Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Logic of Christianity 2: Building a Logical Pathway--The Syllogistic Chain

I was born during the first half of the Twentieth Century . . . just barely. Actually, my mother brought me into this world just 22 days before the beginning of the second half of the century--on December 9, 1949. I grew up on a farm not far from New Salem, in Illinois, the pioneer (log cabin) settlement where Abraham Lincoln as a young adult had left his career as a rail splitter, and had begun to study law, a century earlier. In fact, the Sangamon River which borders New Salem also bordered my family’s farm.
In the first map, pictured here, our farm was located about where you see the word “Salt”—just south of “Walker’s Grove.” Note that the squiggly line from around Kilbourne (going west to east) that makes a sharp right turn south at our farm going towards Petersburg is the Sangamon River. In the second map, you will note that the river winds further south toward Springfield, the Illinois state capitol, where Lincoln’s tomb is located. If we had navigated the Sangamon River by boat from our farm to New Salem (just barely south of Petersburg), we would have been only about 10 miles away, and another 15 or 20 miles from Springfield. Even though I grew up on the banks of the Sangamon, however, I cannot recall anyone ever boating on the river. I recall it being a very muddy river. At least, the land that my dad farmed bordering the river was muddy, but that was a good thing. Our farm was located in what was called the “Sangamon River Bottoms.” Johnny Carson made jokes about finding a good piece of bottom land, but my dad had actually found it. The rich black soil (mud or silt) in the Sangamon River Bottoms produced excellent crops and a very respectable farm income. You will notice in the picture of the farmland the hills in the distance. These were actually the original banks of the Sangamon River. The river, over the centuries, had deposited layers and layers of thick black silt (mud) in the river bottoms. That silt contained extremely productive nutrients for crops.
My mom had the job of spending the money the farm brought in. She travelled frequently to downtown Springfield to shop for clothing for the family in some very nice clothing stores. There were occasions when my mom could make this trip to Springfield in a very short period of time, but that was not usually the case. Usually, my mother would need to travel north out of the bottoms to Easton, where she could choose to travel either east or west to catch another highway southward to Springfield. This doubled the travel distance and time. The problem she encountered was that the river that connected our farm to New Salem also provided an obstacle to our travels southward. There was an old Oakford Bridge across the river from the Bottoms, but it had become dilapidated and rusted out and was closed when I was very young. Another bridge from the Bottoms across the Salt Creek toward Greenview was an option, even as I grew to be a young man. This route shaved off one-half hour from the trip to Springfield. The bridge was a rusty iron structure with no side retaining walls. Wooden planks were laid across the iron frame and rattled unnervingly as we drove slowly across the single-lane bridge. But even getting to this bridge was a major feat. The only roads that connected our house to this bridge were field roads, which we called “mud roads.” The primary roads in the Bottoms were covered with gravel, and other than being very dusty to drive on, were usually passable. But the mud roads were impassable after a rain. The gooey mire would engulf the wheels of the car, if one were to attempt to drive on the road. Even if someone drove a tractor on the wet roads, and was thus able to pass, the tractor tires would leave deep tracks in the mud. Anyone who subsequently attempted to navigate the road (after the mud dried) would be obstructed by the rutted path. What, you may ask, do mud roads and bad bridges have to do with the logic of Christianity? The story I have related is a representative anecdote. The mud roads and rattling bridge are metaphors for the dilapidated and impassable state of the syllogistic chain that currently exists for Christian logic. The need for logical infrastructure repair and refurbishment for Christianity reaches back to long before my childhood in the middle of the Twentieth Century. The issues come from before Abraham Lincoln’s mid-Nineteenth Century reiteration of our founding fathers’ (late Eighteenth Century) position that all men are “created” equal. They even predate Martin Luther’s Sixteenth Century reformation cry: “Sola Scriptura” (translated: “by scripture alone”). Some pertain to a time earlier than that of Jesus, his disciples, and the New Testament. They go back to the time of Aristotle in the Fourth Century BC, and even earlier—although Aristotle provides a roadmap to get us to where we need to be. The logical refurbishment of Christianity must go back beyond Daniel, Isaiah, King David, and even Moses. This current blog series is an attempt to resurface some of the mud roads that have become impassable, to repair some crumbling bridges, and to pave the highways that will allow others to more easily follow our logical pathways. Aristotle calls the various steps one must take to build a logic a “syllogistic chain.” In my book, ArguMentor, page 165, I describe such a chain:
“[Each link in the] chain of argumentation must be completed before the next one begins. And, so on. And so on. As an arguer, one must build his/her argumentation on facts, statistics, case studies, anecdotes, examples, and syllogisms that others have established. If one moves the argument along by only one link of a chain, it is a successful argument. If one, by supplying a rebuttal for which there is no valid backing, refutes an argument, the refutation is a successful argument, until someone else comes along with a backing or inductive argument or deductive argument that moves the syllogistic chain along.” On page 93, I point out: “What Aristotle called a chain of syllogisms, Kenneth Burke (1968) called syllogistic progressive form. Syllogistic progressive form simply suggests logic in the development of any literary work. The major premise and at least one minor premise must be established as credible with the audience before conclusions can be drawn. Then, in turn, these newly established conclusions may be employed as premises for other conclusions, until one reaches the final conclusion, the point that the author is ultimately attempting to persuade his/her audience to accept. ‘In so far as the audience, from its acquaintance with the premises, feels the rightness of the conclusion, the work is formal [meaning that it has syllogistic progressive form]’" (124).
As I grew up on the farm in the 1950s and 1960s, I believed (as many Evangelical Christians do, today) that, when arguing theological issues, I could simply appeal, as did Martin Luther, to the scriptures. If the Bible clearly stated a truth proposition, the issue was resolved. In my naïveté, I assumed that the authority of the Bible had long been established. I felt that the syllogistic chain could begin with the premise that the Bible was authoritative. The only legitimate questions, then, pertained to issues of interpretation of scripture. In my undergraduate years, at a conservative Christian college, I took three years of Hellenistic Greek language courses and two years of Classical Hebrew language courses, in addition to multiple content courses covering Old and New Testament texts. As a master’s student in Rabbinic Hebrew at Indiana University, I continued my study of Classical and Mishnaic Hebrew, and added courses in Aramaic and Syriac, in addition to multiple content courses covering Old Testament and Rabbinic texts. My naïveté dissipated rapidly. My Jewish professors and classmates felt no compunction whatsoever to assist me in defending Christianity. Quite to the contrary, I found myself challenged constantly to defend my premises. It was not even a generally accepted premise in a primarily Jewish department that the Hebrew Bible was authoritative. One of my professors warned me that it was proverbial in academia: to earn a master’s degree, one must stop believing in the Bible; to earn a Ph.D., one must stop believing in God. When I wrote my master’s thesis, I invited a New Testament scholar from the University to be a part of my thesis committee. He offered even more resistance to my notions of the reliability of the New Testament than did my Jewish professors.
What had happened to the Sola Scriptura premise? I began to realize the full extent to which the syllogistic chain of Christianity had been compromised. Over the years, as I watch other young unsuspecting college students face the onslaught of critical Biblical scholarship in religion classes at various universities, I have empathy. I know what they are going through. They are hopelessly mired in a mud road, in the logic of Christianity. They cannot logically argue for the truth of a biblical proposition until they have established the premise that the Bible is reliable. This is no mean task. More than a century of concerted scholarly skepticism has targeted the credibility of the various biblical texts. Furthermore, before they could even begin to argue for the correctness of the Bible, they find themselves face-to-face with a crumbling rickety bridge of theism vs. atheism. How can one argue that the God of Judeo-Christian scriptures is the true God, if it has not been successfully argued that there even is a God? And, before one can argue that there is a God, one must grapple with the issue of whether the universe is randomly constituted, or whether there is purposeful action that produced its existence. We find ourselves precisely where Genesis begins—at the beginning of the universe. (How interesting!) We may use Aristotle’s concept of syllogistic chains to begin building a logical pathway from there.