Logic


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…

(more…)

Religious pluralists often claim that religious beliefs are culturally relative: the religion you adopt is determined by where you live, not the rationality/truth of the religion itself.  If you live in India you will probably be a Hindu; if you live in the U.S. you will probably be a Christian.  One’s personal religious beliefs are nothing more than a geographic accident, so we should not believe that our religion is true while others are not.

This argument is a double-edged sword.  If the religious pluralist had been born in Saudi Arabia he would have been a Muslim, and Muslims are religious particularists!  His pluralistic view of religion is dependent on his being born in 20th century Western society!

A more pointed critique of this argument, however, comes from the realm of logic.  The line of reasoning employed by the pluralist commits the genetic fallacy (invalidating a view based on how a person came to hold that view).  The fact of the matter is that the truth of a belief is independent of the influences that brought you to believe in it.  While the observation that one’s religious beliefs are often determined by where they live is valid from an empirical standpoint, what follows from that observation?  Nothing.  While I may be a Christian because I live in a society in which most people are Christians, it does not mean that my Christian beliefs are not true.  The truth of Christianity depends on the veracity of the claims themselves, nothing more and nothing less.

Sorry for not posting much as of late.  I’ve been involved with so many projects, I have had computer issues, and I took an excursion to Lake Tahoe.  As I get caught up over the next few days, I’ll begin posting again.  Here’s a short post in the interim:

Back in May of this year, Greg Koukl had some insightful comments about being labeled a “modernist” for believing in truth and logic that I’d like to share with you.  Greg wrote,

Yes, I believe in the legitimacy of reason, but this doesn’t make me a modern simply because the Enlightenment period exalted reason to idol statues.  Pre-moderns of all stripes…trusted reason not because it was a pop idol, but because it as an undeniable feature of reality.

Exactly.

O-031-0437When most people hear “argue” or “argument,” they think of what’s pictured to the left.  I’m not referring to that.  I’m referring to logical discourse.

Argumentation has fallen on hard times in our postmodern age.  Arguments have been replaced by assertions, rhetoric, and sound-bites.  The reasons for this are many: the idea that there are no absolute truths to argue for, a false notion of tolerance, and a pragmatic approach to life to name a few.  We have become more concerned about the utility of an idea than its truthfulness, and our subjective feelings than objective truth.  What I find both interesting and disheartening is that even conservative Christians have disengaged from the art of argumentation.

For many there is an aversion to the very word “argument” because in their mind it connotes fighting.  But there is a difference between being argumentative (a psychological and behavioral disposition), and presenting an argument.  An argument is simply a series of reasons given in support of, or in opposition to some proposition(s).  In this sense the process of argumentation is vital to the epistemological veracity of Christianity.

The process of argumentation and debate aids us in our journey toward more truth.  Argumentation forces us to think of things we might not have thought about before, and only by doing so do we have a chance to grow in knowledge and wisdom.  In his book The Revolt of the Elites Christopher Lasch wrote that it is only in the course of argument that “we come to understand what we know and what we still need to learn,…we come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.”  The process of argumentation puts our own ideas at risk.  In the words of John Leo, arguments “can rescue us from our own half-formed opinions.”  The opinions that survive the argumentation process demonstrate to both us and our opponents the strength or lack thereof of our ideas.

Arguing with those who hold positions contrary to our own is an act of love because its aim is to rescue people from bad ideas, and bad ideas have bad consequences.  So contrary to those who oppose argumentation because it is unloving, nothing could be more loving.  We actually fail to act in love if we allow someone to hold false beliefs.

During Greg Koukl’s August 10th radio broadcast, he shared some thoughts about the criterion of falsifiability as it relates to theism, that I found worth passing on (with some expansion and commentary of my own).

Some claim theistic belief is not reasonable, because theism cannot be falsified.  For something to be falsifiable requires that there be an imagined set of circumstances that would demonstrate a particular view to be false.  For example, Christianity would be falsified if archaeologists ever unearthed Jesus’ body from a grave outside Jerusalem.  The idea behind the principle of falsifiability is that if, in principle, there can be no evidence that counts against a view, then it is not possible to have a reasonable conversation about the merits of the view.

While this is a useful principle, clearly it is not an absolute criterion for a theory/belief to be reasonable, nor is it necessary to have a reasonable conversation about its merits.  For example, consider the belief that you exist.  Can you imagine any set of circumstances that could convince you that you do not exist?  No.  It is inconceivable.  And yet we are fully reasonable in our belief that we exist.

While falsifiability is a useful way to evaluate a theory/belief, the merits of that theory/belief do not hang on its falsifiability.  Its merits hang on the evidence in its favor.  Theism has several lines of evidence in its favor.  That body of evidence serves as the basis for a reasonable dialogue concerning the veridicality of theism.

More to the heart of the matter, falsifiability cannot be an appropriate test for theism because it is impossible to falsify a universal negative.  And in order to falsify God’s existence, one would have to prove a universal negative: God does not exist.

To be fair, I should qualify my statement that a universal negative cannot be proven.  While a universal negative cannot be proven empirically, it can be proven logically.  If something is logically contradictory, or incoherent, we can be sure it does not exist.  For example, I can prove there are no square circles.  I cannot, and need not do so empirically, but I can do so logically.  The concept of a square circle is incoherent, and thus square circles cannot exist.  Some atheists contend that theism is logically incoherent, but few have been persuaded of their arguments.  In the past, the most common attempt to show theism was incoherent was the problem of evil.  It was reasoned that if God is all good and all powerful as theism claims, evil should not exist.  And yet it does, hence, theism must be false.  Philosophers have since come to realize that the existence of evil is logically compatible with the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving God.  It stands, then, that the very nature of theism is that it cannot be falsified, and thus this should not count against the view.  The focus should be on the evidence for theism, not its unfalsifiability.

Renee Descartes was the first modern philosopher. He was a rationalist. His goal was to ground knowledge in something that could not be doubted. He found such a grounding in his famous formulation, Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). The question to be answered was how he could know he existed. The answer was to be found in his act of contemplation of the very question. To contemplate existence requires a contemplator who exists. That he was thinking about doubt was something he could not rationally doubt, and thus concluded he knows indubitably that he exists. He reasoned deductively as follows:

P1 The act of thinking requires the existence of a thinker
P2 I experience the act of thinking
______________________________________________
I exist as a thinker

Some argue that Descartes key insight actually turns out to depend on a logical fallacy: begging the question. The question is whether there exists a personal subject, “I.” And yet “I” is smuggled into the second premise of the argument. That is question-begging, for it assumes there is an I to experience the act of thinking, and then concludes that there is an I who thinks. I am conflicted about this. On the one hand, this seems reasonable to me. Descartes reasoning does seem to beg the question. On the other hand, Descartes argument seems valid: the ability to contemplate one’s existence requires that they exist. What do you think?

If Descartes did beg the question, invalidating his argument, then it seems there is no non-question-begging argument that could indubitably prove I exist. Of course, this does not mean I do not exist. I do, and I know I do. It simply means we can’t demonstrate how we know this, other than an appeal to basic intuition.

I think this is a helpful lesson for skeptics. One does not need to be able to prove (or know how) X is true in order to know X is true. Some truths are properly basic; i.e. they are self-evident, do not need to be questioned, and do not need evidential demonstration.

 

UPDATE 3/1/17: Perhaps the supposed question-begging nature of the argument is merely the fault of how analytic philosophers structure the argument. For example, if we state the argument as follows, it does not beg the question:

P1 The act of thinking requires the existence of a thinker
P2 There are acts of thinking ______________________________________________
Thinkers must exist

The law of non-contradiction (LNC) states that A cannot be both A and not A at the same time and in the same way. For example, my car cannot be said to be both in the garage and not in the garage at the same time and in the same way. It could only be both in the garage and not in the garage at the same time if by being “in the garage” in the first instance means something different than it does in the second. For example, it would not be a contradiction if in the first instance I mean to refer to the body shop where my car is being repaired, and in the second instance I mean to refer to its normal storage space where it is currently absent.


 

Postmodern types disparage the LNC (as with all laws of logic) as a Western invention. No argument is made for such a claim. It is just asserted (any argument offered against the LNC would require them to presuppose its truth, because the premises and conclusion of the argument are not the same as their negation). I have a sneaking suspicion I know why they want to axe the LNC: their worldview is inherently self-contradictory.

 

Postmodernism claims there is no truth, or that truth cannot be known. And yet, this is a contradiction because the claim that there is no truth, or that truth cannot be known is itself a claim to know something that is true. If the LNC is true, then postmodernism is false. The LNC must be axed to save postmodernism as a worldview.


 

When you point out the self-referential and incoherent nature of postmodernism, the postmodernist will retort that such an analysis depends on the LNC. Since the LNC is a Western invention, it is inappropriate to subject postmodernism to its criterion. In fact, doing so is just a power play to subjugate others.


 

What can you say to those who deny the LNC? Greg Koukl has offered a good strategy. When someone claims the LNC is not true, but an invention of Western logic, respond, “So what you are saying, then, is that the LNC is true?” They will protest, “No, I am saying it is not true.” We might respond, “Oh, so you are saying the law of contradiction is true, then. Thank you for clarifying.” Frustratingly they will reply, “No, no. That is not what I am claiming. I am claiming the LNC is not true.” We might graciously answer, “Exactly. That is what I said you said: The LNC is true.”

 

I would venture to say they would be exasperated with you by this point; aggravated that you would contradict But this exposes the very problem with their claim that the LNC is a Western convention, rather than a universal and necessary feature of human rationality. While they deny the LNC with their lips, they cannot help but to recognize that “is” and “is not” are contradictory, and thus your restatement of their view contradicts their stated view. That is inescapably self-refuting. They cannot deny the existence of contradictions on the one hand, and then correct your contradiction on the other.

 

 

For a person who truly believes the LNC is a fiction of Western logic, the only appropriate response to your restatement is a confirmatory, “Yes.” But no one would respond in this way. He would initially seek to correct your contradiction, assuming you have misunderstood him. Even if one dared to respond in this way, I would venture to say he does not believe that which he speaks. For if he believed it, he would have to acknowledge that there was a difference between his believing it, and not believing it. And if such a difference exists, the LNC must be true. The LNC is a first principle of thought that cannot be avoided (rational intuition). It is universal and necessary to all human reasoning—even for those who seek to deny it.


 

Of course, there are other more persuasive ways of illustrating this truth that guarantee your postmodern friend will come to acknowledge the truth of the LNC. The early 11th century Medieval Muslim philosopher, Avicenna, devised an infamous way for helping someone see the irrationality involved in denying the LNC. Avicenna wrote, “Anyone who denies the LNC should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned” (Metaphysics 1). By no means would I suggest using this tactic, but if this wouldn’t convince your postmodern friend of his error, nothing can!

There are several popular objections to theism including the problem of evil, the problem of free-will, and the origin of God. These objections have been answered time and time again. While the answers have been improved upon over the years, some of them are centuries old. I expect the average run-of-the-mill atheist to be ignorant of their existence, but not learned scholars. And yet they are.

Darwinist, Robert Eberle showed his ignorance of theistic apologetics when he addressed the supposedly intractable problem of free agency in light of an omniscient God:

Aside from his simple declarations without any foundation that he believes certain biblical stories and miracles are true, he runs into major problems. One is the claim that God knows what was, is and will be. Collins asserts that there is still free will, but fails to explain his logic for arriving at this extraordinary conclusion. Either what will be is known and fixed or it is not. An infallible god that knows what is going to happen is in conflict with the idea that there is free choice and thus a responsibility for one’s actions.[1]

Not only is this not a difficult problem, it’s not a problem at all. Knowing what someone will choose to do in advance of their actually doing it does not cause them to do it. Yes, what will be is known and fixed, but what fixes God’s knowledge is not His will, but knowledge of our will. If we would will to choose A rather than B on October 12, 2006 God would have known A rather than B. He knows B because that is what He knows we will do. While God’s knowledge is chronologically prior to our acts, our acts are logically prior to God’s knowledge. Was that so hard?

Eberle’s ignorance of this is inexcusable. Either he (1) is totally unacquainted with the literature of his opponents, or (2) he knows his objection has been answered but continues to advance it because the ignorant find it persuasive. Either way, it is inexcusable.


[1]Robert K. Eberle, “The Language of God: If God Could Talk What Would he Say?” Review of Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Contained in an eSkeptic newsletter dated 02 October 2006.

Greg Koukl’s lecture at the 2006 Master’s Series in Christian Thought was on the topic “Truth is a Strange Sort of Fiction: The Challenge from the Emergent Church.” It was a masterful presentation! He argued that truth and knowledge are essential to the enterprise of Biblical faith, and demonstrated this both Biblically and philosophically. What made it so profound was that He provided the philosophic underpinnings for what all of us know intuitively, explaining why it is that we know what we know. I would recommend you buy the 2+ hour lecture from www.str.org, but I would like to summarize some of the lecture for you here.

 

Koukl began by arguing that knowledge of the truth is fundamental to our daily survival. If we were not able to know the truth about the world with a high degree of accuracy we would not be able to survive more than a few hours.

 

Truth is a life or death matter, and people die for the truth all the time. People die for the truth of cancer when they don’t take their doctor’s advice seriously. They die for the truth of drunk driving when they underestimate the power of alcohol to impair their driving abilities. They die for the truth of inertia and mass when they cross the street without looking both ways before crossing. In all these instances people actually die, not for the truth, but because they don’t have the truth. They die because they have false beliefs about important things. Not only must we know the truth, but we must act on that truth if we hope to survive.

 

Belief

 

While knowledge of the truth is necessary for survival, what does it mean to say we know something? At the very least it means you believe it is so; i.e. it accurately describes reality. That’s why it makes no sense to say “I believe X, but I’m not saying it’s true” as do so many postmodern thinkers. To say you believe something is to say you think you are right in your belief. If that is not what is meant the statement becomes entirely vacuous and meaningless.

 

Could our beliefs be mistaken? Yes. That’s why it takes more than merely believing something for it to be true. But at the very least to say you believe something is to say you think it is true, even if your belief turns out to be false.

 

Why should we believe anything (to be true)? For good reasons (justification). Justification comes in degrees. When the level of justification rises to the level of “beyond reasonable doubt” we can rightly claim to know something even though our level of justification does not reach certainty.

 

Truth

 

What is truth? Truth is when your statement corresponds to the way the world really is. It is a relationship between something in the mind of a knowing subject and the objective world. What makes the belief true is the objective world. Reality, then, is the truth maker. Something is not true simply because we believe it to be true.

 

The Relationship of Knowledge to Faith

 

Knowledge is critical to the faith project because faith is active trust in what we know to be true. If we do not know what is true (what corresponds to the way the world really is), or cannot know what is true (according to postmodernism), we cannot exercise faith in it. Since knowledge is the basis for our active trust, if we cannot have knowledge we cannot have Biblical faith.

 

Does knowledge save by itself? No. You can know medicine X will heal you, but if you stop there you will die. An extra step is needed: active trust in that knowledge.

 

Does faith save by itself? No. Muslims have active trust, but their faith is in the wrong object. Trust can be misplaced. Salvation obtains only when active trust is combined with accurate knowledge. If there is no truth/knowledge (or if we cannot know what the truth is) there can be no saving faith, and if there is no saving faith there can be no Christianity! That is why postmodernism (including the Emergent Church which has adopted postmodern epistemology) and Christianity are philosophically incompatible.

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