Apologetics Thursday – Hunt’s Sloppy Logic

David Hunt posits that Open Theists fall afoul of the law of Excluded Middle:

This reason for embracing Openism flies in the face of both logic and common usage. Let’s begin with logic. Either I will call my mother tomorrow, or I won’t call my mother tomorrow. One or the other of these statements about the future must be true. The principle that either a given statement or its denial is true is called the “Law of Excluded Middle.” But this first brief on behalf of Openism requires that this law be abrogated. That’s a heavy cost, and the vast majority of logicians would decline to pay it.

Craig, William Lane; Copan, Paul (2009-08-01). Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Anwering New Atheists and Other Objectors (Kindle Locations 5283-5287). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Where David Hunt errors is that he does not understand the law of Excluded Middle. The law of Excluded Middle only applies to statements that describe reality. For example, is the following statement true or false: “This statement is false”. If this statements was false, that would mean it is true. If this statement was true, that would mean it is false. If Hunt would apply his “logic” to this statement, then it is obvious that his law of Excluded Middle runs afoul of the law of Non-Contradiction.

Instead, when statements are abstract, and not based in “what is”, then the law of Excluded Middle does not apply. Does Santa have a beard? Well, “Santa” is an abstract concept. There is no real answer, not unless it is tied to reality in some sense: “Did Saint Nicolas at any time ever have a beard?” or “Does Santa, as imagined by the Coke commercials, have a beard?” These answers can be true or false because they are asking about an aspect of reality. Not unless a statement can be tied to reality does the law of Excluded Middle apply.

For Hunt to say that the law of Excluded Middle proves that the future can have true or false statement, he must first assume that the future can have true or false statements. He is falling prey to the Fallacy of Begging the Question (assuming what he is trying to prove), this is in addition to the fallacy of False Dilemma.

Hunt continues:

Ordinary usage and common sense also reject [Open Theism]. We make claims about the contingent future all the time, and we assume that such claims are sometimes true. Consider the following:

1. This coin will land heads on the next toss.
2. My wife will vote for candidate X in tomorrow’s election.
3. The U.S. will elect its first female president in 2016.

The openist may object to taking such claims at face value on the grounds that the future is not yet real and that claims about it are therefore not yet true. But this objection would be received with bemusement by anyone engaged in the actual practice of making claims about the future.

Craig, William Lane; Copan, Paul (2009-08-01). Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Anwering New Atheists and Other Objectors (Kindle Locations 5287-5293). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Hunt moves from claiming that Open Theism flies in the face of “common usage” to claiming “ordinary usage… reject[s]” Open Theism. Hunt’s first statement might be correct; language is a good tool for showing how common people might intuitively understand a concept. But Hunt’s second statement is irrational. Language is filled with metaphors, hyperbole, figures of speech, and other linguistically shortcuts. “Language” does not “reject” anything. This is easily illustrated.

People talk about the “Sun rising”. This is even though, when questioned, basically everyone would admit that their concept of the “Sun rising” is that of the Earth revolving and spinning around a stationary Sun. The Sun rise imagery is a linguistical shortcut for all these people. When pressed, they will claim that the Sun really does not “rise”. The “Sun rising” is linguistical shortcut, and although it is a linguistical shortcut, it happens to a shortcut to a false concept.

Basically every astrophysicists knows that movement in space is relative. Phil Plait, the leading astrophysicist, has a good article on this. Movement is relative in space, and one can no more say that the Sun revolves around the Earth than the Earth revolves around the Sun. A reference point has to be arbitrarily picked. There are no “right” or “wrong” reference points.

Pretend Phil Plait adopted the reasoning of Hunt to make his case. Pretend he made the case that “ordinary usage” of language “rejects” the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun. This would be an absurd claim. Linguistical features could tell us what ordinary people might find reasonable, but they in no way inform what accurately reflects reality.

That being said, “I was right” could easily be a linguistical shortcut to mean “what I predicted then happened to materialize”. In the same sense, one could easily claim “Santa has a beard” but actually mean “the commonly accepted image of Santa includes a beard.” Linguistical shortcuts are ubiquitous in human communication. Discounting them to try to score cheap theological points is not a good idea.

One could easily point out how the Biblical language “rejects” Calvinism in the use of language where people “choose” and God is consistently thwarted by those choices. And statements about time are always about past, present, and future, “rejecting” any timelessness. Hunt needs to rely on flexible language to maintain his Calvinism. Hunt’s arguments thwart his own beliefs.

2 comments

  1. Very well thought out! The second explanation of how we commonly speak about the future also helps explain that first, bad example, of misusing the Excluded Middle.

    I will call or I will not call are both true in the present moment. They are both true possibilities. And the Law of Non-contradiction cannot be appealed to, for it only applies for contradictions of reality (as you pointed out) that must happen at the same “time” and in the same “way”.

    That example also assumes more the openness of plan of the individual making those statements, more than it does the certainty of how it will turn out, one way or the other! Common sense would say that making both those statements indicates that the person making them has not made up his mind! :-)

  2. I don’t know any open theists that would feel the need to abrogate the law of excluded middle. All would agree that, to cite the example above, either he will or will not call his mother tomorrow. That is irrelevant until tomorrow when any potential for either claim is actualized tomorrow when Mr. Hunt either calls or does not call his mother. As stated above, the law of excluded middle is simply not applicable to truth claims that have yet to be actualized. Nobody in their right mind would say that there is a mysterious third option to either calling or not calling his mother tomorrow, hence there is no violation of the law of excluded middle. Either he will call, or he won’t call. The example cited, while used improperly against the open theist, actually fulfills the principle of bivalence, which states: “every declarative sentence expressing a proposition has exactly one truth value”.

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