Tag Archives: 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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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!”

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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…

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