Monday, May 9, 2011

Dead Fish, Live Fish and the Bald King of France: On Asking the Right Questions First

The story goes that King Charles II posed this question to the Royal Society:

"When a live fish is thrown into a basin of water the basin water and fish do not weigh more than the basin and water before the fish is thrown in whereas when a dead fish is employed the weight of the whole is exactly equal to the added weights of the basin water and fish."

In other words, why does a dead fish weigh more than a living fish?

The members of the Royal Society debated the phenomenon and prepared several theories but found them unsatisfactory.  Finally, someone proposed testing the theory and found out that dead or alive, the weight was increased by the weight of the fish.  Thus the question began from an unquestioned but faulty premise.

Another interesting question is whether a question has meaning.  Bertrand Russell raised up the statement, "The Present King of France is Bald."  In such a statement, is it true or false?

Actually, it is neither.  Present day France is a Republic and has no King.  Therefore the question is meaningless because the original premise (The Present King of France) on which the question of whether or not he is bald is not true.

Both examples show that there is a need to determine what is the primary issue in an assumption which needs to be investigated.  It is meaningless to determine why a thing is until we can determine whether a thing is.

In other words, does the question assume a premise something which needs to be considered in itself?

Applying the Issue to Anti-Catholicism

Of course, Arnobius of Sicca not being a Science blog, I'm sure the reader recognizes I have a different focus in mind in bringing up these points.  Yes, my interest is one of determining truth, especially when the questions asked are ones which are asked in a way which are essentially "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" format.

Let's consider certain assumptions which show up in questions asked which have this format:

  • Why does the Church oppose Science?
  • Why does the Church oppose Scripture?
  • Why does the Church worship statues?
  • Why does the Church want divorced people to suffer?
  • Why does the Church make it policy to cover up child abuse?

In all these questions, it is assumed that the accusation is true when in fact it is the accusation which needs to be investigated.  If the Church does not oppose science, does not oppose Scripture, does not worship statues, does not want divorced people to suffer and does not make it official policy to cover up child abuse then the question is as meaningless as asking whether the Current King of France is bald.

The Fallacy of the Loaded Question

The anti-Catholic questions are essentially the Fallacy of the Loaded Question.  The questions assume a condition exists.  For example, with the Have you stopped beating your wife yet? it presumes two things:

  1. That you are married
  2. That you have beaten your wife before the question was asked.

Both presuppositions must be true for the question to have any meaning.

Yet all too many people start with the assumption that the presuppositions are true.  Yet they often do this because they reason that because the Church does not accept doctrine [X], they must be opposed to the thing the doctrine is about.  For example, because the Catholic Church rejects Sola Scriptura, some assume that therefore the Church must oppose the Bible.

This brings us to our next fallacy to consider.

The Fallacy of Bifurcation

The fallacy of Bifurcation assumes that either one of two conditions must exist.  Either [A] or [B].  The Church does not support [A].  Therefore it must support [B].  However, the rejection of [A] does not mean support for [B].  It merely means the rejection of [A].  For any further discussion, one must investigate what the Church teaches on subject [X] which the questioner rests options [A] and [B] on.

So for example, if one says, "Either the Church accepts [Sola Scriptura] or [Rejects the Authority of Scripture],"  we need to realize that the rejection of [Sola Scriptura] does not mean [Rejects Authority of Scripture].  We would instead have to investigate what the Church does believe about Scripture and why she holds it.

When one looks into what the Church believes on [X], one may find that instead of being an exclusive choice between [A] and [B], the Church actually holds [C].

This would make the attack on the Church unjust and unwarranted.


Ultimately any question about why the Church acts as she does must be grounded with "What does the Church believe?" before one can move on to "Why does the Church believe this?" Otherwise, one has a meaningless question.

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