Archive | June, 2014

Logical Gal and Truth by Repetition

27 Jun

Brave New World

Summertime and I’m using the time off to read!

One of the English teachers from my school lent me Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel.  In his futuristic vision, caste life is engineered in factory-like laboratories.  And for each caste member to be content and ‘happy’ with their work and limitations, they are brainwashed from birth through something called ‘Hypnopaedia‘. While they sleep, certain messages are repeated numerous times until they are absorbed as ‘truth’ by the hearer. “One hundred repetitions three times a week for four years, thought Bernard Marx, who was a specialist on hypnopaedia.  Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth.”  (p. 47)  Hypnopaedia

We shutter and chalk that up to science-fiction, however long ago it was written. (1932) But is that particular society’s modus operandi so different than ours, today in the 2010’s?  You hear something enough times and it becomes ‘a kind of truth’. Take the widely accepted ‘fact’:

  • 50 % of all marriages end in divorce

Apparently that is not true.  What?  But everyone says it is.  (that, my friend, is called a fallacy –  when your reason for advancing or believing a proposition to be true is just because ‘everyone’ says it’s true – Argumentum Ad Populum) Cats - 8 of 10 prefer Whiskas (Like the ad says, 8 of every 10 cats prefer Whiskas! Conclusion: it must be good! )

 

In doing a little fact-checking about the divorce numbers, the story goes that some assumptions were made in 1981, the year that this ‘fact’ was publicized as legit.  See link for account of rumor’s origin Okay, you say, you don’t fall for urban legends like marriage and divorce rates.  You track down alleged facts and do your homework before you believe what you hear! And maybe that is so, but where I live in Western North Carolina, many don’t.  They have absorbed publicized claims as truth because they WANT to believe them.  Each day I read the letters to the editor in the Asheville Citizen-Times.  I’m sure they are not unique in their source of letter-writers.  I would guess (before doing my homework) that many citizens across the United States cobble together truth the way these local readers do.  And repeated enough times, anything becomes believable.

But what is Truth?  By definition truth is that which corresponds to reality.  It doesn’t matter whether many or none believe it.

Truth is the truth

I don’t doubt that you KNOW what truth is.  And reading a novel whose leaders so blatantly have set systems in place to brainwash people strikes us, the readers, as fantasy.  Actually, however, we gloss over the same kinds of practices ONLY because they are not SOPs, publicized standard operating procedures.  But whether the actions are de jure or de facto, the results are the same.  And that is frightening.  Control by repetition.

Logical Gal identifies a common Red Herring

25 Jun

Red Herring

You Christians are so intolerant and bigoted!  You think Jesus is the only way to God!

Have you heard that shouted out in the public square?  Increasingly religion is an invitation to an emotional mudfest.

You might have barely summoned the courage to broach the subject of one’s guilt or need of a savior when your interlocutor is all over you in barely concealed indignation.

Wait one!!!

Wait

You are being led OFF track by this accusation.  It’s easy to get confused and attempt to defend yourself when emotionally beat upon.  But it’s a trick, a diversion AWAY from the topic.

If you picture a petty thief  being chased by police and their dogs, you can also imagine that he might run through a market square, grab a fish (hence ‘red herring’) and throw it to the dogs to distract them from tailing him!

Thief

We must sidestep the bait and gently focus the discussion back to the original topic.  Here’s how you might respond (after you have counted to 3!)

You:  You could be right, that Christians are intolerant, but that’s a discussion perhaps for another day.

You continue:  I would like actually to go back to our original topic. Would that be all right with you?

So what WAS the topic?

In essence you had started to lay out the claim that:

  • People are objectively guilty
  • Unless a person wants to face the one and only judge of the universe, one needs a savior who will stand in his stead and ‘pay for the crime’

You hadn’t even gotten to whether these two propositions were TRUE!!!

For if they are not true, it really doesn’t matter whether Christians are intolerant and bigoted!

Question:  Do you see how a policy of ‘First things, first!’ can save a lot of energy and time?  First, clarify your terms and then determine the truth or falsity of the premises.  To do the latter, the advancer of the premise must supply supporting evidence or reasons!

 

First things first

 

PS:  This post marks the 156th one I’ve written since last 25 June 2013 – 52 weeks worth of writing and publishing accounts where clear thinking and the knowledge of logic have helped me and others.  I owe it ALL to the one true and living God of the universe, the triune Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  My prayer each week was both for God to supply the topics AND to stretch my time.  Ten months of the past 12 I taught French and commuted 100 minutes a day.  At other times we had company or travelled to visit family and friends. This last post today is proof of His faithfulness.

 

 

 

Logical Gal and illusions about education dollars

23 Jun

Education Dollars - scales

I live in North Carolina and ‘Low Teacher Salaries’ is a hot topic.  (For the record, I teach in a private school where we earn even less than the public sector).  But I follow the debate with interest because the rhetoric is flung around thickly.

Here’s a quote that was highlighted within an article in our local weekly paper:

  • “If given the choice, would you enroll your child in a state that is 48th in per pupil spending?”

What is implied by that question? (which is actually NOT a question but an assertion masquerading as a question)

  1. You have to spend a lot of money to educate a child well
  2. Money is the # 1 predictor of good education

What don’t we know?

  • whether all 50 states actually spend close to the same.   What if NC truly is 48th in spending, but the variance among state budgets is pretty narrow?
  • whether the quality of students graduating from secondary schools and universities is a problem
  • what the end product (i.e. students) is like in states that spend the most
  • what the difference in dollars goes to in states that spend more
  • what ‘per pupil spending’ actually includes.  What goes into that figure?  Does more money go directly to teacher salaries?  And if so, is there a correlation between better -paid teachers and quality education as measured again by the end product?

Here are some FACTS to consider:

Facts

  • The city of Washington, DC spent an average of $29,349 per student in 2010-11 and 81 % were not proficient in either reading NOR math.
  • North Carolina spent $8,433 per pupil during the 2012-2013 school year.
  • The average among all 50 states was $11,068 for the same 2012-2013 window.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What does the average home-schooling family spend per pupil?
  • How much is the average private school tuition?
  • What about on-line schools that are growing in both accessibility and quality?

Homeschooling

Here’s the bottom line for ANY issue:

You can’t have a useful discussion without taking TIME to flesh out hidden assumptions and facts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal asks You, the readers, what You want

19 Jun

June 2013

About a year ago I started to blog around questions that could use some CLEAR THINKING.  These topics ranged from controversies in every day contemporary American life to deeper more lasting philosophical and religious issues.   My theme was ‘Surprised by Logic’ – a take off of CS Lewis’ book  Surprised by Joy.

I had been truly amazed at how helpful a tool both informal and formal logic turned out to be.  Hired to impart the basics of civics, US history, government and logic, I had to teach myself the latter my first year in a classical Christian school.  At first it seemed ‘impossible’, but gradually my mind was reshaped and conditioned to…surprise!….think more logically. I discovered first hand how useful mastering a few principles of logic could be to understanding an issue before forming my own view.

After 6 years both teaching and learning in that exceptional hub of education Here’s the link to the school, we moved to Western North Carolina where I am back to imparting ‘just’ French to students.  Not content to drop logic and its practical and empowering application to life, I started to blog.

Now as I approach the 1 year anniversary, I want to canvass you, the reader.  Can you help me and the direction of this blog by answering some of the questions below via the comment section?

Readers' Response

 

  1. What has been the most useful aspect of logic that you have picked up here or had reenforced by this blog?
  2. What questions or kinds of problems in your every day life do you see logic possibly helping?
  3. With whom do you share any of what you read here?
  4. What would you like to see addressed in future posts?
  5. What else should I know?
  6. Who are you? (categories….)

-an adult who once studied logic?

-an adult who never had logic?

-a teen?

-a teacher/guide of any sort responsible for the influence of others’ minds?

 

I thank you in advance for taking the time to add a comment, kind reader!

reader - child with glasses

 

 

Logical Gal falls prey to a fallacy

18 Jun

You’d think I’d know better!

I’m the one, after all, who has TAUGHT logic.  But it was my husband who picked up on my faulty thinking and asked me, “Isn’t that a fallacy?”

And darn if he wasn’t right!  Good for him.  And good for me, because it reminded me how easy it is to swallow someone’s line of thinking without even questioning. Especially if one is PREDISPOSED to agree with the one making the case.

Fallacy Picture

A columnist whom I respect was condemning, as misguided, the thinking of a friend by summarizing a recent conversation.  The columnist wrote:

“My friend said the following –

  • Our neighbors, even though they engage in a behavior I don’t approve of, are actually very moral people.
  • In fact, one of them as helped me set boundaries on my son’s video game habits.

The columnist had preceded this conversation snippet by arguing that we should be aware of the danger of having our minds changed through continual exposure to wrong-doing.  That, over time, we would find the ‘wrong-doing’ acceptable and normal.

I recognized the attempt at sarcasm in the columnist reporting the friend’s view.  This friend apparently was okay with behavior once considered immoral and had shifted to evaluating one’s degree of morality based on video game beliefs.

Video Game Danger

When I pointed this out to my husband, his questions to me were:

  • What’s the connection?
  • Does the source of the advice on video games invalidate the advice?  That sounds like a fallacy!

This dear man of mine was asking about the RELEVANCE.

Relevance

With that question, my mind quickly sorted through the fallacies I knew and BINGO!

This mistake falls under the label of:  Ad Hominem Circumstantial Fallacy.

The way this works is to point out the background or affiliation of the person making a case and thereby invalidate their point of view NOT on the merits of their case but on who they are.

So the gal whose neighbors of questionable moral background OFFERED advice on how to curb a teen’s video game habits is being logical when she evaluates the suggestions for themselves.  It really doesn’t matter who proffers the advice, even though we sometimes disparagingly remark, “Consider the source!”

If we were to be an authentically logical Joe or Jane, we would not even dismiss a suggestion purporting to come from Adolph Hitler on how to make Wiener Schnitzel.  We wouldn’t trot out the Ad Hominem Circumstantial fallacy and dismiss his recipe by saying: “Oh, he’s a Nazi and mass-murderer – what could he possibly know about cooking!”

Wiener Schnitzel

Question:  Which views or whose views do you routinely discount because you don’t agree with them about something else? 

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal tracks down meaning for ‘immanence’

16 Jun

Talk about confusing!!

Trying to digest different philosophical views of God and suffering, I came across a reference to ‘the immanent frame of our culture’.  And I had NO idea what that meant!

Building Blocks

You know by now the importance of clarifying terms.  So I looked up ‘immanence’. First I learned (or was reminded) that we should NOT be confused with ‘imminence’ with a middle “I” which means impending or immediate.  Second, I read that ’eminence’  with an initial “E” is yet a different concept as found in titles for certain Catholic officials.

But where matters REALLY got loopy was that depending on which metaphysical camp you choose, you could be thinking of two different properties or attributes when claiming ‘God is immanent’ .

If you consider yourself to be ‘spiritual’, you might say: ” Yes, God is immanent” and you would be referring to your personal divine experience of God.  And God would be whatever you describe him/her/it to be, as the below book cover suggests:

Immanence per Humanists

Many ‘modern-day’ thinkers consider God to be immanent.  And they are referring to what retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong of New Jersey writes is just our own experience of God:

I seek to escape the theistic definition of God as an external being, supernatural in power, who invades our world periodically in miraculous ways. That definition of God simply no longer translates to a post- Galilean, post-Newtonian and a post-Darwinian world. Indeed, I think human beings should give up their almost idolatrous attempt to define God at all. We can experience God, but we cannot define God. So most religious God talk is nonsensical. (from his Facebook page , dated 16 May 2013)

And as quoted by recently deceased UVa alum John Morris (Law ’48), Spong allegedly wrote: ” God, to me, is a call to live fully, to love wastefully and to be all that I can be.”

But Biblical Christians mean something entirely different when they extol the immanence of God.

Immanence per Christians

They believe that God, though immaterial by essence, at one time in history DID ‘invade’ our world and walked among us as Jesus from Nazareth.  And God IS present now, inside those who are His followers, in the form of immaterial, invisible Holy Spirit.

Remember – just because something is immaterial (not measurable by our 5 senses) does NOT mean it is UNREAL.  You can’t touch or measure memories or love or covetousness or gravity.  But you can see the effect of these real but invisible ‘things’.

All this underscores how important it is to invest the time to clarify terms.  I’m beginning to realize that the simple question:  What do you mean by X? will do more good in the discussion that might follow, then jumping in to state or question assertions.

Just because someone uses the same term as you does NOT guarantee that they have in mind the exact same concept.

Question: What are some of those equivocal terms you encounter during your reading or discussions? Phrases like ‘saved by grace’  or ‘heaven‘ or ‘prayer‘ or  even ‘homework‘  can refer to entities that are poles apart in the minds of two people.

Logical Gal and an argument against God

13 Jun

Problem of Evil

The most oft-cited reason for why God cannot exist is the fact of evil in the world.  At least since the Enlightenment.

It goes like this:

Premise 1:  If God exists, then he would not allow suffering and evil in the world

Premise 2: Suffering and evil DO exist

Conclusion:  Therefore, God must not exist

When we run into a hypothetical argument like this, it can be valid without being true.

The above form of this particular conditional syllogism is ‘MODUS TOLLENS’ and it is valid.

The way we can see that this argument is valid, is to focus on the 2nd premise and see whether it does one of two things:

  • it can either affirm the antecedent (the clause preceding the comma in the 1st or major premise , i.e. – “God exists“)
  • or it can deny the consequent (what follows the comma in the 1st or major premise, i.e. – he would not allow suffering and evil in the world)

If the 2nd premise (the minor premise) affirms the antecedent, we call its form of hypothetical syllogism ‘Modus Ponens’.  If instead it denies the consequent, then we call this form of the valid argument ‘Modus Tollens’.

*

If you are a biblical Christian and not an adherent to Enlightenment thinking, then you can quickly spot the false premise.

Bingo!  The first premise IS false.  Only when humans started to look to their reason and perceptions as arbiter of what was TRUTH, did philosophers begin to craft God in their own image.  As Tim Keller suggests in his latest book on suffering,

Tim Keller's book on suffering

Link to book here on Amazon

 

…God might actually have a reason for allowing suffering.  But post-enlightenment man reasons this way: If I can’t see a good reason for evil and suffering, then there must not be one!   And that in itself is ANOTHER hypothetical major premise to examine.

If we are truthful, this line of thinking sure makes us seem pretty self-centered and self-referential.  Did it not occur to modern man that he might not actually know ALL the details regarding our universe?  Where is the humility???

So back to Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens, what was the point of that little Latin-flavored Logic exercise?  Just to reenforce that there are several steps to examining an argument.  We look at clarity of terms, the form of the syllogism and then the truthfulness of the premises.  Before you jump in to either congratulate someone who shares your wisdom OR to beat them over the head verbally for espousing nonsense, do your homework!  You’re less likely to come across as a fool!

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.   Proverbs 17:28 –

monkey with mouth shut