The Christian’s use of logic.
As I’ve said in a different blog, the use of reason does not go against the need for faith. Faith is built on reason; reasons supports our faith. In this blog I hope to give the Christian some tools for thinking rationally. Staying calm and thinking accurately can help us diffuse arguments and objections from non-believers. It can also give us a consistent, accurate view of who God is.
If we are to respond accurately to an objection, we have to be sure to respond to the information and not the tone in which it was presented. It can be intimidating when somebody comes at you in an aggressive manner. When they see your calmness it will force them to use a different approach. If aggression won’t work for manipulating you, they will have to use rational arguments. They may or may not be able to do this, but aggression is usually a substitute for lack of evidence.
Many people will use arguments that can leave us feeling overwhelmed. They could be very learned in an area that we feel incapable of discussing. If you feel overwhelmed by their information, it’s okay to admit you don’t know much in that area; It can be a very good sign that you are willing to learn from the person. It shows that we are not seeking to be closed minded and ignorant. You can relieve the pressure on yourself by asking them some questions. And when it all comes down to it, it is very likely that what they are arguing does not argue for much at all. Asking “how do you know that?” or asking clarifying questions is a good idea if you’ve determines that you aren’t knowledgeable enough to argue the points. You can always maintain control in the conversation.
It is a good idea to weigh the importance of an argument when you begin discussing it. For instance, you are discussing whether the Christian Church is responsible for most wars. Even if it is true that Christianity is responsible for most war, this doesn’t prove that Christianity is a false worldview. It would only show that Christians have not been consistent with their world view. On the other hand, you may be discussing the validity of the Resurrection. They say the Resurrection didn’t happen, you say the resurrection did happen. Paul told us that the Christian faith is useless without the resurrection, so the weight of this argument is extreme.
These weightier arguments should be the ones that we are more apt in defending. Let’s not spend our time debating whether Jesus walked in sandals or barefoot. I consider such discussions red herrings, which are distractions from the main thing.
Some of the other key points in logic I want to bring up are assumptions/ presuppositions, defining terms, and the criteria for proof.
In an assumption, the conclusion is based upon the premise. (A premise is a statement used to lead to a conclusion.) In a fallacious assumption the premise is also the thing one is trying to prove. This can also be categorized as circular reasoning. A common example of this would be the assumption that miracles can’t happen. Miracles can happen because God does not exist, and since miracles don’t happen God must not exist. The assumption is the conclusion and is also the supporting information for the conclusion. This is poor logic. Most of the bad mouthing of Christianity is based on assumptions. Most of the time they fail to provide any support for their assumptions. Christians are guilty of this too. For example, Christians believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. When asked for supporting evidence that it’s the Word of God, many Christians will reply with something like “well, because I believe it is” or “because it says it is, and we know it can’t be wrong.”
What would supporting evidence look like? A valid conclusion is something that is supported by 2 or more premises. One way to put it in basic form is: if A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C. For example, if all preschoolers are cute, and Sam is a preschooler, then Sam is cute. Another way to put things in logical form is: if A then B. A, therefore B. For example, if my car battery is dead my car won’t start. My car battery is dead, therefore my car won’t start.
To apply this logic to something like the Bible, a Christian ought to respond with a couple lines of supporting evidence. For example: Fulfilled prophecy could only be from the mind of God. The Bible contains fulfilled prophecy. Therefore (at least this part of) the Bible is from the mind of God. After evidence like this is presented it is up to the skeptic to deny one of the premises, otherwise the conclusion is valid and inescapable.
Another thing to watch out for is confusion over the use of terms. We need to make sure that our words are also being used by the other in same manner. Clarify terms and seek agreement on definitions. (This discipline is underrated in it’s importance in so many walks of life.) Failure to do this leads to a fallacy called equivocation. Make sure the terms you use are understood before getting too far in to the discussion. An example of this is the term “evolution”. When a Christian says that evolution is false, they mean common descent from single celled organisms. The opponent may say that evolution is proven and even seen daily. They are using evolution to mean small changes (adaptation) within a species. Therefore one type of evolution is proven and another type of evolution is not proven. The distinction should be made.
The third area in logic I want to focus on deals with the burden of proof. What is a fair criteria for proof to some of the claims of Christianity? In light of the previous paragraph, we should seek clarity on the definition of proof. What does it mean to prove something? In court proof deals with assurance beyond reasonable doubt. There is always a chance that they could be wrong, but the verdict is beyond reasonable doubt. Conversely, in mathematics we are able to attain absolute proof. You can prove absolutely that multiplying any number times 0 gives you zero, or that the diameter of a circle is twice the radius. There is not a jury to decide if things are true. Practically none of the decisions of our life deal with this absolute proof. We make decisions based on the best available evidence at the time. We adjust our behavior based on the conclusions we come to, conclusions that are usually beyond reasonable doubt. For example, when a pharmacy fills my prescription I do not have “proof” that my prescription is the exact substance that my body needs. However, I weigh the evidence that they are playing a trick on me against the evidence that they are being truthful. A proof like the proof of mathematics will never be reached in these areas, but we will continue to live based on faith leaning on the best available evidence.
Relating this back to the Christians responsibility for proof, the Christian should not and cannot provide 100 percent mathematical proof for their claims. However, personal experience can be 100 percent proof for the individual himself. The Christians role in the criteria for proof is to provide the evidence that the claims of Christianity are more likely than not. For instance, if presuppositions are put aside, then the Christian should be able to demonstrate that the resurrection is very likely to have happened. Enough evidence to demonstrate that it is “very likely” could be considered proof ( fulfilling the burden of proof) because it would fulfill a fair proof criteria.
I don’t think a fair response would be for the Christian to say “prove to me it’s (claim x) not true”. This would be the Christian demanding impossible proof criteria. This is where we need to understand where the burden of proof lies. Who is the one that needs to provide evidence for their claim? It ought to be the person that is making the assertion. If the Christian is asserting that Jesus is the Son of God, then he is the one that needs to provide evidence that is true. If a Mormon says that Jesus came to the Americas then they should be able to provide evidence that this is true. If a Muslim says that somebody was put in Jesus’s place on the cross, then it is their job to give evidence that this is true. If both sides are making an assertion, like the Muslim saying that Jesus did not die on the cross and the Christian saying that Jesus did die on the cross, both sides ought to provide evidence. Do not get caught in a trap of being the only one that needs to provide proof. In these duels both sides can provide evidence and the objective listener ought to be able to conclude which is more likely based on the evidence.
The atheists and many non-believers like to setup the argument so that it is impossible for the Christian to win. They will do this using what I call unfair proof criteria. They may ask you to provide scientific proof of God’s existence. However there is no reason to only look to science for evidence of God’s existence, though the evidence from science does well. They may not even demand that the proof be scientific, yet the problem would be with their term “proof”. No matter what you say, they will always be able to respond with “that doesn’t prove it to me”. Providing logical convincing evidence does not guarantee that the listener will be persuaded, however it does mean that we have done our job in giving good reasons and answers. In the end, we are providing a feeble attempt for God to use.