Tag Archives: Apologetics

Do you want to stand out from the rest of society? Then use logic!

6 Apr

And practice thinking!

You’ve seen that smart-alecky bumper sticker:

Critical Thinking - national deficit

It’s actually a true analysis of many Americans.  When I was hired at a classical Christian school, I was assigned one ‘extra class’ to teach: logic….to 8th graders!  Not knowing the first thing about rational thought and argumentation, it took a year for me stumbling my way through the curriculum to begin to understand it.  And as I continued to grow more skilled in the tools I was acquiring, I realized what a treasure I had been handed.

Logical reasoning is foundational to reading correctly, to arguing cogently, to sniffing out holes in other people’s assertions.  This discipline also goes hand-in-hand with apologetics, that body of knowledge that provides a rational defense for the truth of the claims of Jesus in the Bible.

In my personal life, I continue a gentle but on-going campaign, through prayer and conversational engagement, to provoke a family member to let go of her 4 score of false teaching imbibed in a liberal church.  When we start to disagree and I turn to the Bible to back my point, she’ll retort:

  • That’s just man’s opinion!

She does NOT believe in the divine and infallible inspiration of the writers through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Why not?  Because every other Christian she knows, outside of our family and one of her nieces, believes that a ‘fundamentalist’ (her word) interpretation of the Bible naïvely accepts what was the view of primitive men and women, way back ‘then’!

Right off the bat, her argument is weakened by resorting to Chronological Snobbery, that fallacy that rests on the assumption that simply because something is old OR new, it must be better or worse.  No legs under that assertion!

When she restates her attack and critical view of the Bible, she then reminds me that we have travelled this road before, she and I, and we just need to leave it be.

And being the gracious gal that I am, I demur. (I’ll leave you to decide the truth of THAT claim!)

Today, though, I heard a powerful way of reasoning that I think will give her pause.  Let me try out this hypothetical dialogue. Then you can let me know what you think and how she might respond.

me: Just because someone is baptized as a baby, that doesn’t make them a Christian

her: That’s not so!

me: Well, John records Jesus informing Nicodemus that he had to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. And Jesus likens this spiritual birth to the wind blowing where it wants; man does not control or initiate being ‘born from above’.  It’s a God-launched change, unlike man-centered baptisms that ASSUME the efficacy of a priest declaring ‘you’re a Christian by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (and this procedure).

her: (Version A) – That’s just John’s view!

me: What?  John was an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus!

her: (or Version B) – Humph, the Bible was written by men and things get lost in multiple translations and in all the copying.

  • It’s at THIS point where we usually reach our impasse and move on to something else.  I respect her because she’s older and I don’t want to be TOO pushy.
  • But now I think I will add….

me: You do believe that Jesus died for your sins and that you’ll have eternal life with him when you die?

her:  Yes, at least I certainly hope so!

me: And where do you find that in the Bible? What makes you so sure that you are banking on a true doctrine or teaching?   (Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, advises: ‘Ask a question to make a point.‘)

her: I’m not a ‘Bible scholar’ like you, but I know the church teaches that.

me: Why do you trust what ‘men’ say and teach? What if that doctrine is just a primitive and naïve interpretation?

her:  I have no idea.

me: (another possible question for her) Do you believe the accounts of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus?  If so, why?

her: That’s a solid belief that every Christian agrees on; nothing controversial there!

me: So do you always believe a position to be true because ‘everyone believes it’? Could ‘everyone’ be wrong about something?

I’m not sure how she might respond.  Any ideas?  My fervent prayer is that this dear lady finally abandons her resistance and trust God.  After all, if one can believe the biggest miracle (or fish story!)

  • of the immaterial God coming to earth in the form of another mortal human being,
  • of being murdered under trumped-up false charges,
  • and of then being raised from the dead and ascending to Heaven,

….then why not take Jesus at his word regarding the truth of all the Scriptures?

Matthew 5:18  (Jesus asserts) I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.

Behold, the power of thinking critically and logically!

 

 

Logical Gal ponders the wisdom of setting your own standards

3 Jun

Stephen Colbert’s advice to Wake Forest University’s Class of 2015 included this gem:

“I hope you find the courage to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong and then please expect as much of the world around you. Try to make the world good according to your standards.”

For a better sense of the context, here’s a report of his speech – Here’s the link

So what are we supposed to make of this man’s distilled life lesson and advice?  What came to mind immediately was the fact that whoever makes an assertion has the responsibility to defend his or her point.  Often no one questions our sound bytes or pronouncements. We live in a fast world.  Thinking takes too much time, apparently.  Where to start???

Watching Greg Koukl model effective questioning in this Video teaching Tactics in Defending your Faith, I’ve learned that you can help someone reason through his assertions and see the outworking of his conclusions.  You do this by asking questions that get the person to look closely at what might happen if someone took seriously her point.  You walk with ‘asserters’ until they actually arrive at conclusions that are not sustainable or acceptable even to them.

So if I were face to face with Mr. Colbert I might ask him a few questions like:

  • Besides employing courage, how does one decide what is right and what is wrong?
  • What happens if your ‘right’ is my ‘wrong’?  Who gets the final say?  Who arbitrates?
  • Who gets to define the concept of ‘good‘ in that 2nd sentence quoted above?
  • What would our world look like if EVERYONE of these 2015 graduates you have addressed takes your advice and embarks on ‘trying to make’ the world ‘good’ according to his or her standards?
  • Aren’t radical Islamic groups trying to do just that?  Is force justified? How far do we allow fellow citizens to go in ‘making’ the world ‘good’?

For the amount they probably payed Stephen Colbert, I hope Wake Forest was satisfied with their choice of commencement speaker!

Stephen Colbert

Logical Gal – what do you believe?

3 Dec

It was a tense moment – Halloween morning at breakfast with some colleagues.  We teachers were finishing our coffee in the lobby of a hotel where our 8th graders had fallen into bed after a full day (morning college visit, afternoon caving and evening in Chattanooga).

The Spanish teacher proudly showed off her festive orange and black socks and mentioned that she loved Halloween.  When I asked her why, she attributed her fondness for the holiday to both her and her mom’s sensitivity to the spiritual.

When I casually responded, ‘Oh, so you believe in the spiritual dimension of life?‘ it didn’t take her long to move from my commenting on the historical basis for Christianity to her objections to Christianity’s claim to be the one true religion.  The secular history and science teachers joined in to draw the distinction between fact and belief when I attempted to point out the evidence for Jesus and His resurrection.

Mr. Science clarified the difference between fact and belief.  According to his way of thinking, the two have nothing in common.  He illustrated this division with an illustration taken from family life.  It went like this:  Whereas he might believe that his role as dad is the most important function he fulfills in his life, it was just a belief and had nothing to do with truth.  “That’s a belief and is miles apart from facts like the Law of Gravity!

science v faith

Had there been time, I would have loved to say that one has to have facts or knowledge and from them one draws a conclusion based on some presuppositions or assumptions.  Facts (aka truth) drive or inform beliefs.  Here’s how I think the process works:

My colleague has gathered data (facts) from….

  • reading books about parenting
  • talking to other dads
  • absorbing hard-earned wisdom gleaned from previous generations
  • his own personal experiences in parenting

And based on presuppositions like:

  • my intuitions are trustworthy
  • what I read and what others tell me is reliable
  • time with my children is an investment that has the power to shape them

……he has formed a belief that parenting is his most important job.

The credibility of the Law of Gravity is founded on the same principles, isn’t it?

Law of Gravity

  • scientists have gathered data from observations and
  • they trust the data AND their skills

Why is there such animus about belief when applied to Christianity? After all, we gather evidence from those concrete facts; then we formulate a hypothesis that has the power to account for all the details.

Maybe the term ‘belief’ appears weak and unscientific because it’s used equally to communicate ideas as varied as:

  • I believe in Santa Claus
  • I believe in the Tooth Fairy
  • I believe in miracles
  • I believe in myself
  • I believe in ghosts
  • I believe in God, the Father Almighty….

Two dictionary entries for ‘belief’ describe both

  • an acceptance of a statement as true
  • having confidence in something

Recently I’ve come across powerful ways to describe a belief.  They feel weightier and appear less hackneyed:

  • “Evidence supports that X is true” (this corresponds to the 1st definition of belief)
  • “I trust X” (matching the second sense of the term above)

My discussion with colleagues just reinforces in my mind that our choice of words is critical to making a case for whatever our point of view is.  Words matter!

Obviously my short discourse with those fellow teachers on Halloween day didn’t land anywhere substantial because we could devote only about 4 minutes before we had to herd kids.  Making a case for any point of view TAKES TIME. And our culture is so rushed, that reasoned, thoughtful and calm discussion rarely happens!

But…it pays to be prepared and think through our word choice ahead of time.  As God instructs us through the apostle Peter, we Christians should

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

 

 

 

Logical Gal and an argument against God

13 Jun

Problem of Evil

The most oft-cited reason for why God cannot exist is the fact of evil in the world.  At least since the Enlightenment.

It goes like this:

Premise 1:  If God exists, then he would not allow suffering and evil in the world

Premise 2: Suffering and evil DO exist

Conclusion:  Therefore, God must not exist

When we run into a hypothetical argument like this, it can be valid without being true.

The above form of this particular conditional syllogism is ‘MODUS TOLLENS’ and it is valid.

The way we can see that this argument is valid, is to focus on the 2nd premise and see whether it does one of two things:

  • it can either affirm the antecedent (the clause preceding the comma in the 1st or major premise , i.e. – “God exists“)
  • or it can deny the consequent (what follows the comma in the 1st or major premise, i.e. – he would not allow suffering and evil in the world)

If the 2nd premise (the minor premise) affirms the antecedent, we call its form of hypothetical syllogism ‘Modus Ponens’.  If instead it denies the consequent, then we call this form of the valid argument ‘Modus Tollens’.

*

If you are a biblical Christian and not an adherent to Enlightenment thinking, then you can quickly spot the false premise.

Bingo!  The first premise IS false.  Only when humans started to look to their reason and perceptions as arbiter of what was TRUTH, did philosophers begin to craft God in their own image.  As Tim Keller suggests in his latest book on suffering,

Tim Keller's book on suffering

Link to book here on Amazon

 

…God might actually have a reason for allowing suffering.  But post-enlightenment man reasons this way: If I can’t see a good reason for evil and suffering, then there must not be one!   And that in itself is ANOTHER hypothetical major premise to examine.

If we are truthful, this line of thinking sure makes us seem pretty self-centered and self-referential.  Did it not occur to modern man that he might not actually know ALL the details regarding our universe?  Where is the humility???

So back to Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens, what was the point of that little Latin-flavored Logic exercise?  Just to reenforce that there are several steps to examining an argument.  We look at clarity of terms, the form of the syllogism and then the truthfulness of the premises.  Before you jump in to either congratulate someone who shares your wisdom OR to beat them over the head verbally for espousing nonsense, do your homework!  You’re less likely to come across as a fool!

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.   Proverbs 17:28 –

monkey with mouth shut