There are features of our universe which must be explained if we are to have rational debate, and come to logical conclusions about important issues.
Allow me a facetious illustration: I believe I should remain faithful to my wife–emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc. Adultery, on my view, is objectively wrong. Now suppose you ask me why that is the case.
I could answer, “Well, it’s obviously because cheese sandwiches taste much better with mustard!”
You might agree with my statement! But there are a number of problems with this answer:
- It’s arbitrary. It’s merely my opinion that cheese sandwiches taste better with mustard. Even if you agree, it does not make it objectively true. Nor does it make my answer a good one.
- It’s irrelevant. Cheese sandwiches and mustard have absolutely zero to do with marriage. It’s certainly not obvious they are related, as the answer implies.
- It’s nonsensical. The conclusion I have drawn is a nonsensical answer to the question that was raised. It’s worse than unrelated–it’s logically invalid. It’s a non-sequitur,1to be specific.
If we lived in a world in which certain things weren’t the way they are, it’s quite possible that the answer I’ve given would, in fact, be a legitimate answer to the question raised.
Thankfully, we have language conventions which allow us to understand what one another is saying. We have guidelines according to which those conventions must adhere if we are to have meaningful dialogue with one another.
We even have a duty to abide by these guidelines in order to accurately reach and report conclusions about science, medicine, child-rearing, teaching, business relations, foreign policy, domestic disputes, etc.
These particular guidelines I am referring to are called the “laws of logic.” Probably the three most common are the Law of Non-Contradiction, the Law of the Excluded Middle, and the Law of Identity. We have discussed these briefly here. Dr. Jason Lisle has recently written about these as well.
I’d like us to assume a working knowledge of these laws and ask ourselves the greater question(s): Why these laws? What accounts for laws such as this, what are they in the first place, who are they for, and how do they apply in our human experience?
It’s my contention that the existence of these laws actually points to a Creator.
There are many views on this, even within the Christian community. In a sense, I am not arguing for dogmatism here. But I do intend to argue that this view (called divine conceptualism, hence the title) is the most plausible based on our experience, and further, that this is especially the case within a Christian context.2
I like the simple definition of metaphysical grounding advanced by Christian philosopher, Ben Holloway: “A metaphysical grounding claim explains, or accounts for, an apparent fact.”
Although there are many books written on this topic, I believe this will suffice as a working definition for the vast majority of those reading.
When facts present themselves, our basic intuition is often to ask the question, “why?” This can be clearly seen in the life of an adventurous toddler as he begins to realize things aren’t the way they are just because. Eventually, we get tired of answering these nagging “why” questions, but have you ever considered how profound this is?
Even children realize that things happen for a reason—things are the way they are for a reason.
The point I am making is this: We often take basic things, such as our ability to be logical and reason to accurate conclusions, for granted. But these things are not so “just because.” As a matter of fact, philosophers and scientists didn’t really think this way about reality until after the time of Christ. The reason is the Hebrew people had a revelation from God which pointed towards transcendence, but the Greek thinkers of the day believed nature—and the gods of nature—made up the whole of the cosmos.
In The Bible Among the Myths, Dr. John Oswalt writes, “It was not until the biblical idea of one personal, transcendent, purposeful Creator was allowed to undergird them that science and logic were able to be fully developed and to come into their own. Without that undergirding, they fall to the ground under a barrage of contrary data…the unique linkage of Greek and Israelite thought led to several characteristic features of Western civilization. Included among these are: the validity of reason, the importance of history, the worth of the individual, and the reality of nature.”
The instability of the Greco-Roman pantheon and the missing transcendence in atheistic thought systems provided no foundation—or, grounding—for necessary truths such as laws of logic, laws of mathematics, laws of science, laws of morality, etc. Although these things exist, and we all use them intuitively, we are forced to consider why we find these truths to be so, why we have access to them at all, and why they so aptly cohere with a world that some of the best scholars alive today tell us is accidental, at most.
Oswalt drives home his aforementioned points with the indicting observation that “we have tried to make logic and science stand on their own, and they have begun to destroy themselves.” As a culture, we demand that logic and reason drive our every conclusion, but of the existence of logic and reason themselves, we dare not demand a transcendent Source! These things—to the exclusion of all other things—must simply be “so.”
But this is not good enough for me.
One may appeal to ignorance and say “I don’t know”—but you can be sure—this response is not because there is no reasonable answer to the question of ultimate transcendence. It is because the answer to the question of transcendence is the unsettling answer to the most fundamental question of life: What is the chief end of man?
How beautifully put is the answer to be found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
But, unbelievers don’t think this way. Jesus so rightly said, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:19-20).
The simple argument I want to make here is that we do not have to wonder why the world is the way that it is. As inconvenient as the answer may be for some, we already know! We’ve had the answer for thousands of years, and the first thinkers to develop meaningful descriptions of the characteristics of our world could only have done so because they had this answer.
Let’s explore these questions, then, in light of my claim that we can “ground” these necessary truths in the very nature of God Himself: What are laws of logic, who are they for, and how do they apply to us?
What They Are
Anderson and Welty spend the whole of their above-mentioned paper (see Footnote 1) attempting to answer this very question. Their conclusion, with which I agree, is summarized as follows:
“The laws of logic are necessary truths about truths; they are necessarily true propositions. Propositions are real entities, but cannot be physical entities; they are essentially thoughts. So the laws of logic are necessarily true thoughts. Since they are true in every possible world, they must exist in every possible world. But if there are necessarily existent thoughts, there must be a necessarily existent mind; and if there is a necessarily existent mind, there must be a necessarily existent person. A necessarily existent person must be spiritual in nature because no physical entity exists necessarily. Thus, if there are laws of logic, there must also be a necessarily existent, personal, spiritual being. The laws of logic imply the existence of God.”
Further, the implication is that laws of logic are not subject to a logical variant of the Euthyphro Dilemma. They are not arbitrarily decreed by God, neither do they preexist Him. Rather, they are grounded in Him. They are a reflection of His necessary nature. We ought to think logically, because logical thought is God’s thought!
Lisle helps us to understand this:
“To think logically is to think – in a sense – like God thinks. And, by definition, to be logical is to reason correctly. This makes sense when we consider that God always thinks correctly. God is the ultimate standard of correctness. So if you want to think about a particular topic correctly, you must think about it in the same basic way that God does. Some critics respond by asking, “How can you possibly know how God thinks?” The answer is obvious: the Bible. God has told us much about Himself, including (in a general way) how He thinks.”
It’s worth a second mention that not all believers share this same conviction about the nature of these conceptual laws. However, if Anderson and Welty’s definition holds–and I think it does–Lisle’s summation of how the laws of logic exist in relationship to God seems to follow accurately. If you’re interested, Anderson and Welty have written a second paper in response to peer-reviewed criticism which should clear up any questions you may have about their conclusions.
An interesting observation seems unavoidable at this point and must be addressed: In our post-Enlightenment era, it is various forms of atheism that purport to be the bastion of logic and reason! Religion writ large, according to atheism’s most faithful adherents, is to be considered fundamentally irrational. The Reason Rally, for example, is a collection of hardened atheists (many of whom are former professing religionists) who gather together in celebration of such “virtues” as logic and reason.
In Knowledge and Christian Belief, Dr. Alvin Plantinga has masterfully adjudicated, “They [speaking of the New Atheists in particular] blame everything short of bad weather and tooth decay on religion. They conveniently ignore the fact that modern atheist ideologies — Nazism and Marxism, for example — were responsible, in the twentieth century alone, for far more suffering and death than religion in its entire history. Their style emphasizes venom, vitriol, vituperation, ridicule, insult, and “naked contempt”; what’s missing, however, is cogent argument.”
In light of our observations thus far (and Plantinga’s comments), the contradiction is all too obvious. How one can one celebrate that which his worldview is diametrically opposed to? “Logic” and “reason” are his ultimate end, which he celebrates as if they are the antithesis to religion, while failing to acknowledge that these are based on religion! To be sure–unbelievers are aware of our claims, and have even written (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) in refutation of them.
This is not accidental ignorance, but willful ignorance. The Bible teaches this plainly. 2 Peter 3:5 says, “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water…” This is, of course, referring to the creation of the heaven and the earth–the beginning of time, space, and matter itself (Genesis 1:1). Prior to the creation event was the eternal, necessary, self-existing God, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and cannot lie.
Lest you think this case is made on purely philosophical grounds, the biblical data is in overwhelming support of this view. John begins his Gospel with this statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “Word” in this text is the Greek word “Logos.” As you might have guessed, we derive our word “logic” from this, the very word used to speak of Christ in this text.
But this is taught even more explicitly in Colossians 2:3: “In whom [Christ] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Still, we could reflect on Proverbs 1:7 which teaches, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” It was this foundational worldview of the Hebrews and the early Christians, infused with Greco-Roman obsession to systematize the patterns of nature they observed, which gave birth to these basic intuitions we hold about reality.
Oswalt helpfully summarizes, “It was when the gospel of Jesus, presupposing the Israelite worldview, penetrated into the Greco-Roman world that the stage was set for the combination of the Greek and the Hebrew worldviews in the distinctively Christian way. As a result of that combination there was now an explanation for the Greek intuition of a universe: there is one Creator who has given rise to the universe and in whose creative will it finds its unity. At the same time the Greeks showed the Hebrews the logical implications of their monotheism. In the Hebrew idea of sole creatorship by a transcendent Deity there is a basis for the idea that this world is a real one: God has spoken it into existence as an entity separate from himself; it is not merely an emanation of the gods. But the Greeks could show the Hebrews that in this real world there is a linkage of cause and effect that the Hebrews tended to overlook in their emphasis upon the First Cause. Now there is a basis for the law of noncontradiction in the recognition that God is not the world and the world is not God. There is such a thing as truth because the one Creator of the universe is absolutely reliable and faithful to his Word. The idea that the Creator is primarily known in this world and especially in relation to unique events in human-historical experience provides the basis for the concept of historical responsibility.”
Thus, we conclude that there is sufficient biblical and philosophical data to ground the laws of logic in God Himself.
We further conclude that in a universe where there is no God, surely the early pagan mythos would have been right: There is no ultimate, transcendent, unchanging reality (and therefore, Person). But since there does seem to be an ultimate, transcendent, unchanging reality, it follows that there also seems to be an ultimate, transcendent, unchanging Person. “And this, as Aquinas would say, everyone understands to be God” (A&W).
Who They Are For
If the laws of logic are grounded in God as concluded above, then we are left with an interesting scenario: God has spoken.
God has broken in on us, revealed Himself to us, and told us about Himself and our proper relationship to Him. While a popular “myth” about the Christian story is that God is only interested in the heart (affections), this is truly nothing more than myth.
God has given us specific guidelines which cohere according to His plan, and penetrate nearly every facet of human experience. Thus, human knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are far from the bottom of His list.
We are discussing what late Christian philosopher Cornelius Van Til called “The Antithesis.”
To understand, allow me to quote a lengthy passage from Van Til’s A Christian Theory of Knowledge:
“The two systems, that of the non-Christian and that of the Christian, differ because of the fact that their basic assumptions or presuppositions differ. On the non-Christian basis man is assumed to be the final reference point in predication. Man will therefore have to seek to make a system for himself that will relate all the facts of his environment to one another in such a way as will enable him to see exhaustively all the relations that obtain between them. In other words, the system that the non-Christian has to seek on his assumption is one in which he himself virtually occupies the place that God occupies in Christian theology. Man must, in short, be virtually omniscient. He must virtually reduce the facts that confront him to logical relations; the “thingness” of each thing must give up its individuality in order that it may be known; to be known, a thing or fact must be wholly known by man…The system that Christians seek to obtain may, by contrast, be said to be analogical. By this is meant that God is the original and that man is the derivative. God has absolute self-contained system within himself. What comes to pass in history happens in accord with that system or plan by which he orders the universe. But man, as God’s creature, cannot have a replica of that system of God. He cannot have a reproduction of that system. He must, to be sure, think God’s thoughts after him; but this means that he must, in seeking to form his own system, constantly be subject to the authority of God’s system to the extent that this is revealed to him.”
The simplified version? On man’s worldview, man is God. On God’s worldview, God alone is God. We see this as early as Genesis 3, we see reflections of this thinking throughout the Psalms and Proverbs, Christ declared “he that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30), and the Apostle Paul reiterated this theme ad nauseum in his letters to the various churches. Van Til’s point could be summed up by saying that in order for man to reason or know truth at all, he must either have infinite knowledge or know Someone who does.3
Notice that this thinking need not be reserved to the big questions of life; it claims no exclusivity to questions of God’s existence, the meaning of life, the ultimate end of life, etc. Whether we’re delineating arguments from First Cause or using toothpaste in the morning, we rely on such promises found in Genesis 8:22 and Proverbs 1:7.
Van Til’s “antithesis” seeks to make clear how differently a believer and an unbeliever will see the world in virtue of his underlying assumptions about how the world works. The elephant in the room, so to speak, is that the world only actually works one way.
Based on what we know to be true about the world, it seems, as discussed above, that the Christian assumptions can account for facts of our experience. Meaning of course that the non-Christian assumptions cannot!
It’s a bit more difficult at this point because everyone, for the most part, lives as if the Christian assumptions are true. Yet unbelievers of every stripe must deny the uncomfortable reality that God, in fact, exists. This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (Romans 1:18-19).
The difference between the unbeliever and the believer, then, is “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21).
Thus, the laws of logic are for everyone–but only those who subscribe to the Christian worldview can use them consistently. Everyone has access to logic, reason, etc., but only the Christian can rationally and consistently appeal to the standard by which these things are made possible.
How They Apply
To properly delineate my argument here, let’s define what I mean by “divine conceptualism.” I take this to mean that abstract concepts (the laws of logic, mathematical numbers, etc.) proceed as “necessarily existent true thoughts” in the mind of God.
This is a realist point of view; i.e., the view that abstract concepts are real “things” and not merely helpful conventions. Again, I draw this conclusion from both my reading of the Bible and Anderson and Welty’s helpful discussion mentioned above.
Allow me to craft a short biblical argument:
It’s apparent, first of all, that God has thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Whatever God’s thoughts are, they are higher than ours. He has access to information we don’t have. He knows all things, whether factual or counterfactual, whether past, present, or future. Moreover, God is a personal God, who gives clear demands and expectations of His creation, which have been made clear in His revelation to us (the Bible).
Practically speaking, when a father tells his son that he would like for him to do something, where does this command originate and develop? The mind of the father. Where is this command processed and obeyed (or disobeyed)? The mind of the son. Therefore, we can easily see how in a father/son relationship, there is a mental connection of some sort taking place.
If you’ve ever told someone to “get on the same page with you” or, in 21st century terms, “get on my level,” this is exactly the kind of thing you meant. You wanted them to think the way that you thought about something.
In 1 Corinthians 2:11-16, the Apostle Paul argues that spiritual truths are not able to be known by the natural man, but the spiritual man has “the mind of Christ.” This work is wrought by the Holy Spirit, meaning that there is a mechanism by which God can “speak” to our hearts and cause us to “know” things others simply cannot (due to sin and separation from God).
But, unbelievers do know some things! In Luke 6:35, we learn that “he [God] is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” This and other verses point a doctrine called “common grace”–that is, there is a certain measure of grace available to even the common man (such as, possibly, being able to reason correctly most of the time).
Finally, in Philippians 2:1-5 we learn, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…”
There is lots more, in context, happening in this passage. I simply want to point out that there is a measure in which we are able to likeminded with others “in Christ Jesus,” and thus, are commanded to be so (v. 5). Therefore, there is a moral obligation to be logical.
To this effect Lisle writes, “God has also given us sensory organs such as eyes and ears, which inform our mind about the external world (Proverbs 20:12). These senses are a gift from God, and therefore what we are able to learn from them is by His grace – it is revelation. We can also gain knowledge through rational deduction. This is part of our nature as God’s image-bearers. God has given us access to His laws of logic, allowing us to think His thoughts, albeit in a limited way. This too is a gift from God. So, whether we are given innate knowledge by God, or learn things by our God-given senses, or gain knowledge by rational deduction using God’s laws of logic, all our knowledge is derived from God. Apart from God’s grace, we could know absolutely nothing. In God’s light, we see light (Psalm 36:9).”
So because God upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17), and all knowledge in contained in Christ (Colossians 2:3), it follows that we ought to think how God thinks.
This makes sense when we consider how nonsensical it would be to intentionally use faulty logic and reasoning as we saw in my opening illustration. Clearly, God does not think cheese sandwiches are relevant to adultery. Therefore, neither should we.
The greatest application, then, of the laws of logic is that we glorify God for them, honor Him by reasoning correctly and thinking correctly after Him, and ultimately, bow before Him and acknowledge Him as the Creator and Sustainer of our universe.
It was the great Lutheran astronomer and mathematician who used to say, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him.” I, for one, think we should follow his lead.
The book of Proverbs says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
One day, perhaps it will be revealed that of all the sinful acts ever committed the chief error of man has been that of trusting in himself rather than his Creator. Having been made in the image of God, we have been given many unique gifts—among those, the gifts of logical coherence, correct reasoning, and objective unwavering truths.
We saw that the laws of logic can be understood to be the necessarily true thoughts of an infinite mind—the mind of God. These laws have been given to everyone, but only the Christian can consistently appeal to them. Although atheists and agnostics have laid claim to “reason,” it turns out that they have nothing but Christian theism to thank for this foundation.
Finally, we saw that these laws are applicable to us in virtue of our Creator’s dictum to be “in Christ” and “conformed to the image of His Son.” We have a moral obligation to be logical precisely because God is fundamentally logical. Ultimately, we are to acknowledge our Creator for who He is, bow a knee before Him and confess Jesus as Lord, and repent of our sinful thinking before Him.
Then—and only then—can God create in us a “clean heart” and save us from our sin—and ourselves. To echo the words of the Apostle Paul, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (1 Corinthians 9:15).
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!
- A kind of informal logical fallacy in which the conclusions drawn do not follow from the premises of the argument
- I am indebted to the work of Dr. James Anderson and Dr. Greg Welty, authors of a well-known paper which gives this subject a thorough and lengthy treatment.
- This sounds mystifying, but it’s easy to understand. We come to know things, generally, as a result of cause and effect relationships. Ultimately, I can only type on this keyboard because of a *vast*–but finite–number of causes and effects which happened first (broadly speaking, my birth, my parents birth, etc.). You could say that you know something is true, but when asked why, you would ultimately have to say that it’s because of something *else* that you know is true. Ultimately, you wind up at one of two roads: “nothing” caused the first true thing to be true, or God–an eternal, self-existing *standard* of truth and First Cause of the universe. Since “something” never comes from “nothing,” and since “truths” are the product of minds, it appears wildly more rational that an all-knowing, all-powerful mind was the First Cause.