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Draw a Logical Conclusion: An Interview with Doug Geivett

June 2–6, 2014   |   Vol. 119, Programs 56–60
Originally Aired: November 28–December 2, 2011 | Vol. 108, Programs 26–30

Logic may seem like an outdated or impractical subject to study. But this week on Home School Heartbeat, Biola philosophy professor Doug Geivett joins Mike Smith to explain how logic helps us to move our lives “along the rails of reality” and find true answers to the questions and puzzles we discover in the world around us.

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Back in ancient Greece, logic was an extremely popular pursuit. But life has changed quite a bit since then! What relevance does logic have today? Well, to find out, join us next on Home School Heartbeat with host Mike Smith and Professor Doug Geivett.

Mike Smith: Our guest today is Doug Geivett, professor of philosophy at Biola University in Southern California. Doug, thanks so much for being with us today!

Doug Geivett: Mike, thank you for inviting me.

Mike: Doug, in a culture that is often ruled by images and feelings, the hard study of logic can seem outdated. Now, why is it important for students of all ages to learn logic, especially in today’s culture?

Doug: Mike, images and feelings are immediate. They’re very real, hard to ignore. They’re powerful movers in our lives. But feelings are not a reliable guide to truth and reality. So if we’re ruled by feelings, then chances are we’ll be governed in our choices, life plans, and actions by error. In fact, how you feel at a given moment has a lot to do with how you think and what you believe at that moment.

Beliefs set the course for our lives and feelings supply the energy. So if our beliefs are true, then our feelings help to move our lives along the rails of reality. Reliably true beliefs, though, depend upon evidence and good reason. We use logic to collect and evaluate evidence, to improve our chances of believing what’s true, grow in authenticity, and experience success in life.

Mike: Doug, that’s tremendous insight! And thank you so much for sharing that with us. I look forward to hearing more next time! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: As homeschoolers, we understand that the family plays a huge role in the education of the child. Doug, how can we as families learn logic together?

Doug Geivett: Mike, I love this idea of learning logic together as families. The early years are the most critical. They come up with profound thoughts and ask deep questions. The best thing we can do with our children, from the very beginning, is to affirm them in the good thinking they already display, and then probe them with questions and suggestions to keep thinking hard along the same lines.

There are a number of questions we can ask our children: “Sally, why do you think that?” Now this question teaches Sally that there needs to be an answer to the question why. There is a reason. Or what about this: “Sally, that’s a great point, but what if . . . ” and then you fill it in with something to give her more to think about and draw her out so that she has to pursue the same line of logic. Or: “Do you think this is a good reason, or is this a better reason?” This way, we’re teaching Sally that some reasons are better than others. And so, with well-placed questions, we can encourage our children to think more logically and demonstrate that that’s a value that we ourselves have.

Mike: Doug, these are really great suggestions, and I know our listeners will really appreciate them. So thanks for joining us today! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: We have Dr. Doug Geivett with us again today. Doug, what’s the best way for parents to model logic to their children?

Doug Geivett: Well, parents are the models, the role models for their children in everything, in logic no less than anything else. And the best way to do this, of course, is to explain why we believe the things we believe and offer good reasons in ways that little Johnny or Mary can understand in their own terms.

We model logic for them when we ask them profound questions and expect good answers. We model logic to our children just in the routine of daily life: around the dinner table, through the conversations that we have, reactions to television shows and commercials, films that we’ve seen. We reflect the degree to which we value ideas, believing what’s true, and having good reasons for believing the things that we do. Our own example comes from conversations that we have with them that show we take delight in the life of the mind. And if they see us working hard at trying to make sense of something, they see that we are committed to thinking carefully and critically in order to come up with the best answer.

Mike: Homeschooling parents are in a great position to teach their children to think clearly and critically about the world around them. And thank you so much again, Doug, for being with us! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Doug, often it’s hard to see how logic is relevant to our lives. Can you give us an example or two of how we might use logical forms in everyday life?

Doug Geivett: Well, we use logic and reasoning in pretty much everything we do. One example is when we encounter something that’s unusual or puzzling, and we don’t quite know what the explanation is. We can shrug it off and say, well, it’s trivial, it doesn’t really matter. But our children are watching, and we can show them how critical thinking works by asking them: “What do you think is the explanation for this? Why is there this glistening little track on the pavement? Was it caused by an animal? Is it part of the pavement? Is it just an accident? Is there an explanation for it?” Turns out that there’s a snail, a few inches away. Ah, maybe the snail had something to do with it.

We look for explanations for the things that we see. And by doing this on a regular basis through the routine of our day, we are inculcating in our children intellectual curiosity and a method for finding out answers to questions about what is interesting and puzzling about our world.

Mike: Now that’s very interesting, and very helpful to our listeners. And thank you so much for being with us again today! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Today we’re concluding our program on teaching logic to your children. Now, we had Doug Geivett, professor of philosophy at Biola University, with us this week. Doug, are there some resources you would recommend to our homeschooling parents for teaching logic?

Doug Geivett: Yes, Mike, I would suggest first of all that parents adopt a curriculum for themselves, to train themselves logically and critically. And they’ve got 18 years, under ideal circumstances, in which to equip themselves for what their children need. And they can start at the beginning, with very simple principles of logic. I recommend a book called Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking by D.Q. McIrney. And also, there is some great advice to parents in two books that were written by Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer. One is called Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry after Truth . And the other book, even better I think, is called The Improvement of the Mind: A Supplement to Logic . There are many practical helps in these books, written precisely for parents to help them in their equipping of their children in the life of the mind.

Mike: Doug, thanks so much for joining us on the program. You’ve given us a lot to think about. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Dr. Doug Geivett

Doug is professor of Philosophy in the Talbot Department of Philosophy at Biola University (La Mirada, CA). He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in the areas of epistemology and the philosophy of religion. In addition, he has taught courses on the new atheism, and on film and philosophy. Doug is the author or editor of several books. He is coeditor with Jim Spiegel of the book Faith, Film, and Philosophy: Big Ideas on the Big Screen. He has lectured throughout the United States, and in Canada, China, England, France, India, Mexico, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine.

Doug’s hobbies include sea kayaking, reading outside his discipline, digital photography, travel, motorcycling, and studying foreign languages. His favorite place in the country is the Olympic Peninsula, Washington. He writes for himself and others. He scavenges for useful tips for writing of all kinds, for any of his hobbies, and for general life management. He cares about ideas—which ones are true and why we would should think so. He’s fond of asking, “Are you good at believing the things you believe?”

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