Tag Archives: Propositions

Another reason for believing God

31 Aug

Do you accept God for who he says he is in the Bible because the written words are true?

And do you know that the words are true because there is enough external evidence to warrant true belief?

Or do you trust God and his words because you always have and don’t really think about why you do?

I ask because I learned of another way to justify one’s belief in God.  Listening to a podcasted discussion (Unbelievable with Justin Brierley) between 2 philosophers the other day introduced me to the concept of ‘properly basic beliefs’ and ‘non-propositional’ logic.

As a layperson, I gleaned that a properly basic belief is one not based on other propositional truth or on evidence, but accepted and trusted.  These are beliefs that can’t be proven. Examples might be:

  • the sense or knowing that there is more to life than what we see
  • 2 + 2 = 4

The American philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, offers this example:

  •  I think other minds exist because I have a mind and I exist, but I can’t prove it.  All might be an illusion (remember The Matrix?).
  • Nonetheless, we humans do accept that if we exist, then others exist. And if we acknowledge THAT as a rational belief, then might we not also accept as rational the proposition that God exists?

This way of ‘argumentation’ does presuppose that we humans have the capacity to think rationally.  (to use this lingo, “the belief that humans are designed to think rationally” is properly basic)

Plantinga points to the ‘sensus divinitatis’ in every human as evidence that the existence of God is a rational conclusion.  This sense of the divine appears in every culture across the expanse of history.

So what do you think?  For Christians who are commanded by Jesus to explain the good news of God’s rescue plans to all we encounter in our daily lives, is this approach sufficient?  Probably not.  But as we live out ‘the Great Commission’ we are learning and assembling a ‘tool kit’.  I’m reassured just knowing that intelligent Christian thinkers across the centuries have vetted what is probably common to all people I meet.  There ARE convictions we hold as rational without being able to articulate any propositional or evidential reason other than, “I just believe it!”

 

Underpinnings of logical thought

4 May

Here’s an argument:

The biblical worldview is the optimal worldview to support logic because it best explains why we can declare a premise to be either TRUE or FALSE.

True or false

Let me explain what I mean.  To use the tools of logic, we must assume several conditions about the building blocks of an argument.  At its most basic analysis, there are 3 component parts to an argument:

-terms (individual words or phrases that represent a concept like: chocolate ice cream or dogs)

-premises (statements that provide a judgment about a concept like: red hair is thick or cats are quirky)

-syllogisms (the ensemble of at least 2 premises and the conclusion that follows like:  PREMISE 1 – All boys are strong  PREMISE 2 – Joe is a boy  CONCLUSION – Joe is strong)

When evaluating terms, premises and syllogisms, logicians use this measurement:

  • terms are either clear or ambiguous (to the degree that they unequivocally and explicitly describe a concept)
  • premises are either true or false (to the degree they accurately match reality)
  • syllogisms are either valid or invalid (to the degree they follow the ‘rules’ of logic)

So why do I make the claim that the biblical worldview should be adopted in order to use logic?  If I understand Darwinian naturalism or materialism correctly, truth is not something that is necessary.  The species survives and continues by adapting. So what is ‘good’ for a population is what ensures its ongoing viability.  That MIGHT intersect with truth, but it does not depend on truth.

When a materialist or naturalist argues for his point of view, he borrows the concept of truth to advance a point of view. And in conversation with said materialist, if we avoid pointing out the inconsistency between her beliefs and practices we are being gracious. But there might be an occasion gently to point out this ‘inconvenient truth’.  I grow more confident when I write out my thoughts regarding this assumption about logic.

You might be thinking, what is the linkage between a biblical worldview and truth?  Good question!  Christians believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired account of God’s creation and rescue of a people He loves.  The very character and nature of God is grounded on personal attributes such as His:

  • truthfulness
  • immutability
  • eternality
  • goodness
  • wisdom
  • infinite power and knowledge

Christians believe in absolute truth because of who God is, an immaterial being who defines and models perfect truth. The evidence we have that God is true and speaks truth is that the Bible corresponds to reality.  Vast numbers of written records document both the historical and the archeological reliability of most of the Bible including the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, without going into that kind of detail, I argue that the use of logic rests on the presupposition that truth exists.  And the only worldview that supports THAT belief is the biblical one.

 

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 and how to write a letter to the editor

7 Jul

letter to the editor

Today’s Asheville Citizen-Times sported a guest columnist who is Director of Radiology at a local medical school.  He wrote about 750 words asserting as FACT two ‘propositions’ about the theory of evolution and the nature of Christians.

About evolution, his statements were along the line of ‘it’s settled science’.  And his view of Christians painted a strawman group of people who can’t ground their beliefs in anything true or factual.  He also maintained that most Christians accept the theory of evolution.

Nor did he build a case around either premise.  His commentary turned out to be nothing more than multiple statements offered as ‘fact’.  He then finished up by accusing Christians of being anti-science and a threat to democracy if they support creationism.

As a thinking Christian, I have to keep my emotions in check.  But it’s not enough to avoid mild rants about how our current society sees Christians.  I don’t always compose a letter to the editor. This time I felt like I should.

But what do you do when there are so many un-truths in one piece?

direction?

 

I had to limit myself and choose a main topic and maybe one side issue.  First I prayed that God would guide me.  And He did!  Before I sat down at the computer, I listened to a podcast while walking and heard some ideas that gave direction to my thoughts.  Then I jotted down my points BEFORE I started writing the letter.

Taking a few minutes to line up my direction kept me, I hope, from volleying back with an equally shot-gunned answer.  I also tried to write at a 5th grade reading level (the audience of daily papers, they say) and keep my tone winsome.

Here’s my response.  We’ll see if the paper publishes it.  At least the guy or gal whose job it is to monitor letters and perform ‘triage’ on them will have to read it!

 

Dr. ‘Joe Blow’ seems to think that only Christians trust beliefs they cannot see. Were we to sit down to talk, I would offer the following for his consideration:

We all start with a story or world-view written by the community we most identify with. This world-view is a lens through which we see and explain different facets of life. Dr. Rowe has faith that the scientific view of the world is true.

Reason calls us to verify our view with facts and experiences. What can be measured lends credence to the story.  Christians rely on the evidence of the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. No top-rate New Testament scholar, secular or religious, disputes the historicity of the death and rising to life of Jesus of Nazareth.

However certainty about one’s assumptions is impossible. We should retain those offering the most explanatory power.

Therefore, the best any human can do is exercise reasonable trust.

If Dr. Rowe were married, I would ask him how he is sure of his wife’s love. I would point out that he couldn’t have the same kind of certainty he probably has about the temperature at which water freezes. But he can look at his experiences with his wife and choose to trust her love for him. She has probably built up a track record of faithful exercise of loving actions toward him.

Thinking Christians look at the evidence and their experiences of God in their lives and make the rational step of trusting the God of the Bible.

Question: which is easier for you to do – write a response to someone with whom you fundamentally disagree or dialogue face-to-face?

 

 

 

Logical Gal and why your major premise matters

20 Jan

Premise 1 – All exercise benefits the body

Premise 2 – Stretching is an exercise

Conclusion – Therefore, stretching benefits the body

The major premise is the first one listed above, in this example:  All exercise benefits the body

The way deductive logic works is this: if the major and minor premises are TRUE and if the syllogism conforms to rules for correct formation (validity), then the conclusion is both predictable and true. Without going into any further discussion about validity, I want to focus on WHY one’s major premise, in general, can have a weighty effect on one’s conclusions.

Consider a married couple who trust each other.

Let’s imagine a situation where it’s reported to the husband (Bob) that his wife has been seen having some tête-à-tête discussions with a man.  The implication is that maybe the wife (Sue) is having an affair.

Depending on Bob’s major premise about his wife and their marriage, his conclusions will be different.

Possibility # 1:

Overarching presupposition or major premise:

Premise 1:  (overarching major assumption) My wife is faithful to her word and her commitments and loves me completely

Premise 2: (the circumstances) – But she has been seen with another man

Conclusion: since I know that she is a faithful gal and loves me, there must be a good explanation for who that other man is.

Here’s the other major premise and subsequent conclusion

Premise 1: My wife might not be totally committed to me or to our marriage

Premise 2: She’s been spotted talking with another guy

Conclusion: She probably is cheating on me

Do you see how what we do with new information depends on the contexts we hold?  Same circumstance in both cases – the wife is seen meeting with another man.  The conclusions vary due to the original major premise or pre-supposition.  Sometimes we are not even aware ourselves of the assumptions we carry with us.  They are implicit, subconscious.  But they powerfully affect our lives!

Just for fun, what could be possible scenarios that would explain Sue’s conversations with a strange man? Maybe she was talking….

  • with a craftsman to plan a special birthday gift for her husband
  • with a potential care-giver for her aging father
  • with their son’s new soccer coach about his skills

If we move into a more spiritual plane, how might our pre-suppositions about God affect our reactions and conclusions to disappointment, illness or acts of violence we encounter in life? Have you ever met someone who claims that God must not be good or all-powerful if He lets evil happen?

Their major premise probably goes something like this:

God is good and almighty if He answers my prayers according to my desires

Question: Have you ever drawn a conclusion about someone or something that turned out wrong? How did your assumption or major premise impact your conclusion?

Logical Gal asks – “….as opposed to what?”

25 Oct

Single words and short non-threatening questions…….

are a great tool when confronted with difficult material to comprehend.

We’ve talked about the value of the 2-letter word ……SO??? 

I’ve used that word when an emotional  friend has announced with outrage something like, “And we have to pay a $15 co-pay each time we go to the doctor’s office!”

By using ‘So?’, you are encouraging your interlocutor to state his or her pre-supposition that is BEHIND their bare proposition.  It’s like you’re saying, ” So – what’s your point? Is it good or bad or strange or wonderful that you have to pay a $15 co-pay?”

Today, I’m adding a 4-word question that helps me when I’m trying to categorize a new concept or term.

If someone were to offer this comment about their spouse, ” John is a good provider”, I would lack context to understand the point of their communication. For me to begin to understand  I would ask, ” a good provider, as opposed to what?   If your husband is a good provider, what would he be if he were not?  What are the other possibilities?

Skitch - Husband Roles

The articulation of other possibilities helps me now to compare this information with other attributes.  The very fact of SELECTING and communicating just the one quality of  ‘provider’ actually says a lot more, like

  • EITHER  her husband John doesn’t have the other qualities
  • OR that she does not value those other qualities as much

The other day in a phone conversation with a friend, she mentioned that her new pastor was KIND.  That was the ONE word she used out of many.  Knowing she could have chosen others such as:

  • theologically deep
  • good communicator
  • excellent administrator
  • sound counselor
  • effective teacher
  • holy in his practices

helped me see not only what my friend valued but that this man’s kindness must REALLY be noteworthy.

This morning, listening to a podcast discussion about the Mathematical Laws, one speaker mentioned that they were discovered.  My 4 word Question flew out of my mouth – ” As opposed to what?”  

In the next breath, he answered…..as opposed to being invented.

Bingo!  That contradistinction made the quality of being DISCOVERED much clearer to me.   For if laws are invented by humans, then they do not necessarily conform to reality.  But if they are discovered, then they are grounded in Truth.

Do you see how useful this question may be?  Where has it helped you?

Logical Gal and the value of what something is NOT!

21 Oct

I didn’t grow up in a house that valued critical thinking or questioning.

There were right and wrong views. My father expressed his views with the weight of authority.  He was older and he had experienced some of the historical events that were our topics of discussion.   Except, there wasn’t ever any discussion.  He expressed his views.  Teenage Maria voiced hers.

Two watersheds in my life introduced me to critical thinking and questioning:

  • I began to be shaped by the truth of Old and New Testaments
  • I was hired to teach Logic in a classical school

Learning that changes us from the inside out takes time.  My twin abilities  to think clearly and ask specific questions have grown ever so slowly.  I need LOTS of practice.

But once I can articulate something to YOU, then I am heartened by this evidence of a deep, multidimensional knowledge.

A useful habit I am practicing is the art of asking what something is NOT.  For example, let’s suppose you show me a tool that I’ve never seen nor heard  about and you tell me that this THING-A-MA-JIG is good for XYZ.

What helps me gain understanding is to ask you questions like:

  • what do similar tools in its category do?
  • what can this widget NOT do?

It seems that by seeing what something is NOT, we can see what the idea or object actually is or does

The other day I was reading for the umpteenth time, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6b)  For the first time I asked myself;

  •  If people are not traveling in their spiritual journeys through Jesus,  then where do they arrive?

That question birthed  a thought new to me.  I  recalled  a quote I had read a couple of years ago that “All roads lead to God – for judgment!”

My questioning and asking what the statement was NOT saying helped me make the distinction between God as judge and God as father.

I’m beginning to see that every proposition is essentially saying what something IS and IS NOT.

  • An apple is a fruit

Okay….so what is an apple NOT?  Maybe what it is NOT is far more revealing than what it is!

Word choice matters and what is NOT said is sometimes more powerful than what is explicitly communicated.

Where have you seen this in your life?