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Do humility and logic go together?

3 May

 

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way. Ps 25:8-9

Danger alert!

Logic can destroy humility.

How can that be?  I thought clear rational thinking was the entire point of this blog?

Yes, but learning to use skills of rational, deductive reasoning can cause us to grow smug. And SMUGNESS reeks of pride, arrogance and insufferableness.

I am a Biblical Christian who loves words and takes God’s Word seriously. Therefore, I believe whole-heartedly that the original text of the Bible is accurate and free from error. Why?  because I accept as true that God superintended its transmission to the authors through His divine Spirit. After all, the God who SPOKE the universe into being can certainly insure the accuracy of the original writings.  Beside that, He even says that His Word is true. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. John 17:17

Here’s the snare.  I can be arrogant and prideful when I think I am right.  Why do I think my views are correct?

  • Because I am a born-again Christian who has been given a new and different nature
  • Because I have learned some logical thinking principles, which empower me

God, however, isn’t content to leave me equipped with ‘right’ thinking, whether content or method.

The message God seems to be sending me through daily Bible reading and various prayers is that since we humans are created beings, there is NO way in God’s kingdom that we finite creatures can be all-seeing and all-knowing.  Those ‘omni’ qualities belong to God alone who is perfect.

How that should translate into my life and perhaps yours, if you agree, is that we can be wrong!  Maybe our conclusions from the evidence WE SEE and KNOW are rightly deduced, but the presupposition behind the syllogism is huge.  Namely that we see and know ALL the facts.  Could there be, perhaps, more to meet MY eye and awareness?

I work amidst kind and friendly colleagues in a middle school in Asheville, NC.  I’m the only one, I imagine, who doubts some of the ‘givens’ about global warming and its attendant problems.  What I’m trying to practice during our lunchtime, round-table informal chats is to listen for the BEST arguments to support their views regarding this climate situation.

Wanting to understand the other side depends first on the recognition that I might not be right. Oh, maybe given the circumstances and facts I’ve seen and read, I can make a case for what I believe and why.  But the possibility DOES exist that I might actually have a blind spot.

This God-worked humility in me, through life’s hardships and knocks and my daily reading of His Word, has initiated a less sure, less-exalted view of how ‘infallible’ or correct I might be.

I believe, that our world needs more ‘Logical Joes and Janes’, but ones who humble themselves enough to listen with care to others’ views.

Who’s the one with a bias?

12 Apr

The email response greeted me with this first sentence:

“This site and its articles are extremely biased and on the verge of alt-right/tea party. It reminds me of Breitbart.   I have a hard time taking much of what they say seriously. ” 

I had sent a work colleague an essay about why the Swiss seem to encounter little to no terrorism in their country.  The author had posted her thoughts on a conservative website (Townhall).  Since this 8th-grade humanities teacher seeks to train his students to ask deeper questions, I thought he would appreciate the anomaly that Switzerland represents in a Europe menaced by terrorism.

I wasn’t prepared for his differing worldview, but I should have been given his youth and generational milieu and the fact that we teach in Asheville, NC.  Taken aback at first, I carefully chose my response.  Rewriting my comments in the form of questions (I reflected) might make it easier for him to read and accept my thoughts.

To his credit I realized he had indeed read the entire essay and given it some consideration. His comments bore that out.  So I complimented him on that, but asked him the logical question all of us should employ initially:  Why do you think that? (regarding his dismissive first couple of sentences)

Here is how I worded the rest of my response to his opening salvo: Why is that?  Shouldn’t we judge ideas on their merit?  I think that’s the genetic fallacy, to dismiss a viewpoint because of its source.

Continuing on gently, I spring-boarded off of his observations with some further thoughts.  In the end, I repeated my acknowledgement of his generous use of time DESPITE his skepticism about the ‘validity’ of the point of view.

What I re-learned from this encounter was this:

  • just as I and my husband and some like-minded friends believe the other side is ‘biased’, they also assume we are predisposed
  • there is no cause for fear when someone tries to marginalize one’s beliefs and reasons.  I probably know more than this young man.  I read a lot more and I’ve been at this clear thinking/reasoning work for years now.
  • asking questions is a safe and disarming approach in responding to what might FEEL like an attack

I’m grateful for the occasion to exercise some of my ‘logical gal’ skills.

 

How do you know that?

25 Jan

“How do you know that?” he asked me.  In need of a bathroom, I had entered an open door in the school along my route.  When I couldn’t find a public restroom, I stopped the first person in the building I could find.  He looked like a student cadre member at a military school.  He let me use his own private facilities in his ensuite dorm room.

How we got started about which news you could trust, I don’t know.  But when he made a comment regarding ‘facts’ about the new administration, I replied:  “But the media is biased toward the left’s political agenda!”

That’s when he came back with the question that stymied me.  How DID I know that?

I couldn’t very well reply:

  • Well, that’s what I read/hear/think!

If that’s all I can come up with, then I’m no better than the non-thinking masses. You know about whom I’m writing? – the ones I accuse of just parroting what they hear, without sorting out reasons for what they believe?

That dialogue and unsettling realization about my lack of preparedness took place in a snippet of last night’s dream.

But a real-live similar conversation last fall in Boston got me thinking about my deficit in study.

Sharing a room with a teacher colleague afforded plenty of time to talk.  She and I engaged at one point in some discussion about a few controversial issues taking place in our home state of North Carolina.  The issue that revealed my gaps was the so-called ‘bathroom law’.  I found that I could not articulate well why I found it objectionable that a transgendered person could choose the bathroom that matched his/her/its gender feelings.

It could have been the stress of having to think on my feet, because upon calm reflection later several points came to mind:

  • sexually abused women could suffer flash back emotional trauma when confronted by a biological male transgendered into a woman
  • young girls could be prey for a sexual aggressor
  • privacy issues

The point was I felt unprepared in our conversation.

My dream last night underscored the same feeling.

However, I did experience one positive, but unexpected conversation earlier in the week.  A school colleague (not the same one as in Boston) answered my question about a planned faculty female trip to Washington, DC.  She explained that it was to attend a rally supporting women’s rights.  We got talking about abortion.  I HAD done enough study in pro-life tactics to know the pivotal issue:

  • What is the fetus?

If it is NOT a human life, then the woman carrying it has every right to dispose of it as she sees fit.

But if it IS a human life, then that unborn child has the right to life.

We had a civil exchange and left it like this:

  • I place the rights of the unborn baby over the rights of the woman
  • She places the rights of the woman over the right to life of the child

Although I’m pleased that I could at least make a partial case for why destroying a life is murder, I want to be better prepared for the next conversation.

And last night’s dream has motivated me to know and be able to articulate WHY I believe what I do across many issues.

Logical Janes and Joes must do their homework in order to be a force for clear thinking and moral logic!

 

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.”

 

 

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.

 

Do you want to stand out from the rest of society? Then use logic!

6 Apr

And practice thinking!

You’ve seen that smart-alecky bumper sticker:

Critical Thinking - national deficit

It’s actually a true analysis of many Americans.  When I was hired at a classical Christian school, I was assigned one ‘extra class’ to teach: logic….to 8th graders!  Not knowing the first thing about rational thought and argumentation, it took a year for me stumbling my way through the curriculum to begin to understand it.  And as I continued to grow more skilled in the tools I was acquiring, I realized what a treasure I had been handed.

Logical reasoning is foundational to reading correctly, to arguing cogently, to sniffing out holes in other people’s assertions.  This discipline also goes hand-in-hand with apologetics, that body of knowledge that provides a rational defense for the truth of the claims of Jesus in the Bible.

In my personal life, I continue a gentle but on-going campaign, through prayer and conversational engagement, to provoke a family member to let go of her 4 score of false teaching imbibed in a liberal church.  When we start to disagree and I turn to the Bible to back my point, she’ll retort:

  • That’s just man’s opinion!

She does NOT believe in the divine and infallible inspiration of the writers through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Why not?  Because every other Christian she knows, outside of our family and one of her nieces, believes that a ‘fundamentalist’ (her word) interpretation of the Bible naïvely accepts what was the view of primitive men and women, way back ‘then’!

Right off the bat, her argument is weakened by resorting to Chronological Snobbery, that fallacy that rests on the assumption that simply because something is old OR new, it must be better or worse.  No legs under that assertion!

When she restates her attack and critical view of the Bible, she then reminds me that we have travelled this road before, she and I, and we just need to leave it be.

And being the gracious gal that I am, I demur. (I’ll leave you to decide the truth of THAT claim!)

Today, though, I heard a powerful way of reasoning that I think will give her pause.  Let me try out this hypothetical dialogue. Then you can let me know what you think and how she might respond.

me: Just because someone is baptized as a baby, that doesn’t make them a Christian

her: That’s not so!

me: Well, John records Jesus informing Nicodemus that he had to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. And Jesus likens this spiritual birth to the wind blowing where it wants; man does not control or initiate being ‘born from above’.  It’s a God-launched change, unlike man-centered baptisms that ASSUME the efficacy of a priest declaring ‘you’re a Christian by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (and this procedure).

her: (Version A) – That’s just John’s view!

me: What?  John was an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus!

her: (or Version B) – Humph, the Bible was written by men and things get lost in multiple translations and in all the copying.

  • It’s at THIS point where we usually reach our impasse and move on to something else.  I respect her because she’s older and I don’t want to be TOO pushy.
  • But now I think I will add….

me: You do believe that Jesus died for your sins and that you’ll have eternal life with him when you die?

her:  Yes, at least I certainly hope so!

me: And where do you find that in the Bible? What makes you so sure that you are banking on a true doctrine or teaching?   (Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, advises: ‘Ask a question to make a point.‘)

her: I’m not a ‘Bible scholar’ like you, but I know the church teaches that.

me: Why do you trust what ‘men’ say and teach? What if that doctrine is just a primitive and naïve interpretation?

her:  I have no idea.

me: (another possible question for her) Do you believe the accounts of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus?  If so, why?

her: That’s a solid belief that every Christian agrees on; nothing controversial there!

me: So do you always believe a position to be true because ‘everyone believes it’? Could ‘everyone’ be wrong about something?

I’m not sure how she might respond.  Any ideas?  My fervent prayer is that this dear lady finally abandons her resistance and trust God.  After all, if one can believe the biggest miracle (or fish story!)

  • of the immaterial God coming to earth in the form of another mortal human being,
  • of being murdered under trumped-up false charges,
  • and of then being raised from the dead and ascending to Heaven,

….then why not take Jesus at his word regarding the truth of all the Scriptures?

Matthew 5:18  (Jesus asserts) I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.

Behold, the power of thinking critically and logically!

 

 

Logical Gal asks: Why are you a liberal? Why are you a Christian?

8 Jul

“You’re just a Christian because you were brought up in a Christian family!”

What are you going to say to THAT marginalization of your belief?

As always, the logical gal or guy takes a deep breath, then formulates questions that soften the smug accuser.

  • So, let me get this straight, you vote the same political party your parents do/did?
  • And you parent your own children they way you were raised? (or you share a love for the same hobbies as your mom and dad?)

You can see the many possibilities this line of questioning offers!

I can almost certainly hear your interlocutor start to backpedal…..

“Well, no….but that’s not the same thing!”

You can then ask:

  • How so? How is it different?

Or, you could gently probe THEIR spiritual background and ask how THEY were brought up and if THOSE experiences have had any influence on their views today.

Likely their responses will be either:

  1. “Yes, my parents were agnostic and so am I!”

(to which you calmly remark:

  • So you have just followed the path they laid out?)
  1. “No! I think for myself!”

(to which you calmly remark:

  • So only agnostics look at evidence and see the most reasonable conclusion?)

Other possible questions:

  • Based on your premise, then all Muslims are followers of their religion solely due to their family and cultural milieu?
  • Why do recent polls in America show an increasing rise in those claiming NO religious affiliation?  Likely some of these ‘nones’ were brought up in Christian homes!
  • What do you think accounts for the striking growth of Christianity in Communist China? Or in Africa?

Genetic Fallacy

But the best response to a Genetic Fallacy (you only believe X because of the origin or genesis of the belief) is:

  • You know, you could be right that I’m a Christian because I was brought up in a Christian home.
  • But the MORE important question to consider is this: Does God exist or does He not? For if God does NOT exist, then it really doesn’t matter why I believe what I do. And we are wasting each other’s time discussing it!
  • But if God DOES exist, then Who He is and What He says and What He has done and WILL do are relevant to your life and mine, don’t you think?

Now, more than recently, we must be able to ask discerning questions that gently challenge.  Speaking the Truth while showing compassion toward the other person is the mark of a Christ-follower.  With the Holy Spirit both guiding and restraining us we profess what is True to those whom God has made in His image.  The results are up to Him.