Archive | March, 2015

Logical Gal – ‘But it’s in the Bible!’

25 Mar

Polygamy in the bible

A discussion I overheard reminded me of a useful distinction, that of what is normative versus what is descriptive.  The term normative contains the concept of norms or prescribed ways of doing things.  Descriptive points to information, the way things are.

Logicians have a name for this error in reasoning, it’s called the Is-Ought Fallacy.  The thinking goes like this:

  • The way things ARE is the way they SHOULD be.

That’s just plain stupid. All one has to do is provide a counter-example.  Sex-trafficking is an unfortunate fact. Should that continue? Persecution of Christians is a fact….. genocide is a fact…bureaucratic waste is a fact.  Surely we don’t countenance those circumstances just because ‘that’s the way life is in 2015!’

An entire arena where these two concepts of what is descriptive (the way things are) versus what is normative (the way things ought to be) often gets muddled is the Bible.  Someone with an agenda of showing how the Bible is not relevant for contemporary culture might argue about one particular issue this way:

  • How come you’re so committed to marriage being a life-long covenant between one man and one woman?  Why even in the Bible some of those heroes of the faith were polygamous.  Didn’t the patriarch Abraham have multiply wives?  And what about his grandson Jacob?
  • Jesus didn’t own anything; therefore, neither should Christians!

If anything, the Bible unabashedly narrates shameful foibles, backsliding, and dysfunctional family sin.  And if that weren’t enough, we are served up accounts of evil kings and pompous religious leaders.  And on the other side, it IS true that the Bible gloriously showcases courageous acts of faith by men and women such as Gideon, Ruth, Paul and Mary as well as Jesus, the Son of God.  But does it necessarily follow that the Bible is telling us is ‘Be a Daniel, Be a Joshua, Be a Jesus’? Might the Bible through all these accounts be pointing to what God has done?  Yes, there are principles of righteous living that we can follow.  Nevertheless, we must be careful to sort out whom or what is being held up as part of the overall meta-narrative or grand story from actual commands that we are to follow.

A discerning reader will apply the correct lens when studying God’s Word.  Distinguishing whether a narrative is giving a rundown of what happened OR whether it is promoting a way of life or specific behavior is key.

Logical Gal practices what she preaches – sometimes!

18 Mar

Progress!  I actually followed through with a response that I advocate!  Talking with a gal from church after the service, I sought clarification in her response to a question I posed BEFORE advancing the conversation.

It was a simple query. “Did you enjoy the sermon?”  Her reply surprised me. “Yes, but I find I have to be open-minded and have faith.”

In the past, I have come to understand that when someone asserts that we must not settle on a position, but remain ‘open-minded’, that they are actually employing a euphemism to mean, “No view is right or wrong!”

Without fail, upon sensing a dissenting worldview, my retort has bristled with a bit of TONE.  And worse, I have immediately lobbed MY point of view on the topic back to my conversational partner.

This time, maybe due to the ‘holy space’ we found ourselves in having come from worshipping God, I posed the simple but VERY helpful question, “What do you mean by ‘open-minded’?”

clarification

Her explanation took me by surprise.  “I have to work hard to pay attention and carefully follow what is being preached.  I tend to drift off otherwise!”

This dear older gal wasn’t using the term ‘open-minded’ to mean anything other than ‘distracted’!

Whew!  ‘Thank you, Father!’ my spirit uttered as I continued the conversation.  It turns out that she found the sermon to be just as rich and nourishing as I had.

I am SO glad I paused and solicited further meaning.

Logical Gal and a better “S-word”

11 Mar

Netanyahu

Words matter!  They have the power to build up and also to destroy.  Just think back to childhood when you were taunted by another child’s belittling epithets!

But words and pithy slogans also carry power to mobilize people.  Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu when appealing to Congress, adroitly wielded 2 such words.  Referring to Iran, the Israeli Prime Minister announced that the nuclear plan proposed FOR her by Western allies poses a ‘threat’. What kind of threat?  Here’s where contrasting word choice brought clarity in 5 seconds.

“a threat to Israel’s survival as opposed to a threat to America’s security”

Those terms (in bold) frame differing assertions. Hence, two different ‘S-words’ carry divergent presuppositions.

Let’s look at some potential presuppositions that America and Israel might employ to ground foreign policy decisions, assumptions built into their assertions.

The United States:

  • Risks to our country’s security come in various forms
  • All security risks are not equal
  • Security risks require prioritizing and subsequent assigning to different decision-making bodies for evaluation (i.e. White House, Congress, the military, the market place…)
  • Response resources are limited; therefore, some security risks might have to be tolerated for a period of time or indefinitely

Israel:

  • Risks to our country’s survival come primarily from nuclear-armed neighbors
  • If Israel does not survive as a nation, than all other problems are moot
  • Prioritization of national resources must be driven by our country’s ability to remain viable and survive as a sovereign nation-state

Do you see the force of rhetoric, of which word choice is a tool, to tap into presuppositions, which in turn drive actions?

May we all, from private individuals to public officials, take our words seriously as a resource, a gift and a responsibility.

Logical Gal – Allowed to have an opinion?

4 Mar

From her 22 January 2015 Press Conference at the Capitol, when pressed about whether a 20-week old fetus was a human being, Pelosi responded:

“And as a mother of five, in six years, I have great standing on this issue, great understanding of it, more than my colleagues. In fact, one day many years ago, perhaps before you were born, when I was a new member of Congress, as a Catholic and a mom of five, opposing some of the initiatives similar to what–in the same vein as–what we have today, one of the Republicans stood up and said: Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about having babies than the pope.

“Yeah, Yeah. That would be true.”

Nancy Pelosi

**So in essence, Nancy Pelosi’s presupposition might be stated this way:

Premise 1:  Only those who have had babies have the moral authority or right to make judgments about babies and fetuses and when life begins

Premise 2: I am one of those people who have had babies

Conclusion:  Therefore, I am qualified to make pronouncements and judgments about babies, fetuses and life

This kind of reasoning is easy to refute when one applies a technique called, “Reductio ad Absurdum”.  What we do is apply the principle inherent in the argument to an extreme case. The argument self-destructs on its own.

So in Nancy Pelosi’s argument, let’s boil down her reasoning so we can apply it to another situation.  Her thinking goes like this:  only those who have experienced an event have the credibility/aka, ‘the moral high ground’ to make a decision.

If this is so, then we would have to preclude the following situations:

  • doctors diagnosing and commencing healing remedies
  • Congress creating laws for our country
  • judges deciding legal cases
  • parents applying wisdom in situations that they themselves never experienced as children

All these cases and a plethora of others would not be valid, since those making a judgment had not actually undergone the experience of the people affected by their decisions.

Judgments are sound when supported by sufficient reason and evidence.  Period. Plain and simple.

Don’t get snookered by this ‘playing the personal experience card’.