Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ancient Fallacies: Begging the Question and Anti-Francis Attacks

So looking for a bit of entertainment, I watched a couple of episodes of Ancient Aliens. The basic premise (for people with enough common sense to stay away) is that aliens could have visited Earth, provided technology to build monuments, fought battles, influenced events described in the Bible and so on. The main problem with the show is that the featured individuals arguing their points assume their premises are true, when they actually have to be proven. The things they assume as following from the claim of aliens can only be considered as a link if the original premise is true in the first place. It’s the begging the question fallacy.

Aliens(Most people recognize this is bad reasoning)

Aristotle, over two thousand years ago, described what was wrong with this way of thinking:

16 To beg and assume the original question is a species of failure to demonstrate the problem proposed; but this [30] happens in many ways. A man may not reason syllogistically at all, or he may argue from premisses which are less known or equally unknown, or he may establish the antecedent by means of its consequents; for demonstration proceeds from what is more certain and is prior. Now begging the question is none of these: but since we get to know some things naturally through themselves, and other things [35] by means of something else (the first principles through themselves, what is subordinate to them through something else), whenever a man tries to prove what is not self-evident by means of itself, then he begs the original question. This may be done by assuming what is in question at once; it is also possible to make a transition to [40] other things which would naturally be proved through the [65a] thesis proposed, and demonstrate it through them, e.g. if A should be proved through B, and B through C, though it was natural that C should be proved through A: for it turns out that those who reason thus are proving A by means of itself. This is what those persons do who suppose [5] that they are constructing parallel straight lines: for they fail to see that they are assuming facts which it is impossible to demonstrate unless the parallels exist. So it turns out that those who reason thus merely say a particular thing is, if it is: in this way everything will be self-evident. But that is impossible.


 Aristotle, “ANALYTICA PRIORA,” in The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross, trans. A. J. Jenkinson, vol. 1 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1928).

Basically, this fallacy happens when one assumes something is true without proving it to be true and then cites things as examples of this assumption—but they are only valid examples if the original claim is true. If the original claim is not established as true, then the “examples” cannot be established as supporting the allegation,

Unfortunately, since 2013, many Catholics have been plagued by this fallacy in their approach to Pope Francis. The begging the question comes around by alleging that the Pope is a liberal, or a heretic, or both. For this allegation to have any merit, it has to be proven. Otherwise it is merely an unproven assertion. Once we recognize this, all of the “scandalous behavior” vanishes away. 

For example, the Pope speaks out on the ecology, the plight of refugees and the death penalty. People acting on the assumption that the Pope is speaking on these issues in this way because he is a liberal—which is the point to be proven in the first place. But if the Pope has any other reason for speaking out on these issues besides a partisan political concern, then the citation of these stands are not a confirmation of his political slant. The ultimate result of the begging the question fallacy in this case is that certain Catholics are assuming the Pope is the enemy of the faith for irrational reasons. If one reads the works of Pope Francis’ predecessors in office, once can see they were not liberal and yet they spoke against the same things that Pope Francis spoke against.

Because people beg the question in assuming the Pope is a liberal/heretic, they assume his words and actions in his US visit and the ongoing synod on the family have a liberal/heretical meaning. So, he didn’t mention abortion directly to the President or Congress—he must be a liberal! He spoke about the death penalty and immigration—he must be a liberal! He wants to find ways to reach out to the divorced/remarried and the people with same sex attraction—he must want to change Church teaching! The Vatican issued a statement indicating that the Pope’s visit with Kim Davis was not as significant as reported—he must be a liberal!

Liberal pope(Many Catholics don’t realize this is bad reasoning even though it is the same as above)

ALL of these arguments have been made and all of them require the accuser that he did these things because he was liberal and not assume that he is liberal and therefore all of his actions have that intention. But, if there is any basis for it other than assume that only a liberal would support those positions, then one must stop making the allegation—the claim is unsupported.

Thus people complaining about the Pope’s visit to America and complaining about the synod need to stop their accusations. They have no basis for their claim. Everything they are working themselves into a rage over comes from assuming there are parallels when there are none and assuming that certain positions can only be explained by a politically leftist Pope. Since the claims cannot be supported, the people who repeat them are using a fallacy, not reason when they attack the Pope.

No comments:

Post a Comment