Thursday, January 29, 2009

Strong Logic Can Fool Us

I have blogged extensively about our desires skewing our perceptions of truth, however I have also found that our logic can do the same if we're not careful.

Just because something is logical doesn't mean it is true. I give you two examples.

The first is based on the discovery of non-euclidean geometry. For centuries euclidean geometry was seen as a perfect system of logic that explained the known physical world. An example of euclidean goemetry would be the theorem that states that all the angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees.

Later non-euclidean forms of geometry were discovered. Non-euclidean geometry allows for the angels of triangles to NOT add up to 180 degrees.

Both euclidean and non-euclidean geometries are logical. They are simply based upon different assumptions (axioms).

This is SO important. The test of truth isn't simply whether or not something is logical. One has to then try and test the assumptions that the logic is built up on.

For instance, although I do believe in the humane treatment of animals, I don't take it as far as a PETA extremist might and object to even eating meat because it might be unethical. However, I agree that the PETA extremist is being logical based upon their evolutionary assumptions. If we all came from animals, then they are essentially equal to us in value. They are our ancestors. The logical conclusion one should draw from this assumption is to treat animals and humans the same.

One option is to experiment, cage, eat and kill humans just as we do animals in the name of this equality. Of course no one outside of a few maniac dictators throughout history subscribes to such a conclusion, so the more acceptable alternative is found in the animal rights movement.

I would therefore conclude that anyone who believes in evolution but does NOT subscribe to such an ethic is logically inconsistent. I would object to the PETA extremist's views on the grounds of an examination of their evolutionary assumptions.

Of course at this presuppositional level, I can only object so far. There is a level of depth with presuppositions, where one cannot simply rely on logical consistency to consider the possible validity of an assumption. There is a point where faith and our volition has to bridge the gaps of interpretations on both sides of an argument.

However I do not object to evolution merely on faith. I only bring faith into the picture to say that I require it (as does the evolutionist) in the sense that I reject evolution because given what I know, it is not probable to be true. In my opinion, it is possible, but not as likely given the facts. That is the faith that I talk about.

The second example that I would give of something being logical but not necessary true is taken from G.K. Chesterton's classic, "Orthodoxy". In the chapter called "The Maniac", he talks about people who have lost their minds and have been put away in mental asylums:

"The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason."

The paranoid person actually USES logic. If you tell the paranoid person that everyone is NOT out to get him, he might disagree on the grounds that your telling him this is exactly what he'd expect if YOU were also out to get him.

Such a person hasn't lost their ability to reason. Their problem is that all they have left is their reasoning capacity. The problem with their reasoning capacity is that their world is too small. The paranoid person thinks every person walking past them is focused on their small world. The paranoid person fails to consider the possibility that the person walking past them might live in a world that is too large to be consumed with the paranoid.

Chesterton says it this way:

"The lunatic’s theory
explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. I mean that if you
or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so
much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and
cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument."

It is interesting that with this example, the key to truth is whether or not the reasoner is applying reason to something larger than himself. I would therefore argue that the materialist, the humanist, the agnostic and the atheist, all live in a world that is too small. Like the paranoid, they live in a world where they are the center of gravity. In a nutshell, this is what Chesterton called "The suicide of thought."

The other thing I have learned from this line of thinking is that the presence or absence of logic can fool us. If we're not careful, we can be convinced of something's truthfulness because the argument for it is logical. Sometimes something is logical but untrue.

Also, sometimes we can't form logic to justify something NOT because it is false, but simply because we don't have enough information to fill in the gaps of logic.

Logic, in its most raw form, is "If x, then y".

A practical example: "What goes up must come down". Gravity is x and "coming down" is y.

Sometimes we have y (usually an observation) but haven't found x.

For instance, if an ancient were to see a helicopter hovering over their tent and then fly away, they wouldn't be able to apply logic to their observation because they wouldn't have sufficient information to understand what was happening. However, their inability to apply logic simply means that they don't have all the information necessary. It does NOT mean that the observation wasn't logical.

I believe everything has a purpose and therefore everything is logical. However I do NOT believe that any one of us can explain everything. Therefore my logic, when applied to our human limitations, leads me to also embrace mystery and therefore faith.

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