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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.

 

The Chivas Regal False Assumption

11 Jan

chivas_image_for_wikipedia  Gotta watch those assumptions.  Reading in a recent news magazine about how one formerly pricey private college increased their admissions applicant pool intrigued me.

Struggling to attract enough incoming freshmen scared off by the $32,000+ tuition price tag, Rosemont College took the bold move to reduce tuition by 45%.  Applications soared and the quality of those choosing this Christian college increased.

Why do colleges like Rosemont and many other private institutions cost so much?   One reason has been attributed to the so-called ‘Chivas Regal effect’.  Apparently people assume that if something costs a lot, it must be worth it.  Associating a brand name with an ‘elites only can afford this‘ price tag creates a reputation.  Advertising works!  But does reality support the assumption?  Not always.  AND in some cases, as Rosemont discovered when inquiries and visits did not turn into applications, the published price tag can hurt – scholarships notwithstanding!

Apparently high-end colleges like the maneuver room to be able to ‘offer’ a tuition discount to students they court.  They can say, “Since you and your experiences would uniquely add to the Class of 2020, we are pleased to offer you scholarship assistance to make our institution more affordable.”

Rosemont College decided to do away with that tactic and settle on a tuition dollar amount that if EVERYONE paid it, the lights would stay on and the same standards of teaching and small classes would continue.

The results testify to the fallacy of the Chivas effect. More families and higher caliber students applied to Rosemont.  And this small Christian college outside of Philadelphia is not the only institution to experiment with tuition pricing and uncover a boost to enrollment.  Both colleges AND parents are finding out that it literally pays to question assumptions.

So if this common presupposition has holes, what other false assumptions might be limiting our options?  I love this kind of critical thinking and ingenuity!

 

 

 

 

Bears repeating: our presuppositions matter

28 Dec

A dear friend of mine dove into theological waters for the first time last week.  As a result, I understand more clearly her view on the veracity and usefulness of the Bible.

She belongs to the United Church of Christ.  One of their beliefs is essentially ‘no creeds’.

  • The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love. UCC pastors and teachers are known for their commitment to excellence in theological preparation, interpretation of the scripture and justice advocacy.

I am not writing a post to attack this denomination, but to use what they write about themselves to illustrate several points regarding logical and clear thought.

A couple of conclusions one can draw from that paragraph:

  1. If there is no substantive content to a belief, then there is no foundation for saying something is true or false, right or wrong.
  2. If you advocate ‘love’, who is going to criticize you, especially if you are vague about what love means?  Seems attractive and safe, yes.  Nevertheless, meaningless.

Some questions I would ask:

  1. Just what DO you mean by ‘love’?  Whose definition are you using? Is ‘love’ allowing people to continue in self-destructive ways because they believe them to be right?  Is it ‘loving’ (in order to avoid saddening or offending someone) to withhold a diagnosis for a disease that is curable?
  2. If there is no doctrine, then how can one interpret the Scriptures?
  3. And on what basis can one’s interpretation of Scripture be judged ‘excellent’?

That’s a short response, having read what this denomination writes about itself at the macro level. At the micro or individual and personal level, here is what weighs on me concerning my friend.

If I am correct in presenting her viewpoint, she believes that certainty about what the Bible teaches is impossible and in fact ‘destructive’.

I passed some sleepless hours across three nights last week working out the implications of this view.  What I have been given by God, the light and faith to believe that the Bible is not only true but authoritative, is precious and incalculably beneficial to me.  Here are just a few of its gifts:

  • God’s promises are both a safe haven in scary times and a source of REAL, supernatural strength when I both feel and AM weak
  • His Word provides guidance and wisdom
  • I have assurance that I am personally known and loved by a good Father who created me and everything in the universe
  • There is a purpose to both my life and my suffering
  • I have an inheritance safely waiting for me that outweighs all suffering on this earth

So there you have it, some out-workings of presuppositions.  Beliefs really do matter.

So what is my advice to all of us?  Not only must we know what we believe, but WHY we hold those beliefs. And we must be willing to follow the ramifications and determine if we like where they lead.

Bonnes Pensées!  Happy thinking!

 

 

Understanding someone’s grounds

16 Nov

“Jesus went around doing good, healing the sick and feeding the hungry and blessing those who gave to the poor,” pointed out an advocate for social justice issues as primary.

The man in conversation with her countered from a teaching from the Sermon on the Mount: “Jesus illuminated His commitment to the Law when he taught that we should not murder! And abortion is the unlawful taking of life from the innocent!”

I overheard this discussion during an October radio conversation between two Christians explaining why they were voting differently; the first one for Hillary Clinton and the second speaker for Donald Trump. Each maintained that the party of his and her candidate best supported the teaching of Jesus.

Clearly, what we focus on (as well as what we don’t look at or see) guides our beliefs and subsequent actions.

After 90 minutes of back and forth explanations, neither person had changed his/her mind.  But for me the discussion was fruitful because I could see:

  • each person advanced sincerely-held views, supported by an accurate understanding of a portion of Scripture.

The issue, as far as I can discern, seems to point to this question:

  • What do American citizens believe the Constitution delegates to the federal government to handle?
  • Which problems/situations should fall under the purview of state, local or non-governmental groups of people and individuals?

I don’t know how to reconcile the views any other way than what our Founding Fathers left in place for us: a representative republic, undergirded by a written constitution that allows for change.  Whether you are upset or relieved with the results from 8 November, the system worked. No one is ever COMPLETELY satisfied, but that FACT is woven into the very fabric of our constitution.  Our system is not perfect, but it beats many alternatives!

Just for the record, when I reflect on Jesus’ marching orders, it appears clear that we, his followers, are commanded:

  • to make disciples among all the people groups
  • to baptize them in the name of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
  • and to teach them to do all that He, Jesus commanded, including making disciples……

PS: I see this command as an outworking of the Greatest Command to ‘Love God and to Love Neighbor’.  (For we show we love God IF we obey Him.  And what greater way IS THERE to love our neighbor than to care for their eternal, forever condition?)

 

 

Presuppositions and discontent

3 Aug

Premise:

Most women at my age and stage in life have retired from full-time work

Conclusion

I should be retired from full-time work

Like most teachers who are relishing their summer sabbatical, I’ve been struggling with not wanting to go back to school in August. Turning 59 has added weight to my annual reluctance return to the classroom.

Here’s the problem:

Christians are called by God to be content in all the situations He places them. So on top of my longing for permanent summer, I recognize this grumbly attitude is sin. In essence, I’m saying to God: Your assignment for me is wrong!

As a logical gal, I’ve been working to reorder my thinking. This labor has borne fruit.

It dawned on me the other day that besides the missing first premise, I have an unspoken presupposition. Let me order my though process and fill in for you AND me what was just floating in the back of my mind:

Presupp: Retirement is both good and normal in America

Premise 1: Most workingwomen in their late 50s retire from full-time work

Premise 2: I am approaching 60

Conclusion: It would be both good and normal for me to retire NOW!

In articulating what lay behind my ‘unmet expectation’ I saw the problem!

Where did I get the idea:

  • that God’s plan for his people is to retire?
  • or that retirement is actually GOOD for me?

The point of this? Thinking through and pinning down just what grounds our feelings enables us to analyze whether what we believe is in fact TRUE.

Besides, I should know better than to indulge in that kind of discontent. God has built up a track record of meeting my needs. The most recent occasion when God came through was last winter when my husband dealt with some health issues. The verse I clung through some real suffering was Psalm 84:11:

 No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

 That fact and promise allowed me to trust God’s character and plans for us when Mike was ill.

Startling, isn’t it, that until now I hadn’t transferred over God’s Word to my job as a 10-month schoolteacher.

If I am still ‘having to’ teach at age 59, then it must be because God considers it GOOD for me.

And with that, I can begin to anticipate with a lighter heart the good He has planned for this new school year.

Truth as a dodge

27 Jul

I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  John 4:17

Woman at the well

Jesus gives her credit.  The Samaritan woman is telling the truth, partially. She is not married, but she is living with a man who is not her husband.  And Jesus calls her bluff by revealing that he knows the real situation.

Politicians are masters at this ploy.  Their words FEEL like truth because there is in fact some truth among all their discourse.

So why is this important?  The heads up to be wary of one’s interlocutor’s replies or explanations reminds me to ask some questions as I evaluate what I am hearing (or reading for that matter!)

It goes without saying for good logical Joes and Janes that in every meaningful discussion the definition of terms needs to be established and agreed upon.  I am talking about additional considerations.

Pastor John Piper has taught me, via his sermons, to listen well by assessing the following:

  • What other words could have been chosen?  By saying X, what is he NOT saying?
  • What grounds her statement?  What is behind it?  What presuppositions precede it?

It could be that what is NOT said actually carries more significance than what is out in the open.  This is especially true in a country as divided by issues, as America seems to be. With an election ahead of us, why not practice with me in evaluating at a more deep and layered level what a speaker or writer might actually be intending.  More importantly, may we be care-filled about our words.  Words matter!