A couple years back, as part of the hysterics accompanying the imposition of ObamaCare, I had a discussion with a friend of mine, that went something like the following:
Me: While not opposed to universal health care in principle, there’s no way the plan on the table works out economically – how do you pay for insurance for an additional 35 million people without charging someone somewhere a lot of money?
Friend: the money will come from pharmaceutical company profits.
Me: total pharmaceutical company profits are not nearly enough to cover the expenses.
Friend (in effect): You are believing a bunch of conservative lies!
Me: No, really – you can check it up yourself! You don’t need anyone to tell you – just look it up.
Now, while I doubt my friend put any effort into verifying his belief, I *did* go look it up – I looked up total Medicare costs in a year – I think it was 2008 – divided by the number of people covered to get a rough idea about how much per person it cost for government mandated health coverage. Then, I multiplied by the number of uncovered people to get a ballpark on how much money we’re talking about here. Then you go to a stock market tracking site, and check the total profits of the pharmaceutical industry in the same year.
I don’t recall the numbers off hand, but the cost of the insurance was at least an order of magnitude greater than the sum of industry profits. Sure, these are sloppy numbers, but they’re at least real and objective. It’s a way different argument that my numbers need revision – a point eagerly granted, now tell me how to do it better – than to argue that it’s just KNOWN that the profits of the evil evil Big Pharma will cover insurance for 35 million people.
Ya know? Not like there’s not arguments to make – just not that one.
In a similar way, I’ve always found certain historical arguments very odd. Again, there are some things – not everything, but some things – that one can simply settle – can simply figure out all by one’s self without recourse to the digestive processes of middlemen. Yet, this is hardly taught in schools. It’s as if the schools are set up specifically to produce people who don’t know how to do any research, who can’t recognize the difference between, say, Dan Brown and Thucydides. Partly, this is achieved by near-paranoid avoidance of source materials. This leads to some odd things, such as whole books on Platonic philosophy, which lay out in systematic details what Plato taught – ignoring that nowhere in the extant works of Plato is such a system laid out, a fact well-known to anyone who has taken the effort to read Plato seriously. Or supposedly serious works repeat the claim that Hypatia was brutally murdered and the library of Alexandra burnt by Christian crowd – even though there are contemporary source materials, easily found on the interwebs, that clearly declare otherwise.
This brings me to another class of bizarre claims: those centering around what books make up the Bible. What seems odd to me is that this is not essentially a theological issue, but an historical one, yet direct, simple recourse to history is almost never employed by one side in the dispute – the side that wants to pretend, against the simple direct historical evidence, that the question of what books make up the Bible was some hotly debated issue up until very recent times.
Fact is, in the West, the question was settled definitively by the early 5th century, at the absolute latest – and this is a simple, direct historical fact backed up by both ample physical evidence (all complete editions of the Vulgate translation of St. Jerome, for one) and the assertions of contemporary Christians, Augustine’s being the best known example.
So, sure, you can question whether, for example Maccabees or Song of Songs should be included in the Bible. But it is simply culpably ignorant to claim that this question was not settled in the West between 400 A.D. and 1520 A.D. Jerome settled it. Augustine settled in. Church councils (whether you think they were merely political confabs or the evidence of the Spirit working in the world doesn’t really matter here) settled it. Anyone picking up a Bible in the West between the completion of Jerome’s translation and the mid-19th century would have found – and, if they knew the Bible, expected to find – Song of Songs and Maccabees right there. People may very well have had questions, but the question wasn’t ‘is Song of Songs part of the Bible?’ – clearly, irrefutably, *physically*, it was.