June 16, 2008
Many and possibly all traditional expressions of theism and atheism suffer from inherent logical flaws. The idea is in general accord with a debate I’m currently re-hashing with myself over whether a successful ontological argument exists, or whether one is even capable of existing, and if yes or no, then also on what grounds. My area of expertise is not philosophy or logic, and the presupposition in this particular argument is that I correctly understand the terms I use to support my thesis.
Consider a common argument used to support theism. The First Cause argument is essentially a form of deductive, a priori reasoning. It begins with an assumed premise to argue its conclusion: 1) All effects are caused; 2) Life and nature are effects; 3) Life and nature are caused. The argument first contains the presupposition that life and nature are effects, and incidentally, the ascription of causality to God does not flow logically from 3), which states only that life and nature are caused. Furthermore, the philosophers are still talking about causality. However intuitive it may seem to the Christian, the First Cause argument is not an effective persuader of truth to the skeptic.
Now consider a common argument used to support atheism. Conversely, the following is an example of inductive, a posteriori reasoning. Our premises are believed to support our conclusion, but do not necessarily entail it: 1) Theism is mistaken; 2) What you are explaining to me is an instance of theism, and thus mistaken. The presupposition here is in assuming that every instance of theism encountered represents every possible instance of theism, and as such the argument disallows a non-mistaken instance of theism by default. However counter-intuitive to the atheist, that a valid instance of theism exists is a logical possibility, and this argument equally fails to persuade the Christian because its conclusion does not necessarily entail its premise.
A second pair of presuppositions equally supports my thesis.
Nearly anyone who engages in theological debate has heard a Christian begin a various explanation for some phenomenon with the words, "Because God [did or said so]." Skeptics rightfully object to this on grounds of presupposition and circular argumentation. The phrase itself presupposes that the God in question exists, and upon deeper reflection we can clearly see that the Christian is only expressing a premise which has already been accepted. It is this premise the skeptic challenges.
As usual, the error is not religious but logical, and nearly anyone who engages in theological debate has also heard an atheist begin an objection to religion with the words, "There is no reason to accept any belief or idea without evidence." Many Christians choose to be untrained in philosophy and reason, and of them most react to this statement with fear, typically failing to rightfully respond. However, this argument contains the presupposition that only beliefs and ideas which can be supported by evidence have reason to be accepted, and when we look deeper we can clearly see that the skeptic equally expresses a given premise. It is this premise the theist ought to challenge, and far too often Christians neglect to realize that any point at which an opponent attacks them can be successfully flipped.
The rational thinker should not reject all truth de jure, but should rather question all truth rationally. From the examples given, I see no possible result besides the conclusion that as logical systems, theism and atheism drink equally from the wells of presupposition and error. Nearly any methodology or philosophy contains inherent weaknesses and leaves unanswered questions, and I want to clarify that the intent of this piece is not to denigrate skepticism or faith. In the God debate, arguments based on presupposition are often ineffective persuaders of truth, and often equally describable as *exercises in futility. If we were to continue, we might end up discussing Kant, and antinomies, but for now let it suffice to say that contrary to those who bastardize its support, logic is impartial to both religion and its absence.
And again we might return to Hamilton’s wise admonition:
"This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so persuaded of their being right in any controversy."
*Hat tip to Exterminator for the phrase.