Archive | December, 2013

Logical Gal finds a ‘reasonable’ editorial in local paper

30 Dec

Finally, a well-articulated editorial in our local, one-sided newspaper!

I love to read the paper because it’s the source of discussion for my husband and me and I also find topics for this blog.

So last night I was pleased to find a guest editorialist present his position and then back it up with reasons.  Hence, he wrote a ‘reasonable’ essay.

His premise was clear:  let’s dump the Affordable Care Act and initiate better reform to the current health care system.  He then did what every logical Joe and Jane should do: he presented several reasons for his first premise (dumping the incoming system), followed by carefully described proposals supporting his second premise (reforming the old way).

I haven’t studied the issue enough to be able to have facts, figures and various scenarios at my finger tips, but the way he wrote made reading and thinking through the 2 arguments easy to follow.  I was then able to discuss the issues with my husband. It’s axiomatic that we can’t articulate what we don’t understand.

So as we close out 2013, let’s go into the New Year with at least one tool that will help us to read, think and communicate better.

When you read, look for the premises – the main points.  Ask yourself: What is the author trying to say?  I often underline such premises or propositions when I read to learn (as opposed to reading for diversion).  Once you have identified the premises, then look for the reasons.  Remember, that a premise often is a conclusion that has to be supported.  You don’t have to support everything you say; some things are accepted by all people.

The sun came out today – a fact that is accepted in your local area, or at least by meteorologists.

It’s better when the sun shines brightly – this is a hypothesis that needs shoring up with reasons.

If the writer or speaker offers NEITHER clear premises, NOR reasons for his beliefs, then don’t waste your time reading any further.

Conversely, when you yourself write, take the time to formulate a syllogism for each position you are offering. That simple 3- proposition formula will guide your writing so you’re less likely to forget a major point or ramble.

Here is an example of what could be the core of an essay:

Main point, what you’re arguing:

America’s health care system should be reformed, not replaced

Reasons or premises (P1, P2) to back your point, your conclusion:

P1: Retaining smaller, individual delivery systems (rather than replacing them with one massive federal program) can more easily adapt to particular needs of consumers

P2: Small but significant changes can make health care more affordable, more ‘tailorable’ and more responsive to individuals

‘They’ say that if you’re looking for a job, or for investors to support a new product, you should have a 30-second elevator speech ‘in your pocket’. This ‘commercial’ would explain either to the CEO or to a seed-fund Patron who happened to join your elevator why they should hire you/ invest in your idea.  And to do that, you need to know what you’re ‘selling’ and why.   We’re always selling ideas at the very minimum.  Let’s resolve to work out what we believe and why for those matters important to us.

 

Logical Gal – possible explanations that don’t hold water

27 Dec

If you have read any of these logic posts you might have picked up two details about me:

  • I like the tool of making  DISTINCTIONS
  • I’m a slow learner who needs LOTS of repetition

I can’t tell you how many times I have read the caveat that “offering a possible explanation of how something came to be” is not the same as offering an argument for a point of view and then backing it up with reasons.

So the other day, I was delighted to find that I had remembered this distinction and was actually able to apply it to a debate ALL BY MYSELF!

I had heard of a debate about reconciling the book of Genesis to the Big Bang Theory.  I only remembered the name Dr. Hugh Ross as the one arguing for this.  So when I googled it, I didn’t find the debate, but my computer did bring up a response by someone writing for ‘Answers In Genesis’

As I scanned the lengthy counter-argument written to critique Hugh Ross’ point of view, I stopped at a paragraph devoted to EXPLAINING why Ross holds his position.  The author offered that the scientist had fallen in love with astronomy as a boy and read voraciously from age 8 until he arrived at the conclusion that if the universe had a beginning (i.e due to the Big Bang) then someone created it.  (In his later teen years Ross studied all the world’s religious holy books and settled on Christianity being the True account, so he accepted Christ as Lord and savior. )

The Answers in Genesis (AIG) writer further stated that Hugh Ross holds to the Big Bang Theory because his world view was shaped by his astronomy readings at an ‘impressionable young age’  before he became a Christian.

It was at this point that I intuited something fishy.  I read on to see if there were any reasons backing up this accusation.  That’s when it hit me: the AIG post writer had just offered a possible and perhaps plausible scenario to say WHY Hugh Ross holds his worldview. But it was mere supposition.  There were no reasons. He had NO evidence.  He had proffered an explanation, but not an argument.  This explanation is also an example of the Genetic Fallacy – supposing someone believes something due to the influence of their origins.  This huge assumption needs to be substantiated with evidence.

When I shared Hugh Ross’ point of view and the criticizer with my husband, Michael mentioned that all we had to do was find a counter-example, that is: a person who is NOT an astrononer nor scientifically-bent who believes Genesis and the Big Bang do NOT contradict. Such a person would just happen to be a thinking Christian. (gee – what a concept! – I hope we are not such a rare breed after all! If you want to know more about why God gave us a rational mind, see below.) 

Link to order the book

What this whole episode did, above anything else, was ENCOURAGE me.  Given enough repetition, these  logical tools for critical thinking DO stick, even to the middle-aged brain of an average logical Jane!  There IS value in reading, studying and thinking through ways to handle discussions about important issues.

Question: where have you been encouraged in your growth as a logical person?

Logical Gal and Jesus as source of Logic

25 Dec

Greek letters LOGOS mean word

It thrills me that God is a thinking, rational God.

Whether you look in the Old or New Testaments, you can’t help but see many commands to think correctly, reason well, employ your mind sufficiently.

God actually INVITES us to think through propositions and truth with Him.  And Jesus Himself points to evidence as a way to back up His words.  He invites those who don’t believe His words, to look at His miracles.  The essay below discusses this divine invitation NOT to fear thinking through doubts.

A blog post about nurturing a thinking faith that includes doubts

But on this Christmas Day, 2013, let me leave you with an encouragement to continue to develop your argumentation skills as you THINK through issues whether in politics, moral issues of the day or questions of faith.  If the creator of the entire universe is called the Logic, the ‘Logos’ which is Greek for WORD, then know that we humans, made in God’s image, are wired to think and use words as well.

God uses them for good, and we, too, have that choice. So don’t be afraid to seek, discern, distinguish and parse out propositional Truth.  Our experience of the Living Truth will be so much richer, the more we apply our minds to understanding the Truth, the Logos.

May you rest knowing that at the core of the universe is a logical, good, joy-filled and joy-sharing living God. Rejoice!

Logical Gal – Holiday Expectations and the Mob Appeal Fallacy

23 Dec

Here’s a common fallacy for you!

  • Everybody celebrates Christmas by ____________(you fill in the blank)
  • Therefore, I must celebrate the same way

This is a pressure-producing example of Mob Appeal

The only way to rescue oneself from misery is to ask some questions:

  • Why must you be like everyone else?
  • How do you know ‘they’ are doing Christmas the ‘correct way’?
  • What would happen if your celebration were different?
  • Is it an absolute truth that the majority always knows what is right?

I almost succumbed to the Ad Populum Fallacy at various times this month of December:

  • In my new school, I noticed that teachers started to gift their colleagues with little goodies – Should I do as well?
  • In our new house in the woods, I considered whether I should put the traditional electric candles in the windows (no neighbors to see them) – Must I keep up this tradition?
  • Our Frasier Fir was glorious just as it sat in our living room– naked in it’s tree stand  – Must we decorate it?
  • So many musical offerings are listed in our local paper this time of year –  Should we not attend at least one to be truly in the Christmas spirit?
  • And what about clothes and jewelry with Christmas themes?  Every gal seems to be sporting those holiday earrings or sweaters or pins or …… I don’t like schmaltzy stuff.  Do I have to get with the program?

So as a Christmas present to you and to me: I grant us all the right to think for ourselves and to make decisions based on values grounded in Truth.  And for those matters that are mere convention and often inconsequential, it really doesn’t matter what you do.  If you DO find yourself going along with convention because you want to blend in, then at least admit it to yourself, laugh and lighten up!

Question:  what burdensome practice can you drop since you no longer have to toe the line and do what you think everyone else is doing?

If everyone is doing it, it must be right.

Logical Gal surprised at those who ban free speech

20 Dec

” A content editor on Reddit’s science forum wrote Monday that the site has banned climate-change skeptics, and asks why more news outlets haven’t done the same.” 
Here’s the article

Hard to believe, isn’t it!  My first reaction is:

  • What is Reddit afraid of?

My next thought was:

  • The content police of Reddit must think that their readers can’t exercise enough intelligence to discern good arguments from poor arguments!

Do they really need to fear the truth?  If the so-called Climate Deniers can’t advance rational reasons for their point of view, then their argument will crumble on its own.

Don’t hide from Truth!

What is ominous is how totalitarian this action feels.   Think Nazi Germany or Marxist Soviet Union  – organizations that only allowed their approved message.

So what’s the best antidote for dealing with controversial issues?  –  Critical thinking skills that  allow you to think through and question whatever doesn’t line up with truth.  But we mustn’t forget to be kind in both our written and our spoken tone.  It could be that those advancing the minority view on Reddit had been harsh, badgering and/or vulgar.  Shame on them and us if that is the case!  Name-calling is easy and requires no thinking skills.

Question: Where do you need to take the high road, carefully picking your words but  NOT backing  away from a hot issue?

Question:

Logical Gal: When people argue past each other

18 Dec

This image perfectly captures most high-profile debates. There can never be any resolution because the view advanced by ONE party is completely different from that of the OTHER party.  So what’s the point?

There isn’t any!

Take the Keystone Pipeline project for example:

  • Those favoring it defend it because it will meet an energy need of the US and provide jobs.

  • Those set against it attack it for possible environmental damage to the thousands of acres of fertile farmlands and nearby water sources.

The other difficult topic that comes to mind is the abortion issue. Here again, each side is arguing to support a different end conclusion.  Here are the 2 conclusions which are miles apart.

  • Therefore, women should have the final say over what happens to their bodies.
  • Therefore, abortion kills an innocent life.

So how is one supposed to handle divisive issues?  Never talk about them?

Not at all!  Citizens NEED to be informed and express their views, working with like-minded neighbors and communicating with elected officials.

Let’s take a lesson from Debate Teams.  They don’t avoid controversy.  Instead, they embrace it.  So what is their secret for rational, calm discourse?

They pick ONE conclusion and either argue to support it or argue to refute it.

But what do you do with the 2 assertions of the abortion issue?  Well, you could agree to argue first one point and then the other.  At least the playing field would be level and more could be accomplished.  When someone is listening intently to HOW you defend a woman’s right to be the final arbiter regarding her body, then you are more likely to thoughtfully and rationally construct a case.

Question: Where are you arguing past someone and how could you divide the issue into 2 different discussions?

Logical Gal is shocked by bald-faced naked assertion

16 Dec

Where’s the rationale? There IS none!

I’m amazed at what people can get away with!

I read the local newspaper so I can have material for this blog!  Today being Sunday, I wasn’t disappointed.  A local guest columnist wrote to persuade us to DO something to influence President Obama’s decision about the Keystone Pipeline that has been planned to allow crude oil to run from Canada to Texas.

I really don’t know enough about issue yet to make the cost-benefit analysis necessary to evaluate whether we should undertake such a project.  I imagine there are good arguments on both sides. Although like most controversial topics, each side probably talks past the other because of how they have framed the stakes.  But that’s another blog post.

What caught my attention today, however, was the lack of reasons offered for a powerful premise. To wit: “The proposed pipeline, which will at times break and spill oil, will be 1700 miles long and pass through….fertile farmland….crossing aquifers….drinking water.”

Wait a minute, does this college-level teacher have a crystal ball? What statistics does he cite for past breaks and spills?  To be fair to the engineers constructing the pipeline, he could just as easily assume they have designed a ‘better’ pipeline to eliminate or reduce the likelihood of breakage.

What logic has taught me is to read and listen more carefully.  Every word DOES communicate. Writers have an obligation to offer sound reasons for their point of view.  Readers and consumers of the word must ALSO take responsibility for critical listening and questioning.  Otherwise, we might be lazy and pass on an unvetted assertion to some unthinking soul.

Question: What assertions do you make without offering reasons?

Logical Gal and Straw Man Fallacy

13 Dec

Creating a Straw Man Fallacy comes naturally to us humans. 

We don’t have to be trained and coached.  In fact, this in-bred talent shows itself early in children.

Kids actually have a knack for painting their parents’ position as ogre-like!

(Disclaimer, all examples are fictitious and do not coincide with my life or that of people whom I know.) 

Daughter: Why can’t I go out with Harry on a date? We’re just going to a movie!

Parents: Honey, we think 13 years old is far too young to go out alone with a boy.

Daughter:  You just want me to grow up as a prisoner of this house, become a nun and live out the rest of my days in a monastery!

I’ve been working on reducing this same skill.  It surfaces on the rare occasions that my husband and I flare up with each other.  For that’s what marital arguments seem to be. They are rarely planned out logical arguments with reasons marshalled and well organized.  Emotional intensity tends to inflame a small issue and our attack tendencies go into Straw-Man mode.

Wife: I would really appreciate it if you would take the trash out to the street on Wednesday night ahead of the garbage pick up on Thursdays

Husband:  So you don’t think I’m pulling my weight?

The ‘little-lawyer’ in the wife should exclaim, “Objection, Your Honor, leading!” 

Here’s another version:

Husband: Sweetie, I know you’re busy with a job, the kids and all, but do you think we could have something warm for dinner?

Wife:  So you expect me to be superwoman AND have a svelte figure?

*

Is the use of a straw man inducive to further conversation?  Not at all.  It’s a purely aggressive attack – meant to shut down the other.  And being such a naturally ‘nice’ person, I’m shocked at how easily harsh words can fly out of my mouth without forethought.

So how can one respond?  I think one has to resist being drawn in by the bait and repeat/rephrase the original statement with a bit more information, but careful to keep a neutral tone.

Mom to daughter – Actually, your father and I think that 16 is a reasonable age to start dating young men.  How does that sound?

Wife to husband – If you take out the garbage the night before, then we won’t be caught off-guard if the garbage men come early.

Husband to wife – How about we buy a new microwave and a crockpot so we can warm up or add to leftovers?

Question:  What’s a memorable Straw Man Fallacy you’ve been slapped with?

Logical Gal and the value of repetition

11 Dec

I had a student at my old school who often repeated the Latin truism, that repetition is the mother of learning

It follows that we shouldn’t be discouraged when it takes us so long to acquire/absorb a new idea to the degree that it actually changes us.  Hearing something once, 5 times or even 20 times often isn’t enough for the concept or new nugget of information to stick.

I  teach French.  It’s often said that students need to hear a new phrase up to 70 times for that phrase to be IN them, so that it comes out effortlessly.  So why should it be any different with ideas?

All this is to say, that last week I was GREATLY encouraged when I caught myself asking 4 of my favorite words, ” As opposed to what?”  This was a first for me – and something I have wanted to be able to think spontaneously.

I was reading in Romans and came across Paul’s statement:

  • For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, (Romans 1:9)

My happy first reaction was to ask myself, “How else could he be serving God? – if not with his spirit, then with what?” In essence, I had automatically asked those 4 words, “as opposed to what”!

Up until now, I have been able to notice, AFTER THE FACT, when other authors move in that direction.  They are then able to make a distinction about something  that I had sped by.

I really like DISTINCTION-MAKING.  It’s how I can understand a concept. 

But back to other ways Paul could serve God:

Some ways to serve God

  • He could use his 2 hands and feet and go and do, or go and preach
  • He could use his mind and creatively fit analogies to his particular audience to make his words more penetrating
  • Or he could  serve God with his possessions

Personally, I would have probably substituted energy/life/work/hands for Paul’s choice of the term spirit.

Why bother take the time to think through all this?  For the happy benefit of having another question. When we ask ‘as opposed to what’, we are often led to other questions.  When we actively engage with ideas, we are enriched.

So now I get to ponder this: What does it mean to serve God with one’s spirit?

Now that’s a question worth chewing on!

Question:  What new idea have you acquired or absorbed recently that has made an impact on you?

Logical Gal says: ‘No such thing as blind faith!’

9 Dec

I often cringe when Christians are ridiculed as being un-thinking simpletons who believe in the God of the Bible and the truth of His word by ‘blind faith’.

But before reacting out of mere emotion to what amounts to inaccurate name-calling, it’s more helpful to actually examine the terms. (Duh! – first step in logic, right?)

So what is ‘faith’?  The New Testament uses the Greek word ‘pistis‘ (Strong’s # 4102).  ‘Trust’ would be a more accurate translation.  And what is it that we are called to trust? – Evidence that God presents.

This is no blind trust.  God actually raised a dead man who claimed to be the son of God from his grave (evidence  = empty tomb, guarded by top-notch Roman soldiers). Then God provided 500 or so ordinary men and women in Jerusalem who gave eye-witness testimony that described  actually seeing, touching, hearing and eating with this resurrected Jesus of Nazareth during a period of 40 days.

Besides this direct evidence, there is also the accumulation of fulfilled promises.   Many prophesies of the Bible have come to pass.  Written down declarations of what will happen in the future is pretty risky.  God really ‘put it out there’ by having the direct evidence of written scrolls.  And as year succeeds year, the accumulation of these situations having come to pass is building a trust-worthy case of circumstantial evidence.  Trusting God is no ‘leap in the dark’!

So what we have is not BLIND faith, but reasoned, evidence-based trust in God and what He says.  That’s a lot stronger and more reliable than what amounts to living by sight of circumstances. Unfortunately, because of emotion, people often make assumptions followed by decisions based only on what they see.

” Seeing is believing!”  Can you say ‘oxymoron’?

Question: Which makes a better guiding principle for life?

  • A reasoned trust in God’s promises based on evidence

or

  • A blind faith in one’s circumstances as perceived through the senses