(For this I am indebted to Conor Cunningham; in fact, I’m basically stealing this from him and adding some aspects of mine own)
Some people are fond of saying “such and such cannot be the case, look at how bad (x) is that they do!” We all know examples of this line of reasoning and we are probably so used to hearing them that they seem second nature. “You cannot seriously be a Roman Catholic, look at what they did during the Crusades!” is frequently espoused. Or, “Religion incites violence, just look at the Thirty Years War!” Or, “Communism is absolutely bunk, just look at the former Soviet Union!” These seem so plain and common-sensible that we take them as profound.
The trouble is, these examples are themselves bunk and terrible cases of logic. If we accept these, that is, if statements such as these prove what they seem, then they prove TOO MUCH. This will be shown to be the case shortly.
But first my favourite example, because it is near and dear to my heart and one that I am, very nearly, the only one in my immediate family to not hold to.
Auntie Em is a devout Christian (this example does not exactly work if she turns out to be a Muslim) and lives in the Bible Belt of Mid-America. She attends a country church, reads her Bible every day, and absolutely does not drink. She is a champion of abstinence; drinking is, for her, the 8th deadly sin. Her convictions are so strong on this issue that, when it is pointed out to her that in the Scriptures Jesus turned water into wine she promptly responds: “Jesus was wrong!” But WHY?
It turns out that Auntie Em has had experience with alcoholics. Indeed, her grandfather was one, her father was one, her best friends’ dad was one, and she has a degenerate nephew who seems to enjoy tipping back a little too much as well (especially after he started hanging out with Catholics). In short, she has seen what too much drinking can do to people and she will have non of it. Any drink is too much drink (after all, how do we know is too much? One drop could put us over!). Therefore, drinking is out of the question! (What good could a drink ever do anyway?)
But, hold on, something here has gone dreadfully wrong. What all these examples, and especially the case of Auntie Em, seem to demonstrate is that ‘abuse is proper use’. However, as was eminently clear (even to those ever witty and clever Medievals), abusus non tollit usum. That is, abuse does not demonstrate proper use. In plainer language, just because someone uses something for bad it does not demonstrate that every example of that kind of activity is exactly the same.
If abuse DID define what use was, then we would be up a pretty crazy creek without any hope of a paddle. If logic of this sort held, then marriage would be defined by divorce, ownership would be defined by theft, sex by rape, health by sickness, fine dining by McDonalds, good reading by the Twilight series, religion by violence and idiotic beliefs, peace by wars… the list goes on and on. That is, if Auntie Em is right then the whole world is turned upside down. We might as well forbid people from having children because, after all, life would be defined by death. Kill them all!
Hold on you say, this is getting carried away. Auntie Em doesn’t mean to hold to all THOSE crazy things. Of course not, no one would suspect her of it. NEVERTHELESS, logic is what logic does and Auntie Em is a bad logician. In fact, the very same sort of logic is used by Atheists to dangle the nonsense of religion in the faces of persons such as Auntie Em. If Auntie Em doesn’t agree with the likes of Richard Dawkins (and his nonsensical arguments), then she should give up on her faulty logic, buy a pint of Guinness, and tip one back like the did in the Old Country. Drinking does not equate to drunkenness and sobriety does not equate to temperance (oh, how far from the Greeks we have strayed!).
“And wine gladdens the heart of man.” Psalm 103 (104):15