When Book Endorsements Backfire

By Brandon Adams

I recently received an email update from Monergism Books announcing new titles they have available. One of them is Isaac Watts’ “Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth”

Description: Isaac Watts is well known as the author of more than 750 beloved hymns. What most people don’t realize is that his work on logic was a standard textbook for nearly 200 years.

The Puritans were convinced that the ability to think clearly was of the utmost importance for interpreting the Bible correctly, and especially for those entering the ministry. In their minds, if a man could not think clearly, he could not interpret the Bible correctly.

In our day, common sense is not very common and clear thinking is not very clear. This book will help discipline the mind and train the reader to discern proper thinking and argumentation in seeking truth.

They nearly had me sold, until I read the only endorsement:

“Fuzzy thinking is one of the great sins of our age. Christians who seek to return to the clear-mindedness which characterized the church of previous generations will certainly welcome the reurn of this great text on logic by Isaac Watts. The clear devotion of Watts’ hymns came from a clear mind–and that was no accident.”
–Doug Wilson, National Board of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools

Talk about irony. Robbins once commented: “Indeed, one could use Wilson’s whole book as a source of examples of logical fallacies when teaching logic.” (NRAT p. 78). Wilson himself noted: “For various reasons, many of them very sad, my mind does not work the way a logic teacher’s mind ought to work” (“The Great Logic Fraud”, from The Paideia of God, p. 78)

As Robbins and Gerety note in Not Reformed At All (p. 29):

The point is not whether Wilson holds to this or that point of the “historic Reformed faith as represented by the Westminster Standards” (even while artfully misrepresenting those Standards), but whether or not his opinions contradict or undermine the system of truth summarized in those Standards and taught in the Scriptures. Christianity is a logical, propositional system, not an aggregate of disjointed thoughts and metaphors; and Wilson’s dislike of logical systems, propositions, and of logic itself, is well known. Wilson is opposed to all systems, especially theological systems. He is even opposed to arithmetic.*

*In 1999 Wilson published an essay titled “The Great Logic Fraud” in his book The Paideia of God. It expresses his revolt against excellence, precision, and logic. That essay belies any claim Wilson might make to believe the system of truth in the Westminster Confession. In the essay, Wilson even denies that 2 + 2 = 4 is true. His exact words are, for those who might find my accusation incredible, “Because of our realist assumptions in mathematics, we have come to believe that 15 + 20 = 35 is true. But it is evidently not true” (85).

Robbins provided further explanation on the Trinity Foundation website:

“Because of our realist assumptions in mathematics, we have come to believe that 15 + 20 = 35 is true. But it is evidently not true. 15 unicorns plus 20 unicorns will not get you 35 unicorns, try as you may. Of course, on the other hand, 15 turnips plus 20 turnips will result in 35 turnips, and it will do so every time. The structure of the addition table is sound, and the ‘argument’ is valid. And if unicorns existed, we would wind up with 35 of them. But this means the argument is valid, not true.” –– Douglas Wilson, “The Great Logic Fraud,” The Paideia of God, 85.

Comment: Wilson did not write this revealing essay to make the trivial point that arguments are valid (or invalid) and propositions are true (or false). He wrote it to deny that the proposition, “Fifteen plus twenty equals thirty-five” is true. Arithmetic, like logic, Wilson says, is a “great fraud.”

And Anthony C0letti added the following comment to Doug Wilson’s blog entry response:

There was a question on a e-mail list I subscribe to about whether you support a “classical education”. I’ve come to the conclusion you support a classical education while rejecting classical logic.

I posted on the list: “Wilson appears to support a classical education while rejecting classical logic by making a claim on existential import as a requirement for defining truth. 2+2=4 is not true according to Wilson because it is not linked to “real” objects. He would say 2 unicorns and 2 unicorns does not equal 4 unicorns. It seems to me that existential import is irrelevant to truth – otherwise there could be no abstract truth regarding concepts like freedom and loyalty. One could not say it is true that ‘one should love his neighbor’ because love is an abstract concept – like unicorns.”

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

This comment in Not Reformed At All directly precedes the section discussing Wilson’s obsession with “objective” “photographability”.

See also: Doug Wilson and the Problem of Propositionalism

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12 Comments on “When Book Endorsements Backfire”

  1. Hugh McCann Says:

    Sean,

    These guys also carry Watts’ Logic w/o the troublesome endorsement. 😉 ~
    http://www.ligonier.org/store/logic-hardcover/

    One scratches one’s head that McMahon would use Wilson to plug a LOGIC book! 🙂

    {I wonder if Schwertley and his SWRB boys would question even using Watts on logic, who is vilified for his bastardizing of the Psalms.}

    Another logical blunder was this by a Reformed magazine: “we must say that God transcends logic.” Oh. ~
    http://www.trinityfoundation.org/horror_show.php?id=20

  2. Hugh McCann Says:

    Oops; I mean Brandon (& Sean).

  3. LJ Says:

    I assume you guys have read this … I had not until just now:

    Wilson comments:
    “”Ah, but there is more. In that essay, I went on to say (in the very next sentence) that “15 unicorns plus 20 unicorns will not get 35 unicorns, try as you may. Of course, on the other hand, 15 turnips plus 20 turnips will result in 35 turnips, and it will do so every time. The structure of the addition table is sound, and the “argument” is valid. And if unicorns existed, we would wind up with 35 of them. But this means the argument is valid, not true” [emphasis added]. I was talking about truth and validity (an elementary distinction in logic, one we teach to our 8th graders), not truth and falsity, or truth and relativism.

    From this distance, it is impossible to say if the Robbins/Gerety problem is one of paradigm-induced incompetence, paradigm-induced dishonesty, ordinary incompetence, ordinary dishonesty, or some mixture of the four. And so I do not presume to say. But I can say that Robbins/Gerety are not to be trusted in representing to their reading public anything about what I have to say. Somebody is struggling with the concept of truth, all right.””

    LJ

  4. LJ Says:

    I realize this was some time back and may have been dealt with by Sean. But going back and reading what Wilson wrote it appears to me he is really dodging the issue. His problem, if I understand it correctly, is his understanding of TRUTH; existential import or otherwise.

    LJ

  5. Steve M Says:

    I have a question:

    Will 15 intelligent thoughts in the mind of Doug Wilson plus 20 intelligent thoughts in the mind of Doug Wilson get 35 intelligent thoughts in the mind of Doug Wilson, try as you may?

  6. George Says:

    Brandon or Sean,

    My PCA adult Sunday School is reviewing the Debate Film between Peter Hitchens and Douglas Wilson on the topic “Christianity is Good for the World”. One of our Pastor’s is a big fan of Wilson’s classical education philosophy and a copies of Wilson’s “Letter froma a Christian Citizen” are prominently displayed and are free to all visitors.

    In the Debate Film Wilson defends sola scriptura and claims using scripture to support scripture is “circular” only in the sense that someone defending “reason” would appeal to rational arguments to defend the proposition that reason is useful.

    If you had any thoughts on any of the above. I’d be happy to read it here.

  7. Sean Gerety Says:

    I would be very concerned with your pastor and would seriously consider looking for another church.

  8. Hugh McCann Says:

    Hi George,

    Tho’ not directed to me, to use an old analogy, Doug Wilson is like a broken clock: He’s right twice a day.

    Or, to shamelessly steal a line from John Robbins* (re: Chuck Colson):

    > Doug Wilson is a bright and clever fellow. One does not get to be a large church pastor/ writer/ school & college & denomination co-founder/ or publisher by being stupid or ignorant. One might conclude that Wilson knows exactly what he is doing in writing his books, and perhaps he does. But my experience has been that bright and clever fellows in one area can be stupid and ignorant in others. That is the best and most charitable interpretation one can put on the matter. But that does not excuse the mortal errors that Wilson is teaching in his books. <

    To quote Wilson late in 'Collision' ~ "Sh*t happens." Thanks, Doug. Nice summation, that.

    * "The Counterfeit Gospel of Charles Colson," 1994,
    http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=187

  9. brandonadams Says:

    Hi George,

    I’m not sure how familiar you are with Clark’s apologetics. In regards to your question about circularity, you would benefit from studying Clark’s discussion of arguing from an axiom. This is a good place to start:
    http://trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=276

  10. George Says:

    All,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. My house is littered with Trinity Foundation books. My favorites that I have read cover to cover at least once are: God’s Hammer, Logic, Thales to Dewey and the Johannine Logos. The collections of essays are also great (not at my fingertips so I may misquote the titles): Economics and Freedom, Against the Churches and The Church Effiminate.

    I am also rereading Not Reformed at All.

    Today I will probably see another 35 minutes of the Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson movie in Adult Sunday School.

    One insidious aspect of Wilson is that he seems to defend the Scriptures in that movie, but as is clear from pgs. 79 and 80 of Not Reformed at All — he disparages the solas — “sola-mongering”.

    Sola-mongering is definitely not a problem in my PCA church. Instead, I see the lines between worldly ethics, Roman Catholic ethics and Reformed theology being blurred or relegated to being non-essential. Do all PCA churches recite the Apostle’s Creed regularly? In my view that recitation reinforces the idea that Roman Catholic and Reformed Christianity are part of one big kind of happy family.

  11. brandonadams Says:

    Update:
    In a recent newsletter update from Monergism Books, I see they are also selling a Logic textbook written by Wilson and James B. Nance:

    INTRODUCTORY LOGIC: STUDENT (4TH EDITION)

    Description: Logic is the art of reasoning well–of learning to think God’s thoughts after Him. In this book, directed toward junior-high students, Douglas Wilson and James Nance lay the proper foundation of reasoning in the truth of God, and go on to train students in the crucial skills of defining terms, recognizing basic types of statements, arguing with syllogisms, arguing in ordinary language, and identifying informal fallacies.

    This text, together with Intermediate Logic by James Nance, provides students with a rigorous course in logic that will help them excel in every other subject they will study, from math and science to rhetoric and the humanities. Extensively revised and updated, with additional review questions and exercises for each unit, this book is an essential part of every Christian school or home school curriculum. 39 lessons; consumable.

    About the Authors
    James B. Nance has taught at Logos School since 1990, where he currently teaches logic, rhetoric, calculus, physics, and Christian doctrine. He and his wife Giselle have four children.
    Douglas Wilson is the pastor of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho, and editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine. He is the author of many books, including Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Reforming Marriage, and A Primer on Worship and Reformation. He is also co-author with Christopher Hitchens of Is Christianity Good for the World? A voracious reader (with a sweet tooth for Wodehouse), Douglas blogs prolifically at http://www.dougwils.com. He and his wife Nancy have three children and fifteen grandchildren.

    Monergism Note: Carrying this book is not an endorsement of all of Douglas Wilson’s theology.

    Someone should explain to Monergism how Wilson’s logic relates to his heresy. I’m getting pretty tired of hearing Wilson’s books praised and recommended everywhere (like his new book “Wordsmithy”)

  12. Hugh McCann Says:

    I note: “directed toward junior-high students,” {Hmm…} “Douglas Wilson and James Nance lay the proper foundation of reasoning in the truth of God,”

    Also, Vol. 2 is by Nance alone. Perhaps he’s good leaven for these works? Dunno.


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