Tag Archives: Terms

It depends on what ‘is’ is!

22 Jun

Bill Clinton We laughed at his disclaimer, but Bill Clinton had a point.  A naked word is clueless.  The first rule in logic is: Clarify your terms!

But what is a term? A word set in a context.  So, in one sense, Bill pointed out the obvious – ‘IS’ as a word takes on significance only in a context.

Take, for example, the unaccompanied word, ‘set’.  How can ‘set’ be employed?

  • a lamp, set upon a hill
  • a man, set out on a journey
  • my cat, set upon lapping some milk
  • a victim, set up by a Ponzi scheme
  • the book, set down on a table

Words and terms matter, dear friend. May we take time to use particular care to avoid confusion and communicate with accuracy and clarity.

 

Logical Girl does NOT beg the question

25 Feb

Pet Peeves, we all have them!

Pet Peeves

When it comes to grammar usage, my ire-raiser is when people misuse LESS and FEWER.  The following example is my g0-to reminder of proper usage:

  • This cookie might have less fat, but it does not have fewer calories.

If you can COUNT items, you must use ‘fewer’.  If you can’t count the substance, choose ‘less’.  How difficult is that?

And when it comes to logic, I get irked when people incorrectly use the expression to beg the question to mean to raise the question or to wonder about something.

According to a useful website About this fallacy ‘begging the question’ is:

  • a logic term….used to indicate that someone has made a conclusion based on a premise that lacks support

If I say, Susie is unskilled as a bookkeeper because she lacks accounting skills, then I have just restated my opinion/conclusion instead of providing reasons or proof.  No skill in bookkeeping is very close to a lack of accounting skills.  I haven’t built any case at all.  I have simply reworded my conclusion.  My duty still awaits; I must prove my point with reasons and evidence.

Here’s another example, incorrectly using this logical fallacy:

  • Sugar, which comes from juice squeezed from harvested sugar beets or sugarcane, must be good for you because it grows in nature.

We haven’t actually shown that substances derived from natural plants ARE good for one.  The first counter example that comes to mind are certain types of mushrooms, which although ‘natural’, are most definitely poisonous.

Voilà a few examples of this logical error, ‘Begging the Question’.  Of course we should strive to argue correctly, but more importantly, I’m advocating an accurate USE of the English language to avoid confusion.

Just so you know, I don’t ‘buy’ the possible comeback that language evolves, that as soon as a word or phrase comes to be accepted by many, then it has a new legitimized meaning.

Question:  What do YOU think about sticking to the formal meaning of a word or phrase versus going with the tide of general usage?

Logical Gal questions 99.99% death rate of germs

31 Dec

anti-bacterial soapis clinically proven to eliminate 99.9% of bacteria

Hmmm, what questions might a thinking, logical person pose about the claim above?

  • What do you mean by the term, “to eliminate”?
  • How was the study done?
  • Which bacteria were eliminated?

If one takes the time to dig just a little, it turns out that many of these advertising assertions are misleading.  The article below describes just such a situation.

Veracity of one set of claims

As often is the case, statistics get batted around pretty indiscriminately. But this sloppiness is not confined to marketing.

How about the claim that 50% of marriages end in divorce?  Apparently that number, also, is a misinterpretation of data.  Have you heard the adage that a lie repeated often enough becomes a truth?

The real data about marriage and divorce

The world is filled with data-hungry people.  And without careful thought, statistical fallacies can be allowed into our assessments, coloring what we believe to be true.  And if we pass along false data to others, even in casual conversation, we are adding to the problem.

A couple of weeks ago, a report correcting an oft-quoted statistic about crimes against female college students set the record straight.  For years, people had cited a 1 in 5 chance (20 %) that a college co-ed would be attacked on her college campus.  Apparently the study was flawed in several ways, one being it was based on too few data.  A more rigorous study shows the probability of attack to be less than 1 percent. Sexual assault statistics of women on campus

Statistics lie

Please don’t think that I am impugning the character of everyone who conducts or cites studies whose conclusions are false.  I would imagine that most people sincerely believe what they assert. Nevertheless, just like we should check out any fantastical story that arrives in our email inbox to see if it’s true, we should take equal care to vet a statistic before passing on something shocking in one mass email to our contacts.

Snopes.com

 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

Stop equivocating!

26 Nov

Dad with daughter

My Dad must have repeated that warning weekly throughout my teen years.  Vaguely aware that he meant it to mean ‘stop arguing‘ or ‘enough of this twisting around of my words!

It wasn’t until ‘logic’ came into my life that I learned both the potential confusion AND danger of equivocal words – those terms that are spelled alike but point to completely different concepts.

Think about pitchers.  Two sorts spring to mind:

Pitcher of lemonade Pitcher throwing ball

 

It’s only in context that one’s sense becomes clear.

I thought about equivocal words again while mediating on one of God’s teachings in the book of Acts.  The passage is found in chapter 10 where Peter (the leader of the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension) explains to the Roman officer Cornelius the details surrounding Jesus’ work on earth and his future return:

(verses 42-43) “…..And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

What got me thinking was how some people unfamiliar with the Bible think that God will judge the good and the bad.  Those are the juxtaposed groups they describe.  Yet that is a category error, if one relies on the Bible as the definitive word about God’s judgments.  In the above passage, the people groups mentioned are the living and the dead.  What we can safely infer is that this categorizing is both exclusive and exhaustive.  All humans who ARE living or who HAVE EVER lived fit into one of these two groups: the living and the dead.  

I’ll come back to this teaching in a moment; first let’s look at the erroneous initial division of humans into good and bad.  Here is where my reflection about equivocal terms brought me – pondering the sense of the term ‘good‘.   Many Americans are kind-hearted, generous and desirous of helping their neighbor.

Humanitarian acts

I’m sure you know just such good people.  These God-enabled humanitarian works DO make our world a much better place.  Undeniably.  Yet the term good is problematic precisely because it’s one of those troublesome equivocal words.

Here’s what I mean:

How do we reconcile Jesus telling a well-to-do young Jewish man:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good--except God alone.” (Mark 3:12)

And in the Old Testament the Psalmist writes:

Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3)

Clearly there is good and there is good!

And we could talk about many other examples of how good is used:

  • good to eat (tasty and/or nutritious)
  • good at playing the piano (skilled)
  • that’s good! (almost meaningless, but communicates your acknowledgment of the news)
  • good weather for fishing/sunbathing/growing your garden (conducive to ______)
  • a good dog, child (well behaved)
  • a good wife (meets my expectations)
  • a good report (complete and accurate)
  • and last but not least, a good deed (kind)

You can probably thing of  more uses.

But the distinction that God describes in His word is one that has eternal consequences.  If

  • no one but God is good (per HIS use of the term) and if
  • He is going to judge the living and the dead

Then, knowing the category He uses is crucial.

Back to the apostle Peter’s explanation to Cornelius; obviously if none of us is good in God’s use of the term, and He separates all into either the living or the dead, then knowing that there IS a way to be reconciled and pleasing and loved and favored by God is pretty important.

 

Bottom LIne

And the news is ‘good’! (life-giving, joyful)

Reprising the 2nd verse (Acts 10:43) where Peter describes Jesus and his work on earth the first time:

“….To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Hmm…I spot another tricky term: ‘believes‘.  We’ll talk about how to understand the proper sense of  ‘to believe’ next time.

Until then, pick up and read all of Acts, Chapter 10 for yourself.  It’s a short account of what’s important.

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 – 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.