Monday, June 20, 2016

Eternity in Their Hearts

Eternity in Their Hearts:  Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the WorldEternity in Their Hearts:  Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the World by Don Richardson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book offered fascinating accounts of the awareness that nations who have never heard of Jesus Christ have of the gospel. It was, to me, an encouragement for three reasons. First, it connected what is sometimes a distant, ancient, and admittedly sometimes repetitive message to the contemporary experiences of people-groups with whom I've shared this earth. This has brought the gospel to life in ways I did not expect, making it far more real to me than I have felt in a long time. Second, I have seen God more clearly, as one who loves all people wholeheartedly and pursues them--and me-- driven by that love. Third, as a result of these renewed understandings of the gospel and God, I have felt an increased sense of purpose for my own life, specifically that God wants me to be apart of his effort to express his love for the world. I know that I can and do fail at this, but I also know that the grace of God is right there with me to remind me of God's ever-present concern for me and others.

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Saturday, June 4, 2016


Mother Theresa once said that we should never let others come to us without us leaving them better. This is easier said than done. People can catch us in inopportune times, in times of busyness, when we’re least likely to forgive them for a misstep and most likely to snap because of some interruption. They find us in poor moods, when the circumstances of our days have clouded our better judgment and encouraged us to respond curtly, and even in anger. If we’re not careful, we even begin to see others as obstacles rather than allies, as burdens instead of potential friends. Still, there is a profound wisdom in the practice of mercy. The simple act of ignoring a slight-- or, even better, of responding with warmth to the awkward moments in others’ lives when their faults are laid bare before us—teaches us more about grace than any treatise, sermon, or exposition ever could; and when we pay close enough attention to it in others, it forces us also to stop and begin to consider those around us with greater care. In short, the act of grace causes us to treat people as people.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Of all the things I did not say
I screamed aloud the most
That fear of seeming amity
Toward my unfriendly host

While each excuse did guard that lie
The wall that guarded still
Looked aged from sheer neglect at length
‘Til eyes beheld its will

I tore it down, and tear it down
For each revealed truth
To summon more from memory
Than years of rosy youth

Though words that speak simplicity
Take first the mourner’s tongue
In end they free one’s heart to glean
The candor of the young

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Clouds are a common symbol in our language. We hear phrases like “clouded judgment” and we quip that all clouds have a silver lining. We communicate a man’s condition by saying that he is “on cloud nine,” that he “has his head in the clouds,” or that he has a “cloud hanging over him.” We predict danger by claiming that there are “dark clouds on the horizon” and find someone “under a cloud of suspicion,” all while using our Apple iCloud and watching Cloud Atlas or A Walk in the Clouds. Clouds are used to express sadness, joy, suspicion, anger, distraction, and—often negatively—confusion.

Yet, it is within this "cloud of confusion" where learning can begin to take place; for in addition to curiosity, confusion is a beginning point where people are motivated to learn, to break through the fog to gain understanding. Just as important, I am convinced that those who succeed, who have labored and waded through the fog to gain knowledge, find that knowledge more valuable than those who did not need to. It is this quality, in fact, this determination to overcome-- to learn in the face of difficulty-- that can lift one from the cloud of uncertainty and confusion into the sun of confidence and knowledge.*

*Of course, it is worth noting that sometimes one finds higher, denser clouds there when one searches more deeply into a matter, given the complexity of some issues. Still, that person, though lacking complete certainty, can still speak with some certainty on those things he or she does know.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Las Vegas

It was the lights. These are what drew me to the idea of taking a trip to Las Vegas. I pictured neon casino signs lighting the night sky, painting the streets below varied and changing colors. To be honest, that's about as much as I knew of Las Vegas, never having been there and seeing only images on television or online. As I experienced Las Vegas over the past four days, however, the most glaring omission from my mental picture became especially clear on Friday evening: the people. Throngs of people walked the "strip"--the name for Las Vegas Boulevard, where the major hotels and other attractions reside--alongside my friend and me as we explored the area. The only other places I had seen so many people in such a widespread space were other major cities: New York and Boston, in particular.

Lights and people aside, my friend and I enjoyed some of the attractions of the city. The most memorable, for me, was the Titanic exhibit, where a huge section of the ship's hull was displayed along with tools, utensils, and many objects from the passengers' personal belongings. At the beginning of the tour, you receive a ticket with the name of one of the passengers who took the journey, and learn at the end whether you--in his or her role--survived.* You are also acquainted with personal aspects of the tragedy, including the personalities of individuals who boarded the ship only because a coal strike prevented their passage on another vessel.

Witnessing the various themes across the hotels on the strip was an experience itself. The MGM-- in terms of number of rooms, the largest in the city and second largest in the world--bore the iconic lion statue, which we learned was the largest bronze statue in the U.S. Originally, guests entered the hotel through the mouth or a lion's head, but when it was discovered that one or more cultures believe entering a lion's head was bad luck, the hotel removed the entrance and erected the lion statue instead. Other hotels included the Luxor, a large pyramid with a sphinx in front to express an ancient Egyptian theme; the Excalibur, with a medieval theme, including a dinner theater with a jousting tournament whose combatants represent one of the other half of the audience; and Caesar's Palace, a Roman-themed hotel whose mall bore a ceiling that resembled the sky, an aquarium, fountain, and numerous Roman statues.

The city was like New York City in a number of ways--the number of people walking here and there, the lights, the anonymity; but whereas people in the streets of New York seemed ever determined to reach their destinations, those in Las Vegas--many of whom were doubtless tourists like myself--appeared more upbeat and festive. No one was in a hurry because they were all looking to enjoy the gambling, parties, and attractions. While we saw only a fraction of what there is to see, this was a trip that I will long remember.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Language as Power, Revisited

 Language and the way it is communicated are expressions of power. When we hear someone speaking differently than what we are accustomed to, we see it as an error that needs to be addressed. In an education class, I remember learning about "BICS" (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and "CALP" (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency"), the former being language used during informal conversation--such as when talking to a friend--and the latter being academic language that someone would use in a formal educational setting. Someone who speaks using BICS can also be perceived as uneducated, while someone using the academic CALP can appear intelligent.

With that said, it does not seem far-fetched to argue that there can also be a BICS and CALP in the way we speak (intonation, etc.), and not just in the words we use. Upspeak (the tonal lift at the end of a sentence that makes a statement sound like a question) and vocal fry (the closest analogy is a frying or sizzling sound in the voice; see the video for a demonstration:, for example, might be considered an informal BICS method of speaking, with friends, for example. However, I learned from the above cited mentalfloss article (citing a study, found in the video) that women who use vocal fry are seen as "educated, urban-oriented, and upwardly mobile."

Perhaps one explanation for this is that people who speak using upspeak and vocal fry have been taught the CALP language of the academic world, and use the words of that world to communicate a message, but use an informal tone to express it. In short, they have married BICS and CALP, and therefore are perceived as educated because of the content of their speech (and, it would seem, socially aware, since those who use upspeak have been viewed as looking for acceptance of what they are saying, as argued here:

Quebec is a salient example of language as an expression of power. Alex Montreuil, who suffers from a tomato-related food allergy, requested in English that a food server at the Jewish General Hospital take care when working with tomatoes. When he was challenged for using English, he responded by saying he could speak in whatever language he chose, another person threw a tomato and tuna sandwich at him. This person told him before she threw the sandwich that those in Quebec should speak French. (more examples of violence against English speakers in Quebec are found here: While this is an example of power expressed through language, it does not seem incredible to argue that the way we express a language can also be an expression of power.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Euthanasia in the Progressive United States

On November 16th, 1915, Harry Haiselden, a physician at German-American Hospital in Chicago, called a press conference to announce that he would not perform corrective surgery on a newborn boy with a fatal birth defect. Aside from the fatal missing anal canal, the “Bollinger” child had no right ear, no neck, a deformed rib cage that led to a caved chest, dead nerves on the right side of its body, and a deformed shoulder, among other abnormalities. Haiselden had justified his decision on both humanitarian and what was and is called eugenic grounds: not only would the child face a miserable life in an indifferent institution, but it would be a burden– even a threat– to its family and to society.1 While many today might condemn Haiselden, as many did when he made the announcement, his statements would be echoed by many through the 1920s, and represented a mix of two significant movements in the early twentieth century United States: progressivism and eugenics. As I hope to show, these two movements were inextricably tied to the thinking of euthanasia proponents into the 1930s. I will argue, in fact, that despite detractors who feared that legalized euthanasia would lead to abuse, proponents of euthanasia into the 1930s held an unflinching faith in the power of directed heredity to address the social ills of the early twentieth century United States.
The progressive movement was a response to significant social changes occurring in the first decades of the twentieth century. Massive immigration into the U.S. included southern and eastern Europeans, immigrants who were both less united than previous German and Irish groups and more foreign to Americans. Rural-to-urban migration– including rural blacks– also occurred within the country, due to an economic depression in agriculture, and the use of the combustion engine in machinery led to the growth of large-scale industry. These swift and radical changes fomented labor and racial conflicts: while several were killed in labor battles between 1912 and 1914, racial pressure grew with legalized discrimination against blacks and Asians.2
A variety of mostly middle-class Americans responded to these changes with social and political campaigns ranging from forest conservation to women’s suffrage. Improvements in medicine led to treatment of diseases and physical deformities, and associations were formed to annihilate tuberculosis, cancer, and other maladies. These associations included the American Social Hygiene Association, whose goal was to wipe out sexual disease and who felt that science could eradicate “social” diseases. Though progressives could come from different political parties, all shared a common belief that science could be used to solve social problems; and while some believed scientific methods could lead to greater personal autonomy, others wanted the state to force people to comply with policies meant to benefit the general public.3
Occurring simultaneously was a movement that had its source in social Darwinism, known as eugenics. Men like the nineteenth-century Darwinist Herbert Spencer believed medicine and charity had unnaturally protected the unfit of society, implying– and in the case of William Graham Sumner, arguing– that we should allow nature to take its course and root out the weak. Going a step further, eugenicists asserted that it was necessary to assist nature in this task. The aim of eugenics advocates was to improve human heredity through social measures, and was therefore a mix of utilitarian and evolutionary principles. The result in the United States was, among other things, forced sterilization laws for the handicapped, the insane, and criminals, as well as marriage restriction and anti-immigration laws.4 Given the substantial changes taking place in progressive America, then, along with the promotion of eugenic ideas, it should not be surprising to find that a movement to prevent suicide could coexist with efforts to legalize the killing of “idiots,” criminals, and other defectives.5
Interest in involuntary euthanasia, in fact, grew after 1900, and the rhetoric used in discussions of this topic was decidedly eugenic. Men like William Duncan McKim believed, for example, that it was possible to save civilization if we killed criminals, drunkards, and those with disabilities, while others advocated killing – or not operating on– infants who would be useless to society. McKim included alcoholics, burglars, epileptics, and the retarded among those who should be mercifully killed, and psychologist G. Stanley Hall rejected efforts to save criminals and defectives, as well as the sick, because these efforts would hinder natural selection. Similarly, the surgeon G. Frank Lydston justified involuntary euthanasia on eugenic grounds, asserting that those who were incurable, a threat to society, and useless to themselves should be killed “in strict justice to society;” and advocated both the gassing of “imbeciles” and sterilization.6
Ideas like these were represented in state legislatures as well, especially in the Midwest. In 1903, Michigan representative Link Rogers introduced a bill that would electrocute mentally retarded infants, and three years later, euthanasia bills were proposed in Iowa and Ohio. During the ensuing discussions, a forensic psychiatrist named Walter Kempster argued that a potential law should include the mentally defective, and Dr. R.H. Gregory suggested the idea that anaesthetics should be used to kill deformed or mentally retarded children.7
Efforts to make the debate more conspicuous included an article in the 1913 Medical Review of Reviews. The editor, Victor Robinson, polled several of the country’s most prominent experts with the question, “Shall the state allow science to end painlessly the lives of incurables?” Among the euthanasia proponents were those who spoke in eugenic terms. Columbia University professor R. Burton Opitz, for example, claimed that just as the state reserves the right to imprison or execute the criminal, so it holds the “moral” right to destroy the incurable, and particularly “those who, quite capable of reproducing their like, would finally endanger the existence of the State.”8 Others in the article reflected the notion, grounded in eugenic thinking, that some lives were worth living, while others were not. These included the socialist Eugene V. Debs, who believed it was necessary to give ourselves the same mercy we give to “other orders of animate creation,” and argued that life is only valuable under certain conditions: “Human life is sacred,” he says,
but only to the extent that it contributes to the joy and happiness of the one possessing it, and to those about him, and it ought to be the privilege of every human being to cross the River Styx in the boat of his own choosing, when further human agony cannot be justified by the hope of future health and happiness.”9

The progressive William J. Robinson likewise maintained that there were situations when life was no longer worth living, contending that “life is sacred when it is pleasant, when it is wanted, when it is bearable. But a life of pain, agony and anguish is not sacred, no more than is a life of crime, shame, disgrace and humiliation.” It is our ability to control our fate, he concludes, that distinguished us from the animals 10
While men like Robinson spoke in terms of the individual, others alluded to the burden of “defectives” on society, an argument that could be seen in the thinking of both progressive and eugenic thinkers. Often, the allusion to this “burden to society” specifically meant a burden on children. One of the most important progressive efforts in the early twentieth century had, in fact, involved child welfare. This included efforts to control child labor, and to promote compulsory education, milk inspection, medical care and health education at school, child courts, home economics, and other endeavors aimed at improving the lives of children.11 Euthanasia advocates reflected these efforts in their justifications of mercy killing and involuntary euthanasia. Among them was Harry Haiselden. Haiselden, who believed that his decision to let the Bollinger baby die would save it from a life of suffering, also argued that the child would hinder its parents from caring for their three other healthy children, and felt letting it die would free resources needed to educate, clothe, and feed other children.12
Similar pronouncements were made in a 1916 silent movie, Are You Fit to Marry?, with Haiselden starring as the protagonist. The movie begins with Jack Gaynor, who after proposing to his sweetheart Alice, goes to her father to ask for his permission to marry. Concerned about the man’s hereditary health, the father takes Jack to see a horse of “thoroughbred stock,” then brings him to a psychiatric hospital to see the residents, whom he calls “unfortunates.” There “by no fault of their own,” the father claims that these residents are the result of bad inheritance, which itself is to blame for “much crime, poverty, and misery.” These people, then, represented a burden on society generally, and children specifically: while “millions are spent in caring for these defectives,” children suffer in crowded quarters. What is needed, he concludes, are eugenic laws: “For the salvation of the race and the health and happiness of every individual we must stop at its source the pollution of the blood stream of the nation by passing sane eugenic laws that would prevent marriages among the unfit.”13
Later in the movie, these eugenic and progressive references would be tied directly to euthanasia. In a flashback to a past couple, the movie shows a doctor exposing Anne (who wants to marry a man of bad inheritance) to several children with mental or physical deformities. One of these is a boy, a “hopeless cripple.” Although an operation would give him two more years of life, these two years would be a “dreadful sentence of a life” better not lived. The better, more scientific alternative would be to let him die. The doctor explains by stating that “the cause of science [is to] save children from disease, deformity, unhappiness and crime,” and concludes by saying that he and others are completely justified in their decision not to lengthen “absolutely useless subnormal lives.”14
There were, of course, progressives who opposed euthanasia, and even those people who endorsed it were aware of the possibility that the practice could lead to abuse. Aside from men like Eugene Debs and George Gordon Battle, who supported euthanasia under the condition that a system be in place to prevent abuse, this was perhaps most conspicuous in the arguments of Charles Francis Potter, president of the Euthanasia Society of America (ESA).15 Potter himself reflected eugenic and progressive ideals. Not only could euthanasia stop defectives from having children, Potter argued, but it would also save money and benefit children.16 Specifically, he believed that “incurable imbeciles” should be killed by the lethal chamber, in part because New York state alone spent $30 million annually to keep them alive, money that could be used instead to benefit the state’s children.17 Although these “imbeciles” were not subject to safeguards, those suffering extreme pain were. Here, according to Potter, a legal proceeding could be created, wherein the suffering person could petition a court to die. After this petition, both sides of the case could be heard, including testimony from medical and psychopathic specialists, and the court could then determine whether the request should be granted.18 For Potter, the potential for abuse was not nearly as important as the possible benefit that legalized euthanasia could accord society.19
Still, euthanasia advocates were obliged to address the abuse concern. For this, a physician named Inez Philbrick helped to introduce a bill in the Nebraska state legislature that would have allowed a person with an incurable and terminal illness to apply to a district judge for euthanasia. Philbrick, too, reflected both progressive and eugenic beliefs, promoting sterilization, birth control, women’s suffrage, and the prohibition of child labor. According to the 1937 bill which she helped advance, when the judge received the petitioner’s application, he would then pass it on to a panel of two doctors and a lawyer. If the panel and judge agreed, and if other requirements were fulfilled, the patient’s doctor could provide the necessary poison. The bill also included stipulations that family could apply in place of terminal “minors” or “mental incompetents.”20
Concerns over abuse would not, then, hinder efforts to advocate mercy killing, whether it was intended for the terminally ill or the socially undesirable. Despite objections from the Catholic Church, doctors, lawyers, and others, euthanasia advocates would continue to promote mercy killing, and would do so with clear eugenic ties. It was in 1938, the year after the Nebraska bill was introduced, that the ESA was founded, many of whose members subscribed to eugenics.21 It was in that same year, too, that the author of an article titled “Human Rubbish” compared criminals, the mentally and physically ill, and others to a “wilderness of weeds,” lamenting the fact that the country had failed to enforce eugenics, birth control, and sterilization laws. The author of this latter article goes on to consider the need for euthanasia: “The time may come,” he declares, “when it will be necessary to resort to euthanasia for those who are mentally and physically beyond scientific restoration to some degree of physical and mental health and happiness.”22 As World War II began, in fact, prominent ESA members like Ann Mitchell continued to maintain the value of euthanasia using eugenic language. Believing the war to be an opportunity for the United States and Britain to rid itself of the biologically unfit, she argued for the use of euthanasia as a war order, and felt that the war represented a struggle for biological dominance, to be won by that nation most open to practicing eugenics and euthanasia.23
Interesting to note in this euthanasia narrative is the presence of a cultural shift toward secularization that included in it a growing belief in eugenics and euthanasia.24 This shift could be rooted in Darwinist teaching, as Ian Dowbiggin and Stephen Kuepper argue, a teaching which showed many Americans that science needed to replace Christianity as the authority for judging what is ethical; and it could have involved more specifically changing attitudes toward dying and the role of the physician, as Shai Joshua Lavi claims.25 Whether interpreted broadly or narrowly, however, a common theme in this shift is the presence of progressive or eugenic goals (and often both) as justification for euthanasia. This may help to explain why men like Harry Haiselden could display sincere compassion for a child he thought should die; because they believed their decisions were based on the methods of objective science. It was in fact this belief that, to a number of prominent Americans in the early twentieth century, made euthanasia so attractive.26

Primary Sources
Funkhouser, W.L.1938. “Human Rubbish.” Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia 26: 197-199.
Robinson, Victor, ed. 1913. “A Symposium on Euthanasia.” Medical Review of Reviews 19: 134-55.
Strafford, W.H. and Jack Lait. Are You Fit to Marry? Newfoundland, PN: John E. Allen, Inc., 1927.
Zucker, Marjorie B., ed. The Right to Die Debate: A Documentary History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.
“Dr. Potter Backs ‘Mercy Killings,’” New York Times, 3 February 1936, 13.
Secondary Sources
Dowbiggin, Ian. A Concise History of Euthanasia: Life, Death, God, and Medicine. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005.
Dowbiggin, Ian. A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Kuepper, Stephen L. “Euthanasia in America, 1890-1960: The Controversy, the Movement, and the Law.” PhD diss., Rutgers University, 1981.
Larson, Edward J. and Darrel W. Amundsen. A Different Death: Euthanasia and the Christian Tradition. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Lavi, Shai Joshua. “The Modern Art of Dying: The History of Euthanasia in the United States.” PhD diss., Berkeley, CA: University of California, Berkeley, 2001.
Pernick, Martin S. The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of Defective Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Roberts, Carolyn and Martha Gorman. Euthanasia: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1996.
Urofsky, Melvin I. Lethal Judgments: Assisted Suicide and American Law. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000.
Weikart, Richard. “Social Darwinism,” lecture. Turlock, CA: C.S.U. Stanisluas, April 19, 2010.
Weikart, Richard. From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

End Notes

1Stephen L.Kuepper, “Euthanasia in America, 1890-1960: The Controversy, the Movement, and the Law,” PhD diss., (New Jersey: Rutgers: 1981), 69-70.
2Martin S. Pernick, The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of Defective Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 25; Ian Dowbiggin, A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 18.
3Pernick, The Black Stork, 25-28.
4Pernick, 22; Dowbiggin, A Merciful End, 14-15; Kuepper, “Euthanasia in America,” 62; and Richard Weikart, “Social Darwinism” (lecture, C.S.U. Stanislaus: Turlock, CA, April 19, 2010) for William Graham Sumner.
5Kuepper, 27 (suicide prevention movement, 1905); Pernick, 24 (legalized killings, 1906).
6Dowbiggin, 17-18; Pernick, 23; and Kuepper, 64-65 (Lydston’s eugenic support for involuntary euthanasia).
7Pernick, 24. At the same time, Victor Robinson showed that popular sentiment was still antagonistic to euthanasia. This could be seen in, among other acts, a New York counter-bill stating that any person promoting euthanasia in word of mouth or in writing would be guilty of a felony.
8Victor Robinson, ed, “A Symposium on Euthanasia,” Medical Review of Reviews 19 (1913), 152.
9Robinson, “A Symposium on Euthanasia,” 151-152.
10Robinson, 154; and Dowbiggin, 20. For the relationship between eugenics and the value of life, Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
11Kuepper, 70 (Haiselden’s reference to a “burden to society”); and Pernick, 27-28 (progressivism and child welfare).
12Kuepper, 70 and 89 (note 43).
13W.H. Stafford and Jack Lait. Are You Fit to Marry? (Newfoundland, PN: John E. Allen, Inc., 1927).
15Robinson, 151-153 (Debs and Battle).
16Dowbiggin, 45.
17“Dr. Potter Backs ‘Mercy Killings,’” New York Times, 3 February 1936, 13.
18Ibid., 13.
19Dowbiggin, 44. Importantly, Potter also believed legalizing euthanasia would prevent the abuse already occurring underground. Legalizing it, to him, would not only prevent nonphysicians from performing unsafe or unprofessional jobs, but it could also defend against possible abuses from uncaring relatives or doctors.
20Dowbiggin, 47-48.
21Dowbiggin, 54, cites a statistic claiming that 73% of ESA members supported eugenics, a number originally produced by Valery Garrett, who compared board members of the National Society for the Legalization of Euthanasia (the original name for the ESA) to members of eugenics organizations, and to authors who wrote eugenics essays.
22W.L. Funkhouser, “Human Rubbish,” Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia 26 (1938): 197-199. Importantly, the author also showed signs of the same progressive empathy for children that Haiselden and Potter had shown earlier.
23Dowbiggin, 55.
24Kuepper, ii.
25Dowbiggin, 8-9; Kupper, ii; Shai Joshua Lavi, The Modern Art of Dying: The History of Euthanasia in the United States (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2005), 70-78.
26Kuepper, 69-70 (Haiselden’s compassion for the Bollinger baby); and Pernick, 15 (“objective method” of science).