Tag Archives: Isaiah

How recognizing a fallacy helps sniff out a poor argument

10 May

All cows have four legs

My dog Fido has four legs

Therefore, Fido is a cow

Pastor John Piper explained in a rebroadcasted sermon how high school geometry had grounded him in clear thinking.  Mathematical laws, one leading to a next, trained him to use deductive reasoning.  With practice in drawing valid and true conclusions, he developed a ‘nose’ for truth, as he put it.  The practical effect for him has been to alert him to ‘fishy’ conclusions that stink, that is they don’t add up, given the premises provided.

Looking at the syllogism above, we notice something and we ‘smell’ something:

  1. Premises 1 & 2 are in fact TRUE – cows have 4 legs and dogs normally do as well
  2. But we know that the conclusion is FALSE.  Our dog Fido is NOT a cow.

For me, the quickest way to explain why our sense of ‘fishiness’ is spot on, is to draw out each premise.

Take All cows have 4 legs.

Step 1:  draw a circle – label it Creatures with 4 legs.

2 cirlces

Step 2: draw a smaller circle somewhere inside the first circle.  This represents ALL COWS.  Every cow that ever WAS, IS, WILL BE  is in that circle.  (assuming no handicapped cows)

Step 3:  Mark an X in the big circle called, Creatures with 4 legs.

Circles with X

Do you spot the problem?  We don’t know where to place Fido.  Does he belong in the circle of cows? or out of the circle of cows?  From the information given, the 2 premises, that cannot be determined.

Therefore, the conclusion is false.  Why?  Because the new premise that ‘Fido is a cow’ assumes too much.  It might be, but it might not be.

There is of course, a technical way of categorizing the validity of the syllogism.  But for me, just sketching it out is simplest.

When I taught in a classical Christian school in Yorktown, Va, logic was a mandatory class for 7th and 8th graders.  I instructed the younger students in the joy of spotting fallacies (much to the annoyance of their parents who thereafter had to be on their guard!).  The 8th graders were at the perfect age to begin to understand how to analyze and formulate good arguments.

I believe that this tool in clear thinking is invaluable to young teens AND adults.  This kind of knowledge is powerful and builds confidence when they head out into a world such as ours:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil: who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!  Isaiah 5: 20-21 (NASB)

 

 

 

 

Does reason top all considerations?

7 Oct

If you ask people to distinguish features that mark human beings as different from the animal kingdom, most would respond first that it is our self-awareness or our ability to think and to reason that sets us apart from other creatures.  For example:

  • The power of reason enables us to go against instinct and dash INTO a burning building to rescue a child.
  • The power of reason enables us to subdue passions and wrong feelings and choose the better way and say NO to MORE chocolate or another glass of wine!
  • Self-awareness allows us to learn from past experiences (we hope!) and design a more beneficial course of action

So do we or should we default to clear, rational thinking at all times?  Do decision-analysis models whether from the simplicity of the Ben Franklin two-column approach to the more sophisticated decision trees provide all we need for life? Another way to pose this question is to say: Is Reason the ultimate authority to which we submit our lives?

Recently and without haste I’ve been reading and re-reading John Flavel’s short book on fear. Link to book is here

Flavel was an English Presbyterian minister and author, living in the 17th century.  What struck me was his explicit case for submitting to God’s authority in SOME matters, thus leaving behind or placing 2nd our best sense of a matter derived solely from human reasoning.

Say what?  Didn’t God endow mankind with the very ability to think, to reason?

Yes! By all means.

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Furthermore, in the New Testament, the Greek word ‘logismos’ is used.  This term translates as argument or thinking or system of thought.

Educated readers of the Bible will know that ‘logismos’ relates to ‘logos’ or the word.  The Apostle John writes in his very first chapter of the book bearing his name.  In the beginning was the Logos or Word, and the Logos or Word was with God, and the Logos or Word was God.

So, yes, God DOES give us the ability to think and use words to make decisions. But there are times and situations where our thinking will fall short and not be sufficient.  God alerts us to future situations where this is the case, so we should NOT be surprised!

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts“.

God unequivocally teaches that there will be circumstances when His ways and thoughts trump our assessments and best reasoning.

Here’s the 64-million-dollar question: How do we know WHEN we are to use reason and WHEN we are to submit to God’s ways?

John Flavel describes the rule of faith as God’s way.  In his book, he teaches HOW to fight fear.  Fear is a normal reaction to our everyday evil world.  Evil in our hearts and evil all around us.  If we are to remain peaceful within, despite circumstances, then we CANNOT let our reason be the final arbiter used to describe or inform or make sense of what our senses provide us.

Here is how Flavel explains:  (p. 106-107 of his book):

  • You must keep your thoughts under the government of faith. Whoever sets aside the rules of faith and measures things by the rule of his shallow reason is HIMSELF (caps, mine) the problem.  If we permit reason to judge all things and derive its conclusions from the appearance of second causes, our hearts will have no rest day or night.  Instead, it will keep us in continual alarms.  The best people are prone to measure things by this rule – to judge all of God’s designs and providences by reason. 

When he mentions the ‘best people’, think ‘the intelligentsia’ of the day who might be tempted to assume that a belief in God is not rational.

Bottom line for us moderns is to use and develop our ability to think and discern and draw conclusions, but measure them through the grid of God’s truth, how He describes reality.  After all, He created all that is.

Logical Gal says Christianity is an evidenced-based faith system

7 May

Evidence-based faith system – does that sound like an oxymoron?

If you’re like a lot of scientific rational people, you might think so.

God apparently doesn’t think so.  He encourages us to check out the evidence and use our faculties of reason (that He, the Creator planted in us)

Reasonable Faith

 

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God encourages us with these words:

  • Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord…. Chapter 18:1a

And lest you think that the ‘rules’ changed in the New Testament, Jesus himself invites His hearers to evaluate Him based on the evidence, i.e. His miracles or signs.

John, His closest friend and follower, records these words of Jesus:

  • Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.  (John 14: 11)

So, where does faith come in?  Good question!

Faith is a tricky word.  May non-believers think that Christians base their beliefs on a type of ‘blind’ faith.  They would describe this as believing DESPITE the lack of evidence.

Blind faith

 

But FAITH can actually be translated by two Greek concepts.  There is PISTIS (Strongs # 4102) which refers to convictions or beliefs.

And there is HOPE.  But this concept is NOT the kind of hope that we talk about in casual conversation as in:

  • I hope I get an A
  • I hope the rain holds off for the picnic

That is called wishful thinking. 

Wishful Thinking Dino

No, HOPE  in Greek is rather the idea of ASSURANCE, EXPECTATION, FIRM FOUNDATION.  The Greek word is ELPIZO  ( Strong’s # 1679)

Here’s how I would explain a Christian’s relationship to God.  Based on a careful evaluation of evidence provided by historical documents and the recorded speech of God, open-minded seekers follow the evidence to where it leads.  They do not limit or filter their potential results through pre-existing biases.  Then when they have a ‘reasonable’ amount of evidence, they put their trust in the God of the Bible.  (And God promises to meet those who seek Him sincerely)

  • Come near to God and He will come near to you. (James 4:8)

Do you have to have 100 % certainty? Of course not.  That doesn’t exist in this life in ANY arena.  When I buy a ticket and board an airplane, I am trusting the evidence of previous flights’ safety records. I have to make a faith-based decision to get on that plane!

Boarding a plane

So don’t think you have to check your brains at the door to investigate the claims of Christianity.  This religion is easily falsifiable. All one would have had to do to sink this world view would have been to produce the body.

But the murdered prophet who claimed that

  • He was God himself (Yahweh)
  • and that  He would come back from the dead after 3 days

DID rise from the dead.  And there WAS an empty tomb.  And Jesus WAS SEEN by more than 500 people in a different but recognizable body (nail holes and all) during a period of 40 days.

And millions of people have been convinced of the truth of Jesus and His claims to put their trust in Him.

Question:  What would it take for you to trust Him today ?