Friday, April 22, 2016


It seems to me that just about any science documentary will express a kind of "Alice in Wonderland" amazement about nature. This often goes hand in hand with a kind of unconscious dogma of meaninglessness, which holds that all things in the end come from nothing intelligent and with no intended purpose, regardless of how brilliantly it is put together. The unspoken premise is that the finely-tuned universe, our planet, and the first life forms just magically appear by themselves given enough time for matter and energy to jostle around. Once life creates itself, it evolves thoughtlessly into many things including us. It seems mindlessness can create things better than the human mind can.

For once, I’d like to see a science or nature documentary on main stream television with a different and more rational premise; one that presupposes “intelligence”. If you know of one, let me know. In the meantime, below is a link to a new and splendid article in the Catholic Herald by John Beaumont about science, faith, reason and Fr. Stanley Jaki.
My favorite part…
A fellow philosopher announced that he didn’t believe in free will. Fr Jaki responded, “Did you say that freely?”

Friday, April 15, 2016

Of Restrooms and Reason

Recently, the topics of gender and restrooms came up where I work during some required “diversity training” sponsored by our Human Resources department and the companies’ legal team—I was inclined to call some parts of it the “comply or be punished training”.

There are currently no transgender employees in the building I work in (that I know of), but as a policy our company will allow any such individuals to use whatever restroom they best identify with. One of the presenters said something to the effect of “Just deal with it. You’ll have your own private stall anyway”. I thought, “Why can't the transgender individual just deal with it (“it” being the restroom that best matches their body)? They’ll have their own private stall anyway.”

The situation reminded me of a book called Ten Universal Principals; A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues by Fr. Robert Spitzer and how the first three principals can be used on just about any topic. Regardless of the situation, some things can be universal to any thinking process and can proceed without invoking any specific belief system. The first three principals are the “Principles of Reason,” and they underscore the universality of rational thought.

The Principle of Non-Contradiction (Plato & Aristotle)
Valid opinions or theories have no internal contradictions.1

If I said I was a married bachelor and we were clear on the meaning of “married” and “bachelor”, then a married bachelor is an internal contradiction. There would be no need for you to investigate my life to see if my claim was true or false. It would be the same situation if I said I could draw a square-shaped circle. If we are clear on the definition of these shapes, then we know that drawing a square-shaped circle is not possible. No further probing required.
So if I’m a man, saying I’m a woman and using the ladies room would enter into the realm of contradiction, right? Not really; if we simply change the definition of gender to exclude (or make subordinate) any physical aspect of the human body, we can avoid this embarrassing conundrum. But don’t definitions need to make sense to be accepted as true? No; consider pro-choice thinking. If we can accept that a person in his or her first stage of life ought to be lawfully referred to as a “non-person”, we’ll accept any incoherency about the human condition.

The Principle of Objective Evidence (Plato & Aristotle)
Non-arbitrary opinions or theories are based upon publicly verifiable evidence.2

Data accessible only to you is subjective. Data accessible to everyone is objective. If I say I’m a man, what objective and publicly verifiable evidence can I show to support my theory? There is genetic data, hormone data, size/shape and also physical body parts that can be publicly verified…hopefully in a way that will not violate public nudity laws. But here again, it comes down to “definitions”. Words are important! Revenant data cannot be sorted from irrelevant data without first defining categories clearly. If gender is defined as primarily existing “between the ears”, then a note from my psychologist saying that I truly believe I’m a woman may suffice to comply with this second principle of reason.

The Principle of Complete Explanation (Socrates, Plato & Aristotle)
The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data.3

Are all opinions equally valid? No, some are more valid than others. If my explanation is better than your explanation, it is more valid. Simply put, “better” means being able to explain the most facts using the fewest and simplest assumptions. I would argue that a restroom is a physical place in which we do physical acts, ergo the restroom we choose should best match our physical bodies. If this is coherent, then there should be a certain universality about it. If I go to the gym (physical place) for a workout (physical acts) the equipment I choose should match, or be adjusted to match, my physical body.
Of course, if not for the urinals all the restrooms would be physically the same, but such is not the case where I work and in most places. Even if they were the same or if a person had a full sex-change operation, reflect upon explaining who we are based on whatever we self-identify with in terms of public policy.

The philosophy that says “I think, therefore I am” makes the reality of our being dependent upon our mind. If my mind determines my being, then the old saying follows that “perception is reality”. If this is true, then there should be a certain universality about it. If I think I am a cat, then I am a cat. But who thinks that? Let’s be practical; if a Caucasian man was raised by African Americans in an African American community and he also self-identifies as an African America, then this is the reality. He is an African American and should have access to any and all affirmative action benefits. Agreed?
Always remember that perception is not reality; it only informs our response to reality.

In God we trust…all others bring “data”.

1. Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), p. 11.
2. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles, p. 14.
3. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles, p. 9.