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God uses logic and evidence

28 Jul

The handwritten note peaked out between flyers and magazines as if to say, ‘Don’t miss me!’  I scanned the return address, quickly recalling a former student from Virginia.

Along with the graduation announcement and senior photo, he wrote an account of the four years just completed at this classical Christian school in Virginia.  I rejoiced to read his description of the long-term effect our 8th-grade logic and reasoning curriculum had exerted on his life. Encouraged and guided in HOW to question and to think logically had sparked the fuse that propelled him out of complacency in his studies.  Apparently, after I departed, hunger to grow intellectually had gripped him, for he had gained vision and a purpose for learning.  That kind of feedback would energize anyone!

I do give thanks that a middle school logic class birthed this young man’s interest in knowledge and ideas. Certainly, students need to know how to reason well and express themselves clearly in order to advance in academics.  But clear thinking is vital to all of us, even Christians.

Why do I say Christians must know how to express themselves clearly and evaluate arguments accurately?  Contemporary society bombards believers with the false and disreputable view that faith and science or faith and reason are antithetical.  Not true! But we people of the Book must be taught how to gently push back with the truth.  And that takes information and practice, in essence: ‘skill’.

Humans are not born knowing how to reason well. But just like my former 8th-grade student, we all can be taught and equipped with some basic tools and ways of evaluating both written and spoken thoughts.

Why is it important for Christians to use logic? Just today, in Isaiah 41, I read verse after verse where God exhorted His people to argue or reason on behalf of the efficacy of idols. Consider these 3 verses, 21-23 (NLT):

Present the case for your idols,”
    says the Lord.
“Let them show what they can do,”
    says the King of Israel.
22 “Let them try to tell us what happened long ago
    so that we may consider the evidence.
Or let them tell us what the future holds,
    so we can know what’s going to happen.
23 Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead.
    Then we will know you are gods.
In fact, do anything—good or bad!
    Do something that will amaze and frighten us.” 

God doesn’t want His people to fall back on ‘blind faith’.  He wants us to believe Him, count on Him, trust Him and thus obey Him having gained true knowledge. Like scientists who collect, observe, and study evidence we also must reason to likely conclusions. Listen to how He chides Jacob in Isaiah 40:26-28, encouraging the people to consider the evidence He provides:

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.

‘Use the eyes, ears, and mind I’ve given you!‘ God seems to argue. From God’s perspective and His true knowledge, only willful obstinacy and sinful desires can explain Jacob’s irrational behavior, since they had been given ample visual and historical proof.

My former logic student probably doesn’t know how learning (and subsequently teaching) logic also changed my life. I had never been taught to think or to reason. No course in grade school or college had guided me in how to begin to evaluate others’ assertions, let alone construct my own reason-based logical argument.  Those six years at that classical Christian school altered my life for good!  I grew into a better reader, listener, thinker, and writer.

Reading this young man’s sweet note re-ignited MY passion for advocating for thinking. As the bumper sticker trumpets:

Critical Thinking - national deficit

 

Logical minds STILL need God’s enlightenment

15 Feb

Sojourner Truth quote.jpg

I saw this quote on a homemade sign carried by a protester in the 21 January 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC.  A reporter from our local Western North Carolina weekly paper must have snapped it while covering the demonstration.

Having recently read through the book of Genesis again, the story of Eve’s disastrous fall lingered fresh in my mind. Reading the write-up and glancing at the photo almost caused my logical brain to blow a fuse!

Here’s the way Sojourner Truth’s argument appears to take form.

If the very first woman had the power to mess up the world in a catastrophic manner, then the scope of many more women with that kind of power ought to be enough to exercise a beneficial force in society.

What Eve did was evil and deserved immediate death.  It was pre-meditated, defiant rebellion against her Creator God.  How could anyone conclude that MORE Eves working together would have the opposite effect of healing or righting a wrong?

Seeing the quote carried proudly by a marcher made me realize that unless our God sovereignly gives us light to see Truth, our logical minds remain in darkness.  Yes, we can draw some correct conclusions.  But we won’t recognize all truth or all falsity.

Pray for God’s enlightenment, not the radical 18th century age of ‘so-called’ reason that caused many to turn away from the the One who IS light.

John 12:46 – I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness

 

 

 

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

6 Apr

And practice thinking!

You’ve seen that smart-alecky bumper sticker:

Critical Thinking - national deficit

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

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

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

  • That’s just man’s opinion!

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

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

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

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

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

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

her: That’s not so!

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

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

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

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

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

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

her:  Yes, at least I certainly hope so!

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

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

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

her:  I have no idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold, the power of thinking critically and logically!

 

 

The logic behind worry

3 Feb

Weather forecast

I’m preparing to lead a group of students to Québec and God-willing when this blog posts, we will be in the middle of our weeklong French language ‘field trip’.

Travel like all of life is unpredictable, but flights in the winter seem more weather dependent.  The other day during my morning prayers,  I was asking God to grant clement conditions. Immediately I found myself reasoning, “There’s no point in worrying about that!”

Suddenly I found myself engaged in a hypothetical conversation:

Maria 1 – No point getting anxious about the weather two weeks hence!

Maria 2 – Why not?

Maria 1 – Because I can’t do anything about it!

Maria 2 – Right!  but….is  your overall guiding assumption  “One should worry only about those things one can control.”?  Is that it?  Tell me, what ARE the areas over which you exercise control?

Maria 1 – Well, to be honest, I don’t really control anything.

Maria 2 – So why worry about anything?

Maria 1 – Good point.  It’s not rational or ‘reason-able’, is it.

Conclusion: Logic is VERY practical and useful for everyday life.

 

Could Dilbert’s ‘mean’ robot be logical?

2 Sep

Dilbert Robots Read News

You never know where or when you’re going to bump into a logical syllogism. Or shall I say an ATTEMPT at a logical syllogism.

I scan the daily paper, including the comics, for interesting and challenging blog topics. I chuckled recently when I read Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon featuring a news anchor robot that sports a bad attitude.

Panel # 1 reads:

The Supreme Court ruled that engineers cannot be found guilty of murder

When I encounter a statement like that, my logical antennae tend to perk up. Why? Because I’ve just met a CONCLUSION. Now I need to hunt for the argument, also known as the reasons. Scan on with me!

Panel # 2 reads:

Lawyers argued that any good engineer knows how to get away with murder, so getting caught is proof of innocence. 

This statement appears to be an argument in itself. The telltale two-letter word, SO, often introduces a conclusion. Yet when I tried to tease out the assumptions lurking in this complex sentence I got bogged down.

Part of cartoonist Scott Adam’s humor resides in his deliberately obtuse attempts at logic. Here’s what I came up with as I struggled to make heads or tails out of these tangled words:

  • All engineers who are ‘good’ at being engineers are engineers who know how to conceal their guilt
  • No engineers who are caught in a murder are engineers who are guilty

But then the questions that arose gave me pause; as well they should when anyone advances a belief!  I wondered,

  • How is ‘good’ being defined?
  • And who is doing the defining?
  • Is there a hidden assumption that a good engineer might actually commit murder but be capable of concealing it so that he can’t be charged as ‘guilty’?

Then I saw something troubling in the clause after the comma (‘…so getting caught is proof of innocence’). I would have expected the ‘bad robot’ to have concluded rather:

  • So getting caught is proof that the accused is NOT a good engineer

Since this logical workout comes from a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ comic strip, we mustn’t take it very seriously. But I did attempt to represent it with a Venn diagram.

The red annotation reads: “Set of all engineers who are innocent of murder”

The blue label shows: All ‘good’ engineers

The black set comprises: All engineers who don’t commit murder

Dilbert Engineer Venn Diagram

There is not enough information given in the 3-panel cartoon strip to know how to portray the non-good engineers.  Are they engineers who commit murder and get caught?  Or does the concept of ‘good’ engineer include any other talents than the ability to get away with murder? How and where do I draw THAT set?  Where are there intersections of sets?

I’m not too bothered that I didn’t dissect it to the satisfying point of seeing how it worked. Why not?  Too many fallacies and problems that I don’t have the energy to sort out!  So I’ll call it ‘a day’ and lay aside my cartoon logic analysis.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the 30 or so minutes I invested in playing around with Scott’s wording. Actually, the process of drawing different category sets and subsets helped me think. And thinking is never a waste of time. So what if I had to conclude that I was dealing with some crazy robot’s irrational news reporting!

Oh, and in case you couldn’t make out the wording Scott Adam’s concluding cartoon square, here’s

Panel # 3:

The ruling was unanimous because no one could figure out which side was the liberal one.

Maybe I spent my energy on the wrong parts of the cartoon!  Oh, well.  I enjoy challenging myself to think through assertions, whether encountered in conversations, in my reading or in movies. Wanting to grow wiser, my goal is to become quicker to think and reflect and slower to share my views. Join me in being on guard, with a nose ready to sniff out poor reasoning and irrational statements.