What is Logic?
A Street-Preacher does not need to be on his podium for long before an atheist will suggest that religious belief is irrational, mystical, a belief in the unknown, or just plain fantasy. “It is not logical,” it will be asserted without argument, “to believe in the existence of God.”
How, then should the Street-Preacher deal with the question of logic? Is the atheist on strong grounds when he asserts biblical belief is ‘illogical’? What, however, is logic?
Logic has been described as the science of necessary inference. Logic is the use of propositions in a particular manner. Propositions are statements that are either true or false. Syllogisms, the use of propositional statements, on the other hand, are either valid or invalid, sound or unsound. An argument may be logically valid, but unsound because of the nature of one of the premises. A sound argument is one that is both valid and the premises are true. It is the combination of these concepts that allows logic and logical arguments to take place.
To address the question “What is logic?”, however, the Street-Preacher will find it necessary to have an argument not so much about logic, but about the philosophy of logic. What is logic? What determines whether certain propositions are logical or not? What determines that an inference is necessary? And in order to find a philosophy of logic, the Street-Preacher need search no further than his doctrine of God.
Logic is the claim that certain ‘facts’ stated as propositions fit together in some kind of relationship and the correct relationship is “logical” while the incorrect relationship is a ‘fallacy’.
All wisdom and knowledge find their resting place in the concept of God as the absolutely self-attesting, or self-determinative, God. To understand what this means, consider the competing worldviews of atheism and biblical theism. The atheist is adamant that the ‘facts’ of the universe came into existence by chance. Having denied a Creator who is a person, the atheist is left with no intelligent designer behind the ‘facts’ that came into existence. All facts to him are impersonal. Their existence and their place in the cosmos is the result of randomness.
If you want to know what’s wrong in the world today, it’s tempting to answer that with a single issue. In reality, there are many things that contribute to the state of the present world.
Not least of these, however, is critical thinking or, rather, the lack of it.
There are some who will make all kinds of excuses why logical thinking should be abandoned or denied. Some do it on the basis that this is “Greek” thinking and we should be “Hebrew” in our thinking, the implication being that “Hebrew” thinking somehow does not demand the same kind of logic. This view of Greek and Hebrew, however, has the wrong point in mind, for this is not the real distinction between Greek and Hebrew thought. It is the outcome of our logical thinking that illustrates our presuppositions, and these are either biblical or they are not.
Ad Hominem – Latin for “to the man.”
It’s a debating technique that is designed to avoid real argument by attacking the person with the express purpose of undermining his character. In other words, it’s a debating tactic that can be very, very effective, even though it is a false argument. Ad hominem arguments might be:
“The trouble is, he’s Australian . . .”
“He sounds just like a Roman Catholic”
“He’s dangerous . . .”
“He’s a Calvinist . . .”
It could even be, “He’s not a Calvinist . . .”
Get the idea? What has Australian got to do with in an argument, or being Roman Catholic, or dangerous, or being Calvinistic or even non-Calvinistic. It’s an attempt to slur the person’s character, thereby undermining the statements they make. It throws into question their character and integrity, so you begin to think, “well, if he’s like that, his arguments cannot be very good.”
The Blank Slate Concept of Free Will.
It is interesting to see how the law of non-contradiction is applied in real life by those who uphold the belief that this law is the ultimate standard, or test, that must be used to determine if a statement is true. Remember the law of non-contradiction is this: something cannot be one thing and something else at the same time. A cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship.
When it comes to an application of this principle, there are some challenges. Most of all, they occur in this area when the idea of libertarian free will comes to the surface. The idea of libertarian free will is that man is a blank, his environment is a blank, and his will is a blank. Anything that interrupts that blank thus becomes an interference to man’s will and therefore human will is no longer free. Thus, in this plan, God cannot have an eternal decree because it takes away the blank environment and interferes with the libertarian free choice of man.
It is not possible to get rid of doctrine before you come to the text to do your exegesis.
An application of the laws of logic occur in philosophical thought when men attempt to answer the question “what is true?” Non-theistic thought ends up with the notion there is no absolute truth, which, if this statement were true, violates the laws of logic, non-contradiction.
In theology you get similar kinds of statements: “We all come to the bible with presuppositions. We come with doctrinal baggage. You must get rid of the doctrine and do your exegesis first, then develop your doctrine from that.”
Now you ask this question: “Is it your doctrine—doctrine, by the way, just means a body of belief—that you must abandon doctrine in order to create the ‘blank environment’ of the human mind so that ‘correct doctrine’ is determined?”
Van Til On The Law of Non-Contradiction (Contradiction) in Apologetics
Cornelius Van Til had this to say about the law of contradiction (or non-contradiction) in reasoning with the unbeliever. (A Survey of Christian Epistemology. The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ., 1969, Chapter 15.)
We must therefore give our opponents better treatment than they give us. We must point out to them that univocal reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we must meet our enemy on their own ground. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions. It is this too that we should mean when we say that we are arguing ad hominem. We do not really argue ad hominem unless we show that someone’s position involves self-contradiction, and there is no self-contradiction unless one’s reasoning is shown to be directly contradictory of or to lead to conclusions which are contradictory of one’s own assumptions. . . .
We do not give in to defeat or appeal to irrationality in the name of faith, but we challenge their interpretation of the law of contradiction.
When we reason thus [i.e., placing ourselves in our opponents position – IH] we are not reasoning on the basis of some abstract law of self-contradiction. We have seen that the very question between theists and antitheists is as to the foundation of the law of contradiction. When they criticize our position and think they have reduced it to the place where it falls under the law of self-contradiction, we do not give in to defeat or appeal to irrationality in the name of faith, but we challenge their interpretation of the law of contradiction. We hold that they have falsely assumed that the self-contradictory is to be identified with that which is beyond the comprehension of man. But this takes for granted that human categories are ultimate categories—which is just the thing in question. We must maintain that we have the true conception of the law of contradiction. According to that conception, only that is self-contradictory which is contradictory to the conception of the absolute self-consciousness of God. If there were in the Trinity such a self-contradiction, there would also be in the matter of God’s relation to the world. But, since the Trinity is the conception by which ultimate unity and diversity is brought into equal ultimacy, it is this conception of the Trinity which makes self-contradiction impossible for God and therefore also impossible for man. Complete self-contradiction is possible only in hell, and hell is itself a self-contradiction because it feeds eternally on the negation of an absolute affirmation. Accordingly, we must hold that the position of our opponent has in reality been reduced to self-contradiction when it is shown to be hopelessly opposed to the Christian theistic concept of God. Yet in order to bring this argument as closely to the non-regenerate consciousness as we may, we must seek to show that the non-theist is self-contradictory upon his own assumptions, as well as upon the assumption of the truth of theism, and that he cannot even be self-contradictory upon a non-theistic basis, since if he saw himself to be self-contradictory he would be self-contradictory no longer.
Complete self-contradiction is possible only in hell, and hell is itself a self-contradiction because it feeds eternally on the negation of an absolute affirmation.
Now when this method of reasoning from the impossibility of the contrary is carried out, there is really nothing more to do. We realize this if we call to mind again that if once it is seen that the conception of God is necessary for the intelligible interpretation of any fact, it will be seen that this is necessary for all facts and for all laws of thought. If one really saw that it is necessary to have God in order to understand the grass that grows outside his window, he would certainly come to a saving knowledge of Christ, and to the knowledge of the absolute authority of the Bible. It is true, we grant that it is not usually in this way that men become true Christian theists, but we put it in this way in order to bring out clearly that the investigation of any fact whatsoever will involve a discussion of the meaning of Christianity as well as of theism, and a sound position taken on the one involves a sound position on the other. It is well to emphasize this fact because there are Fundamentalists who tend to throw overboard all epistemological and metaphysical investigation and say that they will limit their activities to preaching Christ. But we see that they are not really preaching Christ unless they are preaching him for what he wants to be, namely, the Christ of cosmic significance. Nor can they even long retain the soteriological significance of Christ if they forsake his cosmological significance. If one allows that certain facts may be truly known apart from God in Christ, there is no telling where the limit will be. It soon appears that the elephant wants to warm more than his nose. He will soon claim that the truths of the religious consciousness may also be known apart from Christ, and may therefore become the standard of what is to be accepted of the Bible.
The distinguishing characteristic between every non-Christian theory of knowledge on the one hand, and the Christian concept of knowledge on the other hand, is, therefore, that in all non-Christian theories men reason univocally, while in Christianity men reason analogically. By this distinction we mean that every non-Christian theory of method takes for granted, that time and eternity are aspects of one another, and that God and man must be thought of as being on the same plane. God and man must be thought of as correlative to one another. God and man work under a system of logic that is higher than both, and that exists in independence of both. The law of contradiction is thought of as existing somehow in independence of God and man or at least as operating in both God and man on the same level.
In contrast to this, Christianity holds that God existed alone before any time existence was brought forth. He existed as the self-conscious and self-consistent being. The law of contradiction, therefore, as we know it, is but the expression on a created level of the internal coherence of God’s nature. Christians should therefore never appeal to the law of contradiction as something that, as such, determines what can or cannot be true. Parmenides serves as a warning of what happens to history if the law of contradiction is in this fashion made the ultimate standard of appeal in human thought. Parmenides concluded that to understand anything historical, it would have to be reduced to an element in a timeless system of categories. He therefore denied the reality and significance of all historical plurality. In modern times it is customary to use the law of contradiction negatively rather than positively as Parmenides did. On the surface this appears to leave room for historical factuality. But it does so only if this historical factuality be thought of as being unknowable or irrational.
Christians should employ the law of contradiction, whether positively or negatively, as a means by which to systematize the facts of revelation. Whether these facts are found in the universe at large or in the Scripture. The law of contradiction cannot be thought of as operating anywhere except against the background of the nature of God. Since, therefore, God created this world, it would be impossible that this created world should ever furnish an element of reality on a par with him. The concept of creation as entertained by Christians makes the idealist notion of logic once for all impossible. The creation doctrine is implied in the God-concept of Christianity; deny the creation doctrine and you have denied the Christian concept of God. A created being or a created reality in general cannot furnish a novelty element that is to stand on a par with the element of permanency furnished by the Creator. If one believes in the creation doctrine at all, one has to say that the novelty element of the universe is subordinate to the eternal plan of God. Christians believe in two levels of existence, the level of God’s existence as self-contained and the level of man’s existence as derived from the level of God’s existence. For this reason, Christians must also believe in two levels of knowledge, the level of God’s knowledge which is absolutely comprehensive and self-contained, and the level of man’s knowledge which is not comprehensive but is derivative and re-interpretative. Hence we say that as Christians we believe that man’s knowledge is analogical of God’s knowledge.
Van Til, C. (1979). An Introduction to Systematic Theology. The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ.
“This phrase, ‘God can do all things,’ is rightly understand to mean that God can do all things that are possible; and for this reason He is said to be omnipotent.” ‐Thomas Aquinas
In the attempt to discredit God and Christianity all kinds of unusual questions are posed to the believer.
‘Can God make a square circle?’
‘Can God make a triangle with four sides?’
And the favorite, ‘Can God make a rock so big that he cannot lift it?’
And the conclusion? If God cannot do these things, then he is not all-powerful.
And so the skeptic thinks he has raised questions that disprove the Bible and Christian theology.
Christians who have a weak understanding often fall prey to these kinds of questions. “Oh my,” they think to themselves. “How on earth can I answer these apparent bullet-proof questions about God? Maybe we Christians should not be so confident with our answers after all.”
At the heart of the debate is the nature of God. Who is this God that Christians claim inspired the Scriptures, created everything else apart from himself out of nothing, and in the space of six consecutive days?
But also at the heart of the debate is the notion of logic and language. For example, an atheist declared recently in a discussion about the Law of Causality, that there were ‘uncaused effects.’ Now the Law of Causality merely states that every effect must have a sufficient cause. This is often expressed that everything that has a beginning has a cause. I prefer the first wording, though it really makes no difference. The meanings are similar.
In any discussion with an atheist, there will come a challenge to the believer to present “proof” for the existence of the ontological Trinity, the God of Scripture. Having already rejected revelation’s record that the universe itself is evidence for the biblical God, they confine themselves to “scientific proof”, the idea that the only valid proofs are those that come via the senses — empiricism.
The key issue between atheist and theist is the nature of evidence and the use of logic. Included in such a discussion has to be the subject of “fallacy.” What is a “fallacy”? The key in any discussion, then, is to get to the question of “proof”. This is how one discussion transpired, after the question was asked by the atheist to provide a proposition and its evidence. For him, there was no such thing as an absolute truth.
THEIST: There is absolute truth. Proof? This statement cannot be denied without accepting the proposition itself.
ATHEIST: Then give the proposition, then the proof. This is your word game, play it well!
T: I just gave the proposition and I gave the proof.
A: You failed to give the proof. Do not lie.
T: No, I gave the proof. You seem incapable of understanding the nature of proof.
A: I told you I needed proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I have a reasonable doubt that absolute truth exists, and therefore saying that I have to accept absolute truth to disprove absolute truth is circular reasoning. You have failed so far!
What Can You Say About An Irrational Belief?
How can people defend an idea that is not rational? Answer: they can’t. Yet atheists offer atheism as a ‘rational’ explanation of the universe. They accuse theists of being ‘irrational’, but it is not too hard to uncover why atheists have so much trouble in a philosophical debate with a believer.
Buried in the atheist’s view is the idea of origins. He will not accept intelligent design by God in any form. That puts him in a dilemma which he will not admit. For if the universe did not begin as a designed enterprise, then it began as undesigned chaos. In the Christian view of origins is the notion that all the ‘pieces’ of the universe have some relationship. That is, they have context. Without context, nothing can ‘make sense’. The definitions we give to words such as ‘sanity’ or ‘insanity’ only have meaning within the idea of context. People who are insane are people who have things out of context. Dementia is another illness that identifies people as having trouble with proper context. They struggle to put things into right relationships, just like the insane.
But things that have no context are inexplicable. There is nothing to give them meaning. They are thus called abstract objects.This is the principle of chaos, and it is the foundation-stone of the atheist’s view about himself and the rest of the universe. Everything is an abstraction—a universal abstraction. Thus it is not unreasonable to ask the atheist to explain how one universal abstraction (his mind) is capable of making contact with any other universal abstraction. It’s a reasonable question given the atheist’s view about origins.
- There are atheists who accept ‘intelligent design’ but they are unable to identify whose intelligence did the designing. So for them, ID is merely a limiting concept to resolve what they observe in the universe: design.↵back
- Atheists often deny that ‘proper context’ can ever be known. But the moment this admission is made, they have given up the possibility of rational explanation.↵back
The lost art of reading letters from a friend
I don’t know about you, but whenever I get a letter from a friend, I open it as soon as I can and read it. I do the same with e-mails, or at least with e-mails when I recognize they come from a friend.
Why do I do that? Because I love my friends, they love me, and I enjoy hearing from them. I’m genuinely interested in what they have to say. And in order to know and understand what they are saying, I read the whole letter as quickly as I can.
Now most of us act that way for the same reason. We get a letter, open it, and read from beginning to end.
But there are some letters we get when we don’t do that. And I cannot even think of any good reason why I put the letter down midstream, and pick it up another day. Nor can I even begin to fathom why my parents and church leaders encouraged me to put those letters down and not read them to the end the day they arrived.
AAARRGGGHHHH! I Did It Again!
You would think I learned my lesson. No. Here I am making the same mistake … again! Perhaps I will never learn!
Trying to make sense out of the confused and erratic statements of my friends, is one of the challenges of life. However, this time I walked straight back into the same issues that started these postings.
I had a return visit with my Reformed Baptist friends for a few days. And right on the first night, we got into a discussion. The topic? Localized self government.
The Australian (me): The American foundation was an attempt to put the Biblical pattern of localized self government into practice.
My American Friends: Where does it say in the Bible we should have localized self government?