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Nothing like a good argument

My school year came to an end yesterday when I clicked on "send," emailing my prof my term paper on abortion. Following my final exam in Systematic Theology on Thursday, I basically lived with this term paper. I had all the research, but it was a task to sort through everything and crank out fifteen pages. I felt a weight lift, and following that, we took the dogs out for a walk in the orchard to celebrate. I felt a little giddy, wondering what I should read first. For the next few days, I have to clean up a house which has been much neglected and then, I head home to the west for a celebration and to soak up the big sky. There is something restful and soothing about returning to our roots.

I have looked back at what I have learned this year, and I think the most significant thing is the fact that argumentation skills are lacking; in my own life and from others. Every week in theology and ethics, I had to prepare reflections that demanded sound argumentation. There was no room for emotional appeals, and that was often hard in ethics. The prof was looking for sound arguments. It was a challenge, because I do tend to be an emotional person, and having to argue dispassionately is work for me. But I am seeing the absolute necessity of it.

In order to prepare for my research paper, which was on the justifiability of abortion (or, in the case of my thesis, the lack of it), I read Peter Kreeft's highly entertaining book The Unaborted Socrates. This book presents the return of Socrates to modern times to debate abortion with a doctor, a philosopher, and a psychologist. Being Socrates, or course, he uses Socratic dialogue to debate the issues. As he simply asks questions, he frequently leads his opponent to see the contradictions or discrepancies of their arguments. In the course of his dialogues, he keeps after his opponent to keep on topic, and not skirt the issue by bringing in matters that detract from the argument. As I read the book, I realized how often my own arguments are less a focus on the issue and more my own personal feelings or misunderstandings of an issue. It was a very helpful book not only for understanding the issues around the abortion debate, but for pursuing solid argumentation with everything.

I will share one of my favourite exchanges. In the course of discussing what makes a person a person, essence or functionality, Socrates's opponent, Herrod, comments:

Herrod: Wait a minute! Are you saying a fetus is a person just because it is a potential person?

Socrates: No.

Herrod: I should hope not, because if so, then a single spermatazoon or a single ovum is also a person, and spermicide becomes homicide. In fact, even the primordial slime that evolved into us during ten million years or so is a potential person, and slime-killing becomes murder.

Socrates: Ah, yes. Our Father Slime. I found it a fascinating experience to read your science library and meet your new gods. A real advance upon ours. We thought ourselves to be bastards of the gods above in our foolishness, rather than legitimate children of the slime below. We knew so very little about the true gods, it seems.

I confess to enjoying discussion that may involve a little debate, but I know that I don't always have the best argumentation skills. I'm beginning to learn, even if it is late in life. It is interesting, because now that I have had to confront my own skills, I am beginning to recognize bad argumentation in others. And there is a lot of it out there.

Now that school is done, I've got some reading planned. I'm starting with the book Knowing God and Ourselves. I picked up a used two-volume edition of the Battles/McNeill edition of the Institutes, and I am going to endeavour to read as much as I can of it over the summer. In addition to continuing to read Canadian fiction and non-fiction, I am starting right away with a book on baptism written by my prof and Sinclair Ferguson's Devoted to God. I plan on studying I Corinthians over the summer, along with Anthony Thiselton's commentary. I don't know how much I'll get read, because it is summer, and spending time in the outdoors and with other creative pursuits is something else I have planned. I shall be ready and able to meet in September with Greek Elements I and Church History I.

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