A Pro-Christian Argument For A Change: TAG

A Pro-Christian Argument For A Change: TAG August 28, 2013

This is an excerpt from my novel, Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey.

The Players:

  • Rev. Samuel Hargrove is a well-known pastor and debater. 
  • Prof. Putnam is taking the atheist side in the debate. He’s a physics professor from USC.
  • Paul Winston is Samuel’s 23-year-old acolyte. At this point in the story, he’s still shaken by the death of his fiancée in the earthquake, a few weeks earlier.

The Setting: Los Angeles in 1906, just after the San Francisco earthquake. We’re in Samuel’s church, watching his annual apologetics debate.

Samuel stressed to the audience the importance of understanding apologetics. He listed several Bible verses to support this, with special attention to 1 Peter 3:15, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you.” He noted that Genesis does not begin with an argument for God’s existence but instead takes this for granted, and Samuel justified this with another verse: “The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen so that men are without excuse.”

“You want to see the hand of God?” Samuel said. “Then just look around you. These are powerful arguments, but again they satisfy only believers like most of us. Today we will put those arguments aside. The tools today are reason and logic, but these are friends of the Christian. We have nothing to fear from them; in fact, we invite critique because we must know that Christianity is valid and strong. Questioning is good. The apostle Paul said that if our faith in Christ is misplaced, then ‘we are to be pitied more than all men.’ So bring on the attack. Our fortress is built on the Eternal Rock.”

Samuel wrapped up his introductory remarks by thanking his opponent for participating. He then stated the topic of the debate: “Does God exist?” with Professor Putnam taking the negative position. The professor smiled slightly in acknowledgement and took in the audience with a relaxed face.

If Putnam didn’t yet know that he was playing Samuel’s game, on Samuel’s court, and by Samuel’s rules, he found out soon enough. Samuel asked the professor’s permission to begin the debate with an informal chat to explore the issues for the benefit of the audience. This was unexpected, but the regulars in the audience knew to expect that. Whether preaching or debating, Samuel was rarely boring.

With both men seated at the table, Samuel began by asking for the professor’s agreement to a logical statement. The professor brushed at something on the sleeve of his gray suit and identified it as the Law of Noncontradiction. Samuel threw out another one. Again the professor made a quick identification: this time, the Law of the Excluded Middle.

Samuel looked delighted as if a precocious child had answered a question above his age. “Clearly you are familiar with the laws of logic—surely much more so than I.”

“That’s only to be expected. Logic is what I base my research on.”

“Then let me ask you this: why are these laws true? Why should there be a Law of Noncontradiction?”

The professor looked up, then crossed his arms and rocked slightly in his chair. He opened his mouth, paused, and then closed it. Paul slid forward in his seat as he watched the man’s unease. Finally, the professor said, “We use logic because it works.”

“It does indeed work, but why? Why should the universe be bound to obey these laws? Surely the reason logic is true is not ‘just because.’ ”

Again a pause. The professor, slight and scholarly behind his glasses, made quite a contrast at the same table with Samuel, tall and broad and with a more-than-generous voice. In his modest tone, the professor said, “Well, logic is a convention.”

“A convention? You mean like a custom? Are the laws of logic arbitrary so that we might have one set while the French would get along quite happily with a different set—like we measure distances in feet while the French measure in meters?” Samuel turned to the audience. “Oh, I do so enjoy the spring, when the new laws of logic come out of Paris.”

Laughter swept the audience, and Paul leaned back, grinning. Putnam pursed his lips and shook his head, and Samuel raised his hands as if in submission. “I apologize, Professor. We’re just having a little chat here, so I thought you wouldn’t mind my taking the liberty. No, of course you don’t see logic to be as changeable as fashion. We agree that logic is universal. I’m simply saying that if you can’t tell me why that is the case, I can.”

The professor leaned forward and his voice rose slightly in pitch. “We’re in the same boat. Your justification for logic is no stronger than mine.”

“Not at all. You deny the supernatural source of logic, but I don’t. Logic comes from God; it is a consequence of God. The believer can point to his source of logic, but the atheist has no justification.”

The professor swept the crowd with his hand. “Look around you—atheists are logical. Atheists are rational.”

“Yes, atheists are rational, but only because they are dishonest to their own professed principles. The irony is that the atheist must borrow from the Christian worldview to reject it. Atheists deny the very God whose existence makes their reasoning possible.”

The professor took out a handkerchief and dabbed his upper lip and forehead. “Christianity didn’t invent logic. The ancient Greeks preceded the Christians and were pioneers in logic—Aristotle, for example.”

“I agree,” Samuel said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that logic is a consequence of God’s existence. Non-Christians are welcome to use it, but it comes from God.”

“Why can’t we presume that logic is transcendent—that it’s always existed?”

“It is indeed transcendent. But that doesn’t answer the question why. Why has logic always existed?”

The professor glanced up at the ceiling before continuing. “Logic just exists. It has certain properties. It’s just a fundamental part of reality.”

Samuel smoothed his mustache with the back of his right hand. “Oh, so that’s how the game is played? All right: God just exists. God is just a fundamental part of reality. But can we just define things into existence? Of course not. No, that’s not an argument. I apologize for being so persistent, but I must return to my original question, which remains unanswered: why is logic true?”

The professor made a growling “Rrr!” sound and said, “You don’t understand.” He paused as if collecting his thoughts and then scowled. “Reverend Hargrove, is this an interrogation or a dialogue? Will I get an opportunity to ask questions?”

“I do apologize. I have indeed monopolized the conversation. Please, Professor, go right ahead.”

Putnam rummaged through a small stack of papers, putting first one sheet on top and then another. “All right,” he said. “Why are there so many religions around the world? Doesn’t this say that each culture invents a religion to suit itself?” The audience hushed.

“The world’s many religions say that people have an innate urge to discover their Maker,” Samuel said. “This universal hunger in every human bosom points to a God who can satisfy that hunger.” Paul smiled. Another point scored, and the professor’s face showed the hit.

The professor leafed through his papers again. “Well, answer me this. The Christian God is described as a loving god. And yet we have disease and famine and war. Wouldn’t such a god put an end to this, if he existed?”

“Who knows what disasters might have happened but haven’t because of divine providence? We don’t see the headline ‘Thousands not Dead Because of Disaster that Didn’t Happen’ simply because we don’t know what God has shielded us from. Indeed, it is arrogant to imagine that we are smart enough to understand, let alone critique, the actions of the Creator of the universe. And the Fall of Adam and Eve—the original sin in the Garden of Eden—explains the imperfect world we live in.”

“Rrr!” More paper shuffling. The professor’s voice became somewhat shrill and he spoke more quickly. “Tell me this: why believe the Bible? You don’t believe Homer’s Iliad. You don’t believe the ancient books of other religions.”

“The story of Jesus was written down just a few decades after the fact, and we have perhaps thousands of ancient manuscripts of the books of the Bible. This lets us recreate the original documents with great precision. And many non-Christian historians of that period document the truth of Jesus’s life outside the Bible. By contrast, we might have a biography written centuries after the death of a historical figure such as Alexander the Great, and we regard that as truth. And when you consider that the men closest to Jesus were martyred for their beliefs, surely no one would die to defend a story he knew wasn’t true.”

“Well, history is not really my area of expertise.” The professor tapped a new sheet that he had placed on top of the pile. “All right, the Bible documents slavery among the Israelites, but God does nothing to stop the practice. Given this, how can the Bible be called a book of morality?”

“First, keep in mind that the Bible documents many customs that have nothing to do with godly living; they were simply practices of tribal people in a place and time far different than our own. As for slavery, we’d still have slavery in America today if it weren’t for people like Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, the Quakers, and others—all Christians guided by Christian principles.”

Samuel looked over for more questions, but the professor seemed spent. The silence lengthened, and Paul felt the small man’s discomfort. He couldn’t imagine being on that stage with hundreds of people staring, waiting for a mistake, enjoying his distress.

Samuel slid his chair back. “With your permission, Professor, shall we begin the debate?” Putnam yielded with a gesture of his hand, saying nothing.

Samuel walked to the podium and began his prepared remarks, a proud oration that surveyed a number of compelling arguments. Instead of doing the same when it was his turn, the professor used his time to rebut Samuel’s opening points. That’s a bad move, Paul thought. You’ve allowed your opponent to select all the arguments. He sensed that the contest was already over and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. He wondered if the professor had already used up his own points in his questions to Samuel. The result was that the entire debate would be fought on Samuel’s territory—and this was terrain that Samuel knew very well.

Paul took a personal interest in the progression of the debate, not just because he was rooting for Samuel, but because he had spent so long helping him prepare. Though Samuel was a natural speaker and an accomplished debater, he still took preparation for each debate seriously and this year had assigned Paul some of the research tasks. Samuel had thoroughly explained the various arguments from each side and critiqued their strengths and weaknesses. “You’ll be doing this yourself some day,” Samuel had said.

The professor gamely held up his end of the argument, but he was outmatched. His voice became thinner and he didn’t use all the time that was available to him. His eyes and gestures often pleaded with the crowd as if to ask for their acceptance of an argument he couldn’t quite put into words, one that seemed just out of his grasp. The rebuttals were often little more than “I don’t agree with you there” or “You’ll have to do better than that.”

Samuel wrapped up his final remarks. “Let me return to the original question, which, after all this time, still has not been answered from the atheist position: why is logic true? Professor Putnam says that I have no answer to this question, but I do—it’s just that he doesn’t like it. God created the world, and logic is a consequence.

“We can agree that logic is universal. It’s also abstract—in other words, it has no physical presence like a book or a table. And logic is unchanging, unlike the things we see around us that grow or decay over time. Aside from logic—and perhaps what is built on logic, like mathematics—we know of just one other thing with these properties, and that is God.

“Let me be clear that I respect the professor’s logical skill. He’s a scientist, and I’m sure he uses logic very well in his work. The only problem is that he must borrow from the Christian position to do so. By his own logic, logic can’t exist. In rejecting God, the atheist has rejected his source of logic and has therefore eliminated his ability to use it. Without its Christian foundation, this entire debate wouldn’t make sense.”

The professor had the last block of time, and he used it up like a football team that knows it’s beaten and is eager only to run out the clock and go home. When he finished, the moderator thanked both participants and the audience applauded. Samuel beamed at the crowd, while the professor collected his papers and stood to leave even before the applause was over.

The reporters left promptly—to file their stories, Paul supposed—but people milled about afterwards, seemingly eager to savor the night.

“Another sacrificial lamb, eh, Pastor?” said one man with a smile.

“I think this was the most impressive debate yet,” said another.

“You should call these the ‘Loose Canon’ debates. You know—’canon,’ like scripture,” said a third.

Twenty minutes after the debate had ended, the church was still half full of supporters. A few people encouraged Samuel to speak and the call for an encore swept through the crowd. Samuel mounted the podium in response to the curtain call and gave a short epilogue. As the audience took their seats, he emphasized the importance of apologetics to his ministry and encouraged everyone to be an ambassador.

Paul leaned back in his pew and smiled. It seemed to him that no one in the city knew more about the defense of Christianity than this man, and surely none could beat him.

Read more about the book and an extended excerpt from the beginning here.

Martyrdom has always been a proof of the intensity,
never of the correctness of a belief.
— Arthur Schnitzler

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  • Highlander

    Can you point out an argument that would contradict this claptrap?

    • 1. This argument plays an important role in my book, and Rev. Samuel gets a more competent debater later in the book who demolishes the argument.

      2. I plan to explore this in detail in this blog, but not for a month or so. Stay tuned!

      3. Iron Chariots is a good resource. Here’s their take:

      • Cafeeine

        My first reaction to this came at this point:
        “The professor glanced up at the ceiling before continuing. “Logic
        just exists. It has certain properties. It’s just a fundamental part of

        Samuel smoothed his mustache with the back of his right hand. “Oh, so that’s how the game is played? All right: God
        just exists. God is just a fundamental part of reality. But can we just
        define things into existence? Of course not. No, that’s not an
        argument. I apologize for being so persistent, but I must return to my
        original question, which remains unanswered: why is logic true?” ”

        At this point Samuel misinterpreted Putnam’s response. My counter to that would have been (and has been to other theists)

        “Yes, you could make the argument that God just exists, that God is just a fundamental part of reality that doesn’t require an explanation, provided you already have a sufficient reason to claim this God exists. You need to prove God exists before you can tackle whether God exists necessarily. In the case of logic, neither you or I are claiming logic doesn’t exist, so it has crossed that particular hurdle.”

        • Good point.

        • Speedwell

          I’m a corporate trainer in an international oil and gas engineering company. I teach the use of an IT database system to engineers. I’m female, and popular, but many of the engineers in my classes appear to think I’m a jumped-up secretary (which is incidentally true but not relevant). It doesn’t mean I’m a dummy. 🙂

          One question that comes up frequently in my classes is “why don’t you do things this other way?” Engineers, you see, naturally want to engineer everything, which I find endearing. Many times the answer is, “We considered it and made a decision to do it that way”, sometimes the answer is, “I don’t really know, maybe we should consider doing it that way as a future enhancement”. But in all cases the final answer is, “For now things work like this, because that’s the reality of how the system and procedures are set up”. I remember a brief altercation with a particular pill who insisted that he hated the program because it didn’t work the way he thought it should. I think it came down to, “If the program worked that way, it would be a different program, this would be a different class, and you’d undoubtedly be here bitching about why that program didn’t and couldn’t work the way you wanted it to”.

          People who fight reality are destined to lose as surely as people who try entering eleven digits into a data entry field formatted to hold ten characters. “It doesn’t work that way” is not always a question that can be productively countered with “why not?”.

        • One challenge for me is finding simple ways to respond to arguments. I’ll hear a fascinating bit of history that explains an odd bit of scripture, for example, but it doesn’t do me much good because to explain it is far too difficult in a debating situation or in a blog post.

          One benefit with TAG for the apologist is that they can weave a nice story fairly quickly, and then it takes the atheist a while to untangle it. I like to find the Gordian Knot solutions: “Here is why that’s wrong.” Slice. Quick and compelling.

  • Spooky Tran

    Some time I would like to see a debater insist that his laws of logic come from fairies, and he completely sticks to his guns the entire time.

    • Msironen

      You can also claim that “laws of logic” come from your friend Bob. Bob in this case doesn’t even have to be an imaginary or supernatural person; if they ask how can laws of logic “come” from a supposedly ordinary human being, just say it’s a “mystery”. After all, it’s not like they have any explanation or mechanism as to how God “grounds” them, it’s just assumed that he does due to the virtue of being God.

  • Msironen

    “A convention? You mean like a custom? Are the laws of logic arbitrary so that we might have one set while the French would get along quite happily with a different set—like we measure distances in feet while the French measure in meters?” Samuel turned to the audience. “Oh, I do so enjoy the spring, when the new laws of logic come out of Paris.”

    This “objection” might get a cheap laugh from an audience which doesn’t know better, but is in fact deeply flawed.

    What Samuel (and real world christians, for that matter) think of simply as “logic” is anything but; for the purpose of this discussion it could be called “classical logic”. But surely “classical” laws of logic like Law of Non-Contradiction and Law of the Excluded Middle are universally held and not just conventions?

    Well that’s the rub; why don’t you ask Intuitionist mathematicians why they reject the principle of Excluded Middle? Also, what might have been the motivation for developing Relevance logic where Law of Non-Contradiction doesn’t hold?

    The whole “argument from logic” rests on ignorance of metalogic, much like most moral arguments that assume everyone involved is unaware that metaethics is a thing.

    • I plan on doing a more thorough discussion of the Transcendental Argument in the near future, so this kind of thing intrigues me.
      I don’t know about metalogic. Do you have anything to add that I couldn’t get from Wikipedia?

      • Msironen

        Not really, it’s not something I’ve studied much. From what I know it’s fairly analogous to metaethics; it studies the properties of different logics, how new ones can be constructed etc.

        Another fairly obvious example (once you think about it) where Law of the Excluded Middle doesn’t hold:


        • I saw the example of quantum physics, where two states are superposed. That certainly rejects the Law of the EM. Was there another example that you saw?

  • Ron

    Why should there be a Law of Noncontradiction?”


    “It does indeed work, but why? Why should the universe be bound to obey these laws?

    Isn’t this an equivocation? They’re called “laws” not because there’s a “lawgiver” but because they describe the manner in which the universe has been observed to operate.

    • I’ve always found the “Well, if there are moral/logical laws, there must be a lawgiver!” to be a mindless applause line.

      I imagine the apologist (Matt Slick of CARM is one who loves TAG) would reply to you, Yes, the universe does indeed operate by the laws we’ve discovered, but why?

      My reply would be: Why not? In other words, the apologist assumes that no laws at all would be the likelier situation in a godless universe, and we must thank our good fortune that God is around to support the laws of the universe. So would a godless universe have no physical laws? I need evidence of that remarkable claim.

      Additionally, how does “God dun it!” advance the conversation at all? Which scientists, on hearing and believing that, say, “Oh, well that’s it then. I guess my job is pointless. I’ll go be a plumber.” That “explanation” doesn’t explain anything; it simply relabels “We don’t know.”

      • ZenDruid

        I imagine the apologist (Matt Slick of CARM is one who loves TAG) would reply to you, Yes, the universe does indeed operate by the laws we’ve discovered, but why?

        Is that the ontological ‘why’ or the teleological ‘why’ or the epistemological ‘why’?

        • Ron

          It’s probably the three-year-oldical “why?“. 🙂

      • Ron

        I guess I would give him the WLC response: “Laws consistent with nature’s nature are natural, while laws inconsistent with nature’s nature are unnatural.”

        Sure, it’s a tautology. But if he can use those types of arguments, so can I.

  • Paul King

    The argument utterly fails to comprehend the nature of logic.

    Logic is a set of formalised semantic rules – a “truth algebra”. It is not an arbitrary convention – it has deep practical roots in language and the whole notion of truth. Much the same could be said of the algebra of mathematics.

    For instance the law of identity tells us that statements with identical meanings have identical truth-values. And I have to ask, how could it be otherwise ?

    THe argument uses the law of non-contradiction as an example. But given the definition of logical negation and the definition of conjunction (“and”) the law inevitably follows. There is no need to appeal to anything else.

    A fact of formal logic – all logically valid arguments are tautologous. And this is entirely to be expected given the nature of logic. But if logic were a set of rules governing the universe, surely it could give us more than that !

  • R Vogel

    This is an interesting discussion and it reminds me of something I read I think in one of Karen Armstrong’s books, but I can’t be sure. She talks about how science used to be fixated on certainty and religion dealt with uncertainties, but in the modern era, especially with the rise of fundamentalism, it has flipped and science has become very comfortable with uncertainty and religion has become very uncomfortable with it.
    The core of the issue as it occurs to me is that in science there are no ‘Laws’. There are hypotheses that either adequately describe nature or not. Or that describe only part of it and not another. Ptolemy had a good working model for describing the position of the stars, and as longed as it worked it was widely accepted. Then at some point it didn’t work, at least not without ridiculously complex epicycles, and so someone proposed a new model. Later, when technology advanced, those new models were confirmed by direct observation. Science evolves and synthesizes new information. Religion, on the other hand, proposes Laws, and then, like Procrustes, has to cut and hammer reality to fit them. If tomorrow science found that the “Laws” of logic did not answer, or failed in some instance, then a search new theory, or a unifying theory, would be undertaken. If religion found that, it would deny reality.

  • smrnda

    logic of all forms are human made axiomatic systems for evaluating the truth value of statements. We’ve seen how they fail when we look at paradoxes (Russell’s Paradox) and then we come up with new logic (or new set theory axioms) as a way to move on.

  • Beth Clarkson

    I enjoyed this exerpt. I just purchased a copy for my kindle.