Circular reasoning

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Circular reasoning is a type of logical fallacy in which the "proof" of a statement ultimately depends on assuming the truth of the statement itself. It may also be called circular logic or a circular argument.

A very common example in the area of religion is the following argument from scripture:

  1. We know that God exists because the Bible says so.
  2. We know that Bible is correct because it is the inspired word of God.

In other words:

Bible implies God implies Bible

which reduces to:

The Bible says the Bible is true

Neither the assertion that "God exists" nor that "the Bible is correct" have been independently proved without relying on the assumption of the other.

Presuppositional Apologist Argument

Main Article: Presuppositional apologetics

Presuppositional apologists (primarily from the reformed school of theology) argue that circular reasoning is acceptable and necessary within a world-view and that circular reasoning is only un-acceptable when it presents a self-contradiction.
This is demonstrated by showing that the scientific worldview has certain assumptions about the universe and that those assumptions are based on observation but then observation is explained in terms of laws, which are themselves assumptions about the universe. This is, of course, acceptable because it is consistent in and of itself and because the scientist does not claim that the conclusion validates the assumption, only that it is consistent with it.

However, for this argument to be valid, the observer must consider the assumptions inviolable. A basic tenet of science is that NO assumption can be considered inviolable, including the scientific method itself. They basic tenants of science may be themselves questioned but that does not automatically refute them - and their uncertainty is acknowledged by all scientific knowledge being tentative. Thousands of years ago, scientists assumed the sky, sun, stars, and moon all revolved around the earth, and developed "laws" (more properly called "theories") to explain this. Utilizing a circular thought process, scientists would be forced to incorporate their ideas within these geocentric theories. Utilizing a traditional scientific process, the scientist is permitted to completely reject these assumptions, and develop and test new hypotheses to explain the observations.

"[...]all claims for absolute authority have such authority built in, or they could not be sustained. For example, those who believe that human reason is the ultimate authority must look to human reason as the basis for claiming this to be the case.[1]"

Circular argumentation can be avoided by accepting a-priorism, psychologism, infinite regress or some mixture of them (see the Münchhausen trilemma).

See also


  1. John Blanchard, Why believe the Bible?, 2004
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