Thursday, December 11, 2008

The argument from incoherence

It is widely thought that it is impossible to disprove a universal negative. For example, you could never prove that unicorns do not exist. The only way to know for certainty that unicorns do not exists is to be practically all-knowing. After all, unicorns may exist on some remote planet in some distant galaxy that we will never be able to explore.

But it turns out that there are some universal negatives that can be disproved. For example, you can disprove the notion that married bachelors exist just by demonstrating that "married bachelor" is a contradiction in terms. One cannot be both married and a bachelor.

The argument against God from incoherence is an attempt to disprove the existence of the Christian God by demonstrating that the essential attributes of God are contradictory in some way. If the Christian God is necessarily all powerful, all knowing, and perfectly good, and if being all powerful somehow contradicts being all knowing, then it's impossible for the Christian God to exist.

I'm not going to go through all the various attempts to demonstrate an incoherence in the concept of the Christian God. I just want to talk about one way that I've seen because it comes up a lot. It's one of those street objections you hear.

Can God create a rock too heavy for him to lift?

That's usually the way it happens. But lemme unpack that a little. Remember, the Christian concept of God entails that God is all-powerful, which supposedly means he can do anything. Well, this question reveals an incoherence in the concept of being "all powerful." If God is able to create the rock, then he would not be able to lift it, which means he is not all powerful since there is something he can't do. But if God is not able to create the rock, then he is not all powerful because, again, there's something he can't do. So whether you answer "yes" or "no" to the question, you find out that there's something God can't do, which means God cannot be all powerful. "All powerful," is self-contradictory, and can't be instantiated in any possible world, which means it's impossible for the Christian God to exist.

Christians usually answer this objection by saying that being all powerful doesn't mean God can do anything whatsoever, no matter how incoherent or irrational. They just mean that God can do all things logically possible. It is not possible for God to create square circles, married bachelors, or to exist and not exist at the same time and in the same sense.

A similar point might be made about God's being all knowing, though I never heard it brought up that much. One might ask, "Can God know something he doesn't know?" Well, if he knows it, then he's not all knowing, because there's something he doesn't know. But the only way he could know it is if there actually was something he didn't know, which would entail that he is not all knowing. So either way, it's impossible for God or anybody to be all knowing.

But hopefully it's obvious that you can't know something that isn't true. Knowing something entails that it is true. God can't know that the earth is flat, for example, because the earth is not flat. So it is no strike against his omniscience if God happens to not know that the earth is flat.

In the same way, it is no strike against God's power if he is unable to perform an incoherent act, such as creating a rock too heavy for an all powerful God to lift.

But suppose you've run into an atheist who is a little more sophisticated than the atheist-on-the-street, and he insists that the problem isn't that the notion of God creating such a rock is incoherent, but that the notion of being all powerful is incoherent. He objects to the Christian response by insisting that "all powerful" must mean God can do all things whatsoever, and not simply all things logically possible. And since doing "all things whatsoever" is incoherent, the Christian God cannot exist in reality.

There are two ways to respond to that.

First, let's just assume, for the sake of argument, that being all powerful does mean that God can not only do the logically possible, but he can also do the logically impossible. God can do all things whatsoever. In that case, all objections to God go away. If it turns out that we find an incoherence in God, that does nothing to prove his non-existence since we've already stipulated that he can do incoherent things. If we say that, yes, God can create a rock too heavy for him to lift, we can then go on and say that God is all powerful anyway. Being all powerful allows God to engage in logical absurdities such as being all powerful even though there are things he can't do. God can do what he can't do, he can know what he can't know, and he can even be all good and all evil at the same time. If by being all powerful, Christians mean that God can do all things whatsoever, then it would be impossible to ever disprove the Christian God.

Second, what should not escape your notice is that an atheist who insists that "all powerful" must mean God can do all things whatsoever, and not simply all things logically possible, he's merely quibbling over words. He isn't really objecting to the Christian notion of God; he's only objecting to the term, "all powerful." Maybe we could simply say that, okay, God is not all powerful by that definition. So let's just use a different word so that we can more accurately convey what we mean in regards to God's abilities. Let's say, instead, that God is all mighty which means that God can do all things logically possible. Or we could use any term we want. The important thing is what we mean, and we mean that God can do all things logically possible. Of course there is no incoherence in that.

17 Comments:

At 12/12/2008 10:54 AM , Blogger Chris Tolbert said...

Hey Sam,

I enjoyed this post. One thing I would like to mention is that all we know and can know about God is only a very tiny speck of who He is. He is infinite and we are finite, therefore God can do things that we cannot logically comprehend. God is not bound by logic as we are.

When dealing with athiest, I prefer to take the Romans 1 and Psalm 14 approach. Instead of rehashing what I mean, I'll point you to my blog entry where I dealt with this very thing.

http://between2thieves.blogspot.com/2008/09/who-is-god-how-do-we-know-that-god.html

You've actually inspired me to get back on track with my study of the attributes of God. I've been extremely slack in blogging of late and now feel motivated to get back into it. Thanks.

PS> Are you still building bows?

Soli Deo Gloria!!

chris

 
At 12/14/2008 11:41 AM , Blogger Paul said...

Chris,

If, as you say, we only know a tiny speck of who God is, and every attempt He has made to reveal Himself to us through Scripture asserts His logical coherence, then where does your confidence come from that He is not bound by logic?

I hear this often and it seems to me to be born of an assumption that God is so great that He is beyond any thing or "boundary" that we perceive. The problem is thinking that logic is a boundary rather than part of the very nature of God. We might just as well say that God is beyond good, i.e., not constrained by the boundaries of morality. But it is easier to understand that morality has its source in God's nature. I think that logic fits in that same category, and I think Scripture is very friendly to that presumption. Perhaps it is more that God's designs and knowledge are so much beyond us that His ways may seem logic-defying at times, but it is no less logical from our perspective than a trip to the dentist is to a toddler who thinks she is otherwise loved.

 
At 12/14/2008 4:58 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Thanks for the link, Chris. I share Paul's discomfort with saying that God is not "bound by logic." It seems to me that if God is not bound by logic, then we can't really know anything meaningful about him at all--not even a very tiny speck. Anything we say about him, if he is not bound by logic, its opposite could equally be true. Just because he's "all knowing," for example, doesn't mean he knows anything. If God is not bound by logic, then it would be possible for him to know everything and nothing at the same time. If saying, "God knows everything," does not exclude that "God does not know everything," then it doesn't communicate anything meaningful.

On the other hand, I'm reluctant to take Paul's view of the subject. I don't think logic is rooted in the nature of God in the same way that morality is. I wrote a little about that here.

Yes, I'm still making bows. Actually right now I'm working on a video arrow-building tutorial for youtube. Somehow, I'm going to try to edit down an hour of video into ten minutes if that's possible.

 
At 12/15/2008 11:06 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Sam,

Not sure I have even graduated to “atheist-on-the-street”…more in the “amateur dabbler” category, I think. *grin*

A few points:

1) I agree with you, the idea of creating a logical fallacy in “Can God make a rock he can’t lift?” is a non-starter. All the theist has to do is create the limiting factor of doing anything logically feasible to eliminate the problem as you aptly point out.

After a discussion with a commentor on my blog, I came to the realization all beliefs can be logically consistent, as long as we provide an “escape clause” within the definition of logic, allowing the exceptions to conform to the belief. For example, you state:

Sam: The important thing is what we mean, and we mean that God can do all things logically possible. (Emphasis in original.)

Normally, we would think 3=1 is not logical. However, when the concept of the trinity is introduced, the Christian is placed in a position of claiming there are three separate personages that are one entity. Semantic mumb-jumbo to make Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be god(s) while maintaining a monotheistic belief.

Even though in any other area, we may question the logic of this claim, all a Christian has to do is include the possibility of a miraculous, undeterminable, unverifiable, too-much-for-us-to-know ability within God as part of God’s very definition, of being Triune, and voila—it remains a logical consistency by definition.

Or Jesus being 100% human AND 100% God. Or the earth standing still for one (1) day. Again, all the Christian has to do is include, within their definition of their beliefs, these “escape clauses” of how we don’t know how God did it, but God can do miracles—so these are possible and the entire belief system stays logical.

What I have come to realize is how it is no grand thing to have a claim to a belief that is “logical.” Alien-abduction is logical. Bigfoot is logical. Radio transmitters in filings are logical. The harder part is whether a belief is plausible.

2) The comments in this blog entry provide a valuable insight. If not even those using terms such as “omni-potent” or “all-powerful” can agree to their meaning (i.e.—is God bound by logic?), then I would hope some charity would be given to those arguing against the terms as to their own confusion.

3) Sam: It seems to me that if God is not bound by logic, then we can't really know anything meaningful about him at all--not even a very tiny speck. Anything we say about him, if he is not bound by logic, its opposite could equally be true.

I am curious, then, as to what method you DO use, then, to determine what God is/is not like.

I recently engaged in a debate on this topic, and have not found any satisfactory answers to this question. Look, the only tool at our disposal is the natural universe. What we can observe, experiment, record and transmit via our senses. And from that natural universe, we are to derive some observations about an unobservable entity? An unverifiable entity? If God is not observable or verifiable in the natural universe, how can we determine a method as to what is derived from God—the natural universe—is reflective or not of his attributes?

I find, when discussing with theists, they utilize the natural world to determine three things about their God:

1) Those things which exactly reflect God.
2) Those things which are similar to a God.
3) Those things which do not reflect God.

When talking about morals and logic, I hear, “Because we have them, God must have them.” O.K.—got it—the method is “If we have it; then God has it.” Then we start talking about time, matter and the second law of thermodynamics. All of a sudden, because we have it, God doesn’t have it. God becomes timeless, transcends material, is infinite. Now, all of a sudden, our method switched 180 degrees and is “If we have it; then God does NOT have it.”

Or we talk about concepts like love or justice; when God’s love is sorta like our love, but not. And God’s justice is sorta like our justice, but not. The third method introduced is “If we have it; then God has something similar.”

So what method do you use to determine whether God is/is not bound by logic? And what logic—ours or God’s?

 
At 12/15/2008 7:37 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Dagoods, I get the impression you think there is some contradiction in the Trinity, and that the being/person distinction is something cooked up in an attempt to escape the contradiction. But the being/person distinction is part of the definition of the Trinity. If it resolves some supposed contradiction, then there never was a contradiction to begin with--only a misrepresentation of the Trinity.

I wonder if you realize what a contradiction is. A contradiction is when one proposition negates another. Take these two for example:

It is raining.
It is not raining.

Now these two contradict each other only if they are talking about the same thing at the same time and in the same sense. If one is referring to Phoenix, and the other to Tallahassee, for example, then they don't contradict.

Jesus is 100% man with respect to his human nature, and he is 100% God with respect to his divine nature. No contradiction there.

And I can't even imagine where you see a contradiction in any concept of a miracle.

I agree with you that bigfoot, etc., are "logical" in the sense of being consistent, not having contradictions, etc., but that whether something is plausible or not is another matter. Logical consistency only renders a worldview possible, so it's a bare minimum negative truth test.

I base my beliefs about God on both natural theology and Biblical theology.

I'm sure you've heard the various arguments for God, so surely you know how different attributes of God are derived from them. For example, the kalam cosmological argument demonstrates that everything in the physical universe had a beginning, and that something brought it into existence. It seems inescapable then, that whatever brought it into existence cannot itself be physical. So, we derive the attribute of immateriality, and we refer to immaterial persons as "spirits."

Likewise, as you and I have discussed in the past, the moral argument leads to the conclusion that God is perfectly good.

The design argument leads to the conclusion that God is sentient.

Your representation of the transcendental argument is grossly inaccurate. If you'll look into it a bit more, I'm sure you'll find that it does not amount to "if we have it, then God has it."

Nor do I know of any argument about God that amounts to "if we have it, then God doesn't have it." I guess you can make any argument look silly with kind of oversimplification.

Logic is something I grasp rationally. It's one of those foundational beliefs that I think can be known with certainty, but that doesn't require proof or demonstration. We know it immediately upon understanding it. Given my understanding of logic, I don't think it's possible for anything to not be bound by logic, and that's why I think God is bound by logic.

 
At 12/16/2008 9:32 AM , Blogger Chris Tolbert said...

Paul and Sam,

My confidence that God is not bound by logic comes from Scripture itself. Scripture declares that God is infinite, that His thoughts and ways are so far above us and unsearchable. Job, Psalms, Jeremiah and Romans are the first places that come to mind. When I get home from work tonight, I will cite specific passages.

Paul, you say, "every attempt He has made to reveal Himself to us through Scripture asserts His logical coherence". Am I missing something? The Gospel itself is not logical. That is why it is described by Paul as a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. As DagoodS pointed out, the concept of the Trinity is illogical. The point is, we are finite. We see through the glass darkly, but God is infinite and eternal. We want to think that He is just like us, but we cannot begin to completely comprehend even what God has revealed to us about Himself (ie. His love). So we humble ourselves and believe by faith, that He is who He said He is and He does what He said He will do.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 
At 12/16/2008 12:03 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Sam,

I appreciate you use the method of natural theology and Biblical theology.

However, that method not only has been historically wrong (geocentricism? Planar orbits?), but it produces so many varying results, I question how accurate it can be. Some, using the same method, produce an Old-Earth God. Others, a Young-Earth God. Some an evolution-using God; others a non-evolution-using God. Some a God that can commit evil; others a God that cannot. Some a Big Bang God; others not. Some a Triune God; others not.

Even within this blog entry, we have a Logic-bound God and a non-logic-bound God by using the same method. Something is awry.

Further I see an inconsistency in the application of the method. Now, I am not intending to get into a debate on the various arguments for God—rather the inconsistent application of those arguments. (I may have to touch on a few errors, though, out of pure cussedness.)

I do not mean to demean arguments for God, or make them appear silly by simplification; I have just argued them so many times from so many angles, when comparing their methodology, I reduced it down to the lowest common denominator.

Sam: For example, the kalam cosmological argument demonstrates that everything in the physical universe had a beginning, and that something brought it into existence. It seems inescapable then, that whatever brought it into existence cannot itself be physical.

First, Kalam does not demonstrate everything in the physical universe has a beginning; it merely asserts it without proof. Incorrectly, as it turns out. Second, Kalam has so many holes and errors, I will likely shoot myself in the foot even using it, but I hope to demonstrate the problem I am seeing in consistent methodology by using it anyway. I give you Kalam’s Cosmological Argument:

P1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
P2: The Universe began to exist.
C1: The Universe has a cause.

(Note, I presented it in the most pro-theistic manner I could fashion.) But now let’s look at two examples, using Kalam…

Example One:

P1: Everything material that begins to exist has a material cause.
P2: The material Universe began to exist.
C1: The Universe has a ___________ cause.

Example Two:

P1: Everything that begins to exist has a logical cause.
P2: The Universe Logically began to exist.
C1: The Universe has a ___________ cause.

If the blank in Example One includes “immaterial” then the conclusion does not follow from the Premise. We talk of material things with material causes and a material universe, but all of a sudden jump to the opposite of material, being “Immaterial” as the cause of the Universe. Why?

If the blank in Example Two includes “logical” then the conclusion does follow from the premise.

Here is where I start to question your method, Sam. In the first example, you indicate the opposite would be indicated, yet in the second you indicate the same is mandated. I see an inconsistency in the method.

Again, if we cannot determine or verify a God, how can we know whether our universe is reflective of Him or not? If we are material, why must God be immaterial…BUT…if we are logical, God must be logical?

Sam: Likewise, as you and I have discussed in the past, the moral argument leads to the conclusion that God is perfectly good.

Well…if we are using human morality to make determinations about what a God is/is not—don’t we also have actualized immoral acts? If we have done immoral acts, then hasn’t God? Or does God only have the potential? A potential unactualized would mean God has never repented. How did we come across that ability?

We have cruelty—does God? We have charity—does God? We have mercy—does God? Again, I question the use of our universe to make determinations about God. It becomes a convenience for the theist to pick and choose what parts would reflect God (the intuition of morality) and what parts do not (the actual choice of morality.) How do we know?

How can you use what humans do in a consistent method, to determine what God must/must not do?

Sam: The design argument leads to the conclusion that God is sentient.

O.K. Again—can we stay consistent? What about things not so well-designed? Like our knees, back and throat? Should this lead to the conclusion God is NOT sentient? Or not such a good designer?

What I see (and I don’t mean to trivialize the arguments for God, but here it is) are theists who have a foregone conclusion about God, and develop an argument to get there. Yet the argument’s method is not consistently maintained and is even abandoned.

If design shows a designer, what does lack of design show? The theist wants a designer God, so they discover some amazing fact and proclaim, “See? See? This looks designed—therefore a designer made it.” Yet using the same method, all those things the theist compared and rejected are NOT designed would indicate a designer did NOT make it.

I am familiar with TAG. Another rotten argument. It makes presuppositions, and then attempts to demonstrate the impossibility of the contrary while demanding the other person only work within the TAGer’s world. Like me saying, “I presuppose red is the best color, and kitchen utensils are useful, and therefore the best kitchen utensil is red.” Then, when someone wants to argue for the color green, the TAGer insists we must accept red as the best color, and by even talking about kitchen utensils, we are “borrowing” from the TAGer’s world. Bleah.

Sam: Logic is something I grasp rationally. It's one of those foundational beliefs that I think can be known with certainty, but that doesn't require proof or demonstration. We know it immediately upon understanding it. Given my understanding of logic, I don't think it's possible for anything to not be bound by logic, and that's why I think God is bound by logic.

Couldn’t we say the same about time, space and energy? Can you imagine doing anything without energy? Or performing an act outside time? Yet many Christians claim God is not bound by those. Again, how—using our material universe--can we pick and choose what items reflect God (logic) and those that do not (time, space and energy)?

As for the Trinity, or Christ’s humanity or miracles—I was trying to communicate what we would find illogical or contradictory can be resolved by definition (as you admirably point out) to no longer be logical.

3=1.

By your foundational belief, and years of math study—that equation looks wrong. It looks as wrong as:

2+3=presents.

Yet if the theist can re-define the terms, what was once illogical and contradictory CAN be logical in their world. No other time can 3=1, UNLESS we include it in the definition of God. Then, it becomes a miraculous possibility.

Going back to your main point of this blog entry. I agree the argument from incoherence is not sufficient in the form of “Can an omnipotent (or ‘all-powerful’ or ‘all-might’) God make a rock he can’t life?”

I was looking to dig a bit deeper and see if we can develop a method of using our universe to make any determinations about God. When you indicated our being bound by logic would bind a God as well, I wondered how you would apply that method in other areas. How other areas in which we are bound would likewise bound a God.

 
At 12/16/2008 8:29 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Chris,

"Infinite" is not a synonym for "illogical," so I don't think that can be leveraged. I might just as well say that it implies that God is beyond morality. Also, we might say that our thoughts are above our children's and unsearchable to our pets even while being perfectly logical. I think that the higher knowledge and deeper purposes to which we are not privy are part of the problem in our understanding. I think this will always be so into eternity.

When I say that Scripture reveals to me a rational God, I say this because of even very simple examples like God making promises to us and expecting us to believe Him. As you say, "He does what He said He will do." If God is beyond logic, then He could conceivably break His promises without violating any moral principles or any aspect of His own character. If he can make square circles and one-ended sticks, then He can promise to save you through Christ and also send you to hell.

As for the Gospel and the Trinity, I find nothing logically inconsistent within these. The Gospel is a stumbling block because of the hardness of our hearts — a volitional problem, not a logical problem. The Trinity is coherent if properly characterized. The primary problem with the Trinity is that it describes a Being that has no parallel in the physical world, so we are at a loss for useful analogies (like the inadequate clover: one leaf but three lobes). Difficulty in apprehending a concept does not equate to its being illogical.

It escapes me why Christians are often gun-shy of logic. Perhaps it is simply confusion with the concept of incomprehensibility, which God surely is. But they are not the same thing. Perhaps it is the idea that we might be putting "God in a box." But if "logical" is simply something that God IS, like "good" or "just," then it is no constraint upon Him. Indeed, it seems to me to be far more comforting to think that God is rational by nature vs. irrational. It is more of an Eastern idea that the divine is beyond reason.

 
At 12/16/2008 9:25 PM , Blogger Chris Tolbert said...

Paul,

I think I'm beginning to understand what you are saying. I guess I too am confusing logic with the concept of incomprehensibility.

Help me understand this and please correct me where I'm wrong:

God created time, but is not bound by time.
God created scientific laws and process, but is not bound by them.
God created logic, and is bound to it.

The Gospel was a stumbling block to the Jews, yes, but you didn't address why it was foolishness (illogical?) to the Greeks who where thought to be wise. Or am I misunderstanding this too?

I've never studied philosophy so, and didn't really intend to get into this because it is intellectually intimidating. Part of me thinks, "Psalm 131", but then another part screams, "1 Peter 3:15".

Thanks for the great conversation. I do hope it continues. Iron sharpens iron!

Soli Deo Gloria!

 
At 12/16/2008 9:47 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Christ, I wonder if we are using logical in the same sense. I get the impression that you are using logical in the sense of being "beyond comprehension," or "too wonderful to describe," or something along those lines. When I (and I think Paul) say that God is logical, we mean that there's nothing about God that violates any of the formal laws of logic, such as the law of non-contradiction. Without the law of non-contradiction, nothing the Bible says about God is meaningful since it's opposite could just as well be true. I would think this idea of being logical is supported by scriptures such as Titus 1:2, which says that God cannot lie.

But I'll wait to see your scripture references to see exactly what it is you're trying to say in case I've misunderstood you.

 
At 12/16/2008 10:11 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Dagoods, I don’t know of any epistemological method that results in infallibility and universal agreement. I base my beliefs about God on natural theology and biblical theology. I could be wrong about some of my conclusions. The mere fact that some people have disagreements is no reason for me to throw up my hands and act as if I don’t know anything and have no way of knowing. I just have to come to the best conclusion I can, and I can live with the possibility of being wrong about some of it.

You work in the legal profession, so you ought to know where I'm coming from. Sometimes criminal investigations end up in bad convictions. Does that mean nobody ever knows whether anybody is guilty or innocent?

Even scientists make mistakes. Does that means we've got to abandon the whole scientific method?

First, Kalam does not demonstrate everything in the physical universe has a beginning; it merely asserts it without proof.

Bill Craig gives four arguments to demonstrate that the physical universe has a beginning in his book on the Kalam cosmological argument. Were you unaware of this, or do just think “kalam cosmological argument” refers only to the one syllogism?

I fail to see any inconsistency in my method. Let’s go back over it.

Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause.


Now this is a logically valid syllogism. If both premises are true, then the conclusion is true. We have only to find out whether both premises are true or not.

Now let’s look at your examples.

Example One:

P1: Everything material that begins to exist has a material cause.
P2: The material Universe began to exist.
C1: The Universe has a ___________ cause.


To make this logically valid, you’d have to put “material” in the blank. You seem to think I’ve been inconsistent by concluding that since the universe has a cause and began to exist, that the cause must be immaterial. But that isn’t the case at all. The reason I say that the cause of the universe must be immaterial is because I take the universe to be the sum total of physical reality. But if your argument is sound, then the universe is NOT the sum total of physical reality. There would have to be physical things other than the universe—perhaps other universes or something.

But if I am right in saying that the universe is the sum total of physical reality, then it’s impossible for your syllogism to be sound. If the universe is the sum total of physical reality, and the universe began to exist, then it’s not possible for the universe to have a material cause, and your first premise is false.

So if your syllogism is somehow an attempt to show that the kalam argument is invalid or something, the next step would be to argue over whether the universe is the sum total of physical reality or not. There is no inconsistency in my method that I can see.

Now let’s look at your second example:

P1: Everything that begins to exist has a logical cause.
P2: The Universe Logically began to exist.
C1: The Universe has a ___________ cause.


You said, “If the blank in Example Two includes “logical” then the conclusion does follow from the premise.” The word “Logically” in the second premises doesn’t really fit in the argument, but otherwise, yes, “logical” would have to go in the blank.

Finally, you said, “In the first example, you indicate the opposite would be indicated, yet in the second you indicate the same is mandated. I see an inconsistency in the method." Since you’re incorrect in how I fill in the blank for the first example, you have not shown any inconsistency in my method.

If we are material, why must God be immaterial…BUT…if we are logical, God must be logical?

Again, God must be immaterial if he is what brought about everything that is material. Nothing can create itself, because that would require it to exist before it existed. So if everything physical had a beginning, and something caused it, then whatever caused it cannot be physical. That shouldn’t be controversial. And I have never claimed that God must be logical just because we are. Rather, I claim that both we and God must be logical because that’s the way reality is.

I think you have a misunderstanding about the moral argument. We’ve talked about this before, so I’m not going to go into detail again, but the moral argument does not say that because we behave in certain ways that God therefore behaves in certain ways. That seems to be the way you are construing it, and that’s why you likely see some inconsistency. No, the moral argument claims that if there really is such a thing as right and wrong, good and bad, then those things must be grounded in the nature of a sentient being. It follows that the sentient being, being the standard, is perfectly good. This has nothing whatsoever to do with how humans behave, whether bad OR good.

How can you use what humans do in a consistent method, to determine what God must/must not do?

I don’t. You’ve apparently got a big misunderstanding about the moral argument.

O.K. Again—can we stay consistent? What about things not so well-designed? Like our knees, back and throat? Should this lead to the conclusion God is NOT sentient?

Why does consistency demand that conclusion? A design would indicate a sentient being whether the design was a good one or not. We can argue about whether a good or bad design indicates a good or bad designer, of course, but we’d still be talking about a sentient being. So you haven’t demonstrated any inconsistency on my part concerning the design argument.

What I see (and I don’t mean to trivialize the arguments for God, but here it is) are theists who have a foregone conclusion about God, and develop an argument to get there. Yet the argument’s method is not consistently maintained and is even abandoned.

What I see is that you’re either not very familiar with these arguments (which would be a surprise to me since I took you to be fairly well-read), or you’re intentionally misconstruing these arguments. Maybe it is you who has a foregone conclusion that these arguments must be fallacious since God can’t possibly exist, so you have to build these strawmen to justify your foregone conclusion.

If design shows a designer, what does lack of design show? The theist wants a designer God, so they discover some amazing fact and proclaim, “See? See? This looks designed—therefore a designer made it.” Yet using the same method, all those things the theist compared and rejected are NOT designed would indicate a designer did NOT make it.

That is a weakness I myself have pointed out about some versions of the design argument. In fact, I think I mentioned it to you once.

I am familiar with TAG. Another rotten argument. It makes presuppositions, and then attempts to demonstrate the impossibility of the contrary while demanding the other person only work within the TAGer’s world.

No, it doesn’t demand that. It just points out that the only way to argue with a TAGer is to work within the TAGer’s world. Specifically, you have to use logic to argue, and the TAG’s argument is that logic can only be justified in a theistic worldview. So when an atheist uses logic to argue against God, they are borrowing from a theistic worldview. TAGer’s aren’t demanding that you use logic. Rather, they point out that you have to use logic if you want to argue with them. If the argument is sound, it demonstrates that any argument against God is irrational and self-refuting.

Couldn’t we say the same about time, space and energy?

You can say anything you want, but as for me, I fail to see that time, space, and energy are necessary in the same way that logic is necessary. I, and I think most philosophers and even scientists, consider time, space, and energy to be contingent.

Yet if the theist can re-define the terms, what was once illogical and contradictory CAN be logical in their world. No other time can 3=1, UNLESS we include it in the definition of God. Then, it becomes a miraculous possibility.

But 3=1 is not part of the definition of the Trinity. If I told you that 4 is 1, you’d be right in saying I was contradicting myself. 4 is NOT 1, and 1 is not 4. 4 is 4 and 1 is 1. But 4 quarters is 1 dollar. There’s nothing contradictory about that. In this case, we are qualifying 4 and 1 so that they are not talking about the same thing in the same sense. If we said 4 quarters is 1 quarter, of course that’s nonsense.

The Trinity does not state that 1 is 3 or 3 is 1. Rather, it states that there is 1 God who is 3 persons. 1 and 3 are qualified so that we are not saying God is 1 in the same sense that he is 3. There is no contradiction. Only by misrepresenting the Trinity can you find one.

How other areas in which we are bound would likewise bound a God.

I don’t make any claims about God being bound on the basis that we are bound. I do not think it is because we are bound by logic that God is bound by logic.

 
At 12/16/2008 10:20 PM , Blogger Sam said...

God created time, but is not bound by time.
God created scientific laws and process, but is not bound by them.
God created logic, and is bound to it.


Chris, do you believe God created morality? If so, do you believe he is not bound by it? For example, could God lie?

As for me, I don't believe God created logic. Since God himself is not created, none of his attributes are created either.

I don't think "foolish" is the same thing as "illogical" in the sense that Paul (from Pensees) and I are using the word. I don't think Paul (the apostle) meant that the cross violated the laws of logic to the Greeks. They just thought was a silly idea.

It's kind of like flat earthers or holocaust deniers. It could be that they have a consistent worldview. It could be that their worldview contains no internal contradictions. But their worldview is still foolish because it so obviously fails to correspond to reality.

 
At 12/17/2008 8:06 AM , Blogger Chris Tolbert said...

Sam,

I believe you are correct in the way I'm thinking about logic. Perhaps I should have said that God is not bound by common sense.

My favorite preacher, Paul Washer, says that most Christians don't study logic. I guess he is speaking of the logic you guys are talking about. Could you guys point me to some resources on logic? I'm finding the subject intriguing and worth while.

Soli Deo Gloria!

PS - I gave you guys some props on my latest
blog entry
.

 
At 12/17/2008 2:20 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Sam,

You are right. I WAS thinking Kalam’s was the short syllogism listed. It has been a long time since I looked at Craig’s reasons the universe began, and even then I didn’t realize it was part of his Cosmological argument. However, the point I was making (consistency by application) was still made, and you addressed it in the spirit I gave it. Thanks. (I knew I would get in trouble using the argument!)

If you will indulge me, let’s take a step back to make a step forward (hopefully)

What is “Logic”?

The Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy defines it as: “Typically, a logic consists of a formal or informal language together with a deductive system and/or a model-theoretic semantics. The language is, or corresponds to, a part of a natural language like English or Greek. The deductive system is to capture, codify, or simply record which inferences are correct for the given language, and the semantics is to capture, codify, or record the meanings, or truth-conditions, or possible truth conditions, for at least part of the language.” (emphasis in original)

(The Dictionary notes numerous subdivisions of logic, such as deontic, hybrid, fuzzy, inductive, linear, modal and so on.)

Merriam Webster’s Definition: “a science that deals with the principles and criteria of validity of inference and demonstration : the science of the formal principles of reasoning “

We also talk of Laws of Logic such as the law of non-contraction (“A” cannot equal “Non-A”) and law of the excluded middle (a statement is either true or false, it cannot be both.)

But what does “law” mean in science? (Remember, this is a scientific system.) It is NOT the same concept as a “law” in a legal sense in that it mandates those subordinate to follow it. A scientific law is “A law generalizes a body of observations. At the time it is made, no exceptions have been found to a law. Scientific laws explain things, but they do not describe them. One way to tell a law and a theory apart is to ask if the description gives you a means to explain 'why'.

Example: Consider Newton's Law of Gravity. Newton could use this law to predict the behavior of a dropped object, but he couldn't explain why it happened.“

Logic is a way we have developed through observation that we can rationally communicate with each other. So when I say “The apple is red” you are not left questioning “Does he mean the orange is green? Does he mean chairs have two legs?” Further, we can use logic to build on concepts and develop reasonable conclusions.

P1. If bananas are yellow, left-handed people cannot play golf.
P2. Bananas are yellow
C1. Left-handed people cannot play golf.

Obviously a logical argument is only as good as the premises, and in this silly sample we can quickly see the premises are problematic. While it is logically correct, the argument has some serious problems.

Think about how much materiality goes into logic. (Again, it is a science, based upon falsifiable, observable principles.) We physically observe material objects with our material eyes. We process that sight by material synapses within our material brains. We communicate that observation by more material synapses, via a material set of lungs though a material voice box, material tongue and material throat. The other person obtains the information (after traveling by material sound waves) in their material ears, and firing up their own material synapses in their material brain.

How does your immaterial God talk? How does an immaterial being “observe”? How does an immaterial being hear? How does an immaterial being process thoughts without material brains and material synapses?

To be honest, I cannot fathom this. Way beyond my ken. How does something that consists of nothing do something? Like asking what do rocks dream; only more so. I am baffled how nothing can create something. Because the act of creation requires energy and that would be something.

Be that as it may, assuming such an immaterial being exists, I go a step further and question how something so wrapped in materiality (logic) binds an immaterial object. I can’t figure out how nothing can do something, but I AM certain that nothing cannot violate the law of the excluded middle? How do I know it cannot go against the laws of logic? Is it possible for nothing to be non-nothing at the same time? In our world “non-nothing” is “something.” What is “non-nothing” in an immaterial world, since “something” doesn’t exist in an immaterial world?

Likewise, we have observed laws such as thermodynamics. Is immaterial “bound” by the second law of thermodynamics? It is much the same as laws of logic—we observe and make observations that haven’t been contradicted in both logic and thermodynamics. Both are wrapped up our material, observable universe. Why one bind a God and the other not?

I understand time, energy and matter to be “contingent” in that they are not necessary. However, our observable universe (like it or spike it) is bound by these things. We cannot stop time. We cannot create or destroy energy. Much the same way, we cannot make something both “A” and “not-A.” Is logic “contingent”? Part of the reason we would claim it as necessary is that failing do so renders the conversation meaningless. (We would be using logic to argue against logic!)

This is why I asked for a method. How do I know what parts of our universe bind a God, and what parts do not? Especially given the inability to verify, conjoined with the acknowledgment of incomprehensibility.

There is a definitional difference between us that may be causing confusion. You define “universe” as “the sum total of physical reality.” I, on the other hand, was using the term as to our observable universe.

We theorize back to the very instant after the Big Bang. Literally 1 Planck time after the Big Bang. However, what happened within that Planck time—we don’t know. All the laws of our universe do not apply in that time—including the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, and even the law of causality. (The thing Craig has to rely upon for the scientific argument in Kalam’s.) I am unaware of any arguments or papers on whether the laws of logic applied at that time.

We cannot observe (and may never be able to observe) back to the Big Bang—what existed. Further, we cannot observe what was “before” the Big Bang. (“Before” is a horrible word, as there is no “before”—there was no time until the Big Bang, so there can’t be any “before” before time! Unfortunately, this is the only way my feeble mind can figure to state it.) Notice, the other issue is how causation requires time. Something existing “prior” to the other. If there was no time, there is no argument for causation at the Big Bang, either.

You appear to use the term “universe” to include more than just our observable universe. Including any multi-verses, or other universes, or other theories all speculating as to what existed “outside” (Another bad word—Big Bang started space, so there wasn’t anything to be “outside” of) of the Big Bang.

Further, you seem to agree with the concept God is incomprehensible. So we have an unobservable event (the Big Bang) coupled with more, completely unobservable things (multi-verses), resulting in speculation of an immaterial, incomprehensible being —and we are in a position to make claims as to what it is/is not bound by?

Can you see why I question the method of how we derive this from so many unknowns? And what is known—can we stay consistent?

Look, the statement, “God is incomprehensible” is self-refuting. By stating something comprehensible about God, one eliminates God’s being incomprehensible! I take the theist to mean, “God is partly incomprehensible.” Ahh—but there’s the rub. (And anyone should see this question coming…) What method do we use to determine what parts of God are comprehensible and what parts are incomprehensible? And how do we determine “logic” is in the comprehensible part?

Yes, legal methodology and scientific methodology have resulted in errors. Yet within the methods is an ability to correct the errors. We have appeals. We have modification of scientific theories. More importantly, the methods expect errors, and provide a method for correcting them!

Is there something similar in natural theology and biblical theology? Is there some method that one group (say OEC’s) can point out to another (say YEC’s) how they both use the same method, yet the other is wrong?

Further, both legal and scientific methods even provide a method to abandon the whole premise, consistent within the methodology. What method does theism provide that, if staying consistent, could possibly result in atheism?

Now some quick, basically random responses…

Here is my point on the Trinity. Step away from theism for a moment. Imagine I informed you there is a 400 pound fellow that can fit in all the chimneys of the world. You could measure a few and observe this is not possible. There is a logical contradiction between such an individual both being such a large size and NOT being such a large size at the same time.

I further inform you this fellow can visit every single house in the world within a 24 hour period. Again, some observation as the number of houses, travel time necessary, etc. and we see a significant problem. Even a logical contradiction since he would have to be two places at once. Further, that he has enough time to deliver a toy for each child, is never seen, and manages to keep his clothes in pristine condition throughout this endeavor.

And he finds it all funny.

This story contradicts everything we know about the observable universe. Ahh..but if I add “magic” into the equation, this allows all of these things to be possible. If “magic” is part of the definition of Santa Claus, then we eliminate all possible logical contradictions.

I see the Trinity the same way. In any other aspect, we would question the logic of three persons being one person. However, if, by definition this God has such a miraculous personage, then all logical contradictions are removed.

Not removed by observation. Not removed by logical explanation based upon our knowledge of the material world. Simply by definition. The same way Santa is logically consistent by definition.

This is what I mean by Christianity staying logically consistent by definition. Where ever we would encounter a problem (such as Jesus’ divinity, or the earth stopping) all the Christian has to do is insert “miracle” and it resolves all logical contradictions.

If a human could figure out how to do it—how do we know what God is or is not right now would appear extremely illogical, yet upon self-definition, is not?

My problem with the moral argument is that it only takes selected facts from the sum total of facts, and fails to consistently apply its method to those other facts. I get the idea of how we have “oughts,” and tend toward a desire to be moral implies a moral lawgiver. (Whether the moral lawgiver IS the standard introduces Euthyphro, which we have dealt at length.) However, we violate our own moral code. If, on the one hand we use human interaction on morality to determine God’s morals, why do we ignore it when humans fail to act on their morals?

I would find the moral argument much stronger if the person dealt with human fallibility, rather than merely assert God can’t.

As to the design argument—what is sentient: the designer or the observer? I would agree sentience has developed design in nature, I would say it is in the humans observing—not in the nature itself. We look for design (in an attempt to make sense of our universe) and not surprisingly find it.

Sit with me on a cloudy summer day. I can point out designs in the sky of ships, and shoes and sealing wax. Of cabbages and kings. Are you saying the fact we both can see such designs makes the clouds sentient? Of course not!

Further, are you saying this sentient being did some good designs and did some poor designs? Again—what method do you use to make such a determination?

Sam: Maybe it is you who has a foregone conclusion that these arguments must be fallacious since God can’t possibly exist, so you have to build these strawmen to justify your foregone conclusion. (emphasis in original)

Of course I have a foregone conclusion God doesn’t exist. (Although I once had a foregone conclusion the other way.) However, in order to avoid my presupposition getting in the way of objectivity (as much as humanly possible) I developed a method of determining the persuasiveness of the arguments for God. I truly do not intend to create strawpeople of any sort—I can only tell you what I observe of the arguments and what I think a neutral jury would determine.

Most juries do not like inconsistencies.

Look, a jury understands the two litigants are prone to be supportive of their own position. The prosecution will use whatever evidence it can to point out the defendant’s guilt. The Defendant will raise arguments responding to the evidence, as well as point out other evidence the prosecution avoids.

The prosecutor will point out it was the Defendant’s gun. The Defendant will point out his fingerprints were not on the gun. The prosecutor will point out the witness saw the Defendant do it. The Defendant will point out the witness’ inability to accurately see the crime. And so on.

A jury would expect you to favorably view arguments for a god, and for me to be disfavorable. That you would respond to any claims I make, and I would respond to claims you make.

The question, as always, is what is more persuasive?

Here we have a material world, so there must be an immaterial being. An unverifiable, unobservable being. That is both incomprehensible, and yet claims are being made about it. Claims favoring the theists’ position (i.e.—it is perfectly good.) And anything possibly negative about such a being (it can do immoral acts) is hand-waved away. Oh, hand-waved with a great deal of rhetoric, mind you, but still hand-waved.

A jury (in my opinion) would not be sympathetic. It is like the Defendant’s mother getting in the stand.

“Oh, my son didn’t do the crime. I wasn’t there, but I know my boy—and he didn’t do it.”

A sympathetic witness, but one whose bias is evident, and even her firm belief of the truth of her statement is not persuasive.

Sam: Specifically, you have to use logic to argue, and the TAG’s argument is that logic can only be justified in a theistic worldview. So when an atheist uses logic to argue against God, they are borrowing from a theistic worldview.

We’re quibbling over the word “demand”? I get that TAGer’s say logic can only be justified in a theistic worldview—they presuppose it. Still leaves it a rotten argument, since they can’t prove it. (And I understand you don’t necessarily like the argument either.)

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. I presuppose a natural universe can only be justified in an atheistic worldview. Now, if any one attempts to argue against me, I can say, “A-ha—you are using the natural universe, and therefore are “borrowing” from my worldview. You can’t use science, you can’t use observation, you can’t use any writing, you can’t use logic, you can’t use demonstration—ALL of these are within my natural universe, and by using them you demonstrate atheism.”

What would the most likely response be? “Wait a minute, I don’t hold to the premise of a solely natural universe. I DO think some writing is supernatural.” But I continue to insist (is that better than “demand”?) every time they say something they must presume my worldview of atheism. No inspiring scripture. No miracles. No supernatural events. No natural law morality.

How long would someone bother to argue with me?

 
At 12/17/2008 3:48 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Chris,

You flatter and humble me. Flatter, by your kind remarks here, on my blog, and on your own. Humble, by your intellectual openness and honesty.

I don't mean to "rip [a brother in Christ] to shreds," but healthy disagreement often seems that way sometimes, and I am not particularly gifted in tact (I think Sam is better than me in this area, which is one of many things I appreciate about him). Also, I have strong feelings on this particular topic (though I hope not to be accused of having a shrine to logic in my garden, as Cornelius Van Til charged Gordon Clark).

By way of agreement with Sam's reply, I do not accept your premise that God created logic. He created everything that is not of Himself, like the angelic realm and the physical universe. I believe that logic is part of God's nature. It is one of His communicable properties, which we share as image-bearers, like self-awareness, will, emotion, moral knowledge, etc. Even so, come to think of it, if He could be said to create it I guess He could still choose to bind Himself to it. He creates "promises" doesn't He, and he resolves to keep those.

As far as the Gospel being foolishness to the Greek. . . The Greek represents the unbeliever — the pagan outsider. It is foolishness to unbelievers because it does not fit into their worldview, or violates their moral preferences, or the exotic and miraculous stories seem too outrageous to believe.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought Christianity foolish because it denied us certain carnal pleasures, which he enjoyed, and imposed responsibilities, which he abhorred. And Friedrich Nietzsche thought it foolishness because it caused society to be dragged down by its sympathies toward the helpless and impoverished, and Nietzsche measured his ethics by a virulent form of social Darwinism.

Christianity is not illogical assuming the truth of its overall worldview. Unfortunately, there are all manner of things that stand in the way of the reception of the Gospel, and I have never yet met an unbeliever who said (out loud), "Oh, I believe your Gospel is true. I just prefer to live my life on my own terms." Unbelievers like to think that they are rational in their rejection; they will find some moral or logical grounds (no matter how thin) to mount a defense (if you can get them to talk about it in the first place, which is not a problem on the Internet)

I've not formally studied logic or philosophy myself, but I've listened to many lectures and read books. One that was helpful is this little handbook. More detailed (but not too) is this one, which I've not read but has been on my radar. And here is a short blog post from J.P. Moreland, who both Sam and I greatly respect.

 
At 12/17/2008 8:58 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Chris, thank you for the kind words. Have we talked before? Maybe on the leatherwall or something? Your name sounds familiar. I hope you'll pick that bow up at some point and finish it. It could change your life!

 
At 12/17/2008 9:28 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Wow, Dagoods, you asked a lot of questions! I have to admit that I’m a little overwhelmed by how much there is to respond to in your post. I hope you’ll forgive me for not responding to all of it.

I don’t agree that mental processes are physical processes, even if they happen to rely on physical processes. I don’t believe minds are physical entities, or that the laws of logic are physical entities. So I don’t have a problem with the idea of an immaterial God. You question how something immaterial can think, but I question how something material can think.

I don’t think God is completely incomprehensible. There are things about God that are incomprehensible and things about him that are not incomprehensible. We can tell the difference simply by reflecting on what we are able to comprehend and what we are not able to comprehend.

Just as in science and law, there are ways to resolve disagreements in theology. There is sound reasoning, good information, and good exegesis. You seem to think that the mere fact that people can’t come to an agreement is some indication than none of them can know that their point of view is right. But if that’s what you think, then why aren’t you agnostic? No matter how much theists and atheists, smarter than you and I, debate the issues, they still have disagreements. To be consistent, shouldn’t you be agnostic?

If, on the one hand we use human interaction on morality to determine God’s morals, why do we ignore it when humans fail to act on their morals?

I’m not sure what you mean by “human interaction on morality,” but if you’re referring to human behavior, then you’re still misunderstanding the moral argument. Human behavior has no bearing whatsoever on the argument.

Recognizing the product of design obviously doesn’t indicate sentience on the part of the object that was designed. It indicates sentience on the part of whatever designed it. Whether the particular designs appealed to in teleological arguments are good designs or not are irrelevant to the argument, because either way, they would indicate sentience. An argument over whether the designer was a good designer or not would only come after it had been established that there was a sentient designer. To bring it up before hand is just to raise a red herring.

 

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