16 September 2012

Philosophical Wanderings 5- Is Logic Empirical?

Continuing this discussion, a friend and I have been interacting via email. With all argument you tend to have to keep peeling back layers and get back to basic definitions of your terms and concepts.
No surprise my friend is a bit uncomfortable with some of my language concerning logic. I say no surprise because again, for those of us reared in the West...this is default thinking. He inquired concerning logic and wondered if I would agree that logic itself it 'built into humanity and at least analogous to the Mind of God'?
In response I raised an issue concerning logic itself. What is it? What is its nature? Not easy questions to answer. Is logic objective? Is it something intrinsic to creation or can we go even further and say reflects the Divine Nature?
What if logic is in fact subjective? What if it is dependent upon our human ability to frame, decipher, and categorize? In response to my friend, I raised a question....
Is logic empirical?

If so, then it is problematic to assert that logic somehow reflects the divine nature. Does logic reflect the nature of God....things are logical because they are true? Things that are true are therefore logical?
Most Christians would answer these questions in the affirmative. They would say that for something to be true...it has to be logical. And if something is logical than it is true.
I think this is to misunderstand logic. Logic is about teleology. It is about structure, a fundamental mechanism of creation. It is part, a deeply embedded part of the laws of nature.......or to put it differently...Logic is our way of revealing and explaining the laws of nature.
Logic is about taking words, concepts, ideas and placing them in categories by which they can be weighed, measured and explained. Essentially it is a way of attaching a mathematical element to concepts which we can only understand with language. It is verbal math or mathematizing (quantifying) language.
This gets into the whole debate between the Clarkians who insist that God communicates propositionally. This ties God's communication to language...and they would argue language has to be clear to have meaning. Language has to be coherent (logical) for it to make sense and function or else God is communicating nonsense or even less-than truth to us. If it is propositional than we can clearly and to a large degree 'fully' understand (through development) the message communicated. For the Clarkian 'mystery' is basically an invalid concept. It just means you're poor maths student.
Van Til and his camp argue from a different standpoint. They seem to echo the Idealist position that knowledge to be rightly called knowledge has to be comprehensive. Unless you can know something in its fullness or entirety than you cannot claim 'to know' it. Obviously as creatures we cannot 'know' comprehensively so therefore we can only know by 'analogy'. God 'Knows' and when we 'know' a bit of it....we're merely echoing (by analogy) some aspect of the full Truth only He can know. We think His thoughts after Him.
While I would not quite 'sign on' to the Van Tillian position, the Clarkian position regarding propositional logic and communication I can flatly reject.
Logic takes words and concepts and converts them into a form of mathematics. Mathematics deal with quantities, spatial capacity, and ideas that can to some extent be demonstrated or observed. This is empiricism. Granted it's not the same type of sense-observation we usually associate with that term....nevertheless, we're talking about phenomena that we must apprehend via our senses in order for us to declare it valid.
Essentially we're saying (admittedly on a sophisticated level)....if it doesn't make sense to me, if I can't understand it (according to some kind of coherent level) then it must not be true.
Many theologians (I'm thinking of Sproul for example) will say that a mystery is never contradiction. It's logical, we just don't have the tools (yet) to figure it out. Over time, we may come closer. In eternity we may learn much more, and even then there are some things we will never fully understand....but ultimately if we had the math (so to speak) we 'could' figure it out.
I reject this. Sproul would say I embrace contradiction and insult the Deity. I would say the rationalistic tendency he exhibits insults the Deity by reducing him to formulae that man can pick apart through an empirical method.
He would say the logical coherence is part of God's character. I would say God is completely beyond any of our paltry and miniscule methodologies.
Logic isn't part of God....it's part of the creation. It demonstrates teleology but the teleology itself is not Divine. To me this is worshipping the creation/creature instead of the Creator.
Again I'm not suggesting we abandon all logic and live in a mystical mush. For statements to have meaning, there must be some concept of logic. We can work out deductions from the text, but I think we had better be pretty cautious and careful about it.
The Bible is not primarily a Systematics or even a source for doctrinal formulation. It is a Redemptive-History a revelation of Jesus Christ. It is God's Word-Oracle. We interact with it....but not as dissectors, but as humble supplicants.
Our natural inclination is to answer the Bible is both a systematics 'and' a Redemptive-History. Pardon my use of logic here, but that doesn't work well and many realize it. The way it is currently framed (post-Vos) is to say Biblical Theology informs Systematic Theology. But once you employ system-method it in the end will always be the final arbiter. Biblical Theology may help the System to be a little less rigid, a little more broad....indeed a bit better. But in the end, even Vos was a proponent of Systematic Theology. This point is made again and again by the apologists of Systematic Theology...and I think they're right as far as that goes.
I just go much further and if I'm right then their entire methodology is cast down.
Logic cannot pick apart or dissect the metaphysical realm. Our job is to submit and when it seems contradictory or a-systematic....even incomprehensible....then we submit.
The focus of doctrinal formulation should be thematic and Christocentric. While in many cases this may take us to roughly the same place as the Systematician, our means of arrival, our posture, and our application is likely to be different.
Rather than formulate syllogisms and derive doctrines that we can claim are 'good and necessary consequence'.... we follow thematic structures and even if they're not always perfectly packaged or exact... we submit to them.
Dialectics is not a system tool. It's not a way for us to 'connect dots' in our more complicated system. Admittedly our way of thinking tends more toward a multi-dimensional model versus what we would see as a rather flat two-dimensional way of thinking that often manifests itself in Systematics.
But the Dialectic is just a way of verbally acknowledging that our finite logic-dependent minds are identifying a discrepancy. We're not engaged in taxonomy or categorization. We're simply saying here's a point that we have to leave unresolved....mystery. The Incarnation is the perfect example of this.
This also plays out in the realm of hermeneutics....which should be our theological foundation. Many of the system-problems start in the realm of hermeneutics....or to put it differently the systemic pre-commitments show up in the realm of hermeneutics which are then projected into the system.
Think for example of 'out of Israel I have called my Son.' You'll recall Luther had a problem with that, the Apostolic use of Hosea....shaky hermeneutics....the way he was reading the text. Or look at his problems with James vis-a-vis Paul. The Apostolic way of structuring not to mention the Apostolic hermeneutic with regard to the Old Testament defies systematic definition.
Look at the problems the Theonomists and others have with Psalm 72 or Psalm 2? We would say these Psalms apply both the reign of Davidic kings, the Spiritual kingdom of Christ and the eschatological Kingdom. The Theonomists want a formula for this. They want to know which verse applies to which. They would argue its primary if not solitary meaning and application is for 'this age' the pre-eschaton.
I think of JM Kik doing this with Matthew 24. His Preterist reading demands that he divide at a certain verse and say....this part applies to 70AD and this part applies to the 2nd Coming. He can pick the verse that's the dividing point.
No, it all applied....to both and more. We understand this because thematic structures like Perspective and Idiom are paramount...not systemic cohesion. That's not even on the table for consideration.
I need a lot more time to work out and explain all aspects of this. Right now it's contained on many sheets of paper in note-form and in my head. Logic must play a part in how we read the Bible...it's basic to the function of communication.
However, logic cannot be used to probe or dissect...otherwise we risk subjugating the Text to our empirical criteria. Give this a couple of hundred years and a few generations and your descendants will work out the implications of an empirical criteria. Eventually they'll pick every doctrine apart because none of them will stand that test. It's a tool that cannot cut metaphysical material. It can only destroy. It's like trying to work an ice sculpture with a flame-thrower. It doesn't work very well.
The only thing preventing the telos from being applied among our contemporaries is the fact that we're all walking talking logical inconsistencies. None of us live or think in a consistent matter with the ideas we hold. Thankfully. If we did, our world would deconstruct before our eyes. We'll go mad. I've walked close to that line.
We have to find an anchor to make sense of it all....the anchor is the Word, Christ Himself.
This means our doctrines will not be formulated in the same way. This means the nature of theology will be different. This means our posture regarding historical theology will change.
I'm not saying it all suddenly becomes easy. I'm not saying we don't still hold to doctrines. We do, but so many of these doctrines will prove dialectical as we have so long realized. Someone like Sproul would call this nonsense....in its essence non-sensical...false...anti-Christian.
It's no wonder the grandchildren of the Puritans and Continental Reformers became Unitarians and in the end denied Scripture altogether. The Aristotelian method, the Thomistic method of both Roman and Protestant Scholasticism guarantee this result. It's the logical telos. Ask Hume. Empiricism in the end will only breed Scepticism.
The Van Tillians think they have escaped this. I think their fundamental ideas are better, but Van Til was dealing with a different set of questions and drivers/motivators... and their result doesn't create a system dependent on the Bible but a system which treats the Bible as an axiomatic starting point for the development of a new system...a philosophically Idealistic coherent basis for Sacral Dominionism. That's why the Theonomists have latched onto him so fiercely even though he wasn't actually on the same page they were.
But in the end...what are the tools for constructing this new system? The same one's Thomas and others used to construct theirs. Their swimming in the cesspool of lapsarian tainted epistemology. Van Til says we drink from the pure font....we're crossing the muck on a plank...our shoes are clean.  But they don't realize the plank they walk on....is floating on the same muck. They can't take a step without resting their weight upon it. They think they're clean...but they can't get anywhere without getting off the floating plank and getting their shoes dirty.
What I'm saying is...fly/levitate across to the other side. Don't worry about crossing the cesspool. By faith you're already on the other side.
It's interesting because Hume took rationalism to the point of total scepticism. Kant rescued metaphysics by essentially using the same argument Bahnsen did with Stein....the crackers in the pantry fallacy. How do you prove the crackers are in the pantry? You empirically observe they're in there. You get up and go look and visually verify their presence. The atheist pursues metaphysics in the same way. Bahnsen said, you're looking for answers with the wrong tools. God's existence is not proved in the same way the crackers are proved to be in the pantry.
Kant basically said the same thing. As Christians we say the answer is revelation or more specifically special revelation....ultimately Christ himself. Kant didn't look to Christ. He said we 'know' things innately...it's really interesting how much this is like a re-working of Plato's forms.
He said however that instead of a Universal...we ourselves give the meaning to these metaphysical principles...ethics or whatever. We create a synthetic a priori and then using what he called Transcendental Logic we go from there and build our metaphysical system.
It's not great leap to see how today that has translated into the 'true for you' thinking of post-modernism. Modernism (like Hume) wants scientific (empirical) verification for everything and assumes we can use these same tools to figure things out and develop ideas.
Post-modernism (like Kant) says we create our own metaphysics.
Hegel just pluralized it and viewed it in terms of social and historical processes. Looking at the Hegelian dialectic between Hume and Kant and how that keeps playing out even today in so many different 'spheres'...he may have been on to something.
Now it's interesting because Van Til is kind of saying like Kant that the categories our extra-empirical...they're of a different nature.  Kant says you go to your inner self....Van Til says go to the Bible.
But then from  that transcendental point they both want to employ logic to work out the implications and construct a system. Kant says you use Transcendental Logic. Van Til says you use Systematics.
 Van Til and his followers can be pretty exact and say their conclusions are 'Biblical' since they believe they developed them from the right foundation.
Kant was much more subjective and believed the truth came out through things like artistic expression and aesthetics....the Romantic movement....Kierkegaard, today's Emergent Church.
Clark and Van Til get to the foundation point differently but at that point they both say....Scripture is axiomatic, and now we a priori develop our system.
That's where I diverge from both of them. Scripture is not the starting point....this whole way of thinking is wrong. It's not a system-foundation. It's Christ himself. Our response isn't....create dogma. Our response should be....worship.
Worship has profound and far reaching implications but the question-set is totally different.
Now I know you don't agree but do you understand in part where I'm coming from?
Empiricism in the end is always subjective. Modernism and its child secular science believe Empiricism can be objective. Hume and the Sceptics proved otherwise. They can use the same logical/mathematical methods and utterly destroy objectivity and certainty. Our senses our finite and limited and not trustworthy. They too and tainted with bias and presupposition.
I would argue the human employment of logic cannot free itself from this same conundrum. The laws of logic in creation testify to teleology and make man accountable...but the laws themselves are not divine. The meta-realm is not subject to these laws. If so, I think in the end if were consistent we will begin to deconstruct the entire meta-realm. There's no way to account for it.....apart from Christ. But at that point because Christ accounts for it, I don't believe we can pick up the rusty logic-tool again and wield it with confidence. I think we have to lay it down and live by faith.
Kant rescued it all by redefining what reality it is in human terms. We as individuals or with Hegel as a plurality in history define what reality is. But as we know this too is an absurdity and nothing but a wishful dream. In the end you can't account for it. The Universe becomes subjective. When a place myself in those shoes....the world grows blurry and I begin to hyperventilate. Reality is gone. I think that's where Hume ended up. In our modern terms we have to step into the Matrix to find meaning.
The Thomistic-Aristotelian system sparked a new level of inquiry. Man started with the particulars, with nature and began to think, develop, experiment. It has created the modern world and it's ironic that Thomas unwittingly planted the seeds for the destruction of the Medieval World which he sought to justify. It's breathtaking and astonishing to consider how these forces work.
Presuppositionalists believe they represent the overthrow of the Thomistic-Aristotelian-Evidentialist stream of thought and having swept it away they now can start over. They can construct truly Biblical blueprints for a new more philosophically consistent, coherent, and comprehensive Christendom.
Within those circles there are factions and debates regarding how to do this and how to deal with the leftovers of the previous world. Do we reform it, reconstruct it, do we temporarily abandon it and let it fall? Each Transformative school has a slightly different take and narrative.
The Van Tillians represent a step in the right direction...in certain areas. They are not overly concerned with logically justifying or verifying their philosophical position. Their re-worked Ontological Argument is more a challenge than an argument....impossibility of the contrary. I appreciate the declarative nature of this position in the face of the world's claims.
In other areas of thought I think they represent a divergence, they too plant several seeds which lead the Church into dangerous waters. But rather than something wholly new, I would suggest what they represent is a synthesis between Quasi-Platonic thinking of Late Antiquity/Early Middle Ages and the mature Scholasticism found to be in full bloom by the 12th century.
As long as Christians embrace Sacralistic impulses they will be driven to think in Monistic terms. They will be driven to develop and wrestle with social and hence political philosophical questions. We will always wrestle with these, but they will be driven to try and create Sacral versions and solutions to these problems.
Removing Sacralism allows us to still engage the world but do so on a totally different plane and at that point our embrace of meta-logical principles, Scriptural submission teaching us a different form of logic means we can possess our own understanding and explanations of the world and not worry that the unbeliever will find them incomprehensible. Rather than trust in argument, and worldly wisdom we can trust in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit...alone.


Jim C. said...

Logic isn't part of God....it's part of the creation. It demonstrates teleology but the teleology itself is not Divine. To me this is worshipping the creation/creature instead of the Creator.

I've read through this post a few times and I think I know what you're saying. For example, based on the above quote I think what one can also say is that if logic is "part of the creation", then it can be used to understand God to the extent He has revealed himself in creation BUT because God is also transcendent it will get only half the picture.

On a different note, based on what you've said here, how would this method be applicable in ascertaining competing truth claims from different religions that would justify themselves on a similar basis such as Islam/Judaism/Hinduism, etc.?

As well, to what extent do you believe this thinking was used during the early centuries of Christianity while the canon was formed in order to determine which books were inspired and which weren't?

Cal said...


Well I would say what you presented (being able to see as much of God as in nature) was one of the starting steps towards the Enlightenment (the divine is only seen in nature vis. reason) to logic's deification to its death in atheism.

The problem is not that we can see only half the picture in nature. The problem is that we're blind and we're suppressing the obvious marks of glory. That is to say, as Paul, man worships the made and not the Maker.

I always liked those silly little dialogs (specifically Augustine comes to mind as I've been reading his Confessions; excellent read by the way!) where man asks the earth and the sea and the animals and the clouds and the moon and the stars and the sun etc. whether they are gods and they reply "No, we were made".

On another note, I find it interesting that in Eden we never see man alone. Before the Fall, we never have Adam roaming around knowing the Lord without the Lord being there. From the very beginning, the Voice of the Lord walked with Adam. From the beginning it was always revelation, of the Word of God dwelling with man.

I don't think one can prove from nature or the laws of nature aka. reason (as some say from Paul in the first chapter of Romans) whether or not there is a divine. All we repeatedly hear, from reason or from stars or anything, is "I am not, look elsewhere".

I think it's also important to make the difference between reason and Wisdom, from logic and Logos. Reason is made and is a creature but Wisdom made us. Not sure how exactly I'd flesh this out, but I think it is a difference that is noteworthy.

2 pennies for ya,

Protoprotestant said...

Super busy right now. I'll try and get to these comments asap.

As always thanks.

Protoprotestant said...

Boy there's another hot potato. Of course what's popular today is the suggestion that we didn't have a canon until the 4th century or so when it was formalized and essentially ratified via council.
Some speak of a functional canon which appears as early as Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp. While not every book was clearly agreed on, the vast majority were.
Tests for canonicity? I think some would debate that. Yes, there certainly was some coherence in the considerations. No doubt about it.
But I think what really determined/determines canonicity is the test of Apostolicity. This criteria can be extended to the writings of Luke and Mark even though they weren't Apostles per se. I would assume you know the argument and appeal to Paul and Peter. That doesn't solve all the difficulties with say....Hebrews. But beyond that....I know all the arguments about Revelation, James etc., and I don't buy them.... I think and believe the Canon to be Apostolic. There's a theology to that declaration to be sure, but the concept is historical. The Resurrection and by connection Pentecost validate their writings.
It's interesting because in terms of a Coherence test....Luther would have flunked James and I think many Protestants would probably reject Hebrews if they could.

Sorry I took so long. Too much on my plate right now.

Protoprotestant said...


I guess you wouldn't agree with Gordon Clark that Logos = Logic?


While we would agree Christ is Pure Wisdom....the Clarkians would say Christ is Pure Logic (same thing I guess)

It's no surprise that Clark had significant problems with historical Christology. In his final book on The Incarnation he called Chalcedon a bunch of 'nonsense'.