Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The logic of Chalke is lacking

A few days ago, I posted on this blog a short piece about the importance of logic. More recently, but in the same vein, I copied to someone on Facebook the words of John Wesley on this topic. Addressing his clergy in 1756, he said:
Some knowledge of the sciences also, is, to say the least, equally expedient. Nay, may we not say, that the knowledge of one, (whether art or science,) although now quite unfashionable, is even necessary next, and in order to, the knowledge of the Scripture itself I mean logic. For what is this, if rightly understood, but the art of good sense of apprehending, things clearly, judging truly, and reasoning conclusively?
Later, he adds,
Do I understand it [logic] so as to be ever the better for it to have it always ready for use; so as to apply every rule of it, when occasion is, almost as naturally as I turn my hand? Do I understand it at all? Are not even the moods and figures above my comprehension? Do not I poorly endeavour to cover my ignorance, by affecting to laugh at their barbarous names? Can I even reduce an indirect mood to a direct; an hypothetic to a categorical syllogism? Rather, have not my stupid indolence and laziness made me very ready to believe, what the little wits and pretty gentlemen affirm, "that logic is good for nothing"? It is good for this at least, (wherever it is understood,) to make people talk less; by showing them both what is, and what is not, to the point; and how extremely hard it is to prove anything.
Now one of the key points in studying logic is the "law of non-contradiction" and its associated principle of the "excluded middle".

In simple terms, 'p' and its contradiction 'not-p' cannot both be true. We may elaborate this into practical examples: "Jesus is alive", "Jesus is not alive"; "It is Thursday", "It is not Thursday", and so on. But the logical principle is not merely widely accepted in a customary sense but irrefutable: "If 'p' then not 'not-p'".

But as John Wesley well knew, this is not a matter simply for academic debate. Rather, it applies to the very heart even of Christian ministry, for it enable us, amongst other things, to know "what is, and what is not, to the point".

And that brings me to Steve Chalke and his recent announcement of his desire to 'include' same-relationships in Christian morality.

It is not my intention at this point to question either his reasons for this, so PLEASE DO NOT POST COMMENTS ON WHETHER HE IS RIGHT OR WRONG! (If you do, it will simply reinforce my conviction that people generally can't read, and it will include you in that category.)

Rather, I want to identify that what he says about his own position in relation to others is simply illogical - and therefore nonsense.

Thus in a footnote to his online article he writes as follows:
Amongst the hallmarks of any and every healthy community must be the ability for reasoned and gracious debate, a willingness to listen to others, an openness to change and a respect for diversity. I write this paper in that spirit, recognising that various friends and leaders whom I respect have views which differ from mine.
In a reported telephone conversation with Tony Campolo, however, he says this:
Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God’s character as seen through Christ.”
So in the one place Steve Chalke says that in a "healthy community" this should be a matter for "a respect for diversity". In another, he says, "this is an injustice and out of step with God's character".

Let us then simply characterize Chalke's view of 'the Christian inclusion of same-sex relationships' as 'p'. By the law of non-contradiction, 'not-p' is false. And we can easily see what 'not-p' means because Chalke has told us: it is being "stigmatised and excluded by the Church".

Or again, we can characterize stigmatizing and exclusion as itself a 'p' and represent Chalke's position as a 'not p': "an injustice and out of step with God's character as seen through Christ".

So far, so good. Quite simply, either Chalke or not-Chalke must be true, but they cannot both be true (certainly not within the framework of Christian discourse within which Chalke presents his argument.)

But then Chalke tries to set up a logical impossibility: both p and not-p can (and indeed must) be accepted in a healthy community.

Now I actually don't think Chalke thinks this for a minute. I believe he is fully and firmly convinced his is right. But if he is right (or thinks he is) he ought to have the decency to tell the rest of us he thinks we are wrong and, in this case, to seek either our repentance or our exclusion from the Church.

That he doesn't is, it seems to me, either because, like so many, he has accepted the principle of non-non-contradiction that holds so many diverse denominations together (though the result is anything but a 'healthy' community) or because he intends to maintain a position of 'openness' that will  hold long enough to keep him in the fold.

Either way is bad.

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  1. Tom Watts (Chesham)15 January 2013 at 12:20

    We sometimes speak as if logic is a universally self-evident tool that would hold anywhere. I don't think that's true. I think (via Van Til, John Frame et al) that the doctrines of creation and revelation require us to ground logic in the triune God who speaks truthfully. It is because God is a truth-speaker that P implies Not-Not-P. But this means that the lighter you sit to the revelation of God in his word, the less you are concerned with issues of truth (and therefore with the law of non-contradiction). So I think it's not so surprising that Chalke's logic begins to fail as he relativises the clear teaching of Scripture.

  2. Is Chalke saying, "The Church SHOULD be a healthy community, but isn't - people are stigmatised"? - trying to be generous.

    Of course, it's an exercise of starting with the answer & working backwards. There were other bits where he's logic failed, e.g. the bit on Leviticus would mean we should exclude disabled people. OT scholars have worked on all these sticky issues & just shows for all the listening talk, he hasn't done much.

    Darren Moore

  3. The Christian Faith does not adhere to the strict rules of logic John. Have you never heard of the resurrection or the virgin birth? And do you think the logic of Galatians 3:28 really also allows a complimentarian position?
    We understand you are unlikely to agree with Steve Chalke. But I don't think he claims to be arguing from principles of logic does he?
    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  4. Andrew, if you look at what Chalke wrote he presents an argument, in fact several arguments.

    To do so, or to evaluate an argument and its consequences, one ought to know how the basic rules of reason, which is what logic is about. Therefore I make no apology for questioning the logic of his position.

  5. Andrew Godsall, Exeter15 January 2013 at 15:49

    Yes of course he presents several arguments. They are underpinned by this key paragraph:
    "Christianity is not about a book, but about a person who is the Word of God made flesh. On the issue of women or slavery, as just two examples, the New Testament closes some distance from where even the most conservative Christian now is in their understanding. The process of understanding the character and will of Yahweh – as revealed through Jesus – is the continuing task for every generation. Therefore, biblical interpretation is not finished, but is the endless, open-ended project of all those who take its text seriously and authoritatively"
    (And in this he says exactly the same thing I've said on your blog many times).
    The word made flesh is not a logical or resonable thing John. You are making a serious category mistake. We've shown you the schools, the colleges, the libray and the halls but you are still asking where the university is.

  6. The problem for me with his argument is that he creates one that could be described thus:
    He states a situation, which is correct, and then makes a huge jump to his solution.

    For example, you quote him writing:
    "Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God’s character as seen through Christ."
    There is nothing wrong with this at all, in that it is a statement of fact. People in the Church have reacted (and still do in some cases) negatively to homosexual people, regardless of whether they are in a monogamous and loving relationship, multiple short relationships or celibate. And to do so is not expressing God's love for these people.
    He then proceeds to "add 4 in his head but not in his working" and starts to declare that the way forward is to accept monogamous gay relationships as we do marriage. His attempts at then showing where he got the "4" from by declaring that the Bible says some things that we don't stick to and that this therefore means that we should do the same in the case of homosexuality (still reading your book, John, but I am sure you know exactly how to respond to that sort of argument!). But at no point does he give supporting arguments for why we should do as he suggests.

    This comment in no way is intended as a declaration of my views on his views, but merely the observation that his argument holds about as much water as a colander.

  7. Andrew,
    I think you are confusing logic, with living by sight. True, living by sight, means we must reject, the Trinity, the resurrection & so on. It's also true that an atheist is, to a point, internally logical (although both Van Til & Shaeffer had a thing or 2 to say about their inconsistencies).

    But living by faith is not irrational, or illogical. In fact it is supremely rational. IF God is Trinity (not illogical, "just" beyond our experience and unparalleled) & raised Jesus from the dead (not illogical, if he is God & has a plan), then it is the foundation for all rational thought.

    Now, to a total atheist, they might say, "there are a lot of "ifs" there".

    Darren Moore

  8. I have to wonder if Andrew Godsall understands or knows 'the strict rules of logic'. There are basically three of them (the Laws of: Non-contradiction; Identity; Excluded Middle). They are actually the conditions of truth in any statement, and they undergird how we can think, and how computers can work. They are not optional or culture-relevant; they are fundamental.
    Maybe Andrew has confused paradox with contradiction?

    Mark B., W. Kent

  9. Argument by the rules of logic is not the only sort of argument that is persuasive, nor should it be the only type of argument permitted in human discourse. In fact, it is not the only type of argument seen in the bible anyway - Paul's arguments do not always have logical coherence, but that does not mean we should dismiss them, nor that we do not find them persuasive.

    I don't find what Chalke says illogical in any important way; but even if it is, so what? Really, so what?

  10. John, to me there is a problem with your argument in that you jump from "Chalke 'thinks [X is] wrong'" to "Chalke is obliged 'to seek either [X's] repentance or [X's] exclusion from the Church'". In other words, you seem to claim that it is wrong, not so much morally as logically, to agree to differ from someone else on an arguably secondary matter while maintaining Christian fellowship with them.

    Or let's apply your reasoning to another issue. You reject your diocesan bishop's view on women as bishops. But you do not publicly call on him to repent or seek his exclusion from the Church. Nor do you declare his church apostate and separate yourself from it. Is your position illogical?

  11. Andrew, sorry but you've fallen down the bear trap: "PLEASE DO NOT POST COMMENTS ON WHETHER HE [Chalke] IS RIGHT OR WRONG! (If you do, it will simply reinforce my conviction that people generally can't read, and it will include you in that category.)"

    Also I don't think you've really understood what I'm saying about the 'logic' here.

  12. Peter, that's key to the point. You write about Chalke agreeing "to differ from someone else on an arguably secondary matter while maintaining Christian fellowship with them."

    But Chalke writes that this is a matter of "an injustice and out of step with God’s character". that is not a secondary matter. Therefore (logically) we have a "not 'p and not-p'" situation (which would be illogical).

    In practical terms, therefore, this means Chalke should (and eventually I believe will) call for repentance and exclusion.

    On the matter of women bishops, I do not believe that introducing them would be 'an injustice' - just a mistake. Therefore I (though not all) can live with the difference even whilst working to address it.

    However, with the former bishop of Chelmsford, who took Chalke's line on sexuality, we indeed had fellowship issues. And other bishops, through their doctrines and practices, have certainly caused fellowship problems for evangelicals on other issues, which is a key reason why evangelicals in this country have an historically low regard for bishops in the last couple of centuries.

  13. Simon, you are right to say there is more than one kind of argument. There is a big difference, for example, between deductive and inductive argument.

    Deductive arguments are always 'watertight' because the conclusion is contained in the premises: "In all cases of x, y is true. This is a case of x. Therefore y." Provided the premise is itself correct, the conclusion will be the case.

    In an inductive argument, however, the conclusion is not contained in the premises: "In all known cases of x, y is true. This is a new case of x. Therefore probably y." Of course, y may not be the case (take the discovery of black swans). But it is still logical.

    The natural sciences proceed largely on the basis of inductive argument, which is necessary to discover anything new. But it also means that the conclusions of the natural sciences are often uncertain and constantly open to revision - no bad thing, and not 'illogical' either.

  14. John, in all fairness to Chalke, I'm wondering if we're not reading more into his statements than is there, or failing to account for the inherent lack of precision of everyday, non-mathematical language.

    Is the stigmatisation and exclusion that he labels "an injustice and out of step with God's character" really identical to thinking that same-sex relationships are against the revealed will of God? As I read Chalke's piece, I thought this statement condemned the hostility with which gays have sometimes been met in evangelical churches; and if that is what it means, it is simply a matter of churches needing to meet people wherever they are (as opposed to affirming that where they are is a good place to be).

    And that means he might not be trying to affirm both p and not-p.

    It also means that Chalke is muddying the waters by, to put it crudely, associating the traditional position with the 'God Hates Fags' approach to pastoral care.

  15. Peter (den Haan), thanks for your comment and I think it raises an important issue.

    The reason I don't think it lets Steve Chalke off the hook, however, is that he opposes 'exclusion' to 'inclusion' in the 'Accepting Evangelicals' sense - hence the headline on their blog, "Steve Chalke calls for full inclusion".

    He is also quoted in the same article as saying, "I recognise the Bible is understood by many to teach that the practice of homosexuality, in any circumstance, is a sin or ‘less than God’s best’."

    Hence he puts himself in an 'over against' position, and seems (at least) to describe that position as representing an injustice.

    Perhaps the question which needs to be put is whether he would regard the position of churches which clearly welcome people with same-sex attraction but teach they should not give in to it as 'inclusive'.

    Meanwhile, though, I am sure I could not regard his position as acceptable, and therefore again his claim about "respect for diversity" and this being part of a "healthy community" fails in that respect.

  16. John, yes, but.

    The 'but' is whether only logical arguments are, as it were, acceptable in grown up human discourse - whether those who are persuaded by arguments that can be shown to be logically faulty should be told that their conclusions are invalid because they are not logical.

    Now, I don't really get why you are so convinced Chalke is being illogical, but that is not the point - probably just me being a bit thick. But even if he is, so what? Why should that invalidate his argument? That is what I think you are saying. It seems to me that this approach negates, for example, all appeals to emotion, instinct, social sciences, conclusions based on pattern recognition etc etc as somehow to be put to one side as invalid in this sort of human discourse. A better question is as to which of these can appropriately be brought to bear in theological arguments. Of course, we have, in theological arguments, to have recourse to scripture as the source and barometer of the contents of our arguments and conclusions, but that is saying something different. It seems to me that insisting on logical argument as the only way forwards is a way of you attempting to shape human discourse to your own preferred method. It is not the only way.

  17. John: No I haven't. You've made a category mistake again - but then you always do! Not sure you understand what one of those is mind you....
    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  18. Simon, my issue is not with Chalke's argument for the position he has adopted, but his plea that his position is compatible with mutual acceptance in a healthy church. This is where we have a logical contradiction.

  19. Andrew, you propose a statement: "John Richardson always makes category errors."

    Would you like to prove it? ;-)

  20. Chalke's argument is tactical. If he says that the church cannot accommodate both positions before his position becomes dominant, then he must confront the question "Then why don't you leave as testimony against such an injustice?" He doesn't want to leave. He wants to win. After his position becomes dominant, then he will force the issue. When "justice" can displace "injustice" then he will be content to let the logic of his argument play out. But not before.


  21. Carl Jacobs, I think you are dead right.

    MG, London

  22. Sad to say, I agree with Carl. Consciously or unconsciously, this is how things are changed. Once again we have the unhappy fate of optional orthodoxy.

  23. John: you'd have to prove that I don't hold such an opinion and I don't think that logically you can. :)
    You might start by proving where, as you claim, I make any reference to whether Steve Chalke is right or wrong. I don't.
    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  24. Andrew, I'll take that as a 'no' then.

  25. No need to John. It's an opinion. Opinions are not always subject to the rules of logic are they?
    Please do point out where I make any reference to Steve Chalke being right or wrong. Or can't you do that either?
    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  26. Andrew, I thought you were making reference to whether Steve Chalke is right or wrong when you wrote that "he presents several arguments. They are underpinned by this key paragraph:
    "Christianity is not about a book, but about a person who is the Word of God made flesh. On the issue of women or slavery, as just two examples, the New Testament closes some distance from where even the most conservative Christian now is in their understanding. The process of understanding the character and will of Yahweh – as revealed through Jesus – is the continuing task for every generation. Therefore, biblical interpretation is not finished, but is the endless, open-ended project of all those who take its text seriously and authoritatively"
    (And in this he says exactly the same thing I've said on your blog many times)."

    I may have misread your intention here.

  27. Yes, you misread my intention. I was responding to your comment about him making arguments, and said that of course he makes several arguments and what the basis of them is. I can't see where I say he is right or wrong, just that he makes the arguments. My point was not about right or wrong but about whether the arguments in this case could ever conform to the rules of logic. There are far too many suppositions that need to be made. The suppositions make strict logic impossible. Some of those suppositions you and I would share, and agree wholeheartedly about, and others we would disagree about. Where we disagree, I contend that you are very often in danger of making a category mistake which undermines your logic in any case.

  28. My mistake then, Andrew. I thought you were making a point about the content of his argument.

  29. It may be worth saying that the logic that you are working in is propositional logic, which is mathematically the most simple, but also the least expressive. In it, propositions are usually given letters, as p above. Key is that this is logic without variables.

    It is generally accepted that first order logic at a minimum is required to represent the semantics (i.e. the underlying logical meaning, although ignoring the context!) of language, although it is probable that higher order logics may be needed. First order logic allows you to add variables, e.g. p(A) where A can be instantiated to different values. This is the basic stuff of computational linguistics for the last 30 or 40 years, which has tried to represent language logically.

    All this to say that it can be difficult (and I think it is with Chalke's article) to resort to propositional logic - it's why some in the comments here have questioned John's understanding of Chalke language and some question the precision of Chalke's language. This is simply because Chalke doesn't say p and ¬p, he says something more complex, which may be possible to reduce to p and ¬p if we could first represent it logically and instantiate the variables correctly.

    We could also start on the type of logical reasoning we are doing - both Chalke and our reading of him, which I think is neither inductive, nor deductive, but abductive - which is like the detective using incomplete evidence to build a case, or the doctor a diagnosis.

    Just a note of caution about jumping too far down the logic route without necessarily understanding what you really need to do to make the arguments stick logically.

  30. It would seem to me that Chalke is using the theological equivalent of 'fuzzy logic' to make his case. In artificial intelligence in which I have been working, fuzzy logic is used to handle the concept of 'partial truth', where the truth value may range between completely true and completely false. This leaves a statement's 'truth' exposed to a certain level of subjectivity and experience rather than measured by any external objective standard.

    My guess is that Chalke in his latest statements has been guided in his theology by his subjective experience and what 'feels' right.

    Chris Bishop

  31. Chris that's not really right is it? Steve Chalke clearly shows why he has come to such conclusions, and does so biblically. He is no more guided by his subjective experience and by what 'feels' right than you and John are - and note John I am still not saying anything myself about whether SC is right or wrong.

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  32. "The word made flesh is not a logical or resonable thing John."

    Would anyone like to translate that sentence into koine Greek? :-P

    Although I find Mr Godsall's choice of words amusing, there's obviously a serious point there. So much of twentieth century English-speaking philosophy was a struggle to over whether (and how) to find language that can express metaphysical truths. Logic was at the heart of that, and tried to imprison Christianity within narrow constraints. The dead never rise and it is meaningless to speak of a righteous life.

    Yet if God has spoken in Jesus Christ, and made him a teacher and preacher of metaphysical statements (amongst other things), then perhaps the Word liberates us from some parts of the bondage to logic. A proposition guaranteed by inductive logic only needs one counter-example to fall forever. One dead Man has risen because he has been declared righteous. The philosophical problems remain (and I certainly don't have easy answers to them) but logic is on our side too.

    (SeekTruthFromFacts - name withheld due to unfriendly government)

  33. Why is supernatural/metaphysical illogical?

    If God is God & chooses to bend/suspend normal laws of science (as we understand them so far), that isn't illogical. Surprising yes. To some, not possible (because they don't think God's there in the 1st place). But IF God, THEN Trinity/Resurrection/Miracle - that isn't illogical. Not God is God - is illogical.

  34. Christians have framed hundreds of logical propositions over the centuries, each only capable of being true or false, necessarily one or the other, with nothing in between.

    Over some such "p <=> not (not p)" propositions, faith communities have agreed to differ. Over others, faith communities have split amicably. Over others, there have been acrimonious splits, and even wars. Some splits arguably should not have happened. Other splits that might have happened but didn't, arguably should have. And so on.

    Chalke isn't asserting any proposition and its negation simultaneously in his footnote, by drawing attention to the virtue, in some cases, of maintaining unity and tolerating dissent. He is, rather, insinuating that the issue he has raised is one such issue.

    In scripture, we are not to "pass judgment on disputable matters". But we are to rid ourselves of false teachers. So, which SORT of issue is homosexuality? That is the question. I know what kind of question I think homosexuality is, and it isn't the same sort of question as Chalke thinks it is.

    Ecclesiates 3: a time for peace, and a time for war. It's not either/or. It's which when. Chalke has fired the opening shot in a potentially bloody war, and, whilst the shock and awe has our attention, appealed platitudinously for a resumption of peace.

    I don't think that Chalke's party will be taking any prisoners, if they gain the upper hand. When churches and denominations fragment over this issue, they will want the buildings we meet in, and for us to have nowhere to meet, and for us to lose our charitable status, and for us to be branded "hate groups", so that we lose our jobs, our children are taken into care, and we are liable to be arrested.

    The plea for "reasoned and gracious debate" isn't the assertion of an excluded middle. It is a Munich Agreement, a playing for time, whilst the enemy forces muster, in response to the signal to join the attack that Chalke has sounded.

  35. Sadly, John, I think you're right, especially when you consider that the opinion-makers of society are already of this view. Chalke, ironically, is 'preaching to the choir' where they are concerned.

    A friend of mine was saying yesterday that Christians will soon be like the 'Amish' in the eyes of society as regards their odd and outmoded sexual morality.