Tag Archives: Learning

Logical Gal – Are you sure?

22 Apr

Certainty

“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.

Humility

Logical Gal and the value of repetition

11 Dec

I had a student at my old school who often repeated the Latin truism, that repetition is the mother of learning

It follows that we shouldn’t be discouraged when it takes us so long to acquire/absorb a new idea to the degree that it actually changes us.  Hearing something once, 5 times or even 20 times often isn’t enough for the concept or new nugget of information to stick.

I  teach French.  It’s often said that students need to hear a new phrase up to 70 times for that phrase to be IN them, so that it comes out effortlessly.  So why should it be any different with ideas?

All this is to say, that last week I was GREATLY encouraged when I caught myself asking 4 of my favorite words, ” As opposed to what?”  This was a first for me – and something I have wanted to be able to think spontaneously.

I was reading in Romans and came across Paul’s statement:

  • For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, (Romans 1:9)

My happy first reaction was to ask myself, “How else could he be serving God? – if not with his spirit, then with what?” In essence, I had automatically asked those 4 words, “as opposed to what”!

Up until now, I have been able to notice, AFTER THE FACT, when other authors move in that direction.  They are then able to make a distinction about something  that I had sped by.

I really like DISTINCTION-MAKING.  It’s how I can understand a concept. 

But back to other ways Paul could serve God:

Some ways to serve God

  • He could use his 2 hands and feet and go and do, or go and preach
  • He could use his mind and creatively fit analogies to his particular audience to make his words more penetrating
  • Or he could  serve God with his possessions

Personally, I would have probably substituted energy/life/work/hands for Paul’s choice of the term spirit.

Why bother take the time to think through all this?  For the happy benefit of having another question. When we ask ‘as opposed to what’, we are often led to other questions.  When we actively engage with ideas, we are enriched.

So now I get to ponder this: What does it mean to serve God with one’s spirit?

Now that’s a question worth chewing on!

Question:  What new idea have you acquired or absorbed recently that has made an impact on you?