A Conversation with Tom Jump

Tom Jump is an atheist who posts conversations with philosophers and theologians on his YouTube channel. I accepted his invitation to discuss whether there’s reason to believe in God, and here’s how it went:

The question “Is there reason to believe in God?” could be answered in many different ways, but I thought it would be interesting for us to discuss the argument for God from logic since I’ve published on that topic and have some expertise in it. I began by giving an overview of the argument as it appears in the 2011 paper I co-authored with Greg Welty:

  1. The laws of logic are truths (i.e., true propositions).
  2. The laws of logic are truths about truths.
  3. The laws of logic are necessary truths.
  4. The laws of logic really exist.
  5. The laws of logic necessarily exist.
  6. The laws of logic are nonphysical.
  7. The laws of logic are thoughts.
  8. The laws of logic are divine thoughts.

The plan was to go through these claims one by one and find out where Tom thinks the argument goes awry. Tom immediately took issue with 4, so we fell into a discussion about whether the laws of logic, and propositions in general, are real entities. Unfortunately, we ended up spending over an hour going around and around on that particular issue, and we never reached the later (arguably more interesting) parts of the argument! So we didn’t make much progress toward resolving the opening question.

In hindsight, it might have been more productive to discuss another argument. Still, the conversation was very cordial and worth having. The reason we didn’t get very far, I suggest, is because Tom seemed unable to articulate a consistent position on (1) whether propositions exist and (2) whether propositions are concrete or abstract in nature. Living up to his last name, Tom proved impossible to pin down on which of the following he wanted to endorse:

  1. Propositions don’t exist at all.
  2. Propositions exist as concrete (physical) entities.
  3. Propositions exist as abstract (non-physical) entities.

Watch the exchange and make your own assessment. What exactly is Tom’s position on the ontological status of propositions? I pointed out the problems with the first two positions. But the third is inconsistent with Tom’s professed physicalism. It’s too bad that we couldn’t move beyond the explanatory failures of physicalism and explore the explanatory virtues of theism. Perhaps another time?

23 Responses to A Conversation with Tom Jump

  1. James,

    Outstanding job. Gracious, winsome and intelligent. Yes, quite a shame that things couldn’t progress further.

    As I see it, your argument is:

    Propositions are mental (they exist in minds). The laws of logic are propositions. Therefore, the laws of logic exist in minds. True propositions exist. Necessarily, the laws of logic are true propositions. Therefore, the laws of logic exist in all possible worlds. (Not only are they not false in any possible world; they are true in every possible world. Accordingly, laws of logic exist in possible worlds without human minds.) Therefore, a necessary mind exists.

    It’s intuitive and (should be) uncontroversial enough that the law of non contradiction is at least an essential truth. It’s incomprehensible that its negation is true. It cannot be false. Whenever it exists, it’s true. Yet, when we move to the premise that it is true in all possible worlds (as opposed to merely not false in any possible world), we go much further. By asserting the law of non contradiction as necessarily true in the strong sense, we ultimately guaranteed its necessary existence too (in all possible worlds). Game over. For if logic must exist in all possible worlds (as propositional), then given the nature of propositions there must be a logic possessing mind in all possible worlds. And since in some possible worlds there are no human minds for logic to reside, then there must be a divine mind at least in those possible worlds (and arguably, necessarily a divine mind in all possible worlds). I concur. The argument isn’t just valid but sound.

    I only wish Tom was more consistent with himself. Had he been, he might have moved on to challenge the premise that laws of logic are more than essentially true. I could have hoped that he’d agree on the truth-bearer sticking point so that he might’ve gotten to challenging the idea that logic must necessarily exist in worlds that include no human minds within which to contain the non-physical (abstract) laws of logic. Such an objection would have likely led to a discussion over your: “we would simply invite you to reflect on whether you really can conceive of a possible world in which contradictions abound.”

    My guess his, a professing atheist with a more sophisticated grasp of things might assert that although contradictions cannot be true (or conceived of) *about* any possible world does not imply that logic *exists* within every possible world. In other words, I would have liked to have seen him try to argue something like: although matter in motion behaves rationally or irrationally in every possible world, that does not imply that corresponding propositions which contemplate such truth must, therefore, exist in those same possible worlds. Consider that from our own actual world (PWa) we can predicate of another possible world (PW) . Such predication from PWa does not in and of itself imply that the predicated *proposition* (which contemplates that the clay cliffs exist in PW) actually exists in PW (though the actual red clay cliffs would). Nor would it imply the negation of the *object* of the predication exists in PW, ie that the cliffs themselves are not truly red. Perhaps he would have argued that without first establishing minds in any possible world, we can’t establish the existence of abstract thought, such as the laws of logic, in any possible world. Yet that doesn’t imply that “contradictions abound.” That would’ve been an interesting discussion, which I think you’d have “won.”

    I think such objectors can at least formally share a Christian commitment to: the existence of logic presupposes the existence of mind(s). Indeed, logic is mental. Where atheistic objectors will undoubtedly part ways is on the question of the locus of abstract (ie. non material) laws of logic in possible worlds void of human intellect. Objectors might argue, . In other words, possible worlds without (contingent) human minds implies that logic has no locus of existence – until such time that a necessary mind can be proven.

    I wanted to see a discussion over this:

    “The problem with this proposal, as Plantinga points out, is that on this weaker account of logical necessity, too many propositions turn out to be necessary. (Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 119). The flaw in the weaker account can be very simply illustrated. Assume arguendo that propositions exist contingently. On the weaker account of logical necessity the proposition that propositions exist would turn out (wrongly) to be a necessary truth.”

    Very much enjoying your book on why believe Christianity. I mentioned it to an OPC pastor yesterday over breakfast and he too was currently reading it. He was extremely enthusiastic! I got my copy that afternoon. I’m half through and delighted.

    Blessings,

    Ron

  2. “Watch the exchange and make your own assessment. What exactly is Tom’s position on the ontological status of propositions?”

    Of the three options, here was my takeaway…

    1. Given what propositions actually are, he denied their existence on the basis of his physicalism.

    2. In one of his weaker moments he seemed to want to say propositions exist as physical entities. I think that was at least partly due to his confusing written statements with propositions. Yet he needed them to exist, so he was forced to collapse them into statements. He was caught in a conundrum of not being able to distinguish multiple articulations of a single proposition.

    3. Tom’s commitment to physicalism made him deny on one level that laws of logic are abstract entities. He was unable to distinguish brains from minds, physical firings in the brain from abstract thoughts. (We can touch a brain but not a mind’s thoughts.)

    Notwithstanding, correct if I’m wrong but I believe he might’ve acknowledged on another level the non-physical existence of propositions but only as allegedly non-realities that existed. He ended up with non-realities existing. His use of contingent-descriptors that aren’t part of the human-independent reality was more than a bit cumbersome.

  3. Often we use ‘statement’ and ‘proposition’ synonymously, but Mr. Jump was drawing a distinction between the abstract proposition on one hand, and on the other hand, *expressions* of those propositions (for example by people who write them down or say them out loud). By ‘statement,’ Jump was referring to those expressions. It’s a shame you guys seemed to get stuck on that, especially considering that the laws of logic have been expressed.

    For my own part, I don’t mind acknowledging the nonphysical existence of propositions so long as we understand them to be abstractions. And the laws of logic in particular seem to exist necessarily (in a certain sense anyway, a la the in/at-distinction).

    But there seems to be a problem making the leap to propositions as thoughts. After all, thoughts are supposed to be concrete, whereas propositions are abstract. And I never really understood how your original argument worked in the first place. You say that propositions have ‘aboutness,’ which I grant, but then you say that this aboutness is ‘the mark of the mental,’ i.e. that only thoughts are *intrinsically* so. To support this claim, you cite an earlier paper. I read it, but I didn’t find the support you promised would be there.

    • Ben,

      Maybe you should watch the exchange again. I think you’ll find I was the one carefully drawing the distinction between (i) propositions and (ii) expressions of propositions such as statements. Tom repeatedly jumped back and forth between the two.

      so long as we understand them to be abstractions.

      That doesn’t clarify anything. Is an abstraction an idea (produced by the abstracting activity of a mind) or something that exists independently of ideas (like a platonic object)?

      On the in/at-distinction, see page 11 of our response to Nate Shannon.

      After all, thoughts are supposed to be concrete, whereas propositions are abstract.

      How exactly are you drawing the concrete-abstract distinction here? It has been drawn in different ways. (See Welty’s work for a good discussion.) It’s important to avoid drawing it in a question-begging fashion in this context (i.e., ruling out the conclusion of our argument by mere fiat).

      And I never really understood how your original argument worked in the first place.

      The argument for understanding propositions as thoughts shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Propositions have intrinsic intentionality. Material entities don’t have intrinsic intentionality, but mental entities do. We’re already committed to the existence of thoughts, so parsimony of ontological kinds gives us good reason to identify propositions with thoughts. The other alternative would be some kind of platonic objects, but that’s going to incur a further explanatory cost, especially for an atheist.

      • Hmm. Sorry if I misunderstood you. And I actually agree that the in/at distinction is perhaps not the best road to go down; I raised it as a point of issue ten years ago because I wanted to be clear and careful. Remember, I only do this philosophy stuff on the side, so sometimes I find some dead ends. I do think the in/at distinction is a good thing to sort of keep in mind (and it’s interesting in its own right!), but I no longer think it affects your argument.

        But this stuff about the mark of the mental I think is too much to hope for. I don’t see how it’s correct to class abstract objects among thoughts just because they share this certain, even striking property (intentionality). I guess it’s more parsimonious (maybe), but it comes at the cost of identifying abstract objects with thoughts, which seems really implausible to me.

        Also, I don’t know how to respond to the alternative charge of Platonism, because frankly I just can’t make coherent sense of Platonism. I mean, there’s nothing ‘cosmic’ about the existence of abstract objects, whereas Platonism always seemed to me to be like that. (Maybe I’m misunderstanding it?) To my reckoning, abstract objects are very human inventions.

        • But we don’t argue that abstract objects are thoughts; we argue that propositions are thoughts. If you reread our article, you’ll see that we generally avoid using the term abstract objects because it tends to prejudice the issue. I think the discussion here illustrates why that’s a good idea.

          To my reckoning, abstract objects are very human inventions.

          If propositions are human inventions, then they don’t exist necessarily. But we gave arguments to the contrary.

          • I think I’m on pretty firm ground in saying that propositions are abstract objects, don’t you? Why do you think using that term prejudices the issue?

            I know you don’t argue that *all* abstract objects are thoughts. But according to you, (some) propositions are thoughts, so to the extent that we are to take propositions as abstract objects, then yes, you do argue that (some) abstract objects are thoughts.

            Oh, and I know you give arguments that (some) propositions exist necessarily, which is where I had previously discussed the in/at distinction. So I guess maybe it does affect your argument after all. (And I don’t think your response to Shannon takes care of the concern.) But it’s no longer my main point of contention with it.

  4. “After all, thoughts are supposed to be concrete, whereas propositions are abstract.”

    Ben,

    When one thinks a proposition, is the thought concrete or abstract?

    Are you suggesting that thought is private hearing or sensory? Is thought hearing something that’s not there? Do you subscribe to a form of radical behaviorism?

  5. Ron,

    Sorry, I don’t understand your questions. As I said, thoughts are concrete and propositions are abstract.

  6. Ben,

    You concur that propositions are abstract entities. Yet you say that thoughts are not abstract entities. When you think the meaning of what is expressed by a statement, is the thought material or an abstract entity? If the former, then is the proposition not mental? Are such thoughts private hearing or sensory (carried by sound waves)? In what sense are they physical, especially given that they’re propositional?

  7. I don’t think propositions are thoughts, no. They can perhaps be the *content* of thoughts, but of course that’s different.

    Also, I’m not a materialist, and I don’t believe that thoughts are material. (Although, they do *depend* on material systems, like brains and bodies and so forth.)

  8. Ben,

    At this moment I’m not concerned with whether propositions are thoughts but whether they can be thought. When the meaning of a declarative sentence is thought, I’d call that thought a proposition. If you’d like to index the proposition to the content of thought, I’m not sure what that means for you or where it gets you.

    What do you mean by: “After all, thoughts are supposed to be concrete, whereas propositions are abstract.”

    • Perhaps Ben is making the distinction that thought are concrete but immaterial, whereas propositions are abstract entities. Often people conflate abstraction with immateriality. However, that is mistaken. Something can be concrete but immaterial (e.g., God). Abstract entities are just that: abstractions. Think redness. It is an abstraction from red things. Yes, abstractions entail immateriality. But not all immaterial things are abstract entities (again, think God or angels, souls, etc.). So perhaps thoughts are something in this category. Concrete but immaterial.

      If that distinction holds up (I am not saying that it does or not) then propositions could be abstract entities and thoughts are concrete entities. Both are immaterial but are from different categories. Hence, thoughts are not the same things as propositions. So the laws of logic (if they are propositions) are not the same thing as thoughts. Thus, premise # 7 in the above argument is false (assuming that distinction holds).

      • See my reply to Ben above (esp. comment about ‘abstractions’). How are you drawing the abstract-concrete distinction? Can you draw it in a way that is (i) independently well-motivated and (ii) doesn’t beg the question against our argument? You can’t simply assert, “Propositions are abstract, thoughts are concrete, therefore propositions can’t be thoughts.”

        • James,

          I am drawing the distinction in virtue of the fact that some people hold that there are examples in reality of concrete immaterial entities (minds, angels, God, etc). And if one takes a robust type of Platonism, then abstract entities exist (and are obviously immaterial). So I am not arbitrarily drawing the distinction in a question-begging way ruling out your thesis out of hand. I am just pointing out that there is a reasonable claim that these are two separate categories (abstract entities vs. concrete but immaterial entities).

          Rather, I am questioning the claim that the laws of logic (which you say are true propositions) are thoughts. I read this as you claiming that “all logically true propositions are ‘identical’ to thoughts”. That is a substantial metaphysical claim. It is difficult to defend much like the thesis that, “Brain states are ‘identical to’ mental states” is difficult to defend. Certainly, there are correlations, a type of supervenience relation, a dependency relation, a mereological relation, etc. But that is a far cry from a phenomena/entity x being identical to a phenomena/entity y.

          Perhaps thoughts have propositions as their content but that is not the same as saying thoughts just are “identical to” propositions (as I am sure your realize). Even if you can show that both thoughts and propositions exhibit intentionality that is not sufficient to demonstrate a identity relation. Perhaps I am reading you wrong (admittedly, it has been a while since I read your/Welty’s initial article). So forgive me if I am way off base.

        • For my part, I draw the abstract-concrete distinction by taking abstraction as a primitive concept (abstracting redness from a bunch of red things), and then simply taking concrete things to be those which are not abstract.

  9. Humej9,

    When I think the law of the excluded middle, is my thought (or the content of my thought), potent or impotent?

  10. James,

    At the beginning Tom likened your argument to TAG. I couldn’t read your expression but I sensed you let a comment pass, perhaps not to get too far afield too early. Do you consider the argument distinctly transcendental? Also, would your defense of the laws of logic being more than essentially true (p3) be transcendental? In other words, in order to argue for or against “logical propositions are contingently true” one must presuppose: true logical propositions are necessarily true?

  11. HJ9,

    “Hence, thoughts are not the same things as propositions.”

    Correct, we also think questions…

    “So the laws of logic (if they are propositions) are not the same thing as thoughts.”

    “Same thing” seems a bit undefined. Cats aren’t the same thing as matter but every cat is matter. (I thing dogs are more than just matter. Not sure about cats…)

    But to the point at hand, x is not the same thing as y does not imply that every instance of x is not instance of y. Is there an instance of the law of the excluded middle that’s not thought?

    “Thus, premise # 7 in the above argument is false (assuming that distinction holds).”

    I don’t think p7 was touched.

  12. James,

    This is not an objection but a tactical remark.

    When I first encountered your argument for God from logic, I agreed that it was sound. But as I stated above, “…when we move to the premise that [the law of non contradiction] is true in all possible worlds (as opposed to merely not false in any possible world), we go much further. By asserting the law of non contradiction as necessarily true in the strong sense, we ultimately guaranteed its necessary existence too (in all possible worlds). Game over…”

    My concern about the argument was in one respect identical to a specific concern raised by Nate Shannon, which I had formulated solely in isolation weeks before I learned of those earlier concerns of his (of which most I definitely do not share).

    As you know, logic presupposes thought. Therefore, if no thought, then no logic. As I noted above, given a world with no mind, there could be no logic. To assert necessarily-logic surely secures a deduction of a mind. Given that creaturely minds are contingent, then a divine mind. Again, it’s sound. But I think it invites a subsidiary argument, which I think exists in various forms. Unfortunately, TJ didn’t get to anything substantial so no such argument surfaced.

    My concern was that from our own actual world (PWa) we can predicate of another possible world (PW). Yet such predication from PWa would not imply, in and of itself, that the predicated proposition must necessarily exist in PW. After all, if God did not exist in PW, neither could logic. So, how do we get to an instance of logic from *within* PW? Who would think it? God, of course but what’s a good argument?

    In your critique of Shannon’s critique on this point, you wrote:

    “Indeed, it is hard to make sense of the idea that some proposition P could be true-of-w without also being true-in-w.”

    I agree, but I already believe w presupposes God. However, what might be a subsidiary argument for a professing atheist who only granted that laws of logic are merely essential truths (and contingent upon human minds)? I think we have such arguments.

    “If P is true-of-w—that is to say, if P describes w truly—it surely follows that P would be true if w were the actual world.”

    But doesn’t that invite the question, who would think P in w in order for P to exist? If God didn’t exist to think the thought, then it couldn’t be true in w (nor would w exist). So, it seems to me that (a) to secure the necessity of God’s existence by having to establish logic in worlds without human minds is not as easy as (b) presupposing logic in our actual world in which the existence of logic is indubitable.

    I think from (b) we can get to the conclusion of (a) but perhaps without some of the hurdles.

    How about something like creaturely minds think p: “it is true the cliffs of Aquinnah are red.” Then ask, if all creatures are eliminated, are the cliffs red? That gets to the question of logic in possible worlds without human thought. It gets to the heart of the question, were the cliffs truly red when humans existed? From there we might demonstrate more easily that logic cannot be a convention or contingently true. If we presuppose the logic they know in a way they’ve experienced it, rather than asking them to imagine logic without anyone on their worldview terms to think it, things might be more understandable.

    Lastly, if logic is an attribute of God, wouldn’t the premise “necessarily logic” equate to necessarily God as a premise?

    Again, your argument is obviously sound.

    • Ron,

      P-7 above states, “The laws of logic are thoughts”.

      That premise as stated suggest that anything that is a law of logic is a thought. I read it as asserting a universal strict identity much like materialist philosophers about the mind would say, “All brain states are mental states”. That is formally, (x) (Mx=Bx). So I read “same as” as strict identity. Or at the very least the reading suggests a strong reducibility much like some philosophers say, “consciousness is the same as ‘reducible to’ a biological process of the brain”. That is how I think James takes the premise to mean (perhaps I am reading him wrong).

      On your above cat example, I would say “Cats are composed of matter” but not just matter. Cats also have form, complexity, life, etc. Thus, a cat is not strictly identity to matter only. I do not read P-7 like the cat example but rather as strict identity. That is what I find wanting.

      If one takes that the laws of logic are abstract entities in some platonic realm or other (much like many take the existence of mathematical truths, or universals), then yes, you have an instance of the law of excluded middle that is not a thought.

      For the law of excluded middle is true (like mathematical truths are) prior to any minds existing. For example, before the Earth existed it was true that “Either the moon is made of green cheese or it is not made of green cheese”. I am not asserting that Platonism is true but many respectable philosophers hold this view and this position provides a robust metaphysical scenario of truths of logic without minds.

      • HJ9,

        As a follow-up to my most previous response from yesterday (below), I wonder whether you’ve misread the paper in a way similar to another I’ll quote below. First you:

        “That premise as stated suggest that anything that is a law of logic is a thought. I read it as asserting a universal strict identity… That is formally, (x) (Mx=Bx). So I read ‘same as’ as strict identity.”

        I think Bozzo makes a similar claim as yours, which can be found through the link that references Nate Shannon:

        “Anderson and Welty repeatedly characterize propositions—specifically, the laws of logic—themselves as thoughts, suggesting there is nothing more to thoughts than the propositions themselves.”

        To which they responded:

        “This perceived inconsistency arises only because Bozzo has mischaracterized our claim. In our paper we consistently used the term thought to refer to mental items in general. Moreover, we do not claim that thoughts as such are identical to propositions, as though the terms are coextensive (i.e., all thoughts are propositions and all propositions are thoughts).”

  13. HJ9,

    “On your above cat example I would say ‘Cats are composed of matter’ but not just matter. Cats also have form, complexity, life, etc.”

    That was my point. Cats aren’t the same thing as matter but every cat is matter. Cats don’t equal matter. They have other properties. Had I said, “Socrates isn’t the same thing as man but Socrates is a man,” would that have made myself clearer? My point, now stated another way, is that for the laws of logic to be the “same things” as thoughts it would have to be true that every predicate of a LoL would also have to be true of thoughts; obviously that’s not the case since the laws of logic are propositions, though not all thoughts are propositions. That was my distinction. Now if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re referring to “is” as a matter of strict identity, not of predication. But wouldn’t *strict* identity imply “equals” and not predication, which is akin to a commutative operation? I don’t take the premises as two way operations given that the eight predicates offered aren’t equal to each other and I don’t think, for example, necessary truths (p3) and nonphysical (p6) are intended as paradoxically identical to each other. But to the meat and potato’s…

    “If one takes that the laws of logic are abstract entities in some platonic realm or other (much like many take the existence of mathematical truths, or universals), then yes, you have an instance of the law of excluded middle that is not a thought.”

    I think James said it best, “The other alternative would be some kind of platonic objects, but that’s going to incur a further explanatory cost, especially for an atheist.”

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