Tag Archives: catholicism

Even the daft find him stupid

A particularly frequent subvariety of argument from authority is the, for lack of a better description, "even sophists find his arguments fallacious" scheme.  The thought is that even people likely to make bad arguments have special authority when they point out a bad argument.

I ran across an instance of this scheme on Balloon Juice.  Here's the whole post:

The National Catholic Reporter calls Obama the more pro-life candidate (via):

There is no doubt Obama is pro-choice. He has said so many times. There is also no doubt Romney is running on what he calls a pro-life platform. But any honest analysis of the facts shows the situation is much more complicated than that.
For example, Obama’s Affordable Care Act does not pay for abortions. In Massachusetts, Romney’s health care law does. Obama favors, and included in the Affordable Care Act, $250 million of support for vulnerable pregnant women and alternatives to abortion. This support will make abortions much less likely, since most abortions are economic. Romney, on the other hand, has endorsed Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan’s budget, which will cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of the federal plans that support poor women. The undoubted effect: The number of abortions in the United States will increase. On these facts, Obama is much more pro-life than Romney.

That’s some good reasoning, but it’s preceded by a defense of Cardinal Dolan that includes Canon Law justification of Dolan paying pedophile priests. In a way, that makes it even more remarkable, since even someone who can defend Dolan for that kind of stuff sees through the Romney/Ryan bullshit.

The last part is the key.  There is indeed something strangely compelling about that kind of reasoning.  But I think on logical grounds this fails miserably.  First, I'm not sure I see bad arguments increasing a person's authority.  Second, it's oddly selective; i.e., usually such a person has no authority, but here that they have come to the conclusion I find palatable I find them convincing.  But perhaps on this occasion their reasoning is also flawed.  My sense then is that this sort of scheme undermines rather than strengthens someone's authority. 

In fairness to mistermix, the author of the post, his primary point is that the reasoning in the cited passage was indeed good.  To that extent my comment here is tangential.  It's just that this reasoning was seen to be given more probabitive force by instances of reasoning poorly (earlier in the article).

Interested in comments on this one.

Bishop Godwin

The Pontifical North American College, or whoever is responsible for instructing America's Catholic Priestly class, must offer a course in Godwinism: everyone with whom you have even a minor disagreement is a Nazi.  This is a move repugnant even to the most stoned college freshman who's just been busted for pot smoking.  For him, at least, the phrase "floor fascist" has some modicum of irony.  

Not so, sadly, for the venerable leaders of the Catholic Church in Chicago.  When a persecuted minority wanted to walk by a Church on the public way, they were the KKK.  Now, it turns out, the requirement that non Catholics have access to birth control in health plans offered by Catholics and Catholic Institutions (save actual Churches and similar organizations), has one Bishop screaming both Stalin and Hitler (from the Chicago Tribune):

“Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care,” Jenky said. “In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama — with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda — now seems intent on following a similar path.”

To me this sends a terrible lesson to the Catholic faithful.  It is not the case that every disagreement with widely neglected Catholic teachings is equivalent to (what they imagine to be) some kind of Nazi or Stalinist assault on their right to practice their faith.

This means, of course, that we can't have rational disagreements about such issues, as everyone knows that the only response to Hitler was war.

And war, as the good Bishops ought to know, is a last resort.  And even it has rules. 


Grounded in logic

The other week the New York Times ran a fawningly long profile of a "big thinking" ultra-conservative Catholic intellectual.  It stressed his powerful Oxford credentials, his Big University Post (at a non-Catholic institution–take that elite liberal institutions!), his influence over Catholic leadership, his ties to Bush, Glenn Beck's admiriation of him, and, most importantly for our purposes, his frequent use of the word "reason" in place of an actual argument.  So powerful his intellect, you see, that Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia, aped his words in a recent speech. 

Even marriage between a man and a woman, Rigali continued, was grounded not just in religion and tradition but in logic. “The true great goods of marriage — the unitive and the procreative goods — are inextricably bound together such that the complementarity of husband and wife is of the very essence of marital communion,” the cardinal continued, ascending into philosophical abstractions surely lost on most in the room. “Sexual relations outside the marital bond are contrary not only to the will of God but to the good of man. Indeed, they are contrary to the will of God precisely because they are against the good of man.

Now I may not be a logician of this fellow's calibre, but I'm trying to think of which principle of logic grounds the union of a man and a woman in life-long monogamous non-divorcing holy Catholic and procreative matrimony.  I'm going to guess that it must be one of those Latin principles, an abstraction, in other words, few could understand.  Maybe it's ex falso quodlibet sequitur

I think, however, it's more likely the principle of petitio principii–begging the question. 

*edited for sense later in the day.