The framework of spiritual exploration would seem to be an odd place for the study of logical reasoning. However, critical thinking skills are essential for the spiritual explorer. The arena of spirituality is prime territory for misleading claims and tactics. A review of logic will help you sort out the facts from the fiction.
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.
In a logically sound argument, the premises must be true in order to result in a valid argument. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to discover an invalid or false argument is to identify problems in the construction of the argument 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 types of arguments you’ll likely encounter in the realm of spiritual exploration — deductive and inductive reasoning.
Both Inductive and deductive reasoning can be used to construct a valid argument. The conclusion of a deductive argument is often couched in terms of absolutes or “proofs certain,” whereas, the conclusion of an inductive argument is typically presented in terms of probabilities. The accuracy of the conclusion for either type of reasoning depends on the accuracy of the data, and the validity of the premises on which the conclusions are derived.
Inductive reasoning is a way of investigating phenomena using relevant valid data to reach probable conclusions. This is contrasted by deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning presupposes the conclusion obtains 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 proofs that contradict the conclusion.
Deductive reasoning is based on the theory of the Closed World Assumption. This the presumption that a statement which is true is also presumed to be or known to be true. And, conversely, what is not currently known to be true, is presumed to be false. The correct argument form for Deductive reasoning always to includes the answer within the premise arguments. 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.
- The window was broken by either Phyllis or Fred.
- Fred did not break the window.
- Therefore, Phyllis broke the window.
In this case, the argument rests on the validity of the statements — “The window was broken by either Phillis or Fred. And, Fred did not break the window”. Thus, the answer must be that Phillis broke the window. The answer or object of the argument is contained within the premise statements of the argument. And, most importantly, all other possibilities not in the premises are presumed to be false. The answer is definitive, precise and without question as long as the Closed World Assumptions are indeed valid.
When using deductive logic, it’s most important to ensure the premise statements are valid. This includes making sure “what is not currently unknown to be true is indeed false”. However, if you are like most people, the premise statements in the above example seem to raise a number of questions about “what is currently unknown.” Based on the information given in this example can we be sure that all that unknown is false?
Inductive reasoning uses the data of the premises to provide a degree of certainty. It is provided in terms of the likelihood of something happening. So, with inductive reasoning, we reach conclusions based on the probability of something being 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.
Inductive reasoning may appear less accurate on the surface because it provides only probabilities (or a range of probabilities). However, it is inductive reasoning is the basis for science and most of what we know. The Scientific Process utilizes inductive reasoning. Seeking the best explanation for the data validated, and making predictions based upon it.
For example, our knowledge that the sun will rise tomorrow is based 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 a good example to use this type of reasoning.
The Broken Window Using Inductive Reasoning
The premises of the broken window leaves us with a number of unanswered questions. How else could the window have been broken? Was broken by the weather, or a bird flying into the window? When could the window have been broken? Was it broken in the last hour or last year? Could both Fred and Phillis be responsible in some way? Are there any mitigating circumstances? Because of so many unanswered questions, it is prudent to use inductive logic to help reach a 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 50/50. The greater the time element certainly increases the probability something or someone else is involved. In order 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 that we have. If we include the possibility of other mitigating issues noted above then the probability that Fred or Phillis broke the window goes down further. Given all the unknowns the probability that either Fred or Phillis broke the window is still less than 50/50.
The use of bias and Prejudice to influence Conclusions
Most people aren’t satisfied with a 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 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. In fact, if Fred knew about her history perhaps he broke to get Phillis in trouble. However, this information could taint our view of the facts.
But, unfortunately, information about historical practice is used in many legal systems. For example, if a woman has a history of promiscuity, this is used against her in allegations of rape. So, serial rapists often target prostitutes, because even if the women files charges their claims are dismissed because they have a history of promiscuity.
Ad Hominem Argument
This is a type of 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 problem is stating the conclusion of an argument in terms of absolute certainty of deductive reasoning when it’s not supported by the premise statements or the facts. Whenever the conclusion goes beyond the facts of the premise statements, the conclusion should be stated as a probability rather than a complete certainty. However, it is extremely rare to see conclusions as probabilities in the realm of spirituality or especially theology.
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.
- Therefore, Phyllis broke the window because Fred has viewed as 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 logic at all. It’s a shell game. This is extremely common in the realm of religion. 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 application of the underlying premises. No one walked on the moon until 1969, 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, no women walked on the moon before 1960, neither of the premise statements proves it. The argument is false.
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 because she was not chosen to be an astronaut by NASA. Silly as it sounds, this is exactly the type of argument you will be encountering 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
When we undertake this exercise most people would assert that their current spiritual “position” is based on sound information. So, when we start digging into the facts that support their beliefs this can be quite an emotional challenge exercise. As we unearth and investigate their “sacred ground” we employ the practice of emotional “checks.”
Use Emotional Checks When Engaging in Research
To ease the emotional aspect of this type of investigative endeavor we employ the practice of “emotional checks.” If you are engaging in activities questioning your cultural narrative we recommend you do the same. Here’s how it works.
- Step one. When you encounter something that challenges your cultural narrative (your beliefs), especially those about spiritual reality stop. When you have a negative emotional reaction, stop. Otherwise, your research will be less than accurate.
- Step two. Wait. Ask yourself, why do I automatically reject this? What is causing me to have such a negative reaction? You’ve probably encountered something that is challenging your boundaries.
- Step three. Don’t return to further research until you’ve regained emotional equilibrium.
Using this type of emotional break will save you time in the long term. It will also help you in your research and personal growth as you break down barriers.
Where to Conduct Research
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. The topic of spirituality is known for a plethora of works presenting 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 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 a number of logical fallacies in an attempt 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 making the claim for the existence OF something. They need to provide the proof it exists. This is especially true for entities without corporeal form. Proving a negative or negative proof is a false proof for the 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, simply 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, this 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 evidence is prevalent in early forms of paganism, Odin was known in Old English as Wóden, in Old Saxon as Wōden, and in 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 they were extinguished by Odin. 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.
As you can imagine 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 logical reasoning. And, point out that it doesn’t matter what you believe. You can still be fully engaged in spiritual exploration. In fact, logical reasoning is one of the basic tools we use in our blended learning process. You can employ a number of spiritual technologies without the belief in any religion.
What are the Spiritual Technologies?
These processes include:
- The correct application of both deductive and inductive reasoning along with several “logical tools” to sharpen the ability to discern fact from fiction
- The Study of The Enneagram Personality Profile to gain an understanding of the mechanisms of our personality and instincts
- Progressions of seated meditation from basic Mindfulness Centering exercises through Japa Meditation = (Transcendental Meditation) and the Siddhis of Patanjali
- Progressions of moving meditation and energy collection including (Qigong, Tai Chi),
- Healing modalities (Pejut, Reiki, and Shiatsu)
- Awareness expansion pathways like Lucid Dreaming and the Shamanic Journey
If you found this discussion helpful we can recommend some other tools. We’ve got a list of Logical Axioms. These are simple tools to help you sort the facts from the fiction. Also, it’s helpful to learn the common fallacies used in arguments. Spotting Logical Fallacy will greatly assist you in sorting out the facts from the fiction.