the worst suffering and atrocities around the world, and in high definition.

For a Christian trying to proclaim an all-powerful, all-loving God, these vivid displays of evil and suffering can seem an insurmountable objection to the Christian faith. How can we legitimately tell of such a God when these terrible situations seem to testify against Him?

In the next post we will look at the standard atheistic argument against the existence of God and see how it relates to this problem of evil and suffering.

Planned Parenthood and the Banality of Evil

Hannah ArendtIt’s not that the Planned Parenthood videos, in which the body parts of infants are harvested and sold, show monstrously evil people. It’s the lack of conscience in ordinary people that makes them so horrific. Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish philosopher who wrote about Adolf Eichmann’s trial after the fall of the Third Reich, sheds light on the severity of evil and the ease with which it is accepted if we simply change the words we use to describe our actions. Mike Cosper summarizes Arendt’s insight in his article, The Banality of Abortion. Read it!


Human Rights in a World of Cultural Relativism? Not Possible! At Least Not Consistent.

“In a purely naturalistic universe without God there is no compelling way to resolve this dilemma [between commitment to moral relativism and human rights]. Contemporary academia is in a moral stalemate. Cultural relativism is essential to dismantling the many Western traditions that postmodern scholars do not like, but there is no consistent way to keep it from dissolving the moral traditions they themselves affirm. In purely evolutionary theory there is hardly a convincing basis for treating all persons as equals or for special concerns for the weak and disadvantaged. Christian theism on the other hand, can provide grounds for supporting moral intuitions that many academics find themselves having, despite a lack of any adequate intellectual basis.”

George Marsden, “What Difference Might Christian Perspectives Make?” in History and the Christian Historian (ed. Ronald Wells; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 19.

Change in Church and the “Religious People” Bogeyman

Demonizing opponents is (unfortunately) a common practice in churches where the leadership is making sweeping changes that are opposed by some in the congregation. Those who oppose the changes, the pastor tells the congregation, are just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day who replaced God’s Word with their own traditions. They stand in the way of change and progress because they love their own comfort more than God’s glory. Jared Wilson calls this accusation of Pharisaism the invoking of the “religious person bogeyman.”

That is, when a pastor paints a vague picture of some unspecified group of people in the church who is against some unspecified change being made because they want to cling to some unspecified tradition, he is manipulating the congregation into siding against these unknown people (even though they don’t know why). In their natural desire to support and protect their pastor from criticism, undiscerning people may gullibly swallow whatever story they are being told. By using such tactics the pastor is practicing what Paul called cunning and underhanded tactics, in contrast to open statements of the truth (2 Cor. 4:2). Proverbs calls these tactics “devious” and likens such speech to crooked speech. Devious people do not fear God (14:2) and are an abomination to God (3:32).

Such a pastor creates in the undiscerning a disgust with and resistance to whatever tradition is being clung to by these unknown opponents of change. Because the tradition is not identified, congregants are not given the chance to judge whether or not the tradition is in conformity to Scripture and historic orthodoxy. They are not given the chance to be discerning like the Bereans who were praised for the refusal to simply accept what they were being told (Acts 17:11). The “religious person bogeyman,” in his opposition to proposed change, then, become an enemy to “progress,” even though no one can state exactly why. The effect is something akin to the “Two Minutes Hate” in George Orwell’s 1984.

Jared Wilson explains:

First of all, there are people in every church, no matter what kind of church it is, who struggle with the distinction between law and gospel, who struggle with the driving place of grace in their pursuit of holiness, so it won’t do to deny that legalism looms in our churches. Legalism lurks in every heart, actually, mine and yours. But this constant invoking of the judgmental “religious people” is very often a boogeyman. It’s an imagined threat, a scare tactic employed to both justify dumb exercises in license and arouse the self-satisfied mockery of self-identified “grace people.”

Wilson asks the question, “Why do pastors play the religious bogeyman card?” He proposes two possible answers:

We’re left with two options, really:

1. Pastors who invoke the “religious people” boogeyman are really just trying to offend people outside their church. This might be good for laughs and applause, good red meat for the congregation, good for camaraderie, but it is also profoundly stupid. If you make decisions at your church out of a desire to thumb your nose at people at other churches, you need to get a life.

2. Pastors who invoke the “religious people” boogeyman are really just bullying and dismissing sincere people in their churches who have concerns or questions about the goings-on. It’s a fantastic way to deflect all criticism, whether it’s legitimate or not. It’s a great way to insulate oneself from reflection and accountability by drowning it out with the fan club’s laughter and chest-thumping.

“Pharisee,” “legalist,” “religious person” is the church version of racist or Nazi. It is the rhetorical nuclear option specifically designed to shut up anyone with questions and paint them among their brothers and sisters as graceless jerks. But I think it actually works the other way around:

Employing the “religious people” boogeyman ironically indulges in what it professes to decry. It is a great way to pray along with the self-justified pharisee, “I thank you God that I’m not like those religious people.”

This is not an invective against change. Rather, it is a call to open statement of the truth and non-coercive arguments for new ideas. Pastor, if you want to bring change to your church, make a compelling argument. Don’t stoop to underhanded and devious ways by manipulating or coercing your church. If you have to manipulate your church through word games, ambiguity, coercion, and demonizing, then you have taught them to be gullible, easily led astray, and wide open to apostasy. If you can’t convince your church of a new idea through sound, biblical and compelling arguments, then maybe that religious person bogeyman is right.