This is part 2 in a series.
One thing that I learned from Dr. J. Lennox of Oxford is that it’s imperative to test the premises and data of assertions, no matter the credentials and subject mastery of the person making the assertion.
We don’t just need good reasoning, but also good logic.
Logic is the fundamental rules that we apply to reasoning to “reason from A to B.” It’s the fundamental parameters that we apply to working through a problem. But if our logic is flawed, our reasoning will never bring us to the correct answer, no matter how good the reasoning seems. Simply put, reasoning is a system, and logic is the rules applied to that system.
Flawed logic means that the answer is never right, even if the reasoning is 100% (internally) consistent. Basically, it’s possible to have something make perfect sense, but to be totally wrong. And often, with even a mediocre IQ, one can indeed check on these things.
Let me show an example:
- 1.) All cars are Hondas. (Basic rule for our sense-making of the world.)
- 2.) This is a car. (Premise 2 is true, but actually it’s a Chevy in this case.)
- 3.) Therefore this is a Honda. (False conclusion, because while our reasoning was sound, our logic was flawed.)
That’s simple, but even brilliant minds can make basic errors in logic. For example, the late Stephen Hawking was an incredible physicist and cosmogonist, and he said, “Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.”
In fact, he had a book about it. And he was a lot smarter than you’ll ever be, so you’d better not do your own research when it comes to his science.
We must subject Hawking’s statement to logical analysis to decide if it is valid. First, what is “nothing” that Hawking mentions? Notice that Hawking says, “Because there is a law of gravity…” Hawking assumes, then, that gravity exists, yet gravity is not “nothing,” as Hawking claims. “Nothing” is total non-being.
Hawking, then, is simultaneously proclaiming that the universe was created from nothing and from something. Another way of viewing this is, “because X, Y is created,” but that presupposes the existence of X in the first place. But wait, what, then, created X? And what created the thing that created X? Ah-ha, a loop of infinite regression!
Hawking creates some more, horrible logical errors with his conclusion. He says the universe comes from nothing that turns out to actually be something, and then he says that the universe creates itself. If the universe is “Y,” then he is saying “Y will create Y.” That presupposes the existence of the universe to account for itself!
But wait, Hawking is ALSO saying that a law of nature (gravity) explains the existence of the universe, which is yet another contradiction, as a law of nature’s own existence depends on the prior existence of the nature it describes! Hawking’s entire conclusion is, as it turns out, three self-contradictions in one sentence.
If you refuse to do your own research, what you may end up doing is abandoning “sense-making.” That is, you are giving up making mental schemata by which you understand your environment, instead trusting it to others, based on the assertion that it is something that you must do. But on what evidence would you do that? Don’t you need to at least assess the fundamental parameters of existence? If not, you can have a very smart but foolish person making a mess of your life. So no, do not abandon sense-making.
Question your beliefs constantly, no matter how fearful it makes you, because if you cannot be open-minded, then you do not possess your ideas; your ideas possess you.
At the same time, you also need to be foundationally honest. We need to be precise about our convictions and reasons for them, including our doubts. I’ve seen (and have done this myself in the past, to my great discredit) people hold a certain view, and proclaim it, while at the same time ignoring any evidence to the contrary, or even sweeping the contradictory evidence under the rug.
Presenting sloppy and weak arguments is negative, but giving someone a snow job is much worse. To the curious person, it ultimately undermines their faith in anything else we might have to say; it taints the belief pool. Consider that I tell you, “well X is obviously true, as any honest, studious person can see,” and I present a strong case. You come to believe that I’m correct. Later you find out that I hid a lot of evidence that would weaken my case. What does this cause you to think and feel?
It is much better to present our beliefs, and along with the presentation, our level of certainty of them. Sometimes we might be genuinely agnostic about something. The words, “I don’t know,” are undervalued. Other times, we may be convicted of something with a 99% certainty.
It’s always good, however, to present the various beliefs—that is, both the “for and against—and the strengths and weaknesses of those beliefs. Admit flaws in your arguments, but explain why they are rationally most probable.
And remember that a belief should be held if, on the weight of the evidence, it is the most probable over other avenues of thought. That is, a belief that is “51% certain” is fine to hold as long as the other arguments are less than that. Another way of saying this is, “It’s more probable than not.” What we don’t want to do, however, is brush the other thoughts (perhaps 49% certain) under the rug, creating an echo chamber.
People who are raised in echo chambers are easily laid low when they are presented with the unfamiliar; they have the tools of only ignorance and shock at their disposal.
“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)