"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Life On The Elliptical–How Preachers And Progressives Use Circular Arguments To Prove A Point

“You can’t give me a C.  I am an A student”

Most of us at one time or another have used circular reasoning to prove a point.  The conclusion is so obvious that it might as well be included in the argument itself. 
"The circular argument uses its own conclusion as one of its stated or unstated premises. Instead of offering proof, it simply asserts the conclusion in another form, thereby inviting the listener to accept it as settled when, in fact, it has not been settled. Because the premise is no different from and therefore as questionable as its conclusion, a circular argument violates the criterion of acceptability." (T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning. Wadsworth, 2001)
God exists because he exists. “Just look around you”, a good Christian might say. “Isn’t this beauty proof that God exists?”

The Bible is the Word of God, and therefore everything in the Bible must be true.
St. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, never begged the question when it came to the existence of God, and laid out his careful, logical proofs in his Summa Theologica.

Image result for st thomas aquinas theologian images
Proof from Motion: Motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality…It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another; and this everyone understands to be God.
Proof from Causality: If there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false.
Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.
Proof from Contingency: We cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity.
This all men speak of as God.
Proof from Grades of Perfection:  The maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things.
Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.
Proof from Finality: We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result…Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.
There have been few logicians like Aquinas, and proving the existence of God has to be one of the most difficult logical challenges ever. Few are capable of that level of intellectual discipline, and most have trouble with solving even the most basic problems.  Many in fact jettison logic entirely and rely on image and emotional instincts to conclude an argument.  Sex, politics, and religion are more matters of impression than logical conclusion, and few people feel the need to use exegetical reasoning. 

There is no reason to question why a man is seduced by a woman. It is enough to say that she is seductive.  To parse, disaggregate, or otherwise analyze one’s attraction defeats the whole purpose of love which is supposed to exist above and beyond reason.

Petrarch popularized the ideal of chivalric love with the notion that such emotion was of a higher order than the contractual arrangements between men and women necessitated by poverty or courtly feudalism.  Men loved women because love was an expression of the most sublime aspects of human nature.  He and other medieval poets never even considered love to be a necessary construct of a more mobile and less penurious life.  Once the economic arguments for marriage could be superseded by more sophisticated expressions of human relationships, there had to be some other central organizing principle, and love fit the romantic bill.

Image result for images petrarch
It was the day the sun's ray had turned pale
with pity for the suffering of his Maker
when I was caught, and I put up no fight,
my lady, for your lovely eyes had bound me.
It seemed no time to be on guard against
Love's blows; therefore, I went my way
secure and fearless-so, all my misfortunes
began in midst of universal woe.
Love found me all disarmed and found the way
was clear to reach my heart down through the eyes
which have become the halls and doors of tears.
It seems to me it did him little honor
to wound me with his arrow in my state
and to you, armed, not show his bow at all.
“I am a great man because I have done great things” is enough for many voters who assume in circular fashion that the conclusion proves the assumption.  No one asks, for example, exactly how the politician managed his success.  Behind many a deal are shady moves, and the real reason why a politician is great is because of his marginal ethics, lack of compassion, or limitless self-interest.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating.  It is good because it is good; and the great buildings that bear the politician’s name are enough proof of his greatness.

A battlefield general may be highly decorated and a great soldier; but how exactly did he win the battles under his command.  Was he a brilliant strategist and tactician; or was his brutality and absolute and amoral will to win the reason? Both may be valid explanations of his abilities, but they have been logically deduced.

Most of us want to believe in something – great men, God, goodness – and therefore will ignore, convolute, or distort reason to justify our assumptions.  Circular logic is part and parcel of the process.

St. Augustine, as great a theologian and philosopher as he might have been, is perhaps best known for begging the question.  When asked how a perfect, all-good God could have created evil, he replied that He hadn’t.  What one perceived as evil was merely the absence of good. 

Image result for images st augustine

In other words he started with the unchallengeable assumption that God was good, and worked his logic around that fact.  It was impossible for him to consider the prospect that God was not good, and so used circular reasoning.  God is good, and a good God cannot create evil despite evidence to the contrary.
Augustine observed (in his City of God)  that evil could not be chosen because there is no evil thing to choose. One can only turn away from the good, that is from a greater good to a lesser good (in Augustine's hierarchy) since all things are good. "For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil--not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked."
Progressives believe in human progress – that humanity is on track to a better, more moral world – despite the overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary.  If history proves anything it is the perpetual territorialism, aggression, and violent self-interest of kings, courtiers, and peasants.  No century has been more peaceful or ‘good’ than the one before; and atrocities are as common today as they were in the 8th century.

The world must be on the path to goodness because man is essentially good, they argue, circuitously. They can offer no proof of this assumption except to turn to Augustine who himself turned logic in circles. 

Not only do progressives use circular arguments to prove a point, their supporters have no trouble in swallowing the bait. There is no way, they say, that human nature is as innate, permanent, and ineluctable as conservatives say; and since they believe, circularly, in the essential goodness of man, they find bits and pieces of positive news to justify their conclusions – a charitable act, a humanitarian gesture, a kind word – and disregard the larger scope of human activity.

Religion is absolute because God exists and God is good.  Going back to first causes is useless, particularly because Aquinas and Augustine have already been over that ground.

The early Christian theologians were pure logicians – Marcion, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement, and Tertullian among them – but they started from the principle that God exists and that Jesus Christ is his only begotten Son.  They did not question what they considered a priori fact, and only constructed logical arguments for what they knew existed.  Christ’s divinity was absolute, they knew, but of what did it consist?  Their work was never on the divinity itself but on its character and substance.  This circularity, the foundation of the Christian faith, has never been challenged.

All this goes to show that faith and belief will always take precedence over logic.  As much as we would like to be that we are profoundly rational animals, we are far from it.  We prefer a priori judgments, received wisdom, and pre-concluded arguments. It is part of our nature.

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