Monday, January 7, 2013

Pathetic Little Straw Man

I find it interesting to see what people share on Facebook when it comes to hostility towards Christianity.  It's not just that their arguments against Christianity lack any semblance of reason and logic.  It's also the case that the Christianity they attack has very little to do with what Christianity teaches.  I don't know if it merely reflects their ignorance or whether it indicates a dishonest "quote mining" in order to make Christianity look bad, but either way, one does not refute Christianity through an uninformed misrepresentation of what it teaches.

The current piece of bad reasoning running around Facebook is a quote from a blogger named Amanda Marcotte which a Facebook group has been sharing:

Atheist are routinely asked how people will know not to rape and murder without religion telling them not to do it, especially a religion that backs up the orders with threats of hell. Believers, listen to me carefully when I say this: When you use this argument, you terrify atheists. We hear you saying that the only thing standing between you and Ted Bundy is a flimsy belief in a supernatural being made up by pre-literate people trying to figure out where the rain came from. This is not very reassuring if you’re trying to argue from a position of moral superiority.

What we see here is a straw man argument.  This is not what Christianity argues.  What Christian philosophers have said is that with no moral absolutes, anything is permissible (I've dealt with the illogic of the claim that there are no moral absolutes in an earlier article).  It then challenges the person who rejects the fact that values come from a source above us to explain how moral norms can be binding.

Morality can come from one of the following:

  1. Something above the human level (such as God and Natural Law)
  2. Something at the human level (such as society)
  3. Something below the human level (such as instinct)

The problem is, if morality does not come from something above us, it really cannot bind.  If morality comes from society, then it is people who follow what values society holds that are good and those who oppose societal values are bad.  This means that in a society which embraces segregation, Bull Connor was a moral person and Martin Luther King Jr. was an immoral person.  If we get our values from society, then to condemn the values of another society merely becomes a case of "pushing your values on others."

But the opposite is true.  We recognize that often it is the moral person who challenges the values of society, and that some societies behave in an immoral manner.  We could not condemn the values of the Third Reich or apartheid era South Africa unless moral values come from outside society.

Likewise that it comes from instinct does not work.  Sometimes morality tells us to do something which goes against the instinct, such as dying rather than to do what one thinks is wrong.  Instinct guides us towards satisfying physical needs, but sometimes we need to suppress instincts for a greater good, for example suppressing one's survival instinct by putting oneself at risk to save another.

So the point that Ms. Marcotte misrepresents is actually the demand to justify the source of morality if one denies the existence of God.  Since neither instinct nor society can explain binding moral values, if one wants to claim binding moral values and deny the existence of God such a person has to give an explanation for something above the human level which can demand we follow these moral values.

Informed Christians don't deny that atheists can have proper moral values.  The existence of an atheist who seeks to do what is right is no challenge to Christian belief.  What the Christian notes is the atheist is being foolish in insisting on those moral norms they personally follow while ignoring those they disagree with instead of investigating why these norms are binding to begin with.

The atheist who refuses to consider a source above humanity in considering moral obligations is being as reasonable as a person who refuses to consider matter as a factor in the study of physics.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Thought for the Day: Inconsistent and Illogical Denial of Absolutes

Ever notice how some people claim there are no moral absolutes, but reject a claim that some things (like racism, genocide, rape or murder) can ever be justified?  The problem is these two positions are absolutely contradictory.  To say that there are no moral absolutes is to say that nothing is wrong all the time.  But to say that some things are always wrong means there is something about an action itself which makes it wrong regardless of the circumstances.

If we can know it is always wrong, it means we can look at understanding what it is about the act that makes it wrong and apply it to understand moral standards on our obligations to other persons.

That means those activists who stand up for a cause against injustice, yet deny morality when it comes to their own behavior are behaving inconsistently.  After all, they are insisting others follow absolutes while they will not follow absolutes in their own lives.

To put it in a syllogism:

  • If [no Moral absolutes exist], then [everything is permissible]. (if A then B)
  • Not [everything is permissible] (Not B)
  • Therefore not [no moral absolutes exist].  (Therefore Not A)

Since "not [no moral absolutes exist]" is another way of saying that moral values DO exist (the negative is required to keep the syllogism consistent) we have a syllogism where the premises are true and the argument is valid.  It means the statement "moral absolutes exist" is proven to be true.

Christianity, in particular Catholicism, offers explanations on why the moral obligations must be drawn where they are.  If a person should happen to reject these explanations, they are obligated to offer their own explanation as to why the line should be drawn differently.

But because they can neither create the justification for a different dividing line, nor refute the Christian arguments of morality, the usual result is to just go ahead with the illogical claim that there are no moral absolutes.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Fallacy of Special Pleading

One thing that routinely comes up on the arguments on the HHS Contraception mandate and the arguments of abortion is the fallacy of special pleading.  Special Pleading is a fallacy that argues that because a person lacks a certain set of experiences, their views on an issue are of no value and can be disregarded.

Special Pleading can either be accusative ("What right do you have to be opposed to abortion?  Men can't even get pregnant!") or defending a view("While I'm personally opposed, I don't think we can judge somebody who has an unexpected pregnancy").  Either way, it is used as an excuse to reject testimony.  It is one thing to say that because of a certain factor, you might not be able to fully empathize with my position.  It is quite another thing to say that your opinion is worthless and without merit because you are/are not part of a certain group. While a person who is/is not part of a certain group may not be able to fully emphasize with the turmoil the suffering person is going through, but that does not change the fact that his or her argument may have merit.

Unfortunately, Modern America is rife with this fallacy.  The entire so-called "War on Women" label is based on it.  The premise is that women need "reproductive freedom" and therefore should have contraceptive and abortifacient coverage.  Thus we see arguments that men who oppose this coverage can be ignored because they can't relate to the woman's need to be free of the consequences of unrestrained sexual activity.  We also see the argument that a Church "run by celibate old men" can't understand why women need contraceptive and abortifacient coverage.

The problem with such an argument is that if contraception goes against the nature of the sexual act or if abortion destroys a human life, then it does not matter what gender or religion the person is who makes the statement.  Reality does not depend on sharing a similar outlook on life.  If it did, then it would be impossible to judge anything.  Could you imagine somebody saying we should not judge the members of the SS working in the extermination camps because we can't imagine what their situation was like?  Or in a less extreme example that a person who practices sobriety has no right to judge the alcoholic?

Right and wrong are independent of faction, and that is why this tactic is nonsense.  Unfortunately a lot of people buy into this tactic, which is why the schools would be serving America better if they taught logic to help immunize people from falling for such misleading tactics.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hypocrisy or the Lowest Common Denominator? Dangers in Selectively Denying Moral Norms

The area of moral teaching in which Christians seem to be most hated is the area of sexuality.  Persons who act on certain inclinations become angry when told that those sexual acts are evil.  Christians are called hateful and judgmental people because they say that certain acts are always wrong.  Now, while there can be people who say they are wrong in a grossly inappropriate way (The Westboro Baptists come to mind), the badly expressed message does not take away from the fact that certain acts are wrong.

The anger and hostility directed against Christians is accompanied by some rather bad reasoning.  The argument that if people choose to live in a certain way, nobody should tell them otherwise.  In other words, we are not allowed to have moral judgments on these activities.

Then these individuals get furious when you employ a reductio ad absurdum and apply that argument to other moral issues which they do find offensive.

That anger is revealing though.  It shows that the individual does recognize that certain things are wrong.  That individual just refuses to accept that their own behaviors can be part of the group [Things that are morally wrong].  Basically, it means "Other people do evil things, not me."

The problem is, those "other people" can often use the same arguments to justify their own deplorable acts.  For example, the same arguments used to justify homosexual "marriage" can also be used to justify incestuous marriage and polygamy: free and mutual consent between people who profess some level of affection for each other.  That isn't hypothetical, by the way.  I've personally encountered proponents of "polyamory" relationships who get offended when people say it is immoral, using the same arguments the proponents of homosexual relationships – and the same demand not to be judged.  These proponents got extremely angry when I pointed out that the concept of "polyamorous marriage" is an oxymoron.

Yet the fact that advocates of homosexual "marriage" do get offended when a Catholic Bishop makes that comparison shows that these advocates do think these things are wrong.  So, essentially, that means they believe a moral line exists.  Otherwise, when the comparison with polyamory and consensual incestuous relationships came up, they'd probably just shrug and say, "So what?"  Their anger then just want to draw the line differently, including their own preference in the list of "acceptable behavior."  People don't normally get offended when their beliefs are compared to something which doesn't offend them after all.

But that leads to the question of who draws the line?  Either there is a line to be drawn, or else we have no choice but to accept the lowest common denominator.  Take Pedophilia for example.  NAMBLA argues that the modern age of consent laws are artificial and that consensual relationships can exist between adults and children.  Most people find the existence of this group as well as their proposals horrific, but they use the same arguments that are used to justify other sexual activities condemned by Christian moral teaching.  They merely add the condition that the age of consent should be lower than 18 and invoke the ancient Greeks and Romans to justify their views.

It also demands a justification for drawing a different line.  If people want to say absolutes exist, but want to include homosexual acts as morally acceptable, they need to show how their absolute is justified while other consensual relationships are not.  Otherwise they become guilty of what they accuse Christians of: forcing their own view of morality on others.  In other words, why draw the line HERE and not THERE?

Actually, when it comes to showing justification for an absolute, Christianity has the advantage – and not from saying "God says so," either.  The belief in marriage as a lifelong exclusive relationship between a man and a woman which is open to the possibility of having and raising children has the biological data (pregnancy comes from sex) and sociological data showing the family as the foundation of a society and that societies with strong family ties also tended to have strong societies.

Eliminating the elements of lifelong, exclusive and being open to the possibility of having and raising children makes stopping at "gay marriage" an arbitrary decision by who is in charge.  That's the irony of it all.  Those people who get offended at this reductio ad absurdum have contradicted themselves.  By drawing the line at "gay marriage" but going no further is to make an arbitrary imposition – which is what they have accused Christians of in the traditional view of marriage.

This is the problem with "selective morality."  If a person demands that the traditional understanding of marriage be set aside in the case of one preference, then it leads one to ask, "Who has the authority to determine where the law may be redrawn and where the new absolute lies?"  Why should it be drawn to only include "homosexual marriage" and not incestuous marriages or polyamorous relationships?  Why should the age of consent be 18 instead of 15 or even 11?  After all, we can point to a time in the past when such things were seen as acceptable?  Of course we can also point to times when slavery and torture and other things we condemn today were considered acceptable, so maybe it's not always such a good idea to point to the morals of the past indiscriminately… it opens up the doors to the reductio ad absurdum.

You can see the problem which those who would change morality tend to avoid.  People don't want to permit things they believe are wrong, but they want to justify their own wrong by making themselves the "victim," claiming that the people who say their own vice is wrong are "judgmental" and "hate-filled" people.  But then they can't explain why others can't take their same principles and demand to have them applied in a way that goes even further than they want to go.

It's quite clear.  Without a rational basis for why a limit should be drawn (a basis Christian moral teaching does possess), one is forced to choose between hypocrisy and the lowest common denominator.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years 2013: Let's Be Prepared

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

It is safe to say that Christianity is being treated as a hated minority by the political and media elites, regardless of what the majority of the population might think.  Whether the majority agrees or disagrees, it is this elite that calls the shots and says what is. 

If the population chooses to believe the slander of the elites, the elites will be able to make use of this support to justify whatever actions they want to carry out against Christians.  If the population does not, the elites will be able to employ the law to harm us, but will have to work harder to give a semblance of legality for their actions.

Let's be prepared.  America is at the point where real persecution against Christians can be expected.  In the name of the popular ideology, we have been declared hate filled people who make our teachings on the basis of hatred of our neighbors – a charge the Romans made against the Christians in the first centuries of its existence.

Christians can only counter the slander/libel of the charges against them by reasoned argument as to why the attacks against them are false and unjust.  We can expect to be shouted down of course.  We can expect to have our teachings distorted.  We can expect to have our explanations ignored.  All we can hope to do is reach out to the person of good will who might be observing what we have to say.

We can expect this because it is already happening.  Our elites attempt to force Christians to change their beliefs, and accuse us of being ignorant and intolerant because we believe the Christian teaching is reasonable and worthy of our trust.  As they grow in power, they can be more direct in their actions.

So we have to be prepared.

But our preparation is not to find bunkers, load up with guns and launch a revolution, or to hide away if America collapses.  As Christians, we know the truth of reality.  God exists.  Jesus Christ died to save us, He rose again and we are required to respond in faith to bring the Good News to the world until He returns.

That requires us to be in the streets, not in the bunkers.  That requires us to try to bring the truth to those who hate us.  It also requires us to refuse to bend when they demand we bow the knee to the altars of the secular.  A time may come when armed revolution may have to to be waged.  A time may come where we need to practice self-defense.  But that time may also not come.

The history of our Church is filled with martyrs who met the hatred towards Christ with love, recognizing that these persecutors are our brothers and sought to bring the Good News of Christ to them, letting them know that God loves every one of us, but also calls every one of us to repent.  This is not a duty for men and women dead for hundreds of years.  It is a duty of every person who professes to be a Christian.

We must be prepared.  Not for armed conflict with hostile human beings over the political direction of our nation, but for conflict over the souls of our people who are deceived to believe that God only suggests we all be "nice" to each other.  Every one of us, by our lives, are to be a witness for Christ.  Some of us may be called to be a witness for Christ by our deaths.  We have to be prepared for that too.

Finally, we must be prepared for battle for our own souls.  Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been people who weakened and compromised their faith and their witness.  Yet Christ has warned us in Matthew 16:25-26 that:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?

We can expect to be hated, because He was hated and no servant is greater than His master (see John 15:18-20).

In fear of the hatred any one of us can falter.  When you have angry people screaming vile hatred at you – ironically condemning you as someone hates and judges others – it is easier to stay silent, easier to compromise, to stall.  it is easier, but it is also forbidden to us.  If we love Christ, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15) and one of His commandment is:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

We must remember that to be strong Christians we must realize we are weak.  We must remember that we work with Christ and not on our own.  We must pray daily that whatever trials and challenges may be sent our way, that we may be given the grace to persevere and to live as Christ calls us to live, and maybe even to die as He calls us to die.