The News that Wasn’t News

Last Friday, Archbishop Riordan Catholic High School in San Francisco held a pro-life assembly. The assembly was hardly surprising, considering that the sanctity of life is a staple of Catholic Church teaching. The speaker — Megan Almon of Life Training Institute — is a seasoned presenter known for making a scientific and philosophical case for the pro-life view. Almon has a master’s degree in Christian Apologetics and has spoken to over 100,000 students on abortion-related topics at schools and worldview forums. Nationally, she’s been a guest on syndicated programs on radio and television.

The school, aware that a portion of its student body did not agree with Church teaching on abortion, gave parents advance notice of the assembly and offered an alternative venue for students who did not wish to attend the event. But those aren’t the kinds of things that create headlines in today’s news environment.

What happened next was the kicker.

Instead of listening to the speaker, a majority of the student body stood and walked out of the assembly a few minutes into the presentation. The walkout was orchestrated in advance and had nothing to do with the content the speaker actually presented.

The media quoted sources who applauded the students for their bravery and for taking a stand. But what, exactly, were they standing against—a presentation they never stuck around to hear?

The students who walked out were not courageous. They were close-minded and intolerant. They simply refused to consider a viewpoint different from their own. Instead of intellectual curiosity, they demonstrated intellectual cowardice, and for that, thus far, the press has congratulated them. In sharp contrast, those students who actually heard the presentation and stayed after to interact with the speaker were not so close-minded. They demonstrated genuine courage by subjecting their viewpoints to a free exchange of ideas where arguments are evaluated rather than canceled. Many of these students called the walkout “disrespectful.”

Despite the walkout, Almon continued with her presentation. Her formal case can be summarized as follows:

P1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
P2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
C: Abortion is morally wrong.

She then defended her case using science and philosophy instead of church teaching. She argued from the science of embryology that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. She argued from philosophy that there is no essential difference between you the embryo and you the adult that justifies intentionally killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying we could kill you then but not now. In short, she argued that each and every human being has an equal right to life.

As Almon often points out, you can refute formal arguments one of two ways. You can either show that the conclusion does not follow logically from the premises or that one or more of the premises is false. Outside that, the argument stands.

The students who left the assembly did neither. They had no interest in formal arguments. Nevertheless, Almon graciously agreed to visit their classrooms for further dialogue. After reviewing her pro-life case for those who walked out of her presentation, she invited their feedback. Once again, many students simply refused to engage Almon in thoughtful dialogue. Rather, they complained that she was allowed to speak in the first place. For those students who did engage, the exchanges were respectful.

The media, meanwhile, was not so gracious. A journalist writing a Newsweek story about the walkout claims LTI was invited to respond. We were indeed invited, but not in a manner acceptable to fair-minded individuals. Newsweek emailed Life Training Institute asking for comment at 5:49 a.m. EST on Wednesday, October 27. Rather than wait for us to respond in a timely fashion, Newsweek published its version of the story a little over an hour later at 6:59 a.m. Meanwhile, The San Francisco Chronicle published a piece entitled, “Students Stage Walkout During Anti-Abortion Presentation” and has yet to ask LTI for a comment.

Life Training Institute is a pro-life apologetics training organization with an excellent track record speaking at Catholic and Protestant high schools across the nation. Our reception is overwhelmingly positive, even among students and faculty who disagree with our pro-life stance. The events at Archbishop Riordan were the exception, not the rule.

The students who walked out of the pro-life presentation missed an opportunity to grow intellectually. Intellectual growth happens by testing one’s own ideas against opposing viewpoints. Without that testing, intellectual growth is impossible. Thus, the students who turned their backs on the assembly turned their backs on intellectual growth. Education differs from indoctrination in that education is committed to following the evidence wherever it leads. Listening to opposing viewpoints is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of intellectual strength. It indicates that you are secure enough to test your beliefs in the marketplace of ideas as you pursue the Socratic Quest for Truth. LTI is saddened that some students at Archbishop Riordan lacked that security and thus walked away from their own intellectual development.

10/28/2021 Press Release by Scott Klusendorf, President (LTI)