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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.

Another reason for believing God

31 Aug

Do you accept God for who he says he is in the Bible because the written words are true?

And do you know that the words are true because there is enough external evidence to warrant true belief?

Or do you trust God and his words because you always have and don’t really think about why you do?

I ask because I learned of another way to justify one’s belief in God.  Listening to a podcasted discussion (Unbelievable with Justin Brierley) between 2 philosophers the other day introduced me to the concept of ‘properly basic beliefs’ and ‘non-propositional’ logic.

As a layperson, I gleaned that a properly basic belief is one not based on other propositional truth or on evidence, but accepted and trusted.  These are beliefs that can’t be proven. Examples might be:

  • the sense or knowing that there is more to life than what we see
  • 2 + 2 = 4

The American philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, offers this example:

  •  I think other minds exist because I have a mind and I exist, but I can’t prove it.  All might be an illusion (remember The Matrix?).
  • Nonetheless, we humans do accept that if we exist, then others exist. And if we acknowledge THAT as a rational belief, then might we not also accept as rational the proposition that God exists?

This way of ‘argumentation’ does presuppose that we humans have the capacity to think rationally.  (to use this lingo, “the belief that humans are designed to think rationally” is properly basic)

Plantinga points to the ‘sensus divinitatis’ in every human as evidence that the existence of God is a rational conclusion.  This sense of the divine appears in every culture across the expanse of history.

So what do you think?  For Christians who are commanded by Jesus to explain the good news of God’s rescue plans to all we encounter in our daily lives, is this approach sufficient?  Probably not.  But as we live out ‘the Great Commission’ we are learning and assembling a ‘tool kit’.  I’m reassured just knowing that intelligent Christian thinkers across the centuries have vetted what is probably common to all people I meet.  There ARE convictions we hold as rational without being able to articulate any propositional or evidential reason other than, “I just believe it!”

 

Underpinnings of logical thought

4 May

Here’s an argument:

The biblical worldview is the optimal worldview to support logic because it best explains why we can declare a premise to be either TRUE or FALSE.

True or false

Let me explain what I mean.  To use the tools of logic, we must assume several conditions about the building blocks of an argument.  At its most basic analysis, there are 3 component parts to an argument:

-terms (individual words or phrases that represent a concept like: chocolate ice cream or dogs)

-premises (statements that provide a judgment about a concept like: red hair is thick or cats are quirky)

-syllogisms (the ensemble of at least 2 premises and the conclusion that follows like:  PREMISE 1 – All boys are strong  PREMISE 2 – Joe is a boy  CONCLUSION – Joe is strong)

When evaluating terms, premises and syllogisms, logicians use this measurement:

  • terms are either clear or ambiguous (to the degree that they unequivocally and explicitly describe a concept)
  • premises are either true or false (to the degree they accurately match reality)
  • syllogisms are either valid or invalid (to the degree they follow the ‘rules’ of logic)

So why do I make the claim that the biblical worldview should be adopted in order to use logic?  If I understand Darwinian naturalism or materialism correctly, truth is not something that is necessary.  The species survives and continues by adapting. So what is ‘good’ for a population is what ensures its ongoing viability.  That MIGHT intersect with truth, but it does not depend on truth.

When a materialist or naturalist argues for his point of view, he borrows the concept of truth to advance a point of view. And in conversation with said materialist, if we avoid pointing out the inconsistency between her beliefs and practices we are being gracious. But there might be an occasion gently to point out this ‘inconvenient truth’.  I grow more confident when I write out my thoughts regarding this assumption about logic.

You might be thinking, what is the linkage between a biblical worldview and truth?  Good question!  Christians believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired account of God’s creation and rescue of a people He loves.  The very character and nature of God is grounded on personal attributes such as His:

  • truthfulness
  • immutability
  • eternality
  • goodness
  • wisdom
  • infinite power and knowledge

Christians believe in absolute truth because of who God is, an immaterial being who defines and models perfect truth. The evidence we have that God is true and speaks truth is that the Bible corresponds to reality.  Vast numbers of written records document both the historical and the archeological reliability of most of the Bible including the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, without going into that kind of detail, I argue that the use of logic rests on the presupposition that truth exists.  And the only worldview that supports THAT belief is the biblical one.

 

Logical Gal learns the power of a metaphor:

17 Jun

Metaphor 1

The debate centered on the gender of God.  Listening, I learned how to distinguish metaphor from analogy, a very useful distinction.

Those arguing that God should be considered just as much a ‘She’ as a ‘He’ used Jesus’ heart-felt lament as recorded by Luke in 13:34:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

Clearly Jesus is using a mother-image to communicate His love for His fellow Jews.  So what about God as Father?

Here’s a representative verse from the Old Testament out of Isaiah (63:16): For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.

And from the New Testament, I offer one of many verses, this one from 1 Cor 8:6 – Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

So which is a stronger description of God?  Jesus’ own words using a mother hen’s longings for her chicks to describe His occasional maternally affectionate feelings? Or Paul’s words that God is the Father?  To help us think through the differences, we should ask:

  • Does Jesus always feel regret toward the inhabitants of Jerusalem?
  • Does God ever stop being Father?

It turns out that metaphor is weightier than analogy because it makes a statement of identity by claiming that X is Y.  To be fair, the proposition that X is Y can be false.  But we must at least understand the intent of the one making the claim before we take issue with the truthfulness of it.

The analogy of X being like Y is partial; it is NOT making an identity claim.  Do you remember Forrest Gump’s line that “Life is like a box of chocolates”?   Our question to him the first time would be to ask, “Forrest, how so? in what way(s) is life LIKE a box of chocolates?”

Box of Chocolates

Had Forrest chosen to describe life with a metaphor, he might have said:

  • Life is a journey
  • Life is war
  • Life is a tragedy
  • Life is a party
  • Life is a roller coaster
  • Life is a French movie

Or to be a bit more literary, who hasn’t been moved by Shakespeare’s use of metaphor in his monologue describing the 7 phases of life in ‘All the world is a stage’ ?

In these cases, the one making the claim has to work harder and more thoroughly to prove through multiple examples that his metaphor is accurate. He has to address any counterexamples his audience might offer.

So back to the initial debate about whether God intends us to regard Him as He/She, as Mother/Father God:

I am convinced that He describes Himself to BE Father who at times acts tenderly which is more often associated with moms.  That shouldn’t be too difficult to swallow.  My husband never stops being father to our sons AND he has shown tender affection for them at different times.  Just as I, their mom, have shown father-like decision-making, when putting my foot down with resolve.

Understanding and using language properly helps us think clearly!

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 and how to write a letter to the editor

7 Jul

letter to the editor

Today’s Asheville Citizen-Times sported a guest columnist who is Director of Radiology at a local medical school.  He wrote about 750 words asserting as FACT two ‘propositions’ about the theory of evolution and the nature of Christians.

About evolution, his statements were along the line of ‘it’s settled science’.  And his view of Christians painted a strawman group of people who can’t ground their beliefs in anything true or factual.  He also maintained that most Christians accept the theory of evolution.

Nor did he build a case around either premise.  His commentary turned out to be nothing more than multiple statements offered as ‘fact’.  He then finished up by accusing Christians of being anti-science and a threat to democracy if they support creationism.

As a thinking Christian, I have to keep my emotions in check.  But it’s not enough to avoid mild rants about how our current society sees Christians.  I don’t always compose a letter to the editor. This time I felt like I should.

But what do you do when there are so many un-truths in one piece?

direction?

 

I had to limit myself and choose a main topic and maybe one side issue.  First I prayed that God would guide me.  And He did!  Before I sat down at the computer, I listened to a podcast while walking and heard some ideas that gave direction to my thoughts.  Then I jotted down my points BEFORE I started writing the letter.

Taking a few minutes to line up my direction kept me, I hope, from volleying back with an equally shot-gunned answer.  I also tried to write at a 5th grade reading level (the audience of daily papers, they say) and keep my tone winsome.

Here’s my response.  We’ll see if the paper publishes it.  At least the guy or gal whose job it is to monitor letters and perform ‘triage’ on them will have to read it!

 

Dr. ‘Joe Blow’ seems to think that only Christians trust beliefs they cannot see. Were we to sit down to talk, I would offer the following for his consideration:

We all start with a story or world-view written by the community we most identify with. This world-view is a lens through which we see and explain different facets of life. Dr. Rowe has faith that the scientific view of the world is true.

Reason calls us to verify our view with facts and experiences. What can be measured lends credence to the story.  Christians rely on the evidence of the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. No top-rate New Testament scholar, secular or religious, disputes the historicity of the death and rising to life of Jesus of Nazareth.

However certainty about one’s assumptions is impossible. We should retain those offering the most explanatory power.

Therefore, the best any human can do is exercise reasonable trust.

If Dr. Rowe were married, I would ask him how he is sure of his wife’s love. I would point out that he couldn’t have the same kind of certainty he probably has about the temperature at which water freezes. But he can look at his experiences with his wife and choose to trust her love for him. She has probably built up a track record of faithful exercise of loving actions toward him.

Thinking Christians look at the evidence and their experiences of God in their lives and make the rational step of trusting the God of the Bible.

Question: which is easier for you to do – write a response to someone with whom you fundamentally disagree or dialogue face-to-face?

 

 

 

Logical Gal and Truth by Repetition

27 Jun

Brave New World

Summertime and I’m using the time off to read!

One of the English teachers from my school lent me Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel.  In his futuristic vision, caste life is engineered in factory-like laboratories.  And for each caste member to be content and ‘happy’ with their work and limitations, they are brainwashed from birth through something called ‘Hypnopaedia‘. While they sleep, certain messages are repeated numerous times until they are absorbed as ‘truth’ by the hearer. “One hundred repetitions three times a week for four years, thought Bernard Marx, who was a specialist on hypnopaedia.  Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth.”  (p. 47)  Hypnopaedia

We shutter and chalk that up to science-fiction, however long ago it was written. (1932) But is that particular society’s modus operandi so different than ours, today in the 2010’s?  You hear something enough times and it becomes ‘a kind of truth’. Take the widely accepted ‘fact’:

  • 50 % of all marriages end in divorce

Apparently that is not true.  What?  But everyone says it is.  (that, my friend, is called a fallacy –  when your reason for advancing or believing a proposition to be true is just because ‘everyone’ says it’s true – Argumentum Ad Populum) Cats - 8 of 10 prefer Whiskas (Like the ad says, 8 of every 10 cats prefer Whiskas! Conclusion: it must be good! )

 

In doing a little fact-checking about the divorce numbers, the story goes that some assumptions were made in 1981, the year that this ‘fact’ was publicized as legit.  See link for account of rumor’s origin Okay, you say, you don’t fall for urban legends like marriage and divorce rates.  You track down alleged facts and do your homework before you believe what you hear! And maybe that is so, but where I live in Western North Carolina, many don’t.  They have absorbed publicized claims as truth because they WANT to believe them.  Each day I read the letters to the editor in the Asheville Citizen-Times.  I’m sure they are not unique in their source of letter-writers.  I would guess (before doing my homework) that many citizens across the United States cobble together truth the way these local readers do.  And repeated enough times, anything becomes believable.

But what is Truth?  By definition truth is that which corresponds to reality.  It doesn’t matter whether many or none believe it.

Truth is the truth

I don’t doubt that you KNOW what truth is.  And reading a novel whose leaders so blatantly have set systems in place to brainwash people strikes us, the readers, as fantasy.  Actually, however, we gloss over the same kinds of practices ONLY because they are not SOPs, publicized standard operating procedures.  But whether the actions are de jure or de facto, the results are the same.  And that is frightening.  Control by repetition.