Testing 4 Truth, chapter 1: An introduction

 

For the first time in our blog’s 11-year history, we will feature an occasional series written by me, Gary Shogren; and our long-time friend, Tod Hannigan. Tod will do the heavy lifting on the philosophical end. Sign up for this blog if you want to get notified when new Testing 4 Truth posts come out, and we will keep a running list of all our posts on the topic.

Welcome, Tod Hannigan!

Introduction to the Series, by Gary:

Is “logical” a dirty word? Is it something only the Vulcans concern themselves about?

Logic has gotten a bad reputation among Christians. Some of us have been burned by a friend who told us that faith in God is “illogical,” so we decided it must be a tool designed by atheists. Or we read somewhere that some Christian once said, “I believe, because it is absurd.”[1] Or we (mis)apply Paul’s words, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words…so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom.”[2]

In fact, we put it to you that we all use basic logic, many times a day:

  • If Jill is running an hour late to an appointment, she logically concludes that she won’t arrive on time.
  • If Fred has never owned a dog, then logically we know that he did not own a dog in 2012.
  • If Bill is 40 years old, then logically he can deduce that the 30-year-old woman who claims to be his biological mother is incorrect.

We will be demonstrating that even if we don’t always recognize they we are being illogical, we can sure spot when other people are! Nevertheless, we believe that we should express ourselves rationally, in particular if we are communicating the Christian message. That is, we should express ourselves in ways which we would accept, if the shoe were on the other foot.

In this and other posts, we will explore the many ways in which we express ourselves illogically or – to put it another way – “fallaciously.”

Let’s start by unpacking that key word: fallacy.

Fallacya (logical) fallacy means that you try to show that X is true; what you are trying to prove may or may not be true; the problem here is that your method of getting there (that is, your “argument”) falls apart upon closer inspection. It is “fallacious.”

Here’s an argument that everyone will realize is fallacious:

Jim says: “All Ford pickups will break down eventually. But I drive a Chevy pickup! Therefore, my pickup will never break down.”

That’s a fallacy that we will look at in detail in later posts, called non sequitur (Latin for, “it doesn’t follow”). “My pickup will never break down,” I think we can assume, is not a realistic conclusion. But even if it did somehow happen that Jim’s Chevy lasted forever, his argument still would not make sense, nor would it prove that no Chevies will every break down.

 

Although, maybe Jim is right! I have seen a lot of these Chevy Eternals on Cuban roads!

Here’s another fallacious automotive statement:

Mary says: “I got into a car accident on a rainy day. Therefore, they should make it illegal to drive in the rain.”

That’s a non sequitur too, because the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow; the rain may or may not have been the reason for the accident; perhaps there were other factors (was the other party driving drunk, or not using his wipers and headlights?). Now, if Mary were to say something like, “This happened to me, and I think that in general, we should all be careful driving in the rain” – well, that’s a fair statement and I don’t think anyone would fault her logic.

Gary passes the ball to Tod: Tod, the other day, somebody told me that, because an article appeared in a certain newspaper, it must be false! Not unreliable; not biased – which I thought might have been more defensible – but definitely false. So, how about answering a big question for us: When we look at the world and try to determine what is true, how do we do it?

The Correspondence Theory of Truth, by Tod

Hopefully all of us, in our quest to understand our world, have the same overarching goal. Namely, to believe as many “true” things, and as few “false” things as possible. Few people would find satisfaction in clinging to a belief they know is wrong, we all want to know “the truth.”

But what exactly is the truth? I’m sure we have all heard someone respond to an argument with “Well, it may not be true for you, but it is true for me!” But can truth really be subjectively dependent on how someone feels about it? Of course not! If truth is subjective, then it is also completely unknowable.

So, lets define our terms. While philosophically there are pragmatic or utilitarian definitions of truth, they are insufficient for our discussion, so we will not explore them here. For our purposes, we will use the Correspondence Theory of Truth. Simply put, this states that “truth is that which corresponds to reality.”

The practical implication of this, is that if someone makes a truth claim, they should be able to provide actual evidence demonstrating its veracity, its truthfulness. Unfortunately, things are not always so simple, and discerning fact from fiction is not always easy. In order for us to properly evaluate the evidence for the truth of a claim, we need to use sound reasoning. And, as with most roads we travel, the “road of reason” has several pitfalls and roadblocks that can prevent us from arriving at, or recognizing, the truth.

Gary: thanks Tod, and later on we will spend time thinking through, how do we connect the Correspondence Theory with our belief in the Bible.


[1] Supposedly from Tertullian. Tertullian didn’t say this, by the way, and by no means did he reject logic. http://www.rightreason.org/2009/i-believe-because-it-is-absurd-was-tertullian-a-fideist/

[2] Gary: I have written much on 1 Corinthians 1-2, asserting that the Corinthians had fallen in love with a pop version of Greek philosophy, perhaps Stoicism. We plan to explore that topic in the future.

“Testing 4 Truth, chapter 1: An introduction,” by Gary Shogren and Tod Hannigan

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