June 10, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, June 10, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Mom of baby with Down syndrome sends remarkable letter to doctor who recommended abortion
One of the most amazing letters ever written by a mother to a doctor caught the attention of ABC News this week with a headline,
“Mom and Baby with Down Syndrome Mail Letter to Doctor Who Suggested Abortion.”Show Full Transcript
Genevieve Shaw Brown reports that,
“Courtney Baker took more than a year to write and mail a letter she had been thinking about since she was pregnant with her daughter with special needs, Emersyn Faith.
“Baker told ABC News, ‘I knew how important it was going to be to write that letter, before Emmy was even born.’”
As ABC reports,
“The Sanford, Florida, mom, with the help of her 15-month-old daughter, finally dropped the letter in the mail at the end of May to the doctor who she said delivered her daughter’s prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
“The doctor, Baker said, suggested she terminate her pregnancy. Even after she refused, she said she continued to feel pressured.”
The mother said,
“Every action, from opening and closing the mailbox to raising the red flag, was closure for me,” Baker said. “I have no idea how the doctor might have reacted to my letter, but I do have faith that God can work any miracle and he can change any heart.”
Now the background to this should be readily apparent to Christians. We are looking at a war on the unborn in this country and, in particular, we are witnesses to a search-and-destroy mission when it comes to babies who are considered inferior or unwelcome. At the top of that list are babies that are known to have defects, including Down syndrome. We are witnesses to the fact that it is now estimated that upwards of 90% of all unborn babies identified as likely carriers of the gene for Down syndrome are now aborted. But then in a macabre turn, in a total subversion of ethics, we are seeing best practices when it comes obstetrics being now redefined in terms of the fact that it is now better to abort a baby known to have Down syndrome—even, it is argued, it is morally superior to make the abortion decision rather than to inflict a child with Down syndrome on the world or on the family.
That was precisely the pressure that was felt by this woman in Florida, and that is precisely what she’s pushing back on as she wrote this letter to the doctor who had recommended that she terminate her pregnancy, that she kill her baby, the baby now known as Emersyn Faith, and the baby that is such a welcome addition to the life of this family. It’s to the credit of ABC News that they understood the newsworthiness of this letter and in the letter the mother wrote to the doctor,
“A friend recently told me of when her prenatal specialist would see her child during her sonograms, he would comment, “He’s perfect.” Once her son was born with Down syndrome, she visited that same doctor. He looked at her little boy and said, ‘I told you. He’s perfect.’
“Her story tore me apart. While I was so grateful for my friend’s experience, it filled me with such sorrow because of what I should have had. I wish you would have been that doctor.
“I came to you during the most difficult time in my life. I was terrified, anxious and in complete despair. I didn’t know the truth yet about my baby, and that’s what I desperately needed from you. But instead of support and encouragement, you suggested we terminate our child. I told you her name, and you asked us again if we understood how low our quality of life would be with a child with Down syndrome. You suggested we reconsider our decision to continue the pregnancy.
“From that first visit, we dreaded our appointments. The most difficult time in my life was made nearly unbearable because you never told me the truth. My child was perfect.
“I’m not angry. I’m not bitter. I’m really just sad. I’m sad the tiny beating hearts you see every day don’t fill you with a perpetual awe. I’m sad the intricate details and the miracle of those sweet little fingers and toes, lungs and eyes and ears don’t always give you pause. I’m sad you were so very wrong to say a baby with Down syndrome would decrease our quality of life. And I’m heartbroken you might have said that to a mommy even today. But I’m mostly sad you’ll never have the privilege of knowing my daughter, Emersyn.
“Because, you see, Emersyn has not only added to our quality of life, she’s touched the hearts of thousands. She’s given us a purpose and a joy that is impossible to express. She’s given us bigger smiles, more laughter and sweeter kisses than we’ve ever known. She’s opened our eyes to true beauty and pure love.
So my prayer,” writes this mom to the doctor who recommended that she abort her baby with Down syndrome,
“So my prayer,” she says, “is that no other mommy will have to go through what I did. My prayer is that you, too, will now see true beauty and pure love with every sonogram.
“And my prayer is when you see that next baby with Down syndrome lovingly tucked in her mother’s womb, you will look at that mommy and see me then tell her the truth: ‘Your child is perfect.’
“I hope,” says this mom, “he sees Emmy. I hope he sees my words on paper.”
This the mom said to ABC News,
“Emmy is proof that children with special needs are worthy and can change the world. She’s doing it right now.”
Well, little Emersyn Faith is indeed doing that right now, and this causes us to raise some very basic questions. What is the clash of worldview that can be explained between a mother’s perspective on this issue and this doctor’s perspective? That distinction in worldview can’t be merely over the question of Down syndrome or merely over even the question of this little child. Instead, it points to an even more fundamental division in worldview. It’s a division between two different views of human life: between those who see every single human life as possessing dignity and sanctity, because every human life is made in the image of God, and those who see human life as potentially valuable, potentially important, even life that is potentially worthy of life.
Now at this point Christians also need to recognize that common grace should explain why this doctor would never have recommended the abortion of this baby with Down syndrome. That is to say, that merely observing a child with Down syndrome should be sufficient proof in terms of even the experience merely of meeting such a beautiful child to understand this child should be welcomed within the human community and celebrated, not eliminated. But common grace, we need to note and note very carefully, is not an adequate moral restraint in an age that is now dominated by the culture of death. Once the culture of death begins to make inroads in the way people think and feel and emote when it comes to questions as basic as the dignity of human life, then you discover that what should be apparent just by means of common grace is often ignored or denied or subverted or marginalized or hidden.
In the case of this doctor there is no doubt that he could take recourse in arguments that are made in contemporary medical ethics. And yet that’s the real problem, because it shows us how much of the contemporary enterprise of ethics is built upon a relativistic understanding of right and wrong and a deeply dangerous subversion of the idea of human dignity. But that also raises the question then: what worldview could withstand the challenge of this modern tendency and ethics, this modern victory of the culture of death, this modern depreciation of human life? And the answer to that is one that Christians must fully understand. The only worldview that is sufficient to give a categorical answer to why aborting any child is wrong and, in particular, in this case, to why selectively aborting a baby with Down syndrome is wrong, is a worldview that grounds human dignity and human identity and the worth of every single human life in something greater than humanity itself. That points to the absolute indispensability of the biblical worldview in terms of grounding human dignity and the sanctity of human life.
The history of humanity demonstrates that there is no other worldview, there is no other worldview in human experience or at this point in the human imagination that comes close to Christianity in the biblical worldview in terms of undergirding the value and dignity of every single individual human life. And yet even as we should be so thankful for this mother and the powerful witness of her letter, and as we are unspeakably thankful for this little girl Emersyn Faith and for the fact that her witness merely by existing as we are now talking about her on The Briefing is itself testimony to God’s sovereign purpose in giving her the gift of life and to giving her to humanity herself as a gift.
But the other thing we need to note is some of the specific language used by this mother—there is first of all, the horrifying language telling us that it was a physician who repeatedly not only told her that she should abort this baby, but as she says so graphically and clearly in her letter, who pressured her at the point of emotional distress to abort the baby, to terminate the pregnancy. But then we also need to note on a positive light the incredible moral insight that is given us by this mother in the choice of words that she uses, not once, but twice in this letter. She spoke of the little girl saying that through her their eyes were opened “to true beauty and pure love.”
Later, writing to the doctor, she says,
“So my prayer is that no other mommy will have to go through what I did, my prayer is that you”—she means the doctor—“will now see true beauty and pure love with every sonogram.”
Let’s look at those four words very carefully: true beauty and pure love. When it comes to pure love, what does she mean? She means a love that is untainted by self-interest, but is rather directed at the only kind of love that is not directed toward self-interest. And in this case, it is beautifully typified by the love of a mother for a child. That is indeed an example of pure love. But it is also an example in the reverse direction, in this little girl’s love of her mother and her father. That too is a pure love. That is to say, it is a love that can never be depreciated in terms of its moral intent. It is right and it is beautiful and it is a powerful witness to the image of God.
The other two words here are “true beauty,” and that points to the revolutionary aesthetic of the Christian worldview, which is to say the Christian understanding of beauty. The Christian worldview is based upon the fact that God and God alone is the source of truth and beauty and goodness and thus that because God is the source of all three, all three are exactly the same. That is to say that the good is the true and the true is the beautiful and the beautiful is the good, which is to say also that if something is good, it cannot be ugly. If something is true, it cannot be anything less than good. The good, the beautiful, and the true are the same thing. That is essential to the unity and to the comprehensiveness of the Christian worldview.
That’s why the Christian worldview, and the biblical Christian worldview alone, explains why the face of a baby with Down syndrome is always and ever more exceedingly beautiful, because it is good and because it is true, biblically defined. The gift of that child’s life is an un-alloyed good. The truth of that life is an undiluted truth. The goodness of that life is not established because of any potential or capacity within that child or within any one of us, but rather in the goodness of God’s gift of life every time a human being is conceived and God says, “Let there be life.” The Bible defines humanity as fearfully and wonderfully made. That is not some human beings, but all human beings, those beings that are born and those beings that are not yet born but already conceived. Every single human being is fearfully and wonderfully made—not because of who we are, but because of who made us.
Naturalistic, evolutionary explanation of cuteness in babies borders on the ridiculous
Next, along similar lines, a very important article appeared this week in the Washington Post by Rachel Feltman, the title of the article,
“The sneaky ways babies get inside our heads.”
“Big eyes, bigger heads and squishy little noses. The physical characteristics that make babies so squeezable are called the Kindchenschema, and they keep parents all over the animal kingdom from leaving stinky infants to their own devices. But research suggests that this cuteness does more than just tell your lizard brain that the squirming screamer in your arms is important. ‘Cute’ could actually be a complex, multi-sensory attack that babies have evolved to hijack your brain.”
Once again, this is published in the Washington Post. So what’s going on here? Well, in the article lede and in the headline, the background is the theory of evolution and the belief that every single dimension of existence, in particular of human existence, must be explained by naturalistic and materialistic factors alone and by the theory of evolution. That is, when you look at any pattern of human behavior it has to be explained in terms of some mechanism of evolution. The suggestion straightforwardly made here in the “Speaking of Science” column in the Washington Post is that children, infants, have evolved in order to hijack our brains so that we will care for them as we consider them cute.
Now one of the most profound aspects of this in the Christian worldview is the reduction of human cuteness and human beauty to something that is merely a trait produced by evolution so that we will not abandon our own babies. But leaving that for a moment, let me continue the argument made by Feltman.
She cites Morten Kringelbach of Oxford University who found “that folks presented with images of babies had activity spikes in regions of the brain associated with emotion and pleasure within just a few milliseconds – right around the time the information reached visual centers.”
Let’s just clean that up for a moment. What he’s saying is we think babies are cute. According to Feltman,
“The results astounded him. It’s well accepted that babies are designed to grab attention,”
Notice that word “design.” She means, as the article makes very clear, designed by evolution, but keep that word in mind,
“It’s well accepted that babies are designed to grab attention – an evolutionary development that keeps our harmless young from dying out and driving our species to extinction – but he expected signs of this to pop up a step or two after the baby was recognized by the conscious brain.”
The doctor said,
“Almost before you’re consciously aware that you’re looking at anything at all, you cannot help but feel compelled by that baby.”
Well, there you go. The baby is hijacking your brain by a trait that was developed over evolution in order that the baby might survive. On Monday Feltman tells us, Kringelbach and his colleagues published a review of what’s described as all the latest literature on,
“Weird cute phenomenon, including,” she tells us, “much of their own work. They argue that the traits that make up the Kindchenschema are far more complex,” and here are the two words, “(and insidious) than we usually give them credit for.”
Notice the use of the word “insidious.” It’s as if these children are somehow evil for attracting our attention by being cute. The professor said,
“There’s something privileged about the way babies get into the brain. It’s like they have privileged access.”
Professor Kringelbach and his colleagues are quite specific about what makes up this cuteness, and it includes not only the way that babies look, but also how they act, how they sound, and how they smell—even, the professor says, how they taste.
“Taste is probably very important as well. There’s something about bringing them close and smelling the fontanelle, you know, before it closes, there’s just something about that smell,” he said. “If you could bottle that you’d make a lot of money.”
The professor went on to say,
“We argued here that cuteness goes beyond an attention-grabbing evolutionary strategy that infants use to attract care and protection,” the researchers write in the study. “Instead, like a Trojan horse, cuteness opens doors that might otherwise remain shut.”
Feltman then explains the care that infants need can’t be covered by instinctive responses such as,
“Look at me now and try to keep me from getting eaten by something.”
So okay, let’s pause and think a minute about what we’re really confronting here. We’re confronting seriously minded academics operating from a purely evolutionary materialistic naturalistic worldview who have to explain every single dimension of human experience, including our emotional response even to infants in terms of mere evolutionary theory, in something that evolution has produced over time. They are arguing that infants, human infants in particular, have developed the ability to be incredibly cute in order that we will not abandon them and will keep them from being eaten and will feed them and not let them die of neglect. What we see here is the reduction of every dimension of humanity to a merely naturalistic explanation, even when it comes down to the cuteness of human infants.
I also want to go back to the line in the article where Feltman writes,
“It’s well accepted that babies are designed to grab attention”—by the way, in terms of the Christian worldview, so good so far; but then she goes on to say—“an evolutionary development that keeps our harmless young from dying out and driving our species to extinction.”
That’s really amazing, isn’t it? So here you have the explanation that the cuteness of a human infant is solely due to an evolutionary development so that parents will not abandon their children, but rather with their brains hijacked by the cuteness of their own children—that is the Kindchenschema of their children—they will instead take care of them, which otherwise presumably they would not do. The other thing I want to point to in this article is the line in which these academics say that this pattern of cuteness developed by human infants is “far more complex and insidious than we usually give them credit for.”
Now I think the word “insidious” there is at least partly tongue-in-cheek, pointing to the cuteness of these babies in the ability of a baby to hijack the brain. That is, again, a part of the very argument here, that the cuteness of babies does exactly that, it overrides other thoughts and other impulses and hijacks the brain. Feltman writes,
“Baby humans are basically warm cuddle nuggets covered in peach-soft skin, and you don’t stand a chance.”
Well yes, that’s absolutely right. But the question is, if it is generally well accepted—those are the words in the article—that babies are designed to grab attention, is it really plausible—even if you’re trying your very best to operate from a merely naturalistic worldview, if you are absolutely committed to the theory of evolution—can you really reduce design to something that is a process of mere blind evolution? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s actually plausible. I think even the people who try to convince themselves of this are not doing too well when an article like this appears in the Washington Post using the kind of language we just confronted in terms of this report.
It should be of interest to Christians that academics have developed this entire understanding, including the use of this German word in the article, Kindchenschema, in which they are arguing that this pattern of cuteness and babies is of importance. Now they’re arguing that it’s of evolutionary importance. But Christians looking at this need to understand that we’re not only looking at a sublime example of human foolishness in terms of this argument, but we’re also looking at an attempt to deny the obvious. And the obvious is that there has to be something far larger than evolution can explain behind this pattern that even evolutionists now recognize and that is, here we go again, the cuteness of babies. But this points back to our earlier article and conversation as well. Cuteness isn’t enough. It is a category that is considered very meaningful in this article. And no doubt babies are cute, but behind cuteness has to be the more fundamental reality of beauty; and it is not the case that beauty depends on being merely cute.
Babies don’t stay babies forever, and cuteness goes in and out with various phases of life. Cuteness is fickle, but beauty is permanent. Why is beauty permanent? It’s because beauty is eternal, and it’s because beauty is God’s gift, not a trait developed by evolution, not something that human beings grant unto themselves or even merely recognize in themselves, but that which is God’s gift precisely because God is the author of life—all life, every human life. When you see an article in one of the nation’s most influential newspapers explaining that cute “could actually be a complex multi-sensory attack that babies have evolved to hijack your brain,” well, perhaps the most interesting part of this article is clearly the fact that somebody’s brain has been hijacked indeed. But I don’t think it’s been hijacked by cuteness. I think, very sadly, there are many modern minds that have been hijacked by the naturalistic, materialistic worldview of the theory of evolution. Where does that worldview lead? Well, let’s consider this article evidence enough.