Truths, Propositions, and the Argument for God from Logic

A correspondent asked me if I could address an objection he had encountered to the argument for God from logic. Here’s the objection as he quoted it, with my comments interspersed:

The authors equivocate when they make the leap to claim that the laws of logic are thoughts. The propositions themselves are certainly thoughts, but how can the truths that the propositions bear be thoughts?

"I want the truth!"I’m pleased that the objector concedes that “propositions … are certainly thoughts” because that’s a crucial step in the argument! However, the latter part of the question reflects a confusion. In our paper, we adopted the conventional definition of propositions as primary truth-bearers. But this doesn’t mean that propositions bear truths (as though truths were something other than propositions). Rather, it means that propositions are things that can bear the property of truth; they’re things that can be true. Given this definition, truths just are propositions; specifically, they are true propositions.

So there’s no equivocation in our argument once our definition of proposition is understood. The laws of logic are truths; truths are (true) propositions; propositions are thoughts; therefore, the laws of logic are thoughts. (Of course, this is only one part of the argument.)

The propositions have intentionality but what does it mean for the very truths to be intentional?

Truths are just true propositions. Truths have intentionality because propositions have intentionality. End of story.

The laws of logic could quite simply be descriptions of the way things behave.

I think this is quite the wrong way to think about the laws of logic; it makes them sound like the laws of physics. The laws of logic are very different from the laws of physics. They’re concerned with thoughts, not physical things. How exactly do the Law of Non-Contradiction or the Law of Excluded Middle describe “the way things behave”?

In any case, even if this characterization of the laws of logic were correct it wouldn’t affect our argument in the least, because the laws of logic would still be necessary truths — and that’s all we need to run the argument.

Earlier in the paper the authors establish that the laws of logic are propositions however I find this to be a equivocation as well:

…given that the laws of logic are truths, we can say that they are propositions, in the technical philosophical sense. (p. 3)

Truths exist independent of their recognition within a proposition. Propositions, though, require a truth to bear in order to even be a proposition. Therefore all propositions bear truths (or at least truth candidates, so to speak) whereas all truths do not have propositions attached to them.

As we’ve seen, the objector is confused about what it means for a proposition to be a “truth-bearer”. It doesn’t mean that there are truths, independent of propositions, and then there are also propositions that can bear (or “attach to”) those truths. It means that propositions are precisely those things that bear the property of truth. Propositions don’t bear truths; they bear truth. When we speak of “truths”, that’s simply shorthand for “true propositions”.

The irony here is that the objector is the one who’s equivocating. We defined our terms very carefully (and conventionally) in our paper, and we used them consistently throughout, but the objector is clearly using the terms “truths” and “propositions” with different senses than those used in the paper.

10 Responses to Truths, Propositions, and the Argument for God from Logic

  1. The objector states, “Truths exist independent of their recognition within a proposition. ”

    I think that the objector is confusing propositions and sentences. While truth is unavoidably propositional (“chair” is neither true nor false, nor is “yellow,” and a physical chair certainly isn’t true or false, but “the chair is yellow” can have a truth value), propositions are not restricted to a particular *sentence* that expresses them. “The chair is yellow” can be phrased differently in English or translated into Spanish, and the sentence would change, but the proposition would not essentially change. In that sense, truths are independent of “sentences,” but not of “propositions.”

    • Yes, I think that’s likely — even though we explicitly argued in the paper that propositions need to be distinguished from sentences.

      One thing I’ve noticed about most criticisms I’ve come across in the blogosphere: they reflect quite superficial and careless (mis)readings of the argument. Ben Wallis (an occasional commenter here) is a notable exception; I don’t agree with his criticisms, but to his credit at least he understands the argument and doesn’t completely mangle it.

  2. Ringstraked Calf

    Isn’t #7 a little iffy? 2 problems: 1) other things that are not thoughts exhibit “aboutness”. 2) Laws of logic do not demonstrate all essential properties of thoughts.

    1) There are things other than minds that have the properties of “directedness” and “aspectuality”. You try to avert this with:

    “There is certainly a
    sense in which physical marks on a page (such as this one) can exhibit intentionality. But it’s
    equally evident that this intentionality is derivative; it is dependent on the prior activity of a
    mind. The physical marks exhibit intentionality only insofar as they express thoughts.”

    What about a photograph, though? The camera may have required a mind to design it, but that does not apply to the photograph in and of itself. Yet the photograph itself is “about” something. It also is “aspectual” in that it expresses a certain perspective (of color, angle, etc.)

    Or if that bothers you, what about an animal’s pawprint in the mud, or the reflection of a scene on a lake? That is “about” and “aspectual”.

    I don’t see how you can argue that a thought is different in any intrinsic way from this. If you say that a reflection, photograph,etc. is just matter and is not “about” anything, one can just as easily reply that a thought that recognizes the truth of something is just a “reflection”.

    2.) Thoughts are subjective and personal. But the laws of logic are an objective concept, albeit an immaterial one. Is the number 7 a thought too? If they are God’s “thoughts” does that mean we are all mind readers (up to a certain extent, not being privy to his “secret will”)? Isn’t that special pleading?

    Were you perhaps being unclear? Do you mean that when we apprehend the laws of logic we are stumbling across an artifact of God’s thought? But then the Laws of Logic are not a thought. They are a fact that we apprehend, which undercuts what you are arguing for in this paper.

    • RC,

      1. Neither a photograph nor an animal’s pawprint have propositional content. So your counterexamples (if indeed they are genuine counterexamples) are irrelevant.

      2. If the laws of logic are indeed divine thoughts, then they are objective for us (i.e., they don’t depend on our minds) but they are subjective for God (i.e., they depend on God’s mind). There’s nothing incoherent about that position.

      Can we read God’s mind? Well, not in the popular sense of “mind reader” (e.g., telepathic powers). But if truths are divine thoughts then whenever we discover a truth we discover a divine thought — we uncover a thought in the divine mind. This isn’t a novel suggestion; many Christian philosophers throughout history have taken this view. Where exactly is the special pleading?

      Do you mean that when we apprehend the laws of logic we are stumbling across an artifact of God’s thought? But then the Laws of Logic are not a thought. They are a fact that we apprehend, which undercuts what you are arguing for in this paper.

      That’s not an argument; it’s just an assertion contradicting our argument.

  3. Ringstraked Calf

    To clarify: “Thoughts are subjective and personal” by personal I mean that an essential property of thought is that it is something that is experienced only by the person having it, and that anything else is an artifact of thought and not properly called a thought.

    Finally, let me suggest that the question “Does God exist” is just a specific form of the general question “Does X exist?”. But questions of this sort can never be decided deductively, only empirically. If I say I have a goblin in my basement, that can only be determined to be true by actually going into my basement and verifying that claim. To do otherwise is to try to do some sort of Anselmic end-run around having to provide an actual reason for your beliefs.

    • RC,

      To clarify: “Thoughts are subjective and personal” by personal I mean that an essential property of thought is that it is something that is experienced only by the person having it, and that anything else is an artifact of thought and not properly called a thought.

      Do you have an argument for that?

      Finally, let me suggest that the question “Does God exist” is just a specific form of the general question “Does X exist?”. But questions of this sort can never be decided deductively, only empirically.

      Do you have an argument for that?

  4. Hi Dr. Anderson,

    I have found your argument to be very well though out and am appreciative for your blog. I have found nearly all you’ve had to say to very helpful in my understanding of various issues. I was wondering though how you might respond to the view held by some in the Reformed camp such as Oliphint (I think at least, so don’t hold me to it) and Poythress that God does not think propositionally. I am not sure if they would advocate the contingency of propositions, then, but if you ever have the time, could you explain how the argument might still go through, or if the objection has no effect at all? What I was thinking was that even if propositions themselves were created, then there would still be necessarily existing truths, just not with propositions as the primary truth bearers. But that would still entail that there is another primary truth bearer and I figured that if it could be shown that regardless of whatever the primary truth bearer is, it would still be mental in nature and therefore the argument would flow well. But in all honestly, I am an amateur when it comes to all of this so I don’t want to speak as if I know what I am talking about LOL. Anyways, thank you if you consider responding to this possible objection!

    – Jeff

  5. Jeff,

    Thanks for the questions. I will address them in a separate post in due course.

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