No, we're never gonna quitNobody reads this blog yet, but for those who might, you'll have noticed that I'm very concerned with how language is used. Consider the use of "it's just______." We hear that sort of phrase all of the time.
Ain't nothing wrong with it
Just acting like we're animals
Concerning abortion, we hear "It's just a bunch of cells."
I hear Christians say "well, if evolution is true, then your mind is just a bunch of neurons firing."
In this song, the phrase is "Ain't nuthin' wrong with it, we're just a couple animals."
These phrases are all the sort that describes a phenomenon with the intention of devaluing it. I don't care if the result of sperm+egg is 'just a bunch of cells.' Every living thing is 'just a bunch of cells.' However, the way our minds work, using this sort of phrase devalues the object of the conversation in the mind of the listener.
So what if the mind is 'just a bunch of neurons firing?' It's a fact, whether or not you believe in God, and that fact in no way diminishes the trustworthiness of our minds. When put in those terms, though, the speaker is trying to devalue the object.
Similarly, in the Nickelback song, the singer is trying to justify his actions by saying 'we're just a couple animals.' That's fine - in fact, it's completely true. We're all animals, though, and that fact has no bearing on right and wrong. However, the assumption in many human minds is that animals are of a lesser moral quality than humans, so if we're animals, then any action that an animal would perform is permissible. However, that is not the case. While it's true that many animals are much more civil towards members of their own species than humans are to our own, some animals eat their mates after copulating. Hopefully this is not a permissible thing for human beings to do.
It's false to say 'X is just ____, according to you, therefore your perspective is false.' That's obvious. Using that sort of unspoken line of reasoning, though, has a strong impact on the average listener, who may be of the sort of mindset where if a statement is unappealing, it is disregarded. It's best saved for another post, but people have to deal with reality - it is possible, if not common, for people to think 'I want there to be an afterlife. I didn't get a fair life, so there must be one,' and they'll believe it as if their belief makes any difference to reality. I may revisit this thought later.
A Further Example
One other example bears mentioning. On a Facebook discussion board this morning, I responded to an interesting claim. A young man made the perfectly valid claim that scientific claims can't exactly be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. He then provided Webster's definition of faith (firm belief in something for which there is no proof). Since there is no proof for scientific claims, he said "There is evidence for evolution. There is no proof however. Thus, evolution (among some other things), like religion, must be taken on faith."
This is a pretty simple syllogism:
1. There is no proof for scientific theories
2. A belief without proof is faith.
3. Therefore, science, like religion, is based on faith.
Unfortunately, there is a little bit of a problem here. He presented 'proof' as certainty beyond a shadow of doubt. He pointed out that experiments exist that could disprove the Second Law of Thermodynamics, for instance. What he may not have realized is that experiments exist that could disprove nearly everything. For instance, nobody can prove 'beyond a shadow of doubt' that reality has existed for more than 5 minutes. In the sort of capacity he uses 'proof,' every single belief a person has is faith.
But that's not how faith is normally used, and it's not the impression that his words conveyed. Had he used the dictionary to understand the word, he would have found that 'proof' is defined thus: "evidence sufficient to establish a thing as true." For example, in our justice system, people are 'proven' guilty or innocent - beyond a reasonable doubt (scientific conclusions, likewise, are beyond a reasonable doubt).
So, is there a word to distinguish between the 'faith' that plants photosynthesize, and the 'faith' that there is an afterlife? Well, I'd like to think so. In fact, I'll call a propositional attitude regarding a statement a "belief," such an attitude based on solid evidence "sound belief" and such an attitude based on no such evidence (or in spite of evidence to the contrary) faith.
Using the word faith as this fellow did is a bad idea. I'm not sure he recognizes it yet, but when 'faith' is used to describe scientific theories, the automatic assumption is not the correct one - that 'faith' has been expanded to mean every single belief a human being has - the assumption is that scientific theories are not built on solid evidential foundations. This leads to similar devaluation by the average listener.
Many people think of 'rhetoric' to mean 'saying something without saying anything.' That's exactly what this person did - whether or not he recognized that, I'm not sure though, so I won't jump to that conclusion and condemn his actions.
The point to take away from all of this is that often a phenomenon is described in a way that casts it negatively, just to try to devalue a certain perspective. Don't fall for it. Question the motives of the speaker. If he is trying to deceive or confuse, he is worthy of moral condemnation.
PS I should mention that I'll use 'he' in most of my examples. Our language is regrettably lacking in the sort of terminology that would allow me to be gender-neutral in that sort of case (without being ponderous, anyway). I may switch and use 'she' every now and then just to throw the reader off :)