A Quick(ish) Christian Logic Lesson

One thing that irks me is when people think that religion, specifically Christianity, is illogical or unwarranted. Here are some thoughts on that notion, take them or leave them.

To start off, I think we should all be capable of expressing our opinions in classical syllogisms. A syllogism is a set of statements constructed using the rules of logic, and the idea is that a conclusion is reached by following premises to their logical end in a totally obvious way, like so:

1A. If the sky is blue, then it is not red.  
1B. The sky is blue.  
1C. Therefore, it is not red.  

So the skeptic who thinks that the sky is red is forced by the rules of logic to demonstrate that one of the premises is false; In other words, he has to deny that either (1B) the sky is blue, or (1A) that if the sky is blue it is not red. So if he can show, for example, that the sky can be red and blue at the same time (such as during a sunset), then the conclusion does not follow... or at the very least, the premises need to be worded in a more specific way.

Syllogisms are a great way to clarify an argument being made and get all the chips out on the table.

So please allow me to express a chain of logic leading to belief in God as a series of syllogisms:

1A. if God does not exist, then there is no such thing as good nor bad.  
1Ba. if goodness does not exist, then giving medicine to impoverished people is not good; it is meaningless.  
1Bb. giving medicine to impoverished people is not a meaningless event, it is good.  
1Bc. therefore goodness exists.  
1Ca. if badness does not exist, then natural disasters that kill people cannot be construed as tragedies.  
1Cb. natural disasters that kill people are tragedies, i.e. they are actually bad.  
1Cc. therefore badness exists.  
1D. goodness and badness exist (from 1Bc and 1Cc), therefore God exists.  

(An alternate way [1] of saying (1A) is: if good or bad exist, then God exists.)

Now you might disagree with my conclusion, but the conclusion follows logically from the premises... so in order to deny the conclusion you have to show which premise is incorrect. Most likely, an atheist would deny either (1A) or if they’re a true relativist they’d deny (1Bb) and (1Cb).

A few notes: Often the first premise (1A) is rejected by people that think that goodness and badness can exist on their own. But in the absence of a Creator, what are good and bad really? Aren’t they just personal preferences and/or social constructs that have arisen along with society? They have to be. In the absence of an absolute standard, our ethics are a vestige of our evolutionary past, a survival mechanism if you will — no more meaningful than the color of your hair or the shape of a lion’s tooth. And, just as the color of our hair will not matter after all the energy in the universe dissipates, neither will our desire to improve society by being productive and helping others if there is no God standing there to judge us — because those whose lives we’ve worked to improve will all be dead. So true goodness and badness depend profoundly upon the existence of God, the only possible thing we could base our ethics upon aside from our fleeting opinions.

If we’re honest with ourselves though, we all use and pursue the concepts of good and bad... they run so deep in us they can’t be avoided. You can claim that good and bad are differently defined by different cultures, but are different societies really that much more ethically divergent than they are the same? Wouldn’t you say there are some societies that are better or more advanced than others? Could it be that all cultures simply have a different, incomplete understanding of a universal ethics? Or are you really prepared to say that, e.g., cannibalism, infanticide, and genocide are perfectly okay for some people to practice because they’re just personal/cultural preferences? And what about cultures that are driven purely by superstition rather than by logic and science? Isn’t that bad or something that should be improved?

So if you consider anything unethical, even belief in God, then you are logically constrained to believe in Him! The only other option is to admit that you’re just expressing an arbitrary opinion... you can only say you “don’t like it”, for no particular reason, when people are injured, or when the poor suffer, or when people make decisions based on their superstitious convictions. Atheists and relativists can’t even use the word “should” with intellectual honesty!

Note, also, that I never said you have to be religious to be a good person, that’s not the argument; Rather, I’m saying that because you want to be a good person (or perhaps a bad person), you are implying the existence of an absulte standard of goodness, which by all accounts is indistinguishable from the traditional theist’s definition of God. Stated differently, if someone claims to disbelieve in God, then they are logically constrained to reject the legitimacy of all ethics, and thus they cannot complain when their property is stolen or their loved ones are hurt.

There are several other arguments for God’s existence that can be expressed as syllogisms, which I won’t cover here (but I encourage you to search them out): the Kalaam argument, the Ontological argument, the Design argument... among others. The above argument is a form of the Moral argument. What convinces me is not that the argument is air-tight (because it’s not), but that we could conceivably live in another universe, where the premises of the argument are not true; but instead we live in this one.

Now allow me to take syllogisms a step further, and apply the rules of logic to the life of Jesus Christ.

Though many things are debated about Jesus, there are three widely-accepted facts about him... not just by Christian theologians, but even by secular New Testament scholars:

  • that he was indeed killed, and his body placed in a tomb donated by Joseph of Arimathea;
  • that his tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers on the third day;
  • that his disciples genuinely believed that they saw and interacted with him after his death, so much so that they defended the belief with their own lives.

Though there are lots of theories to explain these facts, the facts themselves remain in the face of the toughest scrutiny. The resurrection is the explanation of these facts believed by the Christian Church... however there are other competing theories making various claims such as: Jesus didn’t really die; his body was stolen by his disciples; the disciples were collectively hallucinating; the women went to the wrong tomb; he had a twin brother (no, seriously it’s a real theory). The common thread that ties these theories all together, though, is the naturalistic rejection of the possibility of miracles. If miracles are on the table, then the resurrection is another viable theory just like the naturalistic ones. Not only that, it’s the theory that has by far the most explanatory scope and power with regard to all of the facts. The evidence for the facts and their relationships to the different theories is beyond the scope of this essay, but if you want to learn further a few good places to start are (in order from most to least layman-accessible): The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig, and Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga.

So with that background, here comes the syllogism:

2A. If miracles are possible, then the best explanation of the above facts is that Jesus was raised from the dead.  
2B. If God exists, then miracles are possible.  
2C. God exists (from 1D), therefore miracles are possible.  
2D. Miracles are possible (2C), therefore the best explanation of the facts is that Jesus was raised from the dead.  

Given the immense improbability of such an event (the reanimation and complete healing of a previously mutilated human corpse within the span of two days)...

3A. If Jesus was raised from the dead, it was God who raised him.  
3B. Jesus was raised from the dead (2D).  
3C. Therefore it was God who raised him.  
4A. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then He approved of Jesus’s words and commands, and they are thus binding for us.  
4B. God raised Jesus from the dead (3C).  
4C. Therefore Jesus’ words and commands are vindicated and are binding for us (i.e. the stuff about trusting in him to be forgiven and avoid punishment for all the awful crap you’ve done).

Again, I’m not saying the above argument is correct or air-tight (or even complete), but what I am trying to do is make it plainly obvious where points of disagreement may be rather than hiding the facts behind eloquent prose and assumptive language. Don’t get me wrong, prose is a wonderful part of human expression... but I don’t have a poetic bone in my body, and as such, rephrasing arguments as syllogisms gives me a way to wrap my feeble brain around what is actually being said. So this way, a skeptic can either say “I disagree with point X, and here is why,” or point out precisely where the logic is flawed.

You’ll notice that nowhere in my logic did I have to assume that the Bible is the inspired word of God or that it’s free of errors. We do have to assume that the sources of the Bible are at least historically reliable though, but that’s pretty much a given... What few people realize is that we are more sure of the central facts about Jesus, an obscure carpenter from Nazareth, than we are about even most ancient rulers, due to the abundance and multiply-attested nature of the source manuscripts; remember the Bible is really a collection of histories, prophecies, and letters written by probably a hundred different people, and there are thousands of copies of the manuscripts dating back very close to the time of the events. Again I’m getting beyond the scope of this essay, but the books I cited above have great information on the formation and history of the Bible and the Church as well.

What we can rightly conclude then, is that the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is not necessary to be a Christian! I, personally, find this very comforting because for a long time I couldn’t get my head wrapped around the doctrine... when I encountered what appeared to be contradictions in the text, I took it as a blow against the authenticity of the whole text and it nearly crippled my faith. Upon realizing that the vast majority of minute Biblical details have no bearing on the reality of the resurrection, I was greatly relieved. In fact, the dependency goes in the opposite direction. So let’s put the Scriptures in their rightful place with another pair of syllogisms, postulated by Kenneth Kantzer:

5A. Whatever God teaches is true.  
5B. Historical, prophetic, and other evidences show that Jesus is God.  
5C. Therefore, whatever Jesus teaches is true.  
6A. Whatever Jesus teaches is true (5C).  
6B. Jesus taught that the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God.  
6C. Therefore, the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God.  

So believing in God, and even in Jesus, does not require you to accept Biblical inerrancy first; rather (6C) follows from the evidence we can gather about God and Jesus wholly apart from any sort of scriptural doctrine. And we can reject the doctrine of inerrancy (6C), if we show precisely why we’re rejecting one of the premises leading up to it... but we can’t reject one of the earlier conclusions based on whether or not we accept (6C).

Ok, one last thing. Let’s take a look at, and deconstruct, a couple of common atheistic arguments by re-expressing them as syllogisms. By the way, it would be interesting to ask an atheist to express their beliefs in the form of syllogisms sometime. Most of them, I’ve found, base their beliefs on feelings and can’t really put it into a chain of logic. Granted, that’s also true of many Christians, but the common assumption that atheism is more rational or logical or that the believer has the burden of proof is simply false. In fact I’ve never heard one logically cohesive argument for the non-existence of God in any of the pop-atheist editorials or books I’ve read. Instead I’ve heard/read things like:

  • A universe containing evil is not consistent with an all-good, all-powerful God.
  • I only believe in one less God than you, because you reject all other Gods.
  • I reject belief in that which can’t be tested by science.
  • The (neo) Darwinian theory of evolution proves God doesn’t exist.

But if we re-express these statements as syllogisms, their ineffective nature becomes apparent:

7A. If evil exists, then God (who is supposed to be all-good) cannot exist.  
7B. Evil exists.  
7C. Therefore, God cannot exist.  

But I already showed above in syllogism (1) that the atheist’s belief in evil necessitates a standard of right and wrong, and therefore strongly suggests that God exists. If God does not exist, then an atheist has no right to call anything “wrong” or “evil”. So why not hate your family instead of loving them? Why not kill homeless and terminally ill people to make society more productive? In the absence of a Creator, there really is no reason, it’s all just personal/societal preference. We could maybe conclude that God isn’t all-good, but that’s quite a different argument and doesn’t disprove God’s existence, it just shows that the “atheist” is actually logically constrained to believe in God but claims not to only because he doesn’t like (or more likely, understand) His standard of goodness. And in light of the freewill defense, the existence of evil in our universe doesn’t necessarily contradict the existence of an all-good God.

8A. If the other thousands of gods don’t exist, then the Christian one doesn’t either.  
8B. The other thousands of gods don’t exist.  
8C. Therefore, the Christian God doesn’t exist.  

This makes the nonsense of the statement a little more obvious: Would you ever say, there are a hundred incorrect theories about how gravity works, but they’re all false, so we should reject Einstein’s ideas too? No, you would look at how well the theories fits the evidence, and pick the best theory from the list. Why not do the same thing with all the God-theories (and non-God-theories) floating around? Even with Einstein’s insight, we still don’t fully understand gravity... but we don’t reject the concept altogether or say that gravity has no cause do we? And even though General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics seem to be in contradiction, we still assume that there is only one correct explanation of gravity don’t we?

9A. Statements about reality which cannot be tested by science cannot be true.  
9B. Religious statements cannot be tested by science.  
9C. Therefore, religious statements cannot be true.  

The problem is, that (9A) itself is a statement which cannot be tested by science. This is why logical positivism, and empiricism, and verificationism, and other similar interrelated epistemologies failed a hundred years ago: because they are all self-contradictory. No true epistemology can be self-contradictory! Additionally, are you really ready to reject all the findings of mathematics and theoretical physics? As an example, I challenge you to prove Euler’s Identity (that e^(pi*i)=-1) scientifically, i.e. by collecting data, as opposed to logically using mathematical axioms and proofs. I’ll give you a hint: it can’t be done. But should you therefore reject the truth claim of Euler’s Identity? Of course not. Plus science itself cannot operate without sound epistemology and mathematics, which can’t themselves be found by science (that would be circular and meaningless). So I offer an alternative, a framework called, by some, “apriorism”: namely, that science is one way of acquiring knowledge, and that it is useful for understanding the universe and improving our experience here; however there are truths that are available to us, and are outside science’s grasp, that must either be accepted on their own (axioms) or deduced through logic. Certain religious, philosophical, logical, and mathematical truths all fall into the latter two categories — even the rules of logic themselves. This doesn’t mean we can’t reject some of the truth claims made in these realms though! Science can help us discern truth claims in these realms, certainly, but it needs a solid supporting platform: Because science relies on the claims made in these universal realms, science practiced under false pretenses will tend to lead us to false conclusions about reality, and we’ll persist believing these false conclusions until either (a) we go insane or (b) we change our assumptions when reality smacks us in the face. You can bet that the physicist who doesn’t believe in Euler’s Identity because it can’t be verified would run into serious problems!

addendum: there’s a good article I recently read here regarding epistemology... it seems Ludwig von Mises wasn’t far from my thinking on this subject, and Kant came up with much more useful terminology to describe these ideas.

10A. If Darwinian Evolutionary theory is true, then God does not exist.  
10B. Darwinian theory is true.  
10C. Therefore, God does not exist.  

Now this one’s really wanting for substance. There are many scientists who will take issue with both (10A) and (10B), yet it’s what is postulated by Richard Dawkins and other pop-atheists. The first is rightly rejected by theistic evolutionists such as Francis Collins. The second is rejected, perhaps rightly or perhaps not, by ID theorists such as Stephen Meyer. Let’s take a look at each.

First, let’s look at (10A), and assume that (10B) is true. The important definition to be made here is that Darwin’s theory is a purposeless, directionless theory. I.e., the universe did not “intend” to bring forth life, it just happened against all odds. So how then, does that preclude the existence of God? It doesn’t. The universe is still highly, mind-blowingly full of order. So even if the existence of life is the natural, accidental consequence of the universe’s process of particle-shuffling, we don’t have to throw out a Creator — in fact it still seems pretty much just as likely that there is one. Note that the inverse of (10A) is likely correct: i.e., if God does not exist, then Darwin’s theory is true. In other words, if there is no God, then purposeless evolution is the only viable game in town (meaning you’re nothing but a computer program in an advanced organic computer... and those squishy feelings you have for Mr. or Ms. So-And-So are just an illusion).

Next, let’s look at (10B), assuming (10A) is true. As I said above, the core of Darwin’s theory is that life does not exist for any particular reason or design, it just came about by accident. Rejecting Darwinism does not mean rejecting the possibility that all life has a common ancestor (which does seem possible given the evidence and is accepted by many ID theorists, not to mention the theistic evolutionists), it just means rejecting the notion that life is purposeless, and that it came about solely though the same natural processes we observe today. Rejecting Darwin’s theory just means looking at the highly-integrated, interdependent machinery in every living cell, and the DNA strand that stores away as much information as 1000 encyclopedias using an encryption/compression algorithm that we’re still trying to understand, and concluding that it was designed, rather than concluding it self-organized from randomly-arranged chemical compounds. I don’t take any personal issue against Darwin though... what he knew about the cell (not to mention information theory) 150 years ago was like a drop in a bucket compared to what we know now.

I’m not going attempt to disprove (10B) though, because volumes could be (and have been) written on the subject.... I’m content to say that the rejection of premise (10A) is sufficient to discredit the whole statement. Though (10B) is still very much a topic of debate despite what the popular media might say. When someone says the debate is closed on a scientific issue, what I typically take it to mean is that they don’t want to look at the evidence comprehensively and honestly because they are afraid they might have to change their conclusion and thus tarnish their reputation. But science will always be in controversy, that’s why it’s science, and a good scientist self-corrects and seeks truth rather than reputation — just like a good theologian, or historian, or philosopher. And if someone says there’s a “scientific consensus”, they’re making an ad hominem argument which is another logical fallacy and therefore invalid [2]. Always examine and thoroughly understand both the evidence and your epistemological framework (as well as other possible frameworks) before accepting or rejecting what is being postulated.

Aaaand... that’s it. Remember the part about me not having a poetic bone? Yeah, I don’t have a penchant for eloquent and convincing conclusions either, you’ll have to draw your own. After years of pondering this kind of stuff, I’m pretty sure people just believe whatever they want to be true anyway. I just hope that I want to be true, the thing that also happens to be correct.

I hope this was interesting, or at least not a complete waste of time.

I owe a substantial portion of this post to years of reading and listening to material by the folks mentioned below. Please check them out for much better and more thorough explorations of these ideas:

  • William Lane Craig
  • Alvin Plantinga
  • Del Tackett
  • Francis Collins
  • Stephen Meyer
  • Michael Behe
  • Lee Strobel
  • Josh McDowell

1: There is always an alternate way of stating a premise, which is most easily found by reversing and negating the pieces of the premise before and after then word then. For example, the alternate way of saying “if the sky is blue, then it is not red” is “if the sky is red, then it is not blue”. Note that it is NOT true that “if the sky is not red, then it is blue!” This would be a classic non-sequitur (i.e., “does not follow”). An example of this logical fallacy, known as “affirming the consequent”, is:

A. If biological organisms contain irreducibly complex components, then they were at least partially designed.  
B. Biological organisms do not contain irreducibly complex components.  
C. Therefore organisms were not designed.  

Note that premise (A) is true: irreducible complexity (a term coined by Michael Behe in Darwin’s Black Box), if it really exists, implies that at least some biological structures were designed. (B) is still being debated of course. However, even if all biological complexity could be shown to be produced by natural processes, this still does not rule out design... contrary to the conclusion (C).

Programmers out there will recognize the method of reversing a premise into an equivalent one as similar to re-expressing a logical condition. The statement

if (a > 10 && a < 20) { printf("a is between 10 and 20."); }

will yield the same result as

if ( ! (a <= 10 || a >= 20) ) { printf("a is between 10 and 20."); }

and as such, the two expressions have the same truth value (i.e. they will always be both true or both false at the same time).

2: Let me say another quick word about the importance of recognizing and rejecting ad hominems, or personal categorical attacks. The debate simply can’t continue if we buy into statements like “He’s dishonest” or “She gives science a bad name” or whatever. The people involved in these debates are all very smart people that deserve respect and they hold the beliefs they do for a reason! Please be on guard against attacks like these and always look at the evidence honestly and open-mindedly, knowing that there is truth out there but we’re probably still wrong about a lot of it. And remember this: The most convincing arguments for evolutionary theory (or at least for common descent) I’ve ever read were written by a young-age creationist: Todd Wood.

Modified Tuesday, January 11, 2022