Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Trinity as the Foundation of Logic

by Justin Wishart

Many philosophers have written about and contemplated the subject of logic. Questions such as ‘what is it?’ and ‘where did it come from?’ have occupied the minds of philosophers, as well as the pages of many of the books they have written. In this article, I hope to add some of my own thoughts to this ongoing discussion. I will be presenting my reasons for thinking that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity offers a cogent explanation of, and source for, logic.

At the root of most philosophical systems[i] are what have become known as the Laws of Thought. In ancient Greece, Aristotle is generally credited with codifying these three laws. Philosophers generally accept that thinking would simply be impossible without these three principles.[ii] These three laws are:                                                                                       

Law
Formal Statement
Example
Law of Identity
A = A
A cat is a cat
Law of Non-contradiction
A ≠ not A
A cat is not a cloud
Law of Excluded Middle
Either A or not A
Either this is a cat, or it’s not a cat


These three principles are considered to be true axiomatically, meaning that one cannot really argue for them but must argue with and from them. Simply put, thought and speech could not be possible if these laws were denied or were not true. But where did these laws come from? Do they reflect reality? First, we will do a brief survey of some possible answers to the source question, and evaluate whether we could rely on these sources to make logic reliable.[iii]

Two Possible Naturalistic/Atheistic Sources

1. Logic was formed at the Big Bang. This proposal suggests that logic was somehow formed during the naturalistic origin of our universe, that during the formation of matter and energy, the incorporeal element of logic was also formed without any activity from any supernatural agency.

This view suffers from some major limitations. First, it seems to be at odds with the idea that matter and/or energy is all that exists, which is what Naturalism proposes. But these very laws exclude the possibility! For, if everything is corporeal, then nothing is incorporeal. Yet, logic is incorporeal.

 Second, this makes Naturalism much less likely. The odds of the Big Bang producing a physical universe as precisely balanced as ours are tremendously small. Add to this the odds of the Big Bang’s producing nonphysical elements such as properly functioning logic, and the odds become even smaller.

Third, there does not seem to be any proposed mechanism or possible source for an event like this. How can we evaluate such a proposal?

2. Logic was developed as human’s brains developed. This proposal suggests that logic isn’t an incorporeal element in the universe, but is only found within the mind/brain. As our brains developed, so did our logical capacity.

This view is unsatisfactory as well. First, there is no way to know whether this noetic structure, which was developed by random evolutionary processes, reflects reality. As Emmanuel Kant demonstrated,[iv] we would not be able to get past the world as it appears to us and rely on this to know the world as it actually is.

Second, there is no way to determine if our brains are done evolving or even if there is an end to our evolving brain. Further evolution could bring our minds to reject these Laws of Thought and adopt a new “logic”. Rather than accounting for these laws, this proposal seems to undermine them, as it moves the laws from being universal to being on a shifting scale. If the Laws of Thought could be true today and false tomorrow, and this view allows for this possibility, there cannot be any epistemic justification to place confidence in their reliability.

Third, this makes our knowledge of logic relative to evolutionary development. But we use logic to differentiate clear thinking from poor thinking. Since this tool is now totally dependent on an evolutionary process, what we deem to be clear thinking might simply be a lower order evolutionary level, and people who are deemed to think poorly might actually be at a higher level in their evolutionary process. How would we know? This presents us with a serious epistemic problem.

The Trinitarian Source

It seems to me that these Laws of Thought must be founded on the nature of the Trinity. There is a natural fit between these laws and the Trinity (as will be explained) and God provides an adequate precondition for these laws.[v] We need to examine briefly the ontological nature[vi] of the Trinity, and to do this we must look at what the Trinity was doing without creation. How can we attain such information?

Jesus gives us a little peak of what the Triune God was doing without the creation of the universe. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17: 24, ESV, emphasis mine) Here we see that the Father loved the Son before creation. It would seem that for the Father to be able to love the Son, the Laws of Thought would have to eternally exist with the Triune God. These laws apply naturally to the Trinity.                                     

Law of Identity
The Father is the Father, the Son the Son, and the Spirit the Spirit
Law of Non-contradiction
The Father is not the Son, nor the Spirit
Law of Excluded Middle
The Father is either the Father, or is not the Father


The Father cannot love the Son unless the Father is not the Son. The Father cannot love the Son unless He was aware of this distinction. Thus, in such a reality, these Laws of Thought can and must exist. Since the Triune God is eternal, the Laws of Thought also become eternal and truly universal because they must be part of His nature. If this is true, when God created us in His Image (Genesis 1:26), He implanted within us this aspect of His nature. As a result, we are able to understand both unity[vii] and diversity[viii] intuitively, and we can have confidence that these concepts properly reflect reality.

Conclusion[ix]

While I have not proven the reality of the Triune God, I have attempted to show that the Trinity provides the superior foundation for logic against Naturalistic accounts. Logic works because the Trinity is necessarily logical and God created us imbued with logical intuitions, by which we can understand the universe, which operates according to these principles. While the Trinity is often accused of being irrational, we see that it provides the necessary conditions for rationality itself. Our analysis shows that the Trinity provides a superior precondition than that provided by Naturalism.   



[i] At least philosophical systems which affirm the validity of logic.
[iii] By “true” I mean that which corresponds to reality.
[iv] Read his work “Critique of Pure Reason.
[v] See Ronald Nash, The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge, Academic Renewal Press, 2003
[vi] For a summary of this as opposed to the “economic” Trinity, see http://carm.org/ontological-and-economic-trinity (accessed 12/17/2013)
[vii] The underlying concept of the Law of Identity.
[viii] The underlying concept of the Law of Contradiction, the Law of Excluded Middle relies on both concepts.
[ix] Due to space, I have only compared Naturalism and Trinitarianism. More work needs to be done on other metaphysical claims which attempt to ground the Laws of Thought. 

11 comments:

  1. This would seem to imply that Jesus is a separate entity altogether from the father, else the law of non-contradiction would be violated. Are you redefining the relationship between God and Jesus?

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  2. This is good as far as it goes but there is a problem. Not that any of the three statements aren't true (they are) but rather that: The Father is God, the Son is God, but the Father is not the Son. Doesn't this appear to violate the law of non contradiction.

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  3. Father, Son, and Spirit are eternally separate in persons, but eternally the same in essence. Thus, there is no contradiction. It would be a contradiction if I were to affirm that the Father and Son are different and the same in persons (or in essence). Remember that for something to be a contradiction, it has to contradict at the same time and in the same way.

    This article was written from the perspective of persons only.

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    1. I am both a mind and a body but I experience a unified consciousness. That is, I am aware of physical sensations and my thoughts at the same instant. For example, I am hungry. But Jesus praying to the Father comes across as two persons. Does God have multiple personalities? There seem to be different aspects of the Triune God which give the impression of being seperate individuals which can communicate between themselves. When God the Son was downloaded into human form was he separated from God the Father who remained in control of the universe or was it like sticking a hand into an aquarium, If we did that we would experience our hand in the water but our hand does not think it's own thoughts and ask to be removed from the water. Is the Father greater than the Son? Is the hand/Son a separate personality from the Father?

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  4. Anthony: yes the Son has a different personality as that is something that makes a person. Analogies for this are notoriously difficult. While analogies are useful in expressing one aspect, I have yet to find an analogy which expresses all of what the Trinity is. Your hand in the fish bowl analogy is great to express how Jesus in the Incarnation can be both fully God and limited as fully man.

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  5. In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, adds character and without which it loses its identity. So when you said the Father and Son are the same in essence they are identical in nature but it seems to me that those who have tried to explain the Trinity usually come across as if they understand it to be similar to a three headed entity connected to the same body with three minds joined by a telepathic link as it were. I don't know whether to think of the Trinity as three persons who form a consensus or more like components of one being. On the one hand three minds are not the same mind but can communicate. On the other hand it's hard to make sense of a personality consisting of three personalities. It's easier to conceive of the three part Trinity being identical in nature than in identity. This sounds like three Gods. But if God is one and the sum of his parts, the parts are not equal to the sum and not identical to each other as separate entities.If seems to defy logic.

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  6. Yes, you are right about "essence" in philosophy. But, within Trinitarian theology essence means the incommunicable attributes of God.

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  7. The three headed beast idea is somewhat helpful, but again fails in other areas. The definition of God (or maybe the word "substance" is helpful) is Trinitarian. This means that these three personalities combined (and all the attributes of God) make up God's substance. How this actually works is very difficult to understand. One might say it's a mystery (in the ancient sense of that word).

    But, much of God is a mystery. Much can be apprehended without being comprehended. We can see how something must be true without knowing how it is true. However, we are entering into territory which cannot be discussed well in a comment section.

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  8. You said the laws of thought must be part of God's nature. I also find the idea of God having thoughts rather odd in a way. God knows every thing about everything. How can he ever be surprised when he knows everything that will ever happen or ever could happen in every possible universe there could ever be. Thoughts emerge in our consciousness as an experiential chain of events. But in God'd case I don't know why it would be wrong to say that his omnipresent mind already knows everything there ever will be in one infinitely large instant that appears to us as past present and future. It's a wonder he would even need or want to create/ actualize things which are already a done deal to him. Especially when theologians have reasoned that God is self sufficient and not in need of anything.

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    1. Knowing something is a thought, you cannot know something without thinking it.

      I don't agree with your definition of consciousness for us, but let us assume your view. All you have is expressed consciousness and thoughts for humans. First, it seems you understand that "thoughts" and "consciousness" are two different things. We have a progressive thoughts while God has infinite thoughts, as you have said. This would be due to our differing consciousnesses. Yet, this does not eliminate thoughts for God, but more how they are acquired. While ours are finite, progressive, and temporal, God's thoughts are infinite, omniscient, and eternal. Yet again, they are thoughts non-the-less.

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  9. BTW, sorry for the lengthy reply delay Anthony. I have now set this comment thread to "notify me" when there is any comment.

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