What Counts as Evidence?

I have already complained about the assumed powers of Americans to interpret and read signs (or artifacts), now I raise question about the ability to make reasoned arguments based on evidence. Here’s one example:

Chuck Todd channeled the Democratic Party talking points of the hour as he sought to attribute blame for the El Paso massacre to President Trump. Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was on hand to represent the administration. The look on Mulvaney’s face when Todd turned to him said it all (video below).

Todd posed a political accusation as something like a self-evident truth: “You don’t accept the fact that the president’s rhetoric has been a contributing factor at all?”

Todd warmed up for another question with a tendentious argument: “In fairness [sic], the president has spent the last month on Twitter stoking racial resentment. You can try to rationalize…”

What is important to see is that President Trump is bigoted, unpresidential, swinish, and winds lots of people up on Twitter. He does all of this seemingly intentionally. But none of that shows that he was even 20 to 30 percent responsible for the shootings last weekend. On the other hand, the failure of journalists to maintain reasonable standards has enabled #woke pastors to attribute shootings to covenant theology. The ties between media coverage and social justice pastor are likely much closer than those between POTUS and terrorists.

But in other spheres, seemingly less consequential, thresholds for evidence are much higher. Take “proving” the effects of civic institutions:

“unlike philanthropic investments in education and health, investments in our shared civic assets are rarely measured in ways that demonstrate their true impact. After a new park or library is built, it may be required to share data on the increase in visitors but not much else. No one asks: How are the users of this space benefiting? What benefits are surrounding neighborhoods reaping? And what impact did this investment have on our larger societal goals?”

That is right. Funders want data on impact, and the data we typically provide is irrelevant. We are asking the wrong questions. So, what is Marquis’ response to this crisis? Address the “evidence gap.” Rather than lament, oppose, and contest the growing infatuation with metrics, the Civic Commons project seeks to build “a new rationale,” a new measurement system to demonstrate the value of public spaces and assess their contributions to communities.

Although this piece expresses discouragement about establishing more hurdles for the Reimagining the Civic Commons project, at least it shows that some people are skeptical and need to be convinced.

Hooray for reason!


Instead of a Shrug, Concern

James Schall has a concern about Pope Francis’ apparently intentional ambiguity:

The “concern” is not so much to “prod” the good Holy Father into answering his mail. Others have tried this approach and failed. Rather it is to articulate the core “concern” that many normal people have about their Church under Pope Francis’ leadership. The Argentine pope certainly attracts crowds and generous media attention. He is seen kissing little babies, waving, smiling, and talking earnestly with almost anyone from scientists to politicians to mullahs and rabbis. We all recall his visit with the late Fidel Castro.

Pope Bergoglio has been on some twenty travels out of Italy and all over the known world. He dutifully attends to papal liturgical, diplomatic, bureaucratic, and ceremonial functions. At almost eighty, he seems full of energy and zest. He appears in public to enjoy being the pope. He even gets annoyed. He is human. The people he seems to like the least are practicing Catholics and the poor ecclesial bureaucrats who have to do all the thankless grunt jobs in the Church. He certainly has a good press. The crowds at papal audiences seem down, while observers do not yet detect any remarkable “Francis effect” in increased vocations, conversions, or Mass attendance.

But none of these issues seems to be what most concerns people. We are used to maintain that the principle of contradiction binds us to the truth of things. Catholicism is a religion that takes mind seriously. Revelation and reason do not contradict each other. These affirmations about reason and revelation indicate a certain confidence in our Catholicism. When spelled out, what the faith teaches makes sense in all areas. We can articulate what we are talking about without claiming that we grasp absolutely everything about the mystery of being. In fact, we claim that we do not understand everything in all its intelligibility. We do not confuse ourselves with the gods.

What we can figure out by ourselves makes sense also. We hold that what was revealed by Christ still holds and was intended to do so over time. Among these teachings and practices that were revealed was that of the consistency over time of the content of revelation.

Given Roman Catholicism’s understanding of reason and revelation, why put all of your eggs in the papacy basket? Schall’s understanding of Christian truth is one that Protestants share (mainly). His papalism does not follow in practice or theory:

In this tradition, the Jesuit theologians, Francisco Suarez and Robert Bellarmine, at least considered the problem of a hypothetical pope who did not affirm what had been explicitly handed down. In general, they held that a pope who might enunciate any heretical position would cease ipso facto to be pope. But this was an opinion. The one or two instances in the history of the Church, when a given pope did state something dubious, were usually considered, on examination, to be merely private opinions or not taught infallibly. So the consistency record over time is pretty impressive from that angle.

In this light, the “concern” that exists today is whether the promise to Peter that what Christ did and held would be kept alive in its fullness. The Church thus must avoid contradicting itself; that is, teaching one thing in one generation or area and its opposite in another. We are not concerned here with equivocation or impreciseness. If some pope did cross this line, we can at least suspect that he would not admit it or see the point. If he had the issue pointed out to him and saw its import, he would simply acknowledge what is the truth and be done with it. Otherwise, a drawn-out struggle would follow to decide who is right.

In other words, if reason and revelation are such (relatively) reliable guides, why then glom the bishop of Rome on top of such reliability? Does Father Schall really need the papacy’s help to tell what’s true or to be faithful to the truth? Or is the pope like the English monarchy, something you trot out when you need pomp and ceremony?

Own that great pretty good intellectual tradition.

This is So Un-American

While Rome burns with Pentecostal fire, Jason and the Callers continue to play mind games.

The latest Protestant to try to ascend Bryan’s holy cap is Mark Hausam, who is, according to his blog, “a member at Christ Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, UT, a catechumen with the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, an instructor in Philosophy at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT, and an instructor at the New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy. I am a husband and a father of seven. I am an officer in the Reformation Party.” (I had not heard of the Reformation Party. It does not look like it is “a par-tay.”)

Mr. Hausam tried to show — it was a fairly long-winded piece — that Rome did an about-face on the matter of religious liberty of freedom of conscience. I don’t know why this is such a hard point to grasp. Protestants also did an about-face. Consider justifications for executing Servetus (or heretics in general) versus Witherspoon’s support for a Constitution that tolerated heretics (as Presbyterians understood them). What many fail to grasp — maybe even Mr. Hausam but certainly Bryan Cross — is that modern notions of freedom of conscience are strikingly different from pre-modern ones. For the Puritans, for instance, someone’s conscience was free if his conscience was rightly formed. If someone’s conscience was in error, then it was no infringement of liberty to coerce a poorly formed conscience. In other words, your conscience was free if it knew and followed the truth. If it didn’t, it needed to be bound. Today, in civil society we make no judgment about the right or wrong of someone’s opinions. We simply protect them under the umbrella of freedom of conscience.

Whether this is an improvement depends on your conscience, I guess. But I do think I’d rather have the modern version if or when a ruler who comes to power does not approve of my opinions.

Be that as it may, Mr. Hausam tried to interact with Bryan on the changes that have taken place in Roman Catholic teaching, especially at Vatican II. And what did Mr. Hausam receive? The classic Nun-like wrap across the knuckles with the ruler of logic. It even came to this riposte from one of the Callers:

The problem with Mark’s article is that his explicit purpose is to establish a formal contradiction within irreformable Catholic teaching. Establishing a formal contradiction requires great precision in the use of terms and in the construction of argument. Long paragraphs laden with assertions make it difficult, if not impossible, for the reader to pick out the actual premises which are supposed to establish the formal contradiction. I simply do not understand why you or Mark, in the context of an article whose express purpose is to establish an exact logical fault, namely a formal contradiction; would continue to resist calls to package the verbiage of the article into a logical form where the formal validity of the argument as such can be easily established, so that interlocutors may then proceed to fruitfully explore the truth of the various premises.

Well, if this is the problem, then logic is an impertinent bystander to the issue at hand. If Roman Catholic teaching is irreformable, then no amount of syllogisms or premises could possibly show a contradiction. It is impossible, which is sort of the situation when trying to have a conversation with the Callers.

Word to the wise: Vatican II happened. It embraced modernity, complete with the sort of debates and diversity that modern societies have negotiated. If Jason and the Callers want to return to a time when debates were simply an indication of infidelity, they may want all they want. It is a free country. But they should also realize that this was the debating posture that made many Americans wonder if Roman Catholics — the ones really really loyal to the pre-Vatican II papacy — were capable of living in a free republic.