February 26, 2010 2:28 pm

To think, I used to admire James Randi almost above any other living man.


However, the "brights" have left the socially useful and entertaining hobby of debunking frauds and magicians (something the Church used to do, see here, for example) and now seek to put forward arguments about as devoid of logic as an argument can be.

"If you don’t believe in gay marriages or in abortions, don’t have one. If you don’t believe in euthanasia or in physician-assisted death, then die your own way."

What does this have to do with CSIOP’s mission statement of scientifically investigating claims of the paranormal? Why, nothing. Mr. John P. Stoltenberg believes (and Mr. Randi apparently supports) that belief in magic is the same as belief in theological metaphysics, and that no non-magical argument exists against killing babies in the womb, killing helpless people in hospital beds, and pretending sodomites can marry. As a matter of fact, I came to quite opposite conclusions for quite logical and non-supernatural reasons long before I converted from atheism. At that time, I would have argued that atheism does not necessarily lead to immorality; and that there can be decent and well-meaning atheists. But Mr. Randi now presents himself as one shocking counter-example.

Keep in mind, this is a ‘Bright’ talking, someone who holds reason to be paramount. Let us example the logic of the statement merely by substituting other terms for the active terms: 

If you do not want murder, then don’t commit one.

Hm. Can anyone detect the flaw, the unspoken assumption, in the reasoning there? Why, yes, perhaps the action described has some negative side effects or far reaching consequences, or affects someone (such as an unborn baby, or his father, or his grandparents) who has an interest in the outcome.

The second flaw is the mere assumption that any act of self-destruction is licit, because only you matter to you. I suppose the assisted suicide of an orphaned bachellor with no debts who was also of sound mind might have minimal reprocussions outside his own person, but this is a somewhat rare case. In one of the few cases where Objectivists and Catholics agree, there aresome people who regard self-destruction as the source of all evil. (The Objectivist cites a man’s life and his love for it as the source of all values and virtues; Catholics regard the separation of Man from God, the author both of man and of The Good, to be a rejection of all good in one way or another. When Adam bit the apple of disobedience, he was eating death, commiting, in a spiritual sense, assisted suicide.) 

The third flaw is not an error in logic, but in judgment. The argument rests on the mere assumption that merely because you want something, you should have it, and the world should not hinder you from obtaining, and, in the case of overturning ancient laws and customs, the world must provide it. This is what William Briggs calls the gimme argument. Argumentum Ad Ego.