Archive | October, 2015

What’s good for the goose…..SHOULD BE…..good for the gander.

28 Oct

Good for the goose...

Let’s move outside of gender and look at the left/right political divide in the United States in 2015.

On a three-day class trip with 47 eighth-graders we spent some time in Atlanta at a museum.  I snapped this photo.

Grounding for civil disobedience  It says:  “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

It should not surprise you that these noble words come from the heart and pen of the very courageous champion of rights for all races, Martin Luther King, Jr.

What struck me is that they could be the very same words from:

  • Kim Davis – the elected Democratic clerk from Kentucky who maintained that being forced to sign a marriage license for a same-sex couple violated her religious freedom.  Because she believed that this freedom to practice religion is guaranteed in the US Constitution, she chose to submit to a jail sentence rather than violate her conscience.
  • Randy Alcorn – the pastor who cannot make more than minimum wage due to a court decision against him in a suit brought by an abortion clinic.  Alcorn had protested the killing of unborn children numerous times, even being jailed. For details here is a link

So why do I bring this up?  Because what drives points of view, what lies behind arguments are foundational beliefs or principles.  And if we LIKE, that is ACCEPT, as rational MLK’s premise that being willing to suffer legal and punitive consequences for breaking the law of the land is actually a commendable HIGH regard for the law, then we ought to view the actions of Kim Davis and Randy Alcorn in the same light.

That does NOT mean that one has to agree with the viewpoint on same-sex marriage or abortion, but one must grant the reasonableness of the foundational basis and outworking of that principle.

If a person cannot be fair-minded and tolerant to grant that point, then what lies between them and the hypocrite?

As a parting thought, many have weighed in on these moral issues of our times and drawn the comparison to the valiant and fruitful work done quite contrary to the majority view in 19th century Britain and America that:

  • trafficking and possessing other human beings was normal and to be accepted

I hope that one day future generations will look back in disbelief at changes in the last decades of the 20th and first decades of the 21st centuries.  The two most drastic have been:

  • that we legally and routinely butchered unborn babies
  • that the ‘State’ supported and championed the redefinition of marriage, thereby undermining the unity of families

Both these laws have brought a degradation to the flourishing of society.  On the one hand, the next generation is reduced through murder; and on the other hand, the likelihood that all children receive the care, love and stability from living with their own biological parents is weakened.

Bald-faced assertions and appeals to credentials

21 Oct

Here comes another opportunity to practice addressing an ‘argument’ encountered in everyday life, courtesy again of my local newspaper.  In a guest column last week “Mr. Very-Credentialed Local Citizen”  shared his views on a current controversy. His ‘sub-title’ or brief bio at the end read, “Mr. X is a Navy veteran, a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and a retired Washington lawyer.”

Were his credentials meant to impress and thus ward off any criticism of ideas?.

garlic and vampires

What it did, actually, was provide an illustration of feathering a weak argument with some fluffy down.  First lesson to take away is this:

  • Don’t let yourself be intimidated by someone’s educational achievement and experience.  Focus on the argument!!!

So what about his argument?

  •  First of all, there was no argument, just 2 separate assertions and a smokescreen

Let’s begin —

In the first assertion, the writer took on the defense of the use of fetal tissue research in the wake of revelatory videos regarding some of Planned Parenthood’s practices.  Here is what he wrote:

“…….about fetal tissue research.  It has for many years been a vital part of research dealing with a very wide range of diseases, and millions of people are alive today as a result of this research.”

Really? Millions? That is a stunning statement.  He offers no grounding at all for that statement.  And since he has publicized that he is NOT a research scientist or a medical professional, I question his assertion all the more.

So I did a 10-minute search of benefits from such tissue research and found out, for instance, that a study with Parkinson’s disease patients that looked promising did not pan out as hoped. In fact there were no significant reports of advances, just some possible areas of research.  The only and NOT insignificant benefit from the use of fetal tissue cited was the vaccines created 40-50 years ago that HAVE saved lives.  What is noteworthy, though, is that those original fetal cells are still producing new vaccines. An assumption could be advanced that no new fetal tissue is necessary to keep up with the demand to produce inoculations.

Therefore, the claim that millions are alive DUE to fetal tissue research needs to be qualified.  But it SOUNDED impressive.

The next plank in his ‘argument’ was this:

“Reducing funding for fetal tissue research is vigorously protested in, among other places, the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine, which is called by Forbes Magazine, ‘the most important medical periodical in the world’.

So……?  Does Forbes Magazine’s opinion about the New England Journal of Medicine mean that we should accept as ‘gospel’ every word the Journal of Medicine writes?

What could be reasons for researchers to protest a reduction in funding?

Is it possible that the nature of all research is to perpetuate their funding?

Shouldn’t we support research for reasons OTHER than another periodical’s ranking of importance of publications?   How much weight should the opinion of a business-centered organization be given?  Are there not better reasons to support fetal tissue research?  Apparently not.

Finally, on to the smokescreen provided by our esteemed legal expert:

” …when an abortion is performed,….there is no ethical reason not to use the fetal tissue for scientific research.  In fact, it is morally wrong not to use it because of the good that comes from it.” and the writer cites ethicists and a Roman Catholic committee’s conclusions for this statement.

Why does he advance the source of this verdict?  Does he mean to head off the spiritual arguments by offering these credentialed opinions?  Again, let us not be fooled by Appeals to Authority.

And ‘morally wrong’ NOT to use the tissue from a dead baby torn from its mother’s womb?  Give me a break!

The safe and simple way to handle with grace a view contrary to yours is to bypass all the hype and focus on the argument, point by point.  Let us take our time and NOT yield to tactics meant to intimidate.

No one has to be an expert in order to ask the clarifying questions that shift the burden of proof back on the one who advances the argument!

Is pepperoni pizza the best? or what are objective and subjective claims

14 Oct

pepperoni pizza

Is it an objective statement or a subjective statement to claim that something is the ‘best’?

At first glance, given the topic of pepperoni pizza, we might rush to conclude that this is a subjective evaluation totally determined by the speaker’s preferences.

And we would be correct if we take him to mean that he likes pepperoni pizza the best out of all other pizzas.  In other words, for him, this particular style of pizza is best.

But in another sense, this could also be an objective statement, a matter that can be evaluated as TRUE or FALSE.

If I stand up at my middle school where I teach and proclaim that pepperoni pizza is the best, I am sure to meet with counter claims to the contrary.  We have plain pizza lovers and sausage pizza lovers as well as those weird people who like anchovy pizzas!

All kidding aside let me explain how in one sense it could be a true statement to affirm that pepperoni pizza is the best.

The key is in defining our term, “best”.

A Logical Joe or Jane knows enough to ask when encountering any claim that something is “best”, What do you mean by “best”?

Miss America

Take the Miss America pageant where every year, judges select the ‘best’ qualified gal to represent the ideal young female American.  There are objective criteria with rubrics or scales that judges use to quantify and justify their decision.  You might not agree with the judges’ objective statement of reality for the year: “Susie Smith from Oklahoma is the BEST qualified to be this year’s Miss America”.  About the most you can say at that point is: “For me, I prefer Janie Jones from Texas. I think she best embodies Miss America.”

So to say something is best can be both an objective statement and a subjective statement of reality.  It depends on where the criteria reside.  Can they be supported by ‘reality’ or are they dependent on the subject making the statement?

And just what is ‘reality’?  In the beauty pageant world, reality is defined by what the judges agree to in advance.

Here are other examples of how saying something is best can be an objective statement of reality that is agreed upon in advance:

  • Auditions for roles in movies or plays: The casting director picks the ‘best’ actor for the part.
  • Auditions for sports teams and orchestras: Who is ‘best’ at hitting home runs or holding down the 1st chair violin spot?
  • Interviews for jobs:  Mr. Peter Parker was the ‘best’ qualified for the job (but I liked Mr. Dan Douglas the best)

So let us beware of the facile dismissal of the predicate ‘best’ as merely subjective.  We are, after all, capable of holding two things in tension.  Just because they might appear to be contradictory does not mean they are so. Language allows us to make distinctions and that is a hallmark of all Logical Janes and Joes.

Does reason top all considerations?

7 Oct

If you ask people to distinguish features that mark human beings as different from the animal kingdom, most would respond first that it is our self-awareness or our ability to think and to reason that sets us apart from other creatures.  For example:

  • The power of reason enables us to go against instinct and dash INTO a burning building to rescue a child.
  • The power of reason enables us to subdue passions and wrong feelings and choose the better way and say NO to MORE chocolate or another glass of wine!
  • Self-awareness allows us to learn from past experiences (we hope!) and design a more beneficial course of action

So do we or should we default to clear, rational thinking at all times?  Do decision-analysis models whether from the simplicity of the Ben Franklin two-column approach to the more sophisticated decision trees provide all we need for life? Another way to pose this question is to say: Is Reason the ultimate authority to which we submit our lives?

Recently and without haste I’ve been reading and re-reading John Flavel’s short book on fear. Link to book is here

Flavel was an English Presbyterian minister and author, living in the 17th century.  What struck me was his explicit case for submitting to God’s authority in SOME matters, thus leaving behind or placing 2nd our best sense of a matter derived solely from human reasoning.

Say what?  Didn’t God endow mankind with the very ability to think, to reason?

Yes! By all means.

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Furthermore, in the New Testament, the Greek word ‘logismos’ is used.  This term translates as argument or thinking or system of thought.

Educated readers of the Bible will know that ‘logismos’ relates to ‘logos’ or the word.  The Apostle John writes in his very first chapter of the book bearing his name.  In the beginning was the Logos or Word, and the Logos or Word was with God, and the Logos or Word was God.

So, yes, God DOES give us the ability to think and use words to make decisions. But there are times and situations where our thinking will fall short and not be sufficient.  God alerts us to future situations where this is the case, so we should NOT be surprised!

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts“.

God unequivocally teaches that there will be circumstances when His ways and thoughts trump our assessments and best reasoning.

Here’s the 64-million-dollar question: How do we know WHEN we are to use reason and WHEN we are to submit to God’s ways?

John Flavel describes the rule of faith as God’s way.  In his book, he teaches HOW to fight fear.  Fear is a normal reaction to our everyday evil world.  Evil in our hearts and evil all around us.  If we are to remain peaceful within, despite circumstances, then we CANNOT let our reason be the final arbiter used to describe or inform or make sense of what our senses provide us.

Here is how Flavel explains:  (p. 106-107 of his book):

  • You must keep your thoughts under the government of faith. Whoever sets aside the rules of faith and measures things by the rule of his shallow reason is HIMSELF (caps, mine) the problem.  If we permit reason to judge all things and derive its conclusions from the appearance of second causes, our hearts will have no rest day or night.  Instead, it will keep us in continual alarms.  The best people are prone to measure things by this rule – to judge all of God’s designs and providences by reason. 

When he mentions the ‘best people’, think ‘the intelligentsia’ of the day who might be tempted to assume that a belief in God is not rational.

Bottom line for us moderns is to use and develop our ability to think and discern and draw conclusions, but measure them through the grid of God’s truth, how He describes reality.  After all, He created all that is.