Tag Archives: Supreme Court

It’s my right and I’m entitled to it!

22 Mar

Our culture is rife with ‘rights’ talk.  Just consider a few contemporary claims:

  • right to free health care
  • right to censor views one doesn’t like
  • right to end life whenever one wants
  • right to define oneself however one wants
  • right to approval, acceptance and approbation for one’s lifestyle choice
  • right to a certain income level

My husband and I were discussing the concept of rights the other night while fixing dinner.  He made the interesting point:

A right granted should not burden anyone else

As we discussed this idea, I recalled a statement I heard on a call-in show about Second Language Acquisition (SLA) that

All claims must be falsifiable to be legitimate.

The classic example is the Christian claim that Jesus Christ rose from the dead

What would it take to disprove that, but a dead body identified as the crucified Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth!

So back to my husband’s premise that granting a right to someone should not burden someone else.  He and I started to tick off rights granted to Americans by the Constitution:

  • life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – we saw no harm or burden imposed on someone else
  • the Supreme Court granted women the right to choose an abortion – but even though LEGAL, it certainly harms many (the baby, the family members who wanted that baby to live, and not a few mothers themselves)
  • how about the right of a person who claims to be a different gender and wants to choose the bathroom most comfortable to him/her? – does that harm anyone?  Yes! the biological bearers of the gender who don’t want to share a public bathroom with someone born a different gender

What about environment?  Are we entitled to live in a smoke-free or perfume-free or a ‘differing viewpoint-free zone’?

If I want to smoke a cigarette, which is legal, should I be free to smoke where I want?  Is that a right or a privilege?  I could argue that it is included in my right to pursue happiness.

But what if you want to occupy that same spot and NOT have to smell my smoke, does that mean you can make me leave?  Is someone harmed there?

This gets tricky and requires thoughtfulness. If two people are required to work or live in a spot (like prison or the military) then a compromise can be worked out to accommodate someone’s privilege of smoking with someone’s preference (or health-related necessity) to work/sleep in a smoke-free area.

What about the right to a free education?    The Bill of Rights handles that and other rights not enumerated by the Constitution by leaving them to the states to handle.  The wording goes like this: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Can you think of a ‘right’ that might be justifiable and one that brings harm to someone?   Of course we should define our term ‘harm’.  I can foresee the challenge such an exercise in clarity might be.  Bringing a group of people to consensus over an acceptable definition of ‘harm’ would take a while.

No small task for sure, but once we gain agreement on the meaning of our principle term, then we can turn attention, to let’s say, the 9th amendment and put those ‘granted rights’ up against the claim that granting a right should do no harm.  Take a look at how the Supreme Court has used this amendment.

Amendment 9 of the Constitution

With just a short look at a few rights, I do think that my husband’s premise that not harm should be done when granting a right to someone.

What do you think?

Add your thoughts in the comment section and let’s see if my husband’s claim stands or can be defeated by a counter-example.

Assumptions surrounding logic

27 Jan

While listening to Al Mohler  (Link to his discussion here) explain the backstory to a recent Supreme Court decision affecting those on death row in Florida, I was struck once again about the importance of language.

supreme court

Words matter.

Obviously eight of the 9 justices in the photo assumed that as much. The wording of the 6th amendment to the US Constitution declares that a defendant is entitled to “….a public trial, by an impartial jury of the state….”.  The majority opinion of the Supreme Court argued that the words meant what they said.  The fact that Florida judges alone had the power to impose the death sentence (based on the recommendation of the jury) violated the sense of the language of the 6th amendment.

Al Mohler then drew the connection between how one reads the written text of the US Constitution and the Bible.  Either the words mean what they say or we open the gate to anyone’s interpretation.  And chaos ensues and words lose the power of meaning.

Language-based logic is the same.  Before we even examine and analyze a syllogism to determine whether it is sound, we have made an assumption:

Words matter!

Take the following sample syllogism:

Premise 1:All wood is a substance containing carbon

Premise 2: This stick is wood

Conclusion:  Therefore, this stick is a substance containing carbon

Logical Joe’s and Jane’s have to agree on what each term means.

  • Does ‘all’ unequivocally take in every member of the category of wood?
  • Does ‘wood’ represent the set of hard, fibrous materials that form the trunk of a shrub or tree*?
  • Is carbon only the chemical element represented by atomic number 6*?

*definitions based on Apple’s Mac dictionary

We ‘assume’ that words representing terms refer to a specific concept.  If that is not our starting point in logic, then we might as well abandon all reasoning.

But as my husband pointed out when we were discussing this necessary pre-supposition, another complication exists.  We can agree on the clear sense of a term YET once set in a proposition or even a clause, meaning grows complicated.

Take just a snippet from the Pledge of Allegiance:

“…with liberty and justice for all.”

Initially one can agree on individual concepts of liberty and justice in isolation. The term ‘all’ appears messier. Distinctions must be made, so we pose some clarifying questions:

  • does ‘all’ refer to all citizens or all those residing in the US?
  • and if all residing in the US are intended, do we need to differentiate between those legally residing and those who are not?
  • are we talking about all humans only?  Are the unborn included?  Are the mentally and physically dependent included?

Once we initially sort out terms, what happens next?  Other questions arise.  For instance, if we consider just one other term, the concept of ‘liberty’, what does the GUARANTEE of ‘liberty’ protect one against? How far does it extend and do I, who am included in the ‘all ‘, get to define liberty to suit my needs?

I’d love to say, “Let’s just go with the plain reading of the text!”  But I have to concede that a careful reading of any writing requires clear and focused thinking.  That’s why there will always be a need for diligent and thoughtful lawyers, judges, theologians and logical but ordinary men and women like us.

The challenge is great, but worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal – different ways to understand the Bible

13 May

Different churches may claim to be ‘Bible-based’, but what do they actually mean?  As an evangelical Christian, I have probably assumed ‘Bible-based’ to indicate explicitly that a church orients all its beliefs and practices to what is written in the Bible.

Bible

That’s a dangerous assumption! Imprecise, vague terms often allow misconceptions and illusions to grow.  I was helped the other day listening to a well-spoken scholar consider the Supreme Court’s April 2015 oral arguments in the case for same-sex marriage. He pointed out the peril of assuming that a term means the same to the other person as it does to you.  The prompt for Al Mohler was a New York Times editorial written by a Yale Law School professor. Transcript of discussion

The professor asserted and partially argued that America has already shifted her beliefs toward supporting same-sex marriage. He rested his case in part on the nature of the ‘amicus briefs’ submitted by major players in America, to include prominent Jewish and Christian denominations.

Mohler quoted from the law professor’s piece in the NY Times where he claimed that even major ‘Bible-based’ denominations support the federal legalization of same-sex marriage.  At this point, Mohler took the time to look at the phrase ‘Bible-based’.  He modeled what all thinking and reasoning people SHOULD do.  And that is to ask the simple but crucial clarifying question, “What do you mean by ‘Bible-based’?

Here is where I was helped.  Mohler pointed out that there are several ways of being ‘Bible-based’.  He explained that liberal Christians can still claim to base their churches on the Bible because they mean:

  • the Bible to be a useful and interesting collection of stories, myths, fables, explanations
  • the Bible to be a repository of traditions

Evangelical Christians, on the other hand, believe:

  • the Bible to be the true and intentional Word of God.  And as such we, His people, do not have the option of discounting God’s Word or explaining it away. Yes, the Bible contains stories and explanations and describes traditions.  But the stories are what CS Lewis calls ‘true myths’.  They are myths because they contain powerful symbols, but they are also true.  For a short explanation, click here

What’s the bottom line regarding this distinction?

One – we must always be alert to ask questions when we listen to someone (stopping to interact with the person talking to us, or pausing to consider ourselves – ‘what might he mean by XYZ?  What are the possibilities?’)

Two – Christians who believe the Bible to be the very words, beliefs, views, counsel of God MUST use what God says as our measure of everything else.  If God defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman, then it is so.  He IS the author of the Book, hence His authority trumps ours.

Logical Gal muses about naturalism and homosexuality

6 May

When was the last time you walked a premise or position as far as you can, applying with consistency all aspects of the ‘stand’?

I’ve been thinking about naturalism, that way of describing our universe as a closed system. Built into this worldview is the fundamental belief that nothing exists beyond the natural or physical. I’ve also considered the theory of evolution.

I’m not a scientist, but what I understand about evolution is that organisms reproduce but sometimes with random mutations – a descent with modification.  If the change promotes self-continuation, also called being ‘good’ for the species, then the change continues.  If the change weakens the species in some way, systems that promote ‘survival of the fittest’ kick in. This built in self-regulatory guidance is a way to explain how nature will take care of ‘mistakes’.  And these ‘mistakes’ are just the changes that turn out to be not ‘good’ for the species.

Evolution thoughts

As you might attest yourself, claiming that something is ‘good’ all depends on what you mean by the concept of ‘good’.

It USED to be that most folks could say without pause that ‘good’ or ‘bad’ fell into the arena of ethics and philosophy. Aristotle wrestled with what constitutes our highest good and how that plays into virtue, especially excellence. And Judaism and Christianity have long defined ‘good’ as aligning with God’s character.  Our Creator is good and He created us in His image to BE good as well.

But according to atheist Sam Harris, the concept of ‘good’ is more akin to an effective chess move, a change that will win the game.  So in baseball, to say that a batter is ‘good’ would be a way of describing his ability to hit the ball so as to bring in the most runs.

This idea of what I’m calling ‘natural goodness’ (as opposed to ‘ethical goodness’) has some interesting ramifications for the theory of evolution and the phenomenon of homosexuality.

I want simply to raise a few questions.  Addressing them will take more time.

  • If the process of evolution envisions species self-optimizing, then how can homosexuality be good for the species?
  • Isn’t reproduction the goal of a species?
  • And if species survival IS critical, then why are certain 21st century societies willingly bringing on ‘PAN-upheavals’, that downplay the propagation and nurturing of the next generation?
  • How many Americans are actually gay?

Just a quick on-line search produced reports that document a lower-than-thought percentage. Studies show that in fact only 2 % of the US population self-identifies as gay, although some have dabbled in same-sex attraction. Link to Atlantic Monthly article

Final question:

  • How can naturalists and those who support the theory of evolution maintain that promoting homosexuality via mandated government policy is GOOD for a society, since it doesn’t encourage the continuation of our species?

Just thinking…..

Supreme Court

Logical Gal – do rallying cries help?

27 Jan

We know a rallying cry when we hear one!

  • Remember the Alamo!
  • Win this one for the Gipper!
  • One for all, and all for one!

Last week was the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision, Roe v. Wade. In all the publicity from both sides, I read a Washington Post story about one gal’s battle to end the intentional killing of innocent human fetuses.

Lila Rose, 25, was raised in a Christian home-schooling family where she breathed in family values.  Her attitude towards children was shaped by her parents who preached, “A baby is a gift!”  (They raised 8 kids!)

Certainly that is a belief supported by the Bible as well as by other cultures.  But as an argument for the pro-life movement, it doesn’t carry very much weight.  And what I am afraid of is that most people live in the shallows of slogans and battle cries.  They don’t take the time to develop an argument that carries any weight.

Likewise, the other side of the abortion argument hides behind loud jabbing media sound bytes. In the newspaper account of Lila Rose, her tactics of posing as a young teen impregnated by an older man are described.  Her subterfuge is purposefully intended to catch an abortion provider’s reaction and counsel on video. THEIR remarks included the following accusation:

  • Pretending to be pregnant and hiding a camera is ‘unethical’!

Now that would be funny, if it weren’t so sad!  They apparently consider subterfuge ‘wrong’, but not murder.

Again, this slogan isn’t very helpful.  Sound bytes tend to stop a discussion.  But where do you go from there?

Actually, there IS a way out!  As with any discussion, the best place to start is at the beginning.

No, not à la Julie Andrews with her Do-Re-Mi song….

…but with the definition of terms.  What do we mean by GIFT when we say babies are a gift? What do we mean by UNETHICAL?

Once you clear away vagueness and identify pre-suppositions, you can see more clearly how you might carry on with a discussion.

So DON’T shy away from hard topics.  DON’T fear stepping on toes or offending people.  If you ask questions in a non-threatening manner, in a way that shows you genuinely want to know, people will open up. And you’re more likely to actually get somewhere where you wouldn’t by merely  lobbing  slogans or rallying cries.

Question:  Where might you begin?  What is a context or arena that you live in that is dominated by short pithy, but worthless sayings?