Wednesday, May 29, 2013

REVIEWING LOGIC: A REFORMED APPROACH TO THE FOUNDATION OF WESTERN THOUGHT

Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought. Vern Sheridan Poythress. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2013. 733 pp. $45.00. ISBN 978-1-4335-3229-0.

            This magnificent tome is an introductory textbook to Logic, written by the eminent Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, Vern Sheridan Poythress. In this book review I will begin by explaining what the purpose of the book is and how the book is divided. This will be followed by some comments as to whether this book accomplishes its purpose, and as to how it compares to other books which have the same purpose. Finally, I will note some of the difficulties that I noticed in this book, as well as some questions that came to mind as I read this book.

This book is designed to be a complete introduction to Logic, written from the perspective of reformed presuppositionalist theologian. Though it is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the book, this book was most likely designed to be a textbook for courses in Logic at Westminster Theological Seminary. The book contains a detailed Table of Contents, a Bibliography, a General Index and an Index of scripture passages, which make this book very easy to use.

The book is divided into four main sections. The first section deals with what the author calls “Elementary Logic”, but it is almost entirely the philosophy of logic, though the author might prefer the term theology. The author spends almost the entire first section explaining how logic should be understood by a person who adheres to a Christian theistic worldview, and why all non-Christian worldviews have inadequate notions of logic. For example, he struggles with attempts to show that Logic reveals God’s nature, and that logic is essentially Trinitarian. He also struggles with explaining some of the fundamental philosophical notions that influence the way philosophers understand logic, such as the problem of universals, the question of analogy, and the history of philosophical thought on logic in general. A second aspect that is a little bit frightening is the blatantly obvious lack of references for many of the general claims that he makes about non-Christian concepts of Logic. The book is filled with references to other reformed authors, but, even though he mentions important names in Logic, such as Aristotle, there is a lack of references to Aristotle’s works. These major difficulties are what makes the book as long as it is, are found in each of the following sections, and diminish the overall quality of the book as a Logic textbook. Each section and subsection is introduced by an attempt at explaining how the Christian Theistic worldview should influence our understanding of the notions of Logic that are to be explained. The second section deals with Propositional Logic. The third section deals with Predicate and the various forms of Mathematical logic. The fourth section is a series of appendices which provide extra proofs for the three previous sections as well as a section dealing with contemporary questions on logic. Each chapter finishes with a number of questions that could be used by a teacher in a class on logic.

In general this book accomplishes its purpose. It was intended to be an introduction to logic, and it is just that. It was also intended to be, in particular, a reformed presuppositionalist introduction to logic, and it is just that. As such, it accomplishes the purposes that the author set for it. The main question is, does this book accomplish its purposes well? This is probably the only introductory book that looks at logic from a specifically reformed presuppositionalist perspective, and, as such, it is unique. Anybody who wishes to understand logic from a reformed presuppositionalist perspective will find that this book is the best book that they can get a hold of on that subject. However, as an introductory textbook to logic, it ranks very low on the list of good introductory books to logic, and would be the last book that I would recommend as an introductory textbook on the subject. Many of its explanations are vague, and the author spends more time defending a presuppositionalist view of Logic than actually explaining the notions of logic. Furthermore, the book lacks, compared to books such as Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic and Pospensel’s Propositional Logic, an acceptable amount of practice exercises, as well as a correction table for practice exercises. Some of the subjects are treated in such a summary manner as to make the chapter on them of very little use. As such, this book is of great use to anybody who wishes to have an introduction to presuppositionalist logic. However, it is of little use to anybody who actually wishes to learn how to use logic.

Due to limitations in space, I will simply note a number couple of difficulties with this book, and a number of questions that the attentive reader is left asking. First of all, the author claims that there is a properly Christian logic, and then sets out to develop it.[1] Of course, anybody who has already studied logic, either in a secular institution, or in a non-reformed institution, will immediately notice that the only parts of this book that are different from “Non-Christian” logic are those claims that are specifically presuppositionalist, and which have absolutely nothing to do with the actual practice of logical thinking. Secondly, his definition of Autonomy, “making human judgment and human standards for judgment an ultimate touchstone in one’s life”,[2] which he applies to all non-Christian worldviews, seems to be an instance of the fallacy of Sweeping generalization,[3] and, in many instances is quite simply false.[4] Many non-Christians have been seeking a higher standard, claiming that a standard based upon human thoughts is not enough, such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and many of the great philosophers. Thirdly, the well-known Van Tillian claim that all reasoning is ultimately circular is asserted without proof. It is a presupposition of presuppositionalism, and it seems strange to begin a book that is supposed to help us to reason properly by explaining that all reasoning is circular. A fourth difficulty is his usage of the trinity to explain the problem of Universals. Aside from the fact that this chapter is stock full of erroneous affirmations, his explanation of the Trinity (which he comes back to in an appendix) is either an instance of the fallacy of Equivocation or is straight out heresy.[5] Some of the questions that we are left asking are: Theological presuppositions aside, what is the actual difference between a Non-Christian and a Christian Logic? Do things have natures or not, and if they do, is it possible for the Natures of things to be the immediate cause of the regularities that we experience in the world?[6] He claims that all people deny the existence of God based upon moral considerations,[7] and though there are a multitude of people that have done this, we are left asking whether it is possible to deny God based purely on intellectual considerations? Are Non-Christians capable of discerning between good and bad arguments? All of his claims about the character of God are based upon what the Bible says (and this is a good source), however he simply believes that the Bible is true, so the question inevitably arises, How does he “know” that God is as the Bible says that God is? Throughout much of the book, whenever he explains the “Non-Christian” position, we are left asking, Who said this, do ALL non-christians says this, and, where do they say it? Is there really a “Christian” position on the problem of Universals?[8]

This book contains many more difficulties, inaccuracies and ambiguous statements; so much so that this reviewer is simply unable to honestly recommend this book as a course textbook for in introduction to logic. I would recommend it as a monument of presuppositionalist thinking on logic (its presuppositionalist claims are the only thing which makes this book unique). There is nothing about this book that makes it better than other, already existing, textbooks on logic, as far as teaching logic is concerned. This book is so filled with presuppositionalist presuppositions and catch phrases, with almost no support being given for these claims, that it is almost useless as an introduction to logic. We are left wondering what, if there is any, is the real difference between presuppositional logic and “regular” logic (which is practiced by non-presuppositionalist Christians and Non-Christians alike), aside from the presuppositions of presuppositionalism. It is a monumental work of presuppostionalist logic, but a horrible textbook on logic.



[1]Vern Sheridan Poythress, Logic : A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought (Wheaton, IL : Crossway, 2013), 25, 35, 41.

[2]Ibid., 35.

[3]Cf. Ibid., 125.

[4]Cf. Ibid.,110, 141. He generalizes so much that many of his claims about Non-Christian thinkers are, quite simply, false. One wonders if he actually interacts with the “secular” authors that he mentions, or if he is just quoting other Presuppositionalists on the subject at hand.

[5]Ibid., 146. Cf. 674-678.

[6]Cf. Ibid., 53.

[7]Cf. Ibid., 84.

[8]Many of the great Christian thinkers have taken positions on the question of universals, and there is almost no agreement. For example, Aquinas seems to have taken a moderate realist position, Ockham and Martin Luther both took the Nominalist position, and other Christian thinkers such as Augustine seem to have taken the Extreme Realist position. The question is still open, and it seems quite pretentious and a little bit ignorant to claim that there is A Christian position on this question.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Is Abortion Morally Right or Wrong? (A Philosophical Perspective)



One of the most debated questions today is whether or not abortion is morally acceptable, and, if it is, until what stage in the development of the substance which is created by the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm?[1] This blog post is the second article in a series of blog articles that are being published by the Canadian Apologetics Coalition. Click here to see the first article in the series. Click here to see the full list of articles to come, with links being added as the articles are published.

The argument that I will be advancing is based upon arguments and definitions that I have advanced in a blog series that I did on What it means to be a Human Person, parts 1-13,[2] as such it is purely philosophical.[3] The following argument seems to demonstrate that abortion, from the moment of fertilization onward, is pre-meditated murder, where Pre-meditated murder is defined as planning to kill a human-being, and following through on the plan, thereby successfully killing the human being; or, in other words, successfully killing a human being in a way that was planned prior to the action. Furthermore, if the argument is valid, and sound, then it is a morally objective fact that abortion from fertilization onward is as morally depraved as premeditated murder, and this conclusion is based upon human nature. Aristotle defines humans as rational animals, seeing as I have defended this definition in the series mentioned above, I will presuppose it in this argument.

The Argument is as follows:

(1)   Any X is human if and only if X has a rational form.
(2)   X possesses a rational form if and only if X is either actually thinking rationally, or in potency to rational thought.
(3)   The substance created by human fertilization is in potency to rational thought.
(4)   Therefore, the substance created by human fertilization possesses a rational form.
(5)   Therefore, the substance created by human fertilization is human, by definition.
(6)   Pre-meditated murder is successfully killing a human being in a way that was planned prior to the action. (If X is killed according to a pre-established plan, and X is a human, then X is the victim of pre-meditated murder.)
(7)   The substance created by human fertilization is killed according to a pre-established plan when it is aborted.
(8)   Therefore, killing (aborting) the substance created by human fertilization is the moral equivalent of pre-meditated murder.

A consequence of this argument is that, if it is morally wrong to commit pre-meditated murder, then it is morally wrong to kill the substance created by human fertilization. Therefore, Abortion is pre-meditated murder.

For those who are interested I worked this argument out using predicate logic, and it seems to be valid.[4] (Perhaps a better logician than I would disagree. I would appreciate any comments on this point.) The soundness of this argument depends, of course, upon the truth of each of the premises.

Premise 1 is, essentially, the Aristotelian definition of human nature. I exposed, and attempted to defend this definition in blog series mentioned above, and, so, I will not take the time to defend it here.

Premise 2 follows upon premise 1. I use the terms actually and potency in the Aristotelian sense, where that which is in potency to A, does not actually possess, or is not actually in a state of, A; but, that which is in potency to A, due to its form or nature, and given a certain maturity and properly functioning organs, will possess, or be capable of being in a state of, A. So, for example, though an acorn is not yet a tree, it is in potency to be a tree. Though a child is not yet an adult, it is in potency to being an adult and in potency to all of the capacities that an adult has. In fact, a human person who is in a coma is also in potency to rational thought. The term actually, or, in other words, to be in act, refers to the fact that, if something is actually A, then it is in possession of, or is currently in a state of, A. So, the acorn is in potency to being a tree, but it is actually an acorn (a nut). A child is in potency to being an adult, but it is actually a child.  With these concepts in mind, premise 2 is simply stating that a being with a rational form is either actually in the act of reasoning (such as I am right now, and as the reader is as they read these words), or said being is not actually reasoning at the time being, though they are in potency to the act of reasoning, such as a person who is sleeping or is in a coma, or a one year old child who cannot yet reason, or the substance created by human fertilization.

Premise 3 is, perhaps, a point of friction; however, it follows upon premise 2, and it is based upon 2 facts. First of all, though the substance that is created by the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm is not actually capable of reasoning, it is in potency to the act of reasoning. This is an empirical observation based upon the fact that, unless the substance which is the result of human fertilization dies prematurely, or has malfunctioning hardware, it inevitably is not only capable of reasoning, but will spend most of its waking hours involved in some form of reasoning. Secondly, based upon our definition of potency, if it is not actually reasoning, but will be able to reason, then it is in potency to rational thought. There may be a problem here: do we say that a thing is in potency to rationality because it has a rational form, or do we say that a thing has a rational form because it is actually in the process of reasoning, or is in potency to rational thought? This is an interesting question. For the time being, anyways, I am of the opinion that when we say that something has a rational form we are performing an act of classification. Therefore, though form precedes rationality in the substance itself (metaphysically), the observation of rationality (actually or only potentially) in a subject precedes the categorization (epistemologically). For Aristotle, the form is in the thing itself, and our classification of things into their various genus’s and species is an act of the intellect. Things are what they are due to their form; we know that they are what they are due to the intellect’s abstraction of the form from its observation of the thing. Therefore, the above problem is not really a problem; it simply brings up the distinction that we have just made. The answer to the dilemma above is “yes”.

As noted above, Premise 4 follows upon Premise 3 epistemologically. Though, we could, it seems, change the order of these two premises without greatly affecting the argument, if we wanted to put more emphasis upon the metaphysical nature of the substance in question than on our knowledge of its nature. Is the argument, therefore, circular? It does not seem to be circular; neither does it seem to beg the question. Rather, the first four premises seem to be the result of empirical observation.

Premise 5 is the conclusion of the first 4 premises, and if the first four premises are true, then Premise 5 would appear to follow necessarily. Now, as the following premises would appear to demonstrate, if premise 5 follows upon premises 1-4, then we are put into a nasty situation as regards abortion, at any stage of development from fertilization on.

Premise 6 is a simple definition of pre-meditated murder. Perhaps someone would want to add certain nuances; however, I believe that this definition gives an appropriate summary of what is generally viewed as pre-meditated murder. (Exceptions are simply that, exceptions. They do not remove the fact of the general observation.)

Premise 7 is assumed for the logical argument, but it is a fact of modern reality. Every day (and I am sorry if I under-estimate the number) thousands of abortions are carried out, around the world, at almost every stage of the development of the substance that is caused by human fertilization. Usually, killing after birth is seen as murder, and treated as such, however, doctors, patients, politicians, and activists, seem to be able to find reasons to rationalize killing the substance in question at any stage of its development. Therefore, premise 7 is not really up for debate here.

Premise 8 is simply the conclusion of premises 1-7. Logically it seems to follow, and if I have been successful, then this argument is not only logically valid, but it is also sound, and, therefore, the conclusion is also true.

I guess I will leave it up to the reader to decide what to do with this argument.


[1]I will be using, as much as possible, the term substance created by human fertilization to refer to the being that is the fusion of the sperm and the egg, rather than less morally neutral terms such as: human baby, human fetus, etc. This will not be satisfactory for those who are pro-life activists, who will probably say that I’m giving too much to the pro-choice activists. Please forgive me for this; if someone so desires, they may read baby, or human fetus into the text, it won’t change the effect of the argument. For the more philosophically minded, the term substance is indeed a highly debated term. I use this term in the Aristotelian sense in which it means, more or less, the actually existing thing or, a being that is endowed with a certain nature. I stay as far away as possible from the Lockean definition of substance as the substratum of a thing which is unknowable. When we see a human with brown hair, that is 6’6” walking down the street, we are immediately aware of its accidents, but this awareness is only possible if we are simultaneously aware of its substance, the being that has the accidents and that is endowed with a human nature.

[2]For those who don’t have time to read my blog series in human nature, this argument is based upon an Aristotelian conception of human nature, and, as such, this is not a religious argument.

[3]I am not presupposing any religious claims.

           [4]The Argument seems to work out as follows (Any comments would be appreciated):



1. ∀x (Hx↔Rx) A

2. ∀x (Rx ↔(Tx v Px) A

3. ∀x ((Kx & Hx) → Mx) A

4. Pf PA

5. Hf ↔ Rf 1∀O

6. Rf ↔(Tf v Pf) 2∀O

7. (Tf v Pf) → Rf 6↔O

8. Tf PA

9. Tf v Pf 4vI

10. Rf 7,9→O

11. Tf→Rf 8-10vI

12. Rf→Hf 5↔O

13. Hf 10,12→O

14. Pf→Hf 4-13→I

15. Kf PA

16. (Kf & Hf)→Mf 3∀O

17. Kf & Hf 13, 15&I

18. Mf 16,17→O

19. Kf→Mf 15-18→I

Domain Key :
Hx = x is a human
Rx = x possesses a Rational Form
Tx = x is actually thinking rationally
Px = x is in potency to rational thought
Kx = x is killed according to a plan
Mx = x is the victim of a pre-meditated murder
            F = the substance created by human fertilization


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Canadian Apologetics Coalition: Contending for Life and Sexuality


     The Canadian Apologetics Coalition is doing a blog series on Abortion and Human Sexuality. Here is the first blog in the series, Omnibus Bill C-150: True Progress?, published by Jojo Ruba and Justin Wishart on the Faith Beyond Belief Blog. Faith Beyond Belief is an apologetics ministry based in Calgary, Alberta. This blog looks at the Omnibus C-150 Bill which "legalized birth control, divorce, homosexuality and abortion among others." 

      There will be 8 more blog posts in this series by bloggers across Canada touching on subjects such as: 

May 16 - Is Abortion Morally Right or Wrong (A Philosophical Perspective) by David Haines

May 18 - Making a Clear and Concise Case for Life by Tim Barnett

May 20 - Abortion and the Bible: Why Pro-life by Jonathon Van Maren

May 22 - A Personal Story of Adoption by Stephen J. Bedard

May 24 - Living in Colour: Recovering after Abortion by Mckenzie Hahn

May 26 - Homosexuality: Beyond Society and Into Theology by Steven Richard Martins

May 28 - Birth Control by Maaike Rosendal

May 30 - Defending the Inherent Value of Life by Jojo Ruba

Plus, one extra post - The Orwellian World of the Secular Left by Luis Dizon


Keep your eyes open as I will be sharing these various posts as they come out.