Archive | August, 2014

Logical Gal: those Martian men and Venetian women

27 Aug

It’s true – we really are different!

Besides the physical and emotional distinctions, what else separates us?  Our definitions!

We view and use terms in ways that are not always identical.  As St. Exupéry’s Fox informs the Little Prince:

Renard (Little prince)

“Le language est source des malentendus” (Language is the source of misunderstandings)

Friday my husband and I bought a new car for me in a town south of where I teach school.  It has been more than 10 years since I’ve had this experience and this latest 4WD small SUV came equipped with bells and whistles that were overwhelming.  So as Mike and I set out to convoy home from the dealership, I said I would ‘follow’ him.  I felt it was challenging enough to drive the new car safely without having to hunt for signs to the interstate.  Over 50, I sensibly have stopped clinging to the false notion that I can multi-task.  The idea of setting and following ‘Miss Bossy GPS Lady’ was too much for me!

All was well in this ‘following’ maneuver until we reached the interstate.  I now KNEW the way home, so didn’t feel the need to stay directly behind my husband’s car.  I was, after all, behind him in one sense of the term and in MY lexicon that qualified in the wide definition of what it means ‘to follow’.

The only problem was that this dear Martian man of mine was NOT privy to my unpublished Venetian glossary. Unbeknownst to me, he grew more and more aggravated as I fell behind.  So he attempted to catch my attention by driving erratically.  My reaction, at first, was to think that something was wrong with his Subaru.  So I prayed.  Then it occurred to me that he might be suffering a stroke or at the least low blood sugar since we were now past the dinner hour.  (These 2 scenarios were unlikely for his car is only 2 years old and he doesn’t have any physical condition that would justify my imaginings!).  But I prayed even more earnestly.

When we finally reached our cove and pulled off the busy highway, he stopped to get the paper.  I rolled down my window and said: What is wrong with you! Are you alright?

Well, that caught him by surprise because he was about to ask me the same questions.

We laugh now,

reconciled husband and wife

but lesson learned:  Be clear about terms.  Ask one another, “When you say you’re going to FOLLOW me, what do you actually mean by that?”  I also learned that when I change my mind about something AFTER I have told him what my intention was, I should communicate that too.

I guess Martians are not mind readers.

All joking aside, good clear thinking is foundational to logic.  And formal logic always starts with clarifying terms.  If two people can sort out, pin down distinctions and agree to abide by certain definitions, then much aggravation is avoided.

Question: when has language gotten in the way of communicating with someone you love? 

 

Logical Gal and why you want a PERSONAL God

20 Aug

How ‘personal’ is your God?  Does it matter?

Christian theologians will tell you that the God of the Bible is personal and not impersonal.  Those terms have always been a bit foggy to me.  Maybe you’re like me – not quite sure what kind of difference that makes in one’s deity.

But like anything that adds value in life, if you want richness and depth, you need to dig in and spend some time THINKING.

I teach school and am used to students JUST seeking a quick answer.  They don’t want to take the time and THINK for themselves, because thinking requires effort.

Effort

But not THIS much effort!

Let’s exercise the gray cells and ponder what the concept of ‘personal’ might include.

Let’s consider the arena of personal fitness, for example.  Just what does a personal trainer do?  He or she:

  • focuses on you by listening to your concerns and your desires
  • assesses where you are
  • creates a plan just for you
  • teaches you the program, watching to see that you get it
  • exercises patience
  • innovates when the original exercises don’t quite do the job
  • applauds your improvement whether you are a recovering stroke patient learning to walk again or a marathon runner wanting to improve time
  • genuinely feels pleasure and satisfaction when his or her client moves closer to the stated goal

Even more important, someone who is personal in whatever capacity of interaction acts INDEPENDENTLY, exercising free will.  There is nothing mechanistic or deterministic about personal attention.

Personal waitor

The meal this couple is being served is a far cry from an impersonal vending machine, wouldn’t you say?

So, let’s now think about what it means to say that God is a personal God.  First, consider what an IMpersonal god might be like. There would be only one way for ‘it’ to act, given a set of circumstances. There would be no individual attention, no taking into consideration our weaknesses and frailties.  There would be a one-size fits all series of events triggered by circumstances.  The code might be complicated, but whether I was Nancy Sue Smith or Alice Marie Jones, as long as I fit the parameters, the god would respond the same. And we wouldn’t get the sense that ‘it’ had emotions and cared one way or the other.

Au contraire, a personal God is one who (not THAT):

  • devotes Himself to His creation
  • desires our best
  • longs for us to be with Him
  • angers over sin because it harms us
  • protects us from evil
  • plans good things for us
  • delights and boasts in us
  • sees through our flimsy deceptions by looking at our hearts
  • considers himself Father which directly implies an individual relationship

God loved

  • and someone who loves
  • therefore, someone who dies for His creation

To actually FEEL the difference, think for a moment about what an impersonal deity would be like. Among what would be missing, other than all the above, here are two aspects that matter to me:

  • what I would miss most is the sense that the creator of the universe actually cared for me, that He empathized with my weakness, that he understood and that He had a plan for my good for the rest of eternity
  • there also would be no purpose to my life other than as a mechanistic cog in a system

And I’ve only scratching the surface.

Vending Machine God

Question:  If you are a theist, do you believe that God is a personal or impersonal force?  Why?

Logical Gal at the movies

13 Aug

AI the movie

We’re enjoying re-watching some ‘thinking’ movies from the past.  Once you’ve screened a film for the plot line, you can go back and catch the deeper layers. AI or Artificial Intelligence has some dialogue worth pondering.

David is a proto-type robot child who is programmed to ‘love’ after a bonding sequence his ‘Mommy’ (human who owns him) initiates and follows. He responds to her eyes, voice and actions with uncanny human-like qualities that mimic true affection.

In one scene David  is challenged by the family’s REAL son to cut off a locket of Mommy’s hair.  The guile-filled biological boy frames it as a game and orders David to play. We follow the innocent David sneaking into the parents’ bedroom, scissors in hand.  The suspense builds to the predictable moment when Mommy wakes up in horror to see David with sharp edges in hand hovering over her face.   But in momma-bear mode,  she attempts to soft-pedal the event when the horrified dad comes out with this logic:

If he can love, then he can hate!

And after one more innocent event that casts David in a false light, the dad makes the decision to rid themselves of this too-advanced tech addition to their family.

*

Let’s practice some clear logical thinking by taking the dad’s announcement above and analyzing it.  This exercise will reenforce what we should do ANY time we encounter someone’s position which doesn’t seem quite right.

So what do we have in the dad’s pronouncement?

  • a conditional major premise, what we call an ‘If, then’ statement.
  • an enthymeme – one explicit part of an argument or syllogism and 2 missing parts that our minds fill in easily.

Here’s the completed argument:

Premise 1 (the major premise):  If David can love, then he can hate

Premise 2 (the minor premise): David has shown that he can love

Conclusion: Therefore, it is logical to believe that David is also capable of hating

There’s a law in logic that goes like this:  if the first 2 premises are true, then the conclusion MUST be true in a valid argument (valid means that the argument is in the correct form) 

The above syllogism IS valid because Premise 2 affirms the first segment of Premise 1 (called the antecedent). I ask you, then, is this analysis cut and dried?  Are the two premises true?

Well, the movie clearly demonstrates that David loves.  He is a machine.  He is programmed and built to act lovingly and to have that love increase (grow) in response to his one human ‘bondee’ (one human who initiates a short programmed sequence of words enters into a ‘bonded-for-life’ connection with the ‘mecha’ i.e, the robot).  In the photo below, Mommy places the fingers of one hand behind David’s neck and reads a sequence of words, cementing the bonding.

Bonding between David and Monica in movie AI

But the error in Premise 1 lies in its presupposition.  The dad has humans in mind when he assumes that love and hate go hand in hand.  And for those created in God’s images, id est all of us, that is true.  We have been given a certain degree of free will.  We GIVE our love and we RETAIN or hold back our love.  Or else it is not true love. (What a risk God took! But He evidently WANTS the pinnacle of His creation to love Him freely). The downside in creating a machine that imitates a loving human is that the owner of the ‘mecha’ deceives himself in thinking the machine really DOES love him. If he stops and THINKS, the machine is merely following a program, however complex it may be.

David loves Mommy, acts and speaks with tender, servant-like affection because he can do nothing else.  This is not true of humans.

*

Let’s shift back to real life.  Deep movies are satisfying because they offer us food for thought.  We can practice our logic skills in a safe environment when we discuss a film’s premises and conclusions.  Then we feel more prepared gently to question someone in our circle who advances a conclusion that might not be sound.

Vive le cinéma profond!

Question:  What is your all-time favorite deep movie?  What is a premise we could analyze? 

Logical Gal and the ‘good’ life

6 Aug

Good Life - Rob Lowe Cigar Aficionado  “Good” – Once again we bump up against the importance of clarity in our language.

Rob Lowe, apparently, exemplifies someone enjoying ‘the good life’.  To wit, ‘Cigar Aficionado‘  even has a regular feature by that name. Just what IS the ‘good life’?   And what is meant by ‘good’?   The word good is one of those equivocal  terms that refer to different concepts.  The differences in meaning and usage range from-

  • the moral good – John always does what is good in the eyes of God
  • the effective good – This device is good for opening cans
  • the expedient good – What good timing, that John arrived in time to take the children home
  • the good player – John is good at tennis – skilled in a sport
  • the pleasing good – Your dinner tastes good;  the photo is a good representation of me
  • the thoughtful good – It was good of you to stop by with my mail

“Yes, well….what’s the big deal?” you say.  Good question!  (in this case, good means ‘appropriate’). The rub is the time one needs to clarify meaning.   Making distinctions takes time. It’s much easier for person A to be sloppy with terms or accuse person B of a contradiction or even portray person B’s view by means of a strawman fallacy.  (Distorting someone’s argument so you can knock it) Strawman Fallacy

I heard such an exchange the other day when a young Christian man announced that God had contradicted himself, citing several places in the Bible where God claims to show NO partiality:

  • For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. (Deut 10:17)
  • ...because God does not show partiality. (Rom 2:11)

Yet, (the young man continued), God also says that He chooses some to love and some to hate.

  • Even as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. (Rom 9:13)

Perceptive young man, he was, but the key to unraveling a seeming contradiction was to clarify the term PARTIALITY. Fortunately for me (and the young man), the pastor reassuring us that there was NO contradiction was John Piper.  He clearly explained that partiality was discrimination based on irrelevant considerations.

For example, if I am hiring the most qualified person to teach French, but overlook someone’s clear lack of abilities and experience because her mother  is my friend, or due to her skill in baking goodies for the teachers’ lounge or because she and I both happened to be  born in Atlanta, then I am WRONGLY showing partiality.

But if God chooses people on whom to show His favor according to HIS wise and good criteria as opposed to how the world judges what is appropriate, then we can still say with assurance that God does not show favoritism.

Just look at how God saves people from every kind of :

  • social strata and
  • people group and
  • age bracket and
  • income level

..and people with differing levels of education and aptitudes and experiences

…and regardless of the crimes they have committed or societal good they have done

These examples surely point to the FACT that God IS impartial.

What good news for you and me.  All we have to do is act on His encouragement….

  • “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)

Jesus knocking at the door

Do you see the importance of taking the time to exercise correct thinking?  Deliberately parsing out meaning from the different distinctions is WORTH the energy.

Question: What is a seeming contradiction that the ‘world’ tends to showcase, whether in  the political, spiritual or educational arenas?