God and Logic Part 2: Do Laws of Logic Have Divine Attributes?

Unknown-2In my critical thinking class, in addition to learning the minutia of validity and invalidity, we are also exploring the relationship between God and logic. Needless to say, this is a topic that most standard textbooks on logic or critical thinking neglect. It is for this reason that I assign Vern Poythress’s book Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought. In this book Poythress includes 10 chapters reflecting on God and logic (insert: cheer and excitement here). While I appreciate the attention given to the issue, I often find Poythress’s treatment overly simplistic and, and at times, confused.

Still, the confusions are of value, for they provide an opportunity to make distinctions, wrestle with the issue, and arrive at a position of greater clarity.

In this post, I want to consider Poythress’s attempt to show the deep relationship between God and logic. Poythress begins by noticing that “all God’s attributes will . . . be manifested in the real laws of logic.”[1] This fact is intended to show that there is a tight connection between God and logic. How are we to make sense of the claim that the laws of logic have divine attributes?

Poythress thinks (rightly) that the laws of logic reveal God (this was the point of my post here). Not only, however do the laws of logic reveal that a perfectly rational God exist, they also reflect all of God’s attributes. It is not entirely clear what he means by “reflecting” God’s attributes. Do the laws of logic have or possess these divine properties? Is he a kind of Platonist? He is not forthcoming and so it is hard to know exactly what he is doing. A sampling:

“Validity is omnipresent (in all places) and eternal (for all times). Logical validity has these two attributes that are classically attributed to God.”[2]

“The law—the law governing reasoning—does not change with time. It is immutable. Validity is unchangeable. Immutability is an attribute of God.”[3]

“Logic is at bottom ideational in character . . . Logic is essentially immaterial and invisible but is known through its effects. Likewise, God is essentially immaterial and invisible but he is known through his acts in the world.”[4]

“The laws of logic are also absolutely, infallibly true. Truthfulness is also an attribute of God.”[5]

“The laws . . .”have teeth” . . . No reasoning escapes the “hold” or dominion of these logical principles. The power of these real laws is absolute, in fact, infinite. In classical language, the law is omnipotent.”[6]

“Logic is both transcendent and immanent. It transcends the creatures of the world by exercising power over them. . . . it is immanent in that it touches and holds in its dominion even the smallest bits of this world. . . . Transcendence and immanence are characteristic of God.”[7]

In sum, the laws of logic “reflect” God’s character in that they are omnipresent, eternal, immutable, immaterial, invisible, infallible, omnipotent, transcendent and immanent. Quite a list! One wonders after reading this list if the laws of logic just are God! In fact, at times Poythress seems to think this too: “Logic . . . is personal. . . . It is not only personal, but a person, namely the Word of God.”[8]

What we have here, as far as I can tell, is a kind of inductive argument for showing the close relationship between God and logic:

Poythressian Argument from Logic to God (loosely stated): Look at all the properties that God and logic share in common. Thus, there is a close relationship (identity? part/whole? Etc.??) between the two.

But this is a bad argument. Consider the possibility of a tribe of Ikea table worshippers and the following parallel argument:

Ikean Argument from Tables to God (loosely stated): Look at all the properties that God and tables share in common (concreteness, beauty, goodness, order, immanence, self-identity, sturdiness, etc.). Thus, there is a close relationship (identity? part/whole? Etc.??) between the two.

Surely my Ikean table is not identical to nor a part of God. But, then why should we think, in the Poythressian case that logic is identical to or a part of God based on this argument? The argument goes wrong in its assumption that terms such as omnipresence, omnipotence, etc. are malleable enough to be true of (or “had”/possessed by) both God and the laws of logic. It is surely a stretch to think that the laws of logic are even in the ballpark of being (e.g.) omnipotent in the same way God is omnipotent. The concreteness of my table has more in common with the concreteness of God than the “omnipotence” of the laws of logic does with the omnipotence of God.

We would be better served in exploring the actual features of the laws of logic—necessity, normativity, truth-bearing, intentionality, and so on—in order to determine what kinds of things they are, which in turn, will give us insight into how they relate to God. What we should not do is foist theological terms and properties onto entities that weren’t meant to bear such weight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Vern Poythress, Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 69.

[2] Ibid., 65.

[3] Ibid., 66.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 67.

[8] Ibid., 71. At other places, logic is identified with part of God, namely some aspect of God’s mind. What aspect specifically of God’s mind is left for the reader to discern.

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