Essays Banner

Critical Thinking
by Jeff Baldwin, Kevin Bywater, Jeff Myers, Jason Graham, and Micah Wierenga


In the following essay, we will briefly discuss the nature of an argument, the law of non-contradiction, and a selection of informal fallacies. We will also present a helpful cache of tough questions, which can be used when engaging various worldviews. Finally, we will look at how to discern the assumptions behind the information presented in the media. This survey is designed to provide you with an introduction to the art of critical thinking.


Why are so many people in today's society swayed by mere emotionalism, or trapped by the most recent propaganda disseminated across our airwaves, television, or in the classroom? While there are several factors involved in answering this question, one primary reason is that people do not think critically.

What is an Argument?

Most people think an argument occurs when people get together, raise their voices, and call each other names. Properly speaking, this is not an argument, but an altercation. An argument, understood in a philosophical or logical context, is where we draw conclusions from various premises. There are several words that we use to indicate when we are presenting a premise and when we are presenting a conclusion. When indicating a premise, we use such words as: because, for, for this reason, as, if, based on the fact that, etc. When demonstrating a conclusion, we typically use: therefore, thus, consequently, hence, it follows that, etc. It's good to keep these indicators in mind so that you can detect an argument.

It is common for arguments to be confused with assertions. Assertions are the expressions of opinions without supporting premises. For example, it is common to hear someone assert that there are contradictions in the Bible, but just saying so doesn't make it so. When you hear assertions like this, the proper response is to ask questions, such as, "Can you give me some examples?"[1]

The Law of Non-Contradiction

This law is the foundation for all logical thinking. It may be defined as follows: a statement (a proposition) cannot be true and not true at the same time and in the same respect. For example: It cannot be both raining and not raining at the same time and in the same respect.

Humans did not invent the laws of logic any more than they invented the laws of nature — such as the law of gravity. In fact, throughout the Bible, the law of non-contradiction is implied. Without this law, nothing could be interpreted as true or false. Right thinking imitates God's thinking; and because God does not contradict himself (his Word cannot be broken — John 10:35; he cannot lie — Hebrews 6:18), Christians should seek to avoid contradiction. Without the law of non-contradiction we would never be able to detect a lie.[2]

In fact, if someone wants to deny the law of non-contradiction, that person immediately runs back into it, because they would have to presuppose that it's true in order to prove that it's false. Imagine the following conversation:

"Hey, I don't think the law of non-contradiction is really that important. In fact, I believe that we don't need to follow it at all."
"Really? So you think we need to follow the law of non-contradiction. You really believe it's that important?"
"Didn't you hear me? I said just the opposite from what you said I said."
"If the law of non-contradiction really isn't important, then we are both correct."

When expressing a denial or affirmation of any claim, proposition, belief, or idea, one must presuppose the law of non-contradiction. It is fundamental to any kind of distinctions: right and wrong, good and bad, true and false.[3]


A fallacy is simply a faulty argument. In the process of reasoning, there are two types of fallacies that occur: formal and informal. Formal fallacies deal with the actual form of the argument. When an argument is structured incorrectly it is fallacious. Even when an argument is formally correct, it may still be informally fallacious. The conclusion may not actually follow from the premises due to a faulty gathering of information, circular reasoning, or some other mistake. Informal fallacies are the more common of the two types of fallacies, and will be covered in this paper.

Below we provide a list of some common informal fallacies, a brief explanation of each, and an illustration or two. We have not provided an exhaustive catalogue because there seem to be an endless number of ways that people can make mistakes in their thinking, and we do not have the space to explain them all.

Fallacies of Ambiguity

Communication can be difficult. Difficulties arise from differing cultures, age groups, races, prejudices, and especially from differing worldviews. One of the most important ground rules for clear communication is clear definitions. We may be unnecessarily frustrated if others misunderstand what we say because they either don't know what a word means, or we simply have not supplied clear definitions for the words we use.

Equivocation: The fallacy of equivocation occurs when we use different definitions for the same word, or when a word is taken in a different way than intended (a different definition). Many words have different meanings depending on their context. Consider the following examples:

"All men are created equal? If that were so, then there wouldn't be so many rich people."
"If all men are created equal, then why am I so short?"

The difficulty that arises in these examples is that the statement "all men are created equal" means that all men should be equally valued as human beings. It was never intended to mean that we are all clones of one another, or that we would have equal incomes.

There is a special type of equivocation that can occur with relative terms like tall or short. These types of words must be understood in relation to something else. To claim that something or someone is tall assumes a relation to other people or things. The vagueness of these types of terms can only be clarified by context.

It should be noted that much of our humor rests in equivocations. In a humorous context, we call it a "play on words." Also, sometimes an equivocation can be intentional and witty, such as when Ben Franklin declared, "We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." The word hang is intended to be understood quite differently in each usage.

When Christians are witnessing to people who are involved in pseudo-Christian religions (i.e. cults), they need to be very careful to define their words so as not to be misunderstood. For example, while Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses both use the name of Jesus Christ, they have completely different meanings. The Jehovah's Witness believes that Jesus was the first created being and was, in fact, the Archangel Michael before he became the man Jesus. The Mormons, on the other hand, believe that Jesus is literally our older brother from a pre-existence. Jesus is believed to be the firstborn of the Father and one of many gods. Given these differences, we need to make sure that we dig deeper into the meanings of what people say and not stay at a superficial level of communication.[4]

Fallacies of Relevance

This section will deal with fallacies that occur when something irrelevant to the question of truth is added to an argument in the attempt to persuade.

Appeal to Pity: This fallacy occurs when one tries to persuade by invoking the listener to feel sorry for the individual or group for whom one is arguing. Many times, pity is an appropriate reaction, but it is not always a valid means of persuasion.

For example, sometimes abortion advocates will argue that if you make poor women carry their babies to term, they may not be cared for properly, or that if you outlaw abortion, then women will have to return to the "back alley butchers" to get abortions. While these arguments may be emotionally persuasive, they are not relevant to the issue at hand. One is never justified in killing a child just because life becomes harder for the mother.

Ad Hominem: Ad hominem means "argument to the person." This fallacy is committed when, instead of dealing with what a person is arguing, someone attacks his or her character. This is fallacious because a person's character typically has no bearing on the truth or falsehood of his or her claims. Here are some examples:

"You are wrong because you are an intolerant, closed-minded, right-wing fundamentalist."
"You can't trust anything he says. He is a liberal pagan atheist and has no basis for morality."

Appeal to Ignorance: This fallacy can occur in two ways. 1) To argue that something is true because it hasn't been proven to be false; or 2) to argue that something is false because it hasn't been proven to be true. Just because there is no proof against your position does not prove your position true. Likewise, just because a position has not been proven does not mean that it is false. Here are a couple examples:

"You cannot prove God does not exist, therefore God exists."
"You cannot prove God does exist, therefore God does not exist."

Red Herring: A herring is a fish that can be used to distract and confuse bloodhounds on the scent of game. Similarly, this fallacy is the introduction of an irrelevant side issue into an argument which ultimately distracts and confuses the case being presented. Often positive (or even negative) reasons offered for a conclusion have nothing to do with conclusion. Here are a couple of examples:

"Of course she's a good doctor. She drives a great car and is really funny."
"You believe abortion is murder, yet you are in support of capital punishment?"

Fallacies of Presumption

Fallacies of presumption are those fallacies where someone holds to an unjustified conclusion. This is usually caused by overlooking, denying, evading, or distorting the facts.

Hasty Generalization: When you wish to make an argument for a certain position, you need to gather information for support. In doing this, you must be very careful to gather sufficient evidence to support your conclusion. The fallacy of hasty generalization is committed when a person gathers too little information to support the conclusion being argued.

Just because one or two taxi drivers are rude and obnoxious does not mean that you can generalize that all (or even most) taxi drivers behave this way. All that can legitimately be drawn from such a sampling is that the particular taxi drivers you have encountered were rude and obnoxious. In the same way, just because a person may encounter a couple of Christian TV evangelists who have questionable character does not mean one can conclude that all Christians have questionable character.

These examples get at the heart of the most common way this fallacy is manifest: prejudices. Our prejudices are typically built on a very small sampling, and then are generalized and applied to an entire group (or sub-group) of people or things.

Sweeping Generalization: The fallacy of sweeping generalization is committed when one takes a general rule and applies it absolutely to all instances, not recognizing that there are exceptions. The generalization might be a very fair one, but the application in particular, uncommon, or unique instances may not be valid.

For example, exercise is generally a good thing. Yet what if you have a heart condition? One could say, "Aerobics is the best way to exercise, and Jenny really needs exercise for her heart condition." The problem is that while aerobics might be "the best way to exercise," it would obviously not be the right way for Jenny. Instead of it helping her, it might kill her. Here are a couple more examples:

"I haven't met a single moral atheist. Therefore, no atheists are moral."
"All Christians hate homosexuals. At least, all the ones I know do."

Begging the Question: This fallacy occurs when one simply assumes what he or she is trying to prove. This situation can be demonstrated in the following conversation between two thieves who just stole three bars of gold:

Thief A: "So how are we going to divide the gold?"
Thief B: "I should get two bars and you can have one."
Thief A: "Why should you get two bars?"
Thief B: "Because I am the leader."
Thief A: "How did you get to be the leader?"
Thief B: "Because I have two bars."

Faulty Dilemma: This fallacy occurs when a person states that there are only a certain number of options, and you must choose between them, when in fact there are more options available.

In John 9:2–3 the disciples posed a faulty dilemma when, concerning a man who had been blind from birth, they asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

This is an either/or type of question. Instead of answering the question with one of the suggested responses, Jesus denies both and supplies a third. Jesus said, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."

Complex Question: One common attempt by unbelievers to stump believers is to ask the age-old question: "Can God create a rock so big that he can't lift it?" If you answer yes, then God's omnipotence (all-powerfulness) is denied due to the fact that he can't lift the rock. If you answer no, however, then God's omnipotence is denied because he can't create such a rock. Neither of these answers is satisfying to a Bible-believing Christian. How does one reason out of this dilemma?

This example can be classified as the fallacy of a complex question, or loaded question. What if I asked you, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" If you answer yes, that implies that you have been beating her. If you answer no, then you are still beating her. The problem lies in the question; it is one of those that is simply not fair to ask. You would have to respond that you have never beaten your wife, and that the question presupposes that you have. You can't answer with a simple yes or a no.

Now back to God and the big rock. You cannot answer this question with a simple yes or no. What you have to do is show that the question is not fair. (It might be good to provide the question about beating one's wife as an illustration of this.) You see, by definition, since God is omnipotent (and that is what the Bible teaches), he could create the largest rock possible. Also, because God is omnipotent, he could lift the largest possible rock. The problem with the question is that it is faulty; the question was loaded. You cannot set the creative expression of an omnipotent being against the abilities of an omnipotent being. That would be just as illogical as asking whether or not God could create a square circle or if God could count higher than infinity. It is not within the realm of reality to speak of such illusions, and they do not in any way illustrate any limitation in God's power and abilities.

False Analogy: An analogy is said to be fallacious or false if it compares two objects that are actually relevantly dissimilar or if the points of comparison are used to draw a conclusion that simply does not follow.[5] Consider the following example:

"You Christians claim to have miracles to support your religion, but so do other religious traditions, such as Mormonism. Thus there is no reason to believe that Christianity is true."

The two objects being compared are Christians and Mormons. Their status as religions and their claim that miracles occur and support their validity are the points of commonalities. However, the conclusion that Christianity is false because another religion claims miracles does not follow. For example, it is possible that miracles occur within both religions traditions. It is also possible that either Christianity or Mormonism have lied or believed falsely regarding the miracles claimed by their religion.

False Cause: This fallacy is committed when a person believes that just because one thing followed another there must be a causal connection.

In many ancient cultures, people believed that the gods caused all sickness. These cultures would therefore attempt to placate the wrath of their gods by means of various sacrifices. At times, the sickness would go away after the sacrifices. Because of this, their beliefs were reinforced. They believed that the gods had been placated, and the sickness was removed because of the sacrifice. Mere chronological sequence does not prove causation.

Straw Man: The straw man fallacy occurs when a person misrepresents another's view so as to easily discredit it. This can happen intentionally or unintentionally. The image this fallacy conjures up is that of a person building a straw man simply to knock it over.

One might say, "You say that the New Testament teaches that we are not under law, and that we are saved by grace through faith alone. Therefore, what you teach is that we can sin all we want after we are saved." This is a straw man according to Paul in Romans 6:15ff. The person making such an argument simplified the New Testament's stance on the law, sin, and salvation in order to easily defeat a teaching they either didn't understand or with which they didn't agree.

Appeal to Majority: We see this fallacy when we appeal to a group of people to prove that something is true or false, right or wrong. Many times Americans fall into this trap. For example, some people think that certain sexual practices are justified because over 50% of the American public believes that they are permissible. We cannot determine right and wrong by majority vote.

In the past, many people believed that the Earth was flat. But just because they believed this, does it mean that the Earth was indeed flat? Does majority vote make things true or right today? Just because a great number of Americans think that abortion is acceptable, does that make it so?

In the end, we cannot determine right/wrong or true/false by majority vote. Such a thing can be decided only by legitimate reasons and evidence.

Appeal to Tradition: This fallacy occurs when one appeals either to what is old, or to what is new in the attempt to establish the truth.

Someone may appeal to what is traditional. "We have always done it this way, it must be right." However, there may be a better way. More often today, we hear an appeal to the modern. "We moderns don't believe in the existence of God. That was for ages past when people believed in mythology." Merely because something is old or new does not make it right or true.


Francis Scott Key, the man who penned the words of the Star-Spangled Banner, was also a great Christian apologist. He once wrote, "I do not believe there are any new objections to be raised to the truth of Christianity. Men may argue ingeniously against our faith, but what can they say in defense of their own?"

Mr. Key understood a profound, yet little known principle of defending the Christian faith: the best defense is a good offense. Both sides of an issue should be able to defend their position. We need to practice making our opponents[7] stand up for what they believe, and the best way to make them defend their position is by asking strategic questions.

The strategy of asking questions is a powerful one, but it must be done with the correct demeanor. We must always question the ideas presented, although we should be careful not to challenge the authority of the professor.

In addition, we must keep in mind that if we ask questions of others, they will likely ask questions of us. That means that while we want to challenge other people to defend their beliefs, they will challenge us as well. We need to know why we believe what we believe.

By asking questions we engage in worldview apologetics. We are able to go beyond someone's appearance or behavior in order reveal and engage their worldview.

How you ask questions — the attitude revealed in your style of inquiry — will reveal whether you want to persuade someone of the truth or just win arguments. We hope that you will desire the former so that you can graciously demonstrate Christian living to unbelievers.

Asking questions is an excellent strategy for three reasons. First, it is low risk. If your opponent becomes angry or defensive at your questions, then you can simply stop asking questions, or change the subject.

Second, asking questions helps you to understand your opponent's train of thought — where they began their thinking, how their thinking progressed, and the exact conclusion for which they are trying to argue. In other words, asking questions helps you to understand them. And understanding is a primary step in seeking to persuade people of the truth.

Third, asking questions can help someone to have a better understanding of where they stand on an issue. In other words, instead of giving them an explanation, you can cause them to think through their position more clearly.

What sort of questions should we be asking? Start with questions that strike at the heart of your opponent's worldview. Such questions force them to back up and defend their assumptions. Along this line, we suggest a series of tough questions.

Question 1: What do you mean by that?

Always begin by asking your opponents to define their terms. If they say something like, "There is no such thing as a traditional family left in the United States today," then ask, "What do you mean by traditional family?" If they say "God cannot exist because there is too much evil," then ask, "What do you mean by evil?"[8]

Question 2: How did you come to that conclusion?

This question is especially helpful in coming to understand how people think. You can find out where their thoughts began, how they progressed, and how they arrived at their conclusion. Along the way, you can ask further questions about any of their points of reasoning.

Question 3: How do you know that to be true?

Here we are seeking an understanding of why they believe what they believe. Ask them to supply some good support for what they are claiming to be true.

Question 4: Why do you believe that you are right?

We should be ready to ask, "Why do you believe as you do?" This question forces one's opponent to admit when they are simply assuming their beliefs and when they have actually reasoned through their beliefs. It also helps to reveal any evidence they might offer for their arguments. Christians should, in turn, always be ready to give rudimentary reasons for their beliefs on any given subject.

Question 5: Where do you get your information?

Students should be trained to ask, "Where do you get the information to prove that what you are saying is true?" This question can help distinguish between mere hearsay and documented data.

Question 6: What happens if you are wrong?

Nobody likes to think about the consequences if what they believe is wrong. Yet there have been some outstanding examples of people who were willing to do just that. One such person was Blaise Pascal, a brilliant mathematician, known for his famous wager. It goes something like this: "If I become a Christian and live my life in the service of mankind, and then die only to find out that Christianity is not true, I will have lost nothing. But if I do not become a Christian and live my life selfishly, and then die only to discover that Christianity is true, I will have lost everything." Pascal's wager is a direct way of asking, "What do I have to lose if I am wrong?"[9]

Question 7: Can you give me two sources that disagree with you and explain why they disagree?[10]

College professors often hold to one position very strongly against all others. In class, they may assert, either implicitly or explicitly, that what they believe to be true is the objective truth. Therefore, they may give little or no merit to any disagreements, or they may even ridicule their opponents. The astute Christian student will ask such professors to explain clearly the opposing viewpoints, along with good documentation, and then explain why they disagree. In this way, you can see if your professors have weighed different sides of the issues and made informed decisions. The professor has two options: give the merits of the opposing side (thus demonstrating to the class that his is not the only way to think about the issue), or, admit that he has not studied the opposing viewpoints, and has thus made an uninformed decision without weighing all the available information.

Question 8: Why is this significant?

Many professors will fail, unless challenged by students, to provide the connection between their worldview and the point they are making. For example, if they claim "people are basically good, not sinful, by nature," you might ask why this point is significant. This might prompt them to explain that this justifies another view, maybe a socialistic view of the world, or elimination of the need for a savior.

Question 9: How do I know you are telling me the truth?[11]

If the opponent has any hidden agenda, it will surface at this point. We should not trust someone simply because he has a Ph.D. after his name. People are fallible, and we all make mistakes. Remember, the Bereans were nobler because they checked the Apostle Paul against the Old Testament (Acts 17:11). A poor professor will respond simply by listing his or her qualifications. A good professor will say "Don't take my word for it. Go check it out for yourself."

Question 10: Can you give me an alternate explanation for this phenomenon?

This is a good way to move a discussion back onto logical ground. Many individuals will emotionally assert things like, "His budget cuts are responsible for all of the economic ills in this nation." This is an absurd generalization, something that will become evident when asking this question.


People need to recognize that most of their information about the world comes to them through the media. Yet, the media isn't some massive channel that simply dumps unbiased facts into our laps. As we have seen, everyone has a worldview: the actors in a news story, the experts who comment on it, the reporters of the story, even the editors/executives who decide which story to cover. Each of their worldviews has an impact on the information that eventually reaches you.

At times, the influence of a particular worldview may be subtle. However, it wouldn't take very long to discover that many of them don't just have a job; they have a mission. Their mission is to make a difference in the world through what they do. In fact, for many people, this is not an unusual goal. Students needs to be aware that we all approach information and life with a bias. It is simply unavoidable.

In the vast majority of cases, the editors and reporters are making an effort to be balanced. Yet what does balanced mean? It means reporting both sides of the issue with no indication that either side of the story has more merit. Is that true? As Christians, we believe that some things are right and other things are wrong.

As one learns to analyze media reports, he or she should apply the rules on logical thinking that are presented in this section. They should also keep the following factors in mind:

1. What is reported?

It is easy to think that by reading your daily newspaper and watching the evening news you have received a thorough representation of anything relevant in your community. Students should realize that each media outlet has a limited amount of space and ability to deal with everything that is important. Think of a media outlet as a spotlight on a dark night. The spotlight will illuminate things that you would never see otherwise, but there is no way it can shine on everything at once.

Recognize also that each individual news form has restrictions and limitations. In order to make a story acceptable for television, it must have pictures. This may seem inconsequential until you realize that there are some things — like the arrival of a new bear at the local zoo — which are reported because they make great pictures and can be reported in two minutes. Yet perhaps the same day the bear arrived, the city council made a change in the zoning laws that will affect your school. City council meetings make horrible pictures, and zoning laws don't fit well into concise sound bites. Which story is truly important?

What makes an event newsworthy? Most events that are truly life-changing are not considered newsworthy: marriages, deaths, and births. Rarely do these events appear on the front page. Conversely, many events that make the front page are life changing for only a few people, or intriguing for the moment.

2. Which sides are presented?

Is a response from each side presented? Does the news story even indicate that someone might think differently? For instance, in an article in the Chicago Tribune, "Life Gets Earlier Date of Origin,"[12] an Australian scientist is reported as having found that life evolved much earlier than was previously thought — going from chemical soup to living cells in just 500 million years, rather than 1 1/2 billion years. The article is well written, and acknowledges disagreement within the scientific community. However, it does not acknowledge that anyone might disagree with evolution altogether.

There are many reasons for this type of omission. Sometimes it is deliberate. At other times, a reporter may not be aware that another viewpoint exists or know a credible contact to represent a position. Also, there may not be time to consider another opinion due to deadlines.

Another reason for omitting a position on an issue is based on worldviews. How we think will affect what we believe to be credible, or even possible. For example, we know that the world is round, but some people still believe it to be flat. If you were going to write an article examining a change in a major ocean current and its effect on weather, would you contact the Flat Earth Society for comment?

In the same way, a reporter who firmly believes that the material world is all that exists may do a human-interest piece on a miraculous recovery from cancer. Although they might mention the chance that there might be a supernatural element involved, a natural cause of recovery will be sought and favored. The reporter knows that there is no way God could have healed the patient, so this possibility is as absurd as the idea of a flat Earth.

3. What is the tone of the report?

Does the tone of the writing or speaking carry meaning in itself? Does the tone match the issue being reported? Consider the following example from an article concerning the ethical discussions raised by the movie Indecent Proposal (where a billionaire offers another man 1 million dollars for one night with his wife). The reporter spoke with a woman who is shocked by the number of women who would agree to take the money and sleep with the man. The reporter is writing in the first person.

"I was really shocked," she said. "I think these people are telling the truth. Kidding is one thing, but this was a serious discussion. I love my husband. This would never even be cause for five minutes of deliberation. I would never do it. I can't believe they would."
She talks as if this is going to go on record as the final rip in modern morality.
"And what do you think?" she wanted to know.
The woman is 53 years old, the grandmother of three. And by her own admission, she is 35 pounds overweight.
I told her I could see how this would be a great moral challenge. But I thought she had the strength to get through it.
"I think you can go back to worrying about Somalia, the economy and whether Donald will marry Marla," I said. "I just don't think this is going to come up."
"That's not the point," she said.
"Yes, it is," I replied.[13]

4. What underlying assumptions does the news story hold?

Students should become skilled in seeking underlying assumptions held in the report of a story.

The Twin Cities Star Tribune ran an article entitled, "If every kid cared, the world would change,"[14] describing the impact of a few sixth graders concerned about the environment. The piece is inspiring, but the assumption is that it is permissible to do whatever is necessary to make your point (the children disobeyed school officials in holding a protest, and were suspended from school). This disobedience was presented in a positive light.

5. Who are the sources and how are they characterized?

Does an article on environmentalism only quote extremist groups, or do they use more moderate sources? If the article quotes Christians, which groups or spokespersons are quoted? Are these the best sources? Why were these sources used? Consider also how the sources are characterized or described. Are they seen in a positive or negative light? The following quote is from an Associated Press article reporting on several Italian towns that banned bikinis on city streets.

ROME (AP) — . . . Limits on topless bathing or skimpy suits on city streets are not new. But this time the prudery illuminates attitudes about a political force that has arrived like an awkward adolescent shouldering his way onto the school bus.
The prudish officials belong to the Northern League, a regionally based anti-corruption party backed by small businessmen and the middle class, with upright morals to match.

The bans reflect the culture clash between the League and its rivals from traditional parties, particularly on the left, which regard the League as part of a conservative backlash. [15]

6. How are words used to describe people or organizations?

  • To describe the incident: Was someone taken to jail or thrown into jail?
  • To describe the people involved: A local church or a fundamentalist religious group?[16]
  • To describe a position: Is someone pro-life or anti-abortion?
  • To convey emotion: One article described citations by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. The organization cited the Federal Communications Commission for censorship for " . . . trying to gag controversial radio personality Howard Stern . . . "[17] Censorship and gag are emotional words, and convey meaning.
  • To give positive or negative connotations: "Focus on the Family, the Christian media conglomerate, should be upfront about its 'extreme and un-American' political agenda, a national civil liberties watchdog group said Wednesday."[18] Think of the words with generally positive connotations: civil liberties and watchdog. Negative connotations come from the words agenda and conglomerate.

To simply describe a thing: A fascinating example of this comes from an article titled "Drs. try to save brain-dead mom's fetus." The baby is referred to as a fetus throughout the article, except when a hospital spokesman is quoted as saying, "The odds are very slim, but the baby's heart is beating."[19]

Or, consider Colorado's Amendment Two, which would prevent laws giving gays protected civil rights status such as those that protect minority groups. Contrast that description with, "the amendment would ban laws that prevent discrimination against homosexuals,"[20] as it was described by the Associated Press.

Even punctuation can be used to convey meaning. In the following examples, a prayer rally is presented as something a bit odd, if not downright unsavory.

  • Abortion clinics brace for Operation Rescue
  • Saturday 'prayer rally' set for Robbinsdale
  • Operation Rescue officials confirmed Wednesday that their national director, the Rev. Keith Tucci, will be in the Twin Cities this weekend and will lead a "prayer rally" in front of a Robbinsdale abortion clinic on Saturday.[21]

7. How are actions described?

What are the outcomes or results of the event being reported? Are these accurate? Consider an article entitled, "Teaching multicultural history instills pride, sense of place, educators find."[22] The results of implementing presenting a multicultural curriculum are presented as overwhelmingly positive. However, the writer does not examine the results of this curriculum on the students' standardized test scores. The program has raised self-esteem, but is that the only crucial criteria for evaluation?

8. What statistics are used?

Statistics can prove just about anything — and they can be misleading. A prime example is the accepted statistic that homosexuals comprise 10% of the population.[23] Recent studies indicate that 2-3% is more appropriate,[24] yet the 10% figure continues to be used.

9. What is left out of the news story?

This can include background sources, supporting materials or studies, and opposing viewpoints. Sometimes this omission is deliberate. However, in many cases it is simply irresponsible reporting. For example, consider the following news brief that was sent on the United Press International newswire:

(TRENTON, N.J.) — Some 15 million people could be getting parched if there is more global warming without an increase in rainfall. The U.S. Geological Survey says the Delaware River Basin which feeds Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York could be facing a serious drought if the overall temperature rises by just four degrees. That would cause stream flow to drop 27 percent and allow saltwater to back up in the Delaware into freshwater aquifers.[25]

That is the entire story! Almost every possible detail was left out — why the U.S. Geological Survey said what it did, any supporting statistics or studies, or support for the controversial idea of global warming in general. This example also begins with the faulty assumption that global warming is already occurring, and points out the inherent difficulties in reporting news. This news clip was intended for a radio broadcast which leaves very little time for in-depth information. Also, notice all the conditional words, could, if, etc . . .

10. Where is the reader or listener led into faulty reasoning?

Consider the following example from United Press International:

MALDEN, Mass. (UPI) — The state Board of Education Tuesday approved a policy that encourages local school officials to implement programs to protect gay students from harassment and educate faculty members about gay issues.
The policy believed to be first [sic] of its kind in the nation, was approved as part of an overall strategy intended to curb an increasing level of violence in schools, which in recent months has included the fatal shootings of a student and a librarian.
The board, however, stopped short of recommending a gay studies curriculum to be offered in the public schools.[26]

Unless the reader is thinking critically, he might assume the shootings cited in paragraph 2 were gay related — not so. The reader is led to assume that with increasing violence, gays will need protection.


One of the difficulties with analyzing media reports is that the more you think critically, the more critical you become. It will become much harder to simply absorb the news. There are some positive actions you and your class can take to promote a more balanced approach to the news in your area. One key action is to make sure your local media outlets have access to credible sources. Gary Bauer, of the Family Research Council, is quoted often in secular media simply because he is one of the few people they know to contact for the "conservative Christian" viewpoint.

One of the best ways to do this is to distribute a media guide to all your local news sources. Find spokespeople on a variety of topics: women's issues, the family, religion, education (private schools, Christian education, home school), abortion, etc. Make sure your spokespeople are reasonable and articulate — choose carefully. Be sure to include teens from your school who are willing to be interviewed. List the topics and spokespersons — including addresses; day and evening phone numbers; and a short biography to lend credibility.

Send the media guide with a cover letter to all newspapers, and radio and television stations in your area. They may or may not use it, but it will be kept on file. A reporter always appreciates a source who can be reached when a deadline is looming, and is willing to speak up in a manner that is easily quotable.

Also, begin to think of good stories for your local media. Some of the community service projects your class is doing could make a great "warm fuzzy" story. Let them know.

If your local newspaper or television station doesn't have a "teen council" composed of students from area high schools — find a couple of interested students who would be willing to make the suggestion and serve on the council. Council members could serve as a sounding board on community issues affecting youth, be reporters, and take turns writing a weekly or daily "teen editorial."

  1. Of course, there are "hard passages" in the Bible (cf. 1 Peter 3:15ff. to see that even Peter could acknowledge that). If you have questions about such difficult passages, we recommend Gleason Archer's book, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.
  2. A lie is a contradiction of the truth. It is a denial of reality.
  3. Of course, there are some people who still insist that such dichotomous thinking is incorrect. If it is not correct, however, then that means there is such a state as being correct. That then poses a dichotomy. They can't escape the nature of reality.
  4. The Apostle Paul warned the early Church about those who would teach a different Jesus and a different gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:2-4,13-15; Galatians 1:6-9; see also 1 John 4:1-6). For a good survey and theological refutation of various pseudo-Christian religions, see Defending the Faith by Richard Abanes (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1997).
  5. This is not to say that the objects being compared do not share points of commonality; rather it is to say that points being compared to support the conclusion are not supported by the analogy.
  6. Special thanks to Bill Jack and Jeff Myers for help on earlier editions of this material. Both Bill and Jeff are great examples of how to live inquisitively.
  7. By opponent, we mean the person of whom you are asking questions. It does not mean your enemy.
  8. To combat this particular argument, you can ask by which standard do they judge between good and evil. Keep in mind that atheists have no final universal standards by which to judge between good and evil. The existence of evil is actually a good argument for the existence of God. In the end, if God does not exist, then there is no such thing as evil either.
  9. Be careful with this question because it can always be thrown back at you.
  10. Another way of asking this question is, "Can you give us some sources who disagree with your opinion, explain their positions, and tell us what is wrong with their views?"
  11. Another way of asking this question is, "Why should I believe you?" But you really need to be careful here. It is difficult to ask this question in a way that doesn't seem snobbish.
  12. "Life Gets Earlier Date of Origin," Chicago Tribune, Sunday, May 2, 1993, Section 1, Page 28.
  13. "Premise of 'Indecent Proposal' Disturbing," Maryln Schwartz, Dallas Morning News in Colorado Springs, CO Gazette Telegraph, 4/26/93, p. D2.
  14. "If every kid cared, the world would change," Twin Cities Star Tribune, 4/22/93, p. 1B.
  15. "Bikini ban in 2 Italian cities underlines new cultural clash," Standard Examiner, Ogden, UT, 7/20/93, p. 5A.
  16. Be aware of the use of the word "fundamentalist." It is being applied indiscriminately to any religious group, whether a local church is protesting the location of an adult bookstore or David Koresh's Branch Davidian cult near Waco, Texas.
  17. "Official's ban of fairy tale earns 'citation' for censorship," The Clarion-Ledger, Jacksonville, MS 4/14/93, p. 12A.
  18. "Watchdog says Focus hides aims," D'Arcy Fallon, Gazette Telegraph, Colorado Springs, 4/29/93, p. B1.
  19. "Drs. try to save brain-dead mom's fetus," The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, 4/24/93, p. A4.
  20. "Amendment 2 Boycott," Associated Press newswire, 5/7/93.
  21. "Abortion clinics brace for Operation Rescue," Tim Nelson, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, MN, 4/22/93, p. 1A.
  22. "Teaching multicultural history instills pride, sense of place, educators find," Sandy Kleffman, San Francisco Chronicle, in Colorado Springs, CO Gazette Telegraph, 4/19/93, p. D2.
  23. Kinsey, Alfred C., et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Philadelphia: Saunders Company, 1948).
  24. Reinisch, June M., dir., The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), p. 147. See also Abraham Maslow and James M. Sakoda, "Volunteer Error in the Kinsey Study," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 47 (April 1952), pp. 259-62.
  25. First-Pennsylvania News in Brief, UPI newswire, 5/18/93, 3:19 am, EDT.
  26. "Mass. Board of Education approves policy on gay students," UPI newswire, 5/18/93 3:23 pm EDT.

This post has earned 10 Comments so far.

Jump to comment form
  • December 09, 2011 // 07:40 pm //  # 
    Jacob's avatar Jacob

    I spent several hours writing this so I would appreciate if you allowed this to be published in its entirety. It’s long, but if you read through all of it I know you will find it rewarding.

    To start, I find it interesting that the basis of your logic is the law of non-contradiction (henceforth LNC). If this is fundamental, and if it is in some way untrue or not-quite-true, your entire system of logic must be reconsidered. I’ll address that in a moment, but let’s begin a bit off-center and move to the main point. That’s always far more fun.

    In your second paragraph of the LNC section, you likened this law to the law of gravity to the LNC to say that the LNC is self-evident and independent of human cognition. The law of gravity, were it true, would only be a “law” in the scientific sense, i.e. it is a hypothesis that has been established by so much evidence that we essentially take it for granted. This would be similar to calling evolution a “theory” in the scientific sense: it’s not that people merely theorize that evolution occurs, but rather that the hypothesis that it does occur is supported by copious evidence such that we accept it as being more established than a hypothesis (or, in the case of gravity, more established than a theory). I have seen too many examples among my fellow Summit graduates of another fallacy you mention in this article—equivocation, specifically between the scientific definition of theory and the colloquial one—to not defend against the possibility that “law” might also be a word susceptible to fatal misinterpretation.

    Unfortunately, the “law” of gravity is not accepted outside elementary school, and has not been since Einstein’s time. Gravity as it is popularly understood, i.e. Newtonian gravity, is an approximation of what is actually happening, appropriate only for studying macroscopic phenomena. Although relativity theory uses the word “gravity,” it merely is synthesizing the obsolete Newtonian concept in creating a new physical model that has more to do with spacetime distortions than attraction between two objects. This is similar to how Einstein’s saying that “God does not play dice” leads many people to take this as evidence of Einstein’s supposed theism; in fact, Einstein meant only to rebuke quantum theory, which I will get to in a moment. “God” in this sense merely refers to the processes by which the universe functions, just as “gravity” in Einstein’s relativity theory refers to an action that is like, but not identical by any means to, gravity as Newton understood it.

    Furthermore, even attempts to reconcile quantum theory, which takes a probabilistic approach to understanding physical phenomena, with the more deterministic relativity theory, e.g. through effective field theory, recognize that it’s all models, suitable only for approximations. In other words, gravity is anything but a law, and exists differently than you might think. I won’t presume to know what you think, because I can’t know it, but the way you presented gravity seemed to indicate that you thought of gravity in the Newtonian sense. This made for a bit of a false analogy—another logical fallacy you mention in this article—even though you don’t use the example to explicitly derive a conclusion.

    Lest you consider the above discussion a red herring, however, there is a deeper point to this impromptu physics lecture. You defined the LNC as saying, roughly, that a statement and its negation cannot both be true simultaneously—or, alternatively, that a statement cannot be both true and false simultaneously (these are corollaries to each other). Assuming for a moment that this is true, we can nonetheless find examples that violate the underlying idea of the LNC in the actual, physical world. For example, consider the quantum principle of superposition. This principle has been demonstrated in several experiments and is one of the foundations of quantum theory. Superposition posits that a physical system exists in all possible states simultaneously until measured. When the system is measured, the wave function describing the range of possible states in which the system might exist “collapses” into a single, determinate value.

    Schroedinger’s Cat is an easily cognizable (albeit cruel) thought experiment an early pioneer in quantum theory used to demonstrate this principle. In case you are unfamiliar with this, I can sum up the jist of it briefly for you. A cat is put into a cage to which is attached a means of killing the cat. If a certain subatomic particle exists in state A after one hour, it will set off a chain reaction that will kill the cat; if, however, the particle exists in state B, the chain reaction will not occur and the cat will retain its life. If the mechanism is set up and left, cat in cage, for an hour, the reaction should occur or not occur. Normally you would consider the cat either alive or dead, but not both, before entering the room. Under this principle, however, the cat is both dead AND alive simultaneously before the system is measured because the system is in both the cat-killing and cat-saving state simultaneously. Upon entering the room, the range of all possible functions collapses into a binary opposition between either cat-killing state OR non-cat killing state, and thus the cat is either dead OR alive. The thought experiment has, like so many other things, been taken out of its intended context more often than not. Schroedinger meant it to show the absurd extent to which the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, then more orthodoxy than vogue, could be taken. There are many other interpretations of quantum theory, however, and the principle of superposition remains a fundamental tenet of this theory.

    Of course, it goes without saying that quantum theory, like relativity theory or even obsolete ideas like phlogiston or geocentrism, is used to describe our understanding of Nature—I capitalize the word to indicate that I mean the totality of existence rather than birds and trees and sunshine. As you astutely noted, humans did not invent the laws of logic any more than they invented the laws of Nature (though not, as we have already discussed, the “laws” of gravity). I take this to mean that you believe that the processes by which Nature functions exist, just as they do, independent of our (mis)understanding of them. However, I think that you overlook a key flaw in your proposition.

    In short, as I have previously demonstrated through several examples, the “laws” of nature as we understand them are merely approximations of what actually occurs. Furthermore, these “laws” are only laws insofar as they are models of what and how we perceive Nature, and insofar as these models most accurately approximate what we perceive. Indeed, Nature probably exists independently of or understanding of it, but, and this is MOST important, this has no bearing on the accuracy of our models in approximating how Nature actually works. When you say that humans did not invent the laws of logic, you mean that something is objectively rather than subjectively true. To your credit, even if no one had ever juxtaposed the words “ad hominem fallacy,” attacking the credibility of the arguer rather than the argument would still have no bearing on determining the truthfulness of a proposition or argument.

    However, our understanding of what logic is, which is to say “our perception of how logic functions in Nature,” is still at best only an approximation of what logic actually is. Perhaps the approximation is 100% correct; perhaps the approximation is 60%, 50%, 40%, or 0% (though I find that highly unlikely) correct. We test our models, or approximations, by making predictions and comparing these predictions against what we actually perceive. This is how science works: a hypothesis becomes a theory if the predictions based on the hypothesis prove generally correct and verifiable; a theory becomes a law if so much evidence confirms the predictions of that theory that we can say with substantial (though never complete) certainty that the model is correct.

    The law of noncontradiction is one such model for approximating our perception of how Nature works. We consider it a law because, on the whole, our perceptions of Nature confirm the statement (which may function as a prediction) the LNC makes. As you said, it cannot be raining and not-raining simultaneously. However, the problem with all of this is in our perception. Recall, for a moment, the thought experiment with the cat and the superimposed particle. We have perceived, through empirical inquiry beyond mere thought experiment, that particles CAN exist in different states concurrently—indeed, each in a state negating the other—contrary to the idea behind the LNC. Were we not insane, we would modify our models to reflect advances in understanding.

    In defense of the LNC, you might argue that perceive the world as one way and not many ways simultaneously, rather than in a quantum state of probabilities as superposition might predict, and thus the LNC should still hold. However, we only know that we see and hear a determinate universe rather than a probabilistic one; we do not know that this determinism actually exists. Again, the problem of perception rears its ugly head. As you have intimated, Nature exists quite apart from our perceptions of it: though this is not to say what actually does exist, whether or not we perceive all possible states of existence has no bearing on whether these do actually exist, or exist simultaneously. To the degree human logic approximates Natural logic, for lack of a better term, it is correct; however, in that our logic is a direct result of our human perception of Nature and the means by which it functions, our human logic is ONLY relevant to that which we perceive. If we perceive with our own eyes, ears, mouth, skin, and nose a deterministic, non-probabilistic world, our logic is correct only insofar as it approximates this perception of the world.

    In that we do generally perceive such a world, where a phenomenon and its negation cannot exist simultaneously, it is logical to say that the LNC holds. However, do not forget that our perception of Nature is not limited to our five sense organs. We may create instruments to perceive what we cannot through our five senses, e.g. a microscope; these instruments may be used in substitution to our own sense organs to produce results that we may fairly say, by syllogism, approximate our perception of Nature. From these results we infer propositions: we make hypotheses, and from them our predictions are tested against what we perceive, either through our sense organs or instruments, as previously explained. As we do perceive a violation of the LNC on some levels of Nature’s function, we must allow change in our models, including the LNC, to reflect this: in this case, we can only say that the LNC does not hold for all circumstances, especially subatomic ones.

    But we must go further. By understanding that the LNC is not absolute in all circumstances, we may fairly hypothesize that there may be instances in which the LNC may be violated on any level, including when we perceive the world as working in a non-quantum way. Unfortunately, quantum theory is still in its infancy in the year 2011. Though concepts like entanglement, which posits that physical phenomena from subatomic particles to (at least) paperclips may theoretically be entangled such that altering the state of one alters the other regardless of time or spatial proximity (chew on that gem for a moment), have progressed from scorn to complete acceptance in the space of far less than a century, actual experimentation to determine the full scope of these phenomena have been slowly forthcoming. To use entanglement as an example, researchers have gone from entangling electrons to entangling atoms to entangling molecules to entangling macroscopic phenomena like a crystal of magnetic salts in 2003 and diamonds in 2011—just this year—and from distances measured in the millionths of meters to tens of centimeters in the same time. Experiments on entanglement have even produced studies purporting to call into question everyday assumptions like the “forward-arrow of time.”

    At the very least, by knowing that the LNC is not valid on some levels, we know that there is a contradiction between what the LNC seems to say and what we perceive. At this time, I wonder whether it is intellectually honest to say either way that the LNC is or is not valid for macroscopic phenomena like our bodies and brains, and should thus hold at least for people and their thoughts. Theoretically, entanglement may function in systems as large and complex as the human brain; again theoretically, this entanglement should last over infinite distances and even, by relativity theory that holds space and time to be the same function, infinite times. Experiments using tools and designs by which we may test our own perceptions of Nature, and consequently our perception of what logic must be, against what we do and can perceive Nature to be may not be forthcoming for many years, if ever. Our reckoning on the validity of the LNC for us and our thoughts should probably await further inquiry. As Wittgenstein wrote, “whereof on cannot speak (or predict and test, as we might say here), one must remain silent.”

    Admittedly, the LNC describes propositions, not physical phenomena, as unable to exist in negation to one another simultaneously. However, we see examples of violation of the LNC even in only-propositional language. The Liar’s Paradox, which analyzes the statement “This sentence is false,” is one such example. If the statement is true, the truth value of the proposition is false and the person making the statement is a liar; if it is false, its truth value is true but the person making the statement is still a liar. Independent of whether the statement is actually true, it is either (1) neither true nor false simultaneously or (2) both true and false simultaneously. The first scenario could not apply in relation to the LNC, which asks about two contradictory propositions. The second scenario, however, is similar to the Schroedinger’s Cat experiment, where the particle may be both one state and its opposite simultaneously. Only upon observing the phenomenon, or in this case accepting that the statement is either true or false, does the spectrum of possible states of the phenomenon collapse into one state or the other.

    Furthermore, other problems exist in relation to the LNC. The result of Goedel’s incompleteness theorems, which incidentally only apply to mathematical-logical propositions, Tarski’s undefinability theorem, affirmatively proves that arithmetic (or semantic) truth cannot be defined in arithmetic, i.e. by arithmetic representation (or semantic representation, e.g. formal logic). In other words, you cannot prove or define the LNC by using LNC—as you did in your article. White and black do not exist as axiomatic concepts in Nature. We define each color in relation to its opposite (or in relation to other discrete notions which are themselves fundamentally defined by their opposition to something else). Similarly, “right and wrong, bad and good, true and false” (three oppositions you mentioned in your article) do not exist as discrete, self-contained entities in Nature. What is “true?” It is “not-false.“ What is false? It is not-true. Tarski observed that you must go beyond what you are seeking to define to define it. We may say that a proposition is “true” only by defining truth outside the context of the true/false dichotomy.

    As you noted in your article, the LNC presupposes (especially binary) distinctions between propositions—but is this really justified? Most worrying of all to me, more than the straightfaced way you accept the LNC (because it is, after all, intuitive and “common sense”—though we all know how common sense can appear a century or two later), is your fundamental ignorance of the mechanisms of human cognition. Fundamental to human cognitive processing are schematic models: these are concepts we develop, using what we already claim to understand and know, to make sense of something novel that we don’t understand. Without schemas, we would have no way to relate new information to existing information and would exist in a world of countless discrete facts with no relation to one another—and consequently wouldn’t really understand much after all. As James wrote, the experience of a child is one of “blooming, buzzing confusion” where everything is novel and nothing is established or certain. A child whose only conception of cylindrical shapes is his mother’s breast might quietly think to himself upon seeing a mountain peak that it was a giant, discolored breast.

    Before schematization occurs, however, there is an even more fundamental process that occurs in the mind. Before we may relate (i.e. compare and contrast) objects, we must have the means to distinguish them. Kant called these “categories.” Using criteria, or categories, like quantity (one or many) and causality (before or after), we divide phenomena into discrete objects or categories of perception. Without the means to distinguish between objects and ideas, everything is One and One has the qualities of everything. The most fundamental distinction is between what is and is not. This is necessarily a binary distinction: it can be either one or the other, but not both or neither. Using our child example, the child sees the mountain and says “this is or isn’t a breast.”

    Fundamental, then, to human cognition is the ability to dichotomize phenomena between binary opposites. Right is the opposite of wrong, good of bad, and true of false. This is the most basic representational system, and one Tarski proves is insufficient for describing itself—remember, you can’t define true using false, but must use a higher-order representational system to accord the word any real meaning. I see no evidence anywhere in your article of any such higher-order system: you merely show the existence of binary opposites and use this to somehow demonstrate to yourself that the truth or falsity of a proposition is mutually exclusive. Yes, these two words are binary opposites, but this does not mean that Nature functions by binary opposites. Rather, and this is again the most important notion of my response, we only perceive Nature to function as it does, viz. in binary opposites, because this is the only way we CAN perceive nature. Were we to perceive any phenomenon without relating it to its negation (because this establishes the farthest limits, though any object might do to establish lesser ones) we would have no conceptual limits and everything would be One phenomenon—including you and I, who would have no perception of our independence from it because there would be no distinction between inner and outer, myself and Other, what I feel and what you feel.

    In short, I agree with you that the LNC is fundamental to making any distinctions—but the ability to make distinctions is also fundamental to the LNC, because without being able to divide truth from falsity the LNC would have no meaning. This ability to make distinctions is a fundamental part of our ability to perceive Nature meaningfully. Moreover, our ability to perceive Nature affects the models we use to describe our perceptions. Our model’s degree of correlation in approximating what-Nature-actually-is is therefore closely tied to our ability to perceive Nature—and what we perceive of it. Our models of logic, what I earlier called “human logic” as opposed to “natural logic,” are structurally defined by our structural human tendency to perceive distinctions between opposites. The presumption that the LNC is valid in analyzing the truth value of a proposition is also founded on the human tendency to perceive distinctions between opposites. If our ability to perceive distinctions, or even our concept of what such a distinction is, is altered in some way, however, the entire foundation of the LNC falls beneath out beneath it.

    So do such sledgehammers to the foundation of your logic exist? They definitely do. The mere concept of superposition calls into question the distinctions between opposites, between what is and is not, between truth and falsity, and even time and space. Likewise, entanglement calls into question the distinctions between inner and outer, causation and agency, and, again, time and space. if I entangle my neuron with another person’s neuron and alter its state, where do we draw the line between his thoughts and mine, especially if all of our neurons are entangled? Who really changed the neuron? If it happened at the same time, especially if both our brains are fully entangled, who made the choice to do it? If I entangle a particle with another particle on the other side of the universe and alter the states of both instantly, is there really such thing as a division in time and space between objects? If superposition is informative, aren’t they really both states in the same place at the same time? If, as some experiments have demonstrated, altering the state of one particle changes the measurement of other’s state before the experiment began, what can we say about time only running one direction. or that it runs in any direction at all? Shouldn’t we say that we are living in a superposition of all possibilities and that past and future are illusory distinctions, that we live in the only time and only space that ever is, was, or will be?

    I have skipped around the board to touch various, intertwining issues and ideas in support of the thesis that the LNC is, at the very least, probably not very useful as an absolute axiom of human logic because it can be bent and twisted in various ways. What does this mean for you? You hold the Bible as absolute, beyond reproach, and without any internal inconsistency. I don’t ask you to change that belief just yet—but if you actually, truly are interested in critical thinking, you should consider the effect my analysis of the LNC has on the very notion of consistency. Perhaps, as I did, you will come to see that the world is not so black and white as you see and say it, that—more than there merely being shades of grey—something can indeed be both true and untrue simultaneously, and that there’s more to God and this world than absolute certainty that you are right thus others must be wrong.


  • March 09, 2012 // 05:44 pm //  # 
    Jerry's avatar Jerry

    O.K. lets give cheers one point for obscurantism
      Methinks he doth protest too much !!

  • March 09, 2012 // 06:23 pm //  # 
    Jacob's avatar Jacob

    There is no obscurantism here. I was very clear, providing ample illustrations for my points, and building a coherent and cogent argument on every issue. If you can’t follow, I’m open to requests for elaboration and elucidation.

    My post, though admittedly long, was put on an article about critical thinking, on a website ostensibly about teaching truth, and I find it both intellectually dishonest and obnoxious that you so pithily dismiss the inconvenient truth in front of you. So say it’s too long if you want, but don’t hide behind a veil of false superiority.

  • April 29, 2012 // 04:45 pm //  # 
    Geoffrey W. Kinison's avatar Geoffrey W. Kinison

    I was unable to read the first post in detail having made my way through approx. 60% of it. I will finish later. But I want to add several thoughts for consideration.
    1. The only way we can truly know truth, including LNC, is if someone outside of our system (including all of the created universe) tells us.
    2. All of the scientists who have or ever will exist remain a part of the created universe and therefore subject to limitations.
    3. As it states in Isaiah 55:9 ““For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (NASB) God is outside of His creation, and therefore not subject to it.
    4. Simplicity is the genius of a good explanation. i.e. How wonderfully God revealed Himself in the Bible. All believers of whatever IQ can grasp its message. GWK

  • May 03, 2012 // 10:01 am //  # 
    peter's avatar peter

    funny. the concluding paragraph challenges us ignorant Bible-believers to see the world in many shades of grey in order to see that we are not right and others must be wrong. Yet that is exactly the intent of the post…to do that same thing: say what belief is right and what belief is wrong. In this case: absolutism is absolutely wrong…which is a statement that can’t stand up under it’s own weight. I don’t think the Christian faith rests upon some logical foundation of the law of non-contradiction. It just doesn’t. But at the end of the day all non-believing skeptical people are still borrowing from the Christian worldview in order to criticize it. No non-Christian can give an account of their own worldview without standing on a Christian assumption. To even write the post Jacob must assume a lot about the human mind, human communication, science, observation, etc.. that could only be possible in a theistic universe

  • July 09, 2012 // 01:27 pm //  # 
    Jacob's avatar Jacob

    Summit reply


    I appreciate your response. Unlike the others, which immediately assume a defensive position, or worse yet seem the frenetic ravings of a paranoid schizophrenic (ever hear of “word salad,” Kreso?), you at least tried to keep things logical. 

    Still, and maybe it’s my own shortcoming, I don’t see the flow of logic in your post. Why do you think truth within the system can be understood only from without? We know without explicit Biblical instruction that 2+2=4 where 2 means 2 and 4 means 4 and so on. Even Descartes did not need an external intelligence to tell him cogito ergo sum (however truthful that is, it is still truthful that he perceives himself thinking at least). 

    What I said is that a system cannot be DEFINED without appealing to concepts outside the system. In other words, I can say 2+2=4, but not without defining each symbol, which requires defining the symbols you use to define the symbols, and so on. You end up with a regressive (or perhaps reflexive) problem. For example, how can you define truth without referring to truth?

    You also state there are limitations to all created things, but what limitations? Why? No one wants an essay on epistemology but it seems like you’re trying to state a proposition without making (or stating) the relevant assumptions—that you merely take the conclusion for granted. 

    Further, I don’t see how you go from the verse you quoted to the conclusion after. The two are non sequitur. Moreover, it does not follow that a creator is necessarily outside his creation, nor that being outside it makes one not subject to it. Even the terms outside of and subject to are nebulous and have no real meaning—at least, I don’t understand. Regardless, it is perfectly possible for a creator to both be in and subject to his creation. I don’t see how God is necessarily precluded from being a part of his creation in some fashion. In fact, it would seem to make more sense, depending on how you define “a part of.”

    Lastly, you seem to forget the problem of hermeneutics. If the LNC applies as this article thinks, and if all believers can grasp the message, then why do different believers believe contradictory messages? Different messages are putatively derived from the same passages. Interpretation may be the Pauline dark mirror to the original message’s face to face, if you catch my drift, but you can’t deny that equally-inspired believers find opposing doctrines in the same text. God may reveal a message, but he seems to do it differently to different people. How do you solve this problem?

    Thanks again for your calm and personable reply. 


    Your reply is a joke. Maybe you should be less defensive—or aggressive—in your responses to others; if I were your average person looking for answers in the Bible and came across your  response i would dismiss you as a jerk and probably dismiss all of Christendom as assholes too. Yours was a highly charged emotional response to what was a sincere, non-threatening, calm, intellectual criticism of a few points made in the article.

    When you find that you react so strongly to something so innocuous, maybe you should consider why you became so upset. Maybe you’ll find you’re too attached to your current beliefs to even fairly contemplate the beliefs of the person with whom you’re speaking. When that happens, you look like a real tool and it reflects badly on other people who may believe things similar to you, but with the Christ-commanded meekness and humility at the same time. Consider this a wake up call. 

    I’d love to respond to your substantive points here also, but as I’m typing this out on my phone and have eye strain already from doing so, my response will have to wait for another day. 

    Cheers all. 

  • July 09, 2012 // 01:50 pm //  # 
    peter's avatar peter

    I’m not upset, i’m quite calm. it’s just ironic, everything you chide me for you yourself commit. Again, i’m quite calm. I just think you assume that anyone who comes to a different conclusion than you hasn’t ‘fairly contemplated’ another’s views. I have and I just still (calmly) disagree. I don’t see how that makes me a tool or fool. Anyway, arguing on blogs and in comment sections isn’t my thing. I’ve rarely if ever done it because it is so fruitless.

    All i really was trying to do is pose this “challenge”: give an account of your brain’s ability to understand the world and other people’s mind

  • July 09, 2012 // 04:06 pm //  # 
    Jacob's avatar Jacob


    “funny. the concluding paragraph challenges us ignorant Bible-believers to see the world in many shades of grey in order to see that we are not right and others must be wrong.”

    “Us ignorant Bible-believers?” That’s defensive. You turned an innocent challenge against simplistic thinking into this into an “us against them,” in-group/out-group struggle against victimization and persecution to defend all of Christianity. Look, I’m not attacking Christianity. This isn’t a subtle attack on you (and other Christians). This is an attack on absurdity in all its forms. Furthermore, and this may come as a shock to you, not all Christians believe the same thing, and you can’t put Christianity in a fundamentalist, evangelical box and hoard it to yourself.

    I never challenged “ignorant Bible-believers.” Honestly, I think ignorant Bible-believers won’t care about my challenge, and so I don’t really care about them. I want to reach Bible-believers who aren’t ignorant, who try to learn, who try to think. You don’t have to stop thinking to call yourself a Christian. You don’t have to accept absurdities to call yourself a Christian, and quite frankly many fundamentalists hold very absurd beliefs.

    Step outside your group for a moment, and think of yourself as Peter and not as “a Christian.” What does Peter believe? I have obviously challenged some aspect of it, because you reacted to my challenge with a defensive argument that rested, in turn, on a conclusory assumption of a theistic universe. You’re begging the question, in other words.

    Yes, the intent of my post IS to say what is right, to an extent, and what belief is wrong. I am not denying that absolute truth exists. I am merely saying that you will never understand the true nature of creation, if you will, if you cannot comprehend that a thing can both be and not be at the same time.

    Some Christians may be unable to give an account for their beliefs without referring to the Bible, and with certain reservations I accept that. However, this does not mean that that account of Christianity is true—or false. It certainly doesn’t mean that I should respect it for standing on reasonable, logical, rational, or however you want to call it, feet. It merely means that you can only ever come to an intellectual impasse: you can only provide “the reason for the hope that it is in you, in all meekness and respect.”

    My account for the brain’s inner workings is a side issue. Besides, yours is an implied argument from ignorance: “we don’t know how the mind works, so [several leaps later] the Bible must be true.” Pardon the straw man, but you know that’s where you were going, because that’s where Lee Strobel and all the other brain-dead apologists go.

  • July 09, 2012 // 08:26 pm //  # 
    peter's avatar peter

    Please stop judging me, preaching at me, and correcting me. You don’t know me. I’m not an Evangelical . I’m pointing out inconsistencies in what you are saying, not logical inconsistency but practical. All I’m after are two things, and I couldn’t care less what you think of me or what you believe about Jesus. I’m simply asking for you to either answer or direct me to an answer to one of the most basic philosophical questions: how do you know. And, I’m trying to make the point, perhaps too subtly that all worldviews require a by-faith commitment. That’s all, i’m not jumping to proving anything about the Bible, ihave never read Strobel or anyone like him. i’m not interested in your name calling, condescending tone etc. I have thought for myself and have come to the conclusions i’ve come to. The fact that there are other people who believe what i do is pretty much unavoidable. Who is unique? I don’t think anyone, there is a larger group of people who are always going to be pretty much like-minded no matter who you are. So asking me to think for myself just seems (and of course I don’t know your motives, all i have is your words) like a veiled way of saying i am not able to think for myself AND have never done so. You call me a tool and lump me with some “lame-brained” apologist who i’ve never read.  No, I wasn’t going to “prove” the bible.

  • July 12, 2012 // 06:20 pm //  # 
    Geoffrey Wayne Kinison's avatar Geoffrey Wayne Kinison

    I appreciated your comments. However, I would like to offer one suggestion for your consideration. Find some one to discuss these things with directly. I believe that this type of dialog is really lacking in the very things you wish to explore: definition, quick response, and mutual understanding. I do believe that you are serious in your search for answers. It is very reasonable to want to believe something based on facts and reason. God doesn’t expect us to have blind faith, or perhaps a leap of faith.

Join the discussion

Commenting is not available in this section entry.