Logic and Reason are Not Answers In and Of Themselves

Lately, in an apparent show of masochistic tendencies of which I was previously unaware, I have spent some time answering questions on the Religion and Spirituality page at Yahoo! Answers. With all due respect to Yahoo!, the page should more appropriately be named the ADD Answers or ADHD Answers. Following two to three days on the site, I became convinced that the reason so many one line answers were given was because the people posting can't think beyond one-line, bumper-sticker slogans. The atheists on these sites are brazen, rude and ill-informed. (The Christians, for their part, could be just as bad at times, but it would take someone blind to their own shortcomings to not see that the atheists definitely held a large lead in the total number of rude, condescending and ignorant statements).

One common thread (which is repeated on other unnamed bulletin boards dominated by skeptics) is the mantra that somehow the skeptics have cornered the market (probably a bull market) on reason and logic. When asked by Christians questions like "why do you not believe Jesus rose from the dead?" or "why do you not believe in God?" these particular atheists would default to saying vacuous things like "reason and logic" or "reason and logic and an education" or "because I'm logical".

Personally, I think that the sum total of what these particular atheists know about logic they learned from watching old episodes of the original Star Trek series. (Worse yet, they may only know about logic from the latest Star Trek movie.) One thing that they apparently don't know is that saying "logic" or "reason" is not an answer to the question.

Logic is simply a tool used to evaluate arguments. Logic by itself provides no answers to arguments. Both sides use logic and reason in this debate and it is certainly not the case that saying you used logic somehow vindicates the atheist position. After all, what comes out of logic depends upon what is put into the logic. Allow me to elaborate.

Suppose I were to make the following logical argument:

Premise 1: All dogs are toothbrushes.
Premise 2: Richard Dawkins is a dog.
Conclusion: Therefore, Richard Dawkins is a toothbrush.

Is it logically valid? Yes. It is a variation on the basic logical argument about Socrates being a man and mortal. The logical form of the argument shows that if the premises are true then the conclusion must be true. But, hopefully, you will note that the premises are almost certainly not true. (At least I don't know how dogs can be used as toothbrushes, and while Richard Dawkins has sad puppy-dog eyes I don't believe is a canine.) So, the argument is not sound because it is quite likely that the premises are not true. Is logic what establishes that dogs are not toothbrushes? Well, it is a tool that can be used in making that evaluation, but other things are needed like observation and a defining of terms.

This same holds true for arguments between skeptics and Christians. For example, suppose I said the following: "If Jesus rose from the dead, he is God." Since I am a Christian the reader recognizes that my unspoken premise is that Jesus rose from the dead and that my unspoken conclusion is that Jesus is God. Putting it into a syllogism, it reads:

Premise 1: If Jesus rose from the dead, he is God.
Premise 2: Jesus rose from the dead.
Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus is God.

Logically it is a valid argument. Thus, I can certainly hold my head up high and say that I have used logic to prove my point. But, of course, skeptics (at least, those that don't regularly frequent Yahoo! Answers) are smart enough to point out that they don't agree with the premises. They will certainly disagree with the second premise and they probably will disagree with the first. Thus, the argument now involves each of these two premises. How do I resolve them? Logic? Well, logic is a tool that can be used, but as the foregoing demonstrates logic needs to be backed with other things in order to lead to truth. We don't know from logic alone whether Jesus rose from the dead -- that is a claim that can only be evaluated by examining the evidence in context.

Looking at it another way, logic is like a computer program that can help evaluate data. When you put data into the computer, it will process the data and spit out results that are dictated by the computer program. Are the results "truth", i.e., do they correspond to reality? It depends upon the quality of the data put into the computer. Garbage in, garbage out is the rule. Thus, logic does not give us the answer -- only an evaluation of the data which makes up the premises of the arguments will lead to truth. This evaluation can include logic, too, but logic itself rarely serves as the sole basis for finding truth. (If that were the case, Spock would never need Kirk or McCoy, would he?)

Of course, the Yahoo! Answers skeptics may be simply short-handing a much longer answer. Rather than spell everything out, they may want to say that logic dictates that the Christian claim is unbelievable. If that is the case, then the skeptical response to the question is nothing more than a dismissal. But if the skeptics are mearely dismissing the question by this short-hand response I feel compelled to ask: What in the world are these pin-heads doing on Yahoo! Answers where people (at least a few of the people) are looking for answers!?

I will tell you, when I see some skeptic responding to a question about why they don't believe something with a curt statment that they used "logic" or "reason", it communicates to me quite clearly that the skeptic has no clue.

But then, at least on Yahoo! Answers, that seems to be the rule.


Brad Haggard said…
You know what, Bill, I think this constant refrain of "logic" and "science" has co-opted the popular use of the terms. Maybe we just need to consign ourselves to the fact that linguistically they are conflating terms, which will eventually push the meaning of the word. To think that New Atheism has actually destroyed the word "logic".

You could refer them to this picture, too: http://ihasahotdog.com/2009/11/18/funny-dog-pictures-using-word/
David said…
Indeed. "I'm rational" is just a barely more mature inversion of "you're stupid". I guess we should be grateful for the slighest smidgens of maturity seeing as this is the Internet... but still, if someone really were rational, you'd expect to see a logical argument, not empty boasting.
so what's new. We've known this for years. Atheist speak:

Logic = "yea that, I like that."

Illogical, fallacious = "boo that, I don't like that."

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