Archive | February, 2014

Logical Gal examines the ‘extraordinary’

28 Feb

Extraordinary Claims

I heard this thrown out as a defeater for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.  At first blush, it sounds pretty reasonable.  But then the skeptic in me started to question this claim.

When you face an assertion such as this you need to ask about the quantifier.

To wit, do ALL extraordinary claims require this degree of evidence?  or just some?

If the one making this ‘claim’ affirms that he intends ALL such claims to require that caliber of evidence, then you have an easy way to defeat his proposition.  All you have to do is think of ONE counter-example and you have defeated him.

So what would qualify as a potential counter-example?  I immediately thought of the lottery.

Lottery winner

If one of our sons called up to tell us that he had won the lottery, that would qualify as an extraordinary claim.  So what kind of evidence would he need to produce for me to believe him?

Actually, something very simple

  • He could show me the winning ticket
  • I’d also take a picture like the one above as proof

It wouldn’t take much to substantiate his amazing claim.

Now back to the context of the Carl Sagan quote.  Sagan who was paraphrasing David Hume was referring to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  That certainly does qualify as an extra-ordinary claim.  You don’t see former dead people walking around very often.  So how would I handle the demand for ‘extra-ordinary’ evidence?

What do we do when we don’t know which way to proceed?

Ask questions

The easiest tact to take is to ask your interlocutor what she means by extra-ordinary evidence. What would qualify?  After all, we have eye-witness testimony that was verifiable by many.  Paul mentions that over 500 people encountered the risen Jesus.  And when Paul made that claim, had it not been true, most of those people were still alive themselves.  They could have come forward and said, “I did not say that!”  Moreover, no body was ever found (that would have defeated the ‘resurrected Jesus’ claim) and scared followers changed their demeanor overnight and started a movement that has only built up momentum in the 2000 years since the event.  Christianity continues to expand today.

Finally – I would ask Carl Sagan or David Hume or anyone who repeats this double extra-ordinary assertion the following: Is YOUR proposition an ordinary one or an extraordinary one?  What kind of evidence do YOU have to justify your position?

We logical Joes and Janes have to exercise healthy skepticism.  Resurrection-deniers don’t have a corner on that market!


Logical Gal and nonsense before breakfast

26 Feb

Are you a ‘swallower’  or a ‘thinker’?

Do you examine what people say? read with an eye to whether it is true or not?  If so, good for you!

People who don't think 26 Feb 2014

But even before we look at whether an assertion is true, we have to understand what it says!!

Let me give you an example.  The following quote was at the end of an English word-a-day explanation I receive by email.  I like to read the tidbits of life’s wisdom with which they terminate their posts.  But this one made NO sense, whatsoever!

“It is the final proof of God’s omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us” . -Peter De Vries, novelist (1910-1993)


So what do we do with this?  We start with the terms.  Which ones might be ambiguous?

I spotted 4:

  • God (don’t laugh – we can’t assume everyone is referring to the same being)
  • omnipotence
  • exist
  • save

So I would begin by asking Mr. DeVries (if he were alive) just what he meant by each one of these terms.  Only then could we begin to evaluate whether or not what he was saying was true or false or just plain non-sensical.

Once we had clarified the terms, I think I would have asked a couple of questions.  To start with,

  • What do we need saving from?
  • What kinds of powers does something that doesn’t exist have? For if something doesn’t exist, that’s like saying: “something is nothing

And we know from the Law of Identity that A cannot equal non-A.

Unless this guy was a deconstructionist who maintained that ‘nothing’ is an entity that has properties.  That’s just a non-sensical redefining of  terms .

Whew!  All this ‘gray cell exercise’ made me hungry for breakfast!

Question:  What else can you see in that quote that gives you pause?  

Logical Gal – what affects your conclusions?

24 Feb

Here are some assertions that could lead to two very different conclusions:

  • There is a problem in allowing people with a rigid view of the world to decide the content of schoolbooks.
  • They’ll get some thing right, but they will leave out facts that go against their beliefs.
  • The result will be students not ready to compete with their peers from countries like China and Germany

Who controls our schools - 24 Feb 2014

Who might be this group of people with the rigid point of view?

–My first thought was of those with an agenda, like climate alarmists…..

–Or those who refuse to follow the evidence where it might lead, like militant materialists….

—A third possibility might be those who see the world in black and white terms (wealth = wrong, poverty = noble)

Income inequality - 24 Feb 2014

However, since I happened to come by those assertions in a letter to the editor of the Tampa Bay Times, I doubt the writer had those categories of people in mind.  Tampa is a ‘blue’ city in the midst of a ‘red’ state.  So it’s a good bet he was thinking of Christians who believe the Bible is authoritative.

It just galls me that most people project onto others this characteristic of skewed sight and limiting pre-suppositions.  Do they truly think they HAVE the truth?

Blind mouse - 24 Feb 2014

Note to self – don’t assume you are neutral and agenda-free and have perfect sight!  Practice humility.

Logical Gal and the Argument from Ignorance

20 Feb

I heard someone accuse another of employing the Argument from Ignorance.

He painted the scenario like this:

Accuser:  “You are being UNreasonable.   Why?  Just listen to what you are, in essence, saying: Since we don’t have an explanation for how the universe came into existence, then it must be God who caused it.  That is defaulting to arguing from a basis of ignorance and that, my friend,  is a fallacy!”

As it turns out, the one putting forth the ‘God Hypothesis’ actually had some good reasons for his conclusion.  He was using abductive reasoning.  This form of logic takes the information at hand and seeks the best possible explanation based on evidence at hand.

What’s interesting about the Argument from Ignorance is that there are two versions, the converse of the other.

  • Since you can’t prove mermaids don’t exist, therefore they exist!
  • Since you can’t prove mermaids do exist, therefore they don’t!

The latter also involves a false dilemma.  It assumes that there are only 2 choices:

a) we either KNOW that a proposition is true

b) or we KNOW that a proposition is false

But there is actually a 3rd choice – that we don’t know…

Question:  are there other possibilities than  TRUE, FALSE or DON’T KNOW?

Where do you encounter this kind of faulty thinking?

Logical Gal and the Law of Non-Contradiction

19 Feb

Knowing how to use the Law of Non-Contradiction helps us think.  

This rule states that something cannot both be and not be in the same way at the same time.

My most favorite example addresses whether someone IS pregnant or is NOT pregnant.  A woman clearly cannot both BE with child and NOT be with child.

But many scenarios don’t present themselves as clearly as the above example.  We have to sort of ‘translate’ the situation into a ‘Kansas and not-Kansas’ fashion.

This morning I heard an apologist use the Law of Non-Contradiction in this more complicated way.  But because I have previously encountered the reason he was offering for an argument, I could recall how to set up the particulars.

He was in dialogue with another man about the 3 explanations for the origin of the universe.  Here were the 3 choices he mentioned.

Choice # 1:  The universe has already existed.

Choice # 2:  The universe had a beginning and therefore something or someone caused it.

Choice # 3:  The universe caused itself to come into existence.

It is this 3rd choice that is logically fallacious because of the Law of Non-Contradiction.  And that was all the apologist said.  It was left up to us, the listeners, to think through how that is so.

And this is the implication:  The universe would have to both BE and NOT-BE at the same time.  We’re imagining NON-SENSE for how can something both NOT exist and exist?

Furthermore, that scenario is  like…..MAGIC!  something from nothing.

You might feel you’re way over your head when it comes to scientific discussions.  But being able to spot when someone breaks the Law of Non-Contradiction is a tool that will at least empower you to ASK the one advancing the assertion to stop and think.  That in itself is useful!

Question:  Where has someone tried to use the Law of Non-Contradiction on you?

Logical Gal – 2 meanings for ‘God’

17 Feb

Everyone worships the same God, right?

I never knew that there were TWO different questions about God? (see link to an essay at the bottom of this post – the author goes into more details).

People often toss out the question: Do you believe in God?

Before we respond (to ANY question!), we need clarification.  Unless we know what the intent of the questioner is, there’s no point in answering.  As Ravi Zacharias says, ” Intent precedes content

So back to the 2 questions about God – you know how much I love distinctions.  Well, here is one that I NEVER considered (which makes it all the more fun!)

Question # 1:  WHAT is God?

New to me was the idea that ‘God’ is a title or an office, a position like King, President or CEO.

Question # 2:  WHO is God? 

Who is the being that fills the office of God?  Here is where we think about the specific qualities of attributes of the one filling that role. Asking WHO implies that the answer is a person; so he has a name.

For instance, we often here that Muslims, Jews and Christians all worship the same God.  Is that true?

I now see how useful this 2-question tool can be to think through that issue.  Most people would probably agree on the WHAT question, for all 3 religions are mono-theistic.

But when it comes to WHO fills that role, then each of us has a very different answer.

For Jews, it is Yahweh – a one- substance, one-person supernatural creator and sustainer.  The concept of Jesus as an equal member of a triune God is NOT part of their doctrine.

For Muslims, it’s Allah – (and  yes, they happen to use the same term for his role and his name ). They also do not believe that Jesus is God’s son who died on the cross to save sinners.

For Christians, it’s a Person who is one substance or essence, but has 3 different persons. He goes by many names depending on which attribute is being emphasized. (id est – Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Prince of Peace, Good Shepherd, Lion of Judah…….and so)

What is the take away from this distinction between WHO and WHAT?

Namely:  the more tools in our kitbag, (i.e the more questions we have at our disposal), then the clearer our thinking can be.  This world is a complicated place.  One of the keys to living well with the other 7 billion inhabitants is to understand their particular concerns as well as the issues that affect all of us.  We need logical minds to listen well and to communicate clearly.  Seeking distinctions in order to ask more precise questions is a skill worth practicing.

Sorting out what and who God is – good essay

Logical Gal and Darwin

14 Feb

I love our daily newspaper for the practice it gives me.  I get to think through a reasoned response to illogical essays/letters to the editor, short on rationalism.

Wednesday marked Charles Darwin’s 205th birthday.  A former middle school science teacher wrote a column celebrating Darwin as one of humanity’s greatest thinkers.

He then moved to why evolution should be taught in the schools, citing the topic as a means to give children practice in combining critical thinking with observation and evidence.

I’m all for critical thinking.  But what is ironic is that ‘faith-filled’ followers of Evolutionary Theory have to overlook the absence of evidence in the fossil record in order to hold on to their theory.  They have to substitute a philosophical preference for good science.

We ordinary logical Janes and Joes celebrate and support any and every effort to get both kids AND adults to think.  Thinking is difficult and most of us shy away from exercising that muscle.  Instead we settle for hackneyed phrases and comfortable emotional crutches to deal with life.

I was willing to be generous and overlook the writer’s infatuation with evolution until he set up a false dichotomy and communicated that there was only one flavor of Christians who believed God created everything.

He asserts that the ‘battle is over’ between those who support a scientific approach to understanding our origins and those who believe in creationism.  He then characterizes the latter group as being “6-day, young-earthers”.

There certainly is room at the orthodox Christian table for both old and young-earthers.  But it galls me when non-believers want to portray Christians as being ‘slack-jawed fundamentalists yokels who are afraid of science’.

In an effort to distance all thinking folk from the ‘narrow-minded’ Christians, the author acknowledges the existence of denominations of the monotheism community, the religious liberals who DO buy into evolution.  But if evolution theory teaches an undirected random and blind process of change, then there is no room for a personal God.

Christians and non-Christians alike should embrace clear thinking.  Our commitment, no matter our spiritual background, should be to follow the evidence where it leads and to look for Truth. Yes, there might be consequences we don’t savor, but Truth ought to trump our particular preferences.

Finally misleading portrayals of ‘the other side’ are harmful and unkind.  It is possible that we might inadvertently fall into the Fallacy of the Bifurcation, thinking that there are only two choices when, in fact, there are more.  We must have the humility to admit we are wrong and thank the one who pointed it out. That is called intellectual honesty.

Logical Gal – words must be precise

12 Feb

There’s the fallacy of fake precision and then there is LACK of precision.

You know how much I love distinctions.  I also enjoy the fact that very different concepts can be represented by the same term, thereby causing confusion.

Take the little preposition ‘of’: it’s simple enough. But its power lies in an ability to change the meaning of the word that follows.

I recently understood this in a discussion of the phrase: “the righteousness of God

Here are two possible meanings –

  • righteousness that has its origins IN God – it proceeds from God
  • righteousness that is an attribute or characteristic of God – one of His qualities

Likewise, the ‘fruit OF the Spirit’ can refer to characteristics of God the Holy Spirit OR qualities gifted to us FROM God the Holy Spirit.

Although related, these two meanings are dissimilar in the doctrine that can proceed.  In one case, you have to work, if you want that same quality; in the other definition all you have to do is RECEIVE.

Words have consequences.  But more than an unintentional mix-up in equivocal meanings, sometimes people love to hammer one particular definition to their benefit, no matter if its appropriate.

If you want to see a segment of people who are bull-doggedly dedicated to a concrete precise and specific use of words, look no farther than argumentative adolescents.  They often will hold an adult to the literal meaning of an utterance.

But YOU SAID, ‘I don’t want to hear anymore that you have had another run-in with your math teacher’  – All I’m saying, Mom, is don’t listen to what my school is telling you!” 

What YOU the parent meant was for the child NOT to get into a dispute with the teacher.  But the child is clinging to the literal meaning of the term, ‘ hear’.  Oy vey – youth!

To end this treatment of precision on a lighter note, I offer a philosophical use of precise terms.  In French, there are two words for ‘second’.  Deuxième refers to 2nd in a list of other ordinals where 2nd is NOT the last in the series.  If one means ‘second and final’, then the French use ‘second‘.

So when a Frenchman wants to imply that the war in the 40s was the world war to end all wars, he employs, “La Seconde…”  but if he does not choose to infuse this communication with that sense, he will use, ‘la deuxième’.  I find those word-based cultural insights compelling!

Question:  What precise words are YOUR favorites?

Logical Gal delights in a new Fallacy

10 Feb

I never knew the Etymological Fallacy existed! But when I read about it yesterday, I saw exactly what it was and how helpful this category is going to be.

Take “sin” for example. The Greek word is ‘hamartia’.  Many Christians have glibly defined this Greek word as ‘to miss the mark’.  How tame can you get? What’s the big deal about lack of skill or lack of practice or ‘woops! – guess I missed’?

But I now know that relying on the original meaning of ‘hamartia’ commits the Etymological Fallacy.  So what if the term originally referred to shooting an arrow off course?  The way it was employed by Jesus and the apostles to teach about sin is what counts.  In that context, sin resulted in death, not the counsel to get more coaching!

So here is how the Etymological Fallacy works.  It doesn’t MATTER how a term was first or originally used at one time, what counts is how it is understood in the current context. A striking example of that is the adjective ‘gay’.  When I was growing up, the jingle for the Flintstones used it in its then-current meaning of merry or happy.  But to cling to that original definition today fails to communicate.  Contemporary usage guides the proper use of terms.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Peter Boghossian’s disingenuous retooling of the term ‘faith’ to mean unwarranted belief or wishful thinking.  So, too, can we err in the opposite direction and stubbornly claim that we ought to be able to use a definition from times past that is no longer part of the common vernacular.

The whole point of any conversation or written essay is to communicate to others what is in our minds. We have to be careful in how we use a term.

Next Step: What words have YOU puzzled?  Maybe the first step is to consider other possible meanings.  You might be as tickled as I was to find a way to distinguish among the definitions, thus clearing up a concept that has puzzled you for years.

Logical Gal – presuppositions about trials

7 Feb

We all face suffering through trials.

Our pre-existing beliefs or ‘pre-suppositions’ going INTO difficulties determine our conclusions.  And our ‘bottom-line’ reasoning impacts our feelings and how we will react.

My circumstances in my new school setting have been painful this first year.  And they seem to be getting worse.  So I have had occasion to rethink how I view suffering.

Because I have a Biblical worldview, my foundational beliefs are influenced by God’s Word.  But, let me assure you, no matter which worldview you hold, your presuppositions will influence you.  It doesn’t matter that your ‘going into the trial’ beliefs might be different from mine.  I just want you to SEE how our pre-existing beliefs make a difference.  It’s a corollary then that you should EXAMINE your presuppositions to see if they are ones you want influencing your life!!

Here is how my logical mind is working today.  The following are some ‘givens’ or axioms that I have gathered over the years as a Christian:

  1. I am made in the image of God
  2. He is a God of infinite joy, so authentic pleasure and contentment are important to Him.
  3. He has wired me to enjoy what He enjoys
  4. The highest joy/pleasure in the universe is being in His presence when He is glorified. (the Bible affirms this throughout the Old and New Testaments.  **The one sample passage at the end of this post is part of Jesus’ prayer before He was crucified.)
  5. The best seat in which I can see God glorified and thereby maximize my true pleasure, is UP CLOSE, in my life.
  6. The more desperate and dire the situations in my life, the more occasion for God to show Himself strong and amazing.
  7. I am UNABLE to do anything to help myself in this current struggle.  God is my only recourse.  Each additional turn of events that makes things worse is only serving to make the resolution all the more amazing when He does act.
  8. God is infinitely creative and acts in ways that are often unique and beyond my imagination.
  9. In the end, I am REALLY going to be satisfied in God and grateful that He allowed THIS to happen.

Reviewing in my mind my core suppositional beliefs does help.  It takes the anxiety out of the waiting.  I can live without seeing HOW He is going to act.  Since I KNOW His character and how He has acted in the past and what He promises, I am more likely to practice patience.

Question:  What are YOUR presuppositions about suffering?  Do they help you?

**Father, I want those you gave me
To be with me, right where I am,
So they can see my glory, the splendor you gave me,
Having loved me
Long before there ever was a world.
Righteous Father, the world has never known you,
But I have known you, and these disciples know
That you sent me on this mission.
I have made your very being known to them—
Who you are and what you do—
And continue to make it known,
So that your love for me
Might be in them
Exactly as I am in them.  John 17: 24-26