Even in the aftermath of the reversal of Roe v. Wade, making the case for life is just as important as before. How do we make the case for life in the current cultural moment we’re in? We’ll take up this critical question with our guest, Scott Klusendorf, around his new book, The Case for Life, the best single resource out there for engaging the abortion discussion. We hope you enjoy this timely episode, since Sanctity of Life Sunday was just this week.

Scott Klusendorf is Founder and President of Life Training Institute, which equips people to make the case for life. He has debated representatives of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and spoken at dozens of campuses, including Stanford, USC, UCLA, Johns Hopkins, MIt, UC Berkeley and the University of North Carolina. He is the author of several best selling books on making the case for life. He is a graduate of Talbot's MA in Christian Apologetics.

Episode Transcript

Scott Rae: Even in the aftermath of the reversal of Roe v. Wade, making the case for life is just as important as before. How do we make the case for life in the current cultural moment that we're in? We'll take up this critical question with our guest Scott Klusendorf around his new book, The Case for Life, in my view the best single resource out there for engaging the abortion discussion. I'm your host Scott Rae, and this is Think Biblically from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Scott, welcome. So good to have you with us.

Scott Klusendorf: Dr. Ray, always good to be with you. Your work has been foundational in my own efforts.

Scott R: Well, and I appreciate you being out there the way you are engaging the culture like you have been in this debate for a long, long time. So, this is a second edition of your best-selling book called The Case for Life. Why do a second edition? What made that necessary?

Scott k: Well, as you mentioned at the beginning, after the reversal of Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision, I think there were five things pro-lifers needed to be equipped to do. The first is they needed better training and clarifying the debate. You know, we have assumed for a long time that people bring a certain mindset to discussions, and that assumption doesn't hold as well. We have people that don't even know what an argument is. So, the first part of the book spends some time just clarifying what it means to argue. And it seems funny to some that we even have to go to that step, but we do. And then secondly, I thought it would be helpful in a post-Roe world to help readers understand the worldviews that people bring to the debate, because you end up talking right past people if you don't know their starting point. And then thirdly, I thought it would be helpful to survey the big thinkers. Who are the people that are bringing these ideas forward that eventually trickle down to culture? So, we look at people like Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, David Boone and Kate Griezli, Jubileena Minerva, and others to kind of get a sense of what are the big ideas that are driving the debate. And then I thought it would be helpful that people understand what's going on at the street level. What happens in the conversations around the coffee machine at work or the locker at school? What are the basic street level things that are happening in a post-Roe world? And then finally, I wanted to equip people to teach and equip. It's not enough for us to simply say we're pro-life. All of us are now apologists in this post-Roe world. So, that was the driving thing, so to speak, that led me to write this new edition.

Scott R: I will say one of the things I appreciated so much about this edition were all of the hypothetical conversations that you outlined. They were so insightful and so realistic to what you might encounter, and I'm sure what you have encountered on numerous occasions on the streets.

Scott K: Well, thank you. And that's what I've tried to do, is make it so it has a real world feel. I don't want it to be so academic in nature that it just seems divorced from the layperson who's out there trying to convince friends and family members. And those real world conversations help bring that feeling that, "Hey, this is the world I live in," type of feeling that I was aiming at.

Scott R: It's academically very solid, but it's also put a lot of shoe leather on it, and it walks on the streets really well.

Scott K: I like that. Shoe leather walks on the streets. I'm going to steal that and give you no credit for it.

Scott R: Be my guest. I'll send you the bill next week.

Scott K: Yeah, won't be the first time I've borrowed your thinking.

Scott R: Well, besides those five things that you mentioned, what else is different about the second edition from the first?

Scott K: Well, it's a lot longer. It's twice the size of the original. And I think what is better about it is I actually take the stuff that I bring forward and I tell people how to teach it. So, in the last section on how to put together a pro-life church, there's actually a whole section on how you put together a pro-life talk, whether that be a sermon or a presentation you'd give to an audience that maybe doesn't even hold your view. But, I think there's a lot of disconnect between good pro-life thinking and then we need a bridge that tells the layperson, okay, here's what you say and how you organize your thoughts when you step into the world and try to communicate this stuff. So, that's new. I think there's also a new section that I find very helpful in talking with people. They say this has been very helpful to help them understand what a pro-life church looks like. I think one of the mistakes the pro-life movement has made, Dr. Rae, is we have beat up on the church a lot as pro-lifers. Oh, you're not doing enough. Hey, pastor, you got blood on your hands because you're not talking about this issue and so on and so forth. And all we end up doing is giving the pastor bad news instead of saying, hey, here's a game plan for what a pro-life church looks like. A pro-life church is first of all going to teach, preach, and counsel a biblical view of human value. Secondly, it's going to preach, teach, and counsel that abortion represents the shedding of innocent blood. Thirdly, we are going to equip church members to understand the biblical gospel that forgiveness and healing and restoration are found not in shouting your abortion the way the culture says we should do, but it's found in coming to the cross and like all of us becoming redeemed sinners who look to our Savior to reconcile us with our Creator, not to ourselves. And then finally, a pro-life church is going to equip its own people to engage the arguments that are in play on bioethics these days. And if we don't equip our people to engage unchurched people, we're not going to reach this culture the way we need to.

Scott R: You've, I think, hinted at one reason for this because I think the pro-life movement has been very critical of the church. But you make the observation that a lot of Christian schools and churches that you take your seminars to don't want you. They don't want to have this discussion. Why do you think that's true?

Scott K: I can't give you empirical data with a peer-reviewed study, but I can tell you anecdotally what we know. What we know is we're basically selling a product people don't want. And the reason, I think, is a lot of our institutions, and I don't want to paint too broadly here, Dr. Ray, but a lot of our institutions are afraid that if they bring up an issue like abortion, they're going to get unfavorable pushback. People will not attend church, for example. They may not give money the way they used to. And that tends to be what we hear from churches in general that say, "Hey, we like what you're doing, but we don't want to bring it here." The other issue is, of course, with Christian high schools and colleges where you find that their concern, that their student body, may not be able to handle a discussion of this nature, and so they shy away from it. I was at a particular Christian college recently where they let me come in and speak—this was not Biola, by the way, this was some other school. They let me come in and speak, but the chaplain confessed ahead of time that he was dismayed that his students were not pro-life. And I asked him point blank, "Well, how many pro-life presentations have you done in chapel?" He said, "Well, you're going to be the first one." And we wonder why his students weren't where he wanted them to be. They're not getting the exposure to the pro-life argument.

Scott R: Now, you make a number of really interesting claims in here that I think are a bit counterintuitive. For example, you claimed that the reversal of Roe v. Wade was not really as big a victory as the pro-life movement often makes it out to be. You say it was not a major advance of pro-life ideas. Why do you hold that?

Scott K: It was a necessary victory, but not a sufficient one. Reversing Roe did not end abortion. And as you know, it remained legal in all 50 states that did not, if they did not already have trigger laws on the books, and not all states did, in fact, the majority did not. And what we found out with the reversal of Roe v. Wade is that the pro-life position does not have marketing or judicial hurdles as much as it has worldview hurdles. The public doesn't agree with us. And that's why we're 0 for 8 every time the issue has been put to the public for a vote since the reversal of Roe v. Wade. I think leading up to Roe v. Wade being reversed, pro-lifers in the elite circles thought that, hey, if we could just get the Supreme Court out of our way, and we could return this issue to the people, there's a sleeping giant out there that is really on our side. And we just need to get the courts off their backs so that they can vote to protect unborn humans. Well, what we found out is there is no sleeping giant. And if there is one, it's not on our side. It's been on the other side all along. And our challenge is worldview. The culture does not agree with us that the unborn are members of the human family. And that's really what the crux of the abortion debate comes down to. It's not about choice, privacy, trusting women, or any of the other things people talk about. It's really a philosophical anthropology question, are the unborn one of us? That's the issue. And the public does not agree with us.

Scott R: Now, after all the stuff that's been written on this, the philosophical arguments, ultrasound, the technology that I think enables us to look into the womb like never before, why do you think that that philosophical issue is still unresolved?

Scott K: I'm going to venture a couple of guesses here. Number one, the worldview assumptions people bring to the debate. When you have a culture that is postmodern, that believes that objective truth, even if it does exist, can't be known because all we have are our own sense perceptions or our own perspectives, that culture is going to resist any claim that we can know objectively what a human being is or whether a particular living entity is one of us. Then the new kid on the block, you have a woke culture that holds to standpoint epistemology, and we're finding this more and more in conversation where people say things like, "Well, the measure of truth is not an objective standard. In fact, objective standards of argument are actually oppressive. What really matters is the lived experience from the standpoint of the oppressed person. That's the way we measure truth." In that kind of world, people don't look deep philosophically for answers. In fact, they tend to think that moral and ethical questions are purely subjective, kind of like choosing chocolate over vanilla. In that kind of world, you don't get people doing the rigorous thinking that you would have seen from a culture that is immersed in logic, immersed in book reading, for example.

Scott R: Now, one of the other claims that you make that I found remarkable is that you insist that the ground rules for the abortion debate have changed. The basic rules of engagement have changed. You hinted at this a bit just a minute ago, but spell that out a little bit further. How have the rules changed and what are the new ground rules for this?

Scott K: Well, the newest ground rule is the one I just mentioned a moment ago, standpoint epistemology, the reduction of truth to lived experience. Now, there is a place for lived experience in helping us understand a person and what their reference point is and what they might be feeling, but lived experience is not a substitute for corresponding to the world as it really is. The biggest ground rule that's changed is the idea of truth. You and I look at the word truth and we say, "Okay, something is true if it corresponds to the world as it really is." If I say it's 17 degrees in Atlanta right now and it is the fact that it is 17 degrees in Atlanta right now, which by the way it is, then you can say my statement corresponds to reality and therefore is true. But when you adopt the view that it's only the standpoint of the alleged oppressed person that matters and in this worldview women are oppressed victims of men and need abortion to regain equality, then the person who makes an objective truth claim about abortion is not judged on the merits of the argument, they're judged on their person. Now, you and I look at this, Dr. Rae, and we say, "Well, this is nothing more than a glorified genetic fallacy, faulting an idea based on its origins." And we're right about that. However, if we don't spell that out to the people we're talking to, they don't get it. In the past, I think we could assume certain rules of logic were understood by a large number of people and we had some kind of common ground to at least begin the discussion. I'm not so sure that's there anymore.

Scott R: Well, and when logic becomes oppressive, then I'm not exactly sure what to do with that.

Scott K: Yeah, it becomes all the more urgent for us to speak directly to the intuitions of the person. And this is not something new, this is something that abolitionists learned in the fight over slavery that arguments alone didn't always change a culture that was bent on exploiting other human beings for its own purposes. And I think this is why, in addition to making very powerful arguments, we need to also speak to the moral intuitions that people have, that they may be suppressing, but they're still there.

Scott R: So, in this context, Scott, how do we make the case that in a way that's compelling that the unborn child is a person with the full right to life?

Scott K: Yeah, what I like to do is start with the three most important words in pro-life apologetics, syllogism, syllogism, syllogism. And you and I know what that is, that's simply a couple of premises followed by a conclusion that hopefully pops out logically. So, if I say Socrates is a man, all men are mortal. The conclusion is Socrates is mortal. That's what we mean by a syllogism and pro-lifers have a syllogism and it's vital we stick to it because we deal in a world today where people love to change the topic when abortion is brought up. They don't talk about abortion directly. They don't give arguments that get right to the question, are the unborn one of us? Instead, they want to talk about, oh, you're a man. You have no right to speak on this issue. You have no standpoint to talk about this. Or they want to talk about choice, privacy, who decides? None of which they would bring forward if we were talking about killing five-year-olds. They only bring it forward when they're talking about the unborn. So, we want to make sure that we keep the argument where it is and then we have to engage in something that I know you've had to do in many of your conversations and your teaching with students. We often have to narrate the debate for the person we're talking to. Make an observation of what just happened in the conversation. So, when I spell out the pro-life syllogism and it goes like this, premise one, it's wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings. Premise two, abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings. Conclusion, therefore, abortion is wrong. Now, that argument may be mistaken. It could be that it's invalid, meaning the conclusion doesn't follow logically. It could be unsound, meaning one or more of the premises are false or it could be equivocal, meaning the terms are used in a loose or multi-level meaning that renders the argument unclear. Outside of that, the argument stands. And the reason I like to begin with the syllogism is it gets us to the heart of what the pro-lifer is arguing. And I like to say to people, "Listen, I want to align with truth. I want to, in the Socratic quest for truth, make sure my arguments are good ones. If my argument is not a good one, you're helping me if you show me where it goes wrong. But it doesn't do any good to call me names like, 'Oh, you're just a woman hater,' or 'You're just religious.' They need to show where the argument actually goes wrong. And by starting with a formal argument, we can say to people, 'You know, I noticed that you didn't engage my argument. What you did is you just called me a name. And again, I want to get at the truth. If I'm wrong, I'm open-minded. But it doesn't really help me get in line with the truth if you just insult me. And I think that the ability to state your argument as a formal argument right up front allows you to narrate the exchange so people understand you're not a bigot, you want to get at truth, and you need them to play by rules if we're going to get at the truth.

Scott R: So, let's look at some other pro-choice advocates who actually concede your syllogism and justify abortion at the same time.

Scott K: Yep.

Scott R: Tell me a little bit about how they do that.

Scott K: Well, there's two large groups of arguments. There's those who argue the unborn are not persons, therefore abortion is permissible. And then there's others like Judith Jarvis Thompson and David Boonin who argue that even if they are humans and persons with a right to life, abortion is still permissible because you can't force the mother to use her body against her will. She may withhold support for her unborn offspring if she wishes.

Scott R: Well, it's the latter one that I'm after.

Scott: K: Okay, the Thompson argument?

Scott R: Yes.

Scott K: Yeah, that argument goes like this. As I said, even if the unborn are human, you can't force a woman to use her body against her consent. And Thompson and Boonin and others rely on an analogy that you've been familiar with and you've taught to your students the famous violinist argument, that you wake up one morning and you find yourself kidnapped and you've been surgically attached to a world-famous violinist in the middle of the night and that violinist has a rare illness. He needs your body to live for nine months, after which he'll be cured of his illness and you can detach. You wake up in the morning in the hospital and you're trying to detach from this violinist who you've forcibly been hooked up to and the medical staff stops you and says, "No, you can't detach because if you do, he will die." And because he's a person with a right to life, though it's an inconvenience for you to be attached, it is not something you can do too bad. You're going to have to stay attached. And then Thompson asks a great question. She says, "It would certainly be nice if you let your body be used that way, but must you?" Now, I think that ought to cause us all to stop for a minute and think because she has literally bitten the bullet. She's accepted, as you accurately pointed out, our major premises and says we're still wrong. But I think there's a huge problem with her argument, one that pro-abortion philosopher Kate Griezli at Oxford has pointed out. You can't get from a right to withhold support to, "I have a right to slit my victim's throat and intentionally kill them in the name of withholding support." And I think that's the key fatal flaw in Thompson's argument. There's a lot of things that break down in it, but I think that's the one we should zero in on. It's one thing to withhold support. It's another to intentionally kill an innocent human being. For example, let's say, Dr. Rae, that I am suffering from cancer and I need a blood transfusion to save my life. And let's say you have that blood type I need. Now, suppose further, you refuse to give me that blood transfusion. The law, and I think a lot of ethicists would say, "Okay, that's your prerogative. You can't be forced to sustain my life, but you would not have a right to slit my throat in the name of withholding support." And that's where Thompson's argument really takes a leap that you cannot sustain from the premise that she advances.

Scott R: Now, that's a really good answer to that. I appreciate that. There's another version of this that you see often, even among pro-life advocates, and that is the statement, "I personally am opposed to abortion, but I believe it should remain legal." What's the response to that?

Scott K: Well, the underlying worldview there is, of course, relativism. And what I love to do when people say, "I personally oppose abortion," I stop and I narrate the conversation. I say, "Tell me why you oppose abortion in the first place." And they always say, Dr. Rae, “Well, because it kills a human being or a baby. I mean, if it doesn't, why be opposed at all?" And then I say, very gently, I repeat back to them what they just said to me. I say, "Can I repeat back what I heard you just say? You personally oppose abortion because you say it intentionally kills a baby, but you think it ought to be legal to do that?" And I just pause. I don't push the issue. I mean, imagine if I said, "I personally opposed slavery, but if you want to own a slave, that's really no business of mine." Or, "I personally oppose spousal abuse, but if you want to do it, who am I to bring the law to play on your decision?" I mean, people would be abhorred if we said that. But with abortion, what they've done is they've reduced it to a preference issue like choosing chocolate ice cream over vanilla. And as a result they see it as personal choice, not something that is an objective moral standard that they are obliged to align with.

Scott R: Now, some pro-choice activists take their advocacy further and they actually have the stomach to be consistent with their worldview and with their views of human persons and actually advocate for infanticide as well as the fact that the new euphemism for infanticide is the post-birth abortion. How do they justify that extension of the pro-choice position?

Scott K: Well, you're referring to people like Michael Tooley, Jubilina Minerva, Peter Singer, who, yes, they are consistent in that they say the arguments they advance for abortion also justify killing newborns. And the way they do this is they hold to a philosophical anthropology known as the mental continuity theory. And what that theory says is that you are not identical to the embryo you once were or the newborn you once were. They're not arguing you didn't have rights back then, but that you're identical to that embryo. They're saying there was no you there at the beginning. Now, somebody like David Boonin is going to go a different way. He's going to say, you did exist back then, but you didn't have the same right to life then as you do now. But people like Singer Tooley and Jubilina Minerva are going to argue, no, there was no you there back at the embryonic, fetal and newborn stages. So, if you are killed or if abortion takes place, there's no person killed because in order for there to be a person, you have to be able to have an immediately exercising ability to sustain seeing yourself existing over time, a cognitive ability to desire to go on living. And if you don't have those things, there's no you there. And of course, you and I recognize right away that's body-self dualism, the belief that the real you has nothing to do with your body. Rather, the real you from an identity standpoint is strictly your cognitive self, your thoughts, your aims, your desires. And this worldview of body-self dualism goes way beyond abortion. We see it in the transgender debate when somebody says, I'm really a woman trapped in a man's body. This bifurcation of body and person is what we mean by body-self dualism. And that's the worldview that's driving their thinking. But I think we can point out that there's a number of problems with this. And I know in your writing, you've exposed some of this as well. But just a couple of things for our listeners. I think it's very counterintuitive, you end up saying things like my body existed before I did, or my fetal self existed before my rational self showed up. You also have to say things like I've never hugged my mother. To hug your mother is to hug a body, not hug desires, intuitions or feelings. I think, too, we recognize that humans are a mix, if you will, of mind and body. For example, if I were to ask you to look out your window right now and identify the first object that comes into play, we'll just make it up a tree. You look out your window, you see a tree. Notice two things are happening. Your physical eye is making contact with the tree, but your mind is making sense of it. Well, that seems to fit rather well with the biblical view that human beings are a dynamic union of body and soul. We're not merely bodies and souls, we're a dynamic union. And that fits well with the pro-life Christian worldview. But this idea that we can bifurcate a person from the body does not fit well for human equality or for a sense of seeing human beings as existing more holistically.

Scott R: Now, Scott, when this will be posted on the Monday or Tuesday after Sanctity of Life Sunday, that's coming up very soon, how would you encourage churches to commemorate the initial passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973?

Scott K: I think what pastors should do, if they're going to put together a pro-life sermon, and I would encourage them to do it, they should do three things. Number one, go over what the Bible has to say about the shedding of innocent blood. And what you find in Scripture is that the shedding of innocent blood, by which we mean the intentional killing of an innocent human being, is a preeminent moral crisis. It's not just one of many things that go wrong in this world, it is a preeminent moral crisis. In fact, in Proverbs 6, for example, God hates the shedding of innocent blood. And we see him judging Israel and Isaiah and in other passages, Ezekiel, for their complicity in the shedding of innocent blood. Then the next thing we need to do is just ask the question, are the unborn human? Because if the unborn are human, then the commands against the shedding of innocent blood found in Scripture apply to the unborn as they do everybody else. We don't even need to bring in Psalm 139 or any other scriptures that might be out there that indicate the unborn are human. We know from the science of embryology they are human, therefore the commands in Scripture against shedding innocent blood apply to them as they do everyone else. Then I would make the point that the forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood requires the shedding of innocent blood, meaning the atonement of Jesus is where we find the forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood. And this is important because I think that if we don't speak to the men and women who've been wounded by abortion, then what happens is one or two things happen. If we never mention abortion in our churches, people either believe the sin of abortion is unforgivable or they think it's permissible. And both of those wrong assumptions are devastating to people coming to growth and discipleship in Jesus Christ. So, we want to make sure that people know abortion is a sin. It is the shedding of innocent blood, but we want to make the remedy known to them. And it's found not in shouting your abortion, not in justifying it, but the exchange of Christ's righteousness for our sinfulness. It's the idea of Christ becoming the propitiation for our sin. The righteousness God demands he provides by sending Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, including the shedding of innocent blood. And the gospel becomes the perfect antidote. And talking about abortion is a great way to set people up for the good news of the gospel. Yeah, they get the bad news that abortion is a sin. It's the shedding of innocent blood, but we don't leave them there. We point them to the remedy. And then the third thing we need to do is remind believers that God will not hold us guiltless if we overlook the shedding of innocent blood. Proverbs 24:11, for example, that we are to rescue those being led away to the slaughter and the Lord will not overlook us failing in that task. So, those are three things I would do on a sanctity of human life Sunday.

Scott R: Yeah. One final question for you, Scott. What's out there that gives you hope about the abortion debate?

Scott K: What gives me hope is that true ideas, ideas that correspond to the world as it really is, those ideas have a nasty habit of sticking around. And I think the left has utterly failed to squash the pro-life movement. They're winning at the moment at the ideal level, but that could ebb and flow. That ebb and flow could change. And I think that by merely sticking around and continuing to make our case persuasively, we keep the pro-life position alive. And we've seen things in history before where vandals would come along and try to destroy Western learning. And there were faithful monks who hid manuscripts and kept the truth of the Western world alive. And they literally saved the West by preserving ideas that vandals and others wanted to squash. And I think pro-lifers need to take confidence that while it's not enough for us to simply have the truth, if we argue for the truth, we keep our idea alive. I also think there's great hope in reaching audiences that are predisposed to believe our view. Places like Summit Ministries, places like Biola that in the graduate program of apologetics are teaching and equipping students to be ambassadors for Christ on these issues. That's formal training that is just indispensable. And I benefited from that training at Biola. And I'm very glad I went through that MA program. By the way, Dr. Rae did not pay me to make that plug for the program, but I mean what I say. That was a very instrumental program in equipping me to be a better ambassador. So, the fact that there's an interest in lay people wanting to equip themselves, even if gatekeepers are unwilling to engage the issue, there's enough individual people that are out there wanting training that that gives me hope for the future.

Scott R: Yeah. Scott, I really appreciate you coming on with us. So appreciate your book, “The Case for Life.” I would urge all of our listeners to, if you're not familiar with this, grab a copy of the book. It is the go-to resource, in my view, for equipping yourself to engage on this issue. I'm so grateful, especially with the Sanctity of Life Sunday coming up here real soon. Very timely to talk about this. And I commend you for your work, Scott. And I hope all of our listeners get a chance to take a look at your book.

Scott K: Well, Dr. Rae, coming from you—a person I consider one of my mentors—that's high praise indeed. And thank you for it.

Scott R: Thanks, Scott. This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. It's brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, offering programs in Southern California and online, including our Masters in Christian Apologetics, which Scott referred to, now available in many online versions. Visit biola.edu/talbot in order to learn more. If you have a question or a comment or want to make a suggestion on issues you'd like us to cover or guests you'd like us to consider, you can email us at thinkbiblically@biola.edu. That's thinkbiblically@biola.edu. If you enjoyed today's conversation with our friend Scott Klusendorf, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening. And remember, think biblically about everything.