What is the relationship between love and logic? The picture many of us are used to is one of opposition. Love is warm, embracing, and personal. Logic, on the other hand, is cold, distancing, and impersonal. Christian thinkers in general, and apologists in specific, must be ready to counter this caricature. It is both biblical false and dangerous to a robust Christian discipleship of the mind.
The Example of the Gospels. Several pieces have been written clarifying specific ways in which Jesus himself employed sharp critical thinking. While our Christlikeness may mean more than this, it certainly does not mean less. Here are some examples:
- Jesus The Logician – Dallas Willard
- How Did Jesus Argue? Jesus & Logic – J. P. Moreland
- Jesus Used Logic – Dave Miller
- On Jesus, by Douglas Groothius
The Gospels often present logical reasons for their portraits of Jesus. How best should we handle passages in Matthew which say, “this was done in fulfillment of…”? The logic of these passage is as follows: “Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and this is why you should believe it.”
The Example of Paul. If a reasoned articulation of our faith, one with the goal of persuading unbelievers, is wrong-headed how best should we handle the biblical passages in Acts that say that Paul “reasoned” with others to convince them of his message (such as Acts 18:4, 26:28, 28:24, compare also 2 Cor. 5:11)? Paul’s epistles are extended arguments in favor of certain conclusions. So, in Galatians, Paul’s argue you cannot add your good works to the atonement of Christ, and spends several chapters presenting carefully reasoned arguments to support his claim.
Christians should never separate what God has united: A heart for God and a mind for truth (The RTS motto). Our proclaiming the gospel can and should be combined with “arguing for,” and persuading people of its truth. I don’t use the word reconcile, because I don’t believe that reason, logic, and argument need to be reconciled with heart-felt faith …they aren’t at odds![i]
Unbelievers certainly misuse “logic” when they turn it against its very foundation[ii], that doesn’t mean that Christians are disqualified from utilizing this good gift of God. In fact, again, the line of reasoning that abandons things unbelievers misuse proves much too much. This would mean no longer using music as a means of conveying gospel truth because unbelievers likewise employ music to communicate false worldviews. It would also mean that Christians may no longer use theatre, poetry, or allegorical writings because they are all tactics the world (and other religions) use to convey their false belief systems. This where this line of thinking takes us.
Don’t get the impression that I’m advocating a heartless, dry intellectualism. That is simply not the case. When I seek to sharpen and improve my thinking, I seek to honor God. I believe with all my heart that Scripture is God’s word, and can therefore stand up to all supposed “intellectual” attacks made by those who oppose it. I believe that the best thinking shows, demonstrates, coheres with, and is in accordance with everything that we find in the Bible. Do I believe this because I’ve worked out all of the problems and can safely tell unbelievers that there are no challenges? No! I believe in Christ, and all that Scripture teaches because God has revealed them. I believe these things because God has opened my heart, causing me to repent of my sin, and has given me new eyes to see His world. The Holy Spirit has taken the scales off my eyes, shown me the beauty of Christ as the One in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
When applying our reasoning to apologetics, we should remember that regardless of how persuasive we are, when our words are not accompanied by love they are both 1) a misrepresentation to the unbeliever (as if Christianity is a heartless faith), and 2) displeasing to God. A faith that does not work itself out in love (Gal. 5:6) is both dead and useless (James 2:14). We should never, in personal conversation with either believer or unbeliever, advocate a heartless, loveless appeal to history or logic.
Is trying to persuade people that Christianity is true a bad thing? Not if we take our queue from the Bible. Jude tells us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), Paul instructs Timothy to “correct opponents” (2 Tim. 2:25), that Scripture is profitable for “correction and reproof” (2 Tim. 3:16), as well as to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Like to Titus Paul teaches that Elders must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9),” and that false teaches “must be silenced” (Titus 1:11). All of these verses in the pages of God’s word command us to, at appropriate times, contend, commend, advocate, and “argue” that the biblical understanding of God, the world, man, sin, Christ, etc. is correct. These are biblical passages that must be taken seriously.
To reject the use of rationality and reason in matters of our faith is known as fideism. Fideism presents our faith as either an irrational or non-rational. No Christian should accept Christianity based on blind faith. The kind of fideistic conviction that grounds the truth of Christianity in one’s subjectivity (i.e. because they feel strongly about it) proves too much. A Latter-day Saint may claim that they truly, truly believe Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, but simply believing it doesn’t make Mormonism true. A Muslim may claim with all their heart that they believe Mohamed was the prophet of Allah, but this doesn’t make Islam true.
The Danger of Bad Philosophy
Once again: logic is not inherently sinful. Developing one’s analytical abilities is simply the discipline of thinking clearly and avoiding mistakes in reasoning. It can, and must, be used in a God-honoring fashion. Biblical passage frequently cited to dismiss the importance of “philosophy,” like 1 Cor. 1-2, are of course, all true. Let’s avoid hollow and worldview philosophy. But let’s also look at the context of such passages. The point Paul is making in all of those verses can be reduced to a few simple points: 1) the truth of the gospel cannot be reduced or explained merely be “fancy-talking” (what Paul calls “persuasive words,” “worldly wisdom,” etc), and 2) unbelievers show their hostility to God by taking a gift that He has given them (the capacity to think) and trying to use it against Him.
Likewise, in Colossians, Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). This verse, though commonly thought to rule out learning philosophy, logic, etc. altogether, actually does no such thing. What this verse does do, however, is rule out doing these things when done “not according to Christ.” So, believers should seek to sharpen their reasoning abilities precisely because they seek to honor the Lord who gave them this capacity and whose righteous thinking we are to reflect.
Paul tells Christians not be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:2). Here Paul is speaking of the great truths of sin, grace, justification, and the mystery of God’s election covered in the first 11 chapters of Romans. The Pharisees and their ilk didn’t truly reason with Christ, they tried to rationalize their legalism. Big difference. It was bad, flawed, and ungodly thinking and spiritual rebellion that caused them to oppose the sinless Son of God. If we blame it on “logic,” then let’s agree that it was logic “not according to Christ.” Logic is not something man made, but rather reflects the mind of God whose thinking is clear, unified, and without error or confusion.
In conclusion, I’m not advocating an intellectualist religion. I think both are needed, a heart for God and a mind for truth. Thinking critically is not opposed to a vibrant faith. Love and careful reasoning are both useful in testifying to Christ. They work like the two blades on a pair of scissors. The same Paul that commanded that we “speak the truth in love” also said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Cor. 10:5).
[i] I don’t define an “argument” as a heated discussion, but rather providing clear reasons for the convictions we hold dear.
[ii] Though, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s the proper use of logic.
I believe in the existence and power of logic. First, let me make it clear that (at this point at least) I’m not talking about our ability to use our reasoning capacities, as great as that is. I’m talking about the objective existence of the laws of logic. I believe that the validity and universality of the laws of logic defy a mere materialistic explanation. Let’s think of the “big 3.” These are the foundational and standard laws of logic found in most Intro to Philosophy books and all Logic textbooks.
1) First, we have the law of Identity. A is A
2) Second, we have the law of the excluded middle, A is either A or Non-A (it cannot be both.). Admittedly, philosophers have debated the validity of this one, but last I checked the debate isn’t over.
3) Lastly, we have the law of non-contradiction (otherwise known as, ironically, the law of contradiction). This law states that P cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same respect.
These laws of logic are universally true and even in denying them we utilize them. For instance, if we say that “there are no universal laws of logic,” we’re taking for a given that that statement is not the same as “there are universal laws of logic,” thus using the law of non-contradiction to argue against the reality of the law of non-contradiction.
Now, I’ve always found this problematic for those who are materialists on the one hand, yet who champion logic, reason, and “free thinking” on the other. I think it’s safe to say that we all (Christian and non-Christian) that laws of logic immaterial. Can we taste, feel, smell, weigh, measure, or hear the law of identity? Can we see the law of the excluded middle? Well, no, of course not. Are they then “not real”? Are they simply social convention? If so, then they aren’t universally binding. But we know that something that’s A cannot be both A and non-A in the same time or in the same respect, whether it’s in our culture or any other. If we throw away the universal validity of the law of non-contradiction, for example, then logically there’s no difference between Atheism and Christianity. But, of course, there is.
So, where do these laws originate? Why do they fit so perfectly with the world? How can we account for their universality? Those are important questions. If they were only social conventions, they we’d be saying that they don’t really exist. But if they this is the case, why do they always accurately reflect the external world? Why can’t we think without assuming their truth?
Now, I can imagine what someone might be thinking here. “Ok, ok, you’ve made your point. But how does the Christian makes seem of logic?” I honestly can’t think of laws of rationality being material “things.” They’re immaterial. But laws of thought govern minds (not merely brains). So, ultimate laws of rationality reflect an ultimate Mind. Without getting terribly into details, Christianity teaches that God the creator is a rational, orderly, logical being. The laws of logic simply describe to us how God thinks. Since we’ve been created in God’s image (as finite reflections of God on earth to represent Him) we think like him, though on a finite scale.
For instance, to say that my car is blue all over and yet say that it is the case that it is not blue all over is to, essentially, to affirm a falsehood. God is a God of truth and since I am to reflect His character, I should not affirm falsehoods or lies (thus abiding by the law of non-contradiction). Similar examples could be given regarding the other 2 laws. So, from a Christian theistic worldview, the universality and accuracy of logical reasoning are affirmed and grounded in my belief in not just any God, but specifically in the God of the Old and New Testaments, Yahweh.
Section 3 (pgs 242-301) of John Frame’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God includes a discussion on clear and godly thinking. In that section there’s a unit of common mistakes in thinking, commonly known as logical fallacies. He defines the fallacy of division as follows:
Here one argues that what is true of the whole (or the collection) is also true of the parts (or members). Thus one might argue that since a car is heavy, it might have a heavy cigarette lighter. Or because a grove is thick, each tree in the grove must be thick. One might mistake predicates of a class for predicates an individual, as in this specious argument: “American Indians are disappearing; Joe is an American Indian; therefore Joe is disappearing.”
Frame then provides a couple of theological examples of this fallacy. I highlight only one:
Theological examples include [the following].. “Christ commands his church to evangelize the whole world; I am a member of the church; therefore Christ commands me to evangelize the whole world.” Much grief is wrought by pastors who take commands in the Bible that are intended for the church as a whole and impose them on individuals, as if each individual had to do the whole job himself. Thus individuals are led to think that they must pray all day, evangelize their neighborhoods, become experts in Scripture, Christianize the institutions of society, feed all the poor in the world, and so forth. No! These commands are for the church as a whole, and individuals contribute to these purposes in accordance with their particular gifts (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12-14).
-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 299.
Most of us have either made or been the victim of the Evangelism Division Fallacy. I know I have!
Friends don’t let friends use the EDF.
Here’s a fantastic site that lists, provides definitions for, and gives examples of various logical fallacies. It’s pretty exhaustive. I click around and skim every so often, it’s actually quite fun for me.
What’s a fallacy, you may ask? According to Robert C. Solomon a fallacy is “[a]n apparently persuasive argument that is really an error in reasoning; an unsound or invalid argument.” (Introducing Philosophy: A Text with Integrated Readings, pg. 38)
In the brief first part of this series I disclosed a bit of personal information about myself. Now, I’d like to give the reasons why I believe that the study of atheism is a good thing. Now, for the record, what I mean by “study of atheism” is not reading books or article against atheism by Christians (though that is good, helpful, and ought to be done). What I mean here is actually reading books and articles written by actual atheists.
Here I’d like to list some benefits of reading atheists, some of the things to look for, and then list of few books worth looking into.
Benefits of reading atheists. Here are some of the positive things one gets out of reading works on atheism:
- It exposes us to attacks against the faith
- It forces us to deal with real objections by real unbelievers (reading too many books about atheists usually causes us to think we already know what they’re going to say, and that’s not listening. We don’t like it when they do it to us, let’s not do it to them.)
- It prepares us for real-world engagement with unbelief.
- Through careful examination of atheist argumentation and objections we come to confidently learn that our faith isn’t a blind leap. Atheist arguments in defense of their stance really aren’t good arguments (My atheist books are thoroughly marked with red ink).
Things to look for when reading atheists. Now I pick up from point 4 above. What kinds of fallacies ruin atheistic arguments? Here’s where things go bad:
- Lots of emotion-raising language instead of actual evidence and argument. In other words, many atheists like to depend on flash rather than substance. (Richard Dawkins is really good at this, especially in his latest work, The God Delusion). For instance, compare these two types of statements:
a) To believe in a God who allows and even ordains the amounts of evil in our world is rationally unacceptable.
b) Who in their right mind would believe there’s an invisible man in the sky who arbitrarily decides to allows children to be tortured?
Notice the first claim is something we can discuss and debate fairly. The second statement is loaded with lots of emotional baggage which first needs to be addressed and in fact turns the audience against anybody who would make a Christian defense. After all, no one wants to be told they’re not “in their right mind.”
2. Ignorance of Christian theology. I’ve addressed this problem elsewhere. How can the atheist attack Christian belief if he or she doesn’t even understand what they’re talking about?
3. Double standards. It not a good argument to say something against your opponent that with a few word changes can be said right back to you.
Objection by Atheist: “Christianity cannot be true, look at all the evil done by ‘Christians.'”
Response by Christian: “Atheism cannot be true because of all the evil that’s been done by atheists (such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Nero, Mao, and Vlad the impaler, to name a few).”
If it cuts both ways, just drop it.
4. Appealing to notions which lack any foundations in an atheistic worldview. If a naturalistic, atheistic worldview cannot provide a foundation for the objective existence and value of logic, the uniformity of nature, moral absolutes, etc., how can it appeal to such things in it’s attack against Christianity? Answer: It’s shouldn’t. (I’ve also dealt with this hereand here).
Books promoting atheism. Here’s list of books to keep in mind when wanting to hear “the other side”:
1) Atheism: A Very Short Introduction– by Julian Baggini. This is a great little introduction to atheism, and is one of the few books on the subject written by an atheist who actually admits atheism is a worldview.
2) Why I am Not a Christian– by Bertrand Russell. This is a classic work in atheistic literature and is made up of short essays, so you don’t have to read the entire thing straight through (for an excellent Christian response to Russell’s main essay see here).
3) Atheism: The Case Against God– by George Smith. Many atheists believe this remains the classic work on the subject. Herbert also fails prey to many of the logical and argumentative errors noted above.
4) The God Delusion– by Richard Dawkins. In this work, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins steps outside of his area of expertise and unto the court of apologetics and philosophy of religion. If one were to remove all of his emotionally charged rhetoric this 374 pg book would probably be reduced to a 100 pg booklet. And when you examine the material left you’ll discover nothing new that hasn’t been responded to before. Of course Dawkins, with Sam Harris, is the most outspoken contemporary atheist, so knowing this material when speaking to atheists is helpful.
I read atheists because they strengthen my conviction that only Christianity provides meaning, and atheism is irrational. I don’t cling to my Christian faith out of blind, irrational faith. I’ve weighted and considered the other side and come to the conclusion that atheism rests upon poor, badly construed arguments. We need not be afraid of atheism’s poor logic.
Exposing oneself to a bit of atheism can indeed be good for the soul.