Tag Archives: Logical Arguments

Logical Gal at the movies

13 Aug

AI the movie

We’re enjoying re-watching some ‘thinking’ movies from the past.  Once you’ve screened a film for the plot line, you can go back and catch the deeper layers. AI or Artificial Intelligence has some dialogue worth pondering.

David is a proto-type robot child who is programmed to ‘love’ after a bonding sequence his ‘Mommy’ (human who owns him) initiates and follows. He responds to her eyes, voice and actions with uncanny human-like qualities that mimic true affection.

In one scene David  is challenged by the family’s REAL son to cut off a locket of Mommy’s hair.  The guile-filled biological boy frames it as a game and orders David to play. We follow the innocent David sneaking into the parents’ bedroom, scissors in hand.  The suspense builds to the predictable moment when Mommy wakes up in horror to see David with sharp edges in hand hovering over her face.   But in momma-bear mode,  she attempts to soft-pedal the event when the horrified dad comes out with this logic:

If he can love, then he can hate!

And after one more innocent event that casts David in a false light, the dad makes the decision to rid themselves of this too-advanced tech addition to their family.


Let’s practice some clear logical thinking by taking the dad’s announcement above and analyzing it.  This exercise will reenforce what we should do ANY time we encounter someone’s position which doesn’t seem quite right.

So what do we have in the dad’s pronouncement?

  • a conditional major premise, what we call an ‘If, then’ statement.
  • an enthymeme – one explicit part of an argument or syllogism and 2 missing parts that our minds fill in easily.

Here’s the completed argument:

Premise 1 (the major premise):  If David can love, then he can hate

Premise 2 (the minor premise): David has shown that he can love

Conclusion: Therefore, it is logical to believe that David is also capable of hating

There’s a law in logic that goes like this:  if the first 2 premises are true, then the conclusion MUST be true in a valid argument (valid means that the argument is in the correct form) 

The above syllogism IS valid because Premise 2 affirms the first segment of Premise 1 (called the antecedent). I ask you, then, is this analysis cut and dried?  Are the two premises true?

Well, the movie clearly demonstrates that David loves.  He is a machine.  He is programmed and built to act lovingly and to have that love increase (grow) in response to his one human ‘bondee’ (one human who initiates a short programmed sequence of words enters into a ‘bonded-for-life’ connection with the ‘mecha’ i.e, the robot).  In the photo below, Mommy places the fingers of one hand behind David’s neck and reads a sequence of words, cementing the bonding.

Bonding between David and Monica in movie AI

But the error in Premise 1 lies in its presupposition.  The dad has humans in mind when he assumes that love and hate go hand in hand.  And for those created in God’s images, id est all of us, that is true.  We have been given a certain degree of free will.  We GIVE our love and we RETAIN or hold back our love.  Or else it is not true love. (What a risk God took! But He evidently WANTS the pinnacle of His creation to love Him freely). The downside in creating a machine that imitates a loving human is that the owner of the ‘mecha’ deceives himself in thinking the machine really DOES love him. If he stops and THINKS, the machine is merely following a program, however complex it may be.

David loves Mommy, acts and speaks with tender, servant-like affection because he can do nothing else.  This is not true of humans.


Let’s shift back to real life.  Deep movies are satisfying because they offer us food for thought.  We can practice our logic skills in a safe environment when we discuss a film’s premises and conclusions.  Then we feel more prepared gently to question someone in our circle who advances a conclusion that might not be sound.

Vive le cinéma profond!

Question:  What is your all-time favorite deep movie?  What is a premise we could analyze? 

Logical Gal – it must be true if 97% of scientists agree

9 Jun

Truth by consensus!

97 % of scientists

Now there’s a stable foundation for science and public policy!

When someone making an assertion offers as support the fact that the majority of experts back his view, then you know the arguer has no argument.

People resort to fallacies (false reasoning) for one or more of the following  reasons:

  • they haven’t thought through a proper defense of their point of view
  • they KNOW they don’t have any legitimate reasons resilient enough to respond to critique
  • they are lazy and rather just bash their opponent by appealing to a variation of that old song lyric ‘50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong‘!

50 million frenchmen

But science has always progressed by being dragged forward by a few brave souls going against the ‘party line’.

So what is driving the forceful and almost shrill proclamations that the ‘debate is over’?

Like so much in life, I think it’s……… the money.

In today’s local Sunday paper, hope for new jobs permeated an unabashedly eager article about Asheville positioning itself to sell tech solutions to our ‘climate problem’ Article link is here.   This was in the same issue that gave editorial space to syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts who mockingly derided climate deniers who should do the math and get on board. See if you can spot his use of Mob Appeal cum Appeal to Authority fallacies

What frightens me is that the ‘average Joe or Jane’ DOESN’T take the time to read, study and think through issues.  And to be honest, one has to pick and choose just which topics one is going to investigate.  There was a time when the Fourth Estate, the ‘soi-disant’ independent media, played that role in society, keeping the other three estates in check (traditionally – the nobility, the clergy and the commoners….perhaps in 21st century America – the government, business and the little people).

But today, a FIFTH ESTATE has arisen – us, the counter-cultural voice of independent media, bloggers and certain talk-show hosts.

For more information click here

We CAN make a difference, one step at a time.  My small piece in that unorganized but powerful force is to encourage average Joes and Janes to practice clear thinking.  Acquiring logic is a useful tool to that end!

Question:  Which issue is number one for you?  the one that is worth your time and concentrated energy

  • to study
  • to be able to articulate both sides
  • to come down on one side and be prepared to give a defense



Logical Gal challenges ‘experts’

25 Apr

More and more we are being subjected to a one-line argument called ‘settled science’ as announced by those advocating drastic counter-measures in view of what they perceive as ‘human-induced’ climate harm.

Settled Science & Al Gore


This way of arguing is actually a fallacy.  It’s the opposite of the Ad Hominem attack.  That particular fallacy bypasses  all the reasons supporting a claim to attack the nature  or character of the one advancing the argument.

In contrast, the fallacy I want to address today is the tactic whereby one skips reasons and plays on the credentials of the proponents.  This fallacy is called the Argument from Authority.  We see this often in commercials for toothpaste (‘Brand X is the one favored by more dentists in America’) or for peanut butter (‘Choosy moms choose Jif!’)

Choosy moms choose Jif

As you probably have noticed, this appeal to an authority takes the place of an appeal to REASON!

So, too, with the climate change issue.  Those who clamor for countries to DO SOMETHING have demonized those who push back and ask for supporting evidence.  Appealing to the authority and intelligence of a group of scientists does not satisfy for 2 reasons:

  • Scientists are known to have been wrong in the past  (think of the Flat Earth view or the Earth as the center of the solar system)
  • If the case for anthropogenic climate change (brought on by humans) is so strong, scientists or policy-makers should not  be afraid to provide the evidence APART from computer models of what MIGHT happen

Finally, here is a caveat to those who by nature are skeptical and question authority (nothing wrong with that!), don’t yourselves either appeal to or attack the character of the one making the argument.   Be considerate and calm when you push back gently, requesting proof, evidence and reasons.

Remember, the burden of proof is on those who advance a position.  All YOU have to do is ask the WHY questions. But do so with gentleness and respect!

Kind rather than Right

Question:  Where do you encounter these Appeals to Authority?


Logical Gal uses reason to ‘quantify’ emotions

7 Mar


I’ve been trying to find a tool to put some of my unhealthy emotions in their proper place.

I’m realizing that I crave people’s approval.  Having to actually live with the feelings of DIS-approval is what initially drew me to conclude that their approval or liking me was something I strive to earn/gain.  This is a vulnerable and painful place to ‘live’, with emotions dependent on others.

So what is a logical Joe or Jane to do?  Can reason help?  In which ways?

Using logic means that we apply reason.  We are called to support our propositions or assertions with reasons.   And you might, in fact, actually do that if I ask you: What are your reasons for feeling anxious about flying?  Let’s imagine that you reel off several, including your tendency to fantasize or project bad outcomes of plane crashes.

Have you done enough to justify or rationalize your feelings as legitimate and worth keeping? You do, in fact, HAVE at least 1 reason for your fear of flying.  Do we just leave it at that?  Are you done?

Actually, I would maintain that you need to have PRINCIPLED or sane reasons for your feeling.  What do I mean by that?

Quantifying feelings

In my case of thinking I NEED the approval of various key people in my life, this came about NOT from enjoying that kind of affirmation when I have received it in the past.  Au contraire, I concluded that I want people to like me because of the PAIN of expressed DIS-approval.

When I receive the articulated or written praise of others (=approval), it doesn’t significantly improve the quality of my life or even my day.  But communicated criticism HURTS disproportionately  more.  So if A = your approval of me, than -A feels like -TEN A.

Disapproval thumb down

This kind of thoughtful exploration of motivations might not solve our antipathy to negative emotions like fear or rejection, but at least it shows us clearly that we might be investing far too much energy and effort for a pay-off of marginal returns.

There are a couple of tactics to minimize the imagined effect of Other-Criticism:

  • Christians can value God’s approval more (if you’re a Christian trusting what Jesus did by living a righteous life and being punished for your guilt, then you automatically  have God’s unchanging approval and love for you)
  • You can say something to yourself like…. – “100 years from now it’s not going to matter if my co-workers/boss/neighbors/friends/family admired or thought highly of me”

Question: – If you don’t use logic to corral in those slave-driver emotions, how DO you cope?

Driving me crazy

Logical Gal dismantles those pithy rhetorical punchlines

3 Mar

Rhetorical Devices

Sometimes an opponent will zing out a line so clever, so smooth that you swallow it whole and wonder what hit you.  That’s the power of rhetoric.

Not all rhetoric is bad.  In fact, if you want someone to be persuaded by truth, you have to package it, or present it with rhetorical skill.  Aristotle taught his students how to employ effectively LOGOS, ETHOS and PATHOS.  The logos is the actual content, the ethos is a combination of the accuracy of both YOUR authority/credentials or those of the experts you draw upon as well as the quality of your character. Finally pathos is the ‘why you should care’ factor.

But long are the days when an audience listened patiently as an orator skillfully presented a case. Today, in our sound bite culture, we swing snatches of words.

So how does a Logical Joe or Jane parse out one of those ‘fly-by’ explanations that masquerade as arguments?

Sound Bites and Slogans

Last week we took apart the clever line, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary explanations!” (see preceding 28 Feb 2014 post)  Today I would like to address a criticism against God as He is presented in the Bible:

How is eternal punishment for a temporal crime fair?!

At first glance it doesn’t seem fair.  This question is short enough for someone to thrust out there, pause and just let settle in.

The seeming injustice comes from our idea that a punishment should fit the crime.  So we must actually think a bit deeper.  The responses I heard today in a podcast interview made sense.

I offer them as a way to get a handle on a sensitive and difficult issue.

First, time of punishment v. time it took to commit the crime is irrelevant.  How long does it take for a speeding bullet to kill an innocent person?  Yet if convicted, a criminal may spend a lifetime in prison.

Second, whom the crime is committed against makes the difference.

Let’s say one person slaps another.


In the first instance, a big brother might get TIME OUT!…. as a punishment.

But what if an employee slapped his boss?  The stakes would be higher.  I’m pretty sure he’d be fired on the spot!

Well let’s suppose a more risky situation.  You’re at the White House for a State Dinner.  As you approach the President in the receiving line to shake hands, you haul off, intending to slap him. Probably even before your hand neared his ear, you’d be wrestled to the ground and hauled off to jail and charged with something serious.

Do you see what is happening?  The severity of the crime DEPENDS  on the one it is committed against.

So now let’s consider the Creator of the entire universe.  One of His created beings whom He lovingly fashioned in His image rebels all his life and refuses to have anything to do with the One who gave him life. Despite messages and countless ways to get his attention, God’s overtures are ignored or even scorned.

Just like citizens cannot expect to ignore a court summons and get away with it, neither can we turn our back on God and not expect a consequence.

Yes, eternal punishment is categorically different than life in prison, but God the Creator is in a different class all together from any created thing or being.

It takes some time to think through pithy lines, but it’s worth it.  The more we practice the skill of thinking, the better we get at it.

Question:  Which arguments are you having difficulties unraveling?


Logical Gal asks: Do you follow your heart? Do you trust your instincts?

10 Jan

What do you think?  do you agree with the premise advanced above?

Or how about this one:

My ‘gut instinct’ tells me to ask both authors of these truisms, “How do you know intuition or your heart won’t deceive you?”

I haven’t checked other world religions, but Christianity has us humans pegged! The prophet Jeremiah thundered, ”

Do you think Jeremiah trusted his heart?

Actually we have been given brains in order to think, to reason, to assess and to calculate.  Certainly we are to take our feelings into account.  But our mind should rule our feelings.

Acquiring some tools such as……

  • decision-making
  • making distinctions
  • techniques for defining terms
  • and the building blocks of a sound argument…….

can empower us and strengthen our confidence in our mind.

You’ve heard of arranged marriages, 2 strangers who start to correspond and as they get to know each other, they come to love each other.

This technique that builds positive feelings also works with inanimate objects. For example, I’ve experienced the phenomenon of going from feeling neutral about a subject to actually liking it JUST because I acquired knowledge about the topic.  The more one knows about something, the more the feelings fall into line.  We CAN influence our feelings by our acquired knowledge.

As a Christian, I have experienced this in my relationship with God.  How does one ‘love’ God? He’s invisible, immaterial and different from us.  What I’ve found is the more I learn about Him, the more my affections grow.

So, if you’re making some resolutions, this 2nd week of January, resolve NOT to oppose heart and mind, but to make your mind the master of your feelings.  Then you can start to trust your feelings more, but only if they are supporting reality, aka TRUTH.

And don’t fall for that old canard that juxtaposes supposed head knowledge against heart knowledge. Knowledge is knowledge and feelings are feelings.  Keep that distinction!

Question: What do you think about the possibility that when someone says,

  • I just followed my heart

They actually meant:

  • I just did what I actually WANTED to do, without considering whether is was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’

Logical Gal and her Daily Newspaper

8 Jan

It’s a snow day and school was cancelled.  So I had time to read the local paper and enjoy my daily entertainment of picking out fallacies and irrational comments on the Opinion Page.

I was not disappointed.

A guest columnist had written a couple of weeks ago criticizing the Affordable Care Act and offering reasons for why it should be canned and what steps COULD reasonably be made to fix our country’s health care delivery system.

Today, two people responded.  One did so ineffectively; the other writer more reasonably. The contrast provided a helpful illustration of what TO do and what NOT to do.

The first, by an ‘outraged’ letter-writer, spent most of his 200 words attacking the original author’s person and his circumstances (retired state worker, for what it’s worth). He made blatant assumptions about the man’s spending habits.  This type of ad hominem circumstantial argument works like the following fabricated  example:

What is said:  This guy beats his kids and hoards his food; therefore, his argument about the best fuel-efficient car can’t be trusted.

It actually doesn’t matter what a person’s set of beliefs, practices or past errors are.  What counts are the merits of his argument.

The letter writer also vilified the Tea Party by creating a Straw Man argument.  He assumed that because the guest columnist disagreed with the Democratic Party’s passed legislation, that he belonged to the much-maligned Tea Party.  Then he described this conservative party’s one and only solution ‘to our country’s problems’ as “The whole world revolves around me”. What’s with that?? How is that so-called philosophical statement even a solution? He never explained what he meant.

The truth is that most of the time when people resort to mean and biting words they do so because they have nothing substantive to say about the ARGUMENT.  They just want to attack and minimize their opponent.

With many people writing and speaking like this guy, it doesn’t take much for a ‘thought-ful’ person to stand out.  We must be encouraged to make the effort to speak and write carefully and reasonably with evidence to back our points.  Avoiding fallacies helps us to be taken seriously.

Fortunately, the 2nd man to write in to the paper had at least one good point when he addressed his opponent about the Affordable Health Care Act.  He developed his argument, supported it with reasons and stayed clear of fallacies. And I’ll even forgive him for his last sentence, a rhetorical and sarcastic jab at Republicans.

I recommend following the daily newspaper, whether on-line or in print.  It’s good practice for critical reading and thinking.  And remember, it’s your right as an informed citizen to write the editor and share your views.  You might actually influence someone for the better with your clear thinking!

Question: What issue could you write about cogently and persuasively?

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 – are people allergic to reason?

1 Jan

It’s probably true – there exists a category of human beings who are NOT interested in rational thinking!

I know, I know, you’re probably saying: “Pas possible!” not possible.  But I’ve read about such a group TWICE now.  These are people who hold on to certain beliefs simply for the reason that they WANT to.

This past summer I read a book by Neil Postman.  In it he narrates an experience he had working on a friend’s political campaign.  During a debate his friend conducted with his  opponent, Neil who had worked diligently to prep his friend, was shocked to find out that reasoned discourse did NOT win the day.  The opponent simply LOOKED better on TV and as a result had higher approval ratings.  Furthermore he offered few policy positions and fewer rational REASONS to vote for him!

Then just this week my husband read aloud from a contemporary book by a young, successful businessman who echoed Postman’s experience although it’s been 40 years!  It seems as though times do NOT change and that the ‘good ole days’  were not much better than today!  The writer discussed how some/many politicians purposefully and blatantly LIE and how constituents KNOW they are lying and still vote for them!  He went on to say that most people just do not want to spend energy to listen to reason.

So what’s a logical Joe or Jane to do?  Should we abandon reason just because the world doesn’t want to listen?

Yes..and..no!  I think we have to be wise and selective.  Wisely use questions over assertions to interest people in dialogue.  I heard a clever way to sound out if someone is actually interested in rational discourse.

For example, say you encounter a self-proclaimed atheist who asserts that he doesn’t believe in God.  You could approach him like this:

You strike me as an intelligent man who is open to following the evidence wherever it leads.  Do you mind if I ask you a question?

(and if you get his approval..)

Tell me, just what kind of God is it that you DON’T believe in?

And  if this gentleman prefers NOT to engage, then drop it!  After all, surely you’ve heard the adage in the photo below!

Don’t throw your pearls before swine – Matt 7:6

Wishing you and your family a clear-headed New Year!

Logical Gal – possible explanations that don’t hold water

27 Dec

If you have read any of these logic posts you might have picked up two details about me:

  • I like the tool of making  DISTINCTIONS
  • I’m a slow learner who needs LOTS of repetition

I can’t tell you how many times I have read the caveat that “offering a possible explanation of how something came to be” is not the same as offering an argument for a point of view and then backing it up with reasons.

So the other day, I was delighted to find that I had remembered this distinction and was actually able to apply it to a debate ALL BY MYSELF!

I had heard of a debate about reconciling the book of Genesis to the Big Bang Theory.  I only remembered the name Dr. Hugh Ross as the one arguing for this.  So when I googled it, I didn’t find the debate, but my computer did bring up a response by someone writing for ‘Answers In Genesis’

As I scanned the lengthy counter-argument written to critique Hugh Ross’ point of view, I stopped at a paragraph devoted to EXPLAINING why Ross holds his position.  The author offered that the scientist had fallen in love with astronomy as a boy and read voraciously from age 8 until he arrived at the conclusion that if the universe had a beginning (i.e due to the Big Bang) then someone created it.  (In his later teen years Ross studied all the world’s religious holy books and settled on Christianity being the True account, so he accepted Christ as Lord and savior. )

The Answers in Genesis (AIG) writer further stated that Hugh Ross holds to the Big Bang Theory because his world view was shaped by his astronomy readings at an ‘impressionable young age’  before he became a Christian.

It was at this point that I intuited something fishy.  I read on to see if there were any reasons backing up this accusation.  That’s when it hit me: the AIG post writer had just offered a possible and perhaps plausible scenario to say WHY Hugh Ross holds his worldview. But it was mere supposition.  There were no reasons. He had NO evidence.  He had proffered an explanation, but not an argument.  This explanation is also an example of the Genetic Fallacy – supposing someone believes something due to the influence of their origins.  This huge assumption needs to be substantiated with evidence.

When I shared Hugh Ross’ point of view and the criticizer with my husband, Michael mentioned that all we had to do was find a counter-example, that is: a person who is NOT an astrononer nor scientifically-bent who believes Genesis and the Big Bang do NOT contradict. Such a person would just happen to be a thinking Christian. (gee – what a concept! – I hope we are not such a rare breed after all! If you want to know more about why God gave us a rational mind, see below.) 

Link to order the book

What this whole episode did, above anything else, was ENCOURAGE me.  Given enough repetition, these  logical tools for critical thinking DO stick, even to the middle-aged brain of an average logical Jane!  There IS value in reading, studying and thinking through ways to handle discussions about important issues.

Question: where have you been encouraged in your growth as a logical person?