Tag Archives: Debate

Why we don’t see eye to eye

12 Oct

Both sides, liberals and conservatives, acknowledge a frightening trend in American culture and politics.  We have become a nation sharply divided into 2 camps.  Middle ground seems like a relic from an innocent and bygone era.  I wonder……Is that what Americans in the late 1850s might have felt?  Did the polarization and hatred ‘between brothers’ pain them too?  Did the two separate issues of slavery and states’ rights, painted in such a way as to offer no room for compromise, bother them?

I think I know why these painful times arise.  And the tool of logic and clear thinking can help us understand the reason behind these divisions as well as point us to a way to engage in some civil discourse.

Since I mentioned the Civil War, let’s start there.  The North and the South could not agree on any compromises that might have helped walk tensions back, thus averting war, because they were arguing two separate issues.

In broad terms, the central arguments of both sides coalesced around different issues:

  • The South championed their right as sovereign states to do what they constitutionally voted as best for each state.
  • The North supported the view of the worth and dignity of all men, black and white. They saw slavery as a moral blot on the nation which needed to be eradicated.

So when you have one side shouting Argument A and the other side shouting Argument B, nothing is heard nor can be settled.

In  a debate, both sides must agree to take up JUST ONE issue at a time.  They must settle and decide on ONE resolution to argue.  To wit:

  • Slavery is a moral evil and should be abolished by the federal government

OR….

  • Each American state has the sovereign right to govern itself, making the economic and political decisions deemed preferable by its citizens

One side advances reasons FOR the resolution and tries to convince an audience.

The other side builds its case AGAINST the resolution and equally tries to convince an audience.

What the two sides MUST not do is argue more than one issue at a time!

Consider other seemingly irreconcilable issues:

  1. Abortion – again two issues.  A woman’s right to decide about her body versus the unborn child’s right to life.
  2. How to evaluate Trump – the two paths seem to be policies versus character.  Those who support Trump build their case on their belief that he will champion policies that are best for our country.  Those who say they won’t vote for Trump argue based on his character flaws.

Logical friends, we get NOWHERE when we argue two SEPARATE issues AT THE SAME TIME!

So, the next time you find yourself in a discussion that seems to polarize you and your friend, call a time out.  Point out what you both are doing.  Ask your friend if she would like to continue discussing what clearly are important issues, but let her choose one position to take up.  Then guide both of you into articulating the question or resolution to each one’s satisfaction.   Narrow down and parse out what the two of you think you can calmly and rationally discuss.

And let the debate begin. No, you might not have time for the issue you would have liked to have first broached, but at least you are less likely to destroy your relationship and think each is impassable and hard-hearted! And you might learn something about each other that could strengthen your friendship.  And that is a good reason for any debate.

 

 

Logical Gal – Multiple definitions can be confusing!

24 Sep

A recent devotional I read mentioned the Apostle Paul’s use of the term Israel to refer to FOUR different concepts.

I thought a brief account of how ‘Israel’ is employed would serve as a useful reminder to clarify terms before jumping into a discussion/debate or argument with someone.

The first question ALWAYS to ask is: What do you mean by X?

Hebrew people

‘Tabletalk’ is a monthly magazine with articles and daily Bible teaching by Dr. R.C. Sproul. I’m a month behind, but the 18 August 2014 piece was based on some verses in Romans 11.  Dr. Sproul mentions that in Romans 9-11, Paul uses ‘Israel’ to describe 4 different groups of people (his exact words follow):

  • The group of ethnic Jews who have true faith in the Lord
  • The entire corporate nation that is made up of all ethic Jews, including those who do not trust in the Lord
  • Ethnic Jews who have not placed their faith in Jesus
  • And finally, the term Israel can also designate all of those who believe in Jesus, including both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles

Just reading about these distinctions reinforced in MY mind how ‘nuanced’ the Bible is.  I’m beginning to realize that words in Scripture are often a shorthand description that needs to be amplified.  For example, I’ve often been puzzled by the first 4 words in Paul’s statement: To live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil 1:21)

I now realize that we in contemporary America speak in an equally symbolic but well understood way when we announce boldly general statements such as:  “Gardening is my life” or some such thing.  So to say ‘to live is Christ’ would probably mean that Christ is the most important person and truth in my life and I base everything on Him.

If we invest the energy and time actually to think and ponder, we CAN deal with layered concepts that might at first seem to stretch us.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle to practice with, one that maybe you can unravel.  Just as there are equivocal definitions of the term Israel, there are several possibilities for the adjective ALL or EVERY……  I often hear people announce hyperbolically:

  • All of New York turned out for the parade
  • All the OTHER kids get to go to the party!
  • Everyone knows that…..

Here’s my challenge:  What does Paul mean when he boldly writes to the Christians in Rome – All Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26)

All Israel will be saved

Before we get into a theological back and forth, we had better work to clarify the following:

  1. which category of Israel is meant?
  2. what does ‘all’ really mean?
  3. and in what sense will that group be ‘saved’?

Only then can a discussion proceed!

Would that as a matter of course I could be so restrained in my conversations.

 

 

Logical Gal says – Give thought to what you hear and read

10 Jul

Gullible Charlie Brown

There are some sayings, truisms they call them, that have been around a long time.

We swallow them without much consideration, believing them to be truth.

I read one the other day. It’s often used as a critique of a religious person:

  • She’s so heavenly minded that she is no earthly good!

Heavenly minded, no earthly good

What does that mean?  What kind of person IS someone whose mind is focused on heaven ?  And is that a bad thing?  The fleshed-out major premise with the rest of the argument is here:

Either a person thinks a lot about heaven or a person accomplishes good on earth.

Jane is a person who thinks mostly about heaven

Therefore, Jane has little positive impact on circumstances around her 

Thinking critically means that we examine the truth of this major premise.  And based on heavenly-minded people I have encountered or read/heard about, those who meditate a lot on God’s revealed word about heaven are usually people who care deeply about others and seek to do them good.  In fact, one could argue that MOST good is done by people who believe that a far better world awaits them.  Less inclined to cling to ‘their’ stuff here on earth,  they tend to be generous with resources in this life.

**

The other saying I ‘ve been pondering is this:  The Devil is in the details

How often we speak in generalities! Words can be used as a kind of shorthand for a more complex meaning.  As I read my Bible I’m  beginning to realize that a lot of what is said DOES need to be broken down and parsed out with distinctions clarified.  For example, “…..Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27b)

I now understand, through word study and contextual reading of the whole of Bible, what this statement means in its two parts:

  • if you are a Christian (you agree with God regarding your nature and your sin problem and have accepted His gift of a solution – Jesus swapping His righteousness for your guilt), then you have a new nature that includes Jesus being spiritually and forever in you like new DNA
  • and His permanent immaterial/spiritual place in you is your guarantee  – your trust – of future glory in God’s New World

Details - God is in

So…what’s the point of these 2 examples?

Besides the counsel that we should think through all that we hear and read before taking any of it into ourselves, the larger take away is this:

  • We can’t enter into any MEANINGFUL discussion of important issues today via tweets and Facebook exchanges filled with slogans and ricocheting insults.  Worthy discourse takes time – time to understand fully what our opponent is saying and means and then time to unpack what we believe.
  • There’s no point wasting any emotional energy in ‘fly-bys’.  No one gains and many are put off.  Words are resources.  Let’s steward them well.

 

Question:  which contemporary saying or slogan seems most loaded to you?

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal and featherless bipeds

28 May

Apparently Plato defined man as a ‘featherless biped’. 

Featherless biped

And ever since, philosophers have used his wording as an example of a poor definition.  The photo proves the point!

But there is another consideration. Is the phrase ‘featherless biped’ a description or a definition?  And what is the difference?

A definition is actually the technical evaluation of a term  (called the definiendum) that includes the definiens or the cluster of words used to set out clearly what the speaker or writer means.  An adequate definition :

  • will refrain from using the term being defined  – as in  ‘a human is an animal which has a human parents’
  • will employ a genus and a differentia  – a fork is an eating utensil (genus) that has prongs to spear food (differentia)  Think of genus as the family of items and the differentia as the distinguishing characteristics of each member.  So a spoon would belong to the genus of  eating utensil, and its differentia could be this- bowl-shaped on one side to scoop up liquids or soft food.
  • will be mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive – both considerations work to PIN DOWN PRECISELY what is meant, thereby avoiding both a situation where ‘family members’ could be assigned to more than one group (NOT mutually exclusive) OR a situation where a ‘family member’ has been left out (in this case the definition would NOT meet the requirement of being jointly exhaustive)

 

  • Precision
  • will avoid negative language,  metaphors and  vague or cumbersome language meant to obfuscate the meaning
  • will focus on what is essential to the concept

So a human being as defined by one on-line dictionary offers this:

Thinking and Talking Humans

“A man, woman or child of the species Homo Sapiens distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.”

In assessing what makes for a good definition, the attribute that comes to mind is ‘functional’, as in What’s THAT for? 

So how do descriptions differ from definitions?

A simple way to look at a description is to see it as merely one aspect or representation of a concept.  Attention is NOT given to meeting all the above requirements of a ‘good’ definition:   Think SINGLE-orbed v. FULLY-orbed.

For example, one might ‘DESCRIBE’  a musician as someone who enjoys performing  vocal or instrumental sounds.  That is just one venue for musicians.

musicians

 

So why are definitions and descriptions important? Because they can either further, facilitate or hinder understanding.  I witnessed this Saturday during a debate between an atheist and a Christian.  They were at odds with each other over the definition or description of the term FAITH!

  • The atheist, Peter Boghossian, advanced a definition of faith as believing something for which you have no evidence.
  • The Christian, Tim McGrew, pushed back and said that the Oxford English Dictionary describes/defines faith as trust warranted by a certain degree of evidence.

Evidence

I want all you Logical Joes and Janes to know that these 2 men spent about 20 minutes going round and round arguing over which definition the majority of people subscribe to.  Definition of terms IS the beginning of all debate and discussion.  And if no agreement is reached, the discussion that might ensue will be very frustrating!

Question:  Where have you encountered such confusion or disagreement over terms?

 

 

Logical Gal challenges ‘experts’

25 Apr

More and more we are being subjected to a one-line argument called ‘settled science’ as announced by those advocating drastic counter-measures in view of what they perceive as ‘human-induced’ climate harm.

Settled Science & Al Gore

 

This way of arguing is actually a fallacy.  It’s the opposite of the Ad Hominem attack.  That particular fallacy bypasses  all the reasons supporting a claim to attack the nature  or character of the one advancing the argument.

In contrast, the fallacy I want to address today is the tactic whereby one skips reasons and plays on the credentials of the proponents.  This fallacy is called the Argument from Authority.  We see this often in commercials for toothpaste (‘Brand X is the one favored by more dentists in America’) or for peanut butter (‘Choosy moms choose Jif!’)

Choosy moms choose Jif

As you probably have noticed, this appeal to an authority takes the place of an appeal to REASON!

So, too, with the climate change issue.  Those who clamor for countries to DO SOMETHING have demonized those who push back and ask for supporting evidence.  Appealing to the authority and intelligence of a group of scientists does not satisfy for 2 reasons:

  • Scientists are known to have been wrong in the past  (think of the Flat Earth view or the Earth as the center of the solar system)
  • If the case for anthropogenic climate change (brought on by humans) is so strong, scientists or policy-makers should not  be afraid to provide the evidence APART from computer models of what MIGHT happen

Finally, here is a caveat to those who by nature are skeptical and question authority (nothing wrong with that!), don’t yourselves either appeal to or attack the character of the one making the argument.   Be considerate and calm when you push back gently, requesting proof, evidence and reasons.

Remember, the burden of proof is on those who advance a position.  All YOU have to do is ask the WHY questions. But do so with gentleness and respect!

Kind rather than Right

Question:  Where do you encounter these Appeals to Authority?

 

Logical Gal and the danger of sound bytes

31 Mar

Limits of language

All those labor-saving devices and we still don’t have enough time for thought-ful discourse! Have you ever read any of the speeches from the Lincoln-Douglas debates?   Have you at least read about them?   People would swarm into the towns where each of the 7 debates were held in 1858.  Each one lasted about 3 hours.  People sat and stood in conditions ranging from  sweltering heat one day to a cold, steady downpour another.  Evidently ordinary folk could not only follow reasoned, deductive discourse, but they made the effort to travel specifically to learn from and support their candidate.

Today, we have teleprompters and twitter.

Tweet length

And here are the limits of language.  If someone proclaims, “All men are created equal,” little is communicated. We need amplification to give that proposition meaning or value.  We must ask some questions like:

  • Equal in what way?
  • Who are the ‘all men’?

In a podcast discussion I followed the other day, a thoughtful person took the time to compare and contrast men and women. He explained that though men and women were equal in value, they were not equal in roles.  Given our physical and emotional differences, each gender excels in certain areas and not others.

Another meaningless term (unless teased out) is the word ‘good’.   If you say, ” Ice cream is good,” you haven’t said much!

Ice cream

To communicate ANYthing at all, we need to ask:

  • Is ice cream good, ontologically, in its nature or properties in and of itself?  A son who is good is one who acts kindly and with consideration.
  • or do you mean it is good for something, like soothing a burn or providing energy to run a race?
  • or is it good in that it is authentic, not fake.  People talk about something being as ‘good as gold’
  • or does it mean good as in effective or perfect like 20/20 eyesight?
  • then there is good in the sense of skilled.  We talk about a good ballplayer
  • there is also a good deal when you feel you came away with more value than you parted with

But who takes the time to ask these questions?  And if you start to communicate at this depth, people politely change the subject, or impolitely check their electronic device to let you know that you are not worth their time!

I’m not sure WHAT can stem the tide or reverse the direction.  Maybe it is just an individual choice to live more slowly and thoughtfully.  Maybe communicating less often, but more richly will make someone stand out. What do you think?

All I know is that my mind grows stiff and rooted in a rut unless I exercise it.  And I, for one, don’t want to take the chance pay the price of past laziness and fall into Alzheimer’s!  I think the research is still out on ways of preventing this sad decline.  But if regular mental exercise might help, then bring on deep thoughts and well-written books!

Alzheimer's couple

 

 

Logical Gal surprised at those who ban free speech

20 Dec

” A content editor on Reddit’s science forum wrote Monday that the site has banned climate-change skeptics, and asks why more news outlets haven’t done the same.” 
Here’s the article

Hard to believe, isn’t it!  My first reaction is:

  • What is Reddit afraid of?

My next thought was:

  • The content police of Reddit must think that their readers can’t exercise enough intelligence to discern good arguments from poor arguments!

Do they really need to fear the truth?  If the so-called Climate Deniers can’t advance rational reasons for their point of view, then their argument will crumble on its own.

Don’t hide from Truth!

What is ominous is how totalitarian this action feels.   Think Nazi Germany or Marxist Soviet Union  – organizations that only allowed their approved message.

So what’s the best antidote for dealing with controversial issues?  –  Critical thinking skills that  allow you to think through and question whatever doesn’t line up with truth.  But we mustn’t forget to be kind in both our written and our spoken tone.  It could be that those advancing the minority view on Reddit had been harsh, badgering and/or vulgar.  Shame on them and us if that is the case!  Name-calling is easy and requires no thinking skills.

Question: Where do you need to take the high road, carefully picking your words but  NOT backing  away from a hot issue?

Question: