Burning Away the Fog
Autonomy as a Modern Flaw
When our children are little, much energy is spent in training them to be independent. The goal is to see them become wise, mature adults who are self-determining, self-ruling, and self-governing. As babies, parents show them how to hold their own bottle in order to be able to feed themselves. As toddlers, they are taught to learn how to dress themselves and how to use a toilet instead of diapers. This push towards independence continues through adolescence as the child is given greater levels of responsibility, such as part-time jobs to earn their own money or a driver’s permit to operate a car in traffic. All of these efforts are in order to see the child master a certain level of mature self-governance. Then comes the big day. The child has grown to the point when they are ready to leave the nest. They depart from the direct influence and governance of their parents to test their autonomy at a college or to possibly challenge their autonomous skills alongside another autonomous person within the covenant of marriage.
Seen in this context the ability to self-govern is healthy and desirable. Imagine if a baby never learned to feed itself. Or consider if a toddler never learned to be potty-trained. The ability to wisely govern and conduct one’s own life with maturity is essential in mankind’s ability to fulfill its role as a positive contributor to society.
The idea of being autonomous is synonymous with being self-governing. But this needs further definition. It is one thing to be self-governing over our bodily functions in the bathroom as an adult. It is yet entirely another to be self-governing in determining ultimate truth. And therein lies the modern problem. For many, what constitutes truth is left up to the opinions and rules of the individual. This is the element of autonomy that is warped and often stinks of rebellion. The encouragement to seek subjective, relative answers to the question, “What is truth?” have led to some fairly devastating conditions which our culture experiences daily in the modern era, such as abortion and gay unions attempting to look like marriage.
Truth Hidden by the Fog
This is all very problematic and tragic; the falsifying of what is true and the deification of what is false. But that is not the angle of this article. Nor do I wish to paint too dark of a picture, because, from the Christian worldview, truth will always prevail, no matter how dark or blind the heart of the culture may be. Instead, I wish to draw attention to a second dilemma that goes hand-in-hand with the obfuscation of truth.
When we do find those rare pockets of truth presented in modern culture, there is a second distortion that often finds itself lurking around the corner in order to steal the impact of truth…foggy reasoning. The ability to take truth and reason with it in our lives and in the world around us, is critical in order to access the power of truth. What good is truth if we don’t think rationally about it? How can we fully understand how to apply truth without reason? Or, what if we are in good standing with the merits of truth, but are so incapable to think rationally about it that we become ineffective in sharing that truth with others? In this way, though truth may be known, the sister danger to not knowing truth at all, is that once the truth is known, it may become lost in the fog of irrational, unreasonable, illogical, and fallacious thinking.
Imagine for a moment the rules of traffic. The truth of the rule is that when two or more cars arrive at a four way intersection in which all are required to stop, then right of way rules are applied. This is common knowledge that is required for one to gain a driver’s license and can therefore be considered as a type of truth. But what if that truth regarding four way stops and right of way rules are not applied in a rational, logical manner? Several things can occur, for instance, a person may not apply the truth in order to stop where directed to, thinking that this truth doesn’t apply to their situation. Or, once stopped at the intersection, a failure to rationalize the truths regarding right of way could result in someone proceeding out of order; leading to an accident. Or, a driver may not proceed at all, instead having a far too literal interpretation for the stop sign, resulting in a failure to go ahead when it is their turn.
A Return to Logic and Burning Away the Fog
This is a simplistic and imperfect picture of the implications of having an understanding of the truth but having it get lost in the fog of irrational, faulty logic. But hopefully the point is clear because in answer to this modern problem, a call to a return to logic is in order. Yes, a call to return to truth is equally important, and that trumpet shall be blown also. But in this series of articles, the intention is to draw attention to the need for the study of logic in our modern era, which has become too comfortable with vague, irrational, and unclear thinking. This is also important for the agenda of the person with a Christian worldview. If we are ever going to be effective tools in the hands of the Spirit, defending and persuading with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then there needs to be a return to rational, valid reasoning regarding the truth. Therefore, along with this call to logic, the focus of these articles will provide the practical and basic considerations of its tenets leading to simple application.
Not just any Logic…Presuppositional
As we get started, an important point of clarification needs to be made. In some Christian circles, the argument is given that logic and critical thinking has no place with the things regarding God and His Word. Instead, the assumption is made that a thinking Christian quenches the Holy Spirit, or some such foolishness. But honestly, nothing could be further from the truth. Logic, to put a simple and direct definition behind it, could be stated as, “the study of the methods and principles used to distinguish correct from incorrect reasoning” (Copi, Irving M., Cohen, C., McMahon, K., 2011). Reasoning, it may be argued, involves the mind. The mind has been commanded by the Lord to be used to actively engage in the love of God. As Jesus said in the gospels:
“And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” Matthew 22:37 (NASB95)
Furthermore, using the mind to reason rationally reflects the character of God, whom the Scriptures declare, “is not a God of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33 NASB95), does not entertain “variation or shifting shadow” within His nature (James 1:17 NASB95), and possesses qualities in which “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:8 NASB95).
Therefore, upon these points, the important mark of clarification moving forward is that the foundation of the logic I am appealing to in these articles, is presuppositional from the perspective that I am presupposing the reality of God, as revealed within the holy Scriptures, and all of the implications thereof. In this way, presuppositional logic may be compared in kind to presuppositional apologetics, because from the outset, essential unstated claims are assumed to be true and accurate, such as the inspiration and authority of the Bible. This clarification will allow us to move more quickly down the path of learning healthy practices regarding the study of logic, with the intention of burning the fog away, leaving truth to shine in all of its brilliance.
Some Technical Terms and Distinctions
Fallacy, Proposition, and Argument
Within this study of logic, fallacy will be the concept most referred to in these articles. Fallacy can be defined within the study of logic as, “the point at which an argument becomes invalid because of an error in its reasoning, whereby the premises do not support the conclusion.” To fully understand this definition, a couple of other words need to be clarified.
First, is the word proposition. A proposition within logic is a claim made within declarative sentences asserting something to be either true or false. Propositions consist of both premises and conclusions (more on those terms in a moment). Also, to further explain our definition, sometimes the term proposition is used synonymously with the word “statement.”
Second, the word argument. In modern vernacular, argument often refers to a fight or heated debate. But traditionally, within logic, it is a technical term used to refer to a group of propositions whereby one of those propositions follows from the others, culminating in a conclusion. For instance, an example of a logical argument is in the assertion of the following set of propositions:
“Animals are part of God’s creation” (Premise)
“Dogs are animals.” (Premise)
“Therefore, dogs are part of God’s creation.” (Conclusion)
These three declarative sentences of proposition, taken as a whole, is what the study of logic calls, an argument. Notice there was no heated emotion involved (unless maybe you are a cat-lover).
Premise and Conclusion
Along with the term proposition, a further distinction needs to be made between propositions that function as premises and those that function as conclusion. The premises are the propositions that claim to provide the grounds for a specific conclusion. For example, the first two propositions in the argument illustrated above are the premises. From these two premises, the final proposition is made which is called the conclusion. The last proposition in the illustration above is the conclusion of the argument. The first two propositions (premises) give support and reason for its conclusion.
Furthermore, from these definitions made so far, it is an easy jump to initiate a basic introduction to syllogism, as we make our way back to fallacy. A syllogism is a deductive argument containing two categorical propositions that infer a conclusion (there are always three propositions; never more, never less). The illustration of the argument above is a syllogism. Irving Copi, in his book on logic describes syllogisms as “the workhorse arguments with which deductive logic, as traditionally practiced, has been made effective in writing and in controversy” (Copi, Irving, M., 2011). The syllogistic structure can be very powerful in its ability to produce clear, testable, and valid arguments, by which truth may be clarified and brought out of the fog.
Truth, Validity, and Soundness
Another set of terms before we return to fallacy needs to be set forth. These are the terms truth, validity, and soundness. Often in the modern, vague approach to language, these terms are associated as all referring to the same idea. But within the study of logic, they are very distinct, and it is critical that they remain so. Truth (and its opposite, falsehood) is the state of an attribute of a proposition to be accurate. Truth is used to describe single, individual statements. For instance, the proposition, “animals are part of God’s creation” is a single statement that is true, therefore, we would categorize this as truth. On the other hand, if we were to switch the statement around and say, “God is part of animal’s creation” (as atheists would like for us to believe), this statement would be false.
The second term, validity, is slightly different. Validity refers to the relationship between multiple propositions, specifically within a syllogistic argument, that describes them as producing a conclusion that is either rational or irrational. If it fails to produce a conclusion that follows from its premises, then it is called invalid. But, on the other hand, if it produces a conclusion that does follow from its premises, then it is called valid. The illustration above is a valid argument because its conclusion follows from its premises. It can be simplified like this:
All A are B.
All C are A.
Therefore, all C are B.
Now, it is important to understand that truth and validity are not the same thing. An argument may have propositional truth in its statements, but may prove to be invalid in its logic (this is really the whole inspiration given for these articles in the introduction). Or, on the other hand, an argument may contain false propositions but be valid in its logical form. Let me illustrate with two more syllogisms.
First, True but Invalid:
All mammals have fur.
Animals have fur.
Therefore, animals are mammals.
The premises and its conclusion are all true propositions, but are out of order in their logic. Animals are not mammals but instead, mammals are animals. Therefore, though they contain propositional truth in their statements, the logic is invalid because its conclusion fails to be supported by the premises. This argument fails in its logic and reasoning and its truth therefore becomes lost in the fog.
Second, False but Valid:
All horses are brown.
My cousin eats like a horse.
Therefore, my cousin is brown.
All three of these propositions, the two premises and the conclusion, are all false. But, the reasoning is valid because the conclusion follows from the premises which give it its support. Therefore, there isn’t any fog necessarily because the logic is solid, but it is empty because there isn’t anything to see once the fog clears because truth is absent.
A third type of error also emerges as a hybrid of these two examples. An argument, even in syllogistic form, may be one that contains neither truth nor validity, yet is asserted dogmatically by its supporter as something to be seriously considered. In this way, the fog is thick but neither is it hiding anything. Unfortunately, much of the modern worldview is founded on this type of error.
A third term must also be introduced into this group, which is the word soundness. If an argument is valid and its propositions are all true, then the argument is said to be sound. Soundness is the representation of an argument that contains both truth and validity. This is the case where there is no hint of fog and truth is allowed to shine forth in its full strength. For example, the following syllogism is sound:
God is sinless.
Jesus is God.
Therefore, Jesus is sinless.
This argument contains three propositions, all of which are true according to Scripture. This argument is also in valid logical form, whereby the conclusion is supported by the two premises. As a result, this argument is said to be sound. The fog has been burned away with strong, rational reasoning, and behold, what a glorious truth there is to see!
Next Time…The Art of Fallacy
Hopefully, within these terms, the value of studying logic is starting to be seen as a powerful tool in which propositional truth is drawn out of the fog caused by faulty reasoning. In the next article, based on this introduction and these technical terms, a closer look into the world of fallacy will be taken, whereby an argument fails to be valid, even though on the surface it may look and sound correct.
Copi, I. M., Cohen, C., & McMahon, K. (2016). Introduction to logic. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN-13: 9780205820375