Thursday, March 28, 2013

More gay marriage debate! More analysis.

Everybody is up in arms, it seems. Only that is not accurate at all. Gay marriage supporters are up in arms. The rest of us are mostly trying to fend off accusations of "bigot," "ignorant," "backwards," etc. I wish we had easily accessible potshots to hurl in the other direction, but alas, "You're wrong" just does doesn't have the same visceral punch.

The longer the controversy continues, the more I am convinced that the primary harm by the left has nothing to do with their cause, but with the way they must portray conservatives. Of course, people like this guy aren't helping.

Not to mention the brain-melting illogicality of the left's arguments--but I already addressed that in previous posts.

For me, I am seeing the point in history at which I may forever after be regarded by the general public as a bigot for holding what, until very recently, was common sense. Never in my whole childhood did I ever guess that would happen. But unlike many of my ideological allies, I have non-ridiculous explanations for my positions; I have thought about it; I am not just being stubborn, and I know that there is nothing bigoted about knowing that marriage is between a man and a woman.

I will never attend or endorse a same-sex marriage. I will never call two men one-another's husband, or two women one-another's wife. I will never accept any compulsion, from company or government, to behave any differently toward any two people on account of a government certificate. They will be one another's good friends, to me. I will not support any entertainment or media materials that promote that falsehood. And any school that tries to slip that falsehood into my children's impressionable minds is picking a fight with me.

And there is not one iota of hate in this position. It is no different than if the government wished to teach that utility poles are trees.

But if you come at me shouting "bigot!" then I will defend myself.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Thinking about atheism

One of my "pie in the sky" ideas is to write a book titled simply, "Atheism is False," and this book would be as boring as possible, sucked dry of all rhetorical flair. It would be primarily a logic text, with formal expressions, diagrams, charts and tables. The point of the book would be to serve as a repository or a database of historical arguments. Cramming it all into a single volume requires a basic assumption that there is a great deal of overlap, with new authors contributing, at most, tiny elaborations on old concepts.

One basic goal would be to make the book palatable to atheists (in spite of the obviously baiting title). This goal would be achieved by striving for accuracy, comprehension and exhaustiveness in the representation of atheist arguments, avoiding weasel words and incorporating criticisms by atheist editors.

One point such a book would make is that meaningful discussion ultimately must revolve around atheism rather than theism, because there are many theisms, but there is only one atheism. Some will counter that there are, in fact, plural atheisms, e.g., Buddhism, but the "new atheists," sometimes called Western atheists, I expect would deny a true plurality of atheisms, and I want to address Western atheists on their own terms.

Anyway, it is easier to have a meaningful discussion about the truth/falsehood of atheism because it permits us to bracket the question of the truth/falsehood of any number of theisms. If atheism is false, and it competes with 1047 possible theisms, it may well be that 9.9̅ x1046 possible theisms are also false. But because atheism involves a finite set of existent conceptions of the universe, they can be more or less addressed in a single volume.

This is important, because the central theistic argument that I expect the book to rely on is radical contingency, and radical contingency itself says little to nothing about what sort of theism might actually be true. In fact, radical contingency could be true, and most anti-religious propositions could nevertheless remain intact. I have met anti-religious individuals who accepted the radical-contingency argument. That is, they accepted the necessity of an infinite, ultimate "being" or "substrata", but did not accept this entity's relevance to ordinary life.

Which, so far as the scope of this book would be concerned, is fine. In spite of the title, the goal here is not conversion to Christianity or even to any religion at all. The reason for a book like this is to be a repository of the logical interaction of arguments. Nevertheless, I do have some theological motivation. A common misconception among Catholics, and people in general, is that belief in God's existence is a matter of faith. Catholicism does not teach this. Where strictly God's existence is concerned,
God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason: ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. (First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter 2)
So that's one thing.

Now, I could go beyond the strict scope of the book, and I may have to. The "new atheists" following Richard Dawkins stress more the inconsequentiality of all possible deities rather than their absolute absence, i.e. the teapot argument. So it might not be enough to show the plausibility of the "radical contingency" argument. Not sure.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Evangelization and Instructional Design

My church history professor from Mundelein Seminary, C. Colt Anderson, Ph.D., wrote in his book Christian Eloquence, that St. Augustine evangelized to hostile audiences in a calm style with the aim of education.

That insight comes back to me now as I am in the middle of earning an M.S. in education and instructional technology. This is not the theology degree I thought I always wanted. But in some ways it might be more important. There is fertile ground for questions, here, and the result may have an effect on the way the Church teaches, and evangelizes the faith.

At the moment, I do not see much work being done on the intersection between instructional design and evangelization, or even, for that matter, religious education.

Some materials I've come across Google Scholar:

Of course, all of these deal strictly in formal religious education--not evangelization per se (though if I continue to explore this, I might look more into the British Journal of Religious Education. But the basic notion I have is this: contemporary methods of instructional design have a lot to offer to the classroom. Maybe they can have a lot to offer to the New Evangelization.

In spite of the apocryphal St. Francis quote, "Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words," evangelization is usually described as a verbal practice. Even in Anderson's Christian Eloquence, the presumed context is a speaker addressing listeners. But study after study demonstrates that, especially for novices, verbal instruction is one of the least effective means of imprinting long-term memory. Perhaps there are exceptions among evangelists--modern day Chrysostoms. But in fact, the lion's share of our learning is not verbal.

Is learning the same thing as conversion? No. But they are intertwined. Learning is, perhaps, a necessary but insufficient condition for possibility of conversion. Therefore, barriers to learning are also barriers to conversion. And ineffective pedagogy can be a barrier to learning.

I find it difficult to envision a St. Augustine figure, preaching to a "hostile audience". What kind of hostile audience listens to hours of preaching from an ideological opponent? What did that look like? But again, Augustine's historical context is so far removed from today. Maybe the donatists were bored, like someone watching infomercials on a weekday afternoon.

Today we have the Internet. In America we have paralyzing political polarization. We have the "new atheists" (with the same arguments as the old atheists, just with more bravado and TED talks). How would a Catholic instructional designer construct a context for learning that is accessible, voluntary, and popular among the secular?