In his essayThe Christian Worldview, the Atheist Worldview, and Logic, Christian apologist Matt Slick asks, "Can the atheistic worldview present a logical reason why its worldview can account for the abstract laws of logic?" In response to this question, Slick offers his own answer, "I think not." However, it is unclear which "atheistic worldview" he has in mind when he rules that it cannot "present a logical reason why its worldview can account for the abstract laws of logic. He spends the entirety of his paper attempting to prove this, yet nowhere does he identify which "atheistic worldview" he is criticizing.
On top of this, Slick asserts that "the Christian world view can" present such a reason to "account for the abstract laws of logic." So now he has two tall claims to establish, and it is not only unclear which "atheistic worldview" he has in mind when he insinuates that a non-theistic philosophy is unable to justify its assumption of the truth of the laws of logic, it is also unclear which "Christian world view" he has in mind, for there are numerous variations on this worldview, many of which are significantly different from each other. Does Slick enlighten us on which specific views he has in mind here?
In the case of specifying which variation of the Christian worldview which Slick has in mind for this task, he seems to think that the very basic fundamentals of Christian theism in general are sufficient to provide an "account for the abstract laws of logic," for he states, "The Christian worldview states that God is the author of truth, logic, physical laws, etc." This basic premise may actually be universal to all variations of Christianity, it is unclear where the New Testament, so Slick may be assuming that any and all versions of Christianity are sufficient in their presumption of a universe-creating god to provide an explanation of "abstract laws of logic." I wonder if other Christians would readily agree to Slick's position here, if indeed that's the case.
Slick then states "Atheism maintains that physical laws are properties of matter, and that truth and logic are relative conventions (agreed upon principles)." Slick seems to be confusing atheism proper, which is defined broadly as "the absence of god-belief," with philosophies which are not theistic in nature. Indeed, Slick has argued in other papers that atheism should not be defined as a lack of belief in gods, but as a position consisting of the claim that there are no gods. (See for instance his paper "I lack belief in a god" which attempts to defend his position; in response to this, see my response Slick's Folly: A Review of CARM's "I lack belief in a god.") But even supposing, with Slick, that atheism is best defined as a position claiming that there are no gods, it is hard to see how one could justify attributing other positive philosophical views to such a position, for they are not implied in the definition of atheism which he prefers.
For instance, while Slick claims that "Atheism maintains that physical laws are properties of matter," there might be persons who claim that there are no gods (thus qualifying them as atheists on Slick's conception of the term), but hold that physical laws are a myth, or that they are at best merely conjecture on the way things work. In other words, it does not follow from the position informed by the claim that there are no gods that one assumes that "physical laws are properties of matter." Similarly, it is not clear how atheism entails the belief that "truth and logic are relative conventions." Slick simply characterizes atheism as holding to such views without surveying philosophies which are non-theistic in nature. Indeed, he nowhere justifies his characterization of atheism in the manner in which he does; rather, he apparently hopes that his readers take his word for it. Is this an honest attempt at argument?
Thus I am compelled to correcting what I consider to be a grave error here on Slick's part. For I am an atheist (I have no god-belief), and yet I do not necessarily think that "physical laws are properties of matter," and I certainly do not think that "truth and logic are relative conventions." And I also do not think that conventional agreement on these is relevant to their validity. So if Slick thinks that his characterization applies to all atheists, he is sorely misguided on this point. Indeed, it may be the case that Slick simply wants to characterize atheists as holding to such views in order to make his task of knocking them down all the easier. But of course, this would be a straw man, and we should hope that this is not what Slick is trying to do here, for that would only serve to invalidate his entire argument, if indeed its aim is to prove atheism invalid.
But then Slick states, "I present this outline in hopes of clarifying the issue and presenting, what I consider, an insurmountable problem of the atheistic worldview." So clearly he wants to proceed on the basis of a faulty conception of atheism, even though he nowhere shows how atheism is connected to the views which he wants to attack. Indeed, he merely asserts that this connection is there, and apparently hopes that his readers will accept this to be the case. Again I must ask, is this an honest attempt at argument?
Slick then confesses, "I hesitate to state that this is a proof that God exists, but I think that it is evidence of the Absolute Nature of God." He then goes on to identify his argument as a version of "the Transcendental Argument championed by Greg Bahnsen." But Bahnsen's argument purported itself to present a proof of the Christian god's existence, even though his entire argument boils down to the unsupported claim that this god exist "because of the impossibility of the contrary."(1) In response to this, I can think of no better comment than the one already supplied by atheologist Anton Thorn, who writes:
Presuppositionalists are fond of parroting this claim, and of boasting that their particular apologetic approach is to "argue for Christian theism from the impossibility of the contrary." From what I have seen, this alleged "impossibility of the contrary" seems often to be taken for granted by most presuppositionalists, such as the well-known apologist Greg Bahnsen, as if the bulk of their homework were already completed, documented and readily comprehended by non-believers. Though this is far from the case, many non-believers may be deceived by this presumptuousness on the apologist's part, and grant credence where no credence is due. If this is the intention behind repeating the claim that "the truth of Christian theism follows from the impossibility of the contrary" (and I suspect it is), then clearly the apologist is seeking the unearned so far as his ambition in debate is concerned.
Slick presents his position in three main sections. In the first section, he presents what he takes to be the proper explanation of the laws of logic, clearly grounding them in the mysticism of Christian god-belief. In my analysis, I show how Slick's "account" cannot be accepted as any adequate explanation, for it consists entirely of unsupported premises.
In the second section, Slick presents reasons why he thinks atheists cannot justify their assumption of the truth of the laws of logic within the context of a worldview which is not theistic in nature. I will show that Slick's reason why the laws of logic cannot be based on "observation" (i.e., by the conceptual integration of what man perceives) is flawed and thus cannot serve as an adequate argument against atheism.
In the third section, Slick attempts to argue that atheists who use logic to raise objections against the notion of god or against Christian theism in general, must "borrow" from the Christian worldview, because, it is said, only the Christian worldview provides for the proper foundations of logic. I will show that this contention is flawed, since it rests on the two previous positions, both of which are shown to be invalid.
In his conclusion, Slick then wants to claim the superiority of Christian theism over non-theistic views by claiming that the Christian can account for the laws of logic, while the non-theist cannot by virtue of his rejection of the Christian god. I will show that this conclusion is wholly arbitrary because it is based on a series of arbitrary claims (shown in my analysis of Slick's first section) and a false understanding of logic (argued in my analysis of Slick's second section).
I will examine the content of each individually below.
1. How does a Christian account for the laws of logic?
In this section, Slick presents the following argument:
Let us analyze this to see how acceptable its premises are, and to determine whether the conclusion actually follows from them.
The first premise states, "The Christian worldview states that God is absolute and the standard of truth." While it may be the case that "the Christian worldview" makes such statements, it is not sufficient simply to state them as unargued assertions and then claim on this basis that they are true.
Indeed, if Slick's contention is that "the Christian world view can" present such a reason to "account for the abstract laws of logic," as he asserts in the introductory section of his paper, then simply asserting this to be the case as the first premise of his argument is an instance of assuming the truth of what he has purported set out to prove. Thus, Slick blatantly begs the question here, and makes no progress toward establishing the truth of his position. Indeed, why cannot the facts of reality as such be taken as absolute and as "the standard of truth," as in the case of Objectivism, a non-theistic philosophy? Nothing Slick says here or anywhere in his paper suggests that he's even aware of this possibility, let alone why it should be rejected.
Slick's second premise already attempts to draw a conclusion from the first premise. For he states, "Therefore, the absolute laws of logic exist because they reflect the nature of an absolute God." So, is Slick saying that "the absolute laws of logic exist" because "The Christian worldview states that God is absolute and the standard of truth"? If that's the case, what prevents us from drawing the conclusion that Slick makes this claim because he wants it to be the case? Indeed, it is unclear exactly what Slick wants his readers to understand, for he also states, "God did not create the laws of logic. They were not brought into existence since they reflect God's thinking. Since God is eternal, the laws of logic are too." So we have another set of unargued assertions which are supposed to be taken as true, even though we are not given any reasons why we should accept them as truths. Indeed, even though Slick leads off his second premise with the word "therefore," it certainly does not follow from his first premise ("The Christian worldview states that God is absolute and the standard of truth. ") that "the absolute laws of logic? reflect the nature of an absolute God." Indeed, why should the laws of logic not simply reflect the facts of reality? Again, Slick seems to be unaware of the possibility of this alternative, let alone provide any reason why we should not accept it in place of the position he wants to believe.
Slick's third premise is, "Man, being made in God?s image, is capable of discovering these laws of logic. He does not invent them." So here we have another faith claim: man is "made in God's image." Of course, this premise depends on the assumption that the god in question exists in the first place, and thus nowhere moves Slick closer to his goal of establishing the supposed truth of his overall position. And in failing to do this, he gives no credibility to his vilification of "the atheistic worldview." Also, it is uncertain how it follows from the view that man is "made in God's image" that this makes him "capable of discovering these laws of logic." If man must discover the laws of logic, then what good does the "God's image" part do for him? Clearly, if man must discover what the laws of logic are, then the view that man is "made in God's image" is clearly moot, for in spite of this he would still have to put forth effort to discover and identify the laws in question.
From these three unsupported major premises, Slick then wants to draw the following conclusion: "Therefore, the Christian can account for the existence of the Laws of logic by acknowledging they originate from God and that Man is only discovering them." But if the Christian's "account for the existence of the Laws of logic" is based on a series of unproven claims which in the end turn out to be purely arbitrary in nature (for they have nothing to do with reality; the absence of any attempt by Slick to show any relation between these positions and reality only confirms this), then is it really the case that "the Christian can account for the existence of the Laws of logic"? Even "by acknowledging they originate from God and that Man is only discovering them," the Christian would be indulging in another set of faith claims, claims which are not established by reason, but are likely accepted because one wants them to be true. Indeed, this is the same impression when I read Bahnsen's "argument" in hisDebate with Gordon Stein, for Bahnsen nowhere presents a compelling case for the ideas which he wants to say are true.
So, what we have here is, in the place of argument, a series of "mere assertions," which is the same thing which Dr. Theodore Drange encountered in hisdebate with presuppositional apologist Douglas Wilson. In his Third Rebuttal to Wilson, Drange makes the following comment: "My hypothesis about what Pastor Wilson has done thus far is that he has made a series of assertions. They may be called 'mere assertions' to distinguish them from the premises and conclusions of arguments." Indeed, seems that Drange's experience with Wilson mirrors my examination of Slick's "argument" (I use this term extremely loosely).
All of Slick's premises clearly and unmistakably depend on the assumption that the god in question exists. Because of this, they have no value if this basic assumption cannot be proven. And since Slick nowhere makes any attempt to prove this assumption (it is simply offered as one in a set of "mere assertions" without support), then those premises cannot be accepted as having any truth value whatsoever. So now we might see why Slick says that he will "hesitate to state that this is a proof that God exists." But to say that what he presents "is evidence of the Absolute Nature of God" simply begs the question, for it is precisely the existence of this being which he is called to prove.
Because of these many problems with the first section of Slick's "argument," the only thing to do is to reject them, and send them back to their author.
2. How does the atheist account for the laws of logic?
The second section which Slick presents in defense of his position gives us a look at Slick's understanding of atheism. Naturally, after reviewing it, it is clear that what he thinks atheists must believe is not at all what all atheists think, and I will show this.
Slick's first premise states the following: "If the atheist states that the laws of logic are conventions (mutually agreed upon conclusions), then the laws of logic are not absolute because they are subject to 'vote'." Which atheists say this? Indeed, if this premise is true, its objection would only apply to those atheists who hold "that the laws of logic are conventions (mutually agreed upon conclusions)," and not to those who hold otherwise. Slick suggests that he may be aware of this by stating the premise in the form of a hypothetical, for he states, "If the Atheist states that?"
Since I have no god-belief, I am an atheist. Do I hold "that the laws of logic are conventions (mutually agreed upon conclusions)"? No, I do not. Indeed, I would quickly point out that the laws of logic - at least the more fundamental laws - are needed in order to draw any conclusions in the first place, regardless of whether or not they had wide agreement. So already I do not accept the stolen concept implied in Slick's characterization of this "Atheist." And, since I do not hold "that the laws of logic are conventions," any criticism which follows from this view cannot apply to me, for it is not a view which I hold.
Also, if it is the case that things "are not absolute because they are subject to 'vote'," as Slick suggests here, then clearly the so-called "canonical" books of the New Testament cannot be considered to be "absolute," since it was by vote that they were included in the canon in the first place. See for instance ancient history scholar Richard Carrier'sThe Formation of the New Testament for documentation on this point. Indeed, if it is the case that the books of the New Testament were chosen by "convention" (cf. the Council of Nicea 325 CE), and that the decisions made with respect to which books should be included in that canon were "mutually agreed upon conclusions," then the books of the New Testament, by Slick's own reasoning here, cannot be accepted as "absolute." Yet it is unlikely that Slick, a Christian, will accept this, because he would desire otherwise.
The Second premise which Slick presents in his characterization of atheism is as follows: "The laws of logic are not dependent upon different peoples [sic] minds since people are different. Therefore, they cannot be based on human thinking since human thinking is often contradictory." This premise seems to be asserted in support of the first premise. If so, is Slick supposing that atheists necessarily think that the laws of logic are dependent on different people's minds?
The way Slick is here treating the issue of "the laws of logic" implies that he ascribes to an intrinsic view of logic as opposed to an objective view of logic. For he states that the laws of logic "cannot be based on human thinking since human thinking is often contradictory." Does Slick mean by this that the laws of logic have nothing to do with "human thinking"? It's not clear that this is what he thinks, but if that were what he thinks, then clearly there would be no reason to worry about presenting an "account for the Laws of logic," for they would, on this view, have no relevance to "human thinking" in the first place.
I have to interject here that, had Slick taken the trouble to define what he means by "the Laws of logic," explained their relevance to man and why an "account for" their validity is so important, we would not have to rely on wading through the possible assumptions which may Slick may have floating in his mind, for they would be explicitly identified and we'd have something more solid to go on. Slick does not do this (perhaps in the interest of an easy kill?), however, so we must consider some alternatives in order to see what Slick's point may actually be, even though he is unclear in the presentation of his ideas.
So, let's assume that Slick does not mean that the laws of logic have nothing to do with "human thinking." Let's instead assume that Slick thinks that the laws of logic do pertain to human thought. What would he mean by this? Perhaps he wants to say (and let's assume that he means) that the validity of the laws of logic is not based on a person's thoughts, emotions, wishes and/or desires, but upon some factor or set of factors prior to these. Now, is it the case that atheists necessarily hold, by virtue of their atheism, that the laws of logic are based on a person's thoughts, emotions, wishes and/or desires, and not on some factor or factors prior to these? Indeed, it may be the case that while some atheists think that logic is based on what he thinks, other atheists may recognize that they are based on something prior to this. So if this is Slick's concern in regard to atheism in general, he should stop worrying, for there are atheists (such as myself) who recognize that the validity of logic does not depend on what I think, feel or want, but on something more basic to these.
What is that something which is more basic to what I think, feel or want on which the validity of logic is based? Indeed, that basic something is the relationship between consciousness and existence, a relationship which Slick apparently takes wholly for granted, and which he ignores in his claim that the laws of logic "reflect the nature of an absolute God." Indeed, they reflect the nature (as opposed to the content) of man's unique form of consciousness (which is a conceptual form of consciousness, his mind), and it is because they reflect the nature of man's mind that the method of thinking proper for him is one which is logical in nature. One need not assert the existence of a god in order to recognize this, and indeed, the notion of a god which can create existence (cf. doctrine of 'creation') and manipulate the objects it perceives (cf. doctrine of 'miracles') can only confound logic rather than give it a stable basis, as Slick would like to believe.
What is the basic nature of man's mind, and what is the relationship between consciousness and existence which I have in mind? The basic nature of man's mind is, as I indicated above, a conceptual form of consciousness. I quote Ayn Rand:
Man shares with the animals the first two stages of its development: sensations and perceptions; but it is the third state, conceptions, that makes him man. Sensations are integrated into perceptions automatically, by the brain of a man or of an animal. But to integrate perceptions into conceptions by a process of abstraction, is a feat that man alone has the power to perform - and he has to perform it by choice. The process of abstraction, and of concept-formation is a process of reason, of thought; it is not automatic nor instinctive nor involuntary nor infallible. Man has to initiate it, to sustain it and to bear responsibility for its results. The pre-conceptual level of consciousness is nonvolitional; volition begins with the first syllogism. Man has the choice to think or to evade - to maintain a state of full awareness or to drift from moment to moment, in a semi-conscious daze, at the mercy of whatever associational whims the unfocused mechanism of his consciousness produces.
Thus, the conceptual form of consciousness is one which man directs volitionally, and by which he is able to integrate his perceptions to form concepts and broad abstractions. The first abstractions are implicit in his first moments of awareness. When man is aware, he is aware of objects - that is, of things which exist. This is the case with all states of consciousness: to be conscious is to be conscious of something. In other words, to be conscious is to be conscious of existence. Thus, in every act of consciousness, there is implicit therein the recognition that objects exist, or, as Rand put it, that existence exists.
And these truths indicate to us the next point, which is the fact that there exists an objective relationship between man's consciousness and the objects of which he is conscious. What is that relationship? The proper relationship between consciousness and existence is known as the primacy of existence view of reality, which is the recognition that existence exists independent of consciousness, that things are the way they are in spite of what we think, feel, want or don't want, and that the task of consciousness is not to create existence or to manipulate the identity of those things which do exist, but to discover them and identify what they are by a process of concept-formation, and integrate them according to logic. Thus, logic is a conceptual tool of integration, what Rand called the "art or skill of non-contradictory identification."(4) As such, logic is a set of principles which serve as rules for proper thinking.
To assert that logic is some kind of "reflection" or "emanation" of a god not only ignores these facts, but also assumes a contradiction to the primacy of existence principle identified above. What is that contradiction? Known as the primacy of consciousness, this view reverses the objective relationship between consciousness and its objects. This view, a view which is found at the basis of all religious philosophy, holds essentially that existence either finds its source in a form of consciousness (e.g., "God created the universe by an act of will") or that the identity of objects somehow depends on a consciousness (cf. the doctrine of 'miracles' in which the nature or behavior of objects corresponds to the dictates of someone's will; e.g., a burning bush which speaks because God chooses to appear in this form to Moses in Ex. 3; Peter walks on the water because he believes he can in Matt. 14; water is turned into wine because Jesus wishes it in John 2, etc.).
The primacy of consciousness view is clearly the subjective view of reality, since the subject (i.e., the conscious perceiver) holds metaphysical primacy over its objects. Inversely, the primacy of existence view is the objective view, since the objects of our awareness are recognized to hold metaphysical primacy over the perceiving consciousness.
All religious views, including those of Christianity, are based on this reversal, the primacy of consciousness view of reality. Indeed, this reversal (and by consequence those philosophies which are based on it), is based on a misunderstanding, either innocent or deliberate, of the nature of consciousness as such. It is basically the view that existence does not exist independent of consciousness, that things are what they are not because they exist, but because someone (e.g., a "god") wishes them to be that way, and that things do not happen because of their inherent causal natures, but because someone (e.g., a "god") has chosen that they happen that way.
Thus, according to the primacy of existence view of reality, consciousness must conform itself to reality, while on the primacy of consciousness view of reality, reality must conform itself to the dictates of someone's consciousness. Thus when Slick states that "The laws of logic are not dependent upon different peoples [sic] minds," but indicates that they are dependent on the mind of god because they "reflect the nature of an absolute God," he ignores the fact that both positions - that logic is dependent on man's mind or that it is dependent on god's mind - are essentially the same because they both imply the primacy of consciousness view. It appears that Slick thinks that all men are bound to the primacy of consciousness view, since he himself assumes it and does not grasp the error of his own position. Indeed, he takes it so much for granted that he assumes that those who do not accept his belief in god must assume some other variation of the same error.
In everything he writes about the Christian view being able to "account for" the laws of logic, Slick nowhere addresses the fundamental nature of logic, why man needs it, or, most importantly, the need to identify the proper relationship between consciousness and existence. Indeed, were Slick to ask these questions, he would have to recognize that his religious views are incompatible with a proper view of logic. Indeed, he seems to think that the laws of logic are wholly apart from man's mind, as if they were some kind of alien substance which must be acquired by some mysterious means of divine providence.
But Slick does attempt to deal with those atheists who do not think that the laws of logic are mere "conventions," for he then states, "If the atheist states that the laws of logic are derived through observing natural principles found in nature, then he is confusing the mind with the universe." It is certainly not self-evident how the statement that "the laws of logic are derived through observing natural principles found in nature" that one would be "confusing the mind with the universe." Indeed, if keeps in mind the proper relationship between one's mind and the objects which it perceives, such a confusion would not arise. However, since Slick does not seem concerned about any relationship between consciousness and existence, this may very well seem to be the case according to his uninformed understanding.
However, Slick does attempt to provide an argument for this, which I will now examine.
The first premise of his sub-argument consists of two statements: "We discover laws of physics by observing and analyzing the behavior of things around us. The laws of logic are not the result of observable behavior of objects or actions."
It is not clear whether this is the position which Slick himself endorses, or the position which he thinks atheists endorse and which he therefore attacks. But it does appear to be a major premise of an argument to support his claim that stating "that the laws of logic are derived through observing natural principles found in nature, then he is confusing the mind with the universe."
Also, it is not certain what Slick means by the second statement, that "The laws of logic are not the result of observable behavior of objects or actions." Does he mean that our understanding of these laws is "not the result of observable behavior of objects or actions"?
In spite of this lack of clarity, presents what he apparently takes as reasons why these statements hold. Slick claims that, "Because we can only observe a phenomena [sic] that exists, [and] not one that does not exist? we do not see in nature that something is both itself and not itself at the same time." But it is quite unclear how this follows. Indeed, he states "If something is not itself, then it doesn't exist," which only means that if we perceive something which exists, it must be itself. If, for instance, I look at my wallet, I perceive an object. This object exists. Indeed, it exists as itself. If I look at my wallet, for instance, I do not see a plate of spaghetti, a postage stamp, a puddle of water or a supertanker, I see my wallet. Apparently Slick does not think that the law of identity has any basis in reality, and seems to saying - in a most confused manner - that we cannot determine that the objects of our awareness are what they are. But it does not take any high degree of intellect to make the recognition that an object is itself, that A is A. To perceive any object implies this by the nature of the action of consciousness (since to be conscious is to be conscious of existence). To exist is to be something. Slick seems to be arguing that one must be able to observe what an object is not in addition to what it is in order to grasp the law of identity, which is the fundamental law of logic, but he does not say why one would have to do this. Indeed, such a requirement is wholly arbitrary.
He concludes from this confused position that "we are not discovering logic by observation, but by thought," which implies that Slick thinks "the law of logic" has nothing to do with what we observe or perceive, but that it is some kind of fabrication of "thought" without reference to reality. Although this view of logic is essentially quite common in both theistic and non-theistic philosophies, it is based on dichotomizing "the logical" and "the empirical," as if there were no means for man to integrate the two. This error is corrected in Objectivism. Observe:
Any theory that propounds an opposition between the logical and the empirical, represents a failure to grasp the nature of logic and its role in human cognition. Mans knowledge is not acquired by logic apart from experience, or by experience apart from logic, but by the application of logic to experience. All truths are the product of a logical identification of the facts of experience.
Here we see that a "theory that propounds an opposition between the logical and the empirical," which Slick endorses (for he says that "we are not discovering a law of logic by observation, but by thought"), is one which is built on the assumption that the human mind is incapable of integrating what we perceive into abstractions. Indeed, Slick clearly wants to dichotomize between "observation" and "thought," even though conception ("thought") depends on perception ("observation"). On a proper view of the mind, however, "knowledge is acquired?. By the application of logic to experience." In other words, what we perceive ("the empirical") is integrated by our ability to form concepts ("the logical"). This is possible, however, only on the primacy of existence view of reality, since it is this view which recognizes that existence exists independent of consciousness.
Note how Slick's view is clearly an expression of the primacy of consciousness. For in saying that, since "we can only observe a phenomena [sic] that exists, not one that does not exist," and consequently we cannot observe "the property of [a] non-existent thing," "we do not see in nature that something is both itself and not itself at the same time," Slick wants to make the law of identity dependent upon what our consciousness is incapable of doing, rather than on the basis of a proper relationship between consciousness and its objects. In other words, since what we perceive and the fact that we perceive it have nothing to do with our discovery of the law of identity (Slick states, "we are not discovering a law of logic by observation"), we must arrive at this discovery without the benefit of observation ("by thought"), which means consciousness invents the law of identity.
So far, it appears that Slick's view that basing our understanding of the laws of logic on what we observe in reality results in one "confusing the mind with the universe," is built on a misunderstanding of the nature of man's mind and the proper relationship between his consciousness and the objects which he perceives.
Slick tries another route to support his contention that the reliance on perception to derive the laws of logic results in one's "confusing the mind with the universe." Slick asks, "where do we observe in nature that something cannot bring itself into existence if it does not already exist?" Here we have another arbitrary negation challenge (e.g., how do you prove "that something cannot bring itself into existence if it did not already exist?") in order to divorce the conceptual from the perceptual. Indeed, the proper question to ask is: "where do we observe in nature that something CAN bring itself into existence if it does not already exist?" Slick clearly wants to premise his position on a rejection of what we do perceive in favor of what we cannot perceive, just as we saw above.
And indeed, if we recognize with the primacy of existence that the law of causality is the law of identity applied to action, then it must be the case that something must first exist in order to act. This is why we do not observe things bringing themselves into existence if they do not already exist. But if that's the case (and it is), then surely we need the law of identity in order to understand this, and that only confirms that the law of identity is based on the fact that we perceive objects, and not on the notion that we do not perceive non-objects, as Slick would have it.
He then states, "You cannot make an observation about how something does not occur if it does not exist." But why would one need to do this in the first place? Of course, Slick does not explain why such folly would need to be pursued, even though he admits that "You would be, in essence, observing nothing at all and how." Indeed, why would one need to observe something which does not exist in order to identify what does exist? We only need to identify what we do perceive, not what we do not perceive. Yet Slick wants to reverse this. He asks, "how can any laws of logic be applied to or derived from observing nothing at all," though it is clear that one would not need to do this in order to grasp the law of identity in the first place. This law is implicitly grasped by the very act of perception. It is in conceptions, as the Rand quote above makes clear, which enables man to turn this implicit grasp into an explicit recognition. Yet, since Slick apparently has no concern for the proper relationship between consciousness and existence, he assumes everyone else is just as confused as he is.
Slick's argument against the atheist being able to conceive of the law of identity without the aid of an invisible magic being which "reflects" that law, has no traction so far. Let's see if the next portion of his sub-argument for the position that the atheist must be "confusing the mind with the universe" makes any more progress.
Slick writes, "The laws of logic are conceptual realities." By this, I take him to mean that the laws of logic are conceptual in nature. Insofar as he does mean this, I agree with this statement.
Slick then states, "They only exist in the mind and they do not describe physical behavior of things since behavior is action and laws of logic are not descriptions of action, but of truth." Here Slick embraces another false dichotomy, namely that if the laws of logic apply to truth, then they cannot apply to action. But are truth and actions mutually exclusive categories? In other words, is it not true that action exists? If it is true that action exists, then why cannot the laws of logic pertain to this truth? Indeed, the law of logic applied to action is called the law of causality. Indeed, it is true that this law clearly has to do with action, and it is true that we perceive objects which act. So Slick endorses another misunderstanding of logic here. In any case, it is not clear that the laws of logic "do not describe physical behavior" in a general sense, since there is at least one fundamental law of logic which pertains to the actions of entities, namely the law of causality.
In order to support his view, however, Slick does present the following statement. He writes:
In other words, laws of logic are not actions. They are statements about conceptual patterns of thought. Though one could say that a law of physics (i.e., the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence) is a statement which is conceptual, it is a statement that describes actual physical and observable behavior. But, logical absolutes are not observable and do not describe behavior or actions of things since they reside completely in the mind.
First of all, how does Slick know that "laws of logic are not actions"? If the laws of logic are conceptual in nature, as he himself states ("The laws of logic are conceptual realities"), and conception is an action of consciousness, why then could it not be the case that the laws of logic, in some sense, are actions of some kind? Indeed, since actions are actions of things which exist, and the mind exists, it could be that the laws of logic as such are actions of the mind in a very technical sense.
Slick then says that the laws of logic "are statements about conceptual patterns of thought." And while this is a little vague, there is at least one sense in which it is reasonable to accept it. If by "patterns of thought" one means the hierarchical nature of cognition and knowledge, such that the truth of one statement is logically dependent upon the truth of a previously validated statement, then there is nothing objectionable here. But it would be better, in my opinion, to say that the laws of logic are statements about conceptual relationships, since they have to do with the relationships between ideas and the relationship between our ideas and what we perceive. But of course, it does not follow from this that "the laws of logic are not actions," nor is it incompatible with the view that the laws of logic are actions, since, as Slick himself says, "They are statements," and statements are actions of identifying.
Slick also says, "Though one could say that a law of physics (i.e., the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence) is a statement which is conceptual, it is a statement that describes actual physical and observable behavior." But if this is the case, then why would Slick want to argue that the laws of logic "do not describe behavior of things," as he indicated above?
In spite of this apparent oversight, Slick then states that "logical absolutes are not observable and do not describe behavior or actions of things since they reside completely in the mind." But even if we accept the view that "logical absolutes? reside completely in the mind," it is not clear how he draws from this the inference that they "do not describe behavior or actions of things," or, most importantly, that their truth is based on what we perceive (i.e., "observe").
For instance, we observe that copper melts at 1083.0 Celsius. From this observation, we see that this melting point is based on the nature of the element in question, and thus accept the fact that copper melts at 1083.0 Celsius as a general principle upon which other truths would depend (e.g., in order to melt copper, we need a means by which to heat it to at least 1083.0 Celsius, and so one). Thus we have a logical truth (a truth which corresponds to reality and upon which other truths depend), which is based upon observation. Also, note that this truth describes the behavior of the object observed in that it tells us at which temperature it melts. Thus Slick's points so far seem to be defused by just one example. It is certain that other examples could be shown which do not confirm his view of logic, which is clearly based on driving an artificial wedge between the perceptual and the conceptual.
Then Slick states that, "We do not observe the laws of logic occurring in matter," but again it is not clear what he means by this. The laws of logic identify the general facts which we perceive. In other words, we perceive object A and identify it as an object. Already the law of identity is implicit in our perception of an object. When we perceive another object, object B, we can readily distinguish object A from object B, which is simply another application of the law of identity. We are able to form this logical principle (the law of identity, things are what they are) by naming what we perceive. To say that "we do not observe the laws of logic occurring in matter" implies a confused view of what logic is.
Slick then asserts the profound point that "You don't watch an object NOT bring itself into existence if it doesn't exist," but it is unclear who claims to be able to do this. The same for his conclusion, "no law of logic can be observed by watching nothing." But who holds that a law of logic is based on "watching nothing"? Indeed, if the laws of logic are based on the law of identity (and according to Objectivism, they are), and the law of identity is perceptually based (and it is), then there is no reason to drive a wedge between the perceptual and the conceptual, which Slick clearly wants to do. This wedge is crucial to drawing his conclusion, and without it his whole characterization of what the "atheist view" of logic must be fails. Since it does not follow from the fact that one does not believe in a god that one must divorce the conceptual from the perceptual, we can clearly reject Slick's contention that, "If the atheist states that the laws of logic are derived through observing natural principles found in nature, then he is confusing the mind with the universe." Indeed, if Slick admits that the atheist is "observing natural principles found in nature," such as when he perceives objects (since objects are themselves), then the atheist has what he needs by this action alone in order to formulate the first laws of logic, namely identity and causality. How Slick thinks this amounts to "confusing the mind with the universe" is not stated by Slick, nor is it even implicitly inferred by the points which he does provide, which are problematic at best.
Slick then observes, "If the atheist appeals to the scientific method to explain the laws of logic then he is using circular argumentation because the scientific method is dependent upon logic; that is, reasoned thought applied to observations," but this is obvious and hardly noteworthy. The same is the case of Slick's next premise, which is, "If logic itself is used to validate logic, then circular reasoning again is used and the atheist has still failed to account for their existence." Indeed, the law of identity must be assumed in order to construct proof and for the development of the scientific method. The question is, Which atheists are doing this? Slick does not say. And of course, if one does not hold that logic is not absolute, then pointing out the fact that "logic cannot be used to prove or disprove anything" is irrelevant.
Summary of Second Section
So what we have, in summary thus far, is as follows. Slick considers various ways in which atheists validate their assumption of the laws of logic. The first one he considers is the position that the laws of logic are "conventions," i.e., that they are arrived at by popular consensus. Since Slick holds that this would not yield a product which is absolute, we must apply his same reasoning to the fact that the books of the New Testament were assembled by popular consensus, and therefore cannot accept them as absolute either. Thus Slick finds himself in a pickle due to his own confessional investments.
Next, Slick attempted to argue that the laws of logic are not dependent on "different peoples [sic] minds," that "they cannot be based on human thinking since human thinking is often contradictory." But he nowhere shows why atheists must think this, so again, it is moot.
Then Slick attempts to build an elaborate argument against the view that the laws of logic are based on our perception of objects in reality. In order to argue this, he seeks to drive a wedge between perception and conception, insinuating that the conceptual is divorced from the perceptual ("we are not discovering a law of logic by observation, but by thought"). Yet he gives no good reason why we should accept the view that the conceptual level of consciousness does not and/or cannot integrate and identify the content which it acquires by perception. Instead, he erects a straw man against perception by inventing an arbitrary argument based on the notion that we cannot perceive what objects are not because we cannot perceive that which exists. Little does Slick realize then that perception and conception have to do with that which exists, not with that which does not exist or with what we imagine does not exist. And most importantly, Slick's argument here depends on a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between consciousness and its objects, preferring the view that consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over existence. On a proper view of reality, which is the metaphysical primacy of existence over consciousness, we recognize that the law of identity is perceptually based and that there is no wedge divorcing the conceptual from the perceptual, or the empirical from the logical.
Slick also surveys other alternatives which amount to circular arguments, but unless an atheist or anyone else attempts to argue in such manner, they are moot. But overall, Slick presents no good reasons why one cannot both reject god-belief and show why the laws of logic are true and valid within the constraints of a worldview which does not appeal to the mysticism of god-belief.
Slick's Third Section and Conclusion
In his third section, Slick attempts to draw the obvious logical implication from the previous two. He states, "Atheists will use logic to try to disprove God's existence, but it is in so doing that they are assuming absolute laws of logic and borrowing from the Christian worldview."
In saying this, Slick takes for granted that the positions which he attempted to establish in the prior two sections withstand criticism. But indeed, they do not. In his first section, Slick attempted to connect logic as such to the existence and nature of the Christian god. In my analysis of that section above, I showed that this conclusion is based wholly on arbitrary, unsupportable claims or "mere assertions," which a) have nothing to do with reality, and b) actually work to undermine logic since they assume the primacy of consciousness view. Consequently the premise that the Christian can provide a valid justification of the laws of logic within the context of his own worldview cannot be accepted, and must rejected.
Thus, when Slick writes, "The Christian worldview maintains that the laws of logic are absolute because they come from God who is Himself absolute," we must recognize this to be just one in a long series of unsupported, unproven and arbitrary Christian claims. While the Christian may claim that "the laws of logic? come from God?," this alone is not sufficient to make this credible or acceptable. Indeed, the proper thing to do is to reject this notion as utter nonsense.
Then, drawing on the second section of his paper, Slick states that "the atheist worldview does not have an absolute God." And of course, this is true by definition. But of course, Slick nowhere shows that the supposition that a god exists is necessary to assume that the laws of logic are valid and absolute. He simply asserts this and proceeds to claim it as a truth, thus begging the question.
Slick asks, "How can absolute, conceptual, abstract laws be derived from a universe of matter, energy and motion?" And of course, the first reaction is, rightly, to ask: why wouldn't this be possible? And of course, Slick has not provided any good reasons (i.e., reasons which do not survive examination) to suppose that this would not be possible. Indeed, if all that exists is the universe and its properties, then that's all that exists, and whatever we do in the universe is obviously not impossible, and any philosophical view which says what we do is impossible, simply contradicts the facts.
Slick also asks, "How can an atheist with a naturalistic presupposition account for the existence of logical absolutes when logical absolutes are conceptual by nature and not physical, energy, or motion?" And of course, this is not impossible for an atheist to answer, as Slick supposes, particularly on the basis of a rational philosophy.
On the basis of a rational philosophy, we recognize that existence exists independent of consciousness. The immediate implications of this principle serve to show theism to be wholly invalid. And indeed, even the theist must assume that existence exists independent of consciousness every time he asserts a truth, for he asserts that truths are not dependent upon his own consciousness. The recognition that existence exists (the initial axiom of Objectivism) implies and leads to the fact that to exist is to be something, i.e., to have a nature, to have identity. So just in the act of perceiving, the law of identity is implicit, and rational philosophy makes this recognition explicit. There is no mystery here, there is no need to posit an absolute cosmic personality to recognize the truth of this, and indeed, since the notion of a god contradicts the recognition that existence exists independent of consciousness (since god-belief entails the assumption that reality conforms to consciousness), the notion of a god can only derail and confound logic, not establish and ground it. Indeed, the fact is that existence is absolute, since the fact that existence exists does not change. Thus the initial law of logic, namely the law of identity, is explained, and without reference to any god-beliefs.
Thus, contrary to Slick's desired conclusion, we cannot accept the view that "The Christian theistic worldview can account for the laws of logic," while "The atheistic worldview cannot account for the laws of logic/absolutes?" Because Slick fails to establish these positions, his claim that atheists "must borrow from the Christian worldview in order to rationally argue" cannot be accepted, since it rests on premises which have been shown to be untrue.
1. See Bahnsen's often-citedDebate with Gordon Stein in which this idle phrase is repeated as if its supposed truth had been established by argument.
2. Taken from Thorn'sResponse to Mr. Smallwood's Apologetic.
3. "For the New Intellectual," For the New Intellectual, pp. 14-15.
4. "Philosophical Detection," Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 15.
5. Leonard Peikoff, "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy," Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 151.
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