Sunday, July 31, 2011

An atheist movie

A conversation on Facebook (of which I'm having quite a few lately) I commented that a new movie with an atheist 'hero'. My comment stated that movies that are sympathetic to the atheist viewpoint are common and none too subtle. When provided with a list it was criticized that most on the list either involve things such as science fiction, fantasy, or otherwise fictitious elements that attempt to distinguish the world of the movie from "real life."

Now I could make some obvious jokes about the relationship between atheism and fantasy. Instead I was puzzled by how high the bar had been set. If the movie in my previous blog post is 'unusually' sympathetic to the atheist viewpoint what would it take to make a truly atheist movie?

I imagine an opening scene with our hero waking up to the sunrise. Our hero engages in a soliloquy about how the sun activates the pleasure centers in his brain. The woman in his bed is the wife of another man. This is good as the husband (an antiquated concept) is a Christian fundamentalist preacher. When he isn't molesting children or beating his wife he preaches about sin and hell. She wakes and realizes she must return home:

Now our hero struggles are internal. He is tempted at times to convert to Christianity. From 'Holy'wood to public television broadcasting our hero is constantly bombarded with Christianist propaganda. His workplace routinely holds morning prayer and is constantly passed over for promotion because of his "outsider" views.

But nevertheless our hero remains resolute to his commitment to nothing. He knows that the truth is that there is no source and summit of life. He is committed to rescuing those such as the woman he sleeps with to freeing them from the chains of purpose and eternal salvation. With a firm purpose he resolves to rescue the world and the only true maxim:

Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.

It is a stirring tale of struggle and finding the strength to live out one's meaningless life. A tale of courage in the face of relentless oppression of a God of Love. It closes with our hero freeing the woman he sleeps with from the oppressive regime of religion to live out the rest of their life before being buried in the cold ground to rot.

It is highly doubtful that such a script will make it past the clergy that run most major movie studios. It is a shame, because nothing stirs the inner chemical reactions of the brain like the visual effects projected on a screen about the meaninglessness of life.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

History VII

Our last outing with history concluded that history holds real value only to those who believe in the concept of transcendent truth. History can only teach us if there is something to be taught that can apply to us in the present time. Yet even if we grant this notion history presents an issue. If we were to look at history on its own merits it is not that obvious that history really has something to teach us.

An honest look at history reveals two problems which will be examined in turn. It is important to understand these issues before any honest assessment of history can be carried out.

The first problem is how one determines what is and what is not important when it comes to details. Given the wealth of data that accompanies historical research how does one come to the conclusion that a given detail, be it cultural, political, social, religious, artistic, or musical, is important enough to warrant our attention?

I will use an example of sorts. There is a version of history popular today about Galileo and the controversy surrounding his interactions with the Catholic Church. In particular, the following narrative is proposed. That Galileo stood for true science and the correct view that the earth revolved around the sun, and defied the religious authorities of the time who believed that the Ptolemaic model was correct that the earth was the center of the universe.

However, like all history, there is far more to the story than meets the eye. For example:
But Kepler was not the only contemporary of Galileo who was developing models to compete with the old Ptolemaic model. There were at least 6 models being proposed. The program[ed. A program that aired on television], like so many other biographies of Galileo, builds a straw man, by suggesting that the choices were between Galileo's Copernican model and an archaic model inherited from Aristotle. Another important scientist of the day, Tycho Brahe, had developed the Tychonic System. The Jesuits mentioned in the program (e.g Scheiner) were not proponents of the old Ptolemaic system but of the newer Tychonic System. The program implies that all of Galileo's opponents were clutching to some ancient scheme. The Tychonic system had been published in 1587, more than 40 years after Copernicus' death. It was based on the best set of celestial data up to that time. The data set was eventually used by Kepler to propose our modern view of planetary motion. Kepler and Tycho Brahe are often ignored in Galilean biographies but they were important. Perhaps the most important work in physics from the seventeenth century was Newton's PhilosophiƦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica .
Indeed such data would sever the connection between the actual events of the Galileo controversy and the meta-narrative of popular imagination, the notion of continuous war between religion and science.

But this is not to simply throw cold water on the Galileo myth. The point is that one has to consider what data is relevant from history in order to draw meaning from it. And to be sure that we are not ignoring data that is relevant simply because it does not support our wishes.

The second issue stems from the first. History, like all human affairs, is fraught with contradictions. There are no heroes that were not weak in some sense. Nor did there exist so horrible a person that there wasn't some glimmer of that image of God. King David's lust motivated him to kill a man to steal the man's wife. Hitler was a painter. And then there are those such as George Jacques Danton , who worked so hard to hurl France into the nightmare of the Terror only to die in an attempt to undo what he had wrought.

How does one make sense of the morass of history? How does one obtain truth from the data that seems to contradict itself at every turn? Indeed with such data it would seem that those who argue against transcendent truth have the upper hand. If there is such a narrative to be had from history, it is the most contradictory and muddled story ever written.

But there is one nagging question. Why do we keep coming back to it? Why do we continue to say that history is important? Why is there a drive, even a need within us for those ties to the past? This we will examine next.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The "Aha" moment

A common occurrence in arguments with atheists is discussing the notion of "proof." One of the common arguments that atheists assert is that "there is no proof" that God exists. While some of the more thoughtful atheists realize that their current assumptions do not allow for such proof to exist, there is another difficulty with this argument. That there is such a thing as a proof or argument that on its own is decisive.

To take an example that material atheists should be familiar with, consider how science establishes a "law." Now a scientific law, at least in the traditional understanding, is a proposition that is consistent across all physical data available that is relevant to the proposition. That is, that each and every experiment performed in relation to the law is consistent with the law. There is no data that contradicts it.

While some may argue with my definition (and they are welcome to) the core concept in the definition is the notion of a multitude of data to confirm the theory, and thus establish a law. Scientists do not perform one experiment and that is the final word. Such experiments are repeated to generate data that is consistent. After such theory is postulated, others will verify, confirming or contesting the data.

The point of this discussion is that in science it is the case that vast amounts of data are accumulated in order to establish a proposed law or truth about the physical world. While one may point to a particular person as the discovery point, vast amounts of data are used to confirm the theory.

All those who believe in Divine Providence, almost to a man, would argue the same (and often do) regarding their own beliefs. That their lives are a testimony to the notion that there is a Divine Will acting in their lives. Much like scientific inquiry, those who believe often do so because they have accumulated data to confirm to themselves that there is a thing called "God."

In my own life for example I see the hand of God in my life. Reflecting on where I have come from I can see work in my life leading me to the concept of God. Some are more significant than others, but all have a story to tell and a conclusion to reach.

But the main point is that neither in faith nor in science do we radically alter our beliefs and assumptions based on a single idea, argument, or event. St. Paul was already a devoted servant of God before God threw him off the horse. He simply needed correction. Indeed I would be very afraid of a person who's entire worldview revolved around a single experience. This to me is why God works slowly, to give us time to adjust and understand.

Thus for those who are asked what proof one should provide for one's faith remember that it took a lifetime to accumulate. And that if the one asking is looking for a single decisive argument he is looking for a phantom that doesn't exist in his own view. And if it does, it is most probably wrong.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

History VI

When we last left the subject of history I mentioned that the modern mind is preoccupied more with accumulating facts rather than interpreting them. To our modern mind it is more important to know "when" and "what" happened rather than "why". More important to know what the Magna Carta was rather than what it meant. With few exceptions (like the Galileo controversy) facts are far more important than the meaning behind them.

The most obvious example of this current state is the event known as "9/11." Even the name itself gives the game away. Only the raw data can be captured by the modern mind. The attack on the U.S.A. and the hurt inflicted is our preoccupation. Lost in the shuffle is the heroism of those rescuers who risked their lives to save others. How ordinary men became heroes in a time of trial is lost due to our inability to look higher than the rubble of buildings. Even when we attempt to look up we bring ourselves down.

This state of affairs is due to the modern mind's rejection of the concept of "universal truth." Truth that transcends both culture and time. The notion that all things in the created order abide by truths that are constant. We lack the ability to see meaning behind the events in our own lives because we have rejected the notion that there is such a thing.

By extension then it should not surprise us that we fail to grasp the meaning behind events in the past. By rejecting the truth in our own lives we thus obliterate any meaning of the lives of our ancestors. History is thus reduced to trivia, no more necessary than the latest knowledge of celebrity gossip or sports statistics.

But there are still remnants of this notion that learning history is important. We pay lip service to the notion that "history repeats itself" and "those who don't learn their history are doomed to repeat it." Yet both sayings imply that there is a transcendent truth imbedded in history. Truths that can be learned that apply outside of both culture and time.

It is this contradiction that we present to our children. We claim that history has something to teach us yet we do not live our lives as if truth exists. They see our hypocrisy and reject our knowledge. After all, if our beliefs are transitory and malleable, why shouldn't their beliefs be? And that includes our quaint notions that history is important.

But for those who believe that there is such a thing as universal truth history poses a problem as well. And that we will discuss next.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

On Legislating Morality Part II

A conversation on Facebook reminded me of my previous post on legislating morality. It is important to understand the relationship between morality and law. One of the causes of much confusion in modern political discussions is that this relationship is often misunderstood.

There is a constant balance of individual rights vs. the welfare of a society. When a law is passed, say for example a certain activity is banned, there several moral judgements involved, noted by these criteria:

1. That the activity in question is not beneficial to society. This is a moral judgement.
2. It is proper that the state is involved in enforcing that said activity does not occur. This is also a moral judgement.
3. It is reasonable that state coercion will deter said activity from occurring (i.e. such laws are enforceable). This is a prudential judgement.
4. The law in question does not unreasonably interfere with individual rights of the citizenry. This is a prudential judgement.

I'm not under any illusion that these are always taken into account. Indeed most of the laws passed in our society these days lack sufficient reflection on such criteria. However it is the case that when we are passing laws for "the good of society" this is essentially the criteria that we are abiding by, even if we don't follow through and think clearly on the law with regard to the criteria.

Any time a law is passed it is always first and foremost preceded by a moral judgement of how human beings interact with each other. As I stated before, morality at its heart contain the rules of conduct that human beings abide by, both as individuals and as groups (family, community, etc). The state is essentially the expression of that moral viewpoint at the macro level. Thus for one to say "One cannot legislate morality" is to say "One cannot legislate."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

We have a consensus!

An interesting side effect of the gay "marriage" debates is that it reveals a principle that we all agree on regardless of one's viewpoint. It is both shocking and yet so simple. That consensus is that there is such a thing as objective morality.

Now one may object to this idea. Indeed it is a fact that those who advocate for same-sex "marriage" is that marriage is a fluid concept. It is defined and redefined throughout the centuries by various societies. Indeed the whole argument for same-sex "marriage" is based on the proposition that marriage can be redefined by society at will.

Yet a curious thing happens next. The same-sex marriage advocate goes on to argue that not legally recognizing same-sex "marriage" in law is "wrong." It is unfair, says the advocate, that gays are excluded from the benefits that opposite-sex pairings of people possess under the law. It is only right and just that gays be allowed to "marry."

Right and wrong, just and unjust. These words are very odd indeed. By definition they imply that there is such a thing as "objective." In order to be "right" there must be a truth that is true regardless of one's opinion. In order to be "wrong" one must be incorrect about said objective truth.

If then it is the case that marriage is subject to the whims and fancies of the populace, then any definition of marriage is acceptable. There can be no right or wrong because marriage is whatever we want it to be. Man and woman? Man and Man? Man and boy of 11 years? Man and girl of 11 years? Man and Plant? You get the idea. A definition of marriage detached from any objective meaning is simply the flavor of the month. It is certainly not worth the huge amount of resources devoted to the project.

In short a person who argues for same-sex "marriage" already acknowledges that there is such a thing as the objective definition of marriage. He has to. Otherwise arguing about marriage would be like arguing which alcoholic beverage is "the best." If any definition will suffice, why is the current one so bad?

So we should rejoice that both sides have some common ground to work from. The whole basis for an argument about the "right" definition of marriage by definition implies an objective definition of marriage. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Atheism is morally superior

For those who study the New Atheist movement I often find the following claims presented by such:
1. Religion poisons everything.
2. Atheists can be just as good as religious people.
While I contend the first premise I'm more than happy to acknowledge the second. There are plenty of wonderful people who for one reason or another do not believe in God, the Christian definition or otherwise.

There is a disturbing trend though to attempt to have it both ways among among the New Atheists. One the one hand we are told that atheists can be just as good as their religious counterparts. On the other hand we are told that 'traditional religious based morality' is outdated. The New Atheists typically set up a new set of rules for morality.

For example, there is a new movie out in select theaters where an atheist is the hero of the story. The synopsis basically is that the hero atheist has a love affair with a Christian wife, whose husband then, in a battle of wills, encourages the hero to commit suicide.

My first thought on the film was that it should be no wonder why those of religious belief find atheism to be morally subversive to say the least. To the movie creators the adulterer who seduces the wife of another man is assigned the role of 'hero.' This is enough for those who hold themselves to a moral higher standard to put their teeth on edge and rightly point out that this is simply subversive. It is easy to be 'moral' if morality is whatever one wants.

To me this is essentially to change the rules of the game. If I were to redefine morality to whatever I want and thus be able to redefine my 'vices' as 'virtues' then I would be the most moral person I know. No one else could match my moral stature, because it was crafted entirely for my benefit.

It is important then to realize that New Atheist claims to the moral high ground are rooted not in any sense of morality as understood by the traditional term. Redefine the term enough and Adolf Hitler can be the epitome of 'moral virtue.' Given where such high ground is located I'm perfectly content to let others occupy that swamp.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Gay Marriage and Unicorns

It is difficult for me to motivate myself to speak about 'gay marriage.' The reasons for this are mostly detailed by Steven Greydanus' articles. To me 'gay marriage' is simply the latest logical conclusion of Western societies' warped view of marriage.

The current debate in political circles is if those with same-sex attraction should be allowed to 'marry.' Some are against the idea on the basis that marriage is between a man and a woman, not between those of the same sex. Others argue that same sex relationships are the same as those of opposite sex counterparts, and demand that the legal definition be 'redefined' to include same sex relationships (the exact nature of these relationships differs from group to group).

There is a third category on the issue however that does not get much notice on the issue. That marriage by nature (not legal definition) is a far older institution that the legal recognition of such. It is a natural institution, and by nature has certain properties that, as a result of the nature of the institution, exclude certain parings of relationships.

Marriage by nature is primarily for the purpose of raising children. The natural end of the sexual act is the generation of children. Half of a human's physiology is by nature geared toward reproduction. Yet at the same time that physiology is incomplete without a member of the opposite sex to complete it. When a man and woman come together in union then the system is complete and the possibility of children, while not guaranteed, is the natural goal of the union.

Gay 'marriage' then is by definition of the term a contradiction. It is a fiction in the mind of those who do not understand marriage itself. While this attempt to sever sexuality from children is not unique to the gay 'marriage' lobby (indeed it has been an issue for a century), it is unique in the nature of the expression. The gay lobby presents a view of marriage that is in direct opposition to the nature of the institution. It is in some sense the culmination of the line of thinking that severs sexuality from children.

But if this is true one may ask, "So what?" What does it matter that the concept of gay 'marriage' is in direct conflict with human nature? This is a question for a later post. I will leave with one thought, however. The last century was filled with systems created by governmental systems that attempted to redefine human nature. Ranging from Communism to Fascism, these systems attempted to impose by force a view of humanity that is radically different from actual human nature. The results are the record of history.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Compromises and solutions

One of the principles of a representative republic is that through negotiation and compromise the government of the citizens of a nation will arrive at a solution that both solves a particular problem and the solution is something that all interested parties can agree upon. Ideally this is done via a peaceful governmental process with input from the people expressed through their representatives. In this manner societal problems are solved peacefully and all parties will be satisfied with the outcome.

Before I begin the discourse of this principle I would like to say a few words on behalf of compromise. These days it appears to be a dirty word that elicits a feeling similar to what one feels toward those who talk in a movie theater. A sense of distaste and revulsion. This to me is not what compromise should elicit from us. A compromise can be a useful solution to a problem.

A husband and wife are arguing over a spouse's particular hobby. Why this is a stress on the relationship is not important for this discussion. What IS important is that the hobby in question is a cause for conflict. Both sides want to have their way. But both sides (ideally) what the other one to be happy. A compromise in this matter can yield an effective solution to the tension.

But a compromise in and of itself is not by nature a solution. The compromise must solve the problem in question to the satisfaction of both parties in question. Like any other tool it must be appropriate to the situation. And attempting to use compromise in lieu of an actual solution at best is putting off solving the problem and at worst creates a far worse problem than the original issue.

To myself the perfect example of a compromise that does not solve a problem is our country's healthcare system (if one can call it that). The government regulates the system creating heavy burdens of paperwork and regulation compliance. Yet it is also privatized to the point where consumers must make all kinds of choices with information that is complicated and confusing. It is the worst of both worlds, a system that is both a private and public nightmare. Arguably the only consensus this country has is that everyone hates it.

And yet it is from another perspective the perfect compromise. The system attempts to accommodate both those who want a more centralized system in the public sector and those who want a more privatized free market system. In turn it has both, and we are miserable for it. What the problems are depends on one's perspective, yet all agree that the system is flawed and miserable.

I do not have the answer to the riddle of the system. But I do know that the current health care system illustrates perfectly that a compromise in and of itself is not a "solution." It is very important to understand as we as a society continue to tackle these societal issues that we do not surrender to a compromise for the sake of compromise.

Monday, July 11, 2011

On Heroic Virtue

The feast of Maria Goretti (July 6) from what I can tell is a disturbing one for modern man. It is understandable at first when one hears the details. A poor 12 year old girl choose to die rather than be used as an object for her assailants pleasure.

It seems even those who defend chastity seem to struggle with the witness as a model of purity*. Indeed the offering of one's life for any cause these days, much less a misunderstood virtue as chastity, is often a fight that seems doomed from the outset. The modern mind it appears to me to value this temporal life as the highest calling. All other considerations are to be cast aside when danger to life and limb is near.

For my own mind it took some time to contemplate the significance and meaning of St. Maria Goretti's sacrifice. At first glance it would appear that the wiser thing would have been to submit to her attacker's monstrous desires. The most logical course of action, according to our modern doctrines, would be to survive the attack and to preserve one's life at all costs. It is true (and should not be understated) that she would not have been at fault. She would not have been guilty of anything, either in the secular mind or in the view of the Church (to my knowledge).

Heroic virtue however is a higher calling. It is a grace given by God to those whom He calls to a higher purpose. Our calling as Christians can at times demand not only our time and treasure, but our very lives in the image of Christ. He died on the cross to show His love for us and to show us what it means to be His disciples. At any time a follower of Christ must be ready to lay down His life for Him and the Truth.

An analogy is perhaps needed. Consider the early martyrs of the Church in Roman times who were threatened with death unless they renounced the name of Christ. All it would have taken was a simple lie. They were threatened with death. No one would have thought less of them for saving their lives at the expense of telling a untruth that they didn't want to tell in the first place. Instead, they gave their lives to bear witness to Christ and to the Truth. Theirs was the highest calling, to offer their lives as the Master had done. This is heroic virtue. It is, to use a military saying, "above and beyond the call of duty."**

St. Maria Goretti bears witness to Christ on a different but no less important topic. Her attacker wished to use her as an object of his lust. She refused. And paid the ultimate price. Her willingness to die rather than be reduced to an object proclaimed the integrity of both herself and her attacker, even if he didn't wish to listen. She gave her life to bear witness to the integrity of all people, that no one has the right to exploit another. In doing so, she answered the call of the Master, and showed the world heroic virtue. In this light it is not surprising that her attacker later asked for forgiveness from Maria's mother, and her mother gave it. The grace earned for them through her actions bears witness to that calling that all Christians have.

I speak as a 30 year old man that if I am faced with a situation where I am forced to choose between life and Christ that I have half the courage of that 12 year old girl. St. Maria Goretti, pray for us, that we may answer the challenge as well.

*For the record, I am a huge fan of Dawn Eden's work and miss her blog very much. But I think it would have done her good to reflect on this saint a bit more.

**The thought occurred to me that the analogy does not translate directly is one that I had considered. In the analogy, it would take the part of the martyr to lie in order to save himself, which is still a sin even if under duress. In St. Maria's case it would not be a sin if the attacker had overpowered her for example. But for the purposes of demonstrating heroic virtue I believe the comparison is apt.

Friday, July 8, 2011

History V

Again my apologies for not returning to this subject earlier. I truly hope that attention span will increase as I get older, but most likely my inability to concentrate will simply get worse. In any event let us continue.

As we discussed last time, I proposed the idea that legends were the means by which a society taught truths such as the meaning of life, the universe, and everything to its future generations. Using imagery, characters and situations the legend illustrates truths such as the nature of mankind, the moral laws that govern such, and the relationship between the heavens and the earth. Truths that everyone should know but may not have the capacity to understand in forms such as formal logic or other presentations that only certain people can understand or relate to.

Stories are single author works for the most part. They are told by one author and constructed from beginning to end with a lesson or purpose (in theory at least). The greatest stories are those that tap into the very core of our existence and relate truth to us. We resonate with those stories because they communicate to us the truths of our existence and teach us about who we are. They impart knowledge that help us to understand ourselves and how to relate to each other.

Legends are what I would consider "societal stories." Unlike a story proper legends do not have a single author or source. Such stories are formed over time by a culture or society, often with modification or expansion. As such legends seem to be passed down more precisely because they seem to reflect that which society wants passed down. A "collective" story if you will.

These stories and legends, often are based on actual people and events. The narrative of the Flood is but one example. Almost every culture has some version of an apocalyptic flood that destroys most of mankind, but a remnant is saved. This to me suggests that there actually was a flood so devastating to early man that for all intensive purposes only a fraction of mankind remained.

But what is more important is that this event was used by most cultures as a jumping point. From the Hebrew Scriptures to Greek mythology cultures attempted to make sense out of that moment and wove that event into their legends. For the Scriptures the Flood is the just judgment of God on the wicked and the raising and protection of the just. Did the Flood happen though? Was there someone named Noah? Is the Ark real? These questions to me are not the point of the story, and such questions while interesting are trivia compared to the lessons the story attempts to impart to the hearer.

Alas, our modern sense recoil at the concept of deeper meaning. For us it is "just the facts, ma'am." The modern man seems to excel at collecting information and not being able to process it. It is the age old difference between "intelligence" and "wisdom." Our society has plenty of "intelligence" and no wisdom. It is this focus on "facts" apart from deeper meaning that causes our deficit of wisdom, and why History seems to lack any value today. It is this deficit that we will examine in our next post.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Independence Day

Note: Due to my own stupidity, this was scheduled for posting on July 4 for obvious reasons. I hope everyone had a wonderful independence day.

It has been remarked that the Fourth of July is a rather odd day to commemorate the birth of the United States of America. It is a remembrance not of some final battle that ended a war, nor the signing of a treaty, nor the establishment of some new government. It commemorates the signing of a declaration, in which the founders put forth an argument that seems very foreign to our modern ears.

The signing of the Declaration of Independence came against a very uncertain future to say the least. The War for Independence had gone on for little over a year since the days of Lexington and Concord. The British Empire was the finest fighting force in the world. The colonies were outmatched in virtually every military category. Defeat was all but certain when looked at on paper.

I have always found it philosophically poignant that July 4 is "America's birthday." It is the moment when a collection of leaders of the colonies declared the following:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
These men declared that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are rights given to Man by their Creator. These rights exist regardless of the opinion of a person or a government. They are intrinsic to who we are as human beings. This point cannot be overstated. It is a bold statement that declares that no person, persons, or power or authority is the source of these rights. And that no power can dictate, abridge, or revoke those rights that are intrinsic to Man by virtue of being created by God.

Because of this I become fairly depressed when I read pieces like Mark Steyn's piece (I may have to give him a break because he is Canadian), or the homily I heard at Mass. Both the article and the homily lament the state of America, and the central theme is the loss of freedom. I cringe at this assertion for one reason. By lamenting that the government "takes away our freedom" is to imply that the freedom comes from the government in the first place. It buys into the very philosophy that compelled the New York legislature to legalize the fiction of "gay marriage." That the government has the ability to legislate reality and define that which is most fundamental to Man.

The Declaration of Independence was a bold statement in its day. It is even more remarkable today given modern views of "objective truth." For our founders stated that there is such a thing as objective truth and that our founders stated:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
To risk everything for these foundational truths in the darkest hour of uncertainty shows the power of conviction.

In that respect July 4 is an invitation to remember this foundational truth. Truth is true, regardless of what we believe or what our earthly powers say. We do not shape reality. Reality simply is. Even if we abandon truth or the powers that be impose a false reality, it is still there. All of our attempts to shape and define reality to suit our own interests are for naught. Truth abides. Freedom abides. The powers of this world cannot take that which does not belong to them or be redefined by our efforts. They did not come from us. That above all else is a great hope.

Monday, July 4, 2011

On Arguments in the 21st Century

I have often felt that the current public discourse on any topic, be it religious, political, etc. is formed by bad thinking. I do not mean that opinions are wrongheaded or that people who disagree with me are not thinking clearly (though I would like to think that if they were they would agree with me, like all right-thinking people should). What I mean is that I believe that most of the current arguments for/against any position on any topic seem to stem from huge flaws in basic logic and a lack of understanding of basic definitions.

The legalization of the fiction of "same-sex marriage" in New York reminded me of an argument of sorts I had with an interlocutor on Facebook. Aside from the usual "you are a bigot because you disagree with me" type of argument, I noticed that this discussion was a textbook example of what I feel is wrong with public discourse as it occurs today.

For example, I pointed out that several of his points were irrelevant to my main argument and demonstrated as such. I assumed that my interlocutor would counter-argue that his points did in fact impact my original point (which I will get to in a moment). Instead I was asked that if the points were irrelevant then why did I not argue against the points themselves? Given that I had thought that I had demonstrated that the points were "irrelevant" it didn't matter. Even if my interlocutor was correct it didn't matter. It is like during a discussion of the morality of the Holocaust someone claims that Hitler was a good painter. Regardless if the statement is true or not it would have no bearing on the topic at hand. Sadly, simply pointing out that a statement is irrelevant is not enough for reasons that escape me.

Another common problem in discourse is the breakdown of basic argumentation. Consider another example from this conversation. It was argued that there was no such thing as "objective moral truth" because people disagreed about what is moral and what is not. I literally had no idea what to make of this "argument." At best it is incomplete and at worst it is a post hoc egro propter hoc logical fallacy. Perhaps:
1. If there was objective truth then there would be a moral consensus.
2. People disagree about moral issues
C. Therefore, there is no objective moral truth.

Of course, there are several issues with the above, such as the assumption that objective truth is immediately perceivable by us. Or that since "objective moral truth" is objective which by definition means that it is true regardless of our opinions. In any case the argument was so broken that it was impossible to argue against it because logic was not its point of origin.

Finally (and most damningly) is the inability to see massive contradictions at the heart of one's principles. The heart of my interlocutor's argument rested on the following "argument":
1. There is no objective definition of "marriage." Marriage is simply a social construct.
2. It is wrong to deny people "rights" to marriage simply because the current definition excludes certain combinations.
3. Therefore, the definition of marriage needs to be changed to accommodate these rights.
Now please keep in mind that this is the closest thing I could come up with to formalize what I considered a position that lacks any coherent or well reasoned positions. But at its heart there is a contradiction that blows away this argument. If the definition of marriage is transient and thus dependent on societal definitions, then there is no "right" or "wrong" definition of marriage. Premise 1 states that there is no objective definition of marriage, yet premise 2 requires an objective definition because excluding gays and lesbians from "marriage" is "wrong." The only way a definition can be "right" or "wrong" is if there is an objective definition to compare societal constructs to.

Now please understand dear reader, I'm not necessarily arguing against "gay marriage." What I am pointing out is bad logic. My interlocutor had no notion that the very heart of his argument for "gay marriage" is a contradiction. A moral schizophrenia that simultaneously that there is no objective definition and yet there is because it is wrong to exclude gays.

Sadly, the above discourse is all too common. I would wager that most opinions in the public square are built upon such faulty reasoning. One only needs to look at the various positions on issues of our political parties to see that logic is far removed from politics. The reasons for this I hope to look at in a future post.