Monday, September 14, 2009

Muddled Thinking and The Need For Reason

Writing a blog and scanning the news of the world for things to write on, one often comes across examples of muddled thinking.  A problematic assumption is grasped and the individual then reaches a conclusion which does not work but because the assumption is not investigated, the flaws in the conclusion are not considered.

Then we have the gall to claim the Law of Unintended Consequences when the plan goes awry: that any purposeful action will produce some unanticipated or unintended consequences.  Now of course some things cannot be anticipated based on a lack of knowledge which cannot be corrected through study (invincible ignorance).  However, other things can indeed be learned of through study, common sense and observation of the Natural Law.  In those cases, "unintended consequences" are due to negligence and could be avoided with the proper consideration.

The state of the West today is certainly one resulting from negligence.  We started by questioning whether man could know absolute truths.  Now, there is nothing to appeal to to tell people not to do things we find repugnant.  This is because the problematic assumption "we cannot know absolute truths" was accepted by a large portion of the population without considering whether or not it is true.

(The fault in the assumption shown in the example, by the way, is it is self-contradictory: An absolute statement that one cannot know absolutes).

In the political arena today, we see this muddled thinking.

  1. The person I disagree with opposes this view because he is partisan
  2. Therefore we can negate what they say

The problem is, we have muddled thinking in premise one.  The first statement holds an enthymeme (an unspoken assumption) which is: "My view is correct and any opposition must be done as partisanship, not as real truth."

When the enthymeme is recognized, the argument becomes:

  1. My view is correct and any opposition must be done as partisanship instead of from any true concern.
  2. Person X disagrees with me
  3. Therefore person X is partisan.

The muddled thinking here is the assumption one has the correct view of what their opponent is thinking.  However, if the person does not have the motive ascribed, the argument becomes false.

Take for example the Catholic bishops in America who have taken a public stand on Obama and his approval of abortion rights.  The assumption is they are opposing Obama because of political issues (the enthymeme is that abortion is a political issue), and therefore their motivation is partisan and can be discounted.

The problem is the Catholic Church has taught abortion was evil as far back as the first century, long before the presidency of Obama, or of Roe v. Wade, or the existence of the Democratic Party, or the existence of the United States of America.  The Church believes that human life is human life from the time of conception.

From this the argument can be made:

  1. The human life of a person begins at the moment of conception
  2. Abortion ends the existence of a person after conception
  3. Therefore abortion ends a human life

Because the Church does hold this, it means it must oppose any politician or political party which acts contrary to this understanding of life.  It does not matter what the affiliation of the party.  if the party or government promotes the ability of another to end a human life freely, the party or government must be opposed.  It would be muddled thinking then to assume that the opposition to a government is based on partisan reasons.

Because of this, when analyzing claims made, we need to start with the question of what is true.  If a claim is made, we need to look at it from the perspective of exploring whether or not it is true, and whether the conclusions made from that assumption logically follow.  If the assumption is false, or the conclusion does not logically follow from the assumption, the end result is error.

I believe that for the Christian, we need to consider that if we believe the teaching of Christ and the teaching about Christ is true, we need to see the logical conclusions of that belief.

CS Lewis once created the famous dilemma: Aut Deus aut homo malus.  (Either God or a bad man).

The assumption is a person claiming to be God cannot be a merely good man.  Either Christ was speaking the truth or he was not.  If he was not speaking the truth, the consequences are either He was deluded or He was lying (famously summed up as "Liar, Lunatic or Lord.")

If He was lying or deranged, then his words lack the authority to bind anyone.  However if he is God, then what He says has complete relevance over our lives.

Yet many people choose the most illogical option: That he was a wise man who taught a philosophy about being nice to each other.  To do this, they must choose certain words they agree with and ignore the ones which require changes to behavior.  This makes the teaching about Christ and the teaching by Christ superfluous.  If it agrees with what one already believes it is unnecessary.  If it contradicts, it is wrong (or "added later.")

This is muddled thinking again.  It moves the focus away from God and towards the self.  What God teaches is reduced in comparison to "This is what I would do if I were God…"

To return to the main point, the belief there is an absolute truth and the denial of there being an absolute truth are the two roads to take.  Either one requires proof for their claims.  Christianity has provided 2,000 years of explanations as to why there is an absolute truth.  One is free to reject this of course, but then they need to provide justification for their own assumption.

Unfortunately this is not done.  This assumption is made from the faulty reasoning that: "I disagree with there being an absolute truth.  Therefore there is none.  Prove me wrong."  The fact that one disagrees with arguments from the Christian perspective neither proves them wrong nor the opposite right.

Yet this assumption goes unchallenged in the West nowadays.

To see the end results of this faulty assumption, we need only to pick up a newspaper.

Nobody should just blindly accept a statement is fact unless it is established to be true or that the one making the statement is reliable as being knowledgeable on the subject.  If one wishes to challenge the view of another, let it not be made on an unquestioned assumption, but on a well reasoned exploration of what we know to be true.

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