Logic and the Quest for Metaphysical Truths

I am finding that logic doesn't help us much at all in the quest for metaphysical truths.

We use logic in the service of our faith. It is not the reverse. Logic does not lead to God, for instance. What we believe about God (which is prior) leads us to our view of logic (which is posterior).

Take for instance this valid modus ponens:

If (P) Elvis is dead then (Q) Bush is the president of the USA.

P: Elvis is dead.

.: Q: Bush is the president of the USA.

This conclusion is not only true, but it follows from this valid argument.

But the question here is whether the first premise is a non-sequitur. What is the connection between Elvis being dead and Bush being the president? How do we decide if someone says that's what he believes because of a dream he had or that God makes the connection? What then? How do you use reason to deny this? [To see the problems of informal fallacies when applied to metaphysical truths see here.]

And what do you say to the pantheist who will choke out a koan in response to any of your logical questions?

And what can a theist say to the atheist who believes logic is biologically based? There's no logic that can change his mind if he has different presuppositions, just like there is no logic that can change a theistic mind either.

What one thinks about logic is a worldview issue. When a theist uses his view of logic to defend the existence of his God all he's doing is spelling out the implications of his worldview when it comes to logic.

In essence what he's saying is that if his God exists, then this is how a theist should view logic.

If God is everything (pantheism) or if there is no God at all (atheism), then logic is viewed differently, that's all.

So the real question is as exbeliever has posed: what is the reason for believing in God in the first place? Because it all hinges on whether or not God exists, and if he does, what he's like.

My particular attack on religious faith is to consider how we gained our presuppositions in the first place. We do so because of when and where we were born; an "accident of birth," or and "accident of geography." Go here and scroll down to the Outsider Test, to see for yourselves. This is the biggest background factor of all when it comes to religious faith..when and where we were born. So basically the theist is using an "accident of birth" to adopt his view of God (which is prior), and then arguing that logic leads him to believe in God (which is secondary), and that's it. So there is no significant way that the theist can use his view about logic (which is posterior) to show his God exists (which is prior). The cart is before the horse here. The truth of the matter is that the whole reason he defends his belief in God, and subsequently logic, is because of an "accident of birth."

In my opinion the Outsider Test leads me to agnosticism, and agnosticism leads inexorably to atheism.


Anonymous said...

A response to Paul Manata:

So Paul, basically we live in different metaphysical universes, don't we? I cannot reason with you, can I? And you cannot reason with me, can you? So what then of your claim that logic leads us to God? You've got the cart before the horse, as I explained. Within your world everything is explainable to you (although I highly dispute this), and within my world everything is explainable to me too(although you highly dispute this).

What now? Tell me again about the usefulness of logic when it comes to metaphysical beliefs. Go ahead. Tell me. Tell me how to cross over this bridge. Try.

Former Christian theist turned atheist Michael Shermer has done an extensive study of why people believe in God and in “weird things” and concludes: “Most of us most of the time come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning. Rather, such variable as genetic predispositions, parental predilections, sibling influences, peer pressures, educational experiences, and life impressions all shape the personality preferences and emotional inclinations that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to make certain belief choices. Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational belief, regardless of what we previously believed. Instead, the facts of the world come to us through the colored filters of the theories, hypotheses, hunches, biases, and prejudices we have accumulated through our lifetime. We then sort through the body of data and select those most confirming what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that are disconfirming. All of us do this, of course, but smart people are better at it…”

The difference between us is the difference between presuppositions about whether God exists, and if so what kind of God, isn't it? And where do we gain these presuppositions? My explanation is that they are based upon when and where we were born. Your explanation is that God decrees yours, and that you know all of this because of your exegesis of a historically conditioned document purportedly inspired by God and written by a barbaric and superstitious people. You can believe that of course, but I further dispute that you can believe anything in the Bible at all if it's from the Calvinistic God. And there we are, at a dead end, until you answer my argument here, there is no use pursuing it any more.

All you and I are doing when we argue is confirming what we already believe. You and I each live in the universe next door. So stop being frustrated with me, and stop laughing. It just reveals you are unaquainted with what I'm saying. Get an education. At least then you will understand why we cannot reason with each other, rather than insisting till you're blue in the face that I should agree with you because what you believe is more "logical" and more reasonable. It just isn't. And while you may go on believing after getting educated, your degree of ill founded confidence with be gone.

Joe E. Holman said...

Right, logic is just a tool, the operation of a brain in organizing a pathway towards defining and supporting a belief. It in no way gives one side of a dispute a monopoly or greater surety of knowledge in and of itself. Just about any position can be logically backed up, but this doesn't necessarily put that position on the road to being called "true".


Anonymous said...

The best explanation for this state of affairs about how we use and misuse logic is that this universe is a brute fact incapable of being understood based upon the initial assumption that there is a reason for its existence. But upon second thought, the best assumption is that chance explains it, since chance cannot be explained.

Let me put it to you this way so you can better understand. Let's say there isn't a rational explanation for the existence of the universe. None. Then to look for it is to be frustrated and to be at your rational wits' end. No explanation seems to account for all the data. That's epistemological agnosticism. But when I try to explain this agnosticism the best answer that accounts for it is atheism. So from now on, we just do the best we can do.

The Christian problem is the same as mine. Yet, they won't acknowledge it, because most Christian apologists have a fortress mentality, and their mission is to save those on the inside from the assaults of people like me.

The Christian problem is how to account for the everlasting existence of a 3 in 1 omnisicient God (who consequently never learned anything and cannot weigh alternatives through the prosess of thinking), who cannot be free to choose his own morality, and who didn't choose the standards of reason either.

Your God must either have a higher standard of reasonableness that he adheres to (hence God isn't the standard), or he can make reasonable whatever he wants to make reasonable--which is the Euthyphro dilemmaas applied to reason.

You see, whatever Christians criticize me for, I can criticize their God for. If I don't have an absolute standard for logic, then neither do they have one in their God. They claim the high road in that they assume they do have such a standard, but that claim falls to pieces.

Francois Tremblay said...

I think you are defining logic too narrowly. If you view logic to its logical extent (pun not indended), as non-contradictory identification and the expunging of contradictions, then you can see that NOTHING can proceed without logic assumed a priori. Whether it is partly biological or not is irrelevant. By asserting absurd contradictions such as "God is not material" or "God is three in one", Christians are self-refuting themselves because even uttering these statements demand that one accept logic at its most fundamental level.

Anonymous said...

Let me clarify Francois. When it comes to religious faiths I don't see logic helping us that much. Do you? We seem to argue past each other because we have different assumptions.

Logic can only help us see whether we are consistent or not, and even then with a different set of assumptions, what one sees as inconsistent isn't seen that way by someone else. Take for instance the Calvinistic claim that God decrees everything. Yet Calvinists don't see any inconsistency in their "good" God and the amount of intense suffering in ths world. From my perspective that's absolutely amazing.

And while we westerners use logic to debate with each other, what we consider to be the foundations of logic depend upon worldview considerations, since pantheists see it differently and they've been around a lot longer than we have. Try to reason with a pantheist and you'll get koan after koan after koan. That's absolutely amazing to me too!

But then what I think it absolutely amazing to them too!

Nihlo said...

It seems that you are suggesting that nobody has ever used logic to arrive at a theological position. The phenomena you have described seems consistent with alternative explanatory hypotheses however. For example, the fact that modus ponens is always valid when the consequent is true does not in and of itself render logic incapable of helping us to determine the truth value of religious claims. Two different sets of presuppositions may yield different results from the same logical calculus, but that does not mean that the presuppositions themselves cannot be questioned logically.

Your endorsement of the outsider test seems to be an endorsement of logic even though you have suggested that logic cannot help us reach our theological positions. The outsider test requires us to "test [our] beliefs as if [we] were an outsider to the faith [we] are evaluating." How are these beliefs to be tested if not with logic?

Anonymous said...

Jason, agreed. But where does this admission get us when one person's modus ponens is another person's modus tollens? Presuppositions overwhemingly dominate over logic when it comes to metaphysical beliefs. Yes or no? Logic is used in the service of these beliefs.