The Reason of Reason
Author: Scott Cherry

Chapter 9
Objections to the Logos Principle, part 2

In the last chapter I stated my agreement with Greg Bahnsen and friends that the fact of logic and reason presupposes God, i.e. that we could have no logic without a Supreme Logician. But I realize I must strengthen my case if I hope to persuade Martin and other non-theists.  So far I have attempted to show that Martin fails to recognize or acknowledge some of the presupposi- tions that were embedded in the implicit details of his sample propositions. In this chapter I will continue that analysis with a new one below:


Example 2


 “Scientists listening to radio signals from outer space [A] in order to make contact with extra-terrestrial life [B] presuppose that such life is possible. But it does not follow that it is.” [C]


This one is easier to debunk because the way Martin uses it to make his point is not even valid, which I will show.  However, I’m glad he chose this example because it has instructional value of another sort that the first one did not have, which we will come to a bit later.


Syllogism 2a


P1. All intentional attempts to listen to radio signals from outer space (A) in order to make contact with extra-terrestrial life presuppose that such life is possible.              True/False?

P2. Scientists do attempt to detect such radio signals from using technology. (B)      True


C.  Therefore, there is extra-terrestrial life.                                                       False


The way Martin uses this example in his argument elicits a gut-level assent or agreement, at least it did for me.  But note the question mark after P1…is it true or false?  If you’re like me you have to ponder this because it is not patently obvious.  After my own pondering I saw that it hangs on the correct meaning of “presuppose” the way Martin uses it.  Like most many words it can have several shades of meaning.  In this example it could mean either a) that something is true or b) something is believed to be true.  Or, if we can agree that presuppositions are beliefs, then by presupposing e.t. scientists might believe c) with confidence (or even a sense of certainty) that there are aliens, or d) they might moderately (or dubiously) believe in the mere possibility of aliens.  But which is the correct meaning of the word in P1 according to Martin?  It appears that he intends it to mean a) or c), but I will venture to say that it should be the last of the options I listed.   I think it should say this:


“All intentional attempts to listen to radio signals from outer space (A)…require a belief that such life is possible (B).”


In other words, a scientist need not feel confident that there are aliens, only that it is not impossible. I think this is a very important distinction.  For these reasons I assert that P1 is false in the way I think Martin uses “presuppose”.  However, even if it is true the conclusion might still be false, and therefore the whole syllogism is invalid, and that is the important point.  He used it to show that even valid arguments can be false, but invalid arguments always false!  Again, P1 is ambiguous, but I think it is false.  And that affects the conclusion.


Worded as it is, it might seem as though the correct conclusion should be the following…


C. Therefore extra-terrestrial life (ET) is possible.                                       Invalid  


But it really should be…


C. Therefore some scientists believe that ET is possible.                      Valid and True




P1.  All A requires B (A presupposes B).

P2.  x is B


C.  Therefore x is A


You see, the way Martin uses the example is invalid in the first place.  That scientists listen for e.t. radio signals does not presuppose the fact of aliens, only the possibility of aliens; or more precisely, it only presupposes their belief in the possibility of aliens, which could merely be an open-mindedness or wishful thinking.  (Granted, somebody believes strongly enough to commit billions of dollars to this exercise.)  The point is that Martin’s example, as I understand it, is logically flawed.  Among the other problems I’ve tried to spell out already, its most serious one is that it’s a “red herring”.  This is a kind of logical fallacy, or flawed idea. (As I’ve said, I find it so interesting that ideas can be flawed because it presupposes an ideal standard of rightness to the formulation and communication of ideas in general.) A red herring is one that is “intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.” ( The real question is not whether anyone believes or doesn’t believe in aliens, it’s whether there are reasons to believe in and search for them.  Is there any evidence for them?  In this example, there need not be actual evidence for aliens to motivate some people to search for them, but there still must be reasons to suspect their existence or they would not do it. Yes, that is a presupposition too, that actions require motivation.

The same is true for the first example about the language of the speaker and audience. What really matters is not what the speaker believes, assumes or presupposes.  It is a question of the reasons for believing, assuming, or presupposing something, before and after—what’s the evidence?  The language a speaker chooses to use to address his/her audience presupposes reasonable, available evidence that successful communication is probable, or at least possible.  In this case there will be some evidence before the lecture regarding the audience’s capacity to comprehend it (which, again, would be expected and assumed by the speaker) and even more after it.  So the important idea is actually the opposite of what Martin has put forth, the first syllogism in reverse. The audience’s comprehension of the content of the lecture (A) requires and presupposes an intelligible language (B). Their comprehension is the evidence that the language of the speaker (or interpreter) was intelligible to them.  It would look like this:


Syllogism 1g


P1. All successful communication (A) from speaker to audience requires mutual

understanding of a given language (B). [i.e. intelligibility]                                          True

P2. The audience has comprehension of the content of the communication.        True


C. Therefore, the audience understands the given language.1 (A)                       Valid and True2

1. Or the language of the interpreter.

2. Not only is it true, it is necessarily true. It is deductive certainty.


What’s more, their comprehension is the evidence for a list of other things that are so properly basic that we hardly need to think of them, such as these: 1) that a pre-existing language was used, 2) that information was conveyed through that language, 3) that there was an intelligent agent of communication (not an animal and most likely human), 4) that there was an intelligible means of communication, 5) that the information was both coherent and correspondent to the order of reality, and still others that are so properly basic it is hard to objectify them.  The most relevant propositions for this discussion would be 2-4, which are really the ones in question. Does (complex) information presuppose (superior) intelligence, i.e. an intelligent source?  Yes, always.  Does the fact of (complex) intelligibility always presuppose (superior) intelligence?  Yep.  Does (complex) communication always presuppose intelligence?  Yes, of course.  And the higher the complexity the higher the must be.  The point is that Martin’s usage of example one is a red herring.


Back to example 2.  If A (listening for radio signals from outer space in order to make contact with extra-terrestrial life) presupposes B (that such life is possible), Martin is right that it does not make it true that there is extra-terrestrial life.  But again, that is a red herring.  Because if we do pick up radio signals that truly come from outer space (A) then it follows necessarily that there is extra-terrestrial life (B).  We will call these “cosmic” radio signals.  A presupposes B and it follows that B is true.  Here is what this notion should NOT look like as a syllogism because it P1 is obviously not true:


Syllogism 2b


P1. Scientists listening for cosmic radio signals = the existence of extra-terrestrial life.         False

P2. Scientists do listen for cosmic radio signals.                                                                                       True


C. Therefore extra-terrestrial life exists.                                                            Valid but Obviously False


*I think it is important to distinguish between premises that are reasonably false or obviously false.  The technical validity of an argument is hardly relevant in light of the obvious falsity of a major premise.  The effect of such an argument is to draw attention of away from the more important idea.


Here is what the notion should more properly look like the way I think Martin intends it:


Syllogism 2b 


P1. Listening for cosmic radio signals = the belief in the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.   True

P2. Scientists do listen for cosmic radio signals.                                                                                       True


C.  Therefore some scientists believe in the possibility of ET life.                               Valid and True


But this is only a distraction—a red herring.  He mixes syllogism 2a with 2b to erect the obviously false notion that some people believe listening for something proves its existence, which is also a straw man argument.  It is technically valid but ridiculous.  Another effect Martin’s reason has is to make a false association between notions that are valid/reasonable and valid/obviously unreasonable. 


Here is what the notion should properly look like the only way I think it really matters:


Syllogism 2c  


P1. The reception of [intelligible] cosmic radio signals = the existence of ET life.                      True

P2. Scientists not only listen for but actually receive such cosmic radio signals.                          True


C. Therefore ET life exists.                                                                                                                            Valid and True


Of course only the first part of P2 is true, that scientists do indeed listen for cosmic radio signals.  To my knowledge none have been received to-date, at least none that can be confirmed as such.  So the above syllogism above is only hypothetically true.  But again, the truly fascinating prospect is the hypothetical conclusion that would be inescapable if they had or ever do:  Aliens exist.  It would be inescapable based on the very definition of cosmic radio signals and by the nature of the argument.  I have to say, this is why I love Martin’s second example so much, because it is analogous to my own.


The all-important presupposition of it is not whether someone believes in extra-terrestrial life; it is that there can be only one reasonable explanation for radio signals that actually come from outer space: aliens.  Intelligent ones.  Of course there must always be evidence, but the presupposition forces the interpretation of the facts.  If all terrestrial sources of the radio signals can be ruled out, then there ARE aliens out there.  But what is it that is really being presupposed here?  Yes, intelligence.  You see, if there are radio signals coming from outer space, then 1) they must have meaning; 2) they must constitute a language; 3) there must be or have been an intelligent source, a user and sender of this language, 4) there must be or have been an ET community of beings, because only beings use language and that is the purposeful context of language (i.e. intelligibility); 5) the beings must be or have been of a high intelligence, because only highly intelligent beings use radio devices capable of transmitting intelligible language codes through space.  So again, Martin’s second example, restructured, lends itself perfectly to my argument, that logic is analogous to cosmic radio signals.  If it is analogous then a similar conclusion necessarily follows with respect to theism: A “Super-Alien” exists that we can call God.  Thus we should conclude from Martin’s example that properly understood, B does presuppose A.  Therefore I ask: If the detection of cosmic radio signals correctly presupposes the existence of intelligent aliens, why wouldn’t the existence of logic presuppose such a Super-Alien?


Yes, the actual properties of logic are a lot like the expected properties of cosmic radio signals and the information-rich communication that flows from speaker to audience.  If A = logic can only come from an Intelligent Metaphysical Being, and B = logic exists, then B actually proves A, because it presupposes it.  That syllogism could look like something like this:


Syllogism 3a


P1. Logic/Reason could only come from an Intelligent Metaphysical Being (A).                           ??

P2. Logic/Reason exist (B)                .                                                                                                                            True


C. Therefore an Intelligent Metaphysical Being exists.                                                        Valid and ??


This argument is valid.  As for its premises, nearly everyone believes P2 is true, which is interesting enough.  P1 has less agreement but it is by no means obviously false.  Rather, there is a very strong consensus in its favor.  Although it is valid, that only gets it through one door to the threshold of the next—the door of truth—which hangs entirely on the truthfulness of P1.  It may be impossible to prove (or disprove) empirically, but circumstantial evidence can be every bit as conclusive as empirical, and we make a great many decisions based on it.  I assert there is very strong circumstantial evidence that can’t easily be brushed off, which is the trajectory of this discussion.  But before that, consider that there are a dozen of other ways the syllogism could be formulated such as the following:


Syllogism 3b 


P1. All laws require intelligent legislators as well as the power to enforce them.                        ??

P2. The laws of logic are truly laws that are binding on all rational beings.                                      ??


C. Therefore there is an Intelligent Cosmic Legislator who is Omni-God.                     Valid and ??


Whether the first two premises are true or not, of course, is the all-important question.  P1 would get universal agreement on the purely human level, no doubt.  But whether the “laws” of logic are true laws to be considered in the same category as human laws that we know are generated by intelligent beings is the question. 


Still another way it could be formulated is like this:


Syllogism 3c  


P1. All languages have coherent and consistent rules that seem to be generated by

intelligent beings for other intelligent beings, namely humans.                                                      ??

P2. Logic is a universal thought “language”, with rules that govern human reasoning, communication, behaviors and social constructs.                                                                                  ??

P3. Like math, logic (probably) could not have been produced by humans.                                               ??


C. Therefore logic must have an outside, metaphysical source.                                  Valid and ??


I realize all the premises above are subject to scrutiny, though I think P1 and P2 would get considerable agreement.  P3 would be the most contentious one, to be sure.  Indeed, if that premise could readily be proved there would only be the supra-terrestrial option left and the debate would be over.  But that’s the rub.  Is it true that logic could not have a human origin?  Is it even probably true?  This is where the analogy between logic and cosmic radio signals breaks down because cosmic radio signals (if they were detected) do not come from humans by definition.  Logic, on the other hand, has been “detected”, as it were, and it doesn’t require high-tech equipment to detect it.  Logic has been with us universally from time immemorial, so much so that we take it for granted.  For this reason there is no quest for or debate about its existence as there is for cosmic radio signals.  It is self-evident.  But this should not imply that its origins are obvious, nor incontrovertibly terrestrial.  They are not.


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