Friday, March 09, 2007

Is God beyond Logic?

The other day I was asked this question:

My question involves an argument (debate) I'm having with a skeptical friend. He presented an argument I haven't heard before, and I would like to hear your thoughts (even a hint would be nice). His argument is as follows:

"God is suprarational...that is, he exists above man's logic. It is thus impossible to prove God exists with a weaker (or even if you want to give it equivalent) form of logic."

First, I don't think the conclusion follows. I've tried to find the hidden premise of the enthymeme, but I can't seem to do it without using four terms. So from a logic standpoint, I'm having a hard time checking for validity. Assuming it is valid, what do you think of his first premise? I may be way off, but doesn't his argument assume God exists in the first premise? Is that something I could use? Is there some material fallacy I'm missing here?

Here is my response:

OK let's see - first we need to make this argument plain by supplying premise (2). BTW: Sometimes just forcing the objector to make their argument clear shows its faults, and it avoids you accidentally arguing against a straw man, so I would avoid doing it for them. But just for fun I will assume that I have caught his implied point and look at it from that angle. So here is the argument reconstructed into a valid form by adding Premise (2):

1. God is suprarational that is, he exists above man's logic.
2. [Supplied] Things which exist above man's logic are impossible to prove with a weaker / equivalent form of logic.
3. Therefore, it is impossible to prove God exists with a weaker / equivalent form of logic.

There are numerous problems with this line of thinking. I will go premise by premise.

Premise (1): What exactly does "above" mean here? Is he speaking metaphysically? Well, then all existing extra-mental objects are "above" logic - what does that prove? God's being "above logic" in this sense says nothing of logic's ability to deal with Him as a subject. I would ask if this is a rational or irrational idea. If it is irrational there is no need to deal with it. If it is rational then it is self-defeating for it is making a rational claim about God that rational claims about God cannot be made. In much the same way, if he wants to claim that God cannot be treated by logical argument then his whole project is self-defeating.

Premise (2): Ignoring the "weaker / equivalent" distinction (I have no idea how to put logics on a scale such as this), the biggest problem with this whole line of thinking is the idea that logic proves things about extra-mental reality in the first place. That is not logic's job. Validity (based on argument forms), which logic can prove, is not equivalent to soundness (truth based on correspondence to reality), which logic cannot prove. An argument's soundness comes from having valid form and true premises. But truth is dependant on a statement's correspondence to reality - not its placement in an argument. So, in this sense, logic cannot prove ANYTHING - much less God. Nor are we asking it to. HOWEVER . . . arguing logically is not the same as using logic (alone) to argue. Rather, our logical arguments must be supported by evidence from the real world. Then, if they are logically valid, they are also sound and the conclusions can only be rejected on pains of irrationality.

Conclusion (3): Because neither premise is true (at least in the sense he seems to mean them) the argument is unsound. If he means something else by premise (1) then I'd have to see it to properly comment on it.

Also, although his argument does seem to assume that God exists he may simply be speaking hypothetically, so I would not try to use that. His argument could be easily adjusted to avoid this flaw. All he would need to do is say, "If God existed, then [insert Premise (1)]."

Any additional thoughts or helpful criticism?

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