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Rick Warden’s Argument For Theism

Blogger Rick Warden has decried the fact that the “top 20 atheist bloggers” have declined to offer a response to his argument for theism[1]. I think that most arguments, even if they are poor, deserve a response; so I will attempt to answer his argument[2] here (the picture is of course just a joke). The first section reads as follows:

I. Formal logic presupposes certain truths theoretically exist as a basis for sound reasoning.
A. A categorical syllogism, for example, requires the existence of implied universal truth and validity.
1. At least two laws of logic apply in all possible worlds.
a. Law of non-contradiction: It is not possible that something be both true and not true.
b. Law of identity: A = A. Something is what it is and has at least one identifying characteristic.

His (I) is correct – any logical system will take for granted that certain formulas are true; these are called the axioms of the system. But his support for this is mistaken. A syllogism does not need the existence of universal truth, because the syllogism is only valid within one system. If you take a syllogism formulated in classical logic which uses the law of non-contradiction as a premise, and translate it into a paraconsistent logic, that syllogism will no longer be valid.

He’s also mistaken about his definitions of the “laws” of logic”. They are not written in English, but in the language of symbolic logic. The LNC reads, “~(A & ~A)”, and the law of identity reads, “A → A”. A proper translation of these into English would read, “not (A and not-A)”, and “A materially implies A”.

Furthermore, the only reason we don’t allow a contradiction in “classical” logic is because that, given the rules of that system, a contradiction makes every formula trivially true – thus rendering the system useless. But if we create a new system by removing the rule of inference called “disjunctive syllogism”, then this doesn’t happen, and we can have contradictions without rendering it useless.

But anyway, I’ll grant (I), with the caveat that which “truths” (axioms) are presupposed is going to depend on what system you’re working in.

II. The foundation of cohesive logic appears to have been undermined by quantum physics.
A. A quantum particle has ambiguous identifying characteristics until it is measured and collapsed.
B. Quantum non-locality and entanglement imply boundaries that were assumed to be finite and localized are not.
C. QM phenomena and influences are not neatly compartmentalized apart from the Visible day-to-day World
D. If the physical world is truly interconnected by energy, there is only one implied physical identity.
E. It is not the laws of physics that determine how information behaves in our Universe, but the other way around.

Two things to say here. First, I disagree. Maybe it’s true that “classical” logic can’t describe the way things behave on the quantum level, but so what? Such situations are one of the reasons why we have other logics to work with.

Second, Rick mentions a lot of stuff in his writing regarding this point that doesn’t even appear to be relevant. In addition to talking about QM, he criticizes materialism and Ayn Rand’s objectivism. But some atheists are not materialists, and most are not objectivists. I am neither.

III. NDE Cases Support a Cohesive, Logical Understanding within a Theistic Framework.
A. NDE patients describe situations they could not have perceived with their physical senses.
B. Reynolds described the appearance of a unique instrument used and recalled a specific conversation.
C. A Dutch NDE patient described aspects of an operation that occurred observed during clinical death with a cardiac arrest.
D. People born blind have made accurate, detailed descriptions of images they could not have seen with their natural eyes.
E. A specific identity and locality is maintained while experiencing clinical death, consistent with the law of identity.
F. NDE accounts imply that human volition (free will) exists and operates on a spiritual level.
G. NDE accounts imply a God with a loving nature exists. This supports the theist view over other religions.

NDEs certainly do point to some strange things which are difficult to explain, but they don’t necessarily point away from atheism. It may be that these experiences are completely naturalistic, and merely point to the fact that perhaps our senses do work when we currently think they don’t, and these experiences are merely the illusion of having a shift in location. Or it may be that substance dualism is indeed true.

But in any case, the best this can do is shift the probabilities away from materialism. These probabilities would be then redistributed equally, raising the probability of all other possibilities – theism, non-materialistic atheism, solipsism, etc. So this isn’t a gain in likelihood for theism compared to atheism; just compared to materialism.

Also, I don’t see why (F) is true. How do NDEs say anything about free will at all?

IV. Materialism has failed to provide support for answers to foundational questions while theism has provided such support.
A. Universal and certain truth and validity are implied as a necessary combination in making formal philosophical arguments but the possibility of absolute truth is rejected by most materialists because of the theistic implications.
B. Studies in quantum physics offer metaphysical under-determinism while cohesive logic regarding identity remains beyond reach.
F. Materialism has Failed to provide minimal answers with regard to the origin of the universe, the origin of matter, the origin of life, the origin of information, the origin and makeup of consciousness.
G. Theism does provide a logical and cohesive framework and specific answers to the above questions in keeping with related evidence.

I guess the lettering is off here. Oh well, no matter. Anyway, I feel that I’ve already answered the point about materialism above, so I won’t reiterate it here.

V. Conclusion
A. Proof is affirmed by logic and material evidence and the preponderance of evidence supports a theistic interpretation.
1. The materialist view is logically inconsistent and in conflict with science and evidence implying the supernatural.
2. The Christian view is supported by cohesive logic, science, evidence and scriptural text.
a. Hebrew 11.3: Logic, information and the spiritual dimension form the basis of prime reality.
b. John 1.1, 1.14: God is the logical basis of prime reality.
c. Colossians 1.17: God is both the creator and enabler of the physical world.

Rick makes an odd move here from theism to Christianity. I can’t find where Christianity suddenly jumps in, given that he’s only been talking about theism this whole time. He also once again critiques materialism, which is not identical to atheism.

Anyway, there’s a few things to say about all this. First, it seems like I could grant all his premises, and still consistently be an atheist. None of the premises given clash with atheism – just with materialism, objectivism, etc.

Second, this seems to be not so much an argument, as a series of somewhat related statements. No rules of inference are given, and I struggle to think of any that could produce his conclusions with the premises he has.

Finally, I’d like to distance myself from at least some of the atheists who have refused to respond to Rick’s argument. I’m not familiar with all of them, but P.Z. Myers is just another typical “new atheist”; and John Loftus is quite unreasonable (just ask Victor Reppert!)

But, I’d be more than happy to re-examine this argument if he wants to reformulate it, or provide his inferences. I also invite him to respond to the arguments for atheism I’ve provided elsewhere on this blog.

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[1] http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/07/top-20-atheist-bloggers-decline.html

[2] http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-identity-logic-and-physics-prove.html

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Logic, Math, and Presuppositionalism

Theists who employ what is known as “presuppositional apologetics”, and more specifically, the transcendental argument for God, often make confused claims about logic. John Frame claims that logic is based on the nature of God[1], and Matt Slick says that the laws of logic are absolute and independent of the human mind[2]. There are others who use such argumentation in slightly different ways (such as Eric Hovind and Sye Tenbruggenate), but the general view seems to be that theism, and specifically Christianity, is needed in order to justify one’s use of logic.

But this view of logic is sorely mistaken. The so-called “laws of logic” are merely conventions that exist within a man-made, formal system. To see why, we merely have to look at “logic” for what it really is – an entire field dedicated to the study of inference and relation. In the past century, many methods of doing this have appeared. Graham Priest writes:

Despite this, many of the most interesting developments in logic in the last forty years, especially in philosophy, have occurred in quite different areas: intuitionism, conditional logics, relevant logics, paraconsistent logics, free logics, quantum logics, fuzzy logics, and so on. These are all logics which are intended either to supplement classical logic, or else to replace it where it goes wrong.[3]

Relevant logic, for example, differs from classical logic in that it attempts to solve the paradox of material implication. The paradox of material implication is the observation that “If the moon is made of cheese, then 2+2=4” is true, even though the antecedent is in no way related to the consequent. Material implication just does not capture what we really mean by “if…then” – yet it is classically valid. Relevant logic attempts to solve this by saying that andecedents must be “relevant” to consequents.

This seems to make sense, but it leads to an interesting feature of relevant logic. Relevant logic is not explosive, which means that unlike classical logic, you can sometimes have contradictions which do not entail the trivial truth of every proposition. Thus, “~(A & ~A)”(the so-called “law of non-contradiction”) is not a theorem of relevant logic (while it is a theorem of classical logic).

This is important because it shows that the unchanging, transcendent view of logic that presuppositionalists talk about just isn’t the case. These logical and mathematic systems are just models we invent to examine different ideas. We can and have changed them, or even thrown them out and started over with different “laws”, many times in the past. Relevant logic is just one example. Some other logics even change the definition of truth. Four-valued logics (often used in computing and electronics) don’t have “P v ~P” as a theorem; and fuzzy logics even have an infinite range f truth values. Intuitionist logics aren’t even concerned with truth, but justification. And these all have real-world applications.

Even mathematics does this. In elliptic geometry, for example, the sum of the angles of a triangle is more than 180 degrees; and Euclid’s parallel postulate is false – there are no parallel lines in elliptic geometry. Now, one might object by saying, “well, that’s just a thought experiment, and doesn’t obtain in reality”. The problem with this is that neither does Euclidean  geometry. When’s the last time you saw a triangle? You haven’t. You never have. The only thing that exists in reality is an approximation of a triangle. A “real” triangle would have to have infinitely thin sides in order to have angles that add up to exactly 180 degrees; and would also have to be infinitely flat. We live in a 3-dimensional (at least) universe, and triangles exist in 2 dimensions. A triangle is just a concept, a thought experiment.

All this points to a simple fact: logic and mathematics are made up. We invented them to describe what we see, and they are only approximations.
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[1] http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/apologetics/martin/frame_contra_martin.html

[2] http://carm.org/transcendental-argument

[3] Priest, Graham. An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. xvii.