Tag Archives: Distinctions

Logical Gal – always be prepared

27 May

Be prepared  I walked into the faculty lounge, coffee cup in hand.  In between classes, I caught the tail end of a conversation between 2 of my colleagues in this secular school.  “……believes in intelligent design.”

With those words the 8th grade science teacher walked out, leaving just the two of us.  Inserting myself into the just-ended conversation, I asked the other teacher washing his coffee mug, “Who were you talking about?”

As it turns out, a prominent Christian’s great-grandson was visiting the school for the day right when the 8th grade science class was going over the theory of evolution.

My colleague dried his mug as I responded, “I believe in Intelligent Design, too!”  I continued, “All that means is that something didn’t come from nothing.”  Then I knocked on the wall.  After the 3rd tap I observed, “When you hear a knock on your front door, you tend to respond, ‘I wonder who that could be?’  No one assumes that the knock made the noise itself.  That’s what Intelligent Design means.”

Good-natured, my fellow teacher congenially acknowledged my comments and said something about evolution.  I picked up at this mention and continued with my 2-minute, on-the-spot lesson. I proceeded, “When you talk about evolution, you have to clarify what you mean and draw the distinction between macro and micro-evolution.  I bet you won’t find a single Christian who doesn’t agree with micro-evolution.”

Again, this dear man nodded in agreement, adding that most Christians he has heard haven’t made that distinction.  We then wrapped up this brief coffee pause with some shared commentary on the lack of civil discourse in America on ANY topic.  He agreed that at the ‘sound-byte’ level, it’s difficult to bring out ANY of these distinctions.

And then we parted, each back to our classrooms.  As I reflected, I evaluated what I had done well and what I could have done better. First the good points:

  • I initiated a conversation in a public place with someone who is congenial and not hostile to Christianity (even if he defines Christianity to fit his worldview)
  • I did not shy away from identifying myself as a supporter of Intelligent Design
  • I quite easily and confidently shared what I knew off the cuff

What I failed to do:

  • I did not ask HIM a single question!  It wouldn’t have taken any courage to ask him what he knows about Intelligent Design.  It wouldn’t have been painful to learn his definition of Evolution

I can’t predict whether I would have had the moxie or trusted God enough to engage in the same way with the science teacher whose class the Christian visitor had witnessed.  But I am thankful to God for having absorbed enough from podcasts and read enough books to at least give a thumbnail’s description of the issue.  And that has whetted my appetite to equip myself further and be better prepared for the next encounter.  One never knows when the opportunity will arise, so like the Boy Scouts, we must:

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 Pet 3:15b)

Logical Gal – Beware of a Distinction without a Difference

10 Dec

An old adage says it best: “He who distinguishes well, thinks well.”

Penseur

I love distinctions, but recently a conversation among Christians reminded me that one must take care NOT to invent a distinction where none exists.

The fallacy called Distinction without a Difference is so named because it is easy for us to be duped into thinking two ideas are different when all that varies are the words used to describe the two concepts.

Kids grow almost expert at using this fallacy on their parents.  Consider the following hypothetical conversation:

Mom  – Stop fidgeting, Johnny!

Johnny – I’m not fidgeting, I’m just moving my feet!

or how about this between two high school students:

Gal – I don’t want us to date anymore, Doug.

Guy – You mean it’s over, you and me?

Gal – No, it’s just that I don’t want to go out with you anymore.

breakup of a couple

The conversation snippet I heard the other day involved one pastor claiming that some Christians worship the Bible.

The other pastor, pushing back, maintained that Christians don’t worship a book, but take seriously the very words as they are written and the different contexts. They worship God as He reveals Himself in the Bible.

 

Bible

If someone asks – Do you love the Bible or do you love God?, how would you answer?

I would say, I love the Bible because it’s the supernatural (divine) intentional, powerful, breathed out record of God and His plan for His creation.  The Bible reveals the nature of God, which creates in me a growing knowledge and love for Him.  They are so connected, that I don’t separate them.  That’s like asking me which do I love more, my husband’s heart or his thoughts?  They are one and the same!

 

 

 

Stop equivocating!

26 Nov

Dad with daughter

My Dad must have repeated that warning weekly throughout my teen years.  Vaguely aware that he meant it to mean ‘stop arguing‘ or ‘enough of this twisting around of my words!

It wasn’t until ‘logic’ came into my life that I learned both the potential confusion AND danger of equivocal words – those terms that are spelled alike but point to completely different concepts.

Think about pitchers.  Two sorts spring to mind:

Pitcher of lemonade Pitcher throwing ball

 

It’s only in context that one’s sense becomes clear.

I thought about equivocal words again while mediating on one of God’s teachings in the book of Acts.  The passage is found in chapter 10 where Peter (the leader of the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension) explains to the Roman officer Cornelius the details surrounding Jesus’ work on earth and his future return:

(verses 42-43) “…..And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

What got me thinking was how some people unfamiliar with the Bible think that God will judge the good and the bad.  Those are the juxtaposed groups they describe.  Yet that is a category error, if one relies on the Bible as the definitive word about God’s judgments.  In the above passage, the people groups mentioned are the living and the dead.  What we can safely infer is that this categorizing is both exclusive and exhaustive.  All humans who ARE living or who HAVE EVER lived fit into one of these two groups: the living and the dead.  

I’ll come back to this teaching in a moment; first let’s look at the erroneous initial division of humans into good and bad.  Here is where my reflection about equivocal terms brought me – pondering the sense of the term ‘good‘.   Many Americans are kind-hearted, generous and desirous of helping their neighbor.

Humanitarian acts

I’m sure you know just such good people.  These God-enabled humanitarian works DO make our world a much better place.  Undeniably.  Yet the term good is problematic precisely because it’s one of those troublesome equivocal words.

Here’s what I mean:

How do we reconcile Jesus telling a well-to-do young Jewish man:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good--except God alone.” (Mark 3:12)

And in the Old Testament the Psalmist writes:

Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3)

Clearly there is good and there is good!

And we could talk about many other examples of how good is used:

  • good to eat (tasty and/or nutritious)
  • good at playing the piano (skilled)
  • that’s good! (almost meaningless, but communicates your acknowledgment of the news)
  • good weather for fishing/sunbathing/growing your garden (conducive to ______)
  • a good dog, child (well behaved)
  • a good wife (meets my expectations)
  • a good report (complete and accurate)
  • and last but not least, a good deed (kind)

You can probably thing of  more uses.

But the distinction that God describes in His word is one that has eternal consequences.  If

  • no one but God is good (per HIS use of the term) and if
  • He is going to judge the living and the dead

Then, knowing the category He uses is crucial.

Back to the apostle Peter’s explanation to Cornelius; obviously if none of us is good in God’s use of the term, and He separates all into either the living or the dead, then knowing that there IS a way to be reconciled and pleasing and loved and favored by God is pretty important.

 

Bottom LIne

And the news is ‘good’! (life-giving, joyful)

Reprising the 2nd verse (Acts 10:43) where Peter describes Jesus and his work on earth the first time:

“….To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Hmm…I spot another tricky term: ‘believes‘.  We’ll talk about how to understand the proper sense of  ‘to believe’ next time.

Until then, pick up and read all of Acts, Chapter 10 for yourself.  It’s a short account of what’s important.

Logical Gal and the Source of Misunderstandings

19 Nov

Consider the assumptions below: are they true?

  • The French are snobs
  • Southerners are lazy
  • Kids don’t read much
  • Americans are generous
  • Women feel guilty
  • Schools are failing students

It depends

We often treat these particular statements as true JUST because we know some cases where:

  • SOME French people behave as though they were better than us
  • SOME Southerners lack drive
  • SOME kids prefer video games to reading
  • SOME Americans open their wallets for every world misery
  • SOME women confess their conflicting views about motherhood, marriage and working
  • SOME schools routinely turn out students unprepared to take up adult roles in society

An effective and accurate (truthful) communicator does not assume that the qualities pertaining to certain cases equally apply in EVERY case.   This is the difference between the Universal (ALL) and the Particular (SOME).

When we apply the characteristics of the few or even the many to every, we are going beyond what is logically correct.  Logical thinking is, after all, using language correctly.

EXTENSION is the term to note the particular details of one exemplar of a category.  The term to identify all those members of a category that also carry the same ‘extension’ is COMPREHENSION.  And ABSTRACTION is the term that pulls together the descriptive characteristics that EVERY single member of of the category holds in common.

Take a house, for example:

House - Ranch House - shack House - Victorian

The 3 houses above are all very different.  To get the idea of ‘house’, we abstract what they have in common:

  • a roof
  • 4 walls
  • shelter for living
  • space enough to protect some personal belongings of inhabitants

A particular house, say the rancher on the left, has all 4 of the above features plus we can say that it is:

  • on one floor and noticeably longer than it is wide

But if we took that particular rancher which is a sum of the ‘applies to all’ features (the abstracted idea of house) + a particular characteristic (long and on one floor) and said

  • Houses are easy for handicapped people to access

We would be guilty of taking an extension and applying it across the board to all houses.

To be logical, we would have to supply the correct quantifier and say SOME houses make it easy for handicapped people to access.  A mansion might not have a way for a wheel chair to reach higher floors.

Ramp on rancher

If extension means the particular characteristics beyond the abstracted or general idea of a concept, then what is comprehension?  Think about extension as the details.  Think about comprehension as the number or sum total of all the members of a category to which this description applies.

And when we add more particular details, then a category member can be said to have a ‘greater’ extension.  But, conversely, there are fewer members that can be said to share that extension.

Here are 3 houses again, but this time they are:

a) a general, abstracted house

b) an abstracted house considered a ranch

c) an abstracted house that is ranch-style and has a handicap ramp

The latter, house C, shows the greatest extension because it has the most detail (hence, there are fewer houses that are accurately said to be that kind of house)

The first, house A, has the greatest comprehension because more houses qualify to be that kind of house (basic house) without all the extra details.

See Saw

The seesaw picture shows the inverse relationship between extension and comprehension.  The greater the details (greater extension), the fewer items that meet that description (smaller comprehension) and vice versa.

Bottom line?  Committing ourselves to take the time AND think clearly and then express ourselves honestly can ease the tension and conflict that characterizes our world.  It’s either laziness or pure disingenuousness to paint people or institutions with a broad brush.

Language is the source of misunderstandings Language is the source of...in French

 

Logical Gal and a win-win wager

22 Oct

True Confessions!

I struggle with worry.  Not only is this stupid, but it’s a sin since God commands Christians: Do not be anxious (Phil 4:6)

I was battling this unbelief Sunday night and Monday morning, when I realized that the possible outcomes revolving around my worrysome circumstance could be organized in a similar fashion to Pascal’s Wager.

Pensées - Pascal

Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher and mathematician.  One of the ways you might be acquainted with him is through his Pensées .  This collection of thoughts were gathered by his man-servant and assembled after his death.  He had written each pithy reflection about God on pieces of parchment and then sewn them into his coat’s lining.

Pascal meditated on how one should live this life here on earth in view of what might happen beyond the grave.  His reasoning as a logician led him  in view of  after death options to sort out the possible outcomes of a decision for or against relying on God.

The 4 possibilities look like this:

1. God exists and I give up management and submit to Him – I get a joy-filled/punishment-free eternal life with God. The cost? Very little –  some temporary experiences that might have satisfied me if indulged in.

2. God exists and I refuse to acknowledge Him and control my own life – I get a scary and painful eternal life away from God. The cost? A LOT! – an eternity of pain that lasts a lot longer than the temporary earthly pleasures I indulged in

3. God does not exist and I give up my control and desires and live according to what I think He wants – I get nothing, because there is nothing beyond the grave.  Nothing bad or good awaits me forever. The cost? Very little some temporary experiences I held back from.

4. God does not exist and I live my life following my own desires – I get nothing, because there is nothing beyond the grave. Nothing bad or good awaits me forever.  The cost? Nothing

So if you evaluate what you stand to gain or lose, rationally it makes sense to bet on God existing. (of course what one thinks of God and what God thinks of us is not up to odds, but this is just a way of using reason)

Back to worry.  How does this idea of a wager apply?

I think we can set up a similar decision wager paradigm that clearly shows the folly of worry.

First of all, here is my pre-supposition:  Worry is a joy and happiness stealer.  The formula looks like this:

Worry Inequaltiy Math Symbol Joy

And our choice of belief boils down to this:

1. Believe God when He says He is taking care of us = no need to worry.

2. Don’t believe God when He says He is taking care of us =  need to worry.

  • If we believe God and He is who He says He is and therefore IS taking care of us – we didn’t worry and we have peace and get proof that God provided for that need/situation/problem.
  • If we believe God and He doesn’t exist or isn’t like what we think – we didn’t  worry and we have to deal with the outcome of the need/situation/problem but we didn’t experience the joyless pain of worry leading up to the situation.
  • If we don’t believe God, whether He exists or not, we end up worrying and lose our joy and peace.

It makes sense as Christians to opt for the first situation.

Happiness

If God IS God by definition, then in His essence He is honest and everything He says about Himself IS true.  Afterall, his character and reputation are at stake.  We yield to emotions so often and don’t cling to truth.  And all along God is present and willing and able to handle our situations.

I have to remind myself daily that God knows about my day and has provisioned me with exactly what I need for each moment.  I am to make use of these provisions by divine faith which He has given me.

Christianity is a calling to use the evidence that God through the Holy Spirit has given us.  May we each be empowered to believe the Truth!

…the Spirit is Truth.  1 John 5:6b 

Question:  What helps you with anxiety?

 

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: those Martian men and Venetian women

27 Aug

It’s true – we really are different!

Besides the physical and emotional distinctions, what else separates us?  Our definitions!

We view and use terms in ways that are not always identical.  As St. Exupéry’s Fox informs the Little Prince:

Renard (Little prince)

“Le language est source des malentendus” (Language is the source of misunderstandings)

Friday my husband and I bought a new car for me in a town south of where I teach school.  It has been more than 10 years since I’ve had this experience and this latest 4WD small SUV came equipped with bells and whistles that were overwhelming.  So as Mike and I set out to convoy home from the dealership, I said I would ‘follow’ him.  I felt it was challenging enough to drive the new car safely without having to hunt for signs to the interstate.  Over 50, I sensibly have stopped clinging to the false notion that I can multi-task.  The idea of setting and following ‘Miss Bossy GPS Lady’ was too much for me!

All was well in this ‘following’ maneuver until we reached the interstate.  I now KNEW the way home, so didn’t feel the need to stay directly behind my husband’s car.  I was, after all, behind him in one sense of the term and in MY lexicon that qualified in the wide definition of what it means ‘to follow’.

The only problem was that this dear Martian man of mine was NOT privy to my unpublished Venetian glossary. Unbeknownst to me, he grew more and more aggravated as I fell behind.  So he attempted to catch my attention by driving erratically.  My reaction, at first, was to think that something was wrong with his Subaru.  So I prayed.  Then it occurred to me that he might be suffering a stroke or at the least low blood sugar since we were now past the dinner hour.  (These 2 scenarios were unlikely for his car is only 2 years old and he doesn’t have any physical condition that would justify my imaginings!).  But I prayed even more earnestly.

When we finally reached our cove and pulled off the busy highway, he stopped to get the paper.  I rolled down my window and said: What is wrong with you! Are you alright?

Well, that caught him by surprise because he was about to ask me the same questions.

We laugh now,

reconciled husband and wife

but lesson learned:  Be clear about terms.  Ask one another, “When you say you’re going to FOLLOW me, what do you actually mean by that?”  I also learned that when I change my mind about something AFTER I have told him what my intention was, I should communicate that too.

I guess Martians are not mind readers.

All joking aside, good clear thinking is foundational to logic.  And formal logic always starts with clarifying terms.  If two people can sort out, pin down distinctions and agree to abide by certain definitions, then much aggravation is avoided.

Question: when has language gotten in the way of communicating with someone you love? 

 

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 how contrasts help

3 Jul

contrast

How to understand a new concept – that is the question!

I heard a writer say that drawing CONTRASTS brings CLARITY.

This resonated with me, because intuitively I’ve picked up seeking contrast.  Living with a mathematical and analytical kind of guy exposes me to many new concepts I would probably avoid if I could!  So when Michael attempts to explain something like ‘standard deviation’  I have NO framework at all on which to hang this new idea.  My first question in all these kinds of conversations tends to be like the following:

  • ‘standard’ deviation as opposed to what? non-standard deviation?  and is there standard ‘pattern-following‘ as opposed to standard ‘deviation’?

Those 2 questions probably sound lame, but I’m trying to fill in the blanks and mostly all is blank when I have no idea what he’s talking about.

Knowing what something is NOT establishes boundaries.  And boundaries help the mind’s eye.

boundary lines

Back to those standard deviations…..I found out that the contrast to ‘standard’ deviation was ‘absolute’ deviation.  And that ‘deviation’ refers to the spread among gathered information in a group or set of data points.

What FURTHER brought clarity was not just this CONTRASTing information, but how standard deviations could be used. Never mind how one calculates it, but the information gained from determining the SD is satisfyingly useful, even to me, Miss Non-Analytical.

One quick example: if you record your daily weight for a month and calculate the standard deviation of all your numbers (or let the spread sheet do it for you!), you  learn that 95 % of your daily recorded weights will fall within the boundary or limits of the average weight (they call it the mean)  plus or minus 2 standard deviations.  That’s the green area under the red curved line below.

standard deviations - 2

So….???  The way this is helpful is that if I step on the scale after a big meal eating out and my weight is NOT within the green area, I can say to myself:

  • Self – don’t worry.  This is just an outlier, not your norm.  Give it a day or 2 and your weight will be back in the green.  No cause to panic!

Who would have thought that an analytical concept could bring some degree of peace of mind?  Now what else have I missed?

Question:  what do you do to begin to understand or grasp a new concept?  What questions do you ask?

 

 

Logical Gal and the audacity of an adjective

1 Jul

Adjectives

Adjectives were boring until Saturday.

That’s when I learned about the power they employ.  I’m sure you can recite along with me the same answer…

  • to this question:   What is the function of an adjective?
  • and the answer is:  An adjective modifies a noun

So what’s the big deal? It’s that verb ‘to modify’ – so innocuous!

The speaker at the weekend conference who got me to consider adjectives was a former English professor (does anyone STOP teaching English?).  In her talk on Saturday she explained that the function of an adjective was to CHANGE a noun.

That startled me!  Switching from the familiar verb ‘modify’ to the more powerful synonym  ‘change’  set off a small explosion of  implications that coursed through my mind.

Change - Angel of death

Not all adjectives drastically alter a noun.  For example, take the phrase  ‘stay-at-home dad‘.    The man is still a ‘dad’, whether he is the primary care giver for his children or not.  Adding the adjectival ‘changer’ doesn’t detract or add from the ‘pure’ definition of the concept ‘dad’.  But what about that old term women (and men!) often used 40 years ago when they felt ashamed of being a stay-at-home mom.  Someone came up with the phrase ‘domestic engineer’ to be used by a mom/wife desiring to lend gravitas to what she did every day.  Did anyone REALLY think she was an engineer?  Only in the euphemistic sense.  I am guessing that few Engineering Schools or departments teach courses on running a household.

Domestic Engineer

 

*

Why is this important, the playing around with adjectives?

Because how we define institutions and groups figures prominently in the news these days.  Marriage, faith and politics are not neutral topics of little import.  The rhetoric is intense and emotions are high.  Words matter, especially adjectives.

Question: What striking example can you provide of an adjective changing the original or ontological sense of a noun? 

 

Scrabble - every word counts