I have been quite excited to read Scott Klusendorf’s The Case For Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (paperback, Kindle, Video Trailer, Interview, Life Training Institute). From my elementary school days, I have been exposed to pro-life Christians who have faced ridicule, fines, physical harm, and even jail time for their commitment to the unborn’s right to life. It was not until my exposure to Christian apologetics that I became aware that the fight was more than each side just emoting at one another. In this book, Klusendorf provides the scientific case for the humanity of the unborn and the objective moral wrongness of killing them. He addresses many common and powerful challenges to the prolife position. The book is divided into four parts and is 243 pages in length. This review will provide a chapter-by-chapter summary then conclude with my comments.
Part 1- Pro-Life Christians Clarify The Debate
Chapter 1- What Is The Issue?
Klusendorf begins by clarifying that there is one issue that is up for debate- the one issue that will make or break the case for the pro-life position. He explains that every other issue in the discussion is a red herring if this one issue is not resolved first. The key question that anyone must ask before they decide to act on something is “What is it?” In the context of the pro-life/abortion debate the action is killing and “it” is the unborn. We must determine if the unborn are human or not before we decide if it is justifiable to kill it. Klusendorf points out that if the unborn are not human, then there is no more justification needed to remove it than is necessary to remove a tooth (and any efforts to lower the number of abortions is really worthless); however, if the unborn is human, then no justification is sufficient to deliberately kill it.
Chapter 2- What Is The Unborn?
After establishing the crux of the debate, the pro-life advocate must make the case for their contention: that the unborn are human. Klusendorf offers that three attributes need to be demonstrated: that the unborn are distinct entities from the mother, that the unborn are alive, and that the unborn are whole entities (not merely parts). The significance of these are:
- If the unborn are not distinct from the mother (or father, for that matter), then the mother has intrinsic rights over it as it is her body.
- If the unborn are not alive, then it cannot be killed. An abortion would just be removing something not alive. There would be no more controversy to even debate
- If the unborn are not whole entities then it is legitimate to ask the question, “when does the unborn become human.” Prior to that point, it would be morally acceptable to remove it (alive or not, distinct or not).
He provides several arguments from both embryology and philosophy in support of his claims. He addresses several objections to the arguments and also critiques arguments supporting the opposite contentions. He concludes that science and philosophy exclusively support the fact that the unborn are distinct, alive, and fully human throughout the time span of being in the womb.
Chapter 3- What Makes Humans Valuable?
Having established that the unborn are human is not enough, though, in order to condemn abortion-on-demand. It must be established that humans have value which would apply to the unborn in virtue of their being human. Klusendorf is careful to make the point that science alone cannot establish that anything has value; however, science can be used to in arguments for value. He begins by establishing that the unborn do not “become human,” but that they are human. He then builds his case for human value based on everyday experience and the source of rights. He explains that if rights originate with the government, then rights can be removed as easily as they can be given. But if rights are intrinsic, that does not help the pro-choice advocate much for people cannot claim an intrinsic right to an abortion without claiming intrinsic rights exist, and if the right to life is an intrinsic right for humans, then the right is intrinsic to the unborn.
Klusendorf does address the issue of religion in this chapter. Even though it is easy to build a case for intrinsic human value by appealing to religion, a case can be made via non-religious sources. Just because the case can be made through religion, it does not follow that the secular case for human value can be dismissed by the non-religious person.
Chapter 4- Is Embryonic Stem Cell Research Morally Complex?
Klusendorf now turns his attention to the debate surrounding stem cells. There is a distinction between embryonic and adult stem cells. The research that is morally controversial is embryonic stem cell research because the stem cells can only be harvested destroying destroying the embryo. Klusendorf appeals to the same arguments as in previous chapters that establish that this is an ethically unacceptable practice. The entire controversy can be avoided because functionally identical stems cells have been identified that do not require the destruction of embryos.
Despite the fact that other options are less expensive, have produced results, and is not a moral issue, some people still insist on using embryos. Klusendorf transitions into discussing cloning, the processes involved and the ultimate expected outcomes. He explains that laws that “ban” cloning, do so by making birth of cloned embryos a criminal offense. He stops just shy of implying that it is, itself, “anti-choice,” being so pro-death that refusal to abort is punishable by law- the mother has no choice in the matter, undermining any right that the pro-choice advocate claims for the mother. He concludes that the reasons given for embryonic stem cell research and cloning, along with the immense challenges, and the fact that they demand killing human beings, are not enough to justify continuing the research. The promised results of embryonic stem cell research are being realized by perfectly ethical alternatives without all the risks, so it really is not necessary.
Part 2- Pro-Life Christians Establish A Foundation For The Debate
Chapter 5- The Ground Rules, Part 1: Can You Name My Claim?
Probably the most important distinction in the debate regarding abortion is in what the pro-life advocate is arguing. In an effort to try to appease the pro-lifer, it is often claimed by pro-choice advocates that they are personally against abortion, but they would not impose their morality on others, thus they support choice. However, the debate is not about whether or not one personally likes the idea of abortion or not. It is about whether or not abortion is objectively wrong, regardless of our personal preferences. If it is objectively wrong, the only purpose personal preference serves in the discussion is to distract from the real issue and make one feel better about holding the wrong position.
Klusendorf defines cultural and individual relativism but is quick to point to the fact that both of them result in cognitive dissonance when we compare Adolf Hitler to Mother Teresa. He provides a short history lesson tracing how relativistic thinking has influenced society and how each progressive theory self-destructs in its own attempt to undermine the existence of objective morality, the recognition of the existence of objective morality, and the identification of the specific morals. This demonstrates that the cognitive dissonance, generated by the necessary concession that Hitler and Teresa were both morally equal based on either form of relativism, does in fact reflect reality (moral realism).
Chapter 6- The Ground Rules, Part 2: Is Moral Neutrality Possible?
In light of the solid scientific evidence that establishes that the unborn are human, alive, and distinct from their parents, many people claim to be remain morally neutral in order to maintain a pro-choice position. Klusendorf explains that moral neutrality is not possible. Humans either have an intrinsic right to life or they do not. Legal neutrality is also attempted, but that is also impossible. The unborn are either protected or they are not. Legal protection implies a moral right to life, while a lack of protection betrays the opposite. If fully-developed humans deserve the right to life, based on the fact that they are human or according to the law, then so do the unborn. Likewise, if the unborn do not deserve the right to life regardless of the fact that they are human or because the law refuses to protect them, then neither does any fully-developed human deserve the right to life, on the same grounds.
Chapter 7- Foundations: Does God Matter (Or Am I Just Matter)?
Because of the fact that we live in a pluralistic society that is highly sensitive to religious claims, many pro-choice/abortion advocates like to dismiss the pro-life position because of its metaphysical foundations to establish the intrinsic value of human life. Klusendorf addresses this challenge by highlighting the double standard in such thinking. The limit of scientific inquiry is at the point of establishing the identity of the unborn. It cannot speak to the metaphysical topic of whether or not humans have intrinsic value or not (thus should be protected o not). Both pro-life and pro-choice/abortion positions must appeal to the metaphysical to establish its conclusion. Thus neither side may dismiss the other based on the fact that it makes metaphysical claims. Both positions involve the metaphysical, thus their proponents must be prepared to defend their position and not merely complain about the other. Taking his own challenge seriously, Klusendorf briefly presents many scientific and philosophical evidences that demonstrate that is is more logical to conclude that God exists than to conclude that God does not exist. With God’s existence in place, as creations of God, in His Image, humans possess intrinsic value and a right to life.
Chapter 8- Dead Silence: Does the Bible Justify Abortion?
The Bible does not explicitly mention the word “abortion,” so neither side in the debate may make the claim that the Bible explicitly condemns or condones the practice. Rather, cases for both sides are made via inference. All the arguments that conclude that abortion is Biblically acceptable also necessitate the simultaneous condoning of indubitably morally reprehensible behaviors such as racial discrimination and lynchings. Since these implications are not Biblically acceptable, then by their necessary connection to the desired conclusion, neither is abortion Biblically acceptable.
The argument for the Bible’s condemnation of abortion is quite simple. The Bible explicitly condemns the murder of human beings, and a more reasonable case may be made from scripture for the unborn’s humanity than inhumanity; therefore, the Bible condemns abortion. Notice, though, that the second premise in that argument is not as certain, thus the pro-choice/abortion advocate may attempt to seize on this apparent weakness. However, such an attempt can easily be overcome by substituting for the second premise that science has established that the unborn are human (as discussed in Chapter 2).
Part 3- Pro-Life Christians Answer Objections Persuasively
Chapter 9- From Debate to Dialogue: Asking The Right Questions
After preparing the reader with the information and the arguments to defend the pro-life position in the first two parts of the book, Klusendorf moves to demonstrating how to communicate and engage with critics using the information. He takes the approach encouraged by Greg Koukl in his book Tactics- ask questions that clarify the issues and encourage thoughtful reflection on the implications of the claims. The questions are forms of “What do you mean by that?” “How did you come to that conclusion?” and “Have you considered…?” Klusendorf explains the purpose behind each of the questions then gives several common claims by pro-choice/abortion advocates and what good probing questions would be.
Chapter 10- The Coat Hanger Objection: “Women Will Die From Illegal Abortions”
Klusendorf now goes into specific objections that require a bit more discussion. This objection basically argues that if abortion is made illegal then women will be forced to seek illegal abortions, which have a high mortality rate for the women. Klusendorf explains the weaknesses of this argument including the fact that it assumes that the unborn are not human/have no value and that women have no choice in the matter. He also demonstrates that “back alley” abortions do not have as high a morality rate as they claim, so they overstate the risk to the mother. Regardless of actual risk, though, because there is risk in committing a murder to the murderer does not justify the state making murder legal. All human deaths are tragedies, and the law can prevent most, but not all. Still prevention of most deaths is better than prevention of few or none.
Chapter 11- The Tolerance Objection: “You Shouldn’t Force Your View On Others”
Pro-choice/abortion activists often claim that pro-lifers should not force their views on other people. However, this is a claim that goes both directions. If someone claims that another view should not be forced on others, then by logical implication they are saying that they wish to force their own claims on the others. This is a self-defeating claim. One side may not claim the moral high ground by calling the other intolerant, because the very claim makes them intolerant as well.
Chapter 12- The Single Issue Objection: “Pro-Lifers Should Broaden Their Focus”
Sometimes pro-choice/abortion advocates will complain that pro-life supporters are too focused on the issue of abortion and not focused enough on other issues or even the underlying causes for abortions. Klusendorf points to the fact that the focus on one issue does necessitate focus on all (or even many) issues. He evidences this by saying that it would be illogical for someone to demand that those searching for cures for cancer also spend their resources fighting global hunger, diabetes, and global warming. The fact that many issues exists does not negate the validity of focusing effort to resolve one of them.
It is also often mentioned that pro-lifers should not focus so much on making abortion illegal but rather the focus should be on the underlying causes. Klusendorf explains that this is more of a strategy to blur focus on the issue. While pro-lifers do need to address underlying issues, the fight against abortion should not be abandoned. If it were, it would be like making rape, robbery, and murder legal and trying to prevent them by addressing the underlying causes for people committing them. The causes and the effects both need to be addressed, not only one of them.
Chapter 13- The Hard Cases Objection: “Rape Justifies Abortion”
In the face of many arguments and failed attempts to justify abortion-on-demand, many times an avid supporter of abortion/choice will attempt to argue from the exception of rape. While it is important to recognize that rape is a difficult issue because of the undeniable emotional trauma that the mother will experience, the issue is whether it is right to kill a human being who reminds us of a traumatic experience. The answer is obviously “no.” It is not easy for pro-lifers to accept this because many do have friends and family can imagine close friends and family in this position (and some actually are), but doing the right thing is not always the easy thing, and that is why people have friends and family: to comfort them in the midst of the difficult implications of doing the right thing.
Chapter 14- The “I Don’t Like You” Objection: “Men Can’t Get Pregnant” and Other Personal Attacks
Sometimes supporters of abortion/choice do not attempt to use arguments at all; rather they attack the character of the pro-life supporter. The only value these attacks possess is rhetorical; they have no place in reasonable discourse. It does not matter is the person presenting an argument is the worst person in the world, it is not the character of the presenter that determines the logical soundness of an argument, but it is the content of the argument, which character attacks do not address.
Chapter 15- The Bodily Autonomy Objection: “It’s My Body; I’ll Decide”
Some abortion/choice advocates do “bite the bullet” and accept the humanity of the unborn along with its right to life. However, they hold that a woman’s right to do with her body what she pleases trumps the unborn human’s right to life. Klusendorf examines several real-life and hypothetical scenarios in this context. He explains that even those who use this argument would not allow women to take this to logical limit because of the moral “wrongness” of such extreme actions. By doing this, Klusendorf demonstrates that the abortion/choice advocate who uses this argument cannot maintain logical consistency without compromising morals at some point. He concludes that even though this may seem to be a powerful challenge to the pro-life view, it still crumbles under its own weight.
Part 4- Pro-Life Christians Teach and Equip
Chapter 16- Equip to Engage: The Pro-Life Pastor In The Twenty-First Century
After presenting the case for life and addressing objections, Klusendorf now addresses training pro-life advocates. He explains the importance of local pastors in accomplishing this task. He puts forth four necessary steps for the pastor- preach a biblical view of human value, equip people to engage the culture, restore the passion for the fight for life, and confront his own fears and insecurities of preaching on the subject.
Chapter 17- Healed and Equiped: Hope For Pro-Abortion Men and Women
Numerous people have been involved in deciding to abort and come to the realization that what they did was objectively wrong. The guilt eats at them. Klusendorf explains that there is a way to deal with the guilt. Its not through denial of the act (or its morality) or through trying to do enough good to make up for it. It is through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. People can be relieved of the burden of any and all sins when they confess their sin and accept Jesus’ offer to forgive them. Only then will the healing begin, and the post-abortion man or woman can begin their fight for life.
Chapter 18- Here We Stand: Co-Belligerence Without Theological Compromise
Some Christians oppose efforts for cultural reform based on the fact that laws cannot change the heart of a person. Their concern is that time and other resources are spent doing something other than spreading the Gospel. They also contend that working with non-believers to reform culture only gives the non-believer a false sense of security, thus makes them less receptive to the Gospel. Klusendorf defends the efforts for cultural reform and partnership with non-believers in seven different ways. These include the facts that working for cultural reform provides an avenue for presenting the Gospel to those who are being helped and common ground with those nonbelievers who are part of the effort.
Chapter 19- Can We Win? How Pro-Life Christians Are Making An Extraordinary Impact
Even though rational arguments have been presented and challenges have been addressed, Christians still wonder if the pro-life movement is having any effect, considering the vast amount of funding and effort on the pro-choice side relative to the pro-life side. Klusendorf presents several examples of individuals changed by the case for life and the impacts they are currently having in their communities and nationwide. He encourages pro-life advocates to invest more resources in this effective movement. He explains that the intellectual level of engagement from the pro-choice side is constantly decreasing, while the level of emotional reaction is increasing. He advises that providing an intellectual case in an emotionally sensitive way will be the most effective. He concludes the book with a short case for using graphic images in presentations. Like with other realistic depictions of evil, they can be offensive; however, if prefaced sensitively and provided in the intellectual context of it being truly evil and the spiritual context that forgiveness and healing is available through Christ, they can be powerful tools for communicating the reality of abortion in a way that words simply cannot.
I cannot recommend this book enough to everyone. Though it is not a comprehensive case, it is a succinct presentation of the case for the pro-life position, against the pro-choice/abortion position, and the answers to the most common objections and powerful rebuttals. Every person who is pro-life needs to have this information to equip them to provide a case for their view that goes beyond merely emotional appeals. I highly recommend this book for educators, pastors, and small-group leaders to assist with preparing more people with the resources to defend life in the public square.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Luke Nix is a Computer Systems Administrator in Oklahoma, USA. He has a beautiful and supportive wife, but no kids yet. In his spare time he enjoys studying theology, philosophy, biology, astronomy, psychology and apologetics. If you liked this review, more of his writing can be enjoyed at lukenixblog.blogspot.com.