Showing posts with label begging the question. Show all posts
Showing posts with label begging the question. Show all posts

Monday, June 5, 2023

It’s Iimi! A Final Exam

It’s the last day of finals, and Iimi is giving her Oral Logic Presentation on the topic of boycotts. But Ms. Baculum, having some plans of her own, decides to turn it into a discussion that catches Iimi unaware. 


Possible trigger warning: Two panels in this comic (pages 16 + 17) might trouble sensitive viewers… but neither involves material contrary to the Catholic faith.

Post-Comic Notes:

Regarding the last panel, I myself have lost a leg, though under different circumstances (gangrene, not an accident). Ms. Baculum’s dealing with it will be informed by my own experiences. 

As for recusancy, To learn the basics, see this ARTICLE.

A paywall-free article on the report Iimi references can be found HERE.

The text of Queen Elizabeth I in enacting the law of recusancy can be found HERE.


The Washington Post article Iimi refers to on attitudes towards transgenderism is locked behind a paywall. But the information from the poll can be found HERE.


Let’s talk further about the legality of recordings in the story.


Until it became national news (the referenced story is here), I had no idea that the girls recording the teachers in class was illegal. RESEARCH confirmed that it’s a misdemeanor for non-students and a disciplinary act for students in California. Because Anne Baculum was created as a character with moral integrity, I’d probably have written the story differently rather than portray her as doing something unethical. Thus, it became so rarely enforced that older teachers forgot it, and newer ones didn’t know it.


Likewise, Iimi’s parents would have given her other advice than they did. So, the TL:DR of it is, they didn’t do wrong. I just messed up in portraying what was permissible.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

So You Say...

Another day, another manifesto issued by certain Catholics claiming that the Pope is guilty of heresy and calling on the cardinals and bishops to take action against him. There’s nothing new about this one. It’s based on the interpretation of the Pope’s words by a small number of priests and laity—already notorious for their hostility to the Pope in the past—compared to their interpretation of previous Church teaching.

There’s a problem, of course. That problem is these accusers are committing the begging the question fallacy. Their “proofs” that the Pope’s words are heretical is dependent on the unproven assertion that the Pope is a heretic and therefore whatever he says, that goes against their understanding of Church teaching, must be said with the intention of obstinately denying a truth of the Catholic Faith (canon 751). But their assumption must be proven true, not assumed to be true. And here lies the problem. We have to ask the following:
  1. Are their interpretations of the Pope accurate?
  2. Are their interpretation of past teaching accurate?
If the answer to either question is, “No,” (and it is) then these individuals are not defenders of the faith, but blind guides, leading the blind.

When it comes to the interpretation of the Pope’s words, we need to realize that his critics are notorious for relying on out of context soundbites and turning them into radical statements. Do you remember the term “Rabbit Catholic?” Outraged Catholics assumed that the Pope was against large families and pro-contraception. Actually, he was speaking about a woman guilty of providentialism (expecting God to take care of all consequences while refusing to use the legitimate means God provides to avoid the consequences—effectively putting God to the test). This is the sort of thing that gets twisted into “Pope promotes heresy.”

Good scholarship doesn’t do that. When there is a question about meaning, one studies the context of the problematic statements, discovering that there is no error. Just a different way of expressing the truth. 

So, who determines the authentic interpretation of the truth? The answer is the Pope and bishops in communion with him. That doesn’t mean that the Pope makes up whatever he wishes (a common accusation by anti-Francis Catholics). It means that when the Pope teaches—even in the ordinary magisterium—we are obligated to give religious submission of intellect and will (canon 752). We trust that since God protects His Church from error, He will prevent the Pope from making a binding teaching out of error. That doesn’t mean the Pope will be impeccable in the governance of the Church. It simply means that we can trust God to protect us from a morally or intellectually bad Pope—things which I deny this Pope is. This trust is important as there is no way to appeal against the decision of the Pope (canon 1404). Either we trust God to always protect His Church or we admit we can never know when to trust the Church.

Since the signatories of this letter represent no part of the magisterium (none are bishops, one could argue they are not in full communion with the Pope either), we cannot accept their claims to judge the orthodoxy of the Pope. Fr. Nichols O.P. (the only signatory with wide recognition) has written some insightful books on theology, but that does not give him the authority to teach in a binding manner against the Pope. No matter what one may think of the arguments in the letter (I’m not impressed), there is no authority behind it. The letter can’t claim “the Pope contradicts Church teaching.” It can only say, “we think the Pope contradicts Church teaching.”

To which I reply: “So you say. But the Pope has the authority to bind and loose, not you. So I will follow him, not you.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Pope in the Dock: Reflections on an Unproven Accusation

While I am not complacent with the scandals afflicting the Church, neither do I think this is the worst crisis in the history of the Church. I am concerned, however, by the actions of the anti-Francis Catholics who are using this scandal to press what they see as an advantage in  their five year attack on the Pope. In their attempts to target the Pope and bishops which they dislike, they are making proposals which will do lasting damage to the Church carrying out her mission.

As I see it, we ought to treat any accusations against the Pope like we would treat an accusation against a close family member. If someone accused your spouse or child of a crime, you’d say: Buddy, you better make damn sure you have incontrovertible proof of your claims before you go any further. We don’t demand our family members to prove their innocence. We insist that the accusers to prove guilt. Right now, the critics have no proof, incontrovertible or otherwise. Vigano turns out to have gotten his story from Lantheaume (who has refused to talk further on the topic). The National Catholic Register turns out not to have gotten “confirmation” from Benedict XVI, but from an unidentified source. If there were sanctions against McCarrick, they were so secret that nobody seems to know they existed—including Pope Francis.

And that seems to be the problem with the attack on the Holy Father. The allegation is that Benedict XVI imposed sanctions preventing McCarrick from exercising public ministry “in 2009 or 2010.” Pope Francis is then accused of lifting those sanctions against McCarrick and, therefore, stands guilty of coverup. But if anybody can corroborate the story Lantheaume told Vigano, they have not come forward so far. Meanwhile, it seems that—fair or not—Vigano had damaged his reputation as trustworthy in the eyes of the Vatican to the point that, even if there was anything to the sanctions claim, Pope Francis might have found him to be a dubious source of information.

The Vigano letter seems to be conjecture. He thinks he sees cause and effect in the interactions of the Vatican that shows a coverup. But what he calls evidence seems to depend on his assumption that the Pope is guilty of knowingly covering up. But if the Pope didn’t cover up, then his examples are not proof. In logic, we call this begging the question. 

Keeping this in mind, the calls for the Pope to resign are premature. Before we can even discuss this, we have to ask whether the Pope even did what he was accused of. If he did not, then any demands for resignation are not only useless, but harmful to the Church. Only if it is proved that he did this, can we move on to looking at the reasons for his actions and see whether they were an actual coverup or whether it was an error in judgment. Remember that infallibility does not mean that administrative or judicial actions will be free of problems. A Pope can make what he thinks is the best decision on administrating the Church and make a bad decision.

If that’s grounds for demanding a Pope resign, we might as well all jump ship to one of the Eastern Orthodox churches because you will not find a single Pope who was free of sin or mistaken judgment.

So, what if we look further and hypothetically do find malfeasance? (which I DO NOT believe will happen). That will be tragic, but will have no bearing on his authority. Only God can remove a sitting Pope and we still have the obligation to give religious submission of intellect and will when a Pope teaches. In such a case, we can only pray for God to guide the Pope to do the right thing.

But, since the opponents can’t verify Vigano’s claims, we can’t even begin to assume that the Pope is guilty without committing rash judgment. We should pay attention to the Catechism on this:

Where is the attempt to give a favorable interpretation of what the Pope said and did? Where is the attempt to ask his account? Who has given us any more than hearsay and ipse dixit when it comes to determining fault? There are no such attempts. That leaves us rash judgment or, if any accusers speak falsely, calumny.

We must also remember that the Pope is not a criminal in the dock and we are not judges. He is the Vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter. We don’t get the right to refuse to give him obedience or respect because he has been accused.

Pope Francis asked reporters, “Read the statement carefully and make your own judgment.” At this point, my own judgment is there’s no evidence to support the accusations, but there are reasons to question them. In saying that, I don’t make rash judgments of my own. I will leave the assessment of the Pope’s accusers and their motives to God and to those with the authority within the Church.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Who Are You Listening To?

When it comes to dissent—conservative or liberal—in the Church, I’ve noticed one factor. People quit listening to the Church as Mother and Teacher and instead listen to individuals or groups that say what they want to hear about the Church. This transforms the Magisterium into a group with an opinion and elevates the group with an opinion into the Magisterium. The danger of course is that these individuals or groups do not teach with authority. That falls to the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, as well as those the Pope delegates (See Code of Canon Law 752-754). 

These individuals or groups tend to appeal to a higher cause, overlooking or ignoring the fact that Scripture or prior magisterial teaching is not being questioned. What is being questioned is whether these groups are properly interpreting Scripture and Tradition in arguing that a conflict exists and that they must disobey the Church in order to be faithful to God.

What these people are doing is committing the Begging the Question fallacy. Their claims are what have to be proven. But instead, they act as if their assumptions were true and interpret whatever the Church does through that unproven assumption. The problem is the Magisterium of the current Pope and bishops are the ones who determine how Scripture and Sacred Tradition are to be interpreted and applied to the conditions of this time. So any appeal to the Scripture and Sacred Tradition against the Magisterium has no authority whatsoever.

The arguments some use, appealing to certain bishops, cardinals, or popular theologians in the Church against the Pope is the Appeal to Irrelevant Authority fallacy. These individuals do not have authority to overrule the teaching of the Pope. If they teach in opposition to the Pope, it is a personal opinion without authority [†].

Unfortunately, a theology of dissent is being invented that misinterprets history and the words of the saints. Yes, we’ve had Pope John XXII who held a position that was later defined as an error. But the issue was not defined at the time, and he did not teach. He merely gave a homily. Yes, we’ve had Liberius and Honorius I who were suspected of privately holding heresy. But that is disputed and even if true, it was never taught. Yes, we’ve had morally bad Popes like John XII and Benedict IX. But their wickedness was in their personal behavior and not their teachings. Even citing St. Paul rebuking St. Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) is a case of irrelevant authority because this incident involved personal behavior causing scandal, not teaching.

And teaching is exactly what the issue is with Pope Francis. While there is an attempt to take the various levels of Papal documents and draw a line on where they bind, the anti-Francis faction shows itself to be inconsistent. They reject Amoris Lætitia on the grounds that it is “merely” an Apostolic Exhortation. But they also say that we must obey Familiaris Consortio—which is also an Apostolic Exhortation. By denying (wrongly) the authority of one, they logically must deny the authority of the other. We can likewise point out their (rightful) insistence on obeying encyclicals like Humanae Vitae is inconsistent with their refusal to accept Laudato Si [§].

In addition to the inconsistent obedience that coincides with personal preferences, we have to consider the track record of those who allege the Pope is promoting error or confusion. The fact of the matter is the critics have made many dire predictions that turned out to be false. They claimed that the synod on the family would legitimize homosexual relationships. It did not. They claimed that the Pope would ordain women deacons. But Gaudete et Exsultate shows that he does not view the possibility of deaconesses to be on the same level as ordained deacons. 

The fact is, every “controversy” that arose alleging “error,” was disproven by a reading of a transcript of his actual words. The controversies arose from partial quotes ripped out of context (for example, the “Who am I to judge” comment of 2013). Yet people repeat these debunked claims, and when disproved, argue that the Pope is to blame for “not speaking clearly.”

When it reaches this point, the person of good will must start asking questions about the usual suspects making the same mistakes and the same accusations. Why do we give credibility to the angry bloggers and borderline schismatics (see canon 751) when they allege the Pope is in error instead of the successor of Peter who has been given the authority to bind and loose.

And before one says, “that doesn’t happen if the Pope teaches error,” let me point out that the charge of the Pope teaching “error” is unproven. It’s based on the interpretation of those who do not have the authority to contradict the teaching of the Pope who has power over the entire Church and all parts and whose decisions cannot be appealed (canon 3331404). To make the argument that one can reject a “false teaching” by the Pope is to show that the claimant has a fatally flawed understanding of Church teaching.

Nobody who is informed claims that when the Pope gives a homily or holds.a press conference that he is teaching. A Pope can be mistaken about some details (like St. John Paul II kissing the Qur’an because he mistakenly thought it was a token of respect), or express himself poorly (like Benedict XVI and his unfortunate comment on a “gay male prostitute with AIDS” which many misinterpreted as changing Church teaching. A Pope might be unable to remember the details of a CDF study made decades before (like Pope Francis calling for a study on deaconesses). These were mistakes. They were not teaching error.

Yet the critics of the Pope falsely claim he is teaching error in these situations too. And this leads us to the decision we must make. Will we listen to the Pope and give a “religious submission of the intellect and will” that is even required with the ordinary magisterium? Or will we listen to some angry blogger, or a churchman who rejects what the Pope teaches?

When we think about the religious obligation in place since the first century AD, it would be foolish to listen to those who say we can disobey. So each Catholic needs to stop pretending that their disobedience is really a “higher obedience” to God. Our Lord told us that rejecting the Apostles was rejecting Him (Luke 10:16). Since we profess Apostolic succession, Our Lord’s words must apply to the successors of the Apostles as well. 

For two thousand years, the Pope has been the standard of orthodoxy. In the case of bad Popes, they failed to teach when they should have, but they never taught falsely. We can either continue to believe that, listening to the magisterium that interprets how Church teaching is to be applied. Or we can stop believing that, and choose to follow whoever tells us what we want to hear.

But the person who does that is being deceived.


[†] Given how badly Catholic dissenters on social media misinterpret and misrepresent the Pope, it’s only fair to consider the possibility that they also misinterpret the Churchmen they cite against the Pope and these Churchmen do not approve of it. Hence, I have no intention to name or accuse individuals in this case. I leave it to the magisterium to judge their orthodoxy.

[§] The same can be said for Catholics who accept Laudato Si and reject Humanae Vitae.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Fatal Flaw: Thoughts on the Anti-Francis Rebellion

The critics of Pope Francis unrelentingly tell us that he is promoting confusion and error in the Church through either malice or incompetence. They point to certain quotes popularized in the media and unfavorably contrast it with previous Catholic teaching as “proof” of their charge that the Pope contradicts what the Church has always taught. The problem is, when one reads these quotes and previous documents in context, we see that neither justify the critics’ interpretation. Once we recognize this, we see the fatal flaw in the anti-Francis rebellion—that the critics are assuming as true what they have to prove (the begging the question fallacy) and that the texts they cite as “proof” prove nothing at all.

These critics remind me of the anti-Catholic fundamentalists I have encountered over the years. They quote Scripture against the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church but are unaware that Church and Scripture are not in conflict. Sometimes it is a case of not properly understanding Scripture. Sometimes it is a case of ignorance about what the Church teaches. But in both cases, what they call the “plain sense of Scripture” is nothing more than what they think it means.

The same is true of the anti-Francis Catholics. They think, “Who am I to judge?” means an approval of homosexual behavior. They think, “Rabbit Catholics” proves contempt for large families. They think that speaking about compassion for refugees is a deliberate condemnation of the Trump administration. They think that calling for confessors to investigate the level of consent present in the divorced and remarried Catholic is permission for all of them to receive the Eucharist. None of their accusations are true. But these critics who repeat them refuse to consider the possibility of their making an error.

I think these critics indict themselves (see John 9:41) when they say that the Pope is “unclear” or “needs to clarify.” That’s an admission of their interpreting Church teaching or what the Pope said. But, if one realizes that it is a matter of interpretation, that person has an obligation to see if the perceived conflict is a matter of individual misinterpretation. That means looking at how the Church herself understands the teachings—not how individuals or groups understand it [†]. That means we look to the shepherds of the Church, not the preferred website which is notorious for hostility to the Pope. If we don’t find an answer immediately, that doesn’t mean the accuser proved his point. We have to keep searching, trusting that the Church has an answer even if we don’t know it [§].

The problem with the Amoris Lætitia attacks is, as I see it, that certain Catholics have lost sight of (or never learned) the three requirements for mortal sin: Grave Matter, Full Knowledge, and Sufficient Consent. If one of these is lacking, the sin is not mortal—though it remains a serious matter needing correction. The critics I encountered personally focus on grave matter (which nobody denies) and point out that no Catholic should have total ignorance that it is a sin. But they overlook that some sinners may have wound up in their situation without wanting to defy the Church. The Church has recognized this with the alcoholic and the sexual compulsive who want to stop their sins but keep getting dragged back in because of defective consent. The Church has recognized the plight of the Catholic whose spouse insists on using contraception against their own will. The individual has still done serious wrong, but is trying to oppose it (a lack of sufficient consent) and needs the help of the Church in finding an escape from what seems like an impossible situation.

Instead, these critics assume that the Pope is ignoring the words of Our Lord about divorce and remarriage being adultery. They ignore that the confessor has long had the obligation of determining culpability and that this can change (without denying the objective evil) depending on the individual sinner. Pope Francis did not “open the floodgates.” He reminded confessors to investigate the culpability in every case, rather than automatically assume that the penitent deliberately willed to reject the Church with a full understanding as to what it meant. 

The fact that the critics have never, to my knowledge, acknowledged this aspect of moral theology is a sign of the fatal flaw in their rebellion. They focus on what they think the Pope means, while begging the question in assuming that the Pope is either heretical or incompetent. Since they assume but do not prove [¶] that the Pope promotes error, they view the quotes through a distorted lens. The person who does not start with accepting their assumption will not accept the quotes as proving the point.

But instead of trying to prove the point, many argue that whoever refuses to accept the contested assumption is “blind” or a heretic themselves. The argument runs something like this:

Critic: The Pope is a heretic because he doesn’t follow Church teaching.
Me: I think your interpretation of Church teaching is wrong because of X, Y, and Z.
Critic: Then you’re also a heretic or blind to the reality.
Me: How does that make me blind or a heretic?
Critic: Because you don’t follow Church teaching.

The point is, the critic ignores the fact that we challenge his own interpretation, not Church teaching. The critic assumes that a right thinking Catholic will think the same way he does. If someone—even the Pope—does not accept that interpretation, it is “proof” of his being in error.

This is the fatal flaw: The critic errs in interpretation but assumes they are not in error. As long as the Church does not follow what they think the teaching should mean, they see it as “proof” that the Church errs and needs correction. But our opposition to the critics is based on the fact that neither have the authority nor the training [∞] to properly interpret the Church teaching against the Pope and bishops they disagree with.

At this point, I think we must realize that these individuals need our prayers, that they realize that they are making a shipwreck of their faith and need to stop thinking of things as the true faith vs. the Pope.


[†] For example, some critics condemn Amoris Lætitia on the grounds that certain bishops have implemented a “come to the Eucharist if you feel called” policy. But that policy runs counter to the actual text of the Exhortation which tells bishops and confessors to investigate individual cases. People forget that throughout history some bishops and theologians have misrepresented Church teaching to avoid changing wrong behavior. One of the more infamous examples of this were the bishops from the American South before and during the Civil War who portrayed the Papal condemnation of slavery as only a condemnation of slave trafficking from Africa—which the South didn’t do anyway.

[§] As a personal example, during my years at Steubenville, I was doing a paper on the writings of Charles Curran. One of his arguments for changing Church teaching on contraception was that the Church had changed teaching before on moneylending—once forbidding it and later permitting it. I thought his argument sounded false, but I could not find an answer to his argument. Ten years later, I discovered the actual encyclical. In it, Pope Benedict XIV called for an investigation into whether there was a difference between investment and lending to people in need. The condemnation of usury remained unchanged. Curran’s argument was false.

[¶] The whole flaw of this fallacy is that one uses the point that needs proof as “proof” itself of the point. But, if the point is not proven as true, then anything used as “evidence” under that assumption is only valid if the point is first proven. 

[∞] I am referring to the typical social media critic here, not the cardinals who made what I think is a problematic response. Any rebuke of them, I leave to the Holy Father, and do not presume the right to do so myself.

Friday, August 12, 2016

On Church Teaching, Voting, and Abortion

These are fundamental principles: No matter what the Christian does, even in the realm of temporal goods, he cannot ignore the super natural good. Rather, according to the dictates of Christian philosophy, he must order all things to the ultimate end, namely, the Highest Good. All his actions, insofar as they are morally either good or bad (that is to say, whether they agree or disagree with the natural and divine law), are subject to the judgment and judicial office of the Church. 


—St. Pius X, Singulari Quadam [#3]


Some men, indeed do not attack the truth wilfully, but work in heedless disregard of it. They act as though God had given us intellects for some purpose other than the pursuit and attainment of truth.


—St. John XXIII, Ad Petri Cathedram [#17]


Are we willing to live as the Church teaches, regardless of the cost to ourselves? Or will we look at Church teaching to find loopholes that let us do as we will?

If we believe that the Catholic Church is the Church Our Lord created, then it follows that the Catholic Church teaches with His authority. So not listening to the teaching of the Church is not listening to God’s command. This is a reality which is easier to apply to somebody else than it is when we have to obey it ourselves. That’s why I think if we want to encourage people to listen to the Church in great matters, we should listen to the Church on small matters. I don’t mean that in a pharisaical sense of legalism. I mean it in the sense of practicing what we preach. If we grumble at the bishops over relatively minor matters, why should they listen when it comes to harder teachings of morality? In other words, we should live as the Church teaches, testifying that we obey her because we believe God is with her and protects her.

This would be easier if we weren’t affected by original sin. What we want and what God calls us to be are sometimes far apart. This is true in our personal life and social interactions with others. When we want something at odds with what the Church teaches, it’s easy to rationalize playing the Pharisee who uses the letter of the law to avoid the spirit that inconveniences us.

Living as the Church Teaches Means Learning What the Church Teaches

Since our Church has the right and responsibility in determining the right and wrong of our actions, we should seek to understand what she intends in her teachings, not what meaning we can wrest to our own benefit. When the Church teaches we cannot do X, we must not try to find loopholes to evade this command. That’s especially important in an election year. Politicians openly advocate things the Church calls evil. No political party is God’s party. Each fails in some way, and our task is to seek the true good and limit evil when we vote, and speak out when our elected officials choose evil.

The problem is, there are many possible ways to follow Church teaching in the temporal world and we can disagree with each other in some ways without violating Church teaching. There are also acts which violate Church teaching, but people appeal to a false sense of compassion that treats accepting the sin as if it were the same thing as forgiving the sinner. We must avoid condemning the person who obeys the Church but reaches a different plan on the best way to follow. We must also avoid treating disobedience as obedience.

On Abortion: Living as the Church Teaches in a Controversial Election Year

Take the obligation of defending life. The Church makes it clear that abortion is an unspeakable crime that kills an unborn child. No doubt some women are in dire straits and think this is their only choice. We’re called to help those women whether there are government programs or not. But whether or not there are government programs, that does not change the fact that abortion is incompatible with living as the Church teaches and we must oppose it even when we help those women in need.

Our actions in voting and in helping others must reflect the Church teaching that abortion is evil we must oppose. We may not be successful in reversing the legality in a particular four year cycle, but we have the obligation to at least try to limit it (see Evangelium Vitae #73 ¶3) and make it clear to others that, as Christians, we must oppose abortion as a moral evil. We can’t just hope a vote for a pro-abortion candidate will result in more liberal healthcare and a stronger economy so fewer will seek abortions. We must oppose unjust laws that promote it.

As I said earlier, this is easier to apply to others than to ourselves. The teaching of the Church in this area will affect some people more directly than others. If we must defend the good and oppose evil, we can’t support a pro-abortion candidate without a proportionate reason. This will be more of a hardship for a Catholic who supports that candidate or party for other reasons than it will be for one who disagrees with them. That doesn’t mean we must cast our vote for the other major party if they are loathsome to us. If one party supports intrinsic evil and our conscience will not let us support the other major party, we can choose a minor party or write-in to avoid violating what conscience forbids [†].

Living as the Church Teaches Means No Evasions

We can’t seek to evade the teaching of the Church by redefining the issue. That would be like the Pharisees declaring their property qorbon (see Mark 7:10-13) to avoid their obligation to care for their aging parents. For example, one popular tactic is to declare that neither candidate is pro-life, so we are free to choose the pro-abortion candidate on the basis of other issues. The problem is, one has to prove the assertion. We can’t just use it as a proof to justify what we want to do [§]. A Catholic may like the other unrelated policies of a pro-abortion party. A Catholic may loathe other unrelated policies of a party with a platform opposing abortion. But we have to look at the party platforms in terms of what intrinsic evils they support and how that compares to our obligation to live and witness as God commands.

As I mentioned earlier, Catholics who are faithful to the Church can prefer different ways of fulfilling her teachings without sin. Some believe that voting for government programs is part of the obligation of charity. Others believe that these policies cause more harm than help and look for other solutions. So long as neither Catholic is trying to evade their moral obligation, one Catholic does not sin by rejecting the other’s solution. So, to claim that a pro-abortion candidate is the only pro-life choice because he supports social policy that the Catholic hopes will raise the standard of living is false. Likewise, claiming the candidate who opposes abortion is not pro-life either because he opposes those social policies is false.

The reason this is false (though I have no doubt that many Catholics sincerely believe it) is it redefines the right to life to make it meaningless. If we’re talking about abortion, then the candidate’s stance on abortion is relevant. If we’re talking about social justice, then the candidate’s stance on social justice is relevant. But we can’t compare apples and oranges by comparing abortion and social justice and arguing who is lying about their position. 

Avoiding Misuse of the Term “Pro-Life”

That argument is a quagmire because the concept of being “Pro-Life” has become a slogan to support or target a candidate in relation to Church teaching. Depending on the political slant, Catholics interpret it broadly or narrowly, but always in their favor. It is more of a colloquial term. In Church documents, it does not appear before the pontificate of St. John Paul II and is usually used in Church documents to describe the defense of life from attack. To understand the term “Pro-life,” we first have to understand that the term appeared in describing the opposition to the “Culture of Death."

The Culture of Death is always described with reference to abortion and euthanasia. This ideology views some life as having less value than other life, and treating some people as less than human. The Church calls things like abortion, contraception, sterilization, population control, attacks on the structure of the family, and euthanasia part of the culture of death. One can say that the culture of death prizes the rights of the individual or small groups, or idolizes the whole nation at the expense of others.

In contrast, the Church presents the family as culture of life and the way to challenge the culture of death (see Centesimus Annus 39). This culture of life welcomes and supports life from conception to natural death. We must oppose the kind of individualism or ideology that puts the self or the nation above the family. Likewise, we must reject policies which either mandate these things or make them seem like the only choice for desperate people. So, yes, we do have to see whether a policy will leave a woman believing she has no choice but to have an abortion as part of being pro-life. If a government fails here, then we have the obligation to help them. We must be pro-life in this area even if the government is not. 

But where some Catholics go wrong is that their decision to vote for a pro-abortion candidate (for other reasons) seems to put limits on the Catholic Church emphatically condemning abortion as an unspeakable crime. They always manage to justify a vote for these candidates. What gets forgotten is a Catholic cannot support a candidate or party which defends abortion as a right unless they have a proportionate reason that outweighs the evil this party causes in supporting the culture of death. To do so simply contradicts our obligation to defend the family and all human life.

The Church on Unjust Laws

Which brings us to another obligation. The Apostles testified from the beginning that we must obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29) when men make laws that go against God. The Catechism tells us:

2242 The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” “We must obey God rather than men”:49 (1903; 2313; 450; 1901)

When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel.

If we know that a politician or party will abuse their authority and pass laws that violate God’s commands, do we not have the responsibility to block them from taking office by voting against them? If a political agenda is hell-bent on glorifying the culture of death and forcing our compliance (such as supporting abortion and contraception by our taxes), and we will have to refuse obedience, we need to ask why we don’t try to stop them before it gets to that point?


What makes the 2016 elections particularly hard is that both major candidates are loathsome in terms of supporting intrinsic evil in different ways, but one of them will be  President. That means a Catholic has to decide how to limit evil for the next four years. Since the Church has made clear that the right to life is the most fundamental right, and that things which violate that right are the worst in the eyes of God, we cannot vote in a way that gives an intrinsic evil free rein without a proportionate reason—something which is not an opinion or preference, but is opposing an objective evil that is more evil than abortion.

Each Catholic will have to decide what their conscience obliges them to do. This obligation means we must seek understanding on how Church teaching applies to voting this year. Eventually, each of us will have to give an account to God—who knows our hearts—on whether we truly sought to do His will or whether we sought to do our will.

Being a member of the laity, my writing on this blog can't compel obedience. All I can do is ask the reader to consider these moral obligations to seek the truth and follow it according to the teaching of the Church. I also ask that you, the reader, pray for this country that each of us may be open to hear God’s guidance in seeking His will.



[†] We need to remember that a Catholic who votes for a minor party or write in because his conscience forbids him from voting for either major party is not voting for the other major party. In this case, the Catholic does not will the benefit to the other major party. He acts to avoid what seems to be sinful to him.

[§] That’s a logical fallacy called “Begging the Question."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Unfounded Attacks: They're Tragically Fallacious


What’s most tiresome about the attacks against the Holy Father is that they essentially make an unsubstantiated accusation of the Pope seeking to change Church teaching to embrace error. What this boils down to, however, is that the critics are claiming that they have a proper understanding of the faith while that of the Pope or, in many cases, the whole Church is in error and must be opposed. In other words, if the Pope does not behave in the way his critics want him to behave he is considered to be heretical and working to destroy the Catholic faith—though whether he does so through incompetence or malice, the critics have not come to an agreement on.

When challenged on this by defenders, these critics then misrepresent any attempt to disprove their claims as “explaining away” what was said or “claiming infallibility” for every little thing the Pope says or does. I once, not too long ago, had critics accuse me of being blind because, I always defended him and disagreed with their interpretations of the Pope’s words and actions. I find that to be rather alarming: The anti-Francis mindset has reached the point where the accusations are assumed to be true by default, and these critics refuse to consider the possibility that they misinterpreted what the Pope actually said.

The Begging the Question Fallacy and Attacks on the Pope

It’s gotten to the point that the person who defends the Pope is assumed to be sympathetic to the things the Pope is falsely accused of. The claim that the Pope is a bad Catholic is considered to be true, even though the accuser has provided no evidence to justify the claim (just unsubstantiated accusations) based on their begging the question interpretation. And begging the question is the fallacy here. They have to prove that:

  • Their understanding of the Pope’s words is correct.
  • Their understanding of the Pope’s intentions are correct.
  • Their understanding of prior Church teaching is correct when contrasting it with what the Pope says and does.

But these accusations are not proven. They are merely assumed. The Pope is assumed to be guilty and no matter what he may say or do that defends the faith, this will be ignored while whatever sounds strange to them is assumed to be proof that the Pope is a menace to the Church that must be opposed. The problem is, the so-called “evidence” is only evidence if the accusation is true—which has to be proven, not assumed. As Aristotle once put it:

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. (Pr. and Post. Anal. 65.1.1–9)


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

This is a real problem when it comes to Catholics on the Internet today It is simply assumed that the individual interpretation of the Pope’s words and the words of his predecessors are correct and it is simply assumed that differences perceived between these interpretations is proof that the Pope intends to change the teaching of the Church. These assumptions are held as true when the individual interprets the words and actions of Pope Francis are heretical—but if the assumption is false, these are not proofs. 

That, in a nutshell, is the “Emperor has no clothes” moment of the accusation.

Who Are We to Believe? Ipse Dixit claims, not Facts, are the Source of the Accusations

Once we see these attacks are based on the perception of the critics, we can ask ourselves: What gives them the right to make this determination to judge the Pope a heretic and those who defend him of also being heretics or dupes? We can make this challenge because the attacks on the Pope are based on the personal interpretation of the Church documents—but the personal interpretation of these documents are not an authoritative interpretation. In challenging their citation of St. Pius V or the Council of Trent, we are not rejecting the authority of that Pope or that Council. We are rejecting the authority of the person who claims that their individual interpretation of these documents is more accurate than the interpretation by the current magisterium.

Such allegations that the Pope is heretical are ipse dixit (Latin: 'he himself said it’) allegations. That is to say, a “dogmatic and unproven statement” (COED) or “an assertion made but not proved” (Merriam-Webster) made by an individual. The critic of the Pope asserts that the Pope has taught contrary to one of his predecessors. The question is, “according to whose interpretation?” Who has the authority to determine whether the cited text means what the accuser says it means in determining whether heresy has been committed?

Inigo ipse dixit

The answer is the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. They are the ones who determine the application of the teachings of the past and how they apply to the problems of the present. They are the ones who distinguish the doctrines which cannot be changed from the disciplines which can be changed, as well as how and when/if they can be changed. As canon law puts it:

can. 751† Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.


can. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.


can. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.


can. 754† All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.


 Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247–248.

Now it may be argued that I am not practicing what I preach, citing a Church document without the authority to do so. I would deny this charge. I cite the canon law to show who the Church decrees has authority to teach in her name, while recognizing that I do not have the authority to anathematize those who disagree with me or to demand that the Pope or bishops apply their authority in a specific way.

Ultimately, ipse dixit is a misapplication of who has authority to make a decree. One may have the authority in a limited sphere to decide questions relevant to the situation. For example, it is the judge, not the lawyer, who has the authority to rule whether a legal argument has the force of law. However, outside of the judge’s sphere of authority, any decree made by the judge lacks authority.

Misunderstanding and Misrepresentations: Attacking a Teaching That Was Never Made in the First Place

Of course, that brings us to another problem. Someone may try to poke a hole in my analogy of the judge by pointing to the terrible abuses of judicial authority taking place in America today. They may point out that infamous Supreme Court rulings like Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Obergefell and say that the Supreme Court had no authority to make such rulings (and in doing so, they would be correct) and then claim that the Pope is trying to make similar decrees.

But when dealing with this argument, one has to compare what the Pope has said with what was alleged. If what is alleged does not equal what was said, then we have a misrepresentation. But since the misrepresentation does not equal what was said, attacking the misrepresentation does not refute the argument. This is the Straw Man argument: “a weak or imaginary opposition (as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted.” In other words, a misrepresentation of what was really said.

The pontificate of Pope Francis has constantly been beset by straw man arguments. The most infamous of these misrepresentations is the quote of “Who am I to judge.” Both liberal promoters of “same sex marriage” and conservative critics of the Pope interpreted that statement as if he was sympathetic to treating homosexuality as being no different than heterosexuality. Liberals were encouraged by this “change.” Conservatives were outraged. But there was no “change.” The Pope was not making a moral statement about a sinful act. He was making a statement about a priest who was rumored to have a notorious past (but had since repented) and answering a question over whether he was to be fired over these reports.

What Pope Really Said

In other words, a truly Catholic view of sin and repentance was misrepresented as a change of Church teaching. To attempt to attack the Pope on the grounds of his saying “Who am I to judge,” is to attack a straw man. His words did not mean what they were portrayed to mean. Yet, that did not prevent his foes from spending his entire pontificate so far in accusing him of wanting to change Church teaching.

Do We Really Know a Man By the Company He Keeps? Not Always: The Guilt by Association Fallacy

The opponents of the Pope insist they have not misinterpreted him. They point to the scandalous statements made by Cardinal emeritus Kasper and Cardinal Daneels on divorce/remarriage and on “same sex marriage” and how they invoke mercy. They then point out that the Pope, too, has emphasized mercy in how to deal with people in a situation of divorce/remarriage or with same sex attraction. Therefore, it is assumed that the Pope shares the scandalous views of Kasper and Daneels and wants to change Church teaching.

However, the fact that the Pope speaks of mercy and Cardinals Kasper and Daneels invoke mercy does not mean they invoke mercy with the same end in mind. This is the Guilt by Association fallacy. This fallacy judges an idea by the bad character of an individual supporting it. For example, Jozef Stalin supporting a strong police does not mean all who support a strong police want to do so in order to enable a police state. Even the most vile people in history have happened to agree with ideas that happen to be true, and to recognize that truth does not mean endorsing abuses one attempts to justify in its name.

So to try to link Pope Francis to the ideas of Kasper and Daneels because of the invocation of mercy does not prove the point that they are linked. The attempts to do so are actually an attempt to smear the Pope because Kasper and Daneels hold problematic ideas that uses similar rhetoric.

When We Do Not Know if a Thing is Happening, That is not Proof of the Opposite: The Arguments from Silence and Ignorance

Another attack involves the idea that if I am unaware of something, the opposite is true. This one can be illustrated by a Facebook debate I once had. When the Pope issued a statement on social justice, a critic replied, “Well, why doesn’t he say something about the suffering Christians in the Middle East?” I replied that he had and I provided a link to the statement. This woman was startled, having no idea that he had spoken out. She had assumed that because she had heard no reports of the Pope’s pleas for assisting the suffering Christians, that the Pope did not say anything about it.

That is the Argument from Ignorance fallacy. Assuming that one’s lack of knowledge about an event means that the event did not happen. It is false because we are not omniscient beings. There can be things we do not know.

Another fallacy is similar: The argument from silence. This argument assumes that because there was no refutation to what was alleged or no known evidence to refute the allegation, the allegation must be true. This often happens when people assume that the lack of public action against a public sinner means that there was no action taken at all against the sinner or even that this is proof of the Pope’s sympathy for the sinner’s views. But that does not follow. The Pope can interact with a person behind the scenes, and we might never hear of it. So the lack of a public action ≠ no action taken. Nor does it mean “sympathy for the malefactor."

In other words, a lack of evidence is simply that—a lack of evidence. Not evidence in favor of the opposite. Only evidence in favor of the opposite is evidence in favor of the of opposite.


I could have come up with many more examples of logical fallacies present in the attacks on the Pope. Indeed, I keep wanting to squeeze in more like No True Scotsman and Non Sequitur. As well as the formal fallacies like Affirming the Consequent and Denying the Antecedent. When it comes down to it, the Appeal to Antiquity is very common in radical traditionalist circles. But eventually that leads to having a book length treatise instead of a blog article.

But regardless of how many fallacies I discuss, the point boils down to this. The attacks challenging the orthodoxy of the Pope have no basis in fact and they have no basis in reason. The reasoning they use cannot support the allegations made. The result of this fact means that the allegation against the Pope cannot be proven and therefore must cease to be repeated as if it were proven.

Proof of an accusation requires a clear demonstration that a fact is true and that it is relevant to the charge at hand. When we cannot make these demonstrations, we cannot claim they are proven. But when it comes to the Pope and his detractors, those who dislike him cannot demonstrate that the charges of heresy are true and they cannot demonstrate that the facts they cite are relevant to the accusations they make.

Catholics need to be aware of the fact that these attacks have no basis of truth to them, because when a point is claimed over and over, some people begin to believe that they must be true, because they hear it “everywhere.” Others become demoralized because they are tired of hearing the same claims over and over and wonder whether it is worth fighting anymore. We need to remember that logically fallacious arguments cannot demonstrate the proof of their claims, and that the attacks against the orthodoxy of the Pope, without exception, are logically fallacious. 

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.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Reflections on an Anti-Catholic Attack


Longtime readers should be aware of my favorite definition of truth and falsehood, according to Aristotle: To say of what is, that it is or to say of what it is not is to speak the truth. While that is not all there is to the concept of truth, it is an important point. We have to say what is true about a thing, whether we agree or disagree with a position. Otherwise, if we try to refute a position by speaking falsehood (saying of what is that it is not, or of what is not, that it is) about it, we prove absolutely nothing at all.

That means that in refuting something we should speak the truth about it, whether it is about Nazism, about Communism, about racism, about conservatism or liberalism. It applies to religions as well. If we are going to reject something as being wrong, we should do so by showing why the truth about it is repugnant, and not speak falsehoods about it to deceive people away from it.

Anti-Catholicism Does Not Speak The Truth

That is why I find religiously motivated anti-Catholicism to be so perplexing. Such individuals profess to believe in God and to follow the teachings of Christ—but have no qualms whatsoever about speaking falsely about the Catholic Church. Common tactics are misrepresenting teachings, misrepresenting history, misrepresenting Scripture and distorting the defenses of the Catholic faith. 

Now, it should be clear that if one believes that Catholicism is wrong and, out of a misguided sense of goodwill, wants to lead Catholics out of the Church, they should strive to understand what the Church actually believes on a subject and, with that accurate knowledge, investigate whether the Catholic belief contradicts the Scriptures in context. But that is precisely what is not being done.

Instead, the common tactic is to take a Catholic teaching that has been so frequently misrepresented that people no longer question whether the assertion is true. Then contrast that distorted teaching against a specially selected verse of Scripture. Then argue that the discrepancy shows that Catholicism is evil and must be opposed.

One Must Use Authoritative Sources When Investigating Something

If I were to write a paper on quantum physics, what would you want to know before accepting my conclusions? The first thing would be to determine whether my assertions and research were accurate. If I was uninformed about the topic or, if I was uninformed about the fundamentals, my conclusion wouldn't be worth the paper it was printed on. Any truth in the paper would be strictly coincidental, and not a reliable guide. So, when we want to learn the truth about something, we go to the sources that are authoritative. For example, we go to NASA and not to the National Enquirer when we want to learn accurately about what was discovered on Pluto. Likewise, we don't ask Planned Parenthood or NARAL to explain the reasons why people oppose abortion.

This logically follows in other areas as well. If one wants to refute Islam intelligently, one has to know what the Qur'an says. If one wants to intelligently refute Mormonism, one has to know what the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price say—because the individual Muslim or Mormon is going to write you off as an idiot if it becomes apparent that you don't understand what they believe.

Likewise, when one wants to know what the Catholic Church believes, one doesn't go to an anti-Catholic site or an anti-Catholic theologian. One goes to an source which Catholics acknowledge as having the authority to say: "THIS is what we believe." In doing so, we have to interpret the source according to the intention of the authority—not what someone thinks it means based on their own (often uninformed) readings.

So, if one wants to know what the Church believes on a subject, one goes to a source which the Church has approved. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When one wants to know what the Pope meant in a soundbite, one goes to the Vatican website and gets the whole interview or address in context. One studies the Catholic faith to see whether the accusations made against her are accurate or not. They should NOT go to Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Spurgeon, Gerstner, Sproul or Barth. 

This is common sense. If a person relies on sources which are based in hostility, the first question to be asked is whether the hostility blinds the judgment or not. Remember, there are a lot of times people have misinterpreted another's intention and held a grudge which was based on a misunderstanding on the grounds that a person refused to believe goodwill on the part of that which he or she opposed.

One Must Consider the Agenda of Those Who Attack the Church

That must be remembered. When it comes to Catholicism, there is a lot of hostility from former members. At various times, groups have broken away from the Church. Such actions are based in opposition. Was the opposition justified? There is a lot of propaganda used to exaggerate the corruption in the Church to make it appear that the entire Church taught heresy and was out for malicious self-benefit. But often the people who made such claims had a vested interest in justifying their schism—they needed to make it look as if the Church was teaching falsely.

The problem is, when someone takes the worst possible elements about a person and exaggerates them, you can make anybody look bad—and some have gone so far as to try to slander Jesus Himself. So, we need to remember that we do not accept what a person says about their enemy simply on their own say-so (that's the ipse dixit logical fallacy). When one makes an accusation, proof is required.

But proof is not the same thing as assertion. Imagine a trial where all the evidence presented was only interpreted by the prosecutor. How likely is the accused to get a fair hearing? If you answered "not likely to be fair," you are correct. (if you answered "likely to be fair," perhaps you might prefer the legal systems of Iran or North Korea). So, when it comes to seeking to refute the Catholic Church and lead people out of her, the right way to do it is to study the Church teaching so that the evidence presented is evidence that the Catholic will say, "Yes, this is true." The wrong way to do it is to make claims which the informed Catholic will say "You are either deceived or lying."

And that's the thing about the Catholic faith. When one actually does the research and presents the truth about the Catholic faith, it cannot be refuted. One can honestly say "I disagree with the Church!" (there's a vulgar but accurate saying about opinions and posteriors which I won't repeat here), but one cannot honestly say "the Church is teaching error!"

Even the Devil Cites Scripture (Matthew 4:1-10)—So Check the Context

And that brings us to the next point. The whole attack on Catholicism from a Christian perspective depends on an individual interpretation of the Bible—generally from the assumption that Protestantism (in whatever form) is true—which requires us to ask "Why should we believe your interpretation of the Bible and not mine?" Remember, there are all sorts of ways to make a Bible verse fit whatever you want—look at the denominations that try to justify "Same sex marriage" for example.

So when an anti-Catholic tries to contrast Scripture with Catholic teaching, we have to ask:

  • Have they properly understood the verse of Scripture?
  • Have they properly understood the Catholic teaching?

Because the fact is, while the Bible is without error, that does not make the individual interpreter infallible—again, remember the denominations which justify "same sex marriage." If the Plain Sense of Scripture was so easy to find, then Lutherans and Zwinglians should have agreed on the meaning of the Eucharist, while the Presbyterians and Baptists should agree on the meaning of Baptism. The fact is, they don’t.

See, the Catholic accepts the authority of Scripture. That's a plain statement of fact. What the Catholic rejects is blindly accepting every personal interpretation that comes down the pike about what verses mean. If one wants to sling verses against the Church, expect us to take offense when those verses are taken out of context or are misapplied against the Church.


There is a whole raft of objections against the Church, and Catholics have been refuting these claims since the beginning of the Protestant schisms in the 16th century. Basically, it is a case of the same false accusations—that we worship Mary, statues, saints, the Pope—which Catholics emphatically reject as false. The attack is essentially the logical fallacy of begging the question. The opposition to Catholic practices have always depended on a misinformed understanding of what is actually being done and an overly literalistic interpretation of Scripture. 

The person of good will who thinks Catholicism is wrong and wants to “save” us from it has to recognize that God is truth and opposes lies. One who repeats falsehood is either deceiving or deceived, depending on whether the person knows the claim is false or whether the person never bothered to investigate the truth of the accusation. Since every person has the obligation to speak truthfully, the person of good will has to stop repeating false claims about the Church. This applies to false history and misrepresentations of history. 

God forbade false witness, and when one feels the need to speak against something, they have the obligation to seek the truth first, because even when acting out of ignorance, slander/libel does bear that false witness. It stands to reason that if we love God, we will seek to live in a way pleasing to Him, and that means not speaking falsely.

Postscript for Catholics

One of our responsibilities in defending the faith against those who attack it is not to automatically accept what those who attack the Church claim. Many anti-Catholics sound quite confident when they say that what we believe contradicts the Bible, but their confidence relies on believing certain stock phrases are true. We have the obligation to learn our beliefs—not just what we believe, but why we believe it. When we understand these things, we will not be led astray by spurious arguments that depend Catholics being ignorant about what they believe. Remember, to pray and to study

Saturday, July 4, 2015

When Law is Based on Logical Fallacies: Christian Bakeries and Begging the Question

After Obergefell, we all knew this was going to happen but we hoped it wouldn’t. An Oregon bakery who refused to provide a “wedding” cake back in 2013 for a lesbian couple because of a religious belief was fined $135,000. The basis of this decision is that the couple who runs the bakery “unlawfully discriminated” against the plaintiffs. Reading the articles on the topic and the comments down below said articles, the widespread belief is that the bakery deliberately discriminated against the couple on account of their sexual orientation. So, that is the assertion to be proven.

The problem is, nobody attempts to prove the charge that discrimination and bigotry were the motive—the fact that the Kleins opposed "same sex marriage" is seen of proof of bigotry. Any other possible motive such as Christian moral ethics is automatically rolled back into the original charge of discrimination. The only way that one can avoid being guilty of bigotry in the eyes of the law and the media is to support “same sex marriage."

I imagine Aristotle would be appalled. What the government is operating under is nothing more than the begging the question fallacy. A principle is assumed to be true when it actually needs to be proven. Thus whatever action is done, it is assumed (but not proven) to be done on account of that principle. Aristotle put it this way:

[W]henever 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,” (64.2.25–65.1.9) in The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross, trans. A. J. Jenkinson, vol. 1 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1928).]

In other words, with all the cases that allege “discrimination” against same-sex couples, these cases assume facts that have not been proven and all the examples cited as “proof” depend on the claim being proven true—which it has not been. In other words, instead of our legal tradition of “innocent until proven guilty,” this begging the question stands it on its head, making the Christian business owner “guilty until proven innocent."

What is happening here is very much akin to what St. Justin Martyr spoke against in the 2nd century AD:

For from a name neither praise nor punishment could reasonably spring, unless something excellent or base in action be proved. And those among yourselves who are accused you do not punish before they are convicted; but in our case you receive the name as proof against us, and this although, so far as the name goes, you ought rather to punish our accusers. For we are accused of being Christians, and to hate what is excellent (Chrestian) is unjust. Again, if any of the accused deny the name, and say that he is not a Christian, you acquit him, as having no evidence against him as a wrong-doer; but if any one acknowledge that he is a Christian, you punish him on account of this acknowledgment. (First Apology, Chapter IV).

Like 2nd century Rome, people assume from the fact that a person believes that a marriage can only be between one man and one woman as “proof” of his being a bigot without investigating into his motive for acting. Let’s restate that to show the injustice: Instead of investigating each individual accused to see if charges of wrongdoing are valid, the Christian is presumed to be guilty. Like 2nd century Rome, we have made Christian belief a crime where the only defense is to renounce that Christian belief. In effect we have a situation here which is remarkably similar to Ancient Rome—where those who refuse to follow edicts they believe to be morally wrong can be punished for doing so in spite of the fact that the Constitution recognizes freedom of religion as a right the government cannot violate.

Even an anti-Christian should recognize this: once we accept this as a valid tactic to use against those we dislike, it becomes easy for others to use it as a tactic against their enemies, using the same fallacy and the same injustice, unless one rejects expedience and requires judgments to be based on justice—instead of using the legal system and bureaucrats to punish those who are unpopular.

This is the danger of making begging the question into a precedent to judge Christians who say “I will not do what goes against my obligation to know, love and serve God.” If you will not listen to our moral objections, then at least behave rationally and realize that justice must be based on proving intolerance in each case and not merely assume that the belief is based on intolerance.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Deadliest (Logical) Error

If I had to choose the greatest error of reasoning that leads people to false conclusions and accompanying troubles, it would be the set of fallacies that make the assumption that certain things were true when they actually need to be proven. Sometimes, this is deliberately done, when someone engages in sophistry to justify a position and make opponents look bad. But many times, this is done simply because an individual assumes that there is a link between two things that does not actually exist. In fact, an assumption is something that is accepted as true, but without proof.

I think it’s a shame that the West has forgotten the Christian and Classical writings she was once based on, because—despite the propaganda which is determined to make the ancient and medieval times seem primitive and ignorant—they knew many things about reality that we have forgotten. Take Aristotle. He wrote over 2366 years ago about how people make this error.

Now begging the question […] 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,”  64.2.30–65.1.9 in The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross, trans. A. J. Jenkinson, vol. 1 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1928).]

In other words, people make an assumption that the existence of certain incidents prove the point they want to make, but those incidents are all interpreted by the assumption that belief is true. when the accuracy of the claim is being questioned in the first place. One common example of this error is the canard that the only reason that can explain opposition to “same sex marriage” is “homophobia” and the only reason for opposition to contraceptives is a “misogynistic” attitude from bishops—and if they weren’t celibate, then teaching would be different. If one were to actually seek out what the Church taught, they would see that her motives are not the motives people claim she holds them for.

But this argument fails to examine the basis of Church teaching, that the existence of every Catholic teaching that says that the sexual act is only validly practiced in the marriage between one man and one woman where the openness to life is not violated and the spouse is not reduced to an object of pleasure. The Catholic teaching on the substance of the marital act rejects contraception, fornication, adultery, homosexual acts, rape, etc., because she teaches “This is what sex is for, and practices which reject this view cannot be done.” One can choose to accept or reject the Catholic teaching, of course, but to reject such teaching on the grounds of “homophobia” or “misogyny” are false grounds—because we deny that we hold our teachings for these motives.

Another common attack against the Church is based on the belief that the Church holds a teaching because of the political leaning of the men who are bishops and the Pope. Thus political liberals attack the bishops of being the “Republican Party at prayer,” on the grounds that opposition to abortion and “same sex marriage” are “conservative” positions. At the same time, political conservatives attack the Pope and bishops for speaking out on social justice issues like immigration, economic justice and ecology. The Pope is called a liberal, a Marxist, a Modernist, or a naïf who is “falling for” liberal propaganda.

But the premise is what needs to be proven—that opposition to sexual immorality or abortion is “conservative” and social justice is “liberal.” If the Pope or bishops have a motive which has nothing to do with American political categories, then the accusation has no basis. Again, every case cited which “proves” the Church is politically motivated is actually assuming the claim which has to be proven.

What is overlooked is the fact that the Church operates from the motive that she believes herself called to preach the Gospel to all nations, baptizing and teaching people to keep God’s commandments. She has been teaching these things long before Republicans, Democrats or Marxists ever existed. Try reading St. John Chrysostom on the obligation to the poor, for example. He lived over 1500 years ago and taught about the Church teaching in such a way which would be unpopular to some Americans today. Likewise, the Church Fathers who spoke about sexual immorality and abortion that was as widespread as the practices today. The motive was not to persuade members of the Roman Empire to “vote Republican.” It was to persuade individuals to repent and believe in the Gospel.

Ultimately, the attacks against the teaching of the Church tend towards making assumptions about the motives and intentions about the people who implement them. The individual who opposes these teachings alleges bad will, but never considers the possibility that there could be another option. Sure, we can get a member of the Church who does dissent and claims to teach “truth” in opposition to the magisterium, but it is wrong to assume that unfamiliar behavior is willful disobedience. We need to consider other options—of misunderstanding on our part, of a lack of information, of a mistake in judgment etc. 

If we refuse to consider whether the assumptions we make are true, we run the risk of going very far astray from our faith, making a shipwreck while considering ourselves to be sailing smoothly.