Archive | September, 2015

Can you hold a belief and not practice it? Should you?

30 Sep

I love to read the letters to the editor

Letter to the editor

A recent one caught my eye because the author, in condemning Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, wrote:

  • ….”no one, absolutely no one, was telling that county clerk in Kentucky what to believe.  One of the founding principles of this country is that we all have the right to believe in whatever type of God we wish, and to practice that belief in whatever way we feel is appropriate.

Really?  I thought many belittled Kim Davis expressly while exercising her belief in God. Didn’t she refuse to allow her name to be on marriage certificates because she BELIEVED that this PRACTICE would NOT be APPROPRIATE?  (note I am using the writer’s terms)

So the question is:  Can one separate beliefs/values from actions?

If I believe that eating fresh food is healthier for me but I continue to eat processed foodstuff, am I being consistent?

Don’t we condemn as hypocritical those who espouse one thing and do another?

Walk the talk

The truth is that Christians are increasingly going to be subject to magnifying glass scrutiny.  We have to establish ahead of time WHAT we believe, WHY we believe it and WHAT we are willing to do to be integrated human beings.  Beliefs are worthless when they swim around as vague, unsubstantiated opinions.

Let’s ground our beliefs IN reason. And if we can’t come up with a solid defense for WHY we believe what we espouse, then maybe it’s time to jettison that value. There’s no shame in abandoning a position or changing one’s mind for solid justification.  And it’s no discredit to be honest and admit:

  • I don’t have any reason for believing X, I just WANT to believe X

I just want to

At least that’s sincere and authentic.  And while it’s okay to ‘park’ in that spot for a while, we shouldn’t stay there.  Let’s take the time to examine why holding such a belief would be rational and worthwhile.  The best reason to hold and practice a belief is because it is true.

Taking it to the absurd

23 Sep

Up for a quick logic workout for your mind?

Critical Thinking the other national deficit

I heard someone advance an argument FOR killing unborn babies in the womb.  It went like this:

  • Since many Christians espouse the doctrine that pre-born and newborn babies as well as very young children all go to heaven (before the age of accountability), why should anyone oppose what Planned Parenthood does?

At first hearing, I thought – “Huh! – I wonder what this theologian’s response will be?”

Reassuringly, the speaker proceeded directly to the question I, myself, have learned.  Before any question or comment, do this: take your opponent’s argument seriously and flow with it to its logical and uncontrived conclusion.   Then lead him to consider that conclusion by posing a question.

  • So if we follow your logic, since a child of 1 has not yet reached the age of accountability, then it’s okay to murder him, seeing that he’s headed to heaven?

It’s clear that very soon, his entire premise will crumble.

Beside the toddler, who else might not be accountable for their actions?  I can think of

  • those born with mental disorders
  • those in a coma
  • those with Alzheimer’s or dementia

Evil terrorists could easily exploit this argument of a quick dispatch to heaven as well!

So is this a slippery slope argument?   In this case, yes!

As Archbishop Justin Welby recently and forcefully argued:

“Whenever assisted suicide is discussed, supporters of a change in the law are quick to pour scorn on “slippery slope” arguments, dismissing them as scare-mongering. The truth is, however, that some slopes are slippery and it is important to identify them”   Website here

If moral values evolve…….

16 Sep

Evolution

Where you ground or anchor moral values is the question of the moment.  Any time someone says, “You had better do this or that!” the logical question to pose is: SAYS WHO???????

Let’s exercise our critical thinking skills as we take up this ethical source pivot.

To start, what are the major alternative origins of ‘good and evil’ of ‘right and wrong’?  Some possibilities are:

  • individual preference
  • a society’s preference
  • DNA evolved responses in individuals or groups
  • a force within the created order that is more powerful than either individuals or groups
  • an impersonal super-natural being outside of the universe
  • a personal God who is outside of the created order

Let’s look at the 3rd possibility that a society’s values emerge in an evolving environment where the strong members’ genes get passed down and continue in the species.

If that premise is accepted as a grounding source of ‘the good’, then here are some questions that come to mind:

  • How can both the tendency to share (not hoard) resources with others AND steal from others co-exist?   Wouldn’t that be a binary trait?
  • If survival of the fittest culls a population, where do life-sacrificing heroic actions originate?  Wouldn’t they be considered anti-survival?
  • Where did our almost universal belief that killing innocent human beings is wrong originate?  How does DNA differentiate ‘good guy killing’ versus ‘bad guy killing’?  And if killing others were a desirable trait for survival, why didn’t we just kill ourselves off long ago?
  • If ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are defined as actions and beliefs that make a group flourish (Aristotle called it EUDOMONIA), why don’t all starving people groups practice cannibalism?  Who gets to determine which segments ‘flourish’?

You probably can think of other ramifications that would follow if we accept that values are just the built-in natural choices that a group’s members default to, based on evolving DNA.

Finally, going back to the source or grounding of our values, here is a question that bothers me:

Should moral outrage and remonstrance be taken seriously?  If so, why?

  • if we are just acting out of our DNA, then we are determined people like dominos.
  • if we are stating merely our preferences, who cares?  I have my own preferences just like you have yours.  Who gets to arbitrate?  Does ‘might’ make ‘right’?
  • if the outrage comes from a created element within our system, let’s try to demolish or avoid IT.  Maybe enough of US can eliminate IT!

However, if the outrage originates from a supernatural being, then we need to be concerned!

Question:  Can you see any other wellspring or root of morals or standards? 

Do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? – the power of a counter argument

9 Sep

Some people like to dismiss miracles or supernatural events with the demand for something MORE than the existence of an immaterial being.  They want decisive extraordinary proof to back up any claims they consider beyond the ordinary.

Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Intelligent Design all point to an intentional first cause responsible for the creation of the Universe.   That seems to be pretty ‘extraordinary’, but apparently the ‘doubters’ don’t accept the powerful cumulative case that points to a ‘big-banger’ who/that initiated our universe.

Before we go down the rabbit trail of trying to come up with evidence that would be extraordinary enough to satisfy skeptics, let’s consider whether their requirement for such sensational reasoning is justifiable.

The other day, in reading Psalm 84, I saw a counter-argument to the atheists/agnostics’ pushback.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.

If it is true that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof’ then one might EQUALLY say:

  • Extraordinary beauty or loveliness requires an admirer/observer/lodger who is equally extraordinary

But look at the opening of the psalm.  The man who pens these words is overwhelmed with the beauty and the majesty of the Jewish sanctuary.  But is he, himself, majestic or lovely or beautiful?

Well he MIGHT be, you could argue.  And you’d probably be basing that reason on the fact that he is made in the image of God.  All reflectors of God are beautiful in that sense.  But if he is someone who has just offered an animal to be sacrificed and it’s around 970 BC, then he’s probably smelly and might even be splattered with ox or sheep’s blood!

Okay, so the man COULD be lovely or he could be smelly.  But who else or what else in this section of Psalm 84 considers God’s sanctuary good and fit to enter and stay?

  • the common birds, specifically sparrows and swallows

When the ordinariness of the ones coming into the temple, whether humans or birds,  are capable  and qualified to deem the setting “lovely’.  That beauty both satisfies the human soul and provides necessary shelter for God’s winged creatures.  The quality of loveliness does not require the beholder/user to be lovely.  It follows then that reactionary comeback to anything supernatural is NOT well founded.

So, no!!! Extraordinary places or events do not require extraordinary evidence.  They just call for evidence and reasons that are TRUE!

For further discussion of the ‘extraordinary objection’ visit this link

Could Dilbert’s ‘mean’ robot be logical?

2 Sep

Dilbert Robots Read News

You never know where or when you’re going to bump into a logical syllogism. Or shall I say an ATTEMPT at a logical syllogism.

I scan the daily paper, including the comics, for interesting and challenging blog topics. I chuckled recently when I read Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon featuring a news anchor robot that sports a bad attitude.

Panel # 1 reads:

The Supreme Court ruled that engineers cannot be found guilty of murder

When I encounter a statement like that, my logical antennae tend to perk up. Why? Because I’ve just met a CONCLUSION. Now I need to hunt for the argument, also known as the reasons. Scan on with me!

Panel # 2 reads:

Lawyers argued that any good engineer knows how to get away with murder, so getting caught is proof of innocence. 

This statement appears to be an argument in itself. The telltale two-letter word, SO, often introduces a conclusion. Yet when I tried to tease out the assumptions lurking in this complex sentence I got bogged down.

Part of cartoonist Scott Adam’s humor resides in his deliberately obtuse attempts at logic. Here’s what I came up with as I struggled to make heads or tails out of these tangled words:

  • All engineers who are ‘good’ at being engineers are engineers who know how to conceal their guilt
  • No engineers who are caught in a murder are engineers who are guilty

But then the questions that arose gave me pause; as well they should when anyone advances a belief!  I wondered,

  • How is ‘good’ being defined?
  • And who is doing the defining?
  • Is there a hidden assumption that a good engineer might actually commit murder but be capable of concealing it so that he can’t be charged as ‘guilty’?

Then I saw something troubling in the clause after the comma (‘…so getting caught is proof of innocence’). I would have expected the ‘bad robot’ to have concluded rather:

  • So getting caught is proof that the accused is NOT a good engineer

Since this logical workout comes from a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ comic strip, we mustn’t take it very seriously. But I did attempt to represent it with a Venn diagram.

The red annotation reads: “Set of all engineers who are innocent of murder”

The blue label shows: All ‘good’ engineers

The black set comprises: All engineers who don’t commit murder

Dilbert Engineer Venn Diagram

There is not enough information given in the 3-panel cartoon strip to know how to portray the non-good engineers.  Are they engineers who commit murder and get caught?  Or does the concept of ‘good’ engineer include any other talents than the ability to get away with murder? How and where do I draw THAT set?  Where are there intersections of sets?

I’m not too bothered that I didn’t dissect it to the satisfying point of seeing how it worked. Why not?  Too many fallacies and problems that I don’t have the energy to sort out!  So I’ll call it ‘a day’ and lay aside my cartoon logic analysis.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the 30 or so minutes I invested in playing around with Scott’s wording. Actually, the process of drawing different category sets and subsets helped me think. And thinking is never a waste of time. So what if I had to conclude that I was dealing with some crazy robot’s irrational news reporting!

Oh, and in case you couldn’t make out the wording Scott Adam’s concluding cartoon square, here’s

Panel # 3:

The ruling was unanimous because no one could figure out which side was the liberal one.

Maybe I spent my energy on the wrong parts of the cartoon!  Oh, well.  I enjoy challenging myself to think through assertions, whether encountered in conversations, in my reading or in movies. Wanting to grow wiser, my goal is to become quicker to think and reflect and slower to share my views. Join me in being on guard, with a nose ready to sniff out poor reasoning and irrational statements.