Tag Archives: Rational Thinking

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!”

 

Scientists imbibe philosophy, some without thinking

25 May

I’m a fan of repetition.  Arguments and their detailed steps of reasoning lodge themselves within me for my ready use ONLY through constant hearing and understanding.

repetition

So I was pleased the other day when a logical rebuttal sprang into mind upon hearing the core belief of scientific naturalists – Scientific naturalism refers to the view that only scientific knowledge is reliable and that science can, in principle, explain everything.”

A site that explains scientific naturalism

I have reached the comforting position, having acquired certain arguments, that I KNOW -were I to meet face to face with a proponent of scientific naturalism, I would ask them:

  • How can you be sure that ‘scientific knowledge is alone to be trusted as well as the only source to explain everything’?

Think about it: just how is scientific knowledge obtained?  Through observation, hypotheses and repeatable experiments and tests to prove or disprove a hypothesis.

But the REASONING that ‘this knowledge is the only source of trusted information’ itself cannot be observed, measured or quantified.  Why not?  For, sense perception is not the only input in the knowledge equation.  Some understanding derives through reasoning from assumptions.

The reasoning that undergirds their claim about the sufficiency of knowledge drawn uniquely from scientific data is truly MORE than physical; it’s meta-physical, that is it’s philosophical.

Furthermore, any reasoning that one employs while making sense of experimentation has to depend on some logical and natural laws that are accepted a priori, without testing.

As much as a scientist wants to be rational only, data-driven only depends on the assumption that he or she can trust their observations and reasoning.  The tacit acknowledgement of data that is authentic and real world seems to be taken for granted.

But not by all.  Apparently physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks we are living in a matrix, a computer simulation.  Link here  If so, then what we observe and measure would not be true.

Logical gals and guys, let’s be encouraged.  We don’t have to be experts in all the fields to engage gently with argument-proponents (or argument-imbibers) around us. We need only to be interested in what people believe and why.  There are only so many basic irrational arguments out there.  Learning the main ones and hearing multiple times what undergirds them leads to pattern recognition.   And if we ask questions in non-confrontational ways, we can help people examine some of their assumptions.

And for that matter, question OUR assumptions.  We want to be Truth-driven as well.

 

 

Constructing a counter-argument

13 Jan

Bible promises

A Biblical teacher I admire defends his belief that Christians cannot personally apply or use every promise in the Bible. He does offer, however, that universal promises DO exist, like Jesus’ offer of rest:

  • Come to me, all you who are exhausted and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

But many assurances appear to be directed JUST at a certain people in a PARTICULAR setting during a FINITE PERIOD of history. The classic example he cites is Jeremiah’s affirmation in chapter 29:11:

  • “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

The argument continues like this: if you look at the context of that verse, uttered by the prophet Jeremiah, God is addressing the Hebrew people in Babylon, assuring them that there IS an end to their exile.

The Biblical teacher therefore concludes that 21st century Christians are incorrect in apprehending that promise and many particular ones LIKE that for themselves.

Up until now, I have reluctantly accepted his reasoning. But recently I heard a pastor discuss a prophecy, already fulfilled once in the Old Testament, but again as it came to pass 720 plus years later, NOT in Babylon but in Bethlehem – the birth of Christ.

Here’s the original prophecy or promise from God. The context is King David’s conversation with Nathan the prophet. David informs Nathan that he desires to build a house for God. Nathan approves of his plan. But later that night Nathan receives a restraining message from God for King David. The prophecy he is given to share with the King is this:

2 Samuel 7:12-16

  • “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men,but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.”

Solomon was David’s son who succeeded him as king and he DID build a house for God, the temple, completing it in around 964 BC. A kingdom was established.

So following the aforementioned Bible teacher’s reasoning, this prophecy has been fulfilled. Therefore, we cannot ‘take’ it and apply it to any other situations.

But here is how the pastor I recently heard moved in a different direction. He narrated the encouragement and promise from the prophet Micah who reminded the people of his day that a strong ruler in Israel was still yet to come. About 240 years after Solomon’s temple construction the people, living through dark and discouraging days, took hope from this good news about the future:

Micah 5:2-4

  • But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
    Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.
    And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lordhis God.
    And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

This is astounding! Micah repeated the main intent of the original prophecy, already fulfilled by Solomon, and pointed to the future birth of Christ as actually the ultimate fulfillment to come. There’s an initial bringing to fruition in 725 BC and another one in around 2 BC when Jesus is born.

Finally, to close his argument, the pastor cites Paul’s New Testament explanation in Romans 15:8 about Christ’s coming:

  • For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

And I’ve heard John Piper, the pastor whose Biblical exegesis I’ve been writing about, quote this heart-warming fact, again from Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, verse 1:20:

  • For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

So I side with the good news that Jesus has bought for us, through His blood, every promise in God’s Word. For sure we are to be thoughtful Christians, prayerful and dependent on God’s Holy Spirit to understand correctly God’s Word.

Thanks for reading this. I wanted to take the time to think through and construct reasons for why I disagree with the first man’s argument. And as many have said, ‘Scribere est cogitare’ or writing is thinking. May we all continue to think slowly and reason well in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you hold a belief and not practice it? Should you?

30 Sep

I love to read the letters to the editor

Letter to the editor

A recent one caught my eye because the author, in condemning Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, wrote:

  • ….”no one, absolutely no one, was telling that county clerk in Kentucky what to believe.  One of the founding principles of this country is that we all have the right to believe in whatever type of God we wish, and to practice that belief in whatever way we feel is appropriate.

Really?  I thought many belittled Kim Davis expressly while exercising her belief in God. Didn’t she refuse to allow her name to be on marriage certificates because she BELIEVED that this PRACTICE would NOT be APPROPRIATE?  (note I am using the writer’s terms)

So the question is:  Can one separate beliefs/values from actions?

If I believe that eating fresh food is healthier for me but I continue to eat processed foodstuff, am I being consistent?

Don’t we condemn as hypocritical those who espouse one thing and do another?

Walk the talk

The truth is that Christians are increasingly going to be subject to magnifying glass scrutiny.  We have to establish ahead of time WHAT we believe, WHY we believe it and WHAT we are willing to do to be integrated human beings.  Beliefs are worthless when they swim around as vague, unsubstantiated opinions.

Let’s ground our beliefs IN reason. And if we can’t come up with a solid defense for WHY we believe what we espouse, then maybe it’s time to jettison that value. There’s no shame in abandoning a position or changing one’s mind for solid justification.  And it’s no discredit to be honest and admit:

  • I don’t have any reason for believing X, I just WANT to believe X

I just want to

At least that’s sincere and authentic.  And while it’s okay to ‘park’ in that spot for a while, we shouldn’t stay there.  Let’s take the time to examine why holding such a belief would be rational and worthwhile.  The best reason to hold and practice a belief is because it is true.

Logical thinking decreases risk-taking while driving

10 Jun

I know that God has fixed the number of days I will live.

Days ordained for me

Psalm 139:6 – Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.

Given that fact, I hope to have energy, strength and ease of movement up until I die.  And to that end, my husband and I have chosen to incorporate the following behaviors into our lives:

  •  consistent cardio exercise, strength training and stretching
  •  purchasing, preparing and enjoying ‘real’ foods, treated with as few chemicals as possible
  • adequate sleep
  • recognizing and repenting of worry and anxiety each time we turn to these coping mechanisms
  • regular preventative medical care
  • spending time outdoors as much as possible
  • reading and talking about God with each other,  listening and talking with God, sharing with and encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ

But recently I was convicted by how inconsistently I act behind the wheel, given that I value promoting quality of life for as many days as God gives me!

What do I do that is dangerous?  I commute 50 minutes each way to my job.  The roads are direct and well maintained.  My time in the car is enriching because of the podcasts I take in.  But regularly, each way and every day, I fiddle with my iPhone. When one podcast finishes, I pick it up and with one eye on the road, I turn the other eye and part of my attention to finding the next podcast.  Or I activate the phone, open up the voice recording app and leave a thought that might evaporate.

What came to mind the other day was that in one brief second, a car accident could drastically change my life.  Then all my regular habits would be for naught.  My goal in life would switch to: “Getting back to ‘normal'”

My reckless driver behavior could result in a new life of permanent pain and reduced abilities. Boom!  Just like that.

Blink of an eye

Given my goal of maximizing the quality of my days, then my car driving behavior doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t support my goal.

So I asked God’s forgiveness for treating my life with such presumption and thought about how I could listen to podcasts safely and reduce the risk of an inadvertent accident because of deliberately choosing to ‘multi-task’.

Here is what I have practiced this week while driving:

  • I have selected longer podcasts so that there is enough material playing without having to fiddle with my iPhone
  • I have rehearsed points I want to remember and recorded them once I’ve arrived at my destination and turned off the engine

I feel relieved.  Accidents can still happen, but at least I am paying more attention to what is going on around me.  It only makes logical sense!

Logical Gal stumbles, and then remembers!

29 Apr

I felt intimidated!

intimidation

A comment to one of these Logical Gal blog posts tripped me up.  I couldn’t make heads or tails out of what my reader wrote in his ‘logical’ pushback. First of all, it was:

  • scientific-sounding
  • smart-sounding

Thus, I felt stupid. At first.

Then I reread his words, and realized that it was also incomprehensible!

With that insight, my logical training kicked in and I felt empowered.

When someone responds to you and you don’t understand what they mean, the ONLY logical course of action is to ask them TWO clarifying questions:

  • What do you mean by ________? (whatever they say)
  • How did you arrive at your conclusion? or Why do you think/say that?

When I replied to his lengthy comment with those questions, he DID try to clarify.  And it was the same genre, to wit: scientific-sounding, smart-sounding BUT still incomprehensible.  So I took it home to my resident scientific expert, my husband.  And HE couldn’t make any sense out of what the guy was writing. I felt a bit better.

In all honesty, I did dialogue back and forth with this gentleman because I appreciated that he had READ my blog and also that he had taken the time to write a comment and share his thinking.  In the end he and I both stopped because neither one of us was making headway toward mutual understanding.

But I learned a lot!  When you don’t know WHAT to say, just ask some questions.  This is wise AND easy and the pay off is three-fold:

  • you’ll gain time to think
  • you’ll gain more information to aid your thinking
  • you honor your interlocutor by acknowledging his words

Logical Gal and when making sense is not enough

21 Jan

Makes sense

That makes sense to me!

Have you ever heard that comment or uttered it yourself?  It sounds so innocent, doesn’t it!  Don’t we want to make sense of the world around us – especially in light of all the horrors and issues that DON’T make sense?

It’s human nature to try to identify, draw associations and categorize all the information that cascades into our consciousness, moment by moment!

But, we must not forget that just because something makes sense, that detail does NOT make it true!

I ran across a useful example of this faulty thinking the other day.  While listening to a radio program broadcast by the organization Stand to Reason, the host discussed how to deal with the possibility that scientists might very well indeed find a gene marker held in common by some gay men and women.  The presupposition explored by the host is this:

Whatever makes sense is right or must be true.

The caller who holds to the above assumption suggested the following opening to an argument based on that assumption:

  • If there is a ‘gay gene’, then it is natural for those with that gene to want to/ need to engage in what is ‘natural’

After having suggested that line of thinking, he finished his explanation with the comment, “Makes sense to me!”

The host, Greg Koukl, reminded listeners that JUST because something makes sense, that doesn’t make it true or right.   An argument based on the faulty assumption could be stated like this:

P1 – All that makes sense is right

P2 – Doing what is natural makes sense

C – Therefore, doing what comes natural is right

And going on, one can continue:  Given a ‘gay gene’, then it is only natural that those with this gene engage in the behavior that is part of their inherited disposition.

However in the above argument, although it may be rational and correctly formed, it can still be faulty if one or both of the premises are FALSE.  Take a look at the following obvious example of a valid, but unsound syllogism:

P1 – All things with 4 feet are alive

P2 – This table has 4 feet

C – Therefore, this table is alive

Why is this argument valid?  Because it follows the rules of formal logic.  It makes sense, we could say. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to tell that something is WRONG!!!

Bingo!  The faulty premise is the very first one.  NOT all things that have 4 feet are alive, only SOME.  So the universal statement needs to be changed to a particular statement to be true.

P1 – Some things with 4 feet are alive

P2 – This table has 4 feet

C – Therefore, this table is alive

Soundness Venn diagram

Let’s get back to the possible research into gene markers and whether doing what is natural makes sense.

  • Besides the unsoundness of the argument due to the faulty 1st premise..
  • Besides the false nature of the underlying presupposition that What makes sense must be so,

There is ALSO the assumption that could be debated:  We should engage in what comes naturally!

Really?

Question: Which ‘natural’ scenarios come to mind that raise a red flag?

tantrums

 

Logical Gal – Beware of a Distinction without a Difference

10 Dec

An old adage says it best: “He who distinguishes well, thinks well.”

Penseur

I love distinctions, but recently a conversation among Christians reminded me that one must take care NOT to invent a distinction where none exists.

The fallacy called Distinction without a Difference is so named because it is easy for us to be duped into thinking two ideas are different when all that varies are the words used to describe the two concepts.

Kids grow almost expert at using this fallacy on their parents.  Consider the following hypothetical conversation:

Mom  – Stop fidgeting, Johnny!

Johnny – I’m not fidgeting, I’m just moving my feet!

or how about this between two high school students:

Gal – I don’t want us to date anymore, Doug.

Guy – You mean it’s over, you and me?

Gal – No, it’s just that I don’t want to go out with you anymore.

breakup of a couple

The conversation snippet I heard the other day involved one pastor claiming that some Christians worship the Bible.

The other pastor, pushing back, maintained that Christians don’t worship a book, but take seriously the very words as they are written and the different contexts. They worship God as He reveals Himself in the Bible.

 

Bible

If someone asks – Do you love the Bible or do you love God?, how would you answer?

I would say, I love the Bible because it’s the supernatural (divine) intentional, powerful, breathed out record of God and His plan for His creation.  The Bible reveals the nature of God, which creates in me a growing knowledge and love for Him.  They are so connected, that I don’t separate them.  That’s like asking me which do I love more, my husband’s heart or his thoughts?  They are one and the same!

 

 

 

Logical Gal – what do you believe?

3 Dec

It was a tense moment – Halloween morning at breakfast with some colleagues.  We teachers were finishing our coffee in the lobby of a hotel where our 8th graders had fallen into bed after a full day (morning college visit, afternoon caving and evening in Chattanooga).

The Spanish teacher proudly showed off her festive orange and black socks and mentioned that she loved Halloween.  When I asked her why, she attributed her fondness for the holiday to both her and her mom’s sensitivity to the spiritual.

When I casually responded, ‘Oh, so you believe in the spiritual dimension of life?‘ it didn’t take her long to move from my commenting on the historical basis for Christianity to her objections to Christianity’s claim to be the one true religion.  The secular history and science teachers joined in to draw the distinction between fact and belief when I attempted to point out the evidence for Jesus and His resurrection.

Mr. Science clarified the difference between fact and belief.  According to his way of thinking, the two have nothing in common.  He illustrated this division with an illustration taken from family life.  It went like this:  Whereas he might believe that his role as dad is the most important function he fulfills in his life, it was just a belief and had nothing to do with truth.  “That’s a belief and is miles apart from facts like the Law of Gravity!

science v faith

Had there been time, I would have loved to say that one has to have facts or knowledge and from them one draws a conclusion based on some presuppositions or assumptions.  Facts (aka truth) drive or inform beliefs.  Here’s how I think the process works:

My colleague has gathered data (facts) from….

  • reading books about parenting
  • talking to other dads
  • absorbing hard-earned wisdom gleaned from previous generations
  • his own personal experiences in parenting

And based on presuppositions like:

  • my intuitions are trustworthy
  • what I read and what others tell me is reliable
  • time with my children is an investment that has the power to shape them

……he has formed a belief that parenting is his most important job.

The credibility of the Law of Gravity is founded on the same principles, isn’t it?

Law of Gravity

  • scientists have gathered data from observations and
  • they trust the data AND their skills

Why is there such animus about belief when applied to Christianity? After all, we gather evidence from those concrete facts; then we formulate a hypothesis that has the power to account for all the details.

Maybe the term ‘belief’ appears weak and unscientific because it’s used equally to communicate ideas as varied as:

  • I believe in Santa Claus
  • I believe in the Tooth Fairy
  • I believe in miracles
  • I believe in myself
  • I believe in ghosts
  • I believe in God, the Father Almighty….

Two dictionary entries for ‘belief’ describe both

  • an acceptance of a statement as true
  • having confidence in something

Recently I’ve come across powerful ways to describe a belief.  They feel weightier and appear less hackneyed:

  • “Evidence supports that X is true” (this corresponds to the 1st definition of belief)
  • “I trust X” (matching the second sense of the term above)

My discussion with colleagues just reinforces in my mind that our choice of words is critical to making a case for whatever our point of view is.  Words matter!

Obviously my short discourse with those fellow teachers on Halloween day didn’t land anywhere substantial because we could devote only about 4 minutes before we had to herd kids.  Making a case for any point of view TAKES TIME. And our culture is so rushed, that reasoned, thoughtful and calm discussion rarely happens!

But…it pays to be prepared and think through our word choice ahead of time.  As God instructs us through the apostle Peter, we Christians should

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

 

 

 

Logical Gal and the Source of Misunderstandings

19 Nov

Consider the assumptions below: are they true?

  • The French are snobs
  • Southerners are lazy
  • Kids don’t read much
  • Americans are generous
  • Women feel guilty
  • Schools are failing students

It depends

We often treat these particular statements as true JUST because we know some cases where:

  • SOME French people behave as though they were better than us
  • SOME Southerners lack drive
  • SOME kids prefer video games to reading
  • SOME Americans open their wallets for every world misery
  • SOME women confess their conflicting views about motherhood, marriage and working
  • SOME schools routinely turn out students unprepared to take up adult roles in society

An effective and accurate (truthful) communicator does not assume that the qualities pertaining to certain cases equally apply in EVERY case.   This is the difference between the Universal (ALL) and the Particular (SOME).

When we apply the characteristics of the few or even the many to every, we are going beyond what is logically correct.  Logical thinking is, after all, using language correctly.

EXTENSION is the term to note the particular details of one exemplar of a category.  The term to identify all those members of a category that also carry the same ‘extension’ is COMPREHENSION.  And ABSTRACTION is the term that pulls together the descriptive characteristics that EVERY single member of of the category holds in common.

Take a house, for example:

House - Ranch House - shack House - Victorian

The 3 houses above are all very different.  To get the idea of ‘house’, we abstract what they have in common:

  • a roof
  • 4 walls
  • shelter for living
  • space enough to protect some personal belongings of inhabitants

A particular house, say the rancher on the left, has all 4 of the above features plus we can say that it is:

  • on one floor and noticeably longer than it is wide

But if we took that particular rancher which is a sum of the ‘applies to all’ features (the abstracted idea of house) + a particular characteristic (long and on one floor) and said

  • Houses are easy for handicapped people to access

We would be guilty of taking an extension and applying it across the board to all houses.

To be logical, we would have to supply the correct quantifier and say SOME houses make it easy for handicapped people to access.  A mansion might not have a way for a wheel chair to reach higher floors.

Ramp on rancher

If extension means the particular characteristics beyond the abstracted or general idea of a concept, then what is comprehension?  Think about extension as the details.  Think about comprehension as the number or sum total of all the members of a category to which this description applies.

And when we add more particular details, then a category member can be said to have a ‘greater’ extension.  But, conversely, there are fewer members that can be said to share that extension.

Here are 3 houses again, but this time they are:

a) a general, abstracted house

b) an abstracted house considered a ranch

c) an abstracted house that is ranch-style and has a handicap ramp

The latter, house C, shows the greatest extension because it has the most detail (hence, there are fewer houses that are accurately said to be that kind of house)

The first, house A, has the greatest comprehension because more houses qualify to be that kind of house (basic house) without all the extra details.

See Saw

The seesaw picture shows the inverse relationship between extension and comprehension.  The greater the details (greater extension), the fewer items that meet that description (smaller comprehension) and vice versa.

Bottom line?  Committing ourselves to take the time AND think clearly and then express ourselves honestly can ease the tension and conflict that characterizes our world.  It’s either laziness or pure disingenuousness to paint people or institutions with a broad brush.

Language is the source of misunderstandings Language is the source of...in French