As I have noted before, every once in a while it is necessary to make plain one’s disagreement with even those closest to oneself in terms of thought for the sake of clarity and development of a topic. I have received a number of questions and comments concerning a recent post by Jamin Hubner called Lessons in Logic and Argumentation: Propositional and Symbolic Logic and Their Place in Apologetics. Since there are some points in the post that pertain to future posts I’d like to write on TAG and since the post essentially would lump me together with skeptics by virtue of using “propositional” and “symbolic” logic in apologetics I felt a brief response worthwhile. Hopefully this will serve to bring some clarity to what is actually being said in the original post.
After describing (with a few minor mistakes) propositional and symbolic logic Hubner writes, “Now, for all of its uses, propositional and symbolic logic can be a crutch. Why? Because people usually don’t communicate that way.”
Hubner does not really go into why he thinks that “symbolic logic can be a crutch.” He notes that “people usually don’t communicate that way,” but this does not tell us how symbolic logic can be a crutch. Certainly if we do not normally communicate using symbolic logic and yet we can communicate using symbolic logic in addition to informal language then we are at an advantage – not a disadvantage – in terms of language and communication. Perhaps he means to say that symbolic logic can be a hindrance, or a problem, etc. However I do not see or believe that this follows. Certainly people do not usually communicate using symbolic logic, but then there are many things that people do not usually do that they might do in an apologetic encounter. Of course some people do communicate using symbolic logic. Most notably there are those who use symbolic logic to more carefully articulate and evaluate arguments whether they be theologians, philosophers, mathematicians, programmers, etc.
Hubner continues, “In fact, God usually doesn’t even communicate that way.”
Of course, God has not ever communicated in English, but it does not follow that the use of English can be a “crutch” or a “hindrance” or that we should never or even more rarely use English. God does not communicate through systematic theology using words like hypostatic union or supralapsarianism either. God does not even have a podcast or Youtube account! Aside from being subject to a slippery slope, my fear is that this argument leads to a solo scriptura mentality. It is not that I think Hubner is throwing apologetics or systematic theology out or that he disagrees with some of these observations because he does not, but it is difficult to see what exactly he is saying here that does not run into the slippery slope. That God does not communicate logically (which we might not want to concede) has little bearing upon whether or not we should. After all, there is a massive difference between the Creator and the creature. If God does communicate logically (as I think I would contend that He does) then His communication can in theory be restated in terms of logic. In fact this is precisely what we do in systematic theology and we might even sometimes use symbolic logic in doing so.
Now it is true that “a person can say something persuasive and true in a way that speaks (e.g. Acts 14:1), or in a way that people find easy to ignore and remain unaffected (e.g. an excessive use of propositional logic),” but we might just as easily reverse the examples that Hubner provides here and say, “a person can say something persuasive and true in a way that speaks (e.g. an excessive use of propositional logic), or in a way that people find easy to ignore and remain unaffected (e.g. Acts 14:1 [in contrast to the times when the message was not effective, or insert any number of passages here where people remained unaffected]).” An excessive use of propositional logic (whatever “excessive” means) can nevertheless be persuasive and describe something which is true. At the same time someone might explicitly quote Scripture and have people find it easy to ignore and remain unaffected. Believe me I wish that in theology and preaching and teaching and apologetics we could simply quote large passages of Scripture and be done with it (and perhaps sometimes we can or must!), but I believe there is something more to each of these practices. Apologetics will often use extrabiblical evidence, argumentation, language, etc. I do not think that Hubner would deny this.
Hubner correctly notes, “Scripture presents us with a variety of ways of communicating truth (e.g. story, poetry, romance, history, song, etc.), all of which are a sufficient vehicle to communicate to people what God intends to communicate.” However he follows in the next paragraph by stating, “Most good apologists and scholars…only default to verbalizing in terms of symbolic logic and propositional statements when necessary.” There is some tension between these statements if not an outright contradiction. If the “story, poetry, romance, history, song, etc.” are all “a sufficient vehicle to communicate to people what God intends to communicate” (emphasis mine) then in what sense could there ever be a “when necessary” (emphasis mine) to “verbalizing in terms of symbolic logic and propositional statements?” If the forms of communication used in the Bible are sufficient for communication then it is never necessary to use any other forms of communication.
It may be helpful to see when it is that Hubner deems “logical, propositional form” necessary. He explains that when it is “time to draw a fine line between a certain assertion being true or false, it’s helpful to standardize the argument into logical, propositional form. Break down the argument into premises and the conclusion, and evaluate them individually and then together.” Some apologetic encounters and most apologetic debates are exactly the kinds of places where we are looking to determine or demonstrate whether or not assertions are true or false and to evaluate arguments. Hence following Hubner’s line of thought I would suppose that we should expect to see a great deal of propositional and even symbolic logic in apologetics. Indeed the mind even quite often thinks in terms of if, then, and therefore. We are created in the image of God. Ron Nash tells a story to illustrate this phenomenon of people generally thinking logically. If I remember the story correctly, he went home and told his young daughter something to the effect of, “All philosophers have beautiful daughters.” The young girl immediately smiled and gave him a hug. She had correctly – though not necessarily self-consciously – completed a syllogism in her mind and correctly deduced from the statement that she was beautiful.
The next part of what Hubner writes has caused no small amount of consternation. He groups skeptics together with Christians stating, “Skeptics and even Christians in their apologetic arguments are often not as flexible.” He then claims, “The Presbyterian Paul Manata…in his debate on baptism with Gene Cook continually reverted to verbalizing propositional logic when it neither demonstrated his argument nor helped communicate it to the audience.” In my opinion Manata’s argument was clearly demonstrated and communicated to the audience through his use of logic which, frankly, was easy enough for a young child to understand. Perhaps this is merely a subjective matter. I must wholeheartedly disagree that Manata “cluttered his presentation with propositional connectives like ‘if,’ ‘then,’ ‘therefore,’ when it could have been just as valid and persuasive as using more ‘normal’ language.” Since when are “if,” “then,” and “therefore” not “normal?” This is an extremely odd argument. Am I really to believe that most of my target audiences cannot understand “if,” “then,” and “therefore?” I’m just rather puzzled as to why anyone would accept this line of reasoning. It may still be that I am missing something. In any event I’ve used such argumentation in my own debates and plan to continue to do so. I do not really see how trying to be clear in my argumentation during debates requires my being grouped together with “skeptics” by virtue of this fact nor for the qualifier “even” which as far as I can tell carries some implication of shock. It will be interesting to see how Hubner applies his principle to any debates he may pursue in the future. So far as I know he has not engaged in any yet, and this may be part of the reason for his rather strange criticisms on this point.
Hubner does go on to explain that, “The point is that sometimes adherence to propositional logic somehow becomes the final indicator of truth instead of the substance of the arguments themselves – arguments that can legitimately take on numerous forms.” A citation or example of a time when “adherence to propositional logic” becomes the “final indicator of truth” would be helpful here as I am unaware of when this has actually occurred. Now, sometimes arguments clearly violate logic such that they are fallacious and hence should not be accepted even if their conclusions are true. Is this using adherence to propositional logic as the final indicator of truth? Manata’s debate does not, as far as I can tell, provide an example of whatever it is that Hubner means here. The truth of the premises of an argument or “the substance of the arguments themselves” is not always that relevant to form and most people would understand this. Manata certainly does. Additionally if “arguments can legitimately take on numerous forms” then what is wrong with putting them into symbolic logic? It is far from clear what Hubner’s argument or point is here. At times he appears to be dismissive of propositional and symbolic logic and at other times he appears to be accepting of it perhaps depending upon how much it is used. But how much propositional or symbolic logic is used in apologetics is largely a matter of contextualization and an apologist’s style. Perhaps it is this that Hubner is objecting to. Again it is not really that clear to me. Whatever Hubner is objecting to, he refers to it as “this tendency in uplifting the status of propositional logic.” What is the status of propositional logic, and what does it mean to uplift it? Hubner claims that “if we remember about what Scripture is and how God speaks in it, that is the default mode of communication – as it ought to be.” Yet again, God did not reveal the Bible in the language of English anymore than He revealed it in the language of logic.
Finally, it is exceedingly difficult if not impossible to render the following extremely strong and negative words concerning logic consistent with the way in which Hubner closes his post.
[P]ropositional and symbolic logic can be a crutch…God usually doesn’t even communicate that way…Most good apologists and scholars realize this and only default to verbalizing in terms of symbolic logic and propositional statements when necessary…Skeptics and even Christians in their apologetic arguments are often not as flexible. The Presbyterian Paul Manata…cluttered his presentation with propositional connectives like “if,” “then,” “therefore”…this tendency in uplifting the status of propositional logic has led many in the circles of “Christian philosophy” to look down upon the value of God’s revelation…this discontent with the mode of God’s revelation can cause one to swing around the order of our method in dealing with the actual content of revelation…Instead of sitting at the throne of God and listening to God speak in His Word as quickly, submissively, and patiently as possible, we begin in the abstract realm of philosophical reasoning, intellectual autonomy, letting Scripture be a general outline of orthodox principles but not our primary guide and final standard and source for truth claims.
Hubner closes by asking, “Where, then, does this leave propositional and symbolic logic?” For all of the assertions and argumentation essentially against the use of propositional and symbolic logic throughout the post one would think that “this” does not leave propositional and symbolic logic in a very good place at all! Yet Hubner answers, “In a good place:, for it is God’s.”
It is a powerful tool to be used when it is most fitting. In Christian apologetics, it is most welcome, and it can be a powerful way of sharpening our swords to more effectively pierce the heart of man with the truth of the gospel. A godly mind is surely a logical mind.
I wholeheartedly agree with the conclusion of the post, but unless I am missing something it is simply inconsistent with what precedes it. This matter is especially pertinent to a discussion of the Transcendental Argument for God since Hubner apparently subscribes to Don Collett’s version of the argument. Collett focuses upon the formal properties of TAG and uses more than a little logic in his article, but more discussion of Collett’s article must be set aside for another time!