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