How To Think Straight

brain-gears

Everybody thinks everyday. There are no exceptions. But just because someone is thinking does not mean they are thinking correctly. Logic is like math, you have to get it right if you want the right answer. So how does someone think correctly?

Lucky for us, people have been thinking about thinking for thousands of years. The ancient Greek superstars such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle discovered many of the rules to logic. A lot of what they established is still taught in Critical Thinking and Basic Philosophy classes today.

Here are the basics of logic: propositions.

“Propo-what?”

A proposition is something you propose. For example: “Kobe Bryant is a man.” This is either true or false. When I am building a logical argument, I need at least two propositions. This is like basic addition in mathematics. I can’t add if I only have one number. I need at least two numbers added together to get my answer. In logic, we use 2 or more propositions to get to our answer. The answer is called the conclusion. The 2 or more propositions used in our argument are called premises. Here is an example:

Proposition 1 (aka premise): “Kobe Bryant is a man.”

Proposition 2 (aka premise): “All men are mortal.”

Conclusion: “Kobe Bryant is mortal.”

If we agree that both premises are true, we then attempt to formulate a conclusion that logically follows the propositions/premises. Please note than in an argument, propositions (aka premises) are true or false, but the conclusion is either valid, or invalid. This is because the conclusion is not a premise but the attempt to draw logic from true premises.

logic

The goal in logic is to deduce a conclusion from 2 or more premises. That’s it, that’s all. This is also called “deductive reasoning.” Inductive reasoning can be said to work with probabilities instead of certainties. Television crime dramas are examples of detectives using induction to find suspects using crime scene evidence. The clues at the scene can be labelled premises, but finding “who dunnit” is a matter of narrowing probabilities based on the premises (i.e.: crime scene evidence). For example:

Proposition (aka premise): “80% of the swans living around Lake Etobicoke are white.”

Proposition (aka premise): “The swan that stole blind Ms. Burton’s hat was at Lake Etobicoke.”

Conclusion: “The swan that stole Ms. Burton’s hat was probably white.”

As you can see, we are not dealing with iron clad, inescapable conclusions but the building of a likely scenario. Inductive reasoning is only used when deductive reasoning is not available. Most of the time, you will be working inductively because life rarely offers absolutely clear, deductive options. Where did you leave your keys? The narrowing process would begin by looking at where you usually put them. There would be no absolute, deductive way of finding them inescapably. Make sense?

Back To Deductive Logic
We need to follow the rules of logic so that our arguments are proper (i.e.: valid conclusions). You could have an army of true premises but if you commit an error in your logic, you won’t string them together to form the accurate conclusion. Now that you know the anatomy of an argument, knowing what good logic is will help you to deduce a valid conclusion. A key to sharpening your logic is to know what bad logic is and avoid it. Bad logic is often referred to as “logical fallacy.” Let us turn our attention to some examples of poor thinking.

Logical Fallacies

The Nizkor Project website contains a fairly comprehensive list of logical fallacies and is a good resource for those looking to “tighten up” their thinking.

One of the classic errors in logic is one we see most often during political debates. It is known as the Ad Hominem logical fallacy. This is when one person attempts to dishonour their adversary’s reputation instead of debating them. For example, Politician A states that the unemployment rate has gone up by 4% during Politician B’s tenure. Instead of tackling this head on, Politician B points out that Politician A was caught having an extra-marital affair.

What is being attempted here is to smear Politician A and therefore making the audience less likely to trust him and anything he says. However, this is an error in logic. It is very possible for a dishonest man to point out the truth. How dishonest Politician A has been in his marriage has nothing whatsoever to do with the unemployment rate. Politician B has left the world of logic and entered the world of fallacy and error. We should be careful to not follow him.

Anatomy of an Ad Hominem:

  1. Person A makes claim X.
  2. Person B makes an attack on person A.
  3. Therefore A’s claim is false.

Whenever a Christian leader falls into sin, we often hear non-believers denounce the Christian faith as a result. This is a clear case of Ad Hominem. All it does is point to one individual’s personal choices. This is a totally invalid conclusion built on true propositions. Let’s break the argument into its components to highlight the logical fallacy at play:

premise 1: Jimmy Swaggart hired a prostitute

premise 2: Jimmy Swaggart is a Christian

conclusion: Christianity is false

This is why understanding the rules of logic is so helpful. The above breakdown of the Ad Hominem attack shows that it is stating two premises that are true but the conclusion is not supported by logic. It is, in fact, devoid of any logical connection to the premises. Spock_Finds_You_Illogical_by_densethemooseIt forms an argument with no evidence that could possibly discredit the historical case for the Resurrection, the reliability of the New Testament or any other line of reasoning used to support the Christian faith as intellectually viable.

Another common logical fallacy is the Appeal To Authority.

An Appeal to Authority is a fallacy with the following form:

  1. Person A is (claimed to be) an authority on subject S.
  2. Person A makes claim C about subject S.                             
  3. Therefore, C is true.

We see this often when the discussion of evolution takes place in a television program or public debate. Typically the person arguing in favour of Darwinian Macro-evolution will name one or more prominent scientist and proudly report that they have accepted the theory as fact.

What could and should be pointed out is that there is a long list of high level biochemists, biologists and paleontologists who do not accept the claims of Macro-Evolution. When and how do we decide whose side has the most authority? This would be nearly impossible and more importantly, it would tell us nothing about the truth content of evolutionary theory. A simpler approach would be to look at the evidence itself and allow it to have the highest authority. Afterall, this is exactly how science works.

Often, another logical fallacy is heaped on top of an Appeal to Authority. The Appeal to Popularity is a common bed fellow. The Appeal to Popularity has the following form:

  1. Most people approve of X (have favorable emotions towards X).
  2. Therefore X is true.

A pro-evolution debater will state that most modern scientists believe in evolution. The audience will be impacted by this and be tempted to accept what “most people are doing.” It is an unfortunately deeply human flaw to lemming oneself with the crowd. An obvious repost to the Appeal to Popularity in the evolution/creation debate is to point out that, at one time, when the Church was the intellectual and cultural authority over Europe, the most prominent intellectuals did not believe in evolution.

Clearly, the authority of those intellectuals did not falsify evolution (if evolution is true) and likewise, simply because we’ve swapped sides in our day does not mean the modern majority has magically caused the universe to shift realities.

Whether or not evolution is an accurate account of life’s appearance and consequent growth, innovation and diversification should be assessed merely on the evidence, not by pointing out which celebrity intellectual believes something or how many friends he has doing it too.

As you can see, thinking properly is key to making sure that what you believe is accurate. Afterall, we watch what we eat, who we make friends with and what we let our children watch on T.V. Why not be diligent with what we believe? Especially when it comes to important subjects that deeply affect our lives.

 

 

What is Truth? – PART 2

pilate_questions_jesusOne of the oldest copies of the New Testament is the Rylands Papyrus P52 fragment which records a portion of the Gospel of John’s chapter 18. It contains the exchange between a beaten and bloodied Jesus and Roman procurator Pontius Pilate. “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice,” states Jesus, to which the Roman officiate replies “What is truth?”

As you can see, our modern, skeptical world did not invent the questioning of foundational truth.

In PART 1 we explored the mischevious way of questioning truth but there is also a legitimate route. Philosophers have historically sought to identify how it is we come to know anything. Afterall, if we are not careful about what we believe, we run the risk of believing the wrong things. The branch of philosophy that deals with the “theory of knowledge” is known as epistemology.

Epistemologists define what it is we must do to discover the truth of things. Unfortunately there are as many theories on knowledge as there are ice cream flavours. In the following text we seek to defend a specific type of epistemological approach: the correspondence theory of truth.

Correspondence Theory of Truth
This is one of the most simple and straight-forward epistemologies you’ll ever run into. This theory states that truth is whatever statement corresponds to reality. Bertrand Russell used the example “the cat is on the mat.” For this statement to be considered true, he argued, there would have to be a mat with a cat on it. Simple as that. If there were no mat, the statement would be false. No cat, no dice. If the cat was next to the mat or the mat was on the cat, no cigar. APerhaps the reason this theory of knowledge is so basic is because it happens to be true. Philosophers often over complicate things but when the rubber meets the road, we all use the correspondence theory of truth. When I cross the street and I see a bus coming my way, I don’t question my sense data or ponder whether or not the Buddhist theory of the world-as-illusion is true.I posit a single statement in my racing mind “there is a bus coming right at me” and then I proceed to get out of the way. Children are taught to live by the correspondence theory of truth. We don’t want them crossing the street with any other mental structure. We also don’t want them to tell us whether or not they’ve done their chores any other way. Whenever we perform scientific experiments we measure our results based on what is there and write our reports accordingly. What we say whenever we talk is expected to be according to what is really happening. And we expect others to extend us the same courtesy. To sum it up, this type of knowledge theory declares that any statement is true to the degree to which what it states relates to what is.

Could anyone believe in any other form of truth? Well, yes. One of the main opponents to this epistemology is the Coherence Theory of Truth. This theory claims that a statement is true if, and only if, it is consistent (i.e.: coherent) with the set of beliefs in which it is contained. For example, during Europe’s great Plague, people placed bread and milk on their supper tables. They left them there until the bread got moldy and the milk curdled. According to their beliefs, the rotting foods were spoiling because they were actively absorbing disease and therefore protecting the family. They did not know about micro-organisms such as fungus or bacteria, so within the context of their knowledge their beliefs were “true.”

The underlying belief supporting this theory is the notion that no group of thinking people, regardless of their era, has ever enjoyed total knowledge of the universe or reality — or even local affairs. Therefore we cannot guarantee that any of our beliefs actually fully correspond to reality à la Correspondence Theory. So the best we can do is say that, given a limited amount of knowledge, our beliefs are coherent within the context of our current knowledge. As you can imagine, Moral Relativism lives happily within the Coherence Theory of Truth. Given the fluidity and complexity of human psychology and culture, who are we to say that Western ideals should be brought to judge tribal rituals in East Africa? How can we know that cannibalism and head hunting are wrong in the same way I can know at what temperature water boils at sea level. Interestingly, after its defeat in World War 2 and its consequent court trials in Nuremberg, Nazi regime officials claimed that, due to moral relativism, the Western world had no right to judge German actions in Auschwitz. One of the judges presiding over the trials swiftly deflected the Nazi defense by appealing to Objective Moral Law, stating “These men should be tried on this basis: on a higher law, a higher law which rises above the provincial and the transient.’”

Nurember-Trial-Hero-H

Nuremberg Trials lasted from 1945 to 1949.

It is understandable for Coherence theorists to argue for their position. I would actually agree with this epistemology in a limited sense. Afterall, we can only make statements based on what we know. And what we know is often overturned to our amazement. However, Coherence Theory is temporary at best. Because whenever a Coherence Theorists judges whether or not a statement needs to be rejected, he or she does so based on what actually is. In short, they use the Correspondence Theory to judge which Coherence statements need to be thrown out and replaced with a better (i.e.: truer, more corresponding) statement. Not only that, but the Coherence Theorist’s statement that “we don’t have full knowledge of Reality” is itself either true or false based on the Correspondence Theory. I doubt the Coherentists are unsure as to whether or not humans exhaustively know all there is to know about reality. We all know we don’t know everything. And that very admission corresponds to reality. Fully and actually. Which is what Correspondence Theory claims is possible.

A hallmark of Correspondence Theory is the Law of Non-Contradiction. Aristotle argued for this Law in his work on logic. Simply put, something cannot be and not be at the same time. Either there is a wad of paper in the waste basket or there is not. It cannot be both in it and not in it at the exact same time. This Law is usually formulated by saying:

A = A and A ≠ B

A is A and is not B. Very straightforward.
a_not_a_world

The Law of Non-Contradiction is also articulated as “Either/Or” thinking. EITHER there is a wad of paper in my waste basket, OR there is not. It may surprise you that much of the world does not subscribe to this theory. Eastern (i.e.: Asia, Middle Eastern) philosophies often hold to the “Both/And” theory of knowledge. In short, it is possible to state that the following two statements are BOTH true: there is a wad of paper in the basket AND there is no wad of paper in the basket.

either or both and

Although there are a few instances in which the “Both/And” seem to be accurate (for example, I am BOTH my mother’s son AND my wife’s husband) it is not applicable as a world view. I can be two things to two different people, but in the example of my mother and wife, the Law of Non-Contradiction still applies. If there was anything different about my mother’s son and my wife’s husband, they could never be the same person. Philosopher Ravi Zacharias tells and entertaining story about a discussion he had with a professor of Eastern philosophy. The professor argued in favour of the “Both/And” model of logic as being superior to the “Either/Or” system. During a lunch encounter, the professor kept highlighting the differences between the two systems of thought. Over and over again, using multiple examples he delineated the incompatibility of the two and his preference for the “Both/And” logical system. At one point, philosopher Ravi Zacharias paused and asked the Eastern philosophy professor: “So you are saying to me, EITHER I use the “Either/Or” logic OR the “Both/And” but I can’t use BOTH of them?” According to Zacharias the professor nervously replied: “The “Either/Or” does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?”

In the end, the Correspondence Theory of Truth, with all it entails (i.e.: the Law of Non-Contradiction and “Either/Or” dualistic logic) emerges as the way we ALL think, whether or not we realize it. As a result it is the universal epistemology and competing theories can go to bed.

 

 

What is Truth? – PART 1

thinkerFew questions make me scratch my head as much as the ever-popular “What is truth?” I don’t itch so I’m not scratching for comfort, nor am I befuddled by the answer. The reason I reach for my cranium is that I feel I can see right through that question. Hiding behind the questioning is the urge to get rid of one type of truth and usher in a whole new ball game. A person who asks us to tell them “what truth is,” has already established that they believe in truth. They believe in basic logic or else why ask a question? Clearly the questioner still believes in the truth-content of language, or else they would not speak or they would speak incoherently. They also believe in the law of non-contradiction or else they would not be expecting a reasoned answer. Underneath the question is a boat load of established truths that even the Questioner dares not question.

So why ask the question?

lewis

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963)

In his brilliant work “The Abolition of Man,” C.S. Lewis addresses our Post Modern world of ultra skepticism. Lewis points out that even the Questioner is equipped with basic truth but seeks to question objective morality established on the Western world’s judeochristian foundation. One of the first targets of the post modern Questioner is sexual morality. Next is the inherent superiority of human kind over the animal world. One step at a time, the Questioner strips our Christian morality away from more and more layers of society. And it all begins with the seemingly innocuous “what is truth?”

C.S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man” centers on a grammar book that was sent to him for review. In this grammar book, the authors introduced grade school children to the notion that adjectives such as “beautiful” and “awesome” were purely subjective. This horrified Lewis who, instead of writing a favourable review for the unsuspecting authors, wrote a scathing critique. Lewis saw the beginning of the end of Reason snuck into the Trojan Horse of Moral Relativism in a child’s grammar book.

Lewis’ point was simple, if two people are observing a large waterfall and one of them exclaims that it is “beautiful” and “awesome,” this statement is either true or false but it cannot be purely subjective. If it is deemed purely subjective, as Questioners claim it is, then the ability to give real value and therefore real rights to life and people is stripped clean from the universe. And we are left with an amoral world which Nietzsche warned us about. A world in which might makes right and no one can appeal to a True Moral Law and therefore a world in which anarchy will find a home in the hearts of all the most enlightened men.

Many will scoff at the notion that such a world of chaos could exist in the questioning of the words “beautiful” and “awesome,” but it is there. The man who witnesses the waterfall and attributes beauty to it is not commenting on the amount of water being displaced. He is referring to a quality held by the waterfall and not a measurable quantity. Yet it is precisely this that Questioners don’t want him to do. They seek to allow him only the ability to measure hydrogen and oxygen, nothing more. Yet, if the waterfall does not contain the quality of Beauty, than no other objects, including humans, can contain any qualities either. Forget “worth” or “dignity” for they too are only adjectives and therefore purely subjective. As a consequence, humans cannot possess “inalienable human rights” as the U.N. Charter of Human Rights claims they do.

Freaks gif

the mentally handicapped were targeted by the Nazis and systematically sterilized or executed.

If humans do not possess value they are relegated to becoming ants in a hierarchy of usefulness. Much as the Nazis categorized the unfortunate Europeans who fell into their clutch. The German machine created the concept of Lebensunwertes Leben (“life unworthy of life”) and set about systematically executing Jews, homosexuals, mentally handicapped and Slovakian ethnicities. By contrast, the U.S. Bill of Rights and the U.N.’s Charter place a token value on humanity the way we place a value on currency. No matter how dirty a hundred dollar bill is, it is worth exactly one hundred dollars. Likewise, a homeless man is worth no more or less than a successful business man in the face of the court system. We refer to the fact that someone has the quality of human-ness the same way we refer to the “beauty” of the waterfall. We are pointing away from measurements (i.e.: quantities) and towards Value (i.e.: qualities). And Value is not measurable. Not today and not tomorrow. But it is just as real as weight, length and height.

Therein lies the true end game of the Questioner (whether they mean to or not): to eradicate our world of Value and usher in a barbaric realm of clanging armies struggling to dominate through sheer will power. Nietzsche, who believed we live in a world devoid of Value, expected the 20th century to realize this truth and to unleash a very bloody, war-filled era. Precisely what did occur as a direct result of the creation and machination of atheistic regimes such as Mao’s China, Lenin’s Russia and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. With Moral Relativism comes the whirlwind of anarchy. It is an unavoidable consequence.

To ask “what is truth?” can be an act of intellectual high jacking. A way to undo what does not need undoing.

However it can also be an honest question in the hands of a sober, unbiased mind. In fact, it is the starting point of philosophy (i.e.: reason and logic) to determine how one knows what they know. The proper questioning of “what is truth” is known as the discipline of epistemology and will be the subject of PART 2.

 

 

DNA as Language – Evidence of Intelligent Design?

binary-code-image

ASCII – American Standard Code for Information Interchange

Binary code language is any “alphabet” made up of only 2 letters. Such systems date back to at least 1679 when a french mathematician by the name of Gottfried Leibniz discovered that using the numbers 1 and 0 could create a mathematical language able to store any amount of information. In our modern day world of computers and software programs, this exact same system is used. The 1’s and 0’s in our hard drives store pictures, videos, text and allow us to Skype each other around the world and play live action video games. This uber-fast and hyper-dense world of information is predicated on the simple but powerful system known as binary code language.

After Leibniz’ work others also utilized the binary code system to transfer information. In 1829, a young blind man by the name of Louis Braille published his work on a two “letter” system of raised and non-raised dots which allowed people to read by rubbing the dots with the tips of their fingers. To this day it is the preferred method of reading for those who’ve lost their sight. Another example of binary code language is the Morse Code. After helping to invent the telegraph machine in the mid 1800’s, Samuel Morse went on to help originate the binary code language of “dots and dashes.” A binary code system that is still in use by aviators and military personal to this day. In short, these small alphabet languages are the most effective information transfer systems we have ever discovered.

Watson-Crick

James Watson and Francis Crick with their “Double Helix” model of deoxyribonucleic acid (a.k.a.: DNA)

Interestingly it was in the 1900’s that mankind looked inward and discovered within his own cells the most information-rich language code system in the known universe: human DNA. Francis Crick and James Watson were two British scientists who uncovered the core of what makes biological organisms tick. And it was reems and reems of information held in a four letter language.

Man had discovered that the principles of mathematics and logic were also the backbone of life itself. Bill Gates, when commenting on DNA stated plainly that it was “like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.”(1) Famous atheist biologist Richard Dawkins himself said “the machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like.” (2)

Deoxyribonucleic Acid, or DNA, is a four letter alphabet comprised of large, interlocking molecules. These macro-molecules connect like lego. Although they are made up of 4 different molecules (adenine, thymine, cytosine, guanine), these can only lock together in two types of pairs. Adenine can only bond to thymine (the A-T “letter”) and cytosine only works with guanine (the C-G “letter”). dnaYet they can be arranged as A-T or T-A as well as C-G or G-C, thus forming a four “letter” alphabet and classifying it as a quaternary code language. Exactly like the 1’s and 0’s of software programming guide every aspect of our video games, internet browsing and computer activity, DNA programs every ounce of our bodies.

In the year 2000, the Human Genome Project was completed. This massive enterprise read every single A-T and C-G letter in human DNA. As a result, we now know that our binary code language is made up of over 3 billion letters or 600,000 pages of information. Our famed encyclopedia Brittanica had 32 books in all. Our DNA represents over 30 times that much information. The color of your eyes, your bone density, the amount of cholesterol you naturally create and almost every conceivable detail that makes you a unique individual is literally written in computer language in your DNA. And every single cell in your body carries a full copy of this massive library in such a small “hard drive” that you could fit tens of thousands of copies on the head of a pin. You would only need one of these micro machines to recreate the blue print for your entire body and chemical make-up.

It is amazing to think that we are super-complex computer programs. The question is then begged, who did the programming?…

(1) Bill Gates “The Road Ahead,” page 188

(2) Richard Dawkins “River out of Eden,” page 17