Tag Archives: Humility

Do humility and logic go together?

3 May


Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way. Ps 25:8-9

Danger alert!

Logic can destroy humility.

How can that be?  I thought clear rational thinking was the entire point of this blog?

Yes, but learning to use skills of rational, deductive reasoning can cause us to grow smug. And SMUGNESS reeks of pride, arrogance and insufferableness.

I am a Biblical Christian who loves words and takes God’s Word seriously. Therefore, I believe whole-heartedly that the original text of the Bible is accurate and free from error. Why?  because I accept as true that God superintended its transmission to the authors through His divine Spirit. After all, the God who SPOKE the universe into being can certainly insure the accuracy of the original writings.  Beside that, He even says that His Word is true. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. John 17:17

Here’s the snare.  I can be arrogant and prideful when I think I am right.  Why do I think my views are correct?

  • Because I am a born-again Christian who has been given a new and different nature
  • Because I have learned some logical thinking principles, which empower me

God, however, isn’t content to leave me equipped with ‘right’ thinking, whether content or method.

The message God seems to be sending me through daily Bible reading and various prayers is that since we humans are created beings, there is NO way in God’s kingdom that we finite creatures can be all-seeing and all-knowing.  Those ‘omni’ qualities belong to God alone who is perfect.

How that should translate into my life and perhaps yours, if you agree, is that we can be wrong!  Maybe our conclusions from the evidence WE SEE and KNOW are rightly deduced, but the presupposition behind the syllogism is huge.  Namely that we see and know ALL the facts.  Could there be, perhaps, more to meet MY eye and awareness?

I work amidst kind and friendly colleagues in a middle school in Asheville, NC.  I’m the only one, I imagine, who doubts some of the ‘givens’ about global warming and its attendant problems.  What I’m trying to practice during our lunchtime, round-table informal chats is to listen for the BEST arguments to support their views regarding this climate situation.

Wanting to understand the other side depends first on the recognition that I might not be right. Oh, maybe given the circumstances and facts I’ve seen and read, I can make a case for what I believe and why.  But the possibility DOES exist that I might actually have a blind spot.

This God-worked humility in me, through life’s hardships and knocks and my daily reading of His Word, has initiated a less sure, less-exalted view of how ‘infallible’ or correct I might be.

I believe, that our world needs more ‘Logical Joes and Janes’, but ones who humble themselves enough to listen with care to others’ views.

Logical Gal – Are you sure?

22 Apr


“You can’t be sure about anything!”

Beyond death and taxes, a lot of people maintain that position.  But is it so?

What is certainty and are there different kinds?

First a definition – Generally speaking, in every day language, certainty is the quality of being absolutely true.  What is ‘certain’ can be a fact that corresponds to reality or an event that definitely has taken place or will take place without a doubt.

Going deeper, one can differentiate between types of certainty.  We have

  • mathematical certainty – no one doubts that 2+2 make 4

Then there is

  • logical certainty – the world of deductive reasoning, portrayed by the simple syllogism.  Here we can be certain that a conclusion is true if the premises are true and the way of reasoning follows the rules (thus qualifying as ‘valid’)

Premise 1 – All humans die

Premise 2 – Joe is a human

Conclusion – Joe will die

The other day, I heard someone talk about a 3rd kind of certainty, that of

  • moral certainty I was intrigued by how he explained this branch of certainty.  From a sermon on Biblical hope here is what John Piper wrote/delivered:

“There is a kind of legitimate certainty and confidence that does not come from mathematical calculations or merely logical laws. I call it “moral certainty.”

Rooted in Acts of Will

I call it moral because it is rooted in the commitment of the will of persons. And the will is the seat of morality. That is, we can only speak of moral right and wrong in relationship to acts of will. So whatever has to do with the will is an issue of morality. And moral certainty is a certainty that is based on acts of will.”

René Descartes, French philosopher and mathematician described moral certainty this way -“certainty which is sufficient to regulate our behavior”, Link to article quoting him

Intrigued by the concept of certainty, I checked to see if there were other types of certainty.   After nosing around different websites, I learned that in a court of criminal  law, to come to a conviction the jury must agree ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’ that the accused is guilty.  That is probabilistic certainty – knowledge that is most likely to be true. . In fact, examining cumulative circumstantial evidence to arrive at a high probability of guilt can often solve murder cases that are ‘cold’.

Of course, there are less-than-credible claims to certainty.  People talk about psychological or ideological certainty – a WANTING to believe something to be so, despite the facts. There is also the danger that in the broad category of ‘mathematical certainty’ modeling future outcomes might have some hidden assumptions that are not necessarily true.

At the end of the day, we should approach the concept of certainty with HUMILITY.  I’m not advocating a posture of skepticism, but the acknowledgement that we, as finite human beings, might not be right about everything.


Logical Gal caught without a good argument

6 Jan

There, I did it again!  I opened my mouth, made an assertion and was surprised when my conversation partner asked me why I thought that!!!  Uhhh….I immediately went into SCRAMBLE-mode. Not a comfortable position from which to articulate good reasons for my belief.

How did this happen?  Simply because I was at a New Year’s open house with school colleagues and was trying to make conversation. I happened to mention a book we had given a family member about how Teddy Roosevelt saved college football.  I linked that historical anecdote to the topic of the ‘feminization of American men’.

Link to book

And it was THAT statement that caused my colleague to look at me blankly and respond that he had never heard such a view before.  And as his due, he asked me for my reasons to support my premise. For as Greg Koukl teaches, ‘He who makes an assertion assumes the burden of proof for defending it.’

I won’t describe why I brought up the argument, for the point of this reflection is how uncomfortable I felt MAKING the case for something I haven’t actually articulated before.

It really doesn’t matter that I’ve read articles, skimmed blog posts or heard interviews with various people talking about this issue.  If I haven’t thought through the reasons myself and at least DISCUSSED them with my husband in a safe place, then I should not open my mouth in public.

This is not the first time I’ve experienced ‘egg on my face’  .

If I have ONE logic resolution to make for 2014, it is this: If I want to discuss a topic in which I feel weak or unprepared, I can always ask my conversation partner HIS thoughts about the subject.  This questioning gains me more time to think and I might learn something, too!

Question: What area in critical thinking and argumentation do you need to work on in 2014? 

Logical Gal asks which is better – good Qs or good answers?

20 Nov

Would you rather be known as someone who has discerning answers or someone who asks  discerning questions? 

I think that people often feel embarrassed when they ask a question.  They might even feel stupid for not knowing something.  And on the other side, I think that some people actually feel superior when they impart knowledge, that having the “so-called right answer”  is necessary for them.

Recently I have seen the value in being able and willing to articulate thought-filled questions.

My husband is much more a science-math person than I am. So when he is explaining a new idea, I often am at a loss for even having a category or context to place some of the concepts he’s attempting to communicate.

Yet when I make the effort to sort out enough of what I can understand, I can then see ahead to ASK a question. Usually my first questions have to do with distinctions.  If he says, reverberant functions* give us the mean in the solution set”, then I will ask an initial question that helps me see the category:

  • Are there other functions besides ‘reverberant’ ?
  • What else do reverberant functions do?
  • What other data could these reverberant functions GIVE?
  • Where else do reverberant functions occur?
  • Can anything else be considered reverberant?
  • What actually does reverberant mean?
  • Are there other sets beside solutions sets?

But formulating questions take effort.  Alas, ALL thinking takes effort. That’s why it’s so rare.

What about those who have answers?  Wouldn’t you feel empowered and more secure just by knowing you had the right answers?

Actually, that kind of self-satisfaction can be limiting.  It can kill curiosity.  And it encourages pride. Now I’m sure you are both wary of pride and drawn to the confidence that pride imparts.

I maintain, however, that intellectual humility is actually a better character trait to hone.  These days, I’m far more impressed with those who ask the questions that never would have occurred to me.

Just like we can strengthen musical and athletic skills and talents by effective coaching, motivating examples and constant practice, I think we can also get better at initiating and formulating questions.

How about challenging yourself to create questions whenever you’re listening to a report, a presentation, an explanation, a sermon, or any kind of talk.

You won’t be bored!

*reverberant functions are just two words I cobbled together

Logical Gal asks if we are blind in our categories

11 Nov

Everything we encounter, whether a new idea, a circumstance or a person,

we attempt to categorize.  

We are particularly good and shallow at this game when we are making the rounds at a party or other social event. Ubiquitous questions such as:

  • What do YOU do?
  • Do you have kids?
  • What do you pursue in your free time?

We search for clues in order to categorize, to supply context to a person or to look for connections between them and us.  We want to know what we have in common.

What we don’t think through…… is that we are limited by the nature of our category, by what defines the members within the category.

Like the fish who is unaware of water because it’s all around, maybe we are equally oblivious to categories as yet identified.

I thought about this the other night while listening to a theologian explain how unusual the Jewish concept of Monotheism was.  The Jews developed into a people group amidst the backdrop of Polytheism.  I never considered how revolutionary this form of worship and culture must have been.  Here was a new category – to have ONE SINGLE god who was the TRUE god.  And He was a new kind of god – one who didn’t just show up physically as a burning bush or a pillar of smoke, but He was equally an immaterial god – a spiritual god.

The Jews descended from one man – Abraham. He and Sarah were initially polytheistic like everyone else in their region and era. They had no concept, no category for a monotheistic God.   I am amazed that they trusted Abraham’s encounter with this living God ENOUGH to leave civilization and journey away from their known life in the city of Ur to something and somewhere as yet disclosed or described.

My point is this – we ought to exercise a little more humility.  We might know every member of a category and feel confident in our ability to sort, to exercise triage as we encounter people, circumstances and ideas.  But what if what we meet belongs in an entirely different category, one about which we have no clue?

The question then becomes, how do we know what we don’t know?

I’m not sure if I have an answer or a way forward, but….

what I am beginning to REMEMBER to practice is to ask myself the question,

“as opposed to what?”

Applying this technique to Abraham’s contemporary  pagan culture, a 2000 BC sheep-farmer could  have pondered:

  • I have many gods – of weather, fertility, crops, safety….what other kind of god could there be? What would be totally different than a god to meet each of my needs?

Applying this technique in MY culture as a French teacher, I might ask:

  • What is a completely out-of-the box way to teach a foreign language?

Maybe the question itself is enough to eliminate some of my blindness.

Certainly worth a try!

If-then statements and the abortion issue

6 Aug

“If you’re a man, you have no right to an opinion about abortion”


I read this statement in a letter to the editor the other day.  This assertion is useful for two reasons:

·         We can look at conditional if/then syllogisms that will support this assertion

·         AND we can practice teasing out the implications of this assertion by using something that sounds VERY sophisticated, but is actually quite simple – the “argumentum ad absurdum”

First, let’s consider a conditional argument:

If A, then B         If it is sunny today, then we will go on a picnic

A                           It’s sunny (we affirmed the 1st clause, the antecedent)

Tf, B                     Tf, we will go on a picnic (resulting in the 2nd clause, the  consequent)

The form of this hypothetical conditional syllogism is valid if we AFFIRM the “if-clause” (or the antecedent).  The other valid form that works is when we DENY the “then- clause” (called the consequent).

If it’s sunny today, (the antecedent) then we will go on a picnic (the consequent)

We didn’t go on a picnic (we denied the consequent)

Tf, it wasn’t sunny (resulting in a denial of the antecedent)


Now let’s look at the actual MEANING of the statement at the top.  The full argument looks like this:

           If you’re a man, then you have no right to an opinion about abortion

          You’re a man

          Tf, you have no right to an opinion about abortion


We affirmed the antecedent in Premise 2, resulting in a valid conclusion. What would the other valid form look like?

If you’re a man, then you have no right to an opinion about abortion

You have a right to an opinion about abortion

Tf, you must be a woman (you’re not a man)


We denied the consequent in Premise 2, resulting also in a valid conclusion.  But as we’ve seen before, just because an argument is VALID, the TRUTH of the premises is a separate issue.

This assertion in Premise 1 seems ridiculous at face value, but how do we approach it through reason?  We can show it to be false by applying the same ‘logic’ to other situations and seeing the results.

For example, would we apply the same reasoning to these circumstances?

  • ·         If you are not a concentration camp victim, then you have no right to an opinion about Nazis.
  • ·         If you are not a cancer patient, then you have no right to an opinion about meds.
  • ·         If you are not a teacher, then you have no right to an opinion about how children learn best.

Think about how government works – we elect men and women to represent us at the local, state and federal levels. We trust that they will be able to decide issues wisely AFTER studying the details. We don’t limit them to voting issues that they have ONLY personally experienced.   We don’t even hold our President, the Commander-in-Chief of the military to that standard.  Barack Obama has never served in the military, but we expect him to make informed decisions that impact the armed forces.

Where else do you see this smug assertion clobbering folks on both the left and the right? Remember how much easier it is to see others doing that to which we are blind in ourselves.  Humility heals.