Circular Reasoning

Circular Reasoning

Definition from Dictionary.com: a use of reason in which the premises depends on or is equivalent to the conclusion, a method of false logic by which “this is used to prove that, and that is used to prove this”

Presuppositional apologetics is the ultimate biblical approach to apologetics. The common accusation that the presuppositionalist uses circular reasoning is actually true. In fact, everyone uses some degree of circular reasoning when defending his ultimate standard (though not everyone realizes this fact). Yet, if used properly, this use of circular reasoning is not arbitrary and, therefore, not fallacious.

Circular reasoning is surprisingly a valid argument. The conclusion does follow from the premises. Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy only when it is arbitrary, proving nothing beyond what it assumes.

However, not all circular reasoning is fallacious. Certain standards must be assumed. Here is an example of a non-arbitrary use of circular reasoning:

  1. Without laws of logic, we could not make an argument.
  2. We can make an argument.
  3. Therefore, there must be laws of logic.

While this argument is circular, it is a non-fallacious use of circular reasoning. Since we cannot prove anything apart from the laws of logic, we must presuppose the laws of logic even to prove they exist. In fact, if someone were trying to disprove that laws of logic exist, they would have to use the laws of logic in their attempt, thereby refuting themselves.  Therefore, there are certain standards that can be proven with circular reasoning.

The basic presupposition—God exists and has revealed Himself in His inerrant, authoritative Word—is the ultimate standard. Presupposing God exists to argue that God exists is a reasonable circular argument because without the God of the Bible, we have no basis for assuming the laws of logic and their properties, let alone absolute morality or the uniformity of nature.

A natural universe consisting of strictly matter in motion would not contain abstract laws of logic, and proving anything would be impossible. These laws do obviously exist because the biblical God exists, and the laws of logic stem from His nature—He is unchanging, universal, and immaterial.

In addition, absolute moral standards are dependent on the holy, sinless God of the Bible. If the evolutionary worldview were true, we would be advanced animals acting on chemical impulses. Absolute moral standards would not exist.

Science itself requires the biblical God. Without the uniformity of nature, which can only be explained by God consistently upholding the universe, science would be a guessing game. In a random chance universe, we would have no reason to expect the constancy of physical laws God has ordained, such as the law of gravity.

For an atheist to make an argument, practice science, or expect absolute morality, they have to assume the biblical God exists. The presupposition that God exists  is proved by demonstrating the impossibility of God not existing. No wonder Scripture calls a person a fool who says, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Knowledge and wisdom depend on the existence of the biblical God (Proverbs 1:7; Colossians 2:3).

Let us take a slightly different track for the rest of this article.  If we go back to the unfounded but common objection that states, ‘You believe the Bible to be God’s Word because it says so. This is arguing in a circle.’ There are two major points we can take in answering this objection: the role of starting assumptions, and breaking the circle.

STARTING ASSUMPTIONS

Assumptions

All philosophical systems start with axioms (presuppositions), or non-provable propositions accepted as true, and deduce theorems from them. Therefore Christians should not be faulted for having axioms as well, which are the propositions of Scripture (a proposition is a fact about a thing, e.g. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.).

Therefore, the question for any axiomatic system is whether it is self-consistent and is consistent with the real world.

One of the axioms is: The universe is orderly, because it was made by a God of order, not the author of confusion.

This means that the axioms don’t contradict each other. Indeed, allegedly circular reasoning at least demonstrates the internal consistency of the Bible’s claims it makes about itself. If the Bible had actually disclaimed divine inspiration, it would indeed be illogical to defend it

Christian axioms provide the basis for a coherent worldview, i.e. a thought map that can guide us throughout all aspects of life. Non-Christian axioms fail these tests, as do the axioms of other ‘holy books’. (Discussion of the apocrypha books  is beyond this discussion because they are full of geographical and historical errors)

  1. Biblical axioms logically and historically provided the basis for modern science. (Stark, R., For the Glory of God: How monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts and the end of slavery, Princeton University Press, 2003) A major one is that the universe is orderly, because it was made by a God of order, not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). However, why should the universe be orderly if there were no God, or if Zeus and his gang were in charge, or if the universe were one big Thought, as Eastern religions teach? It could change Its mind!

Christ clearly shows how important the Old Testament is. Many liberal evolutionary theologians who reject Moses also refuse to believe that Christ rose from the dead, which makes one wonder how they can call themselves theologians. However, theology is the critical study of concepts of God and of the nature of religious ideas so I guess it covers not believing what you are studying.

  1. Also very importantly, the Christian axioms provide a basis for objective right and wrong. Note it is important to understand the point here—not that atheists cannot be moral but that they have no objective basis for this morality from within their own system. The fanatical atheistic evolutionist, Richard Dawkins, admits that our ‘best impulses have no basis in nature,’(Evolution: The dissent of Darwin, Psychology Today, January/February 1997, p. 62. ). Another atheist, William Provine, said that evolution means that ‘There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.’(Provine, W.B. (Professor of Biological Sciences, Cornell University, USA), Origins Research 16(1):9, 1994)  Therefore, Dawkins makes a leap of faith to say that we should be ‘anti-Darwinian when it comes to morality’, that we should ‘rebel’ against our selfish genes, etc. But his own philosophy can’t justify the ‘shoulds’.
  2. Christian axioms also provide a basis for voluntary choice, since we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). Nevertheless, evolutionists believe that we are just machines and that our thoughts are really motions of atoms in our brains, which are just ‘computers made of meat’. Then they realize that we cannot function in the everyday world like this. Science is supposed to be about predictability, yet an evolutionist can far more easily predict behavior if he treats his wife as a free agent with desires and dislikes. For example, if he brings her flowers, then he will make her happy, i.e. for all practical purposes, his wife is a free agent who likes flowers. Nothing is gained in the practical world by treating her as an automaton with certain olfactory responses programmed by genes that in turn produce certain brain chemistry. Therefore, evolutionists claim that free will is a ‘useful illusion’.

“We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one, are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true.”—Theodore Dalrymple[1]

We must also wonder why atheists call themselves ‘freethinkers’ if they believe thoughts are the results of atomic motion in the brain obeying the fixed laws of chemistry. By their own philosophy, they can’t help what they believe!  Social commentator Dr Theodore Dalrymple, no Christian himself, commented on the atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett:

‘Dennett argues that religion is explicable in evolutionary terms—for example, by our inborn human propensity, at one time valuable for our survival on the African savannahs, to attribute animate agency to threatening events.

‘For Dennett, to prove the biological origin of belief in God is to show its irrationality, to break its spell. But of course it is a necessary part of the argument that all possible human beliefs, including belief in evolution, must be explicable in precisely the same way; or else why single out religion for this treatment? Either we test ideas according to arguments in their favor, independent of their origins, thus making the argument from evolution irrelevant, or all possible beliefs come under the same suspicion of being only evolutionary adaptations—and thus biologically contingent rather than true or false. We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one, are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true.’[2]

Breaking the circle

broken_circle

  1. It is not circular to use Matthew to prove Genesis (Matthew 19:3–6, cf. Genesis 1:27, 2:24), Paul to prove Luke (1 Timothy 5:18, cf. Luke 10:7) or Peter to prove Paul (2 Peter 3:15–16).
  2. It is also not circular to use Jesus’ clear statements to prove the Bible. His statements such as, ‘Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35) and the repeated ‘It is written … ’ show that for Jesus, what Scripture said is what God said. Indeed, Jesus defended many of the doctrines that skeptics love to scoff at.  Even without accepting Scripture as the authority, many liberal theologians believe that there is overwhelming historical evidence that Christ affirmed biblical inerrancy, although they disagree with Him. Yet Jesus proved His credentials beyond doubt by rising from the dead (cf. Acts 17:31). This independently verified  historical evidence breaks the circle.

Jesus affirmed the reality (historicity) of the following people and events, often the targets of most skeptical and liberal mockery:

Creationists are thus not guilty of circular reasoning. Also, accepting the biblical presuppositions is not a matter of blind faith. Biblical faith is not blind;[3] rather, it is belief, and trust and loyalty, for sound reasons.[4] 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to give a reason for the hope that we have.[5]

Furthermore, we are not merely asking opponents to consider biblical presuppositions as an alternative way of looking at the evidence. Nor are we merely saying that they are ‘nicer’, nor even that they provide a superior framework that better explains the data (although both of these are true as well). Rather, the claim is even stronger: that the biblical framework is the only one that provides the foundation for science, voluntary will, logic and morality.

[1] In his writing, Dalrymple frequently argues that the liberal and progressive views prevalent within Western intellectual circles minimize the responsibility of individuals for their own actions and undermine traditional mores, contributing to the formation within prosperous countries of an underclass afflicted by endemic violence, criminality, sexually transmitted diseases, welfare dependency, and drug abuse. Much of Dalrymple’s writing is based on his experience of working with criminals and the mentally ill.

[2] Dalrymple, T., What the new atheists don’t see: to regret religion is to regret Western civilization, City Journal, Autumn 2007;

www.city-journal.org/html/17_4_oh_to_be.html

[3] Note, some contextually illiterate critics claim that the ‘doubting Thomas’ passage (John 20:24–31) promotes a blind faith. In reality, Thomas’s problem was rejection of ample evidence—the testimony of at least 11 men whom he had gotten to know intimately over at least the past three years, plus personal experience of the miraculous powers of Jesus, including raising Lazarus from the dead and even an empty tomb.
Also, almost all future potential converts thereafter would have less direct evidence than Thomas did, although still ample. So Jesus could not allow Thomas to ‘set an example’ to spoiled skeptics who demand God’s personal appearance before them before they are willing to believe, as if God were their personal genie at their beck and call. See also Holding, J.P., Blessed are ye who whine: does John 20:29 promote a ‘blind faith’? <www.tektonics.org/gk/john2029.html>.

[4] Holding, J.P., Fallacious Faith: Correcting an all-too-common misconception, <tektonics.org/whatis/whatfaith.html>.

[5] See also Sarfati, J., Loving God with all your mind: Logic and creation, Journal of Creation 12(2):142–151, 1998

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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