All rational discussions (even those related to the existence or non-existence of God) are directed and restrained by the Laws of Logic. Only theism, however, can adequately account for the existence of these transcendent laws. If God exists, He is the absolute, objective, transcendent standard of truth; the Laws of Logic are simply a reflection of His nature. They exist as an extension of His rational thinking, and for this reason, they are as eternal as God Himself. Is God real? Without God as a source for the transcendent Laws of Logic, this question (and any logical journey toward the answer) would be impossible to engage.
As an atheist, I rejected the existence of God and offered a number of objections and alternative explanations in an effort to account for the Laws of Logic. We’ve been examining the theistic explanation for these laws and several naturalistic objections on the Cold Case Christianity blog to see if atheism might offer a viable alternative. If the Laws of Logic aren’t simply a “brute reality” of our universe, could they merely be a matter of human agreement?
Objection: Aren’t the Laws of Logic simply human conventions?
By “convention,” most people typically mean “a principle everyone has agreed on.” If Laws of Logic are simply ideas about truth people have agreed on, two things would be required before we could ever have a single Law of Logic: people, and agreement. But the Law of Identity (for example) existed before people were here to think about it. Prior to the existence of people “A” was still “A” and could not be “Non-A.” In addition, people disagree about what is true (or untrue) all the time, and our positions often contradict one another. How then, can the Laws of Logic be transcendent unless they exist for all of us, whether we agree with them or not? If the Laws of Logic are merely accepted human conventions, they would, in essence, be subject to a “vote”; the laws could be changed if enough people agreed.
Objection: If God created the Laws of Logic, they are dependent on God. They are not necessary truths but contingent truths, and this means they are not foundational to the universe. And if God created the Laws of Logic, wouldn’t this mean He could change them whenever He wanted? Couldn’t God arrange things so “A” is also “Non-A”? After all, He created the Laws; He should be able to change them. But, the proposition “A” is also “Non-A” is irrational. If God is unable to change such a law, the Laws of Logic don’t appear to be dependent on God at all.
God did not create the Laws of Logic. These laws are simply a reflection of the thoughts and logical character of God, and as such, they reveal His logical, perfect nature. God, in His perfection, will not (and cannot) do anything to violate His own nature; He is not self-contradictory. Just as there is no such thing as a “square circle” (because this violates the nature of circularity), God cannot exist outside His nature, including the nature of His logical thoughts. Logic is foundational simply because God is foundational. The Laws of Logic are objective, unchangeable, internally consistent and transcendent because they reflect the nature of God.
Objection: Aren’t there different kinds of Logic? If there are a variety of differing views and laws, the idea of transcendence is inaccurate. There is no need, therefore, for a transcendent source of these Laws.
While it is true that there are different categories of Logic applying to different aspects of propositional truth, mathematics, and reasoning, the basic underlying principles of Logic remain intact and foundational. In addition, while many “laws of thought” have been proposed over time by great thinkers (i.e. Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Boole, Welton, and even Russell), these laws merely reflect, in one way or another, the same universal, pre-existent, objective logical axioms. In essence, we continue to find ourselves restating and reformulating the same Laws of Logic over and over again. When someone says “there are different kinds of logic” they are failing to recognize the objective, unchanging, underlying axioms. These foundational Laws of Logic remain constant within each system.
In order to live consistently within our worldview, each of us must examine the basis for our rational claims. If I don’t believe something, yet act consistently as though I do, my life is contradictory. If I reject astrology, but purchase a lottery ticket today based on the numbers provided in today’s horoscope, I’ve acted inconsistently. When I used to argue against the existence of God, I employed Laws of Logic my atheistic worldview could not provide. I had to borrow these concepts from the very worldview I was trying to defeat. Today, as a theist, I have an adequate foundation for these logical axioms. I can respond to objections in a way that is consistent with my worldview.
In the video below, Dr. Vince Vitale of RZIM’s Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics says the New Atheists are “generally not engaged in current philosophical scholarship.”
If we think that it is our minds that keep us from God, then we may not be dealing with the arguments at the highest level. Here in Oxford, and in Princeton, and in philosophy faculties—top faculties—all around the world, God is not dead. God is as alive as he ever was.
“The New Atheists have branded themselves the party of Reason.”
And so begins True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism, a book edited by Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, compiled in anticipation of the atheist Reason Rally (that took place in Washington D.C. in 2012) for the purpose of explaining to the attendees why atheism isn’t as reasonable as it claims. The book was originally released as an eBook, but a new, revised version is now available in paperback.
True Reason is intended to respond to the best of the atheists’ arguments with chapters by William Lane Craig, Matthew Flannagan, Timothy McGrew, and others on topics like Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Loftus’s Outsider Test for Faith, the destruction of the Canaanites, naturalism, and reason.
At an Oxford Union debate on the existence of God, atheist Dan Barker said the following:
If nothing comes from nothing, then God cannot exist, because God is not nothing. If that premise is true that “nothing comes from nothing,” and if God is something, then you have just shot yourself in the foot.
How would you answer his challenge? Respond in the comments below, and then on Thursday we’ll hear Brett’s answer.
[Update: View Brett's video response. Explore past challenges here and here. You can watch all the contributors to “The God Debate” (John Lennox, Michael Shermer, Peter Hitchens, etc.) here.]
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga made a few quotable points in an interview posted by the New York Times on Sunday.
On the claim that lack of evidence for theism is evidence for atheism:
Lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.
In the same way, the failure of the theistic arguments, if indeed they do fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism. Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.
On whether or not the existence of imperfections in the world is evidence against God:
I suppose your thinking is that it is suffering and sin that make this world less than perfect. But then your question makes sense only if the best possible worlds contain no sin or suffering. And is that true? Maybe the best worlds contain free creatures some of whom sometimes do what is wrong. Indeed, maybe the best worlds contain a scenario very like the Christian story.
Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil. Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God. God himself undergoes the enormous suffering involved in seeing his son mocked, ridiculed, beaten and crucified. And all this for the sake of these sinful creatures.
I’d say a world in which this story is true would be a truly magnificent possible world. It would be so good that no world could be appreciably better. But then the best worlds contain sin and suffering.
On the atheist argument that “we no longer need God to explain the world”:
Some atheists seem to think that a sufficient reason for atheism is the fact (as they say) that we no longer need God to explain natural phenomena — lightning and thunder for example. We now have science.
As a justification of atheism, this is pretty lame. We no longer need the moon to explain or account for lunacy; it hardly follows that belief in the nonexistence of the moon (a-moonism?) is justified. A-moonism on this ground would be sensible only if the sole ground for belief in the existence of the moon was its explanatory power with respect to lunacy. (And even so, the justified attitude would be agnosticism with respect to the moon, not a-moonism.) The same thing goes with belief in God: Atheism on this sort of basis would be justified only if the explanatory power of theism were the only reason for belief in God. And even then, agnosticism would be the justified attitude, not atheism.
On the problem with believing in both materialism and evolution:
[I]f there are only material entities, then atheism certainly follows. But there is a really serious problem for materialism: It can’t be sensibly believed, at least if, like most materialists, you also believe that humans are the product of evolution…. The belief that both materialism and evolution are true…can’t rationally be held.