Tag Archives: Distinctions

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.

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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

 

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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

 

 

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 and what is ‘necessarily true’

20 May

Have you ever heard of a proposition or definition of a term being ‘necessarily true‘?

That, my dear logical friend, is what we call an analytical definition.

True

Here are a few terms that HAVE to be this way in order to avoid a contradiction within themselves.

  • All bachelors are unmarried
  • All husbands are married
  • All squares are 4-sided figures

Immanuel Kant named the kind of proposition that does not have to be true  – SYNTHETIC.

His example was:  All husbands are unhappy

Unhappy husband

Jokes aside, by definition a husband doesn’t have to be unhappy!

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When I heard analytical propositions being discussed recently, I called to mind one of the arguments for the existence of God.  It’s referred to as the Ontological argument, or one about necessary being.

Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas was one of the earliest thinkers to talk about God ‘necessarily’ existing:

From a primer on Philosophy

Boiling it down he asserts that by definition (like our analytical statements), God is that supernatural being that HAS to exist.  It would be impossible for him NOT to exist, if He/It is God.  Imagine a being beyond which you cannot fathom, one that is:

  • all powerful
  • all good
  • all knowing
  • all loving
  • all giving
  • present everywhere at all times

That, my friends, is God by definition.  If he/it is not all those attributes, then we’re not talking about ‘God’.

Kinda blows your mind, doesn’t it!

Mind Boggling

This ‘ontological’ argument for God is one of 4 current ways of arguing for the existence of God.  We’ll look at the others later on this week!

 

But for now:  What OTHER proposition can you share that is by definition NECESSARY?

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal and Evidence-Based Medicine – is there any other kind?

9 May

What a concept!  Relying on medical practices and prescribed treatments that actually work and have the evidence to back them up!

I recently listened to a conversation between Al Mohler and Candy Gunther Brown, PhD from Harvard.  The topic was fascinating!  Dr. Brown has studied the religious content of complementary and alternative medical practices such as chiropractic, yoga and reiki.

Audio talk + transcript entitled: “Are we all syncretists now…”  – about complementary and alternative medicine and evangelical Christians

The discussion focused on Dr. Brown’s research in her latest book Link to book at Amazon

What I found compelling as a logical gal was the distinction between medicine that could point to double blind trials to substantiate its claims and medicine that was NOT evidence-based.

Evidence-based medicine

Apparently many of those who practice these alternative ‘therapies’ know how to shift their language to suit their audience. This tailoring the vocabulary extends to efforts to appeal  to the public’s desire for something ‘scientificky’ and ‘natural‘ or appeasing Christians’ worries about Buddhist or Hindu influences by changing the names of movements.

 

Yoga in public schools

Dr. Brown was called as an expert witness in last summer’s California court case regarding the teaching of yoga in Encinitas public schools (San Diego area) . Even though she supplied substantial reasons why yoga is a religious practice, the court ruled otherwise. NPR report on ruling

Whether you are bothered by the question of religious content or not in these practices, you SHOULD BE concerned about any medical practice that is more quackery and wishful thinking.  Practice reasoned skepticism!!

Skepticism and truth

 

Logical gal and the joy of new thoughts

5 May

New thought

I think the reason I love to learn is that I’m convinced of the power of a new thought to change my life.  So I read and listen to podcasts, radar alert to something I didn’t know.  The thought can be something that was totally unfamiliar to me or a concept presented in a novel way.

Recently I was reading a devotional with excerpts from sermons by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  He was a British pastor in the mid 20th century who taught straight Bible truth.

Martyn L-J

His nugget of  insight concerned how Christians are  “to worship in spirit and truth.”  I’ve often chewed on that phrase, wondering what it meant.  Frankly I can’t remember how he explained that concept.  But that wasn’t what struck me.  As an aside, he mentioned that the reason the 3rd person of the Triune God is called the HOLY Spirit is to distinguish Him from other spirits, all of whom are evil.

Pow!  That thought dropped right into a ready mind, already fertilized because I was seeking answers to some questions.  I’ve often wondered why He’s not just called the Spirit, capital S.

Holy Spirit

Knowing not only that , but how He is distinct from all other spirits helps me appreciate Him all the more!  If you read these blog posts, then you know how useful I find distinctions to be!  They help me understand concepts so much more easily.  Thank you Father (and Martyn L-J, for this new thought).

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The second interesting new idea came from Greg Koukl in his recent Tuesday broadcast – You can find his live webcast show here.

Greg posed a question to a caller that went something like this:

  • Have you ever considered that the angels who fell are not afforded an opportunity to repent?  There is no rescue planned for them.  They blew it when they rebelled against God.  It’s the Lake of Fire for them!

All of a sudden into my mind sprung the image of Jesus on the Cross praying to His Father to be merciful to those putting Him to death:

Father, forgive them

We humans get a break!  We are given a second chance after our rebellion.  God sympathizes with us!  

That boggled me and caused me to feel loved by God.

There are different categories of material and immaterial created beings – the angels and us.  And for the first time, I’m thankful to be human and not an angel, all those powers notwithstanding!  God really does love us humans, as pathetic as we often are! If you’ve ever read or dipped into CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters you’ll recognize that line of thinking in senior demon Screwtape’s letters to his nephew and junior tempter Wormwood.  These demons, aka evil spirits, aka fallen angels cannot fathom God’s focus on the human race.

Screwtape & Wormwood

So there you have it:  2 ideas new to me.  I’ll chew on them for a while and be thankful to God for both His Spirit and His Love.

Question:  What new ideas cause you to thank God?