Tag Archives: Logic

Wishful Thinking…

There is an actual fallacy in formal logic usually labeled something like “wishful thinking.”  This is when someone either accepts a claim, or urges acceptance of a claim based solely on the fact that it would be great if it were true.  Now, most times this is a lot more subtle in nature than stating the phrase outright (“wouldn’t it be great if…”), and is used by some of the best public speakers.  There is a subtle manipulation of emotion involved and it is more of an appeal to that emotion than to any type of actual logic or reality.

Now, why is this a topic for the Christian Scribbler?  I actually see this in a lot of apologetics for non-scripturally backed “Christian” religion.  What I mean by this is that a true Christian that studies the scriptures, and believes them, are a lot less likely to fall pray to this particular fallacy.  As an example there are some people who profess Christ that believe that God is like a cosmic Genie who is bound to answer every request…wouldn’t that be nice?  Wouldn’t that be the way God would operate in an ideal world?

At best, this approach is a misapplication of scripture, at worst it is idolatry; forming God into an image instead of learning of God Himself, how He really is, NOT how we would “like” Him to be or “wish” Him to be.  I see this amongst most non-believers as well.  They paint pictures of God as they wish to see Him, and then reject those pictures; you see “wishful thinking” can work the other way as well….”Wouldn’t it be great if this wasn’t true!?”  So it can apply to the rejection of claims too (again, it is a lot more subtle than this, but you get the point).  This can go hand-in-hand with the straw man fallacy.

One of the other areas I see this in is the idea of Christ alone as the approach to God.  Meaning there is this undercurrent of  “wouldn’t it be great if Christ wasn’t the only way to God, and all religions actually wind up taking people to God?”  The sad thing is, is that I see this amongst people that claim to be Christian.  The fallacy is that wishing it does not make it true.  Truth is all about reality.  With God, the fallacy of wishful thinking is even more dangerous; it elevates what we think would be best over God’s plan that is absolutely the best, since it springs from a perfect mind that has perfect power, including perfect love.  We should trust what God reveals over our own opinion about what would be “best,” for the evidence abounds that He can indeed be trusted in every circumstance to work it out to His perfect plan in His perfect timing, which winds up being best for humanity.

The reminder is this; don’t let sentimentality or wishful thinking blur truth, and just because we want something to be true doesn’t mean it is.  What we find in objective Truth is actually more wonderful, more “freeing” than anything we could ever come up with on our own.  One last thing, this fallacy is not the same thing as hope.  Hope is not a logical fallacy, hope accepts the truth, accepts reality,  and it also trusts, and expects good.  Hope makes us stronger, whereas the logical fallacy of wishful thinking actually weakens us, and our positions, because it is not based in truth.


Filed under Christianity, Logic

Correlation does not equal causation…

Repeat it with me folks: “Correlation does NOT equal causation.”  I realized, whilst watching the news this morning, that this indeed a very important concept for people to really grasp.  I mean, I know it is important because I teach it in both my college Psych course and in Logic…but, I didn’t really realize how many people don’t really get the meaning of that phrase.

So, if two things are correlated, they do indeed have a relationship; for one example as one variable rises, so does the incident of another variable.  For a real world example, I’ll use this morning’s news blurb; A study has found a correlation between autism and rainy weather.

This means that kids raised in a place with more rainy weather had a greater incident of autism than those who were not.  Now…the common mistake is for someone to latch onto that and exclaim, “So, rainy weather causes autism!” No, no, no, no, no…no.

Just because something has a relationship does not speak to cause and effect.  You cannot make the claim that rainy weather causes autism, because that is not what the study found…all you can say is that rainy weather and autism rates are correlated.

This is something the news anchor didn’t seem to grasp and began to ridicule the study.  Now maybe the study was a poor one, I don’t know, but I do know that there was no claim made in the study that the rain causes autism.  Now, it is possible to study this further, which I’m sure will be done, but the point of this blog post is to hammer this fact into people’s head; just because there is a relationship between two things, it does not mean one caused the other.

The person being interviewed understood this, and gave an example of what could be happening (remember, this is just speculation); perhaps kids that live in rainy environs do not go outside nearly as much as those who live in sunny environs…that would have several possible impacts.  The rainy kids may watch much more TV, get less exercise, be vitamin D deficient, may not interact as much socially with others since they are stuck in the house, etc… OR perhaps there are chemicals in the rain, blah, blah, blah.

This mistake of thinking correlation equals causation is a very common one, especially in “scientific” research (“scientific” is in quotes because some supposedly scientific research is anything but).  Mainly it is misunderstood by people trying to interpret research, including reporting in the news media.

Here’s another example that every single one of my students knows, and loves: It is a fact that as ice cream sales rise, so does the number of deaths from drowning.  Now, the mistake would be to think that eating more ice cream causes more people to drown…what’s really going on?  Think about it.  That’s right; it’s summer time; ice cream sales and deaths from drowning are indeed correlated positively.  In summer, both variable are affected as more people buy ice cream in the summer, and more people also do water activities in the summer.

So, remember: Correlation does not equal causation.


Filed under Logic, Musings

Proof surrogates and the Fed Bailout Plan…

I had to figure out an excuse to blog about the Fed Bailout Plan, so I’ll throw in a Logic lesson.  I’ve already blogged on some other rhetorical devices, and here’s another: Proof surrogates.

A proof surrogate is worded in such a way as to try to convice others that you’ve offered actual reason, evidence, or proof for something, when indeed you haven’t.  Examples of proof surrogates include; “everyone knows,” “people say,” “studies show” (without giving the actual studies or authors), “clearly,” “it’s obvious,” or just repeating the same thing over and over to try to be convincing, etc….

The spokespeople in the congress are providing a lot of proof surrogates, as well as those in the news media.  The politicians are at a loss as to why their constituents do not want this bill passed.  Well…at this point it is because the American people are being logical, and asking for actual reasons and explanations of this whole mess.  I firmly believe we aren’t against aiding the system, per se, it just feels like we are receiving a whole lot of rhetoric, and not enough info.

If I hear the proof surrogate, “this important piece of legislation” one more time, I’m going to throw up (that’s hyperbole, by-the-way, I’m not really going to throw up).  That’s the point; we don’t know if it is an important piece of legislation or not…no one is giving us real evidence or info.  This is non-partisan; both sides are doing it.

“If we don’t pass this important piece of legislation, it will be bad…really bad.”  Yeah, that’s convincing.

If the Gov’t was really interested in getting the people on board with this they need to hire at least two people; an independent (not connected politically) business genius, and an independent psychologist to come up with an advertisement or spot that can be ran on the media outlets.  They would do a much better job giving us actual facts about the business implications, and do it in a way that we would pay attention to, and care about. (Oh, for a Ross Perot graph!  Never thought I’d say that.)

I understand the fundamentals, but that’s not good enough in this case.  Why?  Because they are taking my money to do it, an if there’s one thing I know about finances is that you don’t blindly give your money to someone else to invest for you, unless you know alot about them and what they are going to do with your cash…and yes, that may be a big problem…we know what the Gov’t likes to do with our money…

“This is going to affect main street, not just Wall Street.”  Proof surrogate.  Precisely how is it going to affect main street.  It’s going to limit the amount of money we can borrow from banks…it limits our credit.  Well!  Wasn’t all this fast and loose credit how we got into this in the first place?  Give me more details!  Why don’t we loan the taxpayers money to those small businesses instead of those big businesses that lost all their money through poor management and bad loans?  Go interview someone that knows something, throw in some interviews with an actual middle class person that this is destroying their lives right now, even as we speak…oh, wait, the stock market was up today…

I have no doubt that the economy is bad.  I have no doubt that the greed of those in positions of power in these private companies did bad things.  I also know people are living too far above their means, taking out loans that they never should be taking out, and our gov’t wants us to be a bunch of consumers.  I’m sure a good plan could be devised that doesn’t turn us into a bunch of socialists, and that preserves the free market I know and love…and maybe this bailout plan is it, but we wouldn’t know because we are being treated like children, and to logical arguments with real evidence is being presented to us.

Get on the ball Washington!


Filed under Logic, Of Interest

Critical Thinking; Euphemisms vs. Dysphemisms…

It’s been a while since I gave a miniature logic lesson, so today I thought I’d talk about Euphemisms and Dysphemisms.  Rhetorical devices, and rhetoric in general, are often employed to try to “slant” the hearer’s or reader’s perspective on something.  Remember, rhetoric employs psychological or emotionally persuasive language, without giving an actual reason for a conclusion.

Euphemisms and Dysphemisms are two rhetorical devices that are quite common.  A Euphemism is a “positive” spin; it takes a word, phrase, or concept and makes it sound either neutral or more positive.  For example, we spin “death” and “died” more positive or neutral by phrases like, “bought the farm,” or “he’s pushing up daisies.”  Car dealerships no longer sell “used cars” they sell “pre-owned vehicles.”

On a more serious note, you can see it in politics, and political situations.  I once saw a news cast about a band of militia in some country where there was an uprising, within about fifteen minutes, three different people were interviewed; to one person the militia was referred to as a group of “freedom fighters.”  The next person interviewed referred to them as “guerrillas” and the final person referred to them as “terrorists.”  Three different words evoking different emotional and psychological reactions within the hearer.

That brings me to dysphemisms; they are the “negative” slant.  So in the above example, the “freedom fighter” phrase would be a euphemism, and the “terrorist” phrase would be a dysphemism, just as an example.  Notice that the phrased could be considered accurate as long as the idea or word in question truly meets the definition of those words; for example, there is a time and a place to truly label someone a terrorist, as long as the definition is truly met.

Also, just because they are rhetorical devices doesn’t mean you can dismiss whatever argument that they are used in out of hand; it is just important to note that people do use terms to sway hearers’/readers’ emotions as that is a part of being a critical thinker.

How does this apply to the Christian, or Christian Apologist’s POV?  There are a lot of dysphemisms that non-believers employ…oftentimes just to insult, or try to get a rise out of Christians.  One of the more popular ones in this day and age amongst atheists online, for whatever reason, is labeling Christianity a “death cult.”  How is this a dysphemism?  Because it employs emotionally and psychologically charged language, and has no evidence to back it up, and in fact, the evidence clearly contradicts the label.

Be on the lookout for these two rhetorical devices, and even look up some more examples so that you can more easily spot when someone is attempting to sway you with words…and remember that words do indeed have power to get people to react.  This is something that politicians have known for a long long time; we will surely get treated to many examples of euphemisms/dysphemisms in the upcoming presidential election coverage; especially at the conventions.


Filed under Logic, Religion and Politics

The Reliability of the Bible…

One question that comes up in many Apologetics discussions is the reliability of the Biblical manuscripts.  In this post, I am not going to go into detail, as others have already done so.  What I am going to do is give an overview of why this is important, and also give resources for everyone to utilize.

First a word about a common misunderstanding.  Many times, atheists and other non-believers will accuse Christians of circular logic.  They present a straw man which says, “Christians always refer to the Bible as evidence of God, and they use the Bible as evidence for the Bible which is circular.”  Now, I personally haven’t read any Christian doing this; what I do see often is fundamental lack of knowledge on the part of the atheist/non-believer as to what the Bible actually is, and why we cite it as evidence, and why it can indeed be cited as evidence.

The Bible is not a single document.  It is a collection of ancient documents into one binding; there is a distinct difference.  These documents often have different authors and are written at different periods of time; they are not one solid document that someone can accuse of trying to “prove itself.”  This would be like entering into a conversation about the formation and continuation of the United States government.  In this discussion, one person pulls out a book titled: Political Documents of the United States.

Within this single book is a collection of many US documents; The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Federalist Papers, The Records of the Continental Congress, etc…  Then, the person they are dialoging with says, “You can’t use that as a reference, or as evidence when talking about the formation and continuation of the US Government!  Political Documents of the United States is just used to prove itself, that’s circular logic!”

So, a basic understanding of the composition of the Bible is needed; it is a collection of manuscripts authored by around 40 human authors (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit).  It’s contents were written over a large span of time, and in different languages, mainly Hebrew and Greek.  Then these manuscripts were collected together into one volume; The Bible.  Using various historical manuscripts to support other historical manuscripts is not “proving itself.”

There is also discussion about how these particular manuscripts made it into the collection.  Many non-believers try to make this into some huge conspiracy, while the Roman church tries to use it as proof that they are the one true church, and them alone; some fundamentalist Christians act as though God handed the KJV in it’s final form to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  The truth is that it was a very organic and logical process, though the inclusion of some of the books were debated.  I just read a good description of the process in Ravi Zacharias’ new book; Beyond Opinion.   In fact, the very first chapter of Ravi’s book is devoted to “Postmodern challenges to the Bible,” written by Amy Orr-Ewing.

In general, certain criteria were met, and as these criteria were met, the books eventually came to be “canonized” formally, though many of the books were already recognized as canon.  (The criteria were things like; authorship by an apostle or an immediate follower of an apostle (which obviously included dating), church usage, etc…)

Are the documents reliable?  Are they accurate?  Can you trust the Eyewitness accounts in the NT? There are many good resources for these questions here are only a few:

Online resource examples;Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament Reliability on CARM,  The Textual Reliability of the New Testament from Tekton, Miscellaneous Questions on the Text of the Old Testament from Tekton, Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf, Archaeology and the New Testament from Apologetics Press,  Is scripture a “faithful record” of historical events? from Apologetics Press, etc… etc…

Other resource examples; The New Testament Documents by F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce, Trial of the witnesses by Thomas Sherlock, General Introduction to the Bible by Geisler and Nix, Can I trust the Bible? by D. Bock & R. Zacharias, and also examples of general resources that touch upon Biblical matters: The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, The Case for Christ by Strobel, etc… etc…

These resources are for everyone; believers, skeptics, anyone interested in Biblical apologetics.  What I offered here is not even a drop in the bucket of information available on this topic.  One of the most frustrating things in Apologetics can be talking to people who glean all their knowledge of the Bible from proselytizing atheistic websites that have lists of points to try to bring up in a debate.  Why is it frustrating? Because the answers are readily available to all, and are very easy to find, and also it shows, to me, that the person isn’t really wanting an answer, no…they are trying to proselytize their own beliefs.

Take the time to study the Bible.  It can be trusted and is highly reliable; historically, prophetically, internally, archaeologically, etc…  The resources I gave above have many other resources cited in their notes, so, keep digging and studying.  The Bible can stand up to all scrutiny.


Filed under Apologetics, Logic, The Bible, Uncategorized

Pascal’s Wager…Redux

If you want to get a large segment of fundamentalist atheists stirred up when you are dialoguing with them, mention good ol’ Pascal and his wager; it works almost every time. Quite frankly, I can’t blame them really, I used to react in a similar fashion as a believer, albeit with humor rather then mocking disdain. When I first read about and studied Pascal’s idea, I laughed. I completely understood what Pascal was getting at, but my first thought was that I could not believe that anyone would come to faith by it, and my second was; what faith would they come to?  Many of my college students ask the same thing in my Intro to Philosophy course.

However, over time, I’ve changed my mind. Why? Interestingly enough, I “met” someone online who came to believe in God because of the wager. And, the person is a well known (not extremely famous) actor from Hollywood. (He’s a full fledged and post-happy member of one of the smaller message boards I used to frequent daily, if not hourly.) He’s a “good” man; smart, witty, nice, great sense of humor, and very into politics…and happens to have come to belief via the wager.  So, if it turns out that there is but even one soul that winds up being saved because of the wager, it is worth it.

The second reason I no longer laugh good naturedly at the wager, is that I finally looked at it for what it was, and only as what it claimed to be within the limits of Pascal’s own philosophy (which I don’t entirely agree with). The key is remembering that it is supposed to be a wager…it is placing a bet. When placing a bet, it is logical to look at all known possible outcomes, factor in known variables, and then place your bet. Here’s a quote from Blaise himself,

“God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? …You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose… But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is… If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.”

So, to avoid Pascal’s fallacy of begging the question; you basically have two main splits: the side that says the world is purely materialistic; naturalistic philosophies come under this heading.  The other side says there is indeed something beyond the mere physical.  The first choice, or cut, is clear…if you believe something exists and nothing really does, you haven’t lost a thing.  So, you might as well come down on the side of “something.”

Once you are there, it is a logical matter of exclusivity.  Out of known religions (it doesn’t make logical sense to entertain unknown ones) which ones have deity/deities that desire acknowledgment, or perhaps worship, or else you get a bad ending?  We can cross many religions/spiritual beliefs off the list right off the bat; for example, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, many of your native/aboriginal peoples’ beliefs…even Judaism, for Gentiles at least, etc…

Then, if I’m going to place my bet (which is basically one’s soul), then I’m probably going to do some research and see which faiths are still viable.  If God is God, you’d want to wager on one that can keep a religion going, or at least I’d logically rather bet on one that could… and the list gets narrowed down quite a bit.  Which religion has the most evidence for the truth of it?  Many claim to have sacred scripture; which of those has reliable, historical documents, if prophecies are contained therein, which have come true, etc…  Blaise Pascal, from all appearances, would have been betting on the Christian God, this is one of the reasons that many criticize Pascal’s wager, but I believe if people do the logical reasoning, it does come down to a clear choice.

Now, I don’t believe in God based upon Pascal’s wager, and I don’t recommend anyone else place all of their eggs just in that basket as Pascal left it; though if the logic works for you, by all means do!  But, his basic idea of betting on an outcome, does have logical grounds, if looked at as an actual gamble.  I don’t believe that Pascal’s wager, in and of itself, offers an airtight basis for believing, but I do think it is enough to make people think, at least it should; I think it is an interesting way to get people to at least contemplate the afterlife.  From there it is a matter of research, study, and yes, perhaps a bit of prayer.


Filed under Apologetics, Atheism, Logic, Philosophy

Want to argue?

I’ve been blogging about different terms and concepts within the realm of the philosophy of logic, in order to augment Christian apologetics, and realized I might need to start a bit further “back” in terms of basic concepts.  Two of the basic ideas of logic and critical thinking are; both to be able to formulate proper arguments yourself, and to recognize and “break down” arguments used by others.  Also, in order to understand concepts like inductive and deductive logic, it is important to understand what an argument really is.

When teaching my college students about arguments, the first thing I have to do is to undo what they believe they know about arguments.  Here’s what I mean; if I were to say “We do a lot of arguing in my Logic class,” many people would immediately think it was something negative, same thing if I said, “My husband and I argued last night.”  Most people would think of an aggressive back and forth, an emotional discussion that often gets heated.  This isn’t what we are referring to in logic.  I sometimes try to help people distinguish the two ideas behind arguments by labeling what we do in class as “formal” argumentation.

An argument is simply this; a set or structure of claims, where one claim or statement is said to support another.  To add in labels and vocabulary, you must have at least one conclusion, and at least one premise.  The premise is said to support the conclusion.  “You need to take your umbrella today, because it is supposed to rain.”  In this example the conclusion is the claim “you need to take your umbrella” and the premise, or reason given is “it is supposed to rain.”  You can have multiple premises to support the conclusion, and in most complex issues, you will have more than one. Notice, arguing doesn’t have to get emotional at all, although it often does, even in formal argumentation.

“The Bible is made up of ancient documents.  It has been found to be historically accurate, archaeologically accurate, and internally consistent.  Also, prophecies contained within that collection of historical documents have indeed been fulfilled as prophesied.  The above are just some of the reasons why we can, and should, use the scriptures when discussing Christian apologetics.”  Sometimes it is indeed easier to spot the conclusion first: “we can/should use the scriptures when discussing Apologetics” and then the premises “it has been found to be historically accurate, archaeologically accurate, and internally consistent” and also, “prophecies have been fulfilled as predicted.” Notice that I don’t have to give every premise I have for a conclusion (notice I said above, “just some of the reasons”), as long as there is at least one, it is an argument.

Now, to add to the complex nature of arguments, there does indeed have to be at least one premise and a conclusion; however, one or the other can be left unstated, and it is still considered to be an argument.  If someone asks me, “Do you like anchovies?” And I proceed to make a bad face and say, “they taste like hair.”  I actually did make a complete argument…what is my unstated conclusion?  “No, I don’t like anchovies.”  The idea is, if you can logically reason out a premise or conclusion, even if unstated, you still have an argument.

Another confusion; you do not have to have two or more people to form an argument.  An argument is not a discussion.  I can be alone in a room and formulate arguments all day long; the definition of an argument is concerned with the form of statements/claims, not with discussion between people.  Also, you do not have to be formulating arguments in order to persuade someone of something (keep in mind as well that there are many things we use to try to persuade someone without using arguments…take flattery for instance); again, if I write an argument on a napkin, and then throw it away without anyone ever reading it, I’m not trying to persuade anyone, and it is just as much an argument as if I stand up in front of a class and attempt to persuade the students to give me ten dollars each.  And, finally, there is a difference between an argument and an explanation.  When you ask your mechanic what was wrong with your brakes, and they tell you the brake pad was worn, that is an explanation.  When a science teacher gets up if front of the class and explains what happens when you mix two specific chemicals together, that doesn’t constitute an argument (although explanations can indeed turn into arguments).

In the realm of Christian apologetics, as well as in the other areas of your life, it is important to be able to both formulate arguments, and to recognize and break down any arguments offered by the other side of the issue.  This helps to clarify what exactly is being discussed, and it also helps in spotting rhetoric.  One of the key points to remember is that someone may be offering rhetoric instead of an actual premise to support their conclusion; if that is the case, if someone only offers rhetoric as a premise, then it is not a proper argument.  And, just because someone includes some rhetoric in their argument, it doesn’t always mean that the argument isn’t a proper argument; you can’t just dismiss it offhand.  Also, sometimes a discussion partner will assume you are offering an argument, instead of an explanation.  You don’t always have to be engaging in formal argumentation in apologetics, you can just be offering an explanation.

Make sure everyone is on the same page on the definition of “argument,” especially if you go up to a loved one and ask, “Want to argue?”


Filed under Apologetics, Logic

Don’t leave your brain at the church door!

My main pastor in life was Dr. Gene Scott (who I look forward to posting about at a later date).  One of his lines was always, “You don’t have to leave your brain at the church door.”  It was a theme I was raised with from early childhood.  I believe this idea applies equally to atheists/non-believers of every type, and to my fellow Christians as well.

As my verse of the day says today, “…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” Luke 10:27  It very clearly includes your mind.  Now, I believe that different people come to a belief in Christ Jesus through any of those various means; for example, an emotional experience or appeal, a spiritual experience or realization, a logical argument or a logical internal conclusion, etc…  Any and every avenue is open and Christianity affirms each and also withstands scrutiny from any angle.

When one becomes a believer, meaning they have indeed placed their trust and faith on Christ, I have found that it comes to include all of the above.  Now, don’t misunderstand me in this post; I don’t believe every Christian has to be a stuffy intellectual, far from it, but the Lord gave us brains to think with, and we honor Him by using our brains.  For example, don’t just accept what your pastor, or another teacher is dishing out…dig into it on your own (with the help of the Holy Spirit), look up the verses and contexts, compare your KJV to your NASB, use a Strong’s and look up the Hebrew and Greek, kick it around, digest it.  Doc used to tell everyone that listened to him to check out what he was saying, not just nod along.  Philippians 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Thinking things through, asking respectful questions, digging into apologetics and scripture, learning a bit about logic and philosophy, are not bad things in the least, and helps us get into the “meat” of the Christian message.

Another point Doc always made, is if you are called to be a Christian Apologist, this doesn’t do your debate partner, or audience much good, “You ask me how I know He lives…He lives within my heart.”  You probably need to take it a step further and fill in the gaps, and answer some questions; How do you know He lives within your heart?  What does that mean, precisely?  Why should I want Him to live in my heart? Etc…. (For those of you who don’t recognize it, those words come from the wonderful hymn, He Lives.  It works very very well in a song, and to express what a lot of us feel, but for apologetics purposes, it needs a little detail added, and the metaphors made clear…)  Personal evidence is usually what has impacted us most on a very personal level, and can indeed impact others, but other evidence, or even just objective explanations are helpful too.  But, as always, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and how you feel compelled to either discuss, or not discuss issues with others, always trumps any general advice I’m talking about here, and no two Christians are going to present their thoughts in exactly the same way.

This idea also has implications for the non-believer; it isn’t a Christian’s responsibility to do the research on your behalf.  Not every Christian is interested in arguing over ever single point that people obsess over; not all of us are called to do that.  In fact, the main thing we are called to share is the gospel message.  When we are asked to give a reason for our hope, we are to give one (1 Peter 3:15); but you, as a non-believer, do not get to dictate what kind of reason it is.  An emotional reason can be just as valid as a logical reason, because we are not all expected or commanded to play formal logic games all day, nor is it our job to “convince” someone of the Truth of the gospel.  Also, non-believers, don’t leave your brains at the church door either.  I’ve seen evidence that there are indeed atheists, just for example, that do not believe, based upon emotion; they are mad at the way a hypocritical Christian (yes, they do exist) treated them, they are angry at something some church or another did, they are mad or scared because God isn’t the way they want Him to be, they are content with the way they currently are, etc… Don’t let emotion rule you either; Christianity can, and indeed should, be looked at through the lens of logic, and that’s why I say to everyone reading this, “don’t leave your brain at the church door!”

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Filed under Apologetics, Logic

I call straw…man!

Continuing on with the discussion of rhetorical devices learned of in philosophy of logic courses, the straw man fallacy is quite a common occurrence.  However, it is not quite so common as most people seem to think.  I have witnessed more arguments mislabeled “Strawman” arguments than correctly labelled “Strawman” arguments.  It’s one of those rhetorical devices that is very easy to claim, so easy that one would think there are Strawmen everywhere.

First a definition.  The hint is in the name, and that is what makes it relatively easy to remember.  What is easier to knock down, push over, or step past?  A real man, or a man made out of straw?  Of course the correct answer it the straw man.  In formal argumentation, a straw man occurs when a person misrepresents, distorts, or exaggerates another’s argument.  They do so in order to make the “argument” easier to knock down…I have found that they usually attempt this when there is an audience, either a group of listeners, or readers.  One of the ways to avoid twisting another person’s argument is, if possible, to simply ask them if you are understanding their argument correctly, and reiterate their points to double check.

I’ve seen people legitimately call “Strawman” in the area of Apologetics, I’ve also seen it misused.  One of the Logic textbooks I use actually has a fine example of a straw man used against Christians, though the interesting thing is, the authors of the textbook employ the straw man fallacy themselves. To paraphrase,  “You cannot refer back to the Bible in support of God; why do you believe in God, ‘because the Bible tells me He exists,’ and how do you know the Bible is true? ‘Because it is inspired by God…’  Well, that’s circular logic.”  Yes, and that is also a straw man fallacy.  First, I have to say that I have never personally heard, or read, a Christian employ that argument…is it possible that it has been used?  Yes.  But, the Christian position is not that we believe in God because the Bible tells us to, that is a gross oversimplification and misrepresentation of our actual argument, and hence, a straw man fallacy.

What are some examples of the the real arguments that are often used that the author’s of the textbook characture?  One is that the Bible, a collection of ancient documents, has been shown to be a historically accurate, archaeologically accurate, inherently accurate, prophetically accurate, etc… therefore, they can be used as evidence, as premises, in support of God.  Now, if the atheist, or anyone who doubts these things wishes to question whether or not the Bible really is a valid source, that’s one thing (then, the Christian can direct them to the solid evidence that this is so).  However, to simply twist the Christian’s argument into a straw man is a fallacy.  For some odd reason many atheists insist that the Christian do not even bring relevant scripture into a conversation…it’s odd for several reasons, first, we hold the Bible to be inspired scripture (because it has been shown to be accurate in all of those previously mentioned areas, and more, so we hold that position based on evidence), of course we are going to employ it.  Second, we believe that scripture has the ability to make men think, and feel, and hear…or, to put it another way, one manner that The Holy Spirit convicts us, both believer, and non-believer, is through the scriptures.  We actually care about non-believers’ immortal souls, so we are going to do what we can, what we are instructed to do through scripture, to help; that includes introducing and clarifying scripture when appropriate.

So, learn what a straw man is, and be on the lookout for the straw man fallacy.  This is one rhetorical device that does come up in Apologetics; that way when someone labels something a “Strawman,” you’ll know what they are talking about and be able to judge for yourself, or, you’ll be in the position to proclaim, “I call straw…man!”


Filed under Apologetics, Logic

Oh, what a burden…

Doing Christian apologetics online can get really interesting, really serious, and also sometimes amusing.  I need to preface this post by explaining that I teach philosophy of logic at the college level, and there are two things that add to the context when reading this blog post; first, it is important to take a formal logic class if you are seriously going to debate anything online, or anywhere else for that matter, and second, taking one formal logic class is just enough to make a person dangerous…the danger being that one then tries to make everything into a formal argument, and one tends to see rhetorical devices lurking behind every sentence, which often leads to mislabelling, and can be annoying.

I’m going to focus on one problem area in this post; The Burden of Proof.  I don’t believe I’ve witnessed one specific area of logic argued over more between Christians and atheists.  The problem usually arises when a Christian who hasn’t had a formal logic course, or studied it on their own, or is not looking for a formal argument, runs into an atheist that has had a class, and is fit to bursting to show off their newly acquired vocabulary, unfortunately these meetings do not go well, and the only reason why is that there are crossed wires.  Inevitably, the conversation usually starts off with the atheist asking questions of the Christian, and the Christian giving their reasons for believing…the atheist doesn’t like what they hear, so the discussion escalates from there.  Then it happens, the Christian says, “fine, so prove to me that God doesn’t exist.”  Then the atheist pounces, and neglects to mention that they are now kicking into “formal” argument mode, instead of just a discussion.

“Oh, no,” says the atheist, “the burden of proving God exists falls on you.”  Here is where the misunderstanding comes in, and both sides are usually ignorant of what is happening.  When a Christian (who has not been warned that this has become an exercise in formal argumentation, instead of just a conversation) hears the words “the burden of proving,” they are not thinking about formal logic, they are thinking about moral responsibility.  So, they understandably hear, “Oh, no, the moral responsibility of proving God exists falls on you.”  And rightly, they flatly deny it.  The atheist assumes that the Christian doesn’t know logic, but that isn’t necessarily the case; their mindsets are just understandably different.  Christians are generally concerned with their moral responsibility, which actually ends at presenting the gospel truthfully and correctly, and includes providing a reason for their personal belief, if asked.  That’s it.  The rest we leave directly up to God and the atheist.

The discussion usually goes steeply downhill from there; the atheist insisting that the Christian has the burden and the Christian flatly denying it.  For the atheist’s part, they are referring to the formal logical concept of The Burden of Proof; who has the weight in arguing a certain issue to provide the majority of evidence to lend credence to their conclusion.  There are several ways of figuring out who has the logical burden; 1) If everyone involved agrees, you simply lay the ground rules for who has the burden (they do this formally in court proceedings, for example), 2) Whichever side has the least initial plausibility (meaning whichever side tends to run counter to things like common sense, and our background information) usually has the greater burden, and 3) Whichever side is stating a “positive” or “affirmative” position (there is life on mars, there is a problem with your battery, God does exist…) is normally held to the higher burden.

So, neither side is being intentionally thick, they are just using different definitions for “burden of proof.”  If you find yourself in a conversation like this, or just listening in, try to get each side to state what they mean by “burden of proof,” it should save a lot of misunderstanding.  As for me, the interesting question is, which side does indeed have the burden.  Well, it depends on which general rule you claim; if it is only a matter of the affirmative side, then yes, if I say, “God does exist,” and I am engaging in an argument, not just an explanation, then the burden would fall on me (not every statement is an argument, and not everyone is interested in “arguing”).  However, if we look at initial plausibility, I believe the burden shifts to the atheistic side, of course that is a debate in and of itself, which I’m not getting into in this post.  Also, the Christian is free to counter with, “you are claiming that nature itself, with no outside force or designer, is capable of bringing forth complex life, and that we are a result of macro-evolution; prove it.”  Oh, what a burden…


Filed under Apologetics, Atheism, Logic