The difference if makes

There is much good discussion below on the topic of faith. Go visit it here.

It’s been a while since I posted and I thought I’d ask if anyone thinks the following two comments are different.


>As John Edwards put it most starkly and egregiously in 2004: If John Kerry becomes president, Christopher Reeve will walk again.

And this:

>Christopher Reeve just passed away. And America just lost a great champion for this cause. Somebody who is a powerful voice for the need to do stem cell research and change the lives of people like him, who have gone through the tragedy. Well, if we can do the work that we can do in this country — the work we will do when John Kerry is president — people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk. Get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.

How many ways are these different?

8 thoughts on “The difference if makes”

  1. I only glanced at the Media Matters page, but they seem to focus on the dropping of the antecedent in the quoting (“If we can do the work…”). And this seems the problem in Krauthammer’s original October 15 2004 article, as well.

    I think, perhaps, more harm to the meaning may have been done by the dual meaning of “like,” in the phrase “people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk.” It could mean, as Drudge took it, that a) people such as AND INCLUDING Reeve are going to walk, or merely that b) unnamed people in conditions similar to that in which Reeve is now will one day walk.

    But since you mentioned “faith” in your lead-in, I think you may be wondering whether that consequent was unjustifiably hopeful (undue faith in the march of science?). To this I would say that it’s poorly phrased rhetoric at best and perhaps a bit overstated.

  2. One more thing about the basic logic of Krauthammer and Drudge’s distortion: Christopher Reeve was dead, as Edwards acknowledged at the beginning of his remark. He didn’t say he’d be raised from the dead, and then walk again.

  3. i suppose we might chalk this one up to faith in science–but is this really faith? science has demonstrated the ability to develop complex cures before, why not now? i suppose that is faith, but is it atheistic faith? i what i mean is, is faith in one absoute discipline–science–not setting up science as a deity? at the least it seems to be the abandonment of one supreme authority–God–for another–science. even if we don’t call it God, it still seems to be much the same sentiment…

  4. Krauthammer clearly equates his simplified conditional to the one Edwards gives. Edwards’ conditional was only one line long. Why would he need to condense it further, except to manipulate into his favor? The two conditionals are clearly not equivalent, since the antecedents and consequents of both are neither expressing the same proposition.

    One definition of faith is “to trust.” It seems clear that Edwards is expressing a trust in the progress of medical science. Also, I believe that this is a misplaced trust since any medical scientist will tell you that the reason that embryonic stem research is important is because there appears to be a POTENTIAL that it could lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of some chronic diseases. This potential is far from certain. Another definition of faith is “belief without evidence.” Edwards’ claim also seems to follow this definition because he clearly is holding a belief without evidence. Of course, this case differs a bit from the religious belief cases because the appropriate evidence could be gathered to either confirm or deny his belief. My question: is this faith in the progress of medical science like the faith in religious belief? Both clearly involve trust, but it seems that faith in religious belief is supposed to justify the religious beliefs. Is Edwards’ faith in the progress of medical science acting to justify his belief in medical science? Edwards’ belief could be justified in some other way (through evidence). I would argue that Edwards is merely acting irrationally by asserting such an unjustified belief. I do not believe that those who have faith in their religious beliefs wish to have such an outcome. They want to claim their beliefs (without evidence) are justified. Their faith is supposed to play some role in this justification. Therefore, Edwards’ faith in the progress of medical science is not the faith demonstrated by religious believers.

  5. Matt K, i could not agree more. the distinction between trust and faith cannot be more at the center of this debate.

  6. I was going to comment on how I had no intention of raising questions of faith vis a vis stem cell research. But the discussion has taken on a life of its own, one I’m loathe to abort and one I find interesting and relevant. That said, Edwards might be described as having a kind of trust or faith in the potential for certain research outcomes (as MattK rightly points out). The background of his claims however–the success of empirical science at solving problems such as frequent urination, dry eye, and restless leg syndrome, however, provide a kind of justification for Edwards’ faith quite unlike that of some or many religious believers–who have faith in the existence of objects unprovable or as yet unproven. So I think Edwards faith or trust belongs to a different category from that of the religious believer. So I suppose I agree with MattK’s comment (except the part that claims Edwards’ is acting irrationally).

  7. Is the Edwards quote still problematic if it’s toned down from its rhetorical vigor with an adverbial modifier directly acknowledging the probability? I.e.,

    If we do the research then “people like Christopher Reeve are [very probably] going to walk.”

    That seems potentially justifiable–though, for the record, I’m not a cellular biologist. Yet.

  8. There can’t be any question that Edwards is very optimistic in his assessment of the potential for success in stem cell research. Of course, to his credit, he never said the people with conditions like Reeve’s would get up and walk while John Kerry was President. He just claimed they would walk at some future time, granted Kerry’s endorsing and supporting stem-cell research. All he is saying then is that Kerry’s being President is a sufficient condition for their walking due to progress in stem cell research at some future time. So if we want to nitpick, we can nitpick the other way as well.

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