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Thinking the Aristotle way … part 1

How do we make decisions? 

How do we approach God’s words? How do we read Scripture? It is useful for us to really go back to basics, to look at how people have dealt with such things in the past. It is no surprise that, when it comes to figuring things out, we find ourselves turning to the Ancient Greeks, Aristotle in particular. He determined that there were two ways to reason, persuade, learn, teach and come to have beliefs. The first is deductive thinking.

This is the usual way we figure things out, it’s what we mean when we say that something’s logical. The gist of it is that we start with some general statements that we believe to be true, then arrive at a conclusion that supposedly will also be true. Here’s an example:

All men have an adam’s apple.

Peter is a man.

These are our two general statements that we believe to be true. From these statements we deduce that, therefore, Peter has an adam’s apple. Nothing too difficult there, it makes logical sense. This little exercise is called a syllogism, and originally came from the mind of Aristotle.

The other way of thinking is called inductive thinking and it’s the exact opposite of deductive thinking. In this case we start with specific statements that we know to be true, then arrive at a general conclusion that we’re happy with but may or may not actually be verifiably true, but could be probably true. An example should make this clearer:

I have examined five thousand dogs

Every dog examined has fleas.

Here are two facts, or observations, that are totally true (unless I can’t count or am not very thorough). Here is my conclusion:

All dogs have fleas.

This is possibly, or even probably true, though the 5,001st dog may not have fleas, which invalidates my conclusion.

So what’s all this got to do with the Bible? A lot actually, but it’s subtle because both deductive and inductive reasoning have unknowingly been used by Christians when wrestling with Bible Scriptures. And, as reasoning is a feature of the Greek mind, we need to know if it’s all kosher and that we’re using the right tools in discerning God’s words.

Let’s revisit these matters, but this time with the Bible in mind. But before we do so, we have to get one thing totally clear in our mind. If we’re talking about truth, then we need to have total confidence that the Word of God, in the form of the Scriptures, is true … always. If we are going to apply the rules of logic to Bible verses, our starting point must always be that these are the very words of God and that God does not lie. If we don’t have that certainty then everything that follows is going to be clouded in doubt and there would be no point in using the Bible as a source of truth by which we must live our lives.

Do not pass Go … unless you mean it! If you’re not convinced of my basic assumptions of the inerrancy of the Bible (allowing for some leeway in translations from the original languages) then you need to pray that God can either give you this certainty right now or that He will guide you and instruct you in these matters, perhaps as you progress through these articles. So, with the Bible in mind …

If we are using deductive thinking then we have to be sure that our general statements are cast-iron, 100% true, because we are going to have specific conclusions that we are going to declare as truth! And we should now see where we’re going, because this is how theologians over the centuries have formulated Christian doctrine.

But, once we veer into contentious areas, when we can’t make general statements that are agreed to be verifiably and universally true, deductive logic can do more harm than good, in creating divisive doctrines, resulting in broken fellowship and a poor witness to the unbelieving World.

Finally, a general statement that is most definitely inaccurate brings us to those sinister purveyors of bad doctrines that Scripture most definitely warns us against:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

Continued next week …

For the previous article in this series, click here.

For the next article in this series, click here.

To find out what is my favourite book of the Bible, click here.

You can reach Steve with any comments or questions at the Saltshakers Web Community website.

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