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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.

 

 

How do you know you exist?

13 Jul

Penseur  The math whiz and philosopher, René Descartes, sought to clarify his doubt and his knowledge.  So he pushed back as far as he could to what he could know for sure.  Most people can quote part of his argument:

I think, therefore I am

As many of you know, he left out the major premise.  No ‘doubt’ that it resided in his mind, but seemed too obvious to mention.  That’s the nature of an enthymeme, an unspoken premise or conclusion.

For example:

Sally pipes up with enthusiasm: I invited our neighbors to join us this Saturday for a picnic in the park!

Sam responds sourly: Great, now we can count on it raining this Saturday!

What’s the unspoken premise?

  • It always rains when we plan a picnic in the park!

Back to Descartes and his implicit assumption supporting ‘I think, therefore I am’

It has to be: All creatures that think exist.  So the complete syllogism would look like this:

P1 – All who think are

P2 – I think

C – Therefore, I am

What brought to mind Descartes’ foundation for knowing or epistemological basis for knowledge was a different origin for the assurance of one’s existence.

While listening to a podcast, I heard an African Christian talk about what anchors him in life. He talked about community as being this source.  He explained:

  • Because the community is the primary building block of humanity, each of us derives his or her own sense of self

His enthymeme would go like this: We are, therefore I am!

And by fleshing it out with the implicit major premise, we have:

P1: If there is a communal unit, then individuals can fully have their being

P2: There is a community in which I a recognized member

C: Therefore, I exist as a full human being

Thinking about and contrasting Descartes’ individualistic enlightenment view with this African brother’s sense of himself as part of a larger group strengthened my growing view that it is not good for man or woman to be alone.  After all, the one true God is a community of 3-in-1, a Triune Happy Godhead.  And if we are made in His image, then to feel fully alive and to function with health, we need to anchor ourselves in community with other people.

I need not be intimidated by famous thinkers and learned philosophers.  The simplest of men and women often are the wisest.

 

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.

 

Logic tools employed in real life

10 Feb

Fresh insights and knowledge for the grabbing!

Pick ax

The laws of logic direct our thinking and warn us of pitfalls to faulty reasoning.

But the ASSUMPTION is that one is willing actually to think. And that takes effort.

Reading a passage in the New Testament reminded me of the exhortation Paul gives to ‘think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.  2 Timothy 2:7

The tricky verse that challenged me to apply some careful reasoning finds itself in the middle of a passage from John’s letter, 1 John 5: 1-5. It says:

  1. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. 5. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Whew! There is a lot in those 5 verses but I want to linger and look at verse 3 (in red). Let’s park a while.

Parking

It pays to spend time looking at the words and actually SEEING what they communicate. Firstly I noticed,

  • God’s love = either the love that COMES from God (that He gives) or the love that is part of His nature, that is what I would call ‘God-like love’

Then I asked myself,

  • Which comes first – this love FROM/OF God or that we keep His commandments?

To answer that I went back and started with verse 1. Restating or distilling John’s thoughts, I jotted down some premises,

P1 – All people who believe that Jesus is the Christ are people who have been born of God. (also called ‘children of God’ in verse 2)

P2 – All people who love the Father are people who love the children of God.

P3 – All those who love the children of God are people who love God and obey (also phrased as ‘keep’) his commandments.

P4 – All love for/of/from God is the obeying God’s commands

P5 – No commands of God are burdensome (heavy or grievous in the Greek)

P6 – All people who have been born of God are people who overcome the world

(overcome in Greek = to prevail, get the victory, conquer)

P7 – All world-overcoming victory is our faith

(victory in Greek = means of success, of prevailing)

P8 – All people who believe that Jesus is the Son of God are people who overcome the world

Looking at P6 and P8 and relying on the Transitive Property of Equality whereby:

If A = B and B = C, then A = C

I think I can safely equate: All people who have been born of God with

All people who believe that Jesus is Son of God

And also with the first part of P1: All those who believe that Jesus is the Christ

 Going back over these verses, I got stuck on this question:

What causes us to love the Father?

It seems that the Apostle John ASSUMES that all those who believe that Jesus is the Christ/Jesus is the Son of God are ABLE to love both the Father AND other children of God.

What could be underlying that assumption? Looking down at P7, which states that faith is the key to overcome the world, it seems that when one is born of God, one is equipped with faith. Where do I get that?

Here’s P1 again:

P1 – All people who believe that Jesus is the Christ are people who have been born of God.

Look at the verbs I’ve underlined. The tenses are different. It’s clear that ‘being born of God’ comes first. And those who are born of God now can believe, that is they ‘have faith’.

And this ‘faith’ enables them to prevail against the world.

What goes along with ‘having faith’ then seems to imply one can obey or keep God’s commands, to include the VERY IMPORTANT directive to love others in the same family of God. And loving one’s siblings in God’s family = loving God.

**

Okay, so maybe I lost you in all that. But here is what I, Maria, gain from thinking through and wrestling with these verses in an orderly fashion, applying logical clear thinking:

Jesus said that the most important commands were

  1. Love God
  2. Love Others

Knowing me by nature, I can’t ‘gin’ up that kind of love on my own, based on my human nature.

What is reassuring is that knowing that I DO in fact believe that Jesus is God’s son guarantees that I have been born of God and that I am now equipped (it was a gift) with powerful faith that allows me to prevail over the lure of the world which preaches messages like:

  • You only live once, so carpe diem!
  • Complete your bucket list.
  • Pursue your passion
  • You deserve it

And instead of putting MY interests first, with the God’s gifts of strength and desire, I can love others, starting with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Without the faith that came as a gift, then I am sucked into that worldly, self-centered rat race.

I find this VERY good news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Separate out the issues

25 Nov

pick up stix

Do you remember the delicate touch you employed in order to play Pick up Stix? Dumping them all out on a table produced a challenging mess.

Similarly when confronted by the onslaught of jumbled sound bytes that stand in lieu of rational, orderly arguments, we have to first untangle the issues before we can discuss what is being advanced.

Recently my ‘go-to’ source for messy thinking, the Letters to the Editor page of the local newspaper, provided fun fodder.

The tragic death by handgun of a local child prompted a letter. The author’s premise ran like this:

All persons who advocate the rights of the unborn should also advocate regulating the rights of handgun owners.

He reasoned two ways:

  • by asking questions calling into question the heart and sympathies of pro-life supporters
  • by pointing out that since the misuse of cars can cause accidental death, and we accept government regulation, then we should equally embrace state and federal regulation of guns

Were I to dialogue face to face with this gentleman, I would gently point out that the use of a fallacy doesn’t take the place of marshaling reasons to support a claim.

Just what is the fallacy?  Look at his questioning technique I cited.  That is nothing more than a ‘kind’ version of an ad hominem attack.  Focusing on the character of your opponent is a weak substitute for a reasoned argument. Succumbing to a fallacy also communicates that you don’t know what else to say in support of your position!

What about my letter writer’s 2nd tactic, to tie the details of one kind of accidental death to another?  He’s arguing in essence for a broader principle:

All objects that can be misused resulting in the accidental death of someone should be regulated by the government.

Is he going to agree or balk?  If he agrees, then take his argument seriously and push it to the point of the absurd.

I just googled this topic: “Too much of this can kill you”

and what popped up after you tube videos of ‘too much love’ was the following from a CBS News website (see the link at kidney failure):

Doctors have traced a man’s kidney failure to his habit of drinking a gallon of iced tea each day.

Black tea has a chemical called oxalate, known to cause kidney stones or even kidney failure in excessive amounts.

But tea isn’t the only everyday ingestible that could kill you.

Mr Letter-writer is going to have to limit the scope of his claim.  His broad-sweep application of ONE situation (government regulation of drivers and cars) cannot, ipso facto, be applied to every situation.  Keep him focused on how to solve the evil killing of the child.

Actually, what both the wrong use of cars and the wrong use of guns has in common is the evil nature of the handler of either. Now THERE’s a topic worth discussing!

Is pepperoni pizza the best? or what are objective and subjective claims

14 Oct

pepperoni pizza

Is it an objective statement or a subjective statement to claim that something is the ‘best’?

At first glance, given the topic of pepperoni pizza, we might rush to conclude that this is a subjective evaluation totally determined by the speaker’s preferences.

And we would be correct if we take him to mean that he likes pepperoni pizza the best out of all other pizzas.  In other words, for him, this particular style of pizza is best.

But in another sense, this could also be an objective statement, a matter that can be evaluated as TRUE or FALSE.

If I stand up at my middle school where I teach and proclaim that pepperoni pizza is the best, I am sure to meet with counter claims to the contrary.  We have plain pizza lovers and sausage pizza lovers as well as those weird people who like anchovy pizzas!

All kidding aside let me explain how in one sense it could be a true statement to affirm that pepperoni pizza is the best.

The key is in defining our term, “best”.

A Logical Joe or Jane knows enough to ask when encountering any claim that something is “best”, What do you mean by “best”?

Miss America

Take the Miss America pageant where every year, judges select the ‘best’ qualified gal to represent the ideal young female American.  There are objective criteria with rubrics or scales that judges use to quantify and justify their decision.  You might not agree with the judges’ objective statement of reality for the year: “Susie Smith from Oklahoma is the BEST qualified to be this year’s Miss America”.  About the most you can say at that point is: “For me, I prefer Janie Jones from Texas. I think she best embodies Miss America.”

So to say something is best can be both an objective statement and a subjective statement of reality.  It depends on where the criteria reside.  Can they be supported by ‘reality’ or are they dependent on the subject making the statement?

And just what is ‘reality’?  In the beauty pageant world, reality is defined by what the judges agree to in advance.

Here are other examples of how saying something is best can be an objective statement of reality that is agreed upon in advance:

  • Auditions for roles in movies or plays: The casting director picks the ‘best’ actor for the part.
  • Auditions for sports teams and orchestras: Who is ‘best’ at hitting home runs or holding down the 1st chair violin spot?
  • Interviews for jobs:  Mr. Peter Parker was the ‘best’ qualified for the job (but I liked Mr. Dan Douglas the best)

So let us beware of the facile dismissal of the predicate ‘best’ as merely subjective.  We are, after all, capable of holding two things in tension.  Just because they might appear to be contradictory does not mean they are so. Language allows us to make distinctions and that is a hallmark of all Logical Janes and Joes.

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.