– “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9.
Fewer subjects make students of philosophy cringe more than logic, probably because it is associated with mathematical logic and long painful theorems on a chalkboard similar to something in a movie about Albert Einstein. While this is one component of logic, one needn’t deal with mathematical logic to think logically or to apply it to their everyday life, or to think logically about science, history or even theology. With there being, in society, a push for gender inclusivism in the transgender debate, or for the push to recognize Islamic morality as being another, equally legitimate, form of moral practice, it becomes clearer that we need to think more carefully about these matters, and many others, so we may adquately respond to the cultural noise. With emotive, knee jerk, reactions from society and pressure to be quiet or conform, it is more evident than not that many are being taught what to think and not how to think, therefore our intellectual responsibility is being surrendered to social pressure more than objective reasoning processes.
While there are many types of logic, such as modal logic, fuzzy logic, inductive and deductive logic, they all presuppose certain basic rules of thought, which are normative, such as,
A) The Law of Identity, which states that ‘whatever is, is’.
B) The Law of Contradiction, which states that, ‘nothing can and cannot be, simultaneously’.
C) The Law of Excluded Middle, which states that, “Everything must be, or not be’.
Bertrand Russell, in Problems of Philosophy, notes that what is important to note here is not that we think according to such principles, but that things behave in accordance with them and that when we think in accordance with them we think truly. In other words, the world seems to operate in a very orderly fashion, and it seems we have minds which can interact with it and are able to draw true conclusions from a set of premises. For instance, if P implies Q, and if P is true, then Q necessarily follows. Note the basic laws of thought, where ‘whatever is, is’, the law of identity is pretty evident here, P and Q, and the law of excluded middle states that P is, or it isn’t, and if it is then Q necessarily follows. Continuing onto the law of contradiction, the truth of the matter is true or false.
This is probably fairly self-evident to many and most will recognize these are unrecognized rules which we apply everyday. While there are some who object to this type of reasoning, of which is defined as ‘misology’, which is a distrust of the Socratic method of reasoning. However, it seems these rules of thought are unforgiving, in that our thoughts are captive to them and our attempts to escape them involve their use and presupposition that they are true.
An undeniable benefit of studying logic is it shatters dogmatism and taking beliefs for granted. Modal logic, as previously mentioned, deals with possible world scenarios, in that it considers what is possible, not just actual. For instance, there is nothing logically wrong in saying that every part of a car could break down at once, or that ravens could have been pink. In considering what is necessary, such as in metaphysics, we can better understand what is contingent, or what could have been. Therefore, we can now see that our beliefs are not all held with mathematical certainty. As is the case with mathematics, we know that if the premises, “2+2”, is true, the answer, “4”, necessarily follows. Such is not the case with other ideas, such as historical beliefs, even the case of the holocaust, or other matters of history which are not self evidently true, or are not repeatable like scientific experiments. There are very good reasons to believe that the holocaust did happen and that deniers are intellectual flat earthers, but when we understand why we believe what we believe, and why others may think differently on such cases, we will be more grounded in our own beliefs and can begin to think critically. This is the principle of charity and gets us into the golden rule of apologetics and philosophy: ‘To do unto the arguments of others as you would have them do unto yours.’
Another benefit of studying logic is it slows our minds down and forces us to look at our own arguments with a clearer mind. When we consider the antecedent (the initial/causal conditions) and the consequent (the final conditions, arising from the antecedent) we will examine if they follow necessarily, or if there is another way to think about certain matters. Such may be the case with matters of history, such as the resurrection of Jesus. There are numerous attempts to explain the bodily resurrection of Jesus, all which attempt to serve as alternatives to the resurrection. This can be expressed as “P or Q or R or…” and we can examine each one of these to see which one holds the most explanatory power over the resurrection, if any.
Possible objections against logic is that many confuse it with psychology, or a step in evolution and it describes how we have come to think over time. However, similar to Francis Beckwith’s charge against this, in regards to morality, evolution does not tell us why we should think a certain way now, but it only describes why we thought a certain way in the past. Simply put, one does not get an “is” from an “ought”.
Another objection against the objectivity of logic is that many will say it is merely a conventional way of thinking that many have agreed upon, similar to language. If we all agree on the structure, we will be able to communicate uniformly, using common conventions. Again, this objection is similar to the first, but is an appeal to a demographic rather than to a mind independent principle. No idea gains truth by counting noses, nor does an idea become false by there not being minds to believe it, or language to express it.
For the Christian, we are doing metaphysics with the nature of God, and are treating God as being a divine substance which is the bearer of the divine attributes. When we are assigning these attributes to the nature of God, in our conceptual analysis, we are drawing not only from theology, and a body of data (The Bible) but we are assigning true ideas to the divine substance to the exclusion of all others and are differentiating between God and non-god, as per the law of contradiction. God cannot be Himself and not Himself.
Finally, it is a Biblical mandate to guard our minds and to take captive every thought for God, and to grow in maturity in our thinking. (1 Corinthians 13:11; Romans 1:18-32; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Romans 12:2.)
If intellectual humility is a virtue of thinking, then would not logic be the objective tool of reasoning which frees us from our dogmatic, unsubstantiated ways of thinking about the nature of God, science, or reading a newspaper?
How then are we to understand the verse at the beginning of this? I believe we may now revisit it and say that it is not that God’s ways are so far above ours that our attempts to think are exercises in futility, but that there are futile ways of thinking, such as vain superstitions and Eastern philosophies, which deny objective truth. The passage in Isaiah is not denying that we can think clearly and rationally, but it is clearly addressing people who were slaves to futile ways of thinking, as Romans 1 cautions against, where people suppressed the truth, such suppression is a willful act and because of it their minds became darkened.
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING:
“Epistemology”, W Jay Wood. (Contours of Christian Philosophy series.)
“Socratic Logic”, Peter Kreeft.
“Problems of Philosophy”, Bertrand Russell.
“Come Let Us Reason”, Norman Geisler.