Garry Wills, author of "Head and Heart: American Christianities," wrote this woefully inaccurate and misinformed op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times.
I'll let Ramesh Ponnuru have the first word on this:
He has a long, confused op-ed on abortion in the L. A. Times. His focus on evangelicals is a little odd—if all you had to go on was this op-ed, you might think they were the only people who oppose abortion.
If we are to decide the matter of abortion by natural law, that means we must turn to reason and science, the realm of Enlightened religion. But that is just what evangelicals want to avoid. Who are the relevant experts here? They are philosophers, neurobiologists, embryologists. Evangelicals want to exclude them because most give answers they do not want to hear.
What is Wills talking about? Evangelical (and other) pro-lifers are perfectly willing to turn to embryologists, regardless of those embryologists' position on abortion policy, for confirmation of the thesis that human embryos are living organisms of the human species. There are pro-life philosophers, too, and plenty of pro-lifers cite them.
If Wills had consulted one of them, he might have avoided some of the wrong turns he takes when he tries to commit philosophy. "Harvesting carrots, on a consistent pro-life hypothesis, would constitute something of a massacre." Okay, that's just embarrassing, so let's move on.
It is certainly true that the fetus is human life. But so is the semen before it fertilizes; so is the ovum before it is fertilized. They are both human products, and both are living things. But not even evangelicals say that the destruction of one or the other would be murder. . . .
The universal mandate to preserve "human life" makes no sense. My hair is human life — it is not canine hair, and it is living. It grows. When it grows too long, I have it cut. Is that aborting human life? The same with my growing human fingernails. An evangelical might respond that my hair does not have the potential to become a person. True. But semen has the potential to become a person, and we do not preserve every bit of semen that is ejaculated but never fertilizes an egg.
Wills's skin cells and sperm cells are human, and alive, but they're part of an organism (him). They're not living human organisms, as a human fetus is. As for the notion that semen has the potential to become a person: Wills needs a refresher course in biology. Perhaps he should ask an evangelical for a referral to an embryologist?
I love Ponnuru's little dig: "commit philosophy."
Wills piece is an embarassment. It's not just his woefully inaccurate strawman/caricature of pro-life Christians and his misplaced appeals to authorities who would certainly correct him had they been consulted. No, Wills argument is a danger to him and his ideological allies.
It's true that the Bible says nothing about purposeful, medical abortion (as opposed to striking a pregnant woman resulting in the death of the unborn), but the Bible says even less about government-purchased health insurance for children, government-provided child care, job-training for people in the inner-cities ... all of those things that the Christian left accuses conservative Christians being not-Christlike about when it comes time for a vote.
If we're somehow to be shamed or restricted from applying Christ's teachings to love our neighbor and the value fo human life when it comes to abortion policy, then beware when that same stick is used to the detriment of whatever social policy the left is advocating on that particular day.
Wills is not engaging in an honest debate -- and the fashion in which he approaches the debate is certainly not doing anything to bridge the divide between the Christian left and right.