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Logic and mathematics for atheists

Last week, Rigel and I chatted about real love and how it gets perverted in our modern culture by Hollywood, the media and transactional "dating" applications such as Tinder. Please check out part 1 and part 2 of the episode if you haven't done so already!


This coming week, we're joined again by our friend (and borderline superhero!) Nicole Scheidl who currently serves as Executive Director of Canadian Physicians for Life. This time we're discussing with her how a woman balances motherhood and career-building. We hope you'll tune in to learn from Nicole's wisdom, experience and expertise!


Nicole has spent her career in the fields and at the intersect of law and science. These field rely (or ought to) upon logic and mathematics. Logic is the system of reasoning that aims to draw valid conclusions based on given information. Mathematics is the science of structure, order and relation and deals with logical reasoning and quantitative calculation.


Can logic and mathematics be of use to us Christians as we discuss and defend our faith?


Popular atheist and University of Oxford zoology professor Richard Dawkins, who is among the most smug people you're likely to come across, fancies himself an advocate for truth and reason. He is one-quarter of the New Atheist foursome that rose to prominence about 20 years ago, when I was an undergraduate student and the work of Dawkins and his fellow atheism evangelizers (i.e., Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett) became wildly popular across university campuses in Canada, the US, the UK and elsewhere. Their work is often exemplative of cognitive bias, especially hindsight bias and confirmation bias. Dawkins especially has a penchant for telling other God-deniers what they want to hear rather than what is demonstrably true (and then patting himself on the back as if he isn't sitting in an echo chamber), and he has said:


"I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world."


Is that so, Dick? (I choose that short-form variant of Richard carefully...)


Well, I assume Dick would agree we can use logic and mathematics to help us understand the world. And given that Dick seems to believe that understanding the world is good, he presumably thinks it good that logic and mathematics help us do so.


So the question for Dick becomes: if logic and mathematics (which are good) help us understand the world (which is good) then what happens if logic and mathematics also point us to that which we Christians believe created the world (i.e., God)?


And thus the question for us Christians is: do logic and mathematics point us to God?


Many of the most brilliant minds in human history have used logic and/or mathematics to conclude that God exists. Some have provided compelling arguments or proofs via various means. These individuals include:

  • Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher and polymath;

  • Anselm of Canterbury, the Italian Benedictine monk, abbot, philosopher and theologian who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109 AD and was canonized as a saint and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church;

  • Thomas Aquinas, the Italian Dominican friar, priest, philosopher and theologian;

  • Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher and Catholic convert;

  • C. S. Lewis, the British writer, scholar, lay theologian and Christian convert; and

  • William Lane Craig, the contemporary American analytic philosopher, Christian apologist, author and debater (who happened to teach my father when he was a theology and divinity student in suburban Chicago in the early 1980s).


Another compelling explanation for belief in God was proposed by African theologian and philosopher Augustine (of Hippo), whose name I took at my Confirmation in the Catholic Church because of his (like mine) messy and complex journey to the faith. Inspired by Augustine, we can begin with the reality that 1 + 1 = 2 and go from there, using the recent work of Dr. Christopher Kaczor of the Word on Fire Institute and Loyola Marymount University to guide us.


We know some realities exist in matter. For example, a hotel comprises concrete, glass, marble, etc. and a hamburger comprises bread, beef, lettuce, etc.


We know other realities exist in a mind. For example, my memories of doing a pilgrimage in Rome to the four Papal Basilicas in one day with my wife and of visiting the Tuscan town of San Gimignano with my parents exist in my mind (helped by photos, included below).


The papal basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Tuscany

So, where does the reality that 1 + 1 = 2 exist? In matter or mind?


Well, it has no weight, length or density and thus doesn't exist materially. Further, material realities depend on matter to continue to exist (e.g., when the ice melts, the ice sculpture ceases to exist) but 1 + 1 = 2 is not a reality that would cease to exist even if my wife (who hates math) burned all the world's math textbooks. While the truths of mathematics can be represented in written symbols or spoken words, the reality of the truths of mathematics don't depend on any representations. 1 + 1 = 2 was true before anyone wrote or said it and would be true if no one wrote or said it ever again.


Thus, the reality that 1 + 1 = 2 does not exist in matter but is instead a mental reality.


Clearly, mental realities depend on a mind for their existence. If my mind is destroyed, my memories of the above events in Italy during my recent trip will also be destroyed. They exist nowhere else.


But the reality that 1 + 1 = 2 would not be destroyed even if every single mind was destroyed. It is a reality that is timeless, unchanging, intelligible and true.


And since the reality of 1 + 1 = 2 is a timeless and unchanging reality, it doesn't depend upon a mind that is contingent (i.e., depending on or influenced by something else), in time and changeable. It must exist in a mind that does not come into existence and cannot fall out of existence (since 1 + 1 = 2 does not begin to be true and could never stop being true).


Further, there are an infinite number of mathematical realities of addition (e.g., 371 + 371, 675 + 4, 7.77 + 777,777,777,777, etc.) not to mention an infinite number of mathematical realities of subtraction, of multiplication, of division, etc.


Can infinite realities be known by anything other than an infinite mind? Obviously not.


So there must exist a mind that has not come into existence and can never go out of existence and which is outside of time which knows infinite realities.


Now, someone trying to be clever (or who is afraid of where this is leading) might object that 1 + 1 = 2 is not in fact an objective reality grounded in matter or in a mind. They might claim mathematics is a fiction.


Sure. OK. But then science is also a fiction. Do you really want to commit yourself to that?


Science and its formulas depend upon mathematical truths. Science is impossible without mathematics. Which means science can't give us objective truth if math doesn't give us objective truth. So if you want to argue that mathematics is a fiction then you must commit yourself to the view that science is fictional nonsense.


But I don't think any person of right mind can believe that. Dick Dawkins sure can't, given that some version of scientism (i.e., the excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques) is his religion.


Science gives us objective truths that are independent of the human mind. Science is real. So math must be factual.


Therefore, follow me:

  • it is an objective (mathematical) reality that 1 + 1 = 2;

  • mathematical realities exist in our minds (i.e., as mental realities);

  • mental realities depend on a mind for their existence;

  • 1 + 1 = 2 is a timeless reality and an unchanging truth so it cannot depend upon minds like ours (that come to and can cease to exist); thus

  • a mind that is necessarily existing, eternally understanding and infinitely knowing must exist.


This mind is what Augustine of Hippo called God.


Thus, logic and mathematics point us to God.


So, if logic and mathematics point us to God, then how exactly does a militant atheist such as Dick Dawkins think those of us who believe in God are satisfied with not understanding the world when scientists (which Dick purports to be) depend on logic and mathematics to understand the world?


As philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart has written about Dawkins:


"[His ideas are] essentially idle diversions for unformed minds—something on the order of birthday-party clowns or miniature ponies or balloon-animals.... He means well, after all; he simply is not—and never will be—a thinker for adults."


As political scientist Jason Blakely has written about Dawkins and his New Atheist friends:


"The New Atheists were thus one—albeit eccentric—attempt to enact a form of civilizational politics against barbaric others. What gave them such an unflagging sense of their own moral and political superiority was a deep confusion and inflation of the reputation and power of not only the natural sciences but also social scientific theory. Science had in a strange way made them delusional."


And Stephen M. Barr, physicist and expert in theoretical particle physics and cosmology, has pointed out how despite Dawkins' very public and confident declarations that God doesn't exist since the intricate structures of living things can arise by blind natural processes, the laws of physics seem in many respects "tailor-made" to make life possible.


Dick Dawkins is an accomplished zoologist, a (sometimes) funny person to listen to in interviews and a prolific public intellectual (that's not a compliment), but he is a terrible philosopher. And this is why American philosopher Alvin Plantinga says of Dick:


"You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class."


Ouch. 😂


Do logic and mathematics prove God exists? No. They provide compelling reasons to believe in God though, despite what a shocking number of atheists and agnostics (I was one of them for years) seem to think.


If you're an atheist and think your knowledge of logic and mathematics (and science) confirms your atheism, I invite you to refute the above. If you can. Good luck.


God bless,


Travis

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