Archive | December, 2015

Improbable does not equal false

30 Dec

At this time of year Christians around the world celebrate the miracle of the birth and appearance in human form of the invisible, immaterial, spirit Father and Creator of all that is.  God showing up as a man, one of us, is astounding and very improbable.  But that doesn’t make it untrue.

Here’s my premise:

Surprising and unpredictable events happen

Don’t you find it curious that we accept some ‘blow-your-mind’ facts with nary a ripple?

pyramids

Think about the technological skill necessary to build the pyramids or create Stonehenge, for example.  I’m amazed that so-called primitive groups of people organized themselves effectively and applied mathematical principles with such results.

Or what about those puzzling Fibonacci numbers that seem to be at the center of our orderly universe?  I’m not a math person, but just reading some of the examples on this page below make me exclaim, “How can that be?”

Stranger and more intriguing than you think

So why do I bring the improbable up?  Because I was reading about how the Holy Spirit kept the murdered and mutilated Jesus Christ from decaying once He was declared dead.  ALL bodies start to decay when blood ceases to flow.  But Jesus left the tomb two days after being placed behind a sealed and guarded rock.  More than 500 people saw him and no one exclaimed at decomposition.   Some even touched him and watched him eat, two very physical things that require a normal body.

I don’t ever doubt THAT ‘unnatural, out of the ordinary’ fact, that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  So that got me thinking about some other one-off events recorded by the Old Testament, like –

  • sandals not wearing out during the 40 years of wilderness wandering (Deut 29:5)
  • Jonah’s safety during the several days he spent in a big fish (Jonah 1:17)

There are far more ‘stranger than fiction’ documented actualities that defy any rational explanation we can offer. A willingness to live with the unexplainable helps.

The next time you encounter a partial skeptic about anything, ask him what lies behind his doubts? See if you can get at his reasons, his general principle.  If he mentions what causes him to balk at accepting something out of the ordinary, then maybe by your questions you can lead him to doubt HIS doubts about everything needing an explanation that makes sense to him.

Why improbable events are more commonplace than you think

Do beliefs and knowledge differ?

23 Dec

Non-theistic person: – “Belief is different from knowledge.  Beliefs deal in faith and feelings and knowledge deals in facts and truth.”

 

Facts

Is this categorization by a typical atheist correct?  One often hears about the Fact/Feeling divide.  The assertion postulates that there are objective facts like:

  • Most climate change is man-made
  • Life begins when a fetus is viable outside of the womb

and there are subjective feelings like:

  • Parenting is my most important job

Some assumptions that often are embedded in this description of the way of the world are:

  1. Only facts are universals and can be determined to be true or false
  2. One shouldn’t argue over the subjective, for that lies in the realm of personal opinion and preference
  3. Beliefs and values are part of the subjective feeling realm
  4. Faith is a belief and needs to be private
  5. Facts are measurable and therefore indisputable

But those assumptions don’t always hold water.  Values and beliefs are wedded to facts and together the two undergird and guide ALL of our actions.  There is no clean divide or separation so that one can say, “These people’s actions are guided solely by facts, whereas those folks over there base their actions solely on beliefs.”

  • Let’s take origins.  If one starts from the position that only the material realm exists, that there is nothing transcendent, that is a statement of belief.  It takes FAITH to hold onto that viewpoint. It’s accepted a priori, not proven.
  • Consider climate change. For projections about the future, one must place faith in one’s assumptions that go into the computer model.
  • Turning to the belief in a personal, transcendent God. One must trust the reliability of the eyewitness accounts written in the Torah, that is the Old Testament if one is Jewish or the entire Bible if one is Christian or the Koran if one is Muslim.
  • Implementing an exercise program. A committed man or woman must value a more fit body AND place their faith in the specific details of the regimen to lead them to the promised results.

Logical Joes and Janes must not accept this False Dichotomy or separation. Reasonable (that is, supported by reasons) faith and values are based on facts that one holds to be true and reliable.  I put my faith in Jesus’ claims because I hold as a proven fact that His death and resurrection did take place in time and history.  Thus, the historical events prove His claim to be God is to be trusted.

Explanations and discussions take time.  Our sound-byte culture often doesn’t allow for more than quick assertive jabs.  Logical and careful argument building take time to craft and digest.  How about a campaign for SLOW THINKING à la organic and whole foods movement?

slow food

 

 

 

 

Yeah, but what about all those Crusades and Witchburnings?

16 Dec

Crusades

When ISIS perpetrated their evil in Paris, some commentators were quick to trot out past atrocities committed by so-called Christians.

Their response is a perfect example of the fallacy known as ‘Tu Quoque’.  This Latin phrase describing the attempt to deflect the debate means, ‘You too!’

Here’s a simple example:

Uncle Jim to his nephew:  Bobby, you shouldn’t smoke, it’s bad for your health.

Bobby: Yeah, well who are you to tell me that?  Look at you, addicted to 2 packs a day!

What makes Bobby’s response inappropriate is that his observation, though true, is irrelevant to the assertion: Smoking is bad for your health.

So Uncle Jim’s best move is to acknowledge the truth of his nephew’s comment and gently move the discussion back to the topic.  It could be that since Uncle Jim seems addicted to smoking he knows first hand the effect on his body.  The fact that he himself smokes has given him living proof of what research shows.  What counts, however, are the reasons he marshals to support his conclusion.

Off topic

Back to the terrorism conversation.  Whether Christians wrongly burned women at the stake or justified murder by covering it over with the guise of a religious cause is not up for discussion.  Raising those events is a ploy to shift the topic.  Logical Joes and Janes have to practice restraint and resist the temptation to enter THAT arena.  The simplest way, again, is to acknowledge the possibility of truth in what was said, but then guide the conversation partner gently back to what’s on the table.

With practice responding to parries AND staying on topic comes more naturally.

 

 

Follow reason, not the heart in making a decision

9 Dec

My husband used to be in sales  – the kind whose products were invisible and long term.  Life insurance, college accounts, emergency savings, although worthy goals, couldn’t hold a candle to the allure of a shiny new car.  What he learned was that despite a couple’s acquiescence to the need for financial protection, that pure desire for a new car exerted a stronger pull.

new car

The husband would be the one to enumerate all the reasons why the family needed this new van.  Reality taught my husband the truth of the adage: People buy emotionally and justify their purchase rationally. 

My daughter-in-law and her husband face a decision, like all parents, of how to educate their oldest child.  Over the past two years, Anne has considered home-schooling with much turmoil.  She has felt her heart pulled toward this paradigm for various reasons, but last year she enrolled our grandson in pre-school.  At the time, it was the right decision.  The family moved over the summer and they found a 4-year old preschool in their new city.  But the tug to homeschool has grown stronger.

Decision-making is challenging for all of us.   It doesn’t help that in today’s ‘Disney-fied’ world we are counseled to ‘follow our heart’!

Christians should know that according to God, our hearts cannot be trusted.  Only as these hearts are being renewed by the Holy Spirit and informed by a Bible-saturated mind that considers, weighs and evaluates all things can they be trusted.

The other challenge to wading through options is the oppression of the majority.  I’m surprised, yet I shouldn’t be, when I encounter people  who seem to assume that if a majority of people in their country think XYZ, then it must be true.  Where is THAT assumption grounded on?

All Logical Joes and Janes recognize that view as a bald-faced fallacy – Argumentum Ad Populum.  The holders of this view automatically assume minority dissenters must be wrong.

So back to Anne and her recent decision process to switch to homeschooling.  My husband and I have long thought that this couple are well-suited to homeschool.  Furthermore, we have confidence in parents’ ability to equip and guide their children just as well, if not better, than outsourced educational institutions.

As someone who supports critical thinking, I am encouraging Anne to think through her reasons FOR this change.  If the benefits to her and to their children outweigh other options, then she should choose home-schooling.  Her husband, our son, absolutely supports his wife in whichever educational choice she opts for.  She is a full-time mom to their two kids and is the one whose day-to-day responsibilities center on raising the family.

As we talked about this over Thanksgiving Anne gave vent to the real pressure from the world, seeped in ‘majority knows best’ thinking.  But trying to please extended family or current pre-school teachers or friends who evince surprise and trot out, “But what about the social aspect N would be missing?” should carry no weight against researched reasons that matter to the couple.

What about the heart?

Follow your heart

When I mentioned to Anne that Christians are counseled NOT to let feelings and emotions guide our decisions, she balked a bit.  I know that what grounds her reaction is that she truly feels that God has given her the desire to homeschool.  And I don’t discount that.  Maybe we’re using different words.  I might say about a decision: “I don’t feel any check from the Holy Spirit,” thereby giving weight to the ‘affective’ aspect of my choice.

A more effective final check might be for Anne to review the purpose they see for educating their children.  Then they can evaluate if homeschooling is the correct and best course to meet that goal all the while guided by their values.  Decision-making MUST start with the end in sight and progress backwards.  I offer that when Anne articulates their vision for their children as young adults and then looks at the options for their family, she can feel peace about her decision.

Watch out for sound byte – type thinking

2 Dec

Combat/combat……..Life/life………the Dead/the dead…….ISRAEL/Israel…..the Church/the church

Distinctions

We often fail to make distinctions and conflate multiple senses of a word into one.  This is called the Fallacy of Equivocation.  We commit these either out of ignorance or deliberately to confuse.

Kids are masters at the ‘art’ of equivocation or their other favorite technique, the fallacy aptly name, ‘Distinction without a Difference.’ You remember doing that yourself, right?  When you’d be called out by a parent for violating a house law.

“I wasn’t jumping up and down upstairs, I was only alternating my feet rapidly and firmly on the floor!”

But today, let’s focus on words that are analogous, but can mask intentions.  I thought about this listening to Mr. Obama defend his decision to send in some special forces soldiers who have ‘engaged in combat’.  He was being accused of contradicting his policy of NO MORE COMBAT TROOPS in Afghanistan.

That’s when it occurred to me that there is an explicit, all-out policy of ‘Combat’ as well as the kind of ‘combat’ that takes place when soldiers come under fire and defend themselves.  Given the difference between the two, we have the responsibility to pause to consider the surrounding circumstances and the speaker’s intentions.

What about the term, ‘Israel’?  Does this name refer to only one group of people, Jews from the Middle Eastern country?   Again, we have to consider different contexts.  At the simplest level, Israel IS a country. But that appellation also refers to the group of people who have been given a saving faith in Jesus. Paul, divinely inspired, writes in Romans 11:26, “….all Israel will be saved.”   One must take the time and…..

think before one parses out which concept Israel refers to – the literal or the metaphorical.

What about Life and life?  Again, one is literal (are you breathing?) and one could refer to a state of enthusiasm and ‘joie de vivre’ or even ‘eternal life’ in a Christian context.

And what about Jesus who challenges his hearers with this command, “Let the dead bury the dead!”  What are the two senses in which He employs this term?  The spiritually dead and the physically dead.

And finally the Church – well, we have the church building proper, the collective of worshippers, whether actual Christian or not and then all those who are referred to as the ‘true’ church, who belong to Jesus and will be with Him forever.

These examples might seem too obvious to even write about, but in today’s climate, I find myself often exasperated at how often people tear into others with a, “But he SAID…..” without having the courtesy to give someone the intellectual benefit of the doubt and actually ASK for clarification.

May we who claim to be logical practice courteous and respectful discourse!