Evaluating Ezzo's Logic - Part 1

This series was originally presented to the Ezzo Debate Board at iVillage by Pastor Mike Mahurin, or "Metochoi" as he was known by his screenname.  Mahurin pastored a Baptist church in a small town in Texas.  On the Ezzo Debate he put his teaching skills to use to acquaint participants with principles of logic and standard Protestant bible interpretation.  Although he passed away in 2009, his clear and helpful writing is a gift he left behind.

This is the first of four long posts by Metochoi containing eighteen short lessons in evaluation of argument. These are designed to help people more accurately evaluate Ezzo's -- and his critics' -- arguments:


One of the most important skills you can develop, if you really care about truth, is the ability to THINK more critically. Every normal human thinks -- but not everyone thinks "critically." Thinking critically is a skill, just as swimming, calligraphy, and dancing are skills. And -- like any other skill, critical thinking can be taught, it can be learned, and it can be improved with practice.

That last point is crucial. I can tell you everything there is to know about critical thinking and evaluation of arguments, but if you don't work at putting these ideas into practice, you will not learn them. Like so many other things in life -- the skill grows and gets stronger the more it is put to use.

The most effective way to develop your critical thinking skills is to put them to use in REAL DISCUSSIONS. This discussion, for example, has helped me work on my reasoning skills -- and I am sure that is true for many of you.

The first thing we need to establish as we discuss how to evaluate arguments is the meaning of CRITICAL THINKING. It does NOT mean finding fault with something or looking for a fight. Here are a few characteristics of a "critical thinker":

  1.  He is open to learning something new.
  2.  He does not argue about something when he knows nothing about it.
  3.  He knows when he needs more information about something -- and he is willing to work to find that information.
  4.  He knows the difference between a conclusion that MIGHT be true and one that MUST be true.
  5.  He knows that people have different ideas about the meanings of words.
  6.  He tries to avoid common mistakes in his own reasoning.
  7.  He questions everything that does not make sense to him.
  8.  He tries to separate emotional thinking from logical thinking.
  9.  He works to build up his vocabulary so that he can understand what other people are saying and so that he can make his own ideas clear to other people.
  10.  He is willing to do the work involved in evaluating claims, rather than accepting or rejecting them blindly.

There are many more sound ideas we could include, but this gives us a good beginning as we seek to become critical thinkers. Think about the above characteristics in relation to this discussion. No need to apply them to OTHERS. What about YOU? Work through each one and ask yourself what YOU are doing with regard to Ezzo's claims -- AND with regard to the claims of those who disagree with Ezzo.

There are very few people who cannot learn to think more clearly and critically. Like anything worthwhile, it takes hard work. Many people are not accustomed to working HARD at their thinking, and it is uncomfortable at first. However -- the more you work at it, the better you will become. You CAN learn to think BETTER than you do now.

One last thing to ponder: As you practice critical thinking skills, you will find yourself becoming CONFUSED or UNSURE about some things that you had PREVIOUSLY assumed to be true, and also about things you had previously rejected as false. This is a GOOD sign that you are beginning to think for yourself, but it frightens some people who are accustomed to the security of being told what to think.

Now look -- I know that some of you are going to be left cold and bored by all this logical discussion. If that is the case, then by all means -- just ignore this thread. But others have been asking for me to repost these lessons, so -- well -- here dey are!

Next = Some preliminary definitions



Let's lay some groundwork for our discussion. Every good "argument" makes clear all of its foundational definitions. Many people come to discussions with different definitions, and so they waste a lot of time arguing PAST each other because of the confusion caused by this difference. In this post I will provide a few foundational definitions and make a few initial observations.

* DISCUSSION = two or more people talking about something. They may or may not be disagreeing. You and I can discuss some of Ezzo's teachings without disagreeing with each other.

* DISAGREEMENT = a DISCUSSION in which both parties think the other one is wrong about something. They are not necessarily trying to convince each other, but they do disagree. I can believe that you are wrong
about something without bothering to tell you why.

* ARGUMENT = a DISAGREEMENT in which BOTH parties are attempting to CONVINCE each other of their error. Contrary to the belief of many Christians -- there is absolutely nothing wrong or unspiritual with this kind of "argument." Jesus, Paul, Peter, Moses -- virtually EVERYONE in the Bible -- engaged in this kind of argument.

So has virtually every theologian and leader in the history of the church. And so, of course, does Gary Ezzo. For us to ARGUE in here is perfectly appropriate -- and necessary -- if we are to have any hope at arriving at truth.

There is another kind of "argument" that we will discuss later on. This other kind of argument involves a line of reasoning, supported by evidence, in which a person is attempting to CONVINCE others of the truth or falsity of something, and/or PERSUADE them to take a certain course of action. Look back at my statement above that you are reading MY argument right now; in that statement, I was using THIS definition. More on this later on.

* FIGHT = an ARGUMENT in which one or more of the parties have lost some control of their emotions. There have been some posters in here from time to time who have shown that they are incapable of arguing without fighting. Most of them don't last very long before flying out of here in a snit.

Now -- with these definitions, I hope you can see that each category above is actually a subset of the preceding category. IOW -- every FIGHT is a kind of argument, but not every argument is a fight; every ARGUMENT is a kind of disagreement, but not every disagreement is an argument; and every DISAGREEMENT is a kind of discussion, but not every discussion is a disagreement.

It is important for us all to attempt to keep this "discussion" list at the level of discussion, disagreement, and argument -- without fighting. Learning to think more clearly and critically actually enables a person to keep a cooler head -- even in the face of great emotion -- and to do a better job of evaluating arguments. OTOH -- a
person who shows a marked tendency to keep pushing the discussion to the level of a fight is showing his lack of thinking ability AND his lack of concern for fairness, accuracy, and truth.

Next = When is it stupid to argue?



What is an "argument"? It is a disagreement in which both parties are attempting to convince the other that he is wrong. In general, there is no good reason to argue when the thing we are arguing about is a matter of record. If there is a mutually accepted reliable source of information, and if that information is clear and conclusive, then it is "stupid" to argue.

This, of course, hasn't kept people from arguing about myriads of things of this nature. Young people are particularly prone to this kind of argumentation. I have heard teenage boys argue back and forth endlessly concerning sports statistics, when all they had to do was LOOK THEM UP! Yeah, I know -- we older folks do the same thing!

For example -- what is the point of an argument like the following?

* Gary: Wayne Gretsky's last year was really poor, wasn't it? I mean -- compared to his previous years?

* Bill: Are you crazy? Gretsky was the greatest player in the history of hockey!

* Gary: I agree. But after all his great years, his LAST year was very disappointing.

* Bill: No, it wasn't! He was the best scorer and passer in the league.

This argument is senseless. Whether or not Wayne Gretsky's last year was up to the standards of his previous years is a matter of public record. We can LOOK IT UP and FIND OUT the truth. No matter WHO convinces WHOM in this argument -- the facts will not change. To argue about the ESTABLISHED FACTS is stupid.

However -- the public record must be trustworthy. For example -- here is another argument:

Chelsea: Look what this history book says. The constitution was ratified in 1978! Wow! I thought it was much older than that!

Marissa: You Cork-brain! Of course it is older than that! It was ratified in 1787!

Chelsea: No, look here. See? It clearly says 1978.

Marissa: That's a misprint, you simple-headed gherkin! It was 1787.

Chelsea: You can't tell me that a book like this would be wrong, with all the editors and proofreaders it has.

In this case, Chelsea has found a public record that Marissa says is wrong. Notice that Chelsea gives a pretty good reason for believing the book, while Marissa gives no reason at all for her position. Is Chelsea then right and Marissa wrong? Have I confused you now?

Here's how to reconcile the two scenarios above. In the first one, we are assuming that the public record is ACCURATE. In the second one -- the record is FAULTY. In BOTH cases -- if we have any question, we can check the record against many other sources.

How do we apply this to logic and to the question of when it is stupid to argue? If we believe the issue is a matter of public record, then we can look it up rather than argue about it. If we can trust the record, the matter is settled. That is -- if we agree that the answer is recorded somewhere -- AND we believe that that record is accurate -- there is no reason to argue. OTOH -- if we think the record may be in error -- then we can argue about the ACCURACY of the record -- until and unless we can find other records that we DO trust.

What I want you to take from this lesson -- besides the fact that Chelsea is a cork-brain -- is that if something is a matter of record, then it is stupid to argue about it -- UNLESS you can demonstrate that that public record is FAULTY. But -- in BOTH cases above, there are MANY, MANY accurate sources that all agree with each other. NEITHER fact is really in question.

Finally -- in relation to our discussion in here: What would you think of the thinking skills and/or honesty of someone who would stubbornly argue with a RECORDED FACT , simply because that fact negates something that person has chosen to believe?

Think about all of Ezzo's quotes that we have provided in here over the years, only to see many of his defenders deny that Ezzo ever said such things. We have provided the PUBLIC RECORD -- WORD-FOR-WORD -- in his OWN words -- again and again and again -- and yet some of them STILL will not accept that evidence.

Is that an indication of a lack of thinking skills, or is it an indication of a refusal to accept the truth simply because it differs from what one WANTS to believe? Is it STUPID to argue against the written record of what Ezzo said? Of course, it is. Now -- arguing about just what he MEANT by what he said -- that's not necessarily stupid!



In debate or discussion, there are three kinds of disagreement -- apparent, verbal, and real.

1) An APPARENT disagreement occurs when two statements reflect different feelings or opinions, not facts or evidence. For example:

* Kung-fu-tsu says: I think Latin is hard.

* Boniface says: I think it is easy.

So -- is Latin hard or easy? We cannot tell from these two statements, because they are both self-reports -- merely statements of the boys' feelings or opinions, without evidence. There is NOT a true disagreement here, because both statements can be taken as true without contradiction. It is a difference of opinion, but not a logical contradiction. Here is another example:

* Rene says: Brussels sprouts are delicious.

* Theresa says: No, they are awful.

Both of these statements are true -- they only "appear" to disagree. Brussels sprouts are delicious to Rene and awful to Theresa. We have here an *apparent* disagreement, not a real one.

Now -- suppose the following statements have been made:

* Gottfried says: I think the Rams will win the Super Bowl.

* Ludovico says: I don't think so.

These two statements -- without any supporting evidence -- constitute an *apparent* disagreement. They are both self-reports, and as such, unprovable and undisprovable. And many Christians carry on their discussions on this level. It amounts to: What I feel or think about something is what is true.

This is very difficult to overcome when trying to teach or discuss doctrine -- especially when attempting to show that someone's teaching is a false doctrine. Many people are, unfortunately, very hard to convince, because they are not looking at evidence, but at their own opinions and feelings.

2) A VERBAL disagreement occurs when different definitions are used for the same term. This does not necessarily mean that there is a true contradiction. For example:

* Gary says: One-third of high school students are illiterate.

* Anne Marie says: No, only one-fourth of them are.

The key to understanding this disagreement is found in the different definitions of the two terms -- "high school students" and "illiterates". If Gary and Anne Marie are using the same definitions, then there is a real disagreement here. But -- if they are using different definitions, there is only a *verbal* disagreement.

Let's say that the term "high school students" to GARY means "9th through 12th graders" while to Anne Marie it means "10th through 12th graders." This just might make the difference in the statistics the two are using. Or perhaps Gary defines "illiterate" as "unable to read and write AT A PARTICULAR LEVEL OF COMPETENCE," while Anne Marie means "unable to read or write AT ALL."

This points out how important it is to agree upon definitions of terms at the BEGINNING of an argument, so that people are not arguing PAST each other, based on the fact that they are using different definitions of the same terms. Perhaps if they were to both use the same definitions, we would find that they would actually be in agreement. This is not guaranteed, but it would at least assure that any disagreement was *real* and not just *verbal*.

Without a clear understanding of Ezzo's definitions of such terms as "demand feeding," "attachment parenting," "parent-directed-feeding," "routine," "metabolic chaos" , and many others -- -- it is difficult to discuss his teachings in relation to those topics. It is also important to evaluate definitions just as we do other elements in an argument.

Just because someone chooses to define a term a certain way -- that does not make it a valid definition. Ezzo, at times, reminds me of the Cheshire cat in *Alice in Wonderland,* who said to Alice: "When I use a word, it means exactly what I want it to mean, and nothing else."

The solution to a "verbal" disagreement is to define our terms carefully up front, and to adhere strictly to those definitions from then on. If we could do this with respect to many of the terms that Ezzo RE-defines -- the argument would be over in a New York minute!

3) A REAL disagreement is a true contradiction. Both statements cannot be true at the same time. And a REAL disagreement can be over the definition of a term, as well as over anything else based upon that definition. Here is an example of a REAL disagreement:

* Monica says: Bill Clinton is the president.

* Paula says: No, he is not.

As long as we can be certain that both Monica and Paula are defining their terms in the same way, we can also be certain that between these two statements there is a *real* disagreement. They cannot both be true at the same time, and we ought to be able to find the evidence to determine which is really true. As a matter of fact -- if you will recall the previous lesson -- this is an example of a case in which it is stupid to argue, since the fact at issue is a matter of public record.

Now -- in terms of our discussion in here, try this example:

* Gary Ezzo says: Demand feeding and attachment parenting create moral, physical, social, and academic problems for the poor child thus treated.

* Bill Sears says: No, it doesn't.

IF these two men are using the same definitions, we have here a *real* disagreement. Both statements cannot be true at the same time, and one of them must be wrong about this. Now -- not every *real* disagreement can be resolved, and people can still be respectful and friendly while maintaining some very big disagreements -- but not in all cases.

Ezzo's teachings -- many of us claim -- have the strong tendency to divide Christians who would otherwise get along just fine -- and those divisions are over matters that should NOT be at issue. When it becomes clear that some of us reject Ezzo's claims, those who accept those claims are powerfully motivated to judge us for that rejection , personalize it, and withdraw from friendship with us. It has happened to me several times, and many others in here have reported the same thing.

In terms of disagreements -- "apparent" disagreements are not worth arguing over, since they are merely self-reports of personal prefererence. "Verbal" disagreements need to be resolved by agreeing upon correct definitions of terms. "Real" disagreements SHOULD be argued about by those who believe in trying to find the truth.

Next = The problem of differing definitions



Suppose Pearl is driving Deborah to school. Consider the following conversation:

Deb: Pearl! Slow down! You are driving too fast!

Pearl: No, I am only doing 30, you high-strung vixen!

Deb: But that's too fast! The speed limit on this street is only 20.

Pearl: No, 30 is not too fast. It's perfectly safe.

Deb: Anything over the speed limit is too fast, Gonzo!

Pearl: There's no harm in going 30. It's safe, so it is not too fast.

Now -- read that conversation again, and think about the following question as you do: Are Deb and Pearl using the same definition for "too fast"?

It should be obvious that they are not. And because of this, they are not likely to reach agreement until they see that they are arguing about two different things. As I said before -- many people argue PAST each other because they are basing their arguments on different meanings of the same terms.

Suppose, on the other hand, that Deb had begun the conversation with the statement: "Pearl, you are going over the speed limit." In that case, Pearl would have to agree.

It is important to understand the difference between this kind of argument and one that may come from different FEELINGS about a term. For example -- we might agree about the MEANING of a term, but we might
disagree about our personal feelings ABOUT the term. That is, we might agree on what the word "authority" MEANS, but still disagree on how we FEEL about it .

However -- in the driving story above, it is not "feelings" that differ, but DEFINITIONS. Deb and Pearl do not agree on the MEANING of "too fast." They both may very well FEEL that it is unsafe to drive too fast, but they do NOT agree on just what "too fast" is.

In the course of the discussion in here, I have noticed many instances in which two people THINK they are talking about the same thing because they are using the same terminology. But they are, in actuality, talking about two entirely different things. One example is the argument about "demand feeding." Several Ezzo defenders have argued based on a definition of these terms that is clearly out-of-sync with Ezzo's own definition. Others use Ezzo's twisted definition and refuse to accept the more standard one.

We should be especially careful concerning terms that can be easily confused. For example -- the LEGAL definition of a word is often not the same as its DICTIONARY definition, or its COLLOQUIAL definition, or its RELIGIOUS definition, or its MEDICAL definition. When one is using a specialized definition, he is under obligation to use it correctly and consistently, and to show that it is the definition that is most appropriate.

The primary lesson I am trying to convey in this post is that we can often END an argument by agreeing upon our definitions -- OFTEN, but not ALWAYS. But -- even if we cannot END the debate, we can at least avoid arguing PAST each other, and focus on the REAL disagreement.  With a mutual understanding of the correct definitions of terms -- we can at least argue about the real differences between us.

I have found that, because of the adherence of many Ezzo defenders to Ezzo's own "definitions," we have a very hard time discussing the real issues in here. For example -- we have had to repeatedly revisit the question of just what "demand feeding" and "attachment parenting" really are, because so many Ezzo defenders keep repeating HIS definitions and basing their arguments on it.

It is an interesting problem we have in here -- and I have noticed it is more pronounced in this discussion than in any other I have ever been involved with. We have a terrible time agreeing upon basic definitions because Ezzo has "poisoned the well," so to speak, with his own peculiar definitions -- and his defenders prefer THOSE
definitions to more standard ones.

Regardless of the difficulty, we must work to understand the different definitions of terms, and to reconcile the ones we can, so that we may move on to the substance of the discussion. In some cases -- the only
thing that will do is to adamantly insist upon the standard definition of a term, and force the issue upon those who insist upon adhering to definitions that are based on no evidence at all beyond the word of a man they have chosen to believe without investigation.

Next = Meaning vs. Feelings


End of first five lessons.