Can Logic Help Us Improve Discussion of Creation Care?

In Colleges and Universities, Education, People, The Big Picture by E. Calvin Beisner1 Comment

For twenty centuries, Christian thinkers have emphasized the importance of logic. They have recognized logic as one element of God’s very essence. John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” points to that truth. The Greek word there translated “Word,” Logos, has a range of meanings that include logic, account, reason, and argument. (In fact, in John’s day, it rarely denoted a single word.) John 1:1, then, reveals that God is logical—not that He is bound by laws external to Himself, but that those rules are of His very essence.

In generations long past, education in Western Civilization usually began with the trivium(grammar, logic, and rhetoric), then proceeded to the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy), followed by various other subjects (history, philosophy, theology, etc.). The trivium provided students with the basic skills they needed to learn the quadrivium, and the quadrivium in turn provided the tools needed to learn other subjects. The role of logic was to equip students to reason properly from premises to conclusion—and to detect when others were, or weren’t, doing so.

Very few elementary and high schools, at least since the mid-twentieth century, even offer logic, let alone include it in required curriculum, and almost no colleges require it for any major other than philosophy.

The sad result is a steep decline in people’s ability to reason properly and detect unreason. Yet the need to understand logic is universal because the odds that we’ll argue fallaciously and thus deceive or be deceived if we don’t are high. How high?

Well, take one type of argument, categorical syllogisms, for example. These are arguments in forms like “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal,” or “No fish are mammals. Some vertebrates are mammals. Therefore some vertebrates are not fish.” The terms “men,” “mortal,” and “Socrates” can be incorporated into 256 different types of syllogisms—and of those, 232 (over 90%) are invalid—meaning that their conclusions don’t follow logically from their premises. If you don’t know the rules of the syllogism, the odds are good that whatever argument you construct will be invalid. (Okay, maybe this is just for nerds, but in case you’d like to see a complete chart of the 232 invalid and 24 valid forms, click here!)

An enormous amount of discussion and argument about environmental stewardship, especially about such highly controversial and emotionally charged topics as climate change and climate and energy policy, especially in the political sphere, consists largely and sometimes wholly of logical fallacies. Though we’re not infallible, we at the Cornwall Alliance try to keep our reasoning valid (that is, not fallacious), and we’d like to recommend some tools the study of which will help you do likewise.

So, we’ve posted a 4-page “Summary of Major Concepts, Principles and Functions of Logic” that you can use as a checklist and memory aid as you study logic. It includes such things as:

  • The three laws of thought
  • The rules of definition
  • The rules and fallacies of categorical syllogisms
  • The rules of immediate deduction
  • The rules of the 5 (and there are only 5) possible (and 2 impossible) relationships between categorical propositions that use the same terms
  • The “Square of Opposition” illustrating those 5 relationships
  • The rules and fallacies of hypothetical arguments (i.e., of the form “If what Smith just drank is a deadly poison, he will die within 24 hours. Smith lives another 24 years. Therefore what Smith drank wasn’t a deadly poison.”)
  • The rules and fallacies of 5 other common forms of argument
  • A long list and explanation of some of the most common informal fallacies:
    1.  Fallacies of Relevance (21 types!)
    2. Fallacies of Ambiguity (10 types)
    3.   Reductionist Fallacies (5 types)
    4. Procedural Fallacies (7 types)
    5. Metaphysical Fallacies (6 types)
    6. Others (5 types)

And here are three book recommendations:

So join the club of those committed to logical thinking! If we all do that, our discussions will be both more enlightening and more peaceful.

 

Originally published on the Stewards Blog.

Dr. Beisner is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance; former Associate Professor of Historical Theology & Social Ethics, at Knox Theological Seminary, and of Interdisciplinary Studies, at Covenant College; and author of “Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate” and “Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future.”

Comments

  1. bob@firebyknight.com'

    Logic is not allowed, many times it’s not even allowed in the Church.
    “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword”; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken (Isaiah 1:18-20)”.

    I love these verses because they demonstrate God’s desire for mankind to find out that He is real. He is providing us every opportunity to receive His Son Jesus, not by “blind faith” as some would dispose, but by logic and reason.

    The world will not tolerate this logic as many famous atheists have stated as much:
    “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door (Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons, The New York Review, January 9, 1997, p. 31).”

    The really sad fact is that many Churches have given up on God and instead have turned to man for the answers. Evolution is now mainstream in nearly all, if not all, mainstream denominations. So much so that many of them have celebrated Darwin’s birthday from the pulpit.

    Regardless of what direction the Church turns, God is still in the business of saving souls.
    “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)”.

Leave a Comment