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Backward logic to diagnose sadness

17 May

Kiss the son before he becomes angry, and you die where you stand. Indeed, his wrath can flare up quickly. How blessed are those who take refuge in him.  Psalm 2:12

The Hebrew word for ‘blessed’ is ‘esher’.  Amplifying thus the way the text reads:

O the happiness of those who shelter in God.

Psalm 2 cycled through in my prayer-feed this morning.  What struck me between the eyes was this last FACT in verse 12.  Christians who rely on and trust the Lord in all their troubles and suffering are happy!

So what does that imply if I, a Christian, am not experiencing this kind of blessing or happiness?

Let’s look at this syllogistically:

All those who rely on God/shelter in God are happy.

I am not happy

Tf, I am not relying on God/sheltering in God

Boom.  There it is.  Pure logical deduction.  Can’t escape it.

So, what do to do?  What is the solution?

Christians know they can do absolutely nothing spiritually apart from Christ.  But with Him, all things are possible! Straight from our Savior’s mouth to His disciples comes His gentle rebuke:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matt 19:26

Through His Word this morning, God reminded me that if I’m not content in Jesus today, then I am living out in the wilds, tossed here and there by the winds of circumstances.

With that Holy Spirit warning, I ran back to my Rock.

I’ll probably have to do that again THIS very day!  Silly and senseless lamb that I am.  But O the bliss of returning to my good Shepherd!

Bible verse logic

19 Apr

I love reading Scripture in French, just for the different wording.  Psalm 65:1 in English reads: There will be silence and calm waiting before you, and praise in Zion.

But in French, it’s ‘Notre calme attente à toi est la louange que nous t’offrons’Our calm counting and waiting on you is the praise that we offer you.  (ESV/Blue Letter Bible site:)

This morning in my study time, I linked THAT affirmation with Psalm 34:1 – I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. 

What I saw was that for His praise to be “always in my mouth”, it must be always in my mind.  And what will guarantee that I’ll always be thinking of ways to praise God?  Only my neediness.

To be needy raises this question: when do we actually HAVE to wait for or count on someone?  When we don’t have what it takes, when we are DESPERATE!

But it’s human nature to DESPISE being needy.  And especially trying/difficult for those of us in the ‘modern West’.  As moderns, we have weaned ourselves off of being dependent on others by all our personalized, automated, self-contained devices and life-style choices.

But God knows best.  After all, He created us.  And His ON-PURPOSE design for us is to need Him, to be dependent on Him.

But here’s the good news.  This design is not just to keep us in our place with a kind of resigned ‘I had better be grateful’ acceptance.  No, on the contrary, our good and all-wise God has structured us to find pure, satisfying joy in having our needs met by Him.  (After all, Jesus waited and endured the dreadful, shame-filled cross for ‘the joy set before Him – Hebrew 12:2)

At almost 60 years old, I have finally reached the stage where more often than not, I can see the soundness of His purpose in making me stumble-prone and inadequate when I lean on myself.  Like Paul, I am BEGINNING to learn to be content when I am weak.  As in Hebrews 11:34, I am one of those ‘….whose weakness was turned to strength…..’

Further building my case for the power of a life defined by Psalm 65:1, I draw assurance from the Father’s promise in Psalm 84:11 – …..No good thing does He withhold…..  Of course, I have learned that what God calls ‘good’ is not always what Maria considers good. But my confidence in Him grows day by day as He provides the evidence of promises delivered, over and over again.  I am beginning to SEE the wisdom in the ‘good’ He decrees for me, even if this ‘good’ comes wrapped in brown paper.

How are you building a case for God’s ways in your life?  What evidence are you assembling that strengthens your resolve to count on Him?

Prayer logic

4 Jan

You do not have, because you do not ask.  James 4:2c

I’ve been listening to archived John Piper sermons on prayer.  The Bible’s stunning truth about prayer hit me afresh this morning.

We don’t understand WHY the all-powerful God, the One who created every visible molecule in the universe as well as everything that is invisible, says He waits on us to ask. Only that He DOES…command that we pray, that we ask Him for what we need and want.

Note to Maria – Don’t spend any energy chewing on the bone of how come – just revel in it. The fact that He who created all things at His command should invite us to participate with Him should STUN us!

After we pick ourselves up off our face, we should then focus on the truth that James announces.

But an obvious question emerges if we try to formulate James’ truth claim into a syllogism in order to think it through. Do we apply James’ statement universally (ALL versus SOME) or as referring to a particular group of people?  Here’s what it looks like when I write it as a universal truth.

Premise 1: ALL people who lack something are people who don’t ask God for that item

Premise 2: You are a person who doesn’t have something

Conclusion:  Therefore, you are a person who doesn’t ask God

Hmm, does that logic square with how you have experienced reality so far?  Are there situations in which you have prayed to God and have yet to receive?  Or conversely, has God given you gifts for which you didn’t ask/pray?

I think all of us can attest to circumstances when despite LOTS of prayer God has not supplied the healing, the job, the baby, the money, the spouse or the resolution. As well as times when He ‘out of the blue’ graced us with a surprise blessing, both unanticipated and unasked.

In analyzing the above syllogism, we would say it is logically valid, that the premises are laid out in a correct order, but the conclusion is not true. Why?  because the subject in Premise 1 falsely includes ALL people in the world.

If we exchange the universal quantifier ‘ALL’ for the particular quantifier ‘SOME’, then we might get closer to the Truth.  Let me show you what that looks like and then we’ll talk about it:

Premise 1: Some people who lack are those who don’t ask God to provide what they need/want

Premise 2:  You are someone who doesn’t have what you want

Conclusion:  Therefore, you are someone who hasn’t asked God to provide

Again, that conclusion is not true in every situation.  To wit, I have repeatedly asked God to give me a different job.  And He hasn’t, YET……

So just using one circumstance in my life as a counter-example, I can prove that the conclusion in this second syllogism is not true.  It’s also not valid.  Why?  Because the conclusion overreaches the facts given in Premises 1. This first or major premise describes only one of two categories I’m going to call ‘LACKERS’ – those who haven’t prayed.  There is the category of ‘LACKERS’ who have indeed asked God for what they want.  So even though Premise 2 is true (you don’t have what you want) we can’t be sure which group of ‘LACKERS’ you fall into.

Bottom line?  I don’t know why God hasn’t answered my many prayers, YET.  But I do believe the Bible is authoritative.  I know that God commands us to pray.  I also know that He is good.  So there I rest AND I will continue to pray. What about you?

Reasoning from facts about the future

7 Sep

I came upon the following Scripture this morning as I was searching for an essay I had saved about the death of a beloved dog.  Our neighbors had to say goodbye to such a good friend and they are struggling with the hole he has left in their hearts.

As I was rereading the essay, the author referenced the passage below.  The prophesy about the lion’s diet floored me.  Read on:

Isaiah 11:  6-9

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze;

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,

and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

They shall not hurt or destroy

in all my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

Lion eating meat

I had to verify it, but according to what my Google search engine pulled up, lions in their present state eat meat and not straw.  And oxen are herbivores.

If that is the case, then God’s word to John about the future as recorded in Revelation 21:5 takes on new and specific significance concerning animals:

“Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

Why should I be startled to learn that the God who created every thing that exists is also the same God who changes dispositions, tastes and digestive systems!

Here, then, is how I reasoned from that deduction.  My reasoning actually takes us back in time.  I am painting a hypothetical scenario, which I cannot prove conclusively, but I find satisfaction in stretching my mind thoughtfully:

If God changed man’s fundamental nature ( from being able to CHOOSE obedience to Him before the Fall into being able ONLY to sin as a consequence**), then it is feasible in the new heavens and new earth God will alter man’s fundamental nature anew

If God in the future will change a lion from a carnivore to an herbivore, then God in the past before the Fall may have created the lion to be different than his present predatory state

Why am I spending energy thinking through these rational possibilities?

Welcome, reality in a fallen world!

My body doesn’t work well when I eat the foods I crave.  Breads, oatmeal and starches appeal to me, but they clog up my system.  I do better eating meats.  Meat costs more than starches. And due to some financial decisions we altered our meals this summer to include non-meat dinners every other night.  Think beans and grains.  But they clog up my system.

Therefore, I have reluctantly accepted the evidence that eating beef, pork, chicken, fish and eggs is what God has chosen for me.  This diet goes with the ‘boundary lines (that) have fallen for me in pleasant places’ (as God defines my safe space! – Psalm 16:6).  This way of eating is what He calls GOOD, for me, in this current world.

My conclusion?

  • If the manner in which animals feed today in our corrupted world has been scarred, then maybe the reason for my slow and inefficient digestive system has also been scarred.

It makes logical sense, then, to accept these limits and gracefully live within them and look forward to a future world.

 

Truth matters…and can change your life

23 Mar

POW bracelet  When I was a junior in high school, many of us wore POW bracelets to remind ourselves of those men still held prisoner by the North Vietnamese.  I don’t know what happened to ‘my POW’ or the bracelet.  But that memory was vividly stirred when I heard someone explain how ‘news’ makes a difference.  The scenario he painted was of a wife, bereft of her POW husband, who still held on to the slim hope that he might be returned to her and their children.

One day, she picks up the phone to hear the startling news that not only is her husband alive, but he is already safely travelling home on a naval ship.  The Navy will pay for her to fly to San Diego to meet him in two weeks.

After the phone call, her circumstances have not changed, for she is still without her husband.  But the news of that future event WILL have an effect on her and the children.

What’s this example have to do with truth?  That’s easy: unless that mom trusts the veracity of the phone call, that it is NOT a hoax, then she won’t book the flight and make the arrangements to meet the ship when it docks.   Truth DOES matter.

So too does truth carry weight in a logical argument.  Recall that to have a powerful position, two conditions must be met.  Premises must be true and the way a conclusion is drawn must follow rules of logic.  An argument that abides by guidelines in how it’s formed is deemed valid.

Couple true premises with an orderly, valid proceeding from premises to conclusion, and you have a sound, or ‘unbeatable’ argument.

I saw another example of the power of true premises this morning when I was reminded of the account of Hannah, future mom of the prophet Samuel.

Mournful due to infertility and constantly belittled by ‘the other wife’ of Elkanah, Hannah refuses to eat but prays in the tabernacle during the family’s annual trek to worship at Shiloh.  Hannah receives a blessing from the priest Eli when she prays in for a son (1 Sam 1:1-18).

All she has heard is ‘news’ (Eli’s blessing) that the Lord will do for her as she requested while praying. When she arises from prayer, nothing has changed.  She is still childless, but she has heard and believed the ‘truth’ given to her by this representative of God, the priest Eli.

Here is a framework for this news and why it changed the live of our hypothetical POW’s wife and for Hannah, future mom of the renowned prophet Samuel.

P1 – I can confidently trust and act on true news of future events

P2 – My husband’s return is true news of a future event

C – Therefore, I can confidently count on my husband’s return

We can substitute the Hannah details for premise # 2

P2- My conceiving a son is true news of a future event

C – Therefore, I can confidently count on being a mom

What happens after the ‘counting on something occurring that has been foretold’?  Lives change!

  • The POW’s wife and children felt joy during the 2 weeks before Dad reached American soil.  They quickly sprang into action, prepping for Dad’s return.  Perhaps a planned spring break vacation was cancelled.
  • Hannah’s countenance immediately turned glad.  She ended her mournful fast, took food and confidently did the next step of sleeping with her husband Elkanah in order to conceive a son.

I’ll leave you with the MOST IMPORTANT news that Christians have heard:

  • Jesus, Son of God, was executed in the place of guilty sinners who are deprived of the means of coming to God and glorifying him by enjoying him (sin bars the way to commune with a holy God)
  • After dying, he was buried and came back to life 3 days later. His resurrection validated his prior public claims to BE God as well as demonstrated the truth of his announced purpose to live and die for helpless sinners. His punishment for our sins removed a holy God’s hostility toward men, opening the way to a happy father-child relationship.

Let’s put THAT news into our syllogism:

P1:  I can confidently trust and act on true news of future events

P2: Jesus’s substitutionary death for guilty sinners (as well as his substitutionary life perfectly pleasing to God and law-fulfilling) is a fact

C: Therefore, I can make decisions, both day-to-day and long term, counting on those facts.

Besides the outward impact on my life’s choices, the AFFECTIVE part is equally changed:

  • Picture the glee, delight and joy of the POW family as they make plans.  Mom is still a single parent juggling the demands of mothering, working and keeping house.  Those circumstances haven’t changed. But her whistle and glowing face point to a significant change.
  • Imagine Hannah’s attitude NOW when ‘the other wife’ with children mocks her. She still is slim and childless, but the taunting rolls off her back if she even notices it. She finds herself wanting to take in sufficient and healthy food to carry her future baby safely. Her mind is preoccupied with thoughts about the future.

And we who are Christians who trust and act on the news of what Jesus has done for us also live life differently, although we still might be suffering in today’s current circumstances.

What if we don’t EXPERIENCE joy or find ourselves meditating on meeting Jesus face to face?  What if we actually FEEL and ACT the same as our neighbor who has no certainty of this paradigm-shattering historical event?  Maybe it’s as simple as this: we haven’t been convinced what eyewitness testimony (the Gospel accounts in the New Testament) describes is true.

Remember, faith (or certainty about an unseen but true event) grows stronger by hearing reports again of what Jesus has done.

Truth DOES and should make a difference in our lives.

Romans 10:17 – So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

 

Logical Gal’s 37 billion dollar debt and the If…then argument

29 Jul

Debt - $37 billion

Romans 8:32  He that did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also give us all things with him?

I was trying to put a number on an impossible debt I might owe – one in which I had absolutely NO hope of coming close to paying off.  I arbitrarily picked 37 billion dollars because it sounded….unreal!

Now what if I added to that monetary obligation the imminent threat of execution should I NOT come up with the money by a certain deadline?

With that sentence hanging over me every waking moment, how could I ever take pleasure in the sound of birds, or a breathtaking sunset or the smell of newly mown grass?  Who could enjoy ANYthing, knowing that sure and certain death was drawing closer?

Rain cloud

The apostle Paul argues from the greater to the lesser when he places ‘front and center’ God’s gift to us of Jesus’ death in lieu of ours to pay our un-payable debt. For each breath we draw and live in rebellion to our holy creator God increases our guilt.

So imagine WITH ME the freedom we should feel knowing for a fact that THIS sentence has been carried out already and we are literally OFF the hook and on good terms with our Creator God.

What could hang over us more serious than that already settled debt? Why in light of that load having been lifted, wouldn’t we have a different perspective about all other problems?  Wouldn’t all other setbacks, frustrations and disappointments fall into an entirely DIFFERENT category?  Wouldn’t we find it natural to remember, to relax and then to rejoice at all times when encountering trials?   No longer having to fear the worst, wouldn’t we be able to bear up under the lesser pains of life?  What would we recall when:

  • we run short on money for this month’s bills?  That the God who has already done the ‘impossible’ promises to provide.
  • we face a relationship gone sour? That God will either heal it, change US or comfort us.
  • ‘the right job’ never materializes? That there is likely SOME work to be had that will cover the bills and benefit others.
  • that chronic sin pattern or health problem or, or, or? That we are to turn our thoughts back to Him and quiet our minds in God. That our worst imaginable nightmare has been taken care of.  That He alone has the omniscient knowledge, kind wisdom and infinite power to do what is best for us.

I’m finding as I face disappointments that range from minor to more painful that when I remind myself of the logic of God having taken care of my BIGGEST need, (which by the way cost Him the MOST), I relax in the logic of the holy and faithful nature of the One of whom Paul argues ‘How can He not also take care of……?’

If God takes care of my most serious problem, then He will take care of my lesser problems

God has removed my unpayable debt against Him that meant a one-way ticket to Hell

Therefore, God will give me what I need for this lesser problem

Dissecting Martin Luther’s beer argument- Part 1

15 Jul

Martin Luther and beer

Soon we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther publicizing his 95 ‘bones of contention’ with the prevailing Roman church of the time. Not among them was the following argument, but we can have some fun with this example of Luther’s logic.  Let’s see if it’s sound.

“Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”

To determine if an argument is sound, we must test its validity and truthfulness. On to validity to check if Luther DID construct his argument correctly in how he laid it out.

  • Step # 1 is to ‘translate’ it into logical form.  When we encounter the pronoun ‘whoever’, we substitute the universal quantifier ALL.

P1 – All those who drink beer are those who are quick to sleep

P2 – All those who sleep long are those who do not sin

P3 – All those who do not sin are those who enter Heaven

C – Therefore, all people who drink beer are those who enter Heaven.

Maybe this is the first time you have encountered a chain argument.  Don’t be thrown off by the existence of 3 explicit premises plus the conclusion.

Aristotle never mentioned this argument, although it is named for him.  The Aristotelian or classic ‘Sorites’ is a series of 2 or more syllogisms with accompanying unstated conclusions until the very last one.

Aristotle

Using letters to stand in for the subjects and predicates (what precede and follow the ‘is/are’ in each premise) we get:

P1 – All A is B

P2 – All B is C

P3 – All C is D

Therefore, all A is D

What is missing in THIS case is one implicit conclusion leading to the final one. As logical gals and guys, we have to flush it out.  In general with all sorites we articulate the ‘hidden’ conclusions by extrapolating them through re-ordering two premises at a time in order to create separate syllogisms. In our argument above, there are only 3 premises and you’ll see that we tease them out to form 2 syllogisms

Watch what happens when we switch the position of P1 and P2 and deductively bring to light the hidden conclusion. (Not to worry, we are following a ‘school’ procedure that is perfectly prescribed for just this kind of argument.)

P2 – All B is C  – All those who are quick to sleep are those who do not sin

P1 – All A is B  – All those who drink beer are those who are quick to sleep

C1 -Tf, All A is C  – Therefore, all those who drink beer are those who do not sin (unspoken by Luther)

*

Next we bring down P3 – All C is D  –  All those who do not sin are those who enter heaven

and place underneath it our ‘new’ C1 – All A is C  All those who drink beer are those who do not sin

Following along deductively we arrive at – Therefore, all A is D – Therefore, all those who drink beer are those who enter heaven

and we notice that this latest conclusion, renamed C2 from C1, was the original one in Luther’s argument –  Therefore, all who drink beer are those who enter heaven.

We’ll stop here for this week. The argument IS valid in that the premises and both the extrapolated as well as original conclusions are in the correct form.  Let me know what might still be unclear.  Next time, God willing, we’ll tackle the truthfulness of each premise.  If we determine that the premises are true, it follows that the conclusions must be true because we know the sorites is correctly laid out.  But only if we find all to be true can we THEN conclude that Martin Luther presented a SOUND argument to his beer-swilling buddies!

Logical Gal – same ‘ole, same ‘ole lazy thinking clouds the minds of many

24 Jun

Many people still seem to swallow whole whatever they hear or read.  Reminds me of Saturday Night Live’s skit portraying a restaurant, Pre-Chew Charlie’s, for those who didn’t want to masticate their own food.

Pre-Chew Charlie's

A kind reader sent me examples of a common fallacy he had encountered, all in one day.  The first illustration came from a Twitter conversation in which the other fellow maintained that ‘evolution MUST be true because’ (drum roll, please: Voilà his rational reason) ‘…most biologists believe it.”  That’s it? That’s why the theory of evolution is true?

‘Twitter-man’ is using the crutch called, “Truth by consensus.”  Yet anyone who has been exposed to a bit of logic or lessons in clear thinking knows the first ground rule.  To wit – the responsibility is yours to make a case for what you claim.  In other words, the person asserting an opinion, in this case that evolution is true, is obliged to give supporting reasons and evidence.  In this case, Twitter-man merely trotted out the hackneyed, but inappropriate prop called Fallacy of Mob Appeal, also called Band Wagon.

It could be that most biologists are right, but Twitter-man must provide evidence if he is making an argument.   But maybe he wants merely to offer a sound-byte and leave it at that.

He should know that it actually doesn’t matter what most people think.  What matters is if his claim is true or false.  However, I do understand that siding with ‘most people’ FEELS safe.  As a follower of Christ in today’s shifting sands, it’s challenging and sometimes uncomfortable to belong to a minority of thinkers who hold an unpopular view.

The same day as his conversation with Twitter-man, this reader See his website; he also advocates clear thinking! drove past a movie rental shop with the sign out front that proclaimed a take-off of that original song from the 1920s entitled, “Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.”

3 million can't be wrong

Set during the era of Prohibition, the song (followed by a book and then a movie) contrasts life in France where drinking and looser sexual mores appeal to a young American man.  One could debate for hours which culture promotes human flourishing.  But I would hope each side would actually martial positions based on clear terms, true premises and valid arguments.  What a bunch of people DOES doesn’t make it ‘right’.  What SHOULD matter is rather whether what they DO is in line with true beliefs regarding reality. That’s called integrity.

I am a Christian. Both the Christian AND the non-Christian are created in God’s image.  God has made us different from animals.  He has given us minds.  And like the muscles that pack our skeletal structure, humans must DAILY exercise, guide, train, hydrate and nourish their minds or else we are no different than most animals!  Choosing beliefs based on fallacious crutches is to bypass the mind entrusted to you.

Mind is a terrible thing to waste

Logical Gal – Are you sure?

22 Apr

Certainty

“You can’t be sure about anything!”

Beyond death and taxes, a lot of people maintain that position.  But is it so?

What is certainty and are there different kinds?

First a definition – Generally speaking, in every day language, certainty is the quality of being absolutely true.  What is ‘certain’ can be a fact that corresponds to reality or an event that definitely has taken place or will take place without a doubt.

Going deeper, one can differentiate between types of certainty.  We have

  • mathematical certainty – no one doubts that 2+2 make 4

Then there is

  • logical certainty – the world of deductive reasoning, portrayed by the simple syllogism.  Here we can be certain that a conclusion is true if the premises are true and the way of reasoning follows the rules (thus qualifying as ‘valid’)

Premise 1 – All humans die

Premise 2 – Joe is a human

Conclusion – Joe will die

The other day, I heard someone talk about a 3rd kind of certainty, that of

  • moral certainty I was intrigued by how he explained this branch of certainty.  From a sermon on Biblical hope here is what John Piper wrote/delivered:

“There is a kind of legitimate certainty and confidence that does not come from mathematical calculations or merely logical laws. I call it “moral certainty.”

Rooted in Acts of Will

I call it moral because it is rooted in the commitment of the will of persons. And the will is the seat of morality. That is, we can only speak of moral right and wrong in relationship to acts of will. So whatever has to do with the will is an issue of morality. And moral certainty is a certainty that is based on acts of will.”

René Descartes, French philosopher and mathematician described moral certainty this way -“certainty which is sufficient to regulate our behavior”, Link to article quoting him

Intrigued by the concept of certainty, I checked to see if there were other types of certainty.   After nosing around different websites, I learned that in a court of criminal  law, to come to a conviction the jury must agree ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’ that the accused is guilty.  That is probabilistic certainty – knowledge that is most likely to be true. . In fact, examining cumulative circumstantial evidence to arrive at a high probability of guilt can often solve murder cases that are ‘cold’.

Of course, there are less-than-credible claims to certainty.  People talk about psychological or ideological certainty – a WANTING to believe something to be so, despite the facts. There is also the danger that in the broad category of ‘mathematical certainty’ modeling future outcomes might have some hidden assumptions that are not necessarily true.

At the end of the day, we should approach the concept of certainty with HUMILITY.  I’m not advocating a posture of skepticism, but the acknowledgement that we, as finite human beings, might not be right about everything.

Humility

Logical Gal – what do you believe?

3 Dec

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

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

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

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

science v faith

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

My colleague has gathered data (facts) from….

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

And based on presuppositions like:

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

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

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

Law of Gravity

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

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

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

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

Two dictionary entries for ‘belief’ describe both

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

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

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

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

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

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

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