A call to live up to our inner-Spock
Everyone loves Mr. Spock - except those people who mistake him with Dr. Spock, the baby doc, whose advice to mothers in the 50s ruined a generation (but that's another story for another day). No, Mr. Spock is not Dr. Spock. Mr. Spock (or Commander Spock) is that lovable, living, breathing computer-of-a-man who has dedicated his life to logic and facts. For those of us who grew up watching Mr. Spock - which pretty much includes everyone 60 years of age or younger - he represented something to which all could aspire; a person who values logic above emotion. And of course, whenever I do apologetics on the Internet, both sides try to claim the mantle of Mr. Spock. Everyone wants to claim that they are the one being logical while the opponent is being illogical.
Because I already know based upon the comments that twist what I have written in previous posts that someone is going to claim that "BK hates logic" or some other similar nonsense, let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with trying to be logical. It's crucially important that we avoid using logical fallacies when arguing - both formal and informal. In fact, failure to follow the rules of logic will result in nonsensical arguments. Consider, for example, the following syllogism:
Premise 1: All atheists are fools,
Premise 2: Richard Dawkins is an atheist,
Conclusion: Therefore, Richard Dawkins is not a fool.
If Syllogism 1 causes your blood pressure to rise, you are probably an atheist. If it causes you to chuckle, you are probably a theist. But regardless if the syllogism makes you angry or amused, it is not the emotional response that determines if the syllogism is valid. Rather, it is the logical form. Effectively, this syllogism is in the form of:
Premise 1:All X are Y,
Premise 2: Z in an X,
Conclusion: Therefore, Z is not Y.
But wait, that syllogism doesn't make sense, does it? If Z is an X, and all X are Y, then it must be the case that Z is Y. My syllogism concludes that Z is not Y. So, obviously the syllogism fails as written. In other words, it's form is not valid. Instead, it should conclude that Richard Dawkins is a fool.
Premise 1:All atheists are fools,
Premise 2: Richard Dawkins is an atheist,
Conclusion: Therefore, Richard Dawkins is a fool.
That, then, is a valid logical argument.
But wait, one might ask, what about the premises? What if they aren't true? After all, I am certain a large number of readers would disagree that all atheists are fools even if Richard Dawkins is a fool. Well, the truth of the premises goes to the "soundness" of the argument. The soundness of the argument isn't based on it's logical form, but on the truth of its premises. There are always two questions that need to be asked in any argument: (1) is the form logically valid, and (2) are the premises true? If the answer to both is affirmative, then the argument becomes sound.
I feel confident that we can all agree that logic is important in making arguments. If we make an argument using a flawed logical form, i.e., the formal logic is flawed, we ought to be called out and corrected. The problem is when someone makes the "you're argument is illogical" claim, it is very rare that they are pointing out that an argument is not valid, i.e., the formal logic does not lead to the conclusion because it is flawed (like Syllogism 1 and Syllogism 2, above). So, most of the time, when someone tries to bring out their inner-Spock and claim the argument high-ground by claiming that something is illogical, what they almost always really mean is: (1) one or more of the premises are untrue, or (2) the argument uses an informal logical fallacy. I will not deal with the second problem here (I believe posts should be short), but I do want to make one point about the first.
I am certain that there are very few people making arguments about God, Christianity or the Bible who do not believe that their premises are true. (I expect there are "fake arguments" just like there is "fake news", but I think that very few people make an argument knowing or believing that their premises are false. That would be deceitful, and while there are certainly some people who are being deceitful, I choose to give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.) But often the problem isn't that the premises aren't true. Instead, especially when arguing about the truth of the premises in the field of religion, the biggest problem is often a lack of common language. In other words, we are using different definitions or come from different world-views which those unfamiliar with the language's use in particular cultures mistakenly call "illogical."
As an example, consider Syllogism 3, above. My first premises is pretty controversial: All atheists are fools. Atheists and others may read that premises as meaning that all atheists are unintelligent, half-witted, or lacking in good sense. They justifiably believe that's what the syllogism means because those are all perfectly legitimate definitions or synonyms of "foolish." But that may not be what I meant at all. I may simply using the term consistent with the Biblical statement that "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1) In other words, my definition of a fool may simply be "a person who has said in their heart that there is no God." If that is true, then let's substitute what I may have meant into Syllogism 3:
Premise 1:All atheists are people who have said in their heart that there is no God,
Premise 2:Richard Dawkins is an atheist,
Conclusion:Therefore, Richard Dawkins is a person who has said in his heart that there is no God.
Is Syllogism 4 valid? Yes, the form of the argument has no flaws. Are the premises true? Yes, I would doubt that anyone would argue that the premises of Syllogism 4 are false. Is the argument sound? Yes, the form is valid and the premises are true. Is Syllogism 4 any different than Syllogism 3 when the terms are defined? No, they are the same argument - both are equally sound. Yet, I expect that people will still object to Syllogism 3. But understand that the reason you are objecting is due to the connotation that the word "fool" carries, but it is not because it is illogical. If you object that Syllogism 3 is illogical after having the definition of the term "fool" given, then you are simply allowing emotion to overtake your logic and you would not be living up to the high calling of Mr. Spock to be logical.
The call that someone is not being logical is way overused in Internet debate. I would like to encourage everyone - theists and atheists alike - to try to be more gracious and give people the benefit of the doubt that they are logical, thinking beings.
Addendum 2/16/2017 - After posting this, it occurred to me how it could be turned into something I did not say. So, let me add an additional thought. This post does not represent a call to come up with independent definitions of words. I could see something like this occurring:
Person 1: "All Christians are jerks" (or something worse).
Person 2: "Well, that's kinda' offensive."
Person 1: "Well, I'm defining 'jerk" (or the even more offensive term) as a really nice person, so you have no right to be offended."
I am not using this to call for this type of banter. What I am doing here is simply suggesting that in reviewing arguments for logic, we stick to logic. And when we review things for logic, we don't call things logical fallacies that are not logical fallacies. Talk that is wrong is wrong regardless of its logical component. It is not an invitation to start re-defining words.