Archive | April, 2014

Logical Gal and Natural Selection

30 Apr

Nat Selection

In the last post I discussed how luck and chance have no attributes, no ontology. They aren’t anything real: neither a material substance nor an immaterial substance.  They are merely a description that some people ascribe to events happening with no seeming influence from any force.  As such they can exert no power on anyone or anything.  So wishing someone ‘Good Luck’ is pointless.

Similar to the concept of luck and chance is the phrase natural selection.   Before one addresses whether this is a concept that corresponds to reality, once must first define it.  Does natural selection describe something that is a real substance (again either material or immaterial) with attributes?  If so, then we would say it has ‘being-ness’ or ontology.  It has a ‘bundle of properties’. For an explanation of the Bundle Theory click here . If it is not something, but rather the descriptive process of change, then we know ipso facto that it is powerless.

According to Wikipedia, the term Natural Selection was coined by Charles Darwin who juxtaposed this newly described concept against artificial selection aka selective breeding.

How is natural selection akin to luck/chance?  Both terms are describing processes that have no being-ness.  As such, they have no attributes and therefore NO power or force or ability to influence anything.

Selective Breeding

But have you noticed that popular speech actually imbues natural selection (and luck) with abilities that can exert an influence?

You can see this gap in clear reasoning just by thinking about what the concept of selective breeding entails?  It implies a selector of traits to aim for.  I’m assuming that the only selector envisioned is the human kind.  But what kind of selector would a ‘natural’ one be?

  •   Does cauliflower have the ability to make that kind of decision? 

That is like the imaginary Mother Nature. Do you remember the commercial for Chiffon Margarine?  It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!

Mother Nature

Our takeaway – when we are trying to define and clarify a term it is helpful to sort out first whether the concept referred to is an actual substance or a process.

 

Logical Gal & the ‘stuff’ of luck and chance

28 Apr

luck

In French, to wish someone good luck, one says, “Bonne chance!”

But what ARE luck or chance?  They are actually descriptive words of what we think are uncontrolled, random outcomes. When we view the circumstances as favorable, we call that GOOD LUCK.  Contrariwise, awful events are considered BAD LUCK.

I used to wish student athletes headed off to a baseball or soccer game a cheery “Good luck!”   And they would reply with an enthusiastic ‘thanks’ and head out the door, or down the hall.  But once I became a Logical Gal, I began to think about my words in a more careful manner.  Just what was I hoping would guide the outcome of this player and his or her efforts? What WAS chance /luck, after all?  When students are about to sit for the SAT exam or semester finals, what do we mean by wishing them ‘good luck’?  Is it just a way of SEEMING to care?

Good luck on your exams

As it turns out, they are NO THING!  Chance and luck are just descriptive words.  They have NO ontological being-ness. They are truly nothing at all!  They have no power, no abilities, no force they can exert.  It is easy to see that they have no material properties.  And in a similar manner, they have no immaterial characteristics, either!  On the other hand, my immaterial mind CAN exert an immaterial influence over my fingers to press on the computer keys in a certain way.  Can chance do that?

This idea of luck being what determines outcomes is pervasive in our Western Society.  But don’t think the East is exempt from fantasy thinking!  They play with the idea of Karma. You get what you deserve!  What a horrid and frightening thought!  I deserve a whole hell of a lot of bad stuff.  God forbid He should repay me what I owe!

Question:  If you have already advanced past this superstitious social courtesy from pagan days of yore, what have you found to substitute as a way of send off before a trying event?  I’m using the French exhortation: Bon Courage!

bon courage

 

 

Logical Gal challenges ‘experts’

25 Apr

More and more we are being subjected to a one-line argument called ‘settled science’ as announced by those advocating drastic counter-measures in view of what they perceive as ‘human-induced’ climate harm.

Settled Science & Al Gore

 

This way of arguing is actually a fallacy.  It’s the opposite of the Ad Hominem attack.  That particular fallacy bypasses  all the reasons supporting a claim to attack the nature  or character of the one advancing the argument.

In contrast, the fallacy I want to address today is the tactic whereby one skips reasons and plays on the credentials of the proponents.  This fallacy is called the Argument from Authority.  We see this often in commercials for toothpaste (‘Brand X is the one favored by more dentists in America’) or for peanut butter (‘Choosy moms choose Jif!’)

Choosy moms choose Jif

As you probably have noticed, this appeal to an authority takes the place of an appeal to REASON!

So, too, with the climate change issue.  Those who clamor for countries to DO SOMETHING have demonized those who push back and ask for supporting evidence.  Appealing to the authority and intelligence of a group of scientists does not satisfy for 2 reasons:

  • Scientists are known to have been wrong in the past  (think of the Flat Earth view or the Earth as the center of the solar system)
  • If the case for anthropogenic climate change (brought on by humans) is so strong, scientists or policy-makers should not  be afraid to provide the evidence APART from computer models of what MIGHT happen

Finally, here is a caveat to those who by nature are skeptical and question authority (nothing wrong with that!), don’t yourselves either appeal to or attack the character of the one making the argument.   Be considerate and calm when you push back gently, requesting proof, evidence and reasons.

Remember, the burden of proof is on those who advance a position.  All YOU have to do is ask the WHY questions. But do so with gentleness and respect!

Kind rather than Right

Question:  Where do you encounter these Appeals to Authority?

 

Logical Gal and parsing God’s role in evil

23 Apr

A sign of maturity is the ability to live with tension between several messy concepts.

I was listening to Justin Brierly interview Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC.  Keller has just written a book on suffering.  You can buy the book here

Tim Keller's book on suffering

When asked how he pastorally responds to the question of evil and suffering, he described how his seminary professor led his class to consider this theodicy (problem of defending God). All the students read a chapter about the doctrine of God in a textbook, authored by Herman Bavink. Two of the views distinguishing God’s role in evil and election are big words:

supra-lapsarianism” and “infra-lapsariansim

According to Keller, the ‘supra’ version is the argument that God DID choose to create a world in which there is evil …….because THOSE circumstances will best glorify Him.

The ‘infra’ variation maintains that God did NOT decide to create a world with evil and suffering in it. But because of the Fall, He did purposefully elect some people out of it, yet did not ordain to save everyone….because THOSE conditions would best glorify him

So there is this argument back and forth.

Keller’s seminary professor then made the case that the Bible doesn’t actually let us choose either one of these.  The Bible says that you mustn’t come down too hard in one direction or the other.   Because if on the one hand you say, “God didn’t ordain evil.  He couldn’t help it, ” you’re left with a bigger problem.  For if evil wasn’t His design, then you really don’t have a god.  You have something else in charge of the universe and we really don’t know what that is. If on the other hand you say, “Yes, God DID create a plan to include evil so that it would glorify Him,”  then that view of God does not fit in with a lot of what the Bible says about His purposes and design as well as His heart and love for the world.

So what does one do with this dilemma, this either-or?

Dilemma

Keller continues with how his seminary professor and Bavink suggested they think. God’s ordaining of evil and good are not identical. They are rather ‘asymmetrical’. That is, His permissiveness in allowing some evil and His purposes in ordaining good are different.

In other words, these two Calvinistic views, the supra and the infralapsarian explanations,  are both right and wrong. (or another conclusion is that we cannot know one way or the other!)  So stick with what the Bible affirms.  Grow to be able to accept that in this life, there WILL BE loose ends.

We are, after all, finite creatures attempting to comprehend an infinite super-natural power.  Yes, God has communicated with us through the written word.  We can’t know everything, but we can know SOME things.  We can have certainty about His character, but His purposes are another matter.

God says in Deuteronomy 29:29 –The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but what has been revealed belongs to us and to our children forever, so that we might observe the words of this Law.

Question:  How comfortable are you at accepting uncertainty about some of these important issues in life?

Logical gal distinguishes between possible and reasonable

19 Apr

I learn a lot about using evidential tools from a homicide detective names J. Warner Wallace.  His website is stocked with mega resources on Christian case-making  including video teachings on You Tube, blog posts, essays and podcasts. All serve to help us, the ordinary Joe & Jane, who want to think logically and rationally about important topics including our Christian convictions.  The name of his site is Cold Case Christianity.

Cold Case Christianity Crime Scene

In a podcast dated 18 April 2014, he detailed the way of thinking that is most often used by detectives (and doctors) called abductive reasoning.  This is simply a way of coming to the most reasonable explanation that best takes into account the evidence presented.

In a crime scene, detectives collect and inventory the artifacts (aka potential evidence), eliminating nothing.  They then set out to hypothesize all possible explanations.  To me, this sounds like brain-storming, where the one rule is:  Don’t rule out anything!

Brainstorming

‘Toggling back and forth’ between the evidence and the explanations is the way J. Warner describes the process of thinking through the facts until the most reasonable explanation emerges.

Here is where it is critical that we (and jurors to whom evidence and explanations are tediously presented) distinguish between the possible and the reasonable.  Many explanations are possible, but far fewer are reasonable.

For example:

  • Christians claim that Jesus from Galilee rose from the dead, after having been murdered by crucifixion and buried.

What is the evidence?

The tomb where he was buried was discovered to be empty 2 days later.  That is a fact.  Even atheistic New Testament historians and scholars accept that as incontrovertible, that a real man in history, named Jesus, was executed and buried.

Crucifixion

What are some possible explanations for these 2 subsequent claims of an empty tomb and sightings of Jesus?

  • The Romans stole his body
  • The Jewish leaders stole his body
  • Jesus’ followers stole his body and then conspiratorially invented & maintained the fiction about encountering a Jesus who had come back to life
  • Jesus didn’t die, but merely passed out
  • The disciples went to the wrong tomb and then hallucinated
  • Jesus’ twin was executed, not the controversial Galilean

I am not going to take the time or space to refute each of these POSSIBLE explanations.  I want simply to point out (and you can look up for yourself – Defending the resurrection) that despite many possible explanations, rationally we must settle on the one that is the most reasonable.  This explanation will be the simplest approach that takes into account all the details.  Considering every possible explanation is going to present far more barriers to overcome.  Logical people do not cling to complicated, contorted explanations UNLESS they carry a BIAS going into the their investigation.

And Bias is a topic better suited for another day.

May you & I rest in the FACT that we are created in the image of a rational divine being who has endowed us with the capability of rational thought.  And if you are an atheist, may God bless you.  And may you thank HIM for giving you the gift of thinking. Be courageous to follow the evidence where it leads!

Happy Easter!

Empty tomb

 

Logical Gal and reduce them to the absurd!

18 Apr

Redcutio Ad Absurdum Mug

 

This is a useful technique for pointing out the error in another’s reasoning IF you can think quick enough on your feet!

What you do, without distorting their argument, is to take one of their premises or propositions and ASSUME it to be true.  You can even explicitly announce what you are doing:

“Let’s assume to be true your premise that…….”

Then you carry out your conversation partner’s line of thinking to its furthest possible implications. For example you say:

 “Then THAT would mean  XYZ is also true!” (where XYZ is an example the proponent must acknowledge/accept to stay logically consistent) 

For example, imagine a neighbor who is disgruntled by Washington, DC and all the encompassing bickering and false promises.  He might spout off:

  • You can’t trust anyone who works for the government!

Trusting Washington

Few of us would probably jump to the government’s defense, but let’s suppose that you happen to be a RATIONAL and logical Joe or Jane.

You might say with a sincere tone:

  • You: Ok, let’s assume you are correct, that we can’t trust anyone who works for the government.  I suppose you probably will quit using the airlines to travel.
  • Him: What do you mean?
  • You: If you fly out of an airport, that means you would have to trust those federal workers, the air-traffic-controllers!

Situations where you might employ this technique of Reductio Ad Absurdum can sometimes be spotted with their universal adjectives and adverbs like ALL, EVERYONE, ALWAYS, NEVER, NO ONE….

Here is another statement I occasionally here:  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary explanations

My response to the one advancing that hyperbolic premise:

“Okay, let’s assume that what you claim is true. I just saw a man pull a rabbit out of an empty hat.  That certainly was out of the ordinary.”

Rabbit out of a hat

“If your line of thinking is correct, then we can’t accept as a legitimate explanation for this amazing trick something as commonplace as a simple mirror used as a false bottom to the hat, giving the appearance that it is empty when it was covering the rabbit!”

As I mentioned before, you have to be able to think of counter examples to bounce off of your interlocutor.  But if you can first ask some clarifying questions, that might be enough time to let your little gray cells work!

Hercule Poirot

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal – an explanation is NOT an argument

16 Apr

Explanation is NOT an argument

The discussion shifted  back and forth about the various flood stories.

Can we attribute the plethora of cataclysmic water myths in different cultures to one actual world-wide  historical flood?

The fellow from the British Museum offered the following:

The Hebrew account of Noah and his ark was written INTO the Jewish bible at the time of the Babylonian captivity!

Flood and an Ark

Here’s how his story went:

  • Daniel along with his fellow Hebrew brights were schooled by the very best Babylonian scholars.
  • They learned to read cuneiforms.
  • They studied the Babylonian stories of the Mesopotamian flood from the cuneiforms.
  • They adjusted/tweaked the existent Hebrew holy scrolls, adding the flood story back into the texts.

My antennae perked up right away!  Here’s the caveat when dealing with ‘possible explanations‘:

An explanation is NOT an argument!

One can offer a whole host of possible stories of how something might happen, but the burden of proof is nonetheless still on the advancer to offer reasons of substance.

As easy comeback to remember and use when you spot this fallacious line of thinking is:

  • Well gee, one could say this or one could say anything!

Possible explanations

 

You do NOT need to address their story until they have sufficiently, soundly and logically defended it.  No pressure on you, but to just reverse the burden of proof!