The “Matt Slick Fallacy Fallacy” Fallacy


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


“…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 (, 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:


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.


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.


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.


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.

Logic 101


Two weeks in a row Matt Slick, Andrew Rappaport and the rest on BTWN have tried to save face after I explained my critique of their argument. Seeing as they are still just as confused as before I went on (and possibly more so), I have decided to spell out a few more issues here. They say it is an issue of wording. In reality, it is an issue of logic. As demonstrated already, they don’t get this because they don’t understand logic.

So, the first version of the argument has the first premise as this:

1) ‘Either god or not-god accounts for logic’.

This is how Slick actually said it, word-for-word, at various times on BTWN, in debates with people, on his radio show, etc. It is also a horrible train-wreck of a sentence. So what is wrong with this sentence? The problem is the placement of the ‘not’. Negation is a ‘truth-functional monadic operator’. What this means in more plain terms is just that it prefixes individual formulas (which is what makes it monadic), and the new formula it makes when it has been applied has a truth-value which is a product of the truth-value of the original proposition (which is what makes it truth-functional). So, an example will help. Here is a proposition:

2) Washington was the first president of America.

If we want to negate this proposition, we stick a ‘not’ in front of it as follows:

3) Not-(Washington was the first president of America).

The way negation works is by making the new formula have the opposite truth-value to the original one. Say 2) is true, then 3) (the negation of 2) is false. Also, say 2) is false, then 3) is true. Negation toggles between truth-values.

We can say 3) a little more perspicuously as

4) It is not the case that (Washington was the first president of America).

This means the same as 3).

In English, the grammar is messy and not logically regimented, meaning that we often express the same thing by having the negation in the middle of the sentence rather than at the start, as follows:

5) Washington was not the first president of America.

However, this is just a difference of wording, and 3), 4) and 5) all express exactly the same proposition. In propositional logic, if we set p = ‘Washington was the first president of America’, then we would write all three of these formally as follows:

6) ~(p)

In first-order logic, where we have terms for names and simple properties, we would express it differently. We would have a term for the name ‘Washington’, say ‘w’, and a term for the property ‘…was the first president of America’, say ‘F’. So we would write 2) as follows:

7) Fw

With the negation being:

8) ~(Fw)

Now, to return to Slick’s first premise, the negation does not prefix a proposition, but rather just a term in a proposition. It says that ‘not-god’ accounts for logic. But, as we have just seen, negation prefixes propositions not names. It is as if Slick’s premise would be written in first-order logic as

9) Ag or A~(g)

(where ‘g’ is ‘God’ and ‘A’ is ‘…accounts for logic’).

But because the negation is prefixing not the proposition ‘Ag’ but the name ‘g’ inside the proposition, it makes no sense. It is not a well-formed formula, and so cannot be given a truth-value. It is like the way ‘President first the was America Washington’ is just nonsense, and so neither true nor false. So if we take Slick literally, and phrase the argument exactly as he does, then the first premise isn’t really a premise at all, but a meaningless string of words.

If I said ‘either Bob broke into my house, or not-Bob broke into my house’, you would think I had difficulty talking properly. ‘Not-Bob’ isn’t a person, and obviously he didn’t break into my house. Phrasing it as not-Bob is literally meaningless.

To make it a well-formed formula, the closest thing would be:

10) Ag or ~(Ag)

But now we have a dichotomy as the first premise, and if we use disjunctive syllogism we are going to be inevitably back to triviality (as I literally proved in my original post). Let’s quickly give the argument both ways just in case anyone is still unsure how it goes:

Pr1. Ag or ~(Ag)

Pr2. ~(Ag)                  (i.e. negating the first option)

Con. ~(Ag)                  (i.e. concluding the second option)


Pr1. Ag or ~(Ag)

Pr2. ~~(Ag)                  (i.e. negating the second option)

Con. Ag                        (i.e. concluding the first option)

So Slick doesn’t want to repair his train wreck of a sentence, 1), into 10), because it is check-mate for the argument if he does that. No debate. Game over.

So it looks like the choice is between a meaningless first premise (i.e. 9) and a trivial argument (i.e. if we use 10). Well, we can read 1) a little differently, a little more charitably. There is another reading of 1) which is not meaningless. So go back to the example of me saying the following:

11) Either Bob broke into my house, or not-Bob broke into my house.

Instead of reading this as ‘Either Bob broke into my house, or it is not the case that he broke into my house (which would make the subsequent argument trivial again), we could read it as follows:

12) Either Bob broke into my house, or someone else broke into my house.

Now, we can express this perfectly well in first order logic, using quantifiers. These are devices which use variables (rather than names). So one quantifier is called the ‘existential’ quantifier, ‘∃’. To say ‘something is red’, we would use the variable ‘x’ and the predicate ‘R’ for ‘…is red’ and the existential quantifier as follows:

13) ∃x(Rx)

This says ‘There is a thing x such that x is red’, or more colloquially ‘something is red’. So when someone says 12, the implicit assumption is that someone broke into the house, and either it was Bob, or it wasn’t Bob. We can express this as follows:

14) ∃x(Bx) and ((x = b) or ~(x = b))

It says ‘there is a thing x such that x broke into my house, and that thing x is either identical to Bob, or it is not identical to Bob’. More colloquially, ‘either Bob broke into my house or someone else did’. Stating it this way excludes the idea that nobody broke into the house, and presumably you would only say 12) if you knew that someone had broken in.

So we could read Slick’s first premise more charitably along those lines, and build in explicitly the claim that something accounts for logic to the premise, and than say that either that thing is identical to god or it is not identical to god, as follows:

15) ∃x(Ax) and ((x = g) or ~(x = g))

This says ‘there is something that accounts for logic, and that thing is either identical to god, or it is not identical to god’. More colloquially, ‘either  god accounts for logic, or something else does’.

So, it looks like we have made some progress towards finding a more charitable way to cash out the logical form of the first premise. 15) is well-formed, so not meaningless, and it doesn’t lead to triviality the same way as 10) did. So, is this the desired destination for Slick’s argument form? I say no. Here’s why.

There is good reason for thinking that nothing accounts for logic, which would make 15), though elegantly formed, false. Here is Aristotle, in the Metaphysics (book IV, section 4) discussing whether the law of non-contradiction can be demonstrated:

“But we have now posited that it is impossible for anything at the same time to be and not to be, and by this means have shown that this is the most indisputable of all principles.-Some indeed demand that even this shall be demonstrated, but this they do through want of education, for not to know of what things one should demand demonstration, and of what one should not, argues want of education. For it is impossible that there should be demonstration of absolutely everything (there would be an infinite regress, so that there would still be no demonstration); but if there are things of which one should not demand demonstration, these persons could not say what principle they maintain to be more self-evident than the present one.”

This much debated passage seems to be suggesting that non-contradiction cannot be demonstrated from some other foundation, because it is the foundation for demonstration itself. Some things, he suggests, must be the end of demonstration and explanation, lest there be an infinite regress of explanation. If so, then it seems that we may have some reason to suppose that no ‘account’ of this principle of logic can be given. Here is another philosopher, David Lewis, making a similar point:

“Maybe some truths just do have true negations [i.e. maybe non-contradiction doesn’t hold].  … The reason we should reject this proposal is simple. No truth does have, and no truth could have, a true negation. Nothing is, and nothing could be, literally both true and false. This we know for certain, and a priori, and without any exception for especially perplexing subject matters … That may seem dogmatic. And it is: I am affirming the very thesis that Routley and Priest [i.e. philosophers who deny non-contradiction] have called into question and-contrary to the rules of debate-I decline to defend it. Further, I concede that it is indefensible against their challenge. They have called so much into question that I have no foothold on undisputed ground. So much the worse for the demand that philosophers always must be ready to defend their theses under the rules of debate.” (Lewis, Logic for Equivocators, (1998), p 434 – 435).

Lewis, probably the most influential analytic philosopher of the late 20th Century, and no stranger to defending controversial theses adeptly, simply offers no argument in support of non-contradiction. He seems to be implying that the very call to account for it is impossible to answer.

Now, obviously, Aristotle and Lewis can be wrong. I disagree with both about different things (future contingents and realism about possible worlds, respectively), so just citing them as authorities is not a way of establishing the thesis they argue for. However, what this does is highlight the difficulties associated with establishing 15), as it requires explicitly what Aristotle and David Lewis are very insistent cannot be granted; a reason for thinking that non-contradiction holds, or an ‘account’ of non-contradiction.

So this does not say that 15) is false. But it does show that it would be almost impossible to establish it. Matt Slick, an admittedly learned theologian, who has had no training in philosophy or logic, would have to solve a puzzle that has literally been too difficult for the greatest philosophers and logicians in history to solve: how to justify non-contradiction.

With these considerations in mind, we can see how Herculean the task would be to justify the premise. Possibly something accounts for logic, but how do you show that? How do you show that it is not just a brute given foundation?

One thing is clear: Slick’s original way of pumping up the intuition that 1) is true is to cite the fact that either god exists or it is not the case that he exists. But this dichotomy is not the same premise, and could be true even when 15) is false. So it is no help. The fallacy of begging the question, that I accused him of before, was not just that he gave a premise that was a potentially dubitable disjunction instead of a dichotomy; it was that he offered the dichotomy as justification for the premise. That is the essence of the false dichotomy, and now it is clear what the task is for justifying 15), it is obvious that it will not work again.

There is nowhere for this argument to go. It is over, even if they claim that it isn’t. Even if they claim that I was making a point about ‘wording’, or that I was drunk (which I wasn’t), or any other ad hominem. The task is too great to be overcome by Slick, and if it is too difficult for Aristotle or David Lewis, I am not holding my breath that anyone will be able to justify 15) either.

The Matt Slick Fallacy – Update

On the 10th of January 2016, I went on a YouTube show / podcast, called the BibleThumpingWingnut and talked to Matt Slick for about 2 hours on the subject of his TAG argument, and how it is guilty of the fallacy of begging the question or false dichotomy:


The whole discussion with Slick was conducted in a friendly and non-confrontational manner. I enjoyed it, even though it was very late at night (whiskey helped). I think he understood the points I was making, but it was hard going at times to get agreement. This is probably because those guys have no formal training to logic or exposure to analytic philosophy. Even though I was showing that the argument doesn’t work, we left on good terms, and I would happily speak with him again.

Quick note: there were some hints that maybe I was just diagnosing a problem with the ‘wording’ of the argument, which would leave the possibility that a way could be found to repair it. The temptation might be to rephrase it as something logically equivalent; like instead of ‘p or ~p’, the first premise could be reformed as the logically equivalent ‘~(p & ~p)’. That would make the argument of the form ‘It cannot be both this and that, and it is this, so it must not  be that’. But this would fail, as follows:

~(p & ~p)

~p                             (i.e. the second option)

Therefore, ~p        (i.e. not the first option)

Any logically equivalent reformulation like this though will (provably) fall into the same trap; it is just as obvious that the above argument begs the question. The rewording will not help, because fundamentally the same first premise has been entered into the same pattern of reasoning (i.e. we are still using disjunctive syllogism in essence, even though the first premise is now a conjunction). No tactic like this will ever work.

On the other hand, any reformulation which is not-logically equivalent will be a different argument, not a ‘rewording’. Therefore, the argument cannot be ‘reworded’ in such a way to get round the problem. A new argument is needed to get to the conclusion. I’m not holding my breath that one will be forthcoming.

The Matt Slick Fallacy

  1. 0. Introduction. Matt Slick; evangelical Calvinist, radio presenter, apologist. He has made something of a name for himself by promoting a version of the ‘transcendental argument for the existence of God’. His version is one of the easiest to refute that I have come across. However, in all the debates and online discussions I’ve seen Slick engage in, and to be sure he engages in a lot, I have never seen anyone offer what I consider to be the correct refutation. So I will present it here. 

    His argument was given on his radio-show/podcast, on 17th December, 2015, in an episode entitled ‘A Proof of God’. In fact only the last 14 mins of the show are dedicated to this topic, when Slick is prompted by a caller – ‘Hollywood dude’. I will use that version as a foil. Here is the link it on his official ‘CARM’ podcast site:


    Admittedly, the argument was given in a rather off-the-cuff manner by Slick in that show, and he could be forgiven for not being clear and careful with his words. On the other hand, his presentation on the show was very similar to many other times he has given the argument in the past, in situations where he had the opportunity to prepare and refer to notes as he spoke, such as:




    The argument is also given in written form on his website, here: The version of the argument I am looking at here is found at the end of the written version (section 9).


    1. Disjunctive syllogism and true dichotomy


    At 44:15 into our show, Slick explains his argument. He says that he will use the argument form known as ‘disjunctive syllogism’, which is the following inference rule:


    Either p or q


    Therefore q.


    It says that if either p or q is true, and if it is also true that one of them is not the case (say, p), then the remaining one (q) is true. Disjunctive syllogism is valid in propositional logic, and its validity will not be challenged by me here.


    Slick also uses the notion of a ‘true dichotomy’, by which he means a strong type of ‘or’-statement. In propositional logic, ‘or’ is a connective that takes two propositions, e.g. p or q. It’s behavior is entirely logical. ‘p or q’ is true when p is true and q isn’t, when q is true and p isn’t, and when they are both true. It is false when they are both false. That is a disjunction.


    Slick’s ‘true dichotomies’ are a strong version of a disjunction; true dichotomies are always true, as by definition one of the options is true in exclusion of the other. The way this is achieved is purely logical; the propositional form of ‘true dichotomies’ is a disjunction between a proposition and its direct negation; ‘p or not-p’.


    So here is a normal disjunction:


    Either Sam or Alex will come to the party.


    If it is true, then one of them will be at the party; but it might be false because perhaps neither Sam nor Alex will come to the party. Consider, in contrast, the following:


    Either Sam will come to the party, or she won’t.


    In this case it has to be true, because there are no other possible options than Sam being at the party, or her not being at the party. A ‘true dichotomy’ for Slick is like this; it has to be true because it covers all possible options.


    1. Slick’s argument


    At 44:15, Slick gives the following monologue:


    “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.”


    The argument structure being used is as follows:


    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.


    He then proceeds to examine objections to premise 2, such as some of the main ways an atheist (a representative of the not-God camp?) might try to account for the transcendental laws of logic. Are they discovered, measurable features of empirical reality? Slicks says they cannot be. Are they ‘linguistic constructs’? Again, no. Do we vote on them? (Sigh) No. Could they be constructs of human minds? No, no, no. No.


    At the end of it, Slick summaries how he speaks to his imaginary interlocutor, the poor atheist, who has had his every attempt at accounting for logic rebutted (this is at 48:22):


    “When we go through this with them, I’ll say: ‘See, you can’t account for it. Therefore, the other position is valid’. And then I say: ‘Next!’”


    1. Refutation


    So, what is my refutation of this argument? Well, it does not involve giving a better account for the transcendental laws of logic than our poor imaginary atheist. Nor does it require pinning Slick down on precisely what it means to have an account of something. Neither does it involve pointing out to Slick that the premise ‘God or not-God’ is not an instance of a true dichotomy because, strictly speaking, it is not a properly formed sentence at all[1]. Anyway, nothing as fancy as the metaphysics of logic is needed here. And we can forgive a badly formed sentence here and there. We can afford to be so magnanimous because there is a logical problem with the argument, and it is very simple. It is a slight of hand, which can go un-noticed, but is easy to spot when spelled out. It is an instance of the fallacy of ‘false dichotomy’.


    A true dichotomy, such as:


    1. a) ‘Either God exists, or it is not the case that God exists’,


    is substituted for the false dichotomy of:


    1. b) ‘Either God accounts for the transcendental laws of logic or not-God accounts for the transcendental laws of logic’.


    The second is not a genuine dichotomy, because it is quite possible that neither God nor his negation has anything to do with the laws of logic. Here is an example, meant as a reductio of Slick’s argument:


    1) Either toast, or not-toast.

    2) The absence of toast cannot account for the laws of logic.

    3) Therefore, toast can account for laws of logic.


    Obviously, the absence of toast cannot ‘account’ for anything, especially the notoriously murky metaphysics of logic. Does this mean though that toast itself can? It seems equally obvious that it cannot. Taking one out of the running is not all that is needed to show that the other is the winner by default. Neither toast nor ‘non-toast’ can account for the laws of logic. The unsoundness of the argument is painfully obvious when ‘toast’ is used in place of ‘God’.


    To make Slick’s fallacy apparent, let’s spell out the argument a bit more clearly:


    1. Reconstruction 1:


    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.


    As we have seen, the problem with this is that the first premise isn’t a true dichotomy. Slick’s premise says:


    Either [x can do y], or [not-x can do y]


    This leaves the logical space available, where neither x nor not-x can do y, which stops the argument being sound. Maybe it is the case that nothing can play the role of x; i.e. maybe nothing can account for logic. If this were the case, then we could not prove one of these two options by eliminating the other (which is the whole point of using disjunctive syllogism). So if the first premise is as I have indicated, then we can rule out disjunctive syllogism as a useful argument form; that is, unless some independent reason can be produced for thinking that this form of the premise is true.


    The point about the first premise, when spelled out like this, is that it is in need of justification. Slick dangles the true dichotomy of ‘God or not-God’ in order to gain assent (as nobody can deny a tautology), but then switches focus to the false dichotomy above without conceding that he now needs to justify the new premise. This is the heart of the Matt Slick Fallacy; it is a bait and switch from a true dichotomy to a false one.


    It is clear that that [not-x can do y] is not the direct negation of [x can do y]. The direct negation of [x can do y] is:


    not-[x can do y].


    This would make the actual true dichotomy:


    Either [x can do y] or not-[x can do y]


    To get a feel of the distinction, consider the following:


    Either God can account for logic, or not-God can account for logic


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


    It is a subtle enough point, but makes all the difference. It is a scope distinction about whether the negation should be thought of as ranging over the entire proposition (as in the true dichotomy), or just one element of the proposition (as in Slick’s false dichotomy). Slick’s mistake is rather like supposing that either the present king of France is bald, or the present king of France has hair. In reality, neither is true.


    1. Reconstruction 2:


    We could get around this problem by making the first premise a true dichotomy:


    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.


    Now the first premise is a true dichotomy (and so definitely true). Also, the form of the argument is definitely that of disjunctive syllogism, so therefore definitely valid.


    This is where the good features of this argument end though. All disjunctive syllogisms with true dichotomies as the first premise are doomed to triviality, as is easy to show. This problem is due to the second premise of disjunctive syllogism. In this premise, either of the two options in the first premise (either p or not-p) is negated (it doesn’t matter which one is used). In the example above, it second premise uses not-p rather than p. So it is the negation of not-p, i.e. not-not-p. But this just means we already have our conclusion in our second premise. p is equivalent to not-not-p; the two ‘nots’ cancel each other out. This makes it a case of ‘begging the question’, where the conclusion of the argument is smuggled in as one of the premises.


    To make it crystal clear, here is the form of disjunctive syllogism with a true dichotomy as first premise:


    p or not-p


    Therefore, p


    If we substitute ‘p’ for ‘not-not-p’ in the second premise (as they mean the same thing), the argument becomes:


    p or not-p


    Therefore, p


    The first premise is now clearly redundant. We could drop it and the argument would simply be:



    Therefore, p


    Thus, the argument just boils down to the derivation of p from p. If the argument is formed this way, it becomes entirely trivial. We are left with no reason to think that p is true, other than the simple assertion that p is true in the first place.


    1. Conclusion


    In conclusion then, Slick has presented an argument which commits the fallacy of false dichotomy, and if repaired so as to avoid that ends up committing the fallacy of begging the question instead. Thus, the argument is either unsound or trivial.

    [1] The sentence has no verb in it. Also, it is dubious that the negation of a noun, such as ‘not-God’, has any meaning whatsoever. In logic, it is propositions that get negated, not names.