Have you ever spent an afternoon thinking about thinking? Most people I know would quickly answer with a resounding “no.” Some would throw in an expletive. I admit that I am the type of person who thinks about thinking.
One aspect of thinking is our ability to determine the internal consistency of ideas, or whether or not the ideas ‘fit together.’ We need to be able to know whether our thinking method itself is accurate. This reasoning is the realm of formal logic.
Formal logic has always fascinated me. The laws of logic shape the way we think. They are an open window to the Christian God’s world.
Let us examine one law for instance: the law of non-contradiction. It says that something cannot be both A and Non-A at the same time, in the same relationship, and in the same sense. This law cannot be denied. To deny it is to affirm it. For example, if you say, “The law of non-contradiction does not apply,” you could mean, “The law of non-contradiction does indeed apply.” The meanings would be the same.
The noted theologian Gordon H. Clark explains:
If the law of [non] contradiction is curbed, then a collection of letters, w-a-t-e-r, can mean not only sulfuric acid, but also at the same time and in the same sentence, tree, stone, Arcturus, the preposition because, and the cow jumped over the moon, ad infinitum…A word that means everything means nothing.
This law of logic, which leads us to all the others, is undeniable because to question it is to use it. It is the only way we can think.
How would an atheist account for a law like this, or any other of the laws of logic for that matter? These abstract laws are not the result of observable behavior of objects or actions. We do not observe the laws of logic occurring in nature. They are “abstract,” not physical things we can touch.
They are not open for scientific exploration and study. We assume that logic’s laws work in order to evaluate scientific evidence. Using science to prove that logic works would be circular reasoning, meaning that you would have to assume that logic works in order to prove that logic works.
The laws of logic cannot come from science because science is based on inductive reasoning from things we see in our environments. For example, we cannot see the law of non-contradiction in the world. We would have to see the properties of a non-existent things (non-A). The laws of logic are abstract constructions that exist only in the mind. We discover the laws of logic by thought, not observation.
The laws of logic are not evolutionary in origin, either. Evolutionary processes governed by natural selection would not necessarily lead to the truth about our world.
If our thinking is a preconditioned response determined by our genetics, rational impulses would then be determined by genetics. There would be no decisions made in any traditional sense. We would all be pre-programmed to do what we do, and therefore there would be no sense in arguing. We could not change each other’s genetics, so no one could possibly win.
Natural selection would only encourage behavior that would lead to survival. We could not be certain our beliefs about the world were true, only that they let us survive in any given situation.
Further, genetics change from person to person. Therefore, the undeniable laws of logic would change from one person to the next.
A Christian can account for the laws of logic by stating that they come from God. God has originated the laws of logic because He thinks logically. The laws of logic are a reflection of God’s mind. They do not change because the God whose thinking they reflect does not change.
As Michael Butler puts it:
If atheists were consistent with their worldview, they would give up on logic and rationality altogether. But since they do behave rationally (at least some of the time) this shows that they are borrowing capital from [Christianity]…
Christianity allows for abstract and universal laws. Abstract because the Christian worldview teaches that more things exist than material objects. Thus it makes sense for there to be abstractions. Moreover, the universality of logic is possible because it is grounded in the character of God. God is by nature logical. And this all-powerful, all-knowing God orders all things…
I do not find an adequate explanation for logic and rational thought outside God. Literally, my thinking about thinking drives me inescapably to God’s existence.
How do we know what we know? How do we know what is true? How do we evaluate one idea against another? How do we interpret the information our senses provide us? What do we see? Hear? Touch? Smell? Taste?
These questions fascinate me. I first began to ask questions like this as I studied Human Factors Engineering (HFE) in graduate school. HFE is a branch of engineering that studies how a human being interacts with their environment, usually with respect to how we obtain information and how we perform work. We looked at basic types of mistakes that people make, the way we obtain information from our senses, the way we process that information, the way we decide to act, and the way we activate machine controls to act on that processed information. The field includes ergonomics, but it includes much more than that.
One of the things we learned ‘right off the bat’ was the way we interact with our environment is a process. Think of a black box with arrows going into the left side for what goes into the process (inputs) and arrows coming out of the right side for what comes out of the process (outputs). The box itself represents a set of steps performed on the inputs to reach the outputs.
I had never thought of knowledge being the result, or output, of a process until those classes. I began to read widely on the subject, both within my field and outside it. I came across the branch of philosophy know as epistemology very quickly. According to Wikipedia, epistemology is “the branch of philosophy that studies the nature, methods, limitations, and validity of knowledge and belief.” This field fascinates me.
I have been taught to see rational thought as a process. Any process that reaches an organized output requires someone to set it up and keep it going. From assembly lines to creation itself, processes require a processor. Someone must design a process, or it does not lead to purposeful outcomes. That includes the process of knowledge and the process of thought.
As John Frame puts it here:
[Those that defend the Christian faith] have often noted that we could not know the world at all unless it had been designed for knowledge. If the world were nothing but matter, motion, time, and chance, we would have no reason to think that the ideas in our heads told us anything about the real world. Only if a person had designed the world to be known, and the human mind to know it, could knowledge be possible…without God the data of our experience suggesting order and causality are unintelligible…So if creation presupposes God, even the denial of creation presupposes him …
The process of logical thinking and the process of arriving at knowledge from our senses both require a designer.
We need a designer who possesses creativity and intention. We need a designer that does not change his thinking himself. If his thinking process fundamentally changed, then our process of logical thinking would change as well. Going back to Frame’s writings: “Logic, the laws of nature, and the laws of morality make no sense unless God is presupposed.” (“Transcendental Arguments: An Essay” by John Frame, as downloaded from: apollos.ws/transcendental-argument/Transcendental%20Arguments.pdf, on 2/25/15)
I had been employed as an industrial statistician for several years in the past. I used statistical methods to determine the best way to set up manufacturing equipment and processes.
The basic uniformity of nature, the idea that things in the future will happen as they have in the past, is a requirement for any kind of knowledge based on probability or science. But how can we be sure our experiments will work?
We know the future will be basically consistent with the past with respect to physical laws because the God who upholds those laws does not change. The way the world works does not change from one moment to the next because God made it to be relatively consistent.
As apologist Michael Butler says:
That the uniformity of nature is compatible with the Christian worldview is easily proven ... God, who is providentially in control of all events, has revealed to us that we can count on regularities in the natural world.
The Bible teaches that God providentially causes the harvest to come in due season, for example. Because of this regularity, we can be assured that scientific endeavors will be fruitful. Thus, far from presupposing the falsity of Christianity, science would be impossible without the truth of the Christian worldview.
Once again, my professional life leads me to belief in God. All of science, not just my profession, depends on the basic uniformity of nature, and only God’s design of the world to act in a certain way can guarantee it. The fact that science works proves that God exists.
God establishes reason, and without Him, we have no reason to be reasonable at all.
Our next post chapter will shift from philosophy to the field of history. We will explore the Person and work of Jesus Christ in the next of our reasons to believe in the God of the Bible.