Monday, 21 September 2009

Bypassing the argument thru definition

Choosing one's terms and labels may be an effective rhetorical technique; albeit frequently a dishonest one. Here are few examples that I find irritating.

Pro abortion as pro-choice
I have concerns with terms used on both sides of this debate, but this the more insidious. It is describing the issue in terms of freedom, but opponents to abortion are by no means anti-freedom. They see the issue as one of murder. I don't hear "pro-choice" people advocating for the freedom of men to murder adults, or steal property. The pro-freedom position is reasonably described as libertarian. It is true many libertarians are "pro-choice" but this is not universal with some libertarians arguing against abortion. More relevant however is the position "pro-choice" people take otherwise, and this is commonly a socialist leaning position, hardly a paragon of choice or freedom. I would not be surprised to learn that opponents of abortion have a stronger commitment to choice outside the abortion debate.

I don't particularly like the term "pro-life" either. The debate is about whether a fetus is living in a sense that confers the fetus natural rights. Although I hold this position, many abortion advocates disagree with it. As such they could argue they are pro-life and consistent by opposing capital punishment. I think it preferable to use accurate unloaded terms such as "pro-abortion" and "anti-abortion."

Science as methodological naturalism
Science does not need to be defined this way and historically it was not. While it may seem somewhat reasonable on the surface, it fails on 2 counts. The meaning and reason for the term "methodological naturalism" is that one can not invoke the supernatural as an explanation, rather science seeks natural explanations for various phenomena. Given that operational science was invented by supernaturalists whose concept of God (immutable) gave them reason to think the world was orderly and thus amenable to repeated observation with an expectation of identical findings, it is uncertain why a definition using "naturalism" needs to be invoked centuries later.

It fails because it does not apply to historical science which has no such non-supernatural limitations yet historical science is considered part of the broader concept of science. And it fails because it contains a philosophical term: Naturalism has a range of claims which are not derived from science, nor does science intrinsically favour naturalism.

Such a term can lead to the claim that science has disproved God. But analysis of this claim will show it to be circular. God is excluded by definition, and any thesis sans God is deemed "scientifically" preferable, even if untrue.

Gender neutral as gender accurate translation
There is debate about how to best translate various Greek words into English in Bible translation. Does one translate masculine pronouns such as "he" inclusively or specifically? Does the Greek word anthropos mean "person" or "man" with generic connotations at times? I do not intend to discuss the merits of both arguments, just note that the inclusive school uses the term "gender accurate" to describe their theory. They argue that an inclusive view is intended by biblical authors, thus improved accuracy. One problem is that the term "accurate" is more synonymous with "precision" than "intention". The other problem, of course, is that the debate is around which translation theory is the most accurate. Using a term as part of your definition, then claiming something is thus, by definition—often implicitly—resolves nothing.

Suggestion
The reason this annoys me is that the terms are deliberately chosen. Their inventors are not so much trying to frame the debate as circumvent it. I find it disingenuous.

This is not to suggest choosing various terms is intrinsically dishonest. If a different term brings clarity, or is neutral, or both, then it may be preferable.

Sometimes one should consider terms used by his opponents. While the adoption of labels from the opposition is not compulsory, they may sometimes be accurate. Another option is to use historical terms.

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