703 ICP: Ronald Nash, The Law of Non-Contradiction

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Teaching at LTCi Siliguri, based on Ronald Nash's book, Life's Ultimate Questions

Teaching at LTCi Siliguri, based on Ronald Nash's book, Life's Ultimate Questions

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  • 1. Ronald H. Nash 1936 - 2006 …was an Evangelical Baptist philosopher and apologist in the Calvinist tradition. Nash served as a professor for over 40 years, teaching and writing in the areas of worldview, apologetics, ethics, theology and history.
  • 2. The Law of Noncontradiction
  • 3. An introductory video to give you an idea of what is coming http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-v8eKRbz30
  • 4. An introductory video to give you an idea of what is coming http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-v8eKRbz30
  • 5. Nash begins by suggesting that a few decades ago people said Christianity is irrational, separating faith from reason, or, not using science, evidence or logical thinking - there is now a modern movement suggesting that some Christian thinking is too rational! Nash, in this section, will show what the law of noncontradiction is and why accepting it is necessary, not an option.
  • 6. Are there areas that you find hard to understand about God? What defies your ability to think? What does the Bible have to say about understanding God through logical thinking?
  • 7. Cathcart & Klein define the law of NonC like this: “Aristotle’s logical principle that a thing cannot be both A and not-A at the same time in the same respect. It would be self contradictory to say, “Your pants are on fire, and, what’s more, your pants are not on fire.” Nothing can be both so and not be so at the same time. They also offer this joke to explain it…
  • 8. Cathcart & Klein define the law of NonC like this: “Aristotle’s logical principle that a thing cannot be both A and not-A at the same time in the same respect. It would be self contradictory to say, “Your pants are on fire, and, what’s more, your pants are not on fire.” Nothing can be both so and not be so at the same time. They also offer this joke to explain it…
  • 9. A Rabbi is holding court in his village. Schmuel stands up and pleads his case, saying, "Rabbi, Itzak runs his sheep across my land every day and it is ruining my crops. It's my land. It's not fair." The rabbi says, "You're right!" But then Itzak stands up and says, "But Rabbi, going across his land is the only way my sheep can drink water from the pond. Without it, they'll die. For centuries, every shepherd has had the right of way on the land surrounding the pond, so I should too.” And the rabbi says, "You' re right!" The cleaning lady, who has overheard all this, says to the rabbi, "But, Rabbi, they can't both be right! And the rabbi replies, "You're right!
  • 10. The law of noncontradiction: “A cannot be both B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense” In simple terms, “An object (A) cannot be both a round (B) and a square (non-B) at the same time in the same sense” “A proposition (A) cannot be both false (B) and true (non-B) at the same time in the same sense. Important in this is seeing the distinction between B and non-B consider the diagram shown
  • 11. Imagine non-B is the known universe, everything that exists. B might represent a set of things that have something in common e.g. all humans, all dogs etc. Therefore non-B is everything that is not either human or dog B Non-B
  • 12. It is impossible for Richard Chamberlain to be both man and nonman at the same time in the same sense. If Richard was B and nonB at the same time he would not only be human but also everything else in the universe at the same time, a dog, car, rubber tree, glass etc. B Non-B
  • 13. Gordon H. Clark outlines the implications of this: "If contradictory statements are true of the same subject at the same time, evidently all things will be the same thing. Socrates will be a ship, a house, as well as a man. But if precisely the same attributes attach to Crito that attach to Socrates it follows that Socrates is Crito. Not only so, but the ship in the harbor, since it has the same list of attributes too, will be identified with this SocratesCrito person. In fact, everything will be the same thing. All differences among things will vanish and all will be one."
  • 14. The Medieval Muslim philosopher Avicenna said facetiously, “Anyone who denies the law of noncontradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.”
  • 15. A man once received a call from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service, tax collection dept in the USA) asking why he had not filed his tax return. He replied that since he did not To deny the difference between B and there believe the LNC applied to reality, that non-B rapidly difference between filing a return was no becomes nonsense - just considerand this scenario: not filing a return. The lady on the phone didn’t miss a beat and said “If that’s how you think, then you should also agree there’s no difference between being in jail and not being in jail.”
  • 16. A man once received a call from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service, tax collection dept in the USA) asking why he had not filed his tax return. He replied that since he did not believe the LNC applied to reality, that there was no difference between filing a return and not filing a return. The lady on the phone didn’t miss a beat and said “If that’s how you think, then you should also agree there’s no difference between being in jail and not being in jail.”
  • 17. It is not possible to prove the law of non-contradiction - but we can see some reasoning evidence (called modus tollens) suggesting it - for example: If one proposition (p) implies another proposition (q) and q is false, then p must be false. Consider: If (p) Richard Chamberlain is a former winner of the Masters Golf Tournament, then (q) Richard has played on the Augusta National Golf Course
  • 18. But it is false that Richard has played on the Augusta National Golf Course (not-q) Therefore Richard is not a former winner of the Masters Golf Tournament Remember: If p implies q, and q is false then p is also false
  • 19. Logic and human communication We must distinguish between B and non-B in Language (speech), thought and being. To speak or write intelligibly a word cannot have contrary meanings at the same time and in the same sense. For a word to mean something it must not mean something else - words do often have >1 meaning but this is limited and ambiguity avoided by assigning differing sets of symbols to each meaning.
  • 20. We might say, “Julius Caesar is a man” Man is ambiguous - we could say it has 5 meanings - we then distinguish each meaning of man by defining them as man-1, man-2 etc. If the law of non-contradiction is denied there is no difference between any of the meanings of man and anything that is nonman. In fact every word would have thousands of meanings. At this point meaningful speech becomes impossible as words have so many senses to them.
  • 21. Importantly here if the law of noncontradiction is denied then nothing has meaning. The sentences of the people who are denying the law of noncontradiction cannot make sense. If the laws of logic do not mean what they say , nothing else can have meaning, including any sentences that purport to deny the laws. So if logic is indispensable in human thought, speech and action, then the law of noncontradiction is not arbitrary but is necessary and indispensable in human being and thought.
  • 22. Logic and human action To deny the law of noncontradiction here seems obviously silly - if B and nonB are the same then… - drinking milk is the same as drinking poison - driving on the right hand side of the road is the same as driving on the left (though often it is in India!) - there is no difference between my wife and a house - adultery is the same as being faithful - God and the devil would be one and the same
  • 23. Logic and human thinking Denial of the law of noncontradiction would make human thinking impossible - for example in a class taught by someone believing this… - how could there be any difference between a good exam and a bad one? - how could there be any difference between a good grade and a bad one? Surely all students should get the same grade in such a class.
  • 24. Logic and God Some religious people say the law of noncontradiction does not apply to the God who made it - simply he operates according to a higher or different logic than humanity. Nash suggests that when they are asked to explain how God can think, communicate, and act when B and non-B are the same they take refuge in the idea of mystery. Nash starts to explain his reasoning for believing this law applies to God by referring to things He cannot do
  • 25. Hebrews 6:13 - swear by a being higher than himself There is no being greater than God and this is an application of the law of noncontradiction Titus 1:2, Heb 6:18 - God cannot lie God seems to distinguish between a true (B) statement and a non-true statement (non-B) If God did not operate by the law of non-C then at the final judgement he could do anything - though that wouldn’t matter as heaven and hell would be the same!
  • 26. Nash gives some examples of how illogical and irrational some of the arguments against the law of nonC can be. I shall quote a few here:
  • 27. Irrationalism in the academic world During a class a professor spoke against logic, which she claimed was too black and white, too B or nonB. She was also strongly opposed to Christian faith. A student approached her after the class and asked her 3 questions: Student: Since you reject all use of logic, don’t you realise that you can’t prove any of your anti-Christian beliefs are true? (Proving something does appeal to the laws of rational inference) Prof: no response, she didn’t appear to have thought of that before
  • 28. S: Don’t you realise that when you repudiate logic you cannot prove that any of my Christian beliefs are false? P: Again no response, this had not been thought of before S: Since you have admitted that you cannot prove your anti-Christian beliefs to be true, and that you cannot prove my Christian beliefs are false, why don’t you become a Christian? The professor could not prove her rejection of christianity with an argument as she had rejected logic - she apparently finished the conversation by simply stating she did not like Christianity
  • 29. Self referential absurdity The law of nonC can be applied to discover positions that suffer from self referential absurdity. This is where the application of a theory to itself involves a necessary falsehood or logical nonsense. Nash gives an example from skepticism:
  • 30. Nash suggests that skepticism is an example of a logically self defeating position. He offers 2 possible definitions of skepticism: 2. No proposition is true 1. No one can know anything Your strategy is the same as for In response to someone saying this question 1: you ask a simple question: “Is your statement (proposition) true” “Do you know that no one can know What is the result of our skeptic anything?” answering yes or no? If the skeptic answers yes - he then is Nash then suggests this that no one story further asserting that he knows proves his anything - in effect he has argument: can know defeated his own argument If his reply is no he is admitting that he doesn’t know what he is talking about
  • 31. 2. No proposition is true Your strategy is the same as for question 1: “Is your statement (proposition) true” What is the result of our skeptic answering yes or no? Nash then suggests this story further proves his argument:
  • 32. During class a philosophy professor was attacking the existence of God: “Is there anyone in this room who has seen God?” Silence. “All right, has any of you touched God?” Again silence. “Has anyone here heard God?” Again no one said anything. The professor triumphantly pronounced, “Therefore, there is no God”
  • 33. Then one of the students rose and asked if he could speak: “Has anyone in this room seen our professors brain?” Silence. “All right, has any of you touched our professors brain?” Again silence. “Has anyone here heard our professors brain?” Again no one said anything. The student smiled and triumphantly pronounced, “Then using our professor’s logic, our professor has no brain” Reportedly the student got an A
  • 34. Scientific Positivism A general mood in much (Western) society is expressed in the idea that, “It is wrong to believe any proposition not verified by the scientific method” (Most Christians would have no problem with science or scientific method) But, is science and its methodology capable of bringing us into the presence of all that is true?
  • 35. Scientific Positivism Can you think of any examples where science could not prove truth? What scientific experiment could possibly verify the claim that it is wrong to believe any proposition not verified by the scientific method? There is none! Therefore scientific positivism is a logically self defeating position
  • 36. Evidentialism (Nash’s term) was expressed by a 19th century thinker WK Clifford,
  • 37. Evidentialism (Nash’s term) was expressed by a 19th century thinker WK Clifford, “It is wrong always, everywhere and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”
  • 38. Evidentialism (Nash’s term) was expressed by a 19th century thinker WK Clifford, “It is wrong always, everywhere and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” Clifford suggests people have responsibilities with regard to their acts of believing…especially with regard to religious beliefs. And Clifford said there is never sufficient evidence or proof to support any religious belief. Consequently anyone who accepts religious belief (like God’s existence) is guilty of acting irrationally, immorally and irresponsibly.
  • 39. Evidentialism (Nash’s term) was expressed by a 19th century thinker WK Clifford, “It is wrong always, everywhere and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” Clifford suggests people have responsibilities with regard to their acts of believing…especially with regard to religious beliefs. And Clifford said there is never sufficient evidence or proof to support any religious belief. Consequently anyone who accepts religious belief (like God’s existence) is guilty of acting irrationally, immorally and irresponsibly. This viewpoint has been widely argued against and Nash asks the significant question,
  • 40. Evidentialism (Nash’s term) was expressed by a 19th century thinker WK Clifford, “It is wrong always, everywhere and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” Clifford suggests people have responsibilities with regard to their acts of believing…especially with regard to religious beliefs. And Clifford said there is never sufficient evidence or proof to support any religious belief. Consequently anyone who accepts religious belief (like God’s existence) is guilty of acting irrationally, immorally and irresponsibly. This viewpoint has been widely argued against and Nash asks the significant question, “Where is the evidence / proof for his own claim?”
  • 41. Evidentialism (Nash’s term) was expressed by a 19th century thinker WK Clifford, “It is wrong always, everywhere and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” Clifford suggests people have responsibilities with regard to their acts of believing…especially with regard to religious beliefs. And Clifford said there is never sufficient evidence or proof to support any religious belief. Consequently anyone who accepts religious belief (like God’s existence) is guilty of acting irrationally, immorally and irresponsibly. This viewpoint has been widely argued against and Nash asks the significant question, “Where is the evidence / proof for his own claim?” Nash says, “He provides no evidence;nor could he”
  • 42. Deconstructionism, summed up by Nash as, “It is impossible to ever know the meaning of any written text” Popular in academic circles, esp. English departments - in effect it means that all meaning is subjective; a text means whatever it means to the reader. We might crudely suggest it is telling you to make up your own interpretation and that is ok. Don’t read what anyone else has said, or worry about syntax or spelling
  • 43. If it is impossible to know the meaning of a text how can you understand the texts or textbooks used by a professor? What would this mean when applied to the Bible - that it is impossible to know the meaning of any given text, we cannot know the meaning of the Bible. Once again we have an idea, deconstructionism, that is the paradigm of a self defeating theory.
  • 44. If it is impossible to know the meaning of a text how can you understand the texts or textbooks used by a professor? What would this mean when applied to the Bible - that it is impossible to know the meaning of any given text, we cannot know the meaning of the Bible. Once again we have an idea, deconstructionism, that is the paradigm of a self defeating theory.
  • 45. Is Nash oversimplifying the arguments? He suggests there are 2 ways he can respond to such criticism: 1. Take a deconstructionist position and interpret the criticisms as endorsements of his position. After all if all meaning is subjective surely he can do this? 2. Assume the critic means that each of his arguments represents the position being criticised as a universal claim, a statement allowing no exceptions.
  • 46. Nash suggests people advocating the positions he has debunked might feel the victory is cheap. However he suggests the following as a defines of his own position: Consider the following pairs of propositions: 1a. all propositions not verified by the scientific method are false 1b. some propositions not verified by the scientific method are false 2a. all statements that are neither analytic nor synthetic are meaningless 2b. some statements that are neither analytic nor synthetic are meaningless
  • 47. 3a. all acts of believing propositions not supported by sufficient evidence are immoral 3b. some acts of believing propositions not supported by sufficient evidence are immoral 4a. all texts are meaningless 4b. some texts are meaningless Nash assumes that his critics want people to believe that the (b) propositions more fairly represent the view of the evidentialist, deconstructionist etc.
  • 48. 3a. all acts of believing propositions not supported by sufficient evidence are immoral 3b. some acts of believing propositions not supported by sufficient evidence are immoral 4a. all texts are meaningless 4b. some texts are meaningless Nash assumes that his critics want people to believe that the (b) propositions more fairly represent the view of the evidentialist, deconstructionist etc.
  • 49. As the b positions are obviously true any attempt to reject them or qualified versions of them is unfair and simplistic. Nash goes on to say that an attempt to defeat his arguments in this way fails for 2 reasons: 1. Even though the b positions are true they are trivial in the sense that no informed person doubts them. We should note that some texts are difficult to interpret - but this difficulty is nothing to do with deconstructionism. In fact if deconstructionists limited their thinking to proposition 4b no one would object.
  • 50. However no one would care, such a stance is simply a trivialisation of their position - it would be a very watered down way of defending a position resulting in a “so what?” type of response. 2. Nash states the problem is that those taking these positions do assert them as universal claims not as the “some” position he postulates.
  • 51. It is a very different thing agreeing that some texts are difficult to interpret and saying that all texts are in the same category. Nash compares it to someone who introduces themselves as a skeptic and then defines his position by saying that some propositions are not true (as opposed to saying no propositions are true) As far as skepticism is concerned this person is a fraud.
  • 52. Conclusion The law of nonC cannot be ignored - it is a true, universal and necessary principle of human thinking, communicating and acting. It is a principle that functions in the mind of God. God does not operate at a higher level than the law of nonC, if he did then there would be no difference between good and evil, God and the devil etc. Such positions are nonsense and irrational.
  • 53. Conclusion The law of NonC will help us in evaluating world views and in seeing inconsistency- but it can never be the only criterion - we need others too.
  • 54. Which means I shall be back with more philosophy - bet you can’t wait…