Today, I heard a professor talk about the use of emotionally persuasive terms in abortion dialogue. He said to use the term baby for a 4 week old piece of tissue, and to call an abortion murder was absurd and inflammatory. These terms definitely obscure debate, but are they simply inflammatory terms? Though I was conflicted, I don’t believe this is the case.
Consider the fact that to many Christians there is a something called murder, as assured by a belief that there is such a thing as an objective moral truth, a truth firmly embedded in God, a real being. For them, God has deeply etched morality into the universe, making it real. For them, when you kill a human being, you have done an action that has a real existence as murder.
Now consider a common quote among pro-life advocates: “Life begins at conception”. This can sound like an absurd equivocation to an intellectual, especially one who lives by a naturalist metaphysics; however, it may be a clue to rescue the pro-lifer from the claim that they are simply being inflammatory. The Pro-lifer isn’t equivocating and trying to add a flare of emotion: To them the only real life is human life. And all human life is life as a complete person, a person that just changes shape while maintaining significance from creation to death and into eternity.
If a biological human, fetus or otherwise, is a human person (redundant for clarity) at conception—as in God gives them a complete eternal, individual spirit—and there is a thing called murder (like a platonic form), which is to kill a person, then these words are not simply inflammatory.
In order for these terms to make sense they must be evaluated against the arguer’s metaphysics. You may be arguing against the wrong thing if you don’t take account of metaphysical commitments. It reveals a need to be charitable even to something that one considers foolish, even if in the end it is charitable with the sole reason of squashing their entire world view. This requires finding clues to what they really mean. It allows the arguer to attack the necessary, non-negotiable aspects of the opposing doctrines.
The necessary part of that kind of the Christian, pro-life perspective is that there is a complete person at conception, at least complete in the most significant sense, the eternal sense, and that there is such a thing as an objective morality found in God. It isn’t a debate until that is dealt with. It is simply waiting for the other person to stop talking, so you can begin your monologue, and in the silence hoping that the other group won’t be favored by natural selection in the next generation—and realizing you don’t know anyone with kids.