Friday, June 29, 2012

Artistic integrity

To those who are expecting some reaction to the latest Supreme Court decision, I MAY talk about that on Monday.  Right now the articles and opinions are flying and I'm sifting through them.  When something is this hot and involves legalese, it is probably best for those such as myself to sit out the firestorm until the dust settles.

So this is an "artistic integrity" post, as I am tired and it is late, but I was thinking about this the other day.  I recently downloaded the Mass Effect 3 DLC for the extended cut, which presumably is Bioware's response to the firestorm when it released the original game.  If you care, here is a link to a video explaining top reasons why the ending sucked.

I was disappointed with the ending myself and find the criticisms accurate.  It was as if the last ten minutes were written by a completely different team, and forgot several key moments and themes of the series.  Combine that with the 90 hours or so of gameplay and upwards of $150 across three games, and you have a PR nightmare.

That's the background.  Sorry for the non-gamers.  My point is coming I promise.

One of Bioware's (developer) response to the criticism was to invoke the defense of "artistic integrity."  Presumably this was an attempt to deflect criticism by invoking some principled stance that the developers had to be consistent to their "vision", and in doing so must stand above the flame war that ensued.  Implied in this line of defense is the idea that the critics had no standing, as a work of art must be consistent to itself, regardless of how the consumer feels.

The problem with this defense is that "artistic integrity" is invoked in much the same manner as a crooked ambassador invokes diplomatic immunity.  It is used as a shield to protect the artist as if he had committed some crime in the name of "art" and is thus immune to criticism.  Far from advancing art, art is sacrificed to save the artist.

It would be easy to blame Bioware, but in reality this is just another symptom of our society's rejection of objective truth.  "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is a statement that could not be more wrong.  And our relativistic society throws art under the bus in yet one more thing to succumb to such a shallow outlook.

Good is beautiful.  Evil is ugly.  Just as there is such a thing as objective truth, there is also such a thing as objective beauty.  Beauty that reaches into the soul and lifts Man to something higher.  And just as Truth leads us to God, Beauty does as well.  Indeed all such true beauty leads us to our true nature and our ultimate destination with God.

The arts are in disarray.  Modern art is the greatest sign of this.  Most of this revolves around the notion that deep down modern art is about the artist, not the art.  When beauty is subjective, art becomes little more than the expression of the artist's ego.  It is turned inward, rather than outward.

The only way art can be recovered is to rediscover objective beauty.  Beauty in the true sense of the term.  Not the "sexy hot chick hawing beer" beauty that our society is so deeply confused about.  But the beauty that leads to truth.  Beauty that elevates and enlightens us.

Bottom line, artistic integrity is not a bullet proof window pane designed to protect the artist from criticism.  It is a principle that speaks to the deeper reality of beauty, that art is a testament to the truth.  And Bioware's abuse of it is simply the latest episode of how our modern society tortures art for the sake of commercial enterprise.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Worshiping reason

Msgr. Charles Pope writes about nine brief examples of the power of metaphor and story.

One particular point got to me:
4. Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends everything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees. – St. Gregory of Nyssa
For too often our certitude is rooted not in God or in true faith, but in our own thoughts, and these thoughts become idols, and we become ideologues. But wonder is able to fall to its knees in humility and gratitude. Wonder opens us to all God has done, ideology closes us too easily in ourselves and our own limited thoughts.

Boy, if there was a worshiper of ideas that would be me.

Granted, I've criticized ideologies before.  And it is not the case that reason is to be ditched the minute the baptismal water hits the head.  But in this day and age we have made our minds and reason unto a god itself, rather than that which leads us to God.

There is the danger of reducing God to a diagram though.  That our conceptions of God are the same as God Himself.  Ironically, those such as myself who gravitate to theology (either in a casual sense or a formal one) often find themselves doing this very thing, and we should know better.

It is funny because logic was how I work through my Faith usually.  I find the study of theology and doctrine to be illuminating.  And I find that discussion on the internet (if discussion actually happens) about the Faith defending it, discussing it, etc. to be some of the most engaging actions that I do during the day.

Yet it doesn't provide peace or even solace.  The discussions and arguments often leave me tense, even if I've succeeded.  Worn out and exhausted, the mind is empty and the energy spent.  I often feel a distance from God in such moments, because if all I cling to is the diagram, I lose what I am trying to defend.

Interesting enough, the most peace I've experienced lately is not with any theology or apologetics.  It has been from reading Interior Castle.  While the mysticism itself is far removed from me and most likely I will not experience such things, the peace that I feel when reading is something quite rare for me.

The very soul is soothed by the words of the saint.  The imagery of a real encounter of the Divine is beyond words, despite her best efforts.  My own efforts to describe the peace I feel reading her work is quite difficult.  But the peace itself points to something higher.

This experience has shown me that I still am too in love with my own reasoning.  Even if it points toward the Faith I still have to travel down the road.  And that I'm still arguing with myself shows that I'm not really focused on Him.  So it is time to try yet again to bring my mind from my own discussion into a communion with Him who I supposedly worship rather than myself.  Hopefully, my mind will get over itself eventually.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The secular narrative

The Anchoress puzzles over why the media is so fascinated by Leah Libresco's conversion.  She does a good job of breaking down some of the points but I think a simpler explanation is possible.

The media, as much as the rest of our secular culture, has been pounding the narrative that religion is on the way out.  It bases this off of the dwindling influence that religion seems to have on government and culture in Western industrialized societies.  There is also the deconversions that occur in troubling numbers in same countries.

These facts form a narrative.  Only uneducated and illiterate people still hold to religion.  Backward countries, the poor, etc are the religious types.  Educated and enlightened people move beyond all that, leaving religion as a quaint but archaic way of forming a moral people.

Ms. Libresco's conversion throws that whole narrative "off-script."  She's a Yalie.  She talks about Math and Science as casually as I do about video games or sports.  She would be the ideal product of the modern culture.  Except she's "defective".    

The reason why she is so fascinating is that the media's own prejudices against the religious preclude them from understanding.  They have drilled the narrative so far into their thinking that seeing her conversion is the equivalent of an epileptic seeing a strobe light.  It fries the brain.

The problem obviously is not Ms. Libresco, but the narrative.  For starters, religion isn't dying.  In fact, the Catholic Church is exploding.  John Allen's article on the subject points out that the priest shortage is a result of numbers.  Far from falling numbers of people who believe we are, save for the previously mentioned Western countries, growing and in some cases spiking.

Second, the intellectual heritage of the Catholic Church brings quite a few bright minds over the centuries.  Augustine, Aquinas, Newman, and a wide variety of brain power have shaped and added to the intellectual juggernaut that is the Church.  It is simply ignorance (and in a lot of cases arrogance) that causes the modern world to dismiss that tradition.

Finally the secularizing countries of the West are actually on the decline.  Europe, which in theory is ahead of us backward Americans, is facing an unprecedented economic crisis.  Multiculturalism is rapidly eroding the concept of country.  And finally the more secular you are the more likely that you won't have kids.  Most European countries are way below replacement levels.  In a few generations, the enlightened will have contracepted themselves out of existence, and the countries will be taken over by the "ignorant religious rubes."

Ms. Libresco's conversion, while no mean permanent,  hopefully will show (once they get over the shock) that religion is not a four letter word. And that far from checking one's intelligence at the door, the Church not only allows but in a lot of ways demands that one uses their intelligence.  For those who dwell in darkness, the light may be too blinding initially.  Hence the interest.

Friday, June 22, 2012


good for a laugh.

Random Thoughts

As I don't have a real topic I'm simply going to discuss various things that pop into my head.  I ususally try to fixate on one topic but several things have been rolling around in my head lately.

The first is that I'm a bit tired of the sophistry masquarading as argument regarding the HHS mandate.  Time and again those who support the mandate seem to think that allowing the Church to not pay for abortions and sterilizations is somehow "forcing people to abide by Church doctrine."  The sheer absurdity is maddening, to be quite honest.  Not having to pay for something is NOT the same as tying someone up and forcing them to be baptized.  I for one am sick and tired of this ridiculous and somewhat dishonest argument.

Another thing I'm tired of is every random atheist on the internet thinking that all Christians are New Creation/Creationist/Literalist Fundamentalists.  When just one google search and click can address this some random hothead comes in, points out the civil laws in Leviticus, and somehow declares victory that his made up morality is somehow superior because of his blowhard arrogance.  When pointed out he doesn't have a clue what he is talking about he acts as if this is something to be proud of.

Whew.  Rant over.  So what else.....ah yes.

My wife and I plan to return to Korea for at least two weeks in September.  So in an honest atttempt to learn the language I am studying my brains out using Rosetta Stone.  I like the format most of the time but Korean is a strange language, with Subject/Object/Verb structure and how the words for "car" and "tea" are the exact same word.  I last about 45 min before my brain turns to goo.  And I think I broke my jaw trying to pronounce "policeman." 

Finally a public service announcement.  If you play video games on your iPad stay away from Game Dev story.  This is pure gaming crack for your iPhone/iPad.  Its cutesy graphics and simple interface suck you in, and before you know it it is 1am and you owe the discipline jar $5 because you promised your wife that you would be in bed before then and failed once again.  You have been warned.  Game Dev Story causes insomnia.

Anything else?  The Fortnight for Freedom kicks off and Diablo is defeated.  Coincedence?   I think not.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Let's be reasonable

The Catholic blogsphere is alight with the announcement of Leah  Libresco taking her first public steps toward becoming Catholic.  She was often hailed by Catholic commentators as a "reasonable, friendly, intellectually honest" atheist.  Someone who was open to examining her own views as well as arguing when she found the other side lacking.

I know this only from second hand sources, as honestly I did not follow her blog all that often.  But Mark Shea loves her, and he isn't the only one. I wish her the best, and will add her to the personal prayer roll.

Some of the atheist* reactions are all too typical.  "Abandonment of reason, going insane, etc." are the usual adjectives being thrown around (typically on sites that do not actually read her blog).  The only disappointing part of it is the predictability.

The attitude displayed is understandable however.  To those who are committed to never opening the intellectual door of considering religion, the idea of someone converting from atheism to a religion...any not just an unreasonable act.  It is an act of betrayal against modern progress.

On the religious side of the question, we can find this attitude among some Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.  I remember quite vividly the condemnation of those who did not believe as "resisting the call."  Those who do not convert are actively suppressing the call of God.  And those who convert away "really weren't Christians."  Sound familiar?

All of this shows the mind as a closed thing to other opinions.  When your weapons are ridicule and venom, you must abandon reason in order to deploy them.  Resorting to such weapons becomes a substitute for actual thought.

In my own experience I found most atheists to be unwilling to examine their own assumptions.  In one form I participated in it became clear that the assumption that all things must be able to be proven scientifically was "off the table" for discussion and analysis.  The reasons for this became childish and the anger of calling such into question was readily obvious.

At the risk of contradicting myself I couldn't help but feel there is real fear in that when one's opinion is derived "solely" from one's own reasoning to question basic assumptions.  I suspect it is because to admit to being wrong about something fundamental calls into question the ability to reason properly.  Which isn't true, but having to admit when one is wrong about something fundamental becomes a dreadfully difficult thing to do.

At the end of the I think there is a real fear among the atheists that they may find themselves going down the path of Ms. Libresco if they do so.  And so they must maintain a constant vigilance against fundamental questions.  Otherwise, the whole philosophy may come crashing down.

*As a disclaimer, I should note that by "atheist" I refer to the certain stripe of the Richard Dawkins variety and the lackeys that follow him.  There are atheists who are quite reasonable, even if their conclusions are wrong.  :-)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Out sick

Apologies for no post for today.  Felt ill over the weekend (allergy/sinus issue).  I'll make up for it with a Wednesday post AND my monthly contribution to Ignitum Today.

The Management.

Friday, June 15, 2012

When your argument proves too much

I had planned to write another piece before this one but since this study is making its way around the blogsphere I figured I should jump on it.

For the record, I think we as a society are addicted to studies.  The reasons for this are for another time, but suffice it to say when I link this study I will be humming "Don't stand so close to me."

A study came out recently that calls into question the idea that children of gay parents are just as healthy as children of straight parents.  Slate has posted this as well as a response critiquing the study by William Saletan.  Both are presented here as I think the reader would benefit from both.  And kudos to Slate for allowing the author of the study to present his view on the matter.

For my part I read both with a mild interest in the matter, given my attitude toward studies in general.  However, there was one counter-argument that caught my eye.  From the response:
These findings shouldn’t surprise us, because this isn’t a study of gay couples who decided to have kids. It’s a study of people who engaged in same-sex relationships—and often broke up their households—decades ago. 
To understand the study, you have to read the questionnaire that defined the sample. It began by asking each respondent, as the child of this or that kind of family arrangement, his age. If the respondent was younger than 18 or older than 39, the survey was terminated. This means the entire sample was born between 1971 and 1994, when same-sex marriage was illegal throughout the United States, and millions of homosexuals were trying to pass or function as straight spouses.
Here's the problem that this first critique poses for the same-sex "marriage" advocates.  If the problem with the sample is the time period that the sample is taken from, then this calls all research on the subject, both pro and con, into question.  The oldest a grown child can be post '94 is 18 years (give or take), which is hardly old enough to measure long term mental health.

One of the biggest planks of the pro-gay "marriage" movement is that the children that come out of such unions are no different than the straight parent families.  Yet if this critique is applied to all studies (in the interest of fairness), then ANY study that purports to show that children of gay parents are healthy is suspect as well.  Which is why Thomas Peters is perfectly justified in calling out supporters of "gay-marriage" studies for their sudden adherence to statistical methodology:
The central question that gay marriage activists must answer is why previous studies, with far fewer participants and conducted in far less rigorous manners, should be taken as more reliable than the Regnerus study? Gay activists who are now criticizing the methodology of the Regnerus study (unsuccessfully, I believe) are the same voices who were perfectly happy to ignore methodological problems with the previous studies. Double-standard, much?
What we have here is a classic case of an argument proving too much.  If we were to honestly apply this critique to any study of gay-"marriage" parenting, we find that all data from such studies that use such a period are just as suspect as the study being critiqued.  And even the counter to this study undermines itself when it appeals to previous research further down.

Now this is not to say that the study doesn't have problems.  I think the counter argument makes some good points.  But I've exhausted my interest in the topic, so the exercise is left to the reader.  But this is a good example of why one should be careful how one critiques anything.  In his attempt to argue against the study, Mr. Saletan has thrown the entire body of pro gay "marriage" parenting under the bus.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The incoherence of tolerance

Timothy Dalrymple writes about the scorn for conservative Christians as being a hot market.  Of particular note is this offering, which is not the subject of his article but something I wanted to highlight:
Their intentions are honorable, but undermined by an incoherent strategy and by their deep-seated scorn for conservative Christians.  They’re trying to encourage love — by being hateful (and no, I don’t think that’s too strong a word).  They’re trying to encourage tolerance — but judging everyone who disagrees with them.  They’re trying to improve the witness of the church — by legitimating the stereotype that the conservative half of the church is bigoted and deceitful.  They hold themselves out as a better alternative — by throwing more conservative Christians under the bus.
In my own experience with arguing for traditional marriage I have been accused of everything under the sun.  I'm a bigot, homophobe, liar, brainwashed, etc. etc.   The thing about such names is that I now regard them as synonymous with the phrase "I disagree with you."  Most of these attacks are not based on anything other than a deep conviction that I am not just wrong but "evil."

This would not be an issue to me except for a glaring omission on the part of the gay "marriage" advocate.  That is the notion that the gay "marriage" advocate bases his support by the "virtue" of tolerance.  The person who advocates gay "marriage" justifies the stance that Christians must be tolerant of the views of those who are gay.

The problem with appeal to this is that the tolerance is one-sided.  Only the pro gay "marriage" stance is tolerated.  Those who hold a different opinion are savaged as "idiotic, bigoted, hateful, fearful, etc".  The non-judgmental person is most judgmental, the proclaimer of  peace is the most hateful, the one who advocates charity is the first to impute evil motives.

One would argue that such people are simply hypocrites.  But there is a more charitable but more complicated explanation.  The problem at its root is that the notion of "tolerance" as applied is incoherent.

The problem of "tolerance" is that it imposes a discipline of non-judgementalism that is impossible to actually adhere to.  We make moral judgments everyday.  It is how we discern a right action from a wrong one.  We judge because to not do so would mean that any action, regardless of how we perceive its moral value, is of equal weight.

 So tolerance is not then something that the tolerant person abides by, but is a spear to be hurled at the opposition.  When someone disagrees with me on a moral issue I can simply accuse them of "intolerance."  Which actually ironically is an act of intolerance.  Hence in order to judge if one is intolerant or not one has to judge.  The contradiction is obvious.

So the next time one accuses you of being intolerant point out the obvious, that the accuser is the intolerant one.  The accusation itself is rooted in intolerance, and unlike the accuser, you have proof that at least one person in the discussion is the intolerant one.  But do be sure to point out the silliness of the philosophy.  Otherwise it looks like a personal attack and not a criticism of the incoherent philosophy.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Jenga tower of your own moral philosophy

One of the arguments that I've used for the Catholic Faith is the consistency of the doctrine and how one teaching flows into another.  While the limits of human knowledge combined with divine revelation lead us to paradoxes, there does not exist a true contradiction.  That this body of doctrine has been consistent for 2000 years is but another sign of something special.  Also of note is how the teaching seems to encompass the universal experience of human existence yet allows room for the variety we see in the human race.

A logically valid criticism is that a philosophy that is internally consistent does not automatically make it true.  In theory, a system of moral thought that is completely consistent can be thought up out of whole cloth.  From a purely logical standpoint this is correct.

My counter to such an assertion is that while it is theoretically possible that a completely consistent moral philosophy that meets the above criteria can be imagined, the ability to construct such a philosophy is remote at best.  While others have claimed such, the reality is the attempts to create such philosophies have time and again crashed against the rocks of reality.

Since the turn of the 17th century when ideologies that attempted to supplant the Catholic understanding of Man the human race has had to deal with its own hubris.  While some positives have come out of modernist thought (as all human endeavors generate such at times) by and large the concept of Man has been reduced from the Imago Dei to that of little more than a random collection of atoms.  The 20th century saw this come to a head in Fascism, Communism, and in the growing soft totalitarianism of Socialism.

And that's for systemic thought.  Your average modern person has the moral philosophy of a Jenga tower.  It may look upright.  But it is full of holes, and any pressure put upon it will bring it tumbling down.  The lack of philosophical training, combined with the arrogance of the attitude that one is a moral expert the minute one pops out from the womb, has led to moral philosophies whose shallowness is only matched by the emotional defensiveness of its adherents.

The simple truth is that while we as human beings can come to know ourselves we really don't understand ourselves.  Not completely.  Humans are notoriously fickle creatures.  We seem to rise to such great heights and then come crashing down through self-inflicted wounds.  We do things that we know for a fact aren't good for us, yet we keep doing them.  In short, we can't even seem to keep the day to day straight.  Why in the world should we expect to be able to construct a philosophy that actually encompasses the human experience accurately?

So the mere existence of a consistent and universal moral ethic is at the very least worthy of careful consideration.  That such a body of thought has existed for 2000 years and continues to deepen its understanding only makes it more worth our time.  For those who are searching for why the world is as screwed up as it is, maybe it is time to see what the Church actually teaches.  You may find (as I did) that the beauty of her doctrine is in and of itself worthy of study.

Friday, June 8, 2012

My friend JC

writes about some passive-aggressive ways should you be placed in the same position as the persecuted photographer.  My previous suggestion makes number 5.  With some additional input.

My post today

rekindled thoughts of the Laurel and Hardy comedy team, so I went looking for some collection of them.  Lo and behold, my prayers are answered.  If anyone wants to buy this for me, I won't say no.  Just FYI.

Edit:  I bought it already.  That one-click stuff is dangerous.

The Nazis at the door

Mark Shea has been virtually alone in pointing out the fairly obvious about Live Action's videos that:

  1. Lying is intrinsically sinful
  2. You can't use evil for good ends
Mark has done a fine job of laying out the argument against this (and you should go read the above link as well as his previous postings).  For me I will look at the most common objection:  the Nazis at your door looking for Jews to murder.

To summarize:
Imagine you are in WWII Germany or occupied territory hiding Jews in your house.  The SS shows up at your door and demands to know if there are any Jews in the house.  If lying is intrinsically evil, then you must tell the truth, which condemns the Jews you are hiding to die.  Clearly, lying is not intrinsically evil.
There are two problems with this, and we will handle them in reverse order of importance.  The first is that the it is a false dichotomy to say that if one is not allowed to lie then one must speak the truth.  There are in fact several options.  Such as shutting up.  Or mental reservation, the withholding of some truth that utilizes the other person's mistaken impression.  This is an extensive topic in and of itself.  But suffice it to say that there is MUCH more to the discussion than a binary decision.

To me though this pales in comparison to a bigger problem with this thought experiment.  The scenario is just plain ridiculous.  Let's stop and think for a moment.  Does anyone really believe that the lie will actually work?  The SS guard would have to be of the Stan Laurel variety in order for this to even plausibly work.
Stan:  Oh, uh, hi.  Mr...
Oliver: Hardy.  Oliver Hardy.
Stan:  Ah, yes.  Do you have any Jews living here?
Oliver: Nope.
Stan:  Oh....well, thanks for your time.
I mean, really?  This is supposed to be a plausible thought experiment to demonstrate that lying cannot possibly intrinsically immoral?  

The requirement for thought experiments such as these is that they cannot deviate from reality to the point where the scenario is simply ridiculous.  The thought experiment is designed to help to illustrate a point.  This does not mean that the example cannot be extreme, but it does require the scenario to make sense.

In other words, before deploying a thought experiment to prove a point, be sure that the experiment has some real thought behind it.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

When someone asks "How does gay marriage affect you?"

Keep this handy.  State thuggery continues in the name of "equality."

If it were me, my smart-alec nature would compel me to take the ugliest photos imaginable.  The most hideous light.  The worst angles.  I would explore my creative side in making the worst possible photos imaginable.

Not very principled, but it would be fun.

History may not repeat itself

But it does rhyme.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A full report on the doctrinal deviations of the LCWR

The only people who are surprised are those who haven't been paying attention.  A full detail of the doctrinal abuses of the LCWR.


So I finally decided on my comment policy.  Henceforth I will moderate the comments as it lets me know when I receive comments.  I also will no longer allow anonymous comments, as these are more often than not useless (the current ones by Anonymous - JC are exceptions to this).  But overall I feel it helps to have a login handle to go with the comment.

Apologies for any issues this may cause.  This policy will be the final one until further notice.

The Management

Changes in education

Jennifer Fulwiler writes about changes in the education scene and the possibility of the next generation or so forgoing college altogether.  There is so much to talk about but I'll confine myself to three points that may be of interest.

The first is that in my own profession (software development) there is definitely an emerging trend among my generation of developers to start looking far more at practical experience in lieu of a college degree.  At one place I worked where I was involved in hiring decisions there was definitely a generation gap on this view.  The older generation held that a college degree was mandatory.  Those of my generation were not impressed with the education we received vs. work experience.  From my point of view, when I was interviewing I would look for experience that could be substituted for a college degree.  I expect this trend to increase, rather than decrease.

The second is that despite my opposing political views and rather sour attitude regarding some actions of violence, I can't help but feel a twinge of sympathy for some of the students in the Occupy movement.  However you feel about them, I think some have a point of sorts.  Society has told them since Day 1 of comprehension that if they stay in school, get high grades, go to college, etc a job would be waiting for them.  The problem was that society didn't hold up its end of the bargain.  Now they are stuck with degree and mountains of student debt with no way to pay them off.  This I also expect to increase.

Finally one of the real issues with colleges is that they simply do not deliver on their promises.  While the grades may be steady or inflated to me is immaterial.  Conceptually, the sciences are not being taught.  One of the biggest complaints I've read from hiring companies is that the concepts that supposedly are supposed to be taught in college simply are not being imparted.  I think that this has a lot to do with calculators and technology in general.  From my own observations students these days punch in numbers into a formula, and write what the calculator tells them is the answer.  The problem:  The numbers don't MEAN ANYTHING to them.  It's just input and output.  There is no connection between the numbers and what they represent in the real world.

For the record this last point is relevant to me because while I got As in Engineering Physics (first year) I never really grasped fundamental concepts and until the concepts of magnetism and electricity were taught I struggled quite a bit.  But I knew how to take tests and had a knack for discerning what the professor was going to test us on (which is not all that secret, just pay attention to the lecture.  Yet you'd be surprised how many people don't do this).

In any event I think the conclusion is right.  Big shakeups are coming in the education sphere.  It will be very interesting to see what the future holds.

Monday, June 4, 2012

How Wikipedia makes you more stupid

I rag on Wikipedia quite a bit.  Not so much for its shortcomings (and there are quite a few) but more because of how people abuse it.  But there are cases where Wikipedia itself causes more harm than good.

The entry in particular is the one about the cosmological argument.  In particular the objections section.  But lets look at the argument section:

  1. Every finite and contingent being has a cause
  2. A casual loop cannot exist
  3. A casual chain be of infinite length
  4. Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) exists
A few issues with this formulation.  

First is that "cause" is not the same as the mechanistic understanding that is implied by the "effect" parenthetical remark.  Something that "causes" something else explains the relationship between the two, where the "cause" moves something from potential to actual.  These are Aristotelian-Thomistic (AT) terms that are very abstract, and are very different from the mechanistic "cause/effect" that is espoused by the author.

Second, Aquinas proceeds from the existence of the "contingent universe."  The universe does not "need" to exist per se.  There is nothing about the universe that must exist (necessary existence).  And since nothing comes from nothing, that is, true nothing does not cause "something,"  there must have been a "something" whose existence is logically necessary.

Thirdly, the second premise is nonsense frankly speaking.  A proper understanding of "cause" would show that a casual loop implies that the entity caused itself, which from an AT perspective is a logical absurdity.  

So the background understanding of the author is faulty to say the least.  Let's look at the "objections" (I use the term charitably).  

What caused the First Cause - this is a non-serious counter.  The whole point of the proof is to demonstrate that an Uncaused Cause must exist.  IF the proof holds, then the question is asking, "what caused the Uncaused Cause", a question that literally has no meaning.

Identity of the First Cause - non-starter.  Aquinas and Aristotle used the First Cause as the starting point for defining more properties of "God."  The First Cause identifies ONE property of God, that He does not have a cause.

Existence of casual loops - this one is just silly.  Even if such a being existed, it causes itself, which violates the notion of causality (the being causes itself, a logical impossibility from a proper understanding of "cause" in AT metaphysics).  The other issue is that the loop itself must be explained, since "nothing comes from nothing."

Existence of infinite casual chains - begging the question.  Also requires an explanation given "nothing comes from nothing".

In short, while Wikipedia is great for a technical reference,  FAR TOO OFTEN it makes us more stupid by presenting a very shallow and often flat out wrong picture of complex topics.  So my rule of thumb is if the topic is even remotely controversial, throw it out.  You are only going to hurt your brain.

Friday, June 1, 2012

When to pull the trigger

Showing up in my Facebook feed was this article about one blogger's contention that the bishops are being played for fools (H/T Stacy Trasancos, content warning - language) regarding their stance on the HHS mandate.  While I have my concerns about tone, respectful dialogue, and the general attitude the question itself deserves an answer.  What I post are my own thoughts about the bishops' strategy in dealing with the HHS mandate.

Let's recap the bishops' actions so far.  The first was note the actual concern with the HHS mandate as the whole body of bishops.  EVERY SINGLE BISHOP issued a statement condemning this mandate.  In my life I cannot think of anything that galvanized the individual bishops to act as a whole, rather than just work through the USCCB.

Now we are in phase 2:  The litigation phase.  As U.S. citizens the bishops, following the example of Paul appealing to Caesar, are exercising their rights in the courtroom.  They have every right to try to fight this through legal channels and the responsibility to do so.  There is a reason for this.

As Catholics we hold that we have a moral responsibility to respect those who hold authority, be it religious or political.  The bishops to me are wisely walking the fine line, making it clear that this mandate cannot stand while exhausting all legal and political avenues.

What the author of the linked article is talking about is what I would deem a phase 3 approach.  And this is where things get tricky.  Some have argued that the bishops should shut down the services that we provide.  Others, like the author of the linked article, argue for a stance of civil disobedience and force the government to shut down the services.

I can see the argument from either side.  Both have solid points to support them in terms of principles, effects and the best needs of those who will be undercut by the shutdown of the services.  Ultimately it is the bishops who will have to make the choice, and I do not envy them that.

I will however point to two issues I have with the linked article. The first is that I think the author undercuts herself in overplaying the political perception effect shutting down the services have.  If the press is already hostile, and the people don't care, then how does civil disobedience make a difference in that regard.  As long as useful idiots continue to spin the Church as the bad guy in this, NO MATTER WHAT WE DO, politically we will be made out to be the wrong party.  So to me this shouldn't even be a consideration.

Secondly, and more importantly, civil disobedience is like war.  You don't pull that trigger (and in some respects not even DISCUSS it) until there really aren't any other options.  Should this be what the bishops decide to do, it only makes sense that this would be kept under the radar until all other options are exhausted.

So even if this were the route the bishops to take this won't even enter the conversation until AFTER the legal challenges are resolved.  We will do no favors to the litigation attempts if we demonstrate nothing but hostility and contempt for our legal system by opening declaring an intent to disobey the law.

So I advise all of us to follow those shepherds that God has given us.  Yes they have dropped the ball in the past.  Yes, there are trust issues.  But in persecution God lifts all His children.  For it is only grace that allows us to stand up for Him who died for us.  Let's give His chosen a chance, and trust Him by trusting them.