Monday, March 22, 2010

Scripture and the epistemic priority of logic

Log-ic (noun):

  • 1) the science that investigates the principles governing correct or reliable inference
  • 3) the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any branch of knowledge or study


In my defence of the doctrine of the Covenant of Works (certainly a controversial topic among people today), a certain minister disagreed with my position. One interesting tidbit of our interaction was his denigration of logic. (I was looking forward to a discussion of the interpretation of Rom. 2:6-10 but was sorely disappointed in this regard.) In this post therefore, we would look at the topic of logic and its relation to Scripture. How exactly does logic relate to Scripture?

As it can be seen, logic is defined as "the science that investigates the principles governing correct or reliable inference" or "the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any field of knowledge or study". The first definition looks at logic as an academic discipline of its own, while the second is the description of logic in its outworking in cognitive fields.

To put it as simple as possible, logic is the way we normally think. Everytime we do so much as think, read, write, daydream whatever, some form of reasoning takes place, and most of it logical. Logic as an academic discipline is simply the formalization of our thinking processes into laws which we all generally observe and rules which we all generally follow even if tacitly. Logical deduction is the process by which we reason out a conclusion based upon other propositions which we have accepted already as true, such that the information in the conclusion is found in the premises. Logical inferences are the processes by which we make conclusions based upon normalizing the information of the premises such that the conclusion is possibly true depending on the legitimacy of our normalization.

During my undergraduate days, I was privileged to take a module in Logic in which the lecturer spent about 1/4 of the course on the foundation. Instead of jumping immediately to truth tables and logical notations or even Venn diagrams (Aristotelian logic), the lecturer insisted on starting with nearly 3 lectures and 3 tutorials on the topic of Informal logic, thus forcing us to think for ourselves without mere rote memory of truth tables and mathematical formulae. I did all the homework provided, which helped me tremendously honed my skill in breaking down complex sentences into propositions and seek out implicit premises. In fact, in order to make us evaluate the arguments found in the examples given in our worksheets, we were forced to write down every single implied premises found in the arguments, even those as obvious as "Socrates is a man" or "All women are humans" or "3 is greater than 1" and some even more obvious than that!

Such a focus on informal logic would aid me to see logical reasoning everywhere. In fact, any (non-poetic) sentence can be converted to propositions, and every argument meant to persuade someone can be broken down into its logical form.

For most people, logic is often used without much thought about it. Who for example does not apply logic to their bank accounts, and ensure that their balances tally? (Maths is a special form of logic). Besides those who have difficulty understanding/counting, those who can understand mathematical logic are not illogical with their money. Nobody for example thinks it is right for them to have for example $1000 left in their bank account after they have withdrawn $500 from their balance of $2000.

Similarly, logical reasoning is almost always used without question in normal discourse and interaction. On the road in traffic, nobody in their right mind when seeing a "No speeding" sign thinks that the sign does not apply to him, or that the "No speeding" sign actually means "Please speed". The reasoning process that takes the indefinite imperative of "No speeding" and applies it to himself that "I am told not to speed" is itself a logical argument.

Logical reasoning extends even to Scripture and the application of biblical truth. As an example, we can look at a simple proposition in 1 Jn. 1:9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This verse is a conditional (If... then) statement. Most Christians do not bat an eyelid when they apply it to themselves in the following manner (even though Scripture never once mentioned that it applies to them — whoever wants to disagree please go and find your name in 1 Jn. 1:9):

P1: If we confess our sins, ...

P2: I confess my sin

C: God is faithful and just and has forgiven my sin and cleanse me from all unrighteousness

Logic therefore is the method or way in which we reason, and the way in which all communication can occur. Without logic, there can be no such thing as verbal or written communication at all. Even now, this paragraph of mine is an argument based upon the rules of logic, and this entire article too.

To be illogical therefore is to be irrational and thus unable to communicate and be communicated with. Since logic is the rules of thinking and discourse, discarding them makes thinking and discourse impossible. Irrationality in philosophy (i.e. Postmodernism) needs to utilize logic in order to argue against logic — a self-defeating notion as it is. Even the Kantian metaphysical category of das Ding an Sich (the thing in itself - the noumenal), while supposedly totally non describable and unknowable, has to be described and known as such (non describable and unknowable) using logic and reasoning. Truly, there are irrationalist philosophies, but no philosopher (that I know) has ever endeavored to write their books illogically and irrationally. Well, I guess it is possible if you put a monkey on your keyboard...

So how does Logic relate to Scripture? They don't with regards to authority, except in the fact that logic is epistemologically prior to anything. That minister in one of his comments states that we should "submit our "method" (logic) to Scripture". The problem with such pious nonsense is that it is precisely that: nonsense. How, may I ask, do you submit logic to Scripture? In order to do so, you need to outline a process by which such can be done and you cannot outline the process without using logic. It must be noted that I have not even yet mentioned the most fundamental law in logic: the Law of non-contradiction. If we have to submit logic to Scripture, then this law cannot even be assumed to be true and must be "submitted to Scripture". But if this law cannot be assumed to be true, then perhaps the phrase "submitted to Scripture" actually means "submitted to the Devil" or "Obama is a socialist". Who knows?

Logic by virtue of its definition thus assumes epistemic priority even over Scripture, for there is simply no way to begin talking about Scripture or anything in Scripture (and anything else) without an a priori acceptance of logic. Without logic, the demand to "submit logic to Scripture" cannot even be understood cognitively, much less acted upon. It is no wonder that the Apostle John used the Greek word logos to describe God

In the beginning was the Logic (logos), and the Logic was with God, and GOD, the Logic was (Jn. 1:1 - alternate translation)


Joel Tay said...


If there is no univocal point in man's logic and God's logic, then revelation and theology becomes impossible.

Good article.

PuritanReformed said...


well, before we even come to that, how can we even know that God has a logic separate from ours? Is there such a thing as "man's logic" as distint from "God's logic"