One of my greatest joys throughout the week is the Apologetics course I teach to 12th graders (“Apologetics” is a branch of theology concerned with giving a rational defense for the Christian faith). We have been studying logic recently and looking at how different worldviews – atheism, pantheism, and theism – account for rationality and the laws of logic.
Indeed explaining what the laws of logic are and the origins of rationality poses great difficulty for an atheist, secular worldview. The metaphysics of atheism is materialist, which means that all that exists is physical and therefore observable or measurable. Atheists reject belief in spiritual – or immaterial – reality, which obviously includes God who is spirit. Therefore, the laws of logic, which are undeniable, and human rationality must also be material in nature. The idea of material laws of logic, however, is fraught with difficulty. G.K. Chesterton, the British author and theologian, puts the problem this way:
“It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, “Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?” The young sceptic says, “I have a right to think for myself.” But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, “I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all.””
Chesterton is asking the skeptic, or atheist, how is it that we are capable of rationality – able to distinguish between good thinking and flawed thinking. If the act of thinking is merely a sequence of complex electro-chemical reactions in the brain, then what makes one set of reactions more logical than another set of reactions? How can arguments over truth claims be adjudicated if the argument is essentially movements in one person’s brains versus different movements in another person’s brains?
The problem with the atheist view of the laws of logic is demonstrated in a debate between a Christian and atheist in the clip above. The theist asks the atheist a series of questions to clarify his view of what the laws of logic are. His final question is “Are they material in nature?” to which the atheist replies incredulously, “How can a law be material? No.” Later in the debate the atheist asks the Christian if God is immaterial. The Christian replies yes. The follow-up question is “Can you name one thing besides God that is immaterial in nature?” The Christian answers simply, “The laws of logic.” If the laws of logic are not material, they must be immaterial, i.e. spiritual – above or transcending the physical. But the atheist has no place for immaterial realities in his philosophy and thus cannot explain something as self-evident and universal as logic.
What does this abstract philosophical argument have to do with education? I credit one of my students for sparking this connection in my mind. Since we use logic and reason to gain knowledge, an atheist worldview also has difficulty explaining what knowledge is and how we acquire knowledge. This student asked, “How is it even possible to do education?” I have often wondered why logic and philosophy courses were excised from the standard public school curriculum. I do not know when this happened or exactly why, but I surmise that it relates to the rise of secularism as the predominant worldview in public education. A secular worldview that ignores or rejects immaterial reality has nothing in which to ground logic: there is no ultimate justification for rationality by which objective knowledge of universe can be obtained. Thus, logic and reasoning is not taught formally in schools anymore. Consequently, our children do not learn how to think critically and analyze logically. So many can only memorize and regurgitate facts. In other words, they can only mimic and copy what authorities say, not evaluate truth claims, analyze data, make inferences from what is known to what is unknown.
Because students are not taught the laws of logic and how to use them, they lack the most essential tools for learning new knowledge and for discerning truth from error. The truth is that secularism cannot provide a logical foundation for education. By rejecting not just God but any knowledge of spiritual, immaterial reality secular materialism destroys the foundations of knowledge and thus of education.