Can We Talk?

It Is Crucial That We Put Our Minds to Contentious Issues

Society has never before been so divided on so many issues, including such things as abortion, sexual morality, marriage, sexual "identity," the use of fetal "tissue," "recreational" drugs, "science" (e.g., man-caused global warming and evolution), and various "social justice" concerns. When these issues are spoken of, the emotions on display are often intense.

Plenty of people may take sides on these issues, but they rarely debate them intelligently. (When was the last time you heard a rational public debate on whether or not abortion takes a human life?) Yet open-minded debate should be possible whenever the goal is to discover the truth and to act upon it according to our best lights.

Alas, fewer and fewer citizens today are even capable of debating contentious issues, for on many of our college campuses the free exchange of ideas has been shut down by political correctness and the creation of "safe spaces." You might think a safe space would be where you can freely exchange ideas without being threatened. But a safe space today means a place where you are insulated and protected from hearing any ideas that challenge your views. No diversity of thought or opinion is allowed in many college classrooms. This does not bode well for future civil discourse on contentious issues.

Intelligence & Knowledge

In order to have a genuine discussion and debate, of course, you need words and arguments that appeal to logic as well as to common sense. To evaluate an argument, you must pay close attention to the meaning of its words and assess its use of logic. Several articles in this issue deal with the unique human capacity for reasoning and for employing intelligence and education in the pursuit of true knowledge.

In Parting Shot, for example, Tom Gilson shows how the misuse of the word "love" in an argument can lead to wrong conclusions in a debate ("Love, Rhetorically," p. 64).

In Reconnaissance, Terrell Clemmons argues that education should help students discover true knowledge, whereas many academics today believe that their task is merely to help students construct their own knowledge ("Truth, Be Known,"p. 22).

In one of our features, Charles Edward White argues that our ability to think, to reason, and to engage in philosophy is an unmistakably clear sign that God exists ("Cogito; Ergo Deus Est," p. 38).

And in Basic Training, apologist Sean McDowell shows college students how to strengthen their faith while at school ("College Prep II," p. 20). Of course, this task is harder at some schools than at others, though most public and many private schools have adopted political correctness to one degree or another.

Still, there may be signs that the hold of political correctness and thought-policing is weakening. For instance, the dean of students at the University of Chicago, John Ellison, wrote the following in a letter to incoming freshmen this past August:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual "safe spaces" where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Campuses should be places where students are challenged to attend to the meanings of words, use logic, and consider evidence and facts in the pursuit of genuine knowledge. We cannot agree on everything, but we should at least agree that we've been given the gifts of intelligence and reason for a purpose. It would be a terrible thing to waste those gifts.

Salvo takes clear positions on contentious issues and seeks to provide facts and reasons for defending those positions. We welcome open discussion and debate on divisive matters, not just in the classroom but in society as a whole.

We trust that this issue of Salvo will be useful to students, and we urge older readers to make sure their college-age children and grandchildren are reading Salvo. Now is a good time to purchase gift subscriptions for them.  •

is the executive editor of Salvo and the  Director of Publications for the Fellowship of St. James.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #39, Winter 2016 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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