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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.

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?

Blue-haired old ladies or reasoning from experience

5 Oct

 

mimi-with-blue-hair-and-maria-age-8  I was at my hairdresser the other day and our conversation turned to her many regulars, mostly old ladies who come weekly for a wash and a set.  I told her about Mimi, my grandmother, and her blue hair.  How she never seemed to be pleased with the color each time she came home from the beauty shop.

I then casually asked Lisa, “You probably don’t even know about blue hair for little old ladies!”  She came back right away with, “Oh, yes I do!  In fact, I regularly have blue-haired elderly clients.”

After recovering from my shock that blue-haired OLD ladies still existed, I decided to spring that news on my middle school students.  My ‘show and tell’ venture, using the above picture, brought many questions.

I think because I could produce a photo, no one boldly proclaimed, “Well, I’ve never seen a blue-haired little old lady.  I don’t believe you!”

But that is exactly how most people identify truth in our culture today.  Unless they have personal experience of something, or have heard about it from their friends and contacts, they don’t believe it.

Kind of arrogant, don’t you think?

What makes someone think that he can trust his experience and personal knowledge enough?  Does not that seem a bit presumptuous to dare to declare a universal truth, one that applies across the board?  Are you that infallible?

In logic, there are statements or premises that, if true, apply to all members of the subject of the premise.  We call that a ‘universal’. An example is:

  • All men are mortal

If this statement is true, then every member of the ‘man’ family must be mortal.

If this feature does not apply to every single unit of the subject, then at most one can say:

  • Some men are mortal

The same logic laws apply to the negative versions of these statements:

  • No men are mortal is a universal assertion
  • Some men are not mortal is a particular premise

I’ve noticed recently that a lot of us are relying on self-centered sloppy thinking in making truth claims. Consider the following types of generic statements:

  • “I’ve never heard of X.  I just can’t believe X exists.  For surely, if it did, then I would have encountered some mention of it?”
  • “No one I know of thinks that.  I don’t believe it.”

That’s as ridiculous as us saying, ‘I’ve never experienced echolocation (bees use of magnetic cues to travel), so I don’t believe in it.’

Or, ‘I’ve never seen God, so He isn’t real’.  Allegedly one of the Soviet cosmonauts boasted like that upon returning from orbit.

And just this morning I read a Tim Keller quote.  He’s pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan: “Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.”

As our American culture polarizes more, may we be slow to proclaim these sweeping universal generalizations with a tone of authority and pursue the more humble reasoning of the particular.

I don’t want to be like the little boy in CS Lewis’ mud pie example, taken from his essay The Weight of Glory:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

 

 

When do you draw a conclusion?

20 Jan

Hasty Generalizations

American culture grows seemingly more coarse and vitriolic.  Contributing in part to this downward trend in civility is the tendency to draw a conclusion based on too few individual cases.  This mistake in reasoning is called the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization.

Guilty as charged!  I have committed this error often because I have WANTED to generalize. As an adult who has already raised kids yet still works with adolescents in the classroom, I find that I tend to assert unfairly this and that about teens.  Often my conclusions are backed by weak reasons drawn from too few examples. Whether I pronounce judgments about their decreased interest in deep reading or their inability to converse intelligently, I am being dishonest.  It is not fair to that generation to apply an observation about some members to the entire cohort!

As one who easily falls into this lazy way of thinking, I notice the same tendency in others to demonize others. Just who are these groups generalized about and often cast in a negative light?  A few examples are:

  • Muslims
  • the government
  • evangelical Christians
  • socially-liberal democrats
  • small-government republicans
  • corporations or ‘Big Business’
  • ‘climate change deniers’
  • ‘big agriculture’
  • the pharmaceutical industry
  • immigrants, both legal and illegal
  • welfare recipients
  • different ethnicities

Well what do we do to be a fair-minded and honest Logical Joes or Janes?

A simple change of ‘quantifier’.  Instead of broadcasting with a universal,

  • ALL conservative Christians are intolerant or 
  • ALL welfare recipients are lazy

(which is NOT true), one should instead employ,

  • SOME evangelical Christians are intolerant
  • SOME welfare recipients are lazy

Personal sample experience can never be complete.  We are in effect lying when we infer inductively from too few examples to the whole.

So for 2016, let’s challenge ourselves to refrain from adding to the social media hostility and accurately communicate with our pens, mouths, photos and keyboard or finger strokes. We can only control our actions, but others might notice and voluntarily restrain their tendency to exaggerate.

What about the appropriate time or occasion to draw a conclusion?  I’ll throw out that my only source for absolute truth, which is the Bible or God’s Word.  For an example of a certain truth that pertains to ALL people, here’s a paraphrased Biblical conclusion. The One who created every molecule in the universe, alone is capable of formulating a 100% accurate assessment:

All have sinned by exchanging and turning their back on God’s glory for the meager and far lesser satisfying glory of created things.

Now that’s a true and safe conclusion!

 

 

Martin Luther’s Beer Argument – Final Test

22 Jul

Martin Luther and beer

Last week we extrapolated and analyzed Luther’s premises to see if he had aligned them correctly into a valid chain argument or syllogism.

“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!”

 You can check out that ‘step one’ explanation and follow our reasoning on the post dated 15 July 2015.  We showed that indeed, this church reformer applied his logic equally well to the merits of beer.

With the validity of the argument confirmed, we turn next to verifying the truth of each premise.  For if an argument is both valid AND true, then we can admire the reasoning and say with some degree of awe, “That’s one ‘sound’, airtight argument!” (or, ‘I’ll drink to that!’)

Toasting Beer Glasses

In order to see more easily whether a premise is true or false, it’s best to write or ‘translate’ informal statements into their logical form.  A crucial step is to decide whether the subject pertains to ALL ‘members’ or just SOME.  Luther has used the pronoun ‘whoever‘.  That is a universal pronoun, so we replace it with ‘ALL’ without changing our former monk’s intentions.

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. 

Logical Joes and Janes know that if any of the premises of the syllogism are false, then there is a problem.  So let’s just start at the beginning with Premise 1.  Is it true that ‘all those who drink beer are quick to sleep’?  What do we have to do to test that statement?

Quite simply, if we can find ONE counterexample where that is not the case, where a beer drinker is not someone quick to sleep, then Premise 1 is false the way it is written. (to ‘fix’ it, changing it into a true statement, Luther would simply substitute the ‘particular’ quantifier of SOME for the ‘universal’ quantifier of ALL.)

I, for one, can drink one beer and not fall asleep quickly. The premise does not mention HOW MUCH beer Luther had in mind.  And there’s no point second-guessing him.  All we can go by is the premise as Martin Luther allegedly uttered or wrote it.

Therefore, just by a quick glance of the first premise, the syllogism breaks down.

We could have started with any of the premises, testing their truthfulness. Take, for example, Premise 3 that ‘all those who do not sin are those who enter heaven.‘ From everything else Martin Luther wrote, I know for a fact that he did not believe that statement himself.  For he was a Biblically-based theologian.  And the Bible does not teach that one must be perfect to enter heaven.  No one is perfect. Those who are welcomed into heaven are those for whom Jesus died as a substitute, who have renounced their rebellion and gratefully accepted the gift of forgiveness.

Surrender to Jesus

That’s it! We have finished our analysis – quickly, too. Do you see how easy it is to determine the truthfulness of an argument just by taking a careful look at one premise? Looking over this exercise of taking seriously what Luther surely meant in jest, we have reviewed that a sound argument has two parts.  It must be correctly formed (that is: ‘VALID’) as well as formulated with true premises.

Practice yourself, especially in this season of much political and cultural rhetoric, where little clear and reasoned thinking is evident.