Archive | January, 2015

Logical Gal doesn’t like YOUR view, so there!

28 Jan

“I find the view of Hell so utterly offensive, that I can’t believe it!” 

So there!

A lady actually said this the other day on the radio.  I don’t quibble with her assessment of the Biblical description of Hell.  There’s nothing pretty or compelling about a dark place of everlasting separation from anything good, lovely or true!

But what struck me with the force of a 2 x 4 plank was her unspoken presupposition.  To wit:

Anything I don’t like, I don’t believe

Can you see that if you are consistent and approach other situations with the same guiding premise for testing truth that you might run across other ‘facts’ that qualify as equally unbelievable?

  • cancer
  • war
  • terrorist beheadings

How do you think Radio Lady might respond to those situations, if you were to ask her gently?

Might she possibly qualify her decision-making process by adding something like this:

“Well, we have evidence of those 3 horrid situations. There are news reports, videos…… you know PROOF!”

“Oh, I get it,” you might respond, “You only believe in things you can see? Whatever is invisible doesn’t exist. Is that it?”

Assumptions are powerful filters that we use on a regular basis, often unconsciously.  I find it far easier to spot them in others than in myself.  But now that I am aware of them, I can practice being just as ruthless on myself as I tend to be with others.  After all, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander!

Assumptions

 

 

Logical Gal and when making sense is not enough

21 Jan

Makes sense

That makes sense to me!

Have you ever heard that comment or uttered it yourself?  It sounds so innocent, doesn’t it!  Don’t we want to make sense of the world around us – especially in light of all the horrors and issues that DON’T make sense?

It’s human nature to try to identify, draw associations and categorize all the information that cascades into our consciousness, moment by moment!

But, we must not forget that just because something makes sense, that detail does NOT make it true!

I ran across a useful example of this faulty thinking the other day.  While listening to a radio program broadcast by the organization Stand to Reason, the host discussed how to deal with the possibility that scientists might very well indeed find a gene marker held in common by some gay men and women.  The presupposition explored by the host is this:

Whatever makes sense is right or must be true.

The caller who holds to the above assumption suggested the following opening to an argument based on that assumption:

  • If there is a ‘gay gene’, then it is natural for those with that gene to want to/ need to engage in what is ‘natural’

After having suggested that line of thinking, he finished his explanation with the comment, “Makes sense to me!”

The host, Greg Koukl, reminded listeners that JUST because something makes sense, that doesn’t make it true or right.   An argument based on the faulty assumption could be stated like this:

P1 – All that makes sense is right

P2 – Doing what is natural makes sense

C – Therefore, doing what comes natural is right

And going on, one can continue:  Given a ‘gay gene’, then it is only natural that those with this gene engage in the behavior that is part of their inherited disposition.

However in the above argument, although it may be rational and correctly formed, it can still be faulty if one or both of the premises are FALSE.  Take a look at the following obvious example of a valid, but unsound syllogism:

P1 – All things with 4 feet are alive

P2 – This table has 4 feet

C – Therefore, this table is alive

Why is this argument valid?  Because it follows the rules of formal logic.  It makes sense, we could say. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to tell that something is WRONG!!!

Bingo!  The faulty premise is the very first one.  NOT all things that have 4 feet are alive, only SOME.  So the universal statement needs to be changed to a particular statement to be true.

P1 – Some things with 4 feet are alive

P2 – This table has 4 feet

C – Therefore, this table is alive

Soundness Venn diagram

Let’s get back to the possible research into gene markers and whether doing what is natural makes sense.

  • Besides the unsoundness of the argument due to the faulty 1st premise..
  • Besides the false nature of the underlying presupposition that What makes sense must be so,

There is ALSO the assumption that could be debated:  We should engage in what comes naturally!

Really?

Question: Which ‘natural’ scenarios come to mind that raise a red flag?

tantrums

 

Logical Gal and why slogans fail us

14 Jan

Slogans

A recent letter to the editor in our local newspaper provided practice in thinking.  A lawyer had written to champion the ‘Separation of Church and State’.  He counseled Christians to confine their religious practices to church and NOT bring them out into the public square.  He fumed over comments made by supposed conservative Christians who ‘dared’ criticize recent Supreme Court decision.

If he had thought a bit deeper, he might have seen that he was misrepresenting the activity of  ‘religious practices’ because he hadn’t considered his terms.  Since I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to influence the readership of the local paper, I did write a letter to the editor.  In my response,  I pointed out that ‘religious practices’ were actually what people did in church (where people sing songs, celebrate communion, hear messages teaching Bible content and principles and pray together).  What the lawyer probably meant to castigate was what he, himself, might be guilty of….the supposed ‘sin’ of letting one’s values affect one’s actions.

Core values

(Surely law schools must drill into future lawyers the necessity for precise language.  Since lawyers are good at splitting hairs, I picture them spending hour upon hour practicing drawing careful distinctions!)

Back to this so-called requirement to keep one’s religious practices confined to a place of worship! It’s not hard to see that the rites and behaviors one performs in a church service are narrower than one’s core values.  Yes, our values DO influence particular religious behaviors.  But values in general shape most of our actions and decisions. The essential truths that every human being holds create beliefs, which in turn guide one’s intentional behavior.

Justice is blind

I’m assuming that men and women who choose the legal profession esteem many values that they express publicly.  Being charitable, I will say that a career in law presupposes that one cares about truth and justice for all.  So it’s not just Christians who advocate the care and dignity of their fellow human beings.

The danger of slogans is that they brush with too broad of a brush.  They remind me of those mall-stalking pollsters with their clipboards who take sport in canvassing your views, yet all the while limiting your responses . But the problem is that your opinions don’t fit any of the categories!  The same pitfall is attendant in sound bytes.  Lack of time prevents clear thinking!  And furthermore, these written or shouted symbol-laden words actually can cloud communications.

As an aside to my rebuttal letter to the editor, I pointed out how the values and beliefs of many Christians have resulted in much good for society!  Accounts abound, throughout the world, of Christians who have sacrificed to care for the poor, the sick and those in prison.  These followers of Christ have allowed their values and beliefs to shape their actions.  One only has to think of British Christians like William Wilberforce and others who fought tirelessly to abolish the slave trade.  And what about American Christians like Martin Luther King who sought to bring civil rights to the black community?

Beliefs formed from values DO matter and everyone has them.  And unfortunately, we know too many examples of evil done in the name of beliefs, from Christians and non-Christians alike.  My point in gently taking the lawyer to task was to ask him if he really believed that only Christians allow their convictions to inform their actions.

Declaring he doesn’t want ‘conservative Christian values’ spilling out into public, leads me to think that he apparently values autonomy for everyone.  That belief has led him to defend the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.  To be consistent, maybe he should leave his values at home when he ventures into the public square.  Or is he, alone, allowed to vote his conscious, but those who happen to engage in ‘religious activities’ not?

I admit, it’s difficult for all of us to be even-handed in our thinking and consistent!  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Logical Gal – Can anything good come from Nazareth?

7 Jan

Nazareth Nathanael’s question was that of a skeptic.  Enough occasions of his brother Philip enthusiastically promoting this or that had taught him to balk at this guy’s spontaneous ideas. As an informal Jewish scholar, one who studied ‘ The Law’ because it fascinated him, he questioned everything he heard.  And he had heard plenty about Nazareth.  You didn’t have to dig far to gather reasons for looking down on this Galilean hick village of about 600.  Why even the Romans agreed with respectable Jews about the kind of people who made this community their home.

*

Voilà my imagination-based embellishment of Nathanael’s reaction to his brother Philip’s announcement.  The 3 lined conversation did take place and is recorded in John 1:46.  Philip passes news on to Nathanael that he and others have ‘found’ the Messiah. Nathanael snorts his cynical reply, dismissing the possibility of anything of value coming from Nazareth.  Philip deftly sidesteps the argument by simply inviting his brother to ‘come and see’.  This historical exchange shows how easily we default to rejecting the content of a claim due to its origins.  Such an error in thinking is called the Genetic Fallacy.  The name points to an error in looking to the source of an argument as a way to vet or discredit what someone is advancing.  Nathanael’s quick retort simply shows how naturally we humans fall into this trap.

Roadtrip

Last week my husband and I encountered another example of the Genetic Fallacy, a more insidious incidence than this one committed by one of Jesus’ future disciples.  In order to spend Christmas with our kids, we travelled the better part of 4 days down to Florida and back home.   I enjoy the time journeying by car, in part because we catch up on magazine articles when I read parts out loud to my husband. Usually fruitful discussions ensue.  One selection I shared with Mike was the speech given by Dorothy Sayers in 1947 on how to revamp the British educational system that had been crumbling for decades.  The Lost Tools of Learning. Advocating a return to the classical model, her remarks are worth reading at the link above.  In looking on Google for when she delivered her comments, I stumbled upon a critique of “The Lost Tools” that relied exclusively on the Genetic Fallacy.

The American critic appeared bothered that so many of his fellow Christians, both in the homeschooling movement and in private education, had been swept up in a fervor of a ‘back to the roots’ kind of approach. His whole essay was an attempt to discredit Dorothy Sayers’ thinking by attacking her morals and character.

From what I read in his posting, he did not address a critique of mid-20th century contemporary British primary and secondary education or her many suggestions.   He concentrated his rhetoric and content on her behavior as reported in one biography he cited.

That, my friends, is a blatant AND deliberate example of the Genetic Fallacy.  I wanted to hear his beef with her suggestions!  Human beings all make poor moral choices from time to time, but that’s another issue.   But before we indulged TOO much in some put-downs of this joker, we were quickly treated to a more personal example of how easily even we logical thinkers can fall prey to the same kind of trap!

GMOs

For some reason, our car discussion turned to GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  Turns out that the default reaction of most people is to condemn food that has been genetically modified.  Who wouldn’t prefer to eat food as nature intended it?  As I’ve been taught to think a bit more critically, I googled pros and cons in the GMO debate.  One of the first websites that came up was a slate.com article by a so-called Hippie in defense of adopting a moderate view of GMOs. Link to article is here.  When I read the source of the post I was about to share with Mike, he snorted and did the Nathanael routine. But we both were quick to recognize our own susceptibility to falling prey to the Genetic fallacy.

It’s a new year.  My hope for us all is that in 2015 we who claim to be logical, clear thinkers would exercise the same restraints as we hope others submit to and treat arguments fairly.