Archive | Abductive Reasoning RSS feed for this section

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!”

 

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

Logical gal – new insight into Bible verse via French translation and a hypothetical syllogisme

1 Jul

Grace was given to you, regarding Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him. Phil 1:29

Caught off guard, I reread this morning’s devotional in the French (from a French Bible meditation-a-day calendar by La Bonne Semence – Website is here).  Why had I never seen that before?

Paul was explaining that faith to believe Jesus is a gift just like the power to endure suffering is a gift.

Two gifts; same grace; 2 different purposes:

  1. Power to believe Jesus is God
  2. Power to go through suffering

Grace

Doing a little digging, I discovered why I had never before ‘seen’ the connection to grace, to a gift from God.  Many of the English translations say something like the ESV – For to you it has been granted…...

My mind had just skipped over those words and lingered on my discomfort with the linkage between believing and suffering. I confess an unhealthy FEAR of future suffering.  So I have both pondered and shuddered at the latter portion of that statement.

Applying some clear thinking it was fairly easy to draw out some principles from this now illumined verse:

  • Both true belief and the power to endure suffering are possible only with God
  • By definition grace is a gift
  • God grants grace as a gift to Christians
  • Without supernatural grace, we cannot see or rely on the Biblical Jesus
  • Without supernatural grace, we cannot make it through suffering the way God has intended it

These inferences immediately eased my unholy fears.  Here’s how I applied them to all the ‘what-ifs’ that swirl around in my head more times than I’d like to admit.

When I imagine a scenario, like a fatal car accident affecting a family member, I realize my lack of control. And there is nowhere to go with the fear. So it hovers. Blocks sleep at night and robs me of peace during the day.

Fear - stories

What I now see, thanks to God using this French translation (and the Greek supports it!), is that the imagined fears all take place outside of any grace that God provides.  The suffering I’m picturing is set against the backdrop of ME and my capabilities.  Of course, when I look at me, I am discouraged.   But Christians aren’t meant to live relying on their puny resources. Christians, once God re-births them, get a spiritual DNA.  (think: new supernatural power)

  • Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.        2 Cor 5:17

As my cousin Terry counsels, ‘Don’t step out of your circle of Grace.’  She’s talking about ‘daily bread’.  God gives us what we need AS we need it. That’s what He promises.  He doesn’t provide the ‘feeling’ of grace in the present for a potential future situation.

Bottom line, logically-speaking?   It’s STUPID to meditate on possible suffering.

So what will I do when another IRRATIONAL fear pops unbidden into my mind?  Remind myself of truth, that God has promised future grace when I need it.  For now, I will live in the present moment, relying on these facts that:

  • just as it takes a gift or grace to receive faith and believe
  • so, too, it takes a gift or grace to receive power and suffer in the manner He has planned

Here’s the if-then version of that truth:

  • Premise 1 – If God has given me faith to believe that Jesus is who He says He is, then God will give me power and grace for suffering as it comes.
  • Premise 2 – God HAS given me faith, right now, to believe and rely on Him
  • Conclusion – Therefore, He will most assuredly give me grace and power for suffering when it occurs.

Question: Where have clear thinking and logic helped you mine truth from the Bible?

Logical Gal – what do you believe?

3 Dec

It was a tense moment – Halloween morning at breakfast with some colleagues.  We teachers were finishing our coffee in the lobby of a hotel where our 8th graders had fallen into bed after a full day (morning college visit, afternoon caving and evening in Chattanooga).

The Spanish teacher proudly showed off her festive orange and black socks and mentioned that she loved Halloween.  When I asked her why, she attributed her fondness for the holiday to both her and her mom’s sensitivity to the spiritual.

When I casually responded, ‘Oh, so you believe in the spiritual dimension of life?‘ it didn’t take her long to move from my commenting on the historical basis for Christianity to her objections to Christianity’s claim to be the one true religion.  The secular history and science teachers joined in to draw the distinction between fact and belief when I attempted to point out the evidence for Jesus and His resurrection.

Mr. Science clarified the difference between fact and belief.  According to his way of thinking, the two have nothing in common.  He illustrated this division with an illustration taken from family life.  It went like this:  Whereas he might believe that his role as dad is the most important function he fulfills in his life, it was just a belief and had nothing to do with truth.  “That’s a belief and is miles apart from facts like the Law of Gravity!

science v faith

Had there been time, I would have loved to say that one has to have facts or knowledge and from them one draws a conclusion based on some presuppositions or assumptions.  Facts (aka truth) drive or inform beliefs.  Here’s how I think the process works:

My colleague has gathered data (facts) from….

  • reading books about parenting
  • talking to other dads
  • absorbing hard-earned wisdom gleaned from previous generations
  • his own personal experiences in parenting

And based on presuppositions like:

  • my intuitions are trustworthy
  • what I read and what others tell me is reliable
  • time with my children is an investment that has the power to shape them

……he has formed a belief that parenting is his most important job.

The credibility of the Law of Gravity is founded on the same principles, isn’t it?

Law of Gravity

  • scientists have gathered data from observations and
  • they trust the data AND their skills

Why is there such animus about belief when applied to Christianity? After all, we gather evidence from those concrete facts; then we formulate a hypothesis that has the power to account for all the details.

Maybe the term ‘belief’ appears weak and unscientific because it’s used equally to communicate ideas as varied as:

  • I believe in Santa Claus
  • I believe in the Tooth Fairy
  • I believe in miracles
  • I believe in myself
  • I believe in ghosts
  • I believe in God, the Father Almighty….

Two dictionary entries for ‘belief’ describe both

  • an acceptance of a statement as true
  • having confidence in something

Recently I’ve come across powerful ways to describe a belief.  They feel weightier and appear less hackneyed:

  • “Evidence supports that X is true” (this corresponds to the 1st definition of belief)
  • “I trust X” (matching the second sense of the term above)

My discussion with colleagues just reinforces in my mind that our choice of words is critical to making a case for whatever our point of view is.  Words matter!

Obviously my short discourse with those fellow teachers on Halloween day didn’t land anywhere substantial because we could devote only about 4 minutes before we had to herd kids.  Making a case for any point of view TAKES TIME. And our culture is so rushed, that reasoned, thoughtful and calm discussion rarely happens!

But…it pays to be prepared and think through our word choice ahead of time.  As God instructs us through the apostle Peter, we Christians should

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

 

 

 

Logical Gal and the bias against circumstantial evidence

12 May

circumstantial evidence and cat

Ask 9 out of 10 passers-by and they will most likely maintain that circumstantial evidence is weak.

And maybe one piece is, but I have been learning that there is POWER in the cumulative effect of multiple pieces of circumstantial evidence.

My tutor is a cold-case detective, J. Warner Wallace.  The only cases he works are cold murder cases that date back 10 to 30 years.  There is no date beyond which one cannot be tried for murder in the state of California.  A cold case is one that is old, unresolved and left untouched, gathering dust until someone decides to re-open it.

Detective Wallace recounts in his book about the ultimate cold case, the murder of Jesus Christ, Link to the book available at Amazon, how he has to instruct jurors on the 2 kinds of evidence.  Most Americans have no idea that one can convict a suspect of murder on the basis of circumstantial evidence alone!  But you need a lot of it.

Cold Case Chr - the book

 

Here is a brief primer: There is direct evidence and indirect evidence.

  • Direct is when you have Bob testify that he saw Frank stab the victim
  • Indirect is when you see a bloody knife in Frank’s car, plus blood on Frank’s pants, and you hear Frank threaten the deceased victim.  A

Inferences drawn from multiple pieces of indirect or circumstantial evidence  (think 20-30) can add up to a powerful case against a suspect.  In fact Wallace himself says his ONLY convictions have been in circumstantial cases.

The standard for the burden of proof in such criminal cases is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt‘.

Beyond a reasonable doubt

Wait a minute!  Think about what that phrase actually means – ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.

In order for your doubt to be valid, you have to have a REASON such as:

  • ” I don’t think Frank could have stabbed the victim because the defense showed us a transcribed interview with a restaurant waitress and some colleagues and his ex-wife.  It seems as though Frank was at this very same ex-wife’s birthday party along with his former colleagues at IHOP at the time the victim is purported to have died (as determined by the autopsy)”

But the degree of proof the prosecution must provide is NOT beyond ANY shadow of a doubt.  Doubt and uncertainty are woven into life.  Where does anyone ever  have 100 % certainty?  The confidence the jurors must feel must be such that they can come up with no reasons to infer otherwise than that the suspect committed the murder.

So the next time you hear someone denigrate circumstantial evidence, “Oh, that’s just circumstantial!”, push back gently. Ask: “What’s wrong with circumstantial evidence?”  They probably won’t know how to answer.  Most people tend to parrot, unthinkingly, what they have picked up, floating in the air!

Question:  what beliefs have you absorbed without examining them? 

Logical gal distinguishes between possible and reasonable

19 Apr

I learn a lot about using evidential tools from a homicide detective names J. Warner Wallace.  His website is stocked with mega resources on Christian case-making  including video teachings on You Tube, blog posts, essays and podcasts. All serve to help us, the ordinary Joe & Jane, who want to think logically and rationally about important topics including our Christian convictions.  The name of his site is Cold Case Christianity.

Cold Case Christianity Crime Scene

In a podcast dated 18 April 2014, he detailed the way of thinking that is most often used by detectives (and doctors) called abductive reasoning.  This is simply a way of coming to the most reasonable explanation that best takes into account the evidence presented.

In a crime scene, detectives collect and inventory the artifacts (aka potential evidence), eliminating nothing.  They then set out to hypothesize all possible explanations.  To me, this sounds like brain-storming, where the one rule is:  Don’t rule out anything!

Brainstorming

‘Toggling back and forth’ between the evidence and the explanations is the way J. Warner describes the process of thinking through the facts until the most reasonable explanation emerges.

Here is where it is critical that we (and jurors to whom evidence and explanations are tediously presented) distinguish between the possible and the reasonable.  Many explanations are possible, but far fewer are reasonable.

For example:

  • Christians claim that Jesus from Galilee rose from the dead, after having been murdered by crucifixion and buried.

What is the evidence?

The tomb where he was buried was discovered to be empty 2 days later.  That is a fact.  Even atheistic New Testament historians and scholars accept that as incontrovertible, that a real man in history, named Jesus, was executed and buried.

Crucifixion

What are some possible explanations for these 2 subsequent claims of an empty tomb and sightings of Jesus?

  • The Romans stole his body
  • The Jewish leaders stole his body
  • Jesus’ followers stole his body and then conspiratorially invented & maintained the fiction about encountering a Jesus who had come back to life
  • Jesus didn’t die, but merely passed out
  • The disciples went to the wrong tomb and then hallucinated
  • Jesus’ twin was executed, not the controversial Galilean

I am not going to take the time or space to refute each of these POSSIBLE explanations.  I want simply to point out (and you can look up for yourself – Defending the resurrection) that despite many possible explanations, rationally we must settle on the one that is the most reasonable.  This explanation will be the simplest approach that takes into account all the details.  Considering every possible explanation is going to present far more barriers to overcome.  Logical people do not cling to complicated, contorted explanations UNLESS they carry a BIAS going into the their investigation.

And Bias is a topic better suited for another day.

May you & I rest in the FACT that we are created in the image of a rational divine being who has endowed us with the capability of rational thought.  And if you are an atheist, may God bless you.  And may you thank HIM for giving you the gift of thinking. Be courageous to follow the evidence where it leads!

Happy Easter!

Empty tomb

 

Logical Gal and the Argument from Ignorance

20 Feb

I heard someone accuse another of employing the Argument from Ignorance.

He painted the scenario like this:

Accuser:  “You are being UNreasonable.   Why?  Just listen to what you are, in essence, saying: Since we don’t have an explanation for how the universe came into existence, then it must be God who caused it.  That is defaulting to arguing from a basis of ignorance and that, my friend,  is a fallacy!”

As it turns out, the one putting forth the ‘God Hypothesis’ actually had some good reasons for his conclusion.  He was using abductive reasoning.  This form of logic takes the information at hand and seeks the best possible explanation based on evidence at hand.

What’s interesting about the Argument from Ignorance is that there are two versions, the converse of the other.

  • Since you can’t prove mermaids don’t exist, therefore they exist!
  • Since you can’t prove mermaids do exist, therefore they don’t!

The latter also involves a false dilemma.  It assumes that there are only 2 choices:

a) we either KNOW that a proposition is true

b) or we KNOW that a proposition is false

But there is actually a 3rd choice – that we don’t know…

Question:  are there other possibilities than  TRUE, FALSE or DON’T KNOW?

Where do you encounter this kind of faulty thinking?