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When NOT to engage in a discussion

14 Oct

“We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN” 

Thus reads the headlines of the Guardian’s website last week.

A couple of days later,  I overheard two of my middle school colleagues planning a combined 8th-grade science/math unit, designing it to deepen students’ thinking skills and alert them to a ‘real-world’ problem based on this recently released UN report.

As they talked about this ‘climate catastrophe’ I felt the temptation to butt in and question the validity of the data behind the United Nations’ proclamation. But I dismissed that urge.

Why?  because although I had listened to news about this proclamation via Spanish and French news podcasts, I had not read the UN report, let alone absorbed the content and formulated talking points. I realized that in engaging my colleagues, I’d be in territory over my head.

But there was a third option.  To engage or remain silent were not my only choices. The other way could have been to pose questions about the report with the goal of understanding the UN’s position and the reasons why these two teachers believed it was credible.

To be honest, I didn’t feel like investing the energy to do that.  Besides, they were actually doing some curriculum planning and my questioning would have interrupted them.  Nonetheless, the reminder to either ask questions or be up to speed on a topic re-motivated me NOT to neglect my calling as a ‘logical gal’.

I also recognized a presupposition I hold. And that realization subdued me.

My ASSUMPTION is this: Reports like the UN’s are little more than scare tactics, motivated by someone’s concealed special interests or agenda.

It’s a routine practice for each of us logical Joe’s and Jane’s to work at identifying our discourse partner’s presuppositions, ONCE we’re trained to seek them out.  But we must not be blind to our own assumptions. Let me give you an example:

Last week I listened to an hour-long podcast about how Australian Dr. Gary Fettke has been finally vindicated in his researched beliefs about nutrition.  He had been legally silenced by the Australian Medical Board for counseling his patients to follow a low-carb eating protocol for health reasons.

As of last week, this official organ of Australian medical licensing reversed their position reinstated his license and wrote him an apology.  During the interview with Fettke, I learned that the dietician who had lodged a ‘complaint’, which prompted the eventual shutdown of his practice and ensuing legal battles, had been merely a pawn.  The Dietitians Association of Australia and the Heart Foundation together with some of the processed carb major players like Nestle, Kelloggs and others had colluded DUE to decreased sales of cereal over the previous few years.  So…the axiom – Follow the Money seemed to explain Fettke’s experience.

That podcast conversation, resting in my short-term memory, mingled with reports on similar ‘collusion’ within the climate-change-is-a-crisis-focused lobby. So….. when I listened in on my colleagues’ conversation, I automatically ‘assigned’ the same motive to this UN report without investigating the content myself.

Humility is good for us!  We are all capable of committing the very same logical errors we spot in others.  It pays to think before I open my mouth!

 

No time for Bible study? One-verse Logic

24 Jun

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5 (ESV)

Recently I spent a few days with one of our sons and his family.  Anne, my ‘daughter-in-love’, is a busy mom with 3 small children.  She takes care of the home, prepares good meals, daily maintains fitness, nurtures and is encouraged by girlfriends, listens to and loves her husband well.

In other words, her plate is full.  And it’s hard, very hard, to find a patch of time to study God’s Word and pray.  She is frustrated because she knows she NEEDS this food from God.

What I am offering here is a way to be sustained by God’s Word no matter how few or many minutes you can allot to meditating on God’s deeds, instructions and promises.

I love pondering ‘mere’ phrases of the Bible.  I have been well trained through years of listening to John Piper as he works through Bible passages one word, phrase, and passage at a time. The truth is (and Satan doesn’t want you to know this) that it can be enough to spend time with just one verse, pondering the individual words and then the verse as a whole.

I find it all-too-often tempting to read right through familiar texts like the line from Psalm 23 quoted above, without slowing down to digest any part of it.  That’s because we might be operating under a false presupposition:

  • More Bible read or covered produces more knowledge of God

Worded a bit differently:

  • Larger quantity = greater Knowledge

Not necessarily so.  God’s Word is to be tasted, chewed, swallowed and savored – slowly.  Over and over again. Let me show you what I mean:

Since any good logical Joe or Jane starts with terms, that is, the words that represent a concept, I’m going to narrow my focus and share some thoughts as I move slowly through the first half of this one verse, Psalm 23:5.

You prepare a table:

  • This is present tense. You ARE PREPARING.  Right now. In my current circumstances. Implications?  God cares for me this moment.  He is aware of what I need.  I can’t prepare my own table.  He has access to provisions that I don’t, for He creates ALL. The preparation is not yet complete, but He is working on it.
  • It’s a table, not a snack.  A table implies multiple dishes.  Time to savor a meal. Table fellowship.  No eating on the run.  Not fast food.  I’ll be able to sit down at a table and not have to stand up.  There’s the element of rest.

In the presence of my enemies:

  • I have enemies.  God knows what I am facing.  He is a realist.  And He is able and willing and committed to taking care of me, especially when besieged by enemies.  Not just one enemy, but multiple.
  • In their presence.  These enemies see the table prep going on.  They are aware of my God and His loving care for my physical and emotional needs.

And that’s just half the verse and my thoughts THIS day!  Because the Holy Spirit makes God’s Word alive to believers, by faith, I assume that He knows what I will need tomorrow. And what I see tomorrow might be different.  I find that exciting and motivating enough to want to feed on God’s Word every day.

When I ponder a verse like this, I like to do it out loud and narrate it back to God, measure by measure, as I go down into it.  Always in the context of thanksgiving and praise to Him.  I might say:

Oh, thank you, Father, that you are RIGHT NOW preparing what I need in the midst of this situation where I feel knocked about, threatened and scared.  You are going to feed me and strengthen me.  I don’t have to feed myself.  What a good Father you are!

So, if you don’t have much time to spend a quiet hour with your Bible because of the day or the season of life, don’t go extreme and settle for a starvation diet.  That just makes you vulnerable to Christians’ very powerful enemy, Satan.  He is on the prowl for busy Christians too distracted to nourish their souls with God’s Word.

Take ONE verse for the day and chew on it throughout the hours.  Better than a breath mint, a candy bar or a Starbucks coffee, it’ll keep your lips releasing a sweet odor, pleasing to the Lord and totally off-putting to that wicked roaring lion.

 

 

 

My heart’s desires – the logical approach

17 Mar

Consider this argument: 

P1 – Designers who manufacture products know best how they should operate

P2 – God designed and made human beings

C – Therefore, God knows best how they should operate

 

Psalm 33:15 refers to God as He who fashions the hearts of them all (the children of man)

Given our topsy-turvy contemporary culture, I’ve been thinking about the desires that pour out of our hearts and incline us to move in different directions.  Society’s icons counsel:

  • Be true to your heart
  • Follow your heart
  • Look within
  • Trust your heart
  • Go after your passion

But that assumes that what the human heart wants is optimal for humans.  This ‘wisdom’ also presupposes that in our reasoning, we know when we should yield to the heart and when we should hold back. (Or worse yet – that the mere existence of a desire MEANS an automatic seeking to fulfill it!)

Imagine a car, fresh off the dealer’s lot.  Having written a very large check for your vehicle that should work well since it’s new, you cautiously ease onto the road, headed home.  You don’t have to drive very far until you notice a distinct tug by the steering wheel to the left. The wheels seem to have a mind of their own, wanting to veer into oncoming traffic.

The way this car operates at the moment is what happens to be natural for it. It ‘desires’ to pull left.

But you, the operator, know better.  And in fact, the car manufacturer knows better.

Yet if your car could talk, he might even argue, ‘THIS makes me feel good, to favor the left!”

Are we any different, from the point of view of being something designed and made?  We human beings have bodies, hearts, and minds purposefully planned and fashioned by our creator God.  Only when we align ourselves according to His Word, the Scriptures, do we ‘operate’ or ‘function’ correctly.

To assume that all desires are GOOD and beneficial for not only us but society is dangerous and misleading.  Yes, people will argue, “That’s just the way God made me.  If he hadn’t wanted me to feel a certain way, he would have designed me differently.”

There happens to be one detail that throws that argument out the window!  Given the fall of one man and woman (thanks, Aunt Eve and Uncle Adam!), all of creation has been disordered.  AND God alone both knows and has the manufacturer’s right to prescribe how we should function to optimize LIFE.

 

If that were true, then EVERYONE would….

11 Mar

The mis-assumed credibility of the ‘majority’ can floor me sometimes.

I’m beginning to see a pattern among people when I suggest an idea that they don’t ‘hear everywhere’ in their culture bubble.

What do I mean by ‘culture bubble’?

It’s that comfortable opinion environment we inhabit.  Technology has ‘advanced’ to the point where we can structure our online feeds to friend/unfriend, to curate interests, to ignore or even avoid hearing dissenting views. We don’t even have to HEAR or read or confront a dissenting view most of the time.

We choose friends, watch certain shows, read selected periodicals and books, worship with like-minded culture-bearers, and participate in rallies with fellow supporters.

So it SEEMS as though everyone around us thinks like us.  It doesn’t take much to then assume that how we think IS reality and not just one competing viewpoint.

I first saw this when I embraced a non-prevailing way of teaching French.  Most teachers use the grammar-textbook approach.  When introduced to teaching via Comprehensible Input, my colleagues balked and told me that this way didn’t work.  That was in 2000 and the majority of fellow Second Language teachers still exalt grammar and vocab list methodologies. But I have gathered MUCH evidence over the past 17 + years helping students acquire French this way.  It works!

Then there is Christianity. Despite much evidence for the historicity of Jesus and the examples of changed lives and societies, the majority of people worldwide reject the claims of Biblical Christianity.  ‘Oh, that’s what primitive people used to believe.  But science has proven….”

Then there is the climate debate. My husband would be quick to point out how Climate Change alarmists tend to cling to dogma over data. “97% of scientists believe X, so that settles it!”  Just what is it about the power of consensus that allows many to stay wedded to a questionable belief or even to be smug about it?

I’m not saying that the views of every majority group are by nature false.  But I think we ought to identify and examine our presuppositions.  What you believe guides the evidence you accept as true.  The opposite should be the case – that one follows the evidence to arrive at a rational viewpoint. And a viewpoint that one is willing to hold loosely out of HUMILITY.

How does humility come into this equation?  Logical Joes and Janes should know by now that a human being cannot be privy to ALL truth.  Pride believes that his or her viewpoint IS the truth – something impossible to verify. Only God, who reigns outside of this created world (for He brought its very existence into being), knows the truth.

The latest example that leaves me puzzled about this tendency toward ‘majority-bias’ is the prevailing view of many regarding nutrition and health.  I’m aware that some DIS-regard the idea that what we eat powerfully influences our bodies.  But the medical explanations from doctors and researchers who have spent years studying this topic are worth thinking about. Then there are the many first-person reports I continue to read.  Accounts from men and women who have switched to a plant-based diet.  It appears that there is a growing body of data that seems to indicate that what you eat can be more influential than genes or even predispositions toward illnesses and disease.

But when I suggest a vegan way of food to those who take meds, AND who suffer the side effects, AND who feel crummy AND who are overweight, they scoff.  Politely.  And say things like, “If this were so, then my doctor would speak up. In fact, we would be seeing this in the news and all over the internet!”

Well, maybe so or maybe not.  But shouldn’t we follow the evidence to where it leads?

 

Extreme - Plant based diets v. surgery

 

How to avoid Confirmation Bias

17 Dec

Just what IS confirmation bias?  In short, it’s drawing a conclusion that you WANT, by overlooking some evidence to the contrary or picking and choosing partial evidence to support or bolster your predetermined view.

My husband surprised me last week when he acknowledged his own confirmation bias regarding the verdict of ‘not guilty’ in the trial of illegal immigrant Jose Zarate, accused of 1st degree (intentional) murder.  Mike, in fact, changed his mind after reading a report written by an alternate juror.  This citizen performed his civic duty by sitting through all the testimony and lawyer presentations for the two sides.  After the verdict, he then discussed with several jurors the verdict-arrival process the sequestered group had followed.  He concluded that the jury had indeed arrived at the correct decision because the alleged murderer had NOT in fact premeditated the shooting of Kate Steinle.

Dear clear thinking, rational friends: We must hold on to a commitment to the truth.  We must focus on ALL the evidence and follow it, even if it leads us to a judgment we don’t like.  Isn’t that why this bronze statue was cast?

Justice is blind

We Americans hold that justice is blind.  Surely we must apply that restraint to our biases and cherished pet beliefs when we are called to make a fair and impartial decision.

Again, I say, ‘Well done, Michael!’  Now may I be equally willing to embrace such fairness and evenhandedness as my husband.  After all, doing so would only be following our Father’s lead as described by the prophet Jeremiah:

……..I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:24b)

Do humility and logic go together?

3 May

 

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way. Ps 25:8-9

Danger alert!

Logic can destroy humility.

How can that be?  I thought clear rational thinking was the entire point of this blog?

Yes, but learning to use skills of rational, deductive reasoning can cause us to grow smug. And SMUGNESS reeks of pride, arrogance and insufferableness.

I am a Biblical Christian who loves words and takes God’s Word seriously. Therefore, I believe whole-heartedly that the original text of the Bible is accurate and free from error. Why?  because I accept as true that God superintended its transmission to the authors through His divine Spirit. After all, the God who SPOKE the universe into being can certainly insure the accuracy of the original writings.  Beside that, He even says that His Word is true. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. John 17:17

Here’s the snare.  I can be arrogant and prideful when I think I am right.  Why do I think my views are correct?

  • Because I am a born-again Christian who has been given a new and different nature
  • Because I have learned some logical thinking principles, which empower me

God, however, isn’t content to leave me equipped with ‘right’ thinking, whether content or method.

The message God seems to be sending me through daily Bible reading and various prayers is that since we humans are created beings, there is NO way in God’s kingdom that we finite creatures can be all-seeing and all-knowing.  Those ‘omni’ qualities belong to God alone who is perfect.

How that should translate into my life and perhaps yours, if you agree, is that we can be wrong!  Maybe our conclusions from the evidence WE SEE and KNOW are rightly deduced, but the presupposition behind the syllogism is huge.  Namely that we see and know ALL the facts.  Could there be, perhaps, more to meet MY eye and awareness?

I work amidst kind and friendly colleagues in a middle school in Asheville, NC.  I’m the only one, I imagine, who doubts some of the ‘givens’ about global warming and its attendant problems.  What I’m trying to practice during our lunchtime, round-table informal chats is to listen for the BEST arguments to support their views regarding this climate situation.

Wanting to understand the other side depends first on the recognition that I might not be right. Oh, maybe given the circumstances and facts I’ve seen and read, I can make a case for what I believe and why.  But the possibility DOES exist that I might actually have a blind spot.

This God-worked humility in me, through life’s hardships and knocks and my daily reading of His Word, has initiated a less sure, less-exalted view of how ‘infallible’ or correct I might be.

I believe, that our world needs more ‘Logical Joes and Janes’, but ones who humble themselves enough to listen with care to others’ views.

Who’s the one with a bias?

12 Apr

The email response greeted me with this first sentence:

“This site and its articles are extremely biased and on the verge of alt-right/tea party. It reminds me of Breitbart.   I have a hard time taking much of what they say seriously. ” 

I had sent a work colleague an essay about why the Swiss seem to encounter little to no terrorism in their country.  The author had posted her thoughts on a conservative website (Townhall).  Since this 8th-grade humanities teacher seeks to train his students to ask deeper questions, I thought he would appreciate the anomaly that Switzerland represents in a Europe menaced by terrorism.

I wasn’t prepared for his differing worldview, but I should have been given his youth and generational milieu and the fact that we teach in Asheville, NC.  Taken aback at first, I carefully chose my response.  Rewriting my comments in the form of questions (I reflected) might make it easier for him to read and accept my thoughts.

To his credit I realized he had indeed read the entire essay and given it some consideration. His comments bore that out.  So I complimented him on that, but asked him the logical question all of us should employ initially:  Why do you think that? (regarding his dismissive first couple of sentences)

Here is how I worded the rest of my response to his opening salvo: Why is that?  Shouldn’t we judge ideas on their merit?  I think that’s the genetic fallacy, to dismiss a viewpoint because of its source.

Continuing on gently, I spring-boarded off of his observations with some further thoughts.  In the end, I repeated my acknowledgement of his generous use of time DESPITE his skepticism about the ‘validity’ of the point of view.

What I re-learned from this encounter was this:

  • just as I and my husband and some like-minded friends believe the other side is ‘biased’, they also assume we are predisposed
  • there is no cause for fear when someone tries to marginalize one’s beliefs and reasons.  I probably know more than this young man.  I read a lot more and I’ve been at this clear thinking/reasoning work for years now.
  • asking questions is a safe and disarming approach in responding to what might FEEL like an attack

I’m grateful for the occasion to exercise some of my ‘logical gal’ skills.