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Thinking about middle-schoolers, moral choices, and truth

29 Oct

 

The topic of the workshop focused on advisory programs run by many middle schools.  Ideally, no more than 6-10 students are assigned to a teacher who mentors these 11-to-14-year-olds during the turbulent years of their early adolescence.

Two skills the presenters emphasized as crucial for the development of youth were a) developing perspective and b) managing one’s emotions.  The overall premise was that social-emotional awareness and strengthening were foundational to and preceded academic success.

One or two barely perceptible groans slipped out of from among us attendees as the co-presenters ‘invited’ participants to leave their chairs and come forward to experience an activity designed to broaden perspective.

Here’s the scenario:  You’re on your way to work and you get into a minor traffic accident with another vehicle. Clearly, it’s the other driver’s fault.  She turns out to be a 95-year-old lady who pleads with you to ‘just exchange insurance information’ and NOT call the police.  For she is sure her license will be revoked.  Fortunately, no one is hurt, but your bumper is damaged.  What do you do?

We were directed to move to one side of the room or the other.  Those who would call the police stepped to the left and those who heeded the elderly woman’s plea chose the right.  As I stepped leftward, some of the others called out in jest, “heartless!”

The facilitator then called for a volunteer from the ‘compassionate’ side to explain his decision.  And then someone from the ‘cold-hearted’ side (my labeling) was invited to respond empathetically to the reasoning just articulated.

“I have an elderly dad and I know how significant it is to lose this last vestige of independence!” flowed one person’s reasoning.  Surely a compelling reason NOT to turn in this driver.

When it was the turn of someone on my side, one gal mentioned that although no one was hurt THIS time, someone very likely might be injured or even killed next time.  An equally compelling reason, for surely that elderly driver would not want to injure or kill someone.  A burden like that would be FAR worse than growing more dependent on others for help with running errands.

This activity was eye-opening and reinforced the notion that sincere people have very good reasons for their decisions.  I don’t dispute that at all.  But what the facilitators presented as the goal of the exercise caused me to ponder a possible unintended consequence, hence this post.

One of the gals reminded us of how middle-schoolers tend toward concrete, black and white reasoning.  The middle school years are when they need to learn that there are shades of grey.   She continued to say, “This is all part of growing more aware of differing perspectives, which grows compassion and empathy toward others.”

I completely agree that we must be open to the reality that others don’t think like we do.  And to expect the world to draw the same conclusions as I do is naive and self-centered.  Yet, I did wonder if our young teens might be led to the following kind of thinking:

  • Recognizing differing viewpoints means everyone has a ‘valid’ reason for why he or she thinks the way they do. (And ‘valid’ as a concept is often taken to mean ‘true’)
  • In fact, as long as I have a reason for what I am doing, this grounding is sufficient to stop YOU from telling me I’m wrong.
  • And if I am right and you are right, then maybe there is no such thing as ultimate rightness or wrongness.

Now are those conclusions what we want our young people to hold?  That just because we build an understandable and ‘reason’-able foundation for how we think and choose a course of action, no one can call us out on our decision?  I don’t think so.

For example: Not confronting a friend when you notice her cheating on a test  (or not telling the teacher confidentially) might be the choice you make as a student BECAUSE you think you could lose your friend. And that reasoning might be ‘valid’ because your guiding principle is to do anything to maintain a friendship. But the choice you have selected IS wrong.

Do you think it is plausible that if young teens are trained to acknowledge possible perspectives, they might ALSO think that there are possible ‘truths’, all of which emerge from one’s ideas of what matters most?

We might be aiming to grow our students from that pre-adolescent view that all of life is binary, but there are indeed some things that ARE binary.  The law of non-contradiction backs that up.  A and non-A cannot both be true in the same way at the same time.

I’m not going to assume that the workshop presenters do NOT believe that some absolute truths do exist.  I am pointing out that we as educators and parents must be careful as we train the next generation to think clearly.  Yes, training in recognizing others’ perspectives IS important.  But we must not neglect to teach our kids that some decisions ARE right or wrong because some absolutes do exist.   A challenging endeavor, no doubt, in a culture where few ground values in God.

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?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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?