What's Wrong with Circular Reasoning?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, April 8, 2021 2 comments

by Steve Risner

In my last blog post, I introduced a topic I found in a group on Facebook that discusses creation and anything related to it. A person I think is an unbeliever gave some tips to “creationists” on how to discuss these issues in the group. I found it rather interesting for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was the irony involved.

As I said last time, this sort of stuff—everything he points out that creationists should avoid—are things that everyone does and, most times, should avoid. He probably does not believe that’s true or, if pressed, might admit others do these things as well but not nearly as much. My take is very different than his. While I understand we all make errors in our arguments and discussions and even in our reasoning, I believe we should all strive for the highest standards in our debates, including being honest and ethical. Christians have an objective standard by which to conduct themselves while atheists really do not. We have the Word of God and His moral code of conduct, so to speak. For an unbeliever, there really is no base of support for their morality. I’m not saying they cannot be moral, but I’m never sure where that comes from.

This individual stated, for our benefit, I guess, “that if the purpose of your posts is to persuade others of your belief, and you want to start a useful discussion, then it’s worth avoiding the following:” He then went on to list and explain 4 things. They included preaching, circular reasoning, ad hominem arguments, and strawman arguments. So today, we’ll focus in on his second thing “worth avoiding” which is circular reasoning.

He says, “CIRCULAR REASONING. Such as: ‘what the bible says is correct because God’s word is true.’ …. and variants of this.”

Circular reasoning is just that—you reason in a circle. In short, you begin with what you have in mind as the ending. Keep in mind that not all circular reasoning yields a false conclusion. A great example would be something like, “You shouldn’t break the law because it’s illegal to break the law.” You follow?

Creationists can do this. People who do not support the Biblical narrative on origins will do this often as well. But here’s the thing with circular reasoning—everyone does it to a degree. We ALL—every last one of us—have axioms at our foundation of beliefs. These are things we believe are true without being able to prove them. Because of this fact, I would suggest that this person’s claim that “creationists” shouldn’t use circular reasoning is misapplied in his example statement. I believe that the Bible is God’s Word and is true. This is the foundation for all of my beliefs concerning origins. So, to suggest that I cannot make this statement is odd. Of course, I can and will state this. But he has foundational beliefs as well that he cannot prove but his beliefs hang on.

More important to me than avoiding circular reasoning would be making sure my foundational/core beliefs that I cannot prove (the axioms I mentioned above) are consistent with each other. This is true for the Christian who adheres to a natural reading of Scripture by and large. However, for the unbeliever—especially the atheist—inconsistency is the norm, unfortunately.

A Christian who used the Bible to understand the world around him/her has a great deal to appreciate. The Christian worldview and the Bible have provided for the development of modern science. I’ve written about that here. A Biblical worldview held by the Christ follower can also claim a solid system for determining right and wrong. We have a standard for objective morality which is pivotal in sustaining civilization. Atheists will claim they have a standard for morality, but this is false. Sure, they can be moral, but they have no basis for it. According to well-known atheist William Provine, evolution means that “There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.”

But our belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture is not circular reasoning. It is not a blind faith in some old book. It’s a faith that is supported by loads of evidence from numerous sources. Our faith in the Word of God is justified by sound reasoning. Dr. Jonathan Sarfati said it very concisely: the biblical framework is the only one that provides the foundation for science, voluntary will, logic, and morality.

Secular science and humanism very often report they’ve confirmed deep time with this sort of test or that line of thought. However, most if not all of these tests that give them the desired results are based on assumptions and circular reasoning. They also frequently fail to mention that all dates not in line with their current line of thinking are tossed out, never to be heard from again. Examples would be ice cores and how they must first believe in deep time—aka millions or billions of years of slow gradual processes in a worldview based on uniformitarianism—before they can deduce any conclusions from the data the ice cores present. There are issues with this. This is begging the question which is very similar to circular reasoning.

Dr. Henry Morris explained how the foundational arguments for universal common descent are circular this way: “Creationists have long insisted that the main evidence for evolution — the fossil record — involves a serious case of circular reasoning. That is, the fossil evidence that life has evolved from simple to complex forms over the geological ages depends on the geological ages of the specific rocks in which these fossils are found. The rocks, however, are assigned geologic ages based on the fossil assemblages which they contain. The fossils, in turn, are arranged on the basis of their assumed evolutionary relationships. Thus the main evidence for evolution is based on the assumption of evolution.”

This line of circular reasoning is mentioned often by creationists and dismissed by evolutionists. But it’s true. Rocks are dated by fossils in them, and fossils are dated by what rock layer they are found in. They then will point to other lines of evidence for the ages of these rocks with radiometric dating, which was likely calibrated by the previously determined ages of the rocks these methods are used on. The RATE project has done a marvelous job of dismantling the efficacy and accuracy of deep time dating methods. This is generally ignored by evolutionists without much to say about it.

I guess one might say circular reasoning is bad because it’s not good. But, as I stated earlier, all faiths (whether the faith of a person who believes science has all the answers, or the faith of a person who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, or the faith of the materialist, or atheist, or Buddhist, or Jew, or whatever) stand ultimately on axioms. Axioms are core beliefs that we just accept as true and build off of them. These axioms, which every person has at their foundation of their beliefs, are often times circular in their reasoning. But, again as stated earlier, the faith of a Christian in the Bible is a faith bolstered by the evidence and supported by multiple lines of reasoning and facts. Our faith stands firm with the facts (when they are interpreted properly) and not in spite of the facts like the faith of the atheist.

Exodus 23:1 tells us not to give a false report or join the wicked to be malicious. Often times when the Bible speaks of the wicked it simply means those who do not know God. Psalm 17 tells us that those whose portion is in this life rather than in God are the wicked. I do not want to join hands with the denier of Christ to make a theological case about anything. How could I? Too often, Christians are sucked into this trap of aligning with the atheist to somehow make him or her see the light. It just doesn’t work. Let’s just assume that God knows what He is talking about here.

I have recently had Romans 2:24 thrown at me as some sort of insult. Here, Paul is saying that because of the conduct of the believers he was writing to, the Gentiles were able to mock or scorn the Lord. This person was trying to say that because I believe the Bible and what it tells me, I am making unbelievers mock the Lord. But his Scripture reference actually is far more on point for him than me. The backstory here is that Paul was saying the Jews had the Law. They were the chosen people of God Almighty. They had the oracles of God. But they chose to mix with the unbelievers—the pagans, the Gentiles, the idol worshippers—in the areas close by them rather than stay true to the covenant that God had made with them. You can read more about the context here when you look at Isaiah 52:5 and Ezekiel 36:20 and 23 (or the whole book of Judges) to see that rather than stick with Him and His Word, they fell away and went along with their neighbors who believed in things contrary to God’s Word.

This is exactly what this person is doing. He aligns himself with unbelievers and philosophies specifically designed in some cases to undermine the Word of God. He claims to do this to win them over, I guess. But anyone can see how na├»ve and foolish this is. Trust God. Trust His Word. And rather than think some “educated” person who likely doesn’t believe in Jesus anyway has stumbled on the true interpretation of Scripture, let us understand the Word of God as it was intended and as it has been for thousands of years. Let’s not rewrite Genesis to work more nicely with the humanist origins myth of deep time, the big bang and universal common descent.

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Stephen Meiner said...

Very impressive and simplistic at the same time. Clear points of reasoning. Again, thanks Steve. Now I'm going to read the one you posted ...the third one.

Steve Risner said...

Again, thank you for reading and your encouragement. I appreciate it.