Tag Archives: Rational Thinking

Logical Gal and False Authorities

5 Nov

I recently encountered 2 examples of the same fallacy – appealing to authority to avoid making a case for one’s point of view.

This is the essence of a fallacy – trotting out a false argument that either is irrelevant, claims too much or is a distraction.

Shrinking Polar Caps

The first was anecdotally reported to me. A small aircraft pilot was recounting the time he flew over the polar ice cap and noticed what he considered to be shrinking icebergs. He then reported, “Yep, global warming is for real, I saw it!”

Let’s take a look at his thinking:

  • P1 – If I see diminishing icebergs, then global warming is happening
  • P2 – I saw diminishing icebergs
  • C –  Therefore, global warming is happening

His syllogism is logically valid in that the form of the argument is correct. But are his premises true? There’s the rub.

Our pilot friend has opened himself up to be shot down easily. Some questions one might ask?

  • Have you measured the shrinkage? For how many years?
  • How do you know that the shrinkage is due to global warming? Could there be other reasons?
  • How did you get your scientific expertise in the area of global temperature studies?

He has appealed to himself as an authority RATHER than building a case. This man was an expert pilot, but not a trusted source of scientific analysis.

*

The other example of an appeal to illegitimate authority is found in the Gospel of John.  In Chapter 7, toward the end, the soldiers return to the Pharisees and Chief Priests empty-handed.  They had been sent to arrest Jesus.  When questioned, they explain that ‘this man’ speaks like no one else they have ever heard!  The religious leaders smirk:

 Has any of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in Him? (John 7:48)

The implication is that they don’t need to examine the claims of Jesus to verify if they are true.  It’s enough that THEY have not ‘fallen’ for them.  They are setting themselves up as arbiters of truth.   This is an appeal to an authority and expertise that they don’t have. It’s immaterial to the verification of Jesus’ identity WHO they are.  The claim is either true or false no matter WHO believes it.

20 million Frenchmen can't be wrong

Can a lot of people be be wrong?  YES!

Yesterday many elections were held around the country.  Wildly unsubstantiated claims and accusations were made in all that very expensive advertising.  Today we’re breathing a sigh of relief that THIS season is over.  But campaigning is part of our landscape.  The next time someone makes a claim or an attack on an opponent, use questions to gently guide them back to the claim.  Whoever MAKES a claim needs also to defend his or her case with REASONS.

Yes, it gives one pause to go against a majority, but a majority can be dead wrong!  Think through arguments and look for rational support for the claims made.  That’s how to inoculate oneself against folly, no matter the source.

 

Logical Gal and the beauty of a category error

29 Oct

I heard some good news this week – enunciated in a way that I can understand AND remember.

Good for goodness sake

And it was just the opposite of the song invoked in the photo above.  Whew!

One of my favorite preaching pastors, John Piper Link to his site, was explaining the concept of election and justification, Christian terms for being called into the Christian family by God.  He painted the scenario of a gal lamenting to her pastor that her past was SO BAD, that NO WAY could God forgive her enough to let her into His kingdom.

That’s when Piper described her as BOTH prideful AND incorrect in thinking that any condition could block God’s will.

At that moment…..drum roll Piper announced that God NEVER even considers one’s past life or actions in his selection of His children.  This gal was making a category error.  She was thinking that the two kinds of people were

  • the GOOD enough

and the

  • NOT GOOD enough

It is truly happy news to learn that she was not even in the ball park.

She was right on one account;  there are just TWO categories of folk.  All humans fall into one of these two groups:

  • those who belong to the family of God and are considered His adopted children
  • those who don’t belong to the family because God has not adopted them as His children

But HOW He chooses is a mystery. If we take His words as truth (and since He is God, by nature He IS Truth), then He has decreed who He adopts for His own reasons that have nothing to do with how ‘bad or good’ we are.  (Truth be told, NO ONE is ‘good’.)  Listen to what God teaches us through Paul’s writings in Romans 9: 10-13

  • when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Of course, we will probably trip over the verbs LOVED and HATED.

So as all good logicians and thinkers, we should CLARIFY THE MEANING of these two terms.

 

Clarify meanining

I’ll leave you to think through what God might intend by ‘love and hate’, but before you snort and feel frustrated, think about how we freely and loosely toss around terms.

  • I love movies….I love my dog…I love my children…I love God
  • I hate laundry….I hate Mondays….I hate terrorists….I hate it when I lose my temper

 

Logical Gal and a win-win wager

22 Oct

True Confessions!

I struggle with worry.  Not only is this stupid, but it’s a sin since God commands Christians: Do not be anxious (Phil 4:6)

I was battling this unbelief Sunday night and Monday morning, when I realized that the possible outcomes revolving around my worrysome circumstance could be organized in a similar fashion to Pascal’s Wager.

Pensées - Pascal

Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher and mathematician.  One of the ways you might be acquainted with him is through his Pensées .  This collection of thoughts were gathered by his man-servant and assembled after his death.  He had written each pithy reflection about God on pieces of parchment and then sewn them into his coat’s lining.

Pascal meditated on how one should live this life here on earth in view of what might happen beyond the grave.  His reasoning as a logician led him  in view of  after death options to sort out the possible outcomes of a decision for or against relying on God.

The 4 possibilities look like this:

1. God exists and I give up management and submit to Him – I get a joy-filled/punishment-free eternal life with God. The cost? Very little –  some temporary experiences that might have satisfied me if indulged in.

2. God exists and I refuse to acknowledge Him and control my own life – I get a scary and painful eternal life away from God. The cost? A LOT! – an eternity of pain that lasts a lot longer than the temporary earthly pleasures I indulged in

3. God does not exist and I give up my control and desires and live according to what I think He wants – I get nothing, because there is nothing beyond the grave.  Nothing bad or good awaits me forever. The cost? Very little some temporary experiences I held back from.

4. God does not exist and I live my life following my own desires – I get nothing, because there is nothing beyond the grave. Nothing bad or good awaits me forever.  The cost? Nothing

So if you evaluate what you stand to gain or lose, rationally it makes sense to bet on God existing. (of course what one thinks of God and what God thinks of us is not up to odds, but this is just a way of using reason)

Back to worry.  How does this idea of a wager apply?

I think we can set up a similar decision wager paradigm that clearly shows the folly of worry.

First of all, here is my pre-supposition:  Worry is a joy and happiness stealer.  The formula looks like this:

Worry Inequaltiy Math Symbol Joy

And our choice of belief boils down to this:

1. Believe God when He says He is taking care of us = no need to worry.

2. Don’t believe God when He says He is taking care of us =  need to worry.

  • If we believe God and He is who He says He is and therefore IS taking care of us – we didn’t worry and we have peace and get proof that God provided for that need/situation/problem.
  • If we believe God and He doesn’t exist or isn’t like what we think – we didn’t  worry and we have to deal with the outcome of the need/situation/problem but we didn’t experience the joyless pain of worry leading up to the situation.
  • If we don’t believe God, whether He exists or not, we end up worrying and lose our joy and peace.

It makes sense as Christians to opt for the first situation.

Happiness

If God IS God by definition, then in His essence He is honest and everything He says about Himself IS true.  Afterall, his character and reputation are at stake.  We yield to emotions so often and don’t cling to truth.  And all along God is present and willing and able to handle our situations.

I have to remind myself daily that God knows about my day and has provisioned me with exactly what I need for each moment.  I am to make use of these provisions by divine faith which He has given me.

Christianity is a calling to use the evidence that God through the Holy Spirit has given us.  May we each be empowered to believe the Truth!

…the Spirit is Truth.  1 John 5:6b 

Question:  What helps you with anxiety?

 

Logical Gal – Multiple definitions can be confusing!

24 Sep

A recent devotional I read mentioned the Apostle Paul’s use of the term Israel to refer to FOUR different concepts.

I thought a brief account of how ‘Israel’ is employed would serve as a useful reminder to clarify terms before jumping into a discussion/debate or argument with someone.

The first question ALWAYS to ask is: What do you mean by X?

Hebrew people

‘Tabletalk’ is a monthly magazine with articles and daily Bible teaching by Dr. R.C. Sproul. I’m a month behind, but the 18 August 2014 piece was based on some verses in Romans 11.  Dr. Sproul mentions that in Romans 9-11, Paul uses ‘Israel’ to describe 4 different groups of people (his exact words follow):

  • The group of ethnic Jews who have true faith in the Lord
  • The entire corporate nation that is made up of all ethic Jews, including those who do not trust in the Lord
  • Ethnic Jews who have not placed their faith in Jesus
  • And finally, the term Israel can also designate all of those who believe in Jesus, including both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles

Just reading about these distinctions reinforced in MY mind how ‘nuanced’ the Bible is.  I’m beginning to realize that words in Scripture are often a shorthand description that needs to be amplified.  For example, I’ve often been puzzled by the first 4 words in Paul’s statement: To live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil 1:21)

I now realize that we in contemporary America speak in an equally symbolic but well understood way when we announce boldly general statements such as:  “Gardening is my life” or some such thing.  So to say ‘to live is Christ’ would probably mean that Christ is the most important person and truth in my life and I base everything on Him.

If we invest the energy and time actually to think and ponder, we CAN deal with layered concepts that might at first seem to stretch us.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle to practice with, one that maybe you can unravel.  Just as there are equivocal definitions of the term Israel, there are several possibilities for the adjective ALL or EVERY……  I often hear people announce hyperbolically:

  • All of New York turned out for the parade
  • All the OTHER kids get to go to the party!
  • Everyone knows that…..

Here’s my challenge:  What does Paul mean when he boldly writes to the Christians in Rome – All Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26)

All Israel will be saved

Before we get into a theological back and forth, we had better work to clarify the following:

  1. which category of Israel is meant?
  2. what does ‘all’ really mean?
  3. and in what sense will that group be ‘saved’?

Only then can a discussion proceed!

Would that as a matter of course I could be so restrained in my conversations.

 

 

Logical Gal and courage to ask some questions

17 Sep

Questions - ask them

As a woman, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by assertive naturalist types who claim that evolution IS the only rational explanation for the way life is.  I guess I’m taken back by their self-assurance and confidence.

But gradually as I’ve listened to podcasts by thoughtful, rational and well-educated /well-credentialed scientists and philosophers who are Christian, I’ve learned some questions that might come in handy.

Actually there is NO reason ever to feel intimidated by anyone because we can ALWAYS ask a question.  The more we learn about someone’s position, not only do we ‘buy time’, but we gain insight that can be very helpful in future conversations.

Here are a few questions I have learned to ask:

  • When a self-proclaimed materialist says: “Intelligent Design is NOT science!” Ask: What do you call a theory that is based on physical data and uses logical inferences? (Michael Behe of the Discovery Institute’s response)
  • When you encounter this claim: “Evolution accounts for all our human development” Ask: How can you trust reason if it comes from a non-rational source? (materialists claim we are just molecules in motion)
  • When up against the assertion,”There are no absolute moral values!” Ask: How can you be sure?
  • When someone is going on and on about the strength or beauty of the theory of evolution, Ask: If survivability is what ensures that species continue and evolve, then truth is not necessary.  And if truth is not necessary, why should I trust your theory of evolution?
  • When you encounter a resurrection-denier who says, “Dead men don’t rise on their own!” Ask: Do you believe in the theory of Cause and Effect?  (Christians don’t claim that Jesus rose on his own, but that God supernaturally raised him!)
  • When faced with pushback from someone who needs ‘logical certainty’ before he’ll believe the truth claims of Christianity Ask: Did you have that kind of certainty when you got married?  (Practical certainty is what most of us live by)

These are just a few questions I am adding to my ‘rational thinking tool bag’.  What about you?  Which questions have served you well?

Bag of tools

Logical Gal – why do you believe what you believe?

17 Jul

Beliefs

I heard a former French atheist claim that belief in God was ‘properly basic‘.

I had to look it up to understand what was meant.

It seems that whatever belief we hold must be justifiable.  We have to supply a proper or legitimate reason for believing. That is, when we can provide a ‘proper’ reason for why we hold something to be true, then we are in our ‘intellectual rights’ for believing it to be so.    So what is a kind of reason that would lead to something being a legitimate belief?

The easiest source for a good reason or foundation is to deduce a new truth from a prior accepted truth.  Sounds cut and dry…yet…you can end up  following an ‘infinite regress’, a I believe this because of that.   And I believe THAT because of ANOTHER THAT..resulting in an unending pointing back to the prior belief  à la ‘world without end, Amen!’

Fortunately some beliefs are considered ‘properly basic’ in that you don’t have to explain WHY you believe that they are so.  These beliefs are often mathematical or logical in scope.  But some people will claim that belief in God is ‘properly basic’,  that no proof is needed. They will say, “Well  you believe that minds other than yours exist, right?  How do you prove that?  You wouldn’t even be able to THINK about whether God existed if He hadn’t created reason, so belief in God is a starting point – hence ‘properly basic’.”

So how do we sort out whether something fits the ‘properly basic’ category or not?    Just be able to answer the question: Why do you believe XYZ?

You have 2 choices:

a) you can say – I believe XYZ because it’s a properly basic belief and doesn’t need proof.  And then you EXPLAIN why that is so.

or

b) you can say – I believe XYZ for this reason….. and you provide a proper basis for your thinking.

In other words – just know what you believe and why you think it is so!

But what constitutes a ‘proper’ reason outside of one that is ‘properly basic’?  This requires making some distinctions, AKA thinking!

I just do

The above explanation might suffice for why you married your partner, but that won’t work for most anything else.  With love, you might be saying that your feelings are based on a whim. Or at best they are a result of something that you can’t put into words.

But for other issues, like why you feel hopeful about the future, or why you are a democrat, or why you eat gluten-free or why you hold to a naturalist worldview or why you have chosen to homeschool, or why you believe that human nature doesn’t change – these beliefs must be supported by something else.  Here are a few possibilities:

  • you believe because your 5 senses offer evidence that the belief is true (and you trust your senses)  – I SAW the airplane land with my own eyes!
  • you believe because you can make a logically deductive case for the belief – All men make mistakes.  John is a man.  Therefore, he makes mistakes.
  • you have probable cause to believe due to previous experiences – Every time I eat wheat bread, my stomach is upset.  When I substitute gluten-free bread, my stomach is fine.  Therefore, I do better on a gluten-free diet.
  • you believe because it is self-evident or axiomatic, as uncontroversial as “The sun always rises in the east.”
  • you believe because someone or something authoritative that you trust has claimed it to be so.  For example: George Washington was our 1st president.  I trust the history books and the oil paintings that we have portraying Washington.

Whether a belief is ‘properly basic’ or not might be more than you care to remember, and you might have to google it like I did the next time you hear it.  But, the take away is this:

  • We need to be able to articulate not only WHAT we believe, but WHY we hold something to be true.

Question: What is your strongest, most passionate belief that you are quickest to defend?  And what would you say grounds it? Or is IT, in fact, ‘properly basic’ and does not need any reason or defense?

 

 

 

 

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 illusions about education dollars

23 Jun

Education Dollars - scales

I live in North Carolina and ‘Low Teacher Salaries’ is a hot topic.  (For the record, I teach in a private school where we earn even less than the public sector).  But I follow the debate with interest because the rhetoric is flung around thickly.

Here’s a quote that was highlighted within an article in our local weekly paper:

  • “If given the choice, would you enroll your child in a state that is 48th in per pupil spending?”

What is implied by that question? (which is actually NOT a question but an assertion masquerading as a question)

  1. You have to spend a lot of money to educate a child well
  2. Money is the # 1 predictor of good education

What don’t we know?

  • whether all 50 states actually spend close to the same.   What if NC truly is 48th in spending, but the variance among state budgets is pretty narrow?
  • whether the quality of students graduating from secondary schools and universities is a problem
  • what the end product (i.e. students) is like in states that spend the most
  • what the difference in dollars goes to in states that spend more
  • what ‘per pupil spending’ actually includes.  What goes into that figure?  Does more money go directly to teacher salaries?  And if so, is there a correlation between better -paid teachers and quality education as measured again by the end product?

Here are some FACTS to consider:

Facts

  • The city of Washington, DC spent an average of $29,349 per student in 2010-11 and 81 % were not proficient in either reading NOR math.
  • North Carolina spent $8,433 per pupil during the 2012-2013 school year.
  • The average among all 50 states was $11,068 for the same 2012-2013 window.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What does the average home-schooling family spend per pupil?
  • How much is the average private school tuition?
  • What about on-line schools that are growing in both accessibility and quality?

Homeschooling

Here’s the bottom line for ANY issue:

You can’t have a useful discussion without taking TIME to flesh out hidden assumptions and facts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal asks You, the readers, what You want

19 Jun

June 2013

About a year ago I started to blog around questions that could use some CLEAR THINKING.  These topics ranged from controversies in every day contemporary American life to deeper more lasting philosophical and religious issues.   My theme was ‘Surprised by Logic’ – a take off of CS Lewis’ book  Surprised by Joy.

I had been truly amazed at how helpful a tool both informal and formal logic turned out to be.  Hired to impart the basics of civics, US history, government and logic, I had to teach myself the latter my first year in a classical Christian school.  At first it seemed ‘impossible’, but gradually my mind was reshaped and conditioned to…surprise!….think more logically. I discovered first hand how useful mastering a few principles of logic could be to understanding an issue before forming my own view.

After 6 years both teaching and learning in that exceptional hub of education Here’s the link to the school, we moved to Western North Carolina where I am back to imparting ‘just’ French to students.  Not content to drop logic and its practical and empowering application to life, I started to blog.

Now as I approach the 1 year anniversary, I want to canvass you, the reader.  Can you help me and the direction of this blog by answering some of the questions below via the comment section?

Readers' Response

 

  1. What has been the most useful aspect of logic that you have picked up here or had reenforced by this blog?
  2. What questions or kinds of problems in your every day life do you see logic possibly helping?
  3. With whom do you share any of what you read here?
  4. What would you like to see addressed in future posts?
  5. What else should I know?
  6. Who are you? (categories….)

-an adult who once studied logic?

-an adult who never had logic?

-a teen?

-a teacher/guide of any sort responsible for the influence of others’ minds?

 

I thank you in advance for taking the time to add a comment, kind reader!

reader - child with glasses

 

 

Logical Gal – what about meaning?

6 Jun

Meaning

I read an essay that mentioned truth and meaning in the same sentence.  I stopped, realizing that I had never thought about the distinction between the two.

Truth is pretty straight forward in its definition, even though volumes of ink and print have been invested in battling over whether true exists.

I’ll spare you the churn- it does.

truth

Truth is that which exists, that which corresponds to reality.  It’s not  a case of – YOUR truth or MY truth, nor is it  – True for YOU and True for ME.

So without showing the reasons for the assertion that TRUTH is objective reality  (other posts have done that – just click on the tag labelled ‘truth’ along the lower right side of this blog), l will move on to something that IS more subjective, and that is ‘meaning‘.

In talking with my husband the other night, we reasoned our way to the following:  meaning is a way to describe the impact of reality ON a human.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City has organized and streamlined Christian doctrine into a set of 52 questions and answers  – New City Catechism.  One of the questions asks: “What does the resurrection mean FOR me?”

That one little preposition ‘for’ is key.  I thought about how the bent of the question would be significantly changed if one were to substitute the preposition ‘to’ in the place of the 3-letter one.  What something means FOR me is completely different from what it means TO me.  I can be wrong about what a piece of reality means to me.  However, when you say something has meaning FOR someone,  a follow-on question quickly surfaces……meaning FOR me ACCORDING TO WHOM OR WHAT? 

In the arena of the New City Catechism, the authority supporting those answers is the Bible.  But there are plenty of other authorities in life.  For example,  I can imagine a scenario where a teenager might query her parent:  What does this curfew mean FOR me?

Curfew

and the parent might respond: The curfew means a limit which carries consequences TO you should you violate it.

So the concept of meaning follows on FROM truth.  And it varies according to authority.

  • The next question that then occurs: Do WE have authority over meaning for ourselves?
  • What about those poor souls who announce  – “Life Is Meaningless! ?

Meaningless

I’m thinking that the only response one could offer would be to ask them the questions:

  1. How do you define ‘meaning’? 
  2. From whose point of view is ‘life meaningless’? 

They might be intending the concept of ‘meaning’ to refer to teleos (the Greek term for purpose) – that is design or ultimate end .  In that case someone might be a materialist and consider life to be a random interchange of time and matter to have NO ultimate purpose.  However IF there is ultimate meaning FOR someone because ‘someone or something’ created them in the first place, THEN no matter the denial or ignorance of that creating authority, there IS meaning for the person.

Whew!  – I’m getting hungry.  All that thinking burns us the ‘little gray cells’ as our favorite Belgian detective likes to say!

Hercule Poirot

I’ll leave you with the logical next question:  Do you view life as having meaning and purpose?  If so, according to whom or what?