logic

Logic and Worship

By Justin Wishart

As I was in a local Christian bookstore, I noticed a book simply titled Logic. Since I am fascinated with the study of logic, I grabbed the book. The author of this book was Isaac Watts who lived between 1674-1748,[1] with this book being first published in 1724.[2] I was very interested in the chronology of the book as a historical look into logic, as it was written before symbolic logic became a dominant way of teaching and doing logic. Another thing that really interested me was that Isaac Watts is much better known for writing hymns, some of which we still sing today.[3] Many people seem to think worship music and logic somehow operate in different spheres. While the book itself isn't about the relationship between logic and worship specifically, there are many clues as to what he thought that relationship might entail.

Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts

The first thing to do is properly define what worship means within Christianity. In the ESV translation, the word "worship" is used 110 times in 104 verses. Reading through the verses shows how big a topic worship actually is, and how the word refers to many different things. It can refer to religious ceremonies that one performs.[4] It could mean the actions one does in their life.[5] Worship can be done incorrectly (Deuteronomy 12:4), directed towards the wrong object (1 Kings 9:6), and if done incorrectly or to the wrong object there will be great consequences (Deuteronomy 8:19). Worship seems to be so much more than mere Sunday service songs, yet it also includes our sacred songs. Merriam-Webster provides some definitions that help sum up this encompassing view of worship:

2: reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also: an act of expressing such reverence

3: a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual

4: extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem[6]

Particularly striking is definition 4, which has "devotion" as part of the definition, which really lines up with Scripture well (see Romans 12:1, for example). This means that worship is an all-encompassing trajectory of one's life. While it includes things we do, it also includes who we are. To worship God is to become godly. Once worship is biblically defined, we can see how logic becomes critical in proper worship. Jesus said, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24).[7]

In the introduction of Watts' book, he spells out the usefulness of logic in a person's life.[8] We will go through what he says and apply it to worship as defined above.

Now the design of Logic is to teach us the right use of our reason, or intellectual powers, and the improvements of them in ourselves and others. This is not only necessary in order to attain any competent knowledge in the sciences, or the affairs of learning, but to govern both the greater and the meaner actions of life. It is the cultivation of our reason by which we are better enabled to distinguish good from evil, as well as truth from falsehood; and both these are matter of the highest importance, whether we regard this life, or the life to come.[9]

There seem to be three general prongs in Watts' quote. First, logic cultivates our inner self. Second, logic helps inform our actions in life. Third, logic is needed to know what is true.

Logic Cultivates Our Inner Self

This perhaps is the most profound relationship between logic and worship that Watts presents, because it does not merely indicate our outward expressions, but speaks to who we are. Scripture tells us that we are made in God's image, but what does this mean? The late theologian Gordon Clark gives the answer:

The Scripture teaches that God created man in his own image. Although the first chapter of Genesis does not say explicitly what that image is, it implies that the image distinguishes man from the animals. From Colossians 3:10 we may infer that the image consists chiefly in knowledge, rationality, or logic. . . . Therefore, the contention is that knowledge and rationality are the basic constituents of God's image in man.[10]

While some might protest against the idea that rationality is "the basic constituents of God's image in man," certainly one should recognize that logic is at least part of God's image. There is a relation, an image, between the mind of God and the image of God in man, to our mind.[11]

To develop one's logical abilities is a sanctifying process towards the pure design of God for man. God gave us logic so we can think His thoughts, communicate with Him, communicate about Him to others, communicate with others, and enact His will on this earth. All these things we understand to be exactly what worship is. Thus, the more we develop our internal logical faculties, the better we become at being vessels of worship of the creator who made everything logically and orderly. Logic is, therefore, critical to worship.

Logic Helps Inform Our Actions in Life

In Deuteronomy we read, "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way" (12:4). The immediate question should be: how shall we not worship God? There is also the question of who the real God is that we should worship. In the same book we read, "And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish" (8:19). It becomes extremely important that we have the right God, and that we worship God correctly. This is no easy task, but it is a task which requires logic to complete. Without logic, you could not tell the difference between Christ and Krishna, or know whether to communicate with the spirit world, or partake in Communion.

Given our definition of worship, we need to know to whom we worship and how we are to act in our worship before we can know our proper actions. Thus, in order to be worshipers who worship in truth in our actions, we need to have solid development of our logic and reasoning. As mentioned, this process is not always easy, but the more we develop our logical faculties the more competent in worship we become.

Logic is Needed to Know What is True

Obviously, if we are to be worshipers who worship in truth, then knowing what is true becomes critical. When Jesus proclaimed, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," Jesus equated Himself with truth (John 14:6). As Christian worshipers, the truth, or Jesus, must be defining our lives because worship is our lives. Logic becomes critical in distinguishing, as Watts said earlier, "good from evil, as well as truth from falsehood." Should we act one way or another in some situation? Should we sing this hymn or that hymn? Should we worship this God or that god? Is this experience we are experiencing from God or from a demonic angel of light? We cannot even begin to answer these questions until we can distinguish truth from error. This is but another way that logic is necessary to our worship.

Even when we look strictly at worship music itself, we see that logic is necessary. Do we want to sing words of error if we are to worship in truth? On the back cover of this book, Doug Wilson says the following:

Fuzzy thinking is one of the great sins of our age. Christians who seek a return to the clear-mindedness which characterized the church of previous generations will certainly welcome the return of this great text on logic by Isaac Watts. The clear devotion of Watts' hymns came from a clear mind – and that was no accident.

Many people wrongly characterize logic as somehow a "cold" exercise that is not a befitting pursuit for a Christian. Logic is certainly not an easy field of study, it is true, but neither is becoming good at the piano easy. However, when we look at what logic is and how it applies to worship, we see that logic is truly a beautiful thing. It is a gift from God, and allows us to have a real and meaningful relationship with Him and with others. It allows us to become the creations He meant us to be. It allows us to follow God's commands in our lives because our love for Him compels us to do so (John 14:15). Because of logic, we can become the true vessels of worship we were intended to be, and really, what could be more beautiful than that?

[1] "Isaac Watts," Wikipedia, updated August 19, 2015, accessed October 30, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Watts.

[2] The copy I purchased was a reprint: Isaac Watts, Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1993).

[3] Notable ones are "Joy to the World" and "As I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

[4] For example, in Acts 24:11, Paul says he went to Jerusalem to worship, meaning he went there for the religious ceremonies done at the Temple.

[5] For example, in Romans 9:4 worship has been translated from the word λατρεία which means "service rendered for hire; any service or ministration: the service of God; the service and worship of God according to the requirements of the Levitical law; to perform sacred services." Also look at Hebrews 12:28.

[6] "Worship," Merriam-Webster, accessed October 30, 2015, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/worship

[7] All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[8] Watts, Logic, 1. Watts defines logic as "the art of using Reason well in our inquiries after truth, and the communication of it to others."

[9] Ibid., 1-2.

[10] Gordon Clark, Christian Philosophy (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004), 308-09.

[11] Augustine also held this view. For more, see Ronald Nash's book, The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine's Theory of Knowledge (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1969).


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Matt Dillahunty's Illogical Worldview

By Justin Wishart

I recently watched a debate between Sye Ten Bruggencate and Matt Dillahunty.[1] I have been mildly interested in Dillahunty's show The Atheist Experience[2] over the years. The question under debate was whether it was reasonable to believe God exists. I was pleasantly surprised that Dillahunty presented what I think is his epistemological position. Ten Bruggencate suggested that Dillahunty's worldview leads to absurdity. Is this true?

The most striking feature of Dillahunty's epistemology is that he gives a two-level epistemological view. The first level, which I will call the metaphysical level, says that we cannot know reality. "As such, many philosophers have simply acknowledged they cannot be absolutely certain about anything, including the claim that they cannot be absolutely certain."[3] The second level, which I call the subjective level, is that one must accept certain presuppositions as true, with no argument given for them as all arguments are derived from them.

My worldview begins with the recognition of the logical absolutes,[4] that they are true and the foundation of reliable thoughts, as such that we can derive sensible conclusions from them. While I don't support absolute certainty in the ultimate sense . . . the logical absolutes represent maximal certainty, which may or may not be absolute, and anything directly deduced from those absolutes, like math and set theory, are also maximally certain, while things indirectly derived from those are reasonably certainties.[5]

So, how does Dillahunty combine the metaphysical level with the subjective level in his overall epistemological scheme?

In the past I have said that we can be absolutely certain that we exist, that the logical absolutes are true, and about things like exoteric claims and labels, but my expression of absolute certainty on those topics are done within the context of an epistemological view known as foundherentism (which is a combination of foundationalism and coherentalism). In a nutshell, in the rules of chess it is absolutely wrong to move your rook diagonally. And while I reject that we can be absolutely certain from an externalist point of view, we can still be absolutely certain within the meshed framework, and it makes no sense to appeal to some absolute truth which it isn't wrong to move your rook diagonally . . . I will simply refer to this as maximal certainty, and that maximal certainty may or may not map to ultimate certainty.[6]

To put it succinctly, while we can deduce certainty at the subjective level, we cannot obtain certainty at the metaphysical level. An important consequence of this scheme is that all claims to knowledge, including what he calls maximal certainty, are predicated on the understanding that nothing is knowable at the metaphysical level. It follows that Dillahunty's scheme is fundamentally pragmatic, and he recognizes this: "I will concede, as do most philosophers, that there appears to be no . . . absolute solution. But I am stuck dealing with the reality I experience until someone offers me a way out."[7] It's not that Dillahunty's subjective level is capable of deriving true beliefs, but that it has worked best for him. Yet, a Christian could offer the same explanation, but they would have a different subjective level foundational set than Dillahunty. This seems necessarily true as all our experiences are different. How does Dillahunty avoid the charge of situational arbitrarity?[8] When viewing this at the metaphysical level, there is no reasonable belief for Dillahunty at all, much less a reasonable belief in God. This would, of course, include his subjective-level epistemology scheme. This refutes anything he may say at the subjective level and his words are reduced to mindless babbling.

Dillahunty thinks that a valid accounting of knowledge isn't even important. "Whether or not my beliefs count as knowledge,[9] under my definition or Sye's or someone else's, is irrelevant to the topic of this debate and it's largely irrelevant in any context that isn't expressly an academic philosophical discussion about knowledge."[10] Does he really think that one's belief corresponding to reality has no bearing on the reasonableness of the belief in God? Well, since he brought up Ten Bruggencate, let's see what Ten Bruggencate said about this relationship. "Why is it reasonable to believe that God exists? Quite simply, because it is true that he exists."[11] The truth of the issue is exactly the standard that Ten Bruggencate uses to define reasonableness. This refutes Dillahunty's statement, and one's belief being real has much bearing in a conversation with Ten Bruggencate. It also seems that Dillahunty himself recognizes the importance of beliefs corresponding to reality. "It's in our best interest to believe in as many true things, and as few false things, as is possible. Making our internal map of reality as accurate as possible."[12] It appears that for Dillahunty, the correspondence of our beliefs to reality is important, unless he contends that this statement isn't reasonable. Why is it reasonable to believe in as many true things as possible if the truth of the belief has no bearing on the belief's reasonableness? This seems contradictory.

However, Dillahunty is insistent that we look at his epistemological scheme from the subjective level, so we will. He seems unaware that he presents a trilemma:

  1. Since he has made the term "reasonable" a result of one's subjective level of epistemology, of course the existence of God becomes reasonable to the Christian. It is also the case that it is true that it is unreasonable to believe in God's existence for the Atheist. This makes it true that it is both reasonable and unreasonable to believe in the existence of God. Since there is no way, according to Dillahunty, to know if one's view corresponds to reality, we seem stuck with this contradiction, "and that way madness lies."[13]
  2. Or, if he insists that the unreasonableness of God's existence is objectively more reasonable still, his position leads to a case of special pleading. He believes his subjective level is superior to the Christian's subjective level, but cannot provide valid and sound argument that is supported by evidence.[14] Dillahunty may appeal to philosophical consensus as much as he likes, but he knows this does nothing to prove the reality of his view. The rules soften when applied to his position, while they are in full force when applied to Ten Bruggencate.
  3. If he makes it about the reasonableness of a belief, with no reference to its correspondence to reality, then he must provide valid, sound criteria. Since the only thing left to him is the subjective level, any criteria will be circular. What is reasonable is dictated by the subjective level, and the subjective level seems derived from its reasonableness.

I didn't focus on more minor issues in Dillahunty's presentation, as they were legion. I will only mention one as an example. "'You can't know anything unless you know everything or know someone who knows everything.' Well, I would like to see the proof of that rather than just an assertion or a demand that we prove them wrong or a fallacious shifting of the burden of proof."[15] He says one cannot use a "prove me wrong" defense as this is a "fallacious shifting of the burden of proof." Then why earlier did he provide this argument in support of his subjective view?

I don't believe that the question "Why are the logical absolutes true?" expresses a sensible concept. For me it's like asking, "Why is one, one?" Because it is and it doesn't appear it could be any other way and if it could be any other way, give any evidence to the contrary, you need to demonstrate it, and that's a very heavy burden of proof, but if you can do it, then I will believe it.[16]

With such faulty reasoning and shoddy argumentation it's a wonder that anyone takes his views seriously. I have lost nearly all interest in Matt Dillahunty as a serious thinker after watching this debate. He is no more profound than the people I debate on Facebook, although he uses bigger words. Ten Bruggencate said earlier on in the debate he wanted to argue that unbelief in God leads to absurdity. While Dillahunty's performance doesn't prove that conclusion, it did prove that Dillahunty's epistemology, at least, leads to absurdity.


[1] "The Refining Reason Debate: Matt Dillahunty VS Sye Ten Bruggencate," YouTube, June 3, 2014, accessed February 21, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL8LREmbDi0. All time indexes given in this article are taken from this video.

[2] The Atheist Experience, accessed February 21, 2015, http://www.atheist-experience.com.

[3] Dillahunty vs. Ten Bruggencate, 27:33.

[4] Dillahunty equates "logical absolutes" with the "Laws of Logic."

[5] Dillahunty vs. Ten Bruggencate, 30:42.

[6] Ibid., 31:50.

[7] Ibid., 27:06.

[8] This is the idea that our situation is such as it is. If our subjective level epistemology is based on this situational arbitrariness, then it follows that Dillahunty promotes an arbitrary epistemology.

[9] Defined as justified true belief.

[10] Dillahunty vs. Ten Bruggencate, 32:54.

[11] Ibid., 1:57.

[12] Ibid., 13:30.

[13] Ibid., 14:11.

[14] Ibid., 12:00. This is Dillahunty's definition of a reasonable belief, which makes his two-tier epistemology unreasonable by his own standards.

[15] Ibid., 33:15.

[16] Ibid., 30:14.


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