Tag Archives: assumptions

Erroneous Assumptions

I’ve enjoyed reading “The Banana Republican”:http://thebananarepublican.blogspot.com. Every single one of his entries is short yet extremely intellectually stimulating. Naturally, most of the thoughts expressed there are based on certain assumptions and presuppositions, and as a result, some of the logical steps look a little ‘leapish’, but it is enough to get the ol’ mental juices flowing. ((The only thing I wish he would do is allow commenting on his site. I love being able to leave feedback.))

Here’s one from today:

bq. Negative Bible critics wrongly assume that the unexplained is unexplainable, forget the Bible’s human characteristics, assume the Bible is guilty of error unless proven innocent, confuse interpretations with revelation, assume a partial report is a false report, fail to understand the context, presume that the Bible approves of everything it records, neglect to note literary devices, assume divergent accounts are false, forget that only the original text is inerrant, assume round numbers are false, confuse general statements with universal statements, and forget that later revelation supersedes earlier revelation. “#”:http://thebananarepublican.blogspot.com/2006/02/negative-bible-critics-wrongly-assume.html

Several excellent points raised here, very adequately and succinctly stated:

bq. Negative Bible critics wrongly assume that the unexplained is unexplainable…

Try, for instance, the Trinity. How is it possible to have one Being that is actually three separate Beings and still have them be perfectly united as one. How can they maintain their separateness if they are the same? Or, the God-manhood of Jesus. How do you have an individual that is at the same time 100% God and 100% man. It doesn’t logically compute, yet the Bible states that it is, in fact, truth. It is not explained, but that does not necessarily mean it is unexplainable.

bq. …forget the Bible’s human characteristics…

Except where it is convenient to do so. Critics of the Bible are quick to point out the supposed contradictions in the Bible and claim that it is demonstrative of an inconsistent God. Or they want to point out that the Bible was written by men and therefore it is impossible for it to be truthful or accurate.

bq. …assume the Bible is guilty of error unless proven innocent…

Easy assumption to make, since every other book in existence has errors of some kind. ((Or tends to develop errors over time.)) But yes, they are quick to accuse and never allow the chance for supporters of the Bible to demonstrate how it is in no way guilty of error.

bq. …confuse interpretations with revelation…

Bingo. This is a biggie. Every single English translation has some error contained within it. That’s the nature of translation and why Biblical scholars place such heavy emphasis on the original manuscripts.

bq. …assume a partial report is a false report…

How true. Many places in the Bible only a partial record of events is given. Critics claim that this means the stories much be false, which is a logical fallacy. ‘A’ does not necessarily beget ‘B’, or ‘A partial record does not necessarily mean that the event did not occur.’

bq. …fail to understand the context…

Context is, in fact, often ignored. It’s actually a problem even within Christian circles. It’s easy to quote something as support for your arguments, only to find that, upon close examination of the original context, the passage does not actually say what you are trying to get it to say. Context is of tantamount importance.

bq. …presume that the Bible approves of everything it records…

How often have I heard someone accuse God of being unjust or unrighteous because of something they read in the Bible? ((Especially if someone else did it.)) Just because God allowed someone in the Bible to get away with an unjust crime does not mean that He endorsed it. The Bible is pretty clear, in fact, that in the end, justice will be leveled to all men and crimes will be punished once and for all.

bq. …neglect to note literary devices…

Another biggie. Literacy devices populate the Bible just as much as any other literary work. ((More, in some places.))

bq. …assume divergent accounts are false…

Psychology has shown that three people can see the same event and report that event in three different ways. Does that mean that any or all of the accounts are false? Not necessarily, since different perspectives provide unique lessons.

bq. …forget that only the original text is inerrant…

This being the original Hebrew for the Old Testament and the original Greek for the New. Even Christians forget that sometimes, and find themselve embroiled in bitter battles over which English translation ((KJV, anyone?)) is inspired. ((Answer: none.))

bq. …assume round numbers are false…

Ah, yes. Don’t we see this even in our news media? Numbers are often rounded up or down for the sake of ease of reporting? In such cases, the numbers are not what is important; it is the events that actually took place that are. The same goes for the Bible. In the cases where the numbers are important, they are precise. In the cases where they aren’t, they’re rounded.

bq. …confuse general statements with universal statements…

General statements are subject to some debate. If A happens, then B generally happens as a result. With universal statements there is no room for debate. If A happens, then B will always, absolutely happen. A little bit of study and discernment helps elucidate which statements in the Bible are general ((e.g. Proverbs)) and which are universal. ((e.g. the Gospel))

bq. …and forget that later revelation supersedes earlier revelation.

Absolutely. That’s the beauty of “understanding the Bible in its entire context”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=218. You get to see the progression of God’s relationship with mankind throughout time. Part of that progression is seeing how Christ’s work on the cross gave us new revelation that allows us greater access and deeper fellowship with the Father.

Great, thought-provoking thoughts, Will.

Disbelief At Differing Conclusions

One of the things that I think I find most irritating is when people make the assumption that, just because you hold a different viewpoint than them, you 1) must be mis- or underinformed; 2) must be spouting the standard ‘party’ line; and 3) must be unable to think for yourself, able only to blindly accept and regurgitate the viewpoint you’ve been taught all your life, since anyone who can and does think for themself would just _have_ to come to the same conclusion they hold. There is no room in these people’s minds that someone could look at the same evidence they have seen, experience the same events, or look at the same issues and still come to a _different_ conclusion about all those things. The same people who tell you to use your head and _think_ for a change are the same people who seem incapable of doing so themselves, because surely if they were to actually think about _this_ topic long enough, they would realize that people who think do often come up with different conclusions.

I see this phenomenon all the time in the world of politics and in the world of religion. One party touts their viewpoint and accuses the other party of being blind and of not thinking, so sure are they that if the other party were to think, they would have no choice but to embrace their own viewpoint. (How’s _that_ for a contradiction in terms, since so many of these people also do not believe in absolute truth?) Christians are continually accused of this by their antagonists. Part of this is because a lot of Christians _don’t_ think, _don’t_ exercise critical analysis, _do_ blindly accept answers they have never personally investigated. But part of this is simply unbelievers being unable to entertain the idea that anyone intelligent could possibly ever disagree with them. The latter we can do nothing about, but the former is something that anyone and everyone can continually work on. This is part of why I, personally, write, since the feedback I receive continually exposes me to new ideas and new questions. I, for one, believe that both faith and critical thinking _can_ co-exist, a notion at which many unbelievers scoff. Faith, by itself, can be just as blinding as rationality left to its own ends. I have seen people argue with incontrovertible scientific evidence, simply on the basis of their ‘faith’ (e.g. the Earth is flat, not round). Likewise, there are supernatural occurences that happen on a daily basis all around the world that science and rationality are wont to explain (e.g. keys that float through midair in someone’s home). This is why I believe that God asks us to first believe on Him, in faith, then provides us with further information, both about Himself and about this world around us and tells us that we should explore His creation.

Faith, without rationality, is dead; likewise, rationality, without faith, provides only half the answer. Only when the two meet and supplement one another can balance be found.

My Way of Thinking Does Not Make a Very Good Prediction Tool

The older I get and the more experience I receive in this world, the more I find that I cannot adequately or consistently predict the behavior of other people. My own viewpoint, my own knowledge, and my own experience that I have gleaned over the years are far too limited and far too narrow in scope to provide an adequate estimation of human behavior overall. I assume that the way I think, that the way I view the world is the only way to do so and that everyone
simply must view and think the exact same way. So I make predictions and judgments based on this assumption and am annoyed when the predicted behavior does not occur because it means that I was obviously in error. I forget that the knowledge and experiences that shape my predictions and judgments are unique to myself. No one else in the world has experienced the world in quite the same way as I, and no one else has had the same interests or learned the
same things or seen quite the same things as I. So my way of seeing the world is unique, and I cannot expect anyone else to behave or think the same way I do. Additionally, I make the common mistake of relying on anecdotal evidence to support my predictions and judgments. The trouble with doing this is that anecdotal evidence is typically not representative of the general population. It is merely one example of human behavior that may support a given idea or assumption. It is very problematic when people rely too heavily on anecdotal evidence to support decisions or judgments. Making snap judgments is also dangerous for another reason — psychological studies have shown that human memory both decays rapidly and is frequently rewritten unconsciously over time, effectively altering or even corrupting the very information upon which we rely so heavily.

The beautiful thing about statistics is that it often corrects for the shortcomings in human judgment by aggregating a large pool of information into relatively simple descriptive numbers. A good predictive statistic will have a good sample of data that is representative of the population at large. If the sample is representative enough, the results of the analysis will generalize well to everybody, meaning that it has a much better chance of accurately predicting behavior by providing a probability value for the occurrence of a particular behavior. Naturally, there will always be those individuals who are so far different from the general populace as to be outliers, and no statistic will completely describe any single individual. However, statistics are meant to be descriptive of large populations and give the inquisitive mind a better chance at accurately predicting how people will behave. There will also be
those unscrupulous individuals who will bias the data in such a way as to serve their own purposes. But for the wise and those genuinely seeking to learn, the use of statistical sampling can counteract the shortcomings of the human condition. It has been proven time and again that statistics can predict human behavior much more accurately, effectively, and consistently than can human predictions based solely on head knowledge.

All this is to caution you against relying too heavily on your own snap judgments (and even against well-thought-out, yet unsubstantiated judgments) because chances are good that your judgments and predictions will be erroneous. The numbers are useful tools to have in one’s
‘toolkit’ and should be used frequently to avoid making crucial, critical mistakes. Nothing replaces good, sound research in the endeavor to make good decisions.

Say What?!

Communication seems to be something of a lost art these days. I find that when communication breaks down, the cause is either that someone simply failed to communicate or that someone didn’t quite know how to communicate. The solution to the first cause is relatively simple — just do it. The solution to the second poses a bit more of a challenge. Breakdown in written communication is typically due to a lack of knowledge and/or skill at the mechanics of writing
(something I will not go into here since, for most of us, grammar, punctuation, and spelling was beaten into us in high school English classes). Breakdown in verbal communication is a horse of another color, however. Here’s an example:

I briefly interacted with a gentleman this afternoon (about a 5-minute conversation). We started out on common ground (and common understanding), but when I walked away a few moments later, I felt a bit chagrined to realize I had no idea about what it was he ended up
talking. Somehow, in those few, brief moments of conversation, he had managed to completely lose me so that I wasn’t quite sure what point he had made (and he had made a point, as was apparent by the look of satisfaction on his face at the end of the conversation).

Looking back on that conversation, I realized, at least in part, what contributed to the breakdown in communication — he had completely skipped over the explanation of certain assumptions and background information in his haste to make his point before we parted ways. This left me thinking that he was talking about one thing when, in reality, he was talking about a related, but different, thing.

American culture moves with increasing rapidity these days. We find better and more effective shortcuts for just about everything. What’s interesting to me is that we have as yet to find a more effective shortcut for good communication. The pace of culture does seem to have an effect on communication (though I would definitely love to see some stats on this). We have less time to do everything and more activities crammed into the same 24 hours. As a result, communication tends to suffer and misunderstandings occur (and we’ve all experienced the effects of that). Good communication requires conscientiousness on behalf of the communicator (not to mention good listening skills on the part of the listener) and requires the communicator to take the time necessary to 1) make sure the effort is actually made to communicate, 2) make sure the appropriate groundwork was laid upon which to build conversation, and 3) make sure the subsequent message was communicated adequately and clearly. In effect, good communication requires slowing down a little and paying attention to the little nuances of effective dialogue, something that few of us have yet to master.

Close-Mindedness, Open-Mindedness, and Meta-Systemic Thinking

Seen on a bumper sticker on the way home this evening:

bq. “The mind is like a parachute-It only works when it is open.”

I find it interesting that the general assumption is that a person is either open-minded or close-minded. It’s like you have to pick which one you want to be, and it had better not be close-minded (according to the edicts of the culture-at-large). For those who consider themselves open-minded, it’s the only way to view to the world. Open-mindedness is a breath of fresh air, allowing all men to be at peace with another because they can now accept one another without prejudice because all beliefs, all values, and all worldviews are equally correct, because there is no such thing as being right (or at least not 100% right) about anything, because it is the height of arrogance to ever propose to your fellow man that his beliefs might be in error or flawed in the slightest. The only blight upon this system are those they consider to be close-minded (a condition considered almost on a level with pedophilia, it seems), those who believe that their way is the only way, those who feel that they have no need for further analysis of their beliefs and worldviews.

Strangely enough, neither position recognizes, let alone acknowledges, the inconsistencies of their own stances. The ‘open-minded’ individual is tolerant of everything but the close-minded individual, making the open-minded individual close-minded in his very open-mindedness. The ‘close-minded’ individual is so self-assured of his correctness, of his ‘rightness’, that he is completely unwilling to acknowledge the idea that he may be mistaken in his logic or in his
conclusions and is thus unable to admit that the open-minded individual with whom he has been conversing may have a valid point. Both extremes are so confident and comfortable in their self-chosen philosophical stances that they rotely discard the entirety of the other’s arguments out of hand because it is seen as deriving from a philosophy which is completely counter to their own. Sadly, as a result, many great trues and compromises are lost to this practice, and
many great and wise men are reduced to foolishness and idiocy.

What both the open-minded individual and the close-minded individual seem to not understand is that their philosophical approaches are not simply an either/or choice but rather are two ends of a continuum. The continuum looks something like this:

Close-minded ————————– Open-minded

Every man, woman, and child alive fits somewhere along this line, and few populate the furthest extremes. Few people (if any) are so open-minded that they are willing to embrace any and every philosophy arbitrarily. And few (if any) are so close-minded that they reject every single philosophy that is not their own. Instead, everyone is open-minded about some things and close-minded about others.

I would propose that a specific mid-point be assigned to the above continuum.

Close-minded ————- Meta-System ————- Open-minded

This is my conceptualization of meta-systemic thinking. The prefix meta in this case means “beyond; transcending; more comprehensive; at a higher state of development.” When applied to thinking systems, meta opens up a whole new world of possibilities. It combines the best of close-minded and open-minded thinking while discarding the worst of both. Meta-systemic thinking would be known, in more familiar terms, as critical thinking, but in calling it meta-systemic thinking, certain implications and techniques are found that the definition of ‘critical thinking’ has lost (or never had).

Meta-systemic thinking approaches every philosophy and every worldview with a fresh eye, critiquing, anyalzing, breaking down, identifying assumptions, naming presuppositions, ferreting out flaws, and praising strengths. Meta-systemic thinking collates all that which is worth keeping and discards all that which is not. Meta-systemic thinking is continually reshaping the individual, being just open-minded enough to accept the possibility that a personal conclusion
or bit of logic may be flawed and in being willing to correct that flaw, even in accepting a bit of truth from a philosophy traditionally viewed as being wholly incorrect. It is also just close-minded enough to be willing to settle down to a firm stance once the individual believes that all available information has been gathered and processed and the chaff discarded. It is something of a tight-rope to walk, constantly struggling to balance on the edge of correctness while admitting the flaw of human error. Meta-systemic thinking acknowledges the existence of absolute truth and that that truth can be known by men. Meta-systemic thinking is an ongoing process, lifelong and continual, but overall it is a healthier and more robust approach to critical thought.

What I find so amazing is how few individuals are unwilling or unable to engage in meta-systemic thought, allowing instead personal hubris to interfere. Many a productive discussion has been derailed by the refusal to critically listen and think about the opposing argument and adjust accordingly. If only more people were willing to use their minds, rather than their feelings, to engage the world, we might find ourselves in a better place.

Drive

Everyone has certain values, beliefs, and goals that drive them. They serve as the presuppositions and the assumptions behind every thought, behavior, and action. And when these value systems are not clarified, they can hinder communication because people think they are on the same page when really they are not. Like everyone else, I have values and beliefs that drive me, that serve as my foundation for behavior. I could probably list many values that drive me, but here are my top three:

1. I believe in absolute truth and that that truth can be known. The main reason behind this belief is purely logical. A universe without absolutes would quickly (possibly instantly) spiral into chaos and disorder. There are absolutes in science, in the basic workings of the universe, that keep everything working smoothly. There are some who would say that there are no absolutes, that all truth is relative, and I would quickly point them to proven absolutes. They might then suggest that there is no social truth, that what is truth is different to each individual. But I would also suggest that this breaks from the very nature of the universe and of life itself. It is not hard to look into human behavior and see absolutes defining that behavior every day.

2. I believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere-present God, loving, compassionate, yet just in all His ways, slow to anger, quick to forgive, a God who is there and who not silent, active, yet often subtle in His ways. This may, in fact, be the most basic of all my values, the foundation of all my foundations. There must have been an intelligent design to the universe, an establisher of the absolute truth I see all around me, a Being so much bigger than I am who can do all that I cannot. The only Being who even remotely fits the facts as I observe is the God
of the Bible. Everything I do is done with the knowledge that He sees me and cares about me and that I have to do little more than speak in order to communicate with Him.

3. I believe in integrity, that a man’s word is his bond. This is a natural step from the last and encompasses a great many other values. This includes keeping promises, fulfilling obligations
and responsibilites to the best of my ability, maintaining confidentialities (even when not explicity asked), and behaving with utmost respect and courtesy toward all other individuals.
Integrity is a big deal to me and drives me in a way that few other values can do. I would expect integrity directed toward me, and so I would direct no less than absolute integrity toward others.

We all have values to guide our lives and behavior. I’d be interested to hear some of yours. And if you haven’t thought about it, maybe it’s time you did.