Jonathan Sarfati Teaches Logic and Falls on his Prat
F. C. Kuechmann

pratfall. 1. A fall on the buttocks. 2. A humiliating error, failure... 

-- The American HeritageŽ Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

The nice folks at Answers in Genesis' (AiG's) web site are very thoughtful in that they provide me with a seemingly endless supply of their nonsense to make fun of. I'm thus spared the expense of buying their tripe (which permits me to spend more money on genuinely worthwhile things like alcoholic beverages and loose women). They're currently offering two interesting items from Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 12(2), 1998, the supposedly "peer reviewed" publication that carries the moniker TJ.


The first article I'll dissect, titled Loving God With All Your Mind: Logic and Creation, which first appeared on pages 142-151, purports to demonstrate the logical basis for young Earth creationism (YEC) as espoused by AiG.


The bulk of chess playing physical chemist Sarfati's article consists of a tedious interweaving of biblical quotations decorated with material that reads as if cribbed and bastardized from any one of a half-dozen introductory logic textbooks.


We are informed, in the finest biblical literalist tradition, that -


All philosophical systems rely on logical deductions from starting assumptions - axioms - which, by definition, cannot be proven from prior assumption. For our axioms, it is rational to accept the propositions revealed by the infallible God in the 66 books of the Bible.


It is, of course, even more rational to deem the 66 books of the Holy Crock to be merely the congealed campfire stories of Palestinian desert nomads from several millennia past, as copied, recopied and translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin and thence into English and a Tower of Babel's worth of other tongues, but what he hell!  We get the usual creationist name-dropping - 


"Martin Luther correctly distinguished..."


"C.S. Lewiss famous Trilemma argument is a good example."


"An example is the effort by Bishop John Shelby Spong..."


"This was realised by the famous Communist evolutionist biologist, J.B.S. Haldane:"


"In a debate between the Christian, William Lane Craig and the atheist, Frank Zindler..."


"Even Darwin wrote..."


"The famous Marxist paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould claimed..."


"Socrates, in Plato's Phaedo, stated succinctly..."


And denigration of non-fundamentalist Christians:


Many cults, including liberal Christianity... Some prize examples of semantic gymnastics can be found in the ramblings of liberal Christians. Since they are being paid to defend doctrines they don't believe, they redefine them instead... For them, God is not the Creator, but the ultimate concern; Jesus is Risen means that His influence continued after His death; Christian faith need not consist of holding any doctrines, although the NT states that those who forsake orthodox Christian doctrine have departed from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1, 5:8, 12:2, 2Tim. 3:8; cf Eph. 4:5).


But all this is peripheral to my current interest, which is to show Sarfati falling on his rear.


Referring to Ian Plimer Sarfati writes:


Of the many crass blunders he makes in logic, mathematics, science and exegesis, which are well documented on the AiG website, this takes the biscuit.


He appears blissfully unaware of the crass logical blunder he himself has made.


In his exposition on logical forms, Sarfati says:


A syllogism is a common type of deductive argument with two premises and a conclusion.


A bit later he adds


Note that validity does not depend on the truth of the premises, but on the form of the argument.


This, of course, is why the syllogism, far from being a common argument, is seldom found outside introductory logic textbooks and creationist sophistry. I am somewhat surprised that Sarfati didn't display more of the feathers of his pseudo-intellectual peacock by discussing the more advanced aspects of syllogisms. His creationist readers no doubt would be impressed by a scholarly discourse on major and minor premises, the square of opposition (A, E, I and O statements) and other learned folderol.


The part of Sarfati's exposition that most concerns me here, buried deep in a muck of theological nonsense and biblical quotation, is his discussion of truth functional logic, specifically modus ponens and modus tollens, especially the former.  

One of the ways you can tell that Cretin Science literature possesses genuine pseudo-scientific merit (as opposed to comprising merely a heap of quotes from The Crock) is the fact that Cretin Science literature supplements the quotes with lots of tables. Sarfati, in his Table 1, summarizes modus ponens as follows:

English Symbolic
p implies q p  q
p is true p
\ q is true ∴ q
Affirming the Antecedent Modus ponens


This form of argument says - 

1. we have two statements, p and q

2. their relationship is such that, if p is true, then q is also true


A valid example might be


1. if Jane wears a red shirt, Judith wears a blue shirt

2. Jane's shirt is red 

3. therefore Judith's shirt is blue 

Sarfati further banishes our ignorance by informing us that 


There are two types of invalid inference: the fallacies of affirming the consequent and denying the antecedent . 


Next let's look at the article titled If God created the universe, then who created God?  Answering the Critics, by the same author, reportedly  having once occupied pages 20-22 of the same issue of Tee-Jay cited above, although I fetched a copy from the AiG web site.


This second Sarfati essay serves up a few items from the traditional cretin menu, including the seemingly obligatory name-dropping -

...Einstein's general relativity, which has much experimental support...


As the late Professor Beatrice Tinsley of Yale explained...


Oscillating universe ideas were popularized by atheists like the late Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov...


But the philosopher (and New Testament scholar) William Lane Craig...


There are biblical citations - 

God is "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity" (Is. 57:15).[i]


...just as Genesis 1:1 and Romans 1:20 teach.


And, of course, references to the almighty Laws of Thermodynamics.


In this paper, Sarfati offers us a pair of modus ponens arguments. The first is -


Everything which has a beginning has a cause.

The universe has a beginning.

Therefore the universe has a cause.


We can simplify that to


if beginning then cause


therefore cause


The kiwi chess master then beheads the straw kangaroo with this statement -


The universe requires a cause because it had a beginning...God, unlike the universe, had no beginning, so doesn't need a cause.


Given his propensity for tables and diagrams, one would think Sarfati would have restated the assertion above (which was immersed in a pile of verbage) in the same classroom chalkboard manner he used for "the universe has a beginning". I'll do it for him -


Everything which has a beginning has a cause.

God has no beginning.

Therefore God has no cause.


That simplifies to -


if beginning then cause

no beginning

therefore no cause


That is, Sarfati denies the antecedent, which, as he informs us in his Loving God article, is an invalid form of argument (maybe that's why he buried it in a paragraph of verbage) - 


There are two types of invalid inference: the fallacies of affirming the consequent and denying the antecedent.


Mr Sarfati seems to have fallen on his prat.

[i] I also suggest "God is the shortest distance between zero  and infinity", from the essay On the Surface of God by noted French pataphysician Alfred Jarry.