William Lane Craig on "If Mind is Reducible to Brain Function, Why Trust Thought?"



William Lane Craig remains one of the most erudite and knowledgeable of today's Christian philosophers. His book, Reasonable Faith, has remained one of my favorite Apologetics tools because he lays out many of the Christian claims so clearly and cogently that only the most hardened of skeptics dismisses him or his work as being without weight. Certainly, his writings have led many people to turn their hearts toward Jesus.

We are blessed that Dr. Craig maintains a website also called Reasonable Faith with lots of information that can be accessed free of charge to make a case for Christianity. One of the great features of his website includes a question and answer section where Dr. Craig selects questions that have been addressed to him, and he generally provides really good answers that can help inform all Christians' Apologetics efforts. Unfortunately, this blog has not referenced Dr. Craig's work nearly as often as we ought, but I want to focus on one of the questions and answers that can be found on his website today.

Question #545 is entitled "Atheistic Quagmire" and features a question by Matthew, a new Christian who recently changed from his prior faith in atheism, who asks an interesting question about reason and logic because, in my opinion, it actually flips the page on how these issues are usually addressed. Matthew writes:
The problem my atheist friends bring up the most against me is they think logic and reason is due to chemical compositions in the brain. They always tell me how all we are are chemicals and electricity and everything is reducible to that.

My question is how can I show that reason and logic are not reducible to molecules and atoms?
I find it interesting that it is Matthew's atheist friends who raise this issue. In my experience, it is the atheists who often try to make arguments that life arose by a combination of accident and natural law based upon their particular version of reason and logic while it is the Christians pointing out that if everything arose as the result of an accident of nature that there is no reason to trust either reason or logic. Yet, Matthew's atheist friends begin by conceding that in their understanding of the universe, all thought may be reduced to mere movements of chemicals and electricity in the brain. That is a big starting point.

Matthew then continues,
I've gotten a bit snarky with them lately and I ask them things like "If reason is reducible to chemicals, I want you to stop proving things using science and logic (since they're products of atoms buzzing) and prove everything chemically and with brain tissue." Or "If everything is matter, then prove everything to me materially." They always answer back with "Way back in caveman times, do you think they would understand anything you're saying? That should show you how logic developed alongside the human brain!" Then I tell them if all we are are chemicals then we can't come to logical or scientific conclusions since molecules determine our thought patterns. I also tell them that science assumes logic is true, and that logic can never be found inside the universe or discovered since to discover logic in the brain as a molecule or as an atom or physical force in the universe using science, would mean that we would use logic to discover logic which is nonsensical. They then tell me to stop assuming logic is true and at that point I give up.
I would be tempted to give up, too. Fortunately, Dr. Craig does not give up. He provides the following well-considered response:
If they think that logic and reason are unreliable because “logic and reason is due to chemical compositions in the brain,” then ask them, “How did you arrive at that conclusion?” If they used logic and reason, then their assertion defeats itself. If they did not, why believe what they say? These poor, deluded souls are mired in incoherence and don’t even realize it.

When they retort, “Way back in caveman times, do you think they would understand anything you're saying? That should show you how logic developed alongside the human brain!", you should explain that, of course, mathematics and logic have developed over time as people become smarter and more insightful. But that doesn’t imply that 2+2 did not equal 4 prior to people’s grasping this truth. Ask them if back in those caveman days, before people could grasp the idea of a planet, the Earth was round—or did the Earth become round with the development of science? They’re obviously confusing knowledge and reality.

When they tell you “to stop assuming logic is true,” the reductio ad absurdum is complete. You might ask them if they think that that statement is true rather than false, in which case they’re assuming the logical Law of Contradiction is true, or what inference they draw from that, in which case they’ll have to assume the logical rules of inference. But you may well be right that when someone is so mired in irrationality, it’s pointless to argue further. Here is where, perhaps, just being a loving friend is the best evangelism.
These are good thoughtful responses. The idea that someone can acknowledge that an atheist worldview requires that all thought be the result of brain actions, and then for these same atheists to argue that you cannot trust logic but somehow believe that they have made a case for the atheistic view is really quite a ridiculous viewpoint. Dr. Craig's suggestions in his response constitutes a fine example of intellectual jiu-jitsu that all Christians would benefit from learning.

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