An essay donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys:
How to dissect a logical argument.
Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli in their "Handbook of Christian Apologetics" 1 present arguments to prove their case for life after death. They argue that by reason alone -- with the use of good philosophical arguments -- they can prove their Theology.
There are many ways to consider the validity of an argument. In this essay I point out ways to dissect their arguments -- or any other argument -- to determine if they are sound or faulty.
Faulty First Statements:
All arguments stand or fall on the validity of their initial assumptions and statements. A person can make a rational philosophical argument that is logically correct BUT if the initial assumption or statement that the argument is based upon is faulty, then the argument fails.
Basically a logical argument follows this format: A equals B, B equals C, Then A equals C.
An example of a faulty logical argument follows:
Apples (A) are red (B).
Red (B) is the color of my nose (C).
Therefore my nose (C) is an apple.
Why is this faulty?
Apples also come in green and yellow and a mix of colors. The first statement to be accurate would have to say some apples are red. My nose isn’t always red, it is red now because I just came in from the cold and my nose turns red in cold weather! Once I warm up my nose will return to its pink flesh toned color. The only conclusion that could be honestly drawn is that at this moment my nose looks like a red apple.
In the book's chapter Life after Death:
The authors make the following "Arguments from Reason" to prove their belief.
1. The first argument involves Matter and Energy, and the Conservation of Energy.
First they make an error in stating the basic principle. They state: "physical energy is never created or destroyed."
The correct statement of the principle is this: "In a closed system energy is neither created or destroyed; it simply changes form."
The "closed system" is an important part of the statement. IF the system where we live is a closed system, then heaven would have to be someplace identifiable within the confines of this system and God would also have to be inside the system. IF Heaven was outside the system and your soul dies and goes to heaven then it would be taking energy out of the system.That is, IF your soul is made of energy, and is not just a product of human imagination.
IF God was separate from, and outside the system, every time he reached in (so to speak) to interfere in the affairs of the system he would be adding new energy into the system. So they needed to misrepresent the theory, by leaving out the part about energy in a "closed system."
They present their formal argument this way starting with:
Premise 1: "Matter is never destroyed, only transformed."
I don’t need to mention the rest of their argument because this first statement is faulty. They used a classical bait and switch. They substituted the word Matter for the word Energy. Matter and Energy are not the same thing.
Matter is made up of Energy.
Is a brick building the same as the individual bricks that were used to build it? Of course not. A Brick Building has properties/abilities that a single brick doesn’t have. Many Bricks together have greater strength than a single brick. A brick building can have windows and doors and rooms and a roof. The single brick doesn’t have those things. The material used to build something is not the same as the something that gets built.
Matter is destroyed all the time, look at the fires in California this week. When Matter is destroyed it gets broken down into its basic chemical components. Those chemical components are made of raw energy. Raw energy are those subatomic particles the physicists have identified. Raw energy has no conscious will, no consciousness. To have consciousness requires senses and a brain (or some other neural/communication network) to interpret the information from the senses. You might look at the earlier argument I presented about in my essay "A Sense of Self".
Their first argument fails for many reasons even though the rest of their statements appear to follow logically!
2. Their second argument is an Argument from Evolution. There are several problems here.
First I think they are trying to make two arguments in one. They are trying to show that Science (In this particular case Evolution) and Religion are compatible. I think they are trying to show that Religion/God has a purpose for Evolution, that Evolution is not its own purpose.
Premise 1 of their argument is stated as follows:
"Evolution reveals a natural design and purpose in the cosmos, the point of which is the attainment of human consciousness. (This is intuitively obvious to minds without materialistic premises.)"
There are lots of problems with this initial statement. First they can’t resist making a derogatory remark about people that might disagree with them, those people are materialistic. And everyone knows what being "materialistic" means. Anytime someone resorts to name calling or derogatory comments about their opponent it shows me they know their argument isn’t sound and they need to shift the focus of the argument from the main points to the character of their opponent.
Their first premise actually contains two statements or premises. If either one is faulty, or unsubstantiated the argument fails.
Premise 1a: Evolution reveals a natural design and purpose in the cosmos.
Premise 1b: The point of which is the attainment of human consciousness.
Premise 2: But natural designs and purposes are not in vain. (Another intuitively obvious premise, though challenged extensively by modern philosophers.)
Premise 3: Therefore human consciousness is not in vain.
Many agree that evolution does reveal a natural design and a purpose. When they say that the point of evolution in the COSMOS "is the attainment of human consciousness,"it is a BIG stretch! We really don’t know much about other planets in our own solar system let alone know anything about all the other planets in all the other solar systems in the cosmos!
We have no idea whether the point of evolution in the Cosmos might not be something greater than human consciousness! We may just be one stopping point on the evolutionary road, like the dinosaurs, a good idea that didn’t last and was replaced with something different. They are making a BIG assumption here that isn’t supported by any evidence.
I could stop here since I have shown the first premise is based on grandiose and unsupported opinion. But the rest of the argument is also interesting so I will continue.
Premise 2 also makes a derogatory and unnecessary comment that distracts from the point they are trying to make.
Why did they begin premise 2 with the word "but"? The word implies that it is in disagreement with the previous statement/s. This is confusing because there isn’t any disagreement between their first statement and the 2nd -- evolution's natural designs and purposes are not in vain.
"Vain" has two similar though slightly different meanings. One meaning is simply "useless." In which case they would be saying "natural designs and purposes are not useless." Which is a nonsensical statement, how can you have a purpose that is useless? A purpose may not be a very helpful or be constructive. It may be destructive or present obstacles, Still, those are still purposes with their own uses! This isn’t the meaning of vain they are using.
The other meaning of the word vain is "without a purpose". When we talk about soldiers not dying in vain we mean that there was a purpose, a reason for their sacrifice. The argument would then read:
"Evolution reveals a natural design and purpose in the cosmos but that design and purpose is not without a purpose."
Then their argument continues with:
The purpose of Evolution is the attainment of human consciousness and this purpose is not without a purpose.
Here is where I think they are trying to insert their position that God has a higher purpose in mind for Evolution and human consciousness without directly making that claim. Again they are stating an opinion, not a fact. Opinions can be challenged.
Premise 4 follows:
"But if consciousness dies forever, it is in vain (the ‘cosmic abortion’). Why would Nature go to all that trouble to conceive us only to kill us?"
Remember they are using "without purpose" for the word vain.
This would read:
But if consciousness dies forever, it is without a purpose….
Here they seem to use inflammatory words (abortion, kill) to fire up their audience for what purpose? To distract them from their argument? They try to equate the death of consciousness with the "horrors" of abortion.
Is a tree's life in vain? All trees eventually die. Have my pets' lives been in vain? All animals eventually die. All humans eventually die. Does it follow that because something dies its life was in vain? NO it doesn’t. To make that claim is to show disrespect to non-human life forms! AND I might add if there is a higher purpose to human consciousness that comes after death why not check out earlier rather than later? Why would humans be designed to live such long lives? I think it is wrong to claim that if something dies without attaining human consciousness its life was in vain, without a purpose.
Premise 5 is the last part of their argument. They state:
"Therefore that consciousness does not die forever. Death is not the last word."
That is, there must be life after death!
But their conclusion is faulty for the many reasons I have outlined.
They present several more arguments in this section. I hope that those that read the book and those that are confronted by other arguments whether in books, face to face discussions, or online chat rooms will take a serious look at those arguments, and examine the first assumptions to see if the rest of the argument is valid. Look for those hot button words and faulty definitions and statements.
A logical argument can be made that ends up with a faulty conclusion because it was based on initial faulty assumptions, misstated principles, confusing definitions or use of words and unsupported and unsupportable opinions.
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
- Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli, "Handbook of Christian Apologetics Paperback, (1994). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Available in Kindle format for $7.78, Paperback for $12.22 and Hardcover (used) from $32.60
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Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
Originally posted on: 2017-DEC-13