Reconciling Faith and Reason

This article has been modified to fit the audience of this blog from an essay written for the philosophy course, Christian Apologetics, at Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


The Laws of Logic

Faith and reason are often thought as being on two opposite sides of the philosophical spectrum. Christianity—indeed, all religions—are often considered to be irrational systems of belief whereas reason is apparently the only reliable method of human thought. Not only is this philosophically untrue, but it is also historically inaccurate. The inclusiveness of faith with reason finds its historical roots at the rise of scholasticism, which utilised logic and theology as a method of learning in cathedral universitas in which several scientific breakthroughs are rooted. One such prominent figure was St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), who contended that “reason fit with revelation” (Shelley, 210). In other words, theology and reason are complementary rather than contradictory.

There are four laws of logic that fit within the framework of theology. While we explore what these laws are, it is important to remember Aquinas’ contention: revelation, or God’s Word, is superior to reason; reason is not superior to God’s Word. God is a logical Being and as we are created imago Dei, this means He has created us as logical beings. Logic is a faculty of the human mind that is to be utilised as a tool to substantiate God’s Word; it does not supersede God’s Word. Whenever we use logic to substantiate God’s Word, we must err on the side of caution so as to not idolise logic. Instead of using the magisterial use of reason, we are to exercise the ministerial use of reason—that is, rather than putting human reason above God’s Word, we are to put God’s Word over human reason. God’s Word interprets human reason; human reason does not interpret God’s Word.

All that being said, the first law of logic is the law of non-contradiction. Aristotle was the first to categorise this law in his Metaphysics, which says, “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time in the same respect” (Groothuis, 46). In other words, something either is or it is not; it cannot be both. “God ordained us to think this way because the world operates this way” (46). God created the world to function in a logically consistent manner. Thus, when the laws of nature function one way and we claim it to function in another way, we commit a logical fallacy. For example, on the issue of transgenderism, the illogical contention is that a human being who is born a male can say he was born a female simply because that’s what he feels, or vice versa. This violates the law of non-contradiction because whereas his written genetic code (DNA) biologically defines him as a man, he contradicts this genetic fact by saying he’s a woman. Both cannot be true, yet by claiming to be a woman he is inadvertently claiming both to be true, despite the fact that he ignores the evidence in his unchangeable DNA. Thus, a delusion is borne, which is an even further logical fallacy. A delusion is a false belief “held with the conviction that it is true in spite of evidence that invalidates the truth” (Habermas, 105). Not only does the conflicted individual become delusional, but those supporting their delusion become delusional themselves and, therefore, utterly illogical.

Furthermore, “God cannot deny himself or assert what is false, nor can he make something both true and false in the same way at the same time. This is no limit on God; it is a virtue” (Groothuis, 46). As the creator of this law, God does not create contradictory things. Using the above example, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). God created two distinct human genders: male and female. He did not create some non-binary human being or some other ridiculous gender we invent. God specifically created humans male and female—male is male, female is female; according to nature and logic, they cannot be both. Since God created the world to function in a logically consistent manner, the law of non-contradiction substantiates this fact in God’s Word.

Law of excluded middle.

The second law of logic is the law of excluded middle. “Any factual statement and its denial cannot both be true… There is no middle option” (47). While humourous, the above Calvin & Hobbes comic illustrates well this logical law. For example, either YHWH is Lord or He is not. There is no median between these two options. God cannot be Lord for one person and not be Lord for another—that is, cultural relativism cannot be true, which purports any religion is right depending on the culture one belongs to. Christians proclaim God is Lord of all, even over those who do not believe in Him; this is most certainly true. Whereas those who are irreligious or practise some other religion not only say He is not their Lord, but also He does not exist and therefore cannot be the Christian’s Lord. These are the only two sides that can be taken. There is no middle option, which some self-proclaimed “Christians” often take. Jesus gives us the following example, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). This is like the person who claims to be “spiritual.” This person believes in God but doesn’t go to church because he doesn’t “believe in organised religion.” (Well, I don’t believe in unorganised religion.) This “spiritual” person has something else as lord over his life, whether it’s money, sex, or the self. He believes in God, but he doesn’t believe God is his personal Lord, thus he settles for the middle option of making belief in God trivial and exalting something else over Him, such as the self; therefore, he is serving both God (which is belief) and whatever else he exalts over God. This is logically inconsistent. To believe in God is to claim Him as Lord over your life; you cannot settle for a middle option of making something else lord over your life when the belief in God makes Him Lord. It’s either God or the other thing you love most; you cannot serve both.

The third law of logic is the law of bivalence. “Any unambiguous declarative statement is either true or false—not neither true nor false and not both true and false” (47). For example, either Jesus is God incarnate or He is not. We cannot say it is not true and not false at the same time, neither can we say it is true for some and false for others (i.e. cultural relativism). Both are logically insufficient. This statement can only be true or false, not both at the same time for a different collective of people. Some try to discredit this law by saying it depends on interpretation, so a statement can be either true or false if it has multiple meanings depending on one’s interpretation. However, “the law does not address questions of interpretation (hermeneutics) but the truth value of a statement once its meaning is determined” (48). With Jesus as God incarnate, the issue is not the interpretation of what this means. All sides can agree that if Jesus is God incarnate, this means God has the power to live as a human being yet being distinct from Himself, thus making His death on the Cross viable. With this meaning now determined, we can address its truth value through several logical methods.

The last law of logic is the law of identity. “Something is what it is: A = A. A thing is itself and nothing other than itself” (48). A = A; A ≠ B. In order for something to exist, it needs to have an identity; it needs to have specific characteristics, but it cannot have two identities. For example, Scripture says God is love (1 John 4:8), yet the atheistic contention is that God is hateful or indifferent. Either God is love or He is hate; He cannot be identified with both. While Christians use Scripture’s multiple definitions and examples of God’s holy love (agape love) for evidence that God is love, the atheist relies on his unfounded disgust towards a Being he claims doesn’t exist. Writings thousands of years old—both sacred and secular—describe God as love, whereas the atheist relies merely on decades of inner turmoil to speak “knowledgeably” about a Being he’s never known nor experienced.

Entering Dialogues with People

With all these laws in place, how do we use them to enter a dialogue since the objective of Christian apologetics is to lead a person to conversion through the Holy Spirit? To reiterate, we need to err on the side of caution. Groothuis reminds the Christian apologist, “When we are commending the Christian worldview, we cannot transfer our own attitude toward that worldview to those who do not share it” (49). In other words, we cannot approach a person and say, “My view is correct and your view is incorrect because mine is superior to yours since God is the ultimate authority and moral absolute.” The unbeliever already does not believe Christianity to be true, so approaching him with this argumentative method is not only uninviting, but it also fails tremendously to present our worldview in a way that is objective to the unbeliever. So, to bring our worldview to others, it needs to “be put forth as a hypothesis because it presents itself as a candidate for the most important truths” (49). But how do we do this?

We present our worldview first by “paying close attention to the components and implications of the Christian worldview, with an eye for detecting false stereotypes and caricatures” (50). For example, when someone approaches me and says Christians are unscientific people and reject science, by recognising this false stereotype I can bring them evidence that this is untrue. Such evidence could include a list of Christian doctors and/or scientists I know as well as professional Christian scientists I do not know. (By Christian scientists I do not mean those fools who think it possible to heal oneself through the power of positive thinking. By Christian scientists I mean Christians who are scientists). A modern example includes Dr. William M. Struthers, a Christian scientist who has his Ph.D. and M.A. in biopsychology. What might strike home even more for the unbeliever in this situation are some ancient Christian scientists, which include Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Francis Bacon (1561-1627), Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), and Albert Einstein (1879-1955), all of whom have been highly revolutionary in the scientific community.

Second, we can present our worldview by identifying “the worldviews that are potential rivals to Christianity” (50). One such obvious rival to Christianity is Islam. “The credibility of a worldview is determined by whether or not arguments marshaled in its favor are compelling and logically coherent. A worldview that is plausible is not necessarily credible” (50). Islam might seem plausible in the Middle East because it works in their economy, but that does not mean it’s credible. In the same way, however, Christianity might seem plausible in the West because it works in our economy, but that does not mean it’s credible. So, how do we address this issue particularly? First, acknowledge there are rival religions to be taken seriously, such as Islam. Groothuis discusses what he calls “prudential concerns,” which “do not determine beliefs” but rather “prime the pump for investigation and consideration” (161). So, we can show the prudence of Christianity over Islam not to prove Christianity, but to guide the unbeliever towards investigating Christianity over Islam.

For example, one of the primary differences between the two is eternal life. “Islam makes no promise of eternal life to any of its followers. Unless one dies in a jihad, no Muslim is given certainty as to whether he or she will enter paradise. One can only hope that one’s good deeds outweigh one’s bad deeds or that Allah will somehow show mercy” (161-162). (Paul Washer, a Calvinist preacher, preaches the same thing. His erroneous contention is that we have to just keep praying and hope God chooses to save us some day. In this way, Calvinism is the Islam of Christianity.) So, in Islam, there is no hope for eternal life because it is based entirely on one’s works, which time and time again we come to recognise our perpetual failure to do this. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches “Christ and the apostles promise eternal life (beginning in the here and now) to the true believer on the basis of God’s love and grace (Romans 8:16), which is received by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9)” (162). Unlike Islam, in Christianity eternal life is promised to the believer merely as a gift—no strings attached, not as a hopeless continuous effort in which we are bound to live in perennial failure.

Lastly, we present our worldview by applying “the same criteria or tests of truth to each of the contending worldviews” (51). For example, Groothuis critiques what he calls the “mystery card” (53), where if we do not have the answer to an unbeliever’s question, we simply say, “It’s a mystery.” However, there is some merit to this answer. There are some things we just do not know because God has not revealed it to us. Thus, it is a “mystery” (see Job 11:7-12; 1 Corinthians 2:7). Apologetically, humans have to humbly admit they cannot know everything since we are finite creatures dependent on our Creator who chooses to reveal to us what He wills. For example, we know God existing as one Being yet three distinct Persons (the Trinity) and the Incarnation of God in Christ are biblical and actually happened, yet God has not told us how this is possible; we just know it is for Him. We know the who, what, when, where, and why because He’s told us, but we do not know the how because He has not told us. Sure, analogies may be implemented to assist in our understanding, but every analogy is ultimately imperfect and thus insufficient. Groothuis admits this later, saying, “God often does not tell us how or why he brings some things about” (71). When we say something is a mystery, it becomes a problem when we use mysteries for an “I don’t know” answer. For example, if someone asks, “If God is a loving God, why did He destroy so many nations in the Old Testament,” answering with “I don’t know” is not sufficient since the answer is provided through theological analysis. Yet on topics such as the Trinity, for example, “it’s a mystery” is a sufficient answer since God has not told us how, which is what makes it a mystery.

Conclusion

Faith and reason are complementary because as God is a logical Being and has created us as logical beings and the world to operate in a logically consistent manner, logic can therefore be used to substantiate our faith. All patterns of thought are subject to God’s created laws of logic. In the law of non-contradiction, two contradicting statements cannot both be true at the same time. In the law of excluded middle, there is no median between two contradictory statements. In the law of bivalence, two contradicting statements cannot be neither true nor false and not both true and false. In the law of identity, an entity cannot have two identities; it can only have one. To put these laws of logic into practise, we need to enter genuine dialogues with people. We do this by addressing false stereotypes about Christianity, discussing rivals to Christianity and why their doctrines are insufficient to lead the unbeliever towards personal investigation, and applying Christianity to the same tests we apply to other worldviews. By putting these laws and principles into practise, not only will the Christian be better suited to defend the faith, but he will also have the ability and skills to develop relationships with people by entering honest and genuine dialogues with them.

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