Archive | January, 2016

Assumptions surrounding logic

27 Jan

While listening to Al Mohler  (Link to his discussion here) explain the backstory to a recent Supreme Court decision affecting those on death row in Florida, I was struck once again about the importance of language.

supreme court

Words matter.

Obviously eight of the 9 justices in the photo assumed that as much. The wording of the 6th amendment to the US Constitution declares that a defendant is entitled to “….a public trial, by an impartial jury of the state….”.  The majority opinion of the Supreme Court argued that the words meant what they said.  The fact that Florida judges alone had the power to impose the death sentence (based on the recommendation of the jury) violated the sense of the language of the 6th amendment.

Al Mohler then drew the connection between how one reads the written text of the US Constitution and the Bible.  Either the words mean what they say or we open the gate to anyone’s interpretation.  And chaos ensues and words lose the power of meaning.

Language-based logic is the same.  Before we even examine and analyze a syllogism to determine whether it is sound, we have made an assumption:

Words matter!

Take the following sample syllogism:

Premise 1:All wood is a substance containing carbon

Premise 2: This stick is wood

Conclusion:  Therefore, this stick is a substance containing carbon

Logical Joe’s and Jane’s have to agree on what each term means.

  • Does ‘all’ unequivocally take in every member of the category of wood?
  • Does ‘wood’ represent the set of hard, fibrous materials that form the trunk of a shrub or tree*?
  • Is carbon only the chemical element represented by atomic number 6*?

*definitions based on Apple’s Mac dictionary

We ‘assume’ that words representing terms refer to a specific concept.  If that is not our starting point in logic, then we might as well abandon all reasoning.

But as my husband pointed out when we were discussing this necessary pre-supposition, another complication exists.  We can agree on the clear sense of a term YET once set in a proposition or even a clause, meaning grows complicated.

Take just a snippet from the Pledge of Allegiance:

“…with liberty and justice for all.”

Initially one can agree on individual concepts of liberty and justice in isolation. The term ‘all’ appears messier. Distinctions must be made, so we pose some clarifying questions:

  • does ‘all’ refer to all citizens or all those residing in the US?
  • and if all residing in the US are intended, do we need to differentiate between those legally residing and those who are not?
  • are we talking about all humans only?  Are the unborn included?  Are the mentally and physically dependent included?

Once we initially sort out terms, what happens next?  Other questions arise.  For instance, if we consider just one other term, the concept of ‘liberty’, what does the GUARANTEE of ‘liberty’ protect one against? How far does it extend and do I, who am included in the ‘all ‘, get to define liberty to suit my needs?

I’d love to say, “Let’s just go with the plain reading of the text!”  But I have to concede that a careful reading of any writing requires clear and focused thinking.  That’s why there will always be a need for diligent and thoughtful lawyers, judges, theologians and logical but ordinary men and women like us.

The challenge is great, but worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

When do you draw a conclusion?

20 Jan

Hasty Generalizations

American culture grows seemingly more coarse and vitriolic.  Contributing in part to this downward trend in civility is the tendency to draw a conclusion based on too few individual cases.  This mistake in reasoning is called the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization.

Guilty as charged!  I have committed this error often because I have WANTED to generalize. As an adult who has already raised kids yet still works with adolescents in the classroom, I find that I tend to assert unfairly this and that about teens.  Often my conclusions are backed by weak reasons drawn from too few examples. Whether I pronounce judgments about their decreased interest in deep reading or their inability to converse intelligently, I am being dishonest.  It is not fair to that generation to apply an observation about some members to the entire cohort!

As one who easily falls into this lazy way of thinking, I notice the same tendency in others to demonize others. Just who are these groups generalized about and often cast in a negative light?  A few examples are:

  • Muslims
  • the government
  • evangelical Christians
  • socially-liberal democrats
  • small-government republicans
  • corporations or ‘Big Business’
  • ‘climate change deniers’
  • ‘big agriculture’
  • the pharmaceutical industry
  • immigrants, both legal and illegal
  • welfare recipients
  • different ethnicities

Well what do we do to be a fair-minded and honest Logical Joes or Janes?

A simple change of ‘quantifier’.  Instead of broadcasting with a universal,

  • ALL conservative Christians are intolerant or 
  • ALL welfare recipients are lazy

(which is NOT true), one should instead employ,

  • SOME evangelical Christians are intolerant
  • SOME welfare recipients are lazy

Personal sample experience can never be complete.  We are in effect lying when we infer inductively from too few examples to the whole.

So for 2016, let’s challenge ourselves to refrain from adding to the social media hostility and accurately communicate with our pens, mouths, photos and keyboard or finger strokes. We can only control our actions, but others might notice and voluntarily restrain their tendency to exaggerate.

What about the appropriate time or occasion to draw a conclusion?  I’ll throw out that my only source for absolute truth, which is the Bible or God’s Word.  For an example of a certain truth that pertains to ALL people, here’s a paraphrased Biblical conclusion. The One who created every molecule in the universe, alone is capable of formulating a 100% accurate assessment:

All have sinned by exchanging and turning their back on God’s glory for the meager and far lesser satisfying glory of created things.

Now that’s a true and safe conclusion!

 

 

Constructing a counter-argument

13 Jan

Bible promises

A Biblical teacher I admire defends his belief that Christians cannot personally apply or use every promise in the Bible. He does offer, however, that universal promises DO exist, like Jesus’ offer of rest:

  • Come to me, all you who are exhausted and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

But many assurances appear to be directed JUST at a certain people in a PARTICULAR setting during a FINITE PERIOD of history. The classic example he cites is Jeremiah’s affirmation in chapter 29:11:

  • “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

The argument continues like this: if you look at the context of that verse, uttered by the prophet Jeremiah, God is addressing the Hebrew people in Babylon, assuring them that there IS an end to their exile.

The Biblical teacher therefore concludes that 21st century Christians are incorrect in apprehending that promise and many particular ones LIKE that for themselves.

Up until now, I have reluctantly accepted his reasoning. But recently I heard a pastor discuss a prophecy, already fulfilled once in the Old Testament, but again as it came to pass 720 plus years later, NOT in Babylon but in Bethlehem – the birth of Christ.

Here’s the original prophecy or promise from God. The context is King David’s conversation with Nathan the prophet. David informs Nathan that he desires to build a house for God. Nathan approves of his plan. But later that night Nathan receives a restraining message from God for King David. The prophecy he is given to share with the King is this:

2 Samuel 7:12-16

  • “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men,but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.”

Solomon was David’s son who succeeded him as king and he DID build a house for God, the temple, completing it in around 964 BC. A kingdom was established.

So following the aforementioned Bible teacher’s reasoning, this prophecy has been fulfilled. Therefore, we cannot ‘take’ it and apply it to any other situations.

But here is how the pastor I recently heard moved in a different direction. He narrated the encouragement and promise from the prophet Micah who reminded the people of his day that a strong ruler in Israel was still yet to come. About 240 years after Solomon’s temple construction the people, living through dark and discouraging days, took hope from this good news about the future:

Micah 5:2-4

  • But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
    Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.
    And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lordhis God.
    And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

This is astounding! Micah repeated the main intent of the original prophecy, already fulfilled by Solomon, and pointed to the future birth of Christ as actually the ultimate fulfillment to come. There’s an initial bringing to fruition in 725 BC and another one in around 2 BC when Jesus is born.

Finally, to close his argument, the pastor cites Paul’s New Testament explanation in Romans 15:8 about Christ’s coming:

  • For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

And I’ve heard John Piper, the pastor whose Biblical exegesis I’ve been writing about, quote this heart-warming fact, again from Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, verse 1:20:

  • For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

So I side with the good news that Jesus has bought for us, through His blood, every promise in God’s Word. For sure we are to be thoughtful Christians, prayerful and dependent on God’s Holy Spirit to understand correctly God’s Word.

Thanks for reading this. I wanted to take the time to think through and construct reasons for why I disagree with the first man’s argument. And as many have said, ‘Scribere est cogitare’ or writing is thinking. May we all continue to think slowly and reason well in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? A logical thought

6 Jan
Recently, a nuanced discussion about the nature of God caused me to think and think again.  Nothing wrong with that.
Law of Identity
I’ve always reasoned that Christians worship a God different from that of Muslims.  And I’ve relied on the Law of Identity to support my conclusion.  Here’s my simple way of describing this law of nature:
Given that….
Thing 1 has characteristics A, B and C
  and
Thing 2 has characteristics A, B and X
Then it follows that…..
  • Thing 1 cannot be identical to Thing 2, because the characteristics of each are not the same.
  • Thing 1, by definition, has to consist of A,B and C or it is not Thing 1
  • Thing 2, by definition, has to consist of A, B and X or it is not Thing 2

For a much more educated explanation, Here’s a link.

Applying this Law of Identity to the question of gods, I’ve concluded in the past that since Muslims:

  • don’t believe in a triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
  • don’t accept that God had a Son (this is blasphemy to them)
  • consider it false that Jesus, whom they consider a great prophet, actually died on the Cross

Then, the God that is central to their religion is different from the God Christians worship.

But Frank Beckwith, a Catholic philosopher, has reasoned otherwise. He argues that we DO worship the same God, even if Muslims are mistaken about some of the essential characteristics of this God. 

If I understand his points, it would be like two people disputing over whether a friend each has is mutual or different.

Example: 

Pete’s friend Bob works for a radio station is married to a gal named Sally and lives in Chicago.

Ed’s friend Bob works for a hospital is also married to a gal named Sally and lives in Chicago.

 

Are there two Bobs, or just the one?

According to the Law of Identity, the characteristics have to be the same for the objects to be identical.  But what if both Ed and Pete are each ignorant of a particular feature about Bob?  Does their ignorance nullify the possibility of ‘Bob’ being one and the same?

So I can see that it is possible that Muslims worship the Christian God even if they are ignorant about some of His necessary attributes.

But this discussion misses the point. And I think Satan loves for the world to tie itself up in knots and thus be distracted from THE CENTRAL ISSUE that has ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES.

What must I do to be saved?

Each of us must make a reasonable decision about the options presented to us.  Which one, if any, is true? Which one matches what we know about reality? 

And more to the point, what do we do with attested statements spoken by Jesus that:

  • He is the only way to God (John 14:6)
  • He and the Father are One (John 10:30)
  • He created the universe (Colossians 1:6)
  • He will return to judge all of us (2 Timothy 4:1)

And, to top THOSE off, here is how Jesus oriented the Scriptures (that is the ‘Old Testament’) and presented them to two dejected disciples after His crucifixion:

  • Then Jesus quoted them passage after passage from the writings of the prophets, beginning with the book of Genesis and going right on through the Scriptures, explaining what the passages meant and what they said about himself.(Acts 24:27)

As we walk through 2016, let’s look to the Author of Truth to guide us in all knowledge.  After all, He set these laws of logic into being.  Could they be invitations to seek Him?  I know ONE thing for certain, unlike Dorothy and her friends, our search won’t lead to a mere man manipulating smoke and mirrors. God promises, instead, a Savior. And the Christian God does not lie.

Wizard of Oz