Logic


Materialists will tell you they don’t believe anything other than the material world exists, but seem oblivious to the fact that propositions – such as the proposition that only the material world exists – are not material.  That means materialism is falsified the moment you think about it. Pun intended.

science defies common senseI’ve heard science types like Lawrence Krauss claim that science has shown us over and over again that we can’t trust our common sense, and by extension, philosophical reasoning.  One of the go-to illustrations is our solar system.  It’s said that common sense tells us the sun revolves around the Earth, and yet Copernicus, through science, showed common sense was unreliable as a guide to truth.  Only science can tell us what is true.

I think this is a misconstrual of the issue.  Daniel N. Robinson said it best: “What Copernicus said was not hostile to common sense but was inconsistent with common experience.”[1]  Indeed.  While science has discovered physical phenomenon which is weird, to say the least, it does not defy common sense, but our common experience.  Rationality is not at odds with science, and cannot be disproven by science.  Indeed, the task of science presupposes rationality from start to finish.


[1]Daniel N. Robinson, “Neuroscience and the Soul,” Philosophia Christi, Vol. 15, Number 1, 2013, 17.

Apologetics DefenseSome Christians think that if we appeal to reason and evidences to demonstrate that the Bible is truly God’s Word, then we are elevating reason and evidence to a place of authority over God’s Word.  I think this conclusion is misguided for several reasons.  First, I don’t think it is legitimate to consider reason an “authority.”  Reason is merely a tool for assessing reality.  It is basic to all human thought.  Indeed, one cannot even understand God’s revelation apart from reasoning.  It would be a mistake, then, to pit reason against revelation as if they are two competing authorities.  As Greg Koukl has argued, using reason to assess whether or not the Bible is God’s revelation to man no more puts reason above the Bible than using grammar to understand God’s revelation puts grammar above the Bible.

Secondly, this confuses the order of being (ontology) with the order of knowing (epistemology). While the Bible is first in terms of authority, it is not first in terms of the order of knowing. Knowledge of the divine origin and revelatory status of the Bible is not innate. We must acquire this knowledge.  Knowledge of a proposition requires three elements: (1) belief that the proposition is true; (2) justification for the belief that the proposition is true; (3) the proposition must actually be true.  Put another way, knowledge is justified true belief.  Given the fact that knowledge requires justification, it cannot be wrong to require justification for believing the Bible is God’s Word.  We could not know the Bible is God’s Word apart from such justification.  As Kelly Clark has pointed out, reason is not autonomous as the standard of truth, but it is the best tool for discovering the truth. 

A proper use of reason is not an exercise of subjecting God’s Word to a higher authority, but an examination of the Bible to determine if it is truly what it claims to be.  We use our God-given reason to discover the truth that the Bible is a product of divine revelation.

Subjective ObjectWhen talking about subjective and objective truths, I’ve heard it claimed that every truth claim is “subjective” since humans are subjects.  On this view, there can be no such thing as objective truth since all truth claims are made by subjects.

This is often applied in the context of the moral argument.  Theists argue that morality is objective, and finds its ontological grounding in the character of God.  In response, some will argue that since God is a subject, His moral commands are subjective, and hence even theistic ethics cannot provide an objective basis for morality.

This is a gross misunderstanding of the terms.  Subjective and objective tell you what a statement is about – not where it comes from.  To say a truth is “subjective” is to say it is about the subject himself; to say a truth is “objective” is to say it is about a mind-independent object in the world.

Burden of ProofIn philosophy, a burden of proof refers to one’s epistemic duty to provide reasons in support his assertion/claim/position.  While listening to a debate recently, I noticed that one of the participants spoke of a “burden of justification” rather than “burden of proof.”  I thought this terminological shift was helpful since when most people hear the word “proof” they think “certainty.”  Clearly, no one has the burden to demonstrate their position with apodictic certainty.  “Justification,” on the other hand, makes it clear that one only has a burden to back up their claims with good reasons.  I am going to be intentional about adopting this terminology in the future.

Retired particle physicist and outspoken atheist Victor Stenger developed a rhetorically powerful aphorism against religion: “Science flies men to the moon, religion flies men into buildings.”

I think Stenger is being a bit too selective in what he chooses to highlight about science and religion, though.  Science has also been responsible for great moral atrocities, and religion has also been responsible for great moral goods.  To demonstrate how worthless this rhetoric is, I could just as easily develop an aphorism modeled on Stenger’s to make the opposite point: “Science builds atomic bombs to kill millions of people, religion builds hospitals to save billions of people.”

New Scientist has a short video discussing the proper understanding of reality.  It’s a 2:30 philosophical mess!  It’s almost as bad as their video on how the universe came from nothing, but I won’t go there.

They present two definitions of reality.  Their first definition is that “reality is everything that would still be here if there was no one around to experience it.”  But they find this view problematic because “as far as we know, we humans actually do exist, and a lot of the things that we can all agree are real, like language, or war, or consciousness, wouldn’t exist without us.”  What?

This objection is irrelevant.  Yes, humans exist, but how does that count against this definition of reality?  The definition doesn’t assume or require that people do not exist.  It merely holds that some X is real if and only if X would still obtain in the absence of a mind to think about it.  While it goes without saying that those things germane to humans would not exist if humans did not exist, what does that have to do with everything else non-human?  The question is whether anything else would exist if we didn’t exist, not whether things unique to humans would exist if humans did not exist.

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Some people want to reject the testimony of the NT evangelists on the basis that they are biased.  I have written on the problems of this claim before, but here is a brief summary of my argument (with some added insight offered by Greg Koukl in his September 10, 2012 podcast):

  • This is an example of the genetic fallacy – dismissing one’s arguments because of its origin, rather than addressing it on its own merits.
  • Having a bias is irrelevant to the legitimacy of one’s testimony and/or arguments.  One must grapple with the evidence rather than dismiss it because it comes from a biased source.
  • Everyone has a bias, including those who reject Jesus.  The only people without a bias are those who are ignorant of the matter.
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There’s a difference between how we know something to be true (epistemology), and what makes that something true (ontology).  Keeping this distinction in mind would illuminate many debates.  For example, atheists often claim that one doesn’t need God to know morality and act morally.  That’s true, but it misses the point.  Just because one can know moral truths and behave morally without believing in God does not mean God is not necessary to explain morality.  As Greg Koukl likes to say, that’s like saying because one is able to read books without believing in authors, authors are not necessary to explain the origin of books (author-of-the-gaps).  In the same way books need authors, moral laws need a moral-law giver.

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Recently I listened to the debate between Peter Atkins and Callum Miller.  As usual, Atkins was short on arguments and long on ad hominems, although I must admit that he was more civil in this debate than usual.  One of the things Atkins said, however, caught my attention.  He said that one of the advantages of science over religion is that in science, one can be wrong, whereas in religion one is never allowed to be wrong.  I’ve heard other atheists make the same claim.  I find it interesting because whether it’s true or false, it’s irrelevant.  

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What is the difference between a skeptic and someone who questions everything?  Barnabas Piper provides a nice distinction: “There’s a fine line…between being someone who questions things and being a skeptic. In fact, many people would call someone who questions everything a skeptic.  Here’s the thing; I don’t think many skeptics actually question anything. They may phrase their challenges as questions, but their heart is set on rejection and disproving. To truly question something is to pose questions to it and about it for the sake of understanding. This may lead to disproving or rejecting, but the heart behind it is in learning.”[1]

I think we could break down the differences between a questioner and a skeptic as follows:

Questioner: Desire to learn
Skeptic: Desire to reject/disprove accepted truth claims

Questioner: Primarily interested in maximizing true beliefs
Skeptic
: Primarily interested in avoiding false beliefs

Questioner: Engage thinking
Skeptic: Avoid thinking

HT: STR


[1]Barnabas Piper, “The Unskeptical Questioner”; available from http://www.barnabaspiper.com/2011/11/unskeptical-questioner.html; Internet; accessed 10 November 2011.

Over at Uncommon Descent a good point has been raised about materialists (such as evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne) who deny the existence of free will and yet get angry at others for believing and doing things they (the materialists) do not agree with:

Another inconsistency of atheists who share Professor Coyne’s views on freedom is that they are nearly always angry at someone – be it the Pope or former President George W. Bush or global warming deniers. I have to say that makes absolutely no sense to me…. But please, spare me your moral outrage, your sermonizing, your finger-wagging lectures and your righteous indignation. That I cannot abide. You don’t lecture the PC on your desk when it doesn’t do what you want. If I’m just a glorified version of a desktop PC, then why lecture me?

Perhaps materialists would respond that they don’t have a choice but to get angry!  Well, perhaps we don’t have a choice but not to care that they are.

Oxford professor of chemistry, Peter Atkins (atheist) recently engaged in dialogue with Oxford professor of mathematics, John Lennox (theist), on the question of God’s existence.  While atheists such as Atkins often portray their atheism as being the result of being brave enough to follow the evidence to where it leads, at one point in the debate Atkins showed his true hand.

LENNOX: Do you think it’s an illegitimate thing from a scientific perspective…to see whether scientifically one can establish whether intelligence needs to be involved in the origin of life?

ATKINS: … Let’s just take the laws of nature as available.  And seeing that, letting them run free in the environment that we can speculate existed…billions of years ago, and seeing whether that sort of process leads to life.  And if it does, that seems to me to abrogate the need for the imposition of intelligence.

LENNOX: And if it doesn’t?

ATKINS: Then, if we go on trying (we may have to try for a hundred years), and if in the end we come to the conclusion that an external intelligence must have done it, then we will have to accept that.

LENNOX: Would you be prepared to accept that?

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In my experience, most opponents and skeptics of theism reject theistic arguments on less than epistemically justifiable grounds. For example, premise one of the kalam cosmological argument proposes that “everything which begins to exist has a cause” (and concludes that since the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause). Some detractors of the argument will counter that since our only experience with cause and effect is within the spatio-temporal world, we cannot be certain that causation is possible outside the spatio-temporal world. While I think this is a fair point to consider, does it really undermine the premise, and hence the conclusion? It doesn’t seem to me that it does. While it is possible that the principle of cause and effect does not apply beyond the temporal framework of our universe, unless one can demonstrate that non-temporal causality is incoherent/impossible, the mere logically possibility that the principle of causality does not hold outside of the universe does not override the warrant we have for thinking all effects require an antecedent cause (and that contingent things require an external cause).

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Many Christians have a negative connotation of the words reason, logic, and philosophy.  Their negativity is not altogether unfounded.  After all, there’s been more than a few individuals who have rejected Christianity on the grounds that it is irrational and illogical.  And we’ve all known or heard of someone who studied philosophy only to lose their Christian faith.  The problem in all of these cases, however, is not reason, logic, or philosophy, but rather the improper use of reason, logic, and philosophy.  Indeed, all of us use reason and logic, and all of us subscribe to a particular philosophy even if we are unaware of it.  It is inescapable.  Reason and logic are God-given tools that allow us to think and obtain knowledge.  Logic and reason help us to order our thoughts, and enhance our ability to discern truth from error.  We can’t think without them, although we can misuse or abuse them in the process of thinking.  And that, I think, is where the real problem lies: the abuse of reason and logic.

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It is often believed that valid/sound deductive arguments can provide certainty.  This is not quite true.  The conclusion of a valid/sound deductive argument is certain in the sense that it follows necessarily from the premises.  It does not mean, however, that the conclusion is certainly true.  Why?  The premises are usually contingent truths discovered inductively, and thus the veracity of the logically certain conclusion depends on the veracity of the probabilistic premises.  The more confidence we have in the truth of the premises, however, the more confidence we can have in the veracity of the conclusion.

I just finished reading an article in The Guardian by Oliver Burkeman regarding the changing face of evolutionary theory.  He discusses a book by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (What Darwin Got Wrong) that challenges the coherency of natural selection.  Fodor notes that Darwin assumed natural selection “selects for” specific traits in an organism.  He finds two problems with this.  First, natural selection is a mindless, blind process, so it cannot “select for” anything. 

Second, there is no way to determine that a specific trait was “selected for,” rather than merely “selected.”  Traits are correlated together in an organism, and thus one cannot single out a specific trait to say “X was selected for by natural selection.”  Not every trait is adaptive, and thus not every trait will be “selected for.”  Some will merely be selected by default.  For example, why think the Cheetah’s spots were “selected for” by natural selection?  It very well could be that the Cheetah was selected by natural selection because of its speed, and its spots were merely “selected” in the process – coming along for the ride if you will.  Organisms qua organisms are selected, not specific traits. 

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I recently heard a preacher repeat the oft-cited aphorism, “A man who has an argument is always at the mercy of a man who has an experience.”  This is quite true as an anthropological observation, but I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing.

The aphorism was quoted by the preacher in the context of those who doubt the reality of Spirit baptism and glossalalia.  I am inclined to agree with him in one very real and practical sense.  No matter what argument someone might present to me against glossalalia, the fact of the matter is that I have experienced it for myself and, thus, I know it is real.  But the blade can cut both ways.  What about the Mormon who claims to have received a “burning in his bosom” confirming the truth of the Book of Mormon?  Should the Mormon trust his experience over sound reason to the contrary?  I imagine the preacher would say that in this case, reason should trump experience.  But why should the aphorism apply to us, and not to the Mormon?  To the Mormon, his experience was equally as real as our own.  If we can reject arguments that contradict our experience, why can’t the Mormon?

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While arguing from silence is a logical fallacy, I think there are times that an argument from silence must be reckoned with.  For example, in discussing whether Matthew 28:19 originally read “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or “in my name,” some Trinitarian scholars argue that the latter is original.  “In my name” does not appear in any extant manuscript, so what is there basis?  One reason is Justin Martyr’s silence on the passage.  In one of Justin’s work he was arguing for “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as the appropriate baptismal formula, and yet he never once appealed to Matthew 28:19 for support as we would expect for him to have done if Matthew 28:19 originally read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Since he did not, it stands to reason that Matthew 28:19 did not read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” in Justin’s day (or at least in the manuscripts he had access to), but rather “in my name.”  While this is an argument from silence, it is a strong argument nonetheless.

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A few years back I watched a debate between an evangelical Christian (Greg Koukl) and a new age guru (Deepak Chopra) on the issue of truth.  Mr. Chopra employed a common tactic to dismiss Mr. Koukl’s arguments.  The exchange went something like this:

DC: “Everyone thinks they are right.  You think you’re right.  The Hindu thinks he’s right.  The Buddhist thinks he’s right”

GK: Yes, that’s right.  And that’s why psychological confidence in one’s faith is not enough.  Something more is needed.  I am not interested in knowing that someone believes their view is right; I am interested in knowing why they believe their view is right.  This requires evidence.  We must weigh the evidence to determine who has better reasons supporting their view.

DC: chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp…

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