The Broken Circle
When materialistic atheists are shown that truth, logic, and knowledge are logically impossible to account for in their worldview because it results in vicious circularity with no escape (because it never leaves the "human plane of reasoning"), they'll often try to turn the argument around by claiming that Christian thiests have the same problem. But this is not the case! Truth, logic and knowlege can very easily be accounted for via the Christian worldview without vicious circularity, and even without "virtuous" circularity.
Here is how...
There are three overarching questions that we will address:
1. WHAT do we know?
2. HOW do we know (what we know)?
3. How do we PROVE our account?
Let's take a look at each of these questions in detail...
1. WHAT do we know?
Truth and logic (which stem from the nature of omniscient God) are the starting points of our epistemology. We cannot truly know anything without them! As human beings, we are "equipped" with the innate knowledge that truth exists and is itself true, and that the laws of logic exist and are true. That is to say, truth and logic are self evident truths.
"Self evident" is defined as:
- Not needing to be demonstrated or explained, obvious.
- Requiring no proof or explanation.
- Evident in itself without proof or demonstration; axiomatic.
...Thus, a self evident truth is one that does not require justification to be known. We simply "know that we know" that truth and logic are valid and true. Every rational, sane person does! And because we know that truth and logic are valid and true, we know that truth and logic enable absolutely true conclusions when correctly applied. In other words, truth and logic enable logical proofs.
For example, truth and logic enable us to know with absolute certainty that the conclusion of this deductive syllogism is true provided the premises are true:
P1. All men are immortal.
P2. Socrates is a man.
P3. Therefore Socrates is immortal.
To reiterate: Truth and logic are self evident, and as such do not require justification THAT we know about them. They are epistemological starting points (from the human perspective). There is no reasoning (justification) that can "come back around" to these starting points, and therefore circularity is logically impossible - provided one can account for HOW self evident truths are knowable (more on this later). Again, if this were not the case, we could not truly know anything because all would-be knowledge would be "trapped" in a vicious circle.
Now one might argue, "It's circular to conclude that truth and logic are 'self evident' because we have to employ truth and logic to make this claim."
Here's why this is NOT the case:
Firstly, this is a self refuting claim since it presupposes knowledge of truth and logic. "Circularity" is a claim made via logic. If the objection is "true" then it is unknowable and meaningless. (More on this later.)
Secondly, when we state that truth and logic are self evidently true, we are not justifying knowledge of truth and logic. Rather, we're doing the opposite by stating that they do NOT need justification. What we ARE doing is simply affirming the inherent nature of truth and logic. Using what we already know (i.e., truth and logic), we can accurately affirm that truth and logic are self evident in the same way that knowledge of existence is self evident. Remember: Because we know that truth and logic are valid and true, we can use this knowledge to deduce absolutely true statements and conclusions. In other words, we begin with truth and logic that we are certain of as a foundation to gain additional knowledge.
...Here are several additional points that we're able to affirm because we already know that truth and logic are valid and true:
- If one begins with the knowledge that truth and logic are valid, is it viciously circular to point out that we have this knowledge? Certainly not. And is it viciously circular to describe the nature and implications of said knowledge? Of course not! Again, these are simply statements enabled by the truth and logic that we already know to be valid.
- It is logically impossible to "justify" that we know truth and logic, once again meaning that circularity is impossible (provided one can logically account for HOW self evident truths are knowable). Has anybody ever "justified" the knowledge that an object is what it is and is not what it is not? In order to do so, they'd have to use this law of logic (the law of identity) in order to determine the same law of logic. X would have to exist before X in order to prove X. Thus we have affirmed once again that logic cannot be justified and as such cannot be circular.
...This is a perfect example of something very specific that we know for certain, while not being able to "justify" said knowledge. Some would argue that if we can't justify "x" we can't know it (including truth and logic). But this is an entirely self defeating claim. And obviously we all DO know for certain that objects are what they are and are not what they are not DESPITE that we cannot justify it! We simply "know that we know" it!
- Let's assume that a person denies truth, logic and knowledge on the basis that truth and logic cannot be justified/proved. And let's say this person proceeds to request proof that you are able to know things via truth and logic... To request proof that we know truth and logic to be valid is begging the question: Proof presupposes truth and logic. I.e., we come to proof via truth and logic! So to request proof of truth and logic is to assume that proof is "knowable" if and when given, which makes the request self defeating. Proof is not required for self evident knowledge. Rather, self evident knowledge is required for proof. E.g., we do not need to prove that we exist in order to know it. And anybody that claims otherwise cannot know it, by their own argument.
- We are indeed using truth and logic to affirm things about the nature of truth and logic, but it's not circular when truth and logic are already known for certain from start to finish. We are all absolutely certain that truth exists. And we are all absolutely certain that laws of logic exist even if we don't know them by name. This is innate knowledge. We know for certain that it's illogical to say that a red car is parked in the garage and at the very same time not parked in the garage. This is the law of non contradiction. There is no way to "get to" the law of non contradiction by reasoning because the law of non contradiction enables reasoning. Notice that I just used truth and logic to make a logical statement relating to the law of non contradiction. But here again I'm merely using what we already know (i.e., truth and logic) to supplement that knowledge: Knowing that logic cannot be reasoned to obviously does not enable logic. Rather, knowing logic itself enables us to know that logic cannot be reasoned to (because we realize that logic is what enables our reasoning in the first place). In other words, we can know things about knowledge by using knowledge. If this weren't the case, epistemology would not be possible!
- To give an analogy: You're given a homemade ruler, hashmarks and all, and you do NOT know whether the ruler measures accurately (compared to standard machine-made rulers). In this case it's illogical to try to "measure" the homemade ruler against itself in order to check for accuracy. However, if you already know you've been given a perfectly accurate machine-made ruler, it would be nonsense to have to justify what you already know is accurate and true. Likewise, it is nonsense to suggest that we have to justify truth and logic when we're already certain of said knowledge. The mere suggestion that we'd have to justify truth and logic presupposes the validity of truth and logic, since any would-be justification would require truth and logic! Thus, it is an incoherent objection and only serves to reaffirm self evident truth and logic.
- It is perfectly logical - and not viciously circular - to affirm that our reasoning enables us to know things when we know that it does. Yes, we're using reasoning to make the statement because communication requires reasoning. But at the very same time we're already aware that our reasoning is valid. It's self evident: Before use, during use, and after use. This again is analogous to using the machine-made ruler that we know to be accurate and true from the start. We don't need to "justify" or "prove" its accuracy as we would need to do with a homemade ruler. We simply begin measuring with confidence (comparable to reasoning with confidence). We know that it's accurate before use, during use, and after use. (Note that "HOW" we know it is an entirely different question and one we'll get to in the next section.)
- The key is this: If we did NOT know that truth and logic were valid and true to begin with, justification would be required. And the only possible justification that could be given would require truth and logic - viciously circular! However, we DO know that truth and logic are valid to begin with, meaning no justification is required, meaning vicious circularity is logically impossible (provided we can logically account for HOW self evident truths are knowable): Knowledge of truth and logic is the starting point, meaning we never have to "come back around" to this starting point to justify it.
Ultimately, to deny that truth and logic are self evident is to deny all knowledge. It is a completely self defeating argument. It is literally equivalent to arguing that we can't know anything to be logical and true (including any objection to the self evident nature of truth and logic). But once again, the proof is in the pudding: We DO know that we know things. This is the ultimate affirmation that truth and logic are valid and true, as knowing things would be impossible otherwise!
Remember once again that to object to self evident truth and logic is to presuppose it; the person objecting presupposes that their objection is logical and true!
There are only two epistemological options here:
A. Accept self evident truth, logic and knowledge; accept that we DO know some things innately.
B. Deny all knowledge.
2. HOW do we know (what we know)?
Often, before things even reach this point in the "argument," the materialist will deny that truth and logic are self evident by nature, in which case they've committed intellectual suicide: To deny self evident truth and logic means that truth and logic must be logically justified, which is logically impossible. And therefore all knowledge must be denied!
But if the materialist agrees that they know truth and logic to be valid and true, next comes the question of HOW they know it to be (self evidently) true...
That is to say, how does the materialist account for what they know (and what we grant that they know) according to their worldview? For numerous reasons, there is simply no way to account for truth and logic - and therefore knowledge as a whole - in the material worldview. We've already covered one reason why this is true: To "get to" truth and logic always requires truth and logic. Truth and logic are a product of mind. Thus, how could a human being without truth and logic reason their way to concluding truth and logic, when to reason such a thing requires truth and logic a priori? It's simply not logically possible.
Another argument is that to account for human truth and logic via human truth and logic is viciously circular. Note that this is entirely different from stating that we know truth and logic to be valid and true. Let me repeat, the question here is one of HOW we know said knowledge - HOW do we logically account for what we know? If truth and logic originated from the human mind, the human mind would have to determine that logic and truth are valid and true by checking this knowledge against ITSELF. This is analogous to checking a homemade ruler (hashmarks and all) to determine the accuracy of that same ruler. It is logically impossible to do so.
So what's the problem with not being able to logically ACCOUNT for how we know self evident truths? The problem is this: If self evident knowledge (and therefore all knowledge) is impossible via the materialistic worldview (as is easy to demonstrate), then in order to remain logically consistent, the materialist must DENY all knowledge. Yes, we all have knowledge (and know that we do). But if one's own worldview dictates that this is impossible, one cannot CONTRADICT themselves by maintaining that they possess knowledge. Contradictions are illogical. The materialist cannot "have their cake and eat it too." They must either take the side of knowledge and ACCOUNT for it, or deny all knowledge according to materialism...
We can pose this question to the materialist: How do you account for the fact that human beings indeed know some things - like the laws of logic - to be self evidently true? Certainly the laws of logic didn't suddenly pop into existence. How did they "come to be known"? ((Remember: The materialist cannot rationally claim "self evident" knowledge, as this would inherently require fallacious, circular validation (i.e., human reasoning justified via human reasoning) of truth, the laws of logic, etc. When the theist appeals to self evident knowledge, we refer to God given, innate knowledge which thereby does not require fallacious, circular validation. Ultimately, self evident knowledge, though it clearly exists, cannot exist in the materialistic worldview; it only comports with the theistic worldview. Click here for more info.))
Note that because materialists cannot account for HOW self evident truths are knowable, it "suddenly" becomes fair game to "back up" and ask them for justification that they know truth and logic to be valid and true (this is the exception to the impossibility of circularity alluded to earlier; the exception applies to Godless worldviews). To reiterate: Because they cannot account for self evident knowledge, such knowledge cannot be claimed, and knowledge of truth and logic must therefore be justified - like any other knowledge that is not self evident. But of course, they'll not be able to provide justification and therefore, once again, must deny all knowledge according to materialism. Remember, there are two questions in play here: WHAT do you know? HOW do you know it? ((Helpful analogy: I grant THAT you have a car (that you know truth and logic), but I'm asking HOW you got the car (how you came to know truth and logic)?))
What about truth and logic in the Christian theistic worldview? Knowledge from God breaks the "human plane," thus breaking vicious circularity, thereby enabling certain truth and logic: God (x) enables truth and logic (y). Only God can enable self evident truth and logic! Human beings had truth and logic from the very beginning. We know this because it is logically impossible to "acquire" truth and logic without pre-existing truth and knowledge. God is an eternal being with an eternal mind. He did not need to "acquire" truth and logic. They are part of His nature. We are made in God's image, and as such God has "equipped" our minds with truth and logic that enables us to have a relationship with Him, as well as to take dominion over the world that He created for us (as he commanded).
3. How do we PROVE our account?
How do we justify or prove that "God enables truth and logic"? As a Christian I would argue that the statement, "God enables proof," is itself self evident knowledge. God has revealed it and the Bible affirms it. And while this is valid personal justification, it is not "proof" from the unbeliever's perspective. Fortunately, we've already established a basis for providing non-circular proof that God enables knowledge. As covered earlier:
- We simply "know that we know" that truth and logic are valid and true (self evident).
- And because we know that truth and logic are valid and true, we know that truth and logic enable absolutely true conclusions when correctly applied.
...And thus we can apply self evident truth and logic to justify that "God enables truth" via deductive arguments. Numerous logical proofs are available, but perhaps the most easily demonstrated is the "impossibility of the contrary argument." We've already established that truth and logic are impossible within the human plane (due to vicious circularity), and that truth must necessarily come from an eternal being whose very nature is that of truth and logic. Thus, truth and logic derived via human minds is logically impossible, while truth and logic enabled by God is perfectly viable.
Q. WHAT do we know for certain?
A. Truth and logic are SELF EVIDENT; we "know that we know" some things for certain.
Q. HOW do we know (what we know)?
A. The only way to ACCOUNT for self evident knowledge (and ultimately all knowledge) is through God.
Q. How do we PROVE our account?
A. We can PROVE our account (from the unbeliever's perspective) via deductive arguments.
A final note: To the materialist/atheist who denies all knowledge and certainty and asks how you or others can know things, the appropriate response is this: "By your own argument, you wouldn't know even if I told you!" To ask questions presupposes that the answers are knowable. So it is nonsensical for one who denies knowledge to be asking questions in the first place. To ask questions is contradictory to their own argument. One who denies all knowledge denies knowledge of logic and truth, which are necessary preconditions for proving anything. Another response when challenged to prove your own knowledge by one who has denied all knowledge is to give them a "hypothetical knowledge enabler." For example, you could tell the materialist/atheist that an omniscient chipmunk enables your knowledge. As ridiculous as it sounds, they cannot object to your response without claiming knowledge and thereby refuting their own argument!
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