The “Matt Slick Fallacy Fallacy” Fallacy

Introduction

Recently, a friend of mine sent me a link to a website where a person called A.J. Kitt had written a blog post about my ‘Matt Slick Fallacy’ article. I suggest that if you haven’t read it, then you stop and read it now, as it is important to understand my points (and it is not very long).

In it, Kitt makes some rather scathing remarks, such as:

“…sorry, Malpass. You blew it

and

“…if Dr. Alex Malpass feels his credibility has been undermined, well… he should. Perhaps next time he’ll check his argument before he puts it out there“.

In this post, I will look at Kitt’s claims and see how they relate to my original post. Kitt explains his general point as follows:

“…his claim only works by severely altering or misunderstanding what should have been the presumed qualities and relationships of Slick’s argument

While this isn’t specific about what ‘qualities and relationships’ it is that I got wrong, it is clear that the idea has something to to with me representing the spirit of the argument incorrectly. If so, then it would be like saying I argued against a straw-man. Obviously, I don’t want that to be the case, as it would mean that I didn’t address Slick’s actual argument, so let’s look closely at what Kitt has to say about what I said, and how it may have gone wrong.

False substitution fallacy

Kitt says that I make ‘false substitutions’ in my arguments, and it seems that this is the root of my problems, in his view. Kitt doesn’t provide any non-controversial examples of what he means by a ‘false substitution’, but I presume he means something like the following. A ‘false substitution’ fallacy would be where someone claims that an argument, A, is invalid, but the demonstration of that claim addresses a different argument, B, which is arrived at by substituting some term from A for a different term.

For example, imagine your debate partner makes the following argument:

1)    “All A’s are B; x is an A; thus, x is a B”.

You might be determined to argue against this point, and thus try to argue that 1 is invalid. You would commit the ‘false substitution’ fallacy if you then claimed that what your debate partner said was wrong (i.e. that 1 is invalid), but then by way of substantiating this claim proceeded to demonstrate that the following argument is invalid instead of 1:

2)     Some A’s are B; x is an A; thus, x is a B”.

Correctly showing that 2 is invalid does nothing to show whether 1 is invalid. If you responded by making this type of move, your debate partner might call false substitution fallacy on you. Kitt’s charge is that I am making this sort of fallacy when I argue against Slick.

So I had said that Slick’s argument suffers from the ‘false dilemma’ fallacy (the ‘Matt Slick Fallacy’). Kitt responds that my argument suffers from the ‘false substitution’ fallacy (the ‘Matt Slick Fallacy Fallacy’), and thus that Slick’s argument is rescued. If Kitt is wrong about this, then his argument itself will be fallacious in some way (which would make it the ‘Matt Slick Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy’). Let’s look in more detail at what he says.

Cause and existence

Kitt says about me:

“…he correctly identifies that either God or not-God did it“.

But then, apparently, it all goes wrong when I use my toast example. It is here where I make “the magical substitution”:

He says, since neither the existence of toast nor the lack of the existence of toast has anything to do with the existence of logic, the God/not-God argument is flawed. Worded that way, did you notice the problem?

Actually, no, I didn’t. Helpfully, Kitt goes on:

Malpass substituted existence for cause. With the substitution, he’s right. Whether God exists or not, as well as with whether toast exists or not, doesn’t necessarily say anything about the existence of logic (or anything else).” [emphasis mine]

So, according to Kitt, I was right to point out that ‘Whether God exists or not … doesn’t necessarily say anything about the existence of logic (or anything else)’. Ok, great. To that extent then, it seems we are in agreement! But then comes the following:

But without that substitution… the toast analogy supports Slick. Toast, or something-other-than-toast, definitely caused logic. In this case, I’m pretty sure logic didn’t happen because toast did it. Therefor, it is logical to assert that something-other-than-toast did. Soooo… sorry, Malpass. You blew it.” [emphasis mine]

Here is where Kitt obviously feels on his strongest ground, where I ‘blew it’. So let’s see what he is saying as clearly as possible. Kitt is saying that I inserted the word ‘existence’ into an argument which originally used the word ’cause’ (“Malpass substituted existence for cause”). When I was addressing the issue in terms of existence, what I said was “right” (“With the substitution, he’s right.”), but if I had addressed the argument in terms of cause, my point would not hold (“But without that substitution… the toast analogy supports Slick. Toast, or something-other-than-toast, definitely caused logic”).

It would be helpful to see both arguments next to each other so we could see clearly the difference between them. Kitt doesn’t provide any quote of mine, or Slick’s, to show the two arguments side-by-side (as I did with the ‘all’ and ‘some’ example above). All he has said directly about the toast analogy so far is this:

And the analogy could have been accurate – but it wasn’t; just take a look. Simply (according to Malpass): ‘God or not-God accounts for logic’ is the same as: ‘toast or not-toast accounts for logic’

I don’t see the words ‘existence’ or ’cause’ there, which you would expect to see, given the charge that I fallaciously substituted in one for the other.

And if you think about it, it’s quite hard to come up with a plausible version of how that would go, where one word could be substituted for the other to make two premises which are plausible candidates for what I and Slick said. There are three obvious conditions for the pair of premises to count:

Slick)                  One must be a premise of Matt Slick’s version of his argument.

Malpass)            One must be a premise of my version of Slick’s argument.

Substitution)     The premise from Malpass) must be the premise from Slick), but with ‘existence’ swapped in for ’cause’.

Here is a candidate:

3)    ‘The existence of God accounts for the laws of logic’

4)    ‘The cause of God accounts for the laws of logic’

4 is the result of substituting ‘existence’ for ’cause’, so the Substitution condition is fulfilled. 3 is a fair enough reading of what I said, so the Malpass condition is fulfilled. However, I think 4 would be a very unfair reading of Matt Slick’s argument, so the Slick condition would not be fulfilled. Slick’s view is that God doesn’t have a cause, and certainly not one that itself accounts for logic. He thinks God accounts for logic, not that the cause of God accounts for logic. This candidate fulfils Malpass and Substitution, but not Slick. So this cannot be the substitution that Kitt is talking about. Here is another candidate:

5) ‘God is the cause of logic’

6) ‘God is the existence of logic’

I think 5 would be a slightly different point to what Slick was saying, so it is not clear that it fulfils the Slick condition. But even if it were a perfect characterisation of Slick, it is clear that 6 (i.e. the result of substituting ‘existence’ for ’cause’ in 5) doesn’t even make sense grammatically. When I said there were problems with Slick’s argument, it wasn’t because I pretended that one of the premises of his argument was ‘God is the existence of logic’. It would be a very unfair reading of what I was saying in my original post. Thus, this definitely does not fulfil the Malpass condition.

I am genuinely at a loss for an proposition which is something I said, and is a version of what Matt Slick said but with the word ‘existence’ put in place of the word ’cause’. Even a candidate that just fulfils the Slick and Substitution conditions while remaining grammatically well-formed is difficult to think of, as 6 shows.

If Kitt is trying to argue that I was guilty of the ‘false substitution’ fallacy (by making a straw-man argument out of Matt Slick’s argument that used the word ‘existence’ in place of the word ’cause’), then he needs to substantiate this by providing both of those two arguments. He does not do that, and, for the reasons outlined above, I don’t really see how that specific charge can be substantiated.

Can and does

Kitt makes a further claim that I make a false substitution:

And then he does it again. Malpass switches out “does” for “can.” “Does” creates a mutually exclusive dichotomy: either God or not-God does account for choose-your-thing. But swapping in “can,” on the other hand, fails. Malpass correctly states that just because not-God cannot do yadda-yadda doesn’t prove that God can. But that’s not what Slick said. Slick still stands. Sooo… sorry, Malpass. You blew it twice.”

Kitt’s claim is that 7 is a dichotomy, but 8 is not:

7) God or not-God does account for x

8) God or not-God can account for x

Kitt gives no reason for thinking that this is true; he must assume that it is so obvious as to not need any argument. No examples from ordinary language are given where swapping ‘does’ for ‘can’ switches between a dichotomy and a normal disjunction. Nothing at all is provided to back up the point. So we have to guess why he thinks it is true.

I say that it is not true. Take any sentence that has the word ‘does’ and which is a dichotomy, substitute in the word ‘can’, and the result will remain a dichotomy. Here is an example:

‘Superman does fly or it is not the case that superman does fly’

This is a dichotomy, as it is of the form ‘A or not-A’. Now substitute in the word ‘can’ for ‘does’:

‘Superman can fly or it is not the case that superman can fly’.

This remains of the form ‘A or not-A’, and thus remains a dichotomy. Substituting in ‘does’ for ‘can’ in a dichotomy doesn’t make any difference to whether it is a dichotomy. So, in fact Kitt blew it.

Kitt’s real mistake, though, is in thinking that either of 7 or 8 is a dichotomy. In reality, neither are (more on this below), and the substitution of ‘does’ for ‘can’ makes no relevant difference to them (or course, it makes a modal difference to talk about what something can do rather than what it does do, but this is not relevant here). The both remain contingent disjunctions.

One last thing on this, before I move on to my main point. He says that when I talk about ‘existence’ rather than ’cause’, and when I talk about ‘can’ instead of ‘does’, I am not talking in the same terms as Slick does, as if I have erected a straw-man and torn that down instead of Slick’s actual argument. Of course, it is possible that I have addressed a different argument to what Slick originally intended, but is it the case that the straw-man I have created is one which uses those substitutions? Did I superimpose ‘existence’, where Slick talked about ’cause’, and did I superimpose ‘can’, where Slick talked about ‘does’?

Here is what I said in my article. In three places I present Slick’s argument. Firstly, and informally, I put it like this:

1. Either God, or not-God.

2. Not-God cannot account for the laws of logic.

3. Therefore God can account for the laws of logic.

Then I make things a bit more clear in ‘reconstruction 1’ (which I say is guilty of false dichotomy):

1. Either God can account for the laws of logic, or not-God can account for the laws of logic.

2. Not-God cannot account for the laws of logic.

3. Therefore, God can.

Finally, I present the argument in such a way that it avoids false dichotomy (‘reconstruction 2’):

1. Either God can account for the laws of logic, or it is not the case that God can account for the laws of logic.

2. It is not the case that (it is not the case that God can account for the laws of logic).

3. Therefore, God can account for the laws of logic.

I don’t actually use the word ‘exists’, but it is not a wild reinterpretation to put it in, such as: ‘Either the existence of God can account for the laws of logic, or it is not the case that the existence of God can account for the laws of logic’. I do use the word ‘can’. So Kitt is correct at least that my version of Slick’s argument uses ‘existence’ and ‘can’. Does Slick use ’cause’ and ‘does’ though?

Here is how Slick puts his TAG argument on his website (https://carm.org/transcendental-argument), and I have highlighted a few key terms:

1.If we have only two possible options by which we can explain something and one of those options is removed, by default the other option is verified since it is impossible to negate both of the only two exist options.

2. God either exists or does not exist.  There is no third option.

3. If the no-god position, atheism, clearly fails to account for Logical Absolutes from its perspective, then it is negated, and the other option is verified.

4. Atheism cannot account for the necessary preconditions for intelligibility, namely, the existence of logical absolutes.  Therefore, it is invalidated as a viable option for accounting for them and the only other option, God exists, is validated.

The word ’cause’ doesn’t appear at all, and the words ‘exist’ and ‘does not exist’ appear in the relevant places. The word ‘does’ doesn’t appear at all, and the words ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ appear in the relevant places. So far, with respect to the use of ’cause/existence’ and ‘can/does’, Slick and my presentation of Slick are in agreement. Kitt’s claim was that I falsely substituted in ‘existence’ for ’cause’, but so far both Slick and I use ‘existence’ and not ’cause’. So far, Kitt’s point seems completely baseless.

In my article that Kitt was responding to, I quoted a short monologue from Slick’s radio show. Just to make sure I didn’t cherry-pick the above presentation of the argument because it suited my point, let’s make sure that the actual version of the argument I used as a foil originally didn’t use ’cause’ or ‘does’. Here is what Slick said on his radio show:

“If you only have two possibilities to account for something … if one of them is negated the other is necessarily validated as being true … So we have ‘God and not-God’, so that’s called a true dichotomy, God either exists, or it is not the case that God exists, we have the thing and the negation of the thing. So now we have a true disjunctive syllogism … We have, for example, the transcendental laws of logic … Can the no-God position account for the transcendental laws of logic? And the ultimate answer is no it cannot. So therefore because it cannot, the other position is automatically necessarily validated as being true. Because, you cannot negate both options out of the only two possibilities; that’s logically impossible.”

Once again, ‘existence’ and ‘can’ are the relevant terms. ‘Cause’ and ‘does’ are not mentioned.  I conclude, given the examination of Slick’s actual arguments, that I have not substituted in terms falsely, but have actually used the terms Slick used. Given that Kitt insists on talking about arguments which use ’cause’ and ‘does’, it is Kitt who has made false substitutions. It is ironic that Kitt has accused me of doing something, when it is himself who is guilty of doing precisely that. Kitt doesn’t directly quote me or Slick in his article, so one could be forgiven if they just read his article for thinking that his assessment was correct. Once we compare what I put with what Slick put, like actually side-by-side comparing them, we see that Kitt’s claims are baseless. This adds a further irony, as Kitt’s explicitly said:

“…if Dr. Alex Malpass feels his credibility has been undermined, well… he should. Perhaps next time he’ll check his argument before he puts it out there.”

It seems that in actual fact, Kitt has been rather sloppy with his claims about my and Slick’s arguments, and failed to check whether the claims were themselves correct before he put it ‘out there’ for other people to critique. Perhaps next time he will check his argument first.

False dichotomy

At the end of all this, there is really only one fallacy, and it is the Matt Slick Fallacy (false dichotomy). Kitt just makes the same fallacy again. Here it is in all it’s glory:

Toast, or something-other-than-toast, definitely caused logic.

I say that with this claim, Kitt demonstrates that he does not understand my argument at all, and in fact has just walked straight into the problem that Slick was facing. It may be my fault that he didn’t understand my argument (maybe my words were not sufficiently clear), but it is his own fault for not being able to see this for himself. His reasoning seems to be that the claim that ‘toast or some other thing caused logic’ is logically true. He says as much quite clearly:

Either:

A. ‘God caused it’ or

B. ‘Something other than God caused it’. 

That – A OR B – is a logically true statement.

The disjunction (‘A or B’) is not a tautology (i.e. true independently of the content of A and B) – it is not a “logically true statement”. ‘A or not-A’ would be a tautology, but Either: A. ‘God caused it’ or B. ‘Something other than God caused it’ is not an instance of ‘A or not-A’. It isn’t an instance of any other tautology either. Trying to palm it off as a dichotomy is the textbook definition of the false dichotomy fallacy. Sorry, Kitt, but it’s true.

Think about it like this: could the following pair both be true?

9) ‘Either a caused b, or something other than a caused b

10) ‘Nothing caused b

The answer is: no. If nothing caused b (if 10 is true), then ‘either a caused b, or something other than a caused b‘ (i.e. 9) has to be false. For a Christian (and presumably Kitt is a Christian), this should be obvious. Is it logically true that ‘either a caused God, or something other than a caused God’? The traditional understanding is that God is uncaused. Nothing caused God to exist. But if it were a logical truth that ‘either a caused b, or something other than a caused b‘ then it would entail, logically, that God had a cause. If Kitt is right, then God had a cause.

Causing logic

While that claim of mine (that the proposition ‘something accounts for logic’ is assumed and not argued for) is well rehearsed on this blog, I want to focus on the particular issue Kitt feels is his strongest point; the idea that logic was caused. I think this idea is incoherent. It is quite hard to make this point perfectly clear, but here goes.

Firstly, it is not clear to me that saying ‘logic exists’ is the most helpful way of speaking. There is a wide range of positions on the nature of logic, but straightforwardly ascribing existence to logic is not uncontroversial. Physical objects, like tables and chairs, are the sort of paradigm examples of existing things. Obviously, some philosophers (platonists, etc) have claimed that abstract objects exist. However, these same philosophers also claim that these existing abstract objects are outside the usual causal chains that physical objects are in. The number 17, for example, is generally regarded by platonists to be an eternally existing abstract object, but also causally inert; nothing causes it to exist, and it causes nothing to exist. It has no causal relationships with anything. So this platonistic account of abstract objects, which sanctions the locution ‘abstract object x exists’, doesn’t sanction, ‘y caused abstract object x to exist’. So this cannot be what Kitt means when he says that logic was caused to exist. I think we are owed some sort of explanation of what Kitt has in mind for what he means by logic existing when it is caused to be, but we get nothing of the sort.

Perhaps he may simply want to say that God made the logical principles true, regardless of whether they exist or not as abstract objects. So one might ask ‘why is the law of non-contradiction true’, to which Kitt’s answer would (perhaps) be ‘because God caused it to be true’. This way of talking side-steps the platonistic talk of abstract objects existing. While this is somewhat more attractive as an option therefore, it also suffers from what I consider to be a fundamental incoherence.

The situation is sort of similar to a well-known difficulty for the idea that God caused time to exist. The creation of something is a change. And you cannot have change without time. But the creation of time is a change, specifically the change from time not existing to time existing. This change presupposes that time exists; the time ‘before’ time started to exist, the time and ‘after’ it started to exist. So the creation of time can only take place if time already exists. Thus, there is an incoherence in the idea of the ‘creation of time’. Our notion of creation cannot be applied to the notion of time, without becoming incoherent. In other words, creation presupposes time. You cannot make sense of creation outside of time.

Now consider the claim that God created logic. What was it like before God created logic? You couldn’t use logical inferences, and there would be no logical truths. So it wouldn’t be that ‘Socrates is mortal’ followed from ‘all men are mortal’ and ‘Socrates is a man’. It wouldn’t be that ‘Either Socrates is a man or it is not the case that Socrates is a man’ is true.

One might be tempted to bite the bullet and say ‘well, yeah, before God created logic, stuff was crazy like that’. But I think that even this is not available. If you deny logic altogether, then there is no room for the notion of causation to operate; too much has been taken away for the ascription of causation to mean anything. Here are a few, often admittedly difficult to understand, examples of what it might mean for logic to not exist, and how this makes causation, and indeed everything, impossible.

Trivialism

Maybe you think that when logic didn’t exist all contradictions were true; call this view ‘trivialism’. God existed and didn’t exist; Monday was Tuesday; I was you; up was down, etc. Well, this is equivalent to saying that everything was true and false; every proposition and its negation is true. But now we have an axiom, which we could call the ‘triviality’ axiom:

Triviality)                        ∀p: p & ¬p

(alternatively: ∀p: Tp & Fp)

This says, for all propositions, p, ‘both p and its negation are true’. Alternatively, it says that for all propositions, p, ‘p is both true and false’. It looks like we have a logical principle after all, and we might think that before logic there was in fact a type of logic (a bit like with the time example above). But the logic case is more curious than this. Because, if all contradictions are true, Triviality itself would also be false; the negation of Triviality would be true:

Not-Triviality)             ¬(∀p: p & ¬p)

But, because of Triviality (which says that for every proposition, both it and its negation are true), both Triviality and Not-Triviality are true:

Triviality.2)                    (∀p: p & ¬p) & ¬(∀p: p & ¬p)

But, because of TrivialityTriviality.2 (which says that both Triviality and Not-Triviality are true) would also be false:

Not-triviality.2)        ¬((∀p: p & ¬p) & ¬(∀p: p & ¬p))

But, because of Triviality, both Triviality.2 and Not-Triviality.2 hold:

Triviality.3)                  ((∀p: p & ¬p) & ¬(∀p: p & ¬p)) & (¬(∀p: p & ¬p) & ¬(∀p: p & ¬p))

This is obviously a never ending regress, as from Triviality.3)Not-triviality.3) could be generated, ad infinitum. If you want to say that what it ‘was like before God had made logic’ is a state where ‘all contradictions were true’ (i.e. trivialism) then you necessarily run into this regress.

The significance of the regress is that it, on trivialism, you cannot talk about what it was like before logic was created, because you would immediately have to contradict yourself, whatever you said. But, making a claim, of any description, is to convey that (at least one) proposition is true and not it’s negation. It is a necessary condition for making a claim, that you convey that (at least one) proposition is true and not it’s negation. For example, if I say ‘It is sunny’, I am communicating the fact that the proposition ‘It is sunny’ is true, and the negation, ‘It is not sunny’, is false. But according to Trivialism, before logic was caused, you could not pick one side out of any pair, p & ¬p, to be true rather than the other, because for every such pair both members are true (and false).

Usually, when something is caused to happen, like when I caused my wine glass to break by knocking it on the floor, a proposition became true (‘the glass is broken’), which was previously not true. So, before God caused logic, when all contradictions were true, it was true that he had ‘not already caused logic’. But if it was true that ‘God has not already caused logic’, then (by Triviality) it was also true that he had already caused logic (because everything is both true and false). So saying that God caused logic, on trivialism, is not to say that he made it true that ‘God caused logic’ (which is how we usually understand causation), because that was already true (and already false). Thus it is impossible to see how, on trivialism, causation as we usually understand it could be employed before logic.

The response might be that: ‘God caused logic’, doesn’t mean that God made something true; rather, that he made something false.  When God caused logic, he didn’t make it true that true that ‘Logic exists’ (because it was already true) – rather, God made it false that ‘Logic does not exist’. Effectively, we mean that he changed one option out of every mutually exclusive disjunction from being true to being false; as if he ‘ironed out’ the contradictoriness from the world. So if ‘p & ¬p’ were true before God caused logic, then by causing logic, he made it false that (say) ‘¬p’. Call this act of making consistency out of inconsistency ‘consistecising’. So ‘God caused logic’ is to say that God ‘consistecised’ all the contradictions, thereby making the principle of non-contradiction true.

It looks like we have we found a way of describing what stuff was like before God caused logic, and what it means to cause logic in such a setting. Before God caused logic, every contradiction was true, but then by causing logic, God made one member from each pair false and not also true (i.e. he consistecised the contradictions).

Well, ask yourself: before God caused logic (i.e. when all contradictions were true) had he already consistecised all the contradictions (i.e. had he already made all the contradictions not contradictory)? The answer, according to Triviality is yes and no; it was true that God had already consistecised all the contradictions, and it was false that he had consistecised all the contradictions. So we cannot say that God causing logic was that he made it false that ‘God has not consistecised all the contradictions’, because this was already false (and already true). We are back to the very same problem of having to state something was made true (‘God consistecised all the contradictions’), which is already true (according to Trivialism); stating that something was made false (‘God has not consistecised all the contradictions’) runs into the same problem, as everything is already false (and true) according to Trivialism.

This makes the idea that ‘all contradictions were true’ an infinitely problematic notion, and an environment in which we can make no sense out of causation.

Nihilism

Trivialism may not be what one means by ‘what it is like before God caused logic’ though. Here is another try:

Nihilism)                        ∀p: ¬(p ∨ ¬p)

(alternatively: ∀p: Fp)

This says that for all propositions, p, ‘neither p nor not-p is true’; or for all propositions, p, ‘p is false’. Nihilism says that nothing is true (in contrast to trivialism which said that everything was true). Perhaps this is what is meant by ‘before God caused logic’.

But could God cause logic to exist if Nihilism were true? Well, if he could, then it would be true that he could. But, by Nihilism, it is false that he could cause logic to exist (because everything is false). So if Nihilism were true, it would be false that God could cause logic. Does God even exist in this situation? No! Otherwise the proposition ‘God exists’ would be true, violating Nihilism! So, if this is what we mean by ‘what it was like before God caused logic’, we would have to say that God couldn’t cause logic, and didn’t even exist, before he caused logic.

But it gets worse. Is Nihilism even true in such an environment? No, it has to be false as well (because every proposition is false). If everything was false, then it would be false that everything was false. Everything wouldn’t be false. So it would be the case that everything was false, and it is false that everything is false. But even that would be false.  It would not be that (everything was false, and everything was not false). Nor would that be the case…

Again we are stuck in a never ending regress. Plus we would have to say that it is false that God could cause logic, and false that God existed, before he caused logic. In what way can we make sense of causation in such a situation? It cannot be normal causation, or anything like it.

It is conceivable that a reply could be made, along the lines of ‘but you are using logic to try to describe what it was like before logic, and you can’t do that’. In response, I say that I am showing that you cannot say anything about what it was like before logic. Specifically, you cannot talk about God, or God causing anything, before logic. The claim, that God caused logic, is precisely the sort of thing you cannot say.

The point is that ‘causing logic to exist’ isn’t like causing a table or a chair to exist. It is not even on the same level as causing the physical universe in total to exist. Saying that there was a point where logic didn’t exist, where logical principles were not true, and that logical inferences were not valid, etc, is just to say something that doesn’t make any sense. Trying to have your cake, by insisting on a time where logic doesn’t apply, but eating it too, by having things coherent enough to have causation remain meaningful, or even for God to exist, is impossible. Saying that God caused logic is incoherent. Saying that it is definitely true that something caused logic, and that this is a logical truth, is just false.

Conclusion

A.J. Kitt tried to defend Matt Slick’s argument against my critique, but his criticisms were hard to make sense of and unsubstantiated, like with the charge that I substituted ‘existence’ for ’cause’. I can see no evidence of Slick using a ‘God caused logic’ argument, and even if he does, I was responding legitimately to an argument where he doesn’t. And if we look at the claim that God, or anything, ’caused’ logic, it seems incoherent. Causation requires logic, just like it requires time. It makes no sense to say of either logic or time that they were caused or created, as causation and creation are temporal notions that are defined in such a way that presupposes that logical notions apply. To put the case in the presuppositional terminology that Slick enjoys; logic is a necessary precondition for the intelligibility of anything, including the idea of causation or the existence of God. Remove logic altogether and everything becomes impossible.

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11 thoughts on “The “Matt Slick Fallacy Fallacy” Fallacy”

  1. I don’t think Presuppositionalists would argue that “God caused logic” but rather they would assert that logic(as they say for morality as well) reflects the nature of God (how is never specified), or logic is in the mind of God, or God thinks logically, or logic conforms to God’s logical nature. They say the world is logical because God is logical. But this doesn’t seem like much of an account. It tells us about God but doesn’t really explain logic more than just saying “that is just the way it (or God) is.”

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  2. Oddly, I am not a Christian. I am a psychologist (visual psychophysics) 😉 .

    And, nothing was destroyed. I don’t endorse Slick’s claim; I disavow Malpass’s. There is a difference. If Malpass said that just because no one has demonstrated to Slick that not-God accounts for logic does not mean the same thing as not-God didn’t do it, all would be well. THAT would be a true statement. Instead, Malpass made all kinds of substitutions that DID change the nature of Slick’s argument. Sure, can and does CAN both be expressed as true dichotomies, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that by changing can for does, he changed the argument from a true one to an untestable (or irrelevant) one. AND HE KEPT DOING IT, over and over again.

    Simply, God or not-God CAN account for the laws of logic does not mean the same thing as God or not-God DID it. Although, within the context, it is true that if not-God cannot, then God did, I don’t see where Slick actually demonstrated that, but that doesn’t mean the “did argument” is flawed. The argument is valid. Any flaw here lies in what Slick accepted as evidence of lack of existence. I disagree that he adequately proved his “cannot.”

    You kind of need to get over that.

    PS Yep, if you accept the scientific assumption that all effects have causes as true, then yes – God must have a cause. I bet the Christians, however, would assert that God is either eternal (and therefor uncaused) or exists outside of the laws (and assumptions) of science, or both. Either way, science has always had the problem of First Cause to contend with, and even the Big Bang only pays it lip service.

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    1. Hi Kitt. Thanks for the comment. I am sorry for presuming your religious outlook. My mistake.

      So your claim is that Slick is incorrect, but for different reasons than I had put. Your point is that “just because no one has demonstrated to Slick that not-God accounts for logic does not mean the same thing as not-God didn’t do it”. Even if nobody has shown how logic could exist in a godless universe, this wouldn’t mean that logic doesn’t exist in a godless universe. Good. I agree with that. I think Slick’s argument suffers from that problem as well.

      To my surprise, you have stuck to your guns about the ‘false substitutions’, claiming that I made “all kinds of substitutions”, and that “[t]he problem was that by changing can for does, he changed the argument from a true one to an untestable (or irrelevant) one.” I’ve posted what Slick’s argument was above (in two different places). Can you quote the phrase(s) where Slick uses relevantly different terminology to me please? I’ve looked for it, but cannot see it. All I see is him using *can*.

      You make a similar point to in your original post: I swapped “does” for “can”. But I didn’t change from does to can – Slick talked about how only the God position *can* account for logic, and I followed suit. I mean, in my reply to you I gave textual support for what I was saying, quoting Slick from various places to back it up. You have yet to substantiate your clam by showing that you haven’t misread Slick. If you are right, there should be a sentence that he put which has the word *does*, which I change to *can*. Where is this sentence? So far, you have made an accusation but failed to back it up.

      I am tempted to infer from the fact that you *dont*, that you *can’t*.

      But let’s set this aside. Let’s say you are right about what Slick says. So how does his argument go, according to you? Something like this, I presume:

      1. Either God or not-God *does* account for logic
      2. Not (not-God) *does* account for logic
      3. Therefore, God *does* account for logic

      What’s my reply to this argument? Exactly the same as if the first premise is “Either God or not-God *can* account for logic” – namely, I call false dichotomy on this. Why is it a false dichotomy? Because it is entirely possible that nothing *does* account for logic. Maybe logic is the grounding for all sense-making, a primitive bare fact that is just there. Rule that out and then you have something like a dichotomy, but while this third option exists you DO NOT HAVE a logically true statement (i.e. you do not have a dichotomy) as the first premise. Changing *can* for *does* makes NO difference.

      If this isn’t the argument as you see it, please can you state it, in premise / conclusion form for me to see?

      PS, I didn’t say the argument wasn’t valid – I said it wasn’t sound (because the first premise has nothing to support it being true).

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  3. I’m way late to this party but for what it’s worth, I teach logic at the university level, and I can say with certainty that Malpass is right in this dispute. The key can be found here in Kitt’s blogpost:


    A. God caused it
    or
    B. Something other than God caused it

    That – A OR B – is a logically true statement. And, if B is false, then A is true.

    Malpass’s point, in a nutshell, is that this claim is wrong. And Malpass is correct. This statement “A or B”, given those definitions of A and B, is not a logically true statement. B is not the negation of A.

    “Something other than God caused it” (B) is a different statement from “God did not cause it” (not-A). To explain how this is so, notice that if an event were uncaused, then while not-A would be true, B would nevertheless be false. We know that two statements mean different things when they can have different truth-values in the same situation.

    Similarly, the purported A or B dilemma is a false one, since aside from A and B there is the third possibility that _nothing_ caused it.

    I agree with Kitt that logics are tools we build and do not give us special insight into reality. However I agree with Malpass that Slick has deployed these tools incorrectly, and that Malpass has correctly analyzed the error. Though logic doesn’t give us _special insight_ into reality, it, like any other tool, when used correctly, can help us deal well with reality. When used incorrectly–not so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Trying again (without logging in with fb):

    Alex, if you have the time:

    1. Is it correct to say that (i) trivialism (nihilism) is a way to show that the law of non-contradiction (law of the excluded middle) are synthetic a priori truths?

    2. Would it be possible for you to show how the “nihilism-law” is expanded into the never-ending regress (as you did for trivialism)?

    3. Is there a similar argument for the law of identity? (Something like: Assume that ∀a: ~(a = a), then…)

    Regards,
    Johan

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  5. I agree with Malpass here, and in his clarified form of Slick’s argument his critique seems correct.

    I think the failure in communication here is due to Slick’s extremely confusing and non-rigorous statement of his own argument, which forces anyone who wants to analyze it to interpret a variety of things.

    Because Slick’s formulation is so woolly, it is quite possible that Malpass’ interpretation alters it from someone elses interpretation (like Kitt). It’s a shame Kitt couldn’t clearly articulate what _his version_ of Slick’s argument is to draw out the differences.

    To clarify, here is Slick’s argument:

    1.If we have only two possible options by which we can explain something and one of those options is removed, by default the other option is verified since it is impossible to negate both of the only two exist options.

    2. God either exists or does not exist. There is no third option.

    3. If the no-god position, atheism, clearly fails to account for Logical Absolutes from its perspective, then it is negated, and the other option is verified.

    4. Atheism cannot account for the necessary preconditions for intelligibility, namely, the existence of logical absolutes. Therefore, it is invalidated as a viable option for accounting for them and the only other option, God exists, is validated.

    What on earth does all that mean? The first premise is itself an argument, and one of dubious validity and soundness.

    The third premise contains a bunch of highly freighted terms like “account” and “logical absolutes” and introduces the notion of a “perspective.”

    The conclusion (or is it the fourth premise?) introduces new freighted terms (intelligibility) not seen previously in the proof.

    Given this soup I can quite imagine someone coming up with a coherent distillation that does not match
    one of Malpass’s versions.

    I think though, that the bone of contention is to what is meant by “not-God.” I think Slick, and Kitt, mean by the “not-God” shorthand something like: “Everything that exists with the exception of God.”

    Here is an attempt to break down Slick’s argument while staying as close to it as possible, so losing the least in translation (doing some hand waiving here with pretty naive set theory):

    Let’s call the set of all things that exist: S.

    There is an relation over S called “accounts for.” We will denote a in S “accounts for” x in S as: A(a, x).

    p1 : The Logical Absolutes are a member of S.

    p2: There exists a in S such that A( a, The Logical Absolutes )

    p3 : For all a in S: a != God -> not A( a, The Logical Absolutes )

    p4 : By p2 and p3, it must be that A( God, The Logical Absolutes )

    Conclusion : By p4, God is in S, e.g. God Exists.

    The argument is at least plausibly valid (technicalities of set theory and what we mean by existence aside).

    However Slick never presents any justification for either premise p2 or premise p3.

    Slick seems to presuppose p2, and he seems to believe that the inability of anyone to demonstrate the falseness of p3 equates to a proof of the truth of p3. Which is simply Russel’s Teapot dressed up.

    This argument also suffers from severe problems in that even with sound all it would establish is that “God” is that which accounts for the logical absolutes. “God” would not have to bear any resemblance to the Christian God. “God” in the argument above is just a label for the presupposed single thing in the set of all things that accounts for the logical absolutes.

    In plain English Slicks 4 point 116 word argument boils down to:

    “There exists something that provides an account for the logical absolutes. Nothing other than God could possibly account the logical absolutes. Therefore God exists and accounts for the logical absolutes.”

    Which is a valid argument with an astonishingly difficult to establish set of premises!

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  6. When listening to Matt make these arguments I could tell it was wrong, but couldn’t put my finger on why. Thanks for explaining in more detail. When you spoke to the Wrecking Crew Podcast you mentioned the feeling you get when it suddenly comes to you that you are going to die, then goes away when someone calls you from the other room. I have experienced this and have never heard anyone say they go through the same thing. I am an atheist now but experienced this when I was a theist too.

    Agnethe

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Agnethe,

      Thank you. I’m so glad what I said was meaningful to you. I think everyone has those thoughts, but we are too repressed to talk about it to each other. In a way though, if we never had those realisations we would be sleepwalking through our lives, so it’s a blessing (even if it is also a curse).

      Thanks
      Alex

      Like

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