A logic lesson on the difference between valid arguments and sound arguments. Also some background about what arguments are and why validity matters. You can also view this video on YouTube:
A logic lesson on the difference between valid arguments and sound arguments. Also some background about what arguments are and why validity matters. You can also view this video on YouTube:
I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Turley again, this time about secular versus religious views of space and its uses. You can also watch the video on YouTube if you prefer:
One of the questions which comes up in discussions of morality is whether you can get an “ought” from an “is”. This is relevant primarily to discussions of atheism, since to the atheist everything is a brute fact, i.e. an “is” which is not directed towards anything, and therefore an atheist cannot get any “oughts” out of their description of what is. Or in simpler language, if God is dead then all things are permitted. (Note for the unpoetic: by “God is dead” we mean “there is no God”.)
There are two reasons why if God is dead all things are permitted:
If you argue this sort of stuff with atheists long enough, somewhere along the line while you’re explaining natural ends (telos) and natural morality, you may come by accident to a very interesting point which the atheist will bring up without realizing it. It often goes something like this:
OK, suppose that what God says is actually the only way to be eternally happy. Why should you be eternally happy? Why shouldn’t you do what you want even though it makes you unhappy?
This question sheds some very interesting light on hell, and consequently on what we mean by morality. Our understanding of morality tends to be like what Saint Augustine said of our understanding of time:
What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.
Somehow or other atheists tend to assume that ought means something that you have to do, regardless of what you want to do. It’s very tempting to assume that this is a holdover from childhood where ought meant that their parents would make them do it whether or not they wanted to. It’s tempting because it’s probably the case and because that’s not an adult understanding of ought. And it’s not because ultimately we can’t be forced to be good. (Or if this raises your hackles because I’m “placing limits on God”, then just take it as meaning that in any event we won’t be forced to be good.)
Hell is a real possibility. Or in other words, it is possible to see two options and knowingly pick the worse option.
What we actually mean by saying that we ought to do something is that the thing is directed towards the good. And we can clarify this if we bring in a bit of Thomistic moral philosophy: being is what is good. Or as the scholastic phrase goes, good is convertible with being. But being, within creation, is largely a composite entity. A statue is not just one thing, but many things (atoms, molecules, etc.) which, in being ordered toward the same end, are also one thing which is greater than their parts.
And you can see a symphony of ordering to a greater being, in a human being. Atoms are ordered into proteins (and many other things like lipids, etc), which are ordered into cells, which are ordered into organs, which are ordered into human beings. But human beings are not at the top of the hierarchy of being, for we are also ordered into community with other created things. (Please note: being part of a greater whole does not rob the individual of his inherent dignity; the infinite goodness of God means that creation is not a competition. Also note that God so exceeds all of creation that He is not in the hierarchy of being, but merely pointed to by it.)
And so we come to the real meaning of ought. To say that we ought to do something is to say that the thing is ordered towards the maximum being which is given to us. But we need not choose being; we can instead choose non-being. The great lie which the modern project (and, perhaps not coincidentally, Satan) tells us is that there is some other being available to us besides what was given to us by God. That we can make ourselves; that we can give ourselves what we haven’t got. And, not at all coincidentally, are the things which we ought not to do—that is, those things are not ordered toward being. They’re just what the atheist says that all of life is—stimulating nerve endings to fool ourselves that we’ve accomplished something.
And yet atheists complain when one says that, according to them, they’re in hell.
God, at least, has a sense of humor.
If you haven’t heard, there’s a restaurant which came up with the idea of gold-covered chicken wings. While there are all sorts of things which could be said about about the wisdom of buying such things, the thing I really want to talk about is the symbolism of the thing.
(Since there’s too much outrage on the internet, I think I should note in passing that due to gold’s astonishing brilliance with only a few atoms of thickness the wings are not actually wildly expensive. You can get 10 wings for $30, which for the location is probably a 3x markup—wasteful, but not very wasteful in absolute terms. You can easily get less food for more money in Manhattan.)
To see the symbolism of the thing, we need to consider what gold-plated food is. Unlike many heavy metals, metallic gold is (basically) inert, which is why it is safe as a food additive. But the fact that it’s inert also means that it has exactly no nutritional value, either. It’s not bad for you, it’s not good for you; it’s just there.
As such it’s an almost pure waste. I say “almost” because it does look pretty, though its beauty in the wrong place. If gold is to be present, it should be on the plates, where its beauty is not destroyed by the act of eating. It should not be on the food itself, where the beauty is destroyed by the act of eating. And that is, I think, the key to the symbolism.
My favorite version of the baptismal promises includes the questions:
Do you reject Satan?
And all his empty promises?
But there is another translation of the second question:
And all his empty show?
Gold-covered chicken wings seem to me an almost perfect illustration of Satan’s empty show. It looks like it has value—but has none—and the acceptance of it destroys even the slight good it uses as a bait.
One of the great benefits of having friends who are at least twenty years older than oneself is that they have a wealth of life experiences that they are happy to share. This enables one to circumvent the problem in the popular saying:
Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.
Having significantly older friends means that one can benefit from their experience. (The same is true of parents, if one can bring oneself to listen to them.)
But there is a problem with listening to the stories of people who are several decades one’s senior: they tend to tell you each story several times. Contrary to popular belief, this is not because they’re old, but because while stories are memorable, the act of telling them isn’t. In fact, telling a story is actually quite hard to remember because the storyteller’s attention is on the story, not on the telling.
Further, older people simply have far more to remember because they’ve got much fuller lives than young people do. Our culture’s obsession with youth not withstanding, older people have far more friends and acquaintances than young people do. They also have vastly more people’s lives and concerns to keep track of.
And since one very remarkable experience—that is, one good story—will touch on many aspects of life, in conversation with one’s older friends their especially good stories will come up from time to time, and they will probably not remember that they already told you that story three years ago. As I said, the story is far more memorable than the telling of it.
There are, at this point, three options:
Of the three, the second is the worst option. It’s basically throwing a gift back in the giver’s face. Don’t do this.
The first can be polite, but it’s tricky to pull off. If the story is recognizable in its first few words, you can probably find a pause in the first sentence (or so) to interrupt and ask if it’s the story you’re thinking of—and bear in mind you might be wrong because sometimes different stories sound similar. If it is, then tell the friend how much you like the story. The danger of interrupting them is that you might seem ungrateful or unappreciative of the wisdom being conveyed and telling them how much you appreciate the story—not merely appreciated it in the past, but kept its lessons with you—will ensure that the proper reaction of gratitude is conveyed.
The third option is often the best option. First, because it is the most grateful option. Second, because the same story is often told with different details filled in, so one gets a more complete version of it by putting the two together. Third, because one will probably learn new things from hearing it again. And fourth, because the impossibility of perpetual novelty (while maintaining quality), happiness depends upon the ability to appreciate good things one has already experienced. Hearing a good story again is excellent practice at this.
One should not lie and pretend that one has not heard the story before, but it almost never comes up, and if it doesn’t, there’s no need to bring it up.
And you’re vastly better off having heard the same story twice than not at all.
Around a quarter century ago, in my early teens, I did online Christian apologetics in various forums (AOL, usenet, etc.). And something I came across was the habit of atheists using bluster—the extremely confident assertion of things that, if pressed, they couldn’t defend.
In my later teens I took a hiatus from apologetics to spend time learning, to better prepare myself. It ended up being a fairly long hiatus, and by the time I was ready to get back to apologetics I was Catholic and now it was called evangelization. And in the great dealing of thinking and reading and so forth that I did in those years, I came to the conclusion that reasoned argument was not what most people needed. Atheism was not so much an intellectual position as it is a mental prison. The atheist is in a tiny, cramped little universe, so much smaller than a human mind. What atheists really need—as Chesterton said of the madman in his masterpiece, Orthodoxy—is not arguments, but air. He needs to come in contact with enough truth that he will realize it can’t fit inside his prison, at which point he will realize that he’s not actually inside of a prison, and leave.
But being an open Catholic online and hanging out with the sort of people I hang out with does bring one into contact with a lot of atheists—though almost all of a few related kinds. And in meeting the same sorts of people I was arguing with 25 years ago, I found that they were still using bluster—making assertions with impressive confidence. But as an adult in my 30s, this was nowhere near as intimidating as it was to me when I was 13. And I found something very interesting when I would respond to bald-faced assertions with contrary bald-faced assertions.
I somewhat naively expected to simply come to a standstill of assertions that would result either in agreeing to disagree or providing space for a real discussion to take place. Instead, the atheists tended to get angry. Very angry. And what was curious was that it was the sort of anger one sees from a dog owner who isn’t any good at dog training when their dog fails to perform on command. It’s the anger of, “you’re not doing what you’re supposed to!”
You’ll see this all over the world, from all sorts of people. Doubtless many atheists have gotten this from irate grandmothers. But they were holding themselves up as rational inquirers. But if you scratch the surface, like with gold leaf, you find out that their rationality is just a coating which is only a few molecules thick.
And I started noticing that this applied in other places, too. The people who scream, “only believe things because of evidence!” get awfully huffy when you ask them for evidence of their honesty. They don’t put it that way, but apparently that, you’re supposed to take on faith.
“Don’t believe things without evidence!”
“OK, do you have any evidence that you’re not a moron?”
Again, their principle apparently comes with a lot of unstated qualifications. In theory, this should be an entirely reasonable question since you’re just asking for evidence. Instead you’ll typically hear about “ad homs” (argumentum ad hominem, i.e. arguing that the man is bad as if that proved his conclusion is false, see here for more), which is rather bizarre since a question cannot be a fallacious argument since it is not any kind of argument.
It’s been rather fascinating to see, since these people have great conviction, but it’s not conviction in their own principles. I still haven’t really found what their conviction is in. (I have my suspicions, and it will vary with the individual, of course. But I haven’t come to any definite conclusions yet.)
But it’s been very interesting to see how little there is behind atheists’ bluster.
Recently my friend Eve Keneinan had a Twitter Thread in which she talked about the problems with defining Atheism as “a lack of belief in God”:
There is a problem she doesn’t mention with this definition, which is that there are no useful sentences which you can construct. In order to have a useful sentence using a word, there has to be something you can predicate of all of the things described by the word. And (ignoring the problem of rocks and krill being caught up in the lack-of-belief definition), there is nothing you can predicate of people who believe God doesn’t exist, people who aren’t sure he exists, babies, the mentally retarded, and people who’ve never heard of the concept. They’re not all tall or short, stupid or intelligent, fat or thin, nor anything else. You can say that they exist, but that’s about it. This disqualifies it as a possible definition by what should be called the “uselessness test”. That said, let’s ignore it for now.
Eve mentioned a possible way of amending this definition to avoid catching up rocks and bricks and such-like as atheists:
However, this amended definition still leaves it a completely useless definition for a different reason than the one above (which still applies). Actually, before I even get to that, there’s a problem which needs addressing: it’s under-specified. Specifically, what sort of beliefs must the atheist be capable of forming?
There are different ways of defining “belief”, but since atheists are pretty much all materialists and thus don’t believe in a soul nor an intellect (in the traditional sense), they have to define “belief” as some sort of behavioral relation to the outside world. As such, it is clear that a rat which nibbles on a block of rat chow “believes” that the rat chow is food. So we still have the problem that under this amended definition, most atheists are bacteria and funguses, followed by higher-order life forms like krill and beetles. OK, so let’s grant the atheist the ability to use a theist’s definition of “belief” such that it’s the sort of thing which only human beings have, despite there being absolutely no way for a materialist to do this at all consistently.
We now get to the problem I mentioned about under-specificity. What sort of beliefs must these beings be capable of forming? To give an overly simplistic example to illustrate the point, it is utterly uninteresting that a man whose ability to form beliefs encompasses nothing more than the belief that cucumbers exist does not believe in God. This generalizes to the real point: if a man is for some reason limited in that he’s not capable of forming a belief in God, it is not an interesting property that he doesn’t believe in God. It is uninteresting for the same reason that we don’t count a man who can’t do even 1 pushup as as physically unfit if the reason he can’t do a pushup is because he has no arms. An armless man who can run a sub-6 minute mile is still quite physically fit. And further, his being fit but unable to do pushups tells us nothing about a couch potato with arms who cannot do pushups because he does nothing all day long. In the same way, if a man has a cognitive defect where he cannot form a belief in God he is unfortunate, but he has nothing whatever in common with someone who can form a belief in God but has formed the belief that God does not exist instead.
But really, either way, this definition cannot be applied to anyone given the limits of human knowledge. We have no way of finding out whether a man is capable of forming a belief in God except that he actually forms it. And even if we retreat from that we have no way of knowing that a man is capable of forming beliefs at all (without being him). We can tell us that he does, but I can easily program a computer to say that it forms beliefs, too. Heck, one could easily write on a rock, “I, this rock, can form beliefs”. If one rejects noetic knowledge as most online atheists do and demand evidence from the one making the claim, it is impossible to know whether anyone is an atheist since we can’t know what’s actually going on inside of his head. And this is different from taking his word about whether or not he in fact believes in God, since that presupposes he’s the sort of being which could have a word to give. The amended definition of “atheism” now requires us to find out whether he’s the sort of thing which can give his word before we know whether the definition applies to him.
Of course atheists tend to take the practical solution of demanding that theists merely assume the theistic worldview at all necessary places in order to make sense of what the atheist is saying, but to then reject it wherever it is not necessary for the atheist’s statements to be other than raving gibberish. At some point I think that everyone is tempted to say of online atheism what King Arthur said of Camelot, “No, on second thought, let’s not go there. It is a silly place.”
In this interesting article, the author says that Rock-n-Roll is now dead. I recommend reading the whole article—which is mostly about how the fans of Rock-n-Roll loved the stupid things that Rock Stars did, and don’t any more—but the part I want to talk about is the conclusion:
At some point we seemed to have changed our minds about what we expect from these people. Today our idea of a famous person is a tepid Hillary Clinton supporter.
Maybe as a culture this means we have moved past rock and roll. If that’s the case, fine. There are certainly dated things — handwritten letters, for example — that are more worthy of being defended.
Somebody call Tipper Gore and let her know she won.
(For those who don’t know, Tipper Gore led a public decency campaign.)
The issue which I have is that the author of the article credits the wrong person. Tipper Gore didn’t win. Rock-n-roll did. The problem is that it was a revolution, and revolutions are inherently temporary things. As G.K. Chesterton noted (in What’s Wrong With the World):
A revolution is a military thing; it has all the military virtues; one of which is that it comes to an end. Two parties fight with deadly weapons, but under certain rules of arbitrary honor; the party that wins becomes the government and proceeds to govern. The aim of civil war, like the aim of all war, is peace… They do not create revolution; what they do create is anarchy; and the difference between these is not a question of violence, but a question of fruitfulness and finality. Revolution of its nature produces government; anarchy only produces more anarchy. Men may have what opinions they please about the beheading of King Charles or King Louis, but they cannot deny that Bradshaw and Cromwell ruled, that Carnot and Napoleon governed. Someone conquered; something occurred. You can only knock off the King’s head once. But you can knock off the King’s hat any number of times. Destruction is finite, obstruction is infinite: so long as rebellion takes the form of mere disorder (instead of an attempt to enforce a new order) there is no logical end to it; it can feed on itself and renew itself forever.
I don’t mean that Rock-n-Roll intended to be a revolution. In many ways I think that the Rock stars were the overgrown children that they were usually charged with being and, like children, wanted to play and have the grown-ups watch over them and clean up after them. They were only playing; they didn’t want to destroy the house they were playing in. To use Chesterton’s language, they only ever meant to knock the King’s hat off.
But they missed and his head came off instead. Whatever the particular historical reasons for the victory they never meant to achieve, Rock-n-Roll changed the culture. It would be more accurate to describe it as one branch of the military which overthrew the culture—it didn’t do anything all on its own—but it won. And the problem which all successful rebels face is that they must now become conservatives. They must conserve what they have changed things into.
There’s a certain irony involved in the hedonists having become the respectable people, but they did, and they now face the same restrictions which respectable people always face.
That’s the problem with rebelling against morality: even when you win, you lose.
I had a conversation with my friend Andrew Stratelates recently about the question of why no one figures out that Clark Kent is actually Superman. And I figured something out about it when he pointed out that mannerisms can be very suggestive to people, but it would be very difficult to fool facial recognition software: trying to figure out Superman’s secret identity presupposes that he has a secret identity. And why on earth would anyone think that?
Superman doesn’t wear a mask, and is even clean shaven. Since one can plainly see his face, which he makes no effort to hide, there’s absolutely no reason to think that he has some sort of alternate persona he’s hiding. Moreover, if you think about it for a moment, it’s actually really quite strange that Superman does have an alternate persona. It serves no practical purpose. In most tellings, superman is not a vigilante who is wanted by the police and in any event he has a fortress of solitude which is a reasonable commute away, so it’s not like he has to pay rent to avoid capture. And if Superman did want money, he could take advantage of his super powers to earn hugely more than he could pretending to be an ordinary man. There are much more lucrative things he could do, but since he can travel at super-sonic speeds while carrying multiple tons of material, he could make a fortune as a high speed courier. The list of better ways to make money than working an office job would be quite long, and moreover, obviously quite long to everyone.
Further, there’s the fact that superman is basically an olympian god compared to ordinary men. Why would he choose to do the drudgery the rest of us are forced to do? It’s an imperfect analogy, but consider the following hypothetical:
Suppose you work for a company which makes inkjet printers, and suppose you have a co-worker in your office named Fred who looks like Donald Trump, except that he is polite, self-effacing, drives a 6-year-old Nissan Sentra, and wears glasses. And suppose another co-worker one day whispered to you, “You know what, I think that Fred is Donald Trump’s secret identity!”
(A) Say, “You know what, if you take away the glasses he does look exactly like Donald Trump. You must be right!”
(B) Ask, “Why on earth would Donald Trump have a secret identity working a mediocre job in our printer company?”
(If Donald Trump is too polarizing a figure, you could easily substitute Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, or the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William), and the point will remain unchanged.)
Superman’s having a secret identity makes about as much sense has his wearing his underwear on the outside of his clothing—it’s interesting, it’s very historically contingent, and it’s plausible only in the sense that life has a lot of quirks to it that we’d never expect. That it is plausible in the sense that life is stranger than fiction does actually lend people not discovering Superman’s secret identity some plausibility. And I think the wild implausibility of Superman having a secret identity is the best defense he has, since it would be trivial to detect superman otherwise, even if he wore an astonishingly realistic face mask. Just use an x-ray scanner and find the guy who’s completely solid. Alternatively, look for people the right height and build and poke them with a very thin, sharp pin until you find the guy where the pin breaks instead of going into his skin. And if you’re a villain, just do it like they did in the movie Pumaman and throw likely candidates out of high windows until you find someone who survives.
I recently discovered the singer/hury gurdist Patty Gurdy. Originally part of the band Storm Seeker, she seems to be striking out on her own. I’ve really been enjoying her songs on YouTube, and I’m particularly fond of her cover of a Storm Seeker song called The Longing:
However, the song I want to talk about is Over the Hills and Far Away:
It’s extremely reminiscent in theme of the Johnny Cash song The Long Black Veil, though I don’t know that there’s any influence:
Either way, it’s very interesting to compare the two songs. And despite the similarity of subject matter, the biggest difference is what kind of song they are: Over the Hills and Far Away is a (sort-of) love song, while The Long Black Veil is a tragedy.
This is of course facilitated by the different penalties for the different crimes. In The Long Black Veil, the man is accused of murder and his refusal to provide an alibi results in his execution, while in Over the Hills and Far Away he refuses to provide an alibi for a robbery and consequently is sentenced to 10 years in prison. This enables the latter to have the theme of eventual return, and it’s this theme which turns the song into a love song.
Which is unfortunate because the man should not return to the arms of his best friend’s wife. He should stay out of the arms of any man’s wife but even more so those of his best friend’s wife. In the song where the adulterer died, it becomes possible to take it as a simple tragedy where he was not directly punished for his adultery, but none the less was being punished indirectly because his adultery prevented him from proving his innocence. He got what he deserved, if indirectly, sort of like the plot of The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Unfortunately that sort of interpretation isn’t possible for a man who doesn’t understand what he did to be wrong (only socially unacceptable). But I find it interesting that the woman sings a song about adultery as a love song and the man sings it as a tragedy. This touches on a theme I’ve noticed in stories written by women: a man is so captivated by a woman’s beauty that he’s willing to destroy himself (and often her) because of it. This isn’t a universal theme, nor anything like that, but I’ve noticed that this is a common theme in material that I didn’t usually read until recently.
There’s a lot to say about the theme of a man so entranced by a woman’s beauty that he becomes a monster, which alas I don’t have time for now, but it is an interesting question to ponder how much the becoming a monster is intrinsic to the fantasy or whether it’s a way of defending against the accusations of wish-fulfillment which the story would be accused of if the woman’s beauty captivated the man and helped him to overcome his vices and become a saint. That latter one would be a very good story, though.
Or you can watch it on YouTube:
Human beings are, obviously, very complex creatures. For any given person we deal with, we understand them to a degree, but only so far. And then on top of that they have free will and can choose to do things contrary to their nature. So we’ll never fully understand another human being—on this side of death, anyway.
Having said that, sometimes when people do things we thought they would never do it becomes clear that we misunderstand people’s motivations and thoughts. This happened to me recently with the YouTuber Logicked. A while back, as a joke for the beginning of Deflating Atheism’s 2,500 subscriber special livestream, I collaborated with Rob to make a satirical sketch with the premise that the YouTuber atheist “Rhetoricked” was criticisng the livestream before it even happened. The video on my channel where I put it up included a few minutes of context if you haven’t heard of Logicked before:
Just a few days ago, he made a serious response video to my comedic sketch! Here’s the description:
Missing the Mark is still mad that I didn’t like a few dumb things he said, so he parodied my videos in an evil beekeeper costume. I’m sure it will be a deeply honest representation and not remotely hypocritical.
For the record, I wasn’t mad. I found the idea of him making 3 videos criticizing things I said in the Deflating Atheism 1000 subscriber special—which was a hangout among friends just chatting, having fun, and reminiscing—to be a little absurd, and since my sense of humor tends towards absurdism, I decided to add to the absurdity with a comedic sketch on the Deflatheism 2,500 subscriber special. I actually didn’t expect him to watch the video. Or, really, for all that many people to watch the video. Livestreams rarely get all that many views and though it would probably be reasonably popular with my scubscribers—all of my Just For Fun videos are—I don’t have all that many subscribers (at the time I uploaded it, I had around 1500).
Anyway, I never dreamed that Logicked would do a response video to it. And yet he did. Being that wrong means I need to rethink some things. But first, I’ll explain my reasoning:
First, Logicked rarely does response videos. Full disclosure: I haven’t actually watched more than two of his videos in their entirety (one about me which I responded to in two parts, and an early, very short one in which he’s tempted by some sort of devil in exchange for subscribers). But I skimmed the titles and also searched on YouTube and he’s got the word response in something like 2 other videos besides this response. His videos are almost entirely critiques. That is, he takes videos which weren’t about him and then criticizes them. So this was just atypical.
Second, his YouTube channel is a business for Logicked. Keeping on-brand is good business. Giving free air-time to people criticizing you is not a good business practice. This is summarized in the phrase “never punch down”, though people have been using the phrase “punching down” to mean other things, so it might perhaps be best summarized as, “never give publicity to critics who can’t hurt your bottom line on their own”. Now, as several friends of mine have pointed out, judging by his comment section, Logicked’s core fans are several dozen light bulbs short of a full picnic basket (i.e. they’re not intelligent), but core fans typically draw much of their energy from peripheral fans, and peripheral fans are the people more likely to be swayed by criticism. Not that any one act of criticism will hurt all that much, but why take unnecessary risks with your primary source of income?
Third, the draw of YouTube atheists is the air of superiority which they assume. They are basically selling confidence. I described this in my video The Value of Atheist Hacks:
And it seemed to me that on some level Logicked understood this because by sticking to critiques he maintained his position of superiority from which his viewers could derive vicarious confidence. Doing a response video puts him in a position of equality with me. He can maintain as superior a tone as he wants in the video, but fundamentally in a response he is defending himself rather than being on the attack. Again, this isn’t going to change anyone’s opinion of him drastically—and certainly not consciously—but it comes back to the question: why take unnecessary risks with one’s primary source of income?
Being a professional YouTuber is a one of the professions in which a person is being professionally popular. Being popular—even with a sub-group—is not an easy thing to do. Humans are incredibly fickle creatures. The mob which one day shouts “hosannah!” may be shouting “crucify him!” the next week.
There’s also just the fact that as a professional YouTuber, Logicked needs to be charismatic, and seeming thin-skinned is very un-charismatic. And giving a serious rebuttal to an obvious joke does seem very thin-skinned.
Now, the problem with taking chances is not that they always go wrong, but you become vulnerable to two things going wrong at once. And that’s where the bad stuff tends to happen to people—when two things go wrong at once. And that’s why people with responsibilities like a wife and child tend to avoid risks. This way when the bad stuff that you can’t control happens, you’ve got a chance you can survive it without taking any damage.
And I thought that Logicked knew all this. And maybe he does, in which case there was some other force in his life which resulted in this very odd action on his part. For example, it could be that Max Kolbe is right and atheists are all narcissists. An older version of this would be Saint Thomas More’s maxim, “The devil, that proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked”. (It should be noted he was comment on prayer, as the beginning of that quote is, “Prayer makes mock of the devil”.) I would still need to personally be a little important to Logicked, though, and I really doubt that I personally matter to him at all.
It’s possible that the parody was too spot-on and since it was public he felt embarrassed, but the thing is, it wasn’t a very spot-on parody. I was just being silly—which I think is very obvious from the costume I used, as well as how over-the-top the things I said were—and obviously played very fast and loose for fun. I don’t think that anyone could take the specifics of what I said to be a cogent criticism of Logicked.
It could be that Logicked is desperate for material and is confident in his ability to pull off seeming thick skinned and just having fun. Of the ideas I’ve seen, this may be the most likely.
Whatever the answer, it is clear that my misprediction of his behavior means that I misunderstood him. By which I really mean people like him, since I don’t know much about Logicked the man. It’s important to be able to recognize these signs of being mistaken and learn from them both with less confidence in predictions as well as in needing to do further research in understanding human beings.
Over at Amatopia, Alex wrote an interesting post called, The Curse of the Midwit:
One of the worst things to be is a midwit. And I am one. Let me explain what I mean by “midwit.” I have seen the term used many ways, and they boil down to these six points: Someone who is not as smart as the truly intelligent, but is of above-average intelligence, Who wants other […]
As usual, it’s a post worth reading, but Alex only tells half the story. He talks about the dangers of midwits but every danger is just the flip side of a virtue. (Of a natural virtue, specifically. The natural virtues are things like intelligence, strength, physical beauty, health, and so on; they are distinct from the moral virtues like courage, self control, etc.; which are again distinct from the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.)
In short, Alex leaves out the virtue unique to midwits. Now, in what follows I’m going to paint with a very broad brush because I don’t have time to give a full description of the hierarchy of being, so I ask you to use your imagination to fill in all that I’m going to leave vague.
As I’ve said before, God’s fundamental theme within creation is delegation (technically, secondary causation). He doesn’t give to each creature everything he gives to them directly, but instead gives some of his gift to other creatures to give to their fellow creatures on his behalf. Through this He incorporates us into his love of creation and into His creative action. But within creation, this theme of delegation echoes. Instead of one intermediary, God orders the world so that there are several intermediaries. He spreads the love around, as it were.
The part of that which we’re presently concerned with is that it is not (usually) given to geniuses to be able to give their knowledge to the great mass of humanity directly. And since it is (usually) not given to them, they generally can’t do it. When a genius speaks to a common man, he’s usually quite unintelligible. If the common man knows the genius to be a genius by reputation, he’ll assume the man is saying something too genius for him to understand, rather than to be raving nonsense, but he will typically get about as much from it as if the genius was raving nonsense. This is where the midwits come in.
A midwit can understand a genius, but he can also speak in ways that common men can understand. Thus God’s knowledge is given to the common man not directly, but first to the genius, who gives it to the midwit, who then gives it to the common man. Geniuses need midwits at least as much as midwits need geniuses. In truth, all of creation needs the rest of creation since we were created to be together.
Of course the distinction of men into three tiers—genius, midwit, and common—is a drastic oversimplification. In reality there are levels of midwits and levels of geniuses, each of which tends to receive knowledge from the level above it and pass knowledge down to the level below it. For example, Aristotle would have had the merest fraction of the effect he has had were it not for an army of teachers, down through the millenia, who have explained what he taught to those who couldn’t grasp it directly.
Of course in this fallen world every aspect of this can and often does go wrong in a whole myriad of ways. And Alex is quite right that midwits can be very dangerous when they consider themselves geniuses—or really, any time that they’re wrong—because the sacred burden of teaching the great mass of common men has been given to them. Midwits have the power to do tremendous good, which means that they have the power to do tremendous harm. But the tremendous good which midwits were given to do should never be forgotten just because many of them don’t do it.
One of the questions within Christian theology is how many people (i.e. human beings) will end up in hell? There is no definitive answer. While there are people the Church knows to be in heaven (canonized saints), there are no people which the church definitively knows to be in hell. As such, it’s theoretically possible that the answer to the question of how many people wind up in hell is zero.
Theoretically possible, but not very likely. A bit of experience with humanity suggests that the number is definitely higher than zero. And our Lord Himself spoke rather more often about the narrowness of the gate to heaven than about anything which can be taken to be about universal salvation. Which is why many pre-modern scholars such as Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine held that most people would be damned.
There’s a lot one can say on this subject, but it’s not really what I want to talk about now. Instead, the thing I want to talk about is how poorly suited to this subject human reason is. And the problem is that, as far as nature goes, we should all go to hell. That heaven is not devoid of human beings is super-natural. It is mercy surpassing justice.
And because it is not a natural state, but a super-natural state, which we are in, our intuition is pretty much useless on the subject.
There were two ways in which Christ utterly and completely changed the world forever.
First, by the incarnation, Christ forever elevated the status of matter. No longer could matter be looked down upon as something unworthy of spirit, because God took on a body.
Second, by rising from the dead Christ defeated death. No longer is death the victor over life; now we can say with the Apostle, O Death, where is thy sting?
I find this interesting because human reasoning would tend to expect the savior of the world to change the world in only one way—by saving it. Elevating its dignity as well seems like too much to ask.
Much of what drives the plot of a murder mystery are the problems with a murderer who wishes to avoid capture has to solve. In no particular order, the big ones are:
(Some of these problems are really alternatives to each other; for example if one has an alibi for the time of the murder, one doesn’t need to bother with disposing of the body. If one can acquire the murder weapon in an untraceable way, one can leave it next to the corpse with a label “murder weapon” helpfully attached to it. Etc.)
In writing a murder mystery, these are the questions the writer needs to answer and—at least the way I work—before writing the actual mystery. Actually, let me back up for a second and explain by way of my theory of murder mysteries:
A murder mysteries is actually two stories: a drama told backwards, and a detective story told forwards.
I think it’s fine to write a murder mystery by the seat of one’s pants as long as it’s only the detective story one is “pantsing”. If you’ve written the drama (the murderer’s story) ahead of time, you can’t get into too much of a mess with the detective story. Where people go wrong is in not having first figured out the drama in its natural order so that they can gradually tell it backwards. (NOTE: there will be people who can successfully write murder mysteries in a completely different way. I’m not trying to lay down laws everyone must follow.)
That’s what I mean by needing to figure out the murderer’s solution to his intrinsic problems first. Once you’ve figured out how the murderer has planned his murder, you can then work out how the murder actually happened, at which point you now have a coherent story for the detective to detect. I find this order of doing things very helpful for two main reasons:
This also lets you decide ahead of time, in a coherent way, what mistakes the murderer made (i.e. what evidence they left), so that you know where to direct your detective to look.
So, the question I want to consider is how the murderer acquires the murder weapon. There are several categories which each have their advantages and their shortcomings:
A ready-to-hand murder weapon, such as a kitchen knife used to murder someone in the kitchen, has the benefit of being untraceable, since there is an obvious explanation for what the kitchen knife was doing there. The downside is that such things are unreliable and so unlikely to be in a planned murder. (Of course, one can always abscond with the knife beforehand then bring it so that it looks like it was snatched up in the heat of the moment.) Ready-to-hand weapons are also very likely to be simple—knives, pokers, hammers, etc. People very rarely leave loaded guns, crossbows and bolts, etc. lying about. This means that ready-to-hand weapons will require one to get very close to the victim and use a great deal of physical force. This eliminates squeamish murderers. And most modern people are pretty squeamish.
A store-bought murder weapon is likely to be in good working order and quite possibly useful for killing at a distance and without much force. The downside is that they are—at least in theory—traceable. Guns, crossbows, etc. have serial numbers. Shop keepers have memories and many big box stores have comprehensive video surveillance. Acquiring these things in an untraceable way can be done, but it takes far more work and premeditation, since the best bet here will be to buy them on the secondary market, in cash, months or better yet years before the murder. This requires a very patient—or lucky—murderer.
Home-made murder weapons offer a good compromise between ready-to-hand and store-bought. Building supplies like plywood, hinges, rubber bands, and so on are basically untraceable. And there are a ton of very deadly weapons one could very realistically make. If you don’t believe me, just watch a few episodes of The Slingshot Channel. The downside here is that one requires a fairly competent murderer with at least a few tools. The problem this introduces is one of personality: people who are patient and good at problem solving just don’t seem like the murdering sort. However much of a problem the victim is, there’s probably also a non-lethal way around the problem they pose.
One practical way around most of the problems brought up in the murder weapon section is an accomplice. Even better for the problem of murder weapon acquisition is the anonymous accomplice. As long as the murder weapon isn’t directly traceable to a name (i.e. isn’t a new gun/crossbow recently bought at a gun/bow shop), this will greatly obfuscate the trail of the weapon. If the detective doesn’t know whose footsteps to retrace, he will have a very hard time retracing them.
An anonymous accomplice can also go a long way in solving the problems of personality introduced by the choice of a murder weapon. Two people can be more patient than one, an accomplice who wouldn’t murder anyone himself might still help a lover or friend to buy or make a weapon, and so on.
(In fact, the ability for two people to have two personalities is sometimes revealed in just this way—the detective is talking about the contradictions in the murderer’s behavior and someone says, “It’s like our murderer is two different people… wait a minute!”)
Of course, this introduces its own set of problems since now the relationship must be explained. I think that the most typical motivations for the assistance are:
Though this makes sense since they are the two big motivations for nearly everything and especially for nearly everything which is really bad. The other big motivation in human life is religious zeal, and while you probably could come up with a story in which a radical Muslim murders a Jew out of religious zeal, it would be hard to come up with a story in which he wanted to conceal it (though you could have friends do that over his objections) and in the current environment I doubt that such a story would be well received.
There is another way in which accomplices make things easier, though: being twice as many people they make twice as many mistakes—that is, they leave twice as many clues. Worse yet from the perspective of the murderer and better yet from the perspective of the detective, they can have the motivation to double-cross each other.
As with all solutions to a problem in a murder mystery, an accomplice solves some problems and causes others. This is why it’s better in real life to always do right, of course, because then all of your problems will at least be good problems to have, but in fiction it’s what has made mystery such an enduring genre.
If you enjoy murder mysteries, please consider checking out my murder mystery, The Dean Died Over Winter Break.