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Logical Gal – holding mystery and reason together

21 Mar


Most people love a good mystery, whether a novel or a movie.  And the best kind of ‘whodunit’ seems to be the one where the dénouement is a complete surprise.  Yet, when looking back, one can clearly recognize all the clues and evidence that had been there all along.

The very fact that we can accept now, as obvious, the signs that were earlier ‘hidden’  is because the unfolding of details is rational. There’s a progression, a sense to the sequence.  The outcome is NOT an irrational one.  Hence, mystery and reason CAN co-exist.

This tension has implications for other mysteries.  Take God, for instance.  Much about the Creator and Ruler of the universe is still hidden.  But God is not irrational. He has created us in His image with a mind to see, to inquire and to piece together.  He expects us to use reason.  Yet we do not understand everything. You’ve probably heard the observation that Paul made, as recorded in 1 Cor 13:12: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

See through a glass darkly

Haven’t we all had the experience of not knowing how something would turn out in our lives? We’ve had to live with mystery….and then once we’re on the other side of the event, we realize that the way all the circumstances unfolded was just right.  As they say, hindsight is 20/20!  

If the world were irrational, we wouldn’t even be able to live with what we COULD see because of the unpredictability!  There ARE patterns in the seeming randomness.  There ARE natural laws.

So next time someone attempts to say that reason contradicts mystery, just ask them “How is that?”

Remember, the one who MAKES the assertion has to defend it.  No pressure for you, the question-poser!

Ask Qs

Logical Gal – what makes something true?

17 Mar

Habit with him was all the test of truth, / It must be right: I’ve done it from my youth. -George Crabbe, poet and naturalist (1754-1832)

George Crabbe - Poet

Talk about redefining truth!  You’d think that a rule of life that stupid would be immediately laughed at and knocked down!

But before we ‘go all smug’ on poor Mr. Crabbe’s description of someone’s idea of truth, let’s stop a moment and reflect if we ourselves don’t rely on this fallacy in some version or another.

This Appeal to Tradition (or in Latin – argumentum ad antiquitatemcan take the shape of many habits that are harmful.  Just because something is habitual doesn’t make it healthy or right or lawful.

  • I always interrupt my husband; he doesn’t mind.
  • We always host our in-laws for Christmas; I’d feel guilty if we suggested otherwise.
  • The XYZ minority group are used to our comments.  What’s the big deal?

One of the dangers of relying on and NOT questioning tradition or habit is that you stop thinking through your reasons for doing something.

Tradition Fallacy

Tradition and habit are not bad in and of themselves.  In fact, solidifying some habits can be very beneficial! (i.e. questioning authority, thinking for yourself, verifying sources).  And there is a danger in rejecting an argument out of hand just because it is old.  (that’s another fallacy – Chronological Snobbery)

So how do we know when to hold on to tradition and when to jettison it? I don’t think that is the correct question.  For one thing, someone might continue to observe a tradition because it recalls an event precious to the community linked to it.  Generally, if it works and isn’t harmful and those who practice it are blessed by it, then I can see the value in following it.

But when it comes to giving reasons for why you believe something to be TRUE, then that’s a different scenario.  We cannot appeal to tradition in the place of reason to back up an argument.  Therefore, we’re going to have to ‘exercise those little grey cells’ as Detective Hercule Poirot is wont to say:

Hercule Poirot

  • So whether you find yourself abroad, away from your homeland, having to defend your country’s practices
  • Or whether you are asked to give a reason for why you believe what you do about God and the meaning of life
  • Or even if you are asked to justify your choice of a political candidate, your particular diet, method of childrearing or managing a work crew…..

….then it’s best and more impactful to your questioner if you can give a rational reason for what you do.  Besides, the value in examining why you do something might just be in getting you to discard that way in favor of another.  Do you really want to emulate this man?

Tradtion - John Lennon

Logical Gal tackles ‘Thou Shalt Not Judge!’

3 Feb

I’ve heard it said that the most famous Bible verse that even non-Christians quote from memory is John 3:16 because it is so often held up, painted on signs at football games. But ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged!’ from Matthew 7:1 is quickly overtaking the former in that category, given  our climate of tolerance.

Since we live in a topsy-turvy world where what society used to regard as  unthinkable is now ‘de rigeur’ or normal, we tend to tiptoe around evil and sin so a not to OFFEND anyone.

But come on, people!  America is a federal republic governed by a constitution with written, id est, legal protections of rights such as freedom of speech!

So what DOES a truth-loving, logic-valuing gal or guy do when clobbered with, “YOU CAN’T JUDGE ME!”

We do what Greg Koukl teaches: pull out a question and lay it on the one who made that claim. Here are some possibilities to get you started:

  • Why is that?
  • What do you think we are not supposed to judge?
  • The quote says that we can’t judge unless we’re willing to be judged.  What if I accept that condition?
  • What does it mean – to judge?

Actually there is even a Bible verse we can gently lob back to them – one that will REALLY start them thinking (the whole point of engaging with them!)

John 7:24 quotes Jesus as exhorting us:  Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

I love that!  It brings us back to common sense and correct Bible reading.  The Bible is FULL of standards and judgments.  Only those who have never read God’s Word are those who think they own Matthew 7:1.

A reason for the blockage and misunderstanding regarding judging comes from not understanding how a court system works.

Just from a year of daily informal logic lessons my 7th graders learned to spot fallacies with glee!  When we examined the Appeal to Pity fallacy, we talked about where MERCY fits into a court case.  Many people inaccurately think that someone is either ruled guilty or they’re shown mercy.  That’s a category error.  A judge and/or jury must first RULE on the guilt or innocence of the defendant.  Is he guilty or innocent of the charge against him?  Once THAT judgment is made, then we can talk about what sentencing is appropriate.

What, then, are the judge’s choices in sentencing?  He can either give a just or fair punishment to fit the crime OR he can show MERCY.

Those who juxtapose guilt against mercy have it wrong.  First determine guilt or innocence, and then consider mercy.  Remember that Jesus had no qualms judging the woman caught in adultery.  She WAS guilty. Her action WAS wrong and against the law.  She, as well as everyone else, knew that.  She deserved stoning which was the pre-determined punishment.  But Jesus chose to show mercy.  He sequenced the events correctly.

So stealing, lying, envy, sex outside of a married heterosexual covenant ARE wrong according to God’s word.  We don’t have to apologize for the standard or the judgment. Stop cringing about Truth!  You have nothing to feel ashamed about in acknowledging standards.  But show mercy when appropriate, for you, too desire mercy, don’t you?

Logical Gal – Ridicule is NOT a good argument

13 Jan

In a podcast today, I listened to a discussion about the so-called Reason Rally held almost 2 years ago in March.   Link to USA Today article   The topic ironically was the LACK of reason throughout the entire day-long ‘fest’.  Instead of providing sound arguments to counter faith-based truth claims,  it seems that rally leaders focused on mockery as a tactic to attack Christians. Even the guest speaker, well-known atheist Richard Dawkins, advocated using ridicule  –

“Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.”

How about instead – “.…specific claims that need to be countered with reason-based arguments…”

But religious folks as well as atheists are obligated to substantiate their premises. Yes, religion needs to be able to provide reasons for its truth claims.  Everybody who asserts a position or viewpoint does! That’s why we all need to be equipped with the tools that logic can provide.  It’s not just people of faith who need to be able to defend a view, EVERYONE does.

But if you are a Christian who cares about the attempts to marginalize belief in Jesus, you need especially to be aware that the ‘new atheists’ are gaining momentum under the guidance of a skilled tactician, Dr. Peter Boghossian. He’s even written a book entitled A Manual for Creating Atheists.

Whether we confront someone antagonistic to our religious or political  beliefs or whether we want to be able to convince another person to DO or BELIEVE something, we are far more effective if we know first of all:

  • what we believe and
  • WHY we hold that position

And the time and place to think through our reasons is BEFORE we are confronted.

What I’m thinking about doing is picking one issue in each of maybe 3 areas to start.  Then boiling down my belief about each separate issue into one premise or truth claim.  And then jotting down 3 reasons why I hold that view.

For example:


Thoughtful and critical reading is a valuable skill worth the time it takes to gain proficiency.


1) Citizens who can influence government for the good need to be able to read positions and make intelligent assessments.

2) Rational thinking and reading are not automatic behaviors  such as breathing, but are developed.

3) Much time is necessary to develop this skill  – as with any other skill.

4) Since we are limited in time and energy, choosing to invest in this skill and say NO to others is a given.

5) The benefits for having worked to become a proficient and astute reader will spillover in other domains of one’s life.

That’s just a start to my 30 second elevator speech about why I think we should encourage each other and our children to READ good stuff.

Question: What positions do you want to think through and defend?

Logical Gal – Holiday Expectations and the Mob Appeal Fallacy

23 Dec

Here’s a common fallacy for you!

  • Everybody celebrates Christmas by ____________(you fill in the blank)
  • Therefore, I must celebrate the same way

This is a pressure-producing example of Mob Appeal

The only way to rescue oneself from misery is to ask some questions:

  • Why must you be like everyone else?
  • How do you know ‘they’ are doing Christmas the ‘correct way’?
  • What would happen if your celebration were different?
  • Is it an absolute truth that the majority always knows what is right?

I almost succumbed to the Ad Populum Fallacy at various times this month of December:

  • In my new school, I noticed that teachers started to gift their colleagues with little goodies – Should I do as well?
  • In our new house in the woods, I considered whether I should put the traditional electric candles in the windows (no neighbors to see them) – Must I keep up this tradition?
  • Our Frasier Fir was glorious just as it sat in our living room– naked in it’s tree stand  – Must we decorate it?
  • So many musical offerings are listed in our local paper this time of year –  Should we not attend at least one to be truly in the Christmas spirit?
  • And what about clothes and jewelry with Christmas themes?  Every gal seems to be sporting those holiday earrings or sweaters or pins or …… I don’t like schmaltzy stuff.  Do I have to get with the program?

So as a Christmas present to you and to me: I grant us all the right to think for ourselves and to make decisions based on values grounded in Truth.  And for those matters that are mere convention and often inconsequential, it really doesn’t matter what you do.  If you DO find yourself going along with convention because you want to blend in, then at least admit it to yourself, laugh and lighten up!

Question:  what burdensome practice can you drop since you no longer have to toe the line and do what you think everyone else is doing?

If everyone is doing it, it must be right.

Logical Gal, Pinterest and the Hebrews

6 Dec

Today, let’s talk about conversions of propositions that begin with the quantifier ‘all’: 

Here’s a true or false question about a favorite hang-out place of many women: If it’s true that all classy gals who decorate their homes stylishly spend time on Pinterest….is it ALSO true that all those who spend time on Pinterest will decorate their homes stylishly?

No….this is because you cannot convert A statements

All S is P does NOT equate to All P is S

At best you can say: Some P is S so that in the above example, it would be true that:

Some of those who spend time on Pinterest are classy gals who decorate their homes stylishly

Don’t forget – it only takes ONE to have a SOME as a quantifier!

I read another useful example of the trap of converting A statements in an explanation about the name, “Son of Man”.  This was Jesus’ favorite title for himself.

The title actually comes from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. Here was the statement that I read:

“(the Son of Man)..could represent Israel but Israel itself cannot be the son of man” (Tabletalk Magazine, devotion dated  5 Nov 2013) 

Apparently Jewish scholars like to plug in the nation of Israel as that which the Prophet Daniel referred to.  But given the limitations of conversion of propositions, one cannot do that.  Putting the above quote in logical form we have this:

All Son of Man is Israel

All Israel is the Son of Man

Just by looking at the 2nd proposition you can see the ‘switcheroo’ doesn’t work. 


Where have you encountered advertising or an argument whose weight rests shakily on an invalid conversion like these? 

Logical Gal asks why crazy weather is a moral issue

6 Nov

A local letter writer to our newspaper here in Western North Carolina has bundled together a few circumstances to make a case for his point of view.  The events he cites are :

Hurricane Sandy in NJ + a summer-like North  Carolinian day in February + unusual rain this past summer in our local area .  And from these 3 events, he concludes  –  “Something is wrong “.

Then he jumps to this claim and I quote, “At this point, to deny the reality of climate change and its underlying human causes is a moral choice.

So how does a logical gal or guy start to think about this man’s argument?  The best place to start is with TERMS.

Labeling one’s assessment of evidence as a MORAL action caught my eye.  Hmm…better see how ‘moral’  is defined. defines ‘moral’ as distinguishing between right and wrong conduct….in the context of what is customary for a culture.  Moral derives from ‘mores’  which are the practices of a culture. Our letter writer who happens to be a pastor (maybe that’s why he has introduced the language of morality?) seems to be saying that how one evaluates evidence and arrives at a conclusion can be considered morally RIGHT or morally WRONG.  He seems to rely on the alleged consensus of a large group of climate scientists.  In essence his reasoning is based on majority thinking. If one sides with the majority, then one has made a morally correct assessment.

But should the opinion of a large group of scientists be the basis for policy change that might have an even broader impact on our world than that of climate change? (think economic repercussions)  These are tough issues that demand clear thinking.

I’ve been greatly helped by a book whose author, Greg Koukl,  is a mature radio show host and head of an organization devoted to good reasoning.  On his show, Greg discusses questions with callers in the area of ethics, values and religion. The fundamental principle Greg teaches (and writes about in his book Tactics)  is this:  Whoever makes the claim has the burden to demonstrate what he means and how he arrives at  his conclusions.

To order Greg Koukl’s book

I think I would enjoy meeting face to face with the local pastor who exhorts his fellow newspaper readers to ‘right this wrong’.  After listening to him defend his argument, I would ask him to identify his authority and to explain how he knows that this person or persons are right? After all, has a majority of smart people ever been mistaken? Don’t scientific theories come and go? Before we instigate sweeping policy changes in one area, we need to study potential effects on the larger system, namely our country and the world.

Logical Gal and Reasoning like a Doctor

10 Oct

One of our cats died this week:

What a painful decision it is to choose to euthanize an animal when her quality of life is rapidly going down hill.  For years this cat had suffered from a chronic malady.  We struggled with her as we tried different remedies suggested by the vet.  But in the end, there was nothing more we could do.  At the ripe old age of 17 1/2 her organs were too weak to respond to medicine.

As we were chatting awkwardly with the vet who was getting to administer that final drug, I realized that the trial and error solutions that he and previous professionals had suggested were examples of abductive reasoning.

In language-based logic, there are 3 ways of reasoning: deductive, inductive and abductive.

Deductive reasoning is when you go from 2 known truths to a new piece of information.

All cats are curious

Leia is a cat

Therefore, Leia is curious

If the first two premises are true in a correctly formed syllogism (called ‘valid’ ) , then it follows that the conclusion must be true.  The conclusion is, in effect, GUARANTEED to be true. 

Inductive reasoning is more probabilistic.  The conclusion is at best LIKELY to be true.

The hurricane is moving in a northeasterly direction at the rate of 15 miles per hour.

Therefore, if it continues at that same rate and heading, it will probably reach our city by tomorrow night. 

Now to the thought process used by doctors, scientists and detectives.

Abductive reasoning is when you gather evidence and draw the best and most ‘reasonable’ (i.e. based on reasons) conclusion!  Many people rely on this kind of decision-making.  So much of life is uncertain.  But we gather the facts as best we can and we propose a solution or a conclusion. It’s trial and error.  Many of the decisions we take MUST rely on abductive reasoning.  I know this is frustrating to Americans who crave and are almost addicted to having certainty.

It is important, therefore, that you trust the character and procedures of the one who is reasoning this way.  Our cat did die, but all the vets involved in her life worked diligently and with care to provide the best treatments.  We are grateful to them and to God who guided us in that final decision as her owners.

Logical Gal and The Law of Identity

30 Sep

If in a game of trivia,  you were put on the spot to offer ONE quote associated with Bill Clinton, most of you would shout, “It depends on what IS is!”

Words do matter.  And terms are verbal or written words that describe the essence of a concept.

The Law of Identity is useful because it removes wiggle room when people start playing loose with terms.

Considered one of  3 foundational Laws of classical thought, the Law of Identity goes like this.

A = A

A ≠ non-A

An apple is an apple….an apple is not a non-apple.

So…..?(the best 2-letter word in the dictionary!) what’s so deep about that?

The Law of Identity can help us think about very current and controversial topics.

Take marriage

At its most basic level,

Marriage    =/is     a contractual relationship between one man and one woman that is consummated by sexual intercourse

The Law of Identity stipulates that what is on the left of the =/is  (the Subject)  is the same as what is on the right of the =/is   (the Predicate)

So if we take away or add or change any part of the description (the predicate), then we don’t have marriage.  We have described a DIFFERENT concept and we need to use a different term.

Here’s another example:

A bachelor is an unmarried man

Change the predicate and you don’t have a bachelor.  You have something else.

So before you engage in endless debates, clarify the terms.  The Law of Identity prevents the Fallacy of Equivocation, which is playing loose and fancy with terms.   It’s a way to start untangling difficult issues.