Archive | January, 2014

Logical Gal and how kids can benefit from studying Logic

31 Jan

A friend of mine’s daughter has her doubts about the benefit of studying logic.  It’s a required course for 7th graders at her classical school.  The curriculum introduces informal logic in the 7th grade and formal logic in the 8th grade.

Informal logic consists in all the fallacies or bad arguments people use.  Formal logic is the study of GOOD argumentation: its form.

But back to this pre-teen’s question about the relevance of her course of study.  I hear it as a French teacher and I’m sure math teachers have learned to shut their ears to this perennial question:

When am I ever going to use THIS!!!!

Here is how the study of poor argumentation can help anyone, no matter his or her age.  Armed with the ability to identify the fallacies of others, you will be able to stop them in their tracks when they come at you with:

  • …because I said so (Argumentum ad Baculum – Big Stick) – often used by parents!!
  • …because anyone who is anybody does it (Argumentum Populum – Mob Appeal)
  • …because Justin Bieber said they were the coolest running shoes (Celebrity Transfer)
  • …because these puppies and kittens will die if you don’t donate (Appeal to Pity – avoiding looking at other reasons, but relying on emotions)
  • You shouldn’t vote Joe for class president because he’s a nerd (Ad Hominem Abusive- attacking the guy’s character instead of looking at his platform)
  • You can’t trust what the disciples said about Jesus.  After all, they lived with him for 3 years (Ad Hominem Circumstantial – they must be biased)
  • You can’t tell me not to smoke because YOU smoke (Tu Quoque – you do it, too!)
  • You can either clean up your room now or before dinner. (False dichotomy – there are other times) again, a favorite of parents.
  • If you don’t let me have a cell phone at age 12, then I’ll never have any friends! (Strawman – reframing someone’s position incorrectly)- a favorite of kids!

These are just a few of the more common poor arguments or fallacies that swirl around us all the time. Can you see how useful it will be in giving both the adolescent AND the adult the key to identifying manipulative reasoning?  Even if you don’t remember the name of any of them, once you understand the thinking behind each, they are super easy (and fun!) to spot.  All you have to do, when someone tries to lay one of these babies on you,  is come back forcefully with,

That’s a fallacy!  

Try your hand at spotting what’s wrong in this argument!

How did you do? At least you could probably FEEL that something was wrong.  It’s invalid because of the Fallacy of Equivocation.    In this case, the word ‘headache’ is used equivocally, that is – in two different senses, thus creating the fallacy.  Equivocal words refer to two different concepts.  Both a pain in one’s head and an annoying condition can be called a headache.

Finally, the one fallacy I, as a parent, would want my child to have down pat before launching out on his or her own would be the Fallacy of the Non Sequitor.

If you have a daughter, think of a guy trying to get her to indulge in casual sex with him.  He lays this line on her: “If you love me, you’ll sleep with me!”

That, my dear readers, is an example of something that does not follow, hence a NON SEQUITOR.

Or how about this: “Why not try these drugs, you’re only young once!”

In both cases, there is absolutely NO CONNECTION between the first premise and the second.  Our children need to know HOW to respond before they are faced with the absurd and sinful choices, which will surely be thrown at them.

Question: Which fallacies have you succumbed to?

Logical Gal and post hoc ergo propter hoc

29 Jan

When our boys were little they liked to flaunt a Latin phrase their Dad taught them over dinner:

“Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” 

It’s Latin for ‘after this, therefore because of this’.  Let’s take two events that occur, one after the other. What happens is that people ASSUME that in this parallel occurrence,the first event actually causes the second.  But this isn’t necessarily true.  The two events just HAPPEN to be linked.  It’s pure coincidence.

The above bread example shows how silly this thinking can be.  But I encounter it frequently as a teacher.

Me:  John, why don’t you ever study for your history tests?

John:  Because I studied once and got an F!  Therefore, if I study, I do worse!

John probably thinks that his response, however faulty it is, suffices to get annoying  teachers or parents off his back! But armed with reason, we can counter and call him on his error. Unfortunately, teens are not the only ones susceptible to this fallacy.

The idea of jinxes or superstitions are another area where people indulge in ‘stinkin thinkin.’   Maybe one time, on a lark, you performed a series of actions or incanted a string of words and good happened to ensue!  So, your thinking goes, it was what you said or did that caused the happy outcome!  But anyone with a pea pod of sense would be able to show how unscientific that is!

My husband is an engineer and has taught me another version of this fallacy: Correlation does not imply Causation.  Just because two things are related does not automatically mean that one causes the other.

Yet, don’t we live, ever trying to prove causation!  If I have heartburn, I’ll think back to what I ate, to see if there is a connection.  I’ll narrow down the foods, through trial and error, trying to pinpoint a true cause of the heartburn.

So maybe this fallacy, whether you call it by its fancy Latin name of Post Hoc ,Ergo Propter Hoc or its more plain-jane name of False Cause, happens because people don’t pursue their experiments long enough to actually establish cause and effect!  To guard against coming to a faulty conclusion, carefully study not just the events that happen and the order they occur.  Look for other factors, other possible reasons for something to occur. Don’t assume what you might prefer to conclude!  Be rigorous.

I’ll leave you with one thought. Although we have dealt with mostly frivolous examples, this line of thinking can be compelling when parents are faced with the unknowns of a disease like autism.  Some people have linked childhood vaccinations TO a diagnosis of autism.  This may or not be true.  But the consequences of going unvaccinated can be a matter of life and death!

Question: What are some examples from your life where you actually have succumbed to the Post Hoc Fallacy?

Logical Gal – do rallying cries help?

27 Jan

We know a rallying cry when we hear one!

  • Remember the Alamo!
  • Win this one for the Gipper!
  • One for all, and all for one!

Last week was the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision, Roe v. Wade. In all the publicity from both sides, I read a Washington Post story about one gal’s battle to end the intentional killing of innocent human fetuses.

Lila Rose, 25, was raised in a Christian home-schooling family where she breathed in family values.  Her attitude towards children was shaped by her parents who preached, “A baby is a gift!”  (They raised 8 kids!)

Certainly that is a belief supported by the Bible as well as by other cultures.  But as an argument for the pro-life movement, it doesn’t carry very much weight.  And what I am afraid of is that most people live in the shallows of slogans and battle cries.  They don’t take the time to develop an argument that carries any weight.

Likewise, the other side of the abortion argument hides behind loud jabbing media sound bytes. In the newspaper account of Lila Rose, her tactics of posing as a young teen impregnated by an older man are described.  Her subterfuge is purposefully intended to catch an abortion provider’s reaction and counsel on video. THEIR remarks included the following accusation:

  • Pretending to be pregnant and hiding a camera is ‘unethical’!

Now that would be funny, if it weren’t so sad!  They apparently consider subterfuge ‘wrong’, but not murder.

Again, this slogan isn’t very helpful.  Sound bytes tend to stop a discussion.  But where do you go from there?

Actually, there IS a way out!  As with any discussion, the best place to start is at the beginning.

No, not à la Julie Andrews with her Do-Re-Mi song….

…but with the definition of terms.  What do we mean by GIFT when we say babies are a gift? What do we mean by UNETHICAL?

Once you clear away vagueness and identify pre-suppositions, you can see more clearly how you might carry on with a discussion.

So DON’T shy away from hard topics.  DON’T fear stepping on toes or offending people.  If you ask questions in a non-threatening manner, in a way that shows you genuinely want to know, people will open up. And you’re more likely to actually get somewhere where you wouldn’t by merely  lobbing  slogans or rallying cries.

Question:  Where might you begin?  What is a context or arena that you live in that is dominated by short pithy, but worthless sayings?

Logical Gal and Confirmation Bias

24 Jan

Confirmation Bias – “the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses” Wikipedia link

I ran across this term the other day in a dissection of what Jesus taught about faith.   Instead of analyzing the content of the explanation on its own merits, it apparently was easier to accuse the author of having committed confirmation bias.   This form of bias seems to say that people look for evidence to support their already-formulated position INSTEAD of following the evidence wherever it leads.

Looking at the variety of contexts that employ this term, it’s easy to spot how people from all sides of any issue assume and accuse others  of this practice.

Let’s look at the first of two images: 

In this poster, the conclusion is that a Christian is someone who has an explanation for the NOs or non-responses from God when he prays.  In other words, Christians always give God an ‘out’.

The above global warming baseball bat suggests that global warming advocates don’t follow reason, but they just beat the so-called ‘deniers’ over the head with forceful rhetoric.  Being closed to evidence, they surround themselves with those who share their views.

So, can we escape this faulty way of thinking? Can one actually, objectively, follow the evidence wherever it leads?  Can facts, evidence or proof be neutral?

Two incubators of bias come to mind.  There might very well be more, but these are a start:

  • the words we choose for a term describing a concept
  • the context we place an issue, the way we ‘frame’ it, the story we build around it to offer explanations

Terms do carry baggage.  I can describe someone either as ‘poor’ or as  ‘constrained by resources’.

And since we value our time and that of our listener/reader, we often use the shortcut of borrowing an accepted analogy or context that we assume all will understand.  For example, terms such as ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ bring to mind real-life people or situations.  We then just cobble information onto that picture to flesh it out, reenforcing what we WANT to think about the issue.

For a help in understanding our lack of neutrality, you might like to read the hyperlinked blog below where the author distinguishes between INFERRING from evidence and seeking to RATIONALIZE an already held position.

Blog about how we treat evidence

So what can we do to mitigate this Confirmation Bias?  One technique that takes EFFORT might help. When we communicate with others, we could choose to use a fresh analogy to explain what we believe about something.  That would help us and the other person to think originally.  It’s like not allowing someone to always slip on their Birkenstock sandals.   You know – those German shoes that have a ‘Fussbett ‘or foodbed that eventually conforms to the wearer’s particular foot shape?

If you shaped them when you had a growth on your foot and still wear them long after the growth has been removed, they wouldn’t fit you so well any more.

Likewise, you might be misinformed about an issue and need to start fresh without prior assumptions.

Question:  where do you see how you might be suffering from Confirmation Bias?

Logical Gal – descriptive v. prescriptive statements

22 Jan

If you love me, keep my commandments!

If you love me, you will keep my commandments!

What’s the difference?

The first one is PREscriptive – it tells us what to do.

The second one is DEscriptive – it elaborates how something actually is.

In grammar terms, the DO THIS is called the imperative and the THIS IS HOW IT IS goes by the name of the indicative.

As you can see, the verb tense makes a weighty difference.  Welcome to another example of how distinctions can shed light on the meaning of a term or doctrine in this case.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who is condemning the Bible because of certain historical events recounted in its pages? They might bring up polygamy practiced by the patriarchs, for example, or rape.  What makes the Bible so believable is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the past.  In fact Jesus’ lineage includes a prostitute, schemers and murderers.  Does it follow, then, that God is promoting these behaviors? Not at all!  This is one way the prescriptive/descriptive distinction is so useful!

But getting back to the 2 translations of the John 15:14 verse at the beginning.  What’s up with having two subtle but very different senses?

The first one is actually an incorrect rendering of the Greek.  The original language in fact DESCRIBES the behavior of a follower and lover of Jesus.  The KJV and the NIV translators, for whatever reason(s), were either unable to understand the verb tenses or unwilling or ASSUMED what Jesus said and meant.

But why would someone want to add a burden to a child of God? (Earn this!)  Because the idea of GRACE, of the gift of a relationship with God that one doesn’t have to work for, sounds too good to be true!

Question: Have you misinterpreted a descriptive illustration for one that is prescriptive?

Logical Gal and why your major premise matters

20 Jan

Premise 1 – All exercise benefits the body

Premise 2 – Stretching is an exercise

Conclusion – Therefore, stretching benefits the body

The major premise is the first one listed above, in this example:  All exercise benefits the body

The way deductive logic works is this: if the major and minor premises are TRUE and if the syllogism conforms to rules for correct formation (validity), then the conclusion is both predictable and true. Without going into any further discussion about validity, I want to focus on WHY one’s major premise, in general, can have a weighty effect on one’s conclusions.

Consider a married couple who trust each other.

Let’s imagine a situation where it’s reported to the husband (Bob) that his wife has been seen having some tête-à-tête discussions with a man.  The implication is that maybe the wife (Sue) is having an affair.

Depending on Bob’s major premise about his wife and their marriage, his conclusions will be different.

Possibility # 1:

Overarching presupposition or major premise:

Premise 1:  (overarching major assumption) My wife is faithful to her word and her commitments and loves me completely

Premise 2: (the circumstances) – But she has been seen with another man

Conclusion: since I know that she is a faithful gal and loves me, there must be a good explanation for who that other man is.

Here’s the other major premise and subsequent conclusion

Premise 1: My wife might not be totally committed to me or to our marriage

Premise 2: She’s been spotted talking with another guy

Conclusion: She probably is cheating on me

Do you see how what we do with new information depends on the contexts we hold?  Same circumstance in both cases – the wife is seen meeting with another man.  The conclusions vary due to the original major premise or pre-supposition.  Sometimes we are not even aware ourselves of the assumptions we carry with us.  They are implicit, subconscious.  But they powerfully affect our lives!

Just for fun, what could be possible scenarios that would explain Sue’s conversations with a strange man? Maybe she was talking….

  • with a craftsman to plan a special birthday gift for her husband
  • with a potential care-giver for her aging father
  • with their son’s new soccer coach about his skills

If we move into a more spiritual plane, how might our pre-suppositions about God affect our reactions and conclusions to disappointment, illness or acts of violence we encounter in life? Have you ever met someone who claims that God must not be good or all-powerful if He lets evil happen?

Their major premise probably goes something like this:

God is good and almighty if He answers my prayers according to my desires

Question: Have you ever drawn a conclusion about someone or something that turned out wrong? How did your assumption or major premise impact your conclusion?

Logical Gal and even MORE precise definintions

17 Jan

I’ve written about how much I like the idea of making distinctions between this and that.  “As opposed to what?”  is one of my favorite questions for better comprehension.

Well, last night, I heard someone explain the difference between the BROAD sense of the word MIRACLE and the NARROW sense.


In essence  miracle could refer to something supernatural in both senses. Yet there would be real distinctions.  That means we would NOT be committing the fallacy of equivocation (same word, completely different concepts). 

So what are the broad and narrow definitions of miracle?  The broad version describes a miracle as an extraordinary event that seems to defy the laws of nature. (paraphrase of what I heard last night) 

The narrow sense limits the scope of these extraordinary events as specifically those meant to attest to the authenticity of the prophet/person carrying them out.  So Moses was able to change a river into blood to prove that he was sent by God.  Jesus was able to multiply fishes and loaves and raise a man from being 3 days-dead to prove that he was sent by God.

Following on the heals of what I heard last night about broad and narrow versions,  this morning I read about 2 levels of faith in God.  Immediately I saw the connection between narrow and broad.  The devotional recounted  Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples who panicked while he slept in the boat amidst the violent storm.

Luke 8:22-25

22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

So did the disciples NOT believe Jesus? Of course they did.  They had left their professions to join his band of brothers and follow him.  That act certainly indicated a level of commitment and belief.

But as I’m learning, there is FAITH in God and then there is FAITH in God.  Again we can make the distinction between a general or broad sense and a more specific or narrow sense.

These normal rugged men had the faith THAT he was a man sent from God and they might even at times have accepted his words that he WAS God. (John 10:30 – “I and the Father are one” )

But as I read in my devotional this morning, their faith was NOT the (narrow ) kind that expected the Creator God to CARE for his creation because he loved them. It was the more general kind, the kind that doesn’t touch one’s heart so much.   All of a sudden ‘faith in God’ takes on a new sense.  And how I answer the following question affects my presuppositions. Do I believe and trust that God is a loving God whose every action toward me is one motivated by His love for me? 

That is worth chewing on.  To use a word very passé: I like these NUANCED definitions.

Logical Gal – those who invent NEW definitions

15 Jan

Have you noticed how some people are taking the unauthorized liberty to REDEFINE a term?

Take the concept of TOLERANCE. The original definition has to do with listening politely to something with which you do not agree…..or being respectful of the practices of beliefs that you do not hold.   But there would be nothing to tolerate if everyone thought and acted alike. Tolerance PRE-SUPPOSES a difference in opinions.

But today – ‘they’ (whoever they are) have decided that tolerance means to accept as equally TRUE and GOOD ALL beliefs and practices.  That is a very different term.

Yesterday I heard about a deliberate practice of REDEFINING the concept of FAITH to:

  • Belief without evidence

This is ridiculous.  If your opponent gets to change the meaning of a term going into a debate, then you can’t engage!  A fundamental principle for conducting any discussion is that both sides agree on the key terms being used.

But if the so-called New Atheists   play loose with terms instead of openly or honestly, with the concurrence of all parties, they are in essence relying on a couple of fallacies.

The Fallacy of Equivocal Terms is when YOU are referring to one concept and your interlocutor is referring to a completely different one, but the term is pronounced and spelled the same.  Examples of equivocal terms are pitcher (a thrower of a ball, a receptacle for beverages) or plane (a geometrical shape, an aircraft).

The reason someone might employ such a rhetorical trick might be to create a Straw Man.  If I can redefine something to make it look ridiculous and then easily point that out to an audience, I’ve scored points.

And this is what Peter Boghossian has done.  

In his encounters with Christians, this Philosophy Professor and leading atheist dismisses the traditional definition of faith – a belief based on evidence.  Instead he substitutes his conveniently created definition of belief which he has set up to be a blind kind of adherence to something that can’t be proven.  But that’s not faith.

If you say, “I have faith that this Southwest Boing 737 will fly” and you climb onboard, I doubt you are exercising the blind, irrational decision that Boghossian is mocking.   Most likely you are aware of the safety record of commercial aircraft and the anecdotal evidence of your past flights and those of others.

So, too, is the Christian faith based on evidence.  In Acts, chapter 1, verse 3 – Luke says about Jesus – After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Anyone who ridicules a created straw-man concept of faith is being intellectually dishonest, lazy and just plain mean.

So what is a Logical Jane or Joe to do?

Politely ‘call them’  on their switcheroo

and flush it out in the open.  Say – “So, you’re changing the definition of our terms? – I will not allow you to do that.  If we can’t agree on terms, there’s no point having this discussion.”    A decent person will have the humility to back down or at least concede their ploy!

Question:  What other terms have you noticed being redefined in society?

Logical Gal – Ridicule is NOT a good argument

13 Jan

In a podcast today, I listened to a discussion about the so-called Reason Rally held almost 2 years ago in March.   Link to USA Today article   The topic ironically was the LACK of reason throughout the entire day-long ‘fest’.  Instead of providing sound arguments to counter faith-based truth claims,  it seems that rally leaders focused on mockery as a tactic to attack Christians. Even the guest speaker, well-known atheist Richard Dawkins, advocated using ridicule  –

“Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.”

How about instead – “.…specific claims that need to be countered with reason-based arguments…”

But religious folks as well as atheists are obligated to substantiate their premises. Yes, religion needs to be able to provide reasons for its truth claims.  Everybody who asserts a position or viewpoint does! That’s why we all need to be equipped with the tools that logic can provide.  It’s not just people of faith who need to be able to defend a view, EVERYONE does.

But if you are a Christian who cares about the attempts to marginalize belief in Jesus, you need especially to be aware that the ‘new atheists’ are gaining momentum under the guidance of a skilled tactician, Dr. Peter Boghossian. He’s even written a book entitled A Manual for Creating Atheists.

Whether we confront someone antagonistic to our religious or political  beliefs or whether we want to be able to convince another person to DO or BELIEVE something, we are far more effective if we know first of all:

  • what we believe and
  • WHY we hold that position

And the time and place to think through our reasons is BEFORE we are confronted.

What I’m thinking about doing is picking one issue in each of maybe 3 areas to start.  Then boiling down my belief about each separate issue into one premise or truth claim.  And then jotting down 3 reasons why I hold that view.

For example:


Thoughtful and critical reading is a valuable skill worth the time it takes to gain proficiency.


1) Citizens who can influence government for the good need to be able to read positions and make intelligent assessments.

2) Rational thinking and reading are not automatic behaviors  such as breathing, but are developed.

3) Much time is necessary to develop this skill  – as with any other skill.

4) Since we are limited in time and energy, choosing to invest in this skill and say NO to others is a given.

5) The benefits for having worked to become a proficient and astute reader will spillover in other domains of one’s life.

That’s just a start to my 30 second elevator speech about why I think we should encourage each other and our children to READ good stuff.

Question: What positions do you want to think through and defend?

Logical Gal asks: Do you follow your heart? Do you trust your instincts?

10 Jan

What do you think?  do you agree with the premise advanced above?

Or how about this one:

My ‘gut instinct’ tells me to ask both authors of these truisms, “How do you know intuition or your heart won’t deceive you?”

I haven’t checked other world religions, but Christianity has us humans pegged! The prophet Jeremiah thundered, ”

Do you think Jeremiah trusted his heart?

Actually we have been given brains in order to think, to reason, to assess and to calculate.  Certainly we are to take our feelings into account.  But our mind should rule our feelings.

Acquiring some tools such as……

  • decision-making
  • making distinctions
  • techniques for defining terms
  • and the building blocks of a sound argument…….

can empower us and strengthen our confidence in our mind.

You’ve heard of arranged marriages, 2 strangers who start to correspond and as they get to know each other, they come to love each other.

This technique that builds positive feelings also works with inanimate objects. For example, I’ve experienced the phenomenon of going from feeling neutral about a subject to actually liking it JUST because I acquired knowledge about the topic.  The more one knows about something, the more the feelings fall into line.  We CAN influence our feelings by our acquired knowledge.

As a Christian, I have experienced this in my relationship with God.  How does one ‘love’ God? He’s invisible, immaterial and different from us.  What I’ve found is the more I learn about Him, the more my affections grow.

So, if you’re making some resolutions, this 2nd week of January, resolve NOT to oppose heart and mind, but to make your mind the master of your feelings.  Then you can start to trust your feelings more, but only if they are supporting reality, aka TRUTH.

And don’t fall for that old canard that juxtaposes supposed head knowledge against heart knowledge. Knowledge is knowledge and feelings are feelings.  Keep that distinction!

Question: What do you think about the possibility that when someone says,

  • I just followed my heart

They actually meant:

  • I just did what I actually WANTED to do, without considering whether is was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’