In our community and elsewhere, this weekend we are invited to the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Catholics each August 15 commemorate the death of Mary and her bodily assumption into Heaven. Supposedly this occurred before her body could decay, and this represents our own bodily resurrection at the end of time. Belief that Mary’s body was assumed into Heaven dates from the fourth century.
This belief was made firm on when on November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared "that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." Belief in the Assumption is a required belief of all Catholics. Any who would dissent from this dogma, Pope Pius declared, will have "fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith." http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/Assumption.htm
This fall semester, I’m teaching argumentation to students. My students will learn the rules of debate. We will become familiar with making assumptions but that won’t entail infallibility. I won’t be teaching the Catholic definition of the word Assumption—that it is a fact that the mother of Jesus was a Virgin and at her death she was taken bodily into heaven.
The Merriam Webster definition of assumption includes the Catholic definition of the Assumption of Mary; but it also includes “assuming that something is true” and “a fact or statement (as a proposition, axiom, postulate, or notion) taken for granted”. In our courts, assuming that something is true is not sufficient. In a case of murder, the burden of proof is that one must prove an individual is “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” That’s the way you and I would want it were we accused of murder.
Dare I instruct my students that it is reasonable to assume something is true that lacks evidence? I think not. In my classroom I’m to teach critical thinking and argument. Does this mean I should hold that both definitions of assumption are valid? Does it mean that “taken for granted as true” is not worthy of educated people? Does it mean that to declare one as infallible is something that one’s debate opponents should not do? Of course, I am careful not to mix common sense with religion in my classroom; or should I? The one truth I know beyond a reasonable doubt is that there is good food this weekend at the Feast of the Assumption.