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Thinking about middle-schoolers, moral choices, and truth

29 Oct

 

The topic of the workshop focused on advisory programs run by many middle schools.  Ideally, no more than 6-10 students are assigned to a teacher who mentors these 11-to-14-year-olds during the turbulent years of their early adolescence.

Two skills the presenters emphasized as crucial for the development of youth were a) developing perspective and b) managing one’s emotions.  The overall premise was that social-emotional awareness and strengthening were foundational to and preceded academic success.

One or two barely perceptible groans slipped out of from among us attendees as the co-presenters ‘invited’ participants to leave their chairs and come forward to experience an activity designed to broaden perspective.

Here’s the scenario:  You’re on your way to work and you get into a minor traffic accident with another vehicle. Clearly, it’s the other driver’s fault.  She turns out to be a 95-year-old lady who pleads with you to ‘just exchange insurance information’ and NOT call the police.  For she is sure her license will be revoked.  Fortunately, no one is hurt, but your bumper is damaged.  What do you do?

We were directed to move to one side of the room or the other.  Those who would call the police stepped to the left and those who heeded the elderly woman’s plea chose the right.  As I stepped leftward, some of the others called out in jest, “heartless!”

The facilitator then called for a volunteer from the ‘compassionate’ side to explain his decision.  And then someone from the ‘cold-hearted’ side (my labeling) was invited to respond empathetically to the reasoning just articulated.

“I have an elderly dad and I know how significant it is to lose this last vestige of independence!” flowed one person’s reasoning.  Surely a compelling reason NOT to turn in this driver.

When it was the turn of someone on my side, one gal mentioned that although no one was hurt THIS time, someone very likely might be injured or even killed next time.  An equally compelling reason, for surely that elderly driver would not want to injure or kill someone.  A burden like that would be FAR worse than growing more dependent on others for help with running errands.

This activity was eye-opening and reinforced the notion that sincere people have very good reasons for their decisions.  I don’t dispute that at all.  But what the facilitators presented as the goal of the exercise caused me to ponder a possible unintended consequence, hence this post.

One of the gals reminded us of how middle-schoolers tend toward concrete, black and white reasoning.  The middle school years are when they need to learn that there are shades of grey.   She continued to say, “This is all part of growing more aware of differing perspectives, which grows compassion and empathy toward others.”

I completely agree that we must be open to the reality that others don’t think like we do.  And to expect the world to draw the same conclusions as I do is naive and self-centered.  Yet, I did wonder if our young teens might be led to the following kind of thinking:

  • Recognizing differing viewpoints means everyone has a ‘valid’ reason for why he or she thinks the way they do. (And ‘valid’ as a concept is often taken to mean ‘true’)
  • In fact, as long as I have a reason for what I am doing, this grounding is sufficient to stop YOU from telling me I’m wrong.
  • And if I am right and you are right, then maybe there is no such thing as ultimate rightness or wrongness.

Now are those conclusions what we want our young people to hold?  That just because we build an understandable and ‘reason’-able foundation for how we think and choose a course of action, no one can call us out on our decision?  I don’t think so.

For example: Not confronting a friend when you notice her cheating on a test  (or not telling the teacher confidentially) might be the choice you make as a student BECAUSE you think you could lose your friend. And that reasoning might be ‘valid’ because your guiding principle is to do anything to maintain a friendship. But the choice you have selected IS wrong.

Do you think it is plausible that if young teens are trained to acknowledge possible perspectives, they might ALSO think that there are possible ‘truths’, all of which emerge from one’s ideas of what matters most?

We might be aiming to grow our students from that pre-adolescent view that all of life is binary, but there are indeed some things that ARE binary.  The law of non-contradiction backs that up.  A and non-A cannot both be true in the same way at the same time.

I’m not going to assume that the workshop presenters do NOT believe that some absolute truths do exist.  I am pointing out that we as educators and parents must be careful as we train the next generation to think clearly.  Yes, training in recognizing others’ perspectives IS important.  But we must not neglect to teach our kids that some decisions ARE right or wrong because some absolutes do exist.   A challenging endeavor, no doubt, in a culture where few ground values in God.

One false premise will lead you astray

29 Mar

A recent discouraging day and that of a friend (who texted me about the same kind of suffering) left me pondering from where such debilitating and energy-sapping thoughts arise.

Then our family’s daily trek through the Bible showed me the destructive power of a false conclusion.

The setting?  Moses is re-telling the history of the Hebrews’ 40 years of wandering.  The next generation is poised to enter and take the Promised Land.  This younger group of Wandering Jews was either NOT YET born when their parents left Egypt or they were babies and little kids.  Either way, they have no personal recollections of how God provided for their parents and grandparents in the midst of threatening situations.

Read Moses’ account of that first generation’s experience in sending tribal representatives to scout out the promised land in Deuteronomy 1: 23-28:

“This seemed like a good idea, so I chose twelve spies, one from each tribe.  They crossed into the hills and came to the valley of Eshcol, and returned with samples of the local fruit. One look was enough to convince us that it was indeed a good land the Lord our God had given us.  But the people refused to go in and rebelled against the Lord’s command.

“They murmured and complained in their tents and said, ‘The Lord must hate us, bringing us here from Egypt to be slaughtered by these Amorites.  What are we getting into? Our brothers who spied out the land have frightened us with their report. They say that the people of the land are tall and powerful, and that the walls of their cities rise high into the sky! They have even seen giants there—the descendants of the Anakim!’

 “But I said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid!  The Lord God is your leader, and he will fight for you with his mighty miracles, just as you saw him do in Egypt.  And you know how he has cared for you again and again here in the wilderness, just as a father cares for his child!’  But nothing I said did any good.

“They refused to believe the Lord our God  who had led them all the way, and had selected the best places for them to camp, and had guided them by a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud during the day.

Their faulty conclusion was this:  Our God is not being good to us and means for us to be killed

Where did THAT come from?  Let’s look at the premises they uttered:

Premise 1:  The Land God is giving us is good (true premise)

Premise 2: The people of the land are huge and scary and we are weak and vulnerable (true premise)

Premise 3: If we face a dangerous situation, the only reasonable explanation is that God hates us (false premise)

Conclusion:  God means to kill us!

What makes the conclusion not true is the one false premise.

That same scenario was at the root of my discouragement last week and that of my friend’s.  Both she and I added a false premise to a true factual premise.  No wonder we arrived at false conclusions.

What was my situation?

My weight was NOT budging after 6 days of dieting. – TRUE PREMISE

FALSE PREMISE – This diet is not working

FALSE CONCLUSION – I’m doomed to weigh this amount. (cue in discouragement)

Any time you add a false premise to a true premise, you end up with a false conclusion. This is a law of logic. So it was with my friend Joyce:

Our dishwasher is broken, which is one more thing wrong with our house – TRUE PREMISE

FALSE PREMISE – God isn’t going to take care of all these problems we keep casting on Him

FALSE CONCLUSION – We’re stuck and there’s no way out (cue in discouragement)

So what did Joyce and I do when we each reached depressing conclusions?

We wallowed and went to bed.  The good news is that when we awoke to a new day we saw new mercies from God. The mercy He gave me was to read in next day’s Bible account the Hebrews error in logic leading to a false conclusion and detrimental punishment by God. Thank you, dear Father for the warning and review of Godly logic.

 

 

If God is love, is love God?

1 Mar

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love

The copula/verb ‘is’ proves tricky.  In grammar, the copula links the subject to the predicate or compliment of the subject.  For example:

The sun IS bright.    Bright is the predicate or subject compliment to the subject the sun.

It’s easy and sometimes helpful to think of  ‘is/are’ as functioning like an equals sign. But there are limits, too. We mustn’t over-generalize about the copula and today I want to talk about the dangers.

The truth in 1 John 4:8 states that God is love.  In other words all that sums up God is called ‘LOVE’.

To study this proposition logically, we need to add the quantifier.  So for ‘God’ we have a choice of:

All God is

Some God is

Some God is not

No God is

John in his pastoral letter makes the job easy for us.  ‘God’ is ‘theos‘ in the Greek.  And according to Septuagint translations,  theos or kyrios were used interchangeably for the personal name of Yahweh.

One of the laws of logic states that quantifiers for personal names must be ‘universal’ (ALL or NONE) and not ‘particular’ (SOME or SOME ……NOT) because there is only one person in the world who is meant when a personal name is used.  Think: ‘John who lived on State Street in house # 42 in October 2015’ as opposed to ‘every boy named John’.

So now our proposition is:

All God is love

Now to the danger of viewing the copula (is) as an equals sign.  Unlike the math equation:

2+4 = 6  which can be written as 6 = 2+4 with no harm done to the integrity of the equation

we cannot replicate the same procedure and enjoy the same outcome with the proposition about God and Love.

Consider what happens if we switch the two terms in God is love’.  We would gain this proposition: All love is God

Is that true, that any and all kind of love represents a God-like quality?  This is a critical question. In today’s climate of redefining not only marriage and gender, but removing any limits on human sexuality, we have to be careful about relating any and every kind of ‘love’ to God.

Looking to another law of logic helps us think clearly.  This law actually provides guidelines for maintaining equivalency during the logical procedure named ‘conversion’, an interchanging of terms

  • Swapping the terms of an A proposition (like our All God is love) requires us to change the new subject quantifier to SOME.

Therefore, All God is love MUST become……..Some love is God, for it is NOT true that All love is God.

Fortunately, we can see how reality reflects this truth.  Only some of what we humans call ‘love’ would match God’s character of ‘love’

My love for chocolate is not a godly love.

In fact ALL unordered or inappropriate loves are not godly love.

Why is this helpful to a thinking Joe or Jane?  If you’re ever caught unable to unravel a particular example of reasoning that appears twisted, the ready tool of logic is a comfort. Thinking logically can also buy you time to work out what IS true and valid. Working to understand some fundamental laws of logic do help us parse out distinctions.

So all this talk about God’s love and the kinds of worldly ‘love’ that DO qualify leave us wanting to know better what His love is like.  John doesn’t abandon us to search that out for ourselves.  He leaves us with a clear description of the highest kind of love:

1 John 4:10

This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? A logical thought

6 Jan
Recently, a nuanced discussion about the nature of God caused me to think and think again.  Nothing wrong with that.
Law of Identity
I’ve always reasoned that Christians worship a God different from that of Muslims.  And I’ve relied on the Law of Identity to support my conclusion.  Here’s my simple way of describing this law of nature:
Given that….
Thing 1 has characteristics A, B and C
  and
Thing 2 has characteristics A, B and X
Then it follows that…..
  • Thing 1 cannot be identical to Thing 2, because the characteristics of each are not the same.
  • Thing 1, by definition, has to consist of A,B and C or it is not Thing 1
  • Thing 2, by definition, has to consist of A, B and X or it is not Thing 2

For a much more educated explanation, Here’s a link.

Applying this Law of Identity to the question of gods, I’ve concluded in the past that since Muslims:

  • don’t believe in a triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
  • don’t accept that God had a Son (this is blasphemy to them)
  • consider it false that Jesus, whom they consider a great prophet, actually died on the Cross

Then, the God that is central to their religion is different from the God Christians worship.

But Frank Beckwith, a Catholic philosopher, has reasoned otherwise. He argues that we DO worship the same God, even if Muslims are mistaken about some of the essential characteristics of this God. 

If I understand his points, it would be like two people disputing over whether a friend each has is mutual or different.

Example: 

Pete’s friend Bob works for a radio station is married to a gal named Sally and lives in Chicago.

Ed’s friend Bob works for a hospital is also married to a gal named Sally and lives in Chicago.

 

Are there two Bobs, or just the one?

According to the Law of Identity, the characteristics have to be the same for the objects to be identical.  But what if both Ed and Pete are each ignorant of a particular feature about Bob?  Does their ignorance nullify the possibility of ‘Bob’ being one and the same?

So I can see that it is possible that Muslims worship the Christian God even if they are ignorant about some of His necessary attributes.

But this discussion misses the point. And I think Satan loves for the world to tie itself up in knots and thus be distracted from THE CENTRAL ISSUE that has ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES.

What must I do to be saved?

Each of us must make a reasonable decision about the options presented to us.  Which one, if any, is true? Which one matches what we know about reality? 

And more to the point, what do we do with attested statements spoken by Jesus that:

  • He is the only way to God (John 14:6)
  • He and the Father are One (John 10:30)
  • He created the universe (Colossians 1:6)
  • He will return to judge all of us (2 Timothy 4:1)

And, to top THOSE off, here is how Jesus oriented the Scriptures (that is the ‘Old Testament’) and presented them to two dejected disciples after His crucifixion:

  • Then Jesus quoted them passage after passage from the writings of the prophets, beginning with the book of Genesis and going right on through the Scriptures, explaining what the passages meant and what they said about himself.(Acts 24:27)

As we walk through 2016, let’s look to the Author of Truth to guide us in all knowledge.  After all, He set these laws of logic into being.  Could they be invitations to seek Him?  I know ONE thing for certain, unlike Dorothy and her friends, our search won’t lead to a mere man manipulating smoke and mirrors. God promises, instead, a Savior. And the Christian God does not lie.

Wizard of Oz

 

 

Logical Gal and when making sense is not enough

21 Jan

Makes sense

That makes sense to me!

Have you ever heard that comment or uttered it yourself?  It sounds so innocent, doesn’t it!  Don’t we want to make sense of the world around us – especially in light of all the horrors and issues that DON’T make sense?

It’s human nature to try to identify, draw associations and categorize all the information that cascades into our consciousness, moment by moment!

But, we must not forget that just because something makes sense, that detail does NOT make it true!

I ran across a useful example of this faulty thinking the other day.  While listening to a radio program broadcast by the organization Stand to Reason, the host discussed how to deal with the possibility that scientists might very well indeed find a gene marker held in common by some gay men and women.  The presupposition explored by the host is this:

Whatever makes sense is right or must be true.

The caller who holds to the above assumption suggested the following opening to an argument based on that assumption:

  • If there is a ‘gay gene’, then it is natural for those with that gene to want to/ need to engage in what is ‘natural’

After having suggested that line of thinking, he finished his explanation with the comment, “Makes sense to me!”

The host, Greg Koukl, reminded listeners that JUST because something makes sense, that doesn’t make it true or right.   An argument based on the faulty assumption could be stated like this:

P1 – All that makes sense is right

P2 – Doing what is natural makes sense

C – Therefore, doing what comes natural is right

And going on, one can continue:  Given a ‘gay gene’, then it is only natural that those with this gene engage in the behavior that is part of their inherited disposition.

However in the above argument, although it may be rational and correctly formed, it can still be faulty if one or both of the premises are FALSE.  Take a look at the following obvious example of a valid, but unsound syllogism:

P1 – All things with 4 feet are alive

P2 – This table has 4 feet

C – Therefore, this table is alive

Why is this argument valid?  Because it follows the rules of formal logic.  It makes sense, we could say. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to tell that something is WRONG!!!

Bingo!  The faulty premise is the very first one.  NOT all things that have 4 feet are alive, only SOME.  So the universal statement needs to be changed to a particular statement to be true.

P1 – Some things with 4 feet are alive

P2 – This table has 4 feet

C – Therefore, this table is alive

Soundness Venn diagram

Let’s get back to the possible research into gene markers and whether doing what is natural makes sense.

  • Besides the unsoundness of the argument due to the faulty 1st premise..
  • Besides the false nature of the underlying presupposition that What makes sense must be so,

There is ALSO the assumption that could be debated:  We should engage in what comes naturally!

Really?

Question: Which ‘natural’ scenarios come to mind that raise a red flag?

tantrums

 

Logical Gal extols Excluded Middle Law

12 Mar

Excluded Middle

Tools are for the using.  And I was reminded yesterday, listening to a discussion, how helpful the laws of logic can be!

The conversation centered on the origins of the universe.  It seems that everyone has a theory or possible explanation for how our universe came into being or whether it has always existed. So how are we to judge?

First of all, to even hold a rational discussion presupposes that words have meaning.  And when we put words together we make truth claims that are either true or false. We all use and therefore at least implicitly rely on logic, whether we acknowledge it or not.  So to deny the laws that are present is folly.  Humans didn’t INVENT these laws, we simply have discovered them.  They are part of the universe.

rational v. irrational

And if they do NOT exist and if words hold no meaning that we can all agree on, then there is no point ever having ANY conversation.  We just end up sharing gibberish.

Back to the discussion I followed this week.  One man laid out a way of thinking about origins that relied on the Law of Excluded Middle.  This law states that there is no 3rd or middle option given A or nonA.  For example, a woman is either pregnant or NOT pregnant. There is no other possibility.

Regarding origins, the reasoning expounded proceeded this way:

  • The universe either had a beginning or it didn’t.
  • If it did have a beginning (and due to the articulation of the Big Bang Theory, most people accept that the universe is NOT eternal), something caused it or something did not.  
  • (If something did NOT cause the universe to begin, then it had to cause itself.  But that is irrational because then something would have to BE (to cause the universe) and NOT BE at the same time.  And that is impossible because of the Law of Non-Contradiction.

Law of Non-Contradiction

  • If something caused matter, time and space (MTS) to appear, it itself is MTS or it is not.  (If matter, time or space created the universe, then we are stuck with a problem of infinite regress, i.e what caused the PRE-matter, time and space that created the universe)
  • Whatever caused the universe to come into existence is either immaterial or it is nothing.
  • and finally….we are left with the conclusion that what caused the universe has to be immaterial, because nothing cannot create something.

Nothing produces nothing

The man pushing back against this line of thinking balked when pressed by this series of either/ors.  When the Law of Excluded Middle was articulated , all he could repeat was the assertion of a possible 3rd option.  I held my breath, curious to learn something I hadn’t previously considered.  But all he offered was that ONE DAY, scientists might come up with a different explanation.

I am VERY thankful for tools that help me sort out, categorize and think logically through complicated matters.

Question:  How does the Law of Excluded Middle help you?

Logical Gal and nonsense before breakfast

26 Feb

Are you a ‘swallower’  or a ‘thinker’?

Do you examine what people say? read with an eye to whether it is true or not?  If so, good for you!

People who don't think 26 Feb 2014

But even before we look at whether an assertion is true, we have to understand what it says!!

Let me give you an example.  The following quote was at the end of an English word-a-day explanation I receive by email.  I like to read the tidbits of life’s wisdom with which they terminate their posts.  But this one made NO sense, whatsoever!

“It is the final proof of God’s omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us” . -Peter De Vries, novelist (1910-1993)

Huh?

So what do we do with this?  We start with the terms.  Which ones might be ambiguous?

I spotted 4:

  • God (don’t laugh – we can’t assume everyone is referring to the same being)
  • omnipotence
  • exist
  • save

So I would begin by asking Mr. DeVries (if he were alive) just what he meant by each one of these terms.  Only then could we begin to evaluate whether or not what he was saying was true or false or just plain non-sensical.

Once we had clarified the terms, I think I would have asked a couple of questions.  To start with,

  • What do we need saving from?
  • What kinds of powers does something that doesn’t exist have? For if something doesn’t exist, that’s like saying: “something is nothing

And we know from the Law of Identity that A cannot equal non-A.

Unless this guy was a deconstructionist who maintained that ‘nothing’ is an entity that has properties.  That’s just a non-sensical redefining of  terms .

Whew!  All this ‘gray cell exercise’ made me hungry for breakfast!

Question:  What else can you see in that quote that gives you pause?