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Logical Gal and category challenges

1 Oct

Category Management

The idea of category errors is useful.

I don’t know if it’s an urban legend, but Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel in space, supposedly proclaimed after his return that he had searched intently and never once did he observe God while in space.

If it’s true, then the statement reveals a category error in his thinking for the following reason:

Humans can observe MATERIAL stuff, but God is NOT material.  He is IMMATERIAL.  It’s akin to asking questions like:

  • How much does blue weigh?
  • If you had to pack your Mom’s love for you to take on a trip, how many suitcases would you need?

The faulty thinking is revealed by simple facts such as:

  • Blue is a property that has no mass, so it cannot be weighed
  • Love is not something that can be measured physically nor can it concretely fill a suitcase

What occurred to me this morning as I listened to a podcast during my walk, was the wonderful Greek word tetelestai  (Strong’s # 5055).  It means: It is finished.

Jesus uttered that word when He finished suffering the punishment for human sin IN OUR PLACE.  His action of redeeming us from hell made it possible for us to be transferred from the Kingdom of this World (under Satan’s rule) into God’s Kingdom.  His work on the cross also guaranteed that not only can humans be freed from the power and punishment of sin, but they can be GIVEN/ASSIGNED a new identity.

Tetelestai

Notice that I did not say, that humans can be given the opportunity to craft their own identity.  Never once do we have that possibility.  There are only 2 possible identities for every man, woman and child who has ever lived OR will ever live.  We are either grafted into Christ and have HIS forgiveness and flawlessness applied to us…….

  • or we are left to face the just judgment and punishment for our works on our own – the imminent next events for those who live according to the outworking of the Fall  (sinful nature) which they have inherited

Here’s where the concept of category error comes back in.  Since Christians have been given a new identity when they are born again,

Identity in Christ

they are treated the same as though they had been born a citizen of a country:

  • NO exam to study for
  • No application process to undergo
  • No appearing before a judge to swear fidelity

So it is STUPID to spend any effort and time trying to craft an identity, right?

Yet that is what I still find myself doing:

  • I angst about what others think of my teaching
  • I angst about whether I’m ‘doing enough’ as a neighbor and as a member of a church family
  • I angst about whether I’m loving my husband in the ways he wants/needs to be loved
  • I angst about whether I am being a good-enough grandmother (whatever THAT means!)
  • And when November arrives, I angst about whether I will select the right kind of presents for family members

And that’s just off the top of my head.

And why?  All because doing ‘it right’ has to do with the identity I WANT to think is ‘me’.

But when I realized this morning that my identity has already been established and is in fact fixed and secure, I suddenly saw that working to shore up my identity (even if just for myself) was not only futile but stupid.

These insights are why I love logic!  Clear thinking can bring freedom.

Question:  Where has thinking through carefully about an issue led to a breakthrough that has impacted your life? 

 

Logical Gal – Multiple definitions can be confusing!

24 Sep

A recent devotional I read mentioned the Apostle Paul’s use of the term Israel to refer to FOUR different concepts.

I thought a brief account of how ‘Israel’ is employed would serve as a useful reminder to clarify terms before jumping into a discussion/debate or argument with someone.

The first question ALWAYS to ask is: What do you mean by X?

Hebrew people

‘Tabletalk’ is a monthly magazine with articles and daily Bible teaching by Dr. R.C. Sproul. I’m a month behind, but the 18 August 2014 piece was based on some verses in Romans 11.  Dr. Sproul mentions that in Romans 9-11, Paul uses ‘Israel’ to describe 4 different groups of people (his exact words follow):

  • The group of ethnic Jews who have true faith in the Lord
  • The entire corporate nation that is made up of all ethic Jews, including those who do not trust in the Lord
  • Ethnic Jews who have not placed their faith in Jesus
  • And finally, the term Israel can also designate all of those who believe in Jesus, including both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles

Just reading about these distinctions reinforced in MY mind how ‘nuanced’ the Bible is.  I’m beginning to realize that words in Scripture are often a shorthand description that needs to be amplified.  For example, I’ve often been puzzled by the first 4 words in Paul’s statement: To live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil 1:21)

I now realize that we in contemporary America speak in an equally symbolic but well understood way when we announce boldly general statements such as:  “Gardening is my life” or some such thing.  So to say ‘to live is Christ’ would probably mean that Christ is the most important person and truth in my life and I base everything on Him.

If we invest the energy and time actually to think and ponder, we CAN deal with layered concepts that might at first seem to stretch us.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle to practice with, one that maybe you can unravel.  Just as there are equivocal definitions of the term Israel, there are several possibilities for the adjective ALL or EVERY……  I often hear people announce hyperbolically:

  • All of New York turned out for the parade
  • All the OTHER kids get to go to the party!
  • Everyone knows that…..

Here’s my challenge:  What does Paul mean when he boldly writes to the Christians in Rome – All Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26)

All Israel will be saved

Before we get into a theological back and forth, we had better work to clarify the following:

  1. which category of Israel is meant?
  2. what does ‘all’ really mean?
  3. and in what sense will that group be ‘saved’?

Only then can a discussion proceed!

Would that as a matter of course I could be so restrained in my conversations.

 

 

Logical Gal says: We need another category for God

3 Sep

Have you ever been cornered at the mall by one of those survey-takers? You know, the kind with the clipboard making a beeline just for you?

Survey taker at the mall The kinds of questions they ask always frustrate me because there are not enough options to cover how I really think.  So I am pigeon-holed into declaring a position that doesn’t reflect my views!

Similarly, we Christians sometimes make a mistake of allowing a false description of God go uncorrected simply because we do not have enough categories in our repertoire.

I’m thinking of the false dilemma that atheists try to force us into.  One

If God is a loving being as you Christians claim He is, then He would not allow any evil!

Evil obviously DOES exist

Therefore, God is not loving

A different version of this might be to set it up so that the very existence of God is at stake, with the presence of evil being proof that He can’t exist.

Evil and suffering God allows

What we need, however, IS a category that allows for a good and loving God who has a good and loving purpose for allowing suffering.  Is that so implausible?

I heard just yesterday a man paint a scenario of aliens visiting earth and observing a hospital delivery room where the following is happening:

  • a woman is panting in agony
  • her husband looks anxious
  • one person looks like he is trying to suffocate the woman by placing something over her mouth and nose
  • a sharp needle is stuck in her arm
  • a few minutes later as she is thrashing about, a man takes a knife and slices open her belly
  • he extracts a wailing slimy little person from inside the woman
  • people rush the small creature away from the woman who is holding her arms out clearly wanting to see and touch this life form

The aliens would NOT know the reasons behind this incomprehensible series of events and conclude that earthlings are cruel and bizarre.

childbirth

What they would not realize that in a short while:

  • the woman would be smiling as she held her living, breathing precious newborn
  • a very relieved husband would be hovering, maybe videoing his new daughter
  • the past agony of an emergency C-section would be considered well worth the pain fear

If such a scenario exists to explain and justify a not so ordinary example of human suffering, is it possible that God might have a ‘good’ reason for allowing what we considered evil?  This is NOT to deny evil, pain and suffering, but is a justification for forming another category for a God who IS good AND allows circumstances which cause us to recoil since we don’t understand or see the purpose.

What we cannot say, like the aliens who don’t have all the information, is that since WE don’t know the reason, there must not be one.

 

Question:  Which objection to the existence of the biblical God do you encounter most often? 

Logical Gal – distinctions lead to tension

14 Jul

Distinction

definition (Google) :  a noun indicating a difference or contrast between similar people or things

Distinction - pencils

To think through a concept in order to arrive at a more clear understanding requires grappling with distinctions.   I am VERY fond of distinctions because they tell me THIS and not THAT.  Knowing what something is not can lead to a more complete idea of what something is.

Today in Sunday School we were studying James, chapter 3.  Jesus’ half-brother warns against selfish ambition.  That caused me to wonder what OTHER kinds of ambition there might be!  I am beginning to ask more questions as I grow my logic and clear thinking skills.  This new habit encourages me!

We all know how concrete children seem to be, how they default to labeling the world either Black or White.  This tendency is forgivable in children, often the source of amused smiles in parents.  But for grownups to continue this view of life brings on smug criticism in others.  Moderns pride themselves in being ‘nuanced’.  Even entire nations criticize others for NOT living with ‘gray’.  The French accuse some American administrations of having been ‘Manichaean’ , that is dividing the world into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.

Ronald Reagan

Criticized or not, I truly believe that for some issues, there is TRUTH and non-truth.  But as I continue to read, study, think and grow, I realize that some concepts just defy being pinned down and categorized separately because it is WE who are finite and cannot get beyond our God-given limitations.

Hence, my fascination with DISTINCTIONS!  Here are the top 4 in Christianity, as I see them:

  • the Trinity – God is ONE essence but THREE persons.  So although God the Father, and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit each enjoys different roles – they are one and the same.  God is both/and and very real!   We see God the Father clearly as the ‘person’ in charge.  God the Son submits to the Father.  The Spirit works with them both – they are all one God.  Enough to keep us thinking forever!
  • Jesus – fully human and fully man!  How can that be?  We don’t know HOW, but we do know it is TRUE.
  • Christians – we live in the flesh here in this present world, and we live in the spirit in the Kingdom of God where we actually are seated at the same time that we are walking on earth.
  • Free Will and God’s Sovereign Control – Yes!  They both exist and we can see the differences, but one doesn’t exclude the other.  Yet even though we can KNOW this, we can also not understand it.

Only someone who is still immature will fight this tension and want to come down on one side or the other. They will feel the need to go PAST making a distinction and to actually cause a separation. And they will try to force YOU to do so, too!

Fish or cut bait

But you don’t have to.  Just remember that it does take a lot of patience and humility and a degree of wonder to live with the fact that we won’t sort it all out.  No matter HOW smart we become!

Who knows – maybe being willing to live with that tension of the both/and might lead to a higher plane of insight?

Question – What do YOU distinguish but can’t separate?

 

 

 

Logical Gal and Communicating via symbols

4 Jun

Today is our middle school end of year celebration where we recognize high achievers in character and scholarship and fête the 8th graders who are moving up to high school.

As I was dressing this morning, I fastened my small cross necklace around my neck.  I was thinking what I would say if someone were to ask me what my cross means.  It’s a good question.

cross necklace

Part of being a Logical Joe or Jane is being able to think carefully about the content of one’s knowledge and beliefs and then to articulate them clearly and in a way that connects with one’s listener.

So here goes:

  • I wear a cross because it reminds me that I belong to a ‘Loser’.…..at least that’s how the world viewed Jesus of Nazareth at the time.  Execution by crucifixion was the ultimate in shame and degradation.   Rome had mastered this method of torture and capital punishment to dispatch slaves and criminals.
  • I wear a cross so I won’t fall into thinking that there is something ‘better’ or more ‘moral’ about me.  Christianity is a religion FOR losers.  And we are all losers.
  • I wear a cross so I won’t forget that Christianity is not about what WE do, it’s about what was done FOR us.  This places Christianity in a completely different category.  For in each of the other religious communities, it’s spiritual power from a person or force PLUS one’s works.  Grace and/or faith PLUS deeds or  letting go or mindfulness or....

Skitch comparison of Christianity & all other religions

One of the conclusions to be drawn from a religion whose founder the world viewed and views even today as a Loser is this:

Premise 1: If the leader is mocked, persecuted and even killed, then his followers will likely be treated the same

Premise 2: Jesus was mocked, persecuted and murdered

Conclusion: Therefore, His followers should not be surprised when they are mistreated by the world

If...then statements

The above syllogism is the classic  ‘Conditional Hypothetical Syllogism‘. The 1st or major premise is the If/Then statement. And the argument is considered VALID if the 2nd or minor premise either AFFIRMS the antecedent (what precedes the ‘then’) or DENIES the consequent (what follows the ‘then’).

Back to the symbolism.  Wearing a cross also reminds me of another way that Christianity is different. It represents a counter-intuitive system of thought.  Jesus’ helplessness on the cross and His willing submission to His Father shows how God is different.  Jesus saved sinners, aka LOSERS by His seeming passivity.  God prevailed through allowing His Son to suffer and not help himself.  When Jesus was raised, His resurrection to life WAS substantiation of God’s ways and His approval and pleasure with this beloved Son.

We don’t EARN God’s approval by anything we do.  God is pleased with us to begin with, before we were born. Then He rescues us and trains us to walk in the School for Losers also calledLife with God as His adopted child’.

When I fasten that little cross around my neck and look in the mirror, that is what I am reminded of.  I need to practice articulating what I believe FIRST for my benefit and THEN for anyone who might ask me.

Question:  What symbol do you display in or around your home, on your car or on your person?  Can you clarify what it means?

Tatoo - Hope and anchor

Logical gal and the joy of new thoughts

5 May

New thought

I think the reason I love to learn is that I’m convinced of the power of a new thought to change my life.  So I read and listen to podcasts, radar alert to something I didn’t know.  The thought can be something that was totally unfamiliar to me or a concept presented in a novel way.

Recently I was reading a devotional with excerpts from sermons by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  He was a British pastor in the mid 20th century who taught straight Bible truth.

Martyn L-J

His nugget of  insight concerned how Christians are  “to worship in spirit and truth.”  I’ve often chewed on that phrase, wondering what it meant.  Frankly I can’t remember how he explained that concept.  But that wasn’t what struck me.  As an aside, he mentioned that the reason the 3rd person of the Triune God is called the HOLY Spirit is to distinguish Him from other spirits, all of whom are evil.

Pow!  That thought dropped right into a ready mind, already fertilized because I was seeking answers to some questions.  I’ve often wondered why He’s not just called the Spirit, capital S.

Holy Spirit

Knowing not only that , but how He is distinct from all other spirits helps me appreciate Him all the more!  If you read these blog posts, then you know how useful I find distinctions to be!  They help me understand concepts so much more easily.  Thank you Father (and Martyn L-J, for this new thought).

**

The second interesting new idea came from Greg Koukl in his recent Tuesday broadcast – You can find his live webcast show here.

Greg posed a question to a caller that went something like this:

  • Have you ever considered that the angels who fell are not afforded an opportunity to repent?  There is no rescue planned for them.  They blew it when they rebelled against God.  It’s the Lake of Fire for them!

All of a sudden into my mind sprung the image of Jesus on the Cross praying to His Father to be merciful to those putting Him to death:

Father, forgive them

We humans get a break!  We are given a second chance after our rebellion.  God sympathizes with us!  

That boggled me and caused me to feel loved by God.

There are different categories of material and immaterial created beings – the angels and us.  And for the first time, I’m thankful to be human and not an angel, all those powers notwithstanding!  God really does love us humans, as pathetic as we often are! If you’ve ever read or dipped into CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters you’ll recognize that line of thinking in senior demon Screwtape’s letters to his nephew and junior tempter Wormwood.  These demons, aka evil spirits, aka fallen angels cannot fathom God’s focus on the human race.

Screwtape & Wormwood

So there you have it:  2 ideas new to me.  I’ll chew on them for a while and be thankful to God for both His Spirit and His Love.

Question:  What new ideas cause you to thank God?

 

Logical Gal asks which is better – good Qs or good answers?

20 Nov

Would you rather be known as someone who has discerning answers or someone who asks  discerning questions? 

I think that people often feel embarrassed when they ask a question.  They might even feel stupid for not knowing something.  And on the other side, I think that some people actually feel superior when they impart knowledge, that having the “so-called right answer”  is necessary for them.

Recently I have seen the value in being able and willing to articulate thought-filled questions.

My husband is much more a science-math person than I am. So when he is explaining a new idea, I often am at a loss for even having a category or context to place some of the concepts he’s attempting to communicate.

Yet when I make the effort to sort out enough of what I can understand, I can then see ahead to ASK a question. Usually my first questions have to do with distinctions.  If he says, reverberant functions* give us the mean in the solution set”, then I will ask an initial question that helps me see the category:

  • Are there other functions besides ‘reverberant’ ?
  • What else do reverberant functions do?
  • What other data could these reverberant functions GIVE?
  • Where else do reverberant functions occur?
  • Can anything else be considered reverberant?
  • What actually does reverberant mean?
  • Are there other sets beside solutions sets?

But formulating questions take effort.  Alas, ALL thinking takes effort. That’s why it’s so rare.

What about those who have answers?  Wouldn’t you feel empowered and more secure just by knowing you had the right answers?

Actually, that kind of self-satisfaction can be limiting.  It can kill curiosity.  And it encourages pride. Now I’m sure you are both wary of pride and drawn to the confidence that pride imparts.

I maintain, however, that intellectual humility is actually a better character trait to hone.  These days, I’m far more impressed with those who ask the questions that never would have occurred to me.

Just like we can strengthen musical and athletic skills and talents by effective coaching, motivating examples and constant practice, I think we can also get better at initiating and formulating questions.

How about challenging yourself to create questions whenever you’re listening to a report, a presentation, an explanation, a sermon, or any kind of talk.

You won’t be bored!

*reverberant functions are just two words I cobbled together

Logical Gal asks if we are blind in our categories

11 Nov

Everything we encounter, whether a new idea, a circumstance or a person,

we attempt to categorize.  

We are particularly good and shallow at this game when we are making the rounds at a party or other social event. Ubiquitous questions such as:

  • What do YOU do?
  • Do you have kids?
  • What do you pursue in your free time?

We search for clues in order to categorize, to supply context to a person or to look for connections between them and us.  We want to know what we have in common.

What we don’t think through…… is that we are limited by the nature of our category, by what defines the members within the category.

Like the fish who is unaware of water because it’s all around, maybe we are equally oblivious to categories as yet identified.

I thought about this the other night while listening to a theologian explain how unusual the Jewish concept of Monotheism was.  The Jews developed into a people group amidst the backdrop of Polytheism.  I never considered how revolutionary this form of worship and culture must have been.  Here was a new category – to have ONE SINGLE god who was the TRUE god.  And He was a new kind of god – one who didn’t just show up physically as a burning bush or a pillar of smoke, but He was equally an immaterial god – a spiritual god.

The Jews descended from one man – Abraham. He and Sarah were initially polytheistic like everyone else in their region and era. They had no concept, no category for a monotheistic God.   I am amazed that they trusted Abraham’s encounter with this living God ENOUGH to leave civilization and journey away from their known life in the city of Ur to something and somewhere as yet disclosed or described.

My point is this – we ought to exercise a little more humility.  We might know every member of a category and feel confident in our ability to sort, to exercise triage as we encounter people, circumstances and ideas.  But what if what we meet belongs in an entirely different category, one about which we have no clue?

The question then becomes, how do we know what we don’t know?

I’m not sure if I have an answer or a way forward, but….

what I am beginning to REMEMBER to practice is to ask myself the question,

“as opposed to what?”

Applying this technique to Abraham’s contemporary  pagan culture, a 2000 BC sheep-farmer could  have pondered:

  • I have many gods – of weather, fertility, crops, safety….what other kind of god could there be? What would be totally different than a god to meet each of my needs?

Applying this technique in MY culture as a French teacher, I might ask:

  • What is a completely out-of-the box way to teach a foreign language?

Maybe the question itself is enough to eliminate some of my blindness.

Certainly worth a try!

Logical Gal asks – “….as opposed to what?”

25 Oct

Single words and short non-threatening questions…….

are a great tool when confronted with difficult material to comprehend.

We’ve talked about the value of the 2-letter word ……SO??? 

I’ve used that word when an emotional  friend has announced with outrage something like, “And we have to pay a $15 co-pay each time we go to the doctor’s office!”

By using ‘So?’, you are encouraging your interlocutor to state his or her pre-supposition that is BEHIND their bare proposition.  It’s like you’re saying, ” So – what’s your point? Is it good or bad or strange or wonderful that you have to pay a $15 co-pay?”

Today, I’m adding a 4-word question that helps me when I’m trying to categorize a new concept or term.

If someone were to offer this comment about their spouse, ” John is a good provider”, I would lack context to understand the point of their communication. For me to begin to understand  I would ask, ” a good provider, as opposed to what?   If your husband is a good provider, what would he be if he were not?  What are the other possibilities?

Skitch - Husband Roles

The articulation of other possibilities helps me now to compare this information with other attributes.  The very fact of SELECTING and communicating just the one quality of  ‘provider’ actually says a lot more, like

  • EITHER  her husband John doesn’t have the other qualities
  • OR that she does not value those other qualities as much

The other day in a phone conversation with a friend, she mentioned that her new pastor was KIND.  That was the ONE word she used out of many.  Knowing she could have chosen others such as:

  • theologically deep
  • good communicator
  • excellent administrator
  • sound counselor
  • effective teacher
  • holy in his practices

helped me see not only what my friend valued but that this man’s kindness must REALLY be noteworthy.

This morning, listening to a podcast discussion about the Mathematical Laws, one speaker mentioned that they were discovered.  My 4 word Question flew out of my mouth – ” As opposed to what?”  

In the next breath, he answered…..as opposed to being invented.

Bingo!  That contradistinction made the quality of being DISCOVERED much clearer to me.   For if laws are invented by humans, then they do not necessarily conform to reality.  But if they are discovered, then they are grounded in Truth.

Do you see how useful this question may be?  Where has it helped you?