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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.

 

 

Responding to an attack posing as an argument

1 Jun

Illogical Lucy – You have no right to say that abortion is wrong!

Logical Joe – Why is that?

Illogical Lucy – You’re not willing to: 

  • adopt an unwanted child
  • take care of babies outside of the womb
  • bring the pregnant mom into your home

The presupposition of Illogical Lucy is that ‘Only prior action legitimizes one to make a belief statement/value judgment’

Is that true?  If it were, then the following convictions held by certain people would not be allowed into the arena of ideas for discussion:

  • The practice of 19th century American slavery was unethical (YOU 21st century American haven’t freed a slave or refused to buy a slave.)
  • Spouse and child abuse is wrong (Have you offered shelter to assault victims?)
  • Common Core curriculum usage should enforced by the federal government (YOU haven’t earned an advanced degree in education.)
  • Smoking is harmful to your health (You haven’t kicked the habit, so who are you to make such a judgment statement since you still smoke!)

The last rebuke of the anti-smoking belief is actually a known fallacy called Tu Quoque – or ‘you too?’  It goes like this:

If you participate in a bad action, you have no ground to stand on in order to claim that smoking is harmful.

Think about it, the person who can’t stop smoking but recognizes its detrimental side effects, is he or she not in an excellent position to call out and publicize the dangers?  I can imagine a man or a woman pleading with a teenager NOT to start smoking:

  • Young man, don’t start on the path of this foul and addictive habit.  I once was your age. Just like you I wanted to fit in, to look manly.  But boy do I regret it.  I’m a pack-a-day guy now and, you hear this cough?  – it’s not good.  My doctor keeps threatening me that I’ll die young from Emphysema like my Pa and his dad. Besides, my mouth stinks, my wife doesn’t like kissing me, my clothes reek, and I spend about $40 a week on this nasty addiction.

Here’s another tactical version of this ‘squash your opponent so his point of view can’t be voiced’:  Since you can’t possibly know what it’s like to be trans or unemployed or stuck with an unwanted pregnancy or hispanic or unemployed then……

  • Your view doesn’t count.  Your belief has no credibility.  Your opinion is wrong out of the gate.

Is that so?  That bullying tactic is actually a version of the Genetic Fallacy.  This maneuver draws strength from the false idea that the origin of the belief can de-legitimize the position.

Logical Joes and Janes KNOW that a premise, that is a belief, position, claim or view must stand or fall on the merits of the reasons backing it up.  It matters not at all WHO is putting forth the argument.  There are only 3 elements that must ‘pass muster’.

  1. Are the terms in each of the premises clear or ambiguous?
  2. Are the premises true or false?
  3. Does the argument or syllogism follow a valid structural flow?

If an argument contains clear terms within true premises, which lead to a ‘rule-abiding’ conclusion, then we say that the argument is both valid AND true and deserving of being considered SOUND.

And a sound argument, my friends, is golden.

Let us stand our logical ground with courage and courtesy and follow the same principles ourselves!

Q: So where are you being bullied in the marketplace of ideas today?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

God gave you a brain, so use it!

12 Aug

Confession:  I find it challenging to exercise patience with Christians who don’t know why they believe something.  Unable to articulate reasons, they feel put on the spot.  Their reaction is predictable – they tend to retreat behind a weak excuse: “I just have faith!”

One doesn’t have to study deeply in the Bible to notice that not only Jesus himself but many of the inspired writers used logical argumentation and evidence to support their claims.

Paul, the New Testament apostle who encountered and was transformed by the resurrected Jesus, was skilled in good debate.  A clear argument to showcase why God expects us to be rational comes from Paul’s instruction to the Christians of Corinth. They were plagued with some incertitude and fears, which came from the ambient Greek philosophy of the times that devalued the body.  These sincere but baby Christians were beginning themselves to doubt the possibility of resurrection. Paul took on their argument with full-square directness and articulated the consequences of their fear:

1 Corinthians 15:16  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

It’s easy to take Paul’s argument and render it into logical form.  If we just address his first thought, we arrive at this syllogism:

Premise 1: No human beings are raised from the dead

Premise 2: Christ was a human being

Conclusion:  Therefore, Christ was not raised from the dead

In his letter to them, Paul has set up the Corinthians intentionally so that they can NOT argue in this manner.  The first fifteen verses of Chapter 15 of his letter have already laid out the case for the historicity of the resurrection.  In fact, Paul’s strongest card is the fact that more than 500 people saw the newly risen Jesus during the 40 days between the resurrection and His ascension. So even though the syllogism above is in a valid form, as we see here below,

No M is P

All S is M

Therefore, No S is P

..the argument STILL fails the ‘soundness’ test.  Remember that all we have to do is show that one premise is false and the argument comes apart.  Since Jesus was fully human AND fully God, we have to accept Premise 2 as true.  We then turn to Premise 1, which states that No human beings are raised from the dead. Not so!

resurrected Jesus

The Bible recounts at least 5 or 6 people raised from the dead.  See link here for explanation of each

Therefore, by virtue of discrediting the truth of Premise # 2, the entire argument falls apart. And an argument, however valid it might be, is not sound if it is not true.  But a valid, true argument is airtight, hence unbeatable.

Do you see how logic is useful?  Being a thinking, rational Christian is NOT a contradiction in terms.  God is Himself a reason-based rational being.  Yes, He is far more multi-dimensional than us, to include being supernatural and immaterial. But we are made in His image.  Should we not expect Him to endow us with some measure of logical thinking?

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.

Logical Gal – Allowed to have an opinion?

4 Mar

From her 22 January 2015 Press Conference at the Capitol, when pressed about whether a 20-week old fetus was a human being, Pelosi responded:

“And as a mother of five, in six years, I have great standing on this issue, great understanding of it, more than my colleagues. In fact, one day many years ago, perhaps before you were born, when I was a new member of Congress, as a Catholic and a mom of five, opposing some of the initiatives similar to what–in the same vein as–what we have today, one of the Republicans stood up and said: Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about having babies than the pope.

“Yeah, Yeah. That would be true.”

Nancy Pelosi

**So in essence, Nancy Pelosi’s presupposition might be stated this way:

Premise 1:  Only those who have had babies have the moral authority or right to make judgments about babies and fetuses and when life begins

Premise 2: I am one of those people who have had babies

Conclusion:  Therefore, I am qualified to make pronouncements and judgments about babies, fetuses and life

This kind of reasoning is easy to refute when one applies a technique called, “Reductio ad Absurdum”.  What we do is apply the principle inherent in the argument to an extreme case. The argument self-destructs on its own.

So in Nancy Pelosi’s argument, let’s boil down her reasoning so we can apply it to another situation.  Her thinking goes like this:  only those who have experienced an event have the credibility/aka, ‘the moral high ground’ to make a decision.

If this is so, then we would have to preclude the following situations:

  • doctors diagnosing and commencing healing remedies
  • Congress creating laws for our country
  • judges deciding legal cases
  • parents applying wisdom in situations that they themselves never experienced as children

All these cases and a plethora of others would not be valid, since those making a judgment had not actually undergone the experience of the people affected by their decisions.

Judgments are sound when supported by sufficient reason and evidence.  Period. Plain and simple.

Don’t get snookered by this ‘playing the personal experience card’.