Does Logic Presuppose the Christian God?
Abstract: The presuppositionalist case for logic presupposing the existence of the Christian god is examined and found to be weak, insufficient and internally confused. Then four fundamental reasons for why logic could not presuppose the existence of the Christian god are identified and defended. The conclusion is that the presuppositionalist case for logic presupposing the existence of the Christian god is indefensible.
There are five sections to this essay:
Part II: Reasons Why Logic Cannot Presuppose the Christian God
4. The Trinity
Examining the Presuppositionalist Viewpoint
Anyone who is at all familiar with presuppositionalist apologetics has heard it before: no one can “account for” the laws of logic without “presupposing” the existence of the Christian god. For instance, in his debate with the atheist Dr. Gordon Stein, Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen exclaims:
The atheist world view is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality. The atheist world view cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes.
If we look beyond Bahnsen’s tendentious habit of referring to something he calls “the atheist worldview” (as if there were a single worldview to which all atheists ascribe, which is simply not true), we see that the gist of Bahnsen’s point here is consistent with his claim that “logic, the laws of nature, and the laws of morality make no sense unless God is presupposed” (John Frame, Bahnsen at the Stein Debate). While it is noteworthy how much power such a position grants to mere human conscious activity (e.g., simply presupposing - a conscious action – the existence of the Christian god is sufficient to “make sense” of “logic, the laws of nature, and the laws of morality”; one presumably only needs to assume the existence of god, not study logic, nature and morality, to understand these), much ink has been spilled by Christian apologists repeating such claims. But simply repeating these claims is not the same as proving their assumed truth, and an examination of presuppositional treatments of the case for logic presupposing the Christian god and various statements made in the literature, may reveal why uncritical repetition of such claims is preferred to full-blown analysis of the relevant issues.
In the present paper I will examine statements made by presuppositionalists on behalf of their claim that logic somehow presupposes the existence of the Christian god, and in a follow-up entry (Part II) I will provide several key reasons why logic does not and cannot presuppose any gods (Christian or otherwise) or have any fundamental association with the mystical teachings of any religion (including Christianity).
Obviously presuppositionalists think that logic has some important relationship to the Christian god. But getting a clear understanding of just what this relationship is supposed to be, is not very easy. First of all, it is noteworthy to point out that, while Christians claim that everything which exists other than their god was created by their god, presuppositionalists typically resist saying that their god created logic. This is probably because such a position would be too overtly subjective for PR purposes, and too problematic to defend. But in spite of such reservations, they are anxious to associate logic fundamentally with their god, as if logic could not exist unless their god also exists. Consider the following statement, again from Greg Bahnsen:
We are not saying God created the laws of logic by His volitional self-determination. Were this so, then He could alter or discard them as well... Rather, we are saying that the laws of logic reflect His nature, the way He is in Himself. They are, therefore, eternal expressions of the unchanging character of God (Numb. 23:19; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). God’s unchanging character is just that, unchanging. Therefore the laws of logic (which reflect that character) are unchanging and unchangeable, in that God “cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). (Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen, p. 210)
Bahnsen’s chief concern here in regard to the nature of the laws of logic itself, is that they are “unchanging and unchangeable.” The law of identity, for instance, is not something one can bend out of shape to suit illegitimate purposes, and begging the question will always be a fallacy, here and everywhere. This “unchanging and unchangeable” nature of the laws of logic presumably requires something behind them which is also “unchanging and unchangeable,” and for Bahnsen that could only be the Christian god: the Christian god is supposed to be unchanging – Bahnsen cites Mal. 3:6 (“For I, the LORD, do not change”) as support – and (in some way whose mechanics do not seem to be explained) “the laws of logic reflect” the unchanging nature of this deity. Indeed, for Bahnsen, the laws of logic are “eternal expressions of the unchanging character of God.”
Now it seems to me that anyone can imagine an invisible magic being, claim that its nature does not change, and insist that the laws of logic “reflect” its unchanging nature. I could, for example, fantasize that the laws of logic reflect the nature of Blarko the Wonderbeing, whose nature is "unchanging and unchangeable." Of course, this would be mere fantasy at this point, completely baseless, and utterly at odds with reality. And while it seems that presuppositionalists provide essentially nothing better than this, they insist that their god is not imaginary and that logic in fact requires (“demands” as one apologist puts it) the existence of an “immaterial” being which could only be the Christian god. Unfortunately, however, the apologists have given no substantial reason to suppose that their god is something other than a fantasy. Instead of TAG – i.e., the “transcendental argument for the existence of God” – apologists have in fact served up a rendition of FAG - i.e., the fantastical assertion of the existence of God. For in the final analysis, it is fundamental to Christianity that the distinction between reality and imagination be blurred, and if you scratch the chest-pounding surface of presuppositionalism, you’ll find that there is ultimately no argument here to begin with.
But make no mistake about it, presuppositionalists want us to take their claim that the laws of logic reflect their god’s nature seriously, and to accept it as truth. Yet it remains unclear what exactly this claim is supposed to mean, let alone why anyone should believe it. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find this claim in the bible itself, which according to Christianity is supposed to be the Christian god’s own self-revelation to man. If one does not learn that the laws of logic reflect the Christian god’s nature from the bible, how would one discover this? Or is it something one discovers in the first place, or is it something that apologists have stipulated as a core element in their debating strategy (such as FAG)? After examining the matter, it seems to me that the apologists have attempted to shoplift logic expressly for apologetic purposes, in spite of the fact that their god is really only imaginary and the actual basis of logic points unmistakably to non-Christian fundamentals (as I will show in my follow-up entry).
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s take a closer look at what presuppositionalists say about the relationship between logic and their god.
Bahnsen tells us that
One’s use of and account of logic is [sic] not something religiously neutral, but indicates [sic] something about one’s fundamental view of reality. (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 236.)
Of course, I would agree with this. I don’t think a thinker’s understanding and application of logic are “religiously neutral” in any way. Rather, I think that these point to a fundamental truth which is in fact incompatible with the religious view of the world (including Bahnsen’s Christianity). Again, I will elaborate on this point for my follow-up paper. For our present purposes, we are concerned to get a fuller understanding of how presuppositionalism characterizes the relationship between logic and the Christian god. It is because logic allegedly implies the Christian god, that presuppositionalists would hold that any human being’s “use and account of logic is [sic] not something religiously neutral.” Bahnsen is essentially trying to say that, since logic presupposes the reality of the Christian god (an assertion in bad need of both explanation and support), the non-Christian’s use of logic proves the absurdity of his non-Christian beliefs and confirms the truth of Christianity. This is, in essence, what the presuppositional strategy seems to amount to.
But with each iteration of this position, it seems to twist out of shape, making it all the more difficult to pin down exactly what this intimate relationship the Christian god allegedly has with logic.
For instance, consider the following statement which Bahnsen quotes from Van Til:
the Christian views logic as a reflection of God’s own thinking, rather than as laws or principles that are “higher” than God or that exist “in independence of God and man.” (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 236; quoting Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 11.)
Where earlier we were told that the laws of logic “reflect” the Christian god’s nature, now we’re told that logic is “a reflection of God’s own thinking.” While these do not appear to be equivalent statements (a person’s nature is a precondition of its ability to think and anything it actually does think), what is clear is that both views characterize logic as something dependent upon the Christian god in some way. How it is supposedly dependent upon the Christian god, again remains unclear.
In the present case, however, by characterizing logic as a “reflection” of someone’s actual thinking, presuppositionalism seems to reverse the proper relationship between logic and thought. Generally speaking, thinking is considered to require a standard to guide its path of identifications and inferences. When someone says that an individual’s thinking is logical on a given matter, he is essentially saying that it conforms to certain criteria which obtain independent of that thinking. Christians themselves imply agreement with this understanding of what it is to be logical, when they apply the concept ‘logical’ to any particular individual human being’s thinking. If a certain apologist’s argument is said by his peers to be logical, they essentially mean that the thinking behind it complies with logical norms.
Of course, an individual human being’s thinking is not what presuppositionalists have in mind when they intimate that logic reflects the actual thinking of a particular personality. While the reversal here remains unexplained, the thinking which they have in mind belongs to a being which their religion describes as omniscient and infallible. But this only complicates things further: an omniscient and infallible being wouldn’t need to make any inferences. Since it would presumably already know everything in the first place, how could it make sense to say it thinks? The task of thinking is to integrate facts and details one learns from reality in order to make specific identifications, assessments, evaluations, judgments, etc. Such a task seems to presuppose that its products are something which yet need to be achieved. Indeed, why would an omniscient and infallible being think, and what would it think about? For what purpose would it think? Such questions seem not to be considered by presuppositionalists who want to defend the view that logic presupposes the Christian god.
Returning to the claim that logic “reflects” the Christian god’s nature, this suggests that logic would be co-eternal with said god, since its nature is said to be eternally unchanging, and the laws of logic “are, therefore, eternal expressions of the unchanging character of God.” What, then, are we to make of the following statement by James J. Tyne, a student with Bahnsen Theological Seminary and contributor to The Standard Bearer: A Festschrift for Greg L. Bahnsen, Tyne writes emphatically:
There is nothing co-eternal with God or bigger than God; there are no over-arching realities, such as creaturely concepts of time, space, existence, logic, or possibility, alongside or supporting God or against which He could be measured. He transcends everything other than Himself.( “Putting Contexts in Their Place: God’s Transcendence in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book One,” The Standard Bearer, ed. S. M. Schlissel, p. 371)
This statement seems to completely contradict what Bahnsen himself has affirmed when he tells us that the laws of logic are “eternal expressions of the unchanging character of God.” Tyne insists that “there is nothing co-eternal with God” – so that means that logic is not “co-eternal with God,” that “there are no over-arching realities” – among them Tyne specifically mentions logic – and nothing “against which He could be measured” – which would render the claim that “God’s thinking is logical” impossible (since its thinking would hereby be measured according to the norms of logic).
So a controversy seems to be gnawing away within presuppositionalism here: is logic an “eternal expression” of the Christian god’s nature, or is it the case that “there is nothing co-eternal with God”? Both positions seem to cancel each other out.
One thing that all presuppositionalists seem to agree on, is that the Christian god is somehow “above” logic. For instance, in a paper titled Logic Proves the Existence of God: Part II, apologist Peter Pike insists that something “must be viewed in a hierarchical sense as being above logic” because “logic demands this in order for it to be valid,” and since “logic itself demands the existence of” this something that is “above logic,” this something “can only be described as ‘God’." Apparently what is being affirmed here is not only that the Christian god’s existence is required for logic to be valid, but also that the Christian god itself is not bound to logical norms in its own choices and actions. This latter point seems to be what results from the view that the Christian god is “above logic.” Pike himself seems to resist this implication. For instance, he insists that whatever it is which
logic demands… in order for it to be valid… [it] will behave in a manner that is logical, because we have seen how rigid and steadfast logic is. Whatever causes logic must be rigid and steadfast likewise, or else it would not cause logic to behave in that manner.
Pike seems to equate “rigid and steadfast” with the nature of logic, but logic is surely much more than this. The qualities of “rigid and steadfast” do not in and of themselves imply a consciousness which thinks (and to which, consequently, the norms of logic could apply). If something that is “rigid and steadfast” is all that is needed to provide logic with an unchanging and therefore reliable metaphysical basis, I see no reason why this requirement can only be fulfilled by the Christian god.
Moreover, my interpretation that being “above logic” suggests that the Christian god is not bound to logical norms in its own choices and actions is supported by a statement by Van Til, who writes that:
there is ‘no impersonal law of logic’ that dictates to God what He can or cannot say: the logical constraints of God’s thinking are the constraints of His own personal nature, which man is to emulate. Man’s logical reasoning, then, must always be pursued as a servant, subordinating his thoughts to the thinking of his Lord. (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 236; quoting The Defense of the Faith, 1st ed., p. 247.)
But even here we have mixed messages being thrown at us. It is clear that, on the one hand, the apologist wants to say that what his god “can or cannot say” is not dictated by logical laws which are “impersonal” – i.e., which obtain independent of its consciousness. This would mean that any laws of logic which may be said to guide what it “can or cannot say” would be “personal.” Since this does not seem to mean that the laws of logic are themselves conscious beings, by characterizing the laws of logic as “personal” the apologist apparently means that they are in some way dependent upon a personal being – i.e., on a conscious being, and since the conscious being in question is thought to be absolutely sovereign and also the “cause” of logic (per Pike above), the laws of logic in question must somehow conform to its intentions (as Van Til says, they are “a reflection of God’s own thinking”), and consequently the implication that logic somehow depends on the desires of said god seems unavoidable. On the other hand, however, by saying that “the logical constraints of God’s thinking are the constraints of his own personal nature,” Van Til apparently wants to give the impression that his god’s thinking conforms to a logical standard (since they are subject to “logical constraints”), implying that this logical standard obtains independent of its desires, that it somehow results from its “nature,” which presumably it did not choose for itself. In such a way, the apologist is here trying to argue two horns of a contradiction: one horn characterizes logic as something dependent on an absolutely sovereign personal being, and in so doing it subjugates logic to its volitional determinations, while the other horn insinuates that its thinking conforms to logical norms which implicitly obtain independent of its choices and actions. In fact, that the more we analyze the presuppositionalist’s view of logic and the relationship he claims it has with his god, the more it seems that the apologist cannot decide whether the nature of logic is objective or subjective, for both positions are implied in his statements.
Furthermore, the very notion that “the logical constraints of God’s thinking are the constraints of His own personal nature” seems rather baffling, if not completely vacuous. Since the “constraints” in question here are said to be the Christian god’s nature, those constraints would be metaphysical constraints which obtain independently of the Christian god’s choices, actions and thinking. In fact, if the Christian god is said to be able to choose, act and think, its nature would be a precondition of these performances, and therefore could not be a result or product of any of them. So to call the constraints of its nature “logical” is inappropriate, for it commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. Since one’s nature is not the result of his own conscious intentions, to call it “logical” fails to recognize that the genetic roots of the concept ‘logical’ have no part in what is being called “logical.” The problems seem to just get worse the more we probe presuppositionalism’s view of logic. But we’re not through yet.
Since Van Til invokes the “constraints” of the Christian god’s “nature,” let us ask: What exactly are those “constraints”? How do they vouchsafe the claim that its thinking is logical? A critical examination of the bible does not suggest that the god(s) it describes is (are) at all logical. But this should not surprise us, since logic has a teleological aspect to it, in that its application is always goal-oriented: one thinks or acts logically in the interest of achieving some end. But what goals could the Christian god logically be said to pursue? Could the “constraints” of the Christian god’s nature incline its choices and actions to comply with logical norms? It seems not. The Christian god is supposed to be eternal, immortal, impervious to harm, completely invincible. It does not face the fundamental alternative which biological organisms (of which man is a species) face. Given these points, the Christian god would have no objective basis for pursuing any goals or striving to achieve any aim. So what “constraints” of the Christian god’s nature compel us to suppose its thinking is at all logical? Blank out.
Moreover, isn’t man supposed according to Christianity to have been created in the image of this god? Would the Christian then say that “the logical constraints of [man’s] thinking are the constraints of [man’s] own personal nature”? I somehow doubt it. We’re always being told by Christians how depraved man is, how prone he is to deceiving and being deceived, how at odds he is with “the Truth.” This malady is, according to Christianity, not simply a result of an individual’s incidental choices and actions, but an inherent part of the nature with which he was born. According to this view, man is (apparently in spite of being created by an allegedly morally perfect creator in its own image) “inherently depraved”. And in spite of allegedly having been created by a perfect creator, it is because of this flaw with which he was created that man’s thinking is not automatically logical, as his creator’s thinking allegedly is. Man possesses a mere finite nature, a nature which is constrained to certain specifics with which he was, according to the Christian view, originally created. But apparently even this is not enough to constrain his thinking to logical norms. How much more would the thinking of a being whose nature is said to be infinite and unencumbered with creative limits, be “constrained” to some set of criteria (such as logic) which man (being inherently depraved) can comprehend? Questions such as these, which arise given Christianity’s stipulation that man is finite, inherently depraved and yet “created in the image” of the Christian god, apparently couldn’t be further from the presuppositionalist’s considerations.
Now in regard to what Van Til does affirm in the above quote, he seems to miss an important point. The question is not whether or not logic “dictates” or compels a thinker to think logically. Thinking itself is a volitional activity, and any given thinker chooses whether or not to adhere to logic as a norm. So the question for the Christian in this respect is whether or not he thinks his god chooses to think logically, or if logic is said to mirror its thinking regardless of what may think. Van Til’s statement suggests that logic is not a norm to which the Christian god volitionally conforms its thinking, as man should his own thinking. To do so would presume that logic is a norm independent of the Christian god’s actual thinking, just as it is in the case of man’s thinking. And this would not bode well for the relationship which presuppositionalists want to claim between their god and the nature of logic.
Quizzically, Van Til essentially says that “God’s thinking” conforms to “His own personal nature,” but this is not at all the same thing as saying that its thinking is logical, especially if the Christian god’s nature is supposed to be “infinite,” which would make its nature very broad indeed. If it is the case that man’s thinking can be both illogical and still be compatible with his nature as a finite being (and thus reflect the finitude of his nature), then presuppositionalists need to offer a better reason to suppose their god’s actual thinking is logical. In fact, what presuppositionalists offer in this regard seems to be a rather empty statement. A man’s thoughts could be said to conform to “his own personal nature,” regardless of whether or not they are logical. That one’s thoughts are in line with “the constraints of his own personal nature” in no way informs us whether or not those thoughts conform to the standards of logic. Since conformity to one’s own nature does not guarantee logical thinking in the case of finite beings, why suppose that conformity to one’s own nature in the case of an infinite being would guarantee logical thinking? Again, we have another blank-out here.
It would be helpful if the presuppositionalist could clarify whether or not his god has a choice in the matter of its thinking being logical. As I pointed out above, a human thinker must choose to govern his thinking according to logical norms; his thinking is not automatically logical, he has a choice in the matter. But statements by presuppositionalists imply that their god’s thinking is automatically logical, which could only suggest that it has no choice in the matter. Such a position could only trivialize the Christian god’s relationship to logic, making it the inevitable outcome of an impersonal set of causes. But this is precisely what presuppositionalists have been at pains to claim is not the case, and yet certain stipulations of theirs seem to require this assessment.
Van Til also makes the curious statement that “man is to emulate” this “personal nature” which he attributes to his god. The New Testament makes a similar injunction in Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Did Van Til think that he successfully did this? His god is described as being omniscient, omnipotent, infallible, infinite, able to manipulate facts (cf. Van Til, who claims: “God may at any time take one fact and set it into a new relation to created law” [The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed., p. 27]), able to forgive sins at will, etc. But Christians are constantly reminding us of the profound fundamental differences between man’s nature (he is finite, fallible, non-omniscient, “totally depraved,” etc.) and the nature they ascribe to their god. All this suggests that Christianity holds man to an unrealistic standard which fundamentally contradicts his nature (since, as we are repeatedly told, man is “not God”). Why not simply recognize that we are human beings, and govern our worldview according to this fact? And why not simply recognize that the purpose of logic is to guide the thinking process of specifically non-omniscient, fallible minds? Should man deny the finitude, fallibility and non-omniscience of his mind, and in its place pretend that he thinks the thoughts of an invisible magic being rather than own thoughts? How far would that get anyone?
Part of the problem with the presuppositional account of logic thus far, is its tendency to logic to a descriptive artifice rather than a normative set of cognitive guidelines. On a rational understanding, logic is normative in that it identifies the proper conceptual hierarchy among one’s identifications and integrations as a standard to which one should strive to conform his thinking (if in fact he wants his thinking to have logical integrity). Presuppositionalist John Frame seems to understand this to some degree, but considers this quality of logic itself as an indicator of the Christian god’s reality. Frame writes:
…the power of logic is normative and ethical. It tells us what we ought to confess as a conclusion, granting our confession of premises. And if it is ethical, it is covenantal; like moral values, it rests on the dependable word of a trustworthy person, a Lord, our absolute divine personality. Thus, when unbelievers use logic to raise objections against Christianity, they are using something which, manipulate it how they may, points in the opposite direction. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 104)
Now of course, it is not at all clear how Frame concludes that something ethical is therefore also “covenantal,” unless of course this premise is built into his notion of ethics. Nor is it clear how moral values “rest on the dependable word of a trustworthy person” or “absolute divine personality.” I have pointed out before that, according to the objective theory of values (a theory which one will not learn from reading the bible), values not only find their metaphysical basis in the biological conditionality of man’s nature as a living organism, but also that an immortal and eternally indestructible being would have no need for values to being with, and that supposing moral values point to such a being involves a profound misunderstanding of what moral values are and why man needs them. (See for instance here, here and here.) Indeed, what would “the dependable word of a trustworthy person” have to do with man’s need for values and the types of values he needs? Similarly with logic, what would “the dependable word of a trustworthy person” have to do with logic’s normative nature? Is the assumption here that a “person” is required to command logic into some normative capacity for it to be useful to man? That would make logic both subjective and arbitrary. If not, why suppose that a “divine person” has anything to do with the nature and applicability of logic in the cognitive activity of non-omniscient, fallible minds?
Moreover, if the Christian god has no choice in the matter of whether or not its thinking is logical (as Van Til’s statement above suggests), then the ethical parameters which Frame grants to logic all the more miss the point. For ethical norms are only possible where there is choice in a given matter. If one has no choice in certain context, then there’s no use for a code of values whose purpose is to guide choices.
Presuppositionalism does seek to overcome its tendency to treat logic as simply descriptively by stating that man should “think God’s thoughts after Him,” which is a most baffling notion. An honest thinker thinks his own thoughts, not someone else’s. An honest man recognizes that he cannot, for instance, substitute someone else’s inferences and judgments in place of his own, and still call any mental operation he performs “thinking.” It would be fantasy instead of thinking at that point. Consider: how would someone know what a god thinks about anything? Of course, he could pretend, and I suspect that this is what believers making such preposterous claims are really doing. But of course they will not admit this. They really want to prop up the pretense that they truly are thinking their god’s thoughts after it. But to do this, they would have to know what those thoughts are, and in order to know what those thoughts are, he would have to be equipped with some cognitive ability by which he could access the thoughts of his god. What is this apparatus by which he claims to do this, how does it work, and how does he ensure (without thinking his own thoughts!) that it’s really working properly? Why not simply recognize that each of us thinks his own thoughts, and be willing to learn when mistakes are discovered? One would need an entire epistemology just to gain awareness of what his “God” thinks, but that would be self-defeating, given the ideal that is being endorsed here, since epistemology guides how one governs his own thinking.
Now apologists might say, in response to my points above, that there is in fact an argument which seals the case on behalf of the presuppositionalist’s claim that logic presupposes the existence of the Christian god. For instance, he might point to Michael Butler’s clarification of how “transcendental arguments” work on behalf of such claims:
Transcendental arguments attempt to discover the preconditions of human experience. They do so by taking some aspect of human experience and investigating what must be true in order for that experience to be possible. Transcendental arguments typically have the following form. For x (some aspect of human experience) to be the case, y must also be the case since y is the precondition of x. Since x is the case, y is the case. (“The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence,” The Standard Bearer, p. 79)
Butler does provide an example of how this argument scheme would work in the case of proving that causality presupposes the existence of the Christian god. He writes:
For causality to be possible, God has to exist since the existence of God is the precondition of causality. Since there is causality, God exists. A corollary of this is that whenever non-believers employ the concept of causation, they are borrowing from the Christian worldview since only on a Christian worldview does causation make sense. (Ibid.)
So presumably, according to the argumentative scheme which Butler proposes, the presuppositionalist argument for logic presupposing the existence of the Christian god might go as follows:
Premise 1: For logic to be the case, the Christian god must also be the case for the Christian god is the precondition of logic.
Premise 2: Logic is the case.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Christian god is the case.
Of course, there is in fact such a thing as logic, so it is an “aspect of human experience” which most people should agree on. But as for the argument we have here, it’s hard to see how it avoids the frivolity of presuppositionalism’s fondness for arbitrary stipulation cast in the form of a syllogism. The argument simply pulls the premise that “the Christian god is the precondition of logic” out of thin air, which is what the argument is supposedly supposed to defend in the first place. Contrary to what Butler tells us, there is no evidence here of an “attempt to discover the preconditions” of what is in question (whether it be causality or logic), or any sign of “investigating what must be true for [the phenomenon in question] to be possible.” There’s simply no research here to speak of. It’s not even clear how one could soberly make the inference which such arguments are supposedly displaying. Rather, what we seem to have here is another case of mere assertion pressed into the guise of argument, which we can rightly call “argument falsely so-called.”
And notice how easily Butler’s proposed scheme lends itself to “establishing” positions which no one takes seriously:
Premise 1: For logic to be the case, Blarko the Wonderbeing must also be the case for Blarko the Wonderbeing is the precondition of logic.
Premise 2: Logic is the case.
Conclusion: Therefore, Blarko the Wonderbeing is the case.
I strongly doubt that presuppositionalists would be persuaded by arguments such as this. But if this argument scheme works on behalf of proving the existence of the Christian god, why can it not work on behalf of proving the existence of Blarko the Wonderbeing? There must be other reasons for why presuppositionalists would suppose that logic might presuppose the existence of the Christian god, and these might vary from apologist to apologist. What is clear is that the argumentative scheme which Butler proposes is simply not up to the task it is touted to meet. It is also clear from statements examined above that presuppositionalism seems lost in its own muddle when it comes to explaining the relationship which the Christian god supposedly enjoys with logic’s foundations.
So in spite of all this mess, could there still be reasons why logic might presuppose the existence of the Christian god? In Part II, I will lay out some important reasons why logic could not presuppose the Christian god, and in so doing I will raise several objections to the presuppositional thesis which the apologetic literature unfortunately does not anticipate, let alone address.
Reasons Why Logic Cannot Presuppose the Christian God
1) Christianity’s Lack of Objectivity
In Part I above, I examined numerous statements by noted presuppositionalists in defense of the claim that logic presupposes the Christian god. The conclusion of my investigation was that the presuppositionalist case for logic presupposing the Christian god is muddled with an abundance of confusions and inconsistencies, and that it provides no clear reason why one should suppose that the fundamentals of logic have any relationship to the Christian god.
In this section, I will focus on Christianity’s lack of objectivity as a significant reason for why logic cannot presuppose the Christian god. My overall point here is as follows: Logic is an objective method and as such it requires an objective foundation. But since Christianity is inherently subjective, as a worldview it is fundamentally at odds with logic’s need for an objective foundation. Consequently logic cannot presuppose the Christian god due to its incompatibility with logic’s requirement for objectivity.
One of the points that came up in my examination of the presuppositionalist view of logic, is the fact that logic does not vary according to an individual’s preferences, wishes, ignorance or other intentional attitudes. For instance, it would not be logical to surrender a five dollar bill for something that costs four dollars and expect three dollars in return as change simply because one wants it. Logic is very much like mathematics in this sense: as a system of relationships and principles, it is objective in nature, which means its truths obtain regardless of what one might think, know or not know. The law of identity, for example, does not apply only when we wish it to; it applies regardless of anyone’s wishes, independent of anyone’s particular intentions.
In order for logical principles to be objective, logic as such must have an objective basis, namely the Objectivist axioms. This is most unfortunate for Christianity in general, and presuppositionalism in particular, for the fact that logic requires an objective basis poses a fundamental challenge for Christianity which I do not think it can overcome. Specifically, logic is not compatible with the metaphysical underpinnings of any theistic or supernatural worldview, including Christianity. I have already shown that theism, Christian or otherwise, is inherently subjective in my blog The Inherent Subjectivism of God-belief. In this blog I pose two fundamental questions for Christians to consider for the purpose of making theism’s subjective basis clear for all to see, so I encourage those who have not yet read it to examine it.
It is important to keep in mind that objectivity has ultimately to do with the relationship between a subject of consciousness and its objects. In metaphysics the objective position is the view that the objects of consciousness are what they are independent of any subject’s conscious activity, while the subjective position is the view that the objects of consciousness depend in some way on a subject’s conscious activity, either for their nature, the actions they perform, their very existence, etc. Given this explicit understanding of these two antithetical metaphysical viewpoints, it should not be difficult to see how theism rests on the subjective orientation in the subject-object relationship, particularly in the case of its object of worship, a universe-creating, reality-ruling consciousness which sovereignly calls all the shots. The notion that the universe as a whole is a cosmic king’s whipping boy, obediently conforming to its commands and dutifully carrying out its wishes, undeniably assumes the metaphysical primacy of consciousness.
Consequently, the claim that the Christian god has any association with the foundations of logic, is essentially claiming that logic has a subjective basis, for it seeks to align logic with what is ultimately a subjective worldview.
But the proper relationship between the subject of consciousness and the objects of its awareness, seems to be of no concern to presuppositionalists when they assert that logic presupposes the existence of their god. Although it is an underlying precondition to any logical inference (since logical inference is the activity of some consciousness with respect to some object(s) of its awareness), the question of the proper relationship between a subject and its objects is ignored in every case put forward by presuppositionalists for the view that logic presupposes the existence of a god that I have examined.
But notice how the Objectivist account of the law of identity, having its basis in the undeniable and ever-present, unchanging and universal fact that existence exists, answers the presuppositionalist’s own basic representation of logic requiring an objective starting point. In his response to atheist philosopher Michael Martin in a debate on the claim that logic presupposes the existence of the Christian god, Christian apologist John Frame writes:
The chain of justification, of course, must end somewhere. Else we justify A by reference to “independent standard” B, B by “independent standard” C, ad infinitum. My chain ends in the personal God of the Bible. Martin’s ends in an abstract law of contradiction or abstract system of logic. Or does that too require an “independent standard?”
What I understand Frame essentially to be saying here, is that a true system of logic requires an objective starting point. But of course the notion of “the personal God of the Bible” utterly defies such a requirement, given its inherent subjectivism. It is true that an infinite regress would be unproductive in “grounding” logic. But this poses no problem for Objectivism. The law of identity is the most fundamental law of logic. Given that the task of consciousness is to identify reality, Objectivist philosopher Leonard Peikoff points out that:
the law of identity acts as a bridge linking existence and consciousness, or metaphysics and epistemology. The law acts as a bridge in a second respect also. The law defines the basic rule of method required for a conceptual consciousness to achieve its task. In this regard, the law tells man: identifications must be noncontradictory. (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, pp. 118-119.)
So what, then, is the objective basis of the law of identity? Its basis is the perceptually self-evident fact that existence exists, a fact which obtains independent of anyone’s consciousness (i.e., it is objective), a fact which does not change (i.e., immutable), a fact which is literally universal (since ‘universe’ is the sum total of everything that exists, the concept ‘existence’ applies to everything in the universe). The human mind is neither omniscient nor infallible, but it is capable of acquiring knowledge of reality. (To say that the human mind is not so capable, would assume knowledge of something that is real, namely the human mind, and thus refute itself.) But because man’s means of acquiring knowledge is not automatic, he needs a method suited to his type of consciousness which can guide his quest for knowledge. Thus Peikoff points out that “objectivity requires a method of cognition,” and that method is logic: “the art of non-contradictory identification” (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged). The reason why is simple enough to grasp:
Existence has primacy; it sets the terms and consciousness obeys. To be is to have a nature; that is the law of existence – which defines thereby the function of consciousness: to discover the nature of that which is. (Peikoff, Op cit., p. 118)
Since the task of consciousness is to identify reality, consciousness requires a method which maintains fidelity to the fact that existence has primacy – that the objects of consciousness are what they are independent of consciousness. Thus:
Whenever one moves by a volitional process from known data to a new cognition ostensibly based on these data, the ruling question must be: can the new cognition be integrated without contradiction into the sum of one’s knowledge? (Ibid., p. 119)
Because logic’s task is to safeguard the non-contradictory sum of our knowledge, it must have an objective basis. Therefore, its basis cannot be anything which defies the primacy of existence, which means: its basis cannot be the Christian god or the Christian worldview.
So to recap, we have the following points:
(i) Logic requires an objective basis
(ii) Objectivity is the application of the primacy of existence to human cognition
(iii) Theism is inherently subjective (because it assumes the primacy of consciousness)
(iv) The most fundamental law of logic is the law of identity
(v) The law of identity has its basis in the axiom of existence
(vi) The axiom of existence is a perceptually self-evident fact
This shows that logic has its basis in the Objectivist axioms, which for the theist means not only that logic does not presuppose the existence of the Christian god, but also that its basis is incompatible with any form of theism (including Christianity). As a result, the theist’s very use of logic (even in arguing for his theistic falsehoods) in principle confirms the truth of Objectivism.
Reasons Why Logic Cannot Presuppose the Christian God
2: Christianity’s Lack of Concept Theory
The lack of a good understanding of what concepts are, how they are formed, and how they relate to reality, is one of the chief reasons why someone might be seduced into supposing that logic can be “accounted for” by appealing to a “supernatural mind.” When apologists affirm that there is some fundamental connection between logic and the nature of their god, they are in effect announcing that they do not have a conceptual understanding of logic by treating it as something other than the function of a human mind. As pointed out above, logic is the method of acquiring knowledge suited to a mind which is neither omniscient nor infallible; an omniscient and infallible mind would have no use for logical inference, because it wouldn’t need to infer its knowledge in the first place. Essentially, logic is required for learning and confirming what one has learned, and an omniscient and infallible being cannot learn in the first place (for learning presupposes prior ignorance of what has been learned). Because the presuppositionalist case for logic presupposing the Christian god fails to take these points into account, it is evident that lurking behind the presuppositionalist defense is a fundamental disregard for the general nature of the human mind as the proper precondition for the laws of logic.
Logic’s Conceptual Nature
Since man’s sum of knowledge is something he develops throughout the course of his life as he learns about reality and confirms or disconfirms things which he has learned, his knowledge has a hierarchical structure. Since his knowledge takes the form of conceptual integration, the general nature of this structure has certain requisite features, such as its base in perceptual awareness. Our initial concepts (including of course axiomatic concepts) are formed on the basis of perceptual input. Concepts so formed can of course be integrated into higher abstractions, but only subsequently, after these initial, “lower-level” concepts have been formed, for they would first need to exist in order to serve as units for further integration. Man’s higher-level knowledge, then, rests on the validity of his lower-level knowledge, which in turn stands on the perceptual level of his awareness. Peikoff’s own illustrative description of the hierarchical nature of knowledge is worth noting:
Human knowledge is not like a village of squat bungalows, with every room huddling down against the earth’s surface. Rather, it is like a city of towering skyscrapers, with the uppermost story of each building resting on the lower ones, and they on the still lower, until one reaches the foundation where the builder started. The foundation supports the whole structure by virtue of being in contact with solid ground. (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 130)
The nature of logic is intimately bound to the hierarchical structure of man’s knowledge, in that it has a two-fold purpose: integration and reduction. Logic provides the mechanics, as it were, for developing knowledge, for building the “city of towering skyscrapers” which characterizes the sum of his knowledge. It does this by guiding inferences from previously validated knowledge, by teaching man to draw conclusions from data he has gathered from reality. Logic also works in the reverse, allowing a thinker to retrace his integrations back down to their fundamentals, to discover the premises which lead to the conclusions he holds, to reduce what he has learned to its basis in perceptual awareness. All of this indicates how inherently suited logic is for the non-omniscient, fallible mind which man possesses.
But not only is logic’s purpose bound to developing man’s conceptual hierarchy, its very principles are conceptual in nature and so is the suitability of their application to this task. The law of identity, for instance, would not be available to man for this purpose if he could not first form the concept ‘identity’. The concept ‘identity’ is an axiomatic concept. And as a concept, it is open-ended, which means it can apply to anything which exists. The standard equational formulation of the law of identity, i.e., A is A, is so useful because the term A can represent anything which exists. For example, a rock is a rock, a river is a river, goats are goats, financial institutions are financial institutions. This open-endedness of the concept ‘identity’ and all other concepts (including those which inform logical principles) is its universality, which is a product of the abstraction process known as measurement-omission. Briefly, this is the process by which the specifics of the objects which we perceive are treated as variables which must exist, but can exist in any quantity, thus allowing those objects to be integrated with other objects which are similar in some relevant way to form a concept. The concept ‘man’, for instance, includes men who are 5’2” tall as well as those who are 6’4” tall, those who weigh 120 lbs as well as those who weigh 320 lbs, those with light skin as well as those who have dark skin, those who are twenty-two years old as well as those who are sixty-two years old, those who live today as well as those who lived two millennia ago, etc. The open-endedness or universality of conceptual knowledge is specific to man’s consciousness because he is neither omniscient nor infallible. It is this understanding of universality which lead Ayn Rand to discover the mathematical nature of conceptual knowledge:
The basic principle of concept-formation (which states that omitted measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity) is the equivalent of the basic principle of algebra, which states that algebraic symbols must be given some value, but may be given any value. In this sense and respect, perceptual awareness is arithmetic, but conceptual awareness is the algebra of cognition… The relationship of concepts to their constituent particulars is the same as the relationship of algebraic symbols to numbers. In the equation 2a = a + a, any number may be substituted for the symbol “a” without affecting the truth of the equation. For instance: 2 X 5 = 5 + 5, or 2 X 5,000,000 = 5,000,000 + 5,000,000. In the same manner, by the same psychoepistemological method, a concept is used as an algebraic symbol that stands for any of the arithmetical sequence of units it subsumes. (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 18)
Given this algebraic understanding of a concept’s universality, it does not take a great leap to understand how this applies to logical form. Since the terms in an argument can themselves be concepts, an argument can be made for any conclusion one seeks to establish (even conclusions which are not true). This is easiest to see in the case of a simple syllogism. Take for instance the standard Socrates syllogism:
Premise: All men are mortal.
Premise: Socrates is a man.
Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
The argument here begins with a general statement about an entire class of units, namely “all men.” Notice the use of concepts here, the key concepts being ‘men’ and ‘mortal’. In the second premise a specific unit’s inclusion in the concept ‘men’ is affirmed, which allows the inference stated in the conclusion that, because an attribute applies to all units in the concept ‘men’, it therefore applies to a specified unit which is a member of that class. All this is made possible by man’s ability to conceptualize.
But the conceptual aspects of logical syllogism do not stop there. Notice that the very form of the argument can be used to argue other conclusions by replacing its terms with other terms. For instance:
Premise: All cats are mammals.
Premise: Morris is a cat.
Conclusion: Therefore, Morris is a mammal.
Here we have the same argument form being used to argue for a different conclusion. This is possible because the form of the argument itself has a conceptual aspect to it. To use Rand’s language above: an argument must have some terms, but it can have any terms. The argument can be about men, cats, mammals, paper clips, moral injunctions, planetary movement, or logical form itself. An argument can even be made for conclusions which are not true. For instance:
Premise: All accounts of UFO sightings are true.
Premise: Marshall Applewhite’s account is an account of a UFO sighting.
Conclusion: Therefore, Marshall Applewhite’s account is true.
Or, consider the following:
Premise: All theistic arguments are sound.
Premise: TAG is a theistic argument.
Conclusion: Therefore, TAG is sound.
Naturally, we could expect even presuppositionalists to reject this argument, since it is unlikely that they themselves would assent to the first premise.
There are, then, various key aspects of logic, including its universality, its two-fold purpose and its suitability to the non-omniscient, fallible nature of man’s mind, which are directly related to its conceptual nature. A good understanding of concepts will bring these points out so that we can recognize them explicitly and understand how they apply to man’s mind in general and logic’s applicability in man’s quest for knowledge. And it is precisely this understanding which seems completely absent from presuppositionalism’s case for associating logic with the Christian god.
Bahnsen’s Mishandling of Universality in Logic
Very often, the “case” for logic having its foundations in the Christian deity takes the form of a false dichotomy, where the pro-Christian side is affirmed with little explanation and the contra-Christian side is denigrated to such a degree that no one would want to affirm it. Greg Bahnsen’s views on the topic are not atypical in this regard:
If the laws of science, the laws of logic, and the laws of morality are not seen as expressions of the unchanging mind of God, then the notion of universal and absolute “laws” or the concept of order in the contingent, changing world of matter makes no sense whatsoever. In what way could anything truly be universal and law-abiding when every event is isolated and random? If universality is supposed to be objective, then there is no justification for holding to it on the basis of man’s limited experience, whereas if universality is subjective (internal to man’s thinking), then it is arbitrarily imposed by man’s mind on his experience without warrant. (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 110n.65.)
Clearly what Bahnsen was missing here was a good understanding of universality, which is an aspect of concepts given their open-endedness, as I explain in my blog Demystifying Universality.
It is important to note that Bahnsen is simply wrong to imply that all facts in the universe are “changing.” There is no reason why a non-Christian philosophy cannot identify certain fundamental facts which in fact do not change. For instance, the fact that the universe exists does not change; if it changed, none of us would be able to worry about these matters in the first place. But other facts in the universe do not change. For instance, the fact that the objects of consciousness exist independent of consciousness does not change. The fact that man needs to breathe in order to live does not change. The fact that an appropriate amount of heat will cause water to boil does not change. The fact that cows have eyes does not change. The fact that paper is made of some substance found in the universe does not change. There are many constants available to us right here in the realm in which we live, since there are so many facts which do not change.
Also, observe how Bahnsen fails to support his initial statement here, namely his claim that “if the laws of science [etc.] are not seen as expressions of the unchanging mind of God, then the notion of universal and absolute ‘laws’… make no sense whatsoever.” Instead of offering an argument to support this claim, he follows it first with a question, and then a universally negative assertion which again is not supported with an argument. Let’s examine these in turn.
Bahnsen asks the question: “In what way could anything truly be universal and law-abiding when every event is isolated and random?” The question is phrased in a manner such that it seems to answer itself. Presumably if “every event is isolated and random,” then nothing could “truly be universal and law-abiding” (save perhaps the supposition that “every event is isolated and random”?). Again, notice how Bahnsen’s point here assumes an either-or scenario: either the Christian god exists, or we’re faced with a “changing world of matter” where “every event is isolated and random.” And even though this dichotomy is not defended by Bahnsen (he simply assumes it), his statements and questions make no sense without it. But as I pointed out above, I see no reason why non-believers would be forced into supposing that the world is ever-changing, and that “every event is isolated and random.” In fact, just to categorize something as an event means that whatever it is that one is so categorizing satisfies certain criteria, such as the fact that it has happened, that it has a causal basis, that it is an event as opposed to something else (like a hairball or chocolate bar, etc.). So the “random” part here (if it is supposed to mean “occurring without cause”) can be rejected here (while the apologist’s insistence on it amounts to deliberate misrepresentation of a rival position). And why suppose that “every event is isolated”? Again, Bahnsen does not say why non-theism necessarily leads to such a view. I certainly don’t think it does. We can recognize connections between events, such as the sun shining on the earth and the temperature rising, a car running out of gas and the need to push it to the nearest gas station, or the rise of the Third Reich and World War II.
But perhaps Bahnsen is trying to say that without the existence of his god, such conceptualized connections could not be made. In such a case, we can rightly ask: What does the “God” part have to do with it? If his response is that his god is needed for universality in cognition, then we can safely put this mistaken notion to rest. This brings us to Bahnsen’s universally negative statement:
If universality is supposed to be objective, then there is no justification for holding to it on the basis of man’s limited experience…
Statements like this (which, given its universally negative nature, are quite difficult to defend) indicate to me that Bahnsen did not have a conceptual understanding of universality. A key give-away here is the implication that “man’s limited experience” would keep him from cognition on a universal scale. But what is the alternative to “limited experience” if not “unlimited experience”? I don’t think there is such a thing, even on theism’s premises. Even if one affirms the existence of an omniscient god, it too would only have “limited experience.” A god’s omniscience wouldn’t change this. Suppose this god is aware of every thing that exists. That might be an enormous number of things, but it would still only be a finite number of things (the redundant expression “finite number” being necessary for purposes of clarification and emphasis). As Luke 12:7 says, “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” If a god experiences things, it experiences only those things which it experiences, which means: its experience is limited to itself. Since to exist is to be something specific, since A is A, experience is experience, and one’s experience is itself and nothing more than this.
But suppose that the theist explains this to mean that his god is aware of every member belonging to every category, that its direct awareness of things is literally universal. Say for instance that when the history of the earth is all said and done, there will have been exactly one trillion human beings which have lived. The theist of course would claim that his god would have direct awareness of all these individuals (let’s call this “comprehensive awareness”) and that this is most likely what Bahnsen would have had in mind as the alternative to “man’s limited experience.” Fine, let’s say that this is what Bahnsen may have had in mind. But even here it’s clear that it’s alleged experience would still be limited, specifically to those (hypothetical) one trillion human beings, and not “unlimited.”
The presuppositionalist may concede this point but say it gains no significant ground for the non-theist. He may point out that Bahnsen believed that universality presupposed such comprehensive awareness of individuals. But does it? Is it really the case that universality is possible only so long as there’s a mind which does have such comprehensive awareness? If that were the case, and the Christian god is that mind which enjoys such maximal awareness, how does that give man universal categories? It seems that this is where presuppositionalism is destined to fall apart, for it fails to offer a clear account of how man forms universal categories in the first place.
One of the more impressive features of Ayn Rand’s theory of concepts is its illustration of how the human mind can form concepts on the scant basis of only two units. Far from needing the kind of comprehensive awareness mentioned above, the objective theory of defines a concept as “a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated according to a specific characteristic(s) and united by a specific definition” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 10, emphasis added). Take the concept ‘ball’ for example. On the Objectivist account, a child needs to have awareness of only two specific balls to form a concept integrating them into a mental unit. Say one is a basketball, and the other a ping pong ball. Both have similarity in the fact that they both exist, they are both round, they both roll on the floor, they both bounce, etc. They are also dissimilar in certain ways: the basketball is much larger than the ping pong ball, he can carry the ping pong ball in one hand, but needs two to carry the basketball, the ping pong ball is white and has very little mass while the basketball is orange with black stripes and heavy, etc. The child forms the concept ‘ball’ by integrating these two units by reference to a specific characteristic which they share and omitting specific measurements which distinguish them from one another. This allows him to integrate new units which he’ll discover later, such as tennis balls, baseballs, billiard balls, etc., into the same concept. Because the concept does not specify the quantities in which the omitted measurements must exist, the concept is open-ended such that later-discovered units can be integrated along with these previously observed units without contradiction. It is, roughly, in this way that even a child is capable of forming universal categories. He did not need “comprehensive awareness” of each and every ball in existence in order to do this. In fact, it is because man’s experience is limited, because man is not omniscient, because he does not have “comprehensive awareness,” that universality is both possible and important to him. Universality treats a potential infinity of units as a single whole. It is because man’s awareness is limited that he requires a mode of cognition which allows him to treat a potential infinity as a single unit. Man’s mind can hold only so much in his immediate awareness at any given time, and concepts allow him to economize his cognition. No one knows how many balls exist, have existed and will exist, but this knowledge is not required to form the concept ‘ball’. And if someone did have such knowledge, concepts would be useless to him, since he’d have “comprehensive awareness” of every unit, making the economizing virtues of conceptualized awareness of no value whatsoever. Man’s justification for universality, then, is not Christian god-belief, but the objective theory of concepts. Bahnsen’s notion that a supernatural, omniscient mind is needed to explain or “account for” universality, is a case of missing the point in the grandest scale imaginable.
As for Bahnsen’s understanding of what universality is as it pertains to human knowledge, all that seems important to him is that it’s only available if his god exists. Beyond this it is unclear, especially when he entertains the proposal that “if universality is subjective…, then it is arbitrarily imposed by man’s mind on his experience without warrant.” His parenthetical “(internal to man’s thinking”) is of little help here. Is he denying that universality is an aspect of the conceptual level of cognition? But again, the charge of subjectivism can be answered here by the objective theory of concepts: If universality is the result of an objective process of abstraction on the basis of perceptual input (as the objective theory of concepts teaches), then as an aspect of concepts it is object-bound, i.e., objective rather than subjective. In such a case, universality is not “arbitrarily imposed by man’s mind on his experience,” but an important component of a method of cognition which is consistent with the primacy of existence metaphysics.
The chief point here is that logic is conceptual in nature, which in turn leads to three relevant truths. Because logic is conceptual in nature:
(i) the basis of logic is the facts of the universe as they are grasped by a consciousness which possesses its knowledge in conceptual form (as opposed to something which is only imaginary);
(ii) it is not the case that logic could find its basis in a mind which would not possess its knowledge in conceptual form. (See my blog Would an Omniscient Mind Have Knowledge in Conceptual Form?)
(iii) a good theory of concepts is crucial to a good understanding of the meta-nature of logic.
In regard to this last point, I don’t think you will find any theory of concepts in the bible (let alone a good one), and I would not recommend searching for one in the presuppositionalist literature, either. For this, I refer readers to Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, which presents the Objectivist theory of abstraction.
Impact on Theistic Arguments
It is important to understand how a lack of a good understanding of the nature of concepts can enable bad theistic arguments. The presuppositionalist argument that logic presupposes the Christian god is a case in point. Below we will observe how such an argument might proceed in action.
As we have seen in the foregoing and in my examination of presuppositionalist statements about logic, the overall scheme of arguments for logic presupposing the Christian god generally takes a two-part format: first it is stated that logic poses insurmountable philosophical tangles for the non-believer due to certain positions (usually inserted by apologists into the non-believer’s mouth) which allegedly follow as a necessary result from non-belief; then it is stated that logic finds its basis in the nature of the Christian god given various attributes which it is said to possess, such as its eternality, its immutability, its inability to lie, its absoluteness, etc.
In developing their case, apologists often treat logical principles as mental laws which hold by some mysterious force called “necessity.” The implication here, it is said, is that these “mental laws” (because they are “necessary”) would obtain even if no human beings were around to mentally grasp them. People come and go, live and die, but these “mental laws” continue indefinitely. They’re “eternal” (e.g., they won’t “die” with us) as well as “universal” (they’re true for everyone, everywhere), and thus they are “necessary” (magically binding?). Dominic Tennant, who defends such an argument, takes it up as follows:
…mental laws do imply a mind. By definition, the mental entails a mind; and so universal, necessary mental laws therefore must imply a universal, necessary mental mind. We could otherwise phrase this by saying that such laws must imply an aseitic God. A necessarily existent, noncontingent, underived, and immaterial Mind exists.
At first blush, the argument presented here seems as poignant as it is simple: mental laws require a mind, and since those mental laws are universal and necessary, it follows that they entail the existence of a universal and necessary mind. This universal and necessary mind is “an aseitic God” – i.e., an eternally and necessarily existing supernatural mind.
To be sure, this ointment catches many flies.
The problem is that its seeming poignancy and simplicity are merely a disguise for its disastrous superficiality. Aside from the fact that this argument commits the fallacy of non sequitur (it does not follow that because mental laws are universal and necessary, they “therefore must imply a universal, necessary mental mind”), what’s lacking is a good theory of concepts as well an understanding of objectivity in terms of the subject-object relationship. In fact, it is in both these areas which certain key confusions are exploited by such arguments in order to make their theistic conclusions seem cogent. In regard to objectivity here, briefly, I will point out that the objective theory of truth assumes the metaphysical primacy of existence, for this is the metaphysical position which recognizes that the objects of consciousness exist independent of the intentions of the knowing subject. It is this fundamental truth – that the objects of consciousness exist independent of the subject of consciousness – which underlies statements like “wishing doesn’t make it so.” But already theism is at a grave disadvantage here, since theism and the primacy of existence (i.e., the principle of objectivity) are in fundamental conflict. (In regard to this latter topic, see my several blogs on the topic.)
But the problems for such arguments do not stop there. We have yet to see how a poor understanding of concepts can make arguments such as Tennant’s seem so compelling. To expose this, let’s explore his reasoning a little deeper.
The example of “mental laws” which Tennant cites is the old Socrates syllogism which we saw above:
Premise 1: All men are mortal.
Premise 2: Socrates is a man.
Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
According to Tennant, “We believe that we apprehend this conclusion in view of the two premises, and the relationship we perceive between them.” He insists that the “relationship” which “we perceive” here “is not a physical one.” And even though perception is strictly a physical process (involving external stimuli on the sensory nerves of biological organisms; scientists have been studying perceptual systems for decades), Tennant assures us that the relationship which the premises of the Socrates syllogism have between themselves, is “not a physical one.” Unfortunately, by describing this relationship as “not a physical one,” Tennant fails to identify the nature of this relationship in positive terms. He tells us what it is not, not what it is. And it is here, in the reluctance or inability to identify the nature of such relationships in positive terms, where such arguments find much of their traction among the converted. Simply saying that relationship in question here is “not a physical” one, allows the apologist to characterize it as an “immaterial” relationship (again, note the preference for negative identification here). Apologists typically leave it at that and subsequently insist that “immaterial” anything poses insurmountable problems for non-believers because that the “immaterial” nature of mental relationships cannot be accounted for without pointing to an immaterial and eternally existing being, which just so happens to be the Christian god.
But to his credit, Tennant does at least attempt to develop the matter a little further. He continues, saying that we are “immediately aware” of the relationship between the argument’s premises “through introspection,” and thus “we believe Socrates is mortal because of the premises.” The words “because of” here indicate “a causal relationship between the premises and the conclusion.” So we have here, according to Tennant, a causal relationship between different mental phenomena, which he characterizes as “a real, non-physical relationship between these premises and the conclusion.”
It is at this point that Tennant invokes a composition fallacy to fend off the anticipated objection of the facts that human brains are physical and a necessary precondition for any human mental activity:
None of this denies that our mental states may correlate to physical states in our brains. But we cannot reduce the mental states to these physical states, because we would then remove truth and intentionality completely, since they are non-physical things. Similarly, we cannot say that the mental states are caused by physical states, because then the only real causation would be physical causation while the mental states are just along for the ride, having no actual influence on what happens. But we have just established that mental states do really have causal influence on other mental states. If they don’t, then logical inference does not actually take place, and the relationship between premises and conclusions does not really exist.
Tennant allows that “our mental states may correlate to physical states in our brains,” but he apparently finds the implication that this means “physical states in our brains” are causally preconditional to the mental activity involved in grasping the inference of such arguments objectionable. He explains that the inclination to “reduce the mental states to these physical states” will “remove truth and intentionality completely, since they are non-physical things.” But it’s not clear why this would happen. If the mental activity of our minds does in fact depend on the physical activity of our brains (a proposal which Tennant does not in fact disprove directly), why would certain conceptual properties (e.g., truth) and mental capacities (e.g., intentionality) would be “remove[d]”? The argument here seems to be: since truth and intentionality are “non-physical things” (which, again, only identifies what they are not, not what they are), the “states in our brains” would also have to be “non-physical things” in order to constitute a causal precondition for them. But since the “states in our brains” are physical, the “states in our brains” cannot constitute a causal precondition for our “mental states,” because among these are things like truth and intentionality, which are “non-physical things.” The argument clearly assumes that “physical states” can cause only more “physical states,” and since “mental states” are “non-physical,” they cannot be caused by the “physical states” in our brains. This strikes me as fallacious as saying that metal machinery can produce only metal products, and since paper is not a metal product, metal machinery cannot be used in manufacturing paper products. I see no reason to accept this argument, which seems sufficiently analogous to Tennant’s course of inference here, just as I see no reason to suppose that the human brain does not constitute a causal precondition for human cognition (or “mental states”), and consequently for mental capacities (e.g., intentionality) and conceptual properties (e.g., truth). Indeed, the very fact that our first mode of awareness – namely perception - is a physical activity of biological organisms, suggests that such arguments are mistaken. That our initial means of awareness of objects is a physical activity (involving an organism’s sensory organs and nervous system), indicates that at least some animal consciousness is directly dependent on “physical states” (to use Tennant’s term). And since human cognition is cognition about some object (ultimately involving the objects of one’s perception), the theist defending an argument such as Tennant’s will need to identify the point at which human cognition ceases to depend on the “physical states” of the brain. But it seems that too much vital ground would be conceded at this point, since cognition (“mental states”) is about objects, and we do perceive objects through physical systems. And if we have a theory of abstraction by which we can understand how the human mind forms concepts from its awareness of individual objects which it perceives, then it seems that we have all we need to tackle the theist’s challenges. All of this simply pushes the theist back into a very tight corner.
Tennant says something else which seems incorrect:
we agree that this relationship does exist. What is interesting about it, however, is that, although it entails a mind (because it is a mental relationship), it does not entail our minds. We could none of us exist, and yet we must acknowledge that this mental relationship would still hold.
By “we could none of us exist,” I understand Tennant to mean all human beings, such that: if no human beings ever existed, “this mental relationship would still hold.” If I am correct here, then Tennant has lost sight of the very argument which he himself raised as an example, namely the Socrates syllogism. This argument affirms that “all men are mortal” and requires that Socrates was a man. But if no men ever existed, then how could one claim that there is some binding relationship between the premises of this argument? The bond connecting the argument’s premises is their truth and their distributed terms. But if their terms have no objective reference (which would be the case if men never existed), then there would be no basis for calling them true. Thus there would be no “necessary” relationship between these premises to speak of.
All this is not to say that the existence of human beings is necessary for any facts to obtain, where facts are essentially understood as mind-independent data existing in reality and available for us to discover. But even here, there is a context to keep in mind. What I understand Tennant to be essentially saying is that at least some truths, such as the laws of logic, are timeless, and that they are objective. Since these truths apply for everyone, they do not entail or presuppose any specific human mind’s existence, but since they are “mental” they necessarily presuppose the existence of some mind. Why it cannot be the human mind as such (an abstraction which includes every human mind which exists, has existed and will exist) is not explained. But it seems to me that the laws of logic do necessarily presuppose the human mind, for reasons which I presented in my previous blog, specifically that logic as a method which guides cognition is suited to minds which are neither omniscient nor infallible, which possess knowledge in conceptual form, and whose process of acquiring and validating knowledge is not automatic. These conditions certainly do not suggest the Christian god.
We can say that the laws of logic are timeless because they are abstract. Remember that concepts are formed by a process of abstraction which allows measurements to exist in any quantity. (This is what Rand essentially meant by “measurement-omission.”) One of the measurements omitted in forming them is temporal measurement. The concept ‘man’ for instance does not stipulate that its units have to exist during some specific date range. On the contrary, it includes all men regardless of when they might exist. Thus the timelessness of the laws of logic is concurrent with their conceptual nature: they apply regardless of when the units informing an argument’s terms might exist.
The objectivity of the laws of logic is a corollary of their dependence on the primacy of existence metaphysics, i.e., the recognition that the objects of consciousness exist independent of consciousness. An apple is what it is, for instance, regardless of whether or not we like how they taste or believe they grow only in Antarctica or are ripe only on Tuesdays, etc. Similarly for the laws of logic: the law of identity is explicitly partnered with the primacy of existence because it states that a thing is itself independent of consciousness. This is the first law of logic, and its objectivity is explicitly involved in what it affirms.
But the problem with supposing that the laws of logic, given their timelessness (or eternality) and their objectivity, entails the existence of a “universal, necessary mental mind,” is that the issue of metaphysical primacy has been overlooked and the distinction between subject and object effectively blurred. This “universal, necessary mental mind” (e.g., the Christian god) is also said to be supernatural, omnipotent, omniscient, infallible, and able to create the objects of its own awareness. Such descriptions reverse the proper relationship between a consciousness and its objects, thus affirming the opposite of the primacy of existence, and in the case of logic essentially announces that it would be a mind which could have no use for logic (given its omniscience and infallibility). Where the original point was purportedly to account for the objectivity of the laws of logic, the apologist was lead by his faulty premises to a conclusion which denies any objectivity whatsoever.
Consider the role of objectivity when it is applied to human cognition. When we make statements (a conscious action), we make statements about things (i.e., objects of consciousness). Now it should be easy to see that in order to make statements about objects, those objects would have to exist already, before we could make those statements. (The same principle applies in the case of statements about things we imagine, without implying that the imaginary is real, for even in such cases we would have to imagine the things we make statements about before we could make any statements about them.) So on an objective account, the objects would have to exist independent of any statements made about them. So why wouldn’t we apply this principle consistently, and recognize that the objects of our consciousness would have to exist independent of our consciousness of them in order to make statements about them? We see this in the case of the Socrates syllogism: Socrates and the class of men to which the argument says he belongs, exist independent of the individual apprehending the truth of the argument’s premises and conclusion. If the truth of such premises derive their truth from the objects which their terms subsume (which is a conceptual operation), then a conclusion wholly opposite to the one which Tennant sought to draw is consistently implied: no eternal, universal mind is needed for these truths to obtain, since it is not any specific mind which gives them their truth status, but the objects which are subsumed by their terms and the process by which those terms are formed. This is consistent with the primacy of existence metaphysics – i.e., the primacy of the object in the subject-object relationship, and it is wholly suited to man’s specific type of consciousness, a consciousness capable of the conceptual level of cognition.
In sum, the laws of logic are conceptual in nature, and this very fact, for the many reasons which I have presented here, indicates on several levels that their basis could not be the god which Christians describe in their religious beliefs.
Reasons Why Logic Cannot Presuppose the Christian God
3: Contradictions in Christ
Ayn Rand broadly understood logic as ““the art of non-contradictory identification” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 36), and in my view she was correct. She saw logic as “the fundamental concept of method, the one on which all others depend” (Ibid.). Since the goal of logical thinking is knowledge, and knowledge is understood here as an integrated sum of non-contradictory identifications, the view that logic is the fundamental standard of non-contradictory identification is incontestable.
Given this fact about logic, then, Christianity can have nothing to do with its foundations. As I have argued elsewhere, a core essential of Christianity involves worship of a contradiction as such. The worship of Jesus Christ is entirely non-negotiable in Christianity, and early Christian creeds, which orthodox Christianity takes seriously and affirms as validly describing its defining tenets, identify Jesus Christ as both “wholly God” and “wholly man.” As I point out in the above-linked paper, this results in a series of internal contradictions (I list no less than 20) which constitute Christianity’s object of worship. It should not be difficult to see why, since the qualities distinguishing the Christian god are explicitly negated in the nature of man. Christianity teaches that its god is supernatural, infinite, eternal, divine, immutable, non-physical, etc., while man is clearly not supernatural, not infinite, not eternal, not divine, not immutable, not non-physical, etc. But according to what Christianity teaches, Jesus Christ is an entity which is both of each of these contraries crammed together into a single unit. In each respect, then, Jesus is essentially both A and non-A, in the same respect (since the “wholly man” part explicitly negates the attributes of the “wholly God” part) and at the same time (i.e., always). Jesus is literally a walking contradiction, and Christians worship this.
Attempts to defend against this discovery by arguing that this is actually a case of “A and B” instead of “A and non-A,” ignore the fact that the paired qualities which results from designating Jesus Christ as both “wholly God” and “wholly man” are made up of diametrically opposed contradictories, e.g., supernatural and non-supernatural. This is not analogous to, say, a park bench which is composed of various materials, such as wood and steel. It is rather a case of affirming that an entity consists wholly of a set of qualities along with their negations. So the “A and B” defense fails, and the contradictions informing the person of Jesus Christ remain.
Perhaps the “best” response to this criticism that I have seen, at least in terms of entertainment value, is Paul Manata’s peanut butter sandwich analogy. In his comments to this blog, Manata presented the following mock dialogue to make his last-ditch defense against my points:
Bithrack [sic] said: "the idea that a single entity can have two entities."
Christian dummy thinks: "is a sandwich an entity?"
everyone answers: "yes"
Christian dummy asks: "can a sandwich have penut butter and jelly, i.e., two entites?"
everyone answers: "yes"
christian dummy says: "so a single entiity (sandwich) ca have two entities (penutbutter and jelly)?
atheist dummy: "no fair! leave me alone and stop making the wisdom of this world (me) turn into foolishness before God! [SIC]
The problem with this defense should be obvious: a sandwich made of peanut butter and jelly is not “wholly” peanut butter and “wholly” jelly; it’s not even “wholly” peanut butter and “wholly” jelly and “wholly” bread. The same will be the case with any conglomerate entity composed of two or more ingredients: the resulting entity is not going to be wholly one substance and wholly another substance, both of which make up the entity in question. A chair consisting of a wooden seat and back and metal legs is not “wholly” wood and “wholly” metal. On the contrary, it is part wood and part metal. Similarly with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich: it is part peanut butter, part jelly, and part bread (make mine whole wheat, I’m on a diet!). So as an attempt to salvage the doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus Christ from my criticism with analogies of everyday things, seems to be doomed by virtue of missing some very significant and relevant facts.
With defenses like this proposed to salvage Christianity from such clear-cut defeaters, it appears that it will be impossible for Christians to overcome the inherent contradictions inherent to their object of worship. For purposes of the present inquiry, the question becomes:
How can a worldview consisting of worship of something that is inherently self-contradictory on multiple levels have anything to do with the foundations of logic, whose task is to safeguard non-contradictory identification?
The presuppositionalist literature does not seem to anticipate this objection, nor does it explain how something that is inherently self-contradictory can serve as the foundation of the laws of logic. Indeed, such points are totally ignored and kept out of sight so that they do not impede the credulity of confessionally invested believers who swallow the whole bottle of Christianity’s toxic pills. Consequently, since the conclusion that Christianity involves the enshrinement of self-contradiction is rationally undeniable, the claim that Christianity alone can “account for” logic falls apart in a most embarrassing manner.
Reasons Why Logic Cannot Presuppose the Christian God
4: The Trinity
Christianity holds that “God exists as a tri-personality” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 12). This is known as the doctrine of the Trinity. Consequently, when presuppositionalists claim that logic presupposes the Christian god, they are claiming that logic presupposes this thing which they call “Trinity.” The presuppositionalist claim that logic could not exist without the Christian god, is logically equivalent to the claim that logic could not exist without the Trinity.
Now, the notion of the Trinity is perplexing enough by itself. Christian theologians throughout the centuries have tried their best to make sense of the doctrine of the Trinity, but at the end of the day they all seem to finish by throwing up their hands in resignation, only to announce that it's a big “mystery.”
To then turn around and claim on top of this that there could be no logic without the existence of the Trinity, stretches credibility to new heights of absurdity.
The question I’ve always had for the doctrine of the Trinity, and one which I’ve not seen the literature address explicitly, is: how many consciousnesses are we talking about? Is the Trinity one consciousness, or three consciousnesses? How could one discover this? Or could it be discovered? Christians tend to claim that they can only know what their god has “revealed” to them about itself, suggesting that one could not discover these things without such spoon-fed information. I have not found any text which directly speaks to this, but it seems a most basic question. Often we see statements to the effect that the Christian god is
three unique persons, each one with individual personality traits… Trinity does not mean three gods exist who together make up God. That would be tritheism. God is one…. There is only one God, but within that unity are three eternal and co-equal Persons – all sharing the same essence and substance, but each having a distinct existence… There’s no question that the Trinity is one of the great mysteries of God and the Bible. Yet that should not keep us from trying to understand it and what it means for us. (Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz, Knowing God 101: A Guide to Theology in Plain Language, p. 57)
If “three unique persons” entails three distinct consciousnesses (and why wouldn’t it? Doesn’t a unique “Person” have its own consciousness?), it seems that we are in fact dealing with polytheism. But Christians will vehemently deny this interpretation. As the statement above asserts: “Trinity does not mean three gods exist who together make up God.” But since “God” as such supposedly includes these “three unique persons,” this doctrine suggests that “God” is more than any of its “three unique persons” considered individually. After all, for example, what would the Son be without the Father and the Spirit? But this view is also apparently rejected, for we are told that “each person in the Godhead is both equal to and the same as the others” (Ibid., p. 58). What’s more, “each Person in the Trinity is equal to God,” such that:
God the Father is God
Jesus the Son is God
The Holy Spirit is God (Ibid., pp. 58-59)
Given that the members of the Trinity are “unique persons,” and each of these members is equated with “God,” I count three distinct gods there. How about you?
But no, Christians insist that the Christian god is only one god: “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4).
Are you with me so far?
Let’s see if some other statements can help clarify the matter. Regarding the so-called “Trinitarian” nature of the Christian god, John Frame explains:
the Christian God is a three in one. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is only one God… But the Father is God…, the Son is God…, and the Spirit is God… Somehow they are three, and somehow they are one. The Nicene Creed says that they are one “being” but three “substances,” or, differently translated, one “substance” and three “persons.” I prefer simply to say “one God, three persons.” The technical terms should not be understood in any precise, descriptive sense. The fact is that we do not know precisely how the three are one and the one is three. We do know that since the three are God, they are equal; for there is no superiority or inferiority within God. To be God is to be superior to everything. All three have all the divine attributes. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 46; emphasis added)
So far as I can tell, we’re still faced with the same muddle here. Note that both sources so far consulted confess in one way or another that this doctrine poses stumblingblocks to sense-making. Above we were told that “there’s no question that the Trinity is one of the great mysteries of God and the Bible,” and here Frame admits that Christians “do not know precisely how the three are one and the one is three.” When Frame announces that “somehow they are three, and somehow they are one,” he’s essentially telling us that he doesn’t know how they can be both one and three at the same time. But then we’re expected to accept this as knowledge. By suggesting that the difficulty lies in his inability to find the “precise” terms by which this quizzical relationship can be best described, Frame is trying to trivialize the problem: the difficulty is not in describing it with terminological precision, but in reconciling the elements which are said to enjoy a relationship which can only be described in a manner which points to contradiction. One should not be in the habit of accepting contradictions only to say that the contradiction results merely from the inability to find the right terms to describe it. Christians have had 2,000 years to find the right terms, but the problem still persists. Doesn’t that tell us something? Then again, for the religious mind, which opens itself up to accepting absurd notions, this may be seen as unproblematic. But insofar as identifying the proper basis of logic is concerned, the doctrine of the Trinity is a haunting spectre which decisively disqualifies the presuppositionalist claim that the laws of logic "reflect" the Christian god's "nature." The laws of logic definitely do not reflect the nature of something so monstrously irrational as Christianity's doctrine of the Trinity.
Recalling the teaching of his professor, Cornelius Van Til, on the quagmire haunting the doctrine of the Trinity, Frame writes:
With regard to the doctrine of the Trinity, Van Til denies that the paradox of the three and one can be resolved by the formula "one in essence and three in person." Rather, "We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person." Van Til's doctrine, then, can be expressed "One person, three persons" -- an apparent contradiction. This is a very bold theological move. Theologians are generally most reluctant to express the paradoxicality of this doctrine so blatantly. (Van Til: The Theologian, p. 14)
With expressions like “One person, three persons,” which are meant to refer to the same entity, how could the believer not be affirming a contradiction? Presuppositionalists want to call it merely “an apparent contradiction,” which suggests that what we’re seeing is not truly a contradiction, and that the problem lies with us as onlookers in the matter. I suppose one could swaddle any contradiction he can’t let go of with such disclaimers. If I affirmed that the sun is both a sun but also three planets, one could be forgiven for supposing that I have contradicted myself. But what would stop me from qualifying my statement by saying it’s merely “an apparent contradiction”? Contradictions are to be taken seriously in philosophical matters, and where there’s smoke, they’re often something smoldering if not raging on fire.
In trying to sort all this out, Frame writes elsewhere:
How, then, do we relate the “one person” to the “three persons”? Van Til asserts that “this is a mystery that is beyond our comprehension.” Indeed! But he does not say that the two assertions are contradictory. Are they in fact contradictory? That may seem obvious, but in fact it is not necessarily the case. Anybody who has studied logic knows that something can be both A and not-A if the two A’s have different senses. In this case, God can clearly be both one person and not-one person, if the meaning of “person” changes somewhat between the two uses… How is the word person used in different senses or respects? Obviously, there is some difference between the sense of “person” applied to the oneness of God and the sense applied to the three members of the Trinity. Van Til would agree, for example, with the creedal statements that the Father is the begetter, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit is the one who proceeds; the whole Godhead is neither begetter, begotten, nor proceeder. But neither Van Til nor I would claim to be able to state, precisely and exhaustively, the difference between God’s essence and the individual persons of the Godhead. (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, pp. 68-69; quoting Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 230)
None of this bolsters any confidence that what we’re dealing with here is anything other than a contradiction, that is, of course, unless one is confessionally invested in the view that it simply cannot be a contradiction as a matter of religious faith. We’re told that “something can be both A and not-A if the two A’s have different senses.” But in logic, the fundamental law of identity denotes an identical relationship of an object to itself, such that A is A. Otherwise we’re faced with an equivocation. At any rate, Frame’s suggestion that the terms here have different senses does him little good. He says “obviously, there is some difference between the sense of ‘person’ applied to the oneness of God and the sense applied to the three members of the Trinity.” But is this really “obviously” the case? I don’t think the term “person” implies that it is being used in different senses here. Rather, it is the dogmatic insistence that there is no contradiction in the doctrine of the Trinity which compels Frame to suppose that there are two different senses here. But even here Frame effectually admits that this difference cannot be identified. That “the creedal tradition, too, fails to give a ‘precise’ account of the relations between God’s ‘essence’ and his ‘persons’” (Ibid., p. 69), does not excuse the matter, nor does this undo a contradiction in the doctrine of the Trinity. Adding to the problem is that “we do not have precise definitions of ‘person’ or ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ (Ibid., p. 70), the very concepts used in describing the Trinity and its members. Even in spite of not having “precise definitions” of these terms, Frame does not offer the definitions which he supposedly does have. Definition is the final step in concept-formation. If Frame does not have suitable definitions for his doctrinal assertions, could it be that this is a result of not having a good theory of concepts (as I pointed out here)?
Perhaps Frame would redirect at this point, indicating that no theory of concepts which man is capable of understanding would be sufficient to overcome the difficulty here. Indeed, Frame himself admits the assault which the doctrine of the Trinity poses on reason: “there is a point at which our reason must admit its weakness and simply bow before God’s majesty” (Ibid.). So now the problem is not with the doctrine, but with reason. But the method of reason is logic, the art of non-contradictory identification. So if the weakness is with reason, then this weakness must also infect logic. But the Trinity, since it is the nature of the Christian god, would have to lie at logic’s foundations if it were in fact the case that logic presupposes the Christian god. How can a system built upon a foundation suddenly fail when it comes to understanding that foundation?
John Frame concludes:
On the basis of Scripture, we can say that God’s nature and revelation are noncontradictory. That is a “good and necessary consequence” drawn from the truth and faithfulness of God. But Scripture does not promise that we will always be able to demonstrate the consistency of biblical teaching, apart from the general consideration of God’s truth and faithfulness. We may not always be able to show how two concepts can logically coexist. There may well be times when our inability to specify exhaustively the precise senses of terms we use will result in unresolved apparent contradictions. But why not? We walk by faith, not by sight. (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, pp. 70-71)
Frame’s first statement here – that it is “on the basis of Scripture” that the doctrine of the Trinity can be affirmed as non-contradictory – is misleading. It is not “on the basis of Scripture,” but on the basis of the assumption that “Scripture” is infallibly true that believers make such affirmations. When it comes to determining whether or not the doctrine of the Trinity conforms to the law of identity, we are given excuses, equivocations, vague definitions (if even that), a tendency to treat key terms interchangeably, etc. Sadly, however, in spite of the Christian’s protest against the charge of contradiction in the case of the Trinity, there actually is a contradiction here. On the one hand, we are told that each of the three members of the Trinity is a unique, distinct person. But then we’re told that each of these persons is “equal to God” (where earlier “God” consisted of thee distinct persons) and is “the same as the others” (so they really aren’t unique or distinct from one another).
In fact, what we have in the doctrine of the Trinity, as it has been described in the foregoing sources, is a three-fold contradiction. Expressed in terms of the law of identity, the doctrine of the Trinity reduces to the following formulation:
A is both A (itself) and non-A (more than itself)
This formulation of course is self-contradictory.
When applied to the different members of the Trinity, we then have the following:
A) God is both (i) God the Father (itself) and (ii) the Godhead (more than itself)
B) God is both (i) God the Son (itself) and (ii) the Godhead (more than itself)
C) ) God is both (i) God the Holy Spirit (itself) and (ii) the Godhead (more than itself)
God the father is both God the father and more than God the father – i.e., also God the son and God the Holy Ghost. In other words, God the father is both itself and more than itself at the same time. It is both A and more than A.
The same is the case for the other two persons of the trinity.
In conclusion, the doctrine of the Trinity is hopelessly contradictory.
So the presuppositionalist claim that the Christian god is the basis of logic, or that logic reflects the character of the Christian god, apparently rests on ignoring what Christian theology teaches about its own god. For it would have us believe that logic is based on three distinct instances of something being both itself and more than itself at the same time (i.e., for all eternity, since the trinity is supposed to be eternal).
Van Til tells us that “God must always remain mysterious to man” (The Defense of the Faith, p. 14). If this same god is supposed to be the foundation of logic, this would mean that the foundation of logic “must always be mysterious to man.” But why should one accept this? We understand what logic is, what its purpose is, why man needs it, etc. Logic itself is not mysterious in any way. Why should we think its foundation “must always remain mysterious to man”?
I submit, then, that the presuppositionalist claim that logic presupposes the existence of the Christian god, cannot be true and in fact should be rejected completely.