Was that what I expected? Maybe fractionally--I'm not sure. But I was eager to attend and simply listen today, at ASU, to a debate between a pro-lifer and a pro-choicer on the issue of abortion. I can't say that's what I heard.
The pro-life position was represented by Scott Klusendorf, from Life Training Institute. The pro-choice position by Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU.
It was a civil and charitable debate. If I can, in fact, call it a debate. I have to say, I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed that the pro-choice advocate resorted to extremely unimpressive pseudo-arguments. Either she didn't have a high opinion of logical arguments, or didn't think that her audience was sharp enough to reckon with a couple of them.
For example, she invoked the fact that some "pro-lifers" support abortion as evidence that abortion is somehow, therefore, acceptable. Let me see if I get the logic, from her perspective: some of my opponents, whom I disagree with, actually agree with my position, at least in some circumstances. Therefore, my opponents who don't agree with my position should agree with my position because...well, hey, they must have their reasons! After all, they are pro-lifers! So abortion is ok!
Any one see a problem with this logic?
Another example. She claimed that some people cite religious reasons for abortion as implicit evidence that abortion is (or at least could be) morally acceptable. A blanket assertion, based on vague religious argument. Again, big disappointment. Hey, I thought it was crazy, right wing "dangerous" pro-lifers that based their positions on dreamy, mindless, and ambiguous religious principles. I thought, "Did she just invoke the fact that some 'religious' people support abortion as evidence that it is, in fact, okay?" Since when does the mere fact that someone believes something prove that it's right to believe it?
I couldn't help but reflect: it's a brave new world! A pro-choicer is standing up in a state school and demanding blind religious assent to her explicitly religious presumption that abortion is okey-dokey.
Don't mind the man behind the curtain...(cue thunder and lightning)..."The Great and Terrible Oz!!!" I don't think too many of us in the audience were impressed.
Meanwhile, Scott said just the opposite: "I will not use religion as support for my arguments. I will use science and philosophy." Which he did, and did impressively well.
I did stand up and ask one question to Nadine in the "Q and A" session:
"Nadine, regarding the unborn, you denied a clear and rigid distinction between positing it as a totally non-human entity and a fully human entity, asserting a kind of ontological 'middle ground.' What is your logical basis for this assertion? It is something in embryology, or philosophy?"
Her answer was paper thin. She essentially re-asserted that the unborn was somehow more than a "tooth" yet less than human without any attempt to provide an argument for the assertion...other than another mere assertion that "we just don't know" and that "there is no agreement among embryologists." Ok. So we don't know. Meaning you don't know. So you're saying: you don't know. And yet you're sure that the embryo is "more than a tooth" and "less than a human." Um, I thought you don't know, like all those poor embryologists that Scott just said are in total agreement that the embryo is a fully alive human, genetically and biologically distinct from it's mother and father?
Scott's humble rebuttal: if you don't know what it is, you don't kill it. Everyone parent has answered their kids' question: "Can I kill it?" The answer depends on what the thing in question is. Is it a tomato? A fish? A cat? An ACLU president? Everything hinges on whether or not the thing in question is a human being.
To make his point, Scott cited embryologists, philosophy, logic, common sense, experience. But not baseless assertions and ambiguous reference to what "religious people believe." It was refreshing. His opponent didn't offer as much intellectual refreshment. That was disappointing but, in retrospect, not all that surprising. At least the debate happened, and students attentively considered the arguments. Another drop in the rising tide of a generation which has had enough of smoke and mirrors. Enough.