Tag Archives: logic

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Critical thinking for dummies

These introductions to critical thinking are, I think, an essential primer that all Christians seeking to engage in apologetics online, or in the real world, should watch – or at least be aware of…

I found them at Brain Pickings (my dad also emailed me the link – don’t know what he was trying to tell me…).

Occam’s razor and theology

I’ve been thinking about my approach to the Bible. The first five weeks of college have been pretty intense for me – but probably not as intense as they have been for other people who possibly feel like the rug has been pulled out from under their feet a little when it comes to the way theologians treat the Bible and the interaction between the historical context and theological truths. Here is my thinking…

My overarching understanding, or first principle, is that the Bible is the clear word of God, our job is to make sense of it based on what we know of the original audience, the way God communicates, and ultimately the work of Jesus. This understanding colours my understanding of everything from Genesis to Revelation, and each form of biblical literature.

Theology is like science – we’re constantly moving to a more perfect understanding of each part of the Bible as we build our picture of the lives of the original hearers and readers of the word. We’re unlikely to ever completely overturn our current “theories” based on this evidence, but we will gain a slightly more nuanced picture of the meaning of different writings if we learn something new about what was going on in the first century (NT) or in the history of Israel.

So understanding that “this current distress” that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 7 may refer to a massive famine in the Corinthian region means we don’t have to assume that Paul was a failed apocalyptic prophet who thought the world would end in his lifetime, but rather that he thought it wise for couples not to marry if they couldn’t feed likely offspring. Revelation makes more sense if you understand that Nero was on the scene around the time it was written, that the number 666 was particular to Nero, and that Rome was persecuting Christians around the time it was written… this makes more sense to me than some sort of dispensational premillenialism.

Which leads me to this point of applying Occam’s razor to every “theological” position. If there’s a better explanation that requires less jumps, that is consistent with the rest of scripture, and preferably magnifies the work of Christ – then I’ll be pretty prepared to take that explanation quickly – rather than fighting to hold on to ingrained presuppositions.

Again, I don’t think this is rocket science or revolutionary – it’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

Poe’s Law

I love satire. Of most colours. I like it when Christians satirise our own culture, and when non-Christians do it too. Satire is revealing. It is good for teaching. It makes me laugh.

LarkNews is one of my favourite satire sites, I know of a few people who have fallen for its satire in the past…

People reposting satire as real news is pretty funny – like when a couple of mainstream news outlets picked up an Onion piece that reported the moon landing was fake.

Poe’s Law didn’t make the Wikipedia list of eponymous laws I mentioned previously – but you can read it on this page – RationalWiki’s page.

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.

It’s one of those Internet subculture things particular to debates with atheists (along with the No True Scotsman Fallacy) that comes up all the time. It’s a shorthand thing that prevents any real discussion taking place springing from an extreme position. The problem is that sometimes extreme positions may be correct. This is my biggest problem with all the conversational threads I’ve read on the atheist blogs I follow. If it turns out that God exists (as I believe he does) they’re going to look like idiots. This is the problem with Occam’s Razor, and in fact any other eponymous law that becomes common parlance. There are times when there’ll be a complex explanation for something that is true while a more simple explanation with less steps may be wrong. There are times when it’s appropriate to reference Hitler in an argument (Godwin’s Law). There are times when someone will be claiming to be a Scotsman when they’re not (the No True Scotsman Fallacy).

Using these laws in conversations who don’t know about them makes you look like a prat. Especially if you end up quoting them and being wrong.

I’m going to posit my own eponymous law – and I’d like it to catch on. Campbell’s Law. It states:

“As the length of argument on the internet increases the probability of referencing an irrelevant eponymous law or incorrectly identifying a fallacy approaches one.”

I’ll posit a second law.

“Just because someone, somewhere, has described a common phenomena as a “law”, it does not necessarily render the practice a transgression.”

Argument with argument

I have a bone to pick with logic. I am sick to death of putting forward great arguments backed by examples and employing a suitable amount of pathos only to be ignored because I’ve broken one of the codified rules of “logical argument”.

I have news for you Messrs Logic and Reason – nobody cares if you think I’m arguing with a “straw man” or producing some sort of syllogismic fallacy. Nobody cares if you hate analogies so much that the very presence of one as a piece of supporting evidence is enough for you to completely ignore the material at hand and instead dish out a lecture on what are essentially the “Queensbury Rules” of discourse. Nobody likes the Queensbury rules. They’re for losers who can’t fight with all the tools at their disposal.

Perhaps my line of reasoning is a straw man – but your job isn’t to point out that this invalidates my argument, it’s to correct my thinking. Perhaps my analogy isn’t perfect. Few are. A perfect analogy is like a rare pearl – hard to find and expensive.

When did the style of a debate become more important than the substance?

10 further reflections on atheism

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook (and you’ll find a link to add me on the right hand column of this site) will know that my status yesterday was “is looking for a fight”. Well, I found one, a bit, over at the FriendlyAtheist. 

It’s an interesting site. I have some reflections from my discussions there that I think are worthwhile. 

  1. The vast majority of atheists come out of some form of theism – many of the commenters on that blog are former church goers from a range of denominations – there are also a bunch of Mormons. They see their atheism as a natural progression towards enlightenment. 
  2. American culture must be harder on atheists – they all seem so bitter and I suspect that’s largely because the culture of American Christendom is difficult. 
  3. “Good” and moral are different – Christians have made a mistake because of a semantic difference on the definition of good. While Christianity teaches that nobody – not even Christians – is capable of “good” behaviour – this generally means “behaviour that counts towards salvation” – for an atheist it means anything that would be considered selfless or moral. Atheists, as a general rule, seem very angry at the idea they are incapable of moral behaviour because they don’t have God. Which leads them to ask if it’s only God preventing Christians from living immoral lives. (Which was well considered in Andrew’s recent post…)
  4. “Strong Atheists” (those who believe “Absolutely, positively, there is no god.”) are apparently being taught to argue as though they are “Weak Atheists” (those who believe “I don’t believe in God because no one has provided me with any credible evidence that God exists.”) in order to shift the burden of proof to Christianity. 
  5. Thanks to Dawkins and co atheists continue to argue with a caricature of Christianity – and also put forward issues or challenges to Christianity that are considered and covered by the Bible as if they’re compelling evidence – and refuse to accept belief in the Bible on the basis of a history of bad translations, poor doctrine and bad application. For example – David Attenborough, the prominent nature documentary maker – argues that the existence of “evil” in nature (specifically a worm whose only purpose is to burrow into the human brain) is proof that God isn’t loving and doesn’t exist. This dismisses any theological thought put into areas like this – and in fact the basic Christian teaching of the Fall’s impact on God’s creation. 
  6. As a further point on that last one – when the Bible does speak to a “logical” problem atheists have with Christianity it’s rejected on the basis that “the Bible would say that wouldn’t it…” as though considering the issue is part of a grand scheme to dupe us. 
  7. Faith is seem to be a “superstitious logical jump” in the face of conflicting evidence rather than a conviction of truth without all the  evidence.
  8. Atheists hate being compared to Mao – but love comparing Christians to the Crusaders (or in fact any nasty people carrying out nasty acts in the name of Jesus). When you suggest that these Christians weren’t being Christian you’re guilty of breaching the “no true Scotsman” fallacy – when you suggest that their anger at the Mao analogy is similarly a “no true Scotsman” fallacy you’re told that Mao was not motivated by his atheism… is it just me seeing this as contradictory?
  9. A whole lot of bad teaching is coming home to roost – doctrinal clarity is important. Ideas like “God is love” that don’t speak to God’s wrath, holiness, or judgement have caused more harm than good. This is what happens when only part of the gospel is considered with another part swept under the carpet. 
  10. At the end of the day – my staunch “Reformed” understanding of evangelism and election means that I’m not in any position to convince those whose hearts are hardened to the gospel. The parable of the sower would tend to suggest that the standard atheist experience of a choked faith is natural and to be expected for many “converts”…  
  11. And a bonus point – “evidence” is seen to be some sort of magic bullet for atheists – but naturalism presupposes the supernatural – and as soon as something supernatural is demonstrably tested it’s no longer supernatural but just an undiscovered natural entity – God is, by definition, supernatural. He can not possibly be tested in this manner, because we can’t expect him to conform to our “testing” and act the same way over and over again… There are biblical examples of God being tested – Ezekiel and Gideon spring to mind – but these are of no value to this argument… because of point six. This link should take you to what I think is a nice little evidence analogy in one of my comments.

These reflections come from my experience and discussions on these posts. Feel free to critique my arguments or approach in the comments.

Repealing Godwin’s Law

Dont mention the law

Don't mention the law

I mentioned Godwin’s Law in the last post. It’s an interesting law – originally coined by Mike Godwin in 1990 to address the trend of usenet users throwing Hitler into arguments.

Originally expressed Godwin’s Law read:
“As an online discussion continues, the probability of a reference or comparison to Hitler or to Nazis approaches 1”

The basic application of the law was that the first person to mention Hitler lost the argument.
Godwin has an interesting explanation of his side of the story here.

“Although deliberately framed as if it were a law of nature or of mathematics, its purpose has always been rhetorical and pedagogical: I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust.”

“I understood instantly the connection between the humiliations inflicted there and the ones the Nazis imposed upon death camp inmates—but I am the one person in the world least able to draw attention to that valid comparison.”

The problem with people blindly accusing people of breaking Godwin’s Law is that they’re going by the letter and not the spirit of the law. This probably only happens to me, because I engage in frivolous discussion with art studenty type geeks people… the kind of people who know what Godwin’s Law is to begin with.

There’s another article on pretty much the same thing here. That argues the repeal on the basis that Hitler should be fair game as a test case in arguments.

“The rules of snippy online debates, though, are nothing compared to public discourse. The Anti-Defamation League has beaten the hell out of anyone who’s dared use a Nazi analogy over the last decade. ”

“Thus, despite all efforts at regulation, the market has repeatedly decided in favor of the N-bomb. There simply isn’t any other tableau, in history or fiction, that offers the same variety of evil and oppressive examples as the Third Reich. Why compare some propaganda to 1984 and some slaughter to Srebrenica when you can double down and link both of them to Nazism?”