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Post-truth? What does that mean?

30 Nov

oxfordengdict

Today I welcome Michael Cochrane as guest writer to ‘Logical Gal’.  Michael, besides being my husband, works as a technology reporter for World News Group and voiceover artist. I fell in love with him 37 years ago when I overheard a young man announce, “The unexamined life is not worth living!” He has been a guiding force in my growth as a critical thinker.

Each year the Oxford University Press, publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) select a word of the year, one that “reflect(s) the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and… [has] lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.”

The OED word of the year for 2016 is “post-truth,” which is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Unlike words such as “post-war” or “post-modern,” the term “post-truth” does not suggest the world has moved beyond a time in which truth is relevant or significant. Rather, it implies that we now live in a world in which public opinion of events, politics, economics, science, morality and ethics – essentially anything that comprises reality – is more important than reality itself, and that emotional appeal or subjective belief is more effective than factual truth in achieving that objective.

Another way to think of this is to look at the classical correspondence theory of truth, which states (according to Wikipedia), “the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world.” In other words, truth is “that which conforms to reality.”

If we accept this definition of truth, then by inference, “post-truth” also means “post-reality.” Which actually makes more sense as a word of the year given the secular, cultural elite’s current embrace of ideology as a substitute for objective reality.

Understanding someone’s grounds

16 Nov

“Jesus went around doing good, healing the sick and feeding the hungry and blessing those who gave to the poor,” pointed out an advocate for social justice issues as primary.

The man in conversation with her countered from a teaching from the Sermon on the Mount: “Jesus illuminated His commitment to the Law when he taught that we should not murder! And abortion is the unlawful taking of life from the innocent!”

I overheard this discussion during an October radio conversation between two Christians explaining why they were voting differently; the first one for Hillary Clinton and the second speaker for Donald Trump. Each maintained that the party of his and her candidate best supported the teaching of Jesus.

Clearly, what we focus on (as well as what we don’t look at or see) guides our beliefs and subsequent actions.

After 90 minutes of back and forth explanations, neither person had changed his/her mind.  But for me the discussion was fruitful because I could see:

  • each person advanced sincerely-held views, supported by an accurate understanding of a portion of Scripture.

The issue, as far as I can discern, seems to point to this question:

  • What do American citizens believe the Constitution delegates to the federal government to handle?
  • Which problems/situations should fall under the purview of state, local or non-governmental groups of people and individuals?

I don’t know how to reconcile the views any other way than what our Founding Fathers left in place for us: a representative republic, undergirded by a written constitution that allows for change.  Whether you are upset or relieved with the results from 8 November, the system worked. No one is ever COMPLETELY satisfied, but that FACT is woven into the very fabric of our constitution.  Our system is not perfect, but it beats many alternatives!

Just for the record, when I reflect on Jesus’ marching orders, it appears clear that we, his followers, are commanded:

  • to make disciples among all the people groups
  • to baptize them in the name of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
  • and to teach them to do all that He, Jesus commanded, including making disciples……

PS: I see this command as an outworking of the Greatest Command to ‘Love God and to Love Neighbor’.  (For we show we love God IF we obey Him.  And what greater way IS THERE to love our neighbor than to care for their eternal, forever condition?)

 

 

Meaningful definitions require boundaries

19 Oct

human-animal-stem-cell-research

Scientists at the National Institutes for Health apparently are talking about lifting a ban on research that would co-mingle human stem cells with animal embryos.

Human-Animal Embryo Stem Cell Research

Listening to a discussion about this back in August, the commentator who mentioned this new development posed the question:

  • What does it mean to be human?  If you have 99% human DNA and 1 % ‘other’, are you still considered human?

In other words, “How do we define the term, HUMAN?”

What came to mind was how TODAY, we seem to be playing fast and easy with definitions.

Two examples come to mind:

1a. Tolerance once referred to the restraining civil behavior between two or more people who held and articulated differing and/or contradictory beliefs and positions.  If you think about, one doesn’t tolerate what one find acceptable, one AGREES with it.  By definition, the ‘classic’ view of tolerance presupposes contrary views.

1b. Tolerance today seems to require that a ‘minority, despicable viewpoint’ be shut down, shamed and disbarred from the discussion table.

The term has remained the same, but the concept has changed.

2a. Marriage once referred to the legal union between one suitable (not a close relative) man and one suitable woman of appropriate age.

2b. Marriage today refers to a state-granted status that recognizes a two-person, gender-indifferent union with the same legal rights of a married biological male and female.  (A temporary quantity and constituent view – down the road who knows how many humans and what/who else might fit into this new definition!)

Logical friends, definitions matter!!!

These are but two current examples.

Think about other terms in the area of religion, for example:  God’s love, Faith in God or Prayer.  These ALSO seem to stand for a multiplicity of concepts.  So what exactly is the relationship between TERM and CONCEPT?

First of all, a concept is the immaterial idea of something one pictures, the image of which one holds in his head.  A concept can indicate something real or imagined like a tree or a unicorn. A term is the written or verbal name we give to that concept.

Terms can be confusing because the same term can refer to different concepts.  Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason teaches that before ANY discussion about a topic can ensue, two people must clarify and agree on the definition of terms used.  Conversational partners must know and state the concepts they have in mind when each employs a term.

So back to those religious terms I mentioned. Today, in Christianity, people seem to talk with ease and certitude about ‘the love of God’ or they announce: ‘I believe in God’ or ‘I pray’.  We cannot assume that they and we are picturing the same thing.  As the fox in Le Petit Prince says ‘Words are the source of misunderstandings.’

As the social climate across the literate world grows more fractured and sharp, logical and reasoning men and women CAN make a difference by gently asking the clarifying questions that will guide others to think about what they mean.

Who knows?   In bringing a concept to light, in employing the discipline of articulating WHAT WE MEAN, someone or even we ourselves might decide to modify what we believe. Not a bad result. For thinking is never wasted effort or time.

 

 

Blue-haired old ladies or reasoning from experience

5 Oct

 

mimi-with-blue-hair-and-maria-age-8  I was at my hairdresser the other day and our conversation turned to her many regulars, mostly old ladies who come weekly for a wash and a set.  I told her about Mimi, my grandmother, and her blue hair.  How she never seemed to be pleased with the color each time she came home from the beauty shop.

I then casually asked Lisa, “You probably don’t even know about blue hair for little old ladies!”  She came back right away with, “Oh, yes I do!  In fact, I regularly have blue-haired elderly clients.”

After recovering from my shock that blue-haired OLD ladies still existed, I decided to spring that news on my middle school students.  My ‘show and tell’ venture, using the above picture, brought many questions.

I think because I could produce a photo, no one boldly proclaimed, “Well, I’ve never seen a blue-haired little old lady.  I don’t believe you!”

But that is exactly how most people identify truth in our culture today.  Unless they have personal experience of something, or have heard about it from their friends and contacts, they don’t believe it.

Kind of arrogant, don’t you think?

What makes someone think that he can trust his experience and personal knowledge enough?  Does not that seem a bit presumptuous to dare to declare a universal truth, one that applies across the board?  Are you that infallible?

In logic, there are statements or premises that, if true, apply to all members of the subject of the premise.  We call that a ‘universal’. An example is:

  • All men are mortal

If this statement is true, then every member of the ‘man’ family must be mortal.

If this feature does not apply to every single unit of the subject, then at most one can say:

  • Some men are mortal

The same logic laws apply to the negative versions of these statements:

  • No men are mortal is a universal assertion
  • Some men are not mortal is a particular premise

I’ve noticed recently that a lot of us are relying on self-centered sloppy thinking in making truth claims. Consider the following types of generic statements:

  • “I’ve never heard of X.  I just can’t believe X exists.  For surely, if it did, then I would have encountered some mention of it?”
  • “No one I know of thinks that.  I don’t believe it.”

That’s as ridiculous as us saying, ‘I’ve never experienced echolocation (bees use of magnetic cues to travel), so I don’t believe in it.’

Or, ‘I’ve never seen God, so He isn’t real’.  Allegedly one of the Soviet cosmonauts boasted like that upon returning from orbit.

And just this morning I read a Tim Keller quote.  He’s pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan: “Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.”

As our American culture polarizes more, may we be slow to proclaim these sweeping universal generalizations with a tone of authority and pursue the more humble reasoning of the particular.

I don’t want to be like the little boy in CS Lewis’ mud pie example, taken from his essay The Weight of Glory:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

 

 

Just because something IS, does that mean it OUGHT to be?

28 Sep

is-ought-fallacy  Given the breathless rate of societal upheaval in America these past 2 years, the IS/OUGHT fallacy seems to be the modus operandi of the current ‘Culture Nazis’.

What do I mean by that?

First of all, to set the stage for this failure in reasoning,  here is where I see this kind of fallacious thinking popping up.  People seem to believe and argue for a narrative that goes like this:

  • This relationship exists (IS), therefore it ought to be authorized (OUGHT)

In short hand – If something exists, it should exist.

But is that true? And if so, then on what basis?  What grounds or serves as a foundation for this premise and conclusion?

If my two-year old granddaughter makes a scene when her parents deny her every wish, should she throw a tantrum just because that is her ‘natural’ or default response?

Just because she screams, should she scream?

Can we say that something is wrong or right?  Or is personal preference what supports our decisions?

A toddler’s self-centered outburst is small potatoes compared to what culture is claiming as reasonable.  Consider the following if/then conditional premises that follow this is/ought line of thinking:

  • If two people love each other and feel their relationship deserves official recognition, then they ought to have the freedom to marry with the state’s approval
  • If a person born a biological male feels better acting like a female, then he should be acknowledged as a female

What’s the difference between those is-ought statements and the following?

  • If a person feels like she is very overweight, but her appearance belies her feelings, then she should be treated as overweight (this is the way she is as she defines reality, then others should accept her preference)
  • If a person claims he can operate a motor vehicle and consume marijuana, then he should be allowed to do so  (this is his self-evaluation, therefore we should accept it)

The first two affirmations are now accepted by a segment of our US population.  The last two claims more folks might question.  But the reasoning in all 4 if-then statements is the same.

Should we really make decisions about what is good, right, beautiful and acceptable based on what occurs naturally, what we prefer or what we feel?  Many would say unequivocally YES!   When we balk at submitting to authority we do so out from a desire for self-rule or AUTO-NOMY.  ‘Who gives YOU (or society, or the church, or God!) the right to tell me what to do!’

When a people no longer submit to law or when the law becomes watered down so that it can be stretched to mean whatever one wants, then anarchy ensues.

Even if my country is becoming unmoored and applying false reasoning to justify personal preference, Christians have an authoritative foundation to guide and ground their decisions.  What a relief.

As a Christian, my parameters of what is the good and acceptable are detailed in the teachings and commandments of God.  He is my creator and I belong to Him.  So I defer to His wisdom and His wishes for me.

Many Americans seem increasingly to prefer a decision-making model that leaves them like drifting ships with no anchor.  In reality, without any authority in their lives they are actual prisoners of their temperamental or fickle feelings.

Who wants to live with this life rule?: “What IS today IS my truth and I OUGHT to be accepted by everyone.  And I reserve the right to adjust how I feel and act for tomorrow. My opinion and preference is how I define my reality.”

 

 

 

 

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.

 

But I want all of them!

6 Jul

can't have your cake Having recently devoured and imbibed the philosophy of minimalism, I picked up another book along the same lines to garner new tips for eliminating stuff.  But Joshua Beck’s recent book, The More of Less….surprised me. Besides new ways of thinking about why we spend money,  I came away with the surprising goal of reducing our purchases in order to create a travel fund.

So here I am, a month out from reading Beck’s book. After some truthful examination of our budget, the only category that has actual flab and can afford trimming is the groceries ‘pot’.  From that line item we fund food for the two of us and our pair of cats, cleaning supplies, wine, and vitamins.

Like with any new project, the initial energy released by setting this goal lasted about two weeks.  Then came the ‘surprising’ realization that I had been operating at cross purposes. How so?  Apparently I hold 3 values equally and that won’t work if I want to squeeze money from groceries.  I EQUALLY want:

  1. to build up a travel fund
  2. to eat organic meats
  3. to buy high-quality vitamins

Brick wall moment!  I can’t have numbers 2 & 3 AND pare down groceries to save for trips. So the past few days I’ve wrestled with the values that support numbers 2 & 3.  Forced to prioritize what I consider important has been good exercise.

As I wrestled with rank-ordering priorities I reviewed some previous decisions that had brought us to this point.  A little background:

We switched to buying and preparing organic meats and eggs after I saw the documentary Food, Inc  Since that film, antipathy against the industrialization of food sourcing has set in. Philosophical reasoning primarily fueled this shift and it was then easy to add the health benefits of organic foods to shore up the argument.  My husband joined me in abandoning all non-organic meats and meat products.

Aligning our food prep around these new principles has posed no additional effort.  I enjoy cooking and we eat out rarely.  Once a year we select a high-end, farm-to-table type restaurant for our anniversary.  Yet right from the outset our commitment to organic meat wasn’t monolithic. When on the road to visit family and friends, we continued to eat in casual chain restaurants.  These occasions together with being guests in others’ homes were times of non-organic dining.

So given that I have compromised somewhat since my initial gung-ho ‘no more industrial meats for us!’ cry, maybe we could go back to eating non-organic foods.

What about the vitamins?  We took grocery store/pharmacy-brand vitamins for years, resulting in (anecdotally) very few colds or at worst, quick recoveries. But to ‘afford the organic meats’ I opted to eliminate them, reasoning that healthier meats would provide what vitamins offered.  As our stock of supplements dwindled, winter arrived and we both succumbed to some ‘health problems’.  I suffered my longest bad cold ever and my husband fell ill with heart palpitations caused by multiple factors, kicked off by a cold. Anxiety connected with the erratic heartbeats caused literal sleep-less nights, ‘les nuits blanches’ as the French call them – white nights.  But God worked a healing after 3 months of numerous doctors’ visits, testing and much prayer and Mike’s sleep patterns readjusted.

We resumed vitamins, based on some advice from a nurse who also had suffered heart palpitations.  She directed us to higher quality supplement companies.  What do you know, the better the vitamins, the pricier they are!

So here I am, having to make a choice between the two priorities that cannot coexist together with my new desire to reduce grocery spending and make room for a travel fund. I won’t go into why that is important; suffice it to say that whether the savings allows us to vacation well or simply offers us flexibility in future jobs, this reasoning process has been useful.

Critically THINKING through what I want and the labor to explain logically my thought process has clarified my mind.  I haven’t used logic explicitly, but I have identified my pre-suppositions and values that have been leading me to where I am mid-summer.

Finally, let me point out that I am very much like everyone else in the human race:  when we decide that we want something, even if it’s an irrational outcome, we seek to shore up that decision with rational arguments.  So here’s my ace in the hole:

Matthew 15:11 – It is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean. It is what comes out of the mouth that makes a person unclean.

No, I don’t like supporting big industry meat.  Yes, I prefer the idea of encouraging small quality farms that are committed to healthy and humane raising and slaughtering practices.  But I want a travel fund more!

Julie Andrews and faulty logic

8 Jun

Nothing comes from Nothing

“Nothing comes from nothing,” sang Julie Andrews in my favorite film of all time, The Sound of Music.

And that is a true statement! If all there ever was, was nothing, then that is all that would be right now!

Here is the governess Maria’s argument:

No thing comes from no thing

Here is some thing

Therefore, some other existing thing caused this particular thing

But where the Maria character goes with her conclusion is debatable.  And as a Christian, I would assert that it is unsubstantiated and false.

Let’s think about the possible argument setups.

Truth: Nothing comes from nothing

Explicit Fact most would agree with:  Something VERY good is going on in Maria’s life – she has fallen in love with the Captain

Implicit Fact most would agree with: Falling in love and the accompanying joy is not anything that circumstances or another person can give us

Possible Causal Agents for this ‘love’:

a) the Karma principle and Maria’s conclusion – I must have done something good in my youth

b) random circumstances just fell out this way and Maria has chosen to ascribe significance to these particular molecules in motion

c) God is the source of ‘all good gifts’, one of which is ‘this something good’.

  • (James 1:17   Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens)

So which precipitating event for Maria & the Captain’s relationship are you or I going to pick?

It all depends on one’s worldview.  What is a worldview?  It is a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.

I’ll leave you to work out your own conclusion.  What astonishes me is how long it took for me to grow aware of the lyrics to this song.  Throughout the numerous times I’ve watched the movie or listened to the music, I remained caught up in the happy evocative sentiments. NEVER did I consider the import of the words. It’s clear that a large portion of our world operates out of a secular worldview, whether material or immaterial.  AND, it’s a story easy to absorb and accept without thinking or questioning.

*Lyrics – [Maria:]

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/soundtracks/s/thesoundofmusiclyrics/somethinggoodlyrics.html

 

 

Responding to an attack posing as an argument

1 Jun

Illogical Lucy – You have no right to say that abortion is wrong!

Logical Joe – Why is that?

Illogical Lucy – You’re not willing to: 

  • adopt an unwanted child
  • take care of babies outside of the womb
  • bring the pregnant mom into your home

The presupposition of Illogical Lucy is that ‘Only prior action legitimizes one to make a belief statement/value judgment’

Is that true?  If it were, then the following convictions held by certain people would not be allowed into the arena of ideas for discussion:

  • The practice of 19th century American slavery was unethical (YOU 21st century American haven’t freed a slave or refused to buy a slave.)
  • Spouse and child abuse is wrong (Have you offered shelter to assault victims?)
  • Common Core curriculum usage should enforced by the federal government (YOU haven’t earned an advanced degree in education.)
  • Smoking is harmful to your health (You haven’t kicked the habit, so who are you to make such a judgment statement since you still smoke!)

The last rebuke of the anti-smoking belief is actually a known fallacy called Tu Quoque – or ‘you too?’  It goes like this:

If you participate in a bad action, you have no ground to stand on in order to claim that smoking is harmful.

Think about it, the person who can’t stop smoking but recognizes its detrimental side effects, is he or she not in an excellent position to call out and publicize the dangers?  I can imagine a man or a woman pleading with a teenager NOT to start smoking:

  • Young man, don’t start on the path of this foul and addictive habit.  I once was your age. Just like you I wanted to fit in, to look manly.  But boy do I regret it.  I’m a pack-a-day guy now and, you hear this cough?  – it’s not good.  My doctor keeps threatening me that I’ll die young from Emphysema like my Pa and his dad. Besides, my mouth stinks, my wife doesn’t like kissing me, my clothes reek, and I spend about $40 a week on this nasty addiction.

Here’s another tactical version of this ‘squash your opponent so his point of view can’t be voiced’:  Since you can’t possibly know what it’s like to be trans or unemployed or stuck with an unwanted pregnancy or hispanic or unemployed then……

  • Your view doesn’t count.  Your belief has no credibility.  Your opinion is wrong out of the gate.

Is that so?  That bullying tactic is actually a version of the Genetic Fallacy.  This maneuver draws strength from the false idea that the origin of the belief can de-legitimize the position.

Logical Joes and Janes KNOW that a premise, that is a belief, position, claim or view must stand or fall on the merits of the reasons backing it up.  It matters not at all WHO is putting forth the argument.  There are only 3 elements that must ‘pass muster’.

  1. Are the terms in each of the premises clear or ambiguous?
  2. Are the premises true or false?
  3. Does the argument or syllogism follow a valid structural flow?

If an argument contains clear terms within true premises, which lead to a ‘rule-abiding’ conclusion, then we say that the argument is both valid AND true and deserving of being considered SOUND.

And a sound argument, my friends, is golden.

Let us stand our logical ground with courage and courtesy and follow the same principles ourselves!

Q: So where are you being bullied in the marketplace of ideas today?