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Logical Gal and courage to ask some questions

17 Sep

Questions - ask them

As a woman, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by assertive naturalist types who claim that evolution IS the only rational explanation for the way life is.  I guess I’m taken back by their self-assurance and confidence.

But gradually as I’ve listened to podcasts by thoughtful, rational and well-educated /well-credentialed scientists and philosophers who are Christian, I’ve learned some questions that might come in handy.

Actually there is NO reason ever to feel intimidated by anyone because we can ALWAYS ask a question.  The more we learn about someone’s position, not only do we ‘buy time’, but we gain insight that can be very helpful in future conversations.

Here are a few questions I have learned to ask:

  • When a self-proclaimed materialist says: “Intelligent Design is NOT science!” Ask: What do you call a theory that is based on physical data and uses logical inferences? (Michael Behe of the Discovery Institute’s response)
  • When you encounter this claim: “Evolution accounts for all our human development” Ask: How can you trust reason if it comes from a non-rational source? (materialists claim we are just molecules in motion)
  • When up against the assertion,”There are no absolute moral values!” Ask: How can you be sure?
  • When someone is going on and on about the strength or beauty of the theory of evolution, Ask: If survivability is what ensures that species continue and evolve, then truth is not necessary.  And if truth is not necessary, why should I trust your theory of evolution?
  • When you encounter a resurrection-denier who says, “Dead men don’t rise on their own!” Ask: Do you believe in the theory of Cause and Effect?  (Christians don’t claim that Jesus rose on his own, but that God supernaturally raised him!)
  • When faced with pushback from someone who needs ‘logical certainty’ before he’ll believe the truth claims of Christianity Ask: Did you have that kind of certainty when you got married?  (Practical certainty is what most of us live by)

These are just a few questions I am adding to my ‘rational thinking tool bag’.  What about you?  Which questions have served you well?

Bag of tools

Logical Gal says – Give thought to what you hear and read

10 Jul

Gullible Charlie Brown

There are some sayings, truisms they call them, that have been around a long time.

We swallow them without much consideration, believing them to be truth.

I read one the other day. It’s often used as a critique of a religious person:

  • She’s so heavenly minded that she is no earthly good!

Heavenly minded, no earthly good

What does that mean?  What kind of person IS someone whose mind is focused on heaven ?  And is that a bad thing?  The fleshed-out major premise with the rest of the argument is here:

Either a person thinks a lot about heaven or a person accomplishes good on earth.

Jane is a person who thinks mostly about heaven

Therefore, Jane has little positive impact on circumstances around her 

Thinking critically means that we examine the truth of this major premise.  And based on heavenly-minded people I have encountered or read/heard about, those who meditate a lot on God’s revealed word about heaven are usually people who care deeply about others and seek to do them good.  In fact, one could argue that MOST good is done by people who believe that a far better world awaits them.  Less inclined to cling to ‘their’ stuff here on earth,  they tend to be generous with resources in this life.

**

The other saying I ‘ve been pondering is this:  The Devil is in the details

How often we speak in generalities! Words can be used as a kind of shorthand for a more complex meaning.  As I read my Bible I’m  beginning to realize that a lot of what is said DOES need to be broken down and parsed out with distinctions clarified.  For example, “…..Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27b)

I now understand, through word study and contextual reading of the whole of Bible, what this statement means in its two parts:

  • if you are a Christian (you agree with God regarding your nature and your sin problem and have accepted His gift of a solution – Jesus swapping His righteousness for your guilt), then you have a new nature that includes Jesus being spiritually and forever in you like new DNA
  • and His permanent immaterial/spiritual place in you is your guarantee  – your trust – of future glory in God’s New World

Details - God is in

So…what’s the point of these 2 examples?

Besides the counsel that we should think through all that we hear and read before taking any of it into ourselves, the larger take away is this:

  • We can’t enter into any MEANINGFUL discussion of important issues today via tweets and Facebook exchanges filled with slogans and ricocheting insults.  Worthy discourse takes time – time to understand fully what our opponent is saying and means and then time to unpack what we believe.
  • There’s no point wasting any emotional energy in ‘fly-bys’.  No one gains and many are put off.  Words are resources.  Let’s steward them well.

 

Question:  which contemporary saying or slogan seems most loaded to you?

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal and how to write a letter to the editor

7 Jul

letter to the editor

Today’s Asheville Citizen-Times sported a guest columnist who is Director of Radiology at a local medical school.  He wrote about 750 words asserting as FACT two ‘propositions’ about the theory of evolution and the nature of Christians.

About evolution, his statements were along the line of ‘it’s settled science’.  And his view of Christians painted a strawman group of people who can’t ground their beliefs in anything true or factual.  He also maintained that most Christians accept the theory of evolution.

Nor did he build a case around either premise.  His commentary turned out to be nothing more than multiple statements offered as ‘fact’.  He then finished up by accusing Christians of being anti-science and a threat to democracy if they support creationism.

As a thinking Christian, I have to keep my emotions in check.  But it’s not enough to avoid mild rants about how our current society sees Christians.  I don’t always compose a letter to the editor. This time I felt like I should.

But what do you do when there are so many un-truths in one piece?

direction?

 

I had to limit myself and choose a main topic and maybe one side issue.  First I prayed that God would guide me.  And He did!  Before I sat down at the computer, I listened to a podcast while walking and heard some ideas that gave direction to my thoughts.  Then I jotted down my points BEFORE I started writing the letter.

Taking a few minutes to line up my direction kept me, I hope, from volleying back with an equally shot-gunned answer.  I also tried to write at a 5th grade reading level (the audience of daily papers, they say) and keep my tone winsome.

Here’s my response.  We’ll see if the paper publishes it.  At least the guy or gal whose job it is to monitor letters and perform ‘triage’ on them will have to read it!

 

Dr. ‘Joe Blow’ seems to think that only Christians trust beliefs they cannot see. Were we to sit down to talk, I would offer the following for his consideration:

We all start with a story or world-view written by the community we most identify with. This world-view is a lens through which we see and explain different facets of life. Dr. Rowe has faith that the scientific view of the world is true.

Reason calls us to verify our view with facts and experiences. What can be measured lends credence to the story.  Christians rely on the evidence of the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. No top-rate New Testament scholar, secular or religious, disputes the historicity of the death and rising to life of Jesus of Nazareth.

However certainty about one’s assumptions is impossible. We should retain those offering the most explanatory power.

Therefore, the best any human can do is exercise reasonable trust.

If Dr. Rowe were married, I would ask him how he is sure of his wife’s love. I would point out that he couldn’t have the same kind of certainty he probably has about the temperature at which water freezes. But he can look at his experiences with his wife and choose to trust her love for him. She has probably built up a track record of faithful exercise of loving actions toward him.

Thinking Christians look at the evidence and their experiences of God in their lives and make the rational step of trusting the God of the Bible.

Question: which is easier for you to do – write a response to someone with whom you fundamentally disagree or dialogue face-to-face?

 

 

 

Logical Gal identifies a common Red Herring

25 Jun

Red Herring

You Christians are so intolerant and bigoted!  You think Jesus is the only way to God!

Have you heard that shouted out in the public square?  Increasingly religion is an invitation to an emotional mudfest.

You might have barely summoned the courage to broach the subject of one’s guilt or need of a savior when your interlocutor is all over you in barely concealed indignation.

Wait one!!!

Wait

You are being led OFF track by this accusation.  It’s easy to get confused and attempt to defend yourself when emotionally beat upon.  But it’s a trick, a diversion AWAY from the topic.

If you picture a petty thief  being chased by police and their dogs, you can also imagine that he might run through a market square, grab a fish (hence ‘red herring’) and throw it to the dogs to distract them from tailing him!

Thief

We must sidestep the bait and gently focus the discussion back to the original topic.  Here’s how you might respond (after you have counted to 3!)

You:  You could be right, that Christians are intolerant, but that’s a discussion perhaps for another day.

You continue:  I would like actually to go back to our original topic. Would that be all right with you?

So what WAS the topic?

In essence you had started to lay out the claim that:

  • People are objectively guilty
  • Unless a person wants to face the one and only judge of the universe, one needs a savior who will stand in his stead and ‘pay for the crime’

You hadn’t even gotten to whether these two propositions were TRUE!!!

For if they are not true, it really doesn’t matter whether Christians are intolerant and bigoted!

Question:  Do you see how a policy of ‘First things, first!’ can save a lot of energy and time?  First, clarify your terms and then determine the truth or falsity of the premises.  To do the latter, the advancer of the premise must supply supporting evidence or reasons!

 

First things first

 

PS:  This post marks the 156th one I’ve written since last 25 June 2013 – 52 weeks worth of writing and publishing accounts where clear thinking and the knowledge of logic have helped me and others.  I owe it ALL to the one true and living God of the universe, the triune Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  My prayer each week was both for God to supply the topics AND to stretch my time.  Ten months of the past 12 I taught French and commuted 100 minutes a day.  At other times we had company or travelled to visit family and friends. This last post today is proof of His faithfulness.

 

 

 

Logical Gal – When someone changes the subject

24 Mar

Change subject - Jedi Mind Trick

Many people you talk with do not employ Jedi finesse.  They abruptly change the subject from the issue at hand, often to an ad hominem attack.

Let’s imagine a conversation about how best to address recent changes in global temperatures. The discussion débuts well, terms are clarified. When positions begin to be articulated, the going gets clouded by a sudden attack on a different issue, to wit:

Global Warming ‘Fear-Monger’: You only advocate a ‘wait-and-see’ approach because you’re one of those Christian fundamentalist, head-in-the-sand deniers!

Global Warming ‘Denier’: Whoa…wait a second!  You just changed the subject from what to do about elevated temperatures to WHY I might advocate a position.  Can we go back to the original argument? I’d like to present my reasons for my position.  And I would like to hear yours! How does that sound?

It is EASY to get drawn down a different path.  With such an insult to one’s character, I have often succumbed to the temptation to defend WHY I believe something.  However, the BEST move is to shift the conversation back to where it was.  There was a single issue and either you or he were attempting to defend a course of action with REASONS.

Changing the subject

Why might someone want to play ‘switch-a-roo’ with you?  It could be that they have NOT thought about their position and have no reasons to back up their assertion.  It takes time to study issues.  We live in a culture enamored with and satisfied by shallow 140-character sound bytes.  That allows NO time for developing a case.  But quick pointed jabs might be enough to send one’s opponents packing.

Quid faciam?  What to do?

Be kind but direct.  Try at least twice to move the conversation back on track, to the topic at hand.  If after the second time, your interlocutor purposefully shifts again, then gently terminate the discussion.  It’s a waste of your time and his.

You might not gain ground with this person, but your refusal to take the bait will make an impression on him.  It might actually get him to study the facts for himself!

Back on Track

Logical Gal uses reason to ‘quantify’ emotions

7 Mar

Emotions

I’ve been trying to find a tool to put some of my unhealthy emotions in their proper place.

I’m realizing that I crave people’s approval.  Having to actually live with the feelings of DIS-approval is what initially drew me to conclude that their approval or liking me was something I strive to earn/gain.  This is a vulnerable and painful place to ‘live’, with emotions dependent on others.

So what is a logical Joe or Jane to do?  Can reason help?  In which ways?

Using logic means that we apply reason.  We are called to support our propositions or assertions with reasons.   And you might, in fact, actually do that if I ask you: What are your reasons for feeling anxious about flying?  Let’s imagine that you reel off several, including your tendency to fantasize or project bad outcomes of plane crashes.

Have you done enough to justify or rationalize your feelings as legitimate and worth keeping? You do, in fact, HAVE at least 1 reason for your fear of flying.  Do we just leave it at that?  Are you done?

Actually, I would maintain that you need to have PRINCIPLED or sane reasons for your feeling.  What do I mean by that?

Quantifying feelings

In my case of thinking I NEED the approval of various key people in my life, this came about NOT from enjoying that kind of affirmation when I have received it in the past.  Au contraire, I concluded that I want people to like me because of the PAIN of expressed DIS-approval.

When I receive the articulated or written praise of others (=approval), it doesn’t significantly improve the quality of my life or even my day.  But communicated criticism HURTS disproportionately  more.  So if A = your approval of me, than -A feels like -TEN A.

Disapproval thumb down

This kind of thoughtful exploration of motivations might not solve our antipathy to negative emotions like fear or rejection, but at least it shows us clearly that we might be investing far too much energy and effort for a pay-off of marginal returns.

There are a couple of tactics to minimize the imagined effect of Other-Criticism:

  • Christians can value God’s approval more (if you’re a Christian trusting what Jesus did by living a righteous life and being punished for your guilt, then you automatically  have God’s unchanging approval and love for you)
  • You can say something to yourself like…. – “100 years from now it’s not going to matter if my co-workers/boss/neighbors/friends/family admired or thought highly of me”

Question: – If you don’t use logic to corral in those slave-driver emotions, how DO you cope?

Driving me crazy

Logical Gal and Darwin

14 Feb

I love our daily newspaper for the practice it gives me.  I get to think through a reasoned response to illogical essays/letters to the editor, short on rationalism.

Wednesday marked Charles Darwin’s 205th birthday.  A former middle school science teacher wrote a column celebrating Darwin as one of humanity’s greatest thinkers.

He then moved to why evolution should be taught in the schools, citing the topic as a means to give children practice in combining critical thinking with observation and evidence.

I’m all for critical thinking.  But what is ironic is that ‘faith-filled’ followers of Evolutionary Theory have to overlook the absence of evidence in the fossil record in order to hold on to their theory.  They have to substitute a philosophical preference for good science.

We ordinary logical Janes and Joes celebrate and support any and every effort to get both kids AND adults to think.  Thinking is difficult and most of us shy away from exercising that muscle.  Instead we settle for hackneyed phrases and comfortable emotional crutches to deal with life.

I was willing to be generous and overlook the writer’s infatuation with evolution until he set up a false dichotomy and communicated that there was only one flavor of Christians who believed God created everything.

He asserts that the ‘battle is over’ between those who support a scientific approach to understanding our origins and those who believe in creationism.  He then characterizes the latter group as being “6-day, young-earthers”.

There certainly is room at the orthodox Christian table for both old and young-earthers.  But it galls me when non-believers want to portray Christians as being ‘slack-jawed fundamentalists yokels who are afraid of science’.

In an effort to distance all thinking folk from the ‘narrow-minded’ Christians, the author acknowledges the existence of denominations of the monotheism community, the religious liberals who DO buy into evolution.  But if evolution theory teaches an undirected random and blind process of change, then there is no room for a personal God.

Christians and non-Christians alike should embrace clear thinking.  Our commitment, no matter our spiritual background, should be to follow the evidence where it leads and to look for Truth. Yes, there might be consequences we don’t savor, but Truth ought to trump our particular preferences.

Finally misleading portrayals of ‘the other side’ are harmful and unkind.  It is possible that we might inadvertently fall into the Fallacy of the Bifurcation, thinking that there are only two choices when, in fact, there are more.  We must have the humility to admit we are wrong and thank the one who pointed it out. That is called intellectual honesty.

Logical Gal – do rallying cries help?

27 Jan

We know a rallying cry when we hear one!

  • Remember the Alamo!
  • Win this one for the Gipper!
  • One for all, and all for one!

Last week was the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision, Roe v. Wade. In all the publicity from both sides, I read a Washington Post story about one gal’s battle to end the intentional killing of innocent human fetuses.

Lila Rose, 25, was raised in a Christian home-schooling family where she breathed in family values.  Her attitude towards children was shaped by her parents who preached, “A baby is a gift!”  (They raised 8 kids!)

Certainly that is a belief supported by the Bible as well as by other cultures.  But as an argument for the pro-life movement, it doesn’t carry very much weight.  And what I am afraid of is that most people live in the shallows of slogans and battle cries.  They don’t take the time to develop an argument that carries any weight.

Likewise, the other side of the abortion argument hides behind loud jabbing media sound bytes. In the newspaper account of Lila Rose, her tactics of posing as a young teen impregnated by an older man are described.  Her subterfuge is purposefully intended to catch an abortion provider’s reaction and counsel on video. THEIR remarks included the following accusation:

  • Pretending to be pregnant and hiding a camera is ‘unethical’!

Now that would be funny, if it weren’t so sad!  They apparently consider subterfuge ‘wrong’, but not murder.

Again, this slogan isn’t very helpful.  Sound bytes tend to stop a discussion.  But where do you go from there?

Actually, there IS a way out!  As with any discussion, the best place to start is at the beginning.

No, not à la Julie Andrews with her Do-Re-Mi song….

…but with the definition of terms.  What do we mean by GIFT when we say babies are a gift? What do we mean by UNETHICAL?

Once you clear away vagueness and identify pre-suppositions, you can see more clearly how you might carry on with a discussion.

So DON’T shy away from hard topics.  DON’T fear stepping on toes or offending people.  If you ask questions in a non-threatening manner, in a way that shows you genuinely want to know, people will open up. And you’re more likely to actually get somewhere where you wouldn’t by merely  lobbing  slogans or rallying cries.

Question:  Where might you begin?  What is a context or arena that you live in that is dominated by short pithy, but worthless sayings?

Logical Gal and Confirmation Bias

24 Jan

Confirmation Bias – “the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses” Wikipedia link

I ran across this term the other day in a dissection of what Jesus taught about faith.   Instead of analyzing the content of the explanation on its own merits, it apparently was easier to accuse the author of having committed confirmation bias.   This form of bias seems to say that people look for evidence to support their already-formulated position INSTEAD of following the evidence wherever it leads.

Looking at the variety of contexts that employ this term, it’s easy to spot how people from all sides of any issue assume and accuse others  of this practice.

Let’s look at the first of two images: 

In this poster, the conclusion is that a Christian is someone who has an explanation for the NOs or non-responses from God when he prays.  In other words, Christians always give God an ‘out’.

The above global warming baseball bat suggests that global warming advocates don’t follow reason, but they just beat the so-called ‘deniers’ over the head with forceful rhetoric.  Being closed to evidence, they surround themselves with those who share their views.

So, can we escape this faulty way of thinking? Can one actually, objectively, follow the evidence wherever it leads?  Can facts, evidence or proof be neutral?

Two incubators of bias come to mind.  There might very well be more, but these are a start:

  • the words we choose for a term describing a concept
  • the context we place an issue, the way we ‘frame’ it, the story we build around it to offer explanations

Terms do carry baggage.  I can describe someone either as ‘poor’ or as  ‘constrained by resources’.

And since we value our time and that of our listener/reader, we often use the shortcut of borrowing an accepted analogy or context that we assume all will understand.  For example, terms such as ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ bring to mind real-life people or situations.  We then just cobble information onto that picture to flesh it out, reenforcing what we WANT to think about the issue.

For a help in understanding our lack of neutrality, you might like to read the hyperlinked blog below where the author distinguishes between INFERRING from evidence and seeking to RATIONALIZE an already held position.

Blog about how we treat evidence

So what can we do to mitigate this Confirmation Bias?  One technique that takes EFFORT might help. When we communicate with others, we could choose to use a fresh analogy to explain what we believe about something.  That would help us and the other person to think originally.  It’s like not allowing someone to always slip on their Birkenstock sandals.   You know – those German shoes that have a ‘Fussbett ‘or foodbed that eventually conforms to the wearer’s particular foot shape?

If you shaped them when you had a growth on your foot and still wear them long after the growth has been removed, they wouldn’t fit you so well any more.

Likewise, you might be misinformed about an issue and need to start fresh without prior assumptions.

Question:  where do you see how you might be suffering from Confirmation Bias?

Logical Gal asks: Do you follow your heart? Do you trust your instincts?

10 Jan

What do you think?  do you agree with the premise advanced above?

Or how about this one:

My ‘gut instinct’ tells me to ask both authors of these truisms, “How do you know intuition or your heart won’t deceive you?”

I haven’t checked other world religions, but Christianity has us humans pegged! The prophet Jeremiah thundered, ”

Do you think Jeremiah trusted his heart?

Actually we have been given brains in order to think, to reason, to assess and to calculate.  Certainly we are to take our feelings into account.  But our mind should rule our feelings.

Acquiring some tools such as……

  • decision-making
  • making distinctions
  • techniques for defining terms
  • and the building blocks of a sound argument…….

can empower us and strengthen our confidence in our mind.

You’ve heard of arranged marriages, 2 strangers who start to correspond and as they get to know each other, they come to love each other.

This technique that builds positive feelings also works with inanimate objects. For example, I’ve experienced the phenomenon of going from feeling neutral about a subject to actually liking it JUST because I acquired knowledge about the topic.  The more one knows about something, the more the feelings fall into line.  We CAN influence our feelings by our acquired knowledge.

As a Christian, I have experienced this in my relationship with God.  How does one ‘love’ God? He’s invisible, immaterial and different from us.  What I’ve found is the more I learn about Him, the more my affections grow.

So, if you’re making some resolutions, this 2nd week of January, resolve NOT to oppose heart and mind, but to make your mind the master of your feelings.  Then you can start to trust your feelings more, but only if they are supporting reality, aka TRUTH.

And don’t fall for that old canard that juxtaposes supposed head knowledge against heart knowledge. Knowledge is knowledge and feelings are feelings.  Keep that distinction!

Question: What do you think about the possibility that when someone says,

  • I just followed my heart

They actually meant:

  • I just did what I actually WANTED to do, without considering whether is was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’