Glorious Circles?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’ve lately been looking into the topic of presuppositionalism. Tonight, I’d like to look at the idea of circular reasoning. I think that those of us who are classical and evidentialists do rightly charge the presuppositional camp with circular reasoning. The problem I see however is that the presuppositional camp freely admits this.

Don’t believe it? Consider what Greg Bahnsen says in “Van Til’s Apologetic” on page 518. In stating the way that he answers the charge of circular reasoning, Bahnsen says:

Our answer to this is briefly that we prefer to reason in a circle to not reasoning at all.

He later states on the same page that:

Reasoning in a vicious circle is the only alternative to reasoning in a circle as discussed above…

John Frame says on page 305 of “Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of his Thought” that:

Such circularity is unavoidable, and it exists on both sides of the debate.

Indeed, presuppositionalists seem to revel in the circularity. For instance, on the Unbelievable broadcast, through Premier Christian Radio, Sye Tenbruggencate in round 2 of a debate with Paul Baird was told that his reasoning was circular to which he answered, “What’s wrong with that?”

Only everything.

To begin with, circular reasoning does not cease to be circular reasoning just because it’s about God and fallacies do not cease to become fallacies ever just because the subject matter one is thinking about is God. A fallacy is a fallacy is a fallacy. God is not glorified when we misuse our logic in his service.

Second, it does no good to say that the argument is not viciously circular. This is a distinction without a difference. In other places, a presuppositionalist would be very quick to point out when an unbeliever was engaging in circular reasoning, and they should rightfully do so. The problem is that the rules seem to change for them. I have long deplored how atheists can often make Christians have to prove every claim they have but when it comes to some theories like a multiverse, all of a sudden we don’t have to have proof for that. All sides should agree on the ground rules for debate and follow accordingly, and those ground rules are the proper use of reasoning first off.

Now it could be said that we are circular in assuming reason. The reply to this is to say that we do no such thing. Reason is what we have to start with. To assume it would be to take it for granted. However, if I am told that I should question reason at the start and see if it’s a valid starting point, how am I to do that? Do I do see reasonably or unreasonably? If I am told to go to Scripture first, am I to conclude that that is what I should do reasonably or unreasonably?

If we said “Begin with revelation” then we have to ask “Which one?” Should I begin with the Hindu or the Buddhist or the Christian or the Muslim or the Mormon revelation? (I do realize that in pantheistic faiths and some Eastern thought that the idea of revelation is a problem, but for now let us approach each faith as if we were uninformed.) If we believe God’s Word can stand any test, then we should not hesitate to bring any test to it and we should not believe that we have to assume it in order to see its truth.

We conclude then that any system that engages in circular reasoning is faulty and to be avoided. This does get us into epistemological issues and I plan to address those more next time.

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4 Responses to “Glorious Circles?”

  1. Arnaldo Blondel Says:

    It is not circular reasoning when we state a proposition to prove that it corresponds to a fact in objective reality, and then we adduce or bring forth evidence to prove that there is indeed a fact in objective reality that corresponds to the proposition.

    If that is circular reasoning then please give me a proposition about something that is to be proven to exist in objective reality without from the proposition itself there is the concept of that something that is to be proven to exist in objective reality.

    Okay, I will give you a proposition about something to be proven to be a fact in objective reality, and when I have accumulated the evidence establishing the fact of existence then the fact confirms the proposition.

    Here is the proposition: “There is a person with six fingers in one hand.”

    So, I start the search for a person with six fingers in one hand, and I find one, he really has six fingers in one hand, and there are even people with six fingers in both hands, see:
    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070829120507AAb4nH0

    The point is that a proposition is a concept looking for the corresponding object in the world of reality outside of concepts and words in the mind of man.

    Another example, an expedition to search for an extinct animal, it is also a proposition that the extinct animal is still around, and with the description of that animal people can already launch into an expedition to locate it; and when they find an example of that animal still alive, that example itself is the evidence to the truth of the proposition namely that it indeed corresponds to the fact in the realm of reality.

    Now, as regards God, we have the proposition that God exists and in that proposition we give our concept of God as maker of everything in the universe with a beginning, then we start to research on the origin of everything in the universe, and realize that everything in the universe has a beginning; therefore it owes its origin to a maker, and that maker exactly satisfies the concept of God in the propounded proposition; and it is a circular process but it is not any fallacious circular argument.

    Now, see if you can produce an example of a fallacious really fallacious circular reasoning process where nothing is described at all in the proposition but you find something and then you fill in the blank thing in the proposition with what you find, that is an example of a circular reasoning and it is fallacious.

    Can you see the subtle difference now?

    Pachomius

  2. Nick Peters Says:

    Arnaldo: It is not circular reasoning when we state a proposition to prove that it corresponds to a fact in objective reality, and then we adduce or bring forth evidence to prove that there is indeed a fact in objective reality that corresponds to the proposition.

    Reply: That’s also evidentialism. It’s not presuppositionalism.

    Arnaldo: If that is circular reasoning then please give me a proposition about something that is to be proven to exist in objective reality without from the proposition itself there is the concept of that something that is to be proven to exist in objective reality.

    Reply: This sentence makes no sense.

    I’ll say God’s existence is not known from His existence but from the things that are seen.

    Arnaldo: Okay, I will give you a proposition about something to be proven to be a fact in objective reality, and when I have accumulated the evidence establishing the fact of existence then the fact confirms the proposition.

    Here is the proposition: “There is a person with six fingers in one hand.”

    So, I start the search for a person with six fingers in one hand, and I find one, he really has six fingers in one hand, and there are even people with six fingers in both hands, see:
    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070829120507AAb4nH0

    Reply: No problem with that.

    Arnaldo: The point is that a proposition is a concept looking for the corresponding object in the world of reality outside of concepts and words in the mind of man.

    Reply: Okay……

    Arnaldo: Another example, an expedition to search for an extinct animal, it is also a proposition that the extinct animal is still around, and with the description of that animal people can already launch into an expedition to locate it; and when they find an example of that animal still alive, that example itself is the evidence to the truth of the proposition namely that it indeed corresponds to the fact in the realm of reality.

    Reply: Again, evidentialism….

    Arnaldo: Now, as regards God, we have the proposition that God exists and in that proposition we give our concept of God as maker of everything in the universe with a beginning, then we start to research on the origin of everything in the universe, and realize that everything in the universe has a beginning; therefore it owes its origin to a maker, and that maker exactly satisfies the concept of God in the propounded proposition; and it is a circular process but it is not any fallacious circular argument.

    Reply: Here’s the problem. Yes. You can show God exists, but by reason alone, you cannot show that God is the Christian God. You need to show Jesus rose from the dead and for that, you need evidence. Be able to give a coherent explanation is not the same as giving a truthful one. Coherence is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

    Arnaldo: Now, see if you can produce an example of a fallacious really fallacious circular reasoning process where nothing is described at all in the proposition but you find something and then you fill in the blank thing in the proposition with what you find, that is an example of a circular reasoning and it is fallacious.

    Can you see the subtle difference now?

    Reply: Paragraph makes no sense….

    If nothing is described in the proposition, then the proposition says nothing. You assume however we can only reason from. We can also reason to.

  3. Arnaldo Blondel Says:

    You are very limited in making sense of things.

    ———————

    God exists even were He not described in a Bible; the Bible however also understands God as the maker of heaven and earth, that means everything, which is what man by reason alone can also come to.

    And it is all right for Christians to talk about God’s existence even without bringing in the Bible, which Bible is into a history of God’s dealing with the Jews and then with the rest of mankind.

    It is perfectly all right that Christians should go to reason to prove the existence of God to people who do not know the Bible or do not accept the Bible.

    To people who do not know or do not accept the Bible, Christians must first prove to them by reason that God exists as maker of everything in the universe with a beginning.

    Now, you want to insist that, that God proven from reason is not the God in the Bible; but that is irrelevant, for God the maker of everything is God in everything and everywhere, outside the Bible as also in the Bible, He is the same God.

    Indeed the proof of God by reason does not prove that He had a covenant with the Jews and in latter times He called every human to accept Him and do His will, but still God from reason is the same God in the Bible which Bible also describes God as the maker of heaven and earth, and this truth precisely man can and does know from reason alone without revelation in the Bible.

    ————————

    As regards circular argument.

    You bring in presuppositionalism and evidentialism, but even without those two isms you must already know what I am telling you: that a circular argument can be non-fallacious, and can guide the mind to the ascertainment of a fact in objective reality.

    But I can see right away that you are one who when faced with a valid point against you, you claim that the other party does not make sense, but you are the one not willing to see sense when it is against you.

    Here is an example of a fallacious circular argument from a robbery suspect made to a policeman interrogating him:

    Policeman: “Tell me how this Rolex watch can belong to you?”
    Robbery suspect: “Because I own it.”

    Now if it really belongs to the robbery suspect, this is the way the suspect can answer the policeman, and to you it might sound like a fallacious circular argument because you don’t know better; but it is not, and if you examine it you will grasp the difference:

    Policeman: “Tell me how this Rolex watch can belong to you?”
    Robbery suspect: “Because this receipt (showing a sales receipt) tells you I own it.”

    See my other examples of non-fallacious circular argument in my comment here four years earlier.

    ———————

    Coming back to your attitude of claiming not to see sense in other people’s words when they have made a valid point that is contrary to your view, that is a very negative attitude from your part to the collaborative search for useful knowledge.

    Pachomius

  4. Nick Peters Says:

    @Pachomius

    God exists even were He not described in a Bible; the Bible however also understands God as the maker of heaven and earth, that means everything, which is what man by reason alone can also come to.

    Reply: To an extent, as God is not maker of Himself as He is unmade, but what you are meaning to say is clear enough.

    Pacho: And it is all right for Christians to talk about God’s existence even without bringing in the Bible, which Bible is into a history of God’s dealing with the Jews and then with the rest of mankind.

    Reply: Which is a position I defend. We don’t need the Bible to prove God’s existence.

    Pacho: It is perfectly all right that Christians should go to reason to prove the existence of God to people who do not know the Bible or do not accept the Bible.

    Reply: No problem there.

    Pacho: To people who do not know or do not accept the Bible, Christians must first prove to them by reason that God exists as maker of everything in the universe with a beginning.

    Reply: I wonder why you spend so much time saying what I already agree with….

    Pacho: Now, you want to insist that, that God proven from reason is not the God in the Bible; but that is irrelevant, for God the maker of everything is God in everything and everywhere, outside the Bible as also in the Bible, He is the same God.

    Reply: He is, but He is not necessarily. Just because one has proven the God of reason, that does not mean they’ve necessarily proven that that matches with the one revealed in Christ. It is necessary to do so, but it is not sufficient.

    Pac: Indeed the proof of God by reason does not prove that He had a covenant with the Jews and in latter times He called every human to accept Him and do His will, but still God from reason is the same God in the Bible which Bible also describes God as the maker of heaven and earth, and this truth precisely man can and does know from reason alone without revelation in the Bible.

    Reply: Again, no problem there….

    ————————

    Pac: As regards circular argument.

    You bring in presuppositionalism and evidentialism, but even without those two isms you must already know what I am telling you: that a circular argument can be non-fallacious, and can guide the mind to the ascertainment of a fact in objective reality.

    Reply: I know no such thing. What you described last time is putting forward a hypothesis and testing it. It was not claiming X as knowledge and then seeking to find something that confirmed X as knowledge.

    Pac: But I can see right away that you are one who when faced with a valid point against you, you claim that the other party does not make sense, but you are the one not willing to see sense when it is against you.

    Reply: Let me tell you why I said it did not make sense. It’s really simple.

    I said that because it did not make sense.

    It could be your words, your grammar, anything. I looked at what you said over and over and it did not make sense.

    Pac: Here is an example of a fallacious circular argument from a robbery suspect made to a policeman interrogating him:

    Policeman: “Tell me how this Rolex watch can belong to you?”
    Robbery suspect: “Because I own it.”

    Reply: That’s not an argument. Assuming he’s the thief, that’s a proposition and one that is a lie. If he is not the thief, then he can bring forward evidence to back his claim that he knows prior based on past experience.

    Pac: Now if it really belongs to the robbery suspect, this is the way the suspect can answer the policeman, and to you it might sound like a fallacious circular argument because you don’t know better; but it is not, and if you examine it you will grasp the difference:

    Policeman: “Tell me how this Rolex watch can belong to you?”
    Robbery suspect: “Because this receipt (showing a sales receipt) tells you I own it.”

    Reply: Correct. This is not presuppositionalism however. In fact, it’s evidentialism.

    Pac: See my other examples of non-fallacious circular argument in my comment here four years earlier.

    Reply: Why not link it again?

    ———————

    Pac: Coming back to your attitude of claiming not to see sense in other people’s words when they have made a valid point that is contrary to your view, that is a very negative attitude from your part to the collaborative search for useful knowledge.

    Pachomius

    Reply: Again, I said it because it did not make sense. No ulterior motives so why look for them?

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