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What does ‘progressive’ mean?

20 Aug

I heard a news story that Cal State Sacramento decided to drop their Intermediate Algebra requirement for non-math/science majors.  Having to add remedial Intermediate Algebra to one’s course load has hurt the institute’s graduation statistics. Apparently, the number of undergraduates completing degree requirements in the normal 4 years is at an all-time low of 21%.

When asked in an interview about the change in required courses, one of the school’s administrators apparently explained:

“It’s a little radical. It’s a change. It’s progressive, but we think that it’s really needed.”

Progressive – that’s a term one hears bandied about.  I happen to teach in a school that prides itself in its adherence to ‘progressive education’.  When pushed to explain what that means, the usual answer is to juxtapose our ways of learning as different from ‘traditional’ schools, those who focus on delivering content via textbooks or lecture to mostly passive students.

As any logical Joe or Jane knows by now, step one of any discussion is to define one’s terms. So let’s start with this current adjective, ‘progressive’.

The top hit on Google defined progressive this way:

  1. Happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step.  “A progressive decline in popularity”
  2. (of a group, person, or idea) Favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.  “A relatively progressive governor”

Next, I scrolled down a bit further and landed on Merriam-Webster’s site: 

Possibility c seems to fit with the Cal State guy’s reflection:

a :  of, relating to, or characterized by progress  b :  making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities  c :  of, relating to, or constituting an educational theory marked by emphasis on the individual child, informality of classroom procedure, and encouragement of self-expression.

If we look at description a – having to do with progress, the first question that springs to mind is:  What are we progressing TOWARD?  What is the goal?  Does anyone even know?  Simply moving in a direction away from the way things have been done in the past does NOT imply a wise or good choice.  Deliberate thinking to evaluate what truly is in the best interests of the constituents is what counts.

This emphasis on constant movement and change brings up a very real danger that often leads to error.  That pitfall is called the Chronological Snobbery fallacy.  This sloppy thinking occurs when people automatically privilege something new JUST because of its newness. The counterpart can be equally faulty – valuing something JUST because it is old!    “The latest model!”  “A classic!”  Newness or oldness hold no value in and of themselves.  We must examine the benefits of an object, service, practice or idea to determine if it is praiseworthy.

Anyone with a legitimately good product or idea will not fear standing up to that kind of scrutiny.  Let’s not just reject or embrace something because it’s ‘progress’.

 

 

The abortion issue and missing compassion

31 May

We now read the New York Times Sunday paper.  It takes us 3 weeks to make our way through the articles and features.  I disagree with a some of what I read, but the writing is often excellent. I learn a lot and THINK hard.  Others’ contrary views certainly exercise my patience but sometimes they prove painful to tolerate kindly.

A self-proclaimed ‘abortion doula’ writes about the need to offer compassion for women who only want to make their own decisions, without judgment.

The author makes several remarkable assertions without reasons or statistics.  I do understand that her word budget probably limited her to around 700 words. But the danger in bald-faced statements is that the average UN-thinking Joe or Jane might swallow them down whole.

The most glaring paragraph offers these ‘facts’.

  • “When we are denied abortions, we are 3 times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line, compared to those who are able to get the abortions they want.”

I checked this ‘fact’ and found one study from which Sherman most likely drew.  The women supposedly denied abortions in this study numbered 182.  My first question focused on whether 182 is a significantly large enough sample size from which to draw valid conclusions.  Furthermore, I’m unclear whether the women in the study already lived below the poverty line before they became pregnant.  Doesn’t it make sense that after the birth of a baby, one’s ability/availability to hold down a job decreases?

  • “About 2/3 of people who have abortions are parents who want to give the children they already have the best life.”

How does she know what they intend for their other kids?  How does adding another child to the family automatically imply a degraded life for the older children? How is the one (assumed desire) related to the current condition (carrying another child)?

Finally the most dubious cited statistic:

  • “95% of women surveyed don’t regret their decisions, and it doesn’t affect our mental health.”

That statistic, I found, comes from one study of a carefully circumscribed group of women.  Here’s an analysis.  We should recognize how easy it is to find any study you want on the internet to back up your viewpoint.

So given the questionable reliability of ‘facts’ and studies out there in cyber space just what questions should a Logical Joe or Jane pose? Classic questions that fit the essay in question are:

  1. How do you know that?
  2. What is your evidence?

Questions provide you TIME to think and clearer understanding of your interlocutor’s point of view.  I find that people are more willing to engage when I ask questions.  My challenge is to REMEMBER to avoid direct statements and use the softer approach.

Finishing up what I saw in this essay, let me share its staggering conclusion:

The crux of the issue is not whether you would have an abortion yourself.  It’s whether you would stand in the way of someone else’s decision.”

Worded like this, readers are led to a conclusion that actually deflects them away from the essential issue of the life of the unborn to the arena of personal liberty.  And what about compassion, that ‘unconditional kindness’ the abortion doula says every woman who finds herself pregnant deserves?   Doesn’t the baby deserve compassion?  Where’s the kindness shown him or her?

Do you see the deeper moral question that has broad ramifications?

  • What do we do when ‘rights’ are in conflict with one another?  How do we decide between competing moral values?

Our Declaration of Independence promotes the protection of  ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’  How do we prioritize competing rights of life and liberty? What if someone’s right to life contradicts someone’s right to liberty?  Who gets to decide? What considerations inform the decision process?

Life is complex.  Certainly most issues are too layered to present anything coherent or rational in a tweet or even one 700-word opinion piece in the New York Times.  We need MORE thinkers.  And thinkers need to keep practicing their skills.

That’s why I read the New York Times Sunday paper!

Why some people aren’t Christians or ‘Preppers’

24 May

Ps 78:32  

In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe.

I was listening to someone explain how & why he had lost faith in the God he had enjoyed throughout his childhood.  It happened like this: he fell in love with a gal in high school who wasn’t a Christian.  That relationship led him to question what he had been taught from church and the Bible about why there are some people who aren’t Christian. The evidence he saw around him upon investigation caused him to abandon confidence in the truth of the Bible and what he had learned at church.

As he detailed the events, he offered this distinction:

  • I don’t claim to prove whether God exists or not.  I just don’t believe in God.

Hearing him draw a contrast, I began to see that though intertwined, these are indeed two different issues. (You can listen to the interview or access his written account of the unraveling of his faith at the link above.)  What struck me was the following statement:

  • “I might be wrong about God. But what I’m sure of is that my search for the truth has been genuine and my beliefs are sincere.”

Some questions for thinking logical Joes and Janes:

  1. What added value does ‘genuine’ bring to one’s search for the truth?
  2. Does it matter if beliefs are ‘sincere’?

I’m bothered by his (and many others’ I encounter) almost cavalier, yet ‘sincere’, dismissal of just not believing in God.

Is Christianity a matter of choosing to believe?  And what does it mean to ‘not believe’, or even ‘to believe’ for that matter?  And what about truth?

We have a friend who is a ‘survivalist prepper’.  You’ve heard of those folks. They stockpile vast supplies of food, weapons and other necessary goods so they can live independently for weeks and even months in various apocalyptic scenarios.  My husband and I have not taken those kind of ‘what if’ precautions, although we do have some supplies in the event of a power outage due to storms.

Our friend, who seems very rational, might accuse us of living in denial if we say, “We don’t believe in the realistic eventuality which grounds your preparation.”

How SHOULD we respond to possible mega disaster events?  Just like how we should respond to the possibility of there being a real God.

The only questions are:

  • What evidence is there for a likely event for which we should increase our preparation?
  • What evidence is there for the supernatural God as described in the Christian Bible?

And given the evidence, what is the most reasonable (reason-based) response one should make?

A more honest conclusion on the part of the man who lost his faith would be:

  • I don’t like where the evidence points, because I don’t want to deal with the God that the Bible describes.
  • And as a fully-aware, but perhaps irrational adult, I deliberately choose to put off dealing with what will happen to me when I die

Friends, I don’t know about the odds of an apocalyptic scenario happening in my lifetime.  But what I do know is that there is a preponderance of evidence to give us a high degree of certainty that the triune God of the Bible (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is who He says He is as recorded in the 66 books of the Bible.  Therefore, I assert that we can TRUST the written record.

Only fools ignore that kind of certainty.

 

It’s my right and I’m entitled to it!

22 Mar

Our culture is rife with ‘rights’ talk.  Just consider a few contemporary claims:

  • right to free health care
  • right to censor views one doesn’t like
  • right to end life whenever one wants
  • right to define oneself however one wants
  • right to approval, acceptance and approbation for one’s lifestyle choice
  • right to a certain income level

My husband and I were discussing the concept of rights the other night while fixing dinner.  He made the interesting point:

A right granted should not burden anyone else

As we discussed this idea, I recalled a statement I heard on a call-in show about Second Language Acquisition (SLA) that

All claims must be falsifiable to be legitimate.

The classic example is the Christian claim that Jesus Christ rose from the dead

What would it take to disprove that, but a dead body identified as the crucified Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth!

So back to my husband’s premise that granting a right to someone should not burden someone else.  He and I started to tick off rights granted to Americans by the Constitution:

  • life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – we saw no harm or burden imposed on someone else
  • the Supreme Court granted women the right to choose an abortion – but even though LEGAL, it certainly harms many (the baby, the family members who wanted that baby to live, and not a few mothers themselves)
  • how about the right of a person who claims to be a different gender and wants to choose the bathroom most comfortable to him/her? – does that harm anyone?  Yes! the biological bearers of the gender who don’t want to share a public bathroom with someone born a different gender

What about environment?  Are we entitled to live in a smoke-free or perfume-free or a ‘differing viewpoint-free zone’?

If I want to smoke a cigarette, which is legal, should I be free to smoke where I want?  Is that a right or a privilege?  I could argue that it is included in my right to pursue happiness.

But what if you want to occupy that same spot and NOT have to smell my smoke, does that mean you can make me leave?  Is someone harmed there?

This gets tricky and requires thoughtfulness. If two people are required to work or live in a spot (like prison or the military) then a compromise can be worked out to accommodate someone’s privilege of smoking with someone’s preference (or health-related necessity) to work/sleep in a smoke-free area.

What about the right to a free education?    The Bill of Rights handles that and other rights not enumerated by the Constitution by leaving them to the states to handle.  The wording goes like this: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Can you think of a ‘right’ that might be justifiable and one that brings harm to someone?   Of course we should define our term ‘harm’.  I can foresee the challenge such an exercise in clarity might be.  Bringing a group of people to consensus over an acceptable definition of ‘harm’ would take a while.

No small task for sure, but once we gain agreement on the meaning of our principle term, then we can turn attention, to let’s say, the 9th amendment and put those ‘granted rights’ up against the claim that granting a right should do no harm.  Take a look at how the Supreme Court has used this amendment.

Amendment 9 of the Constitution

With just a short look at a few rights, I do think that my husband’s premise that not harm should be done when granting a right to someone.

What do you think?

Add your thoughts in the comment section and let’s see if my husband’s claim stands or can be defeated by a counter-example.

Better not to shotgun a response

1 Feb

When you flush out a covey of quail, don’t shoot into the covey. Instead, pick out and select one bird to bring down!

flock-of-birds

Good advice from a quail-hunter.  And appropriate for addressing opposing views we encounter these days.

I absorbed this advice just recently and already it is making a difference.  One afternoon not too long ago, we indulged in our favorite after church past time, sharing lunch while reading the Sunday paper.  An op-ed piece about ‘women’s health issues’ had caught my eye and raised my dander.  The authors wrote, decrying the new administration’s goal of decreasing federal funds for Planned Parenthood. The way they framed their argument seemed to have one goal:  to arouse the ire of women by describing a presumed danger of losing access to existing health care.

The team of two local professors raised several points worthy of questioning and I wanted to tackle them all.  Fortunately for my intended audience, I took a walk and listened to radio host Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason explain a principle learned from his days as a boy hunting quail with his friends.

He explained that if you shoot directly into the covey, you’d waste your shot.  But if you aim for one bird, you have a better chance of actually bagging one.

His advice applied to our current contentious climate in America and shaped how I focused my letter to the editor later that afternoon.  Listening to Greg, I also saw in a flash why previous letters I had penned most likely exercised zero effect on readers.  Past letters have probably tanked due to a jumble of points, all poorly developed.

So what did I focus on in this most current letter?  A statistic mentioned in the paper’s essay. In a strategic move to minimize the arguments of the pro-life position, the authors stated that abortions account for only 3 % of all of Planned Parenthood’s services.

I smelled a fake statistic.

Sure enough when I went to factcheck.org I read how PP counts services.  Say a woman goes into a PP facility thinking she might be pregnant and wanting to discuss options.  In one visit, she might receive:

  • an initial screening consult
  • a blood test
  • a pee test
  • a pap smear
  • a referral to another provider for a different issue the consult uncovered

And if this woman does indeed choose to schedule an abortion, that second visit might include:

  • a information/procedural consult
  • an ultrasound
  • a further consult
  • an abortion
  • a post-procedure consult
  • 1 or 2 prescriptions for pain/possible infection
  • a prescription for contraception

So this hypothetical one gal might receive 12 different services and only 1 is an abortion.

Do you see how the quantity of abortions performed could be minimized when compared with the accompanying services?

Thanks to Greg Koukl’s advice preceding my letter attempt, I selected this one issue and worked to write as clearly and persuasively as possible pointing out the misleading accounting.  I don’t know if anyone will be persuaded, but clarifying my purpose and aiming at just one ‘quail’ focused me and guided my thoughts and word choice.

 

Narrowing my efforts also helped me articulate for myself what my ‘bone of contention’ is!  Whatever our views, it’s always worth the time to know what we believe and why!

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?