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Sep 30

Explaining Logic

Glenn Hendrickson, in his essay Christianity Explains Logic, makes what I consider a shockingly bold claim. Hendrickson claims that the Christian worldview alone accounts for the laws of logic.[i] I’ll begin by directly quoting Hendrickson’s formulation of the argument:

 

1. All we experience is grounded in the laws of logic.

2. The Christian worldview alone adequately explains and accounts for the laws of logic.

3. Therefore, all we experience cannot be explained or accounted for outside of the Christian worldview.

 

I will keep this short and sweet, and even go beyond the scope of his argument. I will show that no form of theism has an advantage over atheism in explaining the laws of logic, Christianity included. The laws of logic actually require no explanation, which makes (2) false, which means we should reject the conclusion.

Have you ever asked a Christian to explain why God exists? You probably received an answer that God’s existence requires no external explanation. God exists necessarily. I want to point out that this actually is a valid response if God’s existence is in fact necessary. It would mean there was never a time when God did not exist and there is no possible world in which God does not exist.

When we say something requires an explanation, it is because it could have been otherwise. If my wife comes home early, I might ask, ‘What are you doing home early?’ The only reason this question makes sense is because it could possibly have been otherwise. Things that exist contingently require an explanation of their existence. Things that exist necessarily do not.

Now, are the laws of logic contingent or necessary? The laws of logic are uncreated and exist necessarily. They could not have been otherwise. Let’s see how this relates to the earlier argument:

 

4. The laws of logic are necessary.

5. Things that exist necessarily do not require an explanation of their existence.

6. Therefore, any worldview that recognizes this adequately accounts for the laws of logic.

 

Premise (6) renders the earlier premise (2) false. Short and sweet.

 

[This post is part of the series Why Christianity is False]


[i] I would actually say there are two arguments in this essay. Dismantling the first, though, will make dismantling the second unnecessary. If the atheist can account for logic just as well as the theist, then we are acting in a coherent manner in our daily lives

 

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  1. Jorge Laris

    That’s a very logical explanation for logic.

  2. Ryan

    I stopped reading the comments for his essay when he said this:

    “Dogs (and other animals) are creatures of God but they are not made in God’s image. Your dog does not use logic.”

  3. Mike

    That reminds me that I should have added some kind of warning: Read the original essays at your own risk. You may pull your hair out.

  4. Mike

    Also, Ryan you should check out Ken Pulliam’s (who is unfortunately no longer with us) comments on that page. He is spot on in his criticism. I just took a different approach to criticizing it. His comments are based on the problem of presuppositions in general.

  5. Ryan

    Yes, his responses were good. Probably not coincidentally, they were also mostly ignored.

    Then again, this argument and the apologist who makes it seem to be easy targets. Do you come across Hendrickson’s argument often or are we relaxing today? 🙂

  6. Mike

    Two other bloggers and I decided to divide up the responses to this Apologetics 315 series. This one fell to me and I decided to do it first since an obvious reply was available.

  7. Ryan

    Sorry, I didn’t notice that it was part of that series. Are any of the essays assigned to you worthwhile or are they all about as invalid as this one?

  8. Mike

    There are still a few unassigned ones. In addition to the two I’ve done (one was a while back before I formed this plan) there are two more I’m definitely doing and will probably do at least two more on top of those. Of the two I know I’ll be doing, one is about Christianity’s relationship to ancient mystery cults and the other is sort of an updated Pascal’s wager. There are several on the resurrection so I might do one of those.

    I’m looking forward to everyone’s though. I basically said pick what you want and I’ll be happy to do whatever is left.

  9. David Ellis

    This version of the transcendental argument gets my vote for world’s most silly piece of apologetics.

    The very meaning of a logically necessary truth is that it could not fail to be true. It requires no “accounting for”. If it did it wouldn’t be a necessary truth.

  10. Mike

    Agreed. I don’t get how anyone finds TAG arguments convincing (oh wait, yeah I do; It’s because they are already assuming their conclusion).

    I actually took it kind of easy on him and just went after his main premise. I could have come up with some snide comment in response to this gem:

    “It is almost humorous that in order for an atheist to present an argument against God’s existence, they must first reach into the Christian worldview to borrow their tools – logic, reasoning, ethics, morality, etc.”

    Or I could have pointed out the silliness of this reasoning:

    “An evolutionary worldview, for instance, might put forth the idea that humanity has evolved from lower life forms in a purely naturalistic process. If we suppose for the sake of argument that this is the case I would press the question of how logic is to be found in all people?”

    What?!?

  11. Randy Everist

    I think you’ll have a hard time justifying (5), if only because (4) just is an explanation of its existence! 😉

    But on to more substantive issues, I think saying (4) is true is right, but circular. Not all circularity is vicious, but “necessity” just is a principle of logic, so that what we’re really saying is the laws of logic are justified by the laws of logic, so that they require no explanation. But that alone doesn’t get us anywhere. Now one may point, rightly, I think, to the impossibility of arguing coherently without reason, and thus, with Kant and others, argue for it in a transcendental way (seem familiar, anyone?). Thus, while I do not promote TAG, the very same reasoning is employed–it’s just accepted here. Now the TAG advocate may postulate that it seems just odd that a set of abstracta, which many people do not even believe really exists, should somehow just be “there,” and hence a grounding of logic is postulated. I happen to think it’s true, but as you rightly point out, only because I already believe God exists necessarily, and hence is the ground of all truth.

    I think someone who didn’t already embrace the conclusion could possibly take this route with TAG: it is more reasonable to assume there is an explanation of the laws of logic existing in a ground of being than it is to suppose they are mere abstracta, and hence come to believe in God this way. However, I have long suspected the argument to be mostly useless, since most non-believers have used logic (wittingly or no) their entire lives without attributing it to God. Just some thoughts.

  12. Mike

    Hello Randy. A few quick thoughts since I’m on my phone.

    I don’t view (4) as an explanation. It’s simply a statement that they are necessary. Of course, at this level of things it’s pretty hard to distinguish between the two.

    I agree that it’s circular, but it is so in the same way as saying God is necessary, in my opinion. So, if that is the case, then I’d invoke the goose/gander principle!

    If someone did not accept the necessity coming in, then they might not even be an appropriate target for the original argument (or could just be inconsistent).

  13. Randy Everist

    To address the two points, I was just saying that “necessity” is the explanation, not the entire proposition. Second, that was my point! One cannot mock the basic reasoning behind TAG and then justify logic assuming logic! Now as it happens, I think logic is inescapable, but we then have no non-circular way of viewing it as true. In that case, being inconsistent won’t be a problem, for consistency relies on the laws of logic. At that point, one is faced with what he thinks is more likely: they exist in abstracta or that a being grounds logic.

    It’s not that they should reject logic’s necessity, but that they recognize the circularity.

  14. Mike

    A TAG generally goes much further than I am. When I encounter them, they usually seek to claim a better explanation for why we act a certain way or why science works or something along those lines. I’m not making any pro atheist case here. I’m just saying that based on the assumed existence of laws of logic, theism does not favor atheism.

    If you consider asking for an explanation of why something exists to be why this way and not some other, then it’s simply a rejection of that question as having an answer in this circumstance. I don’t think of necessity as explaining anything. It probably raises more questions than it answers.

    I think the whole idea that it’s grounded in being is in effect indistinguishable from a naturalistic explanation, which still leaves neither as more likely considering these issues alone.

  15. Lee

    I have butt heads with Randy on this idea of ‘grounding’ things in other things, and I haven’t the foggiest what that is supposed to mean. Is this ontology? Is there another term or reference either of you could recommend to help alleviate my ignorance?

    Thanks,

    Lee.

  16. Randy Everist

    Hi Mike, my point is that the same circular reasoning is applied, so that to critique it on those grounds isn’t sufficient–that’s all I am saying.

    As to necessity, that is an explanation–a reason that it exists–because what it means to be necessary is that it could not have failed to exist. As to the ground of being, only in the case that naturalism has such a necessarily-existing foundation would it be identical, and even then it would not be indistinguishable (as I know of no one, save pantheists, who believe that the natural is not distinct from the supernatural).

    As to Lee, ontological grounding can just be viewed as an explanation of its existence. Why that does not work for logic is that necessity, the proffered explanation, is itself logic, so that we use logic to justify logic. That’s not too problematic for us believing in logic, and one may simply shrug off the “origins” or grounding of such. But for those who are interested, it becomes a very perplexing question in philosophy.

  17. David Ellis

    “As to necessity, that is an explanation–a reason that it exists–because what it means to be necessary is that it could not have failed to exist.”

    One thing that’s bothered me about most of these comments is this reference to laws of logic as something that necessarily exist. I think that’s not really the best way of stating it. They are propositions that are necessarily true. Whether ideas as such “exist” and if so in what sense is a thorny issue that we don’t really need to go into when talking about logical necessity.

  18. Mike

    David,

    I think that there are propositons that are true or false necessarily, but I don’t think that can relly cover something like modus ponens. It’s true that we could state what modus ponens says in propositional form, but that’s a little misleading. It’s kind of like how you can express some thought in your head as a proposition, but it’s not the same thng as the thought in your head. For many ways of doing philosophy of language, we generally want to think of our propositions at the semantic as having some referent in the world. For example, when I use the word “Aristotle” it picks something out in the real world (or for possible world semantics it could be on some possible world). I understand the hestation because we end up in this cul de sac of jsutifications, but I think that’s just the way it is.

    Randy,

    I think there are some distinctions we could make, but I don’t want to distract from the point of the article. I’m not trying to take down TAG arguments. I want to focus on denying premise (2) from Hendrickson’s article. Let’s consider the two possible challenges that could be raised. He could be asking the atheist (or non-Christian) for an explanation of logic that meets the conditions of why x and not y. If that is what he is asking, then my response is a rejection of that question’s application to logic. So, (4) is not of the type of explanation that would make my response problematic. Or he could be asking for any explanation at all that includes explanations of necessity. In that case, I would use a different argument than above, but would still ultimately reject (2). I would just say here is my expanation and I am a non-Christian.

    So, I don’t think (4) and (5) are problematic together. What do you think about the original argument? Would you support (2)?

  19. David Ellis

    “I think that there are propositons that are true or false necessarily, but I don’t think that can relly cover something like modus ponens. ”

    I don’t see much problem there.

    Proposition: “modus ponens is a valid argument form”

    That proposition is necessarily true.

  20. Mike

    I think there is some kind of rule that makes that proposition true. (And then of course theists think there is a God who makes that rule true.)

    If it really is just the propositions, though, we can still make the original argument against Hendrickson. We would just have to swap some words out. All we really need is to be able to give some account that is consistent with atheism and with how we live. I think there are multiple potential ways we could do that. I just think the most plausible solution is that some limited set of logical rules is necessary. I’m not even sure how we would go about considering other possible worlds without logical rules.

  21. Mike

    Lee,

    I just want to follow up on Randy’s comment about grounding and perhaps I have an analogy that can help.

    When Newton came up with equations to describe gravity, they were remarkably successful in accurately describing our observations. However, his theory lacked an explanation of the mechanism by which gravity operates. Newton saw this as a serious flaw. He could describe the what, but not the why, in some sense. Einstein provided a mechanism. He said that it was the warping of three dimensional space (plus time) around the object that affected its motion. And now there is an even further option (theoretically) in the graviton.

    So, we might think of it like this: logic works because of some feature about the world just as equations describing gravity work because of some feature about the world. If that feature did not exist or worked in some other way, then the dependent thing would not work in the same way either. Whether logic works this way is disputed, but hopefully that helps to give some approximate idea of what is meant.

    Randy,

    When I said it would be indistinguishable, I meant more from our perspective.

  22. JRed

    The existence of God is not something that is determined (explained), but something that is discovered by following the clues that logic, morality, causality, and design, seem to point to.

  23. Mike

    JRed,

    Ok, can you differentiate that from logic? The term “explains” I think came from the original article. My point isn’t really a semantic one so much as saying there are similarities between a point accepted by theists and one to which a secular discussion of logic can appeal. I think a broader point is that Chrisrians aren’t in a special position when it comes to explaining logic because it is not a created thing, not even God could have realistically created logic.

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