Archive | May, 2014

Logical Gal and Fairness

30 May

Not Fair

Very early we come up against boundaries that interfere with our desires.  And we learn to whine, wail and worm our way in and around circumstances, if we can!

Where does this presupposition come from, that life should be fair?

An evolutionist would argue that communities work best when its members treat each other equitably.  Therefore, this behavioral value was retained as beneficial for survival and passed down.

A theist would argue that since God created the universe and all that is in it, God has placed in our hearts this sense or shared value of desiring fairness.  After all, we are made in God’s image and as such, we long for justice.

As Abraham prayed back to God in Genesis 18:25:

  • Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

God is just


So given that ‘fairness’ is a human value, whatever the source, here is where this concept gets interesting.  Remember how I’ve written in the past that clarifying terms is 1st base in any discussion or debate?   I’m not joking.  Two people can both assert with confidence that they place a premium on fairness.  But just what they MEAN by fairness can leave them poles apart!


It appears that when liberals think of fairness, they envision equitable outcomes as a measure of fairness, that people are treated the same way.

But when one asks conservatives what they intend by fairness, they will explain that it means giving people what they DESERVE  because they worked hard.  What conservatives mean

What is the result of a difference in the presuppositions?  It means that much work needs to be done hammering out REASONS for these presuppositions.

In the end, Logical Joe and Logical Jane can both be strong advocates for FAIRNESS but envision two completely different scenarios.  Welcome to Congressional gridlock!

Congressional Gridlock

Question:  when have you suddenly realized that your conversation partner had something different in mind than you realized?  And how did this effect the dialogue? 




Logical Gal and featherless bipeds

28 May

Apparently Plato defined man as a ‘featherless biped’. 

Featherless biped

And ever since, philosophers have used his wording as an example of a poor definition.  The photo proves the point!

But there is another consideration. Is the phrase ‘featherless biped’ a description or a definition?  And what is the difference?

A definition is actually the technical evaluation of a term  (called the definiendum) that includes the definiens or the cluster of words used to set out clearly what the speaker or writer means.  An adequate definition :

  • will refrain from using the term being defined  – as in  ‘a human is an animal which has a human parents’
  • will employ a genus and a differentia  – a fork is an eating utensil (genus) that has prongs to spear food (differentia)  Think of genus as the family of items and the differentia as the distinguishing characteristics of each member.  So a spoon would belong to the genus of  eating utensil, and its differentia could be this- bowl-shaped on one side to scoop up liquids or soft food.
  • will be mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive – both considerations work to PIN DOWN PRECISELY what is meant, thereby avoiding both a situation where ‘family members’ could be assigned to more than one group (NOT mutually exclusive) OR a situation where a ‘family member’ has been left out (in this case the definition would NOT meet the requirement of being jointly exhaustive)


  • Precision
  • will avoid negative language,  metaphors and  vague or cumbersome language meant to obfuscate the meaning
  • will focus on what is essential to the concept

So a human being as defined by one on-line dictionary offers this:

Thinking and Talking Humans

“A man, woman or child of the species Homo Sapiens distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.”

In assessing what makes for a good definition, the attribute that comes to mind is ‘functional’, as in What’s THAT for? 

So how do descriptions differ from definitions?

A simple way to look at a description is to see it as merely one aspect or representation of a concept.  Attention is NOT given to meeting all the above requirements of a ‘good’ definition:   Think SINGLE-orbed v. FULLY-orbed.

For example, one might ‘DESCRIBE’  a musician as someone who enjoys performing  vocal or instrumental sounds.  That is just one venue for musicians.



So why are definitions and descriptions important? Because they can either further, facilitate or hinder understanding.  I witnessed this Saturday during a debate between an atheist and a Christian.  They were at odds with each other over the definition or description of the term FAITH!

  • The atheist, Peter Boghossian, advanced a definition of faith as believing something for which you have no evidence.
  • The Christian, Tim McGrew, pushed back and said that the Oxford English Dictionary describes/defines faith as trust warranted by a certain degree of evidence.


I want all you Logical Joes and Janes to know that these 2 men spent about 20 minutes going round and round arguing over which definition the majority of people subscribe to.  Definition of terms IS the beginning of all debate and discussion.  And if no agreement is reached, the discussion that might ensue will be very frustrating!

Question:  Where have you encountered such confusion or disagreement over terms?



Logical Gal says beware of thinking like Hamlet!

26 May

Hamlet - thinking makes it so

Is this true? 

If you are a moral relativist or a Buddhist it might be.  And in all fairness to William Shakespeare who penned Macbeth, he might not have intended us to draw that conclusion.  See this link:   Setting the scene in context

One can argue, with good reason, that how we think about something or ‘frame’ something DOES make a difference in our experience.  I’ve heard the illustration of 2 boys mucking out a stable full of horse manure.  To the one who ‘thinks’ this is just a punishing task, his labor is odious.  But to the one who ‘thinks’ or reasons from the product to the producer, he is excited about encountering a pony!  Thus, this time in the barn is an adventure sure to result in a happy outcome.

Manue and pony

But let’s be real!  There ARE objective values in life.  There is ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and no effort to think otherwise will change their ontology or ‘beingness’.

Torturing little children or animals for the fun of it is always WRONG!  And that assessment is cross-cultural, cross-temporal. That is not to say that kids and animals are not harmed in our world today.  When that happens, most everyone reacts along a spectrum from horror to resignation.  Whether we draw examples from so-called ‘pagan’ cultures that have in the past or still do sacrifice kids and animals today (Voodooism) OR we point to abortion as a ‘civilized’ example – to say that these practices are for FUN would be labelled WRONG.  They would be rationally justified.

And for those who attempt to deny evil or painful experiences à la Buddhism, I say :

  • try laying your philosophy of calm resignation on the millions who suffer daily from disasters brought on by the ravages of nature, war or man’s inhumanity to man!

Disasters - floods

Our takeaway for the day? Keep questioning ‘pat’ sayings to determine if they are so – even those from the Bard, himself!

Question:  What other truism is worth examining?




Logical Gal thinks through ‘Income Disparity’

23 May

Haven’t you had enough of people deciding what is enough for you and me?

Income Inequality - scales

Recently the editorial staff of our local newspaper gave an F

F - failing grade

to what they call “another example of runaway income disparity in America

That blanket assessment left me with many questions.  And as you know, QUESTIONS are the stock and trade of all Logical Joes and Janes!

Here are a few:

·      What is wrong with income disparity?
·      Why does it bother people so much?
·      Who designed the measurement against which income levels are evaluated?  And who invested THESE folks with the authority, respect and cachet to be quoted?
·      How come professional athletes and movie stars get a pass?
·      Why is business the category that is most maligned?
·      Isn’t this reaction just jealousy and covetousness, thinly veiled as self-righteous indignation?

Income inequality - tax the rich

This morning I was listening to a pastor think through aloud whether those who die as believing Christians are aware of us here on Earth.  Interesting question, no?  His response  seemed to follow on nicely, though tangentially, to this discussion of  ‘enough’.   Here is his conclusion:   God will provide believers in heaven exactly what is sufficient……..

FOR their complete joy!!!

Fullness of joy

I wasn’t expecting those last 4 words, ‘for their complete joy‘.  And that got me thinking that the next time I encounter a smug Joe or Jane citizen who purports to know best what I, MARIA, need, I will continue the discussion with this….

You assert that I should be satisfied with X, that …..

X is enough for what?

  • for subsistence?
  • for my enjoyment?
  • for my satisfaction?
  • and what about the very American foundational principle of the Pursuit of Happiness…..?  Have we abandoned that value via the mechanism of the loudest, most clamoring, strident and angry voices?

Pursuit of happiness




Logical Gal and what is ‘good’?

21 May


What is good?  That depends!

The concept of ‘good’ varies. So we need to ask some questions.  As I grow in being a logical gal, I’m gradually getting better at remembering to pause, think and ask clarifying questions before going any further.  I’ve often misunderstood the pre-suppositions behind someone’s statements or even their questions and responded inappropriately.

So here are points to consider and clarify:

  • Does the speaker mean have in mind something …..objectively good? or just subjectively good? For example –  It is good to care for widows and orphans is an objective value that is true no matter the culture or period of history.  Mint-chocolate-chip ice cream is good is a subjective evaluation based on the subject (in this case – me!) and her preferences.
  • Or is the speaker thinking of ……..something effective at gaining results?  For example – Completing one’s homework and preparing for tests is good in the sense that it leads to desired results.  Staying up late and partying without any advanced preparation for tomorrow’s test is NOT good.
  • Or does the speaker have in mind ……..something more along the lines of ‘good for’?  Like taking a combination of Echinacea, zinc and vitamin C is ‘good for’ fighting a cold.


Good for a cold

I’ve been pondering the various meanings of the term good ever since I heard a philosopher discuss the ‘problem of evil’. The new twist for me was how the speaker narrated  this problem as something Neo-Darwinian Atheists had to solve.  For these materialists, ‘good’ refers to traits that are adaptive.  Adaptive means these characteristics get passed down to the next generation because they help the species survive.  So ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ would be how one describes ‘maladaptive’ traits – those that DO not help the species survive.  Theoretically they would then NOT be passed down to successive generations, right?  (unless there is something ‘wrong’ with the whole natural selection mechanism…but that’s ANOTHER problem!).


Hence, the question: What explains the continued existence of evil or bad stuff in our world?

See what ‘good’ can come from all these questions!  I’ll look forward to some of your thoughts on ‘good’ and/or on this ‘problem of evil’.


Logical Gal and what is ‘necessarily true’

20 May

Have you ever heard of a proposition or definition of a term being ‘necessarily true‘?

That, my dear logical friend, is what we call an analytical definition.


Here are a few terms that HAVE to be this way in order to avoid a contradiction within themselves.

  • All bachelors are unmarried
  • All husbands are married
  • All squares are 4-sided figures

Immanuel Kant named the kind of proposition that does not have to be true  – SYNTHETIC.

His example was:  All husbands are unhappy

Unhappy husband

Jokes aside, by definition a husband doesn’t have to be unhappy!


When I heard analytical propositions being discussed recently, I called to mind one of the arguments for the existence of God.  It’s referred to as the Ontological argument, or one about necessary being.


Thomas Aquinas was one of the earliest thinkers to talk about God ‘necessarily’ existing:

From a primer on Philosophy

Boiling it down he asserts that by definition (like our analytical statements), God is that supernatural being that HAS to exist.  It would be impossible for him NOT to exist, if He/It is God.  Imagine a being beyond which you cannot fathom, one that is:

  • all powerful
  • all good
  • all knowing
  • all loving
  • all giving
  • present everywhere at all times

That, my friends, is God by definition.  If he/it is not all those attributes, then we’re not talking about ‘God’.

Kinda blows your mind, doesn’t it!

Mind Boggling

This ‘ontological’ argument for God is one of 4 current ways of arguing for the existence of God.  We’ll look at the others later on this week!


But for now:  What OTHER proposition can you share that is by definition NECESSARY?





Logical Gal – who’s to judge?

16 May

Beware of facile slogans that slip off the tongue!

They say that the most oft-quoted Bible verse in America is “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” (Matt 7:1)

judge not


But is that ALL the Bible says?  How does a Logical Gal or Guy think about this?  What questions would he or she ask?

First of all, we need to look at not just ONE Bible verse, but others, to see if one or more concepts might be in question.  If the term is the same but the concept is different, then a fallacy might be lurking!

Just a few verses further along from that famous one-liner is this instruction about judging: ” You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and THEN you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt 7:5)  That sure sounds like we ARE to judge, once we get ourselves squared away.

Not only is there an appropriate time to judge, we are actually exhorted TO judge and given a standard.  Consider THIS verse, also from the Bible –Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:24) 

There is also this command: The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” (1 Cor 2:15) 

Judge righteously

There is one group of people whom God commends for being skeptical and judging BY the standards of the Bible.  They practiced discernment, a form of judgment.  They did not take what they heard at face value, but ‘judged’ rightly.  These men and women were the Bereans. (Acts 17:11) They listened to  new teachings and judged or filtered them by God’s grid of righteousness.  They WERE judgmental and were held up as an example for us to emulate.  They would have told Paul to his face, courteously but directly, that he was WRONG had his teaching NOT lined up with the Bible.  That’s being pretty ‘judgmental’ by today’s shallow standards.


So the next time someone tosses in your face that bit of trite bumper sticker ‘wisdom’ about judging, just ask them politely: Why?   and then wait for them to fill the airspace.  And if they say, “Because it’s WRONG to judge!”  Ask them “Who says?”  and then be prepared to show them what Jesus taught!

Logical Gal and Smoke and Mirrors

14 May

confusing words


I was listening to a civil discussion between two  Christian pastors on opposite ends of the Evangelical camp.  Here was what was puzzling:

Both men used the following terms:

  • Biblical
  • Authoritative
  • Christ-centered

Yet…there was a mile-wide divide between their positions. Wouldn’t you think that Christians, or any group for that matter , would employ terms to refer to the same concepts?  Well, you cannot assume that.  If the terms (words) are the same, but point to concepts that are completely different, that is called the Fallacy of Equivocation.

It’s like one person using the word ‘pitcher’ to indicate a beverage container and another person thinking of the player who lobs a baseball.

Pitcher - baseball Pitcher of lemonade


Another area of discussion that offers plenty of room for confusion is in the arena of denominational doctrine:

When certain Christians assert that one is saved by grace, other groups will agree.  Only by shining light on the shadowy areas, can you see that the method of being saved is different for each.  The one group will mean grace alone and the other group will intend grace as the initial factor leading to one’s ability to choose God or accomplish necessary works to be worthy of salvation.


grace alone

Logical Joes and Janes are committed to clarity of terms and asking clarifying questions with gentleness and respect.






Logical Gal and the bias against circumstantial evidence

12 May

circumstantial evidence and cat

Ask 9 out of 10 passers-by and they will most likely maintain that circumstantial evidence is weak.

And maybe one piece is, but I have been learning that there is POWER in the cumulative effect of multiple pieces of circumstantial evidence.

My tutor is a cold-case detective, J. Warner Wallace.  The only cases he works are cold murder cases that date back 10 to 30 years.  There is no date beyond which one cannot be tried for murder in the state of California.  A cold case is one that is old, unresolved and left untouched, gathering dust until someone decides to re-open it.

Detective Wallace recounts in his book about the ultimate cold case, the murder of Jesus Christ, Link to the book available at Amazon, how he has to instruct jurors on the 2 kinds of evidence.  Most Americans have no idea that one can convict a suspect of murder on the basis of circumstantial evidence alone!  But you need a lot of it.

Cold Case Chr - the book


Here is a brief primer: There is direct evidence and indirect evidence.

  • Direct is when you have Bob testify that he saw Frank stab the victim
  • Indirect is when you see a bloody knife in Frank’s car, plus blood on Frank’s pants, and you hear Frank threaten the deceased victim.  A

Inferences drawn from multiple pieces of indirect or circumstantial evidence  (think 20-30) can add up to a powerful case against a suspect.  In fact Wallace himself says his ONLY convictions have been in circumstantial cases.

The standard for the burden of proof in such criminal cases is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt‘.

Beyond a reasonable doubt

Wait a minute!  Think about what that phrase actually means – ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.

In order for your doubt to be valid, you have to have a REASON such as:

  • ” I don’t think Frank could have stabbed the victim because the defense showed us a transcribed interview with a restaurant waitress and some colleagues and his ex-wife.  It seems as though Frank was at this very same ex-wife’s birthday party along with his former colleagues at IHOP at the time the victim is purported to have died (as determined by the autopsy)”

But the degree of proof the prosecution must provide is NOT beyond ANY shadow of a doubt.  Doubt and uncertainty are woven into life.  Where does anyone ever  have 100 % certainty?  The confidence the jurors must feel must be such that they can come up with no reasons to infer otherwise than that the suspect committed the murder.

So the next time you hear someone denigrate circumstantial evidence, “Oh, that’s just circumstantial!”, push back gently. Ask: “What’s wrong with circumstantial evidence?”  They probably won’t know how to answer.  Most people tend to parrot, unthinkingly, what they have picked up, floating in the air!

Question:  what beliefs have you absorbed without examining them? 

Logical Gal and Evidence-Based Medicine – is there any other kind?

9 May

What a concept!  Relying on medical practices and prescribed treatments that actually work and have the evidence to back them up!

I recently listened to a conversation between Al Mohler and Candy Gunther Brown, PhD from Harvard.  The topic was fascinating!  Dr. Brown has studied the religious content of complementary and alternative medical practices such as chiropractic, yoga and reiki.

Audio talk + transcript entitled: “Are we all syncretists now…”  – about complementary and alternative medicine and evangelical Christians

The discussion focused on Dr. Brown’s research in her latest book Link to book at Amazon

What I found compelling as a logical gal was the distinction between medicine that could point to double blind trials to substantiate its claims and medicine that was NOT evidence-based.

Evidence-based medicine

Apparently many of those who practice these alternative ‘therapies’ know how to shift their language to suit their audience. This tailoring the vocabulary extends to efforts to appeal  to the public’s desire for something ‘scientificky’ and ‘natural‘ or appeasing Christians’ worries about Buddhist or Hindu influences by changing the names of movements.


Yoga in public schools

Dr. Brown was called as an expert witness in last summer’s California court case regarding the teaching of yoga in Encinitas public schools (San Diego area) . Even though she supplied substantial reasons why yoga is a religious practice, the court ruled otherwise. NPR report on ruling

Whether you are bothered by the question of religious content or not in these practices, you SHOULD BE concerned about any medical practice that is more quackery and wishful thinking.  Practice reasoned skepticism!!

Skepticism and truth