Arguing Well by Avoiding the Genetic Fallacy | Mark P. Shea | CWR
Fixating on who uttered an idea or argument can distract us from whether or not it is true or false.
It is often said that faith (and, if comes to that, culture) is “caught, not taught.” A massive amount of what we believe most deeply comes to us, not from engagement in abstract arguments about ethics, philosophy, or theology, but from somebody we love. Indeed, the inadequacy of the mere intellect against the volcanic forces of the heart is a well-known principle we all understand in practice. As C.S. Lewis said:
No justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that “a gentleman does not cheat,” than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers.
We are social animals and our habit of imprinting on somebody we trust, of forming tribal bonds, of having faith in those we love and distrust of those we dislike is an enormously powerful feature built-in at the baby factory. Before you ever learn about abstract ethics at school, you know in your bones that you’d trust your Uncle George with your life, that the Hatfields are dirty lying cheats that decent people don’t trust as far they can throw them, that Mama has never lied to you and that Father Malone may be a gruff old coot but he’s a saint and the salt of the earth. We learn what we love and hate in very large measure from the fact that people we love find certain things lovable and other things loathsome.
Those people, by the way, need not be real. Fictional characters from Mr. Micawber to Innocent Smith to Frodo Baggins to Captain Kirk can be deep taproots of moral formation for us. Ronald Moore, a writer who created the Battlestar Galactica reboot, remarks that in growing up watching Star Trek, he deeply internalized the conviction that Kirk, Bones, and Spock were simply what decent people look like as they go about meeting and overcoming challenges. Similarly, I sometimes tell people that about 95 percent of my Catholic moral formation came, not from the Catechism or from homilies or teachings on doctrine, but from two hugely important sources that I think every parent should steep their children in: Twilight Zone re-runs and The Lord of the Rings. Both deeply ingrained in my bones the conviction that however tempting it may be, nothing good can come of doing evil in order to try to achieve some good and that faithfulness in the face of such temptation is rewarded.