The framework of spiritual exploration would seem to be an odd place for the study of logic. However, critical thinking skills are essential for spiritual exploration.
Logical thinking is the ability to determine what is correct or legitimate. This requires valid reasoning based on evidence and sound mental processes. This is how to seek the facts and separate them from fictitious arguments, premises, and assumptions.
The arena of spirituality is prime territory for misleading claims and tactics. A review of logic reasoning will help you sort out the facts from the fiction. Trust me. You need this if you are serious about investigating spiritual matters.
The “Argument” as a Selling Tool
An argument is simply a selling tool. It’s a set of statements “premises” persuading you to accept a conclusion. So, this is where our journey of logical reasoning starts.
In a logically sound argument, the premises must be true, which results in a valid argument. So, one of the best ways to discover an invalid or false argument is to identify problems with the argument’s construction and any false premises. The form of a sound argument is easy to understand. You just need to know what to look for. Let’s look at the two arguments you’ll likely find in the realm of spiritual exploration — deductive and inductive reasoning.
You can create a valid argument with either Inductive or deductive reasoning. You can tell which type of reasoning by the conclusion. The conclusion of a deductive argument is often in terms of absolutes or proofs certain. Whereas, the conclusion of an inductive argument is typically in terms of probabilities. The accuracy of either type of reasoning depends on the accuracy of the data and the validity of the premises. Valid premises return more accurate conclusions.
Inductive reasoning is a way of investigating phenomena using relevant valid data. It helps us reach the most probable conclusions. This contrasts with the closed world assumption of deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning presupposes the conclusion gets data to support the initial conclusion. Omitting data that is irrelevant is appropriate as long it truly is irrelevant. The problem arises when omitting or ignoring any proof that contradicts the conclusion.
Deductive reasoning is an element of logical reasoning. But, you need to use it correctly. This is because it uses the theory of the Closed World Assumption. This is the presumption that what is known is presumed to be true. And, conversely, what is not known is presumed to be false. The correct argument construction for deductive reasoning includes the answer. The premise statements always contain the conclusion. So, the following is an example of the correct form of deductive logic.
The Broken Window Using Deductive Reasoning
We’ll use the broken window as a starting point.
- Either Phyllis or Fred broke the window.
- Fred did not break the window.
- Therefore, Phyllis broke the window.
In this case, the argument rests on the validity of the statements — either Phillis or Fred broke the window. And, Fred did not break the window. Thus, the answer must be that Phillis broke the window.
The answer or object of the argument must be within the premise statements of the argument. And all other possibilities not in the premises are false. The answer is definitive, precise, and without question as long as the Closed World Assumptions are valid.
When using deductive logic, it is most important to ensure that the premise statements are valid. This includes making sure “what is not unknown to be true is false”. But, the premise statements in the above example raise several questions. There are a lot of things that are unknown. Based on the information given in this example, can we be sure that all that unknown is false? No, we can not.
Inductive reasoning uses the data of the premises to provide a degree of certainty. It is the likelihood of something happening. So, with inductive reasoning, we reach conclusions based on the degree of probability that something is true or false.
The conclusion is in a range of probable outcomes. It could be anywhere from a low, almost negligible probability to a high probability approaching near certainty. This is the aspect of logical reasoning you need in the realm of religion and spirituality.
Inductive reasoning may appear less accurate deductive reasoning, but this isn’t true. It seems less accurate to some because it provides a range of probabilities not certainties. Yet, it is inductive reasoning is the basis for science and most of what we know. The scientific process uses inductive reasoning. This is the best way to seek the facts. With this process, we seek the best explanation for the data and make predictions based upon it.
For example, we base our knowledge that the sun will rise tomorrow on inductive reasoning. The data used to validate this is historically validated “sunrises.” Inductive reasoning is often required because the answer you seek goes beyond the scope of the premise statements. The broken window presents an excellent example of how this type of reasoning is better than deductive reasoning.
The Broken Window Using Inductive Reasoning
The premises of the broken window leaves us with several unanswered questions. How else could the window have been broken? Could the window have been broken by the weather or a bird flying into the window? When was the window broken? Was it broken in the last hour or last year? Could both Fred and Phillis be responsible? Are there any mitigating circumstances? You can see there are a lot of unanswered questions. This is why it is prudent to use inductive logic to help reach the most probable conclusion.
If we can’t say for sure that either Fred or Phyllis broke the window, then the probability of either of them breaking the window goes down from 50 to 50. An increase in the time the window could have been broken will increase the probability something or someone else is involved. To gain a greater level of certainty, we need more facts, more information.
Let’s assume that Fred or Phyllis are the only two people who could have broken the window. And, we know that the window must have been broken in the last hour. Then there would be a 50/50 probability that either Fred or Phyllis broke the window. This is as far as we could go with the data we have. The probability that Fred or Phillis broke the window goes down if we include other mitigating circumstances. Given all the unknowns the probability that either Fred or Phillis broke the window is still less than 50/50.
Always start with the goal to seek the facts, not find data to support your opinion. Inductive reasoning is the best process for this type of research.
How Bias and Prejudice Influence Conclusions
Most people aren’t satisfied with the certainty of less than 50/50. They want to be more certain. Unfortunately, this means many people are more apt to accept a conclusion even when there isn’t data to support it. Often allowing influences other than facts to form their conclusions. Prejudice and biases of all kinds are often used to influence our conclusions.
Let’s return to our example of the broken window to see how bias might influence our conclusions. Let’s assume that Phyllis has a history of breaking windows. Fred has no history of breaking windows. We don’t know why Phyllis broke windows, only that she did. Does this information increase the probability that Phyllis broke the window? No. It should not. This is biased historical information. This has nothing to do with the facts of the current situation. So, this information about Phyllis doesn’t bring us a higher degree of probability of certainty. This isn’t additional proof additional Phyllis broke the window. If Fred knew about her history, perhaps he broke to get Phillis in trouble. However, this information could taint our view of the facts.
Ad Hominem Argument
This is an ad hominem argument. (ad hominem is Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”). This is a strategy to discredit the reputation of the individual. This taints any argument they may have. You can find this in heavy use in politics. Even though this a false argument, it is an effective tactic for influencing the outcome of important decisions.
Improper Use of Premises to Form Conclusions
Another common issue is stating the conclusion when it’s not supported by the premise statements or facts. Whenever the conclusion goes beyond the facts of the premise statements, the conclusion must be stated as a possibility. But, people often state the conclusion with complete certainty. This is the type of common error we find in religion and politics.
The following example outlines this common error as it relates to our case of the broken window.
- Someone broke the window.
- Fred and Phyllis were in the area.
- Phyllis broke the window because Fred is considered an upstanding individual. Whereas Phyllis has a documented incident of breaking windows.
As we discussed before this is a false conclusion based on too few facts and too many assumptions. However, this is just the type of illogical argument that you will face again and again in the arena of religion.
Using Circular Logic
Circular logic isn’t logical at all. It’s a shell game. So, our use of logical reasoning will uncover this tactic. And, this is a common tactic with religious arguments. This starts with deriving a valid conclusion from false premises. Then using this result to substantiate the false premises for yet ANOTHER separate argument. The following argument outlines how this process works. Let’s take a new example concerning astronauts and Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn Monroe Part One
- No women walked on the moon before 1960.
- Marilyn Monroe was a woman.
- Therefore, Marilyn Monroe was not an astronaut, and she did not walk on the moon.
Although the conclusion is true, Marilyn Monroe was not an astronaut. And, she did not walk on the moon. But, the premise statements of the argument do not prove the conclusion. Checking the facts behind the premise statements will reveal errors in the underlying premises. 1969 is the year the first moon landing. This is the first time, as far as we know, anyone walked on the moon.
So, the premise that no women walked on the moon before 1960 is irrelevant to the argument. Marilyn Monroe died before we had astronauts, so likewise this premise is invalid. So, even though the conclusion is correct neither of the premise statements proves it. The argument is false. But, there is more to come with Marilyn Monroe part two.
Marilyn Monroe Part Two
Here’s where the circular part comes in. They build upon the false premises to come to another false conclusion. In this case, Marilyn Monroe becomes a victim of discrimination. This is because she is not chosen as an astronaut. Silly as it sounds, this is exactly the type of argument you will encounter in much of Western organized religion. Here’s what this invalid argument looks like:
- No women walked on the moon before 1960.
- Marilyn Monroe was a woman.
- Marilyn Monroe was not an astronaut and she did not walk on the moon.
- And so, Marilyn Monroe was a victim of discrimination by NASA
Using Logical Reasoning to Investigate Religion
Everyone thinks their beliefs are correct. They think their views are based on sound information. The best process for this adventure is what we call comparative analysis. This is a scientific approach to comparative religious studies. This helps people to see where their beliefs come from. And, it forces them to reconcile inconsistencies and fallacies.
So, when we dig into the facts that support their beliefs this can be quite an emotional challenge exercise. As we unearth and investigate their “sacred ground” we use the practice of emotional “checks.”
Use Emotional Checks
Anytime you engage in spiritual research we recommend the use of emotional checks. This is a process to help you stay as unbiased as possible.
Emotional checks will reduce stress and increase the accuracy of our research. So, think of it as a safety net. It will catch us when we fall into emotional distress. This is because when we face ideas conflicting with our current opinion it creates a dilemma. We instinctively react to protect our sacred ground. You don’t want to research while in a state of distress.
Where to Seek the Facts
We recommend using the public library where there are volumes of resources that are not available even on the internet. Also, they have materials that aren’t already on your bookshelf. Always, always, always use resources from authors outside the paradigm you are researching. This will help you avoid bias. There are a lot of books present biases, prejudice, and unreliable sources of data to prove a variety of conclusions. Spirituality is full of arguments with misleading, and erroneous fabrications. Avoid works by celebrities or endorsements of “famous people.”
Look for reference works and researchers without affiliation to the religion you are researching. The exception is when you are trying to show the contrast between the facts and the fiction. In this case, you’ll find a lot more on the fiction side. Don’t let the sheer volume of fiction deter you from the facts.
A Little Reasoning Goes a Long Way
Here’s an example of how to spot the improper use of deductive logic and the “false premise”. We’ll use the Supreme Being Odin as our subject.
Prove Odin Doesn’t Exist
Let’s assume we are the public library and someone asks us what we are researching. We tell them religion and they use several logical fallacies to prove their Supreme Being exists.
They first ask you to prove their god doesn’t exist. This is an Argument From Ignorance. This is the assertion that their conclusion is true because there is no evidence to prove it is false. Don’t fall for this. The burden of proof is always on the person claiming the existence OF something. They need to provide the proof it exists. This is especially true for entities without a corporeal form. Proving a negative or negative proof is false proof for existence. The absence of a physical substance (the absence of milk in a bowl) to prove milk exists is not a valid comparison. Milk exists apart from the bowl. This is not a proof for the existence of a Supreme Being. The absence of evidence is not evidence of existence.
You can’t prove gods don’t exist but that doesn’t mean that they do. You can’t disprove that Apolo, Zeus, Mythra, Dyonisys, or any other god doesn’t exist. But, because there is no proof that they don’t exist doesn’t mean that they do.
Continuing with our discussion of Odin at the library.
Anecdotal Stories and Sacred Texts as Proof of Odin
When we challenge them to provide evidence for the existence of Odin, we get the following response: First, no ice-giants exist. Odin promised to wipe out the ice-giants. So, since there are no ice-giants this is proof of Odin’s existence.
Secondly, Odin is prolific in the early stories of paganism dating back through oral traditions in Germanic mythology. Odin (from Old Norse Óðinn). The God Odin is prevalent in early forms of paganism. Odin, in Old English as Wóden, in Old Saxon as Wōden, and Old High German as Wuotan or Wodan. With so much historical evidence from so many authoritative sources it is obvious that Odin exists, right?
The answer, no, you’re wrong. This isn’t evidence of the existence of Odin. Sorry, but the absence of imaginary creatures does not represent evidence they ever existed. Nor is it evidence Odin got rid of them. And, the recounting of stories, no matter the age or supposed authority of origin does not suffice as proof for the existence of Odin. These points apply to all gods. Not just Odin.
Our friend at the library is not happy with the outcome of our discourse. But, we want to give them some encouragement. We give them some references on the subject of logic. And, point out it doesn’t matter what you believe. You can still engage in spiritual exploration. Logical reasoning is one of the basic tools we use in our blended learning process. You can use several spiritual technologies without the belief in any religion.
Logical Reasoning Final Thoughts
We hope this discussion helps you to see the value of using logic. Today, it’s not just religion that is full of false arguments. The nightly news is also full of the misuse of argument. Don’t let them fool you. Refresh yourself with the content of this article regularly.
Interested in spiritual exploration? Check out the blended learning process at the core of our teaching process. It reflects what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. Our learning options include both face-to-face and virtual learning sessions. Please consider donating and supporting our mission. This helps others learn the knowledge for developing their path.
Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia