Tag Archives: Truth

How logic rescues us from false guilt

29 Jun

John 14:15  If you love me, you will keep my commandments

At first reading, I feel convicted.  I must not really love God, for I don’t obey his every commandment.

But that is a reverse and false reading of this hypothetical conditional premise.

Jesus, who instructed his disciples right up until Roman guards arrested him on the eve of his crucifixion, did NOT teach:

If you keep all my rules, then it’ll be true that you love me.

Well, then what was it that he taught?  Here’s both the bad news and the good news (Gospel) of our love for God.

  • No one naturally is capable of loving God, for everyone is born with a birth defect called hatred or indifference toward God
  • If we feel ANY affection for or interest in the biblical God (as described in the Bible), then that is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s saving work in our stony hearts.  Only God can swap out a stiff and impenetrable heart and replace it with a softness and inclination for him.

So what about the ….”then you’ll obey me” clause?

Think of it like this.  When someone loves you and you feel love for him or her, you naturally want to please him or her.  You want to know what they think, what interests them, what they consider important.  So it is with God.  Because he loves us first and then follows that electing and intentional love by implanting in us a reciprocal love for him, we receive new desires and delights.

If it is THAT easy to twist the meaning of a Bible truth through faulty logic, what other realities might we have equally misconstrued?

 

Underpinnings of logical thought

4 May

Here’s an argument:

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

True or false

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Logical Gal – Are you sure?

22 Apr

Certainty

“You can’t be sure about anything!”

Beyond death and taxes, a lot of people maintain that position.  But is it so?

What is certainty and are there different kinds?

First a definition – Generally speaking, in every day language, certainty is the quality of being absolutely true.  What is ‘certain’ can be a fact that corresponds to reality or an event that definitely has taken place or will take place without a doubt.

Going deeper, one can differentiate between types of certainty.  We have

  • mathematical certainty – no one doubts that 2+2 make 4

Then there is

  • logical certainty – the world of deductive reasoning, portrayed by the simple syllogism.  Here we can be certain that a conclusion is true if the premises are true and the way of reasoning follows the rules (thus qualifying as ‘valid’)

Premise 1 – All humans die

Premise 2 – Joe is a human

Conclusion – Joe will die

The other day, I heard someone talk about a 3rd kind of certainty, that of

  • moral certainty I was intrigued by how he explained this branch of certainty.  From a sermon on Biblical hope here is what John Piper wrote/delivered:

“There is a kind of legitimate certainty and confidence that does not come from mathematical calculations or merely logical laws. I call it “moral certainty.”

Rooted in Acts of Will

I call it moral because it is rooted in the commitment of the will of persons. And the will is the seat of morality. That is, we can only speak of moral right and wrong in relationship to acts of will. So whatever has to do with the will is an issue of morality. And moral certainty is a certainty that is based on acts of will.”

René Descartes, French philosopher and mathematician described moral certainty this way -“certainty which is sufficient to regulate our behavior”, Link to article quoting him

Intrigued by the concept of certainty, I checked to see if there were other types of certainty.   After nosing around different websites, I learned that in a court of criminal  law, to come to a conviction the jury must agree ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’ that the accused is guilty.  That is probabilistic certainty – knowledge that is most likely to be true. . In fact, examining cumulative circumstantial evidence to arrive at a high probability of guilt can often solve murder cases that are ‘cold’.

Of course, there are less-than-credible claims to certainty.  People talk about psychological or ideological certainty – a WANTING to believe something to be so, despite the facts. There is also the danger that in the broad category of ‘mathematical certainty’ modeling future outcomes might have some hidden assumptions that are not necessarily true.

At the end of the day, we should approach the concept of certainty with HUMILITY.  I’m not advocating a posture of skepticism, but the acknowledgement that we, as finite human beings, might not be right about everything.

Humility

Logical Gal doesn’t like YOUR view, so there!

28 Jan

“I find the view of Hell so utterly offensive, that I can’t believe it!” 

So there!

A lady actually said this the other day on the radio.  I don’t quibble with her assessment of the Biblical description of Hell.  There’s nothing pretty or compelling about a dark place of everlasting separation from anything good, lovely or true!

But what struck me with the force of a 2 x 4 plank was her unspoken presupposition.  To wit:

Anything I don’t like, I don’t believe

Can you see that if you are consistent and approach other situations with the same guiding premise for testing truth that you might run across other ‘facts’ that qualify as equally unbelievable?

  • cancer
  • war
  • terrorist beheadings

How do you think Radio Lady might respond to those situations, if you were to ask her gently?

Might she possibly qualify her decision-making process by adding something like this:

“Well, we have evidence of those 3 horrid situations. There are news reports, videos…… you know PROOF!”

“Oh, I get it,” you might respond, “You only believe in things you can see? Whatever is invisible doesn’t exist. Is that it?”

Assumptions are powerful filters that we use on a regular basis, often unconsciously.  I find it far easier to spot them in others than in myself.  But now that I am aware of them, I can practice being just as ruthless on myself as I tend to be with others.  After all, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander!

Assumptions

 

 

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 and why slogans fail us

14 Jan

Slogans

A recent letter to the editor in our local newspaper provided practice in thinking.  A lawyer had written to champion the ‘Separation of Church and State’.  He counseled Christians to confine their religious practices to church and NOT bring them out into the public square.  He fumed over comments made by supposed conservative Christians who ‘dared’ criticize recent Supreme Court decision.

If he had thought a bit deeper, he might have seen that he was misrepresenting the activity of  ‘religious practices’ because he hadn’t considered his terms.  Since I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to influence the readership of the local paper, I did write a letter to the editor.  In my response,  I pointed out that ‘religious practices’ were actually what people did in church (where people sing songs, celebrate communion, hear messages teaching Bible content and principles and pray together).  What the lawyer probably meant to castigate was what he, himself, might be guilty of….the supposed ‘sin’ of letting one’s values affect one’s actions.

Core values

(Surely law schools must drill into future lawyers the necessity for precise language.  Since lawyers are good at splitting hairs, I picture them spending hour upon hour practicing drawing careful distinctions!)

Back to this so-called requirement to keep one’s religious practices confined to a place of worship! It’s not hard to see that the rites and behaviors one performs in a church service are narrower than one’s core values.  Yes, our values DO influence particular religious behaviors.  But values in general shape most of our actions and decisions. The essential truths that every human being holds create beliefs, which in turn guide one’s intentional behavior.

Justice is blind

I’m assuming that men and women who choose the legal profession esteem many values that they express publicly.  Being charitable, I will say that a career in law presupposes that one cares about truth and justice for all.  So it’s not just Christians who advocate the care and dignity of their fellow human beings.

The danger of slogans is that they brush with too broad of a brush.  They remind me of those mall-stalking pollsters with their clipboards who take sport in canvassing your views, yet all the while limiting your responses . But the problem is that your opinions don’t fit any of the categories!  The same pitfall is attendant in sound bytes.  Lack of time prevents clear thinking!  And furthermore, these written or shouted symbol-laden words actually can cloud communications.

As an aside to my rebuttal letter to the editor, I pointed out how the values and beliefs of many Christians have resulted in much good for society!  Accounts abound, throughout the world, of Christians who have sacrificed to care for the poor, the sick and those in prison.  These followers of Christ have allowed their values and beliefs to shape their actions.  One only has to think of British Christians like William Wilberforce and others who fought tirelessly to abolish the slave trade.  And what about American Christians like Martin Luther King who sought to bring civil rights to the black community?

Beliefs formed from values DO matter and everyone has them.  And unfortunately, we know too many examples of evil done in the name of beliefs, from Christians and non-Christians alike.  My point in gently taking the lawyer to task was to ask him if he really believed that only Christians allow their convictions to inform their actions.

Declaring he doesn’t want ‘conservative Christian values’ spilling out into public, leads me to think that he apparently values autonomy for everyone.  That belief has led him to defend the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.  To be consistent, maybe he should leave his values at home when he ventures into the public square.  Or is he, alone, allowed to vote his conscious, but those who happen to engage in ‘religious activities’ not?

I admit, it’s difficult for all of us to be even-handed in our thinking and consistent!  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

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)