The professor in C.S. Lewis’ delightful book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe sighed in frustration: “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?” One might wonder the same thing today. Learning how to think and reason seems to be a lost art.
I had an exchange with a parent recently, who is studying the logic curriculum I require my Rhetoric students to take. She decided to go through it with her son, and she found herself stumped at times. She asked, “Could a person win at a debate only because they follow the correct process, even if the concluding statement is something like: Therefore, no cows are animals?”
When I learned logic as a formal class, I was in my early 30s. I thought I might die, because I am an English person, not a math person, and this seemed too math-like for me. But then I began to enjoy the way words fit together to make sense, and I began to see how this could order my thinking as I taught Apologetics and Rhetoric.
Could a person win a debate with a nonsense statement? No; he could conclude that the argument was in correct logical form, but he could not win a debate with nonsense.
We might try telling a few of our political leaders the same thing these days. A lot of nonsense is coming out of Washington, and many folks not only nod and smile at it; they believe it as truth. THIS (preaches the Rhetoric teacher) is why we need to learn logic AND rhetoric! (Hmmm…I feel another blog coming on…)
Logic is not just a study of how to argue correctly. Logic helps a person to order his thoughts, to recognize fallacy, and to improve his own methods of thinking. We might be less likely to follow unscrupulous methods of argumentation if we adhere to pure logic.
Rhetoric not only teaches a student how to become more eloquent in his writing; it teaches how to discern. A discerning student should be able to tell when he is being manipulated by the people around him, whether it is a politician, a professor, or a pastor. Yes, you might be shocked–some people who purport to represent the Gospel actually represent their own interpretation, or twisting, of God’s word. How will we know unless we learn how to discern truth from error? (I digress; that’s the subject of other blogs.)
When studying Rhetoric, a student will learn to peel back the layers of another person’s argument to see what’s underneath. Perhaps it’s faulty logic. Maybe it’s emotional manipulation. It might actually be truth, presented well. But unless he has studied logic and struggled through Rhetoric, working on improving his faculties of higher thinking, he might find himself following the whims of anyone who happens to have the podium (or the teleprompter) at the time.
The study of logic and rhetoric does not guarantee immediate good-thinking and sound reasoning. One could use those studies to improve his own methods of deceit and demagoguery. Again, though, how will we be able to recognize that twist unless we ourselves pursue, throughout all our lives, sound logic and reasoning?
Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (NASB). Shrewdness comes when we have studied the world around us and can discern truth from error. Staying innocent as doves, I might venture to offer, happens when we remain unstained by that world which we have studied. How do we do that? By abiding in God’s Word as we study, and by constant reminder that we are in this world, not of it (see Romans 12:2, Phil 2:15, Col 2:8).