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Learning to say NO – a life skill from logic

1 Oct

It was one of those sleepless nights this past week.  During the wakeful period, my subconscious memory united some disparate past experiences into one theme.

The prompt for this sorting and configuring of earlier ‘histories’ in my life must have been the previous day’s unacceptable 7th-grade boys classroom behaviors.  I had been really bothered because 3 boys continue to distract our French class, preventing me from teaching the others.

On my drive home, I spent time thinking and formulating an articulate reason to communicate to these boys about WHY this pattern ‘cannot continue’.

Once I had my argument in place, I knew I would find it far easier for the tête-à-tête talks I planned the next day.  The foundation and strength to say NO, you cannot do this to me or to my class!” rested on having a sound reason.

All that was conscious.  But in the dark quiet of the night, God brought to mind 4 different segments of my past life where I failed to say ‘NO’:

  • in overeating and binging on M&Ms and cookies for 9 years of my life
  • engaging in sex before marriage
  • disciplining a son who continually tested the limits
  • setting guidelines of propriety for a teenage son and his girlfriend at our house

It seems to me that the reason WHY I couldn’t draw a line and say NO in each of these scenarios is due to the lack of childhood training in decision making.  That is –  practice in searching for and settling on strong reasons to hold fast to a position or value.  A belief or decision is pretty weak and indefensible even to yourself if you don’t know ‘your why’.

I AM going to point my finger at my parents and my upbringing in the area of how to make decisions, important moral ones, and the everyday kind.

My mom came late to a true faith in Jesus when I was 16 or so.  Neither she nor my dad taught me (whether from God’s moral perspective or a secular perspective) just HOW to think about values and dilemmas, HOW to arrive at a REASON-based decision.

In short, I did NOT learn how to say ‘No’.

I did NOT learn the rule ‘Always be ready to give a reason for your decision and view.’

Training in logic, that is in language-based THINKING, does furnish the practitioner with specific skills, invaluable for life.

When I taught at a classical Christian school in Yorktown, Virginia, I introduced logic to 7th and 8th graders.  It was I who learned the most!  I just wish that I had been gifted with that kind of mental training at their young age.

So for all you like me, who did not receive this early instruction, all you need to know is the format of a basic syllogism.

It works like this:

The 3rd proposition (call it a sentence for simplicity’s sake) IS the conclusion of a syllogism.  We find that in culture, people spout mostly conclusions – naked! – without the rest of the preceding syllogism.

For example:

  • Criticizing my views is intolerant
  • Guns are our biggest problem
  • Americans eat poorly.
  • Most lawyers are greedy

What SHOULD precede each of these conclusions or propositions are 2 logically ordered propositions or reasons that connect, one to the other, leading TO the conclusion. In other words, we need to have reasons for what we do or don’t do!  And the reasons have to lead properly to the conclusion.

When I struggled with binging in earlier years, I can distinctly remember my irrational line of thinking:

I’m bored studying.  I’ll go buy a quarter pound of M&Ms at the sweet shop. Why shouldn’t I do something pleasant?.…..and then as I began to eat them, I can’t think of any compelling reason NOT to finish the entire amount.…and I would.  And feel sick and disgusted.

Had I been conditioned to point to a reason for my decisions, I’m assuming that I could have come up something compelling and rational that at least would have provided a few minutes to ponder outcomes.

For 9 years I accepted this irrational thinking, never challenging my beliefs.  Control mechanisms like diets were my only tool.  They didn’t work.

The bulimia continued until God in His providence enabled Mike and me to conceive our first child.  All of a sudden I DID have an irrefutable reason to stop the binging and purging.  Our baby’s health!

A syllogism might have looked like this, had I been equipped with this particular reasoning tool.

Premise 1:  I should do all that is in my power to eat healthy in order to help my growing baby.

Premise 2: Binging on junk food and then throwing up is not a healthy eating practice.

Conclusion: Therefore, I should avoid this harmful pattern

Although I didn’t go on to practice such reasoning in other areas of my life, God in His mercy DID remove the desire to binge after Graham was born.  That was pure grace.  And I recall this gift and thank Him frequently.

Age doesn’t matter when it comes to improving our thinking and reasoning skills. Now that I SEE the practiced pattern of NOT being able to say no for lack of a compelling, articulated reason, I have committed myself, when boundary/decision situations arise, to this NEW practice of stop, consider, articulate a strong reason for a necessary NO.

If you have children still at home or can influence grandkids, then think about helping them acquire this decision-making tool.  Maybe you think it’s an intuitive response or routine.  For some of us, at least me, it isn’t.  I’m still a learner.

 

 

The logic of change

20 Jul

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature.... Romans 1:20 (NLT)

During the summer I like to arise at 5:30.  After feeding the cats, scooping poop and making some salty hot water infused with lemon juice, I head out on an early morning walk in our Smoky Mountain cove, the cup of water in hand.  The birds herald the new morning and the occasional distant cockle-doodle-doo of roosters comforts me, a souvenir from living in the Cotswolds as a young adult.

This morning, already past mid-July, I notice the sky is still dark.  I can’t see my zucchini plant well enough to spot any growing squash.  Why just a month ago, on the Summer Solstice, we pointed out to each other the most easterly spot along our mountain ridge where the sun was setting.  Now four weeks later, the sunsets mark a new direction, toward mid-winter, on the other end of the distant ridge.

Conclusion?  Nothing in nature stays static.  I know this, but I feel surprised.

The larger meaning relates to God.  If the natural world which He formed is not immobile, then neither is He static. Yes, His character and nature are unchangeable.  His qualities and attributes remain 100 % pure.  But He is always at work, on the move, carrying out His eternal purposes planned long ago before the ‘Let there be’s’.

I boldly cheer my heart.  “Maria, don’t fret.  That impossible situation that looks immovable.  It’s not.  God IS on the move, as CS Lewis penned about Aslan.”

My thoughts turn toward seeing this as a logical syllogism, reassuring me:

Premise 1 – All of God’s creation, visible and invisible, is constantly changing.

Premise 2 – This particular situation with a loved one is part of God’s creation.

Conclusion – Change, visible and invisible, is happening in this need.

And besides praying and trusting and watching for God to work, I don’t have to DO anything.   The Bible gives me plenty of assurance that this is how our God acts.

King Jehosophat (870-849 BC) prayed for change in circumstances threatening the extinction of his kingdom.

2 Chronicles 20:12 For we are powerless ….We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

And God answered his plea as recorded in verses 15-17:

 And he (an inspired prophet) said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.  Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel.  You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

And God DID act, to wipe out the enemy.  In the face of certain disaster.

 

 

 

 

Bible Promise Logic

11 Jan

John 8:31-32  If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free

I’ve been struggling with knowing God’s truth, but not having it make a difference in my day to day life.  Here’s how this struggle looks in a partial syllogism or Enthymeme:

  • Premise:  If you know the truth
  • Conclusion: Then, you will be set free

To complete or make explicit the missing premise in this enthymeme, I can write it like this:

  • P1 – All those who know the truth will be set free
  • P2 – I know the truth
  • Conclusion – Therefore, I have been set free

But here’s the rub:  I DO know the truth about Jesus and how I have a new identity as a regenerate Christian, adopted child of our Triune God.  But I still live in bondage to some faulty thinking EVEN though I know better.

So the syllogism that describes my true, functional condition looks like this:

  • P1 All those who know the truth will be set free
  • P2 I am not free, but in bondage
  • Therefore, I do not really know the truth

Solution?  There’s only one way to be set free.  And that is to immerse myself in the Gospels and pray, asking God to grant me to know Jesus and what He did for me both in atoning for my sins and in fulfilling the law.  The shorthand way to describe that remedy is for me to meditate on just how much He loves me.

A verse I read this morning caused me to see that possibility: 1 John 4:16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

Maybe I don’t TRUST God’s love for me because I don’t really know it.  I see now that even before my recent frustration with feeling trapped in habitual practices, I was groping for a deeper and more intimate knowledge of God.  I had chosen my 2018 New Year’s Resolution to notice and study God’s glory wherever it comes up in the Bible.

I intuitively feel that the path to liberation lies in going deep into seeing, observing, studying, meditating on the glory of God as manifest in Jesus and being satisfied with who He is and what He has done.

How recognizing a fallacy helps sniff out a poor argument

10 May

All cows have four legs

My dog Fido has four legs

Therefore, Fido is a cow

Pastor John Piper explained in a rebroadcasted sermon how high school geometry had grounded him in clear thinking.  Mathematical laws, one leading to a next, trained him to use deductive reasoning.  With practice in drawing valid and true conclusions, he developed a ‘nose’ for truth, as he put it.  The practical effect for him has been to alert him to ‘fishy’ conclusions that stink, that is they don’t add up, given the premises provided.

Looking at the syllogism above, we notice something and we ‘smell’ something:

  1. Premises 1 & 2 are in fact TRUE – cows have 4 legs and dogs normally do as well
  2. But we know that the conclusion is FALSE.  Our dog Fido is NOT a cow.

For me, the quickest way to explain why our sense of ‘fishiness’ is spot on, is to draw out each premise.

Take All cows have 4 legs.

Step 1:  draw a circle – label it Creatures with 4 legs.

2 cirlces

Step 2: draw a smaller circle somewhere inside the first circle.  This represents ALL COWS.  Every cow that ever WAS, IS, WILL BE  is in that circle.  (assuming no handicapped cows)

Step 3:  Mark an X in the big circle called, Creatures with 4 legs.

Circles with X

Do you spot the problem?  We don’t know where to place Fido.  Does he belong in the circle of cows? or out of the circle of cows?  From the information given, the 2 premises, that cannot be determined.

Therefore, the conclusion is false.  Why?  Because the new premise that ‘Fido is a cow’ assumes too much.  It might be, but it might not be.

There is of course, a technical way of categorizing the validity of the syllogism.  But for me, just sketching it out is simplest.

When I taught in a classical Christian school in Yorktown, Va, logic was a mandatory class for 7th and 8th graders.  I instructed the younger students in the joy of spotting fallacies (much to the annoyance of their parents who thereafter had to be on their guard!).  The 8th graders were at the perfect age to begin to understand how to analyze and formulate good arguments.

I believe that this tool in clear thinking is invaluable to young teens AND adults.  This kind of knowledge is powerful and builds confidence when they head out into a world such as ours:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil: who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!  Isaiah 5: 20-21 (NASB)

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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?