Archive | August, 2016

Another reason for believing God

31 Aug

Do you accept God for who he says he is in the Bible because the written words are true?

And do you know that the words are true because there is enough external evidence to warrant true belief?

Or do you trust God and his words because you always have and don’t really think about why you do?

I ask because I learned of another way to justify one’s belief in God.  Listening to a podcasted discussion (Unbelievable with Justin Brierley) between 2 philosophers the other day introduced me to the concept of ‘properly basic beliefs’ and ‘non-propositional’ logic.

As a layperson, I gleaned that a properly basic belief is one not based on other propositional truth or on evidence, but accepted and trusted.  These are beliefs that can’t be proven. Examples might be:

  • the sense or knowing that there is more to life than what we see
  • 2 + 2 = 4

The American philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, offers this example:

  •  I think other minds exist because I have a mind and I exist, but I can’t prove it.  All might be an illusion (remember The Matrix?).
  • Nonetheless, we humans do accept that if we exist, then others exist. And if we acknowledge THAT as a rational belief, then might we not also accept as rational the proposition that God exists?

This way of ‘argumentation’ does presuppose that we humans have the capacity to think rationally.  (to use this lingo, “the belief that humans are designed to think rationally” is properly basic)

Plantinga points to the ‘sensus divinitatis’ in every human as evidence that the existence of God is a rational conclusion.  This sense of the divine appears in every culture across the expanse of history.

So what do you think?  For Christians who are commanded by Jesus to explain the good news of God’s rescue plans to all we encounter in our daily lives, is this approach sufficient?  Probably not.  But as we live out ‘the Great Commission’ we are learning and assembling a ‘tool kit’.  I’m reassured just knowing that intelligent Christian thinkers across the centuries have vetted what is probably common to all people I meet.  There ARE convictions we hold as rational without being able to articulate any propositional or evidential reason other than, “I just believe it!”

 

Confirmation bias infection

24 Aug

“I don’t care what you say, I know what I know! And this is a problem that affects A LOT of people!”

Have you ever run into someone so wedded to her own view that she denies any evidence to the contrary?

If so, then you my friend have been stymied by Confirmation Bias.  The way I understand this pretty common phenomenon is that once someone’s mind is made up, he is loath to change it, no matter the data to the contrary.

We are all guilty of tendencies in this direction. And you can imagine that in our election season where Americans seem so impossibly entrenched in their points of view, this type of behavior pops up across the political spectrum.  No one is immune.

Why is that?  I think we have grown increasingly suspicious of ‘other’, attributing almost malicious motives to those with whom we disagree.

Love me love my dog As my dad grew older, he idolized his two dogs.  This pillow’s message was his recurrent mantra.  I see a similar tendency in our society these days.

  • LOVE ME, LOVE MY VIEWPOINT!

And woe be to anyone who disagrees with someone’s opinion, because in criticizing that person’s conviction, you are attacking the person (so he FEELS).

What to do?

Fortunately, there is a type of remedy and it doesn’t cost a penny.  Recently I listened to a discussion about confirmation bias.  And I was challenged by a practice I heard in the radio program’s interview with Dennis Prager.  In the conversation about entrenched views and a divided country, the interviewer asked him to pick one of his ‘Pragerisms’ that he tried to live himself.  He quickly offered:

  • Seek clarity over agreement

Well that applies across the board to many relationships, doesn’t it!  Right off the bat I thought of marriage.  Beyond that particular arena, this advice would do us all good in our polarized world.

And do you know what?  If our goal is to understand the other person’s point of view and to be able to articulate it accurately to HIS or HER satisfaction, then the pressure to change that person’s mind or cleverly present OUR view melts away.

We’ll also inoculate ourselves against the contagion of confirmation bias.  One person CAN make a difference in his corner of the world.

 

Your claim is arrogant!

17 Aug

“You’re arrogant!” or “That’s arrogant!”

Have you ever experienced this kind of attack following your stated view on a topic?

Recently while listening to a podcast, I heard about just such an encounter.  Listening to the details prompted me to think through how I might effectively respond, all the while employing a calm demeanor.  In my mind, I role-played a hypothetical conversation.

The podcaster relating the story had stated that ‘old-earth creationists’ were not evolutionists  (where the term evolution refers to a non-directed process of natural selection).

The man who disagreed then flung back the barb, “That’s arrogant!”

In the shock and heat of the moment, I can envisage how tempting it would be automatically to deny the hubris of one’s original statement – without thinking!   But that would be to succumb to a fallacy trap.  The attacker with this comeback has in effect employed a Red Herring fallacy, by sidestepping the truth or falsity of the premise he disputes.

If you can picture throwing an angry dog a piece of meat or fish to distract him from chasing you, then you understand the basic concept of the Red Herring.

It is immaterial whether the assertion ‘S is P’ is arrogant or modest. Premises are either TRUE or FALSE! A person may appear arrogant in how he presents a claim.  But to label a claim as arrogant is actually a category error.

What our name-caller actually is doing is making an entirely different assertion, one that is implicit:

Your claim is arrogant!  = People who hold your view are arrogant.

I don’t know if a calm discussion would be even possible, but IF it were feasible, this is how I imagined my follow-on question to the attack might unfold:

Me:  So let me see if I understand.  You are saying that my statement ‘Old-earth creationists’ are not evolutionists. indicates arrogance on my part?  Why is that arrogant? Isn’t what matters whether my premise is TRUE or NOT TRUE?

And why would not YOUR view that ‘old-earth creationists’ are evolutionists be equally arrogant, given your logic?

I can’t predict the rest of the conversation, but I wouldn’t bet on my phantom interlocutor settling down into a calm and rational discussion.  The accusation of ‘Arrogance!’ probably indicates an angry or heated speaker.  And that’s not an appropriate environment for exchanging rational ideas.

But having thought through how I might handle such a charge did strengthen my confidence!  Just as important as being equipped with the right knowledge IS our commitment to speaking with respect for the other human being.  After all, he or she is an image-bearer of our Creator.

What are your questions?

10 Aug

Effective thinkers depend on the clarity of terms.  Whatever they think, speak or write must proceed and build on a foundation of precise and unambiguous language.  Unless they intentionally set out to deceive!

If this building block of good argumentation is indispensable, then next in importance I believe are one’s questions.

I know I’ve written about questions before, but I have come late in life to the value of examining what is said/written and NOT mentioned.  Some question templates are:

  • what COULD the author have said had he not said it that particular way?
  • what did he leave out?
  • if we exchange the predicate for the subject, what does that reveal? (yes, I recognize that converting  X is Y to Y is X is only valid for E & I propositions,  but what is uncovered through a brief look at the is often rich!)

Credit is not due me to have stumbled upon the value of questioning the speaker/writer.  I am being trained through the accumulated and daily posting of the sermons of pastor John Piper.  Listening daily to his teaching has helped me articulate some implicit assumptions or at least some hypothetical assumptions.

Thus schooled, yesterday as I read a bit of puritan pastor William Gurnall writing in The Christian in Complete Armor, I asked myself the obvious question and got back a very pointed poke!

“Whatever is the object of a saint’s (Christian’s) hope is the subject of his prayer.”

I swapped the predicate for the subject and stated the premise this way:

What I pray about reveals what I’m hoping in. 

God immediately convicted me of the nature of multitudes of past prayers over the years. Many have been of this variety:

  • Give us a nice day, Lord!

That’s pretty lame AND it reveals that my hope is effectively that I have a pleasant life with no hardship and minor problems easy to resolve, few interruptions and plenty of time and money to do what I want.

Reassuring to me IS the fact that as I take in God’s Word through daily study and God-centered prayer, my prayers are changing to reflect biblical truth.  I’m moving away from God as butler to my life to God as CENTER of my life and me as His redeemed child and servant.

My plea THIS morning was based on Colossians 1:9, 10

Father, fill me with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding SO THAT I may live a life worthy of Christ, pleasing him fully.

Looking at the blanks, what is not said or written often reveals startling insights!  But that’s the fun of clear thinking.

Which question have you posed recently that has revealed something new or startling?

 

 

Presuppositions and discontent

3 Aug

Premise:

Most women at my age and stage in life have retired from full-time work

Conclusion

I should be retired from full-time work

Like most teachers who are relishing their summer sabbatical, I’ve been struggling with not wanting to go back to school in August. Turning 59 has added weight to my annual reluctance return to the classroom.

Here’s the problem:

Christians are called by God to be content in all the situations He places them. So on top of my longing for permanent summer, I recognize this grumbly attitude is sin. In essence, I’m saying to God: Your assignment for me is wrong!

As a logical gal, I’ve been working to reorder my thinking. This labor has borne fruit.

It dawned on me the other day that besides the missing first premise, I have an unspoken presupposition. Let me order my though process and fill in for you AND me what was just floating in the back of my mind:

Presupp: Retirement is both good and normal in America

Premise 1: Most workingwomen in their late 50s retire from full-time work

Premise 2: I am approaching 60

Conclusion: It would be both good and normal for me to retire NOW!

In articulating what lay behind my ‘unmet expectation’ I saw the problem!

Where did I get the idea:

  • that God’s plan for his people is to retire?
  • or that retirement is actually GOOD for me?

The point of this? Thinking through and pinning down just what grounds our feelings enables us to analyze whether what we believe is in fact TRUE.

Besides, I should know better than to indulge in that kind of discontent. God has built up a track record of meeting my needs. The most recent occasion when God came through was last winter when my husband dealt with some health issues. The verse I clung through some real suffering was Psalm 84:11:

 No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

 That fact and promise allowed me to trust God’s character and plans for us when Mike was ill.

Startling, isn’t it, that until now I hadn’t transferred over God’s Word to my job as a 10-month schoolteacher.

If I am still ‘having to’ teach at age 59, then it must be because God considers it GOOD for me.

And with that, I can begin to anticipate with a lighter heart the good He has planned for this new school year.