Monday, April 19, 2010

Whines of Change

I came across a rather sad little web site recently. It shall remain nameless because it's an embarassment for the Catholic Church in general and for the website's cause in particular. Now what was the problem? Was it that decidedly 1970s feel that you got (both in authorship and design)? Was it that it was highly likely to attract spam pop ups from muesli and sandal companies plying their wares to a sympathetic demographic group? Was it that, one suspected, the highest accolade they ever really would want to achieve would be some sort of accreditation from Fairtrade? No actually the saddest thing was some rather shoddy logic. You would have thought that people of this generation would have had the remnants of an education that enabled them to sort the chaff from the wheat at a basic level. Thankfully their 'hit counter', which they seem to be quite proud of, seems to be stuck quite low. They might want to look into that.

Now I'm not the sharpest tool in the box but I did get some early instruction in what we called 'clear thinking' when I was about 10 or 11. It came from a rather radical young Marxist who had found his way into the education system. He was an atheist. I remember him with great affection becuase the logical principles he instilled have served me well over the years. It's given me a bit of a nose for smelling inconsistencies particularly arguments ex nihilo- that is trying to prove a point from the absence of evidence rather than its presence.

Now this web page does have a rather clever feature which is also its downfall. It provides a quick link to what it describes as seven 'indisputable facts' about the particular cause it's promoting. At a cursory view all seven arguments are flawed logically. The first relies on a bad syllogism.  The second relies on the absence of evidence: 'There's nothing to say we can't do what we want to'.  The third is an personal attack on the intellectual capabilities of the 'opposition'; 'There has been shoddy work done by one of their scholars therefore the rest of them can get lumped in the same bucket.' The fourth relies on contested historical evidence. The fifth relies on confused terminology and appeal to a 'latent' concept in the mind of man. The sixth relies on it being the popular world view therefore, by force of numbers, it must be right. The seventh relies on an emotive argument; 'We feel that it is right therefore it must be'.

There is a danger that those of us supporting the Church and it's teaching can fall into this same sort of intellectual laziness. With this comes the danger that we may, with all good intentions, use arguments and support conclusions that just do not stand up to scrutiny. We see quite a bit of this in debate over the problems in the Church at the moment. One set of uncited statistics are thrown as a counterbalance to another. The absence of action is seen as the deliberate intention to subvert. The value of feelings and emotions are given equal standing with hard cold facts. It's almost as if the intellectual treasures of mankind are being thrown to the wind in favour of a war of disinformation. It's not credible to either side.

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